Monday, October 31, 2011

mites - something to ponder upon for a restless soul like you (Mystery Sea)

mites - it's something but it's not tomorrow (CDR)

Trying to quantify what it is about the music of Grisha Shakhnes (mites) that's so fundamentally appealing, I hit upon a number of things, to be sure, but foremost is usually the sense of commitment I get, of having a strong basic idea and seeing it through, for exactly the length of time it requires. Shakhnes uses field recordings pretty much but with such a deft hand and ear. As is often the case, print descriptions are pretty valueless; suffice it to say that he tends toward the grainy and sooty but with great depth and a wonderful knack for opposing and mixing textures. Every track in each disc is strong, all of them capable of being listened to and examined numerous times with new detail and structural relationships emerging on each occasion. Ont he Mystery Sea disc, they linger at mid-volume level save for the "climax", as it were, in the penultimate cut when the dynamics surge; it's a drama that feels well earned.

The CDr, which incidentally arrives in a magnetized rubber case, suitable for sticking up on your refrigerator, the shifts in loudness are more abrupt and differing sound sources appear, including bell-like tones. But even in the relatively plentiful variation, there's a unity about the pieces, a sense of purpose. There's also, as late int he second piece here, a wonderful naturalness in the sound, particularly, for me, the irregular rhythm heard when (it seems) something--a cord, perhaps?--is being wind-buffeted against a metal surface. Such a fine quasi-rhythm! The last, very quiet track is especially impressive, a fantastic series of low rumbles and tones of other sounds, pitched low, leading after 20 or so minutes to an Arabic voice (intoning a prayer) and a muffled female voice (not sure of the language) and a Western orchestra bled in alongside. It works beautifully.

Don't let these slip through--really excellent work.

Mystery Sea

Cdr available from Erst Dist

Scott Smallwood/Sawako/Seth Cluett/Ben Owen/Civylu Kkliu - Phonography Meeting 070823 (Winds Measure)

Five recordings as presented live at Issue Project Room in 2007, all based around field recordings, bleeding from one to the other. The creators provide "notes" for each, ranging from proper note to six photos (Owen) to a set of three and four letter words (Kkliu).

Smallwood's piece mixes more or less "traditional" sounds--wind, water, chimes, birds--but it has an appealing thickness to it, a density often missed in such works. It's in episodes, like a series of snapshots, drifting into a fine deep drone that ushers in a welter of urban sounds, a large, populated interior space. Actually, I'm never quite sure when one person's music ends and another begins. I'm thinking that the children partying are within Sawako's contribution, but who knows? Doesn't matter too much...It progresses through wooly buffeting with crunchy...footsteps? (perhaps Cluett's portion)...abstract crackles, indecipherable sounds (Owen?), very intense, like hyper-magnified quiet noises...a buzzing hum, very long held, a household device, perhaps, listened to from a fly's closeness. FIne journey, wish I'd been there.

Winds Measure also sent along two cassettes which, as I've mentioned, I'm only able to listen to in the car, not the ideal place for anything possessing a smidgen of delicacy which both of these recordings do. They each sounded interesting: Taku Unami/Stefan Thut on one and Unami with Angharad Davies on the other, but more than that I'd be reluctant to say. OK, there's clapping. But, hell, take a chance!

winds measure

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Robert Schumann - Dichterliebe (Bôłt)

I should say up front that, although I've heard Dichterliebe on any number of occasions in the past on radio, I'm not very conversant with it nor do I know it intimately. When I've heard it, I'm sure most of the time it was the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Vladimir Horowitz rendition. So if I may assume that's the benchmark for this piece, it's clear that Bernhard Schütz (voice) and Reinhold Friedl (piano) have chosen to interpret the (exceedingly beautiful) songs in a manner much more reminiscent of Brecht/Weill and, to these ears, it's a perfect choice. If you know any of the songs at all, it's likely the first one, "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai", with its heartrendingly gorgeous melody and wrenching sense of a missing line. Well, it's the showstopper here too, with Schütz (who is known as an actor in Germany, though I've no idea if he's previously lent his talents to a musical venture) delivering the words in a breathy, burred voice that only just makes it to the end of the line, a stirring effect as the final syllables are gasped. Friedl also elasticizes the music, injecting some Satie and even Feldman into the rolling phrases, allowing them to linger for split seconds before continuing the cascade. Absolutely beautiful. If that's the high point, there are several other fantastic performances among the sixteen lieder, some quite raucous (shouted vocals here and there), others intensely brooding.

Can't recommend this one highly enough.

Mauricio Kagel - Ludwig van (Bôłt)

Ashamedly, I'm not so familiar with Kagel's "Ludwig van" either though, again, I've heard it now and again over the years. But I'm much less able to evaluate the performance by Frédéric Blondy (piano) and DJ Lenar (turntables) in relation to its original status. Actually, the piece was initially a filmwork, done for the bicentennial of Beethoven's birth (1978) in which the interior of his studio was
covered with pages of scores from his work. A piano would play the music as it entered the view of the camera plus there were TV and radio programs on the composer jostling for aural space. You get something of that here as recognizable scraps of Beethoveniana surface and subside amidst other noise and spun and scratched recordings.

As a piece of music, the collage technique feels a bit dated, perhaps inevitably though, given that, the recording more than sustains interest. Blondy's playing (I'm assuming the piano is predominantly Blondy throughout, not pre-existing recordings) is both sensitive and strong. When actually spinning the vinyl, the effect by DJ Lenar is, I guess, appropriately nostalgic. What holds the work together, not surprisingly, is the actual substance of Beethoven's music, containing enough power and beauty to transcend the perturbations and attempts at warpage.

Good recording, need to check out the original....

Rinus van Alebeek plays Luc Ferrari - Cycle des Souvenirs (Bôłt)
Rinus van Alebeek - Luc Ferrari (Mathka)

OK, this is a little confusing.

The Mathka release, per its liners, was recorded October 28, 2010, the Bôłt the next day, both in Montreuil, France. The first was explicitly at the home of Ferrari, in the presence of his wife, Brunhild. The second doesn't say anything about the location to that degree of specificity; I've no *real* idea if it was recorded in the same situation though it would seem to be odd to do it elsewhere on the next day if you're in the same town.

At first, despite the apparent date difference, I wasn't sure if I didn't have two copies of the same recording, but the Bôłt clocks in at 72:30, the Mathka at 66:41 so, assuming no editing, I take it they're different. It's tough to tell without playing them side by side (which I've not done...perhaps I will; or someone can set me straight) since the original Ferrari piece, "Cycle des Souvenirs", is played throughout on both. That's the conceit here, incidentally: van Alebeek "simply" inserts a disc of the Ferrari into a system, at his home (possibly elsewhere), and walks about the environment, mic in hand, recording the ambiance with the original piece suffusing the space. It's a wonderful idea, in my opinion, and works brilliantly.

Why this works so well is tough to say except for the underlying premise that the nature of Ferrari's music clearly lends itself to thoughtful and sensitive integration with existing environments. All credit to van Alebeek for judicious mixing and editing, in both releases, for creating a flow that seems entirely rich and natural. The piece, voices, the sounds of the room, Mme. Ferrari, in at least one of the versions, reading quietly; it all blends with the "Cycle" as though it had always been there. If I have to choose, there's something a bit clearer and shimmering in the Mathka recording, but both are very much worth hearing.

Excellent work.



Monday, October 24, 2011

MIMEO - Wigry (Bôłt/Monotype)

I love LPs, Still. Admittedly, however, I'd have preferred this to have been issued on CD, or two CDs. The massiveness, the organic quality of the music contained herein benefits from as few interruptions as possible. An amazing set.

Performed in the cathedral at Wigry, Poland in November of 2009, in the freezing cold. Looking at a map, I see the structure is positioned on a promontory that extends into a large lake and, from the dark cover photo, looks to be quite beautiful.

It's a powerful performance but one, largely due to its amorphous character and sheer density is really tough to describe. MIMEO had been in existence a dozen or so years at the time of the recording and had, one hopes, long since reined in the natural danger of overdoing re: the immense firepower at its disposal. It doesn't seem that, as is often the case in a MIMEO event (how many shows have there been in total? A dozen?) that there was any guiding plan put forward by one member, as was the case with The Hands of Caravaggio (Rowe) or the concert at the Serpentine (Matthews). Instead we hear, apparently, a pure improvisation. One can say that, loosely speaking, it progresses from quieter, (relatively) calmer areas near the beginning, surges forward to a mini-climax or two and, for much or Side D, just tears the roof off, causing the marbleized saints to grimace in fear, the stained glass to melt.

There's something marvelous in that barely contained power, the more so because it's been delayed, subdued, for an hour or so. Very tempting to describe the affair in sexual terms, though not solo, instead with ten participants managing to reach orgasmic synchrony as a single vibrating, shimmering organism.

:-) Too much? Too Keenan? Dunno, it reaches places like that, really an astonishing album. I kind of wish I didn't have to flip over the vinyl an extra couple of times, and sure, there's some meandering moments but if you have a turntable, this one is about as mandatory as it gets.



Available in the US from erst dist

Rick Reed - The Way Things Go (elevator bath)

Hey, whaddya know? Another double LP! Also electronic in nature, though solo and, I daresay Reed wouldn't be out of place as a member of MIMEO. His music is resolutely smooth (in a good way) and spreads itself out like a syrup.

I find it oddly hard to offer much in the way of descriptors. The six pieces are fairly steady state, drone-y, if you like, though exceedingly rich and varying substantially within the initial parameters. There's a fundamental tonality to them, yet they bristle. I think it's fair to detect Rowe's influence (Reed, of course, plays with Rowe and Michael Haleta in the Voltage Spooks trio) and at times I think of the music here as akin to what you might get if you took some of the similarly (relatively) unabrasive passages of Rowe's work, especially that from around 2004, and stretched it out, by doing so making more apparent the detail nestled within.

At its best--for me, "in a hazy field of gray and green" and "the way things go (for c.h.) here--Reed attains a kind of granular ethereality that I find singularly captivating. He doesn't get nearly as much notice as he deserves. Check it out.

elevator bath

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tetuzi Akiyama/Takuji Kawai - Transition (ftarri)

What a nice surprise this is! While Akiyama is a known, if widely ranging in style and quality, item, Kawai is new to me and a wonderful find. Perhaps surprising to myself in that his style laps quite a good bit in a jazz direction, albeit a specific one. To these ears, he comes very much out of Paul Bley, a musician of whom I'm quite fond. The pieces, which I assume are improvisations, are ruminative, quiet and inward-bending. I suppose one of the surprising things is that, at heart, the music is very responsive, much more so than standard post-AMM improv and yet there's not a whiff of staleness about it. To the contrary, there's something quite fresh and alive going on. Akiyama is in a slightly more mainstream mode than his "Relator" persona and is extraordinarily sensitive here. Kawai prods and pokes, like a better version of Misha Mengelberg, but also offers a kind of elegiac tolling, allowing the notes to just suspend, that's absolutely entrancing. The entire disc is solidly excellent though if I had to pick a track as a favorite, it would be "Realization", single guitar notes hung in the cool air over low, rubbed strings and isolated, deep piano tones. Gorgeous. Don't let this one slip through.

available from erstdist

Mural - Live at the Rothko Chapel (Rothko Chapel Publications)

Jim Denley (wind instruments), Kim Myhr (guitars, zithers, percussion), Ingar Zach (gran cassa, percussion). Inevitably, what first strikes one is the image of the space in which this trio is performing, visual and aural. The sound itself is noticeably clear and vivid and one imagines it playing off the dark, gorgeous paintings. It also a spacious yet solid performance, with more than a tinge of AMM in the general character, mostly quiet and not very harsh. Myhr has some lovely moments on guitar and zither, somewhere out in classic Sugimoto and melodic Fages territory (sort of taking the Tilbury role), Denley reins in the potentially troublesome flute and sax both by nixing any jazz content and, like Myhr, often venturing down lyrically abstract pathways. Zach might be the real glue here, though, managing to contribute massive amounts of varying coloration without even coming close to being obtrusive. Good job, check it out.

Kim Myhr's page
Rothko Chapel Publications

Richard Garet - Decentering (Sourdine)

Another helping of complex, steady-state music from Garet, who does this quite well. Presumably sourced from field recordings among other things but processed, reprocessed and more into something very much other. As with most of the music in this area that I find enjoyable, you have to deal with both the surface uniformity and the underlying complexity simultaneously. So, at the beginning, for instance, you register the high, slightly rough pitch and then pick up the faint low tone as well as begin to hear what's making the high tone rough, all these small irregularities. Other layers are introduced or subtracted, generally adjacent in volume but varying in timbre, twining together, forming a variegated strand, though always a strand. The predominant feel is of wind, cold wind, blowing through interstices, picking up stray elements, including traces of voices, carrying them along for a bit, discarding them. Toward the end, the wind aspect recedes and a more claustrophobic sound emerges, or the wind is being funneled through a tighter set of tubes...Good work, worth hearing.


Edén Carrasco/Leonel Kaplan/Christof Kurzmann - Una Casa/Observatorio (Three Chairs Recordings)

Carrasco (alto sax), Kaplan (trumpet), Kurzmann (lloopp). How to describe when, to your ears, something just doesn't work from the get-go? When almost every decision made by the musicians involved makes you wince? Part of it may have to do with the way the music uses the lexicon of eai but inserts it into the structure of efi, an uneasy fit. Perhaps this was the intent (I often wonder about the frustrations musicians must feel in attempting to break out of whatever the current stylistic environment is dictating, especially when that environment is, really, pretty rich and interesting!). But here, all the whistled sax, breath-a-fied trumpet and, perhaps most egregiously, the software-generated loopiness (or llooppiness) simply fails to cohere for me. Everything seems pro forma. The second of the two pieces here ratchets things up a bit and its to the music's benefit; the more activity, the thicker the mix, I suppose, providing a certain amount of body missing otherwise and the periodic pulsing rhythms help as well.


available from erstdist

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Loren Connors - Red Mars (Family Vineyard)

Five tracks, recorded at home and live in NYC in 2010, accompanied by Margarida Garcia on electric double bass on one cut.

What can one say about Connors at this point? His music is instantly recognizable and has been as long as I've been aware of his work, perhaps darkening even more (having begun at a pretty inky point) as time goes on, as he deals with his illness. Even the softer parts herein are less light-providing than questioning, wondering if this is all there is. The desolate blues framework of music like "On Our Way", which opens this disc is my favorite Connors territory--aching, dour yet so graceful, so appreciative of the beauty he manages to locate. Garcia is wonderful alongside, blending in perfectly, providing a deep sepia to the blackness. Spacier, bleaker works like "Red Mars II" are also effective, if not as wrenching, arcing out into "An Index of Metals" realms. On "Showers of Meteors" he combines these two approaches, very effectively, swaying from keening pangs to shards of noise, billowing outwards, swathing the room. The closing piece, "Little Earth", is appropriately contemplative; it wafts away, but the clouds it's resting on are carrying much rain.

A lovely recording, a must for Connors aficionados.

Akira Sakata & Jim O'Rourke with Chikamorachi - and that's the story of jazz... (Family Vineyard)

I first heard Sakata on the late 80s release, "Mooko", with Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson and, at the time, like it a good deal, finding it to be a kind of pared down variation on Last Exit. The promotional prose for this 2-CD release also brings up Last Exit and, to an extent, that's appropriate though the raw power, not to mention the zeitgeist-fulfillment, is entirely different. Sakata, on alto here, lacks the elemental quality of primo Brotz, the rare saxophonist who could indeed shoulder a free metal ensemble. He's a decent player, but all too quickly, in a free context, lapses into standard playing, sounding like any dozen alto players from the past three or four decades. O'Rourke is heard largely on guitar here and, often enough, wanders all too obviously into Sharrock territory, inadvertently emphasizing the paleness of the comparison despite surface fireworks. I should say that listeners unaware of prior work may well find this exciting and riveting--it's loud and aggressive enough, to be sure--but those blocks of energy are pasted into a much more lackadaisical context than, at its best, Last Exit ever tolerated.

When the quartet seriously takes things down several notches, as toward the latter stages of "Hanamaki" and parts of "Nagoya 1" (my favorite moments on the set), and O'Rourke fall into the kind of pastoral playing he does very well; it's more convincing and Sakata (who sounds like he's on clarinet on the former, though it's not listed) excels, summoning up a wee bit of John Carter. I've enjoyed Darin Gray's bass playing in the past and, indeed, find it to be consistently the most enjoyable element here--solid, deep and considered. Chris Corsano's drumming (he and Gray seem to comprise "Chikamorachi") doesn't wow me as much as it does many; Jackson's funk undercurrent was key to much of Last Exit, sublimated though it may have been, and I don't hear a similar thing here. Not that it's by any means required.

A Last Exit cover band? It's difficult to avoid thinking in those terms for much of the 100 or so minutes here. Personally, I find the idea rather bizarre and certainly not my cuppa. Others, of course, may have been awaiting this since Sharrock's unfortunate early death. For those listeners, this could be just the thing; for me, not so much.

Family Vineyard

Monday, October 17, 2011

Moniek Darge - Sounds of Sacred Places (kye)

Five pieces recorded at various public sites between 1984 and 1987. My favorite is the opening track, "Turkish Square", actually recorded in Ghent at a site of the same name, incorporating, among other things, an "n-dimensional" oscillating system built by Darge's partner, Godfried-Willem Raes. This system generates rich, thick tones that sound as though they might vibrate any metal in the vicinity (reminds me a bit of those produced by Max Neuhaus' Times Square installation) which are enjoyable enough, but are only enhanced by the sounds of kids cavorting, whistles, voices call for "Yusef", a woman speaking rapidly, quietly, over a threatening rumble. A fine piece. The remaining four tracks are all enjoyable if, to these ears, a bit less so. In "Abbey-Sounds", several people, in several languages, narrate their thoughts about the space over recordings of doves that occupy the roof and other quasi-avian sounds. "Rain" is just that, accompanied by the strangled utterances (or Darge, I take it), recorded via a mic right alongside her larynx. It's disturbing and uncomfortable, bother me a bit, not necessarily in a good way. David Moss is one of the voices on the preceding track and the voice here annoyingly reminds me a bit of his. The last two pieces utilize a bell, apparently this one, the first in a muffled and fairly steady series of strikes in which the initial attack has been processed out (fascinating sound!) the last in a slow set of strikes where overtones overlap, a little woozy, perhaps, but easily capable of being luxuriated in.

available from erstdist

Graham Stephenson - Defiantly Not (Pilgrim Talk)

As with Unami, but for different reasons, I'm kinda glad I heard Stephenson in several contexts at AMPLIFY:stones before I heard his solo disc (trumpet, microphone and, um, audacity). I generally found him the most rewarding member of the ensembles in which he appeared, largely for the concentrated quality he brought and the remarkable amount of variation within an (only) apparently narrow range.

So when the first track begins with eight or so minutes of seriously painful, shenai-like shrieking, a strangulated trumpet if ever there was one, in the back of my mind there's the assurance that this will somehow fit into a context. And it sort of does, if only as one color (if you will) among several, no greater weight attached to the stridency than to the quiet later on. Relative quiet, that is, as the aforementioned microphone seems to come into play, sliding about brassy surfaces. Or the trumpet sliding around the mic whilst emitting gases. Odd digital beeps, too. You begin to get a real sense of the visceral in this first piece; it's exhausting and invigorating. A lot of ground is covered but with not the slightest sense of meandering.

The second track pits a fairly pure, though reedy sounding, high tone against background scrabbling, all embraced by an audible room hum and the occasional voice. Very casual, in a way, but subtly moving, the central tone difficult to not hear as a keen of some kind, abraded by harsher, scouring wind sounds. Good stuff. The final cut begins softly enough, all breath and muted rumblings but midway through, while the ind still howls (Stephenson-generated?) and car horns honk outside, it sounds like the trumpet hasn't forgotten its earlier abuse at the, erm, hands of the microphone and engages it in battle. Not sure who won, but burbling quasi-serenity returns, several minutes of percussive sounds, a quick onrush of traffic, then silence.

Fine job, excellent recording.

pilgrim talk

also from erstdist

Billy Gomberg - Quiet Barrier (Rest + Noise)

Among NYC denizens that deal with this end of the music spectrum, Gomberg's solo work stands rather apart. It's resolutely gentle and more or less tonal, harkening to Fennesz as much as anyone else (although sonorities of Terry Riley creep in as well), most rougher elements swaddled in ringing synth tones and billowing organ-y swells. I like it pretty well both for the sheer aural delight, which is considerable, but more for the subtle twists and turns it tends to take--nothing dramatic, it simply often ends up a few steps removed from where you thought it was going. Rough, burred edges often intrude on the lushness, faint rhythmic elements appear--wooden knocks here, slow, slow throbs there. There's often enough a tinge of sourness as well, most clearly in the final piece, that tempers what might be an overly cloying smoothness.

It's not overwhelming by any means but doesn't make any pretense of being so. It's quite ingratiating and a certain pleasure to simply languish in, which I enjoy doing very much. This back to back with the Stephenson above is quite a nice yin/yang.

rest + noise

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taku Unami/Takahiro Kawaguchi - Teatro Assente (Erstwhile)

I'm not sure if it was beneficial or detrimental, in terms of assessing this recording, to have, between initial hearing and the present day, seen both Unami and Kawaguchi perform at AMPLIFY:stones. Unami performed six times, I believe and Kawaguchi several times during the final two days at Issue Project Room. Of course, it was clear from the get go that, with "Teatro Assente", you were witness to an extra-musical performance of some kind, whether assembled at a later date or presented almost as an aural byproduct of what transpired at the theater in question (said establishment formerly showcasing soft-core or "pink films" as they were known in Japan). One certainly had to engage in some level of visual imagination just as, at September's festival, one had to watch the proceedings; indeed, there was often more to watch than to listen to.

So what to make of it? Let me say first that, overall, I found it a very rewarding experience, though the hows and whys of that remain elusive. I had a similar reaction to most of Unami's events during AMPLIFY, more so, admittedly when the semi-narrative structure of the boxes and the tension they generated between co-performer and audience was in effect. You're able to draw immediate parallels between elements of those sets and what appears here on disc, notably the frequent footfalls and, of course, the tumbling of raw materials, cardboard, metal or otherwise.

Those footsteps, and the mental image you tend to retain of a darkened theater, impart a slightly noirish aspect to the set; the activities have a threatening aspect to them again, reflected in part in live experience by the uncertain stability of the box structures. There's also the omnipresent sense of a large, enclosed space--the theatre--which, perhaps influenced by the photos from the case's interior, I do think of as dark, hence hear much of the activity, quiet as it is (and there's a lot of quiet), as occurring in the wings, outside the limits of my sight and eerier for that. It's oddly episodic as well, with new elements being introduced fairly late in the day like the bird sounds and, most infamously, the hardcore guitar work in track 7 which leaps in out of nowhere, grandstands, then disappears, resurfaces more than ten minutes later. Why? I've no clue.

So even with the assistance of having seen the pair in action, "Teatro Assente" is one tough nut. I enjoy it very much, more than their duo performance at issue Project, in fact, which struck me as somewhat forced at times. I'm guessing the lack of direct visual referents is a plus here, allowing me to construct mental imagery more in keeping with my own perceptions. It's easily enough appreciated purely on sonic grounds, I guess, but that strikes me as too purposefully ignoring the real goings on. I haven't come up with a scenario that's utterly wowed me, but give me time.

I'm happy "Teatro Assente" exists though, as I was happy to have experienced Unami's (and Kawaguchi's) performances last month, whether or not I thought a given one "worked". It's very healthy to have art like this out there.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Toshimaru Nakamura - Maruto (Erstwhile)

In many ways, Nakamura's music has shifted rather decidedly over the past few years, say since his last recorded collaboration with Keith Rowe, "between". It became a bit less radical to these ears, more comfortable. Sometimes this worked well, other times it seemed a bit *too* cushy. Here, however, he's not only different but has finally (at least, from what I've heard) discovered a tough, deep, difficult-to-entirely-grasp new area, a very welcome development, more so in that solo outings haven't previously been his best friend.

The beginning of "Maruto" sets the stage. He leaps right in, no slow leaking of sounds, but the choice is odd, almost awkward yet moving. A series of staggering, mid-range buzzes that have a hollow feel, intermixed with softer scrubbings and high sine pitches. It's odd in that these 5 1/2 minutes are very different from anything that follows during the next 41 but instead of sounding out of place, they do seem to function as a somehow appropriate preamble. There's an echo of that strong tone in the next section, but it's more one layer out of several, only lasts a little while and then the piece reduces to the territory it will occupy for the remainder, an unsettling mix of hums, static, thin sines and super-low bass. It's almost queasiness-inducing and I say this without, I'm sure, getting the full effect of the bass tones, which I gather from various sources are both visceral and difficult to fully appreciate without benefit of an absurdly good sound system.

There's something morass-like about the music, much less airy and electric sounding than previous work. It's almost sluggish, though I mean that in a good way! Like water in a slowly moving swamp. It's extremely self-contained, diffident maybe. Nakamura reduces things down to a low, low simmer (again, allowing for subsonics beyond the reach of my speakers) and allows it to just pool there, eddying slowly. Something very exciting about that, very organic. The closing third or so of the disc is tough to describe--it's quite soft but with a good bit of activity, most sounds possessing a kind of burr, rotating about each other, knocking into one another, disappearing. Again, a pond surface with gentle, underlying currents, but with a film of algae, water striders, leaves, etc. is the image that lingers. The final minute or two is just a deep, low, low tone, still soft. That initial section, in retrospect, seems like a tumbling of liquid into this now quiescent pond.

A wonderful recording, one I found challenging in unusual ways, sliding in and out of my mental grasp, offering a lot to contemplate for a long while to come, I suspect.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Chris Cochrane/Dennis Cooper/Ishmael Houston-Jones - Them (Tzadik)

"Them" was initially conceived in 1985 by choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, write Dennis Cooper and guitarist Chris Cochrane as a work revolving around gay men and their lives, subsequently developed into a longer work the following year, becoming more overtly concerned with AIDS, dealing with the matter in a very direct, sometimes brutally harsh way. PS 122 produced a revival of the piece in 2010, which I had the good fortune to attend. It was a very moving experience, Houston-Jones' controlled but ferocious choreography, Cooper's intimate, unsparing, often achingly romantic spoken texts and Cochrane's guitar and tape contributions, ranging from noise to gorgeous songs all melded finely, framing the vignettes drawn from everyday life in the (ongoing) era of AIDS. A sequence toward the end where the young male dancers, one by one, went through the quiet motions of palpating jaws and armpits in front of an unseen mirror, searching for enlarged lymph nodes, was one of the saddest, most wrenching things I've seen.

Happily, Tzadik has released a disc which, though you have to imagine the dance, does a pretty good job of filling in the rest though, if the production continues to be staged (and I believe there were plans to do so), I'd urge people to go and experience the totality. Here, the music is provided by Cochrane (guitars, percussion, bass, accordion, keyboards, tapes) accompanied by Kato Hideki (bass, percussion, keyboards, mandolin), wrapping itself around several spoken texts by Cooper (with one by Jeremy Pheiffer). In my previous exposure to Cochrane's work, I've been most attracted by his song forms which are solid and almost traditionally beautiful but with enough warpage and weft to transfix and that's often the case here, as on the utterly lovely "Ish solo". But he also proves adept at more ambient noise pieces ("Pre-Show") and ones that seem to draw inspiration from electric Miles. Still, as enjoyable as the music is, you have to listen to it, I think, as a kind of obbligato to the texts, delivered in a calm but intensely nostalgic voice by Cooper. They largely involve memories--first loves, old boyfriends, traumatic events, the peaks and valleys of growing up gay in the 60s and 70s, the drugs and sex, the suicides. All coming to the fore now that, in 1986, so many were dying.

The booklet includes several photographs from the production, giving the listener at least a small idea of the physicality of Houston-Jones' contributions--robust, male, youthful vitality and explosiveness is pervasive in the piece, making the node-searching episode all the more heartrending.

In all, a fine disc and, short of a well-filmed DVD, as close as you'll get to "Them" without seeing it. But if it shows up in your neck of the woods, do yourselves a favor and go.

Available from Squidco

Friday, October 07, 2011

Lee Noyes/Phil Brownlee/Jerome Poirier - White & Red/Lux (Ideal State)

Two works, the first, "White & Red" with Noyes on sampler and electronics, Brownlee on violin. The violin is spare and scratchy, Noyes' contributions fairly minimal. It's the kind of music that can easy succumb to aridity combined with a sense of meandering and that's almost the case here for the first several minutes. But gradually, a sort of tentative fluidity asserts itself, the col legno's take on a settled aspect and the electronics finds an interesting steady tone, an odd, rounded sound that somehow works quite well with the still dry strings. Things grow suitably chaotic toward the end, making the trip fairly satisfying overall. "Lux" is a substantially different creature with Noyes deploying a "laptop-processed 19tet inside piano" and Poirier on electric cello. While the sounds themselves are rather smoother than the preceding piece, the structure is fragmented into blocks, the arco cello, generally rich in tone, offset against a variety of electronic attacks that, true to their source (or one of their sources, at least) tend to have something of a piano resonance to them. There's a very odd and intriguing section with the inside piano generating a periodic, harsh alarm-bell sound while the cello is searching the nether regions beneath; very unsettling. It eventually slows down drastically, evolving into a series of blurts, burps and scrapes, yet retaining, somehow, a forward flow. Fascinating piece, I enjoyed it very much.

Michael Johnsen

Two self-produced 3" discs from Johnsen, one from 2007 (pictured above) and one from 2009.

The earlier disc is a 21-minute excerpt from a longer performance involving two AM radios with loopstick antennae in close proximity, their resultant sounds processed by Johnsen. My prior experience of Johnsen's music, borne out here, is of a harsh, scratchy, squeaky and hyperactive realm. In this instance, the radios squelch 'n' belch, not too dissimilar form what Ricardo Arias might conjure up given a wide enough array of balloonage. It migrates it bird chirp territory and, as it does, much needed air enters the room. What had previously been a bit claustrophobic and, for my taste, overly populated, now attains a welcome balance of acute, piercing slivers of sound as well as the space through which they're hurtling. From there, the music veers back into the gurgling with choral radio samples bleeding through, the activity once again becoming more crowded, less incisive to these ears.

The 2009 recording is a complete 22-minute set from Issue Project Room, no details on the means of sound generation provided. The sounds are lighter, more transparent, though still far busier than otherwise. There's a skittering quality throughout which goes some way to ameliorating a major sense of gabbiness. One almost imagines a noise version of Carl Stalling...Some 12 minutes in, it turns toward softer, seemingly padded elements; one imagines the cartoon characters brought to mind by the thought of Stalling creeping through some dark, crowded attic or alleyway. It diffuses nicely as it reaches its conclusion, the sounds dissipating, leaking around the corners. Good job, sorry I wasn't there to see it.

Interested listeners can contact Johnsen at:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Michel Doneda/Jonas Kocher - Action Mécanique (Flexion Records)

Gotta love a sandpaper outer sleeve...

Doneda on soprano and sopranino, Kocher on his accordion and objects. Doneda's someone whose work I greatly enjoyed 10-12 years back but have found less and less compelling over the years, doubtless my taste shift more than anything, but I've enjoyed Kocher's recent work well enough, so I came into this with high hopes. Fans of the saxophonist will no doubt revel in this but, overall, I found it hit and miss, focusing more on sonic extremes of one kind or another (pinched high tones, guttural low ones, much in between) than any real solidity of form or concise exploration of sound.But maybe that's part of it, that the techniques, in fact, aren't so extreme anymore, that the sounds are more commonplace these days and, more, the interplay has about it something of the routine aspect of efi. At heart, it seems to be operating from a stance that doesn't hold as much interest for this listener anymore, though I admit I'd be hard pressed to quantify it further. "Too gabby" in Radu's words? Well, yes, that's part of it. More, nothing said I haven't heard before, I'm afraid. Your mileage may vary.

flexion records

Francisco Meirino/Jason Kahn - Music for an Empty Cinema (authorized version)

A fairly steady state work, mid-range in volume, fuzzy and complex in nature, made up of multiple elements, enough that it's difficult to take them all in at once. Some like the bristling central line tend to be heard in the foreground while others, like the low, distant thrum, can be perceived when concentrated upon but are more often "felt". Not everything is droned; manual manipulations and additions appear now and then, a kind of prodding of the field, bending the signal somewhat. It blisters a bit, disembodied, difficult to discern voices seem to be in there somewhere, possibly from a radio, eventually dissipates, as it must. The music is engaging enough though at some point, I felt it losing steam. I'd rather have heard two or three different tacks, but not bad.

authorized version

Monday, October 03, 2011

Joe Panzner - Clearing, Polluted (Copy for Your Records)

Ah, so satisfying. I remember stumbling across an unusually well-written review of "The Hands of Caravaggio" back when, by a young 'un somewhere out in Ohio, impressive enough that I wrote him and complimented his work. Well, he's done a good bit since then, both written and aural but "Clearing, Polluted" is a real high water mark.

Descriptives here are going to be a bit of a problem as I think it'll be tough to do justice to how this actually sounds. Jesse did a fine job; consult him as well. All electronics, yes, and one gets the impression that the devices are fairly lo-fi in nature.It begins quite harshly with blistered sounds; in truth, I was anticipating something along these lines. But Panzner very quickly moves into subtler areas--not routine quiet patches but mysterious stretches with soft but disturbing stria wafting over the surface, interrupted here and there by what seem to be brushes on drums. That gaseous sound becomes more and more embodied, revealing a startling richness and, eventually, an organ-like beauty. This tumbles into the second track which again, begins in scattered, abrupt fashion, a burble of bumps, hisses, gurgles and crackles. It then explodes into a fine cacophony, the most raucous portion of the disc, but music that somehow seems expertly reined, bucking but not swirling off into a muddy morass, hypersensitive to detail and sonic weight. This too coalesces into a surprising form some seven minutes in, a kind of grinding, chiming mass that contains the feel of something rockish--like the best moments of Branca, only much better. Seriously strong stuff.

But the last track, the excellently titled, "Less Than a Feeling", is perhaps the most fully realized, solid piece. Again the detail combined with the billowy structure utterly wins me over. It's as though you're hearing sounds from inside the mantle of the Earth, miles below the surface, deep and resonant like you'd expect but with needle-thin, unexpected sparks flying. Soon, other sounds make themselves felt, many, each inserted with fine grace and timing before ending, perfectly, with a grating plug pull that brings us, nearly full circle, back to the beginning.

Great recording, do check it out.

copy for your records

also available from erst dist

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Anne Guthrie/Barry Chabala - Preston Hollow (Roeba Records)

As Richard mentioned a couple of weeks back, this is a collaboration at a distance, Guthrie having recorded her fine, often plaintive French horn in an apparent avian paradise named Preston Hollow with Chabala adding his thoughts, on e-bow guitar, at a later date. Both elements work extremely well, Guthrie's ruminations unforced and open to the environment--one imagines she may have entirely forgotten that she was recording the vent--Chabala's commentary considered and complimentary. It proceeds from a relatively fractured onset, Guthrie playing clearly but not throughout (the birds take that roll), the guitar entering now and then. But about midway through, Chabala sets a lovely, multi-tiered drone in motion, something that risks being overbearing but, to my ears, enhances the existing music in a lovely manner that moves the entirety of the work into an adjacent, perhaps surprising space, unifying all three elements. Toward the end, Guthrie adds a series of marvelously "human" notes, wistful, self-questioning, even vaguely imitative of the flies we've heard buzzing about, maybe trying to sublimate into the environment. Very beautiful, whatever the rationale (if any) and a really fine achievement for both musicians (and the birds).

Gosia Winter/Barry Chabala - Ananke (Roeba Records)

A slightly longer range collaboration, spanning Australia and New Jersey. Seven brief songs (about 25 minutes) and they *are* pretty much songs. Winter has a pleasantly raspy voice and (happily) eschews extreme techniques, instead drawing from folk forms and blues in a generally heartfelt and honest fashion. In the first song, her accompaniment is struck matches and a faucet, lending a fine atmosphere to the elegiac tones. If anything, I feel some affinity for the Canterbury scene, though drastically pared down. Chabala's guitar (not e-bowed) is clear and bell-like, reminding me a bit of, say, Brian Godding (!) while Winter, especially in pieces like "I Shadowed Share You" evokes Julie Tippetts not a little bit. I was a bit skeptical on first hearing, but repeated listens largely won me over (ok, I still have problems with "Nmbrs"...). Interesting alleyway for Chabala, curious to hear if he pursues it, and nice to hear Winter for the first time. (Is "And Frightened Not" a standard from somewhere--sounds like it should be...)


also available from Erst Dist

Barry Chabala/Jez riley French - Trammels (engraved glass)

And, to complete the set, yet another album with an ocean between the participants. Three photographic scores among the four works, two of which provided on an accompanying postcard and, perhaps, the cover is the third? "bruxelles score #3" is a serene affair, placing soft city recordings athwart gentle, chiming guitar tones; not earthshaking but nice, like a warm bath. The score for "for ivan and anna" is very attractive, a blurred, horizontal photo of greenery atop four differently widthed slivers of similar subject, ranging from red/yellow to green/lilac. The music is eerie, soft, e-bowed (?) howls among ultra-low rumbles (wind?), interspersed with hisses and other ephemera. Strong, moody piece.

"(....) a coda" is quiet, really quiet. Four or so minutes in, I pick up some faint sounds, then a soft but clearly audible e-bow swelling. Subsides back into the barely heard. Nice idea, well realized. Again, nothing particularly groundbreaking but accomplished with grace; that's good enough. The title track is probably the most active, Chabala playing sparely but freely, using what sounds like a Roweian handheld fan at one point, French creating echo-y, indistinct sounds beneath. Again, a fine bed of sound, a low level murmur of goings on that are both varied and vaguely forward-thrusting.

engraved glass

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga - Stroke by Stroke (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

21 shortish tracks(12 seconds to six minutes) of solo (for the most part) zither with objects, recorded in the artist's home in Athens. As there are no gaps between the cuts, one listens to the disc as a kind of suite. An interesting, and commendable, fact is that despite there being a quite wide variety in attack and resultant sounds, this isn't difficult to do. The shifts are abrupt but somehow not disjunctive. The zither is percussed or bowed, generally speaking; one hazards a guess that the strings were occasionally vibrated via the abuttal of some electronic object. But whatever the case, the sounds are almost always fascinating in and of themselves and, if anything one would like to hear them investigated at greater length. Lazaridou-Chatzigoga verges on song a couple of times ("clinkers" and "woody woodpecker", both delightful) but for the most part, matters are resolutely abstract, the extended range of the excited zither allowed to shine. Good recording.

Sister Overdrive - Honey (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

A cassette releases (heard by yours truly on disc) from Giannis Kotsonis, who goes by Sister Overdrive. "Honey" seems to be a piece constructed from multiple sources including processed field recordings, electronics and excited objects--many layers of such--and molded almost clay-like into a surging, organic-sounding form. Hard to describe without limning each phase in turn but suffice it to say that it has a quasi cinematic feel that's more Bourne Identity than Bela Tarr, freely and smoothly flowing. Clangs here, rumbles there, steam vents over yonder. I never found myself bored and thought Kotsonis made reasonable choices throughout but I can't say I was riveted either. Like other things in the general area I've heard recently, it begins quite compressed and robust only to splay out and almost evanesce in its latter half before recongealing and going out with more or less of a bang. It's a nice path, even if I begin to wonder about its ease of access. Kotsonis throws in a twist--just when you think it's over, a new, different sounding piece, drone-filled with birdlike twitters, appends itself. Enjoyable, though, well worth a listen.

organized music from Thessaloniki

Jean-Luc Guionnet/Seijiro Murayama - Window Dressing (Potlatch)

Seijiro Murayama/Stephane Rives - Axiom for the Duration (Potlatch)

Two duo recordings from Potlatch, each featuring Murayama with a saxophonist, Guionnet on one, Rives the other, both thorny and intriguing affairs.

Guionnet has made something of a habit of skirting categorical boundaries, as likely to engage in pipe organ drones as free jazz extravaganzas as eai as Chamy-ized performance. Here, he and Murayama seek to wring more out of what I hear as the nether reaches of efi, kind of the area you may have expected Butcher and Prevost to explore a decade or so ago, This isn't to cast it as a recherche event; I get the feeling Guionnet is very conscious of this "re-mining" of certain approaches and I choose to listen to it that way, allowing more latitude than I otherwise might, always acknowledging that there may still be lodes hitherto unexposed. Not that I'm often sold on the venture. When Guionnet erupts in plosives, guttural, Mitchell-esque drones or a flurry of squeaks, it's next to impossible not to hear their lineage. On the other hand, the placement of these sounds within the generally gentle framework provided by Murayama (often using brushes or the like) can be quite attractive and thoughtful, setting up a certain tension in this listener's head that alternates between aggravating (in the sense of wondering why they bother) and itchily delicious when, on their own terms, they succeed. Is it too easy to say, "Ah, here's the Evan Parker section."? I don't know, I'm sure Guionnet has other thing son his mind but there no way anyone doesn't register Parker from time to time (or Butcher elsewhere). Murayama as well, though perhaps less overtly, operates out of a similar context; I find his contributions less problematic but maybe I'm over-reaching when I think I pick up references to Butoh at the conclusion of the first 30 minute plus track, isolated strikes sounds that are very moving.

The second track concentrates on rushing air sounds from Guionnet, brushed ones from Murayama, a bit more into early century eai (! :-) ) but with a undertone, to these ears, of free jazz; it's not too hard to imagine Roscoe Mitchell getting to this point. Again, not a deep criticism, just curious about the whys involved. More, harsher airborne rasps in the third then back to a more "traditional" interplay for the final cut, Murayama again peppering the affair with lovely, heavy blows mixed with whooshing scrapes. As before, I hem and haw; it's very well played, well imagined. Had it been on a Butcher solo outing from 2002, I would have been wowed. Should I still be so? Not any case, listeners without my qualms should find much to enjoy.

The recording with Rives is a rather different animal. Rives, on soprano, uses what I presume to be a circular breathing technique but manages to do so with nary a trace of the inhale/exhale one normally hears, producing, in that sense, a very pure drone, although internally braided in a complex manner. Murayama bows low-pitched metal in a sawing fashion, supplying that missing pulse. It's piercing, not a little grating and extremely focused, not dissimilar from prior Rives work as far as that goes. The tones set one's inner ear abuzz, drive the dog nuts and generally upset the neighbors. It's wonderful. The second section, some 20 minutes in, tones things down a hair, Rives' sounds threading through the continued (though softer) bowing of Murayama, creating a music that hints at raga, particularly the alap portions. Interestingly, though perhaps only because I've recently played it myself, I was also reminded of the quavering strings heard in Ornette's "Silence" from the 1962 Town Hall recording. Rives soon migrates to purer tones as well, even as the metal becomes more diffuse, a lovely effect. This, in turn, transforms into ultra-high ringing--I'm not sure if Rives is in there or not, actually, but I'm guessing he is--splattered with the odd crash of metal. The final track (it's one piece, just subdivided into cuts) subtly combines these approaches, retaining the soprano drone but splintering it a bit, still keeping the disc's overall consistency, something I appreciate hugely. It densifies, entwines, shudders, grows steadily more complex, meatier. Ends.

A fantastic recording; listen.