Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just a note on this marvelous release, otherwise unrelated to the usual stuff here.

Steve Roden, who, I guess, is actually a bit related to the aforementioned usual stuff, apparently spends a good deal of his spare time trawling thrift shops in search of, among other things, ancient, obscure vinyl and old photographs. He's collected two CDs worth of the former and a bookload of the latter, all consisting of music-related subject matter, in this fantastic volume.

The music dates from the '20s to '40s, the photos from the mid 1800's through maybe the 30s (? not sure, don't have it at hand). There are blues, hymns, folk songs, pop tunes, most of them by people you've never heard of, many of them just gorgeous. Highlights include Nick Lucas (a central inspiration for Tiny Tim! and who appeared on the Tonight Show wedding of same) crooning, "If you Hadn't Gone Away", Eva Parker's stirring rendition of "I Seen My Pretty Papa Standing on a Hill" ("He looked just like a ten-thousand dollar bill") and an awesome jew's harp performance of "The Old Grey Horse" by Obed Pickard.

I've posted a couple of selections on facebook to deafening silence from the eai community (:-)) but what the's great music.

Oh, and their Fahey set contains its share of gems as well.

Dust to Digital

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Greg Kelley/Olivia Block - Resolution (Erstwhile)

Jérôme Noetinger/Will Guthrie - Face Off (Erstwhile)

The two new Erstwhile releases stand in something of a contrast to recent albums on the label, being (to my ears), less strictly idea-oriented and more concerned with pure sonic attributes. In some ways, I here them as similar to recordings like "eh" and "Lidingo", which is all well and good.

Olivia Block makes her label debut, paired with Greg Kelley in his first appearance on Erstwhile since "Forlorn Green", although the overall cast of the session seems more firmly located in her neck of the woods, which is to say very thick and richly layered, possessing a massiveness and spatial volume. She plays a bit of piano here and there (once unfurling a couple of strikingly Tilbury-esque arpeggios, elsewhere within the piano's string-bed) but it's her electronics that predominate, finely integrated with Kelley's trumpet, enough so that it's often difficult to pick out the horn from the diverse soundscape.

Though the five pieces have enormous dynamic range, there's never a sense of sparseness; even at its quietest, you get the impression that even the gossamer strands that are barely discernible are tightly connected and possess great tensile strength. And when things get churning--or tumbling--look out. The sheer sound is marvelous through most of the set, especially those moments, beloved of Block, wherein one experiences loud but slightly dulled bangs, like crates being jostled in the hold of a cavernous ship, similar to the ambiance of her "Heave To" but here augmented by Kelley's ferocious rushes of wind power and tin plate-induced buzz. The fourth cut, "some old slapstick routine" is almost bravura in its deployment of crashes, wheezes, bangs and piano, a marvelous explosion of densities, colors and plasticity.

It's interesting re: the title, "Resolution" that had we read this in 1970, wed likely think of "moral determination" whereas today, I daresay, we think in terms of sensual acuity. In any case, I hear this as quite a sensual release, and a very good one.

There's a somewhat similar feel, at least to these ears, with the Noetinger/Guthrie recording, not in actual sound but in the sense of being immersed in a purely sensual world, here defined by electronics and percussion. It's a more prickly clime, more spittle and nails, but contains the same kind of richness and viscosity.

Twelve cuts that, though often differentiated by a brief gap, read decently enough as a continuous suite. There are different tensions in play here: a bit of a musique concrète resonance via Noetinger and the slightest of free jazz allusions on the part of Guthrie, who's been investigating that territory in recent years.

Difficult to know what to say apart from simple descriptives; for all its grit, there's a certain airiness at hand, the whirs of the tape decks seeming at some physical distance from Guthrie's clatter. Perhaps that's one aspect, that there's a strong feeling of twoness here whereas "Resolution" has a kind of unity that, had I not known otherwise, might have made it difficult to ascertain the number of people involved. "Face Off" (and perhaps this is apropos given the filmic reference of the title) strikes me as more of a dialogue, even (heaven forfend!) a conversation. Whatever, it maintains interest absolutely throughout. Listeners aware of the prior work of both will have a reasonable idea of what to expect, though it's less monolithic that some of Guthrie's electronic work from recent years.

One tends to consider new Erstwhiles in the context of its impressive catalog. While these may not have the conceptual depth of Rowe/Malfatti (not that much does, imho) or the sheer, aggressive innovation of a Taku Unami project, they're each entirely winning baths of sound from two pairs of fine and fascinating musicians. Recommended.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two LPs by Mattin that were apparently released in early 2010 but showed up on my doorstep only recently. The first deals, more or less traditionally, with music, the second not so much. Mattin will be appearing (what that entails, who knows? or even if he'll appear) along with Jarred Fowler and Rind on Tuesday, 11/22 at 208 Bowery, 2nd Floor at 8PM.

Loy Fankbonner/Margarida Garcia/Kevin Failure/Mattin - Exquisite Corpse (w.m.o/r - Azul Discografica - Ozono Kids)

The idea is simple enough: four parts of each of ten songs recorded independently, with only the lyrics serving as "graphic score" of a kind, limiting the length to standard pop's three minutes, layering the results without discrimination. MIMEO's "Sight" was a far deeper exploration along tangential lines, including as it did the advice to think in terms of the communality of the ensemble despite being geographically isolated. Perhaps the same idea was at play here or the members thought of it themselves. I also found myself recalling Gavin Bryars' wonderful "1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4" on that mid-70s Obscure disc, wherein the group member recorded simultaneously but outside the range of hearing each other, beginning a written piece together (in this case a loungy jazz number) but gradually, inevitably, drifting apart.

In any event, we *are* presented with a commodity here, another in a long string of seemingly contradictory product emanating from Mattin who might just as likely sit and stare at his performing partner for the duration of the set, recording what transpires, playing it back immediately, or not show up, or interrogate the audience. Not sure if this is the "last" item which presents a fairly traditional musical approach (in ultimate outcome, if not in means of production). If I attempt to describe what it sounds like...oh, a bit of Boredoms, maybe some DNA, any number of groups straddling the noise/rock divide. At times, rather amusingly, it brings back memories of Last Exit or Arcana. It's perfectly listenable, very loose, Failure's guitar chiming, Fankbonner's drums supple and varied and, probably (not surprisingly) Garcia's bass, rough-hewn and uncompromising, supplying the most material of lasting interest. Mattin's vocals are suitably disjointed and glossolaliac.

Listen here (w.m.o/r)

Mattin - Object of Thought (Presto!?)

When I opened the package in which these LPs arrived, the knife I used left an incision directly across the black circle that occupies most of the back cover of this release. Seemed appropriate, somehow.

I find this one a good bit more interesting, ultimately, than the Exquisite Corpse album, largely due to its fine juxtaposition of the abstract and concrete, the latter consisting of the spoken words of Mattin, recording his thoughts on (I take it) a range of subjects, which he then distorts, cuts and otherwise manhandles, removing any real vestige of meaning with the exception, possibly, of tone of voice. In this sense, one recalls Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room", though the end result falls in territory adjacent to Ashley's "Automatic Writing". Not to make a qualitative comparison, just an elemental one.

Side A is quiet, Side B, less so. Sometimes the words are intelligible, more often not, slowed to an indistinct mumble. Electronics interfere like a mal-tuned analog radio. Sonically, it works quite well, balanced, slithery, interruptive. That's part of the irony, I suppose, that one is unable *not* to listen (at least, that's the case with me) without making assessments that are more aesthetic than political. One can expand upon the attempted portrayal (and understanding) of ideas made impossible by the corporate chaos around us, though that's not a particularly deep thought, both obvious and subvertable. So one listens to it as sound, contravening what I imagine Mattin's preference would be. And it works quite well, though my favorite aspect might still be the knife cut I made in the sleeve.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sean Baxter - Solo Drumkit Improvisations (Bocian)

Bocian had preciously released a couple of Baxter solos on 45rpm vinyl; sometimes I thought it worked well in that format at that length, other times I wanted to hear the music more expanded. Well, got my wish on the latter here, with a 35-minute LP, eight tracks of varied percussion. It's all quite full and active on Side One, but at the same time, there's not much of a sense of fussiness or bravura playing. Things grow quiet on the flip side, much crinkling of material at first, then a flurry of toms and light metallic clatter. Echoes of Le Quan Ninh perhaps, maybe a hint of Beins as well.

Good recording, worth checking out.

James Rushford/Joe Talia - Paper Fault Line (Bocian)

New names to me (though Anthony Pateras also appears), Rushford on viola, piano, synth, organ and many percussive objects, Talia wielding mostly percussion (also an LP).

How to describe? Side One is a fine welter of noise, with tones of percussion that tends towards the mid-range and higher pitched end of things, with electronics weaving in and out, the whole thing surging and ebbing. Like the Baxter above, very busy but without a feeling of fussiness, advancing with fervor, then retreating to bubble about and reconsider. The organ is surprising when it enters at the side's conclusion, tonal and church-like (or, at least, funereal).

The obverse side has more of a concrète feel at the beginning, but once again the organ appears, this time more deeply ethereal, with a faint choral aspect. The music continues in a slightly spooky vein, with glass-like tinkling and high keening provided by bowed material. There's an abrupt stoppage (no cuts are listed, so I'm reading this as a continuous work), followed by isolated electro-percussive tones, reminds me of something...Jarrett/DeJohnette from Ruta & Daitya? not sure. In any case, quite enjoyable and I'm interested in hearing more from this pair.


"Blue" Gene Tyranny - Detours (Unseen Worlds)

Tyranny has always been something of a puzzle for me. First hearing him as part of Robert Ashley's ensemble, I took his keyboard work to be rather tongue-in-cheek, the flashiness and obvious technical prowess a kind of commentary on same, similar to the horror/enticement of the cocktail lounge-ish music, expertly done but quease-inducing. But on his solo piece on the brilliant "New Music from Antarctica" compilation, the modestly titled, "The World's Greatest Piano Player", he really seemed to revel in the raucous honky-tonkin' and I thought, hmmm, maybe this is really where his head is at. Subsequent music has more or less steered me in that direction, though I always retain an itch that has me wondering if I shouldn't be taking the music at face value, if, somewhere down there, Tyranny is chuckling...

In any case, I'm choosing to take this recording as it comes. Four works, delicate and tonal, sometimes possessing a Satie tinge, more often carrying more than a whiff of Jarrett at his soloing best (without the pomp or angst). There's a gentle country aura in "13 Detours"; one can picture a house pianist in a rural bar, by himself around 3AM, ambling about the keyboard, trying out arcane variations on what he'd played earlier. "George Fox Searches" is both the most overtly Jarrettian (though much better) as well as the most effective piece, though Tyranny cites a Quaker hymn as a source. It's a quite beautiful, sprawling 19 minutes, always interesting, often achingly lovely.

The other two compositions use electronics and tape. "She Wore Red Shoes" has a touch of the Ashley-era throb with a clipped rhythm embellished by florid pianistics, pleasant enough. "Intuition" is dreamy, with held notes and taped sounds of fireworks and maybe a calliope?

Nice work. Does a part of me desire more meat? Yes, but it's a reasonable enough dish as is, occasionally wuite piquant! :-)

unseen worlds

Yannick Franck - Memorabilia (Silken Tofu)

Six tracks of heavy, dark, slowly pulsing dronage. I'm afraid there's not too much else. Well-constructed and rich enough, but the kind of amorphous, throbbing mass that just can't hold my interest. Some annoying, if softly spoken vocal on the fifth track don't help. Nothing wrong with this, and of interest to those who really get into this area, but too indistinguishable from similar work by others and not nearly enough grit for yours truly.

Silken Tofu

Christian Wolff - Kompositionen 1950-1972 (Edition RZ)

Wolff occupies a rather unique position in my evaluative process, always has. There's something about his music, generally, that I deeply love and admire but I'll be damned if I can routinely pick out what that something is and, in the meantime, I find his work very, very difficult. This is made all the more problematic by its seeming (on the surface) simplicity and often relative tonality. There's a slipperiness to it, a conflict between the "should be graspable" and "leaking through my fingers" that persistently baffles me. Which all goes to its beauty, I imagine.

Coincidentally, shortly after writing the above, I saw an exchange with Michael Pisaro and Jon Abbey on facebook in which the former complained about the blandness in most of the performances on Disc One here. Now, I take for granted that Michael knows vastly more about Wolff and has far more experience with his music than I do, so I place substantial trust in his opinions. That's part of the reason that makes me reluctant to critically comment on certain areas of music, and Wolff is often one. Because I simply don't have the breadth of listening experience to differentiate at that level. I listen to the first piece here, "Duo for Violinist and Pianist, 1961", performed by Cardew and János Négyesy, and it sounds fine to me, difficult to grasp in the manner I mentioned above, but very enjoyable. I'm sure I'm missing something, perhaps as simple as having four or five other renditions at my disposal and the time to compare.

In any case, this 2-disc set presents performances of a range of early Wolff pieces realized from 1956 to 2011. Several stellar performers including Cardew, Tudor, Nelly Boyd, Rzewski and Rowe. I imagine there are differing opinions as to Rzewski's pianistic gifts, some finding him too steely, but I've always loved his attack and he does wonderfully here on four pieces, three recorded in 1963 (I think the earliest I've heard Rzewski), one in 1971, spare and delicate. There are two versions of "Edges", the first by Gentle Fire (Richard Bernas, Hugh Davies, Graham Hearn, Stuart Jones and Michael Robinson) from 1974, which elicited especial condemnation on that interchange cited above. I can see the point a bit; there's a kind of narrative aspect that seems out of place. It's certainly rough and, to my ears, doesn't hold a candle to the Rowe, but I can't quite hear it as utterly offensive, the overall sound closer to what you might have heard from Davies' Music Improvisation Company from around the same time. But Rowe's version is stunning. Hyper-quiet, with a restraint that's almost painful, small shimmers, clicks, flutters, radio...truly, the "edges" of sound. Worth the price for this alone.

Other pieces I especially enjoyed included the strong, droney "Duo for Violins" played by Daniella Strasvogel and Biliana Voutchkova; "Stones" is almost always delightful and is so here; the four pieces played by Tudor ("For Pianist 1959", "For 1, 2 or 3 People, 1964", For Piano I, 1952" and "Suite (I)"), each managing to be incredibly incisive in such a free-flowing world; and the lovely "Drinks", for glasses and liquids.

There may be justified carps for more experienced Wolffians than I, but I found this a very fine exposition of a segment of his work and highly recommend it.

Volker Heyn - Sirènes (Edition RZ)

Heyn is new to me. My first impression, on the opening track, "K'TEN" (2005), was something out of the Louis Andriessen mold; specifically it sounded very similar to the early work of Andriessen disciple Michael Gordon (not the highest praise in my book). The second piece, "Sirènes", is an intense string quartet that reminded me of Lachenmann, though again, my knowledge of the latter is pretty minimal. After the third cut, "Prelude zu Ferro Canto #1", for tape and orchestra, I gave up having any stylistic expectations, especially seeing that the next work was titled, "Blues in B-flat" for solo cello (and a very excellent one, at that).

The overall tenor of Heyn's work, if this can be considered a representative sampling, is rather harsh and aggressive, with slashing strings, jangling, grinding percussion and a lot of fff-ery. That fullness--one is tempted to say overstuffedness--can be bracing at times but over the long haul, is a bit exhausting in the sense of having received the ideas only to have them driven home once again. This is fine, I suppose, and Heyn is adept at it. It's a case where one's love of the music may come down to one's appreciation of the kind of character the music evokes. Personally, I opt for the more reticent (as in Wolff, above) but others may well be swept away by the vehemence and violence evinced herein.

Edition RZ

available stateside from erst dist

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Echtzeitmusik Berlin - Self-Defining a Scene

Burkhard Beins, Christian Kesten, Gisela Nauck, Andrea Neumann - Editors


If one was going to choose a city for which to extensively document the recent history of what's come to be known in these parts as electro-acoustic improvisation, my first pick might be Tokyo, but Berlin would certainly be up there. This handsome book goes a long way toward providing a history (not the history, as the editors are the first to say) of the Echtzeitmusik ("real-time music") scene from the early 90s through 2010.

The first section of the book deals with memories of the specific locations wherein echtzeitmusik flowered. It's likely the least interesting portion, being more a rundown of venues, how they became such, how long they lasted etc., combined with certain memories of same. One does have the impression that it was much more of a squatter situation in many case than it is/was in, say, New York. I sort of picture a number of ABC No Rio-like rooms...The exception to this run of relative dryness, oddly enough, is non-Berliner Rhodri Davies' warm and beautiful recollection of his years in the city, from 1997 to 1999.

The remaining portions are devoted to discussions of ideas, ranging from the specifically musical to the social and elsewhere. [I beg for forgiveness on the perfunctory nature of the capsulization that follows, but I just don't have the time to go into each area in detail] Much of it will be generally familiar to those readers who have spent a good deal of time in conversation with musicians in this neck of the woods (and/or who are musicians themselves); most of the issues are those that routinely surface. This isn't to say the discourses are of no value--they often are and, at the end of the day, it's good to have them assembled in printed form in at least one place--just that expectations for discovering new, crucial insights should be kept at a minimum. Diego Chamy's piece, "The Interaktion Festival: A Critical Defense" stood out, to me, for its fine questioning of premises, something that's always of great value. As is often the case, he'll aggravate many, but I imagine he'd consider it a failure if he didn't.

If I have a complaint, it's that some of the pieces, not unexpectedly given the number of contributors, are a little humdrum while others, in the context of purportedly discussing the scene and interesting aspects thereof, end up being little more than a rundown of what that individual has been doing recently.

But overall, Echtzeitmusik is a solid enough job and certainly a valuable attempt at, at the least, beginning to describe and document this area of the music. Well worth reading for almost anyone involved.

Wolke Verlag

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Tomek Chołoniewski - Un (Mathka)

Percussionist Chołoniewski presents five solo pieces. My first exposure to his work, I believe, and the initial piece raised my hopes, a soft, thoughtful exposition on muted bells. From the second track on, though, we're very much in Andrew Cyrille/Milford Graves territory, almost as though their "Dialogue of the Drums" had been seared into his memory. Not a bad source, of course, not at all, and Chołoniewski delivers a soulful, rich and energetic set. He tones things down for a couple of cuts, some bowing involved, before closing with a more forceful variation on the struck metal theme, evoking a mixture of gamelan and free jazz (heavy on the floor toms) that's very appealing. Good record, one of the better solo percussion things I've heard lately and, at a mere 18 1/2 minutes, a nice length as well.


The Limbo Ensemble - Plebiscitu (Audio Tong)

The brainchild of Portuguese reed player/electronicist Paulo Chagas, who solicited contributions from nine musicians scattered around the globe (including our own Massimo Magee as well as cellist Travis Johnson and bassist/percussionist Bruno Duplant), parsed through them choosing two to four selections per tracks, then added in himself. That last causes some problems though, to these ears, the whole notion doesn't quite gel here. The "solos" themselves are hit and miss though it's pointless to really criticize or praise them as all that matters is how they're used by Chagas and, generally, I find that effort to be uninspiring. THere are numerous times when I'd rather Chagas sat himself out as, for example in the third track (with Magee, Johnson and guitarist Thomas Olsson), things seem to be preceding along just fine without him. That "vanity project" aspect intrudes fairly often. Things coalesce a bit more on the final two tracks but, all in all, not very memorable.

Niski Szum - Songs from the Woods (Audio Tong)

Not often one hears Robert Frost lines around here...Niski Szum (gotta love that nom) is Marcin Dymiter (vocals, guitar) and on two of the four tracks here, he breaks out that old warhorse, "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening". The opener, "Blues from the Green Hills", has something of a Frithian air to it, an attractive, propelled piece of overlaid guitars, loping along pleasantly enough. "The Woods, Part 1" brings in the Frost. There's kind of a moody, folk aspect, Dymiter's Polish-accented English charming, softly sung over a shimmering backdrop. "The River" is the longest track, something of a drone with maybe a bit much fuzz; there's a smoothness overall to Dymiter's work here that strains my interest, needs a bit more bite. The final track is a recapitulation of the second with a bit more instrumental time. As said, pleasant enough but in the end, one-dimensional.

Zero Centigrade - Unknown Distances (Audio Tong)

Tonino Taiuti (acoustic guitar) & Vincenzo De Luca (trumpet)

The first, warped guitar notes instantly recall Partch's stringed instruments, a reference that will always warm this heart. It's a nice contrast, the resonant guitar with occasional, very deep strums offset by the squeezed, breathy trumpet. Guitar/trumpet isn't the most easily integrated combo one can imagine but Taiuti (who, btw, is credited with "composition" here; it seems pretty loose, generally, though some pieces have a clear dramatic structure) and De Luca do a good job, the former tending toward the clear, rich and ringing, the latter more strangulated and extreme. Perhaps a bit of sameness settles in over the course of the disc, but the pair is consistently imaginative enough to make it a worthwhile journey.

DMP Trio - Insular Dwarfism (Audio Tong)

Pawel Dziadur (electronics),Slawomir Maler (alto and tenor saxophone), Philip Palmer (alto saxophone, objects)

Kinda gabby and noisy--think Brotzmann and Zorn with Thomas Lehn at his most active. The sax playing, for all it's "freedom", is bland, sounding like any random efi session from 1985 or so, the improvisations are formless as well, containing no surprise, intriguing textures, etc., and the electronics are pretty basic. Nothing special here, keep moving.

audio tong