Saturday, March 31, 2012

Will Montgomery/Robert Curgenven - heygate/looking for narratives on small islands (winds measure)
mmmm...creamy white vinyl...a shared LP

Montgomery's piece, a fine work, evinces how wide the range of "field recordings" can be. Here, using input from contact mics, a vlf receiver and a telephone pick-up coil, he evokes nothing of what one's ears would hear (though perhaps subliminally) instead presenting an array of harsh crackles, super-low hums, metallic crinkles and more. It seems as though there are rarely if ever more than two or three sources in action at once, instead the sounds arrayed out over the course of 20 minutes, parts overlapping but more felt as a sequence, calm in arrangement but often disturbing and agitative in essence. It has a fascinating slow kind of rhythm to it, very purposeful and strong. Excellent piece.

Curgenven utilizes a broader array of means (a "transparence" duplate, guitar feedback, binaural mics, industrial fans and field recordings from various sites worldwide) but produces a much more homogenous work, though equally enjoyable. The baseline hum, rich in and of itself, is littered with scratches (always odd, on an LP, when LP scratches are used...), faint crowd sounds (I think?), traffic and more. It streams along, always engaging, and surges toward the end in a rather brutal and surprising climax, only to return after a few moments, withdrawn and somber.

A very fine recording as well as another visually beautiful object from winds measure

winds measure

D.O.R. - an occupied house (caduc.)

Jamie Drouin (analogue synth, radio), Lance Austin Olsen (copper plate, objects, floor guitar) and Matthieu Ruhlmann (objects). More solid, enveloping music from our friends up yonder. Hard to quantify though, or maybe I'm just not up to it today. The pieces combine certain steady-state properties with elaboration atop, which is only to say that there are often "pedal points" in play, layers of sound, with intermittent commentary. Not a revolutionary concept but exercised with fine judgment here, not overly reticent either. The music has its share of mini-eruptions along the way, conveying the feeling of having been welling beneath all along, which for me is a sign of a well-understood, well-realized form. That sense of not-quite-surprise, of an occurrence that is at once unexpected but, in retrospect, quite logical pops up again and again here. The vocabulary is a more or less known thing, the sentences are plain enough but the content is unique and lovely. Think Murakami short stories. Recommended.


Drachmae Lucky Strength - s/t (Woe Betide)

Being the trio of Martin Hackett (synths), Stuart Chalmers (electronics) and David Grundy (laptop)--there's a piano or facsimile of same in there as well--and consisting of irregular electronic soundscapes ranging from the sguiggly (overly so, to my taste) to the bleakly spacious, a more effective gambit. The trio has an almost defiant need to showcase the kind of loopy electronics stemming from analog days, specifically the 60s of Babbitt et. al., a sound, admittedly, that tends to grate on these ears, though that may be simply a function of age and particular experience. The work is also active in a general sense that owes more to efi in its more electric variants (Hugh Davies, etc.) than eai which, these days for this listener, is a tough act to pull off, especially when the sounds carry some emotive weight. For that to work, things have to be operating at a high enough level to obviate any kind of sentimentality (in the general sense) and it causes some trouble here. I take it these fellows understand all this and are making the attempts despite the potential pitfalls (or perhaps they don't see them as pitfalls at all) and in the interstices there's some exciting music here, just not consistently enough for me.

Woe Betide

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Various - PostCage (OgreOgress)

I'm not quite sure what, if anything, the pieces here have to with Cage aside from the fact that, more or less, they were composed after his death and presumably contain some amount of his influences (what doesn't?) so I'll simply comment on each of the 14 works, which are arranged alphabetically on the disc. Oh, and this release is on DVD format so there's quite a bit of music here (over two hours). And, by and large, it's very enjoyable.

1) Maria de Alvear - "for violin" (1994). Christina Fong, violin. A very lyrical piece, not sounding particularly 1994-ish at all, free form but residing in melody. More Shostakovich, to my ears than Cage, though if you take the latter at his most ariose. It wanders but is quite lovely in doing so, beautifully played.

2) Arved Ashby - "For Morton Feldman" (1992) for violin, piano and glockenspiel (Fong, Ashby and Glenn Freeman). As the composer mentions in his notes, perhaps not so reminiscent of Feldman, again quite lyrical though more overtly structured than the prior piece, shifting layers gently wafting over one another. Quite poignant and even romantic in nature.

3) David Beardsley - "November Test Pattern..." (2009) for justly intoned sine tones. Changing gears quite a bit, this is a fine, rich drone piece. The composer writes, "It's not going anywhere because it's already there." True enough! It sits and throbs, swirling, its mass contained but pulsing. La Monte Young comes to mind (the Blues Band) but this is a strong and separately standing work. The best kind of drone: one where you can listen from multiple angles, always hearing a different combination of layers.

4) Dionysis Boukouvalas - "Meditation" (2010), Paul Hersey, piano. A spare, delicate piece, the sequences arrayed via Cageian "time brackets", the notes, chords and other sounds relatively tonal and comforting, with substantial space between them. We also hear radio voices, a baby's cry (disconcerting, that). Very nice work, ephemeral but leaving a fine tinge.

5) Marc Chan - "I Sail'd Out to Sea" (2009) for 3 voice and instruments. Kind of a mix of medieval chant and Feldman, too bland for my tastes, the voices slowly weaving between (I think) clarinet, violin and bowed percussion), everything stretched out a bit and *almost* transcending the mundane, but not quite.

6) J.R. Dooley - "for violin and piano" (2010), Fong and Hersey. A jaunty little piece, "a fragment of a memory" per the composer and you do get something of a sense of the fleeting, difficult-to-capture nature of such. A seven-note figure sounds, lies still, repeats, altered, like a flicker appearing and receding, blossoms a bit at the very end. Winsome and lovely.

7) Jürg Frey - "Viola, Klavier" (1997). Same duo. Well, I'm a known sucker for Frey. Quiet, raspy lines, silences, lone notes, more space. You know the drill. Only 5 1/2 minutes long but full of space, always expanding. Wonderful.

8) Walter Horn - Five Decadal Studies for Dick and Clyde (1972/2010). For piano, viola and vibraphone. [caveat: I've known Walt since about 1997 and, in fact, he gave me my first public exposure vis a vis music writing when he asked me to do the liners for his "Screwdriver!" release on Leo records back around then] A quintet of slightly gnarly pieces, offsetting the spiky and the serene, the irregular and the strangely formed, sharp-edged objects hovering in space, occasionally colliding. Possibly the most challenging works on this disc and definitely among the most rewarding.

9) David Kotlowy - "Under Stars (2006) for two violins and piano (Fong, Hersey)
Written with harold Budd in mind and apparently using the breath lengths of the performers as time indicators, layering subtly integrated harmonics from the violins between shorter, adjacent piano chords, conjuring up a kind of dreamscape that's bittersweet. One of the prettiest works here.

10) Sergio Luque - "My Idea of Fun" (2010) for clarinet, percussion and viola. Using Cage's time brackets and Xenakis' sieves, resulting in a work that is indeed fun but sounds little like either, to these ears. As with several pieces here, there's a combination of spareness and melodicism. It's very fetching on its own even if I sometimes hanker for a bit more sourness. Luque provides some, as well as a dose of mystery here, the music seeping in, in wisps, forming unison tendrils, dissipating. Another evocative composition, another composer I'd like to hear further.

11) Robert Moran/Philip Glass - Modern Love Waltz (1977/2010) for 8 keyboards minus piano, played by David Toub. Man, it's been ages since I've heard Moran and remember liking a couple of his early 80s pieces very much, though never having any on record, I don't think. He's apparently been reworking this Glass composition for decades, in hundreds of forms. sounds like standard Glass carpeting, like an extract from a relatively humdrum part of "Einstein" softened somewhat, with a glossy patina that reminds me a bit of Daniel Lentz. Not something I needed to be reminded of.

12) John Prokop - for 1 or 7 pianists (1997), for 7 pianists (Hersey). a kind of overlapped and mixed ascending chromatic scale, its skeleton clearly audible yet skewed enough that all sorts of slight, subtle patterns emerge. Minimalism without the strictness. Sounds like it could almost have come from Tom Johnson. I mean that in a good way. Really nice.

13)Sebastian Jatz Rawicz - 4 Recipes from Antimusical Book of Recipes (2010). Ah, something entirely different. Performed by the Chance Operations Collective of Kalamazoo, wielding vacuum cleaners (I think) and other appliances, found percussion, moved objects, glass, bird whistles and more in a suite of four short pieces that seems to come closer to Cage as such than perhaps any other work here, though it oddly reminds me of Cardew as well, perhaps a fragmented page of The Great Learning. Refreshing.

14) David Toub - dharmachakramudra (2010) for vibraphone, viola and cello (Freeman, Fong, Karen Krummel). Another work that fits in with the general tone of this collection, the soft, slightly dissonant string lines punctuated by gentle gong-like notes from the vibes, nodding to Buddhist tradition. Contemplative, with enough meat to avoid evaporating entirely, edging into tension at points.

All in all, a strong set of music from a range of composers likely not too well known to most readers here but worth delving into more deeply, no matter what one's opinion is of Mr. Cage.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Will Guthrie - Sticks, Stones & Breaking Bones (Antboy)

A few years ago, I picked up a duo recording on Matchless of a live concert with Eddie Prevost and Alex von Schlippenbach. I wasn't expecting so much, never having been a big fan of the latter's work, but I wanted to keep abreast of Eddie's playing. The hour-long disc was divided roughly equally between two solo pieces and a duo. As I wrote here, Prevost's performance absolutely floored me, Not just that it was great percussion (to be expected) but that it was great within an overtly jazz context, an area I'd all but given hope could ever excite me like that again. To be sure, it was an almost unique experience. The only music that's come close to delivering that kind of wallop for me while still deriving from jazz roots is that of The Ames Room, the trio of Jean-Luc Guionnet, Clayton Thomas and Will Guthrie that has released two fine albums (that I'm aware of) in the past couple of years.

Well, Guthrie's gone and done it again. I remember talking with Will in Nantes some years back, much of our discussion centering around a shared love of the music of Roscoe Mitchell. Mitchell's one of dozens (hundreds?) of people name-checked on the inside sleeve of this release along with (to pick at random), Mattin, Chewbacca, Diana Ross, James Brown and Eric Gravatt. What come through here, however, in three pieces, is something very akin to Prevost's set in at least one respect: Lessons learned in terms of structure and pacing, almost like some diabolical amalgam of Art Blakey and AMM.

The disc itself is finely structured as well, leaping into things with "Sticks", which sounds like the Blakey/Olatunji sessions reinvigorated. Eight and a half minutes of thunder, roiling, deeply grooved, wonderfully cadenced, initial hanging clusters tumbling into roll upon billowing roll. This is dextrous music. This is virtuosic music. And yet, it doesn't preen, isn't overweening. There's such an openness about it, such an obvious joy in the playing that those concerns go by the board. "Stones" begins by regrouping, smaller sounds up front but just when you think, "Ah, this will be the spacey track", matter start boiling once again. Guthrie keeps things on a delicious low heat, scrapes and sticks spattering, metal ringing, slowly coalescing until the skins take over, heat kept at medium, but such subtle playing. Some of you may recall Barry Atschul's intricate solo feature on the Circle "Paris Concert" recording from 1971. This is kinda like that. But better. For 15+ minutes.

And finally comes "Breaking Bones". If there was one track here about which I'd been given a verbal description and would have thought, "No, that's not for me." it would have been this one. Guthrie jumps right in with a ferocious, pounding rhythm and nevr lets up, not once, for over 16 minutes. The piece just ripples, expands, contracts, cascades, drives relentlessly to its terminus, casting off dozens of cross rhythms, sub-rhythms. All skin, no cymbals until the very end. Gene Krupa channeled through Hamid Drake. On 'roids. It should have been too over the top, too in one's face, too overt. But it's not, somehow it's not. Much like the music of The Ames Room, it manages to bypass all those traps. I've no idea how, though I suspect it has something to with what I alluded to above: the sheer joy, the uncynical exuberance experienced during the music's creation.

Astonishing stuff.


Available from Erst Dist

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Toshimaru Nakamura/John Butcher - Dusted Machinery (Monotype)

Over the past few years, one never knows quite what to expect from a new Nakamura recording in terms of relative degrees of difficulty which, in his case (to my ears) often equates to success. The more smoothed out his sound, the more forgettable it sometimes becomes. Happily, those concerns don't occur at all on this excellent, gnarly and tough recording from 2009. Butcher, oddly enough, I often find most compelling when he tints his saxophonics with a vague suggestion of song structure though, as he demonstrates here, that's not a requirement at all. The pair are often molten here; tracks like "Maku" sound as though their instruments are almost hot to the touch, their surfaces blistering. Each of the four cuts is strong, though, concise and event-filled without any sense of crowding. If "Maku" and the closing piece, "Nobasu" (wherein Butcher unsheathes his feedback sax) stand out it's only because of some extra sonic icing. There's a taut musculature underlying this music that's all too rare, an apparent seriousness of purpose, a non-reliance on simple solutions. Quite tough and very rewarding.

Erik M/Michel Doneda - Razine (Monotype)

Another, in a sense, tough and sinewy session but lacking in the same kind of tensile strength as the above. It bristles with activity--if you know Erik M's and Doneda's previous work, you pretty much know what to expect--and on occasion, everything coalesces into an organic, powerful whole, as in the closing two or three minutes of the first track, but more often than not, it's a barrage of scatter-shot, insistent, spiky assault that blurs into a kind of inward-looking isolation that rubs me a bit the wrong way. Others might find that intense gravitational pull, like a small black hole sucking into it everything in the room, to be an attractive option, but I get more of a claustrophobic effect. Erik M, unleashes all sorts of crackles and samples, Doneda howls and sputters, but for these ears, it's overly frantic and, ultimately, insubstantial. (It's interesting to isolate Doneda's playing and contrast it with that of Martin Kuchen who, in some respects, might be heard as tangentially similar but, for myself, plumbs far meatier depths).

LHZ+H - Scope (Monotype)

Thomas Lehn (analog synth), Carl Ludwig Hubsch (tuba), Philip Zoubek (piano) with guest Franz Hautzinger (quartertone trumpet and delay). Good, thoughtful 2008 session, less rambunctious than I might have guessed, especially given Lehn's presences, but he reins himself way in here, providing some gorgeous tinges. As do the others, Hubsch and Hautzinger concentrating on soft burbles and breath tones, Zoubek (new to me, I think) playing largely inside the piano, and quite delicately. From these descriptions, it might sound like nothing out of the ordinary and, true, it's not groundbreaking at all but who cares? When the music wells up, as it does in the second track, led on by synth and trumpet, it's genuinely thrilling, bearing an expansiveness that was lacking in "Razine" and, with Hautzinger's delay, subtly recalling Miles Davis and Sextant-era Eddie Henderson. A similar arc iccurs on the following piece as well, perhaps somewhat less effectively, careening a bit out of control but still, giddily exciting like tilting too far over around a sharp turn on one's bike....The disc is closed quietly but differently than it began, in a sequence of sharp, short tones, squiggles and bursts. A good recording, refreshingly open and clear.

If, Bwana/Dan Warburton - I Am Sitting in Phill Niblock's Kitchen (Monotype)

Oddly enough, I just was a few days ago with Phill, Rhodri Davies and Burkhard Beins....though the one in NYC, not that in Ghent, where this work was partially recorded. Briefly, Warburton took all his If, Bwana (Al Margolis) recordings, stretched them to 45 minutes in length, then Margolis did the same to a one minute excerpt of a Warburton piano piece, then meshed them, the pair adding live improvising and...well, you get the idea. The result is a pleasant surprise, kind of a ghostly morass, murky but with a real sense of depth, "objects" constantly appearing and receding, interjections from "outside" (sirens, etc.), throbs, voices, violin scratches, dronage, much more. I keep on picking up images of a swampland, with sluggish water, slowly eddying, yet fascinating, not overly humid or oppressive. Niblock's kitchen oozes steadily along, picking up detritus, casting it off, taking its time, reaching unusual places, leaving one only slightly the worse for wear. Think Jon Hassell with mud on his trousers, face scratched. A fine, unexpected work.

Mia Zabelka - M (Monotype)

This one is far enough away from my tastes that I don't want to say too much about it. Zabelka is primarily a violinist, also utilizing voice, electronics and contact mics. The pieces tend to be massively overdubbed and dwell in the kind of post-minimalism that, well, put it this way: if some of this music eventually becomes theme material for an NPR show, I wouldn't be surprised. Mix together some late Reich, some Bryars, a dash of Penguin Cafe get the idea. Very professionally done, will certainly charm many (Pauline Oliveros supplies a blurb) but not for me and, I'd imagine, most readers here.

Mirt - Artificial Field Recordings (Catsun)

Mirt (I don't know much else about him aside from it being a "him") did artwork for some of the earlier-mentioned releases and Catsun is a sub-label of Monotype. Seven tracks that can be thought of as more or less ambient with a gentle scratchiness and frequent dollops of squelch. As with the If, Bwana/Warburton disc, I pick up traces of Hassell here, both in general flow and as a result of a soft trumpet figuring with some prominence, among many other instruments used. There's a similarly languorous atmosphere evoked as well, more humid, more lazy afternoon. Entirely pleasant.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Few things are more heartwarming than coming home to find an LP-sized package or two waiting for me. So, three new pieces of vinyl:

Anna Zaradny/Burkhard Stangl - s/t (Bocian)

A shared LP with work from 2011. Zaradny's "OctΦpus" is a powerful, throbbing work, electronic, initiated with staggered rhythms that almost replicate an LP skip, but a shade too slow. It's dark and brooding, multiple layers washing over one another, with small beeps and crackles carried along on the pulse. When shifts occur, they're clear--it's not really a steady state work--but they feel of a piece with the music as a whole. It draws a little bit from trance perhaps and really doesn't have much in common with eai-based improv (curious how much, if any was improvised, actually). The super rich hums provide giddy enjoyment through out, tangible enough to take a bite out of. A very enjoyable track, quite strong.

Stangl's "Crédit" begins almost in quasi-similar fashion as Zaradny's, atmospheric with skipping sounds but a minute or so in, his glorious guitar sound entire and we're in Stangl territory. It's a rather pastoral work, guitar chords shining through a gauze, taking a gently meandering path through only mildly harsh environs. Just when things are getting a bit too gorgeous, the music veers drastically and wonderfully off-track into grinds and chaotic clatters, before oxbowing around to some serene and very lovely piano to conclude matters. A satisfying and extremely thoughtful journey, well worth taking.


Axel Dörner/Werner Dafeldecker/Sven-Åke Johansson - Der Kreis des Gegenstandes (Monotype)

I imagine there's a more idiomatic translation than "the circle of the article", curious what it is. A curious recording, as well. The four tracks, though similarly titled (DKDG I - IV) are credited one each to Dörner and Johansson, two to Dafeldecker, yet they sound remarkably alike. They sound pretty much improvised for the most part 9the fourth shows signs of intentional segmentation, though), which I guess is to their credit if that's not the case, but they also sound not so different from much recent music by these three musicians in other combinations, that is, attempting to straddle the eai/efi/compositional divide with results that fall a bit short of high water marks in any of the three. It's not bad, but the brass flatulence, rubbed wood and skins seem deployed almost desultorily, without a great deal of real drive behind them. There are strong moments, as in the interplay on the third track with delightful bass pizzicato meshes with percussive scrapes and taps and subtle whooshes of metallic breath; would that there was more at this level. The final track also reaches pretty solid ground via swathes of rubbings and breath, once again embellished by deep thwacks from Dafeldecker. These are satisfying enough, I suppose, though I can't help thinking more could have been achieved. It's frustrating in a way similar to the latter Polwechsels. You just can't help but think that there's more there, somewhere, untapped.

Eugene Chadbourne and the Dropouts - Zupa Dupa Kupa (Monotype)

Well, I admit the excitement aroused upon seeing those LP-sized packages was tempered somewhat when I espied that one of the enclosed slabs of vinyl was more Chadbourne product but...I have to say, this one is far better--contains far more good moments, that is--than I could have reasonably expected. As I imagine I've written before, my patience wore thin back in the mid 80s, at least, the enjoyment I derived from his picking and occasional fine cover (especially those Phil Ochs pieces) being swamped by the aggravation engendered by his simplistic politics and sub-adolescent humor.

To be sure, those negatives are well-represented here but there's enough touching work ("Bird Song", for example) and pure rocking out to compensate. I'm not certain who exactly makes up the Dropouts or whether the names on the sleeve bear any relation to reality, but Chadbourne does a good bit of solo work, otherwise largely assisted by one Pink Bob. Yes, he goes after the Vatican, the White House, etc. Yawn. Worse, he goes after dentists. Reggae-style. You know, those sadists who make your teeth hurt and charge you for it. Now Chadbourne's always had a sizable dollop of cranky old man in him, but jeez, he's entering "Get off my lawn!" territory here.

Enough of the obligatory nonsense. If you dispense with the humdrum vocals, "Hendrix Buried in Tacoma" if a solid groover; if not up to it's homagee's status, certainly a great deal of fun with ripping, abstract guitar work and it's followed by the fine and aggressive "Sword + Shield", leaping into Minutemen territory. The surge hinted at in these pieces really comes to full flower on "Forgiven", an organ-driven, propulsive work which is--I'll go out on a limb--the single best thing I've ever heard from the good doctor (not that I'm anywhere near cognizant of the vast majority of his output). A seriously strong hunk of rock.

A bumpy road but overall, really, not bad at all.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Annette Krebs/Anthea Caddy/Magda Mayas - Thread (Another Timbre)

Two cuts, one studio, one live, recorded in 2008 and 2009 respectively, by this very interesting trio: Krebs (prepared guitar, objects, tapes, mixing desk), Caddy (cello) and Mayas (piano). While I'm far more familiar with the work of Krebs than that of the others (though I've seen both perform), it's safe to say that the music fall into an area in which fans of the former will feel at home. The 10-minute first track, "Sands" contains all but unpredictable variations in almost every conceivable musical aspect--volume, density, timbres, much else. Quite rich, very compact, Caddy's deep arco gluing together the more far flung escapades of the others.

The 26 minutes of track two, "Shore", is far more expansive, event-packed but airier and spacious. The trio functions as just that, seamless, each element fitting--Krebs' taped snatches of voice, Caddy's scrapes and plucks, Mayas' inside piano work. There's a tidal feel, a soft ebb and flow that entirely satisfying. It's simply one very strong improv session, solid and gracefully awkward.

Tim Blechmann/Klaus Filip - Pinna (Another Timbre)

Pinna is the outer part of the ear, by the way; fine title. And a fine recording. But fine in a way that always causes me to be at pains to quantify. Two laptops, a live 50+ minute performance of the general type that I think of as "steady state" rather than drone, though don't ask me to differentiate. It does take the shape of a crescendo though it's long enough in coming that the dramatic effect is felt before consciously perceived. Label producer Reynall had queried me on these pages a short while back as to what was meant by my (too frequent!) use of the term "grain" when describing some music or, conversely, feeling a piece was excessively smooth. Here's a case in point, though it might well be entirely subjective--although on the one hand there's an evenness here, a "smooth" shifting of planes, a continuity of action, I sense grain everywhere. It may be fine-grained (!) to the point of sublimation but it's there.

It idles beguilingly for a good bit at the start, several layers biding their time, gathering energy; it's very much like standing near an extremely subtle motor, gradually realizing how much stuff is happening, how well integrated it is to fool you into thinking, for a moment, that it's one thing. It gestates for a good while, circling, softly rumbling, high, sine-like tones coasting atop, splitting apart, isolated bangs heard in the distance. Those keening tones almost take on a melodic aspect at points, quite beautiful. Second gear doesn't kick in until some 4/5 pf the way through but it's timing feels just right. Gentle, sonar-like blips manifest, the whole thickens and grows wooly. The crest is mild, not overblown, the subsidence relatively quick.

In sum, just a very, very satisfying experience and a seriously enjoyable hunk of music.

Another timbre

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Michael Pisaro - fields have ears (6) (Gravity Wave)

I'm not at all sure I grasp this piece in its entirety. Rather, I'm sure I don't. Its basis is explained adequately in the notes included here and I like and appreciate what I read but the listening experience, for me (as I write, I'm in the second day of listening to nothing else, about eight cycles in [eleven, by review's end]) diffuses quickly enough to make the work sit uneasily, unwieldy, in my head. Which I imagine is a good thing.

Part of it is likely my enormous love for the more (seemingly) stringent work of Pisaro, the music I discovered some four years back where often a singular idea was allowed to develop over a substantial period of time, revealing worlds of sound and ideas hidden therein. In the last couple of years, as far as recorded output, he has become more expansive, freer with colors, denser in layering. Often my initial reaction is cautious though I tend to be won over in the end as the logic manages, ultimately, to penetrate my thick skull. On "fields have ears (6)", he's pushed things further, describing the result as having moved from the orderly garden of the initial idea of the series to something "resembling a rather unruly city park" and, for this listener, it offers a lot to grapple with.

I should mention that, on a purely sonic level, the disc is eminently listenable and enjoyably so. The washes of sound lap against and over one another smoothly, the various guitar parts (sometimes reminding me of Loren Connors, of all things), richly emerging from the field recordings and sine tones, the whole possessing a gentle surging aspect over its 56 minute duration. Pisaro has layered in recordings from prior performances of "fields have ears" compositions (all of them?) and more, much more besides; I'm guessing there are enough plies involved that it's almost impossible to differentiate them and that the piece is in reality denser than a human ear can hear. My problem, such as it is, is that I think this tends to blur the whole a bit, sacrificing the kind of pronounced acuity one hears in his sparer works. Of course, this may be a goal. His city park is different from an isolated stretch of California mountain, silvered with sine waves. Less Barnett Newman, more Pollock. One might be better served accepting the entire, wooly ball rather than seeking to aurally crystallize the individual elements, much as one perceives those two painters differently. And it took me much longer to really get Pollock (an ongoing process, actually) than Newman.

So, if I'm on a fence here, I'm pretty sure it's a fence of my own making, probably having to do with (however hard I try not to) attempting to shoehorn this into my prior conceptions of what I've enjoyed before from Pisaro. At the end of the day, it's still a very good piece of music, but likely even better than I'm able to hear at the moment.

Gravity Wave

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jin Sangtae - Sacrifice 2 (Ghost & Son)

Welcome to Difficult Listening Hour...or 24 minutes, at least, on this tough and exceptional 3" disc. The instruments of choice for Jin this time out are car horns. I'm not entirely sure if these are "pure" car horns or electronically manipulated somehow, but I feel safe in saying extended techniques, so to speak, are employed. Which is to say that they don't always sound like what one normally associates with the species. Which is likely beside the point.

More to the point, I think, is the piece's gnarly, seemingly random structure in terms of both dynamics and textural/timbral range. One seeks to impose a pattern--slow and quiet at first, rising to some louder peak, etc., and one can almost do this but it's a frustrating and worthless endeavor. Jin seems to go out of his way to make the sounds themselves as problematic as possible; once one is accommodated to the low, unhornlike growls that commence the work, they shift into harsh squeals, then grinding, shuddering metal and eventually some extremely loud, piercing blasts that sound more like the most aggravating car alarm in the world than a tootling horn. The sequence has a flow of a certain kind but feels erratic. There's nothing natural about it, which given the sources, is appropriate.

It's a very unpleasant, rather disturbing and probably important piece of music. It shakes one out of complacency and comfort and leaves one with much on which to chew and ponder. It's uncomfortable. Check it out.

Ghost & Son

available from erst dist

David Maranha/Z'ev - obsidiana (Sonoris)

I may have mentioned it before but...I first encountered Z'ev in 1982 (iirc) at the premiere of Glenn Branca's Symphony #2 at St. Mark's Church (the performance eventually becoming the recording). Branca at the time still used (wish he'd never given them up!) the "guitars" made from 2x4's, layered in banks in front of each musician, played with small metal rods. Among other things, this lent the wonderful effect of player's making minimal movement but generating enormous volumes of complex sound. They were arrayed in a semicircle surrounding a huge bass drum in the center of the room, positioned almost horizontally, at a slight tilt. As the concert was about to begin, in strode an impressive looking figure, black pants, bare-chested save for thick leather straps that crisscrossed his torso, bearing a pair of thick wooden clubs. He gave the drum a massive whack that reverberated in both room and skull, then another, and another, slowly, ritualistically...and the piece began. He'd later, via chains attached to gauntlets, swing around basins, sheets of metal and other detritus in 20-foot arcs, creating an incredible welter of noise. It was kinda awesome.


"Obsidiana" (great title) is rather curious. I keep thinking of having taking the closing minute or two of a cool prog rock jam, say an early Soft Machine piece, and simply extending it to 35 minutes or so, delving into its details, spreading it out without losing any of the delicious thickness. In that sense, this is very much a single idea work and I guess there are limits to it's lasting value but it's a good deal of fun going along for the ride. Z'ev doles out a rippling pounding on a bass drum--perhaps the very same one!--(also steel discs and, notably, maracas, while Maranha summons fuzz-drenched organ tones at the beginning, very guitarish sounding, later allowing the "true" Hammond tones which have been lurking all along, to emerge. It churns and churns, staying in the zone, very pleasurable if, ultimately, of dubious nutritional value. But, hell, fun.


Monday, March 05, 2012

The increasingly impressive Bôłt label continues to document the largely unheard (in these here parts, anyway) music of the Polish avant-garde from the mid-century on with two more solid, fascinating releases. Both composers are new to my ears (aside from hearing a bit of Schaeffer on a previous Bôłt compilation) and rather outside the ambit I'm comfortable writing on, but I'll attempt to give at least my impressions of each, which are quite good.

Witold Szalonek was born in 1927 and came to prominence in the 60s alongside composers like Penderecki and Gorecki but never achieved their popularity, possibly due to an unwillingness to overly adapt to the neo-romanticism that allowed their music to be more readily digested. But the three pieces represented here, written as a kind of narrative triptych on the Medusa myth, aren't harsh at all and, indeed are full of lyrical content, although the overwhelming impression I receive is that of a very firm structure. All three involve the flute family; "Poseidon and Medusa" scored for two piccolos, bass flute, alto flute and crotales, "Medusa's Dream of Pegasus" for flute and bass flute and "The Head of Medusa" for free flutes.

While there's an amount of extended technique in play, one is more attuned to the delicious, silvery blend of the tones as well as the precise interlacing that defines a strong sense of mass and volume, as if the lines are tracing the outer perimeters of some large, breathing creature. If I was reminded of anything it was George Crumb's work from the 60s like "Vox Balaenae", similar feeling of great tensile strength underlying delicate instrumentation. The second work contains some of the warmest "touching", even caressing you're likely to musically encounter, like two tentative lovers brushing hands and arms. A wonderful piece. The final work begins dolefully, works itself into something of a lather, explodes into vocalizations, drifts away. [in the back of my mind there's a definition of "free flute" though I can't recall it and searching nets too many cost-free instruments to wade through]

I very fine set and I'm very glad to have belatedly made the acquaintance of Mr. Szalonek; hope to hear much more.


Bogusław Schaeffer (b. 1929) was also a part of the cluster of composers centered around Penderecki in the 60s but his music, at least in the samplings I've heard on a previous Bôłt release and here, sounds quite different. I think a partial caveat might be in order as at least some of the scores for the works here are of a graphic variety and I have the impression that the soloists involved approached the pieces with (properly, I take it) a good deal of freedom. So I'll simply describe them as naively heard.

Several works are presented twice, in different evocations, including the title work, "Assemblage" (1966) for prepared violin (8-string, constructed by Schaeffer) and prepared piano, which manages to be quite rough and tumble and dreamy at the same time. "Electronic Symphony" is afforded realizations by both Bogdan Mazek and Wolfram, the former a little too redolent of 60s loopy electronics for my taste, while the latter exhibits some nice subtlety, the sounds gliding and nsaking their way through a hazy atmosphere. "Project" (1975), for soloist and tape, is given an expressive, sometimes willowy, often blustery reading by tubaist Zdizsław Piernik (strong piece) and then a silvery, equally solid version with Mariusz Pedziałek on oboe and cor anglais, that includes some wild bassoon (I think) playing on the tape, unless it's wild, pretty low cor anglais...

One of the most purely beautiful works is "Heraklitiana" (1970) featuring harpist Urszula Mazurek. It's a fine, billowy piece, with saxophones, percussion and voices buttressing the rich harp work, kind of sprawling all over the place but luxuriously so; a rapturous 21 minutes. Later, Mikołaj Pałosz (cello) "listens" to "Heraklitiana", playing along in an almost playful manner, nicely shildlike at times, humorously wacky at others. The two-disc set concludes with something of a departure: Thomas Lehn creating a work derived from his preparations made to perform "Electronic Symphony", but rearranged into an entirely new piece titled, "o.t. dec. 2011". It's a lovely, intriguing track, positioned about halfway between what I'd normally expect from Lehn and that 60s experimental tradition (occasionally recalling Partch's chromelodeon, of all things).

Two more fine recordings, very glad to have heard them.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Myelin - Axon (Intonema)

Myelin, of course, is the material that acts as a sheath around an axon. Here, it's Birgit Uhler (trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker, objects) and Heddy Boubaker (alto saxophone, objects), emitting seven "impulses", seemingly targeting those areas of the brain that delight in sputter and growl. It's interesting--I take it that the pair intentionally confined themselves to this spectrum (as well, all seven pieces are between about six and eight minute in length). It's as though they said, "Let's examine seven axonic firings, take these more or less alike things, smear them on a microscope slide and sort out the differences." This idea, possibly entirely imaginary on my part, jibes with my sensibilities, and listening to it thusly, renders the music fascinating in an unusual way. Of course, when one does bend an attentive ear, one realizes there's actually a decently wide range in play. Things are active, maybe a bit ore so than some listeners would want; it's boisterous and raucous throughout much of the proceedings, both instruments rattling about, burbling (subaqueous on occasion), hissing--extended techniques we've encountered before, to be sure, but vigorously played with good concentration. Good, rough music, straight from the medulla.


Adrian Dziewanski - Archival Anthems (Prairie Fire)

A cassette release which I heard on CDR, Dziewanski continues his interesting exploration into drones. As readers may be aware, a lot of dronage finds its way to my mailbox and, admittedly, there's a tendency for it to blend together in my memory; perhaps that comes with the territory and/or to not having the time to sit with the works long enough to really establish some differentiation in my head. It can also be something of a task to attempt to describe the pieces in ways that don't overly iterate what I've said before about others. Just a general caveat that I hope Adrian doesn't mind me appending here.

Three pieces here, all of them quite attractive, all bearing a definite electronic air, the first ("Pointed Logic") reminding me at times of Carl Stone circa "Mom's" and, inevitably I suppose, mid 70s Eno, as fine a pair of referents as one could want though I imagine current day practitioners aren't so crazy about feeling their weight. But the very tonal layers of washes, the throbs, the piquant upward thrusts do revive memories of those years and, in my mind, don't detract from the music's loveliness. The brief "At the Crest of the Sinking Sands" introduces some welcome roughage in the form of some bumpy churning beneath and slightly less melodious plies of electronica. Side B of the cassette, "Two to Every Plot", continues to add to the mix with rainfall, delicate taps on glass or metal and other elements. Dziewanski finds a nice balance here making this the most satisfying piece for me, melding the rich hums with just enough stray detritus for it to feel a part of the real world, not a pipe dream.

Fans of the area should certainly check this out.

prairie fire tapes

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Diatribes/Abdul Moimême/Eduarado Chagas/Ernesto Rodrigues/Nuno Torres - Brume (Creative Sources)

Diatribes, btw, are l'Incise (objects, laptop) and Cyril Bondi (bass drum, objects cymbal), here joined by Moimême (prepared guitar), Chagas (trombone), Rodrigues (viola) and Torres (alto saxophone). The sonic palette, as you might expect, is rich and attractive, though I found the improvisations more or less routine. Mostly dwelling in the quiet, rustling zone with the odd, moderate eruption, pleasant enough but not consistently gripping. The horns do an admirable job of seamless blending, the strings scrape and saw in solid fashion, the objects do their object-y thing and...well, it's fine, I don't mean to be that critical, it just doesn't stand out so much from many other recordings or concerts in the same vein. It's interesting that certain events here, for example Moimême's introduction of deeply plucked guitar notes in the fourth track, a more "traditional" sound, serve to greatly enliven things, the path having perhaps come around to a point of reappraisal of previously abandoned approaches.

Creative Sources

(Various) - Marées de Hauteurs Diverses (Insubordinations)

In which music by Diatribes and Moimême ("Complaintes de Marée Basse") are remixed by Blindhæð, Nicolas Bernier, Honoré Feraille, Ludger Hennig, Mukuhen, Francisco Lopez and Herzog, only one of which, if I'm not mistaken (Lopez), I've previously heard.

I have no idea what the original source sounded like, so I can only describe what's here. Blindhæð's piece is murky and rumbling, redolent with squeaks and clanks; they (he/she, no idea) have recorded for Mystery Sea and that label's aesthetic can be heard here. Nicolas Bernier constructs a pleasingly wild take that reminds me a little of the classic Pierre Henry "Psyche Rock" track", not nearly as melodious but with a similar full sound, including rattling drums--nice. A hollow spaciness comes to the fore with Feraille's piece, containing a nice surge and echoing metallic scrapes, segueing into Ludger Hennig's evocative blend of tapes, hiss and clatter, really a strong work that feels entirely natural, just floats through the atmosphere, internally active and self-contained; curious to hear more from him (he's also on the disc reviewed below). Mukuhen (don't ask me) offer(s) a track that begins gently enough before careening into the realm of sheared metal, sprung coils and charged pops; Discomfiting, in a good way. Lopez (unusual in my experience, which is likely only 2% or so of his recorded oeuvre) keeps things quiet and burbling, steady-state and comfortable. Herzog (I'm guessing not Werner or Bellow's character) closes out the affair with a juicy conflation of lush, deep organ-pedal-like tones and mid-range crackly hums. A nice conclusion to an intriguing set; a couple of very good pieces, nothing unlistenable.


d'Incise/Ludger Hennig/Jonas Kocher/Sciss - s/t (Insubordinations)

What leaps out from this session is the solidity of the music--I daresay I would have suspected a single individual behind this, not a quartet. Given that it's essentially, three computers and an accordion, I suppose, given sufficient sensitivity on the part of Kocher, that this shouldn't be so very hard to achieve, but all I can say is that it certainly sounds like a singularly directed improvisation, and a good one. It sounds very think, always with several plies at hand, generally one or two occupying the lower depths, often with a rubbery feel, rubbed rubber if you will, usually offset by crisp, higher tones, crackling and staticking along, but taking different pathways on each of the four tracks. I'm guessing that it's often Kocher's accordion that glues things together, not that it ever sounds like one; there are several wonderful low squeaks at the very end where it sounds like he's twisting the fabric of the instrument, a beautiful accent. A very strong recording, standing out from many in this area.