Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Radu Malfatti - darenootodesuka (b-boim)

I remember seeing Agnes Martin's white on white paintings at DIA Beacon a few years ago. They had two or more shades/textures/viscosities of white on each panel, difficult to always distinguish depending where done was standing, what the light was like. Indeed, you weren't always sure if you were seeing different pigments or light effects and, of course, it didn't matter. What matter was the deftness and grace of the paint handling, the placement of shapes, the evocations they created as well as the ones the viewer created from whole cloth. I was thinking of those while listening to this release, especially when I followed the written instructions (which I didn't always do, naturally) to "play it quietly". When I did so, it easily evanesced into the room and, if I was at all occupied with something else, even minimally, I entirely forgot that it was there. I dares, however, that it affected the room, tinged it with extreme subtlety. When listened to at volume, it remained in the pop range but one could actually distinguish the quite copious activity taking place. The world's quietest sextet consists here of Antoine Beuger (flute), Jurg Frey (clarinet), Marcus Kaiser (cello),Malfatti (trombone), Michael Pisaro (guitar) and Burkhard Schlothauer (violin). The notes are soft and sustained, the harmonies really exquisite to the extent they surface to audibility. There is the occasional sharp rap of, maybe, a bow on wood. But more, the piece (to use a trite phrase) simply breathes. Respires; inhales and exhales; inhabits. I gives one last (relatively) great heave at the very end; sad and peaceful.

What else to say? It has a different feel than Malfatti's recent solo work (or his improvisations, on recording and live, with Rowe). There's a clearer warmth in the tone, something of a very classical sensation (not sure if Radu would like that!), almost as though he'd taken a soft, slow movement from perhaps Shostakovich, slowed it further, pared away anything remotely peripheral but retained the essence. A reduction over a low flame, perhaps.

A very, very beautiful recording, perhaps my favorite music heard this year.

Jakob Ullmann - Fremde zeit - addendum (Edition RZ)

More very quiet music, though of an inherently different type. Three CDs, four compositions, performed by groupings of between three and eight musicians (including a string quartet).

"Disappearing Music" ("for six players (more or less), here with flute, clarinet, saxophone, two violins and two pianos) is a relatively simple idea, gorgeously realized. The winds play a kind of concert A, in a quavering, soft and mysterious manner, creating a lovely cloud, while the pianos contribute small cascades (you can imagine Tilbury here), little postcards from the distance. Ullmann create the kind of sound-world that could last indefinitely and one which could easily lapse into sentimental nostalgia in less rigorous hands. "solo I + II + III", is here performed on oboe, bassoon and organ with the intention, in live performance, of being at some distance from the audience. The notes are sustained, soft and forlorn, with gently arcing but with, ultimately, a downward trajectory. Again, a kind of mournfulness that could become soppy is instead deeply sad and a bit chilling, as though one has entered a vast cavern of lost souls Ullmann, from what i can tell, does have something of a mystic bent; it says something that for these ears, as unmystical as they come, this aspect of his work manages to ring true. A very affecting work, quite moving.

The string quartet (played by the Pellegrini Quartet) is also exceedingly quiet but quiet active. It's hard to resist the image of avidly scurrying small creatures, knocking into each other here, slithering past one another there. Again, Ullmann manages to make this far more than a collection of small sounds; he establishes some kind of convincing, vital framework--how, I have no idea--wherein the collection of brief bowings, squeaks, raps on wood and other extended techniques sound quite natural, fit right in. In this case, unlike the others, I do have a sense of the piece overstaying its welcome somewhat, not enough to be a real drag but its 47 minutes might have worked better clocking in around the 1/2 hour mark. The final work, "PRAHA", is the most hushed and haunting, For speaker, flute, Bassoon, violin, viola, cello, double bass and electronics, apparently conceived as a kind of opera, one in which the texts are essentially inaudible. The sounds drift by, wisp-like, gossamer, reminding me of some ate Feldman but turned low with no overt repetitions or near-repititions, You hear gentle taps on occasion--more than once, they reminded me that the recording was still there. It's a great composition and I'm pretty certain I'm not grasping the half of it.

A fantastic set; with the Malfatti above, another 2012 favorite.

Edition RZ

Available from erstdist

Note, for some limited time, I guess until they run out, Erstdist has free copies of Because Tomorrow Comes samplers, Volumes 2, 3 & 4 which, while varied, contain some pretty cool goods, including a fine Charlemagne Palestine street recording...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ryu Hankil/Hong Chulki/Nick Hoffman - Sonne (Pilgrim Talk)

Fans of the musicians associated with the Seoul axis (and I'm one) have certainly come to expect a fair amount of...difficult listening. Edges are usually not just rough but rusty and jagged. This collaboration with the American Nick Hoffman, recorded in Seoul in 2009, might actually stretch that metaphor into the poison-coated zone. It's severe. Excellently so. One is almost tempted to say, "malign". It's a couple of harsh, harsh tracks spread onto two sides of an LP (also available for download at bandcamp, code: gmbx-k37p), scouring one's ears, upsetting the dog, making the room deliciously uncomfortable, flinging detritus, emitting high screech after high screech, refusing to accede to any categorizable form, resolutely opaque.

Good stuff, very invigorating; give a listen.

Pilgrim Talk

Jesse Kudler/Chandan Narayan- jk/cn (white flag)

Kudler (electronics, guitar, radios, tape) and Narayan (autoharp) in a live performance from Seattle in 2010. My first listen to this 20 minute track left me with the feeling, "Ok, nice enough, not so exceptional". Subsequent listens might have reinforced the non-exceptionality of the performance but there remains much to enjoy here. It is quite AMM-ish inn general character so that's the sense that one's initial reaction may be: I've heard this before. But over the course of time, I felt more and more, "So what?" They do it very well, interest is sustained, there's the enchanting and not-frequently-encountered sound of Narayan's autoharp, the piece has a solid dynamic flow, seems unforced and flowing. It maintains a fine contrast between the gentle and the violent, never straying too far in either direction but letting you know that the pair is aware of those boundaries. This kind of reaction on my part calls into question one's (my) discernment during a live event. Had I heard this in, say, a festival environment, one out of a number of performances, the sole experience may well have blended in with others, it may not have stood out. Just got to show that even if, at the end of the day, it's not a knock-your-socks-off event, that there's much of value that one (me) is likely missing.

So, glad to have the recording; nice work, repaying many listens.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Manfred Werder (Bruno Duplant) - deux trois choses ou presque (Engraved Glass)

Three actualizations of Werder scores by Duplant: 2009-4, 2009-5 & 2010-2, each of which consists of a line or two of text from Francis Ponge.

The first reads (in English):

under certain conditions of temperature and humid-humility - and also shadow or darkness - conditions regarding light, solar and terrestrial radiation; finally certain conditions of proximity, intimacy with the mineral, the inorganic

The second:

There, in a house that I know well, to remoulins, a courtyard, and another at King's gray, each inhabited, decorated with a fig or two

And finally:

the word GLASS OF WATER is somehow appropriate to the object it designates ... starting with a V, ending with a U, the only two letters or vase-shaped glass ["Verre d'eau" in French]

One first hears the sounds of a bucolic landscape atwitter with birds, water somewhere back there. Little by title, you become aware of subsidiary sounds introduced directly by Duplant, soft, almost lush hums generated--how? Bowed bass, sine tones and a horn are listed though the sound is smooth and quiet enough that, sometimes, it could be any of them. There effect is not dissimilar to Pisaro's "Transparent Cities" and almost as magical at times. I take it Duplant created the music in situ and part off the charm is picturing him standing/sitting out there, listening, contributing.

The second and third works are urban, dark arco bass making its presence felt steadily though still blending wonderfully with the engines, the sirens, that background hum possessed by any city.

It remains, to me, a fascinating question as to what effect the scores have on performances such as this aside to suppose that, had they not existed, some other action would have taken place in these spots, that Duplant would have been elsewhere, otherwise occupied. Given the exquisite sense of integration and balance that he brings to this recording, that would seem to be more than enough. In each, he simply becomes one additional sonic element in a pre-existing soundscape, no mean feat. A fine, fine work.

You can download this work at engraved glass

Pedro Chambel/Bruno Duplant/Julien Heraud - worked without noise (rhizome.s)

Chambel (guitar, microphones, objects), Duplant (snare drum, objects, radio) and Heraud (alto sax) fashion a softly busy 45 minutes of what I tend to think of as pared down efi, almost as if someone had taken an Emanem release and bleached out much of the (excess) coloration, leaving behind a kind of spine or sea-molded shell. The action is fairly constant, the gestures somewhat familiar in that sense, but they manage to carry a different feel, one that's much more enjoyable to this listener. While it, of course, varies over its length, there's something self-similar about it as well, int he sense of any random one-minute excision is roughly comparable to another, so there's the additional feeling of a kind of phantom drone, though there's nothing overtly drone-like about the music. Not sure what else to say except that it's somehow more interesting than one expects, that the poise of the players and the choices they make work rather well, obviating any untoward associations the jaded listener might possess...

This, the first release on Rhizome, can be downloaded here


Saturday, May 19, 2012

(Various) Fukushima! (Presqu'ile)

A worthwhile cause, to be sure, all proceeds going to Japanese non-profits involved with addressing the reactor situation in the wake of last year's earthquake and tsunami, so I'd recommend purchasing it even if, in truth, a good bit of the music I most highly anticipated didn't quite live up to my hopes.

The two-disc set leads off with John Tilbury performing Dave Smith's "Al contrary". I only know Smith's work from the Matchless release which I found oddly bland, not because of the relatively traditional structures which recalled the work of composers I love like Howard Skempton, but just some bothersome sense of vapidity, not dissimilar from the feeling I got from the piano work of a related composer/musician, John White. This piece recalls somewhat more early Gavin Bryars, the dreamier portions of the "Hommages" album for example. Though Tilbury, as always, plays superbly and is a joy to listen to in and of himself, the music seesaws in this back and forth pattern, never quite evoking the kind of mystery that Bryars, in his prime (long since past) could achieve. It's not bad, just a bit lacking, a bit over-smooth and formulaic.

There follows perhaps my favorite piece on this collection, "Foreign Grey", by Magda Mayas, a wonderfully rich and imaginative exploration of inside-piano that manages to avoid most cliches and, more importantly work really well as a solid,purposeful piece. She refers obliquely to neo-Romantic traditions (I hear a bit of Rzewski late in the track) but never does so fawningly, merely a polite nod as she forges her own way. The finest things I've heard from Mayas, really lovely. The first disc concludes with a relatively unabrasive performance by the quartet of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki and Jin Sangtae which is also quite good.

Fairly brief pieces from Burkhard Beins, Mark Wastell/Jonathan McHugh, Annette Krebs/Chris Abrahams, Krebs solo (tape) and Mural begin Disc Two, all of them okay, none particularly striking save for perhaps the Krebs solo work that matches a beautiful trumpet (and more?) dirge against low-volumes crowd recordings from an anti-Wall Street demonstration.

The second problematic work for me, after the Smith, is Michael Pisaro's "The Bell-Maker" (inspired by Tarkovsky?), performed by Greg Stuart. As originally written, if I understand correctly, the piece uses a tape made by stuart in which he plays a huge number of highly pitched, metallic percussion instruments (chimes, glockenspiels, small bells and bowls, etc. as well as a soft ratcheting element) which is then interacted with by an ensemble of indeterminate size. Here, we only have the percussion element which is pleasing enough o listen to--the elements are silvery, prickly and fine--but as a whole sounds rather amorphous and lax. As with other recent music of Pisaro's, I may well be missing something that would pull things together for me but as is, it's a pleasant listen, no more, no less.

Greg Kelley closes things out with a solo piece which, again, is fine if not revelatory, harsh, squeezed breath, sputters and growls.

So, all in all, something of a mixed bag for me. Worth getting (aside from minimally helping out with the Fukushima disaster) for the Mayas, Krebs and Korean quartet in any case.


available from erst dist

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Claire Bergerault/Jean-Luc Guionnet - mune (Cathnor)

For soprano and organ. An odd recording, different in most ways from any expectations I had going in (not that I had anything firm, but an operatic soprano in an improvised--or quasi-improvised--format does engender certain malign thoughts) and enjoyable in certain segments, not so much in others.

I should say at the outset that Guionnet's organ is unfailingly fantastic throughout, often remaining in the deeper, darker stretches of the instrument (though, yes, once or twice recalling the tonality of the spaceship in "Close Encounters"...), providing a great foil for Bergerault's voice. The voice, or more accurately, the use of it here, I sometimes find problematic. While she never ventures into Hirschian histrionics (and yes, I know the etymology) she does occasionally recall Galas which is dangerous ground if you don't possess the latter's full throttle conviction. She sings for the most part like the classical singer she is--only a few Ami Yoshida-isms here--and making that work in this kind of context is no easy task, tending to remind one of more academic efforts from the 60s contemporary music world. Nonetheless, I find that, even when this is in effect, I can often get beyond it to an extent, to strip the voice of its emotive baggage and hear it more as simply a sound element. Now, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that this is precisely what Guionnet doesn't want, given his association with Mattin et. al., for whom divorcing sound from source or context is anathema. Other times, on the first track, Bergerault falls into a wavering, "ghostlike" rising and falling that overwhelms my ability to isolate it and makes for some tough sledding.

Mune 2 (the three tracks are all "mines") is something else again. Recorded in 2008 (the others are form 2010), it's very understated all around, Bergerault sounding as though singing through a gag or mute, an uncomfortable though very effective, hidden kind of quality, sometimes evoking an animal's soft cry. Guionnet applies pensive clouds, fog like tendrils. Maybe 2/3 of the way through the 23-minute piece, she loses whatever the muffle was but still maintains a wonderful, softly burred tone, plaintively cooing, sometimes edging into breath-tones, without none of the stylistic tropes heard on the first track. I love this piece.

The final cut is also of a piece, Guionnet beginning with his most overtly microtonal playing (recalling bagpipes) and Bergerault contributing brief, sharp stabs. The work goes back and forth between the kinds of approaches heard in the first piece and successfully damping them and working them into the basic fabric here. It's frustrating as, when it works it's very fine but when the Galas-isms appear, it simply becomes too obvious though, as ever, the organ ameliorates many a sin.

A really interesting release, for all its faults; I'm happy to have it for that simple track and as an element in Guionnet's oeuvre which I find pretty fascinating. Also curious as to the structure, how much was improvised, how much not. Oh and lovely photos...

Marc Baron - ∩ (Cathnor)

Baron's disc is a far tougher nut to crack but, again, a strangely rewarding one. Seven tracks, each precisely seven minutes long, each comprised, as near as I can tell of combinations of electronics and saxophone, the latter tending toward pure, he'd tones, as though attempting to approximate sines. There are other sounds that I can imagine being occasioned by, for instance, saxophone key pops transmogrified; not sure, but wouldn't be surprised. It opens quite sparingly, the long notes set against quick, regularly spaced blips, sunning a bit like an adjacent universe version of Rowe/Sachiko, perhaps even more so as, in the second track, rough scratchings and static elements are introduced, a refreshing break from the icy clarity etched earlier.

Other sounds are continually fed into the mix, though usually at a very low level (sometimes extremely low)--hisses, what sound like garbled recordings form some public space, a grunt or two, etc., though the "spine" of the long tomes and recurrence, in one form or another, of the bleeps lends a fine cohesiveness. It begins to sound oddly full or, rather, the elements occupy exactly the right amount of space but in an array that strikes one as unusual but tense and magnetic. Those bleeps do threaten to become overweening in their sterility, especially so when they closely approximate Morse code but then again, they're positioned opposite these wonderfully mysterious and scuttling sounds (and those pure notes) so one has the mental picture of a kind of three-body situation, each affecting the other in an incalculable manner.

By the sixth track, things have become wonderfully subtle; what sounds like a huge amount of very quiet squeaks and rustles rubbing multitudes of shoulders. The music somehow seems to expand here at the end, really intriguing how Baron manipulates space.

Difficult, perhaps off-putting (intentionally?)--I like it a lot.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Things I picked up in Sweden...

Birgit Ulher - Hochdruckzone (Entr'acte)

The evening of our arrival in Västerås, we walked to the home of Johan and Lina Gatte Redin for a get together with many of the people responsible for the festival. There was also music to be heard in the living room, including a wonderful solo set by Ulher, my first opportunity to hear her in person. This disc isn't worlds away from what transpired that night and deserves wide attention.

Ulher works in an area that's not entirely unfamiliar to most readers here but brings to the horn a sensibility that's certainly her own. To me, it's an odd combination of implied rhythms and a special kind of patience. The vocabulary is recognizable--the breath tones, burred edges, the scrape of metal on metal, some electronics, the vibrating mutes and metallic sheets--but the uses they're put to taken, interestingly enough, something of a some structure. I'm reminded of a similar feeling I received from the best of John Butcher's solo work. The eight pieces here are all relatively brief, between four and seven minutes, and have that contained kind of quality, each a concise expression and exploration of not only a given attack, but the mold in which they're formed. Ulher is very open and unmysterious about what she's doing; sometimes that detracts from a piece as when a ribbed object is stroked back and forth along the horn, the jiggly tone rising and falling predictably. But more often it's refreshing, a straight-on examination of these techniques, their apposition to each other, the tense structures they form. There's a Carver-like (Raymond--admittedly on my mind lately) sense of the clear wonderment of the everyday .

Tough and graceful, a very compelling combination. Her set with Andrea Neumann was perhaps my favorite of the festival and this disc relives some of those fine moments.


The New Songs - A nest at the junction of paths (Umlaut)

One of the more problematic sets t the festival was the duo of Christof Kurzmann and Sofia Jernberg. As with a good bit of his recent offerings, this was Kurzmann in song mode and I remain largely unconvinced. Even leaving aside his vocals, which can actually be affecting even so far as they're undeveloped, the songs were simply not very interesting, very lackadaisical but not in a good, relaxed sense. They meandered, seeming to search for some kind of hook (which would have been welcome) but never finding one. Jernberg, however, was outstanding, possessing a gorgeous voice and exquisite control. It was obvious she had a great deal to offer. It was recommended I check out this dis, so I bought a copy.

OK, first things first--awful group name, abysmal graphic design.

The group is David Stackenas (guitar, preparations, e-bows), Eve Risser (piano, preparations), Jernberg (voice) and Kim Myhr (guitar, baroque guitar, zither). It's also very much in a song-oriented framework (Jernberg and Risser are the composers) and also, generally, quite loose, though not so loose as the Kurzmann set. But again, one wishes for more pure songliness. When melodies emerge, when rhythms poke up their heads, it's quite lovely; this is a case where I wish the band didn't feel compelled to work the edges and actually grooved more. Given the instrumentation (piano is worked inside more often than not), there's a delicacy at hand that sometimes approaches the cutesy and affected; one hopes to hear more grit, more forthrightness of song.

This finally manifests on the closing track, "The Hill", where everything comes together beautifully, free sections sprouting from heartbreakingly lovely choruses, wonderfully inflected vocals from Jernberg, perfect piano from Risser. If they continue down or around this path, I'll even forgive them their name....

Lisa Ullén - Catachesis (Nuscope)

Lisa Ullén/Nina de Heney - Carve (LJ)

Lisa Ullén was one of the curators of the festival (indeed, was responsible for almost all of the events I found especially outstanding). She also preformed, in a trio with Nina de Heney and, less enjoyably, the unaccountably ubiquitous Okkyung Lee. The music there, as well as on these two releases, lies squarely in the European free jazz tradition, though along the pathway that traces its lineage back to pianists like Paul Bley up through Irene Schweizer, that is to say with a strong underlying, if abstract, melodic aspect as well as a free sense of, if not steady rhythm, pulsation.

Catachesis is solo, with plenty of prepared piano. i should say that there's nothing dainty or winsome about Ullén's playing--it's plenty tough and sometimes jagged. She enjoys the lower registers, rumbling there on a piece like "Low Voice I" with fine, single note drive, evoking Mal Waldron. A largely prepared work like "Periphrasis-GOLD" is a great mixture of textures, spacing and dynamics, sometimes actually recalling the composer one might think of when reading the title, Xenakis. At other times it dwells somewhere between Nancarrow and Cecil Taylor. I don;t mean to suggest that her playing is imitative by any means; it really does stand on its own, but she clearly possesses a wide knowledge of various traditions. There are also tracks that fall into a more standard free improv frame, drawing on both classical and avant jazz histories, something not quite up my alley but certainly as able and solid as most anything else you're likely to hear in that vein. Strong work.

The duo with bassist Nina de Heney falls in similar territory (on both discs, incidentally, the pieces are reasonably short; on "Carve", a two-disc set, they're all between three and six minutes). de Heney, both here and live, strikes me as quite a formidable musician, with a rich tone that reminds me of classic Dave Holland. It probably deserves more analysis than I can give here, by someone a bit more in sync with this area of improv that I am currently. There's a similar range of variation as found in the solo disc, again the music ranges from relatively lyrical to abstract in an efi sense; think (again with the comparisons!) Schweizer/Barry Guy maybe. Sure, I'd wish they'd feel less inclined to fill almost every moment with activity, wish they'd pause to take in their surroundings a bit more but...well, put it this way: it's every bit as satisfying and then some as any similar music I've heard in NYC over the past decade. Do check it out.



James Brewster - As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall (Make Mine Music)

During the festival, inside the main public space (a beautifully renovated factory), there was some curious activity going on in one corner. I wasn't fully aware of all that was occurring there, being otherwise occupied with all and sundry, though I'd noticed some contact miss suspended in a large fish bowl, passersby occasionally delivering a fingernail ping and eliciting loud sounds. It further reached my ears that there was exceptionally good coffee being brewed in that area though each time I went to investigate, there was a line longer than I wished to negotiate. It wasn't until the very end of the festival that Nina Polaschegg and I went over to attempt to procure a cuppa that I belatedly understood what was going on (Nina was way ahead of me here). One James Brewster (a likely name!) had taken it upon himself to conflate the worlds of field recording and barista-ing, mixing espresso machine and almost anything else around, including chairs and tables, whilst offering up a (purportedly!) fine cup of coffee. Alas, when we arrived there, his grounds had been depleted, but he did hang around to tell us of his venture, hand out materials (including this cd as well as a mock-documentarian tract not he effect of espresso on the brain development of Neolithic Man, replete with accounts of mug shards and espresso cups whittled form mammoth bones). Sorry I missed it but I gathered that his inspired combination of coffee to accompany strange sounds will get him invited around with some frequency. You should check him out if this happens, a fun guy,

The disc bears no overt relation to this project but is somewhat enjoyable on its own. It starts beautifully with a rich baritone voice (Men Diamler) proclaiming over organ tones in music that sounds somehow like lost, archaic, heroic British/Nordic folk material, if that makes sense (well, he's a Brit living in Sweden, so...). It's quite stirring in any case, and I was disappointed when it morphed into Glassian/Lentzian minimalism. Ah, you can actually hear it here. Amusingly, it reprises two cuts in, just as I'm playing this You Tube cut, creating a wonderful, shimmering effect...It continues, the tracks merged, raining from a kind of bubbly minimalism to rave-like episodes to atmospherics into a kind of proggy zone Brewster's own vocal having a Sylvian quality. Nothing earthshaking here (though these hovering insects, when they finally appear, are unnerving enough) but it's plenty ingratiating, like a good cuppa java.

Make Mine Music evidently expired late last year but Brewster's websitecan likely provide the info you need as well as offering, on its opening page, a little demo of the mic'ed espresso machine.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Ryu Hankil - Description for Other Things (Manual)

The eternal typewriter. A text, by Hankil this time (presented in booklet form in both Korean and English), that's essentially repetitive though varying, self-referential with regard to the act of typing, is typed. There are timings at the base of each page, presumably to mark one's place if reading along. I declined to do so, quite possibly missing out on something of the experience, though Lisa Thatcher did just that and had some interesting thoughts. I take it that preparations of various kinds were employed, unless the Clover 10S Korean typewriter has some unusual inherent sonic properties.

In any event, the pure sounds are pretty great and unexpected. There's a typewriterly quality, yes, in both the rhythms heard and some of the basic sounds but there's a whole lot else besides. A straining motor on the verge of feedback is prominent early on, for instance. I'm curious as well about the extended identical percussive beats that belie "typing" in the normal sense of the word, instead sounding like someone resting on the space bar, itself aggressively beating out a steady rhythm with which it's not normally associated. Indeed much of the set is surprisingly up front and bold.

I'm not sure I totally buy into the greater value of listening to typed text in the sense of its revealing any hidden depths but, as a buttress for the pure sonics involved, it doubtless adds a layer (or more) of interest. As is, it's a pretty fascinating and absorbing aural document, one I enjoyed greatly and, I'm sure, would really love to experience live, all the more so if it was simply "occurring" and not explicitly presented as performance.

Worth checking out, well worth it.

[not sure if Manual has a current website?]

[edit: Manual thanks, d.]

available from erst dist

Ferran Fages - for pau torres (organized music from Thessaloniki)

I've tended to enjoy Fages' music very much in past years, no matter in what guise it appears. This one, dedicated to the producer of Etude Records, seems to have a lot going for it though, after the fact, I have something of a fuzzy feeling, in the sense of, "what was that that just occurred?". Not sure if that's good or bad...

It's one long (42 minute) piece, for electric guitar and walkie-talkie, though I'm not certain of the function of the latter. The bulk of it is framed by two sections of mildly severe feedback, that central heft consisting of lovingly strummed guitar not so distant from Loren Connors. It's an area I have a natural affinity for and I've like quasi-similar forays of Fages in this neck of the woods in the past. And, as it's occurring, I do find myself getting comfortable but perhaps it's just a shade too languid for me. Had it been a 15 or so minute track on a disc with other pieces, I think it may have settled in better. It's like a long, slow Fahey exploration that hits any number of wonderful nodes but doesn't quite jell into a cohesive enough form. Though, as always, perhaps that's what Fages was shooting for.

As is, even if I'm not entirely satisfied, it's an intriguing addition to his varied canon, one that admirers will want to hear.

organized music from thessaloniki

also available from erst dist

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Manfred Werder (Jason Kahn) - 2005¹ (windsmeasure)

The (English) score for this piece is three words of text:



These words are surely the sub-text of any sonic work, anything at all in fact as long as there's air to carry sound. This actualization was created by Jason Kahn who provides 31 18-minute recordings, one for each day of March, 2010, spread over 8 discs. That's 558 minutes of sound, nine hours and 18 minutes. I've just put it on for the first time (Disc One) and will write during the course of my listen, which will at least stretch into tomorrow.

All of the recordings were made at 10AM on the same Zurich street (Hauptbahnhof), so I gather that the sounds will be of a similar general character while containing, obviously, differing elements, but we shall see. The first is quite full, the dull roar of traffic backgrounding the treads of passersby (I have the impression that the pavement is wet), the odd snatch of conversation, buses braking but, suffused throughout, the strong hum of the city. The immediate frame of reference for me is the occasion I was asked, several years back, to participate in a realization of Cage's 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs, for which I took up a station on some nondescript corner of suburban Staten Island and described what I heard, saw, felt, thought for 45 minutes. As one should know by now, but would certainly realize by engaging in such an activity, there's far more going on, aurally, than you normally realize, layer upon layer of sound and, very apparent to me, the shape of the spaces between, in the air. You automatically get something of that here, though necessarily compressed into what's emerging from your speakers.

The first track just ended, quite abruptly, the second leaping into existence straightaway. Curiously, you do indeed pick up a slightly different flavor, even as the elements are by and large the same. It's as though the scene is a sixteenth-note off from the previous one. A question which immediately springs to mind is: Why record this work as opposed to simply experiencing it? The score, after all, is essentially a spur, albeit a somewhat poetic one, to be somewhere, listening. Sitting here now, hearing the trucks, the drips (I still think there's precipitation involved), I'm not sure as to the rationale, but we'll see.

[ a couple hours later, still in the midst of track 2, which I'd paused] finding the (necessary) lack of a spatial element a little off-putting. That is, in situ I could make choices with that aspect in mind while here, things are flattened out. Still choices to be made, just not as rich. The inability (much) to turn one's head, to move within the sound.

It's the following day, May 3rd, and as I'm home for the afternoon, I continued on with the fifth segment which feels slightly different from the earlier ones, though hard to put a finger on why. Perhaps simply a substantial amount of "new" sounds, some banging as though from the unloading of metal off a truck into bins, a snatch of English. That dull roar which is consistently there, I'm pretty sure, is due to a large interior space and, hah! I just googled the site to discover, rather belatedly, that Hauptbahnhof is a railway station, the largest in Switzerland as a matter of fact, with large interiors like this one:

So, well done, ears.

Ah, and I should mention the packaging somewhere in here, a (typically) beautiful windsmeasure job, a white set of four large folds, accordion fashion, each side with two disc pouches, lovely to look at and hold. A photo image wouldn't do it justice.

Behind me, Day 6 proceeds with the usual smattering of footsteps, crying babies, distant PA announcements (something I only just noticed--wondering how much, doubtless a lot, that I'm still missing). I still come back to the basic necessity of a recording, whether it's the case or not. Is it some attempt to have the listener inhabit the mind of Jason Kahn for several hours, to perceive what he did during that time? Aside from being impossible, that would seem silly. Sometimes I think of this project as a baroque, over-the-top way of telling the listener, "You there! You go out and actuate this score!". Of course, there's the specificity of what occurred during these captured hours as well, the recognition, via encapsulation on these discs, of the utter uniqueness of these moments, but unique in the sense of this patch of soil being unique from that one.

[I'm listening to these in order, for some reason, as though expecting a dramatic arc...]

Wondering about the choice of location, of such a full, rich sound source. When "nothing" is happening, just that hum, it's rather beguiling. Pluses and minuses. [Day 10]

An especially nice hum near the beginning of Day 16 in addition to a wide variety of clatter, bells and voices. The station had it workin' that day. My favorite so far! :-) Seriously, how strange that would be, to think, "Yeah, well, on March 16th, there were some *great* sounds, as opposed to those other days..."

So, halfway through. No expectations, of course, of the second half being substantially different but it's by no means uninteresting to listen to, occasionally absorbing (though not so much as the sounds, along with the Werder/Kahn, in my room) so we continue on...tomorrow.


Back the next evening, Friday, just placed Disc V , Day 17 in the changer. Thought about the work a good deal during the day, still having difficulty "justifying", if you will, listening to someone else's realization of the piece, much less (though necessarily, I suppose) a recording of same. There is the pure sonic pleasure, the wash of sounds which, as I think I've said, is not unenjoyable in band of itself. I've long held that one of my favorite ambient listening places, or type of place, is an airport terminal--the large interior space, the distant announcements, the multitude of languages one hears--and this isn't such a far remove so, in a sense, I'm quite happy. At the same time, I feel almost neglectful or lacking for not doing it myself which, of course, I could at any time, though it didn't happen to occur to me today until now to do so. I wonder if a "legitimate" space would be my room here, with Werder's work, via Kahn, coming over the speakers....

If you visit his blog, you'll see some sites where this and other pieces have been realized. I rather like the Chilean one, a cul de sac in Santiago with a parked Volkswagon, a mic set on a tripod, nighttime, the implied quiet.

I thought today, initially, about the unlikelihood of my ever playing this work again but then thought, yes I would do so, though when I was in a rural setting, some place that was not only quiet but very distant from the kind of environment recorded here.

That eternal, blurred, sourceless hum continues to fascinate; the massed result of dozens of sounds, all the edges sanded off by the station interior, molded into this suspended, near-tangible thing, absorbing any sound in its ambit. We've all heard it or its cousins. Still, you can listen to it endlessly. For that, for reminding me, a tip of the hat.


Saturday morning, gray. Humorously enough, I realized I'd mistakenly replayed Disc I last night instead of V. It matters so little, but diligence compels me to continue, so V is in now and I'll try to experience all the remaining ones today. This morning, I was thinking of the cumulative effect of all the recordings. This is more to the Kahn side of things as it was his choice to record 31 times (nothing in the score to indicate anything of the source), to revisit the same location, etc. There is something to that, especially with the pervasive hum, sometimes almost throb, permeating the soundscape. It's not difficult to get to a trance-like state, perhaps easier when you're dealing with purely aural phenomena as opposed to being there in the flesh where all the other sense complicate matters. Playing it fairly loud today, front window open, giving Jersey City passersby a taste of Zurich.

[a little disorienting hearing American English on Disc VI]

hah, an entirely different set of sounds on March 22, heavy drilling creating vast, rumbling drones. Wonder if it's the same location? As lulling as the tracks had become, I have to say that it makes for a welcome change of pace, though I missing feeling the vibrations through walls and floors that Kahn undoubtedly did. Great sounds, though.

I've just slipped in the final disc. In between, several more days, nothing outstanding, but that thought makes me wonder about those drills, the fact that they stood out so, that they really shouldn't but almost inevitably feed into our (my)
need for variation, something that, in a context like this, implies that we're simply not listening well enough, that something like those drills should have the same "value" as any other sound or set of sounds. That is doesn't is disturbing, in a way. This is another thing that Werder/Kahn have brought to mind.

A close friend pointed me to a poem of Raymond Carver's, "For Tess", something I'd seen before, but not in a while. It somehow resonated here:

Out on the Strait the water is whitecapping,
as they say here. It’s rough, and I’m glad
I’m not out. Glad I fished all day
on Morse Creek, casting a red Daredevil back
and forth. I didn’t catch anything. No bites
even, not one. But it was okay. It was fine!
I carried your dad’s pocketknife and was followed
for a while by a dog its owner called Dixie.
At times I felt so happy I had to quit
fishing. Once I lay on the bank with my eyes closed,
listening to the sound the water made,
and to the wind in the tops of the trees. The same wind
that blows out on the Strait, but a different wind, too.
For a while I even let myself imagine I had died –
and that was all right, at least for a couple
of minutes, until it really sank in: Dead.
As I was lying there with my eyes closed,
just after I’d imagined what it might be like
if in fact I never got up again, I thought of you.
I opened my eyes then and got right up
and went back to being happy again.
I’m grateful to you, you see. I wanted to tell you.

The penultimate day begins noticeably quieter than most, if not all, previous ones. I checked a calendar, thinking perhaps it was a Sunday (and that maybe I'd missed prior softnesses) but no, it was a Tuesday. A national holiday? Who knows? Again, it makes for an engaging variation, reminding me of my earlier statement that, given my druthers, I might have chosen a less overtly rich location as to sound sources, though of course this is as rich as anything preceding, just subtler. Or apparently subtler to naive ears. Very lovely, in any case. and just as I write that, these enormous roars fill the space--amazing, vast--possibly those drills again but the details muffled while the volume remains the same or even increases. So strange and fantastic, as if a jet plane was taxiing through the station. Wow. Have to smile, thinking of a "climax" with, perhaps, the 31st as a coda...

So, March 31st arrives, a day like any other, those drills still pounding, more schoolkids milling about. Sounds you haven't hears, or at least noticed, appear: crinkling cellophane, maybe. I still pick up, as I had at the beginning, what sounds like something wet, dripping, though I'm no longer sure of it. It ends abruptly, as each day had before, here during a conversation in English.

What to make of it? Would I recommend it? Well, sure, on the one hand--it may well cause one to think about matters too often neglected. But on the other, one shouldn't need a document like this to engender those thoughts. That nags at me, the whole issue of a) recording the event and b) releasing it. Perhaps if only as a spur to do actualize the piece oneself, that could be reason enough. Yet, it's a gorgeous package. But is it too easy to fetishize? Buts and maybes....