Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hans Koch/Gaudenz Badrutt - social insects (Flexion)

...I remember a disc from Koch on ECM about 24 years back called "Accélération"; liked it a bunch back then, had a nice edge to it, though I imagine I might feel differently now. Here's a far more recent affair, a collaboration between Koch (bass clarinet) and Badrutt (electronics). As much as I hate to generalize, it falls into that category of musicians trying to extend the parameters of efi, a tough task to these ears. There's always that uneasy balance being sought, wanting to venture into post-AMM improv (another generalization) but being unable--or unwilling--to shrug off the jazzish flourishes and tropes associated with the Euro free tradition. So there's much activity (hard, given the disc's title, to refrain from a certain adjective...) without a sense of either close listening or real abandon. There are a couple of happy exceptions on the ninth and twelfth (final) tracks where the duo veers into a deep, steady hum interrupted by fine, ragged crackles, alternating roles on the two pieces; would that there was more in this line.

Jonas Kocher et. al. - duos 2011 (Flexion)

Kocher (accordion) in tandem with Hans Koch (bass clarinet) & Patricia Bosshard (violin)--a trio--and duos with Christian Wolfarth (cymbals), Gaudenz Badrutt (electronics), Urs Leimgruber (soprano saxophone), Christoph Schiller (spinet) and Christian Müller (contrabass clarinet).

Perhaps necessarily something of a hodgepodge, the general tenor is in line with the aesthetic of the recording above, more or less alongs the lines you expect if you know Kocher's work and that of his collaborators. Koch burbles and erupts, Wolfarth bows his cymbals, merged with high accordion pitches, Badrutt contributes some subtle work (more interesting than the session with Koch), Leimgruber is more restrained than I've often heard, generating some good, hollow metal tube noise, Schiller's spinet gets a spiky workout to no great effect and Müller closes things out by contributing to the richest track here, flush with dark bowings and low, liquid growls from Kochar, pensive and troubling, quite effective.

As with "social insects" there are signs here and there of more intriguing work but, for these ears, too much time spent on more superficial "interaction" than on probative playing. I would like to hear more Müller....


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Esther Ferrer - Concierto zaj para 30 o 60 voces (w.m.o/r)

I hadn't previously been aware of Ferrer, though she's apparently quite prominent in Spain and elsewhere (and married to Tom Johnson, fwiw).

This performance was part of a "Noise & Capitalism" exposition, organized at least in part by Mattin. The idea behind the piece, I take it, is to both illustrate the banal, humdrum nature of the workday of a victim of this system while, at the same time, evoking strategies that might be employed to alleviate and, possibly, transcend that system.

The text is recited, sung, yelled and whispered by however large the throng is that participates and consists of a real time recital of numbers representing the passing minutes; as the minutes progress, we go from "uno minuto" to "dos minutos", etc. (I take it that it's Spanish, not Basque, but I could be wrong) How these words are stressed, enunciated, subjected to dynamics or emotional extremes varies over the course of the 40 or so minutes at hand. I'm not sure if a score was involved or, as I would rather hope, decisions were made cooperatively within the group. There are passages that are more or less in unison, though I could imagine them having been arrived at during consultation away from the main action at the time. Sometimes the sung numbers take on the character of a Catholic service, intoned repetitively and with (mock?) solemnity. But they may just as likely be whistled, spat out, hummed or screamed. If anything, I'm reminded of works like "Cardew's "The Great Learning" where the massed voices have a similar balance, or seeming balance, between the orchestrated and the improvised.

Other strains appear, deviating from the numerical recitation (though that never vanishes): simple songs, perhaps nursery rhymes, and an increased density of sound including a prominent, fairly regular beating of a metal pipe. The crowd evenually reaches the 40-minute mark with cheers, whoops, applause, laughter and an eddy of conversation. They sound happy.

It's the type of event that, were I have to read a description, wouldn't likely have intrigued me. But I have to say, I found myself rather immersed in all the activity and enthusiasm, much like being in the flow of a busy street, purposive but chaotic. Maybe the progression from spare to richly complex is indicative of a way out of the aforementioned capitalist rut; there does seem to be a positiveness about the whole affair, in a way, not dissimilar to the worker songs that Cardew championed in the 70s. I couldn't help but feel that he would have smiled at all this, been drawn in and buoyed. I was too, a little bit to my surprise.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Patrick Farmer has published a book of words, "try i bark".

I can't begin to say anything about it, really, as my experience of contemporary word/poetry/letter placement is almost nil. I can say that I enjoyed reading it in approximately the same manner that I enjoy Farmer's sound work, which is to say, quite a bit.

But as difficult as it is to attempt to convey what goes on, much less evaluate, the activity in that music, it's far more so, for me, to do anything of the sort here.

So, take a look.

Compost and Height

(I tried to put extra space between "i" and "bark" above, something I sense is important, but this format doesn't allow it)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Robert McDougall - Unfinished Studies (Angklung Editions)

A charming and ingratiating LP out of Australia by McDougall, the first of his music I've heard, I believe. Four medium length tracks, each generally concerned with textures that combine the percussive and the softly electronic, bringing to mind, to an extent, the early work of Christopher Hobbs and the Gavin Bryars of "Hommages", but with an underlying tug and grit that's very current. "Platter Study #2", which leads of the album, illustrates this quite well, it's chiming tones, eddying slowly, filtered through mid-range, industrial hums and a strong crackle, among other strata. The density of detail is handled very well--it's not immediately apparent how much is going on until you focus on it and realize it's not three sounds but seven or eight. It's also very nicely "of a piece", doing it business, drawing in the listener, lasting precisely the 11'20" is should, then evaporating

"Untitled #4" is laden with field recordings, into which have been weaved a tolling keyboard note and what sound like flutes of some kind(aeolian?) but may well be something on the order of howler monkeys. Organ-like tones and strummed guitars enter eventually and this piece becomes somewhat pastoral, perhaps a bit too so, but managing to straddle the divide between groovily contemplative and bland. I pick up a bit more Bryars and perhaps even a bit of "Discreet Music"-era Eno in "Angklung Study (After Anne Boyd) #3", with wonderful deep tones flowing beneath muted, flitting piano figures and high, ringing bells. I take it that use is also made of an (angklung, a bamboo instrument, though I'm not sure. I have to say that the surface noise of the vinyl actually adds a welcome, sandy counterpoint here (!). It concludes with the bells having acquired an intriguing buzz, a nice bit of mystery there.

The final piece, "Installation Study #2", is my favorite, if only for it stripped-down character, acting as kind of a palate cleanser for the fine richness that has preceded. Hums, clicks and other slightly percussive ephemera come and go, soft bird and/or insect chirps linger. Again, as with the opening track, there's much more occurring tan might be apparent at first, but here, there's also a more expansive sense of air and atmosphere, pre-dawn air, cool and seemingly empty. When the somber, slightly sour piano chords enter, offset by some harsher but subtle electronics, the effect is fantastic. A real sense of beautiful place has been established, mysterious and alluring.

A fine recording, entirely enjoyable. Don't miss it.

Angklung Editions

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chip Shop Music (with Toshimaru Nakamura - Protocol (Mathka)

Wherein Toshi joins Erik Carlsson (percussion), Martin Küchen (baritone and alto saxophones, radio), David Lacey (percussion, electronics) and Paul Vogel (computer, clarinet). Two long tracks, full of color though something about them nag at me, not the degree of rigor I like to hear in ensembles like this, perhaps. In some ways, the music reminds me of older things on Erstwhile like "La Voyelle Liquide" or "Bits, Bots and Signs" but without the vigor and bristling excitement those possessed at the time. I don't mean that to sound overly harsh as this work is perfectly enjoyable, just not as gripping as I want it to be. It's dark and sonorous, the percussion often dwelling in muted, low bell territory, Küchen performing in his gritty, wrenching, very strong manner. The latter provides some of the more probing motives as a real sense of angst accrues, the reeds offset now by an insistent pulse, then by scratchy, nervous rustlings, this right at the conclusion of the first piece.

The second track establishes layers of ringing tones, very dry, offset by deep gongs, pulsing rapidly. It;s a wonderful sound and something one can easily wallow in but, I don't know, maybe too easy. Maybe it's the sheer consistency of it, that it's too unruffled; despite the surface anguish, there isn't much perturbation in the structure.

I admit I get the sense I'm nitpicking here and I'm sure many will enjoy this release, in some ways similar to the Bombax recordings with Toshi from a couple of years ago (this was recorded in 2009, btw).

Jonas Kochar/Gaudenz Badrutt - Strategy of behavior in unexpected situations (Insubordinations)

33 minutes of subdued, generally solid bumping of heads between Kochar (accordion) and Badrutt (electronics). For most of the work, there's a fine sense of evolving form, the soft hums, taps and breaths gently swirling into shape, dissipating, re-forming into related figures. Kochar, while more often than not using various extended techniques, largely on the air-rush side of things, isn't averse to injecting standard accordion sounds and does so very well, playing the instruments richness against the astringent, softly piercing whines that Badrutt conjures forth. At its best, the music is very spare but very gentle, smoky wisps in a dark space. However, about midway through, it veers into a bit of a rambunctious patch, not bad but somewhat disruptive (debating whether that's a good thing here, undecided) and some accordion-led eeriness that's uncomfortably close to old horror-movie shenanigans. That segment doesn't last too long, but it's soon replaced by a kind of manic traffic jams sequence, replete with tooting "horns". As I said, the disruption bothers me most of the time but occasionally, it makes a kind of sense, a sideways sort of slant into a room that may be adjacent but also "out of place". Apologies for the vagueness, but at any rate, the music here got me thinking along those lines. Try for yourself and see.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

John Tilbury - for Tomasz Sikorski (BÔŁT)

In the early 60s, Tilbury studied in Warsaw under Zbigniew Drzewieck during which he met the young composer Tomasz Sikorski (the disc sleeve says "Tomasz", the liner notes, "Tomek"; not sure if that's a salient difference in Polish), with whom he was very impressed and formed a fast, if temporary, firendship, the two not seeing each other again following Tilbury's return to England in 1965.

This recording presents three works by Sikorski from substantially later on, 1971, 1980 and 1984 as well as an improvised homage by Tilbury. There are vestiges of a minimalist approach in play but nothing, so far as I can discern, of a direct connection to any of the big four. Instead, the acknowledgement to repetitive forms seems to be buried in a moodier, darker music, a tolling kind of sound that often resides in the piano's lower register. I might go so far as to suggest that the music here has a good deal in common with Tilbury's own improvising at its further remove from the Feldman influence. One wonders if the influence on the younger pianist was substantial.

There's a bit of Feldman in the rolling, repeated patterns of "Rondo" (1984) but with a kind of lugubrious quality that the older composer doesn't have (that motif is one of the more striking figures herein). I found myself thinking of German Romantic painters like Arnold Boecklin, a modernist extension (and extreme deviation) from Rachmaninoff's great "Isle of the Dead". Not that it sounds akin, just containing a similar brooding, dark, troubled aspect. Otherwise, I can't think of much contemporaneous music to compare to this. Gurdjieff, maybe? I've listened to a bit of Sikorski's orchestra; music on-line and, generally, find it interesting and enjoyable though not utterly gripping. Glad to know it, though. It goes without saying that Tilbury's playing is rich and assured; I'd be curious to compare it to other pianistic interpretations.

It may also go without saying that the highlight of this disc is the concluding "Improvisation for Tomasz Sikorski", an absolutely gorgeous, probing 12+ minutes of Tilburyness that reminds me of portions of his playing on "Duos for Doris", high praise indeed. It's somber, dark in a way that matches the same quality in Sikorski's music (he was only 49 when he died; a sense of loss certainly pervades here). His ability to be both spare and supremely melodic has rarely been shown to better advantage. The touch, the choices made, the space encompassed--it's all here. Heartbreaking and profound. Must be heard.

BÔŁT (via Monotype)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Under the Carpet - Under the Carpet (Ruptured)

It's all too easy, as a listener or writer about this music, to pigeonhole a given musician into a slot based on what you've happened to have heard, forming a mental image that, in all likelihood, is seriously incomplete and inaccurate. My notion of what Stéphane Rives was about had been based on the handful of recordings, beginning with his stunning solo, "Fibres" (Potlatch) form a few years back: a rigorous exploration of the properties of the soprano saxophone considered as a sound-producing metal tube. There were elaborations on that, but they served to broaden that initial conception, to add fullness and detail.

Now, in fairness, Under the Carpet has all the appearance of a cooperative trio and, having never previously heard (I don't think) the music of Paed Conca (electric bass, clarinet) and Fadi Tabbal (electric guitar, ipad), it's possible that the music here simply conforms more to what they'd been doing all along, Rives (laptop--no actual soprano here, though I believe it's sampled and altered via the computer) adding his own ideas to the mix.

There are 21 tracks that pretty much segue into each other and the music covers a pretty decent range though, again, one I wouldn't have guessed for Rives. The modus operandi here is essentially improvising off of melodic fragments. Describing it? Well, there's a proggish element throughout; sometimes I hear hints of Terry Riley, sometimes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor; a quasi-industrial patch here, one referring to country blues there, a nod to Derek Bailey over here. I occasionally picked up glimmers of Hector Zazou or Benjamin Lew...quite the smorgasbord! There's generally a rhythmic element in place (often with a mid-East feel, natural enough given the music's origin in Beirut), more often a pulse than a beat, though the latter pops in once or twice. But the main factor is an inviting, almost gooey lushness, all of the sounds rounded and slippery, squelchy even. But these are usually tempered with harsher sonorities (via Rives?), allusions to 60s tape music, perhaps. Are there times when the sound gets a bit too proggy for my taste? Sure, once or twice the syrup is laid on rather thickly, the guitar too Rypdalian.

But overall, I find myself just enjoying the ride. It moves well, varies nicely and has a strong underlying musicality that carries it through. Really interesting work and, to its credit, really tough to pigeonhole. Check it out.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Radu Malfatti/Taku Unami - s/t (ErstLive)

A recording wherein Richard Kamerman's conversational voice during the first couple of minutes possibly comprises more decibels than the ensuing 49 minutes...

Unami performed several times during the AMPLIFY:stones festival in 2011. All of the shows at The Stone in which he participated involved his construction of mini-edifaces made of large cardboard boxes, often connected by twine and bestrewn with measuring tapes. Noise was necessarily made during these actions and I recall going back and forth as to whether this was incidental to the proceedings or should be taken as an essential part. With Malfatti, who steadfastly and gorgeously projected his softer-than-soft beams of tromboneliness into the room, the latter seemed more appropriate. The box-building became somewhat problematic when it was repeated a few times, with different partners, though I guess one could level the same "criticism" at a Malfatti--somehow this doesn't seem to fit though, which perhaps has more to do with prejudices about musicality than anything else. Unami's activity implied a kind of narrative, if only that of building and (maybe too automatic) destruction and it was questionable how much blood could be wrung from that particular stone. Near the conclusion of one set (I forget with who, perhaps Rowe) he left the cord that would through the piled boxes in the hands of a front-row audience member and walked to the rear of the space, where he gave instructions to pull and, of course, the containers came tumbling down. My immediate thought was that it would have been far more interesting had Unami simply exited the venue, leaving the choice of how to conclude the performance (indeed, whether to conclude) in the nervous hands of that audience member.

This being said, there was also something oddly satisfying about Unami's sets, especially this one with Malfatti. One clear reason was the apposition of the relentless calm/incisive placement of sound provided by the trombonist vs. the carefully considered but active movement of Unami. The latter struck an intriguing balance between care in construction and nonchalance when parts collapsed ahead of schedule. He was almost ant-like in his objective of building his particular hill despite any momentary obstacles. On the other hand, one could shunt that part to one side, regard it as peripheral, and concentrate on Malfatti's spare commentary, noting its inherent beauty and how, as can be heard hear, it plays against a siren of a vehicle racing up Houston St. outside the venue. The flickering back and forth of this attention range was fascinating in and of itself.

This begs the question: how valuable is a recording of the same event? I love the instrumental listing: Radu Malfatti - trombone, Taku Unami_______ (actually, no underlining but i can't get pure spaces to register here) But if you weren't in attendance and, moreover, if you were innocent of any knowledge as to what he was doing, it might be easy enough to listen to this as an ultra-low key Malfatti performance with some bumping and rustling noises occurring elsewhere in the room. For some of us, including this listener, that could well be enough and Malfatti is just wonderful here, even injecting the odd three or four note sequence every so often; feels like a whole sonata!

The recording, for me, comes across as far more restful and even meditative than did the concert to the extent the latter contained some amount of tension in the uncertainty of what Unami might do. It's kind of a different bird, then. I enjoy it a great deal and would highly recommend it but I'm curious to hear how it strikes those ears that were not in attendance.