Wednesday, June 26, 2013

pizMO - blst (fibrr)

Every so often, pizMO emerges, bearing news from the Nantes noise scene--Christophe Havard, Jerome Joy and Julien Ottavi. Although not always the case, "noise" in Nantes, in my experience, carries less of the adolescent, rock-oriented vibe that it often does elsewhere, instead tracing its lineage back through the likes of Tudor ("Rainforest" was just recreated there a couple of weeks back by Ottavi and the crew at apo33). Make no mistake, "blst" is every bit as explosive as its title connotes, but one has the impression of hearing hyper-magnified activity that occurs at some micro-level, possibly within the entrails of DIY electronic devices of great complexity. It's a massive, 53-minute block of sound in one respect, but that block is a conglomerate, permeated with materials of varying density and color as well as pockets of air (or other gaseous substances). Hard to escape the aural illusion of magma, liquefying in immense heat, congealing into a smoky crust, fracturing, on and on but at the same time semi-alive, as though lava-based creatures are in the process of being formed. There's a danger of over-satiation; ensembles like pisMO tend to eschew sparseness and silence, requiring a constant bob and weave from the participants as they negotiate their way through a more viscous medium than classic AMM or post-AMM environs--no time is spent in contemplation. Now and then, they run up against a wall, sputter, emit a silly or teeth-grating sound or two, but generally they do a really impressive job at creating a living, variegated form. As with much of the successful music in this neck of the woods, I'd love to have heard this immersed in a large space, hordes of speakers surrounding. As is, "blst" is a fine document, robust, writhing and tentacular.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Going - Going I (silent water)

A double duo of two keyboards (Giovanni Di Domenico and Pak Yan Lau) and two percussionists (Joao Lobo and Matthieu Calleja). While I know I'm not the onl one out there with an abiding and unreasonable love of the sound of a distorted Fender Rhodes, I'm probably in smaller company with my long-term affection from that early ECM release from Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, "Ruta & Daitya" (the former's last venture into electronics?). Going doubles down on the instrumentation while summoning up a similar post-Milesian spirit, with related rhythms and keyboard scurrying. It lacks the over-the-top funkiness of the earlier work (sometimes the beats are a bit leaden, as in "Fara"). An unfair standard to hold this quartet to in any case and on its own the music flows pretty well. Maybe, in a more contemporary vein, think of it as a variant on Radian or Trapist--enjoyable, lightly beat-driven music with imaginative, keyboard-oriented washes and distortion atop. A fun trip.

Mulabanda - Lift Your Toes (silent water)

Another Di Domenico project, again with Lobo in two, along with Daniele Martini (saxophone, percussion) and Bruno Ferro Xavier da Silva (electric bass, electronics, percussion). Miles circa "Bitches Brew" once again hovers over the proceedings on the first of two tracks, with the warped Rhodes and the snare beats; generally, it's in the same area as the Going recording. Side 2 ventures into entirely different territory, percussion and electronics to the four, constructing odd and intricate rhythmic patterns offset against squalls of harsh noise. It eventually settles into a sizzling kind of industrial area, conjuring images of arc wielding. Somehow, I'm recalling FM Einheit. Interesting track, though, coursing through some unusual areas. Those interested in variations of this order of jazz funk will enjoy.

silent water

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nick Hennies - Flourish (Consumer Waste)

In the last several years, Hennies has performed, among others, numerous pieces by Alvin Lucier, so it's not a total surprise to encounter that decided influence in "Flourish (for vibraphone duo). What may be a bit surprising is how fresh and alive and downright absorbing the music is despite, or because of, this influence. Though for duo, the work can apparently be performed by a single musician; in either case he/they move about the vibraphone, playing defined sequences at different points. Within each segment, there's a consistent rhythm, faster or slower, the initial pair of mallets generally joined by the second, resulting in shimmering patterns of overtones and room-molded sounds. There's a clear lineage to works like Lucier's "Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas" though Hennies dispenses with sine tones and doubles the acoustic instrumentation. As in those pieces, one teeters ever so delicately on that divide between the aesthetic and the science experiment if one chooses to make the distinction (I do this less so than many, I'm guessing, but still there are times in Lucier's music where the sheer experiential data outweighs the beauty). The transparent presentation of sonic phenomena can be off-putting to some but, in this instance, I find the results gorgeous, mysterious and compelling enough in themselves, more than enough to sensuously wallow in.

(While writing about this release, I had occasion to see an in-store concert by Tom Johnson, performing (with Carol Robinson) two of his works, "Music with Mistakes" and "Questions". It provided a fairly clear offset to Hennies' music insofar as it wandered rather far into the science--actually, in this instance, mathematics--end of things, any emergent properties all but evaporating. In fairness, Johnson eschews such emergence but, as intellectually interesting as some of the night's sounds were, a good part of me longed to hear something along the lines of "Flourish")

RIght from the start, those great bent tones entrance, more so when mirrored a fraction of a second apart; you know you're hearing an iterated acoustical phenomenon yet/and you could listen for hours. The work is more chronicle than narrative, each segment a kind of time period within which something happens (what isn't?), the sequencing taking care not to leave any two overly akin portions adjacent to each other but otherwise with no hierarchical sense. Surprises abound. When the rapid fire second series begins, at first it sounds ordinary enough but one gradually picks up layers and patterns that weren't overt on first blush and when the second pair of mallets emerges, the spectral sheen produces waves of giddy sonic glee. Each section is given several minutes to gestate, allowing the listener to piece together relationships within the sounds and there are plenty to discover. It close with a near-silent episode, sounding as if one is hearing the music from a house two doors down. A wonderful recording, automatic for fans of Hennies or the lineage of which he's a part.

VA AA LR - It Just Ain't Flapping (Consumer Waste)

When last we left Mssrs. Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan and Louie Rice, they were sending off distress flares, wielding fire extinguishers and other assorted hardware. I don't recall if I summoned the ghost of Voice Crack on that occasion but they're lingering about now in the sense that the sounds seem often to derive from some variation of "cracked electronics" and commonly contain at least a smidgen of buried pulse. That said, I enjoy this trio's music more in that there's less a feeling of the spectacular and more of just going about their business with an intelligent inquisitiveness and a finer idea of space. Maybe think: the nephews of the Bohman Brothers. Descriptors are pretty useless. Yes, there's a Stevie Wonder capture along the way, but it's just one element submerged among hundreds. The point, for me, is the flow, the obvious imagination in effect, the avoidance of too many cliches (hey, everyone hits some...), the evocation of a real space in which fascinating things occur for 36 minutes in an array of colors, most of them rusty. That's enough. A really strong recording - check it out.

Consumer Waste

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bruno Duplant/Darius Ciuta - (G)W(3) (Mystery Sea)

I'm not precisely sure of the background to the two pieces presented here; apparently they're derived from scores by Ciuta, a Lithuanian musician/composer. Whether he contributes directly to the (presumably) long-range collaboration or whether what we hear are Duplant's realization on his own isn't apparent. In any case, we experience some 79 minutes of subdued, atmospheric sounds (very much in keeping with much of the label's output) that carries vague nautical connotations to this listener--distant foghorns, the knocking of floating objects against wooden pilings, a generally aqueous feel. The music is simultaneously rich in terms of detailed layering and almost uniformly quiet, enough so that, at times, it almost fades out entirely. It's also sonorous and rounded, entirely "unobjectionable" which may be a positive or negative attribute depending on the listener's predilections. Every so often, for example near the 30-minute mark, there are hints of far away conflagrations, shards of sound that might read as harsh were they closer at hand that serve to inject a degree of necessary abrasiveness lest the affair become too lulling. More descriptives would only belabor the point. Some may find it too long and self-similar for sustained concentration, others may not (I don't). Some may prefer to use it in an ambient manner, for which it works fairly well. A good recording, to these ears, very satisfying, like lying down in an isolated, sonically intriguing environment, waiting for a nap that never arrives.

Mystery Sea

Kassel Jaeger - Rituel de la Mort du Soleil (Unfathomless)

It would be curious to gauge the reaction of the droves of O'Rourke-oids who find their way to a release like this, now that Jaeger has been singled out as a new-found favorite. Given that it's a run limited to 200 copies, better get yours quickly. I'm guessing this "ritual" is one of Jaeger's own devising, as I googling pretty much results in this disc alone, but he seems to want to harken back to the possibility that similar events occurred in times past in this region of central France. Tee result is a combination of on-sire recording (insects, pond sounds, presumably more) and Jaeger's contributions to the landscape, including wood, bones and, to be sure, processing. As with much of his previous work that I've heard, there's an underlying pulse of sorts, though never so prominent as to be intrusive, more a series of varied throbs that oar the music down its sluggish waters. There is a humidity or sorts in play here, a "closing in" of the surroundings, though perhaps my ear-to-brain connection is overly influenced by the shamanistic photos in the booklet. Something doesn't entirely click for me here; perhaps it's simply the knowledge that a ritual is being invoked, however obliquely, and I'm not too keen on the general subject, imparting, for me, a hokey ambience. Maybe it's also the heavy hand of post-production, as when cycles of sound clusters are iterated in a manner that, however blurred, imply a mechanical aspect that conflicts with my image of the nighttime countryside. The second half of the disc is more stable, fairly steady-state and works the better for that, though still, I can't say I found it gripping; listenable but not so memorable, not nearly as memorable, I imagine, as sitting out in that field may have been.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jon Rose - Rosin (ReR)

Another thing that occurs every so often is that a release will wend itself to my mailbox which, upon opening, elicits a WTF?!? response from your reviewer. This is a pretty good example of that phenomenon. I'd never received anything from ReR before, am not aware of knowing anyone there. I'm pretty sure I've never written up anything from Rose, only typing his name in passing as a sideman on this project or that (The President, I think, and Chadbourne's "Country Music from Southeastern Australia") and even those had to have been written 15 years ago. Further, I should say that nothing I've heard from Rose on radio or elsewhere over my adult life has ever particularly moved me. Yet here it is and here I am, so I shall dutifully attempt to at least describe the production (and quite a production it is) and offer my commentary for what it's worth.

This is a 4-disc set, in a book-sized case, honoring Rose's 60th birthday. Three of the discs are music, one a data disc (using QuickTime). There's a booklet elaborately illustrated with photos, replete with descriptions of the music and appreciative essays from Bob Ostertag, Kersten Glandien, David Harrington and Richard Barrett. Oh, and there's also a small plastic packet, autographed and numbered, containing some curled up strands from, one presumes, Rose's violin bow. Fetishism, anyone?

The discs contain groups of related work, not just a random selection. Disc One begins with 13 extracts from Rose's Pannikin project, a multimedia event featuring various musicians from Australia's DIY underbelly, including a brass bands, a hummer/whistler, a cocktail pianist, a virtuoso whip master, a chainsaw orchestra and a dingo. Rose seems to usually fit himself into the action, though not always. It's wacky. There's a kind of Breukerish sensibility here and, depending on one's tolerance for same, the sounds can come across as enjoyably weird and whimsical or trivially aggravating. I wavered between these two poles, save for the wonderful song by the Ntaria Aboriginal Ladies Choir, though I wish Rose hadn't intervened musically. "Internal Combustion" is described as a "multimedia violin concerto", performed with Robin Fox and Ensemble United Berlin. The music is actually pretty much in line with my mental mage of Rose's work--spiky in that combination of Boulezian and prog rock sense, as one may have heard in some 80s Zappa. I'm not a fan but listeners attuned to that world may well enjoy this; it's very capably and precisely performed. A radio piece, "Syd and George" combines recorded conversation with a string quartet (all parts played by Rose). Oh, George is a lyrebird. As with the aboriginal choir piece, this would have been far more rewarding without the accompaniment; Syd and his friend are quite entertaining enough. The disc concludes with an excellent track in which Rose's violin, contact mic'd from the inside, is laid face down on the ground in the rain. Fantastic sounds.

The second disc begins with extracts from a work in honor of Charles Ives, "Charlie's Whiskers" (2004), for strings, solo fiddle, piano, saw, interactive bow and live sampling. At its best, it has a giddy, kind of John Oswald feel, the strings sliding and slithering in an odd, greasily electronic fashion. Not surprisingly, the Ives of "Battle Cry of Freedom" is emphasized, though not nearly as insanely hilarious as the old bird himself, but overall the set works well, Ivan Siller's fiddle in the fifth section a notable highlight. "Talking Back to the Media", as I understand it, uses random, live radio (and other media?) snatches as source material for an ensemble to react to, or against, all of the action live-edited by Rose. Notable musicians involved in this undertaking are Chris Abrahams, Martin Ng and Clayton Thomas, among others. There's enough variety to carry the work a good distance with, often, a rich, burbling stew manifesting, though the 36 minutes presented here (carved out of 55) begins to pall a bit in its hyperactivity--it's not exactly a close listening session; Rose in in little danger of being co-opted by Wandelweiser. Immersed in a room surrounded by it, I can see the attraction, though "Rainforest" it's not. And, lastly in Round Two, what's an avant Australian disc without a cut devoted to the native warblings of a front-end hoe excavator? "Digger Music" documents such, once again accompanied by Rose's frenetic violin stylings. They're a bit better integrated here and one can, in fact, imagine a duet of sorts, a humorous enough image. Oh wait, there's a bonus track. "Bonus track"? I fail to understand the rationale of not listing it in the booklet instead, a little secretly, doing so on an insert. Ah, well. "Bird Verb" is for solo tenor violin, an instrument possessing an extraordinary sound; I'm glad they appended it as it's my favorite specifically Rose-centered work on the set, with fine dark, entwining drones and harmonics.

"Sphere", which leads off Disc Three, is tough to describe. It involves balls, though in what manner, I'm not sure (here's one approach that I don't think is utilized on this particular piece). There's a choir singing "Latin texts of misanthropic sentiment", a harpsichord-sounding instrument, violin and much tape manipulation. Again, it's sonically entertaining for a bit though too much on the audio hijinx side of things for my taste. Others will differ. Now, it's hard to imagine going far wrong bowing wire fences. I kind of wish an exterior recording had been provided, Rose and Hollis Taylor having their way with a miles long instrument (this is done on the video disc). Instead, we have a piece played on a home construction (five wires, one barbed, four regulation) devised at the request of Kronos' David Harrington (for stage play). "Garage Fence" finds the pair sawing and tapping way, producing cool sound after cool sound. Again, given my druthers, I'd've preferred more listening, more awareness of their surroundings (a garage!) but, on its own terms, it's quite enjoyable, occasionally generating a fine, massive buzz. Imagine a more, um, barbarous version of Frith's first guitar solos album...The tenor violin returns in non-bonus track garb for "Hyper", a nine-part suite of miniatures, using a MIDI controller bow. Probably the least enjoyable section of the set, skittery and aimlessly effects-driven, a pallid mixture of 60s tape sounds and Zorn circa "Book of Heads". The final audio disc closes with "Palimps", a quartet of pieces utilizing a K-Bow which sounds like a drastic updating of Laurie Anderson's tape bow, capable of generating all sorts of non-violinoid sounds. I'm not entirely convinced--again, much of it, whatever the source, sounds akin to a good deal of "classical" electronic music one has heard since the 70s, but the matrix Rose constructs often contains impressive space and apparent distance between elements; again, something I'd like to hear in situ, in a 3D environment. Oh, did I say, "closes"? Nope, another bonus track. sigh. "Pursuit Mix" for recycled "junk" powered by bicycles. Works very well though, like an ancient, wheezing calliope on wheels. Nice piece.

The QuickTIme disc contains 13 videos and one sound file, the latter being a humorous performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Rose interpolating his own playing into a mashed up recording of same, complete with enthusiastic audience applause. The others visually document several of the projects encountered earlier, some of which were rewarding to actually see, including three fence events (though one wishes to have heard these sounds in the open space oneself; I think much is lost) and a number of the bicycle-propelled devices which often have a Partchian charm in addition to producing compelling if droll sounds. His, for my ears, generally overactive approach is clearly seen and heard on a 1982 video wherein he lustily attacks his 19-string, mutant cello but, on the other hand, it serves him quite well in a refreshing solo violin performance in front of the Sydney Opera House which concludes with admonishments against this activity from a security guard, Rose arguing whilst playing, telling the guard, "Only one minute left...50 seconds..." down to the piece's conclusion. "You're not allowed to play music in front of the Sydney Opera House." :-)

Obviously, this is a no brainer for fans of Rose. I'm glad to have heard/seen it as, even though at the end of the day it doesn't really overlap with my main areas of interest, it opened up aspects of his work of which I was unaware and, even for me, there are a few nuggets buried within that made the excursion worthwhile. Would like to hear a piece written for him by, say, Antoine Beuger and contemplate the resultant tension.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Jason Hoopes/Agnes Szelag - October Pieces and Shadows (Trestle)

Sometimes a release happens along that touches on two or three aspects of listening to and writing about new music. One is when something appears out of the blue, from musicians of whom I'd never heard, that just bowls me over on first blush. I recall when Vanessa Rossetto sent me her first three discs being totally floored. It's a wonderful thing and occurred here, with this duo album from Hoopes (piano) and Szelag (cello). Immediately, I was entranced by the dark, lush but slightly acid-tinged chords, the slow, seesawing piano, dreamy and poignant but managing to skirt any sentimentality. Really stunning.

Then, on re-listen, I thought, "Wait a minute. Was I too 'generous'? Had I been lulled in a kind of soporific state? Was there really that much there?" This happens sometimes, when one can be overwhelmed by an extremely attractive surface only to realize that it was a rather brittle shell, with only dusty air beneath. Well, I've been listening to this one for a few days now and, while I'd make no claim as to its earthshakingness, it's one lovely, moving set of music, subtly different from anything else readers here are likely to bump into.

A little searching around turned up evidence of the pair hailing from Mills College, both students of Fred Frith (Hoopes, most often a bassist as near as I can discern---though his piano work here is very sensitive--, is active in a trio with Frith and drummer Jordan Glenn, among other ventures whilst Szelag includes work with Chris Cutler and more). I can't say I hear much Frith in the music, though I certainly haven't kept up with his work in a long time, but other diverse reference points drifted around...There are five October Pieces written by Hoopes and two Shadows by Szelag. The Hoopes compositions are often based on two pairs of chords, gently but firmly played, suspended, forming a softly iterative framework through which the cello weaves long tones. The piano is largely consonant but just tart enough in the higher registers, richer and creamier in the lower, the cello tending toward adjacent tones that never quite smoothly mix in (a good thing) but create a color that's isolated but related. The tempo is always slow, the feeling melancholy and contemplative. The easy referent, one I know I make too often, is Gavin Bryars, by which I mean to say the "good" Bryars from around the "Hommages" period (late 70s, early 80s) prior to the overwrought excesses of his ECMization period. A similar brooding darkness, deeply Romantic in the classic sense of the term. Here and there I was reminded, oddly enough, of Michael Mantler's "No Answer", some similarity in the piano chords that's rare to come by. Other pieces strongly evoked Angelo Badalamenti, his sparser side ("October Pieces 4", in particular).

But enough of reference points. The two pieces by Szelag have a kind of plaintive urgency not quite encountered in those of Hoopes but otherwise the compositions are very much of a piece. Were I to quibble, I might say that the music is a bit too much of a piece over the course of the recording, but that's a tough complaint to file given how honest and beautiful it is. To these ears, the duo manages to avoid the traps of over-sweetness or mere nostalgia, composing and playing with an open, stirring sense of warmth and concentration. Listeners who love composers who are aware of all things contemporary but whose music is nonetheless connected to older traditions (Howard Skempton comes to mind) will find a huge amount to enjoy here. Dig in.

Available as a download from Trestle

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Dmitriy Krotevich - olgoi-khorkhoi (Intonema)

Helluva cover, you gotta say, courtesy Solongo Monkhoorai, depicting the Mongolian death-worm (olgoi-khorkhoi), a crypto-zoological creature rumored to inhabit the Gobi.

It's fun to imagine the 33-minute track here as a kind of sonic recreation of this acid-spraying, electric shock-emitting beast, though in truth, the music is calmer than that, the turntables and nimb churning away in an absorbed, often contemplative attitude. Given the instrumentation, I was greatly encouraged by the mere fact that it didn't sound so much like other things in the area, very much retaining a unique character; no would be Nakamura here. Krotevich seems considerate and careful, navigating from space to space, investigating carefully, then moving on. His death-worm is of the ruminative variety. The piece begins with a low hum which is actually a sequence of globular, liquid pulses, very rapid but subdued, gradually incorporating iterated, broom-like swishes. Elements ebb and surface, not unlike many such ventures, but a) the sounds chosen almost always have a rightness to them and b) Krotevich has divided the work into discreet chapters; in this case, the breaks are welcome and often come at a time when the listener is feeling the tiniest tingle of discomfort with what has been transpiring the previous few minutes. Very well played. A loudish portion midway through uses intense staticky and whining sounds, the death-worm zapping the odd goat or nomad. That's preceded by a wonderful passage that sounds like decayed rotary telephone dialing adorned with crystalline pings that's inexplicably moving before it flutters up into the noisier segment. The disc concludes with a low, rumbling hum, the satisfied stomach sounds of the death-worm as it winds its way back across the sands.

A really fine effort, worth seeking out.

Ilia Belorukov - Tomsk, 2012 04 20 [Live] (Intonema)

Solo alto sax with preparations--treacherous ground to cover but Belorukov does pretty well. Three sections, the first what I always think of as "metal tube dynamics", the harsh scouring sound I often associate with Martin Küchen. Belorukov begins at medium volume before slowly becoming quieter and quieter, incorporating low key pops and soft squeaks; very nice, almost narrative flow here. The next piece uses soft cries and harmonics, presumably inspired by shakuhachi playing at the start, continuing on into low, quavering seesaws of pitch shifting. Again, very well done, sounds spread over a fair length with excellent concentration and fine allowance for space. The third track is very interesting, at least in the sense that I'm hearing it, as a kind of response to the saxophonics of players like Roscoe Mitchell(in the opening portion, all high, abrasively pinched tones) and Peter Brötzmann, in the mid and later stages. There, Belorukov still seems (happily) reluctant to automatically lurch into high volume, instead trying to negotiate Brötzmannian sturm und drang in a restrained manner, a quixotic venture to be sure, but one that's fascinating to hear. Indeed, the more I listen, the more a sense of Braxtonian categorization seems to be in play, a similar concentration on one or two essential elements in the improvisation and and elaboration of same. But whereas Braxton's have long since acquired an air of the formulaic, Belorukov, at the very least, brings a freshness and sense of discovery to the fore. If you haven't entirely given up on the saxophone's role in this area of music, "Tomsk" is a great place to rest your ears for a while.


Monday, June 03, 2013

With Lumps (Neil Davidson/Fritz Welch) - Lumps for Lovin' (never come ashore)

Duos for guitar and percussion from 2011-12. My previous exposure to Davidson's work, on the Cthnor release and a couple of other items, gave me the impression of a fairly active improviser, a scrabbler of sorts, sometimes at the expense of thoughtfulness. Scurrying about and lack of care don't necessarily go hand in hand, of course, and some of the music presented here goes a long way toward negating any such presumption. The opening track, for instance, is quite busy but also very solid and imparting depth and resonance, with heavy buzzes oozing between the clatter and harsher rubbings. There's a thickness, an elasticity in play that breathes ideas into the music. The second cut, however, the inauspiciously titled "sign of the pagan", demonstrates the potential pitfalls of this approach, the incessant skronking and rumbling never quite gelling into anything more than itself and the "itself" not being of any great moment. "plinth glass nebula" fares a bit better, sawing wood given prominence, the guitar (?) creating bristling, finely uncomfortable clouds alongside, but petering out by its conclusion. The lengthy final cut, "National Bird of England" from 2012, contains welcome space, more air surrounding the instrumental sound and is pitched at a somewhat lower volume, all of which aid the cause immensely. Overall, a mixed bag for me but with some pointers toward a rewarding direction.

Muris with Lumps & Peter Nicholson - Michelada Miseries Part 1 (never come ashore)

A live date featuring a quartet of Davidson (acoustic guitar), Welch (percussion, amplifier), Peter Nicholson (voice, bowling) and Liene Rozite (anti flute). Always welcome to see not one, but two instrumental listings heretofore unknown...It's a pleasantly ramshackle affair, the sounds kind of tumbling out, rolling out, causing greater or lesser disturbances in the room. Nicholson's voice, surfacing periodically, is a connective element, warbling what seem to be snatches of either local (Scottish) song or, I sometimes get the impression, lieder from some source. The 32 minute set is similar to the last cut on the above release in that there's more space allowed and, implicitly, a greater consideration of the room. The sound range varies, no one is overly gabby and even the vocals, arch as they may be, manage to work out in this context, no mean feat for this listener's normal tolerance level. One of those seemingly casual sessions at which I oculd easily imagine myself, lolling about, enjoying as part of the larger environment, perhaps integrating sounds, sights and tactile sensations from outside the venue. Nice work.

never come ashore

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Michael Pisaro - Tombstones (HEM)

Listeners whose exposure to Pisaro has been solely through recordings might be surprised at his astonishing range of knowledge with regard to all sorts of music, including popular forms. Were they to hear this release with no external data as to the sources informing its creation, they might well remain so as the references are, to say the least, oblique. Hell, I *know* a bit of the background and still find the connections difficult if not impossible to pin down with any exactitude. (you can glean more from this fine interview with Pisaro). Suffice it to say that he extracted brief fragments from various popular songs (country, blues, rock, rap) and hyper-expanded them, re-contextualized them into the kind of structures, more or less, he'd used in his "standard" work, allowing a good amount of freedom to the performers and in the process, rendered the original sources all but unrecognizable. After several listens, I gave up the identification game and settled back to simply attempt to extract my own enjoyment of the pieces as contemporary songs, which was my approach when I attended a performance of several of these compositions in Brooklyn last fall. Of course, that proved to be difficult enough as well....

There are eleven pieces which fact already causes one to approach the recording differently from other Pisaro works which tend to run a minimum of 15 minutes and often quite a good deal more. I've taken to expecting a large degree of evolution within a piece and a struggle, as a listener, to try to mentally encompass everything that has occurred over the time, similar to how I deal with late Feldman--a challenging task. Here, things are bite-sized but, oddly, it doesn't make the going easier; in fact, it might be harder insofar as the songs end when you've just begun to sink into their framework. The first track, for instance, "Blues Fall", is derived from Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on My Trail", in particular the line, "blues fallin' down like hail". It opens with a beautiful low drone and gentle cymbals, leading to a female voice (four women are credited with vocals, though individual song contributions aren't indicated; I have no idea who is singing where) softly intoning the title phrase, very much in line with the general tenor of the piece. Other words are blurred enough that they're tough to decipher, though "down" seems to be there; perhaps the whole line is, or more. Listening to the original, I can just make out a connection between the song's opening chords and the general tenor of the Pisaro piece, though I half think it's in my imagination. As mentioned above, I'd rather simply listen to to the work "naively", and allow the shimmering washes of tones drape themselves around me (the instrumentation of the nine musicians on the recording centers around voices, harmoniums guitars and percussion), though, admittedly, it's not easy keeping that geekily questioning part on my consciousness at bay.

And, hah, I just discovered that the second cut, "Fool", is the one based on a DJ Screw/UGK track, an area of music whereof my knowledge is minimal to say the least. Unsurprisingly, the compostion bears no resemblance to anything I have heard out of that scene, but no matter. It's not dissimilar in tone from "Blues Fall"; perhaps Pisaro's distillation locates some common ground, which would make some sense. Ach, hard to resist the detective work. I take it, "New Orleans" has its source in Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell", a song I was unfamiliar with. Listening to it now, I'll only say that I prefer Pisaro's reduction aby a few hundredfold, with its rich, deep harmoniums offering some fine, subtle drama. Gorgeous song.

"I Didn't Say Anything" is derived from work by Juan Munoz, a Spanish sculptor with whom, again, I'm unfamiliar. The piece stands apart, using spoken dialogue by Pisaro and Jason Grier as well as containing sparer explicitly musical content and more silence; in a way it sounds more akin to earlier Pisaro music and fits the Beckettian character of the exchange. It's a piece I came back to often, a very moving one. I had previously read that "Silent Cloud" was both written for Julia Holter and based on The Beatles' tune, "Julia", a song I know well enough. I may have made the association on my own, but here the opening piano chords retain clear echoes of the original and I *think* I hear a faint "calls me" buried somewhere in there. Holter's voice is especially lovely here and the somehow stately pacing of the piece works beautifully; if I could imagine any of these songs being performed in anything resembling a pop context, this might be the one. It's around this point in the disc that things begin to become beguiling on the whole, the point at which I slip into the appropriate gear ratio to sync up with the music. I'm doubtless missing aspects (I don't quite get how Pisaro's concern with what happens to "political music" manifests here) but these "packets" of sound have become graspable both individually and as part of a suite of sorts. There's some sameness, though always enticing, but just enough variation (as in the spoken piece from Munoz or the set of relatively abrupt sounds in "A Better Way of Life") to salt matters well and closing with the mischievous, three second, dropped-book piece, "Why".

One of those recordings of great surface beauty which, when rubbed off, reveals even more intricate and meaningful beauty beneath.


Available from Erst Dist