Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith - From to From (Balance Point Acoustics)

Readers know my problematic relationship with jazz post-1980 or so, especially that branch which styles itself as "free" but to my ears is often anything but, rarely recapturing the excitement, visceral and intellectual, of the AACM in its prime, Taylor, what-have-you. I understand exceptions will always exist and while I operate under the assumption that, all things considered, it's not worth wading through that particular morass on the off-chance of locating a jewel, things wend their way to me and I'm usually more than willing to give a fair listen. Sometimes you get lucky.

Though I've only encountered his post-60s work sporadically, I've always enjoyed Alvin Fielder. Fielder strikes me as the spine of this quartet (with David Dove on trombone, Jason Jackson on alto, tenor and baritone and Damon Smith on double bass). 77 years old at the time of the recoding, his work throughout is consistently alove and inventive,, "free" in non-obvious ways, nothing routine. His sensibility often recalls Blackwell, always a great thing for this listener. The music itself ahres much of this conception as well; themes arise, though they tend to do so subtly, but usually dissipate into group playing. There are solos, more or less, but you never get the sense of the kind of stagnant theme/solos/theme structure that I've heard all too often in much purportedly free music of the last couple of decades. Jackson will begin playing only to find, less than a minute later, that Dove enters in. As well, Fielder and Smith don't engage in "support"--that age old idea of Ornette's that rarely receives more than lip service, where the rhythm section is on equal footing with the horns, is always the case here. Again though, for me, it's Fielder who keeps things moving, who stirs the kettle so that nothing stick to the bottom. Jackson, apparently a fairly young player, wears his influences openly on the one hand (I hear Shepp and McPhee among others) but also has his own sound, a wide, roaring one, like a more soulful Gustafsson. I don't recall if I've ever heard Dove's trombone work before (I know of him more as a music organizer); Rudd is clearly in his sound but he also creates his own world and has a good knack for note distribution. This is busy music, no doubt, but manages to remain very fluid (Fielder again), never really treading water. There are moment, like midway through the title track, where I'm reminded of an old favorite band, the mid-70s Shepp group with Charles Majid Greenlee, Cameron Brown and Beaver Harris (where's Burrell?). I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment--I think generating that level of music in 2013 is no mean feat.

A solid, all around vigorous and enjoyable recording.

Fred Van Hove/Damon Smith/Peter Jacquemyn - Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics)

Van Hove is another old master (about 71 at the tome of this live 2008 recording) with whom I have only partial familiarity. The early FMP sides, sure, and I had a relatively hard to find (in the US) Musica Libera Belgicae LP that dated from the mid 70s, iirc. There may have been more hearings, not sure. In any case, here, on both piano and accordion, he's joined by bassists Smith and Jacquemyn, the latter also new to me.

The music on this date is more along the lines of that which no longer interests me. Van Hove, on piano, is certainly able but I both don't hear very much to separate him out from any number of free pianists (particularly Europeans, that gargantuan debt to Cecil still weighing heavily) and, moreover, it sounds fairly indistinguishable in essence from much quasi-similar work over the past four or more decades. It's very well played, don't get me wrong, but imparts a bit of "going through the motions", something that the prior recording somehow lacked. On the first of three tracks, the trio create a non-stop torrent for 28 minutes, the bassists bowing aggressively, filling the space and producing (in me) the claustrophobic feeling I get from much similar music; what many find "ecstatic", I find cloying and self-involved. The ten minute second track is only slightly less dense but again, I get that old sense, a la Malfatti, that one isn't any longer permitted to "not play". When Van Hove whips out the trusty squeezebox for the first few minutes of the lengthy final piece, things are mitigated somewhat, the relatively long wheezes coming as a relief, perhaps inducing the bassists toward less freneticism as well. It's my favorite cut here but still, the de rigueur relentlessness that eventuates becomes tiring. I always pick up a closing of doors rather than an opening. Of course, your mileage may vary but I find it instructive, if difficult to quantify, that I really don't pick up more than a trace of the same in the Fielder session, one that strikes me as far more "free" in a fundamental sense. I should mention that these are digital-only releases and I've been listening over my Macbook which, while not too bad, surely negates some of the richer sonics (especially, I'm guessing, that from the basses)[correction: "From to From is also available on CD]. Still, it's the structure that seems important to me and while I hear most of the first as flexible and, for lack of a better phrase, aware of the outside world, the Belgian recording hits me as overly hermetic. FMP nostalgists will doubtless disagree. See for yourself.

Balance Point Acoustics

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

d'incise - (aral) (Mystery Sea)

It's always tough (for me) to write about this area, what maybe you'd call the dark ambient side of field recording, apart from merely being descriptive of the sounds. d'incise does what he does very well, molding and weaving lines of sonics into a good, palpable mass, always heeding textural play, with various soft, low thrums wandering among patches of crystalline static, for example. Given a strong enough ear on the part of the creator, that is to say an ear more or less on my wavelength (!), it might be tough to go wrong. If I have reservations about it, it's along the same line as I have about graphics or photo enhancement programs: the results are appealing butI'm wary at the ease by which they're achieved. Dunno, maybe Protestant work ethic kicking in. Given all that, this works very well, the throb providing a subtle forward thrust for the first 15 minutes before giving way to a clear organ-like tone that levels matters, splays things out a bit under the windy swooshes--nice combination of vacancy and clarity. That works into my favorite portion of the disc, that staticky sounds acquiring welcoming irregularity of occurrence, sounding more "natural" (i.e., as though recorded from broken circuitry), the organ thinning out and ultimately disappearing into a haze. A bit further in, there's the slight surprise of a lovely piano chord that tolls away beneath the scrim, then some attractive clatter in the mid-distance and what sound like small tapping machines, which come into wonderful focus at the very end of the piece, when all the bass hums suddenly disappear.

Admittedly, this kind of music tends, after a while, to blend together in my memory--it's hard to isolate--but for listeners into the genre (whatever it might be called) will find much to enjoy here.

Mystery Sea

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tom Johnson/Samuel Vriezen - The Chord Catalog-Within Fourths/Within Fifths (Edition Wandelweiser)

When I first began reading the Village Voice, around 1972, Tom Johnson was its new music critic. By and large, the music he wrote about was entirely unfamiliar to me; I learned a good bit and, I'm pretty sure, missed a huge amount more, not having any kind of point of reference at the time. I think I came across his writing here and there in the ensuing years but I'm pretty sure I never heard any of his own music until picking up "An Hour for Piano" on Lovely Music Ltd., in all likelihood because the pianist was Frederic Rzewski. I loved it. I'm not sure if it's because there was nothing else around from him (though, checking, I see that India Navigation released his "Nine Bells", which I don't think I've ever heard) but my next encounter was either with his entirely wonderful work, "Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for Solo String Bass" (Robert Black, on a Bang on the Can recording) or the "Rational Melodies" album on hatART (Eberhard Blum on flute), which I also loved. At this point, I began keeping an eye out for his work and, as I recall, the next thing I saw was his "The Chord Catalog" on XI, which I eagerly procured.

Well. Let me back up a bit. Johnson, to his credit, will say that he's less a composer than a list-maker, creating expositions, not compositions. He locates patterns that he finds fascinating for one reason or another, often for mathematical reasons or representative of tiling functions, etc., and seeks to create an aural image of them. Personally, I'm very partial to this kind of approach though, of course, there's the danger of a work becoming more science experiment than aesthesia, e.g. some of Alvin Lucier's compositions. "The Chord Catalog" is simply that: all the chords possible to play in a single octave, all 8,178 off them, played in order, from the 78 two-note chords to the one 13-note chord. Even so stated, I'm intrigued. But the reality, played by Johnson was...well, "opaque" would be an understatement. I tried. I really, really tried. But I simply couldn't find way in. Played without affect (appropriately), there was nothing for me to grasp onto. It was both dry and pugnacious and even though I figured it was me who was somehow missing something, I gave up. Humorously enough, a couple of years later my friend Walter Horn visited NYC from Boston. He handed me a copy of the same disc, saying that he couldn't stand it but thought I might like it!

So it went. Come the Net, I'd trawl around YouTube, occasionally checking to see what there might be from Johnson, finding the odd lovely work. Earlier this year, I found an extract of a performance of this beast, by Samuel Vriezen, a pianist and composer who I knew slightly from his work with Wandelweiser-related musicians. It was captivating. By simply (not so simple, I'm sure) taking the piece at a much faster clip (faster than Johnson's pianistic skills allowed him to do), it undergoes a substantial transformation wherein all sorts of patterns emerge. It's still something of a monolith, no doubt, but it's now an approachable one. Vriezen's note-rate seems to fluctuate between about 1 and 4 per second (very roughly), faster on the less voluminous chords, slower on the crowded ones. [edit. received a note from Vriezen correcting my perception of note rate: the tempo I used in the recording moves from quarter=138 down to 36 with a chord per sixteenth. So it goes from 9 or so chords per second to just over 2, rather than from 4 to 1.] I can only imagine how difficult this is to play, to be so precise, to maintain an exceptionally steady pace and dynamic level, but Vriezen copes magnificently. You hear all the threads, the rising scales within dense clusters, the shifts; there's actually drama imparted, though I think Johnson might scoff at such a notion. The just slightly off-center pyramidal structure--the first and 10th parts each contain 78 chords, first of two notes, latterly of eleven--is also somehow poignant and moving, the penultimate section with 13 twelve-note chords wistfully and ineluctably leading to the final, single example, all thirteen notes.

As if this unexpected pleasure weren't enough, we're also treated to Vriezen's own beautiful composition, "Within Fourths/Within Fifths", inspired by Johnson's body of work. A description of the piece as well as its score can be found here. While it shares a very similar mode of construction as "The Chord Catalog", both in its compilation of possible note configurations within a narrow field and the resultant quasi-logarithmic increase in products (here without the "decrease" on the other side, so no pyramidal form on the whole, though that form exists within each of the ten sections), by choosing such consonant chords and sustaining the notes on each, Vriezen immediately places the listener in a far more overtly gorgeous realm, one where it's easy to overlook any "catalog" aspect. The pace is slower (though consistent), about a chord per second, allowing these jewels to suspend for a tantalizing moment before disappearing. The effect is not dissimilar to Satie's music from the Rosicrucian period, works like the Ogives, with the same feeling of a processional in a Gothic church. It's hard to hear the progressions as non-intuitive, which is a wonderful illusion. Simply gorgeous sounds.

A great accomplishment on the art of both Johnson and Vriezen.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nick Hennies - Duets for Solo Snare Drum (Weighter Recordings)

The "duets" on this fine and self-contradictorally titled release being, I take it, with silence (Cage's "One4"), noise (Peter Ablinger's "Kleine Trommel und UKW-Rauschen ('Concerto') and strings (Hennies' own, very spectacular, ("Cast and Work").

The description of "One4", written in 1990 for percussionist Fritz Hauser, is (from wiki), "6 time brackets for the left hand and 8 for the right. Each contains a numeral on a stave, referring to an instrument — the piece is to be performed on "cymbals and/or drums chosen by the drummer." Cage adds that the sounds produced should be either very long or very short." Hennies' rendition, covering seven minutes, is crisp and perfectly paced, using ample silence and mens of attack. Save for a tiny burst about halfway through (a welcome accent), the work is very restrained, almost proper, but carrying a good, steely determination, without the looseness (good or bad) you often hear in interpretations of the late number pieces. Hennies is a big fan of Alvin Lucier and this has something of what one might have expected had Lucier been the performer. Really strong.

I'd never heard of Peter Ablinger and one of the side-befits of this recording has been to correct that oversight. As near as I can determine, a "UKW-Rauschen" is an electronic device of some sort, not a terribly modern one. It explodes in a wall of dense static right from the beginning, overlapping off and on with rolls from the snare. Each instrument seems to have its own time blocks, roughly equal in duration but irregularly spaced, allowing for moments when both are present, one or the other and silence. It's a brutalist piece, no nonsense and, again, very strong and of perfect length at 5 1/2 minutes.

As excellent as those two compositions are, "Cast and Work" steals the show. A 23-minute piece in three sections, based on clock time. The first 15 minutes is Hennies using (I think) padded mallets on a snareless snare playing a steady not-quite-roll (I could be wrong, not knowing drum technique a whit--it sounds a bit slower than a roll to me). It's unvarying and monolithic in a sense, but it's the kind of pattern that, due to human limits and the essential sonorities of the drum tones, contains an absolute wealth of variation. Listened to attentively, you hear a whole range of tones, cross-rhythms and more. The drum is resonant within a tightly constricted space but within that volume, worlds exist. I could have listened to just that for hours. You even get the impression of tonal shifts, though I'm guessing that's more in my ears than the recording; perhaps there are more subtle aspects to the score involving moving closer to the rim or center of the drum at given intervals. At the 15-minute mark, all hell breaks loose as the paired cellos and single viola (again, guessing) of Henna Chou, Brent Fariss and Vanessa Rossetto hurtle to the forefront, sawing away with controlled abandon. It's entirely unexpected and perfectly apropos, a welcome tonic. Crucially, it forms its own block, lasting precisely five minutes, the snare beneath never having ceased and then returning, though bearing the subtlest of adornments, a sine tone (or similar) all but masked by the mallets, which are otherwise continuing as before. In the last minute of this three-minute section, you begin to become aware of a slight quavering sound which is revealed at 22:30 when the drums cease and the tone shimmers on its own for the final 30 seconds. A great work, one of the best things I've heard this year.

No excuses, get this.

Weighter Recordings

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lawrence English - Suikinkutsu no Katawara Ni (winds measure)

A suikinkutsu is an inverted, buried pot, usually ceramic, into which water is dripped through a small hole, the resultant tones having an aspect somewhere between a bell and a koto. English (whose work I haven't heard in quite a while, a condition I'm happy to have remedied) made these recordings between 2003 and 2011, I take it at various locations in Japan and Australia. The nine pieces are "unprocessed" field recordings which means that apart from the utterly beautiful sounds from the suikinkutsus themselves, you hear the general ambience as well, which might be birds and wind on one track, motor vehicles on another. This strikes me as crucial, to embed the resonant pings and drips into their environment, though with substantial separation, very much as though you were sitting or lying next to the suikinkutsu, the other sounds at some distance overhead or some paces away. I have to say, I could listen to work like this for hours. The drops consistently skirt that delicious line between regularity and randomness, the sounds themselves varying within seemingly narrow parameters that are anything but. Peaceful, yes, not absolutely unhazy--sharp, clear and calm. Listeners who don't know English's work but enjoy, say, Jeph Jerman, would do well do pick this up. Anyone should, really. It's a wonderful, special recording.

Lawrence English - Studies for Stradbroke (winds measure/Room40)

A set of hydrophonic recordings made in 2007 on Stradbroke Island off of Brisbane (I take it this is a re-release of some kind). Interesting to listen to after the above album. It, obviously, doesn't have the same concision with regard to sound source, yet there are almost necessarily certain parallel references in the musical dripping of water. One's aural footing is less certain, but the sounds are no less enthralling. They're often mysterious but, as with the suikinkutsu recordings, crystal clear, imparting thereby a more dreamlike character. One tries to map the low rumblings and bumpings of the second track to its title, "reeds of brown lake", and by doing so miniaturizes oneself to water strider size sounds so described might be perceived as such. There's also that fascinating point where hyper-detailed recording of water begins to sound like fire crackling, as on "rock walls" here. I might prefer the prior release, if only because of my deep affinity with the basic sound, but this one is marvelous as well, a fine example of specificity in field recording and testament to English's ear.

Akio Suzuki/Lawrence English - Boombana Echoes (winds measure)

Another older session, this one a 20-minute mini-cd from 2005, but without the staying power of the previous two, at least to these ears. Suzuki uses his self-created analapos (for a brief demonstration of which, see here) and English (field recordings, drum, electronics) seems to tailor his sounds to mesh with that instruments echoey qualities. It sounds as though a voice is used periodically here, perhaps funneled through the analapos? The effect is something akin to Jon Hassell's trumpet work from a few decades back, though the context is looser here, no rhythms to bear it along. Still, that's better than the hollow vocals, presumably Suzuki, on "manorina melanophrys", where what sees as though intended as childlike, sing-song innocence falls flat. The washes of echo over everything blur matters past the interest stage for me. (Beautiful packaging, though, and three nice drawings by Suzuki are included).

So, the collaboration isn't my cuppa, but you've no excuse not to hear the other two--fine, fine material.

winds measure


Saturday, September 14, 2013

David Papapostolou - Contrastes (Dispositifs d'écoute/C'est moi qui souligne) (winds measure)

A very intriguing, pared down, almost brutalist, in a way, offering. "Contrast" indeed is the order of the day. The disc is divided into three tracks, all clocking in at 13:39, but that division seems arbitrary enough. The elements are clear: sine tones of a relatively forceful character; a field recording that seems semi-urban, some old-sounding metallic mechanism, hard to say, along with birds and automotive engines in the distance; and silence. The audible parts are presented sometimes separately, sometimes overlapping, the silences occurring at unpredictable points, occasionally lengthy. That's all. But it's plenty. This approach appeals to me very much, taking a handful of elements, allowing a small of amount of variation (in two of them here: the field recording varies as one would expect in a natural environment while the sine changes amplitude and pitch) and arraying them, either using a system to do so, one's poetic sensibility or using some kind of randomizing process. The result here implies the latter to me, though I could be wrong. I enjoy the inherent qualities of the recording, its own mixture of sounds wherein metal bangs, some vague sense of liquid, ambient hum, birds and motors coexist in a sonic web that would be a delight to experience on its own. The sines are more intense than one normally encounters, once or twice branching into pairs, not sliding through the natural sounds, a la "Transparent City" but overlaid like thin bands of brilliant color. Within this the blocks of silence are quite visceral and solid, cutting the noise abruptly and completely, acquiring a kind of shape on their own. As said above, this seems on the verge of brutal, something of a velvet hammer attack. Excellent work.

Scott Allison/Ben Owen - untitled (for Agnes Martin) (senufo edition/winds measure)

Two of the five tracks here were released on a 7" in 2008; I take it the other three date from the same period. The music is a combination of field recordings and electronics, the former of an urban nature, the latter a bit more overt--quick spurts of static or keening shards--than one associates with Owen (if he's the source). Perhaps it's the citation of Martin, whose gray wash works are special favorites of mind, but on pieces like the first, I pick up a hazy, muted overcast feeling here, low cloud cover hovering over an industrial setting. Wonderful, soft metallic tapping toward the end here. While this general character is maintained, one has the impression of moving around into different areas of the environment, so that the third track, for example, places one in room of hums of varying pitches though again you (at least I) have a sense of being in a space where the sounds are enveloping, not just issuing from an isolated source. The fourth maybe venture inside one of those machines, with up-close clatter and a claustrophobic, pervasive hum. A huge slab o'hum is served up on the final cut, almost obliterating all in its path, save for a continuous ratcheting kind of sound. But then there's a delightful sprinkling of voices, from a distance, a really nice bit of spice, before the sounds begin to fade, then abruptly cease. Very satisfying.

winds measure

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rishin Singh - Three Weevils (Avant Whatever)

A well-structured, tight and fine recording from Singh. I believe this is my first exposure to his work and I don't know much of anything about him--I'll just guess he knows his Malfatti. He deploys his trombone in a related manner, unfurling long, steady tones, though somewhat more forcefully than the wily Austrian. Here, two briefer, more (relatively) rambunctious pieces bracket a longer one, though all have the same basic attack: the horn played amidst environmental recordings. "Ablute", a verb meaning "to wash", contains low, pure tones against a dark, hollow-sounding field, like a very large, vibrating tube. It's quite dramatic in and of itself and opens into the 20-minute "Vinyl" which, true to its title, consists simply and very attractively of a soft vinyl rotation, nothing you haven't, more or less, heard before yet still very inviting in its plainness. Atop this, Singh, every so often, offers a quiet tone. His attack is less subtle than Mallfatti's, more abrupt, but at the same time perhaps less self-conscious, more matter of fact. He's very unobtrusive, often leaving several minutes of needle between wafts of tromboneliness. I like it a lot. Finally, Kambah (I take it the sounds were recorded in the Canberra suburb of the same name) offers a dense, channeled/chaotic flow of urban sound, probably w th some horn nestled in there somewhere, though I'll be damned if I can tease it out. On the label site, Singh refers to himself as "soluble"--very nice.

A good, tough, no-nonsense work. Check it out.

Avant Whatever

Olivier Dumont/Rudolphe Loubatière - Mouture (Observatory)

Two tracks from Dumont (guitar, objects) and Loubatière (snare drum). Can't swing a dead cat without hitting objects and snare drums these days. I'm pretty sure the first time I saw a snare used by itself (aside from some wonderful Max Roach moments) was at the hands of the great Sean Meehan, in duo with Toshi Nakamura at ABCNoRio. It certainly spoiled me. There's no reason, of course, to only use it in a quiet manner but, to my ears, it lends itself so well to that approach, has so much to offer therein, that when attacked more aggressively, I can be, perhaps unfairly, put off somewhat. "Side A" (so titled though there's no LP or cassette release of which I'm aware) begins in semi-AMMish territory with low rattle 'n' hum but soon Loubatière takes bow to snare and that sets the eventual tone. There's a quiet period with a dull, distant drone overlaid by rubbed taps, like wet fingers pressed into drum skin and it's very effective--dark and dystopic. The mood unravels a bit however, the sounds becoming less focussed and, again, veering into that "bowed" area (I'm not certain of the actual means of production here, but it has the same feel) that's so difficult to maintain. The interest level fluctuates but, overall, there's too much activity that becomes treading of water, an instance where shortening would have been highly beneficial. It's a tough balance and the dup teeters on the edge of some good things but just lacking, to these ears, some degree of concision. "Side B" begins quite seductively, with liquid, rolling sounds from the guitar and mini-barrages from the drums--very active, yes, but with purpose, possessing a nice careening quality. But again, focus is lost and the excess of activity doesn't quite compensate. Again, the drum bowing (I think) is prominent and, as is the case in players as otherwise masterful as Prevost, its really hard to integrate. As in the first piece, solid moments are achieved but evaporate too quickly. Maybe that's enough. I wanted to hear more space, more grace.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Miguel Prado - Kempelen's Lesson (Pilgrim Talk/Heresy)

Wolfgang von Kempelen is well-known for constructing, around 1770, a contraption called "The Turk", a [purported automaton capable of playing chess (in fact, a human was secreted within). Alesser known, though more truthful invention of his was the Speaking Machine, a device rather rudimentary by modern standards, consisting of a bellows, a read and resonating chamber, but impressive enough in its day. Which "Kempelen" is being referred to in the title of this 7", 45rpm vinyl (lathe cut by Peter King, limited edition of 50) might be an interesting question, given Prado's tendency to prod and poke the often soft underbelly of contemporary improvisation. From the titles, one assumes that the speaking machine is the reference, but I wonder..."Criptolalia" (more often, "Cryptolalia"), is "the use of obscure (or private) language", an easily enough applied observation on this scene while "glossolalia"--well, I needn't elaborate. (The full title of the track is "Glossolalia-Laden"; if "laden" is German, not English, the translation is "load"). The fine print forming the graphic basis of the wraparound cover consists of words, alphabetically arranged from "aberrant" to "cirrocumulus".

The sounds? They seem to be tape splices from disparate sources--snatches of voices, warped, older soundtrack recordings, feathery static, vinyl...the release note cites Berkeley: "the ghost of departed quantities" and there is, to my ears, something of that here, as though Prado is manipulating a device capable of, sporadically and without clarity, honing in on sounds that transpired in a room in times past. The ten minutes on the two sides (I listened via download) are perhaps more subdued than one expects from Prado and flow in a very enticing, unforced way, very mysterious, as though he'd simply turned on a device that captured some ongoing, obscure and partial input. I could have listened far longer, engaged in some auralalia. Good stuff.

Pilgrim Talk


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Patrick Farmer/David Lacey - Pictures of Men (Copy for Your Records)

Pigs. And geese.

I'm guessing if you surveyed field recordings issued over the last ten or so years, especially those created by musicians not exclusively involved in that area, insects would be over-represented in the animal sounds category. Birds too, perhaps. Distant dogs are always good to lend a sense of space, even of desolation. btw, if there's not an indie rock band called Distant Dogs, there should be. But we don't get nearly enough pigs. Until now.

Perhaps meant ironically, "Pictures of Men" commences with five or more minutes of wonderfully snorting, slimy, guffawing pigs, accompanied by a horde of geese in some state of upset. Maybe Farmer's merely capitalizing on the latent potential in his surname. Whatever the case, it's a welcome and wonderful sound world and it sticks out its collective snout a couple of times further in. When a sine-like tone enters, you can't help but think it a wry comment on Michael Pisaro's careful and beautiful insertions of sines into field recordings ("Transparent City"), attempting to approximate some basic tone in the wind, etc. Things do move on, more or less in a manner I tend to think of as cinematic. That is, it's easy to visualize scenes accompanying the music, as rough and tumble and differentiated as they are. There's an attractive sort of lurching quality to it, as one hears trains (here, an engagingly loose sound) hiccuping against brief silent swatches, massive flocks of birds (again, presented in a way not normally heard, hear a dense layering of reedy whistles), and a helluva lot more. Farmer and Lacey do a really fine job at melding dynamic levels, textural variation and "tempo" changes; it's active, even hurtling, picking up the listener and carrying him/her along, offering tantalizing glimpses of activity along the shoreline, lingering for perhaps a moment then flowing on.

About midway through, they shift gears, beginning with a lovely, soft, burred drone, eventually interrupted by harsh static--seriously harsh at points. Thee's a more fragmentary feel in effect at this point, a quiet, stubborn hum amongst random(ish) taps and clangs, rather desolate; a skittering sound that appears is like an abandoned robotic insect, helplessly flitting about the floor and windows. Matters slowly begin to congeal somewhat, the menagerie returns, automotive noises intrude, the flow stutters again (beautifully, with ratcheting, gear-like sounds) before it suddenly flattens out into a landscape abutting an airport, planes ascending just overhead, water nearby. Waiting for pigs and geese.

A really strong, immensely satisfying work.

Copy for Your Records

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bruno Duplant - Presque Rien (rhizome.s)

Right from the start their are a couple of problematic issues with this work and more surface as one listens. First, of course, is the title of the release, Duplant knows very well that it was used for a series of pieces by Luc Ferrari and an album on INA-GRM. Duplant's source, however, is a line from Francis Ponge: "L'eau (qu'il contient) ne change presque rien au verre, et le verre (où elle est) ne change rien à l'eau.", translated thusly by Michael Pisaro for this recording: "The water (what it contains) does almost nothing to the glass, and the glass (where it is) does not alter the water." He simply liked the phrase in that context (a context which was to be the instructional score for the work) and went with it. It's an interesting notion, to intentionally disregard any proprietorship of a phrase or title; I kind of admire the effrontery, as if someone titled a new recording, "Bitches Brew" or a new novel, "Gravity's Rainbow"--problematic in the extreme but at least a little provocative.

Secondly, Duplant takes the quotation and asks a large number of musicians to actualize it (limiting themselves to two minutes), concentrating on the phrase, "presque rien", an action not really a whit different from the approach taken fairly routinely by Manfred Werder, right down to using Ponge as a source. What is one to make of this? It's something I've had tangential thoughts on for quite a while--a musician establishes a certain attack, carves a niche and it somehow becomes his or her own, territory where it's not considered polite to trespass, at least overtly so. But if (I would think to myself) an approach is particularly beautiful or rewarding, why not? One can acknowledge that a door has been opened by someone else by why not use it as well? Except that such a high premium is placed on originality that this becomes taboo, the more so the closer one inches toward it. Can you perform your own variation on 4'33"? Maybe there's a distinction to be drawn between (in music) doing it and releasing a recording of it. But why? Duplant seems to be edging toward a Mattin-like questioning of norms held sacred in this field and, even if the results are uneven, I can't help but think this is by and large a good thing.

Ah, the results. Forty-four musicians are represented herein, sequenced alphabetically by first name. I suppose I should list them, especially since a "list" is more or less what Duplant was after. Ana Foutel, Barry Chabala, Brian Labycz, Bruno Duplant, Bryan Eubanks, D'Incise, Dafne Vicente Sandoval, Daniel Jones, Darius Ciuta, Delphine Dora, Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga, Dominic Lash, Ernesto Rodrigues, Eva-Maria Houben, Fergus Kelly, Ferran Fages, Gil Sansón, Grisha Shakhnes, Iliya Belorukov, Jamie Drouin, Jez Riley French, Johnny Chang, Jonas Kocher (with Dafne Stefanou), Joseph Clayton Mills, Julien Héraud, Jürg Frey, Keith Rowe, Lance Austin Olsen, Lee Noyes, Lucio Capece, Massimo Magee, Michael Pisaro, Paco Rossique, Paulo Chagas, Pedro Chambel, Philippe Lenglet, Rachael Wadham, Ryoko Akama (with John Bryan), Simon Reynall, Stefan Thut, Travis Johnson and Vanessa Rossetto. It's very difficult listening in the sense of trying to assign any kind of structure or cohesiveness to the undertaking. The actualizations appear one immediately following the other, generally pretty quiet (not surprising, given the nature of the image in the line referred to) but, in memory, tending to blur into one another. It becomes a fools errand to say, "liked that one, don't like this so much", etc. but there's also no sense of each contribution fitting into soe greater whole. It's simply a list. I found it frustrating in a manner similar to my experiences with much of Tom Johnson's music, particularly something like "The Chord Catalog". As there, it becomes clear that one has to listen differently, though it's no easy task for these ears to manage that. I would have preferred that the pieces were isolated from one another, with perhaps a minute or more of silence between. But then, you'd be confronted with more art object than list and the latter is Duplant's objective, so you're forced to just deal with it or not.

The problem is that doing so and given the brevity of the pieces, you almost have to sit and follow the contributor listing with some intentness as you go. "OK, here's Eubanks, this one's Frey, now Thut", etc., mentally checking them off as you go. It's not how I enjoy listening, though, preferring to hear the thing "as a whole", except there is no whole, hence the frustration. I find myself, after each track, getting up and pausing the player, an awkward maneuver to say the least, though I can picture Mattin grinning at such activity. Loaded into iTunes and experienced at random via shuffle, I've no doubt they'll be welcome nuggets, even if that means abjuring their listlike qualities. Tant pis! :-)

I'd be curious to get the reaction of others to this offering. If not at the moment, it should be available soon at:


Monday, September 02, 2013

Bruno Duplant - Le rêve de la nuit est un rêve sans rêveur (diafani)

Two solo organ works, over an hour each, by Duplant, the first dedicated to Eva Maria Houben, the second to Jakob Ullmann (diafani is Houben's label). "là où nos rêves se forment", to Houben, begins as a kind of lighthouse-in-the-fog piece, the long tones emerging and disappearing into the mist. However Duplant is manipulating the organ to generate these sounds, what one hears is airy and slightly reedy, with muffled rumblings beneath. This steady state occupies the first 25 or so minutes, a slow kind of pulse, before matters bend slightly into a looser wash of tones, deepening somewhat, adding adjacent colors but remaining in the same general sound world just more amorphous and outward flowing. It eventually flattens out into a kind of shallow sea, eddying here and there. Good, contemplative work.

"là où nos rêves s'effacent", for Ullmann, uses sounds even further removed from what one might expect from an organ, similarly airy to those in the other piece but deeper and raspier, visited on occasion by single, very low booms (like massive plucked bass notes) and infiltrated by what sound for all the world like airplanes. There are a series of strong, dark surges, all of which lend a more brooding, churning nature to the piece. It's also a good piece though I think it could have been pared down from its hour length to something in the 40-35 minute range without losing anything; overall I prefer the work for Houben. Both have plenty of grain, though, Duplant managing the task of concentrating on a narrow stretch of the sound field while exposing levels of detail that alway maintain interest.

A strong release, certainly one to add to the collection of those who've been enjoying Duplant's music over the past few years.


Bruno Duplant/Darius Ciuta - Shed I (Triple Bath)

The follow-up to their recording on Mystery Sea, "Shed I" again finds this duo investigating the areas bordering both dark ambient and field recordings, a neighborhood with an industrial edge, acid-tinged, but inviting. The abandoned power plant feeling is enhanced by both the hollow hums and the soft, mechanically repeated sounds, sounding like the desultory operations of large machines at some distance, behind thick walls. Solitary metal scrapes in empty warehouses, the drones of fluorescent lighting, indications of dogs foraging--it's a dystopic image, possessing a layer of oily grime. It's very effective at what it does though it may be too much along the lines of various quasi-similar things heard from labels like Mystery Sea and Unfathomless for some. The dripping water, the low generator thrums and such begin to form their own sub-genre, one that's become quite populated in recent years. Still, "Shed I" is solid and fine of its type.

Triple Bath