Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mike Majkowski - Why is there something instead of nothing? (Bocian)

Two pretty fantastic, obsessive solo double bass compositions by Majkowski on this LP.

"On "Belt of sand", Majkowski plays, for 15 minutes, an extraordinarily rapid arco line (has to be 6-8 notes per second), usually a fairly high pitch, over some low, rumbling and knocking notes. Whether these latter are a kind of "by product" of the bowing or are produced independently, I don't know. Sometimes it seems like the bowed notes tumble into the more percussive ones. The entire piece is this one sustained activity, with all the perturbations and presumably accidental variations that occur. It's the rare piece wherein furious activity creates an odd sense of calm surface; well, "calm" would be the wrong word, more like a membrane that's vibrating in a pattern that flows from predictable to turbulent. It's a tour de force on the one hand but, crucially, one is always aware of the music produced instead of being distracted by the producer. A great piece.

"A shadow of silver dipped in gold" is quite different, though just as single-minded and rewarding. A bowed, descending, two-note motif, medium-slow, and a six or seven second period between to hear the fading resonance is played for the first half of the work, about nine minutes. It's a very attractive little nugget on its own, both the grain of the notes and the lingering echo they leave in the air. I'm sure Majkowski's intent is to play them uniformly, but the automatic difference in each iteration make for fascinating listening in and of themselves. At that halfway point, he switches to a single, strongly plucked note. Again, there are about six seconds between each attack. That's all. And it sounds great. Each echo contains at least three distinct pulses or pitch variations as it fades making for utterly absorbing listening.

A wonderful, unusual and extremely focussed release--have turntable, give a listen.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Derek Bailey/Simon H. Fell - The Complete 15th August 2001 (Confront)

Previously released in part on a Confront 3", the entire session that took place on my 47th birthday is now available.

This is a problematic release for me to write about as there are two distinct ways I can go at it. One is as a listener at the tail-end of 2013, someone for whom the kind of music practiced here no longer inspires very much interest at all. The other is as myself in 2001, when interest in said music was decidedly on the wane but still held a decent amount of fascination. As much as I love Bailey, my tastes in his work have always run toward the sparer end of things, the solo recordings, the one with Min Tanaka, etc.; here, he's pretty much aflutter, dense and hyperactive. Although that may not be fair--it could be Fell occupying every vacant interstice. My history with Fell's work is also spotty, from early on (late 80s?) owning some of the LPs on Bruce's Fingers and, a bit later, Composition 30. In almost all instances, I greatly enjoyed parts of it, found other sections tedious going, though I greatly enjoyed his work with IST and VHF. The one time I caught him live, at Tonic (I forget the configuration) was similar, a combination of super-impressive (possibly the only time I've ever witnessed a bassist use his ear as a string depressor or bow his own fingers) and perhaps needlessly pyrotechnic.

All of which to say that it's hard for me to get into anywhere near the frame of mind required to give this a dispassionate hearing. Four tracks, totaling 70 minutes, two done before taking a tea break, two afterwards, Bailey on acoustic guitar throughout. I should say at the outset that there are glimmers of brilliance scattered everywhere, the first in a brief "solo" portion by Bailey about eight minutes into the initial track--stunning. Even when Fell enters with a torrent of hollow, fierce plucks, the combination works perfectly for a while. I often had the impression, seeing Bailey, that he was quite willing to play in his own world, giving little regard to those sharing the bandstand. Not rudely, of course, simply treating the contributions of others as just another sound in the room unless they played something extraordinary enough to catch his attention (as when he played with Cecil Taylor at Tonic). I get something of that sense here, the guitarist drifting out of and occasionally into the "conversation". Maybe Fell approaches things similarly; I'm not familiar enough with his work to know. I don't think it's a bad approach at all, think it can lead to some great tensions and, in a way, "natural" music.

The second cut opens beautifully as well, Bailey wrenching single notes from his guitar as only he could, Fell in the depths of the bass. It's only maintained for a minute or so before descending into the more routine, if still reasonably exciting interplay that makes up the general tone of the session. I guess it's pointless to sit here hoping for more areas of silence, of appreciation for things in the room outside of themselves. Nonetheless, that feeling persists. I have to just plunge into it, accept the parameters, stick my head between the speakers (Bailey on the left, Fell on the right) and deal. As much as it's possible to get lost in the maelstrom, it's still the quieter portions (like the end of the third track or the beginning of the fourth, when Fell switches to bow) that speak to me most deeply.

But for most fans of either musician, this release is clearly a must-have. Well recorded, vigorous playing, strong attacks; it'll satisfy the appetites of the great majority. It's only us old cranks who'll be left hankering, vainly, for some of that old Bailey introspection.

In lieu of the (hopefully) upcoming Confront website, the disc should be available from Metamkine in Europe and Squidco in the States.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

John Butcher/Leonel Kaplan/Christof Kurzmann - Shortening Distance (l'Innomable)

A 2012 live concert, about a half hour's worth, from the 2012 Ulrichsberg Kaleidophon Festival, Butcher on saxophones and feedback, Kaplan on trumpet and Kurzmann manipulating ppooll software.

The set begins in an almost pastoral fashion, restrained and offhandedly lyrical, and remains withdrawn and soft throughout. Kurzmnn does a really nice job of integrating the electronics, creating tones that tinge the acoustic sounds here, introducing quiet, tolling pulses there. Kaplan tends to occupy the breath/spittle zone, again seemingly "on the side", washing his sounds along those created by his companions. Butcher is the most active, the one more overtly introducing new elements, but these are always subtle, just the gentlest of prods to investigate this area, then that one. There's a brief cat-fight (muted) about eight minutes in that raises a smile, a darker, drone-ish section following; both show great sensitivity from Kurzmann in his ability to both color (he generates an arco bass sound at one point, I think) and subtly push things forward without elbowing. The trio locates this ground and explores it, never noodling, always keeping matters interesting. A few minutes form the set's conclusion, Butcher plays a surprising jazzy line that, for me, recalls Marion Brown--it works perfectly, as beautiful as it is unexpected. He repeats it several times, loosely and comfortably, Kaplan quietly breathing, Kurzmann softly chiming.

A very satisfying performance, easily recommendable to any fans of the individuals involved.

Irena Tomažin/Christof Kurzmann - 2., Klanggasse (l'Innomable)

Two tracks, a 2011 performance from Ljubljana and a 2013 one recorded at Christoph Amann's Vienna studio, Kurzmann on lloopp in the first instance, ppooll in the second, Tomažin on voice and dictaphone.

I thought, given the nature of the contributors, that this might be the latest in Kurzmann's song projects, an avenue of his that I've had many problems with, but it's not at all, more free improv duos. Well, almost. The Ljubljana set begins that way; Kurzmann constructs a very attractive web of sounds; as in the disc above he's often laying out pulses, here evoking distant foghorns or muted, heavy bells. But he also uses a range from scratchy to droneish, always sensitive to colors. Tomažin, for the most part, works in territory previously mined by any number of free vocalists--Ami Yoshida came to mind frequently. It's a tough thing, I imagine--strangled squeaks and the like tend to sound the same after a while. Still, the pair manage to make it work, by and large. Near the end, you hear an obvious, arguably too obvious, Kurzmann-penned melodic line begin to be sung on the dictaphone, soon echoed live. The appending is apropos in context and, even if we've essentially all heard this before, it gives the piece a firm structure.

The Vienna set is similar to an extent, also starting out free and loose, if somehow less compelling than the earlier track. But about ten minutes in, Tomažin begins intoning tonal lines that may be in Slovenian, seeming to refer to Eastern European folk traditions (though I could be far off on that). This breaks down, perhaps unfortunately, into a freer section where both retreat into more standard tropes, yelping and staticky electronica. They go back and forth from this to tonal references and I find myself greatly preferring the latter. It's a tough tack--too tonal and it can veer toward the banal but they seem less comfortable, and more routine, in the freer sections.

I was left intrigued but ultimately unsatisfied by the sets.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Martyna Poznanska - Listening East (CDr)

The more artist I hear who are working in field recordings, the more it begins to dawn on me how widespread the work can be. It isn't always, by any means, but I'm struck on occasion how individual the sounds can seem at times, a quasi-paradoxical condition, I'd think. Poznanska, new to me, took her mics eastward from Berlin, to eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia and the results are wonderful, very different in some ways from others in the field that I've heard.

"микроавтобус", the opening track, is marvelous--I've no idea of the source of these moans; they sound animal-like, as though they could be seals, maybe birds, but at the same time it wouldn't surprise me if they're mechanical in nature, whistles or sirens. Whatever, they're intensely plaintive, ghostly and moving, floating over the adjacent harbor (?) sounds. Poznanska doesn't avoid the beautifully banal, however, following that piece with "Odessa's Best Accordionist and a Cat", amidst rain, a fine snapshot capturing the moment perfectly and lending it a special, evocative atmosphere; the rain makes the piece. There's a great variety here as well as a sense of composition about the pieces; I'm assuming there's been a good amount of post-recording construction and it's very solidly done. Each track coheres well (thirteen of them, fairly short--which helps--from less than a minute to about seven) and tends to traverse several points from start to finish. Sea sounds, traffic, static sizzle, overheard and fragmented music and conversations, urban vibrations. Those moans from the first track return in the tenth, sounding more siren-like; really great.

The disc as a whole is quite strong, flowing well, each piece contributing something, often quite striking, always showing a fine discernment for both sonic interest and subtle social import. Poznanska is certainly someone to keep an ear on.


Philip Samartzis - Current (Bogong Sound)

There's also field recordings as more direct social commentary and documentation of a more general, underlying state of affairs. The two works on Samartzis' latest offering deal with power, electric power, its sources in Australia and, implicitly, associated issues.

"Flow" is concerned with hydroelectric power and traces the process from the source (gurgling water and squeaking wood, perhaps from a mill?) into power (ringing, semi-pure tones of sine-like character, lined with deep generator hum). Water cascades through vast interiors, swirls, booming, through gigantic containers, a steady thrum permeating everything. There's a nagging sense of missing visuals here; as excellent as the sounds themselves are, they cry out for footage. Several times, Samartzis cuts sharply to silence, severing the aural flow, shifting the view slightly; it's both disorienting to one's immediate sense and stabilizing for the piece as a whole. A range of electric sounds are encountered for the duration of the piece, often with a harsh edge, quiet to roaring, while water in its original form (at least soundwise) reappears from time to time. Fine work.

For "Extraction", Samartzis enlists the aid of Michael Vorfeld and sets out to cover the industrial processes necessary for generating the energy in a light bulb. Vorfeld uses various piezo-electric devices rigged to trigger sound responses while Samartzis sifts recordings of coal mine dredgers, turbine generators, high tension power wires and more. It's a humming, crackling, vaguely sinister world wherein large scale events are always contrasted with happenings on more discreet, almost microscopic levels. Raw, prickly and very exciting.

I haven't heard much from Samartzis in recent years--very happy to hear that he continues to produce vital work.

I don't see a direct link for ordering this at Bogong Sound but I imagine they would respond to queries.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Alastair Wilson has put together a compendium of music available for purchase on bandcamp, the proceeds (pay as much as you wish) going to to the Beyond Blue charity, which works toward reducing the impact of depression in Australia. There are nine fine pieces, all of which are worthy of your pocketbook:

1) Sam Pettigrew/Andrew Brooks - 'The next work you hear is something like a work inspired by the artist Vito Acconci' - a spooky, funny, lengthy assemblage of creepy, mumbled conversations ("I've never had a sister"), extracts from (I think) computer generated transportation announcements in test mode ("The next voice you're hearing something like a voice speaking now on" followed by various street intersections) and bits of canned orchestral music (Handel?).

2) An Excerpt from Kostis Kilymis' excellent "Only Presence", recordings of rooms, heard exteriors and phantom electronic tones.

3) A beautiful work from Gil Sansón, 'The Schoenberg Motiv', wandelweiserian in subtlety, comparable to Jürg Frey, perhaps. Probably my favorite thing I've heard from Sansón, though I've not heard nearly enough.

4) Very tasty crackle 'n' hum from Daniel Jones. Quite chewy. Still have some in my back teeth.

5) an "outtake" from Steven Cornford and Samuel Rodgers that's every bit as boring and wonderful as their Cathnor release.

6) Ben Owen coaxing sound from paper--fantastic, dry sliding and tearing, vaguely rhythmic at points. Oddly magical.

7) A strong solo tenor piece from John Butcher, circularly breathed, burred notes at the beginning, soft harmonics following, concluding with fluttering pops.

8) I hadn't heard anything from Phil Julian in a while. His 'York Supplemental' begins with a cascade of bubbly electronics but, happily, soon settles into a grainier gurgle of same which grow progressively harsher until decompressing into a series of impossible to listen to noises. Good stuff!

9) "A F Jones?", I thought "Who the hell is A F Jones? Surely not our own Al?" But indeed it is, everyone's favorite submariner generating a churning, throbbing drone (brilliantly titled, 'X Malfeasant, Appropriating Y'), rich in detail, interpolating a sly, funny rhythmic kick just before descending to the depths, out of sonar range.

Some 124 minutes of all-around excellent music at any price you like, Please do plunk down some coinage!

Admirable Restraint

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart - Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds (Gravity Wave)

It's a rare enough event: someone creates work that you find very challenging initially and you work at it, gradually acquiring at least a decent grasp on it, coming to enjoy it deeply...and the artist continues to move forward, often frustrating you and making you go through the whole process again and again. Rare and great. That's been my experience with Pisaro's work, having first come to it via the earlier, often quite spare Edition Wandelweiser releases, making myself comfortable with them, more recently dealing with the warmer and more "melodic" (if you will) content of work from the past several years, often equally challenging, though in a different manner. Needless to say, apart from the occasional live performance, I'm largely going from what happens to be released and have no real idea how representative this is of the actual music he's writing. But then along comes "Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds" and, once again, I found myself up against a very difficult wall to penetrate and understand.

In one sense, there's a superficial return to the spareness of earlier work. The piece is scored for bowed crotales and sine tones. It's large--four 16-minute sections, each followed by a two-minute silence--and requires standing way, way back to even attempt to fathom it as a whole. Or, I think, to just submerge oneself into and allow the structure to seep in via osmosis rather than attempting to somehow mentally limn it. Like many of his compositions, there's a near symmetrical framework within which much variation and vibration is understood to occur. Greg Stuart (who is, I surmise, just as responsible for the work's success) recorded the crotales, four long, bowed notes, and sent them to Pisaro who constructed the sine waves. Each sixteen-minute section has four, four-minute sine patterns superimposed, each mixed in a slightly different manner.

That's the rough technical detail. Experiencing it is something else again. I remain unsure of how the vagaries of a given stereo set-up affects the substance of what hits your ears here. My system here in Paris is a notch below the one I had in the States, I think and that one, while fine, wasn't of Niblockian proportions. So take all this with that caveat. It's not a piece to listen to while stationary. We're all, those of us who've had much experience with sine-based work from Lucier (to whom the composition at hand is dedicated) to Sachiko M, used to at least moving our head during performances or playbacks, creating individualized sensations of the music. More than swiveling the noggin, actually walking through the room can be rather incredible, getting the very physical feeling of passing through sound waves. This is the case here, as well. Although there are other odd effects in play. Once, when I was lying on my back, my left ear facing the speakers, my right fairly close to the back of the futon, which was against a wall, I heard about 90% of the sound in my right ear. Very strange. More to the point, it's a work that I find I really have to concentrate on to glean the structure and semi-hidden beauty therein, no mean feat for 72 minutes. As background music, it doesn't work at all! :-) And, despite the workings of the piece being clearly delimited on the jacket's interior, it's still tough for me to grasp on a more than a gross level. So, for me, there's this tension between thinking there's an important aspect I'm missing and reveling in the actual sounds, both as produced by Pisaro and Stuart and as being created in my ears as I both move and try to perceive. Those bell-like tones that emerge on occasion, for instance--I think they're more "there" in the disc than in my cochlea, but I'm not sure; they fade in and out when I move my head.

It's also surpassingly hard to write about. I do think "Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds" is a great piece of music. Hoping in a few years to figure out why I have this notion.

Gravity Wave

Erst Dist

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Haco/Toshiya Tsunoda - TramVibration (Skiti)

Late December, 2006, on a Hankai Line tram in Osaka, Haco wielding a "stereo bugscope system" (to pick up electromagnetic waves), Tsunoda handling contact mics and a stethoscope mic (to capture physical vibrations), most of the sounds thus caught being, in normal circumstances, inaudible. Calling it a "field recording" would seem to be needlessly limiting. You do, here and there, pick up intimations that you're experiencing a train-like situation, in the repeated (though generally muffled) sound of multiple wheels on sections of track and an engine surge every so often. But the play between those electromagnetic waves (possibly similar to what Christina Kubisch does on her "electrical walks"? and the raw, rumbling vibrations of the title is just fantastic. I take it Tsunoda has done substantial sculpting of these sounds, molding them into a matrix of great depth, sensuality and presence, far more vital than the great majority of tape collage work I've ever heard. Again, as with many a work I find especially compelling, the combination of circumscribed means--here, the tram itself and the methods of sound retrieval--with the wealth of elements discovered and their hyper-imaginative and creative deployment, make for an extraordinary event. Thirty-fours minutes of non-stop captivating sound layers that are almost futile to attempt to describe. Haco wrote, "Perhaps because we used the latest model of tram, the electromagnetic sounds seemed to fly through the air. I hadn't imagined that I'd be able to detect so much. It was like being immersed in a colorful sea of electromagnetic sound. I felt like a full-body recorder and experienced a very intense movement through time and place."

There's a good video documentation on the project but the recording is something else again, a favorite of this (y)ear.

Not sure of Skiti's distribution otherwise, but available from Erst Dist

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Insub (a sub-label of Insubordinations) has initiated a new (to me) kind of release--one receives a packet, very handsome, about 4 x 6", containing documentation about the release and a download code, thus straddling the line a bit between physical and non-physical object. These are the first two in the label's series.

Hannes Lingens - Four Pieces for Quintet (Insub)

Few things provide more pleasure for me that to, out of the blue, discover the work of a composer that I connect with so quickly. I've doubtless been remiss but Lingens wasn't even a name to me prior to this excellent release. From the interview enclosed, I gather that his scores might often be more overtly complex than this one but "Four Pieces for Quintet" is subtle enough as is, the concision of the score allowing for plenty of variation within a given field.

The quintet is Koen Nutters (double bass), Johnny Chang (viola), Michael Thieke (clarinet), Lingens (Accordion) and Derek Shirley (double bass). The score consists of five bars, each divided into rectangles or squares of colors or empty spaces (each square encompassing 15 seconds, by my reckoning). Five musicians, five colors, each piece lasting five minutes. Players select a tone they feel corresponds with the color and hold that note (all strings arco). Very simple but, given the combination of placement of the frame and the sensitivity of the players involved, the result is rich and profound. The presence of two basses tilts the music toward the low end though that's offset often enough by the viola and accordion especially. Not a new idea, of course, that a graphic score will gently steer improvisers down a path they might not tread otherwise, but still one that's capable of yielding fresh fruit. The pieces, as realized here, sometimes take on a hymn-like feel, very slow, with "voice" lines entering at irregularly staggered intervals, the accordion taking on a breathing, in and out aspect on occasion, others assuming the organ role.

While I'm curious how this score might be handled by different ensembles, this one is just richly layered and stirring. I also clearly need to hear more Lingens. Great work.

Diatribes - Augustus (Insub)

A return to action by Mssrs. Cyril Bondi (floortoms, objects) and d'incise (laptop, objects). The enclosure is a quasi-symmetrical collage that includes the visages of Feldman, La Monte Young and, I think, a young Steve Reich though I don't hear much direct influence. The again, a chair dragged across a floor--possibly! Though the single piece feels improvised, there are apparently agreed upon way stations in place, boundaries to remain within, which likely account for the cohesive structure. The duo has a very granular, particulate sound--I always have the impression of people scurrying through a floorspace densely strewn with detritus--though this is leavened here by accordion-like tones, presumably laptop-generated. Indeed, much of the piece offsets those long tones against the grinding, growling clatter created by Bondi and it's a good contrast, though Bondi gradually ends up bowing (?) an object to more or less match d'incise. The notes describe it as "ritual but yet rational" and that's not bad. You do get the sense of some ulterior, non-musical motivation going on, an air of darkness and mystery that goes a long way toward making the outing a successful one.

A solid set, one of those that I imagine would have been great fun to experience live but it's plenty good here.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Christina Kubisch/Eckehard Güther - Mosaïque Mosaic (Gruenrekorder)

My ongoing self-examination re: field recordings, to wit: why I enjoy some significantly more than others, continues apace. This, for reasons that are hard to pin down, falls squarely into my comfort zone. Compiled from a 2010 sojourn in Cameroon, Kubisch (who does fascinating electronic work on her own) and Güther fashion a wonderful, well, mosaic, of life there, however small a portion they represent. In this case, it's partly due to the in and out nature of the musical elements presented. The disc open with a standout track, a church service where a strident female voice declaims in English, each phrase quickly translated by a male voice into French, including a great string of "Yes!" "Oui!" "Yes!" "Oui!", etc., before merging into a heartfelt hymn. We walk through metalwork shops, take trams, eavesdrop on a choir practice, listen to announcements from a mosque PA, wander the streets and countryside. Their choices happily de-emphsize the overtly (to Western ears) exotic, giving as fine a sense of place, though different, as they might have done on the streets of Berlin. Beautiful, lengthy conclusion with rain in the distance, irregular drops on nearby metal surfaces, even mixtures of faraway traffic, insects, birds, roosters.

Excellent job, one of the best works in this area I've heard in a while. Still so hard to quantify.

Lasse-Marc Riek - Helgoland (Gruenrekorder)

Helgoland is a German island in the North Sea, used largely as a naval base but also home to cliffs serving as nesting areas for a large variety of marine birds. Tobias Fischer's notes on the album deal both with Riek's personal connection to this island and others in the Baltic Sea as well as raising questions, not unlike some of my own, about eh very subject of field recordings, particularly those which document "nature": "How much passion can possibly go into an animal recording? To what extent can a passage of birdsong express creative ideas? What kind of inner conflicts would you come to terms with by pointing your microphone at nature?" I struggle with some of these and others, though there's definitely pleasure (and education?) to be derived from listening to the clustered squawks of hundreds of gannets, razorbills and kittiwakes. As is often the case (and as I tiresomely reiterate here), the necessary inability of being able to submerge oneself in the actual aural environment gnaws at me--the sounds are one thing, but the smells, winds, rocks and all are another, equally important part. Still, the welter of noise and the depth of sound is visceral enough as is the churning water occasionally captured. Oddly disturbing now and then as well, particularly the mewls and groans of a grey seal puppy that sounds startlingly childlike.

"Helgoland" drew me in, ultimately. More than other types of recordings, this genre seems to depend, for me, on a given state of mind at given times. Today, this works very well.

Rodolphe Alexis - Morne Diablotins (Gruenrekorder)

A documentation of avian, insectile and amphibious life in Guadeloupe and Dominica as well as surrounding, non-aniumal sounds. As with many similar releases I've encountered, it's tough to make any sort of value judgment except to say how well or poorly the environment seems to have been captured, in this instance, very well. Choices of what to include seem based on which particular fauna have been caught on tape, lending a kind of "nature study" feeling to the endeavor. Which is fine--clearly, you don't need to listen to this as an art project, just vicariously troop along with Alexis as he roams the rain forests and volcanic peaks. On the one hand, you can understand his search for a Caribbean "before the arrival of Columbus" but on the other, you wonder how far to take this avoidance of contemporary reality. There's a decided risk of luxuriating in the exotic sounds and forgetting the world around.

And I have to admit, the sounds are pretty impressive even though, necessarily, one would really like to be surrounded by them rather than listening through speakers. Picking a "favorite" track seems strange, but "Grand Etang at dusk" has a lot going for it, including a wonderful, if brief, shower. I get the impression that Alexis has done some post-recording layering, not sure. In any case, while it's not the kind of thing I'd normally find myself going out of my way to listen to, I can't quibble with the quality of the sound--it's routinely dense and intriguing. If you're at all into pure, natural world field recordings, this is right up your alley.

David Rothenberg - Bug Music (Gruenrekorder/Terra Nova)

Not Don Byron (just wanted to get that out of the way).

Reed player Rothenberg accompanied by a cast of thousands, if not millions. 16 shortish tracks wherein Rothenberg (plus the odd human accomplice) is heard amidst cicadas, katydids, leafhoppers, crickets and the famed Lesser Water Boatman and its (loudly) vibrating penis. The pieces are more or less "songs" and easily digestible ones at that, loping along in comfortable grooves. Rothenberg is a good player, has an especially nice sound on the clarinets, but treads a musically very safe pathway here. My first thought was that, if you're going to take insect sounds seriously (and, of course you would), why not try to deal with them somewhere on their own level instead of using them as a kind of exotic accompaniment? Judging form his website, Rothenberg has garnered a good deal of public notice from this combination of interests, appearing on the Today show, getting a profile in The New Yorker, etc., and it's easy to see why: the music itself, with the insectile garnish, is non-demanding in the way that Zornish NYC music has become in the last 20 years. The insects, which by and large are great, by the way, sound more adventurous than the anthropoid contributions which are very competent but staid. One of his press blurbs makes a comparison to the late Joe Maneri--now that might have been an interesting pairing, Papa Joe and some bugs. I found myself thinking back to a concert I saw at BAM in the mid-80s, David Byrne leading a host of Brazilian musicians, me in the audience thinking, "Those guys are so much better than you, Mr. Byrne. Please have the grace to leave the stage and let them play."

I don't mean to be too hard on this. Many people will greatly enjoy it the way they do Frisell, Garbarek and others. It's well played, well constructed and ingratiating. It just seems odd, to me, to relegate these presumed objects of fascination and awe to such a small supporting role, strikes me as a lost opportunity.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mark Lorenz Kysela - Eins + (Gruenrekorder)

Six compositions by different composers performed by Kysela on clarinets and saxophones with electronic and tape accompaniment.

1) Christoph Ogiermann - Druckblöcke und Zeichenakku-Multationen BCC. In which hyper-physicality is paramount, using exceedingly close miking, capturing every gestural sound in high res detail, Kysel cooperating by out Küchening Küchen in terms of materiality. Scraped footsteps, heavy breathing, visceral saxophonics, ultimately wispy contrails. An impressive display of the composer's desired "whole-body activity", if not my favorite approach to things.

2) Thomas Stiegler - Treibgut IV. A thoughtful piece, constructed in segments of 30 seconds or a minute, those portions consisting of a soprano saxophone playing a simple melodic line or held note (sometimes multi-tracked), steady sine tones and recordings of "secular sounds" (valves, meter, yards), all shuffled and irregularly overlaid. Though livelier, it has the control of a Tom Johnson piece. Also I get the sense of turning over a series of cards, one two or three at a time, revealing images that are similar to an extent but varied, each set self-realted. I like this one a lot.

3) Martin Schüttler - schöner leben 7. For saxophone and electronics, the latter consisting of, in good part, "soundtracks from You Tube videos in which saxophone beginners present their modest progress". Schüttler is interested in non-professionalism, detritus, assemblage worked up from discarded, banal material. The results are disjunctive enough, reminding me of something Zorn might have come up with circa "Locus Solus" had he the available technology. I don't mean that as a slight--the piece works well, a kind of combine, if not a paradoxically transcendent one.

4) Michael Maierhof - splitting 13. Using a plastic cup filled with marbles inserted into the alto saxophone's bell, melding it with other such cups being electronically stimulated on their own. The music is, not surprisingly, buzzy but also very strained and, well, unpleasant. Which I'm sure fulfills Maierhof's intentions. I'm reminded a bit of Thomas Ankersmit's excruciating (and wonderful) experiments of some years back. Similarly here, the listener has to accept a large degree of discomfort, to give up searching for comfort zones of any sort. I found it worthwhile, but its a very tough go.

5) Alvin Lucier - In Memoriam Jon Higgins for clarinet and pure wave oscillator. Well, I'm a complete sucker for this stuff. A relatively early (1985) work, Lucier does his trademarked thing, her having a clarinet playing steady tones against slowly moving sine waves, developing beats that neither instrument is producing on its own but which are being created inside the ear of the listener. Kysela plays cleanly here and the piece takes off as Lucier's tend to do.

6) Uwe Rasch - aus vierundzwanzig: drei. A short piece (about 2 1/2 minutes), loosely inspired by Schubert's "Die Winterreise", not that you'd recognize any association on hearing--delicate, flitting soprano sax against clunking, intentionally awkward percussion. Rather humorous even without the reference though all snickering is brought to an end by a frowning gong smash.

An enjoyable recording, extremely well played, covering a wide range of contemporary composers. What more could you want?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Donato Wharton - Place and Presence (CDr)

A new name to me, Wharton hails originally from Cardiff, Wales but was raised in Germany. Trawling through older tracks available on You Tube, I heard music that was vaguely in Fennesz territory (dreamy melodics combined with glitches), sometimes with a touch of Barry Adamson (extracts from noirish movies embedded in the soundscapes). This recording sounds nothing like that.

Four tracks, each between ten and eleven minutes, all involving sine-like drones and field recordings. When "There are only frequencies" begins, the first thing to come immediately to mind is Michael Pisaro's "Transparent City" series, though there's also something clearly different going on. The wave penetrating the environment (airplane engine prominent) is complex, not, as far as I can determine, attuned to its culled equivalent in the soundscape. Or perhaps it's multiply harmonized. Like all the pieces here, it's fairly steady-state, quavering in place against the ambience, the engine receding, replaced by traffic, gulls, the electronics gradually diminishing to a wooly, faint hum until that's all which remains. Very strong. "It's already there" is even subtler, the electronics reduced to a soft fuzzy glaze, the landscape consistently of distant birds, with the odd shockingly loud crow caw. Again, the piece simply exists there, living up to the album's title--great patience, fine presence. "Turbines 2" interweaves downward spiraling whistles (the turbines, I take it) in a kind of endless arc, à la Tenney, but managing to create a unique space. Donato's ability to hold back serves him well; when he allows some background rustle, very soft, into the mix, the effect is dramatic enough. "Wave wave" concludes the release, almost coming back to where we started, but on an adjacent strand, the sine line a bit more focussed, rounder, gentle waves of the hydrous variety behind, the odd avian twitter. The gradual ramping up as the piece ends, generating a heightend sense of paranoia and claustrophobia, comes as an unsettling but delicious surprise.

Longtime readers are aware that I have a special affinity for music that seeks and locates a relatively narrow sliver, abides there a while and unearths much unexpected beauty. "Place and Presence" fits this to a 't'. Penetrating, intelligent work--don't let it pass you by.

Donato Wharton

Aymeric de Tapol - Méridiens (Tanuki)

Two sets of field recordings, the first from Senegal and Mali in 1999, the second from Istanbul in 2012.

Aymeric de Tapol (no idea if that's a nom de musique or not) used a dictaphone for the African recordings which I'm guessing contributes to an aspect I find quite compelling, that it to say the uneven and occasionally clipped quality of the sound. In one sense, the venture is a kind of archaic survey--you get the sense of traveling around from place to place, capturing something of what you're experiencing (he concentrates most often on scenes which involve music to some extent), a kind of fractured travelogue. But it works beautifully. Something about the choices made, the sequencing, the roughness and, of course, the inherent beauty of the songs, whether sung intimately or heard from a distorted PA speaker. The music is often embedded within the street sounds, footsteps, conversations and goat bleatings; it's part of the landscape, not isolated.

The Istanbul tapes cover "street musicians, Gypsies wedding and Adnan [muezzin calls]". The recordings are much clearer, rendering the result more in line with traditional "world music" offerings, though at times one can still here the environment in which the sounds are occurring almost on par with the music, particularly the interior booming sound in the room where the wedding is taking place, and there are plenty of rough cuts between segments. Plus, well, the music is pretty great! It's a bit strange, veering from listening to the music as such and being conscious of the taping, disorienting in a good way. It ends in the streets.

Excellent work, highly recommended for any number of reasons.

Plochingen - 266 minuscules récepteurs paraboliques (Tanuki)

Information is tough to come by, either on the individual going by "Plochingen" (Belgian, co-founder of the collective, martiensgohome, 1996) or the whys and wherefores of this cassette, apart form the hints given by its title and a brief description from label owner, Patrick Thinsy: "Creates his own pure data patches to rework field recordings and home recordings, in this case guitars".

The music is easily digestible, the guitar-sourced tones quite smooth and arrayed in a semi-rhythmic manner here, spacier there. Not sure about what those 266 receptors are up to--occasionally you hear ambient sounds but the vast majority of sounds seem to emanate, quite tonally, from the guitar. There's throb aplenty and it's entirely too spacey for my taste--there's probably a term for that "wow" sound that's more appropriate than thinking of the synth line in "Lucky Man" but it's an unfortunate concordance for me. Pleasant enough, just without the requisite meat and grain.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Klaus Lang - Organ Works Vol. 1 (God Records)

Two very different works for organ from Klaus Lang, a decent portion of whose oeuvre (everything that I've heard, which is a limited sampling) deals with that instrument.

Side One contains "17 symmetrien", a 2012 composition that entails the hands and feet of five musicians, here Lang, Aleksej Vylegzhanin, Ja Young Baek, Adam McCartney and Kelvin Ng, who manipulate the manuals, pedals and stops of the organ in the Mariahilferkirche (Church of Mariahilf) in Vienna. It begins with a fairly complex and dense weave, shimmering tones of varying timbres and only gets more complex and dense from there over its 25 minute span. It seems cliché to use a term like "prismatic colors" but it's hard to avoid that sensation. There's a long duration throb of sorts in effect; the dynamics subside for a short time then return with renewed force and several new sound palettes. Lang stats, "I put my music into the space. I don’t want to send any messages, I think of nothing and I don’t want to purport any meanings. The listeners hear what they hear and behave to the music as they feel." and "17 symmetrien" lives up to that idea, filling the space (one can only imagine how it sounded in the church) and just residing there, respirating. It's large enough that you, as the listener/viewer, seem obliged to get up and circle it, pierce it, to experience even a minute percentage of its corpus. I think there's much going on that's not immediately apparent, elements that add to the overall effect even as they're masked by the hugeness of the sound. The closing minutes have a bell-like sheen, very beautiful and mysterious, and a fine cap to an impressive piece.

aside from "Ed Wood", I'm not the biggest Tim Burton fan around, so the title, "mars attacks" (for which Emanuel Schmelzer, in 2004, manned the organ of the Stiftskirche in St. Lambrecht, Austria) gave me pause...The piece is constructed of short, dull stabs at the keyboard, barely glued together by, at first, high, almost sine-like pitches. As the composition progresses, lower, richer held tones enter, forming a substrate in which those isolated pulses are planted. The drones begin to break apart, some decaying into shards, others acquiring a growling aspect, the piece as a whole fragmenting into disparate elements drifting out from the briefly held center. If there's a allusion to invading aliens, I can't hear it (thankfully) but the work is not only a fine tonic to "17 symmetrien" but absolutely held my attention throughout, not so much for any inherent beauty in the sounds but for attempting to track the constituent parts as they wandered through space.

Strong work.

Winfried Ritsch - Woodscratcher (God Records)

"The woodscratcher is a composition and sound generating machine, which cuts a 2-5 cm thick disk of a wooden trunk in a circular line along the growth rings of the wood."

A side each is devoted to oak and larch undergoing this process, each slice lovingly (and beautifully) depicted on the vinyl itself--that's oak above. And...its sounds pretty great. The motion of the saw is circular and the sounds thus obtained have that feel as the loop again and again, always slightly different and gradually changing as the bits gnaws further into the wood. Four pick-up mics are used at different physical points in the process, the resultant noises forming a thick layer of varying textures and depths. The oak side is more guttural--you even getter a sense that the wood is a bit damper, throwing out shavings that glom the process later on. The larch feels crisper, airier. The tracks, each about twenty minutes long, simply go on until they stop, the machine operating without intervention. It's rigorously minimalist; Riley or Reich, with more imagination, should have done something like this. And the material presence is excellent, no nonsense, rendering the kind of situation you might have been lucky enough to find yourself in at one time, with the luxury of just being able to sit there and bathe in the sound. I'd also recommend some DIY mixing by playing this recording simultaneously with the YouTube video and creating your own multi-rhythms.

A unique and rather wonderful recording, even if it only needs to be done once.

Duo Adé - Freilassing (God Records)

"Freilassing" is a one-sided LP played on one piano by two pianists, Gottfried Krienzer and Christoph Uhlmann who together comprise Duo Adé.

Following 43-second track called "Adjustment" where the pair appear to check the instrument's tuning, they launch into the title piece. The music is a kind of maximal minimalism, somewhere along the stretch of road where Louis Andriessen and John Adams used to live. Rhythmic in a way that approximates the mechanical (intentionally) with flourishes and filigrees abounding. Halfway through, the pace slows, still rhythmic but looser and ambling. There's clearly a good allowance for improvisation and this section has a nice sense of falling apart, even careening out of control while still being stuck in a kind of rut in the road--I envisage an ancient wagon, perhaps that of an old snake oil salesman, covered with banners and swinging lamps, pots and pans, trundling along that gouged dirt road in front of the Andriessen residence. Is that the crumbling Ron Geesin cottage I see up the way?

Good fun.

Robert Lepenik - poSTepeno (God Records/Entr'acte)

Lepenik, on the set of "poSTepeno" pieces that occupy the first of the two LPs here, concentrates on an area adjacent to that explored by the likes of Alvin Lucier--the juxtaposition of acoustic instruments (here, piano) with sine waves. But whereas Lucier will typically write long, drone-like passages wherein the instrumentalist attempts to approximate the exact pitch of the sine waves (an impossible task, resulting in those wonderful perturbations), Lepenik writes slow, often processional-sounding lines for the piano with a fluctuating sine wave alongside, so that the interaction varies quite a bit, the sounds sometimes treading independent pathways, sometimes interweaving.

"Grete vor dem Haus" takes up the second disc and is basically an expanded variation on a similar theme, though the writing for piano is a bit more robust in parts, making clearer allusions to contemporary Western music styles of the late 20th century. Again, the meshing of held notes and sine waves is quite delicious and, as before, there's quite an assortment encountered along the way. There's a strangely mesmerizing quality to all of this music, an odd sense of drawing the acoustic phenomena "out of the air", which of course, is what's happening. Fascinating work with a substantially different effect on ones ears and brain than, say, Lucier.

God Records


Monday, December 16, 2013

Bernhard Lang/Philip Jeck - Tables Are Turned (God Records)

[Very mysteriously, all of the cover images I can find of this album show text (artists and titles) but when I copy to my computer, the result is solid black. Odd]

After I duly familiarized myself with the Amon Düül song that served as inspiration for this release, I sat down and listened to the Italian ensemble, Alter Ego (Manuel Zurria, flutes; Paolo Ravaglia, clarinets; Aldo Campagniari, violin; Francesco Dillon, violoncello; Oscar Pizzo, keyboards; Eugenio Vatta, sound projection) tackle the work. It wasn't immediately clear exactly what I was hearing. Without previously having read about the nature of the piece, I might at first have gleaned that the group was engaged in some aspect of acoustically looping material, even that said material's source was a snippet, or a number of snippets, from somewhere else. But the song, I presumed, had been sliced thinly enough to render any sort of recognition beside the point. And if Jeck was actually participating here (rather than having supplied the Düülish kernels from which Lang derived his score), I couldn't tell. So, I began to listen to the piece as music, regardless of its origin.

Then, some twelve minutes in (the release is two LPs, about 76 minutes total), a new set of sounds emerged, electronic in nature--a sliver of the song or several slivers, looping and echoing in the space--we were in a different area. There's a good mix between the turntables and the ensemble, a nice give and take as the acoustic instruments roughly imitate the fragments of the song, Jeck's sounds swirling behind and through them. The work shifts focus every so often, presumably isolating various segments of the Amon Düül piece, but there's always pretty intense activity in place. Interestingly, the original song, to my ears, had tinges of 60s era Terry Riley and parts of the Lang composition, say toward the beginning of Side C, are very reminiscent of "In C"--my favorite portion. There's a major shift about 50 minute in with a short section of forthright, unison playing after which a more drifting, smokier section ensues, arguably coming the closest thus far to the feel of the song. Side D returns to a stop and start, more fragmented reading, the pace slowing, even grinding. About four minutes before the work's conclusion, another sprightly, almost Bartokian line springs up, sending everyone hurtling to the finish.

Was it worth the 76 minutes? Not entirely, to my ears. While the music is never uninteresting, there's not enough depth to sustain matters over the length; 15-20 minutes might have sufficed. The basic conceit can't bear much more than that. Unless there is wealth undreamt of by me in Amon Düül.

Bernhard Lang - Mondologie XII (God Records)

Inside the album gatefold, one sees images culled from John Conway's "Game of Life" leading the listener to guess that aural versions of cellular automata might be in play here. How one actually hears that is another question though one can imagine a relationship between that program and Leibniz' concept of Monadology which, i take it, serves as the source of the title (a series of works--I've not heard the preceding ones). The composition, in three sections, is performed by Klangforum Wien, a ten-piece acoustic ensemble (winds, percussion, accordion, piano) conducted by Johannes Kalitzke. The titles of the parts imply themes outside of game theory and rationalist philosophy: "The Ritual of Tearing Out the Heart", "The Awakening" and "Sweet Revenge".

As for the music--from what I gather, Monadologie XII carries much more of a jazz tinge than is normally the case for Lang. The prominence of saxophone (Gerald Preinfalk) and percussion (Björn Wilker and Adam Weisman) contribute to this feeling, though more in apparent nods to the European free improv tradition than to post-Coltrane conceptions. The first track, which occupies Side One, contains much fluttering playing by the winds, a kind of lyrical abstraction that might recall some Elliott Carter, though with refreshing bursts of rudeness. The phrases are parceled out in discrete sections (with minimal space between), most clearly toward the end, making it easy to create analogies with modular automata if one wishes. If not, it's still a fairly pleasurable, bubbly ride. The percussion in "The Awakening" makes clear reference to jazz--one can almost imagine an ensemble like the ICP Orchestra. It's a difficult balance--there's some tension between winds and percussion (including piano), but also between the nods toward improvisation and what I take to be a notated score. But that tension can be both frustrating and the source of some real excitement, the latter occurring about three quarters of the way through this cut, leading to a fine, troubled coda for accordion which in turn segues into some surprising double bass work that sounds for all the world like Malachi Favors. The composition ends with "Sweet Revenge", possibly the jazziest of the sections, featuring the trumpet of Anders Nyqvist propelled by accordion, piano and percussion; I found myself recalling Krzysztof Komeda a bit.

I'm not entirely convinced but Lang avoids many of the pitfalls that often beset this kind of melange, including the pall of academic aridity, keeping matters lively and relatively raw. Fans of ICP or Vienna Art Orchestra and the like will doubtless enjoy it.

God Records

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A passel of LP releases from God Records over the next few days...

Peter Ablinger - Regenstücke Vol. 1 (God Records)

Peter Ablinger - Regenstücke Vol. 2 (God Records)

I'm inexcusably late in getting to Ablinger's music, having only heard the merest smidgen before; much catching up to do.

Volume 1 contains two works. Side one holds "Ohne Titel/3 Klaviere (1-6)", a 1993 performance by pianists Hannes Gill, Isabel Pérez-Requeijo and Elisabeth Väth-Schadler. Part of the composer's description of the piece reads, "The piece involves microrhythms and the localization of similar sounds in space. A piece in 6 parts, each like beginning rain." Rain ("regen") is the operative idea for all the works on these two discs. Here, the three pianists (no instrumentation is specified in the score) play mostly high-end, light, stuttering rhythms that indeed strongly bring to mind the semi-random rhythm of raindrops, falling from the sky or dripping from objects. The six portions are similar/different; Ablinger draws inspiration from visual art like Monet's multiple views of the same subject. I'm curious if he actually transcribed raindrop patterns for the score--wouldn't doubt it at all. Even the rapid arpeggios that ripple through the drops now and then might be heard asan overflow tipping past a gutter's restraint. It's delightful, almost as much as listening to the source.

"Regenstück 1-6/6 (3) Schlagzeuger" is here performed by Brian Archinal on percussion (in San Diego, 2012) and resides very much in the same ballpark. If anything, the sounds, which seem to involve struck glass, bear a more raindrop-like tone than the pianos. In the second and fifth iteration, brushes (I think it's brushes--sometimes it sounds like breath through tubes) are introduced. The drip-rate seems to slacken ever so slightly toward the end. Equally as enjoyable, perhaps more, than the first composition. Some of that enjoyment, no doubt, comes simply of the unforced verisimilitude of the patterns to that of random drops; how this was notated, I can't begin to fathom. One could, of course, listen to the real thing but there's nonetheless something magical about this.

Rain on its own makes several appearances in Volume 2. "Stadtoper Graz, Regenstück" finds the Ensemble Zeitfluss Graz, led by Nassir Heidarian and Edo Mičić, apparently out in the rain,, though I think the latter is an overlaid field recording. As above, her the light string pizzicato and piano emulate raindrops, even as they're all but smothered by the mass effect of several million of them. Just near the end, the rest of the orchestra, brass and woodwinds, makes a furious, urgent entrance only to be snipped off abruptly as though the tape was cut. The skies have opened once again for "Das Buch der Gesänge" ("The Book of Songs"), in the backyard (hinterhof), in the car, tapping the roof and windows. Just rain and ambient sounds. Absorbing. Yet another ensemble, the Bruckner Orchestra, Linz, under the direction of Pérez-Requeijo, is unable to find shelter from the inclemency, the various instrumental factions jostling each other for cover. I think the same kind of patterns are used for this piece, though the effect of flutes and french horns imitating rainfall is strange....A torrent arrives, scattered applause, a bit of chatter.

Finally, "Membrane, Regen", an installation in which eight glass tubes are, if I'm not mistaken, activated by water drops. They're extremely reverberant and differently tuned. This, combined with regular rhythms of varying pace, makes for a kind of aqueous chime system or some ghostly melange of several drunken Balinese ensembles. Percussionist Adam Weisman is credited here; I was confused as to how he contributed until viewing this video. A lovely piece and a good, simple structure that still allows for irregularities.

Two very fine albums!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lionel Marchetti/Yan Jun - 23 Formes en Élastique/The Only Authentic Work (subjam)

The basics: a book and a CD. The book is a very handsome object, hardcover, a soft grayish-green, very sensual texture, with an obi. It contains a series of short texts by Yan Jun, with illustrations, The first half of the book is in Chinese, the second half, the English translations, the same illustrations repeated in each half. The CD contains 23 tracks by Marchetti, 77-minutes worth, composed between 1987 and 2011. I think some, perhaps all, have been previously published, though I'm not sure about this; I have a number of Marchetti works and while I don't immediately recognize anything, it wouldn't surprise me to find out I have some tracks here and there. Maybe not.

Yan Jun's writings range from personal stories to philosophical musings, often involving self-reference and occasionally wryly amusing. He opens with a wonderful account of the origin of Lao Yang's untitled release, consisting of a steel saw blade in a CD case, and the willfully naive insertion of same into a computer drive by the poet Hsia Yu. Much of the writing deals with Marchetti and related musical/theoretical ideas including musique concrète, collage, Godard, Blanchot, classic Chinese art and much more, ending with a blissful evening spent in a seedy bar in Suzhou, with scant patrons and extraordinarily noisy drilling coming from next door. It's open, honest, sometimes thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.

I think it's been a while since I've really heard anything substantial from Marchetti but, given the caveat above, this might be my favorite sampling of his work. Very wide-ranging in sources, there's a tendency toward the quiet (if often rough) and relaxedly contemplative, though it begins with a rather harsh, primitively mechanical, repeating sound ("Météores"). Shards of tape collage mix with voices, found music, a woman's voice listing years, slowed speech, scratches, blurred rockish extracts ("Mysteria"), accordion dirges and countless other aural snapshots that manage to work themselves into a stream that flows by almost comprehensibly. It's difficult to describe in other than cinematic terms, a free-associative documentary consisting of concrete, if skewed, images arranged in a sensitively poetic manner that conveys elusive meaning. I should just say I like it a lot spent much time immersed in the sound, imagining the contexts, immediate and wider, connecting it back to Yan Jun's texts.

A fine release all-around--search it out.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bryn Harrison - Vessels (Another Timbre)

A 76-minute work for piano, performed by Philip Thomas, drawing inspiration from Howard Skempton's string quartet, "Tendrils". Given this, the reference I daresay most will make is to the late Feldman piano works, doubtless an unfair one. Harrison notes this fact in the interview on the label page, citing the differences in conception, but it's still a tough thing to purge from one's mind.

There's a consistent pace and feel to the work, a kind of meandering (not meant pejoratively) within a circumscribed area. Unlike Feldman, the tempo doesn't seem to vary much nor, at least as played here, is there the kind of subtle dynamics of touch employed, say, in Tilbury's realizations. So while one can appreciate the tendril analogy, the gentle unfurling, there is something of a sameness in effect, kind of a tonal white noise, if you will wherein the actual notes, sequences, chords, etc. change but one perceives a steady state. At least this one does. Harrison says, "I like the way this creates a sense of movement but without a goal. I’ve compared this before to being somewhat like a waterfall, where there is motion but without an end point". That strikes me as another valid analogy; I might extend it back to Feldman by comparing his work to a wandering stream, a similar sameness/difference in composition (water, the space within which it flows) but the listener/follower ends up, quite magically perhaps, in another place. Perhaps it comes down to deriving equal pleasure from remaining fixed while something, the Harrison-generated notes, wash over you and depart--not an unpleasurable sensation, to be sure--versus ambling along beside, even being ferried and encountering extra-musical (extra-acqueous!) sensations along the way.

I'm stretching this too far, no doubt. Among other things, it raises interesting questions about stasis and ability/desire to grasp large scale works containing minimal (of a sort) activity, though maybe that simply revolves around the kind of activity, however scant, one finds absorbing. I can recall sinking into Sachiko M's "Bar", which consists of three sine tones over the course of an hour, lasting approximately 40, 15 and 5 minutes each--no problem, loved it. Perhaps that was enough progression to sustain me. With "Vessels", it's also not a problem to listen--the music is certainly attractive enough--it's just grasping for a structure that at first seems elusive but eventually comes to be thought of as not there at all, in the way that waterfall has midair, varying structure in one sense but not in a way that rewards continuing observation; the infinite number of quasi-similar states cancel each other out. The music is clearly constructed with a purpose that would be done a disservice by listening to it as part of the environment. I feel I should be concentrating on it wholeheartedly but have great difficulty doing so. Any random slice is very enjoyable, however, the semi-repeated kernels of melody sliding over and under each other, and I can well imagine listeners cottoning to "Vessels" in its entirety much more fervently than I've been able to.

Another Timbre

Ingrid Lee - Mouth to Mouth (Another Timbre)

Lee is part of that splendid torrent of ex-Cal Arts students who worked with Michael Pisaro, James Tenney, etc. and whose own music has evolved from there. One of Lee's abiding interests is in "ideas of contagious movement and its social implications: the spread, replication, and mutation of ideas, memes (‘going viral’), between groups and individuals". Her music, as represented here (her first release) exposes these processes very clearly, somewhat akin (in a limited sense) to Richard Glover's approach as indicated on his contemporaneous recoding on the same label, though Lee's result is very different. As with the lineage which served as a source of inspiration for Glover (Tom Johnson, Lucier, Tenney), there's the risk of "only" (with all the complexity that term implies) reproducing sonic phenomena, making the leap of faith that beauty, in some form, will emerge. To my ears, Lee's work succeeds about half the time, though it's fascinating to try to discern why, for me it does or doesn't.

The first piece presented here, "Of Monsters", for accordion (Merima Ključo) and piano (Lee) is also the most overtly approachable and, perhaps, successful. Sumptuous accordion swells ooze between single piano notes (sometimes using preparations), the overtones mixing with clarity and serenity. Traditional (and lovely) tonality is nicely dampened by those thudding notes where a string has been waylaid as well as by the chordal variations played by Ključo, that wander away from the initial lushness. There are all manner of fine balances here, between the superficially attractive and deeper beauty, between pure tones and rudely compromised ones and more. This generates a welcome mystery, all the better when the elements are laid out so plainly, causing the listener to wonder at the complexity that emerges. For myself, "Of Monsters" would make the disc more than worthwhile.

"Cells" is for two amplified snare drums (Lee and Rowan Smith) and, again, the process is right up front. A sympathetic vibration is initially caused by a reaction to a pre-recoded, amplified snare and this resultant vibration, already on the first go-round increasingly buzzy, is reintroduced several times, each iteration producing a fuller, noisier outcome, generally speaking related to the classic "I Am Sitting in a Room" procedure though again, with wildly differing results. I'm not sure what Lee and Smith are actually doing during this, I must say, but no matter. One hears, then, several sections of an accumulating feedback/buzz, often quite harsh. It might well be due to the recording, but I found the sound field to be somewhat flat and lacking in the kind of varied detail I'd expect to hear; the sensation may well have been different in the room. For me, this piece fell on the other side of that divide mentioned above--it's interesting, in a limited way, to see/hear what happens but after it does, I'm left with not so much unlike the Lucier piece, say (granted, an unfair comparison) where entire sound worlds miraculously emerge.

"Beads, Spit" is for electric guitar (Max Kutner), percussion (Tony Gennaro, I think on bowed crotales and, perhaps celesta or glockenspiel) and piano (Lee), the first two creating tones that "are derived from overtones extracted from the piano chords, creating sounds that emerge, sustain, and end at different points". We hear the slow back and forth between the instrumental elements, solo and duo, each sequence lasting about eight to ten seconds. The piano becomes a bit more forceful as the composition continues, its companions also shifting their attack slightly, gradually adding subtly different colors. The frequency of the chords increases, setting up clearer rhythmic cells, eventually achieving a level of urgency that borders on the strident. As in "Of Monsters", the processes form the basis of extra-procedural aesthesia, a good thing. Here, the strongly plucked guitar reminded me a bit of Michael Gordon's music form back when ("Thou Shalt!/Thou Shalt Not!", for instance) but much better. I prefer "Of Monsters" but this is also a strong piece.

"Another", the longest work here, almost 18 minutes, is for sextet: violins (Erik KM Clark and Andy Studer), viola (Heather Lockie), cello (Melody Yenn), bass (Jake Rosenzweig) and vibraphone (Tony Gennero). It deals with shifting tunings, ideas of dominance and the simulation of naturally occurring acoustic phenomena by intentional playing. I've been listening to this a lot, trying to find a way in. Not that it's difficult or unattractive on the surface--that's not the issue--it's more determining for myself the whys and wherefores of the piece, especially over its duration. The strings perform microtone-encountering glissandi, up and down though with an overall downward trend, I think, often over a relatively steady vibraphone pulse. These occur in two to three minutes segments and the layering between the strings and vibes seems to vary, overlapping at different points, sometimes not at all. I've no doubt there are subtleties of tuning that are escaping me, but by the work's end, I'm feeling that little was encountered that hadn't been in the first few minutes. It did open somewhat for me upon repeated listenings, but still left me unsatisfied--perhaps that's the point or that my ears simply require more exposure.

Overall, then, I come out half and half on "Mouth to Mouth" but leave open the possibility that the music will more clearly reveal itself to me over time. And I am very interested to hear further work from Lee.

Another Timbre

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Johnny Chang/Angharad Davies/Jamie Drouin/Phil Durrant/Lee Patterson/John Tilbury - Variable Formations (Another Timbre)

A sextet improvisation realized at Cafe OTO in February of this year, following three prior sets (Tilbury, solo; Chang/Drouin, duo; Davies/Durrant/Patterson trio). A nice notion given that each musician had never before played with at least two of the others. In a way, it still breaks down, in my ears, to three units: Tilbury, Chang/Davies and Drouin/Durrant/Patterson, the strings often combined, in my head, into a duo, the three electronicists similarly in a trio. As in any risky improvisatory endeavor, there's no reason to expect that it will work; much of the interest is simply hearing how this given combination, on this evening, unfolded. Any moments of emergent beauty are almost icing on the cake and there are several scattered through this particular adventure.

Tilbury is, well, Tilbury and he's prominent enough in the mix so that one can, if so choosing, hear it as a mini-concerto of sorts. For the first ten or so minutes, I tend to do that, the pianist patiently doling out two-note figures, the rest scurrying/droning alongside. At that point, there's a break, the music shifting to a kind of simmering, out of which surface sad string cries and single, sharply struck piano notes. Indeed, after a few minutes, it seems that Tilbury is once again the contributor around which the sounds gather. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he's inevitably, unavoidably himself, with such a developed personality--a single, well-struck note from him bears much weight. I hasten to say that this doesn't, for me, detract form the music at all, it just casts it in a slightly different light than what you might expect. About halfway through its 41 minutes, a fine low, vibrating buzz enters amidst what sounds like (but can't be) swirling, stroked cymbals and soft flutters--lovely. There's a bit a meandering about, less than you might normally encounter, though and eventually, the sextet really pulls it together over the final eight to ten minutes, generating a fine seethe, Tilbury either laying out or quietly working off the keyboard, until re-entering just before the close with some fantastic, slightly muffled and sour notes. That last section is worth the trip and the rest of the drive isn't bad either.

It's the type of the performance that will have some quibbling about the necessity of release but I've always been of the mind, and am once again in this case, that I love hearing documentation of attempts by musicians in whose work I'm interested, regardless of their success. There's enough "success" to warrant it anyway, as far as I'm concerned. Check it out for yourself.

Another Timbre

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Ferran Fages - Radi d'Or (Another Timbre)

A piece that's more unusual and, I suspect, more involved than is apparent at first blush. A single, 36-minute work, it seems to be a composition though I guess one could be forgiven, if not paying close attention, for thinking of it as just another fairly quiet, steady-state improvisation but there's more going on. I wish I had the score to check on this; for that matter, I wish I could figure out a translation of the title. If French, it needs an "s" to become "gold radish". I tend to think of it as a corruption of "radii", transliterating it into "golden arms".

In any case, we have the Ferran Fages Ensemble, a quintet consisting of Olga Ábalos (flute, alto saxophone), Lali Barrière (sine waves), Tom Chant (tenor and soprano saxophones), Fages (acoustic guitar) and Pilar Subirà (percussion). It opens with crickets, then the ensemble creating low sounds that have an outdoors feel, including (I think) rubbed, deep drums. There's feedback, usually contained, occasionally yawping, long flute and saxophone lines, all kind of swirling gently together, beginning to congeal. For a while, the strands slowly circle one another--flute, scraped guitar, those rubbed moans, the sine waves acting as a tenuous cohering factor. Ultimately, matters coalesce and we have a kind of drone situation, though complicated and ever-shifting, with ringing tones and harsher buzzer emerging from the mix. The work resides here for its second half, a kind of shimmering, opalescent pool in which lengthy, plaintive, descending tones often appear. Towards the work's conclusion, there are small eddies of disruption, the individual elements regaining some separate character though they've moved, since the piece's inception, to a different territory. It has a very strong character of its own, subtly unique.

"Radi d'Or" is a release that grew on me upon multiple re-listenings as I became more convinced that there was some governing principle(s) at work which I still can't truly discern. Fages has revealed several facets of his musical personality in the past, from outright noise to virtual song-forms and more; this is yet another addition to that profile, and a welcome one. I really hope to hear more in this direction and from this ensemble generally--sounds like a really strong group.

Another Timbre

Friday, December 06, 2013

Richard Glover - Logical Harmonies (Another Timbre)

In the interview on the Another Timbre site, references are made, with regard to Glover's music, to that of Tom Johnson, James Tenney and Alvin Lucier. These seem quite reasonable though, at least on the basis of this recording, my first experience with Glover (unless I'm forgetting something, always a strong possibility), his work stands apart in very beautiful ways. While process oriented, the pieces here are entirely acoustic which might tend to align him more with Johnson but there's also a clear concern with sonic beauty, in an almost classical sense, that's at odds with Johnson's list-making that adopts a more remote stance. I also detect subtle allusions to classic forms, again just a step or two to the side of the almost clinical presentation that can occur (not without its own attractions, certainly) in a piece by Johnson or Lucier.

That said, these are seven extraordinarily wonderful compositions.

The disc is constructed alternating four solo works with three for ensembles, bookended by "Logical Harmonies 2" and "Logical Harmonies 1", performed by Philip Thomas on piano. Without any external knowledge, and given the steady, stately tempo of the work, I heard it as a kind of processional, connecting it to compositions by Satie in his Rosicrucian period (the Ogives, for example) or even certain Skempton pieces. But for all its regularity in pacing, the shifting chords inject absolutely absorbing harmonies that almost flitted by, one after another, always changing subtly, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. It wasn't until I located the score that I realized the structure of the work did indeed follow a rather strict and simple pattern, but one that (crucially, I think) allows the pianist leeway in choosing whether or how to invert the triads as prescribed, which Thomas does brilliantly. The effect, for me, again recalling the processional feeling, is of walking through a large church-like interior, the light through the stained glass windows changing ever so slightly as one proceeds, one's perspective always shifting, being very aware of the orthogonals and hues. An insert is included with the disc showing a color wheel, divided into eight shades, rotating an eighth of a cycle each turn against a background of the same colors, an apt enough visual analogue. "Logical Harmonies 1", which closes the disc, is essentially the same except that the roles of the hands have been exchanged, the left doing the wandering instead of the right. Thomas takes it at a somewhat slower tempo, every bit as lovely as the first. I can listen to either or both for hours.

"Beatings in a Linear Process", for clarinet (Mark Bradley), violin (Mira Benjamin) and cello (Andrea Stewart) is more in line with some of Lucier's experiments in gradual and slight pitch shifting. The score calls for the strings to hold one note, the clarinet entering at a given pitch and the strings to, slowly, adjust as closely as possible to it while maintaining those original notes. This is repeated five times, the clarinet lowering his pitch one step each iteration in microtonal increments. The harmonics thus generated are utterly immersive, as is the tension between the held and moving lines occupying such close proximity. I can't locate a score for "Cello with Clarinet and Piano" (Seth Woods, Jonathan Sage and Thomas, respectively) but it seems to work on similar principles, though here in blocks of about 25 seconds separated by silence. The piano strikes a firm note and holds it as the cello plays a steady line. Several seconds in, the clarinet enters at a slightly lower pitch and the cello seems to adjust to it. The isolation of the sections almost necessarily encourages listening as a series of images, each related but carrying different shades. It also coveys a vague emotional impact, especially in the final sequence, where the downward bent feels quite melancholy. [I later located a score for "Violin with Clarinet and Piano" which appears to be basically the same work] Both are fantastic compositions and, I should mention, recorded incredibly well, each layer of grain audible.

Having only my ears to guide me, I think "Contracting Triads in Temperaments form 12-24" is performed (here, by Bob Gilmore) inside the piano, delicately and with supreme precision, plucking at sets of three strings. The effect is harp-like, very pure. As with the solo piano music, the chords, similarly paced, waver giddily between traditionally comfortable and almost justly intoned--several times I felt associations with Partch's kithara-type instruments but also koto and kayagum music. Again, by (not so) simply cycling through a pattern, Glover manages to reveal something very special. While listening to this piece, I tended to think of a catalogue of crystals.

There's a score for Gradual Music on-line, though it renders vertically on-screen. The septet (musikFabrik: Marco Blaauw, trumpet; Christine Chapman, horn; Bruce Collings, trombone; Ulrich Löffler, piano; Axel Porath, viola; Hannah Weirich, violin; Dirk Wietheger, cello) manifest as a large, pulsating cell, glissandi drifting slowly into and across one another. It sounds like an enormous organ chord encompassing dozens of clearly held, fluctuating notes, almost electronic (ebows on the piano are called for in the score; I take it they're employed here, though not cited in the credits). I pick up something of Feldman's large ensemble works ("For Samuel Beckett", say) but as orchestrated by Eliane Radigue in a particularly robust mood.

I've saved my favorite for last (though I love each and every composition): "Imperfect Harmony" (score) for solo double bass, played insanely well by Dominic Lash. As with the piano pieces, Glover gives the performer ample ability to choose his/her pathway toward the intended goal and while I've only heard this rendition, I have to think it's a credit to Lash's sheer musicality that it feels so rich and natural. The "steps" are taken in a loosely regular sequence of arco passages that last about five seconds each with perhaps two seconds between them. Low strings, just so luscious, often quavering with an intensity that has you worrying about sympathetic vibrations with your speakers or other household objects, not to mention the body of Lash's bass. I can't tell you how often I've placed myself between those speakers and just luxuriated. I detect a bit of background sound as well which enhances the sound even more, cementing it in the real world, where it belongs. While the four dyads are evenly split between ones moving upward and downward, I also feel a general down trajectory here, imparting a kind of forlorn quality. A stunningly great work.

As is the entire release. Easily one of my favorite albums of the year, of many years.

Another Timbre