Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Subroutine - Dual Processing (Record Label Record Label)

In which inveterate low road-taker Robin Hayward (microtonal tuba) teams up with Morten J. Olsen (rotating bass drum) to further plumb the depths on this cassette release. In fact, though, there's quite a range of pitches in play on these tracks, even if the drift is toward the bottom. Olsen incorporates what seems to be bowed metal, in high, keening tones, for example, every so often. "Data Dump", Side B, is a set of longish sequences, each more or less consisting of a given attack, pitch, etc. sustained (with fluctuations) for a period of time, then moving on to the next, very steady and progressive, paying great attention to timbre and the interaction of the stretched sound. The tuba ranges from smooth to granular, the drum from subsonic quavers to sandpapery scratching, but always in broad, coherent strokes. Late in the piece, there's a drop to near-silence, unexpected and space-expanding, really nice. The title piece on Side A (my initial download was in reverse order and I grew comfortable listening in this sequence! :-) )is roughly similar, though a bit more smoothly flowing in terms of textural choices, tending more toward the groan underlaid with a more percolating rumble. The music begins to fragment earlier this time, about halfway through and again the effect is subtly moving and impressive, the brief pauses implying volume and meaning. When the flow commences it's more burbling, containing numerous small surges and retreats. Thoughtful, concentrated work, creating solid worlds with (not really) minimal means.

The Hydra - On Troubleshooting (Record Label Record Label)

Said mythical creature being one Dimitris Papadatos, a co-owner of the label. Side One, "Give Me Another Universe", is something of a collage construction, seemingly comprised of extracted elements from other music; a piano intro that sounds lifted from some pop song I almost recognize, choral fragments, electronic buzzes, cymbal crashes....the list goes on. It's a kind of trippy melange, hard not to hear the choir samples as 70s horror flick references amidst the electronic throb. About halfway through, matters calm down a bit, the music splaying out into a general wash, still riding on a throb, but the disparate elements mixed into a more homogenous soup. For me, a bit too amorphous and ambient-sounding, too much of a lost focus and easy relaxation (albeit accompanied by lost spirit moans that occasionally reminded me of Lauren Connors and Haunted House). Side B, "The Metaphysical Animal" fares much better in maintaining concentration and forward drive, staying roughly within a single, expansive area, a mysterious, silvery pool of sound. One still gets echoes of elements form the previous track but the vocal traces are more disembodied, have merged with the general structure, having no greater prominence than the pulses, clicks and slippery surfaces that pass by throughout, like a joyride through an alien amusement park, leading to a rocket liftoff. It's a dizzying experience and a great deal of fun.

Record Label Record Label on facebook

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I realized that since I have several items pending review that have been sent to me electronically and since I have access to speakers here in Asheville, I can do a few reviews while on my US vacation, so....

Sébastien Roux/Seth Cluett - Inevitable Music #1: Variations on Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #260 (Future Audio Graphics)

Future Audio Graphics deals with interdisciplinary projects, in this case including music from Roux based on (or translated from, in sound) shapes used in LeWitt's referenced wall drawing and a commissioned essay by Cluett.

I've always had a bit of difficulty with LeWitt's work, rarely being able to settle into the frame of mind where the visual manifestations of (what I take to be) his precise instructions registered as more than a superficial appreciation of the resultant forms. No doubt my shortcoming, having to do at least partially with not having spent enough time and study on the matter. A few years back, there was a multiple sculpture installation of his at City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan which I walked past each day to and from work. Again, I initially found the works opaque; cooly formed and clear but hard for me to apprehend beyond the basics that were up front and in one's face. Little by little, one of the pieces, a pyramidal work composed of (more or less) cinder blocks in which each level had a reduced perimeter and an expanded height, drew me in:

Something about its odd grace, the contrast between that grace and both the materials and the blatant progression of its form began to appeal to me. More than his wall drawings, which I'd seen at DIA and elsewhere but hadn't really managed to connect with. As the title of this disc indicates, a LeWitt drawing (or the instructions thereto) forms the basis for Roux' set of elaborations, using various sine waves, square waves, etc. In his essay, Cluett notes that "Roux also runs the risk of the same failure, of losing the ideas of LeWitt to the pitfalls of translation as a mere exercise in execution." which strikes me as an interesting field of potential problematics since, after all, executing an exercise is largely what's occurring; how to transcend that? (or does one strive to do so? Might one be content with list-making à la Tom Johnson?) Cluett goes on to describe in some detail the contrasts between visual and audio interpretations of LeWitt's instructions and particulars of the recording, ending with the observation that "Roux allows the audience to become aware of being aware and get lost in the raw flow of material."

There are seven tracks, the first six of relatively short duration (0:41 to 5:32), the last a lengthier piece lasting some 16 1/2 minutes. In keeping with the methodic aspect of the work, each track is introduced by a voice, female, sounding detached and almost synthesized, describing the elements used for that cut: the type of tone, the pulse, the ascension or descension, etc., followed by the realization. It's easy enough to make a mental comparison with a LeWitt drawing; the twenty shapes used are included on the sleeve design. On the first six pieces, one hears fairly simple, discreet elements, very clear and defined, being set through their paces, essentially the number of possible variations within a given time frame. Depending on the elements chosen, extra-musical associations automatically come to the fore, whether the plaintive wails of the ascending and descending pitches in "Variation 2" or the jauntiness of "Variation 3". The more often I listened, the more I was drawn in (not unlike my experience with the City Hall Park sculpture), though there was still something a bit too clean for my taste, not that I could reasonably expect messiness on this type of stage. Except that this occurs on the final track. Largely as a result of using sound elements that (I think) are derived from object-recordings as opposed to sines, including a rattling, ceramic sound, a whoosh, a vague, metallic echo, etc. There are put through similar paces, though for a greater duration and using longer intervals (five seconds). These changes create an enormous difference for me, opening up the space drastically, allowing each element some "breathing room" in which to vibrate. A marvelous, unique piece that does, for this listener, transcend the instructional. Inevitable perhaps, but also surprising.

A fascinating release, very different and very much worth hearing/reading.

Future Audio Graphics

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'll be taking a three-week trip to the US beginning on December 23, back January 13, so no new reviews until sometime after that. Apologies to all musicians and labels who have sent items and are waiting, but I'll get to them. I've been seriously deluged with releases in recent months and really appreciate that you care enough to send them my way.

See you soon.

Four new, non-archival releases from Confront. Apologies for the brevity of the write-ups, but I wanted to get these done before my three-week trip to the US. No album cover images because metal boxes. :-)

Patrick Shiroishi - White Sun Sutra (Confront)

A new musician to me, Shiroishi wields soprano, alto and baritone saxophones (with effects) and vocalizes a bit. He displays several clear (to me) influences, leavening them with an essentially strong lyrical/emotional core that generally manages to make coherent the freer and more loquacious outbursts. He utilizes loops, pitch shifters and other devices to, on occasion, come across as a small saxophone choir, evident right from the first piece which immediately brought to mind the old Skidmore/Osborne/Surman trio, S.O.S., both in overall sound and in the dirge-like melodic character of the piece (the album was inspired by his recently deceased grandfather). We next hear a piece that sounds like a morphing of Evan Parker to Jon Gibson, very impressively played and interpolating some surprisingly pastoral and sweet passages, then a lovely, mournful piece that recalls the Roscoe Mitchell of "Eeltwo" (albeit with very effective whistling/humming additions), though at this point I wanted to hear more Shiroishi. That manifests most strongly in "despiser", probably the closest approach to raging free jazz on the disc, very piercing and needlelike, which grows more and more fierce, sirens wailing, until vocalizations begin erupting, sounding entirely unforced and even necessary. He closes with a piece that returns to the atmosphere of the first track.

A good recording. I'd be interested to hear Shiroishi in a non-solo context and without the technological trappings, but this will satisfy many a listener.

Joacim Nyberg - Fylkingen March 27, 2014 (Confront)

Nyberg's also new to me as far as I can recall, playing acoustic guitar on seven of the nine cuts here, double bass on the eighth, bell and recorder on the last. The guitar pieces didn't do so much for me, varying from (inevitably, I guess) a kind of Bailey in hard scrabbling mode to modified classical and flamenco attacks, the sound kept pretty dry and non-resonant, the structures rather amorphous, even given the shortness of the pieces, between one and four minutes. Only the last one, where the strings are scraped and allowed to resonate, really caught my attention, Nyberg creating an intriguingly pitched, almost hurdy-gurdy-like sound. The solo bass piece, on the other hand, lasting over 12 minutes, is quite impressive. He has a fine, heavy sound, a dry tone that works well as he plucks and bows through a driving, sometimes frenzied performance. The concluding track with recorder is somewhat throwaway, not sure why it was included. Aside from the bass track, then, not much that made a great impression. Post-Bailey fans may disagree.

Jason Kahn/Phil Julian - Valentines (Confront)

This one's a toughie. Both musicians on analog modular synths (Kahn adding mixing board and radio, Julian computer), the music is almost relentlessly gray and opaque, very few bones tossed to the listener. You realize, considering the fact, that most releases of abstract electronics (for lack of a better term) usually offer, somewhere along the way, some kind of foothold, some recognition of the need for at least a minimal bit of comfort, whether that comes in the form of a tinge of tonality, an underlying thrum implying rhythm--something. Here, much to the music's credit, there's nothing of the sort that I can hear. There are hums and such that appear throughout, pushed against the static and white noise, but they're hardly comforting, more bitter, thumbing their grimy noses at anyone looking for a bit of purchase. The second track tones things down a tad but it's still rough going (a good thing!), the harsh burps conflicting well with metallically ringing undertones. Even the barest hint of accommodation is tossed in the bin with the third track, abrasive, scouring whistles, harsh stutters, that gray scrim. Yes it's a rough haul but who says things have to be easy? Good stuff.

Burkhard Beins/John Butcher/Mark Wastell - Membrane (Confront)

The first (? as far as I'm aware) oversize metal box issued by Confront, presumably to house the 4x6" photo cards included, with text by John Eyles on the reverse, documenting a live set at Cafe Oto this last April, Beins on feedback 28" bass drum, analog synth and electronics, Butcher with his tenor and soprano (with assorted feedback) and Wastell on amplified 32" tam-tam and mixer.

It begins as a fairly calm, brooding set, all the instruments generating long tones, Wastell's ringing tam-tam and Beins' low thuds offset by thin, sputtering lines from the saxophone. The trio lingers in this area for a good while, manipulating the levels with subtlety and richness, gradually increasing the volume. The texture granulizes with feathery strokes on the metal, key-triggered burbles from Butcher, the sound remaining continuous, just getting drier, repeated percussive taps from various sources urging matters anxiously forward. An abrupt cessation and collapse, matters settling down to a swiftly burbling simmer. It breaks apart further, quite beautifully, into shards of bell tones, sax feedback pops and other resonant, though short, elements, very welcome. The second of two tracks starts out in more fevered fashion, Butcher overblowing, Beins (I think) hissing furiously, Wastell churning something beneath and behind. It's unsettling, serving as a good tonic to the calmer portions of the first cut, the intensity maintained throughout, buzzes and clangs over a steady bed of electronics, feedback sax roaming above, very strong.

Overall, rather what I would have envisaged from these three musicians--intelligent work with a marked sense of corporeality and visceral presence. Make room in your oversized release shelf.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ryoko Akama - Code of Silence (Melange)

"Code of Silence" appeared about this time last year, I think, but I first got wind of it via Richard Pinnell's fine review. I eventually picked it up over the summer but between being late to the party and deluged by other releases at the time, it was unfortunately lost in the Just Outside scuffle. Happily, with the issuance of the Dawn Scarfe album (reviewed below), I have the chance to revisit it and it's well worth the reassessment.

Richard did a great job in his piece and I don't want to simply echo his sentiments, except to say that I share them. What strikes me now is how well structured the album is in the sense of several variations on exquisite control leading to a partial fanning out--not really an eruption, more a sublimation of a dense gas--in the final track, "zowa zowa". The deep, shifting thrums of "jiwa jiwa", seeming to quicken and retard imperceptibly within a supremely reverberant environment (Akama's kinship with Radigue, with whom she has worked, is immediately apparent), everything funneled tightly but as if the funnel itself had countless, complexly arrayed bumps and grooves, resulting in interference patterns spread through the sonics. "gussuri" offers something of a respite, relatively pure and quiet sine-like tones emerging and disappearing, leaving nicely round gaps of silence, very streamlined and clean but subtly irregular. As the title implies, "sotto" plunges us down into the abyss, turbulent and dark but again, channeled. The heavy, liquid lumps cascading through the black cavern emit a stream of staticky clicks along the way (that, or my speakers can't handle the sub-subtones), the entirety smoothing out a bit in the distance as the track concludes. We experience another drastic elemental shift in "jili jili", everything a high, cold sizzle, a wave of needles, sharpening as the piece proceeds. All four are fine works, very different from one another and, as said, really well controlled.

With "zowa zowa", the reins are loosened just a bit, but that slight slackening, the allowing of elements to billow outward a little, makes an enormous difference. Multiple layers of white noise, thin hums and blustery rumbles stream out. It seethes and escalates, summoning images of pre-eruptive volcanic action, gases escaping in roaring vortices, muffled explosions from the depths. The power that's been biding its time unfurls smoothly but with huge force. Surprisingly, the sound-world, towards the very end, begins to stutter into blocks of brief but complete silence, crumbling apart like lava becoming solid.

A fantastic piece and a very beautiful, penetrating album.

Dawn Scarfe - Tuning to Spheres (Melange)

As this was the first time, to the best of my recollection, that I had heard of Scarfe, I did a little googling around and noted that many of the images of her (or that arose via her name) involved the holding to the ear of a glass globe in outdoor environments, instances of "tuned listening", as I understand it. I want one of those...Glass is a fundamental aspect of this recording as well, those good old wine glasses which we've all digitally stroked (the lovely cover image limns one side of an inverted glass). Here, however, sine waves are substituted for fingertips, broadcast from small loudspeakers suspended above the glasses' rims and attuned to their resonant frequencies. Moreover, several such are placed on a turntable which, in the course of rotating, causes beat effects not so dissimilar, I imagine, from what listeners commonly do whilst moving their heads during sine-related events. A photo of one such set-up of Scarfe's:

There's a certain structural similarity to the Akama disc in the sense that the first five (of six) tracks kind of lay the groundwork--very controlled sets of sound that, essentially, aren't very much different from what we've encountered with wine glasses in the past, albeit cleaner sounding and with the emergent beats due to the movement of the turntable relative to the loudspeakers. Not that these tracks are unenjoyable by an means--they're quite engaging--just that they seem to act more as introductory texts to the languages being utilized and, subtleties of beats and overlapping tones aside, are essentially similar to what a given listener may have expected going in. I do, necessarily, miss the physicality of live interaction with these sounds in space, the ability to shift pitch by personal movement (which one can accomplish in limited fashion via stereo speakers, but it's not the same), etc. Toward the end of the fourth track, there's the brief introduction of a mildly percussive sound, like a wire, say a zither string, vibrating against a piece of metal, a small hint of what's to come. The sixth cut begins with a combination of the purer tones we've been hearing and those ringing/vibrating ones. You get the sense of heightened activity, maybe faster turntabling, pushing these tones up against sonic "limits" previously unperceived. The difference in effect is slight on the one hand but really places you in a very different sonic space, more intense and agitated (you can hear what seem like little "clinks" now and again, though they might be heightened states of vitreous excitement). It only lasts some nine minutes but opens up a very intriguing world, one that I'd love to hear explored further.

An interesting recording, well worth hearing by those taken by this acoustical area.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

John Lely - The Harmonics of Real Strings (Another Timbre)

This is a tough one for me. In his interview with Lely, label owner Simon Reynall comments that his "music often has the sense of being 'experimental' in a literal, almost scientific sense." I was unfamiliar with Lely's work prior to this release but from the evidence here, as well as from that of several live performances of other pieces I've since watched/listened to online, that seems to be a fair assessment. As I've written before, this approach, to my ears, can reap great benefits but always carries the "risk" of not transcending the "science experiment" envelope. A risk, to be sure, only if you're for some reason hoping for or expecting that transcendence, another matter entirely. I often think of Alvin Lucier and Tom Johnson in this regard, composers (or, using Johnson's preferred term for himself, "list maker") who often use systems of one sort or another, sit back, so to speak, and observe the results. Sometimes the outcome is extraordinary ("I Am Sitting in a Room" being the obvious example), sometimes rather dull. Frustratingly often, the listener is left somewhere in the middle, hearing glimpses of extra-physical beauty or depth only to be drawn back to the mundane, if you will, nature of the process. That's doubtless the point on occasion and maybe it's just that stubborn, clinging old-fashionedness that insists on something more, I don't know.

Listening to six members of the Dedalus Ensemble play Lely's "Symphony No. 3", I get something of the same feeling: unison, microtonal chords in a (almost always) regular procession, related to the Parsons Code for Melodic Contour which consists simply of three symbols--u-up, d-down, r-repeat). There may be more structure embedded there than I can discern, perhaps even some play with phrase construction, but it's a difficult work for me in which to really immerse myself. On the other hand, his "Arrangement", for two pianists, is rather lovely, partially because its very simple melodic line (again regular, with single notes all played on white keys) doesn't technically require four hands at all. But the interplay and dance of the hands as they slowly weave between each other, is somehow extremely moving to watch (certainly a work that gains enormously from experiencing live). And "Distance Learning" is just exhilarating fun. Check out the videos for yourself.

But back to the release at hand. Lely, in the above-cited interview says, "Essentially it’s a very slow glissando along the full length of one bowed string. The player uses light finger pressure on the string – what is traditionally referred to as ‘harmonic’ pressure." He goes on to relate it to experiences he underwent while having difficulty sleeping, scanning the short wave radio spectrum as slowly as possible. Hearing this, I'm immediately intrigued about the transference of that experience to cello (performed here by the always excellent Anton Lukoszevieze). Four tracks, titled IV through I, decreasing in duration, 16:42, 15:57, 12:08, 11:08; I list the times only to see whether or not there might be a hidden pattern--I can't detect one. There tend to be two areas of sound: one, the specific note being glissandoed (!) and two, a background rustle, the latter more discernible the higher up the string Lukoszevieze has progressed (each iteration goes from lower to higher). There are often overtones or secondary notes, leading me to wonder if in fact it's only one string at a time being bowed; I don't know cello mechanics nearly well enough to say. These details aside, I'm left with my overall impression and somehow, I find it not as fascinating or absorptive as I expect. There's a thinness where I want to hear richness; perhaps that's intentional, perhaps an artifact of the recording process, I don't know. I can't help but recall sitting several feet in front of Charles Curtis last year, becoming utterly and ecstatically lost in the depths of his "simple" bowing on Eliane Radigue's "Naldjorlak", wanting that to occur here. Or maybe I need more time with it--I've listened seven or eight times so far, upping the volume a good bit the last couple of occasions, trying to relate the music to the fine cover image by Lely, and the piece is beginning to eat at my reservations. I'm not sure I'll ever arrive at a full appreciation, but I imagine I'll continue to make the attempt over time.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ryoko Akama/Bruno Duplant/Dominic Lash - next to nothing (Another Timbre)

The latest in an ongoing series of long-distance collaborations involving Duplant. I still find myself going back and forth on the idea but, at the very least, Duplant (percussion, tone generator) chooses some fine musicians with whom to interact over horizon, here Ryoko Akama (VCS3 and Dom Lash (double bass, clarinet, laptop, percussion. I say, "Duplant" as I get the sense that the instigation of the project was his but the disc contains four pieces, one each by he and Lash and two (or two variations of one) by Akama.

Duplant's "a field, next to nothing", while presumably knowingly playing on the English translation of the Ferrari work, has nothing to do with field recordings (though there is a bit of knocking about in the middle distance on occasion) but rather is a text score that, from the result, seems to strongly urge held tones of given durations as the tones generated by the performers roughly (not precisely) overlap with 8-10 second pauses in between. It was written with the trio of Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti in mind, so its Wandelweiser-esque nature is no surprise but the tones chosen are extremely warm and inviting, sliding around each other gently, caressing, the pitch shifts often subtle but sometimes, as at about the 20 minute mark and again just before the piece's conclusion, distinct enough as to acquire some drama. A lovely piece, well realized, no complaints on non-physical presence from me.

Akama offers "grade two" and "grade two extended". Three disparate sounds quickly emerge: a pure electronic tone, a struck bell or other metal, quickly damped and a plucked bass. This relatively granular (large grains, though) approach contrasts well with the preceding work in one manner but also carries forward a similar overall feel, one of sustained, serene contemplation. There's an odd conversational, even questioning aspect to it, almost like people speaking three different languages but amiably, relaxedly, attempting to communicate. Despite the titular similarity, Akama's second piece sounds nothing like the first, the elements consisting of static, a fluctuating tone and deep, bowed bass and being more contiguous to each other, wavering but never ceasing. The cross section of textures is appealing, but I somehow wanted to hear more shape in the work's structure.

Lash confronts the reality of the situation by titling his contribution, "three players, not together". Though it begins in an area similar to Akama's "grade two" it quickly shifts direction and ends up standing somewhat apart form the other music; it's also my favorite track. A rough set of clicks intrudes, slows down, stops. Underlying billows of troubling electronics weave through high, almost brittle scrims, halt, pick up. A chime sounds in the darkness, an organ-y chord emerges. It's almost cinematic, with an edge of the surreal and random, very dark and oily. It's strong and uncomfortable. The other pieces are fine but this was needed as a tonic, a different take on long-distance cooperation, perhaps and an impressive job.

Another Timbre

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jamie Drouin/Lance Austin Olsen - sometimes we all disappear (Another Timbre)

From the interview with Olsen on the Another Timbre site, we learn that this release is a kind of memory drawer, crafted from bits and pieces the pair had recorded over the years, such meetings now a difficult arrangement after Drouin (credited here with suitcase modular and portable radio) moved to Berlin from Vancouver. One can imagine the musicians "shuffling through" these recordings, saying, "Ah yes, remember that?" much the way any of us would comb old family photographs. Olsen (amplified objects and audio cassettes) relates, "At each fresh listen the album brings back moments of deeply hidden memories, including times spent sitting in cafes and on buses allowing fragments of conversations to drift in and out of my consciousness" and one does derive a very personal, quiet and introspective feeling from the recording, something that raises the question of whether an artwork can be too personal, something I found myself thinking while listening.

There's a great deal of silence on the disc. Again, I almost get the impression of someone considering an item from a few years back, putting it aside, thinking about it quietly, then moving to the next. This makes for more a series of discrete episodes that can only be "connected", in the listener's mind, by stepping back or perhaps in retrospect. On some listens I found this easier to do than on others, maybe depending on my degree of concentration. Certain portions posses their own independent power, for example the final one, with everyday static abutting some deep and disturbing rumbles, really nice and also providing a slight release from the general spareness of the album. Some linger a little while, others seem more transitory, flitting by before you have a good chance to contemplate them, like the person next to you turning over the page in a photo album before you've had a chance to really examine an intriguing shot.

It's a good recording, posing several interesting questions and maybe even answering one or two.

Another Timbre

Monday, December 15, 2014

A. F. Jones - rearward through forgottenness (Laminal Recordings)

Jones had posted a few tracks of his own work over the years at Bagatellen and elsewhere but this is his first proper release, containing seven pieces developed from 2009-2013 and it's a very strong one. I've known Al for a good number of years (in fact, he and I, along with Derek Taylor, Jason Bivins and Nat Catchpole, were the original creators of the Bagatellen site) and am aware of his career work in submarines, often for months at a time, during which periods he was involved, iirc, in underwater sonics and radar. Given that knowledge, it's impossible not to hear vestiges of what he undoubtedly experienced in those nether environs in these works, replete with layers of varied hums and mysterious clicks and knocks. The music falls largely, though not exclusively, into the electronic drone category, albeit that branch where the elements are harsh verging on the industrial, the repetitions having the aspect of turbines vibrating through metal walls. The opening track, "X Malfeasant, Appropriating Y" is somewhat unique (and perhaps my favorite) in that, after eleven or so minutes of great churning and grinding, it unexpectedly (but natural seeming in retrospect) introduces heavy drumming, only for about a minute, a gambit that works quite well, opening a brief window into an adjacent world. "Parachronists" is calmer, one of those that connotes the loneliness and eeriness of (in my imagination) sitting in a metal tube, thousands of feet below sea level, listening while "endocardiums IV" departs partially from the drone, with some iterative clanging that seems almost seems an allusion to Tibetan bells, though that's probably more me than Jones. "radiator piping" rings true to its sources and is quite bleak and evocative, like most of the pieces possessing precisely the right duration, as is the case with the minute-long "Sorrento Statis". The title track (which phrase I was curious about and googled, discovering its origin in a poem by James McMichael) begins with chiming, vaguely rock-like "chords", but then descends into a furious and agitated flutter (hard not to envision undersea propellors) that disappears with alarming quickness. The last cut, "Wrought Signals", is the most disorienting and lies closer to the broken electronics/noise end of the spectrum, thick hummage interspersed with blocky interruptions of same; it's the one track I don't thinks works so well--too much surface, not enough resonance for me--but is intriguing in terms of the range it offers in opposition to the other works.

Overall, though, a fine debut, looking forward to much more.


Also available via Erst Dist and Squidco

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Morton Feldman - Two Pianos and other pieces, 1953-1969 (Another Timbre)

It's a little strange and uncomfortable to be writing about a new release of Feldman's music (and it's a spectacular one) shortly after having read accounts of recent public revelations by Bunita Marcus, dedicatee of one of his major later works, as to the physical and emotional abuse she suffered under him for some twelve years up to his death in 1987. Some discrepancies between artist and work are enjoyable, such as the seeming dichotomy between Feldman's garrulousness, mode of speech etc. and the incredible delicacy and grace of his music. But some aren't. Of course, it's no great news that awful people can produce great art so we simply have to file Feldman into that unfortunate category and move on, though I can understand people having difficulty doing so. I've always been interested in retrospective evaluation of creative work in light of new information but that generally involves one's apprehension of attributes not previously known, not personal failings on the part of the work's creator. For myself, knowing about some horribleness in the individual's life does cast something of a tinge on any subsequent experience, but not a debilitating one. I still have a sense of the work's standing apart though, again, I'm by no means entirely confident of this stance.

That said, this is one extraordinary release. Two CDs, really well structured: thirteen pieces, nine of them for some combination of between two and four pianos, four embedded amongst these for small ensembles of between four and eight players. The principal pianists are John Tilbury and Philip Thomas, with Mark Knoop and Catherine Laws on several compositions while the other musicians include Anton Lukoszevieze and Seth Woods (cello), Mira Benjamin and Linda Jankowska (violin), Rodrigo Constanzo and Taneli Clarke(chimes), Naomi Atherton (horn) and Barrie Webb (trombone). Excellent notes on the music by Thomas can be found at the Another Timbre page for the release and Thomas' own blog.

The set is bracketed by two readings of "Two Pianos" (1957). It's hard to know what to say except to express the contention that were I forced to listen to nothing but these performances for the next year or so, I can imagine worse fates. I don't happen to own any other recordings of this work (though many exist) but I listened to one online by Kristine Scholz/Mats Persson which, while entirely lovely (hell, it's a great composition) lacks the subtle sharpness of the Tilbury/Thomas, the moving lag between the two, the sheer space created. Absolutely spellbinding, the marriage of conception on Feldman's part and crystalline, hyper-sympathetic interpretation by the two pianists. And really, I could say the same about almost every track here but that would be pointless. A sublime balance of the poised and the incisive, restraint plus the willingness to (gently) attack. It's futile to pick favorites but "Piece for Four Pianos" is also profoundly moving and deep and I think I even slightly prefer it to the 1958 recording with Feldman and Tudor. I can't even begin to choose among the ensemble pieces; each one is marvelous, shimmering, thoughtful--choose your adjective.

Everything about the release, conception to execution, is just perfect; one of the finest things I've heard in a long time and an absolute must for any lover of Feldman, warts and all. Apart from the classic Tilbury recording, "All Piano", this might be my favorite Feldman release ever.

Another Timbre

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nick Storring - Gardens (Scissor Tail Records)

Nick Storring - Endless Conjecture (Orange Milk Records)

Two solo recordings by Storring though "solo" is stretching the term a bit as he employs dozens of instruments on each ranging from strings to percussion to winds to keyboards to electronics. One of the amazing things is that nothing sounds overproduced or cloying. Plus, there's the charming, often beautiful music.

"Gardens" is dedicated to producer/songwriter Charles Stepney who worked with Eddie Harris and Minnie Riperton among others but whose name and work, unfortunately, don't ring a bell with me, so I'm unable to discern any direct (or indirect) influence on Storring's music except that it's easy enough to hear, whether via Stepney or not, a certain amount of pop song tinge to some of the pieces, most noticeably in the final one. The first track, "Open Your Eyes and Forget", runs some 15 minutes and contains a really nice, very plaintive melody mainly expressed on strings and glockenspiel that enters six minutes in, kind of a sigh with perhaps something of a Chinese cast, and weaves through the remainder of the composition, with variations and re-orchestrations. If anything, it reminds me a little of Jim O'Rourke's work from the early oughts, with a similar sense of simple, unashamed beauty--but this is better. A lovely piece I daresay different from anything you've heard recently. Three shorter songs follow: a jaunty number with banjo (? I think) and jew's harp featured, that morph's into an odd, Henry Cow-ish near-march; a dreamy, flute-driven number, the slow, wafting melody bathed in electric piano and other effluvia; a dance for thumb pianos and other plucked rod instruments that carries a bit of a medieval flavor and eventually hints at the melody form the first piece. The final cut begins with a hazy, rich section, various tonalities overlaid with mostly strings (including autoharp, I think, and voices) and electric keyboards. After several minutes, the strings introduce a winsome melodic line, again with a vaguely Asian inflection, soon settling into kind of a lounge situation, replete with delicate cymbal taps and distant, soft wah-wah, the music having traveled somewhere into the vicinity of Bryars' "1-2, 1, 2, 3, 4", disorienting but disarming at the same time.

A fine work, extremely pretty, and I use that term in the best possible sense.

"Endless Conjecture", a cassette release, sports pretty much the same instrumental form (dozens of them, all played by Storring) but much of the resultant music is rather different. A brief opener has gently wailed vocals, stray plucks and, gradually, a welter of other sounds, all amorphous and a bit murky, but with an intriguing feeling of something being swaddled, some core remaining invisible. "Terminal Burrowing" occupies the remainder of Side A and begins with far more abstract fare than the music heard on "Gardens", kind of a laminal approach. But about five minutes in, it suddenly becomes almost orchestral for just a few moments, recalling Xenakis. It becomes somewhat episodic after that, several of the intervals very attractive (including a wonderful and surprising tumble of metal exploding beside a delicate harp) but having only the most tenuous of connections; I felt the need for more of a spine. "Dewclaws" is an amusing march of sorts, led by percussion with a slightly Partchian tinge, a great deal of fun. But my favorite track is the last one, "They Carry Light", where Storring once again gives his melodic tendencies fuller rein, seeming to give a nod to Ellington ("Fleurette Africaine") with a gorgeous, wafting piano line embedded in sympathetic though by no means entirely subservient strings. As with the longer track on Side A, several divergent episodes are encountered along the way but to me, they somehow seem to be more of a piece, to have a relatedness to the central theme, though I couldn't pinpoint that if asked. When the theme proper reemerges a few minutes from the end, the effect is spellbinding, just lush, warm and full. An excellent piece.

I might prefer "Garden" by a smidgen overall but both recordings are well worth investigating. Looking forward to more from Storring.

Scissor Tail Records

Orange Milk Records

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rhodri Davies/John Butcher/Chris Watson - Routing Lynn (Ftarri)

Watson seems to me to deserve almost equal billing due to the nature of this release. Davies and Butcher performed in January 2014, at Routing Lynn, site of some ancient Northumberland rock carvings, where they were recorded by Watson. A couple of months later, they made this recording, performing while the older tape was playing quadraphonically in the space.

The quartet aspect is occasionally audible, more with the saxophones than harp. Davies, using harps of the pedal, electric and wind varieties, tends toward producing dronelike sounds, sometimes with flutters of the sort that may have been produced via a mechanical device, like a small fan, hitting the strings. I always have a hankering to hear him work with more traditional harp styles, all the more so in a situation like this where Butcher, via his usage of feedback and, generally, his production of long, smooth tones, would seem to provide the perfect foil for some more percussive harp work. This occurs little bit and the pair do slide into more burred tones but the first half or more of this 35-minute set is a bit hazier and amorphous than I'd like to hear. A little past midway, however, several layers of added grit and roughness appear and the performance crystallizes wonderfully, climbing into a fascinating, disparate and even enjoyably awkward area, Butcher's feedback sax sounding not merely haunting but pained. Even more refreshingly, through this grimy scrim, a kind of folk melody, a very slow dirge, emerges--very beautiful and moving. The music soon subsides, the ambient sounds gaining prominence, the whole coalescing back into the haze.

For myself, considered as a whole, the attainment of those several minutes settling around the song form makes the entirety well worthwhile, allowing it to be read in an almost narrative fashion, with each element leading toward and away form those very special moments.


Fergus Kelly - Unnatural Actuality (Room Temperature)

I can't resist quoting Kelly's listing of sound sources used for this release (along with field recordings from various sites): "The electromagnetic recordings were made from various sources such as computer drives, TV monitors, xbox, wii, ATMs, ticket vending machines, LED displays, smartphone, security barriers, automated advertising hoardings and tramlines. The metal percussion deployed car suspension springs which were struck and bowed, mounted on an aluminium water heater, which acted as resonator." Never a bad thing to put remnants of modern consumerism to good use.

The sounds comport well with the cover image, very dark and round. Things thrum and throb, hurling off sizzle and clang, layered and deeply resonant. supremely thick. Sometimes, as in "Spinal Landscape", it's like a thick mass of dozens of huge moths blindly flying in a room of large bells. Rhythms may appear briefly before sinking back into the inky, oily dark; spaces are scoured out, hollowed, left as a dully reverberant shell. The music might be said to vacillate between that dread hollow and an almost claustrophobic, equally alien clutter, something that begins to get oppressive over the disc's nine tracks but given the nature of the sources, I'm not sure that oppression wasn't one of the outcomes Kelly had in mind. More to the point, it's a unique and strong sensibility, one that stands well apart from most quasi-similar efforts int he territory. A strong, bitter work.

Room Temperature

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lance Austin Olsen - Fragments of Incidents Barely Remembered (Infrequency Editions)

It's always tough to quantify, in this area of music, what it is that causes an immediate reaction in the listener, either drawing him in or putting him off. From the opening sounds of Olsen's solo effort, the former applied; I believed what I was hearing, essentially. Hard to say further except that the sense of honesty and tautness seemed apparent up front, an impression not hurt by words from Olsen we hear early on: "I didn't press the fucking thing. I'm a complete idiot. Let's try again." There's probably also the fact that one senses a relatedness about the sounds employed over the work's 34 minutes. Even as the scene shifts several times, there's something of a sonic carryover that, however faintly, ties things together. From the opening machine-like noise (with birds), you hear dry metal sounds, sliding over one another, drifting into ticking that sounds mechanical here, cicada-like there, often with "secondary" sounds you might not notice on first blush but which provide great, and transparent, depth. Most of the action is quiet but fairly busy, a skittering, rustling set of noises, often against some soft, iterated sound (almost like a lawn sprinkler at times), subtly moving, offering a discernible, if undefinable, sense of particular locations, perhaps the "barely remembered" incidents of the title. This section leads to one mini-climax, followed by silence, then a recurrence of the sprinkler sounds and a gentle knocking about within a room, muttered curses, all highly evocative. The thin, prickly metallic elements exist alongside and within vaguely bubbling ones, a lovely grouping. Matters well up twice more, again clarity cohabiting with congestion, beautifully achieved, a mass of silvery sounds that ultimately explode from their confines and abruptly halt.

A greatly enjoyable, extremely well crafted and luminous recording, highly recommended.

Infrequency Editions

Robert Curgenven - They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them (Recorded Fields Editions)

A work (a single piece, occupying both sides of an LP) assessing Australia's colonization and subsequent devastation via field recordings amassed over the past twelve years from interior locations augmented by electronics and various instruments including, quite strongly, a pipe organ. The sounds are often quite sparse, befitting the place, swooping flies darting through the dry wind, distant thunder, brief, sharp rain. There's substantial tension in the air, the wavering organ agitating quietly from below, snaking its tendrils through the landscape, very well contrasted with the crisper crackles and knocks heard "closer to the ear". There are subsidences and renewal, almost feeling like a night/day rhythm, slightly different sounds or relationships arising--birds and wind rustling through reeds on the one hand, say, and a more robust organ on the other. The noises become more aggressive as Side B opens, with foggy mechanical sounds and a harsh buzz up front, those near noises almost attaining fire status, the organ still flowing at some remove but remaining subtly disturbing. There's a substantial silence, very desolate. Curgenven doesn't accede to obvious drama when the sounds return, rather just raising the heat slightly, enhancing the discomfort, the music just beginning to crest, perhaps, the devastation drawing near.

Impressive construction, showing nice restraint as well as anger.

Recorded Fields Editions

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Teletopa - Tokyo 1972 (splitrec)

In the first few years after their inception, members of AMM would occasionally ponder, "Why aren't other musicians doing what we are?" A reasonable, if slightly naive question. For all of the lumping together they've suffered with Musica Elettronica Viva or the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, those bands, for all their virtues, arose out of a crucially different set of formations than did AMM and, to anyone giving a more than cursory listen, sounded vastly different. Group Ongaku, which preceded the founding of AMM and was unknown to AMM's members (perhaps with the exception of Cardew), was closer in spirit to AMM's goals. But it was a long while before the ideas explicitly developed by AMM caught much of a footing in the improvised music world.

Except for Teletopa. I think I probably shared in common with most fans of this area of music (at least outside of Australia) an utter and complete lack of knowledge about this ensemble, organized around 1970 by David Ahern (who had been a student of Cardew's and had participated in some Scratch Orchestra events), Peter Evans and Roger Frampton (joined in 1972 by Geoffrey Collins), modeled after AMM to some degree. As Geoffrey Barnard puts it in his detailed liner notes, "AMM was the clear prototype for Teletopa, not only in regard to the type of improvisation Teletopa promulgated, but to the general ethos of the group as well." Interestingly, its brief existence (they disbanded shortly after this 1972 session) coincided with the period of AMM's first fracturing; by the time of this recording, Prevost and Gare were reinvestigating free jazz while Rowe and Cardew were expounding on Mao and Albania.

Right from the beginning of the recording, one affinity is apparent: the concern with space and extended periods of minimal activity. That said, the music would never be mistaken for AMM (not that it would aspire to be, of course). The musicians are all credited with electronics (unspecified) and percussion in addition to flute (Collins), violin (Ahern) and saxophone (Frampton); the above photo may give some idea as to their layout and devices. We at first hear a large space, empty save for dull gongs and high-register saxophone shrieks piercing the darkness. The sound world established maintains this character throughout much of the two-disc set, with little if any drone or continuo element underlying matters. As such, I found myself reminded more of the Tudor of 'Variations II' than AMM or any such ensemble, the salient difference being Tudor's ability to balance on the knife's edge of virtuosity and necessity, something that strikes this listener as supremely difficult and a level which Teletopa only occasionally reaches, not really a criticism, more a matter of a goal set very high, however implicitly. Here, there's a clear search going on, a very good thing, but it takes a while before the music really gels. A squall develops, the playing grows frenetic, particularly the saxophone (at least I think it's a saxophone; it's pitched so high and has a chalky enough sound that it's a bit hard to tell sometimes), though to their credit, there's really never a sense of any free jazz inflection. Every so often, much as in early AMM, you detect a faint tinge of mid-60s Sun Ra, but it's rare. About 20 minutes into the first disc, an enjoyable synthesis is achieved, a tight constellation of plucked, tapped and harshly rubbed sounds that suddenly emerges as a palpable presence, very strong, lasting several minutes then dissipating and morphing into the searching mode again, encountering a serious quasi-avian storm along the way, again rather Tudoresque à la Rainforest. Some deeper, more sustained tones appear toward the end of the first disc, from both electronics (sounds like an electric piano of some sort) and low percussion, presaging their greater presence later on. Before that, on Disc Two, we get some fairly disconnected...well, "noodling" would be too harsh a term but again I'm reminded of the disparity between Tudor's work with electronics, which this section superficially resembles, and attempts that fall short of his incisiveness. It's not that it's "bad", just that there's an unusually big drop off between first and second tier in this area, to my ears. My favorite moments of the entire session occur some 20 minutes into the second disc, lasting about ten minutes, and have their germination point in a series, once more, of high, shrill squeaks underlaid by low metal but this time it leads to a marvelously rich and deep interaction, the music attaining a plasticity that it had previously only touched upon. Here, there's something AMMish going on, a resonance that abstracts the music out into the world, very beautiful.

For myself, there's ultimately a bit more historical value (quite a bit) in this release than musical revelation but there's certainly enough strong work to recommend it on that account alone. For those seeking a fuller picture of post-AMM improv from this period, it's a very valuable document.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Lucio Capece - Factors of space inconstancy (Drone Sweet Drone)

I was fortunate enough to catch Capece at Les Instants Chavirés earlier this year and to witness a piece much akin to the title track here. As with much of his recent work, notably those involving balloon-suspended speakers, there are obviously aspects of live, spatial experience that can't hope to be captured on recording. Still, there remains much of value to be heard. As well, with works like these, Capece is edging into that area which I associate with Lucier among others, where music and science merge, either comfortably or with some friction.

Two wireless speakers swinging from a bar rack is one of the elements in "Factors of space inconstancy" and a fascinating one to watch as well as listen to as the pair of globular speakers, each about three or so inches in diameter, are set in motion and go through periods of synchrony and asynchrony in unexpected patterns, the feedback they thus produce varying accordingly. Capece feeds the cassette feedback into the room, controlling it with a volume pedal at the same time as the soprano's sound fills the space directly. It's all quite complicated and, experiencing it live, I eventually gave up trying to follow specifics and just settled in to enjoy the sound waves, the same as one is forced to do here. Those overlaid waves, feedback on the one hand, fairly pure soprano tones on the other, meld closely and absorbingly, buffeted a little bit by what seems to be a small ambient rumble, apparently the hiss from the cassette (very welcome, providing air). He's trying to sonically define the dimensions of the room, something that's very interesting to ponder when one is there with him. Naturally enough, particularly stunning patches are reached when the various tones come close to coinciding, producing marvelous harmonics. Lacking the live experience and the ability to at least move your head and possibly your body, one might quibble at the length here (27 minutes), but that's a small carp.

"Eyes don't see simultaneously" lasts some 40 minutes and fills the time fantastically. For "analog synthesizers and equalizers in feedback", the piece deals with fore-and background, "a come-and-go between ears and body listening". We hear a high, two-note back and forth, very mechanical, though the tone is impure, containing a substantial burr that grows over time. Beneath this is a sporadic, deep welling thrum, the sort of sound that one can imagine, in a live situation, might disrupt one's innards. The two areas of sound wax and wane, interfering with and overlapping one another in unexpected patterns, acquiring different envelopes and pulse designs, the low tone sinking way low. Here, although one surely regrets not experiencing this over large speakers in a bigger room, the effect is reasonably approximated, enough that you get a clear, if vicarious, notion of being embedded in this sound world. There is a science experiment aspect to it, sure enough, but there's also more than enough emergent beauty to compensate. A very strong, solid, immersive work. Here's hoping Capece continues to plumb these depths.

Drone Sweet Drone

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Nick Hoffman/Tim Olive - No Flag (Copy For Your Records)

Nick Hoffman - 'Barbarous Tongues' - (Gravity Swarm)

I think the first time I heard Hoffman's music it was something exceedingly harsh and grainy and that sonic image insists on remaining lodged in my audio-cranial cavity despite being gainsaid by much of what I've heard since. [Of course, no sooner do I post this, than I listen to yet another recent Hoffman item, "Necropolis" on Organized Music from Thessaloniki", and I have to toss all my assumptions out the window. otoh, the disc's title slightly justifies an adjective used below...]I might say roughly the same about Olive; at least the work of his I've heard recently has been much more subdued than what I remember from the past decade or so.

"No Flag" is kind of a case in point from both angles. No credits are given as to instrumentation or composition but the first track opens with a simple, melodic electric piano line that sounds as though it's from Paul Bley circa 1973 (I'm guessing it's Hoffman) accompanied by the crunchiest of noise, though the latter is sparely deployed. The rest of the music isn't this overtly mellow but it does play very nicely with the tension between surface sheen and underlying anxiety. Most of the time, one of the pair is producing softer-edged sounds (though not melodic)--rumbles, cloudy thrums, etc. while the other is worrying this weave with needlelike shards or irregular jags of static. even the fourth track, all aflutter with rapidly fluctuating flapping sounds and screeches, sounds as though it's being restrained, held in check by the overarching hollow throb that achieves dominance at the piece's conclusion. The thoroughgoing sounds that are almost always in place give one a sense of stability, but the tones and textures of the other elements pick at any feeling of comfort, painting a bleak, ultimately corrosive soundscape. Really impressive work. Hoping Hoffman and Olive continue this collaboration.

After unwrapping the elaborate paper packaging adorned with obelisks, voodoo dolls and other occultish ephemera, one arrives at Hoffman's solo disc, which, again on the surface, exhibits affinities to the soundscape work of the post-Fennesz school but, again (and thankfully), there's an undercurrent of discontent and discomfort. There's a hushedness about much of the music but almost an involuntary quietude, as though the sounds are being suppressed and insist on leaking out the sides. Some of the tracks seem to have a percussive basis (though treated) ("Lapis"), others a kind of staticky cloud formation that ebbs and flows in strong surges (the beginning of "Stone Fountain", a cut I'm tempted to call "Lovecraftian"; the distorted voice that surfaces is very spooky). Things get a might too gauzy for my taste on the last couple of tracks but by and large it's a good, unsettling ride, well worth taking.

Copy For Your Records

Gravity Swarm

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

D'Incise - O esplendor natural das coisas e inferno (Moving Furniture)

An intricate, delicately sprawling electro-acoustic piece from D'Incise where the elements seem perfectly graspable but it's (intentionally, I think) very hard to fit them into the process as a whole. to "stand back" and ascertain the work's form. In his notes, the composer states his intention to "break with habits by setting rules of composition abstracted to any musical intention at first" and it's very interesting to hear the result of that attempt. There's something about the sounds involved--hums of various pitch, many layers of crackling sounds, vague allusions to plucked strings--that implies a more clearly structured framework, but D'Incise refuses to provide it, leaving the listener on consistently unsteady footing. Once in a while those hums grow a bit more tonal, begin to seesaw, and you're alert to a possible...statement of some sort. It does well up a good bit, almost achieving a kind of cohesion but then...silence for a few seconds and we're abruptly elsewhere. Those silences obviously disrupt whatever flow has been generated, again destabilizing in a good way. toward the end, the hums become richer still and assume a prominence in the narrative such as it is (there are, per D'Incise, three "story lines" in play). Good, thoughtful work.

Moving Furniture

Inside/Outside - Territory

I wrote about their earlier release, "Rooms" but despite, that Don Campau (electronics, various) and Russell Leach (percussion, various) are back again with another quite enjoyable, loose conglomeration of abstract songs. The pieces, all instrumental, always have one or more melodic lines, though in a very relaxed, don't-make-a-big-deal-out-of-it manner and have a similar approach to rhythm--almost always present but not in your face. The references are all over the map from gentle prog to kabuki to southeast Asian to free improv noise to cool jazz and much more. Do things turn a bit slick now and then, even have a little kitsch tossed into the mix? Sure, but it, like its predecessor, remains good, inventive fun all the way through. See for yourself.


Ur 1st Luv - Dunlop/Slazenger, 9-15 Bowden St, Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia, 2015 (Access through carpark at 17-21 Bowden St, Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia, 2015) (Avant Whatever)

I'm at a bit of a loss here. The above is the title of this cassette release (heard by me via download), a product of Ur 1st Luv which, as near as I can discern, is a conceptually oriented duo out of Australia. In fact, the place in question exists and is, one presumes, the source of the field recordings herd here. It's an abandoned sportswear and sports equipment factory, and can be read about briefly at this yelp site. A brief note supplied by the label credits four text readers as follows:

First text read by “volvo” (Graffiti Writer)
Second text read by John Davies (Tyre Technician: KMART Tyre and Auto, Parramatta)
Third text read by Marion Pilborough (Land and Property Information NSW: The Department of Finance and Services)
Fourth text read by John Alexander (Former Australian Tennis Champion and Federal Member for Bennelong)

There are nine tracks, the first and longest of which seems to establish the sense of place: you do have the feeling of being at a large, abandoned site, with echoing bangs arising every so often but also with a consistent high tone and a metallic, semi-rhythmic clanging, each of which strike me as intentional, though I could obviously be wrong. Whatever the case, it's quite evocative, casting a Stalker-like feeling over the proceedings. We next hear the first text, read by a non-emotive male voice in sequences of single words, a list of sorts with no narrative content (perhaps words found graffitied on walls in the factory?), separated by a couple of seconds each. The remainder of the recording alternates between shorter ambient samples similar to the first track (the third features distorted PA announcements that are subtly chilling) and readings by the remaining people listed above. Davies reads from what appears to be a tyre manual, Pilborough various mortgage or land use documents, Alexander a short bit on tennis shoes. The texts are dry and boring; in context, they're quite interesting! The site recordings are superficially sparse but actually rather fleshed out, if thinly, as of departed spirits. Their oppressiveness, with indications of large, impersonal mechanical activity, just beyond the wall, combines with the texts to produce a grimly fascinating document of decay and corporate ghosts. Intriguing release, well realized.

Avant Whatever

Monday, December 01, 2014

Jean-Luc Guionnet/Éric La Casa - Home: Handover (Potlatch)

How do we listen to music at home? Not us, mind you, but other people, normal people. How aware are we of the environment in which we listen, what references do we make, how does nostalgia fit in, how would our thoughts about these matters differ from others? How would they understand these personal preferences and thoughts? What does it really sound like in our apartments, homes, etc. when we think we're listening? Some of the questions approached by Guionnet and La Casa on this rather massive, very unusual and fascinating venture, "Home: Handover".

A few words of explanation as to the release's structure: Four CDs, each an hour long. Each CD consists of four sections, approximately 15 minutes per section and each follows the same pattern, initiated by a different representative from Glasgow on each disc (Lisa Peebles, Tim Nunn, Zoe Strachan and Silvia Sellitto, non-musicians all; the first and third, incidentally, sporting Scottish accents, the second, English and the last, Italian). In the first section, we encounter the subject in his or her apartment where they discuss their music listening habits, play an example of their favorite music (during which La Casa wanders through the apartment, the strains of music growing louder or more distant depending on his location), respond to questions regarding the activity they're engaging in at this moment and, finally, wander about their abode holding the microphone themselves, having roughly the experience La Casa did just before and answering questions about their perceptions. Next, this entire episode is interpreted in a live, concert setting by a quintet consisting of Aileen Campbell & Gael Leveugle (voice), Lucio Capece (saxophone), Neil Davidson (guitar) and Seijiro Murayama (percussion) with each musician listening to the earlier recoding on headphones (not heard by the audience) and responding in a specified manner. One vocalist imitates, as closely as possible, the voices he or she hears, as closely as possible while the other provides a commentary on what he or she is hearing, taking care not to speak while the first is talking. The musicians perform one of three activities: 1) imitate estimated frequency, notes and melodies from what he's hearing and reproduce them, 2) generate sounds from rhythms, breaks or other more "structural" events and 3) Estimate the signal to noise ratio of the tape, creating "a noisy sound" on his instrument that fluctuates accordingly.

In the third section, a musician, Keith Beattie, listens to the apartment recordings (after we hear a few minutes of the ambient sounds in this new interior venue), roams through his home improvising or playing a song, answering questions and free associating, gradually making his way outside where the exterior environment "becomes the recording's only source. Finally, Guionnet and La Casa take all three recordings, overlay them (they have the same temporal structure) and present them with minimal editing, though allowing themselves the option of removing elements as they choose. I get the sense that all of these "rules" are allowed to be bent a bit.

Again, this procedure is carried out four times, once per disc. Two questions immediately arise: 1) Are four iterations necessary to present as a recording? and 2) Given four discs, might it have been more interesting (at least, more suspenseful), to have all the apartment recordings on Disc One, the concert session on Disc Two, etc. instead of four similar "chapters"? I go back and forth on these.

Let me give a brief description of one disc, arbitrarily choosing the first.

"There has to be someone who knows the best way to light a barbecue", the first words, from a television I presume, one hears" (after La Casa's cueing, "Top!", that is), before Ms. Peebles begins to describe her home, the enjoyable light therein, the various comforts. She's very accommodating and warm, not appearing too embarrassed. Her voices shifts from speaker to speaker as she moves about; American English speakers will delight in her burr. Suddenly, synth drums intrude as she begins to play her favorite song. I have no idea what it is (and find it pretty awful!--googling the lyric, it's apparently Orgy's "Blue Monday") [I'm informed the song is actually by New Order and apparently very well known, thus displaying the depths of my 80s-90s rock knowledge] but she describes the dance scene, I guess in Glasgow, around 1990 from whence it sprung. The music fades in and out as La Casa wanders through the apartment, door hinges squeaking, closing, muffling the sound, other sounds and even music (from a TV?) leaching in. A welter of sounds--laughter, new songs, chatter, a toilet flushing--you get a great sense of sonic confusion listening remotely like this, much more so that you'd experience in situ. The music abruptly ceases about 11 minutes in, replaced by a chuckle from Ms. Peebles and her thoughts on how others might view the activity in which she's currently engaged, an interesting bit of self-perception, after which she's heard holding the mic and walking about, commenting on what she's hearing from a different perspective than she's used to. One gets the sense that this kind of listening, on a more purely aural level, is something she's never done before and she also seems to take in other sensory input more consciously than normal, integrating the sonic aspects with what she sees out a window.

This episode cuts out cleanly and we shift to the performance, an entirely different feeling ensuing even as the source material is what we've just been hearing. The male voice is replicating Ms. Peebles' speech with a necessary awkwardness of phrasing as he struggles to speak while listening, Murayama tapping out irregular patterns on a drum, Capece offering the occasional soft tone on soprano. Soon, the female voice begins opining on what Peebles' apartment is like-- "I think the room is probably beige"--though this is rare as Peeble's voice was fairly constant at this point, allowing the new vocalist few points of entry. (Peebles' voice itself enters for a little while, repeating several sentences we heard earlier; I'm not sure why this occurs). As the musicians begin hearing the music, Capece more or less imitates the basic melody while Murayama pounds out the rhythm; I haven't picked up Davidson at all by this point, but perhaps I'm missing some subtlety, maybe he's playing the guitar as percussion. It's really a fascinating performance, very unusual. You might relate it to aspects of Ashley's operas, that's as close as I can think of, but not very, maybe an faint echo of Gavin Bryars' "1, 2, 1-2-3-4". It's kind of funny hearing Campbell's assumptions, generally visual, of what the Peebles apartment is like as she lets herself go in what strikes me as almost poetic license, a more enjoyable tack than more mundane approaches. "I think there's a carpet and quilts. And the quilts are pink, probably." "I think the house might smell of new carpets." Other shifts and edits seem to be occurring as well, not sure if the performance has been adjusted or edited post facto by La Casa and Guionnet. I love this track (and the like ones on the other discs); very fresh, very fascinating.

The Beattie section, as stated, begins simply with the quiet ambient sounds of his apartment for three minutes. We then, for the third time, hear Peebles remarks on thunderstorms and trees before suddenly shifting to gentle piano playing amidst the rush of traffic outside--very lovely and I like the fact that it's allowed to linger for a good while and that it remains fuzzy and lo-fi. It's not until 11 minutes in that Beattie's voice enters, describing what he's just played (he plays guitar on the other three discs) and continuing on to talk about his home, family and how he records music there. There are "marker" beeps between scenes here so the transition are quite sharp. One occurs after his brief patter as we walk outside the house, listen to the traffic. The track is relatively simple compared to the first two and works really well.

The final section, with Guionnet and La Casa working with the above material, is necessarily a kind of collage piece and I find myself hearing it in two different ways. On the one hand, there's a distance, maybe even a fussiness about it that contrasts with the relative straightforwardness of what's preceded it and I shrink a little bit from its artificiality. Considered on its own, however, it works just fine, shards of dialogue, ambient sound, music etc. intersecting with one another in unexpected ways. Kind of a stew made of known ingredients, lumpy here, smooth there. Their approach varies considerably from disc to disc, the track on Disc 3, for example, being notably quiet and restrained. "What do you think the actual audience will think about what you thought they would think?" the bland female voice inquires at the end.

The three other discs are alike in many ways though made up of entirely different material. The individuals vary a good bit, Nunn seeming to be a bit more aesthetically aware, more self-conscious and alert to the process, choosing a kind of pop tango (the band, Tango Crash) as his song; Strachan listens to light classical on BBC3 while Sellitto's selection might well test the patience of many readers of this page as Joan Baez' rendition of "The Boxer" rings through her apartment, followed by (oh no!) "Evita". But of course that's part of the charm and, indeed, an essential element of the project: people who listen to and love kinds of music that I don't and one retains a strong sense of humanity after listening to this quartet of music lovers, however different they are from you and I.

It's really an amazing and beautifully realized document. I still go back and forth on the two qualms I raised initially but I'm very glad this unique and thoughtful document exists. Everyone interested in the intersection of music and the act of listening should hear it.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Seth Cluett - Forms of Forgetting (Line)

Cluett writes that "Forms of Forgetting is a studio construction investigating memory/forgetting and attention/inattention as catalysts for formal development in long-duration sound work". While I'm not at all sure as to how well or poorly my memory functioned over the course of the 55 minutes or so the work lasts, my attention was thoroughly held throughout by the subtly stunning music. All electronic, more of what I would call a strong, complex hum than a drone, the work slowly shifts and wavers, reaching small knolls of activity, subsiding. It begins with a fairly warm hum, probably four or five plies thick although the above cited inattention could cause one to miss this, accompanied by a gentle fluttering sound that lasts several minutes and is never heard from again. Some of the tones pulse noticeably, others seem more constant. Other textures are gradually extruded, including some of a grainier, more metallic nature, though all are folded into the stream smoothly enough. About halfway through, the sound field both deepens and rarifies--the effect is quite dramatic in context, as though a gulf has opened beneath you before you've realized it, an exceptionally beautiful several minutes. It takes a wonderfully long time to settle down, still picking up new elements as it does so (including soft beeps and slightly sour warpings of tuning), just hovering, the pulses growing fainter and fainter.

A very lovely, deep work even if my memory's playing tricks on me.


Ferran Fages/Ernesto Rodrigues - Cru (Creative Sources)

Though Fages is credited with "electronics" on the sleeve, most of the non-viola sounds on this recording (those provided by Rodrigues) seem to be of the field recording variety, often of vehicles on a highway, though all enveloped in a dusty semi-hum. Through this, it's possible to perceive thin electronic strands, I think, but I'm never quite sure if they're there or even if they might not also stem from some particularly high viola strokes. Rodrigues is sometimes oddly playful here, plucking at the strings as if suggesting a gambol down the road, an itinerant musician strolling the highway's shoulder, wryly commenting on the passing traffic. There's not much more to it than that, a single 37-minute track that ambles leisurely, but the sound is full and interesting, drawing one in well enough if, at the end of the day, leaving one with only a hazy impression of what has just occurred. Sometimes that's all that's needed and it was often the case with me, but the music is amorphous enough that many more casual listeners may find little to grasp hold of.

Creative Sources

Friday, November 28, 2014

Three slabs o' vinyl

Nate Wooley/Chris Forsyth - Third (Rekem)

A live performance in Philadelphia from March, 2013 with Wooley on trumpet and Forsyth on guitar, one non-stop set spanning both sides of the LP, titled "Evening Rage". Given the title, it's tempting to think of the opening, unfurling section as an alap and that fits to an extent, Forsyth tending toward some quiet, delicate chords (among other things), though Wooley ventures to the extremes of high pressure breath tones, whistles and more unearthly sounds, generally rather agitated. Things proceed in a stead-state manner, long grains rubbing up against each other, for the better part of Side A, things settling down at the end and, on the flip side, entering a different territory, Wooley engaging in a wonderful repetitive vale closure and breath expulsion (it sounds like to me), conjuring up a bellows-driven engine of sorts, Forsyth creating echoey washes alongside, kind of a steampunk situation. That only lasts a few minutes before the music drifts into an eerie, claustrophobic space, full of high, ringing strands, very icy and bleak. Eventually, Forsyth, then Wooley, begin to break out, offering shards and sustained, hard tones to pierce the gloom, the trumpet soon reverting to a kind of globular push/pull, as if that engine is winding down uncomfortably, leaving the guitar to pluck out dry, forlorn, koto-like notes (all notion of a raga gone by the boards), Wooley creating an adjacent, similarly sorrowful, very vocalized cry. A good, strong set, beautifully recorded by Kinan Faham and mastered by Bhob Rainey, producing a fine, sculptural sound.

Rekem Records

Back Magic - Chorus Line to Hell (Milvia Son)

Well outside my normal frames of reference but good fun nonetheless. Back Magic is a pronouncedly lo-fi duo hailing from Chicago who go by Hair Exp (guitar, voice) and Terror Trans (drums). My first impression was something of a United States of America vibe with a strong Beefheart tinge or, rather, Beefheart-influenced bands (Pere Ubu, for one). As Side A progressed, I narrowed that down to early, pre-Trout Mask Beefheart, that kind of grungy psychedelia with melodies at once lilting and stumbling. Little by little, though, all sorts of different strains percolated through and I gave up searching for influences (though they were there for the picking) and just enjoyed the childlike sense of play in the songs, the apparent willingness to try most anything. Do they overdo things sometime? Sure ("General Moaning", for one), but one is generally willing to ride those (intentionally?) leaden drums and chiming guitar for the duration, exploring odd, neglected areas, loping here, lurching there and having reasonable fun doing so, right up through the closing punk of "Do They Owe Us a Living". Of course they fucking do.

Milvia Son

Dinah Bird - A Box of 78s (Gruenrekorder)

This is a very unusual record. On the one hand it's a field recording/nostalgia construction. Bird inherited the titular box of some 50+ ancient records amassed by her grandmother who lived in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia and decided to take them from her home in England back to their original "home", play them in their old environment, record the surrounding ambiance and talk with people there (including her great uncle) about what she was doing. Side A, called "Trackside", documents this experience and is strangely captivating, the strains of the recordings (generally classical and opera) warble in the background, scratchy and cloudy, among the area sounds, with the voices of the inhabitants of the town of Salt Springs, who quiz Bird about her project, elaborate on their own daily activities, etc. It's very easy to put oneself into Bird's mind, to relive her own sense of family history and her rediscovery of the environs of her ancestors. All well and good.

Side B is called "Loopside" and consists of 12 tracks, titled ∞1 through ∞12, with the word "Always" appended at the end of the track listing. The first dozen or so times I attempted to play it, my needle simply skittered across the surface of the vinyl, never finding any purchase. (Since the sides aren't marked A & B, I actually played this side first and was mildly concerned that something had happened to my cartridge or tone arm!). Perhaps it's my utter ignorance of loopage on vinyl, but it took me a while to realize that the audio component of the twelve tracks could be located on what looks like the track separation groove. Therein, placing the needle down with delicacy, we hear twelve loops of material, each lasting the duration of a single disc revolution and comprised of, I think, sounds from the Salt Springs environment (maritime, largely, including that wonderful wooden knocking you get on piers) as well, on the final three, samples from the 78s. After these, there's a brief "normal" track of someone, presumably Bird, commenting on one interviewee's habit of adding an extra "s" on the word "always", thus enunciating, "alwayses" which, once stated by Bird, also loops, ending (or not ending) the side.

Also enclosed is a Listening Log for the listener, radio station, etc. to fill out (time, weather conditions, number of plays, etc.), which information will be used in an upcoming exhibition.

Something very affecting about this recording, very personal and vaguely sad. The loopside is a physical annoyance (unless you enjoy standing over your turntable) but the concept moves me.