Friday, February 14, 2014

I'll be visiting the States for a bit over two weeks, so no new posts until sometime after the beginning of March...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Haptic - Abeyance (Entr'acte)

Not the cover from the disc, which is simply the large, white number, "168" on a black ground, but a photo of the reclusive trio from the Entr'acte site...

I guess this has been out a little while though I only heard it recently, a serendipitous occurrence as I'd read nothing about it and part of its charm, especially for those of us who've followed Haptic over the years, is the unexpected character that greets you upon its beginning and maintains throughout with just the slightest tinges of elaboration and perturbation. It seems like (and I've since read statements to the effect that it is) highly amplified sounds from still, empty rooms, presumably several of them overlaid. This is enough, really. It/they have their own rhythms, general surges in, perhaps, distant traffic and the comings and goings of high, electric whines perhaps from the wiring in the walls or appliances and much more. It's a great landscape, endlessly interesting, a surface gray that reveals an immense range of color.

During my first listen, I was happily luxuriating in this when I heard some very faint piano. Betsy was in her room and I assumed she was listening to France Culture on the radio and had neglected to close the door. I got up to remedy the situation and, in the course of taking steps in that direction, realized the piano sounds had moved behind me and were emanating from my speakers. One reviewer, I would later read, cites the source as a neighbor practicing. Maybe, but the spare, consonant, Feldman-esque notes, all but buried in the wash of room tones, would be almost too good to be true; I suspect deliberate insertion. That first listen, though, when all was mysterious, was spellbinding. And it remains so, beautifully balanced and integrated, the piano fading out of hearing from time to time, disappearing entirely for a good stretch, just barely poking its head in every so often. It's so faint I'm pretty sure that, sometimes, I'm just imagining it there.

The lone track retains its singular focus start to finish. On the one hand, I was reminded of an old favorite remark of Harry Partch re: one of his instruments, the Blo Boy: "It does exactly one thing but that one thing it does superbly". But there's more than one thing going on here, tons more. It's just funneled so smoothly and with such confidence that it reads as a solid entity but the complex wealth of details is always right there, described by those ghost notes from the keyboard. A stellar recording, really great, another fantastic recording from one of my favorite ensembles.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Vile Cretin - Vile Cretin (Intonema)

Ah, these kids today and their wacky band names.....

Neither vile nor cretinous, this is a fine, tight recording, much more restrained (though with a dark undercurrent) than I expected to hear from Nick Hoffman and Miguel A. Garcia when first giving it a spin. The sounds, while subdued, convey a subterranean, almost Lovecraftian feel, dank and throbbing. There's often a pulse or slow, slow rhythm beneath, serving to activate the sluggish morass of hums and clicks above. Those pulse, not always prominent by any means, often hidden, keep the music oozing forward and the pair create a really wide array of sounds while remaining more or less in a dimly lit, creepy sounding, Gothic area. Heavily tolling bells in static, low flutters or gargoyle wings...maybe they go a bit far with the spooky organ chords on the fourth track, but even that eventually splays out into something more, shedding the spider webs a bit as it takes on a bevy of noise elements. That track, and the disc, concludes with an excellent, hollow, extended tone, complex and wavering, seriously chilling. Solid work.


Saturday, February 08, 2014

I went last night to a performance (of sorts) of Éliane Radigue's 'Trilogie de la Mort' at the Le Cube arts center in Issy, just southwest of Paris (thanks, Jacques, for cluing me in about it!). The venue was a room about 25 x 40 feet, high-ceilinged, with a very nice sound system, I believe with four speakers. Think of it as Experimental Media with a somewhat lesser sound system but without the traffic sounds of Centre St. wafting in. There were several chairs scattered around but more mats, cushions and pillows for floor-oriented listening. Emmanuel Holterbach was manning the sound system, playing the three discs of the trilogy with short breaks between.

I'd never come close to catching up with Radigue's CD releases in recent years, only coming to own four of them and not this work, so this was my first experience of it to the best of my recollection. More importantly, it was my first opportunity to hear her electronic work in a setting like this: a fine sound system and me being able to listen, undistracted, for over three hours and it was pretty revelatory. As much as one may try to do so at home, there are always things that interfere with the concentrated listening process; better to be in a dark room, pinned down, as it were. Holterbach made the excellent decision to play the pieces at a medium-low volume level; the music was quite present but not overwhelming. Where the balance point was between the sonic detail (more accurately, the relative presence of individual layers) in the original recording and what Holterbach chose to accentuate, I have no idea. But those layers were absolutely fascinating to to hear and follow. I can easily imagine the casual listener spending a few moments with the work and saying, "Eh, it's just one undifferentiated blur" but he would likely say the same of an Agnes Martin gray painting. Those paintings went through my mind often last night while experiencing Radigue's endlessly unfolding music. You realize, quickly enough, that there are at least five or six elements in play at all times, not to mention the enormous number of ways they interact. The electronic pulses have varying periodicities but, oddly, don't result in complex rhythms so much as simply passing "species" of sound, rubbing against one another, producing a momentary environment, moving on. You also, in the first section, begin hearing ghost melodies and aren't sure if they're "there" or in your head (no difference, of course). I thought I detected an extremely faint orchestral section at one point; I've no idea if such a thing existed. The grain would shift now and then, feeding in some well-chosen, gravelly rumbles to offset the lusciousness of much of the synth sounds. You realize the delightful tension between the obvious amount of painstaking construction involved versus the entirely natural flow she achieves. The subtlety mixed with the complexity to an astonishing degree.

In the third part, the references were more overt; even if you couldn't discern the precise source, you knew you were hearing something on the order of Tibetan ritual horns, double-reed choirs, various vocal chants and much more, as Radigue delved more directly into ways various cultures dealt with death. I suppose, given a choice, I preferred the earlier, more oblique approach in the first section, but each had its own areas of fascination. Given the nature of the space--dark, relaxed, fairly soft music--it wasn't surprising that several audience members drifted off to sleep. In this section, you could hear long steady breathing indicative of slumber from one quarter, muted snores from another. They fit in perfectly with the music. At several points, Radigue introduced some extremely low, fluttering pitches; were I lying on the ground, I would have felt sucked under, buried.

Perhaps more than anything else, apart from a renewed respect for Radigue's art, it was also a confirmation that, in many other cases as well I daresay, there's still so much to be heard, that there's always the likelihood that increased, determined listening often reveals more and more, at least in works of this caliber.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

When I first saw the name of Seth Cooke's new CD-r imprint, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, I thought it carried a certain Prévostian tone but researching a bit, found it attributed to one Edmond Locard, "the Sherlock Holmes of France". It's also a mystery novel by one Elanor Dymott. Whatever the derivation, it's a fine name for a label and the first batch of four releases covers a wide, gnarly range. The packaging is unique and quite lovely, albeit throwing up (enjoyable) obstacles insofar as actually getting one's mitts on the enclosed disc. Each is encased in two pieces of soft, gray cardboard (held in place by a binder clip) which carries a design impression, colored or not, abstract or figurative. Releasing the innards, there's a folded envelope of sorts, printed with some manner of artwork, visual or text. Within that dwells the disc, accompanied by a clear, thin plastic "card" bearing pertinent information about the recording therein and a piece of CD-sized hard paper with an image on one side. It's this last image that's reproduced below simply because that's what's available on the site and because my scan of the exterior package would doubtless screw up the textural aspects of same.

Henry Collins - Music of Sound

A new name to me. I take the subtitle of the 31-minute work at face value: The Sound of Music (20th Century Fox, 1965), speech and songs redacted. It's interesting how knowing this information (or, at least, thinking one knows it) alters one's perception of the sounds. The first time I listened, I hadn't paid the subtitle any mind, simply listened blindfolded, as it were. My loose impression was of a collage like set of noise, not obviously related to one another, a good deal of space "around the sounds"--that sort of thing. It was midway through my second listen (having lost the little plastic card containing what info there was during a rapid back and forth on facebook regarding the Dylan Super Bowl commercial, dammit) and was casting about on-line to see what I could ferret out when the realization hit as to what was going on. An entirely new shape developed in my mind and the inherent fascination of the piece increased several fold. I know there are listeners who don't find this reaction appropriate, who don't think that knowledge about a work, apart from what you can hear, should "count". Well, I disagree.

So elements that formerly might have sounded more or less prosaic, for instance the opening wind and bird sounds, quickly followed by heavy church bells and rushing feet, acquire an odd kind of character, slices of activity where the normal plot action has been scooped out, leaving the empty shells which in turn acquire a level of fascination they were previously denied. The whistle-accompanied march steps go from annoying to rather sad while the precisely repeated thunderclaps, presumably somewhat more separated in the film, are as wryly amusing as the later waves of applause are eerie.

A unique, oddly unsettling recording.

Dominic Lash/Will Montgomery - Real As Any Place You've Been/Thames Water Live

A shared disc, one piece each by Lash and Montgomery.

Lash's work is a strange construction, kind of awkward and compelling at once. It begins with a fairly thick blanket of interior chatter into which soon enters what sounds to me like a male chorus performing some pre-Baroque (British?) composition. This lasts for two minutes when the music abruptly shifts to solo acoustic bass (all bowed), though one can hear vague room sounds. It's a complex performance, not always so easy on these ears (not a bad thing, of course), Lash making cloudy, grainy allusions to, perhaps, Irish string traditions (at least, I seem to hear as much, especially at about the five minute mark), but also veering well to the left of that. Most of the music is in the mid-range, with a few plumbings of the bass' depth and the sound is constant, at a strong enough volume; no Wandelweiseriana here. Sometimes, I get a sense of lost focus, other times of an incisive zooming in on things. Like I said, complicated. Then, after some 19 minutes plus, we hear, more or less, an empty room during which sound cuts out completely, for a split second, a few times. Perhaps it's the same room as before, after everyone's gone home; you can just about make out sounds of kitchen clean up in the distance as a electronic hum waxes and then ceases in a flash. A bookend of sorts.

"Thames Water Live" also has a structure, though less apparent. To some degree, maybe entirely, the first section is made up of water sounds, though greatly processed (I think. I'm often at a loss as to the source of sounds like this). As in the Lash work, there's a break at about two minutes, then a rush of multilayered burbles and gurgles. Scenes come and go, here overtly aqueous, there less so, all of the time a joy to the ears. Montgomery has a fine way of coaxing endlessly rich and fascinating activity from his sources. There's a cessation of one stream about 14 minutes in and, when things resume, we're in a very different space, harshly whistling and rumbling, still with the presence of heavy water beneath. Hollow taps and strong static-like elements begin to predominate, though again the sound filed is spacious. Static to raindrops, back again, somehow morphing into bass growls--confusing and beautiful.

Subtly challenging work from both, good stuff.

Ignacio Agrimbau - Anatomy of Self vol. 2 - Decay, Corrosion and Dust

Agrimbau, another new name to me, is an Argentinian-born composer and instrumentalist working in England, specializing in non-Western instruments including those of Persian, Chinese and African origins. There are four tracks here. On each, Agrimbau plays a "broken duduk", an Armenian double-reed instrument, while three feature a "baby Cajón", a Peruvian box-percussion device. Two others utilize a "broken skin drum used as a raft zither" while appearances are also made by "singing mothers and deaf children", a broken machine and "San Lorenzo football chants and street violence". I think some electronics sneak in as well. Just so you get an idea...

And it all sounds pretty wonderful. The first three fairly short cuts have a strong sense of intimacy, of a fellow (plus several clones of himself) having a jolly time in his studio, weaving intricate rhythms and patterns with the devices he has on hand. That "zither", I think, produces a sounds reminiscent of spider web-infused gourd resonators on mbiras, the duduk contributes low, muted groans and the Cajón, an ongoing sequence of percolating, light pops and bangs, dryly resonant. They're each very endearing, impossible not to enjoy. The third cut sounds almost like he left a potful of cajón on the stove top, heating it until it boiled over. Great fun. The final track, subtitled, "We Have Come Here to Lose Control" is on a somewhat more epic, even cinematic scale. It's pretty low key but expansive (the football crowds and street violence show up here, backgrounded but very present and rather threatening), the cajón skittering, the dudek lamenting, other sounds whispering and drifting by in the haze. The sound attains a hive-like aspect as it sprawls then sprawls some more before suddenly subsiding into a pool of gentle sine fluctuations. But a doleful rhythm heralds the return of those rampaging hordes a few blocks distant and drawing nearer. Fractures ensue and the work slowly evanesces into nothing.

As with the above, a very unusual concoction, extremely enjoyable.

Seth Cooke - Four No-Input Field Recordings

In a 2013 recap article published at The Field Reporter, Cooke writes of his work with
no-input field recordings":

The aforementioned Werder instantiation also marked the first public release of the no-input field recordings I’ve been amassing since October 2012 – recordings made in the field but not of the field in any easily receivable sense. The recording device represents a single point, a singularity, into which the sounding universe is crushed through processes of generalisation, deletion and distortion, a description equally applicable to our inherent anthropocentrism and a fact of recording that cannot be evaded through the arms races of technique and technology. But while we can never let the whole world in, it is equally impossible to shut it out. The no-input field recording fixates on this: through its monochromatic static it becomes difficult to discern the division between external phenomena, internal noise and processing and one’s own subjective experience.

As with my understanding of the Collins disc above, this is good information to have, more so maybe in that the purely aural experience of these four, five-minute tracks (issued on 3" disc) was decidedly opaque for me. There's further indication that this release is part of a process or discovery for Cooke so, in that sense at least, I'll keep a certain amount of judgment in abeyance.

What you hear are dense, truncated slabs of electric noise, much of it fitting under the category of white noise interlaced with the kind of squiggles I associate with short wave radio interference. There's a certain amount of variation from track to track, but they're all in the same ballpark. For all their mass and thickness, they have a monolithic and remote character, very (I suppose it's odd to say) "machine-like", with more a feeling of rapidity than anything else. I can't say I enjoyed them as such but, as said, am curious to see where they fit in once Cooke has supplied other elements, connections, etc., if such eventually occurs. (I should add, I love the image above, tried to work it into my auditory experience, with a bit of success sometimes).

A great start to the label, all in all, cant wait to hear more.

Every Contact leaves a Trace

Available in the US via Erstdist

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Tomaž Grom - Sam, Za (l'Innomable/Sploh)

A solo recording from Grom, who's credited with both bass and voice, though I'm unable to differentiate the latter; I assume it might take the form of deep growls that merge with some of the low arco work here, which is quite impressive. I admit to being a total sucker for bowed bass from the depths and the first track here, "T.G.V.S." (all titles are initials) lands squarely in my comfort zone, so rich and robust, so dark and darkly melodious. Could have listened to that for a long time...Grom returns to that area, more or less, several times over the course of the nine tracks here and actually spends almost all of his time in what you might call the lower "half" of his instrument. He's an active player, rarely interested in silence or allowing notes to soak into the space, more likely to be nimbly scurrying about but never descending into mere flash. All of the tracks carry an air of serious investigation with, to me, a kind of post-efi feel. Each also maintains a focus on a limited number of attacks, generally a rewarding strategy. Mostly extended technique of one sort or another with occasional dips into standard bowing, always revolving around the agitatedly somber. Hard to describe further. Put it this way: it's the kind of recording you might have hoped, years back, to have heard from Barry Guy but this is much, much better.

Jošt Drašler/Marko Karlovčec/Vid Drašler - Stir (l'Innomable/Sploh)

I'm certainly the wrong person to review this album, so please take the following with several grains of salt. This is a free jazz trio, pure and simple--bass, saxophone and drums, a selection of five live (I believe) tracks, almost 80 minutes of music. There's no indication of the recording dates, though I take it that it's within the last few years. I mention this because, frankly, it sounds as though it could easily have been recorded anytime from, say, 1975-1995. To my ears, there's simply something tired here, like an Emanem release that somehow never saw the light of day, or a routine Vision Fest performance. Karlovčec (on soprano and alto, I believe) plays ok but really indistinguishable from any dozen others in the field, while Jošt Drašler (bass) and Vid Drašler (drums) are simply serviceable. The structures of the improvisations are routine as is the interplay. Like many such ensembles, when they work up a head of steam, the heat generated can carry them for a bit but there has to be more to it than that, no? Given the emulative nature of this music, the listener is almost forced to imagine the "same" music done in the mid 70s by, oh, Roscoe Mitchell, Sirone and Philip Wilson. Except it would have been so much more vital and alive.

If all of the above says to you, "Damn, sounds like something I'd love!" then by all means have at it. Not for me, though.