Monday, April 28, 2014

Stefan Thut/Mitsuteru Takeuchi - equinox | solstice (rhizome.s)

As far as I can tell, the structure of this piece (a score is mentioned) is simple enough. For exactly one hour on each of the four solstices/equinoxes of 2011, Thut and Takeuchi recorded their surroundings, the former in Solothurn, Switzerland, the latter in Kobe, Japan. From these recordings were extracted 75 minutes each, divided into three "Cycles", each of these quartered in turn, Thut's contributions on the right channel, Takeuchi's on the left. There may well be more to it than that but unlike, say, the recent "detour" from Toshiya Tsunoda and Manfred Werder", I don't get the sense of additional layering nor of post[event composition. I could, of course, be missing something.

On the one hand, as with many of Werder's text pieces, while I appreciate the underlying idea (and corresponding actions of the participants), I often question the necessity of recording the event for others to hear; I usually feel that doing the action is what matters, not experiencing it second hand. Additionally, at least in the US (I imagine elsewhere) the calendar events equinox and solstice carry a ton of mystical baggage that engenders, in me, extreme wariness. That said, simply sitting and listening to the sounds of this effort, bearing in mind only the knowledge that two recordings were done thousands of miles apart at the same moments, is very rewarding. The range of sounds isn't spectacular--birds, urban life, water, etc.--but everything is lovingly recorded and the
(happenstance?) overlapping yields contrasts and tensions that provide small tingles of pleasure. Bits of "drama" occur when a large bus or truck engine roars through the scenery, but it's the background haze that seems central. The final six minutes contains some very beautiful water drippings with birdsong alongside that subtle hum--a fine conclusion.

A good recording, though I retain that nagging part of me that says, "Don't listen. Do it yourself".


Rosalind Hall - Carriage of the Voice (Avant Whatever)

I'm always interested to hear attempts at fashioning a new language for the saxophone though am by no means often sanguine about the results. I often admire the efforts though the baggage is stubbornly resistant. One possible avenue, a rather subtle one, is to think about the instrument as simply a vehicle through which to transmit one's inner workings, psyche to gut. Well, sure, you'll say, everyone does that. But there seems to be a shade of difference to the way, as in the example here, a musician like Rosalind Hall goes about it. In the two pieces here (brief, each around ten minutes long), Hall does an excellent job of casting the saxophone as a conduit between her breath and voice and the room in which she's playing, the latter, at least seemingly, embodying most of the sound.

The disc opens with a speaker-shaking rumble. I've no idea if Hall uses mics to generate a kind of feedback (à la Butcher) or otherwise uses electronic enhancements; it sounds as though it's being recorded in a structure whose walls are threatening to crumble--pretty impressive. There are guttural breath sounds whirling in and out and eventually feedback-y tones, but the overall effect is one of hearing Hall's chest cavity. As long as she dwells in this area, I have no problems with the music. Inevitably, I suppose, recognizable saxophonics enter the picture here and there and, fairly or not, carry with them vestiges of past experiences and expectations. It's a tough job! But Hall does really well here. These are "edited performance recordings" so I'd be curious to hear more complete sessions, but from the taste offered here, she creates music that should certainly appeal to fans of the above-mentioned Butcher and, in fact, pushes things a step or two beyond, hewing closer to the bone, creating music that's more troubling, a good thing.

Avant Whatever

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Makoto Oshiro - Phenomenal World (Hitorri)

It may seem to be belaboring the obvious, but when a sound artist purports to be dealing with physical phenomena (not that there are other kinds), I expect the results to be, well, physical. In the sense of being present, substantial, corporeal. And Oshiro's double-disc set presents seven pieces that fulfill this expectation to a marvelous degree. Ideally, I also enjoy a balance between scientific investigation and the resultant aesthesia, the sort of thing that Lucier, at his best, achieves and again, Oshiro's work score high using this criterion.

Oshiro helpfully provides details on each piece. "Trans-Video Music" documents his early attempts to translate video signals into audible patterns, a surprisingly slow flow, lava-like, of multiple streams, something you feel as though you could sink your arms into up to the elbows, receiving a mixed pain/pleasure sensation. He researches the resonating capacity of a pump hole beneath a basement floor, primary wails of high feedback set against their faint echoes on the walls of the rooms, establishing a clear sense of air volume, further enhanced by water drops and mysterious, dull bangs. "Cycles" uses iterative processes, relays attached to small vessels, set at various, irregularly-spaced rhythms, overlapping, coalescing into drone-like patterns, separating again, the wide variety of timbres creating a miniature, thriving forest of sound.

Disc Two opens with "Unellion", the name of a device invented by Oshiro that, via piezo-pickups and metal plates, generates feedback loops, heard as metallic, groaning tones, bearing a good deal of oily grain texture. It also evinces a wonderful obsessive quality over its 24 minutes, Oshiro quite willing to just let the machine play out, knowing that the unspooling sounds will, in time, generate their own levels of fascination if the listener is as intent on concentration as he is. For me, it pays off in spades. "Auto-Wind Chime" involves a misleading simple construction in which a cooling fan is placed, facing upward, in a glass jar, in whose mouth is hung a small stone, the strength of the wind current causing it to clink against the side of the jar in an unpredictable manner. Here, several such, with differing capacities, string lengths, etc. are overlaid, yielding a delicate play of whirrs (the fans) and tinkles--lovely and engrossing. The next track, "Pipe, Metal Plate and Fan", sounds a bit similar--hollow taps resonating--but is generated a bit differently, using a metal plate with stones and a spring attached, fan-blown but also incorporating thin lines of feedback; again, strikingly beautiful and eerie. "Interference", closing the album, does just that, several of Oshiro's device set up so as to interfere with each other in unpredictable ways. As with all the pieces here, it's absolutely absorbing to simply sit and contemplate, delivering a somehow real sense of another, contained but complex world in action, going about its business and, along the way, producing a unique sound world, both gritty and strangely gentle.

"Phenomenal World" may well appeal more to those enamored of Lucier-like experiments, perhaps less to the improv crowd. I liked it a helluva lot and could easily transport myself to a space occupied by these machines, just sitting (perhaps adjusting things now and then) and bathing in the sounds. Highly recommended.


Available via Erst Dist

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More from Bandcampistan..

Erik Carlson (Various pieces for violin)

A large (150 minutes plus), varied and generally quite good selection of works played by NYC violinist Carlson. Readers of this page will especially enjoy the three compositions by Jürg Frey ('A Memory of Perfection', 'Distant Colors' and 'wen III') and I also especially liked Tyler Wilcox' 'Two Violins' (first work of his I've heard, I think). Peter Ablinger's 'Augmented Study' sounds like a kind of gloss on Tenney's 'For Anne Rising', but manages to carry some unique feeling also. Carlson often overdubs several parts and, when the occasion demands it, includes other sounds as well; his playing is discreet and controlled throughout. Most of the pieces are on the quiet side and, doubtless, few will find everything to their taste but, on the other hand, there's something for most everyone, even a couple of Babbitt works. Since this is all readily listenable on the Bandcamp site, I won't go in to more detail, will just strongly suggest giving a listen, as it's very fine work.

Erik Carlson @ bandcamp

Marcus Rubio - um (Crisis)

Ten juicy slabs o' noise from Rubio.

From the description, I imagine the pieces stem from fairly simple sources but have been repeatedly processed, perhaps akin to what you might do with an image in some Photoshop-like application, applying a given filter or set of filters over and over again, until what remains has migrated into an entirely other territory. Still, I think you can pick out, now and again, the mother instrument in a track like 'Banjo', lurking somewhere behind the squalls of (quasi?) feedback. The cuts are fairly short (made up of compressed packets of dense sound as a rule), only two breaking the eight-minute mark. 'Suck' kind of stands out, a thin, wiry, quivering line--not quite a drone but consistent--that gradually grows bristles and unfurls in a staticky tendril--excellent. 'Fanjo' (I take the title as self-explanatory) is more drony, though in a fluttering, winding way and has a tonal quality more or less absent elsewhere here, a good tonic and fascinating in its own right, a kind of endless spiral, knocking into some (welcome) obstructions toward its conclusion and ultimately disintegrating. Again, listen for yourself. Solid, focussed and tough sounds.

Marco Rubio bandcamp

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hong Chulki/Ryu Hankil - Objets Infernaux (Erstwhile)

Looking back, I see it's only been about seven years since, via the recordings issued on Manual, I first became aware of the improvising scene in Seoul; seems like longer, maybe I'm forgetting something. But the musicians involved were clearly up to something new and exciting, carving out a distinct area that often involved repurposed electronics, possibly in various states of disrepair, extending and substantially reinvigorating the broken electronics work of Voice Crack, etc., but dispensing with any pulse framework and ranging far beyond that kind of work, eventually encompassing small motorized objects, typewriters and more. Some of it could be quite extreme in terms of the noise quotient and I found, in turn, that my own reactions would vary a good bit from absorption to skepticism, but I've always been very intrigued to hear more (I've never been in the position to see any of the musicians in a live setting, unfortunately).

On "Objets Infernaux", no instrumentation is given but the general environment is more or less consistent with what I've heard before though the one thing that stands out, for me, is an increased thickness, a partial consequence of the pretty much unrelenting aspect of the performance. Five tracks, most of which are quite full and active, writhing with sizzles, glitches, iterative cycles (like that derived from the interiors of computerized machines), needle-sharp whines and more. The excellent cover images, by Lee Hangjun, actually do a fine job of conveying the nature of the sounds within--hot, infested and uncomfortable. On the first several listens, this onslaught proved problematic for me. The fourth cut excepted, I could hear much of it as--if I "disregarded" the specific sound sources--as essentially a solid enough improv session, somewhat overactive to my taste, ok but not thrilling. That fourth cut, though, with its relatively more expansive sense of space, kind of acted as a kernel, a beginning point, to hear outward before and after its occurrence and helped elucidate the rest of it substantially, establish something of an overall form. Entirely unfairly, I happened, while spending a few days with this disc, to listen to David Tudor's extraordinary recording of Cage's "Variations II", in which the furious torrent of sound is at the service of a through-going idea that gives the work a seething life. Not that I expect many other recordings to live up to that standard, but something of a pervasive idea would go a long way toward lifting sessions like this one from a good, wiry, cantankerous improv outing to something "more". I hope I'm not overlay harsh here because "Objets Infernaux" is a very good recording, just that in my head, musicians like Hong Chulki and Ryu Hankil are capable of upping things a few notches and I look forward to hearing that. And, to my ears, the depth achieved in that fourth cut gives an indication that my own, perhaps idiosyncratic desires will one day be attained. :-)

In the meantime, enjoy it for what (at the least) it is: a molten, scalding stream of sound.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Just a short note--was very fortunate to catch an all-around fantastic set at Instants Chavirés this evening, with Bonnie Jones and Dafne Vicente-Sandoval. Hard to describe the effect, just riveting from start to finish (perfect length for the music too, about a half-hour), fairly active but with a palpable sense of space--sounds dumb to say but you had a very clear feeling of events occurring in a defined area, "three-dimensional" to use a dopey term. Very alive, put it that way. Jones, using pretty much the same equipment she has the couple of other times I've seen her perform, made one masterful choice after another; if she was responsible for the female voice that surfaced briefly...excellent. This was my first occasion to catch Vicente-Sandoval, who played various parts of a bassoon, direct-mic'd into a mixer (I think), creating a wonderful range of breath tones, whistles, moans--perfect foil for Jones' crackle. Really impressive.

It's the first concert of a tour, so I wanted to link to the schedule on Bonnie's page--if you're anywhere in the vicinity of these gigs, I'd strongly urge you to attend.

Jones/Vincente-Sandoval tour

Monday, April 21, 2014

Toshiya Tsunoda/Manfred Werder - detour (Erstwhile)

Miura Peninsula, where much of this astonishing release was recorded, isn't all that far from Tokyo (the other recording site) but seems, from a perusal of Google maps, to have a decent amount of wooded, open areas. What hits the listener immediately is a real submergence in that environment, a sense of the surrounding air having an almost liquid quality; you're very conscious of it as a medium through which sound travels. But that's just one aspect. Tsunoda writes, "by recording various layers such as our directions of eyes, our thoughts, our orientation toward the place". Those things, the "orientation" of Tsunoda and Werder are somehow manifested in a truly striking manner, very personal, a real sense of existing, hyper-consciously in this place or, rather, in these multitudes of overlapping places as that's the other clearly apparent thing: the extraordinary weaving together of sounds from some vast set of experiences. It's quite difficult to isolate these elements. On the one hand, there's a strong sense of composition but, on the other, everything is so seamless that you can almost will yourself to believe the sounds were recorded as we hear them. For the first 40 minutes (out of 67) especially, there's a kind of commonality--not really the dynamics, which fluctuate a bit (though not drastically), more a subtle tone that permeates everything, uniting the parts in a way that's more or less subconscious. Like a palette that uses a range of colors, yet one in which all lie within a certain tonal spectrum (the photograph of leaves on the pine needles has something of this quality). Ridiculous to single out individual sounds but those deep rumbles (overhead jets?) are damned thrilling. That's another thing: the elements, essentially, are nothing you haven't heard before: birds (albeit likely different species than you've previously encountered--very beautiful), water, airplanes, scratching leaves, wind, much more. But their organization, the loving way they're arrayed and interwoven is breathtaking.

A bit past the 40-minute mark, there's a clear fade-out of the activity above and a shift into a different zone--perhaps it's simply going from the Miura Peninsula into Tokyo (the detour?). A strong, somewhat harsh electrical buzz is the main element, sounding like an exposed wire-box on a utility pole. There are still birds, but the ambiance is much more urban, the background hum of traffic seems to be present. It's more disquieting, something that, as much as I enjoyed wallowing in the fantasia of the opening section, I also appreciate greatly as, among other things, a kind of tonic, an appraisal of another reality just as (more?) real and holding a different type of fascination. Superficially, this section is a more gray and monotonous (the buzz doesn't quit), but listening below the veneer agains provides an abundance of activity, like looking below the surface of a pond. There's a gradual increase in intensity right at the end at which point, unlike the previous section's fade, the sounds abruptly and startlingly cease, just snap shut.

Field recordings? Well, yes, but much, much more. A stunning construction and a fantastic recording, seemingly endless layers of depth and ways to listen.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Emiliano Romanelli - 333 Loops (Volume 1) (Terziruolo)

An ongoing question I've raised, here and to myself, is with regard to the evaluation of field recordings, specifically why I enjoy this one but not that one. It's perplexing and difficult, for me, to quantify. A similar quandary can arise with the area of music produced here by Romanelli, which I enjoy quite a bit: dreamy, electronic clouds carrying something of an organ-y quality that waft along with no rhythmic reference or apparent structure. There will be many cases where I'm almost immediately bored but once in a while, I'm just as immediately captivated, as is the case here. I'm pretty certain it has something to do with perceived depth of field which, in this instance, is interesting as the layers seem to be composed of elements without very high degrees of contrast (no rough rumblings under smooth surfaces, for example) but instead there seem to be multiple strands that are constricted into a reasonably narrow spectrum. Yet it works.

Three pieces that segue imperceptibly into one another, performed live in September 2013, apparently Romanelli's initial venture into live performance after having been a part of the duo Tu m' since 1998. The music is the result of a computer program he designed which is "able to generate live 110889 sound events" of which we hear numbers 148, 149 and 150. A pulse of sorts manifests on occasion, more a circular kind of sound, as though you're hearing a reduced recording of a ball bearing rotating around the interior of a metal bowl. Somehow, the kind of fluff you expect never appears; the music manages to attain a kind of hard edge despite the diffusion and "glow". There's something oddly ruthless about it. Romanelli quotes Picabia, "The future is a monotonous instrument." and something about that quotation resonates strongly. Perhaps it's that, beneath all the seeming lushness there's also a sense of bleakness. Whatever the case, it's very much worth your while.

Excellently mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi and contained in a finely designed package by Ben Owen.


Tim Olive/Jason Kahn - Two Sunrise (845 Audio)

It's funny how perceptions linger. Having heard any number of Jason Kahn recordings from early in the oughts (and seen him in performance), I still retain this dumb preconception when I see his name on a release, that it will contain some precision, even obsessive rhythmic motifs, despite the fact that the last few occasions I've encountered his work, this hasn't been the case. Tim Olive's name, of course, suggests nothing of the sort and this recording, documenting their first meeting in 2012, is redolent of the rough-hewn, splatter electronics I've known in Olive's work while at the same time somehow evoking a shattered version of Kahn's percussion music (though both here are on electronics, Olive also using a magnetic pick-up). The result is a harsh, dense and spiky ride through territory adjacent to that plowed by the fine Seoul crew but, generally, gummier, more chewy, the sounds more strand-like than prickly. Percussion is evoked as well as a range of sounds that recall strings of various kinds, gut to metal. There are a handful of relatively calm moments, but the thrust is toward the torrential, most of the elements pushing the music forward, elbowing it, even. Good, tough work, not for the faint-hearted.

845 Audio

Yann Gourdon - s/t (Drone Sweet Drone)

(I like the idea of the Romanelli and Gourdon releases bracketing the Olive/Kahn)

As the label's name implies, we're deep in drone territory here. I know nothing of Gourdon and little info is provided with the disc. What I can discern from the net as well as what my ears tell me is that Gourdon in some manner uses a hurdy-gurdy, though I take it processed to an extreme degree. It's one thing the whole way through, a veritable foie gras of a drone, layered to an almost obscene level of richness, all sorts of flavors swirling around, the overall texture silky smooth. After a while, you begin to pick out (or imagine) quasi-melodies buried in the mix but the music is so densely packed, it's hard to follow a given thread for any length of time. Though it uses nothing like the same sound-set, I'm somehow reminded of that classic of ambiance, Laraaji's "Day of Radiance". This goes on for a good 40 minutes at which point the listener will likely be either totally aggravated or luxuriating in the bath. Me, I'm somewhere in between; it's enjoyable enough but I felt I'd gleaned what there is to be absorbed halfway through and was searching for deeper levels. Very attractive of its kind, though.

Drone Sweet Drone

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dariusz Mazurowski - Back in Time (Mathka)

Ten pieces mostly for tape from this Polish composer, hitherto unknown to me.

Over the past few years, I've had occasion to hear music from a number of Polish electro-acoustic composers, largely via the Bôłt label. Some of it has stood apart, in my ears, but I have to say that much is a kind of blur to me. This is partially, if not largely due to both my relative lack of knowledge in the genre as well as my having not a huge amount of general interest in it. Something about what tends to get grouped under the mantle, "tape music" has, for me, a certain amount of sameness, a kind of sheen that doesn't automatically draw me in. So if I say that Mazurowski's music, as represented here (and the pieces span 20 years, from 1992-2012, so I assume it's a good sampling) strikes me as just ok, you'll have to bear in mind this existing prejudice.

I can say that I find it subtler, less purely effects-driven than much other work I've heard in this territory. Even if the underlying language is similar, the tonal inflection is more muted, carries less of the ear-blinding sparkle that I find too often to be the case. Still, the elements get a bit tired: the turntables, the garbled speech extracts, the "ironic" influx of classical music snatches, the historic audio documents (WW II speeches, phone calls with astronauts) etc. Sift these out and there are very nice stretches--the lonely, metallic echoes during parts of"Aleatoric Quartet", the soft moments in "Quartet for 4 Turntables", the vaguely Riley-esque (circa "You're No Good") iterations of "Art Against Decadence" and tyhe purrs and growls of the concluding "Ice Totem". It's very well constructed work and doubtless, will serve those with real interest in the area just fine, but it remains hard for me to get too excited about.

Eliška Cílková - Pripyat Piano (Mthka)

Pripyat was once a city of 50,000 but then Chernobyl occurred. Cílková visited the deserted city in 2010, 24 years after the event, and happened upon an old piano in an abandoned apartment. She then sought out others, eventually compiling the music heard here, eight pieces for eight different pianos in various stages of degradation. The clear precedent for this approach is the work of the Australian composer/pianist Ross Bolleter, though his pianos (and accordions) had tended to be "cured" in the Australian sun whereas those discovered by Cílková necessarily have a more tragic aura about them. Unlike Bolleter, who more or less glories in the low level of "traditional" sound he's able to wring from his objects, Cílková tends to find the most conducive aspects of a given keyboard: if the low notes are fairly functional, that's where she dwells; if only the strings yield clear tones, then use them. But she also remains cognizant of the environment, so one hears the water leaking through the ceiling onto the piano in the city's Concert Hall, the resonance of an otherwise empty apartment or the ticking of a Geiger counter. She uses electronics to construct a repetitive series of interlocking patterns, including much knocking on the wooden bodies, on "Torsos of non-playing pianos", integrates a "healthy" keyboard with the found ones ("In Prague"), resulting in very poignant, fractured melody and ends with a lovely evocation of church bells, gently tolling some injured, upper register keys.

A very affecting release. This is also my first exposure to Eliška Cílková's work and I'm eager to hear more.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Małe Instrumenty - Kartacz (Bôłt)

Małe Instrumenty translates to "small instruments" and is the name of this quintet made up of Paweł Romańczuk, Marcin Ożóg, Tomasz Orszulak, Jędrek Kuziela and Maciek Bączyk, all working in the "toy music" realm. The disc consists of one short work by the composer Włodzimierz Kotoński and six pieces by Romańczuk.

Kotoński's "Study for One Cymbal Stroke" (1959) sounds like nothing of the kind, instead a whimsical, three-minute exploration of a string of curious, even humorous sounds: whistles, whangs, tinkles, blurts and such from various sources. Very charming and setting the stage for the works that follow. As with the older composition, there's much use of disparate sound sources; indeed, each piece is like a mini-handbook for a range of them. For me, there's a balance between the sheer, sensual enjoyment of these sounds (which is significant) and their kind of episodic presentation, tending toward a string of elements, overlapping here and there, but less a "composition" than a series. Sometimes this works quite well (the title track, which means "a canister shot", with its vocal interjections is one example, creating a bit of a cartoon effect that's quite delicious), other times it feels less substantial. "Inops Ventilex", with its wonderful swells from one or more accordions (plus, I think, some cheap keyboards, maybe Casios, imitating accordions) stands a bit apart, both powerful and wryly humorous, a very strong piece as is the closing "SiToPhony", with dark pulses that, while still referring to the comic, edges toward the macabre. At the end of things, a bit hit and miss but more of the former than the latter and worth hearing.

Andrzej Bieżan - Polygamy (Bôłt)

Bieżan (1945-1983) was a Polish pianist and composer who worked in jazz, avant-classical and theater music, inventing instruments and playing unusual ones (like the marine trumpet). Seven pieces are presented on this two-disc set, Bieżan appearing on several (on piano and Yokobue flute), with the participation of Jacek Malicki (electric guitar), Zdzisław Piernik (tuba) and Marcin Krzyżanowski (cello).

"Archangel's Sword" is a tape work from 1980, filled with ringing tones and a sense of underwater mystery, managing to skirt most of the patinas that I find often coat similar music. It has an investigative feeling and tingles quite nicely, with some lovely dark undertones and knocks toward the end. "Atmospheres" and "Birds", from 1972, sound a bit like strung-together improvisations, guitarist Malicki very Frithian at times, Bieżan playing delicate, slightly abstract piano and going for a shakuhachi sound on the transverse flute--pleasant and well-done, if with a bit on ECM tang. ANother performance from 1972 is simply titled,"Improvisation" and documents a live set by the Intuitive Music Group, featuring Piernik's tuba and live sound shaping by Wojciech Chyła. Without going so far as to make a qualitative comparison, parts of it sound very AMM-like (circa "The Crypt"), though others include a satiric edge that was never in AMM's repertoire (and don't help matters here).

Disc Two opens with the title cut, "Polygamy", another tape work from 1978-79, more substantial than "Archangel's Sword",, with a thicker ply of sound, again happily edging toward the dark and dank, leaving the "humor" behind and dispensing with much of the typical tape parlance of the period--impressive. "I Was and I Was", for tuba and cello, in interesting for the contrast, Piernik staying quite low and growlsome, while Krzyżanowski treads more lightly, using the vocabulary of the classical world, from neo-Romantic to Pendereckian, though again, it seems that he can't avoid, at times, casting the low horn in a semi-comedic role. The last half of the piece quiets down and works quite well, even if the cello assumes the jester's hat momentarily. Lastly, we have "Isn't It?", an electronics piece and the final work by Bieżan before his death (from injuries sustained in a car accident). It begins with light percolations, descends into a wonderful, whirling, chaotic maelstrom, ultimately surfacing with a jaunty little rhythm, skipping on down the road. The composition seems to encapsulate Bieżan inasmuch as I can determine from his music as offered here. Inconsistent perhaps, but pretty fascinating work that I'm very glad to have heard.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Enrico Malatesta - Benandare (Weighter Recordings)

Not your usual solo percussion recording.

Malatesta offers three tracks, using "skin instruments and metal objects", each occupying more or less the same area but with subtle differences. That area involves a kind of dry, resonant scraping, presumably brought about by simply moving the objects over the skin=clad surfaces in a roughly circular motion. The pieces are titled, collectively, "Immersion/Artifice", the second half of which causing me to wonder if there's something going on that I'm not picking up but I'm satisfied, as is, with the apparent simplicity of the work. The first track almost sounds like muffled drum rolls recorded from a large distance, as though around the corner in a cavernous building or, indeed, a cave. There's something liquid/metal about it too; had I been told it derived from a torrent of water, irregularly pulsing, surging into a pipe, I might not have batted an ear. The second diverges from this only slightly, the sounds a bit drier, but also feeling somehow remote, listened to from afar. And the final piece seems to have made the transition to the rubbed surfaces (making me think that those "drum rolls" were my imagination), dry and resonant, the metallic element deferring to the grain of the skins. Each piece maintains its form throughout, the overall cast not shifting, just the internal movements and pulses, the latter always present, insistent but not quite regular.

A very interesting album, working fine as a recording but, as is often the case, creating a hankering in me to hear it in situ, a hundred or so feet away from Malatesta, around that corner.

Weighter Recordings

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Sybella Perry - Grey Ladies (Porta/Hideous Replica)

The Grey Ladies is the local name for an English stone circle more genrally known as Nine Stones Close. In this brief (17-minute) work, Perry brought a team of recorders and at least one vocalist, Samuel Ayre, to the site and, judging from the photos included in a fairly elaborate sleeve design, including a transparency, had them both record the environment and their own voices in various degrees of proximity to the monoliths, distant to right up in their "faces". I'm not sure if it's the case, but my impression is that the performance documented here is but one extract from that event and I'm also guessing that the vocals were more or less improvised by Ayre, with the electronic accompaniment perhaps by Perry. Maybe the site is especially quiet but one odd thing that struck me immediately was the lack of obvious ambient sound save for, I think, some buffeting of the mics by wind later int he piece. You hear Ayre, usually in a deep wordless drone, sometimes using mild vocal chording, with low, oscillator tones (close to a bass clarinet in character) and a rough crackling from an obscure source. Ayre appears to be approximating the sine tones though it's tough to say if the beats one hears are from that relationship or inherent in the electronics.

So, a couple of things. Some of us, and I guiltily include myself, have a kind of inborn prejudice against at least certain vocal stylings in experimental music and while Ayre doesn't get to Tom Buckner territory, there are enough intimations of that to cause slight discomfort in this listener. Second, listened to purely as sound/music, without regard to context, "Grey Ladies" is only moderately interesting to me. Third, most importantly, if there's any real use or reference to the stones in question, I'm missing it. I'm hoping the thought wasn't simply that nearness to the site would engender some kind of quasi-mystical transference of aesthesia. Is Ayre singing into a concavity that's shaping his sound? At the site below, where you can hear an excerpt, there's the stated goal of attempting "to resonate a stone circle". I don't know but I'm not picking up any particularly stonelike aspects here; I could easily be missing something, maybe you had to be there.

Hideous Replica

Merzouga - Live at Fluc (Attenuation Circuit)

Quite a different offering from Merzouga (Eva Pöpplein, computer and Janko Hanushevsky, prepared bass guitar), at least compared to my previous exposure to their work--a live, improvised set from 2012.

Their music somehow lies well outside the normal eai ambit, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly where. Hints of Fennesz sometimes, certainly a similarly great concern with color and Hanushevskys bass more often than not fulfills a more or less standard role, providing a bed for the computerized sounds and field recordings generated by Pöpplein, enough so that you can listen to it as a kind of severely attenuated, pastoral pop music, but there are other things going on as well. It's a very relaxed set, seemingly without any preconceived trail markers, quiet as a rule but active, occasionally settling into moments that approximate song-forms (some of the most rewarding minutes, to me, as occurs about twelve minutes in, for example), though the last minute or so enters a frenetic area and the performance ends with a sudden, harsh plunk. Up to then, we've been on a kind of amble, Pöpplein's sounds verging on the figurative (birds, insects, more) but never, happily, coming into clear focus. Once in a while, the bass grow a bit busy for my taste, but usually just provides a very accommodating cushion as well as elaborating on the field recordings. It's dreamy and beguiling, the pair maintaining interest pretty consistenly over almost 40 minutes, perhaps never cutting too close to the bone but also avoiding easy prettiness and discovering some lovely sound-worlds along the way. Worth checking out.

Attenuation Circuit

Monday, April 07, 2014

Neil Davidson/Michael Duch - Oera (Consumer Waste)

Intrigued by the unfamiliar term, I looked it up and could only find it used as the initial word of the Oera Linda Book, a tome of dubious provenance. A lovely word, in any case.

The first piece sets up a fine, continuous stream of sound, Davidson bowing his guitar rapidly (I assume it's a bow of some sort, but I could be entirely mistaken and that something else is being rubbed across the strings), Duch playing almost exclusively arco in longer, broader sweeps, creating a very rich web, sustained for some 18 minutes but with (relatively) minor variations in dynamics, tonality and harmonics abounding. There's even a point, late int he piece after a particularly deep drone has set in, that a handful of bass plucks recalls classic Charlie Haden. Excellent work. The second track is a far more astringent one, the guitar plucked, the bass bowed in high regions; ok, but the kind of thing routinely heard over the years. The third (all are untitled) is fuller, almost pastoral in a refreshing and hesitant way, deep short bowings by Duch buffeted by gentle but questioning strums from Davidson; both taut and sensitive. The last track returns to the general climes of the first, Dach bowing at a quicker pace, Davidson generating wonderful, high harmonics. Again, the tempo is maintained more or less throughout, the space completely carpeted. And again, the result is totally engrossing, time-suspending. Good stuff, likely my favorite music I've heard from either.

D'incise - Impermeability (Consumer Waste)

Apparently this is D'incise week on Just Outside, though this is a very different work from the one written about in my prior post. "Composed from recordings of sparkling liquids and gases", "Impermeability" is quite clearly just that. Most of the sounds, apparently presented several plies thick, are recognizable to those of us (everyone?) who have spent some moments delighted by the bubbling of sodas or the delicate expulsion of gases (all such recorded eruptions heard here are delicate!) from various sources. Even though the sounds derive from unrelated phenomenon, it's tough not to think of Lee Patterson's "Egg Fry #2" on Cathnor, but that had a single-minded focus which isn't the case or point here as D'incise is constructing his work much as is done routinely with field recordings. It's funny, but sometimes I even have the sense of a kind of gestural playing here, when one of the gases erupts in a bit of a flourish, like an errant saxophone...Finally, while entirely listenable, I find that I'd rather hear fewer sounds, with more concentration, than the cascade arrayed here. Still, it works well enough by its own lights and is an enjoyably fizzy quaff.

Consumer Waste

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Bruno Duplant/Ryoko Akama - Espèces d’espaces (Suppedaneum)

Four pieces, each about ten minutes long, the first two composed by Duplant, the last pair by Akama (all graphic scores, based on the work of Georges Perec), performed by both.

Though I've been given photos of the accompanying stuff that comes with this release, I admit I'd rather be able to deal with it tactilely than via download, which is how these were heard. The first work, for instance, is presented as a small jigsaw puzzle:

Well, I might have made the tiles more varied in shape, but still...It sounds great, though, a combination of ambient sounds, including some underlying bass-like tone, electrical pops and, most intriguingly, an ongoing sequence of noises that sometimes sounds like the snipping of scissors, others times like thin, smooth metal discs being rubbed across each other in one's hand. Also, unlike almost everything in this neck of the woods, there are frequent, very brief stops and starts, a feature that lends a really nice structure and, oddly, adds to the sense of rapid forward movement. At least a portion of the score for the second track shows a drawing of a tree. Here, we again hear various layers of ambience, clicks, beeps, hisses and the like, fairly muted, with Akama reading text, presumably Perec, in French and English, leaving substantial space between phrases. It's very low key, easy to listen to and/but drifting pass without making a real impression. That may be a strength, though.

Akama's fist work involves text instructions with overlays as seen below:

It seems to be the first option that's performed here, the piece divided into four approximately equal parts. We hear a series of patient, beautifully suspended bell tones, tapping, soft crumpling static, etc. with Duplant's calm voice pronouncing individual words in French. The music grows subtly more intense as it continues, a strong sine tone manifesting, but the voice remains steady. A wonderful piece. The final work involves a map (showing a portion of South Korea shoreline and sea) and text instructions presented in poetic fashion. The sounds include something of a wave-breaking aspect, though it could just as easily be torrents of steam or a lava flow. It's very full, several layers thick and, like the first track, carrying a forward surge. A high, delicate sine-like tone (or complex of tones) pokes in for a few moments, very lovely. It crumbles away, returns, sizzles a bit, then disappears.

A very rewarding venture, well realized. Give a listen.

D'incise - ILHAS (Suppedaneum)

If I understand correctly (and I *think* I do), D'incise constructed an electronic score consisting of a series of chords, 38 of them, to be played in a fixed sequence but with their individual durations to be multiples of ten seconds, at the discretion of the performers, the chords to be separated by four seconds of silence, the total performance lasting 20 minutes. Atop this, the musicians create sounds on prepared drum heads, following certain directions and preferences but allowing for a substantial amount of variation from one version to another.

The disc contains three tracks: a rendition by D'incise, one by the duo of Jamie Drouin and Hannes Lingens and the original chord sequence. I'll take the last track first. Aside from casually noting that some of the sequences don't seem to take the 10-second admonition too seriously, one notes that they do vary in length, more or less randomly (or at the non-random discretion of the purveyor}. More interestingly, the sounds usually possess an ambiguous tonality, very rich but with a wonderful sweet/sour complexion, leaving me curious as to whether or not there was a specific method of construction or if it was entirely "sensual". It's enjoyable enough listening on it sown but (admittedly, perhaps only in hindsight) you can hear how it could serve as a template or underpinning. Listening to D'incise's own full version, you immediately notice the added vibrations of skin, but the relationship between the new sounds and the original is more subtle. They have the same duration but you get the sense of space between them, the electronics underneath, a small space atop (I think of a half-inch or so for some reason) then the dry rumble of the drumhead suspended above. Another clear, yet delicious point is the contrast between the creaminess of the electronic tones and the irregularity of the addition with all sorts of pops and rattles ornamenting the basic skin-rubbing. The result is an unusual and rich contemplative space; as is often the case, I'd love to hear this in a live situation imagining a given room would only heighten the complexity. The piece as realized by Drouin and Lingens necessarily involves more sound and a consequent increase in density (not to mention range of sounds, though the pair here stay in fairly circumscribed limits), though there remains that crucial, to my ears, amount of space between layers. The base tones, by this time, have become something like old friends and produce an added point of interest in hearing how they're used and molded. I found the duo version the richest and can only wonder about variations with other musicians.

Very good work, oddly restful yet full of a kind of tension. Want more.


Friday, April 04, 2014

More from Downloadistan...

Vomir - pour monsieur Jean ou l'amour absolu (Crisis Records)

A cassette release, the first on Julien Héraud's new label, 23 minutes of uncompromising noise. Vomir (Romain Perrot) has stated, "My dedication is to no dynamics, no change, no development, no ideas. Total static harsh noise, crusting, crushing, crackling.” Fair enough and true to his word. I think the lack of dynmaic change makes the difference here. In my reasonably limited encounters with the pure noise scene, I've found far too much of a rock sensibility for my taste, a machismo that almost necessarily includes orgasmic crescendi. Here, Vomir begins at a high intensity level, as rough a slab of electric hardscrabble as you're likely to hear, and simply stays there. You tend to search, and quite possibly invent, sound buried deep in the maelstrom, sounds that shift or progress, something I imagine Perrot would rather you didn't. Experiencing it in situ would doubtless be a better option, though I'm guessing it wouldn't be too different from a Francisco Lopez-type experience (checking images online, I see audiences with gray plastic bags on their heads instead of blindfolds). Well done and resolute if not the world-shattering event Vomir has in mind.

Crisis Records

Inside/Outside - Rooms

(disclosure: Don Campau is the gentleman who asked me to host my radio podcast at KWTF. Do check it out, KWTF--airs three times on Mondays)

This is the duo of Russell Leach (synths, percussion, etc.) and Don Campau (guitar, bass guitar, field recordings, electronics, etc.), here presenting thirteen tracks, twelve of which include single guest musicians (Susan Alcorn, pedal steel; Mike Khoury, viola, tambura; James Hill, trumpet; Kyle Bruckmann, oboe, analog electronics; Amy Denio, voice; Bryan Day, invented instruments; Tom Djll, trumpet, toy megaphone; Anna Zaradny, alto sax; Al Margolis, manipulations; Jon Raskin, electronic berimbau; Eric Glick rieman, prepared Rhodes electric piano; Robin O'Brien, voice). I'd previously heard Campau on several tracks among a mass of Hal McGee recordings I received a few years back; wasn't crazy about most of it but Campau's contributions stood out. Here, the pieces, while strung together as a kind of suite (rooms), wander all over the place though they're generally of a gentle demeanor, couched in comfortable, if sometimes wacky electronics. My preferences run toward the more song-based tracks, not so much the freer ones, including a lovely country-jazz lilt with Alcorn, a funky Jon Hassell/Cherry with Codona number featuring Hill, a charming song with Denio, a jaunty thing with Djill that has echoes of Byrne/Eno, the duo's own "solo" piece, and the closing track, a lush and somber, Gaelic-tinged, with O'Brian. A fun mélange, go wallow.

Bandcamp site

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Angharad Davies - Six Studies (Confront)

(Aside from the fact that the cover is in line with all of the other Confront metal-box cases, the images I located on-line were all in some non-.jpg format and wouldn't load here. Hence the above photo instead which, anyway, is pretty nice.)

For her first solo recording, Davies chooses not to present improvisations or realizations of composed pieces but, very openly, a set of studies for violin, each titled with reference to the specific activity involved, each concentrating on one (complex) exercise, one of them with three variations. This can present a challenge for the listener more normally attuned to improv or composition. To the extent one hopes for, say, transcendence of some kind, here I think of it more as a kind of anatomy lesson, that these explorations are parts of the violin.

One of the immediately apparent aspects of the music is the amount of layers in play, often two or three distinct sound areas generated by one (complex) action that, though in fact related, sometimes sound as though issuing form two or more distinct voices. On the opening track, "circular bowing study", the rapid rhythm, insistent but never quite precise, apposes brief, guttural groans with wispy, rosiny scrapes, low and high, the phasing seeming to be somehow different though obviously made with the same sweep of the arm. As with all the pieces, Davies does "one thing" throughout; the fascination develops as the listener delves into everything that's occurring, much of which isn't apparent at first blush. "balancing spring on strings", in three versions, presumably involves just that. I seem to hear a bit of a metallic tinge in the opening, strong plucks, less when the dense harmonic bowing ensues. I should say at this point that listeners for whom the sound of harmonically played violin is the source of extreme distress will find this extra tough going. I have a bit of that feeling latent and need to consciously shift into a "pure sound" frame of mind, something I should be doing anyway of course, and all is well. Again, multiple layers are in effect, often one or two more than are obvious at first; I recommend playing at a decent volume to really appreciate all that's going on--the third variation enters especially wonderful, complicated areas. (I should also mention Sebastian Lexer's excellent recording, including the room, the sounds of which linger between tracks--found myself wondering if these were all recorded in one continuous take.)

"tremolo & plastic peg study" consists of quiet, rapid strokes, more material than tonal, that begin to wildly fluctuate in volume and bow pressure, maintaining the quick pace, again shifting across several discrete sound areas form low graininess to ultra-high whistling. There's a fine obsessiveness in play here, as though Davies is scouring the far corners of her instrument, making sure every possible crumb of sound is located. A single rich pluck begins "pizz, nail file & fingers study", followed by a stronger one and then, I'm guessing, the nail file. A similarly structured section follows, very stark, almost bitter, sort of a Beckettian atmosphere. In this piece, I do have a sense of Davies' having pushed things beyond the sound-fascination stage into something quite poignant and beautiful.

A fine recording, enjoyable on many levels. Here's hoping there are more to come.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Ames Room - In St. Johann (Gaffer)

The day I arrived in Paris, in February of 2013, Jacques Oger called to welcome me and let me know that The Ames Room was performing the following evening in the cave of a restaurant near the center of town. This was my first chance to catch them live, after hearing and enjoying several albums. There were two sets, with intriguing differences. In the first, their approach seemed to become clear to me, at least on this occasion if not always: Each member of the trio (Jean-Luc Guionnet on alto, Clayton Thomas on bass and Will Guthrie on drums) would improvise a short sequence, say between two and ten notes then repeat the phrase over and over, virtually hammering it into the ground before moving to the next. The duration of these iterations would vary at the whim of the musician. The result was a fascinating kind of subtle brutalism, the naked aggression of the sounds (they were routinely loud, fast and rough) offset, to my ears anyway, by the shimmering shifts of relationships both within a given, brief time bracket and over a longer stretch as new phrases entered. It's the kind of approach you might be more likely to hear with more delicate elements, emphasizing the transparency and laminal effects. Not here. Guionnet especially imbued each phrase with a ferociously hard-edged burr. I enjoyed it greatly but, at the same time, found myself wondering if this idea )if such it was) was enough to sustain an ensemble for more than an album or a set. When they returned for the second half of the show, to my surprise and pleasure, they seemed to begin where they'd left off and move outwards, retaining the ferocity but somehow loosening the rigorous constraints of the fractured, short phrasing and allowing the music to unfurl a good bit, as though this hard-edged trio had just heard "Ascension". A strong, thrilling set indeed.

I have no real idea how typical that evening was or if it was simply one out of many approaches the trio put into play. This recording is from March, 2012, about a year before the concert in Paris and consists of one 40-minute slab o' juddering force. The repetitive aspect, while clearly present, is less obsessive than was the case in my concert experience. Guthrie sets off with a tremendously awkward figure, lurching and stumbling but knowing precisely what he's doing, generating a great staircase-fall cadence. Thomas, who often struck me as Favors-like, if so here, with a similarly "brutal" approach, dark, booming and resolutely non-pyrotechnic while Guionnet generates tight, harsh clusters of notes, separate kernels, exploding/oozing. They do seem to slide in and out of the attack I described above but with great fluidity, apparently not wedded to a given strategy. It's an odd thing. I vacillate between hearing the "moment" wherein the trio sounds more or less like a pretty good free jazz trio, not exactly my area of interest these days, albeit one with an incredible drummer (his stop/starts are always great fun), and standing back and trying to get a handle on the overall form, when things become more absorbing. Granted, this may be exactly the opposite to most folks' reactions, but there you go. It's exhausting but I gather that's one of the points--no let-up but also no real overindulgence, though some may disagree with that assessment. I hear it as a kind of block of compressed sound and in some ways relate it to Guthrie's work from several years ago, like "Spear" and, well, "Building Blocks". Part of me is curious to have known what would be the experience of hearing this trio time after time, over a long stretch. I'd feel pretty battered, I'm sure, but I wonder if I'd develop a better appreciation for the range of ideas. From what I understand, Thomas is moving back to his native Australia so there might not be many Ames Room albums in the future. In the meantime, as I've said before, if you want to term this music "free jazz", I'm not sure there's a stronger ensemble around. If you don't, it's still a major kick in the ass.