Sunday, September 28, 2014

Konrad Gęca - art of choices (Mathka)

Here's a tidy little quandary for a reviewer. Gęca, a field recordist and sound installation/video artist has, via Mathka, issued an "album" in an edition of 100 copies, each one of which contains entirely different material. So, essentially, he's released 100 recordings in editions of one, under the same title. So what I've heard (and enjoyed) will have only little to do with what you hear, should you decide to do so, the connecting strand being (perhaps) Gęca's sound sensibility. Describing the contents of my copy is rather pointless, but I'll say it ranges from "banal" ambient recordings in urban settings (but all sounding, somehow, pretty interesting) to snatches of music, recorded and live, to bits of indistinct speech, to abstract bangs and rustles, trains, kids, much, much else. It's all very relaxed and straightforward, easily heard as a kind of mini-travelogue even if, in fact, it was assembled randomly.

I liked mine and would encourage other to try their luck. Just don't complain to me.

Sympli Romatikó - Sympli Romatikó (Mathka)

The music here, provided by Denis Kolokol (electronics, voice), Tomek Chołoniewski (drums, percussion, voice) and Alexander Chikmakov (guitars) is much less aggressive than the cover image might lead you to believe. Three tracks, each allowed goodly length to sprawl. "Misinterpretation of misunderstanding" bubble gently along, a faint church organ-like tone heard beneath taps, percolations and soft screeches. ou often hear electronic burbles of the character I associate with early SF films, cheery little blips as from some well-meaning robot. A strong voice emerges, declaiming in...Polish, I think; it sounds worrying, but those little blips are comforting, even if the words are followed by some guttural growls. The voice returns, sounding arrogant--mixing in Spanish, ending with a cry of "Muy fuerte!" whereupon the music shifts to layers of flute-like sounds and percussion. Things get boiling as the drums settle into a steady, almost Blakey-esque rhythm at one point, subsiding into lather, returning. From here, it wanders a bit for my taste, into vocalized bird and animal sounds, but it was a pretty fine trip all told. A rich electronic drone opens "PG/L1", swiftly becoming all swirly and never quite centers again, instead going adrift on a bed of blips similar to those encountered earlier, though more plaintive, and incessant tap-drumming. "GP1" opens up a bit, almost tangential to old Jon Hassell territory, an engaging, quasi-rhythmic meander, odd electric flora sprouting up along the path, emitting pings and throbs, very spacious, pulsing and inviting. A nice conclusion to an inconsistent but not uninteresting recording.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

A quartet of releases from Mikroton and one from an affiliated label, Laminal.

NG4 Quartet - A Quartet for Guitars (Mikroton)

There are times when one has too much information and at least part of me would have liked to have had less with regard to this release, even if that would have led, in all likelihood, to some embarrassing evaluations. But as it happens, Rowe had talked about this quartet (himself, Anthony Taillard, Emmanuel Leduc and Julien Ottavi, all on guitars and electronics) for much of the last year and a half. At first, he only let on that it was a guitar quartet and that the musicians were meeting, when possible, once a week to rehearse it and that by "rehearse" he meant not only playing but talking quite a bit and examining preconceptions. He stressed how difficult but rewarding the process had been. Then, in June, he discussed the premises behind the work (which you can read about on the Mikroton site, linked to below) quite openly, a nurturing of, among other things, his long held notion of the value of failure but also, I think, of the lack of rigor to which current improvisatory/experimental music is held, by musicians and critics alike (something I'm surely guilty of myself). He wanted the work to be something that was impossible to describe with adjectives like "gorgeous", "strong", etc., anything positive, really, as paradoxical as that aim might be in the sense of the impossibility of jettisoning prior knowledge, of trying to play badly. I kept thinking of an able, adult visual artist attempting to draw like an eight-year old; can't be done, imho. This information doubtless saved me from coming at this project from an entirely erroneous direction but, I have to say, I would have liked to have been able to do so, whatever the subsequent chagrin.

The piece is loosely based, as you can read, on the third movement of Haydn's String Quartet Op. 20, No. 1, at least so far as the five track lengths which follow the one-minute, silent "Affectuoso e sostenuto" (tender and sustained, here referring to the expression on the face of the first violinist of the Lyndsey Quartet, Peter Cropper, as he performed the work), all of them about nine minutes long. They bear the titles, "Ineptitude", "Awkward", "Gaucheness", "Underwhelm" and "Failing". These pejorative qualities don't have anything to do, as near as I can determine, with either amateurishness or the overly slick aspect of some musicians; it's not like they engage in Al DiMeola impressions here. More, I think it has to do with what Rowe perceives as failures on the part of improvising musicians to do so with, for lack of a better word, aptness. This, depending on the situation, can range from graceful delicacy to brutal heedlessness, though I imagine Rowe would have that range of qualities inherent somewhere in the created sounds. This is a very personal distinction on his part, one encountered by anyone who has spent some time with him and listened to his criticism of a given performance; sometimes I can understand what he hears, often the degree of discernment is lost on me. Here, he uses a simple time cell structure based on nine one minute segments for each track, the number of events for each player occurring within a given minute ranging from zero to nine, progressively, the specific events and, I think, the minute sequences, shuffled randomly (perhaps a gentle nudge at the Cage and post-Cage Wandelweiser habit of using similar structures). The sounds are roughly the sort one encounters routinely in free improv contexts (there's a bit of rockish fuzz thrown in now and then as well) but more heard by me as a catalog rather than any purposeful or probative series; I would think of that as one of the work's "failures", not sure if it was on Rowe's mind. The final result is, indeed, underwhelming if one looks at it that way, less so, naturally, if standing back and considering Rowe's premise. It's hard to fail that badly when you know so much. Unless, by blatantly failing, you've managed to lurch into new, potentially fertile territory. Maybe so.

Keith Rowe/Alfredo Costa Monteiro/Ilia Belarukov/Kurt Liedwart - Contour (Mikroton)

No need for much procedural analysis of this one, just an hour's worth of your plain, old-fashioned improv gathering with Rowe (guitar, electronics), Costa Monteiro (accordeon, objects), Belarukov (alto saxophone, objects, ipod, mini-subwoofer, mini-speaker) and Liedwart (objects, electronics). IT's all very subdued and all quite good really, Belarukov once again impressive in his reticence while still often using pure tones, no mean feat. Though I may be mixing him up here with Costa Monteiro if the latter is occasionally summoning similarly pure tones from his squeezebox. No matter, ore to the point that each of the two tracks breathes freely, stretches out quite ably. One notices, after dealing with the guitar quartet release that that one dealt pretty much in short phrases while this is about long-held sounds, much to its benefit. One wonders about similarly "awkward" playing using this formation, if it's more difficult to "underwhelm" in a more stasis-prone environment. Whatever, it's an excellent set, focussed and considered, working up to a subtly exciting rumble towards its conclusion. Well worth hearing.

Kazuhisa Uchihashi/Noid/Tamara Wilhelm - I Hope It Doesn't Work (Mikroton)

A set of live recordings from 2013 by the trio of Uchihashi (guitar, daxophone), Noid (cello) and Wilhelm (DIY electronics).

Mostly at a medium-low dynamic level with medium a medium amount of activity, Noid's cello providing some grain, and longish lines, Wilhelm's electronics flitting back and forth between cracked electronics sounds (nothing too harsh, though) and smoother glides and blips, Uchihashi contributing unobtrusively to the flow, adding color and accents. All pretty enjoyable if not so distinguishable from other ventures in a similar field. Nothing particularly to latch onto; the music slides into the foreground, occupies the territory with some grace and invention, glides away. That could be a good thing, but it sounds like the type of event, were I in attendance, where I might have situated at some remove, allowing the music to blend in with other surrounding sounds. And there's value in that. Otherwise, hard for me to say much about it. Andrew Choate, in his review of one of the live sets (which you can see on the Mikroton site), writes, " was clear that this band had no identity, and was therefore actively constructing it in front of us." That might be it.

Angélica Castelló/Billy Roisz/Burkhard Stangl/Dieb 13 - Scuba (Mikroton)

A work written by Dieb 13 and performed by Castelló (amplified subcontrabass paetzold recorder, electronics), Roisz (electronics), Stangl (electric guitar) and the composer (turntables, klopfer--unless that's a German soft drink, I'm confused; but image google paetzold recorders for some cool pictures).

I haven't been a huge fan of much of what I've heard from Dieb 13 in recent years, so I approached this release with some degree of caution, but I'm happy to report that it won me over completely. A piece composed along a timeline which also gives the players room for improvisation, the overall sound does indeed evoke the underwater world, particularly via the enormous recorder wielded by Castelló, Stangl's lovely if limited guitar chimes acting as glints seen up on the surface. The whole piece is very understated, various elements, including voices (some reciting numbers as in old East German coded radio transmissions) floating slowly through, glimpsed and then reabsorbed by the sea. There's even a fairly visceral depiction of air intake through a breathing tube, augmented by a hiss (other apparatus) and the odd ping (passing fauna). It's all quite coherent and deftly executed; whatever the parameters were, excellent choices seem to have been made by composer and performers alike, always leaving a thread, never overburdening it. It possesses that wonderful quality of staying in one place yet being endlessly, subtly different. A happy surprise for me, thoroughly absorbing, and one I highly recommend checking out.

Triac - In a Room (Laminal)

Triac being Augusto Tatone (electric bass), Marco Seracini (piano, synth) and Rossano Polidoro (laptop). Soft soundscapes, inescapably Enoesque, but bearing enough grain to maintain interest. The four tracks drift by pleasantly, no complaints really just impossible to single out particulars from the clouds and hard to think of much here that wasn't accomplished on "On Land", for example.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Moniek Darge/Graham Lambkin - Indian Soundies (Kye)

A seductively absorbing release. Essentially the work of Darge, two of the four tracks are hers alone, a third is a collaboration between Darge and Lambkin (using, I think, her material) while on the fourth, she invited Lambkin to create his own work "using materials gathered online), though perhaps some of Darge's recorded sounds find their way in there as well.

Regardless, there's a difference between the first two tracks, "Tamil Nadu" and "Ladakh" and the latter ones. To her credit, Darge (to my ears) manages to steer pretty much clear of mere exoticism even as her sound collection includes what seem to be ritual ceremonies, local insect life, street merchants, etc. We also experience recorded music, possibly blaring from markets, traffic noise, car alarms and such, Darge balancing these elements with both a welcome transparency and a strong sense of immersion, not mere onlooking. On the second track, the elements are sometimes disarmingly simple: lapping water, regularly struck drums, a man chanting--but the effect is rather mesmerizing. As new sounds slowly filter in--a rough-toned, struck bell, a responding chorus--there's a strong sense of build, of thickening atmosphere, all very dramatic (in a good way). Very satisfying work.

The collaboration, "Indian Weather Trap", has a thicker, messier sound right from the start (that car alarm elbowing through the fog), urban sounds in rain but with sharper, right-next-to-the-ear raps and bangs, plus an encompassing throb, as from loud bass notes heard through a wall. There's more of the seemingly casual, hands-on approach we tend to hear in Lambkin's work (for example, what sounds like the pressing of a record button, the fumbling of a mic), all of which serve to further de-exoticize the Indian elements. As enjoyable as the Darge tracks were, this one, especially for listeners less attuned to field recordings and more to electronic experimentation, is a bracing tonic, something more akin to Lambkin's work with Jason Lescalleet, very fine. Lastly, Lambkin's own "Therianthropy" (yes, I had to look it up: the mythological ability of human beings to metamorphose into animals by means of shapeshifting) is an entirely other thing, the predominant early element being a swarm of shenai-like instruments whose intensity recalls things like Master Musicians of Jajouka, the swarm buffeted by obscure ruffles of sound, soon evaporating in a mix of fauna, heavy breaths and automotive exhaust, cutting off sharply. It's as giddily disorienting as anything I've heard from Lambkin in a while, which is to say, it's pretty fantastic.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jason Kahn - Noema (Editions)

Man, I miss those beautiful covers by Kahn for his sadly defunct Cut label. It was a pleasure seeing this one, hand done in, I think, gouache; just fantastic. [Nope, acrylic...d'oh!]

The cover, made of a kind of cardboard open on three sides so, in a way, a folder, houses two LPs which contain 37 short tracks, all recorded in and around Kyoto in 2012. Kahn writes, "The over-arching theme of the record is the idea of exploring social space through everyday sound-and especially in the case of Kyoto, not just focusing on what we've come to know the city for (temples, shrines, etc.-though some of these are there as well)." It's clearly a very personal collection, which Kahn acknowledges via a reference to Proust's madeleine. Kahn devotes a descriptive paragraph to each track int he accompanying insert.

I won't comment on each of the tracks but at the same time, generalizing does them a disservice as does calling them sonic snapshots" or some such. Each deals with a specific environment or set of environments, each appears to have been constructed from several recordings, sometimes overlapping, sometimes spliced together roughly. There's little pure "naturalism" despite, as near as I can determine, all the sounds being sourced directly from real world activities, natural or man-made. "Memories" isn't a bad, if banal, signifier, in the sense of someone recalling a small sequence of events from, say, a few days prior, certain events/sounds foregrounded in retrospect, including things that may have seemed trivial at the time and, one assumes, "major" occurrences forgotten. Canned music and various electronic manifestations figure prominently, as do voices, conjuring (often) nighttime images of the sort Westerners often have of Japan, the crowds, the sales, the bright displays but also the single events happening amidst the quiet darkness. Kahn manipulates the sounds, sometimes overtly ("Parlor", for instance, or "Kamogawa") but I have the feeling that there's often post-recording construction going on that's more seamless and has escaped me. It's difficult picking stand-outs, senseless perhaps, but the radio scans of "Sender" are pretty fabulous.

My natural tendency is to find the short form in use here to be a bit disorienting; I want to hear these type of things (and the sounds themselves are virtually all quite wonderful) explored at length. So I have to readjust my listening aspect and almost hear these as songs, pop songs maybe. So here's a brief suzumushi (bell cricket) duet, there's a chorus of shoppers. The sporadic appearance of actual pop music (often seized upon and looped by Kahn, as in "Shopping"), something that seems to ooze out of many Kyoto crannies, makes this approach a conducive one. The closing track, featuring coins jangling in a cup in front of an ambient urban hum, is quite moving.

I still find it a tough album to grasp in its entirety, tending to isolate this or that track but individually, all of those cuts are fine and fascinating. I'd certainly recommend giving it a try and especially so for field recording fans and, of course, it's automatic for admirers of Kahn's fine body of work.

Jason Kahn

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ian Vine - frieze/static form/division (self-released)

I get the feeling I should have known Vine's work, but I didn't until now. Im not sure how representative these selections are but they're certainly of a piece, all occupying a very lovely section of the steady-state zone, one filled with countless subtle variations. "frieze" is for acoustic guitar and live electronics (presumably including something on the order of an e-bow)and emits several strands of wonderful color. An airy, almost wheezing organ-like tone is one, mid-range but near the bottom of these particular layers, slowly pulsing amidst kindred drones and the occasional sharp accent, like a harsh glint of sunlight. Various tones and timbres enter now and then, all clustered fairly close together but, of course, varying enough to cause sonic perturbations galore. A very beautiful work. "static form" substitutes electric guitar for acoustic but is generally similar, albeit with (not surprisingly) a more electronic tinge to the sounds, the "glints" having more the resonance of dulcimers and, halfway in, the introduction of various rhythmic, rapidly clicking sounds, ending with severe abruptness. Again, a thoughtful, interesting piece. Finally, "division", for nine electric guitars and electronics. Oddly, "blindfolded", I couldn't have told you which of the last two was solo, which a nonet. Still a drone, though, here with a more overt organ-y quality. The pulses are soft and mellifluous and I can imagine the composition working some amount of wonder in situ but on disc, it was the one piece I thought went on a bit longer than its ideas merited.

A very enjoyable recording overall, however, and I'm glad to belatedly hear Vine's work. You can be your own judge at:

Vine's bandcamp site

6335 - ♭'s safari (self-released)

A youthful Salt Lake City-based trio comprised of Brian Pickles, Lance Buchi and Ryan Fedor wielding all manner of electronics, cheap reeds, turntables, mics, etc. The pieces here (recorded in 2010) are loosely organized soundscapes, sometimes incorporating hazy melodic patterns and rhythms, sometimes drifting. "Whoa, Rhonda", the opener, is wonderful, a kind of Ashley-esque, swirling line, awash in lush tonality, multiple lines of what sound like (but probably aren't) bass clarinets, playing a slow, slightly bluesy, almost dirge-like sequence. I'm reminded, oddly, of parts of the 1990 recording on Les Disques du Crepuscule of Bryars' "The Sinking of the Titanic", that kind of resonant underwater feel. The title track stretches things out and adds a healthy dollop of harshness, but meanders a bit overmuch; it's a tough fence to straddle. "Rainbow Jumpers", the other longish cut, is simultaneously spacier and tighter, the floating clouds of softer sounds and heavy fuzz tones ably enveloping the rough clatter that sounds for all the world like random objects tossed about inside a room; quite nice. "Salt Palace" gels a bit better than the second piece, some fine stuttering sounds throughout but again overstays its welcome somewhat. It turns out that those two were recorded outside, the other three in the studio, so perhaps that's somehow the source of (for me)the slight lack of propulsion I found myself wanting to hear. In any event, "g'night ♭'s" takes things out in strong fashion, sprawling and dark but with a solidity and, as in the first piece, a strong sense of melodic content, that carries it through.

Good work overall, give a listen yourself.

6335's bandcamp site

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Some things with words...

Firstly, I just wanted to make sure people were aware of this marvelous new resource, edited by Ryoko Ayama, Heather Frasch and Daniel del Rio, One.

Issue #1 contains texts by Akama and del Rio as well as text-accompanied recordings by Ryu Hankil (a typographical work based on Ponge's "La Table", but one that incorporates, somehow, resonant qualities of the table), Sarah Hughes (a gorgeous trio performed by Bruno Gastella, Dom Lash and Hughes) and Toshiya Tsunoda (text set against silent video plus extracts from field recordings).

I'm quite excited about this journal--do check it out.


David Neal Lee - The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York Jazz Field (Wolsak & Wynn)

Lee, a former writer for Coda magazine and the author of "Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz", has chosen an intriguing slice of history on which to concentrate in this brief and highly enjoyable book: Coleman's 1959 emergence, fully-formed, onto the New York jazz scene and his virtually immediate ascension into the slot of "the next big thing". Lee chooses not to concentrate directly on the music at all save in the most general terms, instead focussing on the sociological forces at work that enabled an outsider in every sense of the term, someone who hadn't followed the rules of apprenticeship, sideman-activity or working his way through the clubs (as, for example, the equally avant-garde Cecil Taylor had done), to bypass these cultural regulations and garner sought after gigs and an enormous public response from press to fans to emissaries from the aesthetic elite, including the classical world. Lee traces Coleman's journey to that point and drawing heavily upon the writing of the French philosopher/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his notions of the "consecrated avant-garde" and hierarchies therein, the lines of power that came together to "allow" such an event in the field of cultural aesthetics.

Engaging and lucidly written, without a trace of academese, it's a fascinating perspective from which to view this sequence of events, an all-too-uncommon stepping to the side and coming at an issue from a new angle. Would that this were done more often. Highly recommended.

Wolsak & Wynn

Hein Schoer - Box of Treasures (Gruenrekorder/[transcript])

Sound ethnographer Schoer is less than 40 years old but "Box of Treasures" has something of a magnum opus feeling about it. Three discs are included: an audio CD, and audio DVD and an interactive DVD as well as a 400+ page book. The book covers a vast range, much of it fascinating and I daresay invaluable for the field recordist, especially those who re attempting to document cultural artifacts as opposed to those interested in purely sonic phenomena. Schoer does go to great lengths enumerating all manner of technical geekery but his main interest is in the history of sound archiving (worth the price of the set on its own). He provides a good summary of cultural anthropology, stressing sound aspects, from Levi-Strauss and Boas through Edward Said and others, laying great stress on ethical elements of the endeavor. This is all presented in a conversational style, interspersed with tales from the Native American groups he interacted with in and around Alert Bay, British Columbia and his own participation in their daily life, including potlatch event. Schoer comes across as a quite honest individual, providing personal takes and opinions on everything he encounters. If these sometimes cause the raising of a critical eyebrow (naming "Lord of the Rings" as the greatest work of fiction ever, citing some "wisdom" from "Star Wars", claiming to have actually seen the Thunderbird spirit during the above-mentioned rite), one generally welcomes his forthrightness and willingness to spend time making sure things are clear. The book is, overall, an excellent resource.

As you might gather, what's heard on the disc is an attempt (Schoer realizes the impossibility) to convey a sonic impression of the culture, something done both through stories and conversations with members of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation and his own reconstructions of recordings, many of which are indeed post-production feats designed, as he admits, to draw in the listener with elements more "dramatic" than were necessarily captured at a given time or place. Personally, while not uninteresting, I found the CD less revealing of both the people being recorded and Schoer himself than the text.

But if you have any interest at all in this area, "Box of Treasures" is probably a mandatory acquisition; beautifully assembled and presenting a wide glimpse into this particular world.


The Sounding Museum

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gerardo Alejos' and Enrique Rejón's new label looks mighty promising (apart from the fact that they're releasing on cassette...argh. :-) ) and here are the first two offerings, heard by me via mp3.

Steve Flato - Mara's Daughters (Lengua de Lava)

I think this is the first Flato I've heard since his fine collaboration with Vanessa Rossetto, "hwaet" and I'm happy to report he remains as uncompromising as ever. Three pieces totaling over 80 minutes. The title track is a storm of harsh electronics, harsh but somehow not as opaque or self-aggrandizing as much in that vein; a gentle harshness, if you will. Relentlessly abstract and hurtling, it nonetheless feels transparent, like looking at/listening to up close a rapid jet of water, a natural stream at that, containing various kinds of torrents and aquatic life, many layers of such. It's one of those pieces that, on the one hand, seems to be engaging in the kind of kitchen sink approach that almost guarantees sonic mud but, miraculously, manages to balance its elements so adeptly that it takes conscious effort to begin to understand how much is occurring at any given moment. A plug is pulled some minutes from its conclusion, resulting in a certain amount of very appealing stutter, small rhythms becoming apparent during the lengthy winding down. Very impressive, another work that I'd love to experience in situ. "Mara's Veils" is every bit as forthright but sounds quite different, more rhythmically diverse, little ratchets and crystals of sound sprouting up all over, spatially distinct, allowing a good amount of "air" between. Clouds increase, chirps appear as the piece careens into greater and greater density, eventually grinding and fluttering to a halt, again very strong. Given these precedents, the last track, "Salton Sea", is something of a surprise, a relatively soft, grainy soundscape, very atmospheric and with a tonal base. Plenty of sour and sandy lines work their way through the haze, though, providing needed friction as the piece unspools into ringing tones, wildlife before acknowledging those prior tracks with an abrupt, brutal final second. Strong work, highly recommended.

Joe Panzner/Greg Stuart - Jason Brogan/Sam Sfirri - Harness (Lengua de Lava)

A split cassette, very different works both recorded at the same event in early 2014. The first half of Panzner and Stuart's "We didn't get there tonight" strikes me as both radical in relation to most improvisatory electronics one encounters these days at the same time it hearkens back to Tudor's work in the field. The essential quality strikes me as one of uncertainty, of a "teetering on the brink of disaster" feeling, a harder and harder thing to come by as the technology advances. The piece stutters like some top-heavy robot on spindly legs, always just barely managing to negotiate the landscape without collapsing. Love it. There's something of a drone element in place at all times and, during the work's second half, it comes to predominate, splaying into a prickly set of overlays, again fragile but in the sense of possibly caking and dissembling instead of falling over. It sort of does that in its closing moments, flaking and curdling into a mash of flatulent buzz. Demanding work, really, really good.

"Wolf", from Brogan and Sfirri, involves, well, wolves. Also water, thunder and subtle electronics. The lupine aspect, perhaps inevitably and not at all hurt by the atmospherics, conjures up dark, miasmal images, swamp gas, leafless limbs, the wolves engaging in multipart choruses in the hazy moonglow. It sounds as though some of the howls are processed into low, reverberant moans, the entire performance shifting to a kind of gluey, Seconal vibe, sparked only by the odd rush of static. The piece gradually settles into a kind of serenity, softly hooping bird calls and a distant hum, the wolves' voices penetrating the landscape. Unusual and effective.

So thus far, Lengua de Lava is two for two; here's hoping they keep it up.

A label website, Lengua de Lava is still under construction.

In the meantime, orders can be placed by mailing:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jürg Frey - more or less (New Focus Recordings)

Three compositions of Frey's recorded by the ensemble (Alex Temple, synthesizer, melodica; Ammie Brod, viola; Billie Howard, violin, auxiliary instruments; Eliza Bangert, flute; Jeff Kimmel, bass clarinet; Kenn Kumpf, voice, whistle; Matthew Oliphant, French horn, auxiliary instruments; Nomi Epstein, piano, auxiliary instruments; Nora Barton, cello, auxiliary instruments; Robert Reinhart, voice, bassoon).

"more or less normal" (2005-2007) is a standout for me. Frey has always been one of the, if not the, most overtly melodic composers in the Wandelweiser group and, though there's not anything like a clear melody in play here, the whole sense of the piece is a kind of luxuriation in the tonal, a bed from which the melodic could easily spring. I'm reminded of a more fleshed out variation on Feldman works like "Why Patterns?" or "Crippled Symmetry" (flute and piano ring through brightly). There are hazy, mass fluctuations of groupings--hazy, but never moving without purpose, like fogs clouds moving slowly over a landscape, feeling and undulating with the ground beneath. A gorgeous work, almost maximalist in breadth.

"canones incerti" (2010) has been recorded by the Dedalus Ensemble on the wonderful Potlatch from 2013 (see my write-up here). The earlier performance was very delicate and firmly embedded in an audible, urban soundscape. Here, the ensemble offers a somewhat more robust reading (in studio, I assume) and it's equally effective. Like all the works on this release, and common to Frey, the performers have wide latitude with regard to their negotiating a way through the score, here choosing when to initiate and play their two lines. Akin to the above, though sounding quite different, there's a strong feeling of shifting masses, here more laminar and semi-solid. So lovely when, as near the conclusion, the bulk of the instruments subside, leaving a lone voice, in this case piano. Beautiful piece.

"60 pieces of sound" (2009) is a tougher nut to crack. True to its title (I think; not that I've counted), it's made up of 60 sound blocks (about ten seconds each) separated by silences (some 15 seconds in duration). The sounds are dense and even a bit rough, the latter quality provided by some rustling apparatus, the tones shifting, presumably at some discretion of the instrumentalists. There's not the flow of the previous works and the fairly abrupt demarcations between sound and silence lend an opaque aspect to the music that, for me, is difficult to embrace. But taken int he context of the recording, it's a good offset, can be read as the other side of the coin from its precedents. P;us, of course, I may simply not be getting everything out of it I should.

Epstein writes: "Across the three compositions, Frey gives the performers aesthetic impulse and direction coupled with a sense of freedom. Patience for the sonorous outcome is required. The sonic space is left with a fluctuating balance of what might happen (or what the players hope to happen) with the actual realization. Performers must give in to the unknown, knowing their role within the piece is both small and essential."

This is more than enough. A fine recording, expertly realized, do give a listen.

In Focus Recordings

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Joëlle Léandre/Michael Duch - (live at) Gråmølna (Confront)

I admit to being a little bit apprehensive when I saw this pairing. My experience with Duch's work has been generally positive, though he seems at home equally well with various schools of thought, including the kind of jazz-based free improv of the efi branch that tries my patience. Léandre, while an extraordinarily strong player, had, in my experience live and on record (in recent years seeing her in Sweden and here in Paris) almost entirely given herself over to that area; watching her in Vasteras a couple of years ago, in a trio with François Houle and Raymond Strid, if I'm remembering correctly, I recall thinking how much I would have loved the music 20 years prior (it was exceptionally well rendered) but could not dredge up interest nowadays. In any case, I'm happy to report that my fears were unfounded or, perhaps, that they were lodged in places I needn't be afraid of in the first place. They succeed in creating some marvelous music not by venturing into post-AMM or Wandelweiser territory but but revisiting, however obliquely, the pleasures of tonal improvisation.

Six pieces in this live set from 2013, four duos and a solo from each. The first begins in the sort of area I expected, rapidly bowed, skittering; very supple and alert. Gradually, though, the sounds deepen, the interplay complexifies and you start to pick up (unintentional?) references to music that owes more to Shostakovich than to Peter Kowald--it's quite exhilarating, a kind or dipping into prior knowledge ameliorated by all that's come between. The next continues in that line, with harsher bowings, sharp breath exhalations, voice and accentuation via plucks, very forceful and dramatic, the bass playing (not the vocals) reminding me a bit of some of Dave Holland's best work in the early 70s. Léandre's solo continues with the vocalizations, evoking vague folk traditions, with simultaneous heavy pluck and harmonic bowing, quite impressive. The following duo might edge closest to the claustrophobic effect I get from much efi, but it' leavened, again, by some wonderfully expansive work in the low registers, sounds that enliven and even give purpose to those flitting by hyperactively above. A delicate, considered solo by Duch (really fine and super melodic in nature), leads to the final track, a robust, bottom-heavy improv with tight rhythmic kernels buoying the load jauntily along.

I'm very glad to have heard this, a really solid effort.


D.O.R. featuring Crys Cole - Hestekur (Caduc)

Six tracks, the first four with Jamie Drouin (suitcase modular (!), radio), Lance Austin Olsen (floor guitar, amplified objects) and Mathieu Ruhlmann (turntable, motors, amplified objects), the last two with the addition of Crys Cole (contact mics, objects). Fine, low level rumble 'n' hiss with all sorts of intervening sounds leaking in; the distant, globularly distorted radio voice on the first and third tracks is especially effective. There's a cool sheen to much of the music, a metallic cast that sends out the odd spark or short term series of rhythmic pops; very somber. Without wishing to tread on stale stereotypes, I do think it's clear that as of the fifth track, when Cole enters, things warm up substantially, the music becomes more enveloping, thicker; perhaps a coincidence. The album structure works very well, building to a kind of release at its conclusion. The individual elements aren't earthshaking but they've been molded into a thoughtful, solid form with strong ensemble playing. Well worth a listen.


(Various) - Balloon & Needle Compilation (Balloon & Needle)

In which 19 musicians (and, by extension, given the materials provided in the always amazing B&N packaging, the listener his/herself) are asked to construct music using only a balloon and/or a needle.

Names familiar to me included Judy Dunaway, Enrico Malatesta, Benedict Drew, Eugene Chadbourne (! shockingly, his track goes on far too long), Jin Sangtae, Ricardo Arias (an experience audio-balloonist), Dave Phillips, Hong Chulki, Luciano Maggiore, Umeda Tetsuya and Frans de Waard. The results are...mixed. Despite the "rules", other sound sources are heard every so often, but even within the parameters, the tracks, while likely as varied as they could be, have an overall patina of sameness about them. Most, to put it in shorthand, carry an efi feel (abundance of activity, little use of space) rather than an eai one. Gen 26's (Matjaz Galicic) dense noisefest stands apart for its non-stop clamor, Drew's work (using cymbals) has some thoughtfulness going as does Arias' "Crackle (Low)" (experience showing, perhaps). Hong Chulki's "No balloon but a needle" is pretty much as fine as his work elsewhere and Tetsuya's piece, "Use paper as a needle put microphone in a balloon" traverses wide, interesting territory including the liquid.

With a couple of exceptions, it's all fine, just not too much I was able to get very excited about. Reduced palettes can be great but sometimes one wants more. Me, I took my balloon, rubbed it between my fingers--nice texture and a lovely soft sound--, blew air into it, let it out, slowly, next to my ear. Quite enjoyable.

Balloon & Needle

also available via Erst Dist

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kevin Drumm/Jason Lescalleet - The Abyss (Erstwhile)

Another double-disc released at the same time as the Frey/Malfatti "II", but, unsurprisingly, a whole nuther bowl o' tapioca although also not exactly what one might have expected from this pairing. The potential for (worthwhile) ear damage was there, no doubt, and while such moments are at least approached, the overall feel of the release is a troubled, brooding dark. Abyssal, one might say.

One learns to expect hidden structures in most anything Lescalleet's involved with and, from the start, I'm curious about the track lengths, all of which bear either repeated or palindromic numbers; of course, I've no idea what this means. The overall structure is a bit odd as well, the first six tracks on Disc One totaling some 38 minutes, leading into the title cut (33:33) which, in turn leads to Disc Two's single track, "The Echo of Your Past" (49:49), the last two being of a pretty different character.

Disc One belies expectations by beginning with a short snatch (:55) of ambient birds before a cauldron of molten lead is poured onto the scene ("Anger Alert", 11:11), hissing and aroar, which is swept into a cymbalic landscape underlaid by deep, deep rumblings. (Pausing to note that, in addition to their usual devices--guitars, electronics, tape--, Drumm is credited with piano and Lescalleet with Hammond 136J, Casio SK5 and Dell XPS). The next surprise is a sudden brass fanfare, lifted from I-don't-know-where followed by an organ descent into a damp morass that includes a slowed vocal that I think I almost recognize, an iterated revisit by the brass that crumbles into ash. It's a pretty great track. We hear the piano bang heavily beneath the surface boil and clatter of "Flaws Played Thawed and Flayed", tympanum-shredding electric shards (very similar to what I recently experienced with a live Drumm set at Instants Chavirés) on "Abuse" leading to wavering organ in "Boatswain's Call"; this entire trio, all palindromic timings, is very fine. "Outside Now" lowers the heat, again with organ-y (sounding ring-modulated) chords which intensify, turn to gravel and coruscate, a slash and burn strategy that leaves the field clear for the title cut. Ya got that? "The Abyss", the cut, is all about low, ultra-low cloudy sound; it caused audible vibrations in various objects on my table. There seem to be numerous elements involved but the two that standout are what sounds like a low, controlled feedback yawp/billow and something approximating a corroded, distant orchestral sample, sometimes with fuzzed guitar swoops entering. But it's all so blurred and dark that things morph into one another and you're left with the impression of sheer, deeply vibrating mass. There's tonal content buried in there as well, occasionally sticking its head out and conjuring up images of the nether reaches of early prog bands. It's an impressive piece, managing to sustain interest throughout its length despite more or less occupying one space, and serves as a fine repository for the tracks that preceded, as though they eroded or were tossed into the churning chasm. Disc One would have been a very strong recording on its own

But no. "The Echo of Your Past" starts akin to "Dawn" on Disc One, a (nighttime?) swath of crickets, fumblings about and passing engines. Lava emerges, scours the scene leaving a low hum. One begins to think that this work will be more episodic than the title piece and, in a way, it is but very subtly. Again, things drift down to the murky depths but now, in addition to the layers of thrums and vibrations, there's a prickly super-high tone flitting around, messing with your cochlea and other gradual shifts as well. The organ surfaces (I think it was there all along), dark, rich and grinding, a great sound, wonderful tension in the sustain. This peaks and abruptly fades just short of 20 minutes in, the "natural" sounds re-emerge for a bit before we once again descend to the abyss' floor, the quiet swirl of noxious gases inevitably building in strength and solidity, back to that subterranean feedback-y quality we heard before (it wouldn't surprise me if much of this track was constructed from those on Disc One). Table shaking again with the subsonics, eventually augmented by (I think) a raft of burning sounds. From those ashes, ethereal ringing--redemption? An explosion back into the night, soft guitar chords, crickets taking things out and sudden silence. A really fantastic piece.

And an excellent release in toto, as strong as most anything I've heard from either in quite some time.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Jürg Frey/Radu Malfatti - II (Erstwhile)

Two discs, the first with a work by Malfatti ("shoguu"), the second containing one from Frey ("instruments, field recordings, counterpoints").

"shoguu" translates into "dealing with" and I could deal (and have, actually, dealt) with the piece for days. Clarinet and trombone, in some ways not entirely dissimilar to most of Malfatti's pieces of recent years in that long, quiet tones are offered suspended in space, sometimes touching or overlapping, but also extending his ambit. The nature of the placement, the clarity of the tones (sometimes with a slight burr on the reed, also the odd Malfattian clink of fingernail against bell, all so finely recorded by Christoph Amann), the almost too large to discern, organic structure--these all conspire to form a kind of gentle monumentality, an open vastness. The general contrast of the tones is wonderful in and of itself as is the poetry of the subtle shifts in pitch and the irregularities of placement. The "gaps" themselves are alive with soft breaths and moist lip movements. I get the sense of a hyperextended song as though, were the music to be compressed, a somber melody would more clearly emerge. As is, it seems to be the task of the listener to retain this long string of notes and construct one for him or herself. And that's supremely enjoyable. I'm not sure what else to say; like a lengthy Feldman piece, "shoguu" defies encapsulation. Only to say that I've listened numerous times, have loved every occasion and, thus far, have always found relationships I hadn't heard or understood on previous listens, something I expect to continue indefinitely. A fantastic work, something to be dealt with.

The Frey composition inhabits a very different sound world and is equally wondrous. Even at his sparsest, Frey always seems to have a subtle Romantic quality to his music (as opposed, deliciously, to Malfatti's rigor) and that sense of longing and gentle melancholy seep through the blurred field recordings here, the trombone (very deep) and clarinet imparting a brooding, pensive note. The acoustic instruments bleed through the recordings which, on their own, seem to go through stages of feedback, obscuring the boundaries of those contributions. It's possible that vehicular sounds are there, with wind through trees or an overall urban hum, but all the elements merge so well, one swiftly puts concern over differentiation aside. Echoing bangs, sounding as though emanating from a large interior space, are mirrored, in an oddly touching manner, by what almost becomes a melody from the horns about 18 minutes in; it's a stunning moment. That moment lingers for quite a while, amidst foggy clangs and, eventually, near-at-hand chirps. The horn tones are like warm extensions of the general hum, as though the multitude of natural frequencies coalesced into this sonic breeze, floating through the landscape knowingly and sympathetically. About 42 minutes in, the character changes somewhat, Malfatti inserting a mute, the surrounding sounds thinning out, becoming shopping-mallish (with drips), a kind of cymbal wash seeming to appear; it's disjunctive but, for me, arriving at precisely the right time, an elbow nudge acknowledging other areas, perhaps less accommodating. Foghorns and buoys. This drift toward the conclusion, attenuated, not nearly as lush as heard at the beginning, is bracing, an astringent tonic offered instead of steady state. I love it.

A fine, fine release, certainly among my top favorites of the year.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Asher Tuil

Two Compositions
Selections from an Unlimited Series

The mysterious Asher (here using Tuil, previously having used Thal-Nir or no last name) emerges from the darkness once again with three offerings all available for listening at bandcamp. I have the general impression that Asher's music straddles something of a dividing line among eai aficionados, many finding that it strays overmuch into ambient territory. I can understand that and, indeed, find it to be the case now and then, both in the past and among this current batch, though it often enough transcends that circumscription, sometimes with extreme beauty.

These recording fall into the long-form, "ambient" bucket (as opposed, say, to Asher's "Miniatures" project) albeit with substantial differences between them. "Two Compositions" is perhaps the most traditional in that sense, with washes of gentle, grainy sound wafting through the room, never confrontational, vaguely tonal with complexities only discernible upon micro-listening. Still,to me, it seemed a bit regressive, covering old territory. I enjoyed the "Selections from an Unlimited Series" much more, in part due to their ghostlier nature, very much verging on a kind of insubstantiality but more clearly brimming with faint layers,sometimes evoking images of distant bee swarms. Instead of wafting through, they left traces on the walls of the room. "Nocturne", in fact, sounds not too unlike a 32-minute extended variation on the kind of music heard in the aforementioned "Miniatures": spectral piano, as though from an instrument that's sat in an attic for decades, its notes drifting through webs, curtains, dust, achingly melancholy. Perhaps too spacey for some but very moving and rich to me.

Hear for yourself at: Asher's bandcamp site

Saturday, September 06, 2014

more from downloadsville. As ever, apologies for the relative brevity but most of these can be heard for yourself, for free.

Giacomo Fiore - iv: american electric guitars

A fine selection of four works for electric guitar. Eve Beglarian's "until it blazes" is a very attractive, propulsive minimalist piece utilizing delay, eventually recalling "Carol of the Bells" before crumbling into a welcome chaos. This is followed by a morsel guaranteed to set me drooling, Christian Wolff's "another possibility" (2004), the piece he wrote attempting to recollect what he could of the lost Feldman score the latter wrote for Wolff in 1966. It's a lovely piece, delicately meandering in ways maybe only Wolff can create, gentle with the odd abrupt spike or surprising rhythmic motif. Beautifully played and, I'm sure of no direct relevance, reminding me of Derek Bailey in a reflective mood. Anthony Porter's "hair of the thing that bit you" is up next and, on the surface begins not so far from the Wolff, though more intrinsically melodic, before segueing into a light, repetitive section, prickly and jumpy, with rock allusions. Finally, Larry Polansky's "freeHorn" appears, a work involving computerized retuning of the guitar in a manner that surpasseth my understanding. Over the years, I've had reservations of much of what Polansky I've encountered (surely a limited sample) but this piece, with its alap-like character and liquid microtonality, is wonderful, happily never really resolving, just wandering off. Good stuff.


Tim Allen - Emergent Forms (Conv)

An hour-long work comprised of processed electronic signals, that is to say the sounds emitted by electric devices such as lights, refrigerators, computers etc. Allen, as you can read on the Conv page, was able to unearth all sorts of "hidden" sounds and has woven them together into this entirely enjoyable mesh of hums, static, quasi-rhythmic clicks and more. It can drift into spacier areas than I'm comfortable with from time to time but Allen always manages to wrest things back into more interesting, grittier places, incorporating snatches of voices (phone conversation?) and other harder-edged sounds. Just as I'm thinking it's overstaying its welcome, a new element is introduced that makes the wait worthwhile, as occurs at approximately the 53 minute mark with a wonderfully ringing tone, supported by low, stuttering growls and sandy washes. Check it out.


Glenn Stallcop - Ash Fork Verses #3 (SMS Recordings)

A set of thirteen solo piano improvisations that lie somewhere in the kind of jazz/classical area that I associate with musicians like Ran Blake. Reflective, even gently melancholy, rhythms implied rather than overtly stated, a tonality that hovers around the 1920s French classical world (though suitably Americanized, with discrete bluesy accents), a sort of blurry, sour-tinged (aptly) romanticism. Stallcop has none of the fussiness that often mars such ventures (Jarrett and his ilk); things are pared down, clean and honest. Again Blake or, in his more ruminative moments, Mal Waldron come to mind. No extended techniques, no sense of living in a post-Cage world (or, for that matter, a Skempton or John White-occupied one), which is fine. After a while, I get a sense of sameness from the pieces, all of them occupying a similar area in terms of dynamics, pacing and general content. Extremely well-played and, I'm guessing, right up the alley of more chamber jazz-inclined readers, if lacking some urgency for me. Not a criticism, really, just a taste thing. I'd be curious to hear Stallcop in duo with, say, a Barre Philips or Joe Morris, to hear what else could be evoked.

Hear for yourself at: Soundcloud

Friday, September 05, 2014

Anne-F Jacques/Tim Olive - Dominion Mills (845 Audio)

A tasty little nugget that somehow struck me as much more difficult and impenetrable upon first listen than it turned out to be. Jacques (my first exposure to her work, pretty sure), uses "rotating devices", described in the notes as manipulated and amplified motors, and you can hear them in effect throughout (I initially thought turntables or objects thereupon were involved), providing disjointed rhythmic, loopy avenues. Olive here solely employs magnetic pickups, "the engine of a devolved one-string electric guitar". This proves quite ample as the duo constructs very solid, plastic tracks, the motors evoking a presence both corporeal and whirling, Olive's lines (which sometimes sound like toy saxophones or trumpets) skittering through--the thick and the thin. Far from difficult, the music becomes rather beguiling, retaining substantial materiality and an oily/grimy feel (a good thing) but supplementing it with a kind of calm. I've heard a number of things from Olive over the years; this might be my favorite. Good stuff.

845 Audio

Jonas Kocher/Badrutt Gaudenz - Cinema Rex (INSUB)

A free net-release recording of an improvised concert with Kocher (accordion) and Badrutt (electronics). Kocher's been gliding more and more into Wandelweiserian ranges in my recent experiences of his work but here, with Badrutt, he modulates that tendency (welcome as it is) just a bit, injecting some amount of stridency and acidity into the often long-held tones. He's both mirrored (in a well-distorted manner) and commented upon by the electronics which are as likely to generate along lines indistinguishable from the accordion as to set up flurries of opposition. The accordion sounds electric and the electronics, acoustic as often as not. There's usually a fine irregularity at play here, not scattershot at all but also without the sense of being confined to a given approach or dynamic level; sometimes, as during a raucous section that begins around the 15-minute mark, there's some vexing discontinuity but even then it's rescued by a charge into the depths. Kocher shows an affinity for his instrument's nether regions here and elsewhere and, happily, doesn't mind letting the reedy textures seep through now and then. The pair's "social insects" in 2012 was less satisfying in this regard, so I'm happy to hear a more cohesive result this time around. Strong performance.

You can hear, for free, for yourself at: INSUB