Saturday, November 29, 2014

Seth Cluett - Forms of Forgetting (Line)

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

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


Ferran Fages/Ernesto Rodrigues - Cru (Creative Sources)

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

Creative Sources

Friday, November 28, 2014

Three slabs o' vinyl

Nate Wooley/Chris Forsyth - Third (Rekem)

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

Rekem Records

Back Magic - Chorus Line to Hell (Milvia Son)

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

Milvia Son

Dinah Bird - A Box of 78s (Gruenrekorder)

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christian Wolff - Pianist: Pieces (Sub Rosa)

It's been a very Wolffian month around these here parts, initiated by the receipt of this very fine three-disc set. I received it while Keith Rowe was staying over for his performance at the bizarre event at the new Louis Vuitton Foundation and we listened to several tracks together, comparing a couple to Tilbury's renditions. Knowing I was going to be going to Nantes on the 17th of November for two evenings devoted largely to Wolff's music, I began to immerse myself in his work, going so far as to construct an Excel spreadsheet of his complete works, noting both what I have on disc (and observing vacancies) as well as searching out and listing what I could locate online, thereby exposing myself to much music of which I'd previously been unaware. Additionally, I went and ordered several CDs on Mode and Wergo (plus the 10-disc box set of Music for Merce, which includes several Wolff pieces) which were waiting for me upon my return from Nantes, where I'd spent three amazing, humbling days hanging out with Wolff, Tilbury and Rowe. All of this has been a somewhat overwhelming experience.

I came to Wolff's music fairly late, probably not seriously listening until the mid 90s and even then, it almost always gave me an odd kind of "trouble". It seems so transparent and clear and yet I constantly found it very difficult to grasp. The term "slippery" would often come to mind. I talked about this with Wolff last week and he agreed, even enjoyed the reaction, saying it wasn't uncommon and lay along the lines of what he desired. I felt it was my issue, not the music's and persevered, only in recent years feeling I was generally able to wrap my head around most pieces, much to my great and consistently expanding enjoyment.

This recording is laid out quite clearly and, in a sense, transparently. The first disc is comprised of seven works from 1951-1959, when Wolff's compositional gifts were flowering (always worth remembering, this means from the age of 17 to 24!), the last disc, pieces from 2001-2010. In between, Disc Two is devoted to a 2004 work, "Long Piano (Peace March 11)".

The word "transparency" surfaces several times in Thomas' excellent and informative liner notes at the same time as it's linked to "complexity" with regard to Wolff's notations in his scores, which often include tablature playing (specifying the fingers to use but not the notes), lack of tempi, dynamics, octave choice and more, including instructions which will give various outcomes depending on how "well" the performer has carried out some prior directive. This last is the case in "For Pianist" (1959), which is heard at the beginning and end of Disc One. The two versions make sense in that the performer is allowed to play the score in any page order, skip pages, repeat them, etc. I have versions of this piece by Tudor, Rzewski, Tilbury, Schleiermacher and now Thomas and was hoping to do some comparison listening and write about it; I did the former but damned if I can say anything one way or another about the interpretations as varied as they are. It's more to the point, I think, to appreciate how wonderful and rich the piece itself is. I won't (can't, really) say too much about the 50s pieces except that their clarity, musicality and sheer honesty shines through. There's something I've found increasingly magical about Wolff's pieces or, perhaps given their nature, the readings by pianists like Thomas and Tilbury, who have lived through 50+ more years of musical and cultural changes, not to mention improvisational histories in Tilbury's case, which I can't help but assume brings more richness to such music. Suffice it to say that I get the feeling I could listen to these works for years and still find myself unlocking attributes previously unheard.

"Long Piano (Peace march 11)" is on the one hand monumental but of an oddly porous nature, made up of 96 fragments which range from silence to elaborate forms that refer to the classical lineage, toccatas, chorales, oblique melodic references to Schumann and Ives and a concluding "setting of of the medieval French song, "L'homme armé" (all derived more from Thomas' notes than my own ears). I'd been listening to what recordings of Wolff's Peace Marches I could find in recent days and, as one would guess from the titles, there are often hazy allusions to folk or protest songs embedded therein, something Wolff has made a frequent practice since the mid-70s; it's in another county from Rzewski's 70s work but not so distant that you can't make out traces of resemblance. One gets a feeling of extreme expansiveness here, a vast landscape of possibilities. Again, the composition affords the pianist many choices; this is the first I've heard the piece and am very curious to hear others (there's one by Thomas Schulz on New World). As is, this rendition is spellbinding.

The post-2000 selections reflect what I think could be fairly called the more classical or lyrical strain in Wolff's recent music, often containing longer lines and a clearer indebtedness to the tradition established by Bach and his musical descendants though, of course, filtered through Wolff's unique lens. That slipperiness I mentioned is in full effect here in that the form often leads you to think one thing is occurring where, in reality, a dozen other things happen instead, all of which seem to make sense but require a huge expansion of listening prowess to understand and accept them. Subtly astonishing music. Several of the Nocturnes were played by Wolff and Tilbury last week and it was a pleasure to hear them again here, recalling Wolff's explanation (here, in Thomas' words) that "the performer is permitted to read any note in any clef and any octave and with any doubling of these" so that a single note could be read as a multiple note chord; Tilbury took delight in this. Also present are "Pianist Pieces", "A Piano Piece", "Small Preludes" (especially marvelous) and "Touch".

There's so much here, both on this last disc and the entire set, almost too much to stand back and take in. Just a tremendous effort and result, an absolute must for the Wolff aficionado, a fantastic job by Thomas.

Sub Rosa

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jaap Blonk/Damon Smith - Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 1916 (Six Sound Poems, 1916) (Balance Point Acoustics)

This is a difficult one for me to properly consider or write about for various reasons. First, I've never really warmed to most Dadaist poetry. Not that it's by any means been an object of serious study (largely due to my not being drawn to it in the first place), but when I've encountered examples over the years, including Ball, as read by others, it simply fails to connect (ok, the Marie Osmond rendition is pretty great). My failing, I'm sure. Second, in my admittedly limited exposure to Blonk's work, both live and on disc, I've similarly been unable to make much of a connection. This is a "condition" I share with many, to be sure: a difficulty with free improvising vocalists generally, not just Blonk. It's long been a subject of discussion why this issue is so (relatively) prevalent among a decent percentage of free music fans, perhaps having to do with certain expectations that come into play when we recognize the human voice, some need for narrative, some reluctance to let it be heard as abstractly as we do a trumpet or saxophone sound. For myself (and I think this is also something commonly shared), I feel more comfortable when the vocalist goes to an extreme in that abstraction, for example Ami Yoshida or Christian Kesten; then I'm able to countenance it better. Again, my failing, no doubt, but not an uncommon one as far as I can tell. (And I absolutely love it when a free vocalist reins him or herself in, using what they've learned, as for instance when Phil Minton sings "The Cutty Wren").

I was thinking that Blonk and Ball seemed to be a natural enough pairing and see that he previously recorded some Ball pieces in 1989 with alto saxophonist Bart van der Putten and bassist Pieter Meurs, similarly titled "Six Sound Poems of Hugo Ball" (Kontrans), and presumably has performed them elsewhere, as he has with Schwitters and others. I'm curious how/if the renditions differed over the year with various collaborators. In this case, I have to say that the results more or less approximate what I expected going in, with Blonk giving excited, often manic readings, generally conveying a kind of mental imbalance or, at least, a different balance from that maintained in the everyday world, entirely appropriate to the Dada spirit, of course. Given that there are texts, it's not free improvised per se but,, obviously, he has great fun with stretching, rumbling and disemboweling the words, made up though they be. Smith, whose playing I always find very fine, including in contexts of which I'm not always too enamored, is excellent here, tending to match Blonk in freneticism, often skittering in high registers. When he lowers the pitch and digs deep into the bass, almost Hadenesque, as on "Karavane" (the piece given such a heartfelt rendering by Osmond), things work very well for this listener, Blonk's ravings given a good, strong counterweight. His arco work on "Gadji Beri Bimba" is also outstanding, again pairing well with Blonk's more full-throated warblings and trills on this piece; similarly with his harsh, dark plucking vs. Blonk's guttural growls on "Totenklage". Given these examples of compatible playing/singing, part of me would have liked to have heard the opposite, say Smith playing richly and melodically alongside Blonk's/Ball's frenzied sound poetry. But so it goes.

If, at the end, I remain not entirely convinced, I wound up appreciating the effort and certain portions of the performance far more than I would have expected. But please take my predilections with a grain of salt. Ball and Dada enthusiasts will very likely derive a great deal of pleasure from this one.

Balance Point Acoustics

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Three new cassette releases from Notice Recordings (heard via download)

Ben Owen - Birds and Water 4 (Notice Recordings)

Owen's "Birds & Water" also appeared on Notice a few years back. Apparently I've missed one intervening number but "4" (presented with the connecting word, not the ampersand) has migrated a good distance from at least one of its forbears, though as the titles of the two pieces indicate ("20100509-04" and "20100509-08"), these were recorded in 2010 at The Experimental Television Center in Owego, NY. Both are drone works, both setting a pattern in motion and sticking with it for 20 minutes. The first, "20100509-04)", contains at least two lines, thick and ropy, one slightly out of phase with the other, creating a varies series of internal pulses. As an effect, of course it's something that we've all heard, probably many times. But as an example, a kind of laying out of the process, quite open and transparent, it has the beauty of an elegant mathematical drawing, say of a parabola, though one with non-standard fluctuations. I discovered that if I yawned while listening (not out of boredom!), the perceived pitch lowered slightly; interesting. I've used the Partch line before but am forced to resuscitate it here; it does exactly one thing but that one thing it does superbly. The second cut, though also a drone, is immediately different--a much more porous texture. Very quickly you realize you don't have to yawn to shift pitch, Owen is doing it for you, microtonally sliding up and down, perceptibly but subtly, throughout the work. Again, this attack is maintained for the duration, very lovely, sometimes recalling La Monte Young's high tension wires, the minute variations always focussing one's attention. Excellent work.

Haptic - Excess of Vision: Unreleased Recordings, 2005-2014 (Notice Recordings)

As I think I've also said before, I like me some Haptic. As near as I can determine despite the time span indicated in the title, there are two pieces, presumably one from 2005 and one from 2014; I may well be wrong; perhaps various recordings over the period were mixed into these two tracks? In any case, Side A, "So for the Remainder" includes the core Haptic trio of Adam Sonderberg, Joseph Clayton Mills and Steven Hess, augmented by Tony Buck while "And Otherwise" has the trio plus Salvatore Dellaria. Both pieces are, by my definition, more steady state than drone, underlaid by ongoing strata of tones through which various strands permeate and grow, calm but riding that comfort/disquiet line, something they've always managed very ably. New stria constantly enter the hum, many from exterior recording, her with mechanical janglings and a particularly plaintive kind of soft moan which may derive from something as pedestrian as a squeaky door hinge but evokes a forlorn animal. Side A is good, Side B is better. The basic structure isn't dissimilar but, for me, the elements used are a little more mysterious, provide a bit more tension. A rattling sound, like maracas filled with sand, pervades the track and the tones used are icier, more ominous. You get a glacial feel, not just of cold but of slow movement, with internal, churning vortices, filling in all gaps as it proceeds. Great ending as well, sounding like someone abruptly opens a push handle door and walks outside, encountering a different hum. Strong work, a fine addition to the canon. (I assume it's coincidental, but was wondering if the title isn't a tip o' the hat to the fine Golden Palominos album, "Visions of Excess").

Jack Harris/Samuel Rodgers - Primary/Unit 11 (Notice Recordings)

"Primary"--sounds in a room, window open, some noises being made by the pair; often it's clear that Harris and Rodgers are the culprits, occasionally one is uncertain. The musician-generated sounds are a bit more up front but not extremely so. More to the point, their emergence seems, as a rule, to be approximately as exigent as the passing sirens, that is to say, unforced, unnecessary but not so intrusive. Less the AMM-ish dictum of making a sound when it *is* necessary, more subsuming oneself or trying to--tough goal) into the environment. For about 35 minutes, this was one of the most satisfying blocks of sound I've heard this year. Around then, some particularly violent amplified object noises leap to the foreground, disrupting matters in a way I found off-putting and intrusive, though I can imagine that being intentional on the part of Harris and Rodgers, perhaps aware that things had become too comfortable. One of those cases where thinking about the procedure in one way yields a different aesthetic reaction than another, always an interesting aspect to ponder. "Unit 11" apparently uses the same approach, in a different environment, here encountering a thunderstorm near the beginning and containing distant, muffled voices, as though from a school or hospital. For a good portion it's just as successful as the preceding track, a bit calmer perhaps, with a similar "intrusive" moment around the 23 minute mark, this time a loud hum, soon followed by high-pitched, rapid squeaks embedded in static. Once more, the question arises whether this is more than necessary or whether "necessary" has anything to do with it. A kind of synthesis occurs over the final several minutes, I believe more performers than environs, where hums and rumbles merge into a very stirring aural wall.

Really fine, thoughtful music, my favorite of what I've heard from these fellows thus far.

Notice Recordings

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gil Sansón/Bruno Duplant - blank (Mystery Sea)

Labels tend to develop their own aesthetics, naturally enough, so it's interesting when one like Mystery Sea (with its sister label, Unfathomless), moves a bit outside of its comfort zone as is the case on at least one track here. There are three works presented here, the first and third from scored by Sansón, the title track from a score by Duplant. I'm guessing the scores in question are graphic/text and am reasonably certain the recordings are constructed from remote performances (as Sansón resides in Venezuela and Duplant in northern France), which has been a standard mode of operation for Duplant in recent years.

"foliage, brackets, skidmarks", by Sansón, begins with field recordings of what sounds like a small urban area before it's joined by Duplant's arco bass, a sound I hadn't heard from him in quite a while and which was very welcome, dark, low and vibrant; "just" open strings, I think, but it works very well. A soft jingling, almost an alarm clock, enters, followed by high pitched, bowed metal (?), the bass still interjecting comments, though softer, over the basic ambient recording, eventually reestablishing itself as the primary voice. An attractive work though, at 21+ minutes, possibly lingering on a bit longer than necessary. Duplant's "blank" also commences with the sounds of the street, here perhaps a little more urban, a car alarm crying in the distance. The external sounds here are subtler; it's often hard to distinguish which are from the street, which are created by the musicians, though one low hum, electronic, is certainly studio-formed. The piece itself is rather amorphous, held in place by the field and, to an extent, by that low hum, but spread out and centerless, not a bad thing here. It's the same length, ore or less, as the preceding track and, again, I could have seen it pared down by five or six minutes. The final track, "detachment", by Sansón, is the one that breaks the mold, consisting largely of silences interrupted quite brutally, by what sounds like jacks being pulled from amps or other disruptive electronic malfunctions. The silence gives way to a hollow, steely sound, occasionally automotive, reverberant for a brief moment, then the threatening pops recur, echoing and feedbacking in the darkness. This back and forth continues for most of the duration, sometimes discreet, sometimes overlapping; I get the impression one musician was responsible for each sound-set, their occurrences left at least a little bit to chance, perhaps within time brackets. After 18 minutes, a new sound occurs for a minute or two, liquid on hard surface, like rain water washing down a street gutter, after which those pops surface with a vengeance, now apparently causing windows to rattle. A tiny flurry of birds, then silence; quite different from the usual Mystery Sea fare and, at 23 or so minutes, of perfect length.

Loren Chasse - Characters at the Water Margin (Unfathomless)

Recorded in the Olympic Rainforest of Washington state, at the confluence of the Hoh River and the Pacific Ocean, Chasse's work is a fine example of exquisite on-site recording though one of those that inevitably, for me, raises the question of its value in disc format as opposed to the (admittedly unlikely) experience I might have for myself at the same location. Chasses chooses quite well--it seems to be an especially rich, varied and fascinating soundscape, with massive tree boles and limbs having piled themselves on what he describes as "a dense litter of granite pebbles and driftwood" (as can be seen in the fine accompanying photographs), the layering and spaces between creating wonderful sonic caverns within which water, stone and air act together to generate an amazing aural environment. And he records all this decidedly well. I really can't complain except--I'm not sure to what end. Most intriguing, for me, are the moments, as on the third track, "ovoids for a tumbling pattern", where what I take to be the percolation of water through rocks sounds for all the world like West African drumming. These micro-environments--something heard off and on throughout--strike me as the most interesting portions, perhaps because I get the feeling they represent events I might have missed were I there. Hard to say. These are quibbles, to be sure and more, quite like things I've written before about efforts in many such similar circumstances. As beautifully realized field recordings derived from a striking place, "Characters at the Water Margin" is excellent and well worth hearing by aficionados of the genre. I'd simply preferred to have been there myself, making my own discoveries.

Darius Ciuta - l2di-(3) (Unfathomless)

Ciuta approaches the site recording game, on this recording, with a conception that, for me, raises the level of interest by providing a framework which incorporates time, light and space into the equation in a (idiomatic, to be sure) pre-conceived set of parameters regarding recording intervals, time of day, level of activity, sky conditions and light intensity among others. The recordings, thus made, were also assembled by a set of rules created intuitively by Ciuta. Few if any of these are overtly manifest for the listener at home, but there's something (again, for me) intellectually comforting in knowing that Ciuta took such care and precaution and had a working idea that was meaningful to him, which in turn causes me to attempt to come to grips with it, to hear the results through his ears. The recordings were made on the Curonian Spit, a kind of thin barrier reef near the border of Lithuania and Poland, enclosing a lagoon. The results sound more composed than, say, the Chasse album above, but also somehow more mysterious, cloudier, though with the strong sense of something solid lurking in the mist. The sounds are less spectacular but more evocative. They're very transparent, with a great range of crisp to vague textures and a huge range of color, even if there's a muted, brownish-grey tinge to the tracks. The clocks of pebbles, some oddly trumpet-like trills, muffled booms--they're all positioned on the edge of assimilation, of being understood in context, but never quite get there, happily. I'll complain slightly and opine that the disc might have been more powerful if it cut off after about 40 minutes instead of running its full 70+, but I guess you make your conceptual bed and then lie in it. As is, "l2di-(3)" (no explanation of the title is given) is an unusual and very rewarding example of what can be accomplished when site recordings are laid atop an idea. Well done.

Mystery Sea


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SPAM - Musical Sculptures and Other Devices (Die Schachtel)

SPAM is an acronym for San Pietro a Majella, the institution where several of the musicians represented here (Salvatore Carannante, electro-acoustic devices, recycled mechanisms; Chiara Mallozi, cello, prepared cello; Dario Sanfilippo, computer; Stefano Silvestri, analog synth; Mario Gabola, feedback saxophone; Agostino Di Scipio, feedback systems) met and played. The disc is comprised of a performance of Cage's "Sculptures Musicales" (which itself was inspired by the Duchamp piece of the same title), performed by the first four of those listed followed by pieces from Carannante, Di Scipio/Gabola, Silvestri and Sanfilippo. Di Scipio provides excellent, informative liner notes for the venture.

The Cage work was performed with "unstable and precarious" instruments, the musicians distant from one another in the far corners of a cave in the St. Elmo Castle, Naples. It's a fine piece, incorporating silences that seem all the more effective given the spatial distances, the sounds thin here, flute-like there, now and then expanding into rougher passages, like an industrial groan, easy to imagine wafting through the dark space. A fine realization. Carannante's " the temple of Mercury..." combines field recordings (sylvan sounding) with electronics that again recall the flute, more toward shakuhachi. It's pleasant and moodily thoughtful, though perhaps a bit insubstantial overall (I get the impression that what's presented here is an excerpt; if so, maybe the entirety would be more fully formed). Di Scipio and Gabola's piece sounded improvised to me and, indeed, is composed of three improvisations spliced together, electronics with alternately plaintive and sputtering tenor saxophone. Again, well constructed and considered, though not so different from any number of such performances over the past couple of decades. "Esperimento delle interazioni caotiche (part 1), by Silvestri is a finely realized work for analog synth and "non-linear oscillators", harkening back to Xenakis (to my ears) but still sounding fresh, vigorous and also, crucially, much less "polite" than the preceding tracks, raning from sparsely abstract to rumbling and rudely noisy; good stuff. The disc concludes with Sanfilippo's "LIES (distances-incidences) 1.3 (estratto)" for computer and electronic systems, a strong, icy composition, a bleak, landscape buffeted with abrupt gusts and cold splinters, building to a very brief but surprising explosion, then desolation.

A somewhat mixed bag, then but with enough vibrant work to warrant investigating.

Die Schachtel

Spoils & Relics - Embed and then Forget (Porta)

Spoils & Relics is a UK-based trio with Gary Myles, Kieron Piercy, and Johnny Scarr that deal in improvised electronics. That's about all I know. The set, a bit over a half-hour in length, is a kind of standard broken electronics/sparse noise performance, active and sandpapery, exploring a wide range of more or less harsh sounds but lacking the kind of incisiveness one hears in, for example, quasi-similar music from Bonnie Jones or Richard Kamerman. Here, there's a bit more of a soundscape approach, with shards of radio and crowd noise filtering in, some looped flute, etc., all inevitably swallowed into some rough, thumping vortex, spit out the other end, mixed with wind, scrapings, buzzes, kind of a homemade IRCAM-y feel. The looseness of this attack guarantees moments when things congeal nicely and perhaps that's enough, but I'd like to hear more of a conception, more "reason for being" than I'm picking up here. Not bad but not essential.


Michel Doneda - Everybody Digs Michel Doneda (Relative Pitch)

OK, first things first. The title is awkward enough but the cover, with laudatory quotes from seven saxophonists is just cringeworthy.

That said, the music, all solo soprano saxophone, is pretty good, even surprisingly so to these ears, having caught Doneda twice in recent months here in Paris (with his trio and in duo with Lê Quan Ninh) and having been unimpressed both times, as well as not having been knocked out by most things I've encountered over the years since first hearing Doneda around 1999 on his fine duo with Ninh, "Montaigne Noire". Recorded in La Chapelle de las Planques, a Romanesque chapel in south-central France, the tracks seem to make good use of the space and can essentially be heard as a single piece bearing a fine concentration of focus. I recall my initial impression of Doneda's sound was of the viscerality of a metal tube with holes, the reed almost an afterthought and, much more so than my recent experiences with him, this is happily the case here. Virtually the entire disc consists of that hollow, air-filled, harsh tone he's so adept at achieving, not exactly quiet by any means, but gaseous and torn. There's not any silence to speak of but the exploration is delicate, as though Doneda is taking care to explore the space, the multiphonics beautifully controlled. There's a moment now and then when matters verge on the frenetic but these are thankfully rare. If it's not, ultimately, all that different than what he was doing 15-20 years ago, that's still a pretty high level of rigor, intensity and corporeality, for which we can be grateful. Easily recommended for fans of Doneda but also for newer listeners who may have leapt to players like Bhob Rainey or John Butcher (two of the quotees) and never got around to one of their inspirations and confreres.

Relative Pitch

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Michael Pisaro/Joe Panzner/Greg Stuart - White Metal (Dromos/Makam)

It's going to be fascinating hearing different versions of Pisaro scores as they surface, as some are beginning to do already. Earlier this year, Miguel Prado released his reading of "White Metal" on a Senufo Editions LP (my review here) and we now have one from longtime Pisaro collaborator Greg Stuart and Joe Panzner. I've been listening to the new release both independently and side by side with the Prado, a luxury not often afforded. Pisaro has said that both reflect his score accurately and to the extent I can understand said score (minimal) that seems to be the case; similar basic gross structures are apparent in each and, to an extent, the raw materials overlap a bit, both Prado and Stuart/Panzner taking the title to incorporate or at least make reference to both white noise and (to my ears, to a far lesser extent) the metal genre.

On its own, this new version is a thrilling ride. One gets the impression, despite the occasional respite, of hurtling forward with extreme rapidity through notably metallic funnels and corridors, multiple layers of electronics melding into an all but impenetrable web from which the odd discreet sound emerges; I swear I heard a dial-up modem at one point. I'm still a bit unsure as to whether or not there are aural elements in common with each rendition (i.e., that are always part of any version). For instance, a regular, ticking sound appears near the beginning of both the Prado and Panzner/Stuart recordings; maybe the latter sampled the former, who knows? The intense nature of the present recording causes the silences to stand out in starker relief, imparting a very different sensation to the listener, here a kind of break from the intensity, more disquieting than is the case on the Prado; it's only gradually that the listener realizes that the silence isn't utter but, I think, contains the sound of the room. Not so surprisingly, the more I listened the more I picked out, the more deeply I understood, or began to understand, the interplay of the elements. This might be something that has to do more with my own reaction to various aspects of "noise" music (which Panzner has certainly delved into in past works) and the relative difficulty I often encounter in wending my way through. Listeners more generally in tune with this approach may have few such hindrances. I tend to hear Pisaro "first", then filter it through the performers' attack, so it sometimes takes me a while and, even so, I'm usually left with the distinct impression that I've only, if not merely scratched, at most gouged the surface. Sitting here now, listening to "White Metal" for about the eighth time, I'm hearing new things.

If, at the moment were I forced to "choose", I'd prefer the Prado, it might only be because his approach maps more directly onto what I imagine mine would be, not the most meaningful criterion. This one is strong, vital and, to the extent I can determine, a fine interpretation of Pisaro's piece, one that I'll return to many times. I also look forward to the realizations of this work, and others, by many more musicians in the future.

Required listening.


Also available from Erst Dist

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ist - London Conway Hall (Confront)

The third in a recent series of historical release of the Ist trio issued by member/cellist Mark Wastell (the groups including Rhodri Davies on harp and Simon Fell on bass), the previous pair from 1997 and 2001, this one from May, 2003, a live performance from the Freedom of the City Festival in London. The first of these, and to some extent the second, showed steps along a path from a more efi-centered approach towards a "lower case improv" idea, though each of the musicians had already done work in both areas and many between (or beyond). By 2003, though, the idiom had been firmly established for a while, so the divergencies from that sort of attack on this recording have to be deemed intentional or, more likely, created without regard to any such parameters, simply the way these three musicians operated. Still, of the three, it has always been Fell whose heart seemed more firmly embedded in a more active, visceral type of music of the sort heard on recordings under his own name on Bruce's Fingers since at least the mid 80s. Though he's be a part of ensembles like VHF (the first Erstwhile release), I had the sense from both recordings and seeing him live, that he chose not to circumscribe his playing so much and enjoyed more dynamic environments given his druthers. All of which makes for an intriguing contrast here, to the extent this may have been a typical Ist show of the period (and to the extent Im not misidentifying Wastell's cello with Fell's bass and vice versa, always a possibility.

It opens pensively, possibly a bowed harp with pizzicato from the strings, the bass more forcibly, but everything calm and considered. There's an air of mystery, the bass staying more or less in tonal areas, but also an uneasiness occasioned by the odd forte pluck. Fell worries this territory consistently for a while, substituting fine, deep bowings for the pizzicato, the others remaining sparse and attentive. Davies does a fantastic job of extending the space via some fairly harsh but beautifully placed whacks at his harp, Wastell's (?) dry rubbings establishing a palpable aural distance, really excellent. About two thirds of the way through (the set clocks in at only 23 minutes) the music takes something of a turn, becoming more agitated and active, reminding me a bit of Derek Bailey's mode of attack, still paying attention to space but filling it with more jagged shards, including harsh harp strokes. It all works, the mini-explosions hovering convincingly, creating fine tension.

A very good set and, I think, my favorite thus far among these archival releases.


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Striggles et. al. - Schiizo-Box (Rock Is Hell)

"This is a magic record!" proclaims the publicity sheet inside the cardboard box that looks as though it might hold a mini-pizza. But no, instead we find five 7" singles (pink, gold, purple, red and yellow. plus a poster of sorts by Edda Strobl and Helmut Kaplan). Each single bears a composition by a different composer/band on one side (in color sequence: Peter Ablinger, Opcion, Kreisky, Bernhard Lang and Bulbul) and a piece by The Striggles (Kajkut, drums; Krienzer, guitar; Lepenik, guitar; Plass, voice and guitar--surnames only) which may or may not have any relation to its obverse. The "magic" involved is that most, perhaps all, of the sides are double-grooved (at least, maybe triple?), providing two different possible playbacks, though often the differences are subtle enough to be just barely noticeable, something I find far more interesting than completely different tracks. I'm not so sure this has been magic since the 1901 Pre-Dog Victor A-821 Fortune Telling Record and certainly 1973 Monty Python, but anyway. Here, especially if one was approaching the records innocently, you might become somewhat perplexed as, say, the closing word in a song wasn't the same as you remembered it form the last time. The tracks are very brief, lasting only a couple of minutes.

A brief rundown:

Pink: 1) Ablinger's "Black & White". One groove is silent, save for surface noise and, possibly, some recorded sounds indistinguishable from surface noise (there are some faint clicks near the end). Another contains an ultra-low, pulsating tone. Both are quite enjoyable! A) Striggles, "At the End of the Day". A slowed down, warped piece, with dreamy, staggered rhythms and wafting, hazy vocals; reminds me of Shadow Ring, rather nice. If there's a second track embedded on this side, the differences are subtle enough that I can't detect it.

Gold: 1) Opcion (Nikolaos Zachariadis), "|..|..". One track of slowly thudding sounds with some echo and ambience, another with more or less the same sounds, perhaps pitched lower, but greater echoing and accompanied by shuddering washes of electronics. Again, rather effective. A) Striggles - "Kårl". Clanky, buzzy percussion leads to two variations of the song, one with vocals, one with massed noise (including crowd sounds an , possibly, strangulated vocals) each sounding (to me) like a certain kind of 80s German synth pop (Pyrolator?), but don't go by me. Kinda catchy, I admit.

Purple: 1) Kreisky, "Ballett". Kreisky is a quartet with Franz Adrian Wenzl, keyboards, Martin Max Offenhuber, guitar, Gregor Tischberger, bass and Klaus Mitter, drums. The song is a good, straight ahead rocker with nods to punk and surf music, maybe even early Pink Floyd. Both tracks begin with identical drum patterns but the vocals stray in different directions, one proclamatory, one dreamy, reaching a weird, kind of Zorn/Morricone space. A) Striggles, "Das Ist Doch Kein Echter Krieg" ("That's Not a Real War"). A fun piece, squelchy, synth, faux-funk with healthy doses of static, the lyrics rendered in a deep, wry voice in one version, sweetly sung (reminds me of Klaus Nomi) in the other, the rhythm also faltering quite nicely.

Red: 1) Bernhard Lang, "He Wouldn't Notice". As near as I can determine, there's only a single track, about a minute long, consisting of a female voice repeatedly saying, "If you approach him, he won't notice" over a very attractive, percolating, percussive layer, ending with a disquieting gasp of sorts. Interesting piece, a little reminiscent of Ashley. A) Striggles - "Lines". I may be reaching, but the percussive/bass line hear does seem to relate to Lang's, if obliquely. The two versions vary this thyrhm and the pitches therein a little bit, one ending with a male voice saying, "Lines are straight", the other, "Lines are curved".

Yellow: Bulbul, "331/345". An Austrian trio, I think, Bulbul offers a rockish number, quite short, with a Winged Eel Fingerlingesque guitar solo over "Wade in the Water" chords on one track and then an oddly, slowed down version of the same, or similar, piece overlaid with a munchkin-like chorus. Chunky and not unpalatable. A) Striggles - "Meine Kleine Schwester" ("My Little Sister"). veery much with the same humorous sensibility of the track on the purple record, a wacky marching band image. Two versions, not so different, one with flutey sounds atop, the other featuring Headhunter-era electronics bubbling away. As before, fun, if not terribly nutritious.

Which is pretty much my take on the project: good fun, generally enjoyable to hear (worth it, for me, to experience new pieces by Ablinger and Lang) and/but light. I gather that fits in with the Striggles' intentions.

Rock Is Hell

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Lawrence English/Werner Dafeldecker - Shadow of the Monolith (Holotype Editions)

A construction built from field recordings compiled in Antarctica using "transformations of atmospheric, hydrophonic and ionospheric materials", issued on LP. As we've come to expect from anything involving English, it's expertly recorded, the icy pops and snaps (I think!) of the opening "Fathom Flutter", for instance, or the entirety of "Moro_Mute", standing out in fantastic relief, each ping and knock like a sharply etched piece or scrimshaw. The sense of cold and beneath-the-ice water looms large; on windy days--and today is one such--our apartment can produce aeolian moans via various hallways and door jambs--they work quite will accompanying this release. The tracks are varied and, individually, enjoyable and often mysterious. If I have a quibble, it's with the "slideshow" nature of such a release, with nothing tying things together apart from geographical proximity. Admittedly, I've been listening to this after Pisaro's "Continuum Unbound", but I've always preferred those rare collections of field recordings which somehow transcend location and source. To be sure, I presume English and Dafeldecker intended no such thing and, as is, "Shadow of the Monolith" is a fine collection of beautifully realized recordings from a far off place.

Danae Stefanou - [herewith] (Holotype Editions)

Stefanou leaps into this exploration of the piano's interior with furious abandon and indeed, "furious" might be the operative term here though it's a controlled fury; one perceives that Stefanou identifies her objective and then pursues it relentlessly in an almost Tudorian fashion. She gives special emphasis both to the ridged physicality of the piano strings and the deep resonance of its body, virtually all of the eight tracks sounding massive, voluminous. Each piece sets parameters then investigates them, not taking too long (eight tracks on an LP totaling about 30 minutes) but with extreme incisiveness, involving tonal resonance, more percussive aspects, drones and more, all improvised. The playing is very full, even busy at times, but never clogged; as much as I tend to enjoy work with more overt spatial considerations, when an artist really plunges in, no looking back, that can work just as well, as it does here. The final track is simply a monster, hugely impressive, Stefanou weaving a groaning behemoth of sound, like one of the best Phill Niblock pieces you've ever heard with a fistful of sand thrown into the gears. Yes, that good. This is Stefano's first solo recording and I can't wait to hear more. Don't let this slip under your radar--excellent work.

Holotype Editions

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Michael Pisaro - Continuum Unbound (Gravity Wave)

Maybe the first thing to say is that, to me, one has to listen and think about all three discs as parts of a single piece. As interesting (to say the least) and formidable as they are individually, I read them as necessary parts of a whole, though that whole is large and dense enough to easily deter quick graspability. Pisaro has fashioned a triptych that takes pure, unadulterated Nature as a starting point and then attempts to dissect it, recognize and appreciate patterns (all the while clearly understanding that any kind of pattern recognition is a human function, not necessarily existent in the "real world") and, ultimately, to investigate the possibility of constructing a path through this (explicitly referenced) fog and begin to make a kind of sense of one's experiences.

The first disc, "Kingsnake Grey" is "simply" a 72-minute recording of a sunset on New Year's Eve, 2012 in Congaree National Park, South Carolina, begun about twelve minutes before official sundown time. It's only the sounds of the forest, no enhancements or intrusions on the part of Pisaro or Stuart, no sympathetic sine tones or bowed percussion. One can easily imagine many a composer constructing, say, an hour-long piece and doing something like this for five or so minutes as a kind of preamble. But for Pisaro this is central, the primary seed for what follows, a sound world entirely capable of existing on its own and being contemplated in depth for an extended period, an outgrowth of the post-Cage aesthetic of the Wandelweiser group. I've little idea of how recordings like this are accomplished but here there's an enormous transparency and perspective achieved; in addition to immediate area sound recorders, I have the impression of directional mics that can pierce some distance into the sound field, ignoring the nearby, though I also have no idea whether or not such things exist. One gets an extremely full sense of the world here, but full of both sound and space. Pisaro understood the likely main arc of the interval, one in which bird song gradually quiets and insects take over. This occurred but with infinite variations. In his notes (which are invaluable), he mentions a squirrel making a desperate leap just when the birdsongs were winding down, causing a renewed flurry of avian activity but then a hastened quieting and realized that this kind of event was occurring throughout the woods, both serving to build that arc but also to invest it with endless complexity, the kind of realization, I imagine, that spurs his own compositional thoughts that surface subsequently. I've listened to this disc some eight times now and am continually hearing new sounds and patterns among the creatures, the background hum (is there a highway audible here?), passing jets, various apparently manmade sounds (metallic tapping and general bustling about now and again) and sounds whose origins I can't quite determine, all intersecting in various directions in space; really an astonishing document in and of itself but, as said, just part of the picture here.

A small good thing about the second disc, "Congaree Nomads", is that Pisaro, again unlike what one might reasonably expect from any number of composers engaged in roughly the same area, doesn't take the "Kingsnake Grey" tapes and somehow rework them. Rather, he uses other recordings made in the same park, 24 of them in three-minute segments, arranged "geographically", from north to south, as the spine of the new work. For me, this adds to the sense of largeness, inferring the enormous range of possibilities in play. They fade in and out, allowing them to exist simultaneously as discreet points of reference but also bearing a relationship, slight or strong, with their antecedents and successors. Overlaid on these recordings is the realization of a Pisaro score by Greg Stuart (who, I should say, shoulders almost as much responsibility for the success of this venture as does Pisaro) on various bowed percussion instruments (marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, crotales). Each of the 24 portions of the score contains from one to twelve tones and each initially matches up to the three minute length of the field recording extracts though gradually, the instrumental parts increase in length and begin to overlap. Also, the number of tracks on each instrumental section grows from one to 48 with the result that what began as clear ringing tones coalesces, toward the end of the piece, into a super-rich, organ-like cluster, evocative of the idea of "fog" which Pisaro cites as a thoroughgoing inspiration here, literally and ontologically. That's the nutshell and I may well be omitting important aspects or getting some wrong, but the effect is strikingly achieved, moving from the quiet opening moments, with soft birdsongs, a burbling stream, odd, wooden knocks and more, all beautifully present, laid alongside initially low, resonant bowings, the latter almost functioning like the sine tones in "Transparent City", here giving (me) the sense of the soil underlying the flora and fauna in addition to the gathering fog, maybe the condensation forming on the leaves sublimating to mist. It's a lot to grasp and I often lost my way here but, in fact, keeping the idea of a hike in mind helps a great deal, staying aware of the gradual landscape changes and those increasingly massed chords/fog banks ahead. The "organ" feel emerges strongly about midway through, inevitably imparting a "forest as cathedral" aura, something that requires a bit of grappling for this listener, an experience from which I usually escape unscathed. Those chords, I assume by virtue of multilayering and using close pitches, achieve a fantastic pulsing quality late in the work, transcending the church organ, entering the real world. An amazing piece, one that I think I've really only begun to get a handle on.

And then we come to "Anabasis", the most complex and, for this listener, most fulfilling part of this trilogy. The score, which is included in the booklet, provides a welcome roadmap for the piece which is set for five sound areas/players: Sand-Greg Stuart, "gravity percussion with sand"; Winds-Patrick Farmer, field recordings, hydrophone; Tones-Pisaro, electric guitar, piano, sine tones, studio and field recordings; Waves-Joe Panzner, electronics; and Interludes-Toshiya Tsunoda, sand, copper foil, polyethylene sheet, fan, sine tones, hydrophone. The sounds of the first four each predominate in their respective 15-minute sections, augmented by contributions from the others (save Tsunoda) in predetermined one or three minute segments; the structure of these segments remains constant, their occupancy varies. After each 15-minute portion, there's a three minute interval by Tsunoda (augmented by two of the four other musicians). It struck me as interesting that there's no obvious reference to the Congaree National Park itself (though it's possible, probable even, that some of the field recordings used by Pisaro derive from there) which seems to lead to an idea of transcendence, to a universalizing of that particular area; not sure. Pisaro references Badiou, particularly a passage with regard to a group of mercenaries lost in a desert having to "invent its path without knowing whether it really is the path of return", which could apply to bushwhacking as well as the musicians here negotiating their way. The sounds were created remotely by the musicians involved, with no knowledge as to the contributions of others, enforcing the sense of different solutions/pathways through the problem. As is always the case with Pisaro's music, there's much more going on than that and, again, his notes offer an excellent, clear look into his whys and wherefores. We hear music that grows from trickling sands to storms of same, similarly with wind; there's a constant ebb and flow in play. The moment Pisaro's featured portion occurs, at the 36-minute mark, there's a harkening back to "July Mountain" as, entirely unexpectedly, a piano appears, playing simply, tonally, though fragmented, as though glimpsed through a prism; it's an arresting, beautiful instant. It feeds in and out throughout the segment, ghostlike, a couple of notes here and there, a vestige of Romanticism amidst the hums, waves and silences, very moving. I should note here that Tusnoda's interludes work wonderfully, staying within the general aura of the work but also standing apart, a fine transition/contrast, especially the closing passage which opens enticingly onto new ground. When the final quarter begins, we hear what sounds for all the world like an organ. I assumed the trompe d'oreille lied in Panzner's hands rather than Stuart's (it's "his" section) though, peering more closely at the score, these figures seem to emerge during Pisaro's three minute sequences. If so, interesting, and fantastic as far as I'm concerned, that he seems willing to introduce this order of material, so traditionally attractive and strong. The whole composition breathes with conviction and many, many layers of depth, again more than is possible to go into here, more than I'm sure I've heard.

Extraordinary conception, amazing music.

Gravity Wave

Also available via Erstdist