Friday, February 27, 2015

Claudio Parodi - Heavy Nichel (Creative Sources)

For tracks, totaling over an hour, of solo improvisations on Turkish clarinet. I'm not precisely sure what a Turkish clarinet is though from what I can tell, it's somewhat longer than a traditional, Western version and, from what I can hear on this recording, sounds as though pitched a little deeper, say halfway between a clarinet and bass clarinet. The tracks are presented unadorned, in the order in which they were recorded, nicely bare bones. The playing has its roots in free jazz but generally carries tinges of folk musics, vaguely references via repeated kernels and, more often than not, a lyrical character. Which is not to say that Parodi doesn't indulge in extended techniques and atonality--he does, but pretty much keeps rein on them, remains thoughtful and often quiet. At its most vociferous, I'm reminded of the late Willem Breuker's bass clarinet excursions but Parodi tends to play things closer to the vest. I prefer those quieter moments when you get the sense that the inherent properties of the instrument are being investigated although, as this is closer to efi, situating the sounds in the room isn't so much of a concern. I can't say that there's much here that hasn't been covered before, but Parodi plays well and seriously and possesses a nice, underlying melodicism that supports the music very well, both at its most tenuous and most strident.

Thomas Buckner/Claudio Parodi - Taken From A True Story (Extreme)

Parodi once again on Turkish clarinet with Buckner on voice, recorded in 2008.

Long-time readers might be aware that I've always had my share of problems with Buckner, apart from--occasionally--some work with the late Robert Ashley. Something about the choices he tends to make, the "phraseology", if you will, that he employs, just grates on me. This disc is made up of ten songs, and "song" seems to be an apt description, the voice and clarinet intertwining in a sympathetic, quasi-melodic manner, the pieces ranging from a bit over a minute to a tad under eight. Buckner, unlike, say, Christian Kesten, is less interested in creating, with Parodi, a set of sounds growing from the room than in expounding a series of vernaculars, time-tested on the free scene for quite a while now, not fundamentally different from your garden variety avant jazz-based improviser but carrying the (unfair but inevitable) extra frisson that comes along with the recognition of the voice on the part of the listener and the baggage that ensues. Unlike vocalists such as Kesten (or even, at the other end of the spectrum, Phil Minton), Buckner occupies, to my ears, an uncomfortable middle ground, neither abstracting himself enough nor launching full force into the guts of a piece. It's one of those free improv recordings where the closer the musicians come to "traditional" forms or melodies--not too close, mind you--the more successful the music becomes. It's a difficult field, to my way of thinking, to exploit well. When, as in the curiously titled, "Vegetarian food is delicious, but God bless the pork" and "Obituary", Buckner reins things in a bit, unspools some lyrical lines, it comports well with Parodi's offerings (the latter is as adept here as in the above solo release) and the two voices merge, their languages sounding unforced. Too often, it's the same bag of tricks, extended techniques for their own sake which still leave me unmoved.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Open Field + Burton Greene - Flower Stalk (Cipsela)

Carlos "Zíngaro" - Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (Cipsela)

A couple of items a bit outside my normal range arrived recently. Not just that they involve a jazz-based sense of free improvisation but also that, as it happens, I'm not overly familiar with the prior work of either Greene or "Zíngaro" (only just discovered that the latter's surname is Alves, hence the quotation marks, which aren't always used).

I've heard bits and pieces of Greene's work over the years, but most often as a sideman--I recall some work with Perry Robinson and may even have seen him play in some context, perhaps at Environ. What automatically pops up in my head when I hear his name, though, is the infamous concert recounted (in disputed form) by Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in "Black Music"; Greene gives his side of that event, and much more, in this fine interview by Dan Warburton in Paris Transatlantic form 2003.

In any case, we have here a performance by Greene (piano, prepared piano, percussion) in the company of Open Field, a Portuguese trio consisting of José Miguel Pereira (bass), Marcel dos Reis (nylon string guitar, prepared guitar, voice) and João Carnões (viola, mey--a double reed, similar to a shawm--, percussion). (In passing, I'm curious about Greene's mention of the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble, a group he, Alan Silva and others founded in 1962 and which he describes as "the first group to play totally improvised music from our intuition". I've never heard this ensemble and can't locate any samples on-line. Cadence released a recording from 1964 which Derek Taylor reviewed for All About Jazz in 2000. From his review, and my own intuition, I expect that the music was pretty jazz-influenced, i.e., not in the same vein as AMM or Group Ongaku). In a way, the album encapsulates what I find to be some of the highs and lows of jazz-based free improv over the past few decades. In fact, the opener, "Rising Intensity (for Alan Silva)" is a bit of a microcosm in itself. True to its title, the intensity does indeed rise over its duration, though until it reaches that peak, the textures and interplay are standard fare, excessively busy and gestural (for my taste), sometimes overly virtuosic. But perhaps all that is to a point, the moment where things suddenly gel and the real energy kicks in, led by Carnões' viola, on which instrument he has something of an engaging Leroy Jenkins tonality. In fact, at its best, through squinting ears, I might convince myself I'm listening to a Creative Construction Company track. Granted that great pair of live LPs date from 1971, but still. Things tone down very nicely on the second piece, "Angels on the Roof", which finds the quartet in a much more considered frame of mind, led in by a lovely bass/guitar sequence and carrying through with some fine, pensive piano offsetting bowed metal, very tasty. Greene's solo offering is also quite fine, the pianist evincing substantial lyricism and richness of touch, with a hint of Chinese scales; would love to hear more in this vein. The remaining two tracks, while not bad, follow much more along the routine efi playbook, sacrificing the thoughtful placement of sound for scurrying hyperactivity and, in the last piece (titled, um, "Ancient Shit"), an odd lurch toward some idea of, I guess, ancestral rhythms. For fans of the genre, these and the remainder of the album will be more than enough and to those listeners, it's highly recommended. For myself, it was more half and half but the heights are very enjoyable and I'm glad to have heard it.

I'm less sanguine about "Zíngaro"'s live solo violin effort. Again, I've encountered his music now and then over the years, generally in group contexts, and have never been particularly drawn to it. I think part of the reason is my perception that he straddles the divide between a traditional, even Romantic approach and a modernist one and I find myself saying, "One or the other". "Zíngaro", of course, may choose to ignore the distinction and, as with the Greene project, I can easily imagine aficionados of the violinist to find this release rapturous in the extreme."Crushing Wheels" finds him in an iterative, if not quite minimalist mode, reworking a rapid phrase, streaming out frills and digressions, all very impressively virtuosic but, for me, too much so. "Portions of Life" is a little more considered--you can easily hear the echoing sonics in the structure--but "dramatic" in a kind of forced way. Here, as elsewhere, the playing is unquestionably first rate; my issue is with the resultant music which strikes me as more sparkle than heft. Again, I'm not expecting an Angharad Davies approach here--this is the way he's created and played for many years and he does it with panache. It's simply not my cuppa. I would have liked to have heard "Zíngaro", just once, go full bore into lush Romanticism, the way I've heard Malcolm Goldstein do a time or two. He comes close on the brief "Void of Night" and portions of the concluding "Scroll of Fate", my two favorite pieces here.

"Zíngaro" fans, dig in--plenty to enjoy here.


Whahay - s/t (Babel Label)

oh, that name...sigh.

Thought I'd place this here, as it's also a jazz-based release. Whahay is Paul Rogers, he of 7-string double bass fame, Robin Fincker on tenor saxophone and clarinet and Fabien Duscombs on drums, the trio applying, to some extent, an efi approach to nine pieces by Mingus. The works chosen are fairly standard, all save one from the late 50s-early 60s portion of Mingus' career (for the record: "Better Git It In Your Soul", "Ecclusiastics", "Jump Monk", "Canon, "Pithecanthropus Erectus", "Reincarnation of a Lovebird", "Bird Call" [sic], "Work Song" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". Sometimes it's simply a matter of playing the heads, improvising on the theme (whether freer than some of Mingus' musicians is arguable) and returning for a recapitulation. Other times, the themes are approached obliquely and semi-buried amidst the trio or attractively fluttered toward ("Reincarnation"). Rogers, of course, is an astonishing bassist and he pulls off some technically wondrous things here: the central melody of "Ecclusiastics" and subsequent pairing with the clarinet, his guitar-like intro to "Goodby Pork Pie Hat", among many others. The trio plays very tightly when called for, rolling off riffs like "Jump Monk" with ease, loose enough otherwise. Both Fincker and Duscombs appear quite supple and capable. They do what they do very well, very solidly and with a decent amount of imagination. Personally, I don't quite get the necessity of the enterprise, don't think anything substantial has been added to Mingus' legacy but others may well differ. Listeners who found bands like Mingus Dynasty too staid and are enamored of, for example, Mats Gustafsson's The Thing will find much to enjoy here.

Babel Label

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bryan Eubanks - The Bornholmer Suite (Nueni)

OK, this is a tough one for me. Let's start with the structure: 50 one-minute tracks (or close enough, 60 or 61 seconds). From the beginning, I'm looking for reasons. By nature, I'm not so fond of this "type" of agglomeration, from Otomo's "The Night Before The Death Of The Sampling Virus" to Rowe/Lehn/Schmickler's "Rabbit Run" and many more, I tend to find this approach wanting, difficult to disconnect with a feeling of a catalogue. I can imagine it working, can imagine a subject, if you will, that requires this sort of arrangement, though I can't say I can think of an example that strikes me as successful off the top of my head. I can understand a kind of perverse idea of cutting off the listeners pleasure (or, at least, interest) just as it's really gelling though, again, I'd need some other justification than impish glee. That said, Eubanks is using "open circuit feedback" here and the sounds themselves...well, they vary, of course, but by and large there's a thinness to them that only occasionally draws me in, even for that minute (exceptions are there, to be sure). There's often a rhythmic component, I'm guessing in the nature of the electronics cycling through phases on it's own, not initiated by Eubanks. This, oddly, renders them a bit less engaging for me than if they were in more ragged form. In most cases, I experience the initial sounds and, almost automatically, wait to hear them decay, be joined by others, expand--any enhancement at all. But, as a rule, this doesn't happen, they're simply presented, allowed to live for a minute, cut off. I think momentarily of Richter's color block paintings, something else I have some degree of trouble with. As with those works, I try to "stand back", apprehend the relationship (or lack of same) between the samples but, for me, it's more difficult with audio images than visual ones. I still find it more opaque than anything else, though it's likely I'm missing something. Steve Flato has written a nice appreciation, posted on the Nueni site, which readers here should check out. I'll try to return to this over time but for now, I'm pretty much stymied.


Jason Kahn - Thirty Seconds Over (aural detritus)

Speaking of difficult...a cassette release from Kahn (reviewed here via CDr), two concerts, or excerpts therefrom, in Brighton and Ghent, in 2012, Kahn in his electronic mode (analog synth, mixing board, short wave radio). In this case, the sound fields are extended and there are several sources involved at any one moment, so you'd think the reservations I had on the Eubanks would assuaged, at least as far as those elements went. But, damn, Kahn carves a seriously rough trail here, very forbidding and relentless. The sounds, though "thicker", for the most part, than those described above, are almost all cold and harsh--no mechanical rhythms but the chittering of sparking machines, sub-areas of deeply muffled voices (I think--there are implied cadences in effect at various points but they're well beyond the range of comprehensibility), grating metal-on-metal friction. Hard to avoid the image of being in a large, dark space with devices sputtering sporadically, casting sharp, orange glows. Still, the length, the opportunity to find some kind of foothold in the debris, makes this music more graspable and appreciable, at least to these ears. Patterns can be detected (either actually there or made up in my head), relationships established, etc. For all the difficulty of the sonic material--and this is tough sledding, no doubt--there's more breadth to it, more room for the listener to participate, not merely to check off the next item on the list. No question, sitting through these sets, live, would have been intense to the point of discomfort, but that's fine, good to be jostled, even bruised. Good stuff, not for the squeamish.

aural detritus

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ingar Zach/Miguel Angel Tolosa - Loner (Sofa)

I've been listening to Zach's works for quite a while now and have heard Tolosa's (usually under his alter ego guise as Ubeboet) a fair amount as well; they do seem to be natural enough partners. "Loner" takes material from the past ten years, the pair constructing a disc of resonant, quasi-dronish music that roughly fits in with what one might expect, which is very good on the one hand but leaves me with some nagging questions on the other.

Zach works primarily with percussion (here, as elsewhere, also electronics and field recordings) and his work tends toward the...round, for lack of a better word, generally full of deep and resounding elements, often sustained. This tends to result in music that's extremely attractive, even ingratiating, working its way into one's pores and bathing the listener in richness. At the same time, part of me always yearns for some roughness, some breaks in the flow, more irregularity and surprise. It's tough balance. I sometimes think of the early century work of Günter Müller and associates that arrived at something of a similar place--very good but maybe a bit too comfortable and complacent. I don't think Zach is there yet--his work has more to it (including live; I finally managed to catch his music in performance this past fall)and perhaps that's simply him. Still, I have an itch for some disruption. Tolosa (electronics, field recordings, electric guitar) fits in seamlessly here.

So we have four tracks where the dominant sensibility is a dense field wherein one can detect muffled site recordings filtered through cymbals (richly bowed or played with soft mallets), deep percussion and electronics, a kind of foggy, moist soundscape, mysterious and brooding but with few sharp edges. A guitar tone may whine fleetingly through the dark, a bell may briefly jingle, but the pervasive feeling is shadows and thick mist. Which is all fine and all four pieces operate really well. The second, "Whirlworlds", works itself up into something of a frenzy, some welcome grime getting into the gears--I'd love to hear that approach extended further. The final track, "Astonaged" also verges on more difficult territory, generating a churning quality that calls to mind an old, riverside factory, gears and chains dredging slag from beneath the water, very strong.

A good disc, no real complaints, only a sense that this pair could maybe take a few more risks. As is, though, it's plenty rich enough to satisfy any aficionados of their work.

Kim Myhr - all your limbs singing (Sofa)

Most of my previous encounters with Myhr's work have given the impression of a warm, very musical personality and this release delivers that in spades. Solo 12-string acoustic guitar, six pieces, all of them engaging and, well, pretty even. Two of the tracks, "Weaving into Choir" and "Sleep nothing, eat nothing" consist of rapidly strummed chords, very steady-state in one way, though shifting within all the time; reminds me a bit of those classic Laraaji zither sides, very tasty indeed. "Descent", "Blinky" and "Leaping into Periphery" are more ruminative, each taking a discreet note pattern, calm, graceful and echoing, and repeating it again and again, digging into it and, just barely, elaborating on it. It's an interesting approach, a kind of dissection of a line; it sometimes took me a while to realize the self-referential aspect of the music, it flows so naturally. All three are very attractive, very thoughtful. But my favorite might be the closer, "Harbor Me". A "simple", clean four-note phrase that absolutely sounds like its presaging a song--I really expected to hear a voice, baritone, enter the track--instead allowing slowly strummed chords to emerge, bloom-like and ghostly. It lolls there, contemplative and content--beautiful piece.

And an extremely attractive offering: open, considered and refreshingly heedless of trends. Don't let it slip by.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Thomas Tilly - Script Geometry (Aposiopese)

Tilly's work often confounds me. Sometimes it's ultra bare bones, recordings of water insects, for example. Others, like much of this, it involves massively dense constructions made from, apparently, numerous recordings and who knows how much processing. I have to kind of consciously not think of the "hows" of its structure and more simply experience the sounds as though I've somehow been dropped into a space where such noises occur as heard.

This is a double LP (with a CD containing source material). The recordings were made in French Guinea in 2013, Tilly describing his method as "approaching the forest as if it were a city", aware of the subjective connection the modern mind makes between faunal sounds and electronics, appropriating the former as such and weaving a construction much as he might do with synth patches. Side A moves from a roaring mass produced by overlapping several days worth of recording from the same site--very impressive and immersive--to a quiet, actively clicking soundscape, feeling very much like nighttime, a lovely counterweight to the first track. Side B continues in this quiet vein, again with a late evening feel. Pieces like these, while perfectly listenable, I find hard to concentrate on as anything other than "simple" recordings, albeit with the odd noticeable enhancement or crescendo for a given sound within the mix. I can imagine being int he environment, sitting, and hearing the same thing, or my mental variations on that sameness, which isn't meant as a criticism, just an observation, but something that arises while listening which, somehow, seems out of place. The second piece on this side moves from that initial simplicity to an increasingly complex matrix--the lines and circles of the cover image come to mind. Side C continues in this general vein, open and quiet, especially the second piece, one of those that involved substantial construction. The final side's opening "La grotte, parfum" is especially lovely, two tracks form the same location, with incredible fluttery chirps against a misty background that, though fainter, is wealthy with all manner of details--my favorite piece here, really remarkable. We hear, briefly, a turtle breathing, admittedly surprised at the audibility of this phenomenon, then a bizarre insect colony, whose noises occur in irregular patterns, very harsh and buzzing, cut off with surprising sharpness on each iteration.

The disc offers an hour of unprocessed source recordings. It's very steady-state in a way, the same sets of sounds cycling throughout, notably a loudly (and beautifully) whistling bird over a rumbling substrate with middle ground hoots, whistles, chirrups, etc. between. Very comforting and lulling, I find, really nice.

Overall, I think this is my favorite offering from Tilly thus far and a fine example of what's possible in this field.

You can listen for yourself at Aposiopese

Rie Nakajima - Four Forms (consumer waste)

A 12" vinyl, 45rpm containing four rather wonderful pieces.

The interior sleeve depicts eighteen objects, all but two (a pot with cover and a wooden wedge impaled by two hook screws) attached by wired to batteries. The objecs are more or less of the household variety though several are a little strange including six standard whistles apparently affixed together in an alternating right/left pattern and two items that look like the heels of shoes, atop of which we see one or two spikes and a single die, one red, one green. One apprehends a toylike scenario. David Toop's notes make reference to a pachinko parlor and there's something of that bright, thin, semi-chaotic ringing aspect to the music, starting right in with the first track. But it's not all fun and games.

The first work on Side A is pretty playful indeed, small metal balls rotating in circular frames, jangly tapping elements added, more balls, tin hiccups and more, all gayly tumbling along giving something of a march of the toy effect, or some elaborate, lacy clockwork contraption. Track two grows more anxious, a slow, grinding rhythm underneath the higher clatter lending an air of insistency and even inexorability to the activity above. Flipping the vinyl, the third cut feels almost desolate, the sounds no longer strutting or scampering, now searching for places to hide. The atmosphere becomes dark and sooty, any laughing tingle from the devices having been replaced by dry whirs and hums like distant chainsaws. Strong stuff from such slight instruments. Then comes the clean-up, like a desultory Roomba scouring the abandoned floors for detritus, signs of life beginning to rise from the dust toward the end.

Hah, I'm sure I'm reading much more narrative into the album than intended but, I think, it's difficult not to. Also hard not to thoroughly enjoy the ride and wish to have attended a performance. Solid, fascinating work, well worthwhile and, as it happens, a very nice bookend to the Tilly above.

consumer waste

Friday, February 20, 2015

Vinícius Z. Chavarria - rabisco (no label)

A very mysterious release.

There's elaborate packaging and then there's elaborate packaging. We have here two wooden "drawers" of a sort, each about 6" x 7" x 1/2", fairly heavy, with a sliding compartment. In one is a CD. In the other, covered by an ink-spattered piece of white cloth, are sixteen 3 1/2" x 6" cards, all of which have photos on one side, most of which have ink drawings, originals, on the other. The photos are close-up, slightly blurred shots of ink scrawls (purplish) not unlike some of the texts/drawings on their reverse. The drawings are mostly abstract, ragged and splotchy images, with the odd cartoonish face or figure. One of the cards contains a hand-written note explaining the whys and wherefores of the recording. Essentially, Chavarria took a microphone and walked around his hometown (he lives in São Paulo but it sounds like the home town in question is a much smaller place), taping as he went; we hear some 77 minutes of the journey.

And it works. There's absolutely nothing "special" about what we hear, very much the every day and a fairly quiet day at that but I think that's the major part of its charm. You hear traffic every so often, a yipping dog, the wind buffeting the mic but it's all very low key, quiet, as though he's walking around the perimeter of a farming village, not seeking out streams, intense activity of any sort, just observing the calm goings on. I get a strong visual sense of a sunny day, crop fields, a house once in a while, cars a quarter mile off (I could be entirely wrong!). It's a question I often return to: why this field recording (here, as far as I can tell, entirely unprocessed) works and that one doesn't. One of the criteria seems to consistently be a sense of unforcedness on the part of the recorder which is certainly in evidence here. And, despite the fact that Brazil, to me, would be rather exotic, there's no feeling at all of exotica here, simply of life, astutely observed. That's more than enough.

A very fine release all around, sounds and objects--try to get ahold of one.

Chavarria's bandcamp page


Yan Jun - Microfeedback Lausanne (End of the Alphabet)

Two strong, rigorous tracks from Yan Jun, each pared down to a form like a live electric wire. "1" is, on the one hand, one sound, a bristling electric buzz, kind of what you might imagine a socket shock would sound like if extended for a half hour. But within that, there are layers upon layers, and that's before you the listener begin to move your head, further complicating matters. Attempting to tease out these elements, I get lost after four or five, not even sure if I'm actually hearing them or not (as though there's a difference). The main body of the piece modulates as well, the pitch shifting ever so slightly now and then, more drastically other times, the though rarely interrupting the essential flow of current. Over its course, the bristles melt into molten solder, both ear-melting and endlessly fascinating for those head movements. "2" resides in similar territory, though thinner and a shade more uncomfortable, slicing into your aural membranes more easily. Again, multiple levels can be heard at close listen; I highly recommend playing it at volume with one's ears between the speakers, moving.

A couple of works more easily grasped via experience than description, as they teeter on that odd boundary of the simple and the complex, depending on degree of concentration. Well worth it for fans of insinuating, subtly disturbing noise.

End of the Alphabet

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

David Sylvian - there's a light that enters houses with no other house in sight (Samadhi Sound)

So, some history or lack thereof. Apart from knowing of the general existence of a band called Japan, I was unaware of Sylvian's work prior to the release of "Blemish" (with Derek Bailey), of which I think I only heard a bit here and there and then his excellent contribution on one track from Christian Fennesz' "Venice". For obvious reasons, I was curious about "Manafon" and it became the first occasion for me to hear his music in any depth, as atypical as it may have been in his oeuvre. I wasn't completely sold on it, only finding a compelling mix in a couple of the tracks, otherwise considering Sylvian's vocals to be a bit "sewn on" and all too incongruous with the sampled improvisations (though, arguably, that was a point).

Here, it's an entirely different type of construction, although utilizing some of the same or similar elements. It's one track, running some 64 minutes, centered around the poetry of Franz Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winner (with whom I was also unfamiliar). Wright's is also the voice of the album, reading extracts from his "Kindertotenwald", which Sylvian weaves through music that seems largely of his own design, though with substantial assistance from Fennesz and incorporating a goodly amount of piano work from John Tilbury as well as extracts from previously recorded improvisations by Otomo Yoshihide and Toshi Nakamura. Wright was gravely ill with what was thought to be, at the time of the recording, terminal cancer (though he's since made something of a recovery). I don't know of his previous reading manner and can only imagine how his illness affected what we hear on the release at hand, a general tone and attack that I think most listeners would quickly connect with that of Tom Waits.

Generally speaking, Sylvian constructs a kind of web that, while lush, is perhaps less so than I'd have expected (in fitting with Wright's texts), balancing resonant electronics and piano with thinner, scratchier, less comfortable noises. A piano is pretty much constant. Sometimes it's clear that Tilbury is at the keys, elsewhere it's not so obvious. The drift is amorphous and, while making references to rock tonalities, only occasional allows small kernels of rhythmic activity to develop; they don't last long. Several times along the way, there are odd editing effects, as though the sound has been finely sliced then reassembled, just slightly off from the original--interesting effect. A couple of times, string sections purloined from who-knows-where emerge from the darkness. The music itself is enjoyable enough if not terribly exciting listen (those more partial to Sylvian's more pop offerings will nonetheless find it tough sledding, in all probability); one's attention is drawn more toward Wright's words. As said, his voice betrays clear evidence of a roughly-lived life, 60 years of drugs and drinking, retaining its rich, deep aspect but splintering around the edges, calm to the point of disaffectedness. Wright's words are grim, stark and "unpoetic", far more noir than impressionistic (although the music is, largely, just that), regaling the listener with harsh, short scenes from emergency rooms, alleys and the dark psychic byways of the addicted and the diseased. Reading up a bit on critical response to Wright, I have the impression that while mostly positive, there are detractors that read some of his work as excessively self-pitying, the old glorying in the gutter route. I get a bit of that sense myself, perhaps enhanced by the length of the work. Not that it's unrelenting--that would be fine--more that it's not, that it's more unspooling from the same source whose import we've received and understood after the first few iterations. The deadpan recitation of banal, awful events wears a bit thin. When he reads, towards the end, "We have misnamed death life and life death", it's hardly as stunning an observation as he seems to think.

That said, the text is by no means ineffective on the whole, does create a palpable, dreary world. While still sitting somewhat apart form the music, it's better integrated than the voices on "Manafon" and one gets a glimpse of further possibilities in this area. As before, I'd much, much rather have heard a live recording. Tilbury's done such extraordinary work with Beckett that this would seem a natural enough fit. As is, if you've enjoyed Sylvian's recent work along these lines, no reason you won't derive much satisfaction from this one as well.

Samadhi Sound

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nadia Shpachenko - Woman at the New Piano (Reference Recordings)

There are plenty of areas of music about which I'm a bit uncomfortable writing, where I don't think my footing is too sure. Certain branches of contemporary composition, for example, those that grew less out of Cage, say, than the New Romanticism of Del Tredici, Corigliano and akin composers. My knowledge of that territory is extremely limited (enough so that I'm not even sure whether they're appropriate composers to cite in this instance!). Looking over pianist Shpachenko's performing history, I see composers whose oeuvres I know reasonably well (Xenakis, Crumb), those whose work I only know marginally (Carter, Kirchner) and any number who are entirely unknown to me, including the four represented on this disc. So, bearing that in mind...

Shpachenko commissioned all of the compositions included here. I should say at the beginning that, from what is hear here, she impresses very much as a pianist with a light, crisp touch and a way of keeping the music flowing very cleanly. I'd be curious to hear her have at it with some thornier, potentially opaque works like those of Xenakis. Tom Flaherty is represented by two pieces. The first, "Airdancing" is for two pianos and electronics and Shpachenko is joined here (and on one other work) by Genevieve Feiwen Lee on toy piano and electronics. It's a rapidly scampering piece with innumerable cross-rhythms, influenced, probably via Cage and Harrison, by southeast Asian traditions but also with fine (and, I think, necessary) darker sections that impart an air of doubt into the proceedings. It only lasts some eight and a half minutes, but goes through numerous changes, giving a cumulative dramatic effect that seems more symphonic than dual-pianistic. Beautiful playing from each musician. His "Part Suite-a" is rather different, in three parts, much more sonata-like, with a bright passacaglia, a lovely slow movement and a concluding scherzo, all too cutely titled "Scherzoid". For me, the writing here is pleasant enough (and certainly competent) but not so singular, reminding me of any number of other composers throughout. Only in the latter half of the second section ("Lullabande", so I guess the sarabande portion) does the technique combine satisfyingly with the emotive flow, at which point it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. There are portions where both the music and Shpachenko's playing remind me, oddly enough, of Carla Bley's "3/4".

Peter Yates contributes "Finger Songs", a set of five short pieces. Researching Yates a bit, I found at least a small connection to Harry Partch, though I couldn't have told from these works. In a way, similar to the second Flaherty offering, I hear ably written but not distinctive music, with nods to American vernaculars (blues, Tin Pan Alley, rags) here and there, all easily digested but not much that really sticks. Rzewski without the bitterness, Bolcom without the grace. "Cretic Variations", from James Matheson, explores the "cretic foot", simple long-short-long pattern in a 14-minute excursion. Rhythmic interests aside (and those are in plain evidence, chugging along quite nicely), this piece has far more resonance for me. Despite allusions to other forms, there's something much more expansive about it, less hermetic than, say, the Yates, though he comes close to overdoing it about ten minutes in, with a rather overbearing flourish, though all is forgiven over the composition's final, somber and very lovely few minutes. If I hear some Barber, it's in a way that expands on his music, and does so interestingly, doesn't merely nod to it.

But of all the composers presented here, it's Adam Schoenberg who wins me over the most often. His "Picture Etudes" consists of four songs for solo piano (augmented by bass drum and gong). Taking his cue from Mussorgsky, each is based on a painting. The first two are short, under two minutes (a Pierrot work by Albert Bloch and Miro's 'Women at Sunrise'), the first sprightly and (even if thinking instead of Watteau), gayly rococo, quick lines scurrying around solid pillars, the other disarmingly goofy, the drum punctuating several lines of pointillistic dance from the keys. But it's "Olive Orchard' (for the Van Gogh painting) that wows, just a heartbreakingly gorgeous melody, steeped in Americana. Yes, one might draw references to Holcomb, even Jarrett, but this usic carves out its own space, direct and moving; again, played with extreme sensitivity by Shpachenko. "Kandinsky" loops back to the spirit of the Bloch, the rococo now fragmented but losing none of its vitality, trills parrying with bangs, much fun. Schoenberg's "Bounce", which concludes the disc, is for two pianos (again, Lee joins in) and is a delightful romp. Again, Barber seems to glimmer int here somewhere but with more hesitancy and doubt, which is a great "spice" to offset Barber's occasional dips into sentimentality. The writing for the two keyboards is clever enough to bring smiles now and then and the execution sounds flawless. The piece does indeed bounce--cavorts even--through smooth and rough terrain, several nascent songs emerging along the way. Oh, I might've liked a bit more reflection, but the music is so infectious, it's difficult to quibble.

A very engaging set, slightly uneven for me but probably far less for many. Glad I was able to hear these musicians and composers.

Reference Recordings

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Anastassis Phillippakopoulos - songs and piano pieces (Edition Wandelweiser)

Anastassis Phillippakopoulos - solo pieces (Edition Wandelweiser)

I'd heard some music by Phillippakopoulos as performed by Dante Boon in Amsterdam this past November, but these are, if I'm not mistaken, my first contact with his work via recordings and a very happy meeting indeed.

"songs and piano pieces" is a short disc and simply structured. Two solo flute works (one for bass flute) bracket a set of four solo piano compositions. "song2" (2008), with Katrin Zenz on bass flute, cycles through sets of four calm, mellifluous, creamy notes with silences between. The pitches in each set vary with the durations (always?) increasing from note to note, the final one lasting the longest. Very simple and beautifully luminous with a great sense of near self-similarity. I think of raindrops on a window pane in pearly light. "four piano pieces" (2005-2008), performed by the composer, are also structurally interlocked in a clear manner, each portion lasting between two and a half and four minutes. The first and third are akin, the former consisting of repeated sets of two chords, one low and cloudy immediately followed by another mid-high and brilliant and then, after a couple of minutes, two long-held and lovely middle range chords, the latter a kind of very slow melody made up of quiet, lingering chords, sustained until they fade, then a more rapid, though still calm and pensive series of individual, back and forth tones. The second and fourth present more sinuous melodies, spare and simple, but carrying a trace of the Mediterranean, perhaps Greek via the Arab world (maybe recalling Satie's Sarabandes?), each glimmering and jewel-like. "song 6" (2010), for solo flute, uses sets of three note patterns, not dissimilar from "song 2" in one sense--the same, lovely serenity--but being pitched higher, containing a slightly more plaintive aspect.

A fine, moving set of music, highly recommended.

"solo pieceso is an earlier release, the recordings having taken place from 1998 - 2005, but it occupies similar territory: Three pieces for winds (bass flute, bass clarinet and oboe) and two sets of piano works. "tragoudi" (2004), once again with Zenz on bass flute, is a gorgeous lament, lush but reserved, "onissia" (2002) (Yannis Samprovalakis on bass clarinet) also carries an air of sadness, perhaps more so given the more mournful nature of the instrument while "syrna (2000) with Kostas Tliakos on oboe really gets keening. All three are decidedly songs; one could easily imagine them sung. All three are also somber and beautiful. The first set of solo piano pieces, again performed by Phillippakopoulos is in four sections. Like the above set, the short portions vary, an initial bright, almost strident chord dissolving into haze, rippling quiet melodies emerging, suspending, dropping into a brooding, dark four note repeated sequence and concluding with a vibrant spray. "piano 3" is the longest work from Phillippakopoulos on either recording, the thee sections covering some 23 minutes. Part one is contemplative and heavy, wonderful woolly, dark chords progressing in an almost stately fashion, leading to a more transparent second section, four note patterns like water drops off of a branch into a pond. In keeping with his apparent habit to end these series in rather dramatic fashion, we once again hear dynamic bursts, bright chords held, then reduced to quieter fragments, all occurring clearly limned in space, no obfuscation.

I'm quite glad to have made Phillippakopoulos' musical acquaintance and greatly look forward to hearing more music. In the meantime, hie yourselves over to Wandelweiser or Erst Dist and give a listen to these.


Also available via Erst Dist

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thomas Stiegler/Peter Ablinger - ANFANGEN (:AUFHÖREN) (Edition Wandelweiser)

A split disc with five compositions by Stiegler and two by Ablinger, each performed by some combination of violin (Sabine Akiko Ahrendt), cello (Jan-Filip Tupa) and clarinet (Diego Montes).

I think I'd only heard Stiegler's work before in conjunction with Hannes Seidl on their early Wandelweiser release, "das wetter in offenbach". Here, he evinces a rather playful approach, especially in the two "Treibut" (flotsam) pieces, 1/2 (2011) and II (2009); playful but with a nicely bitter edge. Both of them nod to a kind of minimalism. In the first a steady, slowish pulse from low, bowed cello and high, piercing clarinet serve as place marks around which a scampering, five-note violin sequence flits. The trio melts into a vague pool that only very gradually regains structure, congealing into different regular form; very enticing. The second flotsam begins with an almost march-like cadence, interrupted by brief, flowery puffs. It morphs into a delightful kind of round, slowly lengthening the notes, becoming dreamlike, soon ambulating through numerous permutations, many of them involving rhythmic variations played off more languid passages; very charming and wryly humorous in its acknowledgement of past forms. In the middle of the disc, two very short, pieces ("Gelbe Birne III", nos. 1 & 2), dramatic, forlorn snippets, bracket a gnarly nugget for solo clarinet, "eins, zwei, drei" (1992/93).

Ablinger's "Amtsee bei Regen" (2008) strives for a kind of simplicity, "writing a note on the staff paper while listening to nature (to the rain)", and listened to in that manner, it seems to achieve this in a set of 24 sequences, some of them involving simple scales, overlapped and at different tempi. You get a general sense of overlays, say three transparent sheets on each of which only a handful of indications have been printed--very charming and oddly restful. "ANFANGEN (:AUFHÖREN)" [BEGIN (:CEASE] (1991), for violin in viola tuning, is something else again. The 23+ minute piece is based on the initial note, a fiercely bowed one that sounds somewhere between an aggressive car horn blast and one of those yelling goats that commonly circulated around the net last year. It's harsh and disturbing and it repeats, relentlessly at first, modulating in degrees of skronkiness and (slightly) pace, gradually allowing in softer asides and space, much of it more or less consisting of the same note (sometimes I found myself thinking of it as an astringent, solo violin version of Rhys Chatham's "Guitar Trio"). The initial assault resurfaces periodically, the pitch shifted slightly, braying its existence into a space where quieter scrabblings also attempt to live. It's a bracing, challenging work, fiercely performed by Ahrendt.

The set as a whole is balanced between the overtly and subtly challenging; even int he apparent lulls, there's much to learn, much that's more difficult and rewarding than might be initially perceived. A good, tough set of music.


Also available via Erst Dist

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jürg Frey - 24 Wörter (Edition Wandelweiser)

As much as I tend to seriously enjoy the majority of music from those composers associated with the Wandelweiser collective, I often get the feeling that it's Frey's music that resonates the deepest, that his sense of pure musicality has the most affinities with my own. Such an observation is only of real value to myself, of course, but there's such a sense of rightness I get from his work, including his pieces involving field recording (for example, the "weites land, tiefe zeit" set on b-boim); his music, to me, always sounds fantastic. That affinity is enormously well represented on this tremendous release.

Despite the title, there are 27 pieces here, ranging between 0:33 and 4:21, 25 of them with words, performed by Regula Konrad (soprano), Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh (violin) and Dante Boon (piano). The other two pieces are instrumental (piano/violin and solo piano). Some of the words encapsulate emotional states--Heiterkeit (Cheerfulness), Zartheit (Tenderness)--others connote dreamier, more Romantic notions: Einsamkeitsmangel (Lack of Loneliness), Zittergras (Quivering Grass), Ortlosigkeit (Without Place). Only two are repeated, Tod (Death) and Glück (Happiness); one nods in appreciation. The structure of the cycle is explained a bit in the revealing conversation between Frey and Thomas Adank printed on the inner sleeve. The words are, roughly, arranged from long to short to very long, imparting a suspension-bridge kind of aspect to the composition (with intervening mini-crests) and each word is repeated twice in a given "song", usually sung, sometimes spoken. The music, of course, is quiet, spare but with a very strong underlying current of lyricism. On a "typical" piece (there aren't any--there are infinitely subtle variations in each), the piano plays consonant, measured single notes or chords, suspended (you can often hear that lovely, muffled sounds of the sustain pedal being released) while the violin provides a perfect contrast with a grainier, breathier line that edges into microtones. The voice, crucially, remains at a kind of semi-remove, not at all declamatory or sardonic but also never getting within a mile of the sentimental. Instead, Konrad's words are clear, thoughtful and imbued with a perhaps melancholic sense of understanding. As mentioned above, each word is sung twice, almost always with a difference in rendition involving pitch or, in the longer words, number of pitches per syllable. More, Frey places these two enunciations within the piece with exquisite care and variation. And I should say in passing that the two instrumental songs are just gorgeous.

My knowledge of the German song cycle tradition is pretty cursory at best but, especially as Frey cites Schubert and Schumann in the enclosed conversation, it's next to impossible not to think of "24 Wörter" at least partially in that context and, for me, it both fits right in and extends the tradition along a particularly beautiful path. An early favorite of 2015--by all means, give a listen.


Also available via Erst Dist

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sarah Davachi - Barons Court (Students of Decay)

A very sumptuous set or drone-based work from Davachi, a Canadian-based artist heard here in her first recording. Radigue is a clear reference point but there's plenty to differentiate Davachi's work from hers. Five pieces, all based in large part on various synthesizers, including several of the vintage variety, augmented by acoustic instruments (cello, oboe, flute, harmonium, viola) at points (perhaps only the first track?). The tonalities explored by these latter, especially in pieces like the opening, "heliotrope", impart a slightly Renaissance feel to the music as they circulate around the synth lines, which are extremely rich and layered but also possessing a spicing of grit. She seems less interested in the arcane subtleties of microtonal tuning than Radigue, preferring a Rileyesque tonality, though without the digital scurry, opting for endless shimmers and billows, sometimes, as in "wood green", with a nod to Indian tamboura traditions. Does it get a tad over-spacey for my tastes at times? Yes. Part of me would prefer to hear more of both the concentratedness and the incorporation of acoustic instruments as heard in "heliotrope", possibly spread out over longer periods. But the multiple layers, timbres and colors are more than enough to keep one happy here, very easy to put one's ears between the speakers and have them tickled. Good work.

Students of Decay

Mark Vernon - Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm (3LEAVES)

I can find very little information about this release save that the sounds are derived from recordings made by Vernon in Sri Lanka. There's substantial processing and integration of electronics and effects over its 54 minutes. It comes across as a very dreamlike soundscape, the nature of the recordings ranging from water to fauna to urban noise to the human voice (often in apparently ritual mode), generally underpinned by a hum or other continuity-enhancing element. It's brilliantly recorded, the sounds having great depth and plasticity. That said, it's tough for me to readily distinguish from any number of similarly fashioned soundscapes, especially those dealing with (to Western ears) exotica. I always find something troubling about that but also more and more find myself less interested in these sorts of constructions, no matter how expertly rendered. Others' opinions will vary, of course, and if you're a fan of the catalogs of labels like Unfathomless and the field recording sections of Gruenrekorder, this will be right up your alley.


Monday, February 09, 2015

A bunch of vinyl (and one CD) from the ever-intriguing God Records....

Morton Feldman - For Bunita Marcus (God)

So, this is something of an event, though unfortunately afflicted by a bit of bad timing as the piece's dedicatee has in recent months made public allegations about abuse at the hands of the composer. Still, one attempts to listen with open ears. On a personal level, for what it's worth, it's the first time I've ever heard Feldman's music on LP having come to it myself near the beginning of the CD era when, in fact, after his death, there was a boom in the number of releases of his music, partly as the CD format better fitted his longer works. Here, in a performance by Lenio Liatsou, "For Bunita Marcus" takes up three sides of the 2LP set, the fourth left blank. Moreover, it's one of my favorite pieces of music, period and the subject of one of my very favorite recordings, that done by John Tilbury on his London Hall set. So, how to listen afresh?

First, I should say that this is a beautiful recording, something that any fan of the piece, or of Feldman, should hear. Even if I were capable, in my memory, of doing side by side comparisons with other interpretations I've heard (I think I have five or six), which I'm not, I don't know that it would be worthwhile. I can say that, as a general impression, Liatsou has a somewhat more clipped approach than, say, Tilbury, and perhaps takes the music a little faster (I haven't timed the piece and n timings are included). This is something I might have thought I'd object to but I find that this approach works perfectly well here, perhaps due in part to the kind of sound she evokes from the piano which, for me, is very bell-like, almost a subtle carillon effect which, knowing Feldman's love of high register percussion like celestas, seems entirely appropriate. This occurs particularly in the more rapid, higher-pitched clusters with perhaps the consequence that there's less of the extremely subtle variation of duration that one hears in Tilbury. While I might prefer the latter, there's truly nothing to complain about, it's a gorgeous rendition and a fine addition to the canon. Do I mind, just a little, having to get up and flip or switch platters twice during the piece? Yes, but it's a small price to pay. The sleeve also contains an excellent explanatory essay of the work by Sebastian Claren, including remarks from the composer I'd never before read. Mandatory listening for all admirers of the music.

Alvin Lucier - Memory Space (God)

Two renditions realized by Gareth Davis (bass clarinet) and Rutger Zuydervelt (field recordings, processing).

I've always found the Lucier piece to be particularly fascinating and, of course, capable of generating an enormous variety of realizations. He asks the performers (any number, any instruments) to visit an environments, "record" the sounds they hear using any means from notes to audio recordings to simply using their memory and then, at some later date, to recreate that environment at a different location. That's it. In my experiences of the piece, it often seem to act (as , I think, intended by the composer) to free the instrumentalists, at least a bit, from certain natural ruts and vernaculars, balancing between their recollections and their "normal" modes of playing. The sides here were initiated in Ostrava and Krakow. The choice of instrumentation, on the surface, seems odd: bass clarinet and field recordings. Davis was part of the Dutch group, Maze, who recorded this work for Unsounds last year, though on that occasion he was in a sextet, his presence not as pronounced as here. I find I tend to listen to this recording one of two ways. First, if consciously thinking of the Lucier instructions, I find the bass clarinet too, well, bass clarinet-y, too up front as a known instrument and less integrated or disguised, if you will, as a memory trace. I'm also curious about Zuydervelt's usage of field recordings or, even, the idea of using them in the first place. I take it they're not from the original site visit; if that's the case, it's an interesting problem how to use sounds captured at one location to "represent" another. On the other hand, listening purely as two sets of sound explorations, I enjoy both sides a good bit. The duo mentions on the God site the issue of "the very attempt to avoid narrative providing one." and that strikes me as being borne out here. There's certainly something of a "ride" in effect, a bumpy, event-filled and occasionally exciting one.

Worth hearing, especially for fans of Lucier eager to experience the wide range of interpretive variations his music generates.

Bernhard Gander - Take Death! (God)

Sometimes, gentle reader, it's all I can do to get past a cover. Or a title. :-)

I will say that the music, composed by Gander and performed by the Ensemble Modern (not to be confused with the French Ensemble Moderne) plus Patrick Pulsinger on live electronics, was not what I expected given the album sleeve (trust me, the inside cover image is worse). The ensemble is about twenty string and, for this composition, percussion is featured prominently; much of the piece is rhythmically oriented, the brass firing off Pendereckian volleys amidst the propulsive banging from all quarters. But--and it's a big "but" for me--the music sounds more bombastic than anything else. I was reminded of Zappa's forays into the field here, Xenakis there (but without the rigor), more effect than substance. The low reeds growl and sputter, the brass offer expressionist shouts (perhaps I've watched too much Fritz Lang lately), the piano leaps frantically in its upper registers--all "dramatic", I guess, but...overwrought would be the term that comes to mind. Though I detect no overt allusions to death metal or the like, regular, rockish rhythms percolate up from the depths every so often, not to any real benefit. I get the impression all is as Gander wants; the piece sounds very well played, the breaks all crisp, the ensemble sounding robust. I just don't get very excited about the resultant music. As well, it kind of languishes where it began which, of course, might be its point.

The final track is a remix by Kajkut (see below) which up-fronts the rhythm (jungle-y, circa 1995), machine-like, and manages to inject some life, albeit mechanical, into the proceedings. All to the good. I'll take a pass.

Kallabris/Lepanik - ...on what there is... (God)

An odd, spacey collection of eighteen short songs, recorded over a ten year period, from Kallabris (Michael Anacker) and Robert Lepenik, most recently heard by yours truly as part of The Striggles. They are, loosely speaking, songs, with fairly regular lyrics and voices merging and receding--though what the sources of these are, I've no idea--if not typical song structure. The pieces are often found swimming in a tonal, electronic haze, dipping in and out of rhythmic sequences, all of them gentle and percolating; even the most abstract portions carry at least a hint of pulse and are easily digestible. You hear vestiges of Jon Hassell, late 80s Eno, Fennesz. There's an odd nod to West Indian/lounge-y music on "I Don't Like Gentlemen" that includes some nice Haitian-sounding guitar work and a warped horn section to close out Side A, leading to an interesting, short and spare electro-percussive piece on the flip side, "Patsche" that recalls those old Hector Zazou/Bony Bikaye collaborations. Some more driving rock rhythms rear their heads on this side, sending the music into more obvious pop territory, though still slightly warped, including the very catchy, penultimate "Friendly Mouse". Not my cuppa, but engagingly wrought and, I'm guessing, of some appeal to those more pop and dance inclined than I.

Gerd Kühr - Revue instruments et électronique (God)

One of the things I've loved about God Records over the past couple of years has been exposing me to composers of whom I've never heard. It's not that I always enjoy the music--sometimes I do, sometimes not--but I greatly appreciate increasing my working knowledge, meager though that may be, about what's going on in various corners of the new music world. Gerd Kühr is a case in point. Born in 1952, he appears to be a pretty well established figure on the Austrian scene, having worked with Hans Werner Henze among many others, his music having been performed and recorded with some regularity. I've no idea how representative this work is of his oeuvre (it was recorded in 2005), but "Revue instruments et électronique", performed by the 21-piece Klangforum Wien, spatially separated into smaller clusters for this piece, under the direction of Emilio Pomárico (with recorded sound from Kühr) strikes me as an interesting mixture of Neo-Romanticism (in its at least partial embrace of various more or less traditional tonalities) and electro-acoustic or acousmatic music, although the presence of the electronics here is quite subdued, never as flashy as is often the case with, say, the IRCAM school. The language used won't strike most listeners as uncommon and includes extended, quavering, harmonic bowed passages, explosions of percussion, gurgles of low reeds and billowy, chittering warbles from high ones. More importantly, there's an underlying sense of cohesion, an organic quality that makes the progressions as believable as they are unexpected, never feeling random, despite the wide variation in colors, rhythms and periods of stasis. There's a melodic line near the conclusion, mostly strings, that reminds me just a teeny bit of Ornette Coleman's writing in "Skies of America". A very strong, exciting piece, well worth hearing for anyone with interests in this direction. I'm very glad to have made Kühr's musical acquaintance.

Francisco López - untitled #295 (God)

I've never remotely kept up with López' immense output, having heard/owned perhaps a half dozen of his releases and experienced his music live only a couple of times. Most of these occasions have involved assaultive levels of noise (not to mention blindfolds) so, while I imagine he's previously issued things not unlike this, "#295" came as something of a surprise to this listener. It's extremely quiet, made up entirely of, if I'm not mistaken, sounds sourced from turntables, both vinyl and the machines themselves. But it's not the usual series of scratches and whines. Yes, there are pops and scratches but they're fairly discreet, always lurking somewhere below, only occasionally rising to the surface. More prominent, although still at a low level, is a soft, deep rumble, presumably from the rotating platter (with something of a wobble) as well as, soon enough, various layers of lightly grinding whirs. The pops gradually become more active, forming rapid, quasi-regular patterns. Once achieved, this level of activity remains in play throughout and the listener simply sits back and enjoys the seemingly infinite sets of popping patterns, your brain determining how to array the sounds into what sequences. A thoughtful effort, concise and focussed, though it will test the patience of many listeners.

Kajkyt - II (God)

I received this as a CD, although it's also available as a double LP or cassette(s). It came in a small box with several photo cards and a booklet containing lyrics in...well, I'm not sure. It looks vaguely Cyrillic, though if you follow along, the words can be matched up to the vocals, whatever their meaning. I'd heard a previous LP on God under Kajkyt's given name, Slobodon Kajkut, titled "The Art of Living Dies" and I'd enjoyed it a good bit. After a solo voice intonation, very solemn, the "band" (not being informed otherwise, I'm guessing it's all Kajkut) launches into a grimy, lurching track that recalls nothing so much as Caspar Brötzmann's Massaker. Which I like a lot. And so it goes, one slow, deep track after another, sometimes filled with sludgy guitar, often propelled (if that's the word) by lonesome, sodden drumming and dub-like bass lines, every so often paring things down to isolated essentials, once in a while (as on the fifth track) slipping in some subtly complicated rhythmic notions when you're not looking. Right up my alley, I love it. Kajkut's vocals forgo any angst, remaining smooth, rich and quiet, conveying no particular emotion except, maybe, a kind of devotive attitude, perhaps with a tinge of the forlorn. I get a big kick from it. Quibbling, I think the album might have been shortened from its hour plus to around 40 minutes for more impact, but that's a small matter. Check it out, it's big fun.


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Alastair Wilson - Grafonola (Quincunx)

Such a unique, delightful object! The central item is a 10" vinyl recording--78rpm on one side, 45rpm on the other--consisting of sounds made via a "Columbia Viva-Tonal Grafonola 112 (c.1927) steel needles and shellac records". This arrives in a sleeve which seems to date from around the same time. Not sure if they're all alike but mine could be the one in the image below (same printing, in any case), with tissue-thin, aged paper that's already disintegrating near its edges, very lovely.

There's a small faded orange card included which proclaims, "DON'T DISCARD THIS CARD -- You will be delighted when you call and see your Photo in Miniature at CRONULLA--CANDIDS", a Sydney-based service.

The abstract nature of the recording is, of course, at perfect odds with the packaging. The 78rpm side (am I lucky to have a turntable that plays at this speed?) rapidly runs through a series of tiny sounds: scratches, worryings of the needle proper, etc., just a level or two above surface noise and, necessarily, incorporating that as well. Wilson intends that, over time and repeated plays, his contributions fuse with the deteriorating surface of the vinyl, rendering them indistinguishable. Side B, at 45rpm, is only mildly louder. On each, the sounds proceed in an unhurried, almost casual manner, something I find very attractive, giving a sense of calm investigation that happens to have been caught.

Purchasers of the physical item are given access to four more tracks on bandcamp, which can also be bought separately. These cuts expand the palette a little, and are every bit as enjoyable as those on the record although, I must say, the corporeality of the vinyl adds substantially to the experience. The fourth track includes several minutes of 20s jazz band music that sticks its head out somewhat awkwardly but endearingly.

A warm, special release.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

Seth Cooke/Dominic Lash - PACT (1000füssler)

Francisco Meirino - The Aesthetics of Everything For Nothing (1000füssler)

Two new 3-inch discs.

Cooke and Lash (there's a duo name for you) serve up two quite tasty tracks, more (slightly) steady-state than much of what I've heard from Cooke prior to this, the album beginning with an intense electronic buzz/hum with sitar overtones. Dark, deep strokes obtrude from Lash's arco, very strong and exciting. The piece fragments into juicy, globular strands of plucks, scrapes and rattles, all quite resonant and close-mic'd; one's ears are right in the middle of the conflagration. Surging, rough and uncompromising--good stuff. The second cut starts in a semi-similar area as did the first, a drone-y space with a seesaw pattern from the bass, Cooke spreading rich, granular noise over and under. Rather than fracturing, this piece kind of melts into a thick swirl of colors, mostly more muted electronics accented by pure bowed bass lines and portentous plucks, concluding with a feedback squall. Excellent work.

The sound sources for Meirino's intriguingly titled piece are toys, recorded very closely (inside, even, one gets the feeling) and edited into an 18-minute composition. The sound-world is vast and active, replete with squeaks, deep thrums, crackles and much more. I often have a sense of wandering through a dense jungle. A loud but brief cascade of bell tones leads to a lovely clearing where, past nearby rustles, one hears more distant sets of bells, of metal balls scurrying over wooden surfaces--a wonderful few minutes before a rather harrowing storm arrives, with a harsh, shimmering wave oscillating from speaker to speaker over what almost sounds like an old wooden pier straining and groaning against the surf. This subsides, a warning-light buzz and a few raindrops lingering, before another of those bell ripples closes things out. Impressive, immersive and very enjoyable.

Both of these works well worth a listen.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Nick Hoffman - Necropolis (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

Forbidding title, uncompromisingly difficult music.

With "Necropolis", Hoffman returns (I take it he never left) to the harsh, razor-edged electronics that were in place the first time I heard his work a few years back. The track titles, even if some seem taken from the Naked City songbook ("The Scent of Ground Teeth"!!), give some evidence of what's in store. The opening flurry of "The Rotten Core" confirms it, sending this listener hurtling to his volume control before his speakers melted. While it's the most extreme, perhaps, of the pieces here, it's also representative in the sense of its in-the-faceness, of displaying the raw, unadulterated electronicness of the music, including a certain kind of thinness in play. No background clouds providing relief, no even vaguely tonal reference points. There is a sort of implied rhythm, more than enough to propel the work relentlessly forward. "Eros" veers from mothlike flutters through a ringing storm only slightly less intense than heard on the preceding track, the five minutes reading quite cinematically, really strong. "Dem Fuss im Nacken" ("Foot in Neck") is more liquid, maybe oily, disturbing at first, sounding like wriggling masses of...something being trod on followed by a sequence that sounds like skeet shooting (?); again, impressive. More blistering cascades at the start of "Love Triangle", with buzzing/ringing iterations, flailing and sputtering, wonderful range of sounds here, creating a deep and oddly brittle space, not your normal combination--an excellent cut, could have listened to a much extended version of this. The aforementioned tooth grinder is the closer, the longest piece and another winner, at first tarrying a good while in a fine, prickly mass, self-similar but fascinating, he temperature rising slowly but steadily, the needles morphing more diffuse but equally intense forms. They spread into lichen-like forms, dry and abrasive, then evaporate.

A tough, sinewy and very rewarding effort from Hoffman. Handle with care, but handle.

VA AA LR - Newhaven (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

The trio of Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan and Louie Rice continue to churn out fine work with this 3" disc documenting a live performance from just a few months back in September, 2014. It's a small slice, only running some 14 minutes, but a tasty one, filled with a backward-tape kind of flitting sound set amidst dusty washes of static and deeper, though dry, hums. Though I don't detect any traffic noises as such, there's something of the sense of being huddled near the side of a highway, vehicles, wind and, maybe, animals whipping by. Very immersive and engaging, wish there was more but, as is, a tasty morsel indeed.

Organized Music from Thessaloniki

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Joanna Halska Sokołowska - MSZA (Bôłt)

An operetta of sorts, revolving around the nature of names, referencing Gertrude Stein, Robert Ashley, Rilke, disco (in cover image if not in the music) and, I'm tempted to say, Popeye (after all, the opening track is titled, "I Am What I Am", a phrase which reappears throughout the work). Composed by Sokołowska, with a libretto by Michał Libera and performed by (aside from the composer on voice and other instruments), Jerzy Rogiewicz on piano and seven other vocalists. That opener finds a Laurie-Anderson-ishly warped voice reading over a radiant, eternal organ chord, gradually segueing in and out of melodic song, the parts well differentiated and attractively reflecting off one another. That suspended tonality, whether via piano, voices or electronic keyboards, is a constant presence and works quite well as an off-setting color to the voices, for example the male voice speaking, in English, recounting a rather everyday story of confused identities, numbers and addresses, sounding like Steve Buscemi in dream-state. Many of the direct referents ("a rose is a rose", "what's in a name?" a Beethoven extract from "Moonlight Sonata") are trite, though I can't tell how intentional that is and, in any case, they manage to fit in without causing the listener undo squeamishness. Sokołowska breaks stride a bit in the short concluding track, bringing in a gospel tinge with a high, sweet soprano.

An oddly enjoyable effort, recommended for Ashley fans, among others.

Gintas K - Blind Man Tales (Bôłt)

Constructed from an archive of "holiday sound files", Gintas K weaves a lengthy, complex electro-acoustic foray that, if anything, reminds me a little of the work of Lionel Marchetti in its combination of abstract sounds with recordings of distant locales, both natural sounds (insects, water, etc.) and manmade (percussion, various urban noises) although, as presented here, I'd have to offer the caveat that it's possible I'm mishearing these sounds, that they're in fact derived from entirely other sources. Many of the more inherently resonant sounds have been distorted, making it difficult to tell if they were originally pianos, balafons or harps, for example, while many of the swirls that wind between have a sandy edged, further scouring those sounds, blurring them into a partial dreamy haze with, nonetheless, sharp corners poking through. Two tracks here, one some 40 minutes long which varies textures quite appealingly, interrupting that cloudiness on occasion with brief busts of near silence and staccato noises, before plunging back into an more Fenneszian state, eventually conjuring up quite a storm with ringing sonorities virtually buried in a blizzard of static.

Strong work, especially for listeners who've been impatiently waiting for musicians like Fennesz to get back on the stick.

Hubert Zemler - GOSTAK & DOSHES (Bôłt)

Six pieces recorded in the vaults of a Polish church by Zemler (drums and percussion) and, on two tracks, Miłosz Pękala (vibraphone).

Zemler seems concerned with rhythms of a somber and unusual character as well as timbres and colors, always evincing a rich variety of tones arrayed in a hushed atmosphere. The rhythms, oddly, evoke Feldman now and then, though more regular and overt. The initial track, for instance, is almost processional-like but a tad quicker, evoking ritual without stating it explicitly, like a somewhat nervous monk who's heard "Crippled Symmetry". Sometimes, Zemler adopts a more forceful tack as on "Dji" which possibly references West African drumming. The two cuts with Pękala, both variations on songs by the band, Suaves Figures, are especially lovely, the shimmering vibes working perfectly, creating delicate clouds with vague nods to Southeast Asia. The closing piece for drum set begins in a rather routine mode but soon pares itself down to gentle taps of varying pitch again in quiet rhythms, augmented now and then by a tiny ringing tone, as though the drums are eliciting a response from a distant region, then proceeds to a stately, slow dance using what sounds like a harmonium, eventually disintegrating; very nice.

An enjoyable, "soft-spoken" release, an unusually and happily reticent one from a percussionist. Curious to hear what else he's up to.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Kåre Kolberg - Attitudes (Bôłt)

I should say as an aside that, over the last few years, I've greatly appreciated hearing the multitude of releases on the Bôłt label and its subsidiaries, exposing me to a huge amount of music, largely from Poland, the existence of which I was entirely unaware. It's not that I always loved everything (though there's been a bunch of that) but more that I always enjoy discovering new areas, implying the more general notion that there remains so much yet to hear.

Kolberg, yet another name new to me (though, upon checking, I see he wrote the liner notes to the wonderful "Essence of George Russell" 2LP set originally on Sonet), hails from Norway, but he apparently spent a great deal of time in Poland working with composers there. He was also closely associated with the multi-faceted singer Karin Krog, who is heard (processed) on several pieces in this two-disc set. As it happens, Kolberg's music doesn't excite me all that much but, again, I'm glad to have heard it. In fact, it reminds me a bit (though, perhaps, the influence was in the other direction) of some of Russell's forays into electronics like the Othello Ballet Suite. Kolberg uses transmutations of voices quite frequently, embedding them in cool, hollow electronics, inevitably evoking a somewhat spooky, bleak atmosphere. When things are toned down a bit, when the effects are less in one's face, as on the lovely "Nova", matters are greatly improved; similarly with much of the appropriately titled, "Sombre". It's hard to avoid getting a science-fiction-y feeling from some of the music (unfair, but quasi-similar sounds are such a part of the cinematic sf genre) but in works like "Nova", you're at least up in Kubrick territory. I have a bot of an aversion to the bleepy-blippy school of electronics, especially as routinely manifested during the 60s or 70s, so take my feelings with a grain of salt--those more conversant and comfortable with this area will doubtless enjoy "Attitudes" a great deal. It sounds fantastic, with clearly etched and widely varied textures and surfaces. The set includes excellent and detailed liner notes in Polish, English and Norwegian.

Maja S. K. Ratkje/Eugeniusz Rudnik - Maja S. K. Ratkje in Dialogue with Eugeniusz Rudnik (Bôłt)

An intriguingly structured disc: two 10+ minute pieces by Rudnick surrounding the "title" work, a half-hour composition by Ratkje produced for this recording.

Though inhabiting roughly the same world as Kolberg, above, I find Rudnik's pieces (one from 1971, the other from 2002) to be far more engaging, warmer, the vocal samples less remote and the electronic accompaniment, while containing its fair share of bleeps, feeling more liquid and cohesive. There's also a tinge of humor in play, often not a bad thing in this genre. Both of his works have a fine flow and, while clearly from the )classical) electroacoustic lineage, are anything but sterile. Ratkje's's construction consists largely of vocal samples from children singing to rocket countdowns with a lot in between. It's rather dense and intense, ricocheting along in spurts on concentrated activity, the vocals usually distorted, oven overlaid on one another. Periods of relative respite emerge, here with ghostly but comforting, blurred piano chords, there with oddly mechanical bird sounds. There's more a hyper-humid, industrial jungle effect here; Blade Runner vs. 2001. All three pieces are fine and represent the upside of this hitherto mostly unknown (by me) landscape. Recommended.