Thursday, May 21, 2015

The vinyl keeps on a-comin'

Robert Piotrowicz/Lukáš Jiřička - Samoobrona (Bôłt)

"Samoobrona" is a play written by Helmut Kajzar in the mid-70s which had been recorded for radio and elsewhere. Piotrowicz and Jiřička have taken the text (which I think was already conceived in fragmented form) and created a piece of radio theatre, further fragmenting, treating and redeploying the words while embedding them in a thick, vibrant mass of electronic sound. As much of a general problem I have with acousmatic music, I keep on finding examples of it (more or less) that contradict those issues and here's another one. The sounds are dense, swirling, occasionally rhythmic, the texts (in, I take it, Polish, though an English translation is provided in the inner sleeve) sliced and diced, the atmosphere infested with magnetic clangs, sizzling buzzes, whistling caroms and much more--yet it works for me. Some gorgeous moments here, as on Side B when a chorus of tones, like a pack of alien howler monkeys, erupts, surrounding the voices, threatening yet beautiful. The piece is very well paced, exciting to listen through despite not understanding the text. I'm not familiar with Jiřička's work and can't parse out his particular contributions, but I can say that, in terms of quality, this fits in very well with Piotrowicz's previous music and, indeed, is one of my favorite productions from him thus far.


R. Schwarz - The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)

An extremely impressive set of orchestrated electronics and field recordings from Schwarz, orchestrated in the sense of deeply constructed (at least, that's the feeling I get) from sounds captured in Europe, Africa and China, enhanced and integrated with synthesizers. I wouldn't go so far as to say "symphonic" but more like a tone poem, the elements densely layered with an implied sense of drama, even loose narrative, streams of dark buzzes and hums coursing through thickets of thistles and clangs. Per notes on the site, "based on the exploration of nature recordings for unheard details and hidden layers, focused on patterns of stochastic order and unique chaos created without musical intention." Though the sounds differ substantially, each of the seven tracks bristles with a similar energy and strong feeling of plasticity, sending the listener plunging through a cascade of noise, almost a sensory overload but so clearly limned as to to eliminate any possible cloying. Musique concrète without the overbearing and assaultive aspect that so often inhibits enjoyment for me. Really, really fine work.

Roger Döring/Konrad Korabiewski - Komplex (Gruenrekorder/Skálar)

Döring plays clarinets, tenor and baritone saxophones and Korabiewski supplies electronics, the pieces also ceding space to the environments in which they were recorded. The reed playing is generally somber and smooth, stating simple melodies with a dirge or folk character (reminded me of the slower portions of that old Skidmore/Osbourne/Surman recording on Ogun), only once delving into distortion when he runs the sound through a dictaphone. The electronics are very subtle, sometimes hardly there, although there's also either overdubbing of the reeds or real-time sampling. The music is moodily bleak, melancholic with a tendency toward sentiment. But at times, a certain balance is reached and the music floats wonderfully. "flucht", where Döring is on baritone, is my favorite track, one that recalls Roscoe Mitchell/AEC with deep, mournful flutters mixed with gradually strengthening scratchy interference-excellent. Most of the rest, while entirely pleasant, dwells in one area a bit overmuch; I'd like to have heard more chances taken.


Alessandra Eramo - Roars Bangs Booms (Corvo)

A 7" with eight brief pieces for voice and electronics using onomatopoeic words derived from Russolo's 1913 text, "The Art of Noises". As much as I often have my own difficulties with "free" vocal work, this set, perhaps due to its brevity and concentratedness, poses few such problems. Eramo inhabits these references to urbanization with gusto, not overdoing it, not allowing the electronics to dominate, but giving a forceful, pared down performance, guttural in parts, sibilant in others, even humorous on occasion as with (if I have my track demarcation right--there are no times or visual cues on the disc) "borbottii" low growls. Concise and well-handled.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wander - Wander (Nothing Out There)

Wander is the acoustic guitar duo of Vincenzo De Luce and Matteo Tranchesi, here presenting six tranquil, hazy songs grouped in a single track. I get the sense that the pieces have been at least roughed out, not entirely improvised but I could be wrong. There's such an air of languidness about them, a very attractive one, imparting the sensation of lazy, hot afternoons. As in De Luce's prior work that I've heard, you can pick up the influence of Fahey, sure, but here I get more of a Robbie Basho vibe, minus the Indian references. The attack sharpens now and then (portions of "dust and weins", for instance) and occasional regular pulses enter but there's an overall similarity of approach that, depending on one's tastes might be too much gentle lolling or, considering how lovingly it's played here, not enough. I found it an eminently enjoyable listen if not such a demanding one, though I doubt that was their purpose.

Nothing Out There

Hafdís Bjarnadóttir - Sounds of Iceland Íslandshljóð (Gruenrekorder)

More a documentary project than an "art" affair, I suppose, and an extremely handsomely produced one, both visually and sonically. Each of the seven tracks, save one (which is less than two minutes long) is comprised of three or four sections recorded at different locations; we move smoothly from one to another. This could occasion a slide-show quality but the choices made by Bjarnadóttir impart a subtle sense of connectivity, so that the side by side aspect feels "right" somehow. We travel from the delicate bubbling of hot springs to soft cave drippings, from waterfalls to bird-intensive cliff sides, from windswept plateaus to geysers. Impossible to say much more about it than that. If you're into lovingly assembled recordings from exotic (to most) places in the natural world , tis one is right up your alley. Really fine job.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Cathnor, as part of its most recent batch of releases (including that fly thing from my previous post), has issued four CDr albums.

Jack Harris - and neither had either of us seen anything more moving than the layers of a children's birthday cake, baked upon the heath

Apart from sporting the most unwieldy album title of the decade, there's not much information to be gleaned about the sounds herein. They're compiled from field recordings, to be sure (Harris' with contributions from Matthew Webb and Samuel Rodgers) and I take it there's a good deal of interweaving and construction in play. Whatever the case, it's a fantastic amalgamation, one of my favorite releases from recent months. There are several "episodes", separated by an uneasy quiet. On the surfaces, many of the initial soundscapes are banal enough: distant traffic, a bloke attempting to curb his dog, children, etc. but there's always something lurking beneath the crust, a thrum of one kind or another, often barely audible, as though the recordings have taking place above some subterranean power plant. As ever, I'm somewhat baffled by what it is exactly that renders some examples of this field so extraordinarily attractive to these ears, others not. But there's some kind of subtlety in play, a tenuous infiltration of rhythms and, of course, simply the poeticism of the choices made. That thrum bides its sweet time, oozing along beneath unsuspecting vehicles until exploding to the surface around the 45 minute mark, obliterating everything in its surge, the landscape reduced to random pulsations where once there were dogs, birds and children, leaving behind only the odd bump, scrape and ghost voice.

Excellent work.

Martin Küchen/Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga - Bauchredner

Amusing when doing an image search for the cover, to come across all these shots of ventriloquists...

An intriguing pairing, Küchen's guttural, intense saxophonics combined with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's rough, extreme zither. Apparently a more literal translation of Bauchredner, per Clive Bell's liner notes, is "one who talks from the belly" which seems apropos. Küchen plays in a more abstract mode than he has on several recent solo releases, fitting more into Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's approach, his output spittle-filled, granular, breathily harsh (though never, thankfully, attempting to hide the fact that it's a saxophone) alongside the zither's varied grindings and hums, often achieved, I think, with motorized devices. The sound combination is excellent throughout and something quite unique to boot, a flavor rarely encountered. The playing is incisive, uncompromising and entirely non-sentimental, filled with long tones that writhe and bristle unpredictably. Good, tough music.

Jason Kahn - untitled for four

Two versions of a graphic score by Kahn (analog synth, mixing board, radio) with Patrick Farmer (cd players, prepared loudspeakers), Sarah Hughes (zither, piano) and Dominic Lash (double bass). Though no score is included in the release, Kahn sent one on.It's an hour long, divided into five minute segments which themselves have a top and bottom half. Within each player's line, graphic designs appear (if you're familiar with Kahn's cover art over the last coupe of decades, you're in the ballpark), more or less limited by the time segments, lasting from rive to fifteen minutes. Their height varies, something I imagine is normally taken as volume level, although I suppose it could be anything. There are 18 such portions, each bearing a unique pattern. Each player has three or four five-minute sections which are silent, resulting in a series of duos, trios (only one of these, in fact) and quartets. So much for the layout, now to the sounds. They tend to be long, relatively quiet though extending up to medium-loud and on the harsh, dry and abstract side, making the occasional emergence of something like a lone piano not from Hughes all the more striking. The two hours is a great deal to try and take in, the sounds walking a line between contemplation and agitation, the larger forms suggested by the score lending just enough structure to grasp. There are a number of individually wonderful moments and, when one can mentally imbed these within the frame Kahn has devised, one can catch glimmers of a pretty engrossing, challenging work. Recommended and a solid addition to Kahn's sizable oeuvre.

Pascal Battus - désincantation indécantation

Per the sleeve, Battus uses only "rotating objects" for this set of eight tracks which, at least as far as the number of occasions I've seen him perform in the past two years, represents a fairly small portion of his potential activity. A good thing, in my opinion, as he has a tendency sometimes to range widely through whatever he brings to a concert and I've often found myself wishing he'd concentrate on a particular aspect for longer periods. You can pick up the rotational attributes of the sounds here without much difficulty and, given the abstract nature of the sounds, they provide a certain kind of structural grammar to the pieces, again very welcome. That said, it remains a tough one to crack, Battus' sound coming across as rather thin and brittle (often the case and, no doubt, intentional) offering few handholds much less solace to the ear, sometimes generating whines that carry a mosquito-like irritation factor. I found myself most attracted to the lower key, more fluttery and airier tracks, still tough little kernels but with that buffer zone enveloping the sharp, sizzling electric flashes. A prickly, difficult set to embrace but rewarding more often than not.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Various Artists - one man and a fly (Cathnor)

On June 28th, 2012, a fly (name withheld on request) gave a performance in an Oxfordshire church. The dipteran sound artist made great use of space and the ambient atmosphere, all of which is richly captured in this recording. He intrudes into the sound field only when necessary, otherwise allowing the listener to dwell in the noises of the moment: the interior hum of the church, external traffic including a particularly loud lawn mower, airplanes, birds, a seasoned gentleman making low moans, breath sounds and metallic taps and sift scrapes on a trombone, etc. all of which, via the choices made by the fly with regard to dynamics and spatial proximity, are woven into a fantastic, breathing, air-ful event, tinged with subtle and fluctuating colors, more easily experienced than described. There's something of Taku Sugimoto in his approach, perhaps even sparer, though perhaps his choices were occasioned by the inherent richness in that space, an acquiescence to the beauty that was already resident there, for example the way in which the lawn mower (if indeed, that was the source) and the low brass instrument merge perfectly--why add anything? This reticence, still so rare and so exquisitely executed here, results in a singular, wonderful work, one that should be heard by all.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Grisha Shakhnes - All this trouble for nothing (Glistening Examples)

With this release, his second for Glistening Examples, Shakhnes continues to carve out a unique and vigorous shape for his music in these six varied tracks largely composed from, I take it, processed tape sources. "utopia" surges right in with densely layered, chugging sounds, sometimes recalling the massed steps of troops but more a churning mix, as from blades in water. But nothing remains in stasis long here as some buried guitar notes (I think?) are heard followed by an extended alarm bell, a rising tone like an impossibly long vocal intonation, balafon (and an mbira?), deepening churns, thin piano chords, wave after wave, very impressive and deeply immersive. You're somehow not surprised when, toward the end of this 8-minute journey, tablas appear, the scene shifting eastward from Israel (Shakhnes' home base). Nicely programmed, this is followed by more of a steady-state piece, "counterpoint", all traffic rumble and I imagine much more packed in, a great mass of woolliness with interesting forward momentum. "mar. 18, 2015" starts in adjacent territory, with a low, bubbling environment, maybe even molten, but also you can just pick out, at first, some hazy piano, back behind the steam, wonderfully dreamy and uncertain. Muffled ticking (clocks?) emerges, the bubbling beginning to sound more like manhandled, crumpled tapes, the keyboard becoming more apparent but remaining indistinct--a fine, ultra-evocative and troubling track. Shakhnes switches gears abruptly with "hectic light (allemagne-palestine)", the latter presumably referring to he of the cognac and teddy bears as the listener is enveloped in swirls of repeated keyboard figures and drones, rather spacey (though concluding with an intriguing bit of seemingly unrelated and hard-nosed clicks) and unlike anything I've heard before from Shakhnes. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced but am glad to hear him exploring alternate pathways. "every other summer" plunges back into the inferno, offering a resonant cavern of fire intersected by clear, ringing tones and subtler mid-range ones boring into more distant surfaces. But Shakhnes has yet more up his sleeve as we hear the title cut to close out the album. Bowed strings, perhaps a cello, flutter like large moths in a dusty space, dozens of them. Some scraping relatively high, others trouble low, loose cords, grinding to a slow motion finish. Part of me wants to think it's an actual score for string ensemble, but I doubt it. Insistent, uncomfortable and utterly fantastic.

Shakhnes' oeuvre, including works under the name Mites, has maintained a level of excellence for a number of years now. This one ups the ante even further. Do check it out.

Glistening Examples