Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto  - everyone needs a plan (Erstwhile)

Even without the Wynken, Blynken and Nod imagery that graces the cover and the other five panels of the CD package, any listener would be struck by the dreamlike nature of this release, though not so much in structural sense. The single track, running some 75 minutes, is a kind of steady-state construction in that its overall aspect is roughly the same throughout even as the interior details bristle and mutate. It's like a large, think slab of material, the outline defined, the stuff of it chaotic, oneiric.

There are several constants: the voices of Revert and Rossetto primarily. They're never conversing as such (natural enough given their half-world spatial separation in real life, although the illustration on the disc itself implies ears connected by wires), more like words and phrases passing each other in the ether. Sometimes, it sounds like they're reading, other times perhaps one side of a phone conversation, first separated, eventually overlaid into an all but incomprehensible density, isolated words emerging from the crowded eddy of sound. If there's any slight reference one might have to previous sound-work, it could be Robert Ashley's great 'Automatic Writing', but pretty much only in the sense of (sometimes) indistinct language embedded in a larger flux. There's also, often, a kind of electric guitar tone, fairly consonant, that weaves in and out, providing a fluid kind of spine. As dense as it becomes, the sound-world is never particularly harsh, never thin or attenuated, always thick and rich, a sweet stew. Crucially, it's never overcrowded; there's a great deal going on but the sense of depth imparted allows the events to be heard as receding from one's immediate plane, occupying  space at some distance from the listener.

How else to describe this? The music very slowly intensifies as it flows along, the words and phrases are both personal and serious; Rossetto, for instance, talking about recent writing, laughing self-consciously, saying, "I try to tell  you everything", "I've had things happen to me", etc. But these are all just elements of an overall stream. It's like trying to describe a swirl of cream in a cup of coffee. At the end, multiple voices entwine around themselves, unaccompanied, finally thanking each other.

An exceptional, deep, unusual and wonderful recording.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Some capsule reviews of items that have arrive via download in recent weeks. Apologies for the brevity, but I just don't have time to get to them all in detail. Sorry!

Michael Lightborne - Sounds of the Projection Box (Gruenrekorder)

A sonic documentation of the history of the film projector (movie house version), from spool to digital. The recordings seem to be presented as is, with little or no obvious enhancement. The sounds, unsurprisingly, are cyclic near the beginning, less so as time moves on but also include the actions (and noises) made by the projectionist moving about, manipulating parts of the machine, etc., which sounds are perhaps even more intriguing than the mechanical ones. Sometimes you hear what's being shown in the theater, also fun. The last two tracks (this is a vinyl release, btw) form a small drama: 'Tower (death rattle)' (like the title implies) and 'Digital Light', spinning off into the hums and drones of the new age. Enjoyable work, especially for those interested in localized field recordings.

Gregory Büttner - Voll.Halb.Langsam.Halt (Gruenrekorder)

Contact mic recordings sourced from a 1930s steamboat that had been used as an ice-breaker, on which Büttner voyaged in 2010. Much of the ship was metal and contained a vast array of sound possibilities and excellent resonance. Büttner has assembled a load of recordings, not altering them in any manner apart from cutting and reconfiguring, presenting a 35-minute sequence of sounds that, while often iterative in an engine/machine sense, strike me as generally remote from water, an interesting isolation and encapsulation of internal noises and environments. Those repetitive sounds, which layer and agglomerate in the work's end phase, can be quite hypnotic and rhythmically fascinating. As one who has spent time on ferries, ear pressed to engine housings, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Eisuke Yanagisawa - Path of the Wind (Gruenrekorder)

Yanagisawa crafted a homemade Aeolian harp, then took it to various locations where it interacted with the environment, natural and manmade. The harp created the eerie, quavering tones that these instruments tend to do and both blends in and offsets the surrounding sound-world very effectively, whether that world is made up of low horns of passing ferries, waves and seagull cries, drilling from a local mine or much subtler contributions. The minute fluctuations in the character of the harp are quite intriguing as are the various environs and the interpenetration of the two. Yanagisawa evinces great sensitivity in his choices. While perhaps more over than, say, Toshiya Tsunoda's recordings, fans of his work will find much to enjoy here,


Jason Kahn - Circle (Editions)

Kahn previously released an album with the same title (Celadon, 2009). Not only is this quite different from that one, it's (as near a I can determine), very different from anything else he's put out. I should qualify that as Kahn has issued a large amount of material and, though I've heard a great deal of it over the years, I'm not a completist but we'll just say that, on the surface, we're a long way from the rotating metals, etc. from the past. Here it's just guitar and voice and, on first blush, a slightly more subdued Keiji Haino comes to mind. The guitar work is a kind of abstracted blues form (it was Kahn's first instrument), played in very much his own style though perhaps guitarists from Fahey to Tetuzi Akiyama might drift into the listener's mind, while the voice ranges from strangulated cries, to soft moans to evocations of Robbie Basho.  Whether the works, reasonably similar, quite justify the hour of the disc is open to question, but I largely enjoyed it and appreciate Kahn's willingness to venture out on this particular limb. Curious to see how long-time listeners deal with it.


Ilia Belorukov/Miguel A. Garcia/Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Etwas (Tanuki)

A cassette release from Belorukov (Electronics & fluteophone), Garcia and Costa Monteiro (both electronics). Hard say why but for me, the music never rises out of the ordinary (and I say that having greatly enjoyed work from all three musicians involved over many years). Long quiet tones, ghostly and industrial, like sounds one might hear at a power plant late at night. Sometimes they morph into distant, ghostly sirens. All well and good, ok enough to listen to but, more or less, nothing that hasn't been heard before and, really,  quite a while before. It's almost retro after a fashion, perhaps a revisiting of similar constructs from the early oughts. An upward surge in volume and texture flowing atop the previous whines appears about halfway through the second side, contributing a welcome change of atmosphere.  Took a while to get there, but it arrived.

You can judge for yourself at Tanuki

Crackfinder  - Crackfinder (Musica Genera)

Crackfinder (not sure if it's just the LP release name  or also that of the trio) is Jérôme Noetinger (electronics, tape), Anna Zaradny (electronics saxophone) and Robert Piotrowicz (electronics, synthesizer). My experience with Noetinger's music in recent years, as well as to a lesser extent that of Zaradny and Piotrowicz, led me to expect something  along the lines of an extension of the "classic" electronic work pioneered by musicians who worked with INA GRM, not necessarily a genre of which I was overly fond. Indeed, 'Crackfinder' begins vaguely in that neck of the woods, though denser, extremely so, with Zaradny's saxophone (clicks and moans) prominent amidst thick, ropey swirls of electronics. This was bracing enough, but then Side 1, 'The One Who Searches for Cracks', launches into even further reaches towards its conclusion, touching on kind of a hyper Glass-circa-Einstein explosion (but better)--pretty great stuff. Side 2, 'Universe Atlas of Evidence', gathers up the debris and proceeds, wending a more slippery path, oozing its way, acquiring detritus as it goes--less spectacular than the flip side, but as impressive. Really strong work, highly recommended.

Musica Genera

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Linda Catlin Smith  - Wanderer (Another Timbre)

This is the third release of Linda Catlin Smith's music on Another Timbre, preceded by two wonderful recordings, 'Dirt Road' (2016) and 'Drifter' (2017). On 'Wanderer', yet another very fine entry into both her and the label's catalogue, we're presented with eight compositions, written from 1990 to 2010, and performed by Apartment House in various configurations ranging from solo to septet plus conductor.

While serenity and a sense of the rural (not necessarily pastoral) pervades Smith's work, the pieces here might not be as immediately ingratiating as those from the prior two albums which, as much as I enjoy those, might be a good thing, evincing an even greater range than I knew (my failing, no doubt). 'Morning Glory' begins with lovely, soft piano arpeggios (Philip Thomas), soon echoed by vibraphone (Simon Limbrick) but when the strings and reeds emerge (Mira Benjamin, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; Heather Roche, clarinet; Nancy Ruffer, flute; all conducted by Jack Sheen), a certain level of astringency is introduced, a chill breeze. As the piece progresses, it remains unsettling, balancing soothing lines with darker bumps and squiggles, ending in a somber, lushly umbral sequence. Thomas is heard solo on 'Music for John Cage', the earliest-written and shortest track, which begins as a kind of slowed-down processional, steady and light-filled, but ends with unanswered questions. A septet plus conductor (Chloe Abbott, trumpet; Benjamin; George Barton, percussion; Limbrick; James Opstad, double bass; Roche, Thomas and Sheen) tackle 'Stare at the River', the waterway hazy with fog. Long lines from bass and trumpet are offset with delicate cymbals, briefly tinging the piece with a jazz-like aura, perhaps enhanced by the clarinet. This segues into an almost hymn-like sequence atop which the piano plays spare but sparkling chords before eerily fading back into the haze. 'Knotted Silk', played by the same septet, is spikier, with sharp percussive strokes over strings and muted trumpet, burrs in a meadow.

'Sarabande' is a sextet with Benjamin, Limbrick, Lukoszevieze, Roche, Ruffer and Thomas (here on  harpsichord). A wafting, dreamy layer of reeds and strings is pricked by the keyboard, like a meandering yet stately dance that now and then slips into unison. Thomas is joined by pianist Philip Knoop for 'Velvet', another dark, probing work, initially recalling Satie from his Rosicrucian period, then floating skyward with a series of ethereal arpeggios, eventually settling gracefully and comfortably to ground--a wonderful piece. The title work, for a quintet of violin, percussion, cello, clarinet and piano also navigates an uncertain terrain, the piano stepping carefully through a skein of quavering lines, tiny bursts of cymbals and deep, soft drums. Finally, there's 'Light and Water', an enchanting vibraphone/cello duet, not negating the preceding uncertainties entirely, but offering some amount of solace, the lowed, bowed cello tones laying to bed the clear, steady vibes before raising their own questions.

A captivating set of very thoughtful compositions, rigorously and empathetically performed by members of Apartment House.

Another Timbre

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lance Austin Olsen - Dark Heart (Another Timbre)

Olsen was originally a visual artist and has continued to produce a vast amount of paintings and drawings, some of which have adorned the covers of other Another Timbre releases (it's well worth reading the excellent interview with him at the Another Timbre site for a career overview). So it's not surprising that three of the four works presented here derive from graphic scores, one by Olsen (heard in two realizations) and one by Venezuelan musician Gil Sansón.

'Theseus' Breath' is the piece heard twice, both times by a quartet, each almost ten minutes in duration. The first, interpreted by four members of Apartment House (Mira Benjamin, violin; John Lely, electronics; Simon Limbrick, percussion; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello), is a rough and stormy affair, the strings grating and grumbling, the percussion wooden and clattery, the electronics burbling with a menacing air. One envisions a minotaur lurking on the other side of the maze wall. The range of colors  and tones evoked by the quartet are a fine analogue for those seen in Olsen's visual art, for instance that seen on the cover (although an interior image shares the title--perhaps it's the score?). The second version, quite different, is realized by Ryoko Ajama (turntable, melodica), Patrick Farmer (paper, card), Isaiah Ceccarelli (reed organ, percussion) and Katelyn Clark (organetto). While still creating an unsettling aura, there are more held tones via the organs and melodica. This yields an open, if foggy, environment populated by odd chirps, whistles and skittering sounds, that slowly evaporates; very lovely and mysterious, especially the last several minutes.

The source material for the title track derived from recordings sent to Olsen by Norwegian guitarist Terje Paulsen, consisting of both guitar shards and field recordings. Olsen began working with the material in 2013, let it be for a few years, then picked it up again in 2016 to rework it, by that time no longer able to always distinguish between Paulsen's original contributions and his own. The quality of the guitar sounds--liquid, bulbous, globular--makes for a unique element in Olsen's sound world. There's an interesting break after about five minutes at which point one may have been satisfied. When the sounds return, however, we hear piece of old radio theater: Dragnet, if I'm not mistaken. These disembodied voices weave their way through a morass of whines, echoing clangs, deep guitar scratchings, etc. For all the variety of landscape, it strikes me as somewhat steady state, a dark vision of an endless alley. I'm not sure it quite holds together for its length (32 minutes), but it's an gripping enough ride.

A Meditation on the History of Painting' is another story. Along with another work from this Canadian Composers series, Cassandra Miller's 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra', it's one of the single most impressive and absorbing pieces of music I've heard in years. Gil Sansón's graphic score begins with some very loose directions, for instance, "Some sounds can be related to painting, or not" and "Gestures can be smears or can be calligraphic". The images on the 12-page score are a complex sequence of clipped texts (including numerous cash register receipts, laid horizontally, puzzle pieces and, most prominently, smears of paint, from streaked and, frankly, fecal looking to saturated swathes of color):

Olsen, wielding field recordings, amplified copper plate and engraving tools, amplified iron park bench, found recording (wax cylinder), guitar and voice, traces his way through, beginning with exterior sounds, cars and trucks on a wet road, maybe, some chimes, wooden clatter as from a balafon, the noises welling into a large wave, fading after some six minutes and shifting into another world. Here, velvety ringing tones circulate dreamily, their wafting overlaid by what sounds like a sharp instrument tearing through cardboard--it's an intensely sensual juxtaposition, just fantastic. A men's choir emerges (the wax cylinder, I take it), subaqueous and quavering. The scene shifts again, guitar plucking amidst hums and harsher buzzes, sparks and clacks, a slow-motion seesaw. Male voices, vaguely distorted in one way or another, appear in snipped fragments. The volume heightens, the elements acquiring more tension, a disturbing rattle skims back and forth across the stereo spectrum. Finally, a last, quick scratch, like a struck match. Difficult to describe, wondrous to experience.

Yet another very fine entrant in this series, highly recommended.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Alex Jang - momentary encounters (Another Timbre)

I believe this is the first physical release from Jang, a Victoria, Canada-based composer (the recording is part  of Another Timbre's Canadian Composer Series). It presents four subtle, delicate works, three performed by members of Apartment House and one by the Chilean guitarist, Cristián Alvear.

'momentary encounters (5)' is a lovely piece, played in an exterior environment (Tooting Bec Common, South London) by clarinetist Heather Roche. It's an idea that's been in play for a while but this performance is exceptionally strong. I gather that the instrumentalist doesn't make a "scene" of herself, simply sits and plays in a public space, any intervening noises--truck engines, barking dogs, yelling kids, birds, etc.--occurring more or less without knowledge of her presence. The music is soft and serene--long, hollow tones that easily weave in amongst the environs, tinging them gently. The whole piece evokes a calm, observant state of mind, natural and unforced. Interested listeners may like to hear another version, recorded recently outside of Cafe Oto, London prior to a performance of Jang's music inside. Here, a loud conversation "interrupts" the playing, though whether or not the speakers were aware of Roche's presence is open to question. Either way, it casts the piece in a different and, for me, intriguing light.

The remaining three works are studio recordings. The instrumentation in 'any three players' (here, John Lely, melodica; Simon Limbrick, vibraphone; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello) might remind one of Christian Wolff and the music does as well, at least a bit, with quiet, near-melodic lines slowly dancing about each other, paths interweaving but rarely colliding. It meanders, but I have the sense that's the purpose--slowly wandering, seeing what happens; very satisfying. Alvear performs, solo, 'a gray, bent interior horizon', a sparser work. Slightly muffled notes are plucked at a slow pace, sometimes in regular sequence, sometimes with varied density. It's a fragile piece and I'm not sure there's quite enough there to hold up for its ten minutes, but thoughtful nonetheless; I'd be curious to hear it out in the world, as in the first work. The final track. 'distributed tourism', is played by a quintet (Mira Benjamin, violin; Limbrick, vibraphone; Roche, clarinet; Nancy Ruffer, flute; Lukoszevieze, cello). It's more a clearly composed work than the trio, with overlapping lines, harmonies and somewhat less vague melodic material. And it's gorgeous. Again, an amble is what I think of but here, instead of three walkers on their own (in a common space), there's some teamwork, some mutually agreed upon points of interest and convergence. As with all the music on this disc, the atmosphere is quiet, unassuming but alive with intelligence and perspicacity. Its a 25-minute stroll, well-paced, deftly colored and subtly structured: a joy.

'momentary encounters' is a fine introduction to Jang's music. I'm eager to hear more.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cassandra Miller  'Just So' - (Another Timbre)

Cassandra Miller 'O Zomer!' (Another Timbre)

The second installment of the Simon Reynall-curated Canadian Composers Series has arrived and it's a rich batch of work. Two of the releases contain the amazing music of the currently London-based composer Cassandra Miller, the first two recordings devoted to her work, as near as I can determine. Long overdue, I'd have to say.

Miller's music is absorbing for any number of reasons. She makes use of aspects of various branches of modernism including minimalism and, in some pieces, a kind of structural stasis but almost always also references traditional forms and techniques, from Bach to folk songs to Ives and more. 'Just So' collects four pieces for string quartet, performed in typically beautiful and rigorous fashion by the Bozzini Quartet, two shorter works bracketing two longer ones. The title composition is a lilting affair, recalling some kind of village gig or reel, the strings pitched high, dancing, the rhythms just this side of irregular, the cello coming in for some wonderful underpinning in the final few moments. A bracing, joyous number to open the set. 'Warblework', as the title implies, concerns itself with birds: three thrushes and a veery. To my ears, not birdsong as much as tracing the paths birds make in flight and very movingly so. The strings swirl and skitter in brief bursts for the Swainson's thrush, alight for a moment, then take off once again while the hermit thrush swoops a bit more, stays lower to the ground and the wood thrush grunts and pushes its way through the underbrush before standing still to survey its surroundings, which are filled with lovely, dry harmonies. The veery, another kind of thrush, does seem to make a doleful call amidst grainy streaks, the calls multiplying, a little anxious as though espied. Here, as in other pieces, Miller makes subtle use of approximately iterated cells of music, a near repetition of clusters that nods to minimalism without ever falling into rote usage--this is an especially fine work.

'About Bach' is the longest work presented here and kind of a centerpiece, illustrating the sort of structural tack that Miller seems to enjoy and that, in a way, she elaborates in her marvelous composition, 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra', commented on below. Here, if I'm not mistaken, one violin (maybe sometimes both?) plays a very highly pitched, seven-note ascending "scale" throughout the piece. Readers with more musical knowledge than I might identify it, but I was reminded, oddly enough, of the scale sung by the lead tenor at the conclusion of Glass' 1979 opera, 'Satyagraha'. It's very poignant in and of itself, gathering strength and weight and, indeed, poignancy as it's repeated again and again. The lower strings, in an almost conversational manner, reflect with phrases that seem obliquely derived from Bach, though with an entirely modern hesitancy and questioning aspect. Toward the end, it attains a clear dimension of solemnity. There's a type of stasis in effect, pinioned by the violin(s) but also enhanced by the general self-similarity of the interposed phrases, though they in fact vary at all times. The sense of overhearing snatches of discussions in a large room pervades, dreamlike. Just a deep, marvelous and affecting work, brilliantly performed. The disc concludes with 'Leaving', another work that appears to have folk song roots, maybe a sea shanty, lolls in place like an old docked boat gently buffeted by small waves. Each of the strings seems to carry a related tune, melding together at times, drifting apart at other moments. It's an immensely satisfying, soft kind of almost-lullaby, a fine ending to a superb recording.

'O Zomer!' also contains four compositions, but for instrumentation ranging from the ensemble Apartment House (on this occasion consisting of Chloe Abbott, trumpet; George Barton, vibraphone; Simon Limbrick, marimba and crotales; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; James Opstad, double bass; Christopher Redgate, oboe; Heather Roche, bass clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano; and Jack Sheen, conductor) to a piano/whistling duo  (Thomas and Clemens Merkel) to solo violin (Mira Benjamin) to full orchestra (the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov). It's yet another astonishing and spectacular set of music.

I get the idea that Miller likes the notion of partitioning her works into parts, often halves, leading the listener down one path of expectations only to offer a surprising (but entirely appropriate) shift. The beginning of the title piece (I discovered that "zomer" is Dutch for summer, but don't know if that's the allusion in play here) displays that idea in a nutshell: eight quick, steady taps of the same note on a marimba (underlaid by a bowed chord by, I think, cello) followed by a held tone of roughly equivalent length, maybe a tad shorter, by...hard to say--a muted trumpet? The marimba gradually slows down, though remaining steady. It's very pure, even pristine, eventually accompanied by single notes from the piano. Suddenly, four minutes in (halfway), the music erupts in a bright, clattering, bleating explosion of sound, extremely colorful, wonderfully arranged, that surges and pulsates for the remainder of the work. Two worlds, the serene and the gorgeously chaotic. 'Philip the Wanderer' opens with low, brooding piano rumbles, the left hand way down there, grumbling, the right stabbing at mid-range notes, almost forcing them out, the entirety bearing an anguished, troubled mien. Again, about halfway through its 14 1/2 minutes, the atmosphere breaks for several seconds. Then, very surprisingly, we here the piano tracing a lovely single-note, halting melody offset by thick, chorale-like chords, very regal though still retaining some of that tortured feeling. More surprising still, and marvelously moving, is the emergence of a whistler (Clemens Merkel, normally the lead violinist of  the Bozzini Quartet), limning a sad, wistful tune, low in pitch. He only stays for a minute or so but has imparted an important layer, or several, to the music. After his disappearance, the piano takes on a more joyful guise, cascading raindrops in a higher register, before coalescing around a simple, rising eight note pattern that repeats for a minute or two. 'For Mira' uses kernels of repeated lines, gnarly, stretched and involute with elaborations shooting off like tendrils from a vine. The language is almost Romantic; one can imagine it being formed from shards of cadenzas severed from a late 19th century concerto. The line is fairly long and involved, long enough that one might not realize it's repeating, albeit with short breaks and augmentations. On the whole, it's a keening, wrenching, grinding piece, fraught with longing and desire, extremely heartfelt.

And then we come to 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra'. I'll say at the outset that this is one of my single favorite pieces of music heard over the past several years. We hear Charles Curtis bowing two dark tones, seesawing slowly, growling them out, infused with grain. I was immediately taken back to an event I witnessed several years ago in Paris when Curtis, along with Carol Robinson and Bruno Martinez, performed Éliane Radigue's 'Naldjorlak I, II & III', the first third of which, lasting about 45 minutes, was Curtis playing a single "wolf tone". We were sitting about six feet in front of him and the effect was overwhelmingly powerful. After four iterations of this "simple" pattern, there's a flowering of trumpets, a small, fluttering fanfare that appears, bounces about and ends with a little, humorous curlicue. This form is essentially repeated throughout the first half of the 32-minute work, with both the complexity of the lines and their instrumentation expanding to the full orchestra, the cello maintaining its grim, slow-stepped progression. The orchestral pattern matures into the form of that flutter of arabesques followed by an extended, steady chord, again sometimes ending with that wry flourish. I had the impression of the flocking of three or four different birds, their patterns varying and intersecting, rising from trees, settling. I also sensed a faint allusion to the orchestral parts of Ives' 'The Unanswered Question'. The pure sound color aspect of Miller's writing (and, I suspect, of Volkov's conducting) is an absolute joy, as is tracing the complex but individuated lines; I really can't say enough about how glorious it is. The cello, while maintaining the basic pattern, seems to stretch it out a bit now and then, acquiring a greater sense of dolor, of inevitability. Around that halfway point, the orchestra subsumes the cello entirely (it may be continuing underneath, difficult to tell for sure) but the ensemble has been bent to the solo instrument's will, adopting its back and forth motion, though writ large (glimmers of John Barry's score to 'Moonraker' as reconfigured by Fenn  O'Berg spring briefly to mind). The whole conglomeration sways and rocks like an old ark making its slow, steady journey through heavy water. Just when you think that this is the way it's going to end, in an indefinitely cyclic eddy, the music quiets down and we once again hear the cello, buried for the past 10-12 minutes, emerge with a new demeanor, playing an oddly lilting line, high notes, sad but sing-songy, like a lost bird making its way home. The work ends with an ironic iteration of that winking flourish we heard earlier.

Just a phenomenal recording, huge congratulations to all involved. I can't wait to hear more from Miller.

Another Timbre

Friday, September 07, 2018

Thomas Ankersmit - Homage to Dick Raaijmakers (Shelter Press)

Back around 2000, in Boston, I fortuitously (maybe with some urging from Jon Abbey) purchased the Dick Raaijmakers boxed set of his complete tape music. European tape music of the 50s and 60s had always been an area that gave me some amount of trouble, largely due to what I perceived (and still do perceive, to some degree) as a kind of synthetic sameness, the aural Photoshop effect I get from many products emerging from the INA GRM scene, for example. Raaijmakers (1930 - 2014), along with others I've heard along the way, struck me as subtly apart from that sound-world; not entirely, but enough that I found much of it to be thrilling.

Ankersmit's piece, a single track of electronic music lasting over 34 minutes, traverses a wide expanse, making reference to Raaijmaker's art but very much carving its own path. In fact, I get something of a landscape feel despite the "unnaturalness" of the elements. It begins abruptly with a dense mix of disparate sounds, including sizzles, crackling rumbles, a steady, burred hum and a repeating horn-like tone, very much as if one had suddenly awoken in a busy environment, natural or man-made. This lasts about three minutes before subsiding then shifts to a subtly different zone of soft clicks, small eruptions of static and billowy, blurred explosions. Ankersmit's sound-world not only has great depth and varied textures but also entirely avoids that gloss mentioned above. The shifts have their own vague logic, the adjacent areas seeming somehow appropriately linked. Considering the vast range of sounds employed, from jagged to drones (albeit generally with a harsh edge, the latter sometimes recalling telephone busy signals), the degree to which the work hangs together is extremely impressive. Violent electrical storms emerge, settle into a disquieting calm (an amazing section some 23 minutes in with small bursts from a throbbing bed), gather strength for a renewed onslaught. The last seven or eight minutes are not so much quieter as more distant, as though watching explosions from afar, the hum from a nearby generator permeating the surroundings. It's like a slow, minutely detailed camera pan where one can't tell whether the vantage point is miles above the surface or microscopically among the earth and small organisms.

Ankersmit does a fine job in simultaneously offering an appreciative and imaginative homage to Raaijmakers while being entirely true to his own creative self. Needless to say, this is required listening for those who enjoyed the work of the late Dutch master. It's also one of the very finest releases I've heard from Ankersmit since first encountering his music back in 2001.

Shelter Press

Friday, August 24, 2018

Biliana Voutchkova/Michael Thieke - Blurred Music (Elsewhere)

'Blurred Music' is technically the first recording from Yuko Zama's very exciting new Elsewhere label. I wrote earlier about Melaine Dalibert's release, the second in the imprint's early catalog; it was a single disc and, for me, easier (in one sense, anyway) to grasp. Here we have three CDs, three live recordings from within the space of nine days in December, 2016, each with its own complex character. I found it tougher to grapple with but, ultimately, just as rewarding.

I've known and greatly admired Thieke's clarinet playing and composing for some time now, particularly as involved The International Nothing, his clarinet duo with Kai Fagaschinski, and The Magic I.D. with Fagaschinski, Christof Kurzmann and Margareth Kammerer. I was much less familiar with Voutchkova's violin work, though what I had heard led me to "place" her more in the jazz-based free improv camp rather than the quieter, smoother territories often investigated by Thieke, so I was curious and even tentative about this combination. It was only belatedly that I realized I actually possessed an earlier collaboration, 'Already There' on Flexion (2013), which I enjoyed a great deal at the time; the problem with hearing too much music: one forgets things one shouldn't--need to revisit it.

In any case, I came into this with notions both accurate and false. The methodology used here is fascinating. There's a base of pre-taped material. The duo sometimes attempts to duplicate these sounds (the "blurred" aspect arising upon the inevitable failure to do so precisely) and sometimes improvises along with/atop it. There's more to it than that and I may not be understanding it completely. The at-home listener, however, can only rarely distinguish between the taped and live sounds, so experiences the music as a two violin, two clarinet quartet. The first portion of Chicago is rather active, even frenetic, tending more toward the kind of movement I'd associated with Voutchkova--very gestural and virtuosic, with Thieke (unusually, in my experience) following suit, his clarinet a-bubble and not above the occasional shriek. But soon enough, the music splays out into thick, taffy-like lines, slowly settling into various lovely forms of stasis, then spinning out once more into a soft but energetic space with spit-out breath sounds and quietly strangulated vocals and pizzicato attacks. There's more of this kind of back and forth on the first disc, 'Chicago', than on the others and for my taste, the music works better the less raucous it is, but that's perhaps more on a micro-level. Listened to as a whole--a more difficult task, more so over three discs--it fits in quite well as a "chapter".

'Philadelphia' picks up, a week later, where 'Chicago' left off. In fact, I found myself wondering if the underlying tape might be one long session, returned to at the point which the previous concert ended. I've been remiss in remarking how simply gorgeous the meld of violin and clarinet (or two violins and two clarinets) is. That's brought home near the beginning of this set, the strands intertwining licorice-like, creaminess and grit, so great to wallow in. After my first listen-through, I had the impression that 'Chicago' was the most active and intense section, but I was over-simplifying. There's plenty of intensity on hand in Philly. For just one example, there's a portion that begins some 25 minutes in that's like being among a set of buzzsaws--pretty spectacular, ultra-intense music. Even the quieter moments are somewhat harrowing.

The New York set, recorded at Phill Niblock's Experimental Intermedia loft, runs to 70 minutes, a good deal longer than the prior two (about 50 and 40 minutes, respectively). Part of my fascination with this release is the embedding of three fairly long sets into one (as I hear it) extremely long one. This begins with layers of extended tones, the kind of laminal approach that I find very satisfying, allowing the listener to directly experience variations in pitch and timbre and construct relationships for himself. They slowly dissolve into a kind of warbling keen, pitched high, birdlike, before tilting back into relative consonance, where it lingers for a delightfully long while, fluctuating and quavering. Midway through, there's a quiet nest of pizzicatos and muted squeaks and breath tones. Here, and later as things quiet down even further, the integration of the tape with the live performance is utterly seamless. The set is perfectly paced, always riveting, concluding with hazy, uncertain lines that point toward future music.

A really fine, complex and unusual release, and a superb initial outing for Elsewhere.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Melaine Dalibert - Musique pour le lever du hour (Elsewhere)

In essence, Dalibert's wonderful, hour-plus solo piano composition is a kind of process music, but one where its structural aspect can, if desired, be easily ignored, the listener perhaps choosing to simply be wafted along by the sumptuous, lingering tones.

One hears sets of single notes, evenly played. They arrive in sequences of 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9--I don't think there are any "5's" or anything greater than nine, but I could be mistaken. The sustain pedal is held down throughout. The rests between the phrases are, I believe, equivalent in seconds to the number of notes in the preceding phrase. The lengths of the phrases appear to occur randomly but are, in fact, generated by Dalibert's use of the Thue-Morse sequence, a mathematical theory well beyond my meager comprehension skills but one which, when used in certain ways, results in numbers that converge on the fractal curve known as the Koch Snowflake. There is a fine sense of repetition inextricably meshed with irregularity. The notes chosen, per Dalibert, "are only second major, third minor and fifth (or their reversal), in equal repartition so that the general color is diatonic, very slowly modulating."

What, then, does one hear? If I'm to make references, I sometimes think of it as halfway between a Tom Johnson work and the approach used by La Monte Young in parts of 'The Well-Tuned Piano', albeit without the retuning (!). There's a quasi-similar feeling of drifting, of floating while at the same time the soft rigor of the structure constrains too much wayward movement. The clearly struck notes (from a peek at a couple of pages from the score, often flatted) both stand forthright and, via the sustain, effervesce and dissolve into one another. Within each sequence, the notes tend to follow a similar pattern, enough so that it always feels familiar, perhaps previously heard, but really just slightly different; the same general environs but via differing glances. Also barely heard, but always a plus for this listener, is the distant sound of a street and what seems to be flowing water, as though from rain down a gutter; I love the sense of immersion this provides.

The music itself is watery--apparently clear on the surface, disappearing when examined very closely. One can listen to the structure, try to grasp its fractal nature or can just surrender and be borne along, irritation setting in only when the disc ends. In the interim, one floats.

Excellent, intelligent and rapturous work.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Seth Cooke - Double B  (2015-2018) (Reading Group)

Seth Cooke has created many fantastic sounds over the past few years (see especially his 'Triangular Trade' on suppedaneum) and here's yet another set. Here, we're dealing with field recordings but not only have they been sonically manipulated (as Cooke puts it, "Five tracks of one-take pseudo-performative no-input field recording/field recording, upon which compression was piled until the structure broke under the weight."), but they carry referential weight as well. Cooke alludes to bullet holes in a sculpture, MP Jo Cox' stabbing and plans for attempts on the lives of Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan.

Even if, as I am, you're at some remove from these events, they and things of that nature are well worth keeping in mind as you listen to these five rather harrowing tracks. The sound field is abrasive, loud, skittering and clanging. Electronic scrapes collide with metallic bangs on 'Sun Tunnel (Solar Totem #1', the piece involving the sculpture (this one, I take it:)

This segues to 'The Centre Cannot Hold'--quieter but just as agitated, even more so--windy, buffeted electronics mingling with rapid scrapes and rasps, then dark, deep metallic strikes. On purely aural terms, just a spectacular excursion. In an odd way, 'The Crossing (Syria Notes #1)' ratchets up the unease, with a repeated (backward, I think) sequence of about seven grainy sounds in swift succession, over and over, with scrabbling beneath--I found myself, especially given the title, thinking of war plane fire over a city, its inhabitants scurrying for shelter. Its conclusion is even darker, summoning images of soldiers sifting through ruins in the aftermath. 'It Does Not Further One to Go Anywhere' is brief but cavernous and full of foreboding. The final work, 'Return of the Jihadi/No Platform', the longest piece here, may also be the subtlest. While the sounds are as acidic as ever, their melding is more generous, more integrated, multiple levels weaving and intersecting, maintaining very separate lines on the one hand, forming complex "balls" of multi-element noise on the other. There's a slow but steady surge, chillingly enhanced by a siren-like grind--think buzzsaw slicing metal--interrupted by blasts of...radio static? sharp fragments of other recordings?...I have no idea. And then simply crumbles.

Great work. Listen.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Tim Feeney - Burrow (Marginal Frequency)

Percussionist Feeney seems to have been developing a new kind of minimalist approach in recent years, never before shown to as clear and excellent effect as on this cassette release. Two pieces, each 28-29 minutes long, each divided into segments sporting their own instruments. He first taps out a steady, quick rhythm on wooden sticks--I say "steady" but that's not strictly true as the pace fluctuates slightly and the tone deviates as well, presumably from the sticks being struck at various distances from Feeney's hands. Throughout, I'm unsure how much of the rhythmic variation is intentionally, how much due to fatigue or, as I suspect, there's a forgone accession to aspects of fatigue that Feeney knows will enliven the piece. After six or so minutes, he switches to a drum of some kind, maintaining both a similar beat and, again, varying the pitch by, in this instance, striking the drumhead at various distances from its center. I should emphasize that  all of these sounds exist in a very space, very pure, even dry atmosphere. It's just them and the room, quite bracing. This pattern continues with pieces of metal (loose and clangy), a hollow-sounding drum (wherein the pace becomes quite slow, the sound muted at a point), more metal (stiffer and less resonant, sometimes blurring the boundary--excellently--between "playing" and "beating") and concluding with some double-time on a drum with (guessing) some metal atop. There's a certain kind of benign brutalism in play that I love. A brilliant recording, highly recommended.

Grundik Kasyansky/Danil Gertman - Insect Angel (Llull Machines)

Kasyansky and Gertman are an audio/visual duo. Though my impression is that, live, Gertman works in a video format, he's a figurative painter, responsible for the cover image above and, as an example selected more or less at random, paintings like this one:

Kasyansky's music here is a kind of bumpy drone, winding, throbbing layers of electronics, not overly dense but resonant, all of it circling over a steady, muted beat. There's an interesting, semi-regular sound that lurks below the surface, sounding like a rotating machine that's slightly off-kilter, generating a set of soft taps when one of its sides rubs up against something it's not designed to. The main sounds shift ever so slightly over the course of the piece's 40 minutes, becoming more growly but essentially, we're in one territory for the duration. It's fine, very accommodating and easy enough to wallow in but I wanted to hear more change or depth and the pulse, after a while, begins to wear. It might well work better (for me) in a live context with imagery. But you can hear for yourself at Kasyansky's bandcamp site, linked to below.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Four releases involving Ilia Belorukov.

Wozzeck - Fact I (Intonema)

Wozzeck is a power trio, kind of, with Belorukov on synth and computer, Mikhail Ershov on bass guitar and Konstantin Samolovov on drums. 'Fact I' is a vinyl release comprising one 36 minute piece. It bolts from the gate with a hard-driving, lurching mass of music that strikes me as a blend of aggressive prog and late 80s thrash bands--mid-70s Crimson funneled through Pantera. The music is pounding and bracing, a disturbing siren-like whine circulating within the onslaught. Then an odd thing happens. About nine minutes in, the storm begins to fragment, the rhythms becoming blockier, the whine accompanied by others--things get (intentionally) confused. From here, the music sublimates, traveling from the initial "solid" state to an  increasingly gaseous one, all vague, quiet tones and blips, isolated bass plucks, distant, obscure voices. Some songs, a hymn. Eventually almost nothing but the  quietest of cymbal taps. A good idea, finely executed--nice job.

Phicus & Ilia Belorukov - k(nó)t (Intonema)

Here, Belorukov, on alto saxophone, teams up with the Spanish trio Phicus (Ferran Fages, guitar; Alex Reviriego, double bass; and Vasco Trilla, drums). The four pieces, improvisations' are pensive and groping, nicely subdued and investigatory. Occasionally, one of the musicians comes a bit to the fore, as Reviriego does on 'Gordian Knot', where he's brilliant and dark in a manner that recalls primo Haden. Trilla also has a fine way with vibrating bell-like tones, judiciously applied. The whole album has an aura of somberness about it but also a strong sense of curiosity, of quiet excursions into uncertain territory. Not  much else I can say except that I found it very satisfying and would recommend it highly.

Ilia Belorukov - Arzed-one (Albertineeditions)

KickGuitarSinRun - There & Back (Intonema)

Two releases, the second a DVDr with links to an online video, that showcase another very different facet of Belorukov's music: beats. 'Arzed-one' uses a 1986 Casio RZ-I drum machine and only six factory-installed sounds at that: kick, snare, open/closed hi-hat, clap and cowbell. The track titles,--for example, '170-160'--indicated the bpm range as, if I understand correctly, Belorukov slides gradually from one to the other. He writes that at high beat rates, he experiences the resultant sound more as a drone than as beats and that the gradual shifts create "unexpected relationships between sounds". Admittedly, this is a hard sell for me as I find the essential sounds and the associations with them that have built up over the years, to be more or less uncompelling. Then again, the almost entirely hidden hums that manifest (perhaps as a sonic artifact) can indeed be heard to fluctuate as the beat rate rises or falls, providing at least something of non-superficial interest (probably best experienced via headphones). More science experiment than deep sounds? You can be the judge.

'There & Back' takes the same basic idea--shifts in bpm--but a) re-locates the sounds to a distorted electric guitar (Pavel Medvedev) in addition to (lighter) computerized beats and b) adds video of a dancer (Daria Plohova in 'There' and Anna Antipova in 'Back'). They're filmed head on, in black and white, running in place in rhythm to the beats. They're intriguing exercises (also impressive physical ones as each runs about 43 minutes) and it's borderline fascinating to watch the variation in, especially, arm movements as they go from crisper at higher beat rates to more languid and, in context, almost carefree swaying during the slower periods. An odd kind of near-minimalism, somewhat hypnotic. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Lance Austin Olsen - Plato's Cave (Infrequency Editions)

Jamie Drouin - Paysage (Infrequency Editions)

Way back when, I received a 3-disc set on Mattin's label, W.M.O/r that consisted of a performance by Keith Rowe and Seymour Wright that had been recorded from three vantage points. At the time, I happened to have three devices on which to play CDs (stereo, computer, Xbox) so I listened to them simultaneously, not worrying much about the slight but inevitable time discrepancies involved in turning on the machines. It was great fun and, in some ways, revelatory. The idea of a more active way of listening, even at home, was an intriguing one.

For some reason, this came to mind when listening to these two fine releases, though of course they're individual, isolated sessions and don't even share anything close to a common duration. Plus I have only a single means of playing the discs at this time. But Olsen and Drouin have worked and recorded with each other often in recent years and, even as these two samples show very different approaches, there's an affinity in play that make me think that synchronous listening might not be a bad idea. Well, maybe one  of these days...

Olsen's album strikes me as surprisingly programmatic, especially in this neck of the woods. Credited (on the bandcamp site, not on the CDr sleeve) with "guitar, field recordings, amplified copper plates, stones, and assorted objects", Olsen produces sounds that indeed sound as though their source might be within a cave. The guitar is often played low and echoey and various objects that might range from ping pong balls to billiards in addition to the stones, are dropped onto dryly resonant surfaces. The sounds are vivid but spatially distinct; as in his visual works, Olsen seems to take great care with a combination of placement and texture. Seeing flickers and shadows on the wall--Plato's cave, indeed. The voices which intrude, twice--"You ready?", a grunted reply--add to the disembodied mystery, the sounds liquifying toward the work's conclusion, retaining several loud clacks. Wonderfully constructed, of perfect length (some 26 minutes) and entirely engaging--might be my favorite music I've heard so far from Olsen.

'Paysage' was recorded between 2005-2009 on a "Moog-style 5U modular synthesizer system" and occupies a pulsing, blurred world, steady-state in a sense but constantly shifting within that condition. There are several "chapters" with varying characters, some carrying eerily vocal connotations, others with brief, empty digital spaces interpolated, some where the hums are steady, others where the pitch shifts subtly, causing a small sense of queasiness. I'm tempted, given the Olsen release, to take this disc's title at its word and conjure up programmatic content here as well, particularly when, as occurs some 16 minutes in, a sounds that could be interpreted as rainfall suddenly appears; somehow, a sun shower is evoked. But the pervasive mode is the drone--always very rich, sometimes fluttering, sometimes melting into droplets, here anxious, there relentless. It's a solid, engrossing set, entirely fine and absorbing on its own, even if I still have a slight hankering to hear it mixed in with 'Plato's Cave'. 

Infrequency Editions

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mike Westbrook - In Memory of Lou Gare (Westbrook Records)

Lou Gare died last fall at the age of 78. He, along with Keith Rowe, Eddie Prévost and Lawrence Sheaff, were founding members of the improvising ensemble AMM in 1965. Prior to that,  Gare, Rowe and Sheaff were also members of Mike Westbrook's group, Rowe since about 1958. This ensemble usually had between eight and eleven members (including John Surman, Mike Osborne and others) and,  in the context of British jazz of the time, was fairly forward-looking, Westbrook being quite partial to the denser, more complex arrangements of Ellington, Basie and Mingus as well as encouraging the musicians in his band to experiment with their own incorporations of newer music as well as that from non-Western influences. Unlike other AMM members, Gare never quite lost his attachment to jazz, particularly to the work of Sonny Rollins, Paul Gonsalves and others, forming a free jazz-ish duo with Prévost after AMM's initial split in 1972 and subsequent recordings of his own.

This disc selects performances by Westbrook's Uncommon Orchestra from 2010-2015 that featured Gare's tenor playing, sometimes complete tracks, sometimes excerpts. 'D.T.T.M.', Westbrook's lovely and moody homage to Ellington, opens with an unaccompanied solo by Gare and it's gorgeous--burred, warm, unhurried and bubbling with ideas, essentially soloing for the entirety of the track's twelve minutes; a superb performance. There's a fragment of Gare sparring with poetics from Marcus Vergette, several of him riding atop the ensemble, an excerpt from Westbrook/Rossini, improvising "his own overture to the Overture to The Barber of Seville' and much more. I especially enjoyed the two Strayhorn pieces, 'Johnny Come Lately' on which Gare stretches and pulls over some delightful arrangements from Westbrook and 'Lush Life', featuring Gare on his own, carving, once again, an extraordinarily inventive set of variations on the theme, never falling into cliché, remaining true to the source while ushering it just a bit outside its comfort zone. A second take on 'D.T.T.M.' ensues, every bit as enjoyable as the first before the disc closes with an extract from an early (1979) composition of Westbrook's, 'Graffiti', in which Gare's liquid phrasing heats up and begins to sizzle over some delightfully punchy band arrangements, recalling, to me, something of Sam Rivers.

A fine collection, ably showcasing Gare in this context. Required listening for AMM completists and simply a robust, throughly satisfying musical experience on its own merits.

Available via Westbrook Jazz

Musæum Clausum - Musæum Clausum (Umlaut Records)

This arcanely named trio (Wiki article on the source here) consists of Louis Laurain on cornet, Hannes Lingens on drums and Sébastian Beliah on bass. Laurain and Lingens were (are?) members of the intriguing ensemble, Die Hochstapler, which took compositions by Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman, rendering them with both astonishing precision and imaginative expansiveness. Here, the reference point seems to be Bill Dixon.

Three tracks. The first, 'A la ventura part 1 & 2', is a sprawling, pleasantly meandering piece, I assume an improvisation, with Laurain's burnished, almost woody-sounding cornet tracing considered and discursive paths over Beliah's gently probing bass and Lingens' brushes. There's an implied structure, but a loose, breathing one, fabric-like, that allows for a seemingly wide range of options. Laurain chooses an area then mines it, leaving much untouched but always locating value. 'Rarities in Pictures: a large submarine landscape/a night piece' begins with the bass leading the way, very forthright and blunt, reminding me a little of Ronnie Boykins with Sun Ra, Lingens switching to sticks on toms, the pair pushing . the music forward, leaving space in the furrows for Laurain to quietly investigate. The second half of the 20-minute track returns partially to the area explored in the first cut, but with a more regular, insistent bass, limning a firm line from which to drape the cornet explorations, lines iterated and expanded on by the drums toward the work's conclusion. 'Remarquable [sic] Books' kind of skirts the area between these two approaches. It's fine, but for me didn't add to much to what had already been presented; I think the album would have been served better by just the two first performances.

As is, Musæum Clausum is a strong, flowing and enjoyable disc, well worth checking out, especially by those unfamiliar with these musicians. I'm curious to hear what comes next

Umlaut Records

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Antoine Beuger/Dante Boon/Taylan Susam - beuger.boon.susam (Edition Wandelweiser)

I've had the very good fortune, twice, to attend solo piano recitals by Dante Boon, once several years ago in Amsterdam and more recently in Brooklyn. Each occasion was and extremely special, highly rewarding event, Boon playing works from Wandelweiser composers, transforming the space into a ind of temple. After the Amsterdam concert, I wondered if ever two hours of music had contained so few notes, yet so much beauty.

This recording is very similar to a Boon recital, consisting of a long work from Antoine Beuger, two shorter ones by Boon himself and a piece by Taylan Susam, each just so impressive, so thoughtful, so human. How to describe Beuger's 'pour être seul(e), sans réserve' (2009)? The softest of notes, high on the keyboard, individual, barely struck, more like caressed, open the work, isolated, glimmering. Some eight minutes in, simple chords, slightly bitter, more "aware", occur in sets of three, high-low-high, again hanging in small clusters, their beads reflecting something of the confusion of the earth below. It expands from there, shifting patterns, seemingly based purely on intuition rather than any system, always maintaining that ineffable delicacy that somehow remains grounded in the world. The music returns to single notes, eventually shading somewhat lower, slowly wafting to ground. Such deep, probing work, both in conception and execution.

Boon's 'years, numbers' (2012) uses a set of four tones, structured A-B-B-A where one note is constant, while another is added (or not), the duration of each varied with immense subtlety throughout (and interrupted midway through by a sequence of two-chord patterns). The combination of simplicity and slight variation works wonderfully as do the pitch choices made, imparting a melancholic, perhaps nostalgic air, as if the composer is thinking of a past bittersweet event, playing it back in his head, subjecting it to different possibilities, ways things might have gone. The brief 'nov. (piano)' (2011) contains calm sets of chords, a gentle promenade, ambling downhill, very lovely.

Susam's 'tombeau' (2014) begins with sets of four descending chords and, similar to the first Boon piece, retains the basic chord while augmenting the surrounding tones, then varies that a little, allowing the sounds to blossom like slow motion footage of a blooming flower, the pattern of petals offering regularity while the time sequence of their unfurling flows from regular to slightly less so. The basic downward trajectory is maintained for the most part, as befits a tombeau. Glints of other alternatives appear momentarily before the descent continues, no enhanced with lusher swaddling, some chords so lovely they cause one to shiver. A superb piece.

And a superb album altogether, as rewarding as those recitals I've witnessed. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Edition Wandelweiser

I wanted to also mention three other releases in the current batch from EW, which I just don't have the time to write about at length (apologies!), but which all deserve to be heard:

Marianne Schuppe - nosongs; a set of works for voice and lute (the latter enhanced with uber-bows) that dwell in the territory explored by Morton Feldman in his extraordinary composition, "Only".

Toshi Ichiyanagi - sapporo; The 1963 piece performed here by eleven Seattle-area musicians (including our old buddy Robert J. Kirkpatrick) in 2010. Very quiet and filled with eerie, enchanting glissandi and rousing percussion.

Sergio Merce - three dimensions of the spirit; Further delving into his microtonal saxophone as well as a prepared tenor, all of them probing and fascinating. Some of the most intriguing saxophonics I've heard in years.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Johan Lindvall - giraffe (Edition Wandelweiser)

An enchanting set of fourteen pieces for guitar and occasional voice, performed by Fredrik Rasten.

It's always difficult, for me, to write about music "like" this, work that's at once spare, seemingly simple and very affecting. The choices made to arrive at that apparent simplicity are hard to determine, easy to appreciate. Apart from a set of five short works for voice and guitar, utilizing words from Marianne Moore, the music by and large consists of single notes or small, tonal chords suspended in space, allowed to glisten there momentarily, followed by another, forming a thin, transparent sheet which air surrounds and light permeates. Calling it calm or contemplative, while accurate, doesn't do the music justice; as with much of Antoine Beuger's music, there's an intimacy that's almost uncomfortable. One almost feels as though intruding on a private session, though it's plenty warm and welcoming enough to dispel the notion. It's all lovingly played by Rasten, whose approach almost necessarily recalls that of Cristián Alvear; if you've enjoyed the recordings from Alvear, you'll enjoy this.

The song suite stands apart, haunting and riveting. Softly sung, with sparse accompaniment, I was reminded a little bit of David Grubbs with the Gastr del Sol of some 20 years ago, a similar hesitant delicacy. As much as I enjoy the entire release, these five works are my favorite--a wonderful approach to song-form, a direction I'd love to hear pursued.

Very fine work overall, highly recommended.

Edition Wandelweiser

Monday, July 09, 2018

Cyril Bondi/d'Incise - kirari-kirari (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two works, each almost 20 minutes long, co-composed by Bondi and d'Incise (who are often, though not here, known as Diatribes, for a sextet made up of Bondi (vibraphone), d'Incise (metallic objects), Magnus Granberg (piano), Anna Lindal (Baroque violin), Anna-Kaisa Meklin (viola de gamba) and Christoph Schiller (spinet).

Each work is similarly structured: single notes in a regular rhythm, played roughly every four seconds. Some have rapid decays, others linger. They go in and out of strict unison, forming slightly staggered figures which coalesce now and then. Some instruments, I think, disappear for a few measures then resurface. I believe that a single pitch is maintained throughout each work, though there may be minor fluctuations and there are certainly differing techniques employed.

That's it--very little, in a sense, but it kept this listener rapt and enthralled. By isolating each set of tones within that four-second space, they're able to be "examined", sort of rolled around in one's palm, considered in and of themselves and in relation to what preceded and ensued. The combination of these particular instruments is quite...delectable. I sometimes have the impression of a string of beads, not jewels but rougher, only partially polished bits of stone and shell. The mix of contemplativeness and periodicity is very appealing, very thoughtful and thought-provoking. Another fine work from this pair.

Edition Wandelweiser

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Matt Sargent - Ghost Music (Weighter Recordings) 

'Ghost Music' is a work for solo percussion, lasting about an hour, performed by Bill Solomon. Though not listed on the release or elsewhere that I could find, for the first half of the work, Solomon is playing an instrument that gives forth high, metallic sounds--I take it a celesta or glockenspiel, something in that family. It's largely struck (with what sounds like thin rods or sticks) but there's also sustained tones that sometimes sound bowed.

That first 30-odd minutes is comprised of sets of struck tones, often in small groups, with patterns like 3-3-5-5 or 2-2-6-5, later in short melodic sequences. I've no idea whether it's score or intuitive. The tonality at the start reminds me very much of that used  by Karl Berger (on vibes) on Don Cherry's 'Eternal Rhythm', which I believe was based on Balinese or Javanese intervals. Whatever, it's dreamlike, unearthly and gorgeous, the tones themselves silvery and ephemeral, their lingering hums...well, ghostly. There's something of a Feldmanesque irregularity in play, patterns that seem to form only to dissolve before apprehension. I also get a time-stretch effect; I think I've been listening an hour and it's only 20 minutes. This is a good thing.

About halfway through the work the sound-world shifts rather abruptly, announced by a steady rhythm of slightly deeper-pitched metals augmented by the odd single strike. Whereas earlier, the arrangement of patterns occupied a reasonably defined area, Sargent (or Solomon? not sure how much, if any, leeway is provided) now presents multiple episodes of varied approaches and attacks, often using metals of a less precisely defined pitch, perhaps bells of different types. There's more open space, more tone range, many different attacks in general, though everything remains embedded in that large space of the contemplative and observant. It'd every bit as fascinating as the first half even if (or because) the listener's footing is less assured. 'Ghost Music' closes with a return to the original instrument, now heard in a steady rhythm with accent strikes here and there and ultimately a quicker, lighter beat atop.

A wonderful work and one of the more substantive pieces for solo percussion I've heard in ages.

Prune Bécheau - Stries ton, tripes et poils (Weighter Recordings)

Like the above, also a solo recording, this time on Baroque violin, an instrument which differs from a standard violin in certain ways far over my pay grade to comprehend (but see here to understand more), played by the French violinist Prune Bécheau. Admittedly, coming into this recording (as with many solo ventures on "classic" instruments), I was hoping for any innovation, should it occur, to be more structural than having to do with extended techniques. Well, there's a bit of both here.

There are eight pieces and each demonstrates a different instrumental attack. The first, "introduction", probably carries the greatest allusion to a "traditional" sound, as a kind of melody--very lovely--circles around some grainy overtones. I should mention that the disc's title translates into "tone streaks, guts and hair, so you have a good picture of what's coming. In 'tlelel etl', Bécheau circles, arco, around a high pitch, generating a mosquito-like whine which she rapidly elaborates on within fairly narrow parameters, forming an impressive web that retains a plaintive air. Sometimes, as in "geqze tulilu", she manages to elicit a breathy sound more saxophonic than violin; if heard "blindfolded" I might have guess Michel Doneda. As mentioned earlier, part of me would like to hear this kind of approach used in service of a larger form, a more overall idea, but it's quite impressive on its own. Four shorter pieces investigate overtone manipulation that reminds me of some forms of Central African singing, a jaunty venture on a (near) single tone, a harsher, rubbery melodic line put through the wringer and a finely worried low string summoning images of North Africa. Bécheau concludes with the most complex work, 'zzffk zzffk', a swirling piece with buzzes, clicks, a certain rubbed attack that almost sounds like a chicken cluck and much more. It's an intense work, one I'd love to see performed live. As is, there's an abundance of fine material and deep, concentrated thought on display here. It's my first time hearing her work and eagerly look forward to more.

Weighter Recordings

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Alan Braufman - Valley of Search (Valley of Search)

This is a reissue (vinyl) of a recording that originally appeared on India Navigation in 1975, a quintet led by alto saxophonist/flutist Braufman with Gene Ashton (piano, dulcimer), Cecil McBee (bass), David Lee (drums) and Ralph Williams (percussion). Ashton would soon change his name to Cooper-Moore and this, in fact, Cooper-Moore's first recording.

As one might gather from the song titles ('Love Is for Real', 'Ark of Salvation', 'Destiny', etc.) this falls squarely in what one might think of as "Spiritual Jazz", following a path laid out by Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders and others. That said, it's a very strong example of the genre. The rhythm section keeps things boiling (McBee, not surprisingly, is a huge help and has a lovely solo feature on 'Miracles'), referring to Central African music in a piece like 'Thankfulness', anticipating similar approaches a few years on from groups like Bengt Berger's Bitter Funeral Band. Braufman himself is quite a powerful player, notably on the aforementioned 'Love Is for Real'--think of a more visceral Arthur Blythe. A very fine recording, really not a weak moment to be found and an exemplary session from New York in the mid-70s, very much in the spirit of the times. I missed it the first time around, very happy to have it available once again.

Braufman on bandcamp

Stephen Cornford - Electrocardiographs of a Cathode Ray Tube (A Wave Press)

A 7" vinyl single which offers two tracks derived from the CRT of an old TV set. Without that information, I might have guessed the sounds to be coming from the jostling around of a jack in its socket, a series of sharp clicks and staticky hums. At first gloss it seems that that's "all" there is, but these are fascinating pieces. The more one listens, the more shades of color one hears, the more pattern relationships are discerned. Though both tracks are severe and reside in similar territory, there are differences, the second pitched somewhat lower and, for me, carrying a greater amount of regularity in its (quasi) rhythmic sequence, an underlying dark hum with sputters atop that erupt in a high squeak. The first has its own rhythm as well, but the texture is gnarlier. Again, listening multiple times (easier, give the brevity of the release), one parses out layer after layer of variation within a very confined stratum. This won't be everyone's cuppa by any means, but I got very much into it.

A Wave Press

Jacque Demierre - Abécédaire/AB C Book (Lenka Lente)

The folks at Lenka Lente produce releases like no other publisher I know, generally integrating text and sound in some manner. 

This one combines essays by pianist Demierre, arranged alphabetically by title, utilizing most of the alphabet. The texts are offered in both French and English, are generally a page or two in length and cover a range of subjects of interest to Demierre, including performance strategies (solo and in ensembles in which he participates, including LDP with Urs Leimgruber and Barre Philips, and DDK, with Axel Dörner and Jonas Kocher), thoughts on listening, on philosophy and its intersection with music and much more. 

The CD is something else again. Demierre's piece, 'Ritournelle' is spoken word, in a sense, the words derived from Wilhelm Müller and Franz Schubert's 'Winterreise', specifically the final song, 'Der Leiermann' ('The Organ Grinder'). Demierre extracts certain words, mostly (though not all) one syllable in length and breathlessly recites them in a fast, regular rhythm, repeating a given word numerous times before passing to the next, gulping for air on occasion. The insistency of the text, which is printed in the middle of the book, makes for extreme variations in tone as breath gives out, spittle intrudes and, one imagines, an amount of exhaustion sets in. It's mesmerizing, like a rough, raspy drone. After a while, you (maybe) stop hearing the voice/words and just let the odd sounds march by. I can't say I love it, but it's certainly intriguing.

Lenka Lente