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 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.