Thursday, December 27, 2018

Birgit Ulher/Christoph Schiller  - tulpe schict brille (Inexhaustible Editions)

My ongoing, absurd struggle to come to grips with the sound of the harpsichord in all its guises (including the spinet that's Schiller's instrument of choice) continues, but I'm slowly making ground. Here, Schiller (also utilizing electronics and objects) is joined by the fine trumpeter Birgit Ulher who herself adds radio, speaker and objects to her always imaginatively played and manipulated horn (it's their second recording together, I believe, after 2012's 'Kolk' on Another Timbre). The five improvised tracks are sober and investigative, sometimes--given the enhanced brass and the metallic sound of the spinet--evoking vague, mysterious mechanical operations, an imaginary steam-punk contraption. There's a fine feeling of intense focus here, no throwaway moments, as well as a very good balance between response and independence. Often, the listener has the initial impression of an answer to a sound posed by the other, but then the respondee goes off on his/her own tangent, unrelated enough to cause that listener to doubt their first thoughts. And yes, the basic spinet sound is subjugated more than enough to quell any visceral reactions I might have--sometimes the strings are plucked to an astringent guitar-like effect. Ulher's trumpet, as ever, is a fount of unusual sonorities, buzzing, clacking and dripping away but always with precision. Thoughtful, intelligent improvisation of a high order--recommended.

Inexhaustible Editions

Michael Foster/Katherine Young/Michael Zerang - Bind the hand)s) That Feed (Relative Pitch)

A strong, gutsy set of six improvs from Foster (tenor and soprano saxophones, microphones), Young (bassoon, electronics) and Zerang (drums, percussion) that sits on the edge of free jazz and less idiomatic approaches. It's an interesting contrast to the above-mentioned release. Here, I have the feeling (I could be wrong) that there's a far greater plunging in, an abandoning to the moment rather than careful consideration. Both approaches, and others, are of course entirely valid and if I tend to find the latter mode more generally rewarding these days, there are still plenty of treasures to be found in this strategy. Zerang, to be sure, is an old pro at this and acquits himself quite well. Young is fairly new to me, though I guess I've heard her in other contexts such as the Dropp Ensemble--she's also worked with Braxton. She's very engaging here, encompassing, as near as I can tell given its fine way of melding with adjacent sounds, a vast range on the bassoon, from airiness and delicate rubbing to furious, guttural growls. Foster, who I was fortunate enough to catch in performance a couple months back, has a similarly wide range of attacks, making excellent use of dynamics balanced with extended techniques; Michel Doneda came to mind more than once. The trio searches for a while, almost a given with this approach, but they find wonderfully rough and irregular grooves and concentrated eruptions often enough, areas where the enthusiasm merges with a great sense of drive, to make the journey more than worthwhile. A good, tough outing. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Antoine Beuger - to the memory of (Inexhaustible Editions)

Beuger wrote this piece in 2016 for this ensemble, Conceptual Soundproductions, founded by Nikolaus Gerszewski in Budapest. The score, as described by Gerszewski in his detailed liner notes, simply consists of the terms "sounds", "words" and "silence". Any realization of the piece becomes, obviously, highly dependent on the choices made by the performers involved as well as the largely subjective evaluations of same made by the listener. I'm inevitably reminded of the wonder, if likely apocryphal, story of Morton Feldman who, when conducting a rehearsal of one of his graphic score works, brought things to an abrupt halt and stared angrily at a member of the ensemble (a violist, purportedly) who innocently pointed to the section in play, and said, "But it just says, 'Play three notes.'" To which Feldman replied, "Not those notes."

Here, the ensemble is nine members strong with Gerszewski (piano, objects), Lenke Kovács (vocals), Ferene Getto (vocals, objects), László Németh (trumpet), Dorottya Poór (violin), Nóra Lajkó (guitar), Julien Baillod (guitar, feedback), Andor Erazmus Illés (electronics) and Erik Benjámin Rafael (percussion, objects). In his notes, Gerszewski expresses surprise at finding no indications of "soft" or "very soft" as one might expect from Beuger and queried him about it, receiving the assurance that Beuger "simply did not want to exclude any sounds". Given that, it's up to the listener, should he or she so desire, to determine whether or not the particular realization somehow "succeeds" or not (leaving open the question, also partially broached by Gerszewski--something I've thought about a lot re: many of Manfred Werder's works--whether or not there needed to be a performance at all, much less a recording). To my ears there's something missing, or perhaps too much in play. The "silence" of the score, while of course present, is not on equal footing with the word and other sounds. Put simply, there's not enough of it for me. More to the point, there's too much regularity in the lengths and pacing of the silences. In fact, that's my main problem overall: a general level of uniformity in sequencing and dynamics that strikes me as overly bland, not so much like any carefully observed aspect of life (or a tiny slice of same), too much the sense of a "list". I'd also have to leave open the probability that I'm missing something from my failure to understand the words spoken in Hungarian.

Given this, Gerszewski reports that the composer, upon hearing the recording, said, "I am totally inspired". While I wouldn't go that far, I'm happy enough to have this addition to the ever-growing library of Beuger compositions/realization and if I prefer many of the others, some listeners may find this approach more to their liking. It's fine and, to be sure, evokes the score, just doesn't quite sync up with my own sensibilities.

Santiago Astaburuaga - la perpetuidad del esbozo #3 (Inexhaustible Editions)

'la perpetuidad del esbozo #3' (2016) is also based on a score that leaves open a wide range of possible realizations, but this one's on an entirely other level. Each of the three musicians here (Cristián Alvear, Makoto Oshiro and Hiroyuki Ura)--the work is written for between two and fourteen performers--wields three sound sources. One is an instrument--guitar, eletromagnetic relays and speakers, and snare drum and cymbals, respectively. The second is a selection of sine tones. The third is a combination of field recordings and archival sounds. For this last, Alvear chose field recordings from Japan and excerpts from Nick Hoffman's 'Bermuda' (which I've not heard), Oshiro opted for sounds from the Hamamatsu Kamoe Art Center and portions of Dawang Yingfan Huang's 'Tourette's Songbook' and Ura went with recordings from Gunma Prefecture and parts of Uchu Hakase's 'Drum Solo at'.

Ok. These are then deployed over various time sequences. For a recording of 40-minutes, like the one at hand, each musician "elaborates" on 4, 5 or 6 of each kind of sound. There's more but you, perhaps, get the picture. The result is a very unusual and, to say the least, unique mosaic of sound bearing jump-cut and collage characteristics but having, to these ears, an odd and unexpected kind of coherence despite the extremely disparate elements, partially due to the sine tones, I imagine, which while varied, provide something of a unifying factor. Certain sounds recur--there's an orchestral passage that rings a bell but one I can't pinpoint--a movie or TV theme, perhaps--that pokes its head up several times, on organ piece and a goofy-sounding guy (Huang?) who "sings"--seriously annoying in and of itself but as an element in the landscape, strangely appropriate. That can be said of the piece as a whole--I'ver no idea why it works (though, naturally, I suspect the judgment of the musicians involved), but it does. Everything I've heard so far from Astaburuaga has held some large degree of fascination and ungainly beauty; I'm greatly looking forward to hearing more.

Inexhaustible Editions

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A while ago, I received a message from the illustrious Kurt Liedwart noting that he hadn't sent me any Mikrotons in a while and wanted to remedy that fact. In due course, a package arrived from Russia bearing....23 CDs. Five of them had already been sent my way from the musicians involved and had been duly reviewed, but still, eighteen was way more than I'll ever get around to writing about (some were released a year or two ago). So, I'm just going to offer brief summaries of a few of these that made a special impression and merely list the others. Sorry, time!! Thanks, Kurt.

Kurt Liedvart, Julien Ottavi, Keith Rowe - L'Or (Mikroton)

An improv performance from August, 2017 while all three musicians were attending the wonderful Sanitorium of Sound Festival in Sokołowsko, Poland. Both Liedwart (here on modular synth and "cracked everyday and homemade electronics) and Ottavi (computer) are know for tending toward the rough 'n' noisy sector of improv while Rowe, often enough in recent years, has grown increasingly reticent. Not that it's ever going to be easy deciphering who's doing what during an event like this, one can pick out Rowe, now and again, when the heavy and generally delicious glaze set down by the two younger musicians lifts momentarily--there he'll be, rubbing something quietly, scratching with delicacy at some piece of metal, etc. There are some especially juicy moments otherwise, such as the sliding, loopy electronics that occupy much of the last half of the first of two tracks, 'Aurum' and the general spectrum of drips, hums and oscillations that make up 'Золото". Fine work from Liedwart and Ottavi and good to hear Rowe negotiating these territories.

Kurt Liedwart/Andrey Popovskiy/Martin Taxt - hjem (Mikroton)

An exceptionally satisfying (if brief, at 28 minutes) improv session from Liedwart (ppooll), Popovskiy (viola, electronics, objects) and Taxt (tuba). Nothing so unusual, just the trio staying in fairly rough drone territory with some outside sounds intruding, but handled so well, with a fine combination of confidence and restraint. Various elements are introduced over the piece's span, nothing quite as one expects, everything working to up the complexity level without overwhelming the listener with extraneous effects. For instance, the dryly squeaking viola that emerges about halfway through works perfectly with the deep tuba drones and hasher breaths as well as the ringing electronics from Liedwart. There are always more level sin play than is immediately apparent. A wonderfully full and realized performance and, as it turns out, one of perfect length.

The Elks - This Is Not the Ant (Mikroton)

A number of the releases listed below involve musicians like Günter Müller, Norbert Möslang, Jérôme Noetinger, label-owner Liedwart himself and others who ply the more noisy/electronic area of improv. They do this quite ably and listeners interested in that sector would do well to check them out, but my own tastes often desire some acoustic element. The Elks straddle that line quite nicely, offering a set as satisfying and imaginative as "hjem" but spiced with different flavors, including those of a plugged-in nature. Liz Albee (trumpet, preparations) and Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet) tend to the analog while Billy Roisz (electronics, e-bass) and Marta Zapparelli (tapes, reel-to-reel machine, devices) engage the nether side. The balance is fine, the improvs adventurous, fluttering through waves of winds and swirls of e-effluvia. Among other choice moves, the quartet closes with the aptly titled, 'Scuba Diving Elephants', an investigation of depth and slowness that feels sometimes threatening, other times humorous. An excellent ensemble, hope to hear more from them.

Thomas Lehn/Marcus Schmickler - Neue Bilder (Mikroton)

I was fortunate to see Lehn and Schmickler at Instants Chavirés a few years ago, a long while since I'd seen and heard them prior. I was very pleased to hear that they'd by no means stood pat (I don't know why I feared that might be the case) but had moved along from the rapid-fire, hyper-noisy approach I was more familiar with, producing a very intense though very quiet set. Here, the focus on the first of two cuts, recorded in 2016, is more along a kind of INA GRM line of plasticity and depth but far more engaging than I tend to find music from that school. Jam-packed and explosive but with a commanding sense of presence, of material realness. Great track. The second piece, from 2016, is a bit loopier, even playful, but all the more endearing for that, merrily bleeping, blooping and buzzing its way along.

The Pitch & Splitter Orchester - Frozen Orchestra (Splitter) (Mikroton)

The Pitch (Koen Nutters, double bass; Boris Baltschun, electric pump organ; Morten J. Olsen, vibraphone, percussion; Michael Thieke, clarinet) released a disc on Sofa in 2015 title 'Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam)' which seems to have the same concept as presented here, that is the quartet with various other musicians navigating a drone-y landscape. I wasn't too crazy about that one but here, with the 19-strong Splitter Orchester (which I had the pleasure to see a few time in Paris and Huddersfield) the approach is more or less the same and, to my ears, it works just fine. It's one big thing, the constant swirling drone, with hundreds of small things emerging and receding, poking their heads up, making a single-note comment, quieting for a while, The larger mass mutates as well over the hour of the disc, softening, melting a bit, acquiring a whistling texture offset by deep rumbling. The piano a bass and some chimes (glockenspiel?) become clearer toward the finish, very beautifully establishing their own weight vis à vis the drone. Excellent.

Chesterfield - Consuelo (Mikroton)

Chesterfield is Angélica Castelló (paetzold, recorders, tapes, electronics, cello, viola) and Burkhard Stangl (guitars, piano). This is a gem, my favorite of the bunch. As implied by the title, the pair cast a Spanish tinge over the proceedings, seven tracks that meld tapes, allusions to song forms, field recordings, flutes, guitars and much else with a great combination of delicacy and precision. That balance between song and soundscape incorporates a certain amount of nostalgic referents but they never feel forced or placed as an easy handhold for the listener; they always ring true. You hear the instrumental contributions of both Castelló and Stangl, but they're so perfectly integrated into the overall sound that it's only in retrospect you realize they were there. The pair also make any number of surprising and rewarding decisions along the way, like the deep, brooding, subtly romantic 'Recaliente'. 'Consuelo' is a real joy--I hope this duo continues on, looking very much forward.

Also received:

The Holy Quintet (Johnny Chang, Jamie Drouin, Dominic Lash, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, David Ryan) - Borough

Kurt Liedwart - Tonen

Cilantro (Angélica Castelló/Billy Roisz) - Borderland

Ease (Klaus Filip/Noid) - no no no, no

MKM (Günter Müller/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang) - instants//paris

MKM (Günter Müller/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang) - teplo_dom

Angélica Castelló/Jérôme Noetinger - Disturbio

Yui Onodera/Stephen Vitiello - Quiver

Norbert Möslang/Kurt Liedvart/Günter Müller -  Ground

Kurt Liedwart/Petr Vrba - Punkt

Jérôme Noetinger & SEC - La cave des Étenards


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Patrick Shiroishi - the sparrow's tongue (Fort Evil Fruit)

A very rich and enjoyable family  affair, though with dark edges, constructed by Shiroishi (alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, field recordings, snare drum), using the voice of his mother, Uzuko, to recite poems (tankas) written by his grandfather, Seiji Inoue.

The first track, the brief, 'The Footsteps of Crows' sets the mood with a chorale-like nest of saxophones serving as the bed for a short, calmly read text (all the tests are in Japanese). 'Grasshopper Tactics' expands the sound field with soft chimes and distant sounds of children's voices and, eventual chanting mixing with hoarser though still gentle saxophonics and, maybe, some bowed or otherwise rubbed snares. The saxophone gradually coalesces into a lovely sequence that recalls, for me, some of Marion Brown's more lyrical playing. 'The Crocodile's Dilemma' is more abstract still, with fluttering, breathy reed work and an increased portion of electronics (? field recordings? snare?), with the serene voice of Uzuko Shiroishi serving as a fine, steady center. The anxiety level increases with 'Be a Lion, I Will Still Be Water', a sinuous, near-repeating saxophone line creating a tense atmosphere, threaded through dark, brooding electronics, the voice peeking through, receding. Finally, in 'When the Dog Got His Cate Eyes', airy  multiple saxophones quietly observe among the birds, playing half-melodies, lovingly, then fading before a few closing words. A thoughtful very charming set.

Shiroishi's bandcamp page

Danketsu 9 - Thahraas (Never Anything)

Shiroishi also appears, on tenor sax, with Danketsu 9, in the company of Amandeep Brar (accordion), Ang Wilson (flute), Jason Adams (cello), Kelly Coats (flute), Ken Moore (double bass), Mallory Soto (voice), Noah Guevara (guitar) and Pauline Lay (violin). This releases is comprised of a single, 24-minute piece, performed live, that's basically an improvised drone, with some general elaborations offered as possibilities by Shiroishi. The players begin with a smooth, tonal near-unison, very pastoral, various instruments moving slightly off-chord to create an engaging line, like a multi-plaited rope. At several points, I was reminded of a couple of historic drone-like constructs: George Lewis' 'Homage to Charles Parker' and portions of Centipede's 'Septober Energy (!), especially with regard to the voice contributions. The music fluctuates, shudders, sends off tendrils this way and that while maintaining the central stem. About midway through, more liberties are taken, lead by Shiroishi's tenor; the drone never entirely disappears but becomes increasingly difficult to discern beneath the flurries of guitar, voice, flute and tenor especially as things grow increasingly agitated. Soon, things settle back down, the overall tone similar to, though maybe a bit deeper than, the one that began the work, deeply idyllic.

Danketsu 9 @bandcamp

Friday, December 07, 2018

Donald McPherson/Tetuzi Akiyama - The  Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 (God in the Music)

I don't believe I've heard McPherson's work before but I've long since learned to approach anything new from Akiyama with no expectations whatsoever--they're inevitably foiled. [I see they'd released a previous recording, 'Vinegar and Rum', in 2006] What we have here is a set of guitar duets (recorded live in 2010) that teeter on the edge of familiarity--echoes of Fahey and  flamenco--while veering off into all sorts of quasi-related areas. It sounds like there's an agreed to idea in place but the playing of both is refreshingly loose and feels very unconfined, a fine combination of meandering while retaining a general sense of direction. There's also a palpable sense on intimacy and confidence in each other's choice, very well intertwined. All three tracks (they pause at moments during each) are taken at relaxed tempi, the second perhaps the most so, though with probing stabs at points of interest encountered along the way. The "language" isn't unusual at all and will, in addition to the above cited, evoke any number of other musical referents, including that of Akiyama's native country or even Derek bailey at his most fluid and languorous. The last, a rolling, sitar-ish number, is especially charming, pastoral but prickly at once, a lovely way to end a fine, very satisfying set.

god in the music @bandcamp

Tom Arthurs/Alberto Novello - cahier de petits coquillages vol. iv/v (Setola di Maiale)

I'd heard a release from Novello a few years back and had written about it , a video/music interaction. Lo and behold, in 2017 he was one of the musicians invited to the annual Art Omi music residency which takes place right down the road from us. So was trumpeter Tom Arthurs, whose music I didn't know but saw that he had worked with a number of improvisers on the London and Berlin scenes, including Eddie Prévost. They were quite an enjoyable couple of fellows and presented some fine music. Turns out they also did some recording while in town and here it is. Arthurs possesses a wonderful tone, very smooth and creamy. On this recording, he flits and writhes between glitchy electronic patterns set up by Novello, often of a repetitive nature but with much ancillary fuzziness and thorny extrusions. Arthurs' often muted horn charts a relatively sober  course through Novello's electronics which tend towards a giddy, loopy and humorous aspect  (here and there, I'm reminded of Dr. Patrick Gleeson, circa 'Sextant'), creating a very enjoyable contrast, sometimes light-hearted, other times poignant.

Setola di Maiale

Dustin Carlson - Air Ceremony  (Out of Your Head)

Not my standard fare by any means, but I could easily see a number of readers here digging this. Take late 80s Tim Berne circa 'Fulton St. Maul', combine with the propulsive machines from 'Red'-era King Crimson and leaven with a substantial dose of good old-fashioned free jazz, a pinch of Threadgill and a dash  of thrash and you are in the ballpark. A septet with Carlson (guitar), Nathaniel Morgan (alto saxophone), Eric Trudel (baritone saxophone), Danny Gouker (trumpet), the redoubtable Matt Mitchell (Prophet 6), Adam Hopkins (bass) and Kate Gentile (drums), have a jolly time with the leader's compositions, six pieces that lurch, glide and hurtle through varying time signatures and moods within the space of scant minutes. The guitar solo, 'Watherton', is enjoyably clear and lucid, kind of the 'Peon' of the album (yes, I pick up a little Beefheart, too) but there's a general heaviness of tread that others will enjoy more than I. The band is tight, Carlson's able guitar work tending to lead the way through the juicy throb. This will right up the alley of many.

Out of Your Head's bandcamp page