Friday, November 08, 2019

Jon Dale - theatre (triste tropiques)

Sukora -  Ice Cream Day! Nice Day! (triste tropiques)

Two excellent approaches to the notion of non-activity or near silence and the depths available therein.

Perhaps more went into it than meets the ear, but Jon Dale's 'theatre' seems to be one 55-minute recording of an interior space in which not so much happens. But so much happens. My visual analogue as I was listening was a piece of gray felt or carpeting,  the kind of material that at a glance appears a drab gray but on  close examination reveals tiny threads of various, surprisingly bright colors, impossibly complex. Dale's room, if it is such (no information is presented with the disc--perhaps it's simply a theatre interior per the title), appears to contain a heating system, perhaps, something softly, airily mechanical that operates on a consistent level throughout, generating a warm kind of burr, in and of itself subtly fluctuating and dully shimmering as, one imagines, pressure levels shift ever so slightly. The sound is dry on the one hand, super-saturated on the other resulting in  a  depth of field that's both shallow and infinitely detailed; fascinating. As well, the space, or adjacent ones, is being utilized by humans. We hear the  occasional door being opened and shut, squeaking on its hinges, various random bangs and thuds and swatches of vague, blurred and distant conversation. These appear with delightful (that is to say, real) randomness, scattered  piecemeal through the recording but often absent for any number of minutes. That's it, but that's more than enough. One easily imagines sitting in the space, doing nothing but listening and contemplating.

The oddly titled and illustrated 'Ice Cream Day! Nice Day!' by Sukora (Takayoshi Kitajima) contains even less to immediately apprehend but again, there's so much there. The sounds on the two tracks are pitched such that it might be recommended to listen on headphones. Otherwise, depending on your volume settings, you might lose them entirely. 'The second hand turning', as in the Dale, has at the start a consistent tone augmented by ancillary noises. The tone, though very quiet, is more aggressive, a vaguely threatening throb. As it falls out, one hears, indeed, a soft click that seems to recur at one second intervals, some haze between you and it and a barely discernible, high whine. The pulse returns now and then, imparting the sensation that the listener has moved, has walked to different areas that expose or amplify a given sound. If the Dale piece was a piece of fuzzy material, 'A moving organ' might be heard as the individual fibers from that material loosely strewn across a stone floor. An ultra-soft ambient rustle upon which one hears the slightest of clicks, irregular but frequent, as if someone's tapping the floor with a leaf. Somewhere in that rustle, next to impossible to discern, there's a regular sound, like the quietest of inner grooves brushed by a microscopic stylus. Intent, so thoughtful, engrossing.

Two superb, questioning releases.

Dale's blog appears to be down, but the discs above may be ordered from:

Careful Catalog

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Nick Storring - Qualms  (Never Anything Records)

A wildly entertaining if difficult to pin down solo venture from Storring. 'Qualms' is a single piece, spanning both sides of the cassette, on which Storring wields cello (electric and acoustic), other strings including guitar, keyboards, a vast array of percussion and more. The music has one foot in a kind of post-In C minimalism--there are moments that almost sound like they might have been lifted from a variant In C performance, in fact--and several others  (it's at least insectile, if not centipedal) in adjacent areas including one that owes something to Southeast Asian traditions. The generally shimmering percussion, all light bells and transparent wooden tappings, rolls over liquid, string-generated drones, nodding in passing to Balinese and Javanese music, even evoking Laotian mouth organ music at one point, but joyfully moving to its own rhythms and harmonies. On the one hand, it's kind of steady-state but within 'Qualms' are any number of sections and shifts, fades and re-emergences, dreamlike. There's generally a pulse (the piece was written to accompany choreography for Yvonne Ng), at least implied when slowed to a breathing pace, but often enough up front, always airy and fluttering, never remotely leaden; this is particularly the case on Side B, during the episode that's most reminiscent of the Riley opus.

Overall, 'Qualms' is an intoxicating pleasure, offering both a surface beauty and a wealth of fascinating details to investigate. Well worth hearing.

Never Anything Records

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fergus Kelly - Gleaming Seams (Room Temperature)

I've been listening to Fergus Kelly's music for about a decade now and have found it consistently rewarding, his dark percussion/tape studies always very immersive, rich and unique to his sensibility. 'Gleaming Seams' might be my favorite yet. Centered around percussion (drums, metals, plastics, gongs and more), the ten pieces are embedded--sometimes thoroughly,  sometimes more gently and subtly--into webs of field recordings taking various forms, exterior (trams, skateboard park, random conversations) and interior (ATM machines, computer drives, etc.). As well, there are samples from other musics, including brass and orchestras, that glimmer through the dim, roiling haze.

The softly clanging metals that open 'Numb Burn' draw you in immediately. Just as you're settling in, things shift to a more irregular, quasi-rhythm, the drums attempting to stay afloat amidst backward tape and brass flourishes, buzzing electronics and more, a shifting mirror-like construction that leaves the listener at once disoriented and oddly satisfied. Kelly applies variations to this approach throughout, allowing the percussion to form a kind of core, the ancillary sounds swirling around at some points, adhering and forming their own new structures at others. Now and then, the electronics drift into quiet pulses, creating an almost unnoticed thread, loosely tying together the disparate sound worlds, occasionally bearing the slightest Balinese tinge. The balance between the acoustic and electronic, including the field recordings, is perfect; Kelly achieves a unity that's pretty rare. Each of the ten tracks works extremely well on its own and the whole leaves one sated and even a little moved, the darkness of the evoked soundscapes paradoxically offering some degree of nostalgia. A complicated, brilliantly conceived sound-world. Highly recommended.

Room Temperature @ bandcamp

Monday, September 16, 2019

Antoine Beuger -  traces of eternity: of what is yet to be (A New Wave of Jazz)

Antoine Beuger - Now is the moment to learn hope (A New Wave of Jazz)

There have been quite a few releases of Beuger's music over the past several years and it's an odd,  and very pleasurable thing to consider them en masse. On the one hand, his music is so diaphanous, so air-suffused that you'd think it might be difficult (not to mention unnecessary) to differentiate  them mentally. On the other, they're always very different. There's that old AMM aphorism: "as alike or unalike as trees" that conveys something of my feelings about Beuger's work.

In his liner notes, Guy Peters writes that "traces of eternity...",  inspired by David Patterson's 'Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought', takes the form of a 288-page score with minimal notation on each page, the performer able to dip in and out as desired, to interpret as seen fit. Pianist Dante Boon, one of the very finest proponents of Beuger's music (as well as that of many other composers associated with the Wandelweiser collective) chose to begin where he'd previously left off on his own journey through the score. Single notes are struck, pure and lambent, strings gently caressed, suspended in silence, or near-silence as the rooms is heard, faintly, as are adjustments by Boon, including pedaling. As is often the case with Beuger's music, there's a combination of spareness and, if not always apparent, sensual beauty, a resilient softness and warmth. The connective tissue is gossamer but  surprisingly strong. Now and then, the piano sounds more forcefully, deeply; once in a while a fragment of a melody emerges, but just as a glimmer, something seen out of the corner of one's eye (or ear), then vanishing as the music flows past, around the corner. The same and different. Boon's  degree of sensitivity is profound, pacing the work perfectly, varying his approach subtly, maintaining the piece's vibrating sense of life throughout, reading his text. One only hopes that, someday, the work might be heard in its entirety.

'Now is the moment to learn hope' is performed by the Extradition Ensemble (Loren Chasse, bell; Brandon Conway, classical guitar; Sage Fisher, harp; Matt Hannafin, bowed crotales; Branic Howard, bowed guitar; Evan Spracht, alto trombone). The listener is immediately immersed into the general environment fulling of falling water and clouds of ambient sound. The music is more forthright, kind of oozing through the space, a thicker liquid bleeding through a thinner one. Brief but forceful guitar and harp chords are offset by longer, more languid tones from the trombone, bowed guitar and crotales. The music, already rich at the start, seems to slowly intensify, though more likely it's the listener's aural acuity growing more and more perceptive as the piece unfurls. Car horns sound, engines; the bowed portions attain greater depth, denser sonority, though as on the earlier work, the music maintains a steady character, flowing and changing/remaining the same, traffic closing out the set. A moving, enveloping experience.

Two wonderful recordings.

A New Wave of Jazz

A New Wave of Jazz (bandcamp)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Jason Lescalleet - This Is What I Do, vol. 21 (Glistening Examples)

I first saw Lescalleet in the early oughts, on hands and knees, threading crumpled, loose audiotape between five or six ancient tape players. The resultant sound aside, there was something simply physically impressive about the sight. He's a big guy, a counterweight to the more typical weedy geek crouched behind an Apple. Something almost athletic was happening, something coiled and pent-up, ready to violently unfurl. The sound, of course, was great. Those dark, irregular rumbles, layers upon layers of them, repeating in very slow loops. I was never sure how much of the sound was from recordings inscribed on the tape, how much was due to their battered condition, the slack way they pulled through the tape heads--probably some of each.

Lescalleet moved on and I'd followed his work with reasonable closeness, enjoying the great majority of it, being confused now and again, charmed more often. I still think his 'The Pilgrim' is one of the most moving, important works of the first decade of this century. In 2011, he embarked on a project titled "This Is What I Do" which began by cataloguing earlier work and quickly became a kind of "workbook" to quickly document his current activities. I heard the first two of these, then lost track. A few months back, having reached Lescalleet during my anal playthrough of my music collection, I thought I'd make up for that shortcoming and went to his bandcamp page only to discover that he'd removed most of the twenty-one recordings in that series, figuring they'd served his purpose. By happy chance, I was up in the Portland, Maine area last month, met Jason for coffee and was given a copy of Vol. 21.

First of all, what a great cover. No  source or  photographer is provided but...excellent. Second, something I just noticed while writing: the graphics on the disc itself. Aside from the track listings (leaving out the first), there's what seems to be an entirely bogus set of...well, a list of countries in the form of a track list, though not all are countries (Africa Tabernacle Evangelism, Network, Chaplaincy Ministries) as well as credits containing a number of humorous misprints like "dublication" and  "Holy Bible: New International Venison".  Few of these yield much to googling. Lescalleet has a long-standing habit of encrypting obscure references into his work, either via titles or the music itself but he warned me not to go searching for such in this case, so I won't. Except. When I went to enter the release into my database at Discogs, I noticed the following track timings: 0:11, 11:11, 11:11, 11:11, 5:55, 11:11. I'm sure this is mere coincidence.

The 11-second track consists of some buzz and crackles followed by Lescalleet saying, "Nah, I don't like that." Gotta love it. "I Can Receive Music Alright" is marvelous, a kind of descendant of the Fenn O'Berg theme. After what sounds like some short-wave conversation, a lush, Holstian symphonic track enters, expansive and billowing. I feel like I know the piece but can't put my finger on it. There's something of a soundtrack quality to it and is the first reason I began to think of the disc as an audio film. Lescalleet has often used filmic references in the past and incorporated scenes from movies  in his live performances. This has an overture-like aspect, cloudy and surging, very attractive. He lets it go more or less on its own for several minutes before introducing low, nearly sub-sonic rumblings and explosions, the kind of element he handles as well as anyone around. These sounds, evoking large objects jostling around in vast,  echoing spaces like the hull of a tanker are extremely immersive and gripping. "Kiss Me" picks up in that same world of hollow banging and rattling, the sounds occurring more rapidly and with agitation. Suddenly, a deep male voice says, "Mademoiselle Julianne, embrassez moi". After more thick, dark noise, the same voice intones, "Il est mort, mademoiselle." and some more, a noirish tinge that picks up the cinematic theme, if there is one. That sense of thickness, by the way, is something I always associate with Lescalleet's work, a  density, a feeling of multiple, claylike layers.

Oh yes, there's also extremism. At the end of that cut, there's a sequence of some of most eardrum shredding sound I've encountered in recent years, though it feels oddly soft, like having your auricular canal reamed with dental floss. Beware.

'Thirty Percent Flat' is a whirlwind of electronics and natural sounds (crickets, tree frogs, who knows what else), its volume and density rising over its course like a lava flow, eventually boring another clean, heat-blasted hole wherein sounds can scour your skull. The "short" track, 'Korea 2002' also begins with a surge, then lapses into simple piano (or koto? the recording is blurry enough that it's hard to tell) and percussion (sticks), with a voice speaking briefly in, I think, Japanese, despite the piece's title. It's somewhere along here, or perhaps in the prior piece, that my movie notion kind of breaks down, quite possibly because it had no basis in reality to begin with. 'Korea 2002' is a fine, mysterious piece, though, its principal sounds slowly getting absorbed into vague electronics and/or room ambiance.

"Hello,  this is the Minneapolis Police. The party is over." So begins the final track, followed by a snarled "One, two, three, four!" and a dense segue into a dance track and extreme feedback, soon splaying out into a ringing, desolate landscape, industrial and nocturnal, Lynchian high tension wires. This goes on for quite a while before, for the piece's last 90 or so seconds, giving way to some utterly gorgeous piano music. Again, I'm at a loss as to the source but feel I should know it (and want to). As lovely and fitting as the Chopin played by George Dzundza in 'The Deer Hunter'.

A fine end to this movie and a great release. This one is still available at the Glistening Examples bandcamp site--do check it out.

Glistening Examples

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Olivier Messiaen - Quatuor our la fin de temps/Linda Catlin Smith - Among the Tarnished Stars - Apartment House (Another Timbre)

I came to Messiaen fairly late in my listening career. For a long time, his was a name, not much more. Somewhere in the early 80s, I picked up the Philips recording of the Quartet, probably due to the presence of Vera Beths on violin, whose name I knew from her involvement with a number of Willem Breuker projects (I was way into Breuker then; the Doré engraving on the cover didn't hurt, I'm sure). The name of the pianist on the date, Reinbert de Leeuw, meant nothing to me at the time! It had a strong effect on me, both the historical facts of its creation and, especially, the two louanges. Still, I filed it away and managed to, more or less, forget about it. Some years later, when Zorn included a cover of the 'Louange à l'Eternité de Jésus', I recall it took me a few moments to place the work; odd. In any case since then, I've listened to many a reading of it and more Messiaen besides, though I'm still far from any kind of thorough investigation.  I listened to a few more in recent weeks and bought an old copy of the Erato vinyl, an early 60s recording with Huguette Fernandez, Guy Deplus, Jacques Neilz and Marie-Madeleine Petit, but apart from some obvious differences in approach it's beyond my ears and my available time to sit and do a proper comparison, not that it's necessary. I discussed the work a bit with Keith Rowe and he pointed me to this very interesting critical exchange on BBC Sounds, which readers might enjoy.

But first things first. There are two works presented on this fine disc, each performed by members of Apartment House (Mira Benjamin, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; Heather Roche, clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano). Though it's not mentioned anywhere I could  find, including the text on the Another Timbre site, I take it for granted that, not only by virtue if the relatively unusual instrumentation but amore importantly considering its overall sound, that Linda Catlin Smith had the Messiaen at least partially in mind when she composed the extremely beautiful piece, 'Among the Tarnished Stars' (1998).  The initial section's poignancy seems to be an indirect allusion to the louanges, though perhaps a bit more grounded, less trusting in the likelihood of spiritual salvation. It shifts subtly throughout its 28 minutes, maintaining a somber quality. The piano hits chords evoking the striking of dull metal  as the clarinet intones a sorrowful hymn. Gentle glimmers appear via occasional upward lines, the strings and clarinet adopting a kind of breathing, sighing pattern in the still air. Another deep, evocative piece from Smith; I'm very happy this label has done yeoman's work in getting her music out into circulation.

As said above, comparisons with other recordings are beyond my pay grade, though this quartet approaches the work with a certain kind of rigor and lack of any tinge of sentimentality, partly expressed by the relative lack of vibrato. The line in the 'Vocalise' is taken a bit more slowly than I'm used to, less stridently. Lukoszevieze mentions thinking of the cello part in the first louange as a kind of blues and that comes through to these ears. Thomas does something on the last movement, a slight dampening of the second of the doubled chords played (via pedal manipulation, I take it) as a kind of "ghost chord", a faint echo, or maybe I'm  simply imputing that due to the extremely fine level of touch employed by Thomas. Whatever the case, I find this effect to be very moving and beautiful. At the end of things, I can only say that, for me, this reading of the Quartet fits in quite comfortably with past favorites, holds its own very well and, in fact, is better recorded than many, giving it a bit of an edge on that front. It's entirely worth hearing of you're a fan of the piece--mandatory, even.

Another Timbre

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Driving over to Woodstock for a performance of Morton Feldman's 'For Philip Guston', played by the Bent Duo plus Emlyn Johnson, it occurred to me that not only had I never seen a live concert of a long-form piece by Feldman but surprisingly, considering my love for his work. my pretty substantial collection of his recordings, etc., I'd seen scarce few  shows of Feldman's music at all over the years. Not  sure why this is so. I'd seen the Sabat/Clarke duo at Miller Theater, Columbia University, playing 'Violin and Piano' but that was more than 15 years ago and I think the same duo, some years prior, at Cooper Union. Did  the ONCEIM Orchestra do 'For Samuel Beckett'? I have a avgue memory (!!). But certainly never the lengthier pieces. Never the classic solo piano works for  that matter. Odd.

In any case, this show was organized to coincide with an exhibition of Philip Guston drawings, drawings done in an attempt to eliminate all prior preconceptions, to get as far back to basics as possible, They're a set of "simple" images done in black ink, just line segments, roughly laid in at (I think) a single stroke:

Strong  work. As is pretty well known, Feldman and Guston, once close friends, became somewhat hostile  to one another after the former's vehement disagreement with Guston's return to figurative painting,  a rupture that remained unhealed s of the latter's death in 1980  (in Woodstock, where he resided). Feldman wrote the 4-hour plus piece played today as a kind of apology.

The concert took place in the rear room of the WAAM gallery in Woodstock, adjacent to the exhibition. For this performance, Bent Duo (Bill Solomon, vibraphone, glockenspiel, chimes, marimba; David Friend, piano, celesta) were joined by Emlyn Johnson (flutes,  piccolo). It was an extraordinary event.

I have four recordings of the piece and while there's no way I could possibly do a side-by-side comparison from memory, I'll just say that today's performance more than fits in comfortably with those by Williams/Blum/Vigeland, Stone/Jarvinen/Cheng-Cochran, Kotik/Kubera/Nappi or Engler/Schrammel/Breuer. Not only was the playing as sensitive and masterful as any of those, the spatial experience of hearing it live added an enormous dimension to the music. Though the performers were in a fairly tight triangle, five to six feet between them, the depth of sound and the transparent dancing of the intertwining, incredibly complex lines was breathtaking. Not that the sequences are complex--far from it. But the pacing and the relationships were like poetry made up of everyday words arrayed in a manner you thought impossible. From the initial four-note melodic line B-F#-G-D, if I'm not mistaken, which I easily may be, knowing little) which resurfaces throughout, sometimes whole, sometime just the first two or three notes, sometimes hidden within another sequence, to the section near the end where a six-note descending figure on glockenspiel, the pacing varied exquisitely, intermingling with a different six-note line played by flute and piano, not in unison, but out of phase, creating complexities of balance and beauty that were just stunning. In  between many "landmarks". I didn't realize from the recording how quickly Feldman goes from instrument to instrument. The marimba is  used sparingly and always tapping out steady patterns, on two occasions lines of rapid, identical notes; the first time, I didn't count but I think upwards of 80, the second time 54. These appear out of the blue, like chapter divisions. At one point, nearer the end, the music turns harsh and even strident, agitated  and intense, a welcome tonic. More often, amidst the general pastoral spareness, there are small  eruptions of extreme lushness and elegance, bouquets that bloom ravishingly, linger for a few moments, then subside.

It was along haul, sure, and at around the 2 1/2 hour mark, I felt myself  beginning to flag but managed a second wind and had no trouble sailing to the finish. It was a relaxed situation, with visitors encouraged to come and go, to roam around the gallery. The audience fluctuated from 2 to 10 or  so for the most part,  though at the piece's conclusion, there may have  been 20 at hand. Myself and one other stalwart fellow were the only ones, apart from the superb performers, to last the duration. More than worth it, a beautiful experience. Here's hoping more such events take place up in this neck of the woods.

I see bent Duo is doing a Sarah Hennies piece at Dimenna in NYC next weekend. Do yourselves a favor and check them out.

Bent Duo

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Bertrand Denzler - Arc (Potlatch)

Denzler has created a few of my favorite pieces of music over the last 5 - 10 years, always pushing into areas one doesn't expect, especially from an improvising saxophonist. Here, he enlists the aid of the group, CoÔ, made up of the string section of the fine Ensemble ONCEIM (Patricia Bosshard, violin; Cyprien Busolini, viola; Élodie Gaudet, viola; Anaïs Moreau, cello; Félicie Bazelaire, double bass; Benjamin Duboc, double bass; Frédéric Marty, double bass) in the production of two dense, mysterious and rich works, 'Arc 1.1' and 'Arc 2.1'.

The first is a series of grainy, complex swatches of bowed tones, undulating internally, shifting ground in a fascinating manner, some voices ascending, some static, some shifting unpredictably, the whole emerging as a kind of material--I think of a fabric but one that has the complexity of stone if that makes any sense. There's something of a Niblockian aspect, but smaller scale and isolated, allowing for great penetration into each morsel, at the same time allowing them to be considered side by side as the work progresses. The predominance of low strings provides a wonderful, thick bedrock as well. 'Arc 2.1' is a kind of diptych, the sound unbroken for the first half of its 23 minutes, a brief pause, then continuing. The low, surging lines sound like dopplered airplane engines, the higher strings swirling and eddying like avian murmurations, fluctuating in a seeming random manner but evoking a difficult-to-pin-down logic, ranging ever higher and wispier. Again, the spirit of Niblock seems to hover but Denzler has found his own domain and applied a very fine ear to the strings, the ensemble brilliantly reacting to his requests.

Wonderful, entrancing music--a great job all around.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

(cribbed from my fb post)

fwiw, not that it's news of much import, I'm again planning to drastically scale down my reviewing activity. Hard to say how much, just that I'm less and less inclined to spend the time writing about work that doesn't *really* hit home (as is the case with these two). I've been turning aside more and more in recent months and expect that trend to continue. All of which is to say, dear musicians and label owners, please bear this in mind and act (or not) accordingly. I hugely appreciate your allowing me to hear so much amazing music over the years but can't promise anything in the way of returns for (at least) the near future. Too much reading, watching, painting, living and simply listening for pleasure to get done... 

Lance Austin Olsen - Look at the Mouth That Is Looking at You (Infrequency)

When I listen to a piece for the first time, I like to do so with as few bits of advanced knowledge as possible. I'll know the composer/instrumentalists, label, etc. but I'd rather not know the conception or "story" until later. With this work, conceived by Olsen (voice, guitar, amplified objects, field recordings) and wonderfully realized with Debora Alanna (piano, organ), Erin Cunes (voice) and John Luna (voice), I received a strong sense of narrative, of an epic journey of sorts, somewhere into the north. I flashed on William Vollmann's 'The Ice Shirt' a number of times. It stretches over 77 minutes, in three pieces titled, 'The Event', 'The Descent' and 'Lost' and among the many threads running through, three are sounds I think of as dockside, like ice-bound boats being softly buffeted against piers. How to describe? The keyboard parts are slow, rich and melodic, seeming like snatches of existing songs or hymns. Luna's voice is often listing words, as from an interior inventory ("deck...mind..sim..rah-sim...mind...") while Cunes sings clearly and ethereally. Voices appear like ghostly, hollow whispers, chilly and hard. Sometimes there are tinges of Ashley but more remote, odder.

When one reads Olsen's notes and comes to realize that the basis for the work was a stroke suffered by a friend of his, Craig, and that the piece is meant as a kind of portrait ("He is here--in these notebooks and in this score"), the sounds necessarily acquire whole other connotations, yet that initial (unsubstantiated) impression lingers, a kind of filter through which I hear the "real" meaning. I find this fascinating and hope Olsen doesn't mind my "input", so to speak, as listener. Whatever the case, it's a fantastic, enchanting, bitter, mysterious work, unlike anything I've heard in a while. Very special.

Infrequency Editions

d'incise - Assemblée, relâche, réjouissance, parade (Insub/Moving Furniture)

As has generally been the case in the last ten or so years, a new release from d'incise comes as a gentle and intriguing surprise. The disc is in two sections: a four-part suite titled, 'L'Anglard de St- Donat' and a two-part work called 'Le Désir' ('certain' and 'serein'). 'L'Anglard de St-Donat's four to six minutes portions are apparently based on the mazurka form, though this listener couldn't discern that relationship. Instead, we hear ringing, sometimes subtly piercing sustained tones derived at leas in part from bowed metal. As intense as they are, they're never without some kind of tonal basis, sometimes, as in the second part, even appearing in sequences of notes that might just about qualify as a melody (I imagine this is one evocation of the mazurka). The third has organ like chords billowing up gently and acquiring a bristly layer of fuzz before being responded to with patient, deep string plucks while the final section has clearer organ tones accompanied by a worried seesaw from bowed metal or string. The whole suite is heady, contemplative and absorbing.

'Désir' is a very different creature, performed live on "detuned/retuned" organ along with bowed metal sticks. On the first part, a steady, almost lilting three-note melody/rhythm is heard, a sequence that turns oddly queasy with the introduction of slightly off-pitch metal. One feels as though on a rocking boat, nausea filtering in around the edges. d'incise switches to a different three-note pattern a third of the way through, more propulsive, the music acquiring something of a Tony Conrad aura, the bowed metal sounding like axles struggling along under a heavy weight. The rhythm shifts once again in the final third (the pice runs 15 minutes) into a more sing-songy, stationary mode, content to wobble back and forth beneath the soft moans until cutting out entirely. Excellent work. 'Serein' is indeed serene in the sense that a consistent, single note is struck, about once every two seconds, over a steady reed bed, but the keening tones of the metal are more splintered, even anguished, writhing. Over the last minute, the organ disappears, the metal curling smokelike and acrid, into the sky.


Moving Furniture

Friday, May 17, 2019

A.F. Jones - Bourdon du Kinzie (Unfathomless)

A.F. Jones - For Eschrichtiidae (Omniana) (Taâlem)

Having known Al Jones and his history so well over the past almost two decades, it's always difficult--impossible, really--to listen to his sound constructions without performing an image overlay with his long career in the navy, especially his subsurface activity with sonar while spending extended periods of time on a submarine. Listening to the opening few minutes of 'Bourdon du Kinzie' (Battery Kinzie, in Port Townsend, Washington was the source site for the sounds here), one can quite easily imaging oneself submerging, the aural activity of the upper world being washed out in deep gurgles, swamped by tones of water, rendering all sounds strangely and aqueously refracted. The environment soon turns cavernous, stone walls vibrating with energy from hidden turbines; a photo shows Jones pressing a mic against one such old, stained wall. This seemingly distant activity buffets against bangs and dull scrapes right next to one's ears--eerie and very effective. The piece lingers in this general area for a good while, expanding into adjacent zones filled with sandy rubbings, deep, heady thrums and more. It blurs out a bit, echoes of watery voices offset by indecipherable much closer utterances. Just as the listener is settling into a kind of edgy comfort zone, a few minutes from the disc's conclusion, there's an enormous, deafening series of bangs and groans, as though the hide of a battleship is being rent (there's even a Godzilla-sounding moan or two). A dramatic and thrilling climax to a very fine release.

The title of the single track on the 3" disc 'For Eschrichtiidae (Omniana)' is '48°06'48"N 122°45'19"W', also an area  somewhere in northwest Washington state, while Eschrichtiidae is a gray whale (baleen). There's water to be heard, but here in the form of rain falling heavily on a hard surface, perhaps metal. A bit before the halfway mark, the precipitation ceases and one hears a haze of machinery, maybe HVAC units or heating generators. A harsh kind of crackling takes over, difficult to ascertain the source (I thought briefly of the clicks made by whales, though that doesn't seem likely). A gradual diminution of sound begins, as of some smoothly whirring motor very slowly disappearing into fog, interrupted by soft splashes of water. It's very obscure, mysterious and disappears abruptly before the listener can pin down any definitive meaning. Fascinating and oddly provocative.


Taâlem @ bandcamp

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Endlessness (anòmia)

The concluding segment of Costa Monteiro's trilogy for electric organ, this LP presents two works. Both are steady-state, drone-like pieces, both deeply layered. The dominant sound is in the higher registers, warbling slightly and even a bit shrill, but there are so many things going on below and around it. Swells appear, attain some prominence, submerge again. Almost like focussing your depth of vision, you can almost choose to hear certain strands  at the "expense" of others--it sometimes seems like you can will things into existence. I'm not sure if this is possible to perform live but, if so, it's tantalizing to imagine these sounds swirling around and through one's membranes.

Yet another strong work in the extraordinary catalog of Costa Monteiro.

anòmia at bandcamp

Mariska Baars/Rutger Zuydervelt - eau (Machinefabriek)

A dreamy half-hour spent floating with Baars and Zuydervelt. Baars' lovely voice is overlaid, enhanced and manipulated in, I imagine, many ways--though never losing its essential "song" sound--sometimes seeming to be singing in some imaginary language and woven among (appropriately) liquid electronic textures, what sounds like backward guitars and doubtless much more. Given the title and cover image, the result is almost a kind of program music, as one easily imagines diaphanous water spirits wafting through the azure, drifting slowly down into the ever-darkening blue. A few surprising and mysteriously sharp clicks transpire later in the piece--sonar pings, perhaps. Distant voices? Boat motors? Hard to tell as one's senses have numbed somewhat. Ambient done right, well worth a listen.

Machinefabriek at bandcamp

Tarab - Housekeeping (sonic rubbish)

Tarab (Eamon Sprod) has always been a unique organizer of found sound and field recordings, back as far as his first recording, 'Surfacedrift' (2004). 'Housekeeping' continues down that path, this time employing, as one might surmise from the cover image, numerous items accumulated in his home over the years. Sometimes the sounds are more or less recognizable--the clatter of smallish, thin metallic items such as silverware--often they are not. The cascade of noise that greets the ear on the first track is wondrous, especially when experienced at high volume. Tarab manages to attain extreme degrees of depth and transparency while maintaining sonic richness--a seriously impressive range of timbres. It's kind of thrilling, in fact, not an adjective normally applied to field recording collages, but this has the hurtling excitement of a dangerous amusement park ride (alternatively, like running with scissors). The second track contains a greater ration of hums and deep rumbles, sourced from who knows where. The edits throughout are excellently chosen, suddenly shifting to blurred conversation, back into a hyperactive and explosive kitchen, back into billowy, dark clouds; the disc ends in a buzzsaw--or a blender. Excellent work.

sonic rubbish

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Pareidolia - Selon le Vent (JACC)

Pareidolia: The tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image or pattern in a random or ambiguous visual or sound image. Good word, glad to know it and, clearly, a meaningful one in this neck of the woods. This Pareidolia, however, is a trio comprised of Joāo Camões (viola), Gabriel Lemaire (alto and baritone saxophones, alto clarinet) and Yves Arques (piano, prepared piano) with Alvaro Rosso (double bass) on the second of two works.

The first track, 'Himmelskino', is a fine mix of free playing and vague nods to tradition, especially from the viola. Lemaire's saxophonics are discreet, burbling and obligingly grimy and the trio creates an invigorating space that, while relatively active, feels uncrowded. Arques' piano is also a highlight, with very well deployed, resonant bell tones appearing near the end. A very satisfying work. The other piece, 'Herzkino', at first strays a bit far, for these ears, into that busier strain of improv where things become somewhat fussy, though Camōes gets into some strong playing that evokes Leroy Jenkins. Eventually, it settles into a calm, steady flow, calm enough that I'm reminded of, perhaps, late 70s Garbarek. An odd direction to take, one that doesn't quite do it for me, but the trio (and quartet) is intriguing enough to warrant a listen and to keep an eye on.

JACC at bandcamp

Anne F. Jacques/Ryoko Akama/Takamitsu Ohta - The Magic City (Hasana Editions)

Given the title, I thought this might be a Sun Ra tribute but, in fact, the two pieces were performed shortly after the death of Takehisa Kosugi in October, 2018 and dedicated to his memory. The trio use an array of small, everyday objects, a melodica and some electronics to fashion bustling, mini-landscapes. I wasn't familiar with Ohta's work, but from what I'd heard of Jacques', the resultant sounds seem midway between her usual approach (relatively dense and noisy) and Akama's (sparse and serene). 'Chris in the magic city' is like lifting a stone and watching an ant's nest. Quiet scurrying, a general overall pattern or set of sequences but varying immensely within that. Rattles, clicks, scrapes, the odd melodica passage, all unforced, as easily listened to intently as allowed to become part of one's environment. The general approach of 'Holly in the city magic' is more or less similar though the palette has changed to include lightly popping sounds, some slight whoosh in the background and an essentially more up front feeling--not aggressive but brighter, even a bit acid. If the previous track was formic, this one's like a hive of iridescent beetles. Fine, subtly unusual work.

Hasana Editions

Will Guthrie - Some Nasty (Hasana Editions)

As nasty as he wants to be, I suppose, but not nearly as much so as I expected. Guthrie's more than capable of laying down extremely nasty (not to say, brutal) drumming but actually reins himself in quite a bit here. His vaunted precision is still in effect but he shows a much lighter touch than, say, with Ames Room or on several solo projects. Two side-long tracks (though fairly brief, at 13-14 minutes each) which are more or less suites, with Guthrie utilizing a substantial amount of electronics, field recordings and various gamelan-related percussion in addition to his drum set. Side A begins with some rapid fire electronica, bells and sizzling drum work. This ceases abruptly and we're suddenly in a steamy Javanese environment, all soft, hazy bells and background hiss and grumble. Possibly the nastiest part occurs next, Guthrie (?) reciting some text in a strangulated, distorted matter followed by abused metal and harsh ripping, tearing noises and more. Side B begins with cloudy gongs, bells, light drums and electronics, growing  progressively denser and denser before moving into a little bit of straight up funk, then settling down again into Southeast Asia with beautiful wood blocks sounding over LP scratching and other shards of percussion and finally a great section for drums with gamelan. Good work, unexpected and invigorating.

Hasana Editions

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Vertical Music is a new cassette label based in Milan, run by Ludwig Berger. A few words on their initial three releases below.

Rubén D'Hers - Bolero Transparente (Vertical Music)

Three pieces for solo acoustic guitar. The works are inspired by the  "Bolero" song movement of the 70s, something I'm (blessedly?) unaware of but which, I gather, were very popular in D'Hers' native Venezuela among other places. I'm guessing they were quite the romantic/schmaltzy production numbers but D'Hers strips things down drastically, taking single notes and chords, playing them clearly, allowing them to suspend in space, quavering and bending gently, once in a while containing an echo of Hawaiian music. The first track, 'Romantic Chord Puzzle', outlines this approach. The chords and occasional arpeggios are independent, perhaps sourced from a sequence of otherwise unrelated songs. They hang, sometimes retuned, sometimes not, softly reverberating, their inherent richness tempered into a very attractive solemnity. The briefer 'Disipador de Tensión' moves things outside, the sounds of urban buzz and conversation forming a backdrop to guitar sounds that are similar to the first track, but more internally related, less disparate, almost a self-contained song--very lovely. Side B is taken up by the title track wherein the suspension is lengthened, allowing sections of silence between, and the timbre is roughened somewhat. This brings the music into significantly different and rewarding territory. The balance between the clear sustains and the sizzle and distortion around the edges is wonderful. Excellent work all around, check it out.

Jen Reimer/Max Stein - Sounding the City (Vertical Music)

Reimer and Stein do site-specific sound installations, generally urban, wherein the add to the existing soundscape with electronics of a drone-like nature. I was most often reminded if Max Neuhaus installations, like the one in Times Square, New York City. The seventeen tracks here are titled by their locations and seem to be simply recorded extracts of the environment. These recordings are quite clear and full. Usually, one can pick out the additions from Reimer and Stein, relatively unobtrusive hums and tones, though sometimes these are (apparently) masked to a great extent--or you're hearing them without being able to distinguish between sources. This makes it difficult to determine whether the pair is operating along the lines of, say, Michael Pisaro's 'Transparent Cities' series, where sine tones were chosen to, as much as possible, align up with the environmental sounds, or like Neuhaus and others where the additions were meant to subtly enhance or tinge the surroundings, whether consciously perceived or otherwise. In a recorded format, the listener is, of course, at a necessary disadvantage and I can easily imagine, in situ, an entirely different experience, probably a vastly more rewarding one. As is, the pieces make for engaging listening, not a problem at all, just a nagging sense that one is missing something.

Ludwig Berger - Inumaki, Esuzaki (Vertical Music)

The inumaki tree is a variety of small pine native to southern Japan and  China; its miniature version is popular as a kind of bonsai tree. For this very obscure recording, Berger used a contact mic on such a tree (on Esuzaki Island) during a strong wind. I said "obscure" above as the resultant sounds bear no obvious relationship with either trees or wind. Instead, we have a series of consistent but irregularly spaced "cries", a sound I might have guessed was from some exotic bird, a kind of howler monkey or a single-string bowed instrument like an erhu, or even a slightly hoarse shakuhachi. The sounds are short, clear, a little mournful with something of a descending line, somewhere between a whistle and a resonant scraping. In the background, you can just discern the sound of wind. I'm guessing one is hearing the same wind pass through the tree, the recording having been pared down to just the sound we hear here, though I'm not sure. There are occasional variations during the hour duration of the work, small clicks, rumblings and hollow taps, even the odd flatulent eruption. It's a challenging piece but one I found strangely absorbing. Little occurs but something about what I take to be the natural rhythm of the interaction between wind and tree, I found compelling.

Vertical Music at bandcamp

Friday, April 26, 2019

Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall (Bohemian Drips)

A site-specific work by Kerbaj, scored for 49 trumpets (seven groups of seven) to be performed in the Großer Wasserspeicher (Big Reservoir) of Berlin-Pankow. Not that it matters, but only a handful of the trumpeters (Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Tom Arthurs, Nikolaus Neuser) on this LP were familiar to me--but the music is entirely a group effort. Kerbaj takes as his initial inspiration the biblical story of the Walls of Jericho and their subsequent tumbling, mapping it onto current or near-pst situations such as the Berlin Wall, Israel's wall of separation or Trump's proposed border wall, with the goal of hoping that music can help eliminate these barriers. The work is in several sections, beginning with a host of clicking sounds, moving on to sweeping breath tones (49 trumpets can create quite a wind storm), gradually introducing shofar-like calls and then purer brass notes and finally shouts of "Walls will fall!". The Großer Wasserspeicher is quite a unique space, structurally and sonically, so the home listener necessarily loses a good deal of the experience (though the video excerpt below gives you something more of the idea) but still, the massive reverberation of the buzzing of the horns is very impressive. 

Hannes Lingens - Pieces for Percussion (Umlaut)

I've always enjoyed, on recording and in live performance, Lingens' sense of restraint as a percussionist, his willingness to concentrate on single aspects of his kit and investigate them with care and patience. This LP continues that practice. The opening, 'Cymbal I', is ninety seconds of "simple" dulled taps on a cymbal (or gong), irregularly spaced and vaguely connotative of ritual; quite moving. 'Goofy Footer' involves dense washes of cymbals (for four players, it's overdubbed by Lingens here) that accumulate and disperse in waves throughout the piece. The next, the first of two versions of 'Arhythmic Perfection' is for bells, exhibiting a similar quasi-rhythm as was heard in the first work, extremely natural and engaging. 'Etwas Runder IV', closing the first side, is an extended snare roll within which Lingens constructs all manner of pulses and ripples, really fascinating, with more colors than you could possibly anticipate. Much of Side Two is given over to 'Four Cymbals'. an exercise in everyone's least favorite avant-percussionist technique, cymbal bowing. But Lingens pulls it off quite well, layering the tones, which range from high (but not shrilly piercing) to very low, creating a taffy-like flow. The final piece, 'Early Spring', is a lovely outlier, consisting of a field recording (or two), outdoors, with children, birds and others in the distance. The only contribution from Lingens that I can discern (I think) is a periodic low, woody tone. Wonderful work all around. 

Tomaso Corbetta - wakes in emptiness (self-released)

Doing a post-AMM soundscape and doing it right. Corbetta, a new name to me, combines thin layers of disparate sounds, many lightly percussive in nature, into an engaging, somewhat bleak, uncluttered essay, a fairly quiet, somberly industrial, nocturnal plain. There are many elements, including captures from short wave radios of Russian (?) speech and vague, distant snatches of music, some ritual chanting, embedded in an environment that's electronic at heart but not overwhelmingly so, a very nice balance. The percussive sounds, lightly abutting metals, skitters of wood on metal, etc. emerge and recede, often layered but, again, never cloying, always transparent and set within the space, not atop it. Corbetta's choices made along the way feel natural and unforced, resulting in an engaging, immersive amble, driven by a subtle, hard to explicate sense of narrative. Excellent work, give a listen.

Corbetta on bandcamp

Monday, April 22, 2019

Yan Jun/Jason Kahn - None of Us (Herbal International)

Five tracks from a vocal duo of Yan Jun and Jason Kahn during 2016, four short ones (one to three minutes) and one lengthy one running over 36 minutes, except...their vocals have been erased, leaving only the sounds that occurred in either Yan Jun's flat as they rehearsed (racks 1-3) or in the concert venue (4-5). For the shorter tracks this means, largely, the shuffling of feet, the gentle bumping together of unknown objects, etc. The longer cut was pieced together from five events, so one hears differences of general ambience and hushed conversations (presumably from audience members) in addition to the dull clicks and thuds. There are sections of near-silence, occasionally followed by a brief, startling in context, burst of applause and perhaps some post-concert, blurred general discussion. It's kind of an interesting idea--though the sort of thing that can and should only be done once (which is fine)--and even works a little if put on at low volume and not paid strict attention to, allowing it to blend in with one's environment.

Burkhard Beins/Mazen Kerbaj/Michael Vorfeld - Sawt Out (Herbal International)

An improv set with two percussionists (Beins and Vorfeld) and a trumpeter (Kerbaj). I'm attracted to that instrumental combination for some reason and the range of sounds created here, the thick matrix constructed between struck and stroked objects and the panoply of breath-derived brass sounds is quite impressive and enjoyable. The aural field is full, active and churning with little regard for silence--in this sense, it's a kind of extension of jazz-derived free improv, though of a thicker aspect, less scurrying, more grinding. 'Solid Water' features an intense, swirling sound the source of which I can't guess--it seems to be electronic, though nothing such is credited, but could be from the trumpet. In any case, it's pretty riveting and when it becomes increasingly embedded in the emergence of multiple cymbals/gongs, the effect is quite strong, made more so by its eventual abrupt cessation. 'Crossfeed" contains some searing bow-on-metal work through which one can just discern pop music from a radio buried in the mix, again developing a rich, unusual tone-world. The finely titled, 'Sore Toad' closes the disc with an engaging clatter of bells and thudding noises. While part of me would have liked to hear more space, more reticence, this set works quite well on its own terms and will certainly be enjoyed by listeners with a taste for active, visceral improv.

Christian Kobi/Christian Müller - A Second Day (Herbal International)

Five tracks of improvisation from Kobi (soprano saxophone) and Müller (sampled bass clarinet and electronics). As opposed to the album reviewed above, this combination, at least as realized here, doesn't sit as well with me. The soprano is generally strained (intentionally, no doubt) and the sampled electronics possess a kind of Ina GRM-y sheen that has never appealed to me. That said, there's a kind of delicate fragmentation at work here that's well-formed, spiky and colorful. The fourth track (cuts are numbered #1 - #5) ameliorates this, resulting in a very fine flow, a stream interrupted by chirps, buzzes, pops and other welcome detritus, very absorbing. The final track almost seems to be a reconciliation of these two approaches and works as well, combining the harsh spikiness with a sandpapery, staggered kind of flow. As a whole, the recording is hit and miss to these ears but ably accomplished and should appeal, among others, to admirers of Noetinger, eRikm and similar musicians striding the border between improv and contemporary electronics.

Herbal International

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Eric La Casa/Eamon Sprod - Friche: Transition (Swarming)

This release has special resonance for me as the sounds were recorded in and around the neighborhood in Paris where I lived for two years (and where La Casa resides). We spent many a day walking and biking along the Canal Ourcq, both inside the city proper (within the Périphérique) and out into the banlieues of Pantin, Bobigny and beyond. La Casa and Sprod (perhaps better known by his nom de musique, Tarab), wandered along the canal as well as the abandoned railway, known as La Petite Ceinture, which circles Paris, largely underground but exposed at several points including in the northeast section of the Parc Buttes-Chaumont and at several other points in the XIX and XX arrondissements, including a bridge over the canal. The recordings were made in 2015 and processed over the last couple of years.

As is generally the case with La Casa's work (Sprod's as well, to the extent I'm aware of it, mostly from work done ten to fifteen years ago, although there's a new one from him as well that I'll get to soon), the sounds captured and presented walk a line between the mundane and the mysterious. That is to say, the sources are everyday, grimy, urban--things that occur routinely all around us, but are morphed into precision sound worlds that isolate, combine, make transparent, add vast depth to the ordinary, making them alien and wonderful. Here, they apparently dwelled in waste areas, the cover image showing garbage behind a scrim of dried branches. Bumps, rustles, gurgles, metallic bangs, wires zinging, clicks, obscure screeches--the world is rich in noise, clear deep and not a little troubling. The way the four tracks have been structured also strikes a fine balance between seeming randomness and implied narrative, the final track closing the expedition with an explosive, dynamic flourish.

Fine work indeed.

Swarming (bandcamp)

Cristián Alvear - Seis Pequeñas Para Guitarra (Zoomin' Night)

Known primarily as an interpreter of others' music, including composers associate with the Wandelweiser group, Alvear creates a good deal of music on his own. This cassette collection of six pieces for solo guitar is an excellent example. The music is easy enough to describe but another matter to describe the effect and experience. Alvear is exceedingly clear--he plays single notes, tonal and warm, in a slow but regular cadence, sometimes leaving them hanging, sometimes accompanying them with a second tone, sometimes playing arpeggios, letting them shimmer for several seconds, as in 'III' here, elsewhere cycles of four notes with additional, irregular accents. The pitches chosen will usually generate gentle overtones and pulses and while one sequence will be repeated quite often, when Alvear shifts the pitch, the difference is both striking and, oddly, emotional, as though the listener's sympathies have been discreetly constructed all along, without one's noticing. While contemplativeness is present throughout, the mood changes from brighter to more somber ('V'). The final track, 'VI', one of the cyclic pieces, bears a trace of a Chinese scale, perhaps a nod to the label, which stems from Beijing. As with all the works here, one might indeed make some kind of analogy to classic Chinese ink brush drawing--I can think of worse comparisons. A very beautiful release, highly recommended.

Zoomin' Night (bandcamp)

Masayuki Imanishi/Marco Serrato - Caura (tsss tapes)

Imanishi uses field recordings as well but unlike, say La Casa above, I think (no details provided on this cassette release) that they're deployed in a realtime improvisatory manner, here accompanied by bassist Serrato. This creates an atmosphere that, going from what I can discern of Serrato's attack (I don't believe I've encountered him--or Imanishi--prior), has tinges of free improvisation, or even free jazz. Serrato uses plenty of extended techniques, sawing and agitating his bass in a manner that wouldn't be out of place in a duo with, say, Han Bennink or Jack Wright. But embedded in the swirling, thick swarms of noise generated by Imanishi (from sources difficult to identify), the bass can possibly be heard as an anguished soloist in front of and within this quasi-orchestral morass, especially on '#1'. On the second side of the tape, the bass is more out front and Serrato evinces some impressive ideas, harsh and abstract. Imanishi's contributions are lighter, more ethereal, even a tad spacey for my taste. But as the track progresses, this aspect dissipates and smoother, grainy and complex flow emerges, the bass settling in to scratch and paw behind and beside, and the music achieves a satisfying level of fluttery tastiness.

tsss tapes

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Magnus Granberg/Skogen - Nun, es wird nicht weit mehr gehn (Another Timbre)

The English translation I found most apt for the title of this disc (a line from 'Die Krähe', from Schubert's 'Winterreise') was, "Well, it will not go much further", though the composer uses, "Now, there won't be much more walking". Combined with a perusal of the lovely painting by Julius von Leypold, depicting a man walking through a blustery landscape, I found this helpful in discerning a way around and through Granberg's music, something that's given me a certain amount of difficulty in the past. Much of that "problem" (surely more my issue than a general one) was ascertaining a structure that I could grasp onto. By approaching the music as a kind of walk, with little or no expectation of points of particular interest, simply getting into the rhythm of certain quasi-regularities--the path, the growth along the sides, the odd stone of tree--I found it an engaging, rewarding experience.

For this recording, Skogen is essentially a nonet with strings and percussion, consisting of Anna Lindal (violin), Angharad Davies (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello), Erik Carlsson (percussion), John Eriksson (vibraphone, whistling), Henrik Olsson (percussion, objects, contact mics), Petter Wästberg (objects, contact mics, mixing board), d'incise (electronics, objects) and Granberg (prepared piano). I have no idea about the score or instructions therein, but in one sense--not a negative one--the music meanders for its 56 minutes, or perhaps it's better to say that it ambles, slowly. There are small quasi-rhythms scattered throughout, from a tapping right at the beginning to various vibraphone and piano sequences, patterns I equate with steps taken by the walker, going for a bit, pausing for a look at something, continuing. These sharper sounds weave their way through a haze of lines from the strings, maybe light, cold rainfall. There's an amount of stasis, the kind of sameness (though, of course not sameness) one might experience walking through a purportedly nondescript field. Soft gongs answer birdsong, the landscape drifts by, dulcet here, more acerbic there. Released steam, the rattle of branches in the oncoming wind. It's really like a closely observed, sensitively experienced stroll through space. In the last few minutes, there's a wonderful set of brief cadences on medium low percussion (tablas?), an entirely beguiling sound. I felt as though I'd found an especially beautiful stone or a centuries old coin.

Excellent work, attentively and sympathetically played by the ensemble.

Another Timbre

Monday, April 15, 2019

Klaus Lang/Golden Fur - Beissel (Another Timbre)

Georg Conrad Beissel (1691 - 1768) was an odd bird. Born in Germany, he emigrated to the New World, settling in Pennsylvania with like-minded religious...extremists to await the Second Coming. During this inevitably disappointing period, he established a community at Ephrata, Pennsylvania which, while somewhat in line with other such ascetic groups, was modeled on proto-socialist principles and was an early adopter of vegetarianism. More to the point of this release, Beissel developed a unique form of musical composition, one he said was inspired by mystical experiences via angels, which relied on "predetermined sequences of 'master notes' and 'servant notes' to create harmony", a system that some say anticipated serialism.

Klaus Lang (organ) and Golden Fur (Samuel Dunscombe, clarinets; Judith Hamann, cello; James Rushford, viola and harmonium) have collaborated on a unique and ravishing work that takes aspects of Beissel's music as a starting point and expands outward from there. The organ used by Lang resides in the abbey at St. Lambrecht in Styria, Austria and its sound surfaces throughout the recording. For all its apparent structural differences, the underlying character of the Beissel hymn that the quartet elaborates on seems to share some tonal characteristics with those in the standard Protestant repertoire, works by Wesley and others. As mentioned by Dunscombe in the interview on the Another Timbre page, they took a hymn and elongated it, stretched it out over some 41 minutes. The abbey interior is apparent from the first moments, the soft, drifting notes floating like mist in a shadowed space. When the organ enters at full steam about four minutes in, it is indeed a transfigurative moment--one can almost imagine an angelic apparition. The hymn is embedded in this fog, stretched and pulled (gently). The strings swaddle it, prodding it along, defining its limits as best they can. There's something almost anamorphic about the piece, its fundamentally recognizable attributes (especially to those of us reared in that tradition) skewed and extended. Some of the sonorities achieved (from whence, I've little idea, though certainly the organ is involved) like the deep growl that emerges around the ten-minute mark, are in and of themselves astounding, so deeply rich. There are long sections of near stasis in the middle of the work  filled with tiny fluctuations and gradual attenuation, including one with the surprising introduction of bell tones. Toward the piece's conclusion, the quartet returns to a clearer exposition of the hymn, still attractively warped but calmer, more "at home".

A brilliant idea and recording, one of the more striking pieces of music I've heard in recent months.

Another Timbre

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Julius Eastman/Apartment House - Femenine (Another Timbre)

The last few years have seen a small but welcome surge in recordings of Julius Eastman's music, music that had been ignored or lost for decades. As there are a limited number of compositions available, some in fragmentary form, we can expect to hear multiple readings of a given work. In 2016, Frozen Reeds released a 1974 recording of 'Femenine' by the S.E.M. Ensemble (of which Eastman was a co-founding member). This recording, as near as I can determine, is the only one that's been realized since then.

Listening to that 1974 performance, one gets something of the spirit of the 1968 recording of Terry Riley's masterwork, 'In C', the steady piano replaced by sleigh bells (also recalling the maracas in Reich's 'Four Organs'). Here, there are no cells of mini-passages to be read through in sequence, the number of repeats to be determined by each musician, but the iterated vibraphone line has something of the same utopian sensibility, a kind of joyous fanfare, echoed and accented by strings and the piano. There's a fine balance between the rigor maintained by the vibraphone line and the expansiveness generated by the other instruments as they, one gets the sense, feed off of it, but their growth patterns possess an attractive/ungainly almost vegetative complexity.

For this session, Apartment House consisted of Simon Limbrick (vibraphone), Kerry Yong (piano), Mark Knoop (keyboard), Mira Benjamin (violin), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello), Emma Williams (flute) and Gavin Morrison (flute). The first noticeable difference is that the vibraphone is somewhat more muted, less brash, sacrificing perhaps a bit of bravado for a more contemplative feeling, a move I quite like. When the piano enters with low tolls, they're also less dense, somehow more thoughtful, conveying a gradual sense of unfolding. There's a substantially greater clarity in the recording. For example, there are many piano lines that may well have occurred in the S.E.M. session but which I certainly couldn't pick up--they're perfectly clear here and add greatly to the depth of the work. At the small cost of, perhaps, doing away with a bit of the ecstatic component present in the initial recording (maybe due, in part, to the sheer newness of the work at the time), Apartment House has achieved a limpidity, delicacy and breadth that I find more rewarding, allowing multiple re-listens that expose new layers and relationships every time through. The more languid passages that start up around the 55-minute mark here are just luscious. The whole piece not only breathes but gets up and scampers.

A beautiful realization and a must for those who have become enamored of Eastman's work in recent years.

Another Timbre

Friday, April 12, 2019

Vanessa Rossetto - you and i are earth (Tone Glow)

It's been ten years or more, I think, since I received a package in the mail from some hitherto unknown person in Texas, said package bearing three CDs in black sleeves, the discs sporting the odd titles, 'Imperial Brick', 'Whoreson in the Wilderness' and 'Misafridal'.  I was pretty knocked out by these very fresh, dense works from Vanessa Rossetto combining viola, found sounds, tapes and much more. The intervening decade has yielded much more fantastic music from Rossetto and this one continues that fine lineage.

'you and i are earth' is the first release on Joshua Kim's new label, Tone Glow--an auspicious beginning. No extra information is provided as to sources and methods, leaving your hapless reviewer to make assumptions that will doubtless turn out wrong but I would often rather just go from my ears than ask questions, so...there are four works. 'the dirt' commences with the reminiscences of an elderly women, apparently recalling her experiences in London during the Blitz. This segues into a dense, wooly rumble, a typically (for Rossetto) complex stew made up of who knows how many elements; something very propulsive and surging about it despite the lack of anything resembling a beat. We hear faint echoes of sirens, muted string music, someone singing 'The White Cliffs of Dover' and much, much more, beautifully layered in. There's a wonderful breadth to the piece, a sense of scanning history, sometimes clearly, sometimes murkily. It ends with a male voice repeating, "All clear". 'a flower arrangement (pro eto 1)', is a fascinating, quasi-drone piece, subdued, made up of several layers of buzzing tones, more than several I think as you pick up strand upon strand when listening closely--some electronic hums, others like strings vibrating against resonant surfaces. Concise, eerie and compelling. The title cut stands apart a bit, and is my favorite of this excellent set. Starting with a hymn on church bells ("The Church's One Foundation"?), it melts into what sounds like multiple lines sourced from strings, some possibly Rossetto's own viola, some from elsewhere (?), the whole forming a very complex but graspable thread--or rope--, deep bass bowings coming in, seesawing underneath more anxious playing atop--a really marvelous and slightly unnerving concoction. 'a garden (pro eto 2)' closes the album softly, though nervously enough with dry, lightly touched viola over a more tonal bed of string chords, voices joining as if from some ethereal choir, eventually just a mix of strings, gorgeous and creamy, forming unusual and enticing tonalities as they overlap and ultimately fade.

Tremendous work, highly recommended.

Tone Glow