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.
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.
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.