Monday, February 17, 2020

A few brief words on twelve new releases from Edition Wandelweiser, music that spans a very wide territory. No images this time because, well, they're Wandelweiser covers....(though the Möller/Ragab sleeve contains an actual photo...)

Tomás Cabado - historia de la luz: cuaderno de guitarra

Eight pieces for two guitars, performed by the composer and Catriel Nievas. The guitars are either electric or amplified acoustic, I think, and the pieces tend toward long, clear tones alongside hazier ones, suspended amidst the space in the room. Sometimes, "simple" lines are unfurled, even ones that resemble scales. When overlapping, the two guitars will often create piquant harmonics. You hear the room in Buenos Aires, distant dogs. The sounds are forceful and rich, even occasionally piercing, but always serene and unhurried. Like a close-in hearing of water droplets on metal, the final drops massive in context. Lovely.

Bruno Duplant/Pierre Gerard - soleil clandestin

A collaborative set of five soundscapes from Duplant and Gerard, sharing duties on "abstract" voices,  guitar, electronics, field recordings and percussion. The pieces are mysterious, sometimes  verging on the ritual-sounding, with random soft clattering and bumping offset by the deep tones of struck metal, perhaps bells of some kind. A guitar pokes through with surprising spikiness and, later, voices. This creates an oddly bumpy kind of terrain, with sounds that have a kind of separateness, giving the aural space a thick weave, like heavy material with holes. The voices can be a little...disquieting. I don't think I've previously heard Gerard's music so can't say how this fits in with prior work but it stands apart somewhat from Duplant's oeuvre, at least that portion of which I'm aware.

Jürg Frey - fields, traces, clouds

Three works recorded by ordinary affects (Luke Martin, electric guitar; Laura Cetilia, cello; P.A. Falzone, piano/vibraphone; Morgan Evans-Weiler, violin) with Frey on clarinet. The piece have the kind of calm, extremely thoughtful stance that I love so in Frey's music, something he gets at in the liner notes involving fallow land, the notion of walking in an environment and allowing inspiration to occur. The atmosphere is apparent from the opening track (the title composition) and comes to the fore in the final one, 'floating categories', where the streets of Cambridge are very much a sixth member of the ensemble. The melodies (and they are melodies, I think; toward the end of 'fields, traces, clouds', there's a passage that almost evokes a sunrise) are slow, even stately, the strings often grainy on their own--quite beautiful--but when they overlap with the other instruments, the effect is stunning. All the more so as these interactions seem almost serendipitous, though of course, they're not. Truly profound and deeply-lived music, wonderfully realized.

Mark Hannesson - undeclared

A work written in response to the October 20, 2006 drone attack on a school in Pakistan that killed 80 or more people, including 68-70 children. Hannesson asks how it's possible to respond to this aesthetically and offers his attempt. It's a very moving one, simple in conception, a kind of funereal tolling. The piece, titled 'undeclared', is presented three times, first played by Antoine Beuger on children's glockenspiel (an especially effective conveyor of grief), then by René Holtkamp on guitar and finally by the composer using whistling and electronics. Where Beuger's rendition is soft and sorrowful, a string of individual tones, all the same, spaced over about 20 minutes, Holtkamp attacks the same score more forcefully, the pain felt at the horrible event evincing itself. Hannesson's version is different, much gauzier, even ethereal, the tones still there but clouded, evanescing, perhaps disappearing like those poor victims. A moving set of music.

Mark Hannesson/Dante Boon/Anastassis Philippakopoulos - s/t

Three works for solo piano, played by Boon. One each by Hannesson and Boon and a set of four shorter pieces by Philippakopoulos. The transition between compositions is almost seamless and, indeed, it's possible to listen to the works as a single, continuous piece of music. Hannesson's 'signposts' is apparently sourced from the 2016 Wandelweiser catalog, the choice of which "fragments" to play left to the pianist. Largely individual notes, a tonal feel without a specific tonality, allowed to hang in space, expertly placed by Boon; in several ways an archetypal Wandelweiser piece and a very lovely one. 'duo (2h)', by Boon, while very much in line with the preceding work, expands things just a bit, inserting a few more subtle chords, suffusing the music with a warm light--gorgeous. The four 'piano pieces' by Philippakopoulos add just a tinge more melody, providing the hint of a line, softly undulating like a bit of seaweed in a tide pool. A beautiful conclusion to a very moving collection of sounds.

Bin Li - i am also here

As near as I can determine, despite having written and having had performed a number of works (see Li's site here), this is Li's first recording. The title track is performed twice, each with Stefan Thut (viol and voice on the first version, only voice on the second) and the composer (voice on the first, voice and qin--a kind of Chinese zither--on the second). In each instance, the surrounding environments, Manhattan and Gimmelwald, Switzerland, play a major role. The four-word text is spoken, often with many minutes between words, in English and/or Chinese, the instruments briefly played, perhaps mimicking the cadence, such as it is, of the phrase. In the wooly atmospherics of Gimmelwald, Thut begins the first rendition by saying, "I am here". His viol is briefly bowed a handful of times as the phrase, a word at a time, is spoken over 15+ minutes, I believe alternately by Thut and Li. The sound fades out completely once, then returns with the final word, "here", said immediately, a little startling, like being awakened in a park after an unbidden nap.  The ambience is  more intense on the second version, which lasts over 43 minutes, all birds and blurred traffic (though it fluctuates throughout the piece), Li (or maybe Thut?) speaking in Chinese with the odd pluck of the qin, loud in context. There are near-complete cessations of sound, the faintest of fuzz. Pileated woodpeckers and airplanes on the sound's return. Again, toward the end of the work, there's that abrupt awakening. The title of the final work is phonetically transliterated as "you" but means, "also", therefore carrying some of the meaning of the title track while also serving, to an English speaker, as a kind of mirror reflection to it. Li plays (again, sporadically) the hichiriki,  Japanese double-reed instrument heard in gagaku. He seems to be intoning the syllable, "you", with its Chinese inflection, playing the instrument breathily and, at the piece's conclusion and in contrast to the instruments on the rest of the disc, with a rush of soft tones over a relatively long period. An absolutely fascinating set of music--I'm eager to hear more.

André O. Möller with Christoph Nicolaus &  Rasha  Ragab - music for stone harps

Stone harps are crafted from blocks of black granite which are usually shaped into roughly conic forms, then sliced to create individual slabs or bars that, when stroked with wetted fingers, produce a range of rich, reverberant tones. On this two-disc set, Möller presents three compositions and two improvisations using solely these instruments. On the first piece, 'für eckl (a tanz der hauttöne)', there's too much dependence on the harp tones themselves at the expense of the composition. Those  tones contain a certain amount of inherent fascination, not dissimilar to, say, a bowed marimba, but not enough (for this listener) to sustain a 34-minute piece on their own. 'stoned fridge' is more robust, bearing a range of growling sounds (I'm not sure all are from the harps, actually, but I suppose it's possible--the credits list "playback" so I imagine some iterative function is occurring), generating a dense drone with multiple layers of activity--it breathes, and breathes deeply. On the second disc, the two improvisations are innocuous in the same manner as the initial work while the hour-plus 'ménage à trois (double)' once again uses playback as well as an influx of exterior sound. It's greater aural transparency serves as a good contrast to 'stoned fridge' and allows it to work just as wellas  the prior piece, the ringing tones of the harps layered between the car engines, bird calls and odd organ-like sounds. Overall, a slightly mixed bag for me, but worthwhile.

Kory Reeder - love songs, duets

I believe this is the first recording of Reeder's work (fwiw, I can't see any listing for the seven other musicians on Discogs either). If it's a debut, it's an  impressive one. Four pieces, all duets: 'folie à deux i' (Erin Cameron and Luke Ellard, bass clarinets), 'somewhere, some place else' (Jonathan Kierspe, saxophone, Samuel Anderson, bass trombone), 'folie à deux iii' (Alaina Clarice and Linda Jenkins, flutes)  and 'hiro yokose' (Mia Detwiler, violin, Reeder, piano). The compositions are of a piece, in a sense, though well differentiated. All slow, tonal, with no repeating melodies or rhythms, the lines from each pair of instruments gently entwining. There are wonderfully subtle contrasts in tone between the like instruments (bass clarinets and flutes), never going for mere effect, the tenderness coming first, elegiac but not sorrowful. Sometimes more somber, sometimes more wistful, but always with a sense of soft languidness. Reeder's piano is especially poignant on the closing composition, just barely verging on melody. Excellent work all around.

Dean Rosenthal - Stones/Water/Time/Breath

Rosenthal's piece extends the lineage of Christian Wolff's well-known 'Stones' into an  even more open area. Entirely text-based, he asks that interested person(s) locate a body of water, acquire some  stones and create some interactive sounds with them. (Including the word, "Breath" in the title is interesting--it doesn't appear in the score; nice) This recording documents five realizations with from one to seven performers. Canadian sound artists Gayle Young and Reinhard Reitzenstein slosh and drop stones for a couple of minutes while a septet of individuals behave similarly in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, here for over 20 minutes with a more enveloping ambient sound including birds, children and airplanes. Rosenthal's own solo realization is quite spare and calm, the sounds generated from the stones well embedded into the overall soundscape. As with recordings of Manfred Werder's works, there's a vast difference, one understands, between disc and actual presence. One can get a glimmer of this by watching and listening to one of several very fine, very beautiful videos available on the site Rosenthal has set up for this project. The great value of this release is simply introducing the listener to the score and, in addition to perusing the related site (which I highly recommend) going out and actualizing it oneself or with friends (or strangers).

Urs Peter Schneider - Klavierwerke 1971 - 2015

A two-CD set of four solo piano works by Schneider, recorded between 1980 and 2019, played by the composer. 'Clavierübung' (1971 - 79), for mildly prepared piano, bears a striking resemblance to some of Tom Johnson's pieces or, rather, given its compositional dates, one might say the reverse. There's an accretive kind of effect, as if the modules of the basic form are being slightly altered with each iteration (dynamics, stress, gradually augmented pitch, etc.) according to some hidden system. The theme itself has a wonderful, surreptitious, kind of creeping aspect, as of some slightly disreputable character skulking around the perimeter. Lasting over an hour, the permutations it goes through are many, if subtly deployed. The material is just a pair of nine note sequences but they're manipulated in a manner that makes it (for this listener) surprisingly difficult to count and seemingly possessing a greater variety of arrangements than I would have thought possible. Or maybe it just appears that way. 'So Beseelte' (2008 - 14), dedicated to Martin Luther, indeed has a kind of staggered processional feel, something of Satie's 'Ogives'. 'Ein Jahreslauf' is a more disparate work, difficult to describe. Sort of like a prelude that, over its 34 minutes, keeps building then gently fragmenting, spaces between "clumps" lengthening as the piece develops. It's oddly entrancing. The final selection, 'Aus der Tiefe' (2013 - 15) returns a little bit to the general structure used in the first, here sequences of light, almost playful, three and four chord segments, rearranged, re-accented, and otherwise shuffled, strung in a kind of bracelet.  Entirely engrossing music, start to finish.

Sivan Silver-Swartz - untitled 6

'untitled 6' is an hour long work for string quintet (Nigel Deane, violin; Patrick Behnke and Tanner Pfeiffer, violas; Tal Katz and Julius Tedaldi, cellos). The score entails two "charts"--one where things change and recur, the other where things change and don't recur; "the former has only one path while the latter has infinite". The general feeling is one of slow breathing or perhaps very low amplitude ripples on an otherwise calm surface of a pond. The lines, microtonal and well-integrated, sometimes evoking old reed organs, overlap at irregular intervals, soft and gentle, like grass fronds floating on  the pond, attenuating here, coalescing there. Endlessly absorbing, a seemingly simple surface enveloping activity with an almost biological sense of complexity. Gorgeous work.

Rishin Singh - out from the blinding white

Two lovely, subtle compositions for solo piano, played by Dante Boon. The first, 'thirty oars (for dante)', uses scale-like patterns, ascending and descending, as recurrent structural elements, around and between which are scattered small clusters of soft chords and brief single-note sequences, extremely thoughtful and warmly pensive, with the occasional welcome, just slightly sour twist. 'for eva-maria houben' is based on  a pair of three-note patterns that are ever so slightly modified throughout the work; I don't think any two sequences are identical but they're also not very far apart. That's all but that's more than enough: just a continuous blooming of akin sounds. Both pieces are difficult (for me) to describe with any kind of specificity but both are just wonderful--intelligent, tender and full of life. Great stuff.

wandelweiser

Friday, January 24, 2020





Arild Andersen/Clive Bell/Mark Wastell - Tales of Hackney (Confront)

I had to chuckle when I first put on this disc. I knew and greatly enjoyed Andersen's work in Jan Garbarek's early groups and, even earlier, when that group was nestled into George Russell's large ensembles, but I'm pretty sure the last time I heard him was on Roswell Rudd's 'Flexible Flyer'  (1975). Nonetheless, when those initial bass notes rang out on the first track here, there was no one  else it could have been. When swiftly joined by Bell's khene (a Thai mouth organ) and Wastell's deft cymbals, it ushers in this delightful and unexpected release that, among other things, seems  determined bring a fresh take on the kind of music heard on those early ECM sides, before the label became awash in pastels. No easy task, but this trio manages to generate  a lush, more or less tuneful set of pieces that retain just enough edge to skirt any concerns. Andersen employs electronics as well, creating washes of dense tones, again not altogether too comfortable and melding well with Wastell's shruti box while Bell ably navigates from khene to shakuhachi to pi saw (a Thai flute) to shinobue (a Japanese transverse flute). Spacey sections that avoid gauziness, instead focussing on laminal textures, always with ample grain or tinges of harshness, near-melodies that are pastoral and even meditative while utterly avoiding the lassitude and shallowness all too commonly encountered in this general area. And Andersen is a joy to hear throughout, such a great sound. Not only a very enjoyable release but a surprising and refreshing approach to even consider these days (recorded in  2017)--a wonderful recording.




Chris Burn/Philip Thomas - as if as (Confront)

A set of arrangements for piano by Burn, played by Thomas, including six brief pieces transcribed from guitar improvisations by Derek Bailey.

The first compositions, the title track and 'only the snow', are spiky, dense and complex works, with intriguing senses of fragmentation and silences (especially the latter), tending toward the higher registers and evoking, to these ears, something of a more spatially concerned Nancarrow. Initially  forbidding, they grew on me with each subsequent listen. I should point out that there's some confusion with regard  to track listings involving a mistaken pressing and  a corrected one; I'm going by my ears and the listing on my copy, though I'm not convinced I'm correct.... What are listed as the Bailey transcriptions (from his 1991 release on Incus, 'Guitar Solos Volume 2') are a different  matter. As odd as it may seem, they're immediately in more "comfortable" territory, almost gentle, quite introspective sounding and lovely; this is  an aspect that leads me to think that some of the four 'pressings and screenings' pieces  are mixed in  here, but whatever, it's excellent music. The pieces range from that kind of Webern-ish spatial pointillism to only slightly softer, more (relatively) lush environs, always with a firm sense of structure and not nearly as claustrophobic as I might have expected. As ever, Philip Thomas exercises both precision and touch, injecting vast amounts of vigor into the proceedings. My knowledge of Burn's oeuvre is fairly limited but this is easily my favorite recording of his work yet. Highly recommended.



Max Eastley/Fergus Kelly/Mark Wastell - The Map Is Not the Territory (Confront)

A flowing set of eight improvisations where the trio (Eastley, arc [an electro-acoustic monochord]; Kelly, invented instruments, found metals, electronics; and Wastell, tam tam, metal percussion, piano frame) concentrate almost exclusively on long tones including, one suspects, much derived from bowing. Unlike many an arco-cymbalist, however, the sounds achieved here aren't overly harsh or strident, though also maintaining a safe distance from the blandly mellifluous. There's an expansiveness in play here, perhaps less liquid than sandy, smooth but not without granularity. A kind of serenity that allows for mild discomfort and itchiness, even venturing into otherworldly-seeming territory, as in 'Seizure of Light'. The tracks are of a piece but differentiated, like leaves from the same tree. This all sounds vague, I realize, but it's difficult (for me) to capture kind of flow heard here without getting too sappy about it. Nothing sappy about the music--it's lovely on a sensual level and engrossing to contemplate. Fine work.



Mike Cooper/Mark Wastell - Sound Mirrors (Confront)

Cooper's always been a tough musician for me to get any kind of stylistic fix on, likely my shortcoming versus his complex slipperiness. There's the free improviser, of course, but also the fellow who nods to Hawaiian slide guitar, acoustic blues among other necks of the woods. Here, on lapsteel guitar and electronics in six pieces with Wastell (tam tam, percussion, shruti box), one hears tinges of all of these and others. The mix of guitar and tam tam is especially appealing here, metal strings and brushed or stroked metal--very nice. There's a fine billowy feeling  throughout much of the work though on occasion, as in 'Warden Point', the electronics gets more in-one's-face and a tad loopy. Parts of 'Joss Gap' nod to dance rhythms of a sort, creating an interesting an unusual kind of tension, in the context. Using one's imagination, you can almost summon up images of the sound mirrors referenced in the album's title (we've all seen these, yes?). An intriguing piece, gnarly in ways one doesn't often hear; Cooper's guitar toward the end is an unexpected easter egg. It doesn't always work--there's a bit of oil and water here--but when it does, which is often enough, 'Sound Mirrors'  offers some delectable flavors.

Confront




Sunday, January 05, 2020


Grisha Shakhnes - being there  (unfathomless)

A dense collage of sound "recorded live at home" and, I take it, processed [not so, I've learned--it's live: description here]. In any case, one gets layers of sound that fall somewhere between natural and mechanical--hard to determine which, often enough--with hollow moans and disembodied, unintelligible voices, masterfully mixed, dramatically (slowly) paced--claustrophobic, powerful and fascinating.



Bruno Duplant/David Vélez - our seasons reverse (unfathomless)

A long range collaboration with both extensive field recordings and other instrumentation (theramins, organ, strings), somewhat airier than the prior release though still thick with small , chattering sounds, like a horde of robotic insects, muted sirens, struck metal, exposed wiring and more.