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.

Potlatch

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.

Insub

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.

Unfathomless

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

Friday, May 03, 2019



Eva-Maria Houben - Erwartung 1 und 2 (Second Editions)

A wonderful LP containing a work by Houben (English translation: Expectation), performed by the composer once on piano, once on organ.

The music is pretty much impossible for me to describe--so serene, so bare-bones, the notes so perfectly chosen and placed, the touch so precise. The piece is based on a chord from Schönberg's piece of the same name, Houben unraveling it like a thread. The piano version, 'Erwartung 1' is more austere, beginning with two clearly struck high notes followed by a low one, soon answered by two in the mid-range, the notes held, the sustained tones mingling with each other and the audible ambiance of the room. It proceeds like a slow, contemplative walk, step by considerate step, observing. That might be the overwhelming sense I get from the piece, one of close, silent observance. The organ (at Thomas Morus Kirche in Krefeld) provides several additional layers and, as ever, Houben shows her mastery at eliciting timbres and combinations of timbres that are utterly gorgeous and mysterious. The tones are so tactile, so full of detail and activity even though you know they're "only" a single note--really amazing, I could wallow here forever. Haunting, ethereal and earthly at once with subtly new experiences from beginning to end. This might be my favorite organ work from Houben thus far.

As I said, difficult to do justice to this music in words, but if you're at all a fan of her work, this is an absolute must. And if you're new to it, not a bad place to dip your toes.

Second Editions


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

Saturday, April 06, 2019


Patrick Shiroishi -  烏の涙\   (American Damage)

My previous exposure to Shiroishi's work, very limited, was as a saxophonist but on this cassette release, he evinces substantial guitar skills, as well as vocals. The title seems to translate to 'Tears of the Rose' and the text, both spoken and gently sung in Japanese, is by label owner Jordan Reyes. Shiroishi's guitar playing ranges easily from the early koto-esque strums at the beginning of the first track, to "traditional" sounds that recall, perhaps, Robbie Basho, to post-Bailey explorations, smoothly flowing from one to another, always excellently played. The two pieces, each just over ten minutes long, stream along, fracture, coalesce again, fracture again. The second ends with a few minutes of simple, heartfelt singing and playing, pure and beautiful. A very fine set.

American Damage





piv-ots - orangish (Nomad Exquisite)

piv-ots is Nicholas Burrage and I believe this is his first release in quite some time. Also, if my memory serves, the music presented here is in line with what I'd heard previously, which is to say electronic drones that are "simple" in one respect, but pared down with perfectly chosen elements, so "simple" in the sense that a fine bowl of soba noodles is simple, i.e., not really. 'the pond', the brief opening track, has a saw-like character, pulsing in place, rotating, bristling with energy. 'truss' begins with a set of deep, burred tones that recall the title track from 'Big Science'. They remain more or less in place as they're overlaid by the kind of loopy, spacey synth lines that should, by all rights, sound trite but manage to fit right in--baffling! :-) Near the end, Burrage adds some percussive sounds that dreamily evoke West African balafon playing--lovely. After a rather short--six seconds--respite of two muffled voices, we get to the last track, 'March 6, 2019'. The 23-minute piece is an excellent example of creating a basic ground--here a slowly pulsing, tonal hum--allowing it to vary moderately, almost unnoticeably, over its course, adding discreet but apposite flavorings along the way, not too many, just a handful, letting things simmer and flow. Excellent work, dronage the way it should be.


Nomad Exquisite




Michaël Attias - échos la nuit (Out of Your Head)

I was previously unfamiliar with Attias' work as an alto saxophonist who has recorded with, among others, Anthony Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian and Jim Pugliese. If this solo recording is indicative, he's a very attractive player, with a calm approach that, of I had to make a comparison, sometimes reminds me of Braxton's quieter, more balladic, solo performances--but quieter and gentler still, only rarely venturing into flurries of overtones or extended techniques (some fine circular breathing on the aptly titled, 'Circles'). I said "solo", but on a number of the twelve tracks here, Attias overdubs himself on piano [correction: these aren't overdubs. Attias plays alto with one hand, piano with the other, in real time]. As with his alto, the piano is quiet and spare but always melodic, perhaps with a tinge of Paul Bley. When the piano is used, it's complementing the alto line, playing a written part, very delicate and touching, a ghostly echo, as it were. Very thoughtful, sensitive work from Attias, a pleasure to hear.


Out Of Your Head





Dušica Cajlan-Wissel/Etienne Nillesen/Georg Wissel - fourtyfour fiftythree  (Creative Sources)

An improv session from Cajlan-Wissel (prepared piano), Nillesen (extended snare drum) and Wissel (prepared alto saxophone), all musicians new to me. Two suite-like  sets, divided by time markings into sections. The trio's playing is active, skittery, tending toward the higher, thinner registers. The busy scurrying will on occasion coalesce into small explosions, subside back into--not silence, but a different form of quieter seething. They perform very well in a group sense, no pyrotechnics, no individual leaving the others behind. In fact, it's hard to get a real sense of the individuality of any of them, which isn't a bad thing (though Cajlan-Wissel has a few moments of deep melodicism that stand apart a little bit). As is often the case in this "area" of improvisation, the abundance of virtually non-stop sound-making turns out not to be entirely my thing; I still prefer more reticent listening and then--maybe--acting. But it's also a far cry from much in the jazz-based free improv world and listeners attuned to this subtler, more thoughtful side of things could find much to enjoy.


Creative Sources

Thursday, April 04, 2019


The Pitch/Barbara Konrad & Klaus Lang - affinités sélectives volume 2 (Rhizome.s)

The second split release under the title, "affinités sélectives", with two sets of musicians performing pieces not necessarily related to each other, though here involving referrals to earlier musical works.

The first track finds The Pitch (Boris Baltschun, electric pump organ; Koen Nutters, contrabass; Morten J. Olsen, vibraphone; Michael Thieke, clarinet) playing the intriguingly titled, 'The Pitch translating Olivier Messiaen "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus". This section of 'Quartet for the End of Time' is, in this listener's opinion, one of the most sublime passages in 20th century music, so I was curious to see what this ensemble, fine musicians all, would bring to the idea. Somehow just reproducing the music wouldn't make much sense and the quartet avoids that, though the extent to which they play around the themes creates substantial ambiguity between their creation and the original. We hear a long series of overlapping tones (I think the vibes are being bowed or very softly struck). It gradually becomes more expansive, containing more slowly fluctuating tones, creeping little by little toward the tonality of the Messiaen. Some 18 minutes in, the tones end and a doleful bell is heard tolling for two minutes. When the other instruments re-enter, the mood has changed, becoming more somber, with the sharp vibraphone strikes recalling the piano in the original piece. The voices enter one by one in a shorter, sourer, rising sequence, possibly referring to the ascending-into-the-ether conclusion of the Messiaen. Just a few minutes from the end, the clarinet quotes almost directly from the Louange, preceding a forceful and funereal sequence that concludes the piece quite movingly. A lovely work.

A note from composer Oliver Thurley underlies the second track: 'a technical diagram for the abstraction of ockeghem's missa pro defuncis: kyrie, side elevation'. This refers to a requiem I don't know, so I've no idea about the relationship. It's performed by Barbara Konrad on viola d'amore and Klaus Lang on harmonium. Similar to the prior work, it revolves around long-held notes, here with the harmonium providing drone-like underpinnings (with a good deal of complication and shifting) and the viola d'amore adding sinuous, sometimes acerbic lines atop and through and they do convey a hard-to-pinpoint Renaissance aura of a sort. It's enchanting and dreamy in a nicely sour way. When the pair finishes playing, they comment on the weather where it was recorded, in blustery northern England. Perfect.



Andrea Borghi - 3discos (Rhizome.s)

Seven tracks from Borghi using prepared turntables playing discs made from marble, resin and text-engraved aluminum. There seem to be ancillary activities occurring as well, but the listener clearly perceives the basic rotational source of the sounds. Within this focus, Borghi, as usual, manages to create entire worlds, endlessly, unpredictably detailed. His work often reminds me of pieces from the Arte Povera movement, with gritty, everyday materials handled in such a way so as to reveal the immense complexity that lies beneath their surfaces. These pieces are active, bubbling and scurrying but never over-busy--one gets the sense that the aural emissions are somehow secondary to the opaquely functional processes going on--the sounds these machines happen to make, Of course, it's Borghi who is guiding the wheels here and his choices are exemplary throughout. Fans of Jeph Jerman will find much to enjoy here.

Rhizome.s







Tuesday, April 02, 2019



Terry Riley - In C (Bôłt)

A quick glance over at Discogs shows me 20 or so recordings of Riley's 'In C' which strikes me as eminently appropriate as, in my opinion, it's one of the major works of so-called minimalism if not the apotheosis of the genre. It has a bit of everything: some process music, some improvisation (with regard to choices made by the performers), an irresistible rhythmic drive, the possibility of being well-played by amateurs (as opposed to another masterwork, Reich's 'Drumming') and many other fine qualities. Additionally, while always retaining an essential character, the specific results of a realization will vary widely, including insofar as the instrumentation chosen. I've recently heard recordings by a Malian ensemble (African Express) on local instruments, one by Acid Mothers Temple and another by Brooklyn Raga Massive. At hand is a 2018 recording by a 15-piece Polish ensemble led by xylophonist Hubert Zemler which includes hurdy-gurdy, bass clarinet, voice/cello, two violins, two hammered dulcimers, voice, double bass, three-row accordion, viola, positive organ/celesta and alto clarinet.

There's a stated objective here to, among others things, impart some kind of Polish inflection to the work and, indeed, some 20-odd minutes in, the accordion, while presumably following the score, manages to inflect it in a way that suggests a mazurka. This is fine and even welcome, but there are several aspects that gnaw at me a bit: something of a leadenness in the underlying pulse, where I want to hear lightness; the over-emotiveness of the voices (both female); the apparent strategy of group decisions on crescendi and diminuendi at a number of points, reducing this down to one or two instruments, building back up--I prefer letting the instrumentalists "do their own thing" and whatever mirage-like structures emerge or don't, great. These quibbles aside, it's a very rewarding performance--one of the virtues of 'In C' is that this is a strong likelihood, if not a guarantee. The 53 short notated sequences, ranging from a single note to very brief melodic series are superbly chosen. One recognizes certain motifs, old friends popping up in slightly new environments while others seem entirely new (I wonder). When the ensemble gets cooking, a fine, thick stew is created, instruments plunging into and emerging cleanly from the mix, very juicy.

I imagine there are listeners who collect every new reading of 'In C', a not unreasonable obsession. While I always return first and foremost to the original 1968 recording, this one is certainly a worthwhile addition to the canon.



Andrzej Dobrowolski - Music for Orchestra (Bôłt)

Unlike Riley, above, Dobrowolski (1921 - 1990) is an entirely new name to me. He was a pioneer of electronic music in Poland and the teacher of, among others Bernhard Lang. This collection, however, includes only orchestral works, pieces dating from 1964 - 1982, played by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (four tracks, conducted by Wojciech Michniewski, Zdzisław Szostak and Stanisław Wisłocki), The Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Monika Wolińska) and The Kraków Polish Radio and Television Orchestra (conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk).

'Music for String Orchestra and Four Groups of Wind Instruments' (1964) has quavering string passages that remind me of Penderecki from  around that time, but much of the rest of the writing is more traditional, the flutters and wavers balanced with (lovely) sequences that sound more out of Prokofiev; a charming piece, all-told. 'Music for Strings, Two Groups of Wind Instruments and Two Loudspeakers' (1966-67) is more contemplative, soft and dark with brief explosions from the winds. The tape sounds are very well integrated, the whole piece breathing and pulsating back and forth among the three sections, very impressive. The following work, 'Amar. Music for Orchestra No. 2' (1970), expands the palette further, muted trumpets skittering past low, growling strings and clusters of winds in quasi-syncopated patterns, almost hocketing with each other. Dobrowolski seems to like leap-frogging from one notion to the other, though he manages to avoid any sense of collage and somehow provide logical cohesion. Still some vestiges of Penderecki in the sudden outbursts of caterwauling strings (or maybe Penderecki borrowed from Dobrowolski?).

He pulled no punches with 'Music for Orchestra No. 3', accentuating the percussion amidst blusters of brass, conveying a sardonic martial aspect, though concluding with ghostly, very beautiful strings. The beginning of 'A-LA. Music for Orchestra No. 4' (1974) seems to nod toward minimalism, though of a fractured, chromatic sort and, while subsiding, kind of percolates throughout the work, offset by swarms of high pizzicato strings, upsurges of brass and delicate and dance-like woodwinds. Finally, 'Music for Orchestra No. 6' (1981-82) is thinner, wisps of strings, airy while retaining grain and even bitterness, until wooden percussion and tympani conclude with something of a flourish, but not quite dispelling the somber/ethereal mood.

A rewarding collection. I'm very glad to have had an opportunity to hear Dobrowolski's work and, as is often the case with releases from Bôłt, happy to continue to expand my knowledge of and appreciation for this vast amount of Polish 20th century music that was unknown to me and, I daresay, to many on this side of the world.




Bohdan Mazurek/Jacek Sienkiewicz - Drogi (Bôłt)

This recording is a kind of homage to Bohdan Mazurek (1937 - 2014) by the younger Sienkiewicz (b. 1976) as well as to the Polish Radio Experimental Studio where Mazurek produced much of his work. It consists of one piece by Mazurek, 'Little Electronic Symphony', followed by eight from Sienkiewicz.

The Mazurek piece dates from 1986 and, for my money, isn't as probing and deeply felt as earlier music by him, such as 'Bozzetti' from 1967, a favorite of mine. There's too much of a synthesized sound here, an odd "eeriness" that sounds, at times, like Sun Ra's space organ forays of the 60s. Sienkiewicz's tracks are clearly more technologically advanced, very dense and layered while maintaining a fine amount of sonic separation between elements, those elements containing great variety themselves, from the (mostly) abstract to those sourced from distorted captures of other music  or field recordings. It's a bit too IRCAM-y for my tastes, too effects-driven, though listeners thusly inclined will find much to enjoy here as it's all accomplished super-professionally. I just prefer...less sheen.




Ewa Liebchen - Electric Sheep (Bôłt)

Liebchen is a flutist and for her debut recording, she's chosen to perform five compositions by Eastern European composers and one ringer (see below) that combine flute with electronics or percussion. 

The initial work, 'Halny', by Sławomir Kupczak, is a propulsive piece of skittering rhythms and beats that rush along in various meters and timbres, buttressing flute playing that at first huffs and puffs alongside, then shifts to long, plangent sighs, then resonant pops and clicks and more--a show stopper. Artur Zagajewski's 'Composition arithmétique' is an odd one, maybe a little in Tom Johnson territory, a string of steady, mechanical pulses, varying in pitch, occasionally doubling up, exactingly accompanied by short, high bursts from the flute; it wears out its welcome to these ears well before its almost 17 minutes are up. 'DW 21...and we just keep on pretending...', by Bernhard Lang, with participation by percussionist Hubert Zemler, begins grimly with dark lines, then shifts to a kind of sprightly dance with light wood blocks and flute--I'm guessing sardonic intent, but hard to tell--nice piece. The ringer here is 'Ruckzuck', a song originally released by Tangerine Dream in 1970. Zemler again provides the drums over which a double-tracked Liebchen plays in a rhythmic manner. It feels a little bit tossed in as appeasement, sort of like the Kronos Quartet doing 'Purple Haze', but I suppose chugs along reasonably well on its own merits. László Sáry's 'Magnificat', with soprano vocals from Joanna Freszel, bears some resemblance to Reich's 'Tehillim', with a softly pulsing flute line weaving around the melodic arabesques of the voice--very pretty and engaging and just the right length. The disc concludes with 'Puja', by Rytis Mazulis, another piece in the minimalist tradition, here more a recollection of early Glass, with rapid three-note patterns repeated on end (and, I think, electronically enhanced--eventually the music sounds as much organ-generated as flute) with a sense of gradually rising. These patterns soon begin to overlap, creating a welter of interactions, verging on the chaotic, but always held in check by the consistent rhythm. A fun work.

And an interesting first effort from Liebchen. I'm curious to hear which composers she tackles next.