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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Cristián Alvear - Pieza para Guitarra Afinada (Pilgrim Talk)
A 90-minute piece for solo guitar available as a cassette or download file. The model here is Stie's 'Vexations'. Generally, Alvear plays single note or spare chords at a fairly regular, slow interval, one every four or five seconds, allowing the sound to decay, generating overtones and distortion buzzes along the way. Sometimes there are short, four- or five-note sequences, kind of arpeggios. He'll stick with one more or less similar approach for a good while, i.e., the "same" chord played in the same manner for several minutes on end, though there's always a certain amount of fluctuation in the tone hanging and decaying in space. Recorded in one take, it's an exercise in concentration and determination on the part of both performer and listener. Alvear allows how pure replication of portions of the score as written is impossible and that's part of the piece's character. It's also a large part of the fascination as listener, noting the variations, the slightly altered tinges from one iteration to the next. A lovely and oddly strong piece, its stubbornness becoming a means to unlock aural pleasures that would otherwise remain unheard.
Jon Heilbron - pieces for chord organ (Intonema)
A set of lovely cover images surrounds a set of wonderful music. Heilbron, a bassist by trade, plays two Bontempi chord organs. What's a chord organ? This is.. Basically a small electric organ not terribly dissimilar to an accordion. Heilbron plays two at once, as can be seen in this promotional video from Intonema:
Catherine Lamb - Atmospheres Transparent/Opaque (New World)
It's great to see Lamb getting more and more exposure, one of the finest younger composers working in this area, imho. The main piece on this disc is her 'Prisma Interius IX' (2018), a 53-minute work. This is followed by seven 'Overlays Transparent/Opaque', each lasting between one and two and a half minutes. The works are performed by Ensemble Dedalus, here consisting of Didier Aschour (electric guitar, director), Amélie Berson (wood and metal flutes), Cyprien Busolini (viola), Yannick Guédon (voice, treble viola da gamba), Thierry Madiot (trombone), Pierre-Stéphane Meugé (saxophone, synthesizer), Christian Pruvost (trumpet), Silvia Tarozzi (violin) and Deborah Walker (cello, voice).
Rebecca Lane's excellent and extensive liner notes go into great depth on both the music's structure and the experience of performing it and offer better insights and descriptions than I could possibly do. I'll just say that 'Prisma Interius IX' goes through eight sections, beginning with strings of varying pitch, expanding and contracting with more or fewer instruments, eventually ending with the entire ensemble. The notes tend to be long-held, though when they end, cut off quickly. There's indeed a kind of prismatic effect, of subtle patterns being projected. Through much of the work, use is made of the Secondary Rainbow Synthesizer, the instrument designed by Lamb's partner, Bryan Eubanks, which was heard on the 2018 Another Timbre release, 'Viola Torros', bringing in sounds from outside the performance space, though subtly enough one doesn't always realize it's there.. The blend of acoustic and electronic instruments with voice is also quite thrilling, creating separate lamina that flow alongside one another, melding just enough but keeping their own personalities (as ever, Dedalus handles the music with wonderful sensitivity). There seem to be ghostly references to pre-Baroque music as well. A fine work, as incisive as it is dreamy.
The seven "overlays" are not mere miniatures but careful studies in which instrumentalists are asked to proceed "from transparency to opaqueness"; each feels as though it could be expanded upon substantially.
Lamb has become one of my very favorite contemporary composers. This release is yet another fine addition to what's developing into an extremely impressive canon.
New World Records
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Michael Pisaro - Nature Denatured and Found Again (Gravity Wave)
Generally speaking it's tough enough, for me, to begin to attempt to encapsulate in words a "standard" recording from Michael Pisaro, much less something like this one, a five-disc re-imagining and restructuring of a five-year long, extremely complex project. First, the basics:
In 2011, Pisaro was invited by Joachim Eckl to design a project to take place in Neufelden, Austria, a charming looking village bordered by the Große Mühl River. He chose to organize two-hour walks along the river that would occur each weekday at 3PM. During the course of their walk, participants would encounter six bench/shelters in which a musician would be dwelling. They would stop and listen for 12 minutes, then continue on, hopefully incorporating the surrounding sounds into those produced by the musicians. The players were: Antoine Beuger (flute), Jürg Frey (clarinet), Marcus Kaiser (cello), Radu Malfatti (trombone), André Möller (electric guitar), Kathryn Gleasman Pisaro (oboe, english horn). I pause to mention that, when I become king, each town in my domain will be required to have Radu Malfatti sitting on a bench, playing, for a certain amount of time per day. Of course, as is generally the case with Pisaro's music, it was more complicated than that, with differing situations taking place each day, but all of this is covered in the extensive notes. Pisaro staged this event once a year for five years, 2011 - 2015. Well, almost, but more on that later.
For this release, Pisaro has, for the most part, taken material from each year and reworked it into a kind of simulacrum of the original experience, sourced from there, conveying something of the original feeling, but resulting in an entirely new and vast work. Each disc is 48-minutes long, divided into four 12-minute tracks (if one possesses five CD-players, you could play them simultaneously). Each "year" comes with a score or site photo, a recording date breakdown and a listing of which musician(s) is/are heard on which track.
2011 begins with rain. Other sounds overlap (traffic, etc.) but essentially it's rain, threaded through with discreet sine tones. The sound isn't steady but rather comes and goes in irregular segments and contains varied intensities and fluctuations. The raindrops often have the character of small electrical explosions. The second track is titled, 'Still Life with Cicadas, Waterfall and Radu'. As with the prior cut, Pisaro doesn't simply overlay the collected sound but sculpts them, interpolating sine tones, breaking the sounds into chunks, some overlapping, some finding themselves "alone", dream-like in an unsettling (but very satisfying) way. Again, this oversimplifies things. I'll quote from Pisaro;'s notes just this once (similar ones are provided for each track), to give the reader at least a glimpse of what's going on:
This piece is based on four recordings on the banks of the Große Mühl close to The Station, from four days of the installation in 2011. The grasses hosted many cicadas, including the Cicadetta petryl heard here. (On the second day I played the recording from the first day back, and one could hear the cicadas tune and time their song to the volley of cicada singing emanating from the speakers.) There are many splits, cuts, and repetitions in the piece, along with various frequency shelves, to reveal the anatomy of the many-layered situation.
Next is a gorgeous section featuring Beuger's flute, a very "natural" sounding stretch, though it too has been augmented and adjusted and begins to fragment some five minutes in. Here, as elsewhere, Pisaro manages to convey more than the imitation of having been there--there's a psychological representation of one of many possible reactions one may have had, in a very human way of paying attention, being distracted, shifting one's focus, etc. Very difficult to describe but marvelous to experience once one submits to the procedure. The final track on Disc One, 'Langhalsen' is a different creature again, beginning with very up front electronic bleeps and burbles, segueing to an interplay between Kaiser's cello, a waterfall and overhead airplanes. The shifts here are more drastic, falling into unexpected mini-worlds, including a chilly one, like an old cistern, with Frey's clarinet seeking to provide some warmth, ultimately returning to the surface (birds and children heard, and oboe).
Attempting to describe each disc would be pointless, so just some things that stood out: Frey's clarinet, playing a single tone, turned into a canon and weaving through a waterfall; the sumptuous sine tones ending 2.3; the incredible, unaugmented but amazingly teased apart and reconstructed natural sounds that make up the third disc, 'landscape in black and grey'; Disc Four's imagined year [the event was unable to be held that year, so Pisaro re-imagined the situation with sine tones], layered with an extraordinary range of sines and noise; the unexpected and glorious bursts of melody (and birdsong) that emerge in the final disc, especially Gleasman Pisaro's ravishing oboe.
So much material, so dense, so intricately and airily constructed--a work that will repay listen upon listen for a long time to come.
Also available via Erst Dist
Monday, March 18, 2019
Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Not Knowing (Moving Furniture)
Two improvisations on accordion (possibly with other enhancements) by Costa Monteiro. He mentions in his notes that, while this is his fifth solo accordion recording, it's the first to treat the instrument "as an object in space". I take it this has to do with the physical location in which he's playing--perhaps moving?--though admittedly, it's tough to tell. The first track features more extreme techniques, often high-pitched to the point of squeals, less overtly bellows-driven than (again, guessing) bowed or otherwise attacked. It's pretty strong. The second work, however, takes more more recognizably accordion-esque sounds, but extends and layers them, somehow embedding them in a vaguely "other" surrounding aura (maybe this is the space...), producing a really rich, somewhat eerie effect--you want to place it within a traditional framework of some kind but you can't quite do so. I've heard and enjoyed Costa Monteiro's work since 2001's 'Paper'--this is one of my favorites.
NbN - Trios (no label)
NbN is a new trio with Nora Barton on cello, Billie Howard on violin and Nomi Epstein, with whose work with the ensemble a•pe•ri•od•ic I'm familiar, on piano (they also each perform on "auxiliary instruments). It's an improvising trio and music on their first release is very promising. On the one hand, there's a dryness to the general sound but not of any academic sort--sereness might be a better term, but with a strong underlying sense of melody, of water running deep beneath sandy soil. Maybe think of an improvised variant on George Crumb. I enjoyed the two longest pieces, 'path' and 'ash' the most, feeling the the trio was really able to stretch out and investigate each interesting byway, generating a lovely atmosphere, though the final work, 'bonus', with it's bumpy, jangly tangle of sounds points at further avenues ot explore. Looking forward to hearing more.
Tim Olive/Yan Jun - Brother of Divinity (845 Audio)
Tim Olive/Cal Lyall - Lowering (845 Audio)
Olive can always be depended on for an aggressive and imaginative improvisatory use of electronics and in Yan Jun, he's found an excellent collaborator. 'Brother of Divinity' is a single, 26-minute track of high intensity, bristling and sizzling electronic mayhem with a huge range from spiky highs to molten lows, managing to create a fine sense of elasticity between. A kind of kitchen sink approach except without any sense of crowding, more a funneling of a vast stream of sound into a (semi) coherent flow, bumpy and sharp, acidic and likely painful to the touch, but very alive. Even when it quiets down some, the splintered, muted guitar and radio grabs carry substantial sting. Excellent work.
I think I'd only heard Lyall a tiny bit on one of those Improvised Music from Japan collections a long while back. Here, he's credited with hydrophone and electronics and the resulting collaboration, while just as aggressive as the above, does seem to contain a more liquid aspect, a friction-filled, granular flow, viscous. There's a great grind in play during the first half of the piece, though the interplay grows somewhat disjointed later on, even somewhat spacey. By the work's end, it's evolved into a wonderful, rich, swampy stew, entirely immersive. More fine work.
IKB - Chelonoidis Nigra (Creative Sources)
IKB (Ives Klein Blue) is a large improvising ensemble based in Lisbon that has released seven albums, all on Creative Sources, of which I've heard four. The creature in the title, as one might guess from it silhouette, is the Galápagos tortoise and I guess it's not too far a stretch to relate it to the music which is comfortably soft and quiet. An issue with larger groups (there are sixteen members for this recording including Ernesto Rodrigues, Miguel Mira, Eduardo Chagas, and Abdul Moimême, just to name several I'm very familiar with) is the tendency towards loudness and muddiness, a problem that IKB skirts very efficiently, somewhat int he manner of another sizable group, The Splitter Orchestra. The single, 47-minute track is both subdued and active throughout, the musicians skittering and burbling, maybe more like sand crabs than tortoises, contributing modestly but tactfully, withdrawing for a bit while someone else comes forward. Perhaps one of those ventures that's more rewarding to perform than to experience as a listener, though it's fine in that regard as well, no particular false steps but treading a fairly well-worn path. A nice introduction to the general area for a curious listener.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Gil Sansón/Lance Austin Olsen - Works on Paper (elsewhere)
Last year, Another Timbre released a superb collection of pieces from Olsen, 'Dark Heart', which included an amazing work based on a graphic score of Sansón's called, ' Meditation on the History of Painting'. This two-disc set is a kind of extention of the process begun there and it's just as rewarding.
To get the technical details out of the way, Sansón and Olsen prepared graphic scores. Olsen is an accomplished painter and, to some extent, treats his visual work as a kind of potential musical score so in his case, it was "simply" (nothing simple about it) one of his works. I think--I could be wrong--Sansón's was constructed with the idea of aural realization in mind. In any case, the scores were sent to each other, Sansón residing in the troubled city of Caracas, Venezuela, Olsen in Victoria, British Columbia, and they each produced the two renderings we have here.
Where to begin to describe these complex, dense but transparent works? One thing that struck me over the course of both of these disc is each musician's astounding sense of sound, of how crisp, lucid and three-dimensional everything sounded. There were times when I felt one could almost disregard the context and simply wallow in the gorgeousity of the sound world. The sets were mastered by Taku Unami; I imagine he deserves some credit here. Each offers two interpretations of the other's score. Sansón's 'Pra Mim #2 - Works on Paper', begins with a fine example of the sonic vividness I was referring to, a range of prickly raindrops (?) over a background hum, great separation, before we hear text read by Al Jones. This text is curious. No reference is given and it sounds somewhat fragmented (it resurfaces throughout the piece, with iterations of the odd phrase, "sailing on concrete"). I get the sense of a son's remembrances of his veteran dad, a difficult person, whose prejudices and life-views have been to some extent transmitted to his son (the section on "Rhodesia, or whatever the fuck it's called now that the Mau Mau have taken over") It's spoken deadpan, largely uninflected, a counterweight to the vibrant soundscape surrounding it, which also includes other works by Sansón, for instance a lovely piano piece played by Dante Boon. The music just flows past, the text eventually lapping itself. The music maintains consistency while constantly expanding and exploring new byways. The second version has some threads attached back to the first, including "sailing on concrete", this time sung, as it were, in ghostly fashion. Sansón limits his resources here, concentrating on guitar, melodica and field recordings, creating a slightly less dense, though still rich and active sound-world. I should mention how much of an affinity I find between the music in both of these pieces and the Olsen painting, which is reproduced inside the CD sleeve; impossible to pinpoint, but the feeling is there. 'Pra Mim #1 - Fail Better' is dreamier, still gritty but wafting more than flowing, smoky, a perfect offset to its companion piece.
The Sansón score with which Olsen works, reproduced on the cover and interior, looks to be a collage with multi-colored plastic material text and ink marks. On 'Meditations #3', we first hear a distorted recording of a Baroque (?) choral work, possibly a mass? This segues into a haze of electronics in which we encounter what will be a repeated refrain, a man saying, "Hold me. Don't hit me.", imparting a tragic air--one immediately thinks of current church-related scandals, especially given the opening sounds. Olsen creates a swirling vortex around this poor creature, with echoes of the chorus, harsh shards of guitar, shruti box and any number of amplified objects, again an example of the enormous, transparent/granular depth achieved. There's an ebb and flow here, the sounds attenuating into icy slivers, a lone, ambivalent guitar chord like an alarm, then a complete cessation. When the music returns, we're still in a church atmosphere, but more warped, even subtly nightmarish, with twisted voices, errant bells and sinister, crunches like footsteps on gravel. The sense of foreboding continues, siren-like wails and dire hums coursing through the grimy clatter and wraith-like voices. 'Meditations #2' is chillier still, with odd ray-gun, zapping effects scattered over a low, ominous throb. The drone of either the sampled organ (played by Debora Alanna from another of Olsen's works, 'Craig's Stroke') or the shruti box becomes prominent, creating a huge space between it and a series of sharp clicks, as of glass marbles against a ceramic surface. The piece kind of splays out from here, as though released out of the confines of the crypt into the town outside, rustling separating from hyper-low thrums, bell-tones from soft pops from guitar strums, each meandering off, the zaps heard behind, still menacing but slightly less so.
A marvelous set, four extremely strong, well-conceived and imaginative works. Highly recommended.
Monday, March 11, 2019
Eva-Maria Houben/Ernesto Rodrigues - Layering Time (Creative Sources)
Eva-Maria Houben/Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues - The Haecceity of Things (Creative Sources)
These two very fine recordings form a pair, each constructed (as far as I can tell) in somewhat similar fashion: Houben creating music in one place, Ernesto Rodrigues (and his son Guilherme on the second disc) adding to it at another and mixing the results. On 'The Haecceity of Things', the dates indicate Houben provided the seed while on 'Layering Time', the music was more simultaneously created. "Haecceity", by the way, means "the property of being a unique and individual thing" though Jesse Goin, in his liner notes, defines it more succinctly as "thisness". No matter, really, how they were put together, the results are quite wonderful.
On 'Layering Time', an excerpt of Houben's work 'gestures' (for piano) is played by the composer; she also contributes recordings of ravens. Rodrigues adds his viola. In fact, one first hears what sounds like a family in a park, traffic and sirens in the distance, interrupted by high, clear, widely separated piano chords, soon growing thicker and deeper, with intervening, simple lines, weaving among pigeons and, I take it, ravens. Extremely beautiful, very "Houben". Some five minutes in, a sandy kind of wash appears briefly, presumably Rodrigues drawing something across his viola. It re-emerges with slightly greater force and variety, gaining equal footing with the piano and the ravens (who have now taken over the external soundscape). This is pretty much the tack taken for the piece's 48-minute duration. Other sounds, like church bells, enter in, Rodrigues occasionally strokes some richer string tones, but essentially we're in this wonderful stasis, a floating environment of consistent careful and imaginative placement of notes and sounds, just this side of regularity, circulating amidst the unanticipated noises from outside, all elements equal. Just a gorgeous work.
For 'The Haecceity of Things', Houben is on a church organ, recorded some three months prior to Rodrigues' viola as well as his son Guilherme's viola d'amore and field recordings. Houben does amazing things with organs and here begins with a grainy, quiet tone (an interesting beat in the background), offset with subtle ambient recordings bearing a hiss and faint passing traffic along with distant plane engines. Again, it's near the five-minute mark that one of the strings (I can't tell which) enters, paralleling the organ line but richer, soon occupying the piece on its own, calmly sawing back and forth. A cricket appears, then is heard solo. :-) Perhaps in accordance with the title, there's more of a sequencing of sounds, with some overlap to be sure, rather than the steady-state heard in the prior release (the younger Rodrigues did the mix; I assume that's responsible). Though when both strings are present, undergirded by some hyper-deep organ, the effect is magnificent. An extended silence more than halfway through the hour or so, then astringent strings, soon buttressed by dim, low organ. It's a different feel; the first section seemed, dark and damp as well as episodic. Now things open up into a dry, hot realm, more consistently of a piece. It's a more complex structure than 'Layering Time' and equally as beguiling.
Houben's body of work is among the strongest of which I'm aware and these two items, enormously assisted by the contributions of Rodrigues father and son, extend that legacy. Deep music.
Friday, March 08, 2019
Joseph Clayton Mills - The Widow (Suppedaneum)
The widow in question is Mary Todd Lincoln and for this recording, Mills visited the site of her tomb, which also houses the remains of her noted husband and three of her sons. He recorded sounds in the tomb and surrounding area--tour guides, everyday conversations, the general ambiance, all low-key--and added to it contributions of his own from various sources, again rather discreet, including recordings of a song from the period, "Old Rosin the Beau", played on piano by Michael Burns.
Suppedaneum releases are as much about the score as the resultant music. Here, Mills' score is presented on a large card enclosed in a gold-trimmed, black folder that reminded me of the kind of brochure one might see at a memorial service. It's in text, in brief lines that take the shape of a poem and which, I imagine, could be realized in any manner of ways. Mills has created four tracks, 'Summer', 'Autumn', 'Winter' and 'Spring'. The first thing we hear is a tour guide saying, "How are you folks today? Welcome to the tomb." Visitors shuffle around, speak to each other quietly. If Mills is adding anything here, he's quite prudent. One hears faint hums, possibly sine tones, but it's tough to say for sure. The group (or the recordist) moves outside and we hear footsteps on gravel, a woolier sonic texture, possibly of vehicular engines--a wonderful sense if volume. 'Autumn' remains out of doors, in a denser more active environment, many sound layers overlapping. This is where the piano first appears, emerging from the heady ambiance, the slammed car doors and birds, distant and wraithlike, gradually coalescing into the song, alongside what seems to be a fife and drum recording of another piece. The piano song acquires greater form and presence, the ambiance taking on more of an accompanying role, swathing and buffeting it--it's an entirely wonderful moment. 'Winter' returns us inside, the crowd still making its way through the exhibits. The salient feature on this track is a fine, billowy hum, as from a heating unit or other air handling device--fitting for the season, if so. With the onset of 'Spring', the piano returns, buried and only barely discernible beneath rain (?), birds, footsteps and engines but remaining steady and stalwart. Train whistles appear, muffled and slowed down (I think), a fantastic and ghostly effect, as the disc closes.
A great piece--subtly eerie, moving and beautifully restrained throughout.
Carol Genetti/Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson - Chyme (Suppedaneum)
Let it be stated and understood herewith that your humble scribe has a genetic predisposition that tends to engender some degree of difficulty in appreciating "free" vocalists. Exceptions abound, of course, though I find myself more drawn to those who inhabit one of two extremes: either those who are (often) ultra-restrained (say, Ami Yoshida or Christian Kesten) or those who give free rein to a more traditionally emotive aspect, even at the risk of some corniness (say, Diamanda Galás or...maybe Phil Minton singing "The Cutty Wren"). Just to give an idea where I'm coming from.
Again, this is a Suppedaneum release, so music is just one part, here especially so. The release arrives in an off-white vinyl pouch and, apart from the CD with Genetti's music, contains four pieces of artwork/text from Anderson, "listening scores". These are printed on accordioned paper, each bearing abstract visual patterns, text and clock timings that match with the disc tracks so one can, if so inclined, "follow along", appreciating the artwork and considering, or acting upon, the text which largely involves things one might do with their body or parts thereof. These begin innocently enough ("Can you open your mouth?", "Can you create saliva?") but progress to instructions that, speaking personally, I'd have a hard time obeying, even if they're fun to think about ("Contract your liver into the shape of a diamond", "Lengthen your pancreas into your bladder"). The level of difficulty eases in the fourth series.
The first track is quite gripping, in fact, as Genetti whisper-sings into, I'm guessing, a flute or other metal tube, soon overdubbed and accompanied by resonant thuds and low growls, effectively evoking some of the texts ("Can you feel the separation of your teeth with your tongue?"). An electronic ambiance (possibly sourced from Genetti's voice?) is introduced on "Transference", again effectively handled, before a large boom announces her voice proper, operating in what I always think of as the "low ratchet zone". There's a Galás-like aura here near the beginning and it's fine enough though, to these ears, there's not either the remove I want to hear on the one hand or the leap into pathos on the other--listeners' mileage may vastly differ. The last couple of tracks include ferociously sputtered and plosive bursts into, I think, the body of a piano and an extended glottal croaking, all of which are handled very well (and excellently recorded), but it's simply a neck of the woods with which I have trouble connecting. The final several minutes, though, revisit the area explored at the start, combining it with other things found along the way and I found this massing to work quite well. I'm sure there are other aspects I'm simply missing. The recording did grow a bit on me over the course of a number of listens; others, no doubt, will find it more immediately appealing on all counts.
Tuesday, March 05, 2019
Mattin - Songbook #7 (Munster Records)
With Mattin, the political is always primary, sometimes overtly, sometimes implicit. How this "works" might well be of secondary importance to Mattin and, occasionally, with the audience but more often there's great tension in effect, an abiding interest in confrontation and the creation of (necessary) discomfort in complacent listeners. Unsurprisingly, this results in a full gamut of reactions from full immersion to repellence. Whatever one's previous reactions, 'Songbook #7' is, to these ears, the most successful and bracing example to date of Mattin's melding of the sonic and the political.
This is a live performance (on vinyl) from 2017, with a septet consisting of Lucio Capece (bass clarinet, sampler), Marcel Dickhage (voice, sampler, German texts), Colin Hacklander (drums), Farahanz Hatam (computer), Mattin (voice, English texts), Moor Mother (electronics) and Cathleen Schuster (voice, sampler, German texts). I pause to mention that, if nothing else, I'm very happy to have been introduced to the work of Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) whose own work is fantastic and highly recommended. The performance is organized into seven "songs", titled January through July. The text includes multiple historical allusions to the Russian Revolution and Germaine Berton's (pictured) assassination of the rightist Marius Plateau, mixing in contemporary references (including "Bannon the lenninist [sic]", Dick Cheney, audience targeting and a semi-satirical (?) re-imagining of Lenin's ten theses). These are most often voiced (mumbled, garbled, screamed) by Mattin with some amount of electronic distortion. All of this, however, is largely subsumed in a mightily impressive vortex of sound provided by all the electronics and, importantly, Capece's wonderful bass clarinet and Hacklander's throbbing drums. There's a great sense of chaos, briefly emerging order--or violence--and subsidence back into seething chaos; very hard to describe except to remark on its fascinating combination of density and clarity. On a purely aural level, portions of 'Songbook #7' are as exciting as anything I've ever heard from Mattin, a striking blend of text and sound, strident, paranoiac and explosive.
Mattin's performances have often been concerned with audience involvement, sometimes forcible, and an interesting thing occurs a bit into Side B--remember, this is a live show, though I have the impression that Mattin may have deconstructed and reconstructed the performance after the fact. The music ceases and the musicians begin to talk. Quietly, slowly, one at a time, discussing contemporary alienation, noise-making, the contradiction between art-making and civil disobedience, power and more. A female voice (audience member?) poses questions to which people--I recognize Mattin's voice, but others as well--offer hesitant responses. From here, we descend back into shuddering chaos.
A great recording, strong on its own and quite different from anything else out there.
Karl Fousek - In the Forest (Second Editions)
A 12" 45rpm electronic soundtrack to the film, five tracks. I'm unfamiliar with Fousek's prior work so I don't know if this fits in, but the music here is very clean, very pure layered drones. Fousek discusses the technical ins and outs of his process here. The film documents an abandoned housing project begun in Puerto Rico in 1967 that has long since been retaken by the encroaching jungle. As soundtrack, one can imagine the smooth, rather complex tones working very well, accompanying, say, the decaying structures now overrun by vines, being broken apart little by little. As music on its own, I think the appreciation will depend greatly on what the listener brings into it. As mentioned, the drones are deeply layered and swirling, though I have the sense of very discreet lines--there's little apparent chaotic interaction, though there's a nice play of interference patterns here and there. This makes for a reverberant "spaciness" and cleanliness of sound that I'm not so partial to but one that others will certainly dig. The purely sonic aspect is impressively deep and resonant. The fourth piece, opening Side B, gets somewhat grainier and more dense and the third and fifth tracks move to irregular electronic pings, clearly evoking dripping water, hazily approaching a melody, very effective.
IQ+1 - Conversaphone Plus (Mappa Editions)
This LP is the third recording by this Prague-based ensemble, the second I've heard. The personnel for this excursion is Georg Bagdasarov (vintage turntable, FX, baritone sax), Veronika Hladká (violin), Jana Kneschke (violin), Jaroslav Tarnovski (synths, electronics, percussion, field recordings), Petr Vrba (clarinet, trumpet, electronics), Michal Zbořil (analog synths, electronics, Indian harmonium) and Kateřina Bilejová (body weather--which I take to be body percussion). The music is free-improvised but the results aren't post-AMM. As in the previous release I'd heard, they tend to coalesce around certain areas contingent with various jazz forms. On that prior release, I picked up Bitches Brew-era Miles, early Art Ensemble and others. Here, the referents aren't so clear, which is a good thing. On the first couple of tracks, perhaps one picks up some Don Cherry circa 'Relativity Suite' (the swirling violins) or some Jon Hassell (the rhythms and enhanced trumpet), but basically IQ+1 is out in its own space. The synths and electronics provide a consistent, undulating bed that throbs like a miasmic swamp, bubbling, lapping and bursting. On Side two, the ensemble almost settles into agitated drone territory, with loopy synth strands, stretched baritone and percolating electronics accompanied by texts, in English, listing times of the day and various everyday objects--the first five track titles are, 'House', 'Thermometer', 'Light Switch', 'Sofa' and 'Dustbin'. One does begin to pick up the sense of some strange household, some quasi-Lynchian vibe. The final cut, 'It's Twenty Minutes to Twelve', attains a fine, gritty, bubbly propulsiveness, sirening off into the echoey, pounding night. A very enjoyable record from a band with a unique sound.