Sunday, April 28, 2013

Keith Rowe/Graham Lambkin - Making A (Erstwhile)

In January, 2013, Rowe and Lambkin met in New York City to perform together for the first time. Rowe had become familiar with Lambkin's work upon the release of the latter's "Salmon Run" a few years prior and knew both that he did a good bit of graphic work and that his live sets had a strong tendency toward various aspects of performance art, not necessarily "music" as such, to the extent the term still has meaning. So he thought that rather than toting along his usual gear he'd bring drawing materials, scissors, masking tape, paper and the like with some contact mics. Arriving at the venue, he discovered that Lambkin, independently, had come to the same conclusion. Those of us in attendance were than treated to the very fine spectacle of two gentlemen drawing, cutting, measuring and tracing, watching and listening to the results. A couple days later, Rowe took a train on the Hudson-Harlem line up to Poughkeepsie (this writer's home town and current whereabouts of Lambkin) to create the recording at hand, using much the same approach, though substantially augmented.

Were I to say that the results sound unlike anything you or I have likely heard, I'd doubtless be guilty of some hyperbole and would quickly be directed to a multitude of at least quasi-similar ventures. But. It's not just the sounds, for me, more that strong sense of what's going on, the calm deliberation at play, the concentration on the graphism without the overt care of the audio output. Like it or not--and I do, hugely--it's at least reasonably unique. Rowe has always said that, essentially, he's a painter and considers what he does to be a kind of painting. Well, that's never been more explicitly realized than here.

There are three tracks, with timings that strike me as odd enough (12:00, 15:15, 15:15) that I suspect some hidden agenda. You hear a recording Rowe made in an airport waiting area in which he'd spent some time on the way too the States (elsewhere, sounds from the train ride up the Hudson appear), including an announcement offering special services for military personnel and some distant pop songs. This melts into scissor cuts, adhesive tape pulls and, generally, the sort of elements that will make up much of the rest of the disc: two men at work making visual art. Track one, "Over C", contains a steady dull roar; not sure of the source, seems to be more present than would be the traffic flowing up Innis Avenue outside the Lambkin household, but maybe. Actually, it sounds more like an in flight recording of the muffled jet engines outside. It couches the quicker, sharper noises created by pens, pencils and paper which go about their business aurally heedless. It's so full, with so much air and space, the sliding between the particular (the art marks) and the general (the airport lobby, etc.) creates a vast "room", almost a funnel of those past experiences as represented by the field recordings, sluicing down into the drawing implements. On the title track, exterior sound, though present, is subdued, the scratches and bumps of the graphics front and center, along with some dripping or coursing faucet, chair squeaks, a brush in a glass (?) and such. It's more relaxed, more transparent; you begin to think of the set as a kind of sonata. Wonderful sounds: knife on knife, the scrape of sharp metal on dull paper, no talking but the odd grunt or cough. The last couple of minutes have a dynamic surge, a huge wooly sound as though something, some fabric, is being aggressively crumpled. No idea what it is, but I love hearing it, love the way it caps the anterior 13 minutes of relative calm, like a brief thunderstorm after a placid day. "Wet B" arrives in a torrent, abruptly broken off, the ensuing marking sounds crunchier, hastier, with long unscrolling of tape (a great sound, as anyone who does it regularly understands). Such a delicious soundscape! No climax here, thankfully, just the personal, almost domestic sounds of two fellows at work, some of the results appearing on the sleeve of the item in hand.

"Making A" is an exceptional work, not as much for the sounds themselves, gorgeous and evocative as they are, but for the state of mind(s) captured and for the evocation of a specific room wherein the activities occurring are both specific and redolent of the world at large. Extraordinary.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For the last couple of years, the Bôłt label, under the curation of Michael Libera, has released a number of very interesting, occasionally exceptional recordings which were essentially cover projects, albeit with highly unusual ideas of the kind of pieces to cover, often from the contemporary repertoire (notably, Ashley's "Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon"). As enticing as this idea has been, Libera has pushed things a step further with this set, three discs issued under the title, "United States of America Triptych I-III", examining three unique aspects of Americana. One of them uses a specifically musical source, and an inspired ones but the others travel a bit further, um, afield. The total time of all three is less than 75 minutes, leading one to wonder why they weren't simply released as a single disc, but so it goes. Well, you do get three fine cover illustrations by Aleksandra Waliszewska, so I can't complain.

Volume I uses as its text, a selection of John and Ruby Lomax recordings from 1939, not "music" as such, but sounds and talk about the music being documented, presented in fragments and integrated into sounds provided by Pete Simonelli (voice), Miron Grzegorkiewicz (guitar), Michel Biela (bass guitar) and DJ Lenar (turntables). Simonelli, a poet and member of the band, The Enablers is the one constant presence throughout the triptych, possesses a healthy baritone capable of raging in a way that recalls, among others, Robert Kidney (very much so at times). The five tracks are presented without pause, the music having a vaguely blues orientation, most prominently displayed on "Parchman Prison, Mississippi", a low throb laying a good, grimy bed for Simonelli's rants against "red liquor". I'm guessing the sung texts are restatements of the original songs registered by Lomax though, not knowing the originals, I'm not sure. "Silver is silver and gold is gold/You don't mind if you lose your soul". A brief snippet of Mexican song, straight from the original recordings, is appended at the disc's conclusion. I'm hard pressed to say how much I enjoyed this realization; I did in parts, though I'm not sure of its lasting effect. The analogy to Kidney's work rang true through much of it and, to that extent, I think the music works--Simonelli's vocals may be an acquired taste for many but if you surrender to it, things more or less gel. It's a bumpy conglomeration, hitting its stride here, stumbling there. Worth a listen.

The second portion is titled "Ten Intrusions" and utilizes eight pieces from Harry Partch's "Eleven Intrusions", leaving aside the two studies and "Cloud Chamber Music" while adding two instrumental variations. The ensemble is Simonelli (sounding, it must be said, more than a little like the master, echoing his dark, sepulchral voice), David Grubbs (guitar), David Maranha (organ) and Andrea Belfi (percussion). It's pretty fantastic. While the group nods toward Partch and his justly intoned music, particularly in some of the guitar passages, it's by no means a slavish imitation, importing some bluesy elements (referencing the prior entry in the series) and discreet rhythmic modules. Simonelli is restrained, less so than Partch even, maintaining a cool, distanced outlook. On pieces like "Lover", he iterates lines, brooding on them like a barely contained John Giorno, Maranha's organ is marvelously subtle, atmospheric here, bubbling and gently propulsive there. Great source material, imaginatively, sensitively and, perhaps most important, gutsily handled. By all means, check this out.

As near as I can determine, Susanne Bürner's "Vanishing Point: How to Disappear in America without a Trace" is a compilation of anonymous, shall we say paranoid writings on the subject collected into a single volume, kind of a series of found documents elaborating on the thoughts of those whose skies are filled with black helicopters. Simonelli, Grubbs and Małgorzata Penkalla supply the vocals with Grubbs and Grzegorkiewicz returning on guitars and Maranha adding violin to his organ duties. The titles of the three tracks give you some idea of the nature of the text: "Destroy All Photographs", "Kill the Dog" and "Die with Dignity". The instructions bearing on these bits of advice are intense, shrill and maniacal and are delivered as such, especially by Simonelli who is again in something of Giorno mode, repeating lines with insane determination and vigor, singsonging lines like "kill the dog" and spit-snarling out others like "Criminals don't read, they're stupid! They're stupid!!". His subsidence into quasi-calm between explosions is as disquieting as the yells that inevitably follow. On the first two cuts, the accompanying music is almost subsidiary, just color. With "Die with Dignity", a shuddering figure underlies the words, like hesitant but determined steps toward self-annhilation, becoming fuzz-drenced as the piece bores on ahead. One could almost imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor having done something like this, but this is better, stripped of any moody grandiosity. The paranoia becomes appropriately claustrophobic before the radio waves penetrating your fillings explode, ending your worries.

A finely realized set or works; can't wait to hear what Libera dreams up next.


Distributed by Monotype

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Johnny Chang/Stefan Thut - two strings and boxes (Flexion)

A composition by Thut for two zithers (excited by e-bows, if I'm not mistaken) and two cardboard boxes that's pretty damned wonderful. I've found some of Thut's work in the past to be a bot on the parched side, but hear the two basic elements, the soft hum from the strings and the even softer rubbing of the boxes, are beautifully integrated, just barely brushed in--faint smudges on a not quite pristine sheet (you can, I'm glad to report, hear the world of Solothurn, Switzerland beyond the walls, wisps of engines and conversation). One of many things that fascinates me about the Wandelwesier aesthetic is the way the finer examples of same manage to vary so much within such a quiet area, where your ear has a decent amount of work to do just distinguishing the sounds from your own ambience (if, indeed, you choose to do so--I don't, always) yet still acquiring a unique identity. "two strings and boxes" is akin in a number of ways to other things we've heard over the past decade yet it stands very much on its own and is a very thoughtful, beautiful work. Highly recommended.

The release includes a fine essay by Patrick Farmer that does a far better job than I do framing this music.


Katsura Mouri/Tim Olve - Various Histories (845 Audio)

Sometimes you just crave some good old-fashioned eai....served up exceedingly well here. The opening low, fluttering growl is an immediate palate enticer, soon littered with crunchy clicks and skewed scrapes; we're on our way. Five tracks that, at there best, sound like where Voice Crack should have been by now had you taking their turn of the century work and plotted an upward quality graph. Mouri, who I don't think I've previously heard, is on turntables, Olive on pickups and metals, together create a brew both thick and spiky, with enough liquid continuity to flow easily but enough hard nodes to provide plenty of tooth. An implied, buried pulse often serves the music well as does a kind of transparency in the multitude of layers piled atop--there's a fine sharpness here and a sense of unwasted action. Also a welcome habit of saying what needs to be said then stopping. All too rare, nowadays. The pieces are well varied, covering ample ground quickly and with imagination, the closing track venturing into spacier territory, a stringent whine carving out a large room sparsely occupied by dull, echoing metals--very, very well done.

Arturas Bumšteinas/Kyrre Bjørkås - Sleep (An Attempt at Trying) (Bôłt)

An odd one, this. Bumšteinas apparently suffers from insomnia and has decided to compose about it, taking as source material any number of "sleep aid" tapes he'd acquired at flea markets and the like over the years, electronically altering the music in various ways, adding lyrics (base on the instructions therein) by Bjørkås and scoring the affair, a nine-piece suite, for an improvising ensemble of voice (Marcus Gammel), reeds. flugelhorn, violin, viola, guitar, percussion and field recordings.

Indeed, the opening track, "Prelude/Interlude" immediately recalls the dreamier music of Robert Ashley and the whispered, buried words readily summon forth his "Automatic Writing". The pieces veer between this pole and a kind of Frissellian one (guaranteed soporific in my book), the gentle tones floating by, bearing soft pops and somnolent plucks, blurred and hazy. There's also something of David Sylvian (on Nembutal)in play. There's a sameness to the songs, though perhaps that's to expected in a way, an oneiric, soft-edged iteration, counting new music sheep. Bumšteinas seems to have succeeded in his modest aim, to lull the listener. I want to say that the results aren't too exciting but I guess that's the point.

Bumšteinas at Bandcamp

Sunday, April 21, 2013

JesterN - hBar (dobialabel)

OK, first some housecleaning. JesterN is the name used by Alberto Novello, whose concept and composition this is. Much, if not all of the original sounds transfigured by Novello, came from Paolo Pascolo (flute and composition). I take it that Pascolo wrote or improvised the music on flute, Novello then running it through this or that program, modifying it pretty thoroughly. And then there are the visuals.

The release comes with two discs, one audio, one DVD. The audio on its own is reasonably enjoyable; the flute playing is of a modernist classical bent, clear and fluid, hinting at melody and rhythm without quite getting there. There are five pieces, often beginning with only the flute, then quickly adding crackles, zooms and other electronica, multiplying the flute sounds, layering them, engulfing everything in vortex-like swirls, withdrawing, leaving scant traces. At its smoothest, the music has tinges of Carl Stone, an echo or two of shakuhachi, but it's more often more disjunctive in the spirit of classic tape music (though, of course, here digitally generated. It's strong on its own, slithery here, plangent there, the electronics avoiding the cliches that sometimes infect this area.

But the work is fully realized only on the DVD, where the same pieces (edited from a live performance) are presented with interactive video accompaniment. Novello's program apparently uses sophisticated mathematical formulae involving growth and randomization and, as nearly as I can tell, it's the computer-generated sounds which directly trigger the visuals (though they themselves may largely derive from the flute). They tend to begin with a simple image then to undergo a series of transformations rendering them more irregular, more varicolored and, often, intriguingly organic, as can be seen in the cover image. Each of the five pieces is visually different, each going through a unique set of permutations, all enjoyable to one extent or another.

"hBar" is a strong and unusual effort, well worth investigating.


Lali Barrière - Patio (Chirria Sello)

A very short (<12 minutes) but quite enjoyable essay in amplified objectness. A live performance, clearly embedded in its surroundings, Barcelona police sirens, birds and vehicle engines a consistent, underlying presence, Barrière's rumblings, strikes and burred percussiveness fitting in perfectly. Her work here is rough, no-nonsense without being strident or overly aggressive, staying for much of the piece within a rather narrow sonic range but exploring that very diligently, in textures, dynamics and compressed sound placement, before a nice coda that uses plucked metal of some kind, pinging like the rods inside a toy piano. Strong work--could have gone on much longer (sounds as though it did only the recording being cut off), though it's brevity is refreshing.

Chirria Sello

Daniel Barbiero - Not One Nor (zeromoon)

Two compositions for solo acoustic bass (Barbiero), each a healthy combination of restraint and extended techniques. "Not One Nor" provides the merest set of instructions, asking the performer to utilize two sound areas, "Bowing just above the bridge" and "Bowing the tailpiece". Other aspects such as order, number, duration, dynamics, preparations and amount of space is up to the instrumentalist, though re: the latter, leaving "ample space" is encouraged. The result is along the lines of what one might well anticipate but the strength of this recording comes through via Barbiero's sensitivity and choice of sounds. It's interesting in that, generally speaking, we've heard this palette before--what sounds haven't been generated by bowed strings at this point?--so it becomes a matter of relationships and placement, this texture against that, and Barbiero maintains one's attention throughout while quietly tickling the ear. A fine piece.

"Eighteen Events for Double Bass" sets that number of scripted activities against an equal number of "non-actions". Not sure what these are, exactly, possibly of a visual nature. Dealing with what's presented, we do hear a series of discreet events, some of which are a bit more "traditional" sounding than the prior work, with rich, dark arco, others far drier, with scratchy harmonics, and a wonderful almost whistling passage. It's consistent in approach with "Not One Nor" but also carves out a different structural area and is just as satisfying. Listeners into the Wandelweiser aesthetic will find much to enjoy here andI'm looking forward to more from Barbiero.

Available for download from zeromoon

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lee Patterson/Vanessa Rossetto - Temperament as Waveform (Another Timbre)

I think the first time I heard a recording by two individuals working remotely, corresponding electronically, was 1994's "Monogatari - Amino Argot" by Otomo Yoshihide and Carl Stone (just noticed I wrote it up for All Music Guide). The format has of course become quite common since then and has, I take it, evolved quite a bit from the simple sending of files with the kind of ABABAB back and forth which occurred in the Yoshihide/Stone album; I take it the interaction is richer and less "balanced" in that sense, or at least it can be. In any case...such was done here between Manchester, England and Austin, Texas and the results are superb.

The music, while not really dronish, is fairly steady state; even the quieter of the four pieces contains continuous sounds. Rossetto's viola can be clearly heard at times and is likely there in disguised form even more often while Patterson is doing whatever it is he does, though I don't detect any sizzling ovoids here. The opening track is extremely strong and rich, multiple layers of deep hums, revolving scrapes, metallic scouring and more, a massive drill burrowing through stone, really impressive. The second track begins with a low volume, churning mass -- good lava pit feel here, small elements solidifying, breaking off into slag. Lovely the way it fades to almost nothingness a couple of times only to well back, changed subtly, refiltered, ending in a great and unexpected low piano tone followed by stirring, dark string work. Great music, pushing to the edge of a kind of Romantic conception in a way, something always latent in Rossetto's work (if, indeed, she was primary source of this particular segment. "The highs and lows of cross-Atlantic collaboration" (:-)) is more fragmented, with odd, almost random elements entering now and then, though with a substrate, soft grainy noise, that holds the pops, grinds, near-choral samples (probably wrong on that one) and squeaks in place, soon giving way to recordings that include birds, traffic and such; not (the latter) so unusual but sounding wonderful. The closer, "an indication of presence", brings the dynamic level back up to where we began, though the flow is initially more troubled, clotted and a little frantic until Rossetto's dense, incredibly striated viola emerges, as though a dozen Tony Conrads had wandered into the space, the vast hum shrugging off splinters a harsh string scrapings, utterly filling the space, subsiding into a scratchy nest of rubbings and pings.

An inspired pairing resulting in a beautiful recording, despite the ocean between.

John Cage - Cartridge Music (Another Timbre)

Wherein the venerable work is tackled b yStephen Cornford, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Robert Curgenven, Ferran Fages, Patrick Farmer, Daniel Jones and Lee Patterson.

From 1960, the work is for pickups and contact mics, the score constructed by overlaying transparencies that map the players' paths and provide durational cues, if I understand correctly (which I may well not). The results, frequently, are not so distinguishable on a purely aural basis from certain kinds of improvisation, especially those of the rough-hewn and spare variety. One question that often occurs to me when listening to compositions like this is, how much depends on what we might (still) call the performer's virtuosity? Or, more pointedly, how much of prior knowledge as to the identity of the interpreter acts to weigh one's perception, evaluation and appreciation. I hear a David Tudor performance of the work and find it quite special and thrilling--is that because I know it's Tudor? Had I heard this one blindfolded and been misinformed that the musicians involved were Rowe, Wolff and Sachiko M, would I have heard it differently? I don't know but I don't discount that possibility.

In any case, I find myself relatively unable to get involved with this rendition. Maybe its due to the number of players and the (if one can go by the interior photos) wide-ranging variety of sound sources; I think, as is often the case, I might prefer fewer options delved into more deeply. The sound is rough, ragged, near-random s it "should" be, dynamically varying but, dare I say, excessively aimless? That could well have been the (a) goal. With Tudor, I impute a strong hand at the till, but perhaps that's an old-fashioned way to come at pieces like this. Here, it's fine but not gripping, maybe imparting too much the sense of performance on the one hand and, if so, less directionality than I'd want. I listened intently sometimes, distractedly other times, finding it penetrable but with not enough...mystery? verve? randomness? prick my ears.

Michael Thieke/Olivier Toulemonde, Lucio Capece/Jamie Drouin - The Berlin Series no. 1 (Another Timbre)

As the title indicates, this is the first in a planned series intended to document aspects of the Berlin scene; whether they'll be split affairs remains to be seen.

Two long tracks, 43+ and 36+ minutes respectively, the first featuring Thieke (clarinet) and Toulemonde (acoustic objects). The former's playing is maybe a bit harsher in tonality than what I've heard, live and on recording, from his work with The International Nothing (with Kai Fagaschinski), my main prior exposure to him. This is all to the good and he carves out fine, thick lines, microtonally tinged with Toulemonde gamely and adroitly contributing percussive sounds that circle the tones like thousands of irregularly spaced satellites. But interest just isn't sustained for the duration. They reach a certain point, maybe ten minutes in, where the next 20 minutes offers no deeper plumbing. Though one track, there's a pause after a half hour and what seems to be an entirely different improvisation begins. I take it Thieke is, at first, tapping at his instrument in some manner and Toulemonde is making very electronic-sounding noises acoustically, but in any case, it's a refreshing change of direction. The section evolves into some keening and scraping; not entirely absorbing but with much more meat in it than the earlier portion. A mixed bag, overall.

Not so the Capece/Drouin track, which I found unreservedly fantastic. Bass clarinet with preparations on the one hand, analog synth and radio on the other, each deployed masterfully. Like Malfatti, Capece (and, for all I know, Drouin as well) has the ability to operate, often, in a pretty highly circumscribed area and yet generate an amazing wealth of striking and fresh sounds. The first third or so runs more or less as one might expect: lone, quiet tones from Capece, gentle accompaniment from Drouin but then things switch up with some fine, discreetly bristling synth and coarser split notes on the bass clarinet--delicious combination. The music subsides into a silvery pool, laden with rasps, soft whistles, deep thrums. It nestles there and sizzles; again, occupying a limited space but offering so many small differences, so clearly etched as to be endlessly fascinating. A great set--hear it.

Atolón/Chip Shop Music - Public Private (Another Timbre)

I guess it happens every so often but meetings of "bands" seems a bit uncommon, here the Atolón trio (Ruth Barberán, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Ferran Fages) and the Chip Shop Music quartet (Erik Carlsson, Martin Küchen, David Lacey, Paul Vogel) offering two tracks, live and studio. One immediate plus: there's absolutely no sense of overcrowding, the new septet providing ample space in which to maneuver. The first track, the live one, begins very winningly, with chimes and burbles, spreads it self out without hurry, very relaxed. Too relaxed? well, maybe. At 43+ minutes, there's a sprawling tendency that offers less in the way of implied form than I'd like to hear; hard to quantify. The music is fine but doesn't feel especially notable. The "private" cut, at about half the length, is perhaps necessarily more succinct, tauter. The sounds possess a bit more urgency (it's wonderful to hear at least a snatch of Costa Monteiro's accordion sounding like an accordion, and Küchen's alto has some delicious moments), a greater sense of purpose as though they're striving to get somewhere.

Osvaldo Coluccino - Oltreorme (Another Timbre)

And then you get recordings like this one which seem so effortlessly beautiful...Solo, all "acoustic objects", played in a loosely percussive manner, softly. Softer still if you follow Coluccino's suggestion and turn the volume low. Sounds enter into the room, disappear; depending on your listening acuity, you may forget the disc is on for a minute or two. When they surface, I bet they sound as natural as whatever else is going on wherever you are. Nothing forced, nothing overly stressed, a fine willingness to withhold; reticent but not shy. If anything, some of Jeph Jerman's work is called to mind.

One of those recordings where it's tough to say much, worthless to describe but extremely enjoyable to experience. Coluccino isn't well known to me and I daresay many an eai fan but clearly should be. Check him out.

Another Timbre

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Antoine Beuger/Jürg Frey - Ensemble Dedalus (Potlatch)

A couple of things to get out of the way. As more and more recordings surface documenting composers who first came to renown as part of the Edition Wandelweiser collective/label, using that term, "wandelweiser", has become an increasingly inexact way to refer to their music, given how much of it has spread out into areas that, for example, aren't necessarily spare, quiet, what-have-you. That said, the recording at hand, containing two pieces by Beuger and one by Frey, does in fact sit with reasonable comfort in that so-described zone. Second, like a number of recordings of this set of musicians and, more, like any number of live experiences, the ambience outside the specific room is clearly audible. Some people have problem with that. I not only don't but often (including here) find that it adds a wonderful--I'm tempted to say necessary--layer of meaning to the pieces, embedding this hyper-delicarte and sensitive music into the real world, on equal footing. (I recall seeing, a couple of years back, a performance at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, NYC, of some works with Barry Chabala, Ben Owen, Dom Lash (others?). While they were playing this intensely quiet music, one could see, through the large windows right behind them, a worker for the church carrying a large ladder which he proceeded to, with some noise, lean against the building, climb and do whatever it was he was doing. I loved that.

Ensemble Dedalus has as many as twelve members although, in recordings and performance, they adapt to the requirements for the occasion. Here, the present members are Didier Aschour (guitar), Cyprien Busolini (viola), Stéphane Garin (percussion, vibraphone) and Thierry Madiot (trombone), augmented by Beuger (flute) and Frey (clarinet).

Beuger's "Méditations poétiques sur quelque chose d'autre" presents the players with two pages, one containing ten melodies, the other fragments of text from Alain Badiou, Henri Bergson and Vladimir Jankélévitch. The musicians can play the melodies in any order and at any speed and may hum or read, in a soft voice, the texts. A few seconds before the first note, you hear the room and its presence remains throughout, car engine sounds mostly, blurred but every so often a horn or a pronounced revving motor. At first, the vibraphone seems slightly foregrounded, perhaps only because its tone separates itself more form the ambience than the wind instruments and the soft voices. The occasional sibilances of the latter bring them to one's attention as they gently eddy amongst the played notes. There'n an ever so slight tinge of Ashley here, like a quieter variation on his "Automatic Writing" as the words are all but indecipherable. The work indeed has a dreamlike feel, very ethereal, in which case the exterior sounds provide a perfect offset, not too grimy, still somewhat distant, but making their existence known. As the work progresses, the flute and clarinet assume greater prominence, producing some really exquisite harmonies and subdued dissonances. It all flows so naturally, slow and meandering, suffusing the space second by second like advancing sunlight.

As the title implies, Frey's "Canones Incerti" consists of two sets of melodic lines per musician which, if I understand correctly, are played in order, a then b, but the duration, entry time (after the beginning) and number of iterations are up to the player, the piece ending when everyone has stopped. And what eventuates certainly carries that quality of a canon, of overlapping directional lines (echoed by the sonic vectors of the passing automobiles, which sometimes, for me, take on the aspect of breaking waves). Perhaps it's the vibes, but something about the work has a dreamy, gamelan-like quality. If I have a quibble it's that a work with such a timeless feeling to it ends a touch abruptly-but a minor carp.

One excellent consequence of the increased recorded output by the Wandelweiser cadre has been multiple performances of the same piece. Beuger's "Lieux de passage" (a term sometimes translated as "corridors" but which I like to read as "way stations") was given a wonderful reading on the Another Timbre box set and likewise here. Here, the idea is essentially a clarinet solo (given ten lines, able to begin where the player wants, stopping wherever desired) with the other musicians playing a note from the line form time to time. By virtue of its structure, this composition has a less systematic sound than the other two, the undulating, plaintive, even wistful lines of the clarinet taking on the character of an elongated, non-pyrotechnic cadenza, slowly unfurling, becoming wind borne, nudged now and then by puffs from the accompanying musicians. The image of spiraling cigarette smoke dissipating into a room might be too easy but also the feel here is less smoky than liquid. If you can covert that image into water vapor, maybe that's getting close. Gorgeous, thoughtful and extraordinary music, however one attempts to analogize it.

A great recording, no doubt.


available stateside form Erst Dist

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rick Reed/Keith Rowe/Bill Thompson - Shifting Currents (Mikroton)

So, as I understand it, the initial idea here was for Bill Thompson to compile a catalog consisting of over 100 tracks culled from other performances of Reed and Rowe and then, with the pair improvising amidst a multitude of speakers, do a real-time mix of same during the performance. Here, on two discs, are recordings from Huddersfield and Stirling, both in 2009. If the discs contain Thompson's contributions as well as the duo, I have to say that the former are very subtle indeed; had I not been given a hint otherwise, I could easily have thought it was only the pair, given the multiplicity of sounds they're quite able to generate of their own accord.

The music itself is, unsurprisingly, not dissimilar to that produced (in my experience) by the Voltage Spooks trio (Reed and Rowe with Michael Haleta) which is to say more on the steady-state end of things than Rowe is otherwise likely to produce these days (or then). There's a certain amount of scrabbling about which I'm tempted to attribute to Rowe, but the roughness and abruptness of much of his recent work is ameliorated by a consistent thrum or buzz. I'm guessing that's largely Reed's doing, though perhaps it's Thompson as well. Or both or neither. The Huddersfield set is interesting; one's initial response is work that's easily digestible but not very forceful, but little by little, you settle into its flow and begin to appreciate the gentle fluctuations and odd sonic appearances, like the quasi-arabic squiggle that occurs some 15 minutes in, the various small knocks, shudders and clinks, the introduction of taped room sounds including blurred conversation. It intensifies midway through its 54-minute span, ripsaw sounds breaking through, clanging that recalls the strumming of toy piano rods, radio captures--its a large welter but a curiously gentle one.

The Stirling set is bleaker, with hollower tones and softly iterating, echoey percussive elements, very dark and dystopic though again with a thoroughgoing presence, more drone-oriented than the prior performance. Again, much of the enjoyment is to be found in the details that merge along the way, the bits that poke their head through the morass. Generally, both pieces are more reminiscent of the work Rowe was doing int he mid-oughts, which is no bad thing. While not as deeply stirring as his more recent music, it's remains a fine listen and offers a really nice opportunity to hear more of Reed, who's underrepresented on disc. Clearly, one is curious to have heard this in a room, with the Thompson elaborations flitting about but, as is, it's a good, solid listen.

Hanno Leichtmann - Minimal Studies (Mikroton)

A new name to me. True to the title, Leichtmann has constructed ten studies that adhere to certain minimalist aesthetics. Overall, I hear echoes of early Riley in some parts and early Carl Stone (in the harmonies) in others. Leichtmann (modular system, bass synth, guitar, e-bow, organ, sampler, signal processors) uses contributions on various tracks from Boris Baltschun (electric pump organ), Sabine Ercklentz (trumpet), Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet) and Alex Stolze (violin), kneading them into his framework. The results, while perfectly pleasant, are far too pat, so much sonic wallpaper, with easily swallowed bass lines and flowery frills atop. Sometimes, as on "Study Six" (with Stolze), those bass lines verge on parody, bearing an 80s slickness that conures up unfortunate images of rolled up sleeves on suit jackets and Hollywood faux noir. Very well done on its own terms, I guess, but way too tame for my taste. For those who find Fennesz heavy going.

Catherine Jauniaux/eRikm - Mal des Ardents (Mikroton)

The direct translation of the title is "ergotism", which is to say the effects of ergot poisoning, but "heartsickness" or "bewitchment" might be more felicitous interpretations.


I knew I was in for rough sledding here, not being too much a fan of free improv vocalizations this side of Ami Yoshida on the one hand and not being terribly partial to eRikm on the other. And yes, the snow was patchy. Two discs; oddly the first is from live shows in 2010 while the second dates from a 2000 Taktlos Festival performance. Jauniaux supplies her own texts (needless to say, often indecipherable) in addition to using that of several others, including Ovid, Rilke, Duras and Gainsbourg. The turntable/electronics are both busy and excessively thin sounding, not a great combination (many jazz samples here) and the vocals...I just don't know how much is left to mine in this area. Again, short of Yoshida and a handful of others, at their best, a kind of sameness almost inevitably sets in, with the rapid-fire sputtering, the gurgling, the frantic howling, the tongue clicking, the overwrought tonsil-wringing. Well, enough people get it, I suppose, but not this listener. The odd nod to pop (as in "Ne Pas" on the first disc) is actually welcome, supplying a brief dab of grease to the affair.

The 2000 set is actually a bit more controlled and interesting. When Jauniaux verges, slightly, toward more traditional song terrain, as on "I'm Not Far" and "Sous-Jacente" and others, the outcome is far more agreeable than otherwise; would like to hear more in this direction--not everyone has to be a "free" musician. The set is still not quite in my comfort zone but I enjoyed it far more than the recent one. Your mileage, of course, may vary quite widely....


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Well, it's been a while since I posted anything of my own work here--been a while since I produced anything much! But yesterday, I did four small watercolors that worked well enough for me. The idea was simply to try to coerce something decent out of a heavy Charcoal Gray wash, not the most conducive watercolor, one rarely used in fact, partially because it tends to dry rather...dryly. So I cut four small pieces, painted area about 3 x 4 inches (they might read larger here, not sure), opted for a vertical orientation and went to work to see what would happen. Wanted to keep them roughly in the same territory but with free variations within. Anyway, here they are, in birth order:

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Robert Piotrowicz - When Snakeboy Is Dying (Musica Genera)

You hear a given musician a number of times over the course of some years and you think, "I have a pretty fair idea of what this fellow is about". And, of course, you're usually entirely mistaken.

I'd heard Robert Piotrowicz' music on several occasions, usually enjoying it quite a bit, and had come to expect something along the borderlines between improvised electronics and noise, subtly handled. Then this item appears. Not only is the instrumentation somewhat different (modular synth, guitar, piano, vibraphone, computer, all wielded by Piotrowicz) but far more importantly, the entire approach is something other, more composed, more "classical", to entirely misuse the term. Given the disc's title and those of the five tracks ("The Boy and Animal Mass", "The Bite", "Formatio", "Pneuma" and "Snakeboy MAximus"), one is almost forced to find a narrative thread in the music and, indeed, there's something vaguely programatic about the content; one wouldn't be surprised were it used as a soundtrack of sorts for a film about said snakeboy. There's a linear flow, very delicately traced, piano, guitar and vibes wending a tentative path through the subdued, often cautiously threatening electronics. Sometimes there's a hint of minimalism, just a trace, with repeated phrases embedded in a shifting ground, more often a tinge of Feldman in the placement of the vibes and piano notes but overall it's really a very unique sound. The mix of colors is tremendous throughout, Piotrowicz expertly juggling texture, timbre and duration, maintaining a midrange dynamic in which the near-melodies rest. More malevolent strains enter during the final cut, implying the unfortunate consequences for our hero alluded to in the album's title.

It's a vinyl release (though Piotrowicz was kind enough to send a CD burn to my turntableless abode here). If you can play it, definitely avail yourself of this music. Really excellent and substantially different from much that you've likely heard.

Musica Genera

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Jean-Luc Guionnet/Eric La Casa/Philip Samartzis - Stray Shafts of Sunlight (Swarming)

Three selections from a 2007 European tour, all discreet, subtle and enjoyable. Guionnet is on saxophone here (the others on laptops and electronics), occasionally recognizable as such but always melding with Samartzis and La Casa in quietude and immersion into the room. You hear muffled conversations, breath through the sax, exterior sounds, thin sine tones--just a fine, breathing atmosphere. A few days ago, I went to the opening evening at Présences Electroniques festival here in Paris and, as is often the case, was appalled by the stale vocabulary utilized in much electronic music, the clichéd synth tones, the paucity of sonic exploration. Then I hear something like this where that whole desperate search for purportedly new sounds is, I imagine, not really a consideration yet...all these wonderful new sounds emerge, fresh and invigorating, without the slightest tinge of academe. That notion of "unfolding" which I prize so highly and which is so bafflingly absent in much contemporary, more "officially sanctioned" electronic music, is so manifest here. As ever, recounting sounds and sequences seems a fool's errand. Those familiar with Samartzis' work (of which scarce little has reached my ears in recent times--I miss his music!) will find it up to snuff with his best. For myself, the same is the case with Guionnet and La Casa. Windows open here, washing machine going, sounds of cooking and cleaning, the music blends in quite beautifully. What more can one ask?

A fine job, give a listen.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

Jakob Ullmann - fremde zeit addendum 4 (Edition RZ)

This addition to the 3-disc set of Ullmann's music previously released by Edition RZ consists of one 66-minute long work, "solo III für Orgel" (1992/1993;2012), performed by Hans-Peter Schulz on the baroque organ in the Abbey at Neresheim. It's amazing. Schulz has penned a fine history and description or the work which all should read.

The constant is that 13-tone row referred to by Schulz, played by not fully depressing the organ keys, doing so just enough to generate a sound, but one that wavers and is quieter than it would be otherwise. On the recording, this low dynamic amplitude registers less as quiet as such, more as distance, at least to these ears. It's a gorgeous, complex sound, at once static and infinitely varying. For the initial ten minutes it occupies the space, at which point we hear the first of several auxiliary sets of sound, a flute-like, even more "distant" flutter of notes, like a bird song. I take it that this is part of the "structural processes" which seem to have been laid over the score in a manner reminiscent of Cage's "Atlas Eclipticalis" (the composition resulted after Ullmann's meeting with Cage and nods to him often). Other sounds appear on occasion, including a relatively loud, deep moan or two; it's like watching a still scene, being always very conscious of the air between your eyes and the solid material, its subtle shimmer, with the odd passing shadow, cloud, bird or insect. Very real, very (I hesitate to use the term) organic and natural.

As ever, I'd dearly love to hear this piece in situ, to experience its physical and corporeal nature as well as the apparent distance of the sound, its disappearance into the ceiling of the abbey. Ullmann has located and elaborated upon such a beautiful "section" of the pipe organ, something that's just inherently wonderful enough on its own, more so when gracefully embedded in a simple but by no means simplistic structure. I'm at something of a loss to say much more except to urge that you give it a listen. Great, great music.

Edition RZ

Available from Erst Dist

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Antoine Beuger - 24 petits préludes pour la guitare (Edition Wandelweiser)

"It takes waiting. Then another string, another finger. A pass in the middle of an arpeggio: an alvearium must be built, a conduit, an in-between-

--- (very) slow, very free, molto

I had to look up "alvearium", not a common term. I was pointed toward "alveary", a word with two intriguingly different definitions: first, a beehive, or something resembling a beehive and second, the hollow of the external ear. Apian aspects don't leap out at one here, so I'm going with the latter meaning, thinking of these sounds flowing around my own alvearies. Of course, its root is also the middle name of the guitarist in question, Cristián Alvear Montecino, who plays so lovingly here.

True, there are 24 pieces contained on this disc, which range in duration from 2:00 to 3:45, but in part due to the large amount of silence in which the single notes are swathed and also because the composition are "of a piece", the recording reads almost as a continuous work. The preludes seem to consist of sets of two to five notes, generally, perhaps always, in a rising pattern and very often diminishing as they appear, purely struck, with incredible gentleness, so much so that the final note in a given sequence sits right at the edge of audibility. The notes float away, evaporating as they go.

Unlike some Beuger discs, the recording environment is pristine; I get the sense the pieces would work just as well in a sonically active space. In fact, part of me would like to hear just that, to have the notes just barely glimmer through the surroundings. But for the time being, this is more than gorgeous enough. What else canI possibly say about this? I sometimes had the mental images of beautiful, faint speckles on a wall. Other times of wafting dust motes, semi-periodic puffs drifting out of sight.

Just precious, amazing music.

Christoph Korn - SIMEON (Edition Wandelweiser)

I'm nothing if not a sucker for interesting structure and Korn's "Simeon" is almost all structure, a relatively simple one to grasp when looking at the score, much more difficult to do so using one's ears. I can't locate an image of said score on-line but, more or less, it's an irregular (one might say, poetic, as well as very elegant) variation on Cantor's Dust:

If you visit Korn's site you'll see and hear a related example.

Korn presents two pieces, each 30 minutes long, which, though dissimilar in pitch (the second is higher), are otherwise tougher to prise apart than the Beugers above. Each is composed of a single sine tone, initially heard as a continuous sound for some 1 1/2 minutes, then repeated with silences interpolated, silences which increase in both length and number upon each iteration. The last line, the eighth in the example printed in the booklet, consists of three very brief blips. Appended to each work, after 20 minutes of this process, is ten minutes of pure silence. If indeed that's the score for one of the two tracks, I'm unable to follow it; perhaps it isn't. The sheer length of the tones and their self-sameness make it all but impossible for this listener to get a handle on the structure as a whole, just some adjacent blocks. So my tendency is not to worry about it, treat each gap as a surprise, be generally conscious of their increased prominence, then lie back and enjoy the silence.

Damned if I can say why, but the disc grew on me the more I listened. Not for everyone, by any means, but I'll be looking forward to hearing more of Korn's music.

Edition Wandelweiser

Available from Erst Dist

Monday, April 01, 2013

Graham Stephenson/Aaron Zarzutzki - Touching (Erstaeu)

Erstaeu 003 is, at once, the most "traditional" of the first three releases and, perhaps because of that, the most difficult to approach, at least for this listener. My previous experience with Stephenson's work (I think this is my first exposure to Zarzutzki) has often followed the pattern of initial opaqueness followed by gradual transparency, eventually resulting in enjoyment and appreciation. I say "traditional" a bit tongue in cheek, although the set here, trumpet and electronics (both also credited with microphones, contact mics, one assumes), has something in common with old-school improv duos in that it's real-time and very active although any call and response has been long since jettisoned.

Ultimately, I end up just sitting back and letting the music wash over me, cease looking for structure, allowing the knowledge to hit me retrospectively, if at all. What's left are mere descriptives, not sure of their value. The first track (all the pieces derive, I think, from a single continuous session) reaches a really fine, needle-sharp, swarming area, the strangulated brass mixed tightly with a shrill electronic surge, expiring into an itchy bath of wheezes and very rough, scratching crashes, building back up to a mid-level chatter that (possibly because I just saw him last night) recalls the work of Pascal Battus (not a bad thing!). The next piece seems more slowly paced, though no less fraught with agitated noise, featuring some seriously brutal, gravelly synth work. Cut Three is again relatively spacious, Stephenson's horn to the fore, a smidgen more geared toward normal trumpet tones, like Don Cherry on helium. The pair chuckle a bit during its denouement, a downward, farting spiral...and immediately return to the rambunctiousness of the opener, developing a furious storm of low, rude synth and burbling, bleating brass for the fourth track. Periodic pauses for breath between assaults. The piece evolves a huge amount of power, gets a fine careen going, though at times the synth becomes a bit monochromatic, Zarzutzki mining a strong lode, maybe dipping into a given sound field once or twice too often. Finally, there's something of a recession, the synth switching to springy tones, a tortured Slinky, eventually growing spare. At moments, the music brings to mind the Rowe/Sachiko M recording, "contact", though cruder (which also isn't necessarily a bad thing). A beguiling super-low hum/metallic tinkle segment, much more roughage then, surprisingly, the faint sound of a flute, perhaps from a radio, a small window opened to an adjacent world, all but obliterated by between-station-sounding buzz and bludgeoned by static eruptions. Nice. Out with a pop.

So, I end up greatly enjoying the session, not so much for structural reasons but simply for the cascade of sound, for the kind of persistent exploration and the harsh things the pair discover along the way. All three inaugural releases on the Erst sub-label are quite strong, mandatory listening.