Thursday, June 26, 2014

Philip Sulidae - History of Violence (Unfathomless)

Using a loaded title like "History of Violence" (and, presumably, not referring to the Cronenberg film of almost the same name), one expects to hear som eallusions to the subject but, if they're here, I have difficulty ascertaining any. Not so important, I guess, but the field recordings captured and massaged by Sulidae Belanglo State Forest in New South Wales, Australia don't directly refer to anything violent. One assumes the violence in question is more general, that is, damage to the flora and fauna of the area at the hands of humans. The sounds seem to have, generally, natural origins, from the opening mosquito-like whines of "Bargo" through the requisite swarms, chirps, etc., most enswathed in a kind of sonic cloud that gives the affair a muted, blurred aspect which I imagine is the intended effect but that makes much of the work somewhat indistinguishable from other field recordings of the "natural" world. "Slow dusk near long acre fire trail" seems to contain phonograph noise, maybe an ironic commentary on the wildlife sounds around it, or captured on it? By itself, this track is the one I found most moving, that and the moment near the end of the title track when muffled voices emerge from the blur.


Socrates Martinis - North (More Mars)

A 3" disc accompanied by a booklet containing poetic text and illustrations. It's a very personal document, including the music, even as it's made up of three skeins of grainy electronics: a short, loud burst that peters out in seconds, a few minutes of steamier, damper sound, as of a large, interior generator of some kind, and ten or so minutes of a more grinding, dirty sound, reminiscent of a large device in need of oil. Abstract but strangely intimate, no more, no less. the poems (in Greek typescript as well as English) seem to similarly straddle some border between distanced and closely felt, for example: Light that spills/and rhythmically emits odors of milk/with the voice of steam locomotive engines. The five ink paintings are like personal signs or totems, again quite inward looking, bearing an aura of meaning all but unknowable to the viewer. Very interesting and, ultimately, strangely alluring work.

More Mars

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Peter Streiff - Komposition/Urs Peter Schneider - Klavier (Edition Wandelweiser)

I thought I'd use a photo of Streiff instead of the cover of the disc which, of course, isn't any different from all Wandelweisers, save the specifics. Though the compositions are Streiff's you get the idea that Schneider is being given equal credit for the realization, causing me to wonder a bit at the degree of freedom the latter had, especially given the apparent nature of the pieces which, I have to say, I feel somewhat ill-equipped to evaluate. I mean, I like them very much, find much of the work quite beautiful, but I've the feeling of being in over my head, the music seeming to operate in a "classical" context that's far enough outside my experiential frames so as to render nil any judgments I can make.

Strangely, one of the impressions I had, was of a composer, a "serious" classical composer, sort of doodling at the keyboard. This is not meant in the slightest to be disparaging--just the opposite. There's a sense of wonder at the image of these figures just flowing out, seemingly without forethought. Not improvisations as such, more a sketching out of forms within a few frameworks, works in progress, ideas to be fleshed out. None of this is the case, clearly, though that conflict of the image I'm holding with what I know (or assume) to be the reality is also very fascinating. Apologies for the blather, tough to sort out.

Brief notes are provided for each piece, fairly impressionistic ones like, "Recognizable fuzziness, hidden clarity, a simple development" or "Agitation within, shifts at the margins". Whether any systems were in place, how much space Schneider (who plays gorgeously throughout) was allowed, I don't know. The music unspools slowly, even languorously, is more or less tonal for the most part, edging into pastoral now and then. There's the occasional nod to minimalism, but that's rare. Maybe a tinge of Satie's Rosicrucian period, not sure. Some verges on the strident, some is dreamy. It sounds both plain and unique; odd. There's a short portion of "Neun kleine Bässe" with six softly descending notes, a couple of blurred lower tones, a squiggle of mid-range ones that's haunting, eerie and wonderful.

So, apologies for the mishmash of a write-up. Please disregard the confusion here and simply listen for yourself--it's excellent music.


Also available via Erst Dist

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thomas Stiegler/Hannes Seidl - das wetter in offenbach (Edition Wandelweiser)

The notes for this piece are entirely in German and, after running them through the vagaries of Google Translate, I still have only the roughest of ideas as to the ideas behind the work, so I'm tempted to simply go by what my ears tell me. Suffice it to say that t has something to do with bicycle trips by Stiegler to the town of Offenbach (nothing to do with the composer as far as I know), the sounds encountered and also, possibly, the sounds of certain medical equipment. Who, of Stiegler and Seidl, contribute what, I've no idea.

The construction lasts for forty minutes, most of it taken up by field recorded sounds interspersed with a smooth, electric hum (not sure of the source, presumably computer or synth) whose pitch fluctuates slightly but which retains its general character throughout. It comes, lingers for several seconds, ends; sometimes it overlaps the other sounds, sometimes it stands alone. Every so often, you can pick up a quieter tone as well; perhaps there are more layers than meet the ear. In the interim, we hear various "everyday" sounds ranging widely and including crunchy footsteps, car and water sounds, geese quacks (quite a flurry at one point), airy fields. It's calm, with a sense of patient forward movement consistent with a relaxed bike ride. The listener settles into this travelogue and it's quite pleasant. Around the 34-minute mark, just after you've experienced a series of gently iterative mechanical sounds, possibly some of that medical equipment in action, the scene shifts drastically. Very much as if the CD in your player has suddenly changed, you hear a funky disco-ish line, not recorded in the field, but pure; very disorienting. It dissolves in less than a minute, first overlaid with discreet hums, a muffled voice, then replaced by some backwards tape, that familiar hum. It's almost as though one has been biking in the rural countryside, engaged in a reverie, only to find oneself back in urbanity without realizing it. Despite the hum, the last several minutes have a different character, including a set of dull, metallic clangs,before automotive noise ends the piece abruptly.

It's an odd work, with its own unique if awkward sound-logic. I found myself enjoying it pretty well though I'm still unsure if I've comprehended it decently.


Also available via Erst Dist

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Urs Peter Schneider - Kompositionen 1973-1986 (Edition Wandelweiser)

The structure of this 2-disc set is durationally symmetrical, four pieces lasting (more or less) 8, 60, 60 and 8 minutes. I've no idea how representative this sample is of Schneider's work (I think it's my first experience of it) but there seems to be at least something of a common thread int he way he uses quasi-repetition of forms (not in a minimalist sense) that, over time, result in something larger than the individual elements.

"Zeitgehöft" (the title of a collection of poetry by Paul Celan, generally translated as "Timestead") is for two pianos that sound retuned (maybe only one of them?) and consists of strong, dark, rounded chords, somewhat staccato though with silences between allowing the notes to sustain in the room. Initially opaque, the resolute continuation of the particular attack succeeds, for me, in creating a special world with odd logic, where the stuttering steps can be heard as a kind of hesitant dance. This piece grew on me each time I listened, very moving ultimately.

"Sternstunde" (great moment) is an astrological term and the six movements alternate between "Ahriman" and "Luzifer", the former a Zoroastrian deity and the latter, well, Lucifer. It's scored for two speaker and two singers (male and female in each duo) with two other musicians providing "noise. The latter occurs in sweeping, wavelike sounds that occur between movements, imparting a very cleansing sense. The distribution of the text between speakers and singers is extremely effective (not sure if there's overdubbing or if substantial use of the echoing aspect of the performing space is in play, but the vocal sound is wonderfully cloudy and rich); it sounds as though there's a kind of "round" in effect, the cycles of each part ever so often coming into sync, almost unison, then going out of phase, back again and so forth for the entire hour. It's sung/spoken in a kind of declamatory style, with a regular, even plodding meter, though that's part of the mesmerizing effect. Apart from the change in text, there's only slight variation in the musical approach, though minimal as it may seem, certain sections are noticeably more "transparent" than others. As implied above, the sheer accumulation of this attack, and maybe a subconscious appreciation of the underlying logical structure) tells over time. Soon you've become quite accepting of this world. I think the text is from Christian Friedrich Hebbel, a 19th century German poet, though I can't find any direct reference for it. I have to say, although it won me over, I could easily understand if the relentlessness of the approach caused other to find it wearying.

"Meridian", based once again on Celan, is tougher for me to grasp. Less overtly obsessive than the two prior works, we hear a succession of episodes (again, six), with strings playing microtonal glissandi (inevitably, due to my having first encountered it there, I think of Penderecki), rather disembodied voices, tympani, piano and more. There's a lot going and doubtless much I'm not apprehending but, while the passing moments often convey an odd, hazy kind of beauty, I can't get to the logic of the piece and leave unsatisfied. Might require a guide on this one.

"Augenhöhe" (eyes high) cites Hebbel but mirrors the first in an oblique way, consisting of short phrases played by Dominik Blum on a Hammond organ, sixteen or so quick, fleeting notes (possibly always all different?), placed between periods of silence lasting about sixteen seconds. The phrases are as playful as they are seemingly random, bouncing gaily and, given the silences, acquiring a subtly plaintive air. Quirky, elfin and lovely.


Also available via Erst Dist

Friday, June 13, 2014

Rasmus Borg/Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø - 120112 (Edition Wandelweiser)

Sometimes Wandels appear with substantial info about scores of methods of actualization, sometimes not. Here, there's only the cryptic inscription, "entrusted to each other from the outset, at each other's mercy" which, to me, implies improvisation, though who knows? Whatever the case, the three pieces presented by Borg (piano) and Nørstebø (trombone) are spellbinding explorations of the low tone.

Three pieces but they segue into one another effortlessly and, with the possible exception of slight variation in pitch (and I'm not even sure of that) are pretty much indistinguishable from each other unless I missing some subtle pattern shift. The sounds are all low and sustained--bottom of the keyboard piano and extremely low trombone (the disc says, simply, "trombone", though it sounds like, at least, a bass trombone to me). The trombone tones aren't quite Malfatti-pure; sometimes they begin with a slight growl, others with a half-step upswing, but they're routinely very rich and luscious. Sometimes, the pair start a phrase more or less in unison, usually with a slightly staggered entry, but often enough one or the other enters an existing line, melding in, playing a pitch very close to that of his partner. It's a very round sound, globular even, suspended among the near-silences. Listened to closely, you can pick up ambient noise, little clicks, bumps and the like, small but for me important in surrounding the music with a kind of sheath, giving substance to the air in the studio. It's difficult to say much more than that. The pieces don't really have a monolithic quality, but they're all rather (beautifully) self-similar, more like an underground seam, coal perhaps. I really enjoy it.


Also available via Erst Dist

Daniel Lercher/Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø - TH_X (Chmafu)

As it happens, fate also delivered into my hands another recording involving Nørstebø, a collaboration with Daniel Lercher (sinusoids, resonators, filtered red noise). "Red noise", I discovered, is also known as "Brownian noise" (as opposed to brown noise), that is, waves whose structure is (somehow) determined via Brownian motion. Nørstebø, here, initially explores similar, low-pitched areas for the most part, although Lercher's contributions, of course, are much different than Borg's, consisting at first of strong sine-like waves, pulsating and fluttering and, I suspect, doing funny things with regard to how the trombone is heard (though there may be some flutter occurring there as well. The pair splay outward from that on subsequent tracks, Lercher especially delving into more ragged, drier tones (the red noise, I'm guessing) and crisp pops, eventually ultra-harsh swathes of noise. Things continue to splay out as though, once released, boundaries are forgotten. It's a heady mix, Nørstebø's trombone becoming less recognizable as he plunges into breath/rumble territory, the electronics going more and more abstract, crackling, ragged. The last of the five cuts circles back, beginning in the storm then flowing back into the purer sine tones and hyper-deep brass that began the disc. Strong music, well worth hearing, also causing me to want to listen to far more of their work.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

(Various) - West Coast Soundings (Edition Wandelweiser)

A compilation of work by twelve composers, ten of whom studied with James Tenney and/or Michael Pisaro (who are also represented by pieces here) at Cal Arts, performed by a quintet (or parts thereof) consisting of Frank Gratkowski (bass clarinet, clarinet, alto sax, radio, triangle), Seth Josel (electric guitars, mandolin, radio, triangle), hans w. koch (electronics, radio, triangle), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello, triangle, radio, voice) and Lucia Mense (a range of recorders from sopranino to contrabass, radio, triangle). One of the heartening aspects, in a sense, is how far many of the works "stray" from a Wandelweiser aesthetic--it's always good to hear evolution outwards. A brief description of each work:

Mark So, segue (2007) - Long, soft lines, very warm, in an interesting, kind of prismatic relationship with the clearly spoken text ("Segue", by z. Laurence-Juan)-THe lines are lovely and relate to the text in non-obvious, haunting ways, occasionally splintering softly into frayed endings.

Michael Winter - small world (2008) - More aurally fragmented and diverse (apparently constructed via graphs and game theory) with disparate elements calmly meshed, even as the elements themselves are thorny, almost strident and eruptive. A collage feeling but also oneiric.

Chris Kallmyer - Between the Rhine and Los Angeles (2012) - Performed here by electronics and electric guitar, from a score in which the musicians are asked to trace the form of a river, resulting in a rich, twisty drone that hovers now and then, meanders off. Nice thickness of tones, often more going on than is immediately apparent, drawing me back a few times after I mistakenly thought I'd heard it thoroughly.

Tashi Wada - Nest (2008) - Realized here for recorders, clarinet and cello, along with field recordings by Wada. koch's note says "accentuating the tonal content of field recordings" and you can feel that approach, the musicians searching for some affinities with the birdsong, rustle and background hum of the site recordings, like a chamber trio enhancement of Pisaro's "Transparent City" series. Very beautiful.

James Tenney - Harmonium #1 (1976) - for quartet, excluding koch's electronics. A gorgeous work, all long shifting lines, endlessly subtle and complex planes of interaction. I wasn't sure if I'd ever heard the piece before (I'm unforgivably behind in my Tenney) so I found a version on-line by the Trio Scordatura, also very beautiful, but I enjoy this one more. Great work.

Liam Mooney - 180° (2011) - For dry ice and triangles. As I learned courtesy Casey Anderson, sublimating dry ice can somehow activate resonant surface if held just barely above them (a buzzing sound occasionally heard here, occurs if you come too close). It's a wonderful sound, a kind of ringing, metallic rattle, constantly in flux and we get to soak in it for 18 minutes here. This is "all" that happens--steady-state on the one hand, endlessly varying on the other; I love it.

Scott Cazan - Outliers (2010) - Per the notes, Cazan "employs a computer, gradually reducing available pitches by filtering out ones that have been heard". As played by the quartet (again, sans electronics). The work is calm on the surface, even stately, though a subtle sense of agitation grows as, I presume, the palette is reduced. Fascinating process, engaging music.

Laura Steenberge - Waltz (2013) - a dark, eerie waltz, with low cello and woodwind chords and sharp guitar plinks. Probably the most "traditional" piece here in some ways, quite cinematic in an expressionist way.

Catherine Lamb - Frames (2009/2013) - For grand bass recorder and cello. Lamb's swiftly become one of my favorite composers around and this work simply buttresses that feeling. It involves investigations of tuning played out in long lines but the magic lies in the poetry of choices, the sheer deliciousness of the note pairings, the overlapped, irregular durations, the grain in both instruments. As they say, worth the price of admission on its own. Beautiful.

Quentin Tolimieri - Trio (2013) - Clarinet, guitar and cello. It nods to a kind of post-serial, lyrical abstraction but then begins to dissemble that, the sounds becoming more and more sparse, eventually leaving substantial silences. There's a fine progression from the "normality" of the beginning to the poignancy and sense of abandonment at the conclusion that makes the work very beguiling and moving.

Casey Anderson - possible dust (2011) For five radios, very un-Wandelweiserian, exposing a wooly chaos of sounds from radios that sound randomly tuned (and frequently changed) but I imagine there's a system in place somewhere. In-between-stations static abounds, with speech (German) next in line, only the odd snatch of pop music. In this context, it serves as a bracing tonic but stands firmly enough on its own.

Michael Pisaro - A single charm is doubtful (Gertrude Stein) (2005) - Part of the Harmony series, played here by, once again, the quartet without koch. As ever, wonderful music; somewhat more forceful than you might anticipate, the recorder very much up front, gilding the sustained cello and alto saxophone, all (with the guitar) creating an emergent pulse amidst the long, long tones. Absolutely stunning, especially in its sense of time negation. It just continues on until it stops.

A fine collection then, one that's obviously necessary if you've the remotest interest in this area of music and, for me, extra valuable for exposing me to music created by composers of whom I've had no or very little previous experience.


Available in the US from Erst Dist

Friday, June 06, 2014

Wind Rose - Lamentations (Amusements Banales)

"Wind Rose" is Gary James Joynes and 'Lamentations' is a set of dark, relentless electronic drones created while in mourning for the death of his father. This fact necessarily calls to mind Jason Lescalleet's brilliant, 'The Pilgrim' but Joynes' approach is different, conjuring a sound-world almost entirely grim and, despite the plodding onwards evoked by the steady pulse (in the first track), purposeless, perhaps seething with some rage. The following cut is even bleaker, the sounds having taken on the mechanical aspect of a piece of large machinery, mindlessly cycling, eventually sputtering out. 'Arrival', the third track, is more agitated, itchy even, with rapid iterations of growl and static, but no less desolate. Then, about halfway through, it's knocked out of kilter and sent into a loose spin, a slow free fall that at least seems to offer a possible path out of the claustrophobic gears and turbines, edging into "An Index of Metals" terrain. In the final piece, 'Translation', things begin to churn, a certain kind of vital power seems to be generated. It slows however, begins grinding down, takes on the sense of a small airplane descending. No way out.

Amusements Banales

Lunt - water belongs to the night (Tremens Archives)

Lunt is Gilles Deles and this recording is rather the polar opposite of the preceding one. The label cites Fred Frith and Rafael Toral as influences and that can certainly be heard here, especially the mid-70s Frith of his initial solo release, an old favorite of mine. The first track also, I have to say, nods to Fripp/Eno but, as much as I love those recordings, i was happy to hear that Deles moves on from that attractive clime. A piece like "Stumbling Crystal" is Frithian, true, with it's spiky, ice shards delicately arrayed, but it's so inherently attractive that I forced myself out of an "influential" mode of appraisal and just enjoyed it. Still, I was also happy to hear a harsher tack taken on the ensuing cut, "Poison goes back to the ground", and even happier when Deles pulls out the stops on "Golem of fire", channelling Fripp to a degree but, again, doing it quite well. He gets harsher still on the penultimate track, ending in a stuttering, staticky grind, but ties things up peacefully on the final piece, with soft, echoey plucking that, again, isn't earthshaking in approach but is done with taste and a fine ear. If that branch of guitarists appeals to you (as it does me), you'll find this an enjoyable listen.

Tremens Archive (bandcamp)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

LP round-up, part deux

Slobodan Kajkut -The Art of Living Dies (God)

A work for solo, amplified cello, performed here by Michael Moser.

The label site offers the description, "Lack of musical material, minimalism but not for it's purposes" and that's not a bad encapsulation. The music consists of sets of phrases, always bowed, generally discrete. The initial sounds are one to five note lines, each note discrete, no obvious pattern. The air is dark, somber, the notes low but dry. Almost inevitably, one conjures up the image of a lone entity in an unlit space; "Beckettian" seems too easy, but hard to avoid. Over the course of the LP, Moser's attack varies, but not too much--a section will have slightly higher, grainier tones (that recalled some of Feldman for me), but things inevitably settle back into that sort of disengaged area where "mournful" would be too strong a term. Resigned, maybe. Yet, pace Beckett, it goes on, never to any point but incapable of doing otherwise, one desolate step at a time. The sounds themselves are easily digested but the overall effect is, intentionally I suspect, oppressive, gathering force by sheer dint of the relentless refusal to accommodate. It's quite persuasive in this regard and I have to admire Kajkut's (and Moser's) steadfastness. Strong medicine, good work.


Peter Kutin - Burmese Days (Gruenrekorder)

I haven't read the Orwell novel from which this LP takes it's title though, I'm guessing, it shares that author's concerns about Western imperialism in Southeast Asia, even if abstracted beyond direct reference points. Kutin (field recordings), here, is assisted by Berndt Thurner on Burmese metallophones and Dieb 13 on electronics and turntables, melding their instrumental compositions with his recordings to form the two side-long works. And they sound pretty great, some of the finer integrations of field and instrumental sounds I've heard in a while. I'm guessing this likely due to Kutin's skills at composing the material but surely at least in part a result of the reticence of Thurner's and Dieb 13's contributions which routinely remain at a low level in the mix, often nearly indistinguishable from the found sounds. The whole affair is rather subdued but very alive and subtly colorful, seething with a quiet pulse, from the opening chitters of insects (accompanied, I think, by Dieb 13's stuttering electronics), through attenuated near silences bearing faint hums, through cloudy, zone-tinged climes with muffled drums, voices, those metallophones. It' a heady journey, especially Side One, murkily cinematic, unsettling and all-around excellent. Don't pass on this one, it's a really fine realization.


Thomas Tilly - Le Cébron/Statics and sowers (Aussenraum)

Fitting, I suppose, that a record, half of which chronicles the shattering of ice, should be pressed on clear plastic.

Side One documents said breakage, recorded on the shores of Lake Cébron in France, ably assisted by a trio of shatterers. The combined crackling sound of the destructive process necessarily includes the sense of watery ambiance, a lovely combination. Tilly maintains that, apart from a "slight equalization no electronic modification has been done" which makes the sounds all the more astonishing, seeming, as many of them do, to have been culled from an elaborate and dense bit of INA GRM-y software. There's a minimal sense of the surrounding air, much more of a feeling of being right at ice level, inches away from the action. The piece has clearly been composed and it flows, bumps and all, very well, a natural sounding cascade of shards.

"Statics and sowers" involves beehives and electronics, and is roughly divided into three sections. The apiaries come first, an intense and just slightly creepy horde of buzzes near and far; fine depth here and more than a little uncomfortable. Quite abruptly, the bees are sharing the stage with a swathe of electronics (perhaps bee-sourced, hard for me to tell). A loud static charge all but submerges them as the music moves into a multi-layered, throbbing drone (pun intended). I found this portion less interesting, the general sound a bit too much like any number of drone works. But matters are redeemed a few minutes from the end when another harsh shift reintroduces the hive, but dimly, embedded in static fragments and barely contained feedback. This somehow comes across as very disturbing, not sure why. But it's an effective end for a very interesting venture. Worth hearing.


Monday, June 02, 2014

Vinyl Round-up # 1

Costis Drygianakis - Blown Into Breeze (self-released)

Much fun on creamy white vinyl, this. A riotous assemblage of sound, Drygianakis corralling swatches from numerous performances,m taped voices and other sources, combining it with music generated by Stathis Theocharakis (piano, keyboards), Nikos Veliotis (cello), Lilly Varaklioti (voice), Manos 'Ego Death'[ :-)] Michaelides (electronics), Tasos Stamou (zither), Stylianos Tziritas (clarinet) and Dimitris Aitopoulos (guitar). "Instead of a press release", Drygianakis provides a poignant and sharp essay revolving around his experiences in the local cemetery of his hometown, Nea Anchialos. where his uncle was interred in 2009. It's both very moving and very aware of the surrounding world--the history of the area up to and including the current crisis--as reflected in the comings and goings of visiting families, the items left behind (and often stolen), the way those items reflect changing mores, for instance the candle replacements that "burn" longer, allowing an excuse for fewer visits...

It begins with some heavy, rich chords amidst wooly static and other atmospherics, a little reminiscent of GY!BE, but quickly tumbles into more varied terrain, with quivering throbs, voices, a soprano, sounds sourced from god-knows-where, much more, stirred into a fine, near-chaotic stew. I'm not sure if the cemetery essay is inducing the eerie sensations here, but the latter stages of the first track lend themselves rather well to images of Lovecraftian chittering in an ossuary. "Part two" (of four) is sparer, though still churning--low, rotating thrums buttressing thin whistles. Quick drop-puts, distant, vague voices, a low-pitched clarinet, cricket-like sounds, zither, imported strings--all file through, overlapping, managing to make some sense, beautifully deployed. This approach continues in the next cut with different elements (including what seems to be some church-based chanting) but maintaining a large interior space feeling and that eeriness, though that wears out its welcome a little bit. The final cut gets back on track with dense, dark electronics opening into a light space with cello dabs, voice blips and other scattered sounds flitting about, escalating to a massive assault, dropping abruptly away to steps, faint cello and hollow voices.

Strong, exciting work, I'm anxious to hear more.

soundcloud site

Mattin - Songbook #5 (Disembraining-What Is Not Music? #1)

In which Mattin comments on several issues involving freedom and improvisation, doing so in an anally constricted, rule-bound format revolving around the number five and, at least obliquely, referring to works like the Rowe/MIMEO project, 'sight'. Briefly, as a response to Australia's What Is Music? festival, Mattin posed the opposite question, having five musicians (Joel Stern, Andrew McLellan, Dean Roberts, Alex Cuffe and himself) improvise five, five-minute songs based on five ideas expressed in five-word phrases (e.g., "Aware Of Its Own Mediation"). He then did a 25-minute (5x5) concert in five equal sections based on these ideas and subsequently delivered a "singing lecture" which served as the vocal tracks for the pieces, all of these elements stacked onto the final product (à la "sight") and released the end result in an edition of 555 copies. One chuckles both at the notion and at the self-recognition of one's own anality.

The music? It's rock, more or less, of a particularly sludgy kind, muffled bass, loopy synth, a sluggish morass through which Mattin's highly distorted vocals meander. It's kind of dumb but seems to take its dumbness at face value, enough so that I actually found it not so hard to slip into and enjoy in a gooey, guilty kind of way. The final cut breaks the mold a bit, allowing more space, resonance and, to these ears, a more complex and headier kind of beauty. The words are more interesting though, Mattin continuing to question the scene's aesthetics and values, always a worthwhile endeavor regardless (or for the value of) pissing off or exasperating (or boring) denizens therein: you had to construct/your believe [sic] in self-expression/your believe [sic] in lived unmediated experiences/you just never show the process.

Hear for yourself: here

Mark Vernon - Sounds of the Modern Hospital (Meagre Resource)

I worked in a large hospital in NYC (Mount Sinai) from 1977 to early 2013. For a decent portion of that time, about 1988 to 2007 and sporadically thereafter, I found myself in patient areas that included a ton of technology: ICUs, X-Ray and MRI centers, ORs, ERs and dozens of kids of laboratories, most of which contained items capable of generating sound. On the one occasion where I actually underwent an MRI, the neurologist, in my pre-exam consultation, warned me about the noises that would occur and described them, advising me that many patients found them scary or uncomfortable. "That's ok," I said, "it sounds like a lot of the music I listen to." "You scare me," he replied.

Mark Vernon has assembled, in a wonderfully designed retro package (I love the faded purple), 33 slices of sound from hospitals in Scotland, sound of both mechanical and human derivation. They're presented blankly, "as is", no specific commentary or narrative in effect, though, over the course of the recording, the listener may inevitably construct such. Many of the technological sounds are iterative, various analyzers, pumps, printers, scanners and other medical devices and they, clearly, have a decided "musical" content. But here are also the voices of staff conducting therapy sessions here, chatting there. A particularly eerie sequence occurs when we hear coughs and wheezing played through a mannequin, a simulation device used in nurse training. The extracts are short, running about a minute or two each, delineating this as a "sound effects" recording (though some, like "METI Human Patient Simulator" have a quasi-musical aspect that sounds intriguingly close to, say, an extract from a Keith Rowe performance). But it becomes impossible not to embed these noises into an imagined whole, an alien sort of environment which, nonetheless, we've come to rely on. Those cool, detached beeps need to be warmed up to one of these days.

Oddly absorbing, do check it out.

Meagre Resource