Saturday, May 31, 2014

Michael Pisaro/Miguel Prado - White Metal (Senufo Editions)

Where to begin? As a rule, I love seeing the scores to Pisaro's work, either before or after hearing a performance. There's always so much more going on than I can usually apprehend (consciously) while experiencing them. Here, the score, six pages not counting the title sheet, is printed right on the LP sleeve. As well, there's a card inserted inside the sleeve containing notes by Prado that further explicate this particular realization of the piece. But there are so many layers of complexity, technical and conceptual, that "following along" is a daunting task and ultimately, I think, less worthwhile than simply understanding that this massive, intricate framework does exist but, like pixels in a newspaper photo, you needn't concern yourself directly with it--but you shouldn't forget it either.

The title, "White Metal", necessarily calls to mind both Black Metal and White Noise and Prado goes into that a bit in his notes. While the latter, via the variety of sound sources used here, makes itself known (not always, by any means, as recognizable sounds also intrude), I don't particularly pick up any overt references to the former, though perhaps that's due to my relative lack of knowledge about the genre. For that matter, despite knowing the work decently, I don't hear the structural references to Mozart's 40th Symphony which apparently are also in play--I imagine there's a great deal I'm missing here. But still--it's a thrilling, challenging and fantastic experience. Pisaro, as is his wont, uses clock time as a lattice for the two musicians, each assuming two "voices" (three in the final section), to append their contributions, arraying the durations to overlap in a huge number of patterns. Sometimes these durations are for the length of the movement, other times they're as brief as two seconds. As usual, he also allows for some latitude and, as ever, this elicits a strong desire to hear other realizations of this project. Additionally, stereo panning is in effect so, as I understand it, we're hearing more or less of a given musician's sounds over the course of the work's four movements, one more "wave" that flows underneath the surface elements, shifting them in a very subtle manner. And, to be sure, there are silences, four of them of varying lengths, though at least as far as I hear on the LP at hand, there exist soft, irregular (not in line with the disc's rotation) patches of sound to be discerned during these periods; not certain if that's an artifact of the vinyl itself, though I expect it is. And that's fine! :-)

Just sitting back and letting the music flow over you, intuiting the architecture, wading through all these variations of white noise, is a wonderful experience. The first movement contains several washes of near-tonal content (if some actual shards of Black Metal have been extracted for use here, I'm guessing that's one of the places they might be) as well as a series of clicks, enabling it to serve as a kind of entryway to the remainder of the work wherein those kinds of ready handholds, while still popping up now and then (some quasi-tonality, recordings of ocean waves, a rocket countdown) grow more vague, enveloped by other more abstract noises. Just let the piece establish its own strange, obsessive logic, the myriad minuscule segments disappearing into the whole. Even then, because of its prismatic complexity, it sounds very different on each re-hearing. Or, rather, I pick up different aspects, assign more aural weight to one part than another; shifting, always shifting. Endlessly fascinating, one of my favorite releases this year, excellent actualization by Pisaro and Prado.

Senufo Editions

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Keith Rowe/Ilia Belorukov/Kurt Liedwart - tri (Intonema)

(apart from the standard Roweian caveats, an additional one for being thanked on the disc sleeve, presumably for some footwork I did in the Spring of 2013 to assist Keith in getting his performance visa for entry into Russia)

Two trio performances from the same space, one with an audience, one without.

Not to be overly hierarchical about this, but even in as much as Rowe strives to maintain equanimity with any collaborators, when he journeys to a far-off location to do some improvisatory set with younger, local musicians, something of the sort inevitably creeps in, a certain deference on the part of those musicians, perhaps (barring some unusually strong personality), so that the results tend to follow a Roweian path and the listener tends to frame the music more in the context of what he knows of Rowe's previous work. Unfair and unfortunate, but difficult to avoid, at least for me. Happily, Rowe doesn't think of these events as "just" improv sessions (as opposed to projects that he's conceptualized at greater length or depth) but seeks to understand the place in which he's performing, the issues affecting the area, the musicians themselves of course, and to integrate himself into the milieu, hoping to add something of value and/or interest. It doesn't always work, by any means, but when it does--and I think that, by and large, that's the case here--the music can achieve a difficult-to-describe specialness.

Most of the sounds are quite subdued, especially in the set with audience, sublimated to a wonderful, sometimes ghostly degree. My impression throughout most of it was of a kind of ruffle in the atmosphere, a passing disturbance. Belorukov's alto saxophone (he's also heard on contact mics, ipod and other electronics and objects) is always discreet, carefully poking out its head, commenting quietly, receding. And Liedwart's ppooll (I take it), often provides deep, faint tones, a little watery sounding at times, often mysterious and indicative a great spatial depth even if they never quite attain solidity, really enjoyable. The music maintains this cool darkness for most of its 42 minutes, very impressive, very strong and surprisingly varied within those parameters. The occasional jostles and bangings emerge quite naturally, never seem forced and don't really get too loud or disparate, more a subtle change in texture and grain.

The sans audience set is reasonably similar and not bad, though it lacks the mystery of the other, strikes me as somewhat flatter, the sounds more up-front, sometimes very much so, bursting out of the frame and coming across as disjunctive, which may well be a tonic for the preceding set but doesn't work as satisfactorily for me. It's totally fine, very reminiscent of any number of such events I've seen or heard with Rowe, just not quite capturing that undefinable specialness encountered earlier. Although I must say, listening to it for the sixth or seventh time as I write, certain passages, such as the one beginning at about the 24-minute mark and continuing for a few minutes thereafter, are brilliant. It's one of those works I can easily see myself returning to in years to come and discovering multiple new aspects and ways of hearing/listening.

Definitely well worth investigating.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sophie Agnel/Olivier Benoit - REPS (Césaré)

I'd been only minimally familiar with Agnel's work, probably not much other than the Potlatch release with Lionel Marchetti and Jérôme Noetinger, 'Rouge Gris Bruit', from 2001 and the beautiful recording on Another Timbre, 'Spiral Inputs', with Bertrand Gauguet and Andrea Neumann, prior to hearing her perform at the Nya Perspektiv festival in Västerås, Sweden in 2012, which was something of a revelation. To unfairly encapsulate my impression, it was like someone channeling a healthy dose of Rzewski through free improv/post-Cage territory, both sonically bracing and emotionally moving. I've unfortunately managed to miss catching her in concert here, since my arrival in Paris (including a set with Michel Doneda last week on the same evening as the Diatribes show). My experience with Benoit's music hasn't been quite as enticing, including several jazz-rockish ventures on the Circum-Disc label that I never warmed up to.

So I'm happy to report that 'REPS' both enhances my appreciation of Agnel and also causes me to reappraise Benoit. Two medium length improvisations, about 18 and 15 minutes long, recorded in 2011. The first launches immediately into a motoric figure by Agnel (prepared piano, a clanking of sorts heard in the strings) accompanied by splintered lines from Benoit, harsh but with an underlying tonality suggestive of, say, Sharrock. This kind of piano approach, as mentioned above, almost automatically catapults me into a "Winnsboro Cottonmill Blues" (Rzewski) frame of mind, but splayed out a bit, leaking into adjacent, more contemporary areas. Agnel has strong tonal streak as well, a lovely sense of tone that constantly merges from the buzzes and clatters of the stringboard accoutrements, as well as a strong, though subtle, rhythmic sensibility. Admittedly, I hear mush of the music herein as emanating from her, with Benoit very ably accompanying, which I'm sure isn't truly the case. The guitarist eschews the kind of Rypdalian motifs I've heard before, navigating areas perhaps a few steps removed from noise (toward tonality) but never edging over into too easy offsets to the piano. The first track drifts from highly charged portions to dreamier ones, several times, managing to skirt any overtly free jazz idioms in favor of a kind of "free classical" environment and finding a wealth of material to work with there, really something of a different niche, very rich. When some deep chords on both instruments emerge some 2/3 of the way through, the effect is quite dramatic and and gratifying (and also reinforces the duo nature of the piece). A very fine mini-epic, this one.

The second cut opens in sparser climes with more of a scratchy, euro free improv feeling. Soon, though, one of those urgent rhythmic kernels appears, dark and chunky, leading the music into a swirling torrent, Benoit rubbing and chafing, that rushes into an intense, throbbing bit of chaos. As with the previous improvisation, it hurtles from place to place without any sense of purposelessness, each section naturally ensuing and the whole forming a coherent (at least in retrospect) structure; very satisfying, ultimately evaporating in a way that, in context, is unexpectedly lovely.

A strong, rather unique offering, well worth hunting down and hearing.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Martin Küchen - ...and everything inside came down as dust (Confront)

[Needless to say, the above image isn't from the Confront release, but I could only find a non-.jpg image on-line and, well, you know, it's a Confront metal box release... :-) ]

Küchen's work in recent years, at least to the extent of my having heard and seen it, has been notable for its huge emotional charge, for his willingness to use near programatic content to convey his anger and frustration at events in the world. And it's been very powerful stuff. I'm tempted, therefore, to search for more of the same in this release (especially given the evocative album title) but these aspects, if present, are cast in much more oblique light. One gets the sense that there's something conceptual afoot, but it's difficult to put one's finger on exactly what that is. We learn, from the Confront site, that the recordings took place in the Expedithalle in Vienna, a huge space, "Europe's largest bread factory prior to World War II". Whether this fact has larger ramifications, I'm not aware, nor if the track titles, containing what I take to be physical measurements of the structure ("5 million sq ft of painted surfaces", for example) hold any greater significance. The last of the six cuts, however, dispenses with figures and is simply called, "Ritual defamation of Vienna". "Ritual defamation" is a term used, among other places, in the Arab/Israeli conflict to describe a strategy on the part of the latter to destroy the reputation, character, etc. of the Palestinian community via malicious speech. As Küchen is well known for his involvement in this issue, I take it that's part of the enigma here, though what Vienna has to do with things, I've no idea.

The music is obscure as well, though very strong. Again with the exception of the final track, Küchen conforms to a general structure each time out. His playing is much more restrained than is often the case, concentrating on low, liquid key pops, harsh breaths (Küchen, more than most saxophonists, has always treated his instrument rawly, like a metal tube with holes) and relatively quiet squeaks. What's unusual is his accompaniment. Again, no info is provided but they appear to be recordings, severely distorted, from other musical sources. On the first cut, it seems like a keyboard, perhaps a harpsichord (Bach?) though the quality makes it seem like the most distorted Fender Rhodes you've ever heard. Küchen burbles along beside it, showing no audible awareness of it, just two music generators sharing the same space. (I should mention that, throughout, there's no particular impression of being in a large space--everything seems very close mic'd.) On the next piece, amidst those raw, throat-scraping breaths, we hear a similarly grainy and distorted recording, but this time of Arabic music, a male voice and, I think, an ensemble. It comes and goes, conveying more of a ghost-like presence, though a vivid one. I think the following piece contains grainy radio (maybe all the external music is radio-sourced?), but it's more difficult to distinguish, Küchen producing strained whistles; the track is all the stronger for this mystery, very moving somehow. The fourth work more or less recapitulates the first, both with the harpsichord and key pops, though both quieter and more gnarled, more inward-collapsing--intense, personal and disturbing. The fifth track, "1200 elevators", includes wonderfully deep flutters and again, that radio sound, that seems to just barely impinge on a broadcast, eventually picking up, I think, some Arabic content; great stuff, oddly forceful. Finally, we hear Küchen unaccompanied, in some respects sounding more "familiar", circular-breathing a thin but multi-layered series of hollow tone and squeaks. No harpsichord, no Arabic music or radio, just the saxophonist, perhaps a bit tortured by those apparitions, desperately attempting to exorcise them.

Good, tough work, hard and scabrous.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

One for Ghost - s/t (Skyapnea)

One for Ghost is a cassette release from Giovanni Civitenga (electronics) and Doreen Ooi (viola, objects).

The press release cites John Cale, Tony Conrad, La Monte Young and early minimalism generally as influences and some of those are clear enough, but the pair fashion a reasonable unique sound world themselves, nodding to Eastern traditions near the beginning of the half-hour piece (I hear smidgens of Hassell and perhaps some of the more meditative aspects of the Canterbury scene), with a welcome thread of dirtier, glitchy electronics, before shifting to a fine percussive section, various quasi-rhythmic, hollow sounds tapping away, remotely. Some strong, melancholy viola, overdubbed into a small, mourning ensemble before shifting once again, There are many such shifts, tumbling from place to place while retaining something of a consistent character. Frithian guitar-ish areas (though no guitar is credited), parts that recall Hector Zazou, swirls of bubbling electronics, simplemelodic fragments that surface, repeat for a while, sink's a stew of sorts, some ingredients more palatable than others, but everything digestible. Maybe the references are too overt (there are also portions that remind me of Scott Johnson and, midway through Side B, a patch that's very much out of Reich circa 'Different Trains') and I'd be curious to hear future work where these skins are sloughed off, but Civitenga and Ooi evince a personal voice beneath all that and a very attractive one. Recommended for the more minimalist/Fennesz-y branches of readers.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mark Alban Lotz - Solo Flutes (LopLop)

Mark Alban Lotz/Islak Köpek - Istanbul Improv Sessions May 4th (Evil Rabbit)

Lotz is a German flutist who, as far as I can ascertain, has been making a good name for himself in European jazz circles, though the solo effort shows his clear intentions to diversify quite a bit. Kevin Whitehead, who wrote the notes for the Istanbul session, cites his childhood traversing areas from Thailand to Uganda with his musicologist father and one hears a clear affinity with various musical approaches, including European free improvisation.

The variety of attacks can be something of a problem when arrayed in disc form, here comprising 17 relatively short tracks; it almost necessarily becomes a palette showing what the musician is capable of rather than a satisfying whole and the listener is more or less forced to choose as to which pathways he deems satisfying, which not. I should first point out the obvious: Lotz is a fantastic flutist, evincing great command, facility and imagination. He uses concert flute, alto flute, bass flute, PVC contrabass flute (the cover image)and voice. I can't list each track but, for example, he goes from a disarmingly attractive key popping exercise ("Albert Speaks") to a ghostly series of tones ("Aş Şaḩrā' ash Sharqīyah (Eastern Desert)") that morphs into strident overtones reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim's relatively rare flute playing, also quite attractive. From thence into "Whole Steps", a piece that sounds like a take on some Dolphy composition I can't put my finger on. He vocalizes through the flute her and elsewhere, making the later, lovely tribute to Kirk, "For Rahsaan", appropriate. "Hungry III" marks the first venture into extended techniques, here a liquid gurgling (I take it using water) and, to me, it's a misstep only because it's the type of approach we've more or less heard before and which, usually, comes off simply as an effect, having no particular reason for being other than to show its possibility. I begin to get the impression that Lotz, to my ears, is better served the more "traditional" he plays, either via jazz or contemporary classical, a suspicion borne out by "PVC Mantra", a didgeridoo-esque piece that, again while displaying great command, doesn't really get past the surface of the deep, vibrating sound. Then again, the ensuing track, "For Moth", works beautifully, a cascading whirlpool that's both technically very impressive and, somehow, connotes a musical identity beyond the technique, a presence. So it goes through the recording. For each attempt that doesn't quite make it ("Adam and Eva", "Do Not Swallow!"--in fact the set of "Bass flute Sequenzas", presumably a nod to Berio--), there's one that stands perfectly well and solidly on its own ("Piccolo for Makeba", "Major Circles", "A Fine Winter"). As is not uncommon in my experience with certain musicians, I find the "straighter" efforts to be more convincing than the experimental ones. Given the brevity of the pieces, I might have liked to have heard certain ideas, even ones that initially don't strike me as promising, delved into at far greater length, to see if more could be wrested out. So, I find "Solo Flutes" both frustrating and intriguingly impressive. I'm curious to hear where Lotz goes from here.

The Istanbul set is, needless to say, a very different affair. Islak Köpek is a quintet with Şevket Akıncı (guitar), Kevin W. Davis (cello), Korhan Erel (laptop, controllers), Robert Reigle (tenor) and Volkan Terzioğlu (tenor), a band, if this is a good example, that seems at home in the efi tradition. Again, we're presented with many (fifteen) short pieces, none over six minutes and I'm not sure that's for the best. The potential sextet appears in several formations containing two to six players, Lotz always present. In general, I prefer the tracks without the tenorists, neither of whom impress me as anything out of the routine in this end of the music. My knowledge of jazz in Turkey doesn't extend much beyond Burhan Öçal, though I know the art form is very alive there. Here, my favorite moments are when the musicians (presumably the Turks) incorporate aspects of their native musics (as in "mouths"), playing down the individual, jazzier tendencies in favor of a broad group sound. As with the above release, this is kind of hit and miss for me, here falling into a pretty standard, humdrum efi kind of improv, there casting that aside and attaining a gripping, deeply musical melange of cultures.


Evil Rabbit

Michael Ammann - Work 2010/2011 (

A series of electronics pieces which seem to be largely, if not entirely, voice-sourced. For some listeners, including yours truly, this can often lead to a certain amount of discomfort, unfair though I know it to be. I find that it seems to be very difficult to, if one is going in that direction, abstract the voice enough to remove the emotive baggage that's inevitably attached (Ami Yoshida, often enough, for example). I far prefer it when the musician in question deals with the voice as such, emotion and all, which tends to lead down the pathways, however skewed, of song. That's just me, YMMV and all.

Ammann, as I understand it, refers having his audience in the dark, wearing sleeping mask, centered among speakers. I can see the music working well there, in an INA GRM kind of way--the electronics themselves are often gripping and always solid enough. Myself, I'd still, I think, be put off by the vocal modulations. They're often whispered in a manner that comes off as theatrically menacing and, when elaborated or otherwise modified by the electronics, well, I can't help but be transported into gothic movies and the like. Even within these strictures, I don't find enough variation or, ont he other hand, burrowing into a given vein at length, to satisfy me. SOme samples are up on Ammann's site below, however, so you can hear and judge for yourself.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tetuzi Akiyama/Anla Courtis - Naranja Songs (Public Eyesore)

I don't know Courtis' work at all well enough to opine as to where "Naranja Songs" sits in his oeuvre but although I'm certain I've missed many an Akiyama release in recent years, I'll easy proffer the opinion that this is, by far, my favorite recording of his since "Relator". Recorded in 2008 but just now seeing the light of day, it consists of four pieces, improvisations on a pair of acoustic guitars that might be described as "pastoral" but that's far too banal and, really, inaccurate as, crucially, there's always an underlying sense of disturbance, of anxiety.

The first piece establishes the general mood that suffuses much of the album, spare but tonal--maybe think of Bailey at his most tranquil but also retaining a real interest in certain historical avenues of the guitar, particularly Spanish. Largely single notes, very conscious of space between the players, but also melancholy and, as said above, anxious, a truly delicious mix. I'm tempted to use the term, "meander", to describe its near-15 minute path, but without any of the pejorative implied--Akiyama and Courtis find something of value around every bend. The second track moves into slightly more abstract territory, bows of some sort (I think) being used, but that plaintive, essentially melodic character remains present, the cries underlined by nervous strummings, quite moving. The next returns to an area tangential to the first, a bit more rhythmic thrust, at times sounding not dissimilar to classic Gastr del Sol--wonderful buzz tones and cadences abound. The last cut again steers back into a more fragmented space, one of the musicians using some vibrating device on his strings, again enhancing that mood of disquiet. The plucked guitar reduces to almost nothing, acceding to the grind, wherein all that pent up anxiety is released with, happily, no reconciliation.

An excellent recording, well worth your time

Public Eyesore

Benjamin Finger - The Bet (Watery Starve Press)

Finger is a Norwegian composer and DJ and "The Bet" is a collection of ten electronics pieces, in an accessible, psychedelic vein that recall, among others, Fennesz, Hoahio, various minimalists and, I guess inevitably, Eno. The settings are lush, often using echoey keyboards that play simple, brief phrases over a moist, luminous background wherein dwell disembodied voices (Inga-Lill Farstad and Linn Fister) that suffuse the air amidst glitchy crackles. The pulses are languid, sinking in the forest of echoes. Guitar appears on occasion, gentle, and there's cello throughout (Elling Finnanger Snofugl) though it tends to recede into the overall ambience as do the field recordings that surface now and again. The abundance of ancillary sounds ameliorates the general sweetness a fair amount though, overall, the smoothness and blurred quality could use a healthy dose of harshness; the penultimate track, "Care in Motion", begins to get there, though the echoes, by this point, have outstayed their welcome. Listeners who enjoy bathing in Fenneszian sumptuousness will find much to enjoy, as the production values are high and the sounds do a good job summoning up images out of a Klarwein painting.

Watery Starve

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thomas Ankersmit - Figueroa Terrace (Touch)

This is a truly fascinating disc, one of the strongest electronic pieces I've heard in a while. Ankersmit hasn't released so much in recent years (see in-depth interview here) so it's entirely possible that a work like "Figueroa Terrace" has been in the offing for a while, but it's still in some ways, in its structure particularly, as surprising as it is powerful.

Done with analog synths and contact mics (some technical details in the Touch link below), it opens with a far-more-complex-than-you-think-at-first, rapid fire line, like some mutant cousin of Radian. You initially think of the "medium" line, an intense (though icy-smooth) stream, but soon realize that there are all manner of adjacent sounds, low to high, buffeting it, propelling it forward. So ok, you think you have an idea where this is heading, perhaps an ever-expanding series of vectors, spanning out, overlapping, cresting, etc.; nice enough as is. But then.

A bit over three minutes in, the bottom drops out, absolutely falls. You're deposited in a place that, really, is just as active and even with its own sense of propulsion, but far thinner, the sounds all in the high/prickly range, individual grains, coalescing here and there like silt drifting toward a seabed. And the piece stays there for quite awhile, Ankersmit investigating the newfound abundance of lifeforms, generating remarkable variety using (seemingly) so little. A series of thunks and scratches, non-electronic sounding but probably so, pass through at one point, but the tidal shifts keep in character with the overall shimmering, glistening aspect. Slight, sandy rubbings beneath extraordinary high (and beautiful) glimmers (to take the underwater analogy perhaps too far, like phosphorescent plankton), soon underlined by a hyper-deep throb that passes by. Little by little, you get a sense of something developing and kind of a retrospective idea that this whole composition has had a destination all along, been more narrative than you thought. Layers of ringing tones are flitted through by wing flutters, gently herding things toward some end, heralded by a steady, hard pulse (I should pause and mention how entirely excellent virtually everything here sounds). There's another drastic shift at this point, a series of small static explosions and siren-like tones, several minutes of rich dronage, sparked with hiss and more static that ultimately locks into a kind of rhythm cycle, super dense with, a final surprise, a very plaintive "cry" atop. But this cry bears all sorts of connotations, from a lost animal to something of a blues feel, very surprising and extremely effective, strongly imparting the sense of having arrived somewhere and having a strangely emotional impact on the listener, at least this listener. More so, even, when it all gets cut off abruptly.

A seriously impressive work, very glad to have heard it. Do check it out.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Natura Morta - Decay (FMR)

Frantz Loriot, viola, objects; Sean Ali, bass, objects; Carlo Costa, drums, percussion.

I'd heard Loriot on a couple of Creative Sources discs but had my strongest impression of his playing shortly after I arrived here in Paris when I caught a very fine performance of his viola duo with Cyprien Busolini at Les Instants Chavirés. I nonetheless had, for some reasons (including the label), expectations that this set would veer more to the efi end of things but by and large, this isn't the case, happily.

"Sirens" features dry, bowed strings, high-pitched but calmly played, over brushes, the latter imparting tinges of a jazz feel more of a soft tumbling effect, percolating under the held tones. Things grow more active and, indeed, I thought for awhile that my suspicions were justified as the music becomes more about the sawing/rubbing effects of the strings than of a sustained idea. This begins to be remedied in "Miasmata", a delicate and mysterious piece of small sounds, unhurried and slightly foggy, with low drum taps feeling there way through the haze, bowed bells (?) providing glimmers of light. It too grows a bit more active than needed toward the end but it's a step (for me) in the right direction, to a goal reached in third and longest track, and my favorite, "The Burial of Memories". Here, the trio remains consistent, sticking with the "groove" (very high, scratchy bass scrabblings, nervous, high viola pluckings and agitated, thin percussion) fora good while, transitioning into a similarly toned, more percussive area. Roiling yes, but never over-busy, instead creating a prickly carpet that ably covers all of its 18 minutes plus, very nice. The cover image isn't a bad analogy. The final piece stays in that gently ringing percussive zone (through much of this, oddly, I though that the music was often something Roscoe Mitchell could have done but never did, this track included), soft and restrained, the sounds well spaced and just varied enough.

A good recording--I'll be curious to see if they move on from this.


ouch! eye-damaging website, that one is.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Arek Gulbenkoglu - untitled (no label)

When Richard Pinnell posted the above image on his facebook page, I noticed it but didn't follow the ensuing thread. So, a few days later, when I received in the mail a box that seemed suspiciously light for its size (about 10 x 8 x 4 inches), I'd no particular idea what it contained. I would have had less of an idea, I guess, had not French Customs (Douane) stabbed it with some sharp instrument, puncturing the "pillow" within and freeing roughly a million shards of thin, plastic ribbons from their cocoon. It took several seconds to realize that I wasn't dealing with "packing" materials but with (disfigured) packaging, during which time the static-adhesive, lighter than air bits had strewn themselves happily around my entrance hallway; two weeks later, I'm still finding their descendants when the light is right....Instead of being sustained inside this cellule, the 3-inch disc and accompanying card (black print on clear plastic) had burrowed their way to the box's depths.

Ah yes, there's music involved as well, a 2011 recording with "snare + preparations". Golbenkoglu has produced challenging work before; this is either more of the same or a not terribly interesting (to me) performance. It's highly abstracted, set out in slight dabs and pieces, sounding as though recorded from a distance. There are times when I get a Twombly-like feeling that's very beautiful in a way but other times the music crosses the line that Twombly navigates so well, into an arbitrariness that drifts uncomfortably, though I could easily imagine that being the point. It also makes me wonder about the package, of all the excessive cello-fluff, about the purposeful inconvenience and encumbrance, the "with hidden noise" aspect, etc. Even its elements, plastic and colorless (save for what it reflects), dissimilar to (I'm also forced to consider) Meehan's "Sectors (for Constant)" that inherently absorbing and gorgeous object still resting against the wall, unopened, in front of me. Knowing (or thinking) that Meehan's music contained therein is likely to be more to my liking than this but choosing not to listen whereas, even if the choice hadn't been made for me by the curious customs official, I've no doubt I would have opened it, essentially negating the care (and purpose?) Golbenkoglu had in so packaging his work.

Listening to the music a few more times, its remoteness, which leads you to hear it as though from an adjoining room, is rather effective. Still, it's hard to reconcile with the whys of its form of delivery. Maybe a joke, but I imagine not. Maybe an elaborateness/simplicity (rawness, brutalism) dichotomy. It's in an edition of only 50, so there may not be a way to find out for yourselves and I'm unable to locate anything on-line to aid your search. Good luck.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Antje Vowinckel - Terra Prosodia (Gruenrekorder)

I think my only prior exposure to Vowinckel's work was on a shared disc, on Bowindo, with Alessandro Bosetti and a track on the Echtzeitmusik Berlin collection, so this is my first experience of her music in any depth. Here, the central idea is simple enough: the inherent musicality of certain dialects, in this case, six examples of speech forms in some danger of disappearing: Rumansch (Switzerland), Gutamal (Gotland, in the Baltic Sea), Provençal (France), Wallis-Deutsch (Switzerland?), Gascon (France) and Scottish-Gaelic. She asks native speakers to recount a personal story, records them and, often, edits and reconstructs this core material, including the repetition of phrases. She pairs this with electronic sounds, I think largely via computer program but possibly with some intuitively applied, which accentuate those more purely musical aspects of the language, often beginning in unison, more or less, with the speech but diverging somewhat, taking on an obbligato kind of role.

The spoken words are indeed fascinating to hear and, at least to this English speaker (presumably to a German as well), hold a good deal of content that one thinks of as musical. I found myself wondering how/if this perception might vary depending on one's native tongue. Part of me, admittedly, might rather have heard these words unadorned but Vowinckel's additions are usually quite complementary and well-considered. The sounds, all electronic (save for, per the notes, some "hummed melodic voice" that is heard on the final track) take on, at different times, the character of percussion, low strings, sine-like tones. Once, I was reminded very much of a doussn'gouni but on another, unfortunately, Keith Emerson at the helm of a Moog. As intended, it's not hard to hear both elements as melodic lines and that's where the real interest is. For example, the elderly male speaking Gutamal in the second track can almost be heard as a kind of bass clarinet, mixing beautifully with, in this case, a range of percussive, breath-like and rattling sounds. The youngster (hard to tell if it's a boy or girl) speaking Provençal has a wonderful flute-like quality, winding through light tapping that echoes the voice's rhythm and pitch. Throughout, with an arguable misstep now and then, it's an absorbing listen, part anthropology, part appreciation of the very sensual nature of the voices.


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Marc Baron - Hidden Tapes (Potlatch)

I knew I hadn't heard all that much music from Baron over the years but also knew that I liked what I'd heard and that his range had been considerable enough that I had little idea what to expect. Looking back, it seems I first encountered him as part of a saxophone quartet with Bertrand Denzler, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Stéphane Rives on a 2007 recording also released by Potlatch, "Propagations". Check out this lengthy discussion on Bagatellen wherein Damon Smith and the never-disappointing Uli have at your poor writer for a while before the conversation veers into the morality of downloads, etc. (ah! 2007!) Perhaps the duo with Luc Blairon, "Narthex" (again on Potlatch) was next, along with "une fois, chaque fois" on Theme Park and finally, the supremely mysterious "∩" on Cathnor. They're all, in their idiosyncratic ways, very good.

As is "Hidden Tapes". I'm not sure if "hidden" has any special meaning; I tend to think of the sources as found tapes from his personal library, apparently dated if the titles to the cuts are an indication. In any case, one of the overriding impressions I get from the five pieces is a decided sense of composition. In one way, I'm reminded of the INA GRM school of tape composition but the work here is far less stylized, much grimier (thankfully) and forceful. While most of the sounds come across as noise/abstraction, here and there are glimmers of the recognizable: snatches of music, voices, a brief pulse. Were I to listen to the third track blindfolded, I would have thought it was an excerpt from a Graham Lambkin work. Describing the music otherwise is a bit tough. It's more often fairly dense than not, though there are portions of near silence and a strangely poignant few seconds during "2013 - a happy summer with children" where one hears the simple extraction and insertion of a cassette tape. As said, "noise", in the form of, I imagine, corroded and otherwise damaged tapes through which you can discern faint traces of the intended subject, predominates, but there are also mysterious and beautiful hums circulating beneath, often just within the range of hearing, emphasizing the ghostly nature of the sources. The last piece, "1965-2013" (Baron's life?) begins with some strummed, rockish guitar, quickly squashed by vaguely malevolent electronics, very Lynchian in feel but also imparting a strong sense of personal meaning to Baron, even a kind of sadness that reminds me, though the music is very different, of Lescalleet's "The Pilgrim". A melancholy feeling of time having rushed by. A common enough emotion but expressed, via abstraction and a certain amount of distance, very movingly here. Fine work.


Sunday, May 04, 2014

Bogan Ghost - Zerfall (Relative Pitch)

Bogan Ghost is Liz Allbee on trumpet and Anthea Caddy on cello and 'Zerfall' is one pleasant, totally absorbing surprise. "Surprise" if only because of my limited prior exposure to their music. I happened to have heard them both as part of the Splitter Orchestra (and a subset or two thereof) last year at St. Merri in Paris but still, I wasn't quite prepared for the music encountered here.

I guess the main unexpected (and very welcome) aspect is the degree of concision in play and the fact that each of the nine tracks, to me, has a real sense of purpose, a clear idea as to what it's about. Long tracks in improvised music are almost automatic, have been for a long time. While of course this is often appropriate, sometimes it feels obligatory and the listener gets the idea that paring things down time-wise would have been highly beneficial. I'm not sure to what extent the music here is free-improvised (I get the feeling there's some structural organization involved though I could easily be wrong), but the track lengths are around 4-6 minutes each, I think (no times given and I haven't sat and watched my display) and in every instance, the duration seems perfect, especially in the few that veer more toward a kind of efi approach, "The Gates", for instance. More often the general tone is dark, brooding and exceedingly rich, conveying a strong, grainy cinematic quality; the first and last tracks include ambient recordings used to great effect. Allbee's trumpet tends to stay in its lower ranges whether she's using breath tones, burbles or, rarely, standard pitches. And Caddy's cello, almost always bowed is right there with her, somber, plumbing great depths (even when in rasping mode), bearing marvelous layers of detail; some of the striking moments occur when the pair are both way, way down there, growling and humming in tandem, subterranean, forbidding and fantastic. When Caddy does pluck notes, as on the deliciously umbral "The Absence", with Allbee vocalizing disturbingly via her trumpet, I picked up the slightest hint of "Bitches Brew"--nice. There's not a track here that doesn't pack some punch.

Both the musical choices and the decision to render them in discrete batches add up to an excellent, relatively listener-friendly offering. Don't let this one slip under the radar.

I don't see it listed at the Relative Pitch site just yet but I imagine it will be soon.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

It's come to my attention that some of you folks are still sending discs to my Jersey City address, something that hasn't been in effect for almost a year and a half. Please stop! :-) They aren't getting to me. Apologies to folk who already sent them, but I'll likely never hear them.

The current address is:

Brian Olewnick
2 Rue Adolphe Mille
Paris 75019


Alan/Anla Courtis/Aaron Moore - kppb (Earbook)

[Courtis uses both Alan and Anla in different situations; I've yet to discern a pattern. This release simply says "A. Courtis", hence the above option for either]

When Reynols became popular in eai circles (around ten years ago?), I remember giving a listen or two but never delving into the band's music. So when Courtis sent over a couple of things last year, his music was, for me, quite fresh. I was then able to see this duo perform at Instants Chavirés in March and found myself enjoying it very much, especially considering the "envelope" it occupied which, had it been described to me, I don't think would have upped my enthusiasm too much. Moore, who's best known for his work with Volcano the Bear (another band with which I'm unfamiliar) is an exceedingly powerful drummer; I was reminded a bit of Will Guthrie in terms of total command of the basic rock/jazz drum set. He acted as something of a foil for Courtis, who played/sung very freely, anarchically if you will, sometimes summoning up rockish modes, more often noise and, on occasion whimsy (like hanging his boot on one of Moore's cymbal stands and playing it). It managed to work, really feeling "free" in a good way, perhaps even more so after a rather "official" (in an INA GRM-y way) set from Lionel Marchetti and Jerome Noetinger. So I looked very much forward to hearing how the pair would translate to disc.

The first thing I noticed is how much more concise the music is,very much structured in episodes that have at least a tinge of song form. There are two tracks, bearing titles that somehow summon up memories of Last Exit ("King Pancresa", "Punk Butter"), Courtis and Moore responsible for the organization of one each, recorded in Buenos Aires and Brooklyn. I'm not sure, but I think the music might have been done remotely by the musicians, constructed subsequently. Moore offers some strong drumming near the beginning, Courtis contributing fairly gentle loops and other electronics; even the cymbal bowing and such is never very harsh. Some six minutes into the first track, very lovely, vaguely Hawaiian-sounding guitar strumming emerges over a wash of cymbals, very "pretty" without succumbing to sentiment. If there's a generally detectable influence here, I think it might be the Canterbury scene, specifically Henry Cow and, as when a pale voice enters over echoey piano toward the end of "King Pancreas", Robert Wyatt. Comforting mbiras close out the track and lead directly into the balafon-like sounds and loose, rattling string plucks of the second. Taking its time, it meanders from scene to scene, softening as it goes, quiet backwards tapes and tinkles wandering into a accordion (bandoneon?) patch, finally concluding with rolling drums, layers of percussion and scattered noise.

A very enjoyable effort, combining adventurous but highly musical sensitivities within a surprisingly listener-friendly framework.

Earbook Recordings

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Tomas Korber - Musik für ein Feld (Cubus)

Performed by the Konus Quartett (Christisn Kobi, tenor and soprano saxophones; Fabio Oehrli, soprano saxophone; Stefan Rolli, baritone saxophone; Jonas Tschanz, alto and soprano saxophones) with Korber on electronics, including the processing of the quartet.

The work is defined by fairly clear sections and, through its 67 minutes, retains something of an "epic" quality, a largeness that I've heard previously in much of Korber's music. It begins with a hushed chorus of breath sounds, originally from the reeds but processed enough that the balance between acoustic and electric is pretty close. They come in slow, quiet wavelets at first, gradually coalescing and increasing in intensity, pure tones (saxophone or sine, hard to tell, perhaps a combination) surfacing now and again, ultimately rising to a small storm that terminates abruptly about thirteen minutes in; one then hears the pure (and lush) sine tones that have been lurking around underneath, probably for quite a while. There follows several minutes of some of the most beautiful sineage I've heard in a long time. This sine chorale also cuts off very sharply, replaced by a single, thinner tone, sounding isolated in space after the preceding. It's soon joined by a quavering, equally thin saxophone and the music again begins to slowly spread out, but in a different direction than before, reedy flutters and controlled buzz-tones flitting through, like bees threading their way through raindrops (the sines); striking music. Korber keeps re-imagining the playing field, managing to shift course while implying the form of a larger structure, an impressive feat. This includes blocks of silence two or three minutes duration that really have a strong feeling of solidity, like a transparent building block.

A fascinating sequence of short, harsh breaths (saxophonic) that end, whether acoustic or electronically generated I'm not sure, in a sound like a tiny cascade of minuscule pebbles tumbling down a resonant surface. A quiet pool of enhanced burbles and burps, steamy exhalations and sines, their separatedness lending a Twombly-like aspect, leads to another swath of electronic richness bearing hints of attenuated bell tones. Pitches start to warp and you begin to get the impression that these are actually saxophone tones again; there's a lot of mirage play going on throughout. Agin silence, again perfectly placed. A lengthy, tonal wash spiced with quick gasps points toward the work's conclusion, the music expiring in a drawn out, soft hush recalling its beginning.

"Musik für ein Feld" is an extremely strong piece, confident and mature; I'm consistently surprised how rapidly it seems to pass, each of the segments feeling like a complete composition but still nestled into a very satisfying whole. Probably my favorite music yet from Korber, highly recommended.