Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Eva-Maria Houben/Rebecca Lane/Samuel Dunscombe - observing objects (Edition Wandelweiser)
Eva-Maria Houben - voice with piano (Edition Wandelweiser)
Eva-Maria Houben - voice with harp (Edition Wandelweiser)
Eva-Maria Houben - breath for organ (Second Editions)

As much as I love it, I generally find it very difficult to write about Eva-Maria Houben's music. There's an apparent simplicity about it that's air-like; how to describe air currents? 

It's also not easy to keep up with her output. Discogs lists 46 releases and I imagine they're missing a few; I have 28 of these and still have a distinct feeling I'm getting a somewhat blurry reading on the real breadth of her work. I'll try to briefly limn the parameters of four recent recordings, knowing most of it will evade any even semi-reasonable description.

In fact, the first listed of the releases appears to be a joint project, possibly a collaborative composition by Houben, Rebecca Lane and Samuel Dunscombe playing, respectively, organ/piano, bass flute and bass clarinet. The piece, 'observing objects', is played twice, once with organ, once with piano. It consists of sets of long, overlapping notes (the bass instruments tending toward the low, the organ varying higher and lower pitches) interspersed with silences, though the latter are filled with the ambient sounds of the recording space. If there's a regular pattern with regard to the entrances and durations of the tones, I can't discern it. As with much of Houben's music (and, perhaps, with that of Lane and Dunscombe), one has the vivid impression of human breathing--not regular, in this case, but within the normal boundaries of inhalation and exhalation. The irregularity of the sequencing imparts an inference of sensual and/or intellectual preoccupation, as though the musicians' attention is gently moving from object to object, observing them and giving a commentary that has been reduced to a single tone. The lines are pure and beautiful in and of themselves and become more so, and gain stunning complexity, when they happen to overlay one another, like looking through translucent panels of colored glass that generate unexpected hues. Difficult to describe, very easy and satisfying to experience. Though the structure remains at least roughly the same for the second version (though the silences seem longer--one hears birds just outside) the initial sharpness of the piano attacks and their decay makes for a very different, no less invigorating experience. It's a stunning recording.

As is 'voice with piano', wherein a number of shorter pieces are sung by the extraordinary Irene Kurka, accompanied by Houben. The disc is in three sections: 'adagio' (three pieces), the standalone 'lyrik' and 'lieder für die insel (songs for the island)' (five pieces). Much of the music evokes, to my ears, early music though nothing I could put a finger on. Each of the trio of songs in 'adagio' begins with solo piano, stark and somber but glowing, before Kurka enters--also solo--singing the text by Felix Timmermans, poems dating from 1947, with clarity and strength. She sings, apparently, into the piano--one hears its strings resonating beautifully. A breathtaking set. Hilde Domin (1909-2006) provides the words for 'lyrik'. The music remains dark, Houben striking low, ominous single notes, Kurka singing above though seemingly weighted down by the deep tolling. I'm unfamiliar with Domin's poetry, but her escape from Nazi Germany (her husband's family was murdered there) seems to hang in the air. Houben herself contributes the text of the final set, five pieces lasting three to four minutes each. Keeping with the tenor of the album, the music remains sober; old stone walls, cold to the touch, come to mind. The piano notes are often held for quite a while, mixing with and eventually overtaken by the quietly bristling ambiance. As on 'adagio', the piano begins on its own but this time remains with the voice and after the singing is over. There's a near-symmetry in effect on each song, the piano acting as a kind of floating platform upon which the voice emerges for a few moments, then subsides. Kurka's 'chants' was one of my favorite releases last year; this is bound to be one of this year's top recordings. 

'adagio' and 'songs for the island' are included on 'voice and harp' as well, performed by Tatiana Kuzina (soprano) and Christine Kazarian (harp). It begins, however, with a piece titled 'aeolian harp', though the instrument in question is clearly being activated by something with far great plucking power than wind. Whatever the case, it's a lovely piece, almost in a "traditional harp" mode, with wafting arpeggios set off against occasional deep thrums, every so often tempered by "sourer" notes that add wonderful depth and a tinge of doubt. The three "adagio" songs follow. Perhaps it's partially the harp as opposed to the piano, but the tone is distinctly different--less dark, less earthy, more ethereal (I think Kuzina might be singing into the harp; I assume that's indicated in the score). "hatid", with text by Houben, is an extraordinary 8 1/2 minute work, once again staying in the same, softly somber territory as elsewhere here and on the album with Kurka, the voice alternating with harp, Kuzina's long, somewhat sad tones contrasting superbly with the delicate plucking. As on the second reading of 'observing objects' the piano a bit more vibrant than on the other works here, but Kuzina's slightly airier voice imparts the two songs with both a mistier and, perhaps, more melancholy feeling--equally as striking as the Houben/Kurka versions. As are the 'Songs for the Island' pieces--it's fascinating to hear the two readings. If I slightly prefer the piano it's likely just an inborn instrumental prejudice on my part. The music itself, more importantly, is so thoughtfully conceived, so clear, that I imagine it could be rendered on any number of instruments (and I'd love to hear it).

All three of these Wandelweiser releases are deep and moving. Moreover, they might serve as fine initiations for those previously unfamiliar with Houben's work.

'breath for organ' is very different from the above, especially the two releases with voice, but will be familiar enough to those listeners who have prior experience with Houben. She's done a great deal of music for organ and, to my mind, this is one of her very best. Houben played this on (and perhaps wrote it for?) the pipe organ of the St. Franziskus Church in Krefeld, Germany. It's also an example of how difficult it is to give any sort of description that does justice to the experience. The piece contains long sequences of sound that are more air/breath than notes in any traditional organ sense, although at times one hears those tones around the edges. Sometimes the sounds approach that made by train whistles; more often it's as though steam were being released through a vent that has a tiny amount of metallic resonance, imparting the barest hint of a tone. Occasionally, it sounds like two tones are played simultaneously, but I'm not sure. Importantly, this is all embedded in the ambience of the church itself--there are spaces between the tones, but never silence. I hear it as somewhat akin to 'observing objects' except that the sounds are less related to breathing and more individual episodes or glances emanating from the same being. I have the image of a large, semi-mobile pipe organ, anthropomorphized into a gigantic, slow-moving creature, using sound to sense its way around the church, inch by inch. It's bare yet rich, simple yet endlessly engrossing. An amazing recording. 

Edition Wandelweiser

Also available from Erst Dist

Second Editions


Wednesday, February 07, 2018



Cyril Bondi - euhesma, 2017 (Edition Wandelweiser)

Issued under Bondi's name, he's joined by his Diatribes partner D'Incise on this composition, the former playing Indian harmonium, melodica, harmonica and pitch pipes, the latter Indian harmonium, electric organ and melodica. From the instrumentation alone, you get the idea that you're going to be experiencing, among other things, some rich drone-oriented music and yes, that's one aspect of 'euhesma, 2017'. Euhesma, incidentally, is a genus of bee and one wonders whether at least part of the piece is a meditation on that species' apparent decline in the world. On the back cover of the disc,"(apocrita 3)" is appended to the title, apocrita being a suborder of Hymenoptera that includes wasps, bees and ants. The interior of the CD package bears a difficult-to-define photographic image that seems to be an overhanging eave constructed from interlocking pieces of wood.

I suppose slowed down bee buzzing could be a reference as well and it's a tempting one especially as light clattering (presumably from the pedals of the harmoniums) that occur throughout but more audibly toward the work's conclusion summon up, at least to these ears, the hyper-amplified clicking of apian legs and antennae. Bur possible programmatic allusions aside, we have a wonderful series of overlapping drones from subtly different sources. Over the course of the work, there's a (very) gradual (and happily inconsistent) densification of tones, going from relatively sparse with spaces left between sounds to the last several minutes where there's almost a fanfare-like effect achieved. The tones are always transparent, though never gauzy--I'm sorely tempted to call them honey-like--evincing a wide array of floral pollens. The tones remain within a circumscribed range, the better to appreciate their variations, and overlap in irregular, consistently fascinating ways. And there's just enough sourness applied to forestall any worries of the overly harmonious. It ends simply, with no fanfare at all.

A marvelous recording.



Hermann Meier - works for piano solo 1949 - 1987 (Edition Wandelweiser)

In 2000, Edition Wandelweiser released a recording of Meier's music, "Works for Solo Piano" performed by Dominik Blum. The current release comprises the complete solo piano work of Swiss-born Meier (1906 - 2002), once again recorded by Blum, this time in 2017.

The pieces on this 2-CD set date from 1948 to 1987 with much of it from the earlier portion of that period (just two pieces from 1968, one from 1987) and they range in duration from a minute (oddly listed here as 0' 60") to over twenty-six. They're not presented chronologically. On the surface, and perhaps beyond that, one might think that the music is somewhat out of place in the Wandelweiser catalog, though one piece is dedicated to Urs Peter Schneider, who has several releases on the label. Meier apparently developed a kind of graphic scoring system (image below) though it's not indicated whether or not this was in use for any of the compositions heard here.



I don't know nearly enough about this area of music--post-twelve tone structures, etc.--to pretend to be able to comment even semi-intelligently about it and can only offer my impressions. The works from the mid-50s, like "Klavierstück" (1956) seem rigorous, forthright, even strutting in nature, quite volcanic and jagged, very dense. The work that follows, "Klavierstück für Charles Dobler" from twelve years later, while still extremely forceful, seems to allow for a bit more breathing room--some cloudy chords midway through are wonderful--and to at least allude to more pastoral possibilities. Actually, the earliest composition, the three-part "Sonata für Klavier" (1948-49) also seems to retain vestiges of a more Romantic approach. Perhaps there was a "progression" into the severity of the 50s, maybe influence of Darmstadt, and then a mild retreat? Then again, the one piece played here twice, to close out each disc, "Zwei Klavierstück für Lilo Mathys" (1955-56) has its share of space and delicacy intermixed with harsher thrusts, so I imagine the notion of Meier's "progress" is more complicated than that.

The previously mentioned minute-long "Kleine elegie für Gaby Stebler" (1968) floats dreamily--stunning. It somehow makes me want to hear any work by Meier for chamber ensemble. The work dedicated to Schneider dates from 1987 and while still as spiky as anything else in this collection, seems to refer, if obliquely, to song forms with melodic fragments buried beneath a rough and scabby surface; reminds me, slightly, of some of Rzewski's work from around the same period. The restatement of "Zwei Klavierstücke..." is delightful, stressing a series of staccato moments, allowing them to hang in space briefly, like icicles.

Blum's playing is brilliant throughout, bright and percussive, scalpel-like. I'd love to hear him performing other work but don't see anything else currently available,

As said, the music falls outside my normal ambit but, given that, I throughly enjoyed it. Would be happy to get the opinions of those more conversant with this area.



Michael Winter - approximating omega (Edition Wandelweiser)

If you look closely at the above image, you'll see a lengthy binary string. This is a subset of a "maximally complex, incomputable number" known as Chaitin's Constant, or "omega", after the mathematician Gregory Chaitin. Michael Winter has used this string, in a manner far beyond my ability to comprehend, as a seed for his piece, "for gregory chaitin", one of two presented here.

The first piece, "approximating omega", runs over 33 minutes and is divided into two fairly equal halves. Underneath it all, there are samples from 36 musicians, many of whose names will be familiar to fans of new music (I even recognized one: a sliver of Tom Johnson's "The Chord Catalog" as played by Samuel Vriezen). Over this, in the first half of the piece, we hear the voice of Muirgen Éléonore Gourgues reading selections from a text by Chaikin, from his book, "The Limits of Mathematics". The text is a set of rules and definitions, not exactly repetitive but self-similar enough to achieve a level of overall sameness. It's spoken flatly, as if done for an audio book and also, to these ears, sounds ever so slightly enhanced or smoothed, generating something of an artificial tinge, though perhaps not. Its boundaries are also often clipped, blipping into existence from brief silences. The sounds beneath vary a good bit, maybe more electronic than otherwise, seeming to roughly correspond to the length of each text section or sentence. Also, somewhere down there, we might be hearing cellist Judith Hamann, who emerges clearly and suddenly during the work's second half. It's a welcome entry, as I was beginning to find the spoken part somewhat tedious. But suddenly, over metallic clangs and tinkles, there's a wonderfully rich bowed cello (or multiple celli, or some other sounds from somewhere) that entirely wash away the classroom and reveal a surging undercurrent, twining and coursing. It flows on with subtle variations (maybe some melodica action?) over shifting sets of metals and electronics, very beautiful, endlessly entrancing. Very much a yin/yang kind of composition.

Not having any idea of exactly how Chaitin's Constant was used in the other work, a solo piano piece with Winter at the keyboard, I can simply listen to the outcome and describe it. I say "solo piano" but there is definitely electronic involvement--the first bright, single note is struck and held, undiminished, for some five minutes, at which point it's joined by a much lower note that is allowed to decay naturally. Subsequent notes, apparently from a prepared piano and perhaps electronically modified themselves appear in a non-obvious pattern, though I suspect the binary array mentioned earlier has something to do with it. That initial note carries throughout and, after five minutes of those lower notes, once again exists as the sole component, a pure tone (although on headphones, my ears pick up subtle variations, maybe just artifacts of my system) that ends with an abrupt *plink*.

An intriguing work and an interesting album overall. I may not be 100% convinced by this particular usage of math-related material, but it's certainly worth a listen and generates curiosity on my part for hearing further work from Winter.

Edition Wandelweiser
Also available from Erst Dist



Thursday, February 01, 2018



Martin Küchen - Lieber Heiland, Laß Uns Sterben (Sofa)

Martin Küchen is among the most thoughtful of saxophonists. His solo work often involves thematic content and one suspects he deeply considers his approaches to that content, even as (I imagine) a good portion of the actual playing is improvised. 

The title translates as "Dear Saviour, let us die" and the cover image is a photo taken at the Jaworzno concentration camp in Poland, a sub-camp of Auschwitz. While used by the Nazis in the final two years of WWII, it was also subsequently utilized by the Soviet Union under Stalin as well as the People's Republic of Poland to incarcerate, and often kill, ethnic Germans, dissident Poles and Ukranians and other "enemies of the state" until 1956. The death toll there is estimated at almost 7,000. The photo was taken in 1951 by a member of the UK Embassy and classified as "Secret".

In addition to his alto and baritone saxophones, Küchen employs radio, iPod, electric tambura and speakers. He also overdubs on two tracks, including the haunting title piece that opens the recording. Mixing breath and spittle tones with soft, descending laments, it's a ghostly dirge fitting in perfectly with the cover image--very moving. 'Music to Silence Music', for solo alto, interpolates low key pops with various quiet but extreme sounds, evoking (to these ears) a kind of forlorn resignation, a muted cry. Both of these pieces are fairly short, offering dark glimpses into the setting. 'Purcell in the Eternal Deir Yassin' (Deir Yassin was a 1948 massacre of over 100 Palestinians by Zionist forces) begins with the surprising sound of a tambura soon joined by a fluttering saxophone that, indeed, seems to refer to Indian singing or string playing in the alap portion of a raga. The immersive feeling is wonderful, the pale flutters like pigeons in the recesses of a large, dim chamber. Eventually, one discerns a faint voice, female, emerging  from the shadows (presumably Purcell, though I'm not adept enough to identify it positively--'Dido and Aeneas'?). It's like a response or a summoning, beautifully underplayed, the spirit circling around the edges, becoming more or less distinct, wavering. A fantastic piece.

Side B (I have the LP; it's also available as a cd) picks up in an adjacent space with 'Ruf Zu Mir, Bezprizorni...'. Bezprizorni is a term for street children or waifs who were often imprisoned for "crimes" of survival, such as stealing food. There's a calm, stately piano being played, somewhat distantly, beneath a more anguished, though still fairly quiet saxophone. You imagine one of those children peering into a well-lit, wealthy household from the cold, bleak street. The final track, 'Atem Choir', for six overdubbed "saxophone voices", starts with sparse, hollow puffs--again, I get a sense of coldness, of blowing into one's hands to keep warm. Küchen's restraint is very impressive here; listeners familiar with previous, exceptional work of his like 'Hellstorm' (Mathka, 2012) might be surprised. The breaths mass a bit, dissemble, subside into nothingness--just a stunning piece, superbly controlled though full of sublimated emotion. There's clearly death in the air. In what strikes me as a minor misstep, Küchen closes the longish piece with a church bell tolling a single, repeated note--maybe a bit heavy-handed. But it's a minor quibble on a deep, respectful and bitter look at a horrible piece of history. [After posting, I was informed by Martin that the bells in question appeared outside the space in which the recording was being made, just after the last saxophone part was recorded. So it was a serendipitous event that he chose to retain.

Highly recommended.









Friday, January 26, 2018



Matthew Revert - A Discussion Was Had In Your Absence (Tristes Tropiques)

I think anyone who's familiar with Revert's design work (a sampling of which can be glimpsed here), would be hard pressed not to draw some comparisons with the music heard on this recording. There's a similar transmogrification of the cast-off, the banal and the mass-produced into something worth looking at/listening to differently, often resulting in surprising beauty. The music here is a dense collage of sounds that seem to be derived from a bewilderingly large number of sources: everyday clatter, darkly spoken text, spacey electronic hums, chirps and innumerable other bits of detritus. The choices made are fine. Revert seems to have a predilection for silvered, splintery sounds embedded in thick, grimy masses, a kind of shit-encrusted jewel effect that's unique and, to these ears, extremely attractive. The opening track, "The Sincere Pleasure", positively wallows in this--an iterated, distorted voice weaving through shiny squeaks and squelches coursing through a sonic refuse heap. The aural space expands somewhat in "The Rewarding Conversation", more resonant but also darker and more metallic, the voice acquiring a touch of malevolence. "...slices and slices and slices..." "The Unintended Compliment" stands apart a little, beginning with intoned voices over an ambient hum, reminding me a bit of a portion of Cardew's 'The Great Learning'. Other subsidiary sounds emerge: vague flute-ish tones, high tinkles, shuffled footsteps. But the voices drone on. It's an odd effect--too dirty and cluttered to be meditative but persisting along that route anyway. An excellent and strange release.




Arek Gulbenkoglu - Of Cruelty (Tristes Tropiques)

Gulbenkoglu's work has always been "difficult" but ultimately rewarding to these ears and "Of Cruelty" (intriguing title) is no exception. There are four cuts here, each living in an entirely different universe from the other and each posing its own set of gnarly problems. But also, there's a kind of bluntness about the pieces, a "here it is, deal with it" forthrightness that wins out in the end, though I'd advise listeners to be prepared. 

"A Foregrounding" explodes into one's ears; my first impression was being plunged into a massive traffic tie-up while being shrunk to about ant size. Many of the sonorities resemble vehicular horns (no instrumentation or record of other sources is provided), several of them in constant blare, threaded with needlelike shards, the horns warping into higher registers and then outside the range of human ears. It's a solid wall with internal variations that obtrudes for 7 1/2 minutes. Wake up. "Innards" is the only track to substantially shift over its course. It begins with slivers of a woman's (several women's?) voice, appearing initially out of silences, those silences soon mildly infested with tiny bits of electric dust, intense but barely there. The voices acquire some echo, an electronic transmission loops, filling all gaps; it sits there for a while, subtly amassing some additional energy before, about four minutes into the 13-minute piece, it erupts into a very loud, thick torrent of liquid noise, something like I'd imagine one would hear were a mic to be submersed in flowing lava. The listener bathes in this for the remainder of the track. The amusingly titled, "Haste" seems to be composed of drum machine samples. There's a good bit of space throughout this piece, which runs almost 16 minutes. The predominant element is a kind of bass-marimba-with-a-heavily-padded-mallet sound, slightly resonant, that recurs over the duration of the track, sometimes in a regular (though widely spaced) rhythm, but not always. There's also a flatter, deader bass drum thud and several cymbal-like sounds as well as a hollow-wind segment, all of them clipped and appearing in a random (or intuitive) manner. It's quite odd, like a conversation made up of exceedingly terse and inherently uninteresting statements which, by virtue of simply going on and on and on manages to attain a weird level of fascination. I'm reminded of Henry Gwiadza's strange video/sound constructions, where banally animated figures intermittently engage in even more banal actions but somehow create this engrossing alien world. Finally, we encounter "Consequences". Entirely electronics of a liquid, loopy kind, it seems to consist of two basic strands: a higher-pitched, swirling one that remains pretty much constant, repeating every second or so, and a slightly lower one with a bubblier, more gurgling cast that varies within itself while also repeating, perhaps a bit slower than the other, causing a sequence of pattern and interference that, when noticed, is beguiling. It's simply presented as such and allowed to run as near as I can discern--an object of curiosity and, again, of weird beauty.

I like "Of Cruelty" a lot. Rather surprised at that.

*********

Tristes Tropiques doesn't have a webpage but does have one on facebook

The recordings may also be ordered from Erst Dist








Tuesday, January 09, 2018


Alan F. Jones/Derek Rogers - CEDARS (Sedimental)

Not that I'm about to provide a list of examples, but I feel safe in saying that there exists a sub-genre of improvised electronic music wherein a substantial portion of its constituent elements consists of, in one sense or another, melodic material. Sometimes it's explicit but more often, I find, it's a difficult-to-quantify sensibility that weaves among the more abstract sounds. There's a risk involved here, of course, a danger of over-reliance on more easily digestible sequences that can unfairly buttress work whose structure is otherwise unremarkable.

I'm not sure if I've heard Rogers' work before though, from what I can glean from the notes accompanying this release, he's likely the one more responsible for the various infusions of at least quasi-melodicism to be found here. And he does it superbly. Among the first sounds we hear, after what seems to be a relatively steady pluck at dampened, unresonant guitar strings, is the distant, slightly distorted traces of an orchestral tune-up and perhaps some initial notes; it will bracket the performance. Matters swiftly become dense; the taps deepen and echo, some (maybe) rubbed strings flutter through the middle ground, waves of white noise that seem made up of human sounds in an underground passageway. The whole is immediately ultra-evocative, though of no set place or situation. Some five minutes in, a single, high piano note is heard amidst loud shudders. Played live? On tape? No idea. It splays out slightly, remaining in the higher registers, playing a sequence of one, two and three notes, very poignant and isolated. A tinge of Tilbury. It's couched throughout by a complex but subtle, dusty drone that sharply foregrounds the piano as though lit in front of a dark, windswept landscape. Harsh, electronic rumbles intrude, sounding like a live jack being jostled in its socket, followed by soft clinking, a foretaste perhaps of the dropped coins that will soon become a more or less through-going presence. Another melodic fragment, a four-note sequence that resembles an old-time radio alert, now on guitar (?). It repeats with the odd variation, nestling into a prickly haze of long hums. That billowy drone, vaguely tonal in nature, predominates for a while, punctuated not only by the coin drops but by other mysterious sounds, movement on foot, breaths, many other things. I won't describe much more in detail except to note that the balance between the mundane and ethereal, the noise and the (imported) melodic is maintained throughout, along with excellently judged shifts in timbre and dynamics while maintaining an ever-engrossing structural arc. When the tuning orchestra returns, it's both clearer and transformed, warped into a rather amazing new sound-world.

A fine recording, brimming with ideas.


Aaron Russell - Red Guitar (Sedimental)

I'm more or less new to Aaron Russell's work as well, though I think I heard at least one Weird Weeds recording back when, a band of which Russell was a member. This is a set of seven pieces for the solo electric guitar of the album's title, all of them bearing a pure, rich sound. Maybe even more than the pieces themselves, which are loosely folkish-bluesy, the sound of the guitar is what enraptures. Most of the tracks are on the short side but they all have a meditative quality that recalls, say, Robbie Basho, nicely unfurling in a way that straddles the structured/unstructured divide, both very attractive on the surface and hinting at deeper concerns. Those latter manifest on the album's one longer work, 'Pink Lights' which, to these ears, is the standout piece. Over the first 2/3 of its 16 minutes, Russell reins things in wonderfully, iterating a set sequence over and over, subtly varied, allowed to hang in the air and resonate. Oddly, it reminds me of Branca's 'The Spectacular Commodity' though sans any bombast, thankfully. It does carry something of a regal bearing, though, a kind of clarion call. After a lulling five minutes, he shifts to a fascinating, almost alarming pair of chords, the high notes therein sounding a like a cry for aid; really great and sustained for quite a while, bending in pitch ever so slightly. Around the 11-minute mark, Russell alters course again, developing a lovely, ambiguous arpeggio (again recalling, for me, Basho) that he allows to recur over and over, with embellishments, for the duration of the piece. A very beautiful work, thoughtful and...calmly agitated.

Sedimental




Sunday, December 31, 2017

Even sillier than normal (which is silly enough), given the increasingly circumscribed nature of what new releases I got around to hearing this year, but here's a list of those recordings which I especially loved in 2017. As ever, huge thanks to the musicians and label owners involved. Your work is enormously appreciated.

(alpha order)

Ryoko Akama - Inscriptions  (Suppedaneum)
Ryoko Akama - Places and Pages  (Another Timbre)
Cristián Alvear/Seijiro Murayama - Karoujite (Potlatch)
Antoine Beuger - Ockeghem Octets  (Another Timbre)
Olivia Block - Olivia Block (Another Timbre)
Andrea Borghi  - Sostrato  (Marginal Frequency)
Christopher Butterfield/Quatuor Bozzini - Trip  (qb)
John Cage/Christian Wolff  - CC  (Huddersfield Contemporary)
Isaiah Ceccarelli - Bow  (Another Timbre)
Joda Clément/Mathieu Ruhlmann - Kindred  (Marginal Frequency)
Seth Cooke  - Triangular Trade   (Suppedaneum)
Alfredo Costa Monteiro/Miguel A. Garcia - Aq’Ab’Al  (Mikroton)
Pascal Criton - Infra  (Potlatch)
d’Incise - Ukigusa  (Suppedaneum)
Charles Duvelle/Hisham Meyet  - Photographs of Charles Duvelle  (Sublime Frequencies)
Morton Feldman - Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello  (Another Timbre)
Fraufraulein - Heavy Objects  (Marginal Frequency)
Jürg Frey  - l’âme est sans retenue  (ErstClass)
Jürg Frey  - Collection Gustave Roud  (Another Timbre)
Jürg Frey  - Ephemeral Constructions  (Edition Wandelweiser)
Miguel A. Garcia  - Argiope  (Insub)
Will Guthrie  - People Pleaser  (Black Truffle)
Haptic  - Ten Years Under the Earth (Unfathomless)
Eva-Marie Houben - Organ Sonantinas and Drones (Edition Wandelweiser)
A.F. Jones - Four Dot Three to One  (Kendra Steiner Editions)
Alan F. Jones/Derek Rodgers  - CEDARS  (Sedimental)
Irene Kurka  - Chants  (Edition Wandelweiser)
Eric La Casa  - Paris Quotidien  (Swarming)
Graham Lambkin/Taku Unami  - The Whistler  (Erstwhile)
Mike Majkowski  - Days and Other Days  (Monofonus)
Catriel Nieves/Joe Wheeler  - Balance  (Marginal Frequency)
Jérôme Noetinger/Anthony Pateras  - Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be at All (Immediata)
Michael Parsons/Apartment House   - Patterns of Connection  (Huddersfield Contemporary)
Anthony Pateras/Erkki Veltheim  - The Slow Creep of Convenience (Immediata)
Michael Pisaro - Resting in a Fold of the Fog (Potlatch)
Éliane Radigue - Occam Ocean 1 (Shiiin)
Keith Rowe/Michael Pisaro  - 13 (Erstwhile)
Burkhard Schlothauer - More Chamber Events (Edition Wandelweiser)
Grisha Shakhnes  -  choice ambience  (Disappearing Records)
Grisha Shakhnes  - Ghosts  (Disappearing Records)
Linda Catlin Smith - Drifter  (Another Timbre)
(Various) - The Seen, Volumes I-V  (Confront)

Saturday, December 30, 2017




Grisha Shakhnes - Ghosts (Disappearing Records)

Grisha Shakhnes - choice ambience (Disappearing Records)

I've been listening to and greatly enjoying Shakhnes' music for close to ten years now I think, both recordings issued under his own name as well as under that of his alter-ego, Mites. One thing that's always struck me is a certain underlying consistency in his general sound-world: continuous sound, highly grainy, sooty and dark, oil mixed with sand late at night reflecting glints of blue and yellow incandescent lighting. But within that world there's also an ongoing expansion as heard on these cassette releases.

'Ghosts' begins with a siren in the near distance and funnels into the kind of low, dirty rumble I've come to expect from Shakhnes, several layers thick, streaming but always varying within its flow. He introduces cyclic elements here though: what sounds like a marble or small plastic ball rotating around the rim of, say, an oil barrel and then some deep groans and thuds as from an ancient, grimy turbine. It's intensely atmospheric, easily transporting the listener to a different place, uncomfortable, possibly dangerous, but endlessly absorbing. Somewhat surprisingly, birds are heard on the second track, 'resilience', over muffled motoric sounds that impart a vague water ambience, as though near a dock, soon overtaken by a more insistent, slightly acidic electric drone. I also pick up a hint of the battered, mangled tapes that Jason Lescalleet used to deal in and, on 'a little fine tuning', the wonderful ghost piano images of Asher's, but in each case a push further on those ideas, again totally beguiling. Conversation heard through many plies of distortion (again, sounding as though from tapes left on the street for several years), obscure ambient rustles and rumbles, birds again, music from next door, a wonderful "musical" loop buried deep and, overall, a fine feeling of simply letting things play out, patiently letting tapes unspool to reveal what's there. Ending back in the street. A fine release.

The two tracks on 'choice ambience' occupy much the same territory, perhaps even derive from some of the same sources. But there's a greater sense of Shakhnes' immediate space, as though recorded from a room that looks out on trees (there are birds) but also overlooks, say, a construction zone with generators humming. At the same time, someone is moving about in the room, creating a small squall of noise therein. A great deal of air and resonance, though fluctuating into more claustrophobic and dreamier areas. Side B, 'let it perish', retains something of that buried melodic loop from 'Ghosts', this time dimly perceived under a wash of sound--I get a feeling of windblown snow though, considering that Shakhnes operates out of Israel, that's probably not very likely. A pulsing, ringing tone dominates for a while as the previously existing environment continues apace, slowly morphing, never calm. As said, I hear something dreamy going on and, again, this wonderful willingness to take one's time, to allow matters to unfurl, accepting what happens to "intrude". Both cassettes are full of excellent, thoughtful and tough-minded music.

You can hear for your self at the Disappearing Records bandcamp site








Monday, December 18, 2017


Seth Cooke - Triangular Trade (Suppedaneum)

If it hasn't been done already, someone should write an article on Joseph Clayton Mills' label, Suppedaneum. There are seventeen releases now, all of them at the least very interesting, a number of them--like the current item--pretty great. The focus of the label has been on scores and other accompanying material, often given at least equal weight to the audio portion of the release and Cooke's 'Triangular Trade' is no exception.

It arrives with a "title page", more or less, and eight 8 1/2" x 11" laminated pages containing words and images referring to the trade of its title, a system which transported slaves and goods between Europe, the Caribbean and West Africa from the 16th through 19th centuries with repercussions (not to mention extensions) felt and experienced to this day. Bristol, where Cooke resides, was the focal port of the English slave trade and the first page of the release centers the image of a plaque recording the fact, surrounded by related statuary and inscriptions, excerpts of text from London Posse's  'Gangster Chronicle' and apparent news items concerning lack of public funds for Hartcliffe, a very poor section of Bristol. Subsequent pages--they're not numbered and presumably the order doesn't matter--include historical documents revolving around the slave trade, news clippings concerning the legacy of slave trader Edward Colston who seems to still be regarded as an honored father of the city (Colston Hall being, I take it, the main music hall in Bristol), a portion of an article on the effects of climate change in the Fertile Crescent and much more. These are presented in an often fragmentary manner, roughly scissored from printed documents, rarely entire, offering a kind of dizzying picture, perhaps reflecting the confusion and lack of clarity in the thinking of the local citizens about their city's role in their history and, more importantly, the benefits the white citizens have reaped and continue to reap as a result of the slaving practices of their ancestors.

Cooke's sound sources on the disc include field recordings from three points near Pero's Bridge in Bristol (as well as from London and Liverpool docks), Ghanaian shells, djembe-feedback and more including (not that I could pick it up) a bit of Mahavishnu Orchestra's 'Planetary Citizen' "convoluted 184 times". It's one long piece, about 46 minutes, but very wide-ranging. It begins with overlaid harsh, scraping/ringing tones, sometimes buttressed by (apparent) dockside recordings and distorted speech--desolate, sorrowful and keening. This section continues until about 15 minutes in, when the heavens open up in storm and we hear the words of John Newton from his 'Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade', published in 1788 (not sure of the source here, possibly a television program titled, 'The Fight Against Slavery'). The sounds subside, once again nautical in nature: clanking, echoey metals, churned water. These soon cohere into a relatively pure tone, those echoes still in the background, that subtly pulsates, until an explosion knocks everything apart, a wave overturning a boat, perhaps. The feeling of depth, of largeness is quite strong, Cooke, developing a convincing, if abstract, panorama of not merely a scene, but an expanse of time and history. That complex, sine-like tone returns, more insistent and darker, spiraling and drilling holes in one's eardrums. Very gradually and in harrowing fashion, this tone mutates into a human-sounding cry, a kind of ghostly wail from the bowels of some cavernous depths, a piercing, accusatory call from Bristol's past to the unlistening, willfully ignorant present.

A powerful, grippingly realized work that should be widely considered.

Suppedaneum




Monday, December 04, 2017


Michael Parsons/Apartment House - Patterns of Connection: Instrumental Music 1962 - 2017 (Huddersfield Contemporary Records)

I'd always wanted to hear more of Parsons' music. With Cardew and Skempton, one of the founding members of The Scratch Orchestra, his own pieces were minimally represented on recordings, with only three previously listed at Discogs (I had the split disc--with Cardew--of Tania Chen's readings of his work and recently found the Tilbury; have yet to hear 'Piano Music 1977 - 1996' on Experimental Music Catalogue). This release, two CDs worth, not only spans virtually his entire career (he was born in 1938) but also covers a fascinatingly wide range of approaches as well as instrumentation.

The CDs encompass thirty-nine tracks (including three alternate takes) and aren't assembled in chronological order or, apart from certain groupings, any discernible system, so for a listener like myself who comes in with few prior conceptions of what the music is apt to sound like, it can be a somewhat disorienting experience initially. The very first piece, 'Dispersal' (1999) is a pointillistic work for small ensemble, something of a Webern extension, very soft and digestible, a lovely version of the sort of post-serial construction that's not all too uncommon. However, the next track, 'Rhythmic Canons', composed only a year prior, harkens more to the irregular, interlocking processes explored by composers like Louis Andriessen, though again with great delicacy and beguiling smoothness. 'Percussion and Glissandi' (1999) enters still another territory, softly sliding strings bending around pinpoint wooden block taps. A trio of short piano works performed by the always superb Philip Thomas and dating from 1962 - 1968, return to that post-serial area, though with an elusively lyrical aspect that reminds me somewhat of Christian Wolff. Around this point, we think that perhaps we have Parsons' approach more or less corralled and then 'Highland Variations' (1972) is sprung upon us. The longest track here at almost twelve minutes, it's an astonishing and captivating set of for strings (which do a fair imitation of pipes). Presumably written for reasons similar to those stated at the time by composers like Cardew, Rzewski and others, to shift from more abstruse forms to those derived from folk and worker's music with the intention of making it more accessible to the non-highbrow audience, it's a brilliant set combing drones with repeated melody fragments, unabashedly Romantic and utterly absorbing.

The music continues to expand from there, into the delightful 'Fourths & Fifths' (1990) for solo flute (Nancy Ruffer) consisting of "simple" patterns reminiscent of Tom Johnson, a set of wonderful Bagatelles (as fine as Thomas plays them, I'd love to hear Tilbury's rendition) and much, much more. I'll just mention a few others: the mysterious 'Concertante 1' (2014), a brooding work featuring heavy piano chords over shifting strings and reeds plus occasional surprising explosions of electronics (Kerry Yong), a rare appearance of such here; several more piano pieces from the early oughts, cool and crystalline; a rich, intense and moving work for solo cello, 'Talea 3' (1999), performed by Anton Lukoszevieze; a Skempton-ish solo piano work, 'Variations' (1971); and the final selection, 'Three Tallis Transcriptions' (2003), yet another engaging surprise.

It's just a fantastic collection overall, not only providing a seriously needed compendium of Parsons' music but doing so extraordinarily well by virtue of the talents of Apartment House. Highly recommended.


John Cage/Christian Wolff/Apartment House/Philip Thomas - CC (Huddersfield Contemporary Records)

Cage's work, composed in 1957-58 and combining both graphic and conventional notation, has been recorded often enough although, reading the excellent accompanying pair of essays by Martin Iddon and Philip Thomas, one quickly comes to understand the virtually infinite range of realization possibilities the piece affords. Between the decoding and arrangement of parts for the piano, the ensemble and the conductor (who is, apparently, quite capable of foiling any advanced preparations of his musicians), the entire proposition seems as daunting as it is freeing. Perhaps unduly influenced by the graphics included here on the cover and well known as a classic example of the territory, it's very enticing to hear the work as the wandering of the pianist along a series of pathways, through woods, fields and cities; delicate, even whimsical for the most part but rubbing up against enough sharp branches and burs to keep him on his toes. Describing it otherwise might be something of a fool's errand. On the one hand, it "sounds like" any number of post-1950, quasi-aleatory works: sparse for the most part--though there is a section about a half-hour in where the playing, especially the piano, is very dense and convoluted--fragmented, consisting of superficially unrelated sounds, extended technique expositions, etc. On the other, though, as difficult as it is (for me) to quantify, there's a specificity about it, a "Cageness" (or Apartment House-ness) that seems quite unique and immediate. Chalk it up to excellent choices being made, I suppose, to scarce few missteps, to maintaining a thin but pervasive tissue of sound, even in the silences, that allows the music to attain an organic aspect that feels alive, even pulsating. Fine work.

Wolff's 'Resistance' is brand new, commissioned by Apartment House and, among other things, displays the political awareness that has been part and parcel of his work for 50 years; apart from its title, the work incorporates a snatch of one of Cardew's workers' songs ('Revolution Is the Main Trend') and a transcription of Pete Seeger's 'Hold the Line'. The initial impression, after the Cage, is how much more traditionally composed the Wolff piece is. As I find with his music generally, there's a surface comprehensibility that dissolves the closer I listen, becomes watery in its difficulty of being fully grasped. This, I find, is endlessly enchanting. Written for a minimum of eleven instruments 'including at least 1 wind, 1 brass, 1 string, and solo piano', it's fairly lush in color, the contrasting tonalities conveying something of a garden imagery. Brass is more prominent than in the Cage, brief flourishes, burbles and even semi-fanfares emerging here and there. The piece is full of surprising moments; sometimes, it's almost like walking down a hallway and opening doors, hearing what sounds are emanating from within. The general cast of the music becomes more diffuse as it progresses through the middle section, wafting tendril-like, disappearing around corners. Unison lines pop up occasionally, like a short song or march, but quickly give way to less figurative motifs including, some 35 minutes in, a wonderful, slightly sardonic whistling section underlaid by tuba. Nothing lasts very long, however. As we arrive at the Seeger transcription, one has the feeling, perhaps, of disparate troops, citizens, having been organized, brought together from a multitude of locations and trades, cajoled and impelled to form the resistance of the title. A marvelous work and performance and a very strong addition to Wolff's oeuvre.

Huddersfield Contemporary Records



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Al Jones has been issuing music on his Marginal Frequency label since 2016. Unfortunately, for this listener, most of it is on cassette. I haven't had a working player in more than ten years and never really liked the medium so won't be rectifying the situation. Happily, Al has obliged my inadequacy and sent me burns of some recent releases, all of them at least interesting and he's also put out some fine stuff on good old vinyl, so some brief thoughts:



Starvation Time - House of Dust

Steve Flato (Guitar, Bass, Drum, Electronics, Synth), Jeff Williams (Vocals, Lyrics, Guitar) with drum samples from Travis Johnson. I kind of chuckle at myself listening to this as it's so far away from my normal likes...but I like it very much. A deep repeating throb that's downshifted once to, with great simplicity, summon forth a range of pop allusions, overlaid with a wonderfully chaotic welter of splintering noise and mutilated vocals. Maybe it's partly the audio clarity where I expect to encounter sludge; there's a surprising transparency here, extremely spatial. This first track morphs into a slightly more standard but still extremely enjoyable guitar/cymbal-tap driven piece, with somewhat less distorted vocals that sounds, I don't know, like what The Golden Palominos might be doing today if they were still good; totally absorbing. "We Were Seeds" settles even more deeply into the groove, chugging along with shimmering guitars offset by excellently paced percussion breaks, then revving up once again. "Bone Seeker" (great title), tones things down just a bit; it's almost stately, although discontent clearly simmers underneath, a regular beat winding through a haze of guitar and electronics, baleful, gray, Williams' vocals slowly becoming more and more intense and frenetic. Not sure where on any rock spectrum one would place this (dark prog?) but it's one of the best rock-oriented releases I've heard in years. 



Catriel Nievas/Joe Wheeler - Balance

No instrumentation is credited (I don't think--as said above, I don't have the cassette, but nothing's listed on the Discogs entry) but the six tracks seems largely made up of field recordings with a gradually increasing presence of electronics and some guitar. And despite those tracks, I hear the recording more as a single piece (a suite, in any case) that shifts focus back and forth from the everyday world (kids playing, vehicles, random clatter--there's a portion on the fourth track that startles me every time I hear it--I swear someone just entered the house, talking in Spanish) to the more hermetic territory of post-industrial electronics. It's a solid, sinewy and thick voyage, absolutely riveting. There's a somehow convincing quality to it; nothing feels forced everything flows--not smoothly but logically after a fashion. The pacing and layering-in of both recordings and effects is imaginative on its own and even the clear acoustic guitar on the last track seems as though it had simply been patiently waiting its turn. A really fine recording--I think the first I've heard from either musician. Eager to hear more.


Clara de Asis/Bruno Duplant - L'inertie

Two drone pieces provided by electronics (maybe guitar from de Asis, maybe other sources), both quite lovely. "La Paresse" has a tonal nature, though retaining nicely spiced lines to offset any sweetness overload. Several layers, one shimmering rapidly, one or two unspooling slowly and luxuriously, perhaps more. One gets the sense of some "hidden" melodic material  in there, some Riley-esque patterns buried deeply enough to leave only the vaguest of traces. In "La Lenteur", it' the smoothness of tooled metal, cooler and fluctuating in a queasier fashion, in microtonal pitch shifts that almost sound as though sourced from bandsaws, though swaddled in gauze, all over long, deep throbs. There's a subtle change of focus a few minutes from the end, just briefly, but the music then swings around to a similar setting, an adjacent workroom perhaps, the low tones deepening, gathering force. An impressive performance, one of the better drone-type recordings I've heard in a while.



Fraufraulein - Heavy Objects

How nice to have some new Fraufraulein! Anne Guthrie (French horn, objects) and Billy Gomberg (electronics, bass guitar) have a special way of creating all-but-casual soundscapes from found materials and horn snippets, often subtly underlined by Gomberg's essentially melodic take on things. There's a relaxed feeling, walking speed, but extremely observant, choosing sounds with a balance of care and nonchalance. There's a sense of a pure field recording that happens to contain musical elements as part of the environment, as when the (I think) small horn burps bubble to the surface about 12 minutes into 'One of Us Always Tells the Truth'; very engaging. Firecrackers in the street begin side two, 'When We Evaporate', sharing space with muffled bass plucks and soft, wistful horn lines, all soon blending with the general, urban ambience outside the window. More small explosions, as though recorded on July 4th or Chinese New Year, airplanes passing, distant radio. Toward the end, the bass becomes a bit more insistent, even establishing a rhythm, Guthrie's horn wafting atop, a very fine coalescing of all that's transpired before. Excellent work all around, a real treasure. More, please. 


Joda Clément/Mathieu Ruhlmann - Kindred

'Kindred' begins, quite unexpectedly, with a marvelously obscure cover of Eno's 'Taking Tiger Mountain' (the duo assisted on this track by Judith Hamann, cello and voice; Alexandra Spence, clarinet; Cristián Alvear, guitar; Al Jones, lap steel guitar, voice; Gregory Moskos, piano; and Tim Clément, tapes), burying the original beneath swaths of gentle sound and the hazily bent vocals where the tune's melody is limned. It's the start of an enjoyable journey, the music acquiring more of a crust as it goes . as Clément and Ruhlmann take over. "Against What Light" is chillier, bits of windblown grit coating the sleekness, a voice explicating revolutionary theory (perhaps in homage to the mind of Cardew's tiger), gulls, low moans. Side Two opens with the length 'Between Regions of Partial Shadow and Complete Illumination', picking up where the last track left off, more meditative at first but soon becoming nervous, agitated, the crackles and hums providing more tension than solace. Voices appear again, but they're eerie, more disembodied, swirled into the hum which churns along, very enjoyably, until the inevitable dissipation. The concluding track, a footnote titled, '*', continues the general flow, seeming to want to circle back to the beginning before veering suddenly into thorny high pitches and ending abruptly. Very, very satisfying work.


Michael Pisaro, Samuel Duncombe, Steven Andrew Flato, Celeste Oram/Wen Liu/Johannes Regnier

Four works composed for and played on the (apparently) well known and regarded Spreckels Organ in San Diego, California (see image below) and issued by Marginal Frequency in LP format (yes! Their first such!). Pisaro's 'Secular Reason', performed by Justin Murphy-Mancini, is unusual for him, and not only due to the instrumentation. He uses what I'd call very "traditional" pipe organ sounds: the rich, thick chords that I think most of us recall from our youth, and/or perhaps horror films. He sets out, for the most part, three chord sequences, high-low-high, in varying but fairly close pitches. They're like isolated portions of fanfares or chorales and cause a certain amount of (intended?) discomfort as the listener wants to place them in a larger context but is not allowed to. Until, several minutes in, an underlying chord, briefly, ties matters together. After a short silence, the chords have splayed out into a wider pool before a recursion to a version of the beginning pattern, stretched out and underlined. I've found there's often more to glean from Pisaro's scores than meets this listener's ears and would be curious to see what was up on this one. A final, lengthy chord that attenuates as it lingers brings to a close this odd piece, simultaneously making strong reference to tradition (the sounds utilized) and the new (its structure).



'An Inside-out Map of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion', by Samuel Dunscombe (also played by Murphy-Mancini) explores the innards of the instrument. The sounds--thin whines, airy rushes, crackles and more--still retain vestiges of "organ-ness" and more, of extreme power and force. One feels like a tiny organism caught within the pipe system, buffeted around by its inner workings. A wonderful enveloping and mysterious piece. Steve Flato (showing great range traveling from the previously reviewed Starvation Time to here) contributes a marvelous work, 'Face South Toward the Storm', a darkly eddying piece (played by Jared C. Jacobsen) where muted, tense chords vie with electronics to create a somber, misty place. In the shadows, though, vaguely Messiaenic chords emerge, glowing and hopeful. About midway through, there's a beautiful dropout and a renewal of clear, lovely tones, almost ethereal. A really great piece, maybe my favorite thing heard from Flato over the years. 'Artificial Horizons' is co-composed by Celeste Oram, Wen Liu and Johannes Regnier (performed by Jacobsen with the addition of vocalist Mary Glen Fredrick). It's a little all over the place, having some almost theatrical sounding riffs near the beginning, changing into spacier, ring-modulator-type of sounds, then introducing the spoken text. There's a repeated two-note "melody", with variations that pops in now and then to give a common thread. It's an interesting piece, maybe a little unfocussed, but something I'd very much like to hear expanded upon; it sounds almost like an extract from a much longer idea.

A very fine release overall, in any case, offering equal amounts of (unusual) challenge and reward.

Marginal Frequency has become an extremely fine imprint with ten releases as of now and, hopefully, many more on the way.