Wednesday, May 23, 2018



Philip Samartzis/Daniela d'Arielli - A Futurist's Cookbook (Galaverna)

I'd always greatly enjoyed Samartzis' music since first hearing him, if I recall correctly, on the duo recording with Sachiko M, 'Artefact', released in 2002. But I was only able to meet him and hear his work live (that is, on tape) several years ago in Paris at IRCAM. My experiences with the French academic electro-acoustic world wasn't so great--the programs and synthesized sounds tended to resemble a musical version of Photoshop as far as I was concerned, projecting a kind of sheen over almost all compositions that I found unappetizing. At the event in question, however, two pieces stood out: those of Giuseppe Ielasi  and Samartzis, which featured sounds that were very alive, very sharp and full of grain.



This recording is very much in that lineage. It was recorded during a residency in Abruzzi, Italy, Samartzis accompanied to various locations by d'Arielli, who contributes 24 photographs that arrive with the download, in addition to an essay by Samartzis on Futurism, Marinetti and the dynamism of the sounds heard in the countryside and urban settings. Seven tracks, the title of each indicating either a place or condition (each prefaced and occasionally interrupted by a female voice, presumably d'Arielli's, offering a one-word description on Italian). As with the work I heard at IRCAM, which involved sounds recorded on a ship near Antarctica, Samartzis seems to allow the sounds to speak for themselves: cowbells, wheat fields in the wind, threshing machines, grain processing, insects, water dripping, pasta being formed and cut, planes in the night, etc. (most of these documented in the photos). But I'm reasonably sure that all this hyper-verisimilitude was arrived at via ultra-subtle and careful manipulation of his initial recordings. That they appear so enveloping and of the place, unladen with any over-obvious irony or or other artifice is fine testimony to Samartzis' vision and abilities. How an Italian meal arrives at the table Excellent, discreetly imaginative and engaging work.


Galaverna



Monday, May 21, 2018



Cristián Alvear/Santiago Astaburuaga - capas de un tapiz (Marginal Frequency)

Two fascinating and compelling compositions performed by the Chilean duo of Alvear (guitar, transducers, small amplifiers, recordings) and Astaburuaga (bass, transducers, small amplifiers, recordings. The label site notes that the pair use "physical objects and in situ cues through photography and video to realize complex scores".  I've no certain idea how this eventuates, but the results are excellent.

Rolando Hernandez' 'topializ' begins with a sequence of simple, if slightly harsh, guitar chords, regularly spaced, imparting a misleading sense of clarity. After a minute, a counter-pattern, possibly from a prepared bass, emerges--again a regular rhythm, quicker than the first and composed of gnarlier material. The piece is episodic, though the sections function within a roughly similar dynamic and textural range, offering a kind of continuity. The second area is grainier, with electronic scrapes and whines splayed over a calmly repeating tone that evokes sonar, perhaps, or even a busy signal. Regular pulses of one sort or another underlie much of the piece, steadfastly wending their way through various forms of detritus. Though the work is much "noisier" than what I normally associate with Alvear, there's a kind of serenity that pervades. An extremely bracing piece.

"sin título #21", by Nicolas Carrasco also proceeds by discreet episodes, though each section is quite brief and, initially, separated by short silences. Soon, however, a thick braid of metallics takes over, perhaps generated by guitar and bass manipulations and enhancements, that churns and writhes, surging in a dense and complex wave--absorbing. About halfway through, the music reduces to a hum and a wooden click, almost metronomic. A piece of metal, perhaps a heavy key, is dropped on the floor, and will be again. Isolated guitar chords and faint squeaks, then a cessation of the knocking. Those guitar strums become the dominant element, steering a slow and steady course among gradually increasing rumbles, hisses and dull metals. The metronome returns, to close matters with some degree of balefulness and inevitability.

I've listened to these pieces ten or twelve times--each experience has revealed different structures and relationships. Wonderfully complicated, extremely enjoyable. Check it out.

Marginal Frequency



Sunday, May 20, 2018



Asher Tuil - Multiplicities
Asher Tuil - Reduplications

As near as I can tell, Asher's been releasing music more or less exclusively on-line since around 2014. The above two are the first I've heard of his music since 2009, so I'm guessing approaches heard herein have evolved over that period but I was somewhat surprised at the nature of what's here. There's much more structure in play, though it's a clear and even simple sort, none of the smoky, ghostly atmosphere of work like that heard in 'Miniatures', 'Graceful Degradation' and the like. 'Multiplicities' consists of almost an hour of small, electronic melodic patterns, each only several seconds long, repeated in sets of, I don't know, 10 to 30 times each. The patterns are relatively similar, containing two or three layers of smooth, synth-like tones, generally offset with a sandier or more staticky one (or two), very reminiscent of aspects of 90s glitch-prov. It's neither flowing nor fragmented, straddling both notions. I find it reasonably interesting to listen to intently, more so to have on as ambient music.

'Reduplications' also involves repetition, though over a much slower scale. Eight tracks ranging from 16 - 19 minutes, to the casual listener the music might sound very much in line with classic Eno of the 'On Land' or 'Apollo' period: resonant, slowly undulating and intertwining drones leavened with the odd, echoey bass droplet or electric piano bell-tone, all over a scratchy field that varies in intensity. Again, it's a little odd to listen to closely and individually as the pieces, despite some textural difference, at such a length begin to blend together. But as subtle accompaniment to one's environs, the mix of sandy washes and mellow tonality works very well.

You can listen for yourself to this and other recent work from Asher at his bandcamp site:

here

Wednesday, May 16, 2018



Grisha Shakhnes - The Distance Between a Word and a Deed (Disappearing Records)

Sounds recorded in Stockholm and transfigured by Shakhnes. True to form, the resultant sounds on the first of two tracks on this cassette are rough, rumbling, dark and gravelly, surging along line a mudslide bearing multitudes of rocks, trees, metallic items. Or like standing in a near-abandoned area at night, watching an enormous, mysterious, loud machine slowly--very slowly--make its way down the street, disappearing around a corner. The second is more open, though just as eerie, the sounds occurring in a larger space perhaps, less concentrated but, as a consequence, more clearly heard. A threatening quaver or two and banging/clinking metals take up most of the area. Various groans, squeaks, horns and buzzes seep in before spiraling away into night.

That's on the cassette. If you order the download, you get for more tracks, over an hour, "Stockholm Variations #'s 2, 2.5, 3 and 4". They're in similar territory, with a few different tacks taken (especially the last, a ratcheting, cyclic sequence) and are just as enjoyable.






Grisha Shakhnes - ARCS (Marginal Frequency)

Somewhat less grainy than the above release, inhabiting an adjacent but slightly cleaner world, still dark, still uncertain but a place where the metal-to-metal sounds are drier, the surrounding accompaniment crisper. Shakhnes' music often has an undercurrent of rotation, of tight iterations of layer upon layer of sequences. I think I've written before that I'm reminded of Jason Lescalleet's experiments with crumples loops strung between several old tape players. It's industrial, all turbines and generators, evoking the sensation of wandering through (and leaning against) vast machines operating on auto, at night, the factory deserted. Some vaguely animal-like sounds emerge on the second track, "at least as alive as the vulgar', the whole thing like a half-received radio transmission, staticking in and out of clarity. Wooly, uncomfortable and absorbing, beginning to end.




Monday, May 14, 2018

some all too brief reviews of things that have recently arrived. Apologies to the musicians for the brevity but time's been scarce.


Pascal Battus/Bertrand Gauguet/Eric La Casa - Chantier 4 (Swarming)

When I was in Paris 2013 - 2015, the second apartment in which I stayed was on Rue Adolphe Mille, which more or less ran along the western border of the Parc de la Villette in the 19th Arrondissement. On the opposite side of the park, the new Philharmonie de Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel, was nearing its long-delayed completion. Eric La Casa, a master of in situ field recording/performance, lived just up the street as well and, in 2013, ventured into the site with percussionist and objectiste Pascal Battus and alto saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet. Their sounds largely blend into those produced by the environment, which include the general, wooly urban hum, the percussive noises of construction work and the voices of the workers themselves among many others. You can pick out likely contributions from Battus (though I'm sure some I think are his, aren't and vice versa) and the occasional reed flutter or thin keening of the sax, but all is pretty much of a piece. The recordings, as always captured superbly by La Casa, were then reworked, remodeled and collaged by Battus and Gauguet. The result is a soundscape at one hyper-real and phantasmagoric, rich, deeply plied, and absorbing, densely filled with sounds both recognizable and obscure, entrenched in the city yet isolated from it. Excellent work, among the best I've heard from all three of the musicians.

Swarming


Matthew Świeżyński - The One Who Modifies Time and Light (Invisible Birds)

Two tracks, each over a half hour in length, "meditations" on Satyajit Ray's wonderful Apu Trilogy, occupying that zone between drones and field recordings, summoning images of nocturnal harbors and shadowed sylvan pathways. A subtle bell tone underlies the beginning of 'The Bird Represents Phases of Work' over which layers of voices and sounds I hear as dockside percolate. These are replaces by distant, hazy horns, perhaps made from those of yaks or other large cattle, fierce winds, low, rocky rumbles. 'Reduction, the Transmission of Light' starts with multiple ringing tones over what seems like urban sounds fading in and out, sitars from adjoining buildings. It's a bit more steady-state than the prior track, remaining in the same area while adding many varied textures, closing with a return of the horns from the first cut. The album is entirely immersive, easy to get pleasurably lost in. Good work.

Invisible Birds</>


Adrian Dziewanski - The Trail Loops Back (The Alcohol Seed/Invisible Birds)

Two pieces based on field recordings in Vancouver and Hawaii with added guitar loops and effects. In "A Common Dust", bird calls, spring peepers and an odd crackling sound that morphs into something like footsteps are heard over a thick, throbbing, fairly tonal drone, the elements mixing taffy-like, receding and emerging. When the drone half-disappears then goes away entirely, there's the wonderful sensation of the ambient sounds being released to float aboveground. The drones return with an added ringing and hints of low strings; the piece ends. 'Root Tendrils' is darker, as befits its subject, though the basic elements are similar to the first piece--insectile or amphibious trills, obscure metallic knocks, steps through dry grass, all over a swirling, creamy drone. Depending how one listens, the track arguably goes on longer than it merits but, on, the other hand, there's no real problem wallowing in it and coming out refreshed. Good, healthy dronage.

The Alcohol Seed

Invisible Birds


Thursday, May 10, 2018




John Cage - Two2  (Another Timbre)

Of Cage's so-called "Number Pieces", works composed late in his life, 'Two2' (1989) seems to be one of the least frequently recorded. It was written for the piano duo Double Edge (Edmund Niemann and Nurit Tilles) though it appears that the premiere was performed in May 1990 by Rob Haskins and Louis Goldstein; it's available to be heard on YouTube. That performance lasts just over an hour and twenty-five minutes and the two others I can locate, by Josef Christof/Stefan Schleiermacher (released on MDG in 2000, as part of the 'Complete Piano Music', volume 5) and a live video by Beata Pincetic and Christos Sakellaridis last just over 46 and 36 minutes respectively. 

On the johncage.org website, the piece is described as follows:

This is one of Cage’s few “number” pieces that does not utilize time-brackets. Being inspired by  a remark of Sofia Gubaidulina, i.e. "There is an inner clock," Cage created a composition consisting of 36 lines of music, each containing 5 measures. Within each line, 31 events occur: 5+7+5+7+7, as in Japanese Renga poetry. The pianists play a measure in their own tempo, but the next measure may only be played when both have completed the previous.

Philip Thomas, in an interview published on the Another Timbre site and partially reproduced in the sleeve of this release, mentions having heard the piece both in live performance and on recording, remarking, "...it just didn't draw me in in the way that most of Cage's number pieces do. To my ears there were too many notes, too much material in the piece such that I quickly lost interest." But reading the score himself and calculating what he thought was an appropriate amount of time to spend on each measure, he arrived at a potential duration of around two and a half hours. The current recording clocks in at just short of two hours and eight minutes. Thomas remarks, "There are no instructions about duration, so any and all durations are possible and valid, but I think that taking it at the pace we do at least brings a different perspective to it, and reveals other things about the piece that I'd not heard before".



Having listened to the three other versions, online, I have to say that, as generally enjoyable as those are to my ears, Thomas' intuition is exactly correct. The sense of pace is almost viscous without any connotations of stickiness or anything syrupy. If you can imagine very slowly flowing water, that's close. Maybe cold lava. Notes suspend in the air for a few moments, then softly fall and disappear. My impression is that there's more in the mid- and mid-low range of the piano than elsewhere, a real roundness in the tonality, a thickness. The sequences have something of a darkly Romantic character, as though extracted from a larger work, slowed way down, carefully examined and considered. As in Feldman, there's somehow a sense of forward progression though never the slightest indication of a goal. For what it's worth, I never get the impression of two pianists, just one strong, coursing river of music. It's 128 minutes of pure, thought-compelling, perception-enhancing, down to earth bliss. Can't ask for more. 

A major achievement.



Monday, May 07, 2018



Christian Wolff/Antoine Beuger - Where Are We Going Today (Erstwhile)

I've little doubt that were one to come upon this music knowing absolutely nothing about the two participants, the affection, respect, understanding and love shared between them would be overwhelmingly clear. In fact, though they met in 1991, they've only physically encountered each other a handful of times over the years, generally when one or the other was invited to an event in Europe or North America by the other. And indeed, this recording was created by each composer individually, two months apart: Beuger in Haan, Germany and Wolff on his farm in Royalton, Vermont, US. Beuger, over a period of about a month, spent 10 or 15 minutes each day thinking about Wolff, compiling a list of words and phrases he either associated with the other composer or which, somehow, embodied his feelings towards him and his music. He then put together a 70-minute recording of himself speaking some of these words, situated like islands in a vast pool, interspersed with soft whistling (one immediately recalls his superb collection, 'Keine Fernen Mehr') and the discreet replaying, never really foregrounded, of the Wandelweiser recording of Wolff's 'Stones' from 1996. Beuger sent the result to Wolff, who compiled five 10-15 minutes sessions, thinking of his collaborator (there's a wonderful moment, some 50 minutes in, when you hear the older composer, almost as though startled from a dream, say, "Antoine!"), performing on piano, objects, charango (an Andean guitar) and flute. Melodica, though not listed, is also clearly heard.  I'm not sure whether or not Wolff constructed his music so as to specifically fit in with Beuger's, but I suspect not. More likely, it seems to me (I could be wrong), he "simply" attempted to arrive at a similar emotional and fraternal territory, trusting serendipity to align things. The two recordings were mixed by Taku Unami.

The resultant music is spare but gentle; not even so much gentle as relaxed and confident enough in each others' personalities that small eruptions, generally from Wolff's piano, can occur without provoking unease. Which isn't to say that it flows, though it does, but more simply occurs. One recalls the Rowe/MIMEO project, 'sight', wherein the listen constructs many of the patterns insofar as they're perceived. Beuger's voice, calm, emerges throughout, widely spaced, beginning with, "Say, where are we going? Where?" (though, intriguingly, the discs title excludes the interrogatory) which ably frames one aspect of Wolff's work: the unforeseen or in fact unknown destination of a given piece. Wolff's melodica seems to respond, easily adopting a voice-like character for this listener. "After. Afterwards. After words", Beuger says, Wolff replying with a low piano chuckle. It's all so intimate, almost uncomfortably so (like the aforementioned 'Keine Fernan Mehr'; one feels as though eavesdropping on a quiet, private conversation, the pair perhaps lying in a field, watching the sky, talking freely, softly, only when necessary. "We have to go now", Beuger says a couple of times near the end. "As if their dialogue had never ended." One gets the sense it hasn't, yet, and that's such a good thing.

An extraordinary recording, so personal, so different, so wonderful.

Erstwhile






Monday, April 30, 2018



Kim Myhr - You | Me (Hubro)

I've been aware of Myhr's music since about 2010 though, to be sure, not in its entirety, so I've little idea how much if any this recording is a departure, but it was certainly a surprise--and an exhilarating one--to me.

Performed by a quartet made up of Myhr (electric and acoustic guitars), Tony Buck (percussion), Ingar Zach (snares, percussion, electronics) and Hans Hulbækmo (hand percussion), the first track begins in a floating, nebulous zone, all dust and water droplets suspended in air,  but after about four minutes, a strummed, rhythmic guitar figures enters the scene and we get to the meat of the matter. I have to say that, inevitably, one recalls Rhys Chatham's majestic 'Guitar Trio' with the propulsive, more or less single pitch maintained throughout, accompanied by surging percussion. It's gentler than 'Guitar Trio', possessing kind of a skimming the surface quality, very attractive, like a bird flying low over the waves on the cover image. The second track (listed as simply 'A' and 'B', but hard not to think of as 'You' and 'Me', running about 18 and 20 minutes, respectively) starts right in with that lilting groove, this time with Myhr's acoustic guitar up front. The pitches used are expanded somewhat but still lie within a smallish range, but there's more going on in the bass (however generated, but including bass drum) imparting a slight Canterbury feeling. It shifts about midway through into a quavering, bell-filled area, foggy but tingling. An enjoyable and approachable release



Michael Pisaro - Asleep, Street, Pipes, Tones (Hubro)

I'd heard the one other recording of this Pisaro piece, by Barry Chabala and Katie Porter (with organ and other sound samples from Eva-Maria Houben, André O. Möller and Burkhard Schlothauer), released on Gravity Wave in 2011. It's a stunning work, as is this performance by Håkon Stene (Godin and Moog electric guitars, bowed piano, field recordings) and Kristine Tjøgersen (bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet), for which Pisaro adapted the original score.

Though divided into 17 relatively brief tracks--unlike the earlier version, which was presented s a 63-minute whole--the piece is contiguous enough, with shifts on focus gliding from one to the next. Pisaro has apparently written eight "sleep" compositions, based around the idea of both continuing to hear events from the conscious world as well as developing our own during dreamtime. Here, he works with sounds from the street, "pipes" in various aspects (from waterworks to subways) and, more generally, tones consisting of musician-generated sounds as well field recordings and, I gather, radio captures. It opens immediately on a kind of white noise that has hollow, tubular overtones. It quickly fades then recurs, the iteration giving it something of the character of a steam horn. For the next hour, we traverse any number of sound fields that pierce the oneiric calm. It's pointless to try to describe them all, just to say that as varied as the elements are, even while noting standout moments like the luscious deep clarinets, the infiltration of choirs and a surprising "organ" section--pipes!--, the work flows beautifully, with its own internal dream logic. A fabulous realization and right up there with my favorite recordings of Pisaro's work.

Hubro


Friday, April 27, 2018



Bruno Duplant - Chamber and Field Works (2015 - 2017) Another Timbre

A very enjoyable 2-disc set of works by Duplant performed by Taku Sugimoto and the Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble. Disc One is given over to three pieces with the group, a sextet and two quintets (Aya Naito, bassoon & voice; Hikaru Yamada, electronics; Masahiko Okura, soprano & contrabass clarinet; Sugimoto, electric guitar, bow, e-bow & bowed mandolin; Wakana Ikeda, flute, harmonica; and Yoko Ikeda, violin & viola). Surely a great deal of the successful realization of these works is due to the ensemble, which plays with wonderful sensitivity and awareness of subtle modulations. The pieces share certain characteristics, most clearly slowness, quietness and long tone duration. 'all that I learned and then forgot' (2015) has slowly descending tones, bending ever so slightly downward, delicately layered and sequenced. The second track, 'where our dreams get lost' (2017) is one where I suspect that the ensemble is doing the heavy lifting. I have no idea what the score for any of the pieces is like (save for the one on Disc Two), but here the long lines are single notes fairly close together; the concept sounds simple. But the performance is so flowing, so clear and, dare I say, heartfelt, that the emergent beauty more than belies the surface simplicity. There's a shift in textural content on 'a place of possibilities' (2017), a harsher violin, a voice, the winds sounding somewhat more agitated. The long tones are retained, but the atmosphere is more doubtful, an appropriate and effective tonic for the previous two compositions.

'lEttEr to tAku (field music for guitar)', which occupies the second disc, is a different story, the "score" being a letter sent by Dupont to Sugimoto. It's a solo piece for Sugimoto (guitar, small amplifier, bow, park) performed and recorded at Hanegi Park in Tokyo. He's made recordings in a similar vein before (I'm thinking of 'Live in Australia' and others) where he's played so sparingly that it's often difficult to discern his presence. Here, his sound is clear, foregrounded from the environment yet attached to it. Children, planes, cicadas and other sounds envelop the single guitar notes, sometimes short, more often allowed to hover. Somewhere after the midway point, Sugimoto briefly switches to the bow, creating sharp but gentle slivers of sound, slicing through the park, recalling Michael Pisaro's sine waves in his 'Transparent Cities' projects. Toward the end, the notes seem to come more often, small clusters, like leaves. A lovely performance, beautifully recorded.

An excellent release all around, possibly my favorite thing heard from Duplant thus far.

Another Timbre


Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Taku Sugimoto - h (Another Timbre)

Sugimoto's winning project with singer Minami Saeki, Songs, is the source for this lovely, oddly static work, performed in tandem by the composer and guitarist Cristián Alvear. While those piece were generally short (song length), here Sugimoto takes one, 'h', and elaborates on it for more than 42 minutes. "Elaborates", however, in his own idiosyncratic style.

It's a live recording, from a concert at Ftarri in November 2017, and there's an immediate and welcome sense of the music being embedded in the local atmosphere. The notes come slowly, softly, very songlike, a gentle unhurried cascade of single notes, each player (one presumes) playing the melody at his own pace, allowing new patterns to emerge. That said, there's a kind of hovering stasis in effect, a circulation and rotation around one small but beautiful set of notes, the music never traveling very far at all, but simply observing what can occur given two extremely sensitive instrumentalists approaching the score with high regard.

It's been fascinating to hear Sugimoto's migration from the minimal but "tuneful" music first heard, by me, on 'Opposite' from 1998 to the extraordinarily spare recordings from the mid-2000s (like 'Live in Australia) to the more severe composed pieces from recent years to these current variations, which perhaps harken back to 'Opposite' but with much knowledge gathered int he interim. Not too much more I can say about it in terms of descriptives, only to strongly advise, if you've any interest at all in Sugimoto's music (and Alvear's brilliant playing) to hear this one. Very special.

Another Timbre-




Monday, April 23, 2018


Clara de Asís - Do Nothing (Another Timbre)

This is the third release I've heard from de Asís, including 'Uno Todo Tres' (Éditions Piednu) and her collaboration with Bruno Duplant, 'L'inertie' (Marginal Frequency) and each has been a delight.

Six pieces with de Asís playing guitar and percussion, titularly organized around the idea of nothing, each with a different approach. The works are very intimate, even very precise within the parameters she's apparently assigned, like carefully limned drawings where the beauty is in the close attention to detail and where the complexity emerges from seemingly simple objects like stones and twigs. The title track offsets clear, ringing notes from the guitar, sometimes doubled, with the eventual introduction of a resonant, struck object, perhaps a bell. The two sounds, plus an alternate, slightly buzzing guitar tone, share the space, exerting a subtle gravitational pull on one another, their hanging tones causing ripples of interference. Meditative, alive, shifting and lovely. 'Know Nothing' changes locale drastically, plunging into a tiny world of skittering sounds that resemble, small sewing machines or teletypes, rapid-fire but soft, something like typewriters. There are two takes of 'Nothing Lasts', I and II. The first involves sliding, metallic objects, a kind of sound that I can listen to pretty much forever, while the second uses a similar structure but with what sounds like multiple gentle attacks on a drum head, perhaps even rain--entirely absorbing. Sandwiched between those two tracks is 'Say Nothing', repeated, deep guitar tones, regularly spaced, embedded in some amount of room tone, joined after several minutes by (guessing) bowed, large bells. It's a darker variation on the first track, the bowing fairly harsh, the guitar less glowing. The final piece, 'Be Nothing', is built around what I think is bowed metal, though maybe a guitar is in play. It begins a swirl with overtones, slightly strident, the purer tones playing off the grainier ones, then slowly subsides, damping down the volume, becoming nothing.

A very impressive offering from de Asís; can't wait to hear more.

Another Timbre




Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ensemble Grizzana, here consisting of six core members (Jürg Frey, clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano; Mira Benjamin, violin; Angharad Davies, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; and Dominic Lash, double bass) performs two long works: Magnus Granberg's 'How Vain Are All Our Frail Delights' and Frey's 'Late Silence'.

On the former, the sextet is joined by Granberg (celesta), Simon Allen (dulcimer and glass harp), Richard Craig (alto flute and electronics), John Lely (electronics) and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither and electronics). The starting points for each piece are from Johannes Ockeghem's (1410/25 - 1497) 'Déploration sur la mort de Binchois' and William Byrd's (1538 - 1623) 'O Lord, How Vain'.  Granberg's piece is cloudy, amorphous. I'm not at all sure how he made use of the source material--perhaps extracting small bits and elaborating on them juxtaposing them--but having spent a few hours listening to versions of both the Ockeghem and the Byrd, I can't say that I hear much reference, direct or otherwise. Which is fine, of course. The floating aspect can work and, for me, it sometimes does here but .more so when there's at least a hint of an anchor, as when, periodically, a deep bass note is struck and slowly repeated, kind of an attenuated continuo where one can imagine a dreamy evocation of one of the earlier works. In these moments, I get a slightly Robert Ashley effect which is very attractive. Over its almost 42 minutes, though, I found my attention wandering. Granberg's music has always been a little difficult for me, for one reason or another--my lack, I'm sure.

The Frey work is very different and is yet another addition to his astonishing canon. It's much more constrained and, in a sense, linear. Single, clear lines from piano, dulcimer and strings perform a calm dance, evoking early music without by any means aping it. There's a somberness befitting Ockeghem's subject, tempered by extreme tenderness. The wonderful sound of sliding stones enters beneath the spare, solitary, grainy lines. As with much of Frey's music, the sounds themselves are transparent and "simple" but their placement and their extraordinarily subtle placement provides endless fascination. When other elements are added, harmonica and clarinet in one section, for instance, there's no feeling of overcrowdedness; they slip into the stream, enriching the sound field but never obscuring their cohorts. There are sudden shifts, as when the ensemble gives way to solo piano about 21 minutes in; one has forgotten how full the music had become. The mix of instruments shifts as the piece progresses (harmonica and flute are introduced), always retaining a strong connection to an ancient sensibility, slowed, parsed, and re-examined. 'Late Silence' fits right in to the recent run of gorgeous music by Frey, utterly enthralling.

A fine set. I'll keep working on Granberg, but in the meantime, must hearing for the Frey.

Another Timbre

Monday, April 16, 2018

Five new releases from Intonema.


Jamie Drouin/Hannes Lingens - alluvium (Intonema)

Ten tracks, ranging from under a minute to almost fifteen, from Drouin (no-input mixer, contact mic, laptop, radio) and Lingens (floor tom, snare drum, objects). The pieces, save for the longest one, are concise explorations of circumscribed sets of sounds, each one choosing a small handful of colors and making do with them. I find this an extremely satisfying approach. Even on that near-fifteen minute work, there's an episodic aspect, each portion as exacting as the remainder of the tracks. The general dynamics occupy an area between soft and mid-range, with hums, rubbed surfaces (including, I think, rubber mallets drawn across drum heads), rapid tappings and hazy sizzles featuring prominently. What more to say? It's not a sound-world that hasn't been visited before but Drouin and Lingens hear combinations and patterns unique to their own sensitivities and those sensitivities are very much in line with my own comfort zone, so I find the set ravishing and endlessly revealing of new juxtapositions and parallels on each listen. Fine, subtle, creative work. 


Horst Quartet - edged timbre (Intonema)

A Finnish quartet with Tuukka Haapakorpi (electronics), Lauri Hyvärinen (electric guitar, objects), Taneli Viitahuhta (alto saxophone, objects, piano) and Hermanni Yli-Tepsa (violin, objects), the group comfortably occupies the post-AMM improv tradition, creating five brief (5-6 minute) soundscapes. The music is foggy, jittery, sometimes eerie (heavy knocks on a table or something are repeated at various times), rich in shifting timbres, with softly chiming guitar chords played off against scratches on the violin, breaths through the alto, etc. No new ground is broken and there are occasions when I'd have liked to hear a greater sense of space and emptiness, but these are relatively minor quibbles. 'edged timbre' is actually relatively user-friendly and could serve as a reasonable entryway into this general area of music. 


Dominic Lash/Seth Cooke - egregore (Intonema)

This one's a beaut. Lash (electronics) and Cooke (cymbals, microphones) have fashioned an endlessly absorbing slab of sound, apparently from two different dates (no idea if each recorded separately or both did each time) but melded together into a drone whose surface simplicity belies a wealth of complication at its core. There's perhaps an aura of Radigue in play here (Lash has worked with her), the general organ-y tone maintaining consistency on the one hand but fluctuating with great subtlety on the other; it's difficult to tell if those quaverings are intentional or the result of acoustic interference. These waves alter in fascinating ways, becoming fairly rapid but slightly irregular pushes, jostling underneath while the tone above begins to ripple. It sometimes sounds like a muted layering of a distant multitude of church organs being improvised upon in an insane manner. Toward the end of the piece, the tides lengthen, the air becomes more subdued, though still quite active. It shimmers quietly out of existence, having provided an hour of sublime music. Very highly recommended.


Ilia Belorukov/Miguel A. Garcia/Jason Kahn/Frantz Loriot - invanskrue (Intonema)

An improv date with four strong players: Belorukov (fluteophone, contact mics, effect pedals, ivcs3--software, I think--samples, field recordings), Garcia (laptop, electronics), Kahn (drums) and Loriot (viola). Interesting to hear after the Horst Quartet above. Not that there's any reason to think of similarities or differences, just two quartets improvising, this one to my ears hazier and more mysterious, less sharply focussed, yielding a more immersive experience. Two tracks, the first very much in this vein, rubbed and abraded surfaces nestled in amongst rounded crackles and sliding 
hums. There's a very enjoyable sense of spatial volume here, with low, booming sounds getting lost in the room's corners; quite satisfying. The second cut, 'relieffestia', begins in more raucous territory, perhaps nodding to 'The Crypt', but settles down into a period of fine, giddy uncomfortableness--small, skittering sounds, chirping viola, soft fluteophone (?) sighs. No radio is listed but fragments of rockish guitar music surface discreetly now and then. The music simmers along, bubbling gently, strolling down unanticipated pathways, tinkling here, whooshing there. Good work on all counts.


Konstantin Samolovov/Alexey Sysoev - varietas (Intonema)

Interesting beginning: clear, clean drums along with somewhat similarly percolating electronics, very airy and floating. Samolovov wields the percussion (along with radio and voice recorder) whilst Sysoev mans the no-input mixer and utilizes various software. The clarity of drums as drums (no cymbals; sometimes he sounds like a reborn Barry Altschul) is refreshing once in a while, as is the jaunty, almost humorous aspect the music takes on in the first few minutes of 'moto', one of two tracks here. That transparency and sound-area continue throughout the piece, very active and engaging, the clatter and sputter of children at play. 'cycle' is more somber, the computerized clicks remaining more or less in the same territory (more bell-like tones), the percussion including some cymbals but also damped down a bit, less resonant, which is an effective approach. The interaction is quick and finely meshed, very much "of a piece", no overt give and take. An enjoyable release, light in a good way.














Monday, April 09, 2018

Brief reviews of five releases from Intonema that were issued in 2015 & 2016 which I only recently heard. Next post will be for five more that appeared in 2017-2018.


Songs - 1 & 2 (Intonema)

Songs is a quartet made up of Lucio Capece (bass clarinet), Rishin Singh (trombone), Stine Sterne (voice) and Catherine Lamb (viola, voice). They perform two pieces of Singh's, 'Six Scenes of Boredom' and 'Three Lives'. Despite a title designed to give the malicious critic an easy foothold, the first track is anything but boring. Long, staggered lines, largely in the mid to low registers, from the horns and viola lay beneath the occasional vocal which does carry with it something of a song-lyric aspect, just detached from its stanza and floating. There's a certain amount of stasis, though also some fine melancholy in some of the shorter, two-note sequences, a resignedness, maybe. 'Three Lives', while retaining many of the same general forms as heard in the first piece (the long, blurred, low lines) contains more frequent vocal passages and thus arguably connotes more of the idea of "song". Again, however, these words are sung in short clusters (here, both Lamb and Sterne) and allowed to suspend. When sung in near unison, using a single note, there's a surprisingly urgent sense of drama imparted. (The words are fairly indecipherable, at least by me, but "cocaine" is repeated). It may overstay its welcome just a little bit, but a lovely work nonetheless. I hope Songs, the ensemble, is a continuing project and eagerly look forward to more.


Michael Pisaro/Denis Sorokin - mind is moving ix (Intonema)

I'm thinking I had to have previously encountered the zen source of the Pisaro title, but perhaps not: Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving. I believe I've heard numbers 1-5 in this series, though only in one reading each. Here, Sorokin is mostly heard on electric guitar, though he also makes use of radio, stones and whistling. To make an obvious point, the successful realization of Pisaro's scores rests squarely and with unusual weight on the shoulders of the performer, perhaps more so when the composer isn't present. I'm not familiar with this score but presume that it's one where the instrumentalist has a choice of sounds to make over a given period. The nature of the sounds, their duration, dynamics and, crucially, their placement in the time-field is to some extent at least, up to him/her. Extended silence is an almost necessary outcome, as it is here--or near-silence as amp hum and perhaps room ambience are easily discernible. Determining for oneself how well the work was realized is perhaps even more subjective than usual. I find Sorokin's choices decent enough if, somehow, not quite as incisive as I want to hear. Maybe it's the tone of the guitar, its relative forthrightness that I'd rather have somewhat muted (though, certainly, for all I know, some of this may have been indicated in the score and the "fault", such as it is, lies with Pisaro). Often, when hearing/seeing Pisaro himself performing his music, I find that the electric guitar is a little intrusive; a problem for my ears, not necessarily for other listeners (my mind needs to move more, maybe), and this recording should definitely be heard by anyone with an interest in this area of music. It's a good recording even if I'm curious to hear the piece realized by someone along the lines of Cristián Alvear. 


Stefan Thut - Un/Even and One (Intonema)

I should pause to mention that, with regard to these five releases, I was sent only the discs in plain, white paper sleeves. Not having any direct information that may (or may not) have been printed on the actual CD sleeves, I've been resorting to various accounts of the projects from both the Intonema site and other reviews. 

I write that here as I've learned that a key component, possibly more conceptual than auditory, of Thut's composition is a set of recordings made from the musicians involved "writing" various words with their fingertips on a cardboard box, which is then pushed around the performance space. The musicians are Yuri Akbalkan (electronics), Anna Antipova (box, playback, movement), Ilia Belorukov (alto saxophone, objects), Andrey Popovskiy (violin, objects), Denis Sorokin (acoustic guitar, ebow) and Thut (cello). Thut's music is always thin and dry but usually in a very rewarding way--less thin than transparent, less dry than sandy. And there's a fine sandiness in the sounds encountered here, grit being pushed aside and underneath the objects being dragged and otherwise moved across the floor. And there is a strong sense of physical movement; I was reminded at times of Taku Unami's manipulation of cardboard boxes some years back in NYC. The instruments, when they appear (which is sporadically), add the merest tinge to the general sound-world, an airy, arid space of rubbed and abraded surfaces. That space is consistent, true to itself and endlessly varied and complex within narrow parameters. I could stay for hours, wonderful work.


Arturas Bumšteinas - organ safari lituanica (Intonema)

As best I understand things, Bumšteinas, in the company of organist Gailė Griciūtė, visited some 20 sites in Lithuania as part of his "Organ Archipelago" project, where she recorded improvisations on the local church organs. Bumšteinas then developed the three compositions we encounter here from those improvisations. So the album is very much a joint venture and an enormously successful one. Others, from Eva-Maria Houben to Jean-Luc Guionnet and many between have explored extended technique and sonorities with pipe organs in recent years and this release fits in quite comfortably. The general sound-world of the organ is always present, as well as the ancillary sounds of pedals and stops. But also the kind of breathiness not heard in "standard" organ fare, unusual pitch bending and more. Still, the overall sense is one of tonality, if stretched and pulled. 

Bumšteinas achieves a kind of prismatic effect with the overlays; the varying timbres of the organs, the audible differences in spatial atmospherics and the range of attacks by Griciūtė reflecting off of and through one another with a really fine balance of transparency and substance. Swirling, sometimes calliope-like, nightmare-y; hard to describe but very engrossing music and highly recommended. 


Anne-F Jacques/Tim Olive - tooth car (Intonema)

Recordings culled from two stops on a 2015 tour by the pair, each wielding an assortment of electronics. Rotational devices are clearly in effect (more from Jacques, I think) and provide an effective throb 'n' pulse to undergird the excellent grimy, raw noise that makes up the core language. It's an area explored by many others, a generation of industrial-grade sounds that cycle in varying phases, creating an infernal-factory aura. But it's also one I'm quite partial to, easily imagining myself in such a climate, immersed in the massive sound slabs, aurally buffeted by the whir and clank of rusty gears, the groans of decaying turbines, etc. The first of the two tracks is more in this dense vein, the second imparting a feeling of an abandoned space, the machines still humming but less insistently, neglected, farther along the path to end of their functional life. Good stuff.











Saturday, March 17, 2018



Paul Khimasia Morgan - Peoplegrowold (Confront Collectors Series)

Morgan's listed on only "prepared acoustic guitar body & objects" on this short, lovely recording. One can only imagine the preparations and the nature of those objects as they seem to extend beyond the usual e-bows and contact mics. The thought of "guitar" might well not surface during a given listen. But that's somewhat beside the point as the four pieces on their own are delicate, intricate explorations, well-paced, sounds chosen with care and a fine ear.

One might say that the music meanders but in a modest, intelligent manner, seeking out small byways to investigate. On the first track, 'wtda', a guitar-string jangle morphs into a several-layered hum, very discreet, slowing deepening and splaying out, dissolving into a set of the hums alternating with what sounds like brief slices of same. There's a sense of the nocturnal, of noises in the dark, of ambling through a quiet but not entirely inactive town that percolates in a ghostly way while most are sleeping. Morgan provides just enough iteration of certain elements and occasional pulse to propel things along from sound to sound, barely enough to impart a sense of purpose, just the right amount. 'queensarc' opens with a tiny snatch of voice, perhaps from a radio, and is pricklier than it's predecessor, still offering hums but edgier, more quavery ones, offset with various pieces of static and crackling. There are short silences, like extended eye blinks, the gaze of the viewer shifting slightly each time. It's a more industrial area, tauter and more anxious. The title track starts in a crowded interior space for about a second then shifts to a buzzing drone gently reflecting glimmers of feedback. It wanders through that gritty haze, encountering the odd, muffled beat of a pop song here, traffic or a cough there; it's the most mysterious piece here, quite dreamy and effective. 'waterchimes' is perhaps the densest offering, with several layers and varieties of drone, sets of rustles and clicks and, yes, chime-like tones. As with all the music on this disc, it's less about the elements than how they're placed in context, how restrained is their usage and how surprising-yet-inevitable they appear. The gaze feels careful but distant, observing key aspects and allowing them to stand on their own.

A really fine recording, my favorite of what I've heard from Morgan thus far. Highly recommended.

Confront



Sunday, March 11, 2018


Laura Steenberge - Harmonica Fables (Nueni)

It goes without saying that there's never enough harmonica in contemporary experimental music, so Steenberge's fine recording has a leg up from the get go. She attended Cal Arts and I'm guessing studied with Michael Pisaro (she appears on his recording, 'Tombstones') and perhaps James Tenney. Not that their influence is marked--it's not--but a vague glimmer of the kind of gentle individualism they teach is apparent on this very unique effort.

There are nine tracks, in three groupings. The first two, 'Ritual for Harmonica' and
'Chant - Harmonica', are the longest pieces at about 12 and 20 minutes respectively and, as their titles might indicate, are the ones with a ritualistic aura. On both, Steenberge hums/sings at the same time as she plays the harmonica, the latter often acting as a kind of drone or pedal point. 'Ritual for Harmonica' uses long tones, burled and complex in their layerings, the vibrato of the voice offset against the subtler vibrato of the harmonica chords. When pitched higher, she almost gets a Lucier-like effect of adjacent tone interference. But the overall cast is one of solitary reflection, thoughts unfurling in strings that are emitted in a quasi-regular manner but vary--intuitively, one feels--in any number of characteristics. (I pick up a glass-like sound as well, as though she's also blowing through, perhaps, a bottle). 'Chant - Harmonica', delves deeper, a series of rich, dark, undulating lines seemingly lasting as long as a breath, the low, buzzing harmonica chord bracing the simple "melody" atop, a sung line (anywhere from 3 to 15 notes) that indeed obliquely recalls the idea of "chant", though from what culture I'd find impossible to say. Her bio references a study if Byzantine chants, but I also find myself thinking along didjeridoo lines. The piece is extremely immersive as well as demanding, developing intensity and intricacy as it progresses--you really have to give yourself up and just wallow in it. Very beautiful.

The trio of pieces bearing the title, 'Sphere' (1, 2 & 3) are quite different, tending toward the high range of the instrument and involving swirling, airy patterns, sometimes reminding me of some of Guy Klucevsek's more abstract explorations (there's some accordion kinship here, I think). Mysterious and enticing, sparkles in an ice cloud. The final four compositions are more songlike in nature, though only vaguely so; maybe the titles nudge one in that direction. On 'The Lady of Shallot', the harmonica takes on a character that sometimes resembles a recorder before splaying out in shimmering, prismatic chords. Thinking of it, maybe it's the title of the following piece, 'Pan and Apollo' that got me thinking of pipes. Here, a rapid cycle of notes alternates between a medium-high, repeating swirl and a much higher, oddly distorting one, eventually overlapping and intermingling--oddly disorienting and quite effective. 'The King's Ears' has a bit of a fanfare quality as well as great sonic depth between both pitches and timbres. It shifts from the initial "announcement" aspect to a kind of chorale, a sung and sighed paean and, finally, to a kind of fast jig. 'Rip Van Winkle' closes thing out sleepily and dreamily, billows of gentle snores, in and out, in and out, yawning and stretching.

A wonderful and unusual recording.

Nueni






Monday, March 05, 2018



Mazen Kerbaj/Andrew Lafkas/Mike Bullock - Funkhaus (Fine Noise & Light)

When Lafkas and Bullock get together, my ears immediately go into anticipative and very receptive mode and Kerbaj proves to be a welcome addition to the mix. The latter is listed for trumpet and objects; I don't know his work well enough to say what his approach to the horn tends to be but here, it seems to possess an oddly reedy sound (reed trumpet?) and blends in superbly with the two basses, enough that I'm often not sure which instrument is which--I could be totally wrong about the ascriptions, which is fine.

Lafkas and Bullock spend much time in the lower registers and probably more often arco than not, but their usual deep sensitivity and embrace of pure sonic richness is much in evidence. There's a lot of variation in the four improvisations; I mentally slot the music into a post-eai improv category--that is, free improv informed by but not necessarily subject to the reductionist ethos of times past. I hear references to Favors, Haden, McBee and others (perhaps just in my head), very loving incorporations of aspects of their sound into a different context and it works like a charm. Kerbaj weaves among these thickets, restrained with buzzes and taps, woodpecker-like at times, as in the third track. Very enjoyable, highly creative improv.


Sons of God - Table Talk (Fine Noise & Light)

To the best of my recollection, this is my first exposure to Sons of God (Leif Elggren and Kent Tankred) despite their having a discography that dates back to at least 1991. Here, they're joined by Mike Bullock (Modular synth and computer) in a live performance in Philadelphia from 2016. I gather that theatrics comprise a good portion of their presentation and the photos include a table with a small stack of newspapers that, going from the cover, played a significant role. That being said, I'm left with only the sounds which include, possibly, vocal reactions to the papers and the shuffling and tearing of same. These appear briefly, about midway through, and are embedded in the overall mass of humming electronics, augmented with obscure clicks and what might be sample of high-end arco bass playing. Watching some older videos of the pair, I take it for granted that there were theatrics going on here but, at the same time, the examples I've seen aren't up my alley anyway, so I may be just as well off. As is, the recording is an ok listen, though lacking the sense of involvement and communication of the above-reviewed one; apples and oranges, of course.

Fine Noise & Light


Wednesday, February 28, 2018



Vanessa Rossetto - Fashion Tape (No Rent Records)

I just realized it's been ten years since Rossetto exploded into my musical awareness with the amazing trio of releases, 'Misafridal', 'Imperial Brick' and 'Whoreson in the Wilderness'--a highly enjoyable decade of rich, surprising music. I've missed a few of her most recent recordings, so I'm not sure how/if 'Fashion Tape' fits into the sequence or not, but it's yet another (to me) slightly unexpected direction, perhaps mostly in its usage of taped voice as a major element.

Rossetto has frequently used a combination of field recordings or other found sounds and music from either electronics or her own viola playing, the latter often imparting an unexpected and welcome melodic, even Romantic, element. In this collection of five pieces, a cassette release, the recordings tend to predominate, though I think the viola lurks just below the surface now and then. 'Sample Sale' begins disconcertingly with a mechanical, quasi-poppy sequence, a looped rhythm that's tinny and artificial-sounding, all the more so when a female voice (Rossetto's?) utters, "Welcome, please come in. This is a demo." in a detached, icy manner. We're then ushered into a public space, occasionally bristling with shards of electronics, filled with distorted voices, distant Muzak, complaining children and more. It's a space filled with sounds but somehow not dense; more ghosts than bodies. Swirling, metallic electronics scour the area clean of any human presence before the scene shifts and voices reappear, but hazier, more muffled, half-hidden beneath the sound of clinking, like a spoon in a metal glass. The choices are poetic, unsettling and hard to quantify but work marvelously. This longer track and the concluding one bracket three briefer pieces, three to four minutes in length. 'Memphis Milano' is the most disturbing one, a synth-y looping sequence bearing a vague similarity to buzzing insects, that maintains a mechanical regularity of rhythm while fluctuating in pitch, dynamics and number of lines but for all that, sounding like a reminiscence of some of the more aggravating examples of 1960s electronic music experiments. 'Fake Cheese' returns us to the environment explored in the first track (perhaps the intermediate cut was a kind of buffer or transition zone), the hubbub of the marketplace buried even more deeply under a thick, cottony thrum of electronics through the middle of the piece before emerging somewhat more clearly amidst harsher static etchings. A paranoid sounding man speaks of escape and culpability--again, disquieting and quite strong.

A different male's voice, sounding as though from Arkansas or thereabouts, begins 'Radiant Green', again seemingly troubled, going on about perceived manifestations of the titular color as well as white light, hiding from the truth and other defensive obfuscations. He wanders off, one imagines, and the sounds of the mall remain, serene and undisturbed, slowly gaining in volume and intensity before crackling apart. Rossetto's voice (I think) opens 'measurement', a track on which Matthew Revert also contributes, by repeating the title word in several layers. Once again, a man's voice enters (Revert's?) apparently doing some multiplication exercises. Beneath, there's the strongest possible evidence of Rossetto's viola or some other string source, very muted and quite poignant, like a fresh stream flowing under the mall's floors. The general sound-world morphs into something more "natural"; one hears birds, perhaps the chittering of other animals--it could just be a pet shop, though. The strings intensify and indecipherable voices are heard as the environs become more complicated, even hallucinatory. It's an amazing piece, every move both surprising and solid. Rossetto creates an eerie mini-world that one feels extends well beyond what she's happened to include in the recording, no mean feat.

'Fashion Tape' is a very fine addition to an already seriously impressive body of work. Give a listen.

No Rent Records




Tuesday, February 20, 2018



Patrick Shiroishi - Ima (Confront Recordings)

Shiroishi's 2014 recording on Confront, 'White Sun Sutra' was pretty interesting, showing a range of approaches to his saxophones among other things. 'Ima' picks up from there and then some. 'Lunar Bloom', the first of two tracks, has as its main stem what sounds like a taped voice, deep and very distorted, writhing through the piece, augmented by percussive sounds that carry, for me, a ritual aspect of some sort, and Shiroishi's alto which here has a vocal feeling to it and which, in fact, changes to pure voice toward the piece's end. It's dark enough to seemingly make the adjective 'meditative' inappropriate, but that's the overriding sensation I derive. A strong work. 'To Bathe in the Dreams of Fireflies' opens in an area that belies its title, a fairly disturbing, roiling kind of rumble, like a large reptile whipping around in some subterranean pool. Gradually, wisps of alto and light percussion ('spoons' are listed on the instrumentation--this could be it), provide small glimmers of illumination. You're then thrown entirely off balance by taped orchestral and choral music that sounds Chinese in origin to these ears, like some group spirit that's suddenly coalesced in the gloom. There's a very cinematic cast to everything, sonic images emerging an disappearing from the throbbing and growling, the chorus and orchestra returning, the alto gaining some strength. The whole piece begins to accumulate mass and surge ahead, debris collecting on all sides, before finally expiring with a handful of wheezes. Very impressive and unique, recommended.




Patrick Shiroishi - Tulean Dispatch (Mondoj)

This cassette is quite different. Referencing the Tule Lake internment camp, where his grandparents were imprisoned, it contains a very personal set of pieces. "Herni" opens as a rapid-fire alto exercise in Parker-esque (Evan) cascades including some circular breathing but settles into a ballad-like sequence in the sax's lower range, not unlike some of Braxton's songlike solo pieces. Toward the end, I believe the horn is played into a piano--very nice (in fact, I think each track at least ends in this fashion, maybe more often than that). "The Screams of a Father's Tears" wells up in full-throated roars and harsh stutters, a raging juggernaut, very strong of its type. It simmers down only slightly before returning even more stridently than before. "Form and Void", on baritone, recalls in its first few minutes Roscoe Mitchell's "Eeltwo" a bit in character and deep mournfulness. The dirge-like melodic material is repeated over and over, gaining passion and pathos on each iteration. The note sequence grows quicker, looping and swirling. Shiroishi's tone is full, rich and fluid; it's a joy to hear him plumb these depths, even as the anguish threatens to swallow the listener whole. The brief, "The Flowers And Candles Are Here To Protect Us" closes the tape, a lovely ballad that almost touches on "You Go to My Head", heartfelt and intensely moving. As I said, quite different from "Ima" but every bit as strong and well worth hearing.







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