In Stereo (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO103) sees the reunion of the very occasional trio formation of Fenn O’Berg, a notorious collaboration between the Mego stablemates Peter Rehberg and Christian Fennesz, with the omni-taskmeister and musical eat-everything machine from America, Jim O’Rourke. As we learned from the recent bumper round-up of their extant works on double CD (noted here), their exploits confused and angered many in the concert-going world, and they were widely perceived as too zany and stylistically unfocused to be taken seriously. It may perhaps be significant that these studio-bound sessions, for which the raw materials were created during a week in a Tokyo recording facility, are notable for their austerity and minimalism, almost as if the players (now older and wiser by nine years) were deliberately avoiding the humour and playfulness of their earlier incarnation. I’ve been dipping into the first three-four cuts on this CD and so far everything is coming up slow, ambient, textured, and almost bleak in its photographic grainy desolation. However, I’m finding some livelier moments in what is roughly the second half of the act, where everything seems to be piling up on fifteen different collision courses, except that all the dodgem cars are made of foam rubber instead of sheet metal. Apparently there are numerous real acoustic instruments being played on here, but it’s admittedly hard to tell in amongst the streams of digital reprocessing and the deliberate effacement of individual contributions. Will be released officially in a few days, and if you buy it as a double LP you get a bonus piece of music.
Soft Abuse in Minneapolis just sent us Ulaan Kohl‘s III (SAB038), the third part of Steven R. Smith’s Ceremony trilogy of heavy avant-psychedelic guitar overload of which we have heard at least one installment. Smith won his spurs with the Jewelled Antler collective, a ramshackle affair of mysterious proportions whose exact membership has never been totally clear to me, but one I often associate with introverted and self-exploratory music. As Ulaan Kohl, Smith doesn’t stint on amplifier volume nor on use of FX pedals (his use of the Crybaby Wah-Wah, an often neglected device sneered at for its rockist connotations, is particularly forceful), yet remaining true to those Antler roots, he still finds time to soar off on mystical flights in his own private mental helicopter. The centre-spread photo appears to have been shot from just such an angle, and it depicts an improbably huge gothic mansion perched on the side of a mountain and to my mind it could have been photographed anywhere from Mongolia to Estonia. Its blue colour scheme and generally awe-inspiring subject matter may be one of the elements which is now earning Smith comparisons with the almighty Popol Vuh.
From same label, we’ve a CD promo of an LP Orange Trumpets (SAB034), released last September by The Deadnotes. It’s an intriguing item packed with short and clunky instrumental pieces made with guitars, clarinets, trumpet, melodica and the most inept drumming you ever heard since The Godz. These 30 snippets feel more like sketches for tunes being put together in someone’s front room with scissors and paste, and what I hear so far has a very attractive immediacy and spontaneous feel. Fans of Maher Shalal Hash Baz should bend a toe in the direction of this curio.
Three items we hath from the oddball American label of twisted impro-racket Acheulian Handaxe. Chatter Blip (aha 0805) gives us some 52 minutes of Grade-A formless electronic blat from Dafna Naphtali and Chuck Bettis, the latter being a NY noisester whose Sonic Sigils solo mini still brings a tear to the eye of many. They made this concoction using live electronics and their own voices, mangling and refashioning their outpourings like so much modelling clay in the hands of idiot-savant nursery school teachers. In doing this, they create gnobbled and gnarled shapes you can almost feel bubbling in your gut. The record contains a ton more craft and inspiration than we find in many examples of harsh noise, and I look forward to the day when I have more time to run my fingers sensuously over these inviting curves. The seven titles are enhanced by the inclusion of short paras of sci-fi styled nonsensical prose, further enhancing the unreal mood created by this strange record.
Blackbox (aha 0803) didn’t have quite the immediate tasty-factor of the above lump-fest for me, but the anti-magnetised combination of Axel Dörner‘s trumpet and Erhard Hirt‘s wispy guitar is beginning to make more sense over time, especially when Hirt’s mixing desk and effects board gets locked into a waferised wodge of unnatural unpleasantness, to which Dörner’s only response is to puff out an exasperated bleat from his brass bell. For most of the time on these two lengthy tracks, the duo seem to be exploring each other’s airspace with the sterile caution of Cold War spies speaking in code. The payoff may well be a nuclear missile attack.
For some reason the label also sent us a CD of modern classical music (aha 0804), featuring Peter Geisselbrecht playing the piano recorded in 2001. It so happens I am a devotee of the music of Charles Ives, so I always welcome another version of his Concord Sonata into my home. These tricky and layered lines of musical thought seem to me to emulate the brain-patterns of Ives’s chosen subjects, the all-American philosopher-literary figures Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau who did so much to shape the interior and exterior landscapes of New England. I particularly like the solemnity and gravity with which Geisselbrecht limns the darkened, pondering countenance of Thoreau, an approach which may be worth comparing with the numerous takes that John Cage had on the same subject. Also on the disc, Music Callada I by Federico Mompou, which is something to do with ‘resonant solitude’.
Dawn Of Midi are a trio based in NY and Paris, who despite their name do not use digital or computer instruments on First (ACCRETIONS ALP048CD) but instead operate a traditional acoustic jazz set-up of piano, bass and drums to deliver stark and skeletal updates on the kind of deep-underground free modern jazz that sometimes surfaced on the ESP-Disk’ label in the early 1960s. Interestingly, none of the performers are strictly Afro-American, instead coming from Pakistan, India and Morocco. There’s a lot to be said for their spartan sound, rendered with punchy clarity by their recording engineer Steve Rusch, which exhibits a high degree of interest in what they call ‘the timbral possibilities of wood and metal’. I just wish the team of players could have done a little more to vary the tempo and tenor of the album, which feels a bit samey throughout.
A superb slab of process noise, possibly derived from live percussion and feedback, has been released by Jason Kahn and Jon Mueller, both American avant-drummers with an increasing bent in the direction of minimalist brutalism. Phase (FLINGCO SOUND SYSTEM FSS-009) begins with a three-minute excerpt, to soften you up for the main event which is 39 minutes of compelling and relentless jet-engine devilry that is like having a gigantic flesh-vacuum cleaner run over every inch of your soft, supple skin. When this comes out on 15 March, I expect many a collector to be maxing out their plastic as they compete like crazed iguanas to nab a copy of the limited edition print set that accompanies this download-only item.
I’ve picked up another punishing dose of splintered digital gibberish from Spruit, the Netherlandish experimenter whose very extreme improvisational statements we noted previously here. Patterns (SOUL SHINE THROUGH 03) is a pretty intense stab of mayhem promising death by hot needles, said needles working back and forth in some grisly sewing machine mechanism, and was produced using electronics, a digital turntable and the ‘Kaoss mixer’. Spruit has paid close attention to what the critics and pundits say about his work, and feels concerned that his previous efforts have been considered ‘exhausting’ by some. Patterns is his concession to those of us who can’t keep up with his lighting-changes, and is intended to give us some breathing space. Yet it’s still hard work. Even though it’s a quite short mini-CD, I already feel like I’ve been dragged on a marathon hike over difficult terrain with lead weights on my shoulders.