A rock without the sea

Here’s the great Bernhard Gál with Same Difference (GROMOGA GRO 11001), a work which comprises 12 suites all based on a highly imaginative and inventive use of traditional Chinese instruments. Numerous traditional Chinese musicians were involved in these projects, with their flutes, percussion, voices and stringed instruments, and they are subsumed into these ambitious compositions by Gál which involve electro-acoustic treatments, Western instruments, loudspeaker set-ups, multi-channel sound projections, and other 20th-century presentational approaches which Stockhausen would recognise, updated and refitted for an austere, modernistic “virtual” audio chamber. Some of these are commissions for assorted inter-cultural and gallery projects, sometimes quite intimately connected with their settings and environments; and at all times this abstemious and thoughtful composer never loses sight of the traditional characteristics of the instruments, and the cultures, he is working with. The results – delicate, spindly, washed-out – may appear at first sight to be lacking in drama, but as usual your listening patience will pay off as you succumb to the interior tensions of these taut, compacted minimalist statements.

Bracing field recordings from Mark Peter Wright on Inanimate Life (3LEAVES 3L004), taken from the North East Coast of England. His preoccupations include observing the wind and the weather, and these striking coastal winds (possessing many meterological characteristics he may deem peculiar to this part of the United Kingdom) react with very specific objects and features he finds in the landscape; these are “catalogued”, both verbally and aurally, as a gorse bush, a barbed wire fence, a flagpole, a hand rail and so forth. These interactions between wind, metal and plant life can produce fascinatingly alien non-musical clonks and clanks that, in their quiet and intimate way, are almost like “acoustic” industrial music. Six photographs of his documentations are included in the sleeve, and there is a mini-cd (pressed up in a strange credit-card format) that includes audio commentary by the artist. He presents the ten pieces without track numbers intentionally, in hopes that the listener will “construct their own listening map”. Received here 8th September 2010.

Super Axel Dörner (ABSINTH RECORDS 018) is a curious improvisational collaboration between Axel Dörner the Berlin-based trumpeter and Diego Chamy, who I suppose to be a unique form of performance artist; on his website he takes the stance that he’s not going to publish an instant CV of his life just to keep the media happy, thus turning himself into another artistic form of Cup-A-Soup: “If you want to know more about me, I kindly invite you to spend some time taking a look at the works that are published on this site.”. Bravo! I love him already. There he is on the cover of this item in fact, looking out at the viewer with a mixture of vulnerability, amazement, and mild scorn. On this record, he is reading out texts, sometimes playing a large orchestral bass drum, and mostly doing dance and body movements; the first piece took place in Axel’s house, but for the second excursion they did it in public at Electronic Church in Berlin. Dance and improv is a winning combination I think, but outside of Derek Bailey who did it with Min Tanaka, I can’t immediately think of that many examples of it. (Although Japanese electronicist Ikuro Takahashi sometimes did it too.) Chamy realises that “movements can’t be seen on a recording”, but believes that his movements “added a visual stratum to the repetitions that were already present in our music”. What’s even more intriguing is his use of non-movement, where he strikes poses like a living statue and holds them for a long time. Chamy is also acutely aware of the effects he’s having on the audience, and indeed on his worthy constituent Dörner here, and is constantly asking himself questions about whether or not he’s doing the right thing. The important part is he’s doing something, and not allowing himself to be paralysed by pointless analysis of his ideas. All of these Absinth Records I regard as strong artistic statements, even if I don’t always like the music on them; this release is no exception (and I should add that I also like it very much). Arrived 30 July 2010. Limited edition.

Jakob Riis is a Danish laptop player involved in many projects and band combos, including one intriguing named Riis And The Smooth Ones (presumably inspired by the LP by Art Ensemble of Chicago). On No Denmark (OLOF BRIGHT OBCD 31), we hear him in collaborative duets with four musicians – two improvising saxophonists, and two guitarists. One of these is the French-Lebanese player Christine Sehnaoui, whose austere work on the Ichnites CD we very much enjoyed last year. On her track ‘No Soil’, she seems to be building a mental labyrinth with her intricate puffs. There’s also the scratchy axe pickings of Anders Lindsjö on ‘No Sky’, and some gorgeous rock-inflected excess from Per Svennsson’s amplified guitar on ‘No Sun’, for which Riis is content simply to provide a throbbing, resonant bass drone as a backdrop. Riis tends to work overtime on these collaborations, providing all manner of dynamic events when interacting with his partners, yet for the title track where he plays a solo laptop turn, he becomes introverted and contemplative, his minimal white-noise digital washes resembling an ocean breeze. I will resist the temptation to refer to this release as Riis’s Pieces, but like my favourite sweetmeat it’s got a nice tender and sweet filling nonetheless.

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