Search results for: dan joseph

Ouvrez Le Chien

Space to think in Filament Form

Vitor Joaquim wages a one-man war against information overload on Filament (KVITNU 19), his CD of “complex, extended and nonlinear” digital music which arrived here in November 2011. This is a serious contemporary matter which many have noted and bemoaned probably since the earliest days of advertising, and it’s only getting worse with the unstoppable increase of web-delivered information, much of it trivial and absurd. Some, like Otomo Yoshihide, decided to adopt an ambivalent relationship for a time, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s some of his Ground-Zero releases were packed with sonic overload in the form of sampled musical data, yet he continued to produce great art out of this situation, sublimating the information bonanza and nimbly expressing his own love-hate relationship with it. Joaquim is unequivocal, by contrast, and fears that in 2012 we are gradually losing the ability to concentrate, to think properly about complex issues, even deadening ourselves emotionally to the point where we’re unable to feel anything real. The music on Filament not only serves as a riposte to this grotesque state of affairs, but it’s also an instruction manual for humans; in its multi-layered and richly ambiguous droning music, you may start to find keys and clues, directly translatable into methodologies which will help to sharpen your intellectual facilities, and restore your fading emotive powers. Death to the buzzword, the sound-bite, the facile solution and the instant reply. I think it’s especially telling that his titles incorporate the words ‘Voids’, ‘Walls’, ‘Conformity’ and ‘Devotion’. Conformity is part of the problem; the internet, capitalism, global travel and advertising are making all of us think, feel, talk and act the same. Devotion, which may be religious or may simply be the application of one’s faculties to engage with real thinking, is one solution. Fine greeting-card styled cover by Zavoloka for this sharp release, with embossed silver elements.

The Umbrella Man through Brecon Eyes

Some parts of the above rant may have appealed to the composer Erik Satie, whose piano pieces are often associated with a slow performance or a promenade around the park where we can simply take time to stop and stare. What would this cafe-society aesthete have made of the over-crowded blogosphere? His minimalist philosophy has been used as a springboard by later modernists, including Cage, Reich, Adams and others; I suspect he’s even been credited with inventing “ambient” music before Brian Eno. For a less formalist and far more imaginative take on Satie, may I recommend A Kiss For The Umbrella Man (QUIET WORLD 21) by Susan Matthews, the South Wales musician. She takes extracts from well-known Satie tunes and serves them up with her own unusual piano arrangements, sometimes allowing for the addition of recorded voices and other tape layers; even the sound of the piano is treated in suitably subtle electro-acoustic fashion. Classical purists would probably throw a fit after hearing eight bars of this, but Matthews has genuine affection for the music and reveals hidden truths in Satie’s music through her very creative exploratory methods. Unfinished, uncertain in places, and not a revolutionary art statement, but Satie’s gorgeous scales and chord combinations really sing under her fingers, although I doubt this album is intended to showcase a virtuoso piano performance as convention would normally demand. By which I mean the ideas of Susan Matthews are prioritised over technique, and that is a good thing. It’s as though an art student were allowed free rein to interpret the classics as they see fit, and I’d like to see more of that…in my ideal world this important stuff would not be left solely in the hands of the trained and established “experts”. Egads, only 50 copies were pressed of this lovely CDR, and I’ve had it here since November. Better order your copy sharpish. If it’s sold out, send an email directly to Ian Holloway demanding a repress. Tell him I sent ya!

I’m going to the promised land

Now for some up-to-the-minute classical composition from the New York composer Dan Joseph. He freely admits he’s steeped in minimalism and while pointing out that the genre (if that’s what it is) is over 40 years old now and sometimes causes him to wrestle with dilemmas about “what’s new” and “what’s next”, he’s pretty much given up trying to break the mould or innovate wildly. However, what boots it when faced with the charm and stark beauty of Tonalization (For The Afterlife) (MUTABLE MUSIC MUTABLE 17545-2)? This outstanding 2009 composition occupies 33 minutes of the release, and it’s a glorious arrangement in pure simplicity. It explores the short and clear tones of the percussion instruments – harpsichord, marimba, and hammered dulcimer – then drifts into a high-pitched sea of long tones from the cello, violin and flute, finally proceedinto into a sprightly finale where all instruments are combined in passages of varying length and tempi (the composition is in fact an assembled mosaic of short pieces). This is music of such declared honesty and transparency that it’s the exact opposite of the way the world currently conducts itself (think of corporate finance dealings, or the utterances of any politician, in whose mouth the word “transparency” has a slippery meaning at best). It’s as though the composition is laying itself bare in schematic form as you listen to it, like a radio set inviting you to put it together. Somehow, Dan Joseph also finds room to accommodate memorable mini-melodies, and even some stripped-down baroque ornamentation. Imagine a grand Victorian ornate wardrobe being squeezed into a modern New York apartment. And what a great idea to incorporate the beauty of the hammered dulcimer, especially without a hint of parody or condescension (as Henry Flynt might have done). Joseph frankly owns that he has an interest in these purely formal explorations of tonalisation, even to the extent of thinking hard what that word really means and its other applications, but there is also a spiritual dimension to this music, concerning speculations on what happens after death and involving a personal memory of a friend that gives added poignancy and honesty to the work. Total recommendation for this music to the legions of Morton Feldman and Steve Reich fans, although this’ll also bang your gong if you’re into the music of those who have been intrigued by the possibility of minimalism-meets-gamelan, such as Philip Corner or Evan Ziporyn. Also here, the 2002 ‘Wind Patterns’, a lovely duo between Joseph’s heavenly hammered dulcimer and the flute of Leah Paul; and ‘Music Primer’, where baritone singer Thomas Buckner joins Joseph to recite the texts of Lou Harrison in his unique song-speech manner. In all, a fine collection of precision, clarity, and beauty.

Sterile Processing Technicians

SterileGarden

Sterile Garden is another obscure noise project of which I know very little. They may be a trio comprising man man Jacob DeRaadt, with later additions Eric Wangsvick, and Joseph Yonkers; Sean Devlin may once have been in their ranks. They’ve been at it since about 2006, and we have before us their current cassette Deliverance In Disturbances (GM# 39) from the German label Geräuschmanufaktur dedicated to the spread of experimental industrial sounds and harsh grindings. The first side of this monster, called ‘Derive’, is a grim trek across a landscape of supreme desolation; no way of detecting the original sources of these clanking grunts, and a general air of defeatedness hangs over the work. I’ve rarely heard such a corrupted sound, as though the very fabric of the music itself were rotted clean through, like mouldy blankets, rusted machinery, or trees afflicted by disease. Clearly all is not healthy in the Sterile Garden, a garden littered with weeds, insects, and dank ponds.

The title track is on Side B. This is slightly less horrifying than the dismalness of ‘Derive’, and in places one’s ears can make tenuous connections to more familiar tape-based experimental music, in the way that sounds are apparently processed and manipulated. Much effort is put intro creating a wonky, unnatural effect. Much distortion arises in the process, and futile meandering drones are the main output, drones which are highly abrasive and nasty in their intent. As with the A side, I sense a near-complete lack of humanity, as if DeRaadt’s plan were to efface every trace of anything recognisable from the finished product. This may all be part of a supreme effort to alienate the listener, leave us high and dry and thrown back on inner resources if we wish to survive this depressing onslaught of rubble, bad weather, and hostile machinery pounding away at the core of our being.

The cover art may continue some of these themes. The imagery is almost all abstract, with few concessions to printing a clearly identifiable image, or even allowing for simple clarity of shape. Murky reproduction creating shadows and fog further advances the notions of ambiguity and uncertainty. The front cover is a miniature art gallery from the imaginary museum of Russian Death Art from the 1920s. Inside is a collage of treated photo which may represent the aftermath of an unpleasant murder or suicide, with a barely-recognisable torso being dragged by the feet. None of this is especially brutal noise, but it is truly depressing, verging on the insufferable in its sullen opacity and determination to remain grim and impenetrable. From 14th March 2016.

Unbalancing Acts

aksak

Akşak
Akşak
STAUBGOLD 139 (2015)

An approachable, percussion fusion set from an inter-generational duo comprising Can’s rhythm wizard Jaki Liebezeit and multi-percussionist Holger Mertin, with strings imported from locations local and exotic. On video and record, Mertin moves with the greater exuberance, lunging at his battery like a child at play until – under the senior’s settling influence – he finds his groove. Liebezeit’s reduced drum kit and heavy-footed loops convey a heightened (sometimes brow-furrowing) level of restraint, though they do provide solid flooring for Mertin’s antics. Together the pair march through incense-fragranced corridors with a lockstep gait that loosens over time to reveal new layers of melody and complexity. Strewn into this polyrhythmic brew we catch whiffs of prog-rock (courtesy of producer Joseph Suchy’s splendid, smoky trails of guitar reverb on ‘Sägelatt’ and ‘Spacedisco’) and shone-up, Sun City Girls-style ethnographic extemporisation, albeit a few notches lower on the ingratiating lunacy scale. There is a particularly evocative voyage east in ‘Asiawaters’, its resonating gongs conjuring up Japanese temples through a haze of wind chimes. Other exclusively percussion pieces like ‘Ahabarab’ and ‘Yallamental’ recall Muslimgauze’s war-scarred bits n’bobs loop experiments under the synthetic sheen of one of Burnt Friedman’s exotic, imaginary ensembles. While there’s not a wild diversity from one track to another (as can be the case with percussion-led recordings), a little time might be needed to settle into this one, but it’s worth it.

brinkmann

Thomas Brinkmann
What You Hear (Is What You Hear)
EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO204 CD (2015)

What we hear here is erstwhile techno-minimalist Thomas Brinkmann dabbling matter-of-factly with sounds electroacoustic, industrially manufactured; slipping in a couple of sober time-out sessions (‘Indigo’ / ‘White Lead’) to detour us briefly from more merciless industrialist totems such as ‘Ziegelrot’ and ‘Agent Orange’ via gentler imaginings of sea and mist. Over the years, Brinkmann’s minimalism has divested itself of the once regular techno- prefix, effecting a procedural metamorphosis into such concentrated studies of seemingly simple sounds as this: technology without the techno; the emancipation of the machine from the man. Precedents can be found in recent, longer form pieces, such as The Mortimer Trap – his 2012 collaboration with Oren Ambarchi – in which an evolving mechanical intelligence hums with increasing warmth, discovering its inner dimensions with leisurely curiosity and a harmony made possible by Ambarchi’s faint, signature pulses that evoke the onset of new life. In What You Hear there are also discernable traces of another collaboration – Ambarchi’s Quixoticism – in which Brinkmann’s catchy, tugboat chug entices the ear into the gossamer weft of Eyvind Kang’s strings and John Tilbury’s Feldman-fed piano. What You Hear… offers similar themes, but tips the balance away from the organic; snippeting Brinkmann’s spectrum of abrasiveness into eleven distinct and surprisingly easy hits of mechanical churn, sandstorm and ambient haze, each titled after one of the colours striped across the sleeve. It’s a deservedly rough-edged affair (there being much to say in a short time frame), but it’s the kind of noise that obliging friends and partners should quickly warm to.

electronicmusic

Spyros Polychronopoulos
Electronic Music
EXPERIMEDIA EXPCD028 (2014)

Erecting dimorphous structures in a manner not unlike his near-compatriot Yannis Kyriakides, Greek electro-acoustician Spyros Polychronopoulos (aka Spyweirdos) honours his tradition in his electr(on)ic compositions with alarming cuts and transitions as well as more gradual sonic insertions, sometimes separating the attention onto two planes: to the chuffing powerhouse and to the electric storms that assail it. Sweeping skilfully between markedly different spaces throughout the course of the album, he wastes little track time on redundant repetition or unnecessary detail, maintaining instead a moderate pace along a path that never quite provides (or attempts) that ‘how did I get here?’ effect so prevalent in this well-polished genre. A perpetual, inbuilt instability and wilfully choppy sequencing manage to keep the listener updated along a sometimes wobbly flight path.

Where specific themes and sound sources often come into play in electro-acoustic music, this plainly titled record ditches the fireworks for deeper thought into Spyros’ ongoing exploration of reverb effects, the management of sounds of unspecified origin and ‘unique timbre’, and the point at which echo and anechoic are said to be indistinguishable from one another (though how does one judge?). The accompanying notes suggest an ideal listening situation in which the contents could be experienced as though performed in real time and space. “Music’s aura” – he explains – “is destructed (sic) by listening to pre-recorded music. Yet, due to the peculiar perception of electronic sounds, the… aura of the tracks on this album alternates from presence to absence”. Of course, one can more easily recognise this dichotomy as a garden-variety series of dynamic shifts – which doesn’t exactly flag this work up as unusual – but on a pure listening level at least it provides as much disorientation as interest.

Incidentally, for those interested in an introduction to Polychronopoulos’ work, a collaboration with Antonis Anissegos entitled Piano Acts can be downloaded for free from the ROOM40 label website.

Inventor of the Paleophone

Concert For Charles Cros sleeve

Joda Clément / Daniel Jones / Lance Austin Olsen / Mathieu Ruhlmann
A Concert For Charles Cros
CANADA CADUC CA04 CD-R (2014)

Charles Cros is most famous for developing a photographic colour process. You may also be aware that he almost invented the phonograph (or “Paleophone” as he intended to call it) when he submitted his method to the Academy of Sciences in Paris in 1877. However, an American by the name of Thomas Edison patented his own machine in January of the following year and that was the end of that. He was primarily a poet and writer though, and this is the standpoint from which this group of Canadian – and one English – improvisors wish to begin their tribute. Their starting point is in fact the input of the UK musician, Daniel Jones, who contributes remotely (and in advance) a minimal guitar and electronics improvisation which the Canadian group utilize in their actual performance. In terms of the other participants’ instrumentation, Joda Clément uses analogue synth, field recordings and objects, Lance Austin Olsen tape players, amplified objects and trainer guitar and Mathieu Ruhlmann a reel-to reel tape machine, cymbal, ukelin and objects.

So, will A Concert For Charles Cros set a trend for improvisation for absent contributors? Are Clément, Olsen and Ruhlmann truly improvising with Daniel Jones or does Jones’ pre-recorded input serve only the same purpose as a radio would in a composition by John Cage? The question we are being asked by this music is not perhaps about the specifics of its creation, rather whether we really need to consider them in the first place. Beautiful as the packaging is (and particularly true of a lot of product in this genre, I often wonder if every piece of electro-acoustic improvisation was presented in a plain brown paper wrapping, would we listen to the music any differently? As an entertaining experiment, Simon Reynell of the UK label Another Timbre went as far as publishing a body of works by different musicians anonymously on his website a little while ago, with the invitation to guess the musicians responsible.

As regards the musicians on …Charles Cros themselves, Joda Clément has previous releases on Alluvial Recordings, Mystery Sea, Unfathomless and Simple Geometry, Lance Austin Olsen was previously a painter of large canvasses and Mathieu Ruhlmann writes about new music for Soundscape in Vancouver in addition to releasing his music on labels including 3LEAVES, Unfathomless, Spek, Afe Records and Mystery Sea. Daniel Jones is an improviser based in Brighton, England. He has collaborated with musicians Seijiro Murayama, David Lacey, Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes in Loris and in trio with Jez riley French and Ivan Palacky as Tierce. You can find his work on cds released by Roeba, Cathnor (his recent-ish When On And Off Collide, I would heartily recommend) and with groupings on other labels such as Another Timbre and Engraved Glass.

Let us deal with the individual sections of this recording; ‘It Begins With A Sunbeam But Ends With A Flame’ crawls out of a dark, drear netherworld of empty space comes expansive metal tones big enough to span the Atlantic. The hum of underwater power lines on the seabed. It starts with Jones’ bowed cymbal or Tibetan bowl. There follows environmental field recordings, low vocal chants, static and fizz, and even someone brushing their teeth? Weather warnings off the radio. Static. Feedback. The silences when they do come are full of foreboding and unease.

Uncommonly for electro-acoustic improv releases perhaps, track two, ‘An Insect Tests The Circle Of Light’, sounds like the score to a sci-fi movie in places – particularly at the end. We are subjected to amplifier hum and light rubbing. A metal tank struck lightly some way distant. Metallic rumbling. Distant thrumming, possibly an engine of some kind. Crackle. More brief radio or television broadcast snippets amalgamating with high end feedback. Something rotates; possibly generating voltage clicks. Pulsing hum and what sounds like filtered static but what could be producing that noise I’ve absolutely no idea. ‘May, Is Out There, Three’ is trying to coax melodic content out of machine rooms and moving tones / high end sine tones, while the final track, ‘Not Vital’, is anything but.

Despite the very slick production, the “empty yet full” nature of this music is fascinating. The whole thing sounds like it’s taking its cues from a Wandelweiser score; there’s plenty of space, patches of silent sunshine cascading through the treetop canopy into wide clearings of soft burring electronic noise. To me, it has a distinctly “composed” feel, although this might not reflect the reality of the situation. Perhaps if there is no written score, the score could exist only in the listener’s mind?

Joe Panzner mastered A Concert For Charles Cros; he is one of the go-to mastering engineers for this kind of material and he makes a pretty good fist of things. A smidge more definition in some of the quieter sections would have been nice, maybe, but I’m just nit-picking here. The disc itself comes mounted inside a nice oversized full-colour sleeve with striking decorations by David Ruhlman plus a bookmark adorned similarly by sheep, ladies and birds. Caduc, the label responsible for this release, also has D.O.R, Kiiln (which both involve Lance Austin Olsen), and Coppice (Joseph Kramer and Noe Cuellar who have a release on the excellent UK label Consumer Waste, among others) on its roster. The name “Caduc” is French for “obsolete” or “on the verge of collapse”, and the label is run out of Vancouver, British Columbia by Mathieu Ruhlmann.

Crossed Wires

epaugust215

Got more nice CDRs from the German label Attenuation Circuit from 28 November 2013. One of them is part of their Concert Series, and it’s an exceptionally fine volcanic eruption of delicious semi-dangerous noise performed by a noise “supergroup”, of sorts. The team of elektrojudas, Sustained Development, Kim Jong-Un and EXEDO call themselves Knark Esion, and their Disturbed Communication (ACC 1010) is a lovely wodge of dynamic, rough-edged and snaggletoothed improvised blat. How long have this quartet been working together? They’ve already got it down; no meaningless, wasteful feedback blather or egos getting in each other’s way. Instead, taut discipline and high-performing band dynamics are the watchwords. Through combined synths, electronics, drum beats, voice samples and guitars, frightening images of destruction of instantly evoked, including the usual hideous fantasies I am regularly haunted with – collapsing buildings, attacking helicopters, and a general brouhaha among the populace. As observed, I wouldn’t want you to think they’re just creating 25 minutes of formless howlage, which as a genre has been done to death since 1990 onwards in any case; instead, they leave enough space for all the broken pieces of the jigsaw (very large pieces, probably made of concrete or steel) to lock together effectively. Except that the jigsaw, when assembled, makes no sense whatsoever to eye or brain. There’s also enough space for the listener to insinuate self into gaps, providing that is you don’t mind near-misses from runaway trains, being scorched by blasts of flame, scathed by falling boulders, or nearly being munched to a pulp by large electronic crocodile teeth. I’m clutching at images of violence and broken-ness to convey some of the sense of this electrifying performance, but even so I can’t seem to encompass the grandeur and towering melancholy which its creators share, creators who start to assume the proportions of disaffected Pagan gods, tearing their own creations into pieces and howling into the cosmos as they do so, before retiring to some nameless Valhalla to drink red wine from the skulls of the fallen. The label notes allude to “the use of noise as a sabotage of cultural codes”, a subversive approach which is well and good, but I think Knark Esion are aiming for something far less cerebral than that, and this is the sort of powerful grotesquerie that really feeds the fires in your bones and your belly.

epaugust216

Colin Webster is a young improvising sax player based in London and who is a member of The Uniteam All Stars and also plays in Anthony Joseph and The Spasm Band; I think we last heard him on Languages, whooping it up with Mark Holub and Sheik Anorak (Stuart Marshall praised his guttural barking on those live Vortex recordings). His Antennae (GAFFER RECORDS GR039) cassette is more of a process-thing, where he’s keen to showcase a tight range of very minimal saxophone sounds where the stress is placed on his own breath and the “mechanical noises” that result from his operations on the sax, performed under the discipline of what I take to be very strict rules. To this end, he’s insisted on close-miked recordings to allow us to hear every nuance of the real-time creative endeavour he has undertaken. This is by no means the sort of “reduced improv” music which is excessively quiet and where event and drama is all but lacking; on the contrary, Webster not only has a pulse, but he scuttles about like an entire sackful of hopped-up cockroaches who have been spoonfed cocaine in large doses. But it’s also incredibly austere sound art, with a very limited range; recognisable musical notes are not really allowed here, and it’s as though he stifles them at birth rather than let them escape from the bell of his instrument. I admire the rigid control that is presumably required to do this, but Antennae remains a very tough listen, a true bowl of gruel for the lugs. I think he’s done something for Richard Sanderson’s label too, so watch this space for notice of that item. This arrived 18 October 2013.

A Round Cube

Plaistow Patricia

Lacrimosa (INSUBORDINATIONS NETLABEL INSUB.DLT01) has some fine instrumental music from the Swiss trio Plaistow, comprising Johann Bourquenez on the piano supported by the bass guitar of Raphaël Ortis and the drumming of Cyril Bondi. In their own understated way, these three talented Europeans are doing a lot to overturn a listener’s expectations of jazz trio conventions, and on this album frankly own their interest in the minimal piano arpeggios of Glass and Reich, allied with a solid approach to mechanical drum and bass playing. On the title track this results in some 23 minutes of compelling, repetitive music which won’t let your ears go nor surrender its friendly embrace as it weaves you, the unwilling dancer, around a virtual grand ballroom. Bourquenez in particular fills out the cold precision of standard minimalist techniques through striking rich and warm chordal shapes that evolve and shift in line with very human, intuitive rules…he paints chord changes in diffuse watercolour mode, rather than delineating them sharply in the style of a Mondrian or Ellsworth Kelly. Then we have the equally warm and human rhythm section, who far from acting as a two-man version of the sequencers on a Massive Attack album (as they would seem to wish, according to the press pack), provide a suitably solid structure for the colourful piano drapery to unfold. The results in this case are like a tent of the Bedouin in the desert of contemporary music. On ‘Cube’, the bassist and drummer are showcased with far more complex and tricky time signatures and flourishes that owe as much to European progressive rock as they do to trip-hop. Bourquenez meanwhile restricts himself to single-note plucks that have been treated and filtered to resembled the obsessive plectrummings of a very disciplined lead guitarist. On dirait a more laid-back version of 1970s Miles Davis without any egotistic posturings…it’s supremely accurate music, the tautness of every note and the simplicity of the clean, direct approach is just a delight. They’ve released five albums to date and Plaistow have made all their music available free for download as a matter of principle, and find this attitude doesn’t damage sales of physical product at their concerts; hence they found a home on the Insubordinations net label. The “feathery” cover art may not be much to look at, but the music is like a muscular “wee gem” lettuce standing on two sturdy legs.

In Dreams I Walk With You

American oneirist Joe Frawley has self-released a lot of his oeuvre, but 13 Houses And The Mermaid (TRS013) was put out by Time Released Sound, a small hand-made USA label which specialises in tiny editions with individually crafted covers. I wish I’d told you sooner about this fine item which arrived here 09 March 2012, as it’s already sold out at the website. Musically, Frawley works with his familiar techniques of layering his romantic piano fugues with exquisite sound-collages, using spoken word and sound effects. Previous works (no less beautiful) have resembled elaborate literary puzzles which, given enough time and a library of Borgesian proportions, we might be able to decode. 13 Houses And The Mermaid by contrast is more fragmented in its underlying meanings, much more dreamlike in its connections, and sparing in its distributed verbal and visual clues. There are however suggestive themes which recur from previous records; train travel, and the image of a lost or homeless young woman. Imagine a very fractured, evanescent form of cinema, much like the impossibly wonderful miniatures which Joseph Cornell used to craft through his patient editing and distillation of existing footage. Frawley is also content to align himself with David Lynch’s films, most likely the confusing and labyrinthine structure of Lost Highway. Frawley doesn’t quite probe into the same dark corners of noir psychology, nor are his charming “dreamstories” especially threatening; but in his measured and crafted manner, he does succeed in stirring nostalgic emotions in a completely unique fashion. Aided by Greg Conte and Melanie Skriabine, whose musical and vocal improvisations were incorporated into the composition.

The Mystery of the Red Dragon

Enigma of the month was sent to us on 08 March 2012 and may have arrived from Manchester. Only a small red printed symbol on the hand-made card cover gives any indication of the creator’s name, and said symbol is also stamped on the four postcards inserted in glassine wallets inside the cover. The murky grey images may correspond in some way to the four pieces of sound-art on the CDR, which is likewise a thoroughly baffling spin. The second track is 17 minutes of uncertain vaguely musical plucks on what might be an underwater guitar or a harp strung with lengths of chewing gum, surrounded by some equally hesitant percussive noises. So far this resembles music made by two shy ghosts in white sheets who won’t even come out of hiding as they perform their wispy and ethereal music only for the ears of those who dwell in the phantom zone. The recording itself has a slight hiss too, adding to the distancing effect. After this, the third track is just about identifiable as saxophone music, a lone horn played with such a melancholy quaver and sob of futility that you want to go and throw a warm blanket around the shivering husk of a man who’s making this music. Shortly, he’s joined by the rhythm section – some guy rattling the steel bannisters of a deserted factory stairway. Or is it the underwater guitar again? This music plays hob with a man’s senses until you start to feel somewhat unreal, floating in a dreamlike world where logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead. At length, a piano joins the ensemble and somehow the music gradually begins to coalesce into a washed-out, wafer-thin parody of improvised jazz. You were expecting melodies, maybe? Forget about that…the “Red Monad” group, as I shall temporarily refer to them, take atonality in music into a new dimension, and this forlorn track stumbles along like a wounded insect walking across a plate of Copydex glue. There are two other tracks, including the gritty short opener of chuntering noise which might almost be mistaken for field-recording type music (of the industrial machinery genre), and the last four-minute piece which contains more full-bodied playing, continuous rather than broken sounds, and evidence where the musicians are communing with emotions that resemble warmth and compassion. You’ll find the pace of this one infuriatingly slow, but if you can find your way to the core of this very extreme music, I’m fairly certain it will be something you have never heard before. Assuming you can ever find a copy, that is. The “Red Monad” group have chosen the path of complete anonymity and I have absolutely zero information to pass on about contacts, names, or websites, nor even a recognisable project name. If the creators wish to make themselves known, qu’ils le disent!

Song of the Second Moon: space-age electronic pop blast from the Cold War past


Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan, Song of the Second Moon, The Omni Recording Corporation, CD OMNI 155 (2012)

Ah! Here is a real blast from the past: 1950s-era fusion space-age electronic pop / big band jazz that captures the ethos of its period in twenty little melodic masterpieces: innocent and child-like faith in a futuristic laid-back / push-button space-age utopia; fear of the Cold War and Soviet-American rivalries in space exploration and military technology; and the tension between these two extremes that expressed itself in so-called “red scares” that pervaded society as exemplified by US Senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade against supposed Communist and Soviet spies in most levels of American culture. “Song of the Second Moon” is a wonderful historical document of a kind of experimental electronic music that incorporates both avant-garde stylings such as musique concrete and the popular music of its time such as commercial jazz and Latin American rhythmic flourishes, and is distinguished by an embarrassing abundance of catchy, whistle-worthy melodies at once strongly atmospheric, even moody, and bright-eyed / bushy-tailed, eager to embrace the utopian future that beckoned.

In 1956 the Dutch-based electronics company Philips established within its Research Laboratories section (“Natuurkundig Laboratorium” aka “NatLab” for short) a dedicated electronic music studio that was part of the firm’s general aim to be a responsible corporate citizen. In 1955, Tom Dissevelt, a composer and musician, was hired as a bassist / arranger; during his employ he became interested in 12-tone music and began listening to works by Karlheinz Stockhausen. He later wound up at the electronic music studio where he met Dick Raaijmakers aka Kid Baltan and together the two began composing and producing music by means of electronics and tapes under the collective name Electrosoniks. The songs featured on the compilation under review were recorded between 1958 and 1961: the composers coaxed sounds out of tone/noise generators and traditional music instruments and used filters, delays and reverb to manipulate the material. Rhythms and melodies were constructed with the use of tape loops. Several tape machines might be synchronised manually to play back an entire song, complete with loops and melodies: the laborious process might take the duo several months to create one piece of music.

The results of this hard work prove to be surprisingly light and playful; limber space-age tones and eerie effects dance around organ or piano and evoke a wide range of moods. Rhythms are soft in tone and often very bouncy and urgent. Several pieces sound like theme music for TV shows. An early highlight is “The Visitor from Inner Space” with its zippy outer-space buzz atmosphere and the track immediately following, “Sonik Re-entry”, traces with its melody a hurried space commuter flight as might have occurred in the well-known Hanna and Barbera TV cartoon show “The Jetsons”. Most songs are repeated in slightly different versions throughout the CD and one of these is “Orbit Aurora”, a slightly worried little tune with a faux Latin American rhythm, electronic guinea-pig whistles and a cute dicky pointillist melody about the 2nd minute (Track 6). “Twilight Ozone” (track 7) has proto-industrial metallic effects; in its early version there are underwater noises added. Found sounds and free improv introduce themselves on “Pianoforte”. “Colonel Bogey” features a very familiar little martial tune that goes truly ballistic and deranged with many little raspberry blows just after the 2nd minute and which finishes with an almost pyrotechnic flourish. The title track repeats at least three times: its original version is a little stodgy in its bass and rhythm section but is otherwise a good little piece in its slightly ambivalent and forlorn mood. “12-Tone Composition for the Skymasters (as used in Twilight Ozone)” is a jazzy piece that might have been a movie soundtrack in the making: it sounds very much like music accompanying a chase scene with its paranoid mood, blaring brass trumpets, staccato beats, a questioning sax and choppy hand drums.

All this activity brought the duo to the attention of one Stanley Kubrick who expressed interest in having Kid Baltan’s music featured in his upcoming movie project “2001: A Space Odyssey”; unfortunately Raaijmakers, already burdened with scoring in-house documentaries, refused Kubrick’s offer and, as they say, the rest is or isn’t history depending on your point of view. Eventually Raaijmakers and Dissevelt went their separate ways with Raaijmakers going into academia and Dissevelt becoming lost to pop music history before dying in 1989.

An information booklet that includes photographs of Dissevelt and Raaijmakers hard at work in their studio with its arrays of tape machines and a gadget spooling tape comes with the CD. There’s not much more I need to say other than this album is right on par with the offerings of Raymond Scott, Daphne Oram and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in futuristic space-age melody and mix of optimism and foreboding: in particular, “Songs of the Second Moon” is distinguished by a high standard of songcraft and feel for melody, plus rocketship-loads of enthusiasm and humour. Cold War paranoia and eager bubbliness more often than not co-exist in the same song. Something of the utopian space-age future that Dissevelt and Raaijmakers might have seen and felt at the time can be sensed here … too bad that future has never come to pass.

Contact: Omni Records

Primordial Wasps

Pillow Talk

Very nice to have discovered the vocal work of Bonnie Barnett, appearing on In Between Dreams (PFMENTUM PFMCD063) as the leader of Bonnie Barnett Group. She’s an improviser and composer who lives in Los Angeles, and creates an extemporised form of vocal music which is pleasant and surprising. Not as fiercely extreme as the UK’s voice-wildman Phil Minton, nor even comparable to the trippy skitterings of Norma Winstone, she occupies her own space with these smoky wordless half-sung utterings. Quite often her genius scat-babble is as intimate and incomprehensible as the murmurings of a sleep-talker, an impression which the title may be alluding to. While Barnett is capable of doing the gymnastic workout of ultra-fast syllable delivery, by which I mean consonants delivered from a jazzy machine-gun in the mode of an avant-garde Jon Hendricks, she mostly proceeds at an unhurried pace, interlocking her vocals with the unpredictable moves of the rhythm section, that is the bassist Hal Onserud and drummer Garth Powell. The excellent Richard Wood contributes suitably oneiric and autumnal woodwind blasts with his mystery horns, and reminds us how these instruments can, in the jazz context, resemble the speech of human voices. Most of the material is abstract improvised breath-a-thons, but two tracks use actual texts; the eight-minute ‘Matisse’ which comes from the writing of Gertrude Stein, and the ten-minute ‘Nothingness’ which is based on Jean-Paul Sartre. Both of these are rapped out with stark clarity in a voice which rings with authority, every letter clearly outlined on her crystal tongue, as though Ms Barnett were a human typewriter and your ears are the big roll of paper which became On The Road. It’s like attending literature and linguistics classes at an impossibly hip college where all the professors are jazz beatniks, and you get your diploma awarded in cut-up form by Brion Gysin.

Mad Hatter’s Songs

Layers Of The Onion sent us their 3-track album Hal-An-Tow (OHM RECORDS 2.4 OHM / APARTMENT RECORDS APAREC030 / DRONING-ON RECORDS DRONCD15) in December 2011. This is the duo of Norwegian Fredrik Ness Sevendal with the English player Martin Scott Powell, joined on one track by Aaron Moore from Volcano The Bear. I haven’t heard much from Sevendal since the droney electronic record Song Of Degrees he made with Bill Wood in 2003, although he’s also a member of Kobi, the Norwegian group with a fluid line-up which combines acoustic instruments with field recordings. In project name and title, this release cleverly references an album by The Incredible String Band and the traditional folk song ‘Hal-An-Tow’, performed for example by Shirley Collins and the Albion Dance Band as well as The Watersons. I don’t begrudge them that, but those two references are about all you’ll get in terms of actual folk music from this duo, unless the fauvist tinting of the cover photograph qualifies as an “acid folk” album cover. ‘When Acorns Reach The Sky’ is an acoustic guitar riff which Robin Williamson might have used for two bars of a song, but Powell and Sevendal see fit to extend it into an interminable nine-minute circular guitar drone. The tuneless abstraction of ‘The Muspel Light’ is preferable, and has no connection with folk music at all – it’s a limpid and lengthy drone perhaps produced with bowed guitars, synths, electronics and theremin, and has a natural rise-and-fall rhythm which is not displeasing. My guess is that the Norwegian half of the act was the dominant force behind this one. In between these pieces, we have ‘In The Land of Sona-Nyl’, a curious instrumental composed of instrumental layers which don’t quite fit together, a tune that isn’t quite situated in any single key, and a drum track that can’t decide whether to shuffle along with a cool jazz tempo or a slow rock beat. It follows a meandering direction in an uncertain way, which indeed characterises most of the work on this album. Layers Of The Onion create an agreeable and unusual sound and, to their credit, do so through largely acoustic methods, but beyond playing these languid and spacey jams they don’t really do enough with it for my liking.

Haptic Birthday

Haptic are the trio of Chicago musicians Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills and Adam Sonderberg, also associated with Dropp Ensemble and Olivia Block, among others. While this is the first time I heard them playing together, Hess is familiar to me as one half of Ural Umbo (rich occultist drone music), and Sonderberg played percussion on a fine release by Civil War. Scilens (ENTR’ACTE E127) also exists in a quite different edition as a cassette released in 2011 by the Flingco Sound System, but here it is on CD and clearly marked “First Edition”. As to the music, I am baffled by its inscrutability. Heavy bass emanations, forlorn and random piano notes, shuffling brush-work percussion, and dusty alienated drones from nameless electronic generators. Where ‘The Ister’ is rather a disjunctive exploration into these unknown territories, ‘Setae’ and ‘Winter Wasp’ are more integrated drone pieces, with a very solid and tangible presence to the thick humming sound. Yet so far everything seems stark, cold and almost inhuman, music of great doubtfulness delivered by shadowy men with stern faces and beetling brows. ‘Pentimenti’ leads us even further into the maze of cold storage units and malfunctioning walkie-talkies, and it’s like taking a walk through an icy wasteland which alternates with a deep-freeze meat locker. Simultaneously, there’s too much space and not enough, creating a delicious combination of claustrophobia and agoraphobia in one handy thirteen-minute dose. Lastly there’s ‘Secret Track’, a 20-minute chiller which you won’t find on the cassette version, and it’s an exercise in sub-zero tension, its menacingly near-silent murmurs and gently purring layers preparing the listener to expect the worst at any moment. Quite remarkable industrial-minimalist music, and commendable for the fact that I sense it’s mostly created in real time by performing musicians, without over-much reliance on processes, effects, or machinery.

Automatic / Detours

Beuys Keep Swinging

A very fine avant electro-pop oddity from Poland’s Audio Tong label. Go-Go Beuys Band (AUDIO TONG ATCD17.2011) rescues 1985 studio recordings put together by the composers Krzysztof Knittel and Marek Choloniewski, working with their guitars, synths and beatboxes at the Electroacoustic Music Studio in Krakow. That’s odd enough already for me – 1980s pop music being produced at an experimental studio by modernist composers. They were joined by the saxophonist Marek Nedzinski and the singer Olga Szwajgier, plus Janusz Dziubak (a 1980s free improviser who made the LP Tytul Plyty in 1984) contributing the texts for a couple of tracks. By this collaborative effort, they arrived at their own twisted brand of synth-pop music with weird vocals, solid drum machine rhythms and stark melodies picked out on Roland and Yamaha synths, coming close to the same sort of sweetly-rendered dementia as Ptôse, The Residents, or Cabaret Voltaire (although other writers also make comparisons with Throbbing Gristle, Faust and Kraftwerk).

This CD consists of two separate suites, Automatic Pilot and Go-Go Beuys Band, both of them excellent and bizarrely entertaining warped pop music, although Automatic Pilot scores slightly higher for me with its adherence to brevity, its crisp three-minute pop tunes and winning off-kilter melodies. Then again the second set has more prog-like variety in its instrumentals, there are more and lengthier saxophone solos, and the vocals are slightly more declamatory and sonorous, as if reciting an Eastern European morality tale or political diatribe rather than spewing the usual pop-song fare. The singing voices throughout are one of the oddest elements; where the keyboards are relatively familiar, the unusual vocal intonations of Knittel, Choloniewski and their friends take us directly into Eastern European art-rock territory. Don’t be misled by the apparently conventional song titles like ‘China Wedding’, ‘Heavy-Love’ or ‘Rock-Body’; this is 1980s pop music rethought as a surreal pastiche of elements, including both high-art modernism and moments of supreme kitsch. How many other bands would have the sheer audacity to conflate the work of severe conceptualist Joseph Beuys with disposable pop music in their name?

The operation seems to have a semi-temporary studio affair for the most part, although we are informed the two main protagonists did perform some concerts in Poland, Austria and Germany in 1986; and they may or may not have been responsible for other lost, unknown, untraceable and non-existent band projects called Island Of Love and Non-Existed Monastery Group in 1987. On this matter, the elliptical sleeve notes remain obscure, and maybe even the enclosed photographs are part of a conspiracy of misinformation. Nonetheless, the music here is excellent – melodic, oddball, parodic, slightly dark, and beautifully realised. Just imagine what would have happened if this team had been chosen to produce a single for Tears For Fears, Wham or Madonna. The results might not have been world-wide smash hit records, but they would have been distinctive and intellectually satisfying, pop history would have taken a different turn, and we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today. Available in an outsize card cover about the size of a seven-inch single, or can be downloaded in a digital manner for 7 Euros.

Divertimentos

Speaking of avant-garde composers producing pop music, when I heard the 2007 CD issue of Out Of The Blue by “Blue” Gene Tyranny, I waxed lyrical about what might have happened if this lovely US composer had gotten the chance to produce Joni Mitchell or Steely Dan in the 1970s. When you hear the immaculate songs on that CD, you’ll understand what I was blathering about. Now here comes Detours (UNSEEN WORLDS UW07) from the same label, released January this year. No songs this time, it’s all solo piano music by this Mills College maestro, and apparently the first time he’s released an album of new piano works since 2003. However, it is likewise immaculate music which you should all welcome into your homes. There’s the 12-minute suite ’13 Detours’, short compositions that feel like an update on Mussorgsky’s ‘Promenade’ as Tyranny ups the ante and leads us into philosophical diversions of thought, using a form of mental gymnastics learned from the San Francisco composer and film-maker Phil Perkins. It’s music for taking a walk outside your own mind. This turns out to be an underpinning theme for the album, proposing strategies for forms of mental liberation. Even the front cover depicts a “helping hand”.

On the long piece ‘George Fox Searches’, Tyranny uses the sleeve notes to tell the remarkable history of the 17th-century Quaker George Fox, who fled religious intolerance in England to settle in America where his enlightened visions about tolerance, peace and compassion found a more receptive audience. A self-declared agnostic, Tyranny has nonetheless attended Quaker meetings in his time and drawn inspiration from the silence of their prayer meetings, and the spontaneous utterances which might occasionally reveal deep truths; these experiences he effectively recreates in real time on this gorgeous 20-minute piano work, and with characteristic understated genius he also manages to layer in subtle references to the life of Fox, creating music that matches well with Fox’s psychological condition as he undertook his spiritual journey with uncertain steps. Warmth, sympathy, honesty; all good things I associate with this musician.

‘She Wore Red Shoes’ was composed in 2004 as a dance piece for Stefa Zawerucha. In that symbolic work, she enacts a dilemma about life choices no less crucial than those faced by George Fox; the dilemma is represented by a large mandala drawn on the dance floor, sliced into portions that represent past and present influences on her existence. Tyranny’s sprightly music here, a sort of syncopated foxtrot, suggests the protagonist faces her dilemma with calm unwavering dignity, and at the end she “abandons her former life” without regret.

The five-minute ‘Intuition’ piece, though the shortest on the album, is much harder to sum up. In six minutes the uncertain and ambiguous piano and tape music seems to drift freely across an abstract realm of thought where almost anything is possible. This seems appropriate for a work where the composer is trying to digest and sum up various conflicting “cosmological views” of existence, in the end shrugging his shoulders and admitting “I haven’t got a clue”. But he goes on to state he intends to “re-imagine the nature and role of music”, an ambitious undertaking which is performed in a quiet and modest fashion, and like the ’13 Detours’ piece it passes on something useful about the process of thinking intuitively. A very satisfying and approachable record of modern music, rich with ideas and humanity and refreshingly free from any form of arrogance, pretentiousness or impenetrable mysticism. Also available as a limited edition LP.

Mind Forests / Virtual Walks


Harvesting Metadata (PFMENTUM CD058) by KaiBorg has been here in the boxes since February. I may have been putting it off since archival metadata is something I have to deal with in my day job, although as a way of managing technical and descriptive terms it may not have much connection to this collection of performed electro-acoustic music, recorded at California in 2009. David Borgo plays a long list of exotic instruments of which only a few names are familiar to me, but they mostly appear to be wind instruments; Jeff Kaiser has his trumpet, flute, and voice and they both use their laptops to do real-time processing of audio and video signals. In places they sound like Evan Parker fighting for his life on board a sailing ship in a heavy storm. At other times it’s a bit quieter, resembling cyborg frogs gulping the day’s news at each other in between darting tongues at passing flies. Quite studious and portentous in approach, but the sounds are exciting and texturally rich. Gotta love the technical-sounding titles they wrap around their work, like ‘Maladaptive Optimization’ and ‘Resumption Tokens’, which may indicate how far IT jargon has advanced at the University of California.

The JazzFakers (NO NUMBER) is a side project of Robert L. Pepper from P.A.S., playing his violin and keyboards with a trio (Isaac Taylor, Steve Orbach, Dave Tamura) to produce some quite entertaining and unusual instrumental tracks on this upbeat album. The word “jazz” is a little misleading as mostly what we hear is straightforward four-square rock beat music with virtually no syncopation, but the melodies are freer and are given an intriguing sheen by the discordant keyboards and electronic swoosh of Pepper and Tamura. Tamura does sometimes add his saxophone to the tunes, either extremely melodic or decidedly skronky, but Pepper’s scrapey violin stabs are the star for me; thankfully he doesn’t see fit to emulate Jean-Luc Ponty in this context.

In March we got a couple of nifty little net-label oddities from Phantom Heron Seas in Dorset. The Unkindness of Ravens (DEAD SEA LINER 27) is presented in two parts on a mini disc, and seems to extend far beyond its allotted twenty minutes as it quietly and confidently paints an endless landscape of great beauty. This is executed with a slowly rising and falling drone, apparently derived from a mandolin, and the surface is greatly enhanced with tiny sonic details that are extremely enticing. This may not be massively innovative as a compositional approach, but the record does have warmth and even spiritual depth. Well worth investigating. The item with the blue owl on the cover is by French artiste Max Bellancourt, who has one record on Dead Sea Liner but his Mind Forest is released by RECKNO. This is five short tracks of quiet sylvan wandering which makes a very appealing record; unhurried, peaceful, and with some pleasant tones being generated in amongst the vague crackly and crumbly field recordings, full of leaf and twig. The long opening track is particularly affecting and makes you afraid to breathe in case you miss something; certainly a nocturnal disk, and it’s not just the owl hooting when I tell you that.

Almost New York (POGUS PRODUCTIONS 2057-2) by Alvin Lucier came out in January. Two discs of quiet minimal music which is astonishing in its spartan and focused discipline, but what else should we expect from one of Lucier’s stature. Well-known as a groundbreaking electronic composer in the 1960s, Lucier increasingly found himself being asked to score music for chamber instruments since the 1980s and liked the challenge of seeing if he could “achieve the same poetry with acoustic instruments”. His approach seems to be to deal in pure sound waves, and by using variant tuning systems among the instruments he can achieve interesting pitch changes. The works here are played on cello, flute, piano, vibraphone – almost the “classic” Morton Feldman set-up. In fact the lovely ‘Twonings’ played by Charles Curtis and Joseph Kubera is like a schematic version of a Feldman composition, if you can imagine something that stripped-down and simplified. While that piece is more mosaic-like with its long stretches of silence in between pointillist decaying notes, ‘Almost New York’ is continuous sound, and uses the flutes of Robert Dick with “slow sweep pure wave oscillators”. A mesmerising proposition I trow – rarely have we heard such “clean” sounding art music. ‘Broken Line’ uses flute, vibraphone (Danny Tunick) and piano for another stately Feldman-esque walk around the vacant loft spaces of a virtual Manhattan, with Dick’s flute glissandoes tracing strange lines in the air. The second disc, not yet heard by me, is devoted to ‘Coda Variations’ played by Robin Hayward on his tuba; the label is justly proud of the “leading new music performers” who have been assembled on this excellent collection.

United Scum Soundclash, or U.S.S., have been going since 2004 and already have released themselves as a v2 as if they were a piece of upgraded software. Maybe they are. U.S.S. is a large-scale conflux of American and Portuguese players put together under the auspices of Jonathan Saldanha and Scott Nydegger, who summon the players from the four corners of the globe using blown conches and everyone assembles somewhere in a big barn to make their heroic large-scale big-band music. In a sense they’re like the Justice League of America, superheroes who didn’t get much done but sat around and discussed things a lot. My alarm bells are usually triggered when I read about “genre-hopping” and “previously unexplored musical realms”, and the long list of players here is also daunting. What they produce is a rather overblown species of free rock played on electric guitars, and it’s very percussion heavy, with some jazzy bursts courtesy of the sax section, plus electronic dabblings from the synths, and bizarre vocalising episodes…on paper it all ought to fail massively, but I kind of like bits of this Machine Gun (SOOPA) release when the loud and sprawling music is juxtaposed with recordings of warfare, gunfire, and radio messages – which is indeed the “theme” of this release, hence the title. Given the grandiose feel of much of the music, and the fact that the players sometimes lapse into a marching beat, it’s hard to tell if this really is an anti-war statement or what. The project’s avowed aim is to “take a cinematic approach to sound”, but then the problem is that their record ends up resembling the soundtrack to films such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, or Blackhawk Down; a bit of a cliché really.