Tagged: acoustic

The Voice of the Mountain

Last heard from Earth Tongues in 2016 with their mighty set Rune…here they are again on Neither/Nor Records with an even more extended double CD set called Ohio (n/n 006), recorded on a single day in July 2015, and 93 minutes pass like nothing when you sit down to let this slow-moving, ponderous ambient-improv engulf you. The trio here are once again Joe Moffett, with his trumpet and cassette machine, Dan Peck with his tuba, and the percussionist Carlo Costa. Their aim is to push themselves and the audience as far as possible down a route of endurance, of extended tones, lengthy explorations, and strange near-silent passages…

“Scope and scale” are their watchwords, as if they used to be fine art sculptors making monumental statues 18 feet high, and have now decided to think even bigger, carving out chunks of earth, chipping at the side of a mountain, or repurposing entire urban landscapes such as highway constructions into enormous works of art. “Dynamic and temporal extremes” are also guiding strategies, referring I suppose to the interplay of the musicians and the duration of the work, both elements worth considering…unlike the type of improvisation which is played at top speed, Earth Tongues make their best effort to retard their normal instincts and play everything at this painfully slow pace, as if they were frozen Neanderthals slowly thawing out and coming back to life…in so doing they don’t deny interplay with each other, but rather they emphatically call attention to it, placing it under the spotlight on a totally bare stage, where there’s no room to hide and no chance to allow fluffed notes or careless ideas.

Only the strong survive under these competitive, Darwinian rules, but it pays off when players as skilled and bold as these are involved. As to the “temporal extremes”, the listener also becomes painfully aware of each passing moment as they listen to this inexorably slow and minimal heaving music, yet it’s so compelling that the entire set seems to vanish past you in no time at all (see prior remark). That’s kind of disruptive, in a good way, of normal experience; I sense it’s something that some modernist composers would give their right hand to achieve, and they can only get close to it through expending bags of effort and intellectual ponderings, ending up with dense notation and abstruse compositions…where Earth Tongues can evidently do it through improvised performance alone (which isn’t to imply that it’s effortless).

The “stark” setting of this work also means that the players have nothing to conceal, no tricks up their sleeve, no cloaking “bad” playing behind a bank of effects pedals, and most of the unusual sounds are generated by purely acoustic means. I am not sure exactly what the cassette players are doing, but I think their role is minimal, and most of what you will hear is the low growls of Peck’s tuba, the astringent and severe shrieks from Moffett’s top register, and the metallic zings of Costa bowing his cymbals to produce acidic sensations in the listener’s mouth. A pared-down, no-nonsense world is what they delineate, almost primitive in its simplicity, but unfailingly direct and honest. A truly “epic” double album…from 7th November 2016.

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

The Carp’s Head (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONOLP018) record is an extremely unusual album featuring the vocal talents of Ghédalia Tazartès, the unclassifiable mystic from France who has been coming our way a fair number of times in recent years…his tape collages, like the LP Repas Froid, are one thing – nightmarish reconstructions of the physical world and all that’s in it – but when he opens his mouth, strange creatures emerge by the bushel. We’ve heard him singing on Superdisque (with Jac Berrocal and David Fenech) and as one half of Reines D’Angleterre, and it’s not an experience that you can soon forget.

On Carp’s Head, he does a lot of guttural throat-singing type stuff that I assume is extremely hard to do, and makes Ghédalia Tazartès sound like some shaman taking off on a magical flight, or an old man of the mountains uttering prophesies. But he also makes sound effects and animal interpretations, such as on the self-explanatory ‘Wolves And Birds’, where he not only provides the voices of these ravenous beasts but also supplies the background sound of wind on the Russian steppes, and thus single-handedly creates his own atmospheric soundtrack for a radio play that has no story.

He’s doing it with the help of two Polish musicians, most notably the multi-instrumentalist Paweł Romańczuk, who seems to have access to many exotic-sounding devices that conjure up the spirits of non-specific ethnic recordings from everywhere in the civilised world (and beyond). Romańczuk is not known to me, but he regularly performs in the experimental combo Małe Instrumenty of which he is a founder member. Romańczuk has also built his own home-made musical instruments, and maybe some of them appear on this record. The other Polish musician is Andrzej Załeski, who I think is mostly supplying percussive devices, a music curator who is known for his numerous musical collaborations, his cinema work, and performances in theatre groups.

Carp’s Head has a lot to recommend it – the all-acoustic arrangements, the spare simplicity of the playing, the unsettling atmospheres it creates, and the all-time freakiness of Tazartès’ vocalising throughout. The players have worked hard to create something innovative and new, proud of the way they “drifted away from the traditions of chamber music”. From 21 November 2017.

It’s One O’Clock and Time For Lunch

Repetitions Of The Old City – I (NO LABEL) is the fifth album from Jack O’ The Clock, the unique American band led by Daimon Waitkus. We previously heard All My Friends followed by Night Loops, both of which prompted rapturous prose from this listener and a tendency to liken Waitkus to many American mavericks in the fields of pop music, poetry, and classical composition. Based on today’s spin I see no need to rescind any previous observations.

Other hallmarks of excellence stand out in this selection of nine highly unusual songs. There’s the contributions of the other players, especially the violin and viola of Emily Packard, and the woodwinds of Kate McLoughlin, which do much to add to the exotic old-time flavour of these highly contrived rustic gems (Waitkus assembles his songs as if following a blueprint for making Shaker furniture). Packard’s violin has no trouble following the impossible time signatures of these elaborate compositions; her instrument simply dances, floats in the sky. Waitkus’s songs are ingenious with their unexpected chord sequences and clashing tonalities, and the very inventive melodies whose intervals shouldn’t really work at all, yet they work perfectly. To say nothing of the abstruse and erudite lyrics, with their multi-syllabic thoughts packed into singable melodies. I also see Waitkus is quite the octopus when it comes to playing several instruments – guitar, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, pianet, guzheng and flute are all in his credit roster, making him a match for Alan Sondheim (who made Ritual-All-7-70 for ESP-Disk in 1967). I think Waitkus and Sondheim should get into a gun-fighting showdown someday over instrumental prowess, but Waitkus would probably win on points with his song-writing gifts.

The other observation that occurs to me today is that Jack O’ The Clock (although they are as American as 100 Apple Pies) are not that far apart from classic English prog rock of the 1970s which I love so much, especially Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, a band whose eccentricity, mannered vocals and skilful arrangements feel very much of apiece with the music of Damon Waitkus. The acoustic guitars are reminiscent of Mike Rutherford and his 12-string, and there are even flute solos, like on ‘Firth Of Fifth’…I rest my case. High recommendation for this peculiar strain of art rock. As far as I know Jack O’ The Clock are still not signed to a label and do self-releases of everything. This one is so wilfully obscure they don’t even put their name on the front or back cover. From 11 November 2016.

The Ring Of Truth

Very good acoustic improv trio work from Bertrand Denzler, Antonin Gerbal and Axel Dörner on Le Ring (CONFRONT CCS 65). The players are keen to point out their rapport has been hard-earned, and that this particular configuration represents years of work getting to know each other through means of brass, mallets, and perspiration. “Dörner and Denzler know each other for 15 years”, states the press note, while Dörner and Gerbal have been at it since 2011. Meanwhile Denzler and Gerbal, the French part of the act, have often played as a duo and appeared in many other projects, for example the record Heretofore which came out on this same label in 2015. Le Ring could I suppose refer to the tight inner circle which binds improvisers together, whether it’s the social milieu of concerts and touring, or the act of playing together which is (I would hope) not unlike creating a magic circle as used by John Dee, Simon Magus, or other well-known sorcerers. There’s also a “circle of life” thing implied in such a title, the slow rhythms of the artistic life, and the fact that these three players have been embroiled in the churn of playing together for so long means they are now as inter-twined as your clothes when they fall out of the tumble drier.

Not too long ago my life was ruined by hearing Sound Of Drums, the solo record by Antonin Gerbal which was so single-minded in its pursuit of a pure beat that you could have used it to construct a Roman road across Chichester. Fortunately he seems to have brought his fanatical approach down a notch or two for Le Ring, and contents himself with punctuating the general flow of the music with percussive shots inserted in unexpected places. However, when they other two give him five seconds of quiet, he’s straight back to his doomy funeral march antics, hammering out obsessive bonks and blams with the deathly precision of the grim reaper. As to Axel Dörner, I used to characterise this German trumpeter as one of the kings of the Berlin Reductionist School (or whatever they’re called) and his ultra-quiet work in Phosphor was enough to bring most strong men to their knees. He’s since become much more audible and less preoccupied with calling attention to his own breath, and his instrument is now a tube for releasing escaping gas into the room with a delicious light roaring noise. These two abstract-noise extremists tend to make Denzler – who actually hits recognisable notes now and again – the “conformist” of the group, which is really saying something in this context.

While Le Ring stops and starts and reorganises itself to head down side tangents on more than one occasion, it still presents a coherent argument in one continuous 41-minute spiel, which is more than most of us can do. Long tones are explored and tested and rubbed up against each other, like two dressmakers trying it on for size as they admire the heft of certain fabrics. Eventually, someone may or may not get an outfit to wear at the end of the process, but that’s not important. Throughout these lengthy ringing soundings, the drummer Gerbal is tapping impatiently at his rims and his skins, trying to bring the meeting to order. There’s such stillness and tension in the room that it’s amazing they get anywhere, yet forward movement of a lurching sort does take place. It’s likely though that we’ll end up at the same starting point in Le Ring, having circumscribed a circular shape right there on the floor, and come away enriched with mystical knowledge thereby. From 29th September 2016.

The Healing Crystals Don’t Work !!!

Ben Verdery
The Ben Verdery Guitar Project On Vineyard Sound
USA ELM CITY RECORDS CD (2016)

Ben Verdery seems to pack some heavy duty credentials, being Yale University’s Associate Professor of guitar and Artistic Director of ‘The Yale Guitar Extravaganza”. The On Vineyard Sound disc was initiated by Mr. V. who invited a number of Yale School of Music composer colleagues to write pieces for him to interpret via an extended family of guitars: ranging from Fender Strat and Steel String to Baritone and Classical.

Well…sixty-nine words in, a bright ‘n’ breezy opening presents itself with no suggestion of listener dissent… until now that is… A mere five minutes of less than intense research finds the accompanying cribsheet surprisingly failing to mention his tenure with those avatars of new age muzak: Windham Hill, when he recorded under the name of Benjamin Verdery. Can this terrible (but self-induced) stain on one’s character ever be erased by a slight name change and the passage of time? Not an ice-cube’s…

While glimpses of world music, analogue tweaking and country (David Lang’s “Little Eye”), can raise the listenability of these classical guitar recitations a micron or two, on the whole this particular cold collation is as well-manned and genteel as a gathering of maiden aunts at a fifties’ Lyons tea-house, hosted by Athene Sayler and Dame May Whitty. If this has wetted your appetite for the real soul of guitar soli, where intimations of guitarists whose somewhat haphazard lives deeply permeate the very strings and frets of their best friend, it would be better to explore the catalogue of, say, the Tompkins Square label (see Basho protégé Richard Osborn and/or Harry Taussg for starters?) than kicking yr. heels in this vicinity.

Chant Royal

We’ve been enjoying the playing of Portuguese viola player João Camões for many years now, mostly heard through his work with the undersung Algerian synth player Jean-Marc Foussat, but his appearance in the trio earnear was also worthy of mention. Today’s offering is all-acoustic however, and the five-piece Nuova Camerata perform pretty much as a classical string quartet, with the addition of a marimba. Besides Camões with his hard-working instrument, there’s the violin of Carlos Zingaro, who may just be the veteran of the group – he’s been improvising since the early 1990s, and in fact there’s an early-ish record from 1988 which he made with the great Richard Teitelbaum which I’d love to hear. Zingaro has appeared on some big labels (FMP, Hatology, For4Ears) and worked with some big names – Evan Parker, Joëlle Léandre, and Paul Lovens. The cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff is German-born, but he’s made his home in Portugal now, and played with many local musicians including the Lisbon Improvisation Players. There’s also Pedro Carneiro, classically trained marimba player, who once made the gaffe of releasing a record with the unfortunate title of Crazy Mallets, and the bass player Miguel Leiria Pereira, a sometime member of Variable Geometry Orchestra.

The group’s debut record Chant (IMPROVISING BEINGS ib50) arrives as seven separate improvisations, simply titled Chant I-VII; it reflects their shared interest in free improvisation as well as “contemporary erudite music”, as they would have it. What this means is a vaguely solemn tone to the day’s listen, and a slightly cold and slightly stiff way of playing, which doesn’t appear to have much of a jazz feel behind it, and suggests the players are more likely to get their kicks from a dissonant evening of Schoenberg and Alban Berg than from Mingus or Ornette. But this comparative lack of warmth is more than compensated by the assurance and precision of the playing – each dissonant collision is delivered with confidence and bravado, and the music does not want for drama and incident. There’s also a certain amount of “acoustic noise” in the mix for those of you listeners who can’t help hearing a little bit of Merzbow in everything; by “noise”, I mean the high-pitched whines of the violin and viola when they suddenly swoop up into the stratosphere, the rattling low scrapes from the double bass, and the vaguely percussive attacks that result from desiccated vulture-like claws clutching at wood and strings in a predatory fashion.

When you experience all of these elements swirling together in the high-quality recording stream that’s been pressed onto this disc, you’ll certainly be glad you checked in to this Nuova Camerata. While at times it feels like Carneiro is slightly out of step with the team with his stilted marimba playing, he does provide an interesting spine to the music, and an additional musical flavour without which the record might start to appear samey. When the other players run up and down their scales in a crazy free-form fashion, he will be there making a sympathetic scuttling sound like a large centipede running over the rocks. Lastly, note the cover photo; usually when I write about acoustic stringed music I dig out my well-worn metaphor of bare twigs and branches, but this time the visuals are already doing it for me. Very good!. From 18th October 2016.

14th June update: a correction received today from Pedro Carneiro.

“Thank you very much for your review and congratulations for your beautiful artwork!

“Is the only a small detail, but please allow me to clarify: the unfortunate title you mention on a very old disc of mine (Crazy Mallets) is not mine, but simply the title of one the compositions by one – so it seems in this case – unfortunate composer.

“With thanks once again, all good wishes,

“(message dictated due to shoulder injury. Apologies for typos and other possible mistakes)”

Pedro Carneiro

Library Of Liberties

Some Some Unicorn are a small army of free improvisers, and on Unicornucopia (CLUTTER MUSIC CM023) I counted at least 40 names before I ran out of fingers and had to buy a new abacus. It’s a pretty healthy gender balance, too; a lot of women musicians in the group. Shaun Blezard is the mover and shaker that’s mustered this army, a fellow whose background is electronica, samplers, laptop and dance music, so it’s interesting to find him masterminding this project involving real human beings instead of machines, and music that’s mostly produced by acoustic instruments. That said, there are a large number of players credited with electronics on this record too.

Some Some Unicorn started online as a collaborative thing; now they see themselves as a collective, or even a small community, of like-minded souls who value real experience over dwelling in the virtual realms of Facebook likes and Twitter responses. The music here was recorded in a number of venues through 2016, in Salford, London, Lancaster and Ulverston; Blezard did a lot of the recording, and mixed and mastered the release itself. I’m already daunted; I feel like these 40+ energised souls have a lot of material in the pipeline, and this diffuse and sprawling record represents only a smattering of the things they are capable of doing. It would be a bold man indeed who would try and categorise the music on offer, since it’s so diverse; although you may think you can recognise elements of “traditional” free improvised music here in the free sax and trumpet blowing, there’s also drone, choral music, percussive meditational tunes like some form of souped-up Tibetan bowl music, classical chamber music, and even a species of folk tunes. Quite often, three or four of these styles and genres are blended freely on the same track, the musicians doing so in an entirely unselfconscious manner. It’s not a forced mash-up, more a natural melding of forms and expressions.

Even though not everyone is present on each track, it’s still impressive to get this many people together and not end up with a muddy, shapeless cacophony. Indeed, the simple clarity and directness of the music is one of the hallmarks of Some Some Unicorn; without trying too hard or over-intellectualising the idea of “freedom”, they’ve ended up creating music that’s arguably more free than many well-known hardcore improvisers can manage. There’s a real open-endedness to this music which invites the listener to enter and join in, rather than shut them out; and the players themselves are clearly enjoying making their explorations, which take place in a very friendly and collaborative place. That’s rare. But real unicorns are rare too. One of the benchmarks we’re reminded of is the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which is a very apt comparison, and in particular I would suggest those voice-choir experiments John Stevens conducted in the early 1970s, such as For You To Share (which featured untrained members of the audience joining in). I’m also reminded of Cornelius Cardew and The Great Learning, though thankfully this album Unicornucopia is entirely free from Marxist and Maoist dogma of any sort, nor does it follow the wearisome and stultifying trajectory of Cardew’s old warhorse of a piece.

While some of the wordless vocalising may seem a little “arty” in places, for the most part this beautiful record is a total delight, injecting new life into a genre which has lately seemed in danger of becoming stultified and crippled by its own history and baggage. Mr Blezard, and all the musicians named on this record, can feel proud of this achievement. From 23rd September 2016.

Ame Hinode

The Kyūbi (NAKAMA RECORDS NKM005CD) record is by Jinchūriki, a duo of Norwegian violinists Håkon Aase and Adrian Løseth Waade. You may be familiar with them through their other group Filosofer, and Waade plays in the quintet Nakama as well as the much larger improvising group Skadedyr (noted previously for their record with the big crab on the cover). Kyūbi is an understated and largely quiet acoustic record, with 20 short tracks – it’s a bit of extra work to get onto its wavelength, as the musical statements are so brief that they pass by before you even start to pick up the vibe of where these two mysterious Norwegians might be coming from. But there are interesting details and textures hidden inside these concise, blank utterances, and it’s worth persevering for the moments when they get quite worked up, packing a large volume of frenetic plucks and abstracted notes into quite small spaces.

They also like to limn imaginary snowy landscapes, using creaky scrapes and long tones from their wooden devices and strings. The aim of these musicians is something to do with exploring limits – of their instruments, of their sound, of themselves; cheap kamagra oral jelly online perhaps they have in mind the musical equivalent of a commando weekend where you’re dropped onto a cold moor wearing only a vest and pants. It’s to their credit that they keep these observations so brief; the average innings here is less than two minutes, and their best pieces zip by in about 40 seconds or less. I think if they stretched into the 7 minute zone, a practice which by the way seems to be de rigeur for many improvising combos, they might turn into flabby, boring drones. However, brevity doesn’t always equal profundity, and some of these tunes can seem inconclusive; but at their best, Jinchūriki pose acoustic riddles which you can puzzle over for hours.

The cover image, also by Håkon Aase, seems to suggest a volcano emitting a fiery plume and much smoke, but a volcano is the last thing on the listener’s mind when faced with these gentle and rather cold musical miniatures. The names Jinchūriki and Kyūbi apparently both come from a 1990s manga and anime series called Naruto, which tells the story of a disaffected teenage ninja warrior. From 26th September 2016.

A Raga Called Nick

New solo album by the Nottingham guitar player Nick Jonah Davis. House Of Dragons (THREAD RECORDINGS THR004) contains ten tracks of consummate acoustic guitar craft – melodic, rootsy, folky, performed with confidence and uncanny accuracy. All that I wrote about Split Electric – his fab teamup with C. Joynes from earlier in 2016 – continues to apply, except that this record is pretty much all-acoustic, so less of the spooky noise effects we heard on ‘Sigil Eyes’ this time, apart from the opening seconds of ‘Double Peace’, which uses a scrapey flourish to set the mood on this, one of the darker pieces on a mostly upbeat and sprightly record. Cam Deas, who sent us his amazing Quadtych album in 2011, did the production on House Of Dragons, and friends C. Joynes and Karl Townsend play on the last cut, ‘The Illumination of Nelson Fortune’. This piece has a rather Fahey-esque title and a Ry Cooder feel in the shimmering slide and drone effects, conjuring up a cinematic desert vista in short order. I might add that the press release points out he has kept the company of two other TSP heroes, i.e. folk iconoclast Richard Dawson and radical song interpreter Alasdair Roberts, which earns him automatic wine privileges in my house. He’s also managed to perform alongside Max Ochs at a New York guitar festival, which is a pretty big deal…there aren’t that many records by this Greenwich Village hero of the 1960s, although if you get a copy of that Takoma sampler Contemporary Guitar, you can hear a couple of ragas by him. I have enjoyed House Of Dragons enormously, although with its title and cover artworks, I was hoping for something slightly more sinister, perhaps with added fairytale or supernatural undertones and themes. Instead we have this, with its generally rather cheery and bouncy tunes and melodies. I would like to think Davis has it in him to turn in a downbeat, pessimistic set of Richard Thompson cover versions, all played as instrumentals on the blackest guitar in his collection. From 2nd August 2016.

Mules Of The Sea

Last heard from Ted Lee, one of the luminaries behind the Feeding Tube Records label, in October 2016 with his bizarre solo record made as No Sod. I’m still trying to come to terms with that spontaneous explosion of free noise and art music, but while I’m trying I have this new LP Dream Away Lodge (FTR269) by Donkey No No to assuage my wounds and soothe my brow. On it, Ted Lee supplies percussion by bowing his cymbals, while joined by two mostly-acoustic players – the guitarist Omeed Goodarzi and the violinist Jen Gelineau. Omeed Goodarzi has been associated with Midi & The Modern Dance and Ivan Ooze, while Gelineau from Holyoke in MA has performed on a large number of records by Egg, Eggs, the sprawling and prolific New England free noise combo.

Dream Away Lodge is quite a different proposition to the far-out No Sod record, and indeed in places it’s quite tasteful and introspective, where No Sod is brash and outspoken. A melancholic tone permeates both sides of this continual low-key rippling drone music, recorded at a place called Dream Away Lodge in Massachusetts in 2015, and for some reason it casts the impression of being recorded in near-darkness or by candlelight. Omeed Goodarzi’s acoustic guitar work is probably the most conventional element in the trio, and for a few seconds on side A we could almost be hearing an acoustic Led Zeppelin bootleg. He provides most of the structure and form to the A side, his simple chord shapes and figures forming a prop for the other two to drape their solos and noises. I like Gelineau’s tone and her sound, and she finally has a chance to shine (Egg, Eggs sessions seem to be just a free-for-all wrestling match) with her playing; her chilling music greets you like the icy stare from the Victorian portrait of a long-dead ancestor. Her echo effect on the B side is delicious, contributing a vaguely “kosmische” vibe to the music; Tangerine Dream music played on violins instead of mellotrons.

As for Lee, his metallic shimmers are positively restrained, adding just the right degree of improvised noise to these semi-melodic fugues. The team cohere well on these two sides, and even if the music seems to go for longer than it should, this is part of the improv-only deal in this context – you have to take everything or nothing. When Donkey No No get themselves into a good space, they pretty much stay there for 15-20 mins. Since 2015, they’ve already released 11 other recordings, mostly in tiny editions on cassette or acetates. The cover, screenprinted by Neil Burke from a photo by Lauri McNamara, is quite a strong point; it’s printed in just the right shade of “mellow brown” to match the music, reminding me of the Fairfield Parlour cover (or perhaps the 1971 LP by Master’s Apprentices on Regal Zonophone). I don’t know much about the donkey in the picture, except it’s made of metal and joins them on their performances and presumably gave the band their name. From 27 June 2016, limited to 100 copies.