Tagged: art music

One Harp, One Guitar

The Harp of the New Cambria

Yeah…Rock! Rhodri Davies finally discovers the power of heavy metal! For years this Welsh genius (improviser, composer, innovator) was known for producing extremely quiet and minimal music with his harp, often in the company of other minimal improvisers, although admittedly he was recently drawn to use of the ebow as a process whereby he could extend the resonating strings into a powerful, humming, ultra-long drone. As is well known we love his work here and some of his recent records (e.g. 2010′s Carliol with John Butcher) have been exemplary in terms of their stripped-down astringency, their frightening sense of purpose, their deep-frozen “core of ice” affect such that to listen was like being stabbed in the head with an icicle. Now on Wound Response (ALT.VINYL av038) he’s embracing amplification and distortion, and with these groovy cuts he’s turning himself into a Welsh avant-garde version of Jimmy Page or Leslie West, riffing away in gorgeous circular patterns with a strong sense of simple melodic drive, anchoring down his quicksilver inventions with a solid root note, and generally updating the blues / rock mode in his own shimmering image of palpitating atonal holydom. In fine this is the sort of harp record that Keiji Haino probably wishes he could have made, during that creative purple patch when he figured he was tough enough to play any instrument known to man and create a hideous racket on it, including the hurdy-gurdy which he memorably transformed into a shrieking wheezy monster of steel and wood. Now Haino must surrender his laurel wreath to a new victor.

Davies is getting this fab new sound from use of transducers, contact mics, a volume pedal, an overdrive unit and two amplifiers, the sort of setup that produced those side-long versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ (although in fact a theremin was also used I believe). The volume pedal in particular is one of my personal favourite devices and isn’t used enough in my view, ever since Derek Bailey trod his well-brogued foot on one of them during his brief but memorable “electric” phase 1. Mostly of course the quality of the music here is produced not by means of electronic assistance, but through the sheer dazzling brilliance of Rhodri’s attack. Man, you could use these fingers to mow an entire field of wheat – he’s his own combine harvester! Speed and coruscating energy are the order of the day, at times making music that resembles the hammered dulcimer or autoharp of an acid-fried folk musician, perhaps named Barney Pembleton, on the most gloriously impossible folk-rock record that never existed and was in fact purposely suppressed by Elektra, Island and Transatlantic working in an unholy triumvirate of conspiracy to conceal dangerously good music from the crowd. Now through the gift of channelling the spirit of Barney Pembleton, Rhodri Davies has succeeded in unleashing that monster from the vaults. Lovely screenprinted card presentation on this beast, with drawings by the organist / composer Jean-Luc Guionnet, a Phil Begg recording, and title borrowed from the musician’s personal bookshelf of great literature. And it’s pressed in clear vinyl, which ought to be the clincher. From 26 October 2012, and a total goodie.

The Persian Version

Last heard from Yek Koo with her single Alone Together, now here she is with an entire album recorded for the same label called Love Song For The Dead C (EMERALD COCOON EC009). Yek Koo is Helga Fassonaki from Metal Rouge, working solo with guitar, percussion devices and her voice for this uncanny limited-edition vinyl item, released at the same time as her one-person show at the Human Resources gallery in LA. The order of the day on this highly discursive and ghostified dron-gronathon is a fairly skeletal approach to music-making, selecting bare twigs or bent wire sticks, remnants and rags of material and assembling them with the intuitive flair of a collage artist or maker of bricolage. These tunes unfold in real time, coming to life on the gallery wall rather than enduring a half-life as tracks etched into dead vinyl. There’s a gloriously delirious tone which the press notes describe as “drunkenly stumbling”, to account for the free-swimming odd mismatches of sound-generation here. The very body of each tune appears fragile, so brittle that it might shatter at any second, or so nebulous that you could disperse the entire album by turning on the fan. Yet Yek Koo’s music keeps on going, and the mysterious drug-like logic of her music is as potent as a spell from Circe burning evil incense blocks in her copper bowl.

Everything is suggestive of alienation and distance – distorted, weirdly-echoed effects, beautifully badly-played electric guitar to produce unearthly tones, an out-of-tune waily voice drifting in from a secret chamber – yet in the final analysis, it’s the most honest and intimate music you could hope for. It’s as though Fassonaki has found a completely instinctive way to outwit the subtleties of our own mind games and ego tricks, and bypass normal channels of communication to arrive at a very direct statement delivered from the heart. The label exhibits a certain pride in the “tradition of the great outsider sides of the early 90s”. Although “outsider” is becoming a commonplace term these days, the point is well made, and even the cover art with its simple pastedown wraparound is trying to forge a link with the 1990s “tradition”, if indeed there is one, when great underground music was packaged in master bags with paste-on covers (mainly for economic reasons) and released in near-secrecy. Of course this attentuated, formless wailing sound she makes isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I personally am completely enchanted with this LP and it’s highly worthy of your attention. Received 22nd May 2012.

  1. Best heard on the classic LP Domestic and Public Pieces. Let me know if you ever find a copy.

Are You Experienced

Jean Dubuffet
Expériences Musicales De Jean Dubuffet (II)

Long overdue notice for this fine double-CD set of the strange music of Jean Dubuffet which we’ve had here in the boxes since late 2012. If you’re keen on the visual arts then chances are you’ll have heard of Dubuffet as an early champion of what has since come to be called “outsider art”. Along with Ernst, Klee and others he was among the first 20th century artist to take note of pictures produced in insane asylums (which had probably been ignored or dismissed by society), but more to the point he developed a very convincing and passionate aesthetic in support of what he called “Art Brut”. I recall when I first read one of his essays on the subject, and I must have experienced some sort of epiphany. He was proposing a radical rethink, not only of our art-appreciation senses, but of the very meaning of humanity, society, and the purpose of art within it. I’ve always admired Dubuffet’s no-nonsense “all or nothing” stance on this matter; likewise his own impasto paintings, which were almost visual manifestations of his polemic, powerful and burning images that cut directly to the heart of the brain in highly forceful ways. A lot of people probably thought he was embracing ugliness for the sake of it, as part of a concerted post-war effort to overthrow everything we knew about conventional beauty. The truth is he was trying to reconnect us all to our own human-ness in the most direct and primal manner possible. It’s not too far-fetched to consider that Dubuffet’s aesthetic was paving the way for Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, The Residents, and any number of our favourite outsider / self-taught / naive musicians.

Dubuffet clearly applied this very direct attitude to everything he did in his art and his life, if this record is anything to go by. Everything here was recorded over some months around 1960-1961, which means that th’ Buffster would’ve been about 60 years old at the time – his fiery passion for raw innovation and experimentation still undimmed. He did it with the help of his friend, the painter Asger Jorn, who in fact initiated the sessions of improvised music round at his house. Both the act of creating the music, and capturing it on a tape recorder, were approached in Dubuffet’s very hands-on style, just wading in there and doing it. They weren’t absolute amateurs, it seems, and the notes here reveal that Jorn was fairly well practiced with the violin and trumpet, and Dubuffet was calling on his childhood piano lessons to stand him in good stead on the near-defunct piano they were using. Out of tune and in need of repair, this old keyboard clearly fit the bill for the plan. They both instinctively knew these sessions were not about “virtuosity”, and they scurried off in pursuit of liberated and weird sounds. They used acoustic instruments – piano, cello, trumpet and recorder, then gradually added other instruments with which they weren’t familiar, including obscure and outmoded devices, folk instruments, and ethnic instruments. Easy enough to observe some parallels with Sun Ra and his Strange Strings experiments here, and I expect I’m not the first glib pundit to have done so…At the same time, Dubuffet makes it clear that he had zero knowledge of modern composition, nor what would come in time to be called “free improvisation”. Part of the art brut deal is remaining “untainted” by too much cultural knowledge, which is why shut-ins and introverts do it so well.

The tape recordings themselves were also primitive and amateurish. Dubuffet did them himself, using non-professional equipment, and freely admits he had no idea about “correct” microphone placement. As such, he embraced accidents and welcomed the grunginess of bad reproduction. He was often delighted when the machine played back odd sounds that he hadn’t intended to record. And he developed a crude editing method using scissors and tape, and extremely limited playback facilities; which in turn evolved into an even cruder overdubbing technique of some sort, allowing him to record multiple instances of his instruments and become an “art brut” version of a one-man band. Later he kinda admitted defeat and added a second tape recorder and a mixing desk to this set-up, but the point is valid. Dubuffet was busy inventing lo-fi on his own terms in 1961. “All spheres of the arts could benefit from using simpler techniques,” he states with conviction. “I also believe that art does not need to be refined. I am all for wild and unaffected charms rather than frills and furbelows.”

The music you hear has plenty of wild charms…but look at the photographs by Jean Weber reprinted in the booklet here, apparently 1 showing the creator at work blowing trumpets, bassoons, horns, wielding a violin bow in unconventional manner, and pursuing the craft of generating his unusual sounds. What I like here is that Dubuffet is impeccably dressed throughout, with his cardigan buttoned, his tie neatly drawn up against his white collar, and his trousers newly-pressed with razor-sharp creases (and look at those great turn-ups!). At all times, his face bears the mark of a creator taking the work absolutely seriously. 2. It adds quite a lot to the experience looking at these images of poise, grace and sartorial elegance while listening to the music on the discs, all of which is completely loopy.

This particular release compliments the 1991 CD released on the French Circé label in 1991, and reissued on the Mandala label in 1996. But that contained only nine of the 20 pieces originally recorded; here are the remaining eleven cuts. Before this, there was a 1973 release by Ilhan Mimaroglu on his Finnadar label, although the music was originally released in 1961 as an art edition of 60 copies, pressed on six 10-inch vinyl LPs.

  1. It’s possible these images are “posed” after the event, i.e. they don’t depict the actual recording / creation process, but they’re still great.
  2. I am reminded of footage of the great sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who always turned up in the studio dressed in a jacket and tie; none of that scruffy blue-jeans look for these dapper pre-war Europeans, a trend which I suppose came later with slouches like Jackson Pollock.

The Haunted Drawing Room


The name of pianist John Tilbury should be familiar to anyone who has ever dipped a toe or two into the waters of the British avant garde. An impressive c.v. unravels before us….a member of AMM for thirty-three years, the ne plus ultraman of Morton Feldman interpretations, a one-time member of Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra and the M.I.M.E.O. collective with Keith Rowe, and others.

Poland’s principal minimalist composer in orchestral/chamber/tape/solo fields, Tomasz Sikorski (1933-88) was a friend and associate of John’s during his tenure at Warsaw Conservatory and John’s latest CD For Tomasz Sikorski (BOLT RECORDS BR 1014 / BOCIAN RECORDS BC JT) consists of three interpretations of his works and adds on an improvisatory tribute to this criminally undervalued figure, who, sadly, only merits a small bundle of entries on internet sites.

A series of well measured repetitive figures form the backbone of the opening “Autograph” and the slightly similar (and deceptively titled) “Rondo”. Haunted drawing room flourishes clash with the occasional heavier right hand punctuation, whilst the latter piece tends to occupy the higher end of the keyboard. Its jittery movements promise and deliver a less linear audio experience, made even more so at times, by dramatic usage of the pregnant pause option. “Zertstreutes Hinausschauen” reveals itself to be the most forceful and brooding of the trio, where knitted brows and basilisk glares are de rigeur in, no doubt, a listening or playing capacity. “Improvisation for Tomasz Sikorski” comes under heavy Cageian manners with the aid of a slew of unspecified foreign bodies placed in the piano’s underbelly. This added vocabulary squeezes out (in no particular order), some ersatz far eastern harmonics, a recurring spectral bass gongtone and the tiny mechanical clack of victorian automata. Funnily enough, John’s solo debut LP on Decca from 1975 was a certain Mr Cage’s Prepared Piano. So…deference from a master to a grandmaster’s methods lasts a long, long time.

A joint release between Bocian Records and Bolt Records. Crisply recorded at Warsaw Museum of Sculpture, where every last micro-second of decaying note is captured for posterity.

From solo piano to one man and his six-string…


After 2011′s Neil Young v Rhys Chatham jam-heavy Paranoid Cat CD (Family Vineyard), Chris Forsyth, ex of freeform splatterjazz combo Peeesseye returns to the fray with Kenzo Deluxe (NORTHERN SPY 025). A solo electric guitar showcase (sans overdubs) that trains its telescope towards the realms of kozmik Americana, where the Fahey Spiral and Basho Centauri can still be glimpsed.

It’s a collection of conflicting moods, where the track sequencing does tend to run towards the occasional zig-zagging ride. “The First 10 Minutes Of Cocksucker Blues” is a heavy lidded abstract blooze in long form, where a chugging undertow is topped off with a strange form of lyrical picking that sounds, for all the world, as if it were recorded underwater. If Harvey Mandel (Canned Heat/solo) ever ventured into repetitive musics – then it just might resemble this. The gently meandering “Downs & Ups” is, to these ears, the most successful track, in which images of Felt’s great lost guitar wizard Maurice Deebank emerge, caught boning up on Takoma sheet music. However, themes of mellow fruitfulness evaporate as if they were but strange dreams. “Boston St. Lullaby No. 2″ appears to hark back to Chris’s more noisome past endeavours. This fug-laden reverb ‘n’ drone exercise inches towards Ben Chasny territory and possibly even Bardo Pond solo ventures and, in no way, can be viewed as a complimentary ticket to the Land of Nod. Acting as a brief and delicately played buffer, “East Kensington Run Down” gives way to “Boston St. Lullaby no 1″, a charming slice of back porch introspection that luxuriates on a bed of the finest woven reverb. Like I said, sequencing that moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform.

A release from Northern Spy Records (39 Hawthorne St., Brooklyn, NY11225, U.S.A.) that has also been issued in vinyl form, now long gone no doubt…

Porte La Croix

Rum jazz item received from Karl 2000, a trio based in NYC and led by saxman Daniel Rovin. Oddly enough he draws his main inspiration from a very non-jazz source, The Alexandrov Ensemble, otherwise known as the Red Army singers – those massed Russian singers who deliver bombast, solemnity and gloom in equal amounts as they sit perched in rows dressed in their khaki military uniforms. The challenge for Rovin and his men is to emulate that enormous chorale sound, a task for which Rovin seems well suited with his wide-brimmed bellowing instrument, assisted by the lugubrious cello sweeps of Austin White, the bassist in the trio. Additionally, three of the songs are based on Russian folk tunes, while the rest are self-composed or based on rather unlikely choices of standards, including one by The Partridge Family (that most bland of all the invented 60s bubblegum groups). Rovin’s other ace in the hole is his ability to perform a convincing reincarnation of Albert Ayler’s sound, sliding around the root note with all the supernatural grace of the original Holy Ghost, while his sympathetic sidemen perform studied twists and turns in their dynamic cavorts. An unusual and engaging brew in this samovar. (29/08/2012)

Another somnambulistic head-scratcher from Kiko C. Esseiva, that occluded studio whizz operating out of Lausanne. It’s been about six years since he made Sous Les Étoiles for this label. His Drôles d’Oiseaux (HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT 14) is even more surreal than its predecessor and spares no effort in reconstructing the fragmentary nature of a dream, pulling it out of the head of the reckless sleeper with tweezers and then gently pressing it between the leaves of a book (or a CD album, in this instance). On ‘Safe’n’Sound’, we feel anything but safe – odd ambient murmurs float trippingly along the mossy path, only to be gently spooked out by the subtly emerging presence of a woman’s voice speaking in broken phrases, or an unidentifiable rustle in the bushes. Magritte himself could not have painted it any better. The queasy growls of this cut will make a perfect accompaniment to your oneiric visions of Max Ernst forest paintings, but the real tour de force is the 21-minute ‘Je Vole’ – a highly cinematic and episodic suite divided in nine chapters, or “tableaux” as Esseiva would have it. This one’s like a mad inversion of the early Fantômas movies overlaid with supremely contemporary angst and paranoia; burglars’ footsteps move from speaker to another, a frightened man gasps for breath as he flees his pursuers, and sinister curlicues of antique-distressed electronic drone paint fern fronds around all unlit corners of the mise-en-scène. Passion, excitement, convulsive beauty. (08/2012)

While we’re still in vaguely “gothic” mode, let’s bend an ear to Locrian and their collaboration with the famous Christoph Heemann on LP by same title (HANDMADE BIRDS HB-DIS040). Just four long tracks on this vinyl album where the core Chicago trio of Hannum, Hess and Foisy have their very full sound bloated out to even greater hyper-real extremes by the additional electronics and synths of Heemann. This German Dr Moreau type has been courted by many underground types since his H.N.A.S. days, among them Edward Ka-Spel and David Tibet, and thus it’s not entirely preposterous that the orbit of his secret balloon should coincide with the dark and cloudy morass generated by Locrian’s fatalistic factory chimneys. Great volumes of tar-like musical cascades are the result of their meeting, impenetrable fugs of cataclysm, dank lagoons of unspeakable horror. While I wasn’t bowled over by Locrian’s The Crystal World in 2010, where I felt they were in danger of defaulting into over-familiar stoner-rock territory, with this outing the trio steer their ship confidently into the dark waters of atmospheric art-music, avoiding many hidden rocks and sea-monsters with the help of Helmsman-Heemann behind the wheel. My favourite here is the histrionic excess of ‘Loath The Light’, but you might enjoy ‘The Drowned Forest’ better, subtler in approach, and yielding a limpid vision of a misty mountain worthy of Herzog with appropriate Popol Vuh-styled chanting tones. (08/2012)

Call Me Animal

Exotic item of the month comes from Maria Monti, the Italian actress and cabaret singer who has a film career going back to 1962 and had a starring role in Leone’s A Fistful Of Dynamite. The album Il Bestiario (UNSEEN WORLDS UW08) was a 1974 showcase for the assured and unusual vocal mannerisms of this Italian chanteuse, whose nearest equivalents might be Lotte Lenya or Gisela May. Monti clearly had this unerring ability to interpret a song through acting it as much as singing it, and her wiry acrobatics on this album are just amazing to hear. There’s a real clarity of intent and meaning in Maria Monti’s singing, which is rare; not a single fudged word or a smeared note. Listeners who enjoy authentic craft in song delivery are in for a treat, and may want to start looking for her 1972 double album Memoria Di Milano for further examples of how she might approach cabaret, chanson and ballad styles. But beyond the technical ability, we are struck by her emotional range, the sharpness of her observations. On a song like ‘L’Uomo’, even to non-Italian speakers, there’s no mistaking the meaning of the lyric from her no-nonsense and slightly world-weary tone. It genuinely is one of those songs with a theme the whole world can recognise. And there’s also the poignant and nostalgic beauty of ‘Aria, Terra, Acqua E Fuoco’, with its understated acoustic guitars and piano arrangement, a yearning piece sung with a crystal-clear purity that could bring an ache to the hearts of all the statues in Lombardy. On this account, I suppose Jacques Brel or Scott Walker come to mind as similarly tempest-tossed souls performing a balancing act between detachment and compassion, attempting to resolve their personal test-tube full of conflicting feelings and mental storms. But few performers have the grace or poise, the understated power, of a Maria Monti.

The other point of interest to us here is the credit roster: Alvin Curran, now widely known for his very extreme synth experiments and avant-garde compositions, did the arrangements for the album and contributed synth backdrops, and Steve Lacy (soprano sax) is one of the session players – along with two guitarists and a baritone sax player. While the results may not be the wild mix of MEV with free jazz this combination might promise, it is still an unusual-sounding record with some daring and startling dynamics in evidence on tracks such as ‘La Pecora Crede Di Essere Un Cavallo’, a stark and bony thing which is almost like a more approachable version of John Cale’s production for Nico. And ‘Il Serpente Innamorato’ is a dramatic tour de force, a slice of apocalyptic poetry-recit and crazy mutant cinematic music compacted into two and a half minutes of precision-tooled mayhem. Slices of sonic art like this ought to make Il Bestiario a must-have item for fans of art music, soundtrack LPs, chanteuse records, and the cinema of Jess Franco. Maybe it’s some kind of missing link between all of these strands of buried wayward European madness. The producer was Ezio Leoni, a titan of the Italian music industry who’s been involved in the production and arrangement of about two hundred records from the late 1950s onwards. This was released in June 2012, a limited pressing, and sorry to tell you it seems to be sold out already from the label, but surely must be available somewhere. Highly recommended.




I think we last heard from Noah Creshevsky with his 2010 album Twilight of the Gods, released on the Tzadik label, and there is also the 2008 item Favorite Encores where he teamed up with If, Bwana. Now here he is on Al Margolis’ label Pogus Productions with Rounded With A Sleep (POGUS 21063-2), containing seven recent-ish examples of his dazzling and impressive “hyperrealism” compositions. Creshevsky is a meticulous electro-acoustic maestro who uses an extreme form of editing, cutting and pasting together sounds from multiple sources; on this record, he does it using the recorded performances of numerous musicians, so we have a rich array of musical notes and sounds from clarinet, voices, guitar, banjo, steel guitar, cello, bass, and improvised piano music. Twilight of the Gods went all-out for the wow-factor with its intense and utterly impossible layered compositions, its runs of notes rushing past at ridiculous speeds, and a generally breathless tone throughout most of the album. Rounded With A Sleep feels somewhat more manageable than that tornado, and its keynote to me seems to be an intimate contemporary form of chamber music. This may be simply because there aren’t as many instruments to listen to, but this outlandish composer does not skimp on the “can such things be?” factor, presenting us with a lavish feast of layered, cropped, varispeeded and intricately assembled musical phrases, the like of which hasn’t really been heard since Frank Zappa overworked the Apostolic Studios board on the Uncle Meat album in 1968. This is particularly evident on the clarinet and keyboard interplay on ‘La Sonnambula’, and the astonishing recastings made out of Stuart Isacoff’s piano work on ‘What If’, which is like a surrealistic walkthrough the history of classical European keyboard music. If I knew more about the field, I might be able to identify resonances with Bach, Mozart and Haydn with more confidence, but as it is I can only effuse my vague ill-informed impressions. I’m on slightly safer ground with the guitar-based piece ‘The Kindness of Strangers’, which offers us a virtual trio of guitar, bass, lap steel and banjo players, refashioned in the studio to create an utterly mangled form of anguloid country and western music, where not even the singing voice is spared the full Creshevsky treatment. One is usually left somewhat exhausted by listening to only ten minutes of this dense music, but it is clear Creshevsky is not simply out to surprise or stun the listener with a zillion cultural references and juxtapositions in the manner of many plunderphonics artists over the last 20 years. On the contrary, he aims to advance music. His sleeve notes here offer a robust critique of the norms of classical music performance, highlighting the “bad economics” of paying “good wages to a live performer who merely sings a 10-second coda at the end of a string quartet”. Creshevsky’s hyperrealism, and by extension any music that has been collaged in a studio through judicious selection of the best performances 1, offers a viable alternative to that old 19th century concert-hall based model. However the composer is not out to completely junk the past, and he is driven by traditional musical values of virtuosity, sonic palettes, and the production of an expressive musical language. His edits produce a form of super-virtuosity from the work of the already highly-capable musicians he works with. If his music seems exaggerated to us, it’s because he feels he also has to compete with the excesses of the information age, where we have been exposed to so much culture that he fears the power of music may be diminished. Creshevsky’s response to the situation is far from pessimistic; he devotes himself to creating energised and uplifting music, that truly refreshes the sensory passages. From 17 February 2012.

The American composer John Bischoff studied with Robert Ashley at Mills, and was also a member of the League of Automatic Music Composers. The latter team of experimenters made use of early (late 1970s-early 1980s) computer technology to generate random electronic music in endearingly home-made ways. On Audio Combine (NEW WORLD RECORDS 80727-2), we hear five of his more recent works dating from 2004 to 2011, which are broadly related in their use of physical objects or instruments being employed to trigger electronic sounds. There are subtle variations to do with the use of amplification, timing patterns, and attempts to subvert or re-order the original time sequences by ingenious methods. Most of this very process-heavy music seemed uneventful to me, but I enjoyed parts of ‘Sidewalk Chatter’ which was made using the STEIM crackle box 2 and effectively documents some sort of interactive hands-on dialogue between the performer and a computer, via the exposed metal circuits of the box. ‘Surface Effect’ is also sporadically exciting and works on similar principles, that is the interaction between a trigger device and a computer program, but this piece makes more extensive use of pre-planned random structures and allows, in a control-freak sort of way, the oscillators to create unpredictable patterns. A complex form of a detuned and unstable synthesiser, if you will, which benefits from being entirely hand-made by Bischoff. From 20 February 2012.

Trophies is the oddball project of the Italian composer Alessandro Bosetti, a vehicle for his complex prose-poem concoctions which he intones rather emotionlessly on top of a free-form musical structure provided by the drummer Ches Smith and the guitarist Kenta Nagai. Bosetii also adds uncertain electronic tones, colours and washes, and Nagai’s guitar is fretless, meaning he is able to make music while avoiding constructing familiar riffs or tunes. These strategies add to the deliberately obtuse contours of the sound and the open-ended nature of the compositions, producing sensations in the listener that are very hard to explain. Six examples of this perplexing music can be heard on A Color Photo Of The Horse (D.S. AL CODA #4), all recorded in Brooklyn in a single day in 2010 under the production guidance of Alex Waterman. Trophies music is always a bit daunting and overwhelming to listen to. For starters, the music is half-familiar, half-unfamiliar; at times it almost resembles a form of dissonant experimental jazz-minimalism performed without any sort of underpinning rhythm or pattern, and at other times proceeds with the urgency of a tricky Trey Gunn riff from a latter incarnation of King Crimson. Mostly, it is dissonant and unpredictable, wriggling about the turf like a structural-materialist centipede. Then there’s the equally tricky lyrical content, a jumbled explosion of prose verbosity which may sometimes repeat certain phrases, and which occupies some halfway mark between Samuel Beckett and Lenny Bruce. As soon as I think I stand on the verge of grasping the meaning of these breathless texts, they almost instantly collapse back into a sea of absurdity and gibberish. The situation is not helped by Bosetti’s studied ambiguity as he performs his half-musical recits, at times almost parodying the emotional dramas of a soul singer or operatic diva, but mostly rattling through his forests of words with the speed and efficiency of a human typewriter. True meanings are masked in this post-modern diatribe. Make no mistake, this is a truly fine art piece of business – conceptual art trammelled up with music in ways that make Laurie Anderson sound like pop music. In some ways this could be the closest we’ll get to hearing a Raymond Pettibon drawing in sound. This release is one of numerous oddities, including some DVDs, we received from this inscrutable art label in January 2012. All of them are packed in sleeves which cannot be unfolded.

  1. By which I mean anything from George Martin with The Beatles to Teo Macero with Miles Davis.
  2. The instrument has its origins in an invention of Michel Waisvisz, who made an LP of it for FMP records in 1978. The device was also used briefly by Derek Bailey on Domestic and Public Pieces.

Two Vinyl Voltaggios

Colour Field

Texas musician Rick Reed is here with a sumptuous double LP called The Way Things Go (ELEVATOR BATH eeaoa035). I am ashamed to say we have had this in the vinyl waiting list since May 2011, if the release date is anything to go by. Reed is a composer who layers his tones using tone generators, synths, and radio waves, and believes in long-form duration to achieve his aims. There are only six tracks across this 83-minute double package, which gives you some idea of his sense of scale. Each work is an enormous abstract expressionist painting, with dramatic timbral shifts taking place across unexpected and subtle turns. Reed is not one of those near-silent mysterious droners, either; he gives you a lot to listen to, a lot to digest, and as well as thinking big, he also believes in making it loud. For full appreciation of these solid and very very continuous electronic drones, turn up amplifier loud and prepare to float in a colourful and intense atmosphere that has no end in sight. At least three titles give us a clue to the Rick Reed aesthetic: ‘Mesmerism’ is the effect he intends to have on your psyche, lulling you into a trance with his throbbing tones; ‘In a hazy field of gray and green’ is the precise visual analogue we need to understand the contours of this near-shapeless music, and through naming colours he suggests its rich tonal effects (unlike some droners, Reed does not neglect the root note); and ‘Celestial Mudpie’ indicates the more spiritual claims to his music, promising a heavenly experience to the listener, while at the same time admitting it’s not so grandiose, and he might not be much more than a kid in a sandbox making mudpies. I should stress that “muddiness” is not one of his characteristics though, and this heavy sound has been so well realised, recorded and pressed that when spun it passes on the complete desired punch, groove for groove, in highly vivid manner. Reed did the cover paintings too. The label is still puzzled why Rick Reed is not better known as a composer, and it’s true he does have enough droney capacity here to outlast any of his English counterparts – e.g. Colin Potter, Nurse With Wound, Mirror – who continue to receive many plaudits.

Expecting To Fly

A truly uncategorisable item is Come Ho Imparato A Volare (CORVO RECORDS CORE 002) by the Italian artiste Ezramo. This is evocative, lyrical art, created by a very gifted miniaturist. In just six short tracks we hear a bewildering variety of musical and sound-art techniques, all in the service of Ezramo’s peculiar minimal-poetry lyrics; she sings, plays piano, zither, harp and bells, and also collages field recordings. She also produced the drawings and texts for the whole sleeve. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that this gifted woman is primarily a gallery artist, who assisted at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and that this LP has its origins in an exhibition of the same name which was shown in 2009. In the two years following her Stuttgart success, she developed this music which I suppose (not having seen the exhibition) might be an aural rendition or re-casting of the same themes. She is interested in insects and larvae, as is Irene Moon but in a quite different way, and she intends to explore the idea of “transformation”. All the album’s titles refer to this concept, either obliquely or directly, and if you think the image of being wrapped in a cocoon is going to depict a comforting interpretation of human existence, quite the opposite. It’s fairly clear that the entire experience of “How I Learned To Fly” is sad, painful, uncertain, and even racked with torment. Despite moments of respite implied by the romantic piano fugues, the core of the work is quite insistent on these raw emotions, many of which are clearly very hard to express. I welcome this degree of honesty and truth in art, which is very rare. The printed text inside just sings to us about the painful primacy of existence, and our responsibility as human beings: “Wake up!! It’s not a dream…this is your resurrection, your gothic metallic electronical freakin pathetical southern bloody blooming resurrection”. It’s also evident that the gifted Ezramo, whose real name is Alessandra Eramo, knows exactly what effect / meaning / substance she is aiming for with each note she creates; not a single wasted moment across the entire LP, which is compact and accurate as a jet of ice cold water between the eyes. I also welcome this sort of discipline and economy in art. As to what it sounds like, besides the piano music episodes, there are two or three abstract tracks of intense hissing sounds which deliver all the tension and fear implied above; there are overdubbed vocals chanting absurdist la-la tunes in a stark manner; and an opening track that is an expressive metallic rattling episode, highly reminiscent of Ashley Paul’s music. The LP ends with a collage of sound effects and field recordings that seems to depict a dramatic and near-nightmarish Cinderella story – footsteps running, voices muttering, something going badly wrong at a concert with choral music and brass music. 300 hand-numbered copies of the “trade” edition, and 50 art edition copies which were inlaid with original drawings by the artist. Released in March 2012, this is one of the most beautiful records (aurally and visually) I have received this year.


Refracted Light

True Mirror Microfiche / Double AA Side (D.S. Al Coda #2) is the vinyl viand of the evening. Pressed in red vinyl it be. It’s on a label called D.S. Al Coda. We may have several CDs received from this label as well. As yet, I don’t fully trust the vibe of what they are doing somehow. There is a bit too much text, context and meta-text for everything. This release is credited to Dexter Sinister though it is far from clear what this means. Alex Waterman and Dan Fox seem to be credited as principal instigators. The A side I liked. There’s music composed by Alex Waterman. Waterman is a significant composer associated with the Plus Minus Ensemble in Europe and the Either/Or Ensemble in New York; and he’s worked with Robert Ashley. Perhaps it’s a document of a performance which includes some music and some on-stage antics that involve footsteps, dimming lights, maybe a screen show of some sort, and a brief lecture. The music is beautiful at times, in its halting way. A trumpet played by Peter Evans, a violin by Hrabba Attladottir, and some turntable effects by Marina Rosenfeld. Gentle phonograph rumblings more likely. The music may have been scored or directed in some way to be as simple as possible. Basic patterns of notes just keep repeating. It’s quite soothing but also extremely enigmatic. It may be minimal but there are rough edges, overlapping vectors, patterns that don’t quite match up when you think they should. Nearly exact opposite of the usual control-freak perfection minimalist music. Another thing I like is that the ending of the piece is clearly stated, announced, and happens as a very concrete moment. And this may be reflected in the sleeve notes too. Again it’s a layer of meta-text we can probably do without, but I like concrete moments when I can get them. It feels like a document of a thing happening that is in some way beyond one’s reach, a statement of self-evident simplicity that is impossible for the mind to grasp.

The B side is by turns annoying and intriguing. Dan Fox may be the perpetrator. He describes his work as “sound intervention”. Spoken with a very Home Counties accent is a self-important and rather pretentious diatribe, an art history lesson that takes in the Armory Show, Marcel Duchamp, and aspects of popular music too. It somehow draws a line from Duchamp to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Byrne / Eno) and back again, with many cultural stations on the Bakerloo line of the mind. It’s punctuated with radio dial interference effects and snippets from music too. It’s probably very serious in intent. The bits I liked was where the whole wordy business appeared to be folding in on itself in some way. Paragraphs repeated or restated in a different context, or read in a new voice. Quotes within quotes in some way. Playback of an earlier tape which contains the whole phrase or paragraph which was only excerpted previously. The experience is even more confusing if you try to read the printed text as well. It doesn’t quite match. Neither a proper transcript nor a palimpsest. It reminds me in method of The Post Nearly Man by Mark E. Smith, a very odd spoken word record whose cultural importance still doesn’t seem to have been properly appreciated by that many people. You may take issue with the specious art history conclusions drawn by this piece (I know I did), but the form it takes is interesting and innovative, like a lecture or essay illustrated with small sound bites, which tend to pull the train of thought down some odd sidings.

Another offputting part for me is the inner sleeve. It contains enormous wodges of printed text. I cannot be bothered to read them. These texts seem to conceal as much as they reveal. They refer to trivialities as if they were incredibly significant, and make insider references to things / events / places in the career of the creator(s) which we could not be expected to know (or care) about, yet he/she/it treats them as though they were common knowledge, widely appreciated and understood. Or is the whole thing a constructed fiction to add yet another layer of obfuscation? I experience the same exasperation when I read about the finer points of some absurd Fluxus performance or event, which didn’t mean much outside of a circle of five friends in New York. Sorry for incoherence, I could have been more careful in the writing but I feel like only a semi-distracted associative ramble through my half-baked brain will do when attempting to sum up this unusual work.

All-American Weirdness

The Sound Projector Radio Show 10th September 2010

  1. Roger Nusic And The Vague Sunshine Orchestra, ‘Can I Come in and See You’
    From Hello Lovers…, USA RAINFOREST RECORDS RR 010 CD (1993)
  2. Revd Fred Lane and Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs, ‘Fun In The Fundus’
    From From The One That Cut You, SHIMMY DISC EUROPE SDE 8911 LP (1989)
  3. The Shaggs, ‘That Little Sports Car’
    From The Shaggs, USA ROUNDER CD 11547 (1988)
  4. Roky Erickson And The Aliens, ‘Creature With The Atom Brain’ (1980)
    From I Think Of Demons, UK EDSEL RECORDS ED 222 LP (1987)
  5. Davis Redford Triad, ‘Solar Aquarius (Slight Return)’
    From The Mystical Path of the Number Eighty-Six, USA HOLY MOUNTAIN 8655-CD (1997)
  6. Smegma, ‘Fish Story’
    From The Smell Remains The Same, USA ANARCHYMOON RECORDINGS ANOK 18 LP (2007)
  7. Ed Askew, ‘Ask The Unicorn’ (1968)
    From Ask The Unicorn, GERMANY ZYX MUSIC ESP 1092-2 CD
  8. Barnes & Barnes, ‘Cemetary Girls’
    From Voobaha, USA RHINO RECORDS RNLP 013 LP 91980)
  9. Golden Sunrise with Sky Saxon & Ya Ho Wa 13, ‘Voyage’ (1977)
    From Fire, Water, Air is Djinn, Arelich,Pythias, Octavius, Sunflower, HIGHER KEY 006 CD
  10. Revd Fred Lane and Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs, ‘Mystic Tune’
    From From The One That Cut You, op cit.
  11. Alexander “Skip” Spence, ‘Books Of Moses’
  12. Irene Moon, ‘Untitled’
    From Excerpts From Field Station A, USA NO LABEL 10″ LP (1997)
  13. Fredrik’s Cosmic Spaced Out Blues Band and Orchestra, ‘Get it out of your system’ (1976)
    From Beyond The Black Crack, UK PARADIGM DISCS PD 06 CD (1998)
  14. Sun Ra, ‘I Am Strange’
    From USA NORTON RECORDS 45-153 7″ SINGLE (2009)
  15. Dion McGregor, ‘A City So Nice’
    From Dion McGregor Dreams Again, USA TZADIK TZ 7404 CD (1999)
  16. Copernicus, ‘They Own Everything’
    From Deeper, USA NEVERMORE INC. NEVERMORE 208 LP (1987)
  17. The Tinklers, ‘I’m Proud to be a Citizen of the Roman Empire’
    From Casserole, SHIMMY DISC EUROPE SDE 9132 CD (1989)
  18. Daniel Johnston, ‘Despair Came Knocking’
    From Hi How Are You, USA HOMESTEAD RECORDS HMS 117-1 LP (1988)
  19. Pearls Before Swine, ‘Rocket Man’ (1970)
    From The Use of Ashes, USA WATER 112 CD (2003)
  20. Wild Man Fischer, ‘Merry-Go-Round’
    From An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, USA BIZARRE 6332 2 x LP (1968)
  21. Ya Ho Wha 13, ‘Yod He Nau He’ (1974)
    From Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony, HIGHER KEY 001CD

Noctilucent Idioms

From Denmark, Stormhat sends a copy of From The Moat (APPOLLOLAAN RECORDINGS APAR030), a curious solo CDR which has been made from building up layers of field recordings with “primitive instruments”, and producing some very singular sound events through subtle, organic collisions. Sun, sand, sea and windspray are not exactly prominent on these hallucinatory episodes, but they seem to underpin and inform all the strange clonkings, clankings, wooden thuddings and deft tape manipulations that are taking place. I’m always impressed when a creator can master this many layers of unmatched materials, and not end up with a paintbox full of muddy brown goo (or the digital equivalent thereof), a success that our man Peter Bach Nicolaisen achieves here in his quiet and idiosyncratic way. ‘Taking Off On Fragile Wings’ is especially impressive for producing the sort of imaginative and fanciful materials which many stern academics of the tape-recorder method would normally deny themselves. A micro edition of 50 copies, with photography and artwork by Michael Shaw; I wonder if he hand-decorated all the covers? Apparently it’s already sold out!

Canadian project VioSac were last noted here in August 2009 with a rather apocalyptic and bleak pronouncement somewhat in the “dark ambient” mode, but Dawning Luminosity (VATS3) feels quite different. It’s calmer, slower, and extremely minimal, made using a lot of analogue equipment at source (including a Moog Voyager and a Roland Korg), and it aims to express “sadness and resolution”. I haven’t yet got to the resolution part, but it’s certainly quite a poignant listen thus far. I am personally encouraged to see a 16th-century religious painting on the front cover (St John on the isle of Patmos painted by Bramantino), hinting that Graham Stewart may also wish to convey something of the quietness and solitude of the ascetic life, and his printed motto “understand, and you are liberated” comes within a hair of “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). These filtered and looped electronic droney-waves are not unpleasant, and there’s a steady rising and falling slow rhythm shaping the work.

Camera Police (D’AUTRES CORDES RECORDS DAC302) is another great one from Franck Vigroux, the French one-man jazz-rock electronic genius. As you can tell from the title and the cover art which features a single riot policeman with helmet and baton inflated in Photoshop so he looks like a grotesque leaping blimp, this concept CD is highlighting the dangers of the surveillance technology which is one of the blights of the modern age, and Vigroux makes no bones about his very real fears that we’ll all end up under the iron rule of a Police state if things go much further. Track titles take up the theme, alluding to identity cards, truncheons and databases of personal records on ‘Fichier’. One of his more exciting and abrasive records results, with plenty of harsh electronic noises and mutant beats thickening up the textures of these paranoid atmospheres, ultra-fast instrumentals and chattering side-swipes. Musically, Vigroux is proudly carrying on the traditions of Pinhas, Lard Free and Metal Boys, and it’s also great to hear the Situationist spirit of rebellion and political critique expressed with such passion and panache. Garde à vue, gare à toi!

On Music In The Air (DEEP LISTENING DL 43 2010), we have a studio collaboration between famed American Minimalist Pauline Oliveros, with her accordion and her conch, and also performing on something called an “expanded instrument system”. Hard by is Chris Brown, a scholarly fellow who has followed many ethnic influences in his piano work but also busied himself with building modified electronic instruments, a path which has led him to the real-time signal processing he performs here with the aid of computers. While ‘Troposphere’ seems a little over-crowded with discordant and busy sounds competing for air-space, the opening cut ‘Noctilucent Clouds’ is bafflingly beautiful, somehow deflecting all of one’s expectations as we try to listen our way into its nebulous centre. The genius of the performers here seems to be that they have created a gaseous fog out of multiple small gestures and tiny mosaic-like sounds. Very compelling.

Idioms and Idiots (W.M.O/R 35) is the latest item sent to me by Mattin, an event which you should all by know is the equivalent of receiving a bottle of nitro in the mail. I’m not sure yet but it might be another ingenious anti-music statement that manages to be totally innovative and poisonously destructive at the same time. Hereon, Roy Brassier, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Seijiro Murayama and Mattin are doing something which human minds cannot comprehend. It seems to have been recorded live at a festival in Niort in 2008, perhaps working to diagrams (or perhaps not) by Guionnet, and it’s bolstered by a textual mini-essay inside the package which I think explains something of how it came to be. I can’t face digesting that mass of words at the moment, but there seems to be a set of very convincing ideas about keeping normal expectations and conditioned behaviours at bay, in the same radical way that MEV used to do when they were inventing their unique form of improvised noise (ideas and discussions…always a good approach). At least, that’s my understanding of the heading for paragraph 2 “Don’t start improvising for God’s sake”, which in my opinion is very good advice indeed. This is without doubt one of the most perplexing and confusing records I have heard this year, which can only be a good thing; packed with strange sawing noises, inept guitar strums, inexplicable passages of nothing happening, and odd irruptions of screaming metallic shrieks. I hope to revisit in due course and try and figure out what this all means.