Tagged: bass

Crono Croons



At the risk of making myself unpopular, I’m going to posit an old chestnut: classically trained musicians trying to “do” experimental music? Do they always have the tools necessary for the job? Are the tools they think they need the right ones? Now that it is suddenly okay to mention John Cage’s name in classical circles, should you? Is raw ability, great technique and a big dollop of ego enough? Discuss.

FUWAH is essentially a competent yet unremarkable double bass and vocal duo, Maddalena Ghezzi & Luca Pissavini. I’m all in favour of new combinations of divergent and contradictory genres and styles. Techno Doom Metal Cocktail Jazz is one I’d certainly love to hear. Embedded styles should be exploded. That is not to say even the cocktail jazz genre can’t be exploded. Here and there, this is what FUWAH appear to be trying to do, which in itself is commendable. Luca Pissavini plays it straight throughout. There’s no real experimentation, extended technique, pyrotechnics or attempt to break new ground. Simply a worrisome looseness and careless reference to established tropes. It made me think back to the UK’s experimental drone music explosion of ten or so years ago. I’m not saying that was all bad but I am saying there was a lot of it. And there’s a lot of improvising musicians about these days. A lot of very good ones. If you happen to be a fan of Dominic Lash or Klaus Janek or Guillaume Viltard’s playing (to name but three top-flight improvising double-bassists), beware – there’s not much to surprise or even entertain you here. For her part, Maddalena Ghezzi makes a lot of babbling vocalese noises seemingly just for the hell of it; I’m sorry, but for me this is not even as cutting edge as Cleo Laine going “boobedy-boodedy-boo” on BBC Pebble Mill At One in 1976. A more successful strategy might be to try to make the human voice sound unlike the human voice, as diverse proponents such as Diamanda Galas, Phil Minton and Jaap Blonk attest.

Track one, “Facets”, features alarming use of the minor pentatonic scale, or “The Blues Scale”, famous from a million hirsute teenagers in every guitar shop near you the world over. Not a great start for me. Hardly cutting edge. The only musicians I’m aware of who have used the “The Blues Scale” in new and interesting ways recently are Bill Orcutt or Tetuzi Akiyama and he has to risk RSI in his strumming arm to do it. This album, or rather Ghezzi in particular, is blessed/cursed with a rich seam of unmodulated vocal with the saccharine timbre of a singer in the afore-mentioned cocktail jazz style. Although she is not afraid of trying out new forms. Bizarrely, the third track, “Crono”, features what sounds like an ill-advised attempt at Tuvan throat singing. On “Sopravvissuto”, Ghezzi sounds more sinister – read also: interesting – briefly, reminding me vaguely of Madame P or PJ Harvey at her most dark and experimental. Disappointingly, “Malachia”, the fifth track, sounds like a nursery full of toddlers let loose in the music room at South London’s Hornimann Museum. My four year-old has made better recordings than this at home by himself. Seriously. But then, I am biased in his favour. Track seven, “Traveller”, attempts some word association in English with limited success.

I hate to be dismissive, but I’m being honest – I struggled with this disc overall. Although this disc may find favour with those with little experience of improvised music or those with cloth ears, or if you like your avant garde jazz with less emphasis on the “avant”, this might be for you. Everyone loves a chocolate digestive but this is more of a stale custard cream from under the sofa if you’re asking me.

Lord Tang’s Haunted House of Dub


Lord Tang
ALARM AV002 LP (2013)

Why does everything sound so ‘hauntological’ these days? Take ‘Fog’ – the opening to ‘Hello’ – in which wibbly-wobbly hills of dubby bass are spooked by a warbling whine, fuzzed-up and visited by vintage movie samples that speak of ‘fog’ (though a tad plosively on the ‘g’, leaving me to wonder if I just heard the f-word). It sets the ghostly tone for what’s to come, and though not an unwelcome tone by any means – possibly a little closer to the faux-naiveté of the much-missed Plone than the now well-ensconced Ghost Box stable – the preponderance of such music over the last few years renders increasingly familiar that which would be ‘eldritch’.

To be fair, the designs of Lord Tang – one Dominic Cramp, of Gigante Sound, Evangelista, Vulcanus 68 (etc.) fame – are on whimsical interpretations of his cherished ‘Golden Age’ dubs, and the tracks comprise a diverse set of variations on this variable. Matters quickly mutate out of hand – cobwebbed and lead-footed one minute; agitated by an obsessive organ dirge the next, suggesting that deep troubles weigh on the mind of Count Dracula. Ever longing to change the mood, the closer the needle moves towards the spindle, the more whacked-out things become; the darkness delved more deeply, but with an ever-present playfulness that keeps Lord Tang clear of Demdike Stare’s obsidian murk.

Side B is b-side version time, in a manner of speaking. It’s more muted and melancholic in manner, as side A’s rolling bass is skeletoned; foregrounding and freeing delayed and delicate instrumentation (including melodica, organ, dulcimer etc.) from the supporting role, while lending an emotive (if remote) air at times, like King Tubby hazily remembered on Vincent Gallo’s ‘When’. There’s a great sense of space throughout, as though the audio fog of these nocturnal wanderings were in fact slightly sedative. And – just as judicious in duration as it is sparing in ingredients – the ethereal melodies each dissolve into the invisible without ceremony or warning, like the passing of a dream.

It’s a charming record, quite unassuming, and at just 200 available copies, its low profile is more than just an audible feature. Kelly Porter’s sleeve artwork is a bit of a tie-breaker: displaying a vivid range of autumnal tones that enrich the abstracted topographies of a hidden season. Rendered in innocent, ‘I could do that’ pen-and-ink lines, these graphics are as ambiguous as the music, looming like benevolent but unnamed entities from the hidden world of Arthur Machen. One for twilit Sunday evenings.

Lord Tang



Stealth in the Forest

Sam Pettigrew is a pro-active musician, performer, organiser and instigator in Sydney. Earlier this month we noted an item on his new micro label It’ll Be Awesome, and now we have a copy of his solo release Domestic Smear (AVANT WHATEVER 008). Extremely minimal deep-vibro music produced using his main instrument, the double bass, propped up and distributed by means of additional vibration units, pieces of metal and plastic, and an iPod. Three tracks of intense non-musical humming across 40 minutes are the result. Pettigrew might be mistaken for one of the Toshimaru Nakamura (with whom he has performed) school of imitators, but he is not quite as purely process-driven, allowing assorted minimal interventions to vary the tones, textures and pitches of his deeply-resonating burrs and buzzes. These events may happen and unfold quite slowly, but I suppose it’s all in the name of aiding concentration. Pettigrew is also using this release as an opportunity to ask searching questions about “stereotypical roles”, including gender issues, in the relationships between performer and audience. From 3 April 2012.

Just yesterday we were listening to a dark ambient record by Lull and Beta Cloud themed on the subject of insomnia. Today we have a vaguely related item on the same label from Sleep Research Facility, who is Kevin Doherty of Glasgow, and since about 2001 has been producing ambient drone records which are indeed intended to send the listener into the arms of Morpheus. He achieves this through assembling multiple layers of quiet and unobtrusive sound, deliberately avoiding anything that might resemble a pulsebeat or a sound that could disturb the Reckless Sleeper. Stealth (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR159CD) however has a rather sinister subtext, as it’s themed around the creator’s investigations of an American stealth bomber, using field recordings fetched from an aircraft hangar at a US Air Force base in the UK. These source recordings were provided for the project by Si_COMM, who is Barry Nichols of ECM323, and was interviewed in issue #6 of TSP. So far these themes take us back to a time in the mid-1990s when Disinformation, Scanner, John Duncan, S.E.T.I. and others were researching the potential of the military-industrial complex as a sound-production source, and allowing a certain Cold War paranoia to creep into their dark ambient drones. This Stealth record may broadly fit into such a profile, and although we can occasionally hear the crackle of radio static and secret messages buried deep in its stratified layers, the aesthetic keynote is mostly one of mysterious and inexplicable beauty. Where Disinformation liked to present us with aural data in the raw form, Sleep Research Facility’s technique is one of burnishing and reworking in the studio, mixing, editing, sampling and resampling, and extending certain elements by severe time-stretching. For those of you who would like to hear the original source material, Si-COMM’s unadulterated tapes are provided as a second disc in this release. Given the current climate of apprehension about domestic surveillance drones, this release is certainly timely. From 23 April 2012.

La Vie Dans Les Bois (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1201) is a document of a musical performance recorded in the open air near a castle in France. The players were Pascal Bathus and Emmanuel Petit with their electric guitars, Lionel Marchetti credited with “electricity”, and Yôko Higashi who performed a butoh dance during their music performance. Higashi has appeared on many records with Lionel Marchetti, but I didn’t know she was also an exponent of this post-war avant-garde Japanese dance artform which involves very slow movements and is, according to many of its practitioners, very elusive when it comes to definitions and meanings. Readers who enjoy improvised music may recall that Derek Bailey released a 1996 album Music and Dance, where he performed his guitar improvisations alongside Min Tanaka, a very prominent butoh dancer. Very coincidentally, Tanaka is the developer of a form of butoh he calls “Body Weather”, of which Sam Pettigrew above is also a subscriber. This isn’t to imply any relations between this CD and Pettigrew’s music, but La Vie Dans Les Bois is a compellingly mysterious piece of delicate interplay where for 50% of the time the guitars are barely recognisable as such, and all the performers only make an utterance when the occasion demands it. The recording also blends nicely with the distant sound of birdsong in the air. As with the Derek Bailey record, you may not be able to “hear” the sound of the dancer participating on the record, but Higashi’s work is still perceptible somehow, as it were appearing in the interstices of the music, shaping its contours. The creators clearly felt moved enough to include a landscape painting by Dominique Lechec as part of the package, and a few lines from a poem. From 24 April 2012.

Meetings with Remarkable Fish

Fear and Loading

On this day to agitate your molecules in time with the slow crawl of the universe, tune in to Yannick Franck‘s Memorabilia (SILKEN TOFU STX.15). Fine construction of ambient music in the noire-mode from this Belgian sound artist who wallows freely in the inexplicable ambiguities of life. For him, all mysteries lie beneath a solid crust like that surrounding the globe, and his layered and burnished grumbly rumblesome textures have been fashioned from something fairly earthy and elemental, like deep silty mud from the heart of a peat bog. I particularly like the pessimistic tenor of ‘Urban Disease’ which, with a few clipped guitar notes plangently ringing inside a bowl of droney murk, effectively sets the seal of doom on every modern conurbation from Croydon to Djakarta. I also like Track 5, which may be called ‘The Answer’ (the tracklisting as printed is confusing); you just can’t beat the effect of muffled and mumbling voices piled up in absurd disorder and whispering dark secrets that invite the prying ear to make sense of the jumble of phonemes, at the same time disentangling the dream-state from reality. And ‘Self Loading Defeat’ wins the prize for one of the most acutely depressing titles of 2011, a perfect encapsulation of the futility of the endeavours of a man trapped into inertia by his own self-hate; I like the idea that this modern affliction is now so efficient, it loads itself into your system like a computer virus. Regarded as a sleep-inducer in some quarters, this record is one of those that can’t fail to induce rich and menacing nightmares during the fitful half-sleep of which it is the grim harbinger. Triple gatefold digipak, decorated by Franck with suitably vague texture images.

Philosophy of the World

Got a double CD set by Francisco López, the Spanish composer who used to be notorious for his near-silent works and his long duration – time was when a single composition by th’ Lopester might occupy an entire CD, and half of it you couldn’t hear anyway. Untitled [2009] (BASKARU KARU:20) shows he has progressed well beyond that point, and it’s a generous helping of sonic incident packed into a series of relatively short executions, some of them 3-5 minutes long. While some are probably composed out of single or multiple field recordings from very specific locations, others make use of electro-acoustic transformations to enhance the listening experience. Others, like the 20-minute piece on CD1, even emerge as something like music with actual tones, notes, and chords hidden within these strange ostinatos, which may turn out to be derivations from a sheet-metal factory in Omsk or the result of concealing a small microphone near the Ohlanga lagoon in Africa. As ever, López carefully snips off all the conceptual labels and insists that, as listeners, we surrender our preconceived baggage at the check-in desk before we can get on board an EasyLópe flight to FranciscoVille. He enacts this strategy through his continued use of ‘Untitled’ (with a number) to identify each of his works, making titles that aren’t really titles at all. It works to the extent that our puzzled brains are constantly asking questions about the wonderful source material that greets our delighted lugs. But it’s not just a case of allowing free-association; the release is intended as an expression of López’s highly developed ideas about ecology and philosophy, a world view built from his aural observations and recorded documents brought back from his extensive international travels. It’s certainly a different and more imaginative picture of the contemporary world that what you get from opening a daily newspaper or clicking on any given news website, with its dreary facts about political infighting and financial disasters.

Bassman to the Max

The English label Bo’Weavil Recordings sent us a generous batch of items in October 2011. Here is one of them, a welcome return to the public arena by Simon H. Fell, the gifted English composer, improviser, musician and all-round good guy who we interviewed in an early issue of TSP magazine. Frank & Max (WEAVIL43CD) is subtitled Bass solos 2001-2011, and it showcases Fell rattling out some impressive improvisations on his chosen instrument, the upright double bass. One of them is a five-string bass made for him by his wife. I don’t have a clear picture of this unique instrument, but I hope this customised device allows him to extend his grasp of sub-bass frequencies and enter the lower registers in ways that conventional instruments do not (I seem to remember at sixth form hearing about a customised grand piano that added an extra octave of keys at the lower end, with a hinged lid that could be shut to accommodate the conventional pianist). Each piece is dedicated to people who have been important to Fell (such as his first music teacher) but also to notable bass players from the history of jazz and improv, such as Barry Guy (who made some exceptional records with Evan Parker), Barre Phillips, Harry Miller (the hard-working man from Ogun), and my personal favourite Charles Mingus, the great enigma of American jazz who I’ve been listening to and collecting since 1978 and yet continue to find surprises in his catalogue. Indeed if you ever care to make the effort to delve into Fell’s back catalogue and hear some of his large-scale and complex big band compositions, you’d see why in my mind I liken Fell to Mingus. The recordings for this release were made by Fell and his long-time friend collaborator, the English improviser Graham Halliwell, and they certainly knew where to stick their microphones: the album has a room-vibrating presence that’ll shake off your lethargic outer layer as a snake sloughs its skin. Once denuded, you’ll be back in touch with your true inner core and can accomplish great things. Only the naff cover art disappoints me; front cover looks like a big orange crossbow, and doesn’t really communicate much.

Go Fish

Fell’s album might be called “skeletal” in more ways than one, and one might be tempted to read its complex lines as blueprints for compositions yet to be built. For more superb improvisation of quite a different sort, you must hear Erb / Baker / Zerang (VETO-RECORDS EXCHANGE 001), an album which documents the studio meeting in June 2011 of Swiss saxophonist Christoph Erb with two Chicago players, the drummer Michael Zerang, and Jim Baker, who contributes piano and analogue synth. For starters, the combination of woodwinds with live electronics has always been a personal preference with this listener, and I find Baker’s elegant and refined synth utterances compliment Erb’s blowful bell-ringing blasts quite superbly, while Zerang rings in with sharp punctuation and paragraph breaks which also add to the thoughtful prose of the Swiss tenorman. It’s a warm and unhurried session, not a cold or inhuman tone uttered across 46 minutes, nor do the players scuttle around the room as though their knee-length socks were filled with termites. Erb has a sumptuous tone on his sax, and possesses many useful techniques for production of abstract music, such as sucking and gulping effects and a way of “bending” his notes so they seem to actively curve around the room like Puck putting a girdle around the earth. John Abbey did the recording and the mixing, and to his credit he keeps each instrument crisply separated on the tape, allowing us to savour the lovely acoustic blends executed by the musicians; all the performances really shine forth. Issued in a nice shaped card package with a silkscreen design on the cover, and the fish-themed imagery will allow me to file it next to the Incus LP Hook Drift and Shuffle, the concept improv LP about deep sea fishing whose cover art featured many fish hooks.