Tagged: Canadian

The man with the horn(s)


Philippe Lauzier

A series of solo investigations into various woodwinds with some ‘motorized bells’ (whatever they are) thrown in for good measure, from the Montreal-based improviser and composer. Lauzier works with bass and half-bass clarinet and alto and soprano saxophones; sometimes he amplifies or multitracks the explorations to fill out the sound, but for the most part it’s just him and the horn.

That said, it’s not as austere as you’d expect. ‘Empoigner’’s bass clarinet clicks and squeaks are pretty minimal, true, but the rest of the record is full of life and quirks. ‘Geyser’ is just under four minutes of bubbling and hissing with an almost inaudible whine underscoring, like a giant kettle (or, in fact, a geyser). Meanwhile, ‘Pigment’, is a less liquid, more angular, a whistling, popping piece. Despite its analogue origins, it sounds atonally digital, as if it were generated by the sound card of some primitive computer. ‘Bruine’ – the final track on the album, and the only one not created with a woodwind instrument (it’s those pesky mechanical bells) – is a gorgeous and glistening sheet of sound.

Lauzier provides a succinct yet comprehensive summary on the back of the CD to explain which instrument was used for each piece, and which, if any treatments were applied. So, for, example, it is interesting to know that ‘En-Dessus’’s long, uneasy drone was made by four multi-tracked bass clarinets, and surprising to find ‘Gisement’’s grind and roar is unadulterated bass clarinet.

Listening to this record, I keep feeling I’m eavesdropping on a roomful of instruments after their players have gone home. The tracks are like exhalations, utterances, cries, conversations, the instruments playing themselves. The seesawing wheeze of Interlignes is like an alto saxophone stretching and relaxing after a long day in the orchestra pit. The Evan-Parker-on-holiday-style trilling of ‘Au-Dessus’ is the soprano saxophone’s joyful, bird-like preening. ‘Silhouette’ advances slowly, like a panther picking its way through long grass.

Lauzier has put together an intriguing collection of pieces for this record, which open our ears to the possibilities of his chosen instruments. An engrossing listen.

We Conquered The Mountain Horizontally!


Ratchet Orchestra

In Ken Kesey’s widely-read One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the antagonist – the hatchet faced Nurse Ratched – is depicted as a spider, ‘in the centre of her web (of) wires like a watchful robot… with mechanical insect skill, (knowing) every second which wire runs where and just what current to send up to get what she wants…’. Just one letter (and much sadism) removed from this creation, the Ratchet Orchestra resembles a similarly organised regime.

As exercises in man-management go, this chamber jazz band is an ambitious proposition indeed. Having burgeoned from a handful to some 30 Montreal musicians of the first water over the last decade and a half, the logistical and democratic considerations of distributing them evenly over a mere 9 pieces (most of which hover around the 5-minute mark) fries my mental circuits. But the task is ably executed by leader Nicolas Caloia as he provides a showcase for all but preferential treatment to none. As a result of such exacting exigencies, there’s nary a moment wasted by this muscular unit: from careful canter to clattering cacophony, the only sound phenomenon left unexplored is silence, though you’ll probably look into that one once the CD has ended.

Being a big band jazz unit with an unabashed devotion to Sun Ra (they first celebrated his birthday in 1998), their sound will evoke little surprise: loping woodwinds provide a launchpad for the shriller excesses of the horn section; a soaring string section melts in the warm buzz and burble of a mute trumpet while an electric piano takes the stairs; a spidery, skittering fuzz guitar becomes swiftly serrated from climbing too many grass blades – hacks and slices at everything around it. Walt Disney is invoked and banished. Keeping shy of the minute barrier, a roustabout plays the cup & ball game with the words KICK, MAN & HABIT. Everything roars and fades with finality.

Though the musical motifs of Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and the like are distinctive, this is not to say it’s an exercise in emulation – far from it. That said, if the group’s star-bound curiosity fails to ignite the transcendent inner dimensions of its forbearers, it’s precisely for the reason that it lacks the spiritual discipline: working to a timetable, no one has more than their allotted 5 minutes to shine, both as individuals and team players. The 9 tracks constitute a collection (a very varied one, albeit), rather than a narrative. Thus, the Ratchet Orchestra resolves itself as an exercise in short-term showmanship, in which respect it fulfils its mandate admirably. Appreciate this detail and you’ll walk away the winner.



Archer Heights

Split for the Coast

The eleventh release on the Spectrum Spools label is Soft Coast by No UFO’s, which is the work of Konrad Jandavs from Vancouver. Once again John Elliott rescues an obscure piece of music from a small-run cassette label origins, and reissues it on luxury vinyl. I like a good deal of what Mr Jandavs is doing here with his synths, beatboxes, sequencers and filters, especially those cuts which maintain a good solid beat to support the layers of droniness. In some ways it’d be nice to hear him try out the long-form La Dusseldorf thing and see what part of the melodic backwoods his Winnebago takes him, but there’s also a lot to be said for his generally economical approach here, curbing any tendencies towards wallowing in self-indulgent filtered ecstasy. No UFO’s also has an uncluttered and fresh approach to the construction of each piece, such that we’re not wading through layers of overdubbed fug; there’s a simplicity and directness which appeals, even if the melodic figures are not especially strong or original. From December 2011, and likely to grow on us with time.

Dead By Dawn

Now here’s a lively and spicy mixed-up morgeroon from Anders Hana, who’s a Norwegian loopoid from Stavanger associated with such fine acts as MoHa!, Noxagt and Ultralyd. Also Blodsprut, Circulasione Totale Orchestra, Clifford Torus, Crimetime Orchestra, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten Quintet, Jaga Jazzist, Morthana, and Pokemachine. Matter of fact if there’s any far-out underground music going on in Stavanger it’s fairly likely that Hana will be involved in some way, either organising the venue where it happens or tearing the tickets on the door with a surly grunt directed at all incoming punters. On the single-sided vinyl object Dead Clubbing (DRID MACHINE RECORDS DMR2), he plays all the instruments including guitar, bass and drums, adding demented saxophone noise and groany synth passages, thus performing as his own one-man stoner-rock heavy-metal beat-jazz free-noise experimental-electronics combo. When you’re in the mood for something rich, thick and zesty, Hana is the man who’ll spread hot sauce over your French fries using a trowel for the purpose. Aye, nothing less than high volume and full-intensity performances will satisfy his creative urges on this salvo of grapeshot, and primary colours are the only oil paints he’ll deign to scrape with his nine-inch palette knife. What’s not to like? Well, only the slightly clod-hoppering and clumpy dynamic of the whole LP gives it a slightly awkward feel in places, like a Sherman tank stuck in first gear or a 30-foot giant with impaired motor functions, but that’s all part of the unkempt charm of Mr “no hairbrush for me thanks” Hana. The six dense pieces are generally short, obsessively repetitive and extremely – erm – direct. The label also operates as a fine-art screenprinting joint in Stavanger, and the actual artefact (I only have a promo CD) has visuals printed directly onto the vinyl and onto the PVC sleeve. 300 copies only of this drool-worthy red pancake.

Free Fall

Deeply impressed by Airfields (MAZAGRAN mz005), a new composition by Cypriot genius Yannis Kyriakides which we’ve had in the pouch since December. We noted his double-CD set Antichamber in TSP19 and I think it was around then we started to find a way into this dense work with its blending of acoustic chamber music with electronic sounds and strange effects, whereas previously it had seemed a bit daunting and unapproachable. This Airfields piece, a 12-part composition played by musikFabrik, an ensemble of classical players, with live electronics by the composer, really hits home – a very interesting take on spectral music, all players producing uncanny tones and unfamiliar sounds from their carefully-woven shrouds of woodwinds, strings, piano and percussion. In his notes, Kyriakides tells the story of how the piece came to be, and it’s a tale that involves a composition for the Siren Orchestra (who derive ideas from the futurist Luigi Russolo and the scientific theorist Heimholtz), and another composition for the Seattle Chamber Players. Since 2008, Kyriakides has been developing his own form of unusual graphic scores, working with photographs taken by satellites which he manages to recast into sonic information. As that technique improved, he found ways to render parts of these graphic scores by hand, translating the contours of these aerial views into scores which musicians could read. I like the idea that the musicians playing this unconventional sheet music are “put into a metaphorical orbit”, and it’s no doubt this methodology which accounts for the unusual, dizzying sensations of Airfields – sometimes we feel we are indeed falling through the sky in a semi-controlled way, taking a reverse parachute dive into another dimension. It’s entirely subjective, but I think this compelling and strangely melancholic music would make a perfect accompaniment while viewing Le Drapeau Noir, a 1937 painting by René Magritte. Further ghostly timbres arise in this, the third version of the evolving concept, through his placement of the brass section on the balcony of the performing space, to assist with the natural echo of the other musicians on the stage (a radical rearrangement of orchestral convention of which I’m sure Stockhausen would’ve approved). A live recording made in Amsterdam, the disc is issued with a booklet of full colour photographs.


Water Dragons

We received a bundle of five items from the & Records label of Montreal which arrived here 20 January 2012. They all come in foldout silkscreen covers designed by Fabrizio Gilardino. Here are two of them. On Pink Saliva (&11), the trio of Pink Saliva perform 12 instrumentals live in the studio using a combination of trumpet, percussion, a bass guitar and a laptop, plus microphones for occasional wailing feedback effects and a lap-steel guitar. I was encouraged by the presence of Alexandre St-Onge on this one, as he made an intriguing “sleepytime” documentary record in 1999 called Une Mâchoire Et Deux Trous while wearing his “sound artist” beret. I enjoyed that one, but this record I find less compelling. The performances are mostly a vehicle for Ellwood Epps to play rather pointless raspberry-blowing effects through his trumpet, while the other two musicians provide listless backdrops of chuntery noise. I would welcome a bit more excitement or danger in the playing, but it feels very predictable – in spite of the obvious commitment to free-form playing. Things feel random, but not much fun; there is something self-important and solemn about the overall tone of these fellows which I mistrust.

The record La Formule XYZ (&14) fares much better with me, with its stern no-nonsense discipline that at times feels as strong as iron. It was made by the trio XYZ, comprising Martin Tétreault, Pierre-Yves Martel and Philippe Lauzier, all Montreal players to a man. I see they played before in 2008 on a CD called Disparation De L’Usine Éphémere, using not-dissimilar instrumentation but joined by the acoustic guitarist Kim Myhr. What we got here is the winning mixture of Lauzier’s woodwinds (bass clarinet and soprano sax) with live electronics – be it the feedback-static hum of Martel or the more complex set-up of Tétreault, which involves magnetic pickups, a mixing unit of some sort, and something called the Tétronic which is probably a device of his own making. Unlike the above record which hops about as though all the players have pants full of fleas, this disk just sits there and groans out monotonous and unnatural tones like a bad-tempered old turtle who missed his evening meal. No concessions made by the three brooding magicians here to variations in tempo, register, or pitch, and XYZ soon succeeds in wearing down your resistance. Even the very track titles refuse to acknowledge the listener’s humanity, alienating us with their alphabet soup of letters which resemble algebraic formulae. If these balmy summer days lead you to a hankering for some intensive Nakamura-styled feedback laser surgery but you’d also like to back it up a notch in the direction of Anthony Braxton or Jean-Luc Guionnet, then this is your next purchase. Succumb freely to these splendid close-knit wafers of electro-acoustic intensity, that’s my advice.

Another generous label is Unfathomless of Brussels, who sent us a bundle of five CDs in January 2012. To expose to the world more artistic field recordings – “phonographies”, as they would have it – is the plan of this imprint, and among their keywords are intangibles such as ‘spirit’, ‘memories’, ‘aura’, ‘resonances’, and ‘interaction’. All the work they release must attach itself to specific locations in the world, and Lignes D’Erre & Randons (U08) does not stray from that edict. In this collaborative work between James McDougall and Hiroki Sasajima, the named sites are the Akigawa Valley and some limestone caves in Otake from the Japanese contingent, while Mr McDougall elects to capture sound events from the D’Aguilar mountain range which is somewhere to the north-west of Brisbane. The Australian half of the act provides grid references for this locale, in the tradition of Chris Watson. There’s a confusing sleeve note on the back cover which is almost intelligible, and suggests that the pair never left home or met up but created the music by “an exchange of recordings”, perhaps doing the mutual reprocessing thing which has been popular for some time now. I have no idea what they mean by the “sensitive issue of not occupying the same token sites”, but it’s clear from the sounds they make that their boundless sensitivity (to the needs of the planet, to the ecology, to human rights) is not in any doubt. As to the record, it’s not a bad example of this genre, but neither does it represent a huge advance in the area with its endlessly grey, rumbling tones. Indeed it’s puzzling how they manage to make the wild terrains in question appear so featureless and boring.

Further abundance from the Attenuation Circuit label in Augsburg, whose bundle of four items reached us on 16 January 2012. I pulled out the Raumpunkte (ACC 1002) CDR in its long DVD case to be greeted by a beautiful set of droning musical utterances, half music and half process. The duo of Gerhard Zander and Gerald Fiebig did this at an art centre in Augsburg, intent mostly on exploring the acoustics of this enormous space – it was a converted factory, and hopefully yielded up the sort of echoey resonances which cause paroxysms of delight for all followers of Alvin Lucier. While the improvised music that emerges is rich and full, it seems our two German friends were playing their instruments (guitars, kalimba, samplers, and something called a Buddha Machine) as quietly as they possibly could, letting the natural echo of the room do all the work in terms of providing volume and massive scale. Loops, drones, and gentle pluckings characterise the musical portions of the show, but the conceptual intention is to plot the space of the room using the Buddha Machines 1 which were situated at strategic points, providing what was I suppose the architectural blueprint for the musical performances. Hence the term Raumpunkte, quite literally “points in a room”. The disc gives us the full 32-minute show, preceded by a number of short rehearsal workouts; all equally enchanting and mysterious in their rather eerie, muffled and blended sound.

  1. The Buddha Machine turns out to be a simple loop-playing device first invented in 2005 by two Chinese electronic musicians.

Information Desk Closed

American composer Alvin Curran never ceases to astound me with his accomplishments…some people would have been contented with just being a member of a seminal improvising group in the 1960s (MEV), but in recent years he’s continued to create strong and unusual works, such as the very distinctive Maritime Rites, a set of radio compositions that has done for lighthouses and foghorns what Ligeti did for metronomes. Now here’s a chance to revisit four of Curran’s 1970s compositions, on Solo Works: The ’70s (NEW WORLD RECORDS 80713-2), a release to be muchly welcomed given the relative rarity of the original records. Granted, Songs and Views from the Magnetic Garden is one of those subtle, breathy and percussive works that you gotta be in the right frame of mind to dig, but skip ahead to the third disc of this 3-CD box set to glom a piece of Canti Illuminati, a 1977 vocal work on which he wails his minimal phrases over simple piano arpeggios to generate meditative impressions no less holy than the music of the great Sufi acolyte himself, Terry Riley. There’s more raga-influenced piano and voice music on The Works (from 1976), whose second part has some terrific pointilliste electronic effects leaking out from Curran’s Serge synth set-up. Also here is Light Flowers / Dark Flowers from 1974. The original LP covers are reproduced in the booklet, which as usual for this label has an abundance of printed notes, info, discursions, explanations, and photographs dating from this fecund and oft-overlooked decade. A unique collection of vocals, gamelan, horn music, synth electronics, field recordings, and more.

MEV once shared an LP with AMM on the Mainstream label in 1968. Collectors of this rare LP sometimes swap stories about how the sides were mispressed and gave some unsuspecting listeners quite the wrong impression of the music of these respective founders of group improvisation. This is by way of introducing Cornelius Cardew Works 1960-70 (+3DB 012), which is a set of six pieces of 20th century chamber music by this unclassifiable English maverick, who at one stage of his career was an enthused apologist for all that was avant-garde and cutting-edge in music composition. Played here by John Tilbury, the AMM pianist who is also acknowledged as a supremo interpreter of Morton Feldman; Michael Duch on the double bass; and the Welsh harpist, Rhodri Davies. An inspired choice of personnel for this trio, a real dream team; and the selection of music is likewise ingenious. True, the famous ‘Treatise’ is excerpted here, but so are less familiar works such as the somewhat untypical ‘Unintended Piano Music’ (by Duch’s account, this one stands alone among Cardew’s works), and ‘Autumn 60′ which is an early piece of indeterminism from a time when John Cage was the name in the mouths of all the international cognoscenti. Improvising whizz Duch (also a member of Lemur, among other things) is drawn to the selections on this album as they represent a time when Cardew was moving away from his Cage/Stockhausen influences and entering the orbit of AMM and free improvisation. Not an “eventful” record this, but the quiet acoustic passages, played at all times with the utmost precision and deliberation, exert a delicate magnetic force.

Whole essays have been written, or will be written, on that grey area between improvised music and those fields of indeterminism which Cage didn’t so much set in motion like hares over the hill as point them out to everyone as being under our noses all along, before he resumed counting the grains of turmeric in his spice rack with a knowing smirk. Exhibit A in the folios of such essayists is usually the Stockhausen non-scored experiments released as the box set From The Seven Days. None of this is necessarily connected to Subtle Lip Can (DRIP AUDIO DA00646), but it is a groovy record of some of the scrapiest and full-bodied noise-drone improv to have leaped onto our table like some gigantic cicada. Isaiah Ceccarelli, Bernard Falaise and Joshua Zubot use strings, guitar, percussion and piano on these urgent and impolite eruptions of creakiness and crankoid utterances, passing on the impression at all times that the house is falling down, or is about to; I can see the cracks forming across the ceiling as I listen. Impressive to learn that this is the debut record from these three Canadians (at least, in this group incarnation), which came about after one successful grind-fest in Montreal that has bonded them together for keeps. My nights should be so exciting. Nice tuft of excited wiry hair on the cover there too.

Green Desert (Z6 RECORDS Z6999333) is a crackling dose of assured and enjoyable electronic music from Dutch composer Huib Emmer, a man whose forearms are as greasy with the analogue swathes as surely as if he were a car mechanic immersed all day in the synthi-pit. 11 studio pieces produced by Lukas Simonis and recorded in Rotterdam, and Emmer sets about his work with a strong determination to invent, reinvent, and polish each blackened surface as he passes by, like a very conscientious minimal sculptor. Noise, melody, samples, beats, abstractions; all is ladled thickly into the Emmer barrels like good rich treacle. I can cheerfully recommend this record to you if you enjoy the music of Cluster, Peter Rehberg, Kraftwerk, the Radiophonic Workshop, or (fellow Dutch composer) Tom Dissevelt. Emmer is a 1970s graduate of the Hague music school and this fine disc, kindly sent to me by the man himself, was released in November 2010.