Tagged: choral

Woven

Very happy to discover the work of Egidija Medekšaitė, a Lithuanian modernist composer whose work is quite new to me, but this may be her first solo record and she has only been represented previously on a few interesting compilations, including Loop Rituals: Lithuanian Postminimalism, a record which also included our favourite conceptualist Arturas Bumšteinas, and which was attached as a cover-mount to an issue of the Polish Glissando magazine in 2009. She was also included on two volumes of New Music From Lithuania, a promotional series from this same label.

The record Textile (MUSIC INFORMATION CENTRE LITHUANIA CD092) is absolutely beautiful. Spectral, droning, microtonal music rendered with orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, and soloists. Whichever way it’s scored, every piece here is a compelling listen, gradually drawing the listener into a fully-realised world (or an entire cosmos) of sound. Even at around ten-twelve minutes duration, every piece is too short for me…a box set next time would be an even more satisfying proposition. I never wanted the music to end.

Medekšaitė claims inspiration from two main sources. One of them is to do with non-Western music, i.e. classical Indian music and traditional Hindustani music. Much the same can be said for Terry Riley and La Monte Young, who fell under the influence of the classical Hindustani singer Pandit Pran Nath. However, even their sublime music can seem quite assertive and over-stated compared with the delicate and subtle tones of Medekšait? here. Whereas the American school experimented with something called Just Intonation, I can feel more “microtonality” in Medekšaitė’s nebulous clusters of sounds, and more than once I bethought me of the great Ligeti – particularly on the gorgeous ‘Âkâsha’, whose slow-moving microtonal glories create the effect of a revelation in the mind, unfolding in real time. The eerie choral piece ‘Textile 2’, sung by the Vilnius City Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika, is also somewhat Ligeti-esque and has affinities with his famous ‘Requiem’ music, but again Medekšaitė’s music has a subtlety that seems to evade male composers who are trying to make a serious point. Throughout this album I feel a composer making a far more compassionate attempt to reveal profound truths through the power of faith and love and the spirit, rather than through intellectual arguments.

The second source of Medekšaitė’s influence is “textile patterns”. Another composer who studied Persian carpets was Morton Feldman, who apparently used the patterns as the structural basis for some of his compositions. Our Lithuanian lady has a technique all of her own which she’s been working on since 2005. It involves recasting grid information from a textile pattern onto a set of musical rules, so that the very geometry of the pattern itself can “determine sound parameters like pitch, duration, dynamics or timbre”. The process is not exclusively geometric, as the compositions are later enriched with other compositional methods, but this seems to be the starting point. I think we can hear the evidence of the technique most clearly on ‘Pratiksha’, played by the Ensemble Apartment House – it’s about the most “busy” piece on the album, and does indeed feel like it’s being woven on a magic loom before our very ears, using the ether itself as its fabric. The piece has an underlying pattern which borders on being obsessive (in a good way), and even a simple key change causes a surprisingly dramatic effect. ‘Sandhi Prakash’ may also have a textile pattern concealed in its lush, metallic oddness, but it’s harder to discern in these gaseous billows of cloud-like music.

We could also mention ‘Oscillum’, a solo performance for cello played by Anton Lukoszevieze, one of the most understated drones on the album and resembling a kind of low-key, pared-down form of sitar music. Or ‘Textile 1’, scored for two pianos and feeling uncharacteristically romantic in the context of the other works, which are mysterious, opaque, and close-lipped. On the other hand, the record ends on a very romantic note, with the gorgeous ‘Scintilla’ played by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; if her plan was to improve on Alice Coltrane’s devotional reworkings of Eastern classical forms into awe-inspiring cosmic forms, then on this account Medekšaitė’s work is a complete success.

Issued in a plain looking grey foldout cover with booklet including detailed explanatory notes by Linas Paulauskis and Povilas Vaitkevicius, this release is an untrammelled delight to which I give unequivocal recommendation. From 31st January 2017.

Prayer Wheels On Fire

Phurpa
Chöd
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 127-2 2 x CD (2016)

From mystics such as Blavatksy, David-Neel and Roerich 1 to one time rituallists like Current 93, O Yuki Conjugate, 23 Skidoo (Culling era) and the thighbone-trumpet-wielding phase of Psychic T.V., it seems that the remote mountain kingdom of Tibet has been a source of fascination for a considerable amount of time. Phurpa, who’ve been engaged in exploring ritual sonorities since the mid-nineties, can now be added to this rather disparate list of worthies. They’re a Russian collective founded by group conductor Alexey Tegin who’s flanked by Edward Utukin, Alexey Naumkin and Dmitry Globa, dedicating themselves to interpreting the authentic ceremonial music(s) of “Bon”: Tibet’s oldest Buddhist discipline.

Aside from the usual recording/mastering/design credits, Chöd plays its cards very close to its chest. Its enigmatic/austere sleeve art opens out to reveal blocks of Tibetan script, using a stark (now possibly overused) black gloss ink on coal black cardstock. There’s no mention of what possible arcane instrumentation might form the building blocks of these two pieces, coming in at a challenging 46.00 and 44.14 mins respectively. However, ultra-primitive drum thuddery and the occasional agitated bleat of massed thighbone trumpets (a.k.a. “the Kangling”) do come and go, but a major percentage of total body weight is swallowed up by the quartet’s slowly building beast-like utterances. It’s easy to think we’re hearing the sounds of a degenerate, cave-dwelling race, grunting their disapproval after discovering that evolution has declined to pay them a courtesy call.

Using a tantric overtone technique (similar I’d guess to that used on the Melodii Tuva c.d. on Dust to Digital/2007), the collective lung power employed here is pretty formidable and overwhelming and on face value, the Phurpa concept could be thought of as an outing in avant black metal accapella; standing before you, theatrics-free and as nature intended.

  1. Nicholas Roerich played a large part in one of twentieth century Europe’s major culture shocks; namely the debut performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, for which he was the librettist and costumier.

Till We Have Faces

The Norwegian Ensemble Song Circus are a seven-piece of vocalists, led by their artistic director Liv Runesdatter. Their Anatomy Of Sound project appears to be an ongoing thing for the years 2014-2018, and involves working with a number of modern composers…they’re trying to get into “the very microlevels of sound anatomy”, as they would say, which involves working away at microtones with their voices, exploring certain acoustic spaces, and the timbral qualities of certain objects. On the particular release we have before us (2L RECORDS 2L-117-SABD), they perform a 12-part suite called Landscape With Figures, composed by Ruben Sverre Gjertsen, a contemporary Norwegian composer. There’s a longer 70-minute version which involves and orchestra and live electronics, but this is the 44-minute version for vocalists with live electronics, a work whose full realisation involves a complicated set-up in the performance arena, where the vocalists and other musicians are positioned in the audience, and careful microphone placement is needed along with a large loudspeaker for acousmatic playback. Clearly this “Landscape” is very much about “spatial awareness” in a big way, which may be one reason why it appeals to the members of Song Circus. This may also account for why the record has been released on a Blu-Ray disc and an SACD on this package. The former probably allows 5.0 surround-sound playback for those who have the right set-up at home (I don’t, sadly), and permits a truly immersive experience. Even so, the sound on the normal CD is pristine and sharp to an extremely high degree. Gjertsen has studied the work Trevor Wishart and Brian Ferneyhough, and absorbed their ideas about “systems of notation and composition”.

Buried somewhere at the heart of these whispering voices and atonal vocal acrobatics, there may be some textual material derived from the work of James Joyce. It’s hard to make it out though, and it may also be mixed up with other texts from Demian Vitanza, the Norwegian novelist. While there’s a nice set of anagrams using the words “Finnegans Wake” printed in the booklet, I’m not sure is this is anything more than an addendum. James Joyce’s words and ideas buy kamagra online with paypal have been used in avant-garde music for some time now, most famously perhaps by Luciano Berio for his Ommagio A Joyce, composed in the late 1950s, and there’s also John Cage’s Roaratorio from 1979. I’d like to say Landscape With Figures is a worthy addition to the canon, but it doesn’t really succeed when measured up against either of those two predecessors, or against the work of Joyce itself. However, representing Joyce may not be the central aim of Gjertsen, and the cumulative effect of these mysterious fragmented voice murmurs and splintered electronic sound is quite pleasing. However, it also feels oddly old-fashioned; this could easily have been released in the mid-1960s on the Music Of Our Time series.

The second work on the disc is Persefone, composed by Ole-Henrik Moe, another Norwegian modernist who is also a classically trained violinist. This work calls for five female voices, who also lay “an orchestra of wine glasses” – the so-called “glass harmonica” that can produce pleasing high-pitched continual sounds. The Persephone of classical mythology was, among other things, the queen of the Underworld – a notion that is most likely to have preoccupied the mind of Moe when he created this slow micro-tonal work. Landscape With Figures sounds positively bustling with activity compared with this largely static set of haunting, abstract murmurs and howls. The voice of Persephone is a many-layered beast, like that of a thousand owls and sad lonely wolves.

Throughout both pieces, Song Circus perform flawlessly. In fact their performances are almost inhuman in their clinical perfection, and if we add the super-human clarity of these recordings and the very alien, abstract nature of the music, I sometimes wonder what there is left for us to enjoy. Somehow there is a certain pleasure to be found in the coldness of this work, and the remorseless way the music is executed, which may not be anything like what Liv Runesdatter and her crew intend. I think the faceless woman on the front cover is very telling, a visual index of the near-anonymous music inside. From 8th August 2016.

At The Least

Guardian Weekend Remix

Here is the latest set from Martin Archer’s vocal group Juxtavoices, whose distinctive work has reached us before on Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield. This particular piece Guardian Weekend Remix (DISCUS 54CD/DVD) is presented here in three versions, one of them on a DVD. It seems to have its origins in a piece of visual artwork created by Michael Szpakowski, itself comprised of or making use of printed words; the choir used this as their “score”, along with some prose instructions from Archer. There are organisational rules about forming into colour-coded trios, and rules governing repetitions and duration. In both method and execution, there’s a slightly “retro” feel to Guardian Weekend Remix, and it can’t help but remind one of Luciano Berio or Stockhausen. Tom Phillips, the English painter, has also composed similar works translating his Humument paintings, themselves derived from printed texts in a book; Irma, released on Eno’s Obscure label in 1978, is one such opera.

Where the previous release was a showcase for a number of different approaches and styles which the choir are capable of, this one concentrates on Sound Poetry. I went scuttling off to check my book Text-Sound Texts edited by Richard Kostelanetz in 1980; the flap copy summarises sound poetry as “language that coheres in terms of sound rather than syntax or semantics; it is composed to be heard.” One creator spoke of “phonetic poems…we totally renounce the language that journalism has abused and corrupted. We must return to the innermost alchemy of the word, to keep poetry for its last and holiest refuge”. I mention that this since the reference to journalism seems apposite, in the context of the Guardian Weekend. On the other hand, I may be assuming quite wrongly that Szpakowski created his artwork from cut-up texts derived from that newspaper. 1 From what I can glean, most of Szpakowski’s works in the series are visual collages rather than text cut-ups; the one that appears as the cover art here is simply playing with anagrams.

There’s a lot of repetition structured into the work. This leads to tedium quite quickly and could be one reason why I find Guardian Weekend Remix such a difficult listen. But I also give short shrift to the over-dramatic manner in which some of the singers comport themselves – stressed regional accents and underlined phrases, that make them sound like ham actors belting out their lines in summer season. It’s as if they’re straining themselves to bring meaning where there is none, to compensate for the lack of content in Szpakowski’s scrambled gibberish. However, the repetition is deliberate, and Archer writes that he likes the idea of “locked loops of language” and “the meaningless ravings of a cast of characters”. He dreams that the choir are spirit voices attempting to communicate a message of vital importance to the living, and they can’t. Well and good, but I’m not sure if this insight is intended as a slight on The Guardian itself (any attack on that hideous middle-class organ would be welcome), or a more general observation on the limitations of language itself. I like to support Archer’s work, but found this release very unsatisfactory. From 14 January 2016.

  1. A gallery of images from the Remix series can be seen at Flickr.

The Compleat Enchanter

jan2016170

Got another double CD by Martin Archer and Engine Room Favourites still lurking in the Spring 2015 bags at time of writing, but for today here’s a single CD called Echoic Enchantment (DISCUS 52CD). Where a good deal of Archer’s releases have showcased his skills / interests in jazz, big bands, vocal groups and electronic music, this one deserves to be called a serious composition, and has many viable correspondences with Stockhausen’s oeuvre. If there’s any doubt that Martin Archer is one of the more important and generally overlooked talents working in contemporary music in the UK, this release should be provided as Exhibit A at the annual courtroom trials that decide these things. If there were indeed such a legal agency, there’s a waiting list of cultural crimes that prevents progress on serious matters such as this.

I’d describe Echoic Enchantment as a wispy and sprightly percussion-heavy mood piece – slow to start, but once underway it dances with a grace which few 20th-century compositions can match, mainly because they’re all too often laden down with ponderous ideas from the self-important composer, then further hindered by a conductor who thinks he understands the work (but doesn’t), and an orchestra / choir who only care about getting paid. And then they get badly recorded too. Archer is fortunate enough to only work with friends and trusted colleagues, a rapport and relationship he’s spent many years of hard (and joyous) toil building up. When it comes to production of unusual scores like this, it’s paid off handsomely. Four percussionists, four voices (among them Julie Archer, who’s appeared on many recent Archer albums); three string players, a prepared piano, and the bass of old friend Simon H. Fell. A chamber ensemble of talented players, on top of which Archer adds his clarinet, organ, glockenspiel and live electronics. A strong, wiry sound, but also capable of supplying the grace and skill needed for this buy kamagra nz work, which has some quicksilver-fast changes and runs that you’d normally require from jazz musicians.

The work is based around Bo Meson’s poetry. He’s not only a poet, but a “metaphysician”, who leads his own improvising ensemble named after himself, plus a performance poetry group called O.D.D. He likes to flaunt convention with his contradictory ideas. In the press release he describes the “rain” theme that underpins Echoic Enchantment, and although it’s got something to do with an art installation project called The Rain Room created by Random International, Meson quickly loses me with his abstruse sentence construction and super-intellectual ideas. No matter, because Archer has been inspired. Archer wanted to build a music arrangement for Meson’s work, but it grew into something bigger than he originally thought it would, and while Meson’s text is present and correct, it’s only one aspect of this large-scale instrumental work, which is a mix of droning atonal strings, pattering percussion and overlapping voices, which plays for one hour continuously and is broken up into index points just for convenience.

Archer describes the structure of the composition in the sleeve notes; it’s something about a tight integration of percussion and voice, allowing him to add instrumental parts in what he calls a “palindromic” form; further elaborations about the construction follow. I am persuaded that these unconventional approaches to classical composition would have pleased Stockhausen no end; Archer’s primary thought is about practical, physical placement of the instruments and the musicians, before it comes to scoring. He’s said that the idea was “move away from jazz or rock genres to make a work whose format is contemporary classical,” with this release, but adds that he has produced and mastered it “as if it were a rock album”. It’s an astonishing and unusual triumph; even the cover is good, and harks back to 2008’s In Stereo Gravity to some degree. From 18th August 2015.

A Higher Tree

inviscirc

Unusual quasi-ethnic drones and songs from Invisible Circle on their self-titled debut record (GOLD BOLUS RECORDINGS GBR012)…the extremely rich drones are performed mostly by Dave Kadden, whose vision this is, using many layers of synthesiser and his oboe, aided occasionally by guest drummers and guitarists, including the wonderful Colin Langenus from USAISAMONSTER. There’s also a ten-strong vocal choir projecting the wordless vocal refrains. The extensively-travelled Kadden, who has on occasion performed in MGMT and Anthony Braxton’s Alumni Orchestra, is shooting for a vague “ancient civilisation” vibe, with the cover art depicting dragons superimposed over a map of a mountainous territory, and titles such as ‘Dead Song’ and ‘Firebird’ are clearly meant to evoke universal human longings. On the other hand, the slightly wacky back cover art is more akin to something the satirical pop-artist Kenny Scharf would have come up with, and it debunks the hidden signs and symbols of the universe by recasting them as adolescent cartoon icons. In all, this album is not exactly Popol Vuh, but Kadden’s intentions are good, even when the music makes dangerous lapses into nearby New Age territory. Arrived 6th May 2015.

Transfigured Time

Stefan-Wesolowski-Completa

Very impressed by Kompleta (ICI D’AILLEURS / MIND TRAVELS MT04), a composition of liturgical music and song by the Polish composer Stefan Wesołowski. Inside a framework of stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello) playing continuous drones in a minor key, he and singer Maja Siemińska perform psalm-like responsories in a fittingly solemn manner. All the old-school gloom and Catholic guilt you could wish for; all it needs is a censer burning to complete the devotional effect. Wesolowski has also done similar things assisting the electro-acoustic composer Michał Jacaszek, for instance 2009’s Pentral recorded in various churches in Gdańsk, for which Stefan did the vocal arrangements and performed on the record too. Amazingly, he composed Kompleta when he was only 21. He may have some way to go if he wants to beat Penderecki, but this is a moving and sincere work. From April 2015.

Ultrasonic Bathing Apparatus

Another grand piece of sombre, rich drone music from Italian latterday Industrial creator Simon Balestrazzi. His Ultrasonic Bathing Apparatus (SINCOPE SIN031) proposes a deep dive into cold psychological waters, and with its titles such as ‘First Immersion’ and ‘Second Immersion’ even supplies its own metaphorical interpretation, such that we can’t help hearing this as “music for the diving chamber”. He does it with a combination of field recordings, tapes, acoustic instruments and analogue electronic devices, passing all the recorded results over the loom of processing equipment which he keeps in NeuroHabitat – a zone which I presume is his secret underground mixing lair. The claustrophobic sense of deep pressure and airlessness he manages to achieve at times is impressive. A nice departure from the usual spirit world / occult themed records we usually hear from this fellow. From 24 April 2015.

earnear

earnear are a Portuguese trio producing superb free acoustic jazz-improv materials on their self-titled album released by a label in Quebec (TOUR DE BRAS TDB9012cd). The viola of João Camões is to the fore most of the time, and a truly demonic squeely line he produces, one that’s so razor-sharp you could use it to peel your own skin like a potato. But the piano of Rodrigo Pinheiro introduces tones of uncertainty with his minimalistic, mixed chords that resemble the bones of a beached albatross, while underpinning the two is the modest cello work of Miguel Mira, who murmurs dark oaths with a surly frown. While ‘Imprint’ and ‘Theoretical Morning’ are quite lively, they are also salty and somewhat pessimistic in tone, as though a Leroy Jenkins LP woke up after a night out with Cecil Taylor and is now passing through a hangover the size of Passaic. Exploratory tunes such as ‘Dream Theory’ and ‘Time Leak’ are not only more introverted and quieter in tone, but they also pass on terrible feelings of metaphysical doubt, even through their very titles. Dry, precise, and unsentimental acoustic music. A fine recording. From April 2015.

She Kept Birds

JUXTA105

We noted Martin Archer’s Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere in November, a large-scale epic release whereon the 25-voice choir Juxtavoices were occasionally spotlighted. Now Juxtavoices have their own album, called Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield (DISCUS 44CD), and there’s nine examples of their unique craft to be had. Their work shades from atonal choral singing to spoken word recits by way of Sound Poetry, and back again. The Sheffield poet Alan Halsey (owner of the West House Books imprint, and married to Geraldine Monk, also a Juxtavoices member) has, along with Archer, stamped his identity on the album – he’s co-director of the choir, and has composer credit for about half of the cuts; the rest of the choir are a rough mix of creators, including visual artists, poets, or just enthused amateurs 1 ; only a few of the choir members could be deemed “musicians” as such, some of them from an improvising background. If you were expecting the sort of free-improv babble-speech that Maggie Nicols is known for, perhaps look elsewhere as this record barely resembles much I’ve heard from the world of UK improvised music. Come to that, it’s almost entirely free from genre. The only precedent I can think of might be the music of Tom Philips, the famous UK painter who occasionally performed in free-form semi-directed choirs, sometimes interpreting his own texts from ‘A Humument’ 2. You might want to tune to the 14-minute ‘Ha Nu’ to hear some Ligeti-like microtones, but such moments are but fleeting in the wider arena of collective murmurings that this track comprises. The lovely piece ‘Are Your Children Safe in the Sea?’ also has links to another avant-garde genre, that of concrete poetry / sound poetry, by dint of Bob Cobbing’s original text, which is “freely” interpreted by the hushed and breathy choir so that they sound like caricatures of concerned parents wondering about the whereabouts of their children at the seaside. An eerie spooker, whichever way you cut it.

We’ve also got ‘Nine Entries from the Encyclopedia of Natural Sexual Relations’, based on a text by Christine Kennedy, and one which most resembles a forgotten 20th-century avant-garde opera which Pierre Boulez has never conducted. Plenty of overlapping voices and a delicious mix of sing-speak for your ears, and the structure of the direction – allowing for soloists and duets – has really paid off. Hard to discern any remotely sexual content in the piece, but I expect the point has been to bury the text in its own interpretation. With the numerical chapter structure which is emphasized here, I’m reminded of the films Peter Greenaway used to make, with embedded number or alphabet sequences. Further cross-cultural content to be found in ‘Three Iterations of a Poem by Samuel Beckett’, where Halsey’s somewhat downhearted tones seem most apt for the dismal futility of Beckett’s text. Another highlight for me personally is ‘She Kept Birds’, derived from a text by Geraldine Monk and with music composed by Martin Archer and Bo Meson. Next to ‘Ha Nu’, this mysterious and beautiful piece is about the most conventionally “musical” piece on offer, and is filled with dramatic shifts of tone and mood, high notes and low notes swooping about the canvas with an uninhibited joy. It’s easy for this sort of endeavour to result in very mannered and stiff music; not here.

  1. I use this term to designate “one who loves music”, mindful of the Latin root of the word. My use here is in no way intended to suggest that the singers in Juxtavoices are unprofessional or lack ability.
  2. See for the example the 1975 LP Words And Music, Edition Hansjörg Mayer ?F 65.344; although the LP Irma (Obscure OBS 9) from 1978 might be slightly easier to find.

Penderecki

The Sound Projector Radio Show
Good Friday 2014

  1. ‘Kyrie’
    From Polish Requiem, POLSKIE NAGRANIA SX 2319 LP (1987)
  2. ‘De Natura Sonoris I’ (1966)
    From The Song of Songs, EMI EMD 5529 LP (1976)
  3. ‘Polymorphia’ (1961)
    From Dies Irae, PHILIPS 839 701 LY LP
  4. ‘Irmos’ (1970)
    From Utrenja, RCA RED SEAL SB 6857 LP (1972)
  5. Zmartwychwstanie Panskie extracts (1970)
    From Jutrznia / Utrenja, POLSKIE NAGRANIA SX 889-890 2 x LP
  6. Extracts from The Manuscript found in Saragossa (1965), OBUH V24 LP (2005)
  7. ‘Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima’ (1960)
    From The Song of Songs, op cit.
  8. Extracts from The Devils of Loudon (1969), PHILIPS 6700 042.2 LP
  9. ‘Lux Aeterna’ (ach)
  10. ‘Dies Irae’ (1967)
    From Dies Irae, op cit.