Tagged: classical

Crazy Like a Fox

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Alessandro Bosetti has scaled new heights of achievement with his Renard project, a fine art commission which has also found expression as an LP record (FRAC FRANCHE-COMTÉ FRACFC 002). He’s continuing to work in the “area between spoken language and music”, and while there is a fair amount of spoken word on this immaculately scored piece of chamber music, it’s actually more complicated than that…after one listen I’m as exhausted as I might be after hearing a 5 LP box set, since the work is so dense and compacted. If Bosetti was a film-maker, he’d combine all the best elements of 1960s Jean-Luc Godard and 1980s Peter Greenaway. Godard for the words (and inter-textual games), Greenaway for the precision of composition.

The idea for Renard derives from an ethnographic film seen by Bosetti. An African woman divines the future by casting objects on a table and reading them, learning hidden truths from their configuration; it’s not unlike the I Ching with its casting of coins or sticks 1. Bosetti devised his own updated version of same with help of Annette Stahmer, and assembled his own set of objects (perhaps similar to the array seen on the front cover), then experimented making a few castings with invited participants. They brought their questions to the table; they were instructed how to read to interpret the objects. Fruitful and emotional exchanges resulted 2; apparently, all of this was the basis for how Bosetti composed Renard. I’d like to think he found a way to recast the raw material of human speech into notated form (as Harry Partch did, on occasion), but it’s probably even more complicated than that…at least the clarinet parts, brilliantly played by Laurent Bruttin from Lausanne, seem to match the patterns of excitable human speech during some passages.

Though the album opens with something resembling a melancholic ballad or chanson (all the words are in French, by the way) and closes with a perplexing conversation between two disembodied voices, the most part of Renard is this fascinating and detailed chamber music, performed by Bruttin’s clarinets, the classical guitar of Seth Josel – a much-in-demand New York player who lives in Berlin – and Bosetti’s speaking voice, sometimes underpinned by his unobtrusive electronic device, an oscillator which murmurs up and down the scale to punctuate certain phrases. The clarity of the recording enables these ultra-precise pieces to shine like cut diamonds. Sonically, we’re invited to find affinities with the chamber music of Anton Webern, and the 1960s jazz music of Jimmy Giuffre, at a time when Jim Hall was the guitarist in his Trio. It’s not only highly distilled – I’d imagine hours of work from the “divining table” sessions were required just to generate two minutes of music – but also thoroughly composed and notated, so that every micro-second of this elaborate music could be replayed as needed. I like the way it’s described in the press notes as “hand made hyper-realism”…suggesting that Bosetti is making “life size casts” in sound. Of course, it moves past at such a brisk pace that it’s hard for the non-French listener to keep up, but fortunately the entire “libretto”, if we can call it that, is printed in the gatefold cover.

Speaking of the cover image, when I first saw it I thought it represented a parlour memory game which I used to play in my youth. You’d arrange some two dozen objects on a tray, let the guests view it for two minutes, then take it out of sight and remove one object. The point of the game was to identify the missing object. I often feel that Bosetti’s work is governed by game-play rules of some sort, but they’re much more challenging, and he plays for keeps. It remains to mention the title. It refers to another form of African divination, that of the Dogon people. They would trace secret diagrams in the sand, then read the tracks of the white fox the next morning. At the same time, it’s not hard to see Bosetti himself as a Reynard the Fox figure, sly and cunning as his namesake from European folklore.

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  1. I need hardly tell you which American 20th century composer is famously associated with this.
  2. Perhaps we could consider this a fine art variation on how Pink Floyd created the spoken-word sections for Dark Side Of The Moon.

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.

In Search of the Miraculous

Corneliu Dan Georgescu
Et Vidi Caelum Novum
POLAND BÔLT RECORDS BR 1013 / NIKLAS RECORDS n/007 CD (2012)

A range of mysterious states are explored and expressed – largely through subtle timbre modulations – across the three pieces on this CD, all of which (I’m glad to say) exist aloof of the dry planes of the ‘standardised academic avant-garde’ of the 20th Century, which ordinarily leave laymen listeners like me frozen. But while the evocation of ‘minimalism’ (of ‘Romanian’ orientation albeit) might lead one to postulate an artistic debt to one of the ‘big names’ of that genre, or else a tasteful (but unoriginal) time spent droning in cruise control mode, the term here explicates a distinctive structural simplicity that has as its point of contemplation the most essential ‘forms’ on which known phenomena are founded. The endless permutations of quadrilateral grids of Piet Mondrian – previously a dedicatee of Georgescu’s – provides one visual and spiritual analogue. The inverted commas on either side of the phrase ‘maximalistic minimalism’ envelope a nomenclature that accommodates a repetition of simple motifs expressed across a wide, often explosive dynamic range; a set of meditatively conjured variations that find easy residence in Georgescu’s snapshots of the ‘eternal flow’, suggesting a narrative development occurring not horizontally, but vertically.

Simultaneously confirming and refuting this hyperbolic notion is ‘Horizontals (Symphony No 2)’, in which saw-toothed intervals are repeated, accented and silenced (but never effaced) by brass booms, metallic clangs and Partch-esque percussive meandering. It proceeds in swells and sighs, punctuated periodically by capricious explosions and dissipations of activity, which somehow preserve a cohesive and strangely emotive whole. Conceptually, La Monte Young provides the earliest progenitor of this ‘stop time’ work, and a sense of endlessness that exceeds the piece’s 22-minute lifespan. That said, my feeble familiarity with such composition yields references like Philip Glass, whose sparse phrasing is reduced further still and imbued with the kind of atonal mannerisms lifted by Messrs Zorn and Zappa from their respective pantheons. In addition, the moments of majesty seem kindred to those found in Giacinto Scelsi’s archetypal dramas such as ‘Hurqualia’; their magnificence is mirrored here at least.

The composer justifies the titular linearity as a technical (and temporal) necessity, given the inevitability of duration as a factor in the listening experience, while reminding us that ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ – in the conventional sense at least – constitute false concepts in music that seeks to express ‘an idea or feeling of eternity’, wherein an immanent, archetypal mythology – ‘something transcendental, beyond sounds, instruments, forms and structures’ – implies a ‘longing’ for ‘the eternal and endless’. Difficult is it to assess the veracity of this description, but I find any scepticism silenced as the piece gains momentum, and shifting tectonics reveal subterranean magma, as if permitting expression to an otherwise ineffable reality: gestures become more forceful; the atmosphere increasingly monumental, but clearly governed as if by universal laws.

‘In Perpetuum (String Quartet No 10)’ displays a more fragile and tentative persona: strings agitated, sometimes plucked and teased to create a perpetual undulation visited by all forms of ‘eye floater’ micro-events happening upon the surrounding space. The resulting tension between perpetual and ephemeral dynamics produces a deceptively subdued field of activity in which little of note seems to happen, in spite of impressions otherwise. A more dramatic specimen, ‘Et Vidi Caelum Novum (Skizze Für Ein Fresko 3)’ (‘Then I saw a New Heaven – Sketch for a Fresco’) thuds open with Scelsian grandeur: booming drums, sleigh bells and a fugue-like choral furore threatens to overwhelm the listener with its religious fervour. The schizophrenia implied by the title’s mixture of Latin and German is evident throughout, as subterranean murmurs and hammered piano herald the imminence of some apocalyptic message to be revealed to the unsuspecting mind. The awesomeness of this eternal moment of (intellectual) unknowing is implied in the range of dynamic states exhibited throughout.

Though I feel eminently unqualified to pass informed verdict on this remarkable trio of compositions, the best recommendation I can offer is that it intrigues and excites me the way so much modern composition does not, and that intuitively I sense truth in the potentially hyperbolic explanations offered for the composer’s work. With every listen I learn less, not more about what I am listening to. So, what higher recommendation could I offer?

The Gates Of Delirium

Last heard from Wet Ink Ensemble on the release Machine Language (CARRIER 016). While that item was a showcase for Sam Pluta’s intense compositions, on Relay (CARRIER RECORDS CARRIER 017) we hear new compositions by most of the Ensemble members (now calling themselves simply Wet Ink), and guests. I guess this proves once again they don’t do things by halves in NYC. Not only are these players highly gifted musicians (scarily so), but they can compose their own material too. This release is like getting six records for the price of one, although despite the title I don’t think there’s any sense in which the separate compositions link together, passing the baton relay-style. Strap yourselves in for a hair-raising ride…

Alex Mincek has a percussion-heavy piece of complexity called ‘Color Form Line’ where piano and mallet-driven instruments set up a fairly dense thicket of musical thorns which have to be negotiated by the soprano vocals of Kate Soper, which she spits out in alarming stabs. Deliciously atonal from the get-go, the fun picks up even more when we get the added free jazz honkamaroons from Mincek himself and his blurtish sax, his phrases echoed by Erin Lesser’s restless flute blasts. This skittery beast advances like a spidery machine with its ingenious jerky movements. Seems the composer is basing it on his reaction to the work of colour field painter Ellsworth Kelly, one of the more challenging of the abstract expressionists; according to Mincek we shouldn’t “separate the experience of color from that of shape / gesture”. Right on! Fans of the more “difficult” Zappa compositions should check this out, and to my mind Mincek is far more successful than Frank at incorporating truly spontaneous jazz-bursts into the equation.

Rick Burkhardt is not an Ensemble member as such, but this accordion-squeezing writer comes to the project from his background in experimental theatre. With ‘Alban’ the plan is to create an “inverted song”. In fact his whole concept of song structure is quite unusual, proposing that a song is a “stream of language”, and that the music “sends ripples through it”. Kate Soper is given an odd text to perform in her recit-style, and the libretto seems, Robert Ashley-style, to have been derived from a phone conversation about a real estate sale, or some other found text. Around the fractured syllables and strange accents, the musicians weave groaning string sounds and unpredictable percussion episodes. Listening to this ultra-tense piece is like making your way through a mile of taut barbed wire fences, with only a nail file to cut through the barriers.

The pianist Eric Wubbels delivers an ambitious suite called ‘Katachi’, divided into six Etudes with an Epigraph. Ambitious, since he demands nothing less than a subversion of reality. His musical ideas are clearly based on a close understanding of what the instruments in the ensemble can actually play, and he refers briefly to a glissando on the auto-tuned violin or an “ornamented melody played in unison”, effortlessly demonstrating his algebra-like comprehension of musical forms. It seems the players are also required to put themselves in a specific body-posture to play their parts; Wubbels calls them “focused contexts”, but he’s aiming at very definite results from these physical exercises 1. All of this is in aid of exploring his ideas about reality. Music is a free space where we can play with reality, is the abiding notion. Does he succeed? All I know is that in 20 minutes the Wet Ink Ensemble play some impossible music, where incredible dynamics, timbres and shifts are executed with apparent ease. This isn’t about showing off (look how many notes I can play), but it is about building a framework to allow us a glimpse of the “deeper realities” of which Wubbels speaks. Staggering. It’s also absolutely fascinating to listen to.

Kate Soper’s chance to shine next, on three texts presented under the collective title ‘Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say’. Using texts penned by Lydia Davis, Soper builds on the Lindsay Anderson model of delving into a written text using a peculiar type of sophisticated song-speech, a method which even allows the inflection of a slightly sarcastic sneer in the tone when needed. And like Anderson, she favours texts which are minimalist riddles (‘Getting To Know Your Body’ comprises just two lines) or comprise penetrating observations about the convoluted mind-games that take place in any given relationship (‘Go Away’, a lengthy bombast which deliberately ties itself in linguistic knots). These modernist vocal performances by Soper are underscored with very low-key instrumental settings, the breathy flute gasping in sympathy with the exasperated narrator on ‘Go Away’ or droning harmoniously on the highly emotional ‘Head, ‘Heart’. Soper proves herself a worthy successor to Cathy Beberian, but she has a lot of pure “soul” too; you’d love to hear her tackle a set of Diana Ross cover versions.

Sam Pluta’s ‘American Tokyo Daydream V’ is, in the context of this record at least, the “crowd pleaser” of the programme. It’s another of his highly energised half-composed, half-improvised pieces, one which showcases his own electronic improvisations as well as those of saxman Mincek, who blurts up a squealy storm across 13 minutes. I love the piano hammering out its insistent, basic riff, in time with the heavy percussion; Pluta himself suggests that the piano playing is quite primitive, but it’s deliberately so. Matter of fact the leaden pace of the rhythm section contrasts superbly with the top-line instruments, all of which are going nuts. “Everything about this work and recording is over-the-top,” gloats Pluta with some glee 2. It’s intended as a meditation on absurdity, freedom, and creativity. Where Eric Wubbels tries to outwit reality with his elaborate chess-game stylings, Pluta decides he will take it on with a sweaty bout of arm-wrestling. An explosive piece, meat and drink for fans of Otomo Yoshihide or John Zorn.

Exhausted yet? There’s still eleven minutes of ‘Anthem’ to listen to, a bespoke composition provided by George Lewis. He was commissioned in 2009 to produce something specifically for the Ensemble, a piece that would involve voice elements and could be performed by a limited number of instruments. Naturally enough, Lewis turned to the writings of a Catholic nun about the language of Shakespeare for inspiration. The breath-taking results are an incredible blend of classical form with purely American vernacular expressions, somehow taking in Broadway musicals as well as free jazz, all delivered in a structure of near-mathematical complexity and performed at 200 miles per hour. Another death-defying feat by The Ensemble.

The press notes describe Wet Ink Ensemble as “pushing the boundaries of new music in New York City”, and for once the hyperbole is something we can all agree with.

  1. I believe Keiji Haino also had ideas about contorting his body to arrive at his very personal guitar style.
  2. Be sure to read our interview with Pluta in TSP#22.

Music for painting

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Florian Wittenburg
sympathetic, (a)symmetric – new music for piano
GERMANY SELF RELEASED NO NUMBER CD (2012)

A clutch of pieces for piano, some incorporating e-bow, with a very fluid dynamic – all killer, no filler – which held my full attention over the course of the entire disc over several listens. The pianists on these recordings are Daan Vandewalle, Nico Huijbregts and Florian Wittenburg himself. I initially took to listening to this disc while painting the spare room and was thus able to hear it in a uniquely concentrated way. Repetitive manual labour enables the mind to flow freely, I always find.

From an appropriate standpoint, all the pieces are very striking, powerful, involving and transporting. They may have roots in pieces for piano by Purcell rather than Schoenberg or Satie, but Wittenburg states a more modern interest in Morton Feldman and his term “crippled symmetry”. I must say I enjoy listening to this disc very much. The e-bow improvisations by Nico Huijbregts work particularly well within the disc’s running order to insert a little sense of air and space – in fact I hope this is how any pianists who may intend to use Wittenburg’s piano pieces in their repertoire utilize these – and are sufficiently short of duration to have the maximum effect. Now that I look more carefully at the sleeve notes, it seems that Wittenburg has credited Nico Huijbregts with the improvisations Three Drones I, II and III (2008). However in the (unusually substantial) press release Wittenburg states he “…started with 3 ebow drones for piano…The drones inspired me to create melodies on top of them…the idea of enriching the melodies through improvisation came to me.”

Wittenburg apparently then asked pianist Huijbregts to take the drones as a starting point from which to diverge and later return to. This is an approach not unusual in contemporary music; some members of the Wandelweiser group of composers, for example, live for this sort of thing. I had imagined integrated graphic notation within the score for these pieces, but Wittenburg puts it somewhat cryptically – “…being still involved with a visual approach to music at that time, I constructed the drones out of what I called ‘symmetric’ and ‘asymmetric’ intervals.” Wittenburg admits an interest in Morton Feldman’s term “crippled symmetry” – and/or Feldman’s actual composition Crippled Symmetry (1983) – but to listen to Three Drones I, II and III (2008), Huijbregts seems to be allowed free rein. It’s certainly a curious device when placed next to the other compositions. But anyway; the result is a set of pretty melodies augmented by the sympathetic long tones generated by the e-bows, which serve to break up the (fairly dense in contrast) bulk of Patterns In A Chromatic Field I-IV (2008-2009) and the pieces performed by Daan Vandewalle; Sol Meets John I and II and Chords In Slow Motion. Huijbregts does some respectful and delicate improvisation around Wittenburg’s melodies as expected and all is right with the world. Three Drones II is perhaps more sombre than I, and III arguably more contemplative.

So far, so academic? I was pleasantly surprised to have a strong emotional response to Chords In Slow Motion (2000) on first and subsequent listens. Wittenburg presents this piece – via his extensive texts in the press release – as a rigorous and complex system of elaboration whose gestation involved several stages of embellishment both additive and subtractive, leading me ultimately to expect to hear a dry, airless and overly scholarly composition. Quite the reverse is true, and I would recommend this very successful early piece and credit too the performer on this recording; Daan Vandewalle, for his reading of the score; as Wittenburg asserts: “…the notation is “free”, leaving space for interpretation by a performer, which affects especially the timing of the notes…” Just what I need to speed along my next DIY task.

Rosenboom’s Beginning

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David Rosenboom
In The Beginning
USA NEW WORLD RECORDS 80735-2 2 x CD (2012)

One abiding concern of renowned American multi-disciplinary musician/composer David Rosenboom‘s work has been the idea that minimalistic starting points can, if rigorously explored, create works of elegant depth and complexity. The conceit is simple enough, in one sense: take simple elements, build and weave layers of same, and by accretion a certain kind of intensity ensues. Artistic success lies equally in the careful handling of material and dedication to the logic of the method itself.

This nicely-presented two disc set showcases key works of this kind, chronologically covering the four-year period 1978 to 1981, and including extensive sleevenotes by fellow composer Chris Brown. Over the course of eight (mostly lengthy) pieces, Rosenboom exposes his system to a wide range of settings and instrumentation as well as varied numbers of personnel – from solos, on synthesiser or piano, through duos and trios, featuring anything from trombone to computer, to larger ensembles comprising orchestral instruments. The roll-call includes long-standing collaborators, Rosenboom’s son, Daniel on trumpet and William Winant on percussion.

Notable is the pointillistic precision of the opening track, ‘In The Beginning I (Electronic)’, which sees Rosenboom on solo Buchla. Fluid hi-fidelity folds of sound, unexpressively, in the best sense of the word, mount and merge into an orchestra-sized arrangement. Despite the mathematical process involved, this is never without beauty, never merely mechanical or metronomic, and seldom purely textural. There is a warmth when one could so easily end up with a form of austere academism. Here, and with the album generally, in fact, the listener can opt to pursue one tiny acorn or swallow the proceedings whole.

The ensemble interplay of pieces such as ‘In the Beginning III (Quintet)’ and ‘In the Beginning V (The Story)’ elaborate further upon this sensibility, by exploiting the multiplicity of possible tones and timbres of brass, woodwind, percussion etc. Rosenboom’s output covers a multitude of outlooks and interests – including somewhat freer music, as exemplified, for instance, in his collaborations with Winant. In the Beginning has a definitive air about it, and is as good an introduction to this particular and important aspect of Rosenboom’s work as any.

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Multi-layered Riddles

Lynch1

Kalle Kalima and K-18
Out To Lynch
FINLAND TUM RECORDS TUMCD 030 (2012)

Inspired by the films of cult US film director, David Lynch, Kalle Kalima and K-18’s second release follows on from their Stanley Kubrick-themed debut.

This is not a score or soundtrack album; rather, Lynch’s films and, more accurately, the characters portrayed simply offer inspiration. The result is a vivid selection of compositions that combine jazz improvisation and soundscapes with hints of modern classical music and avant-garde rock to cover a wide spectrum of sounds and alternating moods. Certainly there’s no mistaking the improvisational element here, but it has been cleverly shaped and combined with composed music to produce twelve tracks; each of which is attributed to a specific character or location from one of Lynch’s films.

Anyone familiar with these films and characters will know that Lynch has created some of the most striking, disturbing and memory-searing images committed to celluloid. You don’t forget seeing Eraserhead or Wild at Heart, or indeed meeting Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth, in a hurry. Even the more linear and ‘conventional’ films, such as The Elephant Man and The Straight Story, have a unique, poetic feel that are unmistakably Lynchian. So how do you go about drawing inspiration from that? The answer is that you produce an album as baffling and incomprehensible as the movies you’re attempting to evoke. Lynch’s films are multi-layered riddles that constantly blur the line between fantasy, reality and nightmare; and to its credit, so is this album.

True Lynch fans will certainly hear how the characters have inspired this album, and each repeat listen highlights how Finnish, Berlin-based composer and guitarist, Kalima, and his musicians have found aural ways to bring them to life. ‘The Elephant Man’ is a collective, soulful improvisation that effectively draws on the character’s solitude and emotional longing; whereas ‘Eraserhead’ uses the quarter-tone accordion and African flute to great effect to portray the surreal horror of America’s industrial wastelands. ‘Frank Booth’ is a dualistic piece that suggests both sides of this pathologically violent yet gentle character; while the 35-second ‘Man From Another Place’ is just, frankly, screaming mad.

Standout track is probably ‘Mulholland Drive’, which is the only one based on a location rather than a character. It is melodic, dreamy and sufficiently psychedelic to have actually featured on the soundtrack to one of Lynch’s most brilliantly incomprehensible films.

While Out to Lynch may not linger in the memory in the same way as the films and characters that inspired it, any piece of work that attempts to interpret and reimagine the unique and often indecipherable world of David Lynch has got to be given credit. For anyone not familiar with the director’s work, this album will also provide an introduction to the seemingly random world of Mr Lynch.

Overall, it has to be said that just as Lynch’s films are not always an easy watch, this album is not always an easy listen. However, just as you suspect there’s a method to the great filmmaker’s madness, so too does this album have a certain way of drawing you into its world and making you want to stick around for a while; if only to see (or hear) what happens next.

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Set Controls for the Heart of the Sonne

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Zeitkratzer
Karlheinz Stockhausen
GERMANY ZEITKRATZER RECORDS zkr 0012 CD (2011)

Zeitkratzer, the ensemble led by Reinhold Freidl, he who resideth inside a piano, if I’m not mistaken, present this sensitive, sedulous and rather special set of interpretations of Stockhausen’s Aus den Sieben Tagen.

Aus den Sieben Tagen is a set of text-based compositions, mostly short sets of instructions which on first glance might seem to leave a lot up to personal interpretation on the part of whichever group of musicians might happen to be playing it. In fact, as Friedl makes abundantly clear in detailed and fascinating sleeve notes animated by a clear passion for the potential inherent in the compositions there are a lot of ideas and plenty of specifics packed into a few words. The notes really are very illuminating and do a service in casting other recordings of the same works in a new light. One thing that comes across, for example, is that however vague or gnomic the texts might seem at a casual glance, understanding Stockhausen’s own compositional roots in serialism, for example, allows you to grasp their inherent concerns. Friedl shows, quoting Stockhausen scholar Robert Worby, how interpreting ‘Nachtmusik’ serially defines how the material the musicians play is defined very clearly and exemplifies the concerns of these pieces with repetition, sequence, cycles and interaction of non-synchronised cycles of sound against each other. That such cycles and their rhythms are tied compositionally to the internal rhythms and processes of the musicians provides concrete instruction and interaction with time and place and leads, if clearly worked through as here, to a focussed musical experience.

Sound-wise the dark, rich sounds of timpani, double-bass, French horn in cumulative conglomerations on velvet black canvas recall Heliocentric Worlds era Sun Ra, a similar wide-screen chamber sound. In pieces such as Verbindung (also known as ‘Liaison’ in other recordings, i.e. ‘Connection’) the basis of the component rhythms in the physical presence of the performers is clear, the shambling, ambulatory pace and growling low-end roars recalling Tibetan Buddhist ritual music. The form and content of the textual instructions works to induce somatic and cosmic responses in the musicians so positions them, or allows them to place themselves in a position, where they can play in a flowing manner, conduits for energy. Stockhausen’s instructions are explicit in this regard with talk of playing universal vibrations and playing with such intensity you become aware of the heat generated by your body. Intentionally or not these are very yogic approaches and techniques. The mystical aspect of Stockhausen I have heard talked about dismissively, not to mention talk of demagogic impulses, but I do not know enough about this to comment. At any rate Zeitkratzer play these pieces with an admirably open spirit and also generate musically an open spirit, thereby making the most convincing sort of case for all involved: rewarding music.

The final piece out of the five selections presented is the longest at just over 17 minutes. Entitled Set Sail for the Sun it is another heliocentric echo. I have read an anecdote that Stockhausen saw the Arkestra – perhaps around 1970 – and alternately recognised a kindred exploratory spirit and was baffled by the Ra man’s dimensional collisions of avant-garde and what Stockhausen heard as cocktail jazz. The piece asks for the merging of single tones into ensemble sound until ‘the whole sound turns to gold / to pure, gently shimmering fire.’ Which sounds pretty good, I would say. The notes for this piece continue, pertinently, to quote Stockhausen: ‘Musical meditation is not sentimentality, but ultra alertness and – in the lightest moments – creative ecstasy.’ This lightness is understood and induced by Zeitkratzer, levitational in the best ecstatic tradition. The piece builds by its own internal logic and intuition to an almost overwhelming crescendo, but the solar focus and insistence on lightness keep the energy lifting up, cancelling gravity with a Sun Ra ‘Next Stop Mars’ / Pharaoh Sanders ‘Sun in Aquarius’ intensity, Friedl echoing Ra or Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano carnage. Solar fire, indeed – an excellent ecstatic tool for musical meditation.

After listening to this release, absorbing the notes and thinking about the music I went and dug out all the Stockhausen records and CDs I have lying about, including other interpretations of the same pieces. Listening to the 1969 Ensemble Vivante recording of Fais Voile Vers Le Soleil / Setz die Segel zur Sonne for which Stockhausen himself was at the mixing desk and effects controls you’re struck how the merging takes an almost entirely obverse form, the pungent plucks and plunks of tone gradually easing out into transparent laminal sheets – shimmering, yes, but arrived at and articulated in a superficially very different way. The contrast is invigorating and stimulating; this release and Friedl and Zeitkratzer’s work and engagement with it provided different perspectives and contributions to ongoing appreciation and understanding of these pieces, and that’s an admirable and enjoyable achievement.

As Friedl quotes Stockhausen as saying: “I do not want a spiritualist session. I want music.” Luckily for us, the music, through inspired composition and passionate interpretation is rewarding and invigorating, rather than an aural cryptic crossword. It is engaged, specific, nuanced, allusive and multi-layered. That’s my shopping-list satisfied, then.

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Minority Report

Slawomir Kupczak‘s Report (BOLT RECORDS BR 1015 / NIKLAS RECORDS n/009) is a superb piece of modernist avant composition from a contemporary Polish composer, who comes to us with an academic background and is also a member of the improvising ensemble Phonos Ek Mechanes. Report is a fascinating and bewildering assemblage blending spoken word with computer music; as soon as you hear the first spoken sentence, your attention is firmly grabbed by the chilling authority of the voice (and its sound). The texts may appear to be documentary clips from a TV show or radio broadcast, but it seems they are all scripted by the writer Pawel Krzaczkowski (the full libretto is printed as an insert, in Polish and English), and recited by two readers, Irmina Babinska and Jacek Paruszynski. These texts alone are worth your entry money; spoken in Polish, but judging by the English translations they are a series of impassioned observations about life, work, and ideas – a tapestry of quasi-diary entries or fractured anecdotes, amounting to a pessimistic and exasperated search for the meaning of life. As the title indicates, all of these stories are “reported” – which is to say they are mostly written in the third person. “What did he say about values?” is the first piece, mounting a series of interrogations which ends with “What did he say about life?”. It’s as though we’re hearing excerpts from an official report written by the great cosmic civil servant in the sky, filing his observations on the life and peregrinations of a Polish Everyman. “All of my life I’ve lived in a game of lies”, is but one example of the world-weary utterances found in the mouth of this contemporary put-upon and somewhat downtrodden character.

Kupczak’s treatment of Krzaczkowski’s texts are where he adds his compositional value on this single 38-minute composition. To put it briefly, distortion is his plan. The readers can barely get a word out before it’s subjected to studio interference – tape loops, overdubs, filters to mangle the syllables, backwards masking, and other layers of precisely-calibrated mayhem intended to place perceptual barriers between us and the content, blocking our understanding, scrambling the data. Yet the meaning continues to burst through the walls at every opportunity; the emotion, in particular that of the male reciter, is enhanced and magnified through these interpolations, his urgent statements increasing in paranoia the further he is pushed into the echo chamber. The female reciter is sometimes transformed into a cold authority figure (a doctor or judge) passing sentence on the listener. Elsewhere, the voice becomes the distant voice of officialdom, some faceless administrator speaking through a telephone, its clipped tones announcing a certain doom. Other voices become a sinister overdubbed murmur of whispers, as of an army of dispirited bureaucrats working steadily in the typing pool. All of these strategies completely reflect and support the tone and spirit of the texts; Report is a modern-day Kafka episode, with strong undercurrents of paranoia, surveillance, and nightmarish images about frustration, the “dead hand” of authority, the impossibility of escape.

The work also includes computer-based music, of course. Taken as a whole, it’s a compelling suite of sinister abstract droning which binds together the texts into a coherent whole, before climaxing with a refreshing melody of a synth-pop tuneage which somehow succeeds in striking a note of total triumph while simultaneously undercutting it with the certain knowledge of imminent defeat. Along the way we hear a fascinating array of intelligent ambient textures – a lonely attenuated drone, a chaotic chatter of renegade machines, the abysmal soothing background hum of a shopping mall, and abstract squiggles that come close to delineating the condition of madness in sound. Kupczak’s compositions for electronic music are refreshingly free from cliché, especially in the sound, and he has found new and subtle ways to give voice to computer music without once leaning on over-familiar pre-sets. Every episode is given its own musical identity in this thought-through work, and there’s not a moment of wasted space.

Report amounts to a moving and impassioned portrait of modern society, with enough layers of conundrum and enigma to repay further returns. It’s a triumphant blend of libretto and music, where the elements are fully integrated into a carefully planned compositional schema. A modern opera for the alienated and disaffected. (28/11/2012)

Slawomir Kupczak
Bolt Records
Niklas Records
Distributed by Monotype Records
Hear excerpt on this TSP podcast

This CD is part of a generous bundle of items on the Polish Bolt Records label received here in November 2012, including a massive 3-CD survey of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio. We have a lot of time for this label so I hope (eventually) to give many of these CDs the attention they deserve.

Other Voices

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With a name that still to me, smacks more of canteens and food processing than the monochrome autopsy/Manson kulcha of their then contemporaries, electro-industrial stalwarts Portion Control return with the Pure Form (OTHER SOUNDS OTHER S3) CD: their umpteenth release of dark-edged pulsation and galvanised throb. Now in their thirty-third year (give or take), the duo’s tenure with imprints such as In Phaze, Illuminated and Dead Man’s Curve yielded a fair to middling cultist response back in the day, which included, if memory serves, a fairly regular mention in Sounds’ “Wild Planet” feature. However, it took a considerable time for outfits like Skinny Puppy, Front 242 et al to give P.C. a tip of the cap as a major influence on their own nefarious doings. Surrounded by a bank of sequencers, drum boxes and sundry other devices, the vocalese comes forth, staccato like, in teeth-bared/snarling tones. Cuts like “Dead Star” are as much as I’d expect after scanning the track titles. I now remember why I always preferred D.A.F. or the Cabs (“Yashar” era)…less four square…less armour plating. Still, the instros do offer up several crumbs of comfort. As a fer instance, “Chosen Seed” with its exotic faux kalimba lines and the weirdly stuttering “Something Fierce” can certainly bear repeated laserings. Over time though, P.C.’s once jarring schematic has been gradually assimilated into the mass media soup and now they stand before us more as a soft and quilted juggernaut. Those fans of left-field techno appear to have shaped this duo’s destiny and not, unfortunately, the other way round.

Komposition

Also on the Other Sounds label, you might be interested in the Klangstudie And Komposition (OTHER SOUNDS OTHER S2) comp that snuck out to precious little ink spillage back in 2011. Alongside the more familiar figures in sixties avant garde composition, such as Boulez and Moderna, there’s also some fascinating, yet more slightly trad rooted entries by Herbert Eimert (1897-1972), and Karel Goeyvaerts, a chum of Stockhausen. His “Komposition Nr 5″ and “Komposition Nr 7″ are a weird mix of touchtone phone-like abstractions and threatening, eldritch dronescapes. So where Pierre and Bruno zip to their respective soundlabs in open-top sportsters (top shirt button undone, no ties…), Herbert and Karel come on more pipesmoked ruminations and corduroy. Nevertheless, it only takes a tweak of a dial and a couple of flicks of those bakelite switches from these unfamiliars and I’m sold. By the way, Finders Keepers have also put Karel’s work under the microscope recently with a LP reissue of Pour Que Les Fruits Mûrissent Cet Été / Op acht Paarden Wedden.

Other Sounds is an imprint of Cherry Red Records.