Tagged: complex


Barbs of the Unexpected


Fiat Lux

Very impressed with the beautiful melancholy of Leyfðu Ljósinu (TOUCH TO:90) from Hildur Guðnadóttir, a continuous 35-minute piece recorded live in one take, preceded by a four-minute ‘Prelude’. Using her own voice, cello, and electronic effects she transforms herself into an entire orchestra and choir, filling the available space with sumptuous melancholy music. I have found some of her other past records a bit ponderous, but this piece has a lightness of touch that is very refreshing. Although the music does build up into a cloud of competing sonorities, it never turns into a bland ambient porridge, and the sound remains clear and concise. This Icelandic composer and cellist is so confident of her craft that this music, at times, hardly appears to have been created by human hands at all, but emerges from a strange unknown crevasse like a mystical revelation. The title translates as ‘Allow The Light’, and it would not be far from the mark to read this as an allusion to the book of Genesis, and the words God spoke to bring the universe into creation. The music was recorded at the University of York and the notes assure us that there was absolutely no post-processing of the recordings. From April 2012.


Breathe life into the dead dinosaurs

We enjoyed Kyle Bruckmann‘s Cracked Refraction in 2012, a release on the jazz-ish label Porter Records which seemed an appropriate home for music that crackled with such rocking vigour and vital swing. On Procedural Grounds (NEW WORLD RECORDS 80725-2) is released on the modern classical-ish New World Records label, and shows another dimension to this impressive American all-rounder, improviser, composer, and musical omnivore. I suppose the main event is the 29-minute title track, but I enjoy the two pieces which showcase Kyle’s oboe work. On ‘Cell Structure’ he’s joined by the clarinet of Matt Ingalls with live electronic manipulation. Hearing this piece of scored crazy-paving garden design is like being led around a scale model of a maze with added spring-loaded traps awaiting us at every turn; try to follow the logic-defying musical woodwind phrases, only to meet with a sudden explosion of abstract digital noise, or be lulled by mysterious passages where only a strange rumbling serves as an intellectual anchor for the brain. Then there’s ‘Orgone Accelerator’, a solo spot for Bruckmann with his oboe and French horn, once again treated with electronics. This one isn’t so much of an intricate Chinese puzzle as the former, but it does stop and start in highly baffling ways, while remaining true to its avowed aim of pulsating ominously like a loathsome, inflated pumpkin with a sinister orange glow.

What accounts for this tendency to keep the music permanently surprising, at times almost shocking, to listen to? Bruckmann openly declares his “bent and affinity for discomfort zones”, and Tom Djll’s notes likewise refer to “a barb of The Unexpected” as one of the hallmarks of this fascinating music. Bruckmann also intends to bring improvisation into his compositions in a big way, stresses the social interaction between the players, and creating situations where “the act of listening” is the primary policy. He composes with “the mindset of an improviser”. Even the written score is regarded as a bit of a nuisance, just a formalised way of communicating with his talented collaborators. This approach is shown most strongly and successfully on the title track, which features some fine playing from the woodwind and string section, the great Gino Robair on live electronics, and the entire Rova Saxophone Quartet, four gifted players with their own impressive history of “directed improvisations” which makes them an ideal candidate for performing in this context. This rich work parses into multiple sections, blending generous chunks of quirky modernistic jazz propelled by an irresistible beat with the more free-form, burbly and parpy-type passages of improv gobble-dee-goo. The mixture of half-swallowed clarinet ejaculations with the honeyed syrup of electronic jelly is one ingredient in this tabled feast, likewise the brilliant clashing of the meditative string section playing slow, scored measures directly alongside skittery passages of unrestrained reed-vibrating skronk. At all times, what impresses me here is the relaxed control and assurance with which Bruckmann assembles these competing forces, and convinces us it’s all as natural as can be. Unforced, non-contrived complexity. Unlike John Zorn, he doesn’t aim to jolt us with far-out juxtapositions, and the logic of his method is laid out for all to hear in very precise, repeatable arrangements, cemented together with 18 bags of pure swing feeling. His intelligence and skill enables him, and the players, to sustain this endeavour for nearly half an hour with ease.

The same strain appears in more muted and subtle form on the minimal chamber dissonances and imperceptible events of ‘Tarpit’, which features a small ensemble with woodwinds, strings, percussion. electronics, and a prepared piano. Again, the listener’s logical thought is brilliantly defeated by the ingenuity of this piece, which is both utterly simple and intricately complex at once; it feels like at least two or three separate pieces of music overlaid, working together and against each other, like criss-crossing solid phantoms that can walk through walls as well as the bodies of their spectral compadres. Mr Djll reads this work as a cautionary tale about the slow death of culture through fossilisation, i.e. those who refuse to evolve are stuck like dinosaurs or mammoths in the tarpit of history. He thus finds an affinity with Captain Beefheart’s ‘Petrified Forest’. Any sleevenote that references the Captain is a good sign as far as I’m concerned, so you know you’re making a solid purchase with this item. Arrived 17 April 2012.



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

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

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

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

Attic Salt


From January 2012, we’ve got a double CD set by Ensemble Pamplemousse, an American combo of performers who are also composers, and seven examples of their craft can be heard on Raaba Jedaku (CARRIER RECORDS 013 2 x CD). They are a mostly acoustic chamber ensemble, with flute, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, but there are some electronic sounds also deployed. Overall the sound of the Pamplemousse is impressive – dense, complex, brittle, with lots of small details and tiny events compressed into elaborate, hard-to-follow structures. Rarely do these geniuses lower themselves to play anything so vulgar as a repeated pattern. I’d love to see what these compositions look like, because for most of the time on CD 1 I was pretty much convinced it was improvised music, full of the happy coincidences and free atonalities you’d expect from a lively confab between such gifted musicians. I think though the Ensemble are trying something a bit bolder than just “free playing”, and have some shared ideals about exploring the extremes of sound, each getting to this point through their exceptional prowess on their chosen instruments. It’s also clear that the music could only be played by this group of collaborators, because they each bring their unique voicings to the collective picnic. The actual performances are, it seems, flexible enough to depart from the compositional structure to allow these more intangible values to make themselves manifest. The rest of the package is over my head, though. The two discs are intended to describe or demonstrate two separate ideas or practices, the first to do with ‘Symbiosis’ and the second ‘Absurd Limitations’, but I’m unable to tell you any more than that. The composers’ own sleeve notes don’t help me much either, packed with rather obscure references and using language that is beyond my meagre comprehension. Clearly these people are extremely intelligent. I’m encouraged that they do think very much outside the box, and rather than producing self-referential vacuities, they try and describe complex ideas in music; their extra-mural influences include science, history,and language. I’m also warmed by the notion that there is lurking within the group a commitment to the exploration of absurdity, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into a sense of fun – at least, not that I can discern in the music. In summary, fascinating music, busy and skittery, with many complex undercurrents; but a tad too “clever” for me.

Off the beam

KBD (uo) are the duo of the percussionist Michael Kimaid and the guitarist Gabe Beam, and along with their instruments they both contribute electronic murmurings to Any Port In A Storm (EH? 54). Their playing styles may not be as sophisticated or developed as those of Ensemble Pamplemousse, but the duo have a refreshing directness of attack as they scrape and rattle their devices, and remain just as committed to finding new sonic textures and unusual voicings. Expect lots of strange exploratory groans and clangs as this duo feel their way along unknown pathways, punctuating their percussive clonks and non-musical grindings with bizarre electronic bubbles of steam. KBD (uo) are very adept at setting up a certain grim mood in their discursive rambles, but I also find they stay a little too long in one place, as if afraid to disturb that mood once it’s established. Most of the pieces are slow and turgid, sinking in a vague morass of abstraction. Track 3 bucks the trend and has a certain amount of restless vigour as a drums-versus-electronics battle, but even so I’d love to hear them get a lot more impolite and assertive, with each other and with their instruments. Studio recordings made in Toledo Ohio, with one track recorded in The Noisy Attic.

Boot up the Sinclair

If a sense of absurdity is what you want, look no further than this odd release from TapeNoise, although I doubt if it even qualifies as a release and if you sent away for a copy the chances are you wouldn’t receive the exact same thing I have before me. TapeNoise is a mystery UK project who remains committed to the old bedroom cassette thing both as a model of practice and an aesthetic, including the whole mailart aspect – he put a hand-decorated rail ticket in the envelope which arrived here 5 January 2012. Other releases I had from TapeNoise in the past were kind of aural palimpsests – he would record over old tapes (found objects, retrieved from charity shops or wherever) and deliberately allow traces of previous content to leak through. This one isn’t even a music cassette; it’s an old computer game. Here, it’s not quite clear what is going on at all, although there are fragments of singing, electronic music, beats, and distant murk which makes no sense at all. The bewilderment factors score high, even when the actual music is not especially distinctive; one side of this very short tape is filled with lame electro-disco garbage, while the other is a peculiar audio jumble of crooning, samples, and playful malarkey suggestive of a Toytown version of the Radiophonic Workshop. The demented song here, half-sung and half recited like a glorious epic war poem, is characterised by its completely insane lyrics. Kind of a shame that both sides are truncated so dramatically, but that’s part of the strategy; pure Dada. Even the envelope is trying to tell us something; its collaged message “POLLUTE FUDGE ECONOMY” has been further disrupted by the sticker from my mailbox service.


Kosmic Blues

Orpheus in the Underworld

Christof Kurzmann attempts grand things on El Infierno Musical (MIKROTON RECORDINGS CD 20). He composed all the music, plays electronics, saxophone and guitar, and sings all the lyrics where they appear; these words were written by the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, and translated into English with the help of Cecilia Rojo. The aural experience is rich – an unpredictable melange of jazz, free jazz, improvisation, chamber music, blues, pop music and rock music, sometimes given a vaguely medieval / Renaissance flavour by the viola da gamba playing of Eva Reiter, who also plays the contrabass recorder on a couple of tracks. Plus the whole package is contextualised with images sampled from the “Hell” panel of Bosch’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights triptych.

Many musicians may have commented on, been struck by or even dreamed of making a concept album about this “musical Hell” proposed by Bosch, where sinners are punished in amongst a ghastly cacophony of archaic musical instruments, some of which are changed by the diabolical agency into engines of torture. I should point out that Kurzmann is not explicitly intending to do any of the above either, and only the title of this suite has any consonance with the Bosch painting, of which we see a Photoshopped variant provided by the visual artists Jimmy Draht and Stefan Haupt. The main aim of the work is to pay tribute to the poetess Pizarnik, a collection of whose writings also appeared under the title El Infierno Musical and indeed prompted Kurzmann, who purchased said volume almost by accident from a street seller while drinking coffee in Buenos Aires, to found the quintet of this name in 2008.

Musically this album is strong and convincing, even if not as chaotic as anything with a Bosch cover ought to be, and while the individual players – e.g. saxman Ken Vandermark, drummer Martin Brandlmayr – perform with authority, I sometimes find the package a shade too mannered and contrived for my tastes. Kurzmann is the sort of musical catholic who has no problem in mixing different vernaculars, styles and genres in his musical statements, often doing so in the same breath, if he decides that’s what is called for. The main stumbling block for me is Kuzmann’s rather effete voice, which recites rather than sings the lyrical content, and always sounds breathless or on the verge of tears as he negotiates another corny-sounding flattened fifth. So far this prevents me from reaching the core meaning of the work, which is probably encoded more into the poetry than in the music. Still, one needs to persevere with work of this complexity and depth. Don’t let my meagre prejudices prevent you from hearing this extremely unusual and distinctive piece of work. This arrived 31 January from a label based in Moscow.

Leave not a Wrack Behind

Cracked Refraction (PORTER RECORDS PRCD 4061) played by Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, is a pleasant surprise and tremendous piece of composed-jazz-classical music, with its multiple feet planted in many fertile territories. I thought I must have some solo Bruckmann albums somewhere in the TSP archive, but it seems I only know the work of this oboist and French horn player from his contributions to other ensembles – such as those of Olivia Block, Scott Fields, and Jason Ajemian. Here are seven fascinating instrumental pieces recorded in 2010 and performed with a small group which performs the considerable feat of sounding as rich as a whole orchestra; they are Jason Stein on the bass clarinet, Jen Clare Paulson on viola, drummer Timothy Daisy and bassist Anton Hatwich. Maybe it’s Myles Boisen’s skills in the production department that help make this such a crisp and bright recording, but the players are on fire. Just two tracks in and I’m already delighted with the mixed chords of ‘Exacerbator’, whose bittersweet harmonies remind me of a slightly darker Gil Evans, or some of the more mysterious moments of Ornette’s Skies Of America. Then there’s ‘Notwithstanding’, where Bruckmann’s oboe trips its way as gracefully as a long-legged stork as it negotiates the tricky time signatures. The tiny miracle of this one is how the entire pace of the piece is quickly pulled off-course by the slower tempo of the viola, which subsequently pulls the bass and drums under her unfolding wings and they demonstrate new feats of restraint as they pluck their skeletal notes under a starlit nocturnal sky.

Those joyous opening cuts are almost something you could sing along or dance to. By the time we get to ‘Ratchetforms’ however, I’m beginning to see what liner notes writer Bill Meyer is going on about with his articulations of the phrase ‘Cracked Refractions’. “Improvisers are vandals who crack music apart, and make something new out of the parts,” he asserts, after naming a list of credible precedents in that area. ‘Ratchetforms’ may be bitty, but it’s not disjointed; you can almost hear the gears of Bruckmann’s mind creating a sort of gigantic wooden clock on the soundstage. Plenty more aural joys and delights to come; the plangent woodwind and viola sounds on ‘Fair To Middling’ are enough to make a blackbird weep into its own nest, and the high-energy forthrightness of ‘The Dishevelator’ gives an indication of a direction Frank Zappa could have taken around the time of Burnt Weeny Sandwich, with its wonderfully complex interweaving melody lines played against a steady rock-like beat with plenty of space for Stein to blow his grumbly-tootly notes in a manner that brings much pleasure to the heart of this confirmed Dolphy fan.

While I could easily point to a number of “third stream” (if that’s still the right word) ensembles whose members all love to be clever and complex and let you know it at all times, one of the many pleasures of this album for me is how Bruckmann and his team make playing this music seem effortless, fun, and 100% natural, never neglecting the swing in favour of flashing their musical chops. In short as Kyle’s thank-you note so aptly puts it, “you guys rock”. Arrived in the TSP mailbox on 30 January 2012.

Ouvrez Le Chien

Space to think in Filament Form

Vitor Joaquim wages a one-man war against information overload on Filament (KVITNU 19), his CD of “complex, extended and nonlinear” digital music which arrived here in November 2011. This is a serious contemporary matter which many have noted and bemoaned probably since the earliest days of advertising, and it’s only getting worse with the unstoppable increase of web-delivered information, much of it trivial and absurd. Some, like Otomo Yoshihide, decided to adopt an ambivalent relationship for a time, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s some of his Ground-Zero releases were packed with sonic overload in the form of sampled musical data, yet he continued to produce great art out of this situation, sublimating the information bonanza and nimbly expressing his own love-hate relationship with it. Joaquim is unequivocal, by contrast, and fears that in 2012 we are gradually losing the ability to concentrate, to think properly about complex issues, even deadening ourselves emotionally to the point where we’re unable to feel anything real. The music on Filament not only serves as a riposte to this grotesque state of affairs, but it’s also an instruction manual for humans; in its multi-layered and richly ambiguous droning music, you may start to find keys and clues, directly translatable into methodologies which will help to sharpen your intellectual facilities, and restore your fading emotive powers. Death to the buzzword, the sound-bite, the facile solution and the instant reply. I think it’s especially telling that his titles incorporate the words ‘Voids’, ‘Walls’, ‘Conformity’ and ‘Devotion’. Conformity is part of the problem; the internet, capitalism, global travel and advertising are making all of us think, feel, talk and act the same. Devotion, which may be religious or may simply be the application of one’s faculties to engage with real thinking, is one solution. Fine greeting-card styled cover by Zavoloka for this sharp release, with embossed silver elements.

The Umbrella Man through Brecon Eyes

Some parts of the above rant may have appealed to the composer Erik Satie, whose piano pieces are often associated with a slow performance or a promenade around the park where we can simply take time to stop and stare. What would this cafe-society aesthete have made of the over-crowded blogosphere? His minimalist philosophy has been used as a springboard by later modernists, including Cage, Reich, Adams and others; I suspect he’s even been credited with inventing “ambient” music before Brian Eno. For a less formalist and far more imaginative take on Satie, may I recommend A Kiss For The Umbrella Man (QUIET WORLD 21) by Susan Matthews, the South Wales musician. She takes extracts from well-known Satie tunes and serves them up with her own unusual piano arrangements, sometimes allowing for the addition of recorded voices and other tape layers; even the sound of the piano is treated in suitably subtle electro-acoustic fashion. Classical purists would probably throw a fit after hearing eight bars of this, but Matthews has genuine affection for the music and reveals hidden truths in Satie’s music through her very creative exploratory methods. Unfinished, uncertain in places, and not a revolutionary art statement, but Satie’s gorgeous scales and chord combinations really sing under her fingers, although I doubt this album is intended to showcase a virtuoso piano performance as convention would normally demand. By which I mean the ideas of Susan Matthews are prioritised over technique, and that is a good thing. It’s as though an art student were allowed free rein to interpret the classics as they see fit, and I’d like to see more of that…in my ideal world this important stuff would not be left solely in the hands of the trained and established “experts”. Egads, only 50 copies were pressed of this lovely CDR, and I’ve had it here since November. Better order your copy sharpish. If it’s sold out, send an email directly to Ian Holloway demanding a repress. Tell him I sent ya!

I’m going to the promised land

Now for some up-to-the-minute classical composition from the New York composer Dan Joseph. He freely admits he’s steeped in minimalism and while pointing out that the genre (if that’s what it is) is over 40 years old now and sometimes causes him to wrestle with dilemmas about “what’s new” and “what’s next”, he’s pretty much given up trying to break the mould or innovate wildly. However, what boots it when faced with the charm and stark beauty of Tonalization (For The Afterlife) (MUTABLE MUSIC MUTABLE 17545-2)? This outstanding 2009 composition occupies 33 minutes of the release, and it’s a glorious arrangement in pure simplicity. It explores the short and clear tones of the percussion instruments – harpsichord, marimba, and hammered dulcimer – then drifts into a high-pitched sea of long tones from the cello, violin and flute, finally proceedinto into a sprightly finale where all instruments are combined in passages of varying length and tempi (the composition is in fact an assembled mosaic of short pieces). This is music of such declared honesty and transparency that it’s the exact opposite of the way the world currently conducts itself (think of corporate finance dealings, or the utterances of any politician, in whose mouth the word “transparency” has a slippery meaning at best). It’s as though the composition is laying itself bare in schematic form as you listen to it, like a radio set inviting you to put it together. Somehow, Dan Joseph also finds room to accommodate memorable mini-melodies, and even some stripped-down baroque ornamentation. Imagine a grand Victorian ornate wardrobe being squeezed into a modern New York apartment. And what a great idea to incorporate the beauty of the hammered dulcimer, especially without a hint of parody or condescension (as Henry Flynt might have done). Joseph frankly owns that he has an interest in these purely formal explorations of tonalisation, even to the extent of thinking hard what that word really means and its other applications, but there is also a spiritual dimension to this music, concerning speculations on what happens after death and involving a personal memory of a friend that gives added poignancy and honesty to the work. Total recommendation for this music to the legions of Morton Feldman and Steve Reich fans, although this’ll also bang your gong if you’re into the music of those who have been intrigued by the possibility of minimalism-meets-gamelan, such as Philip Corner or Evan Ziporyn. Also here, the 2002 ‘Wind Patterns’, a lovely duo between Joseph’s heavenly hammered dulcimer and the flute of Leah Paul; and ‘Music Primer’, where baritone singer Thomas Buckner joins Joseph to recite the texts of Lou Harrison in his unique song-speech manner. In all, a fine collection of precision, clarity, and beauty.

Tidal Bearings

If you want to sharpen your wits with some good old-fashioned astringent modernism, the double CD On Tour (MUTABLE MUSIC 17544-2) by Ostravská Banda ought to be poured into your daily tub like a pouch of bath salts. This ensemble went on a tour of Europe in 2010 and took with them a strong repertoire of complex and difficult modern music, some of which is represented on these two hour-long disks. Showcased here: the Italian Luca Francesconi, Petr Bakla, Paulina Zalubska from Krakow, the Japanese composer Somei Satoh, and Bernhard Lang. There’s also a long piece by John Cage and a further long piece by Ostravská Banda founder Petr Kotik which is a four part tribute to Cage. Nice and loud recordings throughout (one thing that often troubles me about most commercial recordings of avant classical music is they’re recorded or mastered too quietly for noise-loving me). Of note: the complexity and busy-ness of Francesconi’s ‘Riti Nautrali’ which is built around the virtuosity of violin player Irvine Arditti; any work that brings its players to a “collective frenzy” gets my juices salivating, and it packs more notation per square inch than an experiment with sub-atomic particles. This contrasts nicely with Satoh’s ‘The Passion’, a slow and stately vocal ensemble piece with parts for Christ and Pilate; who better than Thomas Buckner to step up to the plate for this gloomoid devotional work with its heartbreaking minimal strings and clarinet moans. The Cage piece is an earlyish one from 1957-58 which requires a lot of interpretation from the orchestra and pianist to make any sense from the 68 mini-sequences they have to choose from, and it emerges with all the bittiness that often makes Cage so frustrating to my ears. Kotik’s ‘In Four Parts’ is much more successful though, a good rattling battery of percussion, chimes, and prepared piano that makes even more sense when you realise its roundabout origins (partially inspired by the ballet of Merce Cunningham). Fine collection; the rest of their repertoire, unfortunately not here, also included works by Ligeti, Feldman, Wolff and Berio.

Bunch of live droneworks by Rutger Zuydervelt appearing as Machinefabriek on Vloed (COLD SPRING CSR138CD). Full-bodied and multi-textured slow works, kind of like Frippertronics except he makes them using prepared electric guitars laid on the table top and sometimes played with a violin bow, plus radio set, loop machine, and effects pedals. ‘Allengskens’ gets close to ambient music sometimes, but it has a lot of depth and volume, seeming to emulate the ebb and flow of tides with its rising-falling structure. ‘Drijfzand’ is more intimate, small sounds and delicate little notes of nostalgic vibe suspended in an airy-electronic structure. ‘Vrijhaven’ is heavy on the atmosphere with its terror-suspense chords and ominous plucking device that keeps scraping away insistently, and ‘Vloed’ is a rich and soaring piece. Monika Heorodotou’s photos of the sea leave us in little doubt as to the suggested theme of this release. Two of the pieces were recorded at the Bimhuis, the album was originally released in 2008 on Sentient Recognition, and ‘Vrijhaven’ is a bonus track only available here. Zuydervelt is a fine Dutch droner not a million miles away in tone and style from his countryman Frans de Waard, and while I would personally prefer more “rough edges” to this mode of music, it’s nice to find him on this UK label that usually features dark folk and extreme metal.

Bryan Day sent us an envelope in May 2011 with two releases from his Eh? Aural Repository, a sub label of Public Eyesore. Psychotic Quartet are four improvisers from Philadelphia, with Sphaleron (EH? 52); the combination of trombone, upright bass, violin and drumkit is a promising start, but the players rarely seem to connect with one another or flash up with creative sparks on this somewhat dreary outing of tuneless parps and scrapes. It might be nice if they actually did act a bit more “psychotic” instead of rambling politely along at this walk-in-the-park pace. Can You Listen To The Silence Between The Notes? (EH? 51) is a solo album by the Argentinian guitarist Federico Barabino, who also dabbles with feedback using his no input mixer. For 33 minutes, a belt of continuous humming noise is varied in tone very gradually; this is occasionally interrupted or overlaid with slow melodic guitar playing, at times coming across like a conceptual remake of the work of Kenny Burrell. Also in the envelope, Sectional (DIGITAL VOMIT DVR 058) by Seeded Plain, which is Bryan Day with Jay Kreimer, playing their own home-made instruments with some live electronics and customised software; the photograph with press release is quite appealing, with wooden frames, junk on tabletops, cables all over the floor and an odd tubular device that looks like a prototype modern lampstand from Ikea. Mostly non-musical scrapes and grumblings are the output from these lo-fi electroacoustic escapades, with little in the way of dynamic variation across each shapeless tune. There are some nice sonic moments of happy collisions to be derived from the three long pieces on this record, and some genuine invention taking place, but once again I find the actual performances rather listless and unspirited.

Paintings For Animals is Pearson Wallace-Hoyt making quite a sublime doomy noise drone on Kristeater (DEBACLE RECORDS DBL053). Some field recordings from the Olympia National Forest in Washington State apparently fed into these lumbering outbursts, but electronics and treated guitars were also used; parts of this record are very much in the Nadja mould of distorted overdubs and silted-up multitracking. I do like ‘Ahni Hansa’ for the way it manages to stutter out a very controlled form of terrifying deep noise without making the mistake of recycling the familiar “dark ambient” tropes. And ‘Satnod’, produced with the help of Mike Long’s cello, stands out as a harrowing march through a marshy Hell, a splendid diatribe of shrieking excess, groaniness, and loud volume. Elsewhere, the tracks meander and the album feels disorganised and insufficiently edited. Striking cover artwork is by James Nielsen.

Cinema Horror Themes

I seem to recall we have received something from Rashomon before, most likely the preceding release to this new one, The Finishing Line (Film Music Volume 2) (HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT 07). The highly talented Matt Thompson of Guapo plays and records everything, using very specific instrumentation and electro-acoustical methods to achieve musical effects and constructs which are deliberately intended as homages to cinema soundtrack composition. I think the previous release struck me as a bit too overpowering in ambition and in performance (combining movie music with energetic prog rock and other forms of art music), but with these stately, slow and graceful pieces he seems to have got the balance just perfect. A very accessible album, and one which will prove especially seductive to listeners who enjoy Jonny Trunk’s OST show on Resonance radio. What’s impressive is how Thompson stays on the right side of pastiche and kitsch, and works in passages of avant-garde dissonance to express the unsettling darker sides of his richly ambiguous themes.

Berlin-based tuba player Robin Hayward, member of Phosphor and a major contributor to the school of reduced improvisation, continues his extremely minimal and reduced playing on the solo release States Of Rushing (CHOOSE RECORDS HAYWARD), a sturdy and wiry record which is also evidence of his ongoing research into the acoustics of brass instruments. Only Axel Dörner has come close to matching Hayward’s austerity with these stripped-down experiments, making sounds which pose fundamental challenges to our conventional notions of “playing music”. This notion proposes that we as listeners simply pay close attention to the phenomenon of human breath moving around inside a big tube of metal. The simplicity of this may be reflected in the striking cover photo, which suggests Hayward’s very identity is becoming subsumed inside the vast gaping maw of copper. Also available as a vinyl LP. Which reminds me we recently received a fine Terry Fox LP from this label, which we must get around to noting.

Another hero of barely-existing music is the great Marc Behrens, whose Sleppet (CRÓNICA 046) began life in 2007 with a bunch of nature recordings made in Norway. Chris Watson, Steve Roden, Jana Winderen and other minimal-environmental geniuses were not far away from him at the time, and the record cover of this nature-worshipping release unfolds to reveal visual cut-ups of a silvery forest. So far, a few superficial skims by my dilatory lugs suggest that the familiar near-silent treatments of Behrens aren’t so much in evidence, but his editing scalpel is still as sharp as ever. These vivid recordings of seagulls, water, stones, sheep and glaciers have been spliced into carefully-planned linear sequences intended to reveal certain conceptual truths about nature. One thing folds into another, layering imaginary transparencies together to solve the enigmas of creation. Sleppet posits a severe and almost bleak view of wildlife, weather and the elements, a view so cold and unforgiving that you can almost imagine yourself wandering alone during the Mesozoic era when you spin this stark twig of a disk.

And if you enjoy field recordings, you can get Home, Sweet Home (CRÓNICA 045) as a free download from the above label. Duran Vázquez has assembled a dense collage of sounds captured in Vigo, a large coastal town in Galicia. His wide-open mic welcomes the rich chaos and noise of all things urban, something which Behrens has taken great pains to avoid in his clipped portrait of naturalistic details. Vázquez also has a habit of adding vague ambient drones to some of these collages and treatments, but myself I prefer it when he just hands us the raw material in an unadorned fashion.

A huge wodge of electro-acoustic chamber music composed by Cypriot modernist Yannis Kyriakides can be yours to own through purchase of Antichamber (UNSOUNDS 21U), a lavish two-disc digipacked affair spanning some thirteen years of work by the man and illuminated with detailed sleeve notes by the composer, plus an introduction by Bob Gilmore. I’ve tended to find myself baffled and alienated by this man’s complex work before, but for some reason I’m instantly attracted by the variety of approaches he uses on this survey. He freely combines his scores for conventional acoustic stringed instruments with such appurtenances as a record player, an electric guitar, a computer, sine waves, telegraph keys and and iPod shuffle. I realise that probably reads like a shopping list that you’d probably find in the paws of many players currently trailing round the circuit of avant-garde and new music festivals, but Yannis stands out here for the clear gravity and originality of his compositional and structural ideas. I suspect this will prove one of the more accessible releases by this challenging composer and I look forward to exploring these 10 long pieces in more detail. Note how the cover artwork suggests that we need to find new ways of considering what we want an architect to deliver when we commission him to design our home.

Very nice to hear the return of my favourite Swiss do-everything studio whizz Reto Mäder, here joining forces with Steven Hess from Pan American and Haptic to form Ural Umbo, makers of aural gumbo. Their debut release Ural Umbo (UTECH RECORDS URCD040) comes in a gorgeous monochrome package with photographic magic from the black-hair-loving Rik Garrett, who also produced a memorable artwork for Reto’s Sum of R project. As expected, these 9 dense studio cuts are amazingly heavy on atmosphere, tension, and an appetite for exploring the occult-diabolik underbelly of the universe. Indeed a track title like ‘Theme of the Paranormal Feedback’ should indicate to you the extent of their concerns with the exotic possibilities of noise, general spookiness, and the application of horror movie soundtracks. Worth comparing Ural Umbo’s thick and glutinous approach to said musical genre with the more skeletal concoctions of Rashomon above. For those with the stomach for a second helping, there’s also an accompanying six-track EP of remixed materials called Latent Defects (UR043).

Reto Mäder also adds an invaluable audio assist to The Bern Project (HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT 08), a fab new release by the American guitarist and composer Rhys Chatham, a man whose ambitious projects are often framed on a large scale and rarely fail to achieve anything less than luminous transcendence. He took his trumpet and electric axe to Switzerland in 2008 and had a very rewarding experience playing with three local musicians – a trombonist, bass guitarist and a drummer. Reto’s tape recorder never flagged for a second as it sucked up many hours of sessions from the enthused quartet. He then elected to listen through all the spools, scrutinising what he heard to carefully select the best portions for release on this disk. His hard work paid off; there’s not an ounce of fat or wasted space on these superb, assured performances, and every sound cuts through the air as crisply as a flat blade of ice. One of Chatham’s many skills is the way he consistently manages to deliver righteous blasts of heavitude and volume that would satisfy even the most jaded Slayer fan, yet still sounds as light and graceful as a soaring bird of prey at all times. Highly recommended!

All Clouds are Clocks: The music of György Ligeti RIP (TSP radio show 30/06/06)

  1. György Ligeti, extract from Le Grand Macabre
    GERMANY WERGO WER 60085 LP (1980)
  2. ‘Continuum’ for harpsichord (1968)
  3. ‘Ramifications’ for 12 solo string players (1968-69)
  4. ‘Lontano’ for large orchestra (1967)
  5. First movement ‘Allegro nervoso’ from ‘String quartet no 2′ (1968)
  6. 1-5 from ‘Ten pieces for wind quintet’ (1968)
    From SONY CLASSICAL SK 62309 CD (1996)
  7. ‘Jupiter and Beyond’ (comprising mix of ‘Requiem’, ‘Atmospheres’ and ‘Aventures’)
    From 2001: A Space Odyssey, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
    EMI / TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES 7243 8 55322 1 CD (1996)
  8. ‘Coulée’ from ‘Two Studies for organ’ (1969)
  9. Krzysztof Penderecki, extract from ‘Polymorphia for 48 string instruments’ (1961)
    From Dies Irae, PHILIPS 839701LY LP (ND)
  10. György Ligeti, extract from ‘Aventures’ (1962-1965)
  11. ‘Fascar’ from ‘Sonata for solo viola’ (1991-94)
    From SONY CLASSICAL SK 62309 CD (1996)
  12. ‘Atmospheres’ (1961)

2-5, 8, 10 and 12 all taken from György Ligeti, GERMANY WERGO WER 60095 5 x LP BOX (1984)

The Sound Projector radio show,
originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

Boredoms are Go! (TSP radio show 29/07/05)

  1. Boredoms, ’7+ (EYE Remix)’
    From Super Roots 7, JAPAN WARNER MUSIC JAPAN WPC6 8520 CD (1998)
  2. Track 2 from Vision Creation Newsun, USA BIRDMAN BMR028 CD (2000)
  3. ‘Bubllebop Shot’
    From Soul Discharge ’99, UK EARTHNOISE EN-002 CD (ND)
  4. Track 5 from Vision Creation Newsun, op cit
  5. ‘Sun, Gun, Run’ from Soul Discharge ’99, op cit
  6. ‘Mogo?’ from Wow2, JAPAN AVANT AVAN 026 CD (1993)
  7. ‘Hey Bore Hey’ from Pop Tatari, USA REPRISE RECORDS 9 45416-2 CD (1992)
  8. ‘Pop Can’ from Wow2, op cit
  9. ‘Which Dooyoo like?’, from Pop Tatari, op cit
  10. ‘OK’ from Wow2, op cit
  11. ‘Pop Tatari’, from Pop Tatari, op cit
  12. ‘Synthesizer Guide Book on Fire’ + ‘Shock City’ + ‘Synthesizer Action Hero’
    From Chocolate Synthesizer, JAPAN WARNER MUSIC JAPAN WPC2 7508 CD (1994)
  13. MC Hellshit / DJ Carhouse, ‘Hit City’
    From Live at Disobey, UNITED KINGDOM BLAST FIRST BFFP126CD 3″ CD [1995]
  14. The Hanatarash, ‘Space is Meat’ + ‘Buy My Bone’ + ‘Bonus Track’ + ‘Meat-A-Delic’
    From 4 [Aids-a-Delic], USA PUBLIC BATH NO NUMBER CD (ND)
  15. Omoide Hatoba, extract from Livers & Giggers 1987-1993, JAPAN JAPAN OVERSEAS JO94-2 CD (ND)
  16. UFO or Die, ‘UFO or Live (Fugs)’ + ‘Ghetto DNA (Motorhead Mix)’
    From Cassettetape Superstar, TIME BOMB BOMB CD-02 / PUBLIC BATH PBCD-4 CD (ND)
  17. Boredoms, ’4′
    From Super Roots, USA REPRISE 9 41559-2 CD (1993)

The Sound Projector radio show,
originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

Mathcore / Metalcore / Stoner / Gloom… (TSP radio show 11/03/05)

This show compiled and co-presented by Stefan Jaworzyn

  1. Converge, ‘You Fail Me’
    From You Fail Me, USA EPITAPH 86715 CD (2004)
  2. Dillinger Escape Plan, ‘The Running Board’
    From Calculating Infinity, USA RELAPSE RR 6427-2 CD (1999)
  3. Old Man Gloom, ‘The Volcano’
    From Christmas, USA TORTUGA TR023CD (2004)
  4. These Arms Are Snakes, ‘Run it through the dog’
    From This Is Meant To Hurt You, USA JADE TREE JT 1084 CD EP (2003)
  5. Melvins, ‘See how pretty, See how smart’
    From The Maggot, USA IPECAC IPC-002 CD (1999)
  6. Botch, ‘I wanna be a sex symbol on my own terms’
    From We Are The Romans, USA HYDRAHEAD HH666-41 CD (1999)
  7. Dillinger Escape Plan, ‘Phone Home’
    From Miss Machine, USA RELAPSE DEP-MM 6589-2 CD (2004)
  8. Isis, ‘Hym’
    From Oceanic, USA IPECAC IPC-32 CD (2002)
  9. Converge, ‘Jane Doe’
    From Jane Doe, USA EQUAL VISION RECORDS EVR61 CD (2001)
  10. Neurosis, ‘Stones From the Sky’
    From A Sun that Never Sets, USA RELAPSE RR 6496-2 CD (2001)

The Sound Projector radio show,
originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM