Tagged: composed

Five Uneasy Pieces

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Virgil Moorefield
No Business As Usual / Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound
SWITZERLAND HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT17 CD + DVD (2013)

Virgil Moorefield is a Zurich-based drummer, avantist composer and near polymath whose previous projects have found refuge with such highly revered institutions such as Innova, Tzadik and Cuneiform. As a ‘have drums, will travel’ freelancer, he’s collaborated with Bill Laswell, guitarist Elliott Sharp, and The Swans around the time of the Burning World l.p. He was also the sole panel-beater (and that’s no mean feat!) for John Cage’s favourite guitar slinger Glenn Branca, on his herculean “Hallucination City – 100 Guitars” tour which kicked up vast chunks of orchestrated metallic chordage over the heads of the N.Y. populace from 2006 to 2008.

Moorefield’s latest release on the Hinterzimmer imprint is the No Business as Usual c.d. which is coupled with the Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound d.v.d. No Business… is primarily a showcase for his Bicontinental Pocket Orchestra; a sixtet comprising Aleksander Gabrys on contrabass, baritone saxist Jürg Wickihalder, Taylor Levine on guitar, percussionist Martin Lorenz, pianist Vicky Chow and Ian Ding on vibes and drums. They and their bandleader can all be observed very much following a cerebral/muscular mindset on the title track; a five part commissioned by New Music Detroit and Detroit Per Se. Both of these experiments in post-minimalism edge towards a certain jazz noir in the Naked City feel, purveying in the main an appointment in unease, plotted on graph paper with slide rule, compass and protractor, where the contents, under extreme pressure, are seemingly fit to burst at any moment. Some passages resemble a debut album era Lounge Lizards under the batonship of Steve Reich, while other fragments seem to refer to a more rigid version of Magma’s ever-building dynamics circa Kohntarkosz. The most prominent figures in this unwavering/take no prisoners script are the icily cool vibraphonics of Ian Ding and the high end (and beyond) keyboard attack of Ms. Chow, which appears to be an angry, fingerpointing pianist’s curt riposte to Bernard Hermann’s shower scene nerve shredder from Psycho.

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As to the visual side of events, the Five Ideas… shows a number of different takes on how moderne technology can affect the interchange between sound and the moving image (this includes a couple of sub-two minute interludes, possibly fulfilling a latterday testcard function). “River of Color” is the opener and explores/expands on the tonalities originating from the guts of a grand piano when struck and its innards plucked. This generates a series of everchanging vertical bands of colour issuing from a huge bank of screens that almost dwarf the two instrumentalists. “Grainy Film” is based on a sequence of simple guitar shapes which build to nightmarishly kozmik proportions and eventually shake themselves free of their wire on wood connotations completely. The closing “Trio” is a processing overload involving the measured thud of a drumming threesome, which is reconfigured into real-time visuals, while, simultaneously being tweaked into an all enveloping electronic soundscape. Wow.

Within the confines of a fairly understated packaging concept employing the joys of four-panel chipboard lies an undisputed treasure trove of left field thought for ear and eye. Highly recommended.

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Get into the GROOVE

MAY2014046

Laurie Spiegel
The Expanding Universe
USA UNSEEN WORLDS RECORDS UW09 2 x CD (2012)

Due to the cost of development and difficulty using the first computers and synthesizers, the narrative surrounding the earliest computer music innovations appears relatively clear. Unlike the development of the Blues or Post-Punk, endless influences, complexities, lack of recordings and overlapping canons produced by anyone picking up a guitar, the development of audio synthesis technology is constricted by availability and condensed history. That narrative elaborates on a handful of technicians and programmers, committed musical amateurs alongside composers, experimenting with vast unwieldy equipment across international laboratories and research groups. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Electronic Music Studios, Cologne’s Studio for Electronic Music of the West German Radio, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Centre, Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris, The San Francisco Tape Music Centre, to name a handful, all working towards new means to produce and conceptualise sound. I have always found this narrative of obsessive scientists playing with ring modulators and basic coding, competing and collaborating on synthesizers and new systems particularly gratifying despite being an obvious oversimplification.

Laurie Spiegel is a composer, software designer, hardware engineer and programmer who has a prominent position within this narrative of innovation. Her previously out of print début, The Expanded Universe, is here reissued so definitively that it barely resembles the four pieces comprising the original. The extensive and insightful liner notes provide detailed production notes for each track and clearly align Spiegel within this perspective. Her contributions to early computer music and audio technology are well observed and as her reputation as a visual artist has grown so has awareness of her myriad innovations with analogue and digital synthesis.

The entirety of the pieces spread across two discs were composed at Bell Telephone Laboratories using Max Matthews’ Generating Real-time Operations On Voltage-controlled Equipment, or GROOVE, system. Matthews, on staff to test the quality of telephone dial tones, is possibly the most significant figure in the history of early computer music and discounting university departments or commercial studios, Bell Laboratories was certainly the period’s greatest private lab concerned with computer audio synthesis and audio research. As AT&T were the USA’s sole telephone provider they were under a great deal of pressure to encourage this type of high-level research and development. GROOVE’s combination of analogue and digital components is the major source of its innovation. Operating from 1968-79, it was a hybrid system with a rudimentary graphical interface. Whilst several similar hybrid projects existed or were in development, Musys at EMS, Xenakis with UPIC at CEMAMu slightly later or Donald Buchla’s work at Dartmouth College for instance, none had yet reached the scale and complexity of GROOVE.

A Honeywell DDP 228 microcomputer, costing the department $400,000 controlled a modular synthesizer. The complex patching possibilities of the modular unit was controlled by keyboard or algorithm input, realisable in real-time rather than the drawn out process usually necessary for computer composition. Such synthesizers were notoriously difficult to keep in tune and extremely responsive to changes in temperature and using the computer to initiate control values effected on the modular addressed this in some way. Twelve voltage controlled operators, seven voltage controlled amps and two voltage controlled filters; GROOVE could enact continuous changes to sound not conceptualised as notes or scales, potentially reproducing the complex sounds of bowed or wind instruments. It also stored musical data for later editing and operated as an extremely rudimentary graphical sequencer of the type that dominates electronic music production now. Each user would have their own unique configurations and could effect these immediately. In many ways the supremacy of MIDI and graphic sequencing in contemporary electronic music, although emerging from systems like GROOVE, makes this music seem much more alien and expressive.

Spiegel cited GROOVE as ‘the ultimate hybrid modular synthesizer’, embracing the limitations of composing for something so fragile and unstable that it would inevitably become redundant. The Honeywell was discontinued in 1978 meaning the end of the system as a cutting edge unit for composition. In 1991 a compilation of Spiegel’s work entitled Obsolete Systems was released. Playing with the image of these vast and ancient mythologised technologies, it provided an interesting counterpoint to Spiegel’s otherwise relentlessly progressive and innovative approaches, such as her work with ‘intelligent’ compositional tool Music Mouse. The music on The Expanding Universe was already ‘outdated’ by its release; a brief glimpse of an alternate form that could never reach fruition. The piercing sine waves, real-time alteration and graphical sequencing were by 1998 reproducible in extremely basic form on hand-held game consoles.

If this was the case, why does The Expanded Universe possess such a reputation or warrant returning to once more? As the product of experiments with a single piece of technology it establishes its own novelty as a metric for quality. But why should we canonise a work eclipsed by the rapid pace of innovation it contributed to? Spiegel followed GROOVE and left Bell Labs in 1979 whilst continuing to develop both hardware and software environments for composing with computers. Neither then nor now has she expressed an interest in nostalgia or deifying previous technology. Similarly, Emmanuel Ghent’s work with GROOVE is often perceived as being both more substantial and innovative than Spiegel’s, yet outside of dedicated discourses his name is unknown (interestingly he also served as Spiegel’s private musical tutor in the 1970s).

This reissue addresses these issues by framing those original four pieces not as a ‘lost’ anachronism, but as the culmination of an astonishing and vital process we can now access. The focus on this narrative of technical innovation, although satisfying, obscures Spiegel’s incorporation of her background performing on banjo and lute. The first pressing of The Expanded Universe was issued by PHILO records, a company established to distribute folk and traditional music. What distinguishes Spiegel’s work with GROOVE from someone like Ghent is that it does not feel out of place in that context. The surrounding material presented here confirms the unique balance and tension alluded to on the original; generating immediate and communicative ‘folk’ forms on a system that required moving between two rooms.

Clusters of notes pulse and swell, gradually modulating and phasing between one another as attack and decay are varied and clipped square waves are drawn out like meticulously organized finger picking. It remains striking that the composition reflects the idiosyncrasies of the system as drawn out by Spiegel. GROOVE processed only voltage data; Spiegel is disconnected from ideas of notation or divisions of improvisation and composition. The music is literally programmed and automated, making the arpeggios, harmonies, complexity of form and emotional affect even more beguiling. Adding to the sound palette are a handful of strange percussive experiments; bell tones forced into complex polyrythms imitating Sub-Saharan Africa’s traditions, as well as swelling drone pieces that connect with later Kosmische traditions.

Spiegel deviates from, but also enriches that narrative of early computer music. The expression of traditional modality within this idiosyncratic and irreplicable technology, as well as Spiegel’s incredible compositional clarity mark The Expanded Universe as a strange and brilliant anomaly.

MAY2014047

Golden Spirits

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Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo
Ancestors
FINLAND TUM RECORDS TUM CD 029 (2012)

AACM, Creative Construction Company, Mbira, Golden Quartet, Organic, Silver Orchestra…The Blue Notes, Louis Moholo Unit, Culture Shock, Spirits Rejoice, Viva La Black, Brotherhood of Breath, Isipingo…I’m fairly sure that if you were to compile a no-stone-unturned list of the musical endeavours of American avant jazz trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith and fellow jazzer and South African master percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo, it would girdle the earth with ease. After all, these two have been leading their own bands for nigh on fifty years apiece (!) But although the duo have occasionally played together since the nineteen-seventies, the Ancestors set on the Finnish Tum imprint marks their first ever recording together.

This c.d. takes in two scored works by Smith, one by Moholo-Moholo and two rather fascinating excursions into the realms of improv. Ancestors stacks up exceptionally well, even when using the Mu album by Don Cherry (w/ Ed Blackwell of course) as my benchmark in horn’n’drum. The duo’s expertise is as you’d surely expect; extensive and enclopaedic and can easily hold and captivate the armchaired listener for the duration. Immediate highpoints are the almost expected jagged splotches of jazz expressionism in “Jackson Pollock – Action” and the at times, stately themes of “Siholaro” with its rolling war drum rhythm bed. In fact, the time-keeping on show is a revelation. Louis’s stickwork and well considered sense of dynamics can range from powering along a track like “No Name in the Street” with the merest tick of Swiss watch precision, to the rolling thunderclouds undepinning “Moholo Moholo/Golden Spirit”. The improvised title track is the main focus of events, surely by dint of its twenty-five minute plus (!) duration. Snaking curlicues of brassy colour (the only modifications being a brief use of the mute…) are complemented by a busy gallery of drum techniques which are topped ‘n’ tailed by exotic chimes which finally come to a close with the the drummer’s recitation of a number of much loved jazz figures from jazz past.

There’s attractive packaging and ultra-copious sleeve notes which include a nice photo of the duo, both pictured with smiles on full beam – fit to crack their jaws if truth be told. But after producing the self-assured dialogue in thought and deed, who could expect otherwise? To sum up? …This is just so much more than breath control and supple wrists!!

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Beyond Dodecaphonic

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Boguslaw Schaeffer
Assemblage
POLAND BOLT RECORDS BR ES06 / DUX 0881/0882 2 x CD (2012)

Polish composer born 1929, Schaeffer’s compositions were dedicated to mixing tapes and instruments, somewhere between graphical scores and improvisation on tape. His work developed within the context of the Polish radio experimental studio. This double CD combines works from 1966 to 2011 and includes some electronics compositions such as ‘Assemblage’, classic concrete music in the spirit of Pierre Schaeffer and instrument manipulation, deconstructed from a violin instead of a piano in the spirit of Pierre Henry. ‘Electronic Symphony’ contains a more Stockhausen-esque German electronic music aesthetic, with synthesizer and electronic instruments as frequency generators. The first CD also includes pieces for tapes, harp (‘Heraklitiana’) and tuba (‘Project’). Schaeffer’s music has an upbeat tempo, movement, dynamics and space, and if there is referential part of dodecaphonic music, he tends to develop his own approach of sound without following any given school (Austrian, German, French…).

The second CD includes pieces for tapes and instruments such as cello and French horn, mixed with electronic music pieces and other interpretations of ‘Assemblage’; as well as a very remarkable new composition from 2011, “O.T.” played by Thomas Lehn, the musician from the improv scene playing a modular synth. The recordings sound more “real-time”, but the music itself has a sense of deconstruction as if proposed by Edgar Varèse, with fast electronic sound combinations using different pitches and applied filters, an abrupt abusing of fade in and fade out. These are very interesting compositions by Boguslaw Schaeffer who is probably not as well-known as the great masters of this genre, but he has an approach to music that’s more open, and less academic. It is also important to note that the effort taken by Boleslaw Blaszczyk, Michal Libera and Michal Mendyk to publish these composers from lesser-known research studios results in complexifying the historical understanding we have of this music.

Invencions

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Various
Tensions At The Vanguard: New Music From Peru 1948-1979
USA POGUS PRODUCTIONS 21065-2 2 x CD (2012)

Pogus Productions take us back in time to discover the contemporary academic music made in Peru or by Peruvian musicians between 1948 and 1979. Reading the booklet inside reveals the intensity of the relation between the politics in Peru and the composers and musicians wanting to raise “Western” modernity in their country. The odd aspect of this record is that when you listen to the music itself, you’ll have no way to hear a difference between the music produced in Peru or produced during roughly the same period, in Paris for instance. It does have very good phonic music, orchestral works, mixed electronics, instrumentals or tape music beyond any cultural context or written western history of that epoch. It is an important reminder that the history of this music is far-reaching and does not belong only to the West. A compilation is not always the best way to show this, because it does reduce the richness of the composers/musicians works in some ways, however it does offer up a taste of those composers we may want to indulge more in. Works from Edgar Valcárcel, Enrique Pinilla, Walter Casas and Enrique Iturriaga to name a few probably deserve some CD space in themselves.

These composers were trying to be part of the musical revolution of the 1950s and beyond, they were learning the codes and proposing a music of their own. But what is their specificity? What makes them different from other music “schools” of that time (musique concrète, electronic, performance…etc.)? Why should they be different anyway? The question today for listeners in 2014 is also: what’s happening in Peru now? Who are the composers, the musicians? Jaime Oliver is quoted as translator and he is also a musician/composer living in the US. What has happened in Peru since then? Will there be a follow up to this CD?

A. Baugé

Burnt Ombra

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Sorry to bring you this news so late, but Editions Mego have been reissuing on vinyl some electro-acoustic gems from this history of the INA-GRM label as part of their “Recollection GRM” series…one of these is by Ivo Malec, called Triola Ou Symphonie pour moi-même (REGRM 006), and frankly it’s an absolute gem. I’ve not ashamed to admit I never heard of this important Yugoslavian-born composer before, even though he had two releases on the coveted “Silver Series” on the Philips label, but that’s why reissues like this are so useful / vital. He began his career as a fairly conventional classicist, until he fell under the influence of Pierre Schaeffer, a man in whose shadow many can be said to dwell, and since acknowledging him as his “one and only true master”, he embarked down the hazardous route of experimental electronic music. Like most of the greats, including Xenakis and Varèse, Malec worked with blocks of sounds and was preoccupied with timbres, textures, and all the massive sculptural qualities that “pure” sound has to offer those who are man enough to work the almighty tape-splicing machine at the GRM, a device so cumbersome it requires a team of three muscly matelots from Marseilles just to work the capstans.

This LP – pretty much an exact reissue of AM 830.11, apart from the remixed artwork – contains two pieces, the main event being the tri-partite Triola from 1978. Its name simply means “Triplet”, each of its three sections has its own subtitle, and the timbral qualities between the three are wildly distinctive – each piece makes a clear, separate statement of its own, yet the three are also linked together in a mysterious and personal philosophical scheme of the composer’s making. The opener ‘Turpituda’ is incredibly bold, one of the most powerful utterances I’ve heard in the name of electro-acoustic music; plenty of aural clashes and sweeping dynamics, producing indescribable abstractions. Yet the music is always ordered and directed, a force of nature governed by a powerful intellect, always in motion. Near-violent and quite terrifying in places, this is a truly uplifting and bracing ride through the mental storm. Loud volume is indicated for playback satisfaction; “I have had good results with a [volume] level that elicits equal parts rapture and blind panic,” reports the curator of the online avantgardeproject.org. ‘Ombra’ is calmer, a slightly more serene island of reason in the middle of this tempest, but even these sullen abrupt drones and croaks are filled with menacing intent as much as they elicit soothing, medicinal tones for your throbbing temples. Then as the triptych completes on Side B, we’re involved in the search for ‘Nuda’, a state of nakedness or nature that’s invoked by the recording of a female voice uttering this single word repeatedly, in a giddy state halfway between abject fear and Bacchanalian abandon. A gorgeous and exhilarating work for sure; all the composer will tell us is that he went into the studio after a long abstinence, and had it in mind to produce something utterly personal – hence the subtitle, a “symphony for myself” – an ambitious project, using symbolism, resolving a weighty personal matter which I can only assume is between him and his maker. Two writers, Christian Zanési and François Bonnet, praise this work’s “radicalism”, its “tense, demanding, abrasive” qualities…it’s certainly as cathartic as you could wish for, while never surrendering to the potential vagueness of the mental challenges it has taken on; unknown and unnameable forces are finding solid forms of musical expression.

The other work, ‘Bizarra’, is from 1972 and equally exciting in terms of its extreme textural treatments and fearless explorations of unusual, innovative electronic tones. The composer was inspired by Lautremont’s poetry (boy, there’s a lot of that going around lately), and was aiming to construct a wild, rather threatening, imaginary swampy landscape…the French scribes regard it as a harbinger of the main piece, a notable squall which presages the arrival of the huge tsunami that would arrive 6 years later. Originally released on vinyl in 1978, and mint originals are now fetching about 100 bones; this work did make it onto a CD reissue but even that is now out of print, so this reissue is most welcome. Nice embossed geometric cover design by Stephen O’Malley, full cover card insert with great images and notes. From December 2012.

View From the Interior

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David Berezan
Allusions Sonores
CANADA empreintes DIGITALes IMED 13122 (2013)

Always grateful to take receipt of new releases from a favourite electroacoustic label: empreintes DIGITALes, whose releases of benchmark collections by Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn have previously wowed me to annoying verbosity. David Berezan’s a new name to me, but he upholds the label’s reputation for quality product; this set of allusive sounds reflecting everything I enjoy about electroacoustic music. While they are said to inhabit different bodies, Berezan and Blackburn display a strong thematic and audible kinship in their respective works. Both have produced pieces in and about Japan for one thing, and both have an appetite for exotic instruments. Accordingly, Berezan constructs the lush but byzantine second piece, ‘Thumbs’ (2011), from a single plucked note on a Balinese thumb piano; a note he gets right inside: stretching it every which way in and around our ears and bodies.

It is a compositional discipline that informs every piece, each with its distinct identity, which digital processing never detracts from. Take ‘Nijo’ (2009), with its origins in customised Japanese ‘nightingale’ flooring. Otherwise stable and silent, certain castle floorboards were raised ever so slightly as to ‘sing’ if and when an intruder stood upon them, alerting security to their presence. Perhaps for the possibility of emergency, the piece forsakes the stealthy motion one might expect for the torrent of bouldering acoustics we actually hear. Other tracks are more subdued, but no less fascinating: ‘Buoy’ (2011) is almost ambient in its representation of swelling seawater, its patina of digital glitter endowing the soothing sounds with an almost rotoscoped, fictional veneer.

In total, these five pieces offer us a glimpse of the potential breadth of the composer’s work, and I suppose newcomers (in particular) a view of some of the more palatable possibilities afforded by electroacoustic music. Even those of us as jaded about ‘experimental’ music as much as sausage factory pop or electronic should surely find solace in such careful craft.

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@C
Ab Ovo
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA 085-2014 CD (2014)

Cool, calm & collected collection of clicks n’cuts piped in from Portugal, courtesy of Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela, aka duo @C. While not an explicitly maritime enterprise, these exploratory and oft-asymmetrical offerings seemingly probe fissures in the ocean depths to reveal a complex and hitherto concealed world of electronic miniatures; doing so amidst a palpable atmospheric pressure, which is offset by the curious movements of such delicate creatures, and illuminated by an occasional sweep of radiance.

Sometimes as long as twenty minutes, these five tracks constitute the soundtrack to ‘OVO’, a multimedia puppetry piece by the theatre group Teatro de Marionetas do Porto. A little YouTube searching produces an eye-catching array of situations for this play alone, which resembles in places a western variation on Japanese bunraku, some puppets requiring several nimble, black-garbed manipulators. While their thespian antics are not always immune from derision, the puppetry is quite novel, and the footage offers some context for the music and its high level of abstraction.

The album’s staple sound is a low-key, flickering fluorescence: as unhurried and eminently fascinating as krill viewed through a microscope. Diversion emerges in the spell of robotic alien-speak in ‘100’, while ‘101’ is hijacked by a brutish variant on the signature style, inducting listeners into a briefly heightened tension level, like a submarine hull creaking under immense pressure. All in all, it’s not all that alien from the hitherto popular ‘glitch’ sound of Mille Plateaux et al., though a good deal more streamlined, than that which I’ve heard anyway.

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Seattle Phonographers Union
Building 27 WNP-5
USA PREFECTURE MUSIC PREFECTURE 009 LP (2013)

There are only so many clichés one can wheel out to describe the dark ambient location recording, and I’ve flogged them all to death. Differentiating the one from the homogenous many and doing so persuasively is the reviewer’s lot, though there are worse jobs I’ll admit. I suppose a similar problem pesters the artist, for whom novelty is by necessity the child of invention, but for every ten of whom we might find one with something interesting going on. The others badly lack friends – or at least honest ones – to talk them out of serving up some ‘same old’ gloomy slop they recorded in a spooky, abandoned factory. Glad am I to report then that the Seattle Phonographers Union falls into the fortuitous 10%. Why badger friends when you can simply recruit them?

This is certainly the case with the duo Howlround, on whose recent recordings I have shovelled glow-in-the-dark accolades. Their haphazard reel-to-reel merging of out-of-sync sound recordings yielded us something genuinely engaging. They also know when and where to make an edit: a skill in woefully short supply in this field (pun intended). The 16-strong SPU also belongs to this illustrious fraternity of the darkness, thanks to these two side-long hunks of monolithic menace, which far better resemble electroacoustic composition than snapshots from a perfunctory site inspection. With an almost painful freighting of invisible somethings into near view across immeasurable spans, the sounds shift (in their own time) between miles of hulking reverb to pin-drop immediacy and back, in seamless fashion.

One might expect a painstaking but judicious editing process to be the key here, but far from it. What we hear arises from onstage improvisations using previously made field recordings, within selected spaces, in this case a disused aircraft hanger and an unfinished nuclear power station. And it’s unedited to boot. It must have been the treat for the audience to experience these booming acoustics so directly, but the current living room bombardment seems an adequate booby prize. Feels rather like being on the set of Terry Gilliam’s latest, The Zero Theorem, though without all the tacky futurist zeitgeist baubles that left it a weak sibling to Brazil. I’ve no idea how many of the collective were ‘performing’ on their laptops at the time of these sets, but collectively they are adept at obviating intrusiveness and present a strong case for a ‘strength in numbers’ approach to field recording.

The Great Outdoors

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Norbert Möslang’s music is a firm favourite in this house. He was one half of Voice Crack, the Swiss duo who delivered a good dose of abrasive non-stop noise to the passive barely-twitching corpse of free improvisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s…it was particularly poignant when they made records together with Borbetomagus. I often wish I could recapture the thrilling shock I felt when I first heard the record Fish That Sparkling Bubble. Well, here’s Norbert with his own album indoor_outdoor (IDEOLOGIC ORGAN SOMA008) on the Stephen O’Malley Mego-sponsored imprint. indoor_outdoor contains two side-long tracks, both worthy of investigation by hungry noise-snoopers in need of a good fix and showing that “Norbert The Noise” can still drive a bulldozer through the opposition with the merest flick of his wrist, swinging a wrecking ball that fells the contemporary music “scene” like the flimsy deck of cards it is. On the title track, he’s doing it in fits and starts, drip-feeding us with little chunks of the “good stuff” from his mighty funnel, until by track’s end those drips have turned into a raging torrent. Hard to believe it’s derived from field recordings of water. There’s a harbour close to where he lives where he captured the sounds, which have been processed and recomposed in the studio in a brilliantly “hands-on”, rugged approach to electro-acoustic composition. No namby-pamby over-cooked studio technique for him, nor agonising for six months over delicate nuances of tone, nossir! Part of the interest here lies in his iron control, knowing that he has so much chaotic power caged in his equipment like a jaguar. Tension arises at those moments when the chaos threatens to overwhelm him. But he reins in the jaguar and then sticks his own head in its jaws, as an index to his fearless skills. The crowd roars. Additionally, the sounds are beautifully rich and textured, and though the floor of this hotel may comprise rough-hewn surfaces and splintery timbers, they have been jointed in place by a master carpenter. Ach! I’m trying to say something here about the amazing dynamics of the sound, but I’ve been railroaded by my own mixed metaphors. That’ll teach me. How redundant it is to write about music.

Let’s flip this hot potato pancake over to investigate ‘hot_cold_shield’, where “Möslang The Magnificent” teams up with Toshimaru Nakamura. This fierce cut is a live recording from a 2012 music festival in Quebec. A pitched battle between the famous no-input mixing board and the equally famous cracked everyday-electronics ensues. Interesting that both of these performers have become associated with a particular type of equipment and usually insist that it’s always printed in the credits that way. I say a battle because this workout does in places resemble something of a war zone, although that’s only because I’m one of those listeners who can’t help running imaginary movies in my head when playing records. This one featured quite a few helicopters, probably carrying high explosives, and also collapsing buildings everywhere and much chaotic sprawl. This isn’t to say that the duo were fighting with each other, but they certainly know how to provide a good soundtrack for the end of the world when they lock their aural antlers. If the destruction is happening in a somewhat haphazard and inefficient manner, that’s down to lack of military planning on the part of my bazooka commander, ending up in a melee or a rout. This indicates I suppose the improvised dimensions to this side of the record; had some compositional programming been applied, it’s possible that the destruction of the city could have been effected much sooner, and with more spectacular explosions. As it is, ‘hot_cold_shield’ is choppy and disorganised, but it’s also much warmer and juicier this way. Noise improv made by humans. From December 2012.

Cut a Rug

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P.O.P. (Psychology of Perception)
täbriz
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO063 CD (2013)

Here, Zeitkratzer’s Reinhold Friedl meets Hannes Strobl, ably assisted by alto saxophonist Hayden Chisholm (no relation to the Scottish jazz trombonist George Chisholm), all the better to further blur the already uncertain boundaries and relationships between improvised music and composition. To my ears, every sound I hear on this disc is or could be the result of serendipitous events on prepared pianos, or happy accidents with non-specified electronic gadgetry blended with other electric and acoustic instrumentation, but its authors resolutely declare its status as “composed” within the sleeve credits.

However, it seems Messrs Strobl und Friedl are also equally interested, as we can plainly see from the full colour photography on the sumptuous and expensively-printed foldover sleeve, in rugs. Yes, rugs. In fact, we are given a brief yet comprehensive rundown of the relative merits of three famous types of rug, which also serve as the track titles; “Tabriz”, “Senneh” and “Kerman”. A close-up of a Kerman rug design liberally adorns the cover of this cd. Whether P.O.P. were attempting to invest the attributes of each type of rug into the corresponding musical piece or simply show off their latest holiday purchases remains unclear.

To designate this music “composition” suggests many, many hours staring at a computer screen running ProTools HD, and like all productions in this vein, I would have liked to have had sight of the score. Of course, it is possible to record anything and run it through the software Sibelius and let that spit out some manuscript, but I think you’ll agree a print-out of a recording of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise created by Sibelius would pall into insignificance when placed next to the actual score. Even piano preparations can be easily scored and it may be these recordings were performed straight through in one take. The second track, “Senneh”, consists of seemingly random ticking and chiming reminiscent of what Lee Patterson was up to around 2004/5. In short, there’s nothing here you probably haven’t heard before, but it is an extremely pleasant listen nonetheless.

Ecumenical Matters

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Jacob Kirkegaard
Conversion
UK TOUCH TONE 47 LP (2013)

A pithy, innocuous title enclosing a tidy double entendre here: ‘Conversion’ signalling both the ecumenical matter of (side B’s) ‘Church II’, and the orchestral transposition of two of Danish composer Jacob Kirkegaard’s earlier, field-of-science recordings. ‘Labyrinthitis II’ is a taut but sombre exercise in which a single, suspended cello and clarinet lines are subjected to meticulous, miniscule modulations over seventeen minutes, purveying an emotional stasis somewhere ‘twixt the snowbound realms of The Thing and The Shining, albeit mitigated by the odd ray of survivor-spotted sunshine.

Traditionally, the sequel cedes superiority to the original piece, so if it is the case here then the earlier versions must have been intriguing to say the least (I say this not having heard them). Their origins are anyway: Kirkegaard’s methods aim to expose ‘potential musicality in hidden sound layers in the environment’ and ‘inaudible acoustic phenomena’, and so in the original version of ‘Labyrinthitis’ – named after an inner ear disorder – Kirkegaard amplified the sound of his own inner ear’s ‘Distorted Product Otoacoustic Emissions’ 1 and allowed the audible results – a ‘third tone’ (via deep inner-ear microphones) to play out for some 40 minutes, apparently with interactive potential for each listener: their ears being empowered ‘to sing’ as it were. My own hat (if I had one) I would doff out of respect to the scientific prowess applied to reifying an otherwise mystifying/mystical phenomenon.

‘Church II’ applies similar methodology to a comparatively conventional recording of an abandoned church that lies within the contaminated zone in Chernobyl, resulting in a pleasant (if predictable) stretch of arctic yawn over endless plains of nowhere, which is conducive at least to a contemplative state of mind. Interested parties are encouraged to bring the relevant apparatus (ears) and contextual awareness to the proximity of this recording, which has much more to offer than a mere ‘drone’ record.

009

Greg Sinibaldi / Jesse Canterbury
Ascendant
USA PREFECTURE MUSIC PREFECTURE 010 LP (2013)

Wherein the nominated pair provide peals of soft, svelte sax and bass clarinet, captured in a capacious, chasmal, concrete cistern, and resulting in a slow, sonorous suite of normalised harmonics. Though inhabited by two human bodies, one phenomenological novelty of the performance space was a forty-five second reverberation effect that boomeranged sounds off the curved walls, effectively necessitating a negotiation with invisible doppelganger co-musicians. Such mindfulness was further employed to avoid sonic inundation, which would have been a most poetic consequence in a dry vessel.

They achieve this largely by dint of the sensitive insertion of pauses between phrases, which are filled by the effulgence of their sonic doubles, yielding an atmosphere of perpetual undulation, and suggesting that a good deal of research went into correct physical position and proximity within that closed space. As for tunes, though Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ugly Beauty’ gets the cover treatment (an apposite title, given the location; check out that texture on the cover!), there’s not a lick of jazz. So reverent are these sloooooowwww sounds in fact that they seem to emanate from the pulpit of a vast church. Similar sobriety is evident in the astringent tones on the cover shot (a small textural detail from the venue), and in the nature of the occasion itself, which marked the pair’s final session together before Sinibaldi departed Seattle for pastures new. One for a month of Sundays.

  1. Also known as ‘Tartini tones’ – individualised vibrations of microscopic inner ear hairs brought about by specific pairings of tones (in this case ratio 1:1.2), such as those first demonstrated in Maryanne Amacher’s ‘Sound Characters’.