Courtesy of the lovely Petter Flaten Eilertsen we received a bundle of goodies from Oslo. Included in the bag are four cassettes on the Kassettkultur label, proudly announcing their return after a “four year hiatus”. Among the releases is one oddity by Jono El Grande, a Norwegian composer who is entirely new to me. On the strength of Der Tod Der Gegenwartsmusik (KULT 016), however, we’re ready to award him the laurel wreath for madcap of the year, given his endearing zany antics on both sides of the tape. What greeted us was two short suites (circa. 11 mins apiece) of lively and demented stuff that freely mixes styles – pop, classical, jazz – with no reverence whatsoever, and a great sense of fun and discovery. In places it reminded us of Frank Zappa, back in the days when he knew how to have fun too; we say that because of Jono’s penchant for speeded-up tapes, strange voice interludes, excessively complex orchestration, and “impossible” speeds for musical performance. It’s possible perhaps that this work is mainly done by sampling and computer editing, but that matters not one whit when you’ve got such a tasty pizza with so many delectable toppings, served to you by a hilarious waiter on roller skates and dressed as a gorilla. Take a look at the cover art…also drawn by Jono El Grande…and you’ve got a strong visual equivalent of the music for your mental stomach to digest. This amiable loon seems to have spent much of his waking life forming “imaginary” bands and crazy music in his own mind, starting with The Handkerchiefs when he was aged ten, and a number of bands that only existed for one night – including The Terror Duo, Black Satan, The Pez Dispensers, and Acetaded Beat – before disappearing in the sky like so many fireworks. Be sure to seek out his earlier releases on Rune Grammofon and Rune Arkiv, if you find this polymath loopiness to your taste. From 19 July 2016.
Laurent Perrier’s 2016 album is the follow-up to Plateforme #1, noted here in 2014. On Plateforme #2 (BASKARU KARU:39) it’s more of the same method, Perrier producing lengthy sound-essays based on materials supplied to him by other famed sound artistes. It’s an ongoing plan, and a very disciplined one. Perrier elects to work only with whatever he is sent, no matter what it may be or how long it is. He’s almost signing a blank cheque for his repurposing services, but I do like the idea of setting yourself some restrictions or framework for the music to happen in, or it might become just another “remix” mail-art thing of which we had a surfeit in the 1990s.
Perrier assumes that the material that arrives on the USB stick is wholly representative of his collaborator’s personal style, or to use his own expression, their “usual soundworld”. His challenge then is to make sure that he preserves that distinctive fingerprint, so that no matter how much he processes and reprocesses, the finished results are identifiable as the work of someone else. First name to pass through the benign mill of digital mixage is Francisco López, the prolific Spanish maestro of rich field recordings, currently riding the high wind of his ecological concerns and illustrating the plight of planet Earth through the recomposed contents of his hard drive. Perrier offers us a more compressed and slightly more fast-moving vision of the López world; as if 18 hours of video were being watched by a channel-hopper with a fast-forward button. López never sounded as “processed” as this, but we do get to the essence of the original through this Perrier rendition.
Founding LAFMS member Tom Recchion will never be accused of flooding the market with too many records, and we haven’t heard him here since 2012’s Proscenium for the Elevator Bath label, a record which wasn’t a core release by any means and more a by-product of some incidental stage music for an Edgar Allen Poe production. Even so, I always associate Recchion with a palpable atmosphere of his own, and admire the effortless technique by which he achieves his unusual compositions. Laurent Perrier somehow manages to miss both the atmosphere, and the economy; I can barely recognise Tom Recchion in amongst these polished but faceless digital sweeps and drones.
Third and final name steps forward to the podium. Christian Zanési is a French composer who studied under Schaeffer and Guy Reibel and was director of Ina GRM for nearly 10 years. It’s to my discredit that I haven’t ever heard his music, and I intend to try and find a copy of Stop! L’Horizon as soon as I can 1; it compiles three of his 1980s compositions and looks like a good place to start. If it’s anything like this track as repurposed by Laurent Perrier, it looks like I’m in for a great time. Although this piece is still blighted with the rather glib use of super-fast digital edits and the use of one too many filters (a charge we could level at the whole album), these 24 minutes have a stern purpose and darkened sense of focus which is less evident on the rest of Plateforme #2. As such, this piece alone might be worth the price of admission. From 15 June 2016.
- Not an easy task, as it turns out. ↩
Spire, Entropy, Germany, Iron Bonehead Productions, IBP 265 CD digipak / vinyl 12″ / digital (2016)
Only recently have Spire issued their debut album in spite of having existed for nearly a decade. The long gestation period (with an equally long wait for their fans!) has finally paid off: “Entropy” is not so much an album of very dark ambient ritual black metal songs as it is a full dive into a universe of deep alienation, untold pain and never-ending despair. The immersive nature of the music reminds me a great deal of French BM legends Deathspell Omega and it’s possible DSO served as an inspiration and the standard against which Spire strove to craft and refine their music. In that, Spire have certainly set themselves a high target to aim for and they have done well indeed.
Each track, no matter how long or short, is epic in itself which says a great deal about how the musicians composed and crafted the music and constructed the whole thing – not just the actual song itself but its atmosphere, the effects that flesh it out into a three-dimensional beast – so that the entire structure is a soaring monstrous creature of unlimited malevolence, magnificent in its clear and crisp sound, and utter crystalline coldness. The first track “Ends” demonstrates Spire blasting out atmospheric BM doom drama the equal of any music in that genre to be found. It’s really with “(Remake)” though that we enter territory that maybe not even DSO have dared to venture into: here we come into a stupendous Ninth-Layer-Of-Hell region of deranged crunching guitar riffing and reptilian echo-cacophony that plainly spells out “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter” in case we still harboured such child-like notions in our heads. Even then, we only get a glimpse of the depths of the abyss that beckon before we’re whisked off to the next track, an equally intense work of thunderous bass, rapid-fire percussion and pounding visions of eternal hell.
So far, so good … and then we come to “(Unmake)”, an almost all-ambient track featuring guitar trilling melody and feedback against a background of pulsing whisper noise effects. Putting this track here after mostly short though intense pieces does take the wind out of the album, especially as this is one of the longer tracks, meaning that the song coming after has a lot of work to do reclaiming the earlier intensity of the music. Fortunately this is not difficult for the title track to do, building up to behemoth proportions with nuclear-powered blast-beat percussion, martial riffing, loads of screaming vocals and deep-end guttural groans, and bass lines that travel their own off-centre rollercoaster paths into derangement.
The album could have done with slightly longer songs in its earlier half – “(Remake)” alone is such a stupendous song that cutting it to about 3 minutes should have led to six months’ community service and maybe a small fine – so as to balance the long tracks that come in the album’s second half. Apart from this, and the slight loss of momentum that comes with having a long ambient piece after the halfway point, I don’t find much to fault this album. True, a lot of the music sounds familiar if you’re a DSO-obsessive freak and Spire could have brought something more innovative to their brand of very dark and occult-sounding black / doom fusion. The band has work cut out for it to develop a more original sound and not be mistaken for someone else’s project. Even so, “Entropy” is still a very ambitious work, sounding very complete in its aims and vision, with a powerful and layered style. The best thing about the album is its immersive nature, how it sounds so much like a real hellish world where pain, despair and lack of hope reign, that it feels more real than the actual world we live in.
Michael Moser is the Austrian musician who plays a cello and performs in the amazing quartet Polwechsel, and has sometimes played in the equally amazing Zeitkratzer Ensemble. Here he is now with Antiphon Stein (EDITION RZ ed.RZ 9010-11), an astonishing site-specific composition of avant-garde music which he plays and performs with the help of percussionist Berndt Thurner and organist Klaus Lang. It’s also released as a double LP in a gatefold sleeve with a booklet of notes, on the lovely Edition RZ label. Robert Zank has put out a steady flow of exceptionally fine European avant music on this label since the late 1980s; in the 1990s, they tended to appear in uniform black covers with severe minimalist tyopgraphy, and high quality pressings, so the listener knew they were in for a treat of hard-hitting, no nonsense experimental music that could lacerate your brain, face, and senses.
Antiphon Stein was recorded in a church – the Minoritenkirche Krems / Stein. As is often the case in such situations, the music is intended to engage with a very specific piece of architecture and space, and the intention is that “the sound of the specific area…plays a central role in the overall acoustic image”. Did I mention the sheets of glass and metal? They are probably the central component of this whole work, and indeed they function as the principal “instruments” of Antiphon Stein. He’s got about 20 of them, either hanging in the air or lying on the floor of the building, equipped with transducers; the idea is to transform them into “membranes,” so they act as very powerful resonators to relay and amplify the sounds created in the piece, reflecting them back into the building and to the audience. It’s to do with a precise understanding of acoustical vibrations…in typically Germanic fashion, the precise dimensions of these sheets of glass and metal are included in the booklet, presumably forming an essential part of the composition, should any future composers wish to restage the work.
The record is a very rewarding listen. At one level, it might be considered an advanced form of Electro-Acoustic Improvisation, the musicians pushing out their slow but very deliberate statements on the organ, percussion, electronics, and other instruments. But they’re doing this in a very “hot” and resonant environment, the sheets of metal and glass picking up every gesture and redoubling it, pushing it back against the walls and ceiling of the church. From the start, the music is operating in another rich dimension, enabling Michael Moser and his team to “play” the church itself like another musical instrument, through the simple expedient of this very exacting sound installation set-up.
In other hands, all of this might have resulted in a worthy-but-dull process exercise. But every moment of Moser’s 80-minute epic here is tense, exciting, and even somewhat threatening in its black intensity. It’s like a more focused and directed version of early AMM Music, without any sense of a need to explore tentatively; Moser knows exactly where he is going in this unearthly territory, and each musical utterance exhibits this certainty with an almost grim, metallic precision. We’ve heard a number of cathedral or church-based recordings of art music over the years, some of them by improvisers, some by composers; from what I recall, it’s always been interesting which aspect of the church they tend to emphasise or privilege over others. In Moser’s case, he’s effectively refitted the church environment for his own ends, to turn it into a resonating space and help to form a fully integrated compositional statement. Highly recommend this strong piece of modernist genius. From 25 May 2016.
American-born sound artist Pierce Warneke mostly lives and works in Europe, and has surfaced here before mainly in the context of Emitter Micro, that interesting label that has been home to a few small-run releases in bizarre packaging which contains anonymous, perplexing and alienatingly severe electronic sound art. I often associate him with Berliner Christoph Limbach, and both of them appeared on Four Corners Of The Night, a cassette tape released by Staaltape around 2012. Warneke has now made a superb album called Memory Fragments (ROOM 40 RM479), where he performs electronic music using assorted devices and methods such as the electromagnetic coil, contact microphones, feedback, and a process called “FM and additive synthesis”. And some conventional instruments, including piano and guitar. He’s joined by the bass player Yair Elzara Glotman, Kris Limbach (see above) on percussion, and the saxophonist Pierre Borel. In addition to this, there are field recordings gathered from America, Portugal, France and Germany folded into the equation.
The set is thus far from minimal or severe, and instead offers a rich set of complex and intriguing tones for the listener to explore and move around inside. With a descriptive paragraph explaining something of the origins of this work, Warnecke uses an entire thesaurus of terms which mean more or less the same thing – the message that comes across is constant change and reworking, suggesting he manipulates his sizeable gobbets of sound like so much plasticine, remoulding them into toy farms, cities, office workers and Noah’s Ark configurations like a grown-up child ought to do. A large number of contemporary sound artists are into the “reworking” thing these days; I suppose it’s much easier to tinker with sound files in the computer than ever before, and while some of them may hope to align themselves with the early geniuses of musique concrète, quite often they simply produced reams of over-cooked murk and spew, which has been baked in the innards of a laptop for far too long.
We can’t level that accusation at a single track, or a single moment, on Memory Fragments; every musical utterance has a certain weight, and there’s a solidity and crispness to the sounds that is impressive. Although events do tend to coagulate into a continuum of some sort, it’s never a mindless or boring process drone; and the strange weightless journey into space is mapped with a series of very distinct and separated sound events, acting like milestones. It’s a very exciting and inexplicable noise.
There’s also a certain solemnity to the music, as if every utterance were delivered by an undertaker wearing a large top hat and a grave countenance. This may have something to with the ponderous track titles; each one nearly a sentence, or title of a book chapter (a book one never hopes to read), and to boot they’re arranged under two headings, suggesting the book is a two-volume monster of epic sweep. The trend of these titles reads like an attempt to describe the phenomenon of memory itself, clasping at concrete images that might capture it in some way. In that context, the phrase “built on folds and braids” seems especially resonant. The puzzling cover image (uncredited) may also be an attempt to pin down the elusive idea of memory into a visual form; curlicue twisted rags of cloth or paper spin in space, or are arranged in something resembling a grid.
Warneke is attempting to say something about the human mind as a recording medium. The brain can replay memories, but it might do so in a faulty manner, so that the memory never matches the actual experience. This volatility interests him, and the record Memory Fragments expresses this idea by “taking samples (sound, images, objects) of a physical space and then placing them in an imaginary process of transformation and transience that slowly erodes these digital memories until disappearance”. From 25 May 2016.
Italian composer SEC_ (i.e. Mimmo Napolitano) has landed here a few times, notably with his exciting and severe Outflow record where we admired the “measured control, economy, tautness, and selection” in the compactness and editing; and the old-school tape-recorder approach delighted Paul Morgan on 2013’s Moscaio album, even though he complained “there’s no doubt [SEC_] has successfully created an alien, unnatural soundscape, but I found that it takes a few listens to be able to comfortably inhabit it.” Here today is Mefite (TOXO RECORDS tx07), a highly alarming and disorienting composition, which like Outflow also contains a near-overload of information, and which like Moscaio successfully induces strange sensations of loathing and dread.
Mefite has a classical theme, inspired by the Roman fertility goddess (called Mephitis in English) who was often associated with water, swamps, and volcanoes; some scholars think she’s the personification of the sulphurous gases which were naturally emitted by these geographic features. Our man Mimmo is 100% sold on the myth; he describes the Ansanto Valley with some relish as a secret cult location where “horrible gas emissions…kill those who go too close”. These themes are bolstered by the murky cover images, portraying inhospitable rocky areas, perhaps riddled with lava streams and poisonous gases.
To articulate the voice of Mephitis, Mimmo has enlisted the talents of M. DellaMorte, who intones her vengeful words through a distorting filter as if speaking to us mere mortals using the broken telephone receiver of The Gods. She may have got the job based solely on her surname, which translates as “Of Death”; hopefully she’s a gothic beauty with stunning black hair, a wan expression, and prominent cheekbones. The texts she’s speaking were derived from a film about insects by Peter Liechti, which in turn was inspired by a book bearing the chilling title Diary Of A Mummy by Shimada Masahiko. Apparently it’s a macabre story about death by starvation, told in diary form. Brrr…but I do like this multi-layered approach to culture, allowing one subject to illuminate another; juggling the nested ideas seems like just the sort of complex exercise that SEC_ would enjoy, given his elaborate music.
This barrage of information reaches a head near the middle of Part 2 of the composition, creating an overload of unnerving sounds in which the relentless voice continues to chatter implacably. Matter of fact there are multiple speaking voices, generating nightmarish sensations. I should count myself lucky I only have a CD; the original performance in Naples was a multi-channel operation, involving radios and speakers with a live vocal performance. Small wonder the inhabitants dreamt of death by volcano that night, some of them reliving the last days of Pompeii.
I had an idea that European electro-acoustic composers of the 20th century also liked to do occasional updates on Greek and Roman myths, but I can’t find any examples now to support this claim. Even so, one senses that SEC_ is following in a good tradition, giving free vent to his tortured imagination through these strong themes, and creating powerful music thereby. Very good! From 28 June 2016.
POLAND BÔŁT RECORDS BR R005 CD (2014)
One name ubiquitous to my eyes of late belongs to Lithuanian composer, collaborator and sound artist Arturas Bumšteinas, by virtue of his having secured space on so many labels of interest to this journal. And to my ears he blends the roles of composer and sound artist very evenly throughout this largely solo effort. The Steve Reich-ian title quickly proves to be a red herring: where Reich’s work of the same title concerned itself with the disparity between certain Jewish experiences during and after World War II, Bumšteinas reformulates the theme (while preserving the Jewish perspective) as a work ‘inspired by Central European cultural landscape’ and all the turmoil, change and redemption this implies. The ‘Different Trains’ are both real and metaphorical, like passing carriages loaded with history, poetry, improvisation and composition of a distinctly religious tone.
Such good-natured appropriation should offer little surprise, considering Bumšteinas once published a book of cocktail recipes in graphic score form a la Stockhausen’s Studie II. And as the first composition (‘Wielka improwizacja’) makes clear, he is quite the organiser. This ‘radio play’ sets off with deceptive linearity: an accented female narrator gives a potted history of Lithuania’s railway system while trains shimmer past in the distance. The significance of this history is twofold: rails connect Lithuania internally and internationally, but at the same time admit all manner of influences desirable and otherwise. Thus it is that with one dread-inducing drone, Mother Russia takes hold of Lithuania (as she has done twice in the past two centuries) and the drama assumes a collage-like aspect, with equal measures of dissonance and benediction distributed across the sharded structure. Such moods reflect the geography: much was recorded in and around the Basilian monastery in Vilnius, which doubled as a Russian prison in the 19th century, becoming a ‘home’ for artists and prisoners of conscience. It certainly shows. Bumšteinas weaves recordings of Church organ, a string quartet, guitar and voices into a narrative that manages to accrue momentum in spite of its fragmented sequencing, but keeps the listener ever at a distance. Monologues and poetry in English and Lithuanian (some old, some new) convey immediacy and remoteness through dispassionate delivery, as if illustrating an ecclesiastical experience chilled by a lunar spiritualism that accepts only the faithful.
An inversion of the original title choice (and Bumšteinas’ chosen avatar), ‘Acceptnik’ flips on its head the idea of the ‘Refusenik’ (i.e. a non-conformist, or someone (especially a Jew) denied freedom of movement) as an expression of the personal freedoms that gave rise to this second piece. It would appear that ‘inspiration from above’ was both sought and admitted, given the piece’s founding on a ‘nocturnal improvisation’ played on the St. Severin’s Church organ in Germany, where one imagines Bumšteinas proceeding wherever whim took him. The resultant overtones issue forth, barely stemmed by struck chimes and the swells of a vaporous ghost-choir, as well as sine waves, field recording and instruments; all distributed in a pattern that provides a relatively linear yet quite uncertain experience, which humbly invites the listener’s acceptance.
While conceivably the ‘easy listening’ finale, ’Pinavija’ unites the cold air of antiquity with the warmth of lamp-lit nostalgia, owing to the delicate and pervasive melody of its harmonium basis, which was sourced from a 78 recording of the Hebrew Sabbath prayer Jehi Rozon. Composed as a gift, the piece takes its name from a flower, akin to which it opens gradually to reveal its splendour, blending the mellifluous and discordant alike (snippets of violin, koto, dulcimer etc.) as it proceeds towards a well-earned crescendo. It is not without incident though: the balance between solemn hymnal and pseudo-shamanic ‘folk’ is shaky at times; a structural uncertainty that wavers like faith under interrogation, though the bracing round of hand-clapping that marks the piece’s final minutes offers at least temporary fortification, as well as another possible Steve Reich reference. Given Bumšteinas’ capacity for repurposing though, it might just as easily function as a note of self congratulation.
Antanas Rekašius / Apartment House
LITHUANIAN MUSIC INFORMATION AND PUBLISHING CENTRE MICL CD 089 (2016)
Towering high with over 30 participants, UK’s Apartment House is a substantial set of indefatigable interpreters of international avant-garde in operation since 1995. Apportioning duties across this massive membership, in Fonogramatika they turn their collective eye to a selection of small chamber works penned ‘calligraphically’ and ‘elegantly across the page’ by the Lithuanian composer Antanas Rekašius (1928 – 2003), which the liner notes liken to the capricious splattering of a painter. A relative latecomer to the world of composition (beginning with his final year in law studies), after a determined catch-up Rekašius developed three strands in his oeuvre: dense symphonies ‘for a large, overburdened orchestra’; chamber music with an orchestrally counteractive ‘lightness and wit’; and songs for adults and children, with correspondingly chromatic modes of expression.
Though described by Apartment House’s Anton Lukoszevieze as ‘radical and forgotten’, the composer is evidently held in no small esteem by Lithuania’s cultural decision makers these days, this being a government-sponsored release. Even ‘radical’ Rekašius might have been startled by the standards: the CD is housed in four panels of extra-hard card, with the luxurious matt veneer of deluxe first edition.
Having elected to follow the chamber route (with all of its respective nuances), the musicians encountered a few speed bumps early on, making sense of a lack of specifics such as which percussion to use, though they turned this to their advantage fairly quickly by recognising in this paucity the composer’s wish to keep the music ‘free, fresh and improvisatory, blurring the boundaries between notation and interpretation’ and thus put some healthy onus on would-be interpreters.
No stranger to the kinds of aleatoric methods Rekašius employed in organising his material via repetition, pitch and timbral alterations, the group(s) follow suit in turning out pithy and distinctive variations of each composition’s primary theme, each commanding a very different mood. For variety’s sake, these can be divided into roughly five sections (‘Epitaph’, ‘Atonic’, ‘Phonogram’, ‘Fluorescences’ and ‘Musica Dolente E Con Brio’), each with a distinct arrangement (solo piano and cello, piano and percussion forming the main; the narcotically fine ‘Fluorescences’ being an extended duet for cello and synthesizer). Having discerned the lack of instructions to be a blessing in disguise, the groupings quickly divined their spontaneity and creativity in handling decisions, resulting in what I would suppose to be a sound approximation of the sought-after ‘alien jazz, with mournful melodies, grotesque rhythmic machinations and a sinuous pitch-bending’.
Though outwardly very sombre or otherwise unemotional, the compositional gravity is thus upended by the musicians’ lightness of touch. Saxophonist Frank Gratkowski and pianist Philip Thomas are particularly impressive for their crisp and athletic fingering in surroundings darkened by the brittle timbre of Lukoszevieze’s cello, which dynamics transform the performances from recitals into something far more personal. For instance, Parts of ‘Musica Dolente E Con Brio’ dance like an Alejandro Jodorowsky circus – outwardly spectacular, but infected with a presentiment that something dreadful could happen at any moment.
Which it does: a sudden ending. Which is as exemplary of where the ‘wit’ of these pieces as it gets; not in ‘subtle, winking humour’ but in ‘the crazy japes of vaudeville and Buster Keaton’. At the same time, I sense that this wit would be more evident in a live performance or in the composer’s presence (impossibility notwithstanding) – given his reputation for ‘rich, rapid, emotional and physical transformations, pulling and dragging out of his performers and jettisoning it into the acoustic space’. However, with Fonogramatika Apartment House offer a convincing argument for their authority as exponents of his work.
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR397 CD + DVD (2015)
‘These works are not at all for those whose attention is fully focused on the new worlds of sounds made accessible… by a jealous and relentless quest for technology. They target those who want to listen to instruments and not be able to recognise them… because their history has been changed.’
Thusly framed is this intriguing CD/DVD package from composer Jean-Luc Fafchamps and his hand-picked performers; the pomp of such grandstanding highlighting everything right and wrong with this release. He valorises the humbleness of the ‘simple electronic means’ used in realising these two compositions, which to my ears is a technological paucity that barely exceeds the processes of looping and amplification. In a sense it is a ’back to basics’ exercise in compositional resourcefulness where even multi-tracking is held in abeyance. This method might well be said to reinforces the ‘poetics’ of his music, but upon listening the meagreness of ingredients is clearly a virtue, as is the considered involvement of each performer with(in) their respective environment.
‘Beth/Veth’ – which features on the CD – is a single, extended ‘composition’ for piano and metallic objects, the passages of which consist mainly of semi-ornate, cascading naturalism broken by spells of incessant hammering, like a collage of Debussy, Satie, Feldman et al. Pianist Stephane Ginsburgh is a regular collaborator of Fafchamps’ and a reliable presence on the Sub Rosa label. He also has an affinity for Morton Feldman, which should surprise nary a listener. His studious examination of each and every note and phrase is that of the experienced jeweller studying a diamond for imperfections; an enquiry that deepens into jarring segues that lead to more irascible, fitful passages and finally the majestic arrival of gongs that signal the dying minutes. For me personally, it’s a listening experience particularly remarkable at the end of a tiring day.
By no small contrast the DVD is – on paper at least – something I’d not have plumped for if not prompted: footage of a ‘street’ performance for electric viola competing for attention with nearby traffic and initial public indifference; throughout the performance, the camera pans the area to record both the non-event of passing traffic and the growing interest of passers-by. The value of such an event as a recorded document is negligible, though once again Fafchamps’ words are validated by the fact that one has to ‘go to the effort’ of actually playing and watching the thing, rather than lazily clicking on a link. And by the simple means of repeating a brief, ascending phrase amplified ad infinitum, player Vincent Royer further satisfies Fafchamps’ function-over-form mandate; his ramped up layers of screech, swell and delay exhilarating and deafening his surrounding adversities into submission and finally into a round of well-deserved applause.
Stimulating as this all is, why these night-and-day pieces have been packaged as one is unclear: neither a comprehensive ’portrait’ of Jean-Luc Fafchamps, nor possessed of cohesive musicology; one is left to conclude that – self-sabotage notwithstanding – this disparity is the very point. We might also infer a qualified rejection of the many technologies that have encroached upon so much of our lives: social networking and music production for instance. How well it is served by such a manifesto as that quoted above though, I am dubious. For a statement that cries for simplicity, it certainly is wordy. But then who am I to comment?
French genius eRikm is here again with another of his modernist compositions, the conceptual suite of electro-acoustic music Doubse Hysterie (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO076). I’ve usually enjoyed his turntabling and sampling actions more than his formal composed music; the latter generally strikes me as cold, stiff and laboured, compared to the fun-loving pyrotechnics of the former. This Doubse Hysterie is an interesting one, however, and offers a variety of approaches across its six movements: lengthy and highly extended digital drones, mostly produced by a form of time-stretching which is eminently possible using today’s editing tools; musical performances, from the string duo of Julia Eckhardt and Silvia Platzer on ‘Hallali’; and a solo Khen performance from eRikm on ‘Bout De Souffle’. The record takes the listener on a train journey, and speculates on the meaning of male hysteria via the works of Freud and a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.
The time-stretching method is most evident on the interminable ‘Argentique’, which performs the impossible feat of extending a church bell chime for about 16 minutes; the semi-natural drone created extends into the distance, inviting gloomy prognostications. A bell of finality, tolling for the doom of man. ‘Arcus’ and ‘Cirrus’ may be working in similar ways, but at least they’re more maximal and there’s more substance in the sound to cling onto, even though the latter is in danger of lapsing into commonplace sound-file manipulation and over-familiar digital crunch. ‘Hallali’ continues to stand out on today’s spin, maybe because of the icy precision of the string players, or simply because of the resigned melancholy of its emotional stance. ‘Pop Macalogique’ is good too, and may come the closest to realising the composer’s intent, offering a suitable sombre tone for us to enjoy its grandiose, near-orchestral sweep.
As to that intent, Doubse Hysterie appears to have evolved in eRikm’s noggin through a mixture of process and ideas, one inspiring the other. Erikm took a train journey in the Franche-Comte area and, like many passengers these days, listened to stuff on his smartphone. As he would have it, this was “immersive listening” with “audio headphones”, and the fact that the smartphone has a GPS feature is also part of the concept in some way. Not unrelated is eRikm’s practice of taking long-exposure photographs out of the window when he rides the train, resulting in images which he calls “horizontally striated periodicities” 1. One example of these may even feature on the cover here. We can see the parallel between that method of image creation and the music on the CD; at one level, it shows the possibilities of manipulation of digital data, be it for image or audio.
Originally commissioned in 2011 by the Intermèdes Géographiques association, Doubse Hysterie contains nine suites in its full form; eRikm has carefully selected six of them, to create an album length piece and something suitable for home consumption, implying that the actual concert-hall performance was of a much more ambitious order. When he looked deeper into the ecological environment of the Arc Jurassien (through which his train journey took him), his mind made a connection between this geological arc and Arc D’Hysterie, a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois; this chain of thought leads us to one possible conclusion that Doubse Hysterie is “about” the phenomenon of male hysteria. I’m not overly familiar with this psychological condition, but there’s one school of thought that suggests it’s a real thing that is often over-shadowed by its female counterpoint; even eRikm thinks it is “almost unknown and remains a taboo”. Odd; he seems to stand on the cusp of becoming an advocate for hysteria, reclaiming it as a men’s lifestyle option. Maybe he could make it into a political platform.
Decide for yourself how much of this intellectual content has passed into the music; you may not find any nerve-shredding panic-attack mode music, if that’s what you were expecting, but that might not be the point. The central image on the cover could almost be mistaken for a highly stylised human figure writhing in agony during such an attack, but in fact it’s a map of the Arc Jurassien. From 21 June 2016.
- Enough pretentious jargon here for you yet? It does make one a tad mistrustful. Why can’t he speak more plainly? ↩
Impressive and inventive improvised / jazz / composed music from Pascal Niggenkemper, a French-German bass player appearing here with his new sextet Le 7eme Continent. The album Talking Trash (CLEAN FEED CF373CD) contains a wealth of musical ideas, allowing space for free improvisation within certain grids and frames, and the attention to dynamics and tension-inspiring gaps is remarkable. Niggenkemper is well served by his fantastic team of players, including the woodwind player Joachim Badenhorst (with whom he also plays in the trio Baloni), Eve Risser and Philip Zoubek with their two prepared pianos, plus the sub-contrabass flute of Julian Elvira and the clarinet of Joris Ruhl. Notice that’s an all-acoustic line-up, although it seems the woodwind team may employ some amplification; the majority of these strange and alien noises are all generated by human action, breathing, bowing and plucking movements.
Talking Trash is a concept album of sorts, based on Niggenkemper’s reading of alarming news reports of what’s happening in the Pacific ocean these days…apparently we’re dumping so much garbage in the sea, it’s practically formed a new continent of detritus, described by a note here as “an artificial world, in the midst of the ocean, accidentally created by men” and nicknamed the Seventh Continent. “It made me think…” states Niggenkemper, reflecting on the lamentable piles of non-biodegradable plastic we’re stacking up in gargantuan proportions; and as his way of dealing with this depressing “absurd reality”, he created these compositions. It helps to draw our attention to this aspect of world pollution. But he also wanted to create a living sound-portrait, a moving painting in sound, depicting the continent of rubbish and its undulating actions. The accuracy of his snapshots is informed by a pessimistic undertone, highly critical of the horrible wastage we tolerate under advanced capitalism.
Among the many notable musical moments: ‘Gyres Oceaniques’, a striking conversation between the two pianos, one of them providing a solid percussive backdrop while the other executes wild free jazz runs and trills; dark tension and open spaces (voids and vacuums) yawn terrifyingly. ‘Plasticsphere’, a long and melancholic drone piece of understated beauty, where the harmonics of the bowed strings create an oceanic swell, dotted with minimal piano tinkles and whimpers from the woodwind section, making us weep at the imagined sight of a forlorn plastic bag drifting hopelessly in the sea. The second track, whose title is an elaborate grid reference, exhibiting the Evan Parker acrobatics of the clarinets supported by an exquisite piano figure. ‘Ideonella Sakaiensis’, a perturbed squall of a piece suggestive of a storm at sea, amply demonstrating Niggenkemper’s aim to “make this seventh continent sing, hiss, whirr, buzz and scream”.
Talking Trash is a superlative album of contrasts and tensions: abstract soundscapes alongside dense free jazz note-clusters, narrative environment-portraits, taut well-arranged and composed rhythms with free-form blowing and scraping. The sextet perform immaculately and cannot put a single foot wrong, and the recording by Christian Heck and Stefan Deistler is vivid and clear, creating a great-sounding record. Full marks and highest recommendation for this exemplary example of cutting-edge improvised-composed and well-crafted music. From 22 June 2016.