Tagged: electroacoustic

Empty Space

Montreal composer James O’Callaghan has a collection called Espaces Tautologiques (empreintes DIGITALes IMED 16140), a release which is dominated by three parts of his electro-acoustic trilogy realised between 2013-2015. On ‘Objects-Interiors’ he does it with the inside of a piano; on ‘Bodies-Soundings’, an acoustic guitar and a toy piano; and on ‘Empties-Impetus’, the acoustic instruments of a string quartet. In each case there’s some attempt made to investigate acoustic spaces in some way, mainly by feeding back sounds and recordings of sounds into the resonating body in question. What ends up on the disc is a series of anonymous, samey-sounding creaks and groans. I found it a plodding listen, and extremely self-reflexive; music that simply describes itself, and describes the processes that brought it into being, as if the composer is merely building an echo chamber for a series of banal, self-regarding truisms, to be repeated ad infinitum. Virtually no effort has been made to sublimate this boring process music. From October 2016.

RIP Erkki Kurenniemi: farewell to a major experimental / electronics music pioneer

RIP Erkki Kurenniemi (1941 – 2017)

News of Finnish experimental / electronic music pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi’s death at the age of 75 years on 1 May 2017 was a shock to me: his actual output of music has been small compared to others of his generation but that’s due to the many interesting twists and turns his life took over the decades. The news prompted me to revisit a compilation of his early works that I’d reviewed years ago for TSP: “Aanityksia / Recordings (1963 – 1973)” released by Love Records (LXCD637) way back in 2002. The compilation contains nearly everything Kurenniemi made while employed as a volunteer assistant working towards a science degree in the Department of Musicology at the University of Helsinki.

Playing that compilation again, I’m amazed at the incredible of sounds Kurenniemi achieved and the cheerful fun and playfulness emanating from these tracks. From the loud and brash tape feedback noise of “On-Off” to the skritchy craziness of “Antropoidien tanssi”, to the mellow stateliness that becomes zanily deranged on “Inventio / Outventio”, to the near-hysterical wailing of “Preludi” or the equally demented “Nimeton” which builds up to a chaotic pyromanic climax, Kurenniemi’s curiosity and mischievous sense of humour power these tracks’ sounds and melodies to their utmost and reveal the sonic universe they inhabit as fun and at the same time extraordinarily rich in its minimalism. The last two tracks on the album (one “Mix Master Universe” done in collaboration with Jukka Ruohomaki) are long montages of various tape recordings with one track featuring a sing-along by Kurenniemi’s friends; these are not quite as enthralling as the earlier, shorter tracks, and they meander quite a bit but they still have their moments of easy amusement and joy.

Those interested in reading about Erkki Kurenniemi and why his career as an electronics music pioneer and inventor of electronic musical instruments faded away in the mid-1970s can start with his entry on Wikipedia which reveals that among other things he worked for now-defunct industrial design company Rosenlew and the more famous company Nokia designing industrial robotics systems during the 1980s. As interest in his early music and film work revived in Finland and around the world in the early 2000s, Kurenniemi returned to designing and making electronic musical instruments. He also became a commentator on future trends and developments in science and technology for Finnish TV networks. An interesting aside is that Kurenniemi’s mother Marjatta is famous in her own right as a writer with her own entry on Finnish-language Wikipedia.

Kurenniemi’s films (14 in all) and some of his early musical inventions and robot designs are being archived and preserved by art galleries and museums in Helsinki and Stockholm. His reputation in different fields of art, science and technology, and Finnish media is sure to grow after his death. Years may pass before his legacy to Finnish art, music and culture is fully recognised and acknowledged. RIP Erkki Kurenniemi.

Instantic Flamer

The lovely Richard Sanderson is here with A Thousand Concreted Perils (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDS LOR081). It’s been three years since he last turned in a solo concertina record (Air Buttons), and now here are a further 11 experiments where he applies a mixture of methods to change the sound of the instrument, open up new avenues for exploration, and generally push at the three corners of the envelope. Technically speaking, he does it with FX pedals and feedback, and even the use of computer software to manipulate sound, but it’s also clear from the enclosed notes that his mind is in a thousand diverse locations as he negotiates these thousand concreted perils. In a few terse sentences, he speculates on the joys of note-bending, he likens his bellows to a pair of lungs, he relishes the bad behaviour of broken equipment; and he alludes to musical personalities as diverse as Pauline Oliveros (natch!), John Kirkpatrick (also natch), and Jasper Smith 1, whose singing was the foundation for the track ‘Down In The Meadow’. Evidently, the tributaries of avant-garde and folk musics flow freely into Sanderson’s palate fine and find a welcome meeting point under his enquiring fingertips. Most endearing of all is the phrase “staring at an astronomical chart to empty mind whilst working out a sound”, and if that isn’t a gorgeous insight into the creative process of this man, then I’ll sell my copy of Lot 74 by Derek Bailey. The close-up photos of the concertina on the cover are a further index to his intimate engagement with the minutiae of sound, the physicalities of the instrument, evidence of which abounds on the disc. Seems to me that Sanderson has quietly evolved his own personal take (very DIY, very modest, very English) on the whole electro-acoustic improv thing. From 7th October 2016.

  1. For the singing of Jasper Smith – which I have never heard – try and locate a copy of The Travelling Songster on Topic Records 12TS304, released in 1977.

Annoyed Hibernation

Christoph Erb / Frantz Loriot
Sceneries
PORTUGAL CREATIVE SOURCES CS356 CD (2016)

Creative Sources is a super-prolific label; due, possibly, to its founder, Ernesto Rodrigues’ curation policy of literally going into partnership with the artists on each release. It’s an interesting list of artists on their website, too. The names immediately popping out on the front page are Lawrence Casserley, Hannah Marshall and Axel Dörner and all in collaboration with other European players. Already there may be up to fifty further titles available since this item was published. This particular title is a cracking disc of free-playing, in which Messrs Erb and Loriot set up an environment of high anxiety, tension and disquiet. Sceneries is full of strident events, sudden dips in weight; as if the ground were suddenly falling away under your feet, cacophonic interludes, disconcerting melodic information appearing from the shadows like Victorian ectoplasm, only to mysteriously disappear again moments later. This is achieved with the most modest of means – Christoph Erb plays tenor and soprano saxophones, while Franz Loriot pushes himself to his limits on viola. Erb founded the Veto Records imprint, through which he has released his collaborations with other improvisors such as Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michael Zerang, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly, Jim Baker, Keefe Jackson, Tomeka Reid and Jason Adasiewicz. Frantz Loriot works with “acoustic &/or electric viola + preparations + fx set + tapes” in groupings such as Der Verboten, Notebook Large Ensemble and Systematic Distortion Orchestra, as well as in duos with percussionist Christian Wolfarth, and clarinettist Jeremiah Cymerman, plus other loose groupings involving Christian Weber, Christian Kobi, Theresa Wong, Pascal Niggenkemper and others.

There are five separate tracks, recorded by Daniel Wehrlin in May 2015 at a venue in what appears to be a housing co-operative in Kriens, Switzerland called Teigi Fabrik. Great interplay between the two musicians and along with moments of risk-taking there is that feeling that you only get when seasoned and experienced practitioners are in the room. What is immediately obvious is these two chaps have drilled so deep into their respective instruments that initially, it is hard to square what you’re hearing with the instrumentation they use. In an inspired move, on the second track, “Floating In A Tempest”, Christoph Erb physically moves away from the recording microphones and we hear the acoustic reverberation of the space they are using. At the end of “Annoyed Hibernation”, I imagine that Loriot’s viola is making a noise closer to that of the desperate swallows of someone drowning than any sound I’ve heard produced by that instrument before. Judging only by images on Loriot’s own website, I would suggest that he may amplify his viola as part of his technique, but this is not stated in the sleevenotes, so it may not be the case here.

To be more general, this is an area where, in the loosest sense of the terms perhaps, free jazz overlaps with electro-acoustic improvisation. The production is crisp and clear which affords us an unblinkered view of this sonic whole. The Alexander Calder-esque, or Pop Art-reminiscent sleeve design is by Carlos Santos. One of the best jazz/improv records I’ve heard in a long while – strongly recommended.

Contusion

On Zashomon (HYBRIDA 06), we’ve got an exciting team-up between Miguel A. García and Japanese player Seijiro Murayama. Seijiro used to be the drummer in Absolut Null Punkt (or A.N.P.) in the 1980s, performing with the ferocious guitar monster K.K. Null, to produce some memorable LPs of experimental rock noise. He’s also performed with Keiji Haino, Fred Frith, and Tom Cora, and more recently teamed up with contemporary French improvisers and composers, including Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Stéphane Rives, and Eric Cordier. Zashomon plays as a continuous 40-minute piece, although the track titles indicate a four-part structure to the work, including the intriguing third episode ‘One Perjury’…both players credit themselves with “electro acoustic composition”, and in places it does feel quite pre-arranged; the work is full of carefully managed changes and shifts in tone, allowing for quieter events to contrast with the continual stretched of rich electric drone-noise.

Early on there’s a fantastic piece of interplay between drums, synths quietly pulsating and buzzing, and what may be an electric guitar plucking occasional notes; the dynamics here are astounding, real moments of tension and vast gaps of white space in the puzzling music. After the duo settle for a slightly less bold exploration of textures and drones, but there’s still a lot of air and space in the music (especially compared with García’s default position which is to try and occupy as much space as possible), and there’s a taut mystery in the air. Murayama shows his mettle; he has that iron discipline that allows a musician to create a stern, unwavering sound, and keep the emotional register carefully in check. Consequently, his minimal percussion stabs ring out like hailstones on a wintry day, and his alien voice – a bullfrog’s murmur slowed down to the rate of a creeping snail – add a terrifying dimension to the record. At times, García is almost relegated to the position of an admiring acolyte kneeling before the feet of this high priest of minimal improvisation.

The bulk of the record presents a close-up and intimate study of…something, perhaps the craggy face of a lost tribesman or the details of an ancient monument, but it ends with about ten minutes of glorious release which creates a near-epiphany; off-centred drumming, an eerie but uplifting layered noise which may be erupting from the clouds like mutated thunder, and twisted vocal whoops from the Japanese half of the act. A very strong combination and collaboration, packed with strikingly original sounds and bold playing. Limited to 99 copies. From 19th September 2016.

Fields Of Debris

Source: http://farpointrecordings.com/mcs/fergus-kelly–shot-to-shreds/

Welcome return of Fergus Kelly, the Dublin-based sound artist, with his new cassette Shot To Shreds (FP057) on the lovely Farpoint Recordings label. Last heard him in 2012 with his album A Congregation Of Vapours, noted as a fairly noisy and raucous entry in the electro-acoustic arena, and we’re pleased to say his interest in ugly electronic crunchery, nasty feedback, semi-industrial gruntings and lumps of metal continues on this tape. The A side is a suite of seven abstract bursts under the heading Debris Field, a title which instantly conjures visions of a junkyard, a trash pile being remade into art in some way. Even the collage cover art, with its daubs of paint smeared over newsprint sheets, could be read as the sort of thing we’d find pasted to the hoardings near this imaginary junkyard, or scraps stuck forlornly on the corrugated iron walls around the compound. The label describe this side as “a tactile and disintegrating landscape of fractured spaces and skewed geographies”, implying strongly that Kelly continues to layer field recordings into his work. On this occasion it’s a glorious maximal bash, one that both celebrates and decries the grime and grit of urban concrete hell that continues to blight parts of the UK (and Ireland, evidently), hemming us in with its unfinished building projects, broken walkways, and unkempt roads. It’d be cool to think of Kelly as a subversive lover of the “derive”, but he doesn’t wander around these scapes like some French intellectual, and instead he takes them for what they are, producing sprawling noise with no clear beginning and end, much like the piles of trash that clearly inspire him.

The B side is more cerebral than the punk-rock inflected A side. Four diverse pieces, including ‘Impact Spatter’, ‘Discrete Oblique’, ‘Cored’ and ‘Closing The Circuit’ are more recognisable as collage and cut-up works, often using musical elements to make their ambiguous statements, and making judicious use of “time-stretching” to slow down certain layers. Taken at a sitting, this B side produces strong hallucinatory and dream-like states in short order. The cut-up voices on ‘Discrete Oblique’ border on nightmare, otherwise innocent and everyday remarks taking on a horrific tinge as they’re juxtaposed with absurdist fragments of musical snatches and chord ripped out of context. The lovely ‘Cored’, a personal favourite of mine, is dominated by a grinding heavyweight drone of metallic feedback that all but crushes the skull under its mighty weight. The “relentless sonic snowstorm”, as the press notes would have it, is a remorseless exercise in piling on an excess of noisy content, almost like Merzbow in slow motion. It includes a slowed-down sample from ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, one of The Beatles’ finest attempts at rendering the onset of the apocalypse in music. The grotesque noise of that 12/8 guitar figure, awash with white noise from George Harrison’s Moog synth, is to a noteworthy statement of sheer doom, better even than the end of ‘A Day In The Life’. Here, in among Kelly’s intense stew of digital violence, it has found a proper home. The programme of side B – it is a well-sequenced album, for sure – means that we end with ‘Closing The Circuit’, a seven-minute composition supposedly making use of “vacated spaces”, and intended to provide aural relief to the battered listener after the onslaught of the 13-minute ‘Cored’. But it doesn’t relieve us of the sense of foreboding or doubt, and we leave the world of Fergus Kelly freighted down with more sorrow and uncertainty than before.

Multiple methods and sources were used to create this fine record, including feedback, tapes, e-bowed strings, amplification, field recordings, electronic music, and music samples. From 29th September 2016.

Aguas Territoriales / Caballos: two pioneers of 1980s Cuban electronic experimentation

Carlos Farinas, “Aguas Territoriales” / Juan Marcos Blanco, “Caballos”, Australia, Creelpone, CD-R CP220

In an effort to release as much historical experimental electronic music in their current double-set limited edition series, Creelpone elected to pop these two Cuban recordings from the early 1980s together on the one disc. Both recordings, originally released separately by Empresa Grabaciones Y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM) – a Cuban record label founded in 1961 responsible for releasing many significant Cuban and other Latin American recordings in homegrown and regional contemporary music genres, jazz and rock – are nearly equal in length at about 33 minutes and 34 minutes respectively.

Farinas leads off with the two long tracks that make up “Aguas Territoriales” (“Territorial Waters”). “Madrigal” is an unobtrusive though far-ranging electroacoustic piece of shrill bird-whistle melody fragmentation overlying a long drone that develops into a serene, radiant electro-symphonic epic. It’s a very graceful introduction into this archival set. “Aguas Territoriales” the title track features field recordings of water bubble that become crazed and demented as they pass through reverb and drone treatments when you might expect they would be plop-plop still and quiet. Both long pieces reveal a very unexpected and mischievous humour on Farinas’ part.

JMB’s “Caballos” (“Horses”) starts as a lively and playful melodic recording, dominated by analog synth, with plenty of galloping rhythms and frivolous flights of twittery fancy. Chase scenes and light-hearted dramas flit by as the horses run from one corral to another and back. As this work progresses – it was originally written for the stage – it expands into a full soundtrack of electro-orchesral ditties and field recordings embracing many moods and feelings. Birdsong appears among pure clean-toned electronic tunes and musique concrete sounds suggesting light industrial work and explosions.

A lot of fun is to be had on both these recordings though they’re very different in style and approach. The ages of the two composers may be significant: Farinas was in his 50s and JMB in his 30s at the time their recordings were released. JMB’s “Caballos” is the more extroverted and busy work, heavy on melody and constant light-fingered activity. Farinas seems more interested in creating mood and suggesting that water may be alive in its own perhaps demonic way with special effects. Both works complement each other very well and provide an  entrée into Cuban electronic experimental music during the Cold War.

The CD-R is available from Broken Music.

Yellow Fever

Norbert Möslang / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
sale_interiora
RUSSIA MIKROTON RECORDINGS mikroton cd47 CD (2016)

The packaging for this is bright yellow; a kind of black grid graphic; it looks like it has been photocopied black on yellow. The whole thing is yellow; you open the gatefold digipak and inside its bright yellow. I once had a friend whose favourite colour was yellow. She often maintained that yellow was “the colour of madness”, but that was a long time ago and I expect she’s grown out of saying that sort of thing now. I had another friend who painted her baby daughter’s nursery lemon yellow. Not my favourite colour. I’ve got nothing against the colour yellow, although I must say I prefer the shades nearer to orange than green.

The two tracks on this disc are each just under 17 minutes in duration. The first one is called “Giallo”, presumably after the Italian horror film genre, while the other one is titled “Nero”; another Italian reference I’m guessing, this time to the infamous emperor who was more interested in practicing scales on his violin while his city was on fire. This album is the result of two sessions or performances from 2014; “Giallo” in Moscow and “Nero” in St Petersburg. Möslang is in charge of some “cracked everyday electronics”, Belorukov, alto saxophone, laptop and electronics and Liedwart on an analogue synthesiser (although as a synth nerd, I’m a little disappointed it doesn’t say which one on the sleeve), electronics and ppooll – a piece of software whose manufacturers describe as “audio and visual networking system created from Max/MSP and Jitter patches”.

“Giallo” is an uncompromising crunch-fest. Like a digital re-enactment of First World War trench warfare. Perhaps it was the result of one of those days of travelling where everything went wrong for the musicians? Someone got up late, missed connections, lost luggage, the wrong map, GPS not working, mobile phone out of charge and arrival at the venue with just enough time to set-up with minimal line check before doors open. “No-one served coffee, so no-one woke up”, as Stephen Malkmous once sang. Everyone’s playing sounds thoroughly annoyed. But in a good way. In comparison, “Nero” sounds relatively good-natured. The granular explosions and giant combustion engines producing unnatural sub bass frequencies are still there, but it seems that there is more of an accord or mood of contentment among the musicians. Liedwart’s synthesiser is more to the fore here, too and this gives the piece a perhaps more anxious feel rather than the out and out aggression of “Giallo”. At one point, a sound like wolves howling, presumably a sound sample courtesy of Belorukov’s laptop adds to the disquiet. I’ve never been disappointed by a project involving any of these three musicians that I’ve heard so far. Yeah, I like this item – looks good, sounds good, is good. This is a record I think I’ll be returning to a lot.

My Brother The Vento

We last heard from Alberto Boccardi, an Italian engineer and electronic musician, on one half of a split LP with Lawrence English, one of those remix-someone-else’s-materials jobs; on that item, our man in the Capitol, Jeff Surak, certainly preferred the “busy-ness” of Boccardi’s well-packed side to the wallpaper of English’s unadventurous remixes. Boccardi is here now as one part of a trio with drummer Paolo Mongardi and bassist Antonio Bertoni, and their first album is Litio (BORING MACHINES BM68), a studio record produced through a process of sculpting and infinite patience; the press notes refer to the work “gradually taking shape…slowly developing and re-shaping”, which suggests there was as much time spent behind the desk as in front of the mics.

I quite liked ‘Chimera’ with its sinister synth tones on top of a rollicking drum rhythm, but the final cut has ended up twice as long on the platter as it needs to be, making the same dull point over and over for eight minutes. The group seem to pride themselves on delivering some form of “change” in their extended improvisations, but this ‘Chimera’ doesn’t really change radically from one end of its snaky tail to the other. ‘Vento Solare’ opens the album and has an off-putting air of self-importance, treading cautiously on “cosmic voyage” turf already well-explored by many 1970s synthy space-rock bands, but at least there are more group dynamics at work here, with quieter passages and attempts to shift the spacecraft into another gear. The cosmic theme continues on ‘Red Stone Floating’, which eventually achieves a vaguely mesmerising effect through its delicate synth washes and pulsations; shame that the drummer is only marking time here, when if he’d only been a bit bolder he might have helped push this piece into another dimension.

The last track has the title ‘Reconfigure Matter / Energy / Space / Time’, a title which apparently proposes to reverse the laws of physics – a somewhat ambitious expectation to pin on a single ten-minute piece of music. But at least this one shows the trio getting a shade more agitated and determined in their playing, giving an inkling of what they could achieve if they tried a little harder. After some moments of monotonous chattering and rattling as if riding some Logan’s Run styled underground tube train, the players find themselves out on the other side of a geodesic dome and contemplating the strange sunlit world around them, bathed in uncertain ambient sounds and vague chords. In all, this combination of electronics with an acoustic bass and drums set-up has its possibilities, but Boccardi’s electronic sounds (which smother the record) are mediocre and commonplace, and the trio are not yet comfortable with each other, too tentative as a trio to make a fully coherent musical statement. From 12th August 2016.

Beethoven: A Sonic Translation

Sébastien Roux
Quatuor
FRANCE BROCOLI 18 CD (2016)

Quatuor is an immensely satisfying 1 and skilfully woven four movement electroacoustic suite, which yields fresh sound perspectives and connections with each subsequent listening.

How form is developed and communicated is a problem confronting any composer of electronic or electro-acoustic music. Roux has fashioned an interesting developmental method of his own, which he terms ‘sonic translation’, using pre-existing works (visual, musical or literary), as ‘scores’ for new musical pieces. This method has not only generated Quatuor, but also a piece (Inevitable Music no.1) based on Sol LeWitt’s ‘Wall Drawing no. 260’. LeWitt’s notion that ‘the idea becomes a machine that makes the art’, seems foundational to Roux’s own ‘sonic translations’, and has much in common with the methods of ‘process music’.

In Quatuor Roux has set himself overarching formal or process constrains; firstly, all of the material is drawn from Beethoven’s String Quartet No 10 in Eb Major, secondly, the structure of Quatuor follows that of the original string quartet (sonata form, rondo, scherzo, variations). Roux asked fellow composer, Mathieu Bonilla to transcribe nineteen short fragments of the quartet for an ensemble of flute, clarinet, french horn and percussion. These recordings are the material that Roux then transformed electronically into Quatuor, and Roux’s method of working locates the work within the field of musique concrète. The final overt constraints were that the transcribed fragments from the quartet should appear in the corresponding movements of Quatuor (and in the same position), and that the proportions of each part of each movement should be the same.

Whether similar ‘micro’ specifications apply to the electronic transformations that Roux applies to his acoustic material is less clear, but, on the evidence of his planning for Inevitable Music No.1, it’s certainly possible. I, for one, would love to know how – and through what – he processes his material. It’s one of my small bugbears with electronic / electroacoustic works; I can’t always work out or ‘hear’ what’s creating a sound!

Roux has placed sufficient references and signifiers around the artwork itself to lead us to the expectation that Quatuor will be a serious work of art music, even before a note of music has been heard. Such signifiers include the use both of the Beethoven quartet as ‘material’ and in his adoption of the original quartet’s Italian movement names for his own work, and also the use of the ‘traditional’ technique of transcription whereby the set of forty variations of nineteen fragments becomes, for a while, the most important element of the work; a score – an interpretable set of instructions 2 by a composer to performers (that foundational necessity of the European art music tradition).

By subtly weaving together the transcriptional and the transformational, Roux has found a method of deploying all of the elements of ‘traditional’ music, albeit in artfully re-purposed ways. Glimpses of melody, metre and harmony linger like embers throughout the arc of Quatuor due to Roux’s subtle interpolation of traces of the original ‘real’ instrumental variations with their electronic transformations. Pitch, timbre, texture, dynamics and rhythm are equally present, and these elements Roux deploys with great skill and sensitivity to create an extraordinary, and often very beautiful, flow of dynamic, textural and rhythmic accords and contrasts.

If the work of Bernard Parmegiani or John Wall or Stockhausen’s early electronic works appeals to you will almost certainly find yourself greatly taken with Quatuor. Alternatively, if you are looking for a way into the acousmatic sound world, then I would recommend this album, wholeheartedly and unhesitatingly. I hadn’t come across Sébastien Roux before this review, but I’m very pleased indeed for the introduction.

  1. The fact that seventy or so minutes of sound can be accommodated on a CD seems mesmerising to some musicians and labels, so it is good to see Sébastien Roux resisting this temptation, and producing instead a concentrated focus on a single thirty-six-minute work.
  2. Interestingly, by publishing sets of detailed instructions for the Wall Drawing series, LeWitt left open the possibility that the set of instructions for the artwork was itself the work of art, just as a score is arguably the ‘real’ work of art in European art music. Roux, on the other hand, by choosing to leave at least part of the generational process opaque, points us more directly to the artwork itself.