Tagged: electroacoustic

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.

Counting Crows

Veteran composer Francis Dhomont is one of the big noises in Canadian electro-acoustic and musique concrète composition, so it’s no surprise to see him represented on the showcase label empreintes DIGITALes with his recent composition, Le Cri Du Choucas (IMED 16138). Astute readers (and viewers) will instantly recognise the piercing eyes of Franz Kafka collaged on the cover art there. Le Cri Du Choucas takes the ideas of Kafka as its theme, a pursuit which Dhomont has been following since 1997. There’s a previous chapter, Études Pour Kafka, released by this same label in 2009; I don’t recall hearing that one, but the body of it has been reworked here. The composer also positions this release as the third and final part of a grand triologie, begun in 1981 as Sous Le Regard D’un Soleil Noir (released by INA-GRM in France) and continued in the mid-1990s as Forêt Profonde. He aims at extremes of drama, enriched with ideas about psychology; he wishes to plumb the depths of a man’s mind, through sound.

You could pick no better creator who personifies “unknowable depth” than your man Kafka; I’ve been reading his short stories since about 1979, and one day I hope to understand them. I can’t claim to have studied a great deal of critical analysis of Kafka, and I’m not sure that I care to; there’s a pleasure to be had for the reader in the constant mystification he sets up with his warped visions of European vistas, his mental labyrinths and strange symbols. I’ve no doubt there are numerous interpretations and explanations of The Trial and The Penal Colony, both works which feature in this music, but Francis Dhomont emphasises one particular aspect: the Law. Dhomont takes “the law” in Kafka to be “a metaphoric representation of the impenetrable realms the human mind hits”, and explores this theme with some determination. He probably reads Kafka’s work as describing a maze which always leads back to the same inescapable place, and ascribes the tone of despair and futility to the gloomy inevitability of mankind’s fate.

Dhomont also gives us his sonic take on other significant Kafka themes, including guilt, solitude, dreams, death, the family, and “impossible messages” – the last one being an apt description of Kafka’s own short stories, for this reader. On Le Cri Du Choucas – a title which incidentally translates as “The jackdaw’s call” and makes a punning reference to the Czech word Kavka – he does it through rich and maximal fugues of abstract sound. Everything has been heavily treated and processed through a vast amount of expensive-sounding digital crunch and filter effects, yet you feel you could somehow reverse-engineer these noises into their sources if you only listened for long enough. Alien though they be, some sounds closely resemble swarms of chattering voices in a huge mass, which is how I remember parts of Frankenstein Symphony by this composer (from 1997). Often these sounds coalesce and rush forward in a massed advance which seems unstoppable; it creates a suitably nightmarish and unreal mood for the listener.

The work is further illustrated and signposted by a good deal of spoken-word narration (in French), fragments of texts and documentary recordings which I assume highlight significant milestones in the design. But these interpolations also interrupt the flow of the music, and keep reminding us of the grand abstractions that Dhomont wishes to convey, barely allowing us any space to conceive our own thoughts. This is one of the stumbling blocks for me on this otherwise exciting release, as it lends an air of didacticism to the work; it’s like being lectured by stern academics in a stuffy University where the Kafka syllabus hasn’t been updated in over 35 years. One senses that the masters at this academy would have no truck with Orson Welles’ free-spirited cinematic interpretation of The Trial. It’s also something of an old-school musique concrète technique, one which has tended to mar my enjoyment of Pierre Henry’s Apocalypse De Jean, that famed Oratorio Electronique from 1969. This aside, you can comfortably play this meticulous work at peak volumes for immersive and transporting effects, to induce profound states of mind…from 25 May 2016.

Horrible Gas Emissions

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.

Arc of a Journey

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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.

  1. Enough pretentious jargon here for you yet? It does make one a tad mistrustful. Why can’t he speak more plainly?

Not A Drone

emmanuel-mieville

Emmanuel Mieville
Ethers
FRANCE BASKARU karu:36 CD (2015)

Emmanuel Mieville studied sound engineering at cinema school, and learned musique concrète techniques at the GRM. He is a guest composer for Framework’s field recordings based shows, on Resonance FM, produced by Patrick McKinley. Ethers is Mieville’s second album for Baskaru; the first being 2011’s Four Wanderings In Tropical Lands. He also has releases on TIBProd, (an album Denki Colors and a split 3” cd with Töre H. Boe), XingWu, Lona records, Obs, and Crónica. Mieville’s chosen tools here are field recordings from Hong Kong, France and Morocco, with a smidgen of saxophone on the final piece, all treated with Max/MSP and Metasynth.

On the sleeve of this release we get this piece of information: “Ethers is an attempt to give an earthy quality, a dense texture to drone music, to lower it from the ‘skies’.” It is always useful to know the artist’s intention, I feel. Now, there’s dense and there’s dense. If you think Ethers is dense, take a listen to something by John Wall. I would probably disagree with Mieville and say I don’t think this is drone music at all – not because I think the intention has failed. It just doesn’t drone. To me, the use of the term “drone” as a descriptor implies a continuous element of some kind; promoting some kind of transcendent or liberating environment in which to react in the moment. This sounds like a field recording album, albeit a very well-produced one. It has a restrained pace but is hardly glacial in scope; but a field recording album nonetheless. I certainly do not mean this as a criticism, but I do find the use of the term perplexing. Maybe something got lost in translation somewhere along the line.

Despite my initial reservations, I find the first piece is titled “Fertile Drone”. Is it rain or waves breaking I hear? There is faint evidence of processing audible; a granular effect results which I can’t say I’m a fan of – I’m not sure what it brings to the table. Why use this kind of process at all? And despite saying I don’t immediately recognise Mieville’s material as “drone music”, I become aware of A Drone around 6 minutes in. Despite this I’m still not convinced. To me it sounds like that immense grey area of field recording-derived processed sound that is prevalent in many art galleries and project spaces of major European cities and beyond. I suppose that’s what I do like about it: it is recognisably part of a continuum.

“Sur le Pont” begins with unprocessed field recordings of workmen’s voices, perhaps. Drills, building site sounds and burning. Plus, the enduring use of water as a sound source. This develops into bowed percussion and the noises made by trains. “Watt Station” features waves on the sea. And a section that sounds like jet engines heavily processed. There is also a synth floating around vaguely. At one point, I think I hear the sound of a tube train but it turns out to be a synth patch. What is the purpose of this music; who is it for? At thirteen and a half minutes, “Island Ferrysm” (sic) could be a lengthy conceptual deconstruction of modes of transport. The raw materials are there – recordings from a ferry crossing, synthesised impellers, propellors, motors and gears. This piece is certainly more intense than the previous material. Ethers as a whole is engaging, but whether it lives up to its own brief, or even whether it should, I just can’t decide.

Un Mixte

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Vicious piece of no-nonsense fucking process electronic music from Léo DupleixTwo Compositions For Mixed Sources (ALBERTINE REC) is a creaky academic title hiding some pretty severe and hard-to-take sounds in a non-descript cover. A decoy if ever there was! Well, on the first of these two discs, we have various sorts of electronic drone and grunt, including one really piercing and shrill high tone that they use for torturing prisoners in fascist regimes, and which has been outlawed in most countries. The other sound is running water, always a good standby in this area. When composers want to refer to the real world, they reach for them old running water sounds, be it a river or stream, or even the ocean in some cases, depending on what sort of dramatic mood they wish to conjure. In the case of Dupleix, he wants the pastoral babbling brook effect (and let’s hope he packed a picnic with baguettes and pate for the occasion) to contrast with these evil flying saucer tones that are gradually taking over the civilised world at his behest. Later on we get a hotel lobby full of chattering types talking about something. Or maybe it’s captured from a conference on some learned subject. Everyone seems really polite. Which do you prefer, babbling brooks or babbling classes? Along the way to this civilised point we’ve endured the awful chirping crickets of bedlam, been abraded by the abstract white noise tones of abrasive sandpaper, and faced the void of unknowing thereby. Cissy old Pierre Henry wanted to take the listener on ‘Le Voyage’ in 1967 to attain spiritual knowledge of some sort, but this is the real deal…here we’re being forcefully taken on the last mile down the corridor, where the metaphysical guillotine awaits us. 32 minutes of existential abstract hell!

So that was BRUIT(s), described by Leo as a mix of “field recordings, white noises, sine waves.” Turns out it’s the first ever release on Albertine Rec. Further turns out he founded said label himself. It’s about limited editions, so these are CDRs. 27 copies only were pressed of the thing I now clasp in my mitts. Your man has ambition with this label. Three things are in his sights: (a) composition, (b) raw live recordings of improvised music and (c) what he calls the “in-betweens”. Challenging, radical, daring. You bet!

Well, better shove in disc two I guess. Aha, five tracks this time. Might be easier to digest than the first disc, but in fact that one was more episodic anyway. It was like six or seven suites all edited together in a jammy wodge of golden filth. This time he’s “playing” his own hardware – an open hard drive and its fan, recordings of same then subjected to digital processing. This is pretty much on Gregory Büttner’s turf now. What that German guy doesn’t know about playing small objects, especially electric fans, you could write on the back of a 50 Euro postage stamp. It’s about the beauty of process, the poetry of mechanical devices blindly whirring out their noise into an uncaring world. Who’s to say the humble electric fan is not actually a butterfly in disguise? And other such banal observations I would utter, if I was writing this review for Field And Stream or a BBC Nature magazine.

Léo Dupleix calls this Process #1: Changes. Accurate description. It’s one of the features of modernism that we made a break with “poetic” titles like The Lark Ascending, and instead insisted on hard material facts, so often a composition title is just describing the means of its own making, such as the famous avant-garde ceramic which was titled I Am A Pot. Has anything been sacrificed thereby? Well, I’m finding this Process#1 quite the mesmeriser, and through sheer persistence or something else, it is sublimating the materiality of that fan in short order. To be sure, some processing has been allowed to heavily disguise and mutate the sound on track two, so that it resembles a wonky helicopter from beyond the Eighth Dimension hovering in for a visit. But the core structure is still rotating blades. And it’s still beautiful on some level. Elsewhere on this disc, you’ll get long and testing grindy drone tones which rumble and whine in a most severe manner. That word again. Maybe Léo Dupleix is a severe man. Probably someone hard to please, if he was a tutor of modern music and you were in his class. He’s not always aiming for sublimation here, and while we can’t get away from the truth of that simple hard drive and fan, it’s still reaching into a new dimension of aesthetic pleasure. Tough minded, stolid process noise…it’s hard to beat, and less subtle than Büttner’s material which seems positively altruistic by comparison.

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So your man was born in Paris. And heavens, can he really be that young? After a stint at the Conservatory in Brussels, he did the Japan thing. He’s played with some of the famous feedback and quiet tone musicians in that oriental locale, including Nakamura and Akiyama. Plus the wonderful Utah Kawasaki. And a bunch of other names I don’t recognise. But suffice to say he’s co-opted the flippin’ “Onkyo” style into his own pouch, and is reworking the fabric on his own terms, as it were cross-layering that single-minded approach to minimal improvised noise into the more classic French electro-acoustic compositional method. But even the latter has been examined, found wanting, and simplified to make sense for the brutal post-2010 years.

In all, I think this is a great set. Many thanks to Léo for sending this. It arrived 4th April 2016. Now for a full neck transplant to compensate. In the words of Plastique Bertrand, “la colle me manquera”.

The Third Brain

mikroton_cd_48

strøm is the superb duo of Swiss players Gaudenz Badrutt and Christian Müller. I thought we had in the past received some of their solo releases on the Swiss Domizil label, but I must have dreamed it. At any rate Gaudenz Badrutt has surfaced a few times, as part of the group Social Insects and with Jonas Kocher on a maddening record called Strategy Of Behaviour In Unexpected Situations. Plus he played with Kocher again in the Mayakovsky Library on Rotonda, where they were joined by Ilia Belorukov. This new record may be called X (MIKROTON CD 48) and is one of a crop of new excellent improv / sound art releases we received from the Russian Mikroton label.

Where Badrutt is all electronics here, Müller does some electronics but also plays the contrabass clarinet, the forbiddingly huge instrument which is the largest member of the clarinet family. On these six tracks, strøm are capable of creating a deliciously fractured and bitty approach to electronic noise, refusing any form of lushness or pleasant surface to the sounds, and accepting only the choicest moments of compressed digital glitch and crackle into the mix. Austerity and severity are just two of the watchwords hopefully sellotaped onto their respective consoles or mixing desks. This can result in very exciting music, where the listener’s fleshy brain and listening apparatus are draped over a stainless steel structure of some sort; there’s that much power and inflexible strength to the core.

Elsewhere, there is a menacing bass drone underpinning the work which may have originated from the clarinet. Oddly enough these moments are less satisfying for some reason, and I find I derive more satisfaction from the pieces which spit out their digital juices like so much hot fat over the roasting pan. Extremely abstract music, as reflected in the plain colourfield designs of the cover artworks. But this is very far from the clean lines of Raster-Noton or other minimal-glitch work of Cologne and Vienna, and its lineage does not come from techno beats or the dancefloor. From 14 April 2016.

Embassy Suite

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Phillip Schulze
Ambassador Duos
GERMANY APPARENT EXTENT AE024 2 x LP (2015)

One improviser for whom time is but a servant is Deutsch electronics whiz Phillip Schulze, who is known for wielding oak-barreled, 15-year vintage algorithm tools in improvisations for over a decade now; his electroacoustic stylings unmoored from any compositional context. As well as providing extensive written documentation for each of the following four ‘trans-idiomatic’ duo recordings, Schulze converses via gravel-skinned and elegantly contoured sound fields that do more than simply upholster the counterpart’s performance, being quite up to the task of heavy excavation as and when necessary; the resulting open-border spaces instigating some intensive paired explorations.

The first session was a bit of a coup, starring none other than Schulze’s former college professor Anthony Braxton. The pair had played together on six occasions in 2005 (of which I believe this to be the last), during which time Braxton went through numerous instruments, settling on this occasion for soprano and contrabass saxophones. He flutters through like a tai chi butterfly, unsheathing muscle in the central section, prompting a correspondingly corrosive turn from Schulze, whose moods and movements mirror his senior’s with uncanny dexterity. The mood and detail of this ‘early’ event (just two years into Schulze’s recording career) reflect both a nascent talent for complex textures as well as the mutually assured rapport the pair had settled into after just a handful of extra-curricular encounters. One can only imagine the pedagogical savour Braxton must enjoy when working with such similarly-minded students. It must thrash the living hell out of getting through an evening of test-marking.

Recording resumes in 2009, with ‘sound and action artist’ Christian Jendreiko on pedal steel guitar; atmosphere generally more streamlined, with just the odd, caustic outburst and echoes of Bill Frisell’s lonesome, Western laments amid twinkling electronics. Schulze relishes in writing the ambience that resulted from the pair’s split-channel approach, which culminated in an unexpected accompaniment by a blackbird perched outside the window.

By the time of the duo with the second saxophonist, Andrew Raffo Dewar in 2011, the pair were well-established collaborators, having pooled their musical expertise as far back as university. No surprise then that their strident ambient tonality effectively camouflages their ’microtonally shifted octaves, oscillations and phase shifts’ and the resulting, tectonic high drama.

The last and most ‘antagonistic’ pairing is with Kreidler’s Detlef Weinrich (2014), whose characteristic quasi-motorik rhythms find playful counterpoint (or plain collision) in such off-kilter rhythms as those post-club mutations with which Schulze began his recording career, lending this set a pleasing symmetry: that of Schulze’s club music reminiscence via intensive academic studies in Indonesian and African percussion.

Stark as it appears on paper, the four sessions are gratifyingly accessible, differentiated and more than worthy of their heavy vinyl presentation. At first glance, Phillip Schulze is a composer who picks his moments as well as his partners, and the rumblings from the unfathomed depths of these deep trenches indicate further pleasures.

Long Overdue Part 13

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Relative Memory (ABSINTH RECORDS 022) is the unusual team-up between Jealousy Party and Nicolas Wiese, released on Absinth Records and which arrived here 19 July 2012. Nicolas Wiese is the Berlin based multimedia artist, whose excellent electro-acoustic compositions we noted on Living Theory Without Anecdotes, a record characterised by its ingenious approach to sampling, recycled sound, and reprocessing. Evidence of the same techniques abounds on Relative Memory, so clearly Wiese is a past master of this studio method.

Jealousy Party are three Italian loons from Florence who do a live improvised set. I call them “loons” based mainly on the unprepossessing photo of them where they’re grinning in a manic fashion, and the fact that they belong to something called the Burp Enterprise collective. I tend to mistrust art movements that liken the act of creation to bodily functions, but heaven knows it’s a trope that’s old as the hills. Their shtick is Mat Pogo doing his rather silly scat-singing and Edoardo Ricci playing a rather ordinary bunch of fluid saxophone riffs. I suppose the most interesting active ingredient is WJ Meatball, a DJ who plays back pre-recorded elements (sometimes recordings of Jealousy Party themselves) and does a form of live sampling of their utterances and woodwind toots. In fact it involves live editing, cutting, and mixing too. She thinks of this as a system, and calls it the “JP Set”.

Right there you’ve got the common ground they share with Wiese – live sampling. He did some live sampling-playback stuff in the studio too, but freely admits – tantamount to confessions of a control-freak – that most of his work on this record was done alone, after the fact, where he “takes apart and reconfigurates mostly everything played”. We’re thus hearing, I suppose, an exceptionally complex construction of noises, and it’s impossible to determine who is contributing what or by what means. The helpful sleeve notes summarise this as “the focussed relativity of self-quotation in a musical frame that is never 100% improvised and never 100% fixed”.

I don’t care much for Jealousy Party’s contributions to this, and even if they are regarded as “one of the most significant creative music units in Italy”, I find something fundamentally crass and corny about their work. The vocalist in particular comes across as a bad Elvis impersonator, and the sax player feels like he’s warming up for a third-rate Motown covers band. However, there’s much to admire and enjoy in Relative Memory, and the techniques involved are technically quite pleasing; at his strongest, Wiese does indeed add several degrees of sophistication and nuanced layering to the tracks, much like the “imaginary architecture” he is clearly capable of composing as noted on the Corvo release above. In doing so he draws out a certain subtlety which Jealousy Party alone might not be capable of. He’s also acting as a once-removed collaborator with WJ Meatball, by working in sympathy with her technique.

Long Overdue Part 9

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Two substantial compositions on Three Vertical Swells (UNSOUNDS 27u) by the American-born composer Peter Adriaansz, who studied in academies at The Hague and Rotterdam. On both he’s supported by performances from the contemporary chamber group Ensemble MAE.

Some of his work begins with an investigation into pure sound. He prefers doing this to scoring notes on paper. Three Vertical Swells has grown out of his research into the sounds made by a Hammond organ, in particular its rotating Leslie speaker, and also a “glissando-like fuzz” which came out of one of the speakers. Both of these might technically be regarded as faults, but good composers can do a lot with a glitch. He translated his findings into a sine-wave patch, which I assume is a way of generating a specific tone; Ensemble MAE, using woodwinds, strings, electric guitar, an ebowed piano and percussion, were required to emulate this tone in some way, copying its “contours”. The Hammond organ is still present in the finished work, and so are the sinewaves, but the amplified Ensemble are working in a strict mathematical harmony with these drones. If this reads like something boring and process-for-its-own-sake, I think you’ll be amazed at the sinister power and strange beauty of what resulted. I don’t pretend to understand more than a tenth of the complexity of Adriaansz’s method, but just by listening you can appreciate the solidity of the construction in this fascinating, shape-shifting, microtonal work.

The other piece is Music For Sines, Percussion, Ebows & Variable Ensemble, divided into five separate parts. Once again the parsing of a sine-wave has been the basis for the work. He refers to a phenomenon called beating-patterns; this isn’t exclusively a musical thing, and you could probably learn about it by studying the physical sciences of acoustics and human hearing. “When two sound waves of different frequency approach your ear, the alternating constructive and destructive interference causes the sound to be alternatively soft and loud – a phenomenon which is called “beating” or producing beats.” 1 From this rule of science, Adriaansz develops rules for how the composition will develop; fixed and “free” materials (meaning a certain leeway in interpretation, I suppose); combinations of players working in solos, duos, or trios as the rules dictate; and something called “specified harmonic gamuts” which determine when each player can choose to enter the piece. The same instrumentation features as on Three Vertical Swells, but here the microtonal events are much more percussive in nature, and the development of each six-minute segment (even the timing is strictly regulated) does feel compressed, disciplined, resulting in very distilled music of a tremendous purity. Enigmatic, fascinating; a miniature universe unfolding in sound. From 3rd July 2012.

  1. Source: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/sound/beat.html