Tagged: flute

004

Universal is Born


The lovely EM Records label in Japan has been busy with more of its characteristically wonderful reissues of scarce, choice and exotic items. All the below were received here 02 May 2012. I happened to visit Honest Jon’s Records in West London yesterday and found they were still stocking a few copies of the label’s older releases, some of which are out of print. I’m personally very excited to receive and hear I Saw The Outer Limits (EM1098CD) by Matsuo Ohno. The work of this exceptional Japanese electronic music composer is not exactly easy to come by. There were three CDs issued on King Records in 2005, but these volumes of The World of Electro-Acoustic Sound and Music are in the process of becoming collector’s items. If known at all, Ohno is probably best known to a Western audience through his soundtracks to the TV anime series Astro Boy, but that’s become something of an astral albatross for him. In fact he has a complex history behind him, working in documentary and nature films since the late 1950s, developing a very personal philosophy, and some details of his fascinating life have been recorded in the very simpatico sleeve notes to this release, written by the label owner Koki Emura. There are other and more obscure anime works, for example the work of Hiroshi Maname, which had an influence on this creator, and he also made his own innovative documentary films in the 1960s, including some highly personal film projects about the treatment of disabled and mentally ill children in Japan. He produced and directed a 1972 documentary following the Taj Mahal Travellers on tour.

In 1977 he scored the soundtrack for The War In Space for Toho, the large Japanese studio that produced the Godzilla movies, and he was commissioned by director Shinji Hinoki to produce an album of purely electronic music. I Saw The Outer Limits is the result, Ohno’s first release of non-soundtrack music, and an art statement in its own right. To emphasise the unique nature of Ohno’s music, Emura gently opines how much electronic music of the 1970s (and a lot of it was quite commercial and even sold well) was not only rather bland and boring to listen to, but also tended to simply recreate the sound of conventional instruments; many times we heard quite ordinary melodies being played on a keyboard, except that the keyboard happened to be a synthesizer. It’s worth bearing this in mind as you delve into the extremely subtle tonal shadings of Ohno’s work, which are the result of pure process – the sounds here can only be created by electronic means, and the only method to arrange them involved tape editing. While this is not wildly different from the techniques used by many classical electro-acoustic composers, the results here are blessedly free from theories of structure and compositional techniques. The music just floats…it makes a lot of electronic music seem clumsy and stilted with its delicacy and weightless grace. One senses that Ohno worked in a very intuitive way, and Emura for one is convinced that Ohno has “broken free from musical genre…also from the very framework of the standard composition process”. The other thing that listeners will notice is how strange and almost impersonal the work is, a quality which is another product of Ohno’s unique personality, his reluctance to preach or express direct messages in his music. Outer space music has rarely sounded so outer-spacey, in short – cold, distant, alien, and forlorn. The release comes with a bonus mini-CD of Animal Noise Music called Choju Gigaku, and the composer himself explains how this oddity came about for the World Expo in Japan in 1970. He himself is charmingly baffled as to why anyone would want to reissue this obscure item which was intended for a very limited audience and sold virtually zero copies at the time. For the rest of us music fanatics, prepare to be delighted for 12 minutes of electronic animals singing their beautiful little tunes. I think the label has also pressed this as a nifty seven-inch vinyl item. Essential purchase!

Portrait of a Prodigy (EM RECORDS EM1099CD / MEDITATIONS MEDI 02CD) collects a number of recordings by the enigmatic Indian flautist T.R. Mahalingham, remastered from 78 rpm discs of the 1940s and 1950s. Indian music is not quite in my line, but it seems this fellow did much to reinvigorate the Carnatic tradition with his attempts to put more voicing and emotion into his playing. In doing this he caused some controversy among the purists, and made matters worse by his slightly disreputable lifestyle; an occasional gambler who was not very reliable or punctual, often arriving late for concerts or storming off the stage in the middle of a performance. These however could be taken as indicators of his perfectionism in music, and signs of a temperamental genius. I’m not at all versed in the traditions here, so have nothing to compare it to, but my ears tell me his playing is clearly detailed, taut, and very meticulous. He may not exactly be the John Coltrane of the Carnatic flute, but his music is beautiful to listen to.

Another record guaranteed to expose my musical chauvinism and ignorance of world music is Diew Sor Isan: The North East Thai Violin of Thonghuad Faited (EM1101CD). This album compiles a number of mid to late 1970s recordings of this exceptional player of the Sor Isan. The Sor Isan is a fairly grating instrument and its keening sound may be an acquired taste to Western ears at first spin, but some will also love its rawness and direct qualities. It’s a very distinctive voicing you don’t hear too often. Thonghuad Faited is notable as one of the few players who managed to bring the instrument to the fore, and achieved notoriety as a soloist – again, going against the grain of tradition. The music is completely beyond my ken, and I’d be lost without the contextual notes provided by Chris Menist and Maft Sai (who also compiled the release) – they achieve an interesting blend of musicology and regional history in their concise essay, and bring the story to life. All of these tunes have something to recommend them, whether it be a syrupy ethnic drone, an intriguing vocal part, or even a lightweight easy-listening “rock” backdrop with drums and guitars. The other thing I like is that while the Thai violin is the “lead” instrument, it’s clearly nothing like the sort of musical excess we would associate with jazz, improv, or rock solos, and rather than relentlessly propelling forwards, the music keeps circling in on itself in a compelling manner.

On Istikhbars & Improvisations (EM1096CD) we hear the piano music of Mustapaha Skandrani. This is another example of a relatively obscure musician whom Koki Emura clearly regards as a hidden gem and one most worthy of wider exposure. This Algerian musician recorded this music of his piano improvisations in 1965 under the auspices of a French patron, and once again it is something I have never heard the like of. Skandrani was trained in the traditions of Arabic or Andalucian music, but in the late 1930s he came under the influence of a musician named Hadj M’rizek, who was on a mission to modernise and update the traditional forms of hawzi and shaabi music. It seems that the piano, that most European of instruments (the development of the well-tempered clavier, and indeed the entire Western scale, is a fascinating tale in itself, full of competing factions), was considered totally unsuitable for the rendition of the half-tones and microtonal structure found in Andalucian music. On these 18 short and exquisite piano improvisations, Skandrani provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. Admittedly the grand piano in question was tuned especially to accommodate him, but even so it’s hard not to be flabbergasted by the precision and assurance with which he executes complex runs of notes and tricky Middle-Eastern intervals. The dryness of the recording only adds to the husky, spicy flavour of the music. The album upset quite a few musical purists on its release, so perhaps Skandrani is a visionary “outlaw” who appeals to this label for the same reasons as Mahalingham above. Even so, Mustapaha Skandrani was highly respected and successful in his field, and did many great things for Algerian music in his lifetime. It’s surprising that this was his one and only recording.

Dead Occasions

Under Japanese Influence

Expo 70 are Justin Wright and Matt Hill. On Blackout (DEBACLE RECORDS DBL054) they play a couple of half-hour cosmic improvisations using guitar, moog, Korg, drum machine and bass guitar, doing it live in parts of New York while they sat on the floor wreathed in a crepuscular haze. Pretty good mind-numbing drone and proggy sludge pours out of their set-up, resplendent with the characteristically “thick” sound of many experimental rock and prog LPs from the 1970s, and you can almost imagine the band travelling in time to the Osaka World’s Fair from which they take their name, only to be greeted with bewildered looks and numerous Polaroid flashes. Especially effective is the layering of insane synth curlicues on top of Stooges-like guitar riffs that chunter away insistently until dawn breaks. The first track is the fugged-up rockin’ beast, the second one drifts more towards the New Agey and ambient side of their krautrock collections with its languid echoplexed guitar licks on top of melodic keyboard inventions. One of three releases from the ever-productive Seattle label which arrived here 14 February 2011.

Misty Roses

More missives flying out from the contemporary American synth-playing retro-scene that’s spreading across the continent like the silver flying glove of Klaus Dinger. Mist have an entire double LP called House (SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP004) on which John Elliott and Sam Goldberg play their Moog Voyager, Korg, Roland and Prophet synths, while Dave Smith adds something called “instruments morpho” which may be a form of post-production which equates to what Dr Moreau is to surgery. Nothing unpleasant about this rich and melodic instrumental music, which is almost indistinguishable from any given record released on the Sky Records label between 1977 and 1987. The sound of Mist is ultra-clean and the players clearly relish the possibilities afforded by their filters and sequencers, filling every available moment with incident and flourish.

Inverted Liturgies

I’ve kind of lost track of which point we have reached in the MZ.412 reissue programme from Cold Spring records, but presumably a lot of lovers of extreme occult-metal horrendousness have been made very happy in the last 12 months. Domine Rex Inferum (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR145CD) is another one in the set of works masterminded by Kremator, and was originally issued in 2001 on Cold Meat Industry in Sweden. This one isn’t so heavy on the sheer sonic violence as others I’ve heard, and it stresses the ritualistic and curse-spinning side of this bleak noise project, most of the music amounting to a set of very ominous low-rumble synth growling and equally ominous percussion rolls. Even the titles, with their combination of strange made-up words in unusual languages with numbers and punctuation lined up in a very particular order, are as precise and deathly as a warlock’s spell or witch’s receipt. Governed by strange and unpredictable dynamics, this music has a terrifying weight and authority, and is not afraid to keep the listener waiting for hours in the corner of a cold marble temple set in a grisly wind-swept plain while we wait for the next fearful event to pass before us. Sheer desolation and abandonment will descend and sit heavily on your soul. As such, all these MZ.412 records make most “Ambient Black Metal” releases look pretty ineffectual.

Autumn Cannibalism

Cock E.S.P. is one of the “big names” of the underground American noise scene, a force of nature set into trundling motion in 1993 in Minneapolis and currently involving Emil Hagstrom, Elyse Perez, Matt Bacon and a host of imaginary members with absurd pseudonyms. It’s thought they took their name from part of a Hanatarash release, and to this day they’re doing everything possible to keep alive the flame of chaotic Japanese theatrical noise, in a way that even Boredoms have long since abandoned. In May 2011 Emil kindly sent us a copy of Historia De La Musica Cock: A Tribute to Experimental Music 1910-2010 (SUNSHIP SUN56 / LITTLE MAFIA LM078 / BREATHMINT BM330), a powerful tour de force that at once sends up, mocks, mutilates and celebrates the history of free music as it’s been manifested in the 20th century Western world, and as such it contains insane pastiches and parodies of (for instance) free jazz, punk rock, psychedelic rock, krautrock, avant-garde composition, cut-ups and sampledelica, and even noise music itself. The resultant splintered and mosaicified record, realised with the help of a significant number of guest noiseicians, is an unparalleled act of auto-cannibalism, the sort of thing you’d expect from people who have incredible record collections of insane and iconoclastic music, yet who are often seized with a mad impulse to throw all that rare and important vinyl onto a bonfire and dance around the crackling flames as they watch plumes of acrid black smoke rise into the air. There are 99 very short tracks of intense energy and hysteria, they’re divided into eleven episodes arranged as a grotesque parody of the history of music, and the titles are packed with knowing, snide citations and clever détournements; you could use this insert as a baseball scorecard or personal IQ test as you listen your way through the sizzling racket. To put it another way, it’s your map across the sonic minefield where every sniggering aside is another grenade in the face. These titles also revel in puerile humour with their incessant pornography, sodomy, fellatio, scatology, onanism, and of course much phallocentricity and anal-fixated references. I’m not quite sure why I’m using all these two-dollar words to describe this joyful and playful inanity, but you get the idea. An exciting and violent (and hilarious) record and one that ought to reinvigorate your love of music, because only by smashing and destroying the things we love in a bonfire of the vanities can we renew ourselves and return to music with a fresh pair of cleansed ears. Rest assured, Cock E.S.P. will also be thoroughly cleaning out all your other body cavities in ways you can’t begin to imagine. Arrived here 05 May 2011.

Loop Di Love

For a more respectful, one might even say reverent, approach to the modernist composers of the last century, we might turn to Loops4ever (MAZAGRAN MZ001) by Manuel Zurria. Here, following on from what he did on Repeat! in 2008, the Italian flute player offers 12 performances of compositions by Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzweski; pays homage to more recent contemporary maestros such as John Duncan and Jacob TV; and to remain loyal to his home country, the double-disc set leads off with a version of a work by the great Giacinto Scelsi, one of the most severe and problematic of the modernists. A flawless selection, even if the music doesn’t always excite or challenge us as much as I feel it should; quite often Zurria gives the impression he’s lost in his cloudy world of digital recording, loops, electronics and multi-tracked overdubs, simply enjoying the waves of minimal sound for their own sensual pleasures. But his seventeen minute rendition of ‘The Carnival’ by John Duncan is strong, a piercing work featuring the high-pitched whines of a piccolo flute enhanced with loops, electronics, and the laptop of Duncan himself; it’s got a good feel for the mesmerising and immersive terror that I associate with Duncan. Elsewhere, Zurria’s take on Lucier is slow and minimal, and yet not yet minimal enough; for me there’s just a little too much body and volume in the combined flutes and oscillators of ‘Almost New York’. As to Oliveros and Curran, they come out a shade too sentimental and melodic, as though Zurria were reading a bit too much meaning into the musical text. That romanticism does come in handy on the second disc though, when he applies his flutes and temple bells to performing ‘A Movement in Chrome Primitive’ by William Basinski, the New York composer who is an unabashed Pre-Raphaelite of modern composition. By this point I wondered if Zurria would have made a good addition to the Zeitkratzer Ensemble, but I think he’s just too interpretative for that. The enclosed booklet is overflowing with contextual interpolations, with detailed notes on each piece and sometimes short interviews with the collaborating composer.