Tagged: improvised

The Third Ear Band

À La Face Du Ciel! (SHHPUMA SHH022CD / CLEAN FEED RECORDS) is a superb record of free improvisation and another very successful meeting between Jean-Marc Foussat, the Algerian synth player and electronic music maestro, and João Camões, the Portuguese viola player (also from Open Field Trio and Earnear). In June 2016 I raved about Bien Mental, an intense record they made with Claude Parle. À La Face Du Ciel is not as “wild” as that release, nor is it intended to be; “more intimate and introspective results” is how they would describe it, while what I’m feeling on today’s spin is a very heartfelt and rather melancholic range of emotions. Pain, anxiety, fears; many of the modern ailments facing contemporary man are dealt with through musical exploration, which is a very good and sincere way to do it. Please note I am not talking about “confrontational” music which we might get from the “industrial” musician type, one who wishes to bludgeon the listener until we’re the ones feeling the pain. Nor do I refer to the many synth drone players who find it all-too-easy to slip into tones that suggest “unease” and “disquiet”, mostly through lazy keyboard presets. Make no mistake, Foussat and Camões understand that their music is a language, not just an array of sounds, and what we hear on this record is a subtle, nuanced and very genuine articulation of that language.

The notes here point out, quite rightly, that the electronic music of Jean-Marc Foussat has very little to do with contemporary electronica or ambient genres, and has been forged in the heat of improvisations with a number of important avant-garde players since the early 1980s – not to mention his exposure to the genre through acting as sound recordist for many of Derek Bailey’s Company events. “Acting by impulse and always with new ideas” is the apt description given here of his responsive and highly creative approach to collaborative playing. Part of that process involves real-time processing of amplified signals from Camões’ viola, a strategy which takes this (classically-trained) musician somewhat out of his comfort zone, but it’s a bracing experience which he clearly relishes.

They’re able to sustain this high degree of focus and concentration for long periods, as these two tracks (22 mins and 23 mins) testify. Well, while the pair may occasionally tread water on ‘Mécanique Verte’ and lapse into quasi-classical viola phrases on top of electronic drone, it’s still an impressive blend of timbres and textures, packed with detail and very intimate sounds. The main event though is ‘Suite Pour La Troisième Oreille’, a powerful shape-shifting beast which never stays in one place and leads the listener through several genuinely surprising corridors of mental exploration – surely the definition of what “free music” should be doing to earn its keep. The “third eye” is a phrase which can be used as a metaphor for a form of spiritual awakening or discovery, and with the reference here to a “third ear” Foussat and Camões make good on their promise of enlightening the soul of the listener. From 11 July 2016; many thanks to João for sending this.

They Might Be Giants

We last heard the music of Ryan Choi, a Hawaiian composer and musician, with his record The Three Dancers which was unusual for being a musical interpretation of a painting of Pablo Picasso, and for being improvised entirely on the ukulele. Four more uke improvisations can be heard on Whenmill (OFF-RECORD LABEL ODG049), another strong set and one characterised by its compaction and brevity. If you heard this “blind”, chances are you’d mistake the music for avant-garde compositions for the classical guitar; it’s got a certain gravity and aloofness that indicates the performer and composer has something important to say, and the occasional dissonances are like the sort of thing that Luigi Nono might have scored for the nylon-stringed devil of the airways.

Choi is proud of his distinctive technique, which involves unusual tunings of the ukulele, a very pronounced attempt to wring “experimental harmonies” from the strings, and an approach to fingering which I guarantee you will not have heard on record before. He hits notes with a clarity and precision that shows effortless skill, but he’s not interested in loud volumes, and the understated tone of these recordings is quite remarkable. Yet if you listen closely, the bold and adventurous leaps of imagination he’s making in these improvised tunes are truly something to behold. It’s like listening to a magician casting the most outrageous spells against the world, yet doing so in a quiet, mumbly voice. Evidently, it takes our Hawaiian magus some considerable time to work himself into the desired frame of mind, since this record has had a three-year gestation period.

As to the content of this release, it may have something to do with Don Quixote, but this is something of a wild guess on my part; one is always looking for clues in this line of work, and I base my assumption on two titles here, ‘Quixona’ and ‘Whenmills’. In Choi’s take on the theme, if indeed it is a take, windmills become “whenmills”, which is a brilliant portmanteau word which Humpty Dumpty would have been pleased with (you recall he found a number of these when he explained Jabberwocky for Alice). One can only speculate as to what a “whenmill” may mean for Ryan Choi. Don Quixote I believe charged against windmills with his lance because, in a delusional state, he thought they might be giants. Today, these giants clearly have some extra power of time-travel associated with their other strengths, and trying to tilt against a “whenmill” means you’re interfering with the world of high finance with its five-year spending plans and future cost breakdowns. No wonder Choi thinks of himself as a surrealist. A splendid record from 11 July 2016.

Flocci Non Facio

About a jillion points shall be awarded to the cassette Gara Delle Facce (TUTORE BURLATO #09) performed by the trio Flocculi. Its members Devid Ciampalini, David Lucchesi and Ezio Piermattei turn in a two-part performance across both sides of this short tape and in the process they defy human reason with some of the uncanny zany sounds that emanate from their agitated bodies. Percussion, oscillators, guitar, voice, tape and objects are all used in imaginative ways to maximise a sense of the bizarre and a sense of fun in equal proportions, and the spirited nature of their antics doesn’t let up for a moment. I suppose there could conceivably be a danger that this form of free and open playing could easily become self-indulgent and even “wacky” in a meant-to-be-funny sense that doesn’t translate; or it could become an exercise in forced “energy” music which degenerates into the usual skittery-improv chaos and clatter. Amazingly, neither scenario comes to pass and the music remains light and fleet-footed. This may be because none of the musicians are trying to prove anything about such unhelpful notions as “extended technique” or the “value” of free improvisation, and are simply playing together in ways they enjoy. But I speculate. Ciampalini is unknown to me, and Lucchesi the guitarist has surfaced on an obscure CDR as part of DeA in 2014; but Piermattei is of course more familiar to us, not only as the owner of this tape label but as Hum Of Gnats, poisucevamachenille and Autopugno, aliases under which he has made unique and funny records which to one degree or another exhibit his obvious facility for making uncanny sounds and music with his voice, and his tape overlays. Flocculi is yet another project he can be proud of. They may never surface again as a trio, but for 30 delicious minutes here they have unleashed several exciting and tasty events in sound upon the earth, with an obvious passion and enthusiasm for their work, and everything is played with a simple transparency which is highly refreshing. Things may get noisy, but never distorted; the spirit is liberating, never chaotic. The title translates into English as “Race Of Faces”, and that’s putting it mildly. Highly recommended!

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Andy’s Chest

The Chest cassette (TUTORE BURLATO #10) is a lumpy oddity of rough sound poetry and acoustic noise, slammed down onto the grooves in the “primitive” style. The players here are the Glaswegian duo Acrid Lactations (Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot) who have miraculously teamed up with Joincey, the notorious loon from Stoke on Trent who used to be part of Inca Eyeball and Green Monkey with Phil Todd, here trading under the name Jointhee. Together, they produce an ungainly mix of absurdist, naïve rhymes and raps spoken, groaned and chanted as though the players were breathless, grey-eyed zombies chained up in a vat of hardening concrete; their very lungs breathe dust and grime. Accompanying these impenetrable texts are raw and primitive improvised noise eruptions, including many random toy keyboard stabs, detuned guitar strums, and tentative saxophone slurps – the whole party resembling children or teenagers playing at Company Week, yet stumbling upon profound sonic discoveries as they do so. Chest billows with quiet spooked-out vibes, amounting to a highly compelling session of strangeness that will keep you listening in a perpetual state of stunned amazement, awaiting the next peculiar development. I see the Acrid ones had a cassette from Singing Knives in 2013, Aura Mirror Come Fickle, Anachronous Law and Manner, which we’ve now missed sadly. Recommended, for those who like it messy and visceral…

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Porta Guitarre

Eugenio Sanna is a great new discovery to make for me. Evidently he’s an avant-garde improvising guitarist, although you’d never guess from the scant printed information provided on La Porta Stretta (TUTORE BURLATO #04), a C29 cassette containing seven examples of his very extreme instrumental craft. Scrapes, jangles, metallic howls and whines, non-musical and semi-musical sounds combining in a delirious but very brittle melange of playing. I’m particularly keen on the false harmonics he sends up in the air from his precise strums and attacks, much in the manner of a 1970s Derek Bailey. While the natural sounds of an electric guitar are heavily disguised for the most part, he doesn’t do it through the lazy use of pedals, but through his own innovative technique; and he’s advancing the possibilities of the instrument in many ways, rather than trying to actively destroy or subvert one of the linchpins of Western musical culture. I’m delighted by the physical, hands-on, nature of his playing; he seems to be physically wrestling with a problem in real time, and solving it, rather than contemplating insubstantial abstract notions in an airy-fairy manner. I see he’s played with Mike Cooper on record at least twice, which is encouraging, and also with Edoardo Ricci since the 1990s. There’s also an odd record he made with Jealousy Party, whose bizarre antics on another record we noted recently here. Sanna walks a lonely furrow and ploughs a tempestuous wind, but his armour is bright.

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Dreamskills in the Star Clinic

Another splendid package of unusual and sumptuously-decorated releases from Eric Kinny and his Santé Loisirs label in Belgium…first is a blue seven-inch flexi disc from CE Schneider Topical & The Lentils. CE Schneider Topical is another New England weird-folk duo (we’re anticipating writing about a full-length album of theirs quite soon) comprising Christine Schneider and Zach Phillips, the latter being the head of OSR Tapes and a troubadour who has come our way before as one half of Blanche Blanche Blanche. On Four Different Hells (SL05) they turn in four immaculate acoustic pop songs with odd melodies and minimal instrumental arrangements, occasionally dropping in sweet vocal harmonies that are like an East Coast take on Brian Wilson at his most spaced-out and psychotropically damaged. We still see the lingering after-effects of those Smile bootlegs leaking into the culture…these miniaturist enigmas in song form last barely a minute or two before they disappear into the air, like the sighting of an odd dragonfly in the middle of an enchanted glade, and leave the impression of a Red Krayola fragment or even Young Marble Giants sung in American accents. Not entirely sure what The Lentils contribute here, but they seem to be the vision of songwriter Luke Csehak, come from Los Angeles and are also well represented on Feeding Tube vinyl editions. A charming little gem that sparkles for less than ten minutes… “you may spot Zach Phillips’ abusive use of musical informations.” writes Eric in an enclosed note, “but this time he only has the length of a 7” to express himself.” Christine Schneider did the cover design, executed here by the gift of woodblock printing.


The other item is a cassette tape featuring the solo clarinet of Joachim Badenhorst. His Kitakata (SL04) includes 15 peculiar instrumentals that are both forlorn and mysterious, ringing out across the place in Japan – I think it’s the “Star Clinic” – where they were recorded. “The atmosphere was so special, it made me play like I hadn’t before”, is all the creator can tell us about an evidently highly personal experience. But his music communicates it in a very deep fashion. To add to the atmosphere, the tape includes certain interludes and field recordings, documenting simple and gentle sounds such as a water fountain, bird song, and people talking quietly. Hard to say why but it increases the overall beauty of this release 100-fold. The artwork is printed on very thin newsprint, again a woodblock creation, a very bold combination of hand-written text with a grungy half-tone photograph, which further emphasises the very human nature of this statement. Badenhorst is an important latter-day Belgian improviser and jazz musician, and we’ve encountered his work twice this year – once with Dan Peck on The Salt Of Deformation (co-released on his own Klein label), and again with Pascal Niggenkemper on the exceptional record Talking Trash. Beyond that, I can only urge you to try and seek out this touchingly beautiful and intimate personal musical statement.

Both the above from 9th June 2016. We last received items from Eric’s micro-label in 2015, see this page. I see now I’ve missed SL03, which was the cassette release by Les Dauphins Et La Science…boo hoo!

Drift Studies

Last heard from duo FvRTvR in 2012 with their Gobi Wow record (noted here), and their new vinyl utterance Following Shapes To The Edge Of A Drift (DISCOMBOBULATE BOB009) shows the team of Fritz Welch and Guido Henneböhl are still working their unique furrow of disconnected percussive and electronic noise. As Fritz Welch projects go, I tend to find this one preferable to With Lumps, his side project with Neil Davidson which produces music bordering on the unlistenable, in the best possible way of course. At least FvRTvR sound like they’re having some fun, or a good whole-hearted discussion over a brew or two, rather than contemplating the general deterioration of the universe with crestfallen expressions.

Not a single moment on this white vinyl pressing flies by that isn’t filled with unexpected pleasures, and unpredictable aural swoop attacks – particularly from Henneböhl, the German half of the act, who is evidently more kestrel than man, using oscillators for wings. Welch’s task, which he engages with manfully, involves a certain amount of heft and sweat, and is more akin to punching rivets into the side of a hull than conventional “music” as, say, Les Percussions De Strasbourg would define it. A restless and slightly angrified mood abounds for duration of this spiky and turgid album, and you should start to feel itchy and active after just ten mins of spinnage.

The cover art conveys precisely the right degree of sleaze, mystery, and surrealism in equal measures. There is something quite surreal about most of Fritz Welch’s music, as though he seems determined to remould everything we think we understand about life, then tear it apart with his kneading hands, pressing it all together into a large gobbet of insanity. From 7 April 2016.

From Marne To Seine

Pascal Battus is the French performer who is renowned for “playing” his rotating surfaces and his ability to squeeze sounds out of non-musical, inanimate objects – such as lumps of plastic, styrofoam, polystyrene and paper, all substances which, as it happens, appear on Pascal Battus / Dafne Vicente-Sandoval (POTLATCH P116), his new two-disc album which features a number of duets with Dafne Vicente-Sandoval playing her bassoon. On disc 1, Marne, the small objects have contact microphones to amplify them; on disc 2, Seine, it’s a set of all-acoustic performances. Battus unplugged. I suppose the first thing to note is that this is quite some way from “conventional” free improvisation, and in addition is rather a non-musical set. Dafne Vicente-Sandoval, who we have heard on the 2013 Remoto album on this same label, makes low purring and droning sounds on her bassoon, but is not here to play tunes or demonstrate her extended technique; what she provides is one more fabric in a sea of fabrics. A minimal sea. The textures of the waters, if we can put it like that, are both viscuous and airy. In fact we’re not even talking about water, and neither Battus or Vicente-Sandoval are in a boat. Got me?

So far you may wonder what’s the appeal of this rather empty-seeming process record…well, for one thing there’s this air of exploration to the work, lending the album a slightly mysterious quality; neither of the players seem quite sure where this is going to lead. I kind of like this. It isn’t to say they are hesitant or tentative, but neither are they trotting out their well-worn riffs and tics in anticipation of familiar results. It’s clear that Battus is adept with his rotary devices (whatever they may be), yet his rotations and scrapes produce sounds quite unlike the (very few) other players who use comparable techniques in this field. One of them is A-F Jacques, the other is Alfredo Costa Monteiro. In a blindfold test, you’d easily be able to identify the inert metallic and plasticy scrapes produced by Battus. Yet he’s not playing a musical instrument. That alone may tell us something.

Another observation we could make concerns the variety in the volumes and flavours of the sounds, now loud, now soft…but that’s a totally fatuous remark…at any rate neither party is intending to bore themselves or the listener, and of course they wish to explore and push for changes wherever possible, ever given such an evidently limited set-up.

Hmm, I seem to be pushing Dafne Vicente-Sandoval to a secondary role in all this, which is not the intention…it’s harder to identify her contributions, so a more careful listen is needed. One reason for that might be her own use of mics and a mixing desk, although that isn’t to say her sounds are being filtered. Wherever there’s a trace of human breathing, even if it’s just the patterns of breathing, she will be there. I hope so anyway. It’s beginning to feel this music is so alien that we can only understand it through abstractions, through reflections, models that are drawn on a piece of plexiglass. Dafne’s contributions are more evident and apparent on the Seine disk, where the all-acoustic setting is much more natural for her bassoon’s growls, purrs, and extended sighs. Sound-generation is still her main task, probably exerting a huge amount of discipline just to avoid making recognisable notes or patterns that would make a human being feel more at home. Here, the sounds of the two players interlock much more successfully, becoming a tight wafer of rigid drones. At this point the record is starting to become like sleep-walking, a mysterious trance state – both for the players, and for us. The ultra-slow pace and the gentle, gradual movements, add to this impression; the whole body swathed in bandages, stumbling awkwardly but silently towards its unknown destination.

I was almost ready to dismiss this item on first spin (it left me infuriated), but I think it was worth persevering. From 16 May 2016.


Another rather overpowering record from The Jazzfakers, last heard here with their 2013 offering Here Is Now, a record where “everything explodes in all directions” as observed by Stuart Marshall. On Hallucinations (ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN064), David Tamura is the sax player, also works keyboards and guitar, and he leads this agitated New York combo down their musically omnivorous tunnels and hallways; Robert L. Pepper, from PAS, adds violin and electronics, and the rhythm section of Luczak and Zwyer have to work time-and-a-half (plus tips, extras, etc.) just to keep up with the aberrant howls and self-indulgent blurts emerging from the two soloist stars.

Tamura’s overly-expressive and juicy sax honks are much in evidence, and I’d never made the connection to John Zorn before, but perhaps the presence of Zorn’s producer Martin Bisi (who recorded Hallucinations in Brooklyn) has stirred a distant memory in that direction. If pushed, my preference is to plump for the strange electronic brew such as we hear on ‘Bicameralism’, a fuzzy nightmare which might result from Pepper’s violin / electronics combo or Tamura’s keys. There’s probably not much point in looking for connections to “jazz” as we understand it in these over-wrought splurges of abstract noise and crazy near-random eruptions, since the band are clearly equally informed by many other genres of music, including rock, free noise, free improvisation, and classical avant-garde composition. When Tamura does throw a jazzy piano riff into this stew, it seems at once too obvious, too throwaway, and too glib.

No denying he and all the Jazzfakers have tremendous chops, but on today’s spin I’d prefer something with a little more arrangement behind it. This time, the record is “themed” on the work of Oliver Sacks who apparently wrote a book by this title, and the press claim is that each member of the band was “under the influence of a different hallucinogenic state” during recording. Oh yeah…as if! From 25 May 2016.

Manifold Exhaustion

Exhaustion / Wanders is a meaty and maximal improvising combo who I never heard before, but am prepared to grant them “access all areas” and a full amnesty based on today’s spin of II (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR238). We might observe that sweat drips from them like mercury rolling off a mirror, but it’s a cold sweat. They manifest seething energy, yet also lurch and broil in a strange stagnant quagmire of noise. They have a very natural approach to generating powerful dynamics and changes, yet also relish the opportunity to keep stating the same proposal over and over until we admit defeat. There’s a lot of tensions and paradoxes, though that first might be the main one.

Kris Wanders is the sax player, perhaps guesting on this sesh, as he has on another record with the avant-rock trio. I noticed on side two, called ‘A Vicious Indulgence’, he began the set screaming and honking in a very free mode, like a super-face proponent of the Albert Ayler school of fish. The bassist Ian Wadley and the drummer Per Byström were prepared to act like an Ornette rhythm section for as long as needed, so those three seemed to share some common ground. But the guitarist, the mad Duncan Blanchford, was on another planet, a cold and slow planet with very heavy gravity. His grim and purposeful sawing motions with that grey, metallic axe were at total odds with the speedier parts of the music. A lot to listen to, and a lot of tension. ‘A Vicious Indulgence’ subsides at last into a mysterious temperate zone, demonstrating that effortless way that E/W – they use a strange runic combination to denote their identity – can control the flux and flow of the music, swooping from clean air mountain top to muddy swampland in a matter of seconds. Not even a roc can do that. Part of the atmospheric magic here is conjured by Byström’s strongs use of the “Cymbals of Inclement Weather” on his kit, summoning fog and mists.

The first side ‘Treasury Gardens’ also demonstrates much of the above, but I noticed here how Blanchard’s guitar has a lovely reverb effect or something that creates that instant “garage from the future” feel, by which I mean a kind of Link Wray superman figure wearing the skin of Zoot Horn Rollo and passed over the magic filters of Joe Meek. Superficially, I seem to have heard that sound before, probably on certain Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha records. One might be tempted to call this record a cross between Fushitsusha and Peter Brötzmann, but such a comparison does no favours to anyone. Least of all to Duncan Blanchford, who is certainly less “excessive” than Haino, by which I mean the effects stack is not cranked up to 115 at all times, nor does he feel the need to occupy every vacant space with intricate playing. Yet the album still remains very maximal, as already noted. And this is not to mention Blanchford’s demented vocal howls, which appear to horrifying effect on the second side. Consider this aspect an added bonus.

Exhaustion are described on their own Bandcamp page as “Melbourne psych rock thugs”, whereas Kris Wanders is indeed no stranger to Brötzmann and other FMP giants such as Bennink, Van Hove, and von Schlippenbach, with whom he has played. Strange how I never heard him as he was active in Europe since 1965, although he didn’t appear on that many FMP records and moved to Australia in the 1970s. Still, that is no excuse on my part. He somehow fell in with Exhaustion and they made a one-sided record for Endless Melt in 2015, and toured on the back of it. I think this release is absolutely lovely. Even the cover is stronger and subtler than the usual Feeding Tube shockers that usually adorn releases from this label, and seems a throwback to a time when improvisation records featured found images and old photographs to convey the idea of duo or group playing. (Such as, erm…The Topography Of The Lungs.) From 8th April 2016.