Tagged: improvised

Digging It

Thea Farhadian / Klaus Kürvers
eXcavations

USA BLACK COPPER EDITIONS blackcopper002 CD (2016)

In a week when Donald Trump and Angela Merkel got together to shoot the breeze at the White House, here’s another US-German collaborative enterprise for you to consider. Listeners will decide for themselves which they find the most edifying.

Thea Farhadian is a San Francisco Bay Area violinist, with deep roots in classical music as well as avant garde experimentalism and improvisation. A one time member of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, she’s since created an impressive catalogue of solo projects, collaborations, gallery works, acoustic, electronic and laptop experiments. Klaus Kürvers picked up the old bull fiddle in the 1960s, playing with the Essen Youth Symphony Orchestra as well as numerous jazz, free jazz and jazz rock combos. After a short 40 year break to work as an architect and cultural historian, he’s now an active member of the Berlin improvisers’ scene.

The fruits of their collaboration can be enjoyed on eXcavations, with twelve miniature improvisations for violin and double bass. The title suggests an archaeological approach, scraping away the layers to reveal more and more of what lies beneath. There’s certainly a lot of scraping going on (quite literally), and, at times, the double bass makes a noise like a stone sarcophagus being prised open. But it’s also true in a metaphorical sense, as deeper and deeper structures are revealed, hints of jazz tunes and chamber music emerging from the noise like fragments of Roman mosaic being turned up in a ploughed field. The artists themselves talk about “evoking a sense of the past” and creating a “rusty” sound, so the title is well chosen.

One question that it’s worth asking about improvised music is how well you feel the musicians are responding to each other. If it feels like they’re all just banging and scraping away without actually listening to each other, it’s not a lot of fun for anyone who wasn’t there at the time. On the other hand, if it feels like they’re really paying attention and creating something together in the moment, the results can be quite magical. I’m pleased to report that this record succeeds on that count.

eXcavations is the second release on the Black Copper label 1, a new imprint dedicated to improvised music. The website was down when I tried to check it out, but hopefully they’re still with us, preparing to launch more of these satisfying sounds into the world. Or perhaps Black Copper too has become an archaelogical artefact, awaiting excavation from the midden heap of defunct labels. Either way, it’s worthy of discovery.

  1. We noted the first one here – Ed.

Yellow Fever

Norbert Möslang / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
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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.

Rooms For Improvement

Ingar Zach
Le Stanze
NORWAY SOFA MUSIC SOFA552 CD (2016)

A new name for me, but tucked beneath the surface of several SP reviews is Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach: an active figure on the European free music scene, though perhaps more at home among the contemplative Hubro school than vikings like Lasse Marhaug. He even racked up a couple of Derek Bailey collaborations in the early noughties, which is hardly anyone’s front page news I imagine, though it is his improvisor status that surprises most: a couple of listens into Le Stanze and I had him down as a considered, post-classical composer, not someone with a couple of Derek Bailey collaborations under their belt.

The truth lies somewhere between. The post-Gruppo d’improvvisazione(…) slither n’ scrape shenanigans that open Le Stanze maintain a haunting presence throughout, serving as a ‘spontaneous’, space-carving foil for the more ‘constructed’ sections in which percussion and electronics respectively stimulate and depress the music’s blood-flow. Perfect case in point is the galloping fit of percussion that drives halfway through ‘Il Battito Del Vichingo’: a skin-tingling, almost mechanical alignment of racing kickdrum and metallic shower that blows away the blues brought on by the dour intro, but which obligingly returns to the same after some low flying electronics have passed by. This sudden snap back to listlessness is mystifying, but we are compensated with a ‘Teo Macero moment’ beforehand, when the pounding rhythm is yanked from beneath the aviationary drone, briefly leaving us airborne.

Such dynamic extremes are representative of the varied compositional approaches brought to bear on the tools at hand, and of the potential ambivalence experienced in their alternation. For instance, while the chilling pulsations of ‘L’inno Dell’ Oscurità’ gradually acquire an arresting, almost coital momentum over the minutes, the closer – ‘È Solitudine’ – is more evidently an exploratory process; applying what sounds like an electric motor to various resonant surfaces and monitoring the resulting tonality. Neither Merzbow nor Dumitrescu, this voice of the concealed realms is by no means dull (and might even prompt a nervous jerk or two from the listener), but in isolation its purpose is less easily justified than that of certain earlier sections. Which hints at an opportunity missed: to blend the disparate and to promote cohesion between unpartitioned forces. As improvisation, this is fascinating. As composition, baffling. As hybrid, difficult to place.

Baked Goods

Keith Rowe / Martin Küchen
The Bakery
RUSSIA MIKROTON CD 46 (2016)

Actually, Messrs Rowe and Küchen have traded frequencies before. But that was within the confines of a trio and the Küchen, Rowe, Wright c.d. was handstamped in triplicate by the ‘Another Timbre’ label back in 2010. On this occasion, the founding father of tabletop guitar disciplines (and radio manipulations) was invited by the table turner and medium of the spectral sax to a residency that was granted via the deep pockets of the Swedish Arts Council some three years ago. The catch though is that the roles have been somewhat reversed, with Keith’s guitar coming as a secondary concern to his electronics prowess, while Martin’s alto and baritones are supplemented by the crackle/murmur of his radio and ipod.

Divided into two segments (at 21.32 and 14.03 mins), The Bakery comes as a perfect melding of analogue wiring/practical electronix with various prepped guitar gestures in which individual voices and ‘noises off’ are well nigh impossible to recognize as workaday instrumentation. Surely the goal of many an improviser. I can detect some scattered wheezings and splutterings of a far away sax (alternating as an anaesthetist’s nightmare) during part two’s latter stages. A culmination of unnervingly grey mid-paced free-prov all told, which, when topping/tailing certain key moments, seems to stretch time like silly putty on repeated listenings.

Modern Day Jazz Stories

A sumptuous jazz-based release from Martin Archer, the UK composer, bandleader, improviser and wearer of many other hats. Story Tellers (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 57CD) contains two CDs generously laden with highly enjoyable English electric jazz, packed with melody, swing, and passion, and bound to appeal to anyone who enjoys the so-called “Electric” Miles records, Keith Tippett’s big bands of the 1970s, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, the Escalator Over The Hill record, and such like. I’m always impressed when I hear a powerful Charles Mingus record and assume that it must be an 18-piece orchestra playing, then am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be a quintet. I had the same sensations when I learned just six players were responsible for Story Tellers, and from what I can gather most of this material is heard as played in the studio, and there is very little post-production work. The band are Mick Somerset, Archer, trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan, vibes player Corey Mwamba, guitarist Anton Hunter, and percussionist Peter Fairclough. All, as it happens, are accomplished bandleaders in their own right. Some are familiar names; Fairclough and Mwamba played on Archer’s Engine Room Favourites record in 2015, for instance.

Speaking of that release, Archer continues his pursuit of the AACM aesthetic, and remains convinced of the value of that high watermark in American jazz. Speaking about it in the context of this project, he says he particularly wanted to arrive at music that was “improvised and personal to the players”, but also wanted to ensure it could be repeatable, with close attention paid to a structural form that would allow this. A certain tension between spontaneity and structure. As ever, Archer tellingly points out that “AACM musicians solved this…issue several decades ago”.

Part of that structure could be the “literary” theme, which adds a frame of sorts; it divides the music on Story Tellers into six Books, each with chapters, and each book telling the story of a particular imagined character. Well, more like an archetype perhaps; for instance, Mick Somerset plays the role of “The Wounded Healer”, Archer is “The Casuist”, and so on. Some of the ideas here may have been inspired by or provided by Mick Somerset, who – though he plays a wide array of wind instruments and percussion – is a self-confessed outsider who works “on the periphery of jazz music”, and is feels more at home with words and stories. The Books are carefully structured, so that each one follows a set pattern – always starting with a stated musical theme to introduce the character, and including a solo section, and a coda. Further, the Books refer to each other, quoting musical phrases from the other Books as appropriate, to suggest cross-pollination and collaboration between the characters. Though what they’re playing is jazz, Archer has pretty much created a classical song cycle; “you could say…[it] comprises six versions of the same piece” is his take on it.

The aim with this book structure and array of characters is not to tell a story in a conventional sense; rather I take it as a metaphor for the collaboration itself, an expression of the way that the players co-operate and interact with each other, “infecting” each other’s themes with their own. This could be further taken as a metaphor for all music (all successful music at any rate), where the joy of creation becomes a shared activity, and not merely a selfish indulgence for one person, a charge that has often been levelled at lead guitarists taking excessive solos in rock music, or any self-indulgent player who merely satisfies their own needs, ignoring the other players, and even ignoring the audience. Conversely, the good vibes of this group transfer directly onto the grooves here – “we had a ball making it”, to use Archer’s own expression – and will pass onto all who hear it. From 10th August 2016.

Chimie du Son / Stoeien Met Geluid: a treasure chest of obscure home recordings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Jeannin / Various Artists, Chimie du Son / Stoeien Met Geluid, Australia, Creelpone, 2 x CD CP195-196 (2016)

In his quest to cram as many riches into this limited series of double-CD releases (to expire with the 200th release), the Creelpone collector has packed this twin-barrel treasure chest with all the known recordings made by Swiss sound engineer Francis Jeannin; this set includes the entire compilation “Stoeien Met Geluid, 25 Jaar Amateur-Geluidsregistratie 1951-1976″ on Disc 2 of musique concrète recordings made by various amateur sound artists, among which can be found a piece by Jeannin which turns out to be an extended version of an original work on Disc 1.

Disc 1 itself is made up of a private-press 10” vinyl release Jeannin made in the 1950s, followed by a second 30-minute recording “Mah Jong II” by composer / choreographer Emile de Ceuninck on which Jeannin contributes electronic doodlings. The longer work was created for an ensemble featuring soprano singer Adrienne Biet, jazz piano and percussion, and is quite pleasant (if of course very long!), but Jeannin plays a minor part providing some electronics and tape manipulations. The 10″ vinyl release is much more interesting and brisk, and is essentially a lesson in which Jeannin takes his audience through his techniques and methods of speeding up or slowing down sounds and chopping and cutting them up into the raw material to create music or recreate popular ditties of the day. He lets fly tunes like “Silent Night” in the most wondrous tones, so delicate in their sound and etching yet so redolent of the memories of everyday objects and their associations, of which so many have become redundant and passed into history. The sounds of car horns, screeching tyres, aeroplanes, jazz drums and other paraphernalia from the background fabric of post-World War II European society are all rich raw material for Jeannin’s tinkering. His chatty lectures (in French) give way to his amazing little musique concrete offspring who spring into our world and flit and zip joyfully through the air from the loudspeakers.

On Disc 2, amid a mind-blowing collection of the oddest of oddball home-made “amateur” tape collages and electronic dabblings from various European sound artists (and one South African fellow), an extended version of one of the “Chimie du Son” tracks, “H2O”, appears smack bang in the middle and is quite a relaxing piece with a laid-back lounge lizard tune (which I know I’ve heard elsewhere but I can’t remember the title or the original artist). If you’re really curious about this “Stoeien Met Geluid …” compilation, the real dubious glories are elsewhere on the disc: there’s a strange number “Sink Symphony” by Britisher R S King which is devoted to the sonic marvels of British hotel plumbing; and a jolly German dance tootle called “Pipsy” by Gerd H Nieckau, whose compatriot Jurgen Sprotte has an obsession with playing another ditty several different ways on “Das Tanzende Pausenzeichen”. Much later on the disc comes Manfred Eichler’s Exercise with Soundgenerator and Coffeetin” (sic). I must advise though that there are several tracks on the compilation that will make you cringe and squirm in embarrassment for their creators. But we lovers of strange music must embrace the clunky and the kitsch, the jaw-dropping what-the-f***-were-they-thinking? creations along with the quirky, the charming and the eccentric, as context changes along with the passage of time, and what is shunned during one period may become a classic in another.

Altogether these collections provide a fascinating snapshot into those aspects of popular Western culture and technology that intrigued people like Jeannin and others of his time to want to sample, shape and reproduce the sounds of this new technology, to revel in the opportunities it offers and to share what they find and create with others. The music that results becomes a historical document of the popular culture of its time and what it says or implies reflects the hopes and desires of its society.

I haven’t been able to find out very much about Francis Jeannin himself but this link to an article dated 1999 about a clockwork phonograph player made by someone of the same name living in La Chaux-de-Fonds looks promising. The same dapper gentleman inventor is also featured at this link, and is mentioned as having passed away in 2013.

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.

Give Us A Clue

Weavels
The Living Puzzle
UK DISCUS 51CD (2015)

After a long pause, The Living Puzzle follows on from the Weavels at Nether Edge c.d. and this part studio/part live recording is my first encounter with Weavels and Weavelist thought. My curiousity centres were immediately piqued when the player credits of this improve trio revealed a weirdly unorthodox line-up. Step forward Mick Beck (one time Klinker Club regular and Feetpackets/Shkrang member), well known in avantist circles for his fearless reactivation of ‘the tenor of the oboe family’: the bassoon. His secondary arsenal here being recorder, swanee whistle and nose-flute; a Vicks Sinex and ocarina hybrid. He’s joined by bass clarinettist and Eric Dolphy fan Chris Cundy and Derek Bailey’s ‘Company Week’ stalwart/boy wonder Alex Ward on electric guitar. So, in other words, by my reckoning, that amounts to one string bender and a pair of mouth-breathers…what gives??

Well, what gives in this puzzling triangle is that the focus is on the expansion of standard playing disciplines (in the winds dept.), through harmonics and circular breathing. And as those techniques are rolled out, the whimsical/fruity tones of the bassoon and the somewhat lugubrious voice of the bass clarinet assume slightly edgier profiles. I could easily see the two gentleman players being forcibly escorted from the ‘Peter and the Wolf’ auditions for such beastly outbursts. With what seems to be a squadron of geese in attack mode, the misleadingly titled “Welcome Home” opens the five-part ‘states of living’ concept (no, me neither). “Improving the Dining Room” adds to its turbulent heft with a dash of steel appendage guitar while the reckless blart and poot of “The Sun Room Avoids Invasion by Rats” is marked by a number of uncredited vocal outpourings, worthy of Jaap Blonk in his prime, no less….

The guitar tweakings however, appear to be in slightly reduced form, Alex doesn’t quite ‘whip it out’, which is a little cranky as he actually mixed a lion’s share of this collection in his studio. A guitarist who mixes down his own contribution is one of a rare breed for sure…

An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg: a quirky and charming stream-of-consciousness work

Matthew Revert, An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg, Caduc CD #CA17 (2016)

A beguiling work composed of spoken word monologues, field recordings, samples, occasional acoustic guitar noodling and off-key singing, “An Insect …” heralds a growing body of experimental music by Melbourne-based absurdist novelist / graphic designer Matthew Revert. This recording nods in the direction of improv, drone, light noise and neo-primitive folk without being captured completely by any of these categories. It’s quite a busy release with hardly any pauses or lapses in the continuous free-form patter of sound and I marvel that Revert is able to keep up the brisk pace without losing a beat. (Of course there would be have been a lot of cutting and pasting but any joins can hardly be heard.) All the sounds appear to be completely natural with very little processing and they are right at the forefront of the mix.

Listeners might feel a little too close to the action for comfort – there’s a phone conversation that they’ll be eavesdropping into, and Revert (I assume that Revert does all the monologues) mumbles under his breath and almost appears to drift into sleep – and possibly much of the intimacy feels too forced. Towards the end of the recording, sounds from the external environment – radio song, a soap opera soundtrack, half of a conversation – intrude into the musical narrative and turn it into something more forbidding and impersonal. It’s as if Revert’s private space which he has deigned to share with us is being invaded and torn apart.

Not too long for the stream-of-consciousness novelty value to turn kitschy and stale, and not too short either, this quirky work has much charm and many surprises. TSP readers need to hear it for themselves as to what meanings or messages (if any) it may have – but I need to warn you, the more you listen to it, the more you’ll wonder what it’s meant to be about. At least the cover art (done by Revert) is easy on the eye and looks as if it means something … or does it when you see the blank face and read the strange messages?

Mules Of The Sea

Last heard from Ted Lee, one of the luminaries behind the Feeding Tube Records label, in October 2016 with his bizarre solo record made as No Sod. I’m still trying to come to terms with that spontaneous explosion of free noise and art music, but while I’m trying I have this new LP Dream Away Lodge (FTR269) by Donkey No No to assuage my wounds and soothe my brow. On it, Ted Lee supplies percussion by bowing his cymbals, while joined by two mostly-acoustic players – the guitarist Omeed Goodarzi and the violinist Jen Gelineau. Omeed Goodarzi has been associated with Midi & The Modern Dance and Ivan Ooze, while Gelineau from Holyoke in MA has performed on a large number of records by Egg, Eggs, the sprawling and prolific New England free noise combo.

Dream Away Lodge is quite a different proposition to the far-out No Sod record, and indeed in places it’s quite tasteful and introspective, where No Sod is brash and outspoken. A melancholic tone permeates both sides of this continual low-key rippling drone music, recorded at a place called Dream Away Lodge in Massachusetts in 2015, and for some reason it casts the impression of being recorded in near-darkness or by candlelight. Omeed Goodarzi’s acoustic guitar work is probably the most conventional element in the trio, and for a few seconds on side A we could almost be hearing an acoustic Led Zeppelin bootleg. He provides most of the structure and form to the A side, his simple chord shapes and figures forming a prop for the other two to drape their solos and noises. I like Gelineau’s tone and her sound, and she finally has a chance to shine (Egg, Eggs sessions seem to be just a free-for-all wrestling match) with her playing; her chilling music greets you like the icy stare from the Victorian portrait of a long-dead ancestor. Her echo effect on the B side is delicious, contributing a vaguely “kosmische” vibe to the music; Tangerine Dream music played on violins instead of mellotrons.

As for Lee, his metallic shimmers are positively restrained, adding just the right degree of improvised noise to these semi-melodic fugues. The team cohere well on these two sides, and even if the music seems to go for longer than it should, this is part of the improv-only deal in this context – you have to take everything or nothing. When Donkey No No get themselves into a good space, they pretty much stay there for 15-20 mins. Since 2015, they’ve already released 11 other recordings, mostly in tiny editions on cassette or acetates. The cover, screenprinted by Neil Burke from a photo by Lauri McNamara, is quite a strong point; it’s printed in just the right shade of “mellow brown” to match the music, reminding me of the Fairfield Parlour cover (or perhaps the 1971 LP by Master’s Apprentices on Regal Zonophone). I don’t know much about the donkey in the picture, except it’s made of metal and joins them on their performances and presumably gave the band their name. From 27 June 2016, limited to 100 copies.