Tagged: improvised

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.

Past Tense

Pluperfect (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH? 87) is a team-up between two American improvisers, Ben Bennett and John Collins McCormick; I see that Bennett has made one record for this label before, 2014’s Tangle with Jack Wright, and his drumming work has surfaced on cassettes and CDRs since around 2008. Can’t find out much about McCormick, although he may be as much of a video artist as he is a sound maker. Here, he plays his laptop and an amplified drum to do battle with Bennett’s percussion and “membranes” set-up. Two lengthy and insufferable sets veer between aimless, meandery doodling and intense, sometimes rather harsh, explosive sounds; both drums and electronics shriek and scream, spitting out painful ear-damaging statements. When the noisy portions interrupt the proceedings, it’s hard to see the logic behind it; by which I mean that neither improviser has any clear idea about what they wish to say, or what their intentions may be. There’s also a crippling lack of rapport between the two, adding to the cold and listless feel of the set. It was recorded in Marlboro College in Vermont in 2015. From 25 July 2016.

Sleep Disorder

Daniel Wyche is a Chicago guitar player and improviser who takes his task very seriously, determined to “explore the relationships between forms of resonance, overtones and noise”. He’s been doing it through extended techniques, guitar preparations, and using an effects console that would probably make even Keiji Haino sick. More recently, Wyche has turned to the methods of multi-channel playback, and something to do with the “spatialisation” of sound, something that works better in some performance places than it does in others. Some of these ambitions may or may not be represented on Our Severed Sleep (EH? AUDIO REPOSITORY EH?86), where he lets rip with the help of Ryan Packard, the drummer from Fonema Consort and Skeletons. Two lengthy improvisations pour forth, over 18 minutes apiece; a full-on noise assault eventually kicks in, some minutes after undetermined noodling about and hesitant stabs. There are some nice unkempt and dirty sounds on here, but for all their thrashing and hammering, the duo can’t seem to generate much actual energy. Their strenuous efforts go round in circles, like a dismal whirlpool, leaving no lasting effect on the listener. Wyche isn’t really playing the guitar enough for my liking; 40% of this album is just loud feedback put through filters and left to drone in an angry manner. Conversely, Packard plays the drums too much, blindly smashing his way through unadventurous riffs. While Our Severed Sleep may appeal to fans of avant-rock noise, it’s also too mannered and over-intellectualised to really make that visceral, gut-level connection one would tend to seek. Grandiose titles like ‘I Give My Language To More Than History’ don’t help matters either, I regret to say. From 25 July 2016.

The Svelte Veldt

Previously noted The International Nothing on their 2014 CD, The Dark Side Of Success for the Japanese Ftarri label; the twin clarinets of Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke impressed our reviewer S. Marshall with their “enclosed, extraordinarily long-winded exercises”. We’ve also encountered Kai a few times over the years, for instance in various improvising combos represented on the Mikroton label, and most oddly of all as half of The Dogmatics with Chris Abrahams. If Kai’s in the room, you can guarantee a brittle atmosphere, that much we know…and the same observation applies to The Power Of Negative Thinking (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono086), a record that you could eat like so much peanut brittle. In this project, Kai & Michael team up with Swiss bassist Christian Weber on his double bass and the German player Eric Schaefer with his drumkit. Because of this addition to the group, they call themselves The International Nothing (…And Something) for this release, acting as though all of Europe will be amused to death by this layered and intellectual in-joke.

To give you some idea of what this ingenious record is like, it seems by now Fagaschinski and Thieke are being labelled as a “psycho-acoustic” duo. What in the name of Iain Sinclair does that mean? Well, it might be something to do with their deep understanding of sound, the business of producing multiphonics through their woodwind sticks, and exploring the dark realms of “difference tones”, also called “combination tones” – the “third” tone that sometimes appears when in fact there are only two sounds being created. For further information on that phenomenon, see the studies of Giuseppe Tartini in the 18th century.

What this means is that the record is one of slow, very deliberate musical utterances. It’s as though the musicians were actors in an incomprehensible philosophical play, each given lines of enormous import to recite. Then they had to say them in a foreign language as well. And deliver them underwater. While wearing a suit of armour. And any other handicaps that spring to mind, that might obstruct ordinary, linear thinking or direct performance. It isn’t to say the music is heavy-footed; it’s just very considered. Every musical phrase might seem to arrive wrapped in quotes, but they are very beautiful phrases; not a commonplace remark in sight. When you’re occasionally rewarded with a brief harmonic passage in amongst all this stiff awkwardness and formality, it’s like a treat of sugar-coated fruits.

The only time the quartet are allowed to loosen up and have some rollicking fun is on ‘Something Went Wrong’, which anywhere else might be seen as an attempt by a school band to play Kurt Weill for an amateur production; in this context, it’s practically a relief to hear some syncopation after all that staid grace, no matter how stilted it may seem. Mind you, the bassist and drummer also get to shine on ‘We Can Name You Their Names’, which seems to be the apogee of their “Morton Feldman meets the Modern Jazz Quartet approach”. What poise…and if you want to hear what Eric Schaefer can really do to liven up the party with a pineapple (and we’re talking fragmentation hand grenades, brothers), check out ‘Lokale Gebrauche’, where his percussion stabs ring out like tiny gunshots.

From all the above, I need hardly point out how appropriate is the cover illustration, depicting each member as a wild beast of some sort, each from a different continent, and none of them doing much except standing there looking replete and fine in their various pelts. Obviously, the anteater represents one of the clarinet players, but I’m still trying to match up the other three. From 14 July 2016.

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.