Tagged: improvised

Phallus Dei

Meson
5C4L3
UK DISCUS 55CD (2016)

Meson is the collective name of metaphysical bard Bo Meson and an amorphous glob of hired musical help that usually expands to double figures. Strictly speaking, 5c4l3 or Scale, let’s jettison that numbers resembling letters affectation 1, comes as Bo’s debut lasering on Discus, as the Echoic Entertainment album (from 2015) was a shared project where Discus m.d. Martin Archer’s arrangements were employed as shifting back projections to the poetic/declamatory actions of the mesonic one.

The accompanying promo sheet shoehorns in ambient, ambidelic (?), free-form and improg as suitably fitting genres for this venture. Though at certain times, it can come down to an ‘all of the above’ and possibly a little bit more. I’d expect nothing less from someone who uses a word for an unstable atomic particle as part of his pseudonym. All of Scale‘s material is of an improvised nature that slumps heavily, eyes crossed, across the deep reverb/kozmik echo generator controls, clutching a P.K. Dick-endorsed blister pack of slow release capsules in its right hand. “We Traffic in Progress” with its classic analogue squeals and talk of quantum particles and the melodica-laced “Dark Matters” come almost on a default setting.

However, it’s not all centred on Copernicus, “G.Z.D.” era Arthur Brown or 90n9 dynamics (sorry!), as certain pieces travel less frequented paths. “Kem-Na Mazda” pitches mystical Jade Warrioresque exoticism against the full-bodied, classically-trained tenor of Wolfgang Seel and “Advances in Destruction by Technology” belies its attractive and serene nature with a doomy crystal ball gaze into a future where the use of artificial intelligence has led to mass unemployment within the professional classes, Could such things really happen? Only that wildly gesticulating figure behind the lectern seems to know…

  1. The typographical angel has detected a far earlier example of this, ahem, trend from 1997 and names The Fucking Champs as the guilty parties with their “III” l.p. on Frenetic Records/U.S.A.

Mysterious Ways

emibatett

emißatett
qui-pro-quo-dis
GERMANY SCHRAUM 19 CD (2015)

Emißattet is a ‘trio’ of five improvisors from Cologne who perform in and around the ‘compositions’ of cellist Elisabeth Fügemann, though these are not ‘compositions’ as one might imagine: a division of labour to achieve a distinct musical goal. No, their discourse consists of face offs and skirmishes along the road between pained, metallic droning and all-at-once shard warfare – a tension augmented by the arrival of piano and percussion (in this newly expanded lineup) – though the prevailing democracy at least ensures that each of the players occupies their own sovereign territory: great, grey, rain-soaked spaces filled with tortured tree-like forms and mutated fauna; landscapes as rich in mystery as ennui.

Corresponding with this sense of tethered exchange is the erosion of distinction between free improvisation and ‘modern’ orchestration: lacking any melodic anchor points, one might easily mistake this for random ‘bits & bobs’ affair, were it not for the fact that much of the engagement is carefully choreographed: a matching note-for-note passage for piano and trombone in ‘Kugul’ being one obvious indicator that ‘a greater hand’ authors these seemingly random events. Then there’s the ‘hidden symmetry’ of transitions between trio and quintet formations, the ‘give-and-take’ the Latinised title almost alludes to, but which is trumped by Google’s telling translation of ‘For The Gods’. Vanquishing potential monotony, this latent theology is manifest in the episodes of expansion and condensation that govern Emißattet’s fields of malleable tonality, imbuing their music with a sense of intrigue that could lead to devotion.

Bags’ Groove

pascal_n

Impressive and inventive improvised / jazz / composed music from Pascal Niggenkemper, a French-German bass player appearing here with his new sextet Le 7eme Continent. The album Talking Trash (CLEAN FEED CF373CD) contains a wealth of musical ideas, allowing space for free improvisation within certain grids and frames, and the attention to dynamics and tension-inspiring gaps is remarkable. Niggenkemper is well served by his fantastic team of players, including the woodwind player Joachim Badenhorst (with whom he also plays in the trio Baloni), Eve Risser and Philip Zoubek with their two prepared pianos, plus the sub-contrabass flute of Julian Elvira and the clarinet of Joris Ruhl. Notice that’s an all-acoustic line-up, although it seems the woodwind team may employ some amplification; the majority of these strange and alien noises are all generated by human action, breathing, bowing and plucking movements.

Talking Trash is a concept album of sorts, based on Niggenkemper’s reading of alarming news reports of what’s happening in the Pacific ocean these days…apparently we’re dumping so much garbage in the sea, it’s practically formed a new continent of detritus, described by a note here as “an artificial world, in the midst of the ocean, accidentally created by men” and nicknamed the Seventh Continent. “It made me think…” states Niggenkemper, reflecting on the lamentable piles of non-biodegradable plastic we’re stacking up in gargantuan proportions; and as his way of dealing with this depressing “absurd reality”, he created these compositions. It helps to draw our attention to this aspect of world pollution. But he also wanted to create a living sound-portrait, a moving painting in sound, depicting the continent of rubbish and its undulating actions. The accuracy of his snapshots is informed by a pessimistic undertone, highly critical of the horrible wastage we tolerate under advanced capitalism.

Among the many notable musical moments: ‘Gyres Oceaniques’, a striking conversation between the two pianos, one of them providing a solid percussive backdrop while the other executes wild free jazz runs and trills; dark tension and open spaces (voids and vacuums) yawn terrifyingly. ‘Plasticsphere’, a long and melancholic drone piece of understated beauty, where the harmonics of the bowed strings create an oceanic swell, dotted with minimal piano tinkles and whimpers from the woodwind section, making us weep at the imagined sight of a forlorn plastic bag drifting hopelessly in the sea. The second track, whose title is an elaborate grid reference, exhibiting the Evan Parker acrobatics of the clarinets supported by an exquisite piano figure. ‘Ideonella Sakaiensis’, a perturbed squall of a piece suggestive of a storm at sea, amply demonstrating Niggenkemper’s aim to “make this seventh continent sing, hiss, whirr, buzz and scream”.

Talking Trash is a superlative album of contrasts and tensions: abstract soundscapes alongside dense free jazz note-clusters, narrative environment-portraits, taut well-arranged and composed rhythms with free-form blowing and scraping. The sextet perform immaculately and cannot put a single foot wrong, and the recording by Christian Heck and Stefan Deistler is vivid and clear, creating a great-sounding record. Full marks and highest recommendation for this exemplary example of cutting-edge improvised-composed and well-crafted music. From 22 June 2016.

N.E.W. Position

dw008

N.E.W.
Motion
UK DANCING WAYANG DWR008 LP (2014)

So here’s one of those sessions that ignites the nerve endings and immolates the contents of every lenient review ever written, scattering the ashes in the gaping abyss between null and void. This fleeting yet ferocious power trio recording delivers nobly on the promise made by the rear sleeve’s hunt scene cave art.

Responsible parties: English improvisors Steve Noble (drums), John Edwards (double bass) and Alex Ward (guitar) aka N.E.W. have been part of the same circle for Lord knows how long, but still somehow sound like they’re hitting their stride; barrelling out of the gates like greyhounds as the needle touches ‘Betting on Now’ – making and breaking formation at a pyrotechnic pace that would prove perilous if they didn’t know how to pull back and absorb the scenery.

Much of the time, Ward’s guitar is the focal point, performing the feats of an agile surfer on Noble and Edwards’ relentlessly thundering waves; driving through the A side with a searing tremolo that catches fire on several occasions. Better yet: the group pulls off that elusive ‘live’ sound so often absent without audience feedback. Not for them your mannered, by-the-book skronk-noise-dirge malarkey, nor the self-satisfied bonhomie of craft beer emporium jazz – these maniacs still play like they’re in danger of freezing in some tiny basement venue.

Clip Art

nov16316

Thea Farhadian is a musician and composer who also teaches at Santa Cruz. His many activities include playing the violin, experimenting with electronics, and publishing the odd academic monograph. He’s also recently started a record label, Black Copper Editions, of which the first release showcases his duo work with the guitarist Dean Santomeri. Red Blue (blackcopper001) contains 12 instances of their work, straddling that coveted middle ground between composition and improvisation. A lot of musicians claim to achieve this, but it’s clear instantly that the concise pieces on Red Blue are the result of much preparation, containing evidence of structured melody and repeatable elements tempered with more free-form flights.

Additionally, both musicians use unusual tunings, and some “preparations” which in this context may mean inserting objects into the neck of guitar or violin to modify the sound of the strings. “Catchy rhythms, colourful timbres, and iridescent microtonalities” are their avowed aim. Whatever pathways have led them to free improvisation, I would guess it’s not the same route taken by Derek Bailey where the house of Webern and his 12-tone theories loomed so large on the highway. Instead, both Farhadian and Santomeri have a healthy concern with melody and with not alienating the listener too much, and I hear echoes of Henry Cowell (as if rescored for the guitar) and even late Frank Zappa in some of these pieces; parts of ‘Foil’, for instance, kept reminding me of Orchestral Favorites or Studio Tan.

And like Cowell, they don’t the deny the possibility of narrative in their tunes; indeed many of the titles refer directly to things you might see in an art gallery, such as ‘Picture Frame’, ‘House of Colors’, ‘Pencil Sketch’ and ‘Pollock’. When they do attempt a bit of roughed-up atonality, we get ‘Richochet’ with its crocodile clips and scraped strings, but neither musician is fully comfortable with the kind of full-blooded abstract roar we might get from early Keith Rowe, and their efforts at “noise music” are a bit awkward and pallid. Even so it’s interesting how here, and elsewhere, the tension between the need for melody and the need for experimentation produces interesting clashes. From 16 May 2016.

Fuochi Rituali di San Giuseppe: the mystery of fire through comforting rituals

Andrea Borghi, Fuochi Rituali di San Giuseppe, Belgium, Unfathomless, CD U36 (2016)

Play this often enough and loudly enough and your neighbours might think you’re operating a diner, frying up loads of comfort-food lamb chops, bacon and eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner for hungry commuters and truckers. Indeed, the dominant sounds on the three parts that make up this recording are fire-related: a crackling fire on firewood, oil being fried over fire, and people and children gathering around a fire. While these fiery field recordings constitute the sonic foundation of this CD, and are more or less continuous (though the sounds may dwindle close to nearly inaudible), other more ghostly or murky sounds pass in and out of the space above the snap, crackle and pop to give us a recording that’s as much mysterious as its source material is mundane.

The recording is very spacious with a cool darkness that appears to be benign, and listeners may be surprised that they are drawn into its depths by fragments of ordinary every-day noises, sizzle and crackle. Even though there is not much variation in the soundscapes, the mystery surrounding the noises and the rituals that they suggest keep attention close and boredom away. More soothing and comforting than exciting or forbidding, you’d probably bring out this album to play during times when you want familiar company, without too much stimulation that might frazzle your nerves and leave you feeling jumpy and unable to relax.

Gosh, just talking about this recording is making me hungry …

Sisterhood Of Breath

midaircondo_iv

Midaircondo is an unusual duo of players, Lisa Nordström and Lisen Rylander Löve, who seem to have called it a day after 12 years of playing; this record, IV (TWIN SEED RECORDINGS TWINS004), may be one of their final releases. They play a variety of non-standard instruments, including the zither and kalimba, along with their saxophone, bass flute, percussion, and live electronics, both of them pitching their mannered and brittle vocal utterances into the midst of these rather contemplative pieces, which are generally sedate and slow, occupying a vaguely pastoral stretch of turf in a very poised fashion. Some of their works do introduce a more energetic rhythm, such as ‘Higher’ and ‘Veins’, and while the latter might be mistaken for a lost tributary of psychedelic rock, the latter is most certainly a work-a-day poppy-techno piece that’s not quite in my line. ‘Panther’, featuring guest drummer Mika Takehara, may be closer to what they intended when they had the idea of adding beats to their fragile work. For the most part, we have the impression of two orphaned girls who escaped from a cold 1950s nunnery, dressed in stiffly-starched white dresses with collars to hold their necks in a rigid position; under these cramped conditions, they attempt to recite forlorn poems or diary entries from their wretched lives. It’s to the credit of Midaircondo that all of this stuff was completely improvised, and what’s more they did it in front of a live audience (in Gothenburg, in 2013). The duo didn’t make that many records when they were around, but they toured a lot, and did music for TV, theatre, dance and radio. Their stage show used to include video elements, and you can tell from the palpable atmosphere of this album they had a strong dramatic element. Released in 2015.

Office Surprise

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Ryu Hankil, Noid, Matija Schellander And Others
Foreign Correspondents
RUSSIA MIKROTON CD 43/44 2 x CD (2015)

Foreign Correspondents is an unusual double CD of music and sound art which is highly intriguing…I thought it might be nice to investigate it “blind” without aid of search engine to begin with, as the information printed on this Russian release is not exactly forthcoming with contextual information. Rather, a few lines of bare facts is all we have to go on. On Disc One, there’s just a single stretch of music some 47 minutes long, which might be an improvisation between Hankil Ryu, Matija Schellander, and Noid. It’s called Tokyo Office and might well have been recorded in such a location, given that Ryu plays the typewriter as a percussion instrument. For starters, it’s reassuring to think there might still be typewriters in a world where everyone taps out digital messages on smartphone and tablet, freeing their trivial blather into the void. Ryu’s relentless hammering on that old-school analogue device is music to the ears of those who still cherish tangible messages written on a medium you can hold in your hands. Meanwhile Schellander plays the double bass and also emits buzzy explosions from something called a “Victorian synthesizer”, while Noid bows the cello and the jinghu, a Chinese bowed instrument whose wailing drones you may have heard if you’re an aficionado of the Peking opera. Their performance is an endearingly peculiar piece of acoustic improvisation, full of mysterious rattles and stabs, and equally puzzling tracts of silence. It was recorded at Ftarri in Tokyo in October 2013. Ftarri is not the deserted office block I was hoping for, and instead turns out to be a small shop and music venue, but I still can’t help hearing this piece as a document of an office cubicle take-over, performed by mutinous staff in the middle of the night, protesting against their restrictive lifestyles by means of forming an impromptu band playing pieces of office equipment. That’s a revolution we can all get behind.

Noid is the Austrian cellist Arnold Haberl, whose music we noted previously on another Mikroton release called I Hope It Doesn’t Work. He might be the pivot to this particular release as he is credited with recording and mixing the music, plus he appears on most of the pieces on the second disc, a collection entitled Field Report. From the same date range, Oct-Nov 2013, we have 23 tracks here on Field Report, interspersing improvised music with short snippets of field recordings captured in parts of urban Japan, China, and Korea. The latter include observations of Japanese city life which must have seemed intriguing to the European Noid; subway doors, traffic light signals, and a pachinko hall. But they also include such oddities as the machine drones heard in the staircase of the CIA building in Hong Kong, and a “fuel tank filled with sound art” (whatever that may be) in Shanghai. Some of the best field recordings can be given an extra dimension through such imaginative titles; the true poet should be looking for flashes of the divine wherever they poke their lyrical luminous nose.

These charming and understated field recordings convey a sense of peace and mystery, which is the exact opposite of what we might expect to find in these densely-populated parts of Asia such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Osaka, and Tokyo. Viewed through Noid’s audio snapshots, it’s as though the people, buildings and traffic have all been reduced by 75%, and the locations feel like some pre-war innocent paradise of birds, flowers, and contented spirits. The same sense of peace emerges from the extremely quiet improvised music on offer. It’s centred, tranquil. Hankil and Schellander are here again as the core members of this ad-hoc grouping, but also guest appearances – including notable Wandelweiser player Radu Malfatti, the guitarist Kazuhisa Ucihashi, Syo Yoshihama with a laptop, and Jin Sangtae. Most of the music is slow, unobtrusive, and with few notes; not only that, but it’s recorded in such a way that the acoustics feel very diffuse, and it’s hard to separate the sound of the instruments from the sound of the locale where it’s taking place. In this way, all of Field Report becomes of apiece, the edges blurred between music and sound art. This is most clearly demonstrated with the various instances of “street music”, where the musicians blend in with events, people and sounds out in the open; one track documents Noid and Schellander “playing air horns while walking away from Mullae Art Center”, while another piece from the same Dotolimpic Festival treats us to the sound of an entire orchestra performing on the “Victorian Synthesizer”, involving participants in a workshop. The results – less than 90 seconds of strange scraping sounds – are not quite as spectacular as that build-up may lead you to think, but what is more relevant here is the event itself, a spontaneous outbreak of sound and activity, a tiny wonder.

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Foreign Correspondents is the document of Noid and Schellander’s 2013 trip to the Far East. It was planned they would meet musicians and exchange ideas… “carrying compositions, sound art pieces and workshop preparations in their luggage to be tested by changing social and artistic settings, by everyday tour life and to be used as starting points for debates in various forms,” as the label website describes it, and “exposing sometimes strict concepts to confusing listening situations”. As to this latter area, I think it’s this intoxicating mix of control and chaos that emanates from this CD. For most of the time it does so hesitantly, as befits the potentially bewildering situations that these roving Europeans found themselves in, out East. As for the “Victorian Synthesizer”, this appears to be an ongoing project by J.M Bowers since 2004 to build an electronic instrument using 19th century technology, and an “imagined historical reject” is what he calls the end result. We received a copy of this release on 14 April 2016, but it’s been out since 2015 and is sadly sold out at source.

Solar Darkness

aithein

Aithein (KARL RECORDS KR023) is a fine record of guitar art-rock excess played by Oren Ambarchi with two Italian musicians joining in, namely Stefano Pilia and Massimo Pupillo. I see we noted guitarist Stefano Pilia in 2005 with his album for Last Visible Dog, Healing Memories… And Other Scattering Times, realised with the help of Valerio Tricoli. “Long-form instrumental…shapeless drones”, was how I recall it, but there was also warmth and sincerity to his work, plus he seems to have improved his technique considerably in 11 years, and his guitar work makes a good complement to Oren’s playing here. Pilio has also made some headway playing and touring with Andrea Belfi and David Grubbs in another art-music trio. Massimo Pupillo is the bass player in Zu, an Italian trio who blended jazz moves with math-rock in some way, and I don’t think we heard them since 2005 either, and the album The Way Of The Animal Powers on Public Guilt. Well, so much for the good old days.

Oren Ambarchi has over time been growing and developing his unique approach to playing extended instrumentals, a trend which could be seen on 2012’s Audience Of One and Sagittarian Domain from 2013. I’m not sure what it means, or how to characterise it. I can’t give it a name. It feels quite composed, because it’s structured to some degree; it allows for improvisation, like jazz; and yet there’s always a strong beat in it somewhere, so it never departs very far from rock music. You could say Oren is trying to have his triple-layer cake and eat it, with extra helpings of cream and sugar. Maybe it also reflects on his wide-ranging musical appetites; we all like so many types of music now, mainly because there’s so much of it available. But I’d like to think Oren is not only doing something quite original, he’s taking his time to evolve it thoroughly, and naturally; it’s a learning process, other collaborators are involved (even though he can produce similar results in a studio by playing all the instruments himself), and it’s not some novelty act or a flash in the pan that’s built on sand (insert other dreary cliché of your choice here; I’m looking for trite, commonplace phrases that suggest transience or impermanence).

However you might wonder what on earth I’m getting so excited about when you hear Aithein, captured at a live gig in Bologna in 2015 and comprising two long instrumentals. After all, the first half is mostly so desolate and empty that you lose the will to live as you listen, especially when you survey the grey empty skies and consider the awful future that awaits us all. And is your life enriched by the livelier antics on the second side, which if you sampled for just two minutes you’d say was nothing special, indistinguishable from any given Hawkwind “jam” of 1973 surviving from a Festival bootleg tape? (Incidentally I think that’s Oren drumming at the end of the record, and he ain’t no slouch behind the old tubs.) Well, Oren’s achievement I think has been to structure the whole piece over some 33 minutes, so that there’s a discernible trajectory from its sorrowful start and its cathartic release at the end; along the way, there are numerous changes in tone, mood, timbre and effect, where the subtleties of the guitar drones are far more varied and powerful than anything Sunn O))) (with whom he has played) have ever managed, riff in slow motion as they may. Aithein’s dynamics and developments never feel forced or strained; it’s a combination of good ideas, compositional / directional strengths, and good musicianship that leads to such a good result. From 19 April 2016.

Et In Circadia Ego

circadia

Circadia
Advances and delays
NORWAY SOFA MUSIC SOFA551 CD (2016)

It’s that man again. Here’s Tony Buck, muscle behind The Necks and stalwart of many musical activities reviewed by The Sound Projector, in a new group with heavy improvising friends David Stackenäs and Kim Myhr (six and twelve string guitars) and Joe Williamson on bass. Buck, of course, provides the Circadian rhythms.

This is a curious artefact in some ways. Just two, longish tracks, although compared to the aeonic timescales favoured by Buck’s other band, these zip by like early Wire singles. The music was recorded live in concert at Fylkingen, Stockholm. Not that there’s anything on there to suggest the presence of an audience, at least not to my ears.

Indeed, the overall feel is quite hermetic and inward-looking, as if the group are trying to hide themselves away inside their own sound world. The first track, ‘The Animal Enters And Traverses The Light’, starts off with agitated guitar pickings, rubbings and harmonic chimes, gradually building in intensity over a framework of ringing percussion, bass daubs and firmer strums before fading back into the ether from which it came. It’s free-floating and airy and yet somehow impenetrable, like a cloud of ectoplasm in a darkened séance parlour.

Track two, ‘The Human Volunteers Were Kept In Isolation’, starts off in more tranquil and relatively melodic fashion, with an uneasy edge, as befits the rather chilling track title. The acoustic guitars carefully pick their way through a hushed and haunted labyrinth of chimes and tones, becoming more agitated and frantic before fading out once again to silence.

As the old song says, that’s all there is, there ain’t no more. It’s as if we’ve been eavesdropping on something hidden and private. Perhaps that second track title is the clue, and the human volunteers were taking part in an experiment to see what happens when you keep top-notch improvising musicians in isolation.

Still, opaque it may be, but it’s never less than interesting, as you would hope from musicians of this calibre. If Circadia go on to record more material together, it would certainly be worth seeking out.