Tagged: improvised

Ledge End

Noteherder & McCloud have released a nifty limited edition lathe-cut piece of product…a 7-incher with two tunes of “pop song” length, which I totally recommend if you can still get one of the 32 copies in existence. ‘From Ledge to Ledge’ sees Chris Parfitt freaking out on his soprano sax like Evan Parker having an epileptic fit in a zinc tunnel while Geoff Reader parps out spastic techno-bursts from his ultra-primitive synth deck. This was from a 2015 live set at The Green Door in Brighton organised by Spirit Of Gravity, who released this as GRAV116…on the flip there’s 3 mins and 50 secs of ‘Jammed In The Shingle Middle, It Comes Right In The End’, on which the electronic half of the act is doing a superb low-key impersonation of the Network South train that presumably took them to Bar 42 in Worthing, where this was recorded. Meanwhile Parfitt has evidently discovered the one “perfect” note on his sax, and keeps repeating it for at least sixty seconds. Either side of this are some highly tasty Lol Coxhill-styled licks with the honeyed curlicues and effortless breath control that were among Lol’s hallmarks. I think this duo are one of the UK’s best kept secrets, but half of the Brighton cognoscenti seem to be hip…for further Brighton doings, you could do worse than scope out the Spirit Of Gravity links, for programmes of events and embedded Soundcloud links so you can catch up on the radical noise you’ve been missing for the last 56 months. From 23rd December 2016.

Yaschichek, Little Box

Herewith four more cassettes from the Russian Spina!Rec label. Arrived here 20th December 2016.

Andrey Popovskiy is the St Petersburg composer whose work has been arriving here since 2014. If there’s any connection between his releases Rotonda and Kryukov, it might have something to do with the way sound behaves in an enclosed space, and the exigencies of recording devices in attempting to capture the elusive reality of acoustical behaviours. While Rotonda seemed to misfire for Jack Tatty, we liked the mysterious properties of Kryukov (his split tape with Dubcore) and the way it somehow summoned an aesthetically pleasing effect from such everyday banality. Even to call Popovskiy a “kitchen sink” composer would be to make it far too exotic; he’d be happy to occupy the cupboard under the sink, along with the cartons of bleach. Works For Voice Recorders 2011 (SR029) takes this pared-down approach to an even further extreme. On the A side, there are five short pieces documenting his experiments with voice recording devices (dictaphones, perhaps? If those things even exist any more), placed inside a room and capturing whatever external bumps and groans may come their way. There’s also something about the devices being used to record themselves – contact mics placed in their own innards, or something. All manner of recorded artefacts are generated in a refreshingly non-digital manner. I can’t account for why this unprepossessing, near-blank grind effect is so compelling, but I can’t stop listening to it.

On the flip is a long piece called Zvukovanie, and is a far more ambitious composition lasting some 34 mins. He’s created layers of sound from field recordings out in the streets, musical performances, and rehearsals, superimposing them into what is described as a “three-dimensional” piece. Percussionist Mikhail Kuleshin and improvising trumpeter Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky join him in this task. While this might seem a recipe for chaos, in Popovskiy’s hands it results in a very pleasing jumble of balmy strangeness, drifting and shifting in unexpected ways. The listener is not being “directed” to pay attention to any one element, and instead is free to wander in an open landscape of sound events, much like an exotic street bazaar, and picking up what trinkets they may. Delightful.

SR027 is a split. The side by Andrey Svibovitch did little for me; very ordinary sounds emerge from his synths (probably due to use of over-familiar filters or pre-set sounds) and he has a simplistic approach to playing chords, both of which point to under-developed techniques. He produces a stream of undemanding electronica with little structure or originality. The four parts of “What Hides The Voice” were originally presented as part of a multi-media installation with the work of visual artist Maxim Svishev. Svibovitch creates his music using voice samples, yet what ends up on the tape is so synthetic and processed it seems to have zero connection to anything as natural and human as a voice.

The side by Sergey Vandyshev is more engaging. The electronic music of this fellow is described as an experiment in “pure data”, and there are references to “digital generators” and “granular synthesis algorithms”…most of this is beyond my ken, but it seems to point to a process-based approach where machines do most of the work, but also indicates that Vandyshev is a skilled manipulator of digital data, perhaps doing it “at source” in some way. What I mean by that is he may bypass the conventional routes of feeding information through pre-sets and filters. Anyone who can run an algorithm at granular synthesis level is capable of anything. The sound of his untitled tracks is certainly quite clean, and feels uncluttered by unnecessary elaborations. I also like the loops, repetitions and insistent pulsations, which are set forth in a very porous, open-ended manner, as if he’s found a way to avoid the trap of the strict grid-systems imposed by digital sequencers. This reminds me very much of a more low-key version of Pimmon.

SR028 is a split. For this release we have a rare (for this label) instance of acoustic music played on musical instruments – as opposed to their standard electronic fare. Blank Disc Trio are a Serbian group of improvisers who have been at it since the late 1990s. It used by a duo of the core members Srdjan Muc and Robert Roža (guitar and electronics, respectively), but have since been joined by Georg Wissel, who puffs a “prepared” alto saxophone. For this tape, they were joined by the pianist Dušica Cajlan-Wissel and the electric guitarist Julien Baillod. What they play is a rather tentative version of the “electro-acoustic improv” thing, a form which in their hands takes a long time to get started and is littered with many half-baked stabs and much guesswork along the way. I like the abrasive textures they manage to summon up, and it’s good that they know when to shut up and leave gaps for each other, but overall there isn’t enough coherence or continuity in these wispy musical ideas to sustain my interest.

On the flipside we have Ex You, another three-piece of Serbian experimenters. Milan Milojković, László Lenkes and Filip Đurović blend electronics, guitar, and drums into a pleasing scrabbly mess of non-music, keeping it fairly low-key and resisting the temptation to create a hideous energy-noise blaroon-out. The addition of guest cello player Erno Zsadányi only increases our pleasure in this grumbly, meandering groan-fest. Like their Blank Disc brothers, this group sometimes finds it hard to crank up the old motor, but once they get it turning over we’re guaranteed a much more exciting drive through the old Serbian mountain tracks. I wish more drummers could act with the restraint and decency of Đurović; he doesn’t call attention to himself with fills and ornament, but his steady gentle pulsations give a surprisingly sturdy backbone to this music. Two members of the trio also play in Lenhart Tapes Orchestra, should you feel curious to investigate the Serbian “scene” further; their 2014 album Uživo Sa Karnevala Glavobolje looks like the one to go for.

The tape Povstrechal Gaute Granli (SR030) is a team-up between Mars-69 and Gaute Granli, another one of the Russian-Norway “hands across the water” affairs which this label does so well. Mars-69 are I assume Mars-96 with a slight change to the name – at any rate the core members of this Palmira trio appear to be intact. They’re about the most prolific bunch on the Spina!Rec label and we’ve enjoyed most of their disaffected noisy work. I always thought they were a guitar-bass-drums trio but here they’re spinning their craft with synths, syn-drums, and vocals. As for Gaute Granli, we’ve been enjoying the solo work and group work (in Freddy The Dyke) of this Norwegian loon for many years now, and can recommend anything he’s done for the Drid Machine and Skussmaal labels. He brought his electric guitar and voice to these Povstrechal sessions. With a line-up like that, I feel I have a right to expect some serious fireworks, which is why I felt gypped by this damp squib. With the possible exception of ‘Osa’, the opening track, the tape is a lacklustre set of pointless studio noodling, half-formed ideas trailing away, and occasional absurdist vocal dribble. One waits in vain for a single idea to catch fire or take off into the stratosphere. The band had a lot of sociable fun on the day (hint: that’s code for they all got drunk) – the press write-up seems to indicate as much – but that doesn’t justify the release of this self-indulgent nonsense.

Integer Studies

We first noted Thea Farhadian with her excellent record Red Blue, where she pitted her violin against the guitar of Dean Santomeri. I enjoyed the melodic and narrative elements of that user-friendly album. Tectonic Shifts (CREATIVE SOURCES RECORDINGS CS 365 CD) is quite a different barrel of herring. It’s all solo, performed by Farhadian with her violin and Max/MSP software in a method which is described under the general term of “interactive electronics”. It’s very far from being melodic, and isn’t much of a story-telling album either. Rather, her concerns this time are “jagged rhythms and microtonal landscapes”, and what emerges are short bursts of music and sound, two or three minutes in length, brief but nonetheless teeming with events and changes, and they have no recognisable tonal centre or pitch to help orient the listener. They are almost wholly abstract shards of brittle, processed sounds, that feel like they’ve been broken off the edge of a sub-atomic particle. And with titles like ‘Light Edge’, ‘Particle Party’, ‘Quantum Shift’ and ‘Integer Study’, we sometimes feel like we’re perusing the chapter headings to a scientific monograph rather than enjoying an album of free improvised music.

All of the above may sound off-putting, but Tectonic Shifts is thrilling. It scores on several points. First the innovative qualities of its soundworld, because I’ve rarely heard such a strange series of emanations derived from the violin; it’s a spine-tingling meld of the human and the machine. There’s a recognisably organic flavour lurking somewhere in these extremely alien tones. Secondly, the amount of detail which she packs in per square inch deserves note; she must be a quicksilver performer, making musical decisions at the speed of light. This means she can say more in two minutes than some Canadian electro-acoustic composers manage in a double-CD set. Concise statements are set forth. Thirdly, I’d like to say something about her actual performances in these unique blends of improvised and composed music; but it’s hard right now to identify precisely what I like. It may be her unusual dynamics, producing intervals in unexpected places, and odd silences where you expect that more should be said. If you can listen your way past the odd surface textures, eventually you’ll get to this core of meaning that is evidently unique to Thea Farhadian’s mind, and it starts to take shape as a musical language. Very good. From 15th December 2016.

Events Turned

Further evidence of the fecund Vancouver music scene to be heard on the album Tell Tale (DRIP AUDIO DA01207) by the Film In Music ensemble, an eight-piece of crack musicians led by the cellist and composer Peggy Lee. Composed meets improvised, jazz meets easy-listening and film scores, acoustic meets electric, and there’s a healthy open-minded eclecticism at work. Strings, trumpet, pianos, guitars and drums blend together in pleasing ways, and the presence of two bass players (acoustic and electric) is the kind of touch the should please fans of Brian Wilson (he booked two such bassists for the Pet Sounds sessions).

Tell Tale is a concept record of sorts, themed around the TV series Deadwood, which is one of those protracted HBO series that demands a long attention span from its viewers, and whose themes may be read as a veiled metaphor for late capitalism (not my original idea; I think I saw this in Sight & Sound magazine). Peggy Lee used this TV series as a starting point to build a compositional structure that would allow all the musicians to play characters, and tell stories; one outcome of this strategy is that the album is nicely balanced between ensemble work, and solo spots where each musician gets a turn to shine. They’re all improvisers, by the way. I seem to recall this “story-telling” device has been used by other improvisers to get results in a group situation, or possibly to break down barriers between musicians who don’t know each other too well; didn’t Chris Cutler do it in some capacity?

It works well on this occasion in terms of delivering a varied album, although overall I found Film In Music’s musical approach to be rather pedestrian, despite their evident skills, musical chops, and rapport with each other. There’s something too facile about the playing, and the sound is too smooth for my liking, as though every player fears to get too abrasive or loud, and the atmosphere of mutual respect in the group becomes stultifying. Even when they attempt to get noisy or abstract, it feels like something done to create predictable surface effects, and I’m just not feeling the bold exploratory passion for experimentation or risk-taking. The upbeat tunes are fun, but they also come close to turning into cocktail lounge modern jazz for people who don’t really like jazz; the arty tracks, with their sad drones and listless meandering, just project a feeling of melancholy weariness. From 12th December 2016.

Happy Birthday

Longstone (1997 – 2017), Smokey Joes, Cheltenham, Saturday 5th August, 2017

Smokey Joes is your go-to restaurant if you’re celebrating your birthday in Cheltenham: an archetypal American diner with all the trimmings: red leather booths, checkered vinyl flooring; table cloths somewhere in between; walls as stuffed with rock memorabilia as the menu is with heart-stopping milkshakes. A jukebox full of 7” oldies like Sally Go Round The Roses. More Lynch than kitsch, its situation in a faceless, city centre sidestreet compounds the peculiarity, but stranger things take place out back, where the picture is of the Wild West time-warped, Burroughs-style, into a video games arcade and inhabited by robots and a cabinet full of Star Wars figures doing the arctic can-can. The juxtaposition of a giant ice cream and a crow sign acts as wry telltale of the appetite that gets its fix in here: the Xposed club. The monthly event – tirelessly organised and promoted by Stuart Wilding – has hosted improvisors great and small, recent notables including Han Bennink and Pat Thomas. As divergent as it gets from Smokey Joe’s devotional offering to American consumerism, the club tenders its own monthly offerings with the best of Europe’s experimental music, staging a cultural balance almost unheard of in a city so often satisfied with middle-of-the-road.

Tonight’s birthday is that of 20-year electro stalwarts Longstone, celebrating their respectable innings in the musical margins. Many may remember the work of Mikes Ward and Cross; noticed by The Wire and Radio 3’s Mixing It in the ‘90s, the duo’s swift shift from local venues to those across the pond surprised them as much as anyone, though it didn’t generate a giant profile in the long term. Judging by the attendance on this Saturday evening though, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of well-wishing in the wings. The place is packed with friends and colleagues – some from as far away as Canterbury – the patrons in question arriving with nothing less than a Speak & Spell birthday cake and bottles of bubbly to toast the anniversary.

Longstone take the stage (well, two tables) at 11pm, prior to which patrons are treated to an evening of studied and soothing oddities including bass clarinetist (and Longstone recruit) Chris Cundy’s splendid solo set for bass clarinet and tape, a recital of a piece by Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw that I’d have sworn was improvised, were Cundy not so immersed in notation, showing zenlike motion-in-stillness through gentle, flickering runs across the undulating tape drone, but broken by the odd lung-depleting exhortation. He’s followed up by the ever avuncular Phosphene aka broadcaster, writer, raconteur and music encyclopedia John Cavanagh, wielding clarinet, VCS3 synthesizer and unaffected English eccentricity in a welcoming melange of glitched pastoralia, poetic lyricism and a turn to more sinister, low-end friendly drone. First joined by a split 7” with Longstone, he remains connected by friendship and a common affinity for off-kilter electronics. Third up is guitarist and long-term Longstone confederate Jon Attwood aka Yellow6, whose sublime and spectral, echo-laden chords hang like wood smoke in winter air, the uncanny resemblance of which to Flying Saucer Attack crystallises in his beat-box undercoated tribute to that enigmatic act.

Listening the main act soundcheck while Billy Ocean and Adam & The Ants occupy the restaurant airwaves was treat enough, but when they do kick off – right after Yellow6 – it’s in matching red & black fleeces (perhaps Ward’s Brickwerk side project was coined under such conditions?) before a bank of buzzing video games. Mario Kart 2’s twists and turns between the Two Mikes offer serendipitous eye candy analogue to those emerging from their banks of dials and wires. They’re visibly chuffed with the evening’s turnout, and their set lacks no bounce as a result. Listeners to their 20-year anthology will have recognised much of the content; it’s a chronological Greatest Hits tour, with bags of physical energy to boot. Some way in, the three recent recruits: Cundy (bass clarinet, vox), Wilding (well-battered percussion) and Kevin Fox (guitar/bass) stake space among the video games to peddle their wares with no shortage of relish. Though occasionally overshadowed by the foreground electronics, the unleashed trio drive the mix across an improvised bridge of the canyon-spanning rope variety – cramming in a Cundy original along the way – and into the second charge of beat-driven hit-smashing, and finally through to the serving of slices of celebratory Speak & Spell cake.

Photographs by Mike Ward/Sarah Bowden

Drei Katzen

On this vinyl LP by Neuköllner Modelle we have a lengthy session of free-jazz-improvised music played by the trio Bertrand Denzler, Joel Grip, and Sven-Åke Johansson. One thing to mention about Sektion 1-2 (UMLAUT RECORDS umlp03) is that it was actually recorded in Neukölln, a Berlin district known and loved by us Bowie / Eno fans since the Heroes LP, and a piece of music which happened to feature a memorable saxophone blast from Bowie. It’s also referenced in the liner notes written by Bastian Zimmermann, evidently a fellow who’s a cognoscenti of modern cafe society in today’s German bustling environs, and who contextualises the performance in an oblique manner with his penmanship. He’d like us to know that Neukölln has moved on since 1977 when the Bowie-Eno angstified view of the neighbourhood was published. “Every religious group is represented here,” he tells us. He also describes the Sowieso club where this record was made, with its unusual stage setup and choice of alcoholic beverages. So far it sounds like certain hipster zones of London, such as Dalston or Hackney, but probably less forced and self-conscious.

French saxman (great improviser and composer/conceptualist) Denzler has been puffing his tenor around these parts for some years now, most recently on Le Ring with Gerbal and Dörner…I’ve got to admire his restrained work on this recording, mainly because I like the short repeated phrases he keeps giving out. At key moments, you’ll get stuck in a delicious music loop with these simple statements of his. I’m convinced it means more than it appears to, especially if you think of more forthright 1970s improvisers who felt as though nothing short of 45 minutes of continual invention would do, never allowing a single repeat of anything if possible. Here of course it’s the same but not the same, the repetitions changing as they advance along, always framed and reframed by the very elastic context of the rhythm section. Some of this is down to the superbly flexible bass work of Joel Grip, but a lot of it is down to veteran drumster Johansson, who delineates one of the most open-ended percussion frameworks that an improvising musician could hope for. He also does it doe a long time – the whole record is over 52 mins long. And it’s quite understated, like the whole record in fact; energy is implied, for sure, but there’s none of your explosive roaring free jazz squonking afoot here. The dead-on accuracy of Johansson’s beats is uncanny, if we can use the word accuracy when trying to describe such a free-form, nebulous, pattern of activity.

Johansson is a long-serving hero of free improvisation and free jazz, first appearing on the FMP label in 1972, much to Sweden’s credit; he’s played with most of the greats of Europe, but to my shame I don’t appear to have collected or heard much of his back catalogue. Speaking of FMP, the pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach teamed up with this trio in 2017 and the foursome created Sektion 3-7, a double CD set which hopefully continues the grooves and themes laid down on this platter. I’m still trying to come to terms with the achievement of Sektion 1-2, running it mentally against certain templates in my brain; the New York Art Quartet from 1965 on ESP-Disk is one touchstone, with a similar constrained power and acoustic brittleness, but today’s record also has the slippery lines of certain Albert Ayler records, yet without feeling the need to overstate, overblow, or otherwise belt out histrionic excess. This may say something about the European temperament of the players and their Protestant roots. But this isn’t a cold, unfeeling record, and it still transports us from one place to another in its laid-back, close-lipped style. From 4th November 2016.

Now I Am Beyond Belief

You may recall us raving about this Hen Ogledd LP in 2016, a great LP resulting from the team-up of avant-harpist Rhodri Davies and Richard Dawson, the English folk singer and scholar who created the remarkable record The Glass Trunk in 2013 (on which Rhodri played, come to think of it). Well, these two have now turned Hen Ogledd into a band or project of some sort, and here’s their LP Bronze (ALT-VINYL AV069), an astonishing six tracks of musical noise realised with the help of Dawn Bothwell, plus guest players Laura Cannell and Jeff Henderson.

That’s Richard’s artwork on the front cover, a collage called ‘Golden Person’, and with its near-anonymous implacable stare and inscrutable alien visage, this face immediately clues you in that you’re about to spin a very special record. From the opening track I thought we might be embarking on some pagan-mystery theme, rich in dark magick and old straight tracks and stone monuments…it’s called ‘Ancient Data’, an evocative title if ever there was…and on one level may summon up visions of early astronaut visitors and dreams inspired by Erich Von Daniken, or more simply may be a fancy way of referring to archaeology. However, musically it’s an uncategorisable sound, and only the voice work of Dawn Bothwell and the haunting recorders of Cannell might substantiate my theory, adding a mystical folk-flavour to the strange electronic and plucked jumble of inventiveness.

As to that, I suppose a cursory read of the credit notes may give some small indication of what Davies and Dawson were doing at Blank Studios under the watchful ear of Sam Grant (who recorded it), and once again Rhodri is amplifying and electrifying his harps to produce intense, astringent noise and bone-shattering drones, even surpassing his incredible work on Wound Response (amplification and distortion used for devastating results). But he also plays the loudhailer, nails, and marble. Richard Dawson’s credit list is even more arcane, including a number of things which might seem more at home inside a witch’s cupboard than in a recording studio; I could read these two lines of text over and over, until they resemble a form of poetry.

I say this in some attempt to account for the uncanny force and deliberation behind these eerie sounds, at times crude and brutal as the best post-punk band that ever existed, at times ringing together with a spiritual harmony and peacefulness that puts the listener at one with the universe, such as on ‘Beyond Belief’, a superb English update on the music of Popl Vuh. Perhaps Dawn Bothwell, with her synths, effects, and mostly her singing voice, is doing something to temper the alien-inspired antics of the two male players, and her sweetening influence is most evident on the short but gorgeous ‘Gwawr in Reverse’. But she also ends the album with her spunky lyrics to ‘Get My Name Right Or Get Out!’, a title which needs no explanation, and a song which comes over as feisty as a combination of Poly Styrene and Honey Bane.

There’s also the uncanny epic sprawl of ‘Gondoliers’ (the A side of this LP is so right-on it just destroys) and a real misfit on the B-side called ‘Amputated Video’. The broken electronic yawp of this gem has to be heard to be believed; so many English players aspire to capture the truth of the Radiophonic Workshop in their synth-led tributes, but this is the real goods, something which has crawled out of a demented dream-version of 1970s BBC daytime television like a manifestation of all your worst Dr Who fears. I think this record wipes the floor with a lot of contemporary pretenders who dabble in “ceremonial” or “pagan” music without any real understanding of what they mean, and the breadth of its sonic ambition is enormous. Truly astounding, and highest recommendation for this incredible piece of work. From 15th November 2016.

The Voice of the Mountain

Last heard from Earth Tongues in 2016 with their mighty set Rune…here they are again on Neither/Nor Records with an even more extended double CD set called Ohio (n/n 006), recorded on a single day in July 2015, and 93 minutes pass like nothing when you sit down to let this slow-moving, ponderous ambient-improv engulf you. The trio here are once again Joe Moffett, with his trumpet and cassette machine, Dan Peck with his tuba, and the percussionist Carlo Costa. Their aim is to push themselves and the audience as far as possible down a route of endurance, of extended tones, lengthy explorations, and strange near-silent passages…

“Scope and scale” are their watchwords, as if they used to be fine art sculptors making monumental statues 18 feet high, and have now decided to think even bigger, carving out chunks of earth, chipping at the side of a mountain, or repurposing entire urban landscapes such as highway constructions into enormous works of art. “Dynamic and temporal extremes” are also guiding strategies, referring I suppose to the interplay of the musicians and the duration of the work, both elements worth considering…unlike the type of improvisation which is played at top speed, Earth Tongues make their best effort to retard their normal instincts and play everything at this painfully slow pace, as if they were frozen Neanderthals slowly thawing out and coming back to life…in so doing they don’t deny interplay with each other, but rather they emphatically call attention to it, placing it under the spotlight on a totally bare stage, where there’s no room to hide and no chance to allow fluffed notes or careless ideas.

Only the strong survive under these competitive, Darwinian rules, but it pays off when players as skilled and bold as these are involved. As to the “temporal extremes”, the listener also becomes painfully aware of each passing moment as they listen to this inexorably slow and minimal heaving music, yet it’s so compelling that the entire set seems to vanish past you in no time at all (see prior remark). That’s kind of disruptive, in a good way, of normal experience; I sense it’s something that some modernist composers would give their right hand to achieve, and they can only get close to it through expending bags of effort and intellectual ponderings, ending up with dense notation and abstruse compositions…where Earth Tongues can evidently do it through improvised performance alone (which isn’t to imply that it’s effortless).

The “stark” setting of this work also means that the players have nothing to conceal, no tricks up their sleeve, no cloaking “bad” playing behind a bank of effects pedals, and most of the unusual sounds are generated by purely acoustic means. I am not sure exactly what the cassette players are doing, but I think their role is minimal, and most of what you will hear is the low growls of Peck’s tuba, the astringent and severe shrieks from Moffett’s top register, and the metallic zings of Costa bowing his cymbals to produce acidic sensations in the listener’s mouth. A pared-down, no-nonsense world is what they delineate, almost primitive in its simplicity, but unfailingly direct and honest. A truly “epic” double album…from 7th November 2016.

Impro-Vision

Another 1970s rarity is rescued and reissued by the Spanish label Mental Experience, who have been bringing us all manner of exotic oddities from the unknown corners of progressive rock history. AK Musick’s eponymous record (MENT008CD) was released in 1972 in a tiny hand-made edition of 150 copies and this is the first time it’s been reissued. The label try to sell it to us as a forgotten piece in the Krautrock jigsaw, but I think that’s a bit of a cheat – it’s really a record of very serious and rather intellectual free improvisation. Woodwind player Hans Kumpf of Stuttgart was the leader, and he banded together the four other players – Alfred Lell, Winifried Koch, Helmut Grab and Angela Weber, who all shared similar backgrounds, arriving at free improv from classical training and an interest in the music of contemporary composers. Not too far apart in fact from some of their fellow improvisers in the UK, although some of the English players were also interested in jazz. It might make more sense to assess AK Musick in the context of improvisation’s history, were it not such an oddity – you’ve only got to listen to it and you can sense it wasn’t really influenced by much else, nor did it create a great impact outside of its own closed circle. What I mean by that is that it’s so darned odd, and exhibits a rather ornery stubbornness. Hans Kumpf did not go on to have his genius recognised by Peter Brötzmann, for instance, and stands apart from the FMP continuum.

One of the features of this all-acoustic record is the fairly wide range of instrumentation played – woodwinds (oboe, clarinet, bassoon), cellos, lots of percussion, but also some more unusual instruments such as the zither, darbuka, Jew’s Harp, kazooo, and ektare. In this AK Musick bears some resemblances to Alan Sondheim’s early records, but only because Sondheim seemed determined to play everything he could get his hands on. The concern with AK Musick seems to have been to create a lot of unusual sounds on the record, rather than demonstrate the intensive exploration of an instrument’s potential, or a particular way of playing 1. Yet Kumpf and his crew don’t do much to exploit the combinations of sound; I was struck on today’s spin by how little group playing or interaction there is, and some of the tracks (for instance ‘Ron Do’) are mostly just one solo followed by another solo, threaded together in an illogical string of thought. You need to tune to ‘Impro-Vision’ if you want to hear some group playing, but even here – and it’s one of their best shots – the ensemble work lacks force, even though the band are going all-out to be “weird” and energetic with their whooping and swooping sounds. There’s also the disjointedness of ‘Schace’, a track frustratingly hard to hear (the whole thing has audio fidelity issues, which may be because it was recorded in such a hurry) as the ensemble lapse into subdued near-silent passages, then occasionally erupt into flurries of spiky percussive playing.

The last track ‘Baz’ starts to fulfil some of the promises made by this record, and there are flashes of true wildness and inventiveness in the playing and in the highly unusual sounds emerging from the band, and this 6-minute workout comes closest to delivering the press note guarantee of “radical, freaked-out sound”; the electronic organ, an instrument which is rarely heard used in this context, is particularly strong, with its constipated whine adding a vaguely cosmic vibe to the music. I still find it a rather frustrating listen though, and overall I sense that Kumpf’s crew did not completely succeed in loosening their classical shackles; the music feels like a control-freak’s idea of what free improvisation should be, with too many “ideas”, pre-programmed experiments, and not enough passion for real exploration. Each piece is slow to start, and then unsure what to do when it arrives.

The original record was released on Hans Kumpf’s own private press label AKM Records. It was the first release on his catalogue, which released only two other LPs: Free Blacks, in 1976, an album of clarinet duos where Kumpf teamed up with the American player Perry Robinson; and In Time, a 1977 record which has the distinction of being the first ever release by German clarinettist Theo Jörgensmann, a prolific player who is still active today. The other members of AK Musick didn’t fare quite as well; neither Koch or Lell have been heard from again, while organ player Helmut Grab went on to join Matter Of Taste, a German jazz-rock combo. Kumpf himself would later team up with members of the Ganelin Trio to make On A Baltic Trip for Leo Records in 1984. If you want an original copy of the 1972 AK Musick on vinyl, be prepared to shell out around 300-600 simoleons. From November 2016.

  1. Both characteristics which devotees from other schools of improvisation have insisted on, especially adherents of the “extended technique”.

Suomalaista Elektroakustista Musiikkia: seven compositions of intriguing soundscapes

Various Artists, Suomalaista Elektroakustista Musiikkia / Finnish Electroacoustic Music, Creelpone CP 217 CD

The birth years of the seven composers of electroacoustic music appearing here on this disc range from 1929 to 1952 so the original release by the Fennica Nova label cannot have been earlier than the late 1970s and I am guessing the record came out around 1980. (I have since realised the original release date was 1978.) Listeners will discover a very interesting range of soundscapes here though several do seem very restrained, even a little formal. All seven compositions are very good though some stand out more than others. It becomes a matter of personal preference as to which the seven tracks deserve more prominence than the others.

Paavo Heininen’s “Maiandros” is a piano-based piece featuring jazzy-sounding piano experimentation and insertions of piano string manipulations. The sounds that emerge seem familiar and yet strange. Jarmo Sermila’s “Electrocomposition I” is an arresting space-ambient melody with strange bubble noises and a grand rising-and-falling finale. As its title, “Pisces” suggests, Jukka Ruohomaki’s contribution includes field recordings of the sea and amorphous methods and strange effects hinting at the numinous nature of the marine environment. Perhaps the best music has been saved for last with Herman Rechberger’s boisterous “Cordamix” which packs in string-based tunes from Greece, India, Japan and other places into six minutes of repeating cacophony.

Hardly a dull moment is to be found here, even in those tracks where the music doesn’t jump out and threaten to drag you by the scruff of your mangy neck out into the blue yonder but instead is content to pursue its own path regardless of who’s following. The folks at Fennica Nova certainly had a good ear for electroacoustic music and knew a good piece when they discovered it. You wonder if this compilation represents a small snapshot of the formal electroacoustic scene in Finland some 30+ years ago.

Contact: Broken Music