Tagged: minimal

Thought of Two: a successful launch of dark minimalist techno on a long journey

BlackHat

Black Hat, Thought of Two, Hausu Mountain, CD HAUSMO13 (2014)

I believe this is the first full-length recording from Black Hat, a dark electronica project by Seattle resident Nelson Bean. Seattle is famous in the music world for many, many reasons but so far minimalist darkened techno with a bit of psychedelia and industrial influence hasn’t been one of them. One day that may all change and Bean is to be commended for bringing that happy day closer. “Thought of Two” is a short effort with just three tracks but these are long ones with the third clocking close to 20 minutes.

“Imaginary Friends” sounds innocuous enough until you start spinning the disc and long groaning tones crawl out of the speakers and drift through the air with echo dragging behind and sinister feathery whisper percussion shifting and shuffling along. The track transforms constantly with drone, skittery effects, a hollow metal rattle and eerie high-pitched metal whine together giving the impression of a black claustrophobic worm-hole tunnel unravelling itself as we explore deeper inside. It’s at once creepy and ominous yet some of the rhythms offer reassurance and comfort on our journey. There are no big shocks or surprises and that in itself can be heartening for listeners.

“Portrait in Fluorescent Light” is an amorphous entity of shifting metallic wash and shimmer. This is a highly hypnotic and cosmic piece with a lush beauty and radiance. However Bean saves the best for “Memory Triptych”, a tapestry of very warm shining rhythm loops, muted industrial scrapings, dreamy drone and lots more besides, all bathed in a soft radiant ambience. This is a very dreamy trancey track, reminiscent sometimes of old Vladislav Delay recordings in their seductive quality though those VD releases had a much cleaner sound and were more emotionally neutral. Flotsam and jetsam from various musical genres seem to drift in and out – at one point, we seem to have a repeating jazz horn, calling perhaps for a lost brass instrument companion, intruding apologetically on proceedings – making the track difficult to describe: it encompasses ambient trance, industrial, techno, cosmic space and musique concrete among other genres but reaches far beyond any of them. Near the end, the track adopts a contemplative mood as if brooding on its telos and what it might mean.

It’s a bewitching recording, smooth and beguiling, at times a bit melancholy and wistful. In spite of the tracks’ formless nature, the music can be very accessible and almost poppy in orientation. The sounds are very absorbing and for once I don’t mind that they can be repetitive and monotonous in parts as the soundscapes never stop evolving. For a recording lasting no longer than 35 minutes, this album really does take its listeners on very long expansive journeys.

Contact: Hausu Mountain

Darkspace I: setting the controls aiming for the heart of the universe – and finding sheer dark space

DARKSPACEI

Darkspace, Darkspace I, Haunter of the Dark, CD001 (2003)

Finally I’ve been able to hear the first album in Darkspace’s trilogy of cold immersive space-ambient BM albums, mainly for the sake of completion. In comparison with the other Darkspace albums, this first set sticks closely to militaristic black metal, delivered a little too efficiently in the manner of machines inhabited and driven by an insane and malevolent spirit. That’s meant to be a compliment to the Darkspace trio of musicians themselves. All three recordings are inspired and powered by a vision of space and the cosmos as essentially indifferent, and maybe even hostile, to the existence of humanity; the message is that we are on our own and if we are to continue to exist, we must do so without help from external powers. A supreme God will not save us because such an entity does not and has never existed.

The beast is born in utter black cavernous emptiness amid shifting, groaning echoes, sighing whispers and cries of lost spirits. Suddenly the music jets off into the high atmosphere, all bristling noise and crunching jagged guitar battery riffs, eerie background synthesiser tones and a cacophony of gabbling demon voices caught up within the tight maelstrom. In the second track there is a sample of dialogue from the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey” in which the computer HAL is interviewed by the BBC and states that it looks forward to working with humans. As the track progresses, the music speeds up to a frenzied and extreme level, the screaming grows more demented, drums and cymbals are pounding away, and the synths sigh on as if in a frozen catatonic state.

The musicians concentrate in the main on building up an overwhelming, enveloping structure that sweeps up listeners and carries them aloft on an interstellar journey between their ears. You can’t help but be absorbed by it all. The evil and deranged atmosphere completely swamps you. Within the music, hideous beings converse and plot the course of the spaceship careening through the cosmos at multiple times the speed of light. One mistake, the ship lurches in another direction and the monsters scream and howl their lungs inside out and back gain. Lead guitar hollers away in a wormhole and drums bang on in a non-stop frenzy.

Admittedly the music is not varied and tends towards the obsessive and extreme in its single-minded focus. That’s the whole point of the recording: its very derangement and seeming lack of anything resembling human nature or anything organic mean that there is no concept of limitation where the music is concerned. Whatever direction is set for it, it continues relentlessly down that track. Everything takes place in a nihilistic universe; concepts of good and evil are neither here nor there. You’re not asked to love the music but you have to admire it anyway for its pure nature, steeped in what we would consider evil and malevolent.

It’s only in Track 1.6 that we get the first hints that the music might be slowing down just a little and a certain despair, a moment of bleak desolation, appears beneath the layers of compulsively grinding guitar texture. But these hints lead nowhere as the maelstrom moves with a force even it can’t control. On and on it goes, and even when the album appears to wind down and the music fades away, there’s still a sense of a never-ending journey into infinity and beyond.

Nevertheless whether this journey ever has an end or not, it is a journey worth taking for those brave enough to question the nature of the universe in which we live and who want to know more beyond what they’ve been taught to believe and found wanting.

Contact: Haunter of the Dark

Churches Schools and Guns: minimal electronic soundtrack to a techno-dystopia

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Lucy, Churches Schools and Guns, Stroboscopic Artefacts, SACD005 (2014)

No, “Lucy” isn’t a woman in case you’re wondering: it’s a solo project by Berlin-based producer / DJ / sound designer Luca Mortellaro who also owns the label Stroboscopic Artefacts. “Churches Schools and Guns” is the quirky title of this offering of dark and slightly sinister minimal techno-dub whose central theme might be a futuristic survey of a dysfunctional society addicted to paranoid technological visions amplified and manipulated by media designed to mirror and reflect back to us our deepest phobias in order to keep us all afraid of one another and so prevent our revolt against the forces oppressing us. I confess that initially when I got this album, I thought it should have said “Churches Schools Post Offices and Guns” but that would have suggested a more particular vision peculiar to societies where “going postal” means something more than popping a letter or a parcel into the mail-box.

Though divided into 12 tracks, the music is best heard as a continuous soundtrack of deep space techno-ambient rhythms. Individual tracks, while they may contain some interesting sounds, rhythms and audio-textures, turn out to be very repetitive and (in the second half of the album) monotonous, unable to advance much further than the initial rhythm and beat loops. While early tracks set down definite atmosphere and mood of an ambiguous and slightly malevolent nature, delineating the start of a tour of the future global panopticon where consumers of manufactured experience huddle in their cells, afraid to look outside, the tracks in the later half of the album seem less confident and the early strong direction dissipates.

Some tracks are very distinctive by virtue of machine-like rhythms (“Laws and Habits” which might suggest that the regulations and conventions we have are our jailers), crisp crackly pulsation beats (“Follow the Leader” which also features a very creepy throat-singing sample loop) or a robot vocal (“Leave Us Alone”). “We Live as We Dream” seems a hopeful track though the title itself suggests a double-edge sword: our dreams are all that sustain us but they might well be more nightmare than dream.

Ultimately though this album promises a lot, it doesn’t quite reach its potential as a soundtrack to an imaginary dystopian techno-world. I’m hoping Lucy’s follow-up work will take up where this one leaves off as I think Lucy could work itself into a niche of very dark ambient minimalist techno soundscape art not reliant on dance beats and rhythms.

Contact: Stroboscopic Artefacts

Three Shades of Black

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Kangding Ray
The Pentaki Slopes
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 145 12″ VINYL (2012)

Twilight soundscaper David Letellier steps inscrutably into play with this low, throbbing 12”. The more recent LP ‘Solens Arc’ hasn’t quite gelled for me; its fusion of skin-tingling industrial futurism and more staid excursions into tepid 90s techno leaving me hot and cold in intervals, so this small serving from 2012 – effectively a distillation of that album’s more illustrious attributes – is a welcome morsel indeed. These three tracks wade through a viscous black nightscape that shivers slowly in a cold wind that harbours troubling news. Opener ‘North’ is the dancefloor number (or best approximation of one), hopping to with an outlandish, strut and menacing, midnight mystery air. Emaciated to ‘Sine O’The Times’ slenderness (Kode9, not Prince) is the woozy growling, three-minute bridge ‘Plateau (A Single Source of Truth)’, while the closer, ‘South’ takes all the time in the world (well, ten minutes of it) in unfolding its lurching bass and flourishing synths to get as proggy as this guy’s ever going to.

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Peder Mannerfelt
Lines Describing Circles
USA DIGITALIS RECORDINGS DIGIV066 (2014)

Crushing the unworthy underfoot with a similar ruthlessness, Peder Mannerfelt’s muscular rhythmic constructions skirt between the serrated, cerebral abrasiveness of noise-techno architects such as Emptyset and Techno Animal and the anaesthetized breaths of Gas and Porter Ricks; all the while driven by a deeply satisfying current of bulldozing sub-bass. Good company would Mannerfelt find on the Raster Noton label, with whose artists he shares a similar level of mental stamina: many of his pieces developing over painful minutes in painfully minute and merciless increments. ‘Derrvish’ springs to mind (as I’m listening to it now): a piercing, metronomic swing of dissected airhorn (I think) bedded on a battery of blast beats. Highlights are hard to pick in so varied an assembly, but if ‘Africate Consonants’ offers little optimism, the serrated shreds of its lightning personality are electrifying. And one of the more ‘atmospheric’ interludes, ‘Nihilist 87’ summons a fog of enveloping tension with a combination of distant vehicular beeps and a tension inducing rattle I’d more readily associate with electroacoustic music. Mannerfelt has served time as dub techno purveyor The Subliminal Kid, but since 2012 has released a small number of 12”s (and this album) under his own name. While traces of that trajectory are discernable, apparent is it that ‘Lines Describing Circles’ is something of a bid for renewal. To my shell-shocked ears it’s a fresh sounding debut and a damn impressive one at that.

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Pixel
Mantle
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 139 CD (2013)

More ascetic still, but sparing not the rod, Pixel (aka Jon Egeskov) offers us eight stripped-down, robot dreamscapes woven from webs of static, electromagnetic rays and supra-alphabetical Morse code. To my ears there’s an evident debt to Carsten Nicolai and Mika Vainio, whose shared taste for the impenetrable and only the most necessary ingredients grants him illustrious peerage. Judging by his deadpan portrait on Discogs, the man finds absolution in defibrillating, dissecting and static-swabbing his still-breathing rhythms as they thrashing wild beneath those cool green eyes; an appetite for reduction he exercises without compunction, as on ‘Steel Tape’: a jittering, arrhythmic minimalism that seems ever on the verge of giving up the ghost. The same goes for much of this album, though impressive is the extent of Egeskov’s care in organising so few elements into pieces both sparing and fulfilling, for me in particular on ‘Nesting Screen’: a slow swell of fluctuating sine and static pulses. Interestingly, Egeskov studied saxophone at university, and it is suggested that he imports a ‘swing’ element into these electronic studies. Not something I can readily identify, but clear is it that he possesses a tremendous affinity for metallic objects and their potential for humanisation.

The Calling of Hell: where Hell exists in far realms of the universe

ALTURAZ

Alturaz, The Calling of Hell, Soulthief Musick, CDR (2014)

A most curious object this CDR from San Francisco act Alturaz has turned out to be: it’s inspired by black metal ideas and concepts but all instruments are either organ or other keyboards. The quartet of tracks runs to just under 18 minutes so listeners might expect there’s not much on offer. You would be wrong: this is creepy Gothick-sounding atmospheric music that nods in the direction of old horror movie soundtracks made for films about proper bloodsucking daemons and not pallid Robert Patterson parodies of current Twilight film franchise fame. Alturaz is a solo project by a musician who helms a perhaps more conventional (?) BM act called Wikkid.

The recording opens with a slow spooky droning organ piece based around a very simple chord sequence, against which a more sprightly organ melody may dance in short bursts. Picture yourselves entering a tall, grim and grey cathedral, the stone walls of which depict carved figures of sinners in hell writhing in silent screaming agony under sadistic punishments dealt by demented devils. We continue on to a deep darker-than-dark space atmosphere piece of low murmur, the odd synth splash and a blank wall of nothingness. As this amorphous piece progresses, it gains a more definite if very plastic shape and a brooding atmosphere. The music becomes a twitchy pulsing, silver-shimmery alien skeletal critter, all long fragile limbs with fine veins of rhythmically swishing ichor. It is a beautiful and delicate beast yet there’s something deeply sinister in its darting movements.

If you were expecting the CDR to depart on a triumphant though maniacally evil note, you’ll be disappointed: the outro track is short and barely there, a most understated and minimal drone mutter barely rising above the black formless plasma murk that births it. No better way to leave listeners stranded in deep space with no means of escape or survival than this coldly indifferent desertion can be conceived of.

In its own understated way, this recording poses a portrait of Hell as a place of dark brooding silences and overbearing dread. The use of simple repetitive drone, drawn out and relatively unembellished, creates an oppressive black atmosphere and a feeling of malevolence. Alturaz combines serenity and mesmeric sounds into a dark trance music. I only wish the whole thing had been longer for listeners to savour something of an unenviable experience of being plunged into this forbidding universe and left there forever.

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com

The Infinity Dub Sessions: an uneven set of dark desperate dub techno minimalism

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Deadbeat and Paul St Hilaire, The Infinity Dub Sessions, BLKRTZ, CD BLKRTZ008 (2014)

Although this CD represents their first studio recording together, the two artists Deadbeat aka Scott Monteith and Paul St Hilaire aka Tikiman have collaborated in live situations on and off since they met over a decade ago in Montreal and discovered a common interest in dub music. On this album, the duo have gone for a dark minimalist musical approach on songs bound by a theme of the stress of modern life and how one can find comfort and purpose in a hard world where machine rhythms and routines dictate our thinking and behaviour.

There’s a sense of desperation in the opener “Hold On Strong”, a relentless and bleak if understated pulsing track. Reggae influences are strong in this song and on all other songs: they are in the rhythms, the voices and the music and lyric structures. What listeners might not expect is the cold and subtle, near-industrial nature of the sounds nor the open black spaces within each and every piece. A strong sense of urban alienation and a feeling of a cold, seemingly forbidding yet alluring and seductive hyper-technology that dominates life are present. An unseen eminence grise, sensed more than heard or felt yet pulling the strings here, might be moving slowly and confidently in the deep dark background.

Hope and frustration mix in tracks like “What the Heck Them Expect”, notable for its superficially lazy-loping rhythm, and “Working Everyday”, a repeating mantra of resignation and despair over an insistent looping rhythm that lures you into its dark trance world: this is the strongest track on the album in spite of (or maybe because of) its never-ending Moebius-strip structure. Sparse, seemingly empty yet yielding ever more from its depths, this soundtrack to work drudgery might just be in danger of advertising for it; the two dub musicians should not push their luck too hard. The constant repetition is both asset and liability: a couple of later songs on the album drag the whole thing down with repeating loops of unremarkable music and lyrics (“Rock of Creation” and “Little Darling”) though some of the sound effects can be good. Closing track “Peace and Love” brings an impression of hope over despair with an emotionally moving rhythm, a strong beat and
equally affecting melodies and lyrics.

It has its ups and downs and I’m sorry to say they’re in the ratio of 50:50 for this style of dark minimalist dub techno. The music is beautifully constructed with gorgeous sounds, a clear three-dimensional ambience and memorable rhythm structures. It’s weak in the song-writing department with too much repetition in most tracks which sometimes give an impression of not knowing how to climax and then get out of the way quickly. I’m sure though the two musicians will continue working together in the studio because the sound they have is too good to leave to just one album. I confess I don’t listen to much dub and reggae at all but I think I know a quality act when I hear one and these guys definitely have the potential to be leaders in their genre.

Contact: Deadbeat / BLKRTZ

Which Way Is Nowhere? (Part 1)

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Kiiln
Is Music Invisible?
CANADA CADUC CA02 (2013)

Beamed in from Canada are two sessions captured in Nov 2012 and Jan 2013, by the improvising duo Kiiln (Lance Austin Olman and Mathieu Ruhlmann), who grace us here with five softly spoken, open-ended, static-based improvisations rich in mysterious mechanical whirrings, purrings and clunks born of an arsenal of ‘amplified objects’ alongside more familiar instrumental sources. By virtue of their close-miking and bold phantasmography, Kiiln offer manifold chromatic permutations for the space that lies between your ears, with a bit of dental-drill piercing at no extra cost. Abundant are low-res vacuum drones, taut, crackling strands of yarn and thickets of static seemingly purchased in bulk; all dropped with considerate timing to ensure the hit count (in the most nebulous possible sense) is sufficiently stacked-up. Granted, it’s ‘quiet’ music, but it has personality, and while the sort of thing one might sympathetically buy at a chance-attended gig, we could all do worse than to invest the ticket money in a nice bottle of white to accompany a maiden voyage or two through these unobtrusive explorations. Limited to 100 copies as well, thus upping the buyer’s hip quotient.

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Alvin Lucier performed by Maze
(Amsterdam) Memory Space
NETHERLANDS UNSOUNDS 37u CD (2013)

Sixty minutes to the second, this long-winded improvisation consists of moody exhalations and other odd emissions so soft to the ear that the audience threatens initially to subsume. It’s an illusion however: the crowd voices are just another red herring to add to a tank of false beginnings that exist seemingly to defy all desire for development. Throughout this process, gauzy webs form in the darkness, thicken and soon dissolve into other tentative textures begotten by a bemusing mix of hiss-inducing guitar jangling, teeth-rattling double bass and punctuational breathwork. Your navigators and interpreters for this amble are Anne La Berge (flute and electronics), Dario Calderone (double bass), Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), Reinier van Houdt (piano, keyboards and electronics), Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar), Yannis Kyriakides (computer and electronics). Their collective designation of ‘Maze’ could not be more appropriate for the current endeavour.

Making the effort to interpret a set of ambiguous instructions penned by Alvin Lucier in 1970, prior to performing the musicians each made a (mnemonic or physical) recording of a selected outdoor environment, which they then set about recreating during a group improvisation with the unexpurgated ‘memory device’ to hand. While extensive detail is not provided as to means employed here, it would appear that headphones were worn by all performers, with attention divided between internal and external environments (a bit like pubbing with friends and their iPhones perhaps), though it is unclear as to whether we actually hear those initial recordings. The result is an unusual interplay in which highly subjective personal dimensions are invoked by each performer: a process of unfolding that would appear to have further implications for the CD’s listeners in their own listening environment, which strikes me as like being written into a Jorge Luis Borges story.

In sum, it’s a searing non-event, though as an exercise in patience it is quite impressive, as tethered urges raise the temperature so gradually as to embroil the unwary listener, though never actually to the point of catharsis or climax.

Divided By Nine

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Francisco López / Luca Sigurtà
Erm
FRATTONOVE fratto021 CD (2013)

I’m not sure what the connection is between the two works on this split release. Perhaps they are two interpretations of same source material. If so, it’s hard to tell. But frankly I don’t care, as this CD kicks some serious ass. Francisco López is a playwright of sound art, in that his pieces can be composed of a series of discrete sonic monologues, dialogues, or crowd scenes. At least for me there always seems to be a sense of drama, of events unfolding, taking the listener to unexpected plot twists, revelations and epiphanies. In his track entitled ‘untitled#294′, field recordings of natural and man-made environments, machinery, or his beloved insects are filtered, looped, and processed in that Lópezian trademark manner. Moments of near silence or total silence (listen closely or crank up the volume) are follow by intense blasts of in your face density. It’s all very exciting and an enjoyable ride. Luca Sigurtà‘s track ‘Eaves’ almost feels similar to López’s. Field recordings are the source material for the most part, but some actual instruments find their way into the mix. And while López’s piece is broken up into discrete acts with interludes of silence, Sigurtà’s is free flowing. Lyrical moments try to break through but are swallowed up. An excellent album. Crank it up.

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Alberto Boccardi / Lawrence English
Split
FRATTONOVE fratto022 LP (2013)

The concept is straight forward: Alberto Boccardi assembles a three part suite using the music of Antonio LaMotta as conducted by David Mainetti. Later Alberto sent Lawrence English the material and tells him “do what thou wilt”. Alberto’s side is a three part suite comprised of french horn, double bass, cello, autoharp, vocals, soprano saxophone and electronics. It starts off with French horns playing a repeating four note pattern upon which layers of the other instruments and electronic sounds are added. The mix gets thicker and thicker until suddenly someone trips on the power strip in the studio as it were and everything stops, sans some spinning object. Or perhaps it’s an instrument. Whatever it is, I can only describe it as the sound of rotation. Again the same pattern of layering occurs, but this time it rather sneaks up on you. Buried in this construction are some guitar-like histrionics, which after a few minutes crescendo and then once again suddenly deflate and the music goes down the drain. On the third part Boccardi takes a minimal approach. It begins with looped voices singing a four note pattern for a few bars, then switches to some repeating electronic tones, coupled with some keyboard lines awash with tremolo effects. End of side one. On side two (I imagine flipping the record over as I only have a cdr promo to work with) English utilizes a minimal approach to the material. We kick off with a short prelude of the same looping chorus. Then it’s off to a fifteen minute minimal ambient exercise. Time-stretched and down-pitched sounds, repeated, layered, processed into hazy drones. At the end the chorus returns for a short coda but at a lower pitch. It’s all pleasant enough but I keep feeling that something is lacking. Perhaps it would have benefited from some vinyl crackles and surface noise, or even the hiss of a twice-dubbed cassette copy. Mr. Boccardi’s side has a lot more going on and offers a lot more to my ears. It makes its point quickly and precisely. While Mr. English’s side is a pleasant excursion into wallpaper music, his remixing of the material lacks adventure.

The Tuba Four

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The superb tuba-ist Dan Peck blows his notes again on the simply-titled Solo LP (TUBAPEDE RECORDS tb01), and a unique powerful blaster-thumper-droner it be. As you may recall he’s a member of The Gate, a New York trio that produces a unique form of doom metal sludge out of an all-acoustic setup, with many free jazz inflections thrown in…on this 2012 LP there are two side-long solo pieces produced by his gigantic swollen lips making intimate contact with saliva-laden brass mouthpiece. For when you’re in the mood for relaxing sleep music, tune in to the A side ‘Longus Tonus’, for a notable piece of heavy bass-tone minimalism…using possibly the acoustic tuba, Peck simply lets rip with slow and long blarty eruptions, much like a sleepy volcano trying to decide whether to switch from dormant to active mode, or an enormous bear stirring itself out of hibernation with snores and yawns heaving from its belly. There’s an underlying rhythm to this one, and it pretty much matches the rhythm of human breathing. Well, what else would I expect from a tuba player? But it’s fair to say that Peck has taken the deep listening lessons of Pauline Oliveros to heart – and to his lungs and nostrils and diaphragm as well.

After that “musical snoring” delight, flip over to ‘Satanitorium’, which by way of total contrast is an enlivened bacchanal of free noise, possibly rendered by El Peckstein using his amplified or prepared tuba setup. There’s at least three layers of activity here, but it sounds so spontaneous and fresh that I’d hate to find out he used overdubs to realise it. One tuba provides a bass rhythm, another tuba parps out free jazz utterances in a higher range with the uninhibited wailery of a lost BYG refugee from 1969, while an entire tray of cutlery plucked straight from a nearby Queens restaurant has been brought into play to serve as a percussion track. Like I say, I’d prefer to believe this stormer was all done live in one take by Old Peckermeister performing as a one-man band, but then I can’t even imagine what such a performance would even look like. Life is full of disappointments. This B side is a fiery devil fer sure, hence the title which combines suggestions of satanism and a refuge for mentally unstables, most apt for this diabolical episode of unhinged whoop-and-clatter which you’re likely to hear played in the ballroom for when the annual Saint Vitus Dance troupe strut their stuff, often in competition with the local Tarantellas and the Parkinsons Collegiate. To top it off, there’s a cactus flower image on the cover and a quote on the back cover from Nikola Tesla about how the earth is going to split in two due to vibrations produced by expansion and contraction. Great! I think we received this pecky monster in April 2013.

Arms Wide Open

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Open Space (JASON KAHN EDITIONS 002) is a composition by Jason Kahn, the American fellow who we’ve heard in an improvisation context, mostly performing with his percussive instruments, and recently has played and recorded with Tim Olive in Japan. He’s also a composer, though. He says he’s been working with graphic scores for about ten years at time of writing, and one of these was used to perform Open Space, which was commissioned and recorded in 2012 around the time of the Australian music festival NOW. This probably accounts for the large number of Australian performers on this recording, among them the pianist Chris Abrahams, Matt Earle, Adam Sussmann, and the trombonist Rishin Singh. Using his grids and shaded blocks – the score looks like an artistic spreadsheet – Kahn determines, programs and controls who will play what and when, while at the same time allowing a certain amount of interpretative freedom to the players. More to the point, the constraints of the score often bring together musicians at particular points in time who might not otherwise choose to collaborate in the improvisation. They’re being lifted out of their comfort zone, in other words. We’re getting down to the nub of what interests Kahn here, a series of creative tensions and structured oppositions. For instance, the musicians can interpret the graphical notation any way they wish, but Kahn is pretty strict about adherence to the overall timing of the piece. You can turn up to work wearing anything you like, he might say if he were the boss of this weird company that produces artistic spreadsheets instead of annual reports, and you can do whatever you like when you’re here. Just be sure you turn up on time.

Even the title holds meaning for Kahn. It refers to the performance space, the space between players, the space between the players making the music and the audience reacting to same. The space between (free) improvisation and (disciplined) composition. Perhaps by implication the space – or distance – between what he wrote on the score, and what the players end up creating. T.S. Eliot, that pinched and misanthropic bank clerk, hated that space. “Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow”, he wailed, indicating that he could only see darkness in that space. Conversely, the optimistic Kahn embraces that space; he can see a way to do something constructive there. He’s concerned with opening all of these spaces to allow even more freedom to rush in. If he really was an office manager, he’d revolutionise the idea of the open-plan office, to the extent that we’d all be working happily in the middle of a fertile desert by now, with desks and laptops under the palm trees. Well, another composer who I think might have worked in not-dissimilar fashion was Cecil Taylor, some of whose lengthy free jazz performances, which when recorded could occupy six LPs of a box set, were carefully structured to direct the contributions of Jimmy Lyons or Andrew Cyrille into the correct targeted sections of what I assume was a piano-based grid. The difference of course is that Taylor usually produced extremely fiery and speedy works of tremendous complexity, an index to the turbulent storms of his raging personality. Conversely, Open Spaces is quiet, respectful, meditative, even verging on the minimal; a modern update on Terry Riley’s In C. If there was any conflict or dissent among the musicians, it assuredly hasn’t ended up on the record. Part of this harmonious quality is down to Kahn himself, who selected his collaborators with care and scored in line with their strengths; so there’s a sympathetic dimension, which is offset by the fact that he’s also telling them what to do, which adds yet another layer of tension.

I think collaborative works of art like this can show to us how art is often “better” than real life. Experts are only after power, and they tend to ruin everything. If we leave it to the senior managers, we get broken organisations. If we leave it to the financiers, we get a broken economy. If we leave it to politicians, we get a broken society. Yet a musician like Kahn can enable a space where human beings can communicate, co-operate and act creatively, a space where other minds, hearts and souls are welcome. The best art, for me, is a blueprint for how society can teach itself to function in a non-broken and productive fashion. And all this from a simple graphic score that resembles a spreadsheet.

Kahn was kind enough to send us a vinyl copy of this work, for which he also designed the cover art. It’s a limited edition, hand-made work of art released on his own imprint. What’s interesting is that the actual piece is a single, continuous 70 minute recording, so it’s been sliced into quarters to fit into the double LP format. I for one welcome this whole-heartedly. The double LP format always frames music, and it does it in the “right” way, giving it a shape which a human being with ears can recognise and identify with. It reminds me of the way AMM sliced up their 1968 Crypt recordings to fit onto a double LP boxed set. When played back, each segment means something slightly different, in the context of the other three sides; even the act of getting out of the chair to change the record adds to this experience. A fine piece of electro-acoustic improvised-composed music of great stillness, clarity, and beauty. Be sure to read the liner notes and download a copy of the score.

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