Tagged: percussion

Pacific Rim

Kurt Liedwart / Phil Raymond
Rim
RUSSIA MIKROTON cd45 CD (2016)

In a possibly deliberate move, label head Kurt Liedwart has arranged the two names on the sleeve of Rim so that his makes the word “LIED”. It is this kind of wordplay that allows me to theorize wildly about subliminal messaging and unconscious communications. I won’t bore you with my crackpot theories here though, rest assured. Polymath Kurt Liedwart plays lloopp, electronics and percussion on this studio session. As well as running Mikroton, Liedwart has evidence of his previous activities documented on Intonema, Theme Park, Hideous Replica and Copy For Your Records. He also designs the packaging for most if not all Mikroton releases. His counterpart on this particular outing, Phil Raymond, contributes “computer percussion” to these five pieces of full-strength machine-drone, identified only by their individual duration. Raymond is currently resident in Moscow and has released a previous download EP via Mikroton called Absence in 2008, half of which was also released on the compilation The Best Of NTNS Radio. The following year he and Liedwart joined forces, Raymond allowing Liedwart to repurpose his percussion recordings in a live setting. As the Mikroton website states: “Liedwart created inventive systems of sound matters, working with both percussion and electronics, carefully adapting [the] other musician’s materials”. Here on Rim, the evidence of their collaboration forces the limits of what we understand electronic music can be. The resulting tangle of crackling, chittering, grinding, whirring, bubbling, skittering implosions, is mastered with empathy by Ilia Belorukov.

Opening with “10:58”, a giant slab of grumbling printed circuit boards, desiccated by freezing tundra winds, Rim starts as it means to go on. Giant oil tanks rub against each other while contact mics the size of steel pans burst out of the ground at the ends of mile-long runs of armoured cable. The second piece, “3:52”, begins and I panic, thinking my ears have re-blocked after I suffered with crippling sinus pain on a flight the week before, and became temporarily deaf in one ear. All I could hear was the sound of my own head filling up with phlegm, with distant popping and crackling replacing the things my family were actually saying to me. Frustrating for me, but probably much more for them. “9:27” is the sound of my ears suddenly – and violently – unblocking. The fourth piece; “4:16” begins with what sounds like two mountainsides rubbing against each other. Clearly one or both of these two artists spend their free time contact-mic’ing geology. The long final piece, “22:45” is monumental and granite-lined. Tectonic plates quiver and bend. Time stops. You can hear the icecaps melting.

Putting the melodrama of the Noise genre aside, I consider the music on Rim as some of the most extreme electronic music I have ever encountered. Furthermore, I see this music as a protest. It is a protest against what modern life has become; about lies dressed up as truths, about manipulation, vested interests, greed, ignorance, discrimination. It’s about burying our heads in the sand; at the same time allowing ourselves to become wilfully misinformed. Last year, 2016, saw many opportunities for positive change squandered. To me, despite being recorded in 2009, Rim is like a blow-by-blow account of that year in sound and spirit.

Chant Royal

We’ve been enjoying the playing of Portuguese viola player João Camões for many years now, mostly heard through his work with the undersung Algerian synth player Jean-Marc Foussat, but his appearance in the trio earnear was also worthy of mention. Today’s offering is all-acoustic however, and the five-piece Nuova Camerata perform pretty much as a classical string quartet, with the addition of a marimba. Besides Camões with his hard-working instrument, there’s the violin of Carlos Zingaro, who may just be the veteran of the group – he’s been improvising since the early 1990s, and in fact there’s an early-ish record from 1988 which he made with the great Richard Teitelbaum which I’d love to hear. Zingaro has appeared on some big labels (FMP, Hatology, For4Ears) and worked with some big names – Evan Parker, Joëlle Léandre, and Paul Lovens. The cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff is German-born, but he’s made his home in Portugal now, and played with many local musicians including the Lisbon Improvisation Players. There’s also Pedro Carneiro, classically trained marimba player, who once made the gaffe of releasing a record with the unfortunate title of Crazy Mallets, and the bass player Miguel Leiria Pereira, a sometime member of Variable Geometry Orchestra.

The group’s debut record Chant (IMPROVISING BEINGS ib50) arrives as seven separate improvisations, simply titled Chant I-VII; it reflects their shared interest in free improvisation as well as “contemporary erudite music”, as they would have it. What this means is a vaguely solemn tone to the day’s listen, and a slightly cold and slightly stiff way of playing, which doesn’t appear to have much of a jazz feel behind it, and suggests the players are more likely to get their kicks from a dissonant evening of Schoenberg and Alban Berg than from Mingus or Ornette. But this comparative lack of warmth is more than compensated by the assurance and precision of the playing – each dissonant collision is delivered with confidence and bravado, and the music does not want for drama and incident. There’s also a certain amount of “acoustic noise” in the mix for those of you listeners who can’t help hearing a little bit of Merzbow in everything; by “noise”, I mean the high-pitched whines of the violin and viola when they suddenly swoop up into the stratosphere, the rattling low scrapes from the double bass, and the vaguely percussive attacks that result from desiccated vulture-like claws clutching at wood and strings in a predatory fashion.

When you experience all of these elements swirling together in the high-quality recording stream that’s been pressed onto this disc, you’ll certainly be glad you checked in to this Nuova Camerata. While at times it feels like Carneiro is slightly out of step with the team with his stilted marimba playing, he does provide an interesting spine to the music, and an additional musical flavour without which the record might start to appear samey. When the other players run up and down their scales in a crazy free-form fashion, he will be there making a sympathetic scuttling sound like a large centipede running over the rocks. Lastly, note the cover photo; usually when I write about acoustic stringed music I dig out my well-worn metaphor of bare twigs and branches, but this time the visuals are already doing it for me. Very good!. From 18th October 2016.

14th June update: a correction received today from Pedro Carneiro.

“Thank you very much for your review and congratulations for your beautiful artwork!

“Is the only a small detail, but please allow me to clarify: the unfortunate title you mention on a very old disc of mine (Crazy Mallets) is not mine, but simply the title of one the compositions by one – so it seems in this case – unfortunate composer.

“With thanks once again, all good wishes,

“(message dictated due to shoulder injury. Apologies for typos and other possible mistakes)”

Pedro Carneiro

Casting The Runes

A true labour of love – some might call it a labour of obsession – is the album Runaljod – Ragnarok (BY NORSE MUSIC BNM002CD), by the Norwegian music group Wardruna. It’s the third part in a lengthy project which began in 2003, where the aim is to create a musical expression of old Nordic runes; previous instalments of the grand plan were released in 2009 and 2013. The work is mostly driven by the ideas of Einar Selvik, who composes the music and plays most of the instruments, but he’s joined here by Eilif Gundersen, a trio of vocalists and two additional guest singers, plus the Skarvebarna Children’s Choir on one track.

In pursuit of authenticity and historical accuracy, Selvik plays antiquated and archaic instruments, such as the taglharpe, the kraviklyra, the goat horn, the tongue horn, the bronze lure and the birchbark lure; these are combined with lots of percussion – depressing martial drumming, mostly – and electronic music. Further, all the lyrics are written in Norwegian, Norse, and proto-Norse, there’s a Nordic rune printed on the front cover, and the record label is called By Norse Music. I’m intrigued to learn that they also managed to recruit the Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for their second album Yggdrasil, and the singer Steindór Andersen who sings in the “rimur” epic poem style.

As well as the studio projects, Wardruna have managed to create a performance band out of all this effort, and it’s probably safe to say they created quite a stir when they performed before the 1100-year-old Gokstad ship which you can see at the Viking Ship Museum in Norway. It’s good to see this determined effort taking place to preserve ancient Nordic culture, but while I’m certainly no expert in the field it’s also evident that Einar Selvik has a very personal, somewhat mystical, take on the subject. “In my songs it is not necessarily a goal for me to approach the respective rune from every conceivable angle, nor to cover or unravel all of the different aspects of it,” he writes in the enclosed booklet, alluding to the many scholarly views of this area where, I gather, the meaning, context and origins of the surviving runic evidence are much disputed. “My approach is both of runologic and mystic nature and my focus is on the core of each rune and the qualities that serve the whole concept and purpose of Wardruna best”, continues Selvik, affirming that his “vision” of the band-project always comes first, side-lining most academic interpretations.

While the whole genre of neofolk / pagan music (a milieu in which it might be convenient to situate this music, though the creators might not agree) is a closed shop to me, at least it’s clear that Wardruna are not dabbling in Viking history for some ill-informed white supremacy purpose, and the depth of Einar Selvok’s conviction and commitment to his task is self-evident. I just wish it wasn’t such a wearisome listen; pompous, solemn, relentless hammering drums, unvarying grim drones a-plenty, and shrill hymns sung in an ancient unknown tongue. From 12th October 2016.

Contusion

On Zashomon (HYBRIDA 06), we’ve got an exciting team-up between Miguel A. García and Japanese player Seijiro Murayama. Seijiro used to be the drummer in Absolut Null Punkt (or A.N.P.) in the 1980s, performing with the ferocious guitar monster K.K. Null, to produce some memorable LPs of experimental rock noise. He’s also performed with Keiji Haino, Fred Frith, and Tom Cora, and more recently teamed up with contemporary French improvisers and composers, including Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Stéphane Rives, and Eric Cordier. Zashomon plays as a continuous 40-minute piece, although the track titles indicate a four-part structure to the work, including the intriguing third episode ‘One Perjury’…both players credit themselves with “electro acoustic composition”, and in places it does feel quite pre-arranged; the work is full of carefully managed changes and shifts in tone, allowing for quieter events to contrast with the continual stretched of rich electric drone-noise.

Early on there’s a fantastic piece of interplay between drums, synths quietly pulsating and buzzing, and what may be an electric guitar plucking occasional notes; the dynamics here are astounding, real moments of tension and vast gaps of white space in the puzzling music. After the duo settle for a slightly less bold exploration of textures and drones, but there’s still a lot of air and space in the music (especially compared with García’s default position which is to try and occupy as much space as possible), and there’s a taut mystery in the air. Murayama shows his mettle; he has that iron discipline that allows a musician to create a stern, unwavering sound, and keep the emotional register carefully in check. Consequently, his minimal percussion stabs ring out like hailstones on a wintry day, and his alien voice – a bullfrog’s murmur slowed down to the rate of a creeping snail – add a terrifying dimension to the record. At times, García is almost relegated to the position of an admiring acolyte kneeling before the feet of this high priest of minimal improvisation.

The bulk of the record presents a close-up and intimate study of…something, perhaps the craggy face of a lost tribesman or the details of an ancient monument, but it ends with about ten minutes of glorious release which creates a near-epiphany; off-centred drumming, an eerie but uplifting layered noise which may be erupting from the clouds like mutated thunder, and twisted vocal whoops from the Japanese half of the act. A very strong combination and collaboration, packed with strikingly original sounds and bold playing. Limited to 99 copies. From 19th September 2016.

The Purge: Anarchy

Fine blast of art-noise with a punky edge from the Peter Aaron / Brian Chase Duo, an American pair of seasoned players who only met up a few years ago in 2013. On the same occasion as their first live outing, they also booked a recording session at an old church in Hudson NY and recorded Purges (PUBLIC EYESORE 134), an intensive set of vigourous music created by means of guitar, drums and electronics. The longer tracks with names like ‘Space’, ‘Rolling’ and ‘Swirl’ are more easy to locate in the improv-exploratory noise zones, and they are sandwiched in between the numbered ‘Purge’ blasts, which are short punky guitar explosions usually around a minute in length – clearly the players intending to “purge” themselves of all bodily poisons with a voiding, puking action.

It’s impressive to hear this much confidence and swagger on a debut, but the pair have long histories; Peter Aaron, from Cincinnati but known in New York and New Jersey, was the guitarist and singer with punk band The Chrome Cranks in the 1990s, whose records are described elsewhere as “Garage Rock” and are hopefully edgy and nasty affairs of angrified electric bombardment. Chrome Cranks were pretty successful, with eight albums, lots of tours, and an MTV appearance. Aaron was also in Sand In The Face, who made one hardcore punk LP in 1986. As for Brian Chase, he’s the drummer with Yeah Yeah Yeahs (New York alt-rock band since 2000), and has duetted with Alan Licht, Andrea Parkins, and made an experimental drumming-drone record for Pogus Productions. I’d like to think that it’s these credentials that make Purges such a compelling listen, a thrilling combination of raw punk attack with ideas about sound art and improvisation…the label is equally enthused, emphasising the loud volume of their sets, and the “rare uncanny telepathy” that the two share, enabling them to set up and start playing without any fussing over sound checks and balancing levels.

The digipak sleeve includes a photo of the boys in action, confirming once again you can always trust a guitarist who wears a suit. The front cover may look a bit of a mess, but it’s an image of a broken lightbulb (a motif picked up on the other artworks) which, along with the acidic colours of the printing, does much to suggest the violent power of this music. Very good. From 21st September 2016.

Long Lunch Break

Yannis Kyriakides
Lunch Music
NETHERLANDS UNSOUNDS 55u CD (2016)

Writing in 1971 about William Burroughs’ then-latest book The Wild Boys, reviewer Albert Kazin 1 could easily have been anticipating this novel collaboration – almost five decades on – between Cypriot electroacoustician Yannis Kyriakides, Dutch percussionists-for-hire Slagwerk Den Haag and ‘contemporary vocal specialists’ Silbersee, when he remarked that Burroughs ‘gets astral kicks by composing in blocks, scenes, repetitive and identical memories galvanizing themselves into violent fantasies, the wild mixing of pictures, words, the echoes of popular speech’. In fact, he might as well have written this very review.

Though based on Naked Lunch’s dense and confounding narrative fugue, in Lunch Music Kyriakides has taken stock of the many ‘straight’ accommodations of Burroughs’ work over the years and sent them packing: no samples set to trip-hop nor dour thespian recitals here: ‘Smell Down Death’ signals this fact by mulching WSB’s dry croak into a queasy quicksand in the opening minutes, from which state it never quite recovers. He follows suit with the text, filleting all ‘rational’ syntax into words, syllables and vibrations in a ‘polyphony of voices’ that’s expected to approximate a reading of the book. In a pleasing convergence of scientific method and artistic inspiration, this digital arbitration was achieved by applying a frequency analysis algorithm to the text to determine its most commonly used nouns. No prizes then for predicting that lexical items like ‘boy’, ‘ass’, ‘cock’ and ‘death’ form the book’s rhythmic foundation and thus that of what we hear.

‘Words, horrid isolate words, those symbols of our enslavement, are replaced by the a-b-c of man’s perception of simultaneous factors–the ability to drink up the “scanning pattern”.’

Silbersee, like a well-lubricated (soft) machine, regurgitates this as grammarless glossolalia with a honeyed bounce to their vascular lyricism; chewing on words with the gusto of nightmarish Beach Boys on Groundhog Day. Their repetition of solitary words annuls all connotation and supersedes much of Slagwerk Den Haag’s physical percussion, as in ‘Boy’, where the eunuch mantra-fying of said signifier magnifies the grotesque comedy of the subject. ‘But repetition, that fatally boring element in Burroughs’s “cut-ups,” turns the coupling into an obsessive primal scene that never varies in its details’.

Compounding such in(s)anity, ‘La La La Terminal State’ closes the set as the heat closes in: the moribund choir locked in a loop of unlovely ‘La’s while a world driven mad by insectoid whirring and kosmiche ascension squeals to a stop; while mumbles of WSB-as-godhead make one last attempt to corrupt corporeality. Along the way, electroacoustic processing is pitted against Kalahari work songs; radiant radio static rains from open windows onto chattering street urchins; shotgunned spraycans reform in reverse time. Any part of this corroded tableaux might have been spliced into a Moroccan marketplace in Naked Lunch – the chaos is discomfiting, but reassuringly authentic.

In the spirit of reverent desecration, Kyriakides spears the mutant barbershop crooning with snippets of ‘50s pop hits like The Brothers Four’s ‘Greenfields’, which dissolves and devolves likewise into a vomitous assemblage of fruitless plucking and digital churn. Kazin diagnosed what is ‘essentially a reverie in which different items suddenly get animated with a marvelously unexpectable profusion and disorder. Anything can get into it, lead its own life for a while, get swooshed around with everything else’. As if part of a throbbing organism with the connectivity of Interzone’s gelatinous membrane walls, the voices speak ‘through one another’ in one glutinous mass: words within words within words – a vehicular pile-up process Kyriakides terms ‘mediumship and possession’.

To outward appearances, such shamanism is a messy business, where qualitative distinctions become indistinguishable ‘…like the embroidery of a cruel dream’. Naked Lunch is an uncomfortable read at the best of times, and Kyriakides is due kudos for neither concealing this fact nor reducing his interpretation to a linear event, as did David Cronenberg’s film adaptation. Whether for legal reasons or those of reverence though, his decision not to name the project directly after its subject does suggest a lack of conviction in his methods, which are experimental at least by the standards of others who’ve burrowed into the same works. By filching the master’s methodology – ‘inserting one scene into another, turning one scene into another’ – and remixing the text as a collage of suprasegmental sound, Kyriakides cuts to the novel’s filthy heart the way others haven’t.

  1. This and all subsequent quotations are taken from the same review.

Rooms For Improvement

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

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

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

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

Skate Mutie from the Fifth Dimension

Impressive record by one-man American powerhouse Matt Weston on his four-track release Skate For The Lie (7272music#009). I was interested enough to browse his back catalogue, much of which seems to consist of self-released items on his own 7272 Music label, and without hearing them I do have the impression that Skate For The Lie is just a tiny glimpse into what this fellow is capable of. He credits himself with just percussion and electronics, but there seems to be so much more going on in just these four short tracks, many more instruments at work. On ‘You’ve Got That Song’ he sounds like an entire band, performing some wayward brand of outer-space funk-rock noise. There’s also the intense over-crowded explosions on ‘The Old Man With The Burning Eyes’, where it’s like about two or three punk rock bands having a friendly punch-up in a sweaty basement. Real energy music, and “maximal” in a way that I enjoy tremendously, by which I mean there’s no time wasted with wispy nuances of drone and fiddly digital manipulations.

What exactly is Matt Weston doing? I’m not sure. This particular release, we are told, “features multiple realisations of architectural site-specific electroacoustic notation”, a sentence that begs at least three pointed questions. Notation? I’m prepared to believe he’s a composer of some sort, but this stuff comes across as so spontaneous, so very much of the moment, that it’s not immediately obvious to me at what point he pauses to look at the music score. Admittedly, ‘Tarrings and Featherings’, a stark piece of restrained but strong drumming, resembles avant-garde percussion music in places, but there’s also a lot of hearty scrape-and-bang malarkey that would terrify most classical timpani players. ‘This Machine Kills LRAD’ is even more stark, but has bursts and eruptions of electronic noise that you could use to dig up half the pavements of Manhattan. If that’s Matt Weston’s notion of “electroacoustic”, I’ve no complaints, but it’s a long way from INA-GRM, Clyde. As to the claims about being site-specific and having some connection to architecture, I’m at a loss to explain, but one does feel a certain grandiosity in these hefty, industrial-ish, man-sized blocks of noise and sound, as if one were being overshadowed by the tower blocks of New York. He doesn’t mess about and he gets straight to the point.

If we put aside these abstracted ideas about music, we should also note this album “explores themes of loss and defiance”, which may refer to some personal crisis in the life of this Chicago-born musician who currently lives in Albany. The title, and Jeremy Kennedy’s cover art, remain a little obscure, but I could say the same about many of the other intriguing titles in his catalogue, such as Kidnapping Denials or The Last Of The Six Cylinders. I do like a musician who evidently dreams of being mistaken for Herman Melville one day. Lest you think Weston is some undiscovered lone genius, in fact he’s got friendly collaborators by the dozen – there are ample instances of his collaborative work with other bands, singers, improvisers, rockers, jazzers, and avantists of all stripe, a resume of which would probably leave you feeling quite sick. Two regular gigs to look out for are Arthur Brooks Ensemble V, and Arc Pair, a duo with drummer Amanda Kraus. Many thanks to Matt for sending this. There’s also a cassette edition available as Tape Drift Records TD76. From 3rd August 2016.

Past Tense

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

Sleep Disorder

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