Tagged: performed

Key Largo

Leighton Craig
Green Coronet
AUSTRALIA A GUIDE TO SAINTS SNT018 CASSETTE (2016)

This is a four song cassette and download release from Lawrence English’s Room40 tape offshoot A Guide To Saints (since 2012), although I actually have a cd-r promo here on the desk in front of me. As it’s a release designed for the cassette format, I’ll stick to the Side A/B protocols when discussing each piece of music. Those with an interest in American automotive history will be disappointed to learn that this release is not a tribute to an American muscle car from the 1960s, but Craig’s own Australian-made Coronet Phase 2 guitar amplifier.

The first piece (track A1 on the cassette), “Green Shroud”, has a core of a sleepy keyboard figure which repeats over which Craig layers high pitched sine waves, synthesiser, birdsong, some other pre-recorded material sourced from who knows where and heavily treated – with an analogue delay of some kind I think – somewhat out of control vocals. It might be my imagination, but there’s room noise on this track as well which suggests that something acoustic was recorded with a live mic that was neither edited nor gated later on. All of this gives one the feeling of wandering around a phantom new age festival with nothing better to do than soak up the mix of sound systems, stalls and sounds of nature on a lovely summer’s day. “Drowned World” (track A2) is a chord held down on a keyboard with clarinet extrapolations and more birdsong overlaid. Apparently, Craig dangled microphones out of the window of his Brisbane studio to capture his environmental recordings and the sound of an aeroplane passing overhead produces a pleasant effect here.

“Arc The Solar Causeways”, (B1), begins on unaccompanied electric piano. Delicate. Distant processed vocals like eddies in a stream, flowing around bulrushes. I like the way the processing becomes more and more evident; slowly taking over everything, not just the vocals. There’s a period where the music seems to fight it; the repeated vocal sounds skirt around dissonance briefly, before the entire mix becomes unstable and collapses into itself. The final piece, “Divided By Zero” (B2), is initially a conflation of what could be electronic feedback and vocals. This is the most like a “song” of all the four pieces. Although what the “song” is about exactly is hard to discern. The feedback is processed but this time the dissonance is more pronounced – it sounds like a Roland tape echo being abused here. A keyboard part cycles around the latter part of this composition, with the long-suffering tape echo being manipulated to within an inch of its life. Great bit of studio technique – I’m all for that.

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.

Sacred Geometry

Pauline Oliveros + Musiques Nouvelles
Four Meditations / Sound Geometries
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR422 CD (2016)

Pauline Oliveros, everyone’s favourite exponent of Deep Listening, sadly passed this year. As well as a respectable complement of original compositions, she also indulged in collaborations with diverse artists including John Tilbury, Nels Cline, Zeena Parkins, Francisco López, Eleh and Reynols. This recording was made in 2003 at Studio Dada, utilising the Oliveros-designed Expanded Instrument System (EIS) whereby Oliveros was surrounded by the Belgian orchestra Musiques Nouvelles. conducted by Jean-Paul Dessy, a Belgian composer and cellist. Previous releases have featured music composed by Philip Glass, Luciano Berio, Arnold Schoenberg, among others, plus a couple of collaborations with DJ Olive.

The first of the two pieces, “Four Meditations”, features the verbal contribution of an artist by the name of Ione. The terms vocalisation or sound-making or glossolalia might give you a more accurate picture of what she does. Although just as I wrote that during my first listen she suddenly came out with “Scorpions in your pockets, sand at your feet, sun on your neck, listen….oooh, lemonade…” which is unexpected if you take into account what the sub rosa press release maintains: “Meditation asks the performers to listen then sound. Listen means to include all that is sounding and to find a space for each sound that is made.” Given that this direction is intended to produce a completely different result every time “Four Meditations” is performed – with further unpredictability based on who performs it – Musique Nouvelles make a strident, scattergun attempt on this recording which makes me intrigued how they might perform it on a different occasion.

Their rendering of “Sound Geometries”, or to give it its full title, “Sound Geometries For Chamber Orchestra, Expanded Instrument System and 5.1 Surround Sound”, by contrast, is suspenseful; full of anxiety with every detail rich and exciting. At 6:30 I mistake Jean-Michel Charlier’s clarinet for a malfunctioning smoke alarm (in the nicest possible way). A selection of microphones record the players, “…processed in one of ten geometrical patterns by the …EIS…to transform and move the players’ sounds in space in the 5.1 surround system.” Regrettably, as is the case with all attempts at multi-channel composition, this being a stereo cd the full effect is somewhat lost. This in no way affects my enjoyment of the piece, however. No reference is made to Oliveros’ actual score for this piece; whether it is made up of specifics or indications, encouragements. But at its core is a sense of freedom: these players may or may not be natural improvisers but their interactions here are among the strongest I’ve heard lately. And a great manic ending. Just my cup of tea.

With Borrow’d Sheen

We quite liked parts of Anish Music Caravan by Band Ane, which is a solo turn by the Danish musician Ane Østergaard; her approach is to use all sorts of physical objects and musical instruments (some of them old and broken) as starting points, then merge and combine recordings into her laptop. On today’s release, Anish Music V (CLANG RECORDS clang047) I find the novelty is wearing thin already, and the music, although wistful and longing in tone, comes over as shapeless ambient driftery. I’m not expecting anything so conventional as a “root chord” in this type of music, but perhaps some central theme or consistency of thought would be nice to stop the listener’s attention from wandering. In her favour, the playing is sparse and understated, there is sensitivity in the work, and the use of natural caverns to enhance the acoustical space in this recording may be a bonus: the credit notes refer to a “17 second natural reverb from Cisternerne (Copenhagen)”, and “recordings from Thingbæk Limestone Mines”. There’s a limited press of 100 vinyl copies available. From 4th November 2016.

Le Temple Du Rock

Very impressed with Ein Geisteskranker Als Künstler 1 (RONDA rnd11), an old 2009 release from Sébastien Borgo, performing solo under his Ogrob guise. Here are 14 experiments made using guitars, electronics, motors, loops and radio waves, covering a wide range of approaches to sound manipulation – some harsh noise, some murmuring drones, some vague and abstract. It’s a compilation as such, bringing together short works made in 1994 onwards, up to 2006. What typifies all the music is an angry, slow-burning, brooding contempt, which seeps out of every passing moment and spreads across the imaginary listening space like a poisonous plague. Ogrob uses his own deconstructed, hands-on approach to electro-acoustic music, more informed by the “industrial” school than the traditional musique concrète academics, and raises himself just one notch or two above the electrified junkyard. But the music is also evidently serious in intent, and deserves to be heard with a serious pair of ears. A lot of Ogrob projects, particularly micro_penis, seem to me to have a rather satirical intent behind them, as though the musician wanted to parody the pomposity of “proper” composition. On the other hand, when I put a question like this to him in my recent interview, he purported not to understand what I was talking about. The cover art to this macabre and dark release is a photo called Destroy Noise Jetset by Ogrob, depicting a shipwrecked vessel in some vague body of grey water near a rocky landscape. For some reason, I can’t help reading it as the document of a crashed flying saucer. Either way it sends out just the right visual messages of defeat and failure. Superb hour of grimness..from 14 November 2016.

  1. The title is something to do with Adolf Wölfli, the Swiss Outsider artist.

Checkmated

Don’t seem to have heard a record from Berlin tuba player Robin Hayward since 2010’s States Of Rushing on Choose Records, an LP whose memorable cover image spoke volumes about the steely precision of this ultra-minimal player who has done so much to chill the bones and cool the jets of many young hot-heads who cluster like flies around the Exploratorium. Hayward’s with us today credited with playing the “microtonal tuba” and joined by Christopher Williams, another Berlin player who carries the contrabass and once made a record with Derek Bailey in 2004. Together, the duo call themselves Reidemeister Move, and on Plays Borromean Rings (CORVO RECORDS core 010) they perform one of Hayward’s compositions. It can’t have escaped your notice that the score – a graphic score, at that – for the piece is printed directly on the record as a picture disk, thus forming a neat packaging of ideas and sound into a single cohesive unit. This sort of imaginative approach is one of the hallmarks of Corvo Records, I think, each release in their small but select catalogue exhibiting a successful marriage of visuals, sound, and packaging.

The graphic score for Borromean Rings is a very precisely-rendered string of information, as severe as computer code, and its sequence or logic is not plain to the untrained eye. Yet the intention behind Borromean Rings is not to create a ring-fenced barrier of inescapable rules, rather to free up the players in some way…the concise text printed within likens the composition to a game for two players, whose rules are intended to help each player “explore continually fresh avenues within the harmonic framework”. In trying to explain this kind of thing to myself, I usually reach for the metaphor of a map, one that’s intended to help the walker find their way around a strange clump of terrain. As for rules-yet-no-rules, I always understood (perhaps wrongly) that this was the essence of Cecil Taylor’s method, when directing his typically epic collaborative works of energy jazz.

Full marks for the concept and the method, then. But Reidemeister Move Plays Borromean Rings isn’t a very exciting listen. The lower-register drones are played with care and precision, but with zero passion; the even-ness of the work starts to grind down the listener in short order, much like a house painter who is skilled at applying a perfectly smooth layer of white paint throughout the house, slowly working in his methodical way. It’s not clear to me how the players are manoeuvring for position, if that’s what the game of Borromean Rings entails; I’m unable to perceive the intended avenues of exploration in what seems to me more like a series of slowly-executed turns on the exact same spot, like two animals circling in a maze. Much as I like the picture disc format, the music suffers from being pressed in vinyl this way, and the surface noise on my copy marred my appreciation of what I suppose is meant to be pristine, blemish-free minimalism.

On the positive side, the sound of these particular instruments is something I can enjoy for long stretches, and there is an unhurried pace to the playing that is evidence of the discipline and skill of both players, able to sustain long tones and extraordinarily precise fingering for long periods of time without once disturbing the chilled atmosphere. Werner Dafeldecker, of Polwechsel fame, did the recording in a church in Brandenburg. The label owner Wendelin Bücher designed the package, and even came up with a logo design for Reidemeister Move; it’s printed quite small, and it’s not quite in the same league as a Black Metal emblem, but it’s a nice touch. Numbered and limited to 300 copies; arrived 26th April 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”.