Tagged: performed

Hartley’s Jam

Hartley C. White was born in Jamaica but has lived in Queens New York for several decades. He’s been active since the mid-1980s, mostly self-releasing music, and a selection from his back catalogue appeared on the OSR Tapes label in 2014, called This Is Not What You Expect. Very active today, there’s a string of his records available through CDBaby such as Run The Gauntlet, Coming Out Fighting, Face The Music, and more. Today’s release is called Something Better (OSR TAPES OSR77) and is credited to Hartley C. White And Friends; among these friends are Zach Phillips, Christina Schneider, plus the lead guitarists Quentin Moore and Vinny Giannettino, percussionist Larry McDonald (who’s played with Lee Perry, Taj Mahal, Gil Scott-Heron and other notables), and sax player Kate Mohanty. Hartley himself plays multiple instruments, but he’s mostly a rapper / poet – and all the tracks here were built around his main vocal performance, with the instrumental overdubs gradually opening out to unfold the vision of the composer; the musicians worked to White’s extensive notes, indicating he possesses a very clear idea of what he wishes to achieve.

Hartley C. White’s vocal delivery is pretty much unique. Apparently it’s based not on conventional singing lessons, but on his martial arts technique. White has been a student of marital arts since 1966, and there’s a particular Bruce Lee move that inspired the “broken rhythms” of this unusual herky-jerky sung-speech. He himself calls it “Who-pa-zoo-tic Music”, and even called his record label by the same name. The words aren’t loping out carelessly, but are delivered with the intensity of a very accurate body blow. Don’t be fooled by the apparent insouciance in White’s tone; there’s a steely conviction in every syllable. There’s also a lot of passion in the lyrics, which dissect hypocrisy and dishonesty with the skill of a brain surgeon, in a highly compacted manner. Although a lot of these songs are short, mostly around the two or three minute mark, it’s evident that a lot of preparatory effort has been poured into their construction. The musicians perform an impressive feat keeping up with these unusual rhythms and non-symmetric patterns, and their instrumental contributions are spare and lean, punching home the meanings of each song. The net result is extremely unusual, constantly surprising the listener with its stop-start twists and turns. From 28th October 2016.

Mental Space

Jean-Luc Guionnet has released another fascinating compositional work in the form of Distances Ouïes Dites (POTLATCH P416), a French phrase which roughly translates as “Hearsay Distances”. He did it with the modern chamber ensemble Dedalus, who in honour of their namesake have elected to share lodgings inside a labyrinth in Crete 1. This seven-piece of talented musicians play stringed and brass instruments, with the addition of an electric guitar and a vocalist, and have appeared on this label before in 2013 performing their own music. Distances Ouïes Dites is a single work segmented into 15 index points, and it was performed in an art centre called Le Consortium in Dijon, France. The idea is that the musicians were all placed in different rooms of the centre, and the audience would be set apart in Salle 7, where they could only have sight of Cyprian Busolini, the viola player. The audience would have heard the music, but removed at some distance. If you have any trouble visualising this unusual set-up, there’s a helpful architectural plan of the layout included inside the CD gatefold, with red lines printed on yellow indicating precisely where each musician was located.

It’s evident that Guionnet likes to set “challenges” to his collaborators. In this instance, he’s quite explicit about it, and it’s something to do with negotiating the space, the distances between their fellow musicians, and the distance from the audience. It involves coming to terms with the environment, understanding the acoustics. Against these barriers, the players must work hard to “spread musical ideas in their environment”. Part of the challenge is doing it in real time; presumably the Consortium presented its own problems on the day, no matter how well composed the piece may be. The musicians meet these challenges. They play the music in a poised, deliberate fashion, perhaps exhibiting a certain amount of caution, but they hit the mark. After all, this physical separation must have denied them one of the fundamental characteristics of ensemble playing, i.e. the possibility of visual communication with your fellow players by movement, eye contact, nods, or whatever. Sealed in your cell this way, you are very much thrown back on inner resources.

The use of the word “hearsay” is therefore no accident, but indicates that music, in these circumstances, acquires some of the qualities of an elaborate game of Chinese Whispers, where meaning becomes distorted and blunted through the process of muffled hearing and sensory deprivation. Guionnet has deliberately created a situation where we only learn fragments of the story, leaking out in segments and possibly arriving in a garbled form. In today’s climate of “false news” and scrambled messages arriving by email in the form of corrupted data, the work is not without a certain resonance.

The recording of Distances Ouïes Dites also sounds splendid, making the most of the acoustical resonances and echoes of the building, as if The Consortium itself was also a musician or a player in the score. This is not unlike another Guionnet work Quelque Chose Au Milieu from 2016 2, where he did it with two saxophone players and recorded them in unlikely spaces such as a public swimming pool and a bridge under the motorway. The titles of the 15 segments of Distances Ouïes Dites also contribute to the meaning, referring directly to the space of building, its rooms, its height and depth; and to waves of sound crossing the physical space itself. While all of this may appear reflexive and descriptive, Jean-Luc Guionnet’s music – and the superb performances by Dedalus – never fail to create beautiful and intoxicating music, transcending the boundaries of space. It may prove something about how great art can travel time, pass through barriers, create “l’espace mental” where communication can succeed and bring us all closer. A triumph. Received 11 November 2016.

  1. I could be making these facts up.
  2. Noted here.

Depth Of Field

Service Supreme

Cutting a similar path to Aussie drone-based groovers (and associates) like Oren Ambarchi, The Necks, Simon James Phillips and Matthew Philip Hopkins, the Australia-based trio Great Waitress (Magda Mayas, Monika Brooks and Laura Altman) are a revealing new puzzle piece in a distinctly antipodean improvised music scene: an identity-subsuming, New World tradition of tonality tinkering and free-floating, low-frequency harmonics that suffuse space with the no-nonsense savour of a long-nosed cab sauv. Possessed of the prowess that comes with conservatory training, the trio’s depersonalised apparition of piano, accordion and clarinet prises open space with a knife’s width of elbow play; pushing minimal phrases to the point of constraint, then further, into a vortex between ambient amnesia and semi-improvised composition, tweaking, teasing and even torturing pitch to a neck-hair tingle before the spectral mass solves into a tarpaulin-shrouded fog. Hue (ANOTHER DARK AGE ADA006 LP) is said to summarise the two prior albums, released since Great Waitress’ 2011 formation; a nascency that stands in relief to the group’s full-bodied harmonic cohesion, yet also a reminder of how recently this ‘scene’ has cohered.

A Field in England

Highly approachable guitar & electronics post-rock from Bristol on The Road To The Unconscious Past (ECHOIC MEMORY EM005), even if it sounds less suggestive of its polished urban provenance than of some anonymous idyll. John Scott aka Stereocilia fans out a familiar formula for tape loops and synth-based drones and takes flight on Stars Of The Lid-style Kosmiche angel wings, his effervescent efforts passing in and out of focus, exuding clear contentment in an echo-based semi-present haze. Till side B anyway, when ‘Infinite’ – the closest we have to a cosmic jam – pulses into view on an ELEH-style hypnodrone, issuing trains of serrated guitar lines in all directions and pushing up the listener’s pulse some. But this pleasing push of the envelope is quickly curbed in ‘Sustain/Release’ with the restoration of the preceding pastoralia; a regressive move after such a promising surge into new territory and a general reflection of the unfulfilled promise of the album as a whole, which could really do with moving a little farther afield from its starting point than it does.

Rocking Out

‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead…’ begins James Joyce’s Ulysses, though surely few of the novel’s well-meaning readers have made the acquaintance of ‘the superior, the very reverend John Conmee S.J’ in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ chapter, for it’s an assuredly arduous journey to reach this point, let alone the book’s final affirmation, especially for those prone to distraction and it is from this section and sentiment that François Sarhan pulls the title for his recent installation piece Wandering Rocks / Commodity Music (LA MUSE EN CIRCUIT ALM007), where visitors passing through the encircling sound field play the part of the rocks adrift and a fragment of James Joyce’s reading of said text infuses this 35-minute long, electroacoustically-enhanced improvisation for prepared piano, guitar (quartet, Zwerm) and electronics with so despondent an antidote to an otherwise ostensible attitude of passive attentiveness as can be wrought when even the painfully quotidian satire of Joyce’s post-heroic modernist masterpiece represents an Olympian ambition to the media-deadened senses, perhaps eliciting in our composer a sense of resignation that few listeners will probe the surface of this friendly flow of naturalistic timbres and textures – an emulation by means of extended technique of the elemental components (rocks, waves and synthetic turquoise breeze) of the seashore photograph on the cover – to penetrate beyond the point of attention wandering from one rock to the next, moments of cognitive dissonance in their fitful overlappings – though becoming markedly more pronounced as the piece ages its way into Commodity Music, where a gush of anti-capitalist rhetoric to heavy phasing and an almost oriental modal arpeggiation puts the proverbial fat-cat among the proletariat to yield a more strident, pointillistic energy to our hitherto soft-focus panorama, which occasion Sarhan utilises to reflect upon the ‘sad truth that music per se is disappearing from our life… because of our difficulties to focus (sic) on an exclusive and demanding concentration to listen to it…’, before going on to lay blame upon the plastic wrapped vacuum of televisual culture as the cause of popular culture’s almost anhedonic disinterest in Art, and offering this digest version of his expansive and physical sonic experience as a concession to such vicissitudes… so should one listen to it on headphones? No.

Sound Pipers Of Garlic

Indescribable double CD of improvised vocal noises along with non-musical sounds and eruptions…this is the combined talents of four international mavericks, i.e. Adam Bohman, the UK sound poet, performer, bricoleur and cassette diarist; Oliver Mayne, English musician living in Budapest; Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, described here as “the inimitable voice maestro”; and Zsolt Sőrés, the Hungarian musician. Budapest is the connecting zone, the area where these four met and climbed into a musical melting pot. Bohman and Jean-Michel were invited there in 2010 by the film-maker Peter Strickland, and once Zsolt S?rés got wind of this he quickly set up an improvising situation and asked Oliver Mayne to join in. What has supposed to be a fortuitous one-off occasion soon developed into a regular event, and in the years since the four have performed together many times, now working under the strange and awkward name of I Belong To The Band. The double CD we have before us documents four such occasions from 2010 and 2013, all of them happening in Budapest, and shows the foursome captured either live or in the studio. On one occasion, a live event at Fuga, they were joined by the vocalist Katalin Ladik. Ladik’s impressive vocal work may be known to some for her contributions to recordings of Ernő Király, the Yugoslavian modern composer.

This package, titled Bakers Of The Lost Future (INEXHAUSTIBLE EDITIONS ie-004-2), shows how the combo require a lot of space and time to spread out – some might unkindly call it a sprawl – to realise their need for self-expression. Musical instruments are involved, including vibes, synths, and stringed instruments, but I get the impression that amplified objects are much more the weapon of choice in the IBTTB stable. Bohman’s a past master of selecting and hitting strange objects in the service of sound production; Zsolt Sőrés has his own personal selections, and also brings circuit-bending and dictaphone tapes to the table in his quest for the ultimate in lo-fi distortion and mangled groink. Mayne too is no stranger to clipping a contact mic onto anything that stands still long enough. Together, these three weave a cluttered but intense din of rubbly and unfamiliar textures, producing a dense soup that makes no concessions whatsoever to “art music” or jazz-inflected improvisation, nor is it as opaque and mystifying as the inert over-processed murk that Das Synthetische Mischgewebe often creates using similar methods. I haven’t heard such a compelling layered and over-crowded racket since my last DDAA listen. Over this scrambly foundation, van Schouwburg yawps out his nightmarish vocalising, a bad dream of opera singing caused by a night of indigestion at the Magyar Állami Operaház. All the pieces have been assigned nonsensical titles, word-salad arrangements such as ‘Intergalactic Gulash vs Sneezawee Gaspacho’ and ‘Gastric Samba Honkers’, as if attempting to realise the same sense of mental indigestion through the channel of literary expression. The references to food and the stomach in these titles are most fitting.

I would also single out the uncanny escapades of Katalin Ladik on the track where she features, ‘Poets of the Absurd on Chalk’. She’s pretty much carrying on an unintelligible argument with van Schouwburg as if the two were actors / opera singers playing husband and wife in a grotesque marriage, or perhaps simply play-acting a garbled version of Punch and Judy. It’s by turns comedic and ugly, yet still infused with moments of mysterious and terrifying beauty. Both the vocalists here sound certifiably insane, but they deliver their loopy barks with great assurance and confidence. We could say the same about the music, which is pretty much fragmented and bonkers in the extreme, but played with gravitas and conviction. There is no doubt in my mind that this is down to the personalities involved (very strong personalities); you could never train a classical musician to play this way in a million years, even if they had been raised on John Cage since birth. It’s an instinctive thing, and a very personal thing. The effect here is intensified because these are four like-minded souls, who have nothing to prove to the world…the music is as much a product of that bond as anything else, the sound of an amazing conversation, on which we are lucky enough to eavesdrop.

Peter Strickland, though he doesn’t play a note, is also pivotal to the record. He also happens to have been part of the Sonic Catering Band in a former life, and the strange formless non-musical performances he was responsible for are could be seen as one of the many tributaries that have flowed into Bakers Of The Lost Future. He also directed the movie Berberian Sound Studio, which used the talents of Katalin Ladik for its soundtrack, and which briefly featured the Bohman Brothers making a cameo appearance. Another gem from the Slovenian label Inexhaustible Editions, arrived 28th October 2016.

Psychedelic Train

Many years ago we received and noted two unusual records from Cream Of Turner Productions, a label based in Philadelphia. Both Heart Land and Sunlore existed in vinyl editions, but in 2011 they sent us CDR versions which had been hand-crafted to a high degree, using art materials, in order to resemble exact miniatures of their vinyl counterparts. The musicians David Marino, Ron Lent, Bill Errig and Ahmed Salvador (joined by Ford Sylvester on one of the LPs) created two dream-like records of intense, dank, psychedelic music, fit for restless sleepwalkers. In my mind I filed these records alongside those by Heart Of Palm, the Chicago unknowns who somehow fail to create much of a stir anywhere, yet create fine krautrock-inspired music on their own terms.

Well, after some six years, Cream Of Turner have finally managed to release their third LP, Union Pacific Vol. 1. (CT./458) credited to Heart Land. David Marino and Ahmed Salvador are still active and play on this one, along with Matthew Pruden, the guitarist Peter Tramo, the bass player Wilbo Wright, and the excellent vocalist Patrice Carper. The entire record is based around the recording of a model train set, which is close-miked or amplified in some way, in order to generate abstract electronic sounds. On top of this shifting mechanical drone, Patrice Carper contributes her free-form moaning vocals, and the work is supplemented by layers of guitar, bass and percussion. No keyboards or synths in sight, which might seem slightly surprising given the very droney and kosmische feel of this record. It seems to tread roughly the same inter-galactic ground as Tangerine Dream or Cluster, achieving the sensations of infinite distance and space-travel largely through use of echo, amplification, and effects. I like the idea that this sense of vastness is conveyed through such modest means, i.e. the sound of a miniature train set; it seems to say something about the possibilities of art, and how we could all be bounded in a nutshell and count ourselves the king of infinite space.

While this music may be languid and spaced-out, delivered in a slightly hippy-drippy fashion (not even the soggiest Steve Hillage records were this laid-back), it’s evidently being played in real time by real human beings playing real instruments, responding to changes in timbre and direction, and not following a programmed path nor needing to be propped up by digital processing or synthesis. What emerges on the record may feel unfinished – Heart Land haven’t yet figured out how to end their lengthy explorations in a satisfactory manner – but in this instance, it creates a convincing environment which surrounds and nurtures the listener. In this, Heart Land and the label fulfil their goal of creating their “own personal hybrid of improvised psychedelic and avant-garde music”. I’m slightly disappointed by the cover. It’s not a great design, and more to the point it weakens the mystique of the music to see these rather ordinary photos of the musicians at work, no matter how evocative the lighting and colour scheme may be. Still, a minor quibble when you have such an unusual and pleasing item in your hands. From 7th September 2016.

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

Raw Vision

Very impressed by Modus Of Raw (EVIL RABBIT RECORDS ERR 24), the first solo record by the violinist Biliana Voutchkova. She has surfaced before in small group collaborations, for instance with Michael Thieke in 2013, and with viola player Ernesto Rodrigues and the woodwinds player Micha Rabuske in 2015. She’s played with an impressive number of international musicians, including free improvisers, but this solo approach is clearly an area where she thrives. The press call it a “highly individual musical language”, which is true, but there’s also a strong sense of emotional strength, of independence; she doesn’t need others, and might be happy speaking into the void. The void in this case was a studio in Switzerland; she recorded the set herself, and proceeds with utter conviction, nothing distracting her from her pursuit of her elusive quarry.

In terms of technique, a musician like Voutchkova has nothing to prove to the world; a gifted child prodigy who’s been playing since age four, she’s already been through the classical repertoire thing during a distinguished career, involving awards, scholarships, residencies, and international travel. A long time in the USA; she now resides in Berlin. I’d like to think she’s moved to a higher plane already, by the time we tune into the sounds on Modus Of Raw; transcending classical, composition, improvisation and other modes, to arrive at a completely unique way of playing. It seems to my superficial ears to be a rich combination of things – classical / improvised techniques and methods, a mixture of musical and non-musical sounds (drones, noise, melodies), and above all the development and articulation of her private language. Sometimes she works away at a repeated phrase in a deliciously nagging manner, determined to reach some core of meaning, that might be hidden like a nut in a shell, prising it loose. She vocalises, too, by the way; her wordless and whispered extemporisations add a great deal to the performances, though this remains principally an uncategorisable violin record.

As to content and ideas, Biliana Voutchkova strikes me as one of those profound and insightful artists who deals in silence, precision of thought, and a taut compacted mode of expression; only these taut-lipped approaches are suitable for the complex content she’s attempting to delineate, where there are clearly a lot of unknowns, and you need a degree of courage to get to the heart of the matter in these dark truths. Titles like ‘Songs of Anxiety’, ‘Memory Imprints’ and ‘Chaos & Beauty’ may give use a glimpse into what she’s driving at, but listen to the powerful, abstract elusiveness of the music and be guided where she leads us, if you can follow. Take a long hard look at some unknown corners of the world, and savour the fragile beauty of Biliana Voutchkova’s strange music. From 11th October 2016.

Instantic Flamer

The lovely Richard Sanderson is here with A Thousand Concreted Perils (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDS LOR081). It’s been three years since he last turned in a solo concertina record (Air Buttons), and now here are a further 11 experiments where he applies a mixture of methods to change the sound of the instrument, open up new avenues for exploration, and generally push at the three corners of the envelope. Technically speaking, he does it with FX pedals and feedback, and even the use of computer software to manipulate sound, but it’s also clear from the enclosed notes that his mind is in a thousand diverse locations as he negotiates these thousand concreted perils. In a few terse sentences, he speculates on the joys of note-bending, he likens his bellows to a pair of lungs, he relishes the bad behaviour of broken equipment; and he alludes to musical personalities as diverse as Pauline Oliveros (natch!), John Kirkpatrick (also natch), and Jasper Smith 1, whose singing was the foundation for the track ‘Down In The Meadow’. Evidently, the tributaries of avant-garde and folk musics flow freely into Sanderson’s palate fine and find a welcome meeting point under his enquiring fingertips. Most endearing of all is the phrase “staring at an astronomical chart to empty mind whilst working out a sound”, and if that isn’t a gorgeous insight into the creative process of this man, then I’ll sell my copy of Lot 74 by Derek Bailey. The close-up photos of the concertina on the cover are a further index to his intimate engagement with the minutiae of sound, the physicalities of the instrument, evidence of which abounds on the disc. Seems to me that Sanderson has quietly evolved his own personal take (very DIY, very modest, very English) on the whole electro-acoustic improv thing. From 7th October 2016.

  1. For the singing of Jasper Smith – which I have never heard – try and locate a copy of The Travelling Songster on Topic Records 12TS304, released in 1977.

The neoN Demons

Striking set of contemporary avant-garde music by the Norwegian Ensemble neoN on their self-titled debut album (AURORA ACD5084). The confidence, enthusiasm and boldness of their playing is remarkable for a debut set. Jan Martin Smørdal and Julian Skar formed the Ensemble around 2008, recruiting from fellow musicians trained at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo; they’ve been playing concerts ever since, mostly in nearby parts of mainland Europe at venues and festivals, but in 2016 they made it to New York. There are nine musicians, two composers (both represented on this album) and a conductor.

All five pieces are worth noting. ‘Travelling Light 2’ is composed by Kristine Tjøgersen; it “might take place inside a camera lens” according to the sleeve note by Jenny Hval. I found it a fascinating conundrum in musical form. Huge gaps where you least expect it punctuate the weird microtonal sounds. Mini-droning effects from woodwinds, obsessive whines from strings and percussion. The composition deals in vaguely obsessive repetitions of a phrase, or an idea. I can’t quite grasp it. A wonder in miniature, aided by the strong dynamics of the performance.

Jan Martin Smordal composed ‘My Favorite Things 2’, a “game of other people’s memories” according to Hval. To me it resembles a clunky steam engine from the 19th century being constructed in sound and lurching into life. A chamber piece that “shunts” along in an endearing manner. Piano and percussion act as the pistons, the flute and woodwind provide the steam. I like the unexpected pauses, the broken metres, the crisp sounds. But the whole album is beautifully recorded that way.

It’s no surprise to the world that we can consider Oren Ambarchi, the Australian musician who developed his own unique sound on the amplified guitar, a composer nowadays. He worked with James Rushford on ‘Monocots’. This is a wild and wacky one…sound effects of water are poured into a carafe and the mysterious gasping whispering lady is briefly glimpsed. An acoustic guitar wanders around in a detective novel. Vibes and flute create wonderful plangent chord shapes in the background. This “develops” a bit better than what we’ve heard so far. A real structure to it, but an oddball one, which is why I keep thinking of it as a detective film noir or mystery novel. If Morton Feldman had been asked to score Farewell My Lovely…this might have been the result. Highly unusual and very special. Now I must check out the Wreckage album (2012) by this pair, on the Norwegian Prisma Records label.

For their fourth outing, the Ensemble have a crack at one of the Grand Bosthoons of Minimalism, the great Alvin Lucier (who bestrode the Lovely Music label like a gigantic Bird and Person). We feel bound to expect a certain degree of ascetic restraint. The players do not disappoint on their rendition of ‘Two Circles’. The 18-minute piece feels like a dream of New York streets and how they used to be in the 1960s. Maybe they were cleaner, longer, narrower, and emptier. They never were that way in reality, but in this dream music anything is possible. If you accept that premise, enjoy the long shadows cast by odd shapes and all in black or white. Lengthy tones sustained and explored to create very tasty dissonances and flavours in the air. Strings, woodwinds, vibes – all merged into brilliant morass, a cloud with solid steel edges. Probably the “best in show” ribbon should go to this majestic slice of modernity.

But there’s plenty surprises still to come, on the final piece ‘Kunsten A Tvile 2’ composed by Julian Skar. Here the ensemble get pretty manic as they effectively turn themselves into a crazy typewriter operated by the world’s most breathless stenographer. The piano and percussion section emulate the keys of that outsize device. Around us we have strings and woodwinds creating a nightmare of unfinished work, forming its own wild tornado right there in the office. This the sort of thing that Sam Pluta and Wet Ink Ensemble should have a stab at, or associate themselves with in some way. The piece is structured to deliver to very alarming upbeat sections with the frantic typewriter effect, and these are surrounded either side by clouds of avant-garde ambiguity. But the wailing woman won’t be placated either.

This really is a very rewarding set, extremely well recorded and produced to a very high standard by all concerned. I feel that Ensemble neoN have a very clear intent and have spent a lot of time honing their craft. The results should do much to reinvigorate contemporary music, an ambition in which I hope they succeed. From September 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.