Tagged: performed

They Might Be Giants

We last heard the music of Ryan Choi, a Hawaiian composer and musician, with his record The Three Dancers which was unusual for being a musical interpretation of a painting of Pablo Picasso, and for being improvised entirely on the ukulele. Four more uke improvisations can be heard on Whenmill (OFF-RECORD LABEL ODG049), another strong set and one characterised by its compaction and brevity. If you heard this “blind”, chances are you’d mistake the music for avant-garde compositions for the classical guitar; it’s got a certain gravity and aloofness that indicates the performer and composer has something important to say, and the occasional dissonances are like the sort of thing that Luigi Nono might have scored for the nylon-stringed devil of the airways.

Choi is proud of his distinctive technique, which involves unusual tunings of the ukulele, a very pronounced attempt to wring “experimental harmonies” from the strings, and an approach to fingering which I guarantee you will not have heard on record before. He hits notes with a clarity and precision that shows effortless skill, but he’s not interested in loud volumes, and the understated tone of these recordings is quite remarkable. Yet if you listen closely, the bold and adventurous leaps of imagination he’s making in these improvised tunes are truly something to behold. It’s like listening to a magician casting the most outrageous spells against the world, yet doing so in a quiet, mumbly voice. Evidently, it takes our Hawaiian magus some considerable time to work himself into the desired frame of mind, since this record has had a three-year gestation period.

As to the content of this release, it may have something to do with Don Quixote, but this is something of a wild guess on my part; one is always looking for clues in this line of work, and I base my assumption on two titles here, ‘Quixona’ and ‘Whenmills’. In Choi’s take on the theme, if indeed it is a take, windmills become “whenmills”, which is a brilliant portmanteau word which Humpty Dumpty would have been pleased with (you recall he found a number of these when he explained Jabberwocky for Alice). One can only speculate as to what a “whenmill” may mean for Ryan Choi. Don Quixote I believe charged against windmills with his lance because, in a delusional state, he thought they might be giants. Today, these giants clearly have some extra power of time-travel associated with their other strengths, and trying to tilt against a “whenmill” means you’re interfering with the world of high finance with its five-year spending plans and future cost breakdowns. No wonder Choi thinks of himself as a surrealist. A splendid record from 11 July 2016.

Flocci Non Facio

About a jillion points shall be awarded to the cassette Gara Delle Facce (TUTORE BURLATO #09) performed by the trio Flocculi. Its members Devid Ciampalini, David Lucchesi and Ezio Piermattei turn in a two-part performance across both sides of this short tape and in the process they defy human reason with some of the uncanny zany sounds that emanate from their agitated bodies. Percussion, oscillators, guitar, voice, tape and objects are all used in imaginative ways to maximise a sense of the bizarre and a sense of fun in equal proportions, and the spirited nature of their antics doesn’t let up for a moment. I suppose there could conceivably be a danger that this form of free and open playing could easily become self-indulgent and even “wacky” in a meant-to-be-funny sense that doesn’t translate; or it could become an exercise in forced “energy” music which degenerates into the usual skittery-improv chaos and clatter. Amazingly, neither scenario comes to pass and the music remains light and fleet-footed. This may be because none of the musicians are trying to prove anything about such unhelpful notions as “extended technique” or the “value” of free improvisation, and are simply playing together in ways they enjoy. But I speculate. Ciampalini is unknown to me, and Lucchesi the guitarist has surfaced on an obscure CDR as part of DeA in 2014; but Piermattei is of course more familiar to us, not only as the owner of this tape label but as Hum Of Gnats, poisucevamachenille and Autopugno, aliases under which he has made unique and funny records which to one degree or another exhibit his obvious facility for making uncanny sounds and music with his voice, and his tape overlays. Flocculi is yet another project he can be proud of. They may never surface again as a trio, but for 30 delicious minutes here they have unleashed several exciting and tasty events in sound upon the earth, with an obvious passion and enthusiasm for their work, and everything is played with a simple transparency which is highly refreshing. Things may get noisy, but never distorted; the spirit is liberating, never chaotic. The title translates into English as “Race Of Faces”, and that’s putting it mildly. Highly recommended!

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Them!

Ants, eh…you can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em…at any rate, it’s always these six-legged bastards who show up in pseudo-scientific articles when some nincompoop author is clutching for a metaphor for human society. Perhaps it’s because we suppose these tiny black rogues have organised themselves into a hierarchical system, one with a monarch at its centre, and capable of productive activity on an industrial scale we puny humans can only dream about. Then there’s their elaborate communication system, which involves flopping their pathetic antennae about in some way, to relay signals throughout the entire colony. It’s only a matter of time before some smart alec compares that to “The Internet” and starts to make outlandish claims, for instance that “Ants Invented The World Wide Web” or some such nonsense.

I for one have never trusted the ant, and regard these crawling devils with the same suspicious eye as I do most of the smaller creatures who share the earth with us. They’re up to something, and I don’t like it. One interesting trend for many years has been the cultivation of a so-called “ant farm”, which I believe involves creating a mini-colony of these unpleasant monsters inside a glass box filled with sand or porous earth, allowing us to observe the ants plotting their nefarious schemes. These ant farms have proven especially popular among American school children, who proudly exhibit them as “science projects” when they wish to earn points in entomology. The truth is far more sinister, of course…any given ant farm is just a way of proving the inevitability of capitalism, perpetuating the exploitation of labour, and the “need” for a caste system that keeps us all oppressed; and where better to indoctrinate children with this poisonous ideology than at secondary school. It’s all there, in among the ants.

Some of my justifiable paranoia and bile has, I like to think, informed the record we have in front of us – titled Ant Farm (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR241) and credited to the players Elliott Schwartz and Big Blood. It’s a slightly creepy and weird slab of sound art and music, not without its frequently beautiful moments, but mostly issued as a warning against the rise of the ants. The music was originally the soundtrack for an art exhibit, also called Ant Farm, an event which was held in Maine to showcase the work of The Ant Girls, a visual art group including Colleen Kinsella and Dorothy Schwartz. Right there you’ve got a strong thread of “ant-ness” detectable in the genesis of this particular record. I shouldn’t be surprised if The Ant Girls knew more than they were letting on.

Colleen Kinsella is also one half of Big Blood, along with Caleb Mulkerin, and they’ve been making records since 2006, many of them issued as CDRs on their own Don’t Trust The Ruin label. Weirdly, they’re actually a four-piece but only have two members. They probably came under the influence of the ants to arrive at that point. Elliott Schwartz is a veteran American composer whose modernistic (I assume) escapades date back to the 1960s, although he also made a remarkable record with Marion Brown called Soundways, issued in 1973 by the Bowdoin College Music Press. It’s remarkable for its combination of electronic keyboard music with free jazz sax blowing, a combination which always works for me. Schwartz has no traceable connection to the world of ants, and is just guesting.

The Ant Farm record will draw you in at first by dint of its unusual sound – lo-fi, crackly, misted-up recordings as if heard through a layer of aural fog. From these gentle rumbles and purrs, there will emerge strange tunes and eerie keyboard fugues, some of them played on gamelan instruments such as the Baliphone, or other hammered instruments like the Dulcimer. There’s more atmospheric home-brew electronics than you could fit in a shopping bag, and Schwartz plays his heart out when called upon, offering near-classical tunes of intricate delicacy, many of which have a narrative vibe very fitted to telling the stories of these darn ants. For instance, ‘The Queen’s Egg’ or ‘Winged Pile’ or ‘Swarm’. All of these uncanny musical elements – plus some occasional whispery breathy songs on side two – are blended into a seamless suite of gentle, vaguely sinister music of a supreme oddness, leading the listener through that evil maze-like warren that is the tunnel system of the ants. To top it all off, it’s packaged in some gorgeous sleeve art and inners, featuring paintings of – guess what! – ants at work. These images are uncredited on the release but are possibly provided by one of the Ant Girls. Great! From 17 May 2016.

Digital Memories

American-born sound artist Pierce Warneke mostly lives and works in Europe, and has surfaced here before mainly in the context of Emitter Micro, that interesting label that has been home to a few small-run releases in bizarre packaging which contains anonymous, perplexing and alienatingly severe electronic sound art. I often associate him with Berliner Christoph Limbach, and both of them appeared on Four Corners Of The Night, a cassette tape released by Staaltape around 2012. Warneke has now made a superb album called Memory Fragments (ROOM 40 RM479), where he performs electronic music using assorted devices and methods such as the electromagnetic coil, contact microphones, feedback, and a process called “FM and additive synthesis”. And some conventional instruments, including piano and guitar. He’s joined by the bass player Yair Elzara Glotman, Kris Limbach (see above) on percussion, and the saxophonist Pierre Borel. In addition to this, there are field recordings gathered from America, Portugal, France and Germany folded into the equation.

The set is thus far from minimal or severe, and instead offers a rich set of complex and intriguing tones for the listener to explore and move around inside. With a descriptive paragraph explaining something of the origins of this work, Warnecke uses an entire thesaurus of terms which mean more or less the same thing – the message that comes across is constant change and reworking, suggesting he manipulates his sizeable gobbets of sound like so much plasticine, remoulding them into toy farms, cities, office workers and Noah’s Ark configurations like a grown-up child ought to do. A large number of contemporary sound artists are into the “reworking” thing these days; I suppose it’s much easier to tinker with sound files in the computer than ever before, and while some of them may hope to align themselves with the early geniuses of musique concrète, quite often they simply produced reams of over-cooked murk and spew, which has been baked in the innards of a laptop for far too long.

We can’t level that accusation at a single track, or a single moment, on Memory Fragments; every musical utterance has a certain weight, and there’s a solidity and crispness to the sounds that is impressive. Although events do tend to coagulate into a continuum of some sort, it’s never a mindless or boring process drone; and the strange weightless journey into space is mapped with a series of very distinct and separated sound events, acting like milestones. It’s a very exciting and inexplicable noise.

There’s also a certain solemnity to the music, as if every utterance were delivered by an undertaker wearing a large top hat and a grave countenance. This may have something to with the ponderous track titles; each one nearly a sentence, or title of a book chapter (a book one never hopes to read), and to boot they’re arranged under two headings, suggesting the book is a two-volume monster of epic sweep. The trend of these titles reads like an attempt to describe the phenomenon of memory itself, clasping at concrete images that might capture it in some way. In that context, the phrase “built on folds and braids” seems especially resonant. The puzzling cover image (uncredited) may also be an attempt to pin down the elusive idea of memory into a visual form; curlicue twisted rags of cloth or paper spin in space, or are arranged in something resembling a grid.

Warneke is attempting to say something about the human mind as a recording medium. The brain can replay memories, but it might do so in a faulty manner, so that the memory never matches the actual experience. This volatility interests him, and the record Memory Fragments expresses this idea by “taking samples (sound, images, objects) of a physical space and then placing them in an imaginary process of transformation and transience that slowly erodes these digital memories until disappearance”. From 25 May 2016.

Monotroniks

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The album Rhthm (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono083) by Polish combo T’ien Lai is a highly diverse set of music, where the duo of Łukasz Jędrzejczak and Kuba Ziolek attempt many styles, many modes and many methods to realise their ambitions. They certainly aren’t short of ideas for what direction to take next, and there’s a large collection of tools in their box of instruments and synthesizers. There’s the systems-y pseudo-composed ‘W D’, a half-hearted attempt to “do” Terry Riley. There’s ‘Piknik Nad Rzeka Ma’, whose beats and sampled speaking voice derived from a French girl barking out an obscure text seems to have warped over here from around 1985. ‘SMZS II’ is pure Kraftwerk-influenced sequencer malarkey. But the evil robotic-march vibes of ‘Monotronik’ (where they are joined by the percussionist Rafal Kolacki from HATI and cymbal player Mikołaj Zieliński) are effective, and may reflect the fact that at time of writing T’ien Lai now consider themselves a quartet. I also enjoyed the short but chaotic ‘FX6’ which opens the album with a beautiful and illogical firework of noise.

The rest of the set shows them veering around – beats, ambient, melodic tunes…anything they can do to “experiment” with instruments, computers, and the studio, yet there’s always this lazy back-pedalling into conventional sounds and arrangements which blunts the “alternative” edge they wish to project. No denying the instrumental skills of this pair, nor the impressive assurance with which they set about their tasks, and the textural density of these outputs is evidence of much hard labour by Kuba Ziolek at the mixing and production end. Rhthm just feels like they’re trying to say too much in a short space.

This is their second album for the label; their more intriguing and esoteric Da’at was noted by Pescott, and the pair have a declared interest in Jewish mysticism. The release is packaged in a triple-gatefold digipak with a restrained geometric device on the front, and a garish psychedelic collage visual horror on the inside. Plus there’s a Herbert Marcuse quotation printed on the inside. From 21 June 2016.

From the country and the concrete jungle

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Two more cassettes from Staaltape arrived 9th May 2016. It so happens both releases are by women, and very coincidentally the imagery on Rinus Van Alebeek’s collaged decorated envelope (which he customarily includes with every mailout) features the faces of women clipped from his vast stack of old magazines.

Patrizia Oliva has created Numen – Life Of Elitra Lipozi, a most beautiful work clad in a smoky black cover with just a single blue butterfly spray-painted on. The A side, titled ‘Danse Des Fantomes’, is dreamy and evocative and makes me a willing dancing partner of the proposed ghosts and spirits. Voices, loops, and even some vaguely operatic elements are refashioned by Oliva into something personal and strange. She’s playing with magnetic tape like a gifted child sets to work with a box of watercolours. I don’t know why musicians (like Michael Nyman) are drawn to the work of Oliver Sacks (this release includes dedication to that deep thinker). But Oliva may be trying, like Sacks, to map the strange pathways of the brain in her atmospheric and charged music.

The B side ‘A Day Long To’ showcases the “Annette Peacock” mode of this performer…vaguely jazzy free singing she emanates from an indefinable part of her singing apparatus, in an inflected and mannered mode…the lonely avant-ness of Joan La Barbara is notched back two degrees and edged a shade closer to a ghostly portrait of Ella Fitzgerald…by which I mean it’s not clear if she’s singing from her mouth, or her brain-waves. Of course the minimal arrangements that back her up are pretty inspired too, making the most of a studio housed in a matchbox and two rubber bands holding everything together. More tape loops and much dreamy unfinished music drifts into the ether. A nice not-quite-there quality, slightly balmy. Oddly the B-side feels to me like separate songs, where the A side feels like a mini-opera telling a story. Not all that’s here is a song; there’s one very effective piece which is extremely abstract, just repeated patterns, sound effects, and whispered / murmured voices, yet it’s uncanny and highly effective in its dream-like mood sustaining of same. The side ends with a fascinating anecdote about synaesthesia, how it’s possible to see music as colours, and how no two people who have the condition ever agree on what the “right” colour is. Interestingly, the condition was first recorded in medical history by another Dr Sachs, this time a German physician of the 19th century.

In all Patrizia Oliva not only has a singular vision but also a very delicate touch in the creation of her work which is determinedly “non-masculine”, which isn’t to say it’s feminine and decorative, but organised along non-aggressive lines, without the usual male need to follow structure blindly and rush to a contrived ending. “Patrizia lives in the country, surrounded by nature,” write Rinus helpfully. “One lady from the old world”. If that’s true, that’s one old world whose passing we will come to regret. Every commonplace remark made on Twitter hastens the death of these old worlds.

The tape by Valerie Kuehne is of a different order. I couldn’t find a title but it might be called Audiozone #3, part of a series; release is just identified by the two sides, called ‘Ball Side’ and ‘Other Side’. Patrizia Oliva is pleasantly balmy, while Valerie Kuehne is an inspired screwball, in the nicest possible way of course. “Valerie moves in the concrete jungle”, writes Rinus about this American performer. Her songs here feature a kind of demented folk-inflected chanting and yawping, for instance the opener ‘Haul Away Joe’, a sea shanty which requires the artiste to remake herself as a crusty nautical cove on board an 18th century rigger. A grotesque opener. ‘The Graviton’ is better, more of a shamanic free-form wailing trip…like a lost ESP Disk recording from such waywards as Erica Pomerance, much free warbling with plenty of percussion and manic performances from her side musicians. ‘Apocalypse Berliner’ is a spoken word recit which gradually becomes more, erm, impassioned…as she describes some situation which sounds like a grave social injustice, her sarcasm shoots through the top of the thermometer and she becomes positively demented with her passion and commitment to the cause. The sort of loopy radical who might have featured in any 1970 Hollywood hipster road movie made in the wake of Easy Rider. Then there’s ‘Long Long Sleep’, which is like a nightmare parody of Edwardian parlour music with its poised and mannered vocalising which over-stresses certain phonemes in an annoyingly pronounced manner. But you can still sense the underlying nuttiness…her cello work, just now beginning to surface among the chaos on offer, is also certainly highly distinctive and evidence of a wild, peculiar talent.

B side of this weirdie in tape form contains ‘Sunshine in the Sunshine’, which is her freakoid take on the Fifth Dimension pop hit, with emphatic singing, chaotic playing from the guest musicians, her mad cello sawing and her frantic attempts to stir up collaboration among all participants. A glorious mess. You’d hate to have her at your birthday party, unless you love to be embarrassed and mortified. A mostly solo work follows, ‘Architecture at Muchmore’s’, with its cracked all-over-the-show melody, and alarming dynamics which require these abrupt shifts of tempo and sudden bouts of intense delivery. Shocking, crazed. Voice and cello only, I think, were used to realise this insight into the cracks of Kuehne’s brain. After this it might be a piece called ‘Leader Eater’ but it’s getting harder to tell one track from another. Part of what we hear sounds like a confrontational performance-art piece that involves yelling at the audience, and further ingeniously complex songs where it’s a wonder she manages to sustain the difficult long tones which the tunes require. I’m a-warming to this release now…Valerie Kuehne is a very acquired taste, but you don’t get this exceptionally high degree of uncut humanity and honesty captured on tape every day. Ably supported by her side players, which include Natalia Steinbach. Alex Cohen, Hui-Chun Lin, The Columbia Orchestra, Matthew Silver, and others, she saws and sings away. Other releases by Valerie Kuehne include Dream Zoo and Phoenix Goes Crazy, both very obscure low-run CDRs.

The tape itself is a provisional attempt at an “album”. Rinus Van Alebeek made the selections and put it together, but didn’t get much in the way of preferences expressed by the creator, who’s presumably so creatively chaotic in her life that she doesn’t bother with bourgeois things like organisation and planning. So “it is not an album by Valerie; it is an album about her”, is the stated claim, along with an attempt to document the “subculture she is a part of”. This provisional aspect is even reflected in the cover, showing details from a notebook, where the track order and even the titles are subjected to much crossing-out and rethinking. Most intriguingly, the result “leads to a couple of obscure passages into 21st century life somewhere in the US.” What in the name of Condoleezza Rice does that mean?

Boxing Match

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Has it Started?

Stefan Thut
Un/even And One
RUSSIA INTONEMA int018 CD (2016)

Swiss cellist Stefan Thut debuted his score Un/Even and One in St Petersburg in 2015 with a bevy of (somewhat more) local musicians who do a top job of sounding like they aren’t there. A short Youtube clip reveals much to this theory: for the 5-strong assembly, virtue is expressed in restraint from virtually any physical movement at all; just a young lady pushing a box around in the foreground while five instruments receive attention only spasmodically. I sense that the concept behind Thut’s scoring is one of meticulous refinement; that of distilling full bars and phrases into the merest of gestures, upon the blank canvas of near-silence. We should not be surprised to learn therefore of Thut’s affiliation with the Wandelweiser group, for whom such matters are a preoccupation.

Silence is, in fact, is one of two canvases common to Thut’s work. The other is ‘the box’. There’s one drawn on on the cover, with semi-explanatory text describing how Thut ‘joined the sounds from transcribed language played through the surface of a moving cardboard box’ to add to the enigma. As I understand it, the musicians’ fingers were prerecorded rubbing words into the surface of cardboard boxes, which recordings were played back during the performance, effectively encompassing the space in conceptual cardboard. The value of the symbol of the empty-box-as-pure-potential is appended by the actual movement of the box throughout the performance, its location at any given point conferring on each musician the right to play.

Over 40 minutes, silence intersperses with sounds barely identifiable: low-volume cello massage and rummaging beneath a layer of tape hiss; a mass of slippery shadows, exhaling emphysemically and pierced by sine waves in a dark basement that yawns with an ancient hunger. What the recording may lacks in terms of immediatism, it at least makes up for by stirring the imagination.

pisaro

Is It Over?

Michael Pisaro
Mind Is Moving IX
RUSSIA INTONEMA int017 CD (2015)

Something of a go-to for less voluble composers, guitarist Denis Sorokin facilitates a recent work by another of the Wandelweiser composers, Michael Pisaro, for the novel combination of electric guitar, radio, stones and whistling. No prizes for naming the other, unnamed ingredient as silence (or a recorded approximation of) in immodest volume. The piece was refined in performances over two years (2013 to 2015) before being deemed medically fit for recording, in which: you’ve guessed it, the instruments/sound sources are addressed only sporadically between far lengthier and more considered pauses.

That the hapless listener might come unstuck is occasioned by the fact that the performer’s means of interpretation and the composer’s means of evaluation are equally nebulous. At what point is the performance deemed ‘acceptable’ and how is the listener to know when the standard has (not) been met? When the form of the piece stands so readily to baffle, it is difficult to gauge and this much is neither divulged nor easily relatable. However, one senses such judgements rely at least partially on attaining the ‘Goldilocks’ balance between pause and play that ‘the listener’ stops wondering whether the piece is contiguous and/or continuing. Reaching this sweet spot presumably necessitated a good deal of fine tuning of both composition and intuition.

Thus, the recording takes its place in Pisaro’s ever-satisfying catalogue, alongside fine companions such as 2016’s Melody, Silence by Cristián Alvear. Along with the Stefan Thut CD, it also brings further respectability to the Russian label Intonema, based in St Petersburg, where many of these performances are recorded. Limited edition run, needless to say.

Hvilken vei er ingen steder (del 3)

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Ivar Grydeland
Stop Freeze Wait Eat
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO 3538 LP (2015)

Enveloped in warm and fuzzy nocturne is this serene yet sturdy surprise from the ever-reliable Hubro label, nestling within which we find the laconic Norwegian multi-instrumentalist, one Ivar Grydeland – member of improvising trio Huntsville (previously reviewed here) – and his 6 and 12 string guitars, drowsily picking and tapping out morse code m’aiders in honeyed droplets to the sound of soporific alarm bells. However, the draping of every long tone in echo serves more than simply a sedative function; it is Grydeland’s ‘extended now’ that allows him to improvise atop the sounds of his own playing in a window of time that he likens to a painter’s stepping back from the canvas to regard the work underway. Meanwhile the listener is free to sink deep into a crackly dream world of pin-pricked, low-frequency harmonics; a less focused take on Oren Ambarchi’s soundworld, but a cosy blanketing that never smothers.

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Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Christian Wallumrød
Untitled Arpeggios And Pulses
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO HUBROCD2566 (2015)

Our first (and last) encounter with the Norwegian ‘jazz’ pianist Christian Wallumrød was bemusing to say the least, an effect partly brought about by the connotations of using the j-word, by Wallumrød’s history with the ECM label and by that record’s unfailing ambiguity of style and intention. Intriguing to a fault, Pianokammer defies the finger of categorisation, falling somewhere ’between the realms of easy listening and cold abstraction’, to the point at which questions such as ‘do I like this?’ become redundant. Whatever motivations led to the recording of that strange selection, they remain invisible to the naked ear.

Its successor – Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses – arrives in a similar cloak of cool mystery and a title suggestive of the anonymity and simplicity of its ethereal ways. Carried by The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra as a commission for Kongsberg Jazz Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2014, the ‘action’ has moved from the fire-lit living room in winter to the chilled auditorium where quiet coughs mingle with the steam of musicians’ breath. Suspended in air, rendered sluggish by hibernation instincts or lurching like locked groove vinyl, the four sections of this 50+ minute composition consist of short, semi- and atonal phrases repeated ad infinitum by small and unusual instrumental assortments that include piano and pedal steel peddling peace and forgetfulness (part 2), to a trudging, trash-coated behemoth for graunching guitar, Supersilent-style electronics and jubilant bursts of winter-numbed brass.

Clearly intended for a single sitting: walk in at any moment to find an absolute mess. Sit back however, and enjoy the unfurling from afar and things might start to click into place. Devoid of straight up ‘jazz’, the orchestra’s dedicated pursuit of the ‘pulse’ overrides all other aesthetic commitments. It’s challenging music in the best possible sense, and best of all, it knows when to keep its mouth shut.

Sisterhood Of Breath

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Midaircondo is an unusual duo of players, Lisa Nordström and Lisen Rylander Löve, who seem to have called it a day after 12 years of playing; this record, IV (TWIN SEED RECORDINGS TWINS004), may be one of their final releases. They play a variety of non-standard instruments, including the zither and kalimba, along with their saxophone, bass flute, percussion, and live electronics, both of them pitching their mannered and brittle vocal utterances into the midst of these rather contemplative pieces, which are generally sedate and slow, occupying a vaguely pastoral stretch of turf in a very poised fashion. Some of their works do introduce a more energetic rhythm, such as ‘Higher’ and ‘Veins’, and while the latter might be mistaken for a lost tributary of psychedelic rock, the latter is most certainly a work-a-day poppy-techno piece that’s not quite in my line. ‘Panther’, featuring guest drummer Mika Takehara, may be closer to what they intended when they had the idea of adding beats to their fragile work. For the most part, we have the impression of two orphaned girls who escaped from a cold 1950s nunnery, dressed in stiffly-starched white dresses with collars to hold their necks in a rigid position; under these cramped conditions, they attempt to recite forlorn poems or diary entries from their wretched lives. It’s to the credit of Midaircondo that all of this stuff was completely improvised, and what’s more they did it in front of a live audience (in Gothenburg, in 2013). The duo didn’t make that many records when they were around, but they toured a lot, and did music for TV, theatre, dance and radio. Their stage show used to include video elements, and you can tell from the palpable atmosphere of this album they had a strong dramatic element. Released in 2015.

Office Surprise

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Ryu Hankil, Noid, Matija Schellander And Others
Foreign Correspondents
RUSSIA MIKROTON CD 43/44 2 x CD (2015)

Foreign Correspondents is an unusual double CD of music and sound art which is highly intriguing…I thought it might be nice to investigate it “blind” without aid of search engine to begin with, as the information printed on this Russian release is not exactly forthcoming with contextual information. Rather, a few lines of bare facts is all we have to go on. On Disc One, there’s just a single stretch of music some 47 minutes long, which might be an improvisation between Hankil Ryu, Matija Schellander, and Noid. It’s called Tokyo Office and might well have been recorded in such a location, given that Ryu plays the typewriter as a percussion instrument. For starters, it’s reassuring to think there might still be typewriters in a world where everyone taps out digital messages on smartphone and tablet, freeing their trivial blather into the void. Ryu’s relentless hammering on that old-school analogue device is music to the ears of those who still cherish tangible messages written on a medium you can hold in your hands. Meanwhile Schellander plays the double bass and also emits buzzy explosions from something called a “Victorian synthesizer”, while Noid bows the cello and the jinghu, a Chinese bowed instrument whose wailing drones you may have heard if you’re an aficionado of the Peking opera. Their performance is an endearingly peculiar piece of acoustic improvisation, full of mysterious rattles and stabs, and equally puzzling tracts of silence. It was recorded at Ftarri in Tokyo in October 2013. Ftarri is not the deserted office block I was hoping for, and instead turns out to be a small shop and music venue, but I still can’t help hearing this piece as a document of an office cubicle take-over, performed by mutinous staff in the middle of the night, protesting against their restrictive lifestyles by means of forming an impromptu band playing pieces of office equipment. That’s a revolution we can all get behind.

Noid is the Austrian cellist Arnold Haberl, whose music we noted previously on another Mikroton release called I Hope It Doesn’t Work. He might be the pivot to this particular release as he is credited with recording and mixing the music, plus he appears on most of the pieces on the second disc, a collection entitled Field Report. From the same date range, Oct-Nov 2013, we have 23 tracks here on Field Report, interspersing improvised music with short snippets of field recordings captured in parts of urban Japan, China, and Korea. The latter include observations of Japanese city life which must have seemed intriguing to the European Noid; subway doors, traffic light signals, and a pachinko hall. But they also include such oddities as the machine drones heard in the staircase of the CIA building in Hong Kong, and a “fuel tank filled with sound art” (whatever that may be) in Shanghai. Some of the best field recordings can be given an extra dimension through such imaginative titles; the true poet should be looking for flashes of the divine wherever they poke their lyrical luminous nose.

These charming and understated field recordings convey a sense of peace and mystery, which is the exact opposite of what we might expect to find in these densely-populated parts of Asia such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Osaka, and Tokyo. Viewed through Noid’s audio snapshots, it’s as though the people, buildings and traffic have all been reduced by 75%, and the locations feel like some pre-war innocent paradise of birds, flowers, and contented spirits. The same sense of peace emerges from the extremely quiet improvised music on offer. It’s centred, tranquil. Hankil and Schellander are here again as the core members of this ad-hoc grouping, but also guest appearances – including notable Wandelweiser player Radu Malfatti, the guitarist Kazuhisa Ucihashi, Syo Yoshihama with a laptop, and Jin Sangtae. Most of the music is slow, unobtrusive, and with few notes; not only that, but it’s recorded in such a way that the acoustics feel very diffuse, and it’s hard to separate the sound of the instruments from the sound of the locale where it’s taking place. In this way, all of Field Report becomes of apiece, the edges blurred between music and sound art. This is most clearly demonstrated with the various instances of “street music”, where the musicians blend in with events, people and sounds out in the open; one track documents Noid and Schellander “playing air horns while walking away from Mullae Art Center”, while another piece from the same Dotolimpic Festival treats us to the sound of an entire orchestra performing on the “Victorian Synthesizer”, involving participants in a workshop. The results – less than 90 seconds of strange scraping sounds – are not quite as spectacular as that build-up may lead you to think, but what is more relevant here is the event itself, a spontaneous outbreak of sound and activity, a tiny wonder.

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Foreign Correspondents is the document of Noid and Schellander’s 2013 trip to the Far East. It was planned they would meet musicians and exchange ideas… “carrying compositions, sound art pieces and workshop preparations in their luggage to be tested by changing social and artistic settings, by everyday tour life and to be used as starting points for debates in various forms,” as the label website describes it, and “exposing sometimes strict concepts to confusing listening situations”. As to this latter area, I think it’s this intoxicating mix of control and chaos that emanates from this CD. For most of the time it does so hesitantly, as befits the potentially bewildering situations that these roving Europeans found themselves in, out East. As for the “Victorian Synthesizer”, this appears to be an ongoing project by J.M Bowers since 2004 to build an electronic instrument using 19th century technology, and an “imagined historical reject” is what he calls the end result. We received a copy of this release on 14 April 2016, but it’s been out since 2015 and is sadly sold out at source.