Tagged: performed

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.

The Purge: Anarchy

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

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

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

Driftwood Art

Real fine drone-acious richness from Californian lady Cheryl Leonard on the cassette tape Isinglass (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH?89). She’s known for her “found instruments”, that is objects found in nature which she picks up, takes home, and then presses into service for musical purposes. There’s an endearing photograph (not here) of her playing a large clump of pine cones with a violin bow, and you can imagine her releasing something quite palpable from the grain of that wood. Among the devices on this tape we have a flute made of kelp, a bowl of sand, some wobbly rocks, and instruments made of driftwood – including sculptures in the form of mobiles, and something intriguingly called the “driftwood pipeorgan”, which I would like to think is a row of selected hunks of driftwood found on the beach and arranged in order of size, to form a “tuned” instrument in some way.

Harry Partch woulda loved her. But he might have felt ambivalent about her academic roots, as it turns out she’s studied at Mills College with some of the grandees of 20th century avanterie, including Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski, and George Lewis. But her penchant for Chinese landscapes may have struck a chord with old “white-beard” Partch, and I’m sure the two of them could have shared a cup of green tea in the correct circumstances. On this release, Leonard is joined by Jeph Jerman, a man famed for his cactus-spine playing and other natural found objects being repurposed to make sound or music, so this really is a match made in the spheres. Bryan Day, label owner, adds a smidgen of electricity to the otherwise acoustic mode with his radio transceivers.

A very dense tape results, which I’m grateful for, as I have found Jerman’s previous exploits in this area a tad thin sonically, while undeniably beautiful. Isinglass murmurs and drones in a highly engaging fashion, occasionally punctuated by sounds of the seashore and domestic intrusions like a chiming clock (unless that’s part of the performance), and sits in that small patch of turf between music and sound art, transcending process with ease. Leonard has a few CDR releases on the private label Great Hoary Marmot Music, probably her own imprint, should you wish to investigate further. From 21st September 2016.

Library Of Liberties

Some Some Unicorn are a small army of free improvisers, and on Unicornucopia (CLUTTER MUSIC CM023) I counted at least 40 names before I ran out of fingers and had to buy a new abacus. It’s a pretty healthy gender balance, too; a lot of women musicians in the group. Shaun Blezard is the mover and shaker that’s mustered this army, a fellow whose background is electronica, samplers, laptop and dance music, so it’s interesting to find him masterminding this project involving real human beings instead of machines, and music that’s mostly produced by acoustic instruments. That said, there are a large number of players credited with electronics on this record too.

Some Some Unicorn started online as a collaborative thing; now they see themselves as a collective, or even a small community, of like-minded souls who value real experience over dwelling in the virtual realms of Facebook likes and Twitter responses. The music here was recorded in a number of venues through 2016, in Salford, London, Lancaster and Ulverston; Blezard did a lot of the recording, and mixed and mastered the release itself. I’m already daunted; I feel like these 40+ energised souls have a lot of material in the pipeline, and this diffuse and sprawling record represents only a smattering of the things they are capable of doing. It would be a bold man indeed who would try and categorise the music on offer, since it’s so diverse; although you may think you can recognise elements of “traditional” free improvised music here in the free sax and trumpet blowing, there’s also drone, choral music, percussive meditational tunes like some form of souped-up Tibetan bowl music, classical chamber music, and even a species of folk tunes. Quite often, three or four of these styles and genres are blended freely on the same track, the musicians doing so in an entirely unselfconscious manner. It’s not a forced mash-up, more a natural melding of forms and expressions.

Even though not everyone is present on each track, it’s still impressive to get this many people together and not end up with a muddy, shapeless cacophony. Indeed, the simple clarity and directness of the music is one of the hallmarks of Some Some Unicorn; without trying too hard or over-intellectualising the idea of “freedom”, they’ve ended up creating music that’s arguably more free than many well-known hardcore improvisers can manage. There’s a real open-endedness to this music which invites the listener to enter and join in, rather than shut them out; and the players themselves are clearly enjoying making their explorations, which take place in a very friendly and collaborative place. That’s rare. But real unicorns are rare too. One of the benchmarks we’re reminded of is the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which is a very apt comparison, and in particular I would suggest those voice-choir experiments John Stevens conducted in the early 1970s, such as For You To Share (which featured untrained members of the audience joining in). I’m also reminded of Cornelius Cardew and The Great Learning, though thankfully this album Unicornucopia is entirely free from Marxist and Maoist dogma of any sort, nor does it follow the wearisome and stultifying trajectory of Cardew’s old warhorse of a piece.

While some of the wordless vocalising may seem a little “arty” in places, for the most part this beautiful record is a total delight, injecting new life into a genre which has lately seemed in danger of becoming stultified and crippled by its own history and baggage. Mr Blezard, and all the musicians named on this record, can feel proud of this achievement. From 23rd September 2016.

Hearing Voices

We are quite keen on Star Turbine, the duo of Sindre Bjerga and Claus Poulsen, whom we last heard on their album for Attenuation Circuit which came out in late 2013. Here’s another six tracks of their craft on Nothing Should Move Unless You Want It To (FROZEN LIGHT FZL 043) on the Russian label usually dedicated to sinister dark ambient music. The pieces here represent snapshots of the duo’s live work between 2014 and 2016, captured in various European and UK locations (I make the distinction advisedly). I think they do it with electronics and radios and perhaps some amplified objects, and what emerges is a low-key chatter and hum sound, but one which is rich with layers, detail, and textures. It’s strangely affecting and enjoyable to get these disembodied, fractured voices drifting out across a gently lapping sea of non-descript noise. Far from being aggressive or loud, Star Turbine propose that we float for a while in this semi-abstract space and use our ears to explore. As I may have said before, this is one rare instance where the unfinished, meandery approach to sound generation really pays off. Limited and numbered edition CD. From 7th September 2016.

Ame Hinode

The Kyūbi (NAKAMA RECORDS NKM005CD) record is by Jinchūriki, a duo of Norwegian violinists Håkon Aase and Adrian Løseth Waade. You may be familiar with them through their other group Filosofer, and Waade plays in the quintet Nakama as well as the much larger improvising group Skadedyr (noted previously for their record with the big crab on the cover). Kyūbi is an understated and largely quiet acoustic record, with 20 short tracks – it’s a bit of extra work to get onto its wavelength, as the musical statements are so brief that they pass by before you even start to pick up the vibe of where these two mysterious Norwegians might be coming from. But there are interesting details and textures hidden inside these concise, blank utterances, and it’s worth persevering for the moments when they get quite worked up, packing a large volume of frenetic plucks and abstracted notes into quite small spaces.

They also like to limn imaginary snowy landscapes, using creaky scrapes and long tones from their wooden devices and strings. The aim of these musicians is something to do with exploring limits – of their instruments, of their sound, of themselves; perhaps they have in mind the musical equivalent of a commando weekend where you’re dropped onto a cold moor wearing only a vest and pants. It’s to their credit that they keep these observations so brief; the average innings here is less than two minutes, and their best pieces zip by in about 40 seconds or less. I think if they stretched into the 7 minute zone, a practice which by the way seems to be de rigeur for many improvising combos, they might turn into flabby, boring drones. However, brevity doesn’t always equal profundity, and some of these tunes can seem inconclusive; but at their best, Jinchūriki pose acoustic riddles which you can puzzle over for hours.

The cover image, also by Håkon Aase, seems to suggest a volcano emitting a fiery plume and much smoke, but a volcano is the last thing on the listener’s mind when faced with these gentle and rather cold musical miniatures. The names Jinchūriki and Kyūbi apparently both come from a 1990s manga and anime series called Naruto, which tells the story of a disaffected teenage ninja warrior. From 26th September 2016.

Yellow Fever

Norbert Möslang / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
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RUSSIA MIKROTON RECORDINGS mikroton cd47 CD (2016)

The packaging for this is bright yellow; a kind of black grid graphic; it looks like it has been photocopied black on yellow. The whole thing is yellow; you open the gatefold digipak and inside its bright yellow. I once had a friend whose favourite colour was yellow. She often maintained that yellow was “the colour of madness”, but that was a long time ago and I expect she’s grown out of saying that sort of thing now. I had another friend who painted her baby daughter’s nursery lemon yellow. Not my favourite colour. I’ve got nothing against the colour yellow, although I must say I prefer the shades nearer to orange than green.

The two tracks on this disc are each just under 17 minutes in duration. The first one is called “Giallo”, presumably after the Italian horror film genre, while the other one is titled “Nero”; another Italian reference I’m guessing, this time to the infamous emperor who was more interested in practicing scales on his violin while his city was on fire. This album is the result of two sessions or performances from 2014; “Giallo” in Moscow and “Nero” in St Petersburg. Möslang is in charge of some “cracked everyday electronics”, Belorukov, alto saxophone, laptop and electronics and Liedwart on an analogue synthesiser (although as a synth nerd, I’m a little disappointed it doesn’t say which one on the sleeve), electronics and ppooll – a piece of software whose manufacturers describe as “audio and visual networking system created from Max/MSP and Jitter patches”.

“Giallo” is an uncompromising crunch-fest. Like a digital re-enactment of First World War trench warfare. Perhaps it was the result of one of those days of travelling where everything went wrong for the musicians? Someone got up late, missed connections, lost luggage, the wrong map, GPS not working, mobile phone out of charge and arrival at the venue with just enough time to set-up with minimal line check before doors open. “No-one served coffee, so no-one woke up”, as Stephen Malkmous once sang. Everyone’s playing sounds thoroughly annoyed. But in a good way. In comparison, “Nero” sounds relatively good-natured. The granular explosions and giant combustion engines producing unnatural sub bass frequencies are still there, but it seems that there is more of an accord or mood of contentment among the musicians. Liedwart’s synthesiser is more to the fore here, too and this gives the piece a perhaps more anxious feel rather than the out and out aggression of “Giallo”. At one point, a sound like wolves howling, presumably a sound sample courtesy of Belorukov’s laptop adds to the disquiet. I’ve never been disappointed by a project involving any of these three musicians that I’ve heard so far. Yeah, I like this item – looks good, sounds good, is good. This is a record I think I’ll be returning to a lot.

Press Play Stop Eject

Working in the 1980s, A. K. Klosowski produced music and noise with his largely hand-operated methods of pressing buttons and depressing keys to get playback from a bank of eight Walkman cassette tape players. He also used a drum machine and some effects. “Intuitive and spontaneous control” are the operative words for this practice.

He hooked up with Kurt Dahle, a member of the Dusseldorf synth band Der Plan, a record appeared in 1985 called Hometaping Is Killing Music (Dahle appeared under his Pyrolator name). I never heard it, but the present LP A. K. Klosowski Plays The Kassetteninstrument (GAGARIN RECORDS gr2035) predates that session, and is done solo.

Reading about it may be more interesting than hearing it; it’s certainly a great way of working, and while the album contains an entertaining and inventive set of tunes, it doesn’t go much beyond a primitive sampling set-up with added noise and beats. A.K. doesn’t push it far enough; or the set-up itself is limited. Klosowski manipulates his device, and his sounds, like modelling clay. It results in lovely imperfections, rough edges, things not matching, which I like. I never liked that school of thought that spent ages crafting a “perfect” loop or sampled beat, an approach which kills spontaneity.

Other writers have picked up on the theme that this represents an early pre-digital approach to sampling, and invoked Cabaret Voltaire and The Art Of Noise. I like this better than Cabaret Voltaire (who were too arty, and trying to tell us something) and The Art Of Noise (who were too synthetic, too layered with intellectual pretensions.) Klosowski has a directness – his noise is noise – and it may start with tapes, but doesn’t end there. His actions are imprinted instantly onto the record without studio “diddling” before and after. It may even be closer to the “art” end of early sampling, for instance Steve Reich.

Not every track here is “abrasive disco”. ‘Lamento’ is a very nice use of strange loops, mostly voices and strings, and not too far away from Canaxis (‘Boat Woman Song’). And ‘R H 2’ is as close as he comes to producing chaotic industrial noise.

Let’s not forget cassette tapes are at the heart of this inventive noise. Label owner Felix Kubin doubtless approves; his love-affair with the cassette tape was wittily and passionately expressed on his Chromodioxgedächtnis box set, which we noted in 2015.

From 31st August 2016.

Snappy Turns

Tim Olive and Anne-F Jacques are grinding the meat once again on Tooth Car (INTONEMA int020), and a welcome return for this duo who we last heard rubbing their bits together on Dominion Mills in 2014, when they did it with rotating electric motors and magnetic pickups. That particular orgy of action seemed to strike me as a rich sun-drenched drone for some reason, an observation we can’t exactly apply to Tooth Car. The first cut, recorded in Washington DC on one November night in 2015, completely reflects the short nights and grim overcast days of that particular month, and listening to this airless, grey scrapey music is like living the shortest month of the year over again, with all the cold and depression it usually brings. What’s interesting is how to duo start off by making a recognisable pattern or rhythm with their abstract gronks, then stop doing that when they realise it’s got the potential for fun or amusement. The remainder of the cut is like being pulled on the world’s slowest sledge through the world’s coldest snow by the world’s sickest team of huskies. I wasn’t in a hurry, in any case.

Well, eight days later they were doing it again, this time in a venue in Boston. Evidently they must have agreed between themselves that the Washington gig was far too “interesting”, and decided to tone down the excitement levels by about 18 degrees. Accordingly, the rule of thumb for this slow performance must have been to switch to the “unplugged” mode; if Anne-F Jacques had wooden, hand-cranked rotaries at her disposal, this would have been the time to use them. And if Tim could figure out a way to play magnetic pickups in a manner that didn’t depend on electricity, he’d be filing a patent this instant. Nevertheless they did the best they could, and the minimal, uneventful results are all yours to savour for 18 minutes of ritualistic mystification. I think the title Tooth Car is highly suitable for this release, and conjures up visions of a particularly wayward approach to dentistry, unlikely to be approved by the American Dental Association any time soon. The very good drawings for this release’s cover are by Julie Doucet, a fine Canadian underground comic artist who used to produce a book called Dirty Plotte. If these hard-edge abstractions are anything to go by, she seems to have relinquished her earlier taboo-breaking predilections. From 15th August 2016.