Tagged: poetry

She Kept Birds

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We noted Martin Archer’s Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere in November, a large-scale epic release whereon the 25-voice choir Juxtavoices were occasionally spotlighted. Now Juxtavoices have their own album, called Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield (DISCUS 44CD), and there’s nine examples of their unique craft to be had. Their work shades from atonal choral singing to spoken word recits by way of Sound Poetry, and back again. The Sheffield poet Alan Halsey (owner of the West House Books imprint, and married to Geraldine Monk, also a Juxtavoices member) has, along with Archer, stamped his identity on the album – he’s co-director of the choir, and has composer credit for about half of the cuts; the rest of the choir are a rough mix of creators, including visual artists, poets, or just enthused amateurs 1 ; only a few of the choir members could be deemed “musicians” as such, some of them from an improvising background. If you were expecting the sort of free-improv babble-speech that Maggie Nicols is known for, perhaps look elsewhere as this record barely resembles much I’ve heard from the world of UK improvised music. Come to that, it’s almost entirely free from genre. The only precedent I can think of might be the music of Tom Philips, the famous UK painter who occasionally performed in free-form semi-directed choirs, sometimes interpreting his own texts from ‘A Humument’ 2. You might want to tune to the 14-minute ‘Ha Nu’ to hear some Ligeti-like microtones, but such moments are but fleeting in the wider arena of collective murmurings that this track comprises. The lovely piece ‘Are Your Children Safe in the Sea?’ also has links to another avant-garde genre, that of concrete poetry / sound poetry, by dint of Bob Cobbing’s original text, which is “freely” interpreted by the hushed and breathy choir so that they sound like caricatures of concerned parents wondering about the whereabouts of their children at the seaside. An eerie spooker, whichever way you cut it.

We’ve also got ‘Nine Entries from the Encyclopedia of Natural Sexual Relations’, based on a text by Christine Kennedy, and one which most resembles a forgotten 20th-century avant-garde opera which Pierre Boulez has never conducted. Plenty of overlapping voices and a delicious mix of sing-speak for your ears, and the structure of the direction – allowing for soloists and duets – has really paid off. Hard to discern any remotely sexual content in the piece, but I expect the point has been to bury the text in its own interpretation. With the numerical chapter structure which is emphasized here, I’m reminded of the films Peter Greenaway used to make, with embedded number or alphabet sequences. Further cross-cultural content to be found in ‘Three Iterations of a Poem by Samuel Beckett’, where Halsey’s somewhat downhearted tones seem most apt for the dismal futility of Beckett’s text. Another highlight for me personally is ‘She Kept Birds’, derived from a text by Geraldine Monk and with music composed by Martin Archer and Bo Meson. Next to ‘Ha Nu’, this mysterious and beautiful piece is about the most conventionally “musical” piece on offer, and is filled with dramatic shifts of tone and mood, high notes and low notes swooping about the canvas with an uninhibited joy. It’s easy for this sort of endeavour to result in very mannered and stiff music; not here.

  1. I use this term to designate “one who loves music”, mindful of the Latin root of the word. My use here is in no way intended to suggest that the singers in Juxtavoices are unprofessional or lack ability.
  2. See for the example the 1975 LP Words And Music, Edition Hansjörg Mayer ?F 65.344; although the LP Irma (Obscure OBS 9) from 1978 might be slightly easier to find.

Hip and Deranged

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J Marks / Shipen Lebzelter
Rock and Other Four Letter Words
UK PARADIGM DISCS PD28 LP (2012)

Here’s a real one of a kind item from 1968, reissued in 2012 by Clive Graham on his own label…once in a while Graham gets his hands on some real freakeroonies, such as Beyond The Black Crack by Revd Dwight Frizzell and the indispensable Bunhill Row by Adam Bohman. Rock and Other Four Letter Words, as a partially spoken-word LP, also fits into his personal interest in the Sound Poetry genre, and he has played it on his radio show Sound Poets Exposed alongside the works of Peter Handke, Kenneth Gaburo and Lou Harrison.

The original album was put together by J Marks and Shipen Lebzelter, and released by Columbia Masterworks. The story of it is that J Marks had just compiled a paperback of this title for Bantam Books featuring photographs of contemporary rock stars by Linda Eastman, with quotes from Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Bee Gees, The Mothers of Invention… The record we now hear was built around his tape recordings of these interviews. I should say that this LP is very far from being the “album of the book”. In fact neither these tape snippets, nor the LP itself, really explain anything about the rock musicians or their music. Instead their statements are largely fragmented, cut up and rearranged with tremendous care to form ambiguous and witty collages. It’s form of electro-acoustic manipulation, and does in some sense qualify as “sound poetry”. At least four of the tracks here allow us to hear imaginary surreal dialogues and conversations taking place between Townshend, Page, Grace Slick, Tim Buckley, Lou Adler, the Dave Clark Five and other luminaries. In these meticulously assembled segments, can we expect the “truth” about rock music in 1968 to leak out, Burroughs-style, from these compressions and cut-ups? Hear (and read) to judge for yourself. On ‘Eine Kleine Hayakawa’, Marks edited together various out-take portions – strings of pauses, yawns, mutterings and stutterings from these genius rock stars, not necessarily to make them look stupid, but simply to create 90 seconds of gloriously loopy mouth-gibberish.

I suppose we might expect “rock music” to appear here somewhere, but apart from a “rock riff” supplied by J Marks on the first track, there isn’t much of it. There is gospel, soft pop, absurd songs, microtonal chanting, and an orchestra of session musicians playing all sorts (some of them are from a free jazz background, see below). It’s a verbal and vocal album – if I can state the obvious, there’s a lot of vocals on this album, and they’re producing a veritable tidal wave of verbal information, crashing against your brain in slow motion. “This is the Word” is the opening statement on the insert, as if we’re being read scripture from the Gospel of Rock. On top of the recorded voices and cut-ups, we’ve got two separate choirs – the Gregg Smith Singers and the Greater Abyssynian Baptist Choir, and occasional lead vocals from Marks and Lebeltzer joined by the soloists Hilda Harris and Carol Miller. Harris and Miller do a fine turn on ‘It’s True’, one of many easy-listening swoonalongs on the record, Lebeltzer recites a poem on ‘Essence of its Own’, and all four are featured on ‘Greatest Hits – Love Your Navel’, a vaudeville parody song with absurdist lyrics which would’ve felt right in place on the first United States Of America album (one of this disc’s progenitors, in my estimation; another would be Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy). Harris and Miller are also called upon to recite random words plucked from US sportscasts as the libretto for ‘Poop for Sopranos and Orchestra’, another grandiose nonsense which inflates the ridiculous into the size of a Macy’s parade balloon. To their credit, the very professional singers take it all perfectly seriously, never once cracking an audible grin. Can this possibly get any better?

Well, there’s Gregg Smith Singers who on side one perform ‘In the Middle of Nothing’ which is a gorgeous Fifth Dimension soundalike with a suitably smooth arrangement, but they also sing a remarkable free-form microtonal piece on ‘Essence of its Own’, worthy of a Ligeti choir piece. At moments like these it’s clear the record has an artistic side and the creators’ printed dedication to Karlheinz Stockhausen “who destroyed our ears so we could hear” is not merely empty posturing. Besides that, they somehow recruited Alan Silva to contract some of the session musicians, and he brought in some of his free jazz friends – Andrew Cyrille, Roswell Rudd, Stephen Furtado, Martin Alter…seems astonishing that CBS would have lavished all this money on such a bizarre project from two unknowns, but I suppose this was a more innocent time. The back cover blurb “Featuring a cast of thousands” isn’t far from the mark…and that phrase resonates nicely with the hucksterism promised by the front cover, which resembles a Barnum & Bailey circus poster as much as it’s inspired by Dada typography.

It’s one thing to zoom in on various odd aspects and single tracks of this unusual album, but the totality of it is a very well-integrated and strangely mind-sapping listen. It hangs together beautifully as a fuzzy, dream-like and hilarious-serious album. It’s a unique counter-culture statement of some sort – using themes from underground and mainstream rock, free jazz, gospel, easy listening, poetry, Burroughs cut-ups…and released on a major label. “Remarkably, it is also the first record either of them made,” points out Clive Graham in his sleeve notes. “Nothing of [their] later work compares with the grand scale of their debut.” Graham has done his research, too; J Marks appeared on one other album for the same label by the 1st National Nothing, a colourful rock-theatre combo from California who wound up in NYC. After this he seems to have become Jamake Highwater and is claiming a Native American heritage in his writings and documentary works. Lebzelter’s story is no less strange; he joined The Trees Community, a travelling Christian group of folkies who made a record called The Christ Tree in 1975, which has since acquired some of the same cultiness that attached itself to Father Yod. A fine reissue job, and particular care has been taken with the insert to approximate the wild typography of the original. Groovy! Mad! Intense & really subversive but reasonable!

Belgian Barrage

Well here I am, back from travelling through Father Christmas’s black vortex and spat out the other side, not looking back like Orpheus – no way – stumbling into the light without a drachma to my name, just a number of scrawls on the back of some wrapping paper which I will endeavour to transcribe for you in the here and now being as it is such a beautiful February morning the sun is shining the birds are singing and it’s time to give a tip of the hat to some cult objects of the 21st century earth-dwellers that TSP has jiffy-bagged my way at some point or another. Call it a round-up, if you want. Phew! Let’s hope we can make it and still go and soak up some vitamins.

In no particular order, then:

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Let’s start with Charlemagne Palestine and Z’EV with their double CD of collaborations and solos from last year, Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear (SUB ROSA SR340). Issued on Sub Rosa it is as you would expect a fine and pleasing production visually and tactilely, in the classic tradition of ‘professionally’ produced CDs, an art multiple for you to own and hold, and sometimes to hear. Which is what happens if you place one of the two shiny plastic discs in an appropriate playing device.

For this tag team match-up Charlemagne plays his carillon, hitting it and pedalling for all he’s worth, and Z’EV, as you might expect, also hits things – he also does some scraping, and maybe a little tickling. Funnily enough, although Charlemagne is playing tuned percussion, melodic content mostly comes from the tonalities of Z’EV’s percussion, padded basslines creeping from the lower depths and mournful wails from the guts of metals. The carillon plays like an extra-slow-motion version of Palestine’s strumming music, large and clanging like a clapper ringing in the empty Belgian sky, cycling through the limited intervals available continuously, although in an ambulatory rather than mechanical manner. Around these coded, elephantine dabbles, giant ripples, hints of bells ringing the hours in fresh air, Z’EV’s percussion dances, organic and low, like a bodily function, yielding and pulsing with the hidden energies of the lower centres. It’s a strange mix of the earthy and airy, the heavy and ponderous and the light. Students of the cabala may in fact be able to apprehend which precise path describes the experience evoked here, there are hints of pattern and systems in the combination of elements notes and parameters. Like an uncertain day, though, tentative clouds hinting at promise yet masking the sky, it doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Or perhaps its secrets are there for all to hear, merely registered on a more instinctive, bodily, level. Bells in the sky, elusive moods from a big sound. It should also be noted that on the second CD you get three solo pieces, one Charlemagne, two Z’EV, the second Z’EV one being the length of an album itself (40 minutes plus) and a thoroughgoing burrowing into rhythm and physically derived pulsation which is very useful.

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Next, also on Sub Rosa, Zahava Seewald and Michaël GrébilFrom My Mother’s House (SR349).

These artists, who delivered an instalment of John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series as part of Zohara present here, using the works of various Hebrew and Jewish poets as a starting point, a text-heavy, implication-dense montage of thought and reflection, personal and cultural, on the Jewish diaspora, poetry, Yiddish song, Auschwitz, memory etc. elided and superimposed together similarly limpidly, although without the sheer ravishment of mysterious sound, as Luc Ferrari. In the way material is put together there is also a faint echo of say, Pousser’s concrete paeans to Liège. As with both of those composers there’s an interest in speech and the sound of the voice, here Zahava sings and recites, dialogues, monologues, poems. Other voices are layered or respond. There is a mix of other sound sources: domestic scenes, snatches of Middle Eastern radio and melancholy reflection; Singing, composition and improvisation all edited into a gliding digi-montage which in its overall form reminds more of a visual-less film than a piece of music as such. Subject matter and treatment may also recall literary works (inevitably perhaps given the poetry-based nature of the work) including the Sebald of Austerlitz, the Emigrants etc. Also certain mittel-European art films. Heimat perhaps? Buried in the booklet text is a dedication to Chris Marker, which provides some sort of context and hints as to where the artists are coming from and perhaps what they hope to achieve; in fact I found the whole thing best appreciated as an audio analogue to a film such as Sans Soleil, although I remember Sans Soleil, which admittedly I haven’t seen for quite some time, as being far more invigorating – aesthetically and imaginationally intoxicating. This does, however, share a wide-angle view of humanity and cultures, obviously adjusted for subject matter, temperament and concerns, with scenes and locations passing and cutting adroitly and transparently; furthermore, it is undoubtedly one whole text-sound-music essay rather than a musical album of discrete songs.

As to content it is historically aware, perhaps even saturated. The texts themselves (although not all of them) do not shy away from blood and flames and travesty, framed musically by the always pristine – perhaps even aloof – formalism derived from cinematic editing and to some degree musique concrète. There’s a sense of the dry bitter taste of ashes or Passover herbs and of lamentation, or in some sections the cloistered dryness of an unenjoyable university course or anonymous cultural institution.

The voice is ever present -mutter, murmer, mother. One work of the poet Rose Auslander in particular seems a keystone for the project, regarding as it does questions of a ‘mother tongue’ ‘father land’ and portraits of humanity and peoples; an excavation of the cultural and social through the personal. As to temperament I found the piece in parts rather heavy going, and sometimes cloyingly melancholy. There is certainly an air of introspection and inner inquiry on both a personal and a cultural level. Needless to say a lot of hard work has obviously gone into the work, but the overall tone, and a lurking sense of the didactic, does colour my response to it. Allowing for quirks of personal taste, however, it certainly lives up in some respects to its inspiration from Rose Auslander, reflecting her neologism ‘Menschmosaik’, i.e. a Mosaic of Humanity, presenting some sort of collage of the Jewish diaspora in Europe over the years, united by shared culture and history.

As a personal investigation and rapprochement through art with some weighty concerns it contains plenty to unpack and engage with, textually and formally, even if it doesn’t necessarily inflame the non-analytical levels of the imagination ( above and below) in the same ways as Charlemagne Palestine and Z’EV do 1. If I find it less than satisfying emotionally, it does however as a whole showcase an abundance of material, emblematic of a culture that may be unfamiliar, to engage with, or at least encounter. Which must have been one of the artists’ aims, and is surely a worthy one. Whether that makes for wholly successful art or not. Well, I’ll evade that thorny question and let you decide…

Unfortunately, I have at this point run out of steam in my rounding up. The round is only a hump, the circle is not unbroken, it has turned into a parabola, distending as it has from the concise to the wordy. Two items do not a round up make, I know, the good news though is I did manage to have a walk in the sunshine before it got dark – the vitamin D was excellent, since you ask – , the bad news is that I will endeavour to continue to review some of the pile I have here as soon as I can. Stand by for more words…

  1. Z’EV, himself Jewish, has also recorded for Tzadik, who released the preceding instalment of Seewald and Grebil’s three part work; Charlemagne Palestine, as well as one of his middle names being Tzadik, is also Jewish. Z’EV’s lifelong investigations into Jewish mysticism and Palestine’s experience training as a cantor growing up in Brooklyn – he discusses in a recent interview the importance of Jewish sacred singing in his musical education – both feed into their work. Palestine and Z’EV draw from their cultural roots and knit them into their work in very different ways, synthesise many strands of their personal histories and passions sublimate them into powerful and individual musics that can still be viewed in some degrees as reflecting aspects of Jewish culture(s).

The Bird Sings with its Fingers

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I have a strong personal affection for the music of Algerian musician Jean-Marc Foussat, mainly because I find he’s a total whizz of invention when it comes to playing the VCS3 synth and because that particular instrument scores so high on the desiro-cheerometer of many fans (it’s clunky, it’s analogue, and Brian Eno used it with Roxy Music). Foussat has realised a good deal of his own superbly robust free-noise music – 1983’s Abbatage is a real heavyweight – and formed ad-hoc groups like Marteau Rouge and Thrash The Flash whose team members have produced gloriously unfettered and juicy instances of unrestricted noisy batterings. Alongside his work as a composer and musician, his name appears on the technical credits for many important recordings of European improvised music from the 1980s onwards, for labels such as Incus, Bead, Po Torch, Hat Art, Celluloid, RecRec, and many more. I’m always a bit baffled as to why his profile isn’t that bit higher than it appears to be, but it may be because he is just a modest hard-working fellow who doesn’t spend time on self-promotion and ego-preening vanity ads. Such a man, y’know you can trust.

As to modesty, his name doesn’t even appear on the front cover of L’Oiseau (FOU RECORDS FR – CD 01), a release which he kindly sent us in October 2012, yet it’s all performed by Jean-Marc using the AKS and VCS3 synths, and he also performs additional electronic generation, voice elements, toys, and the Jews Harp. The album is dedicated to Victor Foussat, a painter and poet (and relation?) who died in 2012, apparently quite young. That’s his photo on the front cover and a painting by him on the inner sleeve. On two long tracks, Jean-Marc unburdens his emotional state with courage and dignity. The title track is a bittersweet assemblage, composed of multiple synth recordings carefully chained together, some way from the pounding noise assault of Marteau Rouge and amounting to a heartfelt statement of very mixed emotions – mourning the loss of Victor, while also celebrating the glories of art / poetry and thus delivering a suitable musical eulogy of sorts. It’s gorgeous to listen to, a controlled and sustained meditation in electronic sound, freely moving in time and space with quicksilver changes of tempo, timbre and tone – Foussat is a master programmer, exhibits tremendous facility and spontaneity in his work, and unfailingly produces great electronic music with the speed and grace of an entire army of soldier ants. Much contemporary electronic music seems stale, clumsy, or ponderous in comparison.

‘La Vie S’Arrête’ is quite a different piece, a more discordant and dissonant “howl” generated by roaring synths and drawn from a more abysmal part of the soul; of the two, certainly the “nocturne” of the suite. In among the unhappy sighs, groans, and extended whispering utterances of the VCS3, small bursts of real-life field recordings creep in, only to be overwhelmed by the crushing emotions of the music. The sound of the crowd (children at play or a shopping mall) is rendered rather insignificant in the face of one man’s personal trauma and pain. This piece follows the same vaguely “episodic” structure as its predecessor, one segment of music overlapping the next in an intuitive programme of fades and layerings that create a steady continuum, a perfect flow of ideas. Yet you can sense the mood becoming bleak and forlorn as the sounds grow more thin and attenuated, conveying a feeling of futility where a life has indeed come to an end and the rest of us are not sure what to do next. Bird song – probably produced by synthetic methods – looms large in this piece, and the echoing repeats of these near-absurd twitterings and chatterings somehow evoke what has been lost with the passing of this painter and poet. A subtle and sensitive portrait emerges from this very sympathetic music. In between the two compositions, Jean-Marc Foussat takes one minute to read out a poem by Victor Foussat, ‘L’oiseau aux plumes bariolées’ – at which point your listener started getting a lump in the throat.

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Creamed Coconut

Bossetti and Chris Abraham024

So, with CD player newly repaired and listening once more free from the shadow of equipment failure let us see if this newly de-stressed set-up has had a benevolent effect on my reviews:

Let’s consider Alessandro Bosetti and Chris Abrahams matt varnished digifile opus We Who Had Left (MIKROTON RECORDINGS CD 19).

Instrumentally it’s all about piano and electronics, approached with an appealing sensuousness which touches on such worlds as jazz and sound poetry. Chris plays piano in The Necks, I gather. I haven’t actually heard The Necks, but the internet told me that and I thought I’d save you opening any extra tabs by passing on the information.

The first track, ‘We also dress today’, doesn’t give too much away, a spare but approachable construct consisting of the piano riffing on one note, loose-connection bass pulse coyly flirting with being a kick-drum and a sprinkling of pattering, looped polyrhythm. The second track, ‘We arrange our home’, is more representative of what the duo have to offer: light, silvery runs up and down the keyboard backed with electronics, in this case an electronic wandering bassline shadows the piano while breathy samples which sound to me like down-tuned whistles are mixed into a gauzy background wash, giving a hovering flute-like exotica tinge. In this Exotic Forest you half expect some Martin Denny birdcalls to start up as you pass the next tree. It’s a coolly strange environment, like Ballard’s crystal jungle relocated to Tahiti and populated with silent Gauguin beauties.

‘We cannot Imagine’ introduces vocals, softly spoken and Italian-accented, slowly repeated and unpicked phrases unravel over the course of ten minutes whilst they are tentatively wafted into song by gentle puffs of piano and the quiet electric whistle-flutes, floating softly around the listening space. Quite a lovely effect, very delicately performed. Bellisimo.

Sound-wise this isn’t quite the Doobie Brothers, but there is a certain smoothness, more evident in some tracks than others, a quietly polished finish you might actually expect of an ambient album. However, when Chris Abrahams strikes or rather caresses a chord or note, ably counterpointed by Alessandro Bossetti, it is mighty enjoyable whatever burnishing methods may or may not have been applied.

‘When they are overhead’ starts a little like Charlemagne Palestine writ medium accompanying a clog-dance and Google party thrown by Santa’s elves. It certainly has the potential to achieve elevation and hits a nicely rolling green-ness towards the end. If you’ve ever seen the BBC Krautrock documentary where Iggy Pop drills a coconut (a fine cultural moment) while describing the music of Neu! you will recall he uses the phrase ‘psychedelic pastoralism’ while sunset silhouetted pylons recede field by field as seen through a car window. My pleasantly wandering mind was reminded as this track progressed of a similar sensation to that evoked by this scene.

Our journey finishes with a cover of a Bill Evans tune, Waltz for Debby. Debby is ceremoniously draped in a belligerent sinusoidal lap-top as our romantic Italian croons and serenades the album away over a seductive tinkle of the old ivories. That’s amoré!

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Kakawaka
Ein Fröhliches Lied Auf Den Lippen Den Wandersmann Kann Nichts Erschüttern
NO LABEL MC CASSETTE

What have we here? A short but sweet cassette (the mini hi-fi system which includes the aforementioned CD player also has a tape player, conveniently), two 10 minute-ish sides. Seit ein: blind munching of psychotropic worms, bursts of computer overload, pitch shift metallic glissandi, the frog chorus and Michael Caine’s heel hitting the concrete in a deserted East Berlin basement, unt so on. Crude methods yield deceptively crude results. Vignettes change like clicking the button on one of those red slide-viewers with the slides on a carboard disc that you used to get. In the background those worms are munching in the dark, converting rainforest decay into putrid phosphorescence. A lesson we can all surely look to apply in our daily lives.

The insect life returns in the second of our sides wherein a flea-bitten, moth-ridden, valve-driven, ragged organ vamp is nibbled on the toes by beetles. Uneasy reposes occur, always while the mandibular chatter soothes away those aches of the day. A muffled noise like a plucked double bass loops away somewhere under the floor like Poe’s tell-tale heart thumping in a bath of mellow vibes. The beetles (John, Paul, Ringo and Jaws) organise a hunt, paint their concave carapaces carmine and set out in slow motion across a shifting carpet, their horns echoing lugubriously. Enchanting and finger-snapping, needless to say.

All in all, very relaxing and swinging and suitable for your next cocktail evening or canasta party if James Last Non Stop Dancing fails to deliver the goods.

Articulations

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International SoundArtFestival
Playing with Words: Live
GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 083 DVD (2010)

This DVD is a video document of the live sound art and spoken word festival ‘Playing with Words’ that took place at the Gallus Theater, Frankfurt on May 21st, 2009. The festival was part of collaboration between Kulturnetz Frankfurt and CRiSAP (Creative Research in Sound Art Practice) at the London College of Communication, a project that also yielded the anthology Playing with Words: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice edited by Cathy Lane. Having generated some positive reviews, the anthology looks set to become a key work in its field. It brings together some useful texts by complimentary practioners who are rarely collated within such a cohesive frame. Although not as comprehensive due to the obvious restrictions of the event, Playing with Words: Live is just as valuable as the anthology particularly because it dispenses with theory and presents practice: sound art offered and understood as an act of performance.

Shot by Bernhard Bauser, the DVD features footage of each of the 6 international participants: Nye Parry, Sianed Jones, Ansuman Biswas, Jaap Blonk, Jörg Piringer and Dirk Huelstrunk. Although ‘sound art’ is a broad church this was not an evening of ‘tablecore’, noise or electronic music despite the use of digital technology and various forms of manipulating amplification. The focus in each case was on the range, potentialities and extremities of the human voice. Each artist took the voice (their own, and in the case of Nye, that of his friend Gordon McPherson) as their primary instrument and the performances set about deconstructing its abilities as a generator of sound.

This obsessively sonic remit along with the bare theatre setting begs the question why go to the trouble of releasing a DVD at all? Surely this could have been better served as a CD to parallel the book?

Well, no actually. What the DVD shows is importance of the visual information in the understanding of the performative and material aspect of sound art. For instance, whilst Blonk creates extraordinary sounds the key to understanding his piece lies not in trying to translate or decode that which is heard. Instead the significance is connected to the way he tugs and pulls on his throat and face to actually produce his sounds. His voice is used as an incorporated instrument, one that projects itself out into the air but is at the same time embodied within the architecture of the larynx and mouth. Much the same can be said of Biswas and Huelstrunk. They both start with breathing techniques and short grunts which build into contorted, seemingly glossolalic articulations. Biswas’s is the more conceptually defined of the two performances, taking the form of a fractured, self- conscious lecture that struggles to bridge theory and practice. In both cases though, it’s essential to see the actual manipulation of the voice in order to get a sense of it as a corporeal entity.

There’s a different but no less important emphasis on visual meaning in Piringer’s piece, the first one on the DVD. The performance involves the repetition of individual letters which are gradually accumulated into a modulating drone. This is also played out alongside a projection screen that shows similar letters spread out, colliding and overlapping. His vocal work with the phoneme is thus reflected in the spectacular pile-up of corresponding graphemes. There’s the obvious influence of concrete poetry here (Ernst Jandl comes to mind) but what’s distinctive is the animated nature of the projections. This permits typescript, that which is usually spatially determined, to be included into the temporality of the vocal performance as it moves up, down and across the screen.

In the case of Parry and Jones, the visual impact of their performances comes with their use of self-accompaniment. Nye works with a disassembled answer phone message broadcast via a portable stereo and Jones uses a violin during her extended vocal performance. These instruments initially work as support to the voices of Nye and Jones but they are gradually integrated into the looping structure of the performances themselves, suggesting a wider interest in echo, feedback and dialogue.

Playing with Words was obviously a fascinating event. The DVD is a slightly riskier prospect because these things can so easily become souvenirs: interesting only if you happen to have been there. What redeems this document is the consistency of the performers. As sound artists they’re working with very different methodologies but seeing them together in succession brings out their collective rationale. There’s clearly a reason why they should be on stage together and that’s the reason why you should watch this.

Gruenrekorder

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Snowed In


Frame Me Again

Paul Khimasia Morgan is owner of the UK’s Slightly Off Kilter label, and also occasionally makes music and sound-art himself. Empty Frame (ENGRAVED GLASS EG.PCD008) is one where he aurally professes his alignment with Mark Wastell, Rhodri Davies, Burkhard Beins, and others of the “reduced” playing school by making three tracks of extremely quiet and mysterious process-based music, floating in a midway point between improvisation and that unclassifiable activity that involves the manipulation of small objects, and tiny microphones to capture the sounds from those manipulations. On the first track there may be some motorised components involved, but the second cut ‘The prospect of dim sum’ is more of a serene, slightly processed, electronic drone whose origins are untraceable by the ear. The label is largely a showcase for the work of its owner, Jez Riley French, who declares his love for “infinite detail” and sounds that are “often overlooked and hidden”, but he has also released work by Richard Kamerman, Anne Guthrie, John Grzinich, and many others. From 17 January 2012.

One Speak for Both

Speaking of Mr Kamerman, here’s another release on his Copy For Your Records label. Un Lieu Pour Être Deux (CFYR) is credited to Antoine Beuger, who appears to be a Dutch flautist and composer associated with the Wandelweiser Group, an international team of hard-core ascetics who profess a very extreme doctrine of silent music. We’re passingly familiar with the work of one member, the trombonist Radu Malfatti who in turn has had some influence on Mattin, so that gives us some reference point; Malfatti’s testing music is sometimes the equivalent of a death sentence, executed with incredible slowness. The composition (if such it be) by Beuger is realised here by the guitarist Barry Chabala and Ben Owen (of Winds Measure Recordings), who plays synthesizers and contributes field recordings. The 47-minute work seems to have been executed in a single day in New York, and the field recordings are all urban in nature; the distant sound of traffic forms the basis for much of the piece. I think there may be some sort of “imaginary map” or psycho-geographic connotations to decode as well, but the minimal information and cover in this instance is giving nothing away. As a musical performance, it’s quite some way from any familiar sort of improvised music, and the players are both slow, deliberate, and almost cautious in their utterances, drip-feeding small chunks of synth tones and guitar notes that are studiedly inscrutable. I think we have to process this as a conceptual composition, where even the field recordings don’t mean what they appear to mean, and most aesthetic pleasures are being strictly denied to us, or at best being rationed out very carefully. To put it another way, this seems to be a rare use of field recordings as a compositional element, rather than something to be heard in its own right, which is an encouraging development. Strangely compelling to listen to, this perplexing work holds us in a state of considerable tension and concentration for its duration. 150 copies only and mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi, an apt choice as he represents the Italian wing of this school of emptied-out music. From 16 January 2012.

An Aerie Skit

Two more of the items from the & Records label of Montreal which arrived here 20 January 2012. The record Ave W (&10) is credited to Tiari Kese, who apparently plays all the instruments – keyboards, French horn, electronics and samples, but it’s more likely to be all the work of Michel F Côté, who’s a Canadian electro-acoustic composer. A biography of alleged Bulgarian Tiari Kese can be found online, but with its Stockhausen, Beatles and Debord connections it’s all too good to be true and is probably just another internet hoax. The record does have one glorious track title, ‘Dreams of Spartacus’s Spacecraft’, but I mostly found it a rather turgid listen, directionless and shapeless digital layers of drone that amount to less and less the more they’re piled up. The instrument-playing has been processed and denormalised to an extreme degree, sucking the humanity out of everything until we’re left with echoed and orphaned horn tones floating aimlessly on a sea of samples, light distortion and glitch.

The City Wears a Furry Hat

Even less enjoyable is Solitary Pleasures (&RECORDS &15) by Fortner Anderson. It comprises several short 90-second vocal recits by the poet Anderson while accompanied by electro-acoustic noise played by a non-jazz trio of Alexandre St-Onge, Sam Shalabi, and Michel F. Côté again, this time playing the drums. The release accompanies a book of poems published at the same time. We’ve encountered Fortner Anderson before in TSP15 where we noted the baffling Six Silk Purses, recordings of his spoken word exploits provided to sound artists to add their musical interpretations; in fact the same musicians were on that release too. Fortner’s short couplets are expressed here in diary form, each segment beginning with a calendar date announced in solemn tones, before proceeding with his free-form observations such as “I had forgotten the calculus of transcendence…”, alternating with mini-stories about life in the city and the characters he meets. It all feels oddly old-fashioned, like one of the forgotten Beats. Fortner attempts some jazzy syncopation in his delivery, even as the music drags itself along like a three-legged dog on a hot afternoon. Kenneth Patchen it ain’t.

023

Rodd Keith – doomed to song-poem Hell


We were sent this Rodd Keith vinyl LP (limited press, gatefold jacket) around November 2011. My Pipe Yellow Dream (ROARATORIO ROAR23) is the second time this label have compiled an anthology dedicated to this singular fellow. I expect you all know the story about these song-poem recordings. It’s been well documented and Irwin Chusid wrote an informative chapter about it in his book Songs In The Key Of Z. It was a kind of vanity press arrangement where you could send your song lyrics to a music company who (in return for a fee) would turn it into a pop song, record it and release copies. Like other vanity press arrangements, it was pretty much a scheme for making money out of optimistic but not very talented Joe Sixpacks from Middle America.

The cult of collecting and appreciating these records long after the fact still seems to persist. I recall JR Williams, the yoks-worthy underground cartoonist, was a fairly rabid fan and for some reason this cemented for me the idea that the whole enterprise was a kind of post-modern, sarcastic dig at “proper” music, as if collectors had reached the point where they were so jaded that only these odd and highly obscure vanity records could satisfy their lust for novelty. I recall buying a copy of The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush CD and never getting past the first few cuts, then selling it on quickly. The lyrics were just dreadful, unmitigated doggerel, and incredibly banal; the very average music didn’t do much to rescue them either. Of course that CD was a late arrival on a scene that had already been thriving from many years among tape traders and other cognoscenti, away from public scrutiny. When a scene gets to the point that it can be so readily anthologised, your radar should start to detect worrying signs.

Very few of my reservations have been put to rest by this LP, despite the immaculate presentation (very good cover drawing by Josh Journey-Heinz) and expert selection of choice cuts (by compiler James Lindbloom) from the Rodd Keith production line. Everything we hear is a needle-drop, from rare singles dated 1966-1974, since the master tapes are probably buried under a bridge along with the accounting books for these song-poem companies. The lyrics beggar belief once again – banal, corny, flat, samey. These would-be songwriters had obvious trouble with even the elementary basics of the form (e.g. scansion, rhymes); no insights or observations; they could not create characters, or tell a story. Many of the words are just recycled from other pop song clichés, and what’s most embarrassing of all is when these squares try and use supposedly “hip” slang. We’re not hearing much that isn’t a regurgitation of very ordinary popular culture taken direct from movies, TV, or advertising. Or greetings cards. I sense that all of this mediocrity had an effect on Rodd Keith, who simply sounds wretchedly bored for 90% of this record. His singing is flat and unengaged, and the backing band of session musicians are like a fifth-rate bubblegum band, for the most part recycling very ordinary pop riffs, with one eye on the studio clock and the other on their paycheck. Taken in one sitting, the LP passes on a strange feeling, like an alternate history of pop that’s been dredged up from the dusty back rooms of a thousand charity shops.

A couple of tracks do stand out. ‘America The Not So Beautiful’ is a recit set to a schmaltzy orchestral backdrop, but it’s a bizarre screed written by one Johnny McCray in which he unburdens his patriotic soul about the corruption of his homeland. What’s odd is the singular details he chooses to make his case. It’s like a Readers Digest article, written by a potential serial killer. Speaking of which, there’s a nasty vengeful streak underpinning ‘Search Out Your Soul, American’, originally written by Vaughn Galloway, and it flings many a poisoned barb at his fellow Americans. Though rendered as mid-1970s funk-lite, you could almost hear this one recast as a violent 1990s rap lyric. Rodd Keith’s voice, especially on the former, is pretty strange; he seems to be dribbling the words out between clenched teeth, uncertain what emotional register would be appropriate for this creepy diatribe. Both of these oddities come close to delivering on the promised song-poem thrills, but you could scarcely call them “outsider” art, as some claim.

Why are we even interested in this? Well, if there’s a pantheon of anonymous hacks in music, then Rodd Keith is the Burt Bacharach of this particular genre. I respect the work done here (and by others) rescue Rodd Keith from obscurity and the genuine efforts made to recognise something of worth in his output. The notes here praise his ability to compose and arrange very quickly, make a record in a single take; since it would have wasted money to do it otherwise, he was driven to that method by the economics of the situation. But the compilers see this as a virtue, and dub Keith a “master improviser”. Then there’s the variety of song-forms which are represented – on this LP alone there’s bubblegum, soul, funk, gospel and ballads. And the sleeve notes from jobbing musician Dick Castle reveal a touching picture of his friend Rodd Keith, and praises his unflagging energy, enthusiasm, and positive stance. Yet Keith himself regarded his career as a doom from which he was unable to escape, and after drink and drugs decided to take his own life.

017

Kosmic Blues

Orpheus in the Underworld

Christof Kurzmann attempts grand things on El Infierno Musical (MIKROTON RECORDINGS CD 20). He composed all the music, plays electronics, saxophone and guitar, and sings all the lyrics where they appear; these words were written by the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, and translated into English with the help of Cecilia Rojo. The aural experience is rich – an unpredictable melange of jazz, free jazz, improvisation, chamber music, blues, pop music and rock music, sometimes given a vaguely medieval / Renaissance flavour by the viola da gamba playing of Eva Reiter, who also plays the contrabass recorder on a couple of tracks. Plus the whole package is contextualised with images sampled from the “Hell” panel of Bosch’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights triptych.

Many musicians may have commented on, been struck by or even dreamed of making a concept album about this “musical Hell” proposed by Bosch, where sinners are punished in amongst a ghastly cacophony of archaic musical instruments, some of which are changed by the diabolical agency into engines of torture. I should point out that Kurzmann is not explicitly intending to do any of the above either, and only the title of this suite has any consonance with the Bosch painting, of which we see a Photoshopped variant provided by the visual artists Jimmy Draht and Stefan Haupt. The main aim of the work is to pay tribute to the poetess Pizarnik, a collection of whose writings also appeared under the title El Infierno Musical and indeed prompted Kurzmann, who purchased said volume almost by accident from a street seller while drinking coffee in Buenos Aires, to found the quintet of this name in 2008.

Musically this album is strong and convincing, even if not as chaotic as anything with a Bosch cover ought to be, and while the individual players – e.g. saxman Ken Vandermark, drummer Martin Brandlmayr – perform with authority, I sometimes find the package a shade too mannered and contrived for my tastes. Kurzmann is the sort of musical catholic who has no problem in mixing different vernaculars, styles and genres in his musical statements, often doing so in the same breath, if he decides that’s what is called for. The main stumbling block for me is Kuzmann’s rather effete voice, which recites rather than sings the lyrical content, and always sounds breathless or on the verge of tears as he negotiates another corny-sounding flattened fifth. So far this prevents me from reaching the core meaning of the work, which is probably encoded more into the poetry than in the music. Still, one needs to persevere with work of this complexity and depth. Don’t let my meagre prejudices prevent you from hearing this extremely unusual and distinctive piece of work. This arrived 31 January from a label based in Moscow.

Leave not a Wrack Behind

Cracked Refraction (PORTER RECORDS PRCD 4061) played by Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, is a pleasant surprise and tremendous piece of composed-jazz-classical music, with its multiple feet planted in many fertile territories. I thought I must have some solo Bruckmann albums somewhere in the TSP archive, but it seems I only know the work of this oboist and French horn player from his contributions to other ensembles – such as those of Olivia Block, Scott Fields, and Jason Ajemian. Here are seven fascinating instrumental pieces recorded in 2010 and performed with a small group which performs the considerable feat of sounding as rich as a whole orchestra; they are Jason Stein on the bass clarinet, Jen Clare Paulson on viola, drummer Timothy Daisy and bassist Anton Hatwich. Maybe it’s Myles Boisen’s skills in the production department that help make this such a crisp and bright recording, but the players are on fire. Just two tracks in and I’m already delighted with the mixed chords of ‘Exacerbator’, whose bittersweet harmonies remind me of a slightly darker Gil Evans, or some of the more mysterious moments of Ornette’s Skies Of America. Then there’s ‘Notwithstanding’, where Bruckmann’s oboe trips its way as gracefully as a long-legged stork as it negotiates the tricky time signatures. The tiny miracle of this one is how the entire pace of the piece is quickly pulled off-course by the slower tempo of the viola, which subsequently pulls the bass and drums under her unfolding wings and they demonstrate new feats of restraint as they pluck their skeletal notes under a starlit nocturnal sky.

Those joyous opening cuts are almost something you could sing along or dance to. By the time we get to ‘Ratchetforms’ however, I’m beginning to see what liner notes writer Bill Meyer is going on about with his articulations of the phrase ‘Cracked Refractions’. “Improvisers are vandals who crack music apart, and make something new out of the parts,” he asserts, after naming a list of credible precedents in that area. ‘Ratchetforms’ may be bitty, but it’s not disjointed; you can almost hear the gears of Bruckmann’s mind creating a sort of gigantic wooden clock on the soundstage. Plenty more aural joys and delights to come; the plangent woodwind and viola sounds on ‘Fair To Middling’ are enough to make a blackbird weep into its own nest, and the high-energy forthrightness of ‘The Dishevelator’ gives an indication of a direction Frank Zappa could have taken around the time of Burnt Weeny Sandwich, with its wonderfully complex interweaving melody lines played against a steady rock-like beat with plenty of space for Stein to blow his grumbly-tootly notes in a manner that brings much pleasure to the heart of this confirmed Dolphy fan.

While I could easily point to a number of “third stream” (if that’s still the right word) ensembles whose members all love to be clever and complex and let you know it at all times, one of the many pleasures of this album for me is how Bruckmann and his team make playing this music seem effortless, fun, and 100% natural, never neglecting the swing in favour of flashing their musical chops. In short as Kyle’s thank-you note so aptly puts it, “you guys rock”. Arrived in the TSP mailbox on 30 January 2012.

Random Errata


Warm Digits are a whole-hearted “retro” duo from Newcastle, producing a lively and hugely entertaining form of melodic Krautrocky-beat combo music on Keep Warm…With The Warm Digits (DISTRACTION RECORDS DIST22CD), and as their name suggests they reintroduce heat, passion and friendliness to the area of digital music, which may be in danger of growing too cold, clinical and sterile. Steve Jefferis plays guitar and synths, Andrew Hodson drums, and both are involved in the production of visual and video materials which I assume accompany their live sets. A couple of the jokey titles, such as ‘Trans-Pennine Express’ and ‘Here Come The Warm Digits’ admit to everything up front, pre-empting everything the critics are going to throw at them in terms of Neu!, Kraftwerk, and Eno references, but a “wacky” band they ain’t, and they do a much more convincing and danceable version of the electro-beat thing than the dreadful Add N To X, if anyone is unfortunate enough to remember them. A fab release.

For a more subdued take on electronica, there’s the new release You Can’t Get There From Here (MONOTYPE REC MONO038) from Scanner and David Rothenberg, where the laptop music of Robin Rimbaud meets the clarinet playing of Rothenberg; the album is a species of spindly lounge-jazz riffs, accompanied by filtered and pulsating loops in a vaguely art-gallery ambient setting. The combinations of sounds are pleasing, but I feel the performances don’t really develop, and each piece stands in one place like a sort of hologram artwork, sparkling briefly and saying little. I want to persevere with this one however, as David Rothenberg seems a very genuine and inventive polymath sort of chap, a nature-studying academic who integrates his ideas about birdsong with his clarinet playing.

From Holland, a tremendous team-up of two maverick eccentrics Adam Bohman and If, Bwana. Long have I admired their many manifestations and issuances, but I didn’t appreciate they were old friends since the 1980s. This session from the summer of 2010 sees them producing many a churning morass of grinding, scraping and vaguely spring-loaded tootling grumblement and moanage, presumably generated from multiple desktops and tables loaded with an array of non-musical devices; the very title, Adhesives And Grout (BROMBRON 18), shows they’re able to poke fun at their DIY and garden-shed approach to improvisation for this release. They also perform a few tracks of concrete poetry, in some cases apparently just plucking found words and phrases out of the local shopping paper and transforming their utter banality into sheer magic, by overlapping the dialogue and through the combination of their distinctive speaking voices: Bohman as plummy as a Christmas duff packed with raisins, Al Margolis withering everything in sight with his acidic sardonic whine. Lads, Bob Cobbing is smiling down at you from his corner of Heaven where he’s just opened an infinite version of Better Books. And just look at those track titles – ‘Rhubarbian Ruminations’ is the most perfect two-word description of the whole album, redolent of a secret allotment or orchard where the very fruits and vegetables are conducive to metaphysical contemplation. And who wouldn’t want to be a member of their ‘Pudding Club’? Let’s hope this is the start of a new musical genre…Groutrock!

Labyrinthe (BRUIT CLAIR BC05) appears to be the debut release from Emmanuelle Gibello, a Sorbonne graduate from Paris who has done some live performances with electronics and multi-media settings. Her approach to the field recording genre is highly imaginative and these four cuts (two of them quite lengthy and indeed very labyrinthine) will reward many further spins. Subtle and underplayed, her sources are I suspect not intended to be decoded or identified, so much as used as triggers for personal resonances and internal fictions; she admits to being inspired by literature and science fiction. It’s about time someone started putting field recordings to some compositional use, instead of inviting us to simply contemplate the immersive joys of nature for a change. Extremely “sensible”, in the French meaning of that word, these compositions have many hidden corner and still waters running deep…if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors. Check back in a few years and we may be looking at a worthy successor to Lionel Marchetti. And if you buy one of these 300 numbered copies, you’ll have her autograph in your collection. Roll them bones!