Tagged: quiet

Comfort Zones


Michael Pisaro
Melody, Silence by Cristián Alvear

Making circus mimes look like the brutal clowns they are is Michael Pisaro – last noted for his Wire-wowing 3CD set Continuum Unbound – who diverges from that field recording-cum-musique concrète monster for this ‘collection of materials for solo guitarist, written in 2011’. This time Pisaro delegates duties to Chilean guitarist and Wandelweiser labelmate Christian Alvear, whose involving interpretation of the composer’s instructions that ‘up to 12 fragments… can be played in any order and which allow for various transformations, cuts, extensions and silences’ doubtless arises from his appetite for singing his teeth into the likes of John Cage and Alvin Lucier, as he has been wont to do.

Truth be told, little need be said about this recording that isn’t encapsulated in the title. There is so much silence here that I’ve often thought the CD had ended, yet ample in quantity are the super-minimal, vibratory vignettes – some consisting of but two notes that dissolved into pure, tonal feedback – which Alvear must have watched tapering off into cool dawn air. I’m just guessing of course, as I have no idea at what time of day (or how) these segments were recorded, though it did take place over a number of months. More clear however is that within them can be discerned an esteem for the work of Morton Feldman; one equal I daresay to that of like-minded peers like Ashley Paul, whose sub-skeletal compositions have also earned the unequivocal approval of this journal. While I’m not often taken by these silent-type CDs, seldom is the morning I’ve not been reassured by this intriguing recording; a similar state of mind perhaps to that from which these notes and pauses first rang out.


Christian Wallumrød

Quite a diverse set here from Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, who couch-surfed his way through three friends and their grand pianos (‘piano-surfing’?) between December 2013 and the following April, yielding these six solo pieces for the ever-interesting Hubro label. Corresponding with this spell of short-term faithfulness is an equally fickle creativity, which holds the floor via an assortment of heart-of-winter tape echo drone (‘Fahrkunst’), some surefooted sketches of sauntering gospel-tinged jazz (‘Boyd 70’, ‘Lassome’) and a distracted smoker’s finger-fidgeting (‘School of Ecofisk’). In other words, much is taken in between the realms of easy listening and cold abstraction in the relatively short running time; an eclecticism that might prove unsubstantial to some – just three melodic numbers after all – but few visitors should fail to be charmed by Wallumrød – both a remarkable pianist and ECM label veteran – whose performance has all the volubility of a friend landing squarely ‘in the zone’ while playing in his front room.

Michael Vincent Waller

Michael Vincent Waller
The South Shore
USA XI RECORDS XI136 2 x CD (2015)

Elegant, emotional and complex yet somehow sparing of form are these 31 pieces for an assortment of small chamber ensembles, composed between 2012 – 2014 by New Yorker, Michael Vincent Waller. Critics have been enamoured of their paradoxically vigorous-yet-contemplative manner, which draws upon a variety of precedents and styles, though principally the Minimalisms of Eric Satie and Terry Riley. This stylistic blending (not to mention the bracing undertones of the core instrumentation of piano, cello and violin) grounds the compositions in a credible postmodernist perspective from which to engage in bouts of retrospection, be they in tributes to places (‘Anthems’), family (‘Per La Madre e La Nonna’), or musical influences (‘Y for Henry Flynt’). So diverse and persuasive are the many devices Waller employs – including extensive use of the modal scales established by the philosophers of ancient Greece – that this conjoining of past and present occasions a palpable emotional space quite outside of linear time, around which minor keys whirl in a flurry of muted sentiment.

There are some interesting deviations though, such as the oddly uplifting, quasi-liturgical organ recital, ‘Organum’ – a brief release from the weight of conscience into a state of warmer, spiritual solace – and ‘Ritratto’: the Renaissance flavoured opener to disc two, consisting of deceptively involved interactions between the unlikely line-up of flute, alto sax, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone. This music should animate many a dreary afternoon, and is quite the soundtrack at times, which may even be Waller’s angle here. In any event, the quantity of quality composition on this double disc set is monumental, and my only reservation owes to the fact that it all runs well beyond the confines of my 21st century attention span.

Pianist, Alone: an inner journey into sound and isolation through piano

Jurg Frey, Pianist, Alone

Jürg Frey, Pianist, Alone, Irritable Hedgehog Music, IHM012 2 x CD (2014)

Jürg Frey is a prominent member of a global collective of musicians known as the Wandelweiser Group, founded in 1992, whose main concern among others is exploring the relationship between sound and silence. On this double set, Frey’s pieces not only investigate the tension arising from the interplay of sound and no-sound but also the relationship between a pianist and the rest of the world that results from the pianist’s playing of the piano which plunges the musician into another world inaccessible to his/her audience and others. “Pianist, Alone” proposes that the pianist and the piano start to become one being when the pianist commences playing – the pianist subordinates his/her ego to the instrument and becomes the instrument by which the piano produces sound.

The result is three recordings in which the piano itself speaks with as pure-piano a voice as is possible, the player’s personality and other characteristics having completely disappeared. All that surrounds the piano is space. The music is highly focused with all concentration tamped into each note played – and everything is done very deliberately. There are no trilling melodies, no dramatic flourishes – the approach is severely minimal and austere. The majesty and range of the piano are conveyed in particular notes or chords, and each sound seems to be a micro-universe of impressions and experiences we may or may not be familiar with.

I can’t say that the three long tracks are easy to listen to: they can be insistent in their own way, forcing you to pay attention to them, but the level of concentration required to hear them out can be wearying, because the music almost exists in a vacuum. Some people may find this music helps them to meditate or develop their concentration. As we pass from CD1 to CD2, a smidgen of emotion, even desperation, may be detected in some of the melodies played. In the final track, definite piano chords are heard which as a phenomenon in itself might suggest the perfect fusion of pianist and piano as a complete instrument in itself. There is definitely something quite spiritual in this fusion, as though silence has turned out to be a necessary medium through which one comes to know oneself and one’s life purpose.

With such starkly minimalist music as this, the production level has to be very high and in this, producer R Andrew Lee is to be commended for giving us sounds that are very clear and quite sombre without sounding precious.


The International Something


Terrific live art-music from 2012 performed by a trio of top-drawer names…the Japanese “maverick” guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama, who’s done more for sales of antique Gibson guitars than Les Paul himself…Toshimaru Nakamura, also of the Japanese persuasion, and man who has ruled unchallenged over the domain of controlled feedback for at least 15 years, with his mastery over the “no-input mixing board”, a set-up whose very name is indelibly associated with Toshi, though many others have used it since in far wimpier ways. Lastly, the American Jason Kahn, composer and percussionist who impressed us last year with his Open Space double LP, here contributing some splendid analog synth work, and perhaps captured here as part of his 2012 Japan tour (when he also played with Tim Olive). The record ihj / ftarri (WINDS MEASURE RECORDINGS wm39) is slightly untypical of what I normally associate with this small-run art imprint New York label, which has often concentrated on imperceptible and conceptual sound-art statements of high recondity. This record by contrast is quite busy and noisy in places, and bristles with live atmospheric electrical bursts…the tension in the air is so palpable that the venue had to be completely redecorated the next day…all the audience went home with third-degree burns to their faces…nearby businesses and shops closed down for one week, the merchants complaining of mysterious headaches. Can your band say this?

As an earnest of their skills, the three musicians work with intuitive bonds and not inconsiderable duration. Somehow they manage suspend a chunk of time in the air for over half an hour, keeping matters hovering by magic, then having circumscribed an imaginary sphere they do their best to slash at it with guitar swipes, pierce it with crackling bursts, and hurl large buckets of digital fizz over its surface. Then, amazingly, they do it again for another 30 minutes on the second recording, showing that their muscular energy never flags for a single second and that musical continuity, even of something so abstract and intangible, is perfectly possible through a combination of serious talent, experience, discipline, and a little dabbling with the Black Arts (one of the above might not be applicable). This is one of the more exciting documents we’ve heard of music in this genre, if indeed it is a genre any more, since the old “Onkyo” label has since been discredited everywhere…over 18 countries have now signed the treaty to discontinue the use of that term…and as a result, the music just keeps growing and getting better, its players free from the constrictions of convenient journalism-friendly labelling. If only the worldwide food industries would sign up to a similar treaty, we might all have a healthier life. 300 copies, letterpress cover, a superb release.


Tetuzi Akiyama also appears on Bromma (SPECTROPOL SpecT 33), a single 26-minute performance where he duets it up in fine style in a living room in Stockholm with the alto sax blower, Johan Arrias. Apparently the room in Stockholm was quite small, and given what we’ve heard about the notorious Swedish approach to interior design and furnishings, this fits the profile exactly. Both musicians had to apply for an entry visa to get into this room in the first place, and Arrias had to cover his instrument in greasy lubricants to squeeze past the tight doorway. Once in, both musicians clearly found their movements heavily restricted, if the evidence on this release is credible. Jan Nygard did the recording, and wrote the sleeve notes, both awed and troubled by what he had witnessed. In his writings, he brings out the keynotes of the event – very little preparation or planning for the improvisation…guided by a few choice minimal suggestions from the Japanese half of the act…fostering a climate of “trust and respect”. Net result, a slow, quiet, but highly intense miniature of contemporary acoustic improvisation. From 18 September 2014.

24 Worter: opening up creative possibilities and connections with twinned reiterations of words signifying aloneness


Jurg Frey, 24 Worter, Edition Wandelweiser Records, CD EWR 1407 (2014?)

Actually there are 27 short pieces on this album, with two tracks being purely untitled instrumental pieces and the other 25 tracks being sung and sharing 24 titles with two tracks named “Tod (Death)” and another two, “Gluck (Happiness)”. There are just three performers on this recording: soprano vocalist Regula Konrad, violinist Andrrew Nathaniel McIntosh and pianist Dante Boon, all singing or playing very sparingly with no apparent feeling or technical flourishes. All tracks are very quiet and spare almost to the point of fading away into nothingness yet throughout the album there is a very strong impression of latent creativity and power. The piano usually plays seemingly disconnected piano notes or chords that go on forever while the violin hovers around thin, almost squeezed-out high-pitched, barely-there tones. The silence surrounding such clean if rather thin music is very still and static but you sense there are many hidden possibilities. Konrad’s singing is steady, confident and precise.

There is not a great deal to say about the music generally as the tracks don’t vary much overall and differences among them are in the technical details of the spare music. As for the track titles though, there’s plenty to say about them: they often describe states of being such as being lost or being a dancer or dreamer, or states of emotion such as longing, feeling out of place, cheerfulness or being close to someone or something dear. The one-word titles can be quite vague and what appears to be a state of being can be just as much a state of mind and feeling, and several tracks appear to revolve around a general theme of being / feeling apart from others and those states of being and feeling that are impossible to separate from one another; for example, dreaming, being asleep or fantasising, all states in which one’s identity and sense of isolation or aloneness can be forgotten, even if temporarily, or brought down. Additionally the word in each title of each song appears twice in the song, and the reiterations of the word, their relative positions in the song, whether one is sung higher than the other or is spoken, help to stimulate and open up creative possibilities and tension.

Odd that such a minimalist recording as this really focuses the attention and directs it, far more so than works boasting many layers of texture and mood.

Contact: Edition Wandelweiser Records

Gently down the Volga


Keith Rowe / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart

Once more I’ve probably spent longer than necessary waffling on, so I’ll offer a quick précis for the impatient or sensible: some quiet sounds, pretty low key, fairly neutral. For those who want to read that extended by a thousand words or so, read on:

Contents: One CD, two extended ‘pieces’. Although, whether they are pieces, as such, with a pre-determined beginning and end, an allotted span, or even extended – they may just as well be snipped down from longer actions – is not clear. Nothing is clear, actually. And yet, everything is clear, very sober and lucid. Once you turn the volume up. Yes, keynotes for this release can include:

Clarity: of recording.
Quiet: volume.
Dry: tone, sounds, execution.
Professionalism: of delivery, craft, craftsmanship.
Small: gestures
Long: duration.
of means and expression
Enough, well, it’s enough for them at least, presumably, and no more.

Close-up electric stubbles of sound bristled together in a room, not overly concerned in the direction of grand gestures. The first track is a duet between Rowe and Costa Monteiro whereas the second track involves the whole quartet.

Pretty lower-case, overall: a wheeze here, sliding stretches, creaking, and dry, solid sounds combined with thin electroacoustic shavings and metal rustlings. Radio crackle. String scrapes, micro-sawing, shifting, filing, re-arranging… A low-noise, pin-prickle-scratch sharp-focus table-rapping microphone-knocking pair of things.

Yes, it’s quiet, yes, in the grand scheme of things not a lot really happens, not a lot happens (necessarily) with a wall, though, but there’s texture and there’s presence of some sort. Along the planes of these pieces, alongside the mostly rectangular construction, there are a lot of faintly mystifying, dry and yet modestly engaging palette-scrapes of object-derived sound-tint.

Grumbling cardboard bass blots and rumbles from a box. Mosquito tones (but of course), knee-knocked tables. A classicist relish, a moderate relish: dropped marbles. Apportioned, measured with a sober embrace of plain and small sounds and their economical distribution (amplitudinally and temporally).

Not puritan, not rapacious, this inhabits some other middle ground, or unrelated ground, a moderation of sound without dogmatism, seemingly arrived at, intuited or agreed on, by all players, rather than as a consequence of paucity of ideas or tentativeness in expression (There’s room for relatively garrulous outbursts, for example the iPod and subwoofer interjections in the quartet track are not censured, nor, however, do they permanently alter the composure or focus of the proceedings. They just happen.) No, tentativeness is definitely not an impression to take from this, especially from Rowe’s contribution, his precise and economical deployment of movements to release sound from his tools exudes focus and his (totemic? In a sense, perhaps, but more so a quietly active, performing) presence seems to confer and amplify a collective focus. The character of the recording, of the document, is equally focussed and precise. Spare. But also made up of spare parts, of ‘objects’. Distinct – everyday objects and instruments with gaps between them, sounds with gaps, too; space to spare.

As it happens I was not averse to hearing the CD a good few times. My main motivation for the multiple auditions was reviewing purposes rather than major hedonism or passionately abandoned enjoyment but maybe as it is so neutral and moderate those numerous listens never felt like too oppressive or demanding a proposition. Ok, a proportion of those times I was also maybe straining to hear it over other domestic and environmental noises; it’s not THAT quiet, as these things go, not enough for it to really be a thing, quiet music, or rather an extreme thing, there are no real extremes here; the contour lines on this landscape are, however, quite widely spaced, barely perceptible as changes in elevation from above on this flat, laminal landscape. As well as the birds eye view ground level detail counts here, too, a fact borne out by the fascinated cover photos of Rowe’s hand and Belarukov’s (I’m assuming from the presence of the ‘mini-speaker’) sound producing objects. Turn the volume dial (what a cliché with quieter music. Why isn’t it louder to begin with, then, you might wonder, when someone writes or utters that phrase?) and the topography acquires a measure of relief; contrast between sound sources becomes more apparent. Tight-focus as it is, the incidental luxury of texture, relative harmonic variety, is more available with attentive listening and amplification.

In the species of electro-acoustic music on show here as well as your by-now-classicised (calcified?) moves such as high-frequency electronic tones, non-playing of instruments (i.e. pumping of air without playing notes on the accordion, scraping the saxophone), the human genesis of the sounds, the everyday, is ever-present, perceptible; both micro and 1:1 scale events accumulate; between this person-sized puttering and the abstracted textural sonic juxtapositions there is the flickering challenge to perceive in multiple ways at once, to be aware of both the basic building materials and of the whole, to walk round a sculpture, regard a painting. To engage and regard as abstract, abstracted ‘music’, whilst also simultaneously hearing document, agency, origin, familiarity, specificity. Something that probably happens intuitively whilst listening to music usually, this process is perhaps more exposed and perilous with this relatively severely reduced and minimised collections of sounds and gestures. Sounds at once untethered and tied to people and (small, small) movements and space. This is still, overall, very much the sound of four people puttering about with some tables and some bits and bobs, avoiding on the whole making assertive sounds, but the manner of puttering adds definite shape and tone, is on the whole determined and deliberate without being clinical or cold, certainly proceeds at a measured pace indicative of concentration, imbues the pieces with specific shape, space, tone and mood which is alert and reasonably approachable.

This shape and tone can resemble a rarefied/reduced/democratised species of chamber music, in a way; the intimate focus, hushed mood, a small ensemble. No classical affect or tropes exist here – perhaps one or two of small music or electro-acoustic music do, though. A pervading suppleness and openness keeps this comfortably away from zones of tedium or lassitude, or from being po-faced, the more giddy and defined interjections like the muted sub-woofer rumbles (courtesy of Belarukov, I think) and metronome in the quartet track help mean no-one could be accused of fundamentalism or exerting too-tight a grip on proceedings. No one would probably characterise this as exuberant or a laugh a minute; My feeling is that Rowe does add some heft, but leads, perhaps unconsciously, by example rather than force and the consequent breathing space permitted all players is to everyone’s advantage, and although resulting in some odd lumps it at least keeps things fresh and fairly portable.

What it all adds up to, apart from its specific formal and tonal qualities, is anyone’s guess. Rather than speculate, you might as well listen, if you fancied some small lower case improv with no overt agenda or direction. Maybe just as the cover suggests, this is essentially a snapshot of a meeting, the session that took place. The importance attributed to it by its participants, their thoughts on it as a recorded release, the reasons it exists in the form it does, is never specified. Taking into account its standardised production values, shared with many ‘essential’ (in marketing speak) releases it is perhaps refreshingly inessential, even on multiple listens it remains so, it doesn’t become more or less significant. Yet it is ‘essential’, sound-wise, or of its essences, if you get my drift. The materiality of it, the less than monumental nature, the attention to surface, the aura of relaxed focus and tempered exploration distinguish it, at a micro-level, horizontally, from other releases in the happily, self-sufficiently proliferating, self-regenerating, field of scraping things, not playing notes on your instrument and occasional crackles.

The Quiet Life


In A Room

Live-looped fluff-balling nimbus ambience-by-trio, candy-floss grey ornamentation with a ‘live in room’ angle moving it a half-step from neo-classicism recorded straight into the line-input, far enough to glean some early reflections now and again. Encounter on spinning something akin to the Alva-Noto modus operandi – instruments plus live processing (in this case piano, synth and electric bass are duly operated on) – if they were footloose and fancy-free and spent long minutes gazing at the overcast reflected in their dancing shoes and love loved Paris in the Springtime. Blushing and rosy pads meet these cloud chamber aesthetics, and sometimes, just sometimes, there is a far off grumbling from the electric bass. A grumbling that is, since we shall try to stay in keeping with the Romantic implications of the resolutely melodic substrate, let’s say: ‘like the far-off rumbling of thunder on an idle summer’s day’. All very consonant and consistent of tone, electronic pings in the first track and the aforementioned shading on the bass add a measure of variety to an otherwise homogeneously pleasant, if tepid and often somewhat sugary, bathwater (too sticky a combination for me, I’m afraid.) Sometimes, as with the repeated melodic synth motif that the last track is built around, everything become a little more apparent, in focus and demonstrative and in doing so teeters squarely the standard. Nevertheless, I could certainly see this release being appreciated as a part of any collection that requires gauzy, sedative, beatless ambiences with a measure of restraint, professionalism and poise. On the flipside that doesn’t necessarily indicate distinctive character or twists as such, but perhaps these wouldn’t be prime concerns for anyone interested in hearing this. Certainly any fans of the more horizontal offerings from labels like Kranky or Kompakt or artists like Celer, not to mention of the whole gamut of instruments plus laptop live-looping combos – from the ambient end to the more modern (neo-)classical (aka ambient 2.0) factions, where it also seems to be quite a popular working method – would I’m sure find some mellow pastel smudging to appreciate and dissipate to.



If you liked the sound of the release above you may well also enjoy this one. Having been mouldering away in my notebooks for a good long while, we may as well disinter some of the slightly more coherent scribblings for the sake of a triple review, three being so much more prime than two, after all. So while we have, broadly, and broad-brushed in execution in addition, non-threatening and languid electronic ambiences here, too, in this case they are slightly less ‘loopy’ and planar in structure. Interjections of played instruments into the gliding electronic textures are less smoothly integrated and more composed sounding. Demonstrative and stridently epic themes make appearances. They are a bit ‘there’ but their presence adds a dynamic contrast between the pools of ambience with fluttering dustings of acoustic instrumentation, dragging the proceedings towards the horizon of latter-day ‘post-rock’ (mawk-rock) – something that signifies lugubrious emoting and lachrymose sentiment more often than not. Anyhoo, said melodies play counterpoint to said electronic textures which themselves hearken back into middle-distant recent years, back to the post Boards of Canada wave of US, ahem, ‘IDM’. Sugary confections like Freescha and Merk’s ambient series: colourful, well-meaning and a little gooey-cantered. I wrote (remember this is an archaeological review) that they might be experienced as: ‘complacent chord progressions – or comforting, depending on your taste’. In a bravura counterpoint of my own I then also noted that ‘the use of acoustic sound sources through the album as framing devices somewhat balances out the potential saccharine and slickness’. Wunderbar. The artwork and the music both contain separate elements that are not entirely integrated with each other or coherent as a whole. What matters this, though? Who wants blended soup all the time anyway? They get points for the hand-printed insert, surely, and the last track is quite enjoyable, in fact. Incorporating wordless vocalising by Helen Funston it is languid, with a looser feel that hearkens back further, this time to ambient space-rock, blissed-out 90s creations like Subarachnoid Space circa Endless Renovation, or even hints of Tortoise’s widescreen glides through sonic everglades. The album thus waves out on distant operatic wafts and whiffs like a distant interstellar broadcast, ‘Telerehabilitation’ indeed and a successful integration of electronic and organic, a high note, if you will, and one which indicates a potentially interesting point of departure for any future projects.

Only you can tell on which side of the coloured mist you’re feeling today, whether you’ll be comforted or irritated, engaged or indifferent, whether you might feel an affinity or an aversion to these two previous harmonious and drifty things. Maybe this all depends on whether a hearty breakfast has been consumed propitious atmospheric conditions. Speaking of atmospheric conditions and indeed ambience how about this one for you?


Kevin Drumm

As we are disinterring, let’s have a listen to gentleman Kevin Drumm and his CD Trouble. Kevin once declared ‘I Have a Computer’, and this, too, seems to riff on the whole jewel-case production-line extruded mundanity thing, CD silvered and thin, extraneous fat and fleshy protuberances stripped away. One track, one (semi-ironic) title, b&w artwork, sketchy ‘found’ image, minimal typography with the sense of a brand or epitaph (see my review of ‘Relief’) faintly reminiscent of an expensive aftershave. Speaking of which, I can’t remember if I could smell the inks used to print the paper parts when I first cracked the case, but I can imagine a faint, toxic-smelling, chemical aroma being exuded..

Music-wise its steady and slowly shifting wisps of pure, thin, quietly dissonant tones could well be the result of a) a particularly concentrated bout of slo-mo noodling or b) a generative algorithm. With an arbitrary fade from the not-quite silence into actual silence in the not-quite middle to add to the WTF factor and keep you at least aware of your toes whilst remaining prone and apathetic, this precision tooled ambient fuck-you will keep you coming back for more when disgust with extraneous connivances such as audibility, structural progression and resolution have drained and enervated you to the point where numbing/soothing monotony seems the only plastic inevitable and nothing else is quite, quite empty and undemonstrative enough. As Jim Reeves might say, were he to review this, I hear the sound of distant Drumms, far away, far away, and if they call for me to come, then I must get off the sofa and turn the volume up and you must strain to hear what’s going on.

With the acrid-mesmeric intellectual aura of a one-pointed conceptual art prank and minimal, clinical, monotonous screen-saver and dry-ice atmospherics you too can turn your living room into a white cube with all its attendant complexities rendered in sedate/stupefying blankness/thereness. Or you can let the cares of the day ebb away, lulled by the hardcore simplicity and uber-smooth digital whisper. I suppose it depends on which side of the dry-ice you’re feeling. In terms of self-awareness and manipulation of symbols and mental effects, musical and extra-musical, it’s of a different order of realisation to the other releases discussed in this here segment, which ever way you tilt it. Apparent de-individuation is pursued with gleeful abandon the paradox being that the deeper the mission into blank anonymity the tighter the apparent grip of a presiding personality or overriding shape and tone becomes. A visage with empty sockets staring from the white cover, behind that, a bearded Kevin. Laser sharp manipulations, befittingly, paradoxically… and befittingly paradoxically. To what end? Who can say. Although I am in a couple of minds about it due to a faint snarkiness, perhaps only a by-product of a similar tone that can cling to related art-world tactics and not as applicable when appropriated and mapped on to this format. Either way, it’s a successfully totemic package and I will without doubt enjoy the near-silence again – if a quiet enough moment presents itself. If the coloured mists aren’t appealing to you, maybe this invisible, contrary gas might serve instead as your relaxant of choice.

Library Music

Andrey Popovskiy

Andrey Popovskiy
RUSSIA INTONEMA int012 CD (2014)

This is the debut solo album by Andrey Popovskiy and was recorded at a performance given in the rotunda of the Mayakovsky Library in St. Petersburg. This venue was chosen for the special acoustics it provides, amplifying, as it does, even the smallest sounds and imparting a very long reverberation. Prior to the recording, the artist researched the space in order to fully understand the responses that would be gained from the building.

My first listen flagged up the extensive use of silence, to the extent that at times I wondered if my system was working. I cannot say whether this, or Popovskiy’s use of small-scale sounds, are part of his natural armoury, or whether it was developed especially for this venue, but this approach forms the bedrock of the piece, accompanied by the “listener’s sound perception”. Instrumentation used involves lap steel guitar, electronics and objects. Anybody expecting country and techno (now there’s a thought), step back disappointed, put away your ‘kerchiefs, cowboy boots and Milky Bar Kid badges.

There is a short video online of part of the concert, although as the performer and instrumentation are mostly hidden by a bannister its use for clues is pretty limited, but I suspect the objects are being used to prepare the lap steel guitar (à la John Cage). Obviously, in such a reverberant space care has to be taken, as too much information could easily lead to an unholy mess. Not a chance of that happening here, with most sounds being allowed to work their course before the next arrives. Unfortunately, I feel this approach fails. The most interesting moments are where sounds are allowed to mingle, approximately the last seven minutes, leaving the rest to be the sonic equivalent of trainspotting. I am sure there is adventure, mischief and drama, for some, through undertaking it in this way. However, maybe the recording should be heard mostly as a means of documenting how certain objects sound in this space. Short clicks and footsteps are distributed amongst longer electronic induced whistles and hums. A short period of more intense (in decibels) action, itself separated between bursts, acts as a counterpoint to the minimalist fare that surrounds it.

Personally, I do not think the recording helps. It sounds like there is a barrier between the listener and the space, giving the impression that you are once removed from the setting. Considering the importance of the environment to the performance, there is an overall lack of depth and involvement. My overall feeling that you had to be there, was in part confirmed by the video, although even here I found my enthusiasm draining away from me after a few minutes. There were moments where I suspect sound from elsewhere in the building escaped into the space. One of these, at the beginning, resembled a distant Russian choir, although focusing on it reveals dialogue. These, I think, are the things that should have been exploited more and used to build up a more interesting piece. One which involved the whole building on a level above that of the acoustic it supplies.

Six Black Rectangles


Tomas Korber
Musik Für Ein Feld

A major piece of composition from electronicist Tomas Korber. Exhaustive examination of the potential of the saxophone. The Konus Quartett use an armoury of tenor, soprano, baritone and alto saxophones and is made up of Christian Kobi, Fabio Oehrli, Stefan Rolli and Jonas Tschanz. Korber himself performs with Konus Quartett on processed saxophones, sine waves and feedback. Musik für ein Feld is a commissioned piece, so without the financial assistance of Stadt Zurich, S. Eustachius Stiftung and Burgergemeinde Bern, we might not have the opportunity to listen to an eleaborate and longform product of Korber’s imagination such as this.

Tomas Korber has previously been fairly prolific, augmenting his own discography with appearances on records by Jason Kahn, The Dropp Ensemble, eRikm, Mersault, and even finding time to mix, edit and master the And We Disappear CD by one of my favourite UK improv groupings, The Sealed Knot, among other things.

The field in the title is not expanded upon in the sleeve notes, and the only visual information on the black-on-black printed digipak is a device on the rear of six black rectangles getting fatter from left to right. This could simply represent a field of colour, or, considered as a graphic rendering of a shape, it suggests rotation, or a circular object – a zoetrope, perhaps? Apart from some soft breath soundings, Korber uses a lengthy quiet passage at the beginning, and additional long pauses scattered about throughout the piece’s 67 min duration, acting as markers or divisions. It is these, rather than the myriad other sonic events, which form the structural framework of the piece. The existence of these quiet sections might make you think Musik für ein Feld is of apiece with some kind of Wandelweiser release, but that is the only similarity. There are equally elements that are very maximal.

It is possible that objects are introduced into the saxophones themselves, seeds perhaps, in one section around 22 minutes in, and are allowed to interract with the instruments as they are subjected to various extended techniques. The production of all these sounds is crisp and clear throughout; Fabio Oehrli appears to be responsible for both engineering and mastering and I should say he’s done a very good job.

Musik für ein Feld momentarily put me in mind of Greg Stuart’s realization of A Wave And Waves by Michael Pisarro. Indeed, Korber has a release on Cathnor, the UK label that released A Wave And Waves; a duo recording with Graham Halliwell which I believe was only the third release on Cathnor, although I found that recording a little overlong and maybe even a tad pompous. Whether that’s down to Korber or Halliwell, I’m not sure. Whether Musik für ein Feld represents a distillation of Korber’s previous approaches, given this is his first release for three years is hard for me to say as, I’ll be honest, I am not wholly familiar with his prodigious output over the last 12 years or so. If you are already aware of Tomas Korber’s work, then I expect you will already have acquired this item. But if you are new to his work, I give it my wholehearted recommendation.

Abstracted Radio

PKM MAY 2014021

Mark Cetilia
{Impact + Aftermath}

God, that’s quiet. I’ve heard some quiet albums, but that’s brave how quiet this disc starts. It builds from nothing to distant rumbling, or the sound of a thousand subterranean hard drives in standby mode. The source of this curious sonic disturbance is “software defined radio + electronics”. Software defined radio, eh? I’ll have to look that up. Ok; it means radio generated by or by the use of components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, and so forth) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer. Does that mean Mark Cetilia has a piece of bespoke software which is monitoring internet radio streams and choosing stations of its own accord? If so, Cetilia then processes the heck out of it to obscure any traces of Gangnam Style, Lady Gaga or Pharrell Williams. The title of the piece suggests that what the software might be looking for is {PULSE DEFINITION} raw radio information, which could be incoming extra-terrestrial incoming picked up by SETI, the broadcasts on the emergency services channels, covert operations, the sound of wireless routers, numbers stations etc., etc. As the piece increases in volume it certainly begins to sound more and more like abstracted radio transmissions, so hung with hums and static is it that, again, it could equally be a fleet of servers boiling away in an air-conditioned bunker that we are listening to.

A filter opens that could be a sweep across shortwave frequencies at two in the morning. It is not known if Cetilia has used multiple sources or a single one. Whatever, the result is ecstatic, creeping dread. I suspect multiples. What had begun as quietly airless becomes more pneumatic as it goes on – decisive stereo events push the claustrophobic fuzz out into all corners of the room. Whines enter the previously high frequency-less aural environment. Kinda like being gassed with plasma-fied candy floss by a grinning toothless ape in a sealed concrete bunker in Spain. Volume rise is intended to take over your senses by stealth. A huge suction is vortex produced. Jet engines at take-off. Sawmill surge. Nothing can withstand its awful power. An impressive performance – I would like to have been there – having seen Tim Blechmann perform live recently, I can vouch for the power of transformative coding live. Ends bloody loud.

Cetilia runs Estuary Ltd as far as I can ascertain, and this disc appears to be only the second title on his release schedule. It’s a good start – I hope to hear more from this interesting new Providence, RI label. Edition of 200.

Clair De Lune


Klaus Filip & Dafne Vicente-Sandoval

Klaus Filip I know has an extensive back catalogue including projects with Tim Blechmann, Toshimaru Nakamura, Radu Malfatti, Mattin, Nikos Veliotis, Andrea Neumann and Ivan Palacky, is the creator of the ppooll/lloopp music software and boldly claims the possibility of being the first ever Viennese musician to ever use a laptop in a live performance. Dafne Vicente-Sandoval is a new name to me, but I gather she has worked with Bonnie Jones, Angélica Castelló and Xavier Lopez; as well as in trio with Sébastien Cirotteau and Lawrence Williams, and has recorded two compositions by Jakob Ullmann which were released by Edition RZ in 2012 as part of the cd box-set fremde zeit addend.

Remoto was recorded at Amann Studios – Christoff Amann seems to be the EAI go-to producer of the moment – whose notable clients include Christian Fennesz (who is resident in Amann’s Studio B), Barbara Romen, Kai Fagaschinski and Gunter Schneider whose album Here Comes The Sun was released on Mikroton and comes highly recommended by this reviewer, and also David Sylvian’s half-digested improv construct Manafon.

So, a necessary overview of Remoto. There is a lot of high frequency information here. A lot. I’ve already got the beginnings of tinnitus so I’m less enamoured of this kind of approach than perhaps others might be.

This album fits the remit of minimalism, vaguely. It is possibly Reductionist with a small “r”. Remoto – nothing to do with those novelty miniature racing motorcycles, or “mini-motos”. When I visited Corsica in the 80s, I was struck by the young age at which the locals were allowed to ride motor scooters, or “motos” as they were known back then. These kids would come screaming round the blind bends on the mountain roads, helmetless, thirteen year-olds, sheer drops on one side; no Armco; mountain roads with burned out cars, desiccated landscape, the vague threat of banditry, all the while trying to make sense of the gearbox of a hire Citroen 2CV.

To me, this music is what you might expect from sine waves and extended bassoon techniques – pleasantly reduced, long-form, until some very harsh high end squeaks halfway set against an underdeveloping bass drone. One early listen through was in a village car park on a sunny mid-afternoon with plenty of distant but nonetheless distracting builders’ saws and drills and so forth which would ordinarily slot right in with this kind of music… Then the high frequency information kicked in – I don’t know if it is my knee-jerk fear of tinnitus but I had to turn the volume down pretty swiftly. But then car stereos are not the most forgiving playback devices. At least mine’s not. I resolved to persevere with “Obscur” at home on decent equipment.

When spinning “Obscur” at normal listening volume you might say it’s a barely there-type listening experience. Pulsing wisps of sound. Boost your amplifier’s volume control and you’ll become aware of a lot of information played very quietly. Thus, this elevated volume serves to foreground the following substantial low-end of the bassoon (or it could be Filip’s sine waves), an effect I find very pleasing. I’ve occasionally noticed recently releases which have included disclaimers on their sleeves recommending the listener not rely on their laptop’s built-in speakers. I should say that this advice applies here. Too much would be inaudible on laptop speakers or most standard car stereos; but on headphones you might be risking your hearing due to all the high pitched tones – a half decent hi-fi system really is necessary to get the best out of this. Even then, when the high end information kicks in around 18 minutes, it is still uncomfortable listening. I found myself dipping and raising the volume on the amplifier a lot.

“Clair” starts with yet more high-end frequency information. If you were watching a concert performance of this material, you could argue that a man producing sine tones with a laptop is not as interesting to watch as a bassoon player presumably employing a range of extended technique, but there is little visual imagery to accompany your dry experience of playback of the disc. Furthermore, I would imagine huge chunks of the frequency range of this music will be inaudible on most domestic-quality built-in pc speakers, but would you risk your hearing by using headphones? I avoid headphones myself as a matter of necessity. As “Clair” begins with high pitched sines again and keeps it up, I found I couldn’t physically listen to this without it affecting my mood for the worse. Is this a deliberate strategy by Filip and Sandoval? It’s a brave and commendable act if it is deliberate, but pushing boundaries is one thing but I’m not joking this is harsh. The second half drops into gear with some drone based action, hopefully. Yes. Yes, yes…no. Look: here’s more pointless high pitched squeaking. I’m not really enjoying this. It’s frustrating. There’s some good music here I’m not being allowed to hear properly. Overall, quite a lot of nothing happens. I wonder if Filip has included a lot of information that is out of the range of human hearing. An interesting approach if true. Dogs may benefit. Filip seems to lean heavily on a linear range of variable sines and not a lot else. I have a copy of his collaboration with Tim Blechmann, The Organ Of Corti, where he uses similar instrumentation to more devastating effect.

The cover and disc feature an image of what looks to me like an image of the night sky – a constellation of stars – but it could just as easily be white spray paint on black card or dust motes floating in front of dark fabric.

Potlatch has been supplying excellent releases of improvised music since 1998, when they kicked things off with No Waiting, an Anglo-French meeting of Derek Bailey and Joëlle Léandre. Since then, they have built an illustrious catalogue including contributions from international improvisors including John Butcher, Xavier Charles & Axel Dörner, Phil Durrant, Bertrand Denzler & Burkhard Beins, Jean-Luc Guionnet & Toshimaru Nakamura, Seijiro Murayama & Stéphane Rives and Keith Rowe & John Tilbury.