Tagged: quiet

Backbone Flute

intonema digisleeve

Rotonda (INTONEMA int016) is a single 47-minute improvisation performed by the trio of Gaudenz Badrutt, Ilia Belorukov, and Jonas Kocher. It’s one of these lengthy, slow and quiet affairs, which I usually liken to Quaker prayer meetings, because a player will apparently only make a sound when he has something to say. Otherwise, Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio 1 is their motto.

Kocher’s inaudible accordion-playing has crossed our path before, and I often find it surprising how memorable his work is when, pound for pound, there’s so little of it. Matter of fact he joined forces with Badrutt on the album Strategy Of Behaviour In Unexpected Situations for the Insubordinations label in 2015, and the agonising tension induced by that music is something I won’t forget in a hurry. I needed prescription muscle relaxants for about two weeks.

Badrutt is still doing unspeakable things with electricity, and given the dark nature of his crimes we expect to read about his arrest in Zurich any day now. He turned his back on his beginnings as a classical pianist, doing so in a memorable public action that involved the conflagration of a concert grand that had been doused in petrol, and for 15 years he has been in pursuit of the sort of dreams that only sine waves can give a man. Notably, he’s done it with the woodwind player Hans Koch, and he plays in strøm with Christian Müller and Kocher. Here, he does some form of live sampling, which may involve taking the temperature of the room with his magic thermometer (don’t ask!) and working with “acoustic sound sources”, which given the environment in question may involve anything from riffling through a card index to agitating a wooden library shelf.

Yes, they did it in the Rotonda of the Mayakovsky Library in Saint-Petersburg, starting imperceptibly at first, but building up to an alarming combination of tones that drove all the readers out into the street in short order, while a small federation of librarians laboured to maintain an aura of calm. Belorukov is almost elbowed aside by the taut fabric of fear created by the Swiss pair, but he manages to insert some pained, abstract tones from his alto saxophone, comforting it like a wounded animal. I’d also add that their playing is highly attuned to the space itself; Kocher in particular seems to be in his element, exploiting the natural echo of the venue, and his short utterances (when they do happen) delineate the architecture of the walls and ceiling with a pinpoint accuracy.

Bleak, cold, slow to the point of inertia, and full of unexpected silences, this is still an impressive bout of minimal blap, packed with existential doubts and strange emotions. From 26th October 2015.

  1. See the famous painting by Salvator Rosa in the National gallery (London).

Ritorno all’Acqua: a brief glimpse into another world co-existing with the physical universe

Andrea Penso, Ritorno all’Acqua, Canti Magnetici, cassette CANTO 02 (2015)

“Please play quiet” says the advice on the inner sleeve of this 15-minute cassette release but the reality is that the cassette format, with all its limitations, forces listeners to jack up the volume level just to be able to hear as much of the music on offer as possible. All the music is based on the use of nature and background-ambience field recordings, and the repetition of this source material in the form of tape loops. This suggests that the music should be subtle and relaxing, hypnotic and (had it been twice as long) immersive, bearing the listener gently on a swirl of sound texture downstream … Parts are of the recording are intriguing and on a different format (let’s say, a 12″ vinyl format) and extending for twice the length, this piece might have been very warm and inviting. But for some reason unknown (to me anyway), the decision was made to put this music onto cassette so any subtleties present in the work are lost and the whole thing comes over as disjointed and rather flat.

What you hear first is a layer of shrill seagull whine over a quiet drone and another stratum of scrapes and bumping noises. The atmosphere is a bit tense and you can find yourself expecting the worst to happen. Gradually the shrill noise and the lower-end bumps are replaced by a loop of water trickle, strange wobble drones that might be mistaken for sheep baa-ing and (later still) a warmer organ-like chiming drone churn. Something that might pique the interest is definitely there but the 15-minute opening just isn’t long enough and before long the gates slam shut.

At the very least, you get a glimpse into another world existing in parallel with the physical world, one that exists entirely in your mind, and if that’s the aim of this recording then it has done its work well. The cover art looks as mysterious yet familiar as the recording sounds (it’s part of a mosaic featuring a scene, possibly Biblical, in which someone is submerged in the sea) and if you were to concentrate on that while listening to the recording, then you might experience a true change in the way you see and hear familiar things in the world and connect with them anew.

Sound artist Penso is a member of the fairly new Canti Magnetici cassette label group and this recording, the second released by the label, is his first under his own name.

Green Shoots

karen power

Karen Power
Is It Raining While You Listen
IRELAND FAR POINT RECORDINGS fp51 CD (2014)

A lush handful of foldout A5 packaging from Farpoint Recordings, containing a cd on which all of the featured pieces of Karen Power’s music are consistently well-recorded, giving the impression that it could be one big suite of music. However, it isn’t. All the pieces are realisations by different musicians including SCAW Duo, Mmm Trio, Quiet Music Ensemble and the Nova Ensemble; which is the earliest recording presented here, from 2007. That it fills almost the entire capacity of an 80 minute cd certainly offers good value in exchange for your hard-earned and ensures an immersive experience for those who don’t necessarily want to do their listening piecemeal.

Power’s website front page sets out her stall: “I use two primary sources in my creative output, acoustic instruments and everyday sound-objects and soundscapes”. The music on Is It Raining While You Listen straddles two worlds; the worlds of modern composition, and of contemporary composition (these are my terms but you will know the difference). The second of which is changing slowly; moving almost imperceptibly toward the first. Remember, non-traditional, shall we say, musicians such as Steve Beresford, Adam Bohman, Keith Rowe, Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga, Patrick Farmer, Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance have appeared at The Proms, even if it was specifically for the John Cage Centenary concert in 2012. Power’s work is neither tied too tightly to 20th century composition, nor as forward-thinking (or risk-taking?) as her contemporaries from the Wandelweiser collective, say.

The first piece ‘hang on, I’m not ready for a pig yet’, begins by channelling Ligeti’s ideas for massed voices demonstrated on his Lux Aeterna before devolving into small groupings of violin courtesy of Claire Duff who plays baroque violin. For the curious, as I was; a baroque violin differs subtly from modern violins, in terms of size of neck and tailpiece, but perhaps the most important differences are that baroque violins are always strung with gut rather than metal wound strings and are played with an earlier non-Tourte design of bow and without a chin rest. The next piece, ‘the colourful digestive palette of slugs’, realised by SCAW duo, is a combination of held notes from Sarah Watts’ bass clarinet and Antony Clare’s piano playing which, at times, sounds like he’s battering it with a blunt object, rather than playing it in the traditional sense, which is all good in my book, obviously.

The title track ‘is it raining while you listen’ is performed by the Mmm Trio, Reiko Manabe on alto flute, Kaori Ohsuga on piano and Shungo Mise who plays violin. A swift bit of digging on the internet indicates Mmm Trio also feature Canadian composer Daryl Jamieson, but he is not present here. The piece proceeds in a largely meandering jib, with occasional stridency, most often from the direction of the pianist. This sets a mood for the remainder of the disc; one of slight unease in this listener. Track four on this disc is listed on the sleeve as ‘flies who dreamt of more than windscreens’, but seems in fact, to actually be ‘forever ricefields’. No matter – ‘forever ricefields, (“tape”)’, begins with a recording of night-time crickets and waterfowl, no doubt located somewhere far more exotic than my own semi-rural position, (and therefore welcomed), and is, despite its risible title, one of the more successful pieces on this collection for me. There is a rich seam of cowbells (mildly processed in places?) that runs through the entire piece – great if you like cowbell – and there is little in the way of dynamic. This does nothing to dim my enjoyment of the piece, however.

‘flies who dreamt of more than windscreens’ employs long tones and greater use of dynamics than I’ve heard so far. Quiet Music Ensemble are responsible for this rendering: Seán MacErlaine plays clarinet? Isle de Ziah, cello and Roddy O’ Keefe utilises trombone.

Sounding more like the product of an institution like STEIM or IRCAM is relocating elk…by train , a piece for wind instrument and pre-recorded material this time. Carin Levine takes care of the performed aspect with her bass flute, bringing a sense of vertiginous space to the claustrophobic prepared material. Another distracting, (for me), title in squeeze birds to improve your garden’s plant variety , which features more sub-Ligeti moving tones performed by Nova Ensemble, whose constituent membership is left unspecified (there are Nova Ensembles based in Western Australia and North Texas; it’s not clear if either of these is the one at work here). Finally, fried rice, curried chip and a diet coke , another composition for “tape”, sets digitally processed vocal recordings against each other. Laughing, belching, ticcing, hiccupping, hissing;in a variety of not exactly unpleasant ways. But whichever way you look at it – that’s a lot of carbs.

Enter the Lithosphere

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Fine record by Earth TonguesRune (n/n 003) is the third release on the Brooklyn label Neither/Nor Records, where the common element among the releases appears to be the percussionist Carlo Costa, and the label agenda is to build a home for outre improv records. Ian Sherred has already noted the quite extreme solo work by Frantz Loriot, the French viola player. I should know, as I’m footing the bill for Sherred’s physio-therapy as he attempts to regain the use of his limbs. Rune is most welcome here mainly for the presence of Dan Peck, a powerful tuba improviser who has done for New York what Mr Inflato, the gargantuan 18th-century man who used to inflate balloons for the Montgolfier Brothers with his own lung-power, has done for France. Peck’s solo album on Tubapede Records is a must-have item for lovers of the growly mist, while even more essential is his work in The Gate trio, where the three players emulate the weight and grind of doom metal using purely acoustic means and improvisational techniques. In short, if you want to have your innards exploded by sheer wind-power, Peck’s just the lad to do it with his mighty poumons.

On Rune, he’s joined by the trumpet player Joe Moffett and Carlo Costa on percussion, to produce four long tracks of intense rumbling and roaring, much like a battle between an elephant and a shrill prehistoric bird taking place in a public arena surrounded by iron railings. Fortunately not all the discussion takes place on a warlike footing, and the various beasts involved soon find they have a lot of common ground. With these three players, it’s mostly about the sound they make, and the interaction is kept on a respectful footing, each man leaving space for his neighbour, allowing the generation of long tones and the development of lines of thought. On ‘Sunblind’, this can result in a lively and engaging dialogue; on ‘Porous Phase’ and ‘Lithosphere’, it can result in lengthy stretches of thought-provoking abstraction, strange and somewhat desolate vistas, and amorphous music that’s moving so slowly it barely seems to cohere at all. At some times, the elephant becomes a gigantic transparent glass doppelgänger of his usual self, and the bird-like object mutates into a ghostly pterodactyl perched near the water hole. There’s also ‘Depths’, which is not only slow and bleak but somehow quite alien, where the sound production has now moved well beyond the familiar and the musicians are exploring parts of their inner tubing which they never knew existed.

All of the above exactly matches the trio’s stated aim, which is to “take silence and ambient sound into full account”, where “the sounds that appear act as symbols to an unspoken language”. This appears to me to be building constructively on the foundations of “Onkyo” music and “reduced playing”, those particular developments in improvised music which have led to all kinds of problematic situations and recordings. Not to deny the successes in this area, but perhaps some musicians were in danger of living by the precepts of this strange new discipline of “silence” to the extent that they forgot to make any music. If that’s a challenge, Earth Tongues have picked up that gauntlet. They use silence as a tool, not an end in itself; and never lose sight of the importance of their interior personalities that will allow them to communicate and share as a group. From June 2015.

Tense Situation

JONAS KOCHER img015

Accordion player Jonas Kocher has shown up on our horizon a few times in the past, most recently as part of the ill-fated and controversial 300 Basses project, where he partnered up with that other notable avantist who has declared war on the accordion, Alfredo Costa Monteiro. Both are determined that the old squeeze-box should be forced to do anything but sound like a musical instrument, and they’ll stop at nothing until total domination has been achieved. On Strategy Of Behaviour In Unexpected Situations (INSUBORDINATIONS insubcd07), Jonas Kocher pursues his absurd nihilist project with the help of Gaudenz Badrutt, who supplies piercingly discomforting electronic tones. On a single track of 33 minutes, the duo sustain a mood of supreme tension, as though their bodies had been cast in stone, neither daring to make a move that might surprise their opponent. If you recall, this sort of thing – by which I mean silence, rigidity, and miserliness – used to be quite prevalent some 15 years ago, particularly in Japan; but Swiss intellectual Kocher seems determined to push the idea of taut, minimal playing into an extreme dimension of his own making. A dimension that involves many doors and barriers made of plywood, such that the listener may feel vaguely at home, but also hemmed in; it’s not clear where the living room leaves off and the wooden coffin begins. Badrutt has come our way before as a one half of Social Insects with Hans Koch, and also plays as strøm with Christian Müller. An extremely trying listen, but the overall sound is brittle, spacious, and oddly fascinating. Released in 2012.

Blank Screen

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The Belgian label Meeuw Muzak has been home to enjoyable and unusual examples of far-out electropop, vocal, and novelty records calculated to appeal to the contemporary hipster. The single by Il Grande Silenzio is a complete departure from that lineage. Played by the duo of Atsuo Ogawa and Minoru Sato, “Dry Lake / Empty Kettle” (MEEUW MUZAK 044) is a puzzling minimalist statement that on early spins seemed to be a completely futile exercise. But the press notes remind us of Meeuw Muzak’s “journey towards unspecified horizons, leaving the footprints of a different animal each time”. If you accept this rhetoric, then you have no choice but to join the hunt.

What we hear is Ogawa’s banjo plucking mysterious single notes in isolation, much like a renegade country-folk rendition of Stockhausen’s Klavierstucke. In the background, Sato is providing an electronic backdrop so minimal it can barely be said to exist. While there’s slightly more pulsating energy discernible on the B-side, he’s still pretty much absent from the room, as if he’s still stranded at the airport while his partner is already settled in the hotel. The duo don’t have much of a track record to date; there’s a 2012 album on Two Acorns from Japan, on which Sato plays something called a RP3M-Roll Paper Punching Program Machine, which must cause a riot on stage. I’d liken it to Keith Emerson’s big Moog. There’s one track on there that lasts for 19 minutes; one LP side’s worth of bleak emptiness. Long durations, slowness, inexplicable silences are the order of the day; both players appear to have backgrounds in contemporary gallery art, and they like simplicity, repetition, and pushing things to extremes.

There’s a press note included here written by Pete Um, one of C. Joynes’ many mystico-genius buddies who form a current Cambridge underground “scene” that I wish I knew more about. He makes a very good case for this record and in many ways pre-empts any other interpretation one could possibly bring to it. The name Il Grande Silenzio, you see, is also the title of a Spaghetti Western 1, and it’s perfectly within the rules to hear this record not only as a stripped-down version of a Morricone soundtrack to that film, but also as a re-enactment of any given scene from that movie. Hence, the tension, silence, and what Um calls “the unfolding of a narrative you can’t fully comprehend”. While it’s fair to say he’s reading a lot into it, his version of events is valid. He also draws attention to the presence of the banjo, an instrument rarely deployed in the context of free improvisation or avant-garde music, and speculates about the ramifications of this choice. But I think the duo themselves have already expressed all of this simply and perfectly with their Soundcloud hashtag, “#Extreme Folk”. From 10th October 2014.

  1. Sergio Corbucci, 1968; this Franco-Italian co-production is described elsewhere as a “revisionist” Western.

Ice Manipulation

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Le Cébron / Statics and Sowers is a clear vinyl LP (AUSENRAUM AR-LP-002) by Thomas Tilly, which as usual with this creator hovers gently midway between field recordings, electronica, and scientific investigation – not unlike his previous dense thicket of micro-sounds, Script Geometry. On one side his recordings and treatments start with broken ice from Lake Cébron in France; on the other, he’s doing it with beehives and electronic circuits. The ice-man side feels completely non-eventful on early spins, but I appreciate the “frozen minimalism” approach which lurks behind its conception and its execution. It’s something about freezing movement, the paralysis of everything…you’d imagine that Tilly could stop time itself moving if he had to. It’d probably be relatively easy for him too; most mad scientists would think of huge generators and menacing machines the size of a public library. Conversely, Tilly could do it with two miniaturised boxes and a coil of copper wire.

‘Statics and Sowers’ is certainly more on the maximal side, even if it’s unlikely to be appearing at a rave gig near your town any day. For this bee-centric affair, Tilly applies switches in a manner to make his edits and interventions that shade more obtrusive, so that we click back and forth between the world of the beehive (all warm and buzzy – a nice place to be, all told) and the digital realm of pure electronic noise. It’s a shocking feeling, causing a deeper rift than a simple shift in timbres normally creates. It’s more like your whole body is switching dimensions. In doing this, Tilly also seems to be making a tangible connection between the circuits of his mixing desk and the bees themselves. They’re about the same size, for starters. Perhaps he’s also able to get customised components, for instance resistors made up with stripy jackets, so that the deception is more or less undetectable. He dedicates this work to Zbigniew Karkowski, who ascended to the great beehive in the sky some time ago. From 27 May 2014, limited edition LP of 300 copies.

The Air so Quiet, Scarce a Cloud

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We don’t hear from the Dublin label Farpoint Recordings often enough. They are home to some unusual and choice items of sound art, including for instance the sound artist Fergus Kelly who does the field recording/minimal electronic thing to great acclaim, and the site-specific White Star Line EP from Danny McCarthy. Today we have the Quiet Music Ensemble, a five-piece of musicians who perform restrained chamber music with stringed instruments, woodwind, brass and electric guitar, and on The Mysteries Beyond Matter (fp052) they turn their stumps towards interpreting contemporary minimal scores. Alvin Lucier’s ‘Shadow Lines’ is meat and drink to them; it might have been scored with them in mind, as it calls for pretty much the exact instruments in their set-up. What we hear is 15 minutes of glacial, haunted microtonal coldness, proceeding across the empty pavement with the assurance of a shadow cast by the winter sun.

Then there’s their take on Pauline Oliveros, a 24-minute composition called ‘The Mystery Beyond Matter’; Quiet Music Ensemble played the première of this work in 2014, and it involved a computer program providing artificial resonant spaces. It’s all about acoustical spaces; the Ensemble don’t so much create sound as explore an environment, much like phantoms floating around a deserted shopping mall after the end of the world. Does it make sense to say there’s a palpable silence underpinning this music? It’s what’s not being played that’s somehow relevant, and we even go beyond the old Cagean idea of hearing random creaks and groans in the performance space. Again, a rather ghastly chill adheres to your skin from hearing this piece of beautiful, but very stern, desolation.

John Godfrey, guitarist to the group, also wrote ‘Hand Tinted’, another eerie and barely-present all-white drone which is enriched – although that’s too strong a word under the circumstances – with field recordings of birdsong, insect noise, and purring motorcycle engines passing by. We’d almost be in Francisco López territory where it not for the abiding sense of emptiness and loneliness; a sound world teeming with life, or at least betraying some signs of it, yet still passing on an apocalyptic sense of imminent doom. It’s always impressive to me how musicians can perform with such restraint, eking the sounds out as if they were spider’s webs.

Also here: ‘Night Leaves Breathing’ by David Toop, a composition that reflects his then-interest in near-inaudible sounds, mostly in his own house; he noticed the wealth of sounds that a house can bring when it’s “calm”, presumably after everyone has gone to bed and the very timber beams start to relax themselves. This one opens the CD. For some reason I imagine it posed the biggest challenge for the Ensemble to realise it at all. Partly because I think it was originally a (quite short) tape composition, and they’ve now inflated it to 20 minutes; partly because of the strange and perplexing silences layered into the body of the work. It’s probably the least “eventful” piece on the whole album. But there’s an undercurrent of something which might be a man snoring, and that’s referenced in the original tape piece too. Quiet Music Ensemble should consider doing this piece in the context of a Finnegans Wake festival in Dublin, unless they already have. Hope these random observations are helping to some degree.

A very strong album if you enjoy quiet music; the connoisseurs among you will appreciate the important differences between a record of compositions like this, and music made by improvisers from the schools of Reduced Playing or Onkyo. Only the cover art disappoints slightly. It’s a white field (like a white canvas from the severe 1970s school or art) with smudges in the corners, like a linen sheet left outside to get spotted with mould. They should have recruited Ben Owen from winds measure recordings to do one of his embossed sleeves. Otherwise, full marks to all concerned for a coherent statement of austere wiriness. From 13 April 2015.

Tiny Dancers

airs

Kawaguchi / Olive / Oshiro
Airs
JAPAN 845-AUDIO 845-5 CD

Two quantum level explorations of the musical underverse, starting with a Japanese-Canadian collaboration. Airs presents four live in the studio performances for self-made instruments and magnetic pickups, from musicians/installation artists Takahiro Kawaguchi, Tim Olive and Makoto Oshiro. It’s very, very quiet, but too spiky to be properly called ambient.

The music, such as it is, unfolds in pulses of resonance and metallic vibration, interspersed with sine waves, rattlings and tinklings. Track 3 introduces some barely-there bass to the mix, and some electronic buzzing, as if someone was taking the opportunity for a quick shave. Track 4 brings in some rhythmic elements, like the world’s first nanotech drum solo. Most of the time, however, you’re listening to the sound of space and air, which makes the title particularly well chosen.

Whilst listening to this, and trying to decide if I was hearing music or just my own tinnitus, I came across an article about a new metal developed by the Boeing Company, a micro-lattice that is 99.99% air. These tracks are the audio equivalent.

Small Bits of Indigenous Space Between The Grains

Spruit
Small Bits of Indigenous Space Between The Grains
NO NUMBER CDR (2015)

Compared to Airs, Spruit’s offering sounds like The Who Live At Leeds, but it shows a similar fascination with microscopic detail. Spruit is Dutch musician Marc Spruit, who for this release has abandoned his previous work with turntables and taken a step into the wonderful world of laptops and software.

The tracks on Small Bits Of Indigenous Space Between The Grains are digital cut-ups, created from old toys and radios, no-input mixing boards and virtual synths. The resulting bleeps, bloops and burblings have been run through the audio processor and chopped up into small samples, which are then used as components for longer improvisations.

All tracks are named for their running times and, to my ears at least, have very little to distinguish one from the other. Still, it’s quite a fascinating listen. The overall effect is like a musical double-slit experiment, with the sound displaying the characteristics of both waves and particles. Again, it’s all too spiky to be called ambient music, unless the ambience you’re aiming for is “cosmic background radiation”.

Interesting experiments, if nothing else.

Comfort Zones

pisaro

Michael Pisaro
Melody, Silence by Cristián Alvear
FRANCE POTLACH P115 CD (2015)

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.

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Christian Wallumrød
Pianokammer
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2542 (2014)

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.