As the quiet crow flies (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp058) is a team-up between two Irish improvising duos – The Quiet Club, and crOw. As far as I can make out these four guys know each other quite well and the record came about after the four of them were forced indoors during a terrible storm in 2015. The notes stress the warmth and friendliness of the situation, “an unexpectedly free evening in each other’s good company”, failing only to mention the possible presence of a bottle of Jameson’s hard by. It is this warmth which emerges on the record, a continual piece of improvised music some 33 minutes long. All four of them play in the so-called “electro acoustic improv” mode, by which I mean there is use of amplification, e-bows, effects pedals, loops, and live electronics, taking place alongside the acoustic elements which include stones, objects, toys, and the alto saxophone of Cathal Roche. If you were expecting a portrait of the 2015 storm – most likely they are referring to “Storm Frank”, which caused horrendous damage sweeping cars into the sea and leaving many homes without electricity – you may be slightly disappointed by the quiet and understated music in these grooves, which is a slow and thoughtful exploration of sonic interplays and long tones. However, the packaging is extensively decorated with evocative photographs (by Doreen Kennedy) of landscapes, grey clouds, and skies, and the listener can’t help but hear echoes of weather and oceans (and the cries of seagulls) in these abstract sounds. This may indicate that these players, unlike some more recondite EAI players, have not lost sight of some basic truths which help to root their work in the real world, and they’re not afraid to tell stories in their music. This is refreshing; one gets tired of all that non-associative music, which often ends up blank and empty, and As the quiet crow flies is bound to connect to any human being who has travelled overseas, gone for a solitary walk on the hills, or even simply gone outside. Limited to 500 copies, from 19th September 2016.
The Kyūbi (NAKAMA RECORDS NKM005CD) record is by Jinchūriki, a duo of Norwegian violinists Håkon Aase and Adrian Løseth Waade. You may be familiar with them through their other group Filosofer, and Waade plays in the quintet Nakama as well as the much larger improvising group Skadedyr (noted previously for their record with the big crab on the cover). Kyūbi is an understated and largely quiet acoustic record, with 20 short tracks – it’s a bit of extra work to get onto its wavelength, as the musical statements are so brief that they pass by before you even start to pick up the vibe of where these two mysterious Norwegians might be coming from. But there are interesting details and textures hidden inside these concise, blank utterances, and it’s worth persevering for the moments when they get quite worked up, packing a large volume of frenetic plucks and abstracted notes into quite small spaces.
They also like to limn imaginary snowy landscapes, using creaky scrapes and long tones from their wooden devices and strings. The aim of these musicians is something to do with exploring limits – of their instruments, of their sound, of themselves; perhaps they have in mind the musical equivalent of a commando weekend where you’re dropped onto a cold moor wearing only a vest and pants. It’s to their credit that they keep these observations so brief; the average innings here is less than two minutes, and their best pieces zip by in about 40 seconds or less. I think if they stretched into the 7 minute zone, a practice which by the way seems to be de rigeur for many improvising combos, they might turn into flabby, boring drones. However, brevity doesn’t always equal profundity, and some of these tunes can seem inconclusive; but at their best, Jinchūriki pose acoustic riddles which you can puzzle over for hours.
The cover image, also by Håkon Aase, seems to suggest a volcano emitting a fiery plume and much smoke, but a volcano is the last thing on the listener’s mind when faced with these gentle and rather cold musical miniatures. The names Jinchūriki and Kyūbi apparently both come from a 1990s manga and anime series called Naruto, which tells the story of a disaffected teenage ninja warrior. From 26th September 2016.
CANADA E-TRON REC ETRC025 CD (2016)
Estinto is an interesting title for this disc, as it means “extinct” or “(a debt) paid off”. However, what or whom Pierre-Yves Martel is paying off with this single 54 minute piece of music is not acknowledged. Treble viol and harmonica played simultaneously by Monsieur Martel, in a room, while sitting on a chair, probably; whilst being recorded by Ross Murray. It’s kind of like a pulsing sub-Wandelweiser silence-followed-by-signal-followed-by-silence piece; so if you imagine a guy sat there on his chair playing harmonica and treble viol simultaneously for 54 minutes. More like durational performance art, which arguably you might prefer to experience on dvd.
If you look at his website he is presenting himself more as an artist – it’s that ubiquitous term: “sound artist”, rather than “musician” although he does say that “he also works outside of instrumental music altogether, using a variety of objects rife with new sonic possibilities, from contact-mics and speakers to motors, wheels, surfaces and textures.” Like the label, he is Canadian; from Montréal I believe? The label is based not far away, in Hull, Québec. It is a piece of work that has a little trouble with its own existence outside of the artist’s head… I hesitate to use the word “conceptual” because there isn’t really much of a concept here. Clearly he’s playing with silence – the idea of using silence as a compositional tool which as I said before, is an idea I think he may have seen used by members of the Wandelweiser collective – although its equally possible that he came to this way of working in his own logical or logistical process of development – it is interesting to me (for reasons that admittedly have nothing to do with this disc before me) that Wandelweiser have gained or encouraged a reputation for using silence or quietness when quite a lot of their output is undeniably maximalist; Michael Pisaro’s A Wave And Waves for example – you couldn’t get much more maximalist than that, or at least this is the Greg Stuart rendering of it that I’m thinking of.
Pierre-Yves Martel’s work here is aimless, lacks the thrust of development and is somewhat repetitive. There are only two major changes that happen; although as an architectural tool compositionally this strategy works well. Overall, perhaps it could occupy the function of background music for an art gallery, say, were it not for the fact that sonically, it is so strident. This is a challenging piece. Do I applaud the artist’s decision to produce this piece of work? Yes. Yes, I do. Will I listen to it again at home for pleasure? I’ll let you know.
Here is the latest release from Crustacés Tapes, sent to us from Montreal – an art-tape label whose understated releases usually arrive with a printed card that’s been hand-decorated and the minimal text has been applied on with a John Bull printing set. Ryoko Akama is a new name to these pages, but she’s a well-respected composer and sound artist who runs a label of her own, Melange Edition, and also co-edits a publication with the foreboding name of Reductive Journal. She’s extremely minimal; proud of her “almost nothing” aesthetic, her plan is to create small sound events which I suppose are taking place on the fringes of human perception, often using small everyday objects (toys, balloons, bottles) to trigger them.
In the case of Hako To Oto (CRUSTACÉS #8), the small object in question is a music box. If you spin the tape, you might hear the occasional note issuing from said box within the confines of the “rural hotel room” in Portugal where it was recorded. Mostly though, you’ll hear a lot of silence, a lot of room tone…this is also part of Akama’s plan, creating “situations that magnify temporal/spatial experience with silence, time and space.” I found this release very testing, with nothing in the way of aesthetic enjoyment to reward one’s patience. But I expect I’m approaching it all wrong. It’s very clear she has virtually no interest in the music played by that music box, and wants the sound to break up the silence, or to punctuate the silence in some way. Maybe she intends this punctuation to take place on a grand scale, as though drawing a map of the hotel room, using sound as callipers.
In a way I have to admire Ryoko Akama’s determination to refuse conventional “beauty” in this work, and it obstinately declines to become anything more than just a tiny music box making occasional sounds in a silent room; no existentialist “meaning”, no transcendence through repetition, no deep listening, not even an appreciation of the silence, which Francisco López might once have insisted on. If any of this is near the mark, then it’s possible that Ryoko Akama is setting out a new benchmark for what minimalism might mean in the area of sound art. For more of her compositions, text-scores, installation pieces and so forth, see her site; she has performed Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, but that composition seems positively eventful compared to this. Arrived 29 July 2016.
Has it Started?
Un/even And One
RUSSIA INTONEMA int018 CD (2016)
Swiss cellist Stefan Thut debuted his score Un/Even and One in St Petersburg in 2015 with a bevy of (somewhat more) local musicians who do a top job of sounding like they aren’t there. A short Youtube clip reveals much to this theory: for the 5-strong assembly, virtue is expressed in restraint from virtually any physical movement at all; just a young lady pushing a box around in the foreground while five instruments receive attention only spasmodically. I sense that the concept behind Thut’s scoring is one of meticulous refinement; that of distilling full bars and phrases into the merest of gestures, upon the blank canvas of near-silence. We should not be surprised to learn therefore of Thut’s affiliation with the Wandelweiser group, for whom such matters are a preoccupation.
Silence is, in fact, is one of two canvases common to Thut’s work. The other is ‘the box’. There’s one drawn on on the cover, with semi-explanatory text describing how Thut ‘joined the sounds from transcribed language played through the surface of a moving cardboard box’ to add to the enigma. As I understand it, the musicians’ fingers were prerecorded rubbing words into the surface of cardboard boxes, which recordings were played back during the performance, effectively encompassing the space in conceptual cardboard. The value of the symbol of the empty-box-as-pure-potential is appended by the actual movement of the box throughout the performance, its location at any given point conferring on each musician the right to play.
Over 40 minutes, silence intersperses with sounds barely identifiable: low-volume cello massage and rummaging beneath a layer of tape hiss; a mass of slippery shadows, exhaling emphysemically and pierced by sine waves in a dark basement that yawns with an ancient hunger. What the recording may lacks in terms of immediatism, it at least makes up for by stirring the imagination.
Is It Over?
Mind Is Moving IX
RUSSIA INTONEMA int017 CD (2015)
Something of a go-to for less voluble composers, guitarist Denis Sorokin facilitates a recent work by another of the Wandelweiser composers, Michael Pisaro, for the novel combination of electric guitar, radio, stones and whistling. No prizes for naming the other, unnamed ingredient as silence (or a recorded approximation of) in immodest volume. The piece was refined in performances over two years (2013 to 2015) before being deemed medically fit for recording, in which: you’ve guessed it, the instruments/sound sources are addressed only sporadically between far lengthier and more considered pauses.
That the hapless listener might come unstuck is occasioned by the fact that the performer’s means of interpretation and the composer’s means of evaluation are equally nebulous. At what point is the performance deemed ‘acceptable’ and how is the listener to know when the standard has (not) been met? When the form of the piece stands so readily to baffle, it is difficult to gauge and this much is neither divulged nor easily relatable. However, one senses such judgements rely at least partially on attaining the ‘Goldilocks’ balance between pause and play that ‘the listener’ stops wondering whether the piece is contiguous and/or continuing. Reaching this sweet spot presumably necessitated a good deal of fine tuning of both composition and intuition.
Thus, the recording takes its place in Pisaro’s ever-satisfying catalogue, alongside fine companions such as 2016’s Melody, Silence by Cristián Alvear. Along with the Stefan Thut CD, it also brings further respectability to the Russian label Intonema, based in St Petersburg, where many of these performances are recorded. Limited edition run, needless to say.
I’ve been kinda intrigued by CoH (Ivan Pavlov) ever since hearing his IIRON album many years ago, but that’s because it was produced using guitars and to my rock-seeking ears resembled some sort of avant-garde, metaphysical take on heavy metal. In my rush to find a viable alternative to Sunn O))), I was overlooking the electronica drones and techno beats in the mix on that release, whereas it seems the latter music is broadly more characteristic of what CoH gets up to. Retro 2038 was an all-computer music record which I interpreted as a futuristic vision of how the disco-dancefloor would evolve over time (not that I really care much), while 2014’s To Beat was much more of a process exercise, composed from micro building blocks like pulses, tones, and sine waves, to create something akin to aural illusions of space and depth.
Well, now I’m facing the ultra-minimal and slow-paced throbulations and hummings of a new record called Music Vol. (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 222), and while this is far removed from my dream of intellectualised guitar rock, it’s still managing to cast a compelling spell of mesmerising wizardry using only the simplest of means, in an extremely unhurried fashion. There’s something calculating about the evil ways of this Soviet monster, a man who probably wears a grey business suit at all times to throw his unsuspecting victims off the scent, when in reality underneath that suit he’s got a torso of muscles rendered hard as steel from his years of dedicated exercise in an underground gym of brutality. The tracks here, languishing in the 7 to 8 minute realm, are almost like lullabies, soothing you into a false sense of security with their comforting, gentle rhythms and tiny, unsophisticated melodies. Yet there’s no disguising the sinister undercurrent; when you wake up, if indeed you ever do, you’ll probably find yourself with some vital organs missing, or you’ve been sold into slavery and sent back in time to serve a long term in the Gulags.
I’ve no idea how this diabolical and subversive music was created, but the press notes are blithering on about the “VOL.” part of the title, stressing this is the key to understanding all, and insisting that CoH is playing around with “volume” in some way. “Concepts of silence and sound…variations of volume…soft progressions of sound”. Good grief. As if classical composers have never used dynamics in the last few centuries. It’s true that the music seems to have been created and mastered to exist in some barely-there twilight of perception, so you have to crane your head forwards even to be sure you’re still alive, at which point the mastermind of the operation will sneak up behind you, cover you up with a black sack and slit your throat with his garotting wire.
When I was still an innocent fanzine editor, I used to enthuse about this ultra-minimalist thing in the early 2000s and even came up with my cute name for it – “Very Special Nothing Music”, used to describe the work of Francisco López, Steve Roden, RLW, and Bernhard Günter with his Trente Oiseaux record label. But somehow CoH is nothing like that. After all, these are still relatively conventional tunes and compositions on here, it’s just that they are forced into this low-key slow-moving profile through his very deliberate working methods. The punchline to this is that he’s got his own distinctive approach to using “volume”, not with pre-planned silences to create sensations of emptiness, but incorporating it into the blueprint of each piece in some way. Whereas RLW et al wanted us, I think, to “enjoy” the silences as if they were music, CoH is obliging us to pay more attention to his timbres, sounds, and atmospheres, forcing us into his cruel constrictive bubble of pain. Very good. From 14th April 2016.
The composer / musician NE Trethowan is based in Tampere in Finland, though given his actual name is Nicholas Edward Trethowan I wonder if he has Cornish roots. He has appeared on two compilations for the label Linear Obsessional Recordings, namely Open The Window and Two Minutes Left, and here he is now with an entire solo release for that label, the collection Grammostola (LOR 080) which contains eight instances of his subtle and understated craft.
While these quiet and crackly drones may be pigeon-holed in the “ambient” genre if so inclined, I found several instances where Trethowan is able to transcend any limitations and arrive at his own highly distinctive sound. I think it was around the track ‘Suvanto’ that I started to become convinced. This is not a bad piece of work at all. Like a lot of composers in this general area, he’s got a declared interest in slow and subtle change, and these pieces certainly reflect that, but his goal is to try and efface traces of human intervention if possible – he wants to achieve a certain “distance from active human composition and authorship”, and would be happier to create music that feels more like a phenomenon of nature in some way, as if simply created by the elements.
The active agent making this into an aesthetic experience is not him, but us as listeners; we do the work of “link[ing] together” these “fluctuating, chaotic, momentary events.” In terms of his processes, a lot of the work begins as samples which he gets from second-hard records, specifically choral records he found in Finland charity shops. His extensive reworking and reprocessing methods allow for a certain amount of random or chance events, often expressed as automated scripts probably run in the computer. This appeals to him as much as structure and order, and so any given piece here may represent a fortuitous combination of accidents and interventions. I would guess that NE Trethowan is being slightly modest here; many other musicians working with the same techniques and sources would come up with something dull and samey, so in spite of his attempts to distance himself from “authorship” I would say Trethowan’s personality or signature imbues this work.
In the final analysis, it’s quite beautiful music, recommended to listeners who enjoy Ian Holloway and his Quiet World label. If you want to hear more of his work, there are numerous file-based releases on his own Tavern Eightieth label. Limited edition CDR (50 copies) with inserts. From 28 April 2016.
Komora A’s Mercury Time (MONOTYPE RECORDS monoMC003) cassette was released in 2013, created by the team of Dominik Kowalczyk, Karol Koszniec, and Jakub Mikołajczyk, working with various equipments – computers, synths, contact mics, radio signals. We have heard them before with one half of a split single with Cremaster, called ‘Crystal Dwarf Opens His Eyes’, where we noted a serious lack of force and energy behind their “melange of analogue and digital synth porridge”. We could say the same about the vague, understated tones on Mercury Time, but today’s spin is surprisingly rewarding and may fit the bill if you’re hungering for a few slices of uncertain, ambiguous non-musical gruel in your diet. It tends to cling to the listener like a fine drizzle, or follow you around like a grey fog. The recordings are all from 2004-2005 and were recorded in various venues in Warsaw; guest Polish electronica artists Emiter and Arszyn appear on the last track.
From Angélica Castelló is a cassette tape called Silvertone E Il Sentimento Oceanico (MONOTYPE RECORDS monoMC002), released as a cassette by Monotype Records in 2013. We have a lot of time for this Mexican genius ever since we heard her Bestiario in 2011, but we also know her through Sonic Blue (2015); her appearance on Scuba with Billy Roisz, Burkhard Stangl and Dieb13 for Mikroton; and as part of the SQID collective for the same label. If we’ve learned anything about this trained academician in this time, it’s that she often records using the Subgreatbass Paetzold Recorder (a formidable woodwind instrument from the recorder family often associated with early music consorts), and that she has a recurring interest in the creatures of the deep blue sea. This latter preoccupation can also be discerned on the present release, not just in the jellyfish on the cover of the booklet, but the whole of side one ‘Adela Aurita’ which to my hyper-active imagination presents an abstracted version of a trip to the ocean floor, a descent in a bathysphere to the watery depths. It’s long been a feature of electro-acoustic composition that one must strive to represent a metaphysical journey in sound. Radio signals, distorted announcements, angelic voices, and layers of constructed sound all create a splendid soundtrack for the “rapture of the deep”, which I think was once a quaint way of describing “The Bends”. A very nice magical-realist charmer of a composition. The B side contains ‘Tuba Piece’, another fascinating jumble of sounds and layers that amounts to a rich, complex mosaic of music, percussion and noise; and ‘Limacina (Blütenschmuck)’, a more downbeat droney episode that stresses the mysterious and ambiguous side of Castelló’s music, packed with muffled and unresolved sounds and events. Her sparring partner Billy Roisz contributed some sketches to the booklet, as did Hanna Schimeck and Urkuma. In all, an overlooked gem with many moments of dream-like, precious beauty, sumptuous images which disappear as soon as they materialise.
A nice old one from 2010, when giants walked the earth. TBC / Das Synthetische Mischgewebe split it up nice inside a DVD cover. German avant-garde sound art at its most marginal and brutally difficult. ‘Notre Besoin D’attachement Est Aussi Celui De Rupture’ declares DSM, i.e. Guido Huebner, who unfailingly produces the most mystifying sound art on the European continent. On this one, lasting for over 39 minutes, the sounds are quiet and understated, completely unrecognisable, and impossible to understand. As ever, everything appears disconnected and untidy. It’s not that DSM violates the rules of formal composition, rather he/they have posited an entire universe where such rules don’t even exist. If what Guido believes is true, then it’s likely that even the laws of physics can also be challenged, and we can all walk around defying gravity. “Entrancing electroacoustic/industrial mess”, says the cipher productions website.
TBC is Thomas Beck from Hamburg. Besides doing sound art, he also had a radio programme and a magazine. He’s been producing a lot of stuff under his own Wachsender Prozess label since 1997. Here he turns in 20 mins of ‘They Never Come To Hit The Public’. Whereas I think DSM’s stuff is largely produced by junk and physical objects (sometimes…), this one by Beck was generated with synthesisers, tapes, mixing desk, and so forth. Much more noticeable than the low-key DSM track, Beck’s work gets pretty noisy and agitated here, uses plenty of cross-cuts and timbral clashes, and overall there’s a lot more aural damage per square metre on offer. Quite “industrial” in texture, but none of your infantile pounding rhythms or sense of imminent doom. Beck is quite serious about exploring the potentialities of his sounds and his methods. The CD was released jointly by Wachsender Prozess (WP31) and Reduktive Musiken (redukt014).
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.
- See the famous painting by Salvator Rosa in the National gallery (London). ↩