Tagged: saxophone

Metal Birds

I’m warming to the music of Noteherder & McCloud, an English duo who are really growing on me with their odd and inscrutable noise-filled approach to saxophone and electronics. Chris Parfitt does the strained hooting with his brassy soprano while Geoff Reader supplies the crackly boxes, and they both add voice elements too. We haven’t reviewed them since 2011 (their mini CDR Field Log), and I have the sense they can be pretty raucous and outspoken when the circumstances deem fit, but The Bottle Loose In The Drawer (SLIGHTLY OFF KILTER sok043) is slightly more reflective, subtle, and drawn-out; the full length album format gives a bit more space to their unique qualities, and each track stretches out into a puff-driven event showcasing the yowlage of the human throat or the metallic bell of a ghostly sax, accompanied with requisite doses of strange alien drone or bizarre electric twittering. The duo have a very eccentric and personal approach to instant music creation which I like very much. It would probably be a mistake to characterise N&M’s music as “jazz” or “improv” in any way, and to me it feels more like they are creating spontaneous sound-art installations, doing so in any environment in need of such an artistic statement. They change things for the better, wherever they play. To my mind, local councillors should sponsor musicians like this and send them out to any given spot in the city in need of attention, and give them free rein to cure the problem with sound art. Urban blight would soon be a thing of the past. From 24 January 2013.

Label boss of above release is Paul Khimasia Morgan, who walks everywhere in crepe sole shoes, so that none may anticipate his silent advance. He’s released a short performance piece called Eaves Drop (AURAL DETRITUS audet001) and it’s the first item on his own Aural Detritus sub-label. It’s taken from a Brighton concert where he performed with Jason Kahn, who also recorded it using the spindly tubes that grow from his forehead. 17 minutes of highly minimal slow music; there’s a piercing high tone at the start, overlaid in the middle with additional elements which might have been generated by a slow-motion underwater guitar played backwards with electro-magnets by dying turtles. Then we enter a realm of uncertainty, with small boxes being rearranged on an imaginary supermarket shelf of the mind. In a short space of time this impenetrably blanked-out sound art works itself through at least three or four timbral changes, which if closely attended will assume a certain dramatic flair. We’d hesitate to describe it as a “composition”; perhaps it’s more like the outline for a composition, presented in a short pamphlet where the pages consist of pencil notations that have been 90% rubbed out using a Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser. From 24 January 2013.

Fancy cover, quality pressing, clever titles and grand ideas on Extant (THE GEOGRAPHY TRIP TRIP 002) the vinyl offering from OH/EX/OH, but only rather ordinary ambient drones within. Their musical plan is to offer a bleak and depressing experience on side one, with a slightly more hopeful message delivered on side two; this means we hear flat monochrome ambient music, interrupted only by a spoken-word quote which I suspect is a sample from a Planet of the Apes movie (it’s about a post-nuclear disaster), and a general sense that we are living through the last days of humanity with solemn music that proceeds at a leaden pace. The “Utopian Tones” of the B side make more prominent use of sequencers walking along at a brisk pace on ‘Close Encounters’, while on ‘With Nova A New Beginning’ we finally hear the identikit synth droning resolve itself into chords of some sort, instead of the usual nondescript blancmange. However, even this track is blighted with cliché, and feels like it should appear in a fourth-rate arthouse cinema film to coincide with a corny sunrise shot and a life-defining moment for the lead character. One would like to encourage this relatively new Manchester-based label (this is their second release), but this entire album is bogged down with over-familiar sounds and scant ideas. However the packaging, as indicated, is first-rate.

American players Steve D’Agostino and Ted Lee form the core duo of Zebu!, who have had their most recent record released by Feeding Tube Records – home to all that is currently bizarre in US underground rock noise. On Chill Wave (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 082), Zebu! are clearly influenced by early 1960s surf music, a genre which was looked down on for a long time on account of its supposed naivete, but which has I think since been reclaimed into cultural appreciation, a process which may have begun with the Rhino Records compilations (The History Of Surf Music) in 1982. I’ll admit Zebu! exhibit plenty of energy in their rough music and evoke a suitably amateurish garage-rock feel through the flat recording, but I don’t like it much. They have no gift for a memorable melody, and their sloppy guitar work is an insult to the precision and care of The Surfaris, Dick Dale, The Challengers and Santo & Johnny (the creators of ‘Sleep Walk’), all of whom struck their guitar notes with a purposeful simplicity that these boys can’t hope to match. The saxophone work of guest player Peter Van Siclen is nauseating to my ears, and the band’s lapses into 1980s punk rock are embarrassing. “Classicist American instrumental ho-daddyism”, indeed!

Sex of Angels

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Heddy Boubaker
DiG!
FRANCE PETIT LABEL SON 015 CD (2013)

Unwrapping the CD wallet (nice-to-the-touch cartonpaper and printwork) and reading the name of the artist, the album and the first few tracks that catch the eye (‘Sitting on the side of the road’, ‘Sex of Angels’, ‘I believe in joy’, ‘Light water’) I instantly relax in the assumption that the music that will unfold will have a light feeling to it. Maybe not exactly country music (my first, wild association), but at least some experimental music with a certain laid-backness, lightness and maybe even humour.

Never judge a book by its cover they say, and indeed: maybe in a few aspects my assumptions could be defended (there’s definitely humour in the music on this album), but on the face of it I was totally wrong.

DiG! is an album of intense solo saxophone, the kind of experimental saxophone playing that never produces the sound that the instrument is broadly known for. And though it was totally not what I expected, it was, I must say, quite an extraordinary listening adventure.

“Sitting on the side of the road” starts off with sounds that are difficult to place, but for an open set of ears it is immediately a curious and titillating experience. As if it was a radio play, we visit different places and atmospheres, well seperated by Boubaker’s playing, with effective use of suspension.

“The real sexlife of a banana” leads us further, with almost computer-like sounds and textures, sometimes reminiscing white noise interferences on the radio. The intensity and focus that Boubaker puts into his sound-explorations makes my ears stay glued to the speakers. There are breath and saliva thrown in a lot, and sometimes it sounds as if Boubaker is playing underwater saxophone, to great effect. Boubaker’s timing is excellent, which he especially proves in track 3 (“Indistinguishable”).

Halfway through the album, however, my interest wears off. There is maybe a limit to the amount of these sounds a brain can take in one go. Also the type of explorations seem to repeat, with no new point being made. But then, with track 9 I am directly back on Boubaker’s lap: he’s wringing different rattling, thumping and insect-like sounds from his instrument, the kind of sounds you can get from beasts crawling under your ceiling at night. Here again, the mixture of textures and the timing of his sounds are superb and it is a track I enjoyed to re-listen several times.

The track titles are actually not giving any relevant information about the music, but the interesting part is that through my light-headed assumptions after reading them, I do listen with a rather relaxed ear. And although the playing is intense and focussed, dark at times and even foreboding, there is also a certain lightness and humour in the way Boubaker places and presents his material.

The album is at its best when the playing is subtle and pure and so far from the usual saxophone sound that the imagination goes wild with guessing “which wond’rous place are we in now…?”

For the balance of the CD, maybe three or four pieces less would have cut out some repetition and given a more round feeling to the whole, but this doesn’t dismiss the many great moments Boubaker has caught with these recordings.

Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Boubaker!

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Russian Brutalism

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Wozzeck
Act IV

RUSSIA OPPOSING MUSIC OPM013 CD (2012)

Young Russians (previously known to me only via their interview in The Sound Projector issue 21), headed by Ilia Belorukov with a fresh approach to the by now well known if not well-worn grindcore tropes, here mastered by James Plotkin (equally well known to many by now I should think, and quite rightly, too). The unorthodox addition of synthesiser and saxophone to the traditional elements should do much to endear the project to those susceptible to this kind of thing. And a worthwhile piece of brutalism it is too.

It is an unusual album of saxophone-hybrid avant-garde metal which periodically put me variously (and perhaps predictably), in mind of Borbetomagus, Hawkwind and Elliot Sharp’s Carbon on first listen. Plenty of riffage and screamo vocals (not always upfront – sometimes very effectively used as you would an instrumental pad morphing into a saxophone part), as you would expect.

No little evidence of technology (live processing and editing I suspect, plus lots of production, no doubt), on the sprawling single track on this album, but not to such a psychotic extreme as a contemporary like Genghis Tron, say. In fact, this single 39-minute track is surprisingly effective device with a coursing dynamic, space to breathe and some very capable group improvisation dovetailed in. I like to imagine this is a recorded document of a live session but there’s no written evidence on the sleeve to support this impression.

In its quieter moments, Act IV reminds me of (and here I’m showing my age), Gong, Cardiacs, and briefly, even the modulated Roland Chorused guitars of early period The Cure. Somewhat predictably, I feel like pointing out that Lightning Bolt have a lot to answer for when I listen this music (although its authors may not agree). There’s the ever-present grumbling of a multi-effected bass guitar, and the drummer is feral – capable of all the required polyrhythmic tricks one minute and relying on pure power the next – although not as fightening or potentially dangerous as Brian Chippendale or the guy from the Japanese duo FINAL EXIT. I’m making the comparison stylistically and/or philosophically; not literally – the incarnation of Wozzeck here are a four-piece not a duo. They are, in fact, the aforementioned Ilia Belorukov on voice, electronics and alto sax; bassist Mikhail Ershov; guitarist Pavel Medvedev and on drums, Alexey Zabelin.

So, to Act IV itself. Kicking off with strangulated feedback then an explosion of blastbeats, Act IV sets out its blackened and twitching stall without delay. After a short while, screamed vocals cloud over a sudden slackening of pace as digital feedback raises questions (of mortality?) no-one is prepared to answer. Residual traces of processing give way to the entrance of the saxophone at four minutes in. From here on in, the music takes on an aura of relentless, progressive grind allowing all four instrumentalists to shoot off on their own separate internal voyages. By nine and a half minutes, the bluster is replaced by a brooding ambience. Hissing fog tones and rumbling bass coalesce before a sudden and violent return to blast. Hidden in the midst of a typical blitzkrieg at thirteen and a half minutes is one of the brief Gong-like asides – a contrast as captivating and unhinged as any. At around 22 minutes, there is a protracted fatal collapse of all previously well-wrought metal architecture; the digital distortion produced as all the inputs blast into the red left in the final mix, until relief, reprise and reconnection with the melodic thrust of fifteen minutes previous, and then without warning everyone bar the bassist drops out. A bass chord is languorously explored while phantoms of electronics waft here and there. Serpentine long tones that might once have been an electric piano move in and out of focus while the drummer gradually recovers from whatever blow to the head rendered him unconscious in the first place, and turns his attention to his impressive collection of cymbals. From here the Robert Smith-like guitar flange kicks in to ominous and eerie effect. Tom-toms are chucked down a liftshaft and/or reverbed to sound like they are being played in the next town and a ring modulated buzz encourages over-amped guitar (tinges of Alex Lifeson if he was ever capable of becoming truly deranged), finally, to take over for the last three and a half minutes of the session.

Act IV rewards repeated listens, packed as it is with unhinged sonic artefacts; fast moving and restless. There’s been a long list of on trend noise/screamo (if that’s the correct genre appellation – apologies if I’ve got that wrong), bands come up for air in the last few years; Rolo Tomassi, Charlottefield and Bo Ningen spring to mind – perhaps Wozzeck are on their way to joining that list. James Plotkin’s involvement can be seen as an endorsement in a way. Whether that was their intention or whether the opportunity to work with Plotkin was just too good to miss remains a mystery. Either way, I’m glad they did.

Ilia Belorukov
Opposing Music

Rare Birds

MYRIAD1A
Magda Mayas is a young percussionist from Berlin but her favorite instrument is the piano. And this is sheer luck for us, the listeners, since she has developed a very solid technique on tingling, scraping, bowing and scratching the strings inside the piano, speaking to us in a very personal and comprehensive sonic language. Her CV is already full of important collaborations, e.g. with Peter Evans, Phill Niblock and Thomas Lehn, to report only a few of my personal favorites. This is the second product of the collaboration between Magda and her alter-ego in the wind instruments, Christine Abdelnour (Sehnaoui), a young, largely self-taught, sax player from Lebanon. Her high-pitched sonic expressions are influenced by the concepts of noise and distortion, following, in a very personal style, a long line of avant-garde sax players in the field.

For many people, art is the rendering and processing of nature by its human factor. In this way, numerous music compositions and playing techniques are determined by the language of birds, the most profound being Catalogue d’Oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen. Here, the birds’ presence is implied by the cover image, the title and probably by the recorded material which otherwise is a free improvisation. Bird sounds are often considered soothing and relaxing but a birds’ convention taking place on a large tree could easily end up in a hellish high-pitched havoc. Myriad  (UNSOUNDS 30U) is balancing on both sides of this coin following mostly a tender and clear path even in the rough parts of the improvisation, aligned with the female temperament behind the work. I have to admit at this point that I feel a special gratitude for the female perspective on modern music, that tends to deliver an increasing number of important works.

The two improvisations in this album captured by Unsounds label, home of some very notable musicians, are influenced by spectral contemporary music, building a high-frequency reverberating corpus and spreading very unequally in duration. The longest track, “Hybrid”, begins with what seems like the birds’ smooth awakening and develops into a complicated communication among different types of bird singing (or high-pitched sax patterns) accompanied by weird wood knocking and string plucking. The mood of this piece is constantly in motion, leading to a pleasant uncertain evolution of the music. The sax sound in the second track “Cyanide”, reminds of ambient pre-recorded soundscapes while the “piano” contributes with arpeggios and pitch-bending expressions achieved by the direct manipulation of the strings inside the instrument.

What we have here is a highly conscious, crafted sound of a duo that amounts to an impressive wholeness of a single entity. This is a very rare scenario when we discuss avant-garde improvised music played live (during the Meteo Festival in France). The instrument techniques employed are both original and complicated. The sonic expression is dense and consequently the listening experience requires a devotion that is nevertheless rewarding. My only complaint could be that the 33 minutes of the album seem too few and the work leaves a sense of being unfinished.

After their first album Teeming, Myriad certainly reinforces the appetite for more recordings of this unusual duo that consists of a standing pianist and a sitting sax player.

MYRIAD2A

Horn Beam Fantasmas


Loopy and intense noisy jazz rock blurt from Cactus Truck, a trio which showcases the saxophone malarkey of John Dikeman as much as the tangled guitar lines of Jasper Stadhouders, while drummer Onno Govaert urges these two rabid loons to propel themselves over the cliff edge. Their album Brand New For China! (PUBLIC EYESORE NO. 119) has a ten-minute opening salvo which will let the listener know instantly if they’ve the stomach to stick around for more of the same. These “spiky” fellows have caused much agitation in and around Amsterdam where they are based (this was recorded in a Netherlands studio), but many improvisers and veteran jazzmen on the international circuits also tip their hats to Cactus Truck. They make sure to put on gardening gloves first, though. I’d like to report a melange of Albert Ayler lines on top of Beefheartian blues rhythms, but their ultra-aggressive music favours surface sound and technique over structure. Not that you’ll notice as you succumb to the joyous free energy on offer here. (09/07/2012)

From the Belgian duo NDE we have Kampfbereit (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR146CD), their second release which in typography and cover art at least is “disguised” as a Black Metal album, but turns out to be a wild experiment in suffocating, extreme noise – situated in the “Death Industrial” sub-sub-genre, as the press notes would have it. As they hurl around their buckets of distortion, hammering percussion, and excessively filtered screaming vocals, NDE also prove they can do dynamic changes pretty well, and the album is designed almost purely as an extreme listening experience, where we are given few clues or map points and the listener’s imagination must work hard to process the scrambled information. A few quieter tracks paint “bleak and empty” vistas of desolate misery, but most of the content is simply intolerably repellent and over-layered loud noise. A painful and torturous journey to the depths of a Pandemonium-styled Hades. (28/07/2012)

Is it too early to say Northern Spy Records are taking up the slack from ESP-Disk? The latter label used to make a point in the 1960s of signing up eccentric performers from rock’s margins, some of them recruited direct from the street, and gradually made history thereby (even if they sold few records at the time). I’m getting a similar vibe from Diamond Terrifier, although my impression is based largely on the photo inside the gatefold of Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Your Self (NORTHERN SPY RECORDS NSCD026), and I may be misreading it completely. This odd record is a one-man show by Sam Hillmer, who exhibits untrammelled raw passion when playing his saxophone, recorded in strange ways and at strange times, with minimal (or zero) accompaniment. That woodwind instrument has rarely sounded so other-worldly. It’s not just microphone placement, either; Hillmer is reaching down into a very deep personal place to extract these hollow bellows and loosing them into the ether like mind-drenching fog clouds. Diamond Terrifier, who cutely expresses his name as <>T, is a truly original primitive. This is his debut record; will the world allow a second release? P.S. – the fauvist version of the American flag on back cover is a nice touch, clues us in to the “alternative” universe of Mr. Hillmer. (19/07/2012)

Blindshore is James Adkisson, a Texas guitarist who used to play in Seven Percent Solution. Hollow (SELF-RELEASED) is a solo album on which he plays everything, and freely owns up to his influences – some of them rather conventional, such as Adrian Belew or Brian May, along with his first loves Fripp and Sonic Youth. The results are agreeable and competent modern rock music, but given his proclivities for progressive rock and melody (no bad things, I hasten to add), Blindshore is unlikely to be mistaken for a carbon-copy of solemn post-rockers such as Isis or Red Sparowes. Adkisson’s vocals are a tad thin, but he uses the singing voice as another instrument in his very thickened mixes, where no space is left unfilled and there is barely space for the listener to move. (18/07/2012)

Attacca are an improvising trio based in Berlin active since 2010, who declare O’ The Emotions! (SCHRAUM 15). Two German players, the trombonist Mattias Müller and the bassist Axel Haller, are joined by Canadian Dave Bennett, a refugee electro-acoustic student who has made his home in Europe’s financial capital and contributes guitar to the trio’s sound. Attacca seem to be all about the very rich sound they make together, rather than owing much of a debt to jazz or even improvised music, and don’t wish to draw attention to their respective techniques. Instead, we hear a compelling and integrated combination of tones and textures, with repetitions and patterns arrived at by very natural means. The ebbs and flows of this watery gelatin suck us in like so much quicksand. The “emotions” of the title are thus very hard to name or identify, and clearly they can only be processed by the players through their exploratory work. (12/07/2012)

More splendidly sickened and corrupted computer noise from dsic, the New Zealand expat who lives in Bristol and whose LF Records netlabel rarely disappoints. Public Benefits, Private Vices (LF020) is one of his more aggressive concoctions, seething with hateful noise for most of its duration, and feeling entitled to pummel the listener’s head with cruel buffets. When this punch-up with a street drunk subsides, we are left with curious passages of disaffected half-noise, which pulsate and sizzle like an angry insect poised to strike again. The only variations to the above scheme are found with the final track, a soothing potion of pure tones deployed in random fashion; and the curious voice loops which last for 36 seconds on track two. Whole album could erupt into violence at any moment, creating a tense and invigorating spin. When I grow tired of “polite” and well-manicured laptop music, I always turn to dsic, a man who’s never afraid to show his Samsung just who wears the pants in his house! (24/07/2012)

Just heard from Alfredo Costa Monteiro yesterday, and here he is again as part of an ad-hoc trio called 300 Basses, with Jonas Kocher and Luca Venitucci. Sei Ritornelli (POTLATCH P212) was recorded in late 2011 when the three of them were on a residency in Switzerland. Although I personally would welcome the formation of an orchestra of 300 musicians playing only the upright double bass (and hopefully doing so at the Hot Gates), the music of 300 Basses is in fact predicated on the accordion. Continuing to pursue his radical, deconstructionist approach to conventional instruments, Monteiro attempts to refashion the very workings of the accordion according to his own diabolical schemes, rethinking the respective purposes of the bellows, keys and buttons. If applied to to the fields of biology or zoology, I suspect his “what-if” approach would lead to his being banned under various international anti-vivisection agreements. The resultant horrors are laid bare on this extreme record, where to my ears the accordions simply seem to be begging for mercy under this cruel and unusual treatment. Still, that’s clearly the intention. Kocher used to make me a little impatient with his earlier slow-moving minimalist releases like Materials and Solo, but there’s a little more fire to be heard in this collaborative work. (09/07/2012)

007

Sentient Darknesses

Razine a Ruckus

Good contemporary French improv on Razine (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO43), a team-up between the saxophonist Michel Doneda and erikm, the turntabling live electronics fellow. We last heard these two working together on the Ronda release Dos D’Ânes, where Jérôme Noetinger added his vicious electronic outbursts to the mix. Doneda can be capable of slow and minimal squealing, but he’s much livelier on these improvisations from 2009. He works well with erikm and the collaboration delivers good results. His rhinoceros pelt is soon filled with breadcrumbs from the crazy antics of erkim, and the pair deliver crazy sqwawks and illogical whoops a-plenty, be it free-form atonal sucking and sputtering from the saxophones, or surprising chatterments and hurlements from the sampling-electronics half of the act. On the first track that errant craziness is tempered with long passages of growly rumble, effected by the familiar ploy of using scratches and crackle from old rotating vinyl, but the feathers are heavily ruffled for the second half of this 22-minute essay, with fireworks and roman candles fizzing into the cold night air. Continuous live playing here which never lets up and creates almost an airless effect, but not an unpleasant one at all. The second cut is even livelier. Doneda manipulates and twists his sound until he’s wringing painful sobs and sighs from the bell of his sax as surely as an old floor-cleaner at the hospital wrings his mop into his pail. Erikm brings in further stabs and swipes from his boodle-box of samples: drumbeats, fierce noise, voices, and unrecognisable fragments, doling them out in tiny portions to fill our ears with seconds of glorious madness. A very disciplined squonk+electronica fest which makes for a compelling listen. Fine moody monochrome jacket too.

Runic Tunes

Gloomy power-electronics with sinister voices can be yours to enjoy on the new album by Hungarian band Heldentod, an entity that’s apparently been in existence since 2005 and may have produced one or two albums in the “dark folk” genre. On The Ghost Machine (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR131CD) the cover beckons us in with images of hooded acolytes at a nameless ritual surmounted by a glowing rune, while on the disc there are eight tracks of abstract, dense and well-constructed drone-noise of an extremely sinister hue, each lasting around 5-6 minutes, but feeling more like an eternity of doom in each case. Keeping their sounds deliberately vague and shady, the better to populate these murky realms with shadowy figures, Heldentod varies the emotional pitch quite successfully across the album – ranging from the grisly & harrowing to the pessimistic & desolate, using brutal noise loops or dismal synth layers as needed. The album opens with a vocal recit spoken by Jill Lovinitnun, with its rather pretentious lyrics fed through an echo chamber, but luckily this turns out to be uncharacteristic of the remainder. Vocals do appear on some cuts, but the haunted satanic voice simply utters single words and allows technology to repeat them (as on ‘Incorruptible’); and the vocal element is just one more part of the heavy and occluded mix, buried and distorted to conceal its meaning and to increase the diabolical mood. The press release informs us that Heldentod have always expressed a number of key “themes” in their work, mostly to do with histories of the supernatural and the pagan, and continue to do so on The Ghost Machine. Although I found the near-histrionic pitch of this album a bit heavy going, I do enjoy its obsessive use of loops, patterns, and repeats, and it could prove to be the perfect company for an insomniac night in the middle of Winter.

The Ethereal Thing

Oddly enough Heldentod might just find they share some common ground with Candor Chasma, whose new CD Rings (OLD EUROPA CAFE OECD 152) was produced by the duo of Corrado Altieri and Simon Balestrazzi. Admittedly, Rings is very much an “art” CD and more refined in its approach than The Ghost Machine, which admits to its predilections right from the start, but they overlap in their shared interest in the unknown outer worlds and spirit-infested zones that lie beyond the human plane. Candor Chasma speak of the ‘The Third Void’ and ‘Hallucination Doors’ with some apparent relish, undertake experiments such as ‘Chemical Analysis of Ectoplasm’, and presume that the most fruitful time and place for communing with the spirit world will be ‘Inside the Ether at 06.00 A.M.’ Accordingly, their thickened droney electronic music is exactly like a dose of chloroform for the listener, slowly inducing intense hypnotic states with its pulsating throbs. Through these grey mists of sound, eerie distorted and whispering voices swim. Each track emerges as the aural equivalent of a 19th century photograph taken at a séance, an image confirmed by the cover painting made by Daniele Serra. There is also the suggestion of using the tape recorder to capture ghost voices, in the well-known tradition of EVP. This album has its strongest material on the first two tracks which do come very close to inducing the hoped-for trance states, and the duo list all of their equipment (synths, filters, FX, mixing desks etc.) on the inside cover, as if to reaffirm their faith in factual and tangible objects after having dabbled with the ethereal and emerged rather shaken from the experience. The last track ‘Apophenia’ may be intended as the keynote track. Well, it is certainly very long, but it’s also a bit aimless and feels rather thin and washed out after the intensity of the earlier tracks. Even so there is still plenty of ectoplasmic detritus to be scooped from its swirling interior by the questing ghost hunter. Ironically, apophenia is the scientific term for a phenomenon of human perception that can be used to explain away much of what we regard as paranormal activity. For more supernatural music with similar undercurrents, you may care to investigate Balestrazzi’s Magick With Tears label.

The Generation Game

The above records clearly have an interest in using electronic music to help their creators tell stories or weave elaborate musical fictions. On Generators (EDITIONS MEGO DEMEGO 024), we hear Keith Fullerton Whitman approaching electronic music production more from the basis of an interest in pure sound for its own sake. On the first of these two pieces, both lasting precisely 17 minutes and 34 seconds, he performed at a festival in honour of Eliane Radigue. Radigue is a French composer whose use of sine wave tones and minimalistic electronic drones is truly monumental, but even she is not interested in process for the sake of it, and much of her work is underpinned by a firm belief in transcendence and the passage of the soul. Whitman’s ‘Issue Generator (for Eliane Radigue)’ may not aspire to the same degree of spiritual grandeur, but it is an extremely accomplished and satisfying piece of music. Starting with simple elements, it builds logically and perfectly into something complex and rich and as three-dimensionally precise as a sculpture made out of laser beams. Gorgeous. The second piece ‘High Zero Generator’ was performed at the Baltimore High Zero festival, and is quite different. Where the first piece arrived at a species of melody through process-based methods, this one is more abstract and harder to fathom. Alien sounds spit out of the dark centre almost erratically, one voice crackling and fizzing like a malfunctioning electrode, while other voices sigh profoundly or shriek like swooping bats. Like the recent vinyl masterpiece from Lehn and Schmickler, this piece somehow recaptures the terror and strangeness of early electronic music from the mid 20th century, and reinjects it directly into the culture of 2012. I’m astonished to learn that these are two manifestations of the exact same performance piece, which was executed several dozen times over the course of a year’s touring by Whitman; the two versions on this LP were selected as being among the best examples of its realisation. From what I understand of the process developed by the composer, it represents something of a creative breakthrough in the use of digital and analogue computer-based tone generator systems in the context of live performance. Personally I would like to think it represents the beginnings of a backlash against music made with laptop computers. Musically and creatively, this is an innovative record that deserves your attention. Graham Lambkin drew the cover art.

What wind walks up above?

A Fold in the Fabric

Gill Arno has rescued a document of a performance piece from 2006, where he perfomed under his mpld name which is used for his amplied slide projection work. At that time it existed as a cassette edition of 10 copies, and now here is One More Episode In Between Recollection And Amnesia (UNFRAMED RECORDINGS U003) repressed as a CDR. When originally performed at a sound-art venue in New York’s Chelsea district, the piece was meant to accompany a series of art booklets, and the core performances are studio-based compositions where Gill is manipulating the sound of slide projectors. The tiny sound events which interest Gill include the whirring of the projector fan, the feedback that resulted from him clipping a small microphone to the device, or just the general “clunky dynamics” that came out of the performance. But what we hear on the CDR is even more rarefied, as the composer reworks the material, seeks to isolate sounds, and produce as much abstraction as possible. Tracks two through four are impressive enough achievements in this area, the piece ‘Stereoscopic Phase Adjustment’ in particular giving us a close-up aural picture of a fan which is about as powerful as a helicopter blade. A midget helicopter perhaps, one being flown by plasticine airmen wearing cellophane jump-suits. ‘Four flashbacks’ however comes in at twenty minutes, and is practically delirious in the way it piles up the treated and abstracted sound-events into a thick soup of electro-acoustic fog. Given the suggestion of “flashback” one is tempted to read this long piece as a sort of twisted memory or flu-ridden impression of the preceding pieces. At all events it’s a sufficiently wonderful set of aerated drones, lite-industrial grindage, and a concentrated effort to produce strangely compelling music out of non-musical sources. The release is topped and tailed with non-projector pieces, starting with 30 seconds of ‘Amnesia’ – a short metallic scrape episode which could almost pass for a prepared piano – and ending with ‘Afterthought: 061211′ which is exclusively made up of field recordings. Lastly we have the enigmatic cover image, which plays with layers of dust-coating on a slide and different focal views of the same image. This excellent quiet & minimal concept-work is another item from the bundle which Gill sent to us in December 2011.

Glimmer in the Zimmer

Jacaszek‘s Glimmer (GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL GI-147) is slowly growing on me, and the surface effects that are most pleasing include his heavy use of distortion and simple repeated loops of musical notes. The source music which he works with was played using real instruments by three guest musicians, using harpsichord, bass clarinet, acoustic guitars and metallophon, recordings of which are collaged together with electronic music by the Polish musician Michal Jacaszek. He’s attempting to create a potent bittersweet taste in the listener’s mind, as melody and abstraction writhe back and forth over an uncertain ground, all of this struggle taking place behind what he aptly describes as “a curtain of dirt and fuzzes”. My initial impression was to mistake this CD for another slice of ordinary ambient laptop-drivel, but on the contrary this is a well-crafted piece of art, a fine collision of organic musicianship with thoughtful tape editing and studio skill. In places, it’s even quite affecting and moving. Was released early December 2011.

Prove it, just the facts

On (Fake) The Facts (EDITIONS MEGO DEMEGO 023), we also hear a collision between musical instruments and electronics, but this one takes place in an improvised real-time live arena. The players are dieb13, Mats Gustafsson, and Martin Siewert, and they did it in two locations (one live, one studio) in Vienna in Spring 2011. Swedish Saxman Gustafsson (who uses soprano and tenor saxes here) has been known to rasp out many crazy free-blowing sounds in his time, but on the 15-minute opener ‘Fact’ he resembles a trapped beast howling in melancholic pain through a blocked snout. Alongside him there is a lurching rhythm of fizzing manic energy which may originate either from dieb13′s jet-propelled turntables or Siewert’s unhinged guitar, but with all the free-flying electronic mayhem let loose in those four chocolate-lined walls on those fateful days, who can say for sure. Not since Evan Parker collaborated with noisester John Wiese have we heard such a potent blend of brass-lined puffing with inchoate crackling bursts.

The next cut ‘Rat’ is equally claustrophobic, and as the the three madmen tell the tale of this rat, they seem intent on clogging up the air with theremin-like squeals in order to emulate the voice of that rat. Said rat is poised in a perilous position, hemmed in on all sides by menacing saxophone moan-drones and ominous guitar rumblings of a dangerous variety. The atmosphere is as charged as a laboratory where cruel scientists perform needless experiments on rats. The difference is that now we are that rat, and death by dissection or electrocution is only a heartbeat away.

The flipside of this remarkably intense LP is the side-long ‘Zoom’, one-and-twenty minutes of steadily increasing doom noise where the three unhinged players do not relax the steam-pressure for the first half, blasting out with solid and heavy thunderbolts as they may. Such is the general blend of tones in this brick-like melange that it’s virtually impossible to discern one instrument from another, and the three European minotaurs merge into a single two-horned beast. For the latter half, they open the steam vents and finally give a man enough space to breath, and the remainder of the performance resembles a trip to Company Week in 1988 seen through the distorting lens of a dozen filter-pedals, before descending into a strange alien place where alien electronic chatter is accompanied by mellow jazz guitar strums and distant orchestral sweeps from a stuck record on a turntable. All rulebooks thrown into the shredder, this is one of those rare collaborative efforts where the fur really flew and everything caught fire, and it’s likely to produce similar sensations in your own personal wardrobe. Released as a vinyl LP in November 2011.

The Moon over the Second House


Having recently mentioned the netlabel Woe Betide, I just found two more submissions from them crammed down the side of my expensive leather sofa. Unbidden (WOE BETIDE 001) is a solo electronics record from David Grundy where he’s performing tentative manipulations with monotonal frequencies on the title track, in ways that require the listener to tilt head like a pivoted camera to appreciate the variances of his sonorities. While that piece is quite rich and steely, ‘Borne of the 4th of July’ is a somewhat grungier foray into the worlds of forbidden “harsh noise”, and is less successful to my mind; it takes a long time to get into gear and is lacking in necessary force to compete with the many practitioners in this area. Grundy says he wants “to make it an ordeal” and intends to “test listening endurance” with this release. The other item is Zariba (WOE BETIDE 002), a sax record by Mark Anthony Whiteford, which includes the rather nifty ‘Radio Breath’, a piece for alto sax and two radios. Potentially very interesting, this 32-minute workout is subdued and quiet but no less of an endurance test than Grundy’s lengthy electronic endeavours; Whiteford does indeed appear to be allowing his muted, minimal and breathy passages to rise and fall in sympathy with the barely-audible white noise emerging from his detuned radio sets. There’s also ‘Blood’, which uses sax, percussion, electronics and voice, and has some conceptual connection to the G20 protests, a political dimension on which Grundy expounds in his notes. Not a violent piece as you might at first expect, it’s more of a sullen and melancholic wail of defeat.

Temporary Perspectives (ORGANIZED MUSIC FROM THESSALONIKI #10) by Syndromes has been sitting in the box since early October. Subtle work from Greek contender Kostis Kilymis, who generates long passages of mumbling and soaring by combining field recordings with white noise, microphone feedback, musical instruments, and computer processing on these recordings made 2006-2009. He gathers these electro-acoustic pieces together under the aegis “4 Studies on Human Perception”, but I can’t help asking what it is we’re supposed to be perceiving within these tedious stretches of abstracted murk. They appear as void of humanity as the photographs that appear on the cover, all vacant garden terraces and empty chairs.

On Gleam (PORTER RECORDS PRCD 4047), Miguel Frasconi applies his gifted hands to assorted glass objects and a glass harmonica, weaving his transparent spells to the accompaniment of Denman Maroney and his grand piano. Frasconi is persuaded that the duo share common ground in their approaches to sound production and improvisation, and is pleased by the way they produce music that can easily be mistaken for electronic sound. Indeed a remarkable range of unusual effects and styles (chimes, drones, grumbling noise, shimmers and grinding steel) to be heard across this album, which was recorded in a single day. Gentle and evanescent, but very far from being “twee” or a novelty record. One to keep alongside your copy of Annea Lockwood’s Glass World.

Noteherder and McCloud have visited our pages before. They make pleasing combinations of soprano sax improvisations with electronic music, and Field Log (NO NUMBER CDR) contains five such examples of their craft, with Bartosx Dylewski appearing as ‘Extra Voice’. Maybe short 3-4 minute pieces suits them well; this record has a nice sense of urgency which I like, mostly propelled by the zippy sequencer blips and groopy bursts emanating from Geoff Reader’s black boxes. Good abrasive textures and bad-tempered moods, plus a rough edge to the recording quality. Their work always seems to have a slight edge of danger.

German genius composer Marcus Schmickler once again displays his high ambitions with his newie Palace of Marvels (Queered Pitch) (EDITIONS MEGO 113), aiming at creating a sort of impossible music, the audible equivalent of an optical illusion. It’s based on a scientific discovery called the Shepard-Tone, a phenomenon concerned with rising and falling tones which don’t seem to get anywhere (much like an M.C. Escher staircase), and Schmickler intends his ideas to resonate into the worlds of fine art (via art historian E.H. Gombrich) and politics, through Jacques Attali. This may seem a heavy intellectual burden to place on the shoulders of this highly abstract computer-based synth music, but you’ll be astonished at the results. Without understanding why or what’s happening to you, a palpable sense of disorientation falls upon your corporal frame, and you’ll find yourself trying to sip a bottle of beer through your elbow. My copy is in a plain “promo” card sleeve but as usual I will make every effort to provide an official cover image for my readers. Also available as a double LP.

Following their recent Merzbow item (see earlier post), Prisma Records offer us another crossover item that plants its feet in the worlds of music and gallery art. There’s only one seven-minute track on Hommage à Anna-Eva Bergman (PRISMA CD709), but it’s a singularly gorgeous and intricate piece of cello work, rich in ideas and intellectual rigour, while quietly incandescent with a sort of doomed, ghostly beauty. Tanja Orning was commissioned to make the work for an exhibition of Bergman’s drawings in 2002; I think she’s only performed it on one other occasion since then, for a retrospective exhibition in 2010, and this is the recorded version we hear. Less is more. That’s one of Bergman’s artworks on the cover, called ‘Blue Mountain’, and that’s the kind of drawing where I think you just need to stand in front of the actual piece of paper and let it sink slowly into your central reservoir. I never heard of Bergman’s art before, but it looks like she had the kind of deep intuitive relationship with the landscape (and the sky) that few souls are blessed with. You could do worse than taking this virtual tour on YouTube while spinning this excellent record.

A Sax Pax


We’ve been sent quite a few saxophone-type records lately, so let’s get our lips into embouchure position and finger open those sticky valves to see what leaks out from the capacious bell…

Terrific experimental sax-work from French honker Bertrand Denzler on Tenor (POTLATCH P210). These three lengthy recorded explorations of mostly one-note monotony, entitled simply ‘Filters’, ‘Signals’ and ‘Airtube’ inside a sky-blue sleeve, present various aspects of his single-minded determination to venture into every possible dimension of his brassy friend, no nook left unscoured. “Harmonic layers, alterations and inner beats” and “multiphonic fragments” are the order of the day, along with efforts to “explore the tube resonance”. At first this may read like it’s overly intellectual, the work of a deconstructionist, or simply too process-heavy; and it may remind other listeners of the ongoing efforts of other brass and woodwind improvisers who, for quite some time now, have been refusing conventional musical improvisation in favour of a simplified, self-conscious demonstration of the instrument as a metal tube with air passing through it. However, Denzler’s record is much more loud, full-bodied and startling than many wispy puffs I’ve heard in this genre, and I like the way that his “purpose remains mysterious” as he executes these near-ceremonial exhalations. I’d like to think that our primitive ancestors approached a hollowed-out bone with the same mixture of awe and uncertainty as Denzler.

While finding primitive men is on the agenda, let’s note that Swedish sax player Mats Gustafsson is on fine blurting form on Barrel Fire (DRIP AUDIO DA00651), where he’s joined by Tommy Babin on bass, Kenton Loewen on drums, and the slightly unhinged electric guitarist Gord Grdina for these 2009 recordings made live at the Vancouver International jazz festival. The rhythm section generate as much manic punked-out energy as Sonic Youth used to manage once upon a time, while the instrumentation they use is perhaps not that far away from an Ornette session of the late 1970s. Meanwhile Gustafsson effortlessly displays his lion-roar and snarling overblowing styles with all the panache of a resurrected Coltrane mingled with just a hint of the anger of Archie Shepp. Benign easy-listening jazz this be not, and these hunting men are hell-bent on ripping out your jugular vein. The cover painting, depicting them as masked psychopaths armed with cleavers and skeletal forearms, confirms my bloodthirsty impression of this firebrand of music-noise. Grdina is definitely the co-star here, given plenty of space to shred his strings like an angry cougar on the attack; I see he’s credited with writing all but one of the compositions, and I’m tempted to look into the back catalogue of this wild Vancouver axeman.

Update 30/01/2011: Sorry, this record is of course credited to Gord Grdina Trio with Mats Gustafsson, as my own picture clearly shows. My misapprehension seems to imply that Grdina is playing second fiddle here, which was not my intention.

Linsey Wellman has a self-released collection of his solo alto sax recordings Ephemera, sent to us from Ottawa where he sometimes plays with local group Uzumaki. He’s certainly a confident player with a clean tone, and comfortable with many styles, but there’s nothing especially challenging on offer here; his music leans more towards the jazzy-melodic end of the improvising spectrum.

Some first-class tunes and arrangements by Tiptons Sax Quartet on Strange Flower (ZIPA! / SPOOT MUSIC NO NUMBER). The quartet is led by the wonderful Amy Denio (who is better known to me for her song work), along with Jessica Lurie, Sue Orfield and Tina Richerson, with Chris Stromquist drumming. The four gals have as much swagger and swing as any similar combo (e.g. Rova Saxophone Quartet) who are trying to find the voice of an entire orchestra in saxes of different weight and pitch, and the Tiptons also have much more delicacy and poise when it comes to squeezing elaborate detail and grace notes into these elegant charts. Everyone gets a chance to bring one of their own compositions to the table, and the record is characterised by a fun-loving eclectic mix of musical styles; Gospel, African, Klezmer and Bluegrass are just some of the items on the shopping list. When John Zorn, much as we love him, works in similar turf he tends to recruit a crack team of commandoes and goes about the job like a crazed war veteran on an assault mission; however, this record is much more approachable and friendly, and I’m sure if she’d been around at the time Amy Denio would have been first in line to be recruited by Charlie Haden or Carla Bley for one of their large-scale jazz orchestra projects.

Arrington De Dionyso frequently makes astonishing records which are too good to be true, thereby enthusing many and bringing numerous superlatives to the lips of enraptured fans (and to the pens of music writers). We’ve heard one of his solo records (bass clarinet drone and throat singing, always a great combo) and one by The Naked Future he made for ESP-Disk in 2009. Here’s one of his other groups, Old Time Relijun, with Songbook Vol. 1 (NORTHERN-SPY NSCD 002), which to be strict to today’s theme is not exclusively a saxophone record but with that tremendous drawing of an astral feline playing said instrument on the cover, how could I resist? Arrington does play the alto sax here, but he also wields clarinets, jew’s harp and guitar, and rasps his vocal-bizarro way across 25 short songs with the aid of bassist Aaron Hartman and drummer Bryce Panic. The first half of the album is 1996 studio recordings made on a four-track by this spiky group, with no overdubs and capturing all of their strange refusenik beatnik power as manifested on these curlicue-twist tunes with their snarled and shouty vocals. Not especially loud or manic (the drumming is constrained and precise as anything you’d hear at a school spelling bee), yet these songs, with lyrics by De Dionyso, convey a scary nightmarish force and their titles are heaped with animalistic and mythological symbols. Remainder of album gives us “select compositions in the original 4-track versions”, but to be honest I’ve read that phrase several times over and I’m not quite sure what it means. No matter, as I’ve heard enough here to recommend this CD to all good TSP readers and listeners, or indeed anyone who’s a fan of that short-lived but productive strain of human endeavour that produced such post-punk New Wave greats as The Pop Group or Lounge Lizards.