Tagged: stringed instruments

The Payoff

Pierre-Yves Martel
Estinto
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.

Mules Of The Sea

Last heard from Ted Lee, one of the luminaries behind the Feeding Tube Records label, in October 2016 with his bizarre solo record made as No Sod. I’m still trying to come to terms with that spontaneous explosion of free noise and art music, but while I’m trying I have this new LP Dream Away Lodge (FTR269) by Donkey No No to assuage my wounds and soothe my brow. On it, Ted Lee supplies percussion by bowing his cymbals, while joined by two mostly-acoustic players – the guitarist Omeed Goodarzi and the violinist Jen Gelineau. Omeed Goodarzi has been associated with Midi & The Modern Dance and Ivan Ooze, while Gelineau from Holyoke in MA has performed on a large number of records by Egg, Eggs, the sprawling and prolific New England free noise combo.

Dream Away Lodge is quite a different proposition to the far-out No Sod record, and indeed in places it’s quite tasteful and introspective, where No Sod is brash and outspoken. A melancholic tone permeates both sides of this continual low-key rippling drone music, recorded at a place called Dream Away Lodge in Massachusetts in 2015, and for some reason it casts the impression of being recorded in near-darkness or by candlelight. Omeed Goodarzi’s acoustic guitar work is probably the most conventional element in the trio, and for a few seconds on side A we could almost be hearing an acoustic Led Zeppelin bootleg. He provides most of the structure and form to the A side, his simple chord shapes and figures forming a prop for the other two to drape their solos and noises. I like Gelineau’s tone and her sound, and she finally has a chance to shine (Egg, Eggs sessions seem to be just a free-for-all wrestling match) with her playing; her chilling music greets you like the icy stare from the Victorian portrait of a long-dead ancestor. Her echo effect on the B side is delicious, contributing a vaguely “kosmische” vibe to the music; Tangerine Dream music played on violins instead of mellotrons.

As for Lee, his metallic shimmers are positively restrained, adding just the right degree of improvised noise to these semi-melodic fugues. The team cohere well on these two sides, and even if the music seems to go for longer than it should, this is part of the improv-only deal in this context – you have to take everything or nothing. When Donkey No No get themselves into a good space, they pretty much stay there for 15-20 mins. Since 2015, they’ve already released 11 other recordings, mostly in tiny editions on cassette or acetates. The cover, screenprinted by Neil Burke from a photo by Lauri McNamara, is quite a strong point; it’s printed in just the right shade of “mellow brown” to match the music, reminding me of the Fairfield Parlour cover (or perhaps the 1971 LP by Master’s Apprentices on Regal Zonophone). I don’t know much about the donkey in the picture, except it’s made of metal and joins them on their performances and presumably gave the band their name. From 27 June 2016, limited to 100 copies.

The Third Ear Band

À La Face Du Ciel! (SHHPUMA SHH022CD / CLEAN FEED RECORDS) is a superb record of free improvisation and another very successful meeting between Jean-Marc Foussat, the Algerian synth player and electronic music maestro, and João Camões, the Portuguese viola player (also from Open Field Trio and Earnear). In June 2016 I raved about Bien Mental, an intense record they made with Claude Parle. À La Face Du Ciel is not as “wild” as that release, nor is it intended to be; “more intimate and introspective results” is how they would describe it, while what I’m feeling on today’s spin is a very heartfelt and rather melancholic range of emotions. Pain, anxiety, fears; many of the modern ailments facing contemporary man are dealt with through musical exploration, which is a very good and sincere way to do it. Please note I am not talking about “confrontational” music which we might get from the “industrial” musician type, one who wishes to bludgeon the listener until we’re the ones feeling the pain. Nor do I refer to the many synth drone players who find it all-too-easy to slip into tones that suggest “unease” and “disquiet”, mostly through lazy keyboard presets. Make no mistake, Foussat and Camões understand that their music is a language, not just an array of sounds, and what we hear on this record is a subtle, nuanced and very genuine articulation of that language.

The notes here point out, quite rightly, that the electronic music of Jean-Marc Foussat has very little to do with contemporary electronica or ambient genres, and has been forged in the heat of improvisations with a number of important avant-garde players since the early 1980s – not to mention his exposure to the genre through acting as sound recordist for many of Derek Bailey’s Company events. “Acting by impulse and always with new ideas” is the apt description given here of his responsive and highly creative approach to collaborative playing. Part of that process involves real-time processing of amplified signals from Camões’ viola, a strategy which takes this (classically-trained) musician somewhat out of his comfort zone, but it’s a bracing experience which he clearly relishes.

They’re able to sustain this high degree of focus and concentration for long periods, as these two tracks (22 mins and 23 mins) testify. Well, while the pair may occasionally tread water on ‘Mécanique Verte’ and lapse into quasi-classical viola phrases on top of electronic drone, it’s still an impressive blend of timbres and textures, packed with detail and very intimate sounds. The main event though is ‘Suite Pour La Troisième Oreille’, a powerful shape-shifting beast which never stays in one place and leads the listener through several genuinely surprising corridors of mental exploration – surely the definition of what “free music” should be doing to earn its keep. The “third eye” is a phrase which can be used as a metaphor for a form of spiritual awakening or discovery, and with the reference here to a “third ear” Foussat and Camões make good on their promise of enlightening the soul of the listener. From 11 July 2016; many thanks to João for sending this.

They Might Be Giants

We last heard the music of Ryan Choi, a Hawaiian composer and musician, with his record The Three Dancers which was unusual for being a musical interpretation of a painting of Pablo Picasso, and for being improvised entirely on the ukulele. Four more uke improvisations can be heard on Whenmill (OFF-RECORD LABEL ODG049), another strong set and one characterised by its compaction and brevity. If you heard this “blind”, chances are you’d mistake the music for avant-garde compositions for the classical guitar; it’s got a certain gravity and aloofness that indicates the performer and composer has something important to say, and the occasional dissonances are like the sort of thing that Luigi Nono might have scored for the nylon-stringed devil of the airways.

Choi is proud of his distinctive technique, which involves unusual tunings of the ukulele, a very pronounced attempt to wring “experimental harmonies” from the strings, and an approach to fingering which I guarantee you will not have heard on record before. He hits notes with a clarity and precision that shows effortless skill, but he’s not interested in loud volumes, and the understated tone of these recordings is quite remarkable. Yet if you listen closely, the bold and adventurous leaps of imagination he’s making in these improvised tunes are truly something to behold. It’s like listening to a magician casting the most outrageous spells against the world, yet doing so in a quiet, mumbly voice. Evidently, it takes our Hawaiian magus some considerable time to work himself into the desired frame of mind, since this record has had a three-year gestation period.

As to the content of this release, it may have something to do with Don Quixote, but this is something of a wild guess on my part; one is always looking for clues in this line of work, and I base my assumption on two titles here, ‘Quixona’ and ‘Whenmills’. In Choi’s take on the theme, if indeed it is a take, windmills become “whenmills”, which is a brilliant portmanteau word which Humpty Dumpty would have been pleased with (you recall he found a number of these when he explained Jabberwocky for Alice). One can only speculate as to what a “whenmill” may mean for Ryan Choi. Don Quixote I believe charged against windmills with his lance because, in a delusional state, he thought they might be giants. Today, these giants clearly have some extra power of time-travel associated with their other strengths, and trying to tilt against a “whenmill” means you’re interfering with the world of high finance with its five-year spending plans and future cost breakdowns. No wonder Choi thinks of himself as a surrealist. A splendid record from 11 July 2016.

From the country and the concrete jungle

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Two more cassettes from Staaltape arrived 9th May 2016. It so happens both releases are by women, and very coincidentally the imagery on Rinus Van Alebeek’s collaged decorated envelope (which he customarily includes with every mailout) features the faces of women clipped from his vast stack of old magazines.

Patrizia Oliva has created Numen – Life Of Elitra Lipozi, a most beautiful work clad in a smoky black cover with just a single blue butterfly spray-painted on. The A side, titled ‘Danse Des Fantomes’, is dreamy and evocative and makes me a willing dancing partner of the proposed ghosts and spirits. Voices, loops, and even some vaguely operatic elements are refashioned by Oliva into something personal and strange. She’s playing with magnetic tape like a gifted child sets to work with a box of watercolours. I don’t know why musicians (like Michael Nyman) are drawn to the work of Oliver Sacks (this release includes dedication to that deep thinker). But Oliva may be trying, like Sacks, to map the strange pathways of the brain in her atmospheric and charged music.

The B side ‘A Day Long To’ showcases the “Annette Peacock” mode of this performer…vaguely jazzy free singing she emanates from an indefinable part of her singing apparatus, in an inflected and mannered mode…the lonely avant-ness of Joan La Barbara is notched back two degrees and edged a shade closer to a ghostly portrait of Ella Fitzgerald…by which I mean it’s not clear if she’s singing from her mouth, or her brain-waves. Of course the minimal arrangements that back her up are pretty inspired too, making the most of a studio housed in a matchbox and two rubber bands holding everything together. More tape loops and much dreamy unfinished music drifts into the ether. A nice not-quite-there quality, slightly balmy. Oddly the B-side feels to me like separate songs, where the A side feels like a mini-opera telling a story. Not all that’s here is a song; there’s one very effective piece which is extremely abstract, just repeated patterns, sound effects, and whispered / murmured voices, yet it’s uncanny and highly effective in its dream-like mood sustaining of same. The side ends with a fascinating anecdote about synaesthesia, how it’s possible to see music as colours, and how no two people who have the condition ever agree on what the “right” colour is. Interestingly, the condition was first recorded in medical history by another Dr Sachs, this time a German physician of the 19th century.

In all Patrizia Oliva not only has a singular vision but also a very delicate touch in the creation of her work which is determinedly “non-masculine”, which isn’t to say it’s feminine and decorative, but organised along non-aggressive lines, without the usual male need to follow structure blindly and rush to a contrived ending. “Patrizia lives in the country, surrounded by nature,” write Rinus helpfully. “One lady from the old world”. If that’s true, that’s one old world whose passing we will come to regret. Every commonplace remark made on Twitter hastens the death of these old worlds.

The tape by Valerie Kuehne is of a different order. I couldn’t find a title but it might be called Audiozone #3, part of a series; release is just identified by the two sides, called ‘Ball Side’ and ‘Other Side’. Patrizia Oliva is pleasantly balmy, while Valerie Kuehne is an inspired screwball, in the nicest possible way of course. “Valerie moves in the concrete jungle”, writes Rinus about this American performer. Her songs here feature a kind of demented folk-inflected chanting and yawping, for instance the opener ‘Haul Away Joe’, a sea shanty which requires the artiste to remake herself as a crusty nautical cove on board an 18th century rigger. A grotesque opener. ‘The Graviton’ is better, more of a shamanic free-form wailing trip…like a lost ESP Disk recording from such waywards as Erica Pomerance, much free warbling with plenty of percussion and manic performances from her side musicians. ‘Apocalypse Berliner’ is a spoken word recit which gradually becomes more, erm, impassioned…as she describes some situation which sounds like a grave social injustice, her sarcasm shoots through the top of the thermometer and she becomes positively demented with her passion and commitment to the cause. The sort of loopy radical who might have featured in any 1970 Hollywood hipster road movie made in the wake of Easy Rider. Then there’s ‘Long Long Sleep’, which is like a nightmare parody of Edwardian parlour music with its poised and mannered vocalising which over-stresses certain phonemes in an annoyingly pronounced manner. But you can still sense the underlying nuttiness…her cello work, just now beginning to surface among the chaos on offer, is also certainly highly distinctive and evidence of a wild, peculiar talent.

B side of this weirdie in tape form contains ‘Sunshine in the Sunshine’, which is her freakoid take on the Fifth Dimension pop hit, with emphatic singing, chaotic playing from the guest musicians, her mad cello sawing and her frantic attempts to stir up collaboration among all participants. A glorious mess. You’d hate to have her at your birthday party, unless you love to be embarrassed and mortified. A mostly solo work follows, ‘Architecture at Muchmore’s’, with its cracked all-over-the-show melody, and alarming dynamics which require these abrupt shifts of tempo and sudden bouts of intense delivery. Shocking, crazed. Voice and cello only, I think, were used to realise this insight into the cracks of Kuehne’s brain. After this it might be a piece called ‘Leader Eater’ but it’s getting harder to tell one track from another. Part of what we hear sounds like a confrontational performance-art piece that involves yelling at the audience, and further ingeniously complex songs where it’s a wonder she manages to sustain the difficult long tones which the tunes require. I’m a-warming to this release now…Valerie Kuehne is a very acquired taste, but you don’t get this exceptionally high degree of uncut humanity and honesty captured on tape every day. Ably supported by her side players, which include Natalia Steinbach. Alex Cohen, Hui-Chun Lin, The Columbia Orchestra, Matthew Silver, and others, she saws and sings away. Other releases by Valerie Kuehne include Dream Zoo and Phoenix Goes Crazy, both very obscure low-run CDRs.

The tape itself is a provisional attempt at an “album”. Rinus Van Alebeek made the selections and put it together, but didn’t get much in the way of preferences expressed by the creator, who’s presumably so creatively chaotic in her life that she doesn’t bother with bourgeois things like organisation and planning. So “it is not an album by Valerie; it is an album about her”, is the stated claim, along with an attempt to document the “subculture she is a part of”. This provisional aspect is even reflected in the cover, showing details from a notebook, where the track order and even the titles are subjected to much crossing-out and rethinking. Most intriguingly, the result “leads to a couple of obscure passages into 21st century life somewhere in the US.” What in the name of Condoleezza Rice does that mean?

Clip Art

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Thea Farhadian is a musician and composer who also teaches at Santa Cruz. His many activities include playing the violin, experimenting with electronics, and publishing the odd academic monograph. He’s also recently started a record label, Black Copper Editions, of which the first release showcases his duo work with the guitarist Dean Santomeri. Red Blue (blackcopper001) contains 12 instances of their work, straddling that coveted middle ground between composition and improvisation. A lot of musicians claim to achieve this, but it’s clear instantly that the concise pieces on Red Blue are the result of much preparation, containing evidence of structured melody and repeatable elements tempered with more free-form flights.

Additionally, both musicians use unusual tunings, and some “preparations” which in this context may mean inserting objects into the neck of guitar or violin to modify the sound of the strings. “Catchy rhythms, colourful timbres, and iridescent microtonalities” are their avowed aim. Whatever pathways have led them to free improvisation, I would guess it’s not the same route taken by Derek Bailey where the house of Webern and his 12-tone theories loomed so large on the highway. Instead, both Farhadian and Santomeri have a healthy concern with melody and with not alienating the listener too much, and I hear echoes of Henry Cowell (as if rescored for the guitar) and even late Frank Zappa in some of these pieces; parts of ‘Foil’, for instance, kept reminding me of Orchestral Favorites or Studio Tan.

And like Cowell, they don’t the deny the possibility of narrative in their tunes; indeed many of the titles refer directly to things you might see in an art gallery, such as ‘Picture Frame’, ‘House of Colors’, ‘Pencil Sketch’ and ‘Pollock’. When they do attempt a bit of roughed-up atonality, we get ‘Richochet’ with its crocodile clips and scraped strings, but neither musician is fully comfortable with the kind of full-blooded abstract roar we might get from early Keith Rowe, and their efforts at “noise music” are a bit awkward and pallid. Even so it’s interesting how here, and elsewhere, the tension between the need for melody and the need for experimentation produces interesting clashes. From 16 May 2016.

Boxing Match

stefanthut

Has it Started?

Stefan Thut
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.

pisaro

Is It Over?

Michael Pisaro
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.

Hvilken vei er ingen steder (del 3)

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Ivar Grydeland
Stop Freeze Wait Eat
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO 3538 LP (2015)

Enveloped in warm and fuzzy nocturne is this serene yet sturdy surprise from the ever-reliable Hubro label, nestling within which we find the laconic Norwegian multi-instrumentalist, one Ivar Grydeland – member of improvising trio Huntsville (previously reviewed here) – and his 6 and 12 string guitars, drowsily picking and tapping out morse code m’aiders in honeyed droplets to the sound of soporific alarm bells. However, the draping of every long tone in echo serves more than simply a sedative function; it is Grydeland’s ‘extended now’ that allows him to improvise atop the sounds of his own playing in a window of time that he likens to a painter’s stepping back from the canvas to regard the work underway. Meanwhile the listener is free to sink deep into a crackly dream world of pin-pricked, low-frequency harmonics; a less focused take on Oren Ambarchi’s soundworld, but a cosy blanketing that never smothers.

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Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Christian Wallumrød
Untitled Arpeggios And Pulses
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO HUBROCD2566 (2015)

Our first (and last) encounter with the Norwegian ‘jazz’ pianist Christian Wallumrød was bemusing to say the least, an effect partly brought about by the connotations of using the j-word, by Wallumrød’s history with the ECM label and by that record’s unfailing ambiguity of style and intention. Intriguing to a fault, Pianokammer defies the finger of categorisation, falling somewhere ’between the realms of easy listening and cold abstraction’, to the point at which questions such as ‘do I like this?’ become redundant. Whatever motivations led to the recording of that strange selection, they remain invisible to the naked ear.

Its successor – Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses – arrives in a similar cloak of cool mystery and a title suggestive of the anonymity and simplicity of its ethereal ways. Carried by The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra as a commission for Kongsberg Jazz Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2014, the ‘action’ has moved from the fire-lit living room in winter to the chilled auditorium where quiet coughs mingle with the steam of musicians’ breath. Suspended in air, rendered sluggish by hibernation instincts or lurching like locked groove vinyl, the four sections of this 50+ minute composition consist of short, semi- and atonal phrases repeated ad infinitum by small and unusual instrumental assortments that include piano and pedal steel peddling peace and forgetfulness (part 2), to a trudging, trash-coated behemoth for graunching guitar, Supersilent-style electronics and jubilant bursts of winter-numbed brass.

Clearly intended for a single sitting: walk in at any moment to find an absolute mess. Sit back however, and enjoy the unfurling from afar and things might start to click into place. Devoid of straight up ‘jazz’, the orchestra’s dedicated pursuit of the ‘pulse’ overrides all other aesthetic commitments. It’s challenging music in the best possible sense, and best of all, it knows when to keep its mouth shut.

Brown Reason For Living

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Washington DC improviser Gary Rouzer made a big hit here with his Domestic Shrubbery release, where he showed you just what a man can do with a few sheets of cardboard when it comes to making a “prepared” instrument. I’d favour cardboard any day over the screws and bolts which John “Flipping” Cage seemed to be advocating for his prepared piano, as cardboard arguably causes less permanent damage. I have always suspected Cage wanted to undermine the piano in some way, as part of his destructive anti-music agenda.

Here is Rouzer again with Reasons For Viola And Cello (AMPTEXT), nine intimate pieces of improvised chamber music he made with Paolo Valladolid. Rouzer has his cello, Paulo has his viola, and the “preparations” they used for these recordings are shown in a photo on the back cover. Notice in this inventory there is a certain amount of metal, but mostly wood and plastic, which I think is a good mix for the kind of effects they’re seeking. The great thing is that the instruments are enhanced by this interventions, and the musicians are empowered to grasp at unusual sounds they couldn’t otherwise manage.

The first time the duo played together, they did it in a tunnel in Alexandria, Virginia (much like the Japanese duo Kuwayama-Kijima have often done), and the results of that hopefully very echoey and ghostly session were issued by the Confront Recordings label. This item however is all indoors, has a dry but very intimate feeling, and comes close to realising the dream of “semi-structured conversations” that people have been aiming for with free improvisation music for many years now (I would assume). Even the track titles, which are fragments of intriguing sentences such as “the window fell out”, reflect this conversational aspect. Much to enjoy in this warm and engaging playing.

I’m also glad to read a Polly Bradfield namecheck on the cover. She was a New York violinist who worked with John Zorn and made a few records for Eugene Chadbourne’s Parachute label in the late 1970s, and her work is due for some serious reassessment (and reissuing) if you ask me. From 21 April 2016.

Long Overdue Part 5

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We have heard from Katarina Glowicka (also called Kasia Glowicka) on Red Sun, a 2013 release from Bôłt Records, where she composed piano music for Malgorzata Walentynowicz. Here she is again with Seven Sonnets (DUX 1194 / ARTEK SOUNDS ART003 / BÔŁT RECORDS BR1028), which is her settings for sonnets by William Shakespeare, here given a “modern interpretation”. It’s a boring and slow set, and the listener must work hard to discern any sense to these over-extended tunes with their lengthy held tones and subtle variations. There are songs of a sort. The singer is counter-tenor Arnon Zlotnik, an Israeli-born opera singer who hits the correct notes, but sounds strangely distant and uninvolved, as if he’s passing time in an airport terminal. Considering the sonnets here are all about young love, I’d hope for a little more passion and enthusiasm in the delivery. No such luck. The Rubens Quartet are a string quartet playing Glowicka’s arrangements, which are enhanced with electronic music interventions from the composer. The plan is match the patterns in the string sections with these “electronic counterpoints”. Whatever the intention, it’s done nothing to improve the dynamics of these torpid drones.

All of the above is supposed to build on the music of Renaissance composer John Dowland in some way. Well, this hubris cuts no ice with me; few composers have come close to matching Dowland’s gifts for compression and emotional tautness, and Glowicka fails singularly. Downland always matched the content of the libretto to the music in meaningful ways; the tune, and the way it was played, would illustrate the text in a sympathetic fashion, the two streams of content locked together like a dovetail joint, always delivering a strong emotional charge. This kind of applied songcraft is beyond the capabilities of Glowicka, which is one reason why we end up with this severe emotional disconnect; neither the singer, nor the players, nor Glowicka herself, apparently have the slightest idea what the sonnets are about. With this disconnect, what results is an empty work, devoid of meaning. A modernist statement of intellectual coldness, for the generation that’s become so ironic that it’s forgotten the meaning of everything. Released in 2015.