Musical Exile

Stefano Tedesco of La Spezia in Italy kindly sent us a copy of Lontano: Homage to Giacinto Scelsi (NO NUMBER), his award-winning compilation which is in its second edition (the first edition of 100 copies appeared in December 2009 and is now sold out). 13 international artists contributed short pieces around the 4-6 minute mark, although Eddie Prevost and John Butcher went beyond seven minutes with their ‘A Rose By Another Name’. Rafael Toral, David Toop, Scanner, KK Null, Alvin Curran, Lawrence English, Efzeg (with Martin Siewert and Burkhard Stangl), Rhodri Davies and Olivia Block are among the artistes who appear on this fine collection. You will notice that many of the above are improvisers; this strategy is to highlight Scelsi’s extensive use of improvisation in the compositional process. As Tedesco points out in his succinct notes, “Scelsi adopted improvisation as a method to compose…most of his compositions, called intuitive, were recorded then transcribed from others and finally fixed into a score”. An exceptionally strong compilation with not a weak moment of music anywhere, and sequenced with considerable sensitivity and care, this is a release I can recommend unequivocally if you have any interest at all in modern composition, microtonality, minmalism, improvisation or all of the above; it’s as though invoking the very name of Scelsi (coincidentally one of my favourite modernists and one I rank as highly as Morton Feldman) has spurred these creators to perform some of their best work. Nab a copy while ye may, or start lobbying for the third pressing.

“Greetings from Osaka, influenza capital of Japan”, writes Tim Olive in jocular mood as he sends me a copy of Difference and Repetition (TEST TONE MUSIC TTMR-001), a collaboration with Kikuchi Yukinori who (like the label) is based in Nagoya. An inscrutable record on which it’s not clear who is playing what across seven anonymous tracks with titles like ‘Small room’, ‘Shining’ and ‘Ontology’ which don’t give much away, but the music is fascinating and varied electronic emissions, full of invention and great deliberation – sometimes vaguely noisy, sometimes sternly implacable deep drones, their monotonal surfaces roughed up with skittery details. Olive’s distinctive playing is usually characterised by a very extreme form of disconnectedness, but many of these pieces exhibit a more continuous full-bodied roaring, the sort of activity you would expect from a team of gigantic beetles if they were ten times as large and refitted to produce electronic signals through their antennae. Natch, I gladly welcome such outsize coleoptera into my lair any day of the week.

Fires Were Shot is the duo of Clay Walton and John Wilkins, using acoustic guitars with effects to create some not unpleasant melodic moments on Awakened By A Lonely Feud (QUIET DESIGN ALAS013). They stay mainly in melodic major keys, and their approach to sound processing is not radically transformative; overall this isn’t an especially experimental work, but it does deliver some of the moments of Terry Riley mesmerism the duo are hoping for.

800 000 Seconds in Harar (TOUCH TO:82) is the new massively-droning work from CM Von Hausswolff, a unique creator whose minimalistic results often belie a complex and labour-intensive working method. This release is no exception; commissioned to write the background music for a play about the life of Arthur Rimbaud, this questing Swede flew off to Ethiopia and stayed there for ten days, taught himself to play a stringed instrument called a krar that he bought there in a shop, made some location recordings in selected areas, and thusly gathered the raw material for ‘Day And Night’, a tripartite piece which takes up a goodly chunk of this release. All this because Rimbaud spent the end of his life in Harar, a small town apparently some ten hours away from Addis Adaba, and the final scenes of the play are set there; von Hausswolff’s thoroughness, and the need to ensure he gathered materials that were totally sympathetic to the commission, apparently knows no bounds. The remainder of the album makes use of his familiar analogue oscillators to produce the sort of intense and powerful drone that he has, over some 30 years, made into his signature; ‘The Sleeper In The Valley’ is strong enough to act as a lodestone for recalcitrant meteorites, and also makes use of an early Rimbaud poem. The playwright in question was Ulrich Hillebrand, Carl-Michael’s old partner when they ran the seminal label Radium 226.05 between 1983 and 1993; and it so happens this is his first release for Touch, although he did make an LP for Ash International in 1997.

Lithuanian composer Arturas Bumšteinas sent a copy of My Own Private Bayreuth (HOTELMARIAKAPEL), which contains some intriguing electro-acoustic reworkings of music by Richard Wagner, sampling various string and vocal sections into intricate new compositions of impossible complexity and density. It’s impressive how he departs so radically from the original source material, switching modes from dissonant to melodic and back again, gently offering the listener far more than appears to be happening on the surface. His treatment of singing voices is especially noteworthy, creating mutant-angel choirs which murmur in invented alien languages, against the backdrop of exquisite woodwind layerings and loops. The project is his personal response to the fact he received an unhelpful letter from the box office staff of the 2010 Bayreuth Festival (apparently the cultural highlight of the year for Wagner fans); Bumšteinas was told that not only could he not have a ticket, but there was a nine year waiting list. In exasperation, he composed this. It’s an interesting way of dealing with frustration and bureaucratic inefficiency, and if I did the same every time I encountered institutionalised incompetence and unhelpfulness in this country, I’d have released more records than Sun Ra and Stockhausen put together. I should stress that Bumšteinas means no ill will to the Festival or any of its staff and musicians, or indeed to Wagner himself; he’s making a comment on what he calls “hierarchical manifestations of culture”. It’s a private affair, as the title suggests. There he is on the cover looking rather chopfallen as he stands alone in a near-empty city square, all dressed up in his tuxedo with nowhere to go.