Conseguito Silenzio

Excellent CD reissue of Fifteen Saxophones (UNSEEN WORLDS RECORDS UW06), a solo record by Dickie Landry who was a founding member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. There are a couple of his solo records on Chatham Square which predate this (and I suppose you’ll be lucky to see original copies of those), but this was recorded in 1974 and released on Northern Lights in 1977. The following year it was reissued on Wergo in Germany. Here Landry is working on the simple process of recording his tenor saxophones or flutes, while the engineer Kurt Munkacsi added Revox tape delay. Through overdubbing, and a basic mathematical equation, Landry arrived at fifteen saxophones, and presumably a similarly large number of flutes on ‘Alto Flute Quad Delay’. However this is not a boring “process” record, nor does it have much immediate connection to the repeated arpeggio structures of Philip Glass’s music, but was intended as an exploration of what the instrument is capable of. Landry works with long forms and uses studio techniques, but there is not so much of the system-based approach that we find with other New York minimalist composers, visual artists or sculptors, and there is much humanity, spirituality and transcendence in his music. The musical lines follow unpredictable paths, refusing simple patterns. So much for the first two pieces, but ‘Kitchen Solos’, a 22-minute piece for tenor sax which originally took up all of side two, is a great performance piece which uses tape delay to enhance several short inventive improvised phrases very much in the free jazz mode, with plenty of wild honks, screams and overblowing techniques. Clifford Allen, who wrote the new sleevenote for this release, reckons that Landry could have been a hero of the NY “jazz loft” scene in the 1970s, but there seems to have been a general closed-mindedness in music scenes at the time which prevented this crossover taking place. It seems then we can put Landry alongside people like Charlemagne Palestine, whose music depends very much on its performance by the composer, and is probably why the label’s press note suggests that this release is “Recommend if you like Steve Reich, Eliane Radigue, Phill Niblock, Albert Ayler and Joe McPhee”, the latter two names of course being free jazz maestros of the first water. Recommended! Note there is a limited press vinyl issue available also. Released 12 April 2011.

From Porter Records, a very good soundscaping composition collage thing from the Italian Salvatore Borrelli, here recording as (etre). Inferno From My Occult Diary (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4056) is an ambitious suite that combines performance with field recordings, and sees (etre) using a large number of instruments, objects, toys, keyboards, electronics, tapes and so forth, to produce evocative and effective pieces that are quite cinematic in their sweep. His use of layers and cross-fades is matched visually by the cover artworks (by Federica Ravanelli) here, which are nice examples of double-exposure images making use of old source materials. I haven’t seen this technique in a long while and it makes me wonder if this Occult Diary is performed with cinematic or photographic projections? Borrelli is not short of ideas, nor does he stint on interpretative meaning of same – all the pieces use lengthy titles and round brackets and read like miniature essays, and when he tells us inter alia “this work is dedicated to the memory of all people whom haven’t voiced their life”, you begin to sense he’s a man with a mission, carrying a heavy burden of things that need to be said. His mosaic-like technique is applied not just to the field recordings and voices, but also to the instrumental sections, where he loops and repeats short phrases with dedication and meticulous craft. A very dense listening experience awaits you here, one that certainly creates the intended “dream-like snapshot” and exudes the “dark ritualistic tone”, but is also very compelling and rich with with humanity.

I grabbed Kiss Of Acid (MONOTYPE REC MONO033) next from the bag as it seemed to have some visual consonances with the above. It’s in a nice chipboard pack with a booklet inserted, which reads almost like an avant-garde cinema flipbook, with moody monochrome photos, high-contrast lighting, and some double-exposure images also. I think we have Lasse Marhaug to thank for this enigmatic visual treat, as he’s credited with “Art Direction”, and it’s well known he’s no slouch when it comes to graphic design for his own releases as well as being highly visually literate. He’s done at least one record and performance connected to the films of Stan Brakhage, and indeed this insert could almost be frames from a lost Brakhage movie. At any rate, Marhaug certainly was involved in making the music here, which is his reworking of some gong music (he calls it by the Classical name of the tam tam) provided by Mark Wastell, the English minimalist improviser. Marhaug has added some subtle electronic effects and is responsible for the structure of this 41-minute work, a slow and ultra-intense construction of layered recordings that is like entering a stare-off competition where your opponents are Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey, and Rasputin the Mad Monk with his mad starin’ eyes. So complete is your mesmeric doom here that when Marhaug decides to terminate the first episode (around 16:00) with a grisly little electronic crackle, the shock you feel on awakening is almost brutal. It takes a long time for the intensity to gradually rebuild itself after that jolt, but when it does and you enter the final Mephistophelean circles of this particular jaunt you’ll feel segmented walls of iron clasping themselves around you like the embrace of the “iron maiden”. At title suggests, this music offers a grim and painful form of intimacy. One of a number of items sent to us from Poland in April.

The composition Horpma (CARRIER RECORDS 009) was sent to us from Carrier Records in Brooklyn. In its understated way, this is a fairly staggering and highly innovative work by the Icelandic composer Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson, an elaborate composition that requires six musicians to pluck and hammer the strings of harpsichords, pianos, guitars, harps, and some other instruments I’ve never heard of before such as the chumbuz and langspil. The strings are tuned to very precise intervals, and the players have to follow specific playing instructions which scroll before them on a computer screen, rather than any sort of traditional notation or grid-based system. The outcome is that we’re intended to perceive the work as the voice of a single 54-stringed instrument, rather than separate performances. Even the performance method is unique, as mentioned above; it’s supposed to reflect something about “traditional Icelandic prosody”, which I assume refers to the unique speech patterns we hear in those northerly climes. When I met the wonderful Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson in Reykjavik, he told me that the sagas and stories of Iceland were pretty much all they had in terms of a lasting cultural monument, unlike say the mainstream European tradition of creating buildings and cultural institutions like art galleries and museums that are intended to last hundreds of years. The press notes here tell us that fans of Harry Partch will probably enjoy Horpma, which is probably true if one is thinking about home-made multi-stringed instruments and just intonation tunings, but what also resonates is that Partch sometimes attempted to score the patterns and rhythms of human speech in his music. Traces of this can be found in the recording of ‘Bitter Music’. At all events, I’m very impressed with this extremely distinctive and unusual work by Gunnarsson, and it’s presented in a very nice embossed cover.

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