The Stavanger Train Whistle Sings

Gaute Granli is the Norwegian madcap from Stavanger who has amazed and outraged with his previous outpourings, sometimes noisy, sometimes semi-musical…his latest release is Hissige Men Fri, subtitled Tour Tape Vol 3 – I’m unable to find out much about it, or the previous two entries in the series. Making a radical departure from his more familiar chaotic noise, the tape contains rather subdued vocal music, often resembling a parody of religious choral music or polyphony, complete with recorder and organ accompaniment. This being Gaute Granli, you won’t have long to wait for things to start going crazy in short order, and Hissige Men Fri indicates he hasn’t strayed very far from his absurdist leanings. Even so, there’s a demented wayward beauty seeping through in these bizarre tunes. Limited to 100 copies with a nice card cover and professional duplication. (13/04/2022)

UPDATE: “Hissige men fri is third in a series of tour tapes, after Speak of four for a minute and Ekstra mentalt,” writes Gaute Granli on his Insta. “I’d say it’s 40 minutes of after-midnight semi-theatric music, made from mostly vocals, pennywhistle and poly-d synth. So if you generally have a problem with pennywhistles, I wouldn’t recommend this tape.”

Quite nice chamber music from Marti Epstein on her Nebraska Impromptu (NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR324). She is inspired by the scores and methods of modernist composers, but also by her memories of the Great Plains where she grew up; consequently her music has an “expansive” character as she contemplates light and space. I like the sparse instrumentation on the record, and Rane Moore’s clarinet has an especially poignant tone, though the pieces with strings and piano are also charming. ‘Oil & Sugar’ is somewhat unusual as the starting point was an art video made by Kater Addia (blocks of sugar being melted as motor oil is poured over them), but most of Epstein’s work is very formal, almost rather stiff, making basic points about shapes, patterns, and dynamics. The title track – just piano and clarinet here – has some tasty moments of bleak minimalism, but the composer can’t sustain it for long, falling back on rather ordinary melodies and harmonies. I’ve always got time for anyone claiming influence from Morton Feldman, but Marti Epstein stops short of delivering anything as cryptic as Feldman’s intricate patterns, and somewhere along the way she loses her nerve. (14/04/2022)

The Acid Lands (SUB ROSA SR500) is a 2020 studio version of a work by Opening Performance Orchestra, a group of synth-electronic players from Prague, who first did it in 2014. The recording was intended to mark 100 years since the birth of William Burroughs, whose recorded voice also appears on the piece. Their electronic sounds were supplemented by the Theremin-playing of Martina Potuckova and the Moog of Alfred Sabela. Now for this more recent incarnation, the whole work is supplemented by Iggy Pop’s narration, and the bass playing of Bill Laswell – who also contributes an “ambient mix” of the work as a bonus track. Portentous, doomy sounds (some of them rather dated) are punctuated by the prose of Burroughs on what, for me, turned into an interminable stretch of horror. I didn’t fare much better with Laswell’s “ambient-mix-translation”, but at least the surface sound is slightly less upsetting, and there’s more dynamics and foregrounding at play than in the over-loaded brew of the original. For me, the whole piece is freighted with baggage – esoteric symbols, in the prose and in the cover artworks; a blind worship of the works of Burroughs; and a tendency to conceal everything under layers of shadow and obscurity. Opening Performance Orchestra doubtless have many musical qualities I have overlooked, but it’s hard to tell on the strength of this outing. (21/02/2022)

Lively modern jazz – with elements of rock and electronic noise sprinkled into the dough – from Die Fermentierten on their Ghost Ship (VETO-RECORDS 021) album. The Swiss threesome are Lino Blochlinger (alto and bass sax), Valentin Baumgartner (guitar and vocals) and Tobias Sommer (drums). Baumgartner is the fellow dropping chaotic noise-bombs in the sesh – he evidently doesn’t leave home without his grisly effects units – and more than once I was checking the credit list for a wild synth player here. Come to that his zany vocal growls and yawps would give Phil Minton a migraine on a bad day. All three players have caught the wildness bug, though – never content to groove, sail, riff, or coast, they disrupt every single tune here with their unexpected movements, insane dynamics, and extreme stop-start gesturings. Added to that, about half of the ten tunes are under two minutes in length, as frantic as any obscure punk rock single from 1977, indicating a very open-minded taste range in our three young friends, as well as a shared taste for restlessness and constant direction-changing. They’re like three hungry sailors skimming past on a light craft with a very agile rudder in the hands of a crazed helmsmen. And I haven’t even mentioned the zany lyrics (yes, song lyrics) and track titles with their eccentric humour curlicues. Even so, this doesn’t really amount to anything resembling “free jazz” as we would normally understand it – Die Fermentierten are more wedded to contrivance and mannered statements, rather than the unfettered expression of a Coltrane, Cherry, or Ornette. Not half bad, though. Despite upbeat air of album, it has a very tragic subtext – the guitarist Valentin Baumgartner died hiking in the mountains soon after they completed the recording. (25/04/2022)