Wednesday, 15 September 2010


This website has been discontinued as of September 15, 2010.
Please direct yourselves to and bookmark it. All the reviews that were published here have been transferred on the new website, though they're still archived here to make things easier for everybody who linked them. See you there!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Memories Of Mr. 23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)

ALFRED 23 HARTH - @ Blankies End + @ Eighties End

Laubhuette Studio

Described by its inventor as “another kind of looking back into the last decade”, @ Blankies End is one of the best records that Alfred 23 Harth has released in that period. By analyzing the titles, a forward counting towards 2012 can be detected while observing the recent past. In classically puzzling style, and open to any interpretation by the reader, Harth writes that “…being conscious about every moment we count & live in linearity (…) means a moment within a future moment (2012 is here & now & yesterday)”. The album’s content is both arcane and stimulating; repeated scrutiny is a must. “Ten Tin” contains materials that seem to mix human snoring, chanting monks and bubbling hisses in a conduit, the pace defined by a sort of electrostatic rhythm upon which the clarinet sings with unusual peacefulness, if just temporarily. It’s an inexplicably meditative vision, sounding a little scary at the same time, the grunting tone of Harth’s voice disloyal to the mental image I treasure of him as a timidly smiling gentleman. “Elf” (“eleven”) utilizes distortion in large doses, mashing and mangling snippets of concrete and instrumental substance in homage to the blasphemy of extreme dissonance. The toothsomely vicious results are to be savoured in the restaurant where the finest electroacoustic recipes are served. “Gesternmorgen” is an abstraction: an amassment of simple melodies clashing in adjacency, hyper-acrid reed perspirations, corrosion of heterogeneously alien harmonies and a pinch of disaffection for the cruel world of ordinary music. At the very beginning, “Popol Vuh” might evoke Jon Hassell (the pulse, the nearly tribal atmosphere). The differences become obvious when Harth starts superimposing the different reeds; meanwhile, the background gradually transforms the better intentions in an intimidating mutation of a religious chant, halfway through a sacrificial invocation and the complete disconnection from corporeality. The whole unfolds across undecipherable utterances and other assorted subliminal persuasions. “Twentyhundredtwelve” (namely 2012 or 20+1+2, as the composer would have it) features Choi Sun Bae’s trumpet in a ominous hint to the “enigmatic” year which will define once and for all if those famous prophecies are legitimate or not (curiously, December 21 – the presumed ending date – is also Frank Zappa’s birthday). Again, the voice is a fundamental ingredient of the track, which grows on the listener memorably amidst drones, squeals, gurgles, vociferous solos and warped lamentations, a remarkable episode in Harth’s recorded output. “Back Lantern” explores the fringes of the frequency region with a quick wink to the sweet cheapness of certain synthetic patches from two decades earlier (more on that later); nonetheless, the underlying extraterrestrial mantras and ebbing-and-flowing glottolalia are what actually corresponds to its actual muscle, highlighting a type of spiritual quest that sees the fear of the unknown as a regular incidence in an advanced being’s daily reflection. If someone had taught me to pray like this as a young child, I’d still be there at the church. “Der Schlaf Ist Eine Süsse Melodie” ends the set in typical A23H fashion, and I’m not going to reveal the secret. Go to the artist’s website and ask for a copy of this CDR pronto.

On a first listen, the connection between the above milestone and @ Eighties End doesn’t appear so easy (nothing is when this artist is involved). For starters, both recordings were realized at the closing stages of a decade (2009 the former, 1989 this). Then, a somewhat melancholic clarinet characterizes big chunks of the music(s) quite profoundly. Yet the reason behind Harth’s choice of retrieving this work from the archives is the perception of a reborn interest for some of the sounds in vogue in the 80s, with particular reference to notable presets (which, sure enough, this record comprises). The collection includes segments from a pair of diverse soundtracks: Antigone, a theatre piece played at Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus of which Mr. 23 was the musical director at the time, and Lachen, Weinen, Lieben, a film then broadcasted by ZDF. If the theatre act calls for something dramatically relating performers and listeners – for example, “Antigone.Nacht” offers exactly that in a progression of atmospheres at times reminiscent of Thierry Zaboitzeff – the soundtrack for the television feature shows a new facet of this multi-talented man, who manages to achieve credibility in that difficult field despite the intermittent use of timbres that everybody knows inside and out (…mainly from Korg workstations: lots of musicians, including yours truly, fell prey of those pads in that epoch) but, in his hands, are meshed and delivered with such subtleness that they often result as adequate, even to this day. The beauty of a sound always depends on the context and, especially, on the person who exploits it. In that sense, Harth is invulnerable: the control on the mechanisms and the correct sequencing of the sonic occurrences remains inflexible, the concepts are expressed without excess of discursiveness (which would contradict the music’s designed role in this circumstance). Ultimately, this is a slight detour from the renowned capriciousness of the German’s acoustic craft that permits a partial relief interspersed with a modicum of weirdness (as it happens in “Antigone.Ölfässer”, the general sonority enhanced by the actors via enormous oil cans in a peculiar Mad Max-like scenario).

A Spirale – Agaspastik

Another CD released in 2008. This Neapolitan trio is composed by Mario Gabola (feedbacks and acoustic sax), Maurizio Argenziano (feedbacks and electric guitar) and Massimo Spezzaferro (drums and little things). The press release quotes Kevin Drumm and Bhob Raney as imaginary point of reference, but what materialized in my mind instead is the centre of a triangle whose corners are occupied by John Zorn, Zu and Curlew (the latter only in regard to some of Gabola’s bony phrases on the saxophone). Hold your horses: I’m not saying that we’re at the same technical and creative level of the above mentioned entities. In spite of this, there’s a freshness, a genuine will of having fun while playing - without posturing - that is rarely met when Italians are involved. Usually, in similar circumstances I notice a lot of “avant-pretentiousness” on these shores: become friend with/kiss the ass of someone important in a certain situation and you’ll be able to get all kind of undeserved accolades and “the-music-sucks-but-it’s-positive-anyway” reviews, even if you ain’t worth a shit (hey, let’s keep the promos comin’, folks). Fortunately, this does not apply to A Spirale, who attack the listener with serious ferocity, hammering the brain with obliquely “wrong” riffs, superimpositions of dirty upper partials, pre-explosion quietness, clamorous outbursts of semi-regular clangour defined by acrid miasmas and convulsively anti-pattern drumming. This writer thinks it is enough, at least for today. (Fratto9 Under The Sky)

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Peggy Lee Band – New Code

New Code (2008) is the fourth outing by an octet (previously a sextet, subsequently expanded) led by cellist and composer Lee, a woman active in various artistic settings in the Vancouver area who has collaborated – among others – with Wayne Horvitz, Dave Douglas, Nels Cline and Bill Frisell. The latter’s influence is evident in the guitar arrangements (the axemen being Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson), soothingly wavering arpeggios informing compositional milieus that don’t allow the musicians to stray too much from the main harmonic establishment, more than ever in the pair of covers that open and close the CD (by Bob Dylan and Kurt Weill respectively). Three horn-blowing men – trumpeter Brad Turner, saxophonist Jon Bentley and trombonist Jeremy Berkman – execute clean-and-tidy designs amidst which the leader’s cello often seems to hide instead of fighting or moving at the forefront, which is a bit of a trademark in a way. Bassist André Lachance and drummer Dylan Van Der Schyff complete the line-up. I’ll be brutally honest: this is not an extraordinary album, overly meek as it is even in its improvisational traits. It is played well of course - but with a perennial smile on the face, not biting for a second. “Overeducated” is perhaps the best adjective to use in this case. Every now and then we need a little sting in between the cuteness, and it never happens. And you know what, a piano replacing the guitars in the orchestration would have worked better. All things considered, this music can work as a pleasant complement to quietness; sometimes this is just what’s required from a record. Sometimes. (Drip Audio)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Dave Stone - Solo

Born in 1971, Dave Stone grew up as a multi instrumentalist but as an improviser has specialized in reeds, sharing experiences with several central figures of the St. Louis jazz scene (all of them quite mysterious to the author, who doesn’t miss a chance to prove his enduring lack of knowledge despite four abundant decades of swallowed recordings). In the fourteen episodes of Solo (2008) the protagonist showcases irrefutable talent and innate musicality through an array of saxophones and clarinets, occasionally naming the pieces with incomprehensible words (“Dundtor”, “Ackakaplakakpla”, “Belelelell”) that I instantly fell in love with. If you manage to last the whole of the album’s duration – not easy for a ham-fisted listener at over 68 minutes – the repayment comes under the shape of serious virtuosity characterized by legitimate intelligence. Stone chooses the right technique to explore every time, knows the value of silence and space between clean notes, convulsive spurts and unkind upper partials, unafraid of showing that he can play the damn instruments, not hiding behind pensive postures and false humility (the latter “qualities” always useful for getting profiles on major magazines). In some of the improvisations we were tempted to associate the playing to certain pages from Anthony Braxton’s book, but this may just be a silly flight of the imagination. The core of the matter is that this is great self-propelling music requiring patience and attention, exposing the artistic sheen of a man who wants people to really understand what he means, translating intentions into a rewarding physicality distinguished by a near-flawless command of the instrumental dynamics. (Freedonia)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Blechmann & Murayama, Andrea Polli, Son Of Rose


Recorded in Paris at La Comète 347, this CD presents an episode of the activities of Blechmann and Murayama intent in capturing different types of resonance in a large room, aiding themselves by various boxes of speakers and a snare drum. This is a classic case of document that exists just as a testimony of a live event, for getting tangible aural satisfaction from these successions of charged silences, diminutive noises and percussive patterns at home is not warranted (unless you’re a member of the “anything goes” reductionist party). What I did welcome instead was the hushed echo of the urban and inside environment caught by the microphones (including the alarm of an ambulance that, at one point, keeps company for a while until it dies – the alarm, not the transported person, hopefully). Nothing much to say in addition, except that we’re convinced by the seriousness of the intentions, but not overly enthusiastic due to the scarce depth of the acoustic messages. (Nonvisualobjects)

ANDREA POLLI – Sonic Antarctica

Quoting from her website's biographic notes, Polli - a woman gifted with an impressive curriculum vitae, go check yourselves - "works in collaboration with atmospheric scientists to develop systems for understanding storms and climate through sound (called sonification)". Therefore, it doesn't come as a surprise that this is another audible documentary, though quite different from what I had expected having read the title. In fact, the large part of this disc is taken by the above mentioned scientists speaking about lots of things (all of them related to the central theme, of course) and the inner reasons for what they do (moral obligations, role of the scientist versus the community, you get the picture). The verbal material is mainly interspersed by the continuous irregular pulse of the electronic signals that come from various weather stations placed in the explored areas, and – very infrequently – other types of sound such as walking on a glacier, the inside of helicopters in flight, radios and even a short snippet featuring penguins. Therefore be warned: this is more a spoken record than a collection of Antarctic sounds. An interesting listen from an intellectual point of view; a little less in terms of power of evocation elicited by field recordings. But, ultimately, it’s indubitably a sincerely purposed mission. (Gruenrekorder)


Iranian Kamran Sadeghi – aka Son Of Rose – utilizes the voice of a piano, an eBow and drums whose primary components get heavily processed during a live interaction with electronics. His interest lies in finding a way to render the timbral traits of popular instruments unrecognizable, which he achieves quite successfully. The problem might lie in the almost complete nonattendance of a compositional temperament, which – despite the solemn dignity of certain extended reverberations and the interest generated by accumulations of self-harmonizing hybridized tones – is felt as a slight impediment after a while, rendering All In more a gathering of simple experiments and ideas than a fully fledged inventive creation. This notwithstanding, some of the pieces are clearly the fruit of an attentive work of deconstruction, and the title track features the kind of impressively luminescent drones that will cause many aficionados to perk their ears. However, we’re not talking about “can’t miss” stuff. (Blanket Fields)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Lucio Capece / Sergio Merce – Casa

At last I managed to listen to a CD that was floating on my desk since ages ago; shame on me, as always. At any rate, “casa” means “house” in Spanish (and Italian, too). The title comes from the recording place: you guessed right, at Sergio Merce’s home in Merlo, Argentina. The pair has been playing together since 1993, originally in very different contexts (baroque polyphony, anyone?); the duo as a separate entity started in 2002. Two tracks are presented: the first and longest one “Virar, Virar”, was realized through a sruti box (in essence, a harmonium), a filter and a tapeless Portastudio, played by Merce via small metallic objects manipulated in the recorder’s head area. It’s basically a drone piece with various gradations of engaged frequencies, sparse interruptions of the fundamental accumulation leaving a few moments to the mind to be relieved a little bit, lots of under-skin activities sounding like controlled feedback and random impulses. Impressive in parts, sporadically nearing Niblockian atmospheres. In any case, a serious approach which needs to be carefully examined: headphones are necessary to become conscious of what happens (also in the rear of the mix) whereas, by listening across a room, all we get is a series of wheezing slabs that oscillate and move, but ultimately result less striking. “Vieja Casa Nueva” is a duet for bass clarinet and tenor sax, much in the vein of low-frequency exploitation in regions bordering with onkyo. Parallel blowing, synchronized pauses, breath again, new matching whispered currents that buzz and throb. It goes on for about eight minutes, and it is nice to hear – although the former track is clearly more developed. (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Jesse Stacken, Monroe Golden, Yannick Dauby


Jesse Stacken is a member of the Peter Van Huffel Quartet, and that’s how I first came across his playing. This album – which features bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis - reveals him as a versatile, sensible pianist and composer per se, whose interests reside halfway through the exploration of wider spaces for notes and, especially, overtones to resound (the meditative opening "Solstice", or the introvert "Time Canvas") and more dissonant and metrically charged passages (the title track and certain sections of "Crow Leaf Frog"). In "The Whip" we were reminded of Vince Guaraldi's pianism and overall scents: those of you who are well acquainted with Charlie Brown's cartoons will immediately understand. Stacken shows a thoughtful, considerate attitude when he’s following a contemplative vein: the interaction between his spare shapes and Opsvik's frail arco in "Aquatic House" is daintily sustained by Davis' whispered gestures on the drum set. And yet the program is closed by a tune - "Face" - branded by the appearance of power chords, no less. This clever concomitance of diverse aspects of the same artistic personality is what ultimately renders the record satisfying. (Fresh Sound New Talent)

MONROE GOLDEN - Alabama Places

For this reporter, Monroe Golden is a new name and a pleasing encounter. He is interested in the concurrence of commonly tuned and detuned sources, ears open towards phenomena linked to microtones. Alabama Places – his second CD - consists of 73 minutes of rather minimalist vignettes and rhythmic studies executed by Ellen Tweiten (piano) and Kurt Carpenter (microtonal keyboard) with accuracy and genuine interest for the material. To have a vague idea of how this stuff sounds, visualize a semi-synthetic crossbreeding of Moondog and Charlemagne Palestine without the mesmerizing auras generated by the latter's lingering harmonics. The compositions tend to a compact kind of mechanical repetitiveness - slightly modified by frequent, if minor variations in accents - distinguished by a mild melodious angularity. It is quite interesting at times, despite the low-cost nature of some of the presets used; indeed, fake harpsichords, harps and clarinets don't do justice to our aspiration of listening to authentic instruments, occasionally lowering the music's credibility a couple of notches. But, regardless of a slight degree of weariness caused by the methodical immutability after a hour or so, the experiments are legitimately appealing. By mentally fusing these somewhat misshapen visions with the composer's track-by-track description of each piece’s background, one becomes intrigued enough to repeat the playback, searching again for the elusive combinations of overtones that had engendered a positive reaction in the first place. Ultimately, the virtues of a gentle eccentricity prevail on the absence of deviations from the main road. (Innova)


Dauby lives in Taiwan, though he’s a French native. In his current homeland and in Saint Nazaire he gathered – upon commission of two different festivals – the materials for this excellent album of field recordings, whose sources were captured in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The listener individuates a strong connection with the material almost instantly and follows it throughout 44-plus minutes; Dauby chose elements that are reasonably recognizable – industrial noises, environmental glimpses, majestic wind – and assembled them with a sense of musicality that’s rarely found in other release in this area. The title seems to allude to the fact that the scenarios stream one into another: the clatter in a large room is gradually replaced by heavy rain, the engines of passing vehicles and the voices in a crowd introduce crickets and cicadas, and so on. Steadily, but also poetically in a way, the composer puts us in the driver’s seat of a splendid trip through the kind of acoustic consciousness that should constitute the primary constituent of our life, and a reason for being happy just to exist as a tiny part of this world. Too bad that many people will call these human emanations “sheer noise”; it’s not their fault. The finale is a breathtakingly beautiful surprise, which I’ll leave you to discover. (Sonoris)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Three From Graham Stewart's VioSac

Known two decades ago as Violence And The Sacred (I still have one of the early LPs, Suture Self - this writer is getting old, you see) VioSac is basically Graham Stewart, from Ontario, who transform into (not always) wacky sounds the many suggestions that buzz in his mind, with just a little help from friends in some occasions. An old-tech type of acousmatic pastry – resolutely recorded on analogue tape – which reveals a number of very nice surprises. These three CDs represent the result of the project’s second coming after several years of hiatus; they were published yearly – starting in 2008 - and are reviewed according to their chronologic order. Hey you, people who spent a fortune for NWW’s Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table: there’s more attractive substance herein.

VIOSAC – Rusty Pile

Instigation to obsessive behaviours through the use of a neurotic variety of dissonant sequencing (brought to extreme consequences in the exaggeratedly protracted title track). Elsewhere, intriguing reiterations and leisurely paced abstract electronics pave the way to an easier enjoyment of an ill-minded quietness, the impossibility of referencing the sounds to anything well-known a definite plus. Samples of classic music appear like funny ghosts amidst panoramas overflowed with deformed dichotomies and rambling precariousness. Spoken word (texts by a William Shakespeare) is not exactly welcome, especially when it ruins a beautifully misshapen string loop (“Sonnet 139/66”) or unspeakably nonfigurative suspensions (“Sonnet 64/15”). This is uncompromisingly disordered stuff: at times naïve, often labyrinthine, for the large part appreciably unendurable due to a reluctance to open the doors to a “first come, first served” kind of short-term audience. On the contrary, Rusty Pile must be attentively analyzed in order to appreciate its most satisfying traits, which translates into “legitimate experimental release”.

VIOSAC – You Are Planning To Enjoy The Apocalypse

The record was mainly composed on Korg analogue synthesizers plus “processed audio from primary source material and field/found recordings”. Besides the boss, it features the participation of other human entities in a couple of instances (Ted Wheeler and a “St. Deborah”). This time the title track - also the longest, once again - is placed right at the beginning but its compulsiveness is rendered more acceptable by the volatility of the sequences, and the nineteen minutes flow pretty easily. The rest is a mixture of relentless aural vexations and cerebral bewilderment permeated by sonorities that are best described as “deliriously cluttered”. One manages to get a vague impression of a few familiar elements: deformed voices, guitars equalized as if played inside a stomach. The recalcitrant temperament of some of these digressions – at times enhanced by industrial percussions who would test Job’s patience - is not exactly what will persuade a loved person to remain faithful. However, this constant rupture of any scheme that might remotely be associated with consonance and mental respite is entertaining. Quite often, this music is so absurdly unhinged that ends sounding like a sticky magma of cacophonic emissions of which we can just imagine the underlying plot. Fact is, this kind of matter has always interested yours truly and Stewart is not an adolescent foot-dragger.

VIOSAC – Dawning Luminosity

And so, when everything looked set for my third attempt to find strange words to depict another eerie recipe by Stewart, we’re instead welcomed by a brand of semi-static loop-based electronica whose overall sonority lies halfway through a depressurized Eliane Radigue and the above mentioned NWW circa Soliloquy For Lilith, with wider spaces for the mind to roam. There’s nothing much to report about in the unfolding of this work, which is subdivided in three parts and thus designed: “Music of sadness and resolution”. Let’s just say that it is a soothing kind of discreetly enigmatic ethereal soundscape with deeper implications than sheer “ambient”, definitely capable of involving the listener beyond its use as background (which is one of the options, although the sonic tissue implies something more interesting, being formed by a multiple layering-cum-modulation of Moog and Korg synths processed via Vermona and Roland effects). The features I love most are the slowly sloping waves and the warm pulsations generated by those machines, which – taken in the opportune moment – can connect with the mental dimension where rational justifications of psychoacoustic phenomena are not mandatory. We let the sounds do the talking, and they talk convincingly. As Stewart puts it, “understand, and you’re liberated”.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Humi – Dune

Humi was a duo formed by the late Hugh Hopper (bass, loops and electronics) and Yumi Hara Cawkwell (voice, keyboards and percussion). Concerning the latter, I remember having detested her vocalizations in another release on this imprint - Upstream with Geoff Leigh – so the nastiest thoughts were starting to materialize in my mind. Luckily, though Dune – released in 2008 - didn’t really manage to stir me up, it is in any case much better than that. This is due to its relative weirdness, explicated via a difficult-to-classify kind of improvisation that sees the protagonists meshing jazzy echoes (especially in regard to Cawkwell pianism), the trademark touch of Hopper on his beloved instrument, and bizarre concatenations of abstract noises, superimposed repetitions by means of a digital delay, backward tape-like effects, ritual chant – still rather unacknowledged here – and, particularly in the record’s second half, absurd “tunes” drenched with retro features (a vocoder???) and electronic sounds that are both amusing and tacky, a sort of soundtrack to a third-level horror movie. Yet one is attracted by the perverted charm of some of these eccentric tracks, unremarkable but at the same time endowed with a trait of uniqueness. At the end of the day, it all amounts to an interesting enough record, an oddity worthy of being heard. (Moonjune)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Terje Paulsen – Three Strings – 3s Second

Norwegian Paulsen set himself out to restore some dignity to a pair of ancient instruments lying around the house, whose strings were about 30 years old. He applied contact microphones and a minimum of effects to the aged boxes, utilizing fingers, bows and eBow plus minor preparations such as wooden sticks to elicit nicely resonant harmonics, a few gentle noises and even drones of the breathtaking variety, like it happens in the second movement. It's an unpretentious, beautiful recording in its nudity, way better than the music released by the same artist on Mystery Sea's Horisont. Three Strings is subdued, articulate or nebulous depending on what’s necessary at a particular moment - and definitely more genuine. Propagations of life from objects destined to an undeserved euthanasia, evacuation of worthless appendages in favour of a welcome substance. This somewhat enigmatic management of instrumental decrepitness warrants several moments of serious absorption bathed in mucillaginous stupor. Very good stuff. (Et Le Feu Comme)

Bruce Gilbert – This Way

OK, so Bruce Gilbert is a pretty illustrious name – Dome, Wire, etc. Too bad that, after the partial delusion generated in yours truly by the more recent Oblivio Agitatum (same label), I still can’t validate the raison d'être of such a consideration by listening to This Way, an album originally released in 1984 and defined “a stunning study of controlled ambience and subtle minimalism” by the press release. Pardon me? Apart from the graceful female vocal loop informing the first track, the bulk of this record is mechanically repetitive in rather annoying fashion for these ears, without relevant artistic logic if not for very short flashes. Perhaps, associated to the choreographies to which some of it constitutes the soundtrack, it could make sense (and it’s a big “perhaps”). But in terms of sheer musical value this is just scarcely significant drapery, interspersed with badly aged samples and typified by virtually inexistent compositional insight. And we’re not sure that our judgment would have much different 26 years ago. Highlighting an artist at any cost only because of right connections is something I’ve always detested, and this – in conjunction with the aforementioned CD - looks like an archetypal case of hype prevailing on effective substance. (Editions Mego)

Monday, 2 August 2010

Basta!, Aranis

BASTA! - Cycles

The idea of Belgian Joris Vanvinckenroye – composing scores for solo double bass, superimposing the parts and utilizing the instrument’s traits to form lines, counterpoints and a rhythm section all alone – is good enough. The problem is that, even with a skilled performer behind it, Cycles is too harmonically light to be considered worthy of belonging in the elite – nor in the secondary rank - of the music we deal with on these shores; it may be a compilation of tuneful sketches or refined demos, but is not felt as a set of fully flourished pieces by this writer. The occasional flash of interest is soon replaced by the ascertainment of the insufficient density of the compositional matter, and – at the end of the day – listening to undemanding melodies, nicely executed in contrapuntal cuteness, is not what I’m looking for these days.

ARANIS - Songs From Mirage

Although still not considerable as a chef d’oeuvre, Songs From Mirage is a step forward by Vanvinckenroye, who in this case orchestrates for a chamber ensemble including two violins, accordion, piano, double bass, guitar and flute, plus a female vocal trio. Take the most digestible ingredients of Thierry Zaboitzeff, Julverne, late Philip Glass, Wolfgang Salomon (has anybody heard Luna – Small Steps For Mankind?) and shake them within accessible harmonic contexts spiced with a tad of Medieval and East European reverberations; organize the recipe for musicians who show positive adroitness and a degree of passion in the performance, and you’ll be partially acquainted with what these materials sound like. As a bonus, Aranis introduce a little dissonance here and there to make things moderately interesting. My advice is enjoying the disc via speakers at moderate volume: the way in which the whole evolves thanks to the chosen instrumentation lets the acoustic scent spread charmingly, sporadically rendering it more precious than it really is. (Homerecords)

Fergus Kelly - Swarf + Fugitive Pitch

Swarf is a three-inch CD containing 20 minutes composed by gathering gentle noises emitted via bowed steel rods with sheet steel resonator, edited in consecutive loops and logical sequences in order to let them appear like veritable pieces of music. Obviously comparable to an acoustic sculpture or an installation – think a cross of a sedated Organum and a shut-in-a-closet version of Jonathan Coleclough – characterized by a sort of imprecise lyricism made acceptable by the short duration of the five tracks, each giving a different interpretation of the basic concept. Not really harsh, but also not excessively placid; minimalist in a way. Small doses of aural satisfaction are in any case guaranteed. A sufficiently grown-up release in this busy area.

Fugitive Pitch utilizes a longer period to better develop the notion, this time showing the consequence of improvisations (by Kelly and David Lacey) with metals, plastic and drum parts in cellars located under Dublin’s Henrietta Street. The raw materials were processed and seamed after being recorded, thus maintaining the structural coherence that had already been detected in the shorter disc. Needless to say, the level of gratification is increased by the larger resonance deriving from the setting in which this was realized; still, although the record is not lacking in fascinating roars and rumbles – with an even more attentive ear to the enhancement of long-drawn-out upper partials - not too much of truly groundbreaking can be reported. There’s no doubt about Kelly’s seriousness of intents though, his sound world definitely able to sustain our curiosity for the whole extent of the program and, at the very least, constituting a pleasant soundtrack for this early morning. (Room Temperature)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

On The Instability Of Immobility


My first encounter with Schumacher dates back to 1999, when I nearly became an addict to the guitar-driven Fidicin Drones (note to uninformed drone maniacs: that’s an overlooked masterwork to look for). But the man is not one who stays on a ground for long, and nowadays his idiom is mainly computerized, much less static, always inexplicably fascinating, its scope widened to range between the universe of installations and membrane-tickling acousmatics (the latter aspect symbolized by the percussively zesty, rock-ish “ErosIon”, commissioned by the Ear To The Earth Festival in 2008). Exactly that year, Schumacher had published an interactive DVD-ROM on Experimental Intermedia - Five Sound Installations – which perhaps was too advanced a concept (namely, the involuntary creation of a different aural experience whenever the item is played) reserved only to those who have a suitable setup at home. The limited access to the media hampered that release’s larger diffusion and acceptance. With Weave there’s no such risk: six audio and two video tracks that can be listened/watched with a regular player (the videos still need a computer), which testify once again the versatility and the multihued qualities of this artist’s conceptions. In the magnificent “Loom” we meet the ebb and flow of low frequency, the aquatic character of certain impulses, the incessant jangle of concreteness, synthetic signals coming out of anywhere. “Malaise” is a chain of obsessively repeated fragments including percussive knocks, scalar exercises on a piano keyboard and misshapen easy melodies. “Part Music” investigates the hidden traits and the resonant features of an acoustic guitar (with special preference for the textural tissue of pinched harmonics); the conclusive “Refrain” utilizes micro-flashes of famous songs (is that “Stand By Me”?) amidst autumnal urban ambiances and solitary chords and pitches on the piano, the whole interspersed by snippets from old vinyls and “familiar” found sounds that can’t actually be deciphered (someone is definitely playing tennis, though). Great stuff, like the bulk of this stimulating CD. (Entr’acte)

STOP PRESS 7/29/2010. Regarding the above mentioned "famous songs" and "Stand By Me", Mr. Schumacher emails: the tune is actually "This Boy". Yet another case of delayed Riccian humiliation on the history of pop. Oh, well...

JASON KAHN & RICHARD FRANCIS – Jason Kahn & Richard Francis

These four tracks are the outcome of a restricted number of live meetings between two artists residing in opposite parts of the globe (Switzerland and New Zealand). Yet, by merging the essences of their search for the interior development of a particular sound, Kahn and Francis manufacture a worthy set of increasingly tense soundscapes for percussion, analogue synthesizer, computer and electronics. The opening pair of segments was recorded at the University of Auckland in 2007. The first is firmly entrenched in a semi-regular, unforgiving ringing mainly deriving from incisive synthetic timbres, which after circa six minutes turns into a quaking pulse scarred by various interferences. The second (also the record’s longest) is even sharper - intelligent racket and unsympathetic frequencies dominating for a while - then shifts to a pseudo-static phantasmagoria of clatter and crackle enriched by metallic rattling and a mixture of virtual firecrackers and gunshots, ending with resonant humming tones that change with your head’s motion. We go on with a segment from 2008, captured on tape in Zurich, which exalts the typical escalation – verging on an explosion that never happens – of Kahn’s classic works, enhanced by Francis’ knowledgeable use of his laptop to enforce different gravitational pulls on the whole, under the guise of ripping and slashing discharges of white noise. The last episode (Grenoble, same year) is quite intoxicating, roaring skins and flexible wickedness alimenting a darkish soundscape that leaves no chance for serene openings, closing a practically perfect release in style: the harmony of menace, the incontrollable pressure of an only apparent frozenness, inquietude defined by oscillating daydreams. One can’t avoid being caught up and completely allured. (Monochrome Vision)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

On Acheulian Handaxe

The label established by the man who invented the fabulous definition “endangered guitar”, namely Hans Tammen. You might like them or not, but there’s no question that these records are likely to challenge the listener in diverse ways.


A duo working with processed sounds, electronics and voice (Naphtali usually employs a Max/MSP software for her trips). The concept is basically that of a sci-fi play, although I couldn’t find the desire to focus my attention to the descriptions of the single “chapters”. Both the good and the bad of extreme treatment are evident throughout. Certain solutions are quite humorous – occasionally awesome – in their warped glory, completely unrecognizable voices utilized as instruments for the generation of baffling soundscapes abounding in rhythmic diversifications, clustery indeterminations and instant outgrowths dressed with timbres from the depth of a black hole. Yet, as the time passes, the formula becomes somewhat predictable, the novelty factor leaving room to a slight degree of staleness (not helped by the obviousness of the rare snippets of “regular” spontaneous singing, following well-trodden paths that have nothing left to reveal nowadays). Thus, for this writer’s taste this is a 50-50 record, not destined to eternal remembrance. But it is definitely worth of an attentive listen, given the participants’ indisputable earnestness.


Two extensive tracks recorded in 2007, using heavily manipulated/altered trumpet and guitar. An intelligent proposal in which the balance between real and modified timbres is practically perfect, also thanks to quieter segments - infrequently appearing amidst ceaseless ingenious spurts - that help the psyche to agree to the most alien sounds even better. The general mood is one of rather polite edginess, dictated by the almost total absence of familiarity in relation to the instrumentation’s concrete appearance. Dörner privileges subdued rumble, controlled power and a smart management of hiss-and-puff traits permeated of oral humidity; Hirt is into the utter modification of the axe’s tone, generating strangely resounding walls of harmonically transgendered chordal abortions, placing his statements in the right spots with incredible perspicacity. Yet he’s not opposing the use of the strings as a percussive device, halfway through a small bell and an African instrument. The resulting music is pleasingly polluting and gently upsetting: subliminal at times, straight to the point elsewhere, but still difficult to appraise unless you really concentrate on it. Overall, a stimulating release.

CHARLES E.IVES / FEDERICO MOMPOU – Concord Sonata / Música Callada I

Something entirely different here. Pianist Peter Geisselbrecht tackles scores from the repertoire of a pair of composers from the last century who apparently don’t have so much in common. However a link exists between the two, under the guise of the diverse types of spirituality to which both allude (respectively, associations to transcendentalism and Thoreau, and the influence of mystic poet San Juan De La Cruz). The underlying aura should not divert our concentration from the severe beauty of the resulting music, interpreted by Geisselbrecht with exactness and sentiment. At times Concord Sonata might result slightly problematical for the not conversant, its four parts mixing ponderous chordal superimposition and unselfish reflection in a succession of intense movements, (rare) ironic touches and grieving passages. It’s a demonstration of the viewpoint according to which solemnity and a sharp mind can live together after all and, ultimately, it is splendid stuff. Mompou is the one to choose for the most melancholic in the audience: the nine chapters of Música Callada are rather undersized and explicatively titled (“Lento”, “Afflitto e Penoso”, “Semplice” to quote but three). They continue what the more placidly thoughtful sections of Ives’ work had begun, establishing a typical impression of quiet sadness connected with classic “look-at-a-distant-past” atmospheres, with just minor deviations from this canon. We almost smell the dust of the large rooms in ancient mansions while mentally envisioning interminable silences, meaningful studies and timorous approaches to an equally shy counterpart. Objects of a reciprocal love that will never be confessed.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Old And New Hats

An analysis of four recent (or less) releases and reissues kindly sent by Werner X. Uehlinger, deus ex machina of the Hat labels. More to follow.


A brilliant album, sharp and concise but at the same time full of snappish irony and unceremonious turnarounds. Bynum’s cornet stands alone at the beginning and end of the program in two intelligent solos, and there’s a couple of trios featuring him together with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, in which the articulateness of the initial propositions leaves space to mildly dissonant frolicsomeness, generated by a kind of interplay that goes well beyond the classic jazz formats. The apex of compositional complexity – still informed by an utter transparency – is symbolized by the three movements of the impossible-to-type “whYeXpliCitieS” (the dedicatee being Anthony Braxton, the leader’s foremost mentor) that add Jessica Pavone on viola, another guitar (Evan O’Reilly) and Matt Bauder on tenor sax and bass clarinet. Here, the balance between the elastic restrictions given by the written parts and the actual enfranchisement from them reaches points of absolute exquisiteness, the music pointing towards structures à la Stravinsky one moment, to the acoustic portrayal of six stumbling toddlers the next, to a genuine fusion of influences in general. Throughout the 45 minutes the air remains invitingly fresh, the musicians’ cleverness shining bright, the adjective “lukewarm” all but forgotten.


Third edition of an ear-gratifying meeting of kindred spirits, recorded live in March 1995. You know that I’m not averse to criticizing the standardization of a set of rules that have transformed jazz into a museum of commonplaces, but when one sets aside overhasty conclusions and just goes with the flow, there’s still a lot of admiration to convey for musicians of this pedigree. Since the very opening – Konitz’s “Thingin” – the path is clear: Friedman’s piano dictating refined progressions through which the saxophonist and Zoller communicate in an ever-sympathetic mutual acknowledgement. The guitarist’s immaculate tone is splendid, to the point that I pretended to miss a few wrong notes that pop out here and there during certain soloist flights, keeping in mind the overall warmth and nicely aged qualities of his playing instead. Konitz shows a proclivity for a controlled administration of the melodic stream, which matches the unparalleled ability for detecting thematic openings. A musical wisdom permeated by an uncommon self-restraint. Truth be told, Friedman is my choice as the cementing element in this trio: a pianist that sounds uncompromising and mild-mannered at once, the actual harmonic string-puller behind seven chapters after which pronouncing the word “purity” is not a sin anymore. His own “Opus D’Amour” – at times reminiscent of Gordon Beck - is perhaps the record’s top, offering romantic transport and contrapuntal perspicacity in a worthy combination of moods.

LOREN CONNORS & JIM O’ROURKE – Are You Going To Stop… In Bern?

These four tracks were recorded in 1997 (they were previously released as In Bern on HatNOIR). A pair of guitars for two entirely singular kinds of expression: O’Rourke is technically grounded, a considerate fingerstyle groundwork characterizing the refinement of enthralling passages - there are many - which keep the whole album’s configuration coherent enough. Connors looks to establish his celebrated blues-tinged stasis, tentatively placing sparse pitches that twitch, tremble and – sporadically - completely fall out of the harmonic border in moments of atrocious stridency which, in a way, characterize this man’s nearly mythical status more than the “right” notes (let’s be frank, certain twanging bloopers played by other people would have branded them as slouches). That said, this is not an album that must be dissected to separate good from bad. Its quality lies in the attractive kind of roomy resonance that the axes generate through superimposition of phrases and layering of chords. Based on this criterion, grace is delivered in abundance with nary a moment of ruthlessness, not even when Connors introduces distortion at the end. My only doubt sprang after reading Thierry Jousse’s final statement in the liners: “If John Cage had ever composed any country music, it would certainly have sounded like this”. Why in the world, one wonders.


More News From Lulu is the second and final recorded chapter of this short lived trio, surely to be picked if you want to belatedly dip the toes in the particular stylistic choice that Zorn, Lewis and Frisell were exploring in those years (we’re talking 1989), namely the tackling of hard bop “classics” (...) penned by composers such as Hank Mobley, Sonny Clark and Misha Mengelberg, whose “Gare Guillemins” is rendered spectacularly in what’s probably the CD’s most enjoyable track. It is also one of the preeminent “technically soulful” expressions of each member: Zorn – of whom I’ve always preferred the saxophonist persona rather than the composer’s – is deceivingly sociable as ever, a biting tone ready to escort the listener across the rendition of a piece with fastidious exactitude only to squash a just apparent easiness with squeals and triturated notes that many people find odious, but that are instead coups of actual genius. Lewis’ trombone is a splendid machine for corpulent riffs, bass lines and thematic prepotency, executing tasks sharply and ironically at the same time in a genuine revenge for an often underappreciated instrument. Frisell has been a lost love of mine for over a decade now, and listening to those wild eruptions of modified digital delays – not to mention a spicy comping ability punctuated by sudden shards and controlled turbulence – enhances the feel of depression that this writer experiences in front of the unhealthy sugary wailings that he churns out today in a hundred useless records; a typical Philip Glass-like case in which success and wealth seem to have destroyed any artistic legitimacy in a musician’s spirit.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Dragon’s Eye: An Update Of Sorts

Five releases from 2009 and 2010 for which we thank Yann Novak, whose ongoing support and patience are treasured. You can read more about this nucleus of sound-manipulating artists by visiting the label’s website.

SUBLAMP – Breathletters

Los Angeles-based Ryan Connor was born in a family of scientists, growing up in environments such as national parks and rocky mountains. This helped him in developing a keen ear in conjunction with the (unfortunately rarely met nowadays) awareness of being a scarcely significant component in the cosmic order of things, which on the one hand limits the typical human tendency to unwarranted egocentrism, and on the other renders the ability of discerning the inner qualities of sounds more enhanced than the norm. The nine tracks of this very nice CD show exactly that, mixing unconscious responsiveness and concentration in static soundscapes among the most satisfying I've stumbled upon recently, gifted with unpretentiousness and a wealth of harmonic textures despite the almost complete lack of movement or dynamic shifts. Connor used field recordings and regular instruments to expand the borders of his and our perception, which he seems to achieve without excessive effort. Scenarios that unfold consecutively and naturally, like the succession of nights and days. Obvious, and yet surprising, as the changes in the weather: beautiful to observe and, especially, listen to.

JAMIE DROUIN – A Three Month Warm Up

The title refers both to the duration of the groundwork for this effort (consisting of 124 individual field recordings made in an outdoor public square in Victoria – British Columbia, Canada) and the “cacophony of notes played by a symphony during warm up, when a single unified tone emerges out of the various instruments and voices”. I know from direct experiences that a city possesses indeed a monotone harmonic undercurrent whose sampling is possible only from a long distance, with exceptional results. This scribe will never forget - on an August 13 of about 20 years ago – the muffled murmur emitted by a then almost empty Rome (once upon a time people were still able to save some money for vacations) as heard from the hill where he lived at that moment. Drouin captured that kind of permanently lamenting stasis quite effectively by managing to filter out the excessively piercing frequencies and enhance the right ones, necessary for letting that municipal area sing with a wonderfully hoarse voice. This places the recording in close proximity to selected episodes of Thomas Köner’s discography. Not really fresh news - but definitely a satisfying album for lovers of scarce movement, also given its 77-minute length.

COREY FULLER – Seas Between

After reading about the wealth of instruments and treatments Fuller used for this album, and also the fascinating titles of the tracks, I was negatively surprised to find music that might occasionally recall a sedated version of Tim Story (especially when elementary harmonic successions are employed) amidst a rather unimpressive gathering of soft-spoken, or completely still pieces, at times coming dangerously close to sonorities strictly linked to New Age. This refers in particular to the conclusive the title track: a saccharine-drenched, soundtrack-ish atmosphere with a dose of “look-sweetheart-a-star-is-falling” violins - and, needless to say, water all over the place. The only features this reviewer managed to attribute a real value to were the luminously frozen strokes of presentiment characterizing episodes such as “November Skies Tokyo” and Snow Static”, whose naked beauty contribute to save the day at least partially. In consideration of what was just told, Seas Between works pretty fine as a nice complement for the crickets singing tonight around the house, but – artistically speaking – this is not an essential statement, despite the composer’s unquestionable good will and desire to involve.

IAN HAWGOOD – Snow Roads

A collection of aquarelles or, as per the press release’s words, “a demonstration of poetry through image and images turning to sound”. Hawgood is a sonic designer and a high school teacher who lives in Tokyo and London; his music is simple but not one-dimensional, if you get my point. Essentially rooted in the quintessence of contemplative inertia – with few exceptions, and with the contribution of peripheral found sounds – the fourteen tracks of Snow Roads are often appealing and, in general, a refreshing presence enriched by external inputs (Celer, featured on Tingsha bells, being the most renowned). The anal-retentive among us would probably note that there is not too much muscle under the façade, especially from the compositional angle: the pieces are all pretty short and, for the large part, exploiting a single source without concessions to excess of dynamics and harmonic change. Regardless, a definite influence of natural beauty permeates these sketches, making sure that the correspondence between the creator and the receiver is always free of obstacles, an explicit smile with joy in the eyes rather than a serious face implying counterfeit mysteries. Keep this going for a while at medium-to-low volume in the early morning and various layers of graciousness to your ears will be revealed.


Two separate ways of conceiving the alteration of the perception of space in relation to sounds that start as normal but, once processed, become a completely dissimilar source of sensations and aural/psychological fulfilment. This is what transpires from +Room-Room, the soundtrack to a brace of installations situated in adjacent settings at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery in 2009, of which this recording (published on the Gallery’s own label) captures the fundamental nature. Basically, Novak utilized the higher frequencies whereas Drouin preferred the lower ones; both interpretations of this study are quite engrossing, the former – splendid in its meditative motionlessness and invisibly morphing shapes - recalling an updated version of Charlemagne Palestine’s investigations with oscillators (circa Four Manifestations On Six Elements), the latter generating a gradually expanding huge mantle of finely tuned reverberating murmurs and hums, a hovering cloud that nonetheless leaves plenty of clean air for a different kind of movement, occurring inside the sonic texture and the discerning addressees. Utterly devoid of bells and whistles, anchored to the basic essence of environmental sound, these are brilliantly realized, efficient soundscapes that deserve to be mentioned among the genre’s best releases. An example to follow in terms of acoustic sobriety and artistic earnestness, topping this lot together with Sublamp’s Breathletters.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Atmospheric Conditions

A weekend spent in company of albums sent by Daniel Crokaert and Christoph Heemann, both of whom are hereby thanked kindly.

MATT SHOEMAKER – The Sunken Plethora Consumes All

I smiled when reading these words describing Shoemaker’s sound art within the promo’s sleeve: “barely relying on models generated by his predecessors or current peers”. That’s absolutely fallacious: there’s a lot of things here that one could associate to other people and records of this area. Organum, Irr. App. (Ext.), Jim Haynes to name just three, and – get this – even Popol Vuh-like phantoms somewhere. What’s true instead is that this man reveals himself to be an artist who can organize sonic sources quite smartly, the result being a record that offers enigmas and symphonious concreteness in equal doses. Starting from the natural field recordings – very beautiful ones, admittedly – of the initial “Hovering” the composer leads us through a thick undergrowth of drone and resonant clangor without falling in the canons of shameful imitation, always setting the listener in a frame of mind between perplexed and spellbound (this reviewer fell asleep during the first headphone try). The development of “The Apneist” transits across stunning static mirages blemished by metropolitan traces (and perhaps the moans of a didgeridoo, but – again – it’s all very well done). By the time we have arrived at the final stages with “Hallucination Pool” – possibly the most dramatic piece - and the title track (the sinisterly moribund tolling at the beginning of the latter is exactly the thing that was needed) the music has gradually become an established component in the neighboring environment while managing to nourish an invisible inside quaking in a much more effectual way than what was imagined at the outset. (Mystery Sea)

JAMES MCDOUGALL – Dispossession Of Periphery

Australian McDougall is also active under the Entia Non moniker, but I had never met his work before listening to this record. It’s a noteworthy opening encounter, the music repeatedly approaching flawlessness (according to this writer’s current disposition, and always exclusively concerning this genre). Like the large majority of the artists working with processed field recordings and ultra-low frequencies, McDougall did not invent a new way of doing things. Still, it is much better when a musician accomplishes an emotionally involving result by utilizing known means as an adjunct to their personal sensibility than attempting to astound the audience via techniques, sounds and tricks that might sound innovative at first, only to reveal an absolute poverty of genuine compositional ideas. The man handles the classic features of unfathomable atmospheres that an authentic, insightful critic would call “organic” – rustling noise, subaqueous shuddering, preternatural reverberations and (especially) throbbing dilations of rumbling emanations – within a precise scheme that allows us to forget about what’s happening around and just enjoy a persuasive cerebral rubdown. Some of these drones possess a “subterranean choir” quality that strikes at various levels of depth, “Porcelain Hull” and “Pallid Lantern” among the favourite episodes in that logic. The matters coming from the real world are so well masked and employed that recognizing them is perceived as a pleasure, not an aggravation. Propagations of vibes that literally ask to be incorporated by our systems, deployed with artful intelligence. (Mystery Sea)


A Norwegian multimedia artist heavily influenced – as most people working in this field – by his immediate surroundings, whose voices are blended with actual instruments to constructs cinematic glorifications of indistinct panoramas bathed in cavernous reverbs. Let’s anticipate the verdict and notify that this release didn’t really convince me, despite several moments of seemingly undying stillness that might work much better if they were left alone. “Alone” in this case means that the complementary appendages are too obvious and recurrent, with particular regard to a surplus of liquid elements (at the risk of repeating myself, it’s about time that the use of flowing waters on disc gets seriously restricted by some kind of controlling organism), vastly resounding metals and roaring noises from the Earth’s uterus that sound quite stereotyped and shared with at least 20/25 titles from this label, and I’m being charitable. That said, the drones concocted by Paulsen are often rather impressive, especially when the pulse is enriched by what sounds like lingering clouds of Tibetan bowls and other additional harmonic components. Had it been entirely so, the record would have functioned just fine as a mind-enhancing background, without pretenses of sorts. As it stands, it is a collection of mere atmospheric gradations tending to mystifying (?) obscurities, lacking a consistent design and impoverished by a number of commonplaces relative to this sonic subdivision (which, on a second thought, actually thrives on the routines of fake enlightenments, meditational ostentation and apparently profound, yet desperately one-dimensional concepts for its large part). Not considering this, Paulsen’s stuff feels honest. A good starting point for potential betterments. (Mystery Sea)


This vinyl edition documents an audiovisual installation whose premiere occurred in 2005 at the Horkunst Festival in Erlangen, Germany. The analysis of assorted ambiences constitutes the essential groundwork, human presence ebbing and flowing throughout. The rest is reticent whirring and mesmeric stasis (courtesy Christoph Heemann): not too much to recount, if not in a merely descriptive vein based on the sensations experienced. Remote allusions to the city, chatting people in a hall, unremitting severe frequencies that above a certain volume level make my room’s loose parts tremble quite a bit. While I’m playing this, a thunderstorm is breaking the silence of an awfully hot Sunday, and the combination of real and recorded essences works rather well. As the urban landscapes appear again somewhere on the first side, a sense of desolation – accompanied by the personal consternation related to another upcoming week spent amidst insipid things of which I don’t care a iota about – colours the general temperament, soon replaced by the mantra sung by a choir of crickets sustained by a splendidly blurred electronic monody. At one point in the second part some echoing steps, an awesome drone and the faraway rumble outside the window put your writer “in the zone” for a good couple of minutes. This reciprocation and merging of brain-numbing inviolability and suggestions of regular life heard far afield is the main characteristic of this album, an unpretentious display of ascetic linearity containing infectious memorabilia. (Streamline, distributed by Drag City)

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Memories Of Mr.23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)

ALFRED HARTH – Brocken/Biest 01/01

Laubhuette Studio

In 2001, Alfred Harth was enduring a bit of physical trouble, related to the many years spent with a piece of reed around his neck. He decided at that time to give an unusual spin to his music by starting to use electronics quite frequently while diminishing the use of the heavy honker.

The first result of this switch is the live composition "Brocken/Biest 01/01", a 72-minute trip through hundreds of garbled shards mostly informed by a tendency to technological riffraff and schismatic sampladelia. The title is an evident pun on “broken beat”, but in German it translates as “lump (piece) of beast” (!), whereas 01/01 – recalling the binary code – is actually a mere reference to the recording date (January 2001). Divided in 13 segments consecutively linked (as in a perfect 12-inch mix - in fact, one of the effects used is that of the cyclical crunch of vinyl), this is an exciting aspect of Harth’s crafty engineering skills. However, it is not something to assimilate painlessly; the quantity of events utilized by the Frankfurter is huge, the brain struggling to collocate each detail in the correct place with just a transitory listen (which, incidentally, should not be done with ANY record). Suffice to say that there are traces of unimaginable obsessions everywhere, fused in an individual concoction of misshapen visions and bizarre backgrounds that sound intimidating, paradoxical, or both; the whole sustained by rhythms that can be either spastic or disco-regular. Myriads of samples are seamed in masterful fashion, their consecutiveness generating a “let’s-see-what-comes-now” kind of expectation in the listener. Incomprehensible radio snippets, the Warner Bros audio logo camouflaged in liquid equalization, surrealistically twisted power chords, voices from inconceivable places (with particular relevance to intriguing Oriental accents that, pertinently deformed by AH, give the idea of a continuous gurgle generated by someone who’s about to throw up. Difficult to explain in words, but fantastic in terms of pulse). A few tracks even show a peculiar, definitely unintentional resemblance to chosen chapters of Muslimgauze’s discography. The best method for being invaded and ultimately conquered by this great mishmash – to be especially treasured by those who appreciated the “Mother Of Pearl” series – is keeping it going ad infinitum for at least four or five hours, letting it become a part of your physicality while completely intoxicating the senses. You’ll soon realize that reality does not look the same from which things had started, and it feels damn good.

Laub is an only apparently simpler specimen of Harthian creativity, yet it’s without a doubt the more enigmatic item of this pair (and, in truth, among the most cryptic offerings I’ve heard from the Seoul expatriate). The record’s name means “foliage”, a word also referenced in AH’s private studio “Laubhuette”, which stands for “hut made of leaves”. The music – mainly obtained by alternating indefinable stringed instruments, electronic/concrete materials and echoes of Korean activity – is essentially a cycle of “remixes, fragments and field recordings” captured between 2004 and 2006 and comprising rare gems such as the impenetrable “Nonunhappiness”, an exhilarating – and unfortunately short - remix of a snippet of “Domestic Stories” (somehow evoking Elliott Sharp’s cybernetic guerrillas), and assorted chunks of “iGnorance”, Harth’s homage to composer Yun I-sang, of whom the protagonist uses a beautiful string section from a work called Piri , re-baptized “Piri II” for the occasion. There’s a perceptible severance between the nude acoustic soul of a crude improvisation like “Peripathy, A Sufi Prayer In Corea” and the acousmatic complexity of “Spagat”, an impressive cross of theatric vocals (by Yi Soonjoo, Alfred’s life partner) and whimpering dogs recorded in a farm. “Direct Jazz II” utilizes superimposed sax flurries upon a multitude of strata including synthetic improbability, shortwaves and metropolitan moods. The mind-boggling “Rueckbrick” closes the CD on a slightly anguishing note caused by fickle electro-multiplicity (picture a stoned Jon Hassell/Terry Riley Siamese couple) and various species of mystifying glissando. Overall, the album’s singular components - whose blending may initially appear ludicrous - coalesce consistently after the third or fourth dutiful scrutiny, confirming the man’s ability in pulverizing the original meanings of his objects of study and combining them into artistic reports that, once brought to light, instantly overshadow the globally accepted standardization of composers appositely deified by the regime universally identified as “specialized press”.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Rhodri Davies Was Here


The origin of this music is a 10-minute harp improvisation sent by Davies to Büttner after they decided to start a collaboration in 2006. The three chapters are completely different in character and dynamics, giving the listener a chance to discover hidden, or just elusive aspects of an instrument that too often gets mentally associated with beatific choirs and syrupy orchestral settings. "Glas" begins with fairly fluid features, soon followed by a deeply resounding changeover to algid sonorities - fluctuating in a vast acoustic space - that inexorably call Asmus Tietchens' work to mind. "Plok" is beyond doubt a lesser episode, essentially illustrated by nondescript microsonic activities and untailored appendages spotting the general quietness, scarcely weighty on a compositional level. In a classic case of dulcis in fundo, the conclusive "Bow" saves the best for last, introducing us to an absorbing study of booming frequencies in feeble luminescence, slightly perturbed by blurred underwater chugs towards the end. While it's true that recurring to drones to save the day is a well-known escape from trouble, in this occasion Büttner delivers by ending a half-interesting album on a positively compelling note of unsettling incertitude. (Auf Abwegen)


Carliol comprises seven tracks recorded by Butcher and Davies on a choice of saxophones and harps, enhanced by motorized appliances and making use of embedded speakers. Both types of instruments find an ideal point of fusion at the border between feedback and drone while keeping their exclusively acoustic properties intact – the clack of the keys, the plucked attack on the strings, the “frying” noise of the mouthpiece – thus reaching a nearly perfect dynamic stability which is reflected throughout the 44-plus minutes of this stimulating album. Even before the start, the awareness of the artistic blamelessness always shown by these musicians predisposes the cognizant listener in a certain frame of mind. You know for sure that nothing but serious experimentation will be heard, independently from the likeableness of the sheer aesthetic outcome. In this case, the expectancy is fully recompensed by the successful attempt of Butcher and Davies to demonstrate new ways of expressing what they had already discovered in the past. The flutter and the vibration interact superbly, meshing intuition and predetermination; many of these sounds are clearly manifest at first, yet the same piece that starts so concretely can intoxicate with clouds of noxious upper partials at the end, without a conscious realization of the process on the audience’s side. The close frequencies giving birth to the dissonant throb in “Ouse Poppy” and the incandescent rays generated by the Aeolian harp in “Distant Leazes” as Butcher’s funnily talkative soliloquy goes on are just two amidst several representative pictures in this collection of pleasant contrasts and gracious antagonisms. (Ftarri)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Timo Van Luijk Sends News Via Vinyl

Let’s talk about a pair of delightfully scented limited edition LPs received a few months ago by Timo Van Luijk (Noise Maker’s Fifes, In Camera, Asra among his past and ongoing projects). Translation for the inexperienced: this man – besides a considerable individual talent - has been joining people of the caliber of the late Geert Feytons, Christoph Heemann and Raymond Dijkstra. Always a pleasure to listen to such an erratic kind of unadulterated music, regardless of aesthetic assessments and personal appreciations.

ONDE – Purple

Onde is an improvising trio existing since 2006, Purple being their third release. The lineup consists of Van Luijk plus Greg Jacobs and Marc Wroblewski; here they play electric guitar, violin and metals respectively. Apart from a brief interlude defined by a quiet arpeggio, the first side is mainly occupied by a steady acid pulse rather reminiscent of Tony Conrad and Faust’s Outside The Dream Syndicate. The pattern is monochromatic and monotone, though absolutely not wearisome. It goes on and on incessantly, with minor variations in the enhancement of the timbres (presumably resulting from the use of pedal effects). The second half is founded on the same relentless cadenza, this time sounding like if reproduced by a reversed tape and enclosed by a horde of stridently inharmonious saturated sonorities, at times giving the illusion of a wild bunch of bagpipes. Here, too, we’re gifted with another short-lived hypnotic segments, oddly recalling Aidan Baker’s loop-based reveries. In terms of aural gratification and generation of uneasy mental states, this part is slightly superior to the former. In any case, this is a strange album: not something that one imagines to play endlessly or just repeatedly, yet imbued of pleasantly venomous substances that give it an aura of welcome cynicism, in turn eliciting an alarming sense of discomfort. But it’s also very energetic. (Ondemusic)


I remember having written about Croene’s Hout CD in duo with Esther Venrooy quite a while ago but, other than that, my familiarity with his methods of expression was virtually nonexistent to date. Mea culpa: the absolutely brilliant Voile Au Vent – performed by him and Van Luijk on an array of unspecified instruments besides the evidently recognizable ones – immediately startles with the opening track “Vortex”, magnificently weird oscillations of pitches following a funereal bass line among echoes of warped pianos and hazily subversive chorales underlined by cheap beats. “Libersee” keeps things interesting by mixing what sounds like comatose reeds and different types of exhausted orchestral sources with acerbically echoing notes in the high register of a completely misshapen mysterious instrument (perhaps it’s piano again?) and assorted kinds of heavy percussion. Unique, to say the least. Side B begins with “…Pour Que Le Vent…”, a ghostly – and occasionally rather scary – accumulation of tolling metals, clusters of flutes, abnormal shrieks, hovering presences and rumbles from the underground likely to transport the listener straight into a luminously preposterous Puzzleland. The final “Triangle Du Diable” exploits the suspense elicited by a boundless tendency to the destruction of an actual harmonic tissue, doing it via practical suggestions in the shape of familiar instrumental voices, concise stop-and-go’s and wavering electronics assembled over various strata of improvisational inspection of the psyche. Halfway through flexible and delirious, this is a great record under any circumstance. (La Scie Dorée)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

12k / Line Roundup

Recent - and less - outings by these labels. Thanks as usual to Taylor Deupree for the systematic support (I’ll try and analyze the DVD releases in another write-up, Taylor...)

PJUSK – Sval

The duo of Norwegian Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik, Pjusk came to attention three years ago with the excellent Sart. This new work, despite its unquestionable elegance and the evident care applied in the functional placing of the single elements in the mix, is not on the same artistic level, resulting quite unemotional and in parts stereotyped. Mostly pulse-based, the music does show a handful of moments of radiation; yet it happens only in short spurts, also due to a compositional linearity that too often transcends to sequence-driven leniency and rather conventional electronic daydreaming - ghostly voices, interminable echoes, blurred visuals, you know the script. But there’s more than a set of well-rounded sounds to the realization of profoundness, and this time it looks like style has prevailed upon substance.


Ashamed of himself, your correspondent must reveal that he never heard the first volume of For, the underlying notion being of course that of “homage to someone or something”. Carsten Nicolai conceived and collected these pieces over the years, each one dedicated to an artist or creative entity – this time including Heiner Müller, Phill Niblock and, of all things, The Kingdom Of Elgaland-Vargaland. I’m still under the influence of the unsurpassable UTP_ with Ryuichi Sakamoto and the Ensemble Modern, reviewed here a few days ago, therefore accepting a return to the exclusively electronic palette, uncomplicated geometries and steady pulses of these medium-sized miniatures was not the easiest task. But once we break through the real meaning of Alva Noto’s interior vision, everything suddenly connects and the minimal structures – imbued with typical refinement and connectable to a gestural rituality that make one envision the early morning activities of a lonesome individual – assume a wholly different weight in our transient reality, separating noise and pure frequency, ultimately generating a distillate of essentiality from the superfluous components of a milieu.


Admitting one’s ignorance, part two. Not only I had never heard the first edition of Chorus, originally an extremely limited item released in Peru (!); your scribe hadn’t listened to Loveliescrushing until today, full stop. The duo of guitarist Scott Cortez and vocalist Melissa Arpin-Duimstra is active since 1991 on the basis of the extreme modification of the fundamental timbres of their sources. No other instrument is utilized except guitars and vocals, both rendered unrecognizable through heavy processing. With the above mentioned Chorus they went a step further, choosing to exclusively use and manipulate vocal snippets. CRWTH presents a complete redesigning of that work, maintaining some of the essential singing components intelligible in a slowly stretching cycle of angelic tones, subsonic vibrations and semi-real replicas (the seagull-meet-whale melodic cry in the striking “Nauv” is a nice touch). There are occasional reminiscences of Cocteau Twins (Robin Guthrie is thanked in the liners) and Eno circa Music For Airports, with a handful of episodes enlightened by contemplative majesty: the final triptych “Shemerr”, “Flrm” and “Viaux” – virtually inert harmonies directly connected to universal perpetuity - and the impressive unfathomable moaning in “Laujl Vfx” come to mind. As this writer remembers (with a sense of repulsion) Claire Hamill’s Voices - an atrocious New Age pastiche of easy melodies for shopping malls – hyped as a masterpiece many years ago, we can rest contented enough with this record, whose original version plus three fresher ones are downloadable if you buy a copy of this.


A duo from Japan (Rie Yoshihara and Yusuke Onishi) performing overly melodic rudimentary songs on accordion, keyboards, guitar, banjo, bass with the addition of programmed rhythms. A few tunes are sung by Yoshihara (aka Trico!, we’re told) in sheer syrupy vocalization, or in Japanese. Apparently there’s a lot of people around the world who still loves this type of mellifluous oriental indulgence, yet I can’t force myself to give it enough relevance to consider it as really serious music. Some of it is half-heartedly funny, the large part is characterized by the kind of naiveté that tastes like a soft bonbon forgotten for many hours in a car parked under a hard summer sun. After ten minutes, my bitter realism suggests the consideration that there are thousands of real artists more deserving of being heard than Small Color. Initially, In Light might sound as a curiosity; in reality it lacks any sort of even slight interest, depth and inventiveness for this writer. More than a “departure” (as written in the press blurb), this is definitely a subpar release compared to 12k’s habitual levels.


Seven brief rhythmic studies created by Ielasi with everyday objects. Specifically: cooking pan, rubber band, polystyrene box, metal rod, aluminium foil, tin can and paper lamp. The meticulous type of recording permits to catch details that a distracted listen might be missing: scratches, thumps and purrs given by the amassing of certain frequencies, intertwining sub-patterns under the basic beat and, in general, intriguing combinations of percussive resonances are all part of a recipe that results quite edible; in at least three instances – rubber, aluminium and lamp – the resemblance to real instruments is truly impressive. Some of this stuff could even cause someone to tap their foot for a while. A polite divertissement that, for our good luck and thanks to the composer’s sensibility towards the listener, is not reiterated for more than the necessary time: the record lasts in fact 19 minutes and 49 seconds.


As an artist in residence at the University of York’s Music Research Center, in England, Taylor Deupree found and immediately put to good use four Balinese gamelan instruments – Celempung, Gendèr, Saron and Bonang – belonging to the faculty. Shoals, his latest solo outing nearly three years after Northern, is entirely constructed upon layered loops that the composer generated by playing them in real time, but not in the expected manner. In fact, he stretched, superimposed, pitch-transposed and in general rendered more malleable the noisy features of the sonic tools, elicited by unconventional manipulations (scraping edges and undersides, or working on defects such as broken strings and the like). Once the activity was captured on tape together with the originator’s own noises as he worked in the studio, the whole was subjected to additional treatments under the guise of an Eventide Eclipse and a software called Kyma, which allowed Deupree to further develop his instantaneous intuitions. The result deserves to be warmly welcomed: in its semi-organic straightforwardness, this is a perfect paradigm of engaging reiterative music which, in the right circumstance - and even raising the volume a bit - reveals the complexities lying behind a world of subtle motion and attractive chiaroscuros while highlighting an intelligent approach to introspective improvisation. In this case, the ultimate key to a mitigating totality which works great both for active listening and for simulating an installation at your place.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Great Music, No Matter The Label

Enough said. Get this stuff pronto.


Another grand release by our favourite Oregonian, his artistic consistency impressively unswerving for almost two decades now, not to mention a style that has become instantly identifiable across the years. Odradek is divided in a pair of long tracks, essentially created via the use of unspecified "acoustic instruments", drums and electronics. The first is classic Menche, a massively crunching pulse born from a few simple rhythmic components that grow to be increasingly violent and crushing with the passing of time, the whole underscored by the usual, indispensable throng of extremely effective subsonic hums (or Oms, perhaps). In the second segment an unclearly filtered German-speaking voice (Markus Wolff, also the author of the splendid hybrid creature adorning the cover) recites a text at the beginning and end of a more tranquil, but still threatening exercise in the hypnotically authoritative control of the listener's brain. The dominant tone colour is one of resonant metal obtained through a synthetic treatment, sort of a tolling bell surrounded by lenitive frequencies. Think of a soundtrack for the last thoughts before getting anaesthetized on an operating table: we can imagine what's going to happen, yet remain unable to react. Later on a static string-scented texture appears, growing in intensity with other elements such as a slightly distorted, repeated low pitch and additional obsessive ringing. This continues until the closing stages, Wolff's accent remaining totally unaccompanied in the final seconds. Needless to say, playing the record loud augments its psychological weight, as it's always the case with this artist's output. (Beta-Lactam Ring)

JANA WINDEREN – Energy Field

Winderen recorded the sources for Energy Field in the Barents Sea, Greenland and Norway through hydrophones, a parabolic reflector and assorted microphones. The consistently engaging results amount to one of the most striking records dealing with environmental materials heard in years, unquestionably belonging among the finest Touch releases in recent times. In “Aquaculture”, marine sounds and voices are fused into a gigantic accumulation of resonant currents and overwhelming reverberation, becoming one and the same with our own breathing rhythm. The extremely detailed noises and squeaks opening “Isolation/Measurement” give an idea of this Norwegian artist’s ability in capturing the essence of apparently irrelevant moments, first attributing a musicality to them then contextualizing the products in a larger frame where the listener is transported on site without moving, such are the intrinsic qualities and the vividness of the details. Again, what emerges is the impression of massiveness and, contemporarily, of rarefaction that the overall textural complexion elicits. “Sense Of Latent Power” is characterized by the (unfortunately brief) appearance of an unspecified animal’s chattering surrounded by the stifled roar generated by the assemblage of underwater recordings, which in the end are splendidly enhanced by a heavy equalization and put adjacent to additional idioms by aquatic protagonists, adding oneiric nuances to the imposing final blur. The silently persistent nature of the liquid features of this track contribute to a glorious spectacle of different gradations – concrete versus ethereal – that would convince even a cold-hearted sceptic. Four listens in less than 10 hours tell it all. (Touch)


Dedicated to one of its members (Rod Poole, tragically murdered in 2007), Vignes captures the very spirit of the Acoustic Guitar Trio, the remaining components being Nels Cline and Jim McAuley. This unit existed in performing shape from 1999 to 2003, year in which this set was recorded at Los Angeles’ Downtown Playhouse. As Cline himself reports, AGT were “a concentrated sampling of three microtonal improvising acoustic guitarists”, who decided “a tuning on the spot for each improvisation” before launching themselves in investigations that exalted the guitar’s dynamics and the peculiar kinds of resonance elicited by those impromptu tunings. The CD comprises three segments, which we must thank Poole for (besides producer Fabrizio Perissinotto), since he was the person in charge of keeping a steadiness in recording every single performance by the group. The music is typically shimmering, occasionally harsher; the superimpositions of off-centre arpeggios, percussive slaps and bizarre chords generate mildly warped clouds of upper partials that only those who are familiar with unconventional methods on a guitar can understand the essence of. Preparations, tools and bows are also part of the recipe, and they’re used quite cleverly (in particular during the third and final chapter). This doesn’t mean that the record is an exclusive for specialists; on the contrary, it represents an excellent chance for the uninitiated for realizing that this abused instrument is a microcosm replete with scintillatingly vibrating features. But expert hands are needed to bring them out and show the consequence: this earnest album succeeds in making us regret both the end of a creative life and the ceasing of an intriguingly “subversive” project, really sounding like nothing else. (Long Song)

Monday, 14 June 2010

Overlooked Gem Alert


Time to give the proper relevance to a somewhat unsung masterpiece fusing rationality, emotion and adroitness in equal doses. In 2007, for the 400th anniversary of the German city of Mannheim, Carsten Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto tackled the difficult task of developing an appropriate audio and visual performance to celebrate the event. Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern - the only orchestral entity to ever satisfy the impossible technical demands of Frank Zappa – added their own brilliance to a concisely profound composition derived from Mannheim’s structural Rasterization, 72 minutes played on diverse levels of dynamic interaction and linear development. The result is presented in a luxury edition comprising a CD and a DVD, the latter featuring the entire live rendition of UTP_ (the name a contraption of “Utopia”) and a short movie documenting the progress of the collaboration. Also included are the graphic score and a booklet.

During the concert, Alva Noto’s imagery – mostly based on conflicting sinewaves in 3D in slowly morphing colors - is reproduced on a long LCD screen. It all starts with stillness just broken by splinters of notes in almost total obscurity, short flashes linked to selected beats of the main pulse. A growing tension is perceived, waiting for a flare-up that never materializes. A minimal melodic figuration introduces a Buddhist temple-like ceremonial atmosphere, blue lights gradually revealing the musicians’ shadow. Small noises, tiny echoes and fluid electronics define a couple of sections characterized by the absence of a real harmonic skeleton. The visuals behave accordingly, vivid points in a virtual plane of computerized calm waters. The intensity grows again, the noise increasing its supremacy. Marvelous clusters define a shift of the lighting to red and purple; there’s inner quietness in between these poignant chords, which represent one of the piece's highs, a perfect combination of stirring sound and eye-affecting metaphor. Sakamoto's pitches shine amidst nearly inert marimbas, then everything fades away until a series of solid surges appears in martial succession, the underlying static hiss a necessary balancing element. A solitary tone of looped Tibetan bowl defines another transition, a single red spot underlining the dissolution of this virtual oblivion in a cycle of intangible frequencies. A wonderful part begins at around 54', trembling strings and marimba fused with an essential beat, sparse touches of pizzicato violin and piano dewdrops materializing in blue and violet shades. The finale is equally impressive, slightly sturdier tones progressively flowing into near-nothingness, the instrumentalists wrapped by a blindingly white light before the inevitable fade to black.

Simply the best that I've heard (and seen) from this pair of silent geniuses. And if Sakamoto has always been in my heart since his impersonation of Captain Yonoi in Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence, one also has to love that Lance Henriksen/Michael Schumacher hybrid that results from Nicolai's cold stare. (Raster-Noton)