Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Heterogeneous Poker In The First Weekend Without Michael Jackson

I don’t own a single recording by Jacko and never cared too much about him. Still, I felt growingly and inexplicably sad following his demise and my TV set has been stuck on MTV’s two-day tribute to MJ since. These four records were played over this bleak weekend, with no particular reason, when the volume was turned down. Call it astral coincidence. The extremely uncertain weather plaguing the area in these days didn’t help in clearing the mind.

VARIOUS ARTISTS – A Cleansing Ascension

An introductory compilation on the Elevator Bath label, comprising almost completely new material by ten important names of the experimental scene (Matt Shoemaker, Adam Pacione, Jim Haynes, Keith Berry, Rick Reed, Dale Lloyd, Francisco López, James Eck Rippie, Tom Recchion and label founder Colin Andrew Sheffield). The CD comes in printed sleeves prepared with 100% recycled paper and featuring a beautiful photograph taken in 1971 by Sheffield’s dad, which I’ll leave to you to discover. The selection does possess a good variety of atmospheres, although the typology of the music presented is of course closely linked to terminologies that are likely to be used in these sonic territories, with prevalence for adjectives such as “droning”, “wavering” and “reiterative”. There are exceptions to the static norm: Reed’s “The Fiery Sound Of Light” is quite abstract and at times surprising, utilizing modified voices and stretched samples to depict a peculiar kind of transformation of the aural matter. López is his usual concrete self, ending “Untitled #194” with nothing less than shooting guns after several minutes of assorted clangours, and Rippie’s “Hidden Mirrors” is probably the most interesting track on a compositional level, mixing stillness and interference in a very clever way. Recchion’s “Drift Tube” is also typical, suggestively reminiscent of a different era as it is, and Jim Haynes’ “Like A Thief In The Night” utilizes field recordings made by him and Jgrzinich in Estonia to construct an entrancing landscape of forsakenness. More or less what we expected from everybody, yet there’s not a single episode that can be deemed as under average, and all of them are a pleasure to listen to.


Speaking of Colin Sheffield, it’s been a while from when Diane and Matthew at Invisible Birds sent this CD, which – needless to say – was lying in my archive crying for attention. And it deserved it, therefore shame on the late reviewer as usual, although it is impossible to follow a steady rhythm with all the good (and bad!) stuff that flows in the mailbox. Signatures was composed on a portable 64-track digital recorder, a turntable and an old sampler. No computer in sight. The four tracks (five in the limited edition) were created by the exploitation of commercially available recordings, stretched, elongated, filtered and camouflaged until their features became completely unrecognizable. A beautiful record indeed, containing music which one could remotely associate to artists like Janek Schaefer, Stephan Mathieu and Philip Jeck but not so vinyl-tinged, even if we clearly distinguish typical pops and scratches here and there. What the work privileges is a practically constant superimposition of harmonic layers, rarely shaded with the recognizable qualities of a timbre (for example, the organ in the splendid “Breath Of Day”), utterly rewarding without sounding neither overly nostalgic nor menacingly austere yet also floating in a foggy dimness often bathed in quasi-industrial trance. For sure the anguish that some of these pieces elicit didn’t make me think of degradation or decay, instead transmitting sensations that reinforce the still unbroken link with an indescribable endlessness which, absurdly, causes a dejected feeling of near-conclusion. The perennial antagonism between mortality and the rest of the things that we’ll never see or even know about.


Subtitled “Archives 1984-1986”, this disc (of course released by Cuneiform) contains live performances by the angriest incarnations – the 1984 quintet and the 1985-86 septet - of Daniel Denis’ creature, one of the defining entities of Rock In Opposition, whose records were almost a daydream in this hopeless country unless you were willing to part from several large denomination banknotes, or had a friend travelling abroad. This happened in the pre-internet era, but luckily the web – well before global economy – has helped in giving the large part of Italian thieves who ran rarity shops a chunky middle finger (end of regional digressions). The material, mastered from clear enough archival tapes, comprises exciting renditions of classics such as “Présage” and “The Funeral Plain”, pieces delivered with a mixture of high-level technical proficiency, exquisite classical sensitiveness and – when needed - scarcely repressed fury (indeed among the reasons of UZ’s problems at that time was the impossible struggle of their complex scores against the general artistic superficiality of the 80s, and certain odd-signature-cum-angular-counterpoint fusillades let us definitively realize that there’s never really been a prayer for intelligent musicians in terms of commercial survival). Actually, this record nearly needs no review: the fans already have it, the non-acquainted should go elsewhere in the band’s discography (Crawling Wind, Ceux Du Dehors and Heatwave for starters). Me? I feel older by the minute, yet the goosebumps that came up during some of these executions, most notably in the fantastic rhythmic unassailability of “Heatwave” (the tune), are the same of a couple of decades ago. What a group. And they’re still here, reappearing from obscurity every once in a while.


You owe it to yourselves to grab a copy of this double sided disc (a CD/DVD edition on Anthem) which shows other intriguing facets of Daniel Menche’s art, this time in the illustrious company of Joe Preston (of Melvins and Sunn O))) fame). Cerberic Doxology is a brilliant item under all aspects: the music, entirely conceived by superimposing voices, is a gorgeous 24-minute piece which starts and ends with a type of chanting definitely informed by native American Indian accents, its large part consisting instead of tones fusing in a mass of choral multitudes, pitches unhurriedly evolving and developing complex chords and harmonic stratifications reminiscent of Ligeti, with a less ethereal, more dramatic character in their substantial quantity of truly distressing - nearly tragic, one would say - slow glissandos. The movie is a black and white hallucination shot in the Great Pacific Northwest, with breathtaking vistas on vast valleys, natural environments and faraway mountains interspersed with the visit to a forsaken ruin in an unknown place, moment in which a human figure appears for a few minutes (the images are fuzzy in that circumstance; it’s not Menche, I’m pretty sure, and my familiarity with Preston’s face is nonexistent). Here, too, slowness rules: the movement of the camera, the clouds in the sky, the smoke from the distant forests, the twitches of the sleeping (dying?) bear whose picture opens and closes the film. Everything hints to the heartbreaking contrast evoked by the majesty of marvelous natural sights as opposed to the futility of mankind’s preoccupations, often the very cause behind the end of those places’ life. Artistically speaking, I was somehow reminded – with extremely different constituents but a certain similarity in the “intermedia approach” - of Eno’s static Manhattan clips seen during the Music For Films era. Still, as a longtime rural addict and Menche zealot, you know which side I’m on. An archetypal case of MIR (Mandatory Infinite Repeat): audio, video, both, your choice. An essential set. Act quickly.