Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Memories Of Mr.23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)

TRIO TRABANT A ROMA – State Of Volgograd


Lindsay Cooper, Alfred 23 Harth and Phil Minton were members of the Oh Moscow venture, which – prior to this recording – had touched Volgograd during a Russian tour. In particular, Cooper and Harth were so bewildered - both by the visited cities and the divergence between those microcosms and the Western Culture (pun intended) – that, once returned, they were still feeling like “being in another state, a State Of Volgograd”. The triumvirate, formed by the Frankfurter in 1990 following an invitation by the Budapest Festival, owes its designation to the namesake cheap car manufactured in East Germany, which began to appear outside those borders subsequently to the Berlin Wall’s crumbling in 1989. To quote the originator, “… Trabant is also a word for a planet orbiting a star (…) Earth was under a new ‘orbital tent’ after the iron curtain came down. It was funny to see these odd eastern cars undertaking even long-distance trips through Europe - and, ultimately, all roads lead to Rome”.

Disgracefully, this small ensemble was short-lived; yet State Of Volgograd – the solitary official release – shines among the unconditional masterpieces of improvisational skill, a career landmark for everybody involved. Starting the 90s, Cooper’s multiple sclerosis was already taking a heavy toll, gradually making impossible for her to perform live; obviously, Oh Moscow dissolved, the last concert at 1993’s London Jazz Festival. Harth – as per Vladimir Tarasov’s words – became “as famous as Michael Jackson” in Russia’s avant-garde scene over lengthy periods of clandestinely smuggled records in “hidden narrow holes” before the Soviet Union’s collapse. A TV feature on him, Balance Action, was then realized by a local station. Indeed the relationship linking A23H with that part of the globe has always been pretty special (he went on to form QuasarQuartet, with Tarasov, in 1992).

But Trio Trabant A Roma stood apart from anything else. Three masters of the respective crafts in a setting that, quite impressively, leaves the individual silhouettes easily discernible while defining their union as one of the finest collectives carved in your reviewer’s memory. This recital, captured at Esslingen’s Dieselstrasse in 1991, testimonies about several truths. First, that Cooper, Harth and Minton are rare symbols of multiform instrumental enlightenment. Besides the habitual tools – yes, Minton’s voice is the quintessential human synthesizer – they shared piano duties; Cooper handles bassoon (listen to the marvellous phrasing in the initial minutes of “Orbital Tent”), electronic effects and sopranino, Harth tampers with various kinds of saxes, bass clarinet, melodica, sopranino, Farfisa organ and a Casio sampler. The record, in general, is informed by an intelligent use of technology, especially inventively warped sampling and discreet looping.

The tracks span across a number of moods and circumstances, nourishing an immediately identifiable temperament throughout. Minton sounds slightly more restrained than usual, alternating customary intrusions (the utter destruction of the melancholic tranquillity that opens “Et All Ways Budapest” is a gas indeed) to quasi-blues echoes and heartrending excursions halfway through pygmy chanting and mournful lamentation. To this day his duet with Harth in “Strasbourg Et Amor Trans’n’Dance” belongs in the top ten of my all-time favourite improvisations, suddenly turning into unachievable abstruseness replete with misshapen harmonic connections and excruciating grief, Cooper and 23 superimposing pitch-transposed, looped-and-modified lines over Minton’s drunken crooning in stunning fashion. The whole album is a glorification of total musicianship and an ode to reciprocal listening permeated by equal doses of joy, sorrow and childish astonishment, the musicians catching a glimpse of that “unknown something” which is usually obstinately ignored by the average instrumentalist, almost forgetting the qualities of technical development to run behind colourful butterflies of instant creation. The terzetto delivers in spades, creating music that – in absolutely spontaneous conceptions – is sweetly dissident, utterly immobilizing, restlessly strong, consistently pensive, and nonetheless so amusing.

That the material result this original to our ears 18 years from the taping is the revelation of a haunting permanence, a typical trait of significant art. Brief existence notwithstanding, Trio Trabant A Roma must be placed in a hypothetical Hall Of Fame of sonic originality. A combined vision that, now as then, guides the listener to a superior level of interaction with the unusual acoustic phenomena that only certain ambits of musical exploration can elicit.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Greg Mills On Freedonia

As it happens, this afternoon I picked up randomly from the enormous pile of last year’s records that are still waiting for a review, retrieving a couple of absolute gems in the process. Freedonia is run by Jay Zelenka, who in August (of 2008…) had sent me a letter which described the artistic intentions of this “micro-label”: “to promote contemporary musical endeavours and to preserve vintage recordings that are out of print or were never released”. Together with the missive there were two CDs by pianist Greg Mills who – like all musicians involved with this imprint – is based in St. Louis, the “geographic unifying factor” of the enterprise. Mills is a technically gifted architect of the Steinway, a classical grounding manifest since the first moment one hears him playing; these are the only works published under his name to date.

Esfoma was originally conceived in 1984 yet it sounds unmarked by the passage of time and totally gratifying, characterized as it is by a kind of passionate expressiveness corroborated by digital nimbleness and thoughtful artistry. This is the album that probably will satisfy the listeners who want to enjoy more harmonic content and less experimentation (although rarely the man leaves us without a serious attempt to transcend the barriers of genres). The composer/improviser himself lists the influences that lie behind these five pieces: Charles Ives, Cecil Taylor, Indian raga, 20th century European serialism, Karlheinz Stockhausen. Blue Oktober, recorded in 1998, saw the light eight years later; its subtitle is “improvised compositions for piano: solo, duos, trios and percussion”. Mills used tapes of live concerts as a basis, to which he added instant overdubs, capturing the whole in a single take. A superior stage of pianism is in this case showcased in shorter episodes and contrasting snippets, and parts of the program might result slightly difficult to digest for the scarcely trained. This record, too, is a magnificent example of clever improvisational craft, in a way appearing as the ideal complement for the contrapuntal lusciousness that characterizes the majority of Esfoma.

I would definitely recommend to get a copy of both releases for better understanding the creative vision of this musician, whose dedication to the instrument is evidently visceral. A rare occasion in which the listener can be gratified either by an attentive, concentrated examination of the material or by keeping it at lower volume while maintaining the same sort of enchantment, such is the sheer delight originated by the mere presence of those gorgeous runs, clusters and designs which – even in the knottiest sections – seem to be influenced by a touch of romantic melancholy. This is what attributes a unique voice to Mills, a hitherto obscure talent that must be brought to wider attention worldwide, a veritable rejuvenator for those who feel tired of listening to problematic albums just for the sake of belonging to certain circles of (a)pathetic intellectualism. This stuff reconciles with life by respecting the true aim of music: something that’s played from the heart, received by sensible human beings, able to elevate them that tiny bit indispensable for carrying on through the mental and emotional poverty experienced daily. Something that’s plain beautiful.


Difficult to imagine a brand whose sonic output is more variegated than Nicolas Malevitsis’ Absurd (and related sub-labels). You can integrate these short reviews by visiting this website, further details and a lot of additional interesting things available for the reading appetite of the most curious.

AL MARGOLIS & DAN BURKE – Live April 5, 2008

More If, Bwana than Illusion Of Safety, this recording captured at Le Bonheur in Brussels is a classic meeting of low-key geniuses interested in the generation of pseudo-static electroacoustic miasmas where silence is banned and fluctuating muck that slowly turns into barely repressed rage is a given. Music that starts from near-immobility to accumulate tarnished layers and myriads of loops replete with human imperfection, radioactive pollution, labyrinthine inhospitableness and not-too-effusive contemplation. The core tissue is at times augmented by unexpected reed-and-whistle-driven predicaments (electric guitars, also?) manifesting puzzlingly upon a foundation of metropolitan textures, the whole thoroughly informed by artistic rectitude. At the end of the day, the pastiche sounds galvanizing and entrancing at one and the same time, each new listen revealing additional particulars which contribute to the sense of consistency that the performance in its entirety exudes.

LARRY GUS – Iasmos

By looking at the lovely cover artwork – a childish collage made of a sketched train with the protagonist and a lot of beautiful children’s faces stuck on it – we realize that this is not exactly hard-to-swallow music. In fact, the recording is described as a “memento for the second birthday party of Orion which took place at Iasmos, on Saturday, April 15, 2008”. Although the large part of the explanations are in Greek (therefore incomprehensible for me), I suppose that the miniatures presented by Gus - which range from cheap-yet-effective minimalism to pleasantly superficial electronic disjointedness interspersed with taped fragments from the very shindig – were mainly conceived utilizing the toy instruments visible on the CD sleeve, with a slight measure of ensuing manipulation. Some parts of this are quite congenial to the ears, other segments are just a waste of time. It lasts 32 minutes, no serious damage in any case.

RAIONBASHI – In Teufel’s Küche

Unacquainted with Raionbashi and currently deprived of internet at home (ah, the joy of inexistent technical assistance in rural areas…) I set myself to listen to this 10-inch without any kind of prejudice. First of all, I played In Teufel’s Küche at 33 rpm despite not knowing if that was correct (it worked OK). The music appears to be mostly constructed via tape manipulation, human components definitely present (slowed-down breathing, warped mutterings and so on). This mix of bodily modification and unspecified instruments is prepared with a certain degree of consideration, not sounding as a bunch of illogical events but apparently following a scheme, several of these previews of transience even fascinating in their complete indescribability. There are looping accelerations, murky signs of instability, gurgling stomachs of some sort of evil creature, the whole constantly permeated by an impending sense of hopeless despoliation. Sinisterly unsettling stuff, well made if a little rough on the edges.

ANTOINE CHESSEX – Terra Incognita

Wonderful artwork and great music, a complete package indeed from Antoine Chessex who – armed with amplified saxophone and electronics – produced a fine album of blasting violence that sounds a little more “educated” and, to some extent, controlled in respect to certain recordings I’ve heard from him. This LP runs at 33 rpm on a side and at 45 on the other (you have to drop the needle where the grooves really begin, halfway through face B) but I had to discover it by looking at the tiny details engraved in the vinyl itself. Massive distortion a go-go, with just a few interruptions (a single sax note is left lingering at one point, unbelievably for this French warmonger) and sections – in truth lasting mere seconds, such as at the record’s start – in which the unaccompanied electronics diffuse a somewhat entrancing aroma, then it’s scorching mayhem all over. Borbetomagus, Merzbow, make room for this gentleman. Among the best noise releases in a long time, the right adjective is “pulverizing”.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Down-To-Earth Spirits, One Way Or Another

CELER – Brittle

Having remained alone, Will Long is not showing any sign of relenting from publishing material, either new or archival, an output whose level of proliferation is directly proportional to a consistent depth. What’s great is that - contrarily to what typically happens in this field (a successful release authorizing its originator to flood the market with useless outings) – Celer’s music is becoming better with the passage of time, which is usually the indicator of a serious personal and artistic growth. Brittle doesn’t need many words to be described, and indeed the composers themselves individuate the hypothetical effect on the listener as one of “warm comfort”, which is exactly what occurs with these subtly influencing humming superimpositions, born from modifications of piano, violin, cello, tingsha bells, harpsichord and whistle. Will and Dani transform the naked sounds of regular instruments into an inspection of recondite needs, always finding a way to generate emotional reverberations that don’t require added sugar to manifest their efficacy. Subdued reflections caressing our lives for about 50 minutes, a wonderfully unassuming company that represents much more than sheer “ambient” (although Brian Eno should be proud of these young heirs). (Low Point)

ANDREW CHALK & DAISUKE SUZUKI - In Faxfleet Clouds Uplifted Autumn Gave Passage To Kind Nature

Additional news from Chalk and Suzuki via a 12-inch EP whose sleeve’s artwork is, purely and simply, a fabulous thing to gaze at. The sides are completely different in terms of musical content. “Queen Of Heaven”, especially at moderate volume, is very easy on the ears and mind-relaxing, consisting of contiguous harmonic washes and mild colours (possibly generated from superimposed guitars and keyboards), a gently swelling permanence characterizing the whole piece, which is atypically “present” despite its temperate mood, all elements well-visible as opposed to just perceivable. “Of Beauty Reminiscing” and “The Water Clock” make use of Suzuki’s field recordings, juxtaposing them with subtler droning gradations and sparse touches of piano (supposedly by Vikki Jackman) in a somewhat more essential exploration of a few precious moments of tranquillity. One is always sure that every release coming from these artists corresponds to an object to cuddle and treasure – visually, musically, or both. (Faraway Press)


This 10-inch constitutes my first meeting with Kojo, a man who seems very interested in the spiritual aspects of things – including sonorous found objects, which is what he deals with in Ezo. In the sleeve notes (splendid artwork, by the way) one notices a thanking of Michael Northam, so I was hoping to find something along those coordinates – human frailty against natural elements in remote places, you get the picture. Instead, the noise – more or less harsh, at times layered in “contrapuntal” fashion – of the above mentioned objects remains the main character throughout, the focus almost completely centred on the abrasive qualities of metals. For the large part, this amounts to a poor man’s version of Organum bathed in lengthy reverberations. Despite the appreciable attitude shown by its engenderer this record didn’t manage to raise any emotional response, nor it can be analyzed as a serious experiment. Musical significance lies somewhere else. (Alluvial)

Monday, 21 September 2009

Ode To Byron Coley’s Creative Writing (And Extraordinary Patience)

Wire readers know who Byron Coley is. For the unaware, he’s among the most intelligently ironic music writers around, a unique figurative method enabling him to perfectly describe the content of a 7-inch with just a few words. And even if one is not acquainted with the featured artists, that style is enough to enjoy his “Size Matters” page very much. In this occasion your raconteur decided to try and “do a Coley” (minus the talent) and write brief reviews of (almost) all the 7-inches received from 2007 to yesterday. That said, let it be known that – contrarily to Mr. Coley - I DON’T LIKE 7-INCHES. If you want to throw them at me anyway, please email before doing it as this is the format that comes last in my reviewing priorities (unless they come as CDR copies, that is – I hate flipping sides every three minutes). Therefore, this roundup should not encourage anyone to forward more of those small vinyl items. The piece was typed out of respect of those who were so nice to send the stuff, yet there are better ways to spend four hours in a morning (pardon the sincerity).

First of all, a handful on Drone:

MURMER – In Their Home And In Their Heads. Echoes from a London garden fused with a computer’s ventilation noise and a broken necklace’s beads from Patrick McGinley. Here’s how it appears to these ears. “In His Home”: metallic-sounding, yet vivid drones growing menacingly, then interrupted abruptly by what sounds like looped crackles that soon merge with the “drone reprise” in dramatic fashion, the whole intense and worrying, alarming in a way. “In His Head”: obscure, windy, whooshing buzzes just spotted by typically rustling, field recording-derived fragrances. Then, static (but not too much) superimpositions of feedback-ish emissions and cyclical harmonics, more ringing, hurried steps (or are they?), piercingly magnetic frequencies. Great stuff all over.

MOLJEBKA PVLSE – Lodelvx. “Lode” is a reverberating, flanging block of trance under which we seem to perceive robotically funereal chorales from a far distance, the whole characterized by a repetitive presence of treated instruments getting progressively more visible in the foreground. Pretty psychedelic, think Cluster meets Harold Budd in full-opium effect. “Lvx” is a splendidly resonant drone - halfway through the intro of Genesis’ “I Know What I Like” and Lustmord - that after a while becomes a slow, mournful song. So mesmerizing that one could listen to it for hours. This non-critic hates the 7-inch format also for this kind of reason: this is too beautiful, and too short.

HATI – Recycled Magick Drones. Processed gong drones, whistling and rattling sounds and delayed percussion. Moderately interesting, a ritual character that’s not really annoying, despite this writer’s not excessive love for lengthy reverbs. Shades of Z’EV (of whom the Polish duo have been collaborators) never transcending into actual plagiarism. All this notwithstanding, a rather unremarkable release, which – though not disturbing and sometimes even pleasing - doesn’t add anything new to my morning.

LICHT-UNG – Kristall. Annoyances of the post-industrial kind: thunderous roaring, feedback, shifting dynamics, scraping sounds appearing every once in a while. Inhumanly inconsistent, to say the least. Neither anarchic enough for getting my interest tickled, not aesthetically pleasing. Maybe it was intended that way, but here we don’t buy this type of “art”. The irregularly modified metallic jangling of the second side is even more insubstantial. A classic direct-to-trashcan article.

NOISE DREAMS MACHINA – In / Out. From the press release: “…exploring the possibilities of homemade software with free tools for sound deconstruction and real time performance”. A rather tortuous description for quite conventional noise, some of it nicely resonating, the rest more or less useless. I don’t know how there’s still an audience for stuff that would have struggled to make sense in the late 80s already. Everything sounds a hymn for the “been there, done that” character of post-industrialism. Ineffectual, worthless dabbling along well-trodden paths. The second side is much better than the first, though, adding a welcome spacey vibe to the procedures.

SHRINE – Distorted Legends Pt.1. Hailing from Bulgaria but residing in England, Shrine are (is?) another example of production which distinctly recalls the golden era of post-industrial music. Generated by “distorted synths with odd micro-noises and effects” this stuff is not so bad, mixing crunchy distortions, washes of homesick chords and interference in a candid, yet acceptable way. Probably too light-hearted to be called noteworthy, yet gifted with traces of sincerity that makes me want to save it.

And then there’s the rest:

ANTOINE CHESSEX / ARNAUD RIVIÈRE – Chessex / Rivière. One side each, Chessex on an unrecognizably distorted saxophone, Rivière on “electrophone, etc” (sic). Short, sharp, shocking noise that I used as a soundtrack while watching two elephantine heavyweights fighting (heartlessly) for the European title. Devastation, distortion, grime, harshness, aaaarrrrggghhhhhh… Nothing new under the sun, but likeable. (Le Petit Mignon)

SKELETONS OUT / NMPERIGN – Live 1978 / Marvin. Howard Stelzer and Jay Sullivan kick ass – seriously - via an assortment of sludgy aural offenses showing disaffection and hostility in a guerilla-like fragment, while Bhob Rainey and Greg Kelley don’t delude expectancies through their hard-breathing explorations of wheezy overtones, imperturbable hisses and motley chirps. No trace of politeness whatsoever in this snappy release. (Editions Zero)

PETER WRIGHT – Magpie Attack On The Back Road To Albert Town. Begins with a classic Peter Wright lucid dream, chimes and sweetness, everybody ready to be lulled to sleep. Then you’re scorched by fiery distortion, which soon turns into majestic droning with purple intumescences. The alternate mix on side B is even better, a desirable mental fog experienced as belly-dancers and fat cats float around, the penetrating equalization adding a pseudo-transistor radio character to the impalpable auras and crunchier eruptions. The man rules. (Dirty Knobby)

RED SQUIRRELS – Acicorn Twirl. What am I to say? Songs and soundscapes that look pretty disconnected from anything else, lots of taped voices, buzzing flies, street echoes, abundant manipulation, lo-fi throughout, and there are melodies, too. As my wife is cooking and a marching band makes itself heard from the nearby town - circa 1 km from here - this can be a small part of my temporary microcosm’s noise. Taken alone, it doesn’t amount to much, but I’ve heard worse things in my life. Bizarre, yet not truly revolutionary. Forgiven for this time. (Automation)

ABIKU / KID CAMARO – Abiku / Kid Camaro. Abiku rock obliquely in “Regency”, easy melodies bathing in dissonant jangling guitar, with strangely deviating bass lines that make me appreciate their mixture of Bangles and Ramones (just a bit). They can also annoy with repetitive electronic rhythms and screaming vocals which sound like a snotty toddler deprived of a lollipop, the latter incarnation plain rubbish in strictly musical sense. Kid Camaro appears as a deranged composer of polyphonic mobile ringtones, cheap drum machines and curiously bleeping synthetic outbursts adding to the ear-pleasing weirdness. One of the most absurd releases met in a long time indeed; do this people believe I’m out of my mind? Well, they’re probably right. (Automation)

D + D – Properties / Ribbons. This comes from Bryan Day’s Public Eyesore, so we know that the quality must be there (well, most probably). Indeed the guys (Dino Felipe & Dereck Higgins) are good, the item comprising a half-played half-dismembered electroacoustic concoction, easy on the ear even in its noisiest features, literally indescribable. The second side is slightly more ethereal, honking cars utilized as harmony (wonderfully), a hint of ambient-tinged minimalist repetition scarred by blubbery creatures that speak abnormally in a completely incomprehensible jargon. In all, just over five minutes of great music that I would like to listen to again, in different formats and longer durations. Pink vinyl. (Public Eyesore)

ELEKTRONAVN / EXQUISITE RUSSIAN BRIDES – Elektronavn / Exquisite Russian Brides. Yet another split edition, and this time it’s really great, both projects coming from Denmark. Elektronavn are Mia Luna Persson and Magnus Olsen Majmon; they present superb drones, achieved through superimposed vocals (more or less altered), zurna and bansuri. No pretense or affectation, just wonderful mantras that one could listen to for days. Exquisite Russian Brides is Marc Kellaway on cello, guitar, loops, bells and xylophone, and his music is equally gorgeous, a different kind of instrumental Om - gifted with lavish resonances - which I’d play ad infinitum had this been a compact disc. And if you did release CDs, folks, don’t hesitate to send them. Possibly the best 7-inch of this article; lovers of Richard Skelton might give this a try. (BSBTA)

FEAR FALLS BURNING – Woes Of The Desolate Mourner. Your chronicler used to respect Vidna Obmana, a constant source of photocopying for many and one “new ambient nonentities”, yet hasn’t been able to approve the transition to Fear Falls Burning. To me, Dirk Serries crossed the river: from imitated to imitator. His guitar drones are not exceptional in terms of profundity, not even a good copy of the icons he tries to reproduce (in this case Robert Fripp, rather shamelessly). If I want to listen to this kind of music I play the originals, not to mention my own axe. Forgive the rudeness, but the fact that this stuff has met rather favourable responses tells a lot about the superficiality of the large part of today’s audiences. The above mentioned Fripp and Richard Pinhas might consider suing. (Tonefloat/Ikon)

Friday, 18 September 2009

(12K)inds Of Low-Budget, But Not Cheap Ambient


Originally taped in a former ammunitions bunker in Sydney (whose date of construction gives the release its title), operated by the Australian Navy until the Gulf War’s era and now unutilized, this record was born from about six hours of location recordings on 4-track cassette, minidisc and computer upon which Cameron Webb – Seaworthy’s deus ex machina – worked for a full year in between the residual free moments granted to him by his first paternity. A gently wavering album divided in crepuscular ambient pieces – stretched drones spreading an imperceptible influence in subtle fashion – and, in particular, shimmering guitars revolving around one, maximum two tonal centres for protracted spans with rare mildly dissonant variations, the whole at times underlined by singing birds and other environmental incidences. Ideal for a parenthesis of quietness when one’s bothered by upsetting thoughts or after a sleepless night, this music does not ask for more than just existing and breathing in close proximity to listeners who don’t feed the insatiable ambition of analytical questioning. Nice enough job, but I’d have preferred a smaller amount of glowing arpeggios in favour of additional motionless auroras: the droning tracks are in fact way better than the rest. An entire CD of them would nearly correspond to a work of art. Instead this is only a pleasurable listen, which is OK in any case.

PILLOWDIVER – Sleeping Pills

German René Margraff drives the Pillowdiver project, which takes its origins from economical technical means such as a 4-track cassette (again!) and various stompboxes, the whole fed by the jangling soul of a Fender Jazzmaster, with a modicum of synthesizer and field recordings added for complement. Although the press release defines this CD as a “dark and dreamy album of often-melancholic, post-rock influenced ambience”, to me it sounds like a collection of demos where, technologic poverty notwithstanding, a number of interesting combinations can be individuated. The way in which the guitar chords are layered, the appealing harmony deriving from certain superimpositions despite a thorough straightforwardness, the avoiding of any kind of excessive ingredient are the principal good features of a relaxing, if a little mono-dimensional offer. The actual defect, as far as I’m concerned, is that a few solutions appear indeed too easy, sketchy ideas thrown on tape just to try out the instruments, but which don’t possess any artistic value. Fortunately there are less of these occurrences than pleasing tracks, thus we might consider Sleeping Pills a sufficiently rewarding outing - if you’re not picky, that is.


Tuesday, 15 September 2009

On Taâlem

Lyophilized commentaries about a series of 3-inches by the French label who contends to Mystery Sea and Afe the leadership in a peculiar contest between the rare dark ambient/ethereal drones/field recordings imprints which still manage to publish something interesting every once in a while. Thanks to Jean-Marc for his patience in the long wait (whistling an old tune…).

HORCHATA VS. SIL MUIR – Horchata Vs. Sil Muir

I never listened to Horchata (Michael Palace) before, whereas Andrea Marutti and Andrea Ferraris aka Sil Muir (here credited with guitars and treatments) are known quantities on these shores. Two purring tracks are featured: “Ahnedonia” is pretty much worn out, a rather superficial drone based upon extensive reverberations and nebulous non-manifestations, similar to thousands of equally insignificant other pieces in this field. “Time Dilation” is unquestionably better, the pulsation of the harmonics definitely more gripping, the atmospheric qualities on another level - almost excellent, I’d say. It makes me feel like dreaming of a dirigible’s hum. Too bad for the echoing clicks entering the scene after a while, the whirring alone was enough.


Aerials must be raised high to detect what’s happening in the first part of this segment (headphones are recommended), but the micro-sounds and the small noises perceived have already been utilized hundreds of times and don’t make much of an impact on me these days. Tiny crackles, rustling objects – you get the picture – yet without a precise architecture, or at least a consequence we can be really glad about. Things become a little more interesting when strange purring frequencies are introduced, shifting the balance towards the area where the influence of sound on the psyche is deeper. Still, the concoction remains somewhat incomplete lacking a real compositional plan, the feeling one of excessive fragmentariness. Klier has definitely treated us to superior material in the past.

VOX POPULI! – Soft Entrance To Nature’s Camino De Luz

Axel Kyrou dedicated his work “to all the animals featured” in it. This is already a good reason to love him, and the sonic aspects are also sufficiently agreeable; in fact, he seems to have included a lot of environmental factors that I like: gorgeous frogs, sleep-inducing crickets, the fabulous arching drone of a motor aircraft, various kinds of evocative echoes. The urban activities were taped in disparate regions such as Burkina Faso and Okinawa (besides France of course). The only thing to abhor is the presence of synthetic strings and choirs - kill those presets once and for all, please - and (luckily rare) elementary melodies, but I’m willing to forgive this time. A candid effort that won’t remain in the annals of concrete/electroacoustic music – it’s really a tad too naïve for that - yet has managed to find a little place in my heart, at least for this morning.

TZESNE – Crossing TierraHueca

Four tracks. “Thorns And Lizards”: skilful harmonic layering of different droning chords, ebbing and flowing for maximum nerve pleasure, wonderful stuff to play for hours. “Dulce Artefacto II”: gathering of jets, maybe crickets, various hisses and frequencies from the environment. Already heard, but very well made and growing on the listener with surprising efficacy, also a nice perfume for your own room. “Place”: undefined location recordings acting as a background for an electronic drone that could even derive from a processed guitar, then a breathtaking nocturnal resonance rises to shut our mind up once and for all; one appreciates seclusion and feels admiration for the composer at the same time during this great piece. “Swarm”: on a basis of nebulous uncertainty sounding like a peculiarly equalized electric piano, amplified (and possibly pitch-shifted) insect sounds prelude to another enthralling near-motionless growth. Among the thousands of useless releases typical of this musical area, this 3-inch sets the bar quite high in terms of quality, especially in virtue of the artist’s conciseness: a good idea shown for a few minutes, then goodbye and welcome to the next, no endlessly boring suites full of nothing. A paradigm that should be imitated.

MATHIAS DELPLANQUE – Ma Chambre Quand Je N’y Suis Pas (Paris)

If I understand French correctly, the title means “my room when I’m not there”. The intro sounds rather normal, lots of echoes – presumably from a city setting – as heard from within an apartment with windows open. Then a huge mumbling low frequency swallows everything, but the noise from the road is still distinctly perceptible, utilized by Delplanque as an indispensable shade. After a while the whole becomes a little more rarefied, large empty spaces and desert vistas characterizing the evolution of the piece. Synthetic waves – or perhaps it’s electronically modified wind? - seem to constitute the origin of the only factor of slight change, whereas from the underground a strong pulse appears and disappears worryingly; from then on, you get the customary helping of heavily equalized aircrafts, cars, frogs (?) and steps. Overall well conceived, yet the ingredients are overly familiar to define the work as unique. It does sound nice, though.


The incessant harsh buzz of a drill (or similar electric machinery) introduces to an enticing static soundscape whose body is gradually enlarged by progressive stratifications, each element taken from the surrounding world – the large part, apparently, from human-related working activities but I could be wrong - and placed in context through the exploitation of its harmonic capability, meaning that every constituent plays a different note in this splendidly uneven drone. Think of Charlemagne Palestine’s resonance studies with the oscillators replaced by concrete sounds. It doesn’t take much for the brain to be completely subjugated, and the slight tolling of metals playing basic rhythms and figurations upon the mantra-like constancy add a welcome touch of unquiet uncertainty in an otherwise utterly entrancing piece, the intrinsically awesome slow sliding perceivable during the last minutes and the final organ shades confirming Northam as one of the greats.

Monday, 14 September 2009

DVD Weekend #1

One of my impossible-to-realize desires is having more time to watch (and listen to) music-related DVDs. Here’s the first tranche of a number of audio/video releases on this format - accumulated in 18 months or so - analyzed and reviewed at long last. I’ll try with three per week, but this is NOT an official promise.


It took two years to Cristopher Cichocki to create this collection of “video compositions”. Elemental Shift was published in May 2008, a classic instance for which a mea culpa is necessary for the unintentionally protracted postponement of the review. Through a painstaking assemblage of images seamed in stunningly perfect synchronization with a brain-shattering kind of music - which includes all sorts of city noises, toxic distortions, incendiary propulsions and pneumatic rhythms capable of bending iron wills – this artist puts us in contact with an area of the mind which is equidistant from a complete collapse and a meditative state. Trying to focus on the overwhelming successions of infinitesimally short frames while absorbing the unremitting sonic fusillades will produce a knockout, naturally in Cichocki’s favour. You just can’t expect to be able to memorize the details, but are allowed to retain a vague impression of what was used to concoct that particular episode. On the contrary, abandoning any defence to be avalanched by the sheer kaleidoscopic authority of these ever-changing segments is perhaps advisable if you’re not particularly good in concentrating. This is not everybody’s item, though: the tracks are nastily snappy, replete with quick-as-hell pictorial sequences of industrial machineries, bleak landscapes and stunning contrasts between natural elements and metropolitan suggestions fused into staggering mixtures whose strength grows minute by minute. An exception is the title track, entirely shot at night, a few distant lights – passing cars, other less decipherable entities – underlined by a slightly calmer soundscape made of field recordings and machine-derived pulses. The menu is completed by a live performance called “Cycle By Cycle” which comprises some of the original pieces. I won’t advise anybody to “keep an eye” on this man, as there’s a risk of remaining visually shocked. Epileptic people should also avoid this, given the potentially disastrous effects of flickering pictures (a warning appears as the beginning of the DVD). For the rest, Elemental Shift is a must-have, in the hope that it’s not too late for securing one of the 250 copies of this limited edition, coming “in a thin canister with found fish bones from the Salton Sea sculpturally placed inside” (quoting from the press release…my promo came in an anonymous transparent sleeve, alas). (Table Of Contents)


Previously known as Lovely Midget, Rachel Shearer presents what the press blurb calls a “digital séance of aural and visual sculptures”. Concretely speaking, this item consists of a 22+ minute mixed-media composition: the video is pretty simple, minimal in the truest sense of the word, with seven fixed lights – shaped in a way that recalls Ursa Major - whose glowing intensity changes according to the dynamic modifications of the musical tissue, which in itself is quite meagre (and, in any case, better than an optical counterpart that didn’t manage to elicit the presumed states of mental alteration it was supposed to generate; on the contrary, the experience was rather unimpressive for yours truly). As far as sounds are concerned, things get more interesting when the whole is left to propagate without particular consequences expected. Shearer – who utilized guitars, keyboards and processing – is helped by Sean O’Reilly’s guitar samples in an ear-pleasing soundscape halfway through a granular kind of ambient and a cricket-ish accumulation of acute frequencies interspersed, especially in the first half, with rare clusters that would seem to prelude to stronger sensations. Instead, the music gradually disposes of that body, turning into a flimsy electroacoustic embrace which can easily be enjoyed minus the graphic complements and, at last, is perceived as welcome even while one is doing something else. Whether you use the images or not, best results will be achieved by leaving the disc spinning in its predefined loop mode. All in all, a nice but not extraordinary release. (Family Vineyard)


A monochrome picture (by Gibson and Recoder) showing a white rectangle with a grey contour upon a black background. Initially, the borders dissolve very slowly; with the passage of time, the entire figure’s focus starts being modified, in sequence becoming semi-transparent, hazy, partially or totally eclipsed. Approximately at halfway point, flashing lights - destined to play a primary role from then on – emerge at first indistinctly, like from behind a translucent screen, then more incisively through constant flickering and lots of quickly changing shapes, similarly to what happens when a film begins to decay or even melt (as it often happened in this reporter’s childhood when dad tampered with our Super 8mm family movies). This goes on until the end, with appreciable psychedelic effects if one concentrates sufficiently. The superb soundtrack is provided by Block, its interaction with the visual counterpart perfectly coincident. Indeed the sonic content constitutes the outstanding aspect of the reviewed item; for what’s my knowledge of this woman’s opus, Untitled surely belongs in its upper echelon. Starting with a stifled toneless vibration, the piece develops a marvellous static texture born from the superimposition of extremely low hums and cyclical hissing frequencies, with the addition of infinitesimal yet clearly traceable physical elements. The unfathomable rumbles starting after the 20th minute are alone worth of silent admiration, accompanied as they are by a sizzling mass of electronics and uneven recurrences between nerve-stimulating buzzing and electrostatics, the whole increasing in harshness and volume as the continuous crackle is superimposed to other types of pressurized sonority. As a single pitch comes up in the mix other noises iconize degeneration, soon swallowed by awesome Om-ming drones. Each section flows naturally into the subsequent one, warranting a continuity that represents the winning feature of this amazing composition, which ends exactly where it began. On a second thought, this is perhaps THE best music I’ve heard from Olivia Block and - most sincerely - I played it again sans images twice already, only to seize additional clues in regard to why I’m loving it so much. And, contrarily to his beloved editor-in-chief at Paris Transatlantic, your darling prattler even managed to build (well, sort of…) the impossibly designed light cardboard box that lodges the disc. Ikea docet, Dan. (SoSEDITIONS)

Friday, 11 September 2009


VARIOUS ARTISTS – Source: Music Of The Avant Garde


Source was a biannual new music journal published from 1967 to 1973, which contained articles, interviews and scores by notable names of what, at that time, was considered the pioneering fringe of XX century composers. The issues were enriched by a series of 10-inch LPs, all of which have been digitalized and cleaned up for this triple CD release. An important historic document, for which I settled on a track-by-track review. Bear in mind that a few of these compositions were unknown to this writer before (and no, I’m NOT gonna tell you which ones), therefore my view is – as usual – uninfluenced by the composer’s repute in the circles of sapience but is only determined by a liking/disliking of the single selection, regardless of the prestige.

Robert Ashley, “The Wolfman” (1964). Noisy, mucky and ultimately annoying, not managing to sustain the weight of time – and I wouldn’t have liked it even then, the year of my birth. Voice and electronics (by Gordon Mumma) are the basic constituents of a confused mayhem in which I can’t find a single moment of interest, stabbing frequencies and sludgy distortion becoming overwhelmingly insufferable as the minutes flow, Ashley’s warped vocalizations sounding as inconsequential howling to these ears. This should symbolize, or at least imply, some sort of theatrical gesture but it’s just a mess.

David Behrman, “Wave Train” (1966). A great composition mixing freckled drones from the insides of a piano and rather tense feedback, the whole generated via the manual control of the level of guitar microphones placed on the piano strings. Ominous and obscurely resonant, almost perfect dynamic pacing, with sudden outbursts of violence amidst long moments of quasi-stillness. Mumma is here again, always handling the electronics chores. A cadaverous coldness transformed in splendid odes to spurious echo, music that David Jackman could be envious of. Nearly a masterpiece.

Larry Austin, “Accidents” (1967). David Tudor on “electrically prepared piano”, Austin assisting him on electronics. Intriguing disproportion between the soft approach to the instrument, noises appearing only when a note is “accidentally” hit while trying to depress the keys silently, and the chaos of a percussively rumbling, hard-hitting piece which amazes repeatedly. Bouncing, throbbing, menacingly roaring sounds all over the place, a comprehensive dismantling of the piano’s acoustic personality coming from a complex set of instructions and gestures. Like a minefield for sensitive pianists, who are forced by the score to complete the course without generating further trouble. Great stuff.

Allan Bryant, “Pitch Out” (1967). Three hybrid guitars (Barbara Bryant, Carol Plantamura, Frederic Rzewski) plus Bryant on electronics. Unconventional methods, atypical manifestations of pluck-and-strum deformation (the instruments are not similar to your typical Strat but are described more or less as boards with different kinds of strings). Transcendental reverberations and wacky figurations abound, and there are sections in which the alleged influence on Elliott Sharp and Sonic Youth quoted in the liners is almost agreeable. Modern-sounding daydreaming with the right dose of candour: I like this piece for its large part.

Alvin Lucier, “I’m Sitting In A Room” (1970). Well, I can’t fool anyone on this. Is there still someone who doesn’t know this disquieting repetition of a single statement by Lucier? For those who just came back from Saturn, a progressive alteration of the composer’s voice is achieved by recording subsequent generations of tapes engraved by the same content until what is said becomes completely indecipherable, at first sounding like a minimalist underwater robot which stutters a little and, in the end, as a flock of hoarse birds caught in a wind gallery. One of the absolute musts of contemporary music, mandatory listening for the novice.

Arthur Woodbury, “Velox” (1970). Computer music “enriched” by the analogue sound waves of a Moog synthesizer. An uncomplicated piece, kind of a second-hand version of the sound effects of Plan 9 From Outer Space: scarcely variable, not amusing, very superficial in terms of emotional response (which in my case was nil). Not even bad enough to be hated, it just stands there with all those “whooaeeyy, whooaeeyy” and really doesn’t mean anything. With the passage of time this repetitive insignificance verges on the ridiculous. Forgettable, without regret.

Mark Riener, “Phlegeton” (1970). Take a sad Arthur Woodbury and make it worse. This is one of those items who may have caused certain individuals to hate experimental music in the first place. At least this lasts only five minutes, containing unimpressively chaotic reiterations of ugly sounds obtained via…(the piece ends before I manage to make sense of a tortuous description whose complicatedness is inversely proportional to its importance, a “who cares” attitude prevailing at the end). Delete? Hell yeah!

Larry Austin, “Caritas” (1971). Computer-generated substances that get definitively enhanced (mashed?) by a Buchla Electronic Music System. Variegated and polymorphic, this stuff does not strain our patience’s muscles, possessing a volatile quality that renders the listening experience at least interesting, if not amusing. Picture a humongous malfunctioning calliope played by the bad Gremlin’s granddad: after seven minutes, either you reach for the aspirin and stop the playback, or you’re headed to MDH (Mental Disintegration Heaven). And there’s still the second half to endure. But this is a nice one.

Stanley Lunetta, “Moosack Machine” (1971). More computer music obtained from a so-defined “sculpture” full of oscillators and transducers, which apparently was sensitive to “changes in light, temperature and wind direction as well as movements of the people around”. They must have been bad human specimens, as this temperamental machine attacks, spits and hits with clamorous outbursts of hostile emissions which often sound absolutely great in their complete uncontrollability. One of the loveliest moments of the whole set, the perfect soundtrack for a sociopath’s tranquil evening.

Lowell Cross, “Musica Instrumentalis: Video II (B)/(C)/(L)” (1965). Now, THIS is a piece that has aged well. Designed to be generated by a two-channel tape or “the stereo phonograph record”, the system connected to modified monochrome TV sets, this is a splendidly sober example – which should be followed by many imitators - of how drones must be used. A hypnotizing, enthralling matter, shifting weights and slightly changing intensities attributing to the music a sense of “motion in stillness” which is exactly what separates art from mere experimentation. The final five minutes are characterized by abrupt variations of frequencies and arching trajectories, but the allure remains.

Arrigo Lora-Totino, “English Phonemes” (1970). The composer call this a “verbophony”, words gradually reduced to fragments or phonemes which ideally “keep their peculiar semantic power and are sound transmissions of concepts”. Very cerebral stuff, interesting in parts, slightly tiresome in others. It seems to follow the typical Italian habit of forgetting about vital essences (of music and, indeed, most everything else) in favour of the ostentation of an affected intellectualism. A little bit like explaining all the positions of Kama Sutra to an aroused partner without effectively performing them. Still, there’s something here that keeps pecking at our attention, and the fifteen minutes are swallowed with ease.

Alvin Curran, “Magic Carpet” (1970). Suspended strings and chimes in a room where anyone can walk, pick, pluck and touch these dangling sonic sources. Pleasurable enough to listen to on record, probably much better having had the chance of participating directly. This was inspired by Paul Klerr’s String Structures, which Curran saw at the artist’s home and fell in love with. The second half is preferable in terms of (involuntary) aural gratification, as the music seems to flow more naturally, becoming highly suggestive at times. Additional points given for the fact that the composer now lives at ten minutes distance from where I grew up in Rome (yet we never met).

Annea Lockwood, “Tiger Balm” (1971). A great tape piece which the composer also calls a “ritual”. Strange, unclassifiable music halfway through electronic manipulation, theatre and musique concrete which testifies once more the originality and freshness of Lockwood’s concepts. The central section is somehow unsettling, deformed utterances, sighs and moans walking us across the aural depiction of an altered state of mind – or an orgasm, if you will. The finale is totally mystifying, a mix of motors and reiterative tuned percussion that lingers in the memory even after the ceremony’s end.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Latest Edition

A few words about the last five releases from Dave Stapleton’s imprint. British Jazz is alive and kicking.

DAVE STAPLETON – Catching Sunlight

Subtitled – with not excessive fantasy – Music For An Imaginary Film, the track titles derive from fragments of poems written by Julie Tippetts. Stapleton leads his comrades (trumpeter Neil Yates, bassist Paula Gardiner and drummer Elliott Bennett) through a beguilingly restrained sonic expedition typified by contemplative linearity and interesting developments that may find an origin in time-honoured modulations but end depicting a precise individuality, deft touches of refinement and classiness never, ever turning into overindulgence. Some pieces include the Lunar Saxophone Quartet, who are used to perform scores by composers such as Graham Fitkin and Michael Nyman; their intercessions – masterfully designed by the composer, who wrote and arranged the whole album – gift the music with a further layer of intense severity and impeccable impartiality. “Under The Canopy” recalls Lindsay Cooper’s best work (circa Rags) and a passage of the subsequent “Of Willow Fringe” made me think of Philip Glass’ Glassworks. The peg-legged rhythmic recurrence of the short “Stalking The Vison” is another noteworthy episode. The entire record is tinged by a proclivity to atmospheres rooted in a not-so-distant past - with particular reference to the 70s - which is a typical Stapleton trait, highlighted by Yates’s trumpet-shaded melancholic moods, a defining quality for the large part of this material. The leader is right: Catching Sunlight sounds more “absorbing soundtrack” than sheer jazz.


Bassist Kane’s first release as the leader of a Leeds-based quintet consisting of himself plus Matthew Bourne (Fender Rhodes), Joost Hendrickx (drums), Simon Kaylor (tenor sax) and Simon Beddoe (trumpet). Classic case of “doing it all, and doing it (technically) well”: the Rabbits are skilful musicians able to respect a score down to the infinitesimal detail yet ready to improvise fiercely when the occasion arises. The Eye Of The Duck is an album influenced from – and inspired to – a quantity of genres, although completely infused with the genuine will of transcending them. Bourne soars and punches the solar plexus at the same time during a frantic solo in “Hum”, among the most schizoid selections on offer, ranging from nearly devastating autonomy to tightly executed dissonant contrapuntal sketches. The title track is another example of dynamically charged fragmentariness interspersed with a witty kind of unquiet linearity, Kane continuously shifting the weight of his plucking in the high register of the bass, Kaylor and Beddoe walking hand in hand over emaciated melodic hypotheses, the rhythm section now securely locked, now totally disjointed in a sort of ritual destruction of jazz rock’s icon. An unhidden desire of shattering formats characterizes practically any minute of the record in almost perverse fashion; a few more breathers every once in a while wouldn’t have harmed the music, which remains brilliantly conceived and implemented but is probably going to be exclusively appreciated by trained ears, still without any promise of assimilation. Translation: excellent performance, somewhat unenthusiastic psychophysical response.

GEOFF EALES TRIO – Master Of The Game

No discordances or deviations, only a timidly smiling heart and class to spare in this lovely piano trio that doesn’t swing in excess, privileging gracefully suggestive atmospheres to the smoke of downtown clubs. The leader is flanked by bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Martin France, three sensitive musicians able to make each decision count while lacking that kind of “look-ma-no-hands” juggling attitude which transforms potentially useful intuitions into plain circus. Even the tracks where harmonic dissolution seem to prevail at first – for example, “Awakening” – at last become emotionally charged explorations of melancholic moods, Eales’ mastery in evoking his influences and rendering them personal statements attributing a high artistic quality to the message that the group tries to communicate to the listener. A particular note of merit should be given to Laurence’s style: rarely we meet bassists whose approach to the instrument is informed by such a sober virtuosity, not to mention the splendid arco sections heard in “Magister Ludi”. In this evocative context France is the ideal percussive link, an unvoiced controller of every propulsive instance who seems to wear discreetness as a vocation, guaranteeing the perfect functioning of the rhythmic mechanisms almost without appearing. The press release cites names like Brad Mehldau, Esbjörn Svensson, Bill Evans and Bud Powell as references, but – from the bottom of my jazz ignorance – Geoff Eales is truly gifted with a distinctive instrumental voice - and seducing, too: just listen to the progressions of “Inner Child”, or certain elegiac passages of “Lachrymosa” - pertinently dedicated to Svensson - then let me know. This is a beautiful album that comes highly recommended, regardless of what your specializations are. Strikingly charming music, that’s all.


There are times in a release in which everything is set to work perfectly – every detail in place, all the connections active, the engines ready to roar – yet, somehow, the final outcome leaves me pretty cold. That seems to be the prevalent feel while appraising In Deep, first album by saxophonist Lockheart - of Loose Tubes renown - for Edition. Also comprising Dave Priseman (trumpet), Liam Noble (piano), Jasper Hoiby (bass) and Dave Smith (drums), this quintet is a solid entity whose technical command is incontestable; during certain parts of “Golden People”, or the piano interlude in “Not In My Name”, listening is actually a pleasure. What this writer misses, though, is extremely important in the emotional economy related to the process of enjoying a recording. Truly memorable pieces - meaning tracks that really stand out, alone able to push the whole forward through sheer incisiveness in the memory - can’t be found anywhere. Interesting sections do abound, the playing always perfect, the musicians absolutely reliable in terms of dexterity, but passion remains unperceived. One understands something about the elements of the sonic construction, admires the architectural side of things; still, no inner vibrations, alas. Waiting for a scintilla to put our heart on fire, we only receive lessons in how to respectfully execute a score, without concessions to excitement or curiosity. Even the few mildly sensual implications seem to be discarded in favour of more cerebral solutions, which is quite appalling.

TROYKA – Troyka

Chris Montague (guitar and loops), Joshua Blackmore (drums) and Kit Downes (organ) are Troyka, an emerging trio of the London scene whose press release-declared inspirations are - of all things and persons - Aphex Twin, Tim Berne and Wayne Krantz (hell, not even I managed to remember him working for Steely Dan and Billy Cobham, despite an ongoing Guitar Player subscription). Now, you might expect some strange potion – perhaps smelling of late 70s – containing neat rhythmic propulsions and cutting sharpness at once, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s start with saying that Montague’s loops constitute a fundamental colour in various portions of this music, an appreciated counter altar to a style that definitely owes something to the contemporary masters of jazz-rock but remains voluntarily (and cleverly) unrefined, at times rather autistic in its cyclical angularity, giving a welcome dose of paranoid freshness to the dissertations. More Chuck Vrtacek/O’Meara (Forever Einstein) than Mike Stern or John Scofield, if that helps. The slightly flummoxing suspensions generated by the union of these elements with the dissonant minimalism, so to speak, set in motion by Downes’ reiterative figurations are then broken into smaller fragments by the apparently disconnected drumming of Blackmore, who on the contrary seams odd metres like drinking fresh water, thus demonstrating a superior technical class. An involving funky feel - helpful in forgetting about certain not-overly-innovative instrumental phraseologies - characterizes pieces such as “Twelve” or the initial “Tax Return”; indeed intelligence and positive energy abound most everywhere, yet calling this CD a must would be a lie. It does contain several stimulating ideas, though, and – in essence – sounds legitimate, which is a major plus. Troyka aren’t a waste of time: for sure they have the means to further develop a strong individuality.