Wednesday, 28 July 2010

On The Instability Of Immobility

MICHAEL J. SCHUMACHER – Weave

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.

DAFNA NAPHTALI / CHUCK BETTIS – Chatter Blip

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.

AXEL DÖRNER & ERHARD HIRT – Black Box

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.

TAYLOR HO BYNUM SEXTET – Forking Paths

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.

LEE KONITZ / DON FRIEDMAN / ATTILA ZOLLER – Thingin

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.

JOHN ZORN / GEORGE LEWIS / BILL FRISELL – More News For Lulu

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.

YANN NOVAK / JAMIE DROUIN - +Room-Room

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)

TERJE PAULSEN – Horisont

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)

ANDRÉS KRAUSE - Move Ground

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)