March News 2004 Reviews by James Baiye, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Walter Horn, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton and Kristoffer Westin:

Dan Warburton : A Working Terminology for Minimal Music
On For4Ears: Charlotte Hug & Chantale Laplante / Leimgruber, Müller, ARTE Quartet / Ambarchi, Müller, Samartzis
Présences 2004:
Music by Hersant, Asheim, Nigg at Maison de Radio France, Paris
Tomas Korber
On trente oiseaux: +minus
OnNot Two: Contemporary Quartet / Sirone / Chinatown / Satoko Fujii Quartet
From Berlin and Vienna: Martin Siewert / Martin Brandlmayr / Stefan Németh / Werner Dafeldecker / Kapital Band 1 / Efzeg
Golden Years of Soviet New Jazz Volume 3
All Time Present / Fred Hess / Daniele D'Agaro / Günter Adler
Robert Ashley / John McGuire / Beth Anderson / Gamelan Son of Lion
Mark Wastell, Graham Halliwell, Mattin / Un Caddie Renversé dans l'Herbe / Pop
Last Month

A Working Terminology for Minimal Music

by Dan Warburton
The following article was originally written for and published in a magazine called Intégral (Vol.2, 1988), edited by then Music Theory students at the University of Rochester (NY)'s Eastman School of Music. It was extracted in part from my ESM Doctoral Thesis from the year before. Scouting around the Internet (as one does..), I realised recently that this article has been referred to quite frequently by graduate students working in the domain of minimal music (which is gratifying, as that's precisely what I intended), but as the original issue of Intégral itself is presumably long out of print and relegated to a dusty corner of a reference library somewhere, I'm taking the opportunity to post it here on Paris Transatlantic. Apart from rewriting the third footnote, I haven't had to make any changes, and it seems to be just about as relevant now as it was nearly sixteen years ago. I hope you find it useful. —DW

Minimal music has come of age: it is now nearly a quarter of a century since Terry Riley assembled an ad hoc group of friends to perform what on paper looked a modest little composition entitled "In C", and some twenty years have passed since the Reich and Glass ensembles played to single-figure audiences in draughty New York lofts. By what seems to have been a shrewd marketing strategy, Philip Glass has now succeeded in capturing the attention, prestige, and wealth of the operatic community on both sides of the Atlantic (and is closely being followed it seems by John Adams), while Steve Reich has been rediscovering and redefining the potential of the symphony orchestra. Add to this the enormous demand for recordings of minimal music (thanks in no small part to the efforts of prominent 1970s rock musicians like Eno and Bowie in demonstrating its "crossover potential"), and it is easy to see why the more reticent "uptown" community of academics and old-style avant-garde composers have tended to view this music with mild disdain (tinged with a little jealousy?) bordering on polite contempt.
Read the full article...

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On For4Ears

Charlotte Hug / Chantale Laplante
For4Ears 1446
Urs Leimgruber / Günter Müller / ARTE Quartet
For4Ears 1447
Oren Ambarchi / Günter Müller / Philip Samartzis
For4Ears 1448
If you've got a portable DAT recorder and access to decent software, and many people have these days, then in theory any recording of any concert can be released commercially as an album, providing a) someone can come up with the money to manufacture the discs and b) the music's good enough. As far as the first of those points is concerned, the Swiss government is particularly good when it comes to throwing money at artists (remind me to move to Switzerland one day), and generous support from the Pro Helvetia foundation has over the years helped percussionist Günter Müller to release a significant body of work on his For4Ears label, of which these three are the latest instalments.
Swiss violist and composer Charlotte Hug has for some time been quietly perfecting a highly original approach not only to the instrument itself, by developing original bowing techniques, but also to the use of live electronics. Brilliant Days features her in the company of Canadian composer Chantale Laplante (on computer) and its five tracks are taken from recordings of two concerts in Glasgow, Scotland, and Bamberg, Germany in 2002. The music is varied, colourful and often dramatic, bridging the gap between composed contemporary music and improvisation effortlessly, but doesn't showcase Hug's innovations as successfully as her solo album last year on Emanem, Neuland.
Urs Leimgruber, now based in Paris, appeared on the scene over a quarter of a century ago as a notable free jazz saxophonist, but has recently taken to following his younger contemporaries down the path of extended technique into the world of spits and clicks. Even so, he can't resist letting himself go from time to time and actually sounding like a saxophone. Recorded in concert in Lucerne in 2002, his e_a.sonata.02 (couldn't he have come up with a more imaginative title?) is more of a concerto grosso featuring Leimgruber and a ripieno in the form of four other saxophonists, the ARTE quartet, whose (composed) contributions are juxtaposed with Leimgruber's explorations. Providing the basso continuo, as it were, is For4Ears' boss Müller, playing his now-standard arsenal of selected percussion, minidiscs, ipod and electronics. Just as well too, as without the background depth of his clicks and rumbles, the instrumental contributions would be somewhat bleak. Müller is as inventive as we've come to expect, but even with his added colour the music remains rather mournful. The activity level increases after about half an hour, but despite some spirited blowing from Leimgruber, the work never seems to resolve itself into a climax, finally moving out, Ligeti-like, into extreme registers before disappearing in a spitty rattle after 52 long minutes.
The first track, "cooler", on Strange Love was also recorded live, in Melbourne, Australia in July 2002, where Müller was visiting local talents Oren Ambarchi (guitar, electronics) and Philip Samartzis (electronics). Ambarchi, if recent releases on Grob, Staubgold and Quecksilber are anything to go by, seems to be in pole position for the Keith Rowe Grand Prix - compared to "cooler" the Leimgruber offering above is remarkably fast-moving. Devotees of what now seems to be called "eai", whatever that is, will no doubt love it, but after about twenty minutes of slowmotion creaks and bad reception TV static, I found myself reaching for Ambarchi's Sun Remixes album. The second track, "warmer" was recorded "at home in Sydney, Itingen and Melbourne" and is therefore a file-swap long distance collaborative venture. The title might refer to the crackle of what sounds like a fire, and the incorporation of field recordings of children at play adds a dash of human interest, but the temperature never rises enough for me to warm to the music. Maybe I'm just as ill-informed on the subject as the possums or whatever they are that grace the album cover, but my well-worn copy of Nachtluft's Belle View, which Müller recorded back in 1986 with Andres Bosshard and Jacques Widmer, still packs more of a punch. —JB

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Présences 2004

Music by Philippe Hersant, Nils Henrik Asheim, Serge Nigg at Maison de Radio France, Paris February 2nd 2004
It's fun to spend most of your time listening to what's widely accepted as the "cutting edge" of new music, but it's always worth remembering that behind that cutting edge there's a hell of a weight of metal, not to mention the ornate inscriptions on the sword handle. Which is a roundabout way of saying there's more to new music than the self-styled torchbearers of the avant-garde, if that word means anything at all anymore. Philippe Hersant, the featured composer at this year's Présences Festival (a series of 21 concerts at the Maison de Radio France in Paris - all totally free - featuring no fewer than 104 works, 76 of them premieres, by 82 composers from 14 different countries) is a case in point. Born in 1948 in Rome, Hersant began his studies with André Jolivet at the end of the 1960s, by which time the heat energy generated by the preceding generation's Darmstadt avant-garde had drifted off in as many different directions as its original members. Hersant describes himself quite unabashedly as "a tonal composer willing to turn music's entire heritage - from Monteverdi to Stockhausen - to his advantage". If that sounds a recipe for PoMo soup, think again. True, there are (inevitable) traces of Debussy and Messiaen, and affectionate nods to late medieval Spanish music (Hersant is a fan), but the composer has assimilated a wide range of stylistic influences into his own personal language, and the second Cello Concerto, a 35-minute single movement dating from 1997, received a rapturous reception from a full house in the Salle Olivier Messiaen on February 2nd. It's an accomplished if at times sprawling piece of work, and was performed with great aplomb by cellist Cyrille Tricoire and the Orchestre National de Montpellier conducted by Juraj Valcuha.
In contrast, Wind Songs, by 44-year-old Norwegian composer Nils Henrik Asheim, was a disappointment. Scored for two antiphonally placed female choruses and full orchestra, this setting of three poems by Jon Fosse was an unfortunate illustration of what often (but not always) happens when a young composer bursting with ideas runs pell-mell into the wall of Tradition with a capital T. The piece couldn't decide if it wanted to be Stravinsky (orchestration), Messiaen (clattery percussion, and lots of it) or Ligeti (mass string effects none of which added up to much), and ended up in a no-man's land of its own making.
The revelation of the February 2nd concert was Serge Nigg's Visages d'Axel, a two-movement work for symphony orchestra dating from 1969 (though the composer says it was premiered in 1967 in Besancon under the baton of Antal Dorati.. so who's right?). Nigg, who was born in 1924 (a year before Boulez), was one of the original young lions caught up in the serial fervour of post-war Europe, but soon abandoned dodecaphony in favour of "neoromanticism". That term is misleading though; Visages d'Axel is a real tour de force of compositional skill, superbly orchestrated (Nigg knows his Wozzeck and his Turangalîla inside out, and at times outdoes both) and performed with surprising passion by the visiting southerners - the contrast between this and their half-hearted reading of the Asheim was striking. One might hope that anything that remains of the vast budget set aside to mount the Présences festival could be invested in a top-quality recording of this uplifting and unjustly neglected chef d'oeuvre.—DW

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Tomas Korber

Tomas Korber / Günter Müller / Steinbrüchel
Cut 010
Tomas Korber / Kazuya Ishigami
English improviser Phil Durrant is fond of using the term "laminal" - with its deliberate AMM connotations - to describe music such as this, in which traditional notions of foreground / background (solo / accompaniment, if you will) have been replaced by superimposed layers of activity, any one of which can serve as a focus of attention or just as well coalesce into a rich, shifting soundscape. I'm listening to this again on a train travelling through Belgium, eyes closed, rays of early morning sunlight flitting between adjacent trees and buildings creating a constantly changing pattern of retinal blurs, and it's curiously appropriate. Günter Müller is a past master when it comes to laying down carpets of opulent and delicate digital noise, and with the occasional muted yelps of Tomas Korber's guitar and the laptop interjections of Ralph Steinbrüchel, "Momentan" rapidly assumes that distinct sense of coherence associated with a well-defined musical style. To be sure, there's a lot of this stuff about (one thinks of Müller's outings on Erstwhile with Otomo Yoshihide and Toshimaru Nakamura and on his For4Ears label with Cut boss Jason Kahn and electronician dieb13, as well as the latter's work with Martin Siewert, Pure and Efzeg), but even if you're a devotee of the genre, you'll find much to appreciate and surprise you on Momentan Def.
The opening 25-minute track was recorded live in Zürich in November 2002 ("it was the first time we'd played as a trio," Korber explains, "and we had virtually no audience at all" - plus ça change..), and the three subsequent tracks, entitled "def.rmx" are remixes of it by each of the performers (an approach also used to great effect by Werner Dafeldecker, Uli Fussenegger and dieb13 on 1999's Printer, Durian 011-2). Working with loops necessarily imposes an element of rhythm, and in Korber's remix pulse is occasionally made explicit without dragging the music into pale post-techno cliché, while Steinbrüchel's remix freeze-frames one of "Momentan"'s harmonic-rich drones, and sprinkles it with a fine powder of digital snap crackle 'n' pop. Müller's mix combines elements of both approaches, with superimposed pulse strata charting our progress through a dense rainforest inhabited by digital insects and amphibians. All three mixes are beautifully paced and draw the attentive listener deep into the music at each of its many levels.
If Momentan Def. is a superb example of laminal improv and what can be done with it, the wonderfully titled Mistakes is nothing short of a revelation. Of course, nobody seriously expects that any musician worth his salt with access to a computer and today's sophisticated software would dream of releasing an album of unedited cock-ups; maybe that title refers to an element of chance in the reassembling and recontextualising of existing material into something more structurally cohesive, but whatever its signification, the results are utterly compelling.
Osaka-based laptopper Kazuya Ishigami met Korber during a Swiss tour with Sunao Inami at the end of 2002 and the two agreed to exchange recordings, which eventually resulted in this split CD on Ishigami's NEUS318 label. Ishigami's two tracks, "ma-chi-ga-i~shippai" and "ma-chi-ga-i~ayamari", use Korber's source material to survey the whole landscape of contemporary electronic music, from swathes of white noise and woofer-challenging low end drones to delicate glitched loops. The craftsmanship is evident throughout - Ishigami studied electronic music with Satoshi Shimura and Kazuo Uehara at Osaka University, and it shows: his music is carefully composed at every level.
For his more austere offering, "der irrtum" - meaning "mistake" but also, significantly, "misconception" - Korber selected a mere fifteen seconds of source material sent to him by Ishigami, "in order to concentrate on questions of form." The thrill of this music comes not from the quality of the sounds themselves, exquisite though many might be, but from the way Korber has chosen to use them in a larger composed structure. Stasis is important, as is silence (a clear difference between Mistakes and Momentan Def.) - but so too is surprise. It's rather ironic that what in theory should be the most surprising electroacoustic music - improvisation - has in recent years become somewhat predictable, whereas, despite its fixity, composition is still capable of bringing the listener up with a severe shock, even after many listenings. High piercing sustained tones collapse without warning into near void, and slowly building crescendos lead not to apocalyptic climax but to silence and sudden recapitulations of earlier material. It's challenging stuff, but certainly not intimidating, and an essential document from two cats you'd be well advised to keep an eye out for in the years to come. Mistakes is available from the NEUS-318 website, or directly from Korber (mail to: —DW

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on trente oiseaux

[first meeting]
Trente Oiseaux TOC041

+minus is a trio consisting of Bernhard Günter, Graham Halliwell and Mark Wastell who first met in June 2003 at the Ertz Festival, Bera, and quickly discovered a shared musical affinity. [first meeting] is the result a two-day studio recording session in Norwich in November 2003 (the trio will be returning to that city, as well as to Manchester, Leeds and London in May 2004, prior to which they appear at the Archipel Festival in Geneva on 24th March with Richard Chartier).
With +minus Bernhard Günter takes a few steps away from the meticulously constructed, ultra-quiet electronic compositions for which he is known. On two of the four tracks on [first meeting], there are no pre-composed elements, and the music is collectively improvised by Günter on electric cellotar (a novel five-string instrument of his own design - see his remarks on the subject in last month's interview), Halliwell on amplified alto saxophone, and Wastell on amplified textures, Nepalese bowls and gong. The two remaining tracks use similar instrumentation, but feature two of Günter's recordings as foundations for its improvisations (the name +minus refers to the fact that sometimes the group plays with "pre-recorded composed basis tracks" and sometimes does not).
Regardless of the approach adopted, the music is captivating. The particular array of instruments used allows the group to construct a rich, multi-dimensional sound. Wastell's amplified textures and Gunter's muffled recordings provide an at times almost subterranean layer of scratches, rustles, reverberations and indeterminate percussive emissions, like the partially apprehended acoustic epiphenomena of some unknown and perhaps sinister process taking place just out of view. Around this are arrayed the clear and alluring peals of the Nepalese bowls and gong, the otherworldly pulses of Halliwell's carefully controlled and modulated feedback crossing the soundscape as if at a high altitude, and the scratches, plucked notes, sustained bowings and undulating drones of Gunter's cellotar. The approach is laminal; the musicians show little concern with offering instantaneous, spasmodic responses to isolated gestures, focusing instead on the broader process of constructing a collective musical expression from elliptically consonant individual contributions. [first meeting] is spacious, meditative and, I think, portentous and mysterious: hinting at things not seen and inviting exploration, yet providing neither questions nor answers. Enigmatic yet enticing, the music stands seductively open to the collaborative engagement of the listener. Coming as it does at the start of the group's life, this excellent recording also holds out the possibility that we shall hear even better from them in the future. The disc also contains two pages of commentaries by the musicians in the form of a .pdf file, a cheap and effective way for small labels with limited budgets to provide extensive sleeve notes, and a lead I hope other independents will consider following.
I confess to having some reservations about the use of Günter's existing music, which the liner notes claim helped spark, structure and define the group's music (and free Wastell's hands to play his Nepalese bowls and gong). Leaving aside questions as to whether a "solid structural basis" (to quote Günter) is an appropriate desideratum for the spontaneous processes of improvisation, I nonetheless found that on those occasions when the pre-recorded material became relatively prominent in the sound I was often distracted from the unfolding of the group's playing by the realization that one of the contributions was wholly predetermined and therefore necessarily unresponsive to the others. There was also the perennial threat that the process of engaging with the unique music would be interrupted or distorted by insistent and unprofitable recognition of the source materials. This music deserves better than to be apprehended with the banal procedures of mechanistic recognition. On a more political note, in view of the grip exercised over contemporary Western societies by commodified nostalgia and the imagined traditions of cultural nationalists and others, perhaps it is now more important than ever for improvisers radically to distance themselves from the blandishments of the past and the claims of cultural memory. —WS

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drawing by Zoltan Bicskei, 2003


On Not Two

Oles / Mahall / Tiberian /Oles
Not Two 744-2
Not Two MW 751-2
Daniel Carter / Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz / Kevin Zubek
Not Two MW 753-2
Satoko Fujii Quartet
Not Two 752-2
With their slightly oversize elegant hard card packaging, they look like Japanese imports, but they're not. Not Two is a label run out of Cracow in Poland by jazz enthusiast (and manager of perhaps that country's best jazz record shop) Marek Winiarski, and if these releases are anything to go by, it's a label to watch. The Contemporary Quartet consists of Romanian pianist Mircea Tiberian, German bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall, and the Polish kickass rhythm section of bassist Marcin and drummer Bartlomiej Oles. Don't be put off by the text "plays the music of Bacewicz, Kisielewski, Komsta, Lutoslawski and Penderecki" - this is no pale collection of oh-so-tastefully arranged Polish contemporary classical music, but a dynamic and hard swinging treatment of the kind of repertoire jazz musicians have usually tended to steer clear of, at least since the heady days of Gunther Schuller's Third Stream experiments. Taking Penderecki's 1987 "Prelude" for clarinet solo as a bona fide head in its own right kick-starts the album in fine style; Mahall and Tiberian turn the theme inside out, while Oles and Oles power the music forward. Stefan Kisielewski's "Duet" (from a 1954 "Suite" for oboe and piano) segues into Marzena Komstal's "Langueur", from a piano piece of the same name written thirty-six years later, without skipping a beat. Penderecki's "Violin Sonata", written back in 1953 long before the composer burst onto the contemporary music scene with the legendary "Threnody (for the Victims of Hiroshima)", provides the source material for the three following tracks: "Sonata I" is a solo vehicle for Tiberian, followed - rather too abruptly methinks - by "Sonata II", which finds Mahall negotiating the bass clarinet's impossibly high register with frightening ease before letting rip with some awesome multiphonics while the austere counterpoint of the original continues underneath. "Sonata III" begins with an accomplished five-minute percussion solo before the band slips in with barely a minute to go to round things off with a unison flourish. Two years after Penderecki penned his violin sonata, Grazyna Bacewicz wrote the "Sonatina for oboe and piano" that provides the material for following track, "Foggy", essentially a long obbligato bass solo accompanied by some distantly menacing percussion. Drummer "Brat" Oles provides two pieces himself for the quartet, the first of which, "April" begins with a Mahall solo exploration before Tiberian inserts a rolling ten-note ostinato for (partially prepared) piano, over which Mahall and the composer trade extended technique licks. The music remains in improv (as opposed to jazz) territory for "Per Slava", based once more on Penderecki, this time a cello solo of the same name written in 1986. Marcin Oles negotiates the high lyrical cello line on bass, while Mahall twitters and flutters around him, until Brat starts riding the cymbal like Jon Christensen and sends the music back to the supple freebop of 1970s ECM. If I were Manfred Eicher I'd be reaching for my phone. "Seven Hands", which also follows on from "Per Slava" without a break (if you weren't watching the indexes change you'd never know), is Oles' second original composition, and inhabits the same slightly melancholy harmonic world as the Penderecki, until once more it starts swinging furiously - Tiberian turns in his best solo on the album, and Mahall throws in a bundle of angular lines worthy of Eric Dolphy, until little by little he unravels the beat. For once, you're expecting a segue into another piece, but instead there's another rather peremptory fade. The closing track, "Bucolique no IV" from Witold Lutoslawski's 1952 piano pieces of the same name, concludes proceedings on a somewhat reflective note. It's beautifully played, but once more its rather sudden ending makes one wonder if its inclusion was absolutely necessary. Still, it's but a minor quibble about a smashing record.
Unless I'm mistaken the last time bassist Sirone released an album under his own name before Concord was 1980, and one wonders why on earth we didn't hear more of him in the intervening years. Concord is a quartet featuring Ben Abarbanel-Wolff on tenor saxophone, Ulli Bartel on violin and Maurice de Martin on drums, and their playing on these five Sirone originals is solid and convincing without being flashy. Bartel's rich double stops support the arching melody of the opening "Aisha's Serenade", tapping into a rich vein of European folk fiddle. On "You are not alone but we are few" Sirone reaches for the bow and engages Bartel and Abarbanel-Wolff in sensitive dialogue, while de Martin adds deft touches of percussion colour. On "For all we don't know" violin and saxophone stretch out on a simple modal melody in two-part harmony, while Sirone and Martin roll along underneath in fast triple time. It all flows effortlessly, and manages to be constantly engaging, even passionate, without ever going overboard. A boisterous drum solo leads without a break into the superb freebop "Swingin' on a string of things / For Albert", the Albert in question presumably being Ayler, as acknowledged by the gospel inflections of Abarbanel-Wolff's splendidly gutsy solo, and Bartel plays Michel Sampson to perfection. The reprise of "You are not alone but we are few" is a fine touch, rounding off the album with another superb bass solo from the leader. European concert promoters who fall over themselves to book acts from New York (I'm thinking particularly of French festivals such as Banlieues Bleues and Sons d'Hiver) should turn their gaze to the east and sign these boys up fast.
Talking of acts from New York, Chinatown features one of the stalwarts of the scene, reedman Daniel Carter, in a trio with Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass, oud) and Kevin Zubek (percussion) recorded in Brooklyn in August 2003. The opening four minutes of "Hok Zhou" find Blumenkranz and Zubek providing a spacious, rolling clatter for Carter to stretch out on top of, until the texture thins out halfway through the track. Zubek's delicate wood blocks and tambourines prompt some daring arco work from Blumenkranz, and once more Carter, without having to spar with other horns, as is the case in Test and Other Dimensions In Music, is able to develop his ideas at length. His serpentine motivic explorations recall vintage Sam Rivers, but there's a refreshing fragility to the sound, especially on alto, that makes a welcome change from the testosterone of much NY free jazz. This is especially apparent on "Sun Dou", a duet for Carter and Blumenkranz's oud, in which the saxophonist is just as comfortable exploring the scalar nuances of Middle Eastern modality as he is blowing wild on "Teng Fei". The oud returns on "Sun Mei", which this time features Zubek's polyrhythmic bustle, while Carter sketches delicate flute arabesques. Only two of the album's eleven cuts go beyond the six-minute mark, and the short form - short not being synonymous with straightforward: the music is able to change tracks with surprising speed - suits the musicians well. Chinatown is one of the freshest and most creative outings of recent times, and you could do yourself a favour and check it out.
Testosterone certainly isn't lacking on Zephyros, the latest outing from the prolific (though still largely unsung) Satoko Fujii Quartet. And you wouldn't expect it to be, powered by a rhythm section consisting of Takeharu Hayakawa, whose muscular electric bass recalls the glory days of early 80s punk funk, and drummer extraordinaire Tatsuya Yoshida (of Ruins fame). Yoshida can handle Fujii's gusty prog metrical intricacies with consummate ease - hardly surprising, since he was weaned on the stuff - and topped off with Fujii's punchy piano and Natsuki Tamura's blazing trumpet, the band really cooks on "Flying To The South". Fujii's stylistic influences are wide and not always easy to pin down: "First Tango" is Carla Bley-like in its precision-engineered harmony and bass line doubled on piano left hand and bass, while the crashing power chords and rumbling octave pedals of "The Future Of The Past" inevitably recall McCoy Tyner. Elsewhere there are hints of pianists as diverse as Kenny Kirkland, Keith Tippett and Paul Bley. Tamura is not all blood and fire, either. In the opening minutes of "One Summer Day" his full rich tone - impeccably recorded, as is the whole album - provides a temporary respite before Fujii comes charging in with tight arpeggios that gradually give way to a minute's ecstatic freakout. Yoshida's rock background and sheer volume, though impressive, are sometimes overwhelming - his mighty snare drum thwacks in "Clear Sky" are rather overpowering, and the deft odd number metrics sound rather wooden. By way of antidote, the opening minutes of "15 Minutes To Get To The Station" let rip with joyous abandon, until the metrical magma resumes. Fortunately, Fujii has the good sense not to let the music go out with a bombastic bang, and winds things down in the closing minutes. It's another solid outing from a tight and impressive band, and one more reason for you to check out what's happening on Not Two at the earliest opportunity.—DW

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From Berlin and Vienna

Martin Siewert / Martin Brandlmayr
Erstwhile 031
Martin Brandlmayr / Werner Dafeldecker / Stefan Németh / Martin Siewert
Grob 547 / dOc 008
Kapital Band 1
Mosz 001
Charhizma 028
Too Beautiful To Burn, a title that refers perhaps to the charred and crumbling edifice of Brighton Pier that features as the album's cover artwork, hails from a session recorded at Christoph Amann's Tonstudio in Vienna in early 2003, and finds guitarist / electronician Martin Siewert in the company of Berlin-based percussionist extraordinaire Martin Brandlmayr. Both make full use of Amann's considerable expertise to multitrack layers of cool liquid vibraphone and (at times) more disquieting percussion along with Siewert's spacious drones and at times achingly lyrical guitar work. Brandlmayr has an enormous range of colours on his palette, but what is especially refreshing about his playing is his evident fondness for percussion's primary role, the articulation of pulse. The opening four minutes of "Source" flirt with dub, but in the most oblique manner imaginable (Stefan Betke is nowhere in sight.. come to think of it, he's been nowhere in sight for some time now..). Brandlmayr is just as content though to let Siewert's subtle loops and gently arching melodies sketch out the outlines of a larger rhythm ("Is This Love?"). "Axis" is a pure gem, refreshingly uncluttered by trademark eai computer crackle. Brandlmayr's bowed vibes slowly and surely map out the intervallic space between Siewert's sustained e-bow and laptop drones; anyone who dares argue that being able to find and play the right notes doesn't matter anymore should be strapped down and forced to listen to this one on repeat play for several hours. Pitch, though, is just one of the relevant parameters of music, and arguably no longer as important as it was half a century ago; the final "Hold" is striking proof of the ever-increasing importance of timbre and event-density, as Brandlmayr turns in cymbal work worthy of Sunny Murray and Siewert deftly sweeps through the harmonic spectra with consummate grace. Too beautiful to burn (a pirate copy) indeed; go buy one.
For Die Instabilität Der Symmetrie, which he describes as "an audiovisual project [..] strongly connected both to the performing space and the work of video artist Michaela Grill", Siewert was joined not only by Brandlmayr but also by Stefan Németh (keyboards) and Werner Dafeldecker (bass), both also doubling on computer. Dafeldecker's lowering bass is immediately recognisable in "Part 1", as are Siewert's exquisite three-note pitch constellations. "Part 2" is altogether more menacing, Brandlmayr's pointillist percussion engaging the computers in a counterpoint of polymetric clicks until all hell breaks loose at 4'39", followed by a shrill passage of alarm clock terror. "Part 4" rediscovers the dreamy resonant hues of E major - no coincidence that Miles chose this tonality for "In A Silent Way" - with Siewert dripping wistful pairs of thirds over a carpet of tonic drone / drizzle that Minamo would be proud of, until the backdrop gains in intensity and moves forward to occupy centre stage. Throughout all five parts the development of ideas is beautifully paced, and the album as a whole rates with the best of the genre. That it was recorded live (though no doubt substantially reworked in post prod by Siewert) is a testament to the exceptional complicity that exists between these four fine musicians.
Brandlmayr's skill as a pulse generator (groove machine, more like) is more to the fore in Kapital Band, his two-man outfit with laptopper Nicholas Bussmann, who's just as adept at laying down sweaty, meaty bass lines ("This Is What We Want" - damn right) as he is at rummaging in the diginoise toy box. The eleven tracks manage to remain defiantly experimental - no sell-outs - while at the same time clearly acknowledging and revealing great affection for their roots in rock and pop. "Do You Remember Sadness?" is clearly boss nova, but a severely glitched European cousin, with Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and Tom Jobim nowhere in sight. In fact, until a gloomy chord rings out half way through, there isn't a single note (though the pitches of Brandlmayr's toms sketch out a clear whole tone). On "Wait" Brandlmayr marks time while Bussmann accumulates menacing low-end sludge around him (Lalo Schifrin would be proud of this). "The New Car" is guaranteed to have your feet tapping at 112 BPM and there isn't a kick drum in sight, and it surely won't be long before some trendy hiphopper ends up sampling Brandlmayr's outrageous shuffle on "Survival Kit". The 2CD title, by the way, is the gimmick - what's a pop album without a gimmick? - the second CD is totally blank, a CDR in fact, and an open invitation for punters to download more Kapital Band tracks from their website (so far I've found three, and they're all on the first CD, but I'll be going back). Or anything else, for that matter.. though you'll be hard-pressed to find cutting edge electronica as inventive, exciting and downright funky as this.
Following their eponymous debut on Durian in 2000 and the excellent Boogie on Grob in 2002, Würm is the third album by Efzeg, a quartet consisting of Boris Hauf (electronics and occasional saxophone), guitarists / electronicians Siewert and Burkhard Stangl and turntablist (amongst other things) dieb13. Quintet, actually, as the work of computer graphics whiz Billy Roisz, who accompanies the group in their live appearances, is also featured here in a Quicktime movie, "Schicht". The group's sound palette has broadened considerably since their first album, and there's more room than there was before in Efzeg's music for non-abstract sound sources. A cymbal crash - heard both forwards and backwards - and a car engine stuttering into life are all seamlessly integrated into the music, and as sonic metaphors of motion they're significant. Towards the end of "Günz dus", while a gently thudding heartbeat marks the passing time, the guitarists' melancholy pitches alternate with bursts of crackling static, both hanging in the air like question marks, as if the music is questioning which way to look - over its shoulder, to a time where pitch was the key parameter of music, or forward into new territory. Without the guitars the music would sound chilly and unprepossessing (rather like Cremaster, one imagines); without the electronics the guitars would wander and noodle aimlessly (like they did on the SSSD Grob outing Home a while back). Efzeg's music reminds us that the present moment - for this music as well as for us listening to it - sits squarely and eternally between the past and the future, between nostalgia and anticipation, between the memory of desire long gone and the desire of memory to come. It's a moment to savour.—DW

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Golden Years of Soviet New Jazz vol.3

Various Artists
Golden Years 409 - 412 4CD
This fine collection serves as a compelling documentation of the refusal of the artistic spirit to be intimidated by a totalitarian political system - and the ultimate triumph of the former. Russian émigré Leo Feigin of Leo Records has once again provided us with the raw evidence, mercifully free from Ken Burns preachy sociological wrapping. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker: it was in 'em and it had to come out.
The first of these four discs features a duo that was known as Homo Liber - multi-instrumentalist (primarily keyboardist) Yuri Yukechev and alto saxophonist and flutist Vladimir Tolkachev - whose four offerings are wonderful mixes of composition and improvisation. Yukechev was classically trained and recordings of his written music exist, but has been fascinated since childhood by the "fresh artistic information" contained in improvisation. In Tolkachev he found a kindred spirit, and these performances (smuggled out in classic Leo fashion and subsequently severely edited due to the sound quality) are the manifestations of their highly focused interplay. "Opus No. 40", an extended improvisation centered on a recurring three-note blues motif, keeps the listener's interest at a high level for more than twenty-five minutes. The other three tracks are thematically more varied but just as engaging. While Yukechev plays "Opus No. 40" entirely on piano, he begins "In Memory of Andrey Tarkovsky" with ponderous organ blasts, after which he scampers between that instrument, piano and synthesizers. For his part Tolkachev is featured mainly on alto, with the flute thrown in when a more delicate tone is appropriate.
The extensive liners mention that the duo existed in the cultural isolation of the middle of Western Siberia. Yet Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia, is not just snow and wasteland; there is an adjacent haven for academics, Akademgorodok, where the two men met. In an interview from the period Yukechev complained about the lack of other musicians available to take part in the creative process, and that none could "overcome their conservatism and adherence to standards." A pointed critique indeed of the system in which Homo Liber existed; it's hard to believe that in an academic setting that nobody hearing their performances approached them about at least sitting in. More disturbing is the fact that Yukechev seems to have fallen off the face of the artistic world - even Feigin hasn't heard from or about him in fifteen years.
Too bad that Homo Liber didn't play in Vilnius, Lithuania, where, as disc two reveals, there were plenty of instrumentalists willing and able to play Vladimir Chekasin's challenging and innovative big band charts in the early 80s. Saxophonist and trombonist Chekasin has been featured on a series of Leo recordings with the Ganelin Trio - the group that first put the West on alert that a few hell-raisers existed in the Soviet Union - and while GT recordings have shown him to be an extremely resourceful player, playing rapid-fire lines that bristle with inventive associations, these compositions show his innovative concepts aren't confined to small group interplay, and provide the listener with many unexpected pleasures. The first is a two-movement piece called "Pathological Music" which runs the gamut from Dada-esque brass arrangements to march music, ROVA like sax interplay (but with more horns) and an Africa Brass-ish nod to Coltrane. Invigorating stuff, but it just serves to set the stage for "New Vitality", a positively exhilarating journey from Rag-Time to Swing to Free time to Return to Forever - and back again. Count Basie meets Sun Ra and Willem Breuker. Probably recorded by someone sitting in the audience (since the applause is really loud), this 40-minute span of sheer joy (twelve minutes shorter than the original Leo release, New Vitality, Leo LR 142, itself shortened from 70 minutes) may offer some insight into why Lithuania was the first country to secede from the Soviet Union.
The first seven cuts of disc three feature the highly acclaimed Tuvan singer Sainkho Namchylak, with Pop Mechanics, percussionist Mikhail Zhukov and Trio-O. The Pop Mechanics cut, featuring the late bad boy of Russian keyboards, Sergey Kuryokhin, makes up with sheer energy for its lack of sound fidelity. Is it Sainkho's voice or Kuryokhin's keys making those soaring otherworldly sounds? Whatever the answer, it leaves one wanting more. After the duet with hand drummer Zhukov, who supplies a sympathetic percussion springboard for Namchylak's vocal calisthenics, the remaining cuts feature the drum-less Trio-O, both with Sainkho (although not on as many selections as the liners indicate) and without her. The trio provides an interesting backdrop for the vocalist, with Sergey Letov's bass clarinet harmonics providing a throat singing-like tonal pairing. Also worthy of mention is the bassoon playing of Alexander Alexandrov, whose facility on the unwieldy instrument is striking. On the selections without Sainkho, Trio-O provide vocals of their own which, while less striking than Namchylak's, are nonetheless effective, although one extended piece featuring spoken narrative leaves listeners that don't speak Russian in the dark regarding the audience laughter.
The final disc primarily concentrates on the wonderful trumpeter Andrew Solovyev in a variety of small group settings, all but one including guitarist Igor Grigoriev. As a starting point of reference, imagine Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell; "CD/FG", is what Charms of the Night Sky might sound like with Frisell's spacious guitar sound added to the mix. But Solovyev won't be pigeonholed so easily; alternately sounding like Miles Davis, Bill Dixon, Rex Stewart and Leo Smith, he ultimately sounds like.. Andrew Solovyev. The trio outfit The Roof features Solovyev, percussionist Zhukov and Grigoriev, who ranges from ethereal brooding to sprightly arpeggios. Electric bassist Dmitri Shumilov is added to make up a group called Asphalt, and his playing provides more rhythmic propulsion and gives Grigoriev and Zhukov more latitude in their sonic explorations. The disc ends with an innovative suite for a trumpet "quartet" (Solovyev multitracked) that serves as further evidence of this musician's fertile mind. Sandwiched between Asphalt and this are pieces featuring cellist Vladislav Makarov in duets with percussionist Alexander Kondrashkin and Sergey Letov, and a quartet, which though not as compelling as the tracks with Solovyev still maintain the listener's interest (the Makarov/Letov duets bring to mind Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud - not too shabby as associations go). If this is your first exposure to this labour of love by Russian émigré Leo Feigin - not to mention the first two (and subsequent fourth) volumes of the Golden Years of the Soviet New Jazz collection, I suggest you have some serious catching up to do.

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All Time Present
Evolving Ear
All Time Present is an improvising ensemble consisting of three electric guitarists (Chris Forsyth, Rich Gross, Ethan Sklar) and two percussionists (Toshi Makihara and David Gould). Each of the eight (or thirteen, depending on how you count them) tracks has an eerie obsessiveness to it; a single repeated chord or a grace-note figure by one of the guitarists can be the basis of a ten-minute improv. Nothing may in fact be quite the same between the first minute and the second, but the whole is so dreamily hypnotic that you may not be able to put your finger on just what has mutated. The first few cuts are drowsy, twangy and seem a little unfocused, but from "Fringe 2" on, about halfway through the recording, the intensity level begins to rise into the red zone. We still find slow, almost gentle evolutionary processes at work, but the creatures resulting from the single-cell slime thingies are now predatory carnivores. The sounds and general aesthetic on this album remind me a bit of the Parkins/Moore/Cline outing, Live at Easthampton. Distant Microphones.. is not as dense though, and there are more (if not quite as deep) climaxes here. The tone is a little darker, too, making the overall effect closer to "mildly disturbing" than to "richly psychedelic." It's an effective recording from a group we'll hear more from. —WH

Fred Hess Quartet
Tapestry 76006-2
Tenor saxophonist Fred Hess remains little-known outside the Colorado music scene, where he's been active as a player, composer and educator for several decades, though his music has become more widely available lately through the efforts of Cadence/CIMP (always enthusiastic champions of lesser-known regional players) and the Colorado label Capri/Tapestry. The Long and Short of It is thinking man's freebop in the classic pianoless quartet format; the band includes trumpeter Ron Miles, one of Hess's regular musical partners and fellow instructor in the Jazz Studies program at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Matt Wilson. Hess has a pale, lean sound, his phrases fluttering upwards to precisely targeted notes in the highest register; his lines are rapid but never blur, and are packed tight with musical argument and detail. As a composer he favours elegantly serpentine compositional structures, and even the twelve-bar blues "Happened Yesterday" crams in more musical information than most composers' 32-bar heads. A couple efforts at varying the tone - a mock-narrative piece, "The Clef's Go to the Big City", and a brief feature for Matt Wilson's battery-powered drill on "Gear Tips" - fall a bit flat; Hess admires Braxton and the AACM but has none of their inspired loopiness. The quartet plays with evident sympathy - perhaps too much so, as the disc could use more tension and spark: Miles' demure trumpet isn't the world's most colourful foil, and with Filiano and Wilson at their most tasteful, it all comes off as rather tidy and reticent. Hess is an original, however, and his thoughtful playing and distinctive, winding compositions are well worth a listen. —ND

Daniele D'Agaro, Ernst Glerum, Han Bennink
Hatology 590
On tenor saxophone Daniele D'Agaro has a warm, old-fashioned sound, drawing on Byas, Webster and Gonsalves, though he isn't really one for the overripe, swaggering romanticism you expect from a player in this tradition. Like other avant-traditionalists - Bennie Wallace, James Carter and David Murray, for instance - he contrasts low and high registers rather than smoothing out the passage between them, boudoir sensuality giving way to precarious, slightly absurd vaults into the upper reaches. But there's none of Carter's bruising, priapic excess and hustle: D'Agaro's readings of "Old Folks" and Johnny Dyani's "I Wish You Sunshine" are relaxed, even rather gentle. The remaining six tracks are D'Agaro originals, all rather slight - perhaps the best being "Divi-Divi", the charming 3/4 shuffle that introduces the disc - but carried by D'Agaro's full-toned and varied clarinet, ably supported by the doggedly swinging bass of Ernst Glerum, and Han Bennink's highly sympathetic (sic) work at the drum kit. Not an essential release, but worth hearing.—ND

Günter Adler
Meta 016
You will look in vain for a Mr Adler in the personnel listings on Live in Asien - it's merely a bemusing band name for this spirited quartet from Germany, fronted by the twin horns of Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet) and Daniel Erdmann (tenor saxophone) and supported by bassist Johannes Fink and drummer Heinrich Köbberling. Günter Adler specializes in sleek freebop with laced with humour, and it's clear from the musicians' vocal interjections and the crowd's enthusiasm that these two concerts, recorded a few days apart in Hanoi and Singapore, were happy occasions. The music's excitement is diluted, though, by the erratic recording; Mahall cuts through the lo-fi without much trouble, but Erdmann's tenor is never clearly caught (on occasion it sounds more like a bassoon), and is sometimes way off-mike. There are also various other sonic problems and one very obtrusive edit, at the end of "Das Männlein", which makes it a surprisingly scruffy release from Meta, a label whose offerings (including Günter Adler's eponymous first album) are usually far more cleanly presented. The music is fine, but considering the poor sound and the disc's brevity (just shy of 42 minutes - and that's counting the two and a half minutes of German stage patter that interrupt proceedings at one point) it's more of a decent tour souvenir than a compelling record in its own right. —ND

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Robert Ashley
Alga Marghen plana-A 20NMN048
Alga Marghen has been digging deep into the experimental music field recently, releasing hitherto unavailable or long-deleted recordings by Philip Corner, Anton Bruhin, Juan Hidalgo, Maurizio Bianchi, David Behrman and Robert Ashley, of which The Wolfman is the second outing (following String Quartet, which contained the compositions "String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies" and "How Can I Tell the Difference"). The opener, "The Fox", Ashley's first electronic music work dating from 1957, consists of a text, a "crime pays" ditty popularised by Burl Ives, but rewritten here by Ashley to be more "noir", and a pre-recorded tape. Ashley recorded piano clusters, reversed the tape and did the same in the opposite direction, mixing both versions together and cutting off the attacks to match the structure of the text (and determine how it was to be performed).
The highlight of the album is "The Wolfman", composed in 1964, for tape, voice and feedback. The tape used can either be the six-minute "The Wolfman Tape" (1964) or, as is the case here, the eighteen-minute "The 4th of July" (1960), in which a recording of a party in Ashley's neighbours backyard - the composer was experimenting with a parabolic microphone - blasts into a layer of tape loops and tape-head feedback. The vocalist intones soft vocal sounds (not screams, as Ashley is at pains to point out), each phrase consuming one full breath, which produce a steady layer of acoustic, eruptive distortion. When the singer pauses to breathe the listener is sucked into grinding feedback, as fragments of screeching, distorted sound rush through space, breaking new ground in direct contact with the nervous system. The Japanese noise scene has been doing the same kind of thing since the early 1990s - but Ashley beat them to it by a quarter of a century.
"The Wolfman Tape" appears here as a separate piece (free jazz aficionados might recognise it as the last track on Bob James' ESP album Explosions), and its manipulated found sounds, including a hilarious beer commercial, provide much needed light relief between the harsh, uncompromising "Wolfman" and the quiet, sustained 43 minutes of "The Bottleman". Composed in 1960 as music for a George Manupelli film of the same title about a bottle-collecting vagrant wandering through a desolate landscape (which I'd like to see), Ashley contact-miked a surface six feet away from an open-circuit humming loudspeaker whose pitch is raised through tape manipulations and mixed with vocal and other found sounds and played back at various tape speeds. It's an unobtrusive excursion where you experience the world as the Bottleman hears it - no communication, just wandering around in circles. Years ahead of its time, its release here is to be welcomed. —KW

John McGuire
Sargasso SCD28043
Despite studies at the end of the 1960s with Krzysztof Penderecki and Karlheinz Stockhausen, followed by a period of 27 years living in Cologne (each of these three pieces was commissioned by WDR and composed in that legendary studio), the pure major-key tonality of "Pulse Music III" clearly links John McGuire's work with the music one tends to associate these days with his native California. The concept is clear and clearly articulated in the music itself - four layers of superimposed pulse loops pan at different rates across the stereo space. Now that the back catalogue of the Cold Blue roster of artists and the long out-of-print oeuvre of David Borden are both back in circulation, and the likes of Reich and Glass have attained what can only be described as star status, it's about time that McGuire's 1978 work should be recognised for what it is, a major and original document in American process music.
Ten years after "Pulse Music III" McGuire was back in the Cologne studios to create "Vanishing Points", which like the earlier work originated from a visual image: "I pictured driving along a road with an unobstructed horizon in front of me: the horizon was always the same distance away. [..] I think of this horizon as analogous to the rhythm-to-pitch threshold, i.e. the point at which individual pulses follow one another so quickly that the ear can longer distinguish between them: literally the instant at which 'points' vanish." Whereas pulse remained constant (at least from section to section) in "Pulse Music III", "Vanishing Points" presents overlapping layers of continually accelerating and decelerating arpeggios.
"A Cappella" dates from 1997 and features the composer's wife, soprano Beth Griffith, whose voice is sampled (singing three distinct vowel sounds) and reconfigured into three digital instruments, as it were (each with its own vowel), which McGuire uses to articulate a delicate but dynamic polyphony whose harmony looks back to the English polyphonists of the Old Hall Manuscript.
Each of these three pieces is quite lengthy (about 25 minutes) and the unchanging timbre of McGuire's synthesizers is a little wearing, but the same could be said of similar work by the likes of Daniel Lentz and David Borden (instead of the latter's chunky Moogs, here we get the digital squeaky clean of the EMS and the Fairlight). The sounds themselves may have dated a little, but the compositional craftsmanship that articulates them is very much alive and worthy of your undivided attention. —DW

Beth Anderson
Pogus P21030-2
The excellent Pogus label has been trawling through the archives once more, and once more has netted a fine catch. Beth Anderson is probably better known as co-editor of EAR magazine, but her compositions are certainly worth checking out. In "Torero Piece" (1973) she converted a painting-by-numbers image of a toreador into a phonetic score (by assigning a specific sound to each number) to be performed simultaneously with another spoken text in which the performer is asked to describe "the most dramatic event or relationship in his/her life" (here we hear the composer's mother talking about their relationship). The album's closing track "Ode", a kind of companion piece to "Torero Piece", features the voice of Kentucky tobacco auctioneer Spec Edwards (and very musical it is too). Also from 1973, "Tower of Power" (sadly not the Californian funk band of the same name, though Anderson can't have been unaware of their existence at the time) calls for an organist to "hold as many keys and pedals down as possible, using only your body, at as loud an amplitude as possible". It's as impressive as you might imagine, but if like me you're not a fan of the venerable pipe organ, you might want to skip forward to the title track. This eerie montage of women intoning fragments of speech to the accompaniment of dithering guitars, swoony vibes, pre-recorded tapes of a Kentucky creek and a mechanical Santa Claus singing "Jingle Bells" sounds as strange now as it must have done back in 1973 (the recording here is of the work's first performance). Less impressive is "Joan" (1974 - 77), originally an oratorio, in which Anderson transcribed the text describing the trial of Joan of Arc into music, decoding the text into pitches. The version presented here is for fifteen overdubbed pianos, all apparently playing white notes, and the realisation is decidedly less interesting than the concept. Fast forward instead to 1979, and "Ocean Motion Mildew Mind", which finds Anderson relocated to NYC and intoning a subtractive poem over the punky punch provided by local drum whiz Wharton Tiers. "Country Time" is a rural equivalent, with the composer (poet?) rapping merrily on about wasps and bumblebees, while there's a distinctly African feel to "Yes Sir Ree". "I Can't Stand It" is more hysterical, with Last Poets-like congas powering the music forward while Anderson's breakneck Beckettian "I can't stop it" monologue works its way inexorably forward. All four pieces were originally broadcast as part of the National Public Radio series "Poetry Is Music", and their reissue here is good news indeed. —DW

Gamelan Son of Lion
Locust L41/42
In another spectacular raid on the Folkways archives, Locust's Dawson Prater has succeeded in liberating two albums originally issued in 1979 and 1982 featuring the Gamelan Son of Lion, which was originally built by ethnomusicologist Barbara Benary ("Son of Lion" in Hebrew) in 1974. With fellow faculty members at New Jersey's Rutgers University, Daniel Goode and Philip Corner, Benary set about writing original music for the instrument, not without reservations at first: "I hadn't heard anyone do it in a persuasive way [..]. I know some people, like Steve Reich, were bothered. With Phil, I didn't think he was doing a disservice to traditional music, because what he was doing had absolutely nothing to do with traditional music." Indeed not - Corner, as one of the most ingenious composers (and arguably the most musical) to emerge out of the Fluxus movement, was determined to approach the gamelan from an experimental music perspective. He soon discovered that the instrument itself imposed its own conditions, and adapted his compositional strategy to the scalar and timbral resources at his disposition. The uncompromising minimalism of his "Gamelan P.C." and "Gamelan II" lend themselves particularly well to the gamelan's sonority. Only two of the ten pieces here, however, are by Corner (three of his more extended gamelan compositions being currently available on the Alga Marghen album 3 Pieces for Gamelan Ensemble); the collection also includes three compositions by Benary, two by Goode and one each by Dika Newlin, Elena Carey and Peter Griggs. Griggs' "Solar Winds" and Goode's "Circular Thoughts" are quite close in nature to the structure of traditional gamelan music, albeit more rigorous in their application of mathematical process: Goode's piece inscribes polyrhythms over the instrument's endlessly cycling heptatonic scale, while his "40 Random Numbered Clangs" treats the instrument more like a conventional (in the Cageian sense of the word) percussion ensemble. Carey's "DNA" uses the four basic elements of that well-known molecular strand as a score itself (not a very exciting one, either - but I suppose you can't "edit" DNA). In contrast to the racket of Newlin's "Machine Shop", which pushes the envelope further by incorporating additional buzzes and scrapes, Benary's offerings, "Braid", "Sleeping Braid" and "In Scrolls of Leaves" are delicate and feminine works that augment the gamelan's metallophones with zithers and flutes. A diverse and gorgeous collection. —DW

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Mark Wastell / Graham Halliwell
Absurd #34
w.m.o/r 06
With all the hoo-ha surrounding recent Erstwhile projects such as Keith Rowe and John Tilbury's Duos for Doris and the AMPLIFY box, I wonder how many readers out there know Erstwhile 001, Extracts, which appeared back in 1999 and features Simon H. Fell, Simon Vincent and Graham Halliwell. Saxophonist Halliwell has maintained a low profile over recent years, but his release with Mark Wastell and bernhard günter (see above) should garner him some long overdue attention. And in the meantime here is a splendid outing with Wastell recorded in October 2002. Halliwell is credited as playing "feedback saxophone", which is pretty self-explanatory but hardly does justice to the enormous range of nuances he manages to obtain with the technique. Wastell's "amplified textures" are as discreet and well placed as those familiar with his work as a cellist (in Assumed Possibilities and The Sealed Knot) might expect, but rougher and more unpredictable in timbre. His strange static rumbles on "Veshch" underpin Halliwell's Sachikoesque sustained tones most effectively. It's easy to assume from reading a description of work as intimate and spare as this that the music is somehow chilly and emotionless, but nothing could be further from the truth. Fragility becomes melancholy - in both senses of the word "becomes" - I await the pair's collaboration with günter with great interest.
Belaska is a duo also featuring Wastell and Spanish (he'd probably prefer Basque) sound artist Mattin on computer feedback, and as its title suggests, Vault was recorded in a disused safety deposit box in the City of London. Complete with a twenty-page booklet containing some elegant photographs of the performing space and a couple of texts (which just manage to avoid being mildly pretentious), the disc also consists of four tracks ranging in duration from 9'00" to 14'46". Site-specific improv is an exciting area of new music, but the majority of releases of the genre (if one can call it such) have so far concentrated on outdoor spaces - the excellent series of sound postcards on the Ouïe Dire label, the work of Afflux (Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa and Eric Cordier). Vault is a claustrophobic and at times scary experience - who hasn't at some stage had a nightmare of being unable to escape from a confined space? - Mattin's at times vicious buzzes and feedback squeals and Wastell's disturbing scrapes and rumbles are literally captured (shot out to Tim Goldie for his excellent recording), and the vault itself becomes an all-too-real participant in the adventure. —DW

Un Caddie Renversé dans l'Herbe
Dekorder 007
After last year's 3" CD Now There's A Weird Taste In My Mouth here's a full-length outing from Didac Lagarrida (who hails from Sao Paulo but is currently based in Barcelona). The use of the balaphone, kalimba, mbira and melodica (there's additional double bass and berimbau on a couple of tracks too), discreetly but deftly enhanced by software, imbues the album with a mildly exotic flavour, which, in conjunction with the extreme simplicity of the basic material and some surprising accompanying samples, is striking, especially in the current climate where laptoppers are all too often tempted to go for all out sensory overload. "" (all eleven track titles are Internet URLS - the listener is presumably cordially invited to visit the sites listed) engages in simple block additive and block subtractive process, in time-honoured Steve Reich fashion (though one could also cite Gilberto Gil's "Bate Macumba", to choose an example closer to home base for Lagarrida..). One might be tempted snobbishly to dismiss it all out of hand, but these deceptive little tracks - only five out of thirteen go beyond the three minute mark, the longest clocking in at 5'00" - can't be brushed aside that easily. If Lagarrida had been active in the 1970s you can bet your Rolex his music would have appeared on the Nurse With Wound list. There's something undeniably kooky about it all, but, like several of the younger acts that have grown up with one ear cocked to Steven Stapleton's alt.universe (Volcano The Bear comes to mind often here), there's a sense of self-assuredness and commitment to the material that won't be denied. Check it out. —DW

Absurd #31
Pop, indeed. This is hardcore laptoppery at its finest and noisiest courtesy of Peter "Pita" Rehberg and Zbigniew Karkowski, recorded at (of all places) the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens in November 2002. Well, the first twenty minutes were anyway (twenty minutes is about all you get at a Karkowski gig - and if it's as good as this, it's about all you need too); tracks two and three are remixes of that performance by each of the participants. Slabs of furious noise are atomised into exhilarating shards and slammed remorsely through banks of effects - the cumulative effect is overwhelming, and fantastically enjoyable. Karkowski's remix stays close to the exfoliating thrill of the original, while Rehberg's "Pita version" goes heavy on the filters. Tinnitus sufferers are cordially invited to abstain. Talking of suffering, my downstairs neighbour has an intensely annoying habit of opening his windows, plugging in his electric geetar and treating everyone within earshot to the first bar of "Voodoo Chile"; it's all the poor bugger knows how to play, but after about forty minutes, pity usually turns to desire to retaliate. Track one of this album is perfect (so is "The Inferno" from Kevin Drumm's Sheer Hellish Miasma, but you probably know one that by now) - I've tried it twice and it works like a fucking charm. Whether you have problems with your neighbours or not, this is the one to get.—DW

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