AUGUST News 2004 Reviews by Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Walter Horn, Richard Hutchinson, Philippe Simon, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton:



Editorial
In Print: Eddie Prévost's "Minute Particulars"
In Concert:
Maerz Musik 2004
On IKEF:
Brother Ah / East NY Ensemble de Music / Montgomery Express
On NurNichtNur:
Jeff Gburek
On ECM:
Tomasz Stanko / Marilyn Crispell
From France: Lo / Fabrice Eglin & Jérôme Noetinger / Jean-Luc Guionnet / Wiwili
From the Netherlands:
Guus Janssen / ICP Orchestra / Andy Moor & Yannis Kyriakides / Rasp & Hasp
JAZZ / IMPROV:
Spring Heel Jack / Martin Siewert / Dunmall, Rogers & Norton / John Butcher / Kyle Bruckmann / Harris Eisenstadt / bject / Yo Miles! / psi
CONTEMPORARY:
Christian Wolff / Iannis Xenakis / Michael Wertmüller /
ELECTRONICA:
Keith Berry / John Kannenberg / Earzumba / Antmanuv / Plastic Violence
Last MONTH



Editorial

No apologies this month for reprinting Walter Horn's fine review of Eddie Prévost's book (see below), which appeared just a few weeks ago on Scott Hreha's excellent One Final Note site, but one of the disadvantages of running "old" pieces ("old" here meaning three weeks) is that news travels fast - so readers are also encouraged to read Eddie's reply at http://www.onefinalnote.com/mail/. Thanks also to Philippe Simon and Richard Hutchinson for catching up on a couple of things that slipped out from under the radar — but in the case of Philippe's review, if it's late it's all his fault :) I've been nagging him about it for ages. Those who frequent the discussions on Bagatellen will also recognise my ECM review, which I've decided to include here a) because reviews on Bags come so thick and fast they often get buried and b) I like it. Seasoned PT readers by now will know that anything that's appeared on the site over the past 12 months is directly linked to the homepage, and anything (everything) else is accessible either by the pull-down menus or the inbuilt search engine. Finally and most importantly, big thanks to Jason Kahn for providing us with another fine interview to add to the PT Archives. Bonne lecture.—DW

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In Print

Eddie Prévost
MINUTE PARTICULARS
Copula ISBN 0-9525492-1-2
A few years back, AMM, the venerable English improvising ensemble of Keith Rowe, John Tilbury, and Eddie Prévost, played a concert in Krakow, Poland. At drinks after the gig, a colleague of Tilbury's son Jasper told the trio how moved she had been by their performance. But when this woman learned that, contrary to her belief, the group hadn't memorized a score, but had improvised the entire piece out of whole cloth, the value of the music was destroyed for her. According to Prévost, "She not only doubted our artistic and intellectual integrity, but she had been forced to question her own powers of discrimination. How had it been possible for her to enjoy and admire such work when its practice had been so…primitive?" Had AMM "perpetrated some kind of artistic fraud"? Not at all, says the author/musician. The "abiding impression upon us (that is AMM) was that this person could not trust her own sensibilities and that she had chosen a wholly inappropriate paradigm of cultural confirmation to help guide her tastes and aesthetic...disposition."
Unfortunately, either this "abiding impression" occasionally faded as Prévost worked out the thought-provoking series of essays that constitute the main body of Minute Particulars, or else he failed to understand its most important implications. It would seem that if the music that AMM performed that night was indeed good, it could not have been made less so by having been improvised. But Prévost expresses the apparently conflicting contention throughout his book that, although the performance had most certainly produced excellent music, this creation could have been made distinctly worse by having been previously composed…or, for that matter, by having been put together by a collagist, produced with the aid of pre-recorded samples, or even informed to any degree by the tossing of the I Ching. This apparent asymmetry results from Prévost's conception of music's most important role: to reflect and foster communitarianism.
While disdainful of religion, Prévost often sounds like nothing so much as a country sermonizer in this book. Music that is louder than he likes it is derided as "oppressive," "dehumanizing," even "pornographic." Music that is too quiet is "reductionist," "facile," and "doomy." Through-composed music betrays tendencies toward "possessive individualism" and/or autocracy; use of electronics reflects consumerism; both traditional jazz and klezmer music are "tribalistic" parts of the "cultural marketplace"; new age music is a soothing palliative for the "psychologically threatened or enfeebled." All, it seems, except Prévost's own favored style of free improvisation are impolitic, immoral, sinful, wrong. While Minute Particulars also includes a handful of previously disseminated occasional writings (liner notes, reviews, etc.), its main interest undoubtedly resides in the opening 110-page manifesto wherein the author's politico-religious principles are set forth and defended. The main tenet of Prévost's unified-if not entirely self-consistent-faith is that what makes any contribution to art worthwhile is its positive effect on society at large.
As might be surmised, there are a number of human, as well as ideological, targets of Prévost's ire: Cage, Marsalis, Zorn, Stockhausen, members of the Ganelin Trio (particularly Chekasin, who takes a pounding for being too demonstrative on stage), the producers of the Hands of Caravaggio project, even certain incarnations of Cardew. All draw the percussionist's fire. But no one is so frequently skewered as Prévost's longtime collaborator, Keith Rowe. The table-top guitarist is chided for being "reductionist," for offering vicarious (if actually unpleasant) experiences of real, non-symbolic suffering, for not listening to others during performances while "paying close attention to what [he himself] is doing," for emulating an object on a shelf rather than an intelligent conversationalist, and, perhaps worst of all, for having declared Prévost's favored style of "dialogic" improvisation to be a species of "visceral chic." When in his quite favorable review of the Tilbury-Rowe recording Duos for Doris, Prévost even goes so far as to seem to suggest that that the disc's value is largely attributable to the work of Tilbury and occurs despite Rowe's contributions rather than because of them, one can hardly fail to wonder whether there's something of a personal nature lurking behind the barrage of what are superficially theoretical complaints.
Before we get too lost in the bullets of Prévost's arsenal, however, it will be well to step back and have a more panoramic look at the ideology behind his massive build-up of WMDs. Is his battle cry a just one? And, if not, where did he go off the rails? These, of course, are difficult, even threshold, questions, but let us see what we can do to answer them without attempting a book-length analysis. I take it that these are his two most important premises:
(1) The community (village, rural pub) is preferable both to the individual (crass capitalist, autocrat) and the city (large-scale consumer culture, multi-national mega-brewery). The ascendancy of this principle in the political sphere is called "communitarianism."
(2) Unconstrained (as well as truth-seeking and dialogic) improv made with acoustic instruments both reflects and moves us toward communitarianism more predictably and effectively than other music. In fact, all other musics either reflect or move us toward something worse (or both).
With these in hand, Prévost is ready to infer that the best music is free, acoustic improv. The fact that he takes such music to be ennobling, empowering, anti-hierarchic, liberty enhancing, and, in general, morally and politically superior in every way to all other types of music is, he asserts, sufficient reason to conclude that everyone ought both to hear it and play it. Before turning to the question of whether this conclusion actually follows from Prévost's premises, let's take a brief look at these supports themselves and the reasons provided for them. That communitarianism is an unalloyed good, at least in this book (and I've read nothing else by the author) exists as a sort of article of faith. Like Ayn Rand's individualism, it is trumpeted as the cure to many evils, from consumerism (which has allegedly turned local pubs into chain fern bars and intimate football clubs into impersonal stadia), to the hostile imperialism of world super-powers. These leanings often seem merely to reflect a rampant Luddism on Prévost's part, however. Acoustic instruments are better than electronic ones, he claims, because they must be practiced-worked with in ways that give musicians calluses and sore lips. Like the spinning wheel and handloom, they keep us connected to our natural environment, and our mastery of such tools changes us for the better. Members of a small, freely improvising ensemble are seen to have something like the advantages of a town meeting over a countrywide referendum. And just as a massive conglomerate is inferior to a family-owned neighborhood restaurant, so too must a G3 be embarrassed by a bamboo flute. I admit that I share many of Prévost's preferences, but I understand that it is quite difficult to defend them on utilitarian, natural-rights, or, really, any other sort of rational grounds, without at least mentioning some of the obvious virtues of the encroaching evils. Prévost is considerably less diffident, but provides almost nothing in the way of proof. One must just see. Perhaps he is right to yearn for numerous cooperative village utopias. But his many pronouncements to the effect that a human activity is good just in case it is conducive to communitarianism are little more than liturgical chants to which parishioners will nod and non-believers will smile.
The second premise, which claims that certain types of music are more productive of communitarianism, is purely empirical, but again, though it is repeated numerous times, not much actual support is provided for it. It is easy to see how an unconstrained improvising ensemble might be taken to be more reflective of a town meeting or the ancient Greek democratic ideal than a symphony orchestra can ever be. After all, an orchestra would seem to consist of hapless, voteless mannequins ordered around not only by an autocratic conductor, but also by an absentee composer/puppeteer. But even if such an observation were valid, what would follow from it? Does like always flow from like? Isn't it possible that we could learn that communitarianism has sprung up in response to autocratic or "possessive-individualistic" art all over the globe, or that in those pockets where free improv has flourished, it is Randian individualism that been the norm? Prévost often slides from the fact that a certain piece of art is aleatoric or too loud or insufficiently free to the claim that it must "support" various cultural evils. But is mirroring (or depicting) always a form of support? And even if it were, can it really be seriously supposed that there is a positive correlation between the number of people who enjoy a harsh, assaultive piece of music and the number of voters that will support a harsh, assaultive government? Has the "alienation from self" allegedly engendered by either using or listening to a no-input mixing board on a concert stage actually encouraged a single person's fascist tendencies, or is this merely an unsupported Prévostian nightmare? If someone from a slightly earlier era were to claim that use of machine-made or mass-produced instruments is a sign of submission to crass consumerism, or that the striking of a defenseless drumhead with a wooden stick is hostile, desensitizing, and supportive of colonialism, wouldn't the younger Prévost have just smiled and shook his head? Wouldn't he ask, as I do now, "Where's the evidence for any of this?"
But let's suppose for a moment that Prévost is completely correct in both of his premises. Let's assume, that is, that additional music of precisely that type that Prévost himself has long created (with great distinction) is just the sort of thing to bring about the flourishing of a million communitarian points of light. Would it follow that this music was "best"? It would seem that one could ask of a particular piece, in spite of these conceded virtues, "Is it beautiful?"-and that the answer to this question might be relevant here. But in Prévost's world, this would simply be a reductivist error. He writes, "I think that it is difficult to support the idea that somehow art and politics are separate areas of discourse…. The ethical, and thence political, priority surely should have an all-embracing dynamic…. Economic and cultural values are not separate things." He supports Cardew's contention that one "would never want to" divorce any object's aesthetic qualities from "what it stands for." Admittedly, it is often hard to deny the relatedness of these matters: think of Nazi propaganda movies or Soviet structuralist art. But is it true that they're entirely inseparable? Remember, if they are, the members of AMM must have been mistaken in their "abiding impression" that one ought to trust one's own "sensibilities" when hearing music and not confuse such reactions with "inappropriate paradigms of cultural confirmation."
It is of paramount importance when thinking about philosophical issues to remember that "everything is what it is and not another thing." This may seem obvious, but the repetitive confounding of "this is beautiful" with "this is virtuous" in works such as Prévost's shows how easy it is to forget it. I agree that music (or any art or technology) may be evaluated from a number of standpoints. Consider a pair of sneakers. (I thank saxophonist and occasional Prévost collaborator Nat Catchpole for this example, though he likely won't agree with the use I make of it.) We may wonder of these items: Will they hold up? Are they comfortable? Are they cheap? Were children exploited in their production? etc. Each of these questions may be quite important to us, but each is also clearly distinguishable from all the others. And each needs to be approached and resolved separately if our answers are not to devolve into gibberish. If, at the end of the day, Prévost concludes that the determination should be made that sneakers are "good" if and only if they get at least a B- on all, say, fifteen criteria, I will have no quarrel with the basic operative theory, though I may, of course, disagree with his conclusions. What must not be forgotten, however, is that we can also focus on just one of these fifteen criteria (e.g., "Are they nice looking?") and consider it alone, in isolation from all the others. It doesn't matter either that the sneakers were produced by such and such culture or that I was. Though both of those claims are certainly true, neither one prevents me from pondering this aesthetic question in isolation from all the other considerations, and, what's more, I very often do. That is, I, with all my history, linguistic limitations, background, education, conceptual scheme, economic precursors, etc., have a concept of what I call "beauty" (which has been molded, of course, by all that history), and I am capable of ascribing it or withholding it to this or that piece of music (with all its own various and sundry history). No doubt, the fact that I decide to ascribe or withhold this characteristic in a particular instance is, in large part, a function of my background, education, the prevailing economic system, etc. That may be undeniable, but it is also irrelevant to the point at issue here. What is important is that I can make this attribution in isolation from any consideration of (not "history involving") economics, politics or the like. In fact, to think about economics or politics or consumer culture is to think about things that are fundamentally different from "aesthetic" issues. And each branch of discourse has its own language, its own appropriate style of argumentation/support. We could call each a different "evaluative category."
Now, it's not that I believe that these politico-moral categories should never enter into any discussion of music, it's that I disagree with the view that they cannot or may not ever be excluded. When Prévost says these distinct items are inseparable, he's either wrong, or he means not that they are conceptually inseparable but something quite different, like that we're all a product of our histories, or that our social class has profound effects on our aesthetic judgments. Those sorts of claim aren't terribly controversial these days, and, at any rate, seem fairly obvious to me. But, involved or not as causes, politico-economic considerations are far from being part of any indivisible conceptual whole. In fact, they are usually not weighed at all in discussions of artistic merit. This is so whether or not it's the case that a vast amount of history must in some sense be "assumed" regarding the reader, writer and musicians in order for communication to occur.
Of course, Prévost might concede this point as an unimportant sophism and simply reply, "Well, even if you're right that what you're calling 'aesthetic judgments' may be made without strict reference to economics or politics, they ought not to be. In fact, that's much of the point of my book: to clearly show that such divorcement is immoral and ought not to be continued." This, of course, is an explicitly moral claim, and should be adjudged accordingly. If he were to take this tack, Prévost's theory might be formulated to rest upon something like: Isolated considerations of "beauty" are bourgeois relics of an earlier, more naïve era. Such considerations ought to be strictly excluded from any determinations regarding what art is and is not "good." But is this right? (And does Prévost himself consistently adhere to it?) I think the answer to both of these questions is No.
That Prévost is not unambiguously behind the assertion that attributions of beauty don't matter can be seen from the purely aesthetic attacks he scatters around his book. According to the above manifesto, if some music is conducive of communitarianism, nothing else should really matter. Morality is all. But he can't seem to stick to that precept. In discussing a certain type of "presence" or "is-ness," he points out, "An attempt to make an unmediated connection with the world-presentness or is-ness-is very powerful in the best of [modern abstract expressionist] works. But it is not there in all of them." In fact, damningly, "it is often not present in the avant-garde musics of the electro kind." Again, Cageian music is derided as "dull" or "tediously similar"; other music is panned as "harsh" "assaultive" or otherwise unpleasant. On the other hand, Duos for Doris is described in turn as "fragile," "optimistic," "sinister," "compelling," "sublime." But why should anybody care about these bourgeois considerations if the music in question is or is not a spur to communitarianism? In the passage that is, perhaps, the most symptomatic of Prévost's ambivalence on this matter of what counts as success in music-making we are given this: "An authentic improvisational setting is... a place where a real sense of creative cooperation and interaction can occur, with all its inherent frustrations and potential for failure. Yet despite whatever sounds and complexities of sounds emerge, it can never be a failure if musicians seek to use this medium openly and with creativity." But what is this "potential for failure" in an activity that "can never be a failure"? Haven't we already agreed that, in Prévost's favored settings, even if what is produced may fail as music, it will always succeed as reflection or spur. As Prévost says, "Whatever else, it becomes a chosen symbol of communitarianism." Presumably, this must be so even if the music is tedious, amateurish, puerile, even unlistenable.
The thing is, whether preachers, political reformers, or parents like it or not, what listeners generally care most about (and what critics mostly write about) is, precisely, the first sort of success or failure mentioned above. That is, the focus of listeners usually stays largely on whether the music is dull, sad, harsh, sinister, touching, or sublime. And this, in my view, must also be the telos for creators of art-or their work will likely be discarded quite quickly. It is beauty that listeners are interested in and that has made AMM (as well as Keith Rowe's recent non-AMM collaborations) succeed where so many other ensembles have not. Very few purchasers of recordings or tickets should ever be expected to care too much about whether what they've bought is conduciveness to any particular political utopia. But should they care? It is my view that they need not: partly because there's so little agreement on just what constitutes utopia, and partly because there's almost no evidence at all that styles of music-making have changed a damn thing on the heaven-on-earth front since the fall of Jericho. Musical methods have been much more affected by political power than effective in changing it. Finally, the enjoyment of beauty, like most types of enjoyment, is itself a good, so the burden remains on the school marms to prove why it must be bad both for listeners and the world at large when it occurs, e.g., at a big, loud concert hall.
If Prévost is correct, and I think he may well be, that a certain type of heuristic/conversational improvisation produces more rewarding, deeper and more likely to be repeated aesthetic responses than other types of music, he's on to something profound and important. That the best collaborative creations must have an intentional dimension-be more like dialogue than birdsong-is a controversial, and, I think, fascinating contention. And his argument that heuristic, conversational spontaneity in music, like the use of language in conversation, is "non-specific," is extremely significant. It implies not only that musical conversation need not be limited to call-and-response, but also that this approach need never be dispensed with over time-the apparent fate of several other methods of music-making. Free improv as an aesthetic methodology would be, in an important sense, timeless. If Prévost can thus show that intelligent discourse among its creators in the process of making music (rather than at other times) is essential to a certain sort of consummate beauty, he will have achieved a great deal more than the vast majority of theorists in this arena. His insights and discussion of such topics are valuable, and, alone, make this book worth buying. One can only wish he'd spent more time elucidating and supporting these illuminating assertions. Because much of the rest of Minute Particulars is, like so many country sermons, muddled, platitudinous, and wrongheaded.—WH


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Maerz Musik 2004

MAERZMUSIK 2004
Berlin, Various Venues
18th-28th March 2004
Only in its third edition, MaerzMusik has already established itself as one of the leading European festivals of "contemporary music" (or "aktuelle Musik" as the German organisers, Berliner Festspiele, call it), though that appellation seems hardly adequate to define the identity of a festival that presented in under two weeks almost 50 performances of a wide variety of new music - free improvised, partially improvised or fully notated orchestral or chamber music, electronic or acoustic (even multimedia arts and club culture are present) - in more than a dozen different venues around Berlin, including no fewer than 31 world premieres and 10 works commissioned by the festival itself. Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, I couldn't attend all the performances, and missed the Ensemble Intercontemporain performing new works by Aperghis and Murail (as well as Berio's "Laborintus II") and a very rare performance of Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony in Philharmonic Hall, played by the SWR Orchestra conducted by Sylvain Cambreling.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of this very singular figure, several concerts were devoted to Ives' music under the heading "Ives and Consequences". Sunday March 21st was entirely dedicated to him, and started at 3 p.m. with a boat journey on the Spree, with Malcolm Goldstein performing, in his inimitable semi-structured improvised style, his own "Soundings (in the spirit of Ives and Thoreau)" for solo violin. The boat dropped us off near the former broadcasting studios of East German state radio in the Nalepastrasse, the wonderful acoustics of whose sadly unused halls played host to the rest of the day's Ives marathon. Goldstein distinguished himself once again by performing his "A sick eagle can you see" (after Ives' "Like a sick eagle") and the young Canadian Bozzini String Quartet performed Ives' "String Quartet No. 2" in a programme that also included Gloria Coates' String Quartet No. 5 (a wearisome piece exclusively based on her "structure-glissandi-technique" - I couldn't tell whether the headache that beset was due to the music or the party I'd attended the night before), and Tom Johnson's "Combinations" (this just sounded like bad Philip Glass). American pianist Heather O'Donnell gave an intense and elegant reading of the "Concord Sonata" - quite a feat after the long recital of new works she'd given that same morning, "A contemporary response to Charles Ives".
The 90-strong Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra Ostrava performed a series of works for three orchestras (split into three groups, each with a conductor standing back to the wall and facing the audience) including Olga Neuwirth's "Locus...doublure...solus" and Phill Niblock's "Three Orchids", a 23-minute long microtonal drone around the four central notes E, G, B flat and B. Such an ambitious celebration of Charles Ives' music and heritage was indeed welcome, though maybe it would have been more appropriate to split the huge one-day event, well organized though it was, into two or three smaller ones - it must have been almost impossible for most of the audience to remain focused on the music from beginning to end.
Another performance in the "Ives and Consequences" series took place next day, in the form of a new piece by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela entitled "Just Charles and Cello in the Romantic Chord", performed by the American cellist Charles Curtis, with the technical help of Stefan Tiedje from the Centre de Création Musicale Iannis Xenakis (CCMIX) just outside Paris, where the piece had already been premiered a few months before at the Maison de la Poésie. Using three sustain pedals, monitored live through a computer, Curtis played very long and pure tones, held for minutes on end thanks to the computer-assisted system, and then improvised freely in Dorian mode over the resulting chords. The performance lasted over three hours without interruption and the audience, judging from the silence at the end of the performance, was literally mesmerised by Young's pure yet radical music and Zazeela's light design and visuals.
Rounding off the "Ives and Consequences" series was John Zorn, directing a group of twelve local and international musicians in a performance of the most celebrated of his game pieces, "Cobra". Zorn's game pieces allow musicians the freedom to play and improvise but within a structure provided by the "composition", in which Zorn is credited as "prompter". If the goal was to make free improvisation sound fun, it was certainly achieved during this performance; Antje Greye-Fuchs on laptop and violinist Jon Rose were especially active and imaginative. Rose's playing in "Cobra" was more interesting than his set the previous night with keyboardist Veryan Weston (who was also recruited for the "Cobra" band), which was overly demonstrative, even caricatural - though watching Rose playing simultaneously with two bows on a 10-string double violin is fun.
One of the highlights of the festival was the "Sonic Arts Lounge" concert series, dedicated to promoting the new electronic music scene. This was a good opportunity to see the Norwegian noise duo Fe-mail perform live, having thrilled to their debut album Syklubb fra Haelvete -"Sewing Club from Hell" (recently reissued on CD on Important: grab one now!). Misses Ratjke and Tafjord from Fe-mail in evening dress and impeccable make-up came across as the divas of today's noise music scene, but as their skills go well beyond that particular music genre to take in free improv in the quartet Spunk, and electronics - cf Maja Ratjke's outstanding Voice on Rune Grammophon in 2002 - their lively set featured not surprisingly featured voice, theremin and even French horn.
On the same bill, the Finnish duo Pan Sonic performed their by now somewhat conventional blend of techno, noise and industrial, accompanied by a simple video installation consisting of a signal waving and oscillating in correlation to the sounds produced. Their tribute a few days later to Finnish computer music and synthesizer pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi (born in 1941) proved to be much more original. Performing on some of Kurenniemi's original, restored instruments, with the help of Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Kurenniemi himself, they were preceded by a screening of Mika Taanila's excellent 2002 documentary "Future is not what it used to be", which features excerpts of Kurenniemi's experimental short films and documents his manic efforts to archive his own life and his visions of a man-machine future.
That same night also saw "Battling Siki #3 - Not an Opera on Boxing" by composer Kasper Toeplitz and video artist Jean-Michel Bruyère at the Hebbel Theater. This piece combines music, theatre and video in an unusual and heterodox way, with the audience standing on stage and the "action" (a man boxing against his own shadow and a pack of fight dogs barking like crazy) taking place in the stalls with gloomy videos projected around the stage on about ten or twelve giant screens. Toeplitz's music sounded like the roaring machinery of a boat, with occasional percussion and a double string quartet, plus the random barking of the dogs. It must have been one of the biggest and most expensive productions of the whole festival, and I was lucky to have caught it, as the performance the following day was cancelled when the dog handler thought the performance might harm his dogs, and Toeplitz refused to go on without them. He was right: they were the main attraction.
Despite the fact that Berlin is the poorest Land in Germany, and subsidies for the cultural sector have been cut drastically over there in the last couple of years, MaerzMusik - and I've only reviewed part of it (you may be pleased to learn) - should be an admirable model for anyone daring enough to stage a similar event in France. Come on, brothers! Even with our miserable means, we can make it happen!—PS


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On IKEF

The Montgomery Express
PARTY FEVER
IKEF 06
East New York Ensemble de Music
AT THE HELM
IKEF 07
Brother Ah & The Sounds of Awareness
KEY TO NOWHERE
IKEF 08
A while back IKEF reissued the first two albums by Brother Ah (aka Robert Northern, ex-Sun Ra French horn player, flutist, music therapist and educator), the extraordinary Sound Awareness, originally on Strata East and notable for an extended rap (no less) from none other than Max Roach, and 1975's Move Ever Onwards, which like Key to Nowhere was issued on Ah's own Divine Records imprint. Key To Nowhere dates from 1983, and features Ah on flute, horn, harmonica, nayamka and shell horn leading an octet that also includes Jeff Majors on harp and thumb piano and some superb vocals from Nataska (should that be Natasha? dunno..) Hasan Yousef - if you enjoy the work of Leena Conquest and Ijeoma Thomas, Yousef is right up your street. Majors' harp glissandi inevitably recall Alice Coltrane and his mbira flourishes (on the pentatonic 12/8 jam "Sekou") Maurice White, and there's a good splash of "Wade In The Water" on "Hanifah" (the Ramsey Lewis revival is long overdue), but the album wears its heart on its sleeve well and never comes across as maudlin. In fact, the odd ham-fisted lyric notwithstanding, it's a damn sight more touching than William Parker's much-trumpeted recent offerings featuring Ms Conquest, Raining On The Moon (Thirsty Ear) and Raincoat In The River (Eremite).
Attentive punters will no doubt have noticed that the eminence grise behind IKEF is none other than Locust's Dawson Prater, whose guerrilla raids on the Folkways back catalogue are fast becoming the stuff of legend. With At The Helm and Party Fever he's pulled off another glorious coup. The East New York Ensemble de Music - dontcha just love the "de"? - was the brainchild of saxophonist Bilal Abdurahman and vibraphonist Ameen Nuraldeen, but the album features "guest artists" Qasim Ubaindullah (drums) and James Smith (bass) along with three other percussionists. Google as I might I can't come up with any hard bio info on Nuraldeen, but Abdurahman's pedigree in Afro Jazz is quite clear, having appeared on Sudanese bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik's little-known but worth checking out crossover projects Jazz Sahara and Jazz Sounds of Africa. He's also credited as appearing on an album with Ghanian panafricanist Kwame Nkrumah entitled The Ninth Son and also featuring Ron Carter, Billy Cobham and Ray Barretto (which I've only heard about.. you can imagine how much copies of that one must be circulating for). Despite the heavy African connection, there's a strong Middle Eastern feel to 1974's At The Helm (as you might imagine with titles like "Bent-El-Jerusalem" and "Mevlana", but the standout track is the superb thirteen-minute reading of Freddie Hubbard's "Sun Flower", on which Abdurahman puts a Korean hojok (I think it is) through its paces. Released at a time when free jazz had more or less boxed itself into the corner of a loft and cheesy crossover projects were garnering the attention of major record labels, At The Helm probably sank without trace, but thanks to the good offices of IKEF it's back on the streets and you could do yourself a favour and check it out.
Unlike The Ninth Son, I did once see a copy of The Montgomery Express' one and only album (probably Folkways 33868, though as this was in a specialist soul shop in Manchester, home of Northern Soul, I wonder if it wasn't an original pressing on Dove, the tiny Orlando Florida-based label that released it in 1974), selling for more than it would have cost me to actually fly to Florida and see these guys in the flesh. The group was led by two blind vocalists, Charles Atkins and Paul Montgomery (who punters might recognise as one of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama). Unfortunately the gentleman responsible for the awesomely laidback drumming isn't credited, but anyone reading this who might happen to know the complete line-up of this magnificent band is earnestly invited to write in to the site and let us know. This is the tastiest helping of Southern soul since the Charly's epic early 1980s compilations Stan's Soul Shop, Sehorn's Soul Farm, Southern Soul Belles and SSS Soul Survey, all of which are now presumably out of print too. Once more hats off to Dawson Prater for digging this up (we'll even forgive him for putting "Fotta" instead of "Gotta Make A Comeback") - maybe he could even go one further and get reconvene what's left of these superb groups for an IKEF festival.—DW


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Jeff Gburek

ENERGARIUMS
NURNICHTNUR Berslton 103 01 26
Jeff Gburek is an improviser and composer, currently based in New Mexico but soon to move to Amsterdam, who has pursued many different projects including solo work for guitar, violin and short-wave radio and collaborations such as Djalma Primordial Science (with Butoh dancer Ephia) and Zygoma (with the Berlin musicians Michael Vorfeld and Michael Walz), some of which have been documented on his own Orphan Sounds label. Energarium is his first release on one of the more prominent labels dedicated to experimental and improvised music, and takes its title from Gburek's neologism for the sonic "eco-spheres" of mutually coexisting sounds he seeks to create. The opening "Energarium I" and "Energarium II" feature Gburek on prepared and embellished tabletop guitar in multi-layered and evolving soundscapes captivatingly and distinctively improvised from extended tones of various frequencies, pulses, motor sounds, metallic scrapes, rustles and percussive reports. At the end of "Energarium II", a sound resembling that of a large aircraft in flight can be heard, which serves to introduce the third track, "Oum Kas'r, Mother of All Ports", a swirling compound of multi-tracked abstract vocals (sometimes threatening, sometimes anguished, sometimes despairing), high-pitched tones and intermittent fuzz-box guitar sounds intended by Gburek to serve as a protest against the American-led invasion of Iraq and "a magical spell to fortify the Iraqi people" (to quote a posting by Gburek to Bagatellen). There is undoubtedly some force in this heartfelt piece, but for me the effects of the magical utterances depend too heavily on emulating the ordinary conventions of human emotional vocalizations, a mimetic strategy that increases the probability that listeners will decode Gburek's affective intentions but at the cost of a certain musical obviousness. Moreover, the fuzz-box guitar feels not only uncomfortably close to the superannuated clichés of rock music but also ironic in view of the news reports in May 2003 that Metal is being used by military interrogators to break down the resistance of uncooperative captives in the now notorious American detention centres in Iraq. Perhaps also the cause of a questioning and critical music is little served by being associated by antiquated notions of magical action for which there is no sufficient evidential support.
For "Vitrines", Gburek started by recording an improvisation that now comprises the left channel of the track. Allowing himself time to forget what he had played, he then improvised what appears on the right channel while listening to the initial recording. In the light of this information (which was provided by Gburek and does not appear in the CD notes), I found the music itself left me cold; an improvisation in which one player listens only to himself and a second merely adds unilateral comments and embellishments would generally be accounted a failure, yet this is what Gburek has in effect created here. His purpose in doing so is to pose questions about both the grounds on which connections are perceived between musical contributions and the adequacy of the concepts of conversation and dialogue as descriptions of the nature of musical communication. To the extent, however, that one seeks to find in music some species of human interaction between players, Gburek's rather artificial construct appears too musically arid and uninteresting to support the philosophical issues he wishes to put upon it. In addition, most listeners who hear this track without the benefit of any background knowledge on its construction will presume it is a single solo improvisation and therefore miss the very matters Gburek seeks to raise.
Following the 45 seconds of "Detail", and before the final "Afghanopsis" (a relatively short improvisation infused with the idioms of North African music), Gburek presents three improvisations played on an electric guitar held in the usual upright position, on which his phrasing and timbre here are more conventional than on the opening tracks. These can be thought off as psycho-musical dérives through the desolate landscape of decayed idioms that defines popular music, the music incorporating along the way not just the sounds of older currents of free improvisation but also elements of rock, blues and jazz. Aided by adept use of pedal-controlled amplification to accentuate the attack and decay of his phrases, Gburek's approach is sometimes jagged and unstable, and his rapid switches within and between idioms both militate to some extent against his settling comfortably into narrow musical niches and produce along the way an engaging flow of contingent musical choices to follow. Nonetheless, there are passages, such as an extended jazz-inflected one at the end of "Improvisation I", where his playing becomes strongly defined by arbitrary idiomatic prescriptions. More generally, it is disappointing that in these improvisations Gburek has stepped away from a creative and radical negation of the constraints on musical possibility bequeathed by habit and tradition and chosen instead to fashion his musical creations to a large extent from musical elements whose salience and seductiveness is founded on nothing more than their infinite repetition in the ubiquitous sonic pollution of the culture industries. No matter how well done, this is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on a ship already rusting on the ocean floor.
In summary, the most interesting elements of this CD are the opening two tracks on tabletop guitar, which suggest that Gburek has much to contribute to the most advanced currents of contemporary improvised music. His interests, however, are broader than this, and those who share them should seriously consider investigating this release; for my part, I feel that in the course of exploring other dimensions of his personal aesthetic he has burdened the CD with material that speaks with far less vitality to the social and musical circumstances in which we find ourselves.—WS


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On ECM

Tomasz Stanko Quartet
SUSPENDED NIGHT
ECM 1868
Marilyn Crispell Trio
STORYTELLER
ECM 1847
Once upon a time ECM cover art had a thing about photographs of gaily coloured sheets blowing in the wind on washing lines - my own favourites were Miroslav Vitous' First Meeting (ECM 1145) and the Art Ensemble's Full Force (ECM 1137) - but nowadays, since the label started protecting their jewel boxes in cardboard outer sleeves (who the hell would want to protect something as bloody dull and functional as a jewel box?), they favour predominantly dark, slightly blurred arty photos: the one used for Suspended Night is a still from Godard's "Histoire(s) du cinéma", and I can't imagine anything more blurred and arty than that. On this, his seventh outing on ECM, Stanko is joined once more by pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, and, apart from the opening elegiac "Song for Sarah", it consists of ten pieces grouped together under the name "Suspended Variations."
ECM albums, as you probably know by now, are like comfortable, dependable air-conditioned BMW cars, and leave about as much room for the imagination. One snorking blast of earthy vulgarity à la Lester Bowie would probably set off the airbags. Long gone are the days when the label could come up with surprises by the likes of the Art Ensemble or Sam Rivers - play Suspended Night back to back with Stanko's first ECM release, Balladyna, and you'll be surprised how much fresher the older album sounds (though it's probably not very fair to bassist Kurkiewicz to compare him to Dave Holland). Yep, since Balladyna was recorded back in 1975 - and that feels like a long time ago - Manfred Eicher's imprint has really got its act together, in terms of "product" (the use of record industry jargon is not inappropriate) and marketing strategy. Jack DeJohnette and Jon Christensen, working in conjunction with the label's star engineers, Jan Erik Kongshaug and Martin Wieland, defined a veritable ECM drum sound dominated by light skittery snare work and topped off with pristine long-pinging cymbals, with hardly a kick drum in sight and toms used more for colour (like timpani in the classical symphony orchestra) than rhythm. Even the Great Black Pulse of the Art Ensemble's Don Moye was washed as clean as the sheets blowing on the album cover. Similarly, Keith Jarrett and especially Kenny Kirkland paved the way for the distinctively melodic and seriously close-miked piano sound that has become a hallmark of the label (though a quick flick through Herbie's 1960s Blue Notes will make it clear where it all originally started). It goes without saying that Wasilewski has got his Hancock, Jarrett and Kirkland chops down to a tee, and Miskiewicz was probably listening to Jon Christensen in infant school. As for Stanko, well, the photograph of his upper lip on the last page of the booklet isn't exactly endearing, but his trumpet playing won't make him any enemies. All in all, it's a prime cut of ECM music, which, you will no doubt recall, has been described variously as "jazz for people who don't like jazz", or (thanks to Ben Watson for this one) "the sound of the middle classes falling asleep" - all very beautiful and accomplished but about as interesting as listening to two middle-aged businessmen sitting in a pub talking about car accessories. No disrespect to any middle-aged businessmen reading this who actually find discussions of power assisted steering and engine capacity interesting - many do.
You might also trace the ECM drum sound back to Paul Motian's work in the mythic trio with Bill Evans and Scott Lafaro (now that's one group Manfred Eicher would surely have snaffled up had ECM been in operation in NYC in the early 1960s), so it's no surprise to see him in action again on the label, again in the company of Marilyn Crispell, on whose celebrated (overhyped, rather) Annette Peacock covers album Nothing Ever Was, Anyway he also appeared. The bassist on that date was Gary Peacock (suppose you could make a case for an ECM bass sound too: take equal measures of Peacock and Eberhard Weber, add a dash of Arild Andersen and.. oh never mind), but here it's - wait a minute, is that really the same bassist (Mark Helias) who tore shit up with my pals Edward Perraud and Jean-Luc Guionnet on Joe Rosenberg's Do What We Must Do (CIMP)? Dearie me, he does sound tired. In these days of political correctness, you can't describe people as deaf, dumb and blind anymore - fuck knows what they'd do if they had to do a PC remake of Tommy - so I suppose dull and boring are out too. Let's just say that Storyteller is harmonically and rhythmically challenged. Well, never mind, it certainly looks like it was a pleasant, even cosy, session. Don't you just love album booklets that include shots of the musicians in the studio itself, that kind of wish-you-were-here-well-now-you-can-be voyeurism and they do look really nice people don't they Betty and would you like some more tea and some cake too it is tasty isn't it remind me to give you recipe of sorry pardon? oh yes the music oh it's one of those ECM records George bought when he was in New York last week for the middle managers' symposium yes it is nice isn't it and the nice thing is you can carry on a conversation at the same time I can tell you some of the stuff George used to listen to was so loud and nasty I wouldn't even let him play it when I was in the house one lump or two well we all change don't we dear I know I used to listen to oh what were they called you know they used to use their thing on Top Of The Pops Led Zeppelin that's right it's true yeah can you believe it can you imagine me dancing to stuff like that today well George had all these strange free jazz records when he was younger but when we moved to Dulwich I made him throw them all out they were those vinyl things they were just sitting in the garage going mouldy it wasn't nice music like this zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz—DW


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From France

Pascal Battus / Thierry Madiot / Seijiro Murayama
LO
Ektic EKT005
Fabrice Eglin & Jérôme Noetinger
PSYCHOTIC REACTIONS & LIGHTNIN' RAG
A Bruit Secret ABSblue01
Jean-Luc Guionnet
TIRETS
Hibari 05
Hervé Gudin / Xavier Charles / Jean-Sébastien Mariage / Michel Deltruc
WIWILI
Vand'œuvre VDO 0427
Apart from their respective contributions to the Pink label's Massages Sonores project, trombonist Thierry Madiot and table guitarist (he calls it "surrounded guitar" but it amounts to the same thing) Pascal Battus haven't exactly been prolific recording artists in recent years, which is something of a shame as they're both distinctive and highly original performers. Battus' work with the group Pheromone (with Eric Cordier and Jean-Luc Guionnet, documented on the Corpus Hermeticum release Disparlure) was praised by Keith Rowe, and though Madiot's solid trombone technique has graced albums by musicians as diverse as Ramon Lopez and David Grubbs, his own innovative work as an improviser has gone largely undocumented. So the release of this trio with Seijiro Murayama (Fushitsusha, Absolut Null Punkt..) on percussion is most welcome. Despite those impressive noise credentials, Murayama proves to be a surprisingly delicate and nuance-sensitive player who leaves plenty of room for Madiot to manoeuvre his arsenal of tubes, pipes and balloons (a Madiot show is something to behold, kids) and Battus to excite his guitar with objects too numerous to mention. Indeed, listening to this is as much fun as reading the Rorschach test of the spotty album cover: you'll be surprised how many of the sounds you're sure came from the trombone actually originated in Battus' guitar - and vice versa, not to mention Murayama. Nine tracks of innovative and thought provoking - without being forbidding - improvised music worth checking out.
After several legendary lowercase solo releases in austere white (shame there wasn't one from Thierry Madiot), Michel Henritzi's A Bruit Secret label went Keiji Haino black in 2002 for its Japopsych subsidiary Turtle's Dream and has now launched the Blue Series (I wonder why: can't imagine Henritzi wanting to compete directly with Thirsty Ear, and if he ever starts releasing the kind of flaccid crossover muck that TE now specialises in I might have to buy back my introduction to him - anyway this a darker shade of blue, a Joni Mitchell blue in fact) with Psychotic Reactions & Lightnin' Rag, duo between Fabrice Eglin on guitars and Jérôme Noetinger on his trusty Revox. Noetinger's love of analogue equipment is well known, as the following quote from an interview with the writer for The Wire last year makes clear. "I still haven't exhausted the possibilities of the tape recorder. I discover things every time. I like that physical dimension, that relation between image and sound. Not long ago, everybody dreamt of having a Revox! It was the Rolls Royce!" There's an air of the rough and ready early turntablists, especially Christian Marclay, about Noetinger's playing, which is refreshing and enjoyable in small doses, but by about halfway through the 32 minutes of the third and final track the attention starts to wander, and one wishes Eglin would take the initiative a little and introduce some more diverse material - though, as on his duo appearance with Kazushige Kinoshita on last year's from:/to: he seems quite happy to keep a low profile. Noetinger's most satisfying appearances on disc remain those on which he's partnered by his close friend Lionel Marchetti, who provides the sense of structure that this one seems to lack. Still, there's enough here to make you want to come back for more (watch out for the ending), and plenty of unsolved mysteries, most notably the album title itself - a homage to Count Five, or to Lester Bangs?—DW
The organ has an ancient provenance, its origin being traceable to the development of a keyboard-based water organ, the hydraulus, not later than the third century BC. Over the course of its long history, it has from time to time been an important instrument of improvisation, not least in the nineteenth century when church organ music was one of the few areas of western music to avoid the pernicious influence of a newly hegemonic ideology that conceived of a musical work as an entity produced by genius composers and existing in finished form prior to performance. More recently, the organ has ceased to occupy a prominent place in improvised music, but there are still intermittent uses of it by contemporary improvisers. One musician who has shown a serious interest in the improvisatory possibilities of the instrument is Jean-Luc Guionnet, most notably to date on Pentes, a 2002 release on A Bruit Secret of recordings made in Notre Dame des Champs in Paris in April 2001. Now Hibari have released Tirets, a second set of recordings of improvisations performed during the same sessions. The newly available material finds Guionnet again eliciting a broad spectrum of unorthodox sounds from the organ, including seismic eruptions in the bass register, quiet strangulated whistles, drones, and unbroken atonal sequences of notes separated by stimulatingly large intervals. Refreshingly, the music avoids all temptations to indulge in sonic spirituality, pursuing instead a series of fascinating, resolutely godless and even desacralizing divagations through the contingencies of imagination, equipment and place. Evidently, there is still life left in the organ as a vehicle for freethinking improvisation, and it is to be hoped that as the processes of secularisation continue, at least in Europe and Scandinavia, to undermine religion as both a guiding ideology of social institutions and a meaningful belief system at the level of the individual, the opportunities for radical improvisers to utilize the instrument will increase. At length, perhaps, the ever more deserted churches will be filled not with delusional paeans to the glory of imagined transcendental perfection but the sounds of a tentative and fallible investigation of sublunary possibilities.—WS
Not just another abstruse name for a French improvising group - Jean-Luc Guionnet is good at cooking them up!- Wiwili is (it says here) a town in Nicaragua - latitude 13°37' longitude 85°49' - where three European communist activists were killed by the Reagan-financed Contra on July 28th 1986. Odd to see that event commemorated 18 years later by a quartet of Frenchmen (how old were these lads when Ollie North was selling arms to the Ayatollah to fund the Contra thugs?), but commitment to leftist causes and red geometrical constructivist cover art are nothing new in French improvised music. Nor should we surprised to hear the odd thumping groove from drummer Michel Deltruc, whose hi hat flails like Al Foster's on the early 70s electric Miles outings but whose snare sounds decidedly wimpy - Shannon Jackson this is not. On the opening "Bonnard! Monsieur Ponard" (go figure) guitarist Hervé Gudin runs up and down the fretboard like Buckethead, but what should come across as scorching hot lines seem to be half-buried in a moss of fuzzy drone coming from Xavier Charles' "dispositif" (a collection of close-miked upturned speakers rumbling away at low frequencies into which Charles throws various vibrating objects) and second guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage. It's rather odd to find Mariage, a guitarist of extraordinary delicacy and nuance, in such a context, and not surprisingly the pieces which come across best are the quiet ones where his input is more in evidence, notably "Le silence des pantoufles". Elsewhere, Deltruc's binary banging brings "Un chinois dans l'éspace" crashing back to earth, and the atmospheric opening of Camille is soon forgotten when he and Gudin let fly after barely a minute. It's curiously reminiscent of The Ex's forays into free improvisation - too anchored in rock rhythmics and dynamics to really float free, but too wild and woolly to rock out. Talking of The Ex, the last track here is called "No pasaran" (ah, at least I know where that one comes from), and if you really want to hear agit rock that blows your face off, try The Ex's "They Shall Not Pass" from 1936.—DW


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From the Netherlands

Guus Janssen
HOLLYWOOD O.K. PIECES
Geestgronden GGCD 08
ICP Orchestra
AAN & UIT
ICP 042
Yannis Kyriakides / Andy Moor
RED V GREEN
Unsounds 08
Rasp / Hasp
MIX YOUR LANGUAGES
Ramboy 19
The eight tracks that make up Hollywood O.K. Pieces feature pianist Guus Janssen leading a sextet featuring Peter Van Bergen (clarinet), Vincent Chancey (French horn), Michael Rabinovitch (bassoon), Ernst Glerum (bass) and Wim Janssen (drums) and were recorded live at Amsterdam's BIMhuis and Nijmegen's Luxtheater in April 2001. It's an eminently accessible and highly entertaining set, featuring some impressive work (notably from the horns) and riding a hard-swinging rhythm section. Janssen seems to have turned his back on the extrovert nuttiness of previous releases - punters are invited to check out the Xenakis-like piano plus three trombones extravaganza of "Et on t'a fait douter" on Vol. 1 of October Meeting 87 (Bimhuis 001) and his wild piano duet with Steve Beresford, "Steel Pans" on October Meeting 1991 Anatomy Of A Meeting (Bimhuis 004) - but there's plenty of what Kevin Whitehead memorably described as New Dutch Swing lurking under the surface of these polished compositions.
Mention Dutch pianists to most new music buffs and the name of Misha Mengelberg invariably springs to mind. Now 69, Mengelberg is as delightfully potty (and intensely musical) as ever, and the ICP Orchestra he has "led" for over a quarter of a century has been performing and recording more of late. Aan & Uit features the usual suspects - Mary Oliver (violin and viola), Tristan Honsinger (cello), Ernst Glerum (bass), plus the awesome horn section of Ab Baars, Michael Moore, Toby Delius, Thomas Heberer and Wolter Wierbos, all powered forward by the inimitable Han Bennink, who can make more noise with a pair of wire brushes than most Metal drummers can with ten pairs of sticks - and is a typically off-the-wall selection of Mengelberg originals, plus a couple from Honsinger and Heberer and Hoagy Carmichael's "Barbaric". The album kicks off proper with track two, a hilarious reading of Mengelberg's Monkish ballad "De Sprong, O Romantiek der Hazen" ("Romantic Leap of Hares" to you), in which Misha does his utmost to sabotage his own smooth arrangements with anarchic scat singing and decidedly nasty clusters. Thereafter, the album follows the classic ICP recipe of Mengelberg's potty montages and hard-swinging Dutch-style bop, and any ICP completist won't want to be without it, but at 70'11" it does, sad to say, outstay its welcome somewhat, and never manages to scale the heights of previous recent ICP releases, notably 1999's Jubilee Varia (Hatology). That said, it's a damn sight more fun to listen to than most albums you're likely to hear this year.
Though there's still plenty of New Dutch Swing around, a lot of it is performed by chaps well into their fifties, so it's good to know the younger generation of Dutch improvisers - which also included expats based in the Netherlands - is beginning to make a name for itself. The Unsounds label, curated by composer / electronician Yannis Kyriakides and British guitarist Andy Moor (of The Ex), recently issued a fine survey of the scene on the Kraakgeluiden Document 1 compilation album (reviewed here last month), and on Red v Green they go head to head in a set of 15 crunchy duets recorded live at the Zaal 100 squat and mixed and edited by Moor's former sparring partner in Dog Faced Hermans, Colin McLean. Moor, like his American near-namesake (just add "e", no drugs reference intended) Thurston, comes at improvised music armed with screwdrivers rather than Real Books, and is quite content to pursue the kind of mindless repetition - mindless not being a put-down, by the way: go read Lester Bangs - more associated with his punk roots. It certainly makes a welcome change from guitarists who lay the venerable axe flat and auscultate it as if it was nine months pregnant and those (precious few) who still know how to pick out a tune. Kyriakides' electronics are similarly direct, and he doesn't shy away from a groove as if afraid that PT's own Wayne Spencer was going to hop a ferry over to Amsterdam and beat him on the head with a copy of Eddie Prevost's complete writings. It's not exactly what Whitehead would qualify as New Dutch Swing, but it certainly makes for an entertaining and rewarding listen.
After Bark and Toot, here come two more improv outfits that sound like their names. Rasp was originally a trio of improvisers consisting of vocalist Jodi Gilbert, bassist Wilbert de Joode and Richard Barrett on laptop and electronics. Here they're joined by flutist and electronician Anne La Berge and the inimitable Paul Lovens on percussion and saw. Parallel to this, Hasp is another trio featuring Gilbert, de Joode and La Berge, and this album alternates material by Rasp (live at the BIM once more in April 2002) with studio sessions by Hasp recorded a month and a half later. Though de Joode can't resist swinging just a little bit from time to time (and Lovens is more than happy to join him), the languages being mixed here are far more abstract. Gilbert in particular is hard to pin down stylistically, alternating (reasonably) straight spoken narrative ("How to spot a tourist" must have been amusing for the Amsterdam locals) with mildly melodramatic soprano, she also actually sings - pretty rare for an improvising vocalist these days - while Barrett and La Berge steer the music more into the jungle of contemporary classical New Complexity from which Barrett emerged a few years ago. Lovens, for his part, sounds good whether he's flying all over the place ("Map") or quietly bustling in the background. The Rasp and Hasp material is carefully interleaved and the album well structured to pivot around a central wistful multitracked solo vocal from Gilbert, "Servile Smile".—DW


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JAZZ / IMPROV

Spring Heel Jack
THE SWEETNESS OF THE WATER
Thirsty Ear Blue Series THI 57146.2
Those nice people who send me Thirsty Ear Blue Series releases must be getting pretty pissed off with me for dissing almost everything on the label that comes this way. Thankfully, The Sweetness Of The Water isn't as tacky as the recent tepid rap crossover projects and grotty home movie DVDs, but it's still a curious release. For anyone who fell into a coma about six years ago and has regained consciousness to find that SHJ are no longer doing drum'n'bass, it'll come as a shock, but to those familiar with the three preceding TE releases, Masses, Amassed and Live, the curious mixture of vintage free improvisation from the likes of Evan Parker and the strange haphazard electronic inventions of Coxon and Wales is, well, more of the same. The difference here is that Han Bennink has been replaced behind the kit by London's Hardest Working Percussionist Mark Sanders, and Parker and bassist John Edwards are joined by Wadada Leo Smith (further proof of SHJ's good taste when it comes to picking trumpeters, though I still prefer Kenny Wheeler on Amassed).
Without Coxon and Wales it could be a perfect Emanem line-up - I assume Martin Davidson wouldn't mind Wadada guesting on one of his releases - but with their contributions (on organ, electric guitar, electronics, samples, harmonica, trumpet, congas, piano insides and, um, lift cage) it becomes something else, the possible exception being "Inlet", on which C&W follow their playing partners into thornier improv territory (Coxon's guitar work is also refreshingly adventurous in the "Duo" with Sanders). Would that the improvisers made similar concessions to Coxon and Wales, as Wheeler and Mat Maneri did on previous SHJ outings: true, Parker puts the horn aside on "Track Two" and inserts some decidedly tonal faux-naïve Grade IV piano, but just when a pretty ECM groove gets moving, the piece fizzles out. Elsewhere his distinctive saxophone lines sound curiously out of place in the laidback tonal meanderings of "Lata" and "Track One". It's not the first time Parker has popped up where you'd least expect him (remember his guest spots with Robert Wyatt and Scott Walker, and his breathtakingly incongruous - deliberately so - sonic scribblings over Michael Nyman's "Waltz"), but when he tries to engage with Coxon's bland harmony on "Track One", he soon finds there's very little to engage with. Smith, for his part, just sails above it all, and his arching lines manage to adapt to their surroundings with relative ease, even on the final rather stodgy "Autumn". This is presumably meant to border on the sublime, but just sounds pompous (Sanders' half-hearted cymbal flutters sound like Sunny Murray on a bad day): all concerned should have taken a break and listened to a few old Terje Rypdal album instead. Compared to previous SHJ outings, which tended to concentrate their emotional weight about one or two central tracks, The Sweetness Of The Water sounds strangely half-finished. One good solid groove could have saved the day (bring back the New Yorkers who put the sweat and drive into Masses), but I guess we'll have to wait for the next album to see if it turns up. If the nice people send me a copy.—DW

Martin Siewert
NO NEED TO BE LONESOME
Mosz 002
No need indeed, with all those Plug-Ins to keep you company, not to mention the friends who drop in on the session - Patrick Pulsinger, Werner Dafeldecker, Martin Brandlmayr and Tony Buck. It's funny how some of the Viennese cats are softening up these days - even Dafeldecker, whose outing with Siewert, "Stendec", on that List compilation was positively pretty - do yourself a favour and go back to Siewert's Komfort 2000 (appropriately enough on Charhizma, a label that has, like its owner Christof Kurzmann, stubbornly refused to associate itself with just one kind of music) to reacquaint yourself with what Siewert was doing five years ago. How much more challenging it was than this. I'm reminded of Alan Licht's memorable line in An Emotional Memoir Of Martha Quinn - "I knew grunge was over when I heard the first Tortoise album" - it seems as if the arrival of groups like Radian and Trapist has signalled a strategic retreat from some of the more "difficult listening" stuff, of which Komfort 2000 was a great example. (Music For A Long Suffering Wire Subscriber? You like AMM and Sextant-period Herbie? You can have 'em both! Ladies and gentlemen, Martin Brandlmayr and Martin Siewert! They used to call Tortoise "post-rock" - a dumb appellation, but at least it's better than "avant rock", which is just plain fucking stupid - so what are we supposed to call clearly post-Tortoise product like this?) As David Toop eloquently points out in Haunted Weather, the sheer processing power of today's laptops is awesome, and one gets the impression that Martin Siewert has let himself get carried away with it all, and had great fun in the process, but the result is that where Komfort 2000 was rich and dense, No Need To Be Lonesome sounds claggy and overproduced. The rhythm programming is squeaky clean and gels well with the input of Brandlmayr and Buck, but Siewert deserves the Golden Camembert Award for the Most Hideous Synth Patch Since Wayne Horvitz On The First Naked City Album, which pops up at 6'18" in the opening "Just When We Thought It Was Safe". Yuk. And instead of dicking around with those rotating speakers on his old Hammond (or maybe it's just a Hammond Plug-In, for as John-Boy said "Nothing Is Real"), he might have done well to study some of the horn arrangements on Steely Dan's Aja. Scoff if you will, but "Black Cow" and "Deacon Blues", once listened to, go into Inner Ear Repeat Play Mode all day long (annoying sometimes, I know), while all five tracks on No Need To Be Lonesome, despite being sumptuously produced, remain eminently forgettable - five minutes after the end of the album see if you can recall one of its melodies. It's rhythmic enough to sound cool on the car stereo without being sufficiently high profile to distract you at the wheel, just about interesting enough in its surface details to hold your attention if you want to listen carefully, but harmonically and rhythmically bland bordering on the banal (Satie used to get away with voice leading like this, but he was about the only one who could). What you get out of No Need To Be Lonesome will depend on where, when and how you choose to listen to it; it isn't so much a text itself as a machine capable of producing a text, which probably explains why the image adorning the CD is a beautiful bright red Olivetti typewriter.—DW

Paul Dunmall & Paul Rogers
AWARENESS RESPONSE
Emanem 4101
Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers & Kevin Norton
GO FORTH DUCK
CIMP 296
These two releases, recorded within a couple of months of each other, effectively answer the question: "What have Dunmall and Rogers been up to?" The interplay between the two men on Awareness Response is stunningly telepathic. Dunmall can sometimes be an unrelentingly forceful player, but his playing here is nuanced and variable in mood, pulling back into subtler regions when the improvisational whim dictates. In addition to his tenor and soprano saxes Dunmall brought his Border bagpipes (from the south of Scotland, which have a much softer sound than the Highland pipes with which most listeners are familiar), and those skeptical about the instrument should listen to the excellent opening cut, on which he alternates bending notes during melodic runs and employing the instrument's drone, with Rogers blending in or skittering away on a separate melodic line. He is now, we're told, playing a bass built by Antoine Leducq, a significantly smaller instrument than the standard double bass, which expands the tonal range of the instrument to include that of a cello. Monsieur Leducq should be very happy with how his instrument is being employed, as Rogers' work on Awareness Response is a tour de force, and represents a further step on from his excellent 1999 solo recording Listen (Emanem 4078). Recommended.
Go Forth Duck finds our duo joined by drummer and vibraphonist Kevin Norton, who has performed with them since the 2002 Vision Festival, and this is a second set of songs from the marathon session that produced the earlier Rylickolum: For Your Pleasure (CIMP 289), the liner notes of which are confusingly replicated here. The three improvisations are quite varied in mood and sound: Norton switches from drums to vibes and back during the session, and often one instrumentalist sits out while the two others develop a motif, before the trio regroups to head down a new path. Go Forth Duck is recommended listening for Dunmall fans - even if the Border bagpipes unfortunately receive only limited exposure, on the short and strangely titled "Come Back Weirdness Day" - though if forced to choose between the two I'd opt for the excellent duo disc.—SG

John Butcher
THIRTEEN FRIENDLY NUMBERS
Unsounds 07
Thirteen Friendly Numbers was originally released in 1992 on saxophonist John Butcher's own Acta label (an imprint that has more or less gone into hibernation over recent years, since Butcher's modus operandi with Acta has always been to release things on the label that for whatever reason can't find a home elsewhere - hardly the case for the saxophonist's own recent work). Rediscovering it today in the light of more recent Butcher solo outings (2001's Fixations on Emanem, and last year's Invisible Ear on Fringes) is a source of great pleasure. The devastating precision of his multiphonic work on the Fringes disc is already present on "A Leap in the Light" and "The Brittle Chance", and the saliva-rattling gurgles, slaps, clicks and clunks that have become par for the course in post-Gustafsson saxophone playing are all here in embryonic form (check the opening of "A Sense of Occasion"). It's not that Butcher's playing hasn't evolved over the past twelve years (even though the quartet of overdubbed tenor saxophones on "Bells and Clappers" does sound a little brash in comparison with some of the multitrack offerings on Invisible Ear), but rather that the others have taken their time catching on to what he's doing. Butcher is fond of quoting Derek Bailey's definition of improvisation as the search for "material which is endlessly transformable", and Thirteen Friendly Numbers is a splendid example of it in action. What makes these performances stand the test of time, though, unlike much of the kind of dry sonic research for its own sake currently in vogue, is Butcher's sheer musicality, broad knowledge of his instruments' history and repertoire, and most importantly, rock solid technique.—DW

Kyle Bruckmann
GASPS & FISSURES
482 Music 482-1027
It's been several years since Kyle Bruckmann's debut solo album Entymology appeared on the Barely Auditable imprint he co-runs with fellow reed virtuoso Scott Rosenberg, though a careful reading of the liners here reveals that these six tracks were recorded back in 2001. Not that Bruckmann's music has somehow gone "out of date" in the meantime, but he has been continuing to perfect his technique on the double reed instruments - oboe, cor anglais, suona and mijwiz - and has also moved from Chicago out to the Bay Area (though you're probably not very interested in this). Strictly speaking, Gasps & Fissures isn't a solo album, as he calls on the services of bassist Kurt Johnson in the sublime monster drone that kicks in after 4'22" of the final "Elsewhere", and Bruckmann has no qualms about using technology to enhance and overdub his playing. As he writes in the notes, it's "an improviser's response to the paradoxes and absurdities of recording improvised music, and an attempt to inhabit gray areas and straddle facile dichotomies [..] sounds are grotesquely magnified and manipulated in time and space to sculpt music of claustrophobic intimacy and impossible physicality". As such, Gasps & Fissures takes its place alongside John Butcher's Invisible Ear (see abpve) and Stéphane Rives' Fibres as one of the recent landmarks of the "extended solo" genre. Quite apart from producing the par for the course key click thuds, whooshes and flutters, Bruckmann can play the hell out of the oboe and cor, and has a repertoire of multiphonics that would be the envy of any oboist - not to mention saxophonist - the world over (next time John Butcher blows into Chicago to touch bases with Michael Zerang and Fred Lonberg-Holm, somebody put an extra chair in the studio for Bruckmann.. oops, forgot, he doesn't live there anymore). Kyle Bruckmann has never been content to sit still and concentrate on just one genre - witness his bloodcurdling performances as lead singer of the post-punk power group Lozenge - and the stochastic accumulation of overdubs in "Exponential" sounds more like Xenakis than it does "standard" improv. Similarly the minute pitch fluctuations of "Gaps & Fictions" and the cavernous drone of "Elsewhere" belong more to the world of Alvin Lucier and Phill Niblock. Whichever bag you want to put it in though, Gasps & Fissures is a worthy addition to your record collection, however you choose to organise it.—DW

Harris Eisenstadt
JALOLU
CIMP 300
The avant-jazz scene in Toronto (my current city of residence) has always been spotty, so I can only curse my luck that drummer Harris Eisenstadt, originally a Toronto native, has left these parts. A student of both Leo Smith and Adam Rudolph, he now lives in L.A., often working with Vinny Golia and other musicians associated with the 9Winds label. Eisenstadt's previous recording was the enigmatic chamber-improv disc Fight or Flight (Newsonic), which demonstrated among other things a love of offbeat instrumentation: in addition to his lightly pulsed drums, it featured two flutes, trombone, tuba, bass, and tuned percussion (vibraphone, marimba and crotales). Jalolu is no less idiosyncratic. The ensemble this time is just drums and four horns: two trumpets (Paul Smoker and Roy Campbell), cornet (Taylor Ho Bynum) and baritone saxophone and clarinet (Andy Laster). Prior to the session Eisenstadt spent two months studying with kora master Jali Foday Musa Suso in the Gambia, and the album's one-of-kind horn charts demonstrate his fascination with the use of hocketing in African music. The horns are often allotted a single note, pecking away at it in neurotic cross-rhythms like a distress-signal transmission or like the Mingus of "Tensions" (on Blues & Roots). Occasional songs or chorales come wafting in, transcriptions of Mandinka Kutiro songs which the horn players incorporate into the pieces at their discretion. Good luck keeping track of the jittery interplay among the brass - the liner notes unfortunately don't list who's playing what when - but in any case this isn't a Trumpet Kings cutting-contest: it's the ensemble sound that counts, the brass wheeling about like agitated seagulls, the baritone pumping out spare, funky bass lines, Eisenstadt himself drumming like a wayward Bobby Previte, stopping and starting and pummelling away. The music's enormous forward drive can be a bit exhausting over the length of the album, not least because of the inclusion of two alternate takes - like Emanem, CIMP has a policy of releasing only brimful CDs. But this relentlessness is a small price to pay for genuinely original music making. The disc is (symbolically?) CIMP's 200th release, and it's among the label's strongest recent offerings.—ND

bject
OBJECT 4
Locust L56
Let me correct a few misunderstandings (on my own part): 1) I used to think "bject" was the name of an album - the debut outing of this trio on Hibari recorded at Off Site in 2002 - but it seems it's become the name of the group. 2) The booklet accompanying the Improvised Music From Japan box stated that analog synthesizer player Utah Kawasaki was planning to change his name to Uro Kawasaki, but it seems he hasn't (rather glad about that, actually, as "uro" has its own specific connotations as an English prefix - and I always liked the name "Utah Kawasaki".. sort conjured up images of a Mormon motorcycle grand prix.. anyway, enough of that). 3) I thought all the releases in Locust's Object series were originally intended to be duos, but this one (and Object 6) is a trio. 4) The music these lads used to make - bject also features Tetuzi Akiyama on turntable, contact mic and electric guitar and Masahiko Okura on alto sax and tubes - used to be called "onkyo", but as the "o" seems to have disappeared from "object", maybe we should call this music "nky". After all, a man on a galloping horse wouldn't notice the difference between O and 0, and the degree zero reductionism that characterised the early Hibari releases has more or less gone out of the window - people, this album is noisy. Not loud noisy like Masonna and Merzbow, but noisy nevertheless (I'll pinch my pal Eric Cordier's term "soft noise" again, if I may), full of disturbing scratches, crackles, rasps, rumbles and other acoustic rough edges. Kawasaki, who also "plays" cell phone and contact mic is especially boisterous at times, and the music is often brought up with a dull contact-miked thud (not so much onkyo as thunkyo) or squeals like a stuck pig (not so much onkyo as oinkyo). Unlike the two pieces that made up the Hibari debut album, which were rather charmingly titled "Business Jump" and "Big Comic", these four tracks, recorded and mixed at a place called Tanker (studio or venue? No matter, it sounds very live to me) remain untitled, in keeping with the austere black and white - mainly white - look of the Object series. It's tough stuff but certainly worth paying attention to.—DW

Yo Miles!
SKY GARDEN
Cuneiform Rune 191/2 2CD
Somehow I want to like this more than I actually do. As the name of Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith's band unambiguously proclaims, the work of Yo Miles! is a straight-up tribute to the work of Mr Davis (ca. 1968 - 75), and the music - most of it by Miles - is beautifully played by great musicians (including Tom Coster on keyboards, Michael Manring on bass, Steve Smith on drums, Chris Muir on guitar, Karl Perazzo on percussion, plus saxophonists Greg Osby and John Tchicai - yo! - and guest spots from, amongst others, Zakir Hussain on tablas and the ROVA quartet) but, for some reason, to quote Jean-François Pauvros, ça me fait pas bander (and if you're not French I'll leave you to figure out what that means). True, it's fabulously recorded (Kaiser waxes so lyrical about Super Audio CD technology that I'm half inclined to invest in the stuff myself) - in fact maybe too well recorded. One of the distinctive features of electric Miles was its sweat, its grit: Coster's got his Corea / Hancock / Zawinul / Jarrett (delete where appropriate) licks down to a tee, but the keyboards here never sound as rough and dirty as Teo Macero made them sound on those old CBS albums. As an exercise in style, Sky Garden is musicologically faultless, but in reproducing ever so faithfully all the riffs, tics and hooks of the period, Coster, Manring, and Smith seem to be more interested in emulating their idols than revealing any distinctive personalities of their own. On the other hand, Kaiser, as one might expect, sounds more like Kaiser (hell, nobody ever sounded like Pete Cosey after all), and Smith, with that distinctive creamy tone, could in no way be mistaken for Miles, but I'm still led to wonder who this music is for. Well, one answer to that is: for the musicians themselves, of course! The album trucks along irresistibly like the world's number one jam band, and I'd just love to sit in on keyboards and throw a few Hancock licks into the soup myself - but now that most of Miles' electric stuff is remastered and back in print in swanky deluxe editions documenting every sneeze, growl and false start the Prince of Darkness committed to mag tape, why would you reach for this when you can blast your neighbours to kingdom come with Dark Magus? Which, by the way, is what I did after listening to Sky Garden.—DW

psi
BLACK AMERICAN FLAG
Evolving Ear
The last album by psi - not to be confused with the wonderful label of the same name curated by Evan Parker - went by the unwieldy title of The ___ Who Had Begun His Career As A Useful ___ Of The ___ Court Later Became The ___ Of ___ And The ___ Of ___. Fortunately (for me at least) Black American Flag is easier both to remember and to type, and it's more satisfying musically. If this trio consisting of Chris Forsyth on guitar, Jaime Fennelly on electronics and Fritz Welch on drums, cymbals and objects (having seen and enjoyed the band in concert let me assure you that the objects are as important as the drums) were based in Europe instead of Brooklyn, I'm prepared to wager a small sum they'd already have released work on leading European improv imprints such as Grob, Charhizma and Durian (by the way, what's happened to Durian?). Whether Messrs Klopotek, Kurzmann and Dafeldecker would have accepted Fritz Welch's wacky hand-drawn cartoon artwork, though, is a moot point.. Featuring two pieces lasting respectively 12'46" and 29'47", Black American Flag comes at trademark eai droning guitars and gritty buzz from another direction, namely the anarchic scrabbling Welch gets up to behind his kit, which pushes his two otherwise reticent playing partners over the edge into the kind of noise one associates more these days from Metal-scarred bruisers like Kevin Drumm. Take it from me, psi are as much fun to watch as they are to listen to, so if they show up in your neighbourhood make sure you check them out.—DW

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CONTEMPORARY

Christian Wolff
PERCUSSIONIST SONGS
Matchless MRCD59
If you buy solo percussion albums expecting to have your mind blown by consummate instrumental virtuosity ("how does s/he do that?" "is it overdubbed?" "how many arms has s/he got?") you'd better leave this one in the rack. As percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky notes in her brief liners, Christian Wolff "does not compose percussion music." (Erm, wait a minute, well, let's read on..) "His percussion pieces are about as far away from the usual percussion techniques as I have travelled." I would suggest that what Schulkowsky considers to be "usual percussion techniques" are themselves far away from what most folk would imagine to be percussion music - the simple act of making sound by striking things (sticks, stones and wands swishing through the air are just as acceptable as marimbas, gongs and cymbals) - and that Wolff's music is, as a result, some of the most natural and listenable you're likely to encounter. The seven-movement cycle "Percussionist Songs" was written specifically for Schulkowsky, and completed in 1995, and it ranges from free transcriptions and adaptations of the medieval English song "The Westron Winde" and a Josquin Desprez chanson to a polyphonic exploration of resonance and decay. The three "Percussionist Dances" are more extended affairs, their delicate rhythmic intricacies recalling the percussion music of John Cage that Wolff encountered back in his teens. Wolff's music, like that of his friend and former associate Howard Skempton, is deceptively straightforward, and far from naïve. But it is intimate: "Dear Robyn" belongs to the realm of personal correspondence - Wolff actually faxed the piece to the percussionist - and even a piece bearing a distinctly public title, "Peace March" is modest in scale and scope. The mood of the album is perhaps best summed up by Bertolt Brecht in his poem "Vergnügungen" ("Pleasures"), which Schulkowsky reads while playing a simple marimba melody: "Old music / Comfortable shoes / Understanding / New music / Writing, planting / Taking trips / Singing / Being friendly."—DW

Iannis Xenakis
KRANERG
Col Legno 20217
Composer Roger Reynolds once said of the music of Xenakis: "To my ear, his music is radiant and lean, remarkably clear of traditional allegiances to harmonic substance and melodic gesture. His works are compelling examples of previously unknown event-worlds. One can objectify them by virtue of their image-making, formative strength. They stand not on arguments made but on materials revealed. They are above pleading." One such is the epic electro-acoustic work Kraanerg, a quintessential example of "stochastic music," the term the composer used for his innovative compositional theory. Over 74 minutes long, Kraanerg alternates live orchestral sections and electronic tape sections using electronically altered orchestral material. Xenakis' orchestral writing features rapid staccato outbursts from trumpets, trombones and woodwinds, and the string glissandi associated with his music ever since the revolutionary Metastaseis. The tape sections utilize various levels of sound alteration, with some passages only slightly distorted and others without a trace of the original instruments, resulting in a fascinating range of textures and mysterious sheets of sound. Listening to the overall effect of this continuous transformation is like witnessing the awe-inspiring organic processes of nature majestically unfold, or watching time-lapse photography of clouds in motion. Xenakis' use of algorithms seems to capture that organic transformation, intensified by time compression. Kraanerg was originally commissioned as a ballet score for the opening of the National Art Center in Ottawa, Canada in June, 1969, and Xenakis took as his theme the youth rebellion that swept the globe the year before - the literal translation of "kraanerg" being "youth-energy" - and the ferocity of those events is somehow distilled into his music's continuous transformation. This recording is of a performance in 2001 by the Sinfonieorchester Basel, with Alexander Winterson conducting, and is worth comparing to the 1996 Asphodel recording by ST-X Ensemble, with Charles Bornstein. Both are excellent - the ST-X version is slightly more vivid, while the new Basel Symphony version is perhaps richer - but one advantage of the Asphodel recording is that it is broken into 41 separate tracks, while the Col Legno disc presents the work as one unbroken 74-minute track. Though Xenakis did not write the piece in separate movements, the alternation of live and taped sections makes the insertion of indexes relatively simple - and these are convenient if you're interrupted over the course of an hour and a quarter. Try to make sure you're not, though.—RH

Michael Wertmüller
DIE ZEIT, EINE GEBRAUCHSANWEISUNG
Grob 545
The title translates as "Time, a User's Manual", and as one hell of a drummer - you may recall his work with Peter Brötzmann on Nothung - Michael Wertmüller knows a bit about the subject. Like Richard Barrett, Wertmüller divides his time between improvisation and composition, of the New Complexity persuasion. He's also been known to divide it into 512th notes (or what I suppose should be called hemidemisemihemidemisemiquavers) - from the descriptions of some of his pieces offered by Dieter Schnebel in the accompanying essay, Wertmüller's scores must make some of Brian Ferneyhough's look like child's play. The title track is scored for fifteen piece ensemble, computer (Mark Trayle) and guitar (Stephan Wittwer), and for this version recorded live at Donaueschingen in 2001, the score was projected in front of the musicians on screens coordinated by a central computer, or "a fifteen armed conductor". Computer technology was also used in postprod, to introduce dizzying pans and splices worthy of Mego and even deconstruct the boos and cheers of the Donaueschingen crowd. Nice to see the good old Alienation Effect is still popular. The rather brief disc (34 minutes) closes with Parts 1 and 3 of "Entleibung" ("Decorporeal"), a triptych after Francis Bacon - all the more reason to ask why Part 2 couldn't have been included - in Part 3 of which the European String Quartet is aided and abetted by Alex Buess on electronics, who manages to bury their intricate lines under a black, sweaty digital peat bog. For all its appeals to New Complexity and its attendant aesthetic of failure (described with nothing less than glee by Schnebel), Wertmüller's music sounds more like the plodding horror grunge of 1960s Penderecki. Pretty scary huh? Don't worry: another blast of digitized applause at the end makes it clear it was just a concert.—DW


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ELECTRONICA

Keith Berry
THE GOLDEN BOAT
trente oiseaux TOC 034
It starts with silence, as well it might, released on bernhard günter's trente oiseaux label, but the four tracks - movements might be more accurate, as the album is best experienced played through from beginning to end - that make up Keith Berry's The Golden Boat, while evidently influenced by günter's aesthetic (perhaps more so than his music), represent an intriguing synthesis of several areas of lowercase sound. From the world of static and predominantly tonal drone (think JLIAT ca.1996) via fractured laptop glitch to inside piano and - inevitably, one supposes - field recordings of water, Berry's music proceeds as a set of discrete events interspersed with silences of varying lengths. As is often the case with trente oiseaux music, you won't get much out of it unless you stop everything else you're doing, breathe deeply and listen intently, but The Golden Boat is no turn-on-tune-in-and-switch-off affair; the digital shudders and reverberant thuds are as unsettling as his sense of pitch and timing is astute, and despite the warmth of günter's mastering, Berry's creaking, scuffed surfaces, coloured by extremely delicate ultra-high frequencies, are cool and enigmatic. Along with Matt Waldron (aka irr.app.(ext.))'s Dust Pincher Appliances, this is one of the past year's most original and rewarding pieces of electronic music.—DW

John Kannenberg
GELIDUS
Retinascan RE 35
John Kannenberg's work curating the virtual artspace www.stasisfield.com will be familiar to PT readers, but anyone who hasn't yet heard his music (there are several pieces on free download at his site) should make it their business to hunt down a copy of Gelidus forthwith, because unless Eliane Radigue graces us with a new release, it's right up there with Jason Kahn's Miramar as slowmotion masterpiece of the year. Though recorded in a single take on the morning of Christmas Day 2002, the six continuously-running movements that make up Gelidus, which the composer describes as "a sonic interpretation of extreme cold", were sourced from processed field recordings made outside Kannenberg's house "after a snowfall", a sinewave test tone and cassette tape hiss manipulated with an analogue equalizer. Though the work's global structure was loosely mapped out, Kannenberg deliberately recorded in real time: "Most of my audio work tends to be hybrid of composition and improvisation," he writes, adding that the forthcoming "soundtrack" to the novel "A Canticle For Leibowitz" for the Sine Fiction label is more composed than improvised. In keeping with the meticulous concern for visual detail that characterises his website, Kannenberg has, in a twelve-page accompanying booklet, also included photographs (by himself and his wife) to "enhance the feeling of extreme cold I was trying to produce in the music", using them as source material for his original artwork and manipulating them in Photoshop using some of the same principles he applied to the sound material, including repetition, reduction, phasing, fading and reverberation. Chilly and austere it is, but also compelling and moving too. Well worth checking out: go to www.retinascan.de and wrap up well.—DW

Earzumba
HERMOSO MOVIMENTO / FLORECE ESCONDIDO
Dialsinfin

CD (Christian Dergarabedian)
UN PIANO EN LA GARGANTA
Drone DR63 7"EP
Earzumba
PLAYBACK EMOTIVO
Locus of Assemblage 3" CD
http://yovibro.tripod.com.ar
Earzumba is the work of one Christian Dergarabedian, originally from Argentina (and apparently a founder member of Reynols, it says here) but now based in Barcelona. Though he may have chosen to make his home in old Europe, the music of Dergarabedian's native Latin America permeates the earlier work (the earliest material on Hermoso Movimento dates from October 1998, while Florece Escondido seems to be more recent, dating from between August 2000 and November 2001), from the mad mariachi mulch of the opening "Mendigando Amor" to the urban field recordings of Buenos Aires on "Alrededor de las manos". It's entertaining stuff - imagine a John Oswald version of an Orb remix of Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendes, or, as the composer describes Florece Escondido, "a blurred music of psychodelic [sic] blues, tango, and valseado shaking hands in between real slow dub & rock pieces". Dergarabedian doesn't like the term "plunderphonics", preferring instead "audiocollage", but admits that many of the pieces were sourced exclusively from samples of existing music. He's probably right to make the distinction, because although Oswald's pioneering work inevitably comes to mind, Dergarabedian's approach is far less rigorous and conceptual, and he's quite happy to wallow in cavernous dub. Appearing as it does on Drone Records, Un piano en la garganta is, as one might expect, more sedate. "File under Monumental Slow-Wave Drones", the press release recommends, but compared to monster slowburners by the likes of Eliane Radigue and Phill Niblock, Dergarabedian's six brief tracks are but snapshots, albeit wonderfully precise and detailed ones. A full-length release of material like this would be most welcome. Instead, the six track 3" CD Playback Emotivo (the most recent offering here - it was recorded in March and April of last year) starts out as a more boisterous affair, but soon slides into a downtempo groove. Goodness knows why Beethoven's hoary old chestnut "Für Elise" (ring-modulated almost beyond recognition) is called "Mozart's Koala Concerto No.4", and nor do I have any idea what kind of musical instrument a koala is (I know about the eucalyptus-gobbling Australian bear), but Dergarabedian is credited as playing one. It's one of many entertaining mysteries of this mini album from a composer I look forward to hearing more from in the months to come.—DW

Antmanuv
MAGNETIC FIELD
antma0104
antmanuv.net
Antmanuv, aka Tomane V., hails from Portugal but currently lives and works in Canada, where Magnetic Field was recorded "during a severe thunderstorm" in April 2003. The bad weather certainly left its mark; it's a seething mass of ugly synth clusters ("analog modular synth" it says, though it sounds like the murk I used to get out of my Juno 6), grain and grit. Tomane V also apparently works as a DJ, and it's maybe a shame that he couldn't have dropped a few beats into the mix. It might have ended up sounding like something from Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire period). Instead, with its unremittingly user-unfriendly pitches, the whole thing drags uncomfortably and ends up as something to sit through. Like a severe thunderstorm.—DW

Plastic Violence
IMMATERIAL
Death Paradise Autoproductions DPA 01
IMMATERIAL 2
Death Paradise Autoproductions DPA 02
www.deathparadise.it
Inscribing itself solidly in the relatively recent tradition of Italian experimental electronica (Elio Martusciello, z_e_l_l_e, et al.), the work of Plastic Violence, a duo consisting of Fabrizio Paolillo and Francesca Materazzi, is well worth seeking out, especially if you're getting bored with Raster Noton and its various spin-off projects. Both volumes of Immaterial (the first dates from 2002) come in unassuming and not particularly attractive grey and white card sleeves, complete with manifesto in Italian (which reads better in its original Italian in the garbled translation on PV's press release) and user-unfriendly track titles like "Materialism", "Product", "Pseudo Use" and "Contempling [sic] The Effect", but don't be put off: PV's sense of timing and structure is impeccable, and their sound material strong and well-defined. It's a project very much in line with the old minimalist "Music as a Gradual Process" aesthetic: events are introduced into the mix one by one and the music follows its inexorable path until the plug is pulled. Whether Steve Reich would have opted for the queasy drones and disturbing alarm clock bleeps of pieces like "E.R.T." is doubtful, but he would certainly recognise the aesthetic. Substitute claves for clicks on "Insistence" and you're not far away from "Music for Pieces of Wood", but the strange nauseous swooping clouds lurking behind the pulse is altogether more menacing. I suspect that if this had Carsten Nicolai's or Ryoji Ikeda's name on it, you'd have heard about it before now. Check it out.—DW


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Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic