MAY News 2005
(part II)
Special Double Issue: Reviews by Clifford Allen, Stuart Broomer, Nate Dorward, Vid Jeraj, Joe Milazzo, Massimo Ricci, Nicholas Rice, Dan Warburton:

In concert: NO IDEA Festival
On Free America:
Roswell Rudd / Alan Shorter / Emergency / Frank Wright
Philip Samartzis
Alex von Schlippenbach: MONK'S CASINO
Roland Kayn's TEKTRA
POST ROCK: Lau Nau / Wolf Eyes / FS Blumm / Lugosi
Bill Frisell / Fred Hess / Ravish Momin
Denzler, Guionnet, Unami, Kinoshita / Activity Center & Phil Minton / Martin Küchen / Bullock, Dulin, Hennies / Koch -Schütz - Studer / Sawaï, Doneda, Imai, Lë Quan, Saitoh
Pierre Boulez / Combustion Chamber / GM Koenig / Albert Mayr / Barry Schrader
Ruhlmann / Dronaement / Aube / Zavoloka / Andrey Kiritchenko / Ratkje & Marhaug / Nurse With Wound / Coleclough & Lethe / Martux_m
Last month

Monk's Casino
Schlippenbach / Dörner / Mahall / Roder / Jennessen
Intakt CD 100 (3CD)
Box sets documenting the complete output of a composer are relatively commonplace in classical music but rare in jazz, which understandably enough prefers to document musicians as performers rather as composers; you'd need a small fortune to buy all the available Miles Davis box sets on the market, but to the best of my knowledge nobody's ever released a recording of the complete Miles Davis songbook. Here though, for once, is just such a product: not Miles's but (better) Monk's. Yea, verily, the Compleat Thelonious Sphere Monk, performed by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach with Die Enttäuschung, a quartet consisting of Axel Dörner on trumpet (it's NOT the Axel Dörner Quartet, as stated by Ben Watson in a recent Wire), Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, Jan Roder on bass and Uli Jennessen on drums. Schlippenbach couldn't have chosen a better band to take along for the ride either, especially considering the quartet's debut double album (vinyl only, long sold out) consisted solely of Monk covers.

At 2002's Berlin JazzFest, Schlippenbach actually managed to get through the entire Monk book – all 70 compositions – in one monster four-set evening, and by playing these three CDs back to back and imagining what it might all have sounded like with Manfred Schoof and Gerd Dudek on board I guess you can get something of the flavour of that marathon event. Provided, that is, you're a speed freak – with so much music to get through, be warned that Alex and his boys ain't fucking around: only 11 of the 57 tracks here last longer than five minutes, and of those six manage to steamroller two or more Monk tunes together into compact mini-suites. Even well-worn ballads ("Pannonica", "Ruby My Dear", "Round About Midnight"..) are taken at a gallop's gallop. Schlippenbach's project may be a bit nutty, but it's not just functional trinkle tinkle; the Monk oeuvre, particularly "Round About Midnight', has long been hackensacked out of shape by stuffy turkeys all over the planet from John Abercrombie to Kevin Yost. Refreshing then to hear it played with a bit of rhythm-a-ning and bemsha swing.

The arrangements, courtesy Schlippenbach, Dörner and Mahall, are tight and skilful, and the solos superb. If Rudi Mahall isn't the most exciting and technically accomplished jazz bass clarinettist around right now, I'd like you to tell me who is. It's almost impossible not to think of Dolphy on listening to the wide register leaps of his bass clarinet, particularly on his solos in "Coming On The Hudson", "Brilliant Corners" and "Hornin' In". Team him up with Dörner (who knows his Booker Little inside out – witness his invisible jukebox for Signal To Noise #27 Fall 2002) and the reference to the great Dolphy / Little quintets on Prestige is clear. (Everyone remembers the Five Spot band with Waldron, Davis and Blackwell, but the earlier Far Cry outfit with Jaki Byard, Ron Carter and Roy Haynes is probably closer to what's going on in Monk's Casino.) That said, Dolphy never went in for the kind of paint-stripping squawks that Mahall inserts into "Monk's Dream", and Little sadly didn't stick around long enough to master the extended techniques that Dörner uses in his rather lengthy introduction to "Bemsha Swing" (though they do sound oddly out of context here). Schlippenbach himself manages to let off some of his own free fireworks from time to time, notably in "Hornin' In", but elsewhere Monk's quirky harmonies and voicings don't leave pianists much room for manoeuvre. (Try playing "Ruby My Dear" or "Monk's Mood" à la Bill Evans or Ahmad Jamal or George Shearing and you'll see how godawful it sounds.) When an opportunity presents itself to really swing hard or rock out, though, the quintet jumps on it: "Green Chimneys" boogaloos wickedly, "Consecutive Seconds" (not a Monk tune at all in fact, but by Oliver Nelson) sounds like it should have been released on Stax, and if you're feet don't start tapping during "We See", well, you've probably died and just haven't realised it yet.
The unsung heroes on Monk's albums were always his bassists and drummers – shots out to Gene Ramey, Al McKibbon, Wilbur Ware, John Ore, Art Blakey, Frankie Dunlop, Shadow Wilson and Ben Riley - and true to tradition Roder and Jennessen's contributions are as solid and essential as they are discreet. Monk's Casino has already attracted a lot of attention, not because it's an epic postmodern or post-something reworking of The Tradition à la Braxton (thinking of his recent huge Standards set on Leo), but because it's an honest, respectful and professional piece of craftsmanship, and one of the best straight no chaser jazz releases of the year, full stop.—DW

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Roland Kayn's Tektra

When it comes to creative genius, Roland Kayn, born in Reutlingen (Germany) in 1933, might be the most unjustly neglected figure in contemporary music. From 1952 to 1955 he studied organ and composition at Stuttgart's Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik, as well as scientific theory at the Technische Hochschule, undertaking further composition and analysis studies in Berlin with Boris Blacher and Josef Rufer from 1956 to 1958. In that year he won the Best Foreign Work prize at the Kairazuwa Festival in Tokyo, and further awards followed in Italy in 1962 and 1964 for his orchestral compositions Vectors I and Schwingungen. Kayn's discovery of electroacoustic sound synthesis occurred in 1953 at the mythic Westdeutscher Rundfunk Studios in Cologne, and by 1959 he'd had firsthand experience of studio work in Warsaw, Munich, Milan, Brussels and Utrecht. He freelanced in various radio stations from 1959 to 1963, when he was nominated director of New Music at Hamburg's Norddeutscher Rundfunk. In 1964 he was one of the co-founders, with Aldo Clementi and Franco Evangelisti, of the Gruppo Internazionale Nuova Consonanza, one of the first European ensembles mixing improvisation and live electronics, and in 1967 organised a simultaneous concert of works by 13 composers that included electronic, concrete, electro-instrumental, computer and cybernetic music, an event that reached its definitive form in Hamburg in 1970. In Bonn in 1975 he staged an ambitious project in which performance, music, and computer workshops took place several locations at the same time, and the following year promoted a series of simultaneous non-stop shows in Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum based on the theme "From Carillon to Computer", during the course of which debates, seminars and computer-assisted electroacoustic music performances were held. Since 1970 Kayn has been based in the Netherlands, playing an active role of the cultural department of Amsterdam's Goethe Institute, developing artistic initiatives and important concerts of contemporary music.
From his student days onwards, Roland Kayn was always more influenced by data processing theory than by the work of fellow composers (no surprise then that the shock generated by his composition Aggregate in 1959 led to his being declared persona non grata by the so-called avant-garde establishment), and began using the term "cybernetics" to define his own music, in which complex networks of electronic devices follow the composer's instructions in the form of a system of signals and commands. Words such as "harmony", "melody" and "rhythm" no longer apply; the idea that a musical work should be defined in minute detail by its composer is anathema to Kayn, who insists that cybernetic music should be self-regulating, leaving behind both the narrative element and the psycho/emotional minutiae usually associated with the notions of "composer" and "art". Even the person behind the system cannot predict the final outcome, since the processes have no real epicentre, and each sound is of equal weight and importance in relation to the others. "Music is sound, and sound is self-sufficient," Kayn declares emphatically.
Kayn's vinyl releases from the 70s and the 80s are now hard to find; a few remaining copies (if still available) can be ordered at, the composer's official Website, now curated by his daughter Ilse-Emily. Any of the fantastic cybernetic marathons such as Simultan (COL 1473), Infra (COL 1478) Makro (COL 1477) and Projekte (COL 1474), each a 3/4-LP box set on Colosseum, are worth the price of asking. Fortunately, Kayn's later music and a representative selection of the early material have been released by the composer on his own RRR label and are still available. I can recommend the ten fabulous Electronic Symphonies, which occupied Kayn between 1966 and 1999, a must for any serious new music freak, but if forced to pick just one record of Roland Kayn's music that will change your life, there's no doubt it'd be Tektra (1980). Originally released as a 6LP set by Colosseum (COL 1479), and successively reissued as a 4CD set by Barooni (BAR 016), Tektra – its name derives from the initials of its six movements Tanar, Etoral, Khyra, Tarego, Rhenit, Amarun – is Kayn's most important and imposing creation. Wholeness and nothingness, full and void, it's nothing less than a fundamental leap forward in the evolution of the human ear – and yet it's still more or less unknown.

Tanar's obscure swirling clouds of subterranean gases prepare the journey into what was once called "harmony", now a fluorescent pathway of interchanging tonalities leading to an oasis of "static unquietness". The next port of call, Etoral, is a waterfall cascading into a mountain lake whose spiralling ebbs and flows close the door on the world outside, leaving the body at rest, floating free way above the sound. Khyra's first movement is a sort of mutated chorale of infinitely varying timbres, from the vocal to the metallic, from disintegrating strings to extreme synthesis, an incessant pursuit of power and pure sonic ecstasy. It's an organism that expresses itself through a series of unclassifiable manifestations, similar to those coming from a body subjected to various scientific tests, but which still aspires to a distant idea of serenity; vital wires are in tension and repeatedly solicited by the acousmatic spirits, but they're far from snapping. The transition to the second movement superimposes additional vocal forms and extremely fluid strings, shifting like sand in a giant hourglass shaped by deep electronic drones. Moving events are caught in multicoloured flashes, fleeting visions of the supernatural – the music's emotional content is very high and its beauty quite simply without equal. In the third section, chaos and indeterminacy attempt to impose their own peculiar intelligence in the guise of powerfully whirling shapes, colours and volumes that precipitate the listener into a veritable state of anxiety, until the return of more archaic orchestral designs allows the breathing to slow enough to attempt to comprehend what's going on. Sounds descend slowly like suns setting, or plunge to earth like meteorites – the experience is unprecedented, and yet frustratingly inscrutable.
Tarego begins with the system almost in full stop mode, an immobile frequency tormenting silence for a full 14 minutes with barely perceptible dynamic variations. Tarego II is even more static, but oriented towards a complex tranquillity: an underground river fed by hundreds of invisible streams. The processes at work in Tarego III, undoubtedly one of the high points in Kayn's oeuvre, are perfectly developed and aurally coherent, but stubbornly refuse to reveal the mystery of their genesis. The meteors return in form of slow glissandi, a spectacular concrete/abstract/infinite transaction that comes to fruition in the 24 minutes of Rhenit, music so deep it sounds literally painful. Sounds recalling out-of-phase throat singing whirl around our head as we try to join this moving communion with imaginary creatures of superior intelligence. But to no avail; it's like trying to keep your eyes open and stare at the sun, except Rhenit's light cures blindness instead of causing it. There's nothing to be done other than abandon yourself to the music, and when it's over, remain totally alone, incapable of communicating the experience.
Amarun's two movements present us with a kind of unstable stasis, where the vocal component still dominates but is surrounded by extremely long sounds originating in strings or brass (though, as always, this is pure supposition given the frequency filtering that renders the whole edifice obfuscated and scarcely definable to the ears). The eternal path winds on, and one has the impression of having walked but a little way along it, a journey full of information and sensations nevertheless. Amarun II's edgy intensity not only paves the way for future works, the Electronic Symphonies among them, but also predates today's electronic music – by many years. As we approach the end of Amarun – and of Tektra as a whole – the waters begin to settle. The unconscious still yearns for something more but catches no more than a glimpse of distant worlds; we're gliding at high altitude propelled forward by a powerful wind, which is nothing more than the very life force we will carry with us on our future explorations and discoveries. By then Roland Kayn will be far behind us, with that cynical yet good-natured half-smile, as if he was wondering how long it will take the rest of the world to fully comprehend his work. With Tektra, Kayn has fast-forwarded music another half century, lonely, unsung, immortal.—MR

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Lau Nau
Locust 66
One of the characteristics of so-called post-rock is its steadfast and welcome refusal to conform to the insidious demands of market forces by remaining defiantly underground and creating its own network of kindred spirits, circulating information in the form of cassettes and CDRs, and not giving a toss about who's signed to the majors (who the fuck wants to sound like The Killers anyway?). Way up north in Finland a small community of musicians is busy exploring the woodland pathways of New Weird Folk, to coin the phrase The Wire's David Keenan used to describe a similar scene across the pond in North America. It was Matthew Wuethrich who penned the article on the Finnish underground published in Wire #250, which has aroused interest in the work of, amongst others, vocalist / instrumentalist Laura Naukkarinen (Kiila, Päivänsäde, The Anaksimandros..). Not that it sounds like she needs or welcomes the attention – Kuutaarha is about as intimate as Naukkarinen's bedroom; if Beth Gibbons had been born Finnish and hooked up with folkies instead of triphoppers, her music might just have turned out this (come to think of it, this is what Out Of Season should have sounded like). These ten songs, for all their simplicity – the harmony is primeval and predominantly pentatonic, and melodies are often no more than three or four note tiny mantras – present a wide range of colours and timbres; Naukkarinen accompanies her fragile stray kiss lullaby voice ('scuse me for nicking that last one from the press release, but it's spot on) on acoustic bass, bass recorder, five-stringed kantele, acoustic guitar, tenor recorder, violin, bamboo flute, glasses, mortar, mandolin, witch laugh megaphone, baby’s rattle, bike bells, banjo, cowbells, electric guitar, organ, willow whistle, tablas, percussion, cymbals, comb and beer cans. Antti Tolvi adds some flutes, kantele, chimes and mandolin, and there's some acoustic bass and banjo from Tomas Regan and Pekko Käppi plays jouhikko, an ancient Finnish knee-fiddle with strings made of horsehair. It's been used in local folk music for hundreds of years, and, in combination with the tampoura-like drones, which sound as mossy and lo-fi if they'd been recorded on a wax cylinder, Tolvi's touching flute work and Naukkarinen's spectral singing, leaves you with the feeling that this music has been around for at least as long, just waiting for you to discover it. And now you can.—DW

Wolf Eyes
Sub Pop SPCD 638
Wolf Eyes are three noiseniks from Michigan – not Motor City, but Ann Arbor – who have rather surprisingly ended up kicking out the jams in Sub Pop's catalogue. Their coruscating collages of guitars – humming and buzzing through various pedals rather than played "normally" – concrete sounds, tapes, vocals and voices are rooted in the cassette underground they sprang from back in 1996. The first 40 seconds of the opening "Dead In A Boat" are suspiciously quiet, but after that be prepared to enter the dragon's lair – ears first – and become One with The Noisy Trinity. It's like KK Null, The Boredoms and Mattin (that's Pinknoise not Whitenoise), all jamming together. "Village Oblivia" is probably the catchiest offering, with its repetitive rattling metal, background action guitar and someone going mad with a loop of squealing police siren. Elsewhere pink noise (theirs, not Mattin's) squeals with delayed wah-wah bass, and the blunt kick of a fuzzed-up drum-machine unleashes some spectacular mayhem, exactly what you'd expect from track titles "Stabbed In A Face", the "Reaper's Gong", "Urine Burn" and "Rattlesnake Shake". Noiseheads will also appreciate the analog production: the sound's so big and strong you can walk on it.—VJ

Morrmusic LC 10387
On his second release for Morrmusic, Franz Schültge Blumm plays xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, drums, guitars, bass, harmonium, accordion, organetta (sounds cute – what is it?), melodica and Bontempi, Yamaha and Casio keyboards, and is joined on four of the twelve tracks by guests, one of whom is David Grubbs, who contributes vocals to the closing "Nachhall / Chroma Key". Inspired by a road trip down the west coast of North America, Zweite Meer breathes a lungful of bright blue, Cold Blue, Budd-ing Beach Boy California air (the press release namechecks Tom Jones and Burt Bacharach but their influence is harder to spot) and filters its simple unabashed tonality through several generations of minimalism, back as far as Satie and forward from Reich via Neu! and the Penguin Café Orchestra to Grubbs' own Feldmanesque undertow, as John Corbett once described it. It's unassuming, elegant, restrained and sweet, and though there are few real surprises (one being the rather gutsy French horn playing of Harald Ziegler on "Blick"), it works its charms admirably.—DW

Lugosi – named, one presumes, after the immortal Bela and not the dreadful old Bauhaus song – was a group of Wellington New Zealand-based droners featuring Campbell "Birchville Cat Motel" Kneale, Andrew "Sunship" Savage and Leon Schutz which existed from the mid to late 1990s and left behind a small collection of limited edition cassettes and vinyls, many of them on Kneale's own Celebrate Psi Phenomenon imprint, releases on which are extraordinarily hard to find. All the more reason then to applaud Richard Francis's decision to release these six magnificent brooding yet luminous frescoes recorded in 1998, appropriately enough in a church. Clayton Noone sits in on "Frostmelt" and thickens the plot admirably. Trying to keep up with Kneale's prodigious output is as time-consuming as it is expensive – and I'm failing miserably – but hardened BCM fans and devotees of slowmotion drone rock should think twice before passing this by.—DW

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Bill Frisell
Songlines SGL SA1551-2
Referring to the "mellow Americana" trend of the Seattle guitarist's last releases, producer David Breskin warned Frisell in advance: "No banjos for Richter!" Still, I'm not completely taken by this set of structured improvisations (on which Frisell is joined by Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello), a self-proclaimed musical reaction to intensive viewing of the work of Gerhard Richter. Using oil on aluminium, Richter creates abstract images – several are visible in the booklet and on the CD ROM portion of the disc – in which colours morph in all kinds of shades and gradations, blurring into a vision that's not unlike oil floating on the surface of the sea in sunlight. One might expect some ethereal, digital-delayed tapestry mixed with clusters and twisted resolutions, but instead Kang and Scheinman mirror each other in vibrational overlays of authorized dissonance, while longstanding Frisell associate Hank Roberts provides a sober cello foundation even in the more chaotic sections. That said, a lack of lucidity seems to affect the musicians for a while in "858-6", which is quickly followed by the post-modern gypsy minimal reel of "858-7", easily the album's most pleasant track. And Frisell? He remains pretty quiet throughout, his guitar a simple element of the quartet – no extreme soloism, just timbral choices that work well in the overall context, either in the initial cacophony of "858-1", where the instruments seem to be looking for a way out of the whole project, or the closing "858-8", which is the only moment that recalls – slightly – Frisell's conventional, market-friendly straight obliqueness. Indeed, this move away from noisy regions to the Don't-worry-it's-still-your-pal-Bill final wink to the fan base is what is most annoying: the overall impression is one of an opportunity lost. There are several nice moments in there, but major break this is not.—MR

Fred Hess Quartet
Tapestry 76007-2
Last month’s Cadence featured an informative interview with tenor saxophonist Fred Hess from shortly before this CD was recorded. It’s striking that such a thoughtful, quietly self-critical musician so often measures himself against the extroverts of the jazz saxophone, feeling their music as a personal challenge. For example, a 1998 encounter with James Carter made Hess decide to rethink his entire approach to the instrument from the ground up (at the age of 54!) – a response that combines overt self-doubt and implicit self-confidence. He also speaks of his realization that he simply couldn’t “navigate [chords] with the ease of Bob Berg or Michael Brecker,” which encouraged him to switch to a more linear, Lester Young-influenced style. The results of this process of elimination are a music that sounds like Ornette, but unlike anyone else’s Ornette: a chamberish, meticulously worked-out harmolodics, usually set at a loping pace and organized around extensive precomposed passages of silvery counterpoint.
Crossed Paths features the same band as Hess’s last album, The Long and Short of It: trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Matt Wilson. It’s an ideal lineup for this kind of four-way melodic improvisation. Miles contributes winding, unguessable solos from material that often directly echoes Ornette and Don Cherry (and even, at one point, Chet Baker). Filiano is one of the lyricists of free-jazz bass, as listeners to his underrated solo album Subvenire will know, and Wilson remains one of the most tuneful of contemporary drummers. As a soloist, Hess himself has something of Warne Marsh’s pale, self-communing intensity, though he can also be more piercing – there's a particularly eruptive moment on “Untying the Knot”. The album is carefully organized, with the most energetic pieces near the beginning (the acoustic funk of “On Perry St.”, the blues fugue of “Funhouse”), followed by another instalment of Hess’s ongoing cartoon narrative about the Clef family, before the mood grows increasingly mysterious, the disc eventually coming to rest with the trancelike drones of “Mystery Woman” and “Untying the Knot”. At times it would be nice to hear them all really stretch out, rather than tying everything so neatly together, but it’s rare to hear freebop this closely argued and cliché-free. One of this year's strongest jazz releases so far.—ND

Ravish Momin Trio Tarana
Clean Feed CF 030
Whether or not this fine release belongs in the Jazz section is something of a moot point, but the work of Bombay-born percussionist Momin, violinist Jason Kan Hwang, whose parents arrived in Waukegan, Illinois from China in the 50s and Brooklyn's Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass and oud certainly corresponds to my own catholic definition of what constitutes jazz, and if you decide to exclude it you'd better throw out half of your John McLaughlin and Don Cherry albums along with it. John Chacona's concise liners rightly refer to Momin's studies with Andrew Cyrille, Blumenkranz's big Charlie Haden tone and Hwang's track record performing with the likes of Henry Threadgill, Ned Rothenberg and Dominic Duval. The distinctive timbre of his oud inevitably imparts a Middle Eastern flavour to much of the music (if you're an oud enthusiast, you ought to check out Mustafa Stefan Dill's Six Peaces too while you're at it), and the lightness of Momin's rhythmics keeps the music alert and buoyant, allowing Hwang's supple portamentos to float freely. Crisp, light and tasty.—DW

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Bertrand Denzler / Jean-Luc Guionnet / Kazushige Kinoshita / Taku Unami
Creative Sources CS 022
Listening is porous – however hard you try to exclude the sound of the outside world, it sneaks in, and even with the most expensive headphones money can buy clamped tightly to your head the tiniest friction of hair on skin will be loud enough to spoil your music, if you let it. And we all know what happened when Cage went into that anechoic chamber. Old story. So instead, open your ears to it. "Vasistas" is a French word – one of only a few deriving directly from German – meaning louver window or opening windowpane, a perfect metaphor for music opening out onto reality, which is exactly Bertrand Denzler and Jean-Luc Guionnet on saxophones, Kazushige Kinoshita on laptop violin and Taku Unami on laptop (computer this time) and guitar do in this 67-minute span of music. As if to prove the point, Vasistas wasn't recorded late at night in a studio, but one afternoon in Patrick McGinley's London home, in which the sound of the inhabitants moving about in nearby rooms joins the distant rumble of passing traffic and the fragile, predominantly quiet music. The dynamic level may be low and the texture sparse, but if you choose to turn up the wick and concentrate there's a sense of concentration and intensity to it all. Turn the knob the other way, however, and the result is equally captivating, as the puffs and bleats of the saxophones, the grainy rustle of Unami's electronics and the intermittent crinkles and pings of Kinoshita's fiddle mesh gently and rather magically with the surrounding environment. If you do the same you'll find it fascinating to listen to.—DW

Absinth 006
Our resident reductionist Berlin bluesman Wayne Spencer was a tad disappointed to see that this latest release on Marcus Liebig's Absinth imprint features none other than vocalist Phil Minton, someone to whom the epithet "lowercase" hardly applies – or so one would have thought. After all, Minton in full flight sounds like clots of phlegm sloshing in a dirty ashtray half full of old beer – but here, in the company of percussionist Burkhard Beins and guitarist Michael Renkel (both Berliners also play zither) he's remarkably restrained. Not so much a barroom brawl as an after hours wheeze with the landlord lazily strumming on his acoustic while the barman blearily scours out the sink with a Brillo pad. It's supple and subtle, walking-on-eggshells music, the six tracks picking their way tentatively as the trio test possible footholds as they advance. Beins' mastery of timbre and texture is as evident as ever, and Renkel's work, both plucked and bowed, is the model of finesse. As for Minton, well, despite the "fucking risky" soundbite that Liebig included for some reason at the opening of the disc, he's so good at playing the gentlemanly quiet game he could end up doing it full time.—DW

Martin Küchen
Confront Collectors Series CCS3
Saxophonist Martin Küchen’s new disc follows a well-established pattern for solo improv discs: a series of miniatures, each devoted to the exposition of a single extended technique, with little thematic development beyond the sheer microtonal instability of these complex sounds. He is listed as playing “prepared alto & soprano saxophone”, but it also sounds like he had a basin of water on hand – “Imperial Music 8” sounds suspiciously like he’s using the horn as a toilet-plunger... Some tracks are fairly simple in texture – “Imperial Music 7” is a rattling buzz wandering back and forth over a G drone, “Imperial Music 13” a series of train-whistle shrieks – while others are far more elaborate, offering several simultaneous layers of activity. The opening track, for example, has a richly textured foreground of keypad clicks and what sounds like someone massaging the saxophone with twigs, with Küchen periodically interjecting pfffts and raspberries that later deepen into pig’s grunts. I’ve always liked the way his playing can suggest the natural world – animals, insects, plants; there’s even a track here which sounds like wood flute accompanied by hand drums. As usual with this kind of nearly non-developmental, one-sound-per-track music, listeners will have to decide for themselves whether these sonic microcosms work as pieces in their own right, but Küchen's take on the solo recital genre is unlike anyone else’s, and well worth hearing.—ND

Mike Bullock / Tucker Dulin / Nick Hennies
Edition Manifold
The three tracks – entitled "Haze", "Weight" and "Torpor" – that make up this release on Nick Hennies' Edition Manifold CDR imprint were recorded in May 2004 at the No Idea Festival in Austin, Texas and feature Hennies on percussion with visiting Bostonian Mike Bullock on bass and Tucker Dulin in from San Diego on trombone. Another track by the trio from the same festival and two further outings with Matt Ingalls on clarinet were included on the recent No Idea 2CD compilation, reviewed in these pages last month. Heat is rather a good title for this music, which, despite being predominantly quiet and slow, manages to build up quite a head of steam in its own lumbering way, as Dulin and Bullock go head to head in a grisly low-end battle like two hippos squabbling in a mud bath, accompanied by the at times disconcerting friction of Hennies' percussion. It's also a question of "heat" as in unwanted pressure / intrusion from the powers that be; the final track's savagery probably won't be to everybody's taste (I'd like to see what Bullock's bow looked like after this one), but as the saying goes, if you can't stand the heat get the hell out of the kitchen.—DW

Koch – Schütz – Studer
Intakt 094
Recorded live at various locations in Italy, the US and Switzerland, here are eight rambunctious examples of so-called "hardcore chamber music" by Hans Koch (reeds and electronics), Martin Schütz (acoustic and electric cellos and electronics) and Fredy Studer (drums and percussion). It's their sixth outing on Intakt as a trio, with or without additional musicians, and one of their most enjoyable (though I do have a soft spot for their Cuban breeze Fidel..). Studer in particular is hell bent on tearing up the highway, and can't resist luring his two playing partners towards the nearest available groove. As a result the music flirts with the idiomatics of electric Miles ("No Time For Dinner"), rock ("The Whispering and Hammering Ritual") and dub ("Comes And Gones"), hinting at the work of other likeminded crossover adventurers along the way (Painkiller, Spring Heel Jack, Trapist..) but skilfully avoids the potholes of pastiche by veering off the road into the dense undergrowth of improv just in time. At times the Kochmobile lurches perilously close to the precipice, as in the vicious barrage of noise that all but annihilates the title track (sounds like Schütz was driving at the time), but our intrepid voyagers manage to get back on track every time. No need to snort any speed to keep you awake through this one: this music's wired enough as it is.—DW

Kazue Sawaï / Michel Doneda / Kazuo Imai / Lê Quan Ninh / Tetsu Saïtoh
Victo cd094
It’s always a surprise to hear a recording of a performance you attended, especially at some significant remove in time, as with this recording from the 2003 FIMAV in Victoriaville, Québec. This one, however, is more of a surprise than usual. Some of it is the difference between hearing the stage mix of a virtually acoustic band and the much more selective emphases of a broadcast/recording mix. More than that though, there’s the sheer relational complexity of this improvising quintet—how the players’ notes inter-relate at any given time and the subtly different textures that constantly arise, as much a part of individual lines’ development as shifting volumes and densities amongst the players. Even on CD, it changes every time you hear it.
What’s immediately striking is the special sonic palette. Kazue Sawaï’s koto, with its hyper-resonance and harp-like possibilities, is immediately distinctive, but so is Lê Quan Ninh’s percussion range, small instruments laid across a large bass drum, lying horizontal on the floor. Kazuo Imai’s guitar overlaps the koto’s string textures, as does Tetsu Saïtoh’s bass, but there’s also an overlap of Saïtoh and Quan Ninh’s bowed bass and metal with Michel Doneda’s soprano saxophone.
The music is usually so selfless and clear that it can sound like the instruments are playing themselves. (Would a person think of doing that? And if so, which one?) Hearing it “live,” I wondered, can something so fragile and beautiful not fall apart? Here one knows it doesn’t, sustaining its private evolutions. The most impassioned moment occurs mid-way in the second half, “A chance for shade,” (the two parts here have the “same” title—first in French, then in English—I don’t recall a break in the concert) with a very intense Doneda solo that has the sonic grit (perhaps even the overtone profile) of high bowed harmonics on a string bass. It’s a kind of illusion that’s common when listening here, the music fomenting a sense of selflessness (or playfulness) even amidst expressionism. There’s a consistently meditative grace about it all, as if the music is being played to an etheric double of itself.—SB

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Pierre Boulez
Deutsche Grammophon DG 00289 477 5328
Deutsche Grammophon DG 00289 477 5327
As a contribution to Pierre Boulez’s eightieth birthday celebrations, DG have released two spectacular new discs on their 20/21 series. The first is a prodigious reading of the three sonatas from Paavali Jumppanen, a young Finnish pianist who features as Boulez’s preferred interpreter, and the second is Boulez’s 2002 re-recording of Le marteau sans maître coupled with Dérive and Dérive 2. The performance of the sonatas is on a level with the celebrated version of the Second by Maurizio Pollini: every single note is perfectly colored and delineated, the technique is flawless and the dramatic momentum is unimpeded by the wealth of detail in the scores, which Jumppanen masters here with pointillist precision. He also makes Boulez’s debt to Messiaen more obvious: his sensuousness is slightly more polychrome than Pollini’s, and his pedaling sustains consonances which Pollini shatters into abrasiveness. Listening to one pianist after the other is like watching a black-and-white film in hard focus followed by a softer version in color. The Second still emerges as the masterpiece, as the most dramatically varied and least Messiaenic of the three, but the First is still playful and formally superb, while the Third is an interesting if over-extended development of Webern’s contrasts between mobile and sustained notes, with experiments in mobile form (some of the sections can be played in any order) and in the use of the pedals (which provide for some exotic sustaining passages). Anyone looking to buy the world-première recording of the complete sonata will be disappointed: Boulez has still not finished the work as a whole, so Jumppanen has to settle for the second and third “formants” (Boulez maintains that the term “movements” would be inappropriate for music this motionless).
The pieces on the second disc, by contrast, are more or less complete. Le marteau sans maître is still Boulez’s most mysterious paradox, an alienating fusion of East and West, bafflingly capricious yet rooted in an almost suffocating formality. In the later Dérive and Dérive 2, both capriciousness and formality are significantly reduced, but although the results are imaginative and controlled, they are not as striking or as unusual as anything in Le marteau. The recordings are a model of discipline and delicacy, except perhaps in the case of Hilary Summers, Le marteau’s mezzo soloist, who at times fails to capture Boulez’s “collective hysteria and spells”. The tense silences throughout the work are, however, meticulously observed, and the Ensemble InterContemporain plays this repertoire in a way that makes most competition superfluous.—NR

Combustion Chamber
BV Haast 0804
Rutger Van Leyden's Combustion Chamber is one of a number of ensembles that have sprouted in recent years specialised in performing the kind of accessible athletic postmod (i.e. post-Andriessen post-Nyman) minimalism that the Dutch in particular seem to revel in. The instrumentation is permanently scarred by Andriessen's "Hoketus", with de rigueur electric guitars and saxophones as necessary signifiers of some ideal crossover new music that fans can tap their feet to without feeling guilty, but merely stringing together a few diatonic chord progressions and scattering rhythmic ostinati that already sounded wooden when Stravinsky rehashed them in the 1930s just isn't good enough. No amount of enthusiastic vamping can make up for the paucity of imagination in the two openers, Steve Martland's "Horses of Instruction" and Renske Vrolijk's "gROUND". Frank Crijns's "Prospulsion" shows that the ensemble can venture out into more harmonically challenging territory without sacrificing a sense of compositional architecture, but the stylistic mishmash of John De Simone's "Hero Fantasy" remains a sprawling mess. Toek Numan's "Dreams of the Caterpillar" does it better, marrying genuinely lyrical lines with wicked post-bop horn licks, until the jazz influence takes over altogether towards the end. There's no doubt which side of the fence to find Vancouver-based John Korsrud on either; after stints with the Duke Ellington and NOW orchestras, he's performed with the likes of George Lewis, Butch Morris and Kenny Wheeler, so it's hardly surprising that his "Cruel Yet Fair" remains firmly rooted in big band jazz, complete with flashy horn solos and muscular thumb-slapping bass from Florian Friedrich. It's all very boisterous and sweaty stuff, jolly good fun first time round but tiresome on repeated listening. All these cats should be bussed away to a quiet country house for a long weekend to study Michael Torke's "Vanada", Nyman's "Think Slow Act Fast" and Andriessen's "De Stijl", certainly the best (and probably the last) examples of real compositional talent being brought to bear on the hard bright structures and surfaces of minimalism.—DW

Gottfried Michael Koenig
BV Haast 2CD
This reissue of BV Haast's survey of the electronic music of Gottfried Michael Koenig is as essential and inspiring as its cover is dull and grey, but it's not easy listening. The ten works assembled here testify to the uncompromising modernity of Koenig's vision of a music whose moment-to-moment detail and large-scale form are aspects of the same continuum. Only "Output", written in 1979 as an exploration of the possibilities of the PR1XM/VOSIM computer music programme, comes across as arid and dreary, sounding curiously more dated than the other earlier works. In addition to composition, Koenig (born in 1926), one of the prime movers of a group who convened at the Darmstadt Summer School in the years following the Second World War to build the brave new world of European avant-garde music, has always been an eloquent theorist, a pioneer in programming (Project 1, Project 2 and SSP) and a respected and influential teacher at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht, Holland, where he has been based since 1964. "Klangfiguren II" and "Essay", both completed in 1956, are seminal works, both in terms of the rigour of their construction and the groundbreaking soundworld Koenig painstakingly edited together in the studios of West German Radio in Cologne, where he also assisted Stockhausen, Kagel and Ligeti. "Terminus I" (1962) and "Terminus II" (1967) show how Koenig's compositional thought evolved to match the technical facilities available to him, culminating in the series of eight works entitled "Funktionen" (1968 – 69), of which five are included here. Using a specially designed sequencer to set and scan voltage levels at different speeds, or even randomly, Koenig approached his goal of restricting tape manipulation to a minimum, generating much of the sound material automatically by a preset curve on his function generator. The result is music whose ferocious modernism remains unparalleled. Compared to other period pieces such as the fun and games of Ferrari, the cosmic razzmatazz of Stockhausen and the imposing granite rockfaces of Xenakis, the "Funktionen" still sound harsh and difficult (and look forward to the austere electronica of later German innovators Asmus Tietchens and Ralf Wehowsky), but belong in any self-respecting collection of 20th century music.—DW

Albert Mayr
Ants AG 08
Following its highly acclaimed reissue of Pietro Grossi's seminal if somewhat unforgiving Battimenti, the Ants label has once more raided the archives of Florence's small independent S 2F M studio and come out with six of Albert Mayr's "Proposte Sonore" (numbers I, IV, V, VII, X and XIII, created between 1966 and 1969) as well as 1969's "An Old Lady's Wallpaper" and a later piece for 9 brass instruments, "Abendgrün" (1983). The "Proposte" would probably never have seen the light of day without Grossi's teamwork aesthetic – he was more than happy for other collaborating composers to use the Battimenti as musical raw material – but Mayr transforms Grossi's rather arid explorations of the beat phenomenon associated with specific frequency ratios into a richer, more harmonically complex collection of chords whose component pitches shift slowly and delicately upwards and downwards to create music of surprising warmth and variety. That said, the more fragmented textures of "An Old Lady's Wallpaper", which adds a healthy dose of pink noise, and especially the acoustic complexity of the timbres of the "real" instruments in "Abendgrün" provide welcome variety. Giuseppe Furghieri, in a fine accompanying essay, is right to draw our attention to Mayr's work in comparison with other established "classics" of Italian electronic music by Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono, in which "the theatrical use of the voice [..] still results in 'saying something else' through sounds, in telling a story. But in Mayr, communication consists primarily in transmitting a series of open elements, the outcome of research, and not of a completed story." Mayr's music, like that of Alvin Lucier, is proof that rigorous experimentalism can produce beautiful, even moving music – provided the composer has a good pair of ears and knows how to use them.—DW

Barry Schrader
Innova 629
The Electric Music Box, aka the Buchla 200 Analog Modular Synthesizer, and the quadrophonic hi-fi systems that were sold to play the music created on it, are about as hard to find these days as the mythic continent Plato describes in his Critias. "I sometimes think that much of this music of Californian counterculture in the 70s simply vanished when Quad was abandoned," writes Gary Chang, who has painstakingly remixed and remastered the four track originals of these two monumental works by Barry Schrader. Both "Trinity" (1976) and "Lost Atlantis" (1977) were recorded in Studio B303 in CalArts, where Schrader has been teaching since 1971 (there's a cracking photo of him in a pigsty on the CalArts Faculty Website), using the venerable Buchla machine and four additional "Fortune modules" specially designed by Yamaha engineer Fukushi 'Fortune' Kawakami . Analog synth buffs and youngsters whose idea of electronic music is loading up a soundfile and clicking nonchalantly on some nifty program called Munch or Scrunch will enjoy the flowcharts and circuit diagrams, but what about the music? Schrader gives the game away a little when he writes that "Trinity" was "composed in rondo – variations form".. one would like to think that with patience and plenty of imagination both of these pieces could be successfully scored for symphony orchestra without compromising their structural or harmonic integrity (though of course they couldn't – the Buchla machine's timbral sophistication is far too complex to be imitated with any accuracy by conventional instrumental forces) – they feel orchestral, or at least symphonic (as opposed to the more consciously experimental "pure electronics" of Albert Mayr.. see above). There's a great sweep to Schrader's work that puts it more in line with ambitious large-scale electronic works by the likes of Stockhausen ("Hymnen"), Eloy ("Shanti") and Henry (take your pick), a line that can be traced backwards to Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven. I'll bet Ludwig Van would have loved the Electric Music Box.—DW

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Mathieu Ruhlmann
Taalem Alm19

Taalem Alm 20

Taalem Alm 21
Canadian artist Mathieu Ruhlmann builds his music from his own field recordings, adding layers of drones and less decipherable sounds from disparate sources. The results he obtains in Somne reveal a post-concrete, muffled, almost gothic ambience where everything seems to fall in its right place, maybe too much so. Sliding doors reveal a view over No-Man's-Lands where frozen breath and abstract rumbling make way for nuclear wind and metallic resonance; amidst this obscure panorama, strange kinds of flying creatures try to converse with mechanical frogs escaping a polluted marsh. Though neither too unsettling nor overly innovative, this stuff is certainly well assembled and should certainly appeal to fans of Lustmord (ca. Heresy).
Arvo Pärt's Für Alina is the basic material over which Dronaement develops Fuer Mur, a kind of cross between the softer sides of Brian Eno's On Land and selected moments of Akira Rabelais' Eisoptrophobia. Pianos are engulfed in long reverberations that make them glow in a faint, almost ill sunlight. Under the surface, whispered voices and what sounds like an engine add some much-needed dirt. "Immer da" is shorter and angrier, with a basic sequence of notes repeated by an analog synth progressively distorted and mutilated by ever more frequent discharges of piercing buzz. Not exactly groundbreaking but pretty effective if listened to in the right mood.
Akifumi Nakajima, aka Aube, is the mastermind behind the best of this batch of 3-inch releases on this French label specialising in dark ambient, hypnotic/concrete soundscapes. Pole Nord uses feedback as the sole sound source and is divided into four continuously running sections. Exploring extreme frequencies at both the lower and the upper ranges of human perception, Aube generates a stream of pulse and fluorescent hum that soon becomes quite nerve-wracking and destabilizing, but just when we are getting used to the abrasion, the third movement provides some respite from stasis with its lunatic patterns of crazed circuitry. Order, in a fashion, is restored in the final segment, in which feedback harmonics intertwine with more tranquil controlled investigations of space and disturbance

Nexsound NS 37

Andrey Kiritchenko
Nexsound NS 30
When I was 13 my dad went on a trip to Leningrad organised by the British Communist Party (back then it was the only way to go), and brought back a vintage Soviet cheap vinyl pressing of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, complete with bold, red, fisting constructivist cover art and inner sleeves made of stiff brown recycled paper that smelt suspiciously like raw sewage. The promo copies of the latest two releases on Andrey Kiritchenko's Nexsound label also come in plan brown paper– odourless, thankfully – and I'm inclined to wonder if they'll age as badly as the Shostakovich (proof, were any needed, that the heroic and the bombastic are never too far away from each other). The opening track of Zavoloka's Plavyna takes a pretty, reverberant flute melody and allows her software to morph it into a 21st century isorhythmic motet of glitches and squiggles. It's a spanking recording, though I'm left with the uneasy feeling that, if they had the right equipment, just about anybody with a bit of sense and a good working knowledge of the Mego and Rephlex back catalogues could come up with something rather similar. Dive-bombing comb-filtered swoops and all manner of fizzes, whizzes and blips straight outta Planet Mu are perfectly listenable, but will probably sound as dated twenty years from now as Shostakovich's crashing banality. One gets the impression that one should be applauding the software, and not the person using it.
Kiritchenko's own True Delusion is a moodier affair, taking source recordings of guitar, piano and diverse field recordings and feeding them into the ubiquitous computer, to come up with something that sounds remarkably like Giuseppe Ielasi's two latest solo releases on Sedimental and Hapna. Imagine lying on your back in long grass on a hot summer night and strumming a few neo-folk post-Fahey licks while small insects scuttle perilously close to your earholes. Elsewhere, ultra-minimal three-note piano melodies (both pedals down) drift through a haze of glowing harmonics as the listener is inexorably drawn into a brooding melancholy world worthy of Loren Connors. The difference is that Connors comes out naked and shivering, and doesn't hide under a digital duvet. Kiritchenko's music is touching, atmospheric, and undeniably well crafted, but I'm left wondering exactly how much substance there is under its beautiful surfaces.—DW

Maja S.K. Ratkje/Lasse Marhaug
C3R 004
Scavenging through sonic detritus and muck, Ratkje and Marhaug re-establish the authority of noise. Music For Faking might suggest chaos and anarchy, but it's so well structured and machine-honed that at times it sounds composed, even though it was recorded in real time with no overdubs at Maja's place. Almost everything is impregnated with distortion, even the "calmer" spots: just listen to the title track, where a deranged treatment of Popol Vuh's Aguirre becomes the excuse for a chorale of a million creatures from some sort of sonic underworld. In "The sad clown called the law", amidst a hellish mess of twisted saxophones, telephone signals and television voices, an oblique laugh is looped to create a pattern so absurd that you can't help laughing too. Once in a while the wreckage is interrupted by short outbursts of easy listening muzak and acoustic guitar arpeggios, but "How much noise can we make? (Let's find out)" is totally self-explanatory – pump up the volume at your own risk – and the initial riff of "Nihilist ace blues for time travel" begins a journey to the centre of the spin cycle of a demented washing machine full of chattering chipmunks. It's lively, funny and full of great ideas. I'll bet Maja's neighbours loved it too. —MR

Nurse With Wound
ICR 41 2CD
"Every single sound you hear is sourced from environments and objects in Lofoten", it says on the cover. Imagine my surprise then on hearing "June 15", the first track of this Norwegian documentary soundscape by Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter; a progressively distorting Muslimgauze-like trance-inducing beat which seems as at home in those solitary lands as a shark in a goldfish aquarium. This disintegrated apprehension is soon replaced by fabulous loops of grave male voices intoning infinitesimal segments of uhms and ehms intercut with conversations about the Grateful Dead, while a younger, thinner female expression acts as counterpoint. "June 17" also includes gorgeous environmental recordings, from seagulls to distant traffic à la Monos, in a freethinking use of sparkling phantom idioms against treated utterances, as the scansion of local marching bands is humorously altered and torrential rain morphs into a warm applause and a Lilith-like mantra. It's one of the best moments of disc one, whose closing 15 minutes of stretched and bent reverberations do overstay their welcome just a little bit, despite their fierce intensity. As a self-professed old static music fart I have a not-so-slight preference for the second disc, with "June 5"'s riveting prophecy of imperishable repercussions masking as a dronescape mingling Mirror and Coleclough with maybe subterranean (and subconscious) ramifications. The menacing ultrastructural leakages and the revolving high frequencies of "July 6" soon make way for cavernous cemeteries hosting the poignant ectoplasmic deformations of "June 3". The last bulletin is "June 20", another hypnotic figure reminiscent of Soliloquy for Lilith, punctuated by dark background thumps and metallic tampering in a sort of invisible ritual. NWW are travelling through the stratosphere without resorting to easy post-Lustmordian trickery, becoming evocative as never before - Pietro Querini, are you still there?—MR

Jonathan Coleclough & Lethe
ICR 44
In the last decade or so the market has been flooded with hundreds of insignificant and often very expensive records documenting drones recorded in sound installations, as an ever-increasing number of nonentities hide behind assorted rumbles, monks, monkeys, birds, frogs, insects and other magnificent voids. This trend – which I'll be fighting hopelessly until I transform myself into a Tibetan bowl – distracts attention from the few really meaningful artists who gave birth to the whole genre many years ago, including Jonathan Coleclough, heard here in the excellent company of Japanese soundscaper Lethe. Long Heat starts with a view of a menacing black sky painted with extreme low frequencies that move slowly and alluringly into our perceptual field; this is territory closer to Thomas Köner's glacial prayer than to the cascading metallic powerhouse of previous Coleclough material. Spinning currents are disturbed by short concrete noises, ranging from the flick of imaginary switches to percussive interference à la Z'ev, all of which undermine the discipline of the mother drone. After about 30 minutes everything seems to stop abruptly, but it's just a shift in intensity: an almost scary muteness is punctuated by the distant siren cry of what sounds like a bowed metal sculpture, while the sparse crackling of circuitry continues, almost unnoticeably. It's a very evocative atmosphere, far removed from threadbare shamanism, unlevelled terrains of isolated introspection working wonders on our sense of expectation until silence itself returns at the end to remind us of our next steps in life. But there's more: loyal followers who manage to get a copy of the limited edition will also receive a second CD - Long Heat Pt 2 – which, as cerebral massages go, is almost better than the first, as monstrous cloudy masses move in from the background to permeate the room in an enthralling timbral phenomenon whose mightiness – think of a giant pipe organ and an approaching bomber squadron – is once more questioned by scraping and rustling, like ants at work in patient destruction. The final distant cello-like melodic fragments are just sublime. Don't miss it.—MR

White. The colour of milk, of THX 1138, of the peculiar hell of late Beckett. Of Meme and A Bruit Secret. And of Exceptio, the second all-white release on DSP (the first, appropriately enough for the colour of snow, was Janek Schaefer's Cold Storage). In keeping with the frosty clinical purity of the design, Maurizio Martusciello takes his time to dissect the spectra of a second inversion C minor triad, the music inhabiting that "static unquietness" Massimo Ricci speaks of in his Kayn feature above. And though Martusciello's crinkles and glitches are as well honed and precise as the laser-embossed braille of the packaging, the music gradually reveals its fragility, its melancholy, culminating in the wistful descending clarinet (?) line in the closing track. No surprises then that disc itself is black. Jet black.—DW

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