AUGUST News 2005 Reviews by Clifford Allen, David Cotner, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Nicholas Rice, Massimo Ricci, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton:

Editorial: Return of the New Thing
In concert: Vision Festival 2005
Aidan Baker
The Free Design
On Sirr:
Untitled Songs
On Clean Feed:
Whit Dickey / Dennis Gonzalez's Spirit Meridian
In Concert in New York: Pärt, Kancheli, Schnittke, Adams, de Mare, Silk Road Ensemble
Leroy Vinnegar / Vijay Iyer / Baczkowski, Corsano & Flaherty / Akiyama & Müller / Günter & Friedl / psi / David Gross
Natto Quartet / Cortet / Trio Sowari / Los Glissandinos / Küchen & Stackenäs / Dubost, Matthews, Rives, Zach / Mike Cooper / Koji Asano
Fred Frith / Rich Woodson / Niccolo Castiglioni
Greg Davis & Steven Hess / Brendan Murray / Autodigest / Disinformation / Evol / Ellen Band & David Lee Myers Vagina Dentata Organ / Daniel Menche / Zbigniew Karkowski
Last month


Forgive the self publicity, but after all this is our site and we do what we want here (yeah!).. Back in the dying days of 1999 I released an album on Leo Records called Return Of The New Thing, with Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone), François Fuchs (bass) and Edward Perraud (drums). You can read all about it here, if you haven't done so already. You won't however be able to find the slightest reference to it on Leo Records' website any more (so I won't even bother giving you the URL..), for the simple reason that Leo Feigin has withdrawn the album from his catalogue, following an argument with ys. truly over (yawn) royalties, amongst other things. I won't bore you with the details, but I would like to take the opportunity to urge budding musicians out there in search of labels to release their work to think very carefully before signing a contract (or not, as the case may be).. In principle I have nothing against the idea of paying something towards the release of an album, but financial participation in the project should always go hand in hand with consultation on questions of promotional strategy. Anyway, that's enough of that.. the reason I'm mentioning this is quite simple: the only way you're ever going to get a copy of Return Of The New Thing now is.. from me! I have recovered all the remaining copies of the album from the French distributor Orkhestra (though the few copies that were cluttering up Mr. Feigin's storeroom have not, contrary to what Mr. Feigin promised, been returned to me – you draw your own conclusions), SO if you want to get hold of one all you have to do is contact me at and we'll take it from there. If you want I'll even autograph the thing for you – and I guarantee it'll cost you less than what you would have paid if you'd bought it from Leo Records, or in a record store.
MEANWHILE summer is icumen in and rolling in on the surf from Californ-eye-ay is our new correspondent David Cotner (see Electronica below), whose purple prose (Iannis "Scarface" Xenakis, indeed) is as entertaining as his website is informative. I'll just take the opportunity once again to remind y'all about the nifty little search engine on the Home Page too, which will find buried treasure at the click of a mouse. Well, if it doesn't, mail me. Bonnes vacances.– DW

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Vision Festival 2005

New York Orensanz Arts Center, New York
June 16th – 19th
The Vision Festival is something of an annual tribute to the spirit of free jazz of the 60s and 70s. Though centered on New York players, it always brings in outside influences from Europe and, this year, Chicago. This tenth edition of Vision was not without its problems in getting underway. In past years it’s been held around the Memorial Day weekend but this year was moved back to mid June, presumably because of the availability of Clemente Solo Velez, which offered two performing areas. Unfortunately that plan fell through owing to fire regulations and the festival was moved to the Orensanz Arts Center, a former synagogue whose acoustic created problems that were, in some cases, insurmountable, especially since the beleaguered sound crew had to hustle to set up quickly as two performing areas became one.
Apologies to those who played on June 14th and 15th (including Henry Grimes, Sam Rivers, Charles Gayle, Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio, to name but a few), but the first night I managed to attend was that of the 16th, the so-called Fred Anderson Lifetime Recognition Day, in honor of the venerable tenor player and founder member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Things got underway with his “1960s Quartet” featuring AACM veterans Joseph Jarman on alto sax (Anderson contributed “Little Fox Run” on Jarman's landmark Delmark release Song For in 1966), and Alvin Fielder on drums, with latter-day Chicago import Tatsu Aoki on bass. Their short set primarily served as a warm-up for things to come, with Fred assuming his characteristic crouch and exploring the dark tenor motives he’s been mining for years and Jarman throwing in shards of alto fills while Aoki and Fielder provided sturdy, if unspectacular, support. Not a bad start to the evening, but things took a turn for the worse when Jarman’s own Ensemble took the stage. Veterans (Douglas Ewart on reeds, Thurman Barker on marimbas and Jessica Jones on tenor sax) and Jarman students teamed up in a performance marred by Jarman’s New Age lyrics, which were sung so off key it was hard to imagine them as the work of one of the former firebrands of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The band performed as well as they could – Ewart was particularly good on flute – but the songs were lackluster vehicles for whatever universal (the word was overused) sentiment Mr. Jarman was trying to get across.
Things bounced back quickly with the surprise set of the night, a trio led by flautist Nicole Mitchell. Nobody seemed to know what to expect but Mitchell grabbed everyone’s attention with a spirited set of strong original compositions and a gorgeously deep tone enhanced by effective vocalizing. Isaiah Spencer provided solid (if a little heavy-handed) drum support, but especially striking was the bass playing of Harrison Bankhead, who turned a few heads around at Vision two years ago in a duet with Fred Anderson. His always expressive lines captivated the public, who gave a deservedly enthusiastic response to the surprise hit of the night.
Next came the set that most of the crowd had come to see, the rematch of 2 Days in April, recorded on Eremite in 1999 and featuring two extended live performances of Anderson dueling with Edward "Kidd" Jordan on tenor, with William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. Like the recording, this was an all out free jazz meltdown, with Anderson blasting off in the lower range and Kidd shrieking in tongues in the stratosphere. Parker and particularly Drake did an admirable job imposing form on the joyful chaos, driving the music towards common ground with Drake latching onto a groove and drawing the others into it before they blasted off into the unknown once again. I felt bad about missing Thurman Barker’s Strike Force (reports said it was very good) but it had been a long day and despite the noble intentions of the sound crew things were running well behind schedule.
On Friday 17th, the tail end of the Other Dimensions in Music meets Sound Vision Orchestra set suffered badly in the resonant acoustic, but the set that followed by the Whit Dickey Quartet – the enigmatic Dickey on drums, Rob Brown on alto sax, Roy Campbell on trumpets and Joe Morris on bass – was tasty. Accompanying visuals were projected onto what appeared to be a giant bed sheet (I’m sure the planned venue would have been more appropriate for this), and were inoffensive enough, but the music was as impressive as Dickey is elusive – he tends to disappear between Vision festivals – with thoughtful compositions bolstered by Dickey's habitually bracing drumming. Joe Morris has made the transition from accomplished guitarist to proficient bassist very well, but his sound wasn’t well served by the acoustic. Longtime associate Rob Brown’s biting Jimmy Lyons tone has come a long way since I first heard it in 1999, and trumpeter Roy Campbell played particularly well, supporting the other players with effective flugelhorn growls.
Friday’s unexpected hit was reedist Oluyemi Thomas and his poet/vocalist wife Ijeoma performing under the name of Positive Knowledge. They were joined by Kidd Jordan, Harrison Bankhead and drummer Michael Wimberly, with Ijeoma’s occasional wordless vocals also serving as an additional improvising instrument. Even in a high-energy festival such as this, the performance was exceptional, though once more the bass was poorly miked. Luckily Wimberly could hear it just fine and he and Bankhead teamed up to give the band some ferocious underpinning. Jordan picked up where he'd left off the previous day, but the real surprise was Oluyemi, who coaxed some incredible sounds from the C-melody sax and the lower registers of the bass clarinet. At one point Jordan put his tenor down and smiled broadly at the whirlwind he'd helped create before regrouping to face off with Wimberly. A rousing experience for all concerned.
Sadly it was followed by one of the bigger disappointments of the festival, the Bill Dixon Quartet. Despite the best sound setup I'd heard so far and Thurman Barker's marimba and tympani, there was nothing of interest. Dixon's heavily echoed splats of sound never managed to cohere into anything comprehensible, and while many people (including several musicians) left early, with the flooring of the ancient structure creaking loudly to accompany their exit, I stayed out of respect for Dixon. A very dispiriting experience to end the day.
Saturday afternoon's “Emerging Artists” concert, featuring lesser known individuals, attracted no more than two dozen punters, which was a shame for those who didn't turn up, because they missed one of the best performances of the festival: Tyshawn Sorey on solo piano. Prior to this I knew of Sorey as a drummer (and subsequently discovered his first instrument is trombone!) but he is truly an outstanding pianist, alternating Tayloresque fists and forearms poundings with gentle, placid interludes, all executed to perfection. But just as striking was his performance inside the piano, plucking, strumming and striking the strings with drumsticks, partially damping them with paper and producing amazing resonances. It was a staggering performance both in terms of conception and execution. Bassist Todd Nicholson’s Otic Band, featuring Steve Swell on trombone, trumpeter Nate Wooley and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani followed with a very smart set of interesting originals, but though Swell and Wooley are both impressive soloists and Nakatani's playing was solid and innovative, Sorey's overpowering performance was a tall order to follow.
Proceedings on Saturday evening started with Patricia Nicholson’s PaNic, a company of four dancers backed up by Rob Brown, William Parker and Alvin Fielder. The dance performances clearly suffered the most from the change of the festival location: while the seating at Clemente Solo Velez had been set up to afford good viewing from all positions, Orensanz Art Center offered no such facilities. It would have been a painful decision to scrap the work that had already gone into the choreography and rehearsal, but the setting was simply not appropriate. The music was quite good, however, and effectively dispelled my hypothesis that Brown plays best when there’s another wind player with him.
Nasheet Waits was late for his duet with Peter Brötzmann so Joe McPhee and Lori Freedman went on in their place for a well-received set of duets with McPhee on alto clarinet and tenor sax and Freedman on a bass clarinet that appeared as big as she was. No reflection on her ability to project through the instrument though, as she and Joe went down many varied paths with nary a stumble. It was an atypical performance amidst all the firebreathers, but a true meeting of nimble minds.
In the meantime Waits had arrived and duly squared off with Herr Brötz in a pairing that probably wouldn’t have occurred to many observers. Waits sparred valiantly with the irrepressible reedman as he varied his attack on the tenor and tarogato from the full-bore attack to some truly poignant moments. A satisfying end to the evening, if not exactly really unexpected.
The final evening for me started in excellent fashion with violinist India Cooke and bassist Jöelle Léandre. I don’t know if they’ve been performing regularly since their set in Guelph in September 2004 (captured on Red Toucan’s excellent Firedance) but their playing at Vision was very different, and very good indeed. They never identified any of the songs but I assume they weren't totally improvised: the themes were strong and the playing telepathic, with both players adding wordless vocals that enhanced their instrumental prowess with passion. Two solo performances were thrown in for good measure – it was a very strong start of the evening.
The Rob Brown Ensemble followed, featuring dancers and projected images of the art of Jo Wood Brown (I wonder how she got the gig), which, despite the folds in the screen, were interesting enough to look at, at least when the dancers weren’t skittering in front of them. The music was impressive as Brown joined forces with cellist Daniel Levin and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, but things were already running very late and the group's decision to play an additional song was questionable, as was their annoying request for money from the public. I fully understand that the festival is run on a shoestring, and that the change of venue had no doubt put it in a further financial bind, but I’d have preferred to pay extra for admission beforehand than have to listen to pleas for cash throughout the event. (While we're on the subject of irritation, if anybody in a position of responsibility is reading this, please don't let that guy who introduced the groups near the stage in the future, OK? Thanks.)
I mention the lateness of the performances because after three days of nonstop free jazz onslaughts, I was less than able to appreciate one of the most intriguing combinations of the festival: pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, reedist Sabir Mateen and drummer Han Bennink. Vision Festival meets New Dutch Swing, as it were. Bennink was a madman from the outset, forsaking his usual antics to take energy drumming to the highest level. (The only time he resorted to any tomfoolery was when he left to change his sweat-soaked T-shirt and delivered a well-aimed kick to hi-hat on his return – in perfect time, of course.) Shipp at first appeared surprised by the sheer power of Bennink's attack but gradually amped up his playing to meet it head on. Mateen was at times hard to hear on tenor, alto and clarinet, but Parker was tight with Han and kept up the onslaught in fine fashion. And yet at some point the relentless attack just became oppressive, though for their part the musicians looked like they were having a very enjoyable time. The festival ended with trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez’s Yells at Eels, featuring Oliver Lake and Dennis’s sons Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums. Their set finally started at 1.45 am – nearly two hours late – but Gonzalez's warm soothing tone and Lake’s superb playing made the late hour bearable and brought the festival to a very welcome close.
The Vision Festival can tend to lend itself to parody as the true believers in the audience show up each year with expanded waistlines and holes in their graying manes – a movie mockumentary such as "A Mighty Wind" which concentrated on the free jazz movement would confuse rather than entertain – but it still serves as an effective forum for the continued development of a music that never had a large number of adherents and is increasingly marginalized. The high points greatly outweighed the few unsatisfying performances, and the post-concert camraderie between Parker, Mateen, Shipp and Bennink was genuine and heartfelt. And where else can I shake hands with Kidd Jordan and wish Dennis Gonzalez a happy Father's Day? —SG

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Aidan Baker
In recent times, many people have invested in digital delay units and built whole careers around nothing, selling the results as some sort of meditation. Not so Canadian musician and writer Aidan Baker, one of the very few artists in the past decade whose discography has grown hand in hand with his compositional skills. His loop stratification technique features the guitar as the primary sound source, though voices, violin, flute and found sounds all have their place in a deceptive pulsating complexity of evocative siren calls, beguiling fears and hypnotic malady. Percussion is often looped too to create a peculiar variety of drum'n'bass in evidence on the albums Eye of Day (Foreign Lands) and Butterfly Bones (Between Existence). Trained in classical piano and flute, Toronto-based Baker is a self-taught guitarist, drummer and saxophonist, and also the author of several books of poetry (I recommend you get hold of a copy of Fingerspelling) and a regular contributor to various international journals, providing not only poetry but also criticism and works of fiction. Over the past seven years he's released well over 20 albums, solo or in collaboration with other artists, many of which are among the most intense and beautiful loop-based listening experiences you could have the good fortune to discover, because, as is often the case, quality comes in small doses: you might have a hard time locating many of these limited-edition raw jewels. Baker's website ( offers a comprehensive series of helpful links in his abundant discography, which also includes his work with the collective ARC, a more percussive / ritualistic combo in which he also explores fuzzy Frippertronics – their best release to date is Eyes in the Back of our Heads (Worthy) with metal soundscaper Alan Bloor, aka Pholde. Other Baker projects include the spacey trio Mnemosyne and Nadja, originally a solo affair but now a duo with bassist Leah Buckareff. This is the "acid" side of the guitarist, a slow distorted molasses of non-songs and mammoth riffs recalling James Plotkin's trippier excursions, especially on the recent Bodycage (Nothingness).

There are several milestones in the Baker discography not to be missed out on. At the Fountain of Thirst (Mystery Sea) contains four mesmerizing still ballets dedicated to water nymphs, the second of which, "Rusalka", is so delicately plangent and harmonically gratifying no sentient being could fail to be profoundly moved by its grace and levity. Skein of Veins (Phoniq) is an mp3-only release where Baker's proficiency at superimposing repeating figures is at its very best, especially on the title track, in which lulling chants and sweet death kisses put the mind in an altered state where torment is nullified by an almost desperate sense of pleasure. The self-explanatory Loop Studies One (Laub) features maybe the best "deep ambient" music since Eno: the Toronto six-string charmer generates clouds of heavenly vapours through silent walks and motionless timbral hallucinations. The aptly titled Field of Drones (Arcolepsy) vies for the title of finest record in Baker's oeuvre, if sheer beauty counts for anything. It's hard to find words to describe this music; its inexplicable intensity is a close encounter with the crux of our own sensibility, a definitive travel guide to the world of therapeutic vibration. It's also a slap in the face for those low-budget merchants of mediocre post-postness stasis. Baker's recent output has brought several pleasant surprises, first of all a collaborative long-distance relationship with American Matt Borghi on Undercurrents (Zenapolae), on which the pair remix, rework and re-layer their droning materials, including some very beautiful piano improvisations, into a contemplation of a melancholy subaquatic world, a latter-day version of Roedelius in a never-ending drift to nowhere. Another epistolary collaboration with the French duo Ultra Milkmaids, At home with...(Infraction), freezes the listener in icy cages of electronic sound into which Baker's guitars occasionally shine sunlight from afar, holding out hope of a thaw that never comes. Another mp3 release, out this summer, is Songs of Flowers & Skin (Zunior), the first proper collection of "songs" by Baker, whose more structured forms nevertheless don't detract from the beauty of the music – listen to "Second Selves". Baker's soft voice is featured in different arrangements, including trumpet and violin, his dreams transfigured into brilliant pearls of dew that reflect a little of everything from Pink Floyd to Dif Juz. The future looks bright for Aidan Baker: his first European tour is scheduled for this autumn, and a double CD release on Jochen Schwarz's Die Stadt label is due out early next year. I'll be waiting by the window.—MR

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

The Free Design

Light In The Attic LITA 004

Light In The Attic LITA 007
Various Artists
Light In The Attic 016
One of the nicest surprises I've had recently on opening the mailbox was a copy of The Now Sound Redesigned, an album of remixes by a list of contemporary notables (Peanut Butter Wolf, Kid Koala, Stereolab, Danger Mouse and Murs, et al.) of a late 60s soft psych pop group I'd never heard of called The Free Design. This was a family affair, a three-piece vocal harmony group featuring brothers Chris, Bruce and Sandy Dedrick, who recorded no fewer than seven albums for Enoch Light's obscure (even then) Project 3 label between 1967 and 1972. All seven have been lovingly reissued on CD and 180g vinyl by the Seattle-based Light In The Attic label, along with two EPs of remixes which have been gathered together on the abovementioned compilation CD. The Now Sound Redesigned is terrific, by the way (and worth the price of admission just for Peanut Butter Wolf's version of "Umbrellas"), but on reading the copious press blurb, with its glowing praise for The Free Design from the likes of Cornelius – shame he couldn't have taken part in the remix project, but never mind – my curiosity was aroused and LITA head honcho Matt Sullivan kindly obliged by sending me his two favourite FD albums, their 1967 debut Kites Are Fun and 1970's funk-tinged Stars / Time / Bubbles / Love.

It's certainly not hard to see why the kings of squeaky-clean fluorescent J-Pop dig The Free Design: Chris Dedrick's arrangements are every bit as intricate and colourfully orchestrated as more celebrated big production jobs by likes of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, and the contributions of the session musicians involved (who include Jay Berliner, Gene Bertoncini, Richard Davis, Paul Griffin and Dick Hyman) consistently impressive, but if you're a diabetic you might just want to line up half a dozen syringes of insulin before you press play. This was certainly Pop For All The Family (hence perhaps the group's decision to sign to a label that was apparently easier to get hold of in Singer sewing machine dealerships than normal record stores..); while kids at the end of the 60s were rolling around half naked in muddy fields and catching strange diseases, not to mention experimenting with all sorts of mind-altering substances, one gets the impression that the only thing the Dedricks did to get their kicks was fly kites and blow bubbles. OK, so Wilson's stuff for the Beach Boys played pretty safe too, but at least Brian occasionally weirded out – think of those fucked up vocals on "She's Going Bald", the carrot crunching on "Vegetables".. Not that the prevailing zeitgeist was all about dropping acid or dropping your pants onstage – there was room for genuinely innovative songwriting and arranging that refused to play the pop game (what could be more oddball than Mayo Thompson's Corky's Debt To His Father or more deliciously laconic than Van Dyke Parks's Song Cycle?) – but even so, the Free Design's covers of Burt Bacharach ("Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", on Stars), the Beatles ("Michelle" on Kites) and Paul Simon ("59th Street Bridge Song", also on Kites) sound, well, a little too nice. The Beatles, as we all know, had their dark side, and Bacharach's masterpieces owed as much to the sheer individuality of the vocalists who recorded them, both good (Dionne Warwick, Lou Johnson) and bad (Herb Alpert, B.J.Thomas), as they did to Burt's arrangements. As for Paul Simon, here's where I play my joker.. The variety of instrumental colour on the Free Design outings often recalls the Tropicalismo orchestrations of the Brazilians, especially Os Mutantes, but there's not the slightest hint of the madness (listen to how they totally fuck up the Françoise Hardy chestnut "Le Premier Bonheur du Jour" with judiciously placed wrong notes Misha Mengelberg would be proud of..). Still, don't want to bitch here: I've had more fun with these two albums these past three weeks than I've had with any others that have come my way recently – it's just that listening to them all the way through is rather like scoffing a 1 kg box of Belgian chocolates and washing it down with a vanilla malted.—DW

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Untitled Songs
Various Artists
Sirr 0020 (2CD)
The adjective "seminal" gets bandied about quite a lot these days, but it surely applies to Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge ("Song of the Youths"), a 13-minute work for five-channel electronic tape based on texts from the book of Daniel sung by a boy soprano. Nearly half a century after its premiere in Cologne's West German Radio on May 30th 1956, Sirr's Paulo Raposo has compiled Untitled Songs as a kind of 49th anniversary tribute, but is quick to point out in the accompanying press release that "the works on this CD are not plain homage [sic], nor are they sampled from the original. They are rather a survey of the current state of electronic / electroacoustic music that exists half outside academic music life. The composers, musicians and artists on this CD are interested in locating themselves within their own history by further exploring the topics of sound spatialization and / or use of human voice with electronics, or they undertake a transformation of the original concept towards a personal approach to the sound, or to the original's biblical words." Raposo also situates the Stockhausen work in a wider non-academic context, referring to Sonic Youth (surprise) and the Beatles, whose (Sir) Paul McCartney described "Gesang" as his favourite Stockhausen piece (Karlheinz can, of course, be seen lurking on the back row of the guests invited to appear on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band).

The brief, then, seems relatively clear; instead of simply "remixing" the Stockhausen (which these days more often than not means loading it up onto the computer and diddling around for an afternoon with ProTools or SoundForge or some other fancy software package), the 21 featured sound artists present their own reflections on the issues raised by Gesang, as described by Raposo above. Several refer obliquely to the original's textual content – the story of the burning fiery furnace – by sourcing their work in field recordings of the elements, notably fire (Rui Costa, Marc Behrens, Derek Holzer, Stephen Vitiello..), others explore the sheer physicality of the human voice, which, along with the spatial element, has always been the most striking aspect of the Stockhausen original. Janek Schaefer recorded the word "love" sung at seven different pitches by seven different women (including his wife and mother-in-law.. that's love for ya) and built a ravishing seven-minute composition from the results. André Gonçalves recorded his own voice in the naturally resonant acoustic of his bathroom and mixed it with sinewaves in a sensitive exploration of difference tones and interference patterns that probably has more to do with Alvin Lucier than it does Stockhausen. Vocal fragments also appear towards the end of John Grzinich's offering (is the title "[synthetic voice]"? It's not clear in the pdf liner notes if those square brackets are used solely to indicate track titles or not..) but the track is notable for its shimmering haze of distant percussion. As is often the case with jgrzinich's music, what seems simple is in fact deceptively complex, a micropolyphonic tapestry woven of tiny sounds. Stephen Vitiello's contribution, sourced in a recording of a campfire in upstate NY, is intriguingly dense, despite the composer's admission that it's the result of a single processing pass. Not too far away from Vitiello's roaring flames, Andrew Deutsch's work is closer in feel to the original Stockhausen – there's no need for the composer to sound so apologetic, as it's a fine piece of work, and I'll bet Karlheinz would say so too.
Heitor Alvelos returns to the idea of childhood by basing his piece on archive recordings of himself as a (from the sound of it, very young) kid, in a touching if rather cavernously reverberant three-and-a-half minute self portrait. Cavernous is also the word that comes to mind on listening to Latvian sound artist Maksim Shentelev's piece, recorded in a disused and leaky military bunker in the middle of a pine forest. Treating and overlaying his recordings to create an evocative soundscape of ominous lo-fi buzzes and drips, Shentelev comes up with something far more appetising than his accompanying text ("these endosonic elements build non-informative relations filling a meta-environment with the shifting vibration of chaotic motion.." umm, yeah). Marc Behrens contributes a typically elegant if austere re-examination of field recordings previously used in his "Keyholes" installation (a version appears on the 1999 trente oiseaux release Four Installations), which is beautifully juxtaposed with Rui Costa's delicate treatment of water and fire sounds recorded in a Portuguese village. After this – and hats off to Raposo for sequencing the tracks into an overall form that's every bit as satisfying as the individual pieces themselves – Anthony Pateras and Robin Fox turn in a typically energetic montage of gargles, gurgles and, appropriately enough for these men at work from the land down under where women throw and men chunder, finger-down-the-throat dry heaves, all Max/MSPed to death. Great fun, but you might not want to play this one while you're having dinner. In comparison, the rather nondescript rumble served up by the enigmatically named yoko.lennon is nowhere near as exciting – in fact it's a rather subdued way to end the first disc of the set – but is unlikely to interfere with your digestion.

The second disc starts off oddly, with a four-minute sound poem featuring Anna Homler on vocals, pocket theremin and wooden boxes and cellist Michael Intriere (formerly of the wonderfully-named Fat & Fucked-Up ensemble), with Mark Wheaton adding electronics to their rather Berioesque offering. Achim Wollscheid's curiously disembodied narrative recounting how he first heard Stockhausen's Gesang at school (or at least he thinks it was that piece) is followed by Dale Lloyd's subtle erasing of all but the consonants of a story of unknown origin told by Japanese woman, which prepares the listener perfectly for the elusive montage of field recordings (could those be fire alarms?) and spoken text courtesy of Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela, aka @c, and Steve Roden's "between vowels and consonants", based on his own vocal improvisations recorded while listening to the Stockhausen original on headphones. Karlheinz would probably have a hard time spotting Roden's voice, let alone any direct reference to his own music, but he'd have no difficulty identifying the trusty ring modulator Roden has used to transform his source material.
Asmus Tietchens contributes a splendidly uncompromising and typically inscrutable five minutes. Shame my German isn't up to understanding his spoken text, but at least you know where you stand with the liners: "I tried to achieve a religious ceremony's travesty [sic], because – besides its undoubted musical value – Gesang der Jünglinge is a deeply religious piece and Stockhausen a superstitious human being. Therefore I pity him." Nuff said. Derek Holzer also uses a six-track recording of a wood-burning furnace (seems the biblical imagery of Gesang's text has been as influential in this project as Stockhausen's music) and a Chinese-language shortwave broadcast (shades of Kurzwellen, perhaps?). The furnace was recorded in Latvia, by the way, as was the text used in Paulo Raposo's own contribution, though it describes Raposo's experiences in the Chihuahua desert of northern Mexico. There are plenty of references to the planet Sirius and visiting aliens, which Stockhausen would probably enjoy (Asmus Tietchens presumably wouldn't), though I wonder what he'd make of Raposo's distinctly concrète assemblage of cooing pigeons, lapping waves and distant traffic noises. Houston Texas based turntablist James Eck Rippie's seven minutes and twenty seconds of heavily processed choral music are as beautiful and evanescent as they are simple, but it falls to the self-styled citizen of the kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland (shades of Hymunion, Harmondie and Pluramon in Stockhausen's Hymnen), Carl Michael von Hausswolff, to close proceedings with a characteristically frosty and forbidding thirteen minutes of arid, throbbing drone. I'd have preferred the Rippie myself, but never mind.

So, quite apart from trying to guess what Stockhausen himself would make of it all (though I do hope a copy has been sent to Stockhausen HQ in Kürten, and that Paulo Raposo will in due course report back to us at PT with his reactions to it), how will this collection of pieces sound in 49 years' time? My own favourite memory of Gesang der Jünglinge is of my former professor of Music Theory, Bob Morris (now Head of the Composition Department at the Eastman School of Music) actually singing along with the boy soprano. It recalls Anton Webern's wildly optimistic prediction that one day the milkman would whistle his music.. well, maybe we'll have to wait another century or so before that happens, but anyone with a good ear for pitch and bit of musical training can indeed, on repeated listening, follow the serial pitch logic of Stockhausen's vocal writing without too much difficulty. (And if you're ever hear about a concert performance near you of the work in its original five-track spatialized form, make sure you get to it.) But even Bob Morris would have a job singing along to most of the music on offer on Untitled Songs. It's not that these pieces lack identity (though there are three or four I would have left off if I'd been curating the project myself) – far from it: the Schaefer, Rippie, Roden and Raposo tracks, to name but four, are spectacularly good examples of contemporary electronica's ability to create rich and unique sonic ecosystems in a few minutes with a limited amount of material. But ecosystems are fragile things, and tiny meteorological changes can damage them irreparably, while your average Gothic cathedral has been standing for centuries, and, unless we're really unlucky and a bloody great asteroid smashes the planet to smithereens or some fucking idiot crashes a 747 into it, it'll still be standing there several centuries from now. These 21 Untitled Songs are exquisite photographs of a beautiful landscape, but Gesang der Jünglinge is still the mighty cathedral towering above it.—DW

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

On Clean Feed
Whit Dickey
Clean Feed 037
Dennis González’s Spirit Meridian
Clean Feed 035
“[The reviewer] claims that free jazz is 'long aligned with the liberal left' (this only makes sense - is this arrogance or what) and 'is (thus) marginalized.' He also goes on to claim that 'funding' is evidently been reduced. What is this thing with funding? Oh, I see, nobody will buy this music (you have to ask why?) so it should be supported by the taxpayer… Mr. Dickey (like all leftists) evidently know[s] what's best for everybody. I guess that the sad thing is that those of us who don't fall into that category (but are free jazz listeners) will stop buying free jazz CDs and stop attending concerts. Good luck with your career, Mr. Dickey.” – from a comment in Bagatellen on a recent review of In A Heartbeat.
Improvising is necessarily political, as it is social, spiritual, aesthetic and behaviorist. Conversing sonically with one’s peers, not to mention with the entire history of a music, engenders a dialogue and critique of both artistic action and thought in a way that encompasses all preceding history when one plays. It is a heavy weight to bear for the player, for sure, but such criticism is implicit in the desire to move forward in one’s art. If it were not implicitly political, this music would not engender so many factional arguments about its purpose and resolve, not to mention its place in the aesthetic continuum. To paraphrase trumpeter / composer Bill Dixon, the confusion about its place as either aesthetic mantra or toe-tapping diversion is both what causes the argument for its soul, and what gives it its resolve. After all, a truly democratic music should have as its ideals equality, justice, and virtue – directed outward or inward. Not surprisingly, there is a long train of improvisers who have been resolutely political and active in social change: Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Clifford Thornton are just a few of those names.

Those, however, who think the political nature of the music died out with the dissolution of the Black Panther Party in the early 70s should listen up to the current crop of American improvisers using their art to speak out socially as well as aesthetically. There's much to be said for the fact that improvisers are taking on the current US administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – though this is not to say that 2001 was the first time in thirty years that jazzmen have been political; to wit, bassist William Parker’s In Order to Survive and Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. Drummer Whit Dickey, who has worked extensively with Parker and reedman David S. Ware (who, you will recall, recently revisited Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite), has made an overt statement against the Bush administration with his latest quintet offering, his second for Clean Feed, In a Heartbeat. Joined by usual suspects bassist Chris Lightcap, altoist Rob Brown, guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr, the quintet run through four protest-themed Dickey originals and Carla Bley’s “Calls", which first appeared to my knowledge on Turning Point, Paul Bley’s quartet recording with tenorman John Gilmore, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, originally slated in 1964 for Savoy but issued by Improvising Artists in the mid-70s. The theme recalls Steve Lacy, with whom Carla Bley collaborated in the mid-60s, Dickey here providing a Sunny Murray-like wash underneath the horns before the band settles into a bright freebop dialogue. The title track is a lengthy, additive romp through traded comments and barbs, its brief theme both jagged and relaxed and reliant on collective interplay. Morris, Lightcap and Dickey provide a broken, loose swing that despite the fracture remains surprisingly consonant, leaving the dissonance to the horns. “Dubya’s Flying Lesson” sparks a cool whimsy, a lilting theme that segues into a series of solos, duets and trios – sounds darting about one another like birds in conference, often with Dickey’s absence creating a spacious void or his presence an equally circular flight. Brown is soulfully ebullient as usual, his first solo full of the contrasts of fiery salvos, calling to mind Kenyatta, Osborne, Byron Allen and a slew of post-Dolphy alto-men. Campbell’s soliloquy is poised but full of colorful smears, a few Dixon-esque phrases betraying the fact that he is indebted to that school of brassy sound production (Campbell is curating this year’s Festival of the New Trumpet in New York, which opens with Dixon’s music). The title references something about the democratic process of adding and subtracting elements not by trial of fire, but by the ebb and flow of group consensus, which can change, yes, in a heartbeat.
Idle Wild is trumpeter Dennis González’s second outing for Clean Feed, and features bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Michael T.A. Thompson and reedman Oliver Lake. In keeping with the political theme, González has included the clarion call of “Bush Medicine,” apparently a staple in his live performances (González: “If you are sick with a cold, you take cold medicine. If your country is sick with Bush, you give it Bush medicine"). The tune is based on a calypso theme, recalling Rollins by way of south Texas, and displays the easy rapport between all four members of the quartet – González and Lake in particular, whose poise and surefootedness are both a perfect match and help to make the front line seem as though it had been together for years. “Dust” features a Latin-based theme as well, run through Ornette and Bobby Bradford and filled out by constant, dense activity from Filiano and Thompson. González’s solo takes its time, building deftly and airily in an Alan Shorter bag, with Filiano’s massive strums girding it with dissonant weight. Lake seems rather comfortable in what might be old shoes for him (not to mention a rare sideman appearance); with a refreshing energetic squall, his curved soprano starts off the collective composition “Idle Wild,” a loose group improvisation that builds rhythmically into an earthy, fractured funk over which a careful and spacious González solo emerges. Thompson provides a subtle, constant activity, his distracted timekeeping a major contributor to the openness of the set, and which formulates an interesting march-like statement at the end of the piece, arco flakes from Filiano’s bass providing the drive. “Song” is a jouncy rondo, González’s trumpet taking on a more "classical" air as the rhythm section stews around unison statements by the horns; “Document for Toshinori Kondo” is a knotty, driving theme that originally cropped up in performance with the leader’s sons in the electric band Yells At Eels. Here, the drive is carried by Thompson at his most rocking, before opening up into the collective expansion and contraction of sonic exploration.
Whether titled in protest at current government and societal trends or not, Dennis González and Whit Dickey have hit upon something that nevertheless speaks to the inherent improvement and refinement of humanity. Democracy is, after all, a collective rule by the people – the healthier and more educated, the more truthful to its aims. And so it is with improvisation, a collective consensus sometimes reached through struggle, an art therefore directed at the betterment of society.—CA

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

In Concert in New York, part 2
A recurring theme in recent contemporary music events in New York City has been the relationship between East and West. One thinks not only of James MacMillan’s Third Symphony, based on contrasts between Japanese religions and Christianity, but also of concerts dominated by musicians from America and the former Soviet Union. Although the contribution from the ex-USSR has been limited to the older generation, it has been no less “contemporary” than the American one. Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977, rev. 1980) was one of the first examples of the post-minimalist aesthetic that still preoccupies many American composers, and even today sounds far less long-winded than similar offerings from overseas. Giya Kancheli’s Lonesome (2003), a piece for violin and orchestra written for Rostropovich’s 75th birthday concert at the London Barbican, is even more obsessed with repeated phrases, interspersed in Kancheli’s case by long silences which filled the cavernous Stern Hall (the concert was held in Carnegie Hall on April 29th). Kancheli uses a melodic device favoured by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich in their violin concerti – a sustained note followed by a short semitone rise and descent – which for Shostakovich symbolized grief, belying Alexander Ivashkin’s claim in the program notes: “For many years we weren’t allowed to speak or show what we thought…An interval, sound or rhythm became a symbol that the listener could identify. Music became the bridge to a thought”. Gidon Kremer, who gave the première of the work, performed it with his characteristic “heartbroken” tone, adding countless wrinkles, stains and calluses, and Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony fully indulged Kancheli’s pregnant pauses. Riccardo Chailly’s reading of the Pärt Cantus with the New York Philharmonic in Avery Fisher Hall (February 18th) was equally unsentimental and, if anything, more sumptuous. The only piece of Russian music to receive a less-than-excellent performance was Alfred Schnittke’s 1992 score for Vsevolod Pudovkin’s film The End of St. Petersburg. The film itself dates from 1927, and now comes across as outdated Expressionist agitprop, focusing on the turmoil before the October Revolution, with workers supporting factions of numerous types, but with the emotional and political complexity of the situation reduced to crude ciphers. Schnittke’s score is appropriately Neo-Expressionist, but his polystylism lapses at times into straightforward pastiche of composers from Mahler and Shostakovich to the Minimalists. Some of the synthesizer passages sound hilariously 80s, and the use of electronics in general is naïve (the composer’s son Andrei produced the parts and is perhaps to blame for some blatant errors). Stefan Asbury’s advocacy was also lukewarm, with some imprecise phrasing from the Asko Ensemble, particularly in the overture. Full marks though to Lincoln Center for staging this event in the excellent Rose Theater (on May 4th) at least giving Pudovkin an attempt to prove himself with the aid of live accompaniment.

In comparison, the three John Adams events I attended were shop-worn. Not even an incisive performance of Century Rolls (1997) by conductor David Robertson with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and his pianist wife Orli Shaham (Stern Hall on April 16th) could hide the fact that this neo-tonal homage to Conlon Nancarrow totally fails to match its dedicatee’s rhythmic inventiveness. Its repeated figurations and juxtapositions thereof are desperately unoriginal. Much the same could be said for The Dharma at Big Sur (2003), the other Adams concerto on offer (Avery Fisher Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, June 5th). This opened with spacious tonic triads in the orchestra from which dissonant strands emerged gradually until a solo electric violin entered with a series of huge reverberations, creating an impression of a gigantic expanse. As openings go, admittedly superb, but it was followed by a slow movement that was far too long and bordered on kitsch, with its imitation of Indian raga. The second and final movement was a helter-skelter piledriver free-for-all which, despite excellent dynamic build-ups from conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and rock-star antics from soloist Tracy Silverman, failed to provide any sense of surprise. Non-classical musicians invent fresh figurations on electric instruments all the time - why can’t Adams? In an interview with British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy at Carnegie Hall on February 20th, he expressed his delight that all of a sudden it has become fashionable to write beautiful music. The Violin Concerto he wrote for Gidon Kremer was a key piece in this respect, but why have his other concerti been so disappointing?

One possible answer to that question was the sentimentality that lay behind Anthony de Mare’s recital at Carnegie Hall on March 15th. De Mare is one of the few classical pianists who actively explore their gay identity, so it was unfortunate that the works by gay composers he featured that evening did little to break down stereotypes. David del Tredici’s Gotham Glory (2004) is a wildly camped-up neo-Romantic romp featuring near-quotes from Beethoven, Schumann and Franck as well as a finale inspired by Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz. Packed with passages of Godowskian unplayability, it defeated even the dexterous fingers of de Mare, especially in the flirtatious phrases of the final movement. Fred Hersch’s Saloon Songs (2004) were also largely uninspired, while Meredith Monk’s Gotham Lullaby (1973) was pretty, but pretty unrevealing. Fast-fading memories of world premières by Jason Robert Brown (Mr. Broadway, 2004) and Paul Moravec (Isle of the Manhattoes, 2004) were obliterated by an extraordinary incident five minutes into Frederic Rzewski’s De Profundis (1992), a theatrical masterpiece which requires the pianist to play music of great seductive beauty while reciting excerpts from one of Oscar Wilde’s letters to Lord Alfred Douglas (sent from the jail he'd been sent to for loving him). The piece is dedicated to de Mare, who's played it on countless occasions, but after a few minutes the pianist lost his way, apologized and walked offstage. On his return he sounded lazy and exhausted, especially in the voicing of the central fugue. A case of a musician trying to do too much, or becoming sentimental about routine musicianship?

One solution for the performer is to transform the composition to such an extent that it becomes indivisible from the artist performing it, Yo-Yo Ma’s Stern Hall concert with the Silk Road Ensemble on April 10th being a case in point. The music they performed originated in Iran, China, Armenia, Azerbaijan, India, France and Romania, and much of it is not notated or requires some form of improvisation, so it was inspiring to see a conservatory-trained musician actively engage with such traditions in a way which made his classical virtues even more relevant. Ma even succeeded in adding a restraint which complemented the expansiveness of the other performers. Perhaps the most impressive contribution came from the Azerbaijani singer Alim Qasimov, winner of the IMC-UNESCO Music Prize (fellow laureates include Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar, Olivier Messiaen, Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Arrau and Herbert von Karajan), whose vocal effects derive from a dramatic conversational style which is more flexible than notated avant-garde Sprechstimme. His rendition of songs from the oral mugham tradition would have made even Cathy Berberian sound naïve. Other stars included tabla player Sandeep Das and composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, who writes in a microtonal idiom tinged with Shostakovich. All of these artists acknowledge the interdependence of composer and performer, in such a way that the performer can edit the work without detracting from its virtues and the composer can give the performer more interesting parameters. Ma’s willingness to engage with this tradition has already led to a greater spaciousness in his performances of Bach, and one wonders how much further he intends to take it. Hopefully, like the musicians of the 18th and 19th centuries, it will lead him to improvise a little, for, in losing the art of improvisation, classical musicians are limiting not only their performances but also the potential of the works they perform. - NR

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Leroy Vinnegar
Just in case you were thinking that everyone here at PT spends their time listening exclusively to tough stuff on hardcore imprints like Erstwhile and Creative Sources, here's a welcome reissue of some tasty collectors' funk from 1974. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar's The Kid was originally released on an obscure label called PBR, and presumably the master tapes have disappeared, as this reissue, the debut release of the new French Q-Tape imprint, has been lovingly remastered from vinyl by Jonathan Fitoussi. The sound quality is good, if far from perfect, but the music more than makes up for it. There's some superb keyboard work from Dwight Dickerson, and all manner of strange sonorities, from squelchy Moogs to electric banjos (courtesy Barry Zweig), but one wonders if the album might have lain dormant for another quarter of a century if DL Shadow hadn't sampled "Reservation" for one his own overhyped productions. But the hordes of kids out there just itching to dig up some obscure grooves to sample will find plenty of other delicious snippets to pillage.—DW

Vijay Iyer
Savoy Jazz SVY 17475
Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s quartet albums often seem like different sides of a single project, which takes as its starting-point a combination of post-Greg Osby / Steve Coleman “metrics” and Indian musics, but with each album gets richer and more distinctive, less and less “like” any musical reference-point outside itself. For a jazz-oriented listener, it’s a compelling yet slightly disorienting experience. Metrical overlays have often been important in jazz as a way of slipping a more elusive, suspensive time-feel into the metrical framework – a way of playing “in time” while simultaneously giving the feeling of breaking away from meter. They don’t function that way in Iyer: the rhythms are complexly layered but emphatic and precisely calibrated (bassist Stephan Crump sets out the metrical framework as if he’s driving stakes into the ground), with a time-feel where (as Francis Davis remarks) “as in hip-hop, there are no weak beats.” On Simulated Architecture, Iyer’s new disc with his trio Fieldwork, the results are often shockingly harsh; but on Reimagining the textures are far richer and more approachable: Iyer’s cascading piano sometimes even introduces a classical influence into the mix – on “Inertia,” for instance, there’s an unmistakable touch of Messiaen. This is intensely worked music: there’s barely a detachable melodic phrase to be found in Iyer’s solos, just a relentlessly kneaded stream of notes shooting across like a stream of meteors, and the quartet’s shifts of texture and intensity feel at times positively orchestral in their careful staging of multiple interlocking climaxes. Mahanthappa comes across in this music like Eric Dolphy did in so many 1960s bands, as an arrestingly human voice standing out somewhat from the musical fabric: he also has something of Dolphy’s ear-grabbing tendency to construct solos out of dramatic plummets and cries, though Mahanthappa uses tight, corkscrewing phrases rather than Dolphy’s airy leaps. But the most striking presence here is newcomer Marcus Gilmore, not yet out of his teens but already nailing these twitching, off-balance grooves without a hitch. Like all of Iyer’s work Reimagining is sometimes fearfully intense – “Phalanx” is nearly overpowering – but among all the fury there’s a buried lyricism that Iyer every so often (as on “Cardio”) lets rise to the surface. There’s a guarded optimism here that sets the album apart from the darker Blood Sutra, and makes it perhaps Iyer’s most fully-rounded statement to date.—ND

Steve Baczkowski / Chris Corsano / Paul Flaherty
Wet Paint Music 3003
There are no liners accompanying this latest release on Paul Flaherty's Wet Paint label, but the press release is a text by the inimitable Byron Coley, which I'd dearly like to quote in its entirety, because it is, as he would say, "totally choice." But so is the music, a quintessentially titanic paint-stripping blow-out from Flaherty, on alto and tenor saxophones, frequent sparring partner and human drum kit Chris Corsano (thanks for that one, Byron) and, making his official recording debut, Steve Baczkowski on baritone sax. Though Baczkowski is little known outside Buffalo NY, where he apparently cycles to gigs with the bari strapped to his back, The Dim Bulb should really put him on the map. While there's a lot of what Coley calls "destroying the universe" on offer, there's also a finesse and subtlety in the work of these three musicians that gives the lie to the old cliché that free jazz blow-outs are little more than communal power wanks (though offhand I can think of several that could fit that description..). Just because it's as serious as your life doesn't mean it can't be fun either: Baczkowski even manages to throw in an Ayler-scarred version of "When The Red Red Robin Goes Bob Bob Bobbing Along" just a minute or so into "Soaking in Gravel and Shale", but within a couple of minutes he's blasted the cute little birdie to bits and Corsano drums what's left of it into dust just in time for Flaherty to sail in and administer the last rites. And you don't even have to go all the way to Buffalo NY to check it out, either. Buy now or cry later.—DW

Tetuzi Akiyama / Günter Müller
Erstwhile 044
While Taku Sugimoto's output since Italia has, to quote La Monte Young, "drawn a straight line and followed it" - though, given the extraordinary sparsity of his recent releases, "erased" might be more appropriate than "drawn" - it's no easy business guessing the next move of his erstwhile (no pun intended) playing partner Tetuzi Akiyama. Akiyama's music is sometimes uncompromisingly minimal (Foldings on Confront), sometimes rugged and noisy (Résophonie, on A Bruit Secret), sometimes lyrical and blues-inflected (Relator, on Slub, or Proletarian Drift, on BV Haast) and sometimes downright rock'n'roll (Don't Forget To Boogie, on Idea, or the recent Route 13 to the Gates of Hell, on Headz). On the other hand, Günter Müller's music over the past decade has been consistent in its refined, precise and patient exploration of gradually evolving textures drawn from his iPod, MiniDiscs and selected percussion. Teaming him up with Akiyama was a bright idea - the crinkles and spasms of Akiyama's electric guitar add relief and contour to Müller's work, gently nudging the Swissman to shift up gears. Not that Points and Slashes is exactly speed metal: the pace remains leisurely throughout, but there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot in this superb and satisfying offering from two master musicians. - DW

Bernhard Günter/Heribert Friedl
trente oiseaux TOC053
This is a world where silence is scary, since it forces people to confront themselves - and no one understands that better than Bernhard Günter, whose trente oiseaux label specialises in the essential naked beauty of sound verging on the unsustainable. In line with his recent tendency to use his electric cellotar both in improvisational and more determined contexts, Günter joins forces here with Austrian sound artist Heribert Friedl (check out his discography at, who will issue a further chapter of this collaboration, Transformer, on his new Non Visual Objects label. Adding two shakuhachi and a hackbrett (cymbalom) to the cellotar, Günter and Friedl maintain a composed attitude in music that pays an undisguised homage to those Zen masters who play each note as if it's the single meaningful gesture in a lifetime. Each subtle nuance of harmonics and breath is exalted by an intelligent mix where instruments are allowed to bathe in their own aura without the slightest hint of the shallowness that could poison the enchantment of this sacred trance. A little more "present" than Günter's +minus recordings, Ataraxia is nevertheless another moment of intense reflection by two craftsmen of the untold, who look into the void without fear as they extrapolate a concrete, painful purification from the shadows of incorporeality.-MR

PSI / Pee-Ess-Eye
Evolving Ear EE12
The press release accompanying this disc, which is as colourful as Fritz Welch and Stephen O'Malley's cover art, begins with the immortal lines "like a golden goose stewed in its own piss". If your toes are curling up just thinking about what that might possibly taste like, it might be of interest to you to learn that in times of yore, in certain parts of Northern England, urine – they called it "lant" back then – was added to beer to give it more, ahem, flavour. Can't say I relish the prospect myself, but.. anyway, back to the music. PSI (suppose that should be lowercase, even if the music isn't, and I guess they've added the "pee-ess-eye" bit to differentiate themselves from the record label of the same name curated by Evan Parker) is a trio consisting of Welch on percussion, Jaime Fennelly on electronics and Chris Forsyth on guitar, and in the past few years they've been patiently marking out their own patch of territory in the improv jungle (maybe like tigers do, by peeing on trees, and.. oops, there we go again), not far from the noisy post-Cremaster stuff often featured here. This album is the group's strongest outing so far – not to mention the nicest looking, in its oversize Japanese-style gatefold packaging – and consists of eight excavations into the gritty and at first sight seemingly barren topsoil of post-reductionist noise. As always there's more there than meets the ear, even in the decidedly vicious moments – the end of "Golden Showers", the beginning of "Permanent War" – though some of my worthy constituents in the world of journalism who've taken it upon themselves to be the arbiters of Good Taste and Defenders of The Tradition would be well-advised to leave this one alone. By way of light relief, the album also includes snippets of phone calls, chitchat and deliciously rowdy heckling. "Steve says we're in big trouble and we're gonna get killed for playing such ugly music.." Not by me, mate. I'll raise a pint to you next time in England. (No lant though, thanks.) —DW

David Gross
Sedimental SEDCD 040
There's been no shortage of great solo sax albums in recent times – think of Stéphane Rives' Fibres on Potlatch, Bertrand Gauguet's Etwa on Creative Sources and Martin Küchen's Music From One Of The Provinces In The Empire on Confront, each quite extreme in its methodical exploration of extended technique. Boston-based altoist David Gross is no stranger to controversy either – witness the furore provoked by his Fetish in the columns of Bagatellen recently – and Things is sure to raise as many eyebrows and hackles as it does questions. Throughout the album a distant high-pitched whine is clearly audible, forming a backdrop to an extraordinary display of gurgles, rustles, clicks, grunts, growls, pops, squeaks and even the occasional note (just about the only thing that could possibly identify the source of these sounds as a saxophone). Several tracks sound alarmingly like what might have resulted if David Lynch had stuck a contact mic inside Dennis Hopper's gasmask in Blue Velvet. Though the vocabulary itself is that usually associated with lowercase micro-improv (now the stock-in-trade of saxophonists the world over, from Bhob Rainey to Alessandro Bosetti to Christine Sehnaoui to.. the list goes on), the sheer density of events has little in common with reductionism, which, as Jack Wright recently pointed out, has now "run its course". One can easily imagine this saxophonist hooking up with his French namesake Jean-Philippe and other neo-noise practitioners (Ferran Fages, Will Guthrie et al.), but the fact that this is a solo offering – that and the title – makes it uniquely personal vision of a musical language whose phonetics, syntax and semantics have been completely redefined.—DW

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Natto Quartet
482 Music 482-1036
This East/West improv session offers a delicate balance between shakuhachi (Philip Gelb), koto (Shoko Hikage), piano (Chris Brown) and electronics (Tim Perkis). In many ways it's closer to Feldman than to free improv: a hushed, nocturnal music where each sound is like a separate brushstroke offered up for contemplation. It tends to work through microtonal variations on carefully selected handfuls of notes, so that a single pitch may appear once with the water drop purity of Brown’s piano, then be immediate echoed by the bent notes of koto or shakuhachi, or by Perkis’s wriggly electronics. There are a few glimpses of a more abrasive, quick-moving approach, especially on the closing “Shochu”, but mostly it’s a gentle drift downriver. The rapt moment-to-moment pointillism can be a little frustrating: it would be nice if every so often one of the musicians threw a wrench in the works (surely one of the joys of improv as a genre?). It’s less far-ranging, for example, than another recent release exploring similar cross-cultural ground, Sawai / Doneda / Imai / Lê Quan / Saitoh's Une chance pour l’ombre (recently reviewed in these pages). Both discs, though, are good examples of how diverse instruments and musical traditions can be brought together by musicians who are virtuoso listeners as well as performers. Natto, by the way, is a variety of fermented beans that tends to faze even the most avid Western fans of Japanese cuisine – see Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour for an up-close-and-personal encounter with the substance. Thousand Oaks is a much more appetising prospect.—ND

Unsounds 10
Everything that's appeared on Yannis Kyriakides' Unsounds label has been excellent, and the same can be said of this fine release by this quartet consisting of Cor Fuhler (piano), Thomas Lehn (analog synth), Rhodri Davies (harp) and John Butcher (saxophones) – another great ego trip title for Fuhler too.. after Corkestra and Cortet, what next? A Cor-ncerto? It's been my experience that the musicians who pull off the restrained stuff best are those who don't necessarily spend all their lives playing it; readers of these pages will be familiar with the extraordinary diversity of the recorded outputs of Messrs Fuhler, Lehn and Butcher, and it would also be a mistake to associate Davies exclusively with the so-called New London Silence scene he helped instigate (check out Vortices & Angels, or the first Cranc album). What also sets these guys apart from many other tootlers and flutterers out there is that they have at their disposal an awesome command of conventional instrumental technique that allows them to respond in a split second to nuances of pitch and timbre that less technically adept players would otherwise miss. Wait a sec, did he say "pitch"? What's pitch doing in the brave new world of post-onkyo improv, you might ask? Well check out the pitch play on "TH" and "HN" if you don't believe finding and playing the right note is important anymore. Fuhler's tiny chordal cells – the influence of Feldman, via Tilbury?– intersect with Butcher's characteristically pristine multiphonics to perfection. Davies is the model of discretion throughout, and Lehn proves once again that his trusty old EMS is capable of far more than the explosive splats of noise it's best known for (Tom and Gerry, Bart, both on Erstwhile..). HHHH is an album of great maturity and fantastic musicality – here's hoping there's more to come from these particular line-up before too long.—DW

Trio Sowari
Potlatch P105
Three Dances is the debut release by Trio Sowari, a group made up of three experienced European improvisers: Phil Durrant (software sampler, synthesizer and treatments), Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone) and Burkhard Beins (percussion and objects). Recorded at La Muse en Circuit outside Paris on November 21st 2004, the disc contains three fairly lengthy tracks. In the first, “Rondo”, the group’s soundworld of hisses, gurgles, crackles, reverberations, stridulations and extended tones is fashioned into an engagingly episodic sequence of fleet consecutive responses and entwined passages of sinewy enfoldings and uncouplings. Along the way, the music explores a wide range of densities and volumes (including silence), and, unlike the more uniformly high-pitched electro-acoustic improvisations common today, often possesses quite a punch in the lower register. The improvising is generally excellent – attentive, adept and creative – although a few passages are marked by rather fixed or obvious responses. The second track, “Bolero”, is quieter, beginning with a bubbling surface of small gestures, later replaced by more persistent rumblings and extended tones from Durrant’s electronics and punctuating bursts of drag and flutter from Beins and Denzler. Once again, there is much of interest but not quite the same intensity of connection that possessed the musicians on “Rondo”. The final track, “Tumble” opens strongly with some gripping exchanges and concatenations built out of single sounds, both short and extended, from each player. As the improvisation proceeds, the trio’s approach diversifies, taking in everything from furtive low volume exchanges to huge electronic surges, metallic episodes and undulating fields of electronic and acoustic sound. There are moments, especially towards the end of the track, when the groups falls into uniformly agitated playing or orthodox arcs of tension and release, but what is more prominent is the collective willingness to allow the music to mutate creatively and an ability to fashion fresh and stimulating contributions moment by moment.
Trio Sowari’s search for combinations and sequences of sounds that establish meaning without submitting to conventional aesthetic theories and responses is a fine illustration of what Cornelius Cardew referred to in his sleeve notes to AMM’s 1968 The Crypt - 12th June : "searching for sounds and for the responses that attach to them". But can you dance to it? Would you want to, even if you could? The social institution of dance typically serves as a process of physical entrainment (“muscular bonding” in the words of dance historian William McNeill) whereby the individual is imbued with an unreflective and mobilizable identity as a member of an existing group and inculcated into the values of the group’s dominant powers and ideologies. Are there other approaches to dance that go beyond idiot spasms in the service of tribe, nation, state, sub-culture or commodity, that act in contemporary conditions other than by dressing oblivious social submission in the tattered rags of simulated ecstasy or conventional elegance? If nothing else, perhaps Trio Sowari’s provocative title and alluringly caliginous cavorting invite us to explore these questions in mind and body.—WS

Los Glissandinos
Creative Sources CS 029
If pushed to choose just half a dozen releases on Creative Sources to take to the fabled desert island (tough call, as any present shortlist would include as least twice that many, and I'll be modest enough to exclude my own outing on the label, very proud of it though I am), Kai Fagaschinski's No Furniture, with Boris Baltschun and Axel Dörner (CS 009) would definitely be in the suitcase. One of the disadvantages of such an ambitious release programme – Ernesto Rodrigues has truly flooded the market in the past year with over 20 new titles – is that punters (and journalists) are often spoilt for choice and tend to skip over things that they might normally devote more attention to. Such was the case, it seems, with No Furniture – though heaven knows I tried to push the album as hard as a could – and let's hope history doesn't repeat itself with Los Glissandinos, clarinettist Fagaschinski's duo with laptopper Klaus Filip. While I fully respect those cats who like their album covers abstract and almost entirely devoid of information, I've always had a soft spot for cover art, believing, misguidedly perhaps, that if the artists hadn't intended it to complement in the music in some way, they wouldn't have chosen it. The photographs that adorn Stand Clear show a fine summer's day on the banks of an inviting river, a campfire that looks just about ready for a barbecue, and, behind the disc itself, the muzzle of large sandy coloured hound close to the camera (dangerously close perhaps, though it looks to all intents and purposes as if it's about to give it a friendly lick). I wonder, if the cover art had been as austere as No Furniture's hand drawn tables, chairs and sofas, whether Fagaschinski and Filip's music might sound less inviting than it actually does. As it is, Filip's glowing, spacious sustained sinewaves and Fagaschinski's breathy purrs are eminently listenable, almost soothing, even in the strident upper register workouts of "History of the Animals". A lot of this kind of music comes across as chilly – is there anything more glacial than the icy blasts of Franz Hautzinger on Brospa? – but there's a warmth and richness to Los Glissandinos' microtonal meanderings and Lucier-like investigations of difference tones that's instantly appealing. Well, the family dog might take a bite out of you if it hears it, but I think it's splendid.—DW

Martin Küchen / David Stackenäs
Creative Sources CS 035
Hot on the heels of his Confront solo album, alto saxophonist Martin Küchen is back in action on this rugged set of duets with guitarist David Stackenäs. By way of accompaniment, the booklet and tray are adorned with old photographs from the Küchen and Stackenäs family archives, one showing an elderly gentleman with a set of headphones clamped tightly to his head. His expression is hard to read – a faint smile, but there's maybe a slight twinge of pain there too. From the look of the machine he's plugged into, he's not listening to Agape, but you should be, as it's a splendidly recorded and executed set of sensitive and patient investigations into the world of extended instrumental techniques. That said, it's a world we're becoming increasingly familiar with: a quarter of a century ago the old cliché went that you could tell where an improviser came from just by listening to his / her music (you remember, English "insect music", German balls and bluster, Dutch pottiness and all that). If that was ever the case, and I have my doubts, it isn't anymore. Musicians all over the world – Berlin, Boston, Barcelona, Zürich, Tokyo, Paris, Lisbon, Vienna and London – are exploring the same territory as Küchen and Stackenäs here. In one sense this is rather gratifying, as it testifies to the emergence of a network of musicians who are, thanks to new technology as much as to the efforts of labels like Creative Sources, in regular contact and creating opportunities to play and record together. On the other hand, it does seem that a clearly defined set of rules has emerged. High speed action "gabby" (to quote Malfatti) improv is generally avoided, consensus has replaced conflict, regular repeating rhythms are frowned upon and any sense of pitch play remotely related to tonal centres sounds as rare and surprising today as a breathy multiphonic or spitty gurgle would have done back in 1960. Stackenäs and Küchen are versatile players who have made strong statements in other musical idioms, and yet for Agape it's as if they've deliberately restricted the vocabulary to standard 2005 post-reductionism. I like to think that in the near future this generation of free improvisers will feel comfortable enough to welcome words and idioms from other languages once again, but that's because I happen to believe that improvisation isn't only about making beautiful wheels – it's also about sticking spokes into them and seeing what happens.—DW

Quentin Dubost / Wade Matthews / Stéphane Rives / Ingar Zach
Creative Sources CS 039
Dining Room Music, eh? Correct me if I'm wrong but there seems to be some sort of allusion to Erik Satie's musique d'ameublement – furniture music – the celebrated precursor of Brian Eno's concept of ambient music. But that's as far as the analogy goes – even at low volume there's nothing remotely ambient about this gritty, challenging set of three improvisations by Quentin Dubost (guitar), Wade Matthews (bass clarinet and alto flute), Stéphane Rives (soprano sax) and Ingar Zach (percussion), recorded in the dining room – aha, that's why – of the Maison Bustros in Beirut on August 21st last year. On paper, Rives and Matthews might seem an odd pairing: the former is well known for his uncompromising sonic research into extreme registers and feedback (Fibres, on Potlatch), while Matthews is a more voluble player (witness his own recent Creative Sources solo outing, Aspirations and Inspirations). But the two prove to be eminently compatible, thanks to the skilful mediation of Zach, who's equally capable of playing the fast, clattery stuff as well as stripped down lowercase, and Dubost, whose guitar work throughout is most impressive. It's a solid, satisfying outing, which you could, I suppose, play during dinner – though I doubt whether any of the musicians would want to be held responsible for subsequent gastric disorders. Great stuff.—DW

Mike Cooper
Rossbin RS 020
In case you thought there was only one album called Metal Box worth having, here comes Rome-based Hawaiian shirt sporting British expat guitarist Mike Cooper to prove you wrong – but don't throw the Public Image away, cos it still rocks. The album is dedicated to the memory of John Fahey, but don't be fooled into thinking it's just another one of those pale folksy noodling affairs (mentioning no names). Nor, despite Cooper's well-known enthusiasm for Hawaiian exotica, is it remotely easy listening: the Martin Denny LPs have been chucked into the trash compactor and squashed into six slabs of strange clattering madness. Cooper's music is chaotic, entropic and often hard to follow, even without the electronic manipulations. "The Rusty Chain Tango Mambo" sounds like a small but ferocious mammal with contact mics attached trying to escape from inside an upright piano. It's still trapped in there on "A Big Wave Event", but the lap steel and laptop do their best to drown it out. "Intuitive Acoustic Archaeology" is the closest we get to Fahey – is it my imagination or is there even a snatch of "Dance of Death" in there? – while "Last Chants and Dance for Blind Joe Death" combines Cooderesque bottleneck licks with disconcerting rattles and reversed soundfile whooshes in a fitting yet nevertheless elusive conclusion to a thought-provoking album.—DW

Koji Asano
Solstice 037
Quite a story, this Asano. He releases CDs by the dozen, jumping genres and situations like a grasshopper, fathering virtually unsung quasi-masterpieces (The Last Shade of Evening Falls, a truly engaging piece of irregular minimalism, or the graceful The End of August, an exercise in peripheral urban memories) and was all the rage for a while in the hip avant magazines, which described him as the second coming of Jim O'Rourke. Then, all of a sudden we lost track of him, except for sporadic ads for his new records, of which this is the latest, a "dissonant power trio" from 1997 (!) with Asano on guitar, Isao Otake on keyboards and Hisashi Nagata on drums that was already featured on 1996's Gravity, Asano's third album. It's a cross of free-rockish improvisation and difficult charts which are executed (not without flaws) with almost King Crimson-ish energy in a series of pieces which flee linearity at every turn, except for short thematic fragments. There's also a strange semi-acoustic, more hypnotic reflection where Asano seems to be noodling on an uncredited mandolin. I certainly prefer this stuff to many overhyped fellow Japanese "icons" whose black glasses and long hair and beards look better than their music sounds, yet I know for sure Koji Asano can do much better. -MR

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page


Fred Frith
Winter & Winter 910 103-2
Though Irvine Arditti reportedly had qualms about tackling Fred Frith's scores, his Arditti String Quartet is on top form on this 2-CD set, which comes with the usual elegant packaging we're accustomed to with Winter & Winter. "Lelekovice", which already featured on the Yorkshireman's Quartets, was originally written for Iva Bittova and throughout its nine movements the clarity of Frith's lines never gets blurred, maintaining the cohesion among the parts in the more Eastern-sounding sections and figuring as an analytical link to the harmonic purity to which the music invariably gravitates. "Tense Serenity", for string trio and trombone (Uwe Dierksen), alternates pressure and calm by contrasting the sheer simplicity of melodic fragments. The ghost of a voice peeps at the musicians from behind the mysterious scented veil of the third movement, in which Rohan De Saram's wait-for-it cello adds a scary touch to the mix, ironically underlined by the sounds of a radio in the silence. The second disc features Frith and William Winant's guitars in three engrossing arrangements; the third part of "Allegory" is probably the most nostalgically charged moment of the whole set, its harmonic relationships establishing a direct connection with impressive emotional accents. "Stick Figures" for six guitars is a percussive and pretty minimal piece in which a misty mass of drones is punctuated by repeated hits in an increasingly intense pulsation brimming with unforeseen violence. The final "Fell" spirals down into the depression of a confused mind, its precipitating pseudo-canonic counterpoint blemished by Frith's cries of desperation on the guitar. It's a haunting conclusion to a rather dark record, like watching the Titanic orchestra re-emerge from the depths to play again, note heads and staves completely deformed by salt water. -MR

Rich Woodson's Ellipsis
N/Twirp 001
How many of you heard Control and Resistance, Rich Woodson's 2000 debut on Cuneiform? Not too many raised hands seen from here.. well, here's a second chance to enjoy the work of one of America's most talented young composers. Woodson's band Ellipsis has been around since 1997, primarily as a recording entity - not surprisingly so, given the extreme complexity of the music, a mixture of genres in perennial mutability: imagine a Charles Ives-approved melange of Dolphy, Zappa, Henry Cow, 5UU's and Motor Totemist Guild - no I'm not exaggerating. Every one of the countless intricacies is notated, too: "no improvisation in this recording", writes guitarist Woodson proudly of these pieces written between 1998 and 2003 and performed by a first-class ensemble consisting of clarinettist Anthony Burr (replacing soprano saxophonist Peter Epstein), percussionist John Hollenbeck, tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart (no stranger to compositional complexity himself, having worked with Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams and Butch Morris) and the excellent bassist Mat Fieldes.
Rich Woodson's "more-is-more" aesthetic is, according to the composer, about "cerebral exploration" in order to "document one man's struggle to create meaning in a world where there's none save for what we create that lasts beyond our own lifetime". The disc opens in style with "Looking For The Right Reflection", a collision between Curlew and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic arriving at the same platform from opposite directions. This is followed by "Let's Talk About Virtue", a sort of latter-day "Igor's Boogie" in which, pinched by oblique, clean guitar lines, each part follows its own logic. "It Came From Above" presents beautiful guitar/reed unisons and contrasts, as Burr's clarinet sings of introvert serenity while Fieldes's obstinate pumping bass rattles the bars of his contrapuntal cage. After the brief respite of fantastic drumming and dialogue in "Cerebral Love", "Flames From An Unlikely Source" is what happens when a bunch of top-notch Juilliard students get lost on their way to school and end up in a blind alley with an architect and a drunkard. When musicians with this technical prowess put their body, mind and soul into a ferociously complex marathon fusion of RIO styles such as "Vagueness", or the contorted hell of instrumental precision that is "Animal Magnetism", I'm taken back to the happy days of my own musical studies, when we still naïvely assumed intelligence would be rewarded. The wonderfully-titled "Ambivalence Saves The Day" is the systematization of chaos through the acceptability of dissonance, lightening the whole structure and ending - idiosyncratically as usual - with Hollenbeck all alone. Yes, you have to appreciate Woodson, an endangered species of musician capable of truly looking forward while maintaining the utmost respect for his roots and influences (he cites Alain Resnais, Samuel Beckett, Morton Feldman, Henri Dutilleux, Ned Rorem, Valentin Silvestrov and Stephen Sondheim among them). This music is at one and the same time beautiful, groundbreaking, inquisitive and hard-headed: if you missed Control and Resistance make sure you don't miss this.-MR

Niccolò Castiglioni
Metier MSV CD92089
Niccolò Castiglioni was born in Milan in 1932 and died there in 1996. Between 1958 and 1965 he was a regular visitor to the fabled Darmstadt summer school, and from 1966 to 1970 a visiting professor of composition in the USA, where he taught in Ann Arbor, Seattle and San Diego. The first piece on offer in this fine representative selection of his piano music, splendidly played by Sarah Nicolls, Cangianti, dates from 1959. Vintage Darmstadt, you might guess – and you wouldn't be far off the mark, but it's hardly a frosty exercise in total serialism à la Boulez's Structures. On the contrary, it's closer to some of Luc Ferrari's piano music of the mid 50s, a personal take on serialism filtered through the whole history of the repertoire, tracing a line back from the hysterical virtuosity of the Stockhausen Klavierstücke via Webern to expressionistic Schoenberg to Beethoven to the baroque masters the composer apparently enjoyed so much. No traces of neoclassicism, though (which can't always be said of Ferrari). There's a bit of a gap between Cangianti and the Tre Pezzi – nearly twenty years, to be precise, during which time Castiglioni, rather like Donatoni, was moving towards his own personal and utterly irony-free version of postmodernism. The "Kinderlied ohne Worte" is, as Michael Finnissy rightly points out in his liners, distinctly Webernian, but lest you get the impression it's all getting heavy and Germanic, the busy figuration and fondness for upper register arabesques also point towards Messiaen and Ravel. Four years later, and the ten little miniatures that make up Como io passo l'estate ("How I spend the summer") look even further afield, to ragtime ("Arrivo a Tires") and Gershwin ("La Fossa del Lupo"), via Satie, Debussy and Scriabin. If the major seventh and minor ninth were the intervals of choice for the Darmstadt avant-garde, Castiglioni does his level best here to bring back the good old schmaltzy third, and pianist Nicolls is right to recommend this to kids learning the piano: it's entertaining stuff, technically challenging but rewarding and beautifully heard (check out the ravishing chords on "Antonio Ballista dorme in casa dei Carabinieri"). In 1984's Dulce Refrigerium (Sechs Geistliche Lieder) the composer seems to be looking even further back, to Beethoven's famous Lebewohl horn calls (Ligeti's Horn Trio, written just a couple of years earlier, not surprisingly also explores the reference) – material of great significance for the composer, it would appear, since it also reappears in the distinctly late Beethovenian Sonatina written that same year. By this time the postmodernism seemed to be kicking in with a vengeance, though: where the Tre Pezzi fused diverse stylistic influences to perfection and the tiny vignettes of Come io passo approached them with simplicity and respect, it's harder to pinpoint the composer's real personality in the 1984 works (maybe that's intentional – mid 80s Donatoni is, after all, also good at playing "Will The Real Composer Please Stand Up?"). Happily, the Beethovenian soul searching is dispensed with in the toccata-like flourishes of the disc's closer, HE (1990), which goes back to the Darmstadt major seventh and its inversion, the noble semitone and gives them a workout both Bartók and Reich would have been proud of. There's not enough Castiglioni out on disc, so this one comes warmly recommended.-DW

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Greg Davis / Steven Hess
Longbox LBT 033
Greg Davis is attracting quite a bit of well-deserved attention lately, which bodes well for this splendid release on Adam Sonderberg's cutting edge bijou Longbox imprint. Joined by his frequent sparring partner Steven Hess, Davis has cooked up nine exquisitely crafted tracks for laptop and percussion, recorded direct to minidisc (except one taken from a live set at the Empty Bottle) chez Hess. With its concern for detail and attentive mixing of electronic and acoustic sonorities – and various treatments thereof – Decisions recalls another fine percussion / computer collaboration of recent times, Jon Mueller and Asmus Tietchens' excellent 7 Stücke (Aufabwegen, 2002). It's appropriate that Mueller should pop up in the discussion, as relations between his Crouton imprint up the road in Milwaukee and Sonderberg's Longbox have been close for a while – Sonderberg contributed a track to Crouton's Folktales 3, and Mueller is due to release an outing on Longbox shortly. Plus Hess plays in the Hat Melter quartet (Crouton 17). Small world.. anyway, back to Decisions. Both Hess and Davis are comfortable in the fertile plains that separate the desert landscapes of drone and the rocky mountains of, erm, rock (Davis even covered a Christopher Cross song recently on a compilation album on Tu m'-curated Mr Mutt label.. does that count as rock?), and though there are no foot-tapping grooves to speak of on Decisions, it's clear these guys know their Thrill Jockeys as well as their Erstwhiles. Don't be put off by the austere black packaging (that's probably just Adam being intimidating again): this is as colourful as it is uncompromising.—DW

Brendan Murray
Sedimental SEDCD 039
It's 2.30pm and I'm sitting on an old granite millstone on the banks of the Marne just outside Paris on what must be the hottest day of the year so far – it can't be far off 40°C – with the river flowing sluggishly by, clogged with dirty green weeds, home to squadrons of three-inch-long menacing dragonflies. There's not a breath of wind. Beads of sweat evaporate gently to leave tiny rings of salt on the skin. No doubt a few brave heat-resistant bugs are crawling in the long grass at my feet, but I can't hear them. The mp3 player is burning a hole in my pocket and Brendan Murray's music is burning another one inside my head. Perhaps this set of four medium-length electronic soundscapes is intended for nocturnal (or even, considering the title, post-funereal) listening, but there's something singularly appropriate about experiencing it here and now in the dry heat of early summer. Firstly because it gives the lie to the assumption that predominantly static electronic music is somehow "cool" (ambient, easygoing..) – Resting Places is hot, sometimes frighteningly intense – and secondly because, like my immediate surroundings, the apparent lack of discernable activity is but an illusion. Myriad tiny organisms are busy in the waters of the river, just as Murray's music is positively teeming with life behind its curtain of sustained tones. I have to admit to being slightly bemused by my colleague Jim Haynes's take on the work in the July Wire (to the effect that it lacks "a bit of polish to buff out the uneven moments that mar an otherwise fine effort"): it's precisely those occasional rough edges and sharp corners that give the album its definition.—DW

Ash International (RIP) / Crónica, Ash 6.1 / Crónica 016
An interesting throwback to the days of the “statement” or “manifesto”, this curio containing one hour of audience applause and cheers culled from various popular music live actions, with lush photography by Heitor Alvelos and design by Jon Wozencroft, is perfect for annoying noisy neighbors: “Just try to imagine what a concert would mean to an audience before sound could be recorded…” Nicely arch sentiment, that, but just try to imagine if you could only listen to a song once and never again. Try it, I fucking dare you! “The aim of Autodigest’s statements is to illustrate the collapse of music as we know it – codified, copied, digitized, burned, compressed, freely and readily available, all of this at a time when we can download music much faster than we can listen to it, all of this at a time when a soda drink offers one hundred million songs for free.” Apart from the nice bonus of word-count padding herein – hey, look / at least / I don’t / quote song lyrics – one should always have the chance to read a group’s “statements” beyond the odd broadside found buried in aging LP jackets. However, with all this blah-zey lowing over the state of modern music, it must always be emphasized that any such “collapse” of music is a Western phenomenon and doesn’t apply to recordings like these and other grassroots groups only a very few people give a shit about.—DC

Iris Light i-Light 031 CD EP
On Disinformation's R&D 2 back in 1998 – the second in a purportedly long-running “Research & Development” series – Joe Banks dealt with recordings of solar radio emissions, live electricity, magnetospheric reflections and local/artificial lightning, faintly reminiscent of the 2001 Turner Prize winner Martin Creed’s “Lights Going Off and On In an Empty Room”. The CD cover: black wires, tangled and piled and representative of a great “something else”. That’s pretty much how this album comes across, too: unmixed VLF magnetic-field noise recordings (“Bexleyheath to Dartford (2002)” and “London Underground (2002)”) sit alongside references to touchstones of civilization that obviously mean something but it’s unclear precisely what; in “Kwaidan (2002), parts 1 & 3”, a sudden rush of harsh sound is followed by a prickling, receding nothing, like the story in the Lafcaido Hearn anthology in which a great musician has his ear ripped off by ghosts when he fails to tattoo it with the necessary sigils. Is recording the sky above and the earth below just a question of documentary, of sheer objectivity? At what point do one’s own sense and sensibilities project themselves on the finished CD? An outwardly difficult record – in the same way that learning to swim is outwardly difficult.—DC

Mego 038
Barcelona duo Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Anna Ramos deliver songs (?) similar in nature to their pet chinchilla, Perkele – hyperactive, slithy and hairy with promise. From the world of algorithmic composition – meaning “constant nano-changes in pitch, velocity or general structure” – it is as if they had given the chinchilla (lots are available for sale, along with pea-hens, guinea pigs and other truculent animals, in the tourist area of Barcelona, Las Ramblas) free reign over their computer, or at least the circuit-bent Kaoss Pad. Termed “anti-climax” tracks, these seem more like the arcane stage directions to a traveling flea circus or the sound of files doing back-flips during a hard-drive defragmentation. The three tracks – “Punani Potagia”, “Pus pus pus” and “Walpurgis” – date from 2001 and are for “solo computer”, which prompts the question: if in thirty years we've trumped the Mayans and are all still here, will modern glitchgore be performed in much the same manner as Feldman or Cage today? Completely unpredictable from top to bottom – and avoidance of pattern-making in music is exceptionally difficult thing to bring off – Carl Stalling would have loved it.—DC

Ellen Band & David Lee Myers
Pogus 21035-2
We need more collaborations like this. David Lee Myers, aka Arcane Device, has worked with the likes of Asmus Tietchens and Tod Dockstader using feedback machines that recall the kinetic sculpture of Yaacov Agam and Scott Konzelmann, while Ellen Band, from the more academic world of Mills College, got a write-up in Playboy for 90% Post-Consumer Sound (XI) and was commissioned to do an installation at Logan International Airport in Boston. Given the track record of Arcane Device one might expect this to be an overpowering slab of sound, but it's far more measured, nearly polite. In his frank and informative liners, Myers mentions the “aquatic” nature of the recordings, which are, as he puts it, “an interplay between blending and contrast”. Shortwave crackles morph into swarms of annoying summer nits or hiccuping butterflies; life changes as one constantly-cracking ice-floe is exchanged for an increasingly smaller one; attenuated kettle whistles meet repetitive harpsichord figurations, birdsong, cochlea-tickling bass tones, locomotives and bad-acid-trip tinklings. A surprisingly gentle album. Cover star: the south shore of the East Siberian Sea.—DC

Vagina Dentata Organ
W.S.N.S., 003 CD VDO
Looking hale and hearty and just a little bit like Charles Grodin (or L.A.F.M.S. member Fredrik Nilsen, depending), Jordi Valls returns with renewed creative vigor – understandable because his entire oeuvre deals with obsession and focus, things which are difficult to maintain over long periods of time. Fifty minutes and eight seconds of a bell tolling across the backdrop of the works of Salvador Dalí, with the attendant stretching of the rope that pulls the clapper and a quote from St. John of the Cross on the inner sleeve: “Death, come hidden lest I hear you come; the pleasure of dying might give me life.” The VDO oeuvre, you'll recall, includes the manipulated album-length animal snarls of the Music for Hashishins LP, a fortuitously recorded Jonestown murder-suicide on the The Reverend Jim Jones In Person – The Last Supper picture disk (an edition of 912 copies, one for each victim), and the Harley-Davidson-driven mania of the Un Chien Catalan CD, all released on Valls's World Satanic Network System label. His work as an early advocate of Throbbing Gristle, his narration on the Whitehouse Psychopathia Sexualis LP, the Cold Meat picture disk showing Marilyn and Elvis on the slab and in the coffin, boasting two long suites of manipulated sighs signifying marriage, hence the subtitle “Eros and Thanatos” – it all adds up to an artist who aggrieves the Protestant work ethic, pokes the Realist in the eye, and takes the Fundamentalist to task for not admitting such things could be the work of a beneficent Deity. Valls is the living embodiment of Cage’s dictum “if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”—DC

Daniel Menche
Lapilli Recordings, lapcd2
Daniel Menche started out as a skater (he showed up in a couple of issues of Thrasher) and then worked as a chef in Oregon, cooking up what were reportedly very spicy meals and sauces, one of which was named “Hey, Menche!” Then you heard all about his “somatic” recordings where he’d swallow a contact mic and the very thought of that was enough to perk you up. In person he’s equally intense, and intensely self-effacing to boot. Drunk Gods is one long piece of subdued, scribbly static on top of a seemingly lo-fi beat and variations thereof, along with some spidery moodlings on synths or keyboards. It builds to a buzzing, hectoring, confounding climax – at which point the pounding returns, accompanied by a tinkling not unlike the part in the River City Ransom videogame in which you kick the guys who promptly drop all their pocket change and yell “Barf!” The whole thing lasts roughly about 20 minutes – that's twenty individual minutes, each comprised of sixty seconds and countless nanoseconds, some of which hop out the pocket watch and come to life as sound on this complex and textured slab of rot.—DC

Zbigniew Karkowski
Sub Rosa, SR214
Okay, look. We dig this stuff enough to write about it – we really want to like it – but if you’re writing a press release, don’t give us shit like “an ode to loudspeakers – these life conditions lead to a radical conclusion: the traditional definitions of music are irrelevant and music theories and music as a cultural concept must be destroyed.” Fuck you! You might as well come on Stevie Wonder’s face and tell him it’s a gentle May rainfall. It didn’t work for Pierre “All Art Of The Past Must Be Destroyed” Boulez, and it didn’t work for Edgard “The Modern-day Composer Refuses To Die” Varèse. If Karkowski thinks “music as a cultural concept must be destroyed”, why in Christ Jesus’ name does he want you to pay $15+ for this CD? Just tell us shit we didn’t know about the record or the composer and leave us alone to write our impenetrable-but-brilliant paragraphs. To wit: Zbiggy rips it up, cold chillin’ in full effect, makin' with the tasty horns and illin’ metal bangin’ like his gangsta homies Olivier “Masta Killa” Messiaen and Iannis “Scarface” Xenakis. He be wipin’ the floors wid Opiez on account of the listener bein’ so def after listenin’ to ocean sounds ‘n’ shit rollin’ up in ya like a ball of motherfuckin’ fire ants.—DC

>>back to top of AUGUST 2005 page

Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic