MARCH News 2006 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, Stephen Griffith, Martin Haanstra, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:

On Tompkins Square: Ran Blake / Charles Gayle
On Recorded:
Susan Alcorn / Todd Whitman
Hugh Davies
On Non Visual Objects:
Roel Meelkop / Richard Garet / Dale Lloyd / Jos Smolders / Ubeboet / Richard Chartier
News from the Shed
Billy Bao
Ab Baars / Talibam / Wade Matthews / MTKJ Quartet / Vinny Golia / Roland Ramanan / Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar /
John Butcher & Eddie Prévost / Lou Gare / Marit Schlechte / Civil War / Dropp Ensemble / Anla Courtis / John Clair & Andrew Sosis / Joel Stern & Jim Denley
Luca Miti / David Monacchi / Morton Feldman / John Hudak
Dion Workman & Mattin / Robin Fox & Clayton Thomas / Steinbrüchel / John Duncan & Paolo Parisi / Will Montgomery / Falter Bramnk / Black to Comm / Pimmon / Tim Coster
Last month


Hilton Palace. Sounds cool, eh? Think again. Hilton Palace was – maybe still is, I haven't been back to find out and don't intend to – a squat in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Parc Montsouris, which was for a brief while one of the French capital's itinerant new music venues. I first played there about three years ago in an impromptu trio with Daniel Erdmann and Bertrand Gauguet – violin and two saxophones, I recall it sounded rather nice – at which time the place was being run / squatted by well-intentioned, enthusiastic and polite (if poverty-stricken) arty types. But the second time I went to Hilton Palace it was another story. The buildings had been taken over, or rather overrun, by punks – as in bright pink mohawks, green Parkas, yellow teeth, serious attitude and fucking vicious dogs. It was a day that will live in infamy, as they say. I can't remember if I went there to play at all – don't think I did – but I do recall Taku Unami, huddled over his laptop in a corner of an upstairs room, literally terrified to go downstairs. His extremely quiet concert was hilariously sabotaged by what sounded like a pack of dogs at least a hundred strong barking, snarling and running up and down the rickety steps next to where we all sat, panic stricken. My other abiding memory is of a visit to the (communal) loos on the ground floor during which I was accosted by one of the local inhabitants who grabbed me in a bear hug, told me his breath stank – he was right – and blew a huge gob of phlegm up both my nostrils as a gesture of friendly solidarity. Just thinking about it now makes me retch. Also scheduled to perform that day was a duo consisting of Gert-Jan Prins (on electronics) and Thomas Ankersmit (saxophone.. don't recall he had any electronics with him), but Gert-Jan took one look at the locals downstairs and refused to bring his (fragile and probably expensive) gear in the place. Someone finally persuaded him to do the gig using a borrowed drum kit. I left before the end of their set, feeling sick. It wasn't their fault.
Next time I saw Thomas was June 2004 when he played a solo set at the Instants Chavirés, though I didn't say hello (I certainly didn't want to remind him of the Hilton Palace event). He was opening for Tomas Korber, Norbert Möslang and Günter Müller, with whom I was stuck in conversation at the bar. So it was a pleasure to run into Mr Ankersmit recently in the Sankt Georg Kirche in Cologne, where I'd been dispatched by The Wire to interview Phill Niblock for the March 2006 issue, especially when Thomas told me about a recent interview he'd given to Martin Haanstra, which I'm delighted to be able to include here. Ankersmit is apparently working on some directional loudspeakers to beam sound at specific targets, and, since SOUNDS CAN KILL, as Stockhausen once said, I'm hoping that one day I might be able to invest in a pair for self defence. Or even a preventive strike, if I ever have to make a return visit to Hilton Palace. Bonne lecture.-DW

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On Tompkins Square
Ran Blake
Tompkins Square
Charles Gayle
Tompkins Square
"Ran Blake is a genius." Here beginneth the liner notes, courtesy John Medeski (no mean keyboard player himself, and a former student of Blake at the New England Conservatory where the pianist, now in his 71st year, has been teaching since 1968). All That Is Tied is Ran Blake's 35th recording (it says here), which might sound like a lot but isn't when you remember the The Newest Sound Around, his landmark duo album with Jeanne Lee, was recorded back in 1961. So the appearance of any new Blake album is always something to write home about, especially when it's as good as this. What his work, and All That Is Tied in particular, reveals most forcibly is the world of difference between classical and, for want of a better word (because I'm not always sure it applies to Blake) jazz technique, both in terms of the music itself and how it's recorded. The incorporation into jazz of harmonic procedures derived from twentieth century classical models – can't really say European classical either, because there's as much Ives in there as Messiaen – would make for a fascinating thesis / book, if anyone had the time to write one; think Ellington and Debussy, Getz and Bartók (if I was handling the late Hungarian composer's estate I'd be chasing up long overdue royalties from Focus.. but maybe I'd be after arranger Eddie Sauter as much as Getz himself), Miles Davis and Stockhausen, not to mention Cecil Taylor. And Ran Blake would deserve a chapter all to himself. Transcribe any of these twelve exquisite tracks and there'd be enough for a bunch of Music Theory sophomores to chew on for a whole semester (though I bet they'd be taken aback by "Field Cry"), not that that should give you the impression that Blake's work is as dry as an Allen Forte K/Kh complex. It's no surprise perhaps that Medeski has penned the liners, because Blake is – watch out, here comes the cliché – very much a pianist's pianist. His total mastery of the pedals will have any pianist nodding admiringly for starters. Shame he hasn't recorded Stockhausen's Klavierstück X. And quite apart from the extraordinary paths down which he lets his melodic and harmonic ideas roam, there's the simple question of how he hits the keys themselves. Which takes us back to the earlier point: the difference between a Blake fortissimo and one played by a classically trained concert pianist is enormous, and is made all the more clear by the recording itself (no "classical" sound engineer would dare place the mics as close to the action as they are here – check out the whoosh of the pedals.. good job Blake doesn't groan like Keith Jarrett). Whereas concert pianists are taught to hit it and quit it, as it were, leaving the string free to vibrate as soon as possible after it's been struck by the hammer, Blake (and a whole lotta jazz pianists – Monk of course, but Misha Mengelberg, Howard Riley and Stan Tracey also come to mind) tend to press down more, leaving the hammer in contact with the string just long enough to bend the pitch of the note slightly. It gives a distinct metallic edge to the sound, a grittiness that most conservatory piano professors would scream at you about (unless you happen to be studying Bartók's Allegro Barbaro, and even then I have my doubts). It's a sound that means business – every one of Blake's notes is there for a reason. But there's as much purpose and refinement in one of his delicate pianissimos too. Genius isn't a word I like to bandy about much – I've always preferred JB Priestley's line – "no genius but a hell of a lot of talent" – but for once I reckon Medeski isn't wide of the mark. And Ran Blake hits the bullseye every time.
If All That Is Tied reveals a knowledge of the piano repertoire that goes way beyond the confines of jazz, Time Zones, only the second solo piano recording by Charles Gayle, is, like its predecessor Jazz Solo Piano (2001, Knitting Factory), steeped in blues, stride, boogie and bop – though unlike the earlier outing, there are no covers on offer here. Gayle remains best known for the unbridled excesses of his tenor sax playing, which established him as something of a cult figure in the eyes of wild rockers such as Henry Rollins, who released Gayle's Delivered on his 2.13.61 imprint, but his piano playing has always revealed that the roots go further back in time than the expressionism of 60s free jazz. He's not averse to whacking the ivories if needs be, but anyone coming to Time Zones in search of a pianistic equivalent of the stuff Forced Exposure used to rave about should probably look elsewhere. True, there are a few passages that recall Cecil Taylor (hardly surprising since Gayle is a former CT sideman), notably the jagged left hand octave figures that shoot through "Rush to Sunrise", but the track's flirtation with the stacked fourth harmonies of McCoy Tyner and its unabashed if fleeting quotation of the old chestnut "Doo Dah" are about as far from Taylor's crunchy set theory as you can get. Though Gayle likes to set his left hand challenges – trying to play high octane bop in octaves with the right on "Rhythm Twins", for example – if left to its own devices it happily falls back to the parallel tenths of Art Tatum and the elemental boogie of James P. Johnson, rather than the bare sevenths and odd angles of later stylists such as Monk and Nichols.
Oddly enough, the pianist that came most often to mind upon listening to this was Oscar Peterson, whose playing also owes much to Tatum. Of course, Gayle is no Oscar Peterson – nor would we expect him to be – but what makes Gayle's take on Tatum so different and exciting is how he's not in the least bit afraid of pushing his technique beyond its limits, while Peterson's stays well within his. The Mighty Oscar's virtuoso runs up and down the keyboard are truly dazzling, and you don't have to be a pianist to feel your jaw drop in admiration, but there's never any danger of the piece falling apart, whereas the cascades of "wrong" notes in Gayle's breathtaking right hand surges are truly thrilling. And they're not "wrong" notes at all – or if they are they're the right wrong notes, if I might be forgiven once again for quoting Robin Holloway. The exact same passage on a Peterson CD would certainly cause eyebrows to rise (I can even imagine some die-hard snobs returning the album to the store in a huff claiming that Oscar had "lost his touch"), but it's precisely these deviations from the norm that breathe life into Gayle's music, even when he deliberately sets out to explore that most hallowed of forms, the blues. "Blues in Mississippi" is a drop dead masterpiece, and the vein of tough lyricism Gayle taps into throughout these seven originals is rich and deep. To cop someone else's line: Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future. -DW

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On Recorded
Susan Alcorn
Todd Whitman
Recorded, like several notable outings on John Berndt's label of the same name, at Baltimore's High Zero Festival (which is fast becoming one of the most important free improvisation moots in the United States), these two albums showcase particular artists performing in diverse instrumental / vocal groupings. PT readers may remember Joe McPhee's Mister Peabody Goes To Baltimore, documenting his appearances at High Zero 2000, and Jack Wright's Open Wide, from HZ 2001, and now there's Concentration and Zeppelins Erste Grosse Fahrt, both from the 2004 edition of the festival, the former featuring the exquisite pedal steel guitar of Texan Susan Alcorn in the company of Karen Stackpole, Lê Quan Ninh, Joe McPhee, Audrey Chen, Andrea Parkins, Jesse Quatro, Jason Willett and Todd Whitman, and the latter Whitman himself, also with McPhee, Chen and Parkins but joined as well by Jackie Blake, Dan Breen, Sabir Mateen, Stanley Schumacher and Bob Wagner.
Concentration's opener finds Alcorn in the company of a supremely lyrical McPhee and a percussion dream team of Stackpole and Lê Quan. It's as spacious as its title, "Four Mountains, Four Rivers", and there's plenty of room for sensitive interplay between Ninh's horizontally mounted bass drum and Stackpole's metal, as well some tasty exchanges between McPhee's soprano and Alcorn's guitar – though the best of these come on the album's closing track "And Who Could I Ask If It Wasn't You?", a little gem of a duet. The four following pieces, whose titles I can't resist quoting ("Silence Like a Breaking Glass", "The Silence Was Your Grey Butterfly Urine and Bedsores", "Olivier Messiaen's Morning Conjugal Death Waltz" and "The Queen Is Always Pregnant".. go figure), team Alcorn up with cellist / vocalist Audrey Chen and (excepting the first one mentioned above, on which Quatro adds "voice and processing") the sampler, piano and accordion of Andrea Parkins. It's an attractive and lyrical set, and even if Parker's accordion squeezes Chen to the back of the mix somewhat, it's easy to follow what's going on. Not sure the same can be said of "Time Was Nothing", on which Alcorn is joined by saxophonist Todd Whitman – at last recordings of this influential but hitherto undocumented player are emerging – Jesse Quatro and Jason Willett (helpfully credited as playing "anything"). It's an odd but engaging search for common ground, which the musicians manage to locate but not exactly inhabit; Whitman and Alcorn sound curiously reticent, leaving Quatro's spooky vocalisms to contend with some unsettling percussion. Willett or Whitman? It's hard to tell when you're playing "anything"..

Todd Whitman, the man responsible for pointing Jack Wright in the direction of improvised music over a quarter of a century ago by introducing him to the work of Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann, is, as Berndt writes, "one of the most distinctive – and sonically extreme – reed improvisers", yet this long awaited first CD under his name begins with a track that features no saxophone at all, but a wild, gnarly collection of wails, scrapes and crashes from "amplified metal, bow, saw and cones". On "Rompin and Stompin" the party gets into full swing with exuberant gargles and shrieks courtesy Audrey Chen and (trombonist) Stanley Schumacher, accompanied by a raucous three-man horn section of Whitman, Sabir Mateen and Joe McPhee, the electric bass and percussion of Dan Breen and (once more) Parkins, thickening the plot with sampled blasts. She's more in the foreground at the beginning of the following "Broadway Melody" (Broadway melody indeed.. put this kind of stuff on Broadway and watch the costume jewellery fly as your audience races for the exits), a patchwork quilt of styles that finally settles into somewhat introspective gloom after about three minutes before Whitman's baritone kicks it back into life. "Thursday1" is another stylistic ragbag, combining rather lackadaisical piano doodling from Jackie Blake with some distinctly spiky percussion from Bob Wagner and forlorn wails from Schumacher. "Light Flight" brings the "Rompin and Stompin" band back for a fastmoving assemblage of swoops and crackles punctuated by all manner of splats and fizzes from the (admirably restrained under the circumstances) horn section. "Jackie" starts out with some uncharacteristically plaintive bluesy alto sax from Jackie Blake before Wagner comes crashing in after two and a half minutes, and Whitman's baritone and Parkins' electronics attempt – without success – to crush Ms Blake under a pile of twisted metal. Throughout the album as a whole, Whitman himself remains, as he has done for over two decades, pretty much in the shadows – but listen carefully and you can hear how significant his contributions are. And you really do need to listen to this one a few times before you can figure out what's going on.–DW

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Hugh Davies

The importance of musicians is not something to be judged by the size of their discographies. The death of Hugh Davies at age 61 on New Year's Day last year deprived the new music world of one of its unsung heroes. A list of some of the musicians Davies studied / performed / worked with would be quite long, and would include major names – Karlheinz Stockhausen (whose assistant he became in 1964, succeeding Cornelius Cardew), Derek Bailey, Evan Parker (with whom he recorded in the Music Improvisation Company with vocalist Christine Jeffrey and percussionist Jamie Muir) and Borbetomagus (he appears on 1981's Work On What Has Been Spoiled) – as well as a whole host of lesser known but influential figures, including electronic music visionary Daphne Oram, composer Jonathan Harvey and, umm, Talk Talk. (The fact that Borbetomagus is listed above as a major name and Talk Talk isn't is further proof of this website's unswerving dedication to difficult music. And you still wonder why we don't carry advertising?)
As a pioneer in the use of live electronics – the world has now come full circle and many of the techniques Davies pioneered in the late 60s are now part and parcel of the standard improviser's arsenal – one of his many inventions was the shozyg, which he self-effacingly described as "a collection of amplified metal knick-knacks inside the covers of an encyclopaedia, SHO-ZYG, an encyclopaedia degutted to substitute direct experience for learning". Such a open, no-frills, no-bullshit attitude to innovation might have led to his being considered as yet another lovable English eccentric, but only by those unfamiliar with his music. This posthumous collection of five tape compositions spanning his career – from 1976's Natural Images to 2000's From Trees and Rocks – is proof, sadly overdue, that Hugh Davies was a composer of enormous talent who deserves to take his place alongside the major electronic music masters of his generation. The album comes with an authoritative accompanying booklet featuring detailed background notes on each work by the composer, and a hugely informative essay on the man and his music by David Toop (a heavily edited version of which was published as an obituary in The Guardian,3604,1426693,00.html).
It's easy to forget that Hugh Davies had a thorough grounding in academic music theory and composition, studying at Oxford with the talented if conservative symphonist Edmund Rubbra. But by the time he went up there he'd already gulped down a huge lungful of air from another planet in the form of Stockhausen's seminal Gesang Der Jünglinge ("Song Of The Youths)". His traditional composition chops came in handy when scoring Stockhausen's epic Momente in 1964, but the real epiphany for Davies was his experience later that year operating the potentiometers in Mikrophonie I, Stockhausen's six-man live electronic assault on a tam tam. Davies's subsequent exploration of live electronics, and how it led him into the brave new world of nascent free improvisation, is well documented in Toop's essay. But though his work with Gentle Fire with Richard Bernas, Graham Hearn, Stuart Jones and Michael Robinson has assumed almost legendary status (it doesn't make it any easier to get hold of, by the way), his activities as a composer have, until now, been largely and unfortunately overlooked.
In 1966 Davies was a researcher at the GRM in Paris, and, as early as 1968, founded and ran the Electronic Music Studio at Goldsmiths' College, London (he remained there until 1986). So by the time he came to create Natural Images in 1976, to a commission for the EMMA dance company, he was already a highly experienced and resourceful composer. Natural Images is a minor masterpiece of musique concrète whose "natural sounds" are cunning transformations of more mundane objects: a squeaky breadbin lid becomes whale song, a train whistle the howling of wolves. And wait until you hear the mating dance of the bees – you may never eat honey again. (One blast of this vicious buzzsaw attack and you'll understand immediately the logic behind a Davies / Borbetomagus encounter.) 1982's Tapestries was also created for a dance company, this time Bridget Crowley's Dancers Anonymous. Unlike Natural Images, however, it exploits the potential of the then state-of-the-art equipment in Davies's studio at Goldsmiths', but don't let that put you off – in stark contrast to the rather chilly studio works coming out across the Channel at the time, Davies's music is refreshingly, even alarmingly, warm and direct. No question of trying to blind the listener with science here – this was a man for whom explaining the world of electronic music to a group of children was as important as writing a high-level research paper.
Davies's interest in environmental sound – he was an unsung hero of sonic ecology to boot, drawing up plans for numerous urban sound art projects – dates back to the same period, though the piece that best represents this aspect of his work here is From Trees and Rocks, which was commissioned by the Diözesanmuseum in Cologne (ha, irony – the cradle of pure Elektronisches Musik!) for the portable exhibition guide Walkmen in 2000. Sounds of hammering, chiselling and sawing are beautifully sequenced and structured with typically composerly attention to detail. By way of contrast, Vision (1985) and Celeritas (1987) were made using one of the early Fairlight Series digital synthesizers, the latter work using a microtonal tuning first explored by Stockhausen in 1954 in which a 28 semitone span is divided into 25 equal steps. The music, once again, sounds nowhere near as forbidding as the above description might have you think: Davies drew his dynamic and timbral envelopes directly with a light-pen, and the work retains the freshness of the bold brushstroke. Even if some of the timbres now sound a little dated – oddly enough, the more "primitive" Natural Images sounds more modern to 2006 ears – these two pieces, notably the 17 minute Vision, still stand proudly as fine examples of the work of a major and now sorely missed figure of British contemporary music. Essential.

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On Non Visual Objects
Roel Meelkop
Richard Garet / Dale Lloyd / Jos Smolders / Ubeboet
Richard Chartier
At first sight Heribert Friedl's Non Visual Objects label looks remarkably like Bernhard Günter's trente oiseaux imprint, typeface included, which isn't all that surprising since Friedl and Günter have already worked together (on the exquisite Ataraxia), and a cursory list at the musicians whose work Friedl has released includes several names that will be familiar to Günter punters. But even in the rarefied world of micro-electronica there's plenty of room for a multitude of different approaches, as these three releases testify. For a start, Roel Meelkop's music can hardly be easily filed away under "lowercase": >Momentum< follows hard on the heels of 5 (Ambiences) on Intransitive, and is just as impressive. As is increasingly the case these days, the disc is a CD document of works originally conceived as gallery installations – it's based on his work in the medium over the past eight years – but patient editing has paid off: unlike many recent outings which can tend to sound somewhat dry if heard out of context, these six tracks stand up perfectly well on their own. Meelkop's work is discreet, generally low volume (though there are some notable surprises in store for anyone who pumps up the volume and plays this as background music – watch your tweeters at 6'16" in "am Birkenwald") but not without tension, even drama. "Sub version with high end", as its title implies, is another opportunity for you to put your stereo system to the test. I'm wondering if somewhere along the line the track titles haven't been mixed up a bit, as the obsessive loops of track five, marked on the disc as "NU", sound more like what you might expect from "LocGroove", which is the title of the preceding track, but maybe I'm wrong. No doubt though about the final "sined" – a sustained and chillingly beautiful exploration of sine waves.
The four-way split Territorium is another fine example of how today's new electronic music blurs the distinction between natural and artificial - those old ideological battle lines drawn up between Paris and Cologne seem increasingly irrelevant. The "AT" in Dale Lloyd's "Anamorphic_AT" stands for "Artificial Terrain", and the composer is at pains to point out that though some use is made of field recordings, what might sound like insects and amphibians is in fact purely electronic in origin. In terms of overall pace and basic material it has much in common with Richard Garet's "Circle", which combines treated field recordings made in South America and Garet's current home New York City (including on the subway) to create a subdued if tense montage of hums, drones and crackles. The three brief tracks by Ubeboet, aka Madrid-based Con-v label boss Miguel Tolosa, are as evocative as their titles – "The Wait", "Doubts" and "Waking Up Misty" – but tend to leave one wanting more (luckily there is more at The most impressive piece on offer is Jos Smolders' "Aiolos (Vangsaa Exterior)", which as its title makes clear is sourced in recordings of wind made outside a cottage in Vangsaa, Denmark, delicately woven with flecks of distant birdsong, passing aeroplanes and "tiny bell like anomalies" into a rich and remarkably moving sonic tapestry.
Running these articles through the spell checker as I often do, I see that "elusive" is an adjective that pops up quite often in the electronica pages. Remind me to consult a thesaurus next time. But elusive is most definitely the word to describe the music of Richard Chartier, painter / graphic designer / composer and co-founder of the Line label. There's a fine essay on Chartier's work by Will Montgomery in the lavish new book / DVD from Sound323, Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum (if you can find / afford a copy that is – review coming next month in these pages to whet your appetite, all being well). Montgomery is right to point out the influence of Feldman (who "saw his work as reaching an accommodation between this unstructured 'time canvas' and the linear demands of musical time"), but Chartier's music isn't traditionally notated and not in the least concerned with recognizable (and often repeated) units of pitch / harmonic information. With its fondness for almost imperceptible changes of texture and colour, Tracing has more in common perhaps with the music of Eliane Radigue, an influence that's perhaps more apparent in Chartier's early works – cf. Archival 1991 on Crouton – but one that seems to have resurfaced here. Unlike Radigue's music, which benefits from being played back at relatively high volume over a good speaker system, Chartier describes his ideal listening conditions as "closed headphones – the kind that shut out the world – or an otherwise silent environment." Radigue's music – like Phill Niblock's – takes shape and reveals its form by interacting with the architecture of the listening space itself, while Chartier's often gives the impression it wants to withdraw from the world entirely. Introvert it might be, but it's not inaccessible. This 41'36" span of superbly paced and immaculately mixed music is as good a place to start as any if you're unfamiliar with Richard Chartier's music.–DW

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John Butcher / Phil Durrant / Radu Malfatti / Paul Lovens / John Russell
Emanem 4121
Emanem’s been dipping into the Acta back catalogue again, following last year’s reissue of SME’s A New Distance. This reissue of News from the Shed’s only recording, first released on John Butcher's label in 1989, is something of a madeleine for this reviewer, who caught the group in Toronto in the early 1990s near the end of its lifespan (though trombonist Radu Malfatti was already gone, due to ill-health or incipient ultraminimalism). It must have been a pretty miserable experience for the musicians, performing in a drab, windswept public square for an audience left over from an earlier Boss Brass concert (which beat a hasty retreat once the music started), but it was still a revelatory glimpse of a newer UK improvising scene – the so-called “second wave" – just beginning to get exposure in North America. The album itself remains something of a classic of 1980s improv, a little neglected perhaps because it was issued on LP just as the CD era was getting going. It’s basically an expanded version of the Butcher / Durrant / Russell trio (responsible for the earlier Acta release Conceits and two later albums, Concert Moves and The Scenic Route), expanded to a quintet by Malfatti and drummer Paul Lovens (he of the “selected and unselected drums”). Much of the pleasure here is in hearing music that’s on the verge of something else, halfway between olde-style improv and the more minimalist forms in the offing, but ultimately it’s very much a musical world of its own. There’s a watchmaker precision to the improvisations – tracks are short, often further subdivided like miniature suites, and there’s not a wasted note to be found – yet there’s no cautious, slow-motion playing or austerity: the results are, however small in scale, quite busy and vivacious. Each sound is as concrete as a pen-scratching on paper, and has its own force and direction, independently of the individual musician: indeed it’s virtually a rule here that if a given musical gesture is started by one musician, it’s finished by another. John Butcher’s sax multiphonics flit briskly between sonic outcroppings, only rarely dropping into one of his trademark in-depth explorations of a single split tone; Durrant’s subtly FXed violin rubs up against Russell’s acoustic-guitar needlings; and there’s an unusual low-key but anarchic sense of humour at times, most noticeable in Malfatti’s witty and garrulous trombone, and in the way Lovens’ discreet pointillism yields to the odd percussive spasm. Music of this delicacy was never ideally served by LP, and in this edition, with four excellent bonus tracks to boot, it’s like encountering it anew, with even the tiny creaks and clicks at the end of “Everything Stops for Tea” now clearly audible.–ND

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Billy Bao

You never quite know what you're in for when you pop a Mattin disc into the machine (though, admittedly, if he's sharing the bill with Taku Unami or Radu Malfatti you can probably have an educated guess), and that applies to quality as much as content. Having found his Song Book singularly awful – and I can't help wondering if he didn't intend it to be, though perhaps the fact that I don't speak the language he's singing in means I'm missing out on something dreadfully important – I'll admit I was a bit alarmed at the prospect of a Mattin punk album called Rock'n'Roll Granulator. That said, the last album with the word rock'n'roll in the title, Norman D. Mayer and Hugo Roussel's Rock'n'Roll Motherfucker on the Priscilia label (RIP?) was what it said it was: a motherfucker. And so's this, even if it isn't really a punk album. Or rather it's a post-punk album. No, not even that – Simon Reynolds will write in and complain – erm, a post-post-punk album? Whatever it is it's terrific stuff. Mattin is joined by Alan Courtis, Xabier Erkizia, Alberto Lopez and Pablo Reche – and Billy Bao himself, who appears to be a Nigerian refugee stranded in Bilbao. A likely story, that – until presented with photographic evidence to the contrary, I'm more inclined to think he's another creation of the ever fertile mind of Mattin himself. Well maybe he'll write in and tell us one day. Three of the four tracks start out pretty rocky (post-rocky? aagh, don't start that again), all binary thrust and skronking clangy guitars, but they don't stay that way for long. Well, "Dame Kritmo" more or less does: it could just about be an Ex outtake (ca. Instants). "Evapogoration" is trucking along just fine until Mattin's laptop starts mashing it to shit at 0'38", the track literally splintering apart into shards of vicious glitch before emerging phoenix-like by 1'17" only to fuck up again just before the end. "El grado zero del pulso" (which my pidgin Spanish seems to indicate means "the degree zero of pulse".. that figures) doesn't get anywhere near punk. Though then again I suppose you could argue that it does, since it's all about mindlessly regular rhythmic drumming. It lasts 18'41" and consists of 193 repeated drum strokes roughly five seconds apart. After a couple of minutes wisps of other sounds drift in. There's a little guitar squeal at 4'45" and the texture thickens by the 12-minute mark, but the drums thud inexorably on. I wonder if Mattin know's Mathias Spahlinger's Ephémère, the central section of which calls for a percussionist to play sixty-five slow rimshots "as regularly as possible". The difference is that while Spahlinger's attempts at sameness result in difference – the performer can try to repeat exactly the same sound but s/he's doomed to fail, as the exposed nature of the sound makes clear to the attentive listener – Mattin's thuds sound maddeningly identical (sampled?), if very slightly irregular in their spacing. It's an extraordinary listening experience. So is the closing "Para ahuyentar ratas, humanos y ortos insectos", which starts out chirpy enough but soon descends into a cavern of sub bass rumble and never manages to climb out. It all certainly challenges our notions of what "rock" is – or even "music" itself – is, and if that isn't what punk's all about I don't know what is.–DW

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Ab Baars
It takes balls to tackle a whole album of Ellington covers, even if you try and protect your back by appending the word "kinda" to each track, but if anyone can do it it's clarinettist and tenor saxophonist Ab Baars. As a veteran (make that young veteran) of Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra and notable participant on Misha's "Ellington Mix" (on Bospaadje Konijnehol, ICP 028) he's certainly qualified, and with Joost Buis on trombone, Wilbert de Joode on bass and Martin van Duynhoven on drums he's got the right men for the job. His selection of Duke material – and the way he's sequenced it on the album – is also astute and original: in addition to chestnuts such as "Solitude", "Caravan" (mustn't forget co-writer Juan Tizol) and "Prelude to a Kiss", there are lesser known compositions, including "Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool" (originally on 1952's Live at the Blue Note, and co-credited to Harold Baker), "Half The Fun" (from 1957's Such Sweet Thunder), "Aristocracy à la Jean Lafitte" and "Portrait of Wellman Braud" (both from 1970's New Orleans Suite).
Opening with "Solitude" might sound like a risky move, especially a reading as fragile and intense as this one, on which Baars starts out tremulously like Ayler and ends up fluffy as Webster, but it's the perfect prelude to the wild, spiky reading of "Aristocracy à la Jean Lafitte", after which the perky swing of "Jack the Bear" comes as much needed light relief. Well, for 38 seconds at least – until de Joode takes it right out into a free arco solo. "Kinda Caravan", as you might expect, is a perfect vehicle for Buis' trombone and he drives it hard and straight, but not without a few crafty nods in the direction of Tizol. Meanwhile, "Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool" sounds daft enough to be a Mengelberg composition. Baars' arrangements are skilful, and appropriately enough for the music of Ellington, his preference for the clarinet over the tenor serves to shift the focus away from bop to swing. And there's nothing the Dutch like to do better than swing (so no prizes for guessing who wrote the liners for this one – Kevin "New Dutch Swing" Whitehead himself), and Duynhoven and de Joode can swing like hell, either uptempo or in the slow dirge of "Kinda Braud". Duynhoven also turns in a magnificently melodic drum solo on "Kinda Harlem" ("Drop Me Off in Harlem"). Dannie Richmond would have been proud of him. But what makes it all so good is that however well the four musicians know their Tizol, Nanton, Brown, Hamilton, Bigard, Procope, Braud, Blanton and Woodyard, this is no fusty, crusty play-it-straight homage, but a vibrant, dangerous and thoroughly sparkling update of a great tradition.

Evolving Ear
Nice to hear something new from ex-Storm & Stress drummer Kevin Shea (who I had the pleasure of splitting a release with a while back), but I'd really like to know what he, Ed Bear (feedback saxophone) and Matt Mottel (synth) have against The Doobie Brothers, because my copy of this awesome CDR comes inside a homemade cover butchered from an old LP copy of Minute To Minute. It also comes with a slab of vinyl hacked out of what is clearly a mid 70s WB album, though whether or not it's Minute To Minute will remain forever a mystery, because, dear reader, I have no intention of fucking up my stylus trying to find out so I can tell you. (As if you care – your copy might come in a Bee Gees cover anyway.) After all, Talibam's music is fucked up enough as it is. I was going to say this sounds like a cross between Painkiller and Tony Williams' Lifetime, except that even in his wildest moments Zorn still sounds like he's playing a saxophone, while Ed Bear could be playing anything. And unlike Tony Williams, who could storm and stress beautifully himself while remaining solidly inside some unfathomably complex 15/8 or something like it time signature, Shea is more inclined to go for all out energy until Mottel pens him in with some mindnumbingly repetitive riff. Gonzo jazz rock fusion at its most inspired. Someone send a copy to Michael MacDonald, quick.–DW

Wade Matthews
After the Doneda and Rombolá outings on Sillón reviewed in these pages last month, you might be forgiven for expecting more of Wade Matthews' work on bass clarinet and flute (especially if you're familiar with his two Creative Sources releases Aspirations & Inspirations and Dining Room Music), but no: Absent Friends is subtitled "Seven Electronic Improvisations" and finds the French-born American improviser using Reaktor software to turn a G4 Powerbook into a virtual analog synthesizer. For the benefit of trainspotters his setup consists of "four audible multiple wave oscillators, a white noise generator with dedicated two-pole resonating filter, three low-frequency oscillators (which can control amplitude, frequency and/or filter depth, cut-off, etc.) a main filter that can be controlled by the LFOs, a bunch of secondary filters and a four-oscillator chorus unit." So now you know. It's not surprising that Matthews goes into detail here, as he studied electronic music with Mario Davidovsky at the mythic Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where his doctoral dissertation consisted of three pieces for improvisers guided by electronic sounds. "I'm not a woodwind improviser who's just moved into electronics because they’re 'in' right now. My electronic experience goes back almost a quarter of a century," he points out.
These seven tracks come from a set of 19 real time improvisations Matthews recorded while on holiday in France last summer. "I built a 'patch', just as I would with an analog synthesizer, then began to play it, listening to its character and altering its parameters as I went along. I can honestly say it was the easiest recording experience I’ve ever had," he admits. Though the pieces may have emerged in a spate of activity, it's clear he's spent long hours fine-tuning his equipment and perfecting his individual sounds. And despite all the technical info above, this is by no means arid, cerebral music: it's at times vibrant, thrilling, haunting, moving, even disturbing – but consistently impressive. More of Matthews' electronic work is scheduled for release shortly on Creative Sources, in the form of a duo project Mørske-Lys with Ingar Zach. If it's as good as this I can't wait to hear it.–DW

MTKJ Quartet
Nine Winds 258
One of the more quietly eye-opening releases of 2004 was Making Room for Spaces, the Nine Winds debut of this Los Angeles-based group. Their music reflected their absorption of many influences, none more so, to these ears, than the Braxton/Wheeler/Holland/Altschul quartet from the 1970s. Their newest release continues that trend, but with some extra assurance and risk-taking. Composition credits are shared between reedist Jason Mears and trumpeter/flugelhornist Kris Tiner; Mears’ pieces tend to be drivingly uptempo, Tiner’s more introspective, at least until you get to the final cut, Tiner’s delightfully rousing “I Hate Your Teapot”, which manages to successfully incorporate wood flutes in a barn-burner. Mears’ solo work on alto saxophone is well-constructed and admirably free of obvious influences; he’s also adept on clarinet, as in “Attack of the Eye People”, and at times adds the flutes for colour. Colour is also important for Tiner, who makes shrewd use of mutes and growls in his solos and in ensemble playing. Ivan Johnson on bass provides the complex time-changes and contrapuntal arrangements with a steady rhythmic foundation, and drummer Paul Kikuchi clatters away rambunctiously in the manner of the Vandermark 5's Tim Daisy, keeping time while shaking things up every so often. This is the type of release – small label, no recognizable names – that tends to get overlooked. As with the Respect Sextet, there is plenty of substance behind the appealing façade, and the group deserves wider exposure. They’ve also removed one minor obstacle to their becoming a household name since this disc appeared: according to their website, the band name is now the more phonetically pleasing Empty Cage Quartet.–SG

Vinny Golia Quartet
Clean Feed 036
Bronx-born and Los Angeles-based reedman and composer (not to mention proprietor of the West Coast’s major documentary label, Nine Winds), Vinny Golia seems to engage as many different ensemble palettes as he does instruments, making him one of the most consistently invigorating improvisers in North America. On these nine original compositions, he's joined by trumpeter Bobby Bradford, bassist Ken Filiano and percussionist Alex Cline, a mainstay of Golia’s small groups of the 70s and 80s, who appears on the first Nine Winds release (now sadly out of print), Spirits In Fellowship, a quartet with bassist Roberto Miguel Miranda and clarinettist/saxophonist John Carter. Bradford's own well-documented quartet with Carter turned the then-new Ornette Coleman model on its head with spacious, colourful collective improvisations, stately ballads and rare tonal combinations.
It's a line that Sfumato is well-placed to develop, but Golia's quartet stands a way apart from the Carter-Bradford model, notably in the biting trills that make up several of the heads on offer. (“All Together Now”, with its rising chromatic gritty bass clarinet, trumpet and arco bass, seems to have culled its theme from the Coursil-Murray warhorse “Angels and Devils.”) Bradford, always more mercurial and acrid in execution than Don Cherry, sounds closer here to Bill Dixon or Alan Shorter, but with a dash of hardbop cayenne thrown in. And though "Ayleresque" is rarely a word used to describe Golia’s music, there's more raw Cleveland swagger in his bass clarinet squawks than one usually finds in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, “NBT” presents his muscular soprano, building terse Lacy-like statements of (“Repetition” might be Lacy’s “Hit” in another guise) into a dense sonic wall. Filiano and Cline are a jagged, forceful pair, digging into slinky vamps only to dissect them moments later. Their rhythmic approach is worlds apart from the supple daubs and ethereal swing drummer Bruz Freeman and bassist Tom Williamson applied to Carter's New Art Jazz Ensemble. Cline’s kit has evolved over the decades from an assortment of gongs, woodblocks and chimes to a standard drumset, a fleet, dry sound well suited to the ensemble’s approach. Sfumato might be one of Golia’s strongest recordings to date, striking a beautiful balance between metallic poise and broadly applied colours. Lean yet full, vibrant and chiaroscuro, these apparent contradictions are the hallmarks of great improvised music.

Roland Ramanan
Liner-note exposition is brief on trumpeter Roland Ramanan’s second Emanem effort, the sign of a musician confident in his music’s capacity to field any important talking points. Three years have elapsed since the release of his debut Shaken, the title a play on the name of his father, the great Shake Keane (best known as a member of Joe Harriott’s quartet). In the fall of 2003 Ramanan reconvened the same crew – cellist Marcio Mattos, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Mark Sanders – to record Caesura, a surefooted blend of jazz, improv and chamber music like its predecessor. Ramanan’s Milesian and Cherry dialects appear on “Bloom’s Blues,” as he moves from muted to open bell passages within a grayscale context of dour bowed strings and metallic percussion. Mattos and Fell show an uncommon amount of rapport, developing harmonic lattices accented by the detailed patter from Sanders’ kit. Ramanan plays wooden flute on “One Sty Bone”, its dry twittering contrasting with the squelch of Mattos’ electronics. “In a Different Circle” serves up a frothy stein of free jazz with Ramanan’s brassy bursts volleying across chattering drums and snapping-turtle strings. A switch to flute signals what sounds like an avian treetop colloquy. The leader lays out on “Marcel Duchamp,” a Fell solo improvisation stocked with stirring harmonic overlays, and “Post Part,” a dense duet for Fell and Mattos. The only misfire to my ears is the lugubriously discursive finale “Waiting for En and En.” Overall, the interplay on Caesura keeps to the quieter side, but without any loss of tension or depth, and the music is good enough to make one hope that the next Ramanan release won't be as long coming.–DT

Hamid Drake / Assif Tsahar
Ayler 025
Openness and empathy are paramount to the duet format, whether the crepuscular tone poems of Alex Cline and Jamil Shabaka (Duo Infinity, Aten, 1977) or the muscular displays of Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe (Duo Exchange, Survival, 1972). It takes a pared-down language to truly portray a musician, even a well-known figure like Hamid Drake, whose pedigree stretches a mile long from reggae and funk groups in the 70s to more recent highly acclaimed work with reedmen Fred Anderson and Peter Brötzmann. Recorded just over three years ago at Stockholm’s showcase for adventurous improvised music, the Glenn Miller Café, this second volume of duets between Drake and Israeli-born tenorman Assif Tsahar (the first was Soul Bodies, Ayler 024) provides an hour’s worth of tight, dialectic-smashing conversations of stately Newk-Trane phrase wringing, jubilant calypso and funk salvos – they even close with “St. Thomas”. With similarly West Indian ebullience, Peter Kowald’s composition “Mother and Father” evokes both Rollins and Don Cherry, as Tsahar’s visceral, skunky verses make clear. “Warriors of Stillness” features a more typically heavy backbeat performance from Drake, but jagged skronk is as much part of the equation as he and Tsahar make a run for a rather vast conceptual palette, from biting free exchanges on “Praying Mantis” to the mean multiphonics-laced blues of “Handling Clouds,” on which Drake settles into an easy swing of cross-rhythms and momentary stalls. Strong and highly nuanced tenor-drums interplay, worth investigating by both fans and converts.–CA

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John Butcher / Eddie Prévost
As titles go, Interworks isn't as bland and dull as Trio Playing (John Butcher's 1995 outing with Oren Marshall and Derek Bailey on Incus, which wasn't bland and dull at all despite its truly hideous cover art), but it does sound rather anonymous, like the name of some small hi-tech company based on an industrial estate in Slough ("Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! / It isn't fit for humans now / There isn't grass to graze a cow"): "Interworks – For All Your Business Solutions." The kind of place where you get put on eternal hold with Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto. A cursory glance at the track titles – "Out Work", "Work Shy", "Work Flow", "Work Up", "Shift Work" and "Work In" (Wot? No workout?) – isn't all that inspiring either, and gives little indication of the treasures in store when you actually get past the jewelbox and press play. It goes without saying that Butcher and Prévost are major league players when it comes to improvised music, and unless they arrived at this website by mistake while looking for an online travel agency I can't believe there's anybody reading this who doesn't own at least one album on which they appear (though this, amazingly enough, is the first one they've appeared on together). Going back to Trio Playing for a moment, if there weren't those telltale immaculate multiphonics to give the game away, you might be fooled into thinking it's the work of a completely different saxophonist. Extraordinary how Butcher's playing has evolved over the past ten years – interesting comparisons could be made with the work of Michel Doneda and Jack Wright, two other saxophonists whose playing has changed considerably in response to the arrival of lowercase and EAI trends in the music. What's most apparent on Interworks is the near total absence of pulse-based rhythm; there is rhythm, of course, both harmonic rhythm and large scale structural rhythm (pace, if you like), but Prévost concentrates almost exclusively on his tam tam and bowed cymbals. Even thuds on the big bass drum are few and far between, and most of them appear on the closing "Work In". As a result Butcher can do with Prévost what he did with Toshi Nakamura on Cavern with Nightlife, sit on a tone and explore its inner workings with tiny nuances of fluttertonguing and multiphonics without fear of being bounced in another direction by his playing partner. (Another intriguing comparison could be made between this and Prévost's 2004 duo outing with Evan Parker, Imponderable Evidence..) The level of concentration throughout is outstanding. This is not easy music, but it's far from forbidding. All it requires is that you buckle down and learn to survive in a harsh environment. Like living in Slough.–DW

Lou Gare
I'm getting pretty damn fed up of hearing people say "Oh yes I love AMM.. but I don't like Lou Gare." The late Cornelius Cardew seems to have been placed on an impossibly high pedestal in recent years, notably by Keith Rowe and John Tilbury (who are perched high up on a column themselves, come to think of it), and AMM's heartbeat, percussionist Eddie Prévost, is held in justifiably high esteem, but no-one seems to want to recognise that Gare's tenor saxophone was an important piece of the AMM puzzle between 1965 and 1977. The duo incarnation of AMM with Prévost was a fascinating example of the road not taken, as demonstrated clearly on At The Roundhouse (Anomalous) and To Hear and Back Again (Matchless).
This set of five leisurely tenor solos was recorded at Prévost's invitation following one of Gare's rare trips up to the smoke last year. His appearance at horn_bill, a concert at London's 291 Gallery on February 9th 2005 featuring a stellar line-up of reedmen – John Butcher, Nat Catchpole, Kai Fagaschinski, Evan Parker and Seymour Wright (who penned the magnificent liners to No Strings Attached) – was released as part of a double CD on Matchless (Matchless 63), and was followed four days later by the first of two sessions recorded a week apart at Firefly Studios, Throwleigh, down in deepest Devon, where Gare relocated in 1977.
Prévost was right to describe his work with Gare in AMM's mid-70s incarnation as "decidedly non-jazz", but there's no denying where Lou Gare is coming from, even if he's arrived at a destination well off jazz's beaten track. Wright is on the ball when he hears distant echoes of Tubby Hayes, Warne Marsh and Lester Young, not to mention Sonny Rollins (to whom Gare dedicates one of these five tracks), but free from the tyranny of the backbeat Gare is free to stretch out in a way no jazz rhythm section would ever allow. It's a classic example of what improvised music does best, namely taking an idea and running with it, following the music into whatever corner it leads. It's the same kind of eternally unravelling logic as a Misha Mengelberg piano solo, but while Mengelberg is well known for reaching the brick wall of boredom and banging away at it until it gives way, Gare manages to backtrack and take another direction so skilfully you don't even realise he's done it. So bloody what if he doesn't care a jot for the arsenal of twitters, flutters, spits and clicks that constitutes today's hip improv saxophone playing. In twenty years this will still sound as inventive and musical (you got a problem with the word "musical"? I haven't). Not just matchless, timeless.

Marit Schlechte
Pianist Marit Schlechte, currently based in Berlin, studied composition with Berthold Tuercke and Friedrich Goldmann before assuming an important role in the new music scene in Stuttgart, where she founded the ensemble Unterton and organized various events and concerts, as well as performing with the likes of Boris Baltschun, Alessandro Bosetti, Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Michel Doneda. The nine tracks on her debut album, the last three short inside piano explorations, are fine examples of what the NNN press release describes as "short motives and intervals [..] repeated consciously – repetitions are altered just in the moments when they start manifesting themselves". The "regular" improvisations often start from tenuous if obstinate repetition of one or two notes, setting out towards a destination we lose soon sight of as the addition of more tones complicates matters and provokes unpredictable harmonic shifts. What begins as a series of innocent droplets is soon transformed into a squall of dissonant minimalism, impenetrable in its sombre asymmetry yet demonstrating a rare flair for instant composition. A case in point is the chordal-cluster resonance study "1 1/2", which confounds the laws of expectation and resolution and leaves grey shades and metallic ambiences to fight for our attention. The bowed strings and overacute multiplications of the closing inside piano miniatures indicate there's much to look forward to from Schlechte in future.–MR

Civil War
Dropp Ensemble
It says this was recorded by a certain Nathan Moomaw of Bigfoot Sound, Sharon, Wisconsin, but if that sounds too good to be true you just wait till you hear the music. After last year's debut EP on Longbox, Civil War – Amy Cimini (viola) Adam Sonderberg (percussion) and Katherine Young (bassoon) – are back. Well, in fact they never went away: this six-movement work (Prelude + Parts I-V) was also recorded in the same abandoned grain silo that's as much part of Civil War's unique sound as the musicians' contributions (imagine a blind date between Eddie Prévost and Giacinto Scelsi). There's also apparently enough material in the can for a third instalment next year, which is something to look forward to. Whereas a lot of American improv is delightfully multidirectional – not a criticism, that, either: without a "long tradition" of improvised music, festivals like No Idea and High Zero are more dangerous and often more exciting affairs than, say, London's Freedom of the City – Sonderberg has always peered over the fence at the immaculately mown lawns of contemporary classical music. And if the music and the title weren't serious enough, there's Nick Butcher's "sinister" cover art. But don't be put off. Like Bigfoot, this is well worth hunting down.
Civil War's Cimini and Young are also part of Sonderberg's "all star" project, the Dropp Ensemble, whose line up here also includes Steven Hess on percussion, Aram Shelton on alto sax (I think), Ken Vandermark on what sounds like bass clarinet and Sonderberg's frequent collaborator, the reclusive Sam Dellaria, who's co-credited with recording and assembling the two brief tracks on this 7" single. As usual it's a limited run of 500 in Tonschacht's trademark austere all black format, but as the quote from Sound Projector magazine on Tonschact's website explains, "500 copies is hardly what you'd call a limited run. The vast majority of artists are probably lucky to sell that many, and I'm talking about the Chocolate Hitlers and Bum Trumpets rather the Lustmords and Merzbows. And a collectable, because that is what these are whether by accident or design, is only ever as good as its content. The proof of the pudding is the eating, as they say." Indeed, but these two sober studies in sustained tones are more of an amuse gueule than a pudding; let's hope a more substantial serving will be dished up soon. Meanwhile, you can still track down a copy of the earlier DE outing, The Empire Builders, if you're hungry.–DW

Anla Courtis
Also on Tonschact is this magnificent brooding montage of menacing drone courtesy Anla Courtis (formerly of Reynols). Layers of high frequency scrabbles from Courtis's pocket Toba violin – this is his first release using the one-string instrument native to the Indians of North Eastern Argentina – are trodden into the sludge and hiss of his tapes by ominous, regularly pulsing guitars. It's thrilling, disturbing stuff, and yet again one wishes it would go on for four times its total length of twelve and a half minutes. But then again, as the bloke behind the late lamented Enlightened Tobacco Company will tell you (remember Death Cigarettes?), good things often come in small, black packages. And disappear just as quickly. Move fast.–DW

John Clair / Andrew Sosis
Recorded in the summer of 2004 up in Westchester NY and released in a limited edition (150) on Arrival in an envelope masquerading as an airmail letter, Filigree consists of three leisurely improvisations by John Clair (tenor sax, portable feedback guitar, cymbal, piano and harmonica) and Andrew Sosis (electronics and psaltery). It's a slightly uneven set, but attractive in its willingness to take risks – which is more than can be said for many of the musicians whose work seems to have inspired Messrs Clair and Sosis – long stretches of tense silence are peppered with extended techniques splutters, quiet but menacing gritty guitar scrapes and the odd screech of feedback, which keeps both musicians and listeners on their toes. The outer and inner sleeves are adorned with anatomical / scientific diagrams presumably lifted from an old textbook, and Clair also adds one of his poems. "strangled jasmine drowse reef jaundice aboriginal regatta amidst mauve translucent filigree soot" runs the last stanza. His poetry works exactly the same way as the music: it's a colourful and syntactically ambiguous assemblage of seemingly unrelated words, which may or may not have been chosen at random, or for their sound alone. I'm wondering is what a "portable feedback guitar" is, though. I thought all guitars were portable.–DW

Joel Stern / Jim Denley
Recorded in a number of improvised sessions over 2003 and 2004, this duo release from two of Australia’s more eclectic improvisers is a largely an exploration in texture and varying degrees of density. Both musicians have an innate understanding of the possibilities of acoustic texture: Denley’s sax playing continues to develop his alternate language of click, pops and gurgles, whilst Stern’s work with electronics and processed field recordings evokes an equally personal language of secret sonic worlds. When their personal approaches are combined, their complimentary nature is obvious, notably on "Non-Reflective Orange Hens", which finds Denley sitting in an electronic cage of Stern's creation generating warped sounds as if to scratch a way out through the bars, and "End Game", whose gritty electronic pulses and masked sax snippets creates genuine intensity from a surprisingly small number of sonic devices. At its most vivid, this record reflects a clear ability of both musicians to evoke the unfamiliar from the seemingly familiar – an increasingly difficult task in this age of audio plenty.–LE

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Luca Miti
The longest piece on offer in this idiosyncratic recital of piano music played by Luca Miti is Terry Riley's late 60s Keyboard Study #II, and even if Miti tends to rush over the phase shifts a little it's still one good reason for getting hold of a copy of this album. I can think of two more: Sylvain Chauveau's Radiophonie, in which Miti's clanging piano chords are accompanied by blurred fragments of radio broadcasts (there's even a snatch of Coltrane in there), and his reading of Tom Johnson's Long Decays ("this piece consists of only seven events / a soft chord containing one high note and three middle-range notes / a soft low note / a soft high chord containing two notes / a soft high chord containing seven notes / a soft chord containing three high notes and three middle-range notes / a soft middle-range note / a soft high chord containing one low note and four middle-range notes"). The other pieces on offer are slight affairs, both in duration and substance. The name of the game is minimalism, but we're talking the lightweight pastel stuff, not high-intensity drone bruisers like Niblock and Conrad; in their concern for simple gestures using unashamedly tonal harmony, a lot of the pieces hark back to the glory days of English experimental music – Ana Guidi's era tanto tempo che non mi succedeva could be a bar of early 80s Bryars or Skempton. The slowmotion carillon of Francesco Michi's Passatempi e giochi d'attenzione n° 3 is touching, as is the title track, a one-minute haiku of a piece by Welsh composer Paul Burnell (who's done some rather cool things with scores in the form of musical squares – check out, and Gigi Masin's crunchy harmonies on Tootle make a welcome change from the bland twiddles of Gilbert Delor and Enrico Piva (par for the course scale / arpeggio figurations with incremental changes, been there, done that). One wonders though why Miti saw fit to include just one of György Kurtág's 12 Microludes. All twelve wouldn't have taken up much space, and we could have done without the first of Laurie Spiegel's Two Cyclic Scores, which consists, as you might imagine, of 39 (or did I lose count?) repetitions of an already repetitive (12/8?) bar. Still, shouldn't moan. The music is tastefully played and well recorded in Studio V38, with the exception of Alvin Curran's A Room in Rome, which was recorded in Miti's own flat in the Italian capital. If this album sells well, he may even be able to afford a piano tuner.–DW

David Monacchi
A list of composers and performers who've taken to recording and using natural sound in their work would be about five times as long as this review, but although "field recordings" is a term that pops up increasingly on albums of new music – both composed and improvised – there are as many different ways to use them as there are fields to record. Hildegard Westerkamp and Loren Chasse both like to poke around the Pacific seashore but their respective compositions are worlds apart; there's also the question of hi or lo (or no) fi: there's one hell of a difference between Eric La Casa's meticulous montages and Aki Onda's grainy old cassettes.
As far as sound quality goes, Italian composer David Monacchi's recordings are superb, and he spares you no detail when it comes to listing the equipment he uses to make them. Ciclo Circadiano (1993), like several sound art pieces from Luc Ferrari's Presque Rien No. 1 to Chris Watson's Weather Report, is an exercise in compositional sleight of hand, compressing a single day (24 hours) in the Montefeltro Valley into 24 minutes. From the magnificent song of what I imagine is a nightingale – sorry I can't confirm this, the only birds I see round these parts are bloody pigeons, and I got fed up with and sold my copy of Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux ages ago – to frogs crickets owls roosters ravens flies des grillons des sillons des buissons des poissons des clochettes des brochettes des pâquerettes des fourchettes des barils du persil des chenils des fournils du crotin du boudin du rotin du terrain it's a real treat if natural sound is your bag.
Acqua (1992) is, unsurprisingly, sourced exclusively in recordings of water, from babbling brooks to stormy seas, the plop of a stone thrown in a well to the whitenoise adrenalin rush of a dam breaking. Monacchi doesn't process his field recordings – who'd want to when the sounds are as acoustically rich and complex as these? – but he's not averse to shuffling them around and making them play contrapuntal games. The canonic treatment of drips and splashes is cute, but sits rather uncomfortably with the acoustic ecology aesthetic he also seems to subscribe to (he's recorded for the World Soundscape Project and undertaken work for Greenpeace in the Amazon) – if the sounds of the natural world are so beautiful, why squeeze them into man-made polyphonic structures? Of course, such sonic topiary is nothing new – remember Stockhausen's duck quacking out the Marseillaise – but as with real topiary you end up admiring the gardener more than the bush. Similarly, the fact that 1990's La Selva degli Orologi ("The Clock Forest") comes with a rather snazzy listening score complete with exploratory key ("a sound that pulses every 4 seconds obtained by slowing down the original tape to 1/4 its speed then treated with an echo with a frequency of 3 beats per second for two seconds" etc.) allowing you to follow the work's tripartite structure seems to be designed to impress as much as explain. For my money, I prefer Intorno all'Origine ("Around the Origin"), which despite its rather forbidding liner notes and their reference to granular synthesis, algorithms and filtroterodines, is a highly listenable and eclectic exploration of everything from infinite glissandi to "Frère Jacques". Beautiful and beautifully done.

Morton Feldman
Ever had a feeling of "déjà lu"? A couple of years ago I wrote: "the only good reason for digging up and releasing what can be described as juvenilia is that it might in some way hint at an artist's mature work to come, and with the best will in the world that can't be said of Morton Feldman's First Piano Sonata." Well, the same applies to his Violin Sonata. Dating from 1945, it's just as indebted to Bartók as the piano piece – competent but unexceptional. But for the sake of completion, it has to be included here, if only to cock a snook at Mode Records' Feldman Edition Volume 3, Marc Sabat and Stephen Clarke's Complete Music for Violin and Piano. Which isn't complete anymore, because here violinist Christina Fong also includes two late solo pieces, 1981's For Aaron Copland and 1984's [Composition], which Sabat was either unaware of when he released his Mode set or chose not to record, perhaps considering them to have been shelved by the composer for a reason. ([Composition] seems to have been abandoned in favour of Violin and String Quartet, with which it has much in common harmonically. There's a splendid article online by Sabat himself on this very subject, which also goes into some fascinating detail on Feldman's enharmonic notation.) If [Composition]'s continuous double stops are something of an anomaly – debate is still raging over whether the composer intended his enharmonic notation to be microtonal – For Aaron Copland is even odder, consisting of purely diatonic white notes, something quite out of character given late Feldman's preoccupation with adjacent semitone-derived harmony. But whereas the Sonata is a ball of teenage fluff, these two late miniatures are real discoveries.
There's little to choose between Sabat and Fong's (we shouldn't forget pianist Paul Hersey either) respective readings of 1950's Piece for Violin and Piano, but as we move forward through Feldman's career – significant that the last piece he wrote for the combination of instruments, 1982's For John Cage was over thirty times as long as the first – the differences between the Mode and Ogre sets become slightly more apparent, especially in terms of recording. (I'm telling you all this just in case you haven't got either and want to choose; if you already own the Mode set, you ought to consider getting this too, unless of course you're a Feldman completist in which case you probably already have). Another difference is that this is rather grandly billed as Complete Violin / Viola and Piano Works, but we only hear Christina Fong's dark, velvety viola on one piece, 1970's The Viola In My Life 3 (VIMLs 1,2 and 4 were ensemble or orchestral works). It's almost worth getting the set for, though, because it's so luscious – plus you might have a hard time tracking down one of the other two recordings of the work, both of which I suspect are out of print.
Because Feldman wrote works for violin and piano throughout his career, the first CD of this set in particular represents a fascinating cross-section of his compositional evolution, from the pointillism (distinctly Webernesque, here) of the early 1950s pieces Projection 4 and Extensions 1 via the suspended sonorities of Vertical Thoughts 2 (1963) to the unashamedly lyrical Viola In My Life 3 – damn, the man was in love and it shows – and the odd angular weave of Spring of Chosroes, one of Feldman's tougher and technically difficult pieces from the late 1970s. Fong is especially impressive here; oddly enough she sounds more challenged by some parts of the early sonata, but that's probably because it's not all that well-written for the instrument.
Reviewing albums of late Feldman nowadays is rather like studying form at the races. In the For John Cage Stakes Yashushi Toyoshima and Aki Takahashi come trailing in last at 97'40". Sabat / Clarke's version on Mode comes in fourth at 81'56", Paul Zufovsky and Marianne Schroeder third at 77'10", Josje Ter Haar and John Snijders come racing in at 69'12" but the winner is – Fong and Hersey, 66'00"! Of course, it's not as simple as that. But the fact that one currently available version of the piece can be over half an hour longer than another certainly raises some serious questions about Feldman's notation. OgreOgress's Glenn Freeman is by and large correct to state that faster tempi correspond better to the composer's indications in the score, but does that necessarily mean that those with the Takahashi version should throw out the jewel box and use the discs as beermats? I hardly think so: Takahashi did after all premiere the piece on March 13th 1982 (with Paul Zufovsky on violin) and one imagines Feldman, who was never backward about coming forward, would have told them in no uncertain terms if he thought it was too slow. But would he have found Fong and Hersey's reading too fast? Some of the double stop passages in the later sections of the work do sound a little uncomfortable, but you can put that down to the fact they're bloody difficult to play, not that they're being attempted at too fast a tempo. For myself, I'm happy to have three versions of For John Cage, and am not prepared to put my head on the block when it comes to choosing one. I tend to appreciate the one I happen to be listening to. In any case, the Fong / Hersey set is most definitely worth checking out, and not only for the 1980s solo pieces and the delicious viola cut.

John Hudak
Devotees of John Hudak's other recordings, which have originated in sound sources as diverse as underwater insects, birds, grass, motor traffic and answering machine messages, might be surprised by this one. Its sounding material consists of recorded pizzicato cello pitches played on a sampler, MIDI-triggered by a Max/MSP audiofile conversion of recordings of Gertrude Stein and James Joyce reading their own work. As such, it is, as Mark Pauwen notes in the liners, "an undeniably 'post-modern' take on modernism: the unrelentless [sic] and self-consuming presence of the original art of which these pieces are derived [..] has now taken a much more diluted and yet more immanent form." It's also another one of those paradoxical works that are constantly changing while remaining instantly recognizable. Once you've heard it you won't forget it, but you'll never be able to repeat it, unless you're Dominic O'Brien (check this out, this'll blow your mind But if you've ever read Stein (or tried to) and "balked at her soporific rigmaroles, her echolaliac incantations, her half-witted-sounding catalogues on numbers," to quote Edmund Wilson, you'll recognise and appreciate Sotto Voce's gentle quasi-iteration. "We cannot retrace our steps, going forward may be the same as going backwards. We cannot retrace our steps, retrace our steps. All my long life, all my long life, we do not retrace our steps, all my long life, but. (A silence a long silence)"
What Stein and Joyce are to modernism, John Cage is to post-modernism, I guess. There's nothing today's sound artists, improvisers and composers like to do more than namecheck Cage, but more as a cultural liberating force than as a composer, rather in the spirit of Schoenberg's famous assessment of his former student: "He's not a composer, he's an inventor of genius." But Arnold was wrong (not for the first time, either – remember all that twaddle about serialism assuring the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years?): Cage was a composer, and even if his most famous work is the infamous 4'33", his early music is no less worthy of attention. In both its concern for process and its restricted vocabulary of just a handful of diatonic pitches, what Hudak's work recalls most strongly is Cage's early piano and toy piano pieces. In fact, if it were scored for prepared piano, people would have been quick to spot the connection. As it is, not many people have. But then Hudak has always specialised in exploring the sonic boundary lines, and once more a beautiful and discreet release of his has slipped out under the radar. Sotto voce, indeed. Perhaps Gertrude was right after all: "Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense."

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Dion Workman/Mattin
More inscrutable chilly micro-electronics from Mattin and Dion Workman. If you enjoyed their earlier outing Via Vespucci on Antifrost, you'll probably like this. The first time I listened to it was on a Discman on a train coming back from Cologne, speeding through the flat, empty countryside of Northern France on a pitch black night. In retrospect a pretty dumb thing to do, since I had to crank the volume up to the max (a dangerous move with a Mattin offering because you never know when he's going to let rip with a vicious blast of noise), trying in vain to drown out a bloke sitting five rows behind me who was negotiating the final details of the purchase and refurbishment of an Indian restaurant with someone somewhere in Belgium. You have no idea how much I hate mobile phones. The second time I tried it, knowing more or less what to expect – the 41 minute piece contains no major explosions as such, just a slow build-up of low rumble and a cloud of ultra high frequency hiss until it starts falling apart in stutters and clicks at the 21 minute mark – was on a quiet Sunday afternoon at home, but that was spoiled by someone a couple of floors above hammering nails into the wall. And I don't mean four or five nails, either. I have about as much affection for Sunday DIY freaks as I do for mobile phones. I tried again two days later but by then the real builders were making so much noise in the back courtyard of the building I had to abandon the attempt altogether. And I'd been listening with headphones. Since then I've managed two further playthroughs, one with cans on and one without, and have come to the conclusion there's no perfect listening environment for this piece at all. I hope you have more luck, because it needs your full attention to reveal its cold beauty.–DW

Robin Fox / Clayton Thomas
Room 40
Substation is a rather banal title for this set of uncompromisingly dense but thrilling reworkings of Clayton Thomas's double bass (and "objects") by the live processing of Robin Fox. Though you've got to stick with it: the clatter and clutter of the opening "Direct Couriers" might not exactly whet your appetite, and those who frisbee their CDs into the out tray if nothing spectacular happens after three minutes will be missing out on something. Things hot up on "Shuffle", which sounds like a fight to the death between Richard Barrett and Brian Ferneyhough using a clone army of Barry Guys, but it's nothing compared to the album's centrepiece, "Dust On The Diodes", which takes one of the late Peter Kowald's pet sounds (rapid scrabbling between the strings of the bass near the bridge using the frog of the bow) and transforms, multiplies and superimposes it to create a web of manic marimbas under which Thomas's raw sub bass tremolos growl menacingly. It's so packed full of information it's hard to work out exactly how many tracks are mixed together, but I'll hazard a guess there are well over a million notes over the course of the track's 27'37". Listening to it all the way through at correct (i.e. high) volume can be either wonderfully exhilarating or bloody annoying, depending on your mood, but however it comes across it's a hard act to follow. "Bird Song" and especially "Between Downpours" wisely concentrate on sparser, more austere textures, but "Substation (Reprise)" – funny, didn't see the track come round first time, so where does that reprise come from? – is a nasty poke in the ear of spastic glitches and splatters to finish (you) off with.–DW

Room 40
In 2003 Swiss composer Ralph Steinbrüchel was invited to provide music for a Surround Sound installation for the Taktlos festival, and responded with "Opaque", a ten minute "audio sculpture" combining his exquisite sprinkles of digital dust with warm electric piano sound. The "RE" stands for remixes (or reworking or reappraisal or readjustment or rearrangement or reassessment or recontextualisation, take your pick), but it's a remix project with a twist: each of the participants – Necks pianist Chris Abrahams, feedback sculptor Ben Frost, sweet glitchmeister Taylor Deupree, guitarist and gastronome Oren Ambarchi and Toshiya "where have you hidden the contact mic this time?" Tsunoda – was given only three of Opaque's constituent soundfiles, and had no idea what the original work sounded like. If you pop the disc into the computer and spend a bit of time jumping about from track to track on your media player you'll be able to hear more or less who got what, but not all the time. The result is a wonderfully diverse collection of pieces, from the gentle kitten-on-the-keys keyboard capers of Abrahams, via the freezing fogbank of Frost (all puns intended) to the cosy glow of Deupree and Ambarchi's offerings and the final typically inscrutable Tsunoda finale.–DW

John Duncan/Paolo Parisi
Allquestions/Maschietto (CD+Book)
Those familiar with his Paris Transatlantic interview in March 2005 will recall John Duncan mentioning Conservatory, an installation which at the time was nearing the end of its exhibition life. Nearly twelve months on, those who couldn't attend can get an idea of what it was like through this package, a sober grey box containing a photo booklet of various perspectives of Paolo Parisi's work with cardboard, multicolour PVC tubes and wall paintings, and a CD of Duncan's soundtrack for the event, itself lodged in a white booklet adorned with the author's handwritten annotations. The above mentioned PVC conduits constitute the basic timbral filter in a 70-minute piece sourced, like several recent Duncan works, in the sounds of the human voice. Through holes in the tubes the voices are transmitted to small speakers that help the sound to propagate throughout the "network", yielding a "presence" of ghost entities in the live installation, an aspect of great interest for the composer, who pushes the vocal emissions to the limit in wave upon wave of sighs, moans and (involuntarily) hypnotic chanting drones. What sounds like audience members walking around and commenting is also audible at times, but fortunately pretty low in the mix. Through headphones it's pretty much a medium-to-low frequency daze; it's better through loudspeakers, preferably in a large bare room.–MR

Will Montgomery
Anyone who's read Will Montgomery's fine perceptive journalism, notably in The Wire magazine (his article on Richard Chartier in Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum was also mentioned above, in fact) will be pleased to learn that he's just as good at making music as he is at writing about it. The title of this debut release on Montgomery's own Selvageflame label – whose website also informs us that he was part of an electronica trio called Frank Blood (go Google and you'll come across one album Star Repair, on Eli, but no further details about who the band members are and where they come from) – is a popular name for Montia fontana, a flowering plant also known as Annual Water Minerslettuce, Bronkruid and Fountain Candy-flower. And each of the ten tracks is named after a flowering plant (though perhaps Montgomery chose the names because they sound good – after all, "Lapsana" is much more evocative than "Nipplewort", n'est-ce pas?). Anyway, check out Mrs M. Grieve's A Modern Herbal at if you're interested. There's plenty of discussion of hermaphrodite flowers and rhizomes there, and as an electronic music specialist Montgomery must have come across plenty of rhizomes himself over the past few years (they were all the rage a while back, and artists and labels were falling over each other to quote Deleuze / Guattari. Mille Plateaux, anyone?). Most electronica albums these days reveal their source influences within seconds of hitting the play button, but the most impressive thing about Water Blinks is that it manages to reference its influences discreetly. It's clear Montgomery knows his Pan Sonic well, and though he tends to avoid explicit grooves ("Vetch" is the closest we get to one), I'll hazard a bet that if you raid his place looking for other strange herbs you'll come across plenty of Raster Notons too. There's a lot of information packed into each piece, and the way it unfolds is original, unexpected and convincing. Maybe even rhizomatic. Keep the room you're listening in cool, though, as the leaves of the plant "can turn bitter in summer, especially if the plant is growing in a hot dry position."–DW

Falter Bramnk
Falter Bramnk is a thinly disguised anagram of Lille-based sound artist Frank Lambert, but one wonders why he bothers to use the pseudonym, since his real name is clearly audible in the first of these soundtracks / stories, 15 beautifully executed and sequenced miniature montages of original music and extracts from movie soundtracks, recorded and mixed between 1995 and 2003. That might sound like it should be some kind of plunderphonic pillaging of the local record library's OST collection, but it isn't. Lambert's knack at encapsulating the essence of the film as impressive as his taste in cinema – the disc namechecks some pretty major league flicks by Corneau, Egoyan, Fellini, Friedkin, Godard, Kubrick, Malle, Melville, Pasolini, Reisz, Tarkovsky and von Trier – in barely three minutes "Working life" manages to get to the heart of Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, from the raw anger of Albert Finney's tough working class hero to Olivier Benoit's cunning reworking of John Dankworth's cool jazz backdrop. Famously disturbing spoken extracts – the little girl screams of Friedkin's Exorcist in "In or out", the tearful protestations of the unwilling copophragists in Pasolini's Salo in "Il girone della merda" – are set against wonderfully (and alarmingly) banal music. "Alex is happy" revisits the world of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, with a deliciously tacky rescoring of Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary – perfectly in keeping with Walter Carlos's famously kitsch Moog reorchestrations of Beethoven – accompanied by blasts of Malcolm MacDowell's "Singing in the rain" from the film's notorious rape scene. If some of the cuts recall mid-1980s Zorn classics such as Godard and Spillane, it's probably because there are plenty of references to good old film noir and nouvelle vague in Lambert's work too, from Louis Malle's L'ascenseur pour l'échafaud via Godard's A bout de souffle and Alphaville and Jean-Pierre Melville's magnificent Le samourai to Alain Corneau's Série noire. But even JZ would have been proud to sign something this good.–DW

Black To Comm
Dekorder label head Marc Richter obviously has a penchant for collecting vinyl – or that’s at least what this debut release under the moniker Black To Comm suggests. Compiled from an epic array of vinyl sources ranging from obvious traditional/classical to psychedelica and distorted free jazz, Richter revitalises his abstracted sources, seeking out loops and fragments to create new swirling arrangements. Like many records involving the use of vinyl, the album ebbs and flows in a predictable but suitably rewarding way; Black To Comm continues in the vein of many contemporary turntable users, processing the sources heavily. Texture remains a reference to the origins of this session, rather than the purpose of investigation itself. Surface noise is an important element, but never quite resolves to become the central focus of any one piece. With the odd field recording thrown in, this record is an genuinely enjoyable listen. From dronescape to detail, it’s simple but well crafted and efficiently executed.–LE

It has been sometime since Pimmon marked as a blip on the release radar, evidently caught up in a range of other projects that have left little time for CD documentations. The three selections collected here offer some insight into Paul Gough’s current musical endeavours, and the seriously minimal and effective jewel-case packaging of this limited edition 3" CDR from Perth's increasingly interesting Meupe label is well worth a look at. The opening "Stumbling" is a joyously melodic work that gently shifts and tilts through a series of gentle processes. Almost static for the most part, it pulses with a minimalist sensibility that makes for a strong contrast with the following "Dream Clown", an eerily oppressive dronescape with electronic insects chewing on cables at the back of the mix. By the time higher and eventually mid-range tones emerge, you’re already lost in what feels like a bass-loaded wasteland, features warped and blurred through a haze of low-end hum. The final "Zero Gravity", its title no doubt inspired by its generous slow building second half, rounds out the disc with a less ominous sensibility. Its spacious texture reflects an almost Ambient side to Pimmon’s compositions, something he will hopefully explore further in future efforts.–LE

Tim Coster
Half Theory
One of a number of CDR focused labels emanating from Australia, Half Theory’s issue of Tim Coster’s Landing is a rewarding one. Coster’s work on this recording is based essentially in the realm of field recordings, instruments and a variety of electronic devices. Detailed and refined in its approach, it sits neatly in the realms explored by labels including and/OAR and Apestaartje. Ambient tones, melodic offcuts and scattered electronic dust gust together with surprising delicacy and movement. When melodic elements are introduced, there is a clear shift of focus, the ear drawn to alternative tunings – the repeating phrases on the title track referencing some distant echo of folk, or some Henry Flynt-style drone experiment drained of volume and rhythmic energy. Coster’s choice of material for this record suggests a divergent palette that is beginning to bloom and will no doubt become more developed in future editions. A welcome addition to the already impressive New Zealand sound underworld.–LE

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