APRIL News 2006 Reviews by Marcelo Aguirre, Clifford Allen, David Cotner, Nate Dorward, Vid Jeraj, Nicholas Rice, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

Editorial; Interview with HARRIS EISENSTADT
Splinched: Pascal Battus / Ferran Fages
On Charhizma:
Serge Baghdassarians & Boris Baltschun / Kai Fagaschinski & Bernhard Gal / Michael Thieke
In Concert:
Six Months in New York
Reissue This: Mirror
Stefan Wolpe
Available Jelly / Out of Context / Josephson, Léandre, Smith & Blume / Malcolm Goldstein & Masashi Harada / From Between / The Same Girl /
Freedom Of The City 2005 / Mike Cooper / Braam, DeJoode, Vatcher / Hal Singer / Chas Smith / John Tilbury & Marcus Schmickler
Thanos Chrysakis / Tony Conrad & Faust / Bruno Canino / Richard Trythall
Le Dépeupleur / KK.Null / Luigi Archetti / Yannick Dauby /
Joe Colley & Jason Lescalleet / Andre Goncalves & Kenneth Kirschner / Mouthus / Gart & Seekatze

Last month


I get a lot of emails asking me to advertise things - festivals, individual concerts, and especially albums - all of which I politely decline (well, almost all of which, as you'll see). Since this magazine went online nearly a decade ago now, there has, as we all know, been something of a revolution in new media - back then the words "blog" and "podcast" certainly weren't in the dictionary (dunno if "podcast" has made it to the latest edition of the OED yet, either, but if it hasn't it can't be long in coming) - and the whole idea of using the Internet to advertise has really taken off. I keep getting bemused looks from the business types I meet in the course of my normal working day at the dreary job (teaching English as a foreign language, if you must know) when I tell them that I have no interest whatsoever in carrying advertising. "But you could be making ze moneeey!" they croon. Well, maybe. To be honest I know practically sod all about how internet advertising works on niche market sites like this one, but I do know that I find it bloody irritating when I'm surfing around elsewhere. I've managed to configure the old browser to block as many pop-ups as possible, but there are still a few that slip through the net. In any case, I like to think my own prose is sufficiently annoying without having to bombard readers with flashing banner ads. So no advertising, thank you.
Having said that, a little bit of self-promotion never goes amiss (heh heh): by now you'll probably have read about Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum, a collection of essays and interviews curated by Mark Wastell and Brian Marley of London's Sound323 record shop. It's a lavishly produced 345 page document designed by Damien Beaton featuring essays on, amongst other things, Cage's 4'33", The Necks, Richard Chartier, Sachiko M, John Wall, written by various Wire magazine alumni - David Toop, Brian Marley, Clive Bell, Will Montgomery, Andy Hamilton and myself, along with extracts from interviews with improvisers compiled by Rhodri Davies, Bertrand Denzler and Jean-Luc Guionnet and a DVD containing David Reid's concert footage of Keith Rowe, Evan Parker, Birdyak, John Tilbury, Eddie Prévost, Anton Lukoszevieze, Broken Consort, Jérôme Noetinger, John Butcher, Tetuzi Akiyama and nmperign, all of whom should be familiar to readers of this magazine. Further information on this indispensable document of today's music is available from info@sound323.com.
Right, now that the advertising's out of the way, back to business. A warm welcome goes out this month to our new Berlin correspondent Marcelo Aguire (even though he's writing about music that comes from several thousand miles away from the German capital), and thanks to Nate Dorward for re-editing and reworking an interview with the brilliant young Canadian percussionist Harris Eisenstadt. Another action-packed, fun-filled, pop-up free issue of PT for your delectation and delight. Well, hopefully. Bonne lecture. - DW

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Pascal Battus
Amor Fati
Fagus (Pascal Battus / Ferran Fages)
A Question of Reentry
Splinching, as anyone who's read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will tell you, is what happens when you move – apparate is J.K. Rowling's word – from one place to another but end up leaving a bit of your body behind where you came from. (To quote the Ministry of Magic's Wilkie Twycross: "Splinching, or the separation of random body parts occurs when the mind is insufficiently determined. You must concentrate continually upon your destination, and move, without haste, but with deliberation.") It's a rather apt metaphor for the world I find myself living in these days, where the increasing use of mobile phones – and not just as phones either, but as cameras, even tiny TVs – and portable DVD players is slowly but surely (and maybe not all that slowly) redefining the whole notion of public and private space. Though I'm an implacable enemy of the cellphone myself, my beef here isn't about the poor pathetic sods who use the bloody thing at every available opportunity (like calling up the wife from halfway down the supermarket aisle – "they haven't got any Findus will Birds Eye do?"), it's about the impact that this is all having on our ability actually to concentrate on one thing, to be in one place and one place only. Of course, splinching has been around for a long time – if you read a novel on the train to work you're dividing your attention between two things, and most people manage to do it quite well. I don't see many missing their stop because they get so carried away with the book. And if I didn't spend several hours each week listening to music on the way to and from the day job, there wouldn't as be much for you to read every month. (A blessing, perhaps.) Very rare indeed are the occasions nowadays when I can find time, space and quiet enough for a serious no-distractions listen, complete with blindfold à la Francisco López. Are we reaching a point in human history then when undivided attention and total concentration are becoming things of the past?

Interestingly enough, the subject came up in a recent discussion I had with architect and Shiiin label manager Stéphane Roux, and composer Eliane Radigue (whose L'île re-sonante inaugurated the Shiiin imprint last year, you will recall). While Stéphane and I remained sceptical on the subject, Eliane – who, by the way, has no mobile phone to the best of my knowledge and is only now beginning to toy with the idea of getting a computer – wondered if today's youngsters, growing up with a whole range of virtual universes to explore, might be developing some kind of superior brain power as a result of increased sensory stimulation. Even if that is the case – and, watching a whole Métro load of teenagers taking leering snapshots of themselves and swapping Mariah Carey ringtones, I have my doubts – they won't get much out of Eliane's music.
"While I enjoy listening to it, I find it best when it is playing in the background while I do other things. Strangely enough, when I concentrate on it, I don't get as much enjoyment. Unfortunately, people coming to review the CD will more than likely listen to it intently." - John Hudak, on his Sotto Voce, reviewed here last month
The idea of Ambient has been with us for over a quarter of a century now (much longer, if you drag the starting line back in time from Eno to Satie), and it's subtly but radically changed the aesthetics of a whole generation of composers, performers and listeners. You could call it the late twentieth century's seal of approval of splinching. But although some composers, like Hudak above, actively advocate such a way of listening, it definitely doesn't work for everyone's music. Certainly not Radigue's, which depends on concentration and a certain volume level to achieve the desired effect. And what about improvised music? Surely music that's being created in the moment, right before your very ears, is more arresting? Well, yes and no.
Pascal Battus plays table guitar. (He has been known to call it guitare environée – "surrounded guitar" – and here it's billed as "pick-up and prepared amplifier", but don't let that worry you: a lot of table guitarists in recent years have dreamt up different names for their instrumental set-ups, from Annette Krebs' "electroacoustic guitar" to Hans Tammen's "endangered guitar".) The instrument is laid flat and Battus works directly near or on its pick-ups with a whole range of objects, both electronic (e-bows, Walkmen, hand-held fans and various food mixers) and acoustic (springs, rulers, tubes and straws). Playing for him is a process of exploration, sonic research – and so, for us, is listening. The sounds Battus makes are at times quite extraordinary, and I'm often left scratching my head as to how they're produced (this from someone who has played and recorded several times with him), so much so that I become more concerned with the "how" than the "why". And yet Pick-Up, Battus' second solo outing after Massages Sonores #2 (Pink, 2003) consists of two extended tracks, "Lent de mains" (33'46") and "Pousse hier à demain" (39'26") which would seem to imply I'm to approach them as large-scale structures, i.e. try to determine and judge an overriding sense of musical logic that articulates the overall form of each piece. But I'm not sure there is one. And if there isn't, does it matter? In short, I'm splinched – at one level the album works beautifully, its moments enthrall me, but at another it fails to keep my attention. From one moment to the next I can be concentrating intently or switched off and elsewhere. "If your mind wanders, let it.." goes the old quotation from Cage, but though such approbation might be reassuring it doesn't somehow justify my drifting off. I know how carefully Pascal selects, works and sequences his sounds, and I feel distinctly uneasy and not a little guilty when I realise I'm not paying full attention. Why is my mind wandering? Is it me, or the music? I'd say it's both.

As an improvising musician of sorts myself, I'm often aware of a kind of temporal splinching during the performance, a sensation of being at one and the same time in the moment, reacting to the input of my fellow musicians, shaping the music from one instant to another, and yet also curiously outside the piece, thinking of where it came from and how (and when) it might finish. In addition to such purely musical considerations, there's a whole lot of sensory input from elsewhere to contend with: who's that asshole talking loud at the bar (it's not me this time)? Who forgot to turn off their bloody mobile phone? True, there must be many improvisers who are more or less sensitive to events around them than I am – remember the apocryphal story of the laptopper who was checking his email during a gig (how about that for a splinch?) – but even if I am functioning in a state of heightened awareness when I play I'm not able to exclude the world around me. Why should listening be any different?

On Dans l'Involucre Entre Ouvert (Battus' fondness for word play and untranslatable puns and contrepèteries is well known, but before you ask I haven't figured out what the title means either) he trades the guitar for an "acoustic Walkman". If you're wondering what the hell that is, it might help to know he's playing with Barcelona's Ferran Fages, who's released a whole slew of fine albums on which he plays "acoustic turntable", i.e. a standard turntable used as a motor to excite and be excited by various objects placed on or near it, the results amplified and treated in real time. Where Fages uses a turntable, Battus turns his attention to the inner workings of the humble portable stereo. The six tracks were recorded in real time at Battus' home in Bagnolet in November 2004, and the only editing as such consists of fades in and out.
Where this all ties in with the splinching idea is not the disc itself but a review I read of it recently by my friend Brian Olewnick over at Bagatellen, a slightly edited version of which runs as follows:
"I imagine each of us has some defined point at which, more or less, we determine that the aural input we’re receiving changes from 'music' into 'noise'. Or enjoyable noise into disagreeable noise. Not that this is necessarily the correct way to view things and perhaps some of you have succeeded in freeing yourselves to the extent that this is no longer a concern. But probably not, else why are you wasting your time reading about discs? In any case, Dans l’Involucre Entre Ouvert damn near straddles that line for me. It’s not just that it’s loud and obnoxious (or quiet and obnoxious). Hardly a concern, after all. It’s just that much of the disc seems pointlessly loud/quiet and obnoxious. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be worried about such an archaic concept as 'pointlessness' but curse me for an old fart, those thoughts do creep in. Somewhere, I distinguish between what I perceive to be just screwing around and noise I enjoy listening to and a good half of this disc, sad to say, fell on the side of the former."

I'm not here to take issue with Brian's review at all – he says things I agree with and others I don't – but I'm led to wonder if he would have written what he did if he had listened to it as many times as he has the Erstwhile catalogue that he reviews so assiduously for All Music Guide (old story this.. as any journalist will tell you, Erstwhile's Jon Abbey insists that anyone reviewing his releases listens to them carefully several times before committing pen to paper – and rightly so). I'm also curious to know exactly how he distinguishes between what he perceives to be screwing around and noise he enjoys listening to, but maybe he'll be able to write in and tell us. Of course, I'm guessing Brian hasn't listened to the Fagus outing as often as he has the recent series of ErstLive releases, but I may be wrong. Assuming I'm not, it prompts (yet again) the question of how many times one should listen to an album before attempting to write a review of it, but also – what's more interesting here – whether familiarity with an album reduces splinching, i.e. the more you listen, the closer you listen, the better you listen and the more you find. I'm not sure it does. I think it depends on the music.

Last night I listened to Ravel's Mallarmé songs for the first time in about 20 years and was utterly captivated from beginning to end. Each tiny detail of the harmony and the orchestration, not to mention the nuances of soprano Jill Gomez's interpretation, totally imposed itself on me. My concentration was absolute. Now before you fling a pot of tea at the screen and wail that it's not fair to compare through-composed and totally improvised music, I should add the same thing happened last week with the Emanem reissue of News From The Shed (John Butcher / Phil Durrant / Paul Lovens / Radu Malfatti / John Russell, reviewed here last month). I've become aware that one of the consequences of electroacoustic improvised music's recent shift towards the slowmoving, the laminal, as opposed to the high-speed in-the-moment cut-and-thrust that characterised both the first and second "generations" of improvisers – in terms of vocabulary Karyobin and My Favourite Animals are worlds apart but as far as overall event density goes they're strikingly similar – is that it's become easier to drift off. Put another way, you can, if you so desire, listen to Efzeg or the Four Gentlemen of the Guitar at "ambient" volume and still enjoy them. (Whether you should or not is a different question, but ultimately how you choose to listen to music is your business – personally I rather like listening to Merzbow at threshold-of-audibility level and Bernhard Günter at volume level 9, but that's just me.) But other albums just don't work like that: Derek Bailey's music has a knack of impinging on whatever you're doing, even at low volume. So does the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Excuse me while I take my old warhorse for a trot round the track here, but I think, in my case, it comes down to a concern for pitch and rhythm. Old habits die hard, and I'm particularly sensitive to aspects of music that, as an instrumentalist and composer, I've spent a lot of time trying to understand and master. Maybe we should ask someone who's grown up in a different musical environment – no formal musical education, with as many Hafler Trio albums as I have Misha Mengelbergs – and see how s/he reacts to Drop Me Off At 96th or Hot And Cold Heroes.

Let's be clear about one thing: I'm not being judgemental here, either by implying that Bailey or Stevens' music is somehow better because it manages to retain my attention more than a lot of recent EAI. All I'm saying is that by evolving away from certain time-honoured principles and parameters, improvised music invites different ways of listening, some of which are less concentrated and focused. And that shift in concentration and focus is something that applies both to performers and listeners, musicians and journalists. We live in interesting – if troubled – times, and it's only natural that today's art reflects that; these two albums by Pascal Battus and Ferran Fages are fine, representative examples of everything I find positive and exciting in today's improvised music. But do try, hard though it may be, not to get yourself splinched: remember Ron Weasley failed his Apparition Test because he left half an eyebrow behind.-DW

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Various Artists
Sonic Arts Network (CD + book)
"The most serious of all the sciences and the end of all ends, 'pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions. Although unknowingly practised by everybody at all times, it took the pistol toting, expert fencer, literary madman, maniac midget and designer of the time machine, Alfred Jarry, to recognise it and give it a name. In this CD, travel overland by sea in your skiff, following Dr Faustroll by the light of a green candle, along the gidouille that is the history of 'pataphysics in sound." So runs the blurb that accompanies this tribute to 'pataphysics and its influence on artists as diverse as Marcel Duchamp, Harpo Marx, Boris Vian, Robert Wyatt and Gavin Bryars, in the form of this beautifully produced book + CD offering from the Sonic Arts Network (just in case you wanted to know what The Arts Council of Great Britain was doing with all that money), though if you invest in this handsome package thinking that you're going to find out exactly what 'pataphysics is, be warned that you'll end up more confused than ever. Your money won't have been wasted, though – as far as fun goes, this is the compilation of the year (so far).
Before we go any further, a word about that strange apostrophe. To quote the curator of this project, Professor Andrew Hugill, Director of Creative Technologies and the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre at Leicester's De Montfort University: "The apostrophe at the start of the word 'pataphysics indicates that a prefix, perhaps the pataphysical prefix, is missing. The word is frequently seen these days without the apostrophe, and in this sense is generally understood to signify unconscious pataphysics. We are all pataphysicians – it's just that some people know they are."

Right, now that we've cleared that one up, on to the music. Wait a minute, the first track on the disc is completely silent! Yes kids, predating John Cage's 4'33" by 68 years, here is Alphonse Allais' "Marche Funèbre composée pour les Funérailles d'un Grand Homme Sourd" ("Funeral March composed for the interment of an Illustrious deaf man"), whose score – three staves containing nine beautifully drawn bars mercifully unspoiled by the slightest note – is printed here. As well as nicking the ideas of Cage - "pataphysicians call this process plagiarism by anticipation," Hugill helpfully informs us - Allais also owes some heavy duty royalties to Rauschenberg for painting the first white canvas, entitled "Anaemic Young Girls Taking their First Communion in the Snow".
From here on, it's downhill all the way. The next two tracks are archive recordings made in 1946 and 1951 by the Collège de 'Pataphysique of two songs from Jarry's Ubu Roi, the "Chanson du Décervelage" (which roughly translated means "the song of de-braining", just in case you can't get your tongue round Dan Clore's rather laboured translations) and the "Hymne des Palotins". A working knowledge of French might not be essential for these, and the original version of Boris Vian's celebrated anti-war song "Le Déserteur" (and here there are some serious problems with the French text: come on lads, it's not "je ne veux pas l'affaire" it's "je ne veux pas la faire" for Chrissakes! Likewise "refusez de l'affaire"..), but to appreciate Luc Etienne's magnificent "L'après-midi d'un Magnétophone: Palindromes Phonétiques", it would certainly help. God knows how long it took Etienne to write a story that would sound identical if played backwards, but his convoluted story of Anna and her two ski instructors Jules and Yvan is, as the notes inform us, worthy of David Lynch for its sheer weirdness.
Other oddities include Stephane Ginsburgh's realisation of Marcel Duchamp's "Erratum Musical" (the 88 notes of the piano played in a random order), a deliciously scored little treat from Harpo Marx's 1958 album Harpo At Work! (which one Internet site I've visited hilariously credits to Slim Harpo – howzat for pataphysics, eh?), a 41-second curiosity for "Kangaroo-Pouch Machine" by Percy Grainger (who, the notes inform us, "was not a 'pataphysician nor, probably, would he have liked 'pataphysics" – but, hey, as they say down under where Percy came from, who gives a flying fuck?) and a previously unpublished mix of Soft Machine's "A Pataphysical Introduction" and "The British Alphabet" entitled "Patasoft". Softs completists sit up and take note.
Also included are two vintage slabs of English Experimental Esoterica, the first being Gavin Bryars' hilariously limp "Ponukelian Melody", in an archive recording from 1975 featuring the composer on cello, John White on tuba, Christopher Hobbs on organ and somebody else on tubular bells (not to mention a couple of barely suppressed audience guffaws). It's the musical equivalent of eating a sponge soaked in custard. The other is Hobbs' "L'auteur se retire", in which "the letters of a composer's name which correspond to musical notes (using the German convention in which S represents Eb and so on) are removed from a chosen example of the composer's work", the work in question here being the Andante from Schubert's Ab major Sonata (1817). I'd have liked to hear Hobbs apply the same technique to the Alphonse Allais piece mentioned above, but instead we get "The Man With The Axe", an absolutely fucking hideous rap by Jarry (and Zappa) biographer Nigey Lennon, about which the less said the better.

Then we get to the weird stuff: Andrew Hugill's own "Nicholas Through The Mist", inspired by the theories of Jean-Pierre Brisset, who believed that man is descended from the frog (I am NOT making this up! Go to: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Brisset), consists, logically enough, of the call of the Australian Mist Frog gradually transforming itself into the name of the piece's dedicatee, Nicholas Zurbrugg. Frédéric Inigo's "D'un jet" sounds like someone playing an obscure Satie piano piece at the bottom of a well. Inigo claims Jarry heard his piece and described it very precisely in Chapter XXXI of Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, so if you've got a copy of that lying around, you can check for yourself – meanwhile, you can practise your French at http://www.inigo.cc/textes/beaucoup.htm. Heh heh. The inscrutable blast of data processing entitled "Einsiedler" by Gullibloon (alias Berthold, Wernfried Lackner and Andreas Pieper) is nowhere near as much fun as John Levack Drever's three "Pataphonic Studies", the first of which is a recording of an electromagnetic field of an overhead pylon in an arable field, the second, "woof-woofing", a mind-bending experiment involving nine puppies separated from their owners who were subsequently contacted by mobile phone (the composer assures us that "no animals were harmed in the making of this study", but he doesn't mention any possible impact on the mental health of listeners), the third a mysterious recording of a beach in Devon. Neil Salley blinds you with science on "Interior / Interior" ("a quantum bio-resonance amplifier that allows the bio-organism (the human body) to induce condensed phase vibratory energy into his / her nervous tissues", right?), while Ramuntcho Matta's "Just To Be Clear" is an irresistibly sensuous collage of silky Getzy sax, slinky guitar plucking and various sexy vocal noises. After Marc Battier's "Bam_Haha", which is what happens when a 'pataphysician is let loose in IRCAM, the disc ends with Hugill's "To End, Caruso Sang Figure 1", an anagram of "Desargue's Configuration" (try Googling that one and fucking good luck to you) which "imagines Caruso attempting to sing the configuration as a kind of graphic score etched on glass in mirror silver, like the Occultist Witnesses. What you hear is actually Caruso, attempting what was described as an 'unwise' high note. The repeating sound is the single piano chord that accompanied him." Simply awesome.

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On Charhizma
Baghdassarians & Baltschun
13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09

Fagaschinski & Gal
Michael Thieke
When someone gets round to writing the history of the Berlin / Vienna new music scene at the turn of the 21st century, Christof Kurzmann's Charhizma label will be one of the principal reference sources. Though he's most often associated with minimal laptoppery, Kurzmann, who's divided his time more or less equally between the two cities, is well-versed in other musics – who else would dare to cover a Prince song at an Erstwhile festival? – and also a talented clarinettist and instigator of the eclectic and unconventional big band Orchester 33 1/3. The Charhizma label website homepage features the slogan "fuck dance let's art", but the last time CK was in Paris he ran off early from a gig at the Instants Chavirés to catch another one by Techno Animal.. It's perhaps significant that Charhizma's first release was B. Fleischmann's crafty, dancefloor-friendly Pop Loops For Breakfast – the second was the so-called orange album, an indispensable snapshot of late 90s EAI featuring Werner Dafeldecker, Christian Fennesz, Jim O'Rourke, Kevin Drumm, Martin Siewert and Kurzmann himself. The companion green album from four years later is less exciting, but still worth checking out. Meanwhile, Labor CD, a CD / CDROM package from 2003, remains perhaps the best overall summary of the Berlin scene available, featuring, in addition to some wild video footage of live performances, Phosphor, the ensemble that gathers together the city's most notable lowercase improvisers, as well as Olaf Rupp, Martin Brandlmayr, Nicholas Bussmann, Margareth Kammerer, Andrea Ermke, Sabine Ercklentz, Asi Föcker, Tony Buck, Alessandro Bosetti, Kai Fagaschinski, Michael Thieke, Merle Ehlers, Dave Bennett, Antoine Chessex, Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun.
Baghdassarians and Baltschun have been performing together for a while now. (You may be familiar with their Potlatch release Strom with saxophonists Alessandro Bosetti and Michel Doneda.) The former is usually credited on "guitar and mixing desk" and the latter "sampler", and I assume that's what they're playing here, but it's hard to tell, as there's surprisingly little information on the music itself on the album cover – which Frans de Waard in Vital Weekly rather amusingly described as a combination of Letraset and an IKEA catalogue – other than "recorded and mixed in Berlin and Paris, 2004". The album title is as spartan and functional as the music, being nothing more than the durations of the three tracks. The message is clear: we're making no concessions here: if you want to get anything out of this you'd better be prepared to put some time in. Some of the sounds B&B create are loud, abrasive and industrial (lowercase i), but most of them, especially on the second track, are discreet sprinkles of crackles, pops, flutters and even what sounds like a sampled alarm clock. Devotees of Albert Camus' La Chute will recall Jean-Baptiste Clamence's enthusiasm for the idea of the malconfort, or little-ease, a cell in which the prisoner could neither sit, stand, nor lie, but was compelled to serve his sentence in a crouching position. 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09 could well be the musical equivalent – it constantly confounds expectations, inserting tense silences where you least expect them and extending certain passages far longer than you think they ought to go on. It's curiously frustrating at first but if you stick with it you'll find much to appreciate. And come back to.
If 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09 is machine-honed, claustrophobic and distinctly urban, Going Round In Serpentines, clarinettist Kai Fagaschinski's second full-length release on Charhizma after 2003's Rebecca with Michael Renkel is very much an open-air affair, thanks to the input of Viennese sound artist Bernhard Gal, who's best known for his exquisite field recording montages and installations. It's the second volume in a trilogy of Fagaschinski duos that began with last year's Stand Clear on Creative Sources with Klaus Filip (the third, with Kurzmann, is in the pipeline), and Gal's colourful – yet discreet – work makes for a fine contrast with Fagaschinski's Lucier-like exploration of sustained clarinet tones. I'd have to go back and check, but I'm wondering if some of the clangs and jingles on the opening track aren't culled from the same recordings of a Las Vegas casino that Gal used on his splendid Intransitive outing Relisten a while back, but unless someone's dreamt up an irrigation scheme for southern Nevada as ambitious as Noah Cross's in Chinatown, I seriously doubt the cowbells and crickets were recorded in or near Vegas. The most prominent element of the second track is a recording of a game of billiards – you can even hear cues being chalked – the clack of ball on ball cunningly captured and sent into caverns of reverb, while Fagaschinski flutters and hisses in and out of view. It's a nice conceit – a recording of somebody playing, indeed, but who said anything about playing a musical instrument? – and a welcome touch of humanity. Having finished their game, Gal and Fagaschinski head outside again on track three, back to the cowbells. A light rain seems to be falling, and a rather annoying and distinctly electronic sequencer drifts in and out, along with a swarm of bees – or is it a cavalcade of passing motorbikes on a distant highway? – while Fagaschinski continues his introvert explorations. Purists who like their improv resolutely abstract might baulk at the incorporation of twittering birds and church bells (albeit heavily filtered), but they'd do well to put their prejudices aside and follow the advice printed on the tray card under the CD: "Shut up and listen, dumb ass!"
Joined by bassist Derek Shirley, drummer Eric Schaefer and Luca Venitucci on accordion and prepared piano, clarinettist and alto saxophonist Michael Thieke's latest offering, Unununium, marks something of a move away from the lowercase extended techniques of his recent outings on Creative Sources, Leuchten, Kreis and Schwimmer back to – gulp – jazz. (Not that this will come as a surprise to those familiar with his work in Nickendes Perlgras and Demontage, both of which also feature Schaefer). But jazz is just one of many languages spoken here: "Portnoy" explores territory familiar to devotees of Berlin / Vienna micro improv, with ghostly clanging gongs, growling low register bass (shades of Werner Dafeldecker) and Thieke's delicate wisps of breath, but it's bookended by "Funf Treppen", which alternates walking bass ostinatos and trucking 4/4 metrics with sections of rapid fire fluttery free jazz deftly illuminated by flurries of accordion clusters from Venitucci, and the Cage-like sonorities of the prepared piano on "Der Idiot". Thieke's terrific alto clarinet work on "Nach Aussen Gewölbte Mönche" is a timely reminder that many of Berlin's most daring instrumental innovators – trumpeter Axel Dörner most notably – are just as good at playing straight and swinging hard if they put their mind to it. The Shirley / Schaefer rhythm team is outstanding here, laying down a spiky free funk groove on top of which Venitucci and Thieke really get cooking. Surprises abound throughout this album, from the laidback lope of "Der Verfolger" to the exquisite microdrones and tingling glockenspiels of the tiny, perfect "Element 110" and the pointillism of the closing "Einen Käfer Werfen". All in all, Unununium is a magnificent piece of work by four musicians at the height of their powers in a vibrant new music scene documented by an essential label.–DW

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Two concerts in the autumn provided two radically different perspectives on the post 9/11 musical relationship between East and West. The first, Diamanda Galás’s Defixiones on September 8th and 10th at Pace University, mourned the genocide of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians in Turkey from 1914 to 1923, but many of its texts were written much later and could be read as statements about conflict in the Middle East in general. First performed on September 11th, 1999, it supported her contention in an interview just over two years later that "what is truly horrible is to create work that very few people understand…and then feel the prescience of it." Horrible is perhaps the key word: Galás, a Greek-American singer, composer, pianist, lyricist and performance artist, has spent the last 25 years shocking audiences worldwide with her artistic diatribes on sociopolitical issues including imprisonment, torture, mental illness and AIDS. After spells in free jazz and the classical avant-garde, she emerged during the 1980s as a free-wheeling songwriter who embraced the campy darkness of Goth, but preferred to go it alone both in her shows and in her individual artistic inclinations. The title Defixiones refers to an ancient Middle Eastern tradition of fixing curses on graves to ward off the enemies of the dead. The staging was almost identical to a black mass, with the exception of a piano which Galás strummed menacingly to accompany her mixture of rants and regional poetry. What set her performance apart was its vocal range, which encompassed guttural growls, high-pitched screeches and mid-range murmuring forced into a traditionally religious musical structure, featuring strict plainsong alongside freer responses. The show combined a minimalist austerity with continual variation in its unfolding horror, enhanced by the use of tape and other electroacoustic effects, its evocation of genocide focussing not only on racial hatred but also on the repetitious ritualism of the slaughter and the way its memory is perpetuated or repressed.
By contrast, the second event, Musicians for Harmony’s performance on Sept. 13th at Merkin Hall, was more of a celebration of peaceful interaction between cultures than an attempt to portray conflicts and grievances. This was the group’s fourth concert commemorating the anniversary of 9/11, and, choosing from the combined repertoire of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and Daniel Barenboim’s East-West Divan Orchestra, they programmed the works of contemporary Middle Eastern composers alongside Western chamber music masterpieces. Several performers, including violinist Colin Jacobsen and Siamak Jahangiri, a virtuoso on the Iranian flute known as the ney, were Silk Road regulars. His interpretations of Iranian folk music received sturdy support from the Knights, a small string orchestra, and from Iranian composer Hossein Ali-Zadeh’s arrangements, but he could perhaps have played a more prominent role in the "Musique sans frontières" chamber ensemble, which in the event was largely dominated by Avram Pengas, a mercurial specialist in Mediterranean guitars.

Elsewhere, many of the highlights of the Autumn 2005 contemporary music schedule were at Columbia University’s Miller Theater, whose traditional appearance belies its innovations in programming. On November 4th it celebrated Giacinto Scelsi’s centenary with a rare performance of all five of his string quartets. Born in 1905 into an aristocratic Italian family, Scelsi (photo, left) became fascinated by non-European branches of mysticism and went through a lengthy crisis, after which his compositions focused on how the sound of a note can alter over the course of its duration. Back in 1964 few would have dared write an extended piece consisting of a single pitch, but this is exactly what Scelsi did in his Fourth Quartet, a whining, buzzing crescendo with fluctuations in tuning, rhythm and dynamics. In the two preceding quartets, dating from the same period, he calls for the strings to be prepared with metal objects, while his final contribution to the genre, completed a few years before his death in 1988, is a wintry, one-movement apotheosis of his style. The Flux Quartet captured the raw wildness of the last four, but failed to rein in the expressionism of the First Quartet (1944), a five-movement work with a Messiaen-like scherzo also bearing traces of Berg’s Lyric Suite and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.
The theatre had already hosted another major retrospective on October 29th when Christopher Taylor devoted an evening recital to György Ligeti’s complete Etudes. In addition to winning the bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1993, Taylor is a summa cum laude graduate in Mathematics from Harvard, which should give him a headstart on the Etudes’ manic fractals. He hammered out the obsessive patterning with more weight than Ligeti’s favoured interpreter, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and left himself time for greater rhythmic flirtatiousness. These pieces cry out for graphic variations in color, and Taylor rarely missed a chance to transform an innocent melodic line into a folk singer’s plangent lament or a strain murmured by a parent to a sleeping child. Remarkably for a recital of this length and difficulty, he also seemed barely to tire before the end. With his mock-Gouldian mannerisms and theatrical presence, Taylor promises to be an artist of major stature.
Another rising star in the contemporary pianistic firmament is Marilyn Nonken, who presented music by the Polish-American composer Frederic Rzewski at the Miller on October 20th. Rzewski has been influenced not only by and politics and pop music but also by electronica and free jazz, giving his works an inclusive, eclectic sensibility in which forearm clusters mingle freely with music from the street. In a slightly exhausted reading of his gargantuan variations on the Chilean revolutionary song The People United Will Never Be Defeated, Nonken deliberately veered from crystalline preciousness to choppier approximations, culminating in a brilliant rendition of a cadenza composed for the occasion by indie jazz pianist Ethan Iverson. Despite the piece’s length and diversity, her narration encompassed the character of each individual episode, daring to be both classical and casual. Ursula Oppens, who originally commissioned the work to complement Beethoven’s equally enormous Diabelli Variations, joined Nonken and percussionists Tom Kolor and Dominic Donato for the other piece on the program, Bring Them Home, a thigh-slapping reworking of an Irish folksong in which Rzewski demands the performers explore a whole host of percussive worlds that lie outside the capabilities of their instruments. Such improvisational tendencies make his compositions long-winded, but often they drive him to the heights of whimsy that Nonken seems determined to scale.

The winter produced two events that explored similar ends of this theatrical spectrum. The first, an 80th birthday tribute to Austrian atonalist Friedrich Cerha at the Austrian Cultural Forum on February 17th, was dominated by the U.S. première of Elfi und Andi by Olga Neuwirth (photo, left), which followed Cerha’s lyrical musings on Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Neuwirth, the latest in a long line of Austrian musical wunderkinds, has already converted David Lynch’s film Lost Highway into an opera in collaboration with librettist Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian Nobel Prize winner infamous for her explorations of sadomasochistic psychology. Elfi und Andi, in turn, is based on a modified version of Jelinek’s drama Ein Sportstück, which juxtaposes a taped female narration about a murderous wife with a live male voice recreating the lead-up to a bodybuilder’s overdose on steroids. Tenor Virgil Hartinger successfully camped up his bodybuilder to the point of hysteria, despite a very audible false entry early in the piece, and the female tape narrator provided a suitably butch complement, although, given the absence of any translated materials or theatrical staging it was almost impossible for non-German speakers to understand the plot, or even whether there was one. The Argento Chamber Ensemble conducted by Michel Galante gave the singers a backing worthy of Lynch, with surreal, quasi-Mahlerian marches and jazz solos interrupting an undercurrent of dark electroacoustics. Beethoven provided a more obvious model in Cerha’s responses to Hölderlin, some encapsulated in pieces for string sextet, others in the form of choral settings of his poetry, performed by the Columbia University’s Collegium Musicum choir. Cerha saved some of his best effects in these works for their endings, particularly in the eighth and final piece for sextet, a late Beethoven piano sonata drifting off into a visionary microtonal haze.
The second event of the pair was a concert of minimalist works given by rock-classical crossover band The Fireworks Ensemble at the Tenri Cultural Institute on March 18th. After an opening piece by the ensemble’s bassist, Brian Coughlin, inspired by a Far Side cartoon featuring two elephants playing the piano, by the end of which the pachyderms were stomping about in forearm clusters all over the keyboard, the audience was braced for an evening of good clean fun. Lois V. Vierk’s Io used detuned guitar glissandi and Chinese pentatonic effects on the marimba to recreate conditions on one of the more volcanic moons of the planet Jupiter, but the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Grab It!, a music-theater piece by Jacob Ter Veldhuis, in which saxophonist Michael Ibrahim played vigorous figurations in order to block out a series of noises coming from a boombox (mainly prisoners shouting and swearing on a documentary about Death Row). Although musically blunt, the piece provided a witty political comment on the clash of high-class entertainment and desperate impoverishment, and sounded suitably self-mocking in performance. Ibrahim’s attire was particularly ironic: dressed in a blue, red and white New York sports shirt and dark green Army camouflage cap, he strutted around the stage as if it were Times Square in a pair of shades, with his boombox slung over his shoulder. A problem with the batteries meant that he had to start the piece again, but the effect was barely spoiled for the audience, who seemed enthusiastic for more. And the ensemble delivered; with such energy in fact that what had been touted as the evening’s masterpiece, Louis Andriessen’s Hout, felt too relaxed a work to take the heat.–NR

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Die Stadt
It happens very rarely, but there comes a time in life when you encounter something that rewrites most of the rules you've been following until then, pointing you in a different direction and sending you down a whole new existential path. In 1999, after many years of listening to and writing about drone-based music, Die Stadt boss Jochen Schwarz introduced me to the first two LPs by Mirror, Eye of The Storm (Streamline 1999) and Ringstones (Some Fine Legacy 1999) which instantly flipped the switch of a completely new light, arriving as they did in my life at a time when noise – unbearable noise – was predominant. Mirror began when Christoph Heemann and Andrew Chalk decided to join forces after being active on the experimental/drone/avant scene for many years. Heemann was the leader of HNAS, one of the best post-Faust ensembles to come out of Germany, whose music is chock full of geniality and the kind of corrosive quirks you'd never associate with what he ended up doing, but the first intimations of what would become Mirror can be detected in his many collaborative projects – among them, with Seclusion, John Duncan, Organum, Current 93, Mimir – but above all in his wonderful solo albums Invisible Barrier (Extreme 1993), Aftersolstice (Barooni 1994) and Days Of The Eclipse (Barooni 1997). Andrew Chalk started his path with Ferial Confine, but his first glories came for his participation in the Ora project, which included many collaborators, the most important being Colin Potter, Darren Tate and Jonathan Coleclough; he too had been involved with Organum and already worked with a lot of illustrious companions like Daisuke Suzuki, Michael Northam, Ralf Wehowsky, Eric Lanzillotta and The New Blockaders, while also releasing the gorgeous Over The Edges (Streamline 1999). Though thoroughly taken with the first two steps into the sacred temple of inner resonance these artists had built after years of unconventional meditations, I was nevertheless not prepared for the ear-opening lesson of Front Row Centre (Die Stadt 2000), another limited edition vinyl complete with (as usual) handmade artwork insert signed by the artists. I instantly realized that this music was a revelation in my understanding of frequency colours and codes, and that a good 80 per cent of what I had previously described as "Deep Listening" music was just a fad – which I still believe is the case. Mirror have since released a lot of fantastic albums, as a duo or with illustrious guests (Jim O’Rourke, to name one), all worth of a place in your memory and in your collection – but this is The One. And it’s all the more important that people know Front Row Centre as the fulcrum of a constantly inspired collaboration that’s now sadly come to an end, since Heemann and Chalk unexpectedly severed relations in 2005.

It begins in complete silence. Very gradually a mass of harmonic stillness, what could be a hundred-note chord, fades in, unhurried movements of internal particles and shifting vibrations revealing a multitude of layers which the ear associates with the bowed strings of many guitars, reverberation from inside a piano, a church organ, or a gently caressed gong. Or so I believe, since Heemann and Chalk make a point of never revealing their sources. This majestic infinite chord grows its intensity VERY slowly, its muffled clangour becoming the sum of many voices of invisible creatures that until then had been forgotten in anonymity, now finally able to see the light after years of existence under the surface. When the music reaches the highest grade on the Richter scale of emotional tension, Mirror suddenly bring the mix down abruptly, lowering the overall volume until the hypnotic tapestry is barely perceived. And it all starts again. The lights of an imaginary periphery are seen from afar, like the flickering of a million fireflies, and a deep pain, coming from the realization of something so beautiful that it can’t be put into words, firmly grips the stomach. We're left alone to contemplate the conscious alteration of our mind. The first time I played this I remained completely still, except for a moment when I wandered over to the window to watch a passing aeroplane whose fabulous rumble had captured my attention, before realizing it was one of the drones coming from the speakers. A simple event that made me feel, for lack of a better word, inadequate. Heemann and Chalk's fantastic agglomerates of pure subterranean vibe, filtered by frequency cutoffs and flanging, undulate in breathtaking glissandos before finally reaching their apex in emotional "Oms" which infiltrate our very essence, on and on, an infinite loop of awareness. It could be a nightmare for those who think that a didjeridoo, a rain stick and some spacky Tibetan sample can fulfil the spirit while fattening a bank account, but for those few who still believe in the basic principles of development for the functional human being, Front Row Centre belongs on the famous desert island. And since the vinyl edition is now long out of print and crackles under the weight and intensity of Mirror's prayer – nearly an hour's worth of music compressed into two sides stresses the grooves a bit – I've been reciting my own little mantra for years now. Front Row Centre on CD. Front Row Centre on CD. –MR

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Stefan Wolpe

The history of Western classical music, like the history of anything else you care to mention, doesn't advance in a neat straight line (from Beethoven to Boulez via Brahms, Mahler, Schoenberg and Webern), but it seems to reassure many people to think that it does. If composer Stefan Wolpe (1902 – 72) hadn't emigrated to the USA and become associated with the post-war New York School – he was a prominent member of the Eighth Street Club, director at Black Mountain College from 1952 to 1956 and taught, amongst others, the young Morton Feldman – one wonders whether his music would have attracted the attention it has over recent years. Not that Wolpe is exactly a household name (though he is in this particular household) – but the works he produced during the final years of his life were enthusiastically championed by a younger generation of composers and performers who recognised an approach to serialism that navigated a path between the dry dogma of Schoenbergian dodecaphony and the crippling strictures of Darmstadt-style total serialism. There are several fine discs of late Wolpe out and about, including the Ensemble Recherche's For Stefan Wolpe (Audivis Montaigne), which juxtaposes his work with music by Feldman, Cage, Carter and Schöllhorn, the historic 1954 recordings of the Violin Sonata (1949) Passacaglia for Piano (1936) and Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Piano (1954) on hatART (Passacaglia), the Juilliard Quartet's reading of his late String Quartet and, if you can hunt down a copy, there's a disc on Bridge with the Piece in 3 Parts (1961), the Quintet with Voice (1957) and the Hexachord Suite (1936). If you can't find this one, help is at hand – the Suite is also available on this fine new outing from Mode, which concentrates on the music Wolpe wrote while he was living in Palestine between 1934 and 1938. The story of how the composer fled Nazi Germany after the burning of the Reichstag along with a detailed account of his activities in Jerusalem over the next four years is told in Austin Clarkson and Yuval Shaked's magnificent accompanying essay – once more Mode is setting the standard for excellent and informative liner notes – translated into French, German and, not surprisingly, Hebrew. The disc contains five works, the Passacaglia Op 23, an orchestration of the 1936 piano piece namechecked above, the Incidental Music to Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire (1934), the Three Smaller Canons Op 24a, the Hexachord Suite (also mentioned above) and the Concerto for Nine Instruments Op 22 (1933 – 37).
Before disembarking at Jaffa in May 1934, Stefan Wolpe had been moving around Europe, from Czechoslovakia to Romania, via Vienna, where he studied briefly with Anton Webern (those fond of the "straight line" history can, then, chart a direct line from Schoenberg to Feldman, via Webern and Wolpe, if they so wish). Yet, as Clarkson points out in his notes, Wolpe's take on twelve tone writing has more in common with Josef Mathias Hauer than it does Schoenberg. Traditional Schoenbergian practice sets down strict rules regarding how the series it is to be used (which if followed to the letter can all too easily result in the earnest grey plodding stuff that Schoenberg himself turned out in the last two decades of his life), whereas what Hauer postulated by way of alternative was an idea of serialism more closely related to the idea of scale, or more specifically mode, which allowed certain intervals to be repeated, thereby establishing if not a sense of tonality at least an idea of gravitational pull within the pitch universe, which allowed musical ideas to establish themselves in a more direct manner, thereby enabling attentive listeners to follow their development more easily. This is evident in the Passacaglia (and the motivic development is made even clearer by Wolpe's orchestration), in which Wolpe devised 11 "counter-sets", each based on an interval from the semitone to the minor seventh, which would "rotate like planets around the main subject," to quote Clarkson. Though the work was originally scheduled for performance at the time under the baton of William Steinberg, the members of the newly founded Palestine Symphony found it too difficult (presumably technically, though one suspects the real reasons were musical) and the piece wasn't heard in public until as late as 1983, when it was finally premiered by Charles Wuorinen and the American Composers Orchestra. This debut recording – at last – should help establish the Passacaglia as one of the major early orchestral twelve-tone works, one worthy of taking its place alongside Berg's Der Wein and Schoenberg's Variations.
Wolpe is best known for his serial explorations, but it shouldn't be forgotten that he was, prior to his sudden departure from his native Germany, an active Communist and composer of a number of agitprop anthems for trade unions and theatre companies. Though the names of Weill and Eisler spring more naturally to mind as composers of "music for the people", Wolpe's music didn't go unnoticed – when he arrived in Palestine he was surprised to learn that many people he met there were familiar with his marching song Es wird die neue Welt gebored. Proof that he was equally at home writing more harmonically and rhythmically straightforward music comes in the six pieces he wrote in 1934 as incidental music for Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire, brilliantly scored for flute, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass. Accessible they might be, but there's no question of a dumbing down in terms of language – the Schlafmusik is another passacaglia based on a theme from Schoenberg's String Quartet, op 10. The canons and the suite may already be familiar to readers, having appeared before on disc, but this version by the Ensemble Recherche is the best that's appeared to date. Wolpe's contrapuntal mastery is clear throughout: this is set theory in action (I shan't bore you with talk of hexachords – why tell you how it works when you can hear how it works?) and terrific music to boot, comparable with Webern and late Stravinsky in its combination of formal complexity and lucidity of line and texture.
The album's third scoop is the first recording of the Concerto for Nine Instruments, a work Wolpe had begun while studying with Webern and returned to four years later. It's scored for near-identical forces as Webern's well-known piece of the same name – the only difference being that Wolpe calls for bassoon and cello where Webern uses oboe and viola – but there the similarities end. Wolpe's work is considerably more substantial in scope; calling it a chamber symphony might have been more appropriate, and comparing it to Schoenberg's two chamber symphonies might make more sense. Where Webern seems to be looking forward to the second half of the twentieth century, and the pointillism of Nono, Boulez and Stockhausen, Wolpe, like Schoenberg, often glances affectionately back at the latter part of the nineteenth, with its octave doublings and rather dense scoring. That said, what we hear on the disc is not exactly what Wolpe wrote, unfortunately: both the full score and the violin part have been lost, and the work has been reconstructed by Johannes Schöllhorn from the other existing parts, with only a few written cues to hint at what the violin was to have played. Rather than attempt to write a violin part, Schöllhorn decided (wisely) to leave the work as is, with eight complete parts and fragments of a ninth. Even so, its appearance at last is cause for celebration, and another feather in Mode's cap. It's an impressive and rousing – if challenging – conclusion to an excellent and highly recommended disc.

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Available Jelly
Available Jelly was originally a trio of American jazz musicians – Gregg Moore, Stuart Curtis and Jimmy Sernesky – who came to Amsterdam from Salt Lake City in the late 70s accompanying a mime troupe, and decided to stay there. Moore subsequently invited his brother, saxophonist / clarinettist Michael (who, besides the name, has little in common with the unlikeable fatso who shoots "controversial" documentaries) to join them, since when the band has been the major outlet for his superb work on saxophone and clarinet. The line-up has remained constant since 1995: it's a pianoless sextet also featuring trumpeter Eric Boeren, tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, bassist Ernst Glerum and percussionist Michael Vatcher.
Although the album title refers to Bilbao, as in the Brecht / Weill song from Happy End which closes proceedings, it's just as much a journey along the shores of nostalgia in multicultural and liberal Amsterdam. In the light of today’s many prohibitions and divisions, Brecht's lines have much to say about that fair city: "Now they've cleaned it up and made it middle class / With potted palms and aspree / Very bourgeois, very bourgeois [..] They've cleaned up all the pools of broken glass / On parquet floors you can't grow grass." So appropriate – it's almost a shame the Jelly's version is purely instrumental. As usual, the album (their sixth, not counting reissues) presents an eclectic mix of material. Two tracks are based on the folk music of Myanmar and Indonesia: on "Selat Sunda" the brasses pump away like an approaching locomotive (recalling at times Masada's debut album), while on "Bulan/Khek Borates", based on Siamese folk music, bassist Ernst Glerum strums chords as if he were playing an acoustic guitar. When it comes to straight jazz the most impressive soloist throughout is Wierbos, a fine example of the "avant-garde brass improviser as defender of jazz tradition", who shines on from the opening "Lovelock", through Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole", Boeren's "Wolliè", and "Colima". The twelve compositions are so beautifully arranged that they almost deserve filing away in the Classical section alongside the Brecht / Weill opera, but despite the playfulness – Burt Bacharach's "Little French Boy" and "Mad" (subtitled “A Fake Madagascar tune") are so loose and child-like they're virtually careless – the overriding impression, established early on in the Mingus-like "Facade", developed by Toby Delius’ tenor work on “In the Secret Garden” and confirmed by the closing title track, is one of gentle melancholy.

Out Of Context
Burning Books / High Mayhem
Out Of Context is another project from the incredibly fertile mind of composer and improviser J.A. Deane. The band features Deane on sampler and uniflute (whatever that is), vocalists John Flax and Molly Sturges, Jon Baldwin (cornet), C.K. Barlow (sampler), Stefan Dill (oud, electronics), Katie Harlow (cello), Sam Rhodes (bassoon), Alicia Ultan (viola) and Jefferson Voorhees (percussion), plus vocal contributions from 38 others reading extracts from Melody Sumner Carnahan's One Inch Equals Twenty-Five Miles (2000), in an inspired follow-up to her highly acclaimed 1998 outing The Time Is Now (Frog Peak). Carnahan is no stranger to mixed media interpretations of her writing: she began working with composers while she was studying under Robert Ashley at Mills College, and has been active in radio as well as film and video installations for nearly a couple of decades. Deane is best known for his work with Butch Morris, whose conduction techniques he uses here to sculpt his performers' live material in this concert recording made at Albuquerque New Mexico's Outpost Performance Space. The texts themselves, though more or less omnipresent, are rarely in the foreground – no question of this being a simple question of instrumental accompaniment – but their imagery works into the music at a deeper level, as the eleven tracks run together to form a continuous whole (suite? opera?). The individual performances are impressive – Harlow and Ultan's strings are characteristically melodic, every bit as plaintive as Rhodes' bassoon and Dill's oud – and Deane's handling of the ensemble is nothing short of masterly. Despite the density of the voices – sung, spoken, sampled and treated – the texture remains rich and luminous, rather than dense and claggy, and the work as a whole is suffused with an authentic freshness and lyricism.–DW

Aurora Josephson / Joëlle Léandre / Damon Smith / Martin Blume
Balance Point Acoustics
This latest offering on Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics imprint, like its immediate predecessor Sperrgut, features the Bay Area bassist in the company of German percussionist Martin Blume. They're joined by Aurora Josephson on vocals – her linocuts also grace the album's back tray and booklet – and French bassist (and occasional manic vocalist herself) Joëlle Léandre, who was paying a return visit to Oakland's Mills College when this was recorded in October 2004. Léandre's background in contemporary classical music, which included notable friendships with Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage, will be familiar to readers of these pages, and, in conjunction with Josephson's occasional well-rounded soprano, it adds a touch of conservatory gravitas to Cruxes, notably on the drone that opens the closing "Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!", one of four tracks recorded live at the Berkeley Art Centre. Three of the eight studio takes recorded the day before are duets – the Smith / Léandre bass battle on "Siberia of the Mind" is particularly exciting – and Blume sits out the trio, "Scriabin the Derailer", which begins with Smith and Léandre slashing out into space with their bows. A fitting metaphor for the two bass jousts that characterise the album as a whole. It's a subtle, supple set of pieces, but despite the fact she has a pretty voice I'm not entirely convinced by what Josephson is doing when things really get swinging on "Tanglefoot Flypaper". She sounds more at ease on the live cuts, which also feature some splendid arco interplay between the bassists – and don't fall for that dumb old line that Léandre's the "classical" player and Smith the "jazzman", because it doesn't work like that – as ever tastefully accompanied by Blume's meticulous pointillism.–DW

Malcolm Goldstein / Masashi Harada
In a long and illustrious career as both an interpreter of contemporary music, through his close association with the Judson Dance Theater and the Tone Roads Ensemble, and improviser, violinist Malcolm Goldstein hasn't released all that many albums. The (incomplete) discography entry over at All Music Guide, in accordance with AMG's practice of providing a list of adjectives under the rubric "Moods" (always good for a chuckle if you're feeling down in the dumps), describes Goldstein's work as "provocative, cerebral and intense". Don't know about that "cerebral" – it's clear from the get go that this isn't Babbitt or Carter – but intense certainly, and provocative if your idea of what a violin should sound like is based on Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin and Maxim Vengerov (or, if you prefer, Joe Venuti, Stéphane Grappelli and, umm, Didier Lockwood). Most of the extraordinary sounds Goldstein wrenches forth from the highly strung wooden box are the kinds of noises that would make any conservatory violin teacher's toes curl up: variable bow pressure producing all kinds of irregular partials, sometimes fluty, sometimes scratchy; playing at rakish angles across the fingerboard instead of keeping the bow righteously parallel to the bridge; a whole range of unconventional pizzicato sounds; and a fondness for – or rather unwillingness to avoid – twangy open strings. But you stick a fiddle in the hands of a total beginner (I tried) and see if s/he comes up with anything like this, and you'll find out it's harder than it looks (sounds). In pianist Masashi Harada, Goldstein has found the perfect partner: like Goldstein, he's all over his instrument – and especially fond of extreme registers (a shrewd move, freeing up the mid register frequency zone for the violinist to operate in) – and able to change direction within milliseconds. The interplay between the two men is dazzling, and Harada's ear for pitch is even more impressive than it was on his magnificent Leo release of a few years ago, Obliteration At The End Of Multiplication, with Mat Maneri and Philip Tomasic. In the midst of what sounds like total pandemonium, he pulls notes out of Goldstein's seemingly chaotic scrabbling like rabbits out of a conjuror's hat. In the hands of lesser musicians, such enthusiastic scratching and clonking might be mildly exciting first time round, but would not stand up to repeated listening. This, however, will be around as long as the trees, gardens, cliffs, ravines and rocks its track titles immortalize. Not an album that will grow on you as much as one that you will grow in. Soil.–DW

From Between
from between was the inaugural release on Daniel Yang's elegantly austere SOS Editions imprint, but it's since become the name of the group by default. It's a trio consisting of saxophonists Jack Wright and Michel Doneda and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, and this second outing – also a label-launching release, the label in question this time being Michael Anton Parker's Sprout – was recorded live on March 1st last year at Pied Nu in Le Havre, France. Le Havre isn't your average Frenchperson's dream town: it's a grey, rainy windswept port at the mouth of the Seine that was mercilessly bombed to bits by the Allies in World War II and subsequently rebuilt more or less from scratch. Though the rectilinear, imposing concrete architecture of Auguste Perret might not be to everyone's taste, the city was recently (to the considerable surprise of many of its inhabitants) designated as UNESCO World Heritage. This album should be, too. Wright and Doneda have been active on the improv scene for over twenty years, but their playing has evolved considerably over the past five in response to the drastic overhaul of vocabulary prompted by the music's recent flirtation with ultra-minimalism (lowercase, reductionism.. take your pick). Percussionist Nakatani was also briefly associated with Boston lowercase pioneers nmperign, appearing on their debut album 44'38"/5 back in 1998, and has continued to explore the quieter end of the dynamic spectrum in his excellent Blue Collar trio with Steve Swell and Nate Wooley. But there's nothing lowercase about any of the playing here, least of all Nakatani's. He's a one man percussion ensemble, extending his kit with assorted metallic bric-a-brac which he drags, scrapes, rubs, sings into and moves around, creating such a racket you could swear he has six arms. Wright and Doneda are just as impressive, sounding like anything from a hive of angry bees to a litter of panic-stricken kittens trying to escape from a hefty bag. The music is complex and dense, demanding but fascinating, and never chatty and nervous. In that respect it's learned its lowercase lesson well. These men find beauty in the kinds of sounds your mum told you never to make at the dinner table, just as those far-sighted folks from UNESCO found beauty in the streets of Le Havre as the cold rain blew in from the sea.–DW

The Same Girl
In case you're expecting a rock group – there are after all plenty of girls out there, from Taxi Girl to Airport Girl to Chopper Girl to Gangsta Girl, not forgetting Bikini Girl, Apache Girl, Gutter Girl (I kid you not) and of course Everything But The Girl – fear not: The Same Girl is an improv duo consisting of Berlin-based laptopper Gilles Aubry and percussionist Nicholas Field, currently resident in Geneva. The two blokes apparently met up ten years ago when they were trying to pick up the same girl, the Schraum press release helpfully informs us. We don't know, however, if either of them succeeded, though if the young lady in question wasn't a diehard improvised music freak, I doubt Aubry and Field could have wooed her with a selection of their own greatest hits (though if it's any consolation I was pretty seduced by the last Field outing that came my way, the duo with Jaime Fennelly, Le Doigt de Galilee, one of Locust Music's Object series). The seven improvised "Spare Parts" tracks are as tough and dry as the album title. For the most part they're impressively tight, gritty workouts – hats off to Aubry for being particularly responsive – and it's just as well they're interleaved with the relative light relief of the "Ideology Toolkit", a set of four field recordings (it says here, though "Recours à la peur" seems to be a field recording of the duo in action.. go figure). Choice cut: the ominous low end groan of "Tombstone Zigzag". No wonder the final track "Dress Rehearsal" is (almost) completely silent.. I hope they kept the young lady's address and sent her a copy of this for Valentine's Day. Now that's what I call romantic.–DW

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Various Artists
Emanem 4216
The vagaries of funding and scheduling meant that last year’s edition of Freedom of the City, the London-based free-improv festival curated by Emanem (Martin Davidson), Matchless (Eddie Prévost) and Evan Parker, was just a single-day event, and virtually all the music played that day is now released on this two-disc set. On this occasion the musicians, all familiar faces from past Emanem releases and FOTC events, chose to work in impromptu ensembles rather than already-established groupings. This is one of the less “abstract” FOTCs, perhaps because of the temporary absence of Matchless as a co-producer. There’s plenty of free jazz in the mix, and the bassists and drummers go for momentum rather than free-floating colour; the one bit of laptoppery, from Phil Durrant, comes as part of a power-trio with Alan Wilkinson and Mark Sanders.

There are four trio performances on the set, and it’s instructive how different the dynamic is in each of them. The opening trio pits the slippery Paul Rutherford with / against / at an angle to the well-attested John Edwards / Mark Sanders rhythm section: the trombonist’s multidirectional and superbly deadpan lines engage only selectively with the scuttling activity of a rhythm section that insists on chasing down every idea right now. With Wilkinson / Durrant / Sanders the saxophonist is the lynchpin, hooking up in traditional free jazz fashion with Sanders but also matching up the graininess of overblown sax to Durrant’s buzzes and shrills. It’s an intriguing insection of tear-the-house-down free jazz with laptop electronics, even if the contradiction between freely pulsed drums and pulseless (or neurotically vibrating) electronics tends to be highlighted rather than resolved. The performance by Sylvia Hallett, Caroline Kraabel and Veryan Weston (on violin, saxophone and piano, respectively, and all three also sing) has a dappled, teasing quality, the notes darting around like minnows; voices and instruments swap places or double each other so often you can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends. My favourite trio, though, is Steve Beresford, Joe Williamson and Roger Turner, who turn in what’s unmistakably a jazz performance, marked by crisp, quickwitted volleys between Turner and Beresford (who at times sounds like a pared-down, lightning-fast Paul Bley) and Williamson’s oblique bass work, which flips back and forth rapidly between patient, broken walking bass and roiling, near-directionless masses of bowing.

There are three tracks from the London Improvisers Orchestra: Caroline Kraabel’s “Hearing Reproduction” is a conceptual piece in which the entire orchestra repeatedly “rewinds” itself like a tape-machine – not really a particularly satisfying piece of music in itself, but I don’t think that was the point – while the others are impromptu conductions by Simon Fell and Dave Tucker. Fell’s adheres to the traditional orchestral section divisions of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion in order to bring them into rather ominous dialogue, while Tucker’s is more concerned with setting up sharply varied backgrounds behind featured soloists. The remaining tracks on the album are duo performances. A soprano sax / flute duet between Lol Coxhill and Neil Metcalfe has a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t flavour: ideas are discarded almost as rapidly as they surface, at least until halfway into “A Right in Phoenica,” when Coxhill switches from wry snippets to reeling lyricism and the music finds a groove that carries them almost to the piece’s end. Only one side of the interaction between violinist Phil Wachsmann and video artist Kjell Bjorgeengen is directly audible on CD, though Wachsmann’s clear-cut juxtapositions of mood and texture are audibly the result of an unheard audio/visual dialogue. The opening minutes are a superb display of the violinist’s wit and balletic grace, an essay of sorts in mixed-messages improvisation: a conventionally beautiful, silken tone, for instance, may be applied to a hopelessly out of tune phrase. The closing sections are something else again: meticulously constructed passages of tenuous beauty or scrabbling density, the electronics overlays at various times suggesting Reichian minimalism, Hardanger fiddle, or even a quiet church organ.

Mike Cooper
Any album that reminds me of Björk, Robert Wyatt, Mayo Thompson and Lol Coxhill can't be all that bad. The Coxhill connection is easy to explain: guitarist / vocalist / laptopper Mike Cooper was (is?), with Coxhill and percussionist Roger Turner, a member of The Recedents, one of British improv's wilder and more eccentric outfits (as you might be able to guess from the title of their 1988 Nato release Zombie Bloodbath On The Isle Of Dogs), and his singing, with its gentle, slightly-wider-than-usual crooner vibrato, often recalls Coxhill's touching vocals. But where Lol is at his best scraping the mold off crusty old standards, the tracks on offer here are all originals. Spirit Songs is the first complete album of Cooper's songs since 1974's Life And Death In Paradise, a long out of print but soon to be reissued – hooray – album also featuring Mike Osborne, Harry Miller and drummer Louis Moholo. But, as Cooper writes on his website, "I like to think of these pieces as sung text rather than songs. Some of them have been around a long time, laying [sic] between the pages of a small book of postcard sized collages. I have been experimenting with singing these texts live in gigs, sometimes with the same backing tracks on mini disc, but also improvising and building new backing tracks on the fly and even swapping the texts and backing tracks around, resulting in a different version each time." Which takes us to the Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson, who, even before his pioneering albums with Art & Language, was the first to prove convincingly that "any text could go with any piece of music", to quote David Grubbs. Similarly, Cooper's lyrics deal with issues as diverse and "unmusical" as industrial pollution and law and order. But where Thompson's Corrected Slogans and Kangaroo? still sound a little standoffish and affected, there's something curiously moving about Cooper's close-miked fragility (that's where Wyatt comes to mind), accompanied by the melancholy twang of his blues-inflected guitar and all the strangely disturbing clicks, pops and stochastic clatters. It's also a reminder that some of the most poignant albums of recent times have been recorded in the intimacy of the artist's own home – from guitarist Roger Smith's nocturnal adventures in his kitchen to Red's emotionally bruised debut on Rectangle. And even if Björk had a whole choir at her disposal, the most effective tracks on her Vespertine are the ones "about being on your own in your house with your laptop and whispering for a year and just writing a very peaceful song that tiptoes."–DW

Braam / De Joode / Vatcher
Bik Bent Braam
Nine of the ten tracks on this album were recorded live on October 26th last year at Amsterdam's Bimhuis, and the choice of the venue as well as the line-up speaks for itself: pianist Michiel Braam is yet another superb performer who perfectly encapsulates everything that's made New Dutch Swing one of the most consistently lively and enjoyable scenes in contemporary jazz. Solid technique, a thorough grounding in both the hard bop and big band repertoire (recognised by the Dutch establishment in the form of the Podium Prize in 1988 and the Boy Edgar Prize nine years later) but also an openness to accident and experimentation within the confines of carefully crafted composition: there's as much Mengelberg and Taylor in there as Ellington, Monk, Mingus. Partnered by powerhouse bassist Wilbert de Joode (Ab Baars Trio, Ig Henneman Tentet, JC Tans Orchestra..) and drummer extraordinaire Michael Vatcher (4 Walls, Available Jelly, Frankie Douglas..), Braam delivers the goods in what is the most exciting and enjoyable piano trio to emerge from the Netherlands since Cor Fuhler's (with Han Bennink and de Joode). Those who like their jazz deadly serious might groan at the choice of track titles (all anagrams of the album title, including some pretty damn awkward ones: "Can Ghosts Neigh?" "Gosh, Ethnics Gan", "Hotch As Ginseng"..) but they'd do well to ignore the verbal frivolity and get down to some serious listening. True, there's not much angst on offer, except in the title of the first track, but despite the quintessentially Dutch let's-see-if-I-can-pull-it-apart-and-put-it-back-together aesthetic – Misha Mengelberg would love the spectacular collapse of "Songs Each Night" – the foundations of the music are solid as a rock. De Joode is especially meaty, and Vatcher's deceptively light touch belies some seriously impressive rhythmic underpinning. With these two behind him all the way it's no wonder Braam delivers some of the most confident and enjoyable piano work I've heard in recent years. Check it out.–DW

Hal Singer
Futura Swing-01
The first of six titles in the Swing Collector catalogue of landmark French jazz and avant-garde label Futura was this outing by expatriate tenorman Hal Singer, best known for his work in the Jay McShann band of the 40s, who relocated to Paris in 1965. Singer’s first session cut overseas was the orchestra side Paris Soul Food (Polydor, 1969, released in the States by King) with Michel Sardaby and vocalist Robin Hemingway. Just over two years after that date, with fellow journeyman drummer Art Taylor, Singer recorded Blues and News for Gerard Terrones’s iconoclastic imprint with label regulars Siegfried Kessler (piano, flute, Hammond organ), bassist Patrice Caratini, guitarist Jean-Claude André, trombonist Jacques Bolognesi and percussionist Alain "Paco" Charlery. Where Paris Soul Food was prompt and radio-ready with short, funky numbers that rarely crested the three-minute mark, Blues and News is significantly more lengthy and explorative, a nuanced set of small group improvisations on buoyant, groove-oriented tunes that seems more like a club date than a primed-for-airplay studio session. Though only one of the seven tracks – six penned by the leader and one by Kessler – is over seven minutes long and there's some lingering slickness to some of the arrangements, Singer’s electric tone and Art Taylor’s spare, loose swing contribute to a very open environment.
The set opens with "It’s My Thing," with steamrolling gospel chords and a Lee Morganesque arrangement, its first several bars a static minor flash that quickly turns into a catchy boogaloo à la Morgan’s "Cornbread" (the irony isn’t lost – this was also the title of Singer’s gutbucket 1948 Savoy hit). Bolognesi’s trombone is fluid, fat and glassy, very much in Curtis Fuller mode – Jazz Messengers comparisons are appropriate – and Singer’s buzzing and metallic tone, more piercing than other swing-era tenormen like Quebec and Webster, contrasts interestingly with the rhythm section’s loping groove. Indeed, Taylor is the other star of the session, and anyone familiar with his multilayered, loose bop drumming or even his frantic free chatter with Frank Wright or Dizzy Reece (cf From In to Out, Futura, 1970) would do well to hear this dry, open funk juggernaut. There is a yeh-yeh rave-up in “Malcolm X” (which appeared as a vocal number on Paris Soul Food), whose stately minor head sits atop a ridiculously infectious Caratini-Taylor vamp, one of the most in-your-craw themes since the Art Ensemble’s "Theme de Yo-Yo." A bit of tailgate creeps into Bolognesi as he takes the reins, and while André’s guitar is sunny in demeanor, it never tips the music into hokiness, and makes for an interesting contrast with Kessler’s classicism and Singer’s gutsy behind-the-beat tenor oration. Kessler’s prowess on flute is rarely heard, and his deft James Newton-like flights (albeit overdubbed) lead off “Pour Stéphanie,” before André takes a full, woody chomp at the lithe, easy-swing of the funky minor rondo. “Du Bois” is a call-and-response number similar to “It’s My Thing” that wouldn't have sounded out of place in the Blue Note catalogue, on which Singer breaks out the fine cognac tone, and one can just hear the rhythm section’s delight at being able to contribute to this small group recording by one of the unheralded tenor gurus.

Chas Smith
Cold Blue
During a sunny Californian winter day past January, galactic hobo Chas Smith plays Descent from start to finish in the environment it was created in, and the earth begins to rotate backwards. His crowded hi-tech state of the art studio in Encino, Los Angeles, knocks you out with its welding and metalwork machinery, vintage guitar amps, handmade, colourful cowboy boots, walls adorned with “Girl on The Billboard” voluptuous female figures – and Paul McCarthy drawings. Madly sweet. His sometimes kinetic, Harry Bertoia-related sound sculptures – check out Nikko Wolverine’s booklet – are a by-product of his job as a welder, and they're specifically conceived for and fully integrated into his own compositions. His pedal steel guitars, sumptuous instruments of elegiac desolation, from a vintage Bigsby (1950s model, only 47 made) to his titanium custom-made Guitarzilla (heavy as hell but beautiful as heaven) dominate the view in their metallic splendour. Aside from his compositional work, Smith plays dance music too, swinging his pedal steel sequences in rockabilly, Country & Western, or liquor-drenched truckin’ songs – try Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague’s Hammer Down! for a smile. "A solitary genius," as Susan Alcorn describes him, Chas follows no particular school of composition but his own, modelling sophisticated structures of layered complex harmonics to reach organ-like intensity. After experiments in the 70s with Serge and Buchla 200 modular synths and studies at CalArts with mavericks Morton Subotnick, James Tenney and Harold Budd, you wouldn't expect his minimalism to be less than top-notch hardcore Ambient. Descent is constructed around the Doppler effect of the pedal steel’s modified pitches, the flawless shift of its sonorities into pure sound manipulation, and its desert grandeur is perversely seductive. The 18-minute title track recedes inexorably, contrary motion fretted string superpositions gradually merging its harmonic long tones with a Gothic downpour of a bowed stainless steel sheet metal. "Endless Mardi Gras" is 20 minutes of liquid sky travel, notch filters, flutes, zither, Guitarzilla and Copper Box and steel guitar in a hallucinatory rich fountain of overtones, while the closing "False Clarity" is all pink mountains and lost moments of worship, decaying with the subtlety and colour of a shakuhachi. Deep as an abyss, Descent's slow resonant orchestration evolves relentlessly, entrancing, angelical choirs riveted in aural alchemy.–MA

Marcus Schmickler/John Tilbury
Listening to Variety gives you the impression of being suspended between two kinds of fastidiousness, one Tilbury's intense attention to the piano and its innards, the other the meticulous halogenous resonances and snippets of extraneous voices and electric crackles Schmickler conjures forth from his computer. The music maintains a Feldmanesque aura of resounding interiority throughout, a peculiar dust of harmonics brewed into a torpid infusion of nostalgic dissonance only rarely broken by short telluric outbursts after the half hour mark. Towards the end of the piece Tilbury becomes more extrovert, his chords briefly becoming slightly punchier, more fully inhabiting the mysterious electrostatic world evoked by his companion, but for the most part he tends to privilege angular, irregular patterns and scales in a sort of "enriched minimalism" that prevents the music from breaking free of its slightly repetitive structure. As a result, Variety remains just a tad under the level of excellence, but one looks forward to more collaborations by artists so diverse in their backgrounds yet both driven by a desire to fast-forward music to the next level of evolution.–MR

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Thanos Chrysakis
Not to be confused with Aaron Copland's magnificent, craggy orchestral work of the same name from 1967, "Inscape" is the title London-based sound artist Thanos Chrysakis has chosen for his electronic works. On the Conv CDR, also available as a free download at http://www.con-v.org/cnv16.htm, you'll find numbers 1-2, 3 and 9, and the Stasisfield release, also available at http://www.stasisfield.com/releases/year04/sf-4004.html contains Inscapes 4, 5 and 6 (FYI, seven more are available at http://www.monocromatica.com/netlabel/releases/tube029.htm). They're delicate and microsonic explorations of state-of-the-art granular synthesis, but if that sounds off-putting, you should also know that they're amongst the most impressively musical and quietly moving pieces of electronic music I've come across in recent months. "Inscape 5" on the Stasisfield disc was also selected for the prestigious Bourges International Competition de Musique et d'Art Sonore, which is a clear indication that we're talking composition here, carefully structured and sequenced works that richly reward repeated listening.
There's been much talk in recent years of the barriers coming down between styles and genres of music: there's the long-running composition / improvisation debate, of course, and the thorny question of where to draw the line between free jazz and improv, but the most problematic area seems to be electronic music. I've tended to adopt the blanket term "electronica" on this site to refer to the kind of composed electronic music (as opposed to EAI, which is made in real time) that evolved out of far leftfield techno, retaining "contemporary" for more (ahem) traditional composed – though not necessarily fully notated – pieces, but it doesn't take a PhD to see the problems inherent in those definitions. At least I haven't yet got myself caught in the terminological snares that dog The Wire magazine (where would you draw the line between "Critical Beats", "Electronica" and "Outer Limits"?), but I'm still dissatisfied. The work of sound artists like Chrysakis seems to me to be much closer in aesthetic to contemporary classical music – I consider him to be a composer in the same way that Bernhard Günter considers himself to be a composer – than the music of, say, Peter Rehberg, which has clearer origins in (experimental) DJ culture. It's no surprise at all that Chrysakis's work has been selected for performance (whatever that means.. how do you perform a piece of electronic music? just press "play" I imagine..) at Bourges, as it can stand its ground perfectly well against more conservatory-oriented GRM-style musique concrète. In any case, whether you're hidden away in the academic ivory tower, stuck in an art gallery doing an installation or tearing up the dance floor, the chances are you're all using the same software these days. Anyway, do yourselves a big favour and get hold of these Inscapes and Enchanted Mountains, and decide for yourself which shelf you want to put them on. As mentioned above, they're all available as free download, and the fact that a composer as meticulous as Chrysakis is happy to have his music released in mp3 format should be sufficient proof that it's a worthwhile venture – so here's a big middle finger to those hi-fi snobs who complain that they're losing quality. Stop looking at the graphic equalizer and start listening to the music instead.

Tony Conrad with Faust
Table Of The Elements
Recorded at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1995, this meeting of Tony Conrad and Jim O'Rourke's scorching violins (check out the distortion generated by their adjacent tones), Zappi Diermaier's primitive drum beat and Jean-Hervé Peron's (literally) finger-shredding bass playing, is a raw testimony of the unrepressed anger of Tony Conrad, punk minimalist par excellence, who had declared that the mix of the original Outside the Dream Syndicate didn't do justice to the ferocity of his dissonant intervals ("dissonant" for those more familiar with Kronos' and Arditti's interpretations of the adjective – for this listener Conrad's squeals are celestial). True, the original version sounds "softer", but it remains a perfect document of the period in which it appeared. Then again, it's almost too easy to be impressed by this extremely violent version of "From the Side of Man and Womankind", which if listened to at sufficient volume, especially on headphones, soon becomes a veritable brain-hammering, leaving us defenceless and overwhelmed by its sheer intensity. The robotic Faust rhythm section is the perfect backdrop for the devastation brought by Conrad and O'Rourke, whose lines often sound like a wrecked bluesman's harmonica put through a Pro-Co Rat distortion unit. But while I love the turbulent, vehement authenticity, the bootleg sound quality of the recording leaves much to be desired; the author of such important pages deserves better. That said, maybe that's too purist a reasoning, and I should just enjoy the natural phenomena for what they are. After all, the music of this particular American maverick was never made for testing hi-fi.–MR

Bruno Canino
This recital, recorded in concert in Sogna in July 2001 by the celebrated Italian contemporary music pianist and composer Bruno Canino, concentrates on music by established masters Franco Donatoni (Rima) and Niccoló Castiglioni (5 Pezzi da 'Come io passo l'estate') and the work of younger composers Marco di Bari, Mario Cesa and Giovanni Sollima, with Canino's own 2 Rondo thrown in for good measure. Serving as overture, intermezzo and conclusion, as Canino puts it, are three of Cage's 1975 Etudes Australes, which the pianist accurately describes as "imperturbable and cathartic" – to which I might add "frosty" and "forbidding": this set of transcribed star maps remains one of Cage's most austere and unprepossessing works, and Canino performs Etudes 4, 8 and 10 with exemplary precision. Easy to admire, but hard to love. Donatoni's piece, which dates from 1983 – the Atopos label has a nasty habit of not providing dates for featured compositions, which is frustrating), is a typically spiky workout, another fine example of the composer's own highly personal take on minimalism, after which the Castiglioni miniatures (reviewed in these pages recently) comes as a breath of fresh air. Di Bari's two studies, Self-similarity and Réfraction de Géometrie, are elegant and pianistic, the former a delicate exploration of upper octave figurations (shades of Messiaen birdsong), the latter a furiously difficult barrage of nervy ricochets.
The Atopos mission statement is clear enough: the label serves to document live performance. A fine and noble goal, but even if these recordings are hardly ever spoiled by audience coughs and splutters, the applause at the end of the piece often comes as an unwelcome surprise. Love them or hate them (I hate them), those extraneous concertgoer noises do function as a rather accurate barometer of the listeners' attention span: the more captivated they are by the music, the less likely they are to wheeze, sneeze and fidget. Cesa's 3 Dagherrotipi don't fare all that well in this respect, and the arpeggio flourishes and alternating held-note passages of the second Ricercare sound manneristic and studenty. Canino's piece works better, and (as you'd expect) is as well written as it is expertly performed. He's especially good at half pedalling and silently depressing adjacent keys to catch phantom resonances, and understandably exploits the technique to the full in his piece. The title of Sollima's In Si (Matteo yes) is a clear homage to Terry Riley's In C, with the amusing difference that si in solfège is what Anglo-Saxon nomenclature would call B, which explains why Sollima shifts everything down a semitone. Its gentle investigation of B major triads though has as much to do with late Reich and Torke as it does with Riley. It's an accessible if somewhat lightweight piece, which would have made a satisfying closing track if Canino hadn't wanted to finish (us) off with another hike through the parched scrubland of the Etudes Australes.

Richard Trythall
Richard Trythall, though born in Knoxville Tennessee, has, since the 1960s, been based in Rome, where he works at the American Academy in "music liaison", i.e. writing on Italian new music for US based Keyboard magazine, and in the other direction, introducing Italian readers to developments from across the pond. He's a highly acclaimed pianist (he won the Kranichsteiner Competition in Darmstadt back in 1969) with a number of fine records of American music under his belt of music by composers ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Elliott Carter. His own composition, the ambitious twelve-movement suite Parts Unknown (1989 – 91), is eminently accessible and broadly tonal, if stylistically hard to pin down. Skryabinesque romantic flourishes coexist quite happily with spare, Copland fifths, limpid flurries of Ravel-like faux-baroque ("Intermezzo") and snatches of what could be John Adams' Grand Pianola Music (Trythall has recorded it, by the way), and there are reverential nods to both Debussy and Ligeti in the "Etude". Meanwhile, dip at random into "Soliloquy" and you might even be fooled into thinking it's Keith Jarrett. Rather like the early Scelsi piano sonatas, Trythall's music is composed but it has the feel of transcribed improvisation; he's content to let his ideas flow rather than develop them. We're talking Schumann, not Stravinsky. Richard Trythall is obviously clearly in love with the piano and the music he writes for it, and it shows.–DW

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Le Dépeupleur (Kasper T. Toeplitz / Zbigniew Karkowski)
Unless I'm mistaken this is the fifth outing, compilations included, by Le Dépeupleur, aka the laptop double whammy of Messrs Toeplitz and Karkowski, and it's even better than the last one on Cross Fade (out of print now, I imagine). Trying to describe it is as pointless as trying to describe Samuel Beckett's chilling 1971 masterpiece of short fiction that provided the pair with their name (The Lost Ones in English). In any case, the last time I had any contact with Mr Karkowski he sent me an email which contained some very very rude words – no, fear not, dearest reader, I shall spare you such anguish – but what do you expect from someone who "strongly believes that geographical, political and social exile is a necessary condition for true creation. And true creation is the only act that really matters." Well kids, don't say I didn't warn you – that's what happens if you read too much Schopenhauer. Ho-hum. Back to Google. Ah, it says here: "If there have to be some reference [sic] to the work of Le Dépeupleur, it only could be Xenakis." No surprises there, then. "ZKT is a long, one-hour piece structured in two parts – it ending [sic] being an eternal resonance. Re-read Beckett." So I did. Once the first shocks of surprise are finally past this light is further unusual in that far from evincing one or more visible or hidden sources it appears to emanate from all sides and to permeate the entire space as though this were uniformly luminous down to its least particle of ambient air. [..] On his knees he parts the heavy hair and raises the unresisting head. Once devoured the face thus laid bare the eyes at a touch of the thumbs open without demur. In those calm wastes he lets his wander till they are the first to close and the head relinquished falls back into its place.–DW

Blossoming Noise
These two pieces, the first 33'21" long (divided into eight tracks for the purposes of the CD) the second 17'48" (itself in four parts) were recorded two days apart in, respectively, the Palace Of Youth in Moscow and at a festival entitled "Hea Uus Heli" in the Estonian capital Tallinn. My Estonian's a bit rusty these days, but I seem to recall "Hea Uus Heli" means "Brave New Sound", and that's as good a description as any of Kazayuki Kishino's music. Whoa, wait did you say music? Hey, I thought this was on a label called Blossoming Noise.. Indeed, but Null has always been (to my relatively untutored ears – I have more Morton Feldman albums than Merzbows, Aubes, Masonnas and Hijokaidans put together) the most musical of noise artists. Sure, it's bloody loud more or less throughout, full of bangs, crashes, blasts and all kinds of apocalyptic looping glissandi swooping into your earhole like a pack of ravenous vultures, but it really is not only easy to listen to, it's fun! Hey, if it wasn't why do you think the Russians gave the guy a gig at the Palace of Youth, eh?–DW

Luigi Archetti
Given its title, I probably should have reviewed this one a couple of months ago, especially since it arrived here in early January. But some things won't be rushed, and Februar takes several listens to reveal its considerable charms. Luigi Archetti's work on guitar and electronics is probably best known through his two Rune Grammofon releases with cellist Bo Wiget, under the name Low Tide Digitals, but he's also released five albums with his other ongoing duo project Tiere der Nacht with percussionist Mani Neumeier, and a list of other collaborators includes figures as diverse as Iva Bittova, Damo Suzuki and Taku Sugimoto. But despite his background in the outer reaches of free rock, improv and downtempo electronica, Februar is no stylistic hotch-potch. It belongs on your shelves alongside the work of those other discreet and elegant practitioners of EAI based in Switzerland (since 1965 Archetti's country of residence), Günter Müller, Jason Kahn, Ralph Steinbrüchel and Tomas Korber. Each of the 14 untitled tracks is slowmoving, but despite their relative brevity – only three pieces go beyond six minutes – they're perfectly coherent, self-contained and satisfying structures. Nor does Archetti go overboard with the electronics, which he uses to embellish the guitar work rather than bury it under a layer of digital sludge. It'd be pushing it a bit to describe it as melodic, but a distinct feeling for pitch permeates Archetti's music, imbuing it with a frosty yet profound sense of melancholy. It's not unlike some of Oren Ambarchi's work (thinking of the wonderful Triste), but it's darker, deeper. For some reason – don't ask why – listening to this alone on a cold rainy evening had me reaching my well-thumbed copy of Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (in the translations by Robert Bly), to Das Stundenbuch: Doch wie ich mich auch in mich selber neige: / Mein Gott ist dunkel und wie ein Gewebe / von hundert Wurzeln, welche schweigsam trinken. "Yet though matter how deeply I go down into myself / my God is dark, and like a webbing made / of a hundred roots, that drink in silence."–DW

Yannick Dauby
Editions Ere
I'm never quite sure how to approach an album of seemingly unadorned field recordings. I can appreciate a sound artist's skill if there's some degree of post-recording editing and sequencing involved – composition, for want of a better word, or, in the case of Luc Ferrari's Presque Rien No. 1, sleight of hand – or if s/he has gone to great pains to set up a particular acoustic environment in which the field recording takes place (Toshiya Tsunoda being the best example I know). But with other soundscape recordings – thinking particularly of several very beautiful things that have come my way by Kiyoshi Mizutani, for example – I'm often left wondering if they'd sound all that different if recorded by someone else altogether, provided of course they had the same high quality equipment at their disposal. Autrement dit, where's the hand of the composer in all of this? (Or, if you want to be crude about it, why should this bloke get paid for doing it?) Well, to reassure you that you're not getting ripped off here, let me inform you that Yannick Dauby's TW04-05 project, which as its title makes clear, consists of soundscapes of Taiwan recorded in 2004 and 2005 ("from the subway to the small streets of Taipei; from the Fu-Shan forests to the swamp areas of Dao-Mi; some acoustic traces of urban activities; human and animal crowds; atmospheric movements and sonic ambiences") comes in two parts, the first the 35-track hour long audio CD in its elegant slimline jewel box, the second a further 30 pieces available as a totally free mp3 download from http://www.editions-ere.net/projet106. There's plenty of wind, water and a whole lotta crickets, frogs and dogs, not to mention cars, motorbikes, blasts of radio, the sound of crowds in various public spaces, and station / airport PA announcements, all superbly recorded, beautiful, evocative and highly enjoyable, but listening to a whole album of raw field recordings is rather like looking through an album of somebody else's holiday photos – you can't help feeling they might mean more to the person who took them.–DW

Joe Colley & Jason Lescalleet
Korm Plastics
The Brombron series was initiated in 2000 by Frans De Waard and Nijimegen-based Extrapool with the goal of giving artists in residence the chance to record their collaborative ventures. To date, this is the ninth release in the series and surely one of the best, showcasing the work of two top names on the market of contaminated acousmatics, a beautiful melange of seamed environmental recordings and mesmerizing dirty drones. The record starts with a carefully detailed atmosphere, opening a door and stepping into a room, walking around and rustling things, until all of a sudden a scary vortex of electronic oscillations appears out of nowhere, gradually mutating into an intransigent wall of consonant discharges, extraordinary in its emotional power. Everything stops abruptly after ten minutes, replaced by a collage of screaming seagulls and distant voices in a furnace of loops of traffic noise and whispering ghosts. A rumbling background frequency introduces electrostatic crackling which somewhat alleviates the tension before wonderful underwater chants emerge, disturbed by an undefinable gathering of sonic collisions in the surrounding space. In terms of sheer gorgeousness of sounds though the third track is probably the finest, an unstoppable, havoc-wreaking mass of electricity and interference, low-frequency beat sharpshooting in the middle of a nervous wreck. Hundreds of flies in a glass bottle beg us to feed them shit, but we're the ones being digested by a corrosive saliva. With the unstable architecture of the final movement's hums and buzzes, the annihilation is complete. Handle with care.–MR

André Gonçalves & Kenneth Kirschner
Resonant Objects
"Six objects were suspended from the ceiling at different heights, each one made from a globe of white glass with one microphone, one speaker and one electrical lamp inside. Each speaker was connected individually to a computer that triggered 6 different frequencies – one for each of the speakers. These frequencies were tuned to the objects’ resonance frequencies causing them to resonate. These resonances were captured by the objects’ microphones and redirected to a 6-fold-envelope-follow system in order to convert the amplitude of each audio signal to MIDI messages. These MIDI messages were then sent to the computer which formatted the incoming MIDI values and sent them to six dimmers controlling the light intensity of each object in a way that each object’s light intensity was directly related to its own sound amplitude." Translation: glass lights up, sound changes, sound changes, light changes. Just think, all the money you paid out on insurance premiums because you were entertaining the ladies by candlelight can be saved with this set-up. A high-pitched frequency plays havoc with a low-pitched one, sort of if you were playing with the dimmer knob in an abandoned new tract home just before the new tenants moved in. You’d have to play with it like DJ QBert, but you get the gist. A vigorous, thorough massage of the frontal lobes. Your cat will ask “What’s that?”–DC

The Long Salt
Important Records
Does something billed as "psychedelic rock" constantly have to be distressingly dire? The drums are chunky clunky, the guitars rail away like an annoyed retiree whose garbage you just ran over, and the whole thing drips with the leftovers of something that’s just plain…normal. There comes a point when everyone says something is "out there" as if they’re waiting for it to come in – the esteemed Ben Weasel was not so dim lo, those many moons ago when he said that he’d like to see amazing sounds coming from a mouth that wasn’t angst-ridden and distorted. Most of this album comes off as your little sister making faces in the mirror. You love her and all that, but gee whiz, mellow out already. The other unfortunate aspect of psychedelic culture is that the overwhelming implication is one of exclusion, i.e. if you don’t take drugs, you could like never hope to maybe one day kind of dream of perhaps conceiving of wishing to understand what this band or that means. There are some records, however, that no amount of Mycoxadryl – that's Viagra to you and me, son – can fix. On the other hand, there is an underheard sense of falling down deep holes in the miasmic vocals, and the lockgroove rhythms on “The Burns of Them” are nice. “It’s a dying Wookie”, one little hippie remarked on hearing it.–DC

Gart & Seekatze
A mysterious Belgian named Ronny Van Hee is the mastermind behind Gart & Seekatze's wonderful low-budget musical entities. His releases are extremely scarce and pretty spartan as far as artwork and packaging go, but – trust me – the music is deep as a well. The skeletal minimalism of H/mm/ng S/ngs is based on eBow-excited strings – guitar strings, piano strings, every possible kind of string – generating a single-note drone which, if you walk around the room, plays hide-and-seek one moment then drives deep into your skull a minute later, while elementary two-note pendula – very sparse, not quite Sugimoto but definitely encroaching on his territory – add their small yet significant contributions. It's beautifully bleached and totally enthralling, the kind of backward extremism that must be appreciated in complete silence, even when background conversations and faraway urban movements find their place in the mix or when Ronny strums his guitar or repeatedly hits a single piano key to catch that elusive harmonic. Do yourself a favour and start looking for this CD (and for the even better Secret Life of Alvin Tsunoda) right now.–MR

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