JUNE News 2006 Reviews by Marcelo Aguirre, Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Jason Kahn, Guy Livingston, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

Editorial; Interview with FRANK DENYER
Loren Connors
Jason Kahn in Japan:
Where do we go from here and how do we get there?
Ned Rothenberg
Joseph Holbrooke
JAZZ & IMPROV: The Contest of Pleasures / Mersault / Trio FO / VHF / Brian Allen / Evan Parker / Fred Hess /
Wade Matthews & Ingar Zach / (N:Q) / Boghossian, Rives & Saladin / Office-R(6) / Silo / Dominic Lash & Bruno Guastalla / Safe & Danny McCarthy
Lionel Marchetti / Belinda Reynolds / Joseph Waters / Ned McGowan / George Antheil
ELECTRONICA: Francisco Lopez / Daniel Menche / Lukasz Ciszak / Alan Courtis / Origami Replika
?????: Morpho / Hans Grusel's Krankenkabinet / Travis Just / The Beige Channel / Ed Chang & Han Degc / MechaOrga

Last month Next Month


As a kind of homage, I suppose, to Paris Transatlantic's John Gill (who's dropped off the radar a little since his somewhat controversial feature here a few months back, though not because of any actual threats to his life from Mats Gustafsson fans), I've come up with a new section this month to go along with "Jazz & Improv", "Contemporary" and "Electronica". Entitled "?????" – a deliberate reference to Mr Gill's legendary review of the first Nurse With Wound album – it's a kind of grab bag featuring reviews of stuff that doesn't appear to belong in any of the other sections. Though that's a lot of nonsense actually, as The Beige Channel album is pretty much electronica, and the Hans Grusel is basically improv, but what the hell, I felt like it. At least Dave Brown's Morpho belongs in a category of its own. I suppose this is the kind of the stuff The Wire calls "Outer Limits" (and Gil Scott Heron once referred to disparagingly as "miscellaneous"), but for most "normal people" just about anything that gets discussed on this site is pretty much outer limits to start with. And that's the way aha aha I like it. MEANWHILE big thank yous this month to my pal Bob Gilmore at Dartington College of Arts in leafy Devon for setting up a meeting with British composer Frank Denyer. I'll bet not many of you have heard of Denyer – the people compiling the New Grove certainly haven't – but if you don't know his music you darn well ought to. He's certainly one of the most original composers of his generation (he's a contemporary of Robin Holloway and Brian Ferneyhough) and an outstanding pianist who's recorded several excellent albums with the Barton Workshop, an ensemble he co-founded with trombonist James Fulkerson. So click here to read what he has to say on subjects as diverse as microtonality, Feldman graphic scores and eunuch flutes. Thanks also to Jason Kahn for going into print with his Japanese tour diary - it takes balls to tell it straight, but Jason's account of his experiences touring with Tomas Korber, Christian Weber, Günter Müller and Norbert Moslang (and a whole host of major league Japanese improv giants) is a great read. OH YES thanks also to Jim O'Rourke for sending in an email describing last month's Borbetomagus interview as "awesome". Spread the word!-DW

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Loren Connors

Singles and Collected Works 1976 - 2004
Family Vineyard
After waiting for this journey into the night for nearly a year, I don't know what to say about it now it's in my hands. A string of superlatives isn't good enough – not that every track in this collection of previously released 7" singles and hitherto unavailable recordings deserves one: there are as many problems and difficulties as there are strokes of genius – it's just that, in case you never noticed before, words are pathetically inadequate to describe music. Especially this music. (But why are you reading this, anyway? Is it going to make the slightest difference to your life? I guess it just might. I have after all met one or two people who go out and buy discs on the strength of reviews they've read. If that's the case, I hope I haven't disappointed you.) I'm trying to find a form of writing that corresponds to the experience of hearing these pieces of music. As pertinent, concise and intense. And it's very hard.

You may notice some technical inadequacies in some of my performances – a hesitant beat here, a dodgy note there – these are of course entirely deliberate and reproduced as evidence of my almost painful sincerity. – Robert Wyatt, liners to Nothing Can Stop Us (Rough Trade, 1980)
The first time I heard Loren Connors play live was with Alan Licht at the Instants Chavirés outside Paris in January 2002. The contrast between the two guitarists was striking. Alan sat slouched in his chair, as usual, idly strumming his typically obtuse accompaniment – "recontextualisation" he prefers to call it – to Connors' long, lonely lines, looking to all intents and purposes as if he didn't give a fuck (it's a lie – he does). Connors, meanwhile, standing above and slightly behind him, looked to be in agony. Each note he produced wasn't so much as played as pulled forth from the instrument. Six or seven notes of melody became an existential crisis.
I used to sleep with a ballpeen hammer in my bed in case someone smashed into the studio. That would end up in the music, that fear and nightmarish situation... There were a lot of musicians, painters and sculptors in the building, all living there under very harsh conditions. No heat, no hot water, no bathrooms. You had to piss in the sink... There was a skylight over my bed area. You'd look right up at the stars. I saw the stars a lot in that building.
Take a pencil and a piece of manuscript paper and transcribe "Along The Way", from the six-part suite Mother & Son (first released on Road Cone in 1993). It goes nice and slowly, you shouldn't have much difficulty. And if you've taken a few months' guitar lessons you should be able to play the resulting transcription without much bother. After all, it's only a little melody, very simply harmonised, right? Wrong. Take as many years as you like, you will never be able to reproduce exactly what Connors does with this mere handful of notes, either by transcribing it or copying it. In addition to the very sound of the instrument, the rubato is so subtle and original you'll be surprised to notice the piece often appears to be speeding up when it fact it's slowing down. Plus the phrasing of the melody – notice how the off beats, in-between notes and upbeats are often louder and more timbrally prominent than the structurally important pitches. You can start practising now and play this piece a hundred times a day and I'll come back and see how you're getting on in ten years time.
Loren has an intuitive perception of human feelings and emotions and a softness not usually found in a man. – Suzanne Langille"
"A Street Full Of Rain." What mystery there is in a street full of rain, not a cleansing, a washing away, but a quickening. A fine rain is falling on the rue Faubourg Saint Honoré. I stop to buy a sablé framboise. "Jesus Comforts the Women of Jerusalem." Halfway across the street the biscuit breaks in two. Raspberry jam falls into a puddle. Fluorescent pink splashes the dirty street.
Alan Licht told me a while back that Jim O'Rourke was seriously thinking of giving up music. I wonder if digitally mastering the tracks on Night Through – thank you, Jim – had anything to do with his decision. I've heard each of these discs at least a dozen times now, but if I had to listen to all three back to back, it would break my heart. But if I could produce something as ineffably beautiful as the version of "I Love You Porgy" on disc three, I wouldn't exactly consider my life entirely wasted.
There's a wonderfully morose interview with Connors in an old issue of Signal To Noise (N° 16, March / April 2000) in which Tom Pratt meets the guitarist in "the horrible coffee shop next to Other Music in New York City. From where we sat, we had an unavoidable view of a three-floor Tower Records across the busy street in which countless people were browsing for new music. Loren informed me that they didn't carry any of his CDs there." Indeed, he spends much of the interview moaning about not having an album on a major label. But no matter how much he might deserve to be on one, what would Connors do on a major label? And more to the point, what would a major label do with him? The thought of some smart-assed little MBA graduate with a $3000 cellphone and a Patrick Bateman wardrobe cooking up some "classic blues summit" teaming him up with some grisly road-hardened vet like Buddy Guy is too horrible to even think about. You can just imagine it, Connors shuffling into the A&R office full of rubber plants and life-size signed portraits of Christina Aguilera. "Hey Loren, good to see ya! We were wondering how you'd feel about giving your music a kinda more contemporary vibe.." (pauses to wipe nose noisily on silk handkerchief) "I dunno how you feel about hiphop, but.." Reach for the ballpeen hammer, Loren. They're breaking into your studio.
My ancestors were involved in some kind of scandal in Venice a couple of centuries ago and ended up with this name MazzaCane, which means 'kill dogs with club and collect money for it.' Dogs seem to know what was going on with my ancestors. They don't like me. I've been bitten by dogs all my life.
Sounds like those same dogs barking and howling on "Moon Gone Down". Feeling the world – or at least its canine population – was somehow out to get him, the guitarist ended up dropping the "MazzaCane" and decided to stick with Connors. But the Irish heritage is as dark and intense as the Venetian dog massacres – "Deirdre of the Sorrows" and "The Battle of Clontarf" are unremittingly sombre affairs. You get the impression he'd feel as out of place in a smoke-free jolly leprechaun bijou tourist pub in Dublin as he was in the coffee shop opposite Tower Records. The terse liner notes to "The Five Points" say it all: "In the year 1857, two thirds of the mortalities in New York City were children under six years of age. Eighty-five percent of those were Irish kids. They had lived in the slum called The Five Points." For three days in July 1999 Connors stood vigil in vain outside John Kennedy Jr and Carolyn's Tribeca house in the hope that the couple had survived when their Piper Saratoga crashed into the Atlantic. There's a little pile of lilacs on the curb. They're cold, wet and purple, with a note wrapped around them saying, 'Come home safe.' The wind is picking up. It's 90-something degrees, and the petals are lifting.
In 1992 Loren Connors discovered a new meaning in his bloodstream – he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's Disease. As he told Bill Meyer in Magnet #43 several years later: "Some people take their time to produce things. They don't worry about it all coming to an end. I'm not that fortunate. I don't know how much time I have to play the guitar. I have no idea whether or when there'll come a moment when I won't be able to do what I can do now. There's no predicting it. So I don't waste time."
The sun's shining now. I'm standing alone at the bar of a café in a sleepy backstreet of Levallois Perret, a rich suburb of Paris full of air conditioned European headquarters of American multinationals, wine bars and bagel shops. (Bagels, Loren would probably be amused to learn, are super chic here in gay Paris these days.) I've just spent ninety minutes of my life trying to teach the rudiments of English grammar to a not particularly bright but pleasant if nondescript young woman whose name I'll soon have forgotten in a large pharmaceutical company whose name I've already forgotten. Ninety minutes of life, gone. I'm listening to "Betty Mae", Robert Crotty's vocals so deliriously laidback, so spaced out, Connors' arching bottleneck lines so curiously intense. Five minutes and eleven seconds of quality time. Every track on Night Through is quality time. You can't just be rambling on or kind of searching around. You have to discover things inside yourself, and then as soon as you have the feeling you want to say something, say it. Don't fiddle around, don't joke around trying to find the right note and stuff like that.
I imagine you at twilight / fingering the wind, as if the / broad-beamed breath of the / world were your own, / your hand ringed with water / drawn from a nearby well, / and your face staring past me, / as if carved of indolent stone. – Frederick Goodwin
–DW [quotations in italics Loren Connors unless marked otherwise]

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Where do we go from here and how do we get there?
Jason Kahn on tour in Japan
On occasion of the World Expo in Aichi, Günter Müller and I were invited by the Arts Council of Switzerland Pro Helvetia to curate a tour of Swiss improvisers in Japan. The touring group consisted of Günter on ipods and electronics, Tomas Korber on guitar and electronics, Christian Weber on contrabass, Norbert Möslang on cracked everyday electronics and myself on percussion and analogue synthesizer.
What follows is merely a sketch of our time in Japan. In eight concerts in Tokyo, Yamachugi, Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya, 31 musicians played a total of 38 sets. And after that there were two more concerts in Seoul – but that's another story, one you might have read in the May issue of The Wire.
March 1
Got into Tokyo. The ride into town from Narita one long grey mass of neubauten dank in the persistent rain. Everyone's worn out. Oddly enough, the grey film outside speeding past my train window rouses me and I shoot some videos. Günter, Tomas and Christian are already ordering rice cakes and coffee.
Every other station we speed through looks familiar to me in a strange and blurry way. Our hotel is near Ikebukuro Station. More dejà vu as I remember having coffee here two years ago on one of my many aimless walks through Tokyo. A short nap, some good food and a beer and I'm feeling fit again. Tomorrow is an off day.
March 2
It takes time to warm up to Tokyo. I'm just starting to feel at home after two days. Spend the morning in Ueno buying kimonos for my daughters. Cold light drizzle and grey sky but I'm not minding it.
It's great, the simple pleasures: a bowl of soba, a rice roll with natto, night falling, neons lighting it up. I like that. Tomorrow is our first concert at Kid Ailack Art Hall.
March 3
Tonight's first set with Norbert and Taku Hannoda on amplified snare drum is a complete disaster. Norbert travels 10,000 kilometers to get stuck in a rehearsal room jam session. It's been a long time since I've heard someone as wilfully insensitive as Hannoda. Well, Norbert's a veterano. And with stiff upper lip he sticks it out and perseveres to the end. Why the audience claps, I don't know. Out of pity for Taku? Appreciation of Norbert's brave resolve?
I'm up next with Takefumi Naoshima. A set that nicely illustrates the lack in talking about "electronic" or "acoustic" music, as Naoshima plays mixing board and I'm on acoustic percussion. Our set is filled with silence and soft sound. Intermittent hiss and scrape commingles with the sound of a fight going on outside, traffic whirring by. The night fading out.
After us it's Toshi [Nakamura], Sachiko [M] and Günter. Their set just doesn't work for me. I enjoy what each is playing individually, but the three never come together. I feel strange as I can't tell what's wrong. Ships passing in the night would be too complimentary a metaphor.. After twenty minutes it's over.
We have a full house, the audience seems pleased. I feel a bit out of sorts. We head downstairs to the bar and eat some fine food, drink some fine drinks. I feel a bit sad, seeing these people again, people I've been meeting every year or so for the last decade, each for just a short time and then a year or two later the same. It just isn't right. I want more. But it's impossible – that's the nature of touring.
March 4
Last night at Kid Ailack. Highlight for me is the set with Norbert and [Tetuzi] Akiyama, one of those rare occasions where the music takes off from the git go. As Steve Lacy once said, "raise the bandstand." The music has incredible energy and lightness. Not once do they veer from the path, staying right with it, 40 minutes till the end. Akiyama basically demolishes a guitar, sawing it, drilling it, hitting it and hammering it. He makes a terrible racket. Norbert pretty much just rocks. I feel totally invigorated after the set. As if I'd just seen a rocket take off.
The opening set with Christian and [Kazuhisa] Uchihashi on the reprehensible daxophone leaves me cold. I have the feeling Uchihashi looks on Christian as less an equal partner than as accompanist. Christian is pushed into the role of following Uchihashi, who seems too subsumed in the jazz paradigm to perceive a contrabass in any other way.
The last set of the night with Tomas, Günter and bassist Tamaru doesn't move me either, but in a different way. Of course, there are "moments" but not enough to make a whole. I don't hear any risk or rumble, just a polite discourse. Perhaps I'm not civilized enough. In any case, I'm beat. Down with a cold and too stubborn to stop drinking and staying up till four in the morning. Tomorrow will be hell, I'm sure.
March 5
Today is interminably long. Up at ten with Günter and Norbert and over to Tokyo University for recording with ATAK label instigators Keiichiro Shibuya and his wife Maria. We arrive around noon and finish at six. Then we go to eat "French" food in the faculty canteen and are back by seven for a short set (without Maria and Keiichiro) followed by an interminably long and unfocused artists talk, with Günter, Norbert and myself fielding questions until 9.30. Afterwards we all go out for a painfully quick meal in Shimokitazawa.
The music today was probably OK but I can't really say at this point. My references have gone awry: too many late nights, too much alcohol. Everyday: wake up and go go go. It takes its toll. Tokyo is intense. The pace is always fast when I come here. One could argue this is anywhere on tour, but it's not. Berlin's not like this, nor Paris or New York. The pace here gets in your blood and one adjusts unconsciously to the tempo, melding to the floor.
Time to slow down. The only place I have time is on stage, and then it seems time stands still.
March 6
Tokyo to Yamaguchi by train. Endless grey sprawl of drab houses, concrete palaces, chrome steel bunkers; every station looking the same. Pulling in, pulling out. The lack of urban planning a joke. For once, I can say that I'm glad I don't live here.
March 7
All day recording in YCAM (Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media). Mostly big groups with all five of us, plus several sessions with Katsura Yamauchi on saxophone. Very good music: dense but somehow not heavy. Also some trio sets: Tomas, Christian and Katsura, and Norbert, Günter and myself.
We all go out to eat at a mediocre izakaya afterwards. My stomach is trashed from too much fish and not enough fresh vegetables. And am I jones-ing from not having coffee?
I'm feeling the pace of this tour now. No alcohol tonight. Tomorrow will be the same. I'm more than tired – depleted would be more accurate. If I can maintain my health and get enough sleep everything will be fine. It's a challenge to maintain one's nerves.
Yamaguchi is dark and grey, a main street strip mall of businessmen's hotels, auto garages, bars and faceless office buildings. A light haze cloaks the town in filmy sunlight. The air is thick and still.
March 10
Time flies by. Three days gone in a blur of grey landscape, train changes, setting up, tearing down, late night meals, torturous mornings. I'm in Kyoto now. Let's backtrack a bit.
On March 8 we were still in Yamaguchi. I had a bike and rode up and down the main street looking for something to eat. I ended up in a faceless workers cafe. The fried rice was lukewarm and greasy, the soba bland. I normally like this kind of place, but today it just depressed me. Felt a long way from home. On the way back to YCAM I stopped to buy some fruit. Nearby was a foot bath. I sat down on the cool stones and dipped my feet in the water. Moments later who should walk by but Sachiko and Otomo! ISO were to play tonight before our set. The concert that evening went well, if a bit subdued – no wonder, considering the stale atmosphere at YCAM, something between library and public theater. The sound, however, was excellent.
On March 9 we left Yamaguchi for Kyoto. From the moment we arrived it was go go go. Club Metro, sound check, prepared for recording. Nothing to eat that day but rice cakes from the convenience store above the club. Club Metro is one of those perennial "black boxes" which I've experienced so often on tour. But the sound system was fantastic, and so were the staff.
Poor Christian's turned out to be the Joker on this tour. Opening the evening with local turntable duo Busratch, he tried his darndest, but at best it was a scratchy, hurky jerky affair. I was up next with Otomo and Norbert. Old school noise blowout. We pretty much just exploded. I felt as if I'd plunged into a fast-flowing, muddy river and was being swept along to uncertain calamity ahead. But we ended without disaster and the audience, as to be expected, went crazy. Loud noise is often popular in such spaces.
The audience of two hundred liked Tomas, Günter and guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi as well. Everything seemed to be working tonight, especially the alcohol. Tomas was already drunk by the end of my set. Norbert was into the whisky. I stuck to beer. I sensed we wanted a release from the tension of the last couple of days at YCAM and of touring in general.
Next set was Otomo and Yamamoto Seiichi, both on guitar. I didn't find this particularly interesting. Probably the only set of the evening which seemed completely out of context. This was followed by the Swiss team. Tomas was completely smashed and the rest a bit more than tipsy (yours truly excepted – manning the decks I had to keep it together. That's life). A really good raucous set, definitely rock'n'roll. The complete opposite of YCAM. Everyone was very pleased. I suddenly felt so happy and thankful to be touring with this group. We'd finally hit our stride. For the last set of the night everyone was on stage. Well, what can you say.. big and messy but in the spirit of the evening, which turned out to be a very good evening indeed.
Today is March 10 and I've barely recovered from yesterday. Günter, Norbert and I had a recording session with Akifumi Nakajima (aka Aube). It went well but afterwards, walking with Akifumi to a music shop, I start to feel sad. I begin to notice Kyoto for the first time since arriving. Temples, cemeteries, shrines, so many great things to see and no time to see them. On top of this I felt sad that I won't have more time to spend with Akifumi. I hate that about touring – those fleeting encounters.
March 17
A lot of water under the bridge since Kyoto. A week has gone by and I'm now in Seoul. I've finally had a good night's sleep and feel human again.
After Kyoto we went to Osaka for two nights at the Arts Aporia warehouses. These red brick buildings were built around the turn of the last century, with bricks directly imported from Holland (!). Osaka was cold – it even snowed at times. Inside the warehouses it was even colder.
The first night consisted of solo sets. All in all there were twelve people on the program. I was busy with the recording. Christian played first in one of the of the adjoining warehouses. With an immense space to himself he played a beautiful set. Mine was terrible, due to unpredictable sound and inadequate soundcheck time. Norbert played last – and remarkably. Shrouded in complete darkness the blinking lights from his instruments bathed him in a staggering array of spark and strobe. Sonically as well as visually, it was fantastic. He has consistently been my favorite on this tour, whether solo or playing with others.
After was the obligatory meal – this time at a nearby Korean restaurant. I sat with Uchihashi, Ned Rothenberg, Günter, Tomas, Norbert and Ichiraku. I slept terribly that evening – not only from late-night food and drink, but mainly from the fact that my hotel room overlooked a freeway. With the window open the sound level was horrendous and the air toxic; with it closed I felt claustrophobic. The traveller's life!
The next evening was to be the final event staged at the Arts Aporia. The Osaka city authorities had cut their funding. The warehouses will now stand empty until the city comes up with a new concept – or tears them down.
Small groups this evening. For the most part, I really only managed to hear the beginnings and ends of the nine sets. I was too saturated with the music – too many concerts, too many people. It was all I could do to hit start and stop on the recorder. I played two sets: one with Tomas and Ezaki Masafumi on trumpet, which was rather restrained, and one with Umeda Tetsuya using self-made instruments. We both played extensively with the room, which had ideal acoustics for what we wanted to do.
Oddly enough, the last set of the evening with Günter and Uchihashi on guitar stood out like the proverbial lighthouse in the fog. I say "oddly enough" as this line-up at first glance seemed like the classic mismatch – when worlds collide. But Günter rose to the occasion, one-upping Uchihashi's exorbitant virtuoso rhetoric with subtlety and content. I'm not sure if Günter enjoyed the set but I was pleasantly surprised, hearing a different side of him.
The evening ended in yet another izakaya, drinking, eating, drinking. Our host and Arts Aporia's sonic arts curator Kojima Takashi got completely piss-faced. Maybe this was his way of avoiding the sad realization that his project, at least temporarily, was now over. But he can certainly look back on his work with pride.
The next day we played in Nagoya, a comfortable one-hour ride from Osaka. I was dead tired, having stayed up the better part of the evening tearing the synth apart and phoning home. This was the typical touring affair: get into town, get picked up, go to the club: see nothing. Nagoya from a car window. Club KD was freezing cold, as was Nagoya (it was snowing again). With its wooden walls and rustic decor, the club reminded me of ski hut meets wild west saloon. We did a long soundcheck on the crappy system (worst of the tour so far) and went next door to eat some very spicy noodle soup, which managed to me back from the dead enough to play the first set with Norbert, Günter and Nagoya-based Lethe [aka Kuwuyama Kiyoharu]. Long black hair, black leather. A kind of archetype here in Japan (Keiji Haino the granddaddy?). He played a rubbish heap of exposed circuits, mixer, the odd effects pedal. The set was OK but nothing earthshaking, unlike the rumble of trains passing directly over the club punctuating the well-wrought but otherwise uneventful next set featuring Tomas, Otomo and Christian.
The last set of the evening was everyone together, and was rather good I think, though I kinda sleepwalked through it. I was tired, cold. I just wanted to go to the hotel and sleep. But no! The Wait descended like a hammer blow. The Wait is when everyone is hanging around after the gig waiting to go, half-chatting but with nobody actually doing anything to make it possible for anyone to leave. To make matters worse, this was one of those clubs where the musicians are given nothing to drink (not to mention eat). And the beers cost seven dollars. After 25 years playing music it never ceases to astound me how some club owners just don't get it: hospitality = better music. It's really that simple. When musicians have to squander their meager fee on over-priced drinks nobody can be happy.
The following day we went to Tokyo for the final concert of the Japanese leg of the tour. We got into town, left our stuff at the hotel and set up at the venue, Space Force in Meguro. This was the ATAK label event, and one I'd been dreading. From the very start, the planning had been plagued with miscommunication. The sound system was good but too loud, and the room too small. With two hundred people the concert was not only sold out, but overbooked. A line of people was stretching down the block waiting to get in.
Christian and Evala on laptop played the first set. Another case of poor old Christian getting placed in an unhappy situation. And once again having to play the opening set. I often felt on this tour that the concert organizers didn't know what to do with him, or rather with his instrument. Much of the focus in many of the places we played was on "electronic music" (whatever that means) and here was Christian with the most acoustic of acoustic instruments: the bass. Inescapably, unavoidably acoustic. It was as if the organizers just wanted to get it over with, get the "thing" out of the way and move on to the black boxes. As usual, Christian handled himself admirably in the face of adversity.
The next set was a rather introverted affair featuring Günter, Taku Unami on laptop and amplified objects, and Maria also on laptop. She stood out for me, quietly infusing her sounds into the dense mix. Well done if not very memorable. Unlike Tomas and Akiyama who were up next. This was the sonic onslaught I'd expected. Tomas did his best to keep up, but it was Akiyama's show. He's not called "Cap" for nothing. What I like about Akiyama is his desire to just go for it, often working with instrumentation just barely under his control. It seems to me he is as uncertain about what will happen as the audience. During his sets I often have the sense that he's constantly discovering. His concerts often have a playful destructiveness about them which reminds me of kids making a big mess in the sandbox. Sometimes he gets overwhelmed by the unpredictability of his instruments, and the music can go to hell. But I'd rather see that happen than hear one safe set after another of "good" but ultimately unexciting music. It all makes playing with Akiyama an adventurous, if at times exasperating, experience.
My set with Taku Sugimoto on bass guitar and Yuji Takahashi on laptop was anything but. It was completely confounding. Basically, Taku didn't play. I don't know why he bothered to come. What a sad state of affairs, I thought, when such a gifted musician agrees to perform a concert he has absolutely no desire to do, and then doesn't even play but just sits there with his chin resting on his hand looking down blankly at the table. Some people might call this "performing," but these antics were already long played out by the middle of the last century.
As for Yuji Takahashi, he obviously lives on another planet than I do. He basically played samples of electronic percussion and snippets of speech. How exciting! On top of this, he was totally insensitive, during soundcheck playing so loudly I had to leave the room. He wasn't even making the slightest attempt to listen to what I was doing. I once saw Sunny Murray stand up in the middle of an FMP Festival concert with Alex von Schlippenbach and Gerd Dudek, screaming "Let me play! I wanna play now!" I about felt like doing the same. And that was just the soundcheck. The concert wasn't much better. I tried my best, tried to hold things together, impart a semblance of life to a set all but DOA. The audience applauded when we were done, but I'm not sure if it was less out of appreciation than relief that it had ended.
The last set that night was a blowout with Toshi, Norbert and Keiichiro Shibuya on laptop and synth. They just blasted off and went into orbit. There were some great sounds happening – especially from Norbert, but for the most part I was just thinking, where do we go from here and how do we get there? With time, the set's meandering character began to fascinate me; it almost seemed as if there were three separate directions being pursued simultaneously. In this sense, and because of the fantastic sounds happening, the music was a (partial) success for me. When it was over the room roared with applause.
And that was it: the end of the tour. The Magic String Band came on the PA, the people began milling out. I packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes and was gone. Exhausted and overwhelmed again from too much music, too many people, too long a day. I just wanted to be alone, get something to eat and have a beer.
Getting out at the station near our hotel I walked to the closest soba shop. It just seemed so sad in there. What desolation: a couple of dishevelled salarymen slurping away at undoubtedly bland-tasting soba, day-old rice cakes in a smeared glass cabinet at the counter, the staff bored and pasty looking.
I walked out and went to a small izakaya across the street from my hotel. Here was peace: enka playing softly on the sound system, a smiling old couple running the restaurant. Four other people sat drinking and picking at their meals. Everyone seemed happy and for once I didn't have to sit in the smell of steam and damp linoleum.
I ordered a yaki soba and a beer. It was good and cold. I started to relax. I'd finally found a pocket of sanity in Tokyo. I ordered some sashimi and sake. I felt like I was celebrating but I didn't know why. Sitting in that restaurant I began to think back to my days in Los Angeles, when I'd come home after a gig and treat myself to a big meal at Suehiro's in Little Tokyo. Here I was again, in a similar place, in a similar mode, light years away in time and place.–JK [ For more information about the tour, go to: http://signaltonoise.jasonkahn.net and http://jasonkahn.net ]

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Ned Rothenberg

Reed virtuoso Ned Rothenberg is often associated with New York's Downtown scene, but this is only the second release under his own name on Downtown's best known label, John Zorn's Tzadik. If you were lucky (or rich) enough to own the complete Zorn discography and had to move house in a hurry, you'd need a good size minibus to carry all the boxes, while the complete recorded works of Rothenberg to date can fit comfortably in a normal shoulder bag. As he told Sasha Burov in his interview for this site a year or so back, "I'm just not one of these people who wants to put out twelve to fifteen CDs a year. I want something that will stand the test of time; to me every time you make a recording it's a kind of final statement. [..] A lot of the records that are made as 'magazines' might have brilliant stuff on them, but the listener has to pick it out. It's not like 'here is a recording, this is my piece and I stand behind everything on this'." In the light of that, it goes without saying that any new Rothenberg release is something to take seriously – check out The Fell Clutch too – and the fact that he's chosen to reissue the three solo albums he released on his own Lumina imprint – Trials of the Argo (Lumina L-001, 1981), Portal (L-006, 1982) and Trespass (L011, 1986) – means he still thinks they're pretty damn good. And he's right.

In his typically direct and informative liners, Rothenberg describes a visit he paid to British saxophone virtuoso Evan Parker (unless I've missed it, he doesn't say when, but it must have been about 1980). The encounter was something of an epiphany for the young American, not least because of the music Parker played him that day: early La Monte Young (on soprano saxophone – one wonders which album or bootleg it was), Watazumido-Shuso (shakuhachi virtuoso par excellence.. you may know his music from the soundtrack to Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice) and.. Songs and Games of the Inuit on Baffin Island, Canada. Rothenberg later regretted entitling one of the two extended tracks on his Lumina debut "Continuo After the Inuit", because a large number of people apparently (goodness knows how) mistook what he was doing for some authentic Eskimo folk material, or derivation thereof.
"Trials of the Argo" is a 22-minute multitrack extravaganza on which Rothenberg plays alto sax and a whole Argo full of wind instruments, including several of his own creation. It's a remarkable piece, occupying the kind of middle ground between composition and improvisation, jazz and other non-Western musics, that would typify the Downtown scene throughout the 80s. Though multitrack saxophone compositions weren't exactly unknown – Dickie Landry's Fifteen Saxophones comes to mind – Rothenberg was certainly breaking new ground in 1981 with such an ambitious work. Comparisons might be drawn with the multiple saxophone tracks on John Butcher's 13 Friendly Numbers, but that was ten years later and concentrated on accumulations of instruments of similar timbre, whereas Rothenberg's piece is truly orchestral in scope. It's also, despite its considerable density, remarkably accessible harmonically, unlike Butcher's pieces, which are ferociously chromatic. "Continuo After the Inuit" is less conspicuously epic but every bit as impressive, a tour de force of circular breathing and multiphonics that alternates between Parkeresque figurations and minimal repeating cells that wouldn't be out of place in a Terry Riley all-nighter. Some of the riffs Rothenberg gets himself into are so damn foot-tappingly infectious you could almost understand why some folk mistook it for raw, authentic folk material. Almost, but not quite.
The two solo outings set out to showcase Rothenberg's considerable technical prowess on individual instruments. On the title track of Portal it's the bass clarinet, while "Polysemy" features his alto sax (and a surprise guest in the form of Gerry Hemingway, who comes roaring in on steel drums halfway through), and on "Caenis" he plays a soprano double ocarina specially built by Alan Albright – "a retired legend among ocarina players" he informs us. To the ahem aggressively avant-garde ears of the average PT reader, "Caenis" might sound not only accessible but even faintly New Age – put that down to the mellifluous timbre of the instrument – but if it's cut and thrust hardcore sax action you want, you can, I suppose, zap the disc forward three tracks and hear him battle it out with Zorn. "Kakeai", which appeared on Trespass, was recorded in 1985 and is a fabulous martial arts bout between two virtuoso performers at the peak of their form. Of course, the differences between them are huge and instantly evident – no prizes for spotting who's doing what – but what's most satisfying is how two diametrically opposed ways of playing combine to form a truly breathtaking eleven minutes of music. Not that the other solo tracks on Trespass are less exciting. On "Filigree" especially Rothenberg reveals a mastery of multiphonics Mr. Butcher would be proud of. The set is rounded out by the addition of three more recent unreleased tracks, dating from 1991 (the processed bass clarinet of "Wrestling With Water") and 1998 ("Funhouse" #1 and #2, recorded live at Phill Niblock's Experimental Intermedia Foundation, with live signal processing by David Weinstein).

Compared to classic out-to-lunch Downtown offerings like Zorn's Classic Guide to Strategy (itself, incidentally, originally released on Lumina in 1983), the bluesy funk of tracks like "Slapstick" on Trespass sounds reassuringly traditional, but Ned Rothenberg has never made any secret of his desire to work within the confines of established idioms rather than concentrate exclusively on more abstract (and inherently problematic) non-idiomatic improvisation. "It was funny though, even while being a musician of a younger generation I felt in ways more conservative than Evan," he writes. "My relationship to pulse drew much more from the dance-based roots of jazz and R&B and from a love of folk music. Whereas Evan represented a European improvising scene that was trying to move outside of idiomatic playing, I was aiming to create a music that sounded idiomatic, even if its materials were foreign to any existing stylistic contexts." Indeed, what emerges most strongly from these discs is a rock-solid grounding in good old-fashioned technique, something frequently lacking in the work of some younger saxophone adventurers, and often compensated for, or camouflaged, depending on how you choose to look at it, by heavy use of extended techniques. I've long been of the opinion though that if you want to play "out" you damn well better know how to play "in" first, and that the most impressive (to my mind) practitioners of unorthodox playing techniques, from John Coltrane to Malcolm Goldstein to Don Pullen to John Zorn to Axel Dörner, are precisely those who can play the ass of their chosen instrument(s) to start with. And Ned Rothenberg's right up there with the best of them.

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Joseph Holbrooke Trio

"Don't believe the hype," Flavor Flav used to say, in what always struck me as just about the only really intelligent phrase the giant-watch sporting sidekick rapper ever uttered. Though it was probably Chuck D who wrote the lyric. Hey, whatever happened to Public Enemy? Despite sporadic attempts on the part of a few magazines to resurrect them, it seems they just slipped off the radar a little when we weren't watching. But before they were eclipsed by the likes of 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G and retreated to cyberspace, at least they did sign three – four if like me you're a fan of Apocalypse 91 The Enemy Strikes Black – bona fide classic albums. Which is more than we can say for Joseph Holbrooke (as this group was originally called – wonder where that "trio" bit came from?), whose reputation has never really been backed up by a recording commensurate with their supposed historical importance. No one would dispute that guitarist Derek Bailey, drummer Tony Oxley and bassist Gavin Bryars were breaking new ground of sorts in their informal get-togethers in Bryars' flat and the upstairs room of The Grapes pub in Sheffield in 1965, but to go from there to proclaiming that city as "the birthplace of Free Improvisation," as someone did recently, is the kind of hype only Ben Watson could take seriously.
The story's well known, but if you missed it, Bailey's book Improvisation, Its Nature and Practice in Music gives a brief resume of Joseph Holbrooke's activities. (For the record, Joseph Holbrooke (1878 – 1958) was an obscure English composer, sometimes dubbed "the Cockney Wagner," who Bryars was particularly enamoured with at the time.) So does Watson's Bailey "biography" but if you have any intention of taking Flavor Flav at his word, you'd be better off steering clear of that. (Old story.) The only surviving document of the group's playing back then is a ten-minute rehearsal tape of "Miles' Mode" which Bailey released on Incus as a CD single, though recordings apparently exist of a concert in which they were joined by Lee Konitz (and I for one would be curious to hear that). Bryars, as anyone who's read Bailey's book well knows, became disenchanted with improvising at the end of 1966 and devoted himself to composition, while Bailey and Oxley of course went on to become major league improvisers.

In 1998 Joseph Holbrooke reconvened for a reunion concert in Cologne organised by German radio (later released on Incus as Joseph Holbrooke '98) and got together later that year for three days of recording in Moat Studios in Stockwell, London. Bryars, in his lengthy and typically chatty liner notes, quotes one review of the Cologne concert which described it as "three friends resuming a conversation that had been interrupted for 30 years." Well, no. Thirty years is a long time in anyone's life and if you did meet up with someone you hadn't seen for three decades (in reality this only applies to Bryars, as Bailey and Oxley weren't exactly out of touch during that time) you wouldn't exactly take up right where you'd left off. The conversation would be more like: "Oh, you got married, did you?" Or: "My God, you're a grandfather now?" Or: "Whatever happened to that bloke you used to give bass lessons to, Gavin?" I imagine Bailey for one would have been more inclined to agree with George Burns: "I don't live in the past – I live in a house in Beverly Hills." But I can see why the quotation appeals to Bryars, because he did indeed stop playing in the intervening years, so it's only natural he should try and take up where he left off. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of his beloved Scott LaFaro in there, and a bit of Charlie Haden too (Bryars wrote a piece for him, By The Vaar, back in 1987). But anyone familiar with Oxley's late 60s work, notably Extrapolation with John Surman and John McLaughlin, might have a bit of a hard time recognizing him as the source of the stochastic clatter on the Moat Recordings. As for Bailey, although his distinctive pitch configurations and floating harmonics are instantly recognizable, the impeccable volume pedal technique he displays here is something he was only tentatively moving towards back in 1966.
The Moat sessions were originally intended for release on Gary Todd's Cortical Foundation imprint, but Todd's fall from the balcony of his apartment and subsequent permanent hospitalization put paid to that. Tom Recchion took the project under his wing, but it was Oxley who suggested to Bryars that John Zorn might be interested in releasing the music on Tzadik. "I sent John an email and within minutes I had a long and enthusiastic reply," Bryars relates. (That's a tale that should raise a smile amongst those of you who've sent CDR demos Zorn's way and received the customary "thanks but no thanks" postcard – if you were running a label wouldn't you think twice about agreeing to release music by three guys who hadn't played together for 32 years, one of whom hadn't even picked up his instrument for nearly that long? One can't help thinking of one of those old Looney Tunes cartoon characters Zorn loves so much with $ signs for eyeballs.) The music selected for this double CD was recorded during the first two days of studio time – the third day's recordings in front of a specially invited audience yielded a further 40 minutes, which, Bryars informs us, "will come out separately". I'm sure they will. And maybe along with "a rumoured recording" of the gig Joseph Holbrooke played in Antwerp in January 1999 (though several people of my acquaintance who attended that auspicious event weren't exactly blown away).

Don't get me wrong – The Moat Recordings isn't bad. In fact, by most people's standards, it's pretty damn good. And it's certainly a damn sight more interesting than the tepid torpid High Anglican pomposity of Bryars' own recent compositions. But it's not what it's hyped up to be by the Tzadik blurb: "legendary, exciting, historic, astonishing, revelatory musical communication of the highest order." The weak link, not surprisingly, is Bryars, whose bowed and plucked lines sound unadventurously linear compared to the angles and corners Bailey and Oxley are keen to explore. It sounds like Soho Suites (Volume 3) with obbligato bass. One wonders what it might have been like with Barry Guy instead (or Joëlle Léandre, or Simon Fell) – but that of course would be another group altogether. Though Derek Bailey was well known for making no concessions to his playing partners, it does sound at times as if he and Oxley are being deliberately kind to Bryars, leaving him plenty of space to lay down those loping Hadenesque lines. But the bassist doesn't seem to want to make any trade-off in return: on "Radio bossa", when Oxley and Bailey are at their thorniest and most interactive, Bryars' velvety shapes seem curiously inappropriate. At the end of the track his insistent E string thuds pull Bailey inexorably in like a fish on a line – repeat a low note often enough and it becomes a tonic: that's the way our Western ears work. I'm left longing for a bit of vintage violence à la John Edwards, or remembering how good that Bailey / Maarten Altena duet was from Pisa 1980. But, again, with another bassist it wouldn't be Joseph Holbrooke, would it? Anyway, I'm off to listen to Flav. "It was you that chose your due / You built a maze you can't get through / I tried to help you all I can / Now I can't do nuttin' for you man."

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The Contest Of Pleasures
For their second outing on Potlatch, John Butcher (saxophones), Xavier Charles (clarinet) and Axel Dörner (trumpet) have adopted the title of their first release on the label, 2001's The Contest Of Pleasures, as the name of the group, and the track titles once again are designed to whet the appetite, especially if you're a vegetarian: "Les Oignons", "Garden Cress", "Winter Squash", "Karfiol" (cauliflower) and "Les Cornichons" (gherkins). There the similarities end; for where the earlier album was recorded live in the twelfth century Chapelle Saint Jean in Mulhouse, as part of the 2000's Jazz à Mulhouse Festival, this sequel was recorded over several days in various venues in and around the southern French city of Albi, including another chapel, a large concert hall and a bone dry recording studio. Copies of the recording were dispatched to the three musicians and recording engineer Laurent Sassi to be reconfigured into five tracks (they used to call 'em "remixes"), one credited to each man except Butcher who ended up with two (check out the languages of the track titles and match against the nationalities of the performers and you'll soon figure out which ones were his). The resulting album doesn't exactly mark a new departure either for recordings of improvised music or for the Potlatch label (2001's Rouge Gris Bruit already featured quite a bit of post-prod / composition courtesy Lionel Marchetti), but it's one of the most blatant and striking examples of recent times. Improv purists who like their shit uncut, unedited and unadorned can always go back to The Contest Of Pleasures if they're not satisfied: Albi Days presents a different set of challenges. There are a few discreet overdubs, but most of the reconfigurations are of the order of sequencing, intercutting passages culled from the different sessions according to time-honoured compositional criteria ("for my pieces, I only edited parts together, linearly. In 'Garden Cress' from a single acoustic situation, and in 'Winter Squash' from two acoustic situations, choosing by the pitch relationships between them. There was no overlaying or processing. I wanted them to sound 'played,'" says Butcher), the exception being Sassi's "Les Cornichons", which takes the post-prod to another level by looping and layering the material into something more self-consciously artificial. I'm not entirely convinced it comes off as well as the other tracks on the disc, but the playing of the musicians and the quality of the recording and the mixing is so outstanding it manages to work its charms, and will have you coming back for more. Bon appétit.–DW

Despite his protestations to the contrary in his recent PT interview with Jesse Goin, Swiss guitarist Tomas Korber is not at all "far removed from the EAI scene", having signed a number of fine releases in the genre with the likes of Jason Kahn, Günter Müller, Keith Rowe and Ralph Steinbrüchel. And EAI's concern for slowly evolving texture is as much a part of his work with bassist Christian Weber and percussionist Christian Wolfarth as it is on his other solo electronic projects. I have a CDR somewhere of this trio bearing the title "Twisted Concubine", which I always assumed was the original name of the group. If so, it's just as well they ditched that (if only because it conjures up nasty images of Dee Snider – hands up anyone who hasn't heard of Twisted Sister) in favour of Mersault, after the protagonist of Albert Camus' celebrated novel L'Etranger. In so doing they join another venerable group which took its name from a Camus novel, The Fall – and if you don't agree that Mark E. Smith is a damn sight better new music role model than Dee Snider you're on the wrong fuckin site, matey. Those familiar with Korber's work elsewhere, or with Wolfarth's outstanding solo percussion outing on For4Ears, Wolfarth, will know what to expect from this classy release on Tim Barnes' equally classy Quakebasket label. Three stately, sedate improvisations, very much in the Polwechsel mode, carefully executed and lovingly produced. I doubt whether Mark E. Smith would like them very much though, and I'm not sure Dee Snider would either, but I do and that's all that counts.–DW

Trio FO
Loose Torque
Flautist Neil Metcalfe is perhaps best known for his work with guitarist Roger Smith, but while Smith is a notoriously shy performer, preferring for the most part to play and record in the privacy of his kitchen, Metcalfe is still active, and, on the strength of this release and his recent splendid duo with Lol Coxhill on the Emanem twofer Freedom Of The City 2005, on top form. (So's Smith, from what I hear, and I'm looking forward to a rare French appearance of the elusive guitarist in a few weeks. Stay tuned..) On Breaking Silence, joined by bassist and Loose Torque label boss Nick Stephens on bass and Tony Marsh on drums, Metcalfe turns in a performance that's as technically outstanding as it is musically rich and creative. The flute, unlike the saxophone, isn't an instrument that lends itself well to so-called extended techniques (though Jim Denley and Alessandra Rombolà have recently given it a good run for its money), but it still has plenty of possibilities, and Metcalfe isn't in any way inclined to use it as a vacuum cleaner, Geiger counter or spittoon. Yes kids, it's still about notes. Tight little melodic cells developed and exchanged with agility and virtuosity – Stephens is as good at doing it as Metcalfe – and counterpointed by skilful, sharp but discreet percussion from Marsh. It's a real treat and another fine addition to the Loose Torque catalogue.–DW

The Erstwhile label needs no introduction to readers of this mag or aficionados of today's improvised music, having released an impressive catalogue of albums since its inception back in 1999. But how many of you have the first album released on the label, Extracts by VHF – aka Simon Vincent (percussion and electronics), Graham Halliwell (alto saxophone) and Simon H. Fell (bass)? If you don't, try to find a place for it on your shelves alongside other "classic" Erst platters like Weather Sky and Duos for Doris. Chroniclers of the label tend to point to The World Turned Upside Down as the first "quintessentially Erstwhile" album, but there's a strong case to be made for Extracts, even if Vincent's work is still far from easy to pin down (seems he's worked with everyone from Art Farmer to Photek via Def Tex and Karlheinz Stockhausen – no shit!), Fell is better known for his groundbreaking work combining post-serial composition and free jazz blowout and Halliwell has spent the past couple of years concentrating on his exquisite sax feedback in groups like +minus with Mark Wastell and Bernhard Günter. The appearance – five years after it was recorded! – of a second VHF album on the Slovenian bijou label L'innomable (limited edition, beautiful design, they sell out fast, you have been warned) is further proof that it sometimes takes cream a while to rise to the surface. Each of the four extended tracks on Statics is a superb example of sustained, predominantly slow texture-based improvisation. The music is understated, reined in, but intense and focussed. Halliwell is impressive throughout, using a wide range of extended techniques (those who only know his work through +minus will be surprised), and Fell gives Polwechsel's Werner Dafeldecker a run for his money when it comes to exploring the deep, dark dusty corners of the bass. Vincent's work is as rich and surprising as his CV: for sheer poise and subtlety even Günter Müller would have a hard time coming close. Do yourself a favour and check this out – and pick up a copy of Extracts while you're at it.–DW

Brian Allen / Reuben Radding
Brian Allen / Tony Malaby / Tom Rainey
Houston-based trombonist and composer Brian Allen has become an increasingly active force in contemporary creative music circles. Though still a disciple of players like Slide Hampton and Curtis Fuller, Allen has nevertheless found very personal ways to break down his slippery bop-honed trombone chops. He takes the instrument apart, removes the mouthpiece to vocalize through the bare tubing, raps the mouthpiece against the bell, and employs multiphonics – but there’s that polished jazz-trombone sound cutting through all of the instrumental deviations.
Allen’s most recent work is collected on two New York-centric sets released on his own Braintone label, one a duo with regular collaborator, bassist Reuben Radding, the other a trio with tenorman Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey. The Allen-Radding duo is an extended meditation on squawks, buzzing, whistles, blats and hums – you wouldn’t be fazed if you were told it was a recording of Fluxus pipe music. Radding’s muscular, dexterous bass playing is the axis on which Allen’s panoply of unearthly chortles and gnat-like noises turns. Their duets stretch and arch, constructed from lightning-fast responses and poetic churnings, and the results have a gravity that keeps even the most outrageous moments from noisemaking whimsy.
When the Allen-Malaby-Rainey trio gigged in Austin recently, the wide-open acoustic space and long, sinuous trombone and tenor lines suggested a latterday derivation of the New York Art Quartet. Yet these bluesy harmonies are part of a more complex whole: on “Expecade,” sound-sheet conversations hinting at the free-blues tradition are followed (after one of Rainey’s salvos at the drums) by sparse dialogues between buzzing, dribbling trombone vocalizations and breathy tenor. Backbeats surging out of nowhere, spars of skittering melody, rising tenor waves stopped short by cymbal scrapes and plaintive gulps – Synapse is a subtle upending of the tried-and-true.

Evan Parker Octet
What’s striking about this one, first of all, is the size of the ensemble: aside from Parker’s electronics projects, releases under his own name have almost always featured small groups. The obvious reference-point is longstanding (though variably constituted) groups like the Chris Burn Ensemble and the London Improvisers Orchestra, important loci for the exploration of large-scale free improvisation in the UK since the 1990s, but Crossing the River establishes a distinct idiom, a balance of lively bucolic dialogue and a pastoral sense of calm. The drummerless octet is elegantly constructed: a twofold division between the three winds (Neil Metcalfe, flute; John Rangecroft, clarinet; Parker himself on tenor) and five strings (Philipp Wachsmann, violin; Marcio Mattos, cello; John Edwards, bass; John Russell, guitar; Agustí Fernández, piano – though as always Russell and Fernández, even in this restrained context, bring out their instruments’ percussive qualities). There are three octet pieces, two in the 20-minute range, the third a mere 40 seconds (the soundcheck?): the dynamics are carefully controlled and mostly muted, which permits the sounds to shimmer elusively like dots on an Impressionist canvas, although the swiftness and seamlessness of its transformations mean that this is anything but “painterly” improvisation. (The title refers to the journey over the Thames from the Red Rose to the environs of Gateway Studios – but is also a discreet and appropriate gesture towards the Heraclitean flux of improvisation: you can’t step in the same river twice.) A series of short tracks explore various subgroupings: some spiky trios, a rough-and-tumble string quintet, and – my favourite – a gripping encounter between the absurdly underrated Metcalfe and Fernández, who’s become one of the contemporary masters of the free-improv duet (as witness his previous Psi disc Critical Mass, for starters). Parker’s own contributions are so deeply embedded in the ensemble weave that he’s hard to pick out – a London Airlift-style trio with Edwards and Russell is his one turn in the spotlight – but this is nonetheless one of the best things he’s put his name to for a while. Great stuff.–ND

Fred Hess
After two fine albums with his quartet (Ron Miles, Ken Filiano and Matt Wilson), tenor saxophonist Fred Hess has made it a quintet by adding alto saxophonist Mark Harris, and the result is the group's strongest album to date. How 'Bout Now is a state-of-the-art update on the noble tradition of Ornette's classic Atlantic dates, featuring some of Hess's most outlandishly imaginative small-group writing: elaborately worked five-way counterpoint married to a stop-start rhythmic sensibility that sends little shockwaves through every bar. His reworking of Monk’s "Evidence" is the album's knockout track, so oblique it makes even the most recherché Tristanoite line sound straightforward. Hess’s "Clefs" series of compositions, the musical equivalent of a comic book serial, gets one of its most vivid instalments, and there's also a handsome miniature suite bridging free-bop blues, sweet-and-sour balladry and acoustic disco. Hess's solo work is deceptively genial, full of whirring, abstracted figures that sneak up to moments of intense heat, and his quietly subversive take on jazz tradition receives perfect support from his colleagues. Filiano and Wilson are always good bets for this kind of gig, playing "inside" while still working all kinds of disjunctures into the music, and Ron Miles' pert, poke-in-your-eye cornet-playing virtually steals the show at times, especially his outstanding solo on "Finding the Evidence". The only disappointment is that Harris gets so little opportunity to solo, though he's as crucial to the ensemble sound as George Barrow was to Blues and the Abstract Truth.–ND

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Wade Matthews / Ingar Zach
Creative Sources
Keeping track of new releases on Ernesto Rodrigues' Creative Sources imprint would be something approaching a full-time job, if I didn't already have something approaching a full-time job. By the time you've digested the last batch, there's another package waiting in the mailbox (not that I'm complaining). 59 in the catalogue so far, and a visit to the CS website lists no fewer than 16 forthcoming releases. Caralho! (As they say down there, I think..) Mørke-lys is Madrid-based American Wade Matthews' third outing on the label, after the solo bass clarinet pyrotechnics of Aspirations and Inspirations and the splendid Dining Room Music (with Quentin Dubost, Stéphane Rives and Ingar Zach). Percussionist Zach is also behind the kit here, but Matthews has left his horn in the cupboard and concentrates on the electronics he showcased so impressively on the recent solo on Sillón, Absent Friends. Zach is a versatile player who's just as good at laying down sustained sonorities as he is at engaging in high speed fisticuffs, and these six tracks (one nice thing about CS releases is they rarely overstay their welcome) take full advantage of his prodigious talents. Matthews' background in serious electronic music – he studied with Mario Davidovsky, and they don't come much more serious than that – shows in the care he takes to prepare his equipment (see the earlier review of Absent Friends for details). He knows his filters and oscillators as well as Thomas Lehn knows the patchboard on his old analogue synth, and indeed the choppier tracks on Mørke-lys often recall the bobs and weaves of vintage Konk Pack. But the choice cut is "Oscurità Luce", which sounds like a battle to the death between Lê Quan Ninh and Phill Niblock in a kitchenware shop, with Matthews conducting proceedings with a Star Wars light sabre. Terrific stuff, go for it.–DW

Once simply described as the father of tabletop guitar, for many years criminally under recorded, Keith Rowe has in recent years produced a stream of works testifying to his undying will to preserve the unadulterated charm of sounds that are usually considered to be, to say the least, disturbing. Case in point is the first half of this album, "November", conceived during a radio broadcast on Jet FM 91.2 (Saint Herblain, France) in which Rowe was attempting to emulate an "off station" station through the exclusive use of radio electronics. The narrative of shortwaves is a fascinating one and Rowe's keen ears seize its essential nuances in enthralling flows of sonic data, sweeping interferences and snippets of "regular" programming, regurgitating the whole as an unnatural, composite pastiche where edgy mutations and piercing frequencies alternate with fermenting growls and not-of-this-earth disguised codes. Julien Ottavi, Will Guthrie and Manu Leduc enter the scene in "Quebec", on radio, computer, mixed media and mixed electronics. Interested in the "mp3 consumer sound quality" of the above recording (since archived on line by Nantes' Apo33 collective), they use the components of Rowe's harsh blend to do some damage of their own. The collective effort is a kind of post-mortem musique concrète, a thoroughly confused/ing mental state in which scary concoctions of noise emerge. The radio seems to represent desperation, a brain using the very last ounces of sugar to sputter its final transmissions before going out once and for all.–MR

Hervé Boghossian / Stéphane Rives / Matthieu Saladin
Anyone familiar with Hervé Boghossian's previous releases (Mouvements on Raster Noton, a brief appearance on a Spekk compilation and several outings on his own List label) might be a bit taken aback by the austerity of Plateformes. Gone are the pretty shimmers of laptop-treated guitar, replaced by carefully chosen sustained tones of alarming purity, around which Stéphane Rives (on soprano sax) and Matthieu Saladin (bass clarinet, amplified) weave their own slightly less stable yet equally austere drones. The 48-minute track, recorded live by Vincent Fromont at the Espaces Jemappes in Paris in 2005 (God knows how the recording ended up so clean, because that's one of the noisiest damn places to play in this fair city) explores the interface and interference patterns between man and machine, the result having more in common with the work of Alvin Lucier than it does with "traditional" improv. Oddly enough, I asked Jacques Oger, head honcho of Potlatch records (which released Rives' landmark solo album Fibres a little while back) what he thought of Plateformes and he said he thought it was "too flat".. But that seems to be exactly the point (hence, perhaps, the album title): this is music that concentrates on two parameters – pitch and timbre – to the exclusion of others such as rhythm and dynamics. It is of necessity flat; flat as in two-dimensional surface, not as in lacking in fizz – because there's much to appreciate in this thoughtful and beautifully executed work.–DW

The N-collective is an international, pan-European (though there's an American in there too) group of musicians whose website gives little indication of any permanent connections between its constituent members other than a mutual interest in getting gigs, recordings and supposedly funding (nothing wrong with that – musicians have bills to pay like everyone else). One of its spin-off groups is Office-R(6), featuring double bassist Koen Nutters, laptoppers Robert Van Heumen (LiSa) and Jeff Carey (synthesis), Sakir Oguz Buyukberber on bass clarinet, young rising star Norwegian drummer Morten J Olsen (whose duo MoHa! is causing some a stir) and saxophonist Dirk Bruinsma of the criminally ignored (at least by the British press) art-rockers-cum-contemporary-new complexity Blast. This debut 24-minute EP, recorded – very well too – at Amsterdam’s STEIM, consists of four tracks whose titles allude to methods for organizing improvisation. But discipline and precision are predominant here, giving the pieces the structured cohesiveness of composed music, though with a taste for breaking the flow in unexpected twists and turns. Energy fragments in all directions in a capricious game piece between acoustic texture and skilled electronic interaction, imbuing the music with the joyful energetic velocity that might remind you of the golden age of European improv – think the robust language of contrasting colours and the 360°-turnaround strategies of the likes of Paul Lovens, Peter Kowald, Wolfgang Fuchs or Evan Parker. A highly palatable, invigorating and sophisticated appetizer of tradition and renewal, superbly performed and recorded.–MA

I know studio time is less expensive in the States than it is here in Europe, but evidently it's still not cheap enough for some – especially since, as any (cough cough) "professional" improviser will tell you, there's precious little money in this business at all. After Adam Sonderberg's Civil War trio, here comes another group that's taken to recording inside a grain silo. Put it this way: Gothic cathedrals and Romanesque churches are few and far between over on the other side of the pond – if Jac Berrocal had been born in the USA he'd probably have recorded Musiq Musik in a silo too – but there sure are plenty of grain silos. Even in upstate New York. So if natural reverb's your thang, take it from me, they sound great, and there are no gawping tourists, shitty synthetic organs and clouds of stinking incense. Silo – the group – is a trio featuring trumpeters Nate Wooley and Leonel Kaplan, Audrey Chen on cello and vocals, augmented for the occasion by James Webster on traditional Maori percussion, and this fine release on Utech (limited edition as ever: my copy is numbered 131 and there are only 200 of 'em so by the time you read this it might just be too late, so move) consists of four extended tracks of hot, dusty brass blasts, wild banshee wails from Chen and various inscrutable rattles and scrapes (that I'm guessing come) from the visiting Kiwi. "I will go on record as saying the music scares the crap out of me," says Reuben Radding, who bounced the Minidisc recordings up to 24-bit digital, "but I'm proud to have my name associated with it." As well he should be. This is wild and wonderful stuff – go get your copy now before the farmer finds out and starts renting out his silos to Daniel Powter, Busta and Beyonce. You read it here first.–DW

Dominic Lash / Bruno Guastalla
Though based in Oxford, "the city of dreaming spires" (as opposed to Cambridge, which I believe Frederic Raphael once described as "the city of perspiring dreams"), bassist Dominic Lash and cellist Bruno Guastalla have performed with a whole puntful of local musicians and visiting Londoners, and it shows in these two leisurely but often intense improvisations. Events unfold slowly but logically, like chess made audible. Occasionally a surprise move – an unexpected exchange of queens or sudden diagonal swoop across the board by a frisky bishop – prompts a swift and decisive change of direction, but the game soon resumes its stately progress. Orthodox and unorthodox playing techniques coexist without confrontation; both players are equally willing, when circumstances demand, to develop traditional notions of pitch and interval, but are just as happy exploring the outer reaches of friction and percussion on their venerable instruments, in a performance of great physicality and maturity.–DW

Safe + Danny McCarthy
Dot Dot Dot
This 32-minute improvised set recorded at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork in 2002 is inscrutable as the back cover photograph, which looks to all intents and purposes like someone crushing two baby birds to death with their bare hands (though that could be my perverse imagination getting the better of me again). It's a strange, floating mix of amorphous glissandi – ever heard real birdsong slowed down? you'd be surprised how weird and scary it sounds – odd crackling and crumpling, bleeps and peeps, all filtered and reverbed (Lee Perry would be proud) and set against shifting patterns of ethereal high register drone and subaquatic hiss. Imagine Darth Vader and Sachiko M getting lost on a potholing expedition and sending out a shortwave radio broadcast to attract attention. Things get pretty intense and disturbing after about 25 minutes – you could even be blindfoldtested into ID'ing it as KK Null, all swirling gritty frequency overload, but in fact it's the work of Paul Hegarty (discs, metal, keyboards and voice), Brian O'Shaughnessy (discs and tapes, radio, effects) and sound artist Danny McCarthy guesting on monochord, keyboard and stones. Limited edition 200. On yr marks get set GO.–DW

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Lionel Marchetti
I don't know how you feel about three-inch CDs – I tend to lose the pesky little things rather easily myself, though I am happy to have released one (on Crouton, as it turns out) – but French musique concrète composer Lionel Marchetti obviously loves them. In addition to the three he's released as part of the (now defunct, sadly) Cinéma pour l'Oreille series on Metamkine, Mue, La Grande Vallée and Train de Nuit, there's Dans La Montagne on Chlöe, Riss on Erewhon, and now Red Dust. You're not likely to let this one slip behind the sofa though, as the three discs come in a snazzy red cardboard box two centimetres deep. Actually you might not even get the opportunity to let it slip behind the sofa, as the limited edition of 300 has already sold out, it seems, which makes this review somewhat redundant as marketing exercises go – though since when was writing about new music merely a vulgar act of trying to sell something? – maybe you can consider it another entry in our Reissue This series instead.
Though the work as a whole could quite easily fit on one normal CD, the fact that Marchetti and Crouton's Jon Mueller have decided to release it as three separate "grands mouvements", entitled respectively "Livre Maudit," "Livre Magnétique" and "Livre d'Eos", and on discs of different colours – the "accursed" book is beige, the magnetic book petrel-blue and the book of Eos brick-red – makes the work a beautiful object in its own right as well as an extraordinary, wide-ranging and challenging piece of music. In addition to the sounds of the world around us, from police radios to nocturnal insects, crackling firewood, creaking furniture and all manner of telephones, Marchetti uses scratchy old recordings of military bands, barrel organs, and voices, speaking, singing and screaming, both human – notably that of butoh dancer Yôko Higashi – and synthesized (check out the hilarious robot interview with the "composer" on "Visiones nocturnae", the centrepiece of the second disc). He also quotes sparingly but tellingly from the work of artists as diverse as Fritz Lang, Henri Chopin, Alain de Filippis, Marcel Duchamp, Keiji Haino, Pan Sonic, The Residents, Pierre Schaeffer and This Heat (a Marchetti favourite: there's a snatch of "Horizontal Hold" lurking beneath the surface of his 1998 collaboration with Ralf Wehowsky on Selektion, Vier Vorspiele – here it's "Not Waving But Drowning", notably on "La visite des morts").
One of the artists whose work is quoted – I think Marchetti, like his frequent playing partner Jérôme Noetinger, would be horrified at the word "sampled", for purely technical as well as aesthetic reasons – is Marie Dubas (1894 – 1972), a popular Parisian cabaret singer who lost family members in the horror of the concentration camps and was herself persecuted by the Vichy administration. Marchetti's use of her voice in context is both melancholy and unsettling, as is "Penombra", which opens the third disc. This sets Florent Dichampt's forlorn guitar work against the crackle of dying embers in a fire, distant barking dogs, oppressive sporadic bass thuds and all manner of disturbing growls and screams. But a list of ingredients gives only a vague idea what the dish might taste like, and in case you get the impression that this is all some kind of sonic pot luck dinner, let me reassure you that nothing could be further from the truth: Red Dust isn't cinema for the ear as much as poetry for the ear (I remember writing to Marchetti with some questions about his Portrait d'un Glacier on Ground Fault – and received a poem in reply). The closing "L'incendie", with its tolling bells and Higashi's fragile voice floating high above a swamp of crackling wax cylinders, is simply astounding, and extraordinarily moving. Red Dust is Lionel Marchetti's most substantial work since the outstanding Knud un nom de serpent on Intransitive, and though I'm not in the least bit religious, I'm praying that Crouton's Jon Mueller will release a second edition soon.

Belinda Reynolds
"Well-crafted was the faint praise we used to damn a thousand late-20th-century pieces that no one wanted to hear again," writes Kyle Gann in "The Emotional Realism Of Belinda Reynolds", his rather grandiosely-titled liner notes for this release of music by San Francisco-based Reynolds (who, in keeping with the old tradition of members of the fair sex not revealing their age, doesn't reveal her age, though if the photographs are anything to go by looks as if she was born about the time the Steve Reich Deutsche Grammophon box set was just going out of print). Sorry to disagree Kyle, but "well-crafted" certainly isn't a putdown in my book: it's simply honest recognition of a job well done, and has nothing at all to do with whether you want to hear the piece again. There's no music better crafted than Reich's, but if I go to my grave without ever hearing The Cave again I won't cry. But don't you dare take away my copy of Music for 18 Musicians.
One of Gann's own terminological innovations is "postminimalism", which, in my dumb stupidity I take to mean "music that comes after minimalism", i.e. the stuff being written by a younger generation of composers – American, for the most part – who grew up listening to Einstein On The Beach and Nixon In China in the same way that my generation (he said, sounding awfully old) grew up digging Le Marteau Sans Maître, Gruppen, Atmosphères and Eonta (but I also heard Reich's Music For Pieces Of Wood when I was 15 and it changed my life). The problem with "postminimalism" as terms go is that it seems to assume that minimalism itself is some kind of museum relic like Darmstadt-era total serialism, whereas from where I'm sitting there's still a lot of new music out there that could justifiably be described as minimalist, not only by elder statesmen such as Niblock and Lucier. Clearly, postminimalism is about as vague and woolly a term as postmodernism, though after about twenty years of systematic abuse most of us, I think, have a clear idea of what that means, at least as far as music goes. What postminimalism boils down to in Gann's book is essentially unashamedly tonal music that retains the constant running eighth and sixteenth notes beloved of Glass and Reich, but which, to quote Gann, "foreshortens minimalism's use of gradual process" (i.e. when you get bored with the process, change it and do something else). Oddly enough, it's a rather accurate description of a whole lotta music that was around well before minimalism, starting with Stravinsky – let's not forget John Adams built a whole damn career on the Symphony In Three Movements – and including most pre-WW II French composers with the exception of Messiaen and the boatloads of Americans who came over to study Stravinsky secondhand with Nadia Boulanger. You could also make a strong claim for hailing Louis Andriessen as the Godfather of Postminimalism, and it'd take an article three times as long as this to list the composers who've made a career out of writing second rate De Staat (itself the Dutch bastard child of Stravinsky's Les Noces). I'd also point once again to Michael Torke's Vanada as a pioneering work of postminimalism, assuming I want to use the term, but that's hardly recent news.
You could be forgiven for assuming Belinda Reynolds also has an eye on the past, considering the instrumentation of Solace (baroque flute, baroque oboe, viola da gamba and harpsichord), the flamenco-lite Phrygian mode inflections of Yawp (for guitar), and the abundance of rifflets and figurations that belong as much to faux-medieval Debussy as they do to West Coast 80s minimalism. It's undeniably well-crafted stuff – that's not a putdown – but unremittingly nice. And that is. "Cover" chugs along amiably enough from one tonal centre to another, but on reading Gann's description of it as "really new and original" makes me wonder if someone at the factory put the wrong disc in the box. "The opening notes of Yawp," Gann writes, "are classically postminimalist" (how would he describe Torke then? Baroque postminimalist?), whereas from where I'm sitting they sound like a common and garden ostinato. "Play" sounds like mid 80s Wim Mertens, and it is if anything even blander, its white note noodling derived from "a game Reynolds plays with the children she teaches" (Mr Gann once more helpfully informs us), "making melodies from the letters of words. The marimba part is built on the word CABBAGE." It's a shame our Anglo-Saxon musical nomenclature stops at G (H and S if you want to be German): what this piece needs is a handful of jalapeno peppers.

Joseph Waters
After postminimalism, postmodernism? (Oh no, not again / I'm stuck with a valuable friend / "I'm happy, hope you're happy too"..) I suppose you're waiting for a definition.. forget it, mate. Though I was once described as a "postmodern critic" by Ben Watson (and in Benspeak "postmodern" is roughly equivalent to pedophile or serial killer – I was duly flattered), I'm not going to open that old can o' worms again. But San Diego-based Joseph Waters' brief manifesto accompanying this collection of six chamber works for instruments and live electronics, is worth quoting: "I am," he writes, "by necessity a populist composer, committed to the idea that there needs to be a solid connection between artists, who through their explorations inevitably become experts steeped in the history and subtlety of culture, and the everyday world of commercial television, junk food, crass evangelism, as well as practical genius, that comprises the contemporary cultural landscape. It is my self-ordained role, as populist, to attempt to understand this culture, to engage it, and to make love with it." Sordid images of fucking Tammi Bakker aside, you might expect from the above that Waters' music is (yet another) patchwork of crappy jingles and "provocative" soundbites. Far from it: he's steeped in Western classical music tradition, and (unlike Belinda Reynolds, see above) his compositions explicitly reference European models, including Debussy and Messiaen (I'd also add some of the rotting flowers of late Romanticism like early Richard Strauss and early Schoenberg), but the incorporation of live electronics – sampled and treated field recordings, for the most part – transports turn of the (20th) century Paris / Vienna across the other side of the planet and slams it down in today's sunny Southern California. It's a curious combination – imagine Fennesz jamming along with Verklaerte Nacht.. wouldn't that qualify as postmodern? – but Waters somehow manages to bring it off, assisted in no small part by an absolutely superb recording. It's also, at times, ravishingly beautiful – unlike Reynolds' music, which simply strikes me as pretty – if a leeetle on the sweet side. But, hey, San Diego's supposed to be a really cool place. Why the hell would Brian Ferneyhough stay there so long if it wasn't?–DW

Ned McGowan
Karnatic Lab
My girlfriend unexpectedly turned on the vacuum cleaner while I was listening to this, and I thought, hey, what a cool effect, but the timing's wrong! as it almost blended with Amsterdam-based Ned McGowan’s complex and sensitive use of machine noises. Combining acoustic instruments with machine sounds is nothing new, of course, but the composer’s treatment of mechanistic noises is like a Tinguely sculpture in its sensitivity and humor. In Tools, machines accompany the live instruments and take their own solos – "these machines are your friends".. but watch out, they could kill you later. The sound quality is exceptional – from the frightening horror-movie of a slowly rising freight elevator to the exuberant bangs of compressors and pile drivers. On top of it all, and ultimately the real musical focal point, are the acoustic instruments. Performer, improviser, and composer McGowan has assembled around himself a tribe of dedicated musicians who perform the most fiendishly difficult rhythms with flair and ease. Recorder player Susanna Borsch deserves special mention for her virtuosity throughout, most notably in “Workshop,” combining American irreverence with a "New Dutch" rhythmic drive. Opting for a highly-composed framework, but with many openings for improvisation, McGowan also has a strong background in Indian music, which is particularly evident in “Stone Soup,” even if it veers a bit close to pop-ness. (B. C. Manjunath plays the mredangam, and Srihari plays kanjeera and gatham – look them up). I kept thinking while listening to this of Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, a wonderful video by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson (go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1UpHUN2PEM) in which the performers – an obscure rock band from some bleak town in northern Europe – break into a tatty bourgeois apartment, and play all sorts of retro household appliances, creating a distinct sound for each room, unique and precise. Tools is also packed with discreet acoustic rooms, some more resonant than others, but all proving that, when operating heavy machinery, subtlety pays off.-GL

George Antheil
Also on this recording is one of the best performances to date of the Jazz Sonata for solo piano, probably the best reason to buy this disc. Markus Becker is the pianist, hitting all the right moods in this miniature (one and a half minute) virtuoso work, which suggests that Antheil attention deficit disorder, or maybe something harder to diagnose (some themes last less than one second). Meanwhile, the concertos, which are complex works, and not entirely polished by the composer (why did he never get around to editing them? was he just too impatient?), are played with accuracy and precision by the NDR Radiophilharmonie, conducted by Eiji Oue. Both are highly eccentric works: one is the result of Antheil’s early experiments in symphonic writing, and contains lots of overblown attempts at grandeur. But, and this is the funky part, it also contains flashes of genius, and is a highly entertaining work. The performers sweat, but the audience gets the full glory of a brilliantly loud and cacophonous orchestra. Nutsy fun. Still, the best recording (and the only other one) to date of this piece is by Michael Rische, on the Arte Nova label. Indeed, the concerto wouldn't exist if Rische hadn't put years of effort into copying and editing the parts, which had been lost. Meanwhile the Second Concerto is eccentric in a completely different way: more angular, sure, and hard-edged; it’s also an experiment, but this time with a neo-classical twist that owes a certain debt to Stravinsky. But I'd say that Antheil goes beyond Stravinsky into his own particular world, and creates a rarefied, dry-as-a-bone atmosphere, just like his later series of miniatures, La Femme 100 Têtes. In the end, the concertos are well-worth reviving, especially for their reflection on the evolution of the 1920’s avant-garde, from the wacky experiments of the early twenties which looked towards ragtime for inspiration; to the more conservative attempts of the late twenties (always following Stravinsky's lead) which looked towards Bach, Purcell, and Pergolesi as masters to be imitated and quoted. Same decade, different takes on the world. The quality of the recording is good, and the NDR Radiophilharmonie sounds reasonably full and well-rehearsed.-JB


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Francisco López
Blossoming Noise
In Francisco López 's projects one can clearly perceive a scientific method of sound generation, each successive album an intriguing research document exploring areas as diverse as field recording, seismology and silence. The 2CD set Absolute Noise Ensemble brings together five live tracks and a studio suite, all based on López's encounters with a group of fellow sound artists (a partial list includes Masami Akita, Oren Ambarchi, Koji Asano, Joe Colley, Amy Denio, Ferran Fages, Bernhard Günter, John Hudak, Ilios, Lasse Marhaug, Daniel Menche and Ralf Wehowsky..) performing in various combinations. The first disc, "Untitled Sonic Metaorganisms", starts out with consistently overcharged intensity, interacting immeasurable forces felt in rough spots of incendiary power. Distortion and noise appear to be winning the battle until they're swallowed up in a whole world of subversive quietness enriched with ultrasonic ambiguity. The tracks follow each other without a break forming a single composition, as is "Untitled Sonic Microorganisms" on disc 2, a magnificent aura of "processed, treated and manipulated guitars" recorded between 1992 and 2003 in various parts of the world. Those familiar with López's Belle Confusion 0247 (with Michael Northam, also present here) will recognise the evolutionary processes at work. There's no recognizable guitar sound, only combined reverberations of rumbling and scraping textures on the edge of breathtaking lunar darkness, only rarely interrupted by sudden rises of the sound pressure level. Majestic and mature.–MR

Daniel Menche
Tantric Harmonies
For sheer ferocity, I can't think of another sound artist who compares to Daniel Menche. His intense, thick fury has become a trademark in today's "educated noise" world. Even at low volume his harsh textures constitute an act of aggression; turn the wick up and it's nothing short of rape. Embrace this vision and you're in for some serious stimulation of the most hideous parts of the self. Concussions is a double CD entirely constructed upon primal percussive patterns which start out pretty comprehensible but soon begin a complex game of superimpositions, weaving themselves into a burning tapestry of inhuman shamanism that bypasses the brain and acts directly on the nervous system. It's peculiarly harmonious, though: think of Concussions as Daniel Menche's Drumming. Meanwhile, Wings Of Fire comes in an elegantly packaged 555-copy limited edition, and is certainly one of the Portland noisemonger's most violently addictive, truly entrancing albums to date. In addition to the percussive challenge – think Carnival in Rio heard from within a nuclear reactor core – the drones are stronger and even more dramatic. The sound of last thoughts crossing the minds of passengers aboard a plane about to crash.–MR

Lukasz Ciszak
Time for more people to get acquainted with Polish composer Lukasz Ciszak who, besides running the SQRT label, home to several obscure yet worthy artists, produces a distinguished blend of low-budget acousmatics integrating diverse influences in perplexing amalgams of striking musical intelligence. Ciszak's creations escape the universe of "definition at every cost"; he develops a series of interchangeable foggy scenarios which, at a first listen, could be associated with the post-Industrial canon (Cranioclast, Werkbund, early :zoviet*france: and Asmus Tietchens..). But in the almost 50 minutes of Auxin there's much more. "Portrait Of An Unidentified Couple" starts with an oblique intersection of electric guitar and piano that introduces a sequence of reflections for drones, feedback and slow pulses. This wacky East-European minimalism also characterizes "We Cure Any Desease (sic)/Protect Your Intimacy", whose obnoxious sensation of going nowhere is enhanced by an almost oppressive use of cyclic noises and power plant background whirr reciprocated by (apparently) more natural manifestations and oddly tuned Partch-like clangs. In full resonance with the paradoxical harmony of a disfigured emotion, it's a gorgeous piece, as is "This Is Chemical Burn", the final and coldest place on the album, all bodiless melodies and penetrating frequencies. Serious stuff.–MR

Alan Courtis
If I gathered together all the CDs and CDRs in this apartment that I've described or seen described using the word "drone", I could at a pinch build myself a scale model of Stonehenge about as big as the one in This Is Spinal Tap. (PT's Massimo Ricci could probably build one life size..) From the carefully calibrated frequencies of Young and Niblock to the ragged stoner metal of sunn0))), from the po-faced EAI from Amann Studios in Vienna to the torpid psychedelia of Jackie O' Motherfucker, it seems drones are everywhere. In the "slow burning electronica" subphylum, some of the best releases in recent times have appeared on Rob Forman's splendid Sedimental imprint (Brendan Murray's Resting Places, Giuseppe Ielasi's Plans, Seth Cluett's My Own Thousand Shatterings), and the label has come up trumps again with these four palaeolithic dolmens courtesy the insanely active – some might say actively insane – Alan Courtis, best known in these pages as one of the two bearded weirdos behind the infamous Reynols project. Since Reynols disbanded – or "dematerialised", like their first album Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada – Courtis has revealed himself to be much more than a pretty poncho (though he always was: just wait until you hear the compilation of his early electronic works due out soon on Pogus). Anyway, back to Stonehenge, or its Argentine equivalent. These four tracks are splendid examples of Courtis' craft: as fresh and intuitive as his guitar and violin playing, they're rich and complex without ever being finicky and laboured, instantly engaging yet tantalizingly dense and elusive, and as beautiful, mysterious and remote as the stones that have inspired them. It's not all "drone", either (whatever that means): in Part III there's even some glorious Birdsong of the Palaeolithic, to coin a phrase. Courtis' best outing since the mindblowing North and South Neutrino with Lasse Marhaug on Antifrost.–DW

Origami Replika
Merzbow In The Hands Of Origami Replika
I often wonder what kind of people have a large collection of noise albums. Well, not so much what kind of people (because I know quite a few myself) as where the hell they live. One thing that extreme noise terror and ultra-minimal lowercase improv have in common – there are several, actually – is that it's almost impossible to find the right listening environment to appreciate them. Assuming, that is, you live in a building with other members of the human race. Either they make too much noise for you to appreciate the latest Radu Malfatti album (it doesn't take much, either – flushing a toilet is enough to break your concentration), or you drive them round the bend yourself when you choose to spin that Merzbow. Maybe that's why I only have 13 Merzbow albums in my collection, and, sadly, none of the early cassette releases that have been so devastatingly remixed in this splendid offering from Origami Replika, aka Tore Bøe, Lasse Marhaug and Mads Staff Jensen. So I'm afraid I can't comment on the ahem finer points of the Norwegian gentlemen's mixing technique. All I know is that it sounds fucking terrific, though I'm not sure how many times I'll be able to play it before one of the long suffering bastards who lives above, below or opposite me follows the lead of that other great Norwegian cultural icon Varg Vikernes and burns my bloody place down (OK OK so it was churches he set fire to, but I like to think of my front room as something of a shrine anyway.. you get the point). Anyway, my pal Eric Cordier, who knows about these things, once told me that the greatest country in the world for noise music apart from France (who the hell was he thinking of?) was Norway. As I'm still trying to scrape the dried blood from inside my earphones from the last time I listened to The Nordic Miracle I'll happily take his word for it. Meanwhile, Kommerz kicks butt.–DW

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David Brown / David Wadelton
Dr Jim's
"Thanks to John Barry, Dennis Wilson, Byron Haskin, Jack Nietzsche, Sergio Mendez, Can, Godzilla, Raymond Burr, Goblin, Booker T. & the MGs, S. Torossi, Gert Wilden, Georges Garvarentz, Piero Piccioni, Soledad Miranda, Moulinex, Goblin, Carl Stalling, Brinke Stevens, Tom Graeff and Neu!" it says in the booklet, as well as informing us that David Wadelton handles guitar, theremin, synth, vocal, samples, field recordings and structure and David Brown guitar, bass, samples, treatments, re-structuring and production. With all those crime / horror movie stars and soundtrack composers namechecked, plus liners by that doyen of OST connoisseurs, Philip Brophy, it's not surprising that Morpho is a prime example of cinema for the ear. David Brown describes the project as an "affectionate tribute to European/South American soundtrack reinterpretations of USA, funk, Blaxploitation and porn music where they don’t quite get it, but, in the process, invent some sort of bizarre musical world of their own." (Morpho is the name of a minor character in Jesus Franco's Vampyros Lesbos, and Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab's soundtrack to the 1971 erotic cult horror movie is also briefly quoted.) Both Brown and Wadelton "grew up with transistor radios glued to ears," went to art school together in the mid 70s, and subsequently ended up with Chris Knowles and Philip Thomson in a post punk art music band in Melbourne called Signals, whose musical influences Brown lists as "No Wave, early Cabaret Voltaire and Krautrock." For the Morpho project, Wadelton was persuaded to come out of retirement ("he won’t do any live playing so it’s totally a studio project," says Brown), but those who've followed his post-Signals career as a painter of "cyber surreal Pop Art" might like to invest in one of the signed and numbered 30x30cm original prints that accompany the first 50 copies. Musically speaking, Wadelton is responsible for the basic rhythms and most of the rhythm guitar, and, Brown admits, "the occasional weird guitar solo. The more 'rock' guitar solos, distorted bass and ethnic sort of sounding bits are additions of mine." Those expecting a sequel to Apsomeophone, Brown's splendidly gritty reworking of musique concrète classics under the Candlesnuffer moniker, might be a little surprised at the accessibility of it all, but as certain journalists (myself included) are fond of reminding us at every available opportunity, Brown was briefly a member of AC/DC, and he knows how to rock out. But none of these twelve all-too-brief tracks sounds much like Malcolm and Angus Young. Jowe Head and Steve Hanley, more like. Plus all the above-mentioned musicians and composers, and a tasty collection of weird soundbites, all painful orgasms, approaching Martians and even, apparently, a woman playing piano with her breasts ("Wow - Those babies are out!") from a decidedly politically incorrect New York AM radio show. Make no mistake: if this one had appeared on Tzadik as one of Zorn's Filmworks projects, you'd have heard about it by now (hmm, I seem to recall writing that sentence somewhere before..). The closing "Burning Rubber and Cheap Perfume" is as good as anything JZ's put his name to since Naked City. The fact that, to quote Dave Lang's review of the disc over at his blog, Morpho is "on a fairly low-key label from ol' Melbourne town" means it could all too easily slip off your radar. Just you make sure it doesn't.–DW

Hans Grusel's Krankenkabinet
Do you believe everything you read on the Internet? I probably shouldn't, but unfortunately I often do. Try this biography for size: "Born in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region of Northeast Germany, Hansel Urnst Grüsel graduated from Berlin Polytechnic then escaped to the West inside of a cider keg, where he began an arts collective Fleischwagen Für Größere Gesamtkunstwerk (FWFGGKW) with, amongst others, the Schenker brothers of the soon-to-become hard rock group Scorpions. The collective attempted to build a 50-foot guitar which, in performance, was an utter failure. The Schenkers and Hans, at aesthetic odds, split ways: the brothers to pursue rock stardom; Grüsel retreating to East Germany to continue his pursuit of Fleischwagen Für Größere Gesamtkunstwerk via the live electronic medium. Grüsel vanished behind the Berlin Wall were he founded the electronic music studio CCCEMA. During this time he received mention in the Cream Magazine article 'Who Were They, and Where Are They Now' naming Hans Grüsel as 'the Vincent Price of the unknown East German avant-garde.' This interval has come to be known as the 'Totenbett/Ruhebett' period. After the reunification of Germany, Grüsel slowly made his way back to the West. In 2000 he immigrated [sic] to San Francisco where he was engaged by the "High Speed, NASA-D, Electronics and Cardboard" scene stewarded by such groups as Phone Ix ,Cunch D'Nicer, Rubber-O-Cement, and Muscle Spurs and the Skull Capture Rigs . People have compared him to a cross between 'a frowning wood-man squatting polka grunt-gorrilla [sic, again] wrestling organs or Muzak with Morton Subotnick's Silver Apples of the Moon on the mantle behind a cuckoo clock store in the woods' and 'a positive boost for Euro noise with more know-how and trouble-shooting than the average Dieterman.' Grüsel is quoted as saying: 'As Bowie found the Drum-and-Bass artist for inspiration [sic – and three "sic"s make a "sick"] in the 90s, I have found inspiration in these Americans with their cardboard and high speed electronics."
Needless to say, I don't buy that bit about the cider keg, and all subsequent Google searches for FWFGGKW, CCCEMA and all of the above bands with the exception of Rubber O Cement just lead right back to Herr Grusel's own homepage, or to the oft-cited promo blurb courtesy of CIP's own Blake Edwards, himself no mean scribbler ("Hans Grusel's 'sound' might be best described as the sounds you would hear from a Bavarian music box designed by an artist who had been bonked on the head with a brass cuckoo clock chime and then left in a dark room for three years with only the music of Scriabin, Wagner, and Prokofiev mixed with off-speed Throbbing Gristle and sci fi soundtracks from the 60s pumping through the air vents"), but what the hell – it's a great story, n'est-ce pas? And the music's a riot too, the album falling into three sections, "Happy", "As" and "Pitch" (logically enough), each of whose movements follow each other without a break. If you don't like insects steer clear of the "Common Housefly Symphony", and if you like music make sure you avoid "Tea Für Two" – yes, it is the song you're thinking of, but even in your wildest dreams you couldn't have imagined a version as weirdly hideous as this. The four pieces that make up "As", scored for four synthesizer players, three of whom are on Moogs, are denser but more rewarding affairs. "Pitch" opens with the inimitable wail of a Waisvisz Cracklebox, and the ensuing "Unter Wasser Varriation Two Master Hands (Scene 3)" also features some other Bay Area luminaries including Matt Ingalls on clarinet and Thomas Day on trumpet. And as I know they exist, I'll happily assume Hans does too, but maybe as a band rather than an individual, if you know what I mean. The music on the album certainly exists, as it's been driving my family crazy for the past three days. May it soon drive you round the bend too.

Travis Just / Kara Feely
This CDR contains no fewer than 260 minutes of sound, in the form of four mp3 files. There are two 50-minute versions of "L-shaped, not more than 7 feet high", originally an installation conceived by Travis Just and Kara Feely at Berlin's Podewil consisting of five interviews in which Avi Glickstein, Vanessa McDonnell, Jeremy Woodruff, Frank Eickhoff and Susan Matsché describe specific rooms they remember from their past. The recordings contain strategic silences and are played back simultaneously with a mix of five recordings made in Just's living room in Brooklyn. On "No title: piano and piano" Just plays along with Glenn Gould's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations (variation 25), slowed down to last eighty minutes and passed through various filters. There's not much left except an eerie snake-like hiss. "No title: piano and piano" is a performance of the same piece this time featuring two live pianists, Just and Brian Harnetty, on "two old uprights" – damn right there – in a very lo-fi recording of a concert performance in Kenyon College Ohio in 2004. Though there's a certain Cagean austerity to the piano works which is quite attractive late at night – burn yourself a real CDR and try it on a normal stereo system – the novelty of the Podewil installation soon wears off. Though perhaps we're meant to listen to it just as background noise, which is after all what it is, for the most part.–DW

The Beige Channel
Happy New Year
Michael V. Farley recorded his 17-month-old adopted daughter (whose original name Qiu Yu Yuan translates as the album title) plunking about on the family piano and reconfigured the results into this set of strange, haunting pieces. Like my reclusive hill-dwelling Italian pals Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli, aka Tu m', Farley has a real knack for finding just the right snippet of sound and using it to create a whole network of cross connections. Can you imagine a Thelonious Monk recording of Cage's Sonatas and Interludes remixed by Matmos (without the rhinoplasty and dripping semen, thanks very much)? No, neither can I, but this occasionally comes close. Intriguing stuff – if a little on the long side: six tracks would have been just fine – but well worth checking out, as is Farley's site http://www.thebeigechannel.com/ where you'll also find plenty of information, mp3s and enough links to keep you busy until autumn rains in the yard.–DW

Ed Chang / Han Degc
This is one for 3am when the upstairs neighbours' party has degenerated to the point of mass pogoing to the strains of "Little Red Corvette" (don't titter – this actually happened). Nois und Stringe indeed, it sounds like Olaf Rupp jamming along with what could either be Kevin Drumm on a very bad day or a field recording of a nuclear weapons test. Amazingly, Han Degc's acoustic guitar manages to survive the assaults of the Noise Machine remarkably well, but it remains a spectacularly dangerous combination of instruments, and Chang's not in the business of making any concessions to his playing partner, even in the final track (dedicated to the memory of Hugh Davies), which negotiates a kind of tense ceasefire. Listening to the album all the way through is rather like hanging out at the scene of a car crash out of sheer morbid curiosity waiting to see if anyone got killed. Of course, if you play this at cow-rending volume in the wee small hours, it's you the pigs will haul down the station, not the bastards upstairs partying like it's 1999.–DW

Rules, as they say, were meant to be broken. After moaning at journalists who simply quote huge chunks of press releases, online bios and liner notes, here I am doing the same thing myself (here and in the Hans Grusel piece.. see elsewhere). Well, it's one of those do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do kind of situations. Here we go (and this time it's warts and all – I'm not going to bother writing "sic" all the time): "On the 20th of January 2006 Yiorgis Sakellariou, during his visit at the dentist, suddenly fainted. He was consequently carried to the hospital where he was subjected to a series of medical examinations, among them was, the 'holder'. This examination consists of a device, which attaches to the body and registers the heart and body rhythms during a period of 24 hours, the heart rhythms are registered on a traditional audio tape, recording in very low speed... Yiorgis Sakellariou exited the hospital, taking along with his apparently healthy self, the 'holder' tape. When he was back home, he put it in the tape recorder and pressed the play button..." The first track on the CD is the original and unedited "holder" tape, while the shorter second track uses edited samples of it. Needless to say, track two is much more interesting to listen to than track one. Unless you happen to subscribe to Cage's idea ("now let life obscure the difference between life and art" or whatever the quote was.. and I don't believe for a minute that Cage subscribed to it either because he went on composing all his life). Those people for whom the sensory experiences of everyday life are more interesting than or at least as worthwhile as works of art – this applies to visual as well as sound art – must be a happy bunch; just think of it: no need to invest huge amounts of time and money in recording your own albums or making your own films, or even buying a copy of other people's music or cinema, because real life is, well, better. Well, if it was, I doubt Yiorgis would have gone to the trouble of remixing his own heartbeat. Good job he did too, because the sounds on track two are far more exciting, carefully sequenced and satisfying (like his From A Piner album on echOmusic). And while I'm delighted to learn that he was diagnosed healthy and discharged from hospital, I can't help wondering what "holder" might have sounded like if he'd been subjected to electroshock therapy or attacked by an axe-wielding homicidal maniac or shot by a performance artist (John Duncan – how about a holiday in Greece next year, eh?) or savaged by a rabid pit bull terrier or mainlined with adrenalin like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction or.. well, the possibilities are endless. Just outlining some possible career moves for ya, Yiorgis, old pal. Keep up the good work.–DW

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