AUGUST News 2006 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Nick Rice, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

Between the Notes: Tristan Murail
Reissued: Robert Fripp
The Topography of the Lungs
On Die Stadt:
Aidan Baker / Asmus Tietchens / CM von Hausswolf / Fovea Hex
nmperign / Jason Lescalleet
Harry Miller's Isipingo / Eneidi, Kowald, Smith, Spirit / The Mentones / Aaron Moore / GOD
Alfred Harth / Bruce Russell / Wright, Djll, Rainey, Feeney / Hans Tammen & Christoph Irmer / Spiderwebs
Ben Johnston / Pioneers of Electronic Music
Maurizio Bianchi / Jorge Haro / Ronnie Sundin / Sudden Infant / M. Holterbach
Last month


To tell the truth, I wasn't planning on an August issue of PT this year. A holiday – no email! no website! – seemed more interesting, and I wasn't sure I'd have enough material ready before I left. But thanks to our roving correspondents, especially Nick Rice, who's come up trumps this month with a full length piece on Tristan Murail and an interview with New York music journalist John Rockwell, there's at least a little something for you to read on the beach if you haven't had your summer holiday yet. Or vacation, if that's what they call it where you are, he said, in recognition of the fact that well over half of the people who visit this site are on JR's side of the pond. Personally, I rather doubt Mr Rockwell's stories will mean very much to anyone not familiar with the Who's Who and the Ins and Outs of New York classical music scene (that certainly doesn't include me), but as Paris Transatlantic often been accused of being a specialist "improv only" magazine – foutaises! – I thought it was about time we redressed the balance. OK, one of our featured reissues is the long unavailable Topography Of The Lungs, the first ever release on the mythic Incus label, which has now, it seems, become an Evan Parker album – though my old vinyl copy credits it jointly to Parker, Derek Bailey and Han Bennink – but Robert Fripp's Exposure certainly isn't what you'd call free improv. And even the Improv section below features some names not normally associated with the genre, including Volcano The Bear's Aaron Moore and Charlambides' Tom Carter. All in all, I think there's a wide range of stuff on offer, from Harry Miller to Sudden Infant. I hope you find something to enjoy. Bonnes vacances. - DW

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Between the Notes
A profile of Tristan Murail
The quiet French composer and computer music pioneer Tristan Murail has a large house on Long Island in the hills overlooking Woodbury Common, a shopping mall designed like a small village or theme park that has become one of the most famous of its kind near New York. The mall and the house are almost total opposites. One is preoccupied with the public dissemination of commodities, the other with the transmission of a deeply private aesthetic to a far smaller but equally passionate audience. One offers bargains, the maximum for the minimum; the other offers intensities, demanding attention and effort. Murail, 59, is calmly seated on a white rug as plain as the T-shirt he is wearing, which is draped over a plain wooden couch in the house’s main studio. It is clear that today he is not focusing on pop culture, nor, by his own admission, does he often engage with its music, which he softly dismisses as “these little things that have to be formatted for TV clips”. Instead, his silvery forelocks falling over his large glasses, he is taking a break from his duties as professor of composition at Columbia University to watch two of his doctoral composition students edit their commercial recording of one of his scintillating 1970s landmarks, Éthers. The students are working at a mixing deck that is sandwiched between the couch and a pile of black cases and cardboard boxes. The studio was an expensive extension to the second floor of the house, and not all of its accessories have been shelved or unpacked. It is the first and only house that Murail and his wife have bought in the U.S.; they own another in the south of France, near Avignon. The sounds that are coming from the mixing deck at first remind the listener of a more southerly, but definitely American, environment. Maracas keep shaking like the hissing of rattlesnakes; high strings glisten as piercingly as the sun, then flow through the middle register like hot sand in a desert; flutes wobble in and out like a mirage. A desperate chorale bursts out in the middle, almost like a traveller staggering for water, but soon it subsides and the piece meanders into silence. On a winter’s Sunday like today, the music suggests different images. The rattlesnakes transform into chattering teeth; the piercing sun is chilled by the clouds; the desert darkens into earth and bare trees; and the flutes, far from conjuring a dazzling mirage, wheeze and cough like the dull greys on the broad lake which Murail can watch from his wooden studio balcony.
Murail’s music represents nature so vividly that one might mistake him for a film composer, or one of the musicians who accompany wildlife clips on television with the type of piece that interests him so little. The distinction is that this explorer in sound, described by one of his other students as a “composer’s composer”, treats music not as a side dish to a visual or lyrical main course, but as a feast in itself, with infinite flavours and odours. In order to approach this infinity, Murail has made it his task to investigate the inner processes of music: not just the crudities of notes on a page, but the numberless ways in which they can resonate in performance. He sees a black dot in a score not as many musicians do, as an instruction for a note should be held for a particular period, but as an indication for a movement to be made on an instrument, producing a particular series of vibrations that reverberate and escape into space. In practice, these vibrations do not conform to a single note, although the score usually indicates otherwise. They do produce a primary note, or pitch, but they also produce countless secondary pitches, or harmonics. Murail’s task is to exploit not only the primary pitch, but also the full spectrum of secondary pitches, which has given his approach to composition an international label: spectralism.
Spectralism came of age in the Paris of the 1970s, when many composers fled the dominant atonal aesthetic of the period. Like abstract art, atonality had emerged in central Europe in around 1910, when the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg and the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky broke with the tonal, representational dictates that had controlled music and visual art in Europe for two and a half centuries. Schoenberg’s early atonal pieces abandoned the traditional major and minor keys, and even scales that were more rarely used in Europe at the time, such as the seven-note medieval modes derived from sequences of white notes on the piano and the exotic eight-note modes invented by Murail’s teacher, the late Olivier Messiaen.
While Schoenberg proclaimed that atonality would lead to a new hegemony for Germanic music, Messiaen was one of a band of young French composers who pleaded for a more colourful musical language. Schoenberg’s authoritarian serial system, for instance, demanded that music should consist of groups of 12 notes that cannot be repeated within the group’s duration, preventing composers from leaning towards a particular scale. In Messiaen’s more diverse modes, by contrast, notes can be repeated endlessly. Comparing Messiaen’s work to Schoenberg’s strictest serial output is in fact rather like comparing the religious extravaganzas of Dalí to the Neo-Plasticist works of Mondrian, which feature nothing but lines and squares against a plain white background.
In 1953, Schoenberg was dead and Messiaen turned 45. Provocatively, some of Messiaen’s most important post-war pupils had started taking a leaf out of Schoenberg’s book. In particular, the 28-year-old French wunderkind Pierre Boulez and his 25-year-old colleague Karlheinz Stockhausen were developing an aesthetic known as total serialism, which demanded that Schoenberg’s laws about groups of musical indications apply not only to notes, but also to rhythms, volumes and timbres. They did not always apply the approach with absolute rigor, but its impact on their work was as seductively alienating as the philosophies of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. With support from aesthetic theorists such as Theodor Adorno, the apostle of high modernism, their compositions were to become as chic among the European avant-garde as Abstract Expressionism had become in the U.S.
By the time Murail began his studies with Messiaen in Paris during the late 1960’s, other new techniques had gained publicity in France. One of them was the composition of random sound, which attracted greater attention after John Cage introduced it exhaustively in his European tours with pianist David Tudor. A prominent and, to Murail’s ears, superior alternative was a fragmented movement from Eastern Europe that is commonly described as texturalism. In reality, texturalism dealt not only with texture, but also with liberating music from all absolute strictures, serial, tonal, random, or otherwise. Perhaps the most revealing literary equivalent was the Theatre of the Absurd, which some of the leading texturalists tried to recreate through opera. The three most prominent figures within the movement – the Hungarian composer György Ligeti, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and a Greek pupil of Messiaen’s, Iannis Xenakis – were total individualists who bore no allegiance to any international “school”. All were contemporaries of Boulez and Stockhausen and were therefore about 20 years older than Murail, who was born in 1947.
Murail identified with the texturalists’ new direction. A student of politics and economics as well as of music, he felt the serialist establishment in France at the time was as constricting as the country’s Gaullist government and saw that his teacher was as musically oppressed as himself. “Boulez was not in France at the time, but in a way that was worse, because there was a court around him, and courtesans, as we say in French, are more royalist than the king. Even Messiaen was influenced by that. He was frightened not to be modern enough, so he wanted his students to be very advanced.” As a consequence, Messiaen introduced Murail to his own version of the serialists’ mathematical rigor, including systems that generated permutations and combinations of rhythm. Murail remarked on Messiaen’s later attitude to his pre-50s work: “He was a little bit ashamed of pieces like the Turangalîla-Symphonie, these pieces that are played all over the world, but he never spoke about that. He would rather speak about permutations, or combinatorial rules, but not about his older style.” As pupils such as Luc Ferrari attested, Messiaen felt freer in his earlier classes to discuss the personal inspirations for his compositions, among them his Catholicism and his obsession with birdsong. In particular, his treatment of nature had a huge impact on Murail, as early as the piano piece Comme un oeil suspendu et poli par le songe…, which he wrote as a student in 1967. The title, which means “Like an eye suspended and polished by dream…”, sounds more like the name of a delicate Surrealist canvas than of a rip-roaring Abstract Expressionist action painting. At the time, Messiaen and Murail were searching for a way back to representing concrete images in music, albeit through techniques that were considered outmoded.
In the later 1950’s and early 1960’s, the texturalists led the way in updating this perspective on nature by linking it to contemporary scientific developments. Penderecki portrayed the agonies of the atomic age in his burning string requiem Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima; Ligeti, interested in science from an early age, used microanalysis to layer the barely perceptible tissues of his ghostly masterpiece Atmosphères; and Xenakis, an architectural assistant of Le Corbusier’s who claimed responsibility for the design of the Philips Pavilion, converted some of its audacious curves into the austere violin glides of Metastasis. Murail’s idea of music as a series of formal processes or, in his own words, as “the architecture of time”, must have found a kindred spirit in Xenakis, who believed he composed to illustrate the processes of nature.
How to order the notes that result from these structures, or rather the resonances in between, is a constant point of contention at Murail’s Long Island studio. The students sitting in black leather designer chairs at his mixing desk, for instance, are trying hard to correct the tiniest flickers in their performance. But they have still not edited as fully as they would like, although they admit that it was recorded over two years ago. They have yet even to come on to the issue of whether it should be formatted in Surround Sound; that, they say, is up to the producers at their record label, AEON. In a dash downstairs for coffee, the conductor, Michel Galante (photo, left, with Murail), explains that he was ill last summer when they were offered an excellent studio in Marseilles, and that their schedules would not permit them more time to work on it. Tall, well-built, with a shock of black hair, he is a large, friendly presence in this frustrating process, which forces him to close his eyes more than once in an effort to block out everything except an offending glitch in a take. His smaller, brown-haired electro-acoustics specialist, Michael Klingbeil, jokes more than he does about the problems of mixing effects as refined as this. But when Murail makes another suggestion he too is forced to stare through his strong glasses at the computer screen in front of him and spend up to half an hour implementing it, sometimes without much initial progress. One maddening difficulty that is swallowing over 20 minutes of the session is a messy maraca fade-out at the end of the piece. The volume controls have to be adjusted endlessly. The little mountain ranges on the screen in front of Klingbeil, which show the progress of the individual instruments through time, have to be scrutinized to ensure that they end in the right place; little tags have be added to the corners of the boxes around the mountains because otherwise the sound is unlikely to fade smoothly enough. Before the problem can be resolved, the sun is already beginning to set.
Aside from the equipment needed for recording purposes, the studio is uncharacteristically disordered. A score of Éthers with wavy notation sits open on a stand beside the computer, but much of the sheet music is lying on the silvery-blue carpet. The most elegant items in the room are positioned near the balcony, where Murail’s Pleyel piano crouches near a pair of electric double keyboards and a series of black sound decks with a printer on the back. A clear glass sideboard curls around a brown pinstripe chair behind one of the keyboards, while another one embraces a small bar with a sink. Next to it a model of the three-headed Indian elephant god Ganesh gazes at anyone who comes to drink or wash up.
Like Messiaen, who frequently incorporated Indian rhythms into his music, Murail is fascinated by non-European cultures, and he has collected artefacts from his trips to various unusual destinations. One of them is Java. As you pass his 11-year-old daughter Doriane’s bedroom and descend the stairs to the main room on the ground floor, you see Javanese shadow theatre marionettes hanging on the walls, illuminated by a huge, cathedral-like window over the front door at the end of the staircase. Beyond a baby grand piano and a Christmas tree, the main room opens out into a view of the lake, with a simple kitchen behind it leading back to the study of Murail’s wife, Françoise, which is neater but full of electrical equipment. Madame Murail plays various electric instruments professionally and has directed ear training at Columbia University’s music department since her husband’s arrival. In fact, it was Murail who in the early 1970s introduced his wife to the Ensemble Itinéraire, the group that later in the decade was one of the first to première fully-fledged spectralist works. Like New York’s Argento Ensemble, which Galante founded and which made the recording of Éthers in question, Itinéraire was a crack band of contemporary music enthusiasts that promoted the music of Murail and his fellow spectralists-to-be, Gérard Grisey and Hugues Dufourt.
By the mid-1970s, Murail had discovered that he was fascinated not only by the scientific analysis of the full spectrum and perception of harmonic sound, but also inspired by the technologies, including computers, which enabled the full spectrum of sound to be analyzed and reproduced. These technologies transformed the isolated achievements of the texturalists into the systematic exploration of resonance now known as spectralism. For instance, in Mémoire/Érosion, one of the pieces that announced Murail’s breakthrough a few years before Éthers, a horn triumphantly announces a single note, which is passed like a rumour around the string section and fed back into the horn part, creating a re-injection loop. A re-injection loop occurs when tape A plays a sound that is recorded along with any other background noise by tape B, which plays it back to be recorded along with any other background noise by tape A, causing the original sound to deteriorate. At first, explained Murail, the serialists branded such compositions as scale-oriented and reactionary. But soon it became clear that their exploitation of spectra allowed for infinite flexibility in harmonic development, whereas serialism, with its straitjacketing rules, produced far more static results.
Murail soon followed Mémoire/Érosion with longer pieces, such as Territoires d’oubli for solo piano, a virtuoso battering ram that resembles a sea in a tropical storm. In the trembling figures of the opening, the listener can hear birds wailing as the first turbulent waves swirl and crash into the beach. Then for 25 minutes the pianist’s assaults on the keyboard are submerged in an ocean of sustained resonances that evoke a drowned paradise. Oliver Schneller, a former pupil of Murail’s at Columbia who lives in Berlin, recalls how Éthers and the oceanic Territoires d’oubli helped spark his interest in Murail’s output. “There’s more experience of this music in Europe than in the States, and perhaps more good will,” he observes. “He’s not a very pushy fellow, he doesn’t really go around telling people how great spectral music is.” As Schneller admits, Murail also shuns academic norms, failing to encourage his students to study traditional harmony and counterpoint to an extent that would even baffle some of his avant-garde colleagues. At the heart of this is Murail’s abhorrence of repetitiveness, to which he readily confesses. “It is hard for a creative artist not to repeat himself sometimes. I really try not to, though in fact it’s not completely possible. In the case of Messiaen, in the last pieces, it was like imitations of things he’d done in the past that he’d put together from different periods, starting with this opera [St. François d’Assise], where you have little bits of Turangalîla-like music. It’s a great piece, but…” As a result, he explains, he has no interest in the minimalism of Philip Glass or Steve Reich, or in jazz and other forms of improvisation. “I think most of the time it’s just organizing clichés that you’ve learned. Once I listened to Messiaen improvising an entire concert, but he was pastiching himself. What else could he do!”
Murail’s very particular tastes sometimes cause disagreements with his students, as everyone concerned is quick to point out. Schneller opines that he is likely to respond from a spectral point of view, but that this in no way invalidates the strength of his arguments. “He does have a certain charisma. People are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if they do not initially agree with him.” A major part of this respect stems from Murail’s erudition, which is not only confined to Western music. When Schneller first came to his class in 1998, he remembers bringing along a traditional Japanese song he was having difficulties in transcribing. Murail apparently recognized the melody and arrived at the next session with a full transcription in hand.
Perhaps the chief reason he is regarded with such veneration is his place in the history of music technology, which was fully secure by the time he moved to the U.S. to teach at Columbia. Murail helped oversee the transition between an age where computer music was created on huge machines in a studio to a more accessible period where music could be created and analyzed efficiently on a laptop. In order to achieve this, he had to perform extensive consultations in an institution that has been run since its inception by France’s senior serialist, Boulez. The Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musicale, or IRCAM, as it is generally known, was founded in 1969 by Georges Pompidou and established its residence in the Place Stravinsky, which is situated on one of the corners of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Since then, many of the world’s major composers have come to work at it or have been hired by its administrators as research consultants. Working with composers like Murail at IRCAM has helped to soften Boulez ideologically, so to speak. Murail respects Boulez, but he is not entirely convinced by Boulez’s work with computers, which he maintains is unsuited to Boulez’s Schoenbergian harmonic language. In fact, Murail’s investigations into harmonics and computer music, where pitches are not limited to Schoenberg’s twelve notes, but can cover an infinite array of frequencies, helped undermine Boulez’s influence over the course of the 1980s. Texturalists like Ligeti discussed spectral harmony with Murail and later incorporated it into their own work. As a consultant composer, Murail co-developed user-friendly computer programs, like PatchWork (the image above is one of his patches) and later OpenMusic, which helped the most sophisticated and subtle techniques reach the widest possible audience.
By the early 90s, even U.S. students were detecting his influence. Joshua Cody, now a doctoral student of Murail’s at Columbia and artistic director and conductor of the contemporary music group Ensemble Sospeso, took a year out from his undergraduate degree at Northwestern University in the early 1990s to live in Paris, where he says he took lessons with Murail because, like Messiaen before him, Murail was renowned as the city’s best teacher of composition. Thanks partly to his courses in computer music at IRCAM, Murail’s list of students reads like half a Who’s Who of the younger generation of contemporary musicians. Whereas Messiaen’s pupils included such luminaries as Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen, Xenakis and Ligeti’s Hungarian friend and equal György Kurtág, Murail’s encompass the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, as well as Austrian whizzkid Olga Neuwirth and some of the French post-spectralists, especially Marc-André Dalbavie.
The waning of Paris as the major trendsetter of Western culture has inevitably shifted attention from the city’s conservatories, and Murail’s move to New York may allow him to reach out to a different kind of talent. Cody observes that although Murail has strong tastes, he does not react dogmatically to his pupils’ artistic choices. Murail once recalled telling a student who brought him a minimalist composition to make it even more minimal, partly in order to enhance its dramatic effect but partly because he reportedly refuses to impose own anti-minimalist tastes on what he perceives to be the logic of someone else’s work. The opposition to Murail’s move to the U.S. is less likely to come from students than from academics. Battles between various sections of the avant-garde engulfed U.S. academia in the post-war years, with serialism frequently emerging triumphant. Now spectralism faces new threats, to a certain extent from New Complexity, a movement dedicated to exploring the outer limits of performers’ virtuosity, but mainly from New Simplicity and other forms of Neo-Expressionism that combine throwbacks to the music of the early 20th century with a keen awareness of contemporary culture.
Even spectralism has fragmented in recent years, with the emergence of post-spectralists such as Marc-André Dalbavie who fuse it with influences as diverse as American minimalism and theories of how to arrange an ensemble in space. Murail’s most recent work, Terre d’ombre, places four speakers at different points around a central orchestra, but he complains that such tricks are too venue-dependent. In this case, the première occurred at a Berlin concert hall whose acoustics projected the orchestral playing to every area of the auditorium and thus impeded the realization of the spatial arrangement in sound. Such practical problems in performing spectralist and post-spectralist music are diminishing as performers become accustomed to the strange harmonies and tunings involved, but they have by no means vanished. Computer technology has improved to the point where Klingbeil claims you can play a computer as you would any other instrument, but sceptics like Cody would maintain otherwise. In particular, Cody complains that computers freeze more often than humans in performance, wearying of the constant stopping and starting that is required during rehearsals if the computer does not play its part as automatically as it should.
Murail has tried to counteract some of these difficulties. His experience as a computer music pioneer has taught him to avoid programs that he considers interesting but undeveloped. One of the many such techniques that fascinate him is physical modelling, a computerized genetic modification of instruments that can simulate sounds made by, say, a kilometre-long oboe, or a violin with strings five inches thick. He prefers, however, to pay closer attention to refining his writing for classical instruments, which he thinks still have hidden resources to offer if they are played in a relatively traditional style.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his latest piano composition, Les travaux et les jours (translated as “Works and Days”), which was commissioned by the young pianist Marilyn Nonken. Like a metamorphosis by Escher, its figurations alter very gradually, revolving like a miniature planet in space. The only sign of radicalism is in the faintest of sustained resonances, and the overall impression is one of quiet, steady labour, plodding exquisitely to rest deep in the bass. The effect, in fact, is reminiscent of Murail’s current persona. Calm, rational and slightly otherworldly, the piece does not lend itself to an impatient interpreter, as Nonken herself was the first to explain. “What he’s after is very specific acoustic phenomena. His notation is specific, but when you work with him you realize that what he wants is so much more specific than what can be possibly notated, although in a live performance, on a real instrument, in a particular kind of hall, you can make each of these variables happen in real time.” She praises “his gorgeous piano writing, his incredible sensitivity to the instrument,” although she expresses greater awe at his earlier achievements, such as the brutal Territoires d’oubli.
“He’s very much a perfectionist and an idealist,” she notes, in circling phrases that demonstrate how frustrating Murail’s music can be to perform. “The playing usually requires an extreme focus on dynamics and touch. It’s not so much about these absolute dynamics as about dealing with the sound as you’re creating and responding to it, so there’s a degree of spontaneity when you’re playing it, which is very painful in some ways, because you’re very prepared to do what you have to do, but when you’re in the hall on a particular instrument, you might have to do very different things to get the effects. If the instrument has a very bright treble and it doesn’t have any resonance in the middle, you have to change everything to try to get the same types of sounds, or if the tuning is out, then some things can’t even happen, and then you can’t do anything at all.” As a result, she recalls, recording Murail’s complete piano works for Métier presented her with a completely new kind of technical challenge. “When we were recording, I wanted to make sure we had a very particular type of sound to start with, in terms of the balance between the registers. In terms of the editing, we didn’t do any kinds of fancy effects. In a way, you sometimes wish you could, because a piece like Territoires is so inspired by electronic music. With Territoires, you can’t do so many cuts because of the build-up of resonance.”
When she first performed the complete works at Columbia’s Miller Theatre during the Sounds French festival in 2003, the audience favourite was the student piece, Comme un oeil poli par le songe… “There’s no accounting for taste. They were, like, ‘It was all downhill from there.’” Although she herself is clearly in love with Territoires, she admits that most audiences prefer more soothing music, like Les travaux et les jours. It is easy to imagine Nonken, an anti-Bush protester, being fired up by the political circumstances under which the Sounds French festival took place. Organized by Éric de Visscher, the former director of IRCAM, and Emmanuel Morlet, director of music at the French Embassy in New York, Sounds French was designed to unite the gamut of French contemporary music talent. Little did Morlet know that one of its most star-studded receptions would fall on the night that U.S.-led forces started bombing Baghdad, or that his U.S. sponsors would have to show a particular display of enthusiasm in order to counteract France’s opposition to the U.S. over Iraq. Morlet said he contacted the participants beforehand with the following message: “‘Everything’s ready, but no doubt the situation politically is going to be awful. Do you still want to do it?’ And all the main partners in New York said, ‘Not only do we want to do it; we especially want to do it.’” He admits that he had his qualms before the festival began, but that they were soon dispelled by solid ticket sales and by signs of a genuine festival spirit. As expected, students and composers formed a large proportion of the regular attendants, but there were also members of the downtown arts scene who emerged for the more conceptual or experimental events. The festival has even generated enough good will for Morlet to be able to set up a future source of money for such cultural exchanges. The French-American Fund for Contemporary Music not only aids French musical projects in the U.S., but also U.S. musical projects in France, and as such will encourage musicians like Murail to cross a few borders.
Murail, now the unofficial head of the spectralist movement, has time to wait until he is more generally recognized here. His wife says she is happy at her post in Columbia, despite missing friends and family in France; their daughter, Doriane, has practically grown up in the U.S.; and Murail himself has obtained the type of lucrative professorship that his wife claims is non-existent in French universities. If he reverts to the voyaging of Territoires d’oubli, he may eventually find some new project or country that takes his interest; or if he sticks with the patient cycles of Les travaux et les jours, he may simply toil until his career sinks into restfulness. Whatever the outcome, the chief goal is clear: that, between the notes, Murail’s search for a new intimacy is still on.
In a solo piano homage to Messiaen written on his death in 1992, Murail hinted at the kind of whimsical, lyrical tributes that may be accorded to him by his own pupils on his 60th birthday next year. The score has no bar-lines, no absolute rhythmical notations. Chords hang like icicles in an ethereal space, bound only by horizontal lines which streak across the page like a sunset. The repeated tolling of single notes remind the reader of the title, Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire…, translated as “Bells of Farewell, and a Smile…” Murail adapted the title from one of Messiaen’s early Preludes for solo piano, Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu. Messiaen would doubtless have appreciated the affection, but Murail’s smile in this piece seems more dispassionate: the smile, perhaps, of a Himalayan monk, his ear constantly retuning the harmony of the spheres

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Robert Fripp
Discipline Global Mobile
No more excuses: even if you've just beamed in from Jupiter and never heard "the first and only (proper) Robert Fripp solo album" released in 1979 on EG, now's the time to grab a copy of this special two CD set containing the original Exposure and its remixed / remastered edition from 1985, now called the "third version" because of some (mostly vocal) modifications, plus five previously unreleased bonus tracks, all alternate renditions of pre-existing pieces. This album, which appeared two years after Fripp's return to the music business after a long hiatus that ended with his appearance on David Bowie's Heroes, is a wonderful trait d'union between the post-punk tendencies of that era and the masterful technical command of the guitarist, whose acute (if at times a little brash) sensitivity and ferocious digital dexterity always carried a lot of weight in the wider rock scene. On Exposure he managed to spread a virus of open-mindedness among musicians who were at the time considered as good as dead (to say the least), bringing them back to their enthusiastic best. The most notable example is Daryl Hall, the veritable protagonist of this reissue, whose problems with RCA stemming from his collaboration with Fripp on this and his fantastic Sacred Songs are well known: his management feared Hall's commercial appeal would sink once marked by the guitarist's feral touch. The alternate take of "Mary" here is Hall at his very best, his voice transforming the melancholic song into a delicate thing of beauty to rival the already excellent, gently heartfelt version sung by Terre Roche in 1979. Hall is also highly emotional on "North Star" (a ballad whose structure would later form the backbone of "Matte Kudasai" on King Crimson's Discipline), but when one compares the different interpretations of "Chicago", a great oblique blues if ever there was one, he stumbles somewhat, seemingly uncertain about which path to follow. Peter Hammill's vintage roar on the original wins by a TKO; the same can be said of "Disengage". The oldies prevail on the title track, too: I love the contained anguish in Hall's approach to "Exposure", but Roche's looped screaming on the original edition still gives me goosebumps, gut desperation uncoiling out of her throat to wrap round your neck like a boa. Incidentally, this song is also featured in Peter Gabriel's second album, in an adaptation I always considered a little tame. Talking of Gabriel, both discs contain "Here Comes The Flood", in two different mixes: apparently, the more recent one avoids compression and sounds more spontaneous and sensitive (you can even hear the creaks of his piano stool). Overall, the later mixes emphasise previously unnoticeable "extraneous" particulars – the preliminary deep breath by Roche before "Mary" is so beautiful – the separation between the instruments is clearer, with Fripp's scorching dissonances and enigmatic Frippertronics further forward in the audio picture. A case in point is the classic "Breathless" – one of Red's many bastard children – with its muscular interplay between Tony Levin and Narada Michael Walden igniting the odd minimalism and fractured (pun intended) rhythm of Fripp's guitars. Amongst the things that remain more or less the same are the spoken snippets courtesy Gurdjieff scholar J.G. Bennett, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and Fripp's own mother Edie, the opening "Preface" (which I've now learned is a superimposition of Daryl Halls, whereas I'd always thought it was a real choir) and the ever-enthralling Frippertronic stasis of "Urban Landscape", "Water Music" and "Haaden Two" (the latter was later used as the intro to "Neurotica" on King Crimson's Beat). Finally, my personal focal points: "I May Not Have Enough Of Me But I've Had Enough Of You", a brutally acid attack of guitar and organ (Barry Andrews) supporting a great duet between Hammill and Roche singing a wordgame text by Joanna Walton, culminating in a slow elegy of distorted chords. I prefer the first translation of this song, which was also tackled by Hall in Sacred Songs under the name of "NYCNY". But on the alternate take of "NY3", entitled "New York New York New York" and once again sung by Hall in the 1985 version, the absence of Andrews' organ somehow highlights the music's merciless drive; the family row surreptitiously taped by Fripp reflects a state of angry acrimony and disrespect for the basics of human relationships that's all too familiar in today's life. "Your house/My house." "Well get out, there's the door". These anonymous voices still burn, and Fripp's bloodthirsty lines just add fuel to the flame.–MR

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Evan Parker / Derek Bailey / Han Bennink
At the end of the 1960s, for some inexplicable reason, A&R types at the major labels thought free improvisation might be The Next Big Thing. John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Tony Oxley, Howard Riley and others were duly signed up, shafted, and dropped like hot potatoes, their albums deleted virtually as soon as they were released. Hence the formation, by Oxley, Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, of Incus, the UK's first musician-owned imprint, which was still going strong under Bailey's sole ownership until the guitarist's death last year. The Topography of the Lungs was the label's first release in 1970, and it's one of the legendary free improv discs, often more talked-about than heard owing to its prolonged unavailability (after Parker and Bailey’s acrimonious 1980s split the guitarist requested that it not be reissued during his lifetime). But here it is at last in a spiffy new edition, remastered from vinyl rather than the original tapes, alas (one of the downsides of the 1970s small-label efflorescence seems to be a surprising number of misplaced masters), and augmented with two extra tracks from an original "three hours of acceptable tapes" (is this all that’s left? what a shame!). For some reason the CD is now credited as an Evan Parker album [not on this site it isn't – DW] rather than a collaborative trio, but if you want the original artwork and credits, fold the booklet inside out and contemplate Alan Johnston’s memorable collage, featuring a nude 19th-century chap with lungs neatly labelled, and a pageful of miscellaneous Victoriana dotted with a few new phrases (you may need a magnifying glass), my favourites including "Frederick Rzewski writes about free improvisation and makes sense” and "Real tortoiseshell plectra".

The original album contained four tracks: the 21-minute "Titan Moon" (itself a collection of brief episodes) on Side A, and three shorter cuts, "For Peter B and Peter K", "Fixed Elsewhere" and "Dogmeat", on Side B. This is prime-cut Bennink, the all-out trash can thrash rivalling his best work with Brötzmann, his triumphant foolery perfectly integrated into the music (I love the cymbal clangs that ironically mimic a boxing match bell on a couple tracks). Parker and Bailey are at their most radically atomistic, seeking out some kind of limit-point of the smallest possible sound still individually perceptible and manipulable. It’s a particularly good example of how Bailey treats sonic detritus – tiny scratches, chokings, near-pitchless attacks and plings – not as expressionist noise but as units as precise as traditionally pitched notes. If his playing seems centripetal, constantly folding its material back on itself, working self-negation into the heart of the music, Parker’s is centrifugal, more inclined to violent flare-ups and excitable feedback-loops, conveying an at times brutal emotional and physical force. It’s probably superfluous to say it – I’m sure most readers added this to their shopping list the moment it appeared on the Psi reissue schedule – but The Topography of the Lungs is a disc every self-respecting improv fan should have, not simply for its historic import but because of its undiminished strength. For sheer spine-chilling power – not to mention as an early instance of Bailey's ability to rock out, decades before Saisoro and Mirakle – the closing moments of "Dogmeat" are hard to beat. Even Sergio Leone couldn't have dreamed up a three-way showdown as gripping as this.

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On Die Stadt
Aidan Baker
In recent years, Aidan Baker has gained in stature in the mind of loop-based trance music lovers, thanks to the evolution of his considerable compositional skills and also to a willingness to experiment new paths without abandoning his basic nature of ear-bewitching guitar shaman. Oneiromancer is Baker's first release for Die Stadt, and in its mail order edition comes with a bonus CD featuring a solo live concert recorded in 2005. The five studio pieces presented by the Canadian artist add an increasingly psychedelic touch to the mantric gradations and delicate visions of his previous albums. The most striking new factor is the use of tapes, not for the first time in Baker's work but much more evident; urban noises, industrial clatter and terrified screams contribute to a haunting, ambivalent atmosphere as his trademark shimmering and drone-based environments are submerged in an enthralling mass of undecoded signals and percussive sequences that (especially in the concluding "Bêtes Noires") could teach a thing or two to those who believe that merely a few sampled crows and voices lowered two octaves make for "scary" music. Of course Baker is perfectly at home on solo guitar, too, and his performance on the live disc is both masterful and a little eccentric – he uses the instrument as a tuned percussion/sequencer at one point – but contains several heartbreaking moments, revealing once again that there must be something truly consistent within an artist's soul, for want of a better word, in order to elicit such intimate emotions from those who listen. Aidan Baker succeeds on all accounts and Oneiromancer is yet another keeper.
Asmus Tietchens
20 years on from the release of this album on the Esplendor Geometrico label, this remains one of the harshest-sounding releases by Tietchens, who was at the time deeply involved in the infamous "post-Industrial" scene which brought us many of his finest works and encouraged a whole host of imitators. While some of them deserve some credit (Cranioclast, Werkbund to name but two), most were utter parasites who swamped us with a mass of shit camouflaged as Futurist-inspired uneducated noise, enhancing their status by cryptic declarations of anarchy in the liner notes (later replaced by odes to God and Inner Peace when that became the trend to follow.. Italy holds the world record in this domain). Anyway, back to serious music. Asmus Tietchens is the master of ironic synthesizer melody riding inhuman machine-like rhythm, and Geboren is a prime example, with 110% flanged tracks sounding Kraftwerk being gang raped and doused with sulphuric acid. "Gliim" is pure B-movie soundtrack paranoia, while "Zweites Maschinentraining" would try the patience of a saint with its absolute lack of melodic (???) control. The set is rounded out with three bonus tracks, which if anything sound even more "modern" than the original. Like everything else served up by the Cioran-influenced sceptic from Hamburg, it's highly recommended, especially for those not always looking at the bright side of life.
CM Von Hausswolff
Although eternally busy with installations and multimedia projects all over the world, alone or in cooperation with renowned colleagues such as John Duncan and Andrew McKenzie/Hafler Trio, Swedish soundscaper Carl Michael Von Hausswolff is still something of a "best kept secret" in the ever-too-densely populated world of drone-based music. Operations Of Spirit Communication was originally released in 2000, and reappears now as a very limited edition on transparent vinyl accompanied by an additional 7" containing two rather splendid short pieces composed this year. Von Hausswolff dedicated this work to the man who recorded the "voices of the dead", Friedrich Jürgenson, setting up a mechanism of static vibrations and drifting, skull-massaging frequencies gently blemished by taped voices and barely audible extraneous sounds. Apart from these prolonged waves of uneasy pleasure, perfectly in line with the consistently excellent level of this artist's work, nothing much happens . The two pieces contained on 7", "12 Sine Missing One" and "1 Sine Missing Twelve", are four-minute pure sinewave thrillers which will have you totally immobilized at the end, waiting for someone to point a remote control between your eyes and zap your nervous system. Fans of the abovementioned h3o will love this album, one of the best examples of the genre.
Fovea Hex
Bloom, the first chapter of the Fovea Hex saga, was a nice surprise, but Huge exceeds expectations with its alien-morphed traditional melodies and delicate counterpoint. Once again the mail order edition contains a double CD EP, one with three songs (a reductive definition, if you ask me), the other The Discussion, a long, mysterious remix of Huge material cooked up by Hafler Trio. As far as the songs are concerned, their general coordinates remain more or less the same as in Bloom: Clodagh Simonds, her sweetly freezing voice halfway between Nico and Clannad's Maire Brennan, paints light-grey clouds and mourning solitude highlighted by a beautiful use of found sound and peculiarly mixed instruments. Colin Potter is credited with "shifting and sieving" on the wonderful instrumental "A song for Magda", with Simonds creating a hypnotic tapestry of psalteries. Better still, one of my childhood heroes, the vastly underappreciated Percy Jones, appears here on "subaquatic fretless bass". In "While You're Away", probably the highpoint of the set, Cora Venus Lunny's gorgeous arrangement of viola and violin plants a stiletto right in the heart. The title track features Brian Eno on keyboards, and elsewhere Irish composer Roger Doyle (of Babel and Oizzo No fame) deals with glass and treated voices. This is just what the doctor orders when you need escape from reality without making a noise (don't forget the series is aptly titled "Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent"): try it at the right moment and you'll be hooked. The recording quality is magnificent, the songs are perfect. What else is there to say?–MR

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nmperign / Jason Lescalleet

Before you get the wrong idea and think that this is some kind of sicko tribute to James Douglas Morrison (1943 – 1971), let me reassure you. This double CD – and for once the press release isn't far off the mark when it describes it as "epic" – has about as much to do with the Lizard King as Thanks, Cash did with the late lamented Johnny of the same name. But then nmperign – aka Bostonians Bhob Rainey (soprano sax) and Greg Kelley (trumpet) – have always liked those snappy album titles.. Well, maybe not always. We Devote Every Effort To Offer You The Best That You Deserve For Your Enjoyment was a bit of a mouthful, even if it was pretty clear, but how about Which the Silent Partner-Director Is No Longer Able To Make His Point To The Industrial Dreamer? That long since deleted album also appeared on Howard Stelzer's wonderful Intransitive label way back in 2000, when fellow Bostonian James Coleman was beginning to use the term "lowercase" to describe the pared-down kind of improv that was then flavour of the month (at least, as Rainey astutely observed in the pages of Signal To Noise, it was better as labels go than "reductionist"). The music of nmperign, which as names go is about as easy to remember and as hard to pronounce as "Bhob", was quickly filed under "lowercase" by over-enthusiastic journalists, myself included, but Rainey and Kelley's work, though displaying certain structural and aesthetic similarities with similar developments in improvised music in Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo and the quieter suburbs of North London, has never been that easy to pigeonhole. Nor has it always been a simple duo project: 1998's debut album 44'38"/5 on Twisted Village featured the percussion of Tatsuya Nakatani, and the following year found Bhob and Greg teaming up with Philip Gelb (shakuhachi) and Jason Lescalleet (tapeloops), who became a fully-fledged third member of nmperign on Which the Silent Partner-Director. And Lescalleet, despite moving away to the wilds of Maine a while back, is back in force on Love Me Two Times.
In recent years, Rainey and Kelley have diversified somewhat into other areas of music, with the former collaborating with Ralf Wehowsky on a forthcoming electronic project, and the latter continuing to explore the noisier end of the spectrum with a number of searing free jazz outings with Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano and Moog manglings with Heathen Shame, so if you're expecting the same exquisite balance between sound and silence that characterised nmperign's eponymous release on Selektion, forget it. There's precious little information on how, where, when (or why) these 23 tracks were created, but there's certainly enough here to keep your neighbours annoyed until Christmas. Christmas 2008, that is. "Join the group as they visit art galleries, rock clubs, living rooms, at least one church, and the kitchen of a famous chef, before finally putting a fist through an amplifier. Fans will find the usual ingredients here: crusty old reel-to-reel tape decks, cheap keyboards, amplified and acoustic horns… but rude tape splices, violent humor, and confusingly degraded fidelity push the music far from safe territory," runs the upbeat press release.
It's tempting to think that Lescalleet is the wild card here, and those familiar with his discography (which includes the splendid Forlorn Green with Kelley on Erstwhile, as well as collaborations with sound artists as diverse as Joe Colley, Jason Kahn, John Hudak and RRRon Lessard) will recognise the distinctive hi-fi lo-fi of his tape loops: the man has a knack for taking just about the most fucked-up sounds imaginable and transforming them into pure gold. But I suspect (and in the absence of any documentation it'll have to remain a suspicion) Rainey and Kelley, perfectionists that they are, have also been twiddling and tweaking at the material quite a bit. In any case, this is without a doubt one of the releases of the year, and probably should be slipped discreetly into Doors Greatest Hits jewel boxes and foisted off on unsuspecting tourists trooping through the Père Lachaise in search of Jimbo's last resting place.

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Harry Miller's Isipingo
Cuneiform Rune
With as many as nine horn players in its regular line-up, Brotherhood of Breath, was especially apt as names go for South African-born pianist Chris McGregor’s legendary big band. But when those nine horns took off into blistering, cathartic and seemingly chaotic collective improvisation, what anchored the music was the unflinching but ultimately pliable rhythm section of drummer Louis Moholo and bassist Harry Miller, whose expanding and contracting superimposed polyrhythms never swayed from the inhaling and exhaling of their singular force. Harry Miller’s name doesn’t crop up often in the ranks of bassist-bandleaders, but his groups were among the highlights of European jazz in the fertile early 70s. Isipingo teamed Miller and Moholo up with altoist Mike Osborne, pianist Keith Tippett, and, in this particular incarnation, trumpeter Mongezi Feza and trombonist Nick Evans. Given the ensemble size and personnel, you might expect Isipingo to be a pared-down Brotherhood of Breath, and you'd be half right. But where the Brotherhood is weighty and belligerently joyous, Isipingo – despite Feza's brittle smears and shards and Osborne’s barely-contained caterwauls – is decidedly more concentrated in its buoyancy. Recorded by Radio Bremen in November 1975, this performance features Isipingo on four Miller originals. “Family Affair”, the title track of the group’s lone Ogun LP, begins with a delicate minor-key head that quickly develops into spiraling rhythm-section slink, Tippett’s pointillist montuno a far cry from anything McGregor might have applied and a welcome reminder of his infectious rhythmic talents. Evans’ slushy, boisterous trombone work recalls the Brotherhood, as do Feza’s glottal flurries, but as Tippett pulls out fragmentary filigree in response to Feza’s continual chipping, the music moves in its own circles. The Miller-Moholo juggernaut, even as the music becomes pliable and free, steamrolls in swinging eddies. “Eli’s Song,” beginning with a brief collective improvisation, appears to settle into an easy rhythm-section walk. However, real-time dismantling of what they're doing reveals the band to be one hell of a jazz lab as Tippett, Miller and Moholo fracture and layer in continual response to one another. Tippett's solo on "Family Affair" is one of his most architecturally clear, and Which Way Now might contain his most completely-realised piano work, dense repetitions arching out into an entire range of influences and interests: thick tone clusters, Latinate grooves, minimalist layers and phases, and kaleidoscopic temple silences. But as with “Children at Play,” it's a question of logical thesis rather than pyrotechnic display. Previously a fantasia for solo bass, this particular track is given full-band treatment, but there's quiet tension lurking underneath these aural children's games, particularly in the traded barbs of fire between Feza and Tippett, elemental rage and joy building into improvisational colour fields. Which Way Now is one of the finest examples of the South African-European contingent working their cross-continental whiles – let's hope the archives haven’t been cleaned out just yet.–CA

Marco Eneidi / Peter Kowald / Damon Smith / Spirit
Not Two
This collection of 17 tracks recorded back in May 2000 is intriguing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's another posthumous postscript to the already huge Kowald discography, and another chance to hear him in the company of fellow bassist Damon Smith (following on from their earlier duo outing Mirrors – Broken But No Dust on Smith's Balance Point Acoustics imprint, which was in fact recorded at the same time as this). Secondly, it's an opportunity to hear alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi try out a few techniques more usually associated with the younger generation of free improvisers – though to my mind he's still at his best when he plays the horn more conventionally, but then I've long been a fan of the Jimmy Lyons tradition that he extends so successfully. Thirdly, the album is also notable for the drumming of Spirit (whose real name Smith claims to have forgotten): "I have been waiting to play with you ever since I heard Machine Gun," the drummer reportedly said to Kowald. But there's no question of him trying to outgun Bennink and Johansson – his playing here is nothing if not subtle. Finally, Ghetto Calypso is an example of something rather rare in today's free jazz / improv, a series of diverse and genuinely experimental forays into different stylistic regions rather than a grand unified concept album (as it were). As such, it can feel rather loose and unfocused – one wishes several tracks had been allowed to develop to considerable length, and I wonder if the order in which the pieces appear couldn't have been improved in the interests of large scale structure – but in the process gains a freshness and an element of surprise.–DW

Steuart Liebig / The Mentones
It goes without saying that where and when you listen to an album determines to some considerable extent how you react to it. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge (southwards) in a convertible 1974 Alfa Romeo Spider with Steely Dan's "Glamour Profession" at high volume has to be one of the greatest experiences known to man, only topped – or bottomed – by listening to Joy Division's Closer waiting for a grimy suburban train on platform three at Manchester Oxford Road station on a rainy late November afternoon. But I can't think of a place less appropriate for the music of Steuart Liebig and the Mentones than the Second Empire gilt, stucco and wood panelling of Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon, Paris, which is where I happen to be at the moment. I can't help thinking this would be better in some sleazy motel out of a late 70s Tom Waits song, driving dangerous curves across a dirty sheet, but even so this sequel to 2004's Locustland is still sounding pretty good. Though I've been a sucker for Bill Barrett's dirty chromatic harmonica and Tony Atherton's sweaty alto ever since I popped Locustland into the machine. That Liebig / Berardi rhythm team cooks too. As well as finding the perfect listening place, I'll bet Nowhere Calling would also go better with a fifth of bourbon and a packet of smokes – but as you can't smoke anywhere in the state of California, apparently (unless you happen to be Arnold Schwarzenegger), you'll just have to get into your car and drive across the desert to the Nevada stateline. This will be great music for the trip.–DW

Aaron Moore
Elsie And Jack
Volcano The Bear percussionist and sometime vocalist Aaron Moore's debut solo album started out as a collaborative venture with Australian guitarist and gastronome Oren Ambarchi. That, alas, didn't see the light of day (or at least hasn't yet), so Moore decided to use what was left from the aborted project to craft this solo offering of bowed and beaten percussion – gongs, vibraphones, and cymbals – and piano. While the sustained sonorities of "The Scars On Her Cheek Bring Dreams To My Eyes" (great title!) would be perfectly at home on one of the more accessible EAI imprints, such as Häpna, the reedy drone of "Crayo" is closer to Birchville Cat Motel territory, and the Satie-esque piano of "Three Guineas" could have been slipped quite easily on to the last wonderful double CD Volcano The Bear outing on Beta-Lactam Ring, Classic Erasmus Fusion, without anyone noticing. VTB are after all pastmasters when it comes to crafting songs from a minimum of deceptively simple material, and Moore brings the same concern for economy to bear on his own improvised music projects. The first 100 copies of The Accidental (which have probably all disappeared now, since I've been so long in getting round to writing this review, for which apologies to all concerned etc. etc.) come with a DVD, in which Italian filmmaker Francesco Paladino sets Moore's music to grainy supposedly "poetic" images ("Three Guineas" is shot through the windscreen of a car driving down along a road at twilight). Paladino's pink and blue pylons, eyelids and branches are pretty enough but don't really add much to the music – Moore's seven compositions stand perfectly well on their own.–DW

Collective Jyrk / Gameboy / Little Enjoyer
Given this magazine's phenomenal success (ouch I've just bitten my tongue trying to extract it from my cheek) I knew it wouldn't be long before we received an album for review by The Almighty in person. Though it turns out on closer inspection that GOD (capital letters in the text please) is a Portland Oregon-based duo of Leif Erik Sundström and Bryan Eubanks, the former sculpting feedback from trashed record players, the latter manhandling a circuit board and effects pedals. Eubanks is one of post-Erstwhile EAI's (Christ, I can expect another irate email from Jon Abbey on that one) more interesting figures, having released a handful of tasty three-inchers on EMR with David Rothbaum and David Kendall and a splendid, sprawling duo with Doug Theriault on Creative Sources, but if you're not comfortable with this kind of ultra-austere, user-unfriendly kind of noise you might want to stick with something more, umm, accessible than this forbidding 45-minute trawl through the netherworld of howls and crunches. "Music based around the phenomena of psycho-acoustic structures" (to quote Eubanks' mini-bio on the CS website) is fine by me, but it's often easier to admire than it is to love. Bit like God, really.–DW

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Alfred Harth
0 Back
New music collectors must be having a hard time keeping track of the constantly changing vision of Alfred 23 Harth, whose career is now approaching its fifth decade and still showing no sign of "stagnation". Harth has played with virtually everybody, although he's best known for his work with Cassiber and his contribution to Lindsay Cooper's Oh Moscow, and his own music is a fertile ground where jazz, improvisation, techno and acousmatics rub shoulders, often with stunning results, enriched by the mind-boggling reed technique that's made him one of the most inventive and recognizable saxophone / clarinet players on the planet. For several years now this German utopian has been living in South Korea, where, besides collaborating with the best local talents and joining Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra, he's produced a sizeable body of work in very limited, often "print-on-demand" CDR editions: go to for direct inquiries. His "Mother Of Pearl" albums are characterized by gorgeous artwork and (it goes without saying) magnificent music, and these two titles are a perfect testament, concluding the series.
Seoul Milk dates from between 2002 and 2005 and is subtitled "a sonic bouquet of Seoul broadcast all the way to Europe". Its three movements present a paradoxically well-conceived, ordered chaos of shortwave radios and TV sets emitting kaleidoscopic signals that mesh with fragmented drum machine patterns and flanged vocals from the streets, as Harth's assemblage follows the convulsive evolutions of his individual sources, which include folk songs, children's voices, creaking metal, subsonic pulse, snippets of languid pop songs and a vision of downtown hell. Imagine a Korean version of a souk; the local male voices captured by Harth sound like disguised muezzins. The third and final section fuses all the different perspectives into a disjointed, oscillating quasi-disco pattern leading up to the ironic ending, culled from the opening ceremony of the 2002 World Cup, all pompous music and official announcements, wiping out the remnants of our cerebral comfort. If you enjoyed Jess Rowland's Scenes From The Silent Revolution on Pax Recordings you'll love this too.
Nun, explains the author, is a one-word poem with multiple meanings (including "eye" and "snow" in Korean). Harth applies a precise choice of subjects, times and past collaborators in what, like Seoul Milk, is a multilayered, undefinable work whose aesthetic is unquestionably and thoroughly "23". "Dog", based on a short poem by Yun Dong-Ju, is high-level electroacoustic chemistry, a soundworld mixing fragments of compositions dating from 1967 and 1984 as well as current sources and Harth's own lines. "For Taran" is a monstrous bass clarinet solo (dedicated to Taran Singh "who runs a free jazz program broadcast in France"), a virtuoso reminder of how good Harth is at improvising for long stretches without ever sounding pretentious or boring. "Bref", recorded in 1998 in Frankfurt and featuring Micha Daniels, is another specimen of surreal anarchy on which guitar, mandola and percussion form strange patchworks with a deranged primordial drum machine and a delirious Farfisa organ, reaching its apex in a strident bagpipe solo (a mizmar, I guess from the notes) over a psychedelic background. After "Test for Tokyo", a "percussive and dirty" solo for sax, contact microphones and Kaoss pad, Harth gives us the dulcis in fundo treatment with "Leasing a Straw Hut" and especially "108". Both pieces are surrounded by an ominous aura, their complex development built on masterful juxtapositions of reeds and excerpts from past projects. "Leasing", like "Dog", is based on a poem, this time by Yi Kyu-Bo and features the sound of the sea from Hakdong on the South Korean island of Namhae, while "108", named after the "108 grievous and troubled thoughts counted by the Buddhists in order to become aware of and finally get over them", is a stirring potion reverberating with (involuntary?) echoes of Roland Kayn. This menacing dark current brings Nun to an end, and though it's a disheartening way to go out, you do so safe in the knowledge that you've experienced artistry of the highest order.–MR

Bruce Russell
Though the entire wmo/r discography, complete with liner notes wherever necessary, is available for free download, in accordance with label boss Mattin's views on copyright (which can be neatly summarised as follows: bollocks to it), there's something special about a CD(R) that comes along with an elegantly produced 20-page booklet. Especially when the words it contains have been written by Bruce Russell, who, in addition to being one of new music's most original and consistently impressive guitarists, is an articulate and intelligent commentator on his own work (not to mention that of others). For his second release on Mattin's label, after 2004's broodingly magnificent Los Desastres de la Guerras, Russell has "versioned" some of the recordings he made with Ralf Wehowsky for the A Bruit Secret album Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues into an austere and moving homage to the Mississippi Delta and Jamaica. But though the liners namecheck Muddy Waters, Winston Rodney and Jack Ruby, this is no cheap pastiche of Delta blues and dub, but rather an attempt to understand not the technique itself as much as the meaning of the technique that revolutionised late 20th century popular music, and apply it to his own work. Those familiar with the Bruit Secret album will recognise the soundworld, with its dusty, grainy analogue tape hiss, but will have a hard time working out how Russell has crafted the nine fine tracks on offer here. But that's all part of the mystery and beauty of the disc. Backwards guitar hasn't sounded so damn good since Fripp.–DW

Jack Wright / Tom Djll / Bhob Rainey / Tim Feeney
Soul On Rice
Jack Wright's recent assertion that reductionism has had its day is certainly borne out in the quasi-sequel to 2000's Signs Of Life (Spring Garden Music), one of American reductionism's landmark recordings. Clarinettist Matt Ingalls is, sadly, not playing on Road Signs, having been replaced instead on one of the three tracks by percussionist Tim Feeney, but the other three protagonists of Signs Of Life are here in full effect. Joining Wright are trumpeter Tom Djll and, on tracks one and three, the man who arguably kindled Wright's interest in a more lowercase approach to his instruments, soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey, though five years down the road it's a very different music. Djll memorably described the earlier album as sounding like "a kitten being born in a shoebox in a dark closet"; on Road Signs that kitten's clawed its way out of the box and grown up into a tough, street-fighting tomcat. This is combative stuff, both for the musicians – a muscular and not always polite exchange of strong ideas – and for the listener: if you're looking for easy listening you've come to the wrong place. But Jack Wright's been throwing himself into this particular briar patch (his image, not mine) for over a quarter of a century, and you wouldn't expect him to slow down and stop now. In fact, in the past couple of years he seems to have been more active than ever, especially over here in Europe. So if you have a chance, go check him out. But if your family cat is in heat you'd be well advised to leave her at home.–DW

Hans Tammen / Christoph Irmer
Creative Sources
Guitarist Hans Tammen, born in Germany and now resident in New York, has over the past few years developed a highly individual and effective method of interfacing his "endangered" guitar with electronics (i.e. a laptop), but until now it hasn't been well documented on disc. A slew of Tammen albums appeared just prior to and shortly after his relocation to the States – including The Cat's Pyjamas and The Road Bends Here (on Leo) and Billabong (on Potlatch) – but his laptop experiments were at the time some way away. Oxide gives a good indication of what he's been up to, but – no disrespect to violinist Christoph Irmer who partners him here – one wonders whether a solo album might not have been a more appropriate to showcase the guitarist's considerable talents (would have made a nice follow-up to the magnificent Endangered Guitar on Nur Nicht Nur, too). Irmer is by no means slow on the uptake when it comes to responding to musical ideas spat out in all directions by Tammen and his gear, but he nevertheless does at times find himself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information thrown at him. It all makes for a rather nerve-wracking experience; not unenjoyable, but often dense and exhausting.–DW

Spiderwebs is the duo of Charlambides guitarist Tom Carter and Weird Weeds guitarist/vocalist Sandy Ewen, who have worked together in some form or another for the past three years. Away, Away is culled from some of their earliest recordings and was released in a small CD-R edition. The tracks they recorded about the same time for the Strands Formerly Braided comp recently released on Music Fellowship were mellower, but these recordings show a rawness not always present in either of their current main outlets, and look to an aesthetic of playing that imbues the textural with a restless foreground. Away, Away features five untitled improvisations clocking in at just under an hour. Far from the Weeds’ quiet tension and Charlambides’ reverb-heavy folk, Spiderwebs create an arresting slab of skronky guitar noise underpinned by central Texas twang. The first piece begins with a shot of feedback, dusty lap-steel making inroads into spindly frameworks of bowed racket. The guitarists (even Ewen’s not sure who is playing what) are completely cohesive, and despite differing approaches, the result is intense dialogue and warm rapport, melding Agitation Free, Fred McDowell, David Roback and Hugh Davies. Throaty slide mingles with glitchy, scattershot frequencies in moth like dance and barroom swagger. Spiderwebs is a rather accurate name for the pair; on the second piece delicate, shimmering strums telescope upward catching light, dewdrops and unwary ears in tenuous, mighty architecture. At times the guitars take on other forms altogether, sounding like contact miked, bowed and rattled metal, crotchety front-porch vibes cutting through only to be dropped beneath the floorboards. It's a hallmark of music-making here in Texas that great spaces can seem ultimately claustrophobic even as they open up psychedelic vistas. Carter and Ewen have created one of the most nuanced and constantly surprising guitar duos I’ve heard in a long time. Away, Away is a strong indication of things to come.-CA

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Ben Johnston
New World
This is the first of three projected discs devoted to the complete string quartets (ten of them) of Ben Johnston (born in 1926 in Macon, Georgia), and brings together Quartets no. 2 (1964), 3, (Verging, 1966), 4 (The Ascent, "Amazing Grace", 1973) and 9 (1988), all superbly performed by the Kepler Quartet and accompanied by a typically perceptive and informative essay by musicologist Bob Gilmore. Though Johnston's name is often associated with Harry Partch, to whom he was apprenticed in 1951 and whose Genesis of a Music sent him off on the path of investigation into tuning and temperament that would preoccupy him throughout his career, his music also reflects the influence of other major 20th century developments, notably neoclassicism – he also studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College – and serialism. If the combination of strict serialism and just intonation sounds odd, the Quartet no. 2 is proof not only that it can be made to work but can also result in music that is at one and the same time structurally complex yet comprehensible for the listener. The compositional artifice of Western classical music – the third movement is a strict palindrome – adds clarity and coherence, and the piece sounds fresher and more natural today than other more "experimental" works written about the same time.
The one-movement third quartet, Verging, had to wait a full ten years before it was first performed, during which time new music (and the world in general) changed considerably. Johnston always felt it needed a second movement, and the deceptively simple set of variations on the old chestnut "Amazing Grace" he wrote in 1973 became just that. The two quartets are often performed as one work, Crossings, and separated by The Silence, which is between one and two minutes of exactly that. As Gilmore astutely points out, this is much more than a pregnant pause. The questions raised by the third quartet – how far can music go along the path of complexity without losing its public altogether? how is the combination of strict serial technique and a 53-note scale to be performed, let alone perceived? – are allowed to resonate before the answer comes. It's not for nothing that The Ascent is Johnston's best known work (and has been recorded twice before, by the Fine Arts and Kronos Quartets): it's a veritable masterpiece which combines harmonic rigour and structural intricacy and yet remains instantly accessible – what could be more accessible than "Amazing Grace"?
Similarly, in the later Quartet no. 9, Johnston manages to write a work that openly acknowledges the influence of the pastmasters of the genre – Haydn and Bartók are never far away – by breathing new life into supposedly outmoded forms such as scherzo, slow movement, rondo. Let's hope Bob Gilmore is right when he states that Johnston's time has come; meanwhile, while you're waiting for the second and third instalments of his quartets, why not read Derek Bermel's 1995 interview with the composer elsewhere on this site.

Various Artists
New World
Odd that "the first electronic music compositions played in the United States" (unless you want to make a claim for John Cage's Imaginary Landscape No.1, which calls for a pair of variable speed turntables) should be the work of an exiled Mongolian prince and gifted concert pianist. Vladimir Ussachevsky (1911 – 1990) fled to California shortly after the Russian Revolution (his father wasn't so lucky, and was imprisoned and subsequently executed in Siberia), studied at Pomona College and the Eastman School of Music and joined the staff of Columbia University Music Department in 1947. The department purchased a tape recorder for teaching purposes in 1951, but Ussachevsky soon began to experiment with it, using recordings of his own piano playing as source material. Engineering student Peter Mauzey, who also ran the college radio station and designed and built its mixing desk, introduced Ussachevsky to the delights of feedback. Ussachevsky was hooked, and once Mauzey had provided him with a box that would allow him to modify the amount of feedback, he set about recording in earnest. His compositions Transposition, Reverberation, Experiment, Composition and Underwater Valse were premiered at a Composers' Forum concert on May 5th 1952. Virgil Thomson described them as "utterly charming and delighted the audience no end."
Utterly charming? Delighted the audience no end? Are we talking about electronic music here? What about that legendary impenetrability and user-unfriendliness (who wants to pay money to sit and look at a pair of loudspeakers?). Well, there's a bit of that too on this selection of music created by Ussachevsky, Otto Luening, Pril Smiley, Bülent Arel, Alice Shields and Mario Davidovsky between 1952 and 1970, previously released on CRI (three cheers for New World for reissuing it), but the early 50s stuff – Ussachevksy's Sonic Contours, Luening's Low Speed, Invention in Twelve Notes and Fantasy in Space, and their collaborative venture Incantation – is certainly attractive, if a touch primitive to our ahem sophisticated modern ears. Luening (1900 – 1996), like Ussachevsky, also came from a classical background, and distinguished himself as a flautist and conductor. But he also studied composition with Busoni during the First World War, and was doubtless familiar with his teacher's prophetic Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music – it was only logical then he should have felt the need to break new ground in music. Each of his offerings here explores the sonorities of his flute; that spacey echo might sound a bit dated to our post-psychedelic ears, but it must have seemed mighty strange back in 1952. By the time we get to Moonflight in 1968 (a prophetic title perhaps?) the technology has advanced and the mix is cleaner, but the music remains just as lyrical.
Ussachevsky's later work is more exploratory, from the cut'n'splice fun and games of 1956's Piece for Tape Recorder (a fine example of a piece that is as creative and exciting as its title is deadly dull) to the later forays into the brave if frosty new world of computer music (care to guess the title? yep, that's right: Computer Piece No.1). By the turn of the 70s though Ussachevsky and Luening had acquired the status of elder statesmen / teachers, and their influence is to be felt in the featured works by three of their students / research assistants, Istanbul-born Bülent Arel's Stereo Electronic Music No.2 (seems he inherited Ussachevsky's penchant for imaginative titles), Pril Smiley's Kolyosa and Alice Shields' The Transformation of Ani. Their music is often complex but never forbidding, remaining colourful, dramatic and even poetic. But the most convincing piece on the whole disc is by the man who took over from Ussachevsky when he retired in 1980. Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms No.5 (1969), "for percussion ensemble and electronic sounds", is a veritable tour de force of thorny modernism that still sounds crunchy and challenging 37 years on. Isn't it about time some enterprising label – New World, perhaps? – released a complete set of the Synchronisms? Ten so far and a couple more in the works, I'm told. Just a thought.

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Maurizio Bianchi

This is a real puzzler, as there's practically no information whatsoever about it on the wmo/r website, which leads me to guess that it dates from the early 80s, Bianchi's "nasty" period, before he became a Jehovah's Witness.. see Marcelo Aguirre's Bianchi roundup from a couple of months ago. But further enquiries by Marcelo, who's hard at work on an extended interview with MB for these pages (I'm told), prompted a response from Bianchi – curiously enough in Spanish – to the effect that the archive sound recordings from Nazi Germany (who's speaking? Rudolf Hess?) are nothing at all to do with him and have been grafted on to the music by someone else. Curiouser and curiouser. Marcelo also reminds me of a quotation from Nigel "Nocturnal Emissions" Ayers: "[Whitehouse's] William Bennett told me, in 81, the first and last time I met him, that Steve Stapleton drew up a 'joke' contract for him [Bianchi] giving Maurizio absolutely no rights to the recording in any way whatever ever, which Maurizio happily signed. Bennett added overdubs of Hitler speeches, Nazi martial music etc. from one of those tapes they used to sell at the lunatic right wing shops." Frans de Waard over at Vital Weekly speculates that this might also be Bianchi's Weltanschauung album (maybe someone could confirm this?) but Bianchi has neither confirmed nor denied that rumour. In any case, whoever did it and whenever it was done, it's pretty unpleasant stuff, even without the speeches and military music (which only feature on the first – and longest – track). I can understand that some folk might still get some kind of perverse kick out of Nazi imagery, even a quarter of a century down the line, but it's hard to imagine anyone saying they actually enjoy the rest of this miserable, sludgy mess. And that presumably includes Maurizio himself, now that he's found GOD – the Supreme Being, that is, not the group of the same name (see above).-DW

Jorge Haro
Fin del Mundo
Jorge Haro hails from Argentina, where he's currently Professor in Audiovisual Design at Palermo University (Buenos Aires), but these six "real time sound constructions" were recorded in Barcelona, Cracow, Hamburg, Porto, Lisbon and Huelva in early 2005. U_xy is Haro's first full length CD release (his website lists a couple of earlier CDRs and appearances on half a dozen compilations), and it comes with the instruction "please do not alter the volume level during playback". That leads me to suspect some kind of nasty trick, like starting out pretending to be bernhard günter and suddenly metamorphosing into Merzbow about halfway through (I mention this because I did it myself once, heh heh), and reading that Haro has worked with the likes of Zbigniew "Schopenhauer" Karkowski doesn't augur well for the eardrums either, but in fact the six "real time sound constructions" (hmm, isn't all music "real time sound construction"?) are elegant, almost clinically precise, and a long way from the sweaty screaming bombast of yer average Noise album. That said, about halfway through "Porto" you might be tempted to rush to the hi-fi and turn it down.. but don't – the fear subsides and you're left with a very accomplished and enjoyable piece of music. Or real time sound construction, if you prefer.–DW

Ronnie Sundin
Despite a rather colourful press release that raps on about monoliths, angels, queens, peasants, Persian (?) bread with peanut butter and lingonberry jam (that's Vaccinium vitis-idaea, an uncultivated member of the cranberry family primarily used in northern Europe to make jams and preserves, btw), The Amateur Hermetic starts out as another one of those Bolero-type pieces that starts out quiet and gets louder. But not for long. From what I can glean from the press release it seems the source material for this 41-minute span of music is Sundin's own voice, though there are some terrific thunderclaps, screes of white noise and some angry metallic drones in there too, as well as some pretty ominous gurgles (maybe the composer's digestive system hard at work on those lingonberries). Sundin's work is consistently evocative, if not always easily accessible; this is a little more so than his Antifrost outing, Hanging, but it's pretty dark stuff. Occult references, religious doubts, growing a beard. Isolation. The Philosopher's Stone, indeed.–DW

Sudden Infant
Blossoming Noise / Harbinger Sound
You get used to it. You can get used to just about anything if you live with it long enough. Remember your first cigarette, how vile it tasted? How your head started spinning and you felt like throwing up? God knows why you went back for a second one. And now look at you. Remember the first time you had a glass of wine? Bet that tasted fucking horrible too. The old argument about the decriminalisation / legalisation of soft drugs is that "one eventually graduates to more dangerous substances." Noise is the same. I'll bet the first time you heard a Merzbow album you ran screaming for the exit. And now it sounds positively pleasant – damn, you could almost dance to some of the recent stuff. It's also easier, with the benefit of hindsight, to appreciate why Merzbow, Hijokaidan and Masonna are a cut above the rest; there is – dare one say it – real musicality (i.e. concern for structure and material, an ear) to the best noise albums. This reissue of Radiorgasm, the extremely recherché debut album by Sudden Infant (aka Joke Lanz, B. Lingg, Inzekt and, Dave P.), recorded in Zürich way back in early 1990, is a splendid example. Once you get beyond the initial shock of "blasphemy, obscenity, charlatanism, sadistic excess, orgies and the aesthetics of the gutter", the paroxysms of screaming, retching horror, the viciously penetrating extreme frequencies, it all becomes quite.. listenable. Of course, you probably shouldn't play it to impressionable seven-year-olds immediately before bedtime, but then again you wouldn't give them a packet of Gitanes and a fifth of bourbon either. Or would you?–DW

M. Holterbach
Manu Holterbach is, in addition to being a fine writer on new music (if your French is up to it, check out his work in Revue Et Corrigé), currently working on a biography of Eliane Radigue. But it's not Radigue who comes to mind on listening to Aare am Marzilibad as much as Toshiya Tsunoda. Holterbach sealed a microphone inside a bottle and tossed it into the river Aare, where it got wedged between a couple of rocks and was gently pummelled by whatever came into contact with it. Of course, if he didn't tell you this in the liners you'd probably never be able to guess, but these days describing how a particular piece of sound art is made is obviously almost as important as listening to it (Tsunoda too likes to provide copious notes about how, where and when his pieces were made). So this is 21st century sound art's response to The Police's "Message In A Bottle". Which reminds me, I could never quite work out what ol' Gordon Summers was going on about in that song; I was sure it was "a year has passed since I broke my nose" instead of "a year has passed since I wrote my note". Oy vey, I just have to listen more carefully in future, that's all. And I'd much rather listen to Manu Holterbach than Sting.–DW

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