MARCH News 2007 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jon Dale, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, Guy Livingston, Brian Olewnick, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:



Editorial
In Concert - New York: Robert Ashley / Essa-Pekka Salonen
In Concert - Paris:
Misha Mengelberg / Tobias Delius Quartet
Vinyl Solution:
Black to Comm / Kuupuu / Mouths / Haptic / Hal Rammel
Manuel Mota
Jason Lescalleet
Michel Henritzi
JAZZ & IMPROV:
Jack Wright / Schlippenbach Trio / Abrams, Lewis & Mitchell / Kahn, Korber & Weber / Michael Dessen / Topias Tiheäsalo / Gary Smith
The Fell Clutch / Mark Helias / Mick Barr / Uncle Woody Sullender & Kevin Davis / Spider Trio / Lindsay, Looney, Robair / John Shiurba
CONTEMPORARY:
Glenn Branca / Richard Garet / Heribert Friedl / Bernhard Günter / "Blue" Gene Tyranny / Olivia Block / Compositions for Harp and Sho
ELECTRONICA:
Ben Frost / David Daniell / Jim Haynes / Loren Dent / Richard Chartier / The Alps / Jefre Cantu-Ledesma / Mattin / Aemae
Last month

   


Editorial

Sad news from Paris: Benoît Sonnette, founder of the wonderfully eclectic Textile label and tireless organiser of tours throughout Europe and numerous festivals in and around Paris, lost an 18-month battle with leukemia in the small hours of January 30th, leaving behind his wife Agnès and their 16-month old son Nicolas. Though his life was cruelly cut short, the list of musicians who had the joy of his infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy as a label manager, promoter or close friend was surprisingly long and varied, including Alma Fury, Oren Ambarchi, Bobby Moo, Xavier Charles, Chris Corsano, Alan Courtis, Lol Coxhill, Documents, Paul Flaherty, Fursaxa, Hasslehound, Jackie O' Motherfucker, Magik Markers, Mayahoni Mudra, Noxagt, Otomo Yoshihide, Park Attack, Rats, Sun, Martin Tetreault, Ticklish, Ultralyd, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Volcano The Bear and Bill Wells. Benoît may be gone, but the Textile story is far from over. The label will go on – as his friend and business partner Fabien Louis says, "he would come back to haunt us if it didn't."
Since I penned the above for The Wire, I received this email from Jackie O' Motherfucker's Tom Greenwood:
"Somewhere around the turn of the new century, I received a letter in the post from Paris. It was from Benoît, asking if he could release a record for us. It was a very warm invitation, and we responded by going down into the basement, and shaping some dust into sound, eventually released as a split LP with our future friends the Vibracathedral Orchestra. This was the beginning. Benoît had the same energy for releasing records that we had for making them, creating an abstract community out of resonance, linking together the planet waves, making offerings of sound and art. He offered himself completely, booking and managing tours, releasing records, and curating a festival, all with incredible humanity and grace. Something very rare in a typically barbaric scene. Benoît laid down the first few bricks of what has become a well traveled road, bringing music communities all over the world together. Thank you Benoît, your energy helped us realize ours, on into infinity...." Tom Greenwood, Leeds, UK. Feb. 9, 2007
There are no Textiles in the review pile this month, but I know if Ben were still with us he'd be reading the site as assiduously as ever, so this month's issue is dedicated to his memory. Bonne lecture, mon ami. -DW



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In Concert: New York
Robert Ashley
CONCRETE
La Mama Theatre, New York
17th – 21st January
Old age is tough to deal with. As the scions of experimental music that came of age in the 60s begin to enter their 70s, few are bringing to bear on that transition the same degree of careful observation as Robert Ashley. Born in 1930, Ashley has always concentrated on "everyday life", on the often hallucinatory layers of meaning to be found if one peels away the skin just a little bit. Long before David Lynch, Ashley was gently dissecting the Middle American ethos, not with scorn but with fascination at all the unusual and contradictory things he was able to locate in the "ordinary". In recent works, Ashley has turned his gentle, probing eye toward the thoughts, obsessions, misunderstandings and ruminations of the homeless (Dust) and aged (Celestial Excursions), telling their stories in an evenhanded, non-judgmental manner as if to say, "This is what they are thinking and, true or not, there's beauty and wisdom to be found." The music, though always present as a guiding hand, becomes secondary almost to the point of negligibility; it's the stories that matter.
Concrete, which had its premiere in a five evening run at the La Mama Theatre in New York in January, continues in this direction and is markedly more straightforward than its predecessors. It's scored for four singer/speakers (Jacqueline Humbert, Thomas Buckner, Joan La Barbara and Sam Ashley) and live electronic music and processing (Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton). The setting and staging is almost severely simple: a v-shaped table with undulating edges, open toward the audience with a similarly indented and rounded curtain backdrop upon which are occasionally projected muted colors and abstract designs of a cutout nature. In front of the table is an array of Turkish rugs. The "characters" sit behind the table, symmetrically positioned, Buckner and Humbert along one arm of the "V", Ashley and La Barbara on the other, with their librettos printed on oversize playing cards which they hold fan-style, as though contemplating their next move in a poker game. The women are in evening dress and Buckner sports a tuxedo. Only Sam Ashley is casually attired, wearing a loud orange and yellow shirt, rumpled black jeans and sneakers.
The opera as a whole is also structured very regularly. Five conversational interludes bracket and surround four solo arias, one by each character. These conversations will sound most familiar to listeners who know Ashley's earlier work. Though there's no absolute overlapping, the discussion is seamlessly passed from one speaker to another with the tail end of one line just abutting the first syllable of the next. The speakers acknowledge each other with nods, directional gestures and facial expressions but the viewer is left uncertain, deliciously so, whether we're hearing the scrambled thoughts of one individual or the remnants of an actual conversation between two or more aged persons. The focus is on day to day trivial events and observations, the sort of thing that occupies the time of an old man living in "concrete". Eventually, the ramblings trigger the memory, false or otherwise, of a person once known to the man, some unique and unusual friend about who he begins to reminisce. At this point, one of the speakers rises, slowly walks to the front of the stage area on the carpets and begins a soliloquy, the other three remaining in shadow, listening.
I mentioned the music's being almost secondary. Although this may seem to be the case in a given performance, it might not be so in fact. Ashley and Hamilton, we're given to understand, can vary the mood of the music to a significant degree and the speakers are subsequently allowed to alter their deliveries in accord with the music. Impossible to say how much the readings might diverge but, on the evening I attended, they were offered in a manner not very different from that heard on "Dust" or "Celestial Excursions"; maybe a tick toward the "musical" away from the purely spoken. Be that as it may, it was the text itself that commanded attention. The stories were surprisingly straightforward, chronological recaps of the old man's friends, their escapades (often outside the law), some long gaps between visits, where they are now, if known. Humbert was up first, giving the impression of a slightly tipsy, exaggeratedly gestural upper class woman (that her story was that of an old man is momentarily forgotten), recounting the tale of a promising, beautiful young ceramicist lured into a life of crime transporting cocaine before ditching all that to marry a fishing tycoon in Hawaii who perishes in a disaster at sea, all the while hiding some dark secret. You quickly get the sense of the sort of Americana, soap-opera world Ashley is explicating, only gently mocking, regarding it with understanding.
Buckner (whom I've had problems with in the past but who performed beautifully here) remembers a jazz musician friend from the Army who went on to become an expert card cheat and narrowly avoided killing the old man in a car accident. Each of the first two accounts is filled with regret at not having kept contact, of not getting to know the friends better. Around this point, the listener begins to get the notion that these events are only special, only unique to the narrator, not necessarily to the world at large. We shouldn't expect to be "wowed" by the narratives, but instead understand that they're important to him, and what remains important to an aging, possibly dying man is the true subject of the opera.
The extraordinary Joan La Barbara is up next. Not knowing what, if any, "roles" were assigned beforehand, it may be unfair to say it, but in terms of sheer, vocal profundity and skill, she just killed. Her story was the most drolly humorous as well, again dealing with the Army musician. "Covert operations were always funded through the Army band, so it never had any money." The tale manages to cover Joseph Conrad, transvestism, horse betting strategies and airline pilots.
Having settled in somewhat to the routine, Ashley jostles the audience with the final aria, courtesy Sam Ashley. Whereas the previous stories had been mundane if arguably colorful, his account touches on the mystical, of being awakened in the middle of the night in a rundown hotel in Italy by, he imagines, a small creature tugging the covers off his bed. He chalks it up to a hallucination until, later, he discovers that a close friend in the US had died at just that moment. More disorienting still, one suddenly hears almost subliminal voices from high on either side of the theater. They're indecipherable although you gradually get the idea that they may be sampled directly from the character's speech, sped up to a frantic screech on the left, slowed down to a disturbing moan on the right. It was an eerie, moving effect, perfectly accomplished.
The closing conversation recapitulates parts of the stories, the singers allowed longer lines, expounding on their own recap: "What is this? The last act?" They lay bare the basic subject: Imagination vs. Ordinariness. All that's left for this man to do is to conjure up stories from his past. Are they embroidered? Are they true at all? Who knows, but as he says, "I've got nothing else to do." The final line is, "The old man lives in concrete." Indeed.
Concrete takes the ultimately very successful tack of lulling the viewer/listener into deeming the work ordinary enough itself, refusing to "wow", preferring to dwell in the almost-everyday. It saves its wallop for the final act and coda where things hit home, where one comes to feel a little guilty about having "judged" the codger too severely in his banality. Ashley, at 76, is trying to understand aspects of aging rarely considered in the arts, much less the purported avant-garde. His gentleness and patience get at some deep, uncomfortable truths about what is transitory and what is important.–BO

Ravel: LE TOMBEAU DE COUPERIN / Salonen: PIANO CONCERTO / Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel): PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION
Yefim Bronfman, piano / New York Philharmonic / Essa-Pekka Salonen
Lincoln Center, New York
February 3rd
Precision, precision, precision! Essa-Pekka Salonen is a conductor to make Pierre Boulez seem like a Romantic. His exacting attention to detail made the New York Phil sound fantastic, crystalline. Undoubtedly, this was the best performance of Tombeau that I have ever heard: the orchestra was on top form, and Ravel's complicated and sophisticated instrumentation came to the fore in astoundingly clear focus, as if displaying this piece for the first time under the microscope.
Alas, the main work on the program suffered from over-lush harmonies, over-worked historical references, and over-compensated fortissimos which did not make up for compositional poverty. Salonen has written some very fine pieces, but the concerto is neither a successful concerto, nor a symphonic achievement. Even a brilliant soloist of Bronfman's caliber (and he was magnificent) could not save the piece from its lugubrious superficiality. Thirty-three long minutes of Rachmaninoff, Orff, Gershwin, and bits of Ives were just too heavy. The orchestration was far too dense (had he learned nothing from the gorgeously subtle Ravel arrangements which sandwiched the program?), and the ideas were far too diffused. There was no artistic impact, no clear direction, no driving force, and no strong idea. In the program notes, the highly articulate composer – an astute writer – claims an interest in studying the relationship of the piano to the orchestra, and cites his use of the instrument as both accompanist and soloist. This double-use was blatantly obvious in the performance, but the effect was a negative one: rather than complementing the orchestra, Bronfman (a huge bear of a Russian who owns the piano) was often drowned out by them. Surely not what Salonen had in mind.
My quibbles about the piece were not shared by the audience (who loved all that noise), by the press (who enjoyed the work's enthusiastic naiveté), nor by attendant publishers (who were positively ecstatic). And in a certain way, who can blame them? It's what we all dream of: a sold-out premiere performance at Lincoln Center, attended by the cream of New York's public, dressed to the nines, and cheering for a piece of – get this – new music! Too good to be true. I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, either: after all, his success translates directly into further public and government support for new music, and none of us will argue about that being a good thing. Furthermore, to his credit, his music came across as endearingly sincere. There was no feeling, so often encountered in suddenly-famous composers, of arrogance. He meant what he said, even if the language was confused and the metaphors mixed.
In both the Ravel orchestrations I heard details which, like a well-polished diamond, set off the facets of the artwork to maximum brilliance. But at a high price: precision suits the Tombeau de Couperin, but is unexpected in the Pictures at an Exhibition, which is after all one of the great Romantic works. Salonen's obsessiveness here seemed too much, and created a brittle caramel: sweet to the tongue, but hard on the teeth. His version was didactic, more like a musicology lesson than a luxurious glide down romantic pictorial vistas. What astonished me was that this brilliant conductor succeeded in taking this all-too-well-known warhorse, and transforming it into a stunningly enjoyable modern piece, peeling away the skin to reveal the underlying bone structure. Now, if he could only x-ray his concerto..-GL


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In Concert: Paris
Misha Mengelberg / Tobias Delius Quartet
La Dynamo de Banlieues Bleues, Pantin, France
February 2nd 2007
The engineers behind the state-of-the-art console in the auditorium of La Dynamo, a smart new venue just north of Paris, probably winced when 72-year-old Misha Mengelberg shuffled onstage and lobbed his leather trilby nonchalantly onto the mics placed inside the Yamaha grand piano, where it transformed the mid register of the instrument into a gamelan smudge for the first five minutes of his half-hour solo set. The old Misha schtick of onstage chain smoking may be a thing of the past – the pianist kicked the habit ten years ago, and France is now, in case you hadn't heard, a smoke-free country (at least according to the letter of the law – we'll see about the spirit later) – but his performances are as outlandish as ever. To quote Art Lange, "you can hear him listening as he works", as seemingly haphazard plonking evolves into a stunningly sensitive reading of Monk. The spirit of Thelonious is never far away in Mengelberg's playing, but the ghost of Ludwig Van also hovers around, in the stodgy left hand comping and quasi-Romantic melodies, except Misha avoids any semblance of kitsch and pastiche by his strategically mischievous deployment of the right wrong notes. A fondness for baroque polyphony – Mengelberg still teaches a weekly class in the subject at Amsterdam's Sweelinck Conservatory – was evident throughout, as the internal subtleties of contrapuntal voice leading were pulled apart to reveal new and unexpected pathways through well-known material. It was a pithy set, but the punters refused to let him shuffle off without a couple of encores – the eternal Misha chestnut "Kneebus" and a lean, mean reading of Monk's "Well, You Needn't" – to send them out to the bar with a smile.
And that's where most of them were when the second half began, as Tobias Delius's soundcheck morphed without a break into the first of four long medleys of his impeccably structured and sequenced compositions. The tenor saxophonist's quartet, with Tristan Honsinger on cello, Joe Williamson on bass and the irrepressible Han Bennink on drums (on superb form too, and the only one of the four to have committed Delius's cunningly complex songbook to memory), is one of the most exciting working units in contemporary jazz, moving effortlessly from hard swinging post-bop to New Dutch wackiness, from spare pointillist extended techniques to woozy, cheesy waltzes, and they're as much fun to watch as they are to listen to. Bennink's legendary antics – mercifully less in evidence this time – contrasted well with the deadpan but deadly precise Williamson, and, unlike the terrifyingly intense Honsinger, perched over his cello like a bird of prey, Delius looked so damn relaxed he nearly fell over backwards. But he was certainly on the ball, and the whole history of the tenor sax was on display, including Lester Young and Ben Webster – Delius's elegant velvety tone makes a welcome change from the overkill of much fire music – in what was an accomplished and highly enjoyable set from four master musicians.
–DW


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Vinyl Solution
Black To Comm
WIR KÖNNEN LEIDER NICHT ETWAS MEHR ZU TUN
Dekorder

Kuupuu
YÖKEHRÄ
UNILINTU
Dekorder

Mouths / Haptic
1V2E / DANJON SCALE
Entr'acte
Hal Rammel
LIKE WATER TIGHTLY WOUND
Crouton
As we all know, the rekkid industry is "in crisis".. sales are slumping on average more than 10% each year, and if you excluded the money generated from sales of mobile phone ringtones (quelle horreur), the picture would probably be bleaker than that. Not that I'm shedding many tears for the so-called "majors", who don't give a monkey's about music as such unless it rakes in enough dough to keep the shareholders happy, but it's not a rosy situation for the kind of small independent labels that readers of these pages know and love. Even in the small world of adventurous new music, the shift towards mp3 format is just as noticeable – and not something to be sniffed at, either: bravo outfits like 7hings.com for their adventurous download release programme – it seems that in a few years we'll all be listening to music on shiny little things about the size of a dachshund's penis, downloading this and that to make our own mix'n'match compilations ("make your own Brötzmann's Greatest Hits mixtape! A-and don't forget to download that Fuck De Boere ringtone, kids!"), stepping in dogshit, falling down open manhole covers and getting run over as we trot gaily along the city streets eyes glued to a screen the size of a packet of smokes trying to watch some hip noise band on YouTube. One day I suppose you'll be able to listen to, watch, send fanmail and even talk directly to your favourite alt.music star all at the same time on an iPhone. Suppose I'm getting too old, but I just don't get much of a kick out of the idea. Not that I've got anything against downloading, especially when the album concerned is way out of print and way out of my price bracket on eBay – you should see all the shit I've got from Church Number Nine recently – but even if I print out the "original album cover", convert the mp3 files to .wav and burn the whole shebang on a brand new CDR, it's not the same thing as a "real" disc, is it now? The folks out there who invest their time and money in running a label for this kind of music are certainly heroes in my book, even if it's a burn-to-order-in-yer-bedroom operation. But going to the trouble of putting out a vinyl LP in 2007, complete with artwork, notes, and all round beautiful design is a real labour of love. And, if you care for the music they're putting out, one that deserves your support.
It's no surprise that Wir können leider nicht etwas mehr zu tun, the latest double LP of Black To Comm is on the Hamburg-based Dekorder label, because BTC is the pet project of Dekorder head honcho Marc Richter, who in addition to providing vocals plays "harmophon, organ, tape loops, microphones, bells, feedback, kitchen gamelan, vinyl loops and computer." He's joined on a couple of tracks by Renate Nikolaus (vocals, guitars) and Gregory Büttner adds a touch of trumpet on "Happy Brown Lego Star". These six spacious tracks – the word "drone" singularly fails to do justice to the wealth of detail Richter creates with his loops, patches, pots and pans – could probably all fit on one CD, but they wouldn't sound half as good. Not that I didn't enjoy BTC's Rückwärts Backwards CD, but the warmth of vinyl seems more appropriate for the music Richter makes (here we go, he's sounding like one of those tedious fuckin VINYL SNOBS.. yawn gimme a break, pass the Wolf Eyes CDR dude). And the great thing is it looks, feels and smells as good as it sounds.

I grew up cursing the crackles and clicks that used to drive me crazy trying to listen to my LP collection – most of which in the pre-CD days was contemporary classical stuff, i.e. pretty quiet and often badly pressed: hands up who remembers how those old Deutsche Grammophon discs used to pick up static? My copy of Stockhausen's Mantra still sounds like it's been trampled underfoot as part of a Christian Marclay installation. Or who remembers the old Nonesuch vinyls? Hold 'em up to the light and they look like a 3D map of the dark side of the Moon.. you want craters, we got craters. Thank God Mode, Bridge and New World have reissued a lot of that American stuff – I can finally frisbee those bloody things into the bin without a twinge of remorse. Nowadays though most new LPs are super duper 180g affairs, heavy enough to make you yelp in pain if you drop one on your foot, and the quality of the pressing is immaculate (but I'll make an exception for the sharks in Italy who re-released the BYG Actuel back catalogue.. I seriously regret trading my old original copies in for the reissued versions.. if anyone else has had problems with their new copy of Frank Wright's One For John let me know and we'll organise a million man match to Florence, or wherever these characters hang out). Just as well when the material you're releasing is highly collectable stuff like Kuupuu's Yökehrä, a collection of Finnish free folk rarities courtesy Jonna Karanka (cover above). These were originally released on cassette and CDR and now apparently command ridiculous prices on eBay (though God knows why you'd want to shell out a fortune for a spacky old hissy cassette when you can invest in a beautiful vinyl copy). It's a truly exquisite collection of strange, haunting garden furniture psychedelia – and it'd be just as strange if I could understand the words, or even pronounce the track titles – beautifully sung and recorded on an odd assortment of instruments, many of which wouldn't sound out of place on a Harry Partch album.
Actually, I don't know why I'm telling you about this record (well that's not true – it's because I've just received a copy of it, haha) because, according to the Dekorder website, it's already sold out. All the more reason for you to get cracking and find a copy of the sequel, Unilintu, which features more of the same. In fact I think it's even better, with its jews harps, thunderstorms and ruined pianos. Fans of Fursaxa, Vashti Bunyan, Kemialliset Ystävät, Colleen, Animal Collective, Lau Nau, Jewelled Antler, Wooden Wand (I'm quoting the Dekorder website here), get your credit cards at the ready. I almost feel like buying another copy myself just to leave it outside in the rain for a couple of months to grow as weatherbeaten and mossy as some of the gorgeous songs it contains.

It's not all snails and dewdrops in the vinyl world, though. If you've been following developments on the British Entr'acte label you'll know that their releases come in austere vacuum-sealed packaging with precious little information. That's true of the CDs anyway: the vinyl that recently came my way is somewhat more forthcoming: it's a split LP featuring two North American EAI outfits, Mouths (Jon Mueller and Jim Schoenecker on percussion, analogue synth, shortwaves and vocals, joined on this track, "1V2E" by Werner Moebius) and Haptic (Steven Hess, Joseph Mills and Adam Sonderberg). The latter's "Danjon Scale" was assembled and mixed by Sonderberg from studio and live recordings made last year, but you're a better listener than I am if you can see the join, as Eric Morecambe used to say. Both pieces are class stuff, prime rib dark, rich drone music, and the warm fuzz of vinyl once more adds to the effect.

PT regulars will be familiar with the name Jon Mueller as the éminence grise behind Crouton Music, whose fabulous packaging over the years has attracted as much praise as the music it contains (hands up anyone with an original copy of Keith Berry's The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish – what did you do with those blue smally leaves, eh? brew them up into some funky herbal tea?). And the Milwaukee-based label has come up trumps again with Hal Rammel's Like Water Tightly Wound, which comes in a stiff cardboard 10" pack designed to resemble an old 78rpm. The two tracks, "Like Water.." and "On Balance Scattered" feature Rammel's self-made Sound Palettes, customised artists' palettes encrusted with metal rods of all shapes and sizes. "On Balance" sounds like a cross between a Harry Bertoia sculpture and a kind of giant thumb piano, while the title track starts out more friction than percussion. Like Burkhard Beins cleaning out the inside of Andrea Neumann's piano. Needless to say it's another limited edition affair – only 300 copies available, so don't hang about. I dare say one day it'll be available as a free download somewhere and you'll be able to carry it round your neck with about seven zillion other songs, but I'll be happy to have the original gathering dust gently on my sagging shelves.
–DW


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Manuel Mota

OUTUBRO
Headlights
I think I've already waxed lyrical before about Clive Bell's long-gone but much appreciated (by me anyway) "Freefall" column in The Wire magazine of yore, especially the one where he fondly imagined Derek Bailey playing to a packed football stadium. "Stadprov", I remember he called it. Of course, it'd be lovely to think that free improvisers (a perennially impoverished lot, unless they happen to live in some blessed country that throws state money at them to finance recordings and tours – Switzerland, anyone? – and even that doesn't amount to much) could one day command rock star fees. It'd be cool if Keith was paid as much as Keef, but it's not going to happen. Not this year, not next year, not ever. And deep down, we don't really want it to. The best improv gigs I've been to, and certainly the best I've played myself, were in small places barely half full – 50 people at an improv concert feels like a football crowd anyway. Small houses have been the norm for years now, ever since the apocryphal two-men-and-a-dog-in-a-Stoke-Newington-pub days, and especially since improv went all quiet about a decade ago. Tiny venues like Tokyo's Off Site were ideal for the music of Taku Sugimoto and his peers. Lowercase music in uppercase performance spaces has a lot to contend with, from the elements outside as much as inside – remember the roof in Radu Malfatti, Thomas Lehn and Phil Durrant's Dach?
Minimalist or not, improvisation today is, as we know, a niche market, a tight community of like-minded souls scattered across the globe. Not so much a wave of activity as a collection of little pools. Some of the best musicians I've heard in recent years have come from Portugal (thanks in no small part to the work documented by the indefatigable Ernesto Rodrigues and his Creative Sources label), and guitarist Manuel Mota has long been one of my favourites. So a new double album on his Headlights label – which unlike CS has hardly flooded the market – is, at least here in PTHQ, a major event. Outubro ("October") is a collection of 23 pieces for electric and acoustic guitar recorded at Mota's home in Lisbon, the electric tracks on disc one on October 11th 2006, the acoustic pieces on disc two three days later. The electric tracks are delicate, velvety affairs, while the acoustic pieces are miked closer, and are more spiky (there's also more hiss on the recording). The back cover photo shows three amps and a couple of guitar cases tossed on a sofa as sunlight struggles in through the drawn metal blinds and dapples the scene. The music is just as unassuming: no blurts of vicious noise, no pyrotechnics, no excessive preparations, just a man alone playing his guitars. Comparisons could be made with Roger Smith's late night explorations in his Wood Green kitchen (Unexpected Turns, Green Wood and Spanish Guitar, on Emanem): like Smith's, Mota's music is turned in on itself, intensely focused on its own microstructure, on a world where the tiniest nuances assume such importance that the listener feels privileged, almost embarrassed, to eavesdrop. Unlike Smith, however, Mota isn't afraid to explore repetition: on several occasions the pieces get wonderfully stuck on one pitch, or one chord, which is reiterated mercilessly (if gently) until it's time to move on.
You can hear exactly why Derek Bailey spoke so highly of Mota: the guitarist has quite simply created a world of his own. Unlike Bailey, whose playing right to the end retained a fondness for the major sevenths and minor ninths he so loved in Webern, Mota favours smaller intervals – seconds, thirds and fourths – but where several of his contemporaries, from Taku Sugimoto (back when he used to play more than a note a minute, that is) to Jim O'Rourke, Tetuzi Akiyama and Alan Licht, use those melodic shapes as way to tap into the blues, the post-Fahey / Connors one-note blues, Mota avoids the long noodle in favour of discrete / discreet pockets of activity, tiny controlled explosions of notes and shapes. It's a music very much in the moment, as they used to say, so much so that it's stepped neatly out of time; this could have been recorded ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years ago (ah, how I wish Manuel could beam back in time and jam with Smith and John Stevens in the mid-70s Spontaneous Music Ensemble!). Consequently, EAI heads who like their guitars to sound like washing machine spincycles, electricity substations, bubble paper and steel wool will probably scoff at the idea of a guitar sounding like a guitar, but if they listen to Outubro with the same fanatical concentration they'll find much to enjoy. And so will you. By the way, Manuel Mota will be opening for Metallica on June 4th at Lisbon's Rock in Rio. Just joking, Clive.
–DW


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Jason Lescalleet

THE PILGRIM
Glistening Examples LP + CD
What you don't know can't hurt you. Conversely, they say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Tired old clichés aside ("away with the old clichés! let's have some new clichés!"), there's no way to approach this work by Jason Lescalleet without knowing something about the events that led to its creation: the story is as much a part of it as the music. In short (as this has been discussed elsewhere, notably by Brian Olewnick over at Bagatellen), The Pilgrim is a tribute to the composer's father Harrison, who succumbed to cancer in 2005, and features, in addition to Lescalleet's customary electronics, extracts of tape recordings made at his father's bedside in hospital, and the text of an email Lescalleet received from him complimenting him on his Intransitive CD with John Hudak, Figure 2, recalling how it reminded him of the rumble of a 32 Chevy driving him to hospital with a high fever when he was a child.
The LP component of the set, which comes in an elegant gatefold adorned with the text of Harrison's email, explanatory notes by Lescalleet, and a portrait of his father painted by his brother Todd, is a picture disc containing two pieces of music, the first of which is entitled "His Petition" and begins with Lescalleet's reading of the email (in fact his spoken introduction to his performance at the first Intransitive Festival of Electronic Music in May 2005). Side two of the disc features the hospital bedside recordings, which, the composer admits are "difficult for me to listen to." During one of his visits to his father he was accompanied by his daughter Audrey, who, at the request of her granddad, sang "Molly Malone". This touching recording appears at the end of "My Petition", a 74-minute composition that appears on the accompanying CD.

Beginning in a thunderstorm with the sound of falling rain and tolling bells, it's clear this isn't going to be a cheery affair. Lescalleet admits that in his live performance at the festival his intention was to "transform the theater into the floor space of that 1932 Chevy". Any idea of "pure music", the "it is what it is" aesthetic of Phill Niblock (with whom, interestingly enough, Jason Lescalleet performed at the last edition of Erstquake), has gone right out of the window. Lescalleet's painful baring of the soul, intimate details and family snapshots included, is a gesture as direct and unambiguous as Krzysztof Penderecki dedicating his Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima. Rather than letting sounds be themselves, in accordance with the Cageian principles that have been just as influential in the world of improvised and electronic music as they have elsewhere, we're invited to hear them as signifiers of something else. The warmth of the sounds I recall enjoying enormously on Figure 2, a live set recorded in a Cambridge church in January 2000, now seems to have become more sinister, feverish, angry, as sweaty and uncomfortable as a hot hospital ward. And that's only because I've been conditioned to listen in a certain way, my curiosity having got the better of me (I read the liners before listening to the music – not that I wasn't aware of the background to the piece from the abovementioned review over at Bagatellen).

That "conditioned" might sound rather sinister itself, as if there was something suspect about the whole enterprise – how dare you tell me what to think? how to listen? – but in fact, Lescalleet is only reactivating a tradition of programme music that the science-minded, graphpaper-wielding young lions of twentieth century modernism, from Varèse to Boulez and beyond, had had us believe was old hat, even corny. Namely the idea that music not only can but does, even perhaps should, communicate a whole range of human passions, and that musicians – composers and performers alike – shouldn't be afraid or ashamed of doing so. As such, Lescalleet takes its place alongside other tough bearded New Englanders, Paul Flaherty and Charles Ives, who prove that the aggressively avant-garde can appeal to the emotions as well as the intellect.
But one of the consequences of Lescalleet's reveal-all strategy is the reaction of journalists like our own man down under, Jon Dale, who described The Pilgrim in his Wire review as "the most intensely personal, overwhelming release you will encounter all year" (that's 2006, btw), and the appearance of album at the top of or near the top of a number of folk's year-end Best Of lists. As if they were just waiting for EAI to cry real tears instead of sitting expressionless behind its laptops, mixing desks and customised FX pedals. I suspect that had Lescalleet released this without explanation in the same kind of austere packaging in which Figure 2 appeared a few years back, we wouldn't be talking about it as much as we are. I happen to agree with Harrison Lescalleet that the album with Hudak is "awesome" (maybe my favourite release on Intransitive to date, but that's a hell of a tough call), yet its unassuming appearance and rather dry title probably accounted for the relative lack of attention it received. The Pilgrim – particularly "My Petition" – is indeed fine, assembled and mixed with a superb ear and exemplary concern for detail, but for my money it wasn't the most exciting Lescalleet release that came my way in 2006: that honour would go to his collaboration with Joe Colley on Brombron / Korm Plastics, Annihilate This Week. And my vote for "the most intensely personal, overwhelming release" of the year gone by went to Loren Connors' Night Through.
But so what if there's a bit of overhype involved here – we scribblers are not all callous cynical motherfuckers, after all, contrary to what you might think, and we're just as touched by the circumstances that surrounded the creation of this music as the next man – if the end result is more people getting to know the music of Lescalleet and his peers, that's just fine by me. And if by chance The Pilgrim has already sold out, as it certainly deserves to, I can strongly recommend Annihilate This Week, Figure 2 and the ever wonderful Forlorn Green, on Erstwhile, with Greg Kelley.
–DW


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Michel Henritzi


KEITH ROWE SERVES IMPERIALISM
wmo/r
I love liner notes. I think it's fair to say I learned more about music from reading liner notes than I ever did at university (I hope to goodness my ex-Cambridge professor Alexander Goehr isn't reading this, but if he is it'll probably only confirm what he always suspected anyway). Sure, sometimes they don't amount to much more than a set of potted bios, or a blow-by-blow description of what most semi-conscious listeners can figure out for themselves, but when they're good they can be both informative and fun. Personal favourites include Ralph Gleason's hip wacko notes to the late 60 Miles Davis LPs ("that's right" says Miles Davis), Byron Coley's "take the top off your head" liners to the BYG Actuel boxset a while back, and especially The Journal Of Vain Erudition essays that accompanied releases on Bruce Russell's Corpus Hermeticum imprint, particularly the exchange of letters with Alan Licht that accompanied the latter's The Evan Dando Of Noise? One wonders whether Russell hasn't also been something of a role model for Mattin in this regard too, as several releases, not only by Russell, on the Basque avant provocateur's wmo/r label (and Mattin's Going Fragile with Radu Malfatti on Formed) have come wrapped in some serious wordage. The Licht / Russell correspondence that accompanies the abovementioned album is indeed fascinating, but the music can and does survive perfectly well without it. Evan Dando of Noise? would be a cracking album even if it came in a plain white jewelbox with minimal track info. The same could be said of this latest offering from French guitarist / turntablist Michel Henritzi, but the fact that he's chosen a deliberately provocative title for it inevitably draws one's attention to the words accompanying the disc (1600 words of them, in the original) and away from the music on it, which is unfortunate, as the music is strong and coherent and the text isn't.

Michel Henritzi has long been one France's most important commentators on new music, having signed numerous perceptive articles and interviews in Revue & Corrigée, and one of its most ardent champions, organising several important European tours for major players on the scene, many of them Japanese, and releasing key documents on his excellent A Bruit Secret label (now sadly on ice, it seems). Since his seminal noise outfit Dust Breeders ceased operations (blew itself away might be a more appropriate description) a while back, Henritzi has signed a couple of fine releases himself on the Absurd label with Fabrice Eglin under the name Howlin' Ghost Proletarians. Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism marks his solo debut, and, not surprisingly with a title like that, it's already made a few waves.
Before we get into the polemical stuff, a few words about the music. The album contains four ten-minute tracks on which Henritzi is joined by, in order, Shin'ichi Isohata (guitar – Gibson Johnny Smith 1965, in fact), Bruce Russell (guitar – no make specified), Mattin (guitar – no make needed because he always manages to make it sound pretty terrifying) and Taku Unami (computer). The guests recorded their improvisations separately in various locations between September and November last year, and Henritzi his own four contributions – on turntable, guitar, hammer / electric saw / guitar and jack plug – in Metz in October 2006. Henritzi's material is on the right stereo track throughout, that of his fellow musicians on the left. (Oddly enough, this take-it-as-it-comes superimposition of music recorded at different times in different locations is also the basic working method behind the forthcoming MIMEO project, tentatively entitled "Cy Twombly", the latest brainchild of the arch-imperialist himself, Mr Rowe. But more of him later.) It's a terrific set of pieces, starting with a spiky, colourful guitar duet – not for nothing is the album dedicated to the memory of Derek Bailey and Masayuki Takayanagi – followed by an awesome Russell / Henritzi feedback battle (both musicians really understand feedback, and it shows: budding noiseniks take note), a rough'n'ready tussle with Mattin and a delightfully abstruse assemblage of beeps and crackles with Unami.
If Michel had left it at that and resisted the temptation to write at length on it all, it would have been just fine. Instead, what is one of the most varied and satisfying improv outings in recent months has become a talking point for the wrong reasons. I don't feel like dwelling on the text, to be honest (if I had ten free minutes I'd prefer to listen to one of the tracks on the disc instead of re-reading Henritzi's essay), but it's worth pointing out that the author freely admits he hasn't read much of Cornelius Cardew's book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism (available if you're interested for free download at www.ubu.com/historical/cardew/index.html) and has no Maoist sympathies. Just as well, because Mao is way out of fashion and Cardew's book, though better written than Henritzi's essay, is just as daft. Leaving aside the misrepresentation of Keith Rowe's remarks about Derek Bailey in an interview he gave me in January 2001, the oblique references to Guy Debord and Marx (double yawn), the only reason I can think of for accusing Rowe of serving imperialism as opposed to Otomo, Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, Henry Kaiser or any other free improvising guitar hero is to get some kind of dig in at Erstwhile's Jon Abbey, as if he was head honcho top dog of the improv scene and making a packet of money out of it (he isn't, on both counts). Abbey's ferocious championship of Rowe is often the subject of conversation amongst musicians both on and off the record, and Mattin, master pisser offer if ever there was one, knows how to find a sensitive acupuncture node and drive a nine inch nail into it, but next time he feels like doing so he should engage the services of a professional translator, as there are numerous shoddy mistakes in the English version of Henritzi's essay which serve to make an already muddy text at times positively opaque. What's the point of it all? If it's just to draw attention to the disc by provoking inveterate hacks like me into devoting a separate review to the album instead of slipping it into the Jazz / Improv section with all the others, bravo – it worked! In fact, it's what I'd call aggressive marketing, and if aggressive marketing isn't a hallmark of 21st century capitalism – which as far as I'm concerned is the modern equivalent of imperialism – I don't know what is. I know I know I know, the albums are there for free download, anti copyright, creative commons, no more music at the service of capital, fuck this, fuck that, but from where I'm sitting it's not Keith Rowe that's serving imperialism here, but Mattin and Michel Henritzi.
–DW


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JAZZ & IMPROV
Jack Wright
THE INDETERMINATE EXISTENCE
Last Visible Dog

AS IS
Spring Garden Music
It's nice to see Last Visible Dog, a label I usually associate with free floating post psychedelic avant rock drone, branching out into "the avant-garde", as they put it (as if some of the earlier releases on the label weren't avant-garde already.. I mean, LSD-march and Ashtray Navigations aren't exactly household names, even if they should be). They couldn't have chosen a better figure to inaugurate the series, either: saxophonist Jack Wright has been putting spokes in wheels – including his own – for over a quarter of a century, and happily shows no sign of letting up. And yet The Indeterminate Existence is more of a look back over the shoulder than a peer into the future: its seven tracks – three on alto sax and two each on tenor and soprano – were recorded between October 1988 and December 1998, which means that even the most recent material on the album dates from eight years ago, and eight years in the life of any improviser is a hell of a long time. Especially so for Wright, who radically redefined his concept of the saxophone both as a solo and ensemble instrument at the end of the 1990s in a number of landmark collaborations with Bhob Rainey, and has continued to do so in the company of another master saxophonist, Michel Doneda in the From Between trio.
"Difficult listening", warns the LVD website. Indeed, for those used to chilling out with Peter Wright and Campbell Kneale, this must be pretty forbidding stuff: even seasoned improv heads won't find it easy going. Jack has always described himself as a "dirty" player, meaning not only that he cultivates a wide range of extended techniques, spitting, snarling, and singing into the horn, but also that he cussedly refuses to leave his own ideas alone. While the likes of John Butcher and Evan Parker often content themselves with exploring one musical idea or technique over the course of a piece, Wright's music is constantly challenging itself from one moment to the next: the music refuses to sit still. And even if – as Wright seems to imply in his lengthy and typically erudite liner notes – there are echoes of the furious free jazz he emerged from in the early 80s (Parker, Brötzmann..), there's no way you can just sit back and let yourself burn up in delight as you might do listening to a Paul Flaherty album. You have to engage with this fully or just pass the disc on to someone else who will.
As Is is a clear indication of how far Wright has travelled in the years since the tracks on The Indeterminate Existence was recorded. These three solos, recorded last year in Barcelona and Beirut (at the Irtijal festival), are just as uncompromising in their investigations, but clearly have next to nothing to do with the music Wright was making a decade ago. The sound is still dirty, maybe even more so, with extensive use of muting – he's fond of jamming the horn against his trouser leg to produce a microtonally-inflected stifled wheezing – but the surface of the music, though at times busy, is less concerned with melody than with timbre. It's as if he's climbed inside the horn and no longer needs to blow it apart. There's still the same tendency to worry the material, harry and herd it into a confined space – if you believe in reincarnation Jack might come back one day as a sheepdog – but the vocabulary has changed. In recent years Wright, like John Butcher, has been playing more with electronics, and, as is also the case with Butcher, it's prompted him to redefine his technique substantially. If you're a fire music nut, this is not for you, be warned (go for The Indeterminate Existence instead). But if you're prepared to really put the time in and live with it, you'll find much to reward you. Believe me.–DW

Schlippenbach Trio
WINTERREISE
psi
When a near-miss Schlippenbach Trio (with Paul Lytton rather than Paul Lovens on drums) did a road-tour of the States in 2003 the result was a scorching two-CD set on psi simply titled America 2003. Winterreise is a release on the same label from the Trio proper – two tracks, recorded in Cologne in 2004 and 2005 during separate German tours – and at a single CD in length it feels a little compressed, though what's on offer is certainly excellent. "Winterreise 1" is the standout performance, three-quarters of an hour that flows seamlessly and unpredictably between the various available solo, duo and trio formations. Schlippenbach's playing is especially mercurial and many-faceted, and the piece's shifts of mood and texture are often signalled by his detours into passages of solo piano: often he picks over an idea obsessively, breaking it up with jolting two-handed back-and-forth à la Taylor, but he's also a highly lyrical player, at times paring things down to abecedarian simplicity. Parker leaves the soprano sax behind on this occasion, instead drawing out typically dark, riddling lines from his tenor, like musical questions and answers that have been run seamlessly together. Lovens isn't quite as ear-grabbing as on some of the trio's other recordings, but shines on an extended duet with Parker at the piece's midpoint. Echoes of jazz tradition abound: I've yet to hear a Schlippenbach recording that didn't have its Monkish moments (he even sneaks in a touch of "Epistrophy" at one point), and there's also a delightful passage here where Lovens and the pianist do a wonky version of "trading fours". Towards the end of the piece things get positively Coltraneish, with Parker's drypoint-etched lines becoming more rhapsodic and Schlippenbach opting for Tyneresque grandeur.
The incomplete "Winterreise 2" is a totally different beast. Some early reviews of the disc have expressed perplexity at the piece's quiet and attenuated opening (imagine what that once-mooted, never-realized recording of AMM with Evan Parker might have sounded like), but to these ears it's an enthralling passage that ranks with Parker's unaccompanied solo on part 1 as the album's finest moment. It's almost a pity when after such patient development the energy levels rise and the piece reverts to the usual free-jazz density of interaction. Parker eventually bows out and there's a shredded piano solo from Schlippenbach (mostly high-energy stuff, though at the end there's a calmer passage with a flicker of Irène Schweizer-style waltztime). Parker re-enters just as the piece (very frustratingly) fades out. A shame about that. This trio is now 37 years old, and remains as potent as ever: for my money it's one of the best units Evan Parker has ever had, his reserved intensity counterbalancing – yet gaining warmth from – Schlippenbach and Lovens' excitable, joyous contributions. Maybe Winterreise doesn't reach the heights of classics like Pakistani Pomade or Elf Bagatellen, but it's still a formidable album that rewards the ears with every spin.
–ND

Muhal Richard Abrams / George Lewis / Roscoe Mitchell
STREAMING
Pi
There's been no sign of a new Muhal Richard Abrams large-ensemble recording for a while – which is a damn shame, as anyone who knows his run of albums for Black Saint and New World can tell you – but it's a pleasure nonetheless to hear him setting aside his composer's hat on Streaming for a set of free improvisations with fellow AACMers George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell. There is a productive tension throughout these five lengthy pieces between the straightforwardly expressive elements – a point-by-point, narrative style of improvisation – and a much stronger tendency towards an architectural/sculptural approach, in which the improvisers balance large chunks of abstracted sound-textures against each other. It's Abrams who often works closest to the expressive pole, perhaps because his piano-playing is still even in this abstracted context redolent of past styles: on the frenzied noise-making of "Streaming", for instance, his contributions suggest a demonic reimagining of stride piano. Mitchell is strongly inclined towards "non-expressiveness" – in the Cagean rather than pejorative sense – most obviously so in the layer of jingling percussion that he adds to "Soundhear", which remains stubbornly independent of Abrams' darkened, tremulous romanticism and Lewis's whirlpool of electronics. Lewis's doubling on trombone and electronics permits him an enormously wide range of response, and you can often hear him shifting his approach as a track develops – listen to how on "Scrape" he begins by improvising some jaunty melodies that rub up against Mitchell's papery, Lacy-like soprano, but quickly moves on to explore different attacks and textures at length (while Abrams, contrastingly, concentrates on dramatically plunging cascades and bright swirls). When Abrams sits out on "Bound" and Lewis turns exclusively to the laptop, the shimmering, pulsing, whispering aural canvas might almost be a previously unknown track off Burkhard Stangl and Christof Kurzmann's Schnee.–ND

Jason Kahn / Tomas Korber / Christian Weber
ZURCHER AUFNAHMEN
Longbox
All good things come to an end. After a decade in the saddle, Chicago's Adam Sonderberg has put his Longbox label out to pasture with this truly magnificent set of six brief pieces recorded in Zürich in June 2005 by Messrs Kahn (percussion and electronics), Korber (guitar and electronics) and Weber (bass). The Longbox catalogue is an intriguing one, and it's been fun following the twists and turns in the road, from Sonderberg's spazzed-out junk duos with Fred Lonberg-Holm (Music of the Late Romantics) and Boris Hauf (--- -) via the slowmoving-verging-on-the-tedious trawl of his 64 Squares (with Sam Dellaria) to the brooding austerity of the Dropp Ensemble and Civil War. For the record, the label might have been put on ice, but those two fine outfits haven't, so you can expect more news here when they next surface. Meanwhile, the spotlight shifts from Chicago to Zürich. Kahn, Korber and Weber haven't exactly been idle in recent times when it comes to releasing albums, as readers of these pages will know, but this must be one of their strongest outings yet. Each of the six (untitled) tracks displays an almost uncanny sense of poise, of capturing a moment, suspending time, stretching it out and exploring its inner workings before allowing it to float away into silence. Kahn teases harmonics out of his cymbals, Korber digs in the glowing embers of hiss and feedback, and Weber's velvety pizzicato thuds and ever so fragile bowed work add that touch of fragility, of humanity, that's often conspicuously absent in recent EAI. It's a truly compelling listen, but not one to be undertaken lightly. Ambient this is not. Most music keeps the listener at a respectful distance, able to engage with it with some degree of objectivity, appreciating the technical mastery of the performers, the nuances of the structure from afar, as it were. Even the fiery excesses of free jazz and noise are ecstatic – as in ek-stasis, going outside oneself; no need to struggle to get inside the sound, because the sound is around you; you're bombarded with information, with noise, noise as in information theory, the overload / overkill / redundancy necessary to allow the message to reach its target. Listening to Cecil Taylor, Borbetomagus, Merzbow, Xenakis, Flaherty / Corsano, Bailey / Parker (et al.) can be an experience as exhausting as it is exciting. But Kahn, Korber and Weber – and we might add Keith Rowe, Toshi Nakamura, Christof Kurzmann and any number of top-notch EAI practitioners – demand a different focus. It's not a question of sitting back and admiring the musicians' skill (which is not to say there isn't anything to admire: highly skilled performers these guys most certainly are), or following the development of a particular musical idea (of which, in conventional terms, there are very few). It's about getting inside the sound, concentrating on it so intently that you – the listener – and they – the performers – simply disappear. Record labels too can, sadly, disappear: but as Chaka Khan used to say, "the melody still lingers on."–DW

Michael Dessen
LINEAL
Circumvention
Back in 1986 when I was busting my ass to get what I still believe is the fastest ever PhD in American academic history at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester NY, one of the violinists in my band, Lisa Nielsen, asked me to write a piece for her and friend and fellow fiddler Hanneke Klein-Robbenhaar to be performed at Lisa's graduation recital. It was also to feature Lisa's then boyfriend, a trombonist called Rob (last name escapes me, terribly sorry and all that) and three of his 'bone playing mates. I duly obliged with a truly awful four minutes of post-Nyman crud entitled Catastrophe Theory, which starts off with the two violinists (and myself on piano, at their request, though I think I'd have preferred to skulk backstage) jamming merrily away and ends up with the stage being invaded by the trombonists, who surround the poor damsels and blast them to pieces. They end up on the floor, literally. As I recall, it also involved some kind of sexually dubious costume choreography, with the fiddlers in virginal white and the trombonists decked out in nasty biker leather, but that was abandoned. In fact Catastrophe Theory's one and only performance was very nearly shelved when Lisa, remembering that her grandparents would be attending the recital, expressed the understandable reservation that a simulated gang rape, albeit in bright, merry E major, might just lead to some awkward questions being asked at the Nielsen family post-recital drinks party. But we went ahead and did it anyway, and I still have a cassette recording of the dreadful affair somewhere which I never want to listen to again.
The reason I'm digging up all this embarrassing shit is that one of the trombonists that fateful day was Mike Dessen, who, I'm delighted to report, has put the whole thing well and truly behind him and gone on to bigger and better things, namely a teaching post at UC Irvine in California and this fine new album on Circumvention, which features him in the company of two distinct line-ups, one with Jorge Roeder (bass), Bob Weiner (percussion) and, on one track, Terry Jenoure (violin), the other with Vijay Iyer (piano), Mark Dresser (bass) and Susie Ibarra (percussion). After leaving Eastman, Dessen went on to study with George Lewis and Anthony Davis at UC San Diego, and there are traces of the former's furiously creative athleticism in his trombone playing, as well as a hint of Roswell Rudd in the raw bite of his attack. The eight tracks on Lineal are intricate affairs, packed with detail and referencing a wide range of traditions and developments in contemporary jazz. In fact, they're so packed with detail that listening to the whole album in one go is quite a challenge, but a highly enjoyable one. It's good to hear Iyer and Ibarra playing away from their usual home ground, and Dresser is typically rock solid on bass. But the Roeder / Weiner rhythm team is just as in tune with Dessen's intricate compositions too. Check it out.
–DW

Topias Tiheäsalo
EYES OF A DEAD LAMB
Tyyfus
A few years ago I got absolutely ratarsed with a mate of mine in the fair city of Tours and recorded a 45-minute "album" of free improvised guitar music. I had – still have – no idea how to play the guitar, but the recordings had, as they say, a certain raw charm (though I'd never dream of releasing them). Oddly enough, this debut solo recording by Finnish guitarist Topias Tiheäsalo reminds me of my drunken twiddlings – not that for one minute that I'm insinuating he can't actually play the instrument, mind (after all he plays free jazz with Sir Trio and the Four Horsemen and speed metal with Pymathon, it says here), but because there's a fresh naïveté to his explorations that makes a welcome change. And while we're on the subject of technique, though it's long been my opinion that the most satisfying and accomplished improvised music is made by people who actually have a conventional technical grounding in the instrument they play, there's nothing wrong at all with inspired autodidacticism – what could be more exciting than Ornette Coleman's violin playing, for example? Tiheäsalo's explorations – eight of them, untitled – are beautifully recorded, intimate affairs. His tiny scratches and pings and subtle use of preparations recall Tetuzi Akiyama, but also the quieter side of John Russell and the filigree finery of Pascal Marzan. If you're really on the ball, you might even recognise them from somewhere else, as Ralf Wehowsky used the Eyes Of A Dead Lamb tapes as source material for his magnificent Würgengels Lachende Hand (reviewed in these pages last month).–DW

Gary Smith
SUPERTEXTURE
Sijis
Although he hasn't exactly been overproductive over the years, Gary Smith is not an alien who fell to Earth last month, as the surge of recent reviews and articles would have us believe. His music has absolutely nothing to do with Harry Partch, either (I fell off the chair laughing when I read that comparison on the web). But he can sure as hell IMPROVISE on the guitar, and SuperTexture – his latest solo outing – showcases the off-the-fretboard logic already in evidence when his Rhythm Guitar came out in 1991 and no one cared except four or five stray cats. Isn't life always the same when the world "discovers" artists who have been around for decades?
This double CD set offers a black and white contrast between Smith's stark style and other artists' reshaping of this raw material. On disc one, thirteen solo improvisations take full advantage of the guitar's components, as Smith – who only uses hands, a volume pedal and an amp – scratches, smashes, and plucks at the pickups, the neck, the bridge (I'm sure that if he could get at the pickup wires he'd use them, too) to bring out a series of discharges ranging from microscopic clicks and pops to a swelling wave of massaged glissandos that had me thinking of those pioneers – Reichel, Fitzgerald, Frith – who in the 70s tried to open the ears of listeners with treasures like the Guitar Solos series. And, of course, no laptop in sight here, just flesh, nails (maybe a thumbpick too), metal and wood.
The second CD consists of remixes by thirteen sound artists somehow connected with Smith's work, from Bill Fay's piano-and-synth simplicity (which, frankly, doesn't work with the mangled guitar) to vocal interventions by David Tibet, who recites – rather than sings – over Smith's abstractions. Elliott Sharp contributes one excellent track, as does an unrecognizable Bernhard Günter, who uses clean if dissonant guitar lines to pay homage to.. Derek Bailey. But my favourite pieces are the ones by drummer Charles Hayward, who manages to insert Smith's sound into a – well, yes – robust, bouncing groove, and BJ Nilsen, who translates intricate webs of multidirectional shards into murky loops that could fool you into thinking that Smith was a founder member of :zoviet*france:. So don't be surprised if you read that online somewhere in the future.–MR


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MORE JAZZ & IMPROV
The Fell Clutch
THE FELL CLUTCH
Animul
The Fell Clutch's core consists of Ned Rothenberg (bass clarinet, clarinet, alto sax), Stomu Takeishi (fretless bass) and Tony Buck (drums). Slide guitar master David Tronzo is featured on three tracks, while bassist Joe Williamson plays on the last. Those conversant with the technical dexterity and circular-breathing virtuosity of most of Rothenberg's catalogue will find much to like, but they're also in for a few surprises: this trio's exquisite playing is often quite understated – but no less effective. Rothenberg's inventive, ever-changing spirals are given an unusual context on a couple of groove-based tracks, which move with the elegance of a cat jumping from a tree. "Life In Your Years" offers a concentrated, slow-motion labyrinthine minimalism, propelled by Tronzo’s David Torn-style lines and Takeishi's bass figurations. In "Food For A Rambling", sustained sax harmonics and deceptive bass-and-drum intertwinings construct a transfixed masque of obsessiveness. "No Memes, Mom" couples Tronzo's wahwah-tinged guitar with the trio's magma of clarinet snippets and fleeting quasi-motifs. "Brainy And Footsy" is what you get when you put Brand X (circa Product), a snakecharming bass clarinettist and a bionic belly dancer in a washing machine. The second half of the album is more oriented towards undefinable cross-pollinations of ritualistic shamanism and self-conscious inspections of timbral expansion. The CD's best track is "Epic In Difference", in which Takeishi and Buck create a tapestry of dismembered ornaments – at one point, an engrossing 21st century gamelan – while Rothenberg pulverizes your brain with a couple of truly dazzling clarinet solos. The final track, "Ashes", pairs scattered convolutions and incohesive regularity in a final declaration of anticonformism, as if in revolt against the unstated rules of free improvisation. Overall, this is an excellent outing that requires repeated visits to unpack all its enigmas.–MR

Mark Helias's Open Loose
ATOMIC CLOCK
Radio Legs
Atomic Clock was recorded at Brooklyn's Barbès club back in 2004, though it's not clear whether there was actually an audience present – if so, it was a surprisingly dead room that night. Having seen these guys (tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Mark Helias, drummer Tom Rainey) deliver a stirring performance in Toronto at roughly the time this was recorded, I can say that Atomic Clock catches them somewhat short of their best form, though the very plain recording is partly to blame. That said, the disc is still well up to scratch. Helias's compositions are lean and eventful, marked by an intriguing internal tension that comes from the way they pack free-jazz energies and ambiguities within tight, detailed structures; they run the gamut from the demented "Subway" (a Warp-10 "Surrey with the Fringe on Top") to the free-form balladry of "Zephyr" to the squeezed-and-stretched swingtime of "Cinematic". The diversity of the material suits Malaby, whose wide-ranging abilities have made him one of the most in-demand players on the New York jazz scene. Hard not to admire such versatility, though at times I find his work too amorphous: it's a bit thin on actual ideas, and instead tends to place most emphasis on mobility and on variety of tonal effect, from pallid mellifluousness to harsh Pharoah Sanders rasping and shrieking. That said, Malaby's ability to go from the lunacy of "Subway" to the dignified lament of "Chavez" is genuinely impressive – but in the end what one remembers most about the album is the tough, imaginative work of Helias and Rainey. Ellery Eskelin (the group's original saxophonist) guests for "Modern Scag", a woozy free ballad rather than the expected two-tenor showdown; the downbeat beauty of the twinned saxophones is a treat, and it's enough to make you hope that Helias will get around to making an entire quartet album with this lineup.–ND

Mick Barr
OCTIS: IOHARGH WENDED
Tzadik
Most professional rock guitarists vie for lucrative product endorsements from the likes of Fender and Gibson. Breaking with such predictable and pantywaisted ranks, Mick Barr could easily qualify for a deal with Black & Decker. His mercurial and often earsplitting fret style mimics the sounds of power tools set to punishingly high speeds. Even ingested at low volumes protective ear goggles almost seem mandatory to curtail auditory injury. Octis builds on his influential Washington, D.C.-based duo work with drummer Josh Blair in Orthrelm, and is a set of tightly-composed high velocity solo compositions divided into two titular suites. Nine of the sixteen tracks add drum machine to Barr's frenetic arpeggiations and the effect is a bit like Big Black's Roland on an electrical amphetamine binge, locked in combat with a contingent of dentist's drills and nail guns. Despite the noisy automatic weapons-fire intensity of most pieces, Barr's dizzying progressions follow perspicacious vectors. There's nothing haphazard or random about his meticulously-designed riff structures. Most curb to durations of a few minutes or less, though two press significantly longer and find him constructing caustic oscillating drones. Where the disc falters is in the semblance of parity between pieces that soon creeps in even at a relatively conservative fifty-odd minutes. Zorn's attraction to the project is endemic as Barr's pummeling math-rock patterns are right in line with the post-punk provinces of Painkiller, Spy vs. Spy and Naked City. Fans of those bands and Orthrelm will probably feel right at home, but others might find themselves racing for the exits.–DT

Uncle Woody Sullender / Kevin Davis
THE TEMPEST IS OVER
Dead CEO
This one came with a nice handwritten note from Uncle Woody saying "hope you enjoy this more than my solo CD that you reviewed!" Attaboy, Woody strugglin' to his feet and comin' back for more! Well in fact, yes I did, very much more in fact, either because my tastes have cough cough matured in the intervening years (doubtful) or, as I prefer to think, improvisers are basically sociable creatures who produce what I find to be their most enjoyable work in the company of other improvisers. That's not to say I don't enjoy solo improv albums, but if I feel like listening to, say, Derek Bailey or Evan Parker or John Butcher (or.. the list goes on) I tend to pick up a duo or trio album instead of a solo offering. Needless to say I haven't given Uncle Woody's debut outing Nothing Is Certain But Death a spin for a while, but The Tempest Is Over has been burning up the PT soundsystem for a couple of weeks now. Banjoist Sullender is joined by cellist Kevin Davis in seven well-recorded, fresh and creative duets. It's clear that both lads can really play – Davis has a splendid round tone and a mean line in doublestops and harmonics, and Sullender is as good at finding the right notes as he is at discovering timbres on the venerable banjo you never thought existed. Best of all, there's not a hint of the Eugene Chadbourne wackiness I seem to recall berating him for last time. And, thankfully, not a Johnny Paycheck cover in sight. Good stuff.–DW

Spider Trio
LIVE @ RENDEZVOUS / JEWELBOX THEATER
www.speakeasy.org/~wallyshp/
Alto saxophonist Wally Shoup seems to be heading back to his roots in the world of ultra-limited edition collectors' item releases with this CDR (only 50 of 'em, so move fast) recorded on 8.12.06 (I think that's August the 12th and not December 8th btw because a) that's the way they write the date on the other side of the pond and b) it's red hot) on which the fire warrior is ably accompanied by Jeffery Taylor on electric guitar and Dave Abramson on drums. I keep hoping that the Powers That Be might latch on Shoup the way they have his East Coast pardner Paul Flaherty and get some serious festival giggery rolling for Wally, because he swings just as hard. Yes, swings. Abramson's got that Ronald Shannon Jackson one-part-funk-one-part-rock-one-part-bop groove down to a tee, and – no disrespect to Taylor – it'd be magnificent if some mean motherfucker bassist could get in on the act too. Personal favourite: track two (no titles unfortunately), a kind of drone ballad that burns itself out spectacularly by the six-minute mark only to reconfigure itself into a mighty thrashfest. There are plenty more fireworks on offer in the other three pieces too. Makes me wonder if Spider Trio is the right name for the outfit: they sound more like tigers to me.–DW

Jacob Lindsay / Scott Looney / Gino Robair
YELLOWCAKE
Rastascan
The cover shows a garish Pop Art piece of, well, yellow cake, but Keith Rowe fans should beware. Even if the imperialism-serving table guitar grandmaster is credited inside, presumably for having inspired the artwork, the music sounds nothing like the Rowe albums whose cover it resembles (Honey Pie and Weather Sky – a veritable high calorie diet). Yellowcake is spiky, nervous stuff, and none of the musicians – Jacob Lindsay on assorted clarinets, Scott Looney on electronics and Gino Robair on "energized surfaces / voltage made audible" (percussion and electronics to you) – seems to want to stay still for very long. There are some what might be described as "micro-drones" on "Discontinuous Beings" but for the most part this is the kind of user-unfriendly twitch hoot gargle splat crash spin-on-a-dime stuff that anyone unfamiliar with improvised music would probably run a mile from. If, however, you're a fan of groups like Konk Pack (whose instrumental line-up is quite similar), this will probably be right up your street. It sounds good to me, anyway.–DW

John Shiurba
5x5 1.2=A
Rastascan / Un-Limited Sedition
If you think it sounds like a Braxton title, you're partly right: the "A" is indeed for Anthony, and the mighty Braxton is indeed one of the members of this smokin' quintet, but this particular project is the work of Oakland-based guitarist John Shiurba. The other three are Greg Kelley (trumpet), Morgan Guberman (bass) and Gino Robair (percussion – and that's what it says this time, not "energized surfaces"). Shiurba, Robair and Kelley were all featured on Braxton's magnificent Six Compositions (GTM) 2001, you may recall, and when it gets cooking 5x5 1.2=A is just as exciting. Shiurba explains that this is "the second of five sets in the first of five groups of five short pieces written for five players to be used as interjections within a continuous improvisation", which means, if I've got my maths right, there should be enough material for another 24 albums (well, I'm sure the indefatigable Braxton would be up for it!), but there's enough to keep you busy here for several months as it is. Braxton himself, on E flat, F alto and E flat sopranino saxophones, is on fine form, and gets into some splendid tussles with Kelley (and everyone else). That shouldn't give the impression that Shiurba, Guberman and Robair are merely some kind of "rhythm section", because they're not: both in the composed sections and the free-ranging improv, there's a great degree of autonomy here, and more often than not the musicians go their own separate ways, threading their way through a field of colourful yet prickly wild flowers to meet up miraculously at the gateway that opens on to the next one. Shiurba's always been a spiky player, but behind that thorny exterior there's some succulent fruit, and he leaves plenty of room for it to grow. Here's to the next volume. And the next. And the next.–DW
 


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CONTEMPORARY
Glenn Branca
INDETERMINATE ACTIVITY OF RESULTANT MASSES
Atavistic
Thanks to Atavistic, an important historical document sees the light for the first time on record. After a performance of this piece at the New Music America Festival 1982, John Cage fired a verbal broadside at Glenn Branca's music, calling it "fascist" (his full critique is contained in the second of this CD's three tracks, "So That Each Person Is In Charge Of Himself", a conversation between Cage and Wim Mertens recorded at the busy Navy Pier on Lake Michigan, and ironically full of extraneous noise). Cage later reconsidered his statements about Branca but – alea iacta est – the damage was already done. So much for all that Zen/I-Ching open-mindedness.
"Indeterminate Activity Of Resultant Masses" is scored for ten guitars (here Mark Bingham, Glenn Branca, Craig Bromberg, Barbara Ess, Jeffrey Glenn, Sue Hanel, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, David Rosenbloom, and Ned Sublette), plus drums and tympani (Stephan Wischerth). It's quintessential Branca, 31 minutes of resonance growing inexorably from picked-and-plucked call and response into an awesome maelstrom of clashing overtones. Impressive stuff, despite an excess of compression on the recording. Equally remarkable is the last track, "Harmonic Series Chords", a seven-minute orchestral piece recorded in 1989 by the New York Chamber Sinfonia under Glen Cortese, on which the monumental chords are framed by a slowly moving piano structure that sounds like a hybrid of Bowie's "Neuköln" and a horror movie soundtrack.
I don't know what Cage had in mind 25 years ago, but if I prefer Glenn Branca to every version of 4'33" I've heard to date, does it make me an apologist for fascism? Sure, certain frequencies can't be handled by certain brains and, accordingly, this music might be "harmful" to someone. Standing next to Niagara Falls for a long time won't do your ears much good either. But Branca's sound is a natural force just as powerful, and makes Cage's objections seem all the more irrelevant.–MR

Richard Garet
INTRINSIC MOTION

Heribert Friedl
BACK_FORWARD

Bernhard Günter + Heribert Friedl
TRANS~
nvo
The releases on Heribert Friedl's non visual objects label are dressed for understatement: cardboard fold-over covers, suitably oblique imagery, consistency in (mostly lowercase) font and design. It makes for canny branding, hailing the listener conversant in quietist sound art, but with each release 'of a piece', your response is predetermined: nvo titles are sometimes great, but rarely surprising. And so it is with Intrinsic Motion, Richard Garet's first disc for the label, and an extension of his exploration into the spaces between sound and video art and painting. The liner notes have each piece on the disc resulting from "an empirical interaction" – but then, what sound art isn't these days? – rather more problematic is the content of the "four aural compositions", which belabour their point via field recording activity (birds and cityscapes), deep bass rumble, high pitched tone float, assorted cracklings and rustlings, etc. It's all very quiet and understated, very much in the style of lowercase composition, and it's genuinely engaging when it touches on unalloyed beauty; "For Shimpei Takeda" features a small, disengaged melody that's quite gorgeous, particularly when bedded down amongst the usual rattle and hum. But it's not all that engaging, which prompts the question, how much "austere loveliness" is enough? Long may Garet quest on into near silence, but don't expect revelation anytime soon.–JD
The use of single-source materials as the basis of a recorded work is often a valuable constraint: it assures instant focus and forces the artist to explore a given set of acoustic variables in depth. This is the focus behind Heribert Friedl's latest electro-acoustic release, Back_Forward. As the title suggests, Friedl seeks to develop a two-way dialogue between his instrument of choice, the Hackbrett (a type of hammered dulcimer), and digital treatments that radically transform the original recordings. Friedl elicits a wealth of source material from the instrument by bowing, plucking, scraping and generally manhandling the instrument (albeit with the level of care and control that you'd expect from his work). While the components of the source recordings are transformed by electronic manipulation, the results somehow never stray too far from the fundamental qualities of the instrument. Whilst some of the delayed pops and clicks feel a little too robust, the interplay of acoustic and digital elements is strong and full of surprises.

TRANS~, a duo recording involving Friedl's Hackbrett and Berhard Günter on electric cellotar, flute and harmonica, is the type of music Günter describes as "music like weather". At the core of this work is a humming field recording of power transformers, serving as a backdrop for the acoustic elements as they are discreetly introduced and subtracted – or perhaps (to keep with Günter's analogy) it's as if the humming transformers are the sky, the various instruments the clouds that drift across it. There's a unique sense of time at play in this work, as the tightly wound cycles of the electrical hum interact with the instruments' emergent slower repetitions and ebbing tone flows. The playing is restrained but has a genuine sense of pressure – perhaps again "music like weather" comes into play, the piece reflecting barometric movements in the atmosphere. Though invisible, these effects are measurable and connect with us all in individual ways – a character shared with this composition.–LE

"Blue" Gene Tyranny
OUT OF THE BLUE
Unseen Worlds
For its inaugural release, the Texas-based Unseen Worlds label has shepherded back into circulation, authorized and annotated, the Lovely Music debut LP by "Blue" Gene Tyranny, 1977's Out of the Blue. Tyranny (né Robert Sheff) is a keyboardist, composer and sound technician who spent much of the 70s at Mills College as an instructor and electronic music guru. But along with saxophonist-composer Peter Gordon, who also cut an LP for Lovely around the same time, Tyranny produced a concert in 1976 at Berkeley's University Art Museum called "Trust In Rock", and despite Sheff's ONCE Festival pedigree and close association with the vanguard of late-twentieth-century composition, Out of the Blue has more in common with progressive rock à la Eno or Phil Miller, or the initial cross-genre steps of figures like Laurie Anderson.
The meat of the disc is "Letter from Home," which took up the entire second half of the original LP, a steady unfolding of train sounds, clavinet, synthesizer, vocal chorus, guitar, violin, cello, and reeds accompanying a recitation by Kathy Morton Austin of a metaphysically-directed letter/poem. As the author's evaluations and self-awareness flower, Tyranny's electro-acoustic tone poem clunks and plods forward to disarming consonance. "There are so many cycles, you could just as easily see it as random," the speaker says, which seems like a nice idea and one that fits into a personal, nearly quaint exploratory liberation brought forth by the steady and gently expansive movement of the music. Yet unlike the pedigree of speech-as-sound in the work of Tyranny's associates (notably Robert Ashley), here the words themselves are not used to the end of an auditory concept, but self-expression – song lyrics, in fact.
In contrast, the record's three opening tracks bounce from the unflagging optimism of National Health (perhaps without the irony) to an earthy, delicate fire comparable to Julie Tippetts' work on Sunset Glow. "Next Time Might Be Your Time" is sunny folk-rock run through a chorus of suitably mind-altering electronics, a dissonant sonic marriage that despite some cloying saxophone conveys a sense of personality as much as it does "purpose" – something that goes for all four compositions – let's call them songs – on Out of the Blue. -CA

Olivia Block
HEAVE TO
Sedimental
Thunderstorms off the starboard bow, cap'n. Heave to, according to the Free Online Dictionary, is a seafaring expression meaning "to turn a sailing ship so that its bow heads into the wind and the ship lies motionless except for drifting, in order to meet a storm." And there's plenty of stormy stuff on offer in this, the fourth (only the fourth!) solo album by Texas-born Chicago-based Olivia Block; in addition to what sounds like the creaking and groaning of rigging (though I doubt she'd opt for something so obvious – this is not Salt Marie Celeste after all), there are waves galore, both literal – some of Block's source field recordings were made in Hawaii – and figurative, in the form of swirling tremolo clusters played by an 11-piece instrumental ensemble, and all manner of crunches, crackles and shortwave swoops, processed to death and painstakingly sequenced and superimposed. Eventually the swell subsides and the instruments are left alone to end "Part 1" with a remarkably Coplandesque chorale, but the wind picks up with a vengeance on "Part 2", and the good ship Block, already corroded by rusty glitches and covered with barnacle bleeps, is pummelled on all sides by eternally rising string glissandi and sends out a Mayday signal. The brave lifeboats of American Mainstream New Music come to the rescue, and the turbulent Penderecki clusters settle into a 5-29 chord that wouldn't sound out of place in The Death of Klinghoffer. "Make The Land" finds the composer swabbing the decks and clearing up the debris, while Kyle Bruckmann's oboe squiggles and a forlorn sinewave bleeps and stutters in the background. Evocative and attractive stuff, but it's a shame some of the harmonic ideas introduced in the first two movements aren't referenced and resolved. Change Ringing, Block's 2005 outing on Jason Kahn's Cut imprint, was more convincing. But then again, I'm a landlubber. Give me the desert any day.–DW

Rhodri Davies / Ko Ishikawa
COMPOSITIONS FOR HARP AND SHO
Hibari
The rich glowing clusters of the Japanese vertical mouthorgan, or sho, sound wonderful in Gagaku (traditional Japanese Court Music), but when the venerable instrument, even in the hands of Ko Ishikawa, sounds just one note at a time it can be annoyingly grating, like a toy melodica. And if the note, albeit mirrored by Rhodri Davies' ebowed harp an octave below and interspersed with silence, doesn't change for a full 18 minutes, which is what happens in Taku Sugimoto's Aka To Ao, it ends up trying the patience. But many people would say that trying the patience is something Sugimoto is rather good at these days. Masahiko Okura's Torso is more varied in its material, but the blank canvas of silence that surrounds its brief sonic brushstrokes is more empty space than pregnant pause. On Antoine Beuger's Three Drops Of Rain / East Wind / Ocean, Ishikawa is more in the background, and Davies' single line melody more fragile and compelling as a result. In stark contrast to Beuger's Zen minimalism, Toshiya Tsunoda takes the harp and sho into the lab and records them along a pair of sinewaves, passing the result through "a gate device that cuts the audio signal under a certain established voltage". Strings And Pipes Of The Same Length Float On Waves is pretty astringent stuff, admirable in its conceptual rigour (as are all of Tsunoda's projects) but not exactly pleasant to listen to again and again. Unlike my scratchy old Gagaku vinyls.–DW


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ELECTRONICA
Ben Frost
THEORY OF MACHINES
Bedroom Community
Without a doubt the impact of Theory Of Machines at a first listening is a powerful one: it's almost impeccable in its computerized imperfection. Digital bliss vs crunchy distortion is the order of the day here, in five tracks whose influences have been thoroughly absorbed and well defined (one of them is called "We Love You Michael Gira", and a Swans segment is sampled and modified somewhere in there), yet despite the presence of striking explosions of overdriven fury and shattered recollections bathed in currents of dejection, I'm not completely sold on it: I can't really find anything that sounds especially innovative. Maybe it's not intended to be, and perhaps Daniel Johnson's liners quoting Alvin Lucier and Arvo Pärt deceived me. "Coda" is a nice glimpse of odd-metred drum'n'bass'n'post-rock, but is disappointingly short, and the final and longest track, "Forgetting You Is Like Breathing Water", an endless intersection of electronic scalar figurations gradually evolving into a wobbling chamber-music pastel, is based on an idea that, repeated for about 11 minutes, is too simplistic to raise the hair on the back of the neck. Some of the concepts are nice – the insistent beeping sample morphing into a dropping piano note and the constant stereo shift of a synthetic pulse in "We Love You Michael Gira", or the beautiful bass line of "Stomp" – but I've heard better things on Peter Gabriel's Up. (Don't scoff at the comparison: listen to that album very carefully and you'll find stronger compositional ideas behind the electronica.) The truly splendid title track remains the best thing on Theory Of Machines, sounding like Fennesz and his laptop nostalgia immersed in a bowl of sulphuric acid, slowly disintegrating amidst huge bubbles and thick fumes.. But you may get the feeling – as CSN&Y would have it – of having all been here before, too.–MR

David Daniell
COASTAL
Xeric / Table Of The Elements
Four splendid tracks from Atlanta Georgia-based guitarist / composer David Daniell, whose principal claims to fame include his Antiopic label, his trio San Agustin, and his work with the likes of Rhys Chatham, Jonathan Kane, Doug McCombs and, more recently Greg Davis and Tomas Korber. Quite what the exquisitely treated cymbals, snaredrum brush splatters and – gaaah, that D-word again – drones on "Whelk" have in common with carnivorous scavenging marine gastropods isn't clear, but it's a magnificent opener, which sets the scene and settles the ear for the 27-minute centrepiece of the album, "Palmetto" (I take it that's the tree and not the record label of the same name). Daniell is, as his CV makes abundantly clear, familiar with both slow, near static minimalism – witness the magnificent Antiopic Alvin Lucier double CD from last year – and its more pulse-friendly manifestations, and "Palmetto" manages in a strange way to combine elements of both; what at casual listening might seem to be stationary is in fact full of subtle rhythmic activity. It's a fascinating but not always easy listen, its occasional ventures into high tessitura scree serving to distract the attention from the sub-bass tectonic shifts.
After the at times dense soundscapes of the first two tracks, the luminous tonality of the multitracked guitars in "Sunfish" seems surprising, but closer listening reveals the same compositional logic at work. Rhythmic cycles overlap, emerge from and disappear into the mix in precisely the same way as the more abstract strata do in "Whelk" and "Palmetto". The basic sound material might be as direct as the music of Kane and Chatham that Daniell knows so well, but the overall listening experience is what Kyle Gann would describe as "post-minimalist" (though you know my thoughts on that particular term). The final "Glasswort" begins with a return to sizzle and crackle of electronics / field recordings, but the guitar picking soon returns, and drifts in and out during the piece, as if trying to haunt it. In a way it's a logical mix of the two seemingly different worlds of "Palmetto" and "Sunfish", but its elusive and introspective nature raises more questions than it provides answers: are we to hear the recognisable melodic and harmonic material as foreground, and the more abstract electronics as background? What do the words foreground and background mean in this kind of music? How do we listen? What are we listening for (and listening to)? I'm not sure I can answer many of these questions myself, but the fact that I keep returning to Coastal must mean something. If I find the answer I'll let you know. Well, maybe.
–DW

Jim Haynes
TELEGRAPHY BY THE SEA
Helen Scarsdale
Those familiar with Jim Haynes' informed comments on leftfield electronica in The Wire will know by now where he's coming from and whose music he likes – think Nurse With Wound, Hafler Trio, William Basinski, and the sound artists whose work has appeared on the Helen Scarsdale imprint (Matt Waldron, BJ Nilsen, Loren Chasse..) – but in case you're not familiar with Haynes' work with Chasse on Coelacanth, Telegraphy By The Sea shows he's just as good at making music as he is at writing intelligently about it. It's a huge sprawling piece, nearly an hour long (in fact there's an installation of the same name that lasts six hours, which Haynes performed at the Diapason Gallery in New York, some of whose rough recordings found their way into this condensed version), full of the sonic rust Haynes is so good at scraping off his source sounds. Huge swathes of grimy drone are sprinkled with grainy shortwave static hiss and carefully twisted into shape to form an imposing, even intimidating sound shipwreck. "The title is mostly poetic," writes Haynes, "with occasional references to communication technology found in the use of shortwave throughout the composition. There's plenty of water recordings in the piece, but my memory is foggy as to whether they're recordings of the Pacific Ocean or not. The album seems to locate itself for me somewhere north of San Francisco, on a craggy coastal tract of land dappled with telephone wires, cellphone towers, etc. A barren place, but one that has the fingerprints of technology smeared across the landscape." Ah, remind me to play it late at night walking down to the Point Reyes lighthouse. Ever seen The Fog? That's where it was filmed, as I recall. Found this while snooping around Google: "Because of incessant wind and fog on Point Reyes in some seasons, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was plagued by 'incidents of insanity, alcoholism, violence, and insubordination,' notes a publication of the National Park Service, which now owns the lighthouse. One lighthouse keeper even took to drinking the alcohol shipped for cleaning the lens and 'was often seen lying drunk by the roadside,' the Park Service publication added." Telegraphy would be the perfect soundtrack. If this had come out under the Nurse With Wound moniker, you'd have heard about it by now for sure. –DW

Loren Dent
EMPIRES AND MILK
Contract Killers
From what I can gather from the supremely non-informative pages of MySpace, Loren Dent is 26 years old and comes from Austin, Texas, drinks but doesn't smoke, has 162 "friends" (none of whom I particularly want to learn more about) and likes, amongst other things, Sigur Rós, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Tim Hecker, William Basinski and Joy Division. It doesn't take long to find traces of their influence in Dent's music, but they've been well assimilated and carefully channeled into 15 tracks of considerable originality and craftsmanship. Empires and Milk – nice title – despite appearing on a label whose name sounds like a Quentin Tarantino production company, has been dragged into that huge amorphous trawl net known as Ambient, which means it gets reviews full of choice quotes like "music that can be listened to or played in the background to create a mood" (yeah, right – you can say that about Throbbing Gristle and Merzbow too), "relaxing melodic overtures sweep over top of your body" (sic) and "simply must be explored by every single person who has ever heard music before" (now that's a challenge). And it inevitably gets compared to early Eno. Sure, there are things in common, but there's an undertow of complexity here that has little to do with the cool concept chill of Discreet Music or Music For Airports. If Dent's music reveals Eno influence, it's Eno the producer that comes to mind – think Passengers or Bowie's 1:Outside – the way that something complex and ever so slightly disturbing lurks under the surface of seemingly calm water. From strange static flutters that pepper the opening (title) track, to steely refrigerator hum far back in the mix of "Love Song: Kinetics and Hope", cunningly stratified piano dissonances in "Work Song: Texas City", and craftily reversed soundfile twitters behind "Colonial Blues", Empires and Milk is full of strange dusty corners to explore. You can, conversely, play it as wallpaper music, but you'll be missing out on a wealth of fine detail.–DW

Richard Chartier
CURRENT
Room40
Richard Chartier albums tend to sit quietly gathering dust on the shelves here until an opportunity appropriate to serious listening presents itself, invariably late at night or very early in the morning, always through headphones, always in darkness. I don't think I've ever heard a Chartier album in daylight. It's a music of forms and shapes barely perceived and barely perceptible, a fantastic journey into a realm of shadow where sounds – as opposed to musical "ideas", a terms that seems to imply identifiable parameters (pitch, rhythm..) which are of little importance to Chartier – appear and disappear almost without being noticed. As Will Montgomery writes in his fine essay on Chartier in Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum, this is music that "pulls the ears toward its own disappearance." But that shouldn't be taken to mean it's depressing, even nihilistic stuff. Chartier's canvas is never empty; silence might be implied, as something from which sounds emerge and to which they return, but it's never used as a compositional element. We're not talking Wandelweiser aesthetic here. There's always something going on, often at the extremes of the audible spectrum – and Current is one of Chartier's richest offerings to date in terms of activity level – from fluttery sub-bass to gently muffled clicks, tiny rips, rasps and puffs of sound sprinkled into the ear. As if that dust that settled on the box while the disc was patiently waiting its turn has somehow found its way into the music itself.–DW

The Alps
JEWELT GALAXIES/SPIRIT SHAMBLES
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS
Spekk
These two latest releases on Nao Sugimoto's Spekk label are, as always, blessed with truly desirable (and costly) packaging-design, but they also suggest that the label has shifted its curatorial spotlight. Where the label was previously concerned with the more minimal and refined areas of contemporary sound practise, these discs point to a shift in focus that is increasingly reflected globally – from abstract, electronic sound-worlds towards the earthier qualities of conventional melody and analogue goodness.
The Alps is a trio of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Alexis Georgopoulos and Scott Hewicker. Their CD Jewelt Galaxies/Spirit Shambles is a live recording; some subsequent editing has been done, but it's not too heavy-handed, and there is still some audio peaking where that always less than pleasant digital distortion kicks in. Glitches aside, Jewelt Galaxies/Spirit Shambles flows like a post-psych freeform jam that has been spliced with care but not precision: on "The River Lies With The The Lilies" (sic!), for instance, the music's drawn-out, flooded sound spaces eventually work up towards a climactic rupture of bashed cymbals, tortured sax and submerged guitar abuse. It's not unfamiliar or particularly original territory, but it's still nice to hear music that's uninhibited and heartfelt.
Cantu-Ledesma's work on his solo disc The Garden Of Forking Paths is more directed on the whole than his contributions to The Alps. It's a glorious collection of lilting, gently decorated instrumental works compiled from a variety of tape recordings. The filtered feedback waves that pulse over "Spirits" and the sketchy high-end detail of "Feast Of The Pentecost" demonstrate Cantu-Ledesma's abilities as a sound-crafter. The Garden Of Forking Paths may be an unassuming, matter of fact document of Cantu-Ledesma's sonic explorations, but it turns out to be some of the most charming and considered work I've heard in this area of the music.–LE

Mattin
PROLETARIAN OF NOISE
Hibari
You won't feel like an idiot or an "attitude fetishist" (despite what the lyrics of the track of that name might imply), and you can even manage to listen to it all without pressing the stop button. Just watch your ears and keep that volume knob to hand. Proletarian Of Noise is a good collection of compositions, richer in ideas and more fun than any of the various chapters of Mattin's Songbook to date. There are five pieces, beginning with "Computer Music/Post Fordism", five minutes of soft tapping, like finger drumming. "Attitude Fetishist" and "You Are Stuck As A Free Human Being" find Mattin screaming anti-capitalist abuse in some kind of self-exorcism. If you don't read the lyrics you probably won't be able to make out what he's saying, but that's OK because I don’t give a damn about the words as long as the music is great (I still like Hall & Oates too), and these two tracks are. Have a good laugh at the indecipherable lowest-of-the-lo-fi rant of "You Are Stuck..", a "song" that makes two nerds of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. "Desecration Of Silence" is the kind of fantastic, brutal carnage of squealing distortion that should be transcribed and executed live by Zeitkratzer. The final track is 31 minutes of total silence, punctuated at long intervals by Lisa Rosendahl reading the eleven "chapters" of "Thesis On Noise." Cage would have loved this one, but if he'd heard "Desecration Of Silence" instead he would have probably sent this proletarian off to the same gulag as Glenn Branca.–MR

 
Aemae
MAW
Isounderscore
Brandon Nickell's last outing under the Aemae moniker came in an all black cover (you may recall), but this one's white-on-white: you have to jiggle it about under the light to read the titles of the five tracks. If you associate white with stark minimalism (labels like A Bruit Secret, Meme, the next-to-nothingness of Sugimoto and Sukora), be warned: Maw is nasty. In fact in places it's downright fucking vicious, especially "Spectral Psychosis", which chainsaws its way into the inner ear with unbridled ferocity (haven't had a good tinnitus-inducing kick like this one since Hecker – Florian, not Tim). This is what computers do best, and what real instruments can't do as effectively: take whatever you feed them, mash it into a bloody pulp and spit it out all over the place. But that shouldn't leave you with the impression that Maw is just another helping of Noise, because it isn't: Nickell's handling of his software is deft and impressive; where other noiseniks just let fly and often end up with decidedly uneven results, it's clear that Nickell has spent a lot of time living with these sounds (God help him) and has put them together with terrific attention to detail. Even so, it's often hard to make out how much of this spitting, scorching, hissing, squelching molten metal is Nickell's doing or just his software (Max, I'm guessing) running riot. Whatever it is, it makes for a pretty tough listen, but one you won't forget in a hurry.–DW


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