MAY News 2007 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jon Dale, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, John Gill, Guy Livingston, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

In Concert: Orgelpark
Anthony Braxton
Reissue This:
Gunnar Lindquist GL Unit
In Concert:
i and e Festival, Dublin
On Public Eyesore:
Jorge Castro / Amy Denio / Bill Horist & Marron / Emily Hay & Marcos Fernandes
POST ROCK: Walter & Sabrina / Circle / Valet / The Need For A Crossing / Xedh
Scott Fields / La Pieuvre / Spontaneous Music Ensemble / ZMF Trio
Cold Bleak Heat / Charles Cohen & Ed Wilcox / Eagle Keys / Graham Collier / Graham Halliwell & Tomas Korber / Malcolm Goldstein & Barre Phillips / Rafael Toral
Alvin Lucier / Rhys Chatham / Toru Takemitsu / Jim O'Rourke
Maurizio Bianchi / Mark Templeton / Ezekiel Honig / Matt Shoemaker / Andrew Chalk / Organ Eye / Phillip Pietruschka / On / Raglani
Last month

From our men in Amsterdam and Paris

It's been a busy couple of weeks in Amsterdam for new music: starting with the Karnatic Lab festival at the Badkuyp, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ and the Bimhuis, and ending with the Gaudeamus Competition for contemporary music performers. Karnatic Lab is a relative newcomer to the scene, compared to the venerable Gaudeamus organization, which has tirelessly promoted Dutch music at home and abroad for decades. The quality of the performers at this year's competition was particularly high, and though I disagreed with the jury's final choices (I always do), I had a great afternoon at the finals. First Prize went to Mathias Reumert, a Danish percussionist who won for his performances (by heart) of Donatoni's Omar II and Ferneyhough's Bone Alphabet (unbelievable). On the other hand, his maraca performance in Javier Alvarez' Temazcal, was more like a rock star routine, though undeniably virtuosic. Second Prize went to the Duo Disecheis, a sax and piano duo from Italy, which I found puzzling, since their neoclassical repertoire was hardly of the modernist caliber of the other contestants, though they did create a phenomenal environment. Perhaps it was an easy choice, compared to the two most brilliant players: Finnish accordionist Niko Kumpuvaara, who won Third Prize, and recorder virtuoso Julien Feltrin who won Fourth. Kumpuvaara, with shaven head and the ungainly weight of the accordion in his arms, played with fanaticism in the intensely sad soundscape of Berio's Sequenza XIII and Ere Lievonen's gritty, excellent Marcia Macabre, a world premiere that aggressively exploited the instrument's range. Feltrin was breathtaking, revealing a good sense of comedy in Moritz Eggert's Ausser Atem and transforming the otherwise pristine and chaste sound of the recorder in Kage, by Roderik de Man, into a memorable journey (he was the only contestant to get a curtain call). These were musicians' musicians, individuals with depth of soul and breadth of expression, not to mention incredible technique, and everyone present had strong opinions about them, ranging from the passionately enthusiastic to the angrily critical. But, as often happens, competitions award non-controversial showiness.
Another highlight this month was the 57th (!) Karnatic Lab concert, on April 10th. Four different groups played on this eclectic concert, and the one I fell for instantly was Trio Scordatura. Their oddball stage presence could be best described as charmingly relaxed. Scordatura excels in microtonal music; Elisabeth Smalt wielded two violas, one conventional, but often de-tuned (actually re-tuned to different scales, to be precise), the other a replica of a Harry Partch Adapted Viola with a longer neck marked in non-European increments. Alfrun Schmid provided ethereal / eerie vocals, and Bob Gilmore (Partch biographer, fervent microtonalist and occasional contributor to PT – see his fine interview last month with Phill Niblock) crafted the programming and added backup on synth. Each piece flowed into the next in a brilliant and all-too-uncommon example of musical synergy. Alvin Lucier's amplified Voice was almost painfully strident, and I cowered in my seat as Schmid shifted her pitch between two sinewaves. The resulting beats as she modulated her voice were absolutely mesmerizing. James Tenney's trio, Harmonium #1 seemed to depart from the same thematic material. Horatiu Radulescu's Intimate Rituals XI is the 11th in a series of pieces derived from two "sound icons", i.e. pianos in alternate tuning, turned on their sides, and strummed. The minuscule Badkuyp is far too small a venue for even one grand piano, so this was played on tape, while Smalt's viola (also retuned) created a tight dialog with the electronic background. The program, evolving rapidly now, after 17 minutes of the almost static Radulescu, moved to François-Bernard Mâche's Kubatum, a supposedly ancient love song, in which the synthesis's marimba sound unfortunately did not shine. But it was the perfect lead-in to A History of Cowboys, by Paul Swoger-Ruston, three songs to texts by those original horsemen of American solitude, Emerson and Bukowski. The upbeat performance of this quirky trio was a delightful close to their show.
The Karnatic Lab Festival was also eclectic, but the emphasis on Heavy Metal music at their big show in the Muziekgebouw was baffling. Director and composer Ned McGowan's gloriously dense transcriptions of Swedish thrash kings Meshuggah for his Hexnut ensemble are beyond reproach, but remain, I think, novelties in the larger scheme of things. The audience for new music, even in Holland, is limited, and I doubt it includes many Metal fans at all. They certainly wouldn't be caught dead in the classically oriented, elite, high-culture Muziekgebouw. Hexnut will probably need to find a different direction. Or get some serious tattoos. One possible clue to the ensemble's promising future was in the ten-minute ensemble premiere of Second City, with texts from the bible ("A time to be born...") and a storyline written by local expat Robert Glick, seductively narrated by vocal artist Stephie Buttrich, in her best film-noir style. —GL
Though the Paris Transatlantic mailbox hasn't exactly been overflowing with letters of complaint about the relative lack of new interviews (still by far our most popular feature, if those site stats are to be believed), a few punters have written in to wonder who's going to be featured next. You'll be pleased to learn then that there are several in the pipeline. Two lengthy conversations with Tom Johnson have yielded a huge amount of material, which I'm still working through in close consultation with the composer – though I've had to slow down somewhat this past month due to a most unwelcome bout of tendinitis, which has made transcribing and editing even more agonising than it usually is – and there's also a lively 80-minute conversation with one of my percussion heroes, Gino Robair, waiting to be transcribed. In addition to this, last year's huge email exchange with Rafael Toral will eventually be reconfigured into a coherent interview (and extended with some recent face-to-face dialogue), and I'm currently enjoying an ongoing if slow exchange of mails with Akira Rabelais and looking forward to a lengthy chat soon with Philip Samartzis, who's currently resident in Paris, I'm delighted to report. Meanwhile, down in Nantes, new recruit to PT ranks, Will Guthrie – best known no doubt for his outstanding electronic percussion work and tireless championship of new music from down under via his Antboy operation – is working on an interview with one of his (and my) great heroes, Roscoe Mitchell. So there's plenty to look forward to. Meanwhile, our man in Ronda, John Gill has come up trumps this month (and saved my poor aching, guilt-stricken lower right arm in the process) with his splendid career overview / interview with Steven Brown and Blaine Reininger, aka Tuxedomoon. Paris-based punters might also like to know that the Tuxies will be beaming in to appear at La Cigale this autumn (more news as and when).-DW

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How many organs must a man have?
After some dickering on the phone and by email, I finally get the Orgelpark on the phone. I've been hearing rumors about this brand-spanking-new venue, their plans to do hundreds of concerts, and a goal of bringing the image of the remote, inaccessible pipe organ into the 21st century. On the phone, the director doesn't have much time for me, and makes it clear in a mixture of Dutch and English that I will have to share an interview with three other journalists. Later, I call him back, and he mistakes me for a critic from a gay paper in London. This is going nowhere fast, so I opt instead for hearing a concert, figuring I can grab his ear for a quick chat during intermission. On a typically grim Dutch rainy night (I swear it was extra wet and extra dark that night), I trek over to the Parkkerk, which is on the edge of the Vondel Park.
Amsterdam is known for its grungy new music venues. Peeling paint, crumbling ceilings, mismatched chairs, lovingly neglected 1970's wallpaper, and found objects are almost a badge of honor for most venues around town, whether it's alt.rock or wired didgeridoo and live amplified crickets. Imagine then my surprise to arrive at the ultra-chic and frankly sanitized new Orgelpark, Amsterdam's newest venue (since January 20th) featuring three (soon to be four) organs, two grand pianos and a harmonium. The venue is as slick and staid as an art museum, complete with cute ushers in color-coordinated outfits to match the lighting fixtures. Chic, yes. Hip, no.
A bell rings for the concert, and we leave the pristine bar, which looks like something out of an Milan furniture showroom, climb the stairs, and marvel at the high vaulted ceiling and perfect acoustic of the concert hall. Big as they are, the organs actually seem small in the vastness of the space. The interior of the building is lovingly restored in a Victorian color scheme of pastels, varnished woods, greens and pinks, elegant lighting. Composers' names are illuminated on the balcony railings overhead. Reading them absent-mindedly, I do a sudden double-take, as instead of the Dead White Men listed (for example) on the Concertgebouw friezes, the Orgelpark features avantgardists Cage, Ligeti, Messiaen (granted, Dead White guys too) and a host of other organ innovators – Dupré, Eben, Straube, Lemare, Distler – who don't normally get their names inscribed on walls. The director may be hard to talk to, but I like his sense of humor, and the atmosphere is friendly as he welcomes us all to the concert. There's chatting amongst the audience – it's like going to the Schuberts' for a spot of chamber music. Then the lights dim, and the Sauer organ thunders out. It's a marvelous performance, and all too short. We watch silent films from movie magician (literally: he started his career as an illusionist) Georges Méliès, whose "Voyage à travers l'impossible" turns out to be one of the first science fiction films ever. All of us in the audience are entranced at the joyous anarchy and home-made animation, not to mention the mellifluous sound of two different organs (not at the same time, I should add), delightfully played by Joost Langeveld, who has a real flair for this film music.
The Parkkerk is so perfectly restored that it's hard to imagine what it was like ten years ago: largely abandoned, and with no anticipated future, it served as a rehearsal space for dance groups and community events. Herman Roering, a painter, and the brother of the former organist Johan Roering, started a one-man campaign to save the organ which his brother had performed on at the Parkkerk for many years. The church itself was in terrible shape, with boarded-up windows and the damage from woodworm the only holy thing about it. The organ itself was totally unplayable. If it was going to be restored, and compete with Holland's already rich offering of organs and churches, a visionary financial backer would be needed. Enter the Utopa Foundation.
Sometimes having a large budget can be a good thing, and clearly funding is absolutely not an issue for the new Orgelpark. During intermission, I finally get my interview with the Foundation's director. He doesn't want to talk about money, but he certainly has easy access to it, for the entire setting is luxurious, if understated. He asks to remain as anonymous as possible so I'll just note that this is not his first large artistic project, and that he has a proven track record of (slightly commercial) artistic patronage on a grand scale. His past as a successful businessman might make him seem out of place in the new music world, but it certainly serves him well in terms of making this utopian project a solid success. The goal of producing 125 concerts a year, which would bankrupt most venues, is obviously not a problem. And the lack of traditional Amsterdam fuzziness and peeling wallpaper should not deter audiences, because the acoustic and the music and the artistic direction are terrific. The programming itself is a fun and eccentric mix: jazz one night, improv the next, followed by a series of sappy late 19th century organ classics, then Cage and Ives another night, and of course periodic period film evenings which delve back into visions of the early 20th century. Go to:–GL

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Anthony Braxton

Firehouse 12
After disbanding the iconic Braxton/Crispell/Dresser/Hemingway quartet in the early 1990s, Anthony Braxton pursued multiple paths, creating a massive body of standards interpretations (with the leader often at the piano rather than playing saxophone) and embarking on unwieldy projects like the Trillium opera cycle. But his major preoccupation has been the Ghost Trance Music series of compositions, a development that still challenges and perplexes even dedicated Braxtonophiles. The ensembles involved in GTM performances are usually dominated by clusters of horns, and sometimes dispense with a rhythm section entirely. The central feature of the early GTM pieces is a monotonous windup-toy loop of eighth notes varied only by the occasional rhythmic hiccup; later pieces have the same lockstep quality but become increasingly venturesome in terms of rhythm and choice of pitches. In the course of a performance, this melodic continuum is at length ruptured by intrusions of other compositions or of free improvisation, though the lockstep inexorably resurfaces afterwards. The results sometimes – as on the Delmark album Four Compositions (Quartet) 2000 – sound quite similar to the "pulse track" structures of the 1980s, but can also sound completely cracked, as when singer Lauren Newton spends the majority of Composition 192 (Leo) reciting the alphabet.

And now it's apparently all over. With this box set Braxton says farewell to Ghost Trance Music (though he's already got more projects in the wings – the equally mysteriously named "Falling River Musics" and "Diamond Curtain Wall Musics"). In March 2006, he had the unprecedented opportunity to present the final series of Ghost Trance compositions over an extended residency at one of New York's premier jazz clubs, the Iridium. Braxton's ensembles have long been a key training ground for younger musicians, and the Iridium "12+1tet" is mostly made up of his students (or perhaps one could take the hint of Last Supper symbolism and call them "disciples"), as well as two more senior players, Nicole Mitchell and Jay Rozen. The nine CDs in this collection document everything played during the four nights of performances, and come with a 56-page booklet containing a thoughtful overview by Braxtonologist Jonathan Piper as well as commentaries by many of the musicians (one misses the assiduous bookkeeping of a Graham Lock, though: some guidance as to the subsidiary compositions involved in these dense collages would have been helpful, and not hard to assemble, given that the backstage footage shows the musicians keeping score of composition numbers on a tally-sheet). The cherry on top is the tenth disc, a DVD with a documentary feature mingling clips from the performances and excerpts from a talk by Braxton; it also includes a video of the entire performance of Composition 358. The sum total is, needless to say, a luxury item that will set off waves of covetousness in the heart of any Braxton follower – and perhaps a certain amount of hesitancy as well, since, aside from the price tag, the prospect of listening to and absorbing ten hours' worth of this endlessly demanding music is daunting in the extreme. (Those who are less committed or well-heeled can download the CDs individually from the Firehouse 12 website or eMusic, but the DVD is sadly only available in the box set.)

Braxton's musical strategies are familiar enough by now: the consecutive or simultaneous collaging-together of multiple compositions, the "multi-hierarchical" approach to the ensemble which permits it to break up into multiple zones of activity (sometimes totally independent, sometimes under the leadership of various player/conductors), the use of indefinitely long notated passages as rhythmic/melodic "tracks". As always with Braxton, each move forward in his musical career involves recapitulation of everything that he's done before: whereas some musicians progress by discarding their old selves and their old work, Braxton works by accretion, quite literally – handing out enormous stacks of music from his 40-year back-catalogue to the musicians for them to draw on during performance. Despite this sense of familiar procedures at work, though, there are parts of this set that suggest new developments in Braxtonville, or at least reveal sides of his work I'd not heard so clearly before. A full account of the nine CDs is impossible, short of delaying this review until 2008; I'll instead confine my remarks to the final performance, Composition 358 (dedicated to the poet/novelist Nathaniel Mackey). Aside from the attractions of the double audio/visual presentation, this is also in my view the set's strongest performance – though not its most typical, perhaps.

As with many GTM performances, the ensemble is heavy on wind instruments, mostly high-pitched ones, and uses guitar rather than piano – though Mary Halvorson's wry, warm contributions are markedly different from skronky John Shiurba or fast-fingered Kevin O'Neil. At centre stage is an empty chair: its sole occupant is an hourglass – like a parody "conductor" or "timekeeper" – which measures out its length of each set. Ranged around the glass is an inner circle. Stage right, Braxton and saxophonist James Fei, a GTM veteran by now – indeed, his playing is so much in the master's vein that it can be hard to tell them apart, especially when both play soprano together like a demented virtual aulos. Stage left, a trio led by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, featuring alto/sopranino player Steve Lehman (the cool head in this mix) and saxophonist/clarinettist Andrew Raffo Dewar. In this multi-hierarchy, Braxton and Bynum are the two main leaders; one pleasure of the DVD is seeing them marshal the troops via hand-signals or messages written on small dry-wipe boards. The outer circle has three clumps of players. Stage right, behind Braxton, is the superbly colourful trio of bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, flautist and occasional vocalist Nicole Mitchell and violinist/violist Jessica Pavone. (Watch out for Schoenbeck on the DVD, lunging around like she's wailing on tenor sax.) Stage left, behind Bynum, is the pocket-sized brass section of trombonist Raut Regev and tuba player Jay Rozen. At the back of the stage are bassist Carl Testa and drummer/percussionist Aaron Siegel, who often follows the music's upwards drift towards light timbres and high pitches by working on vibes. Lastly, on the extreme edge of the ensemble, is guitarist Mary Halvorson – largely out of camera range, though her contributions still loom large.

The piece opens with the ensemble plunging as usual into the GTM note-tickertape. More than any other Braxton project I know of, the Iridium edition of GTM reveals his tendency to work towards density of event while avoiding anything like harmonic thinking: terms like "dissonance" or "consonance" are basically irrelevant. Or, rather, it's as if entire compositions are the harmonic units – as if, say, Composition 159 were one "chord", which can be juxtaposed or sequenced with other compositions/chords. The GTM track and other collaged-in compositions are presented as stark lines stated in unison or at fixed intervals by the ensemble – rather like a haywire, high-pitched chant (and Braxton does in fact mention his interest in Gregorian chant in the documentary). Composition 358 is one of a new class of GTM that Braxton dubs "Accelerator Whip", and it lacks the regimented pulse of the earliest GTM: here, the score is so generously strewn with grace notes and proportional groupings of notes (17:2, 13:2, &c) that any sense of steady pulse disappears, especially since the ensembles are decidedly messy in the absence of a central conductor. The score also contains "freeze frames", moments where players may optionally hover over a single note or move off into some other territory. On some other discs of the set, the freeze frames rapidly divert the ensemble away from the central GTM track; one unusual feature of Composition 358, on the other hand, is that the 12+1tet stays with the GTM track for a full 14 minutes, continually reshaping it as players drop in and out or move off. At one point Braxton's sopranino slithers out of the ensemble momentarily, for instance; a little later, Siegel plunks cacophonously away on vibes at a freeze-framed note.

Music journalist Steve Smith, in his comments in the booklet (extracted from his Night after Night blog, as is the photo opposite) touches on a perennial theme of the avant-garde, the idea of art as a model for an ideal community: "Braxton's Accelerated Ghost Trance Music is less a compositional strategy, and more a utopian model for an ideal democracy. There are rules to follow, laws to abide, and these are largely controlled by the ruler of the clan. But those laws are more guidelines than strictures; if followed properly, the result affords complete individual freedom within a well-defined societal structure that hums along quite musically." I suspect this paradoxical notion is very close to what Braxton intends, and for all its attractions as an idea it suggests how disconcertingly abstract the music can be: one often registers not so much the actual notes or textures but the sheer fact of connections being made – that player A is right now working with player B on composition C, while players D and E ignore them in order to improvise freely and player F lays out. Such passages seem to me among the least successful on these discs. Composition 358, on the other hand, is the disc that most consistently points to a new development, or emphasis, in Braxton's music – a new way of making use of that massive back-catalogue, as the raw materials for extended, collectively improvised orchestration. At 6'20", for instance, half the ensemble drops out and there's an extended passage which demonstrates GTM at its best, as the 12+1tet essays a spontaneous multi-part orchestration, paying great attention to sound-colour and pacing. As the saxes and a few accomplices maintain the GTM track, other players add new touches: a forceful bagpipe drone from the brass; Bynum's sardonically excitable bursts of cornet; hovering Gil Evans clouds of sound from flute, bassoon, trombone and tuba; the vibes' odd combination of harsh attack and gently shimmering sustain; little rootlets of melody from the guitar running beneath all the aboveground activity. A passage around the 10-minute mark stumbles upon a kind of Cagean swing-time, as two forcefully rhythmic but unsynchronized GTM tracks (one accelerator whip, one old-skool GTM) bounce off each other while Siegel strafes the proceedings from the drum-kit. Many more such passages could be singled out: my favourites include the extended passage of jingling, clanging Sun Ra exotica that crops up just after the original GTM dies down; a throbbing Daliesque meltdown that suddenly yields up a clunky dub rhythm; a quiet morse-code passage which Steve Lehman all on his own pushes towards a cool, seesawing swing à la Greg Osby; and a moment right at the end when, just as the music clouds over with heavy, sustained chords, Schoenbeck and Halvorson lock eyes across the stage and unleash handfuls of playful, downwards-tumbling lines.

It's obviously too early to offer anything approaching a definitive judgment on this set. Committed Braxtonites will already have purchased it and been duly delighted. Those less committed but sympathetic – in which camp I'd put myself – will find it by turns fascinating, baffling, exasperating and exciting. As often with Braxton's more ambitious projects, question-marks remain over how well the music's potential is actually realized – despite the evident enthusiasm of the 12+1tet and their immersion in his music and vision, the results are sometimes ragged and out-of-focus. But anyone seriously interested in his music should give it a listen, even if only in the form of individual downloads of a few CDs. A last note: one of the most heartening things about the set is how well Braxton is playing – a welcome turn of events after the worryingly out-of-puff soprano and sopranino playing on the two Leo Standards (Quartet) 2003 outings. Indeed, one major reason for my fondness for Composition 358 is Braxton's superb work throughout, especially his excoriating unaccompanied sopranino solo near the piece's end.

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Gunnar Lindquist G.L. Unit
EMI-Odeon E062-34163
Scandinavia's improvised music scene benefited from early visits by American free jazzmen: Cecil Taylor, the New York Contemporary Five, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman all made trips to the area between 1962 and 1965. Don Cherry was a particularly frequent visitor and eventually settled there for a longer spell, bringing his scattershot suites of North African and South Central LA juju to Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm in 1962-63 with Sonny Rollins and the New York Contemporary Five and again with Albert Ayler in 1964. Ayler's influence on Scandinavian saxophonists is well documented (indeed, Swedish reedman Bengt Nordstrom released Ayler's 1962 baby steps on his Bird Notes label). But if Ayler's wide-vibrato approach to pure sound, in concert with the pulsing waves of drummer Sunny Murray, was the basis for what came out of the horns of the Swedish jazz vanguard, Cherry's kitchen-sink suites were what gave rise to their form, and to a unique concept of pan-musical brotherhood that characterized Stockholm's jazz scene for years to come.
At the tail end of the '60s, Cherry convened improvisational workshops at Stockholm's Moderna Museet, bringing together both old guard and young musicians for classes that often resulted in performances of his massive "Togetherness" suites. Movement Incorporated (Anagram), recorded at one of these workshops in 1967, brought Cherry and regular trombonist Brian Trentham (a foil in his short-lived quartet with Cameron Brown and Ed Blackwell) together with Turkish trumpeter Maffy Falay and drummer Okay Temiz, saxophonists Nordstrom, Bernt Rosengren and Tommy Koverhult, bassist Törbjorn Hultcrantz, and drummer Leif Wennerström for over an hour's worth of ebb and flow through themes from the transistor radio of Cherry's creative mind. In addition to Stockholm's free jazzmen, the geodesic dome at the Moderna Museet also hosted music by Pandit Pran Nath, Gong, Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Bo Anders Persson (of Pärson Sound, Trad Gras och Stenar and Harvester). Needless to say, an extraordinarily fertile scene of cross-pollination existed in late '60s Sweden.
Saxophonist Gunnar Lindquist (1937-2003) was also a record producer, whose name appears in the credits of sessions by leaders as diverse as Lars Gullin and Eje Thelin. Lindquist convened his own version of Movement Incorporated in 1969-70, bringing together a 17-to-23-piece orchestra for Orangutang!, an homage to the life-exploring forces of Don Cherry's music. Each side of Orangutang! is a suite, sometimes thematically indebted to "Togetherness" but with a collective mind all its own. Many of the usual suspects in late '60s Stockholm jazz make appearances here – Bengt Berger, Nordstrom, Rosengren, Koverhult, Sune Spångberg, Falay, Sven-Åke Johanssen and guitarist Kjell Norlén are among the cast. Lindquist brought a varied arsenal to the proceedings himself, including tenor, flutes (bamboo and metal), piano, miniature metal clarinet and percussion, though his position is more that of a ringleader than a featured soloist – the music an expression of what these men have learned, rather than of Lindquist's compositional mind (though all music is credited to him).
The 1969 recording of "Waves – Experience X – Orangutang" makes up the first side, the music itself recorded live at Stockholmsterassen. Though derived from Cherry's teachings, there are some fundamental differences between works like Movement Incorporated and the music of the G.L. Unit. Cherry's music is, of course, full of signposts – thematic and rhythmic elements that tie together what might otherwise be ragtag, interchangeable or whimsical. "Togetherness" encompassed a broad range of musical cultures – North Africa, India, Europe and America – and it was Cherry's personality that acted as an umbrella. Lindquist's suite lacks obvious signposts or personality; the emphasis is placed on collective experience, and any themes that might develop are an organic outgrowth of freedom. To a degree this was true of Cherry's music, too, but he always remained the one-man umbrella over it all. Where a call from trumpets might signal the "Complete Communion" theme and guide the ensuing improvisation, the only thing demarcating the "movements" on this date is an altered-speed soundtrack of seagulls, barking dogs and incoming tide, probably taped by Lindquist himself.
Heralded by chirpy field recordings that are later mimicked by clarinets, flutes and soprano saxophone, "Waves" lets an easy swing grow out of heaps of dissonance, reveling in the incongruity of straight-time rhythm, chordal comping and continuous commentary from flutes, tambourines, cello, and reeds. Lindquist's post-Coltrane tenor has a burnished keening sound, providing a deep gutbucket bottom to what might otherwise be a top-heavy, high-pitched ensemble. Segments seem like snapshots from a larger whole, snippets of unison lines from trumpeters Peter Hennix and Torsten Eckerman ringing bell-clear while a chorus of yells and a rhythm section trying to find its footing tug melody into the morass. Norlén and pianist Allan Wajda lean towards post-bop, in the face of folksong skronk from Nordstrom's alto and bassists and drummers following the saxophonists' cue. A brief singsong theme and a Cherry-esque fragment emerge only to be buried by seashore sounds. The title track is the most massive of the set, Lindquist doling out repetitious tenor honks to fill out the ensemble as Spångberg thrashes around.
Recorded in March 1970 at the EMI studios, "Freedom – Equality – Brotherhood" is more obviously beholden to Cherry's thematic references, full of gleeful martial statements and folksy lilt and making its yawp obvious from the first few bars. The full 23-piece orchestra, including five percussionists and three cellists (one doubling on bass), is employed for maximum weight. After the initial group statement, the cellos take the reins in a lengthy tug-of-war interlude, an almost comically languid pas-de-trois that shatters any momentum the theme might have had. The featured tenor soloist is probably Rosengren, taking off with gruff and worried phrases over a fierce percussive conversation that only gets denser as Falay's bebop-inflected Cherry-isms take center stage. The entire ensemble briefly comes together, Lindquist blowing frantically over the four drummers, tempos fast as water through the floodgates – until the piece stops on a dime, a powerful finality to music so obviously made from life.
The G.L. Unit record – which featured a raucous cover drawing of an enraged ape – went out of print almost immediately and is one of the scarcer titles in the Swedish jazz canon; indeed, as far as this writer knows, it's Lindquist's only instrumental appearance on record. It has languished in the EMI vaults since its initial release. There was a brief campaign to reissue Orangutang! as part of the Unheard Music Series; sadly, rights could not be secured and as of now, the tapes remain vaulted. Let's hope that Lindquist's music and his legacy can see the light of day in the near future.–CA [Thanks to Mats Gustafsson for help in assembling this article.]

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In Concert
i and e Festival
Trinity College Printing House and Unitarian Church, Dublin.
30th March - 1st April
If you compiled a list of countries considered as hotbeds of experimental musical activity, you could be forgiven for not including Ireland, but the small but perfectly formed i and e Festival curated by Dublin-based musicians David Lacey and Paul Vogel has quietly built a reputation over the past three years for showcasing the blossoming Irish scene and attracting some of the biggest names in contemporary improvisation. The most recent edition of the festival took place in Dublin at the end of March, most of the music being performed in the Trinity College Printing House, a long, narrow, awkwardly shaped room with limited lighting possibilities but remarkably good acoustics.
It opened with the Irish duo of Judith Ring on laptop and mixer and Fergus Kelly on his extraordinary invented instruments, on this occasion a large free-standing metallic sculpture that he bolted together Meccano-like before the show. Their music was underpinned by a series of Industrial drones (mostly from Kelly), over which each musician sprinkled fragments of sonic leftovers, Ring's veering more towards laptop glitchery, Kelly's based around the bowing and scraping of metal. Halfway through the drones gave way to some more fractured interplay between the pair before returning towards the end. Not perhaps the most groundbreaking of performances, but its evolving detail held my attention throughout, and it proved a pleasing opener to proceedings.
There then followed a solo set from percussionist Will Guthrie (photo, left), who hails from Australia but is now based in France. His table of bric-a-brac looked more like a car boot sale than any traditional percussion set-up; his music likewise is made up of small parts, clatter and chatter filtered through contact mics and fed into a mixer. In live performance, the fraught kinetic energy of the sound he makes becomes visible, and the mass of rhythmic structures that can be heard on his recordings makes more sense. Guthrie is one of the most original and exciting musicians working in this field right now, and one of very few I prefer to hear play solo rather than with other musicians. His set in Dublin evolved from simple agitated metallic rattles and radio interference into a tense, brooding swarm of sound. Building in volume yet exuding a nervous fragility, the delicately vulnerable music fell apart halfway through the (characteristically) short set, dropping into silence briefly before assembling a powerful revolving structure of chimes and scrapes out of the quietness until it eventually slipped away to a conclusion. Powerful stuff indeed.
Not to be outdone in the tension-filled solo stakes, Joe Colley's set was driven by a raw emotive power that saw him writhing around in his seat as if it was an electric chair, eyes clamped shut, living and breathing the music almost as an extension of the broken electronics and mixing board in front of him. Beginning with a rapidly pulsing hammering into which he wove screeching strands of electronic squall, his music was aggressively urgent, yet never veered into a wall of noise. The set discharged a writhing muscularity that twisted about as much as Colley himself. It was a remarkable performance, very much enhanced by the visual aspect of watching a musician connect deeply with his work in a manner not normally so apparent in this area of music.
By the last set of the evening exhaustion had begun to take hold of me, but this slightly dazed state of mind seemed to work in my favour for the performance by Andrea Neumann and Wade Matthews. Matthews, an American ex-pat now resident in Madrid, worked mainly with soft textural laptop hisses and fizzes, balanced and complemented by the sensitivity of Neumann's inside-piano work. Her gentle chimes, short whirring drones and warm open strings added colour to Matthews' architectural plan, and the occasional external sounds creeping into the room, notably a passing ambulance siren, seemed particularly poignant and appropriate. The interplay between the two musicians was subtle, and the music was soft and sensually confident, pulling the listeners into its quiet forms. It made for a perfect close to a night of very strong music, offsetting the visceral power of the previous sets beautifully - a credit to Lacey and Vogel's masterful programming, which was a feature of the festival.
The next day found us back in the same room for two lunchtime performances. An unfortunate accident involving a jug of water and Lee Patterson's intricate table of equipment meant a slight change to the schedule, and Andrea Neumann (photo, right) played again, this time in a duo with AMM master pianist John Tilbury. It was the first time the two had played together, the exposed insides of Neumann's piano meeting the traditional familiarity of Tilbury's baby grand in a quite wonderful manner. The music they produced was once more quiet, with Neumann staying away from any extended drones, preferring to accompany Tilbury's playing with carefully chosen pitches and textures - only contributing when it felt right to do so, often leaving her playing partner to play alone, often leaving the room silent. Not since Duos for Doris have I heard Tilbury matched so well in an improvised setting. The sensitivity of Neumann's playing drew the best from the great pianist, matching his Feldmanesque passages with abrasive dryness, his percussive assaults on the inside of the piano answered by Neumann's restrained use of a hand-held fan against the frame of her instrument. A third of the way into the set one very quiet passage involved both musicians rubbing the innards of their instruments with dowel rods, neither looking up to realise they were doing the same thing, until Tilbury introduced an arpeggio flourish that seemed crashingly loud in context, but probably wasn't. This was one of the most stunning live performances I've witnessed in a good few years. Glorious music.
Following a set of such majesty was never going to be easy, and the uncertainty surrounding Lee Patterson's freshly blow-dried equipment didn't help his trio with Paul Vogel and Wade Matthews. Vogel proved to be the wild card, his understated laptop work that had marked previous festivals replaced by a manipulation of raw feedback and a monolithic old synthesiser, with his clarinet remaining untouched on a shelf behind the musicians. He was dressed in what appeared to be the traditional attire of a refuse collector, a dirty red body warmer that had certainly seen better days. Not a fashion statement but a musical one as it turned out, as a contact mic scrunched into a pocket revealed its acoustic properties. His search for unusual sound sources went further as he pressed a mic against his heart to bring a surprisingly alien sounding rhythm to the proceedings, and later a large glass vase was held over an upturned speaker to manually shape the feedback spilling from it. Matthews' contribution consisted mainly of flute and saxophone interventions, spluttering abstractions and gravelly drones, all played with a big smile, his clear enjoyment of playing a joy to behold. Patterson provided a quiet undercurrent to it all, with detailed layers of intricate sounds generated mainly from field recordings and small wire structures played with an e-Bow. It was a fascinating concoction of sounds pulled together from all kinds of sources and thrown into a steaming cauldron of possibility. The music may have lacked some coherence following the sparse precision of what had preceded it, but it was highly enjoyable all the same.
A few hours later we reconvened at the Printing House for four more evening sets. David Lacey's percussion and electronics made their first (and sadly only) appearance of the festival in a trio with Will Guthrie and long-term collaborator Vogel. Much of Lacey's contribution focussed around high pitched sinewaves and harsh sheets of gritty dissonance conjured from agitated metal surfaces. Vogel's ageing synth added different textures along with his contact-miked clothing, and early in the set even a heavily treated recording of his dog's stomach rumbling (!). Guthrie's busy percussive chatter filled the gaps left in the music, keeping our ears busy trying to pin down what they were hearing. This was challenging, amorphous music sculpted out of ugly sounds, a troubled sonic landscape that continuously turned itself inside out in search of where to go next. The sound of inventive thoughtful musicians intent on constant exploration.
There followed a solo performance from Irish saxophonist Sean Óg. In complete contrast to the music that came before, he played three short pieces on different instruments, each resembling a passionate, soulful John Butcher, shifting from bleak mournful passages to jagged skronky free jazz, often falling in and out of extended techniques. Not my usual cup of tea but in context a surprisingly welcome interlude of direct human expression.
Next up was a solo performance by the water-challenged Patterson, whose quiet, contemplative set was made up of carefully layered field recordings and sounds generated live from small, closely miked objects. Recordings of pond life began the piece, drifting throughout the hushed room until subsumed by a low humming drone, apparently a recording of the fan in Patterson's oven back home. Small glass bottles filled with hot water were left to cool with contact mics capturing the tiny sounds of their contractions, which were then magnified into the room. But later in the set Patterson's water-damaged equipment began to play up, and a series of loud bursts of electronic static interrupting the filigree delicacy of the music every time he touched his mixer left him clearly perplexed. He attempted to incorporate this unwanted intrusion into the music, but without much success. A finely crafted blend of sound from one of the UK's most interesting musicians had its frailty cruelly exposed.
The Saturday evening ended with what at first seemed a bizarre combination of Joe Colley and French field recordist and sound artist Eric La Casa (photo, left). For the first time in the festival the lights were turned off, with the faces of the musicians lit by La Casa's laptop and a single candle flickering between them. If at first this seemed just an extension of the Colley's dramatic onstage persona, it became quickly apparent that the candle played a part in the music, as Colley blew on it from time to time, a photosensitive sensor translating the fluttering light into sound. Throughout a set of beautifully sculpted sounds played to the room through quadraphonic speakers all kind of acoustic phenomena worked their way into the music. La Casa's varied field recordings and Colley's subtle electronics were combined with the sound of a contact-miked wooden chair pushed about the floor between them, a small halogen light with a broken, flickering connection held in Colley's hands and a radio scanner picking up what sounded like the local Dublin taxi service. The music welcomed all of these elements, the musicians using each of them as a spark (quite literally at times) to send it off on different tangents, in what was a fine end to the improvised section of the festival.
The final night saw the festival move to the resonant acoustics of the Unitarian Church for a performance of Morton Feldman's For Bunita Marcus by John Tilbury (photo, right). Composed in 1985, For Bunita Marcus is one of Feldman's later, freer works, of which Tilbury is widely recognised as one of the leading performers, his London Hall recording of the piece an acknowledged masterpiece. Sitting just a few feet from Tilbury and listening to this music unfold was a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fans of Feldman hardly need convincing of the fact. The music drifted off around the high ceiling of the church, at once both soporific and inspiring. The performance seemed a lot looser and more languid than Tilbury's recorded version, clocking in some eight minutes longer. Perhaps the naturally laid back feel of the Irish capital left its impact on the music. It was a lovely way to end a really strong weekend of music that put Ireland firmly on the contemporary music map. i and e 2007 was the most consistently excellent festival I've attended in several years and a credit to its curators.–RP [photos courtesy Fergus Kelly]

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On Public Eyesore
Jorge Castro
Cinética, divided in three parts – "Immune", "Impulse" and "Forward Movement" – was entirely conceived for electric guitar with digital processing; it lasts only 25 minutes, but it's definitely time well spent. Simple lines or reiterated chords constitute the source for an Ambient picture of slanted space in which fathomless resonances and throbbing waves invade the listening environment with gentle firmness. There are also several moments in which strange swayings, bewitching loops and pitch-transposed harmonies give the mixture an alien halo, flabbergasting and uncertain, as if the music were in search of a definite direction. The passage from the second to the third segment sees Castro kicking in some serious distortion together with something that sounds like crippled shortwaves; this creates a gorgeous cadenza that morphs into a waterfall of infinite-repeat suspension. The whole finally flows into a desiccated, folkish-sounding locked groove, swiftly turned into thin but lethal vapors by Castro's heavy manipulation.
Amy Denio
This is the soundtrack to a dance piece by Japanese choreographer Yoko Murao, and finds Denio (on accordion and voice) flanked by the excellent Eyvind Kang on viola. It all starts with a fascinating drone, an impenetrable dark cloud hovering around apparent tranquillity. The instrumental timbres instantly fuse into one, harmonics coalescing into a static tapestry until we reach Niblock-like pitch contiguities, though I'm also reminded of shades typical of Christoph Heemann and Andrew Chalk's Mirror. About 11 minutes in, intricate figures start dancing and intersecting as if played by an unknown instrument, soon to be overwhelmed by additional doses of incessant accordion-and-viola repetitions. The first hint of rhythm, which involuntarily rips a page out of Stephen Scott's book, appears briefly, only to be submerged again in an ocean of bliss. As in the best minimalism, one never knows if what's heard is real or just a product of the imagination. A sort of bionic hornpipe appears halfway through, introducing a dramatic call-and-response passage of superimposed chanting, before a series of choked seagull-like string shrieks raises the anguish level quite effectively. Elements of Middle Eastern/Arab phrasing are elicited by Kang, yet everything is soon redirected towards motionlessness, as Denio's vocals take center stage with melodies crossing Native American and Asian influences. Instrumental plucks, raps and noise push the music towards its natural exhaustion, the tension relenting frame by frame as the sonic organism resolves to a composed recollection of all its parts and derivations. A superb piece of work by two fine artists.
Bill Horist and Marron
Bill Horist plays guitar and Tanaka Yasuhiko (aka Marron) is billed as playing guitar plus "Dubmarronics" (don't ask); the music was recorded live at Seattle's Gallery 1412 in 2005. At first, the digital delay-drenched arpeggios sound almost poetic, but promptly yield to pneumatic drill outbursts and percussive concoctions that mix Industrial gamelan and headache-inducing resonance. Strings get repeatedly raped by a three-head monster with the faces of Henry Kaiser, KK Null and James Plotkin: melodic intensity, destructive weaponry, harmonic dissent and the ever-present power of the Big Hum. I open my windows and the glimmering misshapenness of "Shizuka no Umi" meshes splendidly with the lamentations of my neighbour's donkey in a moment of fabulous surrealism, while the birds start chirping louder (talk about understanding the components of sound.. long way to go, "sentient beings"). The music stands on its own two feet even without animal enhancements though, and brims with keen intelligence and compositional skill. In "Happyland", Hendrix dwarves and straight-up-yer-nose jazzbos can be seen shoulder to shoulder with Reich, Laurel & Hardy, Brecht and Stravinsky, then an overdriven medusa blinds our eyes with caustic Pro-Co Rat liquids and ear-piercing shrilling. "Ame mo Fureba, Yuki mo Furu" could prompt a lawsuit from Robert Fripp for its rape and dismemberment of Frippertonics, while "General Gingersnap" whirrs and whistles through our most depraved feedback desires before turning into fly-in-a-bottle, saturated-and-delayed paranoia. This alternation of edge-of-oblivion ethereal polychords and "wake up and smell the coffee" dissonance is just what my doctor ordered to remove from memory all the useless guitar albums that I've been listening to for decades. Sleep Hammer is highly un-recommended to fans of Stern, Ritenour, Carlton and DiMeola; the rest of you loonies, climb aboard.
Emily Hay / Marcos Fernandes
Besides Hay (voice, flute, piccolo, piano, electronics) and Fernandes (percussion, field recordings, electronics), the musicians involved are Lisle Ellis, Ellen Weller and Al Scholl, who variously contribute bass, sax, flute, guitar and electronics. Two major elements characterize the music: Hay's voice – often similar to Shelley Hirsch's but even more malleable and unpredictable – and the utter absence of "style", which is made easier by the often pulseless approach of Fernandes, who's more interested in electronic soundscapes and fractured decompositions of barely existent metres than in churning out regular rhythms. The duo's imagination produces instant visions and moments of mystery in "Belly Of The Craft", while a track like "Away From The Doom" is downright exhilarating, the scenario continuously shifting between third-rate horror movie soundtrack and a miniature replica of Diamanda Galàs engaged in some kind of recreational activity. "Spar" is a splendid example of creative improvisation animated by clever electronics; on the other hand, the following "Wicked Child" is so complex that it sounds computer-generated. The two movements of the title track open and close the album, symbols of the irrepressible urge towards unadulterated spiritual freedom that the whole CD constantly manifests. High-quality stuff from every point of view.–MR

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Walter and Sabrina
Danny Dark
Just when I was finally getting over the impact of the monumental triple CD Chioma Supernormal reviewed in these pages a couple of months ago, here comes another helping of Walter Cardew and Stephen Moore's idiosyncratic Art Bears-meets-Zappa-meets-Penguin Cafe Orchestra-meets-Eisler-meets-Residents-meets Alternative TV post-prog post-punk cantata oratorio rock opera. If you took the plunge and forked out for a copy of Chioma, you won't be all that surprised by Rock'n'Roll Darkness, nor its cover art with the strategically defaced soft porn imagery, but newcomers to the world of Walter & Sabrina expecting some kind of dirty Stooges apocalypse could be disappointed. Moore's lyrics might be full of whores, piss, sweat and semen but there are no whammy bars or fuzz pedals in sight in the band – instead there's glockenspiel, trombone, violin, and that most un-rock'n'roll instrument, the oboe, and not much groove either in Cardew's odd, polyrhythmic universe. An acquired taste, perhaps, but the music of Walter & Sabrina, despite its obvious stylistic precursors (see above) sounds like little else in today's new music. If you find the album cover umm titillating, you might also be interested to know there's a bit more full frontal nudity on offer in the Quicktime movie the disc also contains to accompany its title track, but this odd homemade DV (shades of the new and ever so disappointing David Lynch offering, and Moore and Cardew's chicks don't even get to sing "The Locomotion") doesn't add much; the music works perfectly well without it.–DW

Last Visible Dog
Now celebrating sixteen years in business, Circle is Finland's most prolific and arguably hardest-to-pin-down post-rock outfit. Hard to pin down stylistically that is, since founding father bassist and vocalist Jussi Lehtisalo isn't exactly a recluse (there's even a recent photo of him online, which is more than you can say for Thomas Pynchon). Perhaps the one unifying feature of the group's 20-odd albums to date, most of which seem to be out of print, is repetition; after notable flirtations with Krautrock, drone and psychedelia, Tower, despite its title, is a lighter affair, a collection of eminently listenable airy grooves which are so far removed from the power riffing of their earlier outings as to be almost a different band. But scrape the dirt off from the surface of screaming monsters like 2000's Prospekt and you'll find a warm underbelly of spacey organs and cosmic keyboards. Lehtisalo and his crew are joined on Tower by Verde, aka Mika Rintala, who also handles the mix, and very well too. Not much else to add, really; there's certainly not much information to be gleaned from the black and white (well, sort of dirty green and white) photo of a pine forest on the back cover of the booklet, and any resemblance to Miles Davis's In A Silent Way, which has been much commented on elsewhere, seems pretty superficial, referring more than anything else to the hi-hatty grooves and bubbling electric pianos. Terry Riley would seem to be more relevant. But have a listen and decide for yourself.–DW

Valet is the solo project of Honey Owens, a floating member of Jackie-O Motherfucker and one of the key players in Nudge, and Blood is Clean reissues a limited edition self-released CD-R. Though her collaborations with JOMF place her within the orbit of the "New Weird America", under the Valet aegis Owens moves closer to abstract Fourth World psychedelia, at times echoing her label mate Bird Show in her attempts at ethnomusicological forgery, most evident via the scrum of hand drums that permeate the opening "April 6". It's an interesting gambit, suggesting near-paradoxical "field recordings of hermetic enclaves", with each piece on the album a self-contained sprawl, a loose translation of primal forms into a lucid yet unknown tongue. While the breathy register of Owens's voice sometimes comes across as a bit too garbled and quasi-mystical, she's learnt how to set her singing throat against music that takes psych and strips it of its playerly, egomaniacal contexts. The guitars on the title track and "My Volcano" splutter like classic psych, but they're strangely denuded, shorn of the overarching concepts/contexts. There's been a lot of this kind of music floating around over the past five years or so, and while Owens doesn't quite reach the ecstatic heights of groups like The Skaters, she's nonetheless able to convincingly essay an alternate prescription for the manifestation of the personal universe via homespun audio.–JD

Various Artists
Table Of The Elements
The last time I interviewed Bruce Russell, for Signal To Noise magazine, he expressed some resignation about the 'free noise manifesto' he wrote in the early 1990s: "It served its purpose but like all manifestos it was polemical and it had its historical limitations. It's not invalid but you have to see it in the light of the times it was written in and the purposes that it served at the time. Because it is twelve years ago that I wrote it." While you can understand Russell's hesitancy to be bound by the manifesto's rubric, there's no denying how crucial it in unlocking the stranglehold "the song" had on New Zealand's underground. Russell's own work with The Dead C, A Handful Of Dust and the Corpus Hermeticum label cleared space for a generation of noise artists from New Zealand, and the Le Jazz Non compilation he curated was perhaps its most potent manifestation, a rallying cry for noise artists not just from NZ but other outposts (there was a sequel of sorts from Norway).
If one of the primary achievements of Russell's proselytising zeal was to topple the song from its privileged position, he never resorted to pure dogmatism about the largely false song/noise binary, and one of the great pleasures of the next generation of NZ artists – Pumice and Antony Milton in particular – is the way they reconnect the two forms, inveigling structure into chance operations. Need For A Crossing may not have the defining impact of Le Jazz Non, but it's a good, if unintentional, sequel. Shorn of the need to make "statements" about noise, Need For A Crossing rather offers a series of 'propositions' or rhetorical questions: how does Greg Malcolm reconcile noise guitar with rembetika? How does the pop song function within the crackly, disintegrating tenor of Pumice's recording aesthetic?
There are many highlights on Need For A Crossing. Pumice's cover of GFrenzy's "Stars" pivots around a stark piano riff drowning in distortion; GFrenzy's own "Mouth of Bloody Vengeance" is pop in miniature, a frail melody wrapped in lo-fi loops and strummed guitar. Birchville Cat Motel's "Skies Crimson Tears" mainlines mercury, its webs of guitar drone spun like thick silver thread. Peter Wright closes the set with "Another Gate", a typically beautiful construction for aerated 12-string guitar recorded live in London, 2005. Indeed, one of the interesting things about Need For A Crossing is the itinerant nature of its contributors, with Wright now based in London and Leighton Craig working from Brisbane, Australia. It's a reflection of the cross-genre/cross-structure approach the best of these artists play with, an acknowledgment that, now the ground has been cleared by their predecessors, it's perhaps their job to figure out new ways to weave seemingly contrasting forms together. That it's not seamless attests both to the "work in progress" nature of these recordings, and the inspiration inherent in these ten tracks, an everyday inventiveness that likes things rough-hewn and hand-made.–JD

I don't for one moment regret studying Latin at school, but still think I'd have been better off with Spanish. That way I might be able to understand what's being said on this album, the sixth offering from the new Basque post rock / noise imprint Hamaika. And you get forget that"post rock" too: this is noise and is actually billed as such ("noise by Miguel A. Garcia, voices by.." etc). As noise albums go – though I'm no great connoisseur, having barely a hundred of the things – its volleys of woofer-shredding pneumatic drill thrills and feedback drenched high frequency scree, invariably accompanied by (or accompanying – it's not clear which) human vocal expressions apparently intended to communicate every emotion from apoplectic rage to sheer terror, sound pretty run-of-the-mill to me. It's certainly not shocking, though presumably intended to be. Track five – rather hard to figure out what those titles are from the back of the disc, but I think its "La carne y la maquina" – sounds like a gang rape in an iron foundry, but, a quarter of a century on from Whitehouse and Monte Cazazza, this kind of stuff has totally lost its capacity to surprise. In fact, Whitehouse and Monte Cazazza sound pretty tame nowadays too. Maybe after all I'm not missing much by not being able to understand what's being said (or rather yelled, screamed, whimpered, spat, throttled); with track titles as brilliant as "Your Pussy is a Cunt" it's probably safe to assume we're not talking Federico Garcia Lorca or Miguel de Cervantes here. And anything that goes out of its way to bill itself as "extreme" is most definitely not to be trusted. This is dull second division stuff.–DW

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Scott Fields Ensemble
Clean Feed
Think of music you associate with Samuel Beckett and you probably think something spare, lean, minimal, Morton Feldman being the most obvious point of reference. There was, after all, their (anti-?)operatic collaboration Neither, and two of the composer's three last completed works were Beckett-related (Words and Music, and For Samuel Beckett). But despite several striking similarities – compare Feldman's fondness for gently permutating cells and the internal repetitions and sonic play of Beckett's late prose – there are appreciable differences, notably the size and scale of their final works. While Feldman stretched out in the last decade of his life, almost as if he'd foreseen the arrival of the 80-minute compact disc that would become the ideal medium for the spacious, thinly-painted canvases of his late compositions, Beckett's works became ever more condensed, distilled. (You could, though, argue that the ultimate distillation of his work was 1969's tiny playlet, Breath, which, devoid of both actors and dialogue, lasts just 35 seconds.. but there's still some debate among Beckett scholars as to whether this was evidence of the author's wry sense of humour, written as it was for Kenneth Tynan's bawdy review Oh Calcutta!). Whatever, when you think Beckett you don't automatically think of elegant and intricately crafted modern chamber jazz, but that's precisely what guitarist Scott Fields offers us here on this magnificent quartet outing with John Hollenbeck (percussion), Scott Roller (cello) and Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone).
There's little direct correlation that I can find between the album's five tracks and the Beckett works they take their titles from – Breath, Play, Come And Go, What Where and Rockaby (all plays as it turns out) – but dig a bit deeper and the similarities begin to appear. One of the reasons Beckett's oeuvre has consistently fascinated musicians is its sheer musicality: a constant sense of play between micro and macro form, a concern for motive, idea, development, coupled with a wicked ear and subtle sense of humour. And that's exactly what Fields is working with here. Sometimes the pieces are as ferociously determined as the monologue that propels The Unnamable to its unforgettable conclusion ("I can't go on, I'll go on"), sometimes they appear to slump into the ditch at the side of the road like Watt. Sometimes they're as wild and effusive as Lucky's celebrated stream-of-consciousness speech in Waiting for Godot, sometimes they're as still as Still. Fields' accompanying text, not surprisingly a little Beckettian itself, seems to be apologetic in tone ("All that improvisation. Anti-Beckett, if anything. I have a lot to answer for. Pray for me") but there's nothing to say sorry for. Beckett was apparently fond of Franz Schubert; I'd like to think he might dig Matthias too. The playing of all four musicians throughout is exemplary, the scores cunningly crafted and intriguing to the point of being frustrating (and if that isn't Beckettian I don't know what is) and the recording superb. What more could you ask for? A sequel, perhaps.

La Pieuvre
LA PIEUVRE 1999 – 2005
"Pieuvre" means "octopus", in case your French is a bit rusty. And, with a name like that, those of you old enough to remember Keith Tippett's Centipede might be able to guess that it's a big band. No fewer than 31 musicians are listed as taking part on this retrospective double CD chronicling the ensemble's activities over the past few years, and I won't bore you with a complete personnel list. In fact, if you live outside France, or even outside Lille, where La Pieuvre has its lair (if octopuses have lairs), you're not likely to have heard of many of them. But guitarist / composer Olivier Benoit, who's entrusted with "direction" of this great sprawling beast, certainly deserves a mention. Large ensemble improvisation is an area fraught with problems (leaving aside the sheer logistical difficulties of getting 30 cats together to play and rehearse in the first place), most notably the thorny question of who wields the big stick in front of the band. If, as Eddie Prévost once memorably wrote, the classical symphony orchestra with maestro at the helm was the perfect metaphor for capitalist society, how can improvisers, who are more often than not defiantly anti-capitalist, if not downright anarchic, allow themselves to be channeled (coerced, perhaps) into creating coherent large ensemble structures without sacrificing their individuality on the altar of the conductor's tastes and preferences? For there has to be some sacrifice involved: if you don't think so, try inviting 31 improvising musicians into a room for a jam session and see what kind of bloody mess you end up with. To his credit, Benoit does the job splendidly, weaving the diverse timbres of instruments as diverse as erhu, Balinese flute, djembe and zither into tapestries of considerable beauty whose surface is as varied and colourful as their underlying form is solidly grounded. But inevitably such music, not being notated (I'll hazard a bet that half the guys in the band can't read music anyway, not that that's ever been a problem for Jean-Luc Guionnet, who's one of the creature's many tentacles), tends to go in for mass effect. We're talking Xenakis rather than Boulez here, earthquakes, tsunamis and blizzards instead of patient pruning and weeding in the back garden. The cumulative effect is pretty overwhelming – don't try and listen to this all in one go without a so'wester – but if your idea of a breath of fresh air is being strapped to the mast in a Force 10 gale, there's plenty here to enjoy.–DW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble
What a shame Emanem's Martin Davidson couldn't have used some of Jak Kilby's terrific photographs to grace the album cover instead of these uninspiring wisps of grey on a decidedly unappetising plum background. Still, as the saying goes, never judge an album by its cover (though I admit I often do): Frameworks is magnificent, and none of this music has previously been released, which is all the more reason why you should put the booklet aside and just listen. Don't chuck it away altogether though, as Davidson's essay inside provides essential background information, as well as the complete text scores of John Stevens' "Click Piece" and "Sustained Piece", both of which are used here as strategies to channel the contributions of individual improvisers into coherent collective improvisation. The idea that there should be some kind of score or set of guidelines is probably anathema to many so-called free improvisers, but those who sniff at Stevens' pedagogy would do well to remember that the drummer was just as good playing hard swinging bop (if you don't believe me you'd better check him out on Bobby Bradford's Love's Dream, also on Emanem), and, when he did so, willingly played according to the rules. I like to think he'd have agreed with Igor Stravinsky's famous line in Poetics of Music: "My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles." But, whatever, any doubting Thomases should shut the funk up and check out "Familie Sequence", recorded on July 14th 1968 and featuring, alongside Stevens, Norma Winstone (voice), Kenny Wheeler (flugelhorn), Paul Rutherford (trombone) and Trevor Watts, making a rare apperance on bass clarinet. After an opening section of sustained tones, apparently inspired by Japanese gagaku (though if Davidson didn't tell you you'd probably never guess.. then again Stevens was far too subtle and intelligent a musician to churn out tacky pastiche), the ensemble works through the "Sustained" and "Click" pieces in what is one of the most intriguing and accomplished instant compositions the SME ever committed to disc. (For details on Stevens' instructions see the liners, but here's an extract from another essay of Davidson's that you can find at "two very basic concepts became the CLICK PIECE (in which everyone makes short repeated sounds in their own rhythm) and the SUSTAINED PIECE (in which one inhales as deeply as possible then sustains a note for as long as comfortably possible on the exhale)") The ensemble is perfectly balanced, with Winstone's exquisite wordless vocals and Wheeler's impeccable, fragile yet hard-as-nails flugelhorn beautifully offset by the rich lower registers of Rutherford's trombone and Watts's bass clarinet.
"Quartet Sequence" dates from April 25th 1971 and features the same line-up of SME that appeared on the BYG LP Birds Of A Feather (hilarious anecdotes about which can also be found in the CD booklet): Stevens, Julie Tippett on voice and guitar, Watts on soprano sax and Ron Herman on bass. It's an outstanding half hour's worth of music, and another poke in the eye for anyone who believes that improvised music can not (or should not or even must not) include elements of repetition. Tippett and Watts at times are truly manic in their reiteration of tiny cells and shapes, giving the music an almost obsessive, Feldman-like quality. Tippett's simultaneous vocalisms and guitar (let's hear it for that guitar playing too!) are particularly exciting, and while she and Watts buzz around the pitch space they've charted out like bluebottles, Stevens and Herman provide a splendidly intricate backdrop.
Finally, "Flower" is a Stevens / Watts duo recorded at the Little Theatre in 1971 and documents the SME's most austere minimalist period. The "rules of the game" are pretty easy to work out – listen to how each of Watts's isolated pitches corresponds to one element of Stevens' kit – if Feldman comes to mind at times in "Quartet Sequence", "Flower" recalls the reductionist rigour of Christian Wolff, and, standing in the shadows, Webern. It makes you wonder why we've had to wait nearly 40 years for this amazing music to see the light of day – and wonder what else might be languishing in the vaults somewhere.. Could someone put their paws on the original French Birds Of A Feather session tapes, for example? Until that happy day comes, make sure you don't miss out on Frameworks.

ZMF Trio
Drip Audio
ZMF stands for Zubot (Jesse, violin) Martin (Jean, drums) and Fonda (Joe, bass), a trio that first got together a few years back through the good offices of the Vancouver Jazz Festival's Ken Pickering. This cracking debut was recorded just days after the three musicians began playing together, and it's a real fun-filled adventure, from the atmospheric glistening harmonics of the opening "Long, Dark & Slow", via the tight cellular workout of "Circle" and the slinky 12/8 swing of "Slow Blues" to the angular intricacy of "#135", the only piece not penned by a member of the trio. Not surprisingly, with a title like that, it's by Anthony Braxton, and Fonda brings his authentic Brax street cred to bear on proceedings to great effect. He also kicks off the following track's rollercoaster ride with a monster bass solo. More thrills and spills are in store before the album comes full circle with a slight return of "Long, Dark & Slow." Violin / bass / drums trios aren't all that frequent, and (believe me) it takes considerable arm power for a humble fiddler to go the distance with a hard driving rhythm section. Zubot does that and more, and without recourse to stacks of electronic gadgets; it's all too easy to slap a few FX pedals and a contact mic on the violin and can get much more noise for far less effort. He manages to incorporate good solid conservatory technique without ever sounding like a "classical fiddler trying to play jazz" (mentioning no names), and is just as good at flying off the handle into the kind of wild scratches and squeaks Malcolm Goldstein would be proud of. Meanwhile, Jean Martin handles percussion duty with great flair, both swinging hard and playing colour when needs be. All in all, this is a terrific debut. Let's have some more.–DW

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Cold Bleak Heat
Family Vineyard
After their sensational debut It's Magnificent But It Isn't War, here's a welcome return from one of Fire Music's killer quartets – Paul Flaherty (alto and tenor saxophones), Greg Kelley (trumpet), Matt Heyner (bass) and Chris Corsano (drums) – and I note with delight that it's got a sensational 4/10 rating from the Silver Platters website (huh, remind me to delete that one from the Firefox bookmarks), which must mean a) their reviewer was expecting a Stan Getz / Astrud Gilberto compilation and got this by mistake or b) he had his ears up his ass or c) these guys must be doing something right. Those who enjoyed CBH's debut will know what to expect: typically hyperactive percussion from Corsano (I'm still not entirely convinced the man only has two arms), ludicrously agile bass from Heyner (best upper register bowed work since Alan Silva took his cello into outer space with Sun Ra), gritty lyricism from Kelley and, well, Paul Flaherty needs no introduction to regular readers of these pages. I may be wrong, but I do detect a slightly more pronounced strain of melancholy in Flaherty's playing of late; the opening of "Mugged By A Glacier" (is that a reference to that great line in Gravity's Rainbow about the English cough sweet that Pynchon memorably described as being beaten about the head by a Swiss Alp?) is particularly touching – but there's plenty of blood and sweat to mix with the tears. Terrific track titles too, including "The Voice Of The People Is The Voice Of God", "Should We Destroy The Hubble?" (hey, why not?), "A White Bandaged Head In The Shadow Of Death" and "To Understand All Is To Forgive All", which should be tattooed on the penis of the bloke who gave it 4/10.–DW

Charles Cohen / Ed Wilcox
Ruby Red
Anyone who chooses a quotation from The Tempest as their album title is OK with me, and the fact that this one comes recommended by Julian Cope (by and large, a gentleman of taste) doesn't hurt either. Anyone familiar with 2000's Bullet Into Mesmer's Brain by the Philly-based free rock outfit Temple of Bon Matin will recognise the names of Messrs Cohen and Wilcox, and the trademark squiggles and blats of Cohen's Buchla Music Easel are (happily) even more in evidence here. Unlike other synth + percussion outings of note (thinking particularly of Thomas Lehn and Gerry Hemingway's two fine outings on Erstwhile and Umbrella here, though I could also declare an interest, as they say, and cast in a crafty plug for my own duo Rats with Edward Perraud), this is quite relaxed and spacious. Wilcox, billed on "drums and gongs", leaves plenty of room for Cohen to showcase his vintage instrument (analog synth junkies can find out more about it at, and the music they produce is colourful and eminently listenable. If you like your music a bit more gnarly and tense, this might not be right up your street, but if, like me, you're a hardcore Dr Patrick Gleeson fan, you'll love it.–DW

Eagle Keys
Even Stilte
Lausanne-based Francisco Meirino, aka Phroq, returned home from his recent Japanese tour with a recording of a solo electric bass by Tim Olive (currently studying traditional Japanese fast food in Osaka, if his recent emails are anything to go by), added computer and electronics and ended up with these two extended tracks – total duration just under 50 minutes – of splendid soft noise EAI. Quite how the pair of them make the sounds they do is a wonderful mystery – there's very little on here that remotely resembles what I can recognise as the sound of an electric bass, but, carefully swaddled in Phroq's discreet drones and blankets of hiss and hum, there are plenty of elusive crackles and crunches. Perhaps if you hid a couple of contact mics in your kid's toybox, surreptitiously recorded the sounds of various plastic, metal and wooden small objects being assembled and dismantled by tiny inquisitive hands, took the resulting tape and hid it somewhere in your air conditioning system it might sound something like this. Olive's last outing with Bunsho Nisikawa, the intriguingly-titled Supernatural Hot Rug And Not Used, was mysterious and compelling; Eagle Keys – not sure that's just the name of the album or has become the name of the duo by default as is often the case with these collaborative ventures – is even better. It's superbly paced, carefully constructed and above all sounds terrific. Check it out.–DW

Graham Collier
Convened at the Bracknell Jazz Festival in 1983, the all-star cast performing bassist-composer Graham Collier's Hoarded Dreams is the stuff of Euro-jazz discographers' wet dreams. Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain expressly for the festival and its participants, the nineteen-piece ensemble includes trumpeters Ted Curson, Manfred Schoof, Kenny Wheeler, Henry Lowther and Tomasz Stanko; trombonists Eje Thelin and Conny Bauer, reedmen John Surman and Juhanni Aaltonen, pianist Roger Dean and guitarist Ed Speight. (Collier conducts from the front, rather than the bass chair, which is occupied by Paul Bridge.) Though tapes have circulated for years, it's a fine sight to see this famed performance properly issued.
Though Collier's work of the 1970s moved away from edgy odd-metered post-bop to encompass more rock-inflected elements, Hoarded Dreams embraces fully the possibilities offered by the diverse skills and aesthetics of its participants, letting soloists push and pull at the surrounding musical context. In part two, for instance, Surman's rough-hewn baritone is in fine form, and his wails yank at Dean's fleet, light comping and the pliable strums of guitarists Speight and John Schröder. A maddening duo between Curson and drummer Ashley Brown follows Surman's bellows (Curson has always known what to do without a piano), collective cadenzas flying at the blink of an eye, Curson and Surman engaging in a battle of trills to close out the section. Collier has always had a penchant for the pastoral, too, and the third movement lets Speight stretch out over moody tonal sandcastles, harkening back to some of the Gil Evansesque investigations of 1967's Deep Dark Blue Centre (Deram) before the band lights a fire.
What's clear is that Collier writes for his bands, even as new figures enter the picture. As much as regulars like Dean, Speight, Themen and Griffiths ground the ensemble in a tight and familiar sound, a new voice like Conny Bauer's multiphonics can find a place here (he brings just the right brooding quality to part four). And it's important to remember that it wouldn't be a Graham Collier record without a massive, infectious swing – however dissonant the proceedings get, there's plenty of big-band showmanship on offer too. The fact that these nineteen musicians make Hoarded Dreams' far-flung aural spread not only sound concise and direct, but actually swing like a small group, is a testament to their remarkable abilities.–CA

Graham Halliwell/Tomas Korber
The Large Glass, the first collaboration between Graham Halliwell and Tomas Korber, pulls off a considerable feat: by all but freeze framing process, the duo manages to alienate their instrumentation from its chosen lexicon, but not through any recourse to "extended technique" practice. The bald list of instruments includes "prepared saxophone feedback" and "electronics", but there's nothing that can be index-linked to the physicality of the sound sources – something that's possible even with much extended technique playing. This alienation effect (though we're not talking Brecht here) isn't exactly new or surprising, but when it's essayed as strongly as Halliwell and Korber do it, it's no small achievement. The Large Glass offers a cold, almost inhospitable climate, a vast Arctic tundra within which feedback becomes spectral, amplifying its almost non-corporeal presence as the distressed cry of malfunctioning systems. At times, the album reminds me of the mid 1990s wave of "isolationism", sharing an impulse toward evacuating the human from the mise-en-scene and slowing everything down until ghost tones and muted feedback gather in dirty puddles under the feet of the collaborators. Its elegiac feel comes of pacing and placement, a considered chill.–JD

Malcolm Goldstein / Barre Phillips
It's amazing that their paths didn't cross sooner, when you think about it. In the early 1960s both Malcolm Goldstein and Barre Phillips were living and working in New York City, and both discovered free improvisation about the same time – violinist Goldstein in the context of his groundbreaking work with the Judson Dance Theater, Phillips as a jazz bassist with the likes of Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Giuffre and Bob James (yes, that Bob James, but if you've never heard his ESP' Disk Explosions you've got a thrill in store). And yet, like characters in a Pynchon novel, you just know that at some stage these guys will (have to) run into each other. Their first meeting in fact occurred at the Densités Festival in Verdun in 2004, in what was originally scheduled to be a trio with British guitarist John Russell, and it worked out so well that when Goldstein returned to tour Europe again last year he and Phillips set up several dates, both as a duo and as a trio with percussionist Lê Quan Ninh. I remember being somewhat underwhelmed by their trio appearance at the Instants Chavirés, and now I think I know why; as the old saying goes, two's company, three's a crowd (especially when the third member is a one-man Percussions de Strasbourg like Ninh): Goldstein and Phillips quite simply complement each other to perfection. The six tracks on this fabulous live set recorded in Puget-Ville near Phillips' homebase in the South of France run the gamut from austere drone to hyperactive hardscrabble, from pure chorale (the end of "BMPG" is magic) to extended technique jamboree, from playing that would dazzle any conservatory-trained violinist and bassist to what sounds like the untutored scratching of a four-year-old's first fiddle lesson (except of course we know it isn't). It's also curiously "traditional" improv – Goldstein in particular has always been a very vocal player (and often sings along to prove it), and his improvisations often follow the kind of dramaturgical plan that many post-AMM post-redux improvisers studiously avoid – while remaining spellbindingly "in the moment", i.e. seemingly out of time altogether. Such is the mysterious and beautiful paradox of these master musicians.–DW

Rafael Toral
Those who got into Rafael Toral's music through his guitar work, and its unashamedly tonal post-Eno Ambient drone (he isn't too fond of those last two words either, but they do tend to stick) might find the bleeps and squiggles of the Portuguese sound artist's latest offering rather strange, especially if they're unfamiliar with last year's Space (Staubgold), which inaugurated the ambitious Space Program, a series of albums that will occupy Toral for the best part of a decade to come, and of which Space Solo 1 is the second chapter. He finally unplugged the drone and hung up his guitar after 2001's Violence Of Discovery And Calm Of Acceptance ("there was a clear feeling of completion, and I knew if I continued along that path I'd just repeat myself and become formulaic," he told me in an interview that formed the basis of a Wire feature last September – shortly to appear in extended and updated form here, fans please note), since when he's been busy designing, building and playing a whole studio full of customised electronic instruments for the Space Program. Each of these will be showcased in its own Space Study, but several of them feature in the Space Solos, a parallel solo project (there's also a projected set of six ensemble albums entitled Space Elements).
Toral's "fascination with hacking" isn't new. His investigations of "randomness and the resolution of the uncontrollable in real time" with Paulo Feliciano in the duo No Noise Reduction began back in 1990 (the pair's 1997 AnAnAnA album On Air, though hard to find now, is worth checking out as an important precursor of the Space Program), and in 1995 he found himself in the hackers' paradise of Amsterdam's STEIM improvising with "a modified toy with a messed-up pitch control". But there's a maturity to Space and Space Solo 1 that's lacking in the earlier work, a sense that Toral has finally assimilated the influence of Cage, Lucier and most importantly Sei Miguel. Toral has been involved with Miguel's music since 1996's Showtime, and appears on the trumpeter's outstanding Creative Sources release last year The Tone Gardens (Miguel and trombonist Fala Mariam repaid the compliment by guesting on Space). The key to what the Space Program is all about is probably Toral's description of the project as "what electronic music might have sounded like if the studios that sprang up shortly after World War Two had been frequented by jazz musicians instead of composers." That link with jazz is tenuous, but it's there: there's a kind of odd swing to Space Solo 1 that recalls Michel Waisvisz's pioneering work with the legendary crackle box (isn't it about time somebody somewhere reissued Steve Lacy's Lumps?). But there's also enough silence – space, if you will – surrounding Toral's electrode-controlled cross-modulating twin square-wave portable oscillators, delayed feedback empty circuits with joystick-controlled filters and amplified coil springs to remind us of his enduring allegiance to Cage. This adds a certain austerity to the music, which is matched by the pale grey green colour scheme and the black and white architect's drawing doing on the cover, a reminder (perhaps) that space isn't just some sci-fi final frontier, but our everyday awareness of the objects that surround us and their relationship to each other.

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Alvin Lucier
If I ever "retire" from "journalism" there's nothing I'd like to do more than sit around all day listening to Alvin Lucier albums. And, thankfully, riding the wave of interest generated in his music by EAI heads in search of historical precedents, there are plenty of them to choose from now. This latest, Lucier's second on Mode after 2003's Navigations / Small Waves, is another keeper (dumb thing to say, that – they all are). Bagpipe is an instrument I usually like about as much as pipe organ (not a lot, as a famous magician used to say), but in Matthew Welch's hands it sounds wonderful, upper partials bouncing merrily off the walls for the 13 glorious minutes of Piper. Don't listen on headphones, you'll miss out on a lot of fun; pump it up to Niblock volume and thrill. Fan finds four koto players moving gradually out of phase with each other, pitches moving ever so slowly up a major third, harmonics ringing out, acoustic beats jostling each other in a riot of colour and energy. And the basic idea behind it all is so goddamn straightforward.
As Howard Skempton once said of La Monte Young, there's so much to listen to. Lucier's magic – and I don't use the word lightly – is being able to take the very simplest of ideas and create music of quite extraordinary complexity and acoustic richness. Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra, despite its title, calls for nothing more than a triangle, and the performance consists of merely (merely!) "changing the pressure of the fingers on the triangle as well as the speed and loudness of the tapping." The result is simply astounding. 947 is another of the composer's explorations of the acoustic beats that appear – and disappear – when sustained tones from a live instrument (Jacqueline Martelle's flute) interfere with pure waves. On Ever Present, the waves sweep both upwards and downwards two octaves, as Erik Drescher (flute), Akiko Okabe (piano) and Sascha Armbruster (alto sax) slip their sustained tones in to intersect with their stately curve. The shape of the waves is a precise translation into music of the plan of the oval walkways Robert Irwin created for the garden of the Getty Center in LA. "It was beautiful to watch the people walking through the garden," Lucier notes. "They seemed to be in a special frame of mind, feeling the spaces.." So will you be when you hear this.

Rhys Chatham
Table Of The Elements
The first two days of October 2005 saw a massive gathering of people, guitars and amplifiers in and around the sanctuary of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Montmartre to watch a phalanx of 400 guitarists playing Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail (Moves Too Fast To See) for 12 hours throughout the rainy night as part of the "citywide marathon of sound, image and movement" called Nuit Blanche (the first time something similar was tried in Italy a national blackout occurred). This 56-minute release captures three segments of the performance in what is more a celebration of an event than a formal document: the live recording is often blemished by voices, coughs, shouts and chatter from the huge audience, and apart from the composer, the only recognizable names among the musicians are bassist Ernie Brooks III and drummer Jonathan Kane. But when the music prevails, something special happens amidst these roaring cadenzas, in the guise of phantom harmonics and ghost voices. As Kane's liners explain, the sonic architecture of Chatham's writing takes advantage of the church dome's interior to have the different sections "morphing in an organic way". The three movements and the short encore captured on disc are pretty straightforward harmonically (at times too much so for my own taste), and the second part's incessant tolling tests the patience somewhat before growing into an impressively thunderous finale. But the most mesmerizing passages, where a single gesture repeated by hundreds of hands elicits chimes of limpid beauty from that enormous mass of vibrating strings, are in themselves enough to make the disc worth hearing: they're so intensely charged that one can't help joining in with the enthusiastic applause-cum-yelps from the audience at the end of each section.–MR

Toru Takemitsu / Jim O'Rourke
Jim O'Rourke's artistic life seems to have come full circle in recent times. As a child-prodigy composer, he ascended to relative fame in the early 90s through indispensable works like The Ground Below Above Our Heads (Entempfuhl), Tamper (Extreme) and Disengage (Staaltape/Korm Plastics), first snapshots of an acousmatic vision that remains unique to this day; trod a hundred paths constellated of out-of-the-ordinary guitar playing, laptop composition, top-rank improvisation and longstanding associations (Gastr Del Sol, Illusion Of Safety); traveled in the business class of modern rock with his participation in Sonic Youth while becoming an in-demand producer and a collaborator with the crème de la crème of minimalism (Niblock and Conrad, to name just two). In recent years, a lot of the Chicagoan's early music has been released in various formats, which suggests that his erstwhile dissatisfaction with some of his old pieces has mellowed.
O'Rourke's recent activity in the world of cinema and his current Japanese residence have now brought him to tackle yet another challenge that, in a way, meshes snippets of his whole career in a single disc. And although Corona was composed decades ago by Toru Takemitsu – himself a prolific composer of soundtracks – O'Rourke's approach clearly affects the music, transforming it into a creature of his own. Scored for prepared piano, Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes electric piano, the two long segments are dissonant reflections broken by necessary gestural decisions. The sense of tension created by static organ clusters and piano resonance is magnified by spastic arpeggios, sudden irritations and abrasive detours that mostly take place in the piano's innards, which O'Rourke seems to know like his own pockets. This intensely pregnant atmosphere forces the listener to repeatedly reconsider bits of sonic information, which at first seem peripheral, but later are revealed as fundamental elements of the piece. The recording seems to have been made on analog tape, as a little crossover is audible in the most rarefied sections on headphone listening; but really, the best way to appreciate the music's interlocutory reverberations and heartstopping ruptures is by listening to it on a stereo with the speakers at medium-to-high volume. Either way, Corona remains an important chapter in O'Rourke's career, as well as a notable addition to the list of recordings of Takemitsu's work. But it is also a very elusive album that won't reveal its shrouded beauty to the first comer.–MR

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Maurizio Bianchi
For better or worse – worse, in my view – Maurizio Bianchi will forever be associated with the Industrial scene he emerged from in the early 80s, when he signed a "joke contract" with Whitehouse's William Bennett, who did the Italian a monumental disservice by grafting archive recordings of Nazi propaganda onto his music, thereby adding a sinister extra-musical resonance to its strangely disturbing lo-fi sludge. To add insult to injury it was also released under the name Leibstandarte SS MB. No wonder Bianchi ended up withdrawing from music for over a decade (during which time he also apparently became a Jehovah's Witness, though I'm not sure to what extent Bennett can be held responsible for that). But maybe the Italian has had the last laugh, though, for while the shock value of Bennett's early work has worn off (c'mon, does anyone out there really get scared or affronted anymore listening to crap like "Shitfun" and "Tit Pulp"?), Bianchi's elusive, luminescent soundscapes fit in perfectly with a lot of today's post-Ambient dronery. Das Platinzeitalter is a curiously compelling set of six pieces, much of whose appeal lies into trying to figure out what is hiding under the moss of amorphous reverberant drone Bianchi has cultivated in his garden of "archaic waves, ancient loops and primitive electronics". It's like lying half asleep under the blankets trying to make out the music your neighbour is playing through the wall. From what one can glean from the inner sleeve, it seems like it could be a remix of sorts (is that what's meant by a "procession" here, I wonder?) of Incunabulum head honcho Jozef van Wissem's own collection of obscure Renaissance lute music, A Rose By Any Other Name, but if there is a lute in there it's certainly hard to spot. Instead, half dreamt, half imagined, are what might be distant church bells, Gregorian chants, cicadas on a starry night, even the muffled thud of tribal drumming heard from afar. Whatever it is, and however it was made, it's beautiful stuff.–DW

Mark Templeton
Ezekiel Honig
Amid the welter of "Dark Ambient" noodlers naming CDs after Tarkovsky movies, here are two men with something different to say. If quietly.. Both seem to be concerned with dismantling their sonic sources, or diverting them through arbitrary processes, or simply leaving them switched on and seeing what they get up to while you're out of the room. Both also seem to like the idea of allowing the mediating technology – electricity supply, amplifying equipment, recording machinery – to interfere when it's in the mood. Of Edmonton-based Mark Templeton's three key instruments, guitar, accordion and banjo, it is the last that gives Standing on a Hummingbird its signature flavour, sometimes wistful like Durutti Column, sometimes rangey, in the manner of Ry Cooder's Paris, Texas soundtrack. Boomy acoustic piano, snatches of conversation and other found sources, plus a generous helping of tape crackle, give it the austerity of Eno circa Discreet Music and the more sombre side of Harold Budd.
New Yorker Honig takes the title for his latest solo work from philosopher and critic Michel de Certeau and his famous work of psychogeography, The Practice of Everyday Life. "Scattered practices" translates into pavement English as "unrelated stuff", perhaps even simpler still, "stuff", but here Honig teases with titles that hint at narrative: "Going Sailing", "Oceans & Living Rooms", "Homemade Debris". Like his earlier solo work and collaborations with Morgan Packard, this assembles sundry found sources and sonic cut-ups against elegantly spare electric keyboard figures and dance beats slowed down to what might be termed flatline dub. Both albums are determinedly modest projects, with the seeming aim of submerging narrative to the point where it becomes subliminal. Refreshingly free of the cute turns that turn so much Ambient music into ear candy, but still managing to mesmerise with their deft placement of found noise objects in sound fields that verge on but resist melody, both would have earned a smile and a wink from papa Cage.–JG

Matt Shoemaker
Helen Scarsdale Agency
Jim Haynes spares no efforts in making his Helen Scarsdale releases something special. Quite apart from their sonic content, the printing, paper stock and attention to detail are all commendable. This latest offering from Matt Shoemaker is another one for the shopping list [the first edition of 50 sold out fast, so you'd better get cracking with this second run of 400 – DW]. The realm of electroacoustic composition can be a slippery slope cluttered with all-too-familiar debris from former rockslides, but Shoemaker is sure-footed enough to arrive at destinations few of his contemporaries have managed to reach. As a result, Spots On The Sun is one of the most refreshing concrete records to surface in sometime. The treatments, source materials and compositions point equally to genuine experimentation and a studied understanding of his compositional approach. "2…" is a spellbinding sound-space activated by measured use of spatial techniques and well-positioned electronic and incidental sounds. Elements are brought into and out of hearing range with a precise execution, heightening the act of listening and resulting in a truly rich, cliché-free listening experience. As familiar as some of the source sounds may be, their recording and treatment keeps them at a conscious distance. It's like remembering a sound many years later; or, perhaps, this is the way we imagine sound to exist in our dreams. The pieces seem to be realised in a way we can't quite comprehend, focussing our attention and reinforcing our determination to understand the journey on which Shoemaker is taking us.–LE

Andrew Chalk
Faraway Press
One of the problems that Andrew Chalk aficionados must face is that his splendid works are typically released in very limited editions that disappear within weeks, often on vinyl (which rarely translates into good aural quality, courtesy of the pressing plants' apparent lack of interest in sound art). While the larger sleeves of the LPs reward collectors with magnificent handmade artwork, this CD reissue is extremely welcome, allowing us better to appreciate the delicate textures and graceful suspensions of Chalk's creations, which often seem so frail that even breathing disturbs their bewitching charm. Goldfall uses Vikki Jackman's piano as source material, which is, as usually the case with Chalk, rendered completely unidentifiable. The CD faithfully reproduces the content of the original LP. The melancholic first half contains echoes of Satie, Basinski and Eno, with Jackman's almost immobile elegies surrounded by lightly crunchy ambience, piano fragments approaching the listener like a dragonfly skimming over a pond. The second section is a reverse-tape version of the piece that adds a touch of greyness to it all, a foggy curtain of distant rumbles and imaginary calls that invites us to unveil the mystery that lies behind, only to realize that it could just be a deserted district or a gloomy industrial estate. It's not what's heard that makes Goldfall another indispensable addition to this artist's body of work, but rather what we're afraid of discovering in our own thoughts after the music finishes.–MR

Organ Eye
Say what you will about the New Zealand-via-Australia duo of Minit, at least they're smart enough to do everything slowly. It took them a several years to follow their debut album, Music, with 2006's Now Right Here; the relatively swift appearance of Organ Eye on its heels is one of 2007's more welcome surprises, all the better for being a new quartet with David Maranha and Patricia Machás of Osso Exótico, Portugal's premiere slow-moving, rarefied drone outfit. Organ Eye wraps the quartet in the cloaking veil of blurred, shape-shifting dronology prevalent among many artists working within their field, but there's something about these performances – perhaps the intimation of chance that comes from their live improvised settings – that transcends the rote-ness of so many of their peers. And while the drone is an underlying structure for "TEMA #1", Minit's oscillating electronics scratch livid patterns in the sidelines, scraping away like bolts of light underneath your eyelids, or etched bursts of denuded filmstock in the hand-crafted films of Stan Brakhage. The quartet work in loosely episodic fashion: "TEMA #1" moves from tentative beginnings to an engorged rush of fizzling noise at about the fourteen minute mark, which recedes into insectile near-silence. This may imply a tension-release structure that's not exactly under-represented in the field of modern improvised electronics, but Organ Eye's attention to texture becomes the scaffold upon which their improvisations build. Or, in the case of "TEMA #2", it becomes the uncarved block around which all manner of rangy, hissing noises skirl. This is a staggeringly confident recording that transcends the genre through its attention to the genre's detail.–JD

Phillip Pietruschka
Phillip Pietruschka has been long overdue for a widely distributed release and this issue from Cajid is a welcome addition to their roster. Based in Melbourne, Pietruschka has existed somewhat off the wider radar, concerning himself with a series of projects and works that have kept his attentions close to home. Here he steps out and in doing so offers up a vivid, if scattered impression of his sonic psyche. Scattered though the sounds might be, they carry with them a sense of direction and drive which lends this record a particular potency. Pietruschka's meticulous compositional choices give the music a sense of controlled audio clutter in which various elements jostle for position (instrumental source sounds come courtesy of Andrew Barrie, Nat Bates, David Brown, Anthea Caddy, Tim Catlin, James Cecil, Gus Franklin, Will Guthrie, Arwen Johnson, Sianna Lee, Antonia Sellbach and Adam Yee); when one rises above the rest it provides a sense of resolution to the blurry focus. Dramatic shifts are thin on the ground until a third of the way through "Lucuna", where his procedures undergo a sharp redefinition as he abruptly introduces a whopping wall of distorted noise. It's the kind of radical shift that might occur in a horror film, moments of everyday life suddenly shattered as some vicious instrument of death pierces through a living body. These unexpected interruptions continue through the piece with varying success. But they pale in comparison with the pop section of "The Evidence Of Love", which sounds like a facsimile of Stereolab oddly out of place in the more refined avant company of the other pieces. Perhaps that's the point. At just under 30 minutes, Itinerant Labours raises more questions about Pietruschka than it provides answers to. We await the next dispatch with interest.–LE

After calling upon Helge "Deathprod" Sten to mix their 2004 debut Your Naked Ghost Comes Back At Night (Les Disques du Soleil et de l'Acier), the Paris / Chicago duo of Sylvain Chauveau (piano and prepared guitar) and Steven Hess (prepared piano and percussion) have enlisted the services of Pierre-Yves Macé to provide "additional sounds, processing and mixing" on Second Souffle. As it's not customary to add accents to capital letters, I should point out for the benefit of those not well versed in French that's there's a hell of a difference between souffle ("breath") and soufflé (the culinary delicacy), and that there's no accent here: second souffle in fact translates as "second wind", and has the same connotations as its English translation, a clear reference to the fact that the sounds used on this album came from the same sessions as its predecessor (talk about getting extra mileage..). To quote the press release (I can't resist), Chauveau and Hess's "lowercase improv session" becomes in Mace's hands "a slick display of ambient, improv and concrete music". I imagine that that "slick" is intended as a compliment, but I'm afraid it isn't one in my book. Nor do I hear the "post-rock surgical flair of early Pluramon along with the sumptuous cadences of Gastr del Sol's Upgrade & Afterlife", though I certainly admire anyone who has the balls to set the bar that high. It's nice to see Macé turning his attention to lowercase improv, especially after his scathing criticism of Sachiko M in print a while back, but his impressive display of laptop post-prod has the curious and presumably unintended effect of making the source recordings sound more inconsequential than they actually are, as if he couldn't content himself with letting the music speak for itself. Lowercase improv, when it's well done, can be pretty challenging; here it's merely pretty. The coup de théâtre "it's only a recording folks" trickery on the closing "afterward", in which the languid minor sevenths of Chauveau's piano disappear into and reemerge from a background of de rigueur morse code bleeps and glitches, is slick all right. Maybe after all we should reinsert that acute accent – as any budding chef will tell you, cooking a soufflé to order is a risky business. It can all too easily fall flat.–DW

The latest Gameboy releases – all limited runs and I've been sitting mesmerised by this for months before writing about it so it's probably even sold out by now (hope so too) – come packaged in delicate Japanese paper, and are available in different colours to boot. The fragile pastel pattern design is perfect for Of Sirens Born too, as what Joseph Raglani is doing on guitar, analog synth, melodica, bamboo flute, voice and electronics is as delicate and beautifully crafted as the frail paper it comes in. There are distant lipstick traces of the 70s – Popul Vuh (the floating pulsing synths on "Rivers In" belong in the same cloud above Macchu Picchu that Gonzalo Pizarro's footsoldiers emerge from in Aguirre), Robert Wyatt (the vocals that slip in almost without being noticed on "The Promise of Wood and Water"), Eno (the rich tapestry of synths on "Perilous Straits") – but the strange assemblage of squiggles and crackles that open the magnificent "Washed Ashore" proves that Raglani is just as at home in the soundworld of 2007. Nevertheless, it's enormously comforting in these superficial silly soundbite times to hear an album that works clearly and unambiguously with tonal harmony without sounding fake, plastic, twee or ironic. Of Sirens Born is beautiful, accomplished work – check it out, in whatever colour you can find it.–DW

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Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic