AUTUMN 2008 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jon Dale, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Joe Musgrove, Massimo Ricci, Louis Sterrett, Dan Warburton:

Editorial: Return of the Old Thing
Relishing the difference between art and life
Jon Mueller
In Concert:
Liquid Architecture
In Concert:
Potlatch 10th Anniversary: John Butcher / Christof Kurzmann / Jean-Luc Guionnet / Toshimaru Nakamura / Cor Fuhler / Trio Sowari
On Drip Audio:
Wilson, Lee, Bentley / Fond of Tigers / Tony Wilson Sextet / Butcher, Müller, van der Schyff
On DVD: Henning Lohner / Peter Greenaway's 4 American Composers
JAZZ, IMPROV, ETC: Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris / Tom Djll & Tim Perkis / Peter Evans & Tom Blancarte / Hevoset / Hisato Higuchi / Paul Hubweber & Uli Böttcher / Keefe Jackson / Guus Janssen
Annette Krebs & Toshi Nakamura / Slizard Mezei / Steve Cohn / Papajo / David Papapostolou & Daniel Jones / Pateras, Baxter, Brown / Odean Pope / Praed / Sten Sandell & Matthias Stahl / John Stevens & Evan Parker / SME / Mark Trayle / Seymour Wright / James Zitro
Malcolm Goldstein / Chris Newman / Maja SK Ratkje / Samuel Sighicelli
Alva Noto / Byetone / Asher / The Green Kingdom / bran(...)pos / Bulbs / Kyle Bobby Dunn / Emeralds / GAS / Giuseppe Ielasi / Claudio Rocchetti / Zbigniew Karkowski & Lin Zhiying / Stephan Mathieu / Rick Reed / Jim Haynes / Janek Schaefer / Riccardo Dillon Wanke
Last issue

Return of the Old Thing

We're back. So much for the "sabbatical".. almost as many new discs have appeared in the mailbox since I put a stop to the monthly issues of PT just over a year ago as used to turn up before, most of them addressed to "Editor In Chief Paris Transatlantic", which is either a sign that the folks who posted them hadn't read last July's Editorial or that they somehow sensed (hoped? prayed?) that the mag would return one day. Well, they were right. I'm tempted to throw in a line like "back by huge popular demand" but that depends what you mean by huge. Maybe in the small world of weird new music that we all love here, a few dozen anguished emails counts as huge – I suppose it is rather a lot considering many of the albums that get reviewed here appear in ridiculously limited editions – but in The Great Scheme Of Things it's not a lot, really. One thing I noticed as I perused the site stats in the months following the July 2007 issue (and the brief flurry of activity in October last year kindly curated by publisher Guy Livingston, who returned to the fray with noble intentions but had to take a raincheck himself when other pressing personal issues – including his wedding! – intervened) is that they didn't drop off as markedly as I'd expected. Just goes to show how many people read this shit anyway, doesn't it?! Our archive of Interviews still remains the site's big draw, and, amazingly, they're still getting the same number of hits now as they were a year ago. On the subject of which, I received - seven years down the road! - the following email from Evan Parker:
"Dear Sirs,
The feelings attributed to me by Radu Malfatti in the interview you published in 2001 seem now to be taken as fact and are circulating and multiplying all over the internet. I would appreciate it if somewhere you could make it clear that the statement:
"... I know Evan Parker hates Ferneyhough on the grounds that he just can't see the point of writing music which is completely unplayable. But if you have a close look at Evan's own work, you realize that he is moving around in exactly the same category. His work also is "unplayable" - at least for others - and he seems to be as interested in virtuosity as good old Brian is. Neither of them can get rid of the old structures, the density, the mobilmachung and they both quite willingly follow the path of Beethoven, Boulez (Pierre j' vous laisse) and the rest" is an assertion of Radu's own invention and is a grotesque and hopelessly muddled summary of my views of Brian Ferneyhough's music. I have no problem with Radu's wish to reinvent himself, but I do find it tragic that he has chosen to do so by insulting so many of his old friends and colleagues . I am sorry it has taken so long to respond. I underestimated the power of the internet to keep alive and endlessly re-circulate malicious gossip of this kind. All best, Evan Parker"
So, as PT interviews (or bits of them) are "circulating and multiplying all over the internet", I came to the conclusion, after transcribing a fascinating afternoon's conversation with musique concrète composer / writer and noted film theorist Michel Chion in early June, that it deserved to appear in its entirety here, instead of languishing on the hard drive as a reservoir of juicy quotes to illustrate the Wire article for which it formed the basis (out in the August 2008 Wire, btw). I also finally got round to transcribing an interview I did with Australian sound artist Philip Samartzis (apologies for not publishing it earlier, Philip, but what you say is just as relevant in 2008 as it was in 2007, if that's any consolation), so this particular issue starts off with a double whammy of interviews for your edification and entertainment. You'll notice that Michel Chion spends as much time talking about cinema as he does about music, and that in a way is also true of myself, recently. This past year (not that you're all that interested but I'm going to tell you anyway) has seen a veritable explosion in the Warburton Family DVD Collection – haha, here he was complaining about not having enough time to listen to music and now he spends even less because he's busy watching films – my dear wife Marie, who wisely used to keep my spending on CDs in check, is just as movie-mad as I am. I have been approached, notably by Derek Taylor over at Bagatellen, to write something detailed about some of my favourite films, but I haven't got round to it yet. And I'm not promising anything either: reviewing the Lohner and Greenaway DVDs in this issue took quite some time. With music at least you can listen to most things on headphones while doing other sundry activities, but you can't strap a DVD player to your head and cycle to work while watching a film. Well, you could try, I suppose. Let me know if you manage it, and what the police say.

Anyway, enough. You'll also notice that this issue is billed as "Autumn 2008" and not "September 2008", which is about as clear an indication I can give that I'm not ready to resume monthly issues of PT for a while yet. It's been a busy year for my own albums (thanks to everybody involved in releasing and reviewing them) and I'm still have quite a bit of scribbling to do for The Wire, so let's be more realistic and aim at making PT a quarterly publication, shall we? In any case, there's enough good stuff in this issue (if I say so myself) to keep you busy for three months, thanks to the gloriously enthusiastic return of PT's regular contributors Nate Dorward, Massimo Ricci, Clifford Allen, Jon Dale and Stephen Griffith, and warm welcomes to new boys Louis Sterett and Joe Musgrove. Bonne lecture!–DW

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Relishing the difference between art and life
"Art's obscured the difference between art and life. Now let life obscure the difference between life and art."

- John Cage, from
Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)
When I was a kid back in the pre-ceedee daze, a friend of my dad's who was always introduced to me as "Uncle" Colin (it's funny how many uncles and aunties you have at that age) used to come round at least once a week for a "listening session" with my dad in our front room (my mum took refuge in the back room with the TV), which consisted of playing their latest acquisitions as loud as they could get away with. As we lived in a semi-detached house and our next-door neighbour, a Mr. Spencer, was almost legally deaf having worked for nearly half a century in the din of a cotton mill, things could get pretty damn loud before anyone (usually my mother) complained. I have many fond memories of Bruckner and Mahler symphonies, Wagner operas, Strauss tone poems and even adventurous forays into the mid-20th century mainstream – Martinu's Double Concerto, Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra – at what Byron Coley once memorably described as "cow-rending volume". The problem was all this stuff was on vinyl – remember we're talking the early 70s here – and the quality of the pressings often left much to be desired. The super duper 180g slabs collectors thrill to today were a long way away; LPs back then were often thin, floppy things, notoriously prone to attracting static, frequently warped and covered with bumps and holes (any of you vinyl freaks out there remember those mid 70s Affinity LPs, or Eno's Obscures? yep, that bad). Russian pressings were particularly atrocious; in 1976 my dad went to Leningrad, as it was known then, with a delegation of local communists (he didn't give a fuck about politics but back then joining the Party was the only way he was ever going to get to have a look inside the Hermitage) and came back with a stack of LPs including, appropriately enough, a copy of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony which I swear was packed inside recycled toilet paper. The brown inner sleeve stank to high heaven. It was also the worst goddamn pressing I'd ever heard, full of dull thuds (looked at through a magnifying glass its surface looked like a relief map of the Scottish Highlands), static crackle, clicks and pops, and a strange microtonal swoon due to the fact the hole that should have been in the middle of the disc wasn't. And this years before Boyd Rice.
Needless to say these imperfections used to drive dad and Uncle Colin mad. They spent as much time listening for surface noise as they did listening to music (and spent as much money on gadgets designed to combat it as they did on LPs themselves: in addition to all manner of anti-static cloths and pads, I remember one particularly fearful object called a Pixall that looked like a miniature garden roller whose surface was as sticky as flypaper, which was designed to pick up particles of dust from the surface of the disc, but was so effective it even removed the labels from the centre of the record if you weren't careful). What was amusing to me then was that while the surface noise caused them no end of distress, they were perfectly able to filter out other annoying extraneous sounds – notably the roar of the Spencers' TV through the wall, and the barking of Shep, the border collie across the street, who yelped distressingly behind his front door every three seconds whenever his owners buggered off to the pub and left him alone. Then again, being able to filter perceptual information, concentrate on the important and exclude the unimportant, is essential. You wouldn't be here reading this stuff now if your mother hadn't been able to identify the cry of her own mewling puking infant in a ward full of skriking newborns, and tell that you needed feeding, or changing, or both.
We're very good at filtering out you know the er umm kind of little noises and and odd erm repetitions that you hardly e-ever notice when listening to to spoken language but umm which stick out like a a umm sore thumb if you see them in print. It's about ignoring the surface noise and listening to the music. But when the music itself recedes so far into the background, through the use of long silences and extremely low dynamics, the surface noise can't be ignored any more. Whereas in the past we'd hear it and filter it out, now, in the absence or near-absence of any music to take its place, we start listening to it. For Radu Malfatti (if you'll permit me the luxury of quoting one of my favourite PT interviews), "the more we are aware of things the better. We can decide later if we 'need' them or not, but look at all those people who are unaware of most of what's going on around them. Sure, it would be a curse if every little detail entered our brain and passed through the short-term memory gate and stayed in long-term-memory – then we really would have a lot to carry around with us! – but someone once said that we don't use more than 65% of our brain capacity, and I'm absolutely sure that most folk don't even use that. I assume that this is the underlying structure or meaning of the meditational aspect of certain human knowlege. What happens if we elevate the known into the realm of unknown, the unimportant into the realm of important? We sharpen the consciousness and I think we then are able to become aware of the acoustic environment surrounding the music – and: the music itself!"
If you listen to a lot of standard Top 40 stuff, classic rock, metal and jazz, or any other style of music which could be described as busy and beat-driven, you probably never notice the "acoustic environment surrounding the music", but if, like me, an increasing amount of your listening time is spent with minimal lowercase improv / EAI / field recordings / Wandelweiser-esque stuff, you'll be acutely aware of it, and probably go to great pains to seek out a relatively quiet time and place to do your listening. Unless you prefer to wait until late at night (in my case, after 11.30pm when the restaurant ventilator in the adjoining courtyard finally shuts down) or get yourself up at the crack of dawn (4am's perfect if you're an insomniac), you'll need a good set of headphones. Of course, if you want to listen to das profil des schweigens in the same room as your kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, there's nothing to stop you – in fact, I rather resent being told how to listen to records: "play loud", "use headphones".. it's my disc and I'll listen to it any bloody way I like, matey! – but I'm not sure how much you're likely to get out of the experience. Then again, as Malfatti seems to go out of his way to make his music – i.e. the actual notes he writes – as pale, thin and unmemorable as possible, I think it's fair to assume that he wants us to explore that "acoustic environment surrounding the music."
The next logical step, it seems, is to dispense with the music altogether and just listen to the world around us as one never-ending piece of sound art (or forget the "art" altogether, and just listen to "life", referring to the Cage quote above). Well, that's fine if you're fortunate enough to find yourself in a rich and strange acoustic environment – for the past two weeks I've been thrilling to the buzz of innumerable bees in the flowers above the patio of our secluded gîte in the heart of the French countryside, the incredible rasp and flutter of thousands of invisible crickets in sunlit upland meadows and the amazing acoustic of Alpine valleys (including this one here in the photo) where the roar of a motorcycle can be clearly heard over two miles away – but I'll hazard a bet that the acoustic environment you spend most of your time in is neither rich nor strange. I'd like to be able to appreciate the incessant groan of passing traffic, the neighbours' radios, rows and ringtones, but I'm afraid I don't. And the bloke downstairs' pathetic attempts to get beyond bar three of Voodoo Chile most definitely don't count as art, no way.
That Cage quotation at the top of this piece has been at the back of my mind for a while now. I don't think for a minute that he was advocating abandoning art – music – altogether in favour of life – the sounds of the acoustic environment. If that had been the case, he'd have drawn a straight line under 4'33" and followed it, bringing his career as a composer to a neat and logical conclusion. Which of course he didn't. As he said to Joëlle Léandre shortly before his death, "I'm going to leave you, and I'm afraid that people haven't understood my music." "His music," Léandre stresses, "not his thinking or his writing. Cage was one of the great figures of the twentieth century, but first and foremost he was a musician. A composer!"
Cage and the composers and improvisers who have followed in his footsteps have taught us that the acoustic environment, the surface noise, is always there, and that it can not and should not be ignored. But in recent years the pendulum has, to my mind, swung a little too far in the opposite direction. As someone who spent years trying to learn the nuts and bolts of musical composition, I'm a little suspicious, not to say resentful, of folks who package raw field recordings and sell them as compositions. It's like selling bottles of seaside air. Go to the seaside and full your lungs for free. The recording of Manfred Werder's 20061 which inaugurated Toshiya Tsunoda's Skiti label is lovely indeed, but I wonder what Werder had to do with it, other than provide the poem which constitutes the score: "a place, natural light, where the performer, the performers like to be / a time / (sounds)". It's not that I suspect Manfred (photo, left) is cashing in in some way or another – this is after all a bijou limited edition, not a big budget box on Deutsche Grammophon, so there's no point opening up the old wounds of the Stockhausen Aus den Sieben Tagen royalty cheques affair – but what did he actually compose, and how might the album have sounded different if Tetuzi Akiyama, Masahiko Okura and Toshiya Tsunoda had gone along to record an album of open-air improv in the riverside park at Tamagawa-Ryokuchi without having read his poem?
I can hear a composer's ear at work in Michael Pisaro's Transparent City, which discreetly adds carefully selected sine tones to unadulterated field recordings, but the anaemic beeps and plunks of Okura, Taku Unami and Taku Sugimoto's Chamber Music Concerts Vol. 1 leave me unimpressed and unmoved (and oddly enough seem to spoil my enjoyment of the acoustic environment, paradoxically in the same way that the cracks and bangs of the shitty Soviet pressing spoiled my dad's enjoyment of that Shostakovich). There's much to admire in Sugimoto's post-Italia work, but little to love; I'll trade two or three minutes of Fragments of Paradise or Opposite for Futatsu and Live in Australia anyday. Not to rub your nose in it either, dearest reader, but I'm mighty glad that, as a so-called journalist, I received my copy of the latter free – I'd have felt rather put out if I'd paid full whack for one of those exquisitely-packaged IMJ CDs only to discover that a good part of it consisted of the sound of rain falling outside the concert venue. And talking of rain, or of what Malfatti fondly calls "the lull in the storm", much as I like dach, his Erstwhile trio outing with Phil Durrant and Thomas Lehn, I can't help wondering if the album would have attracted the attention it did (for which, I'm happy to say, I was in part responsible, reviewing it enthusiastically for The Wire) if the sounds of the roof cracking and buckling in the post-rainstorm sunshine hadn't been so prominent.
That recording, as it happens, was made at the Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon festival in Ulrichsberg, a delightful little village in the northwest corner of Austria not far from the German and Czech borders. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to play the same event myself with the rambunctious and distinctly non-lowercase Return of the New Thing quartet, but the epiphany I experienced there did not take place in the concert hall (even though the gig went down very well with the punters), but in the woods outside the village the following day. Having some time to kill before being driven back to Linz for the return flight to Paris, I took my trusty mp3 player and wandered off down the hillside on which the village is perched, crossed a fast-flowing brook and threaded my way up through an impossibly green meadow to a small copse overlooking the valley. I was listening to Joe Foster, Bonnie Jones and Toshimaru Nakamura's One Day (Erstwhile) and the way the music blended with the sounds of twigs cracking beneath my feet, insects buzzing around my head, the wind in the trees above, the distant drones of a tractor across the valley and an aeroplane somewhere out of sight in the sky above was absolutely magical. The acoustic environment helped frame and define the music, and vice versa.
And that's the way it should be: it's not about obscuring the difference between art and life, but relishing it in all its glorious incongruity. There's no right or wrong way to listen to music, and no right or wrong place or time to do it either. You hi-fi purists can scoff all you like – I take your point about compression and shitty little earplugs and whatnot, but if an album can make the hairs stand up and the tears flow that's all that counts. Appropriately enough, after One Day, the next thing that was cued up on the mp3 as I made my way back through the fields to Ulrichsberg was Graham Lambkin's Salmon Run, which sits contentedly on the fence between art – the classical music he samples (quotes? borrows?) – and life, the noises we make and hear while listening to it. I sat down in the hot sunshine by a roadside shrine, listened to "The Bridge to Aria / Salmon Run", and wept.–DW

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Jon Mueller
Jon Mueller
Table of the Elements
Jon Mueller
Table of the Elements
Jon Mueller
Friends and Relatives
Jon Mueller/Jason Kahn
It must be amusing for metal fans to witness improv/noise heads immersing themselves in all things black and death, particularly as metal obsessives can be quite rigorous regarding authenticity and boundary policing, who's a true metal fan and who's not. A lot of recent adoption of metal aesthetics by the underground has felt ham-fisted and opportunistic, but Jon Mueller's on safe ground with Metals, as he's more interested in the architecture of metal, its rhythmic and physical possibilities, which gives his engagement with the genre a welcome degree of abstraction. "Trace Essential" captures the foreboding central to metal through carefully placed bass drum bombs and slowly encroaching texturological inquest, but "Homeostatic" is where things really take off. As a dissection of the blast beat it's as fascinating as Francisco López's metallic edit-frenzy from years ago, but it's played in real time, so Mueller captures two of the keys to metal: athletics (more than a touch of über-mensch) and repetition. The cymbals alternately fire like flares or skirl in a muddied, distortion-caked pool. I still think Metals functions better as another angle on Mueller's sensitivity to percussion's non-linear properties (even when he's working blast beats into a 500 mph motorik) than an engagement with metal as genre, but it's a good listen.
Strung is Mueller's contribution to Table Of The Elements' Guitar Series Vol. 3, a lovely clear 12" with etching from Sav X on the B-side. Mueller approaches the instrument with a percussionist's sensibility for both rhythm and sonority – the first and third parts of Strung revolve around an icy-cold blast that punches in and out of your eardrums like pure binary construct. The guitar tone here is razor-sharp yet strangely elastic, and when Mueller uses an e-bow, he repeatedly clips and stutters the drone by disrupting the strings, replacing one kind of static (inertia) with another. In the third section, he clangs away like Branca on downers, but, mixed so low, it's closer to the buzz of distant train lines or the depopulated hum of power stations at night.
For the Friends And Relatives cassette, Mueller bares a rougher side. Both sides are unedited transcriptions of amplified bass drum, brutishly recorded on a wavering cassette deck. It feels somehow appropriate for the format: cassettes are wrongly read as throwaway items because of some weird cultural cringe about the lower end of consumer electronics, but conversely the lack of pressure on an artist to "step up to the plate" via tape gives them more scope to experiment without temporal or aesthetic restraint. "Hollow Voices" morphs gentle waves of feedback into walls of singing noise, and when Mueller introduces active elements toward the end of the piece, it comes as quite a surprise. The shift from relatively unadorned feedback to rattling, jumpy interaction has an effect, over the extended timeframe, which a precision-edited piece wouldn't allow. "Singing Hands" is sterner stuff: its unchecked buzzing, stretches of pure tone and woodpecker rhythms don't exactly coalesce, but they're more provocative for their stringency. Hollow Voices/Singing Hands is about exposition of process, and it's worth hearing for its explicitness.
Jason Kahn's been working on his architectural approach to music for some time, and while he's not yet topped Miramar (which documented the architecture of the main room in Studio Midi) there's great continuity in his recordings. His embrace of feedback and resonance through drums/percussion makes him a perfect collaborator for Mueller, and Topography documents recordings from a short tour undertaken in 2007. Topography – yeah, I can see that; these are indeed recordings that give detailed representation of the region they're exploring, and there's certainly a descriptive-relational aspect here too – Mueller and Kahn's playing is integrated and analytical: there's rigour in their approach, and an embrace of phenomena over expression, as they let percussion, cassettes and synth just be, with seemingly minimal interference. If you're aware of either player's previous releases, this'll sound as you'd expect – chasms of snare drum rattle, slowly spinning orbs of analog fuckery, hissing noise that occasionally breaks into slow-motion crackle and splatter, with room reverb factored in as a fundamental element. Like some recent improvisation, particularly in the EAI field, they're fonder of letting two sounds sit alongside each other and slowly spool out, rather than aiming for detailed interaction, but their ear for both simplicity and tone means the five live excerpts on Topography don't require huge leaps in logic to sit together as pleasurable listening experiences. Sure, it's no huge surprise, but it's elegant, rewarding stuff – and far from lazy or laurel-resting.
Mouths is another of Mueller's projects, here collaborating with Jim Schoenecker and Carol Genetti. Genetti's vocal work at the beginning of "3v1" sets the tone – a sung note that cracks, wavers, wobbles, and shivers for an extended time, it's slowly swarmed by percussive noise, before an unceasing rattle, ghosted by the lone foghorn peal of voice swimming in the background, pitches the composition into claustrophobic territory. This actually feels closer to the emotional tenor of metal than Mueller's Metals, to be honest. When Genetti's voice reappears it's a real blast from outside, though I'm less impressed by the wag who walked in while I was listening to this and said it sounded like Yoko Ono. Recordings of Genetti's voice also appear on "3v2", though for this live-to-air recording, Mueller is paired in the performance space with Schoenecker. The gracefulness in the pacing actually reminds me more of the patient enfolding of texture and drone by figures like Mirror, Andrew Chalk, or Mimir; "3v2" skirts the perimeters of various Industrial music tropes without falling into the mire of Industrial Lite, and Mouths' interest in the laminal gives these pieces a great sense of space/scope. Further proof, if it were needed, that Jon Mueller's ear is a finely tuned instrument indeed.–JD

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In Concert
Liquid Architecture
Brisbane Powerhouse, July 4th / 5th
Filling a large part of the hole left in the Australian cultural calendar by the demise of the long running What is Music? Festival, Liquid Architecture (LA), now in its ninth year, can quite reasonably lay claim to the title of "Australia's premiere Sound Art Festival." Not the most widely contested title, of course, but LA programs concerts in enough cities to be as close to a "national" festival as any in the country to date. The festival's focus tends more towards solo performers or existing groups working at the electronic end of experimental music, rather than the improvised and collaborative work which was a feature of What is Music? This is both a strength and a weakness, as performers can present fully realized work, but it often lacks the surprise that can arise from the chance meetings made possible by improvised music situations.
This year's festival kicked off with two nights in Brisbane, the first performance being, appropriately enough, by festival director Nat Bates, under the obscure pseudonym "Nat." Using a sampling keyboard, in an almost "classic RMIT" style, he offered up a brooding piece as indebted to mid 70's Parmegiani, Ferrari and Bayle as it was to the sound effects driven narratives of computer game music and sound design. Making good use of the surround sound available, Bates balanced drones, pulses and abrupt but never too violent eruptions to create a tense atmosphere with an imminent, but never acted upon, threat of explosion.
Rafael Toral followed with a disappointing performance that struggled to get beyond the level of technological demonstration. Using a series of hand-held, and I guess, handmade, synthesizer devices, he produced a somewhat limited display of pops, squelches, and occasional drones, the traditional array of sounds produced by mysterious little boxes with knobs on. With only one device used at a time, for seven or so minutes, the feeling we were watching a showcase for gadgets instead of a musical performance grew harder to ignore. There were engaging moments, the first and last of the devices in particular producing some excellent sounds in well-structured passages, but taken as a whole it was repetitive, frustrating and dragged on far too long.
The odd man out of the festival, Ian Wadley's solo guitar performance seemed a somewhat baffling inclusion. Struggling with technical difficulties at the start of his performance, he failed to fully hit his stride, meandering through a predictable set of delay/reverb heavy strumming and twanging that occasionally gave glimpses of what it was intending to achieve. At times he managed to strike a delicate balance between melody and dirt over softly droning delayed chords, but these moments were too few and far between to come across as more than happy accident.
Presenting a variation on his 2007 Editions Mego release Altars of Science, Markus Schmickler (right) rounded out the evening in grand style. With the sound both loud enough to have a solid physical presence and clear enough to be able to hear all the nuances, Schmickler released layers of cascading oscillations and shrieking digital noise, growing from slivers of high frequencies into an immense swirling cloud reminiscent (like much of the world's best computer music) of the long-form electronic music of Xenakis. Despite its density, Schmickler remained at all times in strict control of the sound he flung violently around the space. Presented as a more singular entity than on the CD release, this dizzying, overwhelming performance was by far the highlight of the festival.
Opening the second night, Clocked Out Duo, accompanied by New Zealand ethnomusicologist Richard Nunns, turned in one of the best sets I've seen from them to date. At its best, it mapped out a beautiful, haunted terrain, with prepared piano and percussion intertwining delicately, serving as a bed for Nunns' traditional Maori flutes, carved mostly from what seemed to bone or jade. When he switched to percussion, however, the set lost its way, and missing an opportunity to round the set out about 2/3 of the way through, the two members of Clocked Out Duo seemed unsure of how to respond to Nunns' material, and defaulted to an overly busy mode which detracted from the delicacy of the first part of the performance.
Berlin's Andrew Pekler managed to strike a raw nerve, his set featuring an over reliance on delay time/pitch knob turning sounds. Admittedly a pet hate of mine, this sound almost without exception comes across as clumsy and lazy to my ears, and its ubiquitousness here makes it hard for me to present any balanced comment. His performance was essentially a live mix of tracks from his releases, most notably Strings and Feedback (which I'm actually quite fond of), but when coupled with the over abundant and obvious effects, the loop-driven nature of the tracks proved an irritant rather than in any way soothing or meditative. Very disappointing, and as revealing of computer music's weaknesses as Schmickler's performance was a showcase for its strengths.
Toy Bizarre's set of processed field recordings fared markedly better. With a peculiarly engaging stage presence for a laptop performance, Cedric Peyronnet paced and swayed behind his equipment, silently (?) singing along, giving the performance an oddly hermetic feeling, as if the audience was privy to only some aspects of the work. The music leaned heavily towards swelling digital drones, though some clean recordings were allowed space within the mix, most effectively an excellent recording of a plane passing low overhead. The initial surge of the first 2/3 of the performance died away after this, trailing into a series of smaller, less heavily processed vignettes. Excellent work, if perhaps a little long and with one too many false endings.
Rounding out the two nights in Brisbane, Sydney based Alex White blasted the audience with a short, sharp jolt of raw digital noise. With a far more brute take on the matter to Markus Schmickler's, White's set consisted mostly of short loops and harsh square wave frequencies stacked on top of each other in multichannel space. The shuddering stop/start dynamics of the piece added to the intensity, with the audience never being allowed to settle into the noise for long at any point. Brevity worked in White's favor here, the structure of his performance never becoming too predictable.
Offering more than anything else a snapshot of current practice in computer music, which seems to be progressing quite nicely in some instances, and not at all in others, this year's festival suffered from unevenness in its programming. This is, of course, an unavoidable aspect of festivals (and the sheer number of performances held under this banner, in both major cities and regional centres all across Australia, is commendable and must be noted), but with a slightly tighter rein on its selection of artists, Liquid Architecture could easily move from being a consistently good festival, to a consistently great one.–JM

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In Concert

Potlatch 10th Anniversary
Les Instants Chavirés, Montreuil, May 29th - 30th, 2008
The Potlatch imprint was founded in 1998 by Jacques Oger and Jean-Marc Foussat, whose vast archive of recordings of free music provided the label with seven of the label's 14 releases until 2002's Madly You, after which Foussat jumped ship and left Oger to steer Potlatch into the calmer waters of EAI (it's interesting to speculate how the world might have turned upside down if Foussat's recording of Günter Müller, Keith Rowe and Taku Sugimoto at the Instants Chavirés in October 1999 had appeared on Oger's imprint instead of Erstwhile, but that, as they say, is another story..). To celebrate ten years in business, Oger curated two evenings of music at Les Instants Chavirés at the end of May, showcasing musicians associated with recent releases on the label: the first a double bill with John Butcher and Christof Kurzmann (The Big Misunderstanding Between Hertz and MegaHertz, 2006) followed by Jean-Luc Guionnet and Toshimaru Nakamura (this year's Map), the second featuring Cor Fuhler (Stengam, 2006) and the Trio Sowari (Burkhard Beins, Bertrand Denzler and Phil Durrant – check out 2005's Three Dances).
The contrast between the two sax + electronics duos of the opening night was as striking live as it was on disc. If Butcher and Kurzmann represented the more "traditional" approach to improvisation, picking up and developing each other's ideas with considerable alacrity (Kurzmann's mastery of Klaus Filip's Max / MSP patch lloopp was simply stunning: anyone who still scoffs at a laptop's inability to respond rapidly should procure a copy of The Big Misunderstanding forthwith), Guionnet and Nakamura took great pleasure in pushing each other into the kind of dangerous territory that's made Map one of this year's most exciting EAI releases. Not that the Butcher / Kurzmann set was without its thrills and spills, mind: the tension was palpable throughout, and Kurzmann, once pilloried in The Wire as someone not interesting to watch as a performer (remember that old "sit, swig and click" putdown?), was especially enthralling, tapping his feet with quiet intensity as he laid down layers of subtle grooves for Butcher's impeccable multiphonics to weave in and out of.
Trawling through some old Potlatch reviews of mine I came across the following passage written about an earlier release on the label, Steve Lacy and Derek Bailey's Outcome, a 1983 set from 28 rue Dunois culled from the Foussat archive: "each of these master musicians continues along his own way with characteristic determination (stubbornness, even), and from time to time the paths cross, forcing them along other avenues of exploration." Oddly enough, that applies equally well to the music Jean-Luc Guionnet and Toshi Nakamura make together. Several EAI aficionados of my acquaintance found Map distinctly frustrating, but it's precisely the music's refusal to go where you think it ought to which makes it so captivating. There were peaks and troughs in their live set too, granted, but a great deal of the pleasure to be had from this pair comes from listening to how they wriggle their way out of a tight spot straight into another one.
Cor Fuhler's Stengam – spell that backwards to find out what he's preparing his piano with – was one of several fine EAI outings in 2006 that didn't get the coverage it deserved (autrement dit, I'm still feeling slightly guilty about not reviewing it myself), due in no small part to the subtle, even at times introvert, nature of the music (i.e. this is not one to play on the mp3 player in a crowded underground train on the way to the day job – try some of Cor's earlier stuff with Han Bennink and Wilbert de Joode instead). Having seen him perform live, taking what seems like all the time in the world to place those magnets and ebows at just the right spot on the strings, it all makes sense. Fuhler's the first to admit he's moved on some considerable way from those rambunctious trio outings with Bennink and de Joode: the Instants set was careful, poised and for the most part quiet, with a fabulous ear for pitch and timing. Maybe a future Potlatch fest could team him up with saxophonist Stéphane Rives, whose 2003 Fibres remains one of the label's most highly acclaimed releases. Just a thought.
Trio Sowari is one of European EAI's most consistently impressive working units, and their set didn't disappoint. Percussionist Beins and laptopper Durrant are old hands at lowercase – the former a stalwart of the Berlin scene (Phosphor, Perlonex..), the latter one of the pioneers of so-called reductionism (he helped coin the much-maligned term in the first place) in the groundbreaking trio with Radu Malfatti and Thomas Lehn documented on 1997's Beinhaltung (Fringes) and 1999's dach (Erstwhile). Trio Sowari takes its name from Durrant's 1997 album of the same name, but the violin has been consigned to its case in recent years, and it's on laptop that he joins forces with Beins and tenor saxophonist Denzler, who's mastered a whole repertoire of so-called extended techniques. You'd never guess he started out playing thorny free jazz. That said, Trio Sowari's set at the Instants was quite sprightly, Beins and Denzler's scrapes and hisses coinciding with almost uncanny telepathy to counterpoint Durrant's meticulously deployed fizzles and pops. "Too perfect," grumbled a local noisenik at the bar afterwards. Well, I've heard that said that about Evan Parker, too. Maybe it simply means that this kind of music has matured sufficiently to define its own aesthetic rules and regulations. Then again, one person's maturity is another's stagnation. Let's see what the second decade brings. Here's to the next ten years, Jacko.–DW

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On Drip Audio
Tony Wilson/Peggy Lee/Jon Bentley
Fond of Tigers
Tony Wilson 6tet
John Butcher/Torsten Müller/Dylan van der Schyff
This latest batch of releases from Drip Audio, the Vancouver-based label run by violinist Jesse Zubot, is as varied and provocative as ever – nice to see a label that's managing to step up the release schedule while keeping the quality control firmly in place. The trio on Escondido Dreams includes two familiar West Coast figures, guitarist Tony Wilson and cellist Peggy Lee, plus a new name to me, saxophonist Jon Bentley. It's the closest thing to a straight jazz album in this batch – which is to say, not all that close. "Laxing Lizards Resume" is a charmer of an opening track – almost too charming, maybe, as it verges on the winsome chamber-folk that Bill Frisell turns out by the bucketload – but the rest of the album is a tougher proposition. The music is sparse and light in its touch, at times abrasive but in a likeably offhand way. On the best tracks it's as if the players are poised on the brink of a lush, downbeat beauty but will only yield to such temptations gradually, even reluctantly: sample, for instance, the way they take their sweet time over the lazy, just-woke-up opening of "Man and Dog" before settling into a softspoken groove. Bentley could be more forceful – he has that fey saxophone sound which seems to be all the rage nowadays – but Lee and Wilson are in superb form: the guitarist is particularly deft at adding knobbly string-noise to otherwise lyrical surroundings.
Release the Saviours is the latest missive from Fond of Tigers, a seven-piece juggernaut helmed by guitarist Stephen Lyons that tends to send critics scrambling for their pigeonholes ("math-rock," "avant-jazz," "ambient," whatever). The pieces here stretch out even further than on their debut A Thing to Live With, and the band dwells longer in the quiet ambient/improv end of the pool this time around. Nice, but the real moments to treasure are still the full-on blasts of brainiac prog-rock bombast, where the band homes in on some insane crooked time-signature riffs and stylistic U-turns. The meat of the album comes in two ferocious epics, "Pemberdunn Maple Wolfs" and "A Long Way to Temporary." The former covers a fairly wide territory, from angry, knotty rhythms to pulsing catharsis to something like a supercharged bossa nova. The other track is narrower in focus: it begins with a little prelude, with drummers Skye Brooks and Shanto Bhattacharya ripping into a mutant hambone pattern, but the real core of the track is a tight, up'n'down groove that teeters between euphoria and claustrophobia. Despite the track's fuzzed-out volume and twitchy rhythms, the combination of busy surface elaborations and gradual long-term development isn't all that far from Steve Reich. Great stuff.
There's more glorious jazz-rock noise on Tony Wilson's Pearls Before Swine, a sextet outing that features some of the Fond of Tigers crew (Zubot, Brooks, trumpeter J.P. Carter), plus bassist Russell Sholberg and saxophonist Masa Anzai, who's got John Zorn's acrid squall down to a T (for better or worse). Indeed, in an odd way the music reminds me of Naked City: though it's not nearly as jumpy, frenetic or stop-start, it similarly tends to frustrate any expectations you have about coherent development or the relation of solos to heads, even if it rarely plays such incongruities for shocks or laughs (the exception being a goofy country-metal version of Monk's "Hornin' In"). Wilson's arrangements are fantastically tight, multilayered and energetic, showing the obligatory obsession with odd-metre wizardry, but don't expect solos to bear much relation to anything that's taken place up to that point. The wry melodic crossweave meticulously set up on "Squirk," for instance, is brushed aside by an extended free improv blast, though the theme gradually drifts back in, a little darker and more disillusioned. "I Am the Walrus" transforms the Beatles tune into a nearly unbearable rock'n'roll wail then pulverizes it into free-jazz skronk, before reassembling the pieces into cop-show funk. The Monk cover is merely a cute stunt, but versions of Tom Cora's "Jim" and "Ee-Gypt-Me" (by Canada's own Freddie Stone) are more substantial, both of them featuring powerful wall-of-noise grooves. It's all maybe a little too stylish for its own good, but there's no denying that it's great fun, and there are moments of beauty amidst the orchestrated mayhem, including a lovely feature for guest singer Kevin House on "Junkyard Sea".
John Butcher usually prefers to work at a distance from anything resembling a standard jazz line-up. So Way Out Northwest provides a rare opportunity to hear him tackle The Tradition his own way, in the congenial company of bassist Torsten Müller (who hails from Germany but has been resident in Vancouver for the past seven years) and Canada's own drummer Dylan van der Schyff. Nothing overtly jazz-oriented here, despite the title's nod to Sonny Rollins' West Coast classic, but I think Newk would still enjoy the richly fantastical vein of Butcher's imagination on these six tracks (something usually obscured in his more austere work). The word that springs to mind listening to these pieces is "playfulness" – the music is bursting with ideas, which tend to work on several levels at once: timbral play often turns out to be the motor of a sprightly rhythm or the seed of an angular melody. It's a very close musical dialogue (no parallel-paths independence here, for the most part) but one where particular subjects seem to change or evaporate or slide away, and it's the interaction itself that counts, the network of quickfire connections and exchanges. Butcher's extraordinary ear and control of his instrument are as much in evidence here as in his solo work, and Müller and van der Schyff both show a fine instinct for the perfect, instantaneous response, working with the kind of speed that gives even a tiny gesture the force of a coup. As the jazzbos say, this CD smokes.–ND

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Henning Lohner
Mode DVD
Peter Greenaway
Les films du paradoxe DVD
The Revenge of the Dead Indians, whose somewhat curious title is a quotation from Heiner Müller ("Cage is the revenge of the dead Indians on European music.."), is a 129-minute film by California-born Henning Lohner, who, you may recall, helped John Cage realise his one and only film, One11, just before the composer's death in 1992. Lohner, in an extensive essay included in the booklet accompanying the Mode DVD, describes Revenge as "a film essay about the state of [Cage's] influence on our Western culture at the cusp of the new millennium." Starting with over 250 hours of film footage shot over a period of four years – mainly interviews with 42 participants (of whom more later) and shots of "forgotten" landscapes, from the deserts of New Mexico to the streets of New York – and 200 hours of recorded sound, most of it music by Cage performed by Mode house artists (Irvine Arditti, Stephen Drury, Margaret Leng Tan et al.), Lohner and cinematographer Van Carlson set about editing and organising their material according to "a personally transfigured Fibonacci series" and "a pattern of musical composition that, despite its apparent kinship with Cage's chance operations, came from the domain of serial music." Textual material and images were divided along thematic lines – "chaos", "chance", "love", "music", etc. – and assembled into a three-act structure (though the booklet's chapter index indicates there are five acts, including a "performance" of 4'33" by Cage and Lohner on a busy street in Berlin).
While the music used is, as one would expect, well-recorded and performed with attention and affection, the verbal contributions of the participants, with the possible exception of Cage himself, are either irredeemably trite or of questionable relevance. Benoît Mandelbrot explains Fractal Geometry For Dummies by twiddling a branch, Iannis Xenakis tells the old (old) story of wartime street protests in Athens, Jean Nouvel raps on about Fleming's serendipitous discovery of penicillin, Matt Groening (yes, I wondered what the hell Matt Groening was doing in there too) draws a blind doodle, Frank Gehry sneezes, Frank Zappa dicks around on a sampling keyboard, Dennis Hopper reads a snippet (badly) from The Future of Music: Credo, and Yoko Ono helpfully informs us that "if I hadn't met John.. er, well I would have met John anyway." Yeah, right. I guess in one sense Lohner is on the one when he describes it all as reflecting Western culture at the cusp of the new millennium – ours is a culture of what Richard Hell once described as "short attention spans, mysterious hard-ons and sudden mood shifts." A culture of soundbites. It makes no difference if they're from eminent scientists (Murray Gell-Mann, Edward Lorenz, Marvin Minsky and Benoit Mandelbrot are all roped in to give the whole affair a scientific seal of approval), they're soundbites nonetheless. Some are mildly amusing, others frankly annoying; if you manage to make it to the end of the disc without throwing a heavy object at the screen every time Rutger Hauer's smug mug appears, you deserve some kind of medal. When everyone shuts up and leaves us to watch Walden Pond (where else?) and listen to the String Quartet in Four Parts, it's just fine, but if you want to learn anything about Cage you'd be better off reading his books and buying his records. John Cage's music and thought belongs in your life; Revenge of the Dead Indians belongs on your coffee table.
Peter Greenaway's 1983 Channel 4 documentary is a much more enjoyable affair, consisting for the most part of footage of a performance in St. James Church, Islington, London, to celebrate the composer's 70th birthday. Among the pieces performed that day were Living Room Music (1940), Double Music (1941), Forever and Sunsmell (1942), Music for Marcel Duchamp (1947), Sonatas and Interludes (1948), Speech (1955), Aria (1958), Music Walk (1958), Cartridge Music (1960), Electronic Music for Piano (1964), Song Books (1970), Branches (1976), Inlets (1977) and Roaratorio; an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake (1979), extracts of which are interspersed with thirteen of the one-minute Indeterminacy anecdotes culled from Cage's Silence and A Year From Monday (has anyone reissued that 1959 Folkways twofer on CD – Indeterminacy with Concert for Piano and Orchestra and Fontana Mix Folkways FT 3704? Doesn't look like it.. paging New World records!). The performances are excellent – you can have fun spotting the members of AMM in there too, by the way – and despite a few de rigueur Greenaway symmetrical shots of empty chairs, the director doesn't get in the way of his subject matter.
He came dangerously close to doing so though in London's Sadler's Wells Theatre on November 4th 1983, when he set up a huge computer-controlled boom to film the Philip Glass Ensemble in full flight. I was at that gig, and remember being amazed (and often distracted and annoyed) by Greenaway's roving camera hovering above, behind and even beside the musicians as they played. But the results are spectacular: being able to watch the myriad tiny movements of Glass and Michael Riesman's arpeggios and the agile fingering of Jack Kripl, Jon Gibson and Richard Peck close up is a thrill. More of a thrill maybe than listening to the music; Greenaway caught the Glass Ensemble just after Phil had morphed into Philip, and really broken into the big time with a decent major label (CBS) contract, two operas and the first of many movie soundtracks under his belt. The sense of satisfaction at finally having achieved long overdue recognition is present throughout, as Glass reminisces about the (good? bad?) old days when he and the Lucinda Childs Dance Company were pelted with eggs ("you don't go to a concert with eggs unless you think you're gonna throw 'em.."), and accepts his new-found fame and fortune matter-of-factly: "there's no doubt that this music has a far wider audience than what you usually associate with new music – but that's a question of historical period.. that was true in the past too: Verdi's operas sold out". But a quarter of a century on, it's clear that Glass has sold out in more ways than one: there's nothing in the twenty operas, eight symphonies, five string quartets, concertos for piano, violin, timpani, saxophone quartet and umpteen soundtracks to match the adrenalin buzz of Einstein On The Beach's "Spaceship", which brings both the concert and Greenaway's film to a rapturous conclusion.
Including Meredith Monk in a series entitled 4 American Composers when she is, as Greenaway's documentary makes clear from the outset, also a "singer, dancer, filmmaker, choreographer, performance artist" is, perhaps, a risky move. Hearing her rap on about how she half-imagined the dolmens of Brittany to be the work of extra-terrestrials (yay! Erich von Daniken lives!), or the Wilhelm Reich-inspired libretto for 1966's 16mm Earrings (ah, Wilhelm's aged about as badly as his younger namesake Steve), or the supposed "pre-World War III anxiety" of the dreadfully bland Turtle Dreams, it's hard not to be reminded of the terminally hip loft(y) art(y) fart(y) scene Laurie Anderson sent up so hilariously in her 1977 vignette New York Social Life (all the while being part of it herself, of course). Indeed, you could argue that Anderson would have made a better subject than Monk for a documentary; she's certainly more versatile and talented as a composer, even if she never landed that ECM contract (for you to decide if that's a good or bad thing). Jack of all trades, master of none is, unfortunately, the feeling you're left with after watching this particular film, which spends as much time covering Monk's experimental cinema (silent, for the most part!) and dance routines as it does her banal sub-Glass doodles and sha(m)anic yodelling, twittering vocals.
The most successful documentary of these four as far as I'm concerned is the one on Robert Ashley, specifically on Perfect Lives (Privacy Rules), Ashley's seven-episode opera for TV, which was presented in a live version, once more at the Almeida in 1983, prior to its eventual appearance on the small screen the following year. Maybe that's just because I've always been madly in love with my copy of the old Lovely Music LP Private Parts (LML 1001, with "The Park" and "The Backyard", whose cover artwork Jason Lescalleet and Graham Lambkin affectionately chose to emulate for their recent Erstwhile release The Breadwinner), specifically the line "there's something like the feeling of the idea of silk scarves in the air" which has, for some inexplicable reason, haunted me ever since. For a start, Greenaway's structuralist approach to filmmaking, with its concern for in-frame geometry and symmetry, has much in common with video artist John Sanborn's approach to the opera, each of whose episodes explores a particular configuration of the visual space – vertical bars for "The Bar", low horizon line for "The Park" etc. – but there's also a fondness for showing text (spoken and sung fragments of Ashley's libretto are intercut throughout) which is particularly appropriate for a filmmaker whose Godardian roots are never far from the surface. The interviews with the participants are for the most part informative (though David van Tieghem's "he trusted us to find our way in it and find who we are" doesn't really tell us very much) but are never allowed to bog down the overall structure of the documentary, which not surprisingly follows the seven-part plan of the opera itself, ending with the final episode's "I'm not the same person that I used to be." Perfect Lives is available on DVD these days, so you can decide for yourself how well John Sanborn's hyperbolic praise for the work has stood the test of time. Pretty well, in my opinion. Revisiting these four documentaries a quarter of a century after they were made, it's striking how relevant Cage and Ashley's information overload is to our crazy mixed-media world, while Glass and Monk seem to belong to a bygone age. Oddly enough, so does Peter Greenaway.–DW

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Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris
Clean Feed
For its one hundredth release, Portugal's Clean Feed has brought together two of the world's finest improvising composers in a four-disc set, reedman Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris. Each disc contains one hour-long unrehearsed improvisation. Boxed sets are nothing new for the Braxton-phile, and when I recently talked to him, Morris commented astutely on the reasons for this: Braxton's ideas require continuous restatement in order for people to catch up with them, and that goes for some of the things he's been saying over the past three decades as well as why four CDs might be required to make a series of simple improvisational points. Morris relates that one of the things that attracted him to Braxton is the latter's very clear rhetorical logic that can be approached through both un-premeditated and fully notated constructs.
On the surface, Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 might seem to be an unlikely pairing. Yet Braxton and Morris met years ago while separately on tour in Europe. Both are connected with academia, Braxton at Wesleyan and Morris at the nearby New England Conservatory, and Morris has long taught Braxton's music to his students. Mary Halvorson, a student of Morris's who works in Braxton's ensembles, gave her graduate recital partly in duo with Morris, and this was the first time Braxton heard him play. Liking very much what he heard, he suggested collaborating. Though they discussed the idea of a recording in conversation, it wasn't until Morris got a call from engineer Jon Rosenberg, who had booked time in Wesleyan's Crowell Hall, that he realized the sessions were actually going to happen.
For the sessions, Braxton used an hourglass to mark time and when the sand had run to the bottom, the pair would break for lunch and then flip the hourglass and play again. This process went on for two days and yielded some of the most startling improvised music in recent memory. Braxton is heard strictly on saxophones – sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass – while Morris plays an arch-top acoustic (with a broken finger!). One of the reasons this duet functions so well is that Morris approached the situation knowing Braxton's interests and influences – players like Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh and Paul Desmond. While Braxton doesn't play like Konitz or Marsh, he has an understanding of what they were doing and how that can be assimilated into his context. Similarly, playing in ways that recall Jimmy Raney, Billy Bauer or a West African kora without direct imitation gives Morris a tremendous amount of stylistic fluidity.
This is entirely egalitarian music, a very large space in which no voice dominates the whole. Each piece is sprawling, the ebb and flow creating distinct areas even though the music isn't divided into sections – thus, Braxton and Morris occupy both an entire canvas and a needle-droplet of paint at the same time. The fourth disc finds Braxton in the alto's lower registers at the outset in a wide-vibrato post-Ayler ballad, its bluesy contours offering some of his most pathos-laden playing since the contrabass clarinet solo on trumpeter Jacques Coursil's Black Suite (America, 1969). Morris's lower-register strums bring out worried alto phrases, a wave that's continually cresting. Braxton stretches out into liquid long tones which Morris's chords and curled lines ride, then works his way into a hard-bitten space. The music brightens as Braxton turns to the soprano, a delicate cloud of lilting breath and pluck, though it becomes surprisingly tensile. Morris chooses closely spaced phrases in a limited tonal range here, and Braxton's lines are concentrated and sparse. Buoyed by contrabass saxophone and its lurch and swagger, Morris's lines become busier, stretching out from a single down-stroke. Braxton hits a jog and there's a brief romp before they return to an amble.
Even when they appear to be "finding" each other, there's an obvious rapport. The first day's first improvisation finds both tiptoeing around each other at the start, but a few minutes in Morris spikes and scumbles, drawing Braxton's soprano out into quick whinnies and circular runs. Early on, the saxophonist finds ways to comp and support Morris's flights, matching his phrases with easy, toe-tapping swing, clean tones and torqued squawks. As Braxton hits a bowel-churning scream on his lowest horn, Morris comps with the sound of busted lamellae and later scrapes and whittles alongside bumblebee alto. After this meeting, Morris characterized Braxton as an "easy" person to play with, and that's clearly coming from a developed mutual understanding of what a duo exploration is. Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 is a set for the ages.–CA

Tom Djll / Tim Perkis
Self Produced
Remembering that trumpeter Tom Djll is something of a Bill Evans fan, I suspect that title might have some obscure connection with Miles' Kind of Blue (since it's now acknowledged that Evans penned "Blue in Green" – nice interview here http://www.jerryjazzmusician.com/mainHTML.cfm?page=kahn.html if you can't afford Ashley Kahn's book on the album) but green, as we know, also means "inexperienced" or "unripe", which certainly isn't the case here. Tom ('trumpet, treatments, assembly") and Tim – Perkis ("electronics") – are old hands at improv; Perkis is a veteran of The League of Automatic Composers (check out The League of Automatic Composers 1978 - 1983 on New World), and Djll first appeared on disc back in 1985. I suppose, by sheer dint of its instrumentation, you'd have to file this under "EAI" – the album's stately 22-minute closing track "sagebrush drip kyrie" certainly wouldn't be at all out of place in the Erstwhile catalogue – but it's a darn sight more sprightly and playful than most of the oh-so-dour stuff that excites the punters over at IHM. Then again, since when did EAI have to be all dreary drizzle? Hands up who remembers Particles and Smears, or Bart? Perkis's laptop is as agile as eRikm's kustomized Kaoss pads, whether squiggling and scribbling like your favourite DJ on "go", or lobbing in sly snatches of Space Age Bachelor Pad pap ("bottle glass window wing") and discreet field recordings – dig the crickets 15' into the last track! Meanwhile Djll, in addition to being well-versed in the "extended techniques" that have now become de rigueur for any card-carrying improvising trumpeter – there are plenty of cold breathy blasts à la Dörner, Hautzingerian gurgles and pops, and a fondness for smearing his sound by jamming a sheet of metal across the bell that recalls Greg Kelley – reveals ample evidence of his ability to play real notes on the horn, and the right ones at that. And he's not averse to blowing a huge raspberry here and there, lest you start taking it all too seriously. Excellent stuff. Goodness knows what label it's on, though: maybe you can hunt one down from Tom's MySpace page. –DW

Peter Evans / Tom Blancarte
Creative Sources
From the very first moments of the opening "Xangu" you'll be tempted to delete the adjective "discreet" from this duo's intercommunicative dictionary. The vicious manner in which Evans and Blancarte hurl hooks at each other, reciprocally clinching in a timbral slugfest of epic proportions, is enough to leave you with bruised ears, if not knocked out cold. You can really appreciate what years of serious practice on an instrument bring in terms of strong tone, structural capriciousness and sheer paroxysm. No afterthoughts, no preambles, no reassuring familiarity with anything; this is like taking an ice-cold shower after lengthy exposure to hot sun. Excruciatingly revitalizing, one might say. The persistent tortuousness characterizing the flare-ups Evans elicits from his piccolo trumpet makes us forget altogether the silver-spoon inevitability that considers instrumental transgression as a symbol of original sin (burning hell and brain power are linked in some way, but not everybody's ready to admit it). Blancarte, whose stunning bass I'm discovering here for the first time, is completely involved with and excited by this tête-à-tête, and the blend of his magnificent snarl and his playing partner's squealing cries is a real treat, not to mention an authoritative assault the upper partials, which in certain sections of "Ukonvasara" and "Ishkur" is utterly amazing. Never was a record title more pertinent.–MR

This LP went missing for several days until I found it hidden behind my son's bed with a pile of Picsou comics, dog-eared Pokemon cards, a badly mutilated plastic Woody from Toy Story (injuries sustained in intergalactic combat with Zurg, I found out later) and what looked like it could once have been a half-eaten croissant. When questioned on its disappearance, Max (9) said he wanted it for his bedroom wall, which I can quite understand. When I played him the album itself, he had second thoughts ("c'est de la musique, ça?"), but a few years ago before pre-adolescent peer pressure set in (the only things he seems to want to listen to these days are by David Guetta, and if you don't know who he is, don't worry, you don't need to), he'd have loved it. It's wild stuff, a typically offbeat offering of lo-fi psychedelic wails, twangs, drones, fuzzy loops and scuzzy beats from two of Finnish free folk's leading lights, Jan Anderzen (Kemialliset Ystävät) and Jani Hirvonen (Uton). Devotees of Anderzen and Hirvonen will lap it up, but anyone coming to the rural weirderies of Northern Finland for the first time will find much to enjoy too. What's most impressive about it – and its companion release on Dekorder, Uton's Straight Edge XXS – is not the gloriously colourful instrumentation, all wheezy squeeze boxes, pipes, bells and rattles, nor Anderzen's (or is it Hirvonen's?) haunting wordless vocals, but its strange sense of timelessness and universality. I'm surprised nothing from these guys made it to David Cotner's Otherness compilation reviewed here last year, because this definitely belongs in the outer spaceways with your favourite Sun Ra albums. Or on your son's bedroom wall. As Basil Fawlty once said, "go and have some fun with a Finn."–DW

Hisato Higuchi
Family Vineyard
Sloow Tapes
Guitarist Hisato Higuchi, in Alan Cummings' article on him in The Wire 274 (Dec 2006), cites both The Velvet Underground and Miles Davis as formative influences (and indeed there are hints of both "Candy Says" and In A Silent Way on Higuchi's 2003 debut EP, She), but also, more importantly, talks of the isolation, or hikikomori, of the population of his adopted city, Tokyo. Maybe this accounts for the sense of loneliness that pervades Higuchi's music, immediately recognisable on "A Hundred Signs of Light", the melancholy drift of layered guitars and cooing wordless vocals that opens his second Family Vineyard outing, Butterfly Horse Street. But "Grow" also reveals a noisy, Takayanagi-inflected side to Higuchi's playing, already hinted at in "Guitar #3" on 2005's Dialogue. After the burning, scratched space of its free jazz sibling "Blood and Leaves," "Melody in the Mud" sounds like a sorrowful apology, a short, sombre breath before "Electric Guitar Light" plunges the listener back into a music of confusion and loneliness, a controlled outburst of tonal accidents culminating in the exploration of timbre and distortion of the closing "Cry Baby Flowers," whose searing guitar work forces us to squint into the sun.
Wind Chimes in the Head, Higuchi's first cassette release, starts out in similar territory with "Ashi No Nai Inu" and "Note 1 (19 June 2007)", all soft humming and antiphonally responding guitars, but the album runs out of steam in the remaining four tracks: longer durations, greater use of distortion and, in two tracks, both elements combined don't make for strong additions to already weak music. "Memory and Grassland", and its disappointing 11-minute sequel "Hikari No Joko", sound as if they were recorded onto one of William Basinski's partially disintegrated tape loops, a purposefully nostalgic wobbly sound curiously reminiscent of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner". But it all seems more like an exercise in shredding – clocking in at about 41 minutes it's Higuchi's longest release to date – and lacks the sharpness of Butterfly Horse Street. Re-examining and changing artistic direction is fine if it leads to a broader palette and a greater understanding of methods, but Wind Chimes in the Head tastes unripe.–LS

Paul Hubweber / Uli Boettcher
Genial. Unpredictable. Funny. Ironic. Those are only a handful of the adjectives that sprang to mind minutes after sitting down to enjoy the third episode of Schnack, the latest release by trombonist supreme Paul Hubweber and electronic nerve-driller Uli Boettcher. A Spartan-yet-elegant graphic adorns the CD sleeve, and the useful liners are penned by PT's own Dan Warburton; but nothing can really prepare you for the listening experience, which is rendered all the more fragmentary and schizophrenic by the short duration of the majority of the improvisations. Let's start with Hubweber's timbre(s): the man is the happy master of disjointed, if sinuously articulated phrasing, shifting from the fringes of Quackland to granular disintegration. Whatever idea crosses his brain is transformed into instant otherness, as counterbalancing forces constantly struggle to determine whether Hubweber's instinctive sketches should be radically refurbished or utterly destroyed. Boettcher, a true virtuoso on his own chosen instrument, is hardly the guy to corral his comrade into something, uh, minimalist: the guy ingests deformed samples like Phil Daniels scarfing down blue pills at the end of Quadrophenia, yet it's you the listener who must choose whether to throw yourself from a cliff or conclude that, all things considered, the innumerable refractions, rejections and reversions are worthy of a visit to the nearest sanctuary of scrambled logic for further adoration. Despite the absence of anything even vaguely resembling "silence" or "quietness", this, along with the recent Furt CD, might very well be the most stimulating EAI around nowadays.–MR

Keefe Jackson's Project Project
Not sure what's up with that band name - is it stressed "PROject proJECT", noun plus verb? or is it just the most annoyingly redundant title since Jack DeJohnette waxed Album Album for ECM? In any case, whatever it's called, the group itself is well worth lending an ear, boasting a cross-section of Chicago's alt.jazz talent and some intriguing, well-seasoned composing and arranging by leader Keefe Jackson. Hailing from Arkansas and based in Chicago since 2001, Jackson's been dividing his time between various groups, including the Lucky 7s, the Chicago-Luzern Exchange and Fast People. On Just Like This he doesn't take much solo space, but his spots on the freeish "The Grass Is Greener" and two smart Duke-goes-harmolodic swingers (the title-track and drummer Frank Rosaly's "Wind-Up Toy") are enough to demonstrate a very personal approach, with the quizzical, hollowed-out sound of Wayne Shorter at his most Warne Marshish. Like those players, Jackson often gives the impression of existing in a parallel universe to whatever piece he's improvising over, full of ideas that jut out of the surroundings rather than comfortably fit in. Similarly, one gets the sense that while he's writing "for" these particular players, it's not simply a matter of showcasing them and letting them strut their stuff but instead getting a certain friction going between the writing and soloist. Hard to single out any of the soloists, but I'll try: there's typically fiery work from Dave Rempis and more poised contributions by Guillermo Gregorio, while clarinettist James Falzone is equally impressive rising out of the austere chord-veils of "Titled" as when he's cooking on the swingers. Cornettist Josh Berman and trumpeter Jaimie Branch have an instinct for pointed lyricism that makes their dips into note-shredding lunacy even more alarming, and trombonists Nick Broste and Jeb Bishop and tuba player Marc Unternährer provide heft to the ensembles and some wonderful growly freeform interplay. The real stars, though, might well be the rhythm section: Rosaly and bassist Anton Hatwich have a very natural swing feel – it's not that often you hear an avant-oriented big band where the swingers don't feel awkward or pushy. And when it's time for fireworks, as on the Rempis/Rosaly dustup on on "Which Well", watch out!–ND

Guus Janssen
One of the attractions of Monk's music has always been the way the nuts-and-bolts issues of how to weld this phrase to that one are right on its surface, Centre Pompidou-style: the key structural issues are always audible rather submerged. On his new solo disc Out of Frame Dutch pianist/composer Guus Janssen shows a similar ability to make provocative music by fastening onto small structural elements that would usually be naturalized within the larger architecture of a piece or improvisation – a snippet of passagework from a Baroque sonata or a tiny stride-piano lick might become the seed for an entire piece, while a "head" can be constructed entirety out of formulae normally used to end a piece ("In the End"). "Extrucage" turns an accelerating burst of chords lifted from Tristano's "Becoming" into an entire exploration of shifting clusters and bitonal stacking, while the title track takes a bumpy little riff that splits the difference between Monk and the Peanuts themesong for a ride. Janssen's brand of citationality isn't exactly pastiche; often (as on "Pasquil") the effect is more like listening to all the bits that go into making a piece of music, but before they've been actually fixed into place.–ND

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Annette Krebs / Toshimaru Nakamura
One of several dozen emails exchanged recently with long-suffering eagle-eyed PT editor Nate Dorward was on the subject of Toshi Nakamura's recent Erstwhile outing with Joe Foster and Bonnie Jones (aka English), One Day (see above), which he was reasonably impressed with but which had left him somewhat.. cold. He wrote: "It's hard to hear, so to speak, what's at stake in the music – i.e. I can listen to it and think 'hm, neat sound. Another neat sound. Yeah, another neat sound' but to me that doesn't add up to real music: it's not clear what connects all those events or why one should care. With a traditional improv performance there's a sense of a bristling dramatic space being established, fought over and explored, but I don't detect that here, nor do I have a sense of what alternative model is being proposed for interaction / listening that I should bother about." I suggested to Nate he should post these remarks over at IHM, but he didn't seem to be too keen on the idea, presumably fearing that his quiet suburban home in Ontario would be firebombed by an angry crowd of EAI mujjaheddin. Well, sorry Nate, old pal, but you're not getting away so easily (though, as the saying goes, "the management declines all responsibility for lost or damaged property as a result"); your comments go right to the heart of the problem, the problem being how to listen to EAI, especially if you come from a more "traditional improv" (or traditional anything) background.
Clearly, as I've said many times before, approaching this kind of music with the expectation that it's going to "develop" along traditional lines – take a musical idea (a pitch or collection of pitches, a rhythmic motive, even a particular timbre) and transform it over a period of time into something else – isn't likely to get you very far. "Bristling", "fought over" and "explored" imply physical effort, even muscularity; to the best of my knowledge Toshi Nakamura has never burst a blood vessel and spattered the public with warm blood, though I have noticed the occasional bead of sweat on his furrowed brow as he sits statue-like behind his no-input mixing board. I can't imagine Annette Krebs going fifteen rounds with Brötzmann, either (though she could probably give him a nasty scratch with that steel wool). But at my back I always hear Ben's wingèd chariot hurrying near.. Exit, pursued by dialectic.
Nah, that old thesis-antithesis-synthesis stuff won't get you very far here, but (beg to differ Nate) I really do hear a bristling dramatic space in this latest offering from Nakamura and Krebs, Siyu, on Daniel Yang's wonderful SoSEDITIONS imprint (as usual, the packaging's exquisite, and as usual I nearly tore the white card trying to get the damn thing open.. let's not talk about the Olivia Block DVD I received in the same envelope – still haven't figured out how to put that one together). It seems Nakamura has a duo project going with just about everybody these days – in the past couple of years he's appeared on discs with Keith Rowe, Klaus Filip, Billy Roisz, Axel Dörner, Nicholas Bussmann, Lucio Capece and Jean-Luc Guionnet – but for my money this is the most satisfying release he's put out since 2006's between on Erstwhile (not the most exciting, though: that honour goes to the Potlatch outing Map with Guionnet – see above). But Nate's comments trouble me – why do I like this? Merely saying "hm, neat sound" doesn't seem to be enough, but I'm wondering if, in the final analysis, it doesn't come down to something as straightforward as that.
I've wrestled with the question of making value judgements when it comes to EAI for far too long, and since the aficionados of the genre over at IHM, who know more about the subject than I do, can't agree amongst themselves about what's good and what isn't, I've reluctantly concluded that it is purely subjective; one man's "real music" is another's "fucking racket". So I'm afraid I don't know what's at stake, and am at a loss as to say why one should care. But I do care about these sounds – Nakamura's music has fascinated me ever since I discovered it, and it's come a long way since the loops and pulses of the early solo albums, and Krebs' all-too-slight discography has been a source of great pleasure since 2000's Rotophormen with Andrea Neumann – and I admire the way they're placed. Wondering what connects the sound events seems to be another way of asking whether the musicians are actually listening to each other, which inevitably recalls Keith Rowe's notes accompanying Duos For Doris: "I'm very aware that it's almost heretical to praise not listening, but nevertheless I feel there is a place for it. I write these thoughts not needing or wanting to convince anyone of the correctness of these ideas, but only to explain how I approached playing these sessions. If I attempted not to actively listen to John's piano as my hand descended towards the guitar laid out before me, what might happen? Possibly I might avoid triggering memories of the piano, memories that by definition would take me away from the immediate context and towards some looping representations of past occasions. Clearly this is not an absolute state because I imagine that some memory is needed to comprehend the present. But given that my aim is to focus my attention on the situation in that room, that room will likely contain thousands of references which will in turn trigger memories. The question for me then is how I might relate to whatever is occurring in that room, certainly not with any loquacious clarity but rather with the obmutescence of an object on a shelf."
I'm not sure that answers any of your questions, Nate (though it must be the first time the word "obmutescence" has appeared in Paris Transatlantic), nor do I know to what extent, if at all, it applies to Siyu. All I can say is, to quote Bullet Tooth Tony slamming the guy's head in the car door as "Lucky Star" blasts out of the stereo, "I fuckin' love this record." Don't ask me why.

Szilárd Mezei Ensemble
Red Toucan
Steve Cohn
Red Toucan
The small Montreal-based Red Toucan label continues its unstated mission of providing a spotlight on the less exposed gems of the jazz world. This particular offering is part of a trilogy by Serbian-born Hungarian violist / composer Szilárd Mezei (the other parts, Whistle and Drum, have yet to be recorded). The music blends folk melodies, contemporary classical and African-American traditions into an intriguing whole, and has something of a film noir tinge to it, although Mezei insists that he doesn't think of such analogies when composing. The five longish compositions for 14-piece ensemble are heavily notated, though "Hep 1" and "Hep 2" have a deceptively improvisational feel. On "Hep 1" the group plays deliberately out-of-sync, hinting at rather than definitively stating the main melody, while "Hep 2"'s Braxtonish theme opens up ample solo space for saxophonist Bogdan Rankovic and trumpeter Slobodan Dragaš. "Cirkula/Circle Saw", "Esölovak/Rain Horses" and "Fohász/Petition" are more ponderous, offering dour Balkan melodies underpinned by tuba, bass, two cellos, trombone, piano and two drummers, and at times the music virtually bludgeons the listener. Fortunately, "Rain Horses" offers some relief; Mezei plays an impassioned viola solo, and a tinkling vibraphone/xylophone interlude by Ivan Burka lightens the mood before Dragaš's nimble Lester Bowie-like trumpet (Great Hungarian Music: Ancient to the Future?) heralds a return to the somber anthem. "Petition" is powerfully emotional, with pianist Milan Aleksic percussively shredding the melody before the piece ends with an optimistic coda. The recording could be crisper in the higher ranges, but that's a minor complaint; this is an intriguing showcase for unsung talent from an underappreciated area.

Mezei's still a fairly young artist; if he wants to find out about being unjustly marginalized for the long haul he could contact the pianist Steve Cohn (he really could: both artists have nice websites), who's been tirelessly pursuing his muse since the early 80s to the sound of unfortunately few hands clapping. This quartet, with Masahiko Kono on trombone and electronics, cellist Tomas Ulrich and drummer/vibraphonist Kevin Norton, made frequent stops at the Knitting Factory back when the place still featured this type of music, and this live performance was recorded there back in January 1999. The title is Japanese, meaning "this and that" or "a variety of things"; "iro" on its own means "color", and there's plenty of color here, given Norton's ability to switch seamlessly from his trap set to vibes and back, not to mention Cohn's use of the shakuhachi, shofar and ektara. On the first three compositions (or "conceptions"), Cohn begins on one of his wind instruments, or inside the piano, producing some interesting interactions, particularly on "Kombawa" when Ulrich inventively echoes the shakuhachi and Kono's burbles. But the group takes flight most convincingly when Cohn turns to the piano, as he does towards the end of those three tracks or on the entirety of the last cut, "Oyasuminasai". Norton's cymbal work throughout, particularly on "Konnichiwa", is exemplary in its rhythmic propulsion. Although it's unfortunate that we don't have a more recent example of this still working group, Iro Iro serves as a compelling document of what an evening at the Knitting Factory used to be like. And Steve Cohn's website has an interesting list of unreleased performances that he could possibly copy to CD-R if you ask nicely.–SG

Connecting this music with the semi-insane sparkle of Schnack is like trying to find an association between children running wild in a garden and the polite enthusiasm of spectators at a Wimbledon final. Simple Game, the latest outing by Paul Hubweber, Paul Lovens and John Edwards, is a fairly conscious attempt to look well-dressed while maintaining the exploratory traits of unadulterated free improv. From the very first seconds we detect a propensity to the enhancement of "softly booming" frequencies in the equalization, as the persistently colloquial stance of the trio disobeys to the exaltation of solipsism, privileging purposeful ensemble work. There are no train wrecks, no squeals, no burps and groans; for the most part, the musicians let their sound emerge somewhat gradually, only rarely commanding attention for a truly noticeable dynamic change (it happens, though: for example, about eight minutes into "Smell it"). The fine texture generated by this combine of interplaying virtuosos is something to hold dear, a remedy against the obsolescence filtering through too many of today's jazz-derived trio outfits. Edwards' bass is a fat smiling Buddha embracing the nether regions of the mix like a big mamma, all girth, goodness and grin. Lovens explores new methods of rhythmic proliferation without relying on regular pulse, resolutely attentive to every single blip, a 24/7 radar station capable of homing in on just where "that" accent should fall next. Hubweber remains the joker (of sorts) of the group, yet in this particular instance the unpredictable transcendence of his smirking technique is somehow bound to relative restraint, which is even more agreeable in a context where a polyhedral attitude is a must. For the listener, too.–MR

Daniel Jones / David Papapostolou
Here are six graceful, spacious offerings of classy EAI featuring ex-pat French musician (now based in Hackney.. veuillez accepter nos plus sincères condoléances) David Papapostolou on mixing desk feedback, laptop and pickup, in the company of Daniel Jones (turntables, dulcimer, guitar). Papapostolou's blog describes it as the first official release on his CDR label Adjacent, but there is a predecessor, a solo album called One and Two from 2006 featuring him on guitar, cello and soprano saxophone (not all at the same time). Leaving Room is more accomplished and original, and more imaginative than its individual track titles ("le", "av", "in", "gr", "oo" and "m") might have you believe. The album title itself, however, is good, and works with the music on a number of levels. Both players leave plenty of room for each other to operate in, delicately positioning their fragile sound events on cushions of silence. At the same time the title might also be taken as a plea to listen to the music through headphones – i.e. leave the room behind you – in order to experience its many nuances. It could also, at a pinch, given the French nation's chronic inability to pronounce the short "i", be a horrible pun on "living room". But wherever and however you choose to listen to it, listen carefully: there's a wealth of subtle detail to enjoy.–DW

Anthony Pateras / Sean Baxter / David Brown
Gauticle on Synaesthesia was one of the best albums heard from an improvising trio in a long time, and with Interference, Pateras, Baxter and Brown continue to raise the bar. The instrumentation is the same – prepared piano, prepared guitar and drums – as is the approach: reciprocal stimulation and unusual rhythmic combinations generate new patterns of knowledge and harmony which unaccustomed ears might refuse to submit to on first listen. Face it, these guys don't really propose tranquil engagement with the audience, privileging instead outbursts of clattering can-on-the-string whirlwinds ("You Can Do It Pimp Lucius") and episodes that suggest gamelan players falling down a stairway and struggling to regain position while massaging their bumps. Only rarely does the music become a stationary target for our attention to hit, yet soon enough it yields to rumbling dissonance and repeated, percussive trips to the low regions of the piano. When the trio sets its sights on the interstices between silence and noise – as on the Cageian "What A Fool Believes" – the creepy atmospheres, where every sound is a one-punch knockdown, tangibly demonstrate how the relationship between vibration and its absence constitutes the basis of incomprehension among so-called evolved beings. The body reacts to each event, the instrumental call-and-response as accurate as needlework, all senses fully alert - think "watchdog late at night". The return to regulated chaos in the fourth track acts as the introduction to a gorgeous finale, "Troo Kvlt In C", where a landslide of rolling and tumbling metals comes within a hair's breadth of incoherence but rewards the patient and attentive listener. An unforgiving record, perhaps too full of substance for its own good, but outstanding as ever. –MR

Odean Pope
When I first saw the title of the newest release in tenorman Odean Pope's discography, my heart did a little jump. Pope's recent work has been, if not exhaustively documented, at least made available through labels like CIMP, Soul Note and Half Note. Yet he's been on the scene in Philadelphia since the late Fifties, working with Jimmy Smith, bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali and Max Roach. He also co-led the plugged-in ensemble Catalyst in the mid-Seventies. What Went Before is more recent archival history, however, combining tracks from two out-of-print (but still findable) trio discs, 1995's Ninety-Six (Enja) and 1999's EBIOTO (Knitting Factory). He's joined here by regular bassist Tyrone Brown and drummers Mickey Roker and Craig McIver on seven of his own compositions and the standard "For All We Know."
It's no surprise that Roach chose Pope to occupy the saxophone chair in 1967 and again in the early Eighties; his lines are florid, he's got a steely high-register keen, and a lacy, breathy way with the nooks of a phrase. When the situation calls for it, he can produce split-tone growls that align him with, say, Billy Harper. "You Remind Me," from the EBIOTO sessions, finds Pope, Brown and McIver trading unaccompanied volleys at the outset, the bassist's pizzicato strum and Pope's seesawing between throaty skronk and detailed scalar runs giving a hint of the free-bop gallop to come. His worrying of phrases can leave one breathless, even when he's rocking through the Dewey Redman-esque "Knot it Off," but "For All We Know" is dusky velvet with bright edges, underpinned by Brown's telepathic sketchwork and Roker's pared-down brushes. For those who don't have the original discs, this first installment of What Went Before is an excellent, re-mastered addition to the shelf. We can only hope that the next volume unearths some gems that shed more light on his early career.

Creative Sources
An unsettling sleeve, featuring photos of terrified looks, cruel punishments and sadistic facial expressions, hides a somewhat strange album by Praed, aka Paed Conca, of Blast fame, on electric bass, clarinet and electronics and Raed Yassin, best known as a playing partner of trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, on double bass, tapes and electronics. It's a patchy collection, hypothetically divided into two "sides" like an LP (the whole clocks in at LP length – 45 minutes – too). The schizophrenic suite "The Man Who Lost All His Friends (With Japanese Subtitles)" consists of 34 short episodes in which effective tape work and looped splinters form the nucleus of a music without respite in its continuous development. And when the illusion of repose appears, tricky manipulations, cantankerously inharmonious figurations and percussive exploitation of the strings keep the senses ever primed for action. The remaining tracks more or less follow the same pattern, with effective use of TV and radio morsels by Yassin, who incorporates popular themes and Arabic melodies into the duo's crusty disfigurations of veracity. The overall sound quality is pretty medium-fi, but you can consider that a plus, since Praed steer well clear of modishness and lacquer, wallowing in mud and dirt instead. The result is a sonic mumbo-jumbo that's relatively distinctive, if not exactly pioneering.–MR

Sten Sandell / Mattias Stahl
Clean Feed
Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, in addition to his own trio, has become known through working in Mats Gustafsson's electro-acoustic ensemble Gush. Classically trained and with an arsenal of extended techniques (in addition to preparation and electronics, Sandell uses his voice), he's able to coax a huge array of sounds from his instrument, though often his choice of co-conspirators can make for an overly deliberate approach to "free" music. Mallet percussionist Mattias Ståhl, on the other hand, has explored the musical language of Ornette, Carla Bley and Jan Johansson in his freebop quartet Ståls Blå. The result of this linguistic pairing—cascading, bop-inflected runs and extended architecture—is somewhere between the sparser forays of Les Percussions de Strasbourg and the fluid poise of the Khan Jamal-Bill Lewis duets (The River, Philly Jazz 2, 1977).
The tension between severity and playfulness is apparent from the get-go, on "Lundburgs", where Ståhl flits about in the vibraphone's upper register as Sandell roils in the lower depths of his instrument, his sustained blocks of sound like bricks underneath the glassy rolls and filigree. The pair initially seem to be hurling their bags at one another in a wary gesture before a communicative dance is reached. Cascades of piano and marimba pelt alongside Sandell's right hand to close the piece in a delicate upward arc. Ståhl marks time and space in the marimba's middle registers on "Gröndals Deli", though the pianist makes jagged and deep inroads at the outset, before lightening his touch and letting the music spread out a bit. The improvisations are all rather short (the longest just over seven minutes and most around five), and it's illuminating to hear how, over the course of a few minutes, Sandell and Ståhl are able to reconcile their approaches into a music balanced between organic, circular rondos and slinky, charcoaled lines.–CA

John Stevens/Evan Parker
Spontaneous Music Ensemble (John Stevens/Trevor Watts)
Another of the fabled classics of free improv returns with the John Stevens/Evan Parker duo album The Longest Night (1976), a pair of LPs now reissued by Ogun in conjunction with Corner to Corner (1993), recorded a year before Stevens's death. The drummer's brief liner notes to the first album have a certain pissed-off assertiveness, and indeed one thing I love about The Longest Night is the way it puts a real angriness at the core of the music, most obvious here in the frenzied momentum of "21.25" and "21.47" (the track titles reflect the hour of the night when they were recorded) – performances where intensely empathetic dialogue and brutally snapping at each other's heels turn out to be one and the same thing. Stevens's ability to turn every sound of his kit into a distinct event is astonishing, giving every tap and hi-hat shiver a quiddity that punctures the musical continuum. Parker sticks to soprano on both sessions: his sound is quite varied on the 1976 session, his husky, acerbic scribblings occasionally (as at the start of "22.18") thinning out into something like finely shredded Lacy or Coltrane. Corner to Corner is a reunion album of sorts, and its chew-things-over pace and free-floating, circling dialogue are a beguiling contrast to the earlier date. Aside from the stylistic changes across 17 years, the pairing of the two sessions offers a case study in how recording style affects free music's impact. The first session's scrabbling urgency is underlined by the close, ultra-dry recording, which clips off every squeal and chitter. The 1993 session is more natural-sounding but less vivid (accentuating Parker's latterday habit of eliding the beginning and end of lines), the recording bringing out the room acoustic and the music's dynamic range – Stevens's loudest snare-drum hits strike like darts.
The Stevens/Parker duo partnership actually goes back much further, to the period documented on the Spontaneous Music Ensemble CD Summer 1967 (recorded just after Interstellar Space, incidentally – though it couldn't have been a direct influence, as the Coltrane/Ali album wasn't released until 1974). Stevens's other major duet partner over the years was Trevor Watts (though let's not forget Dudu Pukwana: anyone else remember the great 1987 album Radebe?), and the Stevens/Watts album Face to Face (1973) is another landmark to set beside The Longest Night. Emanem has now supplemented it with Bare Essentials, a generous two-CD selection of Watts's cassette recordings of live gigs from slightly earlier in the duo's history. Sound quality is purely documentary but surprisingly decent considering the source material; it's a bit swishy for headphone listening, perhaps, but sounds OK on the stereo.
I'd previously thought of the duos with Parker as spartan in the extreme, but hearing this stuff is a corrective. It's amazingly stripped-down, to the point where it's sometimes hard to think of it as "music" in any usual sense of the word. At times these performances conjure up the stately pointillism of a Noh play accompaniment; at other times they yield to a raw play of voices that's half Beckett endgame, half Bob Cobbing yawp (there's a lot of Stevens's trumpet here, as well as yowly vocals and growls from both players). There's a ritualistic quality to Stevens's drumming on these tracks which, along with the use of a conventional kit rather than the snares-and-double-hi-hat setup of the recordings with Parker, reveals a debt to Ed Blackwell's avant-tribal beat. Like Parker, Watts plays soprano throughout, in a style that's every bit as percussive and pointillist as the drummer's, and just as sensitive to changes in the emotional weather. The more you listen, the more the saxophonist's restricted sonic palette seems enormous, ranging from gruff remarks to slender lyric morsels to ear-blistering intensity.
More than Face to Face, this collection shows the many different directions these players were exploring, some looking back to free jazz or even (like Ayler) to earlier, pre-bop musics, others pointing towards current trends in ultraminimalist improv (as is underlined by Martin Davidson's titling one track "Lowering the Case"). Above all, this music still has the capacity to surprise, unlike so much by-the-books improv: as exhibit A, sample the seven brief "Open Flower" tracks, all deriving from an identical ultra-minimal sound-study but shooting off in strikingly different directions, including a scorching Watts cadenza on "Open Flower 3". The most astonishing track, despite being a little dimly recorded, is "For Phil," a half-hour improvisation recorded the day the great British drummer Phil Seamen died. It begins as a sorrowful, minimalist funeral march and reaches a grisly climax two-thirds of the way through, before Stevens turns to trumpet for a furious Aylerian elegy and soft farewell. It's the capstone of a rich, illuminating collection of music; there's a certain eat-your-vegetables severity to it all, to be sure, but Mom was right: veggies really do taste better than junk food.–ND

Mark Trayle
Creative Sources
The "Projects" page of Mark Trayle's website mentions a 1999 multimedia installation entitled ¢apital magneti¢ which explored "the musical possibilities of the credit card. Participants in the installation use their credit cards and bank cards to compose pieces of music in cooperation (or competition) with other participants." Seven years down the road, Goldstripe uses data read from the magnetic stripes of credit cards (we're not told whose) "to create a set of musical conditions for improvisation". This is another one of those projects, along with Yasunao Tone and Florian Hecker's Palimpsest and Mathieu Saladin's Stock Exchange Piece, where the concept behind the music is more interesting than the music it produces, which in this case consists of the kind of distinctly listener-unfriendly bleeps, swoops, stutters, noisy screes and unstable drones you've heard all too often. In today's digital world just about anything, from family snapshots to phone bills and bank statements, can be "translated" into sound, but just because it can be done doesn't necessarily mean it's worth doing. It might be more interesting if Trayle told us exactly how he transformed that mag stripe data into sound, and whether the process could somehow be reversed so I could forge my own credit card and explore its musical possibilities by using it to buy myself something really worth listening to.–DW

Seymour Wright
Self Produced
"Seymour Wright of Derby." It's something you can imagine seeing as a handpainted sign over a Victorian shop front. It's got a certain ring to it, y'know, like "Lydon, Jones, Cook and Matlock, Cobblers to the Queen." There's a touch of antiquated craftsmanship to the packaging, too; the paper used is an 18th century pattern produced in Cambridgeshire by Payhembury Marbled Papers, we're told. A refreshingly original concept for four slabs of pretty challenging solo saxophone improvisation. The sounds all come from the saxophone itself, but Wright doesn't physically produce them all in the good old fashioned way (i.e. by blowing into or onto the thing). Not directly, anyway. The first thing you hear in fact is a blast of tinny funk coming from a small battery-powered radio placed inside the instrument. Surprised? You shouldn't be – after all, Keith Rowe's been playing his guitar with a tranny for decades, so why shouldn't someone play a sax with one too? The funk soon retreats into an intriguing haze of hisses, rustles and pops, which (the latter) seem to be controlling the on/off switch of the radio. Though it's hard to say. On track two, a montage of disarmingly simple polyrhythmic clicks is occasionally disrupted by strategically placed puffs of air and penetrating squeaks. Sounds like a two-year-old having fun with a box full of wooden toys and inadvertently clobbering the family cat in the process. On the album's centrepiece, a 26-minute tour de force recorded live in the Great Hall at Goldsmiths College London, Wright uses an assortment of reeds and prepares his horn with fans, pens and tin cans, focusing on sustained sonorities. Most of these seem to be mechanical in origin, coming from vibrating tools placed in and on pieces of the disassembled saxophone laid on the floor. It's a riveting listen, superbly paced and genuinely exciting in places, especially when punctuated by piercing high register squawks, as if a large, fierce bird of prey had accidentally flown into a metalwork lab and couldn't find its way out. Best of all, it's not without a sense of humour, both verbally – the four track titles pun on Seymour's surname ("In the Wright place at the Wright time", "REED'N'WRIGHT", "The Wright balance" and "Wright-O!".. I live in hope of a future duet with his namesake Jack entitled "Two Wrights can't go wrong"..) – and visually: it's impossible to listen to this without imagining what Wright's set-up might look like (Heath Robinson comes to mind). The additional dedications – if that's what you can call them – of each track to other musicians (well not to but after..) is also a fascinating touch. "After" in what sense? It's not as if Wright is setting out to produce his own version of existing pieces by Steve Lacy, Keith Rowe, Tetuzi Akiyama, Pepper Adams, Ahmed Abdul Malik, Billy Higgins, Eddie Prévost, Trevor Bayliss and Evan Parker, like a painter basing his work on an old master (Bacon after Velásquez, for instance). Maybe he's simply referring to the next rung on the saxophone's evolutionary ladder. For those of you who wonder what can still be said on (in? through?) the venerable instrument after John Butcher, Michel Doneda, Katsura Yamauchi and Stéphane Rives, this little gem is definitely one to get.–DW

James Zitro
For all the praise that's deservedly heaped on recordings like Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity and Bells, or the early works of Marion Brown, Paul Bley and Milford Graves, there are a lot of hidden gems in the ESP catalog. The leadership debut of Bay Area drummer James Zitro is one of the finest. Along with a number of other west coast musicians, Zitro came to New York briefly in 1966-7 to work with altoist Sonny Simmons and trumpeter Barbara Donald (documented on Simmons' Music from the Spheres, ESP 1043). The drummer is joined here on three tracks by saxophonists Bert Wilson and Allan Praskin, trumpeter Warren Gale, pianist Mike Cohen and Aussie bassist Bruce Cale (who worked with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble while in England).
"Freekin'" took up all of side one on the original LP, the leader starting off proceedings with meditative mallets on toms and crash cymbals echoing the "Nothings" of Milford Graves (like Graves, Zitro also studied tabla and non-Western hand percussion). Harmonics from Cale's bass signal the ensemble's collective entry, Zitro's constant thrashing and Cohen's lower register comping reminiscent of the Tyner-Jones juggernaut. Gale is the first soloist, here a crushed metallic buzz that in a few years' time would be featured in Stan Kenton's orchestra. The rhythm section is an egalitarian rustle, Cale offering a plucked poem preceding several choruses of teenage vigor from young Allan Praskin's alto, a mix of ebullient volleys and steadily rising puckered squeals. Bert Wilson cuts like the proverbial buzzsaw, high-register shouts and manic overblowing at the center of his angled tenor yelp. Little-documented, Wilson's heavy blowing was key in recordings by Smiley Winters and the Now Creative Arts Jazz Ensemble, as well as Simmons' aforementioned second ESP volume. Wilson fronted the group Listen in the early '70s, which didn't properly record, but the nexus can be heard in his composition "Happy Pretty," recorded here. It's a comparatively lighthearted and buoyant theme, erupting from late Lee Morgan into collective freedom. Cohen voices bright chords against a lickety-split backdrop, the composer out of the gate with jubilant, fractured energy, while Gale's mix of classical poise and street scumble finds easy footing at maddening tempos. Trying to follow Praskin's whims is like trying to chase a fly; hence, Zitro and Cale drop the rhythm into loose free time until they can get a bead, if only briefly. Though there's nothing here that changed the course of the music's history, James Zitro's debut offers fierce, inspired playing and contagious collective energy from six top-notch improvisers in their prime.–CA

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Malcolm Goldstein
New World
As John Peel once memorably said after playing a track (I can't remember which one it was, sorry) in one of his Radio 1 shows early one January, "is it too early to name this Album of the Year?" The Malcolm Goldstein discography is far from enormous, but everything he's released, especially since the turn of the century, has been absolutely outstanding. If you only buy one CD this year, make sure it's this one. The word "organic" is bandied about much too glibly nowadays, and stuck on everything from washing powder to baked beans, but it's still the best adjective to describe Goldstein's work. When he uses a map of the rivers and streams of rural Vermont as a score for his The Seasons: Vermont, Malcolm Goldstein knows just what he's doing – you will recall he bought a plot of land in the woods there in the mid-60s and built his own log cabin from scratch.
"At night in the darkness of his cabin, and the silence of the woods, when Malcolm brings out his violin and starts to play for you, you gain a deeper understanding of where his music comes from," writes Peter Garland, in a splendid essay accompanying the disc – detailed and informative liner notes are a New World speciality, and this is one of the best booklets I've seen in a long time, also including an essay by WDR studio director Klaus Schöning, Goldstein's notes on the works, extensive artist biographies, a bibliography, selected discography and reproductions of the composer's immaculately hand-written scores.
Garland writes with precision and passion on how Goldstein's music effortlessly blends composition and improvisation, but the music does it even better. Configurations in Darkness (1995), derived from Bela Bartók's transcriptions of folksongs from Bosnia-Herzogovina, appears here in two beautifully recorded versions, one for Goldstein's solo violin from a concert in Boulder, Colorado, in 2002, the other for five-piece ensemble – in which the composer is joined by flautist Philippe Racine, clarinettist Philippe Micol, cellist Beat Schneider and trombonist Radu Malfatti – recorded in Berne, Switzerland, six years earlier. Both performances are exemplary, and it's especially wonderful to hear Malfatti actually playing the hell out of his trombone too, something we don't get to do much these days.
If composition and improvisation fuse perfectly in Goldstein's work, so do past and future; this isn't just great music, it's acoustic anthropology. In Ishi / timechangingspaces, a tape work originally broadcast by WDR Cologne in 1988, he plays along with scratchy loops of 1914 wax cylinder recordings of Ishi, the last surviving Yahi Indian who emerged from the woods of Northern California, in a truly moving "imaginary encounter" between two men separated in space and time. "Ishi has taught me something deeply about things in our human way and illuminated for me sensitivities within myself as well as in other people," Goldstein writes. "I am thankful to the sound of Ishi's voice. It taught me actually to hear qualities in his voice to affect the tuning of my violin, so that the violin began to sound in new ways I'd never heard before."
In Ishi / "man waxati" Soundings (1988), Goldstein explores some of those "new ways", particularly a retuning of the violin's A string up a quarter of a tone and its D string down just over a major third to sound an octave below the A string. This striking scordatura not only changes the timbre of the instrument considerably, but also allows him to play his characteristic inimitable figurations high on the second string with the open third string as an underpinning drone. From a purely technical point of view (take my word for it, I've spent more than half my life trying to learn how to play the violin) it's fuckin' mindblowing. Nobody else in the world sounds remotely like Malcolm Goldstein. What's more, this version of Ishi / "man waxati" Soundings was recorded in the naturally resonant acoustic of Europe's largest cave system, the Grotte de Lombrives in Ussat-les-Bains in the Pyrenees, and Goldstein's understanding and incorporation of the natural reverb of the space is simply stunning. It's as if the cave itself has become part and parcel of the work itself, and the composer, like the Zen monk in the famous tale, has painted a landscape so perfect that he's walked into it and disappeared. Get hold a copy of A Sounding of Sources at the earliest available opportunity, and disappear into it yourself.

Chris Newman
PIANO SONATAS NOS. 1, 4, 6, 10
Chris Newman was born in London in 1958 and now lives and works in Berlin, where his activities include painting, writing (poetry and prose), installation and performance art. According to the potted biography in the liners, translating the poetry of Mandelstam and Khlebnikov was "an experience that proved important for his later work", though the names that are more likely to spring to mind on listening to these piano sonatas are Clarence Barlow, Misha Mengelberg and maybe even John White (a reminder that a decent release of some more of White's piano sonatas – how many are there now, 131? – is long overdue). "I was using conventional tonality literally but in a non-conventional way," writes Newman of his first Sonata (1982), "using historical styles in a non-historical way, putting them to the forefront – preclassical / Janacek / Ives / homemade Beethoven." A few years ago, this stuff would have been described as "postmodern", but since postmodernism has now been with us longer than modernism and the term has been bludgeoned into meaninglessness through overuse, maybe we should find some kind of substitute, not that I can think of any. Newman repositions the left and right hand parts of a CPE Bach sonata in his Sonata No. 4 (1990) ("a way of fucking up the chronology to put it into a kind of solid-state with itself"), combines material from his own Third Symphony with Beethoven's Op. 90 (Sonata No.6, 1997) and incorporates rhythms from Varèse's Amériques and pitches from Schubert's Winterreise (Sonata No. 10, 2004) not as exercises in "quotation or cultural reference [..] but [because] they provide the best material for the job, i.e. to build models for existential phenomena." Fair enough, but whether you call it quotation or not, taking your musical raw material from a repertoire people are so familiar with is a risky business. There's always an element of irony involved, on the part of both composer and listener. We find Barlow and Mengelberg's "wrong" notes funny because we know from experience what the "right" ones should be, but Newman's non-resolving chord sequences, disappearing trills and sudden stops, aided and abetted by Michael Finnissy's splendidly deadpan reading (someone should persuade him to record some Satie) soon lose their power to amuse – not that amusing the listener is what he purposefully set out to do – and listener fatigue soon sets in. This is a disc to dip into, a sonata at a time, rather than play from beginning to end.–DW

Maja S.K. Ratkje
River Mouth Echoes is a reminder that Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (the "SK" is part of the package, like the "L" in L. Ron Hubbard and the "J" in J. Edgar Hoover) is not only an acclaimed performer on the noise circuit but also a bona fide conservatory-trained composer. Indeed, the 20-minute title track would have made a splendid submission as a show-me-what-you-can-do final year comp assignment (having said that, no Music Faculty I know of would have specified the instrumentation of four-piece viol consort). It does take some time to find out where it's heading, though, the first twelve-and-a-half minutes jumpcutting from threads of folksong-like melody to airy, fluty harmonics, skittering col legno, snapping Bartók pizzicati and quite a bit of ugly scraping – once frowned upon, but now kosher since Lachenmann – before settling on some ethereal trills which herald the start of a slow build-up towards the "surprise" scordatura ending (not a surprise at all if you know Penderecki's Second Quartet, and I'll bet you a Norwegian kroner or two Maja does). Essential Extensions (1999), scored for accordion, alto sax and double bass, is another impressive if not particularly attractive exercise in standard Euro avant-garde instrumental technique, all gnarly clusters, ugly multiphonics and wailing glissandi, but like the viol quartet seems to lack some overall motivic coherence; the composer's sympathies seem to lie more with the spectralists than the serialists, and 2005's Øx, once more for Rolf-Eric Nystrøm's alto sax, this time accompanied by Ratkje's own processing, is more convincing in its exploration of the undertones – Hugo Riemann would be thrilled – of the piercing top C that dominates the piece. The earlier Sinus Seduction Moods Two (1997) also moves in spectralist territory – Scelsi and Radulescu both come to mind at times – but the sax writing seems a bit laboured and Torben Snekkestad's playing tense and uptight. Paging Mats Gustafsson, white courtesy telephone please. Likewise, anyone familiar with the flair and subtlety of Ratkje's live electronics might find the textbook post-WWII orchestration of Waves IIB rather staid and fusty, despite a sensitive reading by the Oslo Sinfonietta under the baton of Christian Eggen. The piece that sounds freshest on the whole disc is Wintergarden, the one featuring Ratkje's own extraordinary voice, an amazing instrument somewhere between Annick Nozzati, Diamanda Galas and Joanna Newsom ("tell me darrrling did you taste his food?"). With the Tzadik album under her belt, can we now look forward to a Ratkje outing recorded by Steve Albini, produced by Jim O'Rourke and arranged by Van Dyke Parks? That'd be something.–DW

Samuel Sighicelli
D'Autres Cordes
Among the startlingly high number of remarkable acousmatic records recently received by this delighted addict, Samuel Sighicelli's Marée Noire undeniably stands in my personal top three, possibly fighting for higher honours. That's right, it's that good: a flawlessly designed piece, all the resources and materials holding individual nature while functioning magnificently in a broad-spectrum milieu. And, last but not least, it lasts only half a hour, which is more than enough when the ideas are clear from the start. The young composer (1972), principally a pianist, studied with Gérard Grisey; Marée Noire was a commission from INA-GRM. So, what did Sighicelli use to achieve such quality? In his own words: a ball game, airports, the sea and different environments as external source material, with piano, organ, synthesizer and sampler, and electric and acoustic bass (courtesy Bruno Chevillon) as timbral substance in the studio. The rest is vision, cinematic temperament, ability to interconnect and shuffle the procession of events – and insight. Plus a profound sensitivity that, despite my poor knowledge of the French language, is expounded by certain concerns in the liner notes, about a world "drugged by oil": the album title means "oil slick", and the blurred black-and-white visuals adorning the cover are self-explanatory.–MR

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Alva Noto

For someone interested in "[presenting] art pieces where you lose your identity as an artist", as he told The Wire back in 2003, Carsten Nicolai has done a pretty good job of micro managing an aesthetic solely traceable to his eight fingers, opposable thumbs and never-tiring laptop. Nicolai's language takes software's binary codes and merges this on-off duality with the conceptual fortitude of good sound art (seemingly implausible, I know), and each of his Noto and/or Alva Noto records address similar concerns: electronica stripped of all affect; mathematics as a branch of science as a branch of conceptual art.
For a while there, each of Nicolai's projects seemed to increase the alienation effect, an intensive exploration of electronic austerity: "my use is funkless", indeed. If his Trans cycle from a few years ago felt like a breakthrough in terms of artistic malleability (if not actual quality therein – the three Trans entries were frustratingly spotty), Unitxt is both more holistic and more fleshed-out, the productions feeling beefed up: while still cut to precision, here Alva Noto goes for corporeal impact, reconciling the physical and technological. These terms are relative, true, but Unitxt isn't emaciated; it's at times positively fleshy, even as Nicolai's compositional signature is exacting as ever. And while it's easy to map out his sound – door-knocking rhythms that pulse like pistons, bleeps that range from high-pitched cracks in the system through to juddering low-end phenomena, noise that scrubs the cochlea, unpredictable rustling through digital flora – Nicolai's placed this lexicon in service to some of his most architecturally funky, full throttle impact moves yet. Only the final few minutes of Unitxt, which document the transformation of data to aiff format, feel superfluous, their formal integrity and nakedness not offering much beyond the momentary intrigue of a quizzical digital disobedience.
The body-blows that most of Unitxt lands attest to an accessibility that's also evident on label co-runner Olaf Bender aka Byetone's Death Of A Typographer, suggesting Raster-Noton are going through processes of rapprochement – in the case of Byetone's "Plastic Star", edging significantly closer to the dance floor. If you were ever fond of Pan Sonic at their most propulsive, "Plastic Star" touches on similar zones of rhythmic intensification, grasping at pure tones, riding out bass riffs that lunge and punch, with a snare/hi-hat mnemonic that's pin-sharp. The swarm of drone that unleashes at the three-minute mark sounds like a gentrified mentasm riff: the unseemly energy of hardcore/techno pared back to intransigent, infernal buzzing. Nothing else on Typographer is as exciting, but it's still a structurally stylish document, working up to a peak mid-way through, thanks to "Black Is Black"'s hard-cranked intensity, before the levitating drones of "Capture This (Part I)" usher in a final third that's all slow motion pulsation: electronic driftworks tied to beats that prowl stealthily and steadily. Unsurprisingly, the devil's in the details: clipped hi-hats take on erotic properties and jolts of white noise cleave the cranium while drones warp and furrow.–JD

The Land Of
The Green Kingdom
The Land Of
The mission statement of this pretty young label, founded by Justin Hardison aka My Fun, consists of "exploring the subtle detail and beauty in everyday sounds". No easy task, given the increasingly overpopulated zone of action. Field recordings and electronics, as I've been saying for a while, are an all-too-easy way into making music (or art, or both) without having a clue of what playing an instrument or composing means. To extract significance from this ground one has to possess gifts, first and foremost of which should be insight and sensitivity. Asher, who hails from Somerville, Massachusetts, is an ideal paradigm of the discerning human being, his output being a rare case of value increasing in direct proportion with the number of releases. Intervals contains the qualities that led me to appreciate his work in the first place – the rarefied introspection, the focus on the solitary experience, the degraded-yet-fascinating quality of the aural picture – but here they're fragmented into short pieces, each lasting no longer than 90 seconds, for which the composer recommends the "shuffle play" mode. The overall concept derives from theologian Augustine of Hippo's assertion that "when we measure an interval of time, what we are really measuring is in the memory", hence the conclusion that "time is something in the mind" obviously connected with our reminiscences. Asher juxtaposes outside elements – recorded on a college campus in Vermont and including walks, birds, crickets, planes, rain and that unbelievable "breath" of life, the ever-present soft rumble that wraps silence – with indoor recordings characterized by meagre tolling piano notes. Blurred in foggy murmurs, they elicit sad reflections on the human quest for framing the unexplainable through useless and hollow dialectic.

The Green Kingdom is the moniker of Michigan-based graphic designer/sound artist Michael Cottone. The structures and colours of his music are more evident than Asher's, constructed as they are on intersecting melodic elements – you might even call them tunes – processed into frequently morphing shapes from the post-Ambient galaxy. Environmental material is used too, but merely as a minor ingredient, never the focal point of a piece (though in "Indigo Afternoon" the crackle of thunder appears distinctly in the middle of a sampled/synthesized landscape). Laminae is pleasing to the ear, unremittingly soothing, but lacks a bit in profundity: it's more a collection of relatively uncomplicated miniatures than a record inspiring philosophical ruminations. Which, oddly enough, considering what I wrote above, could be a plus.

I've been trying for the past three months to hawk a review of this tasty little combo platter to The Wire. In vain, alas (at least this way you get the consolation prize of a PT review), but I wonder what they'd have said if I'd sent them an unmarked CD-R of it and told them it was the latest Nurse With Wound.. Maybe that weird name put them off – though wacky punctuation never seemed to do irr.app.(ext.), si-{cut}.db and :zoviet*france: any harm, did it? Anyway, the éminence grise behind bran(...)pos is Jake Rodriguez, who's been bran(...)possing away for over a decade already, as well as designing sound for Bay Area theatre groups – his website lists numerous productions for the Art Street Theatre, Berkeley Rep, American Conservatory Theater, California Shakespeare Theater and others – and, under the name Soundcrack, designing software to run it (Cricket).
As usual, CIP's Blake Edwards' press release is so on the money (pun intended) that it deserves to be quoted: "Come explore the Valley of the Dead as casino with bran(...)pos, gambling wildly with life issues as you teeter on the precipice of securing a good afterlife or another horrid reincarnation. Mix an aural palette that encompasses such disparate elements as the Residents in the late 1970s, Dick Hyman, Stockhausen, Runzelstirn and Gurglestock, and maybe Emerson Lake and Palmer ca. Brain Salad Surgery. Assemble this palette with the compositional complexity of Ennio Morricone and Beethoven and you're getting close." Well, hardly. They've probably all sold out now, but the first 50 copies of Coin-op Khepri came in a "silkscreened gambling bag that comes with Egyptian currency, bran(...)pos poker chips, playing cards, buttons, and other accoutrements." Didn't get one of those myself, unfortunately, but the CD'll do just fine. It's a wonderful, spazzed out (but carefully planned and meticulously executed) mix of disparate elements, including delightfully cheesy EZ listening drum machines with disembodied sci-fi vocals ("1-Armed Yank With Sekhem Em"), riotous Mr Bungle oompah polka ("Inseguimento Degli Spiriti") and, on the album's masterpiece, "Nephthys' Nightboat", an extraordinary journey from the rainforest to the groaning timbers (and timbres) of the aforementioned goddess of death's ship. Khepri, by the way, was another Egyptian sun god, but with the head of a dung beetle. Appropriate, because this, as they say, is da shit.

Freedom to Spend
The recent interest in minimal techno within underground/noise circles, spearheaded by characters such as Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club) or John Clyde-Evans, is a highly reassuring development. It's no great conceptual leap to find similar approaches to spatial/sensorial delirium and textural attention in, say, Wolf Eyes and Jeff Mills; what's cool about this recent turn of events is how the relationship feels natural. It also flags one highly significant matter – whether techno, electronica, or noise, you could probably tie everything back to three influences: Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, and K/Cluster.
Bulbs has the right pedigree – while guitarist Jon Almaraz is a relative unknown from Bakersfield, drummer William Sabiston was a formative member of higher-mind drone dreamers Axolotl. What's surprising is the eloquence of Light Ships; for a debut album, it lands fully formed, the duo having thoroughly marked out their turf. While they're working parallel to figures like Neil Campbell and Axolotl's Karl Bauer, Bulbs' languorous weave of electronica and free music touches on all kinds of unexpected bases – the primitive, flashing noise-tronics of early Severed Heads, the mutable, glassine pop-improv-techno of Cologne's A-Musik scene, and Nuno Canavarro's hand-crafted electro-acoustic miniatures all flit through the mind at various points. Almaraz's guitar is processed to buggery, which dislocates it from expectations, and its shivering, metallic burr drops like hand-plucked stalactites and stalagmites, streams of notes spooling like light pulsing from a flicker film reel. Sabiston's drums, whether electronic or, later in the set, acoustic, sketch around pulses, their irregularity hinting at some ghostly form of techno that's just out of reach. Everything's inferred, as though the duo is perpetually sketching around the edges or contours of more explicit compositions. This macro effect is highly suggestive, but what's happening at the micro level is just as winning: replicating, miniaturised life forms; amoebas quivering in the downstream rush; circuits and wires caught in amorous embrace. It's strangely intimate, as though earworms are quietly tickling every hair in your ear.

Kyle Bobby Dunn
My wife and I often recall the good old days when musicians turned out masterpieces at a post-pubescent age. There's still hope for us, though, when people like Nico Muhly or this brilliant young man here, Kyle Bobby Dunn, can make us smile again after years of bleeping cell phones, Playstations and too many idiot recordings that sound like a Commodore 64 failing in the summer sun. Dunn is only 22 – he was born in Toronto in 1986 – but he already seems to know how to rub the magic lamp of creativity in the right way. Between 2005 and 2007 he recorded a host of academically trained instrumentalists, before reconfiguring their orchestral hues into utter radiance through masterful processing. The easiest definition of the compositional method is, once again (climb aboard, label-seekers), minimalism. No mathematical formulae, geometric intersections or skeletal materials, though: this is a work that makes the most of slowly unfolding near-immobility bathed in melancholy and dejection, a record so full of regret that someone tuning in at the right (or wrong) moment could be devastated. Touching on issues such as "…the nothingness of being, indifference, the ephemeral, the bleak and the misery of mid-winter and mid-summer", Dunn explores one of this writer's favourite areas of sound-related human examination, that special place where even the slightest scent of a flower can transport us back to the long-gone joys of childhood discovery. The whole album reflects this mental disposition, but if you were to single out a track as "exemplary", it would have to be "An Extension", a veritable cross between Eno ca. Discreet Music, Basinski's crumbled memories and a heartbreakingly mournful Roedelius (listen to that desolate, from-the-other-room piano). Exactly calibrated nuances, precisely weighed ingredients. The future for this composer looks bright indeed. –MR

As someone immediately suspicious of anything heralded as the next coming of Kosmische, an alarm-bell scenario bringing forth synaesthesic memories of incense and patchouli, Julian Cope side projects and analogue synth geekdom, I was wary of Emeralds' Solar Bridge, even though it was released on Aaron Dilloway's reliable Hanson label. We already have Kluster and Tangerine Dream to get us through the long, dark night of the Moog – do we need more slow-bloom synth bumbling? But Solar Bridge dashes my concerns, its beautiful analogue radiance one of the most convincing arguments for the ongoing relevance of the merging of austere German modernism and punk/noise takes on patch bay romance.
Solar Bridge is admirably concise, running under half an hour, split almost evenly between "Magic" and "The Quaking Mess". "Magic" fades into earshot riding a deep, rich drone, contracting and expanding in great, slow pulses while gathering momentum; by mid-way, it's full-bodied and alive with microtonal variation. Going through various generative phases, it's deliriously engaging; at every point monolithically static, yet teeming with energy, it's almost textbook perfect in its evocation of Kosmiche Music's most fractal sides. "The Quaking Mess" gives more breathing space to Mark McGuire's guitars, which he strings together in delay-drenched loops of bulbous, bobbing notes, before pealing a lackadaisical, melancholy melody from the instrument. Floating around John Elliott's and Steve Hauschildt's electronics, the guitars make for lovely counterpoint to the magnesium, light-fitting buzz of the synth drones. It's incredibly simple music, yet pregnant with possibilities, as though the trio's near-oxymoronic meditative hyper-awareness could birth new galaxies of tone and timbre from their rudimentary kit and historical consciousness. Beautifully recorded, bathed in the warm glow and singe of righteous circuitry, Solar Bridge is a shoe-in for my favourites of the year.

Bundling together four albums released by Wolfgang Voigt's GAS alias between 1995 to 2000, Nah Und Fern is public service at its most benign: possibly the most significant body of work in electronic music during the second half of the 1990s returned to life, after years of eBay auction action. Originally released on Mille Plateaux, and out of official circulation since that label went bust earlier this decade, the reputation of these GAS records has steadily increased, largely I suspect due to the combination of their influence (they can be heard through plenty of current ambient and drone-based electronica) and their singularity: no-one's come close to touching their peculiar character.
Voigt's always been one for conceptualising his output, from the steady stream of Studio 1 and Freiland minimal techno singles he released in the 1990s, through the populist mechanics of Love Inc, the experimental techno on his (just resurrected) Profan imprint, the weekly Kreisel singles from 1999, and beyond. At a certain point, he must have realised everything needed to "fit", needed its concept – one wonders if this was his eventual undoing, given his relative silence between the release of GAS's final instalment Pop in 2000, and his recent reappearance on the scene during 2007 and 2008. But he's also obviously learnt that conceptualising streak from Detroit techno, and if Voigt's fondness for schematics reminds of anyone, it's Richie Hawtin's Concept series (the two were peers), and Underground Resistance's X-102, X-103, Jeff Mills and Robert Hood's Waveform Transmissions, and so on.
Underground Resistance combined a kind of abstract militancy (in Simon Reynolds's words) with exploration of racial politics, the history of military development, and a decidedly astral/galactic bent; like Sun Ra before them, they were after outer-spatial realignment. In comparison, Voigt's reductionism is telling, both of his own interests and of this strand of German techno. His desire to boil down the character of German music (Wagner, Berg, schlager..) to find an "essence" of "German soul" had him against the wall in the 90s from left-wing German journalists. In one interview from the 1990s, Voigt claimed his music had "nothing to do with politics", and while that's a bit hard to fully get behind, listening back to the music collected on Nah Und Fern ("Near and Far") you're reminded that there was something magical – and possibly post-political – to Voigt's distillation process, his alchemic touch.
Having said that, it's hard for an alchemist to leave well alone. Anyone familiar with the first GAS album will be surprised by Voigt's decision to replace the first and third tracks with different recordings. These shift the album's overarching mood closer to its companions, which allows for greater conceptual and sonic consistency. But I can't help but feel GAS should have played out unaltered, as there was clearly a moment of clarity reached somewhere between 1996's GAS and 1999's Königsforst, a trajectory only fully traceable with the historicising context of an unchanged GAS. On the original GAS, some of the tracks are closer to the concussive minimal techno Voigt was styling as Grungerman or M:I:5, where loops ran amok across each other, their points of return wildly out of sync, such that the four-to-the-floor downbeat felt arbitrary, with waves of noise, drone, clatter and skip pulsing away in 6/8, 5/4, and other, far less measurable patterns. This made for bracingly disorienting listening, a kind of defrocked techno.
While there are traces of this approach through all the GAS albums, by Königsforst Voigt had nailed his raison d'être. The alchemising process he was undertaking, borrowing from German classical music and simmering these samples down to their very essence, was at its peak here, and the music reflects this: Alpine quiescence, wintry discontent, great thickets of string drone, rushing puffs and gusts of grey noise, sometimes hinged to an unrelenting, somehow dampened 4/4 pulse. The second album, Zauberberg (appearing here with an extended penultimate track) features the odd block of sound that feels a little under-utilised, but by Königsforst, everything fits. Immersive and endlessly drowsy, it's at times almost uncomfortable listening – so vast it's inhuman, so dense it's impenetrable, its climate simultaneously stuffy-humid and snap-freeze chilling.
But listening back to all four records, I'm reminded that it was always the final instalment, Pop, that I returned to the most. It's not just because the opening few tracks break forth like spring morning: dewy-eyed, misty, wind hissing through flora, with soft white noise gushing like water, they're welcoming where Zauberberg (for example) can be a bit intractable. If GAS is indeed about distillation and alchemy, Pop is where you catch the result, the transmutation of lead into gold. It's no surprise the original cover for Pop was brilliant and multi-hued, where its predecessors were dark and dim. Here you're shot out into the light, and even though Pop's final two tracks turn to look back at the chillier climes of its companions, the overarching mood of the record is one of redemption. In its inhabitable ease, it reminds me of the first Aphex Twin album, Seefeel's Quique, or Bark Psychosis's "Pendulum Man".
None of this should imply the entirety of Nah Und Fern isn't 100% gratifying. I can think of few bodies of work from the past fifteen years that have given me such unending, rejuvenating pleasure. But it would be nice to see a companion piece released some time soon, compiling GAS compilation contributions like "Klang" (from Profan), "Heller" (from In Memoriam: Gilles Deleuze), "Oktav" (from Modulation & Transformation 4), the "Modern" (Profan) and "Oktember" (Mille Plateaux) singles, the absolutely breathtaking remix of Markus Guentner's "Regensburg", those missing cuts from GAS, and the vinyl-exclusive track from Königsforst. Wasn't there also a contribution to one of those EMiT compilations? Just to make the whole thing complete, you know, for us Voigt-heads. Even without that, though, Nah Und Fern is monumental, a reminder of what Voigt was capable of when working at his peak.

Giuseppe Ielasi
Claudio Rocchetti
Die Schachtel
Two more shots from the Italian underground, both artists part of the 3/4 Had Been Eliminated crew, with Rocchetti directly involved in 3/4HBE and Ielasi one of the scene's key figures and collaborators. Each of the players in the 3/4HBE orbit has an individual voice, but they're linked by an approach to rock that's distinctly "meta-", to the point where the rock's often an ideological outline rather than generic foundation. Post-rock from the 1990s, particularly the American variant, talked a good talk but never really came through with the goods, misreading polymath creativity as license to go fusion, but these Italian artists make good on post-rock's failed promises. There are no Mogwai or Tortoise clones in this collective, for which we should be eternally grateful.
Ielasi's recent string of solo albums, starting with Plans (Sedimental), followed by a series of sides for Häpna and recently topped by August (12K), made for gorgeous music that was refined and eloquent, yet at times deliriously woozy. Ielasi was in the process of constructing his own universe, one where guitars float weightless through scrums of noise, wood-and-wire drones and lurching turntablism. With Stunt, the first in a trilogy of 12" EPs for Schoolmap, Ielasi focuses on the turntable, in the process moving his practice closer to the techno/house/dub of figures like Pole, something reinforced by Rashad Becker's presence on the cut (Dubplates & Mastering are the go-to people for heavy bass weight in Berlin). Ielasi dials through micro-edits of his record collection, weaving them together in clattering stitch-symphonies that recall Canadian micro-sampling house merchant Akufen; indeed, the real surprise in Stunt is how it unexpectedly links Ielasi with a continuum of modern cut'n'pasters, headed by Todd Edwards, whose intricate carve-ups dance samples across your skin like knitting needles tapping on kitchen sinks. Ielasi's not particularly focused on forward motion, though, and the sideways logic of his editing, splitting audio material down the middle and threading it across blurry dronology or compulsively quaking glitch-work, drops Stunt in some weird zone that's indirectly linked to so much that's good regarding re-threaded musical material: Plunderphonics, remixology, clicks'n'cuts, but also musique concrete, and the outer reaches of dub. Maybe it's just the shock of the new, but this is my favourite Ielasi record since Plans, and like that album, its obsessive detailing doesn't over-egg things.
Rocchetti's disc is far less surprising, consisting as it does of slow drone constructions and edgy tape-edited non-rock in the now-patented Italian style. Which is not to say it's disappointing or anything, more that if you have any historical grasp on what these people are up to, you'll not have to stretch your thinking to figure Another Piece Of Teenage Wildlife into any mental maps you may be working on. Rocchetti leans on loops to propel his compositions, but the recording quality (simultaneously crystal clear and deeply dub) blurs their edges, so these pieces never fall foul of predictability; you can tell the beginning and end points, but they interweave gracefully, building quite monolithic constructs of drone action at times. It's lovely, laminar stuff, and possessed of an uncommon beauty that reminds me a little of what C-Schulz and Hajsch were up to last decade. Massimo Carozzi's guest credit for "ghost electronics" makes sense, too: Another Piece Of Teenage Wildlife often adopts an aesthetics of disappearance. This can be found both within the pieces and the artist's character – Rocchetti disappears behind his gorgeously maintained chamber drones, curlicues of female vox (from Madame P and Margareth Kammerer), field recordings, waterlogged piano, etc. It's a beautifully organised and recorded album, and one of the secret highlights in this particularly fertile phase of post-This Heat, liminal rock aesthetics.–JD

Zbigniew Karkowski / Lin Zhiying
There's a moment in Frank Zappa's "The Central Scrutinizer" on Joe's Garage Act 1 where "cruel and inhuman punishments" are being prepared for those who will dare to continue making music. Those adjectives nicely describe the sonic matter contained on Switch, articulated (sort of) through two long pieces where Karkowski and Zhiying give the green light to the forces of evil. In the first part we're immediately assaulted by radical distortion and snippets of "regular sounds" triturated, chewed, spat out and redeployed according to a "survival of the fittest ear" law. But if you wear headphones something changes: the impressive mass of guerrilla violence reveals a surprising inner logic, a game of hidden sequences and bubbling combustibility. If Iannis Xenakis had promised his soul to Merzbow at the crossroads, this could have been the result. The second half starts a little less vehemently, alternating discharges of white noise and pulsating electrostatic throbs and, on the whole, shows more dynamic shaping of the fruits of dismemberment. Don't look for neighbourliness, though – the attitude remains scathing, the composers' fortress of cynicism absolutely inviolable, the record ending in the same sneering coldness. Testing membranes and nervous resistance alike, this CD is the definitive repellent for the insects buzzing around the mellifluous syrup of Easy Listening. It remains to be seen if it can enhance the functional mechanisms of the brain or it's just another step towards well-deserved mental and social isolation. –MR

Stephan Mathieu
Die Schachtel
My father was a shortwave radio fanatic: I remember seeing the SW radios set up in his self-constructed tin-shed workshop down in our backyard, and thinking they looked somehow eerie – magical appliances that yielded their secrets slowly and patiently. Of course, I had no idea what he was really doing with those radios, beyond the bleedingly obvious (uh, listening to them); what was the purpose of his obsession? I'd say it was partly in their construction and their wiring, but I always wondered about the audio outcome, what you'd end up hearing. Shortwave radio always makes me think of channelling, as though the SW enthusiast is a conduit for the world's knowledge: figures on the margins tapping into international broadcasts, they act as lonely receptors, the radio a strangely de-personalised, or maybe de-personalising, connection with the outside world. With Radioland, Stephan Mathieu has snatched those signals from the air, processed them in real time and corralled them into seven compositions of misty, mysterious beauty, an unashamedly gorgeous music that transfigures everyday materials into glorious stuff: clouds of gold-spun tones, gusts of air puffing between the headphones, the eternal ringing of the tuning fork of the universe.
In its somewhat contradictory humble grandeur, Radioland recalls Wolfgang Voigt's GAS project, uncovering some primordial or primeval audio heartbeat, or an ancient strand of DNA. Like GAS, Radioland has no recourse to melody, little reliance on traditional dynamics, rather focusing in on an ever unfurling now; it's remarkably present. I guess there's a lot of drone music out there, whatever its origins, but plenty of it dates quickly. I can't see that happening with Radioland – rather unlike Mathieu's earlier frequencyLib which was very much of its time, particularly in its references to consumer electronics. Ultimately, Radioland's key concerns aren't its sources (radio and processing) but rather its effects – sehnsucht, the indefinable taste of memory, pastoral melancholy – a shift in focus that serves Mathieu's growing compositional confidence exceptionally well.

Rick Reed
Elevator Bath
Jim Haynes
Elevator Bath
Rick Reed's music has an ineluctability that renders it instantly indispensable, a necessary reminder of the place where we all come from, known by no-one, probably non-existent. No surprise then that these tracks were originally conceived as soundtracks to visuals, by Ken Jacobs and Fred Worden respectively, for giving sonic abstraction a pictorial element can be a method of exorcising remote fears while coming to terms with our infinite ignorance, only heightened by our presumption of being "superior". The first of these two transcendental enigmas generated, according to the press release, by an EMS Synthi A, a couple of sine wave generators and a shortwave radio, "Dreamz" is built upon a series of wavering drones whose resonant allure acts on the psyche like a snake charming its charmer; convinced we've grasped what's going on after a few minutes, we're sucked in by a vortex of inexplicable doubts, sounds suggesting an amalgam of darkness and luminescence rather than physical phenomena. "Blue Polz" starts like an advanced scientific investigation of synthesized emissions, but things calm down with the introduction of suspended electronic tones, even if the stability still contains a good measure of mystery. The occasional vinyl pop 'n' crackle – it's a limited edition (260) picture disc, folks – is the only drawback; otherwise, gorgeous stuff all the way.
Jim Haynes' Eraldus/Eravaldus is also a picture disc adorned with the author's treated photographs. Haynes' penchant for "rusting things" is once again commendably evident in music derived from a series of field recordings, "agitated objects and amplified spaces". Words of praise are pointless when dealing with aural art of such subtlety and sensitivity; this is for connoisseurs. Unlikely to cause an instant enthusiastic reaction, it implants its memory-carving cells little by little, until the listener is progressively swallowed up in shades of husky bewitchment. The mixture of resounding metallic aura and rumbling menace is a trademark of this San Francisco-based soundscaper, who camouflages any sentimental implications under a muddy crust of impenetrability and makes but extremely rare concessions to hallucinatory expressivity. But Haynes is modifying concrete sounds – his sources include, amongst other things, a lighthouse, wind-whipped high tension wires and a pile of sand – and their textures remain palpable throughout, leaving a sonic residue like the white-salt patina that sticks on the skin when sea-water has dried. A scarcely visible stimulus that nevertheless makes us feel alive and willing to resume fighting while everything else seems to crumble. No apparent earthly future, an inestimable sheen waiting for our awareness. Somewhere.–MR

Janek Schaefer
Men are basically helpless when it comes to putting pen to paper to convey their deepest feelings, and when trying to do so the consequences are preposterously light – and trite. Fortunately, sounds exist as a vibrational account of what moves inside our corporeal unit and – especially – our memory, that hard disk that decides whether grief or glee underscores each moment of our existence. Janek Schaefer ranks high among the "memory specialists" who in recent years have endeavoured to set into music our quest for framing reminiscences (I'm also thinking of William Basinski and Philip Jeck), with a body of work showing consistency and skill. After the arrival of his daughter Scarlett in 2005, Schaefer, weighing that event against the circumstances of his mother's birth in Warsaw in 1942 smack dab in the middle of World War II, was struck by the awareness of "how lucky we all are", and devised an installation to celebrate "hope and new beginnings, for child survivors in all situations around the world." The musical component of the work was based on a phrase extracted from the popular Polish song "Tango Lyczakowskie", which was broadcast by the BBC World Service on the day Schaefer's mother was born (it was one of the many songs used in the "Jodoform" system of secret musical messages during the war). With the help of arranger Michael Jennings, Schaefer wrote a ten-minute piece that was recorded by, respectively, violin, cello and piano onto dubplates which were played in the installation by modified "retro" decks that stopped and started according to the movement of the spectators in the space, producing unexpected glissandos. In the first three tracks on the album these instruments are heard individually, playing extremely simple and painfully slow airs – one also detects the mechanisms of the machines at work and the dirt on the vinyl – not particularly poignant though definitely not cheery. Everything clicks in the long fourth part, when the elements are brought together; I swear that the sorrow is almost tangible in a piece that's easily on a par with the Gavin Bryars's most painfully introspective works. It's a stunning track, worth the price of the whole disc, which is appropriately enough brought to a conclusion by the original version of "Tango Lyczakowskie", more or less garbled amidst the characteristic noise of a 1940s radio.–MR

Riccardo Dillon Wanke
Although currently based in Lisbon, Riccardo Dillon Wanke is a young artist from Italy (born in Genoa, resident in Milan from 1982 to 2005). A multi-instrumentalist – piano, sax and guitar – he started composing experimental music in 2000, collaborating with, amongst others, Giuseppe Ielasi, Stefano Pilia, David Maranha and Margarida Garcia. Caves is his second recording after Medves (Fringes), and its five tracks are (it says here) centered on exploring "binaural beats in musical composition", which in practice is more like an out-and-out analysis (not excessively deep, perhaps) of the physical and emotional resonances generated by the juxtaposition of minimal elements. Wanke uses acoustic and electric guitars, saxophones and natural sounds, extrapolating a crumb of each source's essence and offering it to the god of processing: a piece might start as a single-note repetition morphing into a Lucier-like juxtaposition of upper partials ("E") or involve successions and superimpositions of looped materials ("Jest"). Despite the clarity of the design, it all functions sporadically at best, the reason being a too obvious simplicity of selected constituents, which the press release tries to sell as "folk sensitivity" but to my grizzled ears sound too snug and warm. The best moments here, on the other hand, call up that sense of quasi-disbelief we feel when confronting an unknown sonic feature that nonetheless seems strangely familiar – the splendid whooshing drone in "Old Man" is a fitting example. When music like this materializes from scarcely recognizable colours the CD becomes much more interesting. Though not a masterpiece by any means, Caves contains several intuitions that leave us waiting for future developments. –MR

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