YULE 2008 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, Jason Kahn, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

The Library of Babel
Norbert Möslang: Cracked Everyday
In Concert:
Psychedel-yah Festival, CAPC Bordeaux
On Barnyard:
Barnyard Drama, Jean Martin, Colin Fisher, Evan Shaw, Justin Haynes, Lori Freedman, Scott Thomson / Blah Blah 666 / Anthony Braxton & Kyle Brenders
In Print:
Craig Shepard
On DVD: Joëlle Léandre / Elliott Sharp
Choi, Hong, Sachiko & Otomo / Charles Gayle / Frode Gjerstad / Malcolm Goldstein & Matthias Kaul / Mats Gustafsson / Mary Halvorson / Peggy Lee / Jim McAuley
Regenorchester XII / Keith Rowe & Seymour Wright / Shoup, Corsano & Flaherty / Chris Speed, Chris Cheek & Stephan Furic Leibovici / Sun Ra / Steve Swell / Toot / Rafael Toral / Trio Sowari / Ute Völker & Angelika Sheridan / Jacob Wick & Andrew Greenwald
Mark Applebaum / John Hudak / Kernel / Iannis Xenakis / Zeitkratzer & Carsten Nicolai
Alan Courtis / DJ Olive / Fennesz / Illusion of Safety, Burke & Dimuzio / Junko, Henritzi, Mattin / Joel Stern
Last month


Nick Cain, in a typically entertaining if slightly snarky Outer Limits roundup review in November's Wire, began his review of Lucio Capece and Sergio Merce's Casa on Kostis Kilymis' Organized Music From Thessaloniki label with "for the 150 people worldwide who still care about electroacoustic improvisation (EAI).." Not sure what irks me most about that: the "150 people worldwide" (surely there a few more of us than that, Nick included – let's wait to see how many of the "I'm One Of The 150" T-shirts Kilymis is printing up are left a year from now) or the "still", as if hundreds of EAI enthusiasts have now given up on the genre and drifted off into the dreamy pastures or laptopia or returned to the hustle and bustle of "old school" improv. As (I hope) this latest issue of PT will demonstrate, "much remains to be heard" (to quote Stéphane Rives), not only in EAI, but in the other "niche markets" this e-zine attempts to cover. Special thanks this month go out to Tony Herrington at The Wire, for allowing me to reprint an article originally commissioned for November's "Unofficial Channels" feature; to Jason Kahn, for letting me use the original English version of his article on Norbert Möslang that has just appeared (in French) in Jérôme Noetinger's Revue & Corrigée; to Maxime Guitton for inviting me to a windswept and rainlashed Bordeaux at the end of last month to cover a festival of psychedelic music (no, I don't know what it is either) he was curating there; and of course to our regular contributors and our eagle-eyed editor Nate Dorward. Bonne lecture et bonne année 2009.-DW

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The Library of Babel
August 1979, Harold Moores Records, Soho, London. Fingers sore and caked with grime after hours' thumbing through racks of dusty vinyl, I find my copy of Stockhausen's Telemusik / Mixtur, the climax of an orgiastic day of record buying. Now, in less time than it takes to remove that LP from its (truly hideous) cover, a quick Google, a couple of clicks and the music I spent three years hunting for and a small fortune acquiring is flying through cyberspace to the hard drive. Sure, as any vinyl junkie will tell you, a download, however lame or lossless it might be, is not the same thing – but only madmen and millionaires collect rare vinyl today. Why spend months scouring fleamarkets for a mint condition Geechee Recollections when you can hoover up a dozen Marion Browns in less than half an hour (I did)? But having done so, do you take the time to convert the file, burn the disc and stick it into a shiny new jewelbox with a high-res print of the album cover and a copy of the original booklet? After all, once they're on your machine, those mp3s have a nasty habit of disappearing.
So, sadly, do record labels. Downloading is having quite an impact on the record industry, especially small, dedicated imprints which care enough about OOP avant-garde music to reissue it in properly mastered limited editions with elegant packaging and well-researched liners. The doyen of reissue labels, Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, has been pretty quiet lately, but at least it's still a going concern, unlike Meidad Zaharia's Mio imprint, which, after several handsome slabs of vintage French prog weirdery by the likes of Philippe Besombes, Jean-Jacques Birgé and Jean Cohen-Solal dropped out of sight just when Zaharia was optioning the rights for the 1976 Berrocal / Tusques rarity Opération Rhino. Don't fret: you can get it if you want it, for £99 on eBay, or free as a download – I found it in fifteen seconds flat. The sound quality's a bit duff, but I'm £99 in pocket and digging the music.
Similarly, if you're prepared to put up with a bit of snap crackle and pop, why shell out a three-figure sum for the Mosaic Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton, when the albums it contains are already available as free downloads? Skip the question of whether it's morally right to stick something on a blog when it's technically back in print. One feels no qualms about downloading things that are long unavailable and show no sign of reappearing – the Giorno Poetry Systems LPs over at Ubuweb, the ICP back catalogue, Radu Malfatti's FMPs with Stephan Wittwer, neither of which Radu is ever likely to reissue – but how many of us can put hands on hearts and swear they've never downloaded things for free they could just as easily have bought with as many clicks over at Amazon? Not I. Nuff said. Move on.
The implications of all this are more far-reaching, and go way beyond simple P&L. Downloading ultimately calls into question the time-honoured idea that education is about the transmission of important information from Those Who Know (to quote Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow) to Those Who Don't, the idea of knowledge as something painstakingly acquired through a long process of apprenticeship and research. The legions of bloggers who spend their free time digitizing and uploading rare platters for public consumption aren't so much Those Who Know as Those Who Have. And having isn't the same as knowing. Professors of Musicology and Wire journalists alike love to chart out linear paths through history like the opening of Matthew 1 – Brahms begat Schoenberg begat Webern begat Boulez etc. – but the bright red threads they've left us to find our way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth are being tangled up in the ones and zeros of cyberspace. Music history as we once knew it is unravelling. Rhizomes are in, roots and branches are out, and nobody needs Those Who Know sitting at the top of the tree anymore.
Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs, like John Zorn before them, became poster boys for the avant-garde not only because of the originality and diversity of their own music but because of their unbridled enthusiasm for long OOP albums by the likes of Arnold Dreyblatt, Folke Rabe and Mayo Thompson, which they shepherded back into circulation on their now defunct Drag City subsidiary Dexter's Cigar, and later individually on Moikai and Blue Chopsticks. In the past couple of years though both Grubbs and O'Rourke have moved out of the limelight a little, and nobody seems to have emerged to take their place and tell us what to rush out and buy next.
But the number of people who rushed out and bought Thomas Lehn and Ray Russell because Jim raved about them pales into insignificance compared to the hordes of mad completists who've tried to track down music by anyone on the infamous list of alt.music oddballs that accompanied the first Nurse With Wound album, Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella. The Nurse List immediately established NWW's Steve Stapleton as one of Those Who Know, and it's been keeping collectors of weird music busy and broke for over a quarter of a century. Not anymore though, since much of it is now available for free download. Now we all know, or think we do. With our little laptops we can all be composers (being able to read music doesn't matter anymore), critics (why pay journalists to research and write reviews when we can stick up our enthusiastic knee-jerk reactions for free?) and DJs, ripping and posting those oldies, goodies and weirdies for our personalised mixtapes. In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 Megabytes. Or, as Syndrome says to Mr. Incredible, "everyone can be superheroes. And when everyone's super, no one will be."
The world of downloading is a world of crazed bulimia. A good friend whose collection already includes several thousand free jazz rareties (including the complete Brötzmann and the complete Braxton – quite a feat) still downloads everything in sight, "for the hell of it." Not that I can talk, with 12 Gigabytes of unheard mp3s languishing on the hard drive. But I do know the joy of unearthing not one but fifty buried treasures soon gives way to feelings of inadequacy and frustration, as you realise you'll never be able to listen to everything out there. If Pascal were writing today, he wouldn't be terrified by "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces," but by the eternal noise. Perhaps my old Cambridge professor Alexander Goehr was right after all when he groaned about there being "simply too much music." The French Bibliothèque Nationale that Alain Resnais affectionately portrayed in his 1956 short film Toute la mémoire du monde is rapidly becoming Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel.–DW

[This article was originally commissioned for inclusion in
The Wire #297, November 2008, and is reprinted here with permission - see Editorial above]

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Norbert Möslang: Cracked Everyday
"All of life consists of vibrations, and all of these relate to particular resonances. There are light waves, sound waves, microwaves... In this context you can start to combine things and, for example, use a radio as resonator for the waves from a remote control. And if it maybe doesn't work, then you just have to go on changing the frequencies and looking for connections until you've cracked it."—Norbert Möslang
Crash the System
For over thirty years Norbert Möslang, both alone and in his groundbreaking work with Andy Guhl in the legendary Voice Crack, has been forging a path through performance, audio recordings, room installations, public works, multiples, photography and video. His work revels in disruption, error and chaotic systems designed to teeter on the edge of utter destruction and revelation.
Born in 1952 in the Swiss city of St. Gallen, Möslang began playing the recorder at the age of seven in school. After a year, he was asked to join the accordion orchestra but soon quit when the instructor forced everyone to march around the classroom while playing. Undeterred, he went on to play harmonium and take piano lessons. By sixteen he was sitting in on piano with local pop and swing bands. He bought his first soprano saxophone at seventeen and taught himself to play, forming a free improvising duo with a local drummer in 1969.
Möslang first met Andy Guhl in 1972 at a rehearsal with a St. Gallen rock band. Guhl had dropped by to hear Möslang jam. The two struck up a friendship and soon thereafter started playing together, with Guhl on contrabass and Möslang on soprano saxophone. By 1973 they had given their first concert with a trumpeter in St. Gallen. The two continued working together as a duo and in 1977 found themselves performing at the prestigious Total Music Meeting in Berlin, the epicenter at that time of free improvised music in Europe.
Released on the Free Music Production label in 1977, Deep Voices became Möslang and Guhl's first entry into the annals of music history. Though sounding very much like an artifact of its time, repeated listens reveal the two already developing their own particular musical language, a dialog which in many ways reveals their music in the years to come, even when they had long since discarded all acoustic instruments. In addition to the use of "home made instruments", Deep Voices gives another hint at the duo's future with the presence on stage of a lone cassette deck—needless to say, this was not there to record the concert, but to inject a bit of good-natured malfunctioning into the proceedings with, as Guhl explained in a later interview, "electro acoustic studies" running parallel to the music. Even today, Deep Voices still sounds fresh, like free jazz beamed in from an alternate universe.
Möslang and Guhl stayed in this mode of operation for Brissugo, the debut cassette release on their Uhlang Produktion imprint in 1980, and Knack On, a live recording from Innsbruck, Austria, released on Uhlklang in 1982. Knack On documents the duo's first real departure from acoustic instruments towards what would later become "cracked everyday electronics." The sound is raw and brutal, with shards of radio static, white noise bursts and tearing metal colliding against absolute screeching saxophone mayhem.
To Make Movement Audible
Two performances held in the context of the burgeoning underground St. Gallen art scene of the early 1980's corroborated Möslang and Guhl's intent to move their sound investigations beyond the confines of the concert environment. In 1983 at the Szene, St. Gallen they exhibited their first room installation, Lokalstradio, in which an array of radios placed on turntables distributed around a transmitter create an oscillating feedback system, phasing in and out of itself with the spinning turntables. In the same year they staged Werkstatt Eisen at the Grabenhalle, St. Gallen, taking a more actionist approach to the idea of a room installation with a dozen people banging away on scrap metal. A recording of this performance became the second cassette release on Uhlang Produktion.
Around this time Möslang began performing solo, developing a feedback system for soprano saxophone, transmitter and radio. By hanging a radio to the bottom of his saxophone and attaching one pole of the transmitter's antenna to the body of the sax and one pole to his right hand, he could manipulate feedback from the radio by the moving saxophone and using his body to determine the sensitivity of the antenna. This proved to be a prototype for Möslang's later work, where body movement modulated magnetic and infrared fields of vibration, setting in motion audio and visual processes.
Voice Crack
1984 saw the release of Voice Crack and the first instance of "cracked everyday electronics" explicitly stated as the duo's choice of instrumentation. Starting with a lone static pop sounding like a pistol going off in some abandoned warehouse, Voice Crack blurs the lines between room installation and concert. Recorded on March 23rd, 1984 at the Gallery Corinne Hummel, Basel, this record documents the duo's first performance with "cracked everyday electronics" and evokes at times a version of David Tudor's Rainforest gone terribly awry. Although recorded in a concert setting, the intent of the performance resembles more the installation Lokalstradio in that a system of interacting objects and fields of interfering magnetic and infrared vibrations gets initiated, only to be abandoned to generate itself in ever-varying patterns. At some point the duo leave the performance area and let their instruments run themselves. Voice Crack sounds very much like an old factory slowly taking itself apart, with components falling away, fuses shorting out, random sputtering hums and static, the sound of an electro-mechanical entity slowly fading into rubble and dust. The performance ends when the duo pull the power.
In many ways the sensibility behind this performance owes much to Dziga Vertov's film Man with the Movie Camera, to which in 1983 Möslang and Guhl first performed a live soundtrack in the Kraftwerkzentrale Kubel, an abandoned power station in St. Gallen. Vertov's credo was to record "life at it is" without theatrical subterfuge, as life might be without the camera present. Vertov's aesthetic influenced other artists living in St. Gallen at this time, including the film maker Peter Liechti, with whom Möslang and Guhl created a soundtrack to Liechti's 1985 film Senkrecht Waagrecht, and the visual artist Roman Signer, whose 1985 performance Ereignisse von und mit in the Grabenhalle, St. Gallen also included the duo.
To Crack the Code
Möslang and Guhl's work involved not only cracking the code or intended function of everyday electronic devices. As the Swiss art critic Ralph Hug observed: "The code of the seemingly autonomous action of a system's individual elements becomes subsumed by the network, forming together to create a new aggregate." This applied especially to the duo's concerts, where the musicians themselves, the individual machines, circuits and even waves of sound and light, gradually lost their individual identities to form a new pulsating entity. Another example of this was the 1985 performance Radio Laboratorium, where the public was invited to bring their own radios and tune in to transmitters placed on four tables distributed around the Grabenhalle, St. Gallen. Dictaphones and other appliances sent inaudible audio signals which could only be detected by tuning into the frequency from each transmitter. Tuning into the correct frequencies precipitated screeching feedback from the radios. The performance was documented on the cassette Radio Laboratorium, the fourth release on Uhlang Produktion.
During Möslang and Guhl's first tour of the United States in 1986, several concert venues announced them as "Voice Crack" and the name stuck. The self-released Kick That Habit, recorded in concert on May 31, 1986 in Birmingham, Alabama, captured the duo in full swing. Hearing this record it is no wonder that Möslang had been unceremoniously fired from the King Übü Örchestrü in 1986, his last gig as a wind player. 1986 also saw him completely abandoning conventional instruments. He recalled, "I found my saxophone and bass clarinet playing increasingly less stimulating. Electronic sounds were more compelling and the idea of working with movement and visual elements more interesting. Being fired from the King Übü Örchestrü, where one was meant to play very little, and that very quietly, also played a role in my move away from wind instruments and this particular world of improvised music."
Kick That Habit was anything but quiet or sparse. An epiphany in noise, the record sounds like a joyous rejection of all the musical shackles imposed on the duo by an increasingly anachronistic and reactionary European improvised music scene. The record kicks out the jams in such an uncompromising and confrontational way that it should come as no surprise that the duo could barely find places to play back home. As Jim O'Rourke would later write in the liner notes to a re-release of Knack On, "Any thought of them playing at Total Music Meeting was about as rational as a Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion."
Acute Noises
1987 began with a performance of Draht, a piece for 20 metres of amplified steel wire strung across the length of the Grabbenhalle, St. Gallen. Played by Möslang and Guhl with sticks, violin bows, metal objects and their bare hands, the piece evoked the spirit of a raw electronic music, subsuming the performance space with shrieks, moans and interfering frequencies. Draht dates back to 1980 and was one of the duo's longest running performances, still being played until 1989. Verlag Vexer, an arts publishing house in St. Gallen, documented the 1987 performance as a cassette with accompanying booklet. In light of Draht, it is interesting to note that Möslang has worked as a violin builder since 1974.
In 1988 Voice Crack embarked on their second tour of the United States, stopping in New York City to record with free noise pioneers Borbetomagus, playing at that time in an expanded line-up with bassist Adam Nodelman. Entitled Fish That Sparkling Bubble, the recording goes beyond the sonic excesses of Kick That Habit. It is hard to imagine a recording studio being able to contain the ear-splitting volume and density of sound. Borbetomagus and Voice Crack first played together in 1984 at a concert organized by Möslang in St. Gallen. Listening to Fish That Sparkling Bubble it is clear that, in their own ways, both groups had followed a similar trajectory. Voice Crack and Borbetomagus were made for each other and Fish That Sparkling Bubble documents the two groups celebrating this realization.
The Red That Screams
1989 proved to be a watershed year for Möslang and Guhl. The premier of Peter Liechti's documentary film Kick That Habit, with Voice Crack as the main instigators, brought the duo much exposure and critical acclaim. Liechti's achingly beautiful film finds poetry in the seemingly mundane of everyday life and the bizarre in ordinary Swiss landscapes. A cameo appearance by Liecthi, hacking a chair to bits with an ax, is just one of the many scenes in the film which belie the cliché of an idyllic Heidiland.
Percussionist Knut Remond, a friend of Möslang and Guhl's from St. Gallen, came into the Voice Crack fold, recording the sessions for 1990's Ear Flash. This record marks a distinctively more refined sound for the group. Greater definition and separation of the individual instruments has replaced the earlier recordings' wall-of-sound aesthetic. Remond would remain with the group through 1994, recording on two more Voice Crack- Borbetomagus collaborations: Asbestos Shake, released in 1991, and Concerto for Cracked Everyday Electronics and Chamber Orchestra released in 1994 and recorded at, of all places, the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City.
The duo also stepped up their art activity, initiating a series of multiples with Krachbox (1990) for Edition Kunsthalle St. Gallen, and Radio Korrigiert (1991), Platinen (1992) and 2 Speakers Drumset Operiert (1992), all for Vexer Verlag, St. Gallen. They also managed to exhibit two new room installations, Wellenbad (1989) in the Kunsthalle, St. Gallen and Kiff That Habit—Crack That Code (1992) in the Kunstraum, Aarau.
Perhaps the most interesting collaboration from this period was A Hole in the Hat, a 1991 performance with Nam Jun Paik at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen. Set against a wall of televisions showing a Joseph Beuys performance, Paik played piano and conducted Möslang and Guhl as they modulated a short wave radio with toy car remote controllers.
By 1996 Möslang and Guhl began to record with European improvisers again, since then producing a long string of collaborations which would exceed the scope of this article to discuss. Several factors contributed to their return to the European stage, the most important being a renewed interest in electronic music by a younger generation of listeners and musicians, including one Jim O'Rourke, whom Möslang first met when he organized a concert in St. Gallen for Illusion of Safety in 1992. O'Rourke not only performed and recorded with the duo but vigorously promoted their work, re-releasing Earflash on his Dexter's Cigar imprint in 1996. The 1996 For 4 Ears CD Table Chair and Hatstand, with O'Rourke and Günter Müller, found the duo playing in a quieter, yet not necessarily more restrained mode. Another recording that same year from one of Butch Morris' conduction performances, Cond. #70 TIT for TAT provided further proof that Möslang and Guhl were brilliant improvisers.
Parallel to their packed performance and recording schedules the duo exhibited in 1995 alone the works Aetherfetzen, Loop 1, Surfing Songbirds, Ballchannel and Loop 2. Incredibly, they also found time to record a new Voice Crack CD in 1997, Below Beyond Above. With cover artwork from their long-time friend and collaborator Alex Hanimann, Below Beyond Above marks the final phase of the duo's musical development. The studio had become a tool in and of itself, with all instruments recorded to multi-track and the resulting sound files later edited and re-assembled to create six tracks built around loops phasing in and out of sync, random bursts of static, pops and bangs pre-empting the surfacing structures.
The 1998 MP3 release Taken and Changed on the fals.ch internet label resulted in two tracks, "Yellow Cube" and "Orange Ashlar." The trademark Voice Crack "knack" is there but completely honed down to the essence of the sounds themselves, almost as if the duo were trying to penetrate to the very heart of their machines' circuits and diodes.
Wireless Fantasy
Released in 1999, the duo's last full-length CD Infrared continues where Taken and Changed left off, delving yet deeper into the internal world of interfering wave fields and crackling circuits. One hears the six tracks from inside the machine, looking out through a blinking diode. Taken and Changed also sounded harsher, unlike the follow-up vinyl release shock_late on the Cologne Entenpfuhl label, which favored more discontinuous loops and an almost relaxed sense of ebb and flow. As Frank Dommert of Entenpfuhl wrote in the liner notes, "Embedded in the carefully constructed layers are the duo's trade mark explosive sound events, which seem to have been placed with more delicacy than ever... sounding more like the shadow of some big bang, or like someone shooting into a pillow. Or as if they had dissected an explosion and used only some selected splinters."
Voice Crack's swan song, ballchannel, a seven-inch single released on Meeuw Muzak in 2000, retained only the splinters. Documenting the 1995 room installation of the same name, ballchannel takes the duo full circle back to the long player Voice Crack, the recording of an-installation-as-concert with Möslang and Guhl sitting on the floor of a gallery in Basel surrounded by their whirring appliances and blinking lights sixteen years ago.
In 2001 the duo focused their energies on a major new sound installation commissioned by the 49th Venice Biennial. Using hydrophones to channel the underwater sound world of the Grande Canale into the church of San Stae, sound_shifting results in a portrait of hectic Venice processed by a myriad of underwater acoustics and the church's voluptuous resonance. An accompanying book with CD of sound_shifting included a photo essay as visual adjunct to the sound work. Taken from hours of video footage recorded with an underwater camera placed near a gondola stop on the Grande Canale, the resulting video stills lend a hauntingly elegiac aura to the sound installation.
The 2002 exhibition two + one in the Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland would be Möslang and Guhl's final exhibition together as well as their first each alone. Foreshadowing the duo's impending split, two + one featured the new works glass_speaker (Möslang), readysound (Guhl) and, as if waving goodbye, a collaborative work from 1997, Speed Up. The duo went on to perform a handful of concerts after this, but by the end of 2002 Möslang and Guhl had decided to end their collaboration.
2003 would be a busy year for Möslang. The exhibition Electronic Music Archive at the Neue Kunsthalle, St. Gallen posed the question, "What does electronic music look like?" Curated by Möslang, over fifty musicians and visual artists, including Nicolas Collins, Tina Frank, farmersmanual, Institut für Feinmotorik, Phill Niblock, Pita, Yasunao Tone and David Watson were invited to show in the form of objects, room installations, paintings, drawings, videos, photos and performances their take on electronic music as visual inspiration.
Möslang also showed a new version of his work glass_speaker at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen. Here Möslang transformed the exhibition space into a huge resonating body by affixing transducers to the gallery windows and channeling the sound environment from outside. The windows became powerful loudspeakers, turning the space into an immersive, vibrating sound environment.
As if this all were not enough, Möslang released his first solo recording, distilled, as a three inch CD on Aesova. Broken up into four segments, the twenty-minute composition starts with fields of radio static panning back and forth like tracer bullets in a night sky, gradually permeating and morphing into sounds generations away from their origin. Listed as a "processed live recording" from 2001, distilled illustrates Möslang's first move towards a more digital orientation in his work.
How Does a Bicycle Light Sound?
"But what is the sound of a blinking LED bicycle light—that is, a tool the purpose of which could not be further removed from musical purposes, that instead was designed to increase road traffic safety?" Published in the 2004 Volume 14 of the Leonardo Music Journal, this quote taken from Möslang's short essay How Does a Bicycle Light Sound? concisely states his modus operandi. "For my purposes, the original—visual—function of the tool is irrelevant, which does not mean that it is not interesting. The interaction of light and sound produces countless possible combinations. It is an electronic playground full of linked acoustic and visual elements that can be used, manipulated and re-used as one wishes."
Möslang's 2004 room installation capture, exhibited in Feldkirch, Austria, investigates this nexus of light-becoming-sound with ten amplified fluorescent tubes laid in a group on the floor of the gallery space. Contact microphones attached to the lights amplify their hums, buzzes and clicks and send these sounds through an equalizer to a computer board. Working with a programmer, Möslang devised software to re-work these sounds in a constantly evolving generative system. Two loudspeakers projected the processed sound of the fluorescent lights back into the exhibition space. The piece works on both the auditive and visual levels, with all cables, power cords, open computer board and the lights themselves lending a strong sculptural element to the work, looking as if one had stumbled upon some aborted industrial experiment. Documented on the 2005 Cut CD capture, the audio component of the work is in and of itself a fascinating stand-alone.
The six tracks of Möslang's second solo recording, lat_nc_, released as the 2004 For 4 Ears CD, bubble and slide in a cauldron of dystopic loops and oblique shards of sound. Möslang composed the tracks (which were initially recorded in 2002) with his long-time engineer Pierre Bendel at Zack Studio, St. Gallen. Although now working more in the world of digital processing, Möslang still preferred the focus of re-working and mixing the final tracks in the studio.
Chaotic Actions
Möslang premiered two new visual works during 2005, meta_pix, at the Transit Davos Wintersport, and karaoke_landscape at the Gallery Luciano Fasciati, Chur. As in Möslang's solo recordings, these two new works pursued random processes through digital processing, exploiting software error and data flows. In karaoke_landscape sound input from the gallery modulates the visual processing of a landscape projected onto a computer screen. Like an erratic etch-a-sketch, the picture slowly re-constituted itself in a haze of audio impulses. In "meta_pix" web cams from the Davos department of tourism transmit a stream of mountain images processed by a data flow of weather forecasts from the Swiss avalanche watch. The resulting images depict alpen panoramas distorted by storms of data and transmission errors.
The 2005 composition hashed_hush, a radio production for West Deutscher Rundfunk, presented Möslang moving completely away from cracked everyday electronics and working solely with digitally processed underwater recordings made in the Romanshorner Harbour of Lake Constance. This spellbinding work conjures up the ghosts of early tape music through a haze of digital flotsam and jetsam, the final five minutes surging with clouds of dense full spectrum noise sucking one down the watery depths.

Magnetic Fields
Though still performing concerts with his table of cracked everyday electronics, Möslang's compositions and visual art continued to move further into the realm of the digital. His award winning 2006 room installation get_pic, shown in Switzerland at the Gallery Luciano Fasciati, Chur and the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, implements a stream of web cam shots from different locations in Singapore. Cut and re-sized randomly by software of Möslang's own design, the ensuing images surface in unsettling patterns on four computer monitors placed on the floor of the gallery. As with all of Möslang's work, nothing is hidden: the cables, exposed computers, and the naked LCD screens create a kind of high-tech art brut.
As with hashed_hush, Möslang's fourth CD burst_log, released in 2006 on For 4 Ears, was completely composed from previously recorded sound files—in this case the first three tracks of his 2004 CD lat_nc_. As Möslang wrote, "extensively processed and re-worked," which is putting it mildly. The six tracks shine brilliantly, perhaps like the robotic space craft Swift, as it orbits the earth in the sun's glare, collecting data from gamma ray bursts, for which the CD is named. Rhythm takes a more prominent role on burst_log than on previous recordings. The second track "b1_2_ _7:43," with its 160 bpm four on the floor, glaring bursts of static and a sequencer off on the right channel chattering wildly, would not be out of place on some futuristic dance floor.
Möslang pushed on in 2007, releasing his second CD for Cut, header_change, which used as source material the raw data from Swiss visual artist Silvie Defraoui's video stills, and premiered lightsound, a new room installation for light-modulated greeting card sound chips. Since Voice Crack's demise Möslang has also collaborated either live or in studio with, among many others, Kevin Drumm, Dälek, Günter Müller and Ralf Wehowsky, with whom he has just released Einschlagskrater, a seven-inch single on Meeuw Muzak.
As Möslang once observed, "For the last 20 years, various small electronic tools have been mass produced and thrown onto the market . . . just waiting to be cracked! This is the wreckage of Western civilization, as it were, and the musician is the ethnologist who collects and cracks this wreckage." We will undoubtedly not have to wait long to see and hear what he cracks next.–JK
[This article also appears in the December 2008 issue of Revue & Corrigée, in French translation; thanks to Jérôme Noetinger for agreeing to its publication here in the original English. Thanks to Norbert Möslang for photos. Go to: http://moeslang.com/ - DW]

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Various Artists
Psychedel-yah Festival,
CAPC Bordeaux, France, 28th – 30th November 2008
For most of us the word "psychedelic" – from the Greek "soul," (psyche) and "manifest," (delos), meaning literally "making clear" and "freeing the spirit" – is associated with something visual: it conjures up images of the Glenn McKay and Mark Boyle lightshows that accompanied the early live appearances of Jefferson Airplane and Soft Machine respectively, Ira Cohen's Mylar chamber, Mati Klarwein's album covers, tie-dye clothing, etc. The term "psychedelic music", on the other hand, which first appeared in the mid 60s, notably with the 13th Floor Elevators' The Psychedelic Sounds of.. (1966), is much harder to define. "Trying to understand this music," writes curator Maxime Guitton in the programme accompanying the three-day Psychedel-yah Festival in Bordeaux's Modern Art Museum, "means re-evaluating two essentially generational (hence paramusical) characteristics: a tendency towards syncretism – underestimated – and the use of drugs – overestimated." Among the examples he cites are Bernard Parmegiani's fusion of musique concrète and free jazz in 1966's Jazzex, Brigitte Fontaine sitting in with the Art Ensemble of Chicago on Comme à la radio, Daevid Allen's 1967 collaboration with François Bayle in the studios of ORTF ("no official recording was released, but their simple existence continues to fire the imagination.."), and the 1969 festival in Amougies, Belgium, a fine example of trans-genre meltdown which brought together in the same muddy field American expat young lions of free jazz – Sunny Murray, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry – and already established European pop acts, some soon to become big names (Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Gong..), others lost legends (Ame Son, Frogeaters..).
The IAO exhibition in Bordeaux's CAPC Modern Art Museum, which the Psychedel-yah Festival of music and film kickstarted, set out to reassess the impact of psychedelia "as understood from the French context and its many international ramifications, a three-month trip across the psychedelia of yesterday and today." Guitton's text concludes with a brief and "necessarily subjective" discography of exclusively French albums: seven key LPs from 1971, including Gong's Camembert Electrique, Barney Wilen's Moshi, and Bernard Vitet's La Guêpe, plus ten more recorded between 1969 and 1977, from Jean Le Fennec's Phantastic to Ghédalia Tazartès (photo below)'s Transports, via Ame Son's Catalyse, and Areski & Brigitte Fontaine's L'Incendie. (Just as well he inserted that "necessarily subjective" – this is not the time and place to argue the case for the albums that didn't make his list.) But what, musically, do these discs have in common, and how – if at all – can they be brought together under the banner "psychedelic", a term after all that transcends music altogether?
The best way to "understand psychedelia from a French context", and to structure such a stylistically diverse collection of material, is to provide what the French love to call a fil conducteur, a unifying thread. The choice of Gong is at once logical – they were, after all, first presented to the world through the good auspices of a French label (BYG) and subsequently, after the departure of Daevid Allen in 1974, co-opted into the French prog mainstream by Pierre Moerlen – but problematic. The mid 70s French incarnation of Gong might look "psychedelic" – hence the decision of festival scenographer Lili Reynaud Dewar to construct two huge three-dimensional replicas of the "rainbow pyramid eye" album cover of 1974's You (photo above) – but sounds distinctly "prog". There's a world of difference between You's polyrhythmic intricacies and the raw jam of, say, Amon Düül I's Psychedelic Underground – surely an essential album of reference for European psychedelia. Following the politically charged free-your-mind-and-your-ass-will-follow logic of BYG/Actuel and Amougies led not only to cosmic prog / synth rock – Moerlen's Gong and Tim Blake's Crystal Machine, the delightful excesses of Besombes and Rizet.. – but also to the dark violence of Mahogany Brain, the unclassifiable weirdery of Jacques Berrocal's Musiq Musik and Parallèles and the wild early work of Un Drame Musical Instantané, Jean-François Pauvros and Gaby Bizien. Given Maxime Guitton's enthusiasm for and desire to include some of today's leftfield pioneers, from jam bands like Endless Boogie to trance noise outfits like The Skaters, it's perhaps a shame he didn't (couldn't?) get the likes of Mahogany Brain's Michel Bulteau on board too – I'd have loved to see a live set by the trio with Pauvros and Ernie Brooks that recorded 1999's Rinçures (Fractal).
As it turned out, barely a third of the groups / artists he invited to appear at Psychedel-yah were French, and half of those were local talents from the Bordeaux region, no doubt with the right attitude, the right records at home and the right effects boxes, but sadly lacking in personality and stage presence. They shuffled almost apologetically onstage, almost unnoticed by the diffident beer-swilling public, and nobody seemed to know – or care – when the soundcheck ended and the set proper began. The acoustic of the huge vaulted space of the CAPC, originally a warehouse used to store goods arriving from the colonies, was flattering for most of the torpid jamming on offer, but not at all appropriate for anything involving rhythmic detail. The second of the two stages – not really a stage at all, in fact, since the musicians played at floor level – was set up at an angle (the space being divided into various triangular zones in accordance with the omnipresent You cover idea), which sent whatever sound was not soaked up by the public hurtling into a corner to be reflected out into the wider area as muddy sludge.
"Turn on, tune in, drop out", was Timothy Leary's famous phrase, but most of the punters on the first night were having difficulty turning on to start with. Many seemed more concerned with trying to film or photograph proceedings (why?) with digital cameras and mobile phones than with actually paying attention to what was unfolding before them. I suspect the closest these people ever get to throwing open the doors of perception is receiving a text message. The older members of the audience, who presumably turned up to admire the collection of vintage posters and Actuel magazine covers, or to catch a glimpse of an authentic psychedelic survivor (and Tim Blake and Kevin Ayers looked as dog-eared as the covers of their LPs on sale in the adjoining wine bar), gazed wistfully at the slideshow projections of bearded / beaded flower children serving beans to bedraggled kids on sunny campsites way back when.

After a refreshing blast of West African psychedelia on the house PA, Brooklyn-based Endless Boogie (photo, left) eased into their 45-minute one-chord jam, singer and lead guitarist Paul "Top Dollar" Major alternating chit chat with the audience – most of it unintelligible thanks to the delay on the voice – with lick-heavy guitar solos. But he seemed oddly ill at ease in the huge venue. "Anyone know what time it is?" he asked at one moment. "We can go on for five minutes or five hours." Five hours would be fine, but that would involve drawing the listening public so far into the music that they forget all notion of clock time and surrender themselves to the psychedelic eternal now. Hardly likely to happen if you keep wandering offstage to ask the soundman how much longer you've got left.
"It's easy," Guitton argues, "to reduce psychedelic music to a set of clichés: pop melodies, distortion, musique concrète-derived sound effects, seasoned with a pinch of free jazz inflected improvisation and borrowings from ethnic music," but that's precisely what Psychic Ills, also from New York, seemed to want to do. Bassist Liz Hart jangled a long string of shells around the stage and vocalist / guitarist Tres Warren waved a cymbal around his head for no apparent reason before intoning a monotone mantra with so much echo and delay he sounded like a distressed sheep. When a crashing double-stick epic backbeat kicked in on the second track, a lone punter pressed his torso up to the speaker stack to absorb as much of the "vibe" he could, while everyone else gazed on apathetically. "All these young hippies taking themselves so seriously makes me want to become a punk," scoffed a woman next to me, while she fiddled with her iPhone.
On the other stage Expo 70's Justin Wright provided another forgettable display of guitar licks over a thudding 7/8 bass note loop, accompanied by a projection of bleary black and white films overlaid with Rorschach test blots and smudges drifting in and out of focus. Parallel to the music, the festival also featured a collection of notable archive experimental films, but Ron Rice's swan song Chumlum (1964), with music by Angus MacLise, was screened when hardly anyone was present, and the public seemed more interested in making ombres chinoises in front of the exploding groovy pink and purple bubbles of Open Light's lightshows than in watching rare treasures like Paul Sharits' Razor Blades (1968), with its disturbing retinal afterburn jumpcuts.
The "highlight" of the first night was the appearance of Gong vet Tim Blake guesting with Parisian prog four-piece Tulzi. On the cramped stage cluttered with period analogue artifacts, including Hohner and Farfisa keyboards, Blake spent most of his time grinning at the cameras and making sci-fi filter sweeps on an analogue synthesizer and oh-so-dramatic swoops on a theremin, to the delight of the two dozen or so punters in the crowd old enough to have forgotten how tacky this stuff already sounded thirty-odd years ago. Even describing it as a poor man's Hawkwind would be doing a serious disservice to Hawkwind.
The second day of the festival started well, with The Skaters (photo, right) , one of only a handful of groups all weekend that managed to release the music from of a prison of "deep" tribal drumming and noodling empty rhetoric. Lying low so nobody could see what they were up to with those cheap Casio keyboards, darbouka, tin whistles and karaoke delay units, Spencer Clark and James Ferraro succeeded in creating music sufficiently mysterious and compelling to pull the audience in. Refreshingly bassless, and freed from the tyranny of the backbeat, their layers of looped synthesizer arabesques, frantic outbursts of handheld percussion and occasional throaty blasts of singing and tin whistle, set against a backdrop of clattering lo-fi Jajouka-like drumming, were genuinely mesmerising, and needed neither glitzy lightshows nor gobfuls of pills to work their magic. Ironic, perhaps, since Clark, when confronted after the show and pressed for his definition of psychedelia, said: "I don't know man, but I guess it's something to do with synaesthesia." Before adding, "I don't really know why we were invited, but it's great to be here."
While a bloke did an impromptu striptease in front of the Op Art film projected in the entrance hall of the building – ah, someone's entering into the spirit of things, I thought, until I saw his wife filming him on a camcorder – the veteran local double act of Fox and Coyotte, excellently accompanied on laptop by Joachim Montessuis, amused the crowd with blasts of euphonium and speeches on how "Barack Obama might be a nice guy but he's still ignoring the plight of the American Indians!" before distributing walnuts to everybody and serving themselves to a large glass of cognac. What a shame Charlemagne Palestine wasn't invited.
Meanwhile, over on the main stage, Belgian collective Sylvester Anfang II were setting up. At one point the bassist chipped in Hooky's bass riff from "New Monday" – perhaps an indication of what he'd prefer to be playing? – before squatting down with the rest of the band for what turned out to be yet another depressingly sludgy E minor jam complete with wanky wah wahs and Tim Blake whooshes. I wondered whether the squatting was some kind of necessary ritual to distance themselves from "normal" (non-psychedelic?) rockers cavorting around the stage à la Jagger, but as the music rose in intensity – another feature of almost all the sets at the festival: slink on, fade in, get loud, fade out, slink off – they managed to struggle to their feet. Thinking once more of the woman moaning about young hippies and aspiring to be a punk, I was reminded of Mark Perry's old line: "Here's three chords, now form a band." Except nowadays you don't need three; one will do just fine.
Indeed, Christelle Gualdi aka Stellar Om Source was doing quite a good job building a Terry Riley-esque solo on her Kawai (once more over a droning low E pedal) until Marc Blanc, another hero of the "good old days", former Daevid Allen sparring partner and the man behind Ame Son, joined in on drums. But imposing a solid backbeat on proceedings sapped the life out of Gualdi's playing, and even some dramatic pitchshifts couldn't bring it back. Blanc continued alone on guitar, while a colleague distributed "tracts" (nicely printed A4 photocopies adorned with revolutionary slogans) among the audience and tried in vain to get them to sing along.

Things were clearly going downhill, as Heatsick's Steven Warwick struggled to make something interesting from two mics and the de rigueur effects boxes, to the total indifference of anyone in listening range, and the latest incarnation of Stephen Lawrie's Telescopes with Vibracathedral Orchestra vet Bridget Hayden (photo, left), settled down on the floor for a 45-minute heroic but unsuccessful attempt to scale a wall of sound of their own creation, bowing and manhandling a pair of guitars to little avail. But worse was yet to come, with the evening's final set from Spectrum-Sonic Boom, aka Pete Kember, joined – surprise! – by none other than the original Soft himself, Kevin Ayers. "Wow, can you believe it? We're going to hear Kevin Ayers!" enthused one of the museum curators to me as we observed proceedings at a safe distance from the upstairs balcony (if I'd had a pair of opera glasses I'd have turned them the wrong way round like the messieurs in Pasolini's Salò..). Evidently thrown in as an afterthought to give the proceedings some kind of historical street cred, Ayers' appearance consisted of a half-assed rendition of part of his 1973 chestnut "Decadence", accompanied by a single chord on his guitar – I can only imagine he was too stoned or drunk to find another one – and some wimpy synth triads from Kember. The public, egged on by an Ayers groupie in the front row who started clapping enthusiastically at the first sign of any regular strumming from the guitarist (not that there were many), demanded more, but the second piece, an unstructured jam that went nowhere at all and soon ran out of steam, was even more embarrassing. Ayers wandered off to leave Sonic Boom to get back to his turgid sub-Kraftwerk synth pop. I wandered off too. Fading flowers in his hair / he's suffering from wear and tear.
The following afternoon, for what was only their second public appearance, the Angers-based Ruralfaune Collective performed, appropriately enough, on a stage dominated by a polystyrene animal standing on its hind legs and adorned with a white imitation-fur wrap and a gleaming gold-painted head (an ibis?). Once more none of the musicians was standing, and three of them were naked from the waist up, droning gently away on another downtempo trawl through the backwaters of post-rock / New Weird something-or-other guitarlore, until unforeseen problems with the guitarist's gear led to some rather nasty growls of low end distortion which eventually curtailed what had otherwise been a pleasant, if not exactly stellar, set.
Given the disappointing appearances by vieux routiers Blake and Ayers on the preceding evenings, the long-awaited reunion of veteran French psych troubadours Ame Son (Marc Blanc, drums and acoustic guitar, Bernard Lavialle, electric guitar, François Garrel, flute) turned out to be a pleasant surprise. They played real songs, and well-crafted ones too (rhythmically and metrically intricate in places, but not at all flashy), performed with love and care by three men who were in there at the start of it all but who'd managed to retain much of their youthful enthusiasm – Blanc's voice on "I Just Want To Say" still as fresh and light as it was on the group's 1970 BYG/Actuel outing Catalyse – and clearly delighted to be making music together again after an absence of some twenty years. It was a timely reminder that "psychedelic" doesn't have to mean "heavy", and found a resonance in the set later that evening from The Family Elan, aka Chris Hladowski and Hanna Tuulikki (Scatter, Daniel Padden's One Ensemble, Nalle..). With sleigh bells attached to their shoes, and a tambourine and sruti box underfoot to provide light rhythm and discreet drone, Hladowski & Tuulikki's Eastern European folk-inspired material struck a chord with the public, who actually demanded an encore (just as well, as it revealed what an extraordinary voice Tuulikki has when she gets up into the upper register). Of course, there were a few insensitive blasé little fuckers sitting off to the right who cheered loudly when one of the amps let out an unintended feedback howl, but I'd like to have seen them do better.

Between these two affectionate homages to a gentler, rural psychedelia, some of the festival's most challenging offerings came from filmmaker Ben Russell. Black and White Trypps #3 scrambles Richard Pryor's head better than the acid he took ever did, and Black and White Trypps #4 zooms in on punters at a Lightning Bolt gig in Providence RI, framing the ecstatic expressions of the sweaty youngsters in dimly lit slowmotion (a reminder perhaps that kids are still turning on, tuning in and dropping out to music today – just that the music's moved on a bit). Music to accompany the latter film was by Joe Grimm, who subsequently took to the stage himself (photo, right), where he stood twiddling knobs on a strange Medusa's head contraption with wires twisting upward into the light of Russell's projector. At the end of each wire was a photoelectric cell which responded to the intensity of the light beamed on it, allowing Russell, manning the projectors, to modify the parameters of Grimm's noisy drones by simply blocking out the light with his hand. A similar device onstage allowed the music to influence the intensity of the projectors themselves, creating a wonderfully paranoid you-fuck-with-me-and-I'll-fuck-with-you working relationship. The performance was tough, uncompromising and not always pretty, but it made a welcome change to experience sound and image actually working together for once – ha! how quaint and old hat, you say, but it worked. One of the festival highlights for sure, as was the set that followed it.

Reines d'Angleterre (photo, left) (for non-French speakers that translates as "queens of England" – the French word "reine" not having, as far as I know, any homosexual connotation, not that it matters) is a trio consisting of El G and Jo Tanz on electronics (Casio keyboards to lay down the harmonic carpet, mixing boxes and effects to rip it, and their voices, to shreds) and Ghédalia Tazartès, one of the authentic originals of French alt.music since the mid 70s. Tazartès brought with him a length of plastic tubing, a homemade bell of jangling metal pipes, an accordion and a fan, but it was his voice that really did the business, an extraordinary instrument capable of going from sub-bass power throat singing to wild bel canto mezzo soprano. "We haven't got a clue where we're going when we begin," admitted Laurent (El G) later – and that was what made their four ten-minute "songs" so exciting; the glorious collision between genres – noise and, umm, well do we call Tazartès' music, free opera? – perfectly in line with the melting pot aesthetic Guitton so admired in the albums cited above. But would El G describe their work as psychedelic, I wondered? "I don't give a fuck about that," he laughed. "That's nostalgia – and the thing I love about Ghédalia is he's not the least bit nostalgic."

So just what is psychedelic music, then? Judging by many of the acts programmed at this festival, you'd think it was all slowmoving E minor drone, embellished by guitar / synth noodling and occasionally driven forward by thudding tribal binary rhythm. But there were too many exceptions to prove the rule, from the folk-inflected balladry of Family Elan to the claustrophobic terror of Grimm and Russell, from the mad operatics of Tazartès to the thrilling scuzz of The Skaters. Maybe we should remember the "necessarily subjective" that accompanied Maxime Guitton's selected discography: psychedelic music is after all what you want it to be. Returning to the word's etymological origins, and mindful of the link to drug culture, I'm still inclined to go for something closer to "ecstatic" – something that takes you out of yourself. To quote that well-known psychedelic composer Iannis Xenakis: "The soul is a fallen god. Only ek-stasis (going outside oneself) can reveal its true nature. It is necessary to escape from the Wheel of Birth (reincarnations) by means of purifications (katharmoi) and sacraments (orghoi), the instruments of ekstasis. Katharmoi are performed by means of music and medicine." (For "medicine" read "drugs.") The Psychedel-yah fest had its ups and downs – more of the latter than the former for this tired old hack, admittedly – but there were real moments of ecstasy to savour, for which I am, and will remain, very grateful. Thanks to Maxime Guitton, François Guillemeteaud and the staff of CAPC Bordeaux for inviting me.–DW
[Photos courtesy Cedric Eymenier. An edited version of this review appeared in The Wire magazine #300 - reproduced by kind permission]

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On Barnyard
Barnyard Drama
Jean Martin/Colin Fisher
Jean Martin/Evan Shaw
Jean Martin/Justin Haynes
Lori Freedman/Scott Thomson
Blah Blah 666

Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders
Barnyard Drama is the Toronto husband-and-wife duo of singer Christine Duncan and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jean Martin, though more recently the group has doubled in size with the addition of guitarists Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise (the latter on loan from Montreal's musique actuelle scene). The churning guitars and dark, hallucinatory sound of I'm a Navvy set it apart from other offerings on Barnyard Records, which generally tend towards quiet, everyday surrealism (as the punning title of one release on the label puts it, "piano music"). Some of the pieces are too arch, especially the overripe "The Blues" and Duncan's faux-naive ballad about "that butt'ry burning feeling", sung in a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth British schoolgirl accent. But the air of wicked mischief is generally quite engaging, the musicians conjuring up a black magic rite out of grungy blues, snarling electronica, and the guitar-driven meltdown at the end of The Big Gundown. Duncan's voices range from gorgon to sexpot to blithering idiot to chanteuse, but isn't mere grotesquerie (which tends to wear thin very quickly, as witness countless free-improv vocal albums); she takes the trouble to really occupy these different personae, until the music becomes a dizzying meditation on female innocence and experience. Great choice of cover tune, too: the lyrics of Noel Coward's "Little Girl Blue" may express bemused pity for the girl, but the music's already leaving the human scale behind, floating off into the zero-gravity dark, the stars twinkling all around in detached bemusement.
Martin seems to like duets, though the examples of the format on the label are about as different from each other as you could imagine. Little Man on the Boat, his collaboration with saxophonist/guitarist Colin Fisher, is a homemade brew of warped pop, rock, free jazz and ambient textures. The production is elaborate but small-scale, constructing a serenely artificial world out of layered instruments, loops, overdubs, and soft chorales of horns and voices; even a rock guitar solo here is oddly scaled-down, suggesting the comfortably self-enclosed pleasures of a child's toy. The disc is often best when the materials are reduced to a bare minimum: the title track, for instance, is a gentle whirl of acoustic guitar and consoling horns; "A Long Way from Beacon Hill" blends hushed ambience, weightless keyboards, trumpet, and a guitar loop that splits apart like light across rippling water. "Cat Song" is especially barebones: hearttugging guitar chords issue at the slowest of drips while Martin's brushes skim the surface of his cymbals; halfway through, a third element intrudes, hesitant whinnies from what sounds like a sax with a child's kazoo stuck in its bell. Even the busier tracks avoid clutter: "Koyaya", for instance, shows Martin's deft producer's touch, as he nibbles away at Fisher's rubbery jazz-rock guitar solo with typewriter percussion, chilly organ chords, and pert horn sections that drop in erratically for just a note or two. As with a lot of Barnyard releases, it takes a few listens for the disc's surface playfulness to wear off and the underlying seriousness and musical substance to come through.
Sax-drums duets can end up rather desiccated affairs through a lack of colour and the tendency towards shapeless duels, but Piano Music (Martin and alto saxophonist Evan Shaw) nicely evades all the cliches and limitations. Shaw is an interestingly varied player - on "Sweeter than a plastic bag", for instance, you can hear him go from cool Osbyish obliquities to bebop in extremis, running through ideas so profligately it suggests either inspiration or desperation; Martin presses him forcefully, often matching his phrasing exactly, and clouds of out-of-tune chords (melodica, perhaps?) add an air of shadowy enchantment. As the punning title suggests, this is music that (without being particularly minimalist) finds a lot of shadings within a minimal palette, and Shaw is especially good at a kind of abraded purity, in which uncertain whispers or murmurs become a kind of melody. On "A strong glue is not necessary" his playing is so pared-down it's like a Konitz ballad with four bars of rest between phrases--a space occupied by Martin's terrific brushwork and a growing array of electronic squiggles and overdubs--until in the final moments Shaw's playing fragments, then trails off into computery bleeps. A brief spoken-word cut-up listing Chinese delicacies is skippable, but the rest of the CD is consistently excellent, from the stunning long-form improv "Rattlebag Jimmy" to the cover of (wait for it...) the Shaggs' "Philosophy of the World".
The Martin-Haynes duet album Freedman is the oddest of the bunch. Haynes is on ukulele throughout, and Martin's kit is simply a suitcase. (Do musicians still play on suitcases in hotel-room jam sessions these days? It's a sound familiar to anyone who's got a copy of the old Bird on Tenor session....) The setlist consists of seventeen tunes by Myk Freedman, the lap-steel player who masterminds the St. Dirt Elementary School (local faves at the Tranzac Club). There are no feats of Jake Shimabukuro-style uke virtuosity here, just a gentle ramble through Freedman's ought-to-be-standards: lazybones serenades, plingy dance music, miniature Chadbournesque string-violence, shuffle-and-thump grooves, ghostly Oriental ditties and faux-bossa. The players are recorded in tight close-up, which makes the uke sound splendid and gives everything an intimacy that's as affecting as bittersweet melodies like "Love Boat of Love". Haynes plays with a laidback charm and grace, occasionally letting things drift whimsically off-course, and (as on all these albums) Martin's ability to get a huge sonic variety out of next to nothing is uncanny. It's good-humoured music, but they're not playing it for laughs or kitsch; it might sound like a gimmicky premise for a CD, but give it a try and it'll pleasantly surprise you.
Plumb is the only "traditional" free improv disc in this batch of releases, an encounter between clarinetist Lori Freedman (best known as half of the duo Queen Mab with Marilyn Lerner) and trombonist Scott Thomson. It's recorded in extreme close-up in a dry acoustic, which actually suits the music very well: the playing is plenty vivid on its own, a lot of the action taking place "inside" the sounds. The CD is, fortunately, not an extended-technique showcase, though there are plenty of odd, ear-tickling sounds to be found here. What the duo is up to is subtler than hiss-blap-brrp sonic extremism: often it's as if they are unpacking the extraordinary sonic oddities and treasures discoverable even in fairly standard sounds on their instruments, the rasps and flutters and expressive jolts that lurk within a note. Thomson keeps to small, tactile gestures but somehow contrives to give bebop momentum even to moments of drifting near-stasis, his playing's calm surface ruffled by countless small shivers of delight and contrariness; while the solo piece "Lead" shows how much mileage he can get out of quivery pirouettes and split tones - he even throws in some curt bouncing-ball melodies right out of J.J. Johnson. Freedman is more inclined to moments of catharsis, exploiting the bass clarinet's sheer animal warmth or (contrarily) emitting abrupt, computery bleeps, and letting loose a huge outcry in the middle of "The Plummet"; but she's also got a knack for using hisses, sighs and whispers with needle-like precision. (Nice to hear a free improv disc where the quietest moments are so intense, even passionate, never threatening to dissolve into vagueness or low-energy drift: there's a quiet, bubbling episode at the end of "Leak" that will make your scalp prickle.) This is first-rate music that hardly deserves the tag "abstract": it contains more melodic invention than a score of mainstream jazz records.

It's Only Life! is by the determinedly offbeat quintet Blah Blah 666. It's best described as postmodern, DIY vaudeville (banjo, ukulele, ricky-tick percussion, tootling melodicas, glockenspiels) with south-of-the-(American)-border touches, including covers of "La Cucaracha" and "Mexican Hat Dance". They're probably a band to see live, given the bizarre visual component of the music - Ryan Driver (of the Reveries, another of Toronto's more self-consciously bizarre ensembles) plays a bass made out of a broom, and Martin and Nick Fraser play a single drumkit simultaneously, at least when one of them's not playing "plastic blow thing" or trumpet - and perhaps it's better to think of this as a kind of celebration of the collaborative, communal nature of this city's music scene. The sense of fun comes through even just on disc, but unlike other offerings on the label, this one relies too much on charm and stylized tattiness.

Anthony Braxton has been up north of the border a fair bit lately: he's been a guest at both the Victoriaville and Guelph festivals, and has forged an alliance in this city with the AIMToronto collective. The live double-CD Toronto (Duets) 2007 contains two 45-minute performances of his Ghost Trance compositions in the company of saxophonist Kyle Brenders. "Composition 199" is a jogtrot quarter-note spiel that's very much in the mode of Braxton's early GTM; indeed, a glance at Jason Guthartz's discography suggests that, though it seems to be previously unrecorded, it must date from the mid-1990s. The other piece ("Composition 356") is an "Accelerator Whip" GTM piece that already received an airing on the mammoth Iridium set from Firehouse 12, its constantly shifting proportional rhythms sending the players on a bumpy rollercoaster ride. Both performances leave the GTM tramlines fairly quickly, leaping off into a forest of contrasting episodes; the players are particularly good at playing foreground/background games, so that you're constantly shifting from hearing their interaction as mutual dialogue or as solo-with-accompaniment. When he's on soprano, Brenders sometimes mimics Braxton's skittery loopdeloops but more often tends towards a melodic forthrightness out of Steve Lacy (in town, he frequently plays with The Rent, a Lacy covers band); on tenor he's more of an Evan Parker man, his tone gruff and grainy. A few of his licks are distractingly derivative (especially his recourse to Parkerish burblings), but what matters is his great ears and his wholehearted response to the very plastic character of Braxton's music, the way it seems to be buffeted by strange gusts of anger and hesitancy and delight or to suddenly become soft and languid. Given that this year has been even by Braxton's standards a prolific one for releases - an amazing nineteen Braxton CDs and one DVD were reviewed in the Fall 2008 issue of Signal to Noise alone - there's some danger of this one falling through the cracks, which would be a shame: there are passages here that are among the most enjoyable I've encountered in latterday Braxton, like the deluge of slithering arabesques that occurs near the end of "Composition 199."

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In Print: Craig Shepard
Craig Shepard
Edition Howeg 105pp ISBN 978-3-85736-256-9
On July 17th 2005, composer Craig Shepard set out on a 250-mile walk through Switzerland, starting in Geneva, heading north into the mountains of the Jura, descending to Basel and following the Rhine valley and the southern shore of Lake Constance eastwards until he arrived at St. Margrethen on August 17th, from where he boarded a train home to Zürich. In his backpack, along with various items of essential camping equipment, which he lists in detail (I wonder how often he used that cellphone.. not much, I hope), was a pocket trumpet. Shepard set himself the task of writing and performing a piece of music every day at 6pm sharp – one performance started five minutes late, but we'll forgive him – in the open air, more often than not in public spaces, playing sometimes to up to 50 people. On Foot is a beautifully produced document of the trip, complete with facsimile reproductions of the 31 handwritten scores. Written in ballpoint pen on manuscript paper 9 x 13.5cm – so that he could hold the score in his hand and the trumpet in the other, as shown in the photograph on page 30 of the book – they're deceptively simple but effective pieces, and must have sounded beautiful in situ.

Craig Shepard is currently the youngest member (he was born in 1975 in Connecticut) of the Wandelweiser Group, whose ranks he joined after studies with fellow Wandelweiser Michael Pisaro. In keeping with the Group aesthetic (more details of which you can find here), his compositions make frequent use of long sustained tones interspersed with long stretches of silence, sometimes notated (the lungas and breves recall sixteenth century mensural notation), sometimes not: one piece (Ste. Croix, le 24 juillet 2005) calls for the use of a stopwatch to time the several minutes between each brief melody. Some pieces come with clear tempo indications, others (Grottes de l'Orbe, le 22 juillet 2005) notate short and long breaks but leave the tempo up to the performer, but most are measured according to "walking pace: the quarter note equals one step."
The 15-page text Shepard provides to accompany the scores is as clear and straightforward as the composer's music. In addition to providing details of his daily routine (up at 7am, usually tucked up in his tent by 9.30pm), accommodation (for the nine nights he didn't camp out), meals (fruit, wheatgerm, local sausages, once in a while canned goods bought at supermarkets along the way..) and various aches and pains, there are some memorable passages. One describes a visit to the remains of a Carthusian monastery in the Jura mountains: "What remained was an absence, a silence. Not the silence of contemplation but the silence of a passing. It was neither gloomy nor morose, it was not the watchful silence of a graveyard, nor was it the silence of an empty house, its inhabitants at work or on vacation. I played some tones into the silence. Though I heard them echoing across the hills, there was no echo from the ruins, no response. The tones had not been swallowed up. There was no resistance, no sense that I had intruded on anything. It was as if my sound could not penetrate that silence – that, somehow, the tones were irrelevant. Or that my tones and that silence did not exist in the same space. After spending some time at the ruins, I continued my walk. Coming out of the woods, I experienced for a moment this heightened awareness: I became suddenly alive and fully aware of where I was in that moment. I could smell the sweet pines of the forest and the hay of the meadow mixed with a hint of cow-manure. I felt a soft breeze brushing the hairs of my arms, sun on my cheeks and heat coming off the grass. I heard cicadas singing softly, crickets chirping, cowbells clanking, cows' tails swishing, flies buzzing, the wind hushing through the trees, and the stones of the path crunching underfoot. I was simultaneously aware of each sensation individually, and of all the details collectively as an atmosphere, a mood, a haze. There was no time; everything was now, everything still."
That reminds me of a favourite quotation from an earlier European mystic, one much admired by Wandelweiser "patron saint" John Cage too: "There exists only the present instant... a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence." (Eckhart von Hochheim, 1260 – 1328)

For a moment I thought about writing something along the lines of "it'd be nice to have a recording of some of Shepard's pieces recorded in the locations where he originally performed them.." but decided against it. For what we have in On Foot is but a document of a work, not a work itself. It would be perfectly possible for Shepard, or someone else, to record the music – either in the place where it was first performed during his walking trip, or elsewhere (I see in fact that performances of the music have taken place already, in Brooklyn's Issue Project Room, with Christian Wolff, Katie Porter and Jeremy Lamb)– but it wouldn't be the same. "Once you hear music, after it's over, it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." Eric Dolphy, of course, but he could have been referring to Shepard's compositions too. I see on the Wandelweiser website that he is (or was) "on his way to visiting every tram, train, and bus stop" in Zürich. If you ever come to Paris, Craig, bring your pocket trumpet. I'd love to hear you play.

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Christine Baudillon
Hors Oeil Editions
Coming in a Spartan-yet-elegant light blue casket adorned with a beautiful photo of the ever-pensive, ever-curious Jöelle Léandre surrounded by the branches of a tree – and including a booklet with drawings by the bassist, with a commentary by Jean-Noël von der Weid – this is the definitive document of the Aix-en-Provence free-thinker's approach to music, physical performance and, in short, being. Director Christine Baudillon is obviously an admirer – who isn't? – yet this heartfelt homage doesn't get mired in superficial adulation. Rather, this 140-minute documentary offers a synthesis of an existence that has been completely devoted to – and devoured by – the purest kind of vibration.
At the beginning of the DVD, Léandre walks in the country – a periodic occurrence in the movie – and addresses the difficulties of the "big box" as an instrument, versus the piano. She totally identifies with the double bass, emphasizing the injustice of its restricted role in most orchestral writing, not to mention the way that it's often physically relegated to the background of the concert space, where the performer barely has elbow room for arco playing. From this ideological kernel sprouts her entire personal philosophy, a stubborn opposition to anything remotely resembling "classification" or a "rule to be obligatorily respected". At the same time, she underlines the importance of academic studies, even if she more or less left them behind to explore new avenues for freedom of expression and abandonment of routine. Meditating aloud in the fields, the silence broken only by birdsong, she's visibly emotional as she attempts a definition of life, which for her is neither the past nor the future, but right now – instantaneous creativity. Even so, she fondly reminisces about her work with Cage, Cunningham and Scelsi, still fundamental influences on her own music. In another sequence, she tries to make a cab-driver understand that improvisation is not just wandering around clueless, but needs a precise idea of the place one wants to arrive at. Léandre's energy, and her consciousness of the impossibility of putting all of this in mere words, are fundamentals of Basse Continue. Non-musician reviewers can only sympathize.
The strictly musical episodes, shot at jazz festivals and radio broadcasts between 2006 and 2007, are equally engrossing. Léandre is captured solo, in a series of duets (most impressively with Barre Phillips, India Cooke and Anthony Braxton) and a quintet. There's also entertaining footage of her at a music clinic, desperately trying to draw a shy female pupil out of her shell; the student, overwhelmed by her teacher's grandiose theatrics, finally works up the courage to ad-lib a vocal over bass and drums. Baudillon hits the bullseye with some perfect editing choices, sometimes mixing an outside remark in with the music, elsewhere abruptly cutting from a rapturous moment – and, believe me, there are many – to something amusingly prosaic, such as Léandre doublechecking the credit-card charges after grocery-shopping. But nothing surpasses the inner response and deep respect that this writer felt while observing the fire in her eyes, the beauty of her fingers fluidly moving across the strings, her ability to engage the spectator via ironic gestures and obsessive soliloquies, like a fervent conversation between a divine madwoman and her faithful companion – the big box itself.
In the final sequence Léandre visits Tel Aviv, where she gets involved in a discussion about the futile aspects of all cults and religions, before playing a wonderful bicultural duo with Palestinian oud player Sameer Makhoul. Their poignant chanting underscores the last image: Léandre with her feet in the sea, looking off into the horizon. It's a lovely way to conclude one of the most striking documentaries about a musician I've ever seen, on a par with Humbert and Penzel's Step Across the Border on Fred Frith (who, incidentally, is also present here). Anyone with a serious interest in the art of improvisation should consider this release an absolute must.

Bert Shapiro
Pheasants Eye DVD
Following 2007's The Velocity of Hue: Live In Cologne by Pavel Borodin, another file on the artistic career of Elliott Sharp gets unearthed courtesy of director Bert Shapiro, who has pulled together performance footage, private conversations, and talking-heads soundbites in an absorbing, if somehow still not definitive profile of this fundamental figure of contemporary music. The core program is subdivided into three chapters. "Doing the Don't" is a boiled-down primer on Sharp's compositional methods and projects (mostly derived from scientific, mathematic and even genetic connections) interspersed with snippets from concerts ranging from 1987 to 2007, home-conducted rehearsals (interesting to observe the Sirius String Quartet practicing "Light in Fog"), and opinions from fellow musicians and – nice touch – family members. Apart from the heartwarming shots of E# playing acoustic guitar to toddlers Kai Otis and Lila Mary (one of whom tries to steal and eat the bottleneck!), a particularly revealing moment comes from Sharp's partner, video artist Janene Higgins, when she discloses that only after the birth of his children did Sharp actually accept to be "a part of the human race" – until that moment, he'd thought of himself as an alien. Sharp's work is too diverse to cram into a 20-minute chapter, of course: the many performance clips are extraordinarily exciting, leaving us with watering mouths, and the documentary never really gets to grips with the critical concepts behind this man's art. At the end of the day this almost feels like a voice-over commentary on a slide show of Sharp's gigs, though it's useful to hear his detailed descriptions of particular concepts.
For the hardcore E# fan, the most enjoyable episode will be "Slabs, Pantars, Violinoids", in which he recapitulates his influences and describes the development of his guitar style and his interest in constructing instruments (as a kid he used to experiment with the remnants of his father's job as an industrial designer). The full gallery of his fretless, double-neck and multi-string axes is on display here, plus the "stringed inventions" named in the chapter's title. Great stuff. Finally, "Sharp on Sharp" draws on an interview with Frank J. Oteri, in which E# talks about the music industry, his nonconformist relation to it, and the complex interrelations between a composition, its audience and the surrounding physical and socio-cultural environment. This section is also quite stimulating, particularly because of Sharp's concisely articulated, ear-pleasing elucidations – yet it is so pithy that, again, we're left wanting more.
The extras include a video excerpt from "Larynx" recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1987, in unfortunately dismal audio quality (hey, it's a rarity), and 80 minutes' worth of recent, previously unreleased audio-only tracks, including "The Velocity of Hue" for electroacoustic guitar and laptop (Padua, Italy, 2006), "Synda-Kit" (Beijing, 2007) and the splendid "Quarks Swim Free" (Brooklyn, 2006). In essence, this is a collector's item first and foremost: don't expect an epochal masterpiece. But for serious aficionados of this self-professed "alien", it's a required addition to the long chain of necessary items. Above all – despite a few flaws – Sharp's richly certified rational brightness, in evidence throughout Doing the Don't, makes you feel less dispirited about human evolution. That alone makes this document a breath of pure oxygen.

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Choi Joonyong / Hong Chulki / Sachiko M / Otomo Yoshihide
Balloon & Needle
Having thoroughly enjoyed other Choi Joonyong / Hong Chulki releases that have recently come my way – the final chapter of the 5 Modules series on Manual, the Expanded Celluloid, Extended Phonograph DVD with Lee Hangjun, reviewed here last time round – I have to admit I'm having problems with Sweet Cuts, Distant Curves – though not with the album title, which is terrific. There's something about this particular assemblage of clicks, rips, crackles and hums (yes, once more I'm afraid we're stuck with this vocabulary, until anything more musicologically coherent comes along, which I suspect might be a while) which fails to keep my attention, and I've tried six times now; and I think it's to do with the pacing of the material and the event density. The other abovementioned offerings from the Koreans (Choi on modified CD players, Hong on turntables and electronics) are busy, even boisterous affairs, while my favourite discs of recent times with Otomo (turntables, guitar) and Sachiko (sinewaves) – most notably the majestic Good Morning, Good Night on Erstwhile with Toshimaru Nakamura – have been quite the opposite: slowmoving and spare, but the five sweet cuts here seem to lie somewhere between the two, in a strange midtempo – if we can speak of tempo – limbo, neither quiet and intense enough to draw you in, nor rough and feisty enough to thrill to. I'll keep trying, but I haven't cracked it yet.–DW

Charles Gayle Trio
Not Two
For better or worse, Charles Gayle is likely to be remembered as one of free jazz's wild blowers, idolised by the likes of Henry Rollins, with a scorching back catalogue on Silkheart, Black Saint, Knitting Factory and FMP (1991's Touchin' On Trane remaining his most highly acclaimed outing to date). But as the years go by those lungs tire a little – listen to recent Arthur Doyle or the last offerings of Frank Lowe – and merely blowing your horn inside out won't cut it anymore. You've got to go back to the notes instead of losing yourself in the upper harmonics. This 2007 trio date recorded in Lodz's Jazzga Club in Poland is welcome proof that Gayle has still got a lot to say and doesn't need to scream to make his voice heard. Joined by the splendid rhythm team of Hilliard Greene (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums), Forgiveness presents, in addition to the traditional ballad of the same name, five Gayle originals and a cover of Coltrane's "Giant Steps." But it's Ornette Coleman who springs more readily to mind – put that down to the use of the alto – in the upward melodic swoops. Indeed, the Coltrane cover is probably the album's least convincing track (maybe it was included to please the Polish punters), simply because nobody except Coltrane himself has ever been able to negotiate the changes of the tune at high speed and come up with a coherent solo. Gayle is at his best when he's at his most Ayleresque, and "Holy Birth" is the album's standout track for me. To be perfectly frank, I like his piano playing even more than his sax, but it's probably heresy to say so. But while I wait for the follow up to Time Zones, Forgiveness will do just fine.–DW

Frode Gjerstad / William Parker / Hamid Drake
Frode Gjerstad Trio
Circulasione Totale
Circulasione Totale Orchestra
Circulasione Totale
On Reade Street is a fine set of up-to-the-minute jazz recorded at Piano Magic in New York in January 2006, with Gjerstad playing alto sax and clarinet with the fabled Parker/Drake rhythm section. Three improvisations are featured: "The Street", "The Houses" and "The People", all distinguished by sparkling vigour and creative nosiness. Gjerstad is a choice elicitor of out-of-the-ordinary elocutions, refusing gadgetry and reed-fuelled bric-a-brac in favour of a strong sense of asymmetrical melody, trawling the improbable waters of curvilinear liberty in search of the most disparate notes, looking for composure while surrounded by havoc. Parker's input is a combination of equanimity and efficient indeterminacy, the weight of his instrumental prowess pushing his companions towards the correct route; his bowed moans are especially powerful. The mixture of harmonic acuity and bass rumble in "The Houses" and in his frequent duo spots with Gjerstad are the highlights of a brilliant performance. Drake's drumming can be elusive, vivacious, hard-swinging, even absent, but it always maintains the rhythmic cohesion of the group at the utmost level of technical responsiveness and passionate commitment. It would be ridiculous, though, to try and apply a scale of values to a record that's basically a collective, necessary reaffirmation of the true ethics of jazz. This is one of those rare instances where a combination of musicians that looks great on paper actually delivers. In spades.
Nothing Is Forever, a studio recording from 2007, constitutes another chapter in the history of Gjerstad's trio featuring Øyvind Soresund on acoustic bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The three have been together since 1999, and their previous releases have appeared on Cadence, Splasch, Falcata Galia and FMR. Gjerstad's playing is informed by a sense of indestructible anarchy that pushes towards the extreme registers virtually ad infinitum, in search of taintless chirps and raucous invectives against an implausible enemy, hand-knitted fragments of seething pneumatology that never cease to surprise and, on more attentive analysis, reveal a stunning technical command. Storesund acknowledges the inspiration of William Parker and, believe it or not, Jamaaladeen Tacuma (one of the most unjustly neglected virtuosos in the history of modern jazz, if you ask me), but in this album he's largely content with fantasticating a stark, nihilist luminosity, his lines at once concretely dissonant and utterly suspended. Nilssen-Love is his usual self, effective but unruly, at times almost quarrelsome; aside from his continuous restructuration of the trio's torrential diluvia, he gets a couple of solo spots whose insuppressible, rudderless outflows thrust the whole shebang past the outer limits of rationality.
In Italian the acronym CTO stands, funnily enough, for Centro Traumatologico Ortopedico ("Orthopaedic Trauma Centre"), and indeed parts of the Circulasione Totale Orchestra's Open Port, recorded live in Stavanger (Norway) at 2008's MaiJazz festival, unfold with bone-breaking force. Frode Gjerstad modestly describes the thirteen-man aggregate as "some of my musical friends over the years", yet this is much more than a parade of famous improvisers. I'm not a fan of "sounds-like-X" comparisons, but if it helps, picture a cross between Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz projects and Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath (not surprisingly, "Yellow Bass and Silver Cornet" – the 48-minute suite that comprises the entirety of this disc – is dedicated to Johnny Dyani and John Stevens). One distinctive trait of this unit is the extensive use of instrumental doubling: two drum sets (Louis Moholo-Moholo and Paal Nilssen-Love), two reed players (Gjerstad and Sabir Mateen), and two acoustic basses (Nick Stephens, Ingebrigt H. Flaten), the other members being Bobby Bradford, Morten J. Olsen, Anders Hana, Børre Mølstad, Kevin Norton, Lasse Marhaug, and John Hegre. After a preliminary collective flare the piece is set in motion by an expressive solo by Bradford, whose cornet gives a faint illusion of composure before the blasting cooperative is set loose to enjoy the pleasures of improvisational insurrection, with very few moments of relief. The gap between tradition and modernity is emphasized by the presence of Marhaug's ever-unquiet electronics, his startling discharges of distorted fury mocking any attempts at enforced lyricism like a grinning demon pretending to be your personal friend in a public photo. It remains to be seen which side of that gap we want to be on but, either way, this is a galvanizing listen.–MR

Malcolm Goldstein / Matthias Kaul
The good people who've sent me recent stuff in to listen to will no doubt spit in rage when they see a review of a disc that was after all released in 2004, but I'm making no apologies. Fact is, I only discovered this when I went to Malcolm's recent Fragments Of The Wall gig here a couple of months back. And what a discovery! Transformation is the name of the game in The Smell of Light, both implicit in the album title – whose synaesthetic / holistic overtones are in line with the transcendentalist Thoreau-inspired philosophy underpinning Malcolm Goldstein's work as a composer, improviser and poet for over half a century – and explicit in the packaging, a Wolfgang Kuhle artwork made from a 93 sheets of Kinwashi paper cut into 1100 hand-sewn bags. The album itself, another fine addition to Goldstein's small but consistently outstanding discography, features six tracks, five of them compositions – or rather, structured improvisations, for as always with Goldstein's work the boundary line between composition and improvisation is effortlessly erased – on which Goldstein, on violin and voice, is joined by German percussionist Matthias Kaul. Kaul's background in contemporary classical music is reflected in the colourful array of instruments he performs on, including marimba and button gongs, and his fondness for bowed and rubbed sonorities, in conjunction with the rather-too-wet acoustic of the Frankfurt studio where the pieces were recorded back in 1999, also serves to blur the distinction between the seemingly incompatible string and percussion instruments. On "Good mourning moon" and his own piece "Revolver", loosely inspired by and quoting the Beatles album of the same name, Kaul also plays hurdy gurdy, whose fragile, thin tones are often indistinguishable from Goldstein's. Poetry – in the form of two John Cage mesostics, one based on a quotation by painter Jasper Johns – is transformed into music, either as a performing score in its own right ("that is poetry as") or spoken by Goldstein as part of the piece itself ("it were another"). As always, his virtuosity is no empty display of technical trickery, but reveals the dangerous essence of the violin as gut and metal stretched tight over a wooden box. If light is something we can smell, here is music we can touch.–DW

Mats Gustafsson
The six track titles on this limited edition LP recorded at the Potlatch Festival in Helsinki (nothing to do with the French improv label of the same name btw) in January 2006 are shots out to Gustafsson's nearest and dearest, playing partners and inspirations – "...The Shit, Derek", "...The Fire! Paal", "...The Chance, Paul", "...The Resistance, Dror", "...The Keys, Peter", "...The Time, Thomas + Ann" – but anyone looking for explicit stylistic homage to Messrs. Bailey, Brötzmann, Lovens et al. won't find much. However, if the paint-stripping, harrowing blowing of early Arthur Doyle – think "Domiabra" on Noah Howard's The Black Ark or Babi with Milford Graves and Hugh Glover – is your idea of a good time, you'd better put some pocket money aside to invest in a copy. Improv heads might regret the relative dearth of the clicks and pops that characterised Mats's earlier outings (the 1996 solo Impropositions remains a personal favourite), but what the disc might lack in subtlety it certainly makes up for in raw energy. Better not send a copy to John Gill, though.–DW

Mats Gustafsson
No Business
The Lithuanian jazz scene hasn’t seen much significant documentation to my knowledge, but clearly someone out there is trying to change that, and smartly so, by bringing to disc hometown performances by known visiting musicians (Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee..) alongside local players. A companion release, The Vilnius Implosion is a staggering solo set by Gustafsson, but here the Swedish reedman is in heavy company for four hard-blowing improvisations with Lithuanians Liudas Mockunas (reeds), Eugenijus Kanevicius (bass), and drummers Arkadijus Gotesmanas and Marijus Aleska.
A first time collaboration with no rehearsals, The Vilnius Explosion finds its footing rapidly, an already established ensemble fleshed out with slap-tongued defiance. Burbling bass clarinet and sputtering baritone set a grey-brown tone for the first piece, a thirty-minute unifying battery of "Gittin’ to Know Y’all" revelry. Gustafsson’s fierce overblowing and gestural slather are front and center, but just when it seems like he's stealing the show, Mockunas stretches out on tenor. Goaded on by low baritone blats and frantic uptempo rhythm, his fleet sonic blurs retain an audible link to Warne Marsh, reaching well beyond the Ayleresque peals. In contrast to the strikingly fluid just-outside-the-pocket tenor playing, Mockunas’ bass clarinet and soprano saxophone are bent and rough-edged, a tartness encircling and tugging at Gustafsson’s BBQ-fed musculature. The hornmen seem to find so much fuel in playing off of and against each other that it could all easily turn into a post-FMP slugfest, but fortunately it doesn’t, thanks in part to an extremely sensitive rhythm section that knows when and how to propel things forward with both detail and simplicity. Kanevicius's bowed work is spiky but effective, and the percussionists play as much with silence and shadow as kinetic shove.

Mary Halvorson
Firehouse 12
Guitarist Mary Halvorson is one of the best things about Anthony Braxton's recent music - even though she's crammed into a remote corner of the stage on the Iridium 12(+1)tet gig, it sometimes feels like she's the glue holding all those pulse-tracks and whatnot together. Her new trio disc with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith reveals that she's also an imaginative composer in her own right, from the clanking march-meets-waltz of "Old Nine Two Six Four Two Dies" to the dank groove of "Too Many Ties" (where it sometimes sounds like her guitar's made out of rubber) to "Totally Opaque", which is perhaps her response to the Carnatic M-BASE intricacies of Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa. Indeed, there's nothing especially Braxtonish about the music, since she's much more of a harmonically oriented thinker anyway; the flavour is more like Andrew Hill-plus-math-rock, which is to say it's dark, bracing stuff, the stubbornly contrary melodies, chords and metres either pulling away from each other like antimatter or squashed up together, so that the listener makes a little mental/aural leap or stumble every few bars. (The connection is cemented by the deep-voiced, downright soulful presence of Hebert, who anchored Hill's last working group.) Like Joe Morris or Bruce Eisenbeil, she makes an honest, penny-plain guitar tone sound tougher and wilder than the results of a rack of effects, simply through scrunchy voicings and a hard, clear sense of line.–ND

Peggy Lee
Drip Audio
Cellist Peggy Lee is a crack free improviser from Vancouver (see her work with Carlos Zingaro and John Butcher, in particular), but the previous CDs by her band gravitated towards compositions with a twangy/dreamy neo-Frisellian sound. For this disc the band (formerly a sextet) has expanded to eight members, and the music has become altogether more individual, pulling together dark, droning mise-en-abyme constructions and haunted melodies bathed in reverbed guitar and yearning horn-charts. (The aching, close-blended dissonances of her writing often suggest Kenny Wheeler or Booker Little.) U-turn moments and knockout climaxes are largely absent, but that's not to say the music doesn't develop a ravishing slow-burn intensity of its own, as the horns wind like vines around Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" or step ominously through the smoky, piecemeal groove of "Preparations" (before it melts away into rippling guitars). New recruit Jon Bentley adds some useful saxophone muscle to what had previously been just a front line of trumpeter Brad Turner and trombonist Jeremy Berkman, and the presence of two guitarists - Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson - gives the octet a particularly rich texture, as they tug gently beneath the ferocious "Scribble Town" (sustaining a calm heartbeat beneath the agitated exterior) or give lucid impetus to Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do". I hate it when "layered" arrangements simply lock the instruments in place (which is the problem with a lot of smart, ambitious, clockwork jazz these days that seems hung up on odd-metre grooves); Lee's got the right idea instead: she creates textures you can get lost in, colours and shapes that bleed into each other, an atmosphere of slow-motion weirdness heavy with desire and stray thoughts, like those in-between moments where you're still heavy with dream as you surface into waking life.–ND

Jim McAuley
Drip Audio
Roy Dickinson's The Ultimate Frog, as PT's own Nate Dorward informs us in his liners, was "a little parable about art, idealism and God published in Harpers in 1924. Its hero Old Man Sanders is on a quest for a choir of four perfectly harmonious croakers; he dies in the act of capturing the last frog, one which 'hit middle C as true as a good cellist.' The narrator, picking it up in hopes of completing the little choir, discovers that in the meantime the three others have escaped back into the swamp. The story's moral is (inverting the usual maxim) that 'the good is the enemy of the perfect' – that the bravest souls won't settle for the good-enough in art or life." On this magnificent double CD, Jim McAuley – for more information see Nate's interview with him here – plays classical, steel-string, 12-string, prepared marquette parlor guitars, dobro and marxophone (a hammered dulcimer, used by Ray Manzarek on The Doors' "Alabama Song", if you're interested) in 23 duets, seven of them recorded back in 2002 with violinist / violist Leroy Jenkins, six from 2006 with bassist Ken Filiano and the rest with the ever resourceful and inspiring Cline brothers, Nels (guitar, on six tracks) and Alex (drums, on four), and one final poignant solo homage to McAuley's erstwhile sparring partner, the sorely missed Rod Poole.
The music runs the gamut from rough and ready follow-it-where-it-goes free improv – the tracks with Jenkins are the most adventurous – to tight, composed structures (if quintuple time's your thing, check out "Five'll Get Ya Ten" with Alex Cline on disc two). What's most refreshing about McAuley's playing is its openness to and clear affection for guitar music in all its forms, from flamenco to folk, dirty blues to Derek Bailey. Talking of Bailey, you can forget all that nonsense about "non-idiomatic improv" too (nobody was more idiomatic than he was to start with): this is music that positively relishes its stylistic diversity (to quote McAuley from his interview: "certain things like the blues literally feel good – physically – to play"), moving effortlessly from the kind of rich 12-string playing that wouldn't be out of place on a Ralph Towner disc to hard angular, Baileyesque fingerpicking, often within a couple of phrases. And doing it in a totally unaffected way.
Prior to recording with Filiano the pair rehearsed and sketched out a rough game plan, resulting in duets which are more structured, both motivically and harmonically – especially when the marxophone is used, due to its fixed pitch limitations. They make for a fine contrast with the cuts with Jenkins (whose beautiful shallow vibrato is always a pleasure to rediscover), thanks also to McAuley's careful and intelligent sequencing, which subtly highlights points in common between sessions recorded years apart. Inserting the Jenkins duo "Improvisation #6" between the two Filiano tracks "A Ditty for NC" and "The Zone of Avoidance" is particularly smart, and following it up with the microtonal bottleneck twanging craziness of "Froggy's Magic Twanger", a duo with Nels Cline that Harry Partch would have been proud of, is masterly. Beautiful surprises abound throughout this excellent set; get yourself a copy before it hops back into the swamp.

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Regenorchester XII
Red Note
Way back in The Wire 154, in his Freefall column, Clive Bell, puffing happily on a pipe dream of free improv concerts in football stadiums, came up with the term "StadProv". Alas, Derek Bailey never made that double album with Prince, and 2006's AMM world tour never happened, but with Town Down it looks as if Viennese quartertone trumpeter Franz Hautzinger has come up with the goods. For the twelfth (hence the XII) incarnation of his Regenorchester, a collaborative project that first saw the light of day in London in 1995, he's brought together a veritable improv supergroup featuring Christian Fennesz on guitar and computer, Otomo Yoshihide on guitar and turntables, bassist Luc Ex and drummer Tony Buck for six slabs of colourful and decidedly rock-influenced instant composition.
The band took full advantage of the facilities at SWR's studios in Baden Baden to superimpose and remix several versions of the pieces – the title track and the epic "37rd Rainday" end up with no fewer than six tracks of guitar, four of trumpet and three each of bass and drums. That might sound like a recipe for disaster, but the end result is remarkably clear and coherent, with plenty of space in the mix for the listener to follow the development of individual elements, from Otomo's crackling turntables to Fennesz's distinctive laptop shimmers.
With a project so reliant on artful studio trickery, it's hardly surprising that the liner notes namecheck Miles, but Hautzinger, even when playing straight and avoiding his trademark breathy blasts and close-miked bubbles, sounds nothing like him. Regenorchester XII isn't a Davis tribute band like Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith's Yo Miles! – instead of being channeled into lean, mean grooving funk, its energy flies out in all directions, and the musicians, Buck and Otomo in particular, delight in wallowing in the tacky, treacly excesses of 70s fusion, not so much "Black Satin" as "White Night", from Narada Michael Walden's Garden Of Love Light. In these dark days, with electroacoustic improv still apparently immured in its near-silent cloisters, music as unashamedly self-indulgent as this comes as a welcome surprise.

Keith Rowe / Seymour Wright
"Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place." Thus spake Cornelius Cardew, in 1971's Towards an Ethic of Improvisation. "Accepted," replies Seymour Wright some 37 years later in his notes accompanying this package. "Yet, by extension: are several documents such as tape or digital recordings of one improvisation, juxtaposed, equally empty, unable to convey any sense of time and place? Or, are several documents such as tape or digital recordings of one improvisation, juxtaposed, exponentially more empty, serving to convey nothing but deficit time and place? Or are, in fact, several documents such as tape or digital recordings of one improvisation, juxtaposed, actually cumulatively less empty and, thus, able to convey some relative sense of time and place?" Three questions to ponder there – and three discs to listen to to help you make up your mind. All document the same concert, an encounter between saxophonist Wright and guitarist Keith Rowe in Derby's Dance Centre in November 2002 (one wonders why it's taken so long to appear). David Reid (centre, edge of stage) recorded (and filmed?) the event with his video camera, Chris Trent (right, front row) captured it on a DAT machine with a pair of mics, and three rows behind him on the far left Jeff Cloke did likewise with a single mic to a minidisc recorder. If you're interested in which particular mics and machine were used (I have to say I'm not), the booklet tells you that too.
"Possibilities, for me, rest in the relative time and place relation created by and between these several juxtaposed documents," Wright continues. Superimposed would be more effective: the best way (only way?) to fully appreciate the differences between the three discs is to load them up into music software which allows you to jump from one recording to another at will. But apart from a somewhat lower level on Cloke's recording, and the obvious shifts in stereo placement due to his and Trent's positions in the room itself, there doesn't appear to be much to justify the release of all three, let alone the kind of radical illumination Wright seems to be seeking, as exemplified by the inclusion of a quotation from Paul Cézanne: "the same subject seen from a different angle offers subject for study of the most powerful interest and so varied that [...one...] could occupy [...one...] self for months without changing place, by turning now more to the right, now more to the left."
A fine quotation, to be sure, but it depends what that subject is, and whether it warrants "study of the most powerful interest". After several listenings to the three discs, both individually and superimposed, I'm not sure we wouldn't have been better off with a straightforward mix of Trent and Choke's recordings (properly balanced and synched: one starts seven seconds later than the other). The music Rowe and Wright made that evening, though not as exciting in my view as some of their other available work, notably Wright's recent solo outing Seymour Wright of Derby, is interesting enough in itself to reward repeated listening, but, paradoxically, the only way to fully appreciate the nuances of difference between the three recordings is to listen on headphones. Not exactly a three-dimensional experience. Even a Surround Sound recording, not that wmo/r could afford to release one, wouldn't add much. Surely the only way to "preserve, relatively, multi-dimensionally something of the form which that improvisation took" and appreciate the "relative, loco-temporal frame within which listeners position and reposition themselves" is to go to gigs and avoid listening to recordings altogether. 3D is a cute concept, and one perfectly in line with label boss Mattin's flair for savvy marketing, but he could pull off a real coup if he figured out how to release a recording of improvised music which, Mission Impossible-style, self-destructs after one listening. My own answers to the three questions Wright asks above are yes, no and no.

Wally Shoup / Chris Corsano / Paul Flaherty
In the same spirit of their earlier twin LP releases Steel Sleet and Last Eyes, the first of which was also on the fine Finnish Tyyfus imprint, here comes another double whammy of scorching vinyl, once more printed white on black and black on white respectively, and once more featuring Paul Flaherty (tenor and alto saxes) and Chris Corsano (drums), this time joined by another revered fire breather, Wally Shoup (alto sax). Originally released last year (you'll excuse my not reviewing them then, but I was on "sabbatical".. and anyway I didn't get 'em until a couple of months ago), both LPs feature music recorded live – how could it be any other way? – in Seattle's Gallery 1412 in October 2005, before Corsano was called up for duty on the Good Ship Björk. Flaherty completists will presumably have already worn out their copies, but vinyl enthusiasts in search of thrills and spills should certainly consider treating themselves. I wonder though, as Corsano thrashes his snare to oblivion and Flaherty and Shoup's stratospheric fireballs burn up what little oxygen remains in this apartment (I daren't open the window, not for fear the neighbours might lob a splinter bomb through it in retaliation, but because it's 4° outside and pissing down rain), what else there is to say. Of course, it's not all blood and bullets – as usual both saxophonists find room for their own touching takes on the blues – but those already familiar with the work of these cats will know what to expect. And, as usual, they don't disappoint.–DW

Chris Speed / Chris Cheek / Stephane Furic Leibovici
Bassist-composer Stephane Furic Leibovici's Jugendstil is the first recording in recent memory to have wholly assimilated the early music of Jimmy Giuffre and found something beyond it. Here he's joined by clarinettist Chris Speed and saxophonist Chris Cheek on seven original compositions, beginning with a five-part through-composed suite, the "Carter Variations" (dedicated to composer Elliott, not clarinettist John), whose measured shrillness takes up only the first five minutes of the disc but sets the tone for the remaining forty. The semi-improvised chamber music of the following six tracks offers a world of narrow delicacy and tonal isolation, a steely response to the Symposium on Relaxed Improvisation, with delicate tenor and clarinet wheeling upwards above the bassist's grey-brown strums.
Speed is one of the finest clarinettists working today (check out the minimalist prog outfit Claudia Quintet for further evidence), and his narrow, vibratoless playing enters into an ambiguous triangle of relationships with Cheek's breathy tenor and soprano and the bassist's crisp harmonics. The hornmen's harmonies are tart trills, like a condensed version of the interplay of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, or like five bars of the Giuffre-Swallow duets on Free Fall with the air sucked out of them and stretched to five minutes' length. (Not that that's necessarily a bad thing...) Furic Leibovici explores extremes of concentration and sterility, and though the horns make use of piercing harmonics, their delivery is pure and unwavering. The results are curiously winsome yet almost mechanical. Restraint is key – but Furic Leibovici's meaty pulse and Cheek's gruff, shadowy tenor indicate that the corners could be set aflame at any instant. Perhaps the isolationist tendencies at play here are anti-Giuffre, but the concentration on a small range of raw materials makes a powerful musical statement.

Sun Ra
Secrets of the Sun is another welcome notch in the Atavistic Unheard Music Series' reissue program of Sun Ra titles that Evidence missed in the first go-round. Dating from 1962, it's also one of the scarcest Saturn LPs and one of the first in the Arkestra's freewheeling New York period. Ra is joined by the usual suspects – Allen, Gilmore, Patrick, Boykins, Stroman, Hunter, Johnson – with a few interesting additions, including Calvin Newborn on guitar, and Eddie Gale and Al Evans on trumpets. The original six-track LP is augmented by a 17-minute rendition of "Flight to Mars," slated for inclusion on a later Saturn LP but unissued until now.
"Friendly Galaxy" starts off the proceedings, with out-of-tune piano and lilting bass vamp so distant they sound like they're in another room from Evans' piercing flugelhorn and Newborn's spiky, skittering lines. The poor recording quality actually enhances the music's spaciousness, to the point that most of the solos seem practically unaccompanied. Clunky rhythmic flecks accent Evans's in-the-red postbop, but it's as if he's hanging out on his own, and the guitarist's glassy tone stands out from the faraway din of low reeds, bass, and piano – not to mention that his bluesiness is nothing like the woody reverberation of bass clarinet and tympani that usually fleshes out Ra's world.
Art Jenkins is presumably vocalizing into a glass on "Solar Differentials," his bubbling glossolalia making a raucous contrast to Ra's blocky left-hand lurch, occasionally strung together with hissing tape noise and reverb. "Space Aura" is a rickety bottom-heavy march on which the soloists blast out of the gates full-throttle; Gilmore and Patrick's hurtling whorl of energy practically ghostwrites "Sun Ship", yet the tune itself sounds more like screwed-down Monk. Here, the tensions in Ra's music (and possibly in the band, too) become eruptive and nearly uncontrollable, as the ethno-Les Baxter-bebop tunes of earlier Arkestras give way to solos and interplay more befitting the free tonalities of an ESP-Disk' session – when Gilmore lets loose with reed-splitting torrents, Ra seems unsure whether to follow or rein him in. As always, it's fascinating stuff, and considering the amount of Saturn releases that haven't yet seen reissue (...Featuring Pharaoh Sanders and Black Harold , anyone?), Atavistic should be busy for years to come.

Steve Swell Rivers of Sound Ensemble
Not Two
There aren't many current torchbearers of Free Jazz of the kind that flowered in the "loft jazz" heyday of the 1970s. The kind of group music where loose dirge-like heads give way to sprawling and heel-digging solos in free time only rears its head nowadays with a funky backbeat or in the service of a greater structural aim. Trombonist Steve Swell is one of those rare individuals who still play loft-style free jazz with nuance and flair. On News from the Mystic Auricle, he's joined by trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr., reedman Sabir Mateen (who fielded a similar three-horn line on 2006's excellent Prophecies Come to Pass (577 Records)), bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Klaus Kugel. These three lengthy improvisations are, as the ensemble's name implies, dedicated to Sam Rivers, the octogenarian reedman who has cut a path from tradition to freedom over a career spanning fifty-plus years.
Rivers' trio performances from the 1970s were sprawling affairs, a kaleidoscope of colors and dynamics that encompassed his full range of instruments and demanded strong, independent-minded support from his sidemen. Swell's ensemble has a similar collective ethos. A case in point is the title track, which begins as a flute exploration underpinned by arco bass and bowed cymbals. Swell's bugle flicks and slippery guffaws soon enter in metallic singsong with Mateen's birdcalls, their jovial bravura riding a web of accents. Brass shout and pluck give way to deft triple-time as Mateen lets loose on tenor with hard, burnished yelps and scumbled overblowing. Once a young upstart in Horace Tapscott's band, he still draws on the sound of his forebears: his high-register tongue-speak has a lineage traceable to blues shouters. Even when the quintet is at its most intense, with Kugel tumbling his toms and piling on layers of coppery wash and Campbell's conical-bore projections front and center, there's an extraordinary degree of openness to the music. The improvisations are busy but unhurried, like windows thrown open onto conversations that have always been ongoing.

Another Timbre
As its title implies, this is the second outing – the first was on Sofa three years ago – from the triumvirate of Axel Dörner (trumpet), Thomas Lehn (analogue synth) and Phil Minton (voice). It also refers to the fact that the disc contains just two tracks, "ling", recorded in June 2008 in Esslingen and "kla", which dates from May 2005 in Klagenfurt. Connoisseurs of Dörner, Lehn and Minton can amuse themselves by trying to work out how the musicians' individual vocabularies have evolved over those three years, but suffice it to say they make abundant and gleeful use of their particular "tricks" (to quote Paul Lovens): there are plenty of pitchless machine gun puffs and gritty low notes from Dörner, spring reverb shudders and sci-fi bleeps from Lehn and split-tone wheezes, birdcall twitters and Leatherface-does-Donald-Duck from Minton. But even though the individual sounds themselves will no doubt be familiar to you, dear reader, the way these three master craftsmen choose to deploy them is source of amusement and delight. To paraphrase Art Lange writing about Misha Mengelberg, you can hear them listening to each other – and they take great pleasure in going their own ways when you least expect it. It'd be also too easy for one of Minton's boozy spitstorms to provoke an avalanche of stuttering and splattering from Dörner and Lehn, but more often than not they take the opposite tack, sitting quietly on a sound until Phil either shuts up or joins them. Similarly, some of Dörner's busiest playing occurs while Minton is at his most demure and introspective. It all adds up to one of the most musically satisfying improv releases of the year, on what must be (though I hate the inevitable end of year "top tens" and "best of"s) 2008's label of the year.–DW

Rafael Toral
This is the third episode of Rafael Toral's projected epic Space Program, after 2006's Space (Staubgold) and last year's Space Solo 1 (Quecksilber), and it's the best yet. Turning his back on the luxuriant drones that characterised his work from Sound Mind Sound Body to Violence Of Discovery And Calm Of Acceptance, Toral has put his guitar back in its case, preferring instead to develop a whole arsenal of self-designed electronic instruments, including (featured here) "glove-controlled computer sinewaves", "ribbon-controlled sinewave bursts", and "modified MT-10 amplifier." In an interview that formed the basis of an extended feature in The Wire (#272, October 2006), Toral described Space Elements as "a projected set of six albums, each focusing on specific sonic element of the Space Program, and the family of instruments associated with it." Those familiar with his pre-Space output might find it strange to see this covered in the Jazz / Improv section, but Toral's remarks on jazz, and his relationship to it, are worth quoting: "What I'm doing is probably more of a jazz based approach to electronic music than the other way round. Performance practice in jazz often consists of a personal way of structuring musical elements, a way of accessing a whole range of personal techniques and solutions. In that sense I might describe myself as a jazz musician. That's what I call 'vocabulary' – and 'language' is useful as a term to describe how that vocabulary is put together and used in musical discourse."
Listening to Space Elements Vol.1 you can see (hear, rather) just what he's getting at: there's not the slightest semblance of regular "beat", no harmonic "changes" to play, the music is generally restrained and the texture spare, but it's certainly closer to jazz in feel than anything he produced prior to launching himself into Space. There's an economy and clarity of line to his own playing that connects him to a long line of less-is-more jazz musicians, from Frankie Trumbauer to Bill Dixon, via Lester Young, Jimmy Giuffre and Chet Baker. On the subject of Baker, it's worth recalling that Toral also appeared on trumpeter Sei Miguel's extraordinary Showtime (1996), which was dedicated "to Chet and Cage" – Miguel has remained a huge influence, not only on Toral but on a whole generation of Portuguese improvisers, including cellist Rute Praça, trombonist Fala Mariam, bassist Margarida Garcia and percussionist César Burago, all of whom (along indeed with Sei Miguel himself) contribute to Space Elements Vol.1. Burago deserves special mention: his use of unconventional instrumental timbres in conjunction with a terrific sense of timing – i.e. knowing just when to play and, more importantly, when not to – is a pure joy. There's also an appearance from David Toop on flute on track three, whose elegant, understated lines intertwine with Toral's delicate sonic calligraphy to produce some truly exquisite music. Go get yourself a copy.–DW

Trio Sowari
Recorded at La Muse En Circuit studio just outside Paris at the end of November 2006, Shortcut is a fine follow-up to Trio Sowari's 2005 debut outing Three Dances, also on Potlatch. I suppose you'd still file it away under "EAI", but it's a good example of just how difficult that particular term is to define. Long tracks? Well, not necessarily: the first four are over and done with in under three minutes. Slowmoving? Not always: anyone who's seen Messrs. Durrant (Phil, laptop) Beins (Burkhard, percussion) and Denzler (Bertrand, tenor sax) in action will have been impressed by the often sprightly nature of their music, and that's very much in evidence here. Quiet? For the most part yes, but not always: Durrant in particular can get quite boisterous when he wants to. His violin has been sitting in its case for a while now, but Shortcut's intricate exchanges have more in common with his earlier work, notably the great trio with Johns Butcher and Russell, than you might think. Those who've taken it upon themselves to seek out precursors of latterday EAI / lowercase / reductionism have been quick to point to AMM (logically enough, given Keith Rowe's prominence in the scene), but I have a sneaking suspicion that John Stevens' work with the various incarnations of his Spontaneous Music Ensemble might prove to have been just as influential in the long run. I'd argue that a line could be traced back from the tight interplay of Shortcut's superb closing track "Moving Targets" via The Scenic Route to the SME's A New Distance and Face To Face. That said, there's nothing remotely retro about this music: the sonic pinpricks of "Dots #2" are as exquisitely placed and compelling as anything on Durrant's two seminal lowercase outings with Thomas Lehn and Radu Malfatti, beinhaltung and dach, and the rich textures of "Trespassing" should certainly appeal to EAI purists, all 150 of them. Musicianship and creativity of the highest order – if it didn't make it to your Christmas stocking this year, make sure it gets there in 2009.–DW

Ute Völker / Angelika Sheridan
With an album title meaning luminescent fish (phosichthyidae), and track titles referring to several species of them (some of which look pretty fucking scary.. good job I'm not likely to come across many of these buggers in my local poissonerie), you might think you're in for a rather chilly deep sea dive with this duo album featuring accordionist Ute Völker and flautist Angelika Sheridan, but you'd be wrong. Here are thirteen brief duets – ranging in duration from 1'21" to 5'54" – that explore the instruments' possibilities, and there are more of them than you might think, even if you're already familiar with Fred Van Hove or Pauline Oliveros' accordion work, or the flute playing of Carlos Bechegas, Sabine Vogel or Alessandra Rombolá. Sometimes consensual (listen to how the vaguely oriental arabesques of "Elongata" intertwine), sometimes conflictual (Sheridan makes no attempt to combat Völker's boisterous fisticuffs on "Ovatus", hooting on her bass flute until the anger subsides), it's a grand listen, from the introspective meandering clusters of "Argenteus" to the lively splutters of "Taenia" (which also means tapeworm, by the way, if you feel like losing a bit of weight after the Christmas excesses).–DW

Jacob Wick / Andrew Greenwald
Creative Sources
Here's another name to add to the already long list of so-called "extended techniques" trumpeters: Brooklyn-based Jacob Wick, who joins percussionist Andrew Greenwald for a set of four duets, entitled, wait for it, "Track 1", "Track 2", "Track 3" and "Track 4", with a total duration of, yes, 37'55". One supposes that the track and album titles were chosen not out of lack of imagination but more as a plea for listeners to approach the pieces as "pure music" (whatever that is), or maybe an act of homage to the likes of Braxton – I see he's now up to Composition No 367B – and Cage. Duration as title of work, 4'33" being the most notorious example. You could say there's a touch of late Cage Number Piece austerity to Wick and Greenwald's first track, which, clocking in at over 21 minutes, divides the album in half – indeed, one wonders whether a vinyl release wouldn't have been more appropriate, as the three shorter pieces that follow seem to belong together as a more lively counterbalancing triptych, one that makes for an interesting comparison with Nate Wooley and Paul Lytton's recent (untitled) LP outing on Broken Research.
Lowercase / EAI seems to have arrived at a fork where two roads diverge in a yellow wood, and can't decide whether to go further down Sugimoto Lane to where it bends in the undergrowth of silence or take the other path which, having perhaps the better claim, doubles back to more traditional chatter and clatter. On 37:55 Wick and Greenwald take a couple of tentative steps in each direction before heading back to the junction to consider their next move. They still seem just a little afraid to let themselves go (notably on the third track), but it's that repressed energy which gives the music its peculiar urgency.

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Mark Applebaum
In an amusing and well-written autobiographical note included in the beautifully produced 20-page booklet accompanying this latest offering from Mark Applebaum (b. Chicago, 1967), the composer writes: "Some of his music is composed according to painstaking and thorough, if dreary, techniques defended by sober, sensible and defensible logic resulting in characteristics like authenticity, integrity, depth, merit and seriousness, qualities that tend to make modernists happy, or at least comfortable. [..] Recent works, however, tend increasingly toward absurdity. In retrospect (or historical revision), Applebaum's aesthetic relies on acts of musical collision." Sock Monkey, the follow up to 2004's Catfish (Tzadik), and the latest of a whole string of albums on Innova, starts off with a fine example of Applebaum's exuberant postmodernism, in the form of Magnetic North (2006), a 14-minute adventure scored for brass quintet and percussion with occasional interpolated cadenzas from an additional soloist, in this case Applebaum himself on his self-designed mouseketier (an electroacoustic sound sculpture incorporating amplified bits of junk and toys, whose already strange sounds are further transformed electronically). The score – extracts from which appear in the booklet – uses various forms of traditional and graphic notation, and also calls on the performers to engage in various other activities, including tearing up bits of paper, dropping ping pong balls, and constructing a "bag mute" made from a ball of tin foil which is rolled around among the musicians and eventually stuffed into a paper sack. One amusing instruction calls for a bar to be repeated x+1 times, where x is the number of times it takes two players to stop playing on protest (!). John Zorn's game pieces inevitably come to mind, so it's only natural he gets a mention in Applebaum's liners. The piece is smart, well-written and superbly performed – but probably funny enough without the trombone belly laugh before the end.
Last year's The Composer's Middle Period (I'm a little wary of such titles, I don't know why) is another hectic 3'25" tour de force written for the sfSound ensemble, here a sextet consisting of oboe, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, violin and cello, in which five "materials" – ranging from a graphically notated ensemble "outburst" to intricately scored canonic writing – are repeated five times, in various overlapping configurations. The three pieces entitled Theme in Search of Variations, scored respectively for percussion trio, five-piece and four-piece ensemble, are somewhat less frenetic, but still reluctant to sit still. Once more, virtuosity seems to be the name of the game – this is music which somehow seems designed to impress: why else would the composer include a diagram showing the percussionist's setup? Light relief of sorts (not that anything on this album is exactly "heavy" enough to warrant any) comes in the form of Variations on Variations on a Theme by Mozart (2006), in which the composer performs the Variations on Ah! Vous dirai-je maman (K.265) – on prepared piano. Not one but eighteen of the beasts, each prepared differently. It's hilarious stuff, but the liners go rabbiting on about the piece being a "musical collision through transcription of the subset collisions through neuromuscular economy," or something. Tongue in cheek, perhaps, but probably the kind of spiel you'd expect from someone who studied with Brian Ferneyhough at UC San Diego. Hence the title of Entre Funérailles I (1999), a hypothetical interlude to be performed between two versions of his erstwhile teacher's Funérailles (for string septet and harp), in this case a tiny (2'21") but intricate miniature for solo trumpet, expertly handled by Brian McWhorter.
On Martian Anthropology 7 – 9 (2006, again), commissioned and performed by the Paul Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band, Applebaum goes rummaging in the toybox once more, with crackleboxes, samplers, and a drumkit featuring pizza boxes, egg cartons and plastic bags. On the Nature of the Modern Age is a little more sedate – as it should be, being an affectionate homage to John Silber, Applebaum's former composition teacher at UCSD – and is scored for piano duo and live electronics, which are used principally to loop sounds sourced from inside the instruments. The closing title track Sock Monkey (2007) is named after a cuddly toy belonging to the composer's young daughter Charlotte, which might explain the relatively accessible nature of the writing for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. It's clear Applebaum knows his Stravinsky, Bartók and Ligeti inside out, but I wonder what a card-carrying modernist like Ferneyhough would make of those Sacre flourishes at 4'21" and the descending octatonic harp tinkles that set in a minute later. Dogmatic quibbles aside, it's clear Applebaum knows how to write challenging and entertaining music for the top-notch performers he has access to at Stanford. As he's a tenured composition professor there, expect him continue doing so for quite some time to come.

John Hudak
John Hudak's past projects have explored the tiny details of environmental sounds both natural – snow melting (Old Moon, Kissy, 2003), underwater insects (Pond, Meme 1998), grass in a field (Tall Grasses, Digital Narcis, 2002) – and man-made, ranging from motorway traffic noise (Highway, Edition, 2000) and vibrations and static on the Brooklyn Bridge (Brooklyn Bridge, Shirocoal /Soleilmoon, 1998) to an answering machine message from his mum (Don't Worry About Anything, I'll Talk To You Tomorrow, Alluvial, 1999). Some of these have been ravishingly beautiful – especially the collaborative ventures with Jason Lescalleet (Figure 2, Intransitive, 2000)and Stephan Mathieu (Pieces Of Winter, Sirr, 2004) – others (Highway, notably) have tried the patience (though with Hudak's work it's always worth bearing in mind Cage's "if something is boring after two minutes.." anecdote). Recently he's taken to using the computer to translate information into music – on 2006's Sotto Voce (Conv) recordings of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein reading were transformed into MIDI-triggered cello pizzicati. He describes his working method in On And On as follows: "I recorded myself strumming a guitar for a long time. I converted the strumming audio to MIDI information (a collection of numbers that hold the basic pitch information along with duration and volume). The computer had to simplify the strumming, and in this simplification left me with a melody... a succession of number information [sic] that I used to trigger the pitches of an instrument much like a dulcimer." The end result is rather similar to parts of the Michael Byron disc reviewed here last time round: always the same – once you've heard it, you'll recognise it again instantly for the rest of your days – but never the same. It's not at all unpleasant, but at normal to loud volume levels the unchanging timbre of the instrument can become somewhat irritating, and you may find that the only way you can get through the whole piece (it lasts over an hour and ten minutes) is by turning the volume down and allowing it to tinkle along merrily in the background. You'd miss a lot of lovely little details if you did, though.–DW

The Deep is the latest composition – and we're definitely talking composition here: you can even check out the score online at the sleazeart website, and very interesting it is too – by Kasper Toeplitz for Kernel, his laptop trio with Eryck Abecassis and Wilfried Wendling. There's plenty of information about the group and their instrumentation (i.e. software, for the most part) at the sleazeart site, but no amount of background reading and scrutiny of KT's pdfs (you'll need a smattering of French) can prepare you for the impressive 59'33" of The Deep. Since Paul D. Miller and his chums made Xenakis suddenly hip a few years back, far too many musicians have been quick to claim some kind of Xenakis street cred, but very few compositions pack the clout of Bohor or La Légende d'Eer. Happy to report that The Deep is one of them. Toeplitz has a real feel not only for the large form – which is not simply a question of taking a short form and stretching it out: ask Eliane Radigue, who worked closely with KT on the realisation of her Elemental II back in 2004 – but for the surface and texture of the sounds he and his playing partners choose to articulate it. Any self respecting fan of Xenakis, Radigue or EAI for that matter (putting any anti-composer prejudice aside) should check this splendid work out at the earliest opportunity.–DW

Iannis Xenakis
In her liner notes to this set, along with copious details about Xenakis's plans for the sound spatialisation of 1970's Hibiki Hana Ma (written for the Osaka World Fair where he had access to over 800 loudspeakers) and the laser lightshow he devised for 1974's Polytope de Cluny, Sharon Kanach writes: "you had to be there to understand." Well, most of us weren't, so it's a question of "nothing here now but the recordings," to quote William Burroughs. Xenakis / Mode completists will no doubt not want to be without this latest addition to the catalogue, but Polytope de Cluny has in fact already appeared on the label, as part of the excellent double CD CCMIX New Electroacoustic Music From Paris (Mode 98/99). Audio purists will appreciate the new stereo mix, taken from a 96KHz/24-bit transfer from the original analogue master, but at what my mother would call "civilised" volume it doesn't sound drastically different to me (but then again I haven't been playing the disc as loud as I should for fear of instant eviction). Hibiki Hana Ma ("Reverberation – Flower – Interval") started out as an orchestral commission, but Xenakis, keen to take advantage of the Osaka sound system at his disposal, transformed it into an electroacoustic work, but one that uses source material from his extant instrumental music, notably Kraanerg. Once more, this isn't its first appearance on disc – though it's a slightly brighter mix compared to the version included in the EMF Electronic Music set released back in 1997 – so Xenakis nuts will probably already have it. It's good crunchy stuff, though I'm not sure I rate it as highly as DJ Spooky does, and it suffers a little from the pairing with Polytope, which is a more colourful (nearly said "lighter", but that wouldn't be the word) piece.
Xenakis completists will definitely want to get hold of the DVD issue of this Mode disc, though, which includes an eight-minute film made in 1960 by Peter Kassovitz entitled Vasarely and documenting an exhibition of that painter's work at the Denise Renée Gallery. Xenakis provided music in the form of a piece entitled NEG-ALE for piccolo, horn, cello and percussion, but later withdrew the work from his catalogue. Understandably so, as it's pretty slight compared to the other pieces he produced around that time – Herma, Atrées, and the ST series. One wonders whether he'd have been happy to see it released, but I am, despite certain reservations about the recording quality and the rather uninspiring cover art of the Mode Xenakis series in general.

Zeitkratzer / Carsten Nicolai
"Repetition and romanticism: here is where Schubert and his 'magnificent breadth' can always be felt, his rhythmic, inward looking, almost monotone music where the minor key is an illumination." So writes Reinhold Friedl (I'm assuming he's responsible for the accompanying text – in the booklet the English translator is credited but not the author), pianist and artistic director of the Berlin-based Zeitkratzer ensemble, founded in 1999 and best known for their collaborative crossover ventures with the likes of Lou Reed, Merzbow and John Duncan. Quite apart from not understanding parts of the above quotation – illumination of what? – I'd be happy to take issue with the description of Schubert's music as monotone, and it's certainly not all inward looking by any means. But maybe getting your work properly financed by institutions such as the Deutscher Musikrat gemeinnützige Projektgesellschaft means having to namecheck some major figures of German cultural history instead of enthusing about leftfield turn of century techno by the likes of Raster Noton's Carsten Nicolai, whose three featured compositions on Electronics are pleasant enough, though not exactly earthshaking. "synchron bitwave" is a colourfully scored 16-minute exploration of an open position D minor triad, "5 min" (which actually lasts 8'09") gradually adds rhythmically regular bleeps and buzzes to a sustained pale middle C# drone, and the closing "c1" sticks resolutely to its note – no prizes for guessing which one – once more making effective use of the orchestral forces, particularly Frank Gratkowski's bass clarinet and Anton Lukoszevieze's cello, but hardly breaking new ground. Its 27 minutes are curiously split into two tracks on the CD, for listening convenience one assumes, though nothing momentous happens until four minutes into the second track, when some dreamy piano chords start drifting in. It's well executed, beautifully recorded and elegantly packaged but I'd trade it all for a bar of late Schubert any day of the week.–DW

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Alan Courtis
Blossoming Noise
It's about time we – myself included – stopped referring to Buenos Aires-based Alan Courtis (ha! they've spelt his name right for once!) as "ex-Reynols", as he must have released nearly as much under his own name (Anla more than Alan, admittedly) than he did with Roberto Conlazo and Miguel Tomasin. This latest offering on the ever-wonderful Blossoming Noise imprint (not that I can share many of the label's treasures with my dear wife as music for a candlelit dinner) consists of three wonderful slabs of textured sounds named after herbs – cardamom, coriander and fenugreek – sourced from, as it says, a stringless guitar and cymbals. Though you may not believe that last bit if you hear it. I didn't, until I received this explanatory email from Alan: "The guitar is an Argentinian second-hand guitar from the 70s (the body is a copy of a Gibson 335 with a Fender Stratocaster type fingerboard) that I found in a Salvation Army here in Buenos Aires about ten years ago. It didn't have a bridge and all the bridges I tried didn't fit, so it was lying in a corner of my apartment for about eight years. One day I just understood that it was that way without bridge or strings, and attached a contact mic to the plug connector and the old wires it had inside, and it worked perfectly. The sounds are mostly feedback sounds coming from the guitar itself. Obviously they're heavily processed, so there's a wide range of frequencies, from the sub-low to very high. The effects employed were mainly distortion, reverb, EQ and pitch shifting. And also there are some sounds from the body of the guitar, rubbed or slightly smashed with objects, which you'll notice especially in track two." I love that "slightly smashed".. wish I'd written that myself. Oh yes, "and there are layers of cymbals throughout the record." Well, that tells you how he did it, but doesn't go any way in explaining why it sounds so damn good. Put it down to a great ear and a real feel for structure. One of Courtis's best releases to date, not that I can say I've heard more than a third of his prodigious output.–DW

DJ Olive
The third in a series of "sleeping pills designed to create deep warm enveloping environmental textures which become soft company for those who have trouble sleeping", following on from Buoy (2004) and Sleep (which dates from 2001 but was only released in 2006), Triage is the soundtrack from an installation at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and, in addition to Olive himself, features contributions from David Watson (bagpipes), Vija Brazus (percussion, guitar, vocals), Karl Francke (harmonica, vocals, keyboards) and the curiously-named DJ Reaganomics (turntables). Postprod and processing are handled by Christian Fennesz, so you know you're in for a classy piece of work even if the dreamy stuff isn't your bag. Indeed, the instruction "play it quiet" (makes a change, that) and the soporific mission statement could be distinctly offputting to those who have found some of the releases on Lawrence English's imprint too soft and cuddly, but there are many exquisite moments here and you'll be missing out on them if you doze off, or turn the wick down too low. So crank it up instead – it may still send you off to the land of nod, but you'll enjoy the journey much more if you take in something of the view along the way.–DW

The success of Endless Summer, both aesthetically and in terms of its audience reach, has been both a blessing and a curse for Christian Fennesz. Its release placed him firmly – and more than likely historically – in the pulsing electronic aorta, and it remains a reference point for critics and fans alike, but its achievement has become less and less relevant to his current activities. Case in point is Black Sea. Here Fennesz sheds the chronic splutter'n'splice of more obvious DSP, and instead offers his most intricate and far-sighted work to date. It's a record that finds his compositions at their most dense, harmonically orchestrated and compelling. Take "Vacuum" for example: it's a fairly cursory piece at just under four minutes, but within its gentle melody and playful processing is an affecting and engaging cinema-like melodic narrative of a type that has become increasingly important in Fennesz's universe.
Black Sea is a record in which most source elements are filtered through countless layers of transformation, creating a blurred soundscape of layered washes of guitar, showering cascades of reverb-loaded static, and harmony hinted at through clouds of processing. Close inspection of a piece like "The Colour of Three" – which features a pottering prepared piano contribution from Australian Antony Pateras – reveals a web of miniature sounds clambering together, a modulated series of pulses that could be mistaken for the sound of insects. Such audio filigree only reveals itself to the listener through careful attention: on cursory listens Black Sea is more like a mirage, a giant gauze-like screen of sound that can become curiously atmospheric, but closer examination reveals a huge amount of tonal colour and sonic intricacy. It's an elegant, expansive and engulfing creation – just take in the final passages of "Saffron Revolution" if you need any proof.–LE

Illusion of Safety
Illusion of Safety
Dan Burke / Thomas Dimuzio
No Fun
As the saying goes about London buses, you wait for an hour and then three arrive at the same time. The 1990s saw the release of somewhere near a couple of dozen Illusion Of Safety albums (vinyl and CD, not counting compilations), but since the turn of the century Dan Burke (photo, right, courtesy Seth Tisue, I think) hasn't exactly flooded the market with product, as they say. But the arrival of these three new platters, hard on the heels of the excellent ten-incher Sedation & Quell (C.I.P.) is proof that he hasn't been twiddling his thumbs since 2001's In Opposition To Our Acceleration (Die Stadt), the last IOS album that came my way. It's been well worth the wait.
These days Illusion Of Safety is a Burke solo project, but until the end of the 90s it was a group of likeminded adventurers including Mitch Enderle, Thymme Jones, Chris Block, Mark Klein, Mark Sorensen, Kurt Greisch and Jim O'Rourke (and others). IOS first took it to the stage on June 17th, 1983, back when Yuri Andropov was snoozing in the Kremlin, Fucked Up Ronnie Reagan's Star Wars SDI project was a three-month-old baby, Margaret Thatcher had just won her second General Election with a crashing 144 seat majority, and The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and Irene Cara's "Flashdance" were topping the charts. My God. Just think: if you were born on that day you could now be the proud parent of a child old enough to tell you to turn that weird shit music off. The Irene Cara, I mean.
Enough of that, and enough of reviews that describe Burke as a "veteran" or a "survivor" – the music on these three fine new discs is solid proof that he's just as good now as he ever was. One of the most consistently impressive things about IOS is its refusal to be pigeonholed. To quote the MySpace page, Burke's music has been described as "ambient, post-industrial, electro-acoustic, electronica, noise, sound collage, improvisation, and power electronics. Unable to categorize their work into one style, each release, live performance, and sometimes individual piece often shifts abruptly from one atmosphere to another." Which makes it all the more relevant now that the worlds of noise and EAI are moving ever closer together, and the pioneers of 90s glitch / crunch / click / cut laptoppery have grown up and become established and mature composers.

The seven tracks on The Need To Now are fine examples of what Dan Burke does best: choosing varied and rich sound material, and crafting it with an impeccable ear for timing and strong sense of structure into intelligent, satisfying music with little regard for ephemeral fads and fancies. It's no surprise that Frans de Waard is a major league IOS fan, because he does that very well too. "Why isn't Daniel Burke a famous Hollywood soundtrack composer, I wonder?" muses de Waard in his review of the album over at Vital Weekly. Yeah, quite. Though maybe he just wouldn't want to be. Tracks like "Remember" – a seven-and-a-half minute masterpiece (right up to the final second.. check it out) – are just too good for Hollywood.

In Session, a limited edition release on the Russian Waystyx label (500 copies, so don't hang about) is another fine example of Burke prying open the cracks between the various genres of electronic music, mixing "ambient" (i.e. predominantly wet, reverb-heavy textured drones) with crunchier more "noisy" material (drier, more abrasive sonorities, more forward in the mix) to create a listening experience of considerable complexity, but one that neither overloads the ear nor sends it off to sleep. Quite the opposite: you'll be surprised how you get drawn in – special bonus points for anyone who can identify the David Sanborn track way way back in the mix on "Waiting Room", haha.

In Session's six tracks were mastered by Thomas Dimuzio, who teams up as a performer with Burke on Upcoming Events, whose 15 tracks were all (amazingly, considering their complexity) recorded live during three concerts in California in November 2004. It's a splendid follow up to 1999's Hz (Sonoris), also sourced in live recordings the pair made in 1997. No post-prod jiggery pokery here either, just careful mixing and sequencing. The riot police on the album cover, plus the fact that it's on No Fun, might lead you to expect something nastier – but Upcoming Events packs a subtler punch than Hz. The opening track, "Deregulation", sets the tone well, building gradually over ten minutes from distant snippets of radio to become a sprawling mass of tremolo strings and wailing sirens. The sounds the pair create are complex to the point of inscrutability, often so heavily processed that their origins are impossible to determine, yet disturbingly arresting. I actually dreamt about the nagging rising semitone on "Closed Circuit" the other night. When music reaches you even in the deepest recesses of sleep, you know it's got something. Invest in a copy now and see if it fucks with your dreams.

Junko / Michel Henritzi / Mattin
This 29-minute set was recorded live at the Densités festival in 2007, and there's a minute or so of curiously distant applause at the end to prove it. Those already familiar with Mattin and Junko's Pinknoise and Junko's work with Henritzi's late lamented noise outfit Dust Breeders will no doubt be drooling at the prospect of a menage à trois, but it certainly sounds like the punters there enjoyed it more than I did. After six and half minutes of next to nothing – a few distant high pitched whines from Mattin and the occasional reverb shiver from Henritzi – the grande dame of Japanoise makes her entry, but the lacklustre recording makes her sound more like a distressed pussycat than the wild beast we're used to. Mattin brings the thundering noise in only at the 18-minute mark, by which time the music sounds to be running out of steam. For completists only.–DW

Joel Stern
Australian author Hugh Wilcken, enthusing about Joy Division in the latest (January 2009) issue of The Wire, writes about how strange it was for him "listening to Joy Division as a teenager in the sun-drenched, hedonistic Sydney of 1981." Maybe it's a bit of a cliché, maybe it's just me, but "sun-drenched" is the kind of adjective that often springs to mind on listening to what comes my way from down under – from the gamelan clutter of the Pateras / Baxter / Brown trio to Jim Denley's environmental improv (Through Fire, Crevice + The Hidden Valley), from the rich hues of Oren Ambarchi to the garden intimacy of Carchesio and Craig's Leaves (also on Naturestrip). And there's certainly a lot of sunshine and colour in Joel Stern's latest offering, made with "car radios, pipes, bulbul tarang, no input mixer, ukelele, pocket trumpet, doors, electronics, junk, concertina, rainstick, music boxes, accordion, bell, wires, bees, rusty gate, harmonica, rabid dogs (!), mbira, megaphone and bits and pieces." But these eight brief pieces, dating from between 2000 and 2007, weren't all recorded in Australia – among the many places Stern lists is Ipswich. Hardly my idea of sun-drenched, but never mind. Stern is clearly having so much fun sticking his mic into beehives it really doesn't matter. And I guess you could find a bee or two in Ipswich, if you looked hard enough. My esteemed Editor Nate Dorward recently moaned about the overuse of "cinematic" as an adjective to describe much recent sound art, and I'm reminded of Michel Chion's observations on music as image in his recent interview here: "People tell me there are images in my music. They hear a dog barking, and say it's an image. To which I'd say, if a dog barking is an image, tell me what kind of dog it is. A big dog, or a poodle or what?" (At least Stern informs us that the canines whose mad yelps we hear on "Dead Lakes" are "rabid"..) Whether you like the old Metamkine "cinema for the ear" line or not, there are enough recognisable natural sounds on offer here to conjure up some kind of picture in the mind's eye. This may not be "pure music" (whatever that is – even Chion doesn't believe in the concept), but it's certainly good music in my book – beautifully recorded, carefully sequenced and aurally immensely satisfying. Along with the abovementioned Leaves, it's my favourite outing on Naturestrip to date.–DW

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