MAYDAY 2009 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Paul Baran, Nate Dorward, John Gill, Stephen Griffith, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Lou Sterrett, Dan Warburton:

Editorial: Jez riley French / Yannick Dauby & Wan Shuen Tsai / Falter Bramnk / Eric La Casa & Jean-Luc Guionnet
IN CONCERT: Instal 2009
Paul Schütze
Source Records 1-6: Music of the Avant Garde 1968-1971
Kevin Parks & Joe Foster / Philip Julian & Michael Renkel / Matt Davis / Benedict Drew
L'Underground Musical En France
VINYL SOLUTION: Ashtray Navigations, Family Battle Snake & Stellar OM Source / Black to Comm / Bleaks / Loren Connors / Courtis & Moore / Carlos Giffoni & The Rita / Malcolm Goldstein / Maleficia / Stephan Mathieu / nmperign & Skeletons Out / Schuster / Talibam! / Tankj / Xela
Air / Oren Ambarchi / Australian Art Orchestra / Beins, Thieke & Venitucci / Roberto Bonati / Borbetomagus / Bobby Bradford / Broken Arm Trio / Graham Collier / Durrant, Patterson & Vogel / John Eckhardt / John Edwards / Figueras, Toop & Burwell / E. Ryan Goodman
ICP / Jason Kahn & Takefumi Naoshima / Kaufmann, Dresser & Eisenstadt / Peter Kowald / Radu Malfatti & Taku Unami / MOPDTK / Manuel Mota / Nu Band / Search / Adam Sonderberg / Mark Wastell / Wooley, Lonberg-Holm & Roebke
Peter Ablinger / Christoph Korn & Lasse-Marc Riek / James Rushford
Thanos Chrysakis / Alastair Crosbie / Emeralds / Lawrence English / Lithops / Merzbow / Phroq / Strotter Inst / Peter Wessel & Mark Solborg / John Wiese & C.Spencer Yeh
Last issue


Mayday! Mayday! It's the new issue of PT, in which we welcome aboard Michael Rosenstein, whose thoughtful reviews in Signal To Noise I've admired for some time (fyi, Michael's reviews will be tagged "MRo", "MR" of course being our resident purple prose peddler in Rome, Massimo Ricci) and welcome back John Gill, who returns with a huge profile of Paul Schütze (and a handful of other reviews). Meanwhile Clifford Allen has been trawling through the back catalogue of Mr Gill's other half, Graham Collier, Paul Baran has been underneath the arches in Glasgow to report on the Instal festival, Stephen "Captain Hate" Griffith has taken time out from I Hate Sports to breathe some Air, Lou Sterrett's been digging the latest batch of EAI releases on Richard Pinnell's Cathnor imprint, and Richard himself has provided this issue's feature interview, with John Wall. Meanwhile, Nate Dorward has been dotting the i's and crossing the t's as well as ever, and I've been getting up earlier and earlier to try and listen to the backlog of great discs that keep on coming, and feeling ever more guilty about not being able to listen to them all with the care they deserve, let alone review them.

It was great, then, to get away in mid-April, when we rented an old half-timbered converted farm building in Normandy for a week. No computer, no email – but I couldn't bring myself to leave the portable CD player behind, and took a bagful of lowercase / field recording albums to listen to. Somehow, a sweaty free jazz brainfry or harsh noise wall wouldn't have sounded right in the middle of a field of sheep. In addition to the latest offerings by Thanos Chrysakis, Manuel Mota, John Cage, Radu Malfatti and Taku Unami (see below), these included Eric La Casa and Jean-Luc Guionnet's Inscape Lille Flandres (Monotype), Falter Bramnk (aka Lille-based Frank Lambert)'s Mnemosine Per Venezia (Gruenrekorder), Yannick Dauby and Wan-Shuen Tsai's Village, Vestiges and Jez riley French's Audible Silence, all of which I can recommend wholeheartedly to devotees of field recordings / field recording-based music.

It's hard to imagine four more different approaches to field recording, too. Jez riley French's disc consists of three compositions recorded in empty (but not at all silent!) rooms: the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda's College, Oxford, two art gallery spaces and a summer house in the Czech Republic, and the Kettle's Yard artspace in Cambridge. Field recordists have an almost pathological obsession with documentation, either in the form of photographs (as if shots of stone walls, drainpipes and heating ducts somehow help us to appreciate what they sound like) or explanatory text (Toshiya Tsunoda being the best example I know), and riley French is no exception, listing his sound sources with exemplary precision – a dehumidifier, a glass bowl on a gramophone cabinet, various tables made of pebble and slate – but knowing where the sounds came from doesn't make them any less mysterious or enthralling.

As far as extra-musical documentation goes, Village, Vestiges is truly impressive: the disc – which alternates recordings made in concert by Dauby and Christophe Havard, aka Poyepolomi, but sourced in the tiny village of Cunlhat in the Auvergne, with field recordings from Peng-Hu in Taiwan – comes housed in a 140-page book filled with superb photographs of the two villages and numerous prose poems. Lavishly produced by Le CoLLombier, which seems to be an artists' colony based in Cunlhat, it's well worth hunting down, if you can find a copy.

The second track on Frank Lambert's disc, entitled "The City of the Doges", is a delightful montage of soundscapes ancient (the extraordinary acoustic of the Venetian lagoon) and modern – it makes for an interesting comparison with Philip Samartzis's Unheard Spaces, sourced in the same city. But despite the album title not everything on Mnemosine Per Venezia comes from Venice. "Buona Notte" heads further south to Sicily, and features some hilariously cheesy and presumably drunken karaoke that could have come straight out of a Fellini movie, while "Even The Birds Left Us" was recorded in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter in Cracow, Poland – and, just a few miles east of the city, Auschwitz. Knowing that the discussion between two Polish workers changing a light bulb (honest) was recorded in Block 11, the so-called death block, certainly changes your perception of the sounds. I wonder if I should be telling you this (I certainly didn't know it when I first listened to the disc a couple of weeks ago, having left the booklet at home), but Frank Lambert seems to want you to know, so I guess it's kosher. You decide.

Funny I mentioned Philip Samartzis above, because, waiting for me in my mailbox on returning from Normandy was his new CD with Eric La Casa and Jean-Luc Guionnet, Soleil d'Artifice (which I hope to get round to scribbling on next time round). La Casa and Guionnet's ongoing Inscape projects, which grew out of their work with Eric Cordier in Afflux, are onsite installations in which microphones are strategically placed in and around a chosen location and live field recordings are mixed in real time to create a complex sound sculpture. For Inscape Lille Flandres they set up shop in and around the railway station of the same name, but apart from the occasional platform announcement, many of the sounds they harvested from a dozen or more places are as inscrutable as the accompanying liner notes.

In many respects, my Normandy gîte wasn't the best place to listen to these delicate, refined soundworks – for, though there were hardly any cars to be heard in the vicinity, no neighbours pretending to be Jimi Hendrix and no restaurant extractor fans humming until midnight, the place we found ourselves in was far from quiet. Birds twittered non-stop from dawn to dusk, cows mooed, donkeys brayed, sheep bleated, bees buzzed and, as if that wasn't enough, the acoustic of the converted farm building itself was utterly bizarre. The walls could just as well have been made of paper: from a corner in the bedroom upstairs I could hear sounds from all over the house: the kitchen directly below, the TV in the living room, even the Chinese water torture drip of a tap in the bathroom. And, of course, inspired by the abovementioned examples, I set about doing some recording of my own, out and about with the trusty minidisc player and the long-suffering Sony mic, which on this occasion had close encounters with a ruminating cow, a wasp's nest and an electric fence. If I can tear myself away from listening to other people's music for a while, I hope to be able to work on these recordings in the next few months. While you're waiting (it may be a long wait), here's another issue of PT for you to read. Bonne lecture.-DW

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Instal 2009
Glasgow, Various Venues
March 20th - 22nd
"Before you play two notes learn how to play one note – and don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it." – Mark Hollis
Instal, along with its sister festival in Dundee, Kill your Timid Notion, is one of two festivals devoted to experimental music in Scotland, and has been running for five years in one form or another, drawing from a rich seam of international talent. Perhaps conscious of the criticisms from some quarters that last year's edition Instal was too "noisy" and "macho", festival directors Barry Esson and Bryony McIntyre have opted, this time, to turn the decibel levels down and do away with the saxophone braggadocio (for the time being at least), and head out to the quieter but no less challenging hinterlands of micro improvisation. As a result, the predominant theme seemed to be an engagement with silence as a metaphor for political/anthropological process, with the key movers of the Onkyo and Wandelweiser movements providing the program's main thrust.
Day 1: Friday, March 20th
The festival mostly took place in the usual venues of the Arches and the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts, but Day 1 began with a surprise excursion to the Glasgow University Chapel. It was clear that the organisers were taking their cue from the Spire events documented on the Touch label, in which an international array of composers explore various sound strategies through the use of medieval organs all over Europe. How successful the endeavour would be would depend entirely on the nature of the compositions and the receptivity of the 400-strong congregation/audience, made up of seasoned listeners, open-minded students, scribbling reviewers, budding experimentalists, and fashionistas with post credit-crunch money to burn. The solemnity of the occasion was heightened for me by the knowledge that the chapel was built as a lasting memorial for the fallen dead of the First World War. How would Henry Willis III have reacted to his beautifully constructed organ playing a score for "different coloured air streams", or to the work of a 70-year-old Actionist who's spent a quarter of a century subverting religious practices' inherent paradoxes of violence and spiritual utopianism?
My intrepid lensman Gordon Kennedy and I would find out, but only after getting lost, meandering our way through the outside quadrant like two avant pilgrims on the road to experimental music's Santiago de Compostela. Once seated, we were met with the sound of a sustained pedal tone interspersed by the occasional whistle of a lone organ sonority, pitched somewhere below 50 Hertz. The piece – composed by the young musicologist Eva Maria Houben – used the organ to set up a contemplative situation for non-passive listening, whilst tenuously relying on the psychological coloration of the chapel signifiers.
For me this presented a contradiction. The piece set out to demonstrate how the autonomic harmonic colouring of airflows via the organ (analogous to the human respiratory system) affects the compositional process as it adds and subtracts numerous undefined improvisational gestures: rustles, coughs, footsteps. However, for me, it was only partially successful. The very nature of the neo-Gothic venue predetermined the personal and social nature of the composer's execution, despite the avowed anti-Romantic stance of her brand of strict minimalism. This meant that hoary old chance became an intrusive element in the score, rather than the improvisatory aid that the composer clearly intended. In retrospect, the piece would have worked better in an anonymous whitewashed room, or even the arches themselves, allowing participants to become more engaged with the shaping of the piece through a subtler application of listening.
After a gently lulling 15 minutes, this minor disappointment was savagely erased by a black mass of organ swells and cryptic feedback violations, a hellish sound that recalled Ligeti's Volumina with its shifting multi-timbral miasma of fist-fuelled chords. Or Miles Davis's "Rated X" with full unedited screaming. The agitators of this apocalyptic cacophony were Toshimaru Nakamura and Jean-Luc Guionnet, whose previous collaboration Map (Potlatch, 2008) was an altogether more restrained affair. Random spurts of erupting digital lava from Nakamura's no-input mixing board competed with further intensification of the organ's distinct brutism, which seemed to open a black hole of time and space in the chapel (I was hoping that the same fate wouldn't befall the decades-old contraption, as was the case with the organ in Gothenburg Cathedral, which burned out after the abovementioned Ligeti recital). After the initial assault there was a loss of impetus as the improvisation meandered in the Ypres mud, leaving the audience (and perhaps the ghosts of the war veterans behind the pulpit) in a state of shell-shock.
Hermann Nitsch's recital provided a kosmiche tonic that hinted at a little bit of eternity, with constellations of note clusters providing a rich counterpoint to shifting drones. Ironically, for an artist dedicated to breaking religious taboos, this score came closest to the traditional ecstasy of religious atavism, and proved one of the more successful performances on this opening program. Gesture and physical action are integral to Nitsch's performances, so the visual obstruction of a large pillar meant that a key component of what he does was lost. The piece could have benefited from the rich chiming percussive overlay of his late 1970s actions.
I was informed by Taku Unami that there would be a secret jam later that evening, involving him and Klaus Filip, but sadly my only mode of transportation was the haphazard 66 bus home. My esteemed colleague Richard Pinnell later informed me that this show was actually the most interesting of the night, showcasing Taku's versatility with material textures. I hoped this show was no mere narrative appendage and that Unami and Filip's work would be fully showcased in the subsequent two evenings.
Day 2: Saturday, March 21st
The political undercurrents of noise were very much at the fore with the arrival of sound art collective Ultra Red, at the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts. I showed up late during a mock election they'd set up, demonstrating the marginalisation of poorer communities whose opinions are disenfranchised in mainstream representation. The central question of how mass culture affects the politics of sound and silence, especially in a largely conformist country like post-war Japan, has been at the heart of the work of Tetsuo Kogawa since the 1960s. His discovery of how you could take a cheap mass-produced item – the portable FM radio – and use it for individualist expression seems to contradict Adorno's idea that there was no real art "After Auschwitz". Kogawa was the first artist to take to the stage, and it was a real treat, as it was my first exposure to his work. A video link allowed us to get a better view of how he used his customized transmitters: his hand divebombed, altering radio band frequencies at will, like a primitive version of the Reactable interface unit that Björk recently championed.
Without manifestos or conceptual sloganeering, Radu Malfatti, the grand old man of compositionally based silence, took to the venue Arch 2 with predatory anticipation, with his Austrian heir apparent Klaus Filip tucked discreetly behind the effacing glow of his laptop. In many ways they were made for each other. Both are exponents of minimalist-based improv composition, and Malfatti has, since 1993, been using his trombone to achieve an ever more rigorous kind of reductionism. Here he waited in the venue's subterranean depths for nothing to happen, defying the "never-ending gabbiness" of mass marketed noise. Filip was an admirable foil, obliging with sine tone tics that would flutter by with their own subtle rationale as the piece quietly etherized the audience, floating into the sound-space without a narrative structure of opening or closing. And as if to eerily answer Malfatti's famous quote "I want to know about the lull in the storm", overhead trains created their own sonic boom and bust, occasionally reverberating alongside Radu's exhaled non sequiturs. I enquired later if he was consciously or subconsciously sculpting with silence? He stared back with implacable concentration, perhaps suggesting that silence after all, was composing him – and me.
In Arch 3, the audience was treated to a lively performance-art spectacle based around the most human of orchestral stringed instruments: the cello. Nikos Veliotis's ironically titled "Cello Powder (The Complete Works for Cello)" seemed to owe as much to Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik's "TV Cello" as to a post-Hendrixian dismantling of an iconic instrument: repositioning it outside a mass-media zone where "personal" engagement becomes increasingly commodified. Like Paik, Veliotis adopted a "Visualizing Time" tactic, with a screen projection of himself playing 100 individual quartertones, each lasting about an hour. The Muybridge-inspired photographs offered a reclamation of the personal act of playing, at once distant but socially re-actualizing. The performance component itself consisted of a pre-recorded series of soundfile loops of these cued quartertones stacked on top of each other, forming a drone that conveyed endless timbral scenarios.
Meanwhile, dressed like a Greek lab technician with oversized goggles, Veliotis was joined by Welsh harp terrorist, Rhodri Davies – no stranger to pyrotechnics with his ancient instrument either – for a set that played like a ritual sacrifice to the corporate gods of musical destruction. Racing against time, Davies whizzed the cello's spruce head in a blender and mashed the maple of the rest of the body, while Veliotis ran between an industrial shredder and a hammer, reducing neck, peg box, and scroll to dust, which was then branded and bottled in a subconscious allusion to Walter Benjamin's "Age of Mechanical Reproduction." The performance was amusing, unpretentious, and haphazardly human, borne out by repeating sound blackouts from the desk which the unflappable Veliotis and Davies ignored with a sustained Luddite professionalism.
The poet Steve McCaffery (Sheffield-born, based in Toronto for many years, now a professor at SUNY-Buffalo) has been fermenting his own Lacanian brand of concrete and sound poetry for decades, with Brion Gysin and Ian Hamilton Finlay as obvious reference points. But the similarities end there, as McCaffery adds his own Marxist subplot, with an ear for the materialist inconsistencies of language's ontological misfires. Dressed in professorial garb, he took to the stage and tore into his "anti-book" Carnival like a man speaking in tongues. As he leered over a makeshift lectern, his facial mannerisms melded the inner tensions of the text with the finest displays of gurning this side of Cumbria. Dispensing with all syntactical and phonetic rules one would normally associate with language, the text when read out became as deliberately meaningless as an Evan Parker extended saxophone solo. The Carnival "typestract" itself, given out to the audience beforehand, was also deliberately meaningless. Bearing in mind critic Peter Jaeger's advice that "the work demands that language be engaged non-sequentially rather than in sequence", I found myself getting lost in a bewildering series of primal affirmations, a blend of polyglot, Rabelaisian farting, and sheer picaresque excess. The experience was so rousing and vernacular that the typestract was reduced to beautiful decoration, and that was the point; language as pretty words for the iPod-friendly bourgeois is just plain meaningless, and will always be limited by page, font, stylistic, political and ideological prejudice. Unless one tears asunder the pages.
Los Angeles composer Michael Pisaro's "Unrhymed Chord" was the next Wandelweiser performance, and it was far more successful than the Houben piece, its specified durational offering an "integration of silences". A selection of musicians from the Instal program performed upon three raised platforms, surrounding the audience and inducing a subjective appreciation of silence within the confines of the score's invisible architecture. The composition was initiated by Neil Davidson, a post-Bailey bright light who's Scotland's answer to Burkhard Stangl, playing a perfectly pitched drone with his ebow. Everything proceeded in a beautiful near-silent near-stasis; Taku Unami's quiet horizon of radio static and Veliotis's (borrowed?) cello opened up further spaces that were recalibrated by the score.
I chose to follow Barry Esson's advice and meander around the venue; the implicit spaces of silence seemed to cut into different pitches and very subtle variations arose depending on where you were standing. Moving to the left of the sound stage presented me with a chance hear the other performers use their chosen tones, while Pisaro held his guitar with monastic concentration, refraining from playing anything. Meanwhile, on the central platform there was an audible and repetitious piano motif weaving through the whole thing, reminding me of John Tilbury's Feldman. Overall, this was a flawless and very beautiful piece.
Joan La Barbara was one of the biggest names on this year's Instal bill; she came across more like a Californian New Age speech therapist than the missing link between Yma Sumac and Kaffe Matthews. The first part of her concert consisted of multiphonic acappellas. As a demonstration of her phonetic and polyphonic invention it was undeniably brilliant, but it felt anachronistically "avant garde", harking back to a Greenwich Village loft scene that has now evolved into fresher forms of vocal interrogation (check out Maja Ratkje, for example). Things clicked into place with her pre-recorded work, Rothko, which layered her voice with scraping piano sounds, upper registers fighting for space in an ominous atonal melange. La Barbara seems to be more effective when using the full scope of multi-tracking technology, or when directed by composers other than herself (her guest appearance on Yoshihiro Hanno's Lido illustrates this point succinctly).
Day 3: Sunday, March 22nd
Fatigue, hunger and the last bus home forced me to leave before Day 2's closing set with Tamio Shiraishi, Mico, and Fritz Welch, alas, and I also managed to miss Day 3's opening show, Phil Minton's Feral Choir (not part of my plan). But I did see one of Derby's finest sons, Seymour Wright, sporting the aura of a Blue Note acolyte, but with the cerebral measure and humility of Lou Gare (an inexplicably underrated player who is in some ways Wright's spiritual forefather).
Having been really turned on by his collaboration with Eddie Prévost (Gamut) and blown away by 3D with Keith Rowe, I'm glad to report that his performance at Instal 09 confirmed emphatically why he's one of the finest improvisers in the UK (and made me ponder what an Anglo-Scots improv dreamteam it would be if he teamed up one day with guitarist Neil Davidson). Accident and improvisational process were very much at the fore here; Charles Ives was often tagged ignorantly with the term "primitivist" but with Seymour Wright's magnificent intuitive approach I feel the term is appropriate, as he explores the evolving musical norms of what a saxophone could be (providing the very antithesis of the hyper-masculine exchanges at last year's Instal, which for all their bluster only drew staidly from the past). He compiled and integrated every extended technique in performance, without once alluding to traditional "soloing." The benign spectre of Adolphe Sax looked on as Wright's "microhistory of jazz" (Keith Jarrett) took us full circle to the historical truth of the instrument. In terms of place and time too: recall that the saxophone was first showcased with the Jedforest International Brass band in Scotland in 1854. It was a performance that proved that the less well-known performers at Instal 09 were hungrier and more on top of their game than the big names.
Summoned by chirping crickets and buzzing flies, we were ushered into the more pastoral setting of Arch 3, where Rolf Julius's field recordings played through the tiniest of speakers hidden in crevices, glasses and woks. The periods of organic silence never felt forced, nor came across as arresting jump-cuts, and successfully created what the composer described as "music that circles the present."
The pairing of Taku Unami and New York-based improviser Sean Meehan, though, was a sad case of expectations falling short. Meehan first came to my attention with the haiku restraint of his excellent Sectors (For Constant) a while back, on which tiny musical events were adjusted with the precision of a master builder, deconstructing percussion into deep silence. (His main instrument of choice is a simple wooden dowel, with which he conjures forth the resonant frequencies of a single snare drum.) But the expected symbiosis with Unami just didn't happen at all. Despite Unami's inventive use of rice grains with his laptop, the performance was crying out for more harmonic colour, or a tighter conceptual framework. Neither man was to blame, but it just seemed aimless. So much so that the some of the avant faithful nodded off; Bryony Mcintyre's bemused expression said it all.
Following this oddly lethargic affair, one of the festival's international/local hookups, Neil Davidson with Helhesten (Ben Knight on vocals and Hannah Ellul on processed clarinet) was chaotic and shambolic. Davidson held the fort admirably and was exemplary in his management of extended guitar techniques (there wasn't a recognizable note), but the others just weren't responding to what he was setting down. Knight sounded at one and the same time like an idiot delinquent and a wailing monk evoking Kami spirits in Kwaidan, while Ellu, despite an intuitive feel for her instrument, seemed lost and confused, unsure as to whether to follow Knight into free soloing or to follow Davidson's map of references.
(Two questions here about early 21st century Scottish experimental music: 1) When is it going to take itself a bit more seriously? Why is there an obsession with outmoded swamp trends, loudness, primitivism, misogynistic imagery on badly-designed album covers, and a clannish mindset that precludes a real question-and-answer session between musicians from an academic persuasion and intuitive, non-academic players who are actually indigenous and genuinely local? 2) Why is it always the same middle class milieu from Edinburgh? For the most part students who treat experimental music as kind of hobby, without the intellectual rigour that the music demands. I'm not suggesting that class is all that important an issue, but it does seem that there is no broad representation of working-class voices in Scotland, a strongly proletarian area after all. Barry Esson, in his festival program, proselytizes a non-elitist approach, but in reality this simply does not translate and reseeds social hierarchy and exclusion in a globalized market system. End of Tom Leonard-inspired rant.)
Now it was time for some real noise, with Jean-Philippe Gross and Jérôme Noetinger facing off over an assortment of mixing desks, a Serge modular synth (originally a Gallic rival to the Buchla), tapes and magnets. Two musique concrète pugilists, locked in mortal combat. Who would win? The audience were encouraged to mill around and take advantage of the customized interspatial speaker system that arced round the venue. A macerating assault ensued, with oscillations serrated into the cerebellum and assuming different waveforms as they reached critical mass, before belching out brief eructations of static, pink noise twisting into mutant forms that skirted round the legs, as if sound had developed an animus all of its own. This was the sound of Badiou's numbers jostling for a rational ordering in a Hadron supercollider. Brutal, spectacular, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Then came the ideological antithesis. Arguably the star billing of the festival this year, and one that thematically seemed to be the centrepiece for the Instal's minimalist agenda: Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide's Filament. We were led into Arch 2, where black cushions were laid out to accommodate the audience on the stone floor (from Christianity to Zen – this year's Instal definitely had a pietistic vibe running through it). First to perform was Sachiko M herself, with an impromptu piece for skirt pockets and contact microphones, a tight fetishistic wraparound of previously inert frequencies. Once sound is caught, how much of it can be coveted and possessed? Conceptually successful, but it could have been shorter.
Otomo's solo set was markedly better. Taking its cue from Stockhausen's Mantra and its bisecting ring-modulated pianos, he studiously avoided that work's melodic determinism, emphasizing the chance element instead, his two sustained electronic tones changing with the movement of the listening body. Composition and chance merged with the purest economy of means.
Both musicians then shifted to the instruments that they are more famous for: turntable and sampler, respectively. Needles of sine feedback began to find that familiar click, hum, rattle and roll with Otomo's found-sound scuffles and rips, as he remixed black fissures of cold silence with his stylus. The longer it went on, the more I felt that this project had reached an artistic cliff, as if the performers were actually erasing themselves with one last crackle.
Finally we were led into a more embalming affray, Taku Unami and Jean-Luc Guionnet's "A Signature of the Room", a satisfying work with different frequencies and harmonics calculated in accordance with specific contours of the space. Sub-bass harmonics lulled us into darkened reverie as the resonant frequencies of the venue reshaped themselves with the bodies of the listeners in perpetual motion. In the same way, one felt that Instal 09 had finally found its own shape. With a few minor glitches, this year's edition proved that the right balance had been struck between intellect and emotion. Is Barry Esson the new Richard Demarco of British new music curatorship? It's still too soon to tell, but it seems that his personal musical concerns have found an intelligent and thematically informed way of processing subcultures into a package acceptable to all.–PB [thanks to Gordon Kennedy and Bryony McIntyre for photos]

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It is a sobering thought that before the decade is out the woefully under-recognized Paul Schütze will have celebrated a quarter century of his life dedicating himself to music and, more recently, photography and three-dimensional art works, the latter often accompanied by his own music in mixed media installations. It may also be a salutary, if unsurprising, reminder that toiling at the outer perimeter of contemporary electronic music has not brought the material comfort he might have hoped for.
In recent years, Schütze's musical career has taken a back seat to his visual artwork: enigmatic monochrome photographs of empty, abandoned swimming pools, eerie museum spaces shot at night, the architectural marvels and monstrosities of cities such as Shanghai, and representations of his own "lightbox" works and collaborations with likeminded artists, sometimes equally enigmatic shots of ghostly interiors, at others quite startling explorations in 3D, such as the current sound installation for sculptor Josiah McElheny's Island Universe at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which includes a globular supernova of blown glass rods studding an interior sphere and resembling either a tidier Claudia Parker sculpture or a blow-up of something out of string theory.
Schütze is used to working in strange circumstances. In Oberhausen in 2001, he filled the interior of the city's famous gigantic disused gasometer with 22 five-metre-high DVD projector screens and 60 speakers placed in opposing semicircles on two different floors, broadcasting his Writing on Water (2002) with music featuring Simon Hopkins on guitar, Clive Bell on flutes and Schütze himself on signature keyboards and percussion into the latent absence of the gasometer interior.
He has also recently finished recording a long work for a (dormant, possibly extinct) volcano, at light sculptor James Turrell's vast Roden Crater project, a series of man-made interventions into a large volcanic crater near Arizona's Painted Desert. (You can hear 20-odd minutes of the mesmerizing ‘‘147 orbiting 1 through 6 for 5" from the Roden project at Schütze's website In lieu of a dedicated Turrell website, it might be best to visit the US's state Public Broadcast Service website for more on Roden Crater at The fully finished work lasts just over five hours, is tuned to the sonorities built into the excavations that Turrell uses to mediate day (and night) light, and is unlikely ever to be heard in its entirety.
Paul Schütze's work is often tagged with the unfortunate and embarrassing misnomer "ambient", a genre last seen dancing until dawn to antique Moog noises and funk beats that only sound good on fast drugs on a beach somewhere on Ibiza. He cites Can as a primary, perhaps even primal, influence, particularly circa Future Days. He has even recorded a tribute-of-sorts, "Future Nights", on Site Anubis, recorded with what some have called his "supergroup", Phantom City (more on which anon). As that band name – filched from the title of Alain Robbe-Grillet's nouvelle vague, Topography of a Phantom City – might suggest, Schütze sometimes likes to pepper his work with extramural references – be it J.G. Ballard ("Vermilion Sands II") or the throwaway reference to the early, superior-to-the-later, Carla Bley of Tropic Appetites and just possibly Thomas Pynchon too in the title "Entropic Appetites", on Site Anubis. Yet he also spends a lot of time listening to Morton Feldman as well, and much else besides. By his own admission, the actual musical process takes up only a fraction of the time it takes to coordinate projects, assemble them, corral musicians from around the globe to construct them, record, mix, remix and press. Site Anubis was virtually constructed, out of recordings posted back and forth across the continents to the likes of Bill Laswell, Lol Coxhill, Julian Priester, Raoul Björkenheim, Alex Buess and Dirk Wachtelaer. The Phantom City follow-up, Shiva Recoil – LiveUnlive (the title will tip off electric Miles Davis fans on another topographical point in the triangulation of Schütze's work), was improvised live, with the musicians (Toshinori Kondo's trumpet replacing the horns of Coxhill and Priester) flying by the seats of their pants as Schütze fired off triggers over a rhythm track that only Schütze and live percussionist Wachtelaer had heard before they stepped onstage at the 1996 Tampere Jazz Happening in Pakkahuone in Finland. (A samizdat of Phantom City live-unlive in Helsinki also exists, but has yet to surface officially. Heh heh.) Shiva Recoil contains one fleeting moment (minute twenty, second twenty-eight on the 38-minute improvisation "Black Data I") of pure sonic satori, with Schütze juggling sheet-wielding noises on his electronics, Kondo pealing off runs like a furious Miles Davis, and then Laswell, previously ambling along on a comfortable dub bassline, dipping into a seismic rumble that the others click into, producing a moment of sheer musical jouissance, bliss, that still sends shivers down this listener's spine.
Born in Melbourne but a (reluctant though, it seems, necessary) resident of London for two decades now, Schütze painted as a child and was heading that way academically until at the age of 14 he became fascinated with his family's recently acquired piano: "My focus was split immediately. I went to art school, which in three months entirely cured me of the need to make images. I left and worked in a factory to buy my first synth. I didn't make another image until I was well into my 40s." Aged 21, he and some friends formed the nearly-mythic Australian out-rock improvisation group Laughing Hands. "There were once dozens and dozens of [Laughing Hands] cassette recordings but most of them along with all our masters are long lost. Our concerts and recordings were entirely improvised. This was [complicated], as well, given the amount of unstable, unprogrammable analogue gear we used. Left untouched for even five minutes most of it would produce entirely different sounds. We released two albums on vinyl and then slimmed down to just Ian [Russell, guitar] and myself. We performed and released some cassettes but were effectively put out of business by an unscrupulous German distributor who ripped us off hugely."
Getting burned by an unscrupulous distributor is a subject that could fill a library of anecdotes from most indie musicians, but it also taught Schütze that, whatever his school reports might have said, he doesn't "play well with others." He has written for solo organ, the changeable line-ups of Phantom City, smaller ensembles featuring friends such as Simon Hopkins (who also shepherded Schütze, briefly, onto Virgin Records), but mainly for himself, alone. Like his peripatetic lifestyle – art shows and, less often, live performances that take him around the world – it has turned Schütze into something of a nomad. He has even abandoned his own studio.
"Several years ago I disbanded the studio I'd used for all my albums up till Third Site. There were logistical reasons, but the unexpected benefit of this and the reason I don't aspire to replacing it is the degree to which it has liberated me from method. Now I have to start entirely from scratch in thinking how a project will be realized. I use other people's studios, different physical solutions to each problem, different environments each time. I like to have someone really expert edit with me and now I prefer to have another set of ears while mixing. There is a limit to how much you can learn working on your own. It's very easy to get into habitual gestures and to repeat yourself. This method forces change in my thinking and practice."
He's matter-of-fact about his influences, although in the case of Paul Schütze this extends some way beyond mere mimesis. We now stand in a time where at least two successive generations have declared the influence of Köln's finest – fans of Buzzcocks, The Fall, Simple Minds and Public Image Ltd. must have blanched when they read their heroes praising a bunch of Virgin Records longhairs, Can. The same might have been said of a successive generation, not least the likes of Loop, Flowered Up and the recently reformed Bark Psychosis, who also signed the Can guest book. Today, in the era of MySpace and Facebook, if you were able to run a word-search and count the references to Can therein you would end up with thousands. It's almost a social gaffe not to include Can in your list of heroes on your blogspot.
"I'm an oft-confessed lover of Can," Schütze says, "and I think my early works express that influence above anything else. The electric Miles recordings and many recordings concurrent with those (Tony Williams, Alice Coltrane, Julian Priester) are still very important. I still listen to a lot of Feldman, a lot of Javanese music, and for the last decade or so a lot of Meshuggah and associated math-metal. Just now I'm loving the new Zu disc on Ipecac, FellSilent's first disc and the blinding Benea Reach album Alleviat. All of the latter is, I gather, anathema to fans of my own work but it's where I am finding genuine innovation and passion. A friend pointed out yesterday how incredibly young Miles and co. were when our favourite recordings were made. There is an inescapable corollary between youth and fearless drive." (For the record, neither Messhuggah nor Benea Reach, offspring of the Scandinavian avant-metal scene that begat the likes of Shining, are recommended to the fainthearted, and certainly nobody who has had a Pacemaker fitted. YouTube 'em if you dare.)
It is, however, not so much of a hop, skip and a jump to the sort of noise Can used to pump out at all-night party concerts in their pre-Monster Movie era days at places like the Schloss Nörvenich outside Köln. As to the Miles comparison, it is entirely possible that Can were recording masterpieces such as Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi around the time that the trumpeter was recording jazz's first punk album, the splendidly splenetic On the Corner. After some years concentrating on his artworks, Schütze recently announced to anyone who cared to listen that he was planning a return to music, with a "metal" project not unlike the Scandinavian noise terrors named above.
We are, however, running ahead of ourselves here. Prior to these current trends in his music are a decade or two of film soundtracks (Deus Ex Machina, 1985, became his first music release), collaboration on conceptual and realized art works, teaching, working as a print and broadcast film critic in Australia, and then a steady stream of solo works, both under his own name and various other projects: Seed (Vertical Memory, 2003) and his anagrammatical alter-ego Uzect Plaush (More Beautiful Human Life!, 1994). The cognoscenti, quite often musical snobs with a few too many Gary Numan records in their closets, tend to concentrate on "classic" Schütze, such as New Maps of Hell (1992), its follow-up, New Maps of Hell II: The Rapture of Metals (1993), and his remarkable – musically, but also for the fact that they released it at all in the first place, and as a double CD – Apart, for Virgin Records, in 1995. Virgin also released Shiva Recoil (1997), before releasing Schütze himself.
Despite being let go by Virgin, he still allows, "actually the most extraordinary thing Virgin released was Second Site, which is in effect a 100-minute spoken opera (double CD) with the entire libretto broken into single sentences as a track list. No question the most out-there thing Virgin ever released and a tribute to Mr Hopkins' powers of persuasion/distraction that it got past the gatekeepers at what was by then EMI. As their catalogue had to include the entire track listing of every album, Second Site occupied two whole pages of their printed catalogue. Magic!"
I have an incomplete dozen or so Schütze recordings, which he kindly updates from time to time, and which I like to rotate at random over the space of a weekend now and again, something I only normally do with Duke Ellington, Can, The B-52's or Steve Reich. Paul Schütze is, I would claim, a genius, a Brian Eno for the 21st century, if we need one, although when offered the analogy, he jokingly replies, "I think we'd both be offended." Regardless, in his melding of media it might justifiably be said that Schütze is en route to realizing that oft-vaunted ideal, the gesamtkunstwerk, total-art-work.
Then there are the Site projects, some real, such as Turrell's volcano light sculpture, others entirely imaginary, some not quite either, such as the Garden of Instruments, originally released as Second Site (see above). It is based on the very real Jantar Manta in Delhi, but is also a work which has its own website and cryptic architectural and photographic sub-sections, rather like an imaginary city dreamed up by Borges, Peter Greenaway and Le Corbusier. Or perhaps an unholy collision between Mexico City's Tenochtitlan and those endless vistas of mysterious Krell technology in the basement of Walter Pidgeon's fantastic space-age pad in Forbidden Planet. (It could equally be Spain's Alhambra re-imagined by Zaha Hadid.) His works have also been seen at Madrid's major Arco art show, art fairs in Chicago, Basel and Beijing, the V&A in London, residencies at the Cité des Arts in Paris, and his representative galleries, Alan Cristea in London, and Estiarte in Madrid.
In spite of all this he is an unassuming (if plain-speaking) and affable individual, often mistaken for a brainiac behind "severe eyewear" and an unlikely source for the music on his solo, ensemble and collaborative works, which veer from near-silence to Eastern-tinged soundscapes haunted by strange weather, to devilish rhythmic workouts which might best be described as the historic Talking Heads big band on crystal meth. Certainly, away from his quieter works, no jazz rock group has ever reached the ferocity of Phantom City, with the possible exception of early Weather Report and, of course, the aforementioned Mr Davis in his early electric days.
Despite his solitary ways he does play well with others. Schütze says, "I think and work better on my own, though I do have collaborative flashes. I'm pretty good at getting performances from people which are unexpected and which stretch the players. Last year I had two hours to coax an improvisation from a classical soloist with no experience of playing without a score. By the end he was playing the most extraordinary things. We used a series of sequential photographs as a prop to replace the score but really it was all coming from him. We were both surprised by how quickly his dependence on instruction fell away."
In fact, Schütze does not "score" his music at all, but instead constructs it in the studio. "The only work which has a graphic score is The Gazing Engine. I made a diagrammatic ‘map' while I was marshalling my thoughts on the project and ended up using it as a guide when we ‘built' the final piece in the mastering studio. It was reproduced on the cover of the special edition."
Though London is his base, his music often seems to borrow from the Far East (Abysmal Evenings, 1996, being just one example). Yet he does not align himself with that culture of some Australian bands – such as the Australian Art Orchestra – who see the East as the source of a "new" or alternative Australasian music. "Since I first heard the sound across a lake one night in Bali, gamelan has thrilled me. My critics have always seized on this as a sign of musical weakness, which is interesting. I guess it's just too damn beautiful to be worthy [of discussion]. I take my inspiration wherever I can find it, and geographical proximity is irrelevant. The view that Australia is fusing with Asian cultures is questionable; they coexist, but Australia is still more concerned with Europe and America even when they're buying into ideas ultimately recycled from Asia. I'm not sure about the idea of Australian composers looking to our own hemisphere, either. Not a lot of evidence to support that idea. If Australia's supreme musical export The Necks have drawn from Pacific-Rim influences they are transformed beyond all recognition."
The Necks, by the by, are almost the only Australian band that Schütze will countenance as worthy of serious attention among his former countryfolk, although he adds, "I love Bucketrider, Franc Tetaz, Philip Brophy (who truly is a genius)." Harsh words, perhaps, for anyone with a fondness for, say, Severed Heads, but Schütze is a demanding listener, and certainly someone who is unambiguously certain of his vision. His philosophy is the same when asked if different media require different approaches. "The process is the same for image, film or sound. The medium is not really relevant: immerse myself in the project and the material to be used; read[ing] around the idea, location, context, some framework of strategy will suggest itself within the constraints of the project, then everything starts to form around the core. I use a lot of chance and randomness in finding elements, but once found the placement is very considered and elements are often moved or deleted. I would say that by the time something is finished I'm quite sure there are no variations which might have worked better. I don't have any interest in remix culture. If it was right the first time then move on. Treat us to a new idea if you have one!"
The same philosophy applies whether working solo or in tandem with other musicians, particularly the "flying blind" techniques of the Phantom City recordings. Asked if it might be defined as an "improvisational" approach, he replies: "These techniques were extrapolated from the process I use when I work alone. It's difficult to implement chance and experiment in a conventional musical exchange, but if you ask players to imagine accompanying parts or to play in response to an element which is later removed you break conventions without having to articulate a strategy subject to multiple misinterpretations. The method works very well and could have continued were the logistics of collecting and collating material over such distances not so cumbersome. At the time [of Site Anubis] we were FedExing digital multitracks here and there. Now, of course, we could just upload files from laptops."
The polymathic Schütze hops between media with ease, and says that the philosophy applies in any genre or form. "I really feel no difference whatever moving from one medium to another. I guess music's time base necessitates longer gestation periods than those for photography, but then I spend far more time at the beginning of the process negotiating site access and permissions. Checking edits and effects chains on a five-hour recording [the Roden Crater project] was rather protracted, as you really had to review the whole thing each time. That sort of duration is not designed for intense listening over its entire length. It does interesting things to your sense of time and sound perception."
He also says that the works, well, work, regardless of whether or not the listener gets the often punning titles and others which involve a charged, cryptic and sometimes paranoia-inducing wordplay, and can almost be read as a form of poetry themselves, such as the Second Site libretto. "I hope all the punning titles invoke the right head-space before the connection is made. I like the reference[s] and they are often very apt but I equally hate art that inherently excludes. The reference is there to enrich, but the work needs to function without it. I have only ever used a sound sample of someone else's work once, but I sample my own work and reincorporate it constantly. No one seems to notice this but it has meaning for me. More reference, but not essential to decode the work."
Some observers describe Schütze's recent concentration on the plastic arts – installations, photography, sculpture, mixed media, and the purely conceptual – as a move "away" from music. He disagrees, and has a rather Zen-like answer to that: "The move was not conscious; rather, my interest shifted. I think I'm trying to say the same things but the camera is giving me new ways to say them. Oddly, the music community seemed to have a you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us mentality. I regularly hear that I have stopped composing. My feeling is that I have stopped composing until I start again. I've currently stopped walking to write this but I may yet walk again. Having stopped does not invalidate the decades of walking I have already done. I have recently completed a five-hour piece, five three-minute pieces, am halfway through a collaborative album with two guitarists and have co-designed some sound-works. I've also taken a lot more photographs."
The tag "ambient" is limiting – even the estadounidense (in lieu of an adjectival for north Americans that doesn't lump in the unfortunate Canadians) school known as "dark ambient" (usually slow drones on albums named after Tarkovsky movies) doesn't stretch far enough to encompass the depth and expanse of Paul Schütze's sonic explorations – but he also has an answer to the culture of labelling and the naming of parts: "The beautiful thing about download culture is never having to read the labels on anything again. I don't know anyone who searches their iPod by genre or anyone who bothers to read the metadata. Text and music have once again become beautifully estranged, and that can only be good for both of them."-JG [photos by Paul Schütze]

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Various Artists
Between 1967 and 1973, the semi-annual magazine Source, founded, edited and run by Larry Austin and Stanley Lunetta, was an invaluable wellspring of information on new music, and the six ten-inch LPs that were issued along with it have long been sought-after collectors' items. So hats off once more to Al Margolis and Pogus for bringing them back into circulation in a beautifully remastered triple CD box set with a 20-page booklet jam-packed with descriptions of the 13 works on offer and biographical background on their 12 composers (Austin himself ends up with two pieces, and they're both crackers).

Disc one, originally published in July 1968, kicks off in style with Robert Ashley's The Wolfman, for amplified voice and tape in a live recording made at the First Festival of Live-Electronic Music a year earlier at UC Davis. Ashley handles the "vocals", and his ONCE / Sonic Arts Union partner in crime Gordon Mumma the live electronics. All you kiddies who hang out in the noise forums and think Wolf Eyes are where it's at should check out Wolfman, "sinister nightclub vocalist, spotlight and all"; as one blogger puts it, this is "the real primal shit." But if looking for precursors of today's live electronics scene is your thing, David Behrman's Wave Train, which once more features Mumma surfing the waves of feedback from guitar pickups placed on piano strings, is just as impressive.

Both the Ashley and Behrman pieces have been available elsewhere (in different versions) for some time, but Larry Austin's Accidents, for "electronically prepared piano, ring modulators, mirrors, actions, black light and projections" has been out of circulation for too long. It's great to have it back – and David Tudor's spectacular performance deserves as much acclaim as his reading of Cage's Variations II on RZ. Austin's score calls for the pianist to negotiate a number of gestures, with sound produced "through accidental rather than deliberate action; i.e. all notes are depressed silently, and sound occurs only when a hammer accidentally strikes a string. Accidents occur, depending on the key action, the pressure applied to the keys (i.e. the velocity), and the preparation of the strings. [..] When an accident occurs, the player immediately stops playing that gesture and proceeds immediately to the next. Arriving at the last gesture and trying to complete it, the player returns to each of the gestures in which an accident occurred, always trying to complete them without an accident. [..] The piece should always be played as fast as possible – at the most hazardous pace, making accidents highly probable." Yeah!

Tudor's dazzling virtuosity is a hard act to follow, but at the correct playback volume (i.e. as loud as you can get away with) Allan Bryant's Pitch Out, for modified guitars / mandolins and electronics, performed by members of Musica Elettronica Viva in their Rome studios, will not disappoint. However, those of you who, like me, treasure their old Lovely Music LP version of Alvin Lucier's 1970 masterpiece (the word is entirely justified, I think) I Am Sitting In A Room might find the 15-minute version of the piece here a little rushed. Lucier's voice is also higher in pitch, which results in a different harmonic field, even though both versions were apparently recorded in the same room in the composer's Middletown CT home. Still, I don't mind – I could listen to this all day.

Arthur Woodbury's Velox dates from the same year, but, unlike the Lucier, the swooping glissandi of the PDP-10 computer and the Moog synthesizer have aged somewhat. But the glorious glittering gobbledegook ten-channel information overdose of Austin's Caritas, which also uses sounds created on the venerable old DEC computer, still sounds pretty damn wild. Just as well we get only a 15'07" "excerpted composite" of a piece that originally lasted 32 minutes. For sheer weirdness though Mark Riener's Phlegethon needs a bit of beating: scored for polythene film wrapped round suspended wire coat hangers and set on fire (!), it sounds as good as it must have looked in performance ("the audience should be surrounded by the mobiles, lights being turned off before the instruments are ignited", Riener writes – how about this at next year's No Fun fest, eh Carlos?). Source co-founder Stanley Lunetta's moosack machine was also an installation piece calling for a sculpture consisting of oscillators, power regulators and input sensors surrounded by four loudspeakers. The sensors "detect changes in light, temperature and wind direction as well as movements of people around the sculpture", the composer writes. I have no doubt it was great fun live, but it tries the patience somewhat on disc – Frank Oteri over at New Music Box hears it as some kind of forerunner of Throbbing Gristle and Merzbow, but I'm afraid I don't.

Inventor extraordinaire Lowell Cross is perhaps best known for devising the 16-input / 8-output electronic chessboard Marcel Duchamp and John Cage used in 1968's celebrated mixed media merry-go-round Reunion. The rich, slowly shifting harmonies of his contribution to Source LP 5, Musica Instrumentalis: Video II (B)/(C)/(L) are easier on the ear than Lunetta's gnarly machine, but once more one feels the visual element is lacking, and wonders how the music worked in performance in conjunction with the visual images it generated.
After a brief but enjoyable detour into the world of poésie sonore with Arrigo Lora-Totino's English Phonemes, a "verbophony" originally conceived for the Fylkingen Festival in Stockholm in 1970, Alvin Curran's Magic Carpet takes us back to the world of sound sculpture, this time a jangling "aviary of sound", a roomful of suspended twanging and clanging stringed instruments, guitars and chimes. The sound of traffic rumbling by Rome's Gallery Arco D'Alibert is also clearly audible at times. Pleasant enough, but there are plenty of more rewarding entries in the Curran discography.

In contrast, Annea Lockwood's recorded output could, as far as I'm concerned, be much larger. Tiger Balm is an intriguing 14'50" montage of veiled gamelan, gasps, sighs, delicate gurgling glissandi, low flying planes and, yes, purring tiger (presumably culled from the BBC sound archives, as the work was created in studios in London). It's sensuous and evocative, even if it ends too suddenly (though if you're interested there's a 21-minute version of the piece – it can last up to 40 minutes in performance – also available on Lockwood's Early Works: 1967-1982 (EM, 2007)). It's a shame Source didn't last a bit longer, too – but this fine reissue provides a fascinating picture of a riotously creative period of history, and it's something no self-respecting devotee of avant garde music can afford to be without.

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Kevin Parks / Joe Foster
Philip Julian / Michael Renkel
Matt Davis
Benedict Drew

I feel I'm taking the first few tentative steps on a slippery slope here, reviewing online releases – as if there weren't enough "real" discs cluttering up the place as it is – but the times, as the man from Minnesota said, are a-changing and there's more and more great new music available for free download out there, of which the few releases I've had some time to spend with this last month are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Talking of discs piled up around the place, I can see several hundred of my own, which will probably still be sitting around gathering dust a year or two (or three) from now. But when I read that the few things of mine that are available online have been downloaded several hundred times, it makes me wonder whether this isn't the way to go. Or at least another way to go. After all, the first thing I do when a new CD comes my way is to stick it in the machine and extract the tracks as mp3s so I can listen to them away from the computer (no substitute for serious listening through loudspeakers, of course, but almost every new album I receive gets its first listening through headphones); whether I like it or not – and I don't think I do – the CD as physical object is less important to me than it used to be.

Another advantage of online releases is the question of duration. No longer limited to 45-50 minutes (LP) or 70+ (CD – make that 79'59" if it's an Emanem), musicians can release works that are both longer – Mattin's monumental Feedback Conceptual, all six hours, seventeen minutes and four seconds of it, is an extreme example – and shorter, without feeling guilty about putting something out that lasts only a few minutes. I don't know about you, but I feel pretty pissed off if I pop a new CD into the machine and find it contains less than half an hour's worth of music – but it doesn't bother me at all that Kevin Parks and Joe Foster's Prince Rupert Drops lasts only 26'32". Actually, that's a lie, as I'd like it to be longer, but never mind. I won't moan, though; Parks and Foster's self-produced Ispi Sibi Somnia Fingunt was one of 2007's highlights, so I was delighted to find another cut of prime rib EAI from them over at the excellent Homophoni site. It's no easy feat to sustain tension for nearly half an hour at a uniformly leisurely pace, but Parks and Foster do so most impressively. It's not just a question of finding great sounds – Parks plays guitar, and Foster handles sinewaves, open circuits and empty Walkman – it's about moving them to the right place on the chessboard, setting up a thrilling endgame in the final five minutes. Prince Rupert Drops doesn't put a foot wrong.

Just a click away on the same site is another fine 22-minute slab of EAI recorded in October 2008 in an art gallery in Neukölln, Berlin, featuring visiting Londoner Philip "Cheapmachines" Julian on rubber-coated contact microphones, various objects including sandpaper, springs, tin foil and elastic bands, audio test oscillators, pitch shifter and whitenoise generator and local denizen Michael Renkel on electronics and amplified stringboard (which sounds not unlike Andrea Neumann's innenklavier at times). In Formation is more combative than the Foster / Parks piece above (those contact mics are dangerous things, Phil – do be careful where you put them) and gets itself into and out of a few tight spots. The downs, particularly about halfway through when things flag a bit, are most definitely worth it for the ups, though; as with Prince Rupert Drops, the last five minutes are tense and terrific. That ominous thudding pulse that slinks in unnoticed at the 19-minute mark threatens to get really nasty. If you want to find out whether it does or not, you'd better go download and find out.

Matt Davis's Mute Correspondence (2001) has long been one of my favourite solo trumpet albums – the original CDR release on Confront is long gone, but he has since reissued it on his own Field imprint – so I was excited to see a new Davis release freely available at his website. All the more so since its title, Violence, is intriguing given Davis's earlier association with so-called New London Silence (the Absurd release with Mark Wastell, Derby / Liverpool is one of the defining documents of that "scene"). But, as his website makes clear, "this music is in no way intended to be a representation of violence. Rather the title refers to thoughts around the nature of violence as it is presented or experienced, in terms of what, and what isn’t, violence." (Makes for an interesting comparison with Keith Rowe's comments on his own Harsh, that.) The odd-numbered tracks, "Lullaby of a Grandmother", "Violence as Cognitive Mapping, an Antidote to Groundlessness" (phew) and "Gustav Metzger" (this art will self destruct in five seconds) return to the more abrasive muting that characterised Davis's work with fellow trumpeter Ruth Barberán and accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro on 2002's I Treni Inerti (Creative Sources), but tracks 2, 4 and 6, entitled "passe" explore the high register harmonic whistling territory that saxophonist Stéphane Rives has moved into in recent years. The timing is as immaculate as ever. Check it out.

Benedict Drew's A Folding Table is another complete album, originally intended for release on Confront but withdrawn and offered as a free download instead. Roving PT EAI connoisseur Richard Pinnell, in a perceptive review of this over at his Watchful Ear blog, wondered whether the album's three track titles – "A Table Top", "A Hinge" and "Some Legs" – somehow referred to the sound sources, but according to Drew, the title comes from the "idea of a table as in a set of data elements or a group of elements accessed by indexing, folding in on itself, and a play with that as in a piece of furniture, a table being the prominent piece of furniture used in improvised music (you'd be surprised how many tables were needed for LMC festivals!).. I like the dual meaning." It's abundantly clear that a lot of time went into making this – Pinnell's comparing it to the work of another notorious perfectionist, John Wall, is on the money – with literally hundreds of separate sound files, some computer generated, others derived from field recordings and studio recordings of paper, charcoal, a cello and a harpsichord strings, layered and edited, with additional recordings incorporated where necessary. Drew might be known to readers as an improviser, but A Folding Table is clearly a piece of composition (maybe that's why he chose not to offer it to Confront?), and very impressive it is too.

Of course, downloading – or rather uploading – has it drawbacks. It's so ridiculously easy to do these days that we run the risk of being totally swamped with mediocre recordings that would be better off sitting on people's hard drives. Somewhere along the line, someone has to exercise a little quality control; just because it can be done doesn't mean it should be. Online record labels, to my way of thinking, should resist the temptation to indulge themselves in "provocative" gesture politics, pieces that set out to exploit titbits of supposedly scandalous gossip that burn brightly on bulletin boards and then disappear like wisps of smoke 48 hours later. It's my belief that the pieces mentioned above will stand the test of time very well. Indeed, the blogosphere is also, as we discussed in this pages a couple of issues ago, a great place to find out what has stood the test of time, by hoovering up music that's no longer in print. And that doesn't only mean digitized scratchy old free jazz and improv LPs (though heaven knows there are plenty of those knocking about, as you know): I was delighted to see that Nicolas Malevitsis has finally started uploading rare gems from his Absurd catalogue here. True to its name, this perennially wonderful Greek label releases albums in absurdly limited editions, so by the time you come across a review of one and set out to buy a copy, they've often disappeared without a trace. So go for a surf and if you don't come away with mnortham's From Within The Solar Cave and Giuseppe Ielasi's 5 Tracks, more fool you. The former, for my money, is one of the most outstanding pieces of electronic music to have appeared in the past 20 years, the latter an all-too-easily overlooked classic of EAI, right up there with the early Kevin Drumm albums and Annette Krebs' 2002 Guitar Solo (coincidentally on Ielasi's own Fringes label).–DW

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Eric Deshayes & Dominique Grimaud
Le Mot et le Reste
324pp ISBN 9782915378740
For readers fluent in French (an English translation in the near future is highly unlikely), Eric Deshayes and Dominique Grimaud's 324-page book is a useful tool for hacking through the undergrowth of post-1968 French, if not exactly an enjoyable read. It starts off well enough with "Une Histoire des Maquis Sonores Français", a concise and informative résumé of French pop history from the arrival of Vince Taylor and the Play-Boys in 1961, via the turbulent events of 1968 (whose impact on the wider world is, for once, not overstated) and the emergence of influential publications (notably Actuel magazine) and performance networks (the Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture, who welcomed artists as diverse as Magma, Brigitte Fontaine and Frank Wright) to punk, RIO and mutant disco. But after the second chapter, "Jazz Désaxé", the book becomes little more than a collection of potted biographies, packed with useful information for sure (the indexing is thorough), but dry and dull.

Grimaud and Deshayes run into problems when they break down the pop/rock scene into various categories – "Psychédélique Camembert", "Politique Pop or Not!", "Anar Rock", "Chants-sons de Traverses" and "'Pataphysique Cantique"; needless to say, key figures (Gilbert Artman, Jac Berrocal, Pascal Comelade, Richard Pinhas...) pop up all over the place, which can be both confusing and frustrating. Instead of trying to tell the story of each and every disc released by each and every Magma spin-off group (and one questions whether groups like Magma and Urban Sax, influential though they were, qualify as "underground"), they'd have been better off choosing fewer musicians and providing more background information, describing the music in more detail (that much overused "mythic" needs some justification), not to mention livening up proceedings with some salient quotations from the artists themselves.

Excluding French hip hop and techno is unfortunate (maybe the authors think they're both too mainstream and commercial, but I well recall plenty of underground rave activity in the early 90s); all but ignoring free improvisation is inexcusable, especially since this is a scene that, in terms of financing, networking and community, is authentically underground. But what the book lacks most is a respectable up-to-date discography; Grimaud and Deshayes certainly whet our appetites for a taste of Axolotl, Ariel Kalma and Anne Gillis, to name but a few – it would have been nice to know which (if any) of their recordings are currently available.–DW [an abridged version of this review appeared in The Wire magazine #304 - reproduced with kind permission]

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Ashtray Navigations / Family Battle Snake / Stellar OM Source
Absurd Editions Zero
Yes, I was wondering that too after watching Daisy and Violet Hilton in Freaks a couple of months ago. The other big question is exactly who was doing what in Leeds (where else?) last year when ashtray navigator Phil Todd teamed up with Bill Kouligas (aka Family Battle Snake) and Christelle Gualdi (Stellar OM Source). Side A's amorphous, reverb-heavy outer space jam is probably best appreciated at high volume after ingesting a considerable amount of mind-altering substances; I hesitate to use the word "psychedelic", because it comes with unpleasant memories of innumerable tasteless ham sandwiches and plastic goblets of cheap red wine at that festival in Bordeaux I attended last year, but it'd do if you wanted a one-word description. Side B is more focussed and harmonically clearer, in a rich, crepuscular Phrygian mode anchored by a tambura drone on top of which synths noodle and what sounds like ocarinas hoot in and out of the darkness. Not exactly original but certainly enjoyable – and if someone told you it had been recorded by Angus MacLise in Kathmandu thirty years ago you could bet your ashtray it'd be treated to a full page Wire review for sure.–DW

Black To Comm
Now that we're so used to the CD, and think nothing of tracks that last 20, 30 or 40 minutes, offerings such as this, consisting of two pieces each lasting barely six and a half, seem frustratingly short (an observation that applies not only to this little gem on the Irish Trensmat imprint, but to all the seven-inchers reviewed here). Dekorder label owner Marc Richter, aka Black To Comm, has been on fine form lately, and "The Soba Noodle Shop Incident" and "The Convenience Store Incident" are as impressive as their titles are intriguing, and make for another solid if all too brief addition to the Richter discography. Trembling triads and sevenths gaze affectionately back to the harmonic landscape of Terry Riley and Charlemagne Palestine, and the distant thudding squelch of the bass pulse reminds me, for some inexplicable reason, of early Durutti Column, but Richter's processing is state-of-the-art, and his mixing and sequencing smart and sophisticated. The only problem is, as I say, that the tracks start fading out just when you're getting really interested. Let's hope Marc can take time out from his busy release schedule at Dekorder (see elsewhere in this issue) to work on an album-length version of the same material.–DW

"Three old friends, one weekend in Chicago, never played together before or since. Now there's a record." So writes one of the three, Kyle Bruckmann, from his home base in Oakland. The other two are Wodger head honcho Steve "Christmas Decorations" Silverstein, now based in Brooklyn, (whom Bruckmann describes as "lunatic encyclopaedic record nut, keeps threatening to someday write the book on mid-70s Midwestern – particularly Ohio – proto-/art-/punk, got and continually gets me turned onto stuff I should've been acquainted with decades ago") and Semaphore Recording sound engineer extraordinaire / doom dronester / former O'Rourke roommate Jeremy Lemos. On these six tracks Bruckmann plays his oboe, English horn and mijwiz and Silverstein his guitar, but most of the other sounds come from analogue electronics. "Mostly oscillators, moogerfooger pedals and the like for Jeremy, and the 'EKG road rig' for me," explains Bruckmann: "A two-oscillator modular synth, ring modulator, filter, and a couple of distortion pedals. Also my recorded debut – unless you count my teenage industrial band's cassette releases from 1988-89 – on floor toms and I-beam." That must be Kyle playing the neat 17/8 groove on "Pulse 188", then. Elsewhere there's plenty of analogue grit and snarl – if Voice Crack had gone into doom metal they might have ended up sounding something like Bleaks – especially on "Pulse 116", 4'33" (ha!) of iron foundry chaos over a squelchy pulse. Delicious. As the album title perhaps is meant to imply, the project came together quickly ("two days in the studio, some editing, then voilà") – so much for the haste, can't spot the errors. Or if there are any, they sound pretty damn good. So they aren't errors at all.–DW

Loren Connors
Family Vineyard
Be warned: this is a single-side twelve-incher (45rpm), so if you put the needle down on the side marked "two sisters play together in moonlight" it'll skitter to the centre of the turntable with a nasty thud and may bugger up your stylus. Goodness knows what it was recorded on, but the shroud of amp hum and hiss is an essential part of the experience – simply put, Loren Connors' recent albums sound like nothing else on the planet: you could swear at times that you're listening to a tam tam or a set of tubular bells, or even a ghostly choir. Introspection has long been the name of the game with the guitarist, but here it's so intense you almost feel as if listening itself is an act of intrusion. Connors fans have had much to celebrate recently, as Eric Weddle's splendid Family Vineyard imprint has also released some hitherto unavailable 1997 duet recordings with Jim O'Rourke, Two Nice Catholic Boys, and a long-lost slab of vintage Mazzacane from 1981, The Curse of Midnight Mary – but, splendid as they are, I'll trade them both for The Moon Last Night any day. Breathtaking.–DW

Alan Courtis / Aaron Moore
Alan Courtis, formerly with Reynols (though at the rate he's going he's probably released more stuff since that group dissolved – if that's the word – than he did with them) and Volcano The Bear's Aaron Moore first hooked up at the request of my late, great pal Benoît Sonnette, of Textile Records, in a five-piece outfit called the Textile Orchestra, with Alexandre Bellenger on turntables, Arnaud Rivière on electronics and myself on violin (ha! time for a gratuitous plug of the forthcoming Textile Orchestra album on Beta Lactam Ring – alas, sans Courtis). Both are multi-instrumentalists, of course, with Courtis doubling on guitar and his homemade "toba" violin (both of which, amazingly, he manages to pack into a rucksack about big enough to hold about one percent of his sprawling discography), and Moore playing trumpet and thumb piano as well as his usual drums. Well, that's what they play live: On Brokebox Juke, which was a long distance filesharing collaboration between Buenos Aires and Brooklyn, where Moore is now based, Courtis also plays synthesizers and bells, and Moore guitar, cello, piano and, it says here, beard trimmer (funny that, because it's Alan who has the beard, not Aaron, but anyway never mind).
The squeaky thumb pianos and lilting pastoral folk guitar arabesques (Moore? Courtis?) of "prorgreso = ropes gro" segue into the hovering drones of "lopsla nes = opals lens" (that's enough bilingual anagram track titles – Ed.), the two opening tracks combining to form a kind of prelude to track three, in which Moore picks out a bass line and backbeat from Courtis's scratchy violin drones and ends up with a song, of sorts, complete with epic solos. Well, pocket epic – for if there's one reservation I have about side one, it's simply that the none of its four tracks goes on long enough. Side two rectifies that, with some more extended droning (superbly mastered too – Aaron's longstanding engineer guru Kev Reverb deserves a Grammy) and power rock freakout, but let's hope a live album from these two intrepid troubadours won't be long coming

Carlos Giffoni / The Rita
No Fun
Though I'm pleased to announce I've had a few enthusiastic emails complimenting me on last issue's review of Vomir's Proanomie, I'm still somewhat at a loss as to what to say when confronted with a release of harsh wall noise, of which this double album by No Fun head honcho Carlos Giffoni and Sam McKinlay, aka The Rita, is the latest to come my way. All the more so since McKinlay is an eloquent theoretician when it comes to his work (there's an interesting if all too brief interview with him here), work which to all intents and purposes defies analysis through its sheer uncompromising impenetrability, and calls into question any standard notion of value judgement – for example, The Rita's Thousands Of Dead Gods is acclaimed by harsh noise enthusiasts as one of the (sub-?)genre's most accomplished releases, but it's hard to find anyone prepared to say exactly why.
In one sense, Two On A Match, being a collaborative venture, isn't perhaps as "pure" as McKinlay's solo work, since Carlos Giffoni, on his own admission, set out "to challenge the 'wall of noise' ideology that is so prominent within Sam's work with some contradictory techniques with very precise control of volume, still very obsessive but channeled with another layer of composition." Giffoni sent McKinlay "some heavy analog synth tracks with lots of layers of oscillators and their suboctaves multiplied together, mixed with certain frequency bands multiplied up and down, something that evolves slowly but is also a solid block of sound heavy on all frequency bands." McKinlay then "went ahead and applied his usual multi layers of distortion to everything and sent me the tracks back," Giffoni reports. The longest of these makes up the entire second disc of this set. But it's on the first that we get a few tantalising glimpses of how the wall has been put together, the harsh noise emerging from and retreating into silence just when you're least expecting it.
Fans of this kind of music who like nothing better than to describe it as an "extremely aggressive tool of harsh, ugly, vile blackness" or an "abject, blackened sound which has the feeling of particulate soot from a very dirty coal power plant given to the force of a sandblaster used not on a brickwall, but your eardrums to penetrate as a viral agent" (what review can possibly compete with that?) will no doubt brand me as a lily-livered pussy when I say that I actually prefer listening to music like this at a more, shall we say, discreet volume level (at least one that doesn't have the neighbours calling the cops) – for, despite all the ugly, vile, black rhetoric that surrounds their work, Giffoni and McKinlay are doing something here that's more subtle, even, dare I say it, more musical, than you might think.

Malcolm Goldstein
Alga Marghen
Alga Marghen continues its laudable reissue of early 60s Fluxus / minimal archive material with five pieces originally created for the Judson Dance Theater between 1963 and 1967 by Malcolm Goldstein, who, though he strenuously denies ever being really Fluxus (see our interview), was, with Philip Corner and James Tenney, one of the instigators of the Tone Roads concert series and one of the prime movers in the NY avant garde during those heady years. "Sheep Meadow" (1966), recorded on "a very cheap" tape recorder, collages Japanese court and folk musics into the kind of thrilling lo-fi that Sun City Girls would kill for. "Images of Cheng Hsieh", one of the composer's exquisite graphic scores (the LP comes with a beautifully reproduced eight-page facsimile edition of "Illuminations from Fantastic Gardens", of which more below), was created for a dance performance by Carol Marcy in Judson Church in 1967, though it's not clear whether the footsteps, thuds and creaks originate from that particular show. If someone told you this was one of Mattin's live recordings, you probably wouldn't be surprised; intriguing, but I'd have liked to see what Marcy was doing instead of trying to guess. "It seemed to me" (1963), one of those priceless cut'n'splice collages – think Earle Brown's Octet I or Cage's Williams Mix or Fontana Mix – and "Judson #6 Piece" (1963), a more rigorous tape composition made in the studios of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, are both great fun, but you'd be hard pressed to identify Goldstein as the composer. In "Illuminations" (1964), however, for vocal ensemble, perhaps because you can follow the score while listening (that said, I wouldn't recommend it first time round), you can catch a glimpse of where he ended up a few years down the line (1982's The Seasons: Vermont).–DW

Recorded in late 2007 in Oakland California, this debut LP by vocalist / violist Ilysea Viles Sunderman and electronician Andy Way, aka Maleficia, consists of two spacious sidelong – but not too long, 16 and 17 minutes respectively – tracks entitled "making" and "remaking". Very impressive they are too, with Sunderman's eerie heavily-reverbed vocals floating above Way's distant cataclysm like an abandoned weather balloon drifting over the ruins of Hiroshima on August 7th 1945. Greg Wilkinson's recording, beautifully mastered by Thomas Dimuzio at the end of last year, is spacious and subtle, highlighting the precarious balance between the fragility of the human voice and the dangerous forces lurking in the background that could, one senses, engulf it at any moment (but which, thankfully, never do). Unfortunately, I suspect this will get tagged as "dark ambient" and end up buried in the racks along with hundreds of other post New Weird psych drone doom outings; a shame, because while I'll go along with "dark" to a point, "ambient" it is not – siren-like, Sunderman and Way know how to lure even casual listeners on to their particular island, and keep them there once they've arrived.–DW

Stephan Mathieu
Saarbrücken-based sound artist Stephan Mathieu has been collecting old record players for a while now. "I love the way they work and sound," he told Rare Frequency recently: "Needle in the groove, vibrating diaphragm, tonearm straight through to the horn – that's very enchanting. I'm collecting records from the acoustic (horn recordings / pre-microphone) era, 1900-1925 to the early 30s; mainly raw gospel preachers, hillbilly, recordings of 'early' music (Renaissance - early Baroque), Hawaiian steel guitar duos and sound FX – some fabulous media artifacts." The Key to the Kingdom, the Dekorder website proudly informs us, is "Mathieu's tribute to the great gospel preacher Washington Phillips and the world of raw, early gospel on 78rpm platters," but if I didn't tell you that you certainly wouldn't be able to guess on listening to these two brief but gorgeous slabs of glistening e-bowed zither (a Phonoharp No.2 dating from the 1890s, in case you're interested). Packaging the ten-incher in a stiff brown card sleeve like an old 78 is a nice touch, but once more I'm left wanting more; then again, with a CD you wouldn't get the delicious crunch of vinyl – the louder the music gets, the more the surface crackles and spits, and it's lovely – so the only thing to do is to play the disc three or four times in a row. Which is what I've just done, and if you'll excuse me, I'm off to put it on again right now.–DW

nmperign / Skeletons Out
Absurd Editions Zero
To the best of my knowledge this track recorded in the summer of 2007 is the first nmperign outing since 2006's monumental double CD set with Jason Lescalleet, Love Me Two Times, and it's great to hear Bhob Rainey (soprano sax) and Greg Kelley (trumpet) playing as a duo again, even if "Marvin" clocks in at a mere five and a half minutes. In the decade since their first release, 44'38"/5 (Twisted Village, 1998) dozens, maybe even hundreds, of budding young trumpeters and saxophonists have set out to master the kind of what used to be called (by me too – a habit I should now kick) "extended techniques" Kelley and Rainey were among the first to employ. It's rare these days to encounter a horn player who doesn't explore extremes of register, (seemingly) pitchless blasts of air and mutes of various shapes and sizes, knees included, to change the timbre of the instrument. But, as the song goes, "Nobody Does It Better" than nmperign. That Carly Simon chestnut was, you will recall, penned by Marvin Hamlisch.. I wonder if that's the Marvin the title here is referring to. It could also, I guess, be a shot out to Lee Marvin (talking of the Dirty Dozen, or rather dirty dizaine, isn't it about time we had another album from Rainey's Boston improv big band, BSC?), or Marvin Gaye, or the poor bugger who gets his head blown off by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Who knows? Why not blow your own head off with this while you're waiting to find out?
Love Me Two Times appeared on Howard Stelzer's perennially wonderful Intransitive label, and Stelzer himself pops up on the flipside of this disc with fellow electronics whiz Jay Sullivan. I haven't, alas, heard Skeletons Out's debut release In Remembrance Of Me, which appeared last year on Students of Decay, but if it's as tasty as the sonic gumbo of "Live 1978" (recorded not in 1978 but 30 years later at Ecstatic Yod, by the way), consider me hungry. Especially since these pesky seven-inchers, even at 33rpm, whisk the damn plate away just when you're getting ready for another forkful.

This latest dispatch from the wilds of Western Australia, pressed on clear vinyl in a ridiculously limited edition of just 30 (and I see today that there are only 15 left, which means by the time you read this they'll have probably all gone, so I guess I'm wasting my time once more, sigh) is sourced exclusively from "oxyacetylene samples", presumably recorded during some kind of welding operation. Fitting, I suppose, for a rescapé from 1980s Industrial cassette culture like Tim Bayes, aka Schuster. It's best appreciated at truly punishing volume – don't worry, it doesn't last too long, so by the time your neighbours have figured out where the racket's coming from and come up to complain, you can be sitting demurely in your armchair listening to something nice like the latest Emeralds album, feigning an air of blissful ignorance – the sludge and crunch of vinyl blending with the murky drones, distant eerie wails and warm high frequency fizz. Impressive stuff, but not nearly long enough. Anyway, bet you won't find a copy.–DW

Talibam! / Jealousy Party
Talibam! / BGCW
Holidays Records
Talibam! / Wasteland Jazz Unit
Thor's Rubber Hammer
Talibam!, aka Kevin Shea (drums, voice) and Matt Mottel (synthesizer, electronics, voice) have certainly been busy of late, touring extensively and making plenty of friends along the way (I, for one, am hoping something will come of their recent collaboration with Jean-François Pauvros and Rhys Chatham) and bringing several of them along for the ride on these three new split discs. The most impressive is the 10" on Milan-based Wallace Records, shared with Italian punkfunkers Jealousy Party; their enthusiastic harmolodic skronk is great fun but has a hard time competing with their American pals' scorching A side, recorded in Brittany in January last year by ex CCMIX whizkid Miguel Constantino, and the most exciting Talibam! outing to come my way since Ordination of the Globetrotting Conscripts (Azul Discografica, 2007). If that's what the, shall we say, invigorating Breton weather does to Mottel, I suggest he buy a cottage and move there full time. Ouch!
The seven-incher finds our intrepid fundamentalists sharing the bill with another bunch of crazy Italians. BGCW stands for "But God Created Woman" – a "but" not an "and" so I guess we can't say these punks named themselves after Roger Vadim's 1956 sunny Saint Tropez romp with Brigitte Bardot – who toured with Talibam! in 2007 and who contribute two nice, nasty rabbit punches on side A, "Confused By Body" and "Rather Kiss A Cobra". The Talibam! side, "In The Name Of Love" finds Shea and Mottel joined by Anders "NNCK" Nilsson and Jeremy "Chin Chin" Wilms on guitars and Mike Pride on "holy wow vocals" (their words not mine). Hard rockin', short – too short – and sweet.
As titles go, Ecstatic Jazz Duos is pretty self-explanatory. Shea and Mottel split this one with Cincinnati Ohio's Wasteland Jazz Unit – John Lorenz on saxophones and John Rich on clarinet (though God knows how many FX units their instruments are sent through: presumably if you can spot a clarinet in there you win a free pair of earplugs) – whose track titles, "Termite Prayer" and "Cicada Sermon" give you some idea of the mad swarm they create. Borbetomagus fans will love it. The Talibam! offering, rather grandly entitled "The Geometric Mophometrics of P.P.P.P.P. McNasticals", is another epic 18-minute journey through Shea and Mottel's musical universe, from psyched out fuzz drone weirdery to lurching free prog freakout with a dash of rap thrown in for good measure. Great stuff.

Bloc Thyristors
This cracking album on purple vinyl is the work of a quartet consisting of trombonist Chicco Gramaglia, bassist Titus Oppmann, Arnaud Rivière on electrophone, springs and mixing board and Jean-Noël Cognard on drums, objects and "mer de grenaille" (a sea of metal filings? go figure..). The aptly-named Monsieur Cognard (consult your French English dictionaries for the verb cogner) also runs this splendid new label. Things start out in fine style with a 2'32" brainfry, "tensions des circuits", which Rivière and Cognard win hands down in terms of volume, but there's plenty of room for Gramaglia's raucous trombone – shades of Roswell Rudd and Johannes Bauer – and Oppmann's spiky bass to make themselves heard in "bruit mesuré en temps libre" and "traction / torsion / compression", which falls apart magnificently as it pulls itself in several directions at once (what is that quotation from "Au Clair de la Lune" doing in there?). There's a pun in the title of the opening cut on the B-side, "marche – arrêt", with "marche" translating roughly as "start" (as in start / stop, or on / off) but also "march", hence Cognard's riotously energetic military drumming. Han Bennink would be proud. Once more, it ends up miles away from where it started, but there's so much to enjoy en route that you won't care. Great stuff, go get.–DW

"In this the signs shall be those of Set triumphant and of Baphomet. Also shall Set appear in the circle. Let him drink if [sic] the sacrament and let him communicate the same." Whoa, sounds like Xela aka John Twells is kind of bloke who'd take a couple of days off work to hitch-hike across England to catch a Current 93 gig. If he does, he should take a copy of The Illuminated with him, because it's right up David Tibet's street. Making all the right noises, it moves from New Weird psychedelic jingle bells to doom metal (there are some vocals in there on "Gilted Rose", but I can't make out what Twells is saying.. maybe something about Paul McCartney's fatal car crash on 9th November 1966) with ease and authority. Imagine Raymond Dijkstra and Locrian gatecrashing a plainsong mass in the Abbaye de Solesmes. Beautifully recorded and impeccably mixed – the aching, fuzzed guitar on "Black Scripture" sounds terrific, and the emergence of the cello towards the end of the track genuinely moving – the album cover informs us that this is "Part One of Three." Looking forward to the next two. And I was serious about sending a copy to Tibet.–DW

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Why Not / Candid
I'm not a big fan of reissues because they're usually not very interesting and often exist primarily for the hobbyist / completist who gets inordinately excited when Clifford Jordan unexpectedly flats a note on the 14th bar of his solo. In its earlier reissues Blue Note added to this malaise by putting alternate takes immediately after the released one, which only served to make a listener sick of both versions. But this CD is an exception; a very great exception. Before Air Lore was released, the average fan who didn't have the ability to see the group live was kind of left in the lurch regarding what the buzz emanating from Chicago was all about, since the early Arista releases, good as they were, didn't really showcase some of the trio's strengths. But something was in the Air on September 10, 1975 when the group went into the Chicago studio with producer Masahiko Yuh to record Air Song, an album that validated all the hype.
The two songs on side 1 (it's really hard to get out of the LP mode), "Untitled Song" and the hyper-titled "Great Body of the Riddle or Where Were the Dodge Boys When My Clay Started to Slide", tell you all you need to know regarding the group. The compositional strengths that Threadgill would subsequently hone (including a large group which the robber barons at Sony pulled the plug on – thanks for nothing, guys), Fred Hopkins' huge rubbery sound coming from strings that could slingshot the Earth out of its orbit, Steve McCall's perfectly placed accent bombs, it's all there. Plus they feature Threadgill on tenor and baritone saxes, which have been sadly AWOL recently. "Dance of the Beast", a frenzied alto workout by Threadgill, and the title song, featuring the ethereal flute-and-brushes approach that was a staple of the group, close out the disc. If there's anything to quibble about, the transfer to digital wasn't done very well and the volume levels change markedly from cut to cut. But in no way should that disqualify this disc, which after 34 years still has the power to turn new heads, from anybody's consideration.–SG

Oren Ambarchi
Black Truffle
Until lately, digging up early releases by Oren Ambarchi has been next-to-impossible. Most of them came out on tiny labels in miniscule runs which disappeared quickly. That is all starting to turn around, offering a view of Ambarchi as both noise rocker as well as sonic explorer. There are the welcome reissues of recordings by his skronk / blast group Menstruation Sisters on No Fun and Ecstatic Peace, which should be snapped up quickly. But for those who came to Ambarchi through releases like Triste or his collaborations with Keith Rowe, the launch of Ambarchi's Black Truffle label provides an opportunity to experience some of his earlier examinations of laminal guitar-based sound-structures which went out of print almost as soon as they were released.
Ambarchi launched his Stacte series in the late 90s on his Jerker label. Over the course of the last decade, he has released five LPs documenting his exploration of the elemental components of the electric guitar. These process-based works create coursing forms out of the sustained, striated timbres of excited strings, overtones, and harmonics. Stacte.3 is, as the name implies, the third outing of the series. On two extended pieces, Ambarchi weaves lush layered waves of looping patterns shot through with tracers of calligraphic detail. "Stacte.3A" is the brighter of the two, with an almost hyperactive motion of countervailing lines that ping-pong across an underlying bell-like pulse. Ambarchi's sonic treatment of his guitar morphs the basic elements of attack and sustain into spiraling whorls which slowly decelerate into quavering tone-fields with ragged undercurrents of glitch. "Stacte.3B" adds acoustic bass and cymbals, and the sound becomes darker and more orchestral. Drone and overtone are more pronounced as walls of metallic shimmer, hovering strummed guitar chords, thrumming bass, and crackling flutters of static are manipulated into welling curtains of church-organ densities. Here is the foundation of the music Ambarchi would go on to record for the Touch label.
Recorded a year later, the three pieces on Persona abstract the guitar underpinnings even further. The harmonics and string overtones of Ambarchi's electric guitar are enveloped in processed grit and distortion. The first two pieces, "Alma" and "Vogler", are vivid architectural frameworks which have been stretched out and looped with propulsive insistency. On "Vogler" in particular, there is a hypnotic quality to the reverberant oscillations which methodically gather and then dissolve into dusky shadows. But the centerpiece is "Persona," which starts with an extended section of tolling, bell-like surges of processed overtones wrapped in delicate flutters of detail and spattered static. Ambarchi then unwinds the groove into pools of activity propelled by a chopped, sputtering pulse. Blasts of deep grizzled buzz are mixed in, adding a palpable tension as the piece throbs in jagged, ominously mounting waves. Ambarchi masterfully shifts the focus from the pulse to the rumbles and crackles which gradually engulf the foreground, the energy mounting until the bottom drops out as the piece comes to a close.
These are welcome reissues, superbly remastered. Let's hope the rest of the Stacte series gets this treatment and finds wider release. And while we're at it, how about digging up some of Ambarchi's onslaughts with his other noise unit, Phlegm?

Australian Art Orchestra
AAO Recordings
It might seem a little unfair to identify the best track first, but it's the track that firmly establishes this 1995 recording, first released in Oz on Origins Recordings, as a Jazz History Moment comparable in its vision to something like Carla Bley's Escalator Over the Hill. Even though this is a single album – 73 minutes long, though – with no unifying "chronotransduction" concept like the Bley, what its climactic 12'39" highlight, "Chance Meeting", does in its outrageous treatment of a venerable Second World War chestnut, "We'll Meet Again", is an audacious example of post-modern big band arrangement of the sort that Bley, Breuker and maybe even Gil Evans would have given their eye-teeth to have produced. More, the piece informs the preceding six tracks, including a re-envisioned "La vie en rose" and two radically rearranged eastern European wartime folk melodies, to imbue the whole with a poignant sense of reverie and memorial that might make this is a Liberation Music Orchestra for the era of the Balkans, but with an eye on the Holocaust.
Taking its title from Wilfred Owen's famed anti-war poem – the CD title itself comes from Eliot's "Little Gidding" (as does "The Spectre of a Rose", the title for the "La vie en rose" treatment) and its lines about the nature of mourning – "Chance Meeting" sends the listener through a clothes tumblerful of ideas. It opens with a solo violin – echoes of Glass's Einstein alone on the beach with his fiddle in Robert Wilson's opera – hinting at Vera Lynn's existential wartime love song, until bubbling electronics and a solo vibraphone or marimba join in on the theme. The eighteen-piece Orchestra enters gradually before launching into a rockout reading led by blasting trumpet and HM guitar. The brass counter this with a swaying, Evans-like slow reading of same, both of which are then set on spincycle by a Cage-like reversed-tape high-speed cut-up, which then segues into a smeared blast of "Land of Hope and Glory" and drifts through a cheesy lounge band version before ending with a lovely solo piano offering reminiscent of Ellington doodling away on a piano at the end of a session (in fact probably AAO leader Paul Grabowsky on keys). It's the single most breathtaking piece of jazz I have heard in decades.
While perhaps less alarming, the earlier pieces also display Grabowsky's invention, wit and the sheer brio of his writing for big band. A literate and perhaps cunning historicist, his nimble footwork as he darts between era and genre never slips into the pastiche or slapstick that marred later Bley and Breuker. Nor does the orchestra play to the stalls (unlike its Vienna counterpart, which when last seen by this listener sounded like nothing so much as the jazz-rock Gong of Pierre Moerlen days). The opening "Miracolo" with its wild electronic treatments, the elegiac, almost saeta-like diversion through "La vie en rose", drastically altered wartime songs straddling Elllington and Weill to salsa and tape trickery, and the long, eerie "Immortal, Invisible" prove that Grabowsky both has and leads a ferocious talent, but one with an immense heart, unashamed also to show its politics. I doubt that anything of its kind has been released since, and little before it, either.–JG

Burkhard Beins / Michael Thieke / Luca Venitucci
Recorded at the Ausland in Berlin in 2007, Roman Tics is the fruit of a collaboration between Luca Venitucci and two musicians from Berlin's e.a.i. scene who have spent time in recent years in Italy. This mini-CDr consists of a single 19-minute track, split in half by a prolonged silence. The opening moments suggest a riff on the idea of an orchestra tuning up before the performance, as Venitucci's frantic accordion is led on by Beins's bass drum. In the performance's first half, repetition is explored, as Thieke's zither patterns interlock with the bass drum pulse; Thieke's clarinet works in tandem with Venitucci to build drones before receding to reveal Beins's objects clicking away. The second half starts off emphasizing held tones, revealing the richness of the instruments; the drone perhaps outstays its welcome, but fortunately, the track ends with the players returning to their earlier, more exploratory style. While a full-length album by this trio might not be so fruitful, this concentrated offering contains some great moments.–LS

Roberto Bonati Quintet
MM Records
The "lingering silence" of Italian bassist / bandleader Bonati's title is probably a reference to the fact that the assassins of the film director Pasolini (popularly assumed to be fascist thugs, while others claim he stage managed it himself) were never identified or arraigned. This multimedia work, which in live form involved his quintet performing in front of huge screens showing images of Pasolini and narrator Claudio Guain reading texts by and about Pasolini, was recorded at the ParmaJazz Frontiere festival, and shows how much of a divine racket just five people can make.
It is an impressively clean recording of a live event, and the music, post-bop modernism veering into free improv, is rarely less than thrilling. Reedsman Roberto Luppi is a lyrical but big-chested player, sometimes unleashing ecstatic Wayne Shorterish runs, at others an Archie Shepp-like pugnacity. Pianist Alberto Tacchini is particularly inventive, sometimes delicate, sometimes wild, one of those pianists whose hands you stare at to see how on earth they do it. Drummer and percussionist Anthony Moreno is a tease, playing off and around the beat with sudden flourishes to surprise you. Bonati himself is a modest figure who stays steady in the background, maintaining a pulse for the mayhem in front of him, sometimes alternating on cello-like arco bass. Vocalist Diana Torto has a delightful voice that hops easily between scat, vocalese, sprechgesang and croon. And narrator Guian was probably separated at birth from his natural twin, Mediterraneo's Diego Abatantuono...
As for the music, at times it could be Jøkleba, at others Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, Harold Budd, the Australian Art Orchestra (check their Ringing the Bell Backwards for the last word in po-mo jazz...), jokey harmolodics, any number of fine improvising bands such as SOS or Amalgam, the lyricism of Keith Jarrett. At times it even employs Burroughsian found-source cut-ups from TV and radio. The beauty of Bonati's band and project is that these are musicians revelling in music free of the restrictions of genre, rather in the manner of Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra. These five musicians bond with a shocking intimacy, almost as though reading each other's minds. Hearing Un Sospeso Silenzio makes you wish you had been at ParmaJazz Frontiere when they performed it. It is the most exciting jazz record – repeat, jazz record – I've heard since Jøkleba blew up my CD player a decade ago.–JG

Two of these four tracks, "ABC" and "DC", recorded in the ABC No Rio performance space in New York's Lower East Side on November 24th 1988, were previously available on an LP of the same name, another ("BBC") made it to a 1990 cassette accompanying an obscure Japanese fanzine, and one, "CBC", is released here for the first time. Hardcore Borbeto fans will, no doubt, already have followed the instructions in Michael Hanke's liner notes to the letter – "remove all other living critters from the house, pour yourself a double single-malt scotch, turn the volume of your stereo to TWELVE, and enjoy as your ears are acid-etched" – and those of you who have never had the, erm, pleasure of experiencing Snuff Jazz are strongly urged to do likewise. What's that? You don't drink whisky? You bloody well will when hear this. Superlatives abound in the Borbeto universe, but for my money this could be the nastiest thing they've ever done, maybe because there's very little low end from Donald Miller's guitar to balance the upper register fingernails-on-blackboard screech of Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich's saxophones. At tweeter-shredding volume, listening becomes truly painful. Has it really been 20 years since this rabid, screaming vicious monster was unleashed on humanity? It hasn't aged a bit. But good single malt has, so find yourself a 20-year-old bottle and raise a glass.–DW

Bobby Bradford Extet
Los Angeles trumpeter/cornetist Bobby Bradford doesn't get mentioned very often by jazz fans, apart from nods to his sporadic association with Ornette Coleman from the late 1950s through the 1970s. The quartet he co-led with reedman John Carter seemed at first to be comparable to the Ornette model, though their arrangements achieved a nearly AACM-like level of sparseness and texture, and their themes had a foggy density that cast something of a pall over the proceedings. Sadly, very little of the group's music has made it to the digital realm. This April 1977 radio broadcast unearthed by Entropy Records, however, features a post-Carter quartet that sheds a little more light on Bradford's activities, sound and aesthetic. Bradford is joined here by flutist James Newton, bassist Richard Rehwald and drummer John Goldsmith for three originals and Monk's "Blue Monk". The set is augmented by a clarinet-cornet duo with Vinny Golia from 2003.
Openness is a key to the Extet's sound (Extet as in X – variable personnel), but in no way does that make the music "thin." Bradford and Newton are a curious pairing, the cornet cutting wide tonal swaths, its steely breath a central axis around which buzzing and humming flute darts. Newton's constant cries, vocalizing through the instrument and then peeping and chortling into staccato upper-register flurries, could seem anathema to Bradford's evenly-paced reserve, but they unite in growls and metallic sound-sheets, hitting jovial peals that find commonality in difference. "Blue Monk," though, finds the front line hitting its traditionalist stride, Newton's birdsong a hybrid of Dolphy and a young Herbie Mann, buzzing in the stratosphere and hitting with a plump downstroke. Bradford's delicate pacing finds a few bars of crumpled breath in the midst of what's otherwise a laconic but straight-arrow solo, quoting Kenny Dorham a few measures after a Dixonian fluff. The rhythm section is no slouch, either, though Rehwald is a bit under-miked. Goldsmith worked with both Sun Ra and Roland Kirk, and his ringing gongs and throaty mallet work flesh out the more textural pieces, but a killer ride cymbal girds uptempo free-bop (check the cooking on "Improvisation #12").
Fast-forward a quarter century to the stunning duet with Golia, which revisits Bradford's composition "She" (also present on the Extet session). The cornetist states the dirge-like theme, but once the improvisation ensues, it becomes a conversation of growling, wide-vibrato swaying. Golia's burbling is a backdrop for slices of incredible phrasing that project sad-eyed blues and a heart-stoppingly huge sound that fills in every corner of the room, while also leaving a lot of space. Bradford is an instrumentalist whose vocabulary is positively orchestral, and that's why even something like this duo can sound positively huge.

Broken Arm Trio
Having grown up listening to his dad's record collection – with particular emphasis on Parker, Young, Basie and Rollins – cellist Erik Friedlander feels perfectly at home in a straighter-jazz-than-usual scenario, after having lent his bravura to practically everybody, from John Zorn to Laurie Anderson, Courtney Love to Dave Douglas. Broken Arm Trio finds him in pleasurable company with bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Electric Masada..) and drummer Mike Sarin (Thomas Chapin, Myra Melford..). The title derives from an accident that occurred to Oscar Pettiford in 1949: a baseball injury made it temporarily impossible for him to play the bass, prompting him to devote his attention to the cello. As a homage of sorts, Friedlander mostly concentrates on pizzicato here, giving the music a light-hearted tone free of regret, contemplation or adventurousness. The result is a frustrating lack of depth, despite the excellent playing of everyone involved. It's hard to hear much emotional investment in these swinging delicacies' melodic ingenuousness and general wishywashiness, aside from maybe two minutes of lyrical poignancy in "Ink". Furthermore, the timbral blend of bass and cello often sounds, well, rigid to these ears. A refined divertissement, but largely unmemorable.–MR

Graham Collier
Graham Collier ought to be one of the most familiar names in British jazz, if not the entire international field of post-1960s structured improvisation along with Charles Mingus, George Russell, Gil Evans, Mike Westbrook and Neil Ardley. A bassist and composer who won a scholarship to Berklee, Collier began recording as a bandleader starting in 1967, and his ensembles have been a breeding ground for world-class improvisers like Harry Beckett, John Marshall and Karl Jenkins (Nucleus, Soft Machine). This two-disc BGO set provides a welcome introduction to three of Collier's works, one previously unreleased (Alternate Mosaics) and another heretofore unknown in stereo (Deep Dark Blue Centre – in excellent fidelity to boot).
On Deep Dark Blue Centre, originally released on Deram in 1967, Collier is joined by drummer John Marshall, guitarist Phil Lee, reedmen Karl Jenkins and Dave Aaron, trombonist Mike Gibbs and trumpeters Kenny Wheeler and Harry Beckett on five originals and a reading of Charlie Mariano's "Blue Walls." This was at the beginning of Beckett's "stepping-out" period, and he worked regularly with Collier's bands through the 1970s. The bassist's suites often featured the trumpeter as the main soloist, to the point that the "unaccompanied Harry Beckett solo" became a hallmark of Collier's work. Here, he takes a flurried series of cadenzas in free time to the accompaniment of brush rattle and baritone burble on "Hirayoshi Suite," as the ensemble slowly enters in seemingly parallel dialogue for one of the most subtly intense rides of the date. Mariano's "Blue Walls" is an easy-swinging line occasionally shunted into non-Western textures by the tart unison of guitar and Jenkins' oboe. Beckett's earthy flugelhorn lends a degree of unkemptness to what otherwise might seem a little clean. "El Miklos," a feature for Gibbs' fat trombone, has a stately, tense disposition that echoes some of Evans' Moorish-tinged writing for Miles. Oboe, flute, cymbals and archly dissonant guitar chords provide backing at the outset, building into flurries in free play as a pliant groove appears.

finds Collier with a smaller outfit, with flugelhornist Dick Pearce and alto saxophonist Peter Hurt making up the front line, backed by semi-regulars pianist Geoff Castle, drummer John Webb and guitarist Ed Speight. Originally released on Collier's own Mosaic label in 1972, it marked a return to tighter arrangements from the decidedly free-leaning work on the Fontana and Philips labels in years prior (Songs for My Father, Down Another Road, Mosaics). Aside from the title track, a feature for Pearce, the bulk of the date is taken up by a lengthy suite, "And Now for Something Completely Different." Though at times recalling early Keith Tippett or Ian Carr in its anthemic head and attention to backbeat, once the quintet stretches out, it's pure Graham Collier Music. There's a languid drift that Speight hits upon at the outset of the suite's second part, spinning outward in threads recalling Sam Brown's Spanish guitar in the Liberation Music Orchestra and shady blues-rock introspection. The cue for the ensemble's contrapuntal free entry is unclear, but a seismic shift occurs four minutes in with the rockpile entry of alto, flugelhorn and Webb's dry, melodic jabs. After a quick statement of the deft, sketchy theme, Hurt's rounded ebullient keen is off at a run, supported by Webb's thrashing, dissected swing.

Alternate Mosaics
, was recorded the same night as Mosaics, a live recording issued on Philips in 1970, and thus provides an "alternate take" of sorts. The ensemble features several of the usual suspects Beckett, Castle and Webb along with the harrowing tenor flights of Bob Sydor and Alan Wakeman (who also appeared on Songs for My Father). This is probably Collier's most unruly and unhinged period, with the band given an extraordinary amount of freedom; the bassist provides scant but well-placed thematic signposts that the musicians could reference or interweave at points of their choosing. Though Castle, John Taylor and Karl Jenkins (doubling) all filled the piano chair to some degree in Collier's groups, chordal instruments take a back seat here in favour of rhythm, melodic freedom and force. Castle's role on the date is either to provide part of the web for Sydor's lean, Pharoah / Sam Rivers-influenced buzzsaw to leap out of, or to give the music a bit of a rest with some carpeted rhapsody. The opening seven minutes of blistering improvisation are the closest to "free jazz" in any of Collier's recordings, and much more so than the issued version on Mosaics, but the piano-bass duet that follows, leading into Wakeman's velvety tenor, is also some of his most delicate music, brightening the corners with spare romanticism and a hint of blues. And that's Collier for you: a given mood will only last until the next shake of the kaleidoscope.–CA

Phil Durrant / Lee Patterson / Paul Vogel
Recorded one summer morning in 2006, Buoy documents this trio's first musical meeting. When clarinettist Paul Vogel put the group together he had each player's specialties in mind: Patterson's use of field recordings; Vogel's interest in microtones; Durrant's subtle work with electronics. Vogel also cites the subdued tempo of Japanese gagaku as an influence on his playing on Buoy. Patterson's field recordings lead the way, establishing frameworks for the trio's interaction. "Equally Miller's Temperament" summons up a controlled stasis out of water droplets and rattling metal, to which breathy clarinet and rumbling bass respond in different but complementary ways. Vogel's microtonal play is featured prominently in the first half of "Shepherd", as separate recordings weave around each other; he ends the drone with rhythmic breathing, until only a few high pitched tones are left to fade away, revealing Patterson's scratchy field recording. The last track, "The First Bud," makes no use of field recordings; instead, Vogel's delicate clarinet tones are peppered by e-bowed metal and thinly veiled by Durrant's electronic drones. Unlike the other Cathnor releases in this batch, this is a full-length CD, and rightly so, given the music's richness and beauty.–LS

John Edwards
John Eckhardt

The title Volume could just as well refer to John Edwards' sizeable discography as to musical dynamics: the bassist's CV includes longstanding partnerships with Veryan Weston and Evan Parker, membership in the Bruise quintet, and, most recently, an impressive run of trio outings involving Steve Noble and (variously) Alan Wilkinson, Alex Ward and Lol Coxhill. John Eckhardt is another formidable bass-player, hailing from Germany, but by contrast he's something of an unknown quantity: previous recordings include Scelsi and Xenakis recitals for Mode, but Xylobiont is his debut recording as an improviser. What links these two solo recitals is an attitude summed up in the title of Eckhardt's disc, a lovely coinage from the Greek that means "organism of wood". There's plenty of extended-technique dazzle on both CDs, but both players know that the real business of the improviser is the patient creation/discovery of ecologies of sound.
As the title suggests, one of the charms of Volume is that you can hear Edwards work on a smaller, clearer canvas than the free jazz blowouts he often anchors (not that I'm knocking the latter, mind you – he's a peerless creator of excitement and drive in any ensemble). It'd be an injustice to apply the stuffy word "recital" to this disc, as it's exciting and often just plain fun – hard to imagine anyone listening to the jigglings, swoops, left hooks, jabs and boing-boing nuttiness of "Meshes" without amazement at the musical-emotional terrain it covers, from silliness to crankiness to sheer joy. In this particular sonic ecology, the emphasis is definitely on the fauna, the feisty, unruly critters living in his bass. Tracks like "Matter" and "Pin Drop" are in the information-rich idiom of classic free improv: the music comes at you in flurries of whiplash-inducing gestures, like a prize-fighter or a chess-master whose first attack sets up the next, which in turn is just the groundwork for the one that's really going to nail you. What counts, though, is the quality of each of those gestures, and Edwards is a master at creating intriguing sonic micro-events, with a peculiar way of making his instrument sound like a sticky web, all stringy and clingy. If he's got a signature technique, it's his expert use of knocks and pings on the body of the instrument – there are few players who can make this approach seem so various and musical, to the point where "Saddle" could slip comfortably onto the soundtrack of a Japanese film in its combination of delicate strings and spacious, brisk percussion. Easily my favourite track, though, is "Tunnel", which is more modular than most of the pieces here (and, as with Zorn, much of the exhiliration is in the leaps across the gaps): it begins with a really grisly extended passage of rough arco drone, then cuts to the quiet, creaky sound of ships moored at a dock, journeys through a Duck Amuck series of changes (fssssssssses, clarinet tootling, didgeridoo hums/growls) and finally arrives a fright-film ending. Bravo!
The one mode that the Eckhardt disc more or less avoids, as it happens, is the kind of fast-forward improv that is home base for Edwards; on the other hand, he pulls together a lot of other preoccupations, some of them rarely heard in improv situations. First, there's his involvement with the work of Scelsi, Xenakis, Feldman and Ligeti, an influence evident in his tendency to focus on building huge structures out of a carefully selected area of sound/technique; second, like a lot of recent players, even when playing acoustically he is palpably influenced by electronic music. In his liner notes he also mentions his "lasting fascination for other types of music – certain bass-heavy styles of club music and in particular traditional African music." (Even better, you can actually hear those influences in the music, in the deep, pulsating beat underpinning "noo bag", or the bright mbira-like sprays of beneath-the-bridge notes on "mbhere".) But he also remarks, "all along, I have always considered myself a jazz musician", and though it's hard to imagine that connection while listening to the ethereal drones of "bäck" or "bruson", once you get to the virtuoso morse-code polyrhythms of "pzz" (damn funky, really) it makes perfect sense. It's always dangerous for a disc's copy to play up "startlingly original" techniques, let alone include the words "no overdubs, no edits, no electronic processing", but the key here is Eckhardt's ability to dive really deeply down into his material. Every few minutes into one of these (mostly fairly long) tracks you wonder if he's reached a point of total saturation/maximum complexity and then exhiliratingly discover that, no, he's just broached yet another level of possibility. A world in a grain of sand, indeed! Whereas it's impossible to summarize the multitude of events in any track on Edwards' disc, you could sum up most of these tracks in a sentence or two – "filium", for instance, focuses on drawing out yawning multiphonics from a single drone, while "tenh" is laminal, serenely not-quite-human EAI of the kind that could be produced by zero, three or ten musicians (but is definitely surprising coming from just one). But if you tried to summarize the feelings elicited by this music...... well, there's no word-limit that would suffice.–ND

Nestor Figueras / David Toop / Paul Burwell
What's a hip young label like Schoolmap doing releasing a 32-year-old recording of a free improv trio in a performing space in North London, taped on a Sony cassette player and previously only available on an obscure label (Bead)? The answer, presumably, is that it's somehow relevant to today's "market" – make that "niche market", or, better still, just "niche." Well, yes, some of the strange hoots, clatters and smacks, courtesy David Toop (flutes and whistles too numerous to mention), Paul Burwell (percussion etc etc) and Nestor Figueras ("movement, respiratory and vocal sounds [sic – I'd like to hear a vocal sound that isn't respiratory], body percussion") wouldn't be out of place on a recent Taku Unami album, were it not perhaps for the recording, which is understandably hissy, even if it manages to capture the sound of "DT stumbling into the microphone" and the groan of passing traffic (come to think of it, there's quite a lot of passing traffic on recent ultra-minimal / EAI outings too, but never mind). Toop's arabesques and Burwell's rattles sound more like they were recorded in a hut in some tropical rainforest (Improvised Music from Borneo, anyone?) than off a back street in Hornsey, and that's part of the disc's charm: "the urgency" – to quote my esteemed fellow Wire scribbler Clive Bell – "of excited young performers who have just hit on something special." Elsewhere in his Wire write-up, Bell explains that a cholagogue is a bile stimulator (!?), but you needn't let that spoil your enjoyment of this vintage slab of "second generation" British free improv.–DW

E. Ryan Goodman
Lone Lamp
This solo guitar set is one of the more fetching examples of DIY acoustic termite art I've come across lately. These 20 brief pieces are for the most part gentle tangles of fingerstyle blues and country guitar, though there are passages of rich classical-style arpeggiating, too, such as the handsome "Thaifood". But Goodman also draws on the examples of Derek Bailey, Roger Smith and (a pleasant surprise!) Jim McAuley. There are few direct borrowings, thank goodness, but Bailey's certainly behind a track like "Means to an End", both in the way the internal dialogue between different sound-qualities (e.g. open vs. fretted strings) is as important as the pitches, and in his care to place each note at a precise, slightly jarring distance from the last. There's nothing outrageously dissonant here, but for all the piece's echoes of jaunty country picking, it's more like a study in the subtle generation of tension: a few pages torn from the Book of Disquiet. It's rare to come across solo guitar playing as comfortable as Goodman's in occupying an idiomatic/non-idiomatic grey area (to draw on Bailey's famously problematic, but nonetheless rather handy, binary). Too bad that this is such a limited release (edition of 100, enclosed in grey LP-style sleeves): better hunt this one down quickly, and if you miss it, keep an eye out for Goodman's next move.–ND

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Once upon a time it was the Instant Composers Pool, then it became the ICP Orchestra, and now it's just plain ICP, as if everyone knows who we're talking about. Well, I suppose everyone reading this does know who we're talking about, because I've been singing the praises of Misha (Mengelberg), Ab (Baars), Han (Bennink), Tobias (Delius), Ernst (Glerum), Thomas (Heberer), Tristan (Honsinger), Michael (Moore), Mary (Oliver) and Wolter (Wierbos) (and that's how they're tagged on the photo adorning the back of the digipak, first names only) since the good (?) old days of the Paris New Music Review. It's always nice to get a new ICP disc, but – for once – the pleasure is tempered by a certain familiarity. This is, after all, exactly the same line-up as on Weer is een dag voorbij (2005), Aan & Uit (2003), Oh My Dog! (2001) and Jubilee Varia (1999), and old ICP chestnuts – Misha's "Jaloers? Ik?" and "Reef", Monk's "Jacky-ing" [sic] and Herbie Nichols' "Change of Season" are all on the menu – so there's a certain sense of déjà entendu. That said, this live set from the Bimhuis (where else?) is one of the orchestra's more rambunctious outings, with some ferocious blowing from the sax section (Baars being the principal culprit), egged on by whoops and hollers (Bennink, I suspect). Elsewhere, the orchestra's string trio subset – Oliver, Honsinger and Glerum – is on bristling form on "Met", Wierbos blows his trombone into crazy shapes on "Op Naar de Mooche", and there are some delicious touches of piano from Misha on "Change of Season", which has evolved for the occasion into a kind of gymnopédie. And if you happen to believe in reincarnation, you'd better pray you don't come back next time as Han Bennink's snare drum.–DW

Jason Kahn / Takefumi Naoshima
Winds Measure Recordings
If you're getting fed up of your own domestic surroundings and want to spend an hour of your life listening to someone else's fridge humming and other cars passing by in someone else's distance, this'll do the job nicely. I do, I admit, have a certain fondness for the fridge in the Instants Chavirés, which I've heard quite a lot of in recent years in between sounds by a whole host of musicians, but by and large fridges and passing cars sound pretty much the same whether you're in Paris or Tokyo, and musicians doing next to nothing in Melbourne sound alarmingly like musicians doing next to nothing in Berlin or Boston. That said, Jason Kahn's percussion is easy enough to identify when he finally gets round to playing something (highlights occur at 25, 35 and 41 minutes, if you're impatient), but quite what Naoshima does with his mixing desk I've never been able to work out, though there are a few odd clicks and very faint high frequencies he might be responsible for. Of course, the closer you listen, the more you hear (I rather like the baby birds tweeting in the very last minute), but you don't need to buy a disc like this to teach you how to do something you should be able to do anyway, with a little concentration. Still, if it gets you to pay more attention to the world around you, so much the better.–DW

Achim Kaufmann / Mark Dresser / Harris Eisenstadt
German pianist Kaufmann – born in 1962 and a regular partner of Michael Moore, John Hollenbeck and Jim Black, among others – joins bassist supreme Dresser and drummer Eisenstadt for six compositions, two by each participant, and three free improvisations on Starmelodics, a gently daring cookie of a CD whose release marks Nuscope's tenth year of activity. Bill Shoemaker's distinction in the liner notes is spot-on: "there's jazz and there's music called jazz for convenience". Certain ECM piano trio recordings spring to mind as one roams through a piece like "Birdz", where intermingled elegance and spaciousness permit the music to gravitate almost completely away from tonal centres. But on the following track, Dresser's "Flac", angularity and sense of recollection fight a little, the composition oscillating between different poles of attraction with a perennial rerouting of the athematic materials across an ample labyrinth of exactitude. Eisenstadt remains one of the most logical percussionists around, perennially suspended between mathematical clarity and imaginative propulsion, while Dresser paints geometric figurations and infinitesimal dashes with the methodical wisdom of a sage; but it's Kaufmann's translucent, discriminating intersections that leave the biggest mark here, a mixture of mature nostalgia and the lucid representation of life elapsing. It's a mood perfectly captured in the drummer's evocative "Seattle", dedicated to Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb, where shadowy discretion barely shrouds long moments of inescapable sadness.–MR

Peter Kowald
It's surprising that German bassist Peter Kowald didn't record a solo recital until this 1988 release, two decades after Barre Phillips set the ball in motion with Journal Violone (Music Man, 1968). Perhaps Kowald preferred meetings with other musicians to working alone. A tireless traveler with a wanderlust somewhat akin to Don Cherry's, he played with a diverse cast of improvisers both inside and outside Germany. Isolating himself from his surroundings in a solo recital is a bit out of character, but Open Secrets nevertheless provides a direct window into his world. Solo bass recordings often have an overarching composed feel, but this album consists of nine bass solos and nothing more. Kowald puts the instrument and himself through the paces – it's an album of "playing."
The bassist's muscular figure, hanging over his instrument, often seemed at odds with the deftness of his playing, which built up layers into a huge mass of sound, often augmenting bowed harmonics with his voice (as he does here on "Ima Samu Dessu"), or creating clusters of indeterminate sound by moving the bow in circles or up and down to explore an area of timbral richness beyond the usual range of ponticello or behind-the-bridge playing. Part of that mass hinges upon very low tones, which he finds through slackening strings and alternative tunings, but "Vita Povera – Arte No" explores delicate, precise pizzicato with an almost folksy lilt, and "El Mismo Rio" begins with an exhibit of speed and dexterity, alternating between rarefied harmonics and taut triple-stops before segueing into a small symphony of alap and jhala. Each of these vignettes contains a heavy dose of personality, and you can hear Kowald the human being throughout. Man, fingers, arms, bow, strings, and two large bodies unifying in sonic space – how much more open can you get?-CA

Radu Malfatti / Taku Unami
This 47-minute track was recorded live at the Fundación Luis Seoane in Corunna, Spain, on November 28th last year. I mention this because, in addition to Radu Malfatti's velvety, attack-free trombone and Unami's laptop whirls, the ambient noise from the performance space is also very much part and parcel of the listening experience, which is best appreciated by playing the disc at considerable volume. One has to put up with a few ugly coughs and grunts, but the sound of people coming and going, the distant rumble of the central heating system and the occasional creaks of tables and chairs blend rather well with the music. I read elsewhere in online discussions that much of this furniture noise actually came from Unami himself, which raises once more the question of where to draw the line between music and noise (or if there should be one at all) – is he "playing" the table or just "making a noise" with it? And would a Malfatti / Unami cough be more "acceptable" than one made by an audience member?
Unami here restricts himself to gentle flutters, thankfully doing without the ticking polyrhythms that featured rather too prominently in his recent duo with Keith Rowe, but the music is not without tension, even drama – going up to the 16-minute mark Unami pushes the volume up to a deafening mezzoforte (!), and Malfatti responds with what can only be described as a melody, a gorgeous three-note phrase consisting of a rising major sixth and a semitone. A few years ago, Radu Malfatti told me, with a typically wicked grin, that he thought 33'20" – the duration of both die temperatur der bedeutung and das profil des schweigens on his 1997 Timescraper disc – was ideal for his music, and I think he had a point. After the half-hour mark, the concentration starts to flag somewhat (mine? the performers'?) – another slight rise in intensity at 31' seems to go over the same ground (clearly someone in the audience thought that too, as you can hear them making for the exit just afterwards). You might argue that Malfatti's been going over the same ground for the past decade, and even accuse him of the stagnation he criticised in his interview with me back in 2001, but I don't have a problem with that, and nor, it would seem, do any of the musicians who dream of making music with him. The only problem I have with this disc is trying to decide who's the goat and who's the donkey.

Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Hot Cup
All those crusties out there who dream of a young dynamic jazz quartet who swing hard and play real tunes will, alas, probably miss out on this latest offering from bassist Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do The Killing – that name's probably enough to put them off for a start – but the cover art, a clear take-off of Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music (not the first from MOPDTK either – 2007's Shamokin!!! bore more than a passing resemblance to Art Blakey's Night In Tunisia... we await the next instalment with interest.. Chappaqua Sweet or The Empty Foxtrot?) might just tempt them to take the plunge. Here's hoping they do, too, because This Is Our Moosic is 52'32" of action-packed fun featuring some blistering trumpet from Peter Evans, splendid s(w)inging sax from Jon Irabagon, exuberant drumming from Kevin Shea (again) and solid bass work from Elliott, who, if I remember rightly, comes from Moosic, PA (which looks like, to quote Ronnie Scott out of context, a wonderful place to come from). Reading Troy Collins's enthusiastic review over at AAJ, which raves about the group "deconstructing [italics mine] everything from Dixieland ("Two Boot Jacks") to swing ("Biggertown"), blues ("Effort, Patience, Diligence") to boogaloo ("Drainlick") and post-bop ("Fagundus") to smooth jazz ("East Orwell")" might give you the impression this is just another smarty pants exercise in stylistic rape and pillage where everything comes between quotation marks, but you can leave your copies of Derrida in the cloakroom and get on down and enjoy yourself.–DW

Manuel Mota
I know it's time to retire (again) when I find to my horror I've written the same thing in a review of an artist's latest work as I did in the write-up of the one that came before (no, I'm not telling you which one, go and look for it yourself). But when a musician continues ploughing the same lonely, lovely furrow with each successive album, it's a good idea for reviewers to do just that, i.e. review what they wrote last time round. So with this latest wonderful offering from Portuguese guitarist Manuel Mota, who's been one of my favourite musicians for years now, I'm going back to see what inanities I penned about 2007's Outubro. First up, don't expect to hear Mr Mota's voice – it's his guitar that does the singing on these eight delicate solo improvisations (the back of the disc says "Guitar 1-9" but there are only eight tracks on my copy). Sings takes up where the electric disc of Outubro leaves off – introspection is the name of the game, but I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of musical introspection. Loren Connors's (since we're talking guitarists) is, as I wrote above, almost painful, like looking in the mirror and lamenting something long lost; Mota's is calm and contemplative, accepting the quiddity of every tiny gesture, letting the music flow out and go where it will (or not – it sometimes gets stuck and stays right where it is, gathering its thoughts before moving off again). Once more, it sounds like it was recorded in the privacy of his apartment; a cheeping bird can be heard from time to time in the background, so I guess he either left the window open or, like Alain Delon in Le Samouraï, keeps a budgie for company. But I imagine the guitar is enough. Quite simply beautiful.–DW

The Nu Band
Consisting of Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn), Mark Whitecage (alto sax, clarinet), Joe Fonda (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums, percussion), the Nu Band is committed to the preservation of the roots of jazz as well as the extension of those traditions into a current idiom. Right from the opening title track we're subjected to a statement of intent that's crystal-clear: a theme that carves itself into your memory, and solos that range across the stylistic gamut, from neatly appropriate (Campbell) to semi-embittered (Whitecage) to coolly intellectual (Fonda). "Connecticut Solution" is built on a 5/4 riff and counterpoint, leaving plenty of room for the soloists, Campbell using the mute to make a tentative departure from the obviousness of certain registers, Whitecage responding with a musing serenity that indicate that his expressive range isn't just limited to different types of haste, Fonda momentarily abandoning his obedient vamping to deliver a calm declaration of independence and Grassi bouncing away an unperturbed groove on the skins. The drummer is in even better shape during his brisk solo in "The Last of the Beboppers", while "Heavenly Ascending" – graced by Fonda's masterful arco playing – is possibly the most austere track on offer, though it shows a resounding loyalty to lyricism, Whitecage's harried alto notwithstanding. These are the pinnacles of an album that, even if not really resplendent in divergence (as Robert Fripp would have it), definitely sets the quality bar satisfyingly high.–MR

Self Release
Looking at these musicians' resumes, it becomes clear that we're in presence of top players: names such as Michael Bublé, the Cab Calloway Orchestra and Natalie Cole are mixed in with figures that count for something in most jazz circles. Professionals, you know. Then again, Matthew Maley (tenor sax and clarinet) and RJ Avallone (trumpet and wood flute) have been working together for over a decade, so their fusion of intents is more or less total. Add the sanctifying advice of Ornette Coleman, with whom these gentlemen "spent two years playing music and discussing life", and the recipe is complete, starting from the very title, a response of sorts to the old master's Tomorrow Is the Question. The quartet is completed by bassist David Moss and drummer Bryson Kern, both of them subtle and experienced players in their own right.
Expecting something along the lines of "harmolodic heritage"? Wide of the mark. Search play a brand of jazz that activates the mechanisms of mental subdivision, each instrumentalist pursuing a lonesome path that, miraculously, happens to be perfectly in tune with the collective endeavour. A track such as "Intentions" has a theme sharp enough to cut your fingers on, but it's a pretext for the soloists to express a kind of cultivated independence where autonomous intelligence prevents the music from going astray. "The Laws of Gravity" is an intersection between ardour and classiness that sounds like authentic brotherhood, an enfranchisement from the systematic disrespect that can be observed in many similar musical situations, if one listens carefully. This gentlemanly approach characterizes the whole enterprise, which embodies the values that Avallone invokes in the press release: striving to "not rely on a notion of what is right or wrong, but what is true and honest". While I'm enjoying the entrancing rhythm'n'flute-cum-ritual aroma of "Joujouka", I can make the same wish – even though our current reality is far less congenial than this bright outing.

Adam Sonderberg
Originally issued in 2001 as a limited edition by Adam Sonderberg's now-defunct Longbox label, Say No appears again in Cathnor's new Vignette Series of mini-CDr releases. As the label website notes, the music was completely composed on computer by Sonderberg. "Gunnel Lindblom" (named after the actress in Bergman's Seventh Seal) is the quietest track; close listening, and maybe a boost in volume, reveal nuanced high-pitched play involving no-input mixer and white noise. "Up and At Them" (featuring Boris Hauf) starts with a shocking burst of noise and low tones, to slightly humorous effect, given that the rest of the track turns out to be a pleasantly near-static high tone peppered with clicks dancing across the stereo field. "Figure/Ground" contains some subtle layering with samples from Salvatore Dellaria's turntable. The longest track ("Project – affected at 90 meters", 7'06") was again inspired by The Seventh Seal's soundtrack, pairing the droning whine of Geraldine Vo's accordion with Daniel Menche-esque low beats. Nice, but Say No leaves me wanting more, as if these (often tantalizingly brief) tracks were only seeds. The cover-image – a wall of partially effaced words – hints at the music's enigmatic, aloof quality.–LS

Mark Wastell
Mark Wastell has been an influential participant in the lowercase music scene for more than a decade now, notably as a member of The Sealed Knot and +minus. Recently Wastell—originally a cellist – has been focusing instead on the tam tam, while on After Hours, his attention has shifted to the tubular bell. By editing out the bell's initial impact from the recording, Wastell leaves only the reverberating note as it fades into silence. The listener's attention is drawn to the placement and decay of each note (sometimes several at once, via overdubbing). It's music that induces the concentrated yet relaxed state evoked by his poem in the liner notes: "time to contemplate. / After Hours; down time, relaxation." The liners also speak of the unfortunate closing of Wastell's Sound323 shop in London, which may have something to do with the music's sombre feeling. For once, the limitations of the mini-CDr format seem just right: the single track's length of fifteen minutes is perfect.–LS

Nate Wooley / Fred Lonberg-Holm / Jason Roebke
Trumpeter Nate Wooley, as his forthcoming PT interview (next time round, hopefully) will demonstrate, is nothing if not versatile. Like Greg Kelley, whom he admires and cites as an influence (not the only one by any means, as Wooley's knowledge of jazz / improv trumpet is as wide as it is deep), he's equally at home playing hardball with the fire breathers as he is exploring, with electronic assistance, EAI's inner logic of spit and breath, both alone – Wrong Shape to be a Story Teller (Creative Sources) – and in the company of others, notably Chris Forsyth (The Duchess of Oysterville, also on CS) and Steve Swell and Tatsuya Nakatani in Blue Collar. Throw Down Your Hammer And Sing, on the Porter label (which is building up a mighty impressive catalogue), steers a course between the two extremes, teaming the trumpeter up with two other musicians who are just as stylistically polyvalent: cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and bassist Jason Roebke. Acoustic and electronic sonorities combine so well it's often not clear which is which, and though the music they make on these five extended tracks is gnarly and combative at times, it also knows how to take its time: lines can be drawn in both directions, back into the black forest of "first generation" improv's rough and tumble, and forward into the more contemplative though no less aurally challenging pastures of EAI. As such, it ought to appeal then to fans of both, and sell like hot cakes. It jolly well deserves to.–DW

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Peter Ablinger
The title indicates that this is an extract – subset is Evan Johnson's preferred term in his liners, which, as is usually the case with Mode, are well-written and informative – of a longer work entitled 1-127. One assumes that the first 32 numbered segments of that piece are similar to the 95 presented here (and wonders why they couldn't have been included too), in each of which, to quote Johnson, "a scale descends, with gentle and unpredictable irregularities of both rhythm and pitch, from the top of the electric guitar's range to the bottom. The sound of the instrument is clean, clear, and precise. At some point in each of these tranquil, neutral scales – all but one of them, anyway – a cacophony of recorded street noise bursts in, which the guitar, now louder and rougher in tone, doubles, playing an orchestrated spectral analysis of this recorded noise. Just a moment of this though, or a few seconds; then the scale resumes as if nothing has happened."
As descriptions go, I couldn't do much better than that, but it doesn't explain the work's curious fascination. It's annoyingly intriguing, putting the listener's short and long term memory to the test (how is that scale different from the one in the previous section? after how many notes did the blast of street noise come in last time round?), and compellingly boring: after about five minutes you know it's going to go on doing its thing for the next 55 (maybe that's why only 95 segments were chosen, to round off the total disc duration to nearly exactly one hour..). If you listen to music for "Charms to sooth a savage Breast / To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak", you'd better leave this one on the shelf – here is a work that raises more questions than it answers (fine by me). What is music in the first place? Are those scales music? (Remember when you were a kid, and your teacher said "practise your scales and then you can play some music!"?) Is the street sound that interrupts them music – there is some Sharrocky scribbling guitar in there every time after all – or just noise? And what the hell, in 2009, is noise? I'm not sure I can answer any of those questions, to be honest, and not even sure whether I like or dislike 33-127 (I certainly prefer the wind in the trees on Ablinger's earlier outing Weiss / Weisslich 18), but I'm certainly intrigued by the issues it raises, and am sure to return to it in the future.

John Cage
This latest instalment – the 41st – in Mode's Cage Edition features two of the last recordings the composer made, at SUNY Buffalo in 1991, the year before he died. The first finds him in performing a 30-minute extract from Empty Words (1973-74) – presumably from the work's final section, in which there's little left of Henry David Thoreau's text except for isolated letters – simultaneously with Music for Piano (which one?) (1952-56), performed by Yvar Mikhashoff. For once, Mode's liners, courtesy Rob Haskins, aren't as informative as they might be – details about Mikhashoff's construction and performance practice for this piece would not have gone amiss. It's a (surprisingly?) musical affair, with both men picking up each other's pitches more than you might expect, Cage singing more than speaking, stringing together his disjointed consonants into a kind of ultraminimal folk song from some hitherto undiscovered country.
1991's One7, performed in a version for solo voice, is one of Cage's most austere compositions, calling for just ten different sounds (not ten in total! that's Futatsu..) located according to the time bracket procedure common to all the number pieces: the brackets indicate start and end times for each event, but leave the performer free to choose exactly when to begin each sound, and how long to make it last. There's plenty of space between Cage's isolated gurgles and bleats (and unlike Rob Haskins, I find the half dozen cries of "ka!" neither shocking nor "genuinely terrifying") for the mind to wander (if the mind wanders, let it) and sounds of the outside world to come drifting in.

Christoph Korn / Lasse-Marc Riek
I rip the envelope open, pull out the booklet and assume there must be some mistake – where's the CD? They forgot to stick it in the booklet! But then I read the first page: "Specific locations and their sounds are recorded on MD or DAT. Later on these recordings were deleted. This process of finding a location, recording and deleting it is then captured textually. The result is an audio-event noted and transformed into script." Well, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. The past few years have seen a slew of ultraminimal albums come this way, including several that make old reductionist chestnuts like Malfatti / Durrant / Lehn's beinhaltung sound positively garrulous – one features no actual playing at all, just recordings of empty rooms (Noid's You're Not Here on Hibari), and then of course there's Reynols' infamous "dematerialised CD", Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada (an empty CD box!) – so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised to find no disc at all, just a booklet that describes where and when these thirty tracks were recorded. Assuming, of course, they were – I guess we'll just have to take Christoph Korn's word for it. The jury at last year's Phonurgia Nova certainly did, because they awarded this particular project a special prize.
Now, part of me wants to take all this seriously (though not as seriously as Selektion boss man Achim Wollscheid does in his liner notes), treating the booklet as a kind of score, an invitation to reflect on the places and people involved (Adorno, Foucault..), or a set of instructions to follow. Several of the locations where the "pieces" were recorded are described quite precisely – the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, the courtyard of a private apartment in Frankfurt (address withheld here in case it belongs to his granny, who probably wouldn't appreciate dozens of weird new music freaks descending on the place), the exact spot where somebody fired three shots at student activist leader Rudi Dutschke on April 11th 1968, etc. – so it would, I imagine, be possible to visit them, in the same way that many trekked round Akio Suzuki's oto-date as part of his Résonances exhibition here in Paris back in 2004. You could even make your own field recording there, if you so wished.
The other part of me remembers Hans Christian Andersen's 1837 fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes. Sadly, there's no shortage of Jesse Helms-like creeps prowling the corridors of power who'd be more than willing to use a project like this as a club to beat Contemporary Art and Arts Funding over the head with. As I scroll down through the dozens of emails I receive each week from small venues struggling to promote challenging new music against the odds on a shoestring budget, I'm not sure that if I'd been a member of the Phonurgia Nova jury I wouldn't have been inclined to hand Messrs Korn and Riek an empty envelope containing a dematerialised cheque.

James Rushford
Cajid Media
More good news from Melbourne, home of young James Rushford, a multitalented composer operating in "intermedia, installation and recorded mediums" who's studied with the likes of Robert Ashley, Phill Niblock, Marcus Schmickler, Fred Frith and Michael Pisaro. Vellus, Rushford's first album, delivers in style: influences aside, what shines throughout the set is an independent mind and a unique compositional personality. "Lucas Stumbles", featuring the Speak Percussion ensemble, is what you get when youthful percussionists put their fingers in an electric outlet while playing a Naked City disc after a night of soul-searching. "Respite in the Woodland", for clarinets and chamber organ, juxtaposes a terse, ventilated directness and the internal mechanisms of a humongous generator of murmuring pulses and piercing glissandi; it manages to not sound quite like anything else, although it wouldn't be entirely out of place on Creative Sources. "La Madre", for female vocalist, cello, electronics and percussion, is a meticulous deployment of humanity and altered mental states among mottled contrapuntal splashes and awakening jolts. A personal favourite is "Tractus", scored for violin, violas, autoharp, cello, glockenspiel, double bass and tam-tam, where the music's distinctive jargon evolves out of the peculiar resonances of certain instrumental pairings; the musicians handle the material with monstrous technical ability and hypersensitive reciprocal listening and intuition. Clarinets and electronics define the colours of "*holdmegentlytightly", a cross between fplrsrflrsplsflsfrrr (copyright Dan Warburton), faint harmonics and "regular" notes augmented by extended techniques, electronic emissions dialoguing with a rather nervous, unstable interlocutor until the ear-scathing termination. "Borders" ends the program with solo double bass, in a commendable performance by Chloe Smith, who seems in complete control of dynamics, spacing and shading. It sets an admirable seal to a scintillating release – probably THE debut release of the last couple of years or so.–MR

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Thanos Chrysakis
Aural Terrains
This latest offering from London-based sound artist Thanos Chrysakis continues the series of compositions entitled "Inscapes" (any resemblance to Aaron Copland's 1967 orchestral composition Inscape or to the recent Eric La Casa and Jean-Luc Guionnet album (see above) is, of course, purely coincidental), of which four more are available buckshee gratis and for nowt here A Scar In The Air features Inscapes 24 – 29 (but the six pieces, the composer notes, "had to flow effortlessly in to one another forming and dissolving into a continuous aural motion") and it's absolutely intriguing. Some of the sound sources used are relatively easy to identify – percussion has always been important for Chrysakis, especially vibraphones, marimbas and cymbals – others not. "My intention," the composer's lengthy email continues, "was to compose a deep soundworld, deep in the sense that something is coherent – has its internal logic – while at the same time remaining enigmatic." If such talk of "deep" and mention of vibraphones and marimbas leads you to expect something spaced-out, trippy and ambient, think again; the music is carefully constructed to draw you in, not float along in the background likes wisps of smoke from a joss stick while you sip green tea and rearrange Taschen Art Books on your coffee table. It's often soft (not always: the final track gets pretty tetchy) and dreamlike – but not dreamy: remember dreams can be dark, sweaty, dangerous places too. Chrysakis acknowledges the cinema as an influence on his work (you may remember a quotation from Lars von Trier's Europa popped up on Klage), and is fond of describing his compositional procedure in terms of long takes and montage, but, like Michel Chion, is quick to distance himself from that "cinema for the ear" idea. Though elegant and unashamedly beautiful, this music is also tough and abstract. He couldn't have come up with a better album title.–DW

Alastair Crosbie
Self-released (C46 cassette)
Glasgow's Doctor of Dronology, Alastair Crosbie, has been an overlooked asset of the British music scene for a number of years. But that's maybe about to change, with a spate of DIY music releases that showcase a unique talent, who's been inspiring others in the back alleys of Central Scotland's emergent drone scene since 1995.
His latest release, Seven Starlings More, is inspired by the migratory behaviour of starlings, in which the collective responds to individual flight patterns. Crosbie avoids overconceptualizing and unpretentiously gets to the heart of the drone process. Like the birds' flock formations, each untitled piece on this particular recording achieves harmonic cohesion, with no tone misplaced in the overall configuration. In fact, as with all great practitioners of this variegated genre, Crosbie seems to have an acute ear for the time flow in nature, producing music that proceeds at an unhurried pace through a series of fades and crossfades.
Part one begins with an expanding trigonometric function of notes, scaling envelopes of accelerandos from a heavily processed guitar. Obeying his own maxim in a recent interview - "to condense time" - Crosbie has the good sense to alter drone procedures throughout, following nature's logic without the music outlasting its compositional integrity. Part two is reminiscent of Brian Eno's "On Dover Beach", its composted melodic counterpoints hinting at a world of perpetuity.
The music continues in this gorgeous elliptical fashion, but signals a subtle shift by track six, which ends with a brutal edit, and with a rude intrusion of a sapphire chiseled drone. Clusters of notes soon envelop the ear, as if one was ensconced within an aleatoric cloud formation, drifting over a dense horizon. There's a Celtic Theatre of Eternal Music feel to track nine, with its electronic pibroch chords hinting at a personal romanticism which one wishes would last longer. But this minor reservation is nullified by the final track, which resumes the static strategies of the first half. For over nine minutes we're submerged in a bath of light.
Releases of this quality and ambition point to a definite zeitgeist within indigenous Scottish experimental music that cannot be ignored, one which is now synching up to other global/local movements within England, the U.S and Europe (not least through strong festival intakes, via Instal in Glasgow and Le Weekend in Stirling). Alastair Crosbie is an artist who proves that with the sparest of sonic materials there is no impediment to sitting down and listening to "the sound of the wind blowing" (to quote La Monte Young).–PB

No Fun
I know now why I enjoyed Emeralds' Solar Bridge (Hanson) so much last year – the two-track album (or was it an EP?) was over and done with in just 27 minutes. Each of these five pieces on What Happened is as lovely, sticky and rich as a hunk of baklava (or whatever your favourite patisserie might be): two will fill you up just fine, but after all five you end up with guilty indigestion. Recorded live to tape over the past two years, and immaculately sugar-glazed (i.e. mastered) by James Plotkin, these big squelchy old synths, noodling away through delays and reverb units, filter sweeping up to the stratosphere and back, would be perfect background music to a documentary on glaciers in Patagonia, or the sex life of the snail. Once they've lulled the No Fun ravers to sleep, one images Messrs Elliott, Hautschildt and McGuire have lucrative career prospects at the Discovery Channel.–DW

Lawrence English
A splendid title, which makes me think about how uselessly people strive to secure better living conditions for themselves and their dearest ones, only to meet some scramble-brained individual whose lack of acumen destroys their best intentions. The cover artwork is also pretty striking, Marian Drew's dead birds and fruits graphically juxtaposing the juice of life and the coldness of death. Then there's the music, which could be the most interesting that I've heard from the Australian soundscaper to date. English is one of those artists who don't supply too much information about source materials (though a little can be gleaned by looking at the label's website). It's Up to Us to Live grabs the attention instantly , whether it's the penetrating mega-rattles of "TheLoveHasNoFace", or the breathy, ebbing-and-flowing electronics and string punctuations of "About the End", which turns into a "Fripp & Eno vs. jangling acoustic guitar" landscape before vanishing into the ionosphere. In general, these tracks, even the noisiest ones, hint at a tentatively constructed phraseology which prevents the record from becoming a sheer mass of unconnected mayhem; logic and thoughtfulness prevail, despite an occasional tendency to self-destruction ("Somewhere Inside Me Is You") and a measure of inarticulateness that only adds to the intrigue. But when we arrive at the ominous wash-and-hum of "Genuine Reflected" or get frozen by the flanged-out grilling of the conclusive "The Slow Weave", all we need to do is let our inner sentinel take a deserved rest. This is scarcely penetrable yet unquestionably absorbing stuff.–MR

Thrill Jockey
"Lithops" derives from the Greek lithos (stone) and ops (like), but there's nothing stone-like about the music of Jan St Werner, who's been using this moniker for his side projects since the mid-90s. Equally well known as a member of legendary glitch technicians Microstoria and electronic party-hard funkionists Mouse on Mars, Werner fashions a gloopy, postmodernist form of what Paul Hindemith called gebrauchmusik, a music that fulfils utilitarian requirements, bringing the composer in touch with your average punter. It's through a sequence of art installations that Werner puts this into practice on Ye Viols, adopting different egos in keeping with the exact theme of each commission. The disc nods to the conceptual legacy of his work with Microstoria in its need to recontextualise environmental sound emissions whilst deploying the post-Czukay laptop dancestepping of Mouse on Mars. The pieces welcome repeated listening outside the spectatorship of the Art scene, and Werner brings a messy hedonistic slant to the proceedings.
The first track, "Graf", which soundtracked a slideshow of architecture in Amsterdam, kicks off with an exuberant analogue shuffle and broom beat that owes as much to the Kompakt back catalogue as it does to Mouse on Mars ca. Autoditacker (1997). Fired up with a battery of Disney synths and sequencers, it's like Raymond Scott creating a party rave for dancing apartment blocks in a 1970s Czech cartoon. The cartoonish atmosphere can be both richly enlivening and fun, as on the digital oompah funk of "sebqeunz", the clumsy, dumb brother of "Subsequenz" on MOM's 2001 Idiology, with its corralled squelch stabs and huffing and puffing time signatures comically exhorting us to stomp.
From time to time the overall schema seems messy and disjointed, and perhaps Werner is aware of this, stopping the meandering "21 Jahr" with an abrupt bleep after four minutes and eleven seconds. "Bacchus", however (a piece commissioned by the artist Illui Nonobac, whose drawings and photo collages are layered to the point of erasure), seems aptly named: Werner seeks to liberate the id with a Dionysian impulse to dance, which is at odds with the need to peripatetically ruminate. His orchestration here recalls the cannibalised skipping CDs of Microstoria's Innit Ding: successive waves of sound reconfiguring new juxtapositions, pink noise jousting with white, before closing with profound resonance. Overall, Ye Viols is a summing up of an original career rather than a radical break from the past. Despite its uneven gestalt (at times, very uneven), it offers many playful charms that delight the ear canal, whether you're chinstroking to an Artforum critique or dancing your ass off.–PB

Low Impedance
Reviewing a Merzbow album is an intimidating exercise. Not because the music (noise, if you prefer) is intimidating in itself – what I've heard of his in the past couple of years has been much easier to listen to than what he was doing a decade or so ago – but because the oeuvre is so huge. Masami Akita, like Anthony Braxton, is one of those artists you tell yourself you really ought to keep up with, but feel guilty about not being able to. All this being a roundabout way of excusing myself in advance for not making erudite comparisons between Somei and 2009's other Merzbow outings Suzume, Fukuro and Camouflage (we're in mid March at time of writing, so expect at least a couple more to appear before this issue goes to press, too), because I haven't heard them.
Taken on its own terms, Somei is interesting enough (damning with faint praise, perhaps) but hardly the "55 minute trip into rhythmic hell" the label claims it to be. "Run Chicken Run" takes a while to break free of the torpid binary drumbeat it starts out with, only to replace it with a pulsing bass loop over which cymbals and feedback bludgeon each other into submission before a drum solo fades the piece out suddenly, as if embarrassed. On "Lava" the ear is drawn inescapably to Akita's drumming, which imposes if not a groove at least an idea of tempo on proceedings. But Weasel Walter or Chris Corsano he is not; there's no way his rather stodgy beat can compete with the firestorm raging above it, and it sounds pretty weedy when the electronics fade out suddenly at the six-minute mark. Akita's next self-immolatory move is to try and drown out his own drumming by attacking from the low end of the frequency spectrum, which smothers the kick drum but leaves his cymbals pinging away lamely in the background. Somewhere under the layers of drillerkiller loops and slashing cymbals another dull, anapaestic drumbeat thuds along through "August Depression"; I imagine this is supposed to invoke some kind of raw, primeval caveman impulse, but it doesn't. Cranking it up doesn't make it any more impressive, either – in fact (Merzfans will scream heresy and bay for blood) I actually prefer listening to Akita's stuff at low volume, to appreciate its detail – though, as I said above, what do I know?

Shiver Sounds
"This disc is based on the idea of recording what is not supposed to be, gear failures, the death of a PA system, unknown background noises." So writes Lausanne-based Francisco Meirino, aka Phroq (where did he get the name from, I wonder?), and that's all the info we get on the back of the disc along with a brief note to the effect that the music was assembled and mastered in San Francisco (local noiseniks Scott Arford and Randy Yau get a namecheck). It may set out to document the sound of failure – that's the name of one of the album's eight tracks too – but musically Connections is a resounding success. It may be interesting to know where the sounds come from (malfunctioning cassette recorders and minidisc players are also listed), but what matters is what Meirino does with them; these are carefully crafted compositions, assembled with meticulous attention to detail and a keen ear for structure. Meirino's been fine-tuning his art for a decade and a half, and it shows. Listeners to EAI and noise will be familiar with the sounds – buzzes, beeps, crackles, fizzes and the odd blast of devastating feedback – but it's great to hear them channelled into coherent compositional forms. Come to think of it, this review probably belongs in the Contemporary section above – and the disc itself belongs in your record collection.–DW

Strotter Inst
Hinterzimmer / Public Guilt
A live performance by Swiss turntablist / installation artist Christoph Hess aka Strotter Inst., spinning his customised dubplates on racks of modified Goldring Lencos, sounds, as I wrote here, as good as it looks. But they don't happen all that often, which is all the more reason to pick up a copy of Minenhund, Hess's most impressive outing since 2004's Monstranz. Those of you who are already familiar with the Strotter back catalogue will recognise the grimy polyrhythms, twanging elastic bands and occasional snippets of voice (but Hess concentrates on the sounds produced by his turntables themselves rather than the few "real" records he chooses to spin on them), and those of you who aren't but whose record collections include (early) Steve Reich, Boyd Rice and Pan Sonic ought to check it out at the earliest opportunity. It's as dark, dusty and claustrophobic as the mine, impressive photographs of which adorn the elegant recycled chipboard packaging. The title, Hess explains, might refer to dogs that were used to pull trolleys out of the mines, but was also what the miners called the trolleys themselves. Appropriate name for a class act of the Swiss underground: dig yourself up a copy.–DW

Peter Wessel / Mark Solborg
Former Danish diplomat Wessel is nowadays a poet and sometime student of Medieval Spanish literature based in the funky Lavapiés manzana (quarter) of Madrid. polYfonías (his orthographic choice) is his duo with guitarist, electronics and laptop manipulator Mark Solborg. Live or on disc, they are one of the strangest duos you are likely to encounter.
Wessel's poetry seeks a Rimbaud-like "disordering of the senses" (his words), using all the languages he wields – Danish, French, English and Spanish, in a kind of Spandanfranglish – in search of the mot juste in whichever language it's best expressed. Within a single line or stanza, he may spill over all four. The poems are commonly about love and philosophy, in search of a sort of post-Esperanto langue d'amour, of the Barthes variety. It comes with an illustrated 56pp libretto if you get stuck. Solborg's sole conventional instrument is a genteel electric guitar that recalls the dreamier passages of Vini Reilly's cherished The Durutti Column (pedants' corner: Spanish anarchist Buonaventura Durruti actually had just that – two Rs and one T). Solborg subverts this with laptop treatments and live electronics, some keyboard-generated, others created through USB-linked mischief. Wessel's notes refer en passant to the troubadour poets of Eleanore of Aquitaine, but this is reaching further back, perhaps towards a modern version of the koine (tongue) spoken around the Mediterranean in prehistoric times. Lulled by Solborg's guitar and treatments, it is easy – if perhaps illusory – to slip into thinking you understand fleeting phrases, an experience not unlike reading the multilinguistic polyphony of The Waste Land.
Wessel probably knows that his audience will not catch all the meaning – my Dansk is particularly rusty – and perhaps that's partly the point, but his sensual voice is also part instrument, giving meaning to word, and his almost erotic interplay with Solborg makes this a mesmerizing experiment as well as a pointedly multi-culti adventure in, as he and David Byrne once put it, "speaking in tongues."–JG

John Wiese / C.Spencer Yeh
Drone Disco
Recorded in the autumn of 2007 in the Ashworth Tap Room (sounds rather inviting, that – is it a pub?) in Cincinnati Ohio, this splendid punch in the earhole features C.Spencer Yeh on voice, synth, electronics, tabletop bass guitar and objects (no fiddle this time, Spencer?) and John Wiese on electronics, objects, MSP, voice and synth in 14 brief (average duration just under three minutes) but effective blasts of what I'm tempted to call "intelligent noise." Intelligent not implying that all other noise musicians are boneheads, but in the sense that there's a real concern here for developing sonic material, interaction and, erm, music. Sure, there's a bit of par-for-the-course spluttering, gurgling, dry heaving, miscellaneous bathroom nastiness and Donald Duck buttfuck, but it's hard to imagine the moshpit at No Fun seething to such well-crafted and, yep, subtle stuff as "Pink Pyramid" and "Weekend Pass." In fact, you could call it EAI for all I care. Here's hoping these guys are invited along to the next Erstquake festival, whenever and wherever that might be.–DW

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