SUMMER News 2009 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Paul Baran, Nate Dorward, John Gill, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton:

On Another Timbre: EKG / Max Eastley / Rhodri Davies / Annette Krebs / Octante
Les Grandes Répétitions / Trans Und So Weiter
Asylum Lunaticum
L'Autopsie.. / LCDD / Bhob Rainey & Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase / Raionbashi / Talibam! & Daniel Carter / Christmas Decorations / Nick Forte / Zaïmph
POST(?)ROCK: Maher Shalal Hash Baz / Christof Kurzmann & Burkhard Stangl / Tortoise
Akiyama, Corcoran & Kiefer / Baars, Henneman & Mengelberg / Brötzmann, Kondo, Pupillo, Nilssen-Love / Marc Edwards & Weasel Walter / Peter Evans / Graham Halliwell & Lee Patterson / Hayward, Davies & Unami / Marteau Rouge & Evan Parker / Oceans of Silver & Blood / Old Dog / Evan Parker / Evan Parker & John Wiese / People Band / Respect Sextet / Gino Robair & Birgit Ulher / Jason Robinson
Domenico Sciajno & Gene Coleman / Domenico Sciajno & Kim Cascone / Julien Skrobek & Miguel Prado / Günter Baby Sommer / Splinters / Stasis Duo / Storm of Corpses / Ton Trio / Michael Vlatkovich / Weasel Walter, Henry Kaiser & Damon Smith / Jack Wright, Hell&Bunny / Ami Yoshida & Toshimaru Nakamura
Tom Hamilton / Erdem Helvacioglu / Radu Malfatti / Will Montgomery (Brian Marley) / David Rosenboom
Alexandre Bellenger / Thomas Bey William Bailey / Seijiro Murayama & Michael Northam / Nana April Jun / Novi_Sad / Pimmon / Yui Onodera / Rice Corpse / Sébastien Roux & Vincent Epplay / Tamaru
Last issue


One of my favourite albums in the last couple of months, which Clifford Allen reviews in this issue's Another Timbre round-up, is Rhodri Davies and Max Eastley's Dark Architecture, a live improv set recorded in Berkshire wonderfully transformed – détourné – by a firework display which takes place outside the venue at the same time. For the non-French speakers out there, détourné means both "hijacked" and "reappropriated", and is a deliberate reference to the activities of the Internationale Situationniste (yes, feeling somewhat guilty about taking a swipe at Guy Debord in a recent Wire review, I'm re-reading his writings and rediscovering his films in a splendid triple DVD + book boxset, and very good they are too). It also crops up on several occasions (as does Debord himself) in this month's interview with Mattin, which was itself hijacked and reappropriated several times during the course of its elaboration, as you'll no doubt see.

It's firework season here in France at the moment, too; the 14th of July Bastille Day national holiday is usually celebrated by kids running around throwing pétards (bangers, not joints, sadly) at passers-by on the Champs-Elysées. I steer well clear of the Champs-Elysées at the best of times, and this year on Bastille Day I'm going one better and leaving the country, but if you happen to be in Paris on the 14th of July and feel like a dose of (ahem) French Culture, try the free Johnny Hallyday concert at the Eiffel Tower. Yes indeed, the French love their ridiculous, airbrushed, drink-ravaged, burned-out 66-year-old "rocker" (who recently threatened to leave the country himself and relocate to Gstaad for fiscal reasons – clearly, saving a few thousand € on one's tax bill is more important than one's national identity), so much that the Ministry of Culture is apparently footing (part of? all of?) the bill for next Tuesday's extravaganza. I have heard the sum of one million euros mentioned (yes, that's 1,000,000€). And this at a time that the Instants Chavirés, the only remotely decent subsidized venue for experimental / improvised music in the Paris region, is closing its doors for lack of funding. It's enough to make you want to cry. Or take to the streets yourself, as Mattin advocates in his interview.

Mattin's not the only featured interviewee in this issue, though – there's also trumpeter Nate Wooley, whose music I've been enjoying for several years (and who, oddly enough, has also been talking to Clifford Allen for Bagatellen recently, so Wooley fans will have not one but two interviews to enjoy). And the usual dogpile of film, LP and CD reviews from the usual suspects. Bonne lecture.-DW

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On Another Timbre
Another Timbre
A few years ago, a reintroduction to EAI for this writer resulted in some aesthetic head-scratching. Weaned on AMM, MEV, David Behrman and the like, I found recent "reductionist" EAI wanting. For me, those earlier explorations undertaken as "live electronic music - improvised" offered freedom and self-discovery in spades, even if they resulted from the painterly application of a bow to strings or the crackling of homemade instruments and contact mics. Something physical and immediate was represented in those divergent strands of work, a classical confrontation and gestural form purposely missing from the quiet rumble of much recent EAI.
Across nearly twenty discs in a fairly short time, Simon Reynell’s Another Timbre has presented the work of a number of electro-acoustic artists. If there is a vein running through the label’s output, it is that of materialist directness and profound immediacy. EKG is the duo of Bay Area oboist Kyle Bruckmann and German trumpeter Ernst Karel; of the two, Bruckmann is the more familiar figure, spanning the worlds of non-idiomatic and electro-acoustic improvisation as well as prog and noise-rock. "Field" is measured in its approach, its long humming tones permeated by mixing-board glitches, rattles, and unruly percussive shorts. It’s somewhat traditional in organization despite untraditional means, as fuzzy patches, blips and rumble merge into a minor crescendo and fall away by piece’s end. "Drift" is despite its title highly focused – an orchestrated unity of mournful hum punctuated by cantankerous, mealy circuit clatter and brief pulses. "Current" begins with waves of queasy whirr and stuttering, the violence later subsiding into a tense face-off of held tones. Though both players are accomplished acoustic improvisers, the emphasis is squarely on electronics, though snatches of traditional instrumentation emerge to color the canvas – a daub of chortling trumpet here, sinewy reeds there. The improvisations here are fairly uniform in character, but that quality gives a suite-like feeling to Electricals: there’s a broad range of gestures and effects despite the narrow palette.–CA

Max Eastley / Rhodri Davies
Another Timbre
Dark Architecture is a single 34-minute improvisation by Max Eastley and Rhodri Davies on invented instruments (most of them contact miked) and amplified harp, respectively. Eastley, a visual artist and inventor, was at the heart of non-idiomatic improvisation in the late 70s, working with Alterations' Peter Cusack and David Toop as well as the London Musicians' Collective. Here, he plays his "arc", a wire and wooden sculpture bent and bowed, as well as motorized objects and incidental bits of metal, wood, and the like. The focus is on environment, as the players' enveloping, discrete yet interconnected occurrences produce a landscape of unfamiliar sounds. It's not always clear who's playing what at the outset, though Davies' electric tabletop harp could be the generator of low-toned feedback amidst the rattling wood, odd-interval clacks, and unearthly bowed rumble.
Dark Architecture was recorded on November 1, 2008 in Bracknell, not long before Guy Fawkes Day, and about ten minutes in the subtle cracks of fireworks outside the venue enter into the sonic environment – at first delicate snaps, but soon building into pops and bangs impossible to avoid. Where previously the duo had focused on small sounds and space, they found themselves confronted with a prominent "third member", and rather than quit playing, they integrated the sounds of the fireworks into the proceedings. As soon as the first isolated outdoor pop is heard, the landscape changes – dissociated knocking becomes subtly rhythmic and, as strings of fireworks are set off, Eastley's arc rumbles throatily and jumps into furious high-pitched whinnies. As bow and feedback wail, bells clink and explosives shuffle, one gets a sense of progression – the minimalist harp tapping and furious plucking seems somehow composed, as if accident may have, in fact, begotten structure. Even as the musicians return to their taps, bells and rolling marbles in the closing ten minutes, one senses the whole event has subtly shifted. On its own, Dark Architecture is certainly a beautifully-realized recording, but it requires a stretch of imagination to visualize the proceedings – we're lucky to be even a fifth of the way there with a disc like this.

Annette Krebs / Rhodri Davies
Another Timbre
Annette Krebs has always been careful about choosing recording projects. After a handful of strong releases around 2001 and 2002, there was a long period where she barely recorded at all. Over the last couple of years she's returned to recording, coming out with some startling documents – a duo with Robin Hayward (Sgraffito), an untitled quartet with David Lacey, Keith Rowe, and Paul Vogel, and a solo submission on the Absinth Berlin Electronics collection (all tiny-run CDr releases). A bit easier to find, and well worth searching out, is her duet with Toshimura Nakamura, Siyu, on the SoSeditions label. Add this duo with Rhodri Davies to her commanding run. For this project, Davies took his table-top electric harp and electronics to Krebs’ flat in Berlin, Krebs pulled out her guitar, sampled recordings (some of which she'd used on her Berlin Electronics piece), and mixing board, and the two spent a day improvising together.
Krebs spent the next year editing, mixing, and mastering the recordings into three pieces which exist as a sort of spontaneous musique concrète. Each establishes a distinctive presence through carefully paced trajectories and transitory, shifting layers of detail. It is as if Krebs was tuning in beamed fragments of an improvisation as they drift in and out of focus across the active sonic plane. The essence of guitar and harp resonance is shot through with warped voices, field recordings, wafts of pop songs, and the hisses, flutters, and spatters of electronics. Davies’ singular scrapes, variegated attack, and electronic modulations counter Krebs' discrete placement of guitar and sampled sound, balancing breathless delicacy with the physicality of amplified strings.

Another Timbre
The Barcelona-based trio of Ruth Barberán, Ferran Fages, and Alfredo Costa Monteiro have created a handful of strong releases as a trio, surveying the outer timbral frontiers that can be created from trumpet, accordion, and resonant objects. They've also collaborated with bassist Margarida Garcia, releasing their eponymous recording six years ago on the l’Innomable label. While on the earlier release it was almost impossible to tell the sound sources of the various threads, the players are more at ease letting the intrinsic nature of their instruments come through on the two half-hour long improvisations captured here. Barberán’s trumpet can sputter or screech with a scrubbed brassiness, Costa Monteiro pushes his instrument to reedy overtones and lets its air-driven organ-like drones shake through the group, Fages's oscillators and pickups send out skirling sine waves and buzzing groans, and Garcia’s electric double bass accentuates the dark, full tones of her instrument, using electronics to subtly extend the textures. There is a restless intensity to this music, but the performers never lose the collective thread. The second piece is a bit more open than the first, and the four let long tones and drones hang and reverberate off each other, slowly gathering force and density. The pristine recording lets every nuance come through. It's another compelling entry from these musicians and yet another in an incredible line of winners for Another Timbre.–MRo

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Gérard Patris / Luc Ferrari
Paris, Centquatre June 2009
Les Grandes Répétitions was a series of five documentaries on contemporary music made for French television in 1965 and 1966, produced by Pierre Schaeffer and directed by Gérard Patris and composer Luc Ferrari, two of which received a rare airing as part of Filmer La Musique #3, a festival co-organised by Paris's new hip artspace, Centquatre, in association with MK2 Quai de Seine and Point Ephémère.

De L'Autre Coté du Chemin de Fer ("Across the Tracks") is a rare document of Cecil Taylor in action in December 1966, a week after he recorded Student Studies aka The Great Paris Concert with Jimmy Lyons on alto sax, Alan (curiously billed as Ron in the film credits) Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. For some inexplicable reason the quartet set up in a room in the Place des Vosges, built by Henry IV in the Marais district of Paris in the early years of the seventeenth century. A long way indeed from the ghettos hinted at in the title of the documentary, where Taylor claims much of his musical education took place (though we all know he was also well-versed in twentieth century mainstream classical music, thanks to his studies at the New England Conservatory). Pressed for his opinions on Stockhausen, Bach and Cage, the pianist responds drily, "they were not of my community", at which point the film cuts to some gratuitous not to mention incongruous archive footage of coloured folks tapdancing. By the end of the session Taylor is clearly getting fed up at being prodded for a definition of improvised music. From "the problem with written music is that it divides the energies of creativity" to "music does not exist on paper" he finally comes up with "improvised music is one thing, and other things are.. other things" (!) before calling a halt to proceedings with a cursory "you're welcome."
The music, fortunately, tells another more exciting story, but not without casting doubt on some of the pianist's statements – the presence of music stands and manuscript paper certainly testifies to the existence of some kind of score; Alan Silva has always maintained that Taylor's music in 1966, not only on Student Studies but also Unit Structures and Conquistador! was notated with considerable precision, and the exchanges here between Lyons, curiously framed in a huge empty fireplace, and Taylor, huddled over his piano, bear that out. Forget the silly question and answer session, the washed-out colour and strange home movie montage, and experience one of modern music's greatest working groups in full flight.
Karlheinz Stockhausen's status as enfant terrible of new music was as assured as Cecil Taylor's in 1966, when Patris and Ferrari caught up with him in Cologne to film rehearsals for Momente with soprano Martina Arroyo and members of the West German Radio Chorus and Orchestra. Momente is a curious transitional work in the composer's oeuvre, spanning the gulf between the serialist rigour of the early years (it was first performed in 1962) and the hippy trippy Sri Aurobindo-influenced Stockhausen of the late 60s (he went on tinkering with the piece until the Europa Version of 1972). Its combination of an intricate formal scheme with highly personal, often erotically-charged texts from the Song Of Solomon and letters written to the composer by his future wife, artist Mary Bauermeister, is reflected in the film, which alternates rather dry technical discussion of the composer's beloved "moment form" with garish close-ups of Arroyo's sexy gurgling and giggling. The camera work is daring, panning brutally from the Kontarsky brothers fisticuffing their Hammond and Lowery organs to the rather starchy ladies of the choir, evidently embarrassed at being asked to perform unconventional (and non-union) activities like shuffling their feet and clapping their hands. Two commentaries from the composer are intercut, one a rather self-aggrandizing autobiographical monologue as he wanders round the rehearsal space, the other an interview with a woman (off camera) who catches him off-guard with some rather personal questions. Filmed in alarming proximity, the twinkle in his eye and twitching at the corner of his mouth are as revealing as they are endearing.
Following Momente Stockhausen and Patris struck up a firm friendship, and seven years later the director was invited (without Ferrari this time) to make a documentary on the composer, Trans Und So Weiter, for German television. Stockhausen in 1973 was a different creature, no longer the serial hipster but, post-Sgt. Pepper's album cover appearance, a kind of interplanetary visionary weirdo, still married to – but living apart from – Mary in a dreadful modern villa in the hills outside Cologne. Patris and his crew were admitted to the inner sanctum of the Stockhausen ménage, and the images of the maestro saying grace before dinner, reading American Indian bedtime stories (cut to rehearsal footage of An Himmel Wandre Ich, in a stunning reading by Karl Barkey and Helga Hamm-Albrecht), sweating it out in the sauna, skinnydipping and splashing around in his wellies with his kids are touching. On a crowded train heading across Germany to Metz, the children, Julika and Simon, aged seven and six respectively at the time, are everywhere, throwing balloons at the Great Man as he attempts to talk about politics ("I am not political – my music is for all men") and asking him where the toilets are just as he's about to address the thorny question of whether or not he is a reincarnation of Mozart ("I haven't considered that possibility yet"). It's an affectionate portrait of the family man, but also a precious document of a great composer during one of his most fertile and exciting creative periods. There's priceless footage of rehearsals for Mikrophonie I (the bizarre and wonderful sight of the performers wearing Japanese (?) masks), Refrain (Karlheinz plays some mean celesta), "Region Three" from Hymnen (in which a frustrated composer warns the members of his student orchestra to stop fucking about and playing their own looney tunes or else) and Trans. This extraordinary 1971 orchestral composition, the idea for which apparently came to the composer in a dream, calls for the strings, bathed in violet light, to be seated across the stage playing a dense Niblock-like wall of sound, behind which woodwinds and percussion play out of sight, while the sound of giant shuttle from a weaving loom hurtles back and forth across the stereo space. From time to time strange Freudian tableaux take place – a drummer boy marches on stage and kickstarts a viola cadenza, a trumpeter pops up from behind the curtain like Punch and tootles merrily – utterly surreal, and totally crazy. Here, unlike in the earlier Momente documentary, Patris refrains from commentary, allowing this amazing music-theatre to speak for itself.
Back in 1973, nobody was producing music as strange and original as this, which makes Trans Und So Weiter essential viewing, all the more so now that Stockhausen's work is only available on demand through the Stockhausen Verlag, since the composer fell out with Deutsche Grammophon and withdrew his entire back catalogue from the major label in 1989. To date, no DVD release of this splendid documentary is forthcoming, though Eve Patris-Schaeffer, the director's daughter, is working hard to remedy that. Happily, the Grandes Répétitions – all five of them, including Ferrari and Patris's profiles of Hermann Scherchen, Varèse and Messiaen – are scheduled to be released as a 5DVD set (later this year?) on K-Films. Watch this space.–DW [An edited version of this review appeared in The Wire magazine #306. Reproduced by kind permission of Tony Herrington]

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On Intransitive
Kommissar Hjuler / Mama Bär
The quiet German town of Flensburg, just a couple of miles below the border with Denmark, was founded about 800 years ago by Danish settlers who took advantage of its sheltered harbour to found a thriving local economy based on kippers (that's smoked herrings, if you don't watch Fawlty Towers). A Danish city until as late as 1864, and the second largest Danish port after Copenhagen, Flensburg became part of the Kingdom of Prussia after the Second Schleswig War (which I once had to write an essay on back in high school and have subsequently forgotten everything I ever knew about – my apologies to offended locals), and oddly enough was the capital of Germany for a few weeks in 1945 after Karl Dönitz, appointed to succeed Adolf Hitler before he killed himself, fled there with what was left of the government of the Third Reich. Just one year later, former Luftwaffe pilot and local entrepreneur Beate Uhse-Rotemund founded Beate Uhse AG (still the leading player in the German sex industry, listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange since 1999), and the world's first sex shop was opened in Flensburg in 1962.
Whether or not linguistic identity crises, Nazi atrocities and sex toys have anything to do with the extraordinary (and extraordinarily disturbing at times) puppe ("dolls") sculptures made by local husband and wife artist team Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Bär is open to debate. Make up your own mind by checking them out at (you can buy a few if you like, too, it seems), and while you window shop, listen to the album of the same name, which must be the weirdest thing that's come my way this year.
It starts off in style with HJCVGrimmelshausen, a savage cut-up of Hjuler reading extracts from Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen's picaresque novel Der Abentheuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch (1669), but breathing in when speaking (don't worry if you're not fluent in 17th century German, because you won't be able to make out much of what he's saying in any case). Like all the seven tracks on offer here, it was originally a limited edition release on Hjuler and Bär's SHMF imprint – check that website for availability. Things calm down a bit with Mama Bär's Lichtblicke, a queasy time-stretched monologue accompanied by delicate singing and what sounds like a distant burglar alarm, before the album's centrepiece, the sublimely banal Ehrfucht, a 25-minute recording of Mama taking her son Cy out for a bicycle ride (actually, the first time I heard this I was cycling round Paris myself, and it blended remarkably well with the local traffic). Ever found yourself with a tune stuck in your head that won't go away? That's exactly what happens here – and hearing the same little ditty over and over again, along with the strange clatter of the field recording, is an oddly compelling if supremely frustrating listening experience. Equally bizarre is Meine erste Zeitmaschine, recorded "in the cellar of K.Hj.'s police building" (?), in which Hjuler describes how he created the world as we know it by travelling back in time. Right on, maan! Goodness knows what else he's doing in that cellar, but after about ten minutes of strange unexplained thumps and bangs, you'll probably feel like storming the place yourself and locking him inside his own time machine.
A bit of light relief comes with de nye Rigspolotichefen, whose text (in Danish as far as I can make out, not that that helps me understand anything) deals with reforms of the local police system. Not exactly hilarious reading material, you might think, but just check out how it's cut up with Punch and Judy shrieks, squeaky toys and a Baa Baa Black Sheep music box. I nearly fell off the bike laughing when I heard this one. Honest. You ask the guy driving the taxi that nearly ran me over (Pont de Grenelle, Saturday June 13th, about 9.30am.). The next track, Lauf in Eine Herde, doesn't sound all that funny, but when you learn that it was recorded when Hjuler ran into a herd of cows wearing a red shirt (and the bovines, instead of trampling him to death, ran off) you might smile at the embarrassed silence. The closing title track, once more credited to Bär (dare we say the more, er, musical of the two?) is another head scratcher.. what on earth was she doing when she recorded these strange wows and flutters, and where was the mic? Maybe we're better off not knowing.
Asylum Lunaticum is a clumsy, sprawling mess of a disc, technically inept and often frankly tedious – everything a conservatory-trained composer and so-called experienced music journalist should scoff at – but I can't for the life of me explain why I love it so much. Treat yourself to a copy and see if you feel the same way.

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L'Autopsie a révélé que la mort était dûe à l'autopsie
Koma Null / Chienne Secrète
Normally a four-man free rock/noise supergroup featuring Franq de Quengo (Dragibus), Nicolas Marmin (Aka_Bondage / Osaka Bondage), Sébastien Borgo (Sun Plexus) and Alan Courtis (formerly Reynols), LAARQLMEDALA, the bastard offspring of one of Damo Suzuki's numerous hydra-headed pickup bands a few years ago, is augmented here by a double-barrelled percussion assault from Jean-Yves Davillers and Edward Perraud in seven sonic breeze-blocks recorded in various venues throughout France (Mulhouse, Paris, Grenoble, Toulon, Lyon and Marseille) during a 2007 tour of "squats, bookshops and jazz clubs." As you might expect from musicians who are credited with providing "electrification, mesmerising, atom chickpeas, anti-fog guitar, ear cleaning, mycology, tam tam and polyrhythmic jipetambo arkhestra", it's a collection of psychedirgeic drone-heavy dirty jams (not all of them ear cleaningly loud but many quite mesmerising), lovingly packaged along with a grinning grim reaper poster, info insert and postcard. Vive l'underground.–DW

Bimbo Tower Records / Alehop!
"Alehop" – I suppose that should be pronounced "allez-oop", but as it's spelt here it evokes fond memories of undergraduate pub crawls – and Bimbo Tower (essential pitstop for new music junkies passing through or based in the French capital) have teamed up to release the second album by Los Caballos De Düsseldorf, a loose collective of Spanish punks and anyone else who wants to jam along with them playing a collection of Olaf Ladousse's customised toys known as "doorags". It is indeed "the perfect soundtrack of a crazy bedroom full of demented broken toys going insane" – hence no doubt its appeal to Bimbo Tower head honcho Franq de Quengo who makes much use of children's playthings in his cult avant kiddiepop outfit Dragibus – and is, it says here, "totally improvised" (ha, that's a joke, I'd like to see anyone try and compose music as potty as this). This is the aural equivalent of the mutant toys that live under Sid's bed in Toy Story, and we can only live in hope that LCDD will be called upon to provide the soundtrack to Toy Story 3 (due out next year), but I doubt it's likely to happen. I see from IMDB that Randy Newman's landed the gig again. Sigh. As if to illustrate how utterly obscure and fucked up this is, there isn't even a jpg to swipe online to show you the album cover (such as it is). Every time I do a Google Images search for "LCDD" I end up with "LCD Soundsystem". And they need about much publicity from me as Randy Newman does.–DW

Absurd / Ignivomous
On this beautifully produced ten-incher, Tochnit Aleph / Rumpsti Pumsti head honcho Daniel Lowenbrück is credited on "voices, noises, instruments, body-functions and apostrophes", and if you ever wondered what an apostrophe sounded like, now's your chance to find out. Don't be put off by those "body-functions" either; although Lowenbrück has often taken it to the stage with the likes of Dave Phillips, Joke Lanz and Rudolf, whose performances you might think twice about taking your granny along to see, the sounds he comes up with on In Teufel's Küche are absolutely exquisitely worked and placed with extraordinary attention to detail (check out the tasty bottom octave piano reversed soundfiles). Though not a little disturbing in places – Dylan Nyoukis comes to mind – it's a real treat. Despite a very enjoyable weekend in Herr Lowenbrück's home base Berlin recently, my German still won't get me much further than ordering a beer and a sausage (which, after all, is quite useful in the German capital), but I think the title translates as "In The Devil's Kitchen", which also seems to be the name of a satanic board game (go Google). I guess that makes Lowenbrück, like Milton, a true Poet. Go on, be a devil. Indulge yourself.–DW

Bhob Rainey / Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase
It's up to you to figure out which side of this seven-incher is the work of Bhob Rainey and which belongs to Chris Cooper aka Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase. "Those who know the respective artists' work well enough should be able to suss the jig," trumpets the label press release, "and despite a label-less disc there are other ways." Yeah, try reading the initials scratched into the vinyl for a start (unless that's a deliberate hoax hahaha). Not that it matters who does what anymore. Enjoy the music for what it is: "Concise. Humorous. Kick-ass. Classic," the blurb continues. I'll go along with those first three – these two chunks of action-packed, sludgy, swirling musique concrète, with the odd (analogue?) synth lurking in Cooper's undergrowth, and vintage blues harp and (I suspect) a seriously-disfigured saxophone in Rainey's – are pungent indeed, but.. classic? Leave the "classic" albums (or singles) on your mum and dad's dusty shelves.–DW

Talibam! with Daniel Carter
The seemingly unstoppable duo of Matt Mottel (synth) and Kevin Shea (drums) team up with free jazz maestro (in the light of that Steve Beresford letter to The Wire recently I'm now officially boycotting the word "veteran") Daniel Carter (flute, trumpet and alto sax) for two more mighty slabs of.. well, music. Though Carter's nominally a jazzman, he has played in the past with the likes of DJ Logic, Thurston Moore and Yo La Tengo, so he's no stranger to cross-border forays into leftfield rock and, and Mottel and Shea move so effortlessly across the musical map, from ESP/BYG brainfry to psychedelic drone to truly evil boogie (try side two), there's no point even trying to pigeonhole what they do anymore. The track titles – wait for it, wait for it: "The Man From Plato 3000, Whose Resource Efficiency Ear-A Rounded The Antiquity Pixel" and "Organist Dick Hyman, Whose Art Tatum Studies Crowdsorcerers Swallow The Cornucopian Logic Of..." – bear the stamp of Shea's inimitable logorrhea, and he plays drums just the same way. It's exciting stuff, but not as much fun as the track they contributed to the split ten-incher with Jealousy Party (see last issue). It's not that Carter can't compete in terms of lungpower (though he's never been a screaming headless torso) – it's rather that you'd like some of his intricate lines to be picked up and developed by Mottel, instead of chucked into the blender. But this is a minor quibble; there's enough going on here to keep your ears busy for a month or two, by which time Talibam! will, the way they're going, probably have another crateload of vinyls out on the market.–DW

Christmas Decorations
Nick Forte
Wodger is a recent New York-based label focusing on American electro-acoustic improvisation and sound art, and what sets them apart from the crowd is their vinyl-only predilection. So far there have been four releases from the label, each a striking letterpress edition in 200 copies. Christmas Decorations' Far-Flung Hum is the label's first release, featuring Nick Forte, Kirk Knuth, Steve Silverstein and Peter Karlin on six improvisations using analog electronics, percussion, guitar, banjo, melodica, and lord knows what else. The session was recorded in the Catskill Mountains, some of it outdoors, which lends an interesting cast to the proceedings – surging mixing-board goop and garish looped collages mate with banjo, hand percussion, a trap set played with brushes, chirping birds and creaking floorboards. The music is, for the most part, noisy – though the sparseness of "Turning into Birds" allows the sounds of the environment to register momentarily, they're then buried in electronic clatter. The idea of creating electronic improvisation with a "folksy" feel is not something most people would have contemplated. Nevertheless, Christmas Decorations have made a rather tasty peanut butter-pickle-mayonnaise sandwich.
Nick Forte's own work is represented on Wodger by Defeated, his fifth (give or take) solo disc in a lengthy discography that includes his work as a guitarist in the '90s hardcore band Rorschach. "I Exaggerate My Own Defect" is pure gesture, stabbing percussion and guitar plinks molested by electronic fuzz and grungy blasts of indeterminate origin. Whereas there's a communal lilt to Christmas Decorations' music (even at its most extreme), Forte's solo art is wobblingly confrontational. Defeated has a primitivist aesthetic to it – clunky discovery, a seeming lack of interest in allowing sounds to merely "be themselves," an insistence on instead using and discarding them at will. Snippets of saxophone, voice, and guitar don't really add any sense of acoustic instrumentalism to the proceedings – even when a drum fill appears, it's just part of the irreverent and somewhat unhinged imaginary landscape Forte has created.

No Fun
Good old Carlos (Giffoni) – he's keeping the PT Vinyl Solution column going all by himself, it seems. This latest platter of No Fun features the work of guitarist / vocalist Marcia Bassett, who describes herself as a "drop out from the music school elite" – hey, join the club! – currently living in "an ill-coded building perched above the streets of delicately arranged trash in New York City." You'll probably be more familiar with her work with Double Leopards and with Matthew Bower in Hototogisu, but here she's all alone. She can still make quite a racket though, blasting a hole through the flimsy wall that separates "dark psychedelic" and "free drone-rock", and chipping off the beginnings and endings to the tracks in the process. Just pull the plug and watch the needle drop. The distressed vocals on side two ("As Well In Death") sound like they were recorded somewhere in the dusty corridors of Château Bassett on a microphone carefully concealed in a hefty bag full of that delicately arranged trash. Not exactly pleasant all the time, but then again, neither is life.–DW

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Maher Shalal Hash Baz
K Records
When Jac Berrocal and I got off the train at Gent-Sint-Pieters station on the 9th of June 2007, at the kind invitation of the K-RAA-K festival who'd invited us and Aki Onda to warm up the Nurse With Wound fans, the bloke who came to pick us up was still waxing lyrical about Maher Shalal Hash Baz the night before. Not the music Tori Kudo and his merry plundering pranksters had made, but the band's ability to consume truly phenomenal amounts of the local alcoholic beverage (a trap I later fell into myself, discovering that Gentse Tripel was selling for the same price as a normal boring demi here in Paris and conveniently forgetting it was twice as strong.. Saturday 10th June 2007 is best left forgotten). Listening to the 177 – that's right, one hundred and seventy-seven – "songs" on C'est La Dernière Chanson, I wonder if they aren't still feeling the effects. The vast majority of these pieces, scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, guitar, organ and percussion, mostly MSHB-trademark sub-bossa nova with a hint of Bacharach (though that might just be the trumpet), don't get much further than the first few bars (pun intended) without collapsing into a heap. Only 65 of them get past the thirty-second mark. On reading the "serene, dissonant, enchanting, crisp, spacious and maddeningly catchy" description in the label press release, I seriously wonder if I'm listening to same album. Only "maddeningly", without its adverbial suffix, seems to apply. Maybe Kudo's making some Serious Artistic Statement About The End Of (Pop/Rock) History As We Know It, but if the wondrous child of pop is indeed dead, I'd sooner read a well-written obituary by the likes of Lester Bangs than parade past 177 abortions.–DW

Christof Kurzmann / Burkhard Stangl
The fact that this album appears on ErstPop – as opposed to Erstwhile proper, as was the case with Christof Kurzmann and Burkhard Stangl's first outing for the label, 2000's Schnee – earmarks it for comparison with The Magic I.D.'s Till My Breath Gives Out, itself a continuation of a line of research Kurzmann and fellow Magic I.D. bandmembers Margareth Kammerer, Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski had been pursuing for a while: namely how to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of EAI and pop music. Can the two be successfully fused? Yes, if Till My Breath is anything to go by (but it's a tentative yes, a fragile, bruised songwriting delivered in intimate pain by vocalists Kurzmann and Kammerer); "yes" in the case of Neuschnee.
You don't have to be a weatherbeaten, mildly cynical and at times blasé mid-40s music fan like me to realise that pop music is dead in the water. Video killed the radio star all right (Buggles, anyone?), but successive waves of technological ware hard and soft have been digging up the corpse and giving it a good stoning ever since. It's no coincidence that none of the songs Kurzmann quotes from either verbally or musically on Neuschnee dates from after the mid 1980s, and a few of them were growing whiskers before he was even born. Notably "Taking A Chance On Love", which receives a curiously (and supposedly intentionally) detached reading on "Homeless Dogs", as if CK had stuck a tattered poster of Ol' Blue Eyes on a lamppost and waited for the neighbourhood hounds (in this case local Chile-dogs Eden and Nicolas Carrasco, joining Stangl) to pee all over it.
The distance, alienation even, is felt even more strongly in the closing "Song Songs", which, after an extended section during which Kurzmann's plaintive clarinet and Stangl's clanging vibraphone (not exactly pop instrumentation, but that wasn't a problem on the Magic I.D. disc and it isn't here) try without success to engage with a remorseless computer backbeat, settles into a "song" consisting of quotations from other well-known songs featuring references themselves to song. No point listing the famous names (as the bloke who reviewed this over at Dusted wrote, presumably without a hint of irony, "it makes for a nifty 'name that tune' contest"), but Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" comes out the winner, and gets a full-length rendition. Well, nearly.
What are we to make of this? It's touching, for sure – I've always been a great fan of Kurzmann's singing, even at its most Lou Reed-ish – but ultimately depressing, tantamount to an admission of failure (writer's block?) after Till My Breath Gives Out, whose originals were indeed memorable enough to stick in the mind long afterwards. Superimposing an archive recording of Austrian yodeller Maly Nagl, made back when songs were perfectly content being songs and not "songs", only serves to show how far we've travelled in a century of recorded popular music. Looking back over your shoulder to happier, more innocent times is natural enough (hence the Mao Tse Tung poem in the gatefold?), and as an exercise in nostalgia – or maybe "nostalgia" – Neuschnee is accomplished and enjoyable (and certainly more convincing than Margareth Kammerer's recent album of pallid jazz covers on Zarek); but it takes more courage to face the dangers of the dark road ahead.–DW

Thrill Jockey
Thirteen years on from their signature statement, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Tortoise face the complex quandary of approaching middle-age while being dragged in two directions simultaneously: the first being that celebrated by those who see "post-rock" as a logical extension of the liberation of post-punk, the second being that of the legions of the undead who want to claim them as latter-day versions of Yes or King Crimson. Really, at this juncture in their career, you wouldn't want to be in their shoes for all the tea in Daevid Allen's flying teapot.
As witnessed on their current tour, Tortoise are still a smokin' groove band, pummelled along by twinned drummers John McEntire and John Herndon, sometimes playing in unison, sometimes clattering against each other in brutish counterpoint. The opening "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In", elucidates the dilemma. It could indeed be The Gang of Four jamming with The Jimmy Giuffre Trio or Henry Cow crossed with Steve Reich, but just as easily it could be a jazzier version of The Doors in their later incarnation, or perhaps even The Grateful Dead after being told to behave themselves. And whatever the actual instrumentation, the buzzing Moog-like synth settings and spiralling oscillators anchor their leanings somewhere near the early 1970s, and on either side of the Atlantic; to Return to Forever and the solo Stanley Clarke, say, or, equally, to Hatfield & The North, or National Health.
But not, it should be stressed, to the cod-classical excesses of either Yes or King Crimson, less still *m*rs*on, L*k* and P*lm*r . Which sites them still in the land of the living rather than the undead. The barely pronounceable "Yinxianghechengqi" is obviously born of a love of antisocial punk squawk, "Northern Something" could be Kraftwerk with a hangover, and "Gigantes" sounds like flamenco from Mars. When they slip up, as they have done before, it's on ballad-tempo pieces such as "Minors", which verges on the torpid. If there is a basic flaw to their "math-rock" – a lazy north Americanism for anything not in 4/4 – it's an overabundance of clever ideas that are not always pursued to their resolution. Clearly, they're playing an intertextual game here, straddling pastiche and paean, in which they mostly succeed, with muscle and imagination. It would be nice, however, to see bands making similar music from a jazz perspective, such as Fraud, Spin Marvel or Zaum, receiving even a tenth of the recognition afforded the noisy Chicagoans.–JG

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Tetuzi Akiyama / Kevin Corcoran / Christian Kiefer
"Under the cloud ring are the dangerous fogs. These are the horse latitudes, in which past centuries sailors threw horses into the sea, with the object in stormy weather of lightening the ship and in calm weather of husbanding their water. Columbus said: 'Nube abaxo es muerte.' Low cloud means death." – Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea.
Bet that's the first time you've come across a quotation from Victor Hugo on an album of improvised music. Especially one hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma, a long way indeed from the windswept coasts of Guernsey which inspired Hugo's 1866 novel (and talking of horse latitudes, there's more to get your teeth into in Hugo's book than there is in Jimbo Morrison's "song" of the same name). But surprises abound in the discography of Captain Akiyama, who's successfully navigated a passage between the icebergs of reductionism out into the warmer waters of acoustic psychedelia in the company of Christian Kiefer (here on piano, accordion as well as guitar) and Kevin Corcoran (percussion). He sounds perfectly happy, becalmed in these subtropical regions, even throwing in a cheeky quotation from "Misty" (in "The Pressure Of The Current"), drifting lazily in and out of tiny eddies of tonality (Kiefer can't resist repeating his delicate piano lines) and finally arriving at what can justifiably be called a song without words, the closing "A Prodigality Of Light", on which he picks out a delicate melody over Kiefer's rocking guitar arpeggios and Corcoran's discreet bowed metal. As is often the case with this free folk New Weird stuff, the music hovers between background and foreground, eternally quiet and discreet, but with just enough odd twists and turns to keep it on your radar.–DW

Ab Baars / Ig Henneman / Misha Mengelberg
It's always a pleasure to hear Misha Mengelberg in small ensembles away from the hustle and bustle of the ICP Orchestra, where he's often better at playing Misha than he is at playing piano. This trio outing with ICP stalwart Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi) and Baars's partner – in life as in music – Ig Henneman (viola) is the best Mengelberg to come my way since 2006's vis-à-vis with Frank Gratkowski (Leo).
Sliptong, Kevin Whitehead informs us in his liners, is a Dutch fish dish consisting of baby sole (Kevin's always had a thing about food.. I remember a splendid description of Mengelberg frying pork chops in New Dutch Swing), and that's what Ab, Ig and Misha had for dinner just before they recorded in the Bimhuis – not in front of an audience though – on December 8th last year. Sliptong, the album, is a great example of what Mengelberg does best: find the right notes (or the right wrong notes), put them exactly where they should go and leave the doors open to adjacent musical idioms (jazz, classical, whatever) and plenty of room for his playing partners to move into them. Baars is a thorny player, with a distinctive sound on the tenor that can't always be described as pleasant, a disturbing Ayleresque wide vibrato coupled with a detuned rubbery honk vaguely reminiscent of Von Freeman, and his duo with Henneman, a similarly uncompromising violist, can sometimes be tough going (witness 2006's Stof). But Misha knows just how to soften the blow, adding the odd exquisitely-voiced Monkish bop sequence or delightful flurry of baroque counterpoint just when appropriate. He also resists the temptation to corral the improvisation into one of his own compositions – the title track contemplates "Romantic Jump Of Hares" but thankfully doesn't take the plunge – and when he really pares things down to the basic musical building blocks it's spellbinding: "Zee-engel" explores the possibilities of a single semitone with a rigour Steve Lacy would have been proud of. Baars' control over the usually shrill upper register of the clarinet is impressive, as is Henneman's bowed work (check out the spiccato on "Is that Solly?" too). Can't say the fish and mashed potatoes sounds all that thrilling, but the music is delicious. Bon appétit.–DW

Brötzmann / Kondo / Pupillo / Nilssen-Love
Peter Brötzmann’s been on a roll lately. His scorching trio with Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller has been one of his most energized collaborations in recent memory, and now comes this new group with long-time musical partner Toshinori Kondo on trumpet and electronics, Massimo Pupillo on electric bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. While the pairing of Brötzmann and Kondo may conjure memories of the Die Like A Dog quartet, this is an altogether different affair, thanks in no small part to Pupillo’s forceful, overdriven electric bass playing and Nilssen-Love’s caterwauling energy. Their head-over-heels momentum drives the group with a bracing intensity. Kondo’s distinctive, shredded electric trumpet is molten here. At times his thrashing, skirling screams sound almost like an electric guitar, but he can just as easily flip into a burred, muted lyricism. Brötzmann moves through his arsenal of alto, tenor, clarinet and tarogato, from muscular bellowing to pensive musing. When the two pair their lines, they’re one of the most potent forces going. Pupillo gets plenty of room to step out too, playing with spirited abandon, even if his solo spots tend to meander a bit. Nilssen-Love provides just the right balance of propulsive momentum and lithe freedom. While there is plenty of flat-out roar, the group knows how to build density and volume and then release to open sections pregnant with charged tension. Recorded live at Amsterdam's Bimhuis, the sound is a bit raw at times, but this is clearly a band to hear live and that chemistry is captured here. Add this to the list of Brötzmann discs to keep an eye out for.–MRo

Marc Edwards / Weasel Walter Group
It's probably no surprise that four or five decades in, free playing has become somewhat safe, a compositional tool as well as a method for exploring sound and fostering communication. Both worthwhile approaches, but sometimes it's good to hear a group of players just going for it. Bay Area-based drummer Weasel Walter is one musician who continues the noble tradition of go-for-broke music in various aggregations that span cities and continents, and Mysteries Beneath the Planet features two cooperative groups directed by him and New York drummer Marc Edwards across four serious slices of free music.
On "Luminous Predator" and "The Coral Reef," they're joined by a third drummer, Andrew Barker, along with reedmen Ras Moshe (NY) and Mario Rechtern (once a member of Austria's Reform Art Unit). The two leaders have very different approaches – Edwards' big, lumbering polyrhythms suggest a more syrupy Elvin Jones, while Weasel's active, gestural work is incredibly detailed, even at warp speed. Right in the middle is Barker's crisp skimming. Naturally, it's a morass of sound when all three are carrying on at once, but one can pick out tendencies and complementary rhythms, and all three are surprisingly supple, dropping out to let Moshe's tenor sing, or gently sashaying to keep Rechtern's sinewy alto coasting. Much of the time, the saxophonists overblow fiercely though, and Moshe's "Ghosts"-like phrases almost seem out of place among the quintet's sound-rhythm projections. But the opening minutes of "The Coral Reef" are sublime, Moshe's flute work darting and toying with Rechtern's zurna among concentrated percussive caresses.
The other two tracks feature a sextet with trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonists Paul Flaherty and Darius Jones, and bassist Tom Blancarte. "Book of the Dead" is a celebratory maelstrom, reeds in full-squawk mode and Evans's subtonal growls and piercing calls matched by vocal hooting and hollering. The "chorus" of vocal bellowing returns even more potently ten minutes in, recalling passages on Frank Wright and Noah Howard's series of albums for BYG, America and Calumet in 1969–70. At times, things roll along with a degree of (perhaps unintended) swing, Blancarte plucking along underneath a sea of snare and tom accents and swaggering brass cadences, giving a sense of pace and color to music that can at times be nearly impenetrable.–CA

Peter Evans
Peter Evans must be getting pretty pissed off with all the superlatives being thrown in his direction, but he has only himself to blame. The title of his first solo album – also on Evan Parker's psi imprint – 2005's More Is More, says it all. Many of the trumpeters who've taken the instrument to the next level in terms of new sounds in the last dozen or so years (Axel Dörner, Greg Kelley, Franz Hautzinger..) have got their chops down when it comes to playing jazz, both straight and free, but have tended to keep their "legit" work at a safe distance from the more "experimental" stuff (true, Axel gets into a bit of sub-bass gurgling on Schlippenbach's Monk's Casino, but it sounds oddly out of place in context). In Peter Evans' work the barrier's often harder to find; his exuberant jazz / free jazz blowing with the likes of MOPDTK and Weasel Walter incorporates many of the extraordinary split tones, breathy blasts and circular breathing extravaganzas you'd usually associate with hardcore free improv.
That's not to say that the 13 tracks recorded last year – seven in Gallery Studio, six live at I-Beam, both venues in Brooklyn – are in any conventional way "jazzy", but in his own crazy way Evans can, when he gets going, swing like hell. (Get your feet tapping to "full" on CD1). Throughout, the trumpeter's virtuosity is simply staggering (and it's nice to be able to use the word virtuosity without feeling guilty, especially in these times when just about any gormless psychedelic / New Weird doodling seems to get rave reviews from the music press, almost as if actually being able to play your instrument properly is somehow passé, even reactionary), but mere technical prowess doesn't mean much if it doesn't produce great music. And on that front, Evans doesn't disappoint. If you these solo improvisations were transcribed – transcribable, more like – they could stand as coherent compositions alongside any Berio Sequenza or solo instrumental tour de force you care to mention by Xenakis, Lachenmann or Ferneyhough. And if Giacinto Scelsi had written a piece for multiple trumpets (Evans overdubs), I doubt he'd have come up with anything better than "five". But enough of the praise. Here in France they say your ankles swell up if you get too much of it. By now Peter Evans should be going around in a bloody wheelchair.–DW

Graham Halliwell / Lee Patterson
Confront Collectors Series
Over recent years Graham Halliwell has been developing and refining a distinctive approach to improvisation, recording, looping, and processing saxophone feedback to create luminous, complexly nuanced layers. Lee Patterson creates soundscapes from processed field recordings, using contact mics and electronics to capture and manipulate diverse sound sources – ranging from domestic appliances to wind, traffic, and rain – often augmented with hyper-amplified home-made resonators built from everyday objects. On Terrain the two musicians work together brilliantly. Recorded during a week that Patterson spent at Halliwell’s home in North Norfolk, the four pieces slowly coalesce around shimmering strata of textures and gossamer details. Hints of Halliwell’s breath and reedy overtones are revealed against a moiré of oscillating timbres. Overtones flutter against subtle looped pulses and chirrups of clicks and quavering tones. While each draw from similar palettes, the pieces develop their own internal sense of pace and trajectory, carried along by eddies and countercurrents of buzzing densities, chiming resonance, and pools of activity. The entire project is contemplatively plotted by the two and is one of Halliwell’s strongest yet.–MRo

Robin Hayward / Rhodri Davies / Taku Unami
Recorded live in Japan in February, 2007, Valved Strings Calculator features Robin Hayward, Rhodri Davies, and Taku Unami on four spare improvisations which focus on situating discrete events within collective interaction rather than on the development of conversational flow. Each of the musicians has developed a specific vocabulary toward group playing. Hayward has taken the tuba and morphed it in to a low-end reverberator for whispers and blasts of breath, Davies distills the elemental resonance and harmonic overtones of the harp, placing each detailed gesture with astute deliberation, and Unami uses his collection of electro-mechanical devices to create sputtered sprays of activity placed against spare backdrops of sound and silence. What shapes this music is both a sense of pacing and of a control of densities of sound in collective playing. It might appear that events move between the three asynchronously, but closer listening reveals a measured approach to the massing of both activity and volume against the framing element of silence, as Hayward, Davies and Unami build contrast and tension out of the juxtaposition of the timbres, collectively navigating their unfolding forms.–MRo

Marteau Rouge & Evan Parker
In Situ
Even if you didn't know that the name of the group means "red hammer", you might be able to guess if you listen carefully, as, believe it or not, Evan Parker actually quotes "The Internationale" 51 minutes into this live set recorded at Sunset, which is just about the only real jazz club in the centre of the French capital still prepared to programme the kind of music that usually only gets an airing across the Boulevard Périphérique at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil. Maybe that's why he showed up with just his tenor sax (which has always sounded more "jazzy" than his soprano to my ears) to blow merrily along with Jean-François Pauvros (guitar), Jean-Marc Foussat (VCS3) and Makoto Sato (drums), who've been hammering away in the red for well over a decade now. (The first gig I went to see shortly after moving to my present address in June 1999 was a scorching MR set with Joe McPhee, which I'd dearly love to travel back in time to and hear again.) But – gee, what with my reservations about that disc with Wiese (see below), Evan's going to think I'm a real grouch this month – I'm somehow underwhelmed by this particular outing after a first few listens. Hard to put my finger on exactly why, and with hammers swinging around I'd better watch my fingers anyway: the recording – mixed and mastered by Foussat and Dominique Pauvros – is splendid (though I would have liked a bit more VCS3), and the playing from all concerned strong and focused, but I suspect it hinges on the relationship between the guitarist and the tenor saxophonist, especially since Foussat and Sato seem content to paint washes of colour rather than draw sharp lines of their own. Both Parker and Pauvros are strong personalities, and take turns in pulling each other into their own worlds – Pauvros's four-note melody line in "Trois, Tourne mon Coeur" nudges the saxophonist into some of the most unashamedly tuneful playing he's committed to disc in years, and he bounces back in "Quatre", drawing the guitarist (and everyone else) into the kind of wiry tussle he's been relishing with his longstanding trio outfits since the 70s – but there's something dry and flinty about Parker's sound that somehow doesn't always fit with Pauvros's whammy bar, reverb and bowed guitar (and I've never been really convinced by anyone's bowed guitar, to be honest). And when Foussat adds a few electronic effects of his own to Parker's saxophone, notably a harmonizer on "Six, Au temps des cérises", it sounds rather odd, even a little cheesy. But the gruyère rapé doesn't sit around long before the local chefs beat it up and cook up a fine soufflé. And with a good bottle of Sancerre I'm sure it's delicious – remind me to try that when I listen to this again. For, make no mistake, listen to it again I certainly will.–DW

Oceans of Silver & Blood
On this follow-up to last year's eponymous LP on Nosordo, Swedish noise artist Joachim Nordwall (synthesizers and modular tone generators) carves out enveloping waves of low-end drone and rumble, while Mark Wastell (tam tam) conjures up hissing shimmers of metallic sheet lightning which flash through his playing partner’s ominous thunderheads. Wastell’s hot overtones and pulsations blend seamlessly with Nordwall’s bass-heavy roar, and this live recording from London's Café Oto does an effective job of capturing the thrumming miasma which gradually unfolds over the course of the 45-minute set (though there can be no doubt that a live performance from these two creates a palpable experience that is only hinted at in a recording). There's a great feel for pace and shape, and by the time the music subsides into shadowy flickering pulse, you feel you've been on a real sonic journey.–MRo

Old Dog
In writing about the state(s) of improvised music, it's easy to fall into one of two camps – either that the unassailable history of the music is its life force, or that in order to keep the music going, only the young and hungry matter. Falling prey to either of these mindsets leaves out a significant swath of the music being made; consider the multigenerational quartet Old Dog, for example. Along with New York tenor powerhouse Louie Belogenis, the group features bassist Mike Bisio, drummer Warren Smith and vibraphonist Karl Berger. Avoiding comparisons to entries in the hallowed canon would be impossible with such a line-up: Berger and Smith have lengthy histories of their own, both as leaders and sidemen, Bisio, when based in the Pacific Northwest, worked with fire music luminaries like pianist Ed Kelly and reedman Bert Wilson and Belogenis has been a torchbearer for post-Coltrane free music for the better part of the last two decades, while placing his own valuable stamp on that language.
"Swa Swu Sui" jumps almost immediately into territory usually associated with Berger's mid-60s quartet (with Carlos Ward, Ed Blackwell and a series of bassists). Tenor, bass and drums navigate a slick series of cells before the vibes are off at a frenetic clip, Berger creating ebullient explosions of interleaved, vibratoless sound capsules as Bisio and Smith rumble and ricochet off one another. Belogenis steps in with a scorching run, abstracting from Newk into Pharoah-like peals; his language certainly is in the tradition, but it's economical and exhilarating too. On "Round and Round," taut grumbling bass and fluttering tenor multiphonics are the bedrock for a temperature-elevating exchange, drums and vibes adding harmonic detail to a scorched landscape. Smith's repetition and reconfiguration of extraordinarily dry press rolls secures "Living Large," a brief tenor-bass-drums foray that finds Belogenis at some of his most gentle and caressing, even as the pace quickens. Puns aside, there's little need for nouveau trickery in this program – Bisio, Berger, Belogenis and Smith are top-notch improvisers doing what they do best.–CA

Evan Parker
This is a straight reissue of the 1994 Chronoscope CD of Parker's earliest solo soprano recordings, a pair of sessions from June and September of 1975. (Most of the original Incus LP was from the earlier session; aside from one brief track, the September date only surfaced much later, as a bonus cassette in the 1986 Collected Solos boxed set.) The 7-minute "Aerobatics 10", omitted from the Chronoscope compilation for reasons of space, is unfortunately still absent here, which means that if you really want to hear every last scrap you'll still have to seek out the boxed set (edition of 200: good luck!). Meanwhile, though, there's plenty of extraordinary music here to digest at leisure, not to mention Paul Haines's typically inscrutable liner notes ("A music of subsequent-to-none accurate lack of all such double that is less, wherein much is admired and what is admitted? No, it didn't did not.") and an updated version of Francesco Martinelli's excellent retrospective essay.
Anyone familiar with the sublime, multi-tiered burbles of Parker's latterday solo performances will be taken aback by the cochlea-scraping harshness of this stuff; the saxophonist's favourite circles-within-circles pacing sometimes emerges on the second session in particular, but it coexists with scribbly gabbling improv and moments of terrifying stasis, where he draws out a ferocious tea-kettle squeal to incredible length (though the effect is strangely lyrical, too). It's fascinating to hear him delve into vocabulary that he later discarded -- microphone-popping plosives, rich oboe serenades, hoarse buzzes and muezzin calls, high-pitched wiggles and wriggles, curiously jigging rhythms, and (most importantly!) lots of rests; I'm especially fond of the didgeridoo singing and growling that opens "Aerobatics 9", a reminder of Parker's admiration for Dewey Redman. Nowadays there's a distinct trend among acoustic improvisers to draw for inspiration on electronic music, but certain passages here suggest that Parker was on a similar path several decades earlier. "Aerobatics 11" (subtitled "Shadows of the Opus...magnum"--like all the subtitles here, it's a quote from Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape) certainly moves in that direction, its first two-thirds drenched in whirling freak-notes suggesting feedback, and ending with a brutal sine wave riff.
The music's intractabilities are given added punch by the dry, close-up recording: these sessions precede Parker's longstanding relationship with the recording engineer Michael Gerzon, whose role in the albums from Monoceros on [stop press: Evan Parker writes in an email 10/07/09: "Michael did not record Monoceros, that was done by Gerald Reynolds at Nimbus and Six of One was recorded by Adam Skeaping, who I am pleased to say I have hooked up with again over the last year.." DW] is hardly less collaborative than Lawrence Casserley's or Walter Prati's on Parker's sax-plus-electronics projects. Gerzon favoured natural room acoustics, to a degree that can be offputting for recordings of full-group performances (see Tony Bevan's excellent but idiosyncratically balanced Bigshots to see what I mean), but which exactly suited Parker's later solo music, with its incremental shifts of perspective and emphasis over long durations. No such 3-D effects on Saxophone Solos: this is more like a one-to-one stare-down with the head of the Medusa. Listening to it is still an extraordinary (if alienating) experience, even after 30-odd years of solo performances by Parker and countless others.–ND

Evan Parker / John Wiese
Second Layer
2007's Free Noise Tour, which took British improv heavyweights John Edwards, Paul Hession and Evan Parker on the road round the UK in the company of visiting noisyboys, mostly from across the pond (Yellow Swans, C.Spencer Yeh, Metalux and John Wiese..), was hailed as a major event of sorts, a coming together of two musical worlds which normally have little to do with each other. Listening to C-Section, on which Evan Parker takes his saxophones (soprano, mostly) into battle with Wiese's electronics, tapes and Max/MSP, it's not hard to see why. Though Wiese's work recently – think the Sissy Spacek French Record, or his recent duo outing with Yeh, Cincinnati (reviewed here last time round) – has been showing signs of "traditional musicality" (a greater feel for overall structure, an increasing concern with development of motives and ideas, and a careful ear for timbre, register and dynamics), it still doesn't seem to be on the same wavelength as Parker's. And playing with Parker means coming over to his side of the electric fence separating improv and noise – you won't be hearing the maestro shooting nailguns into planks of wood, throwing up in a bucket full of contact mics or slicing his beard off with an amplified piece of broken glass. Wiese can move fast, but Parker is still quicker on the draw, and hits his targets more often. Even so, his soprano often has a hard time dodging the volleys of sonic junk his playing partner hurls at him. It's all fine if your idea of improvisation is about action rather than interaction, and pump up the volume accordingly (when it's loud enough, you don't care about interaction anyway – everything becomes an exhilarating blur), but this music's attention span is short. The two central tracks, "Little Black Book" and "No Shoes", are more satisfying than the longer ones that bookend them, in which many of Parker's ideas (and Wiese's too, to a lesser extent) are trampled underfoot before they get a chance to take root. Still, it's a step in an interesting direction for John Wiese, and it'd be great to hear him go the distance again with another firebreathing horn player. I vote for Alan Wilkinson next time round.–DW

People Band
69 / 70
Five years after Emanem's reissue of the People Band's one and only commercially released album, a 1968 date for Transatlantic produced by Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, Martin Davidson has been rooting through the archives and has gathered together enough previously unavailable material for a double CD follow-up: a studio session from Gooseberry Studios in London ("circa 1969/70" is about as clear as we get regarding dates), an eight-minute session at Mel Davis's Palmers Green house from around the same period, a 23-minute live track from Amsterdam's Paradiso (March 11th 1970, for a quintet subset of the PB) and two open air recordings made in Trent Park woods, Middlesex.
Percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Terry Day proudly informs us that the People Band was once ejected from the Anarchists Annual Ball for being too musically anarchic, which should give you a good idea of what to expect. If ragged, anything goes jamming is your thing, with screaming saxophones-a-plenty, fisticuffs piano and plenty of extraneous background chitchat, you'll probably enjoy yourself with 69/70, but for some reason I'm still trying to figure out, I'm far less taken with it than I was with 1968. Maybe it's because the past five years have seen such a huge number of DIY, lo-fi, new weird, home made, n'importe quoi releases come my way and I've just OD'ed on this kind of stuff, or maybe it's just simply not as good as all that. There's too much of it too (a frequent gripe about Emanem): disc one could quite easily have remained in Mel Davis's wardrobe, or wherever it came from: the studio session is a sprawling mess – and it's not particularly well recorded either – and the Palmers Green jam an embarrassing beery brawl.
The outdoor recordings are fun (but not a patch on Bennink and Brötzmann's Schwarzwaldfahrt, or more recent examples of environmental improv – Matthias Forge, Cyril Epanat and Jérôme Bertholon's Duo (Creative Sources) or Benjamin Bondonneau and Fabrice Charles' Dordogne (Amor Fati)), and the Paradiso set has its moments, but while one can admire, if not necessarily agree with, the revolutionary attitude – "the PB sought to act as agent provocateur, to agitate; to foment social change... [..] it believed music can foster a collective / communal / social spirit... [it] accepted rebellion, chaos, anarchy, change as part of life, as part of music, as part of creativity" – one longs for someone to take the initiative, to steer the discussion in a particular direction. But without strong personalities to shape it – a Bailey, a Parker, a Mengelberg, a Bennink – the music scatters in all directions. It's exhilarating for about five minutes, exhausting after ten and positively exasperating after twenty

The Respect Sextet
The Respect have been going strong since 2001, having transferred their base of operations from Rochester to New York with the odd personnel change along the way; currently the band consists of Eli Asher (trumpet), Josh Rutner (tenor sax), James Hirschfeld (trombone), Red Wierenga (piano/keyboards), Malcolm Kirby (bass) and Ted Poor (drums). Their perpetual fondness for clunky puns in their CD titles disguises their increasingly distinctive performance style and serious delvings into the alt.jazz canon. Their earliest proper CD release, The Full Respect, was imaginative, fun, but rather glib; the follow-up live Respect in You was much more like it, and gave a taste of their real forte: long, slow-burn performances unpicking a single tune at leisure, as recognizable themes slip in and out of a conspiratorial haze of activity. Their affection for the ICP is often evident (they once celebrated Misha Mengelberg's birthday with an evening of his tunes), and like the AACM they make frequent use of toys and homemade instruments.
Sun Ra has been a Respect touchstone for a while: one of their occasional mini-CD bulletins was a 20-minute performance of "A Call for All Demons". So it's no surprise that this disc, their third full-length release, is in large part devoted to the Saturnian One's compositions. It's a lovely, gutsy idea to pair him with Karlheinz Stockhausen for this program. The connections between the two men are clear enough – notably, a grandiose self-created cosmology delivered with a straight face, and the somewhat cultish leadership of a clan/family of dedicated interpreters – but it's still quite a stretch for a jazz group to deal with Stockhausen's output, and the Respect have been very selective in what they tackle: mostly brief melodies from Tierkreis, plus "Dienstagslied" and the text-piece "Set Sail for the Sun" (given a luminous but far too short reading at less than six minutes). In point of fact, the Ra portion of the program far outweighs the other in terms of sheer running time, though at least the two streams converge briefly with the final track, a live performance collaging "Capricorn" (Tierkreis) and "Saturn" (classic late-1950s Ra, best known from its appearance on Jazz in Silhouette).
What seems to attract the Respect most with Ra isn't the farthest-out stuff from the 1960s and beyond, nor his homages to Fletcher Henderson or Duke Ellington, but instead the areas where he seems prescient of the sharp end of the current jazz mainstream: a cutting-edge harmonic sense pushing bebop line-spinning into atonality, the use of electronic keyboards, experimentation with exotic time-signatures and percussion overlays. Some tracks are quite short and pointed – the opening blast through "Jet Flight" and the epigrammatic reading of "Velvet" – but others take longer durations to pull together their elements, offering something of the flavour of the group's live performances (though this is mostly a studio album). The churning 7/4 line of "Shadow World" especially suits the Respect's love of collagist mayhem, and their favourite strategem of letting a tune emerge sidelong from very oblique beginnings is evident on "El Is the Sound of Joy" (though when they finally lock into the stomping groove you wish it lasted longer). Perhaps the best compliment one can pay to their use of the Stockhausen pieces is that they fit right in--indeed, the staggering horn fanfares of "Dienstagslied" offer the most Arkestra-like moment on the disc.
Sirius Respect isn't the group's most impressive disc in terms of soloing – I'd direct you instead to Respect in You for some monstrous solo work by Asher, Rutner and Hirschfeld – but at least you get a better representation of their excellent pianist/synthesist Red Wierenga, who mostly stuck to the background on the earlier CD (probably because he was also responsible for the live recording). In any case, this is still a courageous, thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable attempt to foster a dialogue between the musical legacies of its two dedicatees.

Gino Robair / Birgit Ulher
This is the second release by West Coast improv luminary Gino Robair and German trumpet mangler Birgit Ulher. Like Sputter, their first outing on Creative Sources, Robair is credited as playing “voltage made audible.” Always a master at picking up any detritus at hand and turning it into an unanticipated sound source, here he sticks to analog synths. Ulher’s flayed trumpet technique is further modulated through the use of mutes with tiny radio-driven speakers. Over the course of seven improvisations, the two deliver spontaneous dialogue shaped by charged attentive interaction and micro-nuanced gestural activity. Like many of her peers who use trumpet in electro-acoustic settings, Ulher seamlessly blurs the line between breathy pinched overtones, percussive blats, and burred vocalizations, extended by shadings of synths and electronic manipulations. Robair’s lithe touch and lightning reflexes allow him to tint and shape the pieces, never disturbing the balance. He’s more focused here on gesture, timbre, and velocity than on more overtly percussive textures. Interestingly, it's Ulher’s playing that is more percussive in the mix. There’s a light-heartedness that comes from two fine musicians who are clearly having a ball bouncing ideas back and forth, weaving them into a conversational flow.–MRo

Jason Robinson
Jason Robinson is the saxophonist from Cosmologic, a sterling freebop quartet from the West Coast who have gained a wider audience lately on the strength of their excellent Cuneiform release Eyes in the Back of My Head. His occasional releases under his own name have mostly flown under the radar; the most recent, 2008's Fingerprint, was a surprisingly mainstreamish outing in a territory somewhere in the vicinity of Maiden Voyage, though Robinson's meaty, avant-traditional tenor playing brought a Sam Rivers edge to the music.
Cerberus Rising is the first of a promised trilogy of solo saxophone discs – hence the title's allusion to the three-headed dog guarding the gates of hell, I guess. Robinson's liner notes mention the revelatory impact Roscoe Mitchell's Nonaah had on him, and he pays homage here with the seesawing "Nonaah Variation"; its abrupt, hiccupping lines, at once ludicrous and intense, find echoes in the leaping intervals of several other tracks, such as "Three Sphinxes of Bikini", "Chimera" and "Refractions". Indeed, he's a subtle exponent of play between different registers: one of his favourite techniques involves thinning out a rich lower note until only upper harmonics remain. You can hear the influence of John Butcher and Evan Parker in Robinson's buzzy extended trills and bubbling recirculations of notes, and his love of yearning melody harks back to Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, but ultimately what stands out is the saxophonist's instinct for form. It's rare to hear an improviser with multiple approaches to structure (more usually, the focus is on the choice of vocabulary elements), but Robinson's disc shows a genuinely imaginative range of approaches. Some pieces focus manically on a single idea for a considerable duration; some, such as "Creator Variation 2" or "Palimpsest", work according to a kind of modular polyphony where different chunks of material get swapped around and progressively extended; others have a streaming improvisational linearity, such as his reading of Coltrane's "After the Rain", which unfolds as a highly ornamented, almost angrily insistent cadenza. His ability to pull diverse elements together without succumbing to one-thing-after-another syndrome is evident throughout – listen, for example, to the way he puts the wildest Aylerian moments of "Creator Variation 1" first, then damps things down into soft, throttled lyricism. This sets the stage for the track's main business, as he works with increasing fierceness back up through the singsong thematic material (derived from "The Creator Has a Master Plan") into the graceful ascending cry that ends the track and the disc.

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Domenico Sciajno / Gene Coleman
Kim Cascone / Domenico Sciajno
Three studio tracks and a live segment offer complementary perspectives on real-time improvisation, the outcome at once logical and – yes, it's an over-used adjective – organic. Sciajno (Max/MSP-cum-processing) and Coleman (bass clarinet) have been collaborating for several years now, yet Diospyros is the first disc they've recorded together. The initial impression is one of extreme meticulousness. Coleman strives for total control, cuts and slices, unseams and destroys, incessantly hunting the ultimate atonal snippet for remorseless extension and metamorphosis, his spectacular timbral panache obliterating whatever hint of kindness the instrument might have left inside. Sciajno's treatments clone, reduce and lyophilize his comrade's playing into a bunch of miniature mad scientists. His wobbly fluctuations, disabled harmonies and resonant waves wrap Coleman's inventions with a fine mantle of alien charm. The final track, the splendid "Chloroxylon", is the perfect synthesis of their approaches: the clarinetist finally succumbs to tranquil meditation, prompting him and Sciajno to reflect (with mild-mannered subversiveness) on the possibilities of droning themselves out of humdrum existence.
Cascone and Sciajno's previous record, A Book of Standard Equinoxes on (1.8)sec, was released about three years ago. This second chapter in their collaboration is a live recording from a 2008 show in Palermo, which was left untouched, without post-production or editing. They demonstrate a fine ability to manage instantaneous events, often letting raucous intrusion emerge from reasonably static foundations and savouring the exhilaration of a more violent unruliness. At times the disquieting elements cohere uneasily, but on "Cleistogamia" they completely fuse with the music's laptop-generated lattice. The 21-minute marathon opener "Satyrium" might, despite its underground disturbances, induce dark ambient aficionados to entertain hopes of arcane entrancement, but the sudden dynamic shifts and noncompliant emissions on the remainder of the album will cause incense sticks to burn faster and detune "bought-on-my-last-holiday" monochords. The music is a peculiar blend of acousmatic intolerance and detailed investigation by two expert manipulators who seem determined to keep the listener at bay. The technical expertise, notably on the final "Glove Box", keeps the record well above average, but Cascone and Sciajno's best work is still found on their separate releases.–MR

Julien $krobek / Migu€l Prado
Why Not
When this limited edition (ridiculously limited edition, like all of Goh Lee Kwang's Why Nots) CDR was released a month or two ago it provoked a teacup-size storm of protests from certain quarters, who were "offended" by its accompanying text (which I won't bother to quote, for I don't find it particularly provocative), but musically it's about as offensive as Music For Airports. Indeed, I'd argue that much of this post-Malfatti stuff – music where the silence to sound ratio is tilted heavily in favour of the former – is the new Ambient music. It works perfectly well in the background while you busy yourself with various sundry domestic tasks – the less noisy ones, that is: hoovering the apartment and using the spincycle on the washing machine aren't recommended if you want to catch all the delicate sprinkles and squiggles of prepared cello and piano (Prado) and synthesizer (Skrobek) – but it's also satisfying enough to sit down and give your full attention to. The sounding events, when they appear, are carefully constructed and beautifully paced across the album's two tracks, which last respectively 14'53" and 24'58". Forget the silly "politics", and just use your ears. There's much to enjoy.–DW

Günter Baby Sommer
Kadima Collective
Bassist Jean-Claude Jones and his wife Judy Posner have been running the Kadima Collective label from their Jerusalem home since 2005, and this ebullient set by visiting percussion virtuoso Sommer is the latest welcome dispatch of Improvised Music from Israel. Welcome not only because 66-year-old Dresden-born Sommer, mainstay of the FMP label since 1973, is an outstanding performer who deserves to be mentioned as often as his peers Bennink, Lytton and Lovens, but also because it features splendid work by two saxophonists we haven't heard so much from in recent years, Steve Horenstein and Assif Tsahar (spelled "Tsachar" on the album but not on the label website – should I change my address book or what?). Also taking part in this July 2008 jam, on one relatively brief quartet track, are bass clarinettist Yoni Silver, tenor saxophonist Yonatan Kretzmer and guitarist Yonatan Albalak. Jean-Claude Jones himself provides bass on the opening couple of tracks, the first a trio with Horenstein on baritone sax, the second a quartet adding Tsahar's tenor with Horenstein switching to soprano, while Sommer races around his kit with the energy and enthusiasm of someone a third his age, swinging hard and fast to boot. Again, Bennink comes to mind, but unlike his Dutch near-contemporary, whose titanic force can sometimes push his playing partners into the shadows (if not pummel them into the ground), Sommer often seems happy to take a back seat. But he's one hell of a back-seat driver.–DW

Reel Recordings
The idea of a blowing session – players taking lengthy solos on familiar sets of changes – has long been a part of the recorded history of this music, replicating on wax the cutting contests of the 40s and sometimes allowing a shared spotlight to players who didn't usually work together. A good example is Tenor Conclave with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (Prestige, 1956); I'm also partial to the invigorating collision of Mobley and Archie Shepp in 1969 for BYG (Yasmina, a Black Woman and Poem for Malcolm). Recorded in 1972 at London's 100 Club, Split the Difference follows a similar model, though Splinters was apparently not a one-off aggregation. For followers of the scene in the late 60s and early 70s, the lineup here induces a serious double take: saxophonists Tubby Hayes and Trevor Watts, drummers John Stevens and Phil Seamen, pianist Stan Tracey, bassist Jeff Clyne and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler stretching out on two tracks over nearly eighty minutes.
It's easy to see why Splinters was a semi-regular collaboration, for the level of musicianship and open-heartedness here is cross-boundary and inter-generational. "One in One Hundred" starts off with limber pacesetting by Stevens and Clyne; the other members of the septet amble in gradually, hitting a pedal point and spiraling off into loose, parallel (almost jovial) conversation. Wheeler takes the first solo, his stately clarion accelerating rapidly into crammed runs and shrieks as the trumpeter shoves his breath and plenum of ideas through the instrument's short span of tubing. Next, Tubbs and Watts swoop in like hawks, skimming the charcoal-shaded rhythmic floes. Stan Tracey fills in the bottom with stark low-end roiling; these days he's the elder statesman of British jazz, but back then he was also a semi-regular contributor to Harry Miller's free-kwela group Isipingo, and free music is clearly well within his comfort zone. What's interesting about this performance is that passages of dense group playing and sparser moments carry equal weight; Clyne's lengthy pizzicato exploration, at first backed by Seamen's brushes, is incredibly concentrated, brilliantly distilling the rhythm and color of the whole Splinters canvas. It's a particular treat to hear Tubby Hayes and his own brand of free playing as he digs into the low end of the tenor, chewing on phrases and spitting out brief, Coltrane-like flurries in steely response to Watts' quixotic cadences. Hayes switches to flute in the latter ten minutes of the improvisation, birdsong and metallic flutters suggesting a strong Dolphy influence. Presented with the usual fine mastering job from Reel's Mike King, Split the Difference is an absolute treasure of modern British jazz.–CA

Stasis Duo
Organized Music from Thessaloniki
So far everything that's come my way from Kostis Kilymis's bijou EAI imprint has been excellent, and this latest offering from antipodean lowercasers Adam Sussmann and Matt Earle is no exception. Just don't make the mistake I made and take it out on the streets on your mp3 player because you won't hear a bloody thing: these three tracks are, for the most part, extremely quiet, but there's an enormous amount of detail in what Sussmann and Earle conjure forth from empty samplers. On the first track, against a harmonic backdrop of a glistening phantom diminished triad, tiny disturbances at the limit of audibility, both in terms of frequency and dynamics, trace ever so delicate lines in the inner ear, drawing the listener in to a micro world of breathtaking subtlety and beauty. What a shame it stops dead just before the nine and a half minute mark – I could listen to this all day. But tracks two and three are just as impressive. "Recorded between 2003 and 2009", says the label website – let's hope that means there's more where this came from. Limited edition, exquisite handmade paper covers, move fast, don't miss it.–DW

Storm of Corpses
Bug Incision
Well, with a name like that you know you're not in for a leisurely stroll through the sunlit uplands of EAI, don't you? This rough-and-tumble live set recorded in concert at the appropriately named Art Damage Lodge in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the work of a seven-piece local supergroup (I was recently warned against using this word by the powers that be at Wire HQ because it was too "rockist", though I don't think anyone is likely to confuse these cats with the Travelling Wilburys, somehow) starring C. Spencer "Burning Star Core" Yeh, Ryan "Psychedelic Horseshit" Jewell, Jacob Felix "Soft Teeth" Heule, Jay "Ettrick" Korber, Tony "Basshaters" Dryer and Jon Lorenz and John Rich, aka Wasteland Jazz Unit (who, you may recall, caused my neighbours no end of grief a month or two with that split disc with Talibam!). Large ensemble improv, if it isn't conducted or pre-planned in some way, is a notoriously hit-and-miss affair, and this 25'30" adventure has its ups and downs, the ups not necessarily being the loudest and wildest bits either (though it's a shame they couldn't have pushed a bit further with what they were doing about the fifteen-minute mark). If you only buy two Bug Incision discs this month (haha), this one and the Jack Wright trio reviewed underneath are the ones to get.–DW

Ton Trio
Singlespeed Music
Tradition can be a perilous thing, especially when one is compelled to both clearly follow one's forebears and express oneself in a very personal manner. Alto saxophonist and clarinetist Aram Shelton is a young improvising composer who has called the Bay Area home for the last several years, though he came up in Chicago's jazz hotbed alongside cornetist Josh Berman, drummer Frank Rosaly, and tenorman Keefe Jackson. The Way finds Shelton in the company of bassist Kurt Kotheimer and drummer Sam Ospovat on six originals. In the liner notes to last year's self-titled Dragons 1976 disc, Shelton professed a kinship to Ornette, Ayler, and Shepp – and it is a testament to the reedman's conviction in his own work to acknowledge his influences and yet (judging from recorded evidence) forge a distinct path.
Opening the set is the title track, a warm singsong melody that recalls mid-1960s Ornette as well as some of Steve Lacy's nursery-rhyme tunes. It's here that the similarities to 1965 end, though – Shelton's alto, while hitting tartly rounded contours, moves into areas of severe repetition and abstraction, sort of like a self-contained albeit folksy "Nonaah." Ospovat is bullish and thrashing, mining Shelton's theme for explosive rhythmic nuggets. The bassist's supple pizzicato underpins it all, his gauzy melodic shading offering just enough resolution to keep the triangle equilateral. "One Last Thing" has an incredibly infectious roiling groove, at slight odds with Shelton's concentrated behind-the-beat cells. His solo elongates and circles back in on itself, Ospovat and Kotheimer hacking away at overlaid tempi yet never losing a profound sense of swing. "Switches" is one of two pieces featuring Shelton's bass clarinet, an instrument he plays with precision and delicacy. Beginning with a husky duet of low reed and plucked bass, the pair move quickly into a stuttering theme before Shelton's solo emerges, filled with wry, teasing snatches of phrase. The Way is an excellently-paced set, its quizzical themes dispatched quickly and engagingly – the disc clocks in at just under forty minutes. Shelton, Kotheimer and Ospovat comprise a trio of utmost conviction.-CA

Michael Vlatkovich / Chris Lee / Kent McLagen
Michael Vlatkovich's snappy West Coast trombone-bass-drums trio visited Denver in 2007, and the result was this fine live disc. The musicians feed joyfully off the tunes' lean, pocket-size grooves, occasionally pausing for a little elastic balladry: maybe this is old-school stuff compared to the mindbending mix of post-M-BASE conceptual funk and electronics on Michael Dessen's recent Between Shadow and Space, instead hewing a lot closer to the sound of the venerable BassDrumBone (Anderson/Dresser/Hemingway), but it's still a delight to hear it done this well. Come to think of it, BDB never quite managed to put together an album as consistently brilliant as you'd expect, given the players concerned; this one, by contrast, with its much less starry cast, doesn't have a dead spot among its seven tracks. Bassist Kent McLagen and drummer Chris Lee deal lightly but decisively with the teasing loops of melody and rhythm that Vlatkovich likes to build into his pieces (all the better for his lines to dodge around). Lee has a sweet, truly melodic approach to the drums, pattering out tapdance rhythms and countermelodies (you can pick out the pitches quite easily); it's a style that can be distractingly cute in the hands of some players – Matt Wilson comes to mind – but here it's entirely channelled into the music, and on tracks like "The Man Who Walks..." and the insanely catchy "Where Is Wanda Skutnick?" the results are like a comic three-way conspiracy. But the trio also has its dark, rhapsodic side, which comes out on "Model Plantation", a free ballad that slowly courses through the trombone and arco bass lines, folding back in on itself in layers of overlapping dialogue; at the end Vlatkovich is left softly humming to himself, as the rhythm section's tide gradually recedes.–ND

Weasel Walter / Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith
Don't be alarmed by the back of the CD box, which lists the artists as "Henry Kaiser (1952-2008), Damon Smith (1972-2008) and Weasel Walter (1972-2008)" – to misquote Mark Twain, rumours of their deaths, circulated of course by Mr Walter himself, have been greatly exaggerated. There are some cute obituaries in lieu of liner notes, too. "Mr Walter loved cats.." yeah, right. Jonathan Cott once asked Karlheinz Stockhausen what piece of music he'd like to be listening to at the moment of his death, and he opted for Boulez's first Piano Sonata ("Bang!"). Well, if it's bangs you're looking to go out with, Plane Crash will do just fine. But it's not all twisted metal and charred bodies – on "In The Field" Weasel is just as good at flicking round the lighter elements of his kit (with knitting needles à la Sunny Murray, I wonder?) as he is at pummelling it through the floor of the cabin into the luggage hold, and when Kaiser picks up his acoustic guitar, there's plenty of room for Smith to explore some subtle lines and harmonics. But it's the punishing electric stuff like "Untamed Talents" and, yes, "The End", that you'll want to crank up in your headsets as you plunge to a fiery death. Fuck the tray table and the seatbelt too – just head to the back of the plane where they keep the booze and fix yourself a double before it's too late.–DW

Jack Wright with Hell & Bunny
Bug Incision
"Hell & Bunny" sounds like something you might come across over at, but in fact it's an improv duo consisting of cellist Hans Buetow and percussionist Ben Hall (I'm not sure who's hell and who's bunny but I guess it doesn't matter), who might be more familiar to readers as two thirds of Graveyards, with ol' Wolf Eye himself John Olson. On this splendid CDR release on the Alberta-based Bug Incision imprint they're joined by another prowling wolf of American free music, saxophonist Jack Wright, and it's the most impressive Wright release I've heard since the two trio dates with Michel Doneda and Tatsuya Nakatani, from between (SOSEditions, 2003) and No Stranger To Air (Sprout, 2006). At the turn of the century, Jack Wright took a decisive step (every step Jack takes is decisive) into lowercase territory, generously acknowledging the influence of Bhob Rainey, but throughout the decade his playing, especially solo, has gradually been getting more combative again – though it's nowhere near as fiery as it was back when he started out in the early 80s. On Over The Transom, Hall's soft mallets and Buetow's elegant micromelodies and delicate pizzicati pull him back into more restrained territory, but you can tell he's just itching to burst into flames. Wright has always taken the line of most resistance as a player (I still think he should team up with his English namesake Seymour), exposing himself to as much risk as he can find. Just as well he's not a Wall Street trader. Listen to how he jams the horn against his thigh and really goes for – and gets! – those awkward multiphonics, just when the music is quiet enough to show up the tiniest mistake. This stuff is as poised as gagaku, as focused as shodo and as intense as butoh.–DW

Ami Yoshida / Toshimaru Nakamura
I'm sure that when you were a kid you used to explore the strange outer limits of your own voice, gargling in the bath, blowing raspberries, teaching yourself to whistle (my son's ten, and still working on it) and, when nobody was listening, pretending that somebody was trying to strangle you. Bet you never thought about making a career of it, though. Pretending to be strangled is something Ami Yoshida does remarkably well, and, when amplified closely enough – judging from the presence and clarity of the extraordinary sounds she squeezes out of herself on Soba to Bara, you'd think the mic was down her throat – you'd be hard pressed to identify it as a human voice at all. Which I suppose is the point. In any case, it sounds just fine alongside the rough fizzes, harsh buzzes and raw crackles of Toshi Nakamura's inputless mixing board. Not really alongside as much as on top of, to be more precise, as the two performers, who'd never worked together prior to this recording (surprising, but true), opted for a blind overdub approach rather than going into the studio together. A strategy perfectly in line with EAI's laminal ideology (cf. Keith Rowe's oft-misunderstood remarks about not listening) perhaps, but a risky one. There are many magical moments where the two instruments are remarkably complementary in terms of timing, timbre and register, but plenty of near misses too, of the kind that presumably would not have occurred had the pair been recording together and able to, if not listen to, at least hear each other. The end result is an enthralling but often frustrating (and, at high volume, mildly distressing) 48-minute span of music, intense and impressive, but rather hard to love. Fortunately there's a little light relief in the liner notes, which are available in English translation here (on the disc they're in Japanese only) and make for an entertaining if not essential (in order to appreciate the music, that is) read, Yoshida's comma-sprinkled Beckett-like gasps contrasting nicely with Nakamura's downhome musings on buckwheat noodles. I like the bit where he imagines a restaurant that only serves the water the noodles were cooked in. There must be some connection to his music there, if I could figure out what it is.–DW

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Tom Hamilton
Mutable Music
Local Customs, whose five movements follow each other without a break, uses an "electronic harmony generator" developed by the composer during a residency in Italy in the summer of 2005, to, as the press release puts it, explore "some obscure notions about music theory and performance practice, leading to sound combinations that are at once unsettling and yet somehow familiar." Scored for an ensemble consisting of Hamilton's keyboards, along with flute, clarinet, trombone, bass and percussion, the result manages to be curiously arresting and forgettable, restful and restless, satisfying and frustrating, all at the same time. The ear constantly wants things to resolve a certain way – they never do – and each time it gives up trying it's called upon to make another attempt. Cage's reworked Satie (Cheap Imitation) and partially-erased William Billings (Hymns and Variations) come to mind, but even there you can guess (just about) where the music's going, or should be going, or what's missing. In Local Customs a tonal centre is often hinted at – long stretches of "Counterpoint Four" feel like they're in C# minor, thanks to the frozen pitches and predominance of the C#-E minor third, but of course they're not really in any key at all. Diatonic intervals abound, but we're a long way from the "non-tonal diatonic music" of late Ligeti, too. Rich O' Donnell's spare percussion work often recalls Cesar Burago's inspired playing with Sei Miguel, but Hamilton's music doesn't swing in anything like the same way. In fact it doesn't swing at all. Rhythmically, it's quite regular, slightly stilted at times ("BRQ Ten"), and even when it appears to loosen up ("All The Mapping Shifted") it's clear it's still being held in place by a severe compositional logic somehow beyond our comprehension. Or is it?–DW

Erdem Helvacioglu
"A diving crew. The Arctic Ocean. The rhythmic push and glide of steel blades on frozen water. The click and clack of the ice. The blowing wind and the bitter cold. The moment of diving. The feel of freezing cold water. The atmosphere. The water all around us. We are also there." It's probably not all that surprising that a composer such as Erdem Helvacioglu, who's worked with a wide range of musicians, from Elliott Sharp to Mick Karn (remember Japan?), and on numerous mixed-media projects, from gallery installations to music for dance and film, should choose to associate his sounds with extra-musical images and sensations. After all, if he'd named these five pieces of meticulously crafted electronic music after something in a high school physics textbook, you'd probably feel like leaving them well alone, and in doing so would be missing out on some impressive stuff (assuming, that is, you like the chilly technical wizardry of computer music). Some folks feel they have to be told how to listen, and what to listen for, but if you trust your ears and just pay attention you'll find these pieces tell their own stories very well, and it's much more interesting and complex than the ones the composer provides. "A painful journey into his inner self. Search for the meaning of existence. Salvation. Atonement." Crikey.–DW

Radu Malfatti
Recorded in Düsseldorf in July 2007 by a large (15-piece) ensemble, a kind of Wandelweiser All Stars, in fact (the performers also include Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey, André O. Möller, Michael Pisaro and Burkhard Schlothauer), this 38'35" composition seems to mark something of a shift in Radu Malfatti's recent output, in that the long stretches of silence between notes have gone, and we're left with a continuous span of music. Perhaps that's simply due to the size of the ensemble and the inevitable overlapping of events specified by the score, which is notated along similar lines as Cage's number pieces, arrows indicating when sounds are to begin and end, and how long they last – but it does make a welcome change, allowing the ear to focus more on what the composer has written than on how it relates to the acoustic environment in which it's performed (though this rather distant recording does capture the resonance of the hall, and a few odd coughs and splutters).
Of course, with Malfatti's music there's little point in discussing changes in dynamics or individual instrumental timbre ("all sounds are calm and very quiet", states the score), so we're left with pitch. And that's what makes Düsseldorf Vielfaches so compelling: its unique harmonic world, a strange, microtonally-inflected pale glow; listening to it is like watching embers in a dying fire. The individual tones played by the musicians remain more or less the same (in fact each of the six instrumental groups specified in the score moves their note up a semitone over the course of the piece), but overlap to form ever-changing configurations, creating an overall sonority that seems to be the same throughout – once you've heard the work I guarantee you'll recognise it instantly second time round – but which in fact is constantly on the move, albeit very slowly and in a direction almost impossible to determine.
The crucial difference between Malfatti's recent music and (late) Feldman (just in case anyone still wants to compare them, since the latter is often seen, along with Cage, as a precursor of the Wandelweiser Group) is the openness to microtonality. In this case not by design – unlike L'Instant Inconnu, the violin and piano piece Frédéric Blondy and I premiered a few years ago, whose (violin) microtonal inflections were precisely notated – but more by accident, as the musicians in Düsseldorf Vielfaches are requested not to tune their instruments. And, although each part specifies precise start and stop times for the notes, individual performers can start their stopwatches ("important: no beeps"!) "within about eight minutes" of each other. The pitches in the score are all notated in the treble clef, but the performers are requested to transpose them down to appear in the bottom octave of their instrument, hence the harmonically rich low tessitura.
Until the release of this piece, Malfatti's b-boim catalogue had only featured one other work for large ensemble, 1997's raum-zeit I, originally scored for 36-piece string orchestra (the disc contains a version realised using sampling keyboards, unfortunately). On the strength of Düsseldorf Vielfaches, a full-length orchestral piece by Radu Malfatti would be a wonderful thing. Cross fingers.–DW

Will Montgomery (Brian Marley)
I think Rafael Toral was on the one when he described Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room as "among the great artistic achievements of mankind." It's a piece whose underlying concept is as remarkably simple as its ultimate realisation is astoundingly complex, a benchmark against which any musical work produced since that takes human speech as its starting point has to be measured. As such, Will Montgomery's Legend fares pretty well, but Lucier purists might be bothered that his source material – a text written and recorded by Brian Marley, itself a commentary on a photograph taken by Rhodri Davies showing an empty cabinet – is impossible to make out from merely listening to the music (of course, if you listen just to the last few minutes of I Am Sitting In A Room you won't be able to make out a word either, but by that stage of the piece you're supposed to know what they are, the whole point of the composition being the process that transforms simple speech into complex music, a process the listener follows from beginning to end). In any case, Marley's amusing five paragraphs are available for consultation in the liners, if you're interested. Nothing here now but the recordings, as William Burroughs would say. Montgomery's ear is impeccable, as always, and the ten tracks (eleven in fact, the last one being a filtered recording of the empty room in which Marley's reading took place), each lasting 3'52", the duration of the original reading, are beautifully crafted and rich listening experiences, either individually or taken together. I now await the next stage of the conceptual translation process – cabinet begat photo begat text begat music begat disc begat.. review? If Will feels like recording someone reading this and fuck around with it in the same way, that's just fine by me. And if nobody can understand a word I'm saying, so much the better.–DW

David Rosenboom
New World
Composed and elaborated between 1969 and 1971, Plymouth Rock is an ambitious work in nine sections which sprawls over this handsomely produced double CD, most of which was recorded in the Herb Alpert School Of Music in the California Institute of the Arts, where Dean David Rosenboom sits in the Richard Seaver Distinguished Chair. Fellow faculty members Aashish Khan, I Nyoman Wenten, Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick and William Winant are among the performers. Minimalism is the name of the game here – and, as we all know, that means different things to different people, from La Monte Young, with whose Theater of Eternal Music Rosenboom performed in the late 60s, forward via Terry Riley to Rhys Chatham and backward (outward?) to Indian and Balinese music. If your record collection includes several platters by any or all of the above, you won't want to miss out on this.

"Start with one tone. Proceed to the next one when you know what it should be," runs the cryptic instruction for Section I (essential tension to universe). The realisation here features twenty tracks of Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick's cello sitting on middle C for a minute and than glissandoing out both upwards and downwards until they reach what Rosenboom calls "the universe chord" combining notes from the harmonic and subharmonic series, i.e. overtones and undertones (and if your knowledge of undertones stops at Feargal Sharkey you'd better go and google yourself some information because I don't have time to go into the subject here – or, better still, buy this album and read Chris Brown's clear explanations in the liner notes). The score extract included in the booklet includes the words "continue holding for a very long time", but the track is over and done with in two minutes and 22 seconds, which is a shame. Phill Niblock would have let it run on for a good half hour, which it really needs to do. You have to "get inside" a drone, as Young would say, let your ears accustom themselves to the constituent tones before you can surf the spectra.
Instead, we head out to symmetrical harmonies in chaotic orbits, the subtitle of the work's second section, which in performance, Brown informs us, would also "go on for hours." Here it consists of a collage of Rosenboom's electronics, old (frequency divider circuits, waveform generators, analog computer and three-deck tape accumulation system) and new (computer), over which excerpts from early performances of the piece in 1970 and 1973 appear and disappear. Back in the late 60s the composer's experiments with frequency-divider circuits led him to explore the secrets of the subharmonic series of the humble sine wave. "Fascinating instability regions were obtained around particular reference voltage thresholds," he recalls, "for which the output signal would become chaotic... the output would flip from one integral frequency division to another in a complex fashion." Feed the resulting squiggles through tape delay systems and you soon end up with the piece's characteristic thrilling harmonic swirl, which would have been rich and rewarding enough without the dusty archive material (pleasant but rather quaint and very much of its time – the lazy jamming on wah wah piano, Vox organ, dumbek and tambura is the aural equivalent of wearing a tie-dye shirt).
If the instructions for Section I read like one of those Wandelweiser text scores, then Section III (world)'s, which call for a piece tuned to "ecological and geographical resonances of the areas in which they are to be placed" seem like a perfect description of some of John Butcher's site-specific recent work. Here it's heard in a version recorded in a giant underground water cistern (the kind of acoustic John B would no doubt approve of) by Vinny Golia (JB would probably approve of him too) on multitracked contrabass saxophones, which are perfect for exploring those subharmonics. The sound is extraordinary, but once more, frustratingly, it's over and done with before you have time to get into it. Why it lasts just 2'17" is beyond me.
In Section IV (life) Rosenboom transcribes the sounds of wildlife recorded "near where he lived back in 1969", the resulting music played by Kirkpatrick and Golia (here on an arsenal of wind instruments including various flutes, clarinets, saxophones and shakuhachi) and overlaid with a field recording made in Central Park, of all places. As well as the inevitable birdsong and traffic noise, you can hear a jogger trot by at one point. One wonder whether a more, umm, field-like field recording might have worked better; this music should be breathing the open air, not the exhaust fumes of Manhattan taxicabs. Whatever. At just over nine minutes, it's fine by me.
If we got shortchanged on the first and third sections, Section V (humanity) makes up for it by running to 34'38". Here we're very much back in the world of Riley's Rainbow In Curved Air, overlapping riffs and loops all drawn from the glowing pentatonic scale (think dominant seventh plus added fourth) that became the hallmark tonality of much 70s minimalism, along with a whiff of raga and gamelan – in addition to the composer's piano, his son Daniel's trumpet and Golia's flutes and soprano sax, the instrumentation includes tabla, sarode and pemade. The version also incorporates extracts from another "historical" performance of the piece, this time from 1979, featuring the composer and Donald Buchla on a couple of the latter's Series 300 Electric Music Boxes. If you've worn your copy of Shri Camel out and need something else to get high on, this will do nicely, but you don't need to be stoned immaculate to appreciate the virtuosity of the musicians, and the speed and skill with which they pick up and develop each other's ideas. Great stuff.
Opening the second disc, the work's sixth section, subtitled culture, moves us forward into another slightly later generation of minimalism, one where the regular metrics and clear diatonic harmonies met the energy and instrumentation of rock, the version here featuring not one but two rock groups, Plotz! and DR. MiNT. Think Rhys (Chatham), not Riley. Indeed, the trochaic hi-hat is right out of Chatham's Guitar Trio, but the six-string solos are right out of Guitar Hero. Fortunately, Rosenboom lets fly on the piano, but the piece begins to drag after a while. Ten minutes would have been just fine – the other seven could have been redispatched to sections I and III.
The sudden shift from blatantly equal-tempered harmony to the pelog tuning of Balinese gamelan in the seventh section, impression, which features Rosenboom's piano along with I Nyoman Wenten's pemade and William Winant's jegog and calung, is alarming at first, but the ear soon settles in, even if those left hand piano arpeggios sound a little too Glass-like at times. Back across the Indian Ocean, Section VIII (unification) is described by Brown as "an extended alap improvisation" featuring Rosenboom Jr's trumpet, plenty of tape delay and a resonant pedal point from the composer on organ, which lasts until the seven-minute mark when it turns into a I-V-VI-V chord sequence. If, like Sydney Smith, your idea of heaven is "eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets" then you'd better head for the local delicatessen and prepare yourself for paradise, because there are plenty of trumpets here.
The grand finale, subtitled links aka Piano Etude I, is a virtuoso piano study once more featuring the composer and his percussionist pals Wenten and Winant, here on kendang (double-headed Balinese drum) and marimba respectively. Originally written for J.B. Floyd, it's an attempt (and a successful one) to apply tabla techniques to the piano keyboard.
As usual for New World, there's a classy 32-page booklet containing useful analysis and background information on the piece itself, courtesy Mills College's Chris Brown (see above) and a more wide-ranging essay by CalArts philosophy professor Sande Cohen which is full of quotation marks and seems to mention Deleuze, Guattari and Baudrillard more than David Rosenboom, which is one good reason for not reading it. At least while listening to the music, which works perfectly well without it.–DW

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Alexandre Bellenger
Appel Music
Turntablist / guitarist Alexandre Bellenger is one of the more colourful and delightfully unpredictable improvisers on the French scene, but for this debut solo release under his own name (excluding of course the dozens of CDRs he's put out on his own ARR label over the years) he's produced a deadly serious, carefully structured 31-minute composition for modular analogue synthesizer (Doepfer System A100 for the technerds amongst you), complete with title referencing the world of psychoanalysis (perlaboration is the French translation of the German durcharbeitung, if that's of any help to you – I'm still struggling to understand the difference between id and ego, so don't ask me to perlaborate). A rather long pamphlet describing how the work was inspired both by the narrative techniques of Philippe Sollers and Eliane Radigue's Arthésis (though it sounds nothing like it) has been condensed into an all too brief, rather opaque and uninformative liner note, which I strongly recommend not reading before listening to the music, which is everything the text isn't: majestic, spacious and beautifully paced, moving from apocalyptic upheaval to chiming stasis. Those familiar with Bellenger's turntable torture in Bobby Moo, his trio with Miho and Arnaud Rivière (another trio with Rivière and Roger Turner has recently been doing the rounds, and I want an album from them right now) will be pleasantly surprised by the maturity and precision of this fine piece. I hope he's sent a copy to Madame Radigue. No point sending one to Monsieur Sollers, though – he'd probably use it as a beermat.–DW

Thomas Bey William Bailey
Belsona Strategic
Previously active as The Domestic Front, Thom Bailey is an intensely thinking man who seriously questions himself before the emission of any sound or word (check out his recent book MicroBionic, a fascinating read about the farthest fringes of sonically alternative design). For the first CD under his actual name, he chose a title taken from particle physics, "a strangelet being a hypothetical object which converts ordinary matter into 'strange matter' through liberating the energy of nuclei that it comes into collision with". It would take some balls to classify these tracks as "noise", although Bailey utilizes sounds at the very extremes of audibility. Large chunks of this music work by dredging up the listener's memories and associations, though the composer – intelligently and somewhat heartlessly – tends to cut away at the exact moment one starts getting used to things. What begins as disturbing interference becomes a blurred remembrance in few instants; by the time another minute has passed everything has become thoroughly garbled, reduced to infinitesimal granules of distortion. The record shows discipline and logic at the same time that it constantly displaces itself, existing in a state of "perpetual becoming" (in Bailey's words). Rarely has a concoction of bewildering electronic sequences, unsympathetic intermissions and catatonic underground chorales sounded so coherent. Keep an eye on this guy.–MR

Seijiro Murayama / Michael Northam
Xing Wu
Moriendo Renascor was recorded and mixed in 2003 and 2004, yet it sees the light of the day just now. The result was well worth the wait: capturing sounds from areas as diverse as Portugal and the Swiss Jura, the artists have managed to reach an intense state of "material suspension" which permeates the record, a sense of mystery only increased by the text penned by composer Lionel Marchetti that is hypothetically printed on the inner sleeve of the CD. The ink is so pale that the handwritten scribbling is all but indecipherable, a suitable symbol of the music's elusive nature. This kind of ambience is par for the course when Northam is involved: working on the borderlands of environmental/concrete music – influenced, first and foremost, by long childhood journeys through the deserts of Utah – and performing on self-made instruments, he creates marvelously unfinished aural matters that demonstrate his perpetual attentiveness to sounds at the edge of perception. The pairing with Murayama, who has worked with Fred Frith, Tom Cora, KK Null, Keiji Haino and Jean-Luc Guionnet among others, is entirely sympathetic given the percussionist's interest in the phenomena of "phantom resonance" – his performances sometimes consist exclusively of pure gestures. Roles are decentralized – no more "composers", only "generators" or "unintentional bystanders" – as these four tracks explore the spellbinding qualities of resounding metal and natural phenomena, delivering the arresting coalescence of involuntary coordination and raw magnificence that apparently inanimate objects reveal when exploited with the intent of making us aware of the relation between our physical being and its function as a receptor for sounds.–MR

Nana April Jun
"The Ontology of Noise researches the dark associations of post-black metal," states the brief liner note bluntly, before announcing proudly that "no traditional instruments were used [..] and all technologies are digital in their application." Well, it is on Touch, so it's not as if I was expecting an album of unaccompanied banjo music or something. A little clarification is in order: 1) Nana April Jun is the nom de scène (nom de plume? nom de souris?) of Christofer Lämgren, who hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, which might explain the fondness for metal. (Funny, I thought Gothenburg was more associated with death metal than black metal.. and what is post-black metal? Not that it matters, because I've never understood the attraction of either to be honest.) 2) My online dictionary defines ontology as 'the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such", but it's also widely used in computer science (have a read at this over your cornflakes: 3) Despite the pretentious album title this is one of the most convincing and beautifully executed albums to come my way all year. Lämgren's ear for detail is as good as his feel for overall shape. It's grey, cold and austere (like Gothenburg, actually) and certainly on a par with the best offerings of Francisco López and Mika Vainio, both of whom are namechecked on the Touch website. The closing track, "Sun Wind Darkness Eye", is particularly masterly, building impressively before slipping into Gas-like pulse. Forget the black metal association (especially the album Lämgren himself mentions; Burzum's Filosofem, which is simply fucking awful) and check out one of the most accomplished releases of electronic music this year.–DW

Though Thanasis Kaproulias is based in Athens, several hundred miles south of the Serbian city that he's chosen as his moniker, my trusty (?) Wiki page informs me that "novi sad" means "new furrow", and that's a fair description of the two impressively crafted pieces on offer on Jailbirds. The field – contemporary electronica – isn't new, but Kaproulias is certainly ploughing it his own way, and it makes a welcome change from the all-too predictable fare that seems to be flooding the market (or at least flooding my mail box) at the moment. Nosing about further online, I see that Kaproulias's music is "published by Touch Music", which figures – his skilful blend of natural and man/machine-made sounds (hooting owls meet digital static scree) and discreet use of recognisable harmonic and rhythmic material (yes, there are subtle bass lines and backbeats lurking in there, if you care to investigate) make him an ideal labelmate for the likes of Oren Ambarchi, Rosy Parlane, Biosphere and BJNilsen. But while we wait for a full length follow-up to the TouchRadio piece Dramazon, Sedimental's got in there first this time (Rob Forman's always had a knack for finding exciting new talent – Kaproulias joins recent discoveries Riccardo Dillon Wanke and Kyle Bobby Dunn). What's particularly impressive about this music is its ability to move across the map, from subtle field recordings to brutal blasts of harsh noise, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly, but always convincingly. Impressive work from a name to watch out for in years to come.–DW

Pimmon, aka Paul Gough, has been fashioning electronic soundscapes since 1982, and is in many ways the precursor to the likes of fellow Australians Lawrence English and Oren Ambarchi. Back then he had a burbling Korg Ms20 and "bad drum machines" to keep him creative company, as well as an adolescent fixation with Australian New Wavers, Severed Heads. But through successive releases over the years, he has gradually polished and refined his methodology, releasing albums on high quality electronica labels like Tigerbeat6, Sirr, and FatCat, and reaffirming his status as a pioneering figure in contemporary electronica. Too haphazard in his intuitive methods for the pristine soft edges of Taylor Deupree's 12k, and too obsessed with process over product for the Mego camp, Gough has fine-tuned an approach to sound art that sits somewhere between a mad professor cut loose on the machines and a glitch connoisseur in full command of his stockroom of found sounds and drones.
Smudge Another Yesterday is his thirteenth release and his first for an Australian label, Preservation Records, and it sees him on fine form. An amnesiac atmosphere settles on you from the outset, as if dislocated chords, tones, and pitches are tugging at the listener's memory, with titles further alluding to this feeling of auditory misperception: "Hidden", "It will never snow in Sydney", "Don't remember". These pieces could be seen as sonic reflections of what anthropologist Marc Augé describes as "non-places" – large venues such as airports, terminals, and busy internet cafes where information and consumerist overload assists in the submersion of identity.
"Come on Join the Choir Invisible" owes something to Gough's work as a sound engineer for ABC radio, its swirls of choral voices at times recalling Berio. Voices come and go on this album, like unwanted immigrants forced to graft themselves onto the music; on "Don't remember" processed voices seesaw in and out, while a backing vocal a tad reminiscent of a youthful Peter Gabriel rises upwards. On "It will never snow in Sydney" smooth but arid glissandos open up a vista of auditory hallucinations and sunbaked gradations. "Evil Household Ceremony" is particularly unsettling, its filtered oscillations providing a menacing lo-fi feel to the drones. "Hidden" begins with geothermal abrasions burying a symphonic movement, and turns into a threnody for a consumerist hyperworld in meltdown. In perhaps his most personal album to date, Gough has provided the perfect soundtrack for a world that has too little space and too much sound to contemplate.–PB

Yui Onodera
Still relatively young at 27, Yui Onodera has recently made a discreetly decisive impact on the scene of modern-day ambient with a series of absorbing outings on labels such as And/OAR and Mystery Sea. Entropy is described by Trumn head honcho Hideho Takemasa as "the most sought-after item of all his releases" and this reissue of the 2005 Critical Path album comes in a gorgeous gatefold package adorned by a splendid photograph of a remote mountain area immersed in mist. The pieces were entirely realized using electric guitars, field recordings and electronics, all subtly yet effectively treated. What I've always liked in this artist's work is its absolute lack of that arrogance which transforms much of this music into pretentious "look-at-my-holiness" void. Onodera makes undemanding suggestions, eradicating the bell-and-whistle factor from the approach to the composition and deploying his materials more or less as they are, leaving us to contemplate them in their almost total nudity, Jesus on the cross barely touched by the sunrays. Certain segments vaguely recall another master distiller of six-stringed perfumes, Paul Bradley, whose methodical seriousness the Japanese shares, but the evocative two-chord sequence of the sixth and the seventh chapters of this cycle is pure Onodera, a mixture of childlikeness and dedication that makes me smile in acceptance.–MR

Rice Corpse
Dual Plover
There's some shit missing between the "Rice" and the "Corpse" of the band name above. Literally: the Chinese character for "shit", no less, which is a combination of the characters for "rice" and "corpse". Nifty. Wonder if it appears on Chinese computer keyboards. Could anyone currently reading the Marquis de Sade's One Hundred And Twenty Days Of Sodom in Mandarin translation write in and let me know? I'm intrigued.
As it so happens, much of this "despondent attempt at musicality" (I can't resist quoting the amusing press release) would make a rather appropriate soundtrack to another film adaptation of Sade's perverse epic (not that anyone's likely to follow Pier Paolo Pasolini down that dark path in the foreseeable future, mind). It's the work of a Beijing-based trio consisting of Li Zenghui, normally a "mild-mannered" saxophonist but here pummelling a piano with superhero brutality, Yang Yang, who beats the ricecorpse out of a drum kit, and visiting "cultural ambassador" Lucas "Justice Yeldham" Abela, whose speciality is miking up a pane of broken glass and slicing his face to shreds with it. (No shit – oops, sorry, no ricecorpse.)
This exhilaratingly ferocious aural fistfuck was "made possible with the kind assistance of Asialink and the Australia Council for the Arts", it says here. One imagines that, if played to the wrong people at the wrong time at the right volume, it could set relations between China and Australia back several decades.–DW

Sébastien Roux / Vincent Epplay
The discs Sébastien Roux was putting out a few years ago were lovely, oneiric affairs, all gentle guitar and glitch (think Apestaartje, 12K..), but since he got his paws on all that IRCAM gear he seems to have turned into Richard Barrett. Drop the needle (as it were) just about anywhere in this latest collaboration with Vincent Epplay, and you'd be forgiven for identifying it as Furt. Sounds – pretty and not so pretty, though they're often chopped up so finely it's hard to say which is which – are splattered around the stereo space like that proverbial can of spam. And with titles like "Wu***Rap**Tang Klaus Sod**" and "**Echo Plasme From Hell", it's clear we're not talking Minamo any more. Concatenative Mu is a thrilling if exhausting ride, but you wonder whether you're supposed to admire its dazzling technical virtuosity as much as enjoy its musical substance. For you to decide.–DW

Improvising bassist Tamaru has been playing solo performances since the early 90s, when he acquired his current sonic tool on a November morning famous in Japan for the social turmoil stemming from the bankruptcy of a major national securities company. Why he mentions this detail is a mystery to me, though one could surmise that the comforting quality of most of the music was (is) a sort of reaction, the search for a means to calm down a bit after experiencing the feeling of inner unsteadiness elicited by (further) bad news in times of economic shrinkage. The technique applied by Tamaru is pretty basic: with the bass tuned standard for a "good affect [sic] on the overtone layers emitted by the instrument", he sits with his right foot on a volume pedal and his left changing the parameters of a digital delay system in real time, the results unedited. The most beguiling side of Figure manifests itself when gracefully curved tones are left alone to resound for long periods, circling and spiralling in pleasant semi-static velvetiness, quivering lows rubbing the auricular membranes and the nape of the neck. When delay is used to alter the sound more decisively, notes superimposed to generate a little harmonic thickness or even minor dissonance, that mesmerizing aura gets somewhat tarnished. Providing you're not expecting miracles, this remains a fine enough recording if approached at an ideal moment.–MR

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