SUMMER 2011 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Stuart Broomer, John Eyles, Guy Livingston, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton, Matthew Wuethrich, Logan K. Young:

Editorial: An ECM Catalogue
Exhibition / Opera: Nam June Paik in Washington / Bruno Mantovani's Akhmatova in Paris
In Concert:
As Alike As Trees
On Gruenrekorder:
Stéphane Garin & Sylvestre Gobart
On Erstwhile:
Radu Malfatti & Keith Rowe
On Staubgold:
The Magic I.D.
VINYL SOLUTION: Christoph Heemann / Daniel Menche & Anla Courtis / Mohammad / Opéra Mort / Michel Potage / Rick Reed
Muhal Richard Abrams / Jennifer Allum & Eddie Prévost / Tim Berne / DJ Sniff / Michel Doneda, Tatsuya Nakatani, Alessandra Rombola, Jonas Kocher, Christoph Schiller / Peter Evans, Agusti Fernandez & Mats Gustafsson / Ferran Fages, Robin Hayward & Nikos Veliotis
Mostly Other People Do The Killing / No Hermanos Carrasco / Howard Riley / ROVA / Rafael Toral / Nate Wooley
John Cage / Morton Feldman / Michael Gardiner / Gudmundur Stein Gunnarsson / Jason Kahn
Thomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricoli / William Basinski / Eric Cordier & Seijiro Murayama / Johannes Frisch & Ralf Wehowsky / Francisco Meirino & Brent Gutzeit / SRMeixner / Rock'n'Roll Jackie & Pain Jerk
Last issue


Welcome aboard this month to Logan K. Young, who's been burning Nam June Paik's candle at both ends in Washington DC and chilling out by counting both the repetitions in Jean-Luc Fafchamps' re-recording of Feldman's Triadic Memories and the words I chopped out of his review (which also appeared in extended form over at Dusted), and welcome back PT founding father (father for real too now!) Guy Livingston, who's been collapsing into the orchestra pit of the Opéra Bastille clutching his copy of Boris Pasternak. Braver man than me too – I recently went to see Weber's Der Freischütz at the Opéra Comique here in Paris (fond memories of the magic bullet casting scene when I studied the piece in college daze) only to be bored stiff. The music's still cool, but the sets were unimaginative and the whole experience, from the politely belching bourgeois prigs to the right and left of us to the ludicrously expensive flûtes of champagne at half time (well, fuckit, if you've paid a small fortune for the seats, you might as well treat yourself to a libation, 's what I say), was pretty deadly. As somebody (was it Desmond Morris?) once said, one of the major differences between homo sapiens and the rest of the apes was man's ability to let go of things, instead of hanging on for dear life. I'm in the process, it seems, of letting go of pop music – see the Magic I.D. review below – and I think, after the Freischütz experience, I doubt I'll be returning to the opera again. Though I might make an exception for Wozzeck.
Anyway, having promised to write a few words about it (remind me not to make such rash promises any more), I've been thumbing through Kenny Inaoka's ECM 40th Anniversary Catalog, trying to think of something to say about it, other than a big thank you to pianist Nobu Stowe for getting them to send me one. I guess I jumped at the idea because I was expecting some glossy hardback coffee table book filled with high quality full size reproductions of the album covers and in-depth essays on the history of the label. I must have been confusing it with Jost Gebers' FMP box Michael Rosenstein reviewed here last month. Thinking about it, there's no way they could have produced a book that big, as it would have ended up about the size of a British phone box, but, if you're interested, there are photos (5 x 4.5cm) of every single ECM LP and CD cover. If you're interested, I say: as far as I'm concerned they get pretty boring after ECM 1500. Of more use to potential reviewers / completists is the comprehensive list of personnel and recording dates, cross-referenced with an artist / composer index so you can find out at a glance which album everyone from Bach to Zvyagintsev has actually appeared on. It's all jolly impressive, and I'm assuming all the information is correct (in any case I certainly don't have time to nitpick and look for errors), but I do wonder how many times I'll find myself having to dig it out and dust it off before I die. After all, the information it contains could easily be put on a website somewhere, and maybe already has been: I don't have much cause to visit the ECM website these days. I can, though, think of one guy who'll love this: I did once meet someone who actually had every single ECM album - all but one, as it turned out: I gave him my copy of ECM 1237 (Werner Pirchner / Harry Pepl / Jack DeJohnette), I think it was - but that was ten years ago. If you're still out there, Patrick, and still collecting ECMs, bravo.
Meanwhile, special thanks this time round to Natasha Pickowicz for going the distance with percussionist extraordinaire Jon Mueller for this issue's featured interview. Jon's been a favourite musician of mine for years now – and I'm not just saying that because he once invited me to contribute a track to the Folktales series on his late, lamented Crouton Music label – and it's great to read about what he's been up to lately. Hope you think so too. Bonne lecture.-DW.

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Exhibition / Opera

In The Tower: Nam June Paik
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
March 13th - October 2nd, 2011
At first glance, Washington DC would get no one's vote for a Nam June Paik campaign. Especially those stolid, subsidized museums that line either side of the National Mall. In his time, Paik was so far head of the aesthetic curve that he lapped everyone – Karlheinz Stockhausen, George Maciunas, Marshall McLuhan – several times over. Then again, as Paik was fond of saying, "the only way to win a race is to run alone." A singular horse bred thoroughly on tracks as far flung as music composition, performance art and the nascent idiom of telecommunications, Nam June Paik, alas, retired from racing on January 29, 2006. The only link between Darmstadt, Fluxus and the über-budget music videos of today's biggest pop stars, Paik's pasturing was the end of a transmission, a signal whose "global groove" beamed from colonial Korea to gentrified Miami, where complications from his stroke a decade earlier finally vanquished the first ever video star.
And in that regard, perhaps there's not a better city, a more appropriate venue than the reclaimed swampland of America's capital. "Hollywood for ugly people," as her own residents willingly refer to her, Congress is, in reality, no less vapid or image-obsessed than the Screen Actors Guild. After all, Paik himself as we know him here might never have happened were it not for Washington. Or at least DC on TV. Recent history has attributed the presidency of John F. Kennedy, if not the supremacy of the modern moving image, to that fact that on 1960s television, his opponent looked like crook warmed over. And by Washington's standards anyways, a District where Richard Nixon is president may be worse than one where Paik's One Candle, Candle Projection isn't projecting.

To wit, if you enter from Pennsylvania Avenue, walk past the Gauguin exhibit to the freight elevator and take it all the way to the precipice, you'll exit onto the National Gallery of Art's latest "In The Tower" offering. And if it's a G.I. stockpile of Paik videos you're looking for, you'll be a tad disappointed. The corridor is filled with two-dimensional sketches for those seminal video works, studies in doodle which, with the possible exception of a cheeky photo-screenprint gifted by Robert Rauschenberg, aren't worth all that much. Housed below the vaulted glass ceiling designed by I.M. Pei, the whole mise-en-scène is a bit startling, initially. To be fair, Paik's interest in video had piqued a whole year before the JFK vs. Nixon debates. In a letter to John Cage, whom he had met at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse still a summer earlier, he outlined the following composition, of sorts: "The title will be either 'Rondo Allegro,' or 'Allegro Moderato,' or only 'Allegretto.' Which is more beautiful? I use here: Colour projector. Film 2-3 scenes. Strip tease. Boxer. Hen (alive). 6 years girl. Light-piano. Motorcycle and of course sounds. One TV. 'Whole art' in the meaning of Mr. R. Wagner."

We know not what became of this proposed piece, of course, but its description – straight from the horse's pen – is nonetheless indicative of how far Paik had come. Moreover, it speaks further of where he was looking to go. His tenure at the electronic music studio of Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne had already taken him out of the realm of pure, acoustic composition. And by 1963's Exposition of Music: Electronic Television, as the National Gallery's own Harry Cooper writes, "Paik had found his medium." Unlike earlier, yet similar attempts at a Dada Gesamtkunstwerk by bona fide Teutons like Stockhausen's Originale, Paik's works there in Wuppertal were decidedly zen. In a seeming homage to Fountain, Marcel Duchamp's 1917 urinal, Paik turned a television on its side and dubbed it, accordingly, "Zen for TV."
It's precisely that kind of coy, that kind of cool on display through October in the National Gallery's video triptych to Paik. The intended focal point is the aforementioned One Candle, Candle Projection (1988-2000). Here, a video camera records the flicker of a candle in real-time, broadcasting it via closed-circuit signal to an adjacent screen barely able to make it out. The flame is multiplied as well by several projectors that throw the three-color flicker all around the tower walls. "Three Eggs" (1975-82) is Paik's own notion of the Platonic ovule. It features an egg, a closed-circuit recording of that egg, and finally, yet another egg lodged in a TV receiver where the video tube should be. The TVs used are not the garishly anonymous flat screens so common today, but instead a trio of charmingly archaic Sony KV-4000 receivers, tiny marvels of sight and sound which, back then, were the smallest Trinitrons manufactured. The true pièce de résistance though, is 2005's Standing Buddha with Outstretched Hands. True to Paik's perpetual zen, it features a bronze, Pollock-splattered Buddha staring at a stack of four television sets. Life size, hands at his side, Buddha is recorded via – what else? – closed-circuit video, as he gazes back upon himself from the two sets in the middle, while the screens on the top and bottom of the totem play back loops of warm, psychedelic glows. Loaded more than a flame, less prosaic than an egg, Buddha boasts best what Paik was about.
Piece by piece there are bigger, more famous Paiks in Washington than the ones being shown here. Aside from those happenings Dean and Dudley Evenson documented with Paik at the Corcoran Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has long owned the 70 stacked monitors of 1986's Video Flag. The monumental Megatron/Matrix and the iconic Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, both from 1995, presently "hang" in the Smithsonian. In fact, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired Paik's entire estate archive in 2009 and with John Hanhardt at the helm (thee Paik scholar and curator of his landmark 1982 Whitney and Guggenheim 2000 exhibitions, respectively) is mounting a vast retrospective next year. So this latest rummage through the National Gallery's attic won't likely win constituents on breadth or exhaustion – even if Hanhardt is poaching the One Candle, Candle Projection for his forthcoming apportion.
Ultimately, The Washington Post closed its claim saying, "[Paik] is the wrong choice for the National Gallery's "Tower" treatment." And while that may indeed be true, a larger point is lost in such a demonstrative dismissal. For most of the tourists stumbling in amidst the cherry blossoms outside and the Venetian relics underneath, the most edifying piece will be the short survey of Paik's work on repeat to the right of the elevator doors. As with any surface rendering of his life, there's a good many frames given to his explicitly musical pursuits, in particular, those infamously extra-musical endeavors. Interspersed with commentary from Hanhardt, we see Paik banging away at the clavier in an étude for tone clusters and forehead. It's brilliant. And what's a video about Nam June Paik sans Charlotte Moorman? As Michael Nyman noted in Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, "Moorman's cello has surpassed any other instrument, in any era, in the number of uses it has been put to." Accordingly, the video on loop here features snippets, however dated, from all their great collaborations: TV Cello, TV Bra for Living Sculpture and least not the prurient appeal of 1967's Opera Sextronique.
More than a mere career audit or, this being Washington, an artificial also-ran, the small, unassuming screen is perhaps the real centerpiece of the catalog. In an exhibit dedicated primarily to his closed-circuit work, Nam June Paik would no doubt revel in the irony that the most important screen is the one he didn't do. What becomes clear on reception is how his contributions – be they strictly visual or something a little less germane – resulted nevertheless in a kind of primitive video synthesizer. Now, the likes of Shuya Abe and the Videofreex in the Catskills would go on to perfect that device, but as far as offering a prototype replete with idiot-proof instructions goes, Paik did it first. As the academic Paul Hegarty has asserted, "being a crucial part of Nam June Paik's work, sound is a long underplayed element of video art." Sound as image, image as sound, above and beyond what was possible for his epoch, Paik strove to see everything that he heard. Despite the demigod status now afforded him though, he never would become omnipresent. Yet with every waking moment of every politician now on tape forevermore, when it comes to anticipating visual trends in Washington, DC – or anywhere else in the world, for that matter – perhaps Nam June Paik was omniscient after all. Pittsburgh may have Warhol and Houston's got Rothko, but for right now at least, the District of Columbia is all Paik, all the time.–LKY

Bruno Mantovani
Opéra Bastille, Paris
World premiere, March 28th, 2011
For Russians old enough to remember life in the Soviet Union, the poet Akhmatova holds an almost mystical role in the pantheon of artistic resilience, despite a life of unbelievable contrasts (poor girl makes it big in the international art scene, has many lovers, is entrapped by oppressive regime, becomes a legend, is assumed dead, survives though most around her commit suicide or are arrested, outlives regime, becomes famous again). I'm reminded of Boris Pasternak's poem "Hamlet":
The noise dies. I walk on stage.
Leaning on the door frame,
from the far echo I try to gauge
what they'll put against my name.
Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, aka Akhmatova, was one of the premiere poets of the 20th century, and remained a hero for the average Russian until the rampant onset of capitalism turned the Russian Soul into Russian Esprit™. During the entire period of the Soviet empire she was a symbol for millions, a suggestion of hope, a cry of love in the darkness. She became famous in the 1910s, when artists of every ilk, in both Paris and in St. Petersburg, were friends or lovers. Modigliani was both, and painted her numerous times.
Akhmatova had a son, Lev, whose periodic arrests and internments (he was finally released from the gulag in 1956) defined Anna's life. As the opera illustrates, she lived in constant fear of his being murdered by the regime: a very real possibility, since most of the other men close to her were indeed shipped off, arrested, killed, or just disappeared in the camps. Fellow poets Mayakovsky, Esenin and Marina Tsvetaeva committed suicide, but Akhmatova endured, and (to her surprise) was one of the few left standing, still alive when Stalin died. The grim atmosphere is admirably captured by Wolfgang Gussman's sets, which use a sparse black and white color scheme (punctuated by three red things) and enormous sliding geometric elements. Though at first annoyed by the austerity of his costumes and visual approach, I became entranced, as he deployed the same menacing elements again and again in subtly different ways: here was Soviet oppression.

In her Requiem, Akhmatova calls out:
Seventeen months I've pleaded for you to come home.
Flung myself at the hangman's feet.
My terror, oh my son.
And I can't understand.
Now all's eternal confusion.
Who's beast, and who's man?
How long till execution?

Now you might think, given all this painful and gorgeous poetry, that the libretto would flow naturally from the poet's work. But Christophe Ghristi doesn't seem to have made that connection, and his own text is so stilted, literal, and boring that it might have been extracted by some special from an online encyclopedia. Worse yet, the orchestration is annoyingly loud. The singers can hardly be heard over the intermittent din. If ever an opera called for silence, tension, and solo voices – Akhmatova's poetry is usually short and introspective, hers was unquestionably a solo voice – this is it. But composer Bruno Mantovani was determined to get his sounds across, even at the expense of the singers, and certainly at the expense of the comprehensibility of the opera. Though I had an excellent seat, I was completely reliant on the surtitles. (Pasternak again: Night's shadow is focused on me / through a thousand opera-glasses.)
Mantovani's vaguely repetitious score relies on what I'll call orchestral collapses – one imagines the tuba player tumbling into the orchestra pit, and flailing around the bass drums, taking down various earnest performers in his fall. At the end, only the flute or (frequently) the accordion is left playing, softly. Now we all know Ives did this, but he didn't make a habit of it – the famously chaotic Ives crescendo which suddenly grinds to a halt, revealing a solo instrument (the voice of the father?) is nothing like Mantovani's all-too-soon familiar gag of a big orchestra revealing a smaller sound. Why he never thought to reveal the singer, is beyond me. Nonetheless, there is a meaning to this set of sonic failures – the composer undoubtedly wants to communicate the frustrating fits and starts of Akhmatova's life, the endless series of jabs, none fatal but all hurtful, which constituted decades of her life under Soviet terror. Her death scene is particularly pathetic, and completely bizarre, since in fact she isn't dying. It's just to add dramatic tension (but it actually depletes all the energy) while Mantovani gets in some penultimate blurts and farts. The breathtaking poem which closes the opera is deflated by Janina Baechle's overacting, and quite frankly, I was desperate to hear one, just one of her poems in Russian. During the opera, the Akhmatova character arrogantly claims that her poetry is only meant to be appreciated in Russian, not in translation. Despite my limited command of that language, I do appreciate them in her native tongue: they're brilliantly powerful, and the percussive, rolling romantic complexities of Russian would have been an ideal replacement for the vapidity of the opera's last dying notes.
Meanwhile, Pasternak's poem continues:
Yet the sequence of acts is set,
and the end of the road foreseen.
You said it, Boris: by the middle of Act One, we know all too well what's coming: more of the same: grey costumes, grey libretto, gritty music. That's not how Pasternak intended it, of course. Let's view it as he meant it, and consider his poem, especially the last two lines, as a fitting epitaph to Akhmatova's tragically confined life:
I'm alone: the Pharisees are met.
To live is – not to cross a field.


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In Concert

The Rag Factory, London
March 5th and 6th 2011
The first weekend in March saw the debut of London’s newest festival of improvised music, intriguingly entitled As Alike As Trees Over the years, such events have come and gone; Derek Bailey’s Company Weeks and the London Musicians’ Co-operative annual festival are both now history, while Freedom of the City, variously curated by John Coxon, Martin Davidson, Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost, has been one of the highlights of the calendar for the past decade. Nearly as well-established are John Russell’s three-day Fete Quaqua, which runs each August at The Vortex and draws on regulars at his monthly Mopomoso night, and Adam Bohman’s New Year New Sounds week at Battersea Arts Centre.
Like those festivals, As Alike As Trees was run by volunteers on a shoestring budget and relied on the goodwill of many musicians who played for the love of it. That feeling pervaded the whole weekend, creating a friendly, relaxed atmosphere for participants and audience alike. The venue, in keeping with the spirit of the festival, is a non-profit enterprise to “support the creative fabric of London” in a side street off the bustling Brick Lane. As a performance space, it combined comfort and intimacy, although it was rather chilly on the Saturday.
As Alike As Trees was curated by saxophonist David O’Connor and violinist Jennifer Allum, both experienced regulars at Eddie Prévost’s weekly Friday evening improvising workshop. In some ways the festival was like a coming-out party for the workshop, so a little background is appropriate. Each week for over eleven years, it has met in the basement of a South London chapel. Although hundreds of musicians have participated, it typically attracts a floating population of between 15 and 20 players who bring a variety of instruments, equipment or objects to play. Prévost’s stipulations, repeated at the start of each session, are that participants must not play any pre-prepared material and must be prepared to experiment and explore their instruments, with the emphasis always on listening to each other and responding.
In many ways, the ethos and methodology of the workshop hark back to the days of Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra in the late 60s / early 70s, the difference being that the workshop does not expect the working knowledge of popular classics which formed part of the Scratch Orchestra’s repertoire. Like the Scratch Orchestra, the workshop brings together formally trained musicians and enthusiastic amateurs, the mix encouraging the dynamism and creativity of each, and its link to the past is emphasised by the presence of Scratch Orchestra members Prévost and Carol Finer, Cardew’s sons Walter and Horace, and, at As Alike As Trees, the John Tilbury and Michael Parsons.
All but two of the twelve sets spread across the two days of the festival involved workshop regulars (the exceptions being a solo set by Pascal Battus and one by Franco-Swiss group Hubbub) in groups varying in size from duos to a quintet, which gave an accurate picture of the music created each week at the workshop and performed in and around London by its members.
Saxophonist David O’Connor and acoustic guitarist Matthew Olczak opened the festival in subdued fashion, partly reflecting the coldness of the performing space and its acoustics (which O’Connor commented on after the set). If there is such a thing as “a typical workshop sound”, this was it: a slow build-up characterised by small gestures, with O’Connor’s baritone playing evolving slowly and contrasting well with Olczak’s more abrasive interventions.
The following solo from visiting Frenchman Pascal Battus (photo, right) was spellbinding, the audience watching him closely trying to work out how he was generating such a variety of electronic tones. Some explanations were obvious, as when he pulled magnetic tape past a disembodied playback head at varying speeds, others more startling, notably when he held a pickup against one of his temples and literally played his own head. Entertaining stuff.
Saturday evening featured three very different and contrasting sets, beginning with Tim Yates on tin whistle, Russell Callow on percussion and objects, Carole Finer on banjo, Anat Ben-David on voice and electronics and Chris Hyde-Harrison on double bass. Individually, each player performed well, but there was a lack of cohesion and co-ordination in the ensemble. At the workshop, it’s customary for players to employ a wide range of items as sound sources, including shopping bags, hairbrushes and marbles, but I was amused to see - at different stages of the set, and quite independently of each other - Ben-David, Callow and Yates each making sounds by pulling adhesive tape from its roll. It seemed more than mere coincidence, and I waited to see if it was planned in advance and would be taken up by the others, but neither Finer nor Hyde-Harrison obliged.
More coherent was the trio of Allum, Ute Kanngiesser on cello, and trumpeter Matt Davis. Allum and Kanngiesser have played together frequently in a variety of contexts, and were obviously comfortable with each other, while Davis’s trumpet, with or without mute, had no difficulty finding ways to integrate with their interweaving plucked and bowed lines.
The evening was brought to a close by Hubbub, with saxophonists Jean-Luc Guionnet and Bertrand Denzler and guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage sandwiched between Frédéric Blondy’s piano and Edward Perraud’s drums. It was a tight set, with the five musicians playing together throughout, their music characterised by sustained tones from the saxophones and Mariage’s eBowed guitar. Occasional interjections from piano and drums added variety but did not stem the flow of the music, whose continuous stream of subtle shifts in tempo and volume contrasted admirably with the other sets the festival.
The best-attended session of the weekend was on Sunday afternoon, the larger audience doubtless attracted by a rare London appearance of AMM, a duo performance by Prévost and John Tilbury. They were preceded by a subdued set by Walter Cardew and Romauld Wadych on electric guitars, Jerry Wigens on clarinet and David Papapostolou on cello (very workshop, typical of the music to be heard any Friday evening), and the duo of Seymour Wright (saxophone) and Klaus Filip (laptop). From the start, there was a concentrated intensity to their performance, with Wright (photo, left) particularly focussed as he went through his familiar opening routine with his instrument laid out before him. Filip’s tones were barely audible (it transpired that some of them were above the audible frequency threshold for some of the older listeners) but complemented Wright’s playing well. The concentration of the audience often matched that of the musicians as they strained to hear the tiniest sounds. At other times the players were decidedly garrulous, with Wright circular breathing for a prolonged period, generating some of his most assertive playing. His concentration was severely tested, though, by one of The Rag Factory’s numerous cats, which wandered onstage and tried to attract his attention. To Wright’s credit, he carried on regardless, barely batting an eyelid. A true pro.

The beginning of the AMM set caught many members of the audience unawares, shocking quite a few. John Tilbury spent the first five minutes of the set attacking the piano keyboard with a series of violent forearm smashes, allowing the sound of each assault to resonate for as long as possible before delivering the next blow (some people later speculated that Tilbury had been venting his anger at current British government policy at home and abroad, particularly in Libya, but the pianist denies it, saying he just chose to begin differently instead of with the usual low-key opening, and felt he should continue in that vein for a while). Once the torrent had subsided, we were into more familiar AMM territory, with Prévost’s trademark bowed cymbal leading the way into calmer, more beautiful territory. Tilbury moved from the keyboard to inside the piano, deploying eBows as well as preparations. It was an exquisite set, but the memory of those opening minutes remained throughout.
The penultimate set of the festival again emphasised the important role of duo playing at the workshop, bringing together Gabriel Humberstone on percussion and Matt Hammond on tabletop electric guitar to take the audience on a voyage of discovery, warts and all. Hammond’s work recalled Keith Rowe’s on several occasions, and Humberstone’s preference for scraping rather than striking was reminiscent of Burkhard Beins, but, such comparisons aside, the two blended well as a compatible and equal pairing. Definitely names to watch out for in the future.
The day ended with the duo of Sebastian Lexer and Christoph Schiller, the former on enhanced piano, the latter on prepared spinet, a pairing that worked well and brought the festival to a fitting conclusion. All in all, As Alike As Treeswas a very successful event, and one which benefitted as much from the varied and lively contributions of the workshop players as it did from established acts such as AMM and Hubbub. It’s more than earned its right to become a part of the calendar, and many of us are already eagerly anticipating next year’s edition.–JE [Photos courtesy of David O’Connor]

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On Gruenrekorder

Stéphane Garin / Sylvestre Gobart
Well, the title says it all, really. Merely reading the word Auschwitz, let alone Treblinka, Birkenau etc. has already conditioned your response to this album of field recordings made in the abovementioned places. As an example of how titles can affect one's judgement of a work of art prior to experiencing it, this is even better than Penderecki's celebrated Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. If Stéphane Garin (the sound recordist) and Sylvestre Gobart (of whose photographs more later) had called their collaboration something like "Our European Holiday", I doubt anyone would have paid any attention to it all. I know I certainly wouldn't have spent as much time with as I have. As such, I suppose the artists have achieved what they set out to do, make me reflect on the Holocaust: "The relationship between sound and image is at the centre of our work. Through ordinary elements (car engine, dog barking...), sound is what enables the audience to slip gradually towards a certain abstraction, providing a necessary distance for us to penetrate further into thought."
I seriously doubt whether Messrs Garin and Gobart subscribe to the theory that the historical events that occurred in these places somehow still resonate in the sounds that inhabit them today  - their accompanying notes are, after all, undeniably sincere (if a tad arty-farty) and refreshingly free of all that hauntological penmanship - but I'm sure they're aware of, and quite possibly influenced by, their compatriot Guy Debord's concept of psychogeography, which, you will recall, he defined in 1955 as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals" (though I've always wondered what those "precise laws" were). Even so, this project is no dérive; Garin and Gobart didn't just wander into the showers and gas chambers of Majdaneck like a pair of latterday flâneurs - they went there with the precise intention to document what they heard and saw.
Of course, it's perfectly natural - and inevitable, once you've read the album title - to read in (hear in) different levels of meaning (I won't bore you with that old John Berger Van Gogh story from Ways of Seeing again). Cawing ravens above the Auschwitz Crematorium become grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous birds of yore croaking "Nevermore", and the French schoolboy's playground tales in the cité of Drancy ("il s'est battu contre Abdullah!") reminds me of my friend Olivier Brunet's chilling lines in his Fanny's Wedding: "Childhood is something beautiful, but also full of wickedness... [i]t doesn't last, they grow up, become something else, war criminals, hideous fat men, bitter old women, liars, cowards, and finally corpses." Other reviews of the album I've read can't resist the temptation, either: Brian Olewnick hears distant echoes of jackbooted Nazis marching across the square at Auschwitz, and for Richard Pinnell, "the clattering rhythm of moving trains brings with it a disturbing suggestiveness that such a sound wouldn’t have in another context" (hmm, remind me to sell my copy of Steve Reich's Different Trains - I have no desire to listen to that again). But Vital Weekly's Frans de Waard is having none of it: "Just as much as I think that other projects from all of man’s wrong doings, like nuclear disaster sites, is a mere con to sell a project to the world of art. There is not much difference between an empty room and an empty room. The field is innocent, so the forests of Drancy, Auschwitz, Birkenau etc. are as innocent as those around my corner – it’s men idiocy who is responsible the activity that went on there [sic]. You wouldn’t know these sounds came from concentration camps, if you didn’t read it." And, of course, he's right: a bird doesn't sing a different song just because 65 years ago hundreds of human beings were exterminated and thrown into a mass grave lying under the tree whose branch it happens to be perched on.
As Michel Chion observed in his recent Wire Invisible Jukebox, "It's funny that albums of field recordings [..] often include photos of the places as well. But sound and image aren't the same thing. Look out of this window at the rooftops and you know you're in Paris. But the sound in the courtyard below could be anywhere. Cities sound more or less the same the world over." Gobart's photography happily avoids the usual Holocaust imagery - no Arbeit Macht Frei here - yet its austere black and white (make that black and grey-green) and conspicuous lack of people (where are those Drancy schoolkids?) strike a sombre note. Had he shot in gaudy colour, like the deliberately banal images that accompany Emmanuel Holterbach's album reviewed here last time round, our response would be quite different.
Similarly, Garin seems to have gone out of his way to record everyday sounds - yes, as usual, there's plenty of birdsong and traffic noise - but (ironically?) the disc's highlights are those where a clear sense of locality is discernible: the distant string quartet in Majdaneck chugging through Eine kleine Nachtmusik with hilarious wrong notes and morphing it into Chopin, the cheesy but touching music in the Chelmo-Kulmhof Jewish memorial, the Hejnal Mariacki trumpet call from the towers of St. Mary's in Cracow (a pleasant but hardly essential bonus track).
Such flashes of clear local colour aside, most of the sounds on these two discs could, as Chion says, have been recorded just about anywhere. These days there's little stopping anyone with a good pair of mics and a malicious (or sick) sense of humour from recording the sounds of his own city centre, railway station and nearby woodland and selling them off as Hiroshima, Ground Zero, the Somme, Gettysburg or any other site of historical catastrophe you care to mention, the aural equivalent of this canny little business (how long before we get an album of field recordings from Miyagi Prefecture? I'm not joking here..). That said, I'm sure Garin and Gobart's intentions are entirely noble. But the good folks at Gruenrekorder should have exercised a little more quality control somewhere along the line: 45 minutes of this stuff would have been perfectly sufficient. When it comes to the Holocaust, a little goes a long way. Ever seen Nuit et brouillard?–DW

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On Erstwhile

Radu Malfatti / Keith Rowe
Φ is the record of a three-day session that took place at Amann studios in Vienna in November 2010, and is noteworthy for being the first ever collaboration between trombonist Radu Malfatti and tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe. Given the standing and esteem that each of them enjoys, it seems remarkable that they'd never before played together in any context – remarkable, but true.
The album title, the capital Greek letter phi, Φ, was chosen by Rowe. The symbol is used to represent the Golden Ratio, the number that produces shapes most aesthetically pleasing to the human eye, and links to Rowe's own cover art for the album. This shows a dark horizontal line on the white background of a paper on paper piece, the line attempting to divide it according to the Golden Ratio, "attempting perfection on an imperfect surface", as Rowe himself puts it, drawing a parallel between that and the exquisite care he takes to place a single sound in the music.
The results of the session are three contrasting discs, each employing a different methodology, and rather than releasing them separately, Erstwhile has combined them into a triple album containing over two and a half hours of music. It's a sensible artistic decision rather than a commercial one; any one of the three discs would be fascinating on its own, but taken together, their similarities and contrasts illuminate the whole.
For the first disc, each musician chose a composition by a composer they admire; for the second, they selected one of their own compositions; on the third disc they improvise. Photographs of the scores of the four chosen compositions are printed inside the fold-out sleeve, and can also be seen in greater detail on Flickr. There are clear differences of outlook between Malfatti and Rowe, and they surfaced during an informal interview with Erstwhile's Jon Abbey after the session was over (available on the Erstwords blog ). Both have history in improvisation but, since the 90s, Malfatti has gravitated towards pared-down, silence-embracing composition as a member of the Wandelweiser Group, while Rowe continues to play and relish EAI. Both musicians accept that composition has a role to play in structuring improvisation, and Φ reveals both common ground and convergence. The music they made together is presented in its entirety (almost), and in the order that it was recorded, allowing us to follow the journey.
The first disc opens with Malfatti's choice of composition, Exact Dimension Without Insistence by Jürg Frey, a fellow member of the Wandelweiser Group. A typical Wandelweiser composition, it requires players to sound notes – three in quick succession for Malfatti, one for Rowe – repeatedly at specified irregular intervals, with long silences in between. Despite Rowe's aversion to playing pitches ("I got rid of pitches from my performance long time ago," he told Malfatti prior to recording) and even though photos of his table show his instrument to just be the finger trainer rather than a full guitar, he does indeed sound a single guitar note repeatedly, in an enthralling version of the composition apparently edited together from different takes (though that is not obvious). In total, fewer than 50 notes are played across the track's 20-minute duration, but the structure of the composition creates its own dynamics, and the tension is electric.
Rowe's choice of Cornelius Cardew's Solo with Accompaniment is hardly surprising, given Cardew's history with AMM. In the 1964 composition, the "soloist" is required to repeat a selected note, forte, for as long as possible, while the decisions of the "accompanist" are guided by various matrix grids in which symbols along diagonals attract each other and those on the same rank or file repel. With his visual artist's point of view, Rowe was thinking about how they would perform very different compositions "through the same very limiting prism", imagining a version of Solo with Accompaniment that would not be "generic". And his reading with Malfatti does contrast starkly with other available recordings of the piece (by Apartment House and John Tilbury, Michael Duch and Rhodri Davies), not least because it is considerably longer. Malfatti is the soloist, his low notes not unlike those he used on the opening piece, but held longer. Rowe reverts to electronics, most notably sine waves and crackling white noise. The two mainly play together or overlap and the contrasts in tone and texture between their contributions are particularly effective. Only once, at about the six-minute mark, does Rowe break the overall air of tranquility, when he unexpectedly throws in a loud, soaring screech.
Further contrasts between Malfatti and Rowe appear in their own compositions that appear on the second disc. The notes accompanying the score of Malfatti's nariyamu (the Japanese title means "[the] ringing stops", and the piece is dedicated to Jürg Frey) run as follows: "The long notes are calm, quiet and soft. They are between long and very long. The individual pitches are chosen ad lib. The short sounds can be clear sounds or noises, with or without the instrument. They should be very quiet as well." In an orderly structure, the players repeatedly play a series of chords together, followed by single long notes, followed by short sounds. Rowe again deploys electronics, favouring white noise in the chords, which again makes a good complement to the trombone tones. With shorter pauses between its sections, nariyamu has far less silence than either of the pieces on the first disc. Repeated chords dominate, creating an overall drone effect that is soothing and mesmeric but, thanks to the intermittent punctuation of the short sounds, never soporific. As a composition, it's consistent in style and mood with those preceding it.
In comparison, Rowe's piece anticipates the improvisations of disc three, and the shift from one to the other feels like Φ's turning point. Pollock '82 was originally written for and recorded by a Chris Burn Ensemble featuring, among others, John Butcher and John Russell. It's a graphic score consisting of rows of abstract shapes taken from paintings by Jackson Pollock. In the original, each of the eight musician's parts had nine lines of graphics, with numbers bearing individual dedications (for John Tilbury for the piano part, Derek Bailey for the guitar..). For this session, Rowe created a new score especially for Malfatti, and it's noticeably sparser than Rowe's own guitar part. As with any graphic score, there are no specific instructions as to what should be played, leaving interpretation to individual players and thus creating a situation closer to improvisation. Rowe has been interpreting graphic scores since his days with Mike Westbrook's band (when he used to insert graphic images into Westbrook's written scores) and, of course, has performed and studied Cardew's Treatise extensively. His experience shows; the piece is cleverly scored to avoid the players getting in each others way, and is fascinating to listen to while following each player's part. Malfatti deploys an arsenal of expressive breathy sounds, each totally appropriate for the marks on the score, giving meaning to every line, curve and blob; Rowe sticks to electronics, which give him great scope to introduce a range of sounds in response to Pollock's graphics. Whether you could identify it as a composition rather than an improvisation in a blindfold test is a moot point – as preparation for what is to follow, it works perfectly.
And what follows, on the third disc, is the duo freely improvising. On the brief (just over six-minute) preparatory piece, the two keep things low key as if testing each other's boundaries. They both begin with small gestures, metallic taps and breathy sounds from Malfatti, contact mic scrapes and rustles plus hints of hiss from Rowe before there is the sound of a guitar string being struck, followed – for the only time on the album – by his radio playing a snatch of a pop station. In response, Malfatti sounds a confident prolonged note, similar to those used throughout the earlier pieces. Shortly afterwards, the piece fades out.
On the second improvised piece, which lasts a full 47 minutes, Rowe and Malfatti sound as if they have finally negotiated mutually acceptable boundaries. Both are sympathetic to and accommodating of each other, and there are no shocks or unwelcome surprises. They play continually, without any prolonged silences, using the same palette of sounds as on the shorter improvisation. Rowe's radio is conspicuous by its absence, but he does sound occasional guitar notes, and offsets Malfatti's intermittent prolonged booms by high frequency hisses and white noise. For a piece of its length, it's enthralling, and recalls Rowe's comment about every single sound being placed with exquisite care. The playing is wholly compatible with everything on the first two discs, and feels like part of a continuum that began with the Frey composition. Indeed, rather than being a collection of tracks from which "favourites" can be selected, Φ makes more sense if listened to in its entirety. It's a milestone release, and one so rich that it will take many months of listening to fully digest and appreciate.–JE

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On Staubgold

The Magic I.D.
Why, after thoroughly enjoying and waxing lyrical in The Wire for a whole page about their debut album Till My Breath Gives Out three years ago, am I so underwhelmed by this sequel? I mean, it’s not as if anything much has changed: the group is still Margareth Kammerer on vocals and guitar, Christof Kurzmann on vocals, laptop and lloopp (Klaus Filip’s Max/MSP open-source software), and the twinned clarinets of Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski, and the mission is still the same: find and inhabit the common ground between EAI and the pop song (quite a challenge, and one only Kurzmann and his pals seem to have risen to). And once again, the album is beautifully produced, the songs impeccably arranged and performed with customary delicacy and precision.
So why aren’t the hairs standing up on the back of the neck like they did last time? Let’s just say that the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our (EAI) stars, but in ourselves (if you’ll forgive the royal plural): it seems the older I get – or, more to the point, the older my son Max gets, because he’s now at the age (12) when pop music is beginning to mean something important to him – the further pop and rock songs seem to slip away from me. It’s like being on a boat heading out to sea and gazing back at the country you’re sailing from as it disappears over the horizon: an image I’d use for watching your kids grow up too, except that with pop I’m on the boat and the music is what I’m leaving behind, while with Max, he’s the one sailing away and I’m back on land.
I remember someone describing Lou Reed’s 1992 album Magic and Loss as “rock ageing gracefully”, a description I’ve always liked. There’s nothing more ridiculous than strutting around onstage in tight pants when you’re old enough to be the father (maybe even grandfather) of the chicks you’re waving your willy at. Except perhaps dragging your own kids along to see the rockers you used to get your rocks off to when you were their age. I’m delighted that Max likes George Clinton and Donald Fagen – I never forced them on him, honest: he just grew up in a place where they get a lot of airplay – but there’s no way I’d drag him off to see Parliament Funkadelic or Steely Dan in concert. Or myself either, for that matter. Similarly, although I like to know what he’s listening to, there’s no way I’m going to feign enthusiasm for Sexion d’Assaut or Linkin Park.
Most pop songs are about getting laid (or not), getting high, getting rich or getting famous, and at my age only one of those four really matters any more. Even so, though I still love “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Love Comes In Spurts”, they don’t have the same sexual charge they did when I heard them 30+ years ago. And listening to Jarvis Cocker panting and groaning about jerking off in a wardrobe while watching his schoolmates make out is still amusing but not something I’m likely to be doing very often in the years to come.
So what is acceptable subject material for grown-up pop, or New Song Form, as Michael Thieke prefers to call it? Well, there’s religion, politics and death for a start – or if “death” sounds a little extreme, let’s call it “illness” or “loss” – and I’m So Awake / Sleepless I Feel features examples of all three, from the gently insistent atheism of “Mambo” via the steel-drum tinged “In My Dreams”, the dreams being “of my master’s defeat”, to the “nightmares of sudden death” of “Weary” and “Eric Kicks”, Kurzmann’s tribute “ode to Eric Dolphy and his clarinet” (what about the alto sax and flute, Christof?). This latter is one of few upbeat songs on the album – upbeat musically that is, with its light, shuffling rhythm track – but the lyrics, which consist for the most part of Dolphy album and song titles strung together rather tritely, curiously refer to “albums full of human despair”, which is most definitely not what I hear in Dolphy’s playing. Quite the opposite, in fact. “I never got to see him live, it was too late,” laments Kurzmann (who was born a week before me in June 1963), while the clarinets weave the melody of Dolphy’s “The Prophet” in the background. I know it’s a heartfelt tribute to a musical hero, but it sounds frail and rather wimpy.
So does the whole album. It seems everything I loved about its predecessor – the fragility, the subtlety, the cracked, flawed voices of Kammerer and Kurzmann – is failing to connect this time round, for some reason. The drooping Lou Reed cadences that I enjoyed on The Year Of and Till My Breath Gives Out now simply droop, and the torpid chalumeau of the clarinets seems to have sucked the life out of the material, notably on the opening and closing bookend tracks. Some songs – “In My Dreams”, “Weary” – just fizzle out, which was never a problem for me before (after all, post-rock has been about fizzling out ever since Gastr del Sol) but here leaves me feeling frustrated. It’s not so much “whither pop?” as wither, pop. I discussed it with my wife. She just shrugged. “She thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just growing old.”–DW

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Christoph Heemann
Those who missed the extremely limited CDR edition of this work, which I reviewed here, can now quench their thirst with a remastered version on transparent vinyl (though I keep stressing my preference for digital when it comes to "deep listening": no clicks, pops and distortion, and no spell-breaking side flipping). Unlike the Walter Sebald novel it takes its title from, whose plot unfurls in East Anglia, most of the location echoes captured by Christoph Heemann for The Rings Of Saturn seem to come from some northern province of Italy, as certain dialects and soundscapes, though knowledgeably veiled by the processing, are quite familiar to these ears. Evocative appearances are daintily amalgamated with the paradoxes (old fascist marches, mangled muzak, noisy outbursts..) that characterized Heemann's work with HNAS and previous releases such as Invisible Barrier, with early Zappa an improbable yet clear influence. Heemann's compositional lucidity and expertise in placing events here are of the highest order: every detail is circumstantiated, every move makes sense. It's not a sequence of field recordings as much as a demonstration of reverence to Luc Ferrari, and yet, in a way, another temporary escape from reality – or a slight deformation thereof – using modified elements of authenticity to lead the discerning listener through different states. Hallucinations in a medieval village, you might say.–MR

Daniel Menche / Anla Courtis
No wording surplus necessary to urge the immediate grabbing of one of the 300 copies of this LP, apparently named after an Argentinean Werewolf myth. After a start which finds Menche  stomping through snow, "El Relincho" grows in potency and drama through an increasingly chiming union of nail-breaking manual activity and violent metallic clangor (sourced from pizza cans, of all things). Picture a group of speleologists surprised by a horde of unhinged robots, fiercely thrashing their poor victims while self-destructing at the same time. Only small fragments of bone, assorted screws and disconnected electric cables remain when it's all over. "Runa-Utrunco" maintains a degree of naturalness thanks to Menche's walking on rocks, though he sounds like he's washing dishes made of shell and clay in the filthy water of an oasis rivulet. The distant growl-and-thunder generated by Courtis' guitar is fortified by his military occupation of every available space with frequencies ranging from medium to ultra-low, without overstated brutality but intimidating nonetheless, such is the wuthering majesty of those cyclopean groans. The conclusion is more akin to the alteration of some kind of motorized appliance, organic tinkering returning to the fore at last.–MR

This 280-copy limited edition triple-LP box, the sequel to last year's intriguing Roto Vildblomma, will, I suspect, appear in many reviewers' best-of lists. Mohammad – Nikos Veliotis, Coti K and Ilios – seem to have been born to produce ominous sonorities together, and this set definitely places them in favorable position to dominate Subsonic Valley while keeping a residence in Dark Melody County. There may be three discs, each with its own title (respectively, "Malad Van", "Yap Divòce Tectónica" and "Dis Koraci"), but the core of this music is one and only one: the purveying of gaping tremor, either self-sufficient or strategically placed in a basic configuration not describable as a "tune", but maybe a part of one, perhaps conceived by Black Sabbath, played on a mellotron and transposed down an octave. The timbral recipe – cello, double bass and oscillators – leaves no doubt on what the ears identify and descramble for the brain to retransmit to the body. The essential traits are right there: a powerful kind of subliminal throb –  the sort of oscillation that sets loose objects in rattle-and-buzz mode at less than whispered volume – is persistently in motion, almost never absent. Its clutch is occlusive and convincing, the habitual sturdy pulsation materializing in a few seconds. Still, it's not just low-frequency galore. The lyrical material (no better way to call it) revolves around extensive tones intertwined in mournful counterpoint and a quasi-systematic use of glissando, a phenomenon which some scientist should study to understand its emphatic repercussions on human consciousness. Similarly,  the extraordinary morphing hum that characterizes "Ülvi Borzadás" at the onset of the second album would be valuable for therapeutic purposes. On the other hand, "Moniman", the awesome "Tectonica" and "Grad" sound like East-European folk melodies slowed down to tortoise pace, unembroidered funeral marches for the ottava alta. Not to mention a handful of infinitesimal details (including even a barking dog) that underpin the gloomy moods and the sense of physical desolation. Act fast and secure a copy of what is destined to become a cult item.–MR

Opéra Mort
Bimbo Tower
Having already killed off opera with their previous outings and overthrown King Ghédalia Tazartès, with whom they used to appear as Reines d'Angleterre, El-G and Jo Tanz have dug up the corpse of late 70s / early 80s punk-synth-pop and take great delight in throwing stones at it in six boisterous slabs of garbled vocals and synth squiggles'n'swoops, all tastefully rolled in shrouds of sizzle and static and at times underpinned by infectious and nearly danceable (nearly – depends on how much you've had to drink / smoke) grooves. Standout track is “La Video-Surveillance”, which would no doubt make it to a Wire Top Ten Something Or Other List if you cheated and reissued it as a long lost single by Alan Vega and Martin Rev. Odd that my worthy constituents at that noble organ haven't latched onto Opéra Mort yet in their search for all things haunted and hypnagogic. Then again, as that latter term literally refers to the state between being awake and being asleep, and there's precious little chance of dozing off to anything on this album (unlike The Skaters, Pocahaunted and Emeralds, David Keenan's flagship hypnagogic outfits, all of whom I find wonderfully soporific), it's probably not surprising. I'm no great fan of the H words, as you've probably guessed, but I'm having a whale (or should that be wail?) of a time with these machines. My downstairs neighbour is too, as he's screaming obscenities and busily drumming along on his ceiling.–DW

Michel Potage
Alga Marghen
Alga Marghen's chief truffle hunter Emanuele Carcano has unearthed another black nugget of 70s weirdery in the form of Occupé, a cycle of poems written and read (for the most part) by Michel Potage and accompanied by an all-star cast of French nutcases, namely Françoise Achard, Pierre Bastien, Nicole Bernard, Jac Berrocal (on whose D'Avantage label this was once the seventh release, it seems), Roger Ferlet, Jean-Marie Gibbal, Claude Parle and Bernard Vitet. Not forgetting Daniel Deshays, in whose Châtillon studios this was captured for posterity in 1977, with the exception of three tracks, one of which a partial reading of a poem by Gibbal, apparently recorded in a Ford estate car cruising the banks of the Seine by night (the car, “Ford Break”, is listed along with the musicians).
It's a wild and woolly set of pieces, and the lyrics, being poetry, are far from easy to understand – even if you speak French and even following the text in the super 8-page LP-sized booklet, complete with wonderful photos of the session by someone called Horace – but there's some terrific accordion playing from Parle and all manner of strange rumbles, rustles and rips, not to mention bowel movements from Ferlet's trombone and a collection of Tibetan woodwind and brass instruments played by Berrocal and Bastien. Whether the arrangements were scripted in some way in advance, or whether it was just a jolly free-for-all is for you to figure out (I'm inclined to opt for the latter explanation), but once thing's for sure: they don't make rekkids as far out as this any more.–DW

Rick Reed
Elevator Bath
Maybe it's because he's a Texan, but Rick Reed likes things BIG. Using little more than a few old Moog and EMS synths, a sinewave generator and a shortwave radio, he builds vast, spacious sonic edifices – think Eloy's Gaku-no-Michi, Roland Kayn's Tektra, Joe Colley's Disasters Of Self, and Jason Kahn's Vanishing Point, alongside which the 83-minute span of The Way Things Go can stand proudly. Listening to this splendid double album again – and again and again – I've come to the conclusion that the word “drone” should be ceremoniously banned in music journalism. These days it's hard to find a single piece of electronic music, contemporary classical or post-rock or whatever, that doesn't go in for sustained sonorities of some kind, but it's about time we formalised a set of terms to differentiate between them. Reed's “drones” (if it's OK with you, I'll put quotation marks around the wretched word for the time being) are not things to “get inside” (La Monte Young), or, autrement dit, nod off to or paper your walls with. Ambient this is not. Sure, Reed is a master architect when it comes to constructing tower blocks of superimposed synth chords, sinewaves and shortwaves, but he's just as good at pulling the plug and leaving listeners in the dark to find their own way out of them.
For example, “Capitalism: Child Labor”, which begins with a blast of machine noise and inchoate babble that quickly settles into dull monotony. Like child labour, I suppose. Except that it's not dull (the music that is, not child labour): it's oppressive, unsettling, seemingly static but not at all so, with each layer of Reed's mille feuille pulsing and buzzing with barely suppressed dangerous energy. And, as if to remind us of Thomas Hobbes' famous line about life being nasty, brutish and short, it ends with another deadly thud. Or take “Celestial Multiple”, which emerges from the shudder of needle on vinyl, synth swoops and gloops crescendoing ominously before being suddenly swallowed into silence, out of which wavering, slightly queasy loops emerge from behind each other along with strange crunches and what could be (might once have been) birdsong. Eventually all these fade out to leave a glowing synth chord, buried in which is a gently oscillating fourth – though I could have sworn it was a distant police car first time I heard it.
Nope, Ambient this is not: it sucks you in, sticks in your ears, gets under your skin. And there's something about it that just has to be on vinyl: scuffed, scarred, fluttery and flawed, gloriously analogue, a heavy black object to carry through your life. When the skaters have skated out of earshot and the axolotls are extinct, when so-called hypnagogic pop has haunted itself into oblivion and the wolf eyes have closed, to sleep perchance to dream, The Way Things Go will still be slowly revealing its secrets, little by little, into the inner ear of those fortunate enough to own a copy. Make sure you're one of them. (Album of the year – so far!)–DW

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Muhal Richard Abrams
Pi Recordings
New releases by octogenarian Muhal Richard Abrams are always cause for celebration. For over fifty years now, Abrams has been a guiding force in free improvised music as organizer, mentor, leader, composer, and improviser, but he doesn't record nearly often enough. Over the last few years, Pi Recordings have done their best to rectify that situation, putting out a superb solo set from the 1998 Guelph Jazz Festival and a strong trio recording with long-time associates Roscoe Mitchell and George Lewis. This two disc set measures up nicely against those, pairing performances from the 2009 and 2010 annual AACM concerts in New York.
The first CD captures a particularly momentous meeting between the pianist and tenor player Fred Anderson; it's remarkable in that, while Abrams and Anderson were both in the first wave of the AACM and had played together countless times since the 60s, this was their first recording together. It is also one of the final recordings by Anderson, who died eight months after this encounter. But most importantly, the set fully delivers on expectations. It is great to hear Anderson in a pared-back setting, an area he only occasionally explored in his recordings and hardly ever with a pianist. His muscular tone is in full evidence as his phrasing opens up, parrying Abrams' sprays of notes and tumbling torrents. The pianist is pushed as well by the warm, throaty cries of his partner. What comes through here is the deep experience of the two players: the way they invest simple kernels of ideas with rich import, letting the freely flowing conversation breathe as it shifts between pools of calm and surges of energy. There's a soulful melodicism throughout too, which builds dramatically to a passion-stoked conclusion.
The second disc, recorded at the 2010 festival, features Abrams with George Lewis on trombone and laptop. Lewis was part of the second generation of AACM musicians, and has played with Abrams since the 70s in a variety of contexts, from groups led by Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton to Muhal's own units (he was a member of Anderson's ensemble in the 70s) so this meeting is a fitting pairing. Lewis has been working with tapes and electronics for years now (I remember hearing him working with relatively crude interactive systems back in the 80s), yet somehow, as technology has become more advanced and the use of electronics has become commonplace in improvised settings, his computer music has become less interesting, relying too much on faux orchestral washes and lackluster tweaked, distorted sounds. That said, the duo with Abrams still has much to offer, particularly when Lewis picks up his trombone. Check out the second part of the four-part suite where his braying lines and rapid-fire bustle push up against the pianist's clusters and swelling flourishes. The final, extended section also catches fire, with Abrams' lines looping and spilling over Lewis's trombone and electronic clatter. Kudos to Pi Recordings for their ongoing dedication to this master.–MRo

Jennifer Allum/Eddie Prévost
I have to admit I had to look up the meaning of the word "penumbrae" as my astronomical terminology is a bit rusty. The reference to "the partial or imperfect shadow outside the complete shadow of an opaque body (such as a planet)" clicks right in to place when listening to this superlative duo of violinist Jennifer Allum and percussionist Eddie Prévost. Allum, a member of Prévost's weekly workshops, has been performing regularly around London in improvised settings as well as with the Post Quartet, a string quartet which she helped found. This recording takes the form of a series of "investigations" into the interaction of bowed objects: Allum makes use of a 17th-century German bow and a 'conveyor-belt' bow, while Prévost sticks to bowed percussion, laying out shimmering waves of excited harmonics and overtones from tam tam and small cymbals. Over the course of four improvisations, what slowly and lucidly emerges is a focused voyage of sonic interplay. In lesser hands, limiting the music to bowed surfaces could easily come off as a contrivance. Here, the two approach their improvisations with conviction and bracing detail. Control is the key, with both musicians using attack and decay, resonance and a honed attention to the qualities of string and metal to create mercurial striations across a precise trajectory. This is a release which continues to reveal itself with concentrated listening over a number of plays and is one that I've found myself returning to often.–MRo

Tim Berne
Clean Feed
For over three decades, saxophonist Tim Berne has proved himself to be one of the more consistently intriguing ensemble leaders in free jazz. With Berne, it’s always about the group: how the voices fit together, how they extend the vocabulary of free jazz, and how they develop a collective sound that is more than just a string of torrid solos. While he’s always assembled killer small groups, he’s rarely had the opportunity to front a larger ensemble, so it’s hard to believe this session sat unissued for well over a decade, particularly with such an all-star cast: Bloodcount, Berne's core working group at the time with clarinettist Chris Speed, bassist Michael Formanek and percussionist Jim Black, was augmented with long-time musical partner Marc Ducret on 12-string guitar, Erik Friedlander on cello, Dominique Pifarély on violin and Baikida Carroll on trumpet. The music sounds as fresh now as it did back in 1997 when it was recorded.
Berne’s open-ended compositional forms provide the structures for the eight improvisers as they make their way across 30-minute readings of “The Proposal” and “oPEN, cOMA”, traversing quirky sonorities and shifting rhythmic cells and massing together for collective passages which break open for trenchant solos by each of the musicians. Speed's clarinet plays off Berne's strident alto and dark baritone to great effect, Ducret’s steely 12-string guitar makes for an intriguing break from his skronky electric playing, and Friedlander and Pifarély switch easily from cutting solo work to lush arco and bristling counterpoint. As free as things get, there’s always an underpinning of open groove reminiscent of Berne’s mentor Julius Hemphill, and considering how integral Baikida Carroll was to Hemphill’s music, it’s astonishing that this is the only time he and Berne have recorded together. The trumpeter's rich tone and penetrating melodicism are prominent throughout, particularly in an awe-inspiring duo with Friedlander half way through “oPEN, cOMA.” Of course, Formanek and Black are the indefatigable backbone to the session, propelling the music with a pliant sense of time while adding their distinctive individual voices to the mix. There are times when the music sprawls a bit, but Berne and his musicians know just how to turn things around and pull the improvisations back in to focus.–MRo

Evan Parker has been interacting with electronics for much of his career, though never in quite the way he’s heard here. Meeting DJ Sniff (Takuro Mizuta Lippit) at a festival where he was using records of other improvisers, Parker asked the turntablist if he’d be interested in working with his records, ultimately sending him a substantial package. Working in STEIM’s Studio 3 in Amsterdam and “trying to reflect the liveness of Evan Parker’s solo recordings,” Sniff employed turntables and other electronics to transform extracts of the saxophonist’s playing into the works heard here. In the process, Parker’s long solos are anatomized into micro-gestures that are then repeated and varied, magnified and multiplied, with post-production exploding cognition into recognition, the event assuming other meanings in the process. The same thing heard repeatedly is not the same thing at all.
Parker’s broad, ever-shifting, timbral palette changes shape drastically: the first track isolates a tenor sound that suggests a dentist’s drill. Some pieces render his saxophone sound more conventionally; others may suggest a duck-based cartoon character. Among the most interesting tracks are those in which Sniff has employed ensemble recordings: “Three” includes very loose drumming as well as saxophone and its repeating scratch creates a kind of rhythmic regularity – a bar – which seems very new to the music. The same is true of “Eight”, where the presence of a trombone repeating a bass note gives a new order, a latent orchestra piece that is both impending and absolute. A pair of exercises in which Sniff works with very slow rotations result in Parker’s saxophone sounding either like an accordion (“Interlude 1”) or a dying animal (“Interlude 2”). Expanding his methodology further still, the DJ concludes the CD with three compositions developed not only from Parker’s recordings but also those of other improvisers. This is consistently arresting work, a thoughtful examination of familiar work that takes on a mind of its own.–SB

Tatsuya Nakatani / Michel Doneda
Alessandra Rombolá / Michel Doneda
Michel Doneda / Jonas Kocher / Christoph Schiller
Another Timbre
In the early 2000s, saxophonist Michel Doneda was putting out an astonishing number of recordings (about 25 between 1999 and 2005 by my count), but since then, he's been relatively quiet. So it's good to see this strong batch of recent work hit. Doneda's 2004 collaboration with Tatsuya Nakatani and Jack Wright on soseditions was a stunner, so it's great to see Nakatani inaugurate his new label with a duo he and Doneda recorded in New York in September 2007. Nakatani's hyper-nuanced approach to his percussion set-up is the perfect complement to Doneda's soprano and sopranino. This is a far more active session than their trio, but no less meticulous. The percussionist bows, taps, rubs, and strikes his array of drums, cymbals, gongs, and prayer bowls, subtly accentuating every overtone, resonance, and vibration. Doneda's trills, gusts, sputters, flickering overblown notes, and burred oscillations are always responsive, as the duo navigate their way across these six compact improvisations like two dancers, the music held together by careful listening and control.
Overdeveloped Pigeons is a great name but doesn't begin to capture the sonic ground covered by this meeting between Doneda and Madrid-based Alessandra Rombolá. The flautist is a deft, classically trained improviser, who is rightfully starting to get some visibility, and she also uses "tiles and ceramic objects," extending the palette with scratches, scrapes, and clatter. Doneda's hissing overblowing and reedy buzzes perfectly complement her bent trills and smears. He's also credited with "radio and objects," adding percussive clicks, squeaks, and, on one piece, what sounds like a zither. The five pieces are full of conversational back-and-forth as the two weave together long strident tones and active flurries. Doneda has always had a keen ear for instrumental combinations, whether like-minded reed players, koto, or hurdy-gurdy, and with Rombolá he's found an especially fruitful partner; let's hope there's more in the works from these two.
Last up here is the most recent release of the bunch, and a particularly strong one from a trio with Doneda, accordionist Jonas Kocher, and spinet player Christoph Schiller. The session was recorded in June, 2010 at a church in Ligerz, Switzerland located on a hillside in the middle of a vineyard. Like the two releases above, the instrumentation is integral to the way this session unfolds. While Kocher had previously augmented his accordion with electronics, he's now sticking solely to the acoustic instrument, creating whispered drones and pulsing dark chords colored with the patter of keys and buttons. I'd not heard of Schiller before his stellar duo with tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch (part of Another Timbre's recent brass series), and his spinet, extended through the use of preparations and eBow, adds a steely, percussive resonance to the mix. Doneda sticks to soprano here, moving between multiphonic overblowing, pinched and clipped attack, and breathy exhalations. The two extended improvisations are models of collective listening, and as always, Simon Reynell captures the way that the musicians interact with the performance space with salient clarity, allowing ambient sounds from outside the church to drift and mix naturally into the music as it unfolds. Another winner from the ever-reliable Another Timbre, well worth searching out.–MRo

Peter Evans / Agustí Fernández / Mats Gustafsson
Funny, every time I run into Mats Gustafsson he talks about that stinging "Muscle Mary Mats" putdown in John Gill's article here a few years back. In that piece, you may recall, Gill, probably because he was sitting too close to The Thing at the Jazz em Agosto fest in Lisbon back in 2004 and got splattered with blood / sweat / tears (delete where appropriate), was pretty unimpressed by the, shall we say, muscularity of Mats's baritone playing. Well John dear, you'd better give this one a wide berth too. It looks as if, for sheer lungpower, Mats has met his match in Peter Evans, who does things on the trumpet even diehard Rahsaan Roland Kirk fans might have a hard time believing. Even Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández, who's no mean keyboard pummeler when he puts his mind to it, sometimes has to take a back seat and let the horns go it alone.
That said, there's much more to Kopros Lithos (the title translates roughly as "old shit" by the way) than blast and bluster. Recorded in December 2009 at the Dragon Club in Poznan, Poland, these four tracks - their titles extracted from Robert Creeley's Drawn & Quartered – showcase nuance and finesse as much as technical bravura, but the subtle pitch play and turn-on-a-dime exchange of ideas is all too easily overlooked when the temperature rises and the sweat starts flying. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of people who whoop and holler at free jazz concerts like flag-waving party activists at the G.O.P. National Convention. Men mostly, too, breeding furiously with themselves while noone’s looking, as if the only thing that matters in music (in life?) is getting yer rocks off. It’s the journey to and from the climactic moment that makes the experience special – enjoy Muscle Mats, Power Pete and Fisty Fernández’s orgasms by all means, but don’t forget to pay attention to the foreplay and the post-coital tenderness too.–DW

Ferran Fages / Robin Hayward / Nikos Veliotis
Organized Music from Thessaloniki
The back story here is that Ferran Fages and Nikos Veliotis were performing in a festival in Athens and Robin Hayward happened to be traveling through, so the three convened at a friend's apartment for dinner and an intimate performance. Fages sticks to computer generated sine waves, balanced (pitch-wise) by Hayward's "microtonal tuba," with Veliotis's cello harmonics filling out the range. The 31-minute piece starts out with layers of billowing tones and textures which gather weight and presence. While on the surface the music is a collective drone, there's more to it than that. There are times when the voices converge on fluttering patterns, but then Hayward's deep sonic cushion drop out, Fages' whispered siren tones cut through or build to an organ-like richness, or Veliotis's oscillating overtones buzz and saw. What makes this work is how the three let the improvisation breathe, knowing just when to break things open or plunge into silence. And most importantly, they know how to draw things to a tension-filled close. Ah, to have been in the living room for this one…–MRo

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Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Clean Feed
First things first: the piss-taking cover reference this time around is to Jarrett's Köln Concert, and each member of MOPDTK is captured in ECM black and white, hilariously skewering the solo solemnity. You couldn't imagine a musical exemplar more opposed to this group's swagger. For their first disc away from the Hot Cup label, the quartet specializing in serious play (bassist and leader Moppa Elliott, trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and drummer Kevin Shea) delivers up a two-disc live helping from Coimbra. It's nice to finally have a live document for those curious about their splice-and-dice methodology (recently articulated in a Signal to Noise feature). They're in fine fettle throughout, with a playful sensibility that allows them – even urges them – to romp through variegated terrains, from free heat to lovingly rendered bop, swing, and pranks all mashed up into a singular sound. There are nine tracks in all, each taking off from a Moppa Elliott tune but moving from this compositional base into who knows where? The method is one of free association, collage and interpolation, where each member can pick up the thread of veto it as he sees or hears fit.
It's a tough thing to do without sounding dilettantish or unfocused, depending on the group. But MOPDTK pulls it off gloriously (even including some uncredited work on electronics here and there). Evans and Irabagon are outrageous as ever, but it's really the group sound – with its riotous shifts in tempo, wrench-in-the-works affinity, and keen responsiveness/playfulness – that compels. They wend their way, unpredictably and dizzyingly, between tunes in splenetic, densely packed minutes, from "Drainlick" to "Shamokin," taking basic, often fairly simple materials (such as the sassy "Pen Argyll") and filling them with a bestiary of details, making a deranged rococo of their performances, and stuffing them with slivers and references that go by so quickly they never tire, only delight (look, there's "Airegin," and "Nutty," and "Night in Tunisia," a faint echo of a Giuffre tune, and – wait – was that really just a nod to Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express"?). Or they take serious complexity, as with the total tempo madness of "Round Bottom, Square Top," and make it sound so easy and elegant. Even when they break down into free passages, they pursue independent motion and multiple tempos rather than simply sawing away at extended techniques. In this, "Burning Well" and "St. Mary's Proctor" create the greatest frisson, like some jazz naked singularity, where everything ever played is heard at once.
Does humor belong in music? That's a question that often gets put to this band of mischief-makers, just as it was put to Rahsaan and Zappa and the Kollektief. But really, how churlish is it to single out one element of such a rich, fully alive band? It's just seriously good shit.–JB

No Hermanos Carrasco
As a genre, or sub-genre, of improvised music, if genre it is (the jury's still out on whether improvised music itself can or should be considered as such), what I once dubbed “environmental improv”, i.e. when musicians get out of the concert hall or the studio and take it to the streets (or forests – as I guess Brötzmann and Bennink's Schwarzwaldfahrt is the first example of this stuff), has produced some intriguing documents in recent times. Personal favourites include Kuwayama-Kijima's 01.06.16 on Bernhard Günter's trente oiseaux label, Forge, Epinat and Bertholon's Duo (2005) on Creative Sources, Tamio Shiraishi and Sean Meehan's Annual Summer Concerts on GD Stereo (2006), and, if, for once, I might be allowed to blow my own trumpet, Métro Pré Saint Gervais on Chloë with Jean-Luc Guionnet and Eric La Casa. But while all of the above raise interesting (I hope) questions about our perception of space and time, and where to draw Cage's line between Life and Art, this latest offering by saxophonist Edén and violinist Nicolás Carrasco, is especially thought-provoking, and as problematic as it is enjoyable.
The two extended tracks – there's a third, actually, but it's a two-minute silence between them – find the musicians in, respectively, what sounds like a funfair and a park (a zoo?) in Santiago de Chile, which means there's plenty to listen to even without their instrumental contributions. Just as well, perhaps, because, as card-carrying Wandelweiser aficionados (check out Nicolás's versions of pages from Manfred Werder's ein(e) ausführende(r) at, the Carrascos don't actually seem to be doing that much at all. Or they are, it's being swallowed up by the sounds of the world around them. Now, I have no problem with the far reaches of minimalist / reductionist / lowercase extended techniques, but I do like to hear what's going on, and especially how it connects with the surrounding environment. “I suppose the logical conclusion to all the field recording stuff is that we stop making records altogether and just listen to the world around us,” John Butcher remarked ruefully to me a few years ago. Certainly, if you wished to compare the sounds produced by the musicians to the howls, hoots, crashes, crunches, squeaks and squeals of the places they're playing in, you'd probably conclude that Life is far more interesting than Art, and that the contributions of humanity to the world at large are piddling and insignificant. Until you realise that a lot of those sounds are man-made too. Ah, maybe that's the point: we are all musicians, in a way (birds included, I suppose – I imagine Eric Dolphy and Misha Mengelberg wouldn't disagree with that).
But that doesn't seem satisfactory, somehow. Much as I enjoy listening to the sounds of the world around me, or to other people's recordings of the world around them, I still believe that musicians have a contribution to make. I can think of several instances where environmental sound has touched me enormously (the “silence” of the Grand Canyon, an unexpected dawn chorus at 4am in streets of Paris, a single-engine plane flying high above an Alpine valley..) but I can't recall any that have moved me to tears. Whereas it'd take a while to list all the pieces of music that have passed what my father calls “the tearduct test”. What I'm getting at is that I'd have liked a little more Art and less Life here, a little more Carrasco and a little less Santiago (not that that would have been really possible, given the circumstances of the recording). And maybe, though this is probably asking too much, a little more musical response to the environment. Nothing so crude as Edén honking along with the geese or whatever they are or Nicolás imitating the squeal of brakes, but, well.. something. That doesn't stop me enjoying the album and wholeheartedly recommending it to you, but.. pick up a copy for yourself and see what you think.–DW

Howard Riley
No Business
By the time you make it through all six discs of The Complete Short Stories, it'll be clear to you that Englishman Howard Riley is one of the most consummate improvising pianists working today. Though not exactly a career overview – it's more a slice of his recent work – this set does provide an excellent lens to look back over Riley's discography with a new sense of understanding, and of being invited into a very personal space. It's hard to say why Riley isn't mentioned in the same breath as improvising pianist-composers like Alexander von Schlippenbach or Irène Schweizer. He hasn't been recorded quite as much, but has nonetheless been very active on the international jazz scene since recording his first LP in 1967 for Chris Wellard's Opportunity imprint, an excellent trio side with bassist Barry Guy and drummer Jon Hiseman titled Discussions (reissued on CD by Jazzprint). Mining seams first broached by Bill Evans and Paul Bley, Riley worked a rougher, going-for-broke interdependence that was later smoothed ever so slightly for a pair of CBS LPs (1968's Angle and 1970's The Day Will Come, with Alan Jackson in for Hiseman) that presented concise, minimalist nuggets of freedom and tunefulness. Joining forces in the 1970s with the crop of British improvisers like percussionists Tony Oxley and John Stevens, violinist Phillip Wachsmann, and pianist Keith Tippett, Riley and frequent partner Guy forged a language of poised rigor, approaching free music with classical balance and organization.
Riley's work has involved a continual paring away, developing a kind of musical materialism as he has moved further from traditional song structures. This was made even clearer through fixing the piano and bass in the ensemble's personnel while employing a number of increasingly liberated percussionists. But through it all Howard Riley was plainly visible, his improvisations increasingly using the piano strings, soundboard, preparations and the wooden frame to expand the palette. In addition to solo outings, in the 70s and 80s he also recorded albums of overdubbed pianos – two or three – deepening the range of pianistic interplay to an orchestral self-dialogue.
Four of the six discs of The Complete Short Stories were previously released as Short Stories and Short Stories Volume Two, on ESProductions (no relation to Bernard Stollman's imprint!) and Slam, respectively. The pieces were recorded in 1998, 1999, 2004, and 2006. This set adds an additional disc's worth of new material from 2008 as well as another disc (from 2010) reinterpreting some of the previous compositions in longer forms. In all, there are 79 tunes and improvisations here, though some reprise earlier themes (for example, "Dedication" recalls "Winter" on The Day Will Come). These pieces, which generally hover around the five-minutes-or-less mark, find Riley continually building on top of the foundations of his art. Here he's brought a full-circle synthesis of his influences – Monk, Teddy Wilson, Jaki Byard, and Arnold Schoenberg – to the fore, while retaining the weight and daring of his earlier work.
Byard makes for an interesting comparison; he and Riley recorded a set of piano duets on "Round Midnight" and "Straight, No Chaser" in 1987 for Leo Records (Live at the Royal Festival Hall), and the way that each player moves through stride, romanticism, atonality and dense, freeish clusters shows their mutual understanding of 20th century piano music. But whereas Byard's work merges these variant approaches in abrupt, volcanic guffaws – especially around the time he was working with Mingus – Riley's approach is more unified. The pieces on Short Stories are defiantly and exuberantly resolute. "Branching" starts off as a near-stomp, two hands moving gradually away from one another into glassy, overlapping differentials, yet retaining a sense of swing. Riley's percussive attack is reminiscent of the volumetric solo work of Matthew Shipp, who might be his closest current analog. The swirling, cellular movement of overlapping flecks on "Shenanigans" certainly suggests a relationship between the two pianists, though Riley's florid passages are lighter than Shipp's. The short, expansive units at the outset of Volume Two's opener, "Geocentric One," are a nod to Cecil Taylor, shoring up rolling gospel, blues and Harlem with hall-reverberating classicism. "Up and Downs" contains a humorous clamber, thick left hand gradually traversing beat contours as the right embellishes with twists, backhanded runs and declarative pulpit-pounding.
From the Monkish pile-ups of "Palmate" to more rustling, dissonant pieces, there is at heart a natural inclination toward soulful romance, as well as strong, in-the-pocket blues and gospel phrasing. In many ways, Howard Riley is a traditionalist. The Complete Short Stories is the fullest exploration of his art that I have yet heard, and an essential set of modern piano music that should find a place on the shelves of any follower of the instrument in jazz and creative music.–CA

Those close to the venerable saxophone quartet suggest that the group was less than fully satisfied with 2007's The Jukebox Suite, though it hardly seems fair to single out this provocative album from a terrific run over the last few years (and hey, I dug it). Regardless of that appraisal, however, Planetary is a corker. ROVA has often switched between albums that are relatively heavy on collaborations, on repertoire (theirs and others'), and on more or less exercise pieces. If that latter term sounds derisive, it's very much not: game pieces, graphic scores, and the like have often served as some of ROVA's most energizing source materials, and the six pieces on Planetary (two from 2003 and the rest from 2009, all of them by either Steve Adams or Larry Ochs) prove the truth of this.
"Parallel Construction #1" shows how vividly the band can use melody without being hamstrung by it, using the openness of certain well-constructed, pliable lines as a platform for multi-directional exploration. Here, it's a long, slow melody that sounds fully improvised, from the opening Jon Raskin statements to the unisons that sound like a glorious medieval canon. The churning riffs of "S" are pure Ochs, with lots of big, piping backgrounds, the whole like a metallic hurdy-gurdy. "Flip Trap" features an incredible duo for Adams' alto and Bruce Ackley's soprano, starting out gruff and intense and then morphing almost imperceptibly into something fragile sounding, almost vaporous. It's continually amazed me how deftly and gracefully ROVA can navigate structures like these, not only in terms of how they move between composed and free materials (or interpret relatively open-ended constructs) but in terms of how they swing from fragment to fragment without obvious flag-waving or signaling. Just consider "Glass Head Concretion," whose cool serenity might initially signal "new music" but – after a lovely gliss from sopranino – they could almost be cooing and strolling in some 1930s Kansas City band, that is, until the piece stutters its way into a field of static, little burrs, and cries. The title track, originally from 1995, opens with still more righteous swing, and is apparently rooted in what Ochs calls "a structural-improvisational" game. But it's hard to believe that a piece this richly balanced and considered is mostly improvised. There are fulsome chords, unisons, dazzling counterpoint, little cells and solos, you name it. But then, when a group has been this exploratory for this long, these kinds of things are possible (putting the lie to the notion that the first time is the best time in improv). And then after "Parallel Construction #2," which opens with a glorious section of Bartokian dances, an hour has somehow gone by.
Playful and serious at once, lyrical and out, this band draws together so many different ideas and idioms, it's not so much about inventing new languages as rejecting certain languages that would see things as opposed. ROVA again moves from strength to strength. Long may they thrive.–JB

Rafael Toral
As I wrote in last month's Wire, I was genuinely surprised to see so many people walking out of Rafael Toral and César Burago's set at the Présences Electronique fest here in Paris a month or so back. Several fine musicians of my acquaintance were among them, and I've since learned that some of my favourite journalists have also been somewhat underwhelmed by this latest chapter of Toral's ongoing Space Program. Of course, if you associate Rafael Toral with the comfortable drones of Wave Field, chances are you're not going to like this. It's spiky, often confrontational, pitting him and his home-made electronic instruments (no, I won't bother to list them all this time) against various invited guests, including the abovementioned Burago (percussion), drummers Afonso Simões, Marco Franco and Tatsuya Nakatani, Victor Gama (acrux, i.e. an assemblage of metal blades mounted on an acrylic plate played somewhat like a kalimba), Toshio Kajiwara (lapsteel) and Riccardo Dillon Wanke (Fender Rhodes) in eight relatively brief untitled (unfortunately, perhaps) pieces. It's clear upon listening that Toral has mastered his instruments, but - I suspect - not entirely: there's a refreshing sense of danger to it all, a rather thrilling feeling that one of these spaceships might suddenly lurch out of orbit and produce a feedback howl worthy of Donald Miller. And there's a real sense of interplay within the ensemble, a willingness to develop and exchange musical ideas. I'm perfectly happy to call it "jazz", though I know Toral has reservations about that term, coming as it does freighted with all kinds of expectation and prejudice, and see it as a distant Portuguese cousin of Patrick Gleeson's work with Herbie Hancock (and a not-too-distant cousin of the late, great Michel Waiswisz's pioneering experiments up the road in Amsterdam). It's beautifully recorded, executed with precision and delicacy and sounds great, whatever you want to call it.–DW

Nate Wooley Quintet
Clean Feed
Nate Wooley has a compound identity as a trumpeter. On one hand, he's created a body of work in free improvisation (as a soloist and in duos with Paul Lytton, Chris Forsyth and Peter Evans) preoccupied with exploring the trumpet's sonic possibilities and issues of space, duration and free interaction. Conversely, he's also a sideman in some highly creative but more traditional jazz groups, like the Daniel Levin Quartet and Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day. Wooley's own quintet dates from 2008, and it clearly represents a coming-together of those interests, an attentiveness to both the minutiae of sound and the exploration of group relations within loose forms, the combination creating profoundly nuanced work.
The Levin and Eisenstadt groups are mentioned here for more than a casual CV: the Wooley quintet has a closely related instrumentation to both and with them articulates a very specific tradition. The trumpeter shares the front-line with Josh Sinton, here a dedicated bass clarinettist, there's a rhythm section of bassist Eivind Opsvik on bass and Eisenstadt on drums and vibraphonist Mat Moran covers the middle ground (chordal, comping) usually reserved for a piano. Moran is a member of the Levin group and the quintet-with-vibraphone format is similar to Eisenstadt's own band. It establishes a common parallel to several bands that recorded for Blue Note in the 60s, led by Jackie McLean, Don Cherry and most notably Eric Dolphy, and it reflects an historical sense of a group language that all of those bands participated in—funk and freedom, the etched and the resonant, the lingering electric haze of the vibraphone—right down to the slinky, soulful figure that introduces the Wooley quintet on the shifting "Hands Together." While Sinton's bass clarinet—often in his hands a vocalic explosion—might seem like special homage to Dolphy's Out to Lunch, it also emphasizes a particular layering of overtone patterns with the trumpet and vibraphone that contributes to the band's sonic character.
Before "Come Together," you've already had an introductory unaccompanied trumpet solo on the first of three versions of a piece called "Shanda Lea." As that repeating theme suggests, Wooley's interests in reflection and recirculation are often at the fore: the CD's bracketing solos can evoke shakuhachi meditations and the chattering muted trumpets of New Orleans, like a Joe Oliver discourse on the dharma. That sense of return is so strong that the last group piece, "Hazel," is a round with bass and bass clarinet picking up the trumpet melody. While there are relatively brief, chamber music-like reveries, like the stately "Erna" and the brief and evanescent "Pearl," which emphasize composition and texture, the most engaging music here is also the most sustained: longer group explorations like "Cecelia," a piece that superimposes a rapid pointillist line atop hovering vibes and bass. In its development, it doesn't just present a string of soloists but a continuous dialogue in which each new lead voice emerges organically from both composition and collective, highlighting the individual contributions of Moran, Opsvik and Eisenstadt. 
There's a special grace in Nate Wooley's lines throughout, a sense of order and sequence that will link the warmest melodic extrusion, interpolated quarter-tone run, sudden Bronx cheer and spear-like blast of pure brass. This is music of the first order, attentiveness to sonic detail informing its every gesture.–SB

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John Cage
Discovering John Cage's Credo in Us (1942) on the (now long out of print) EMI 4LP set Music Before Revolution in the record library of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester as an impressionable teen was another one of those, as they say in the back pages of The Wire, epiphanies. Shame it hasn't been reissued, or – unless I've missed something – found its way online as a rip in one of the "sharity" blogs, because my old cassette copy just won't play anymore. Not that there's any shortage of recordings of the works it contains, though: the online John Cage Database lists no fewer than 11 currently available (in theory) versions of Credo, and at least half a dozen of each of the Imaginary Landscapes, with the exception of No.5 (which is probably not surprising, since it's a tape collage work calling for 42 existing phonograph recordings – one wonders then what it's doing on a disc entitled The Works For Percussion, but never mind).
The first Imaginary Landscape, for two variable speed turntables, frequency recordings, prepared piano and cymbal, was written in 1939, and is arguably the earliest piece of live electronic music (depending on how you define that), and must be the first to use a turntable as an instrument in its own right. Its ghostly theremin-like wails and sweeping inside piano glissandi still sound deliciously weird. Written three years later, Imaginary Landscape No.2, for percussion quintet (the instrumentation also includes an amplified Slinky and a doorbell buzzer) sounds somewhat more conventional, notably in its deliberate (ironic) incorporation of march rhythms played on tin cans. Imaginary Landscape No.3, which was actually written just before No.2, is another one of Cage's "intentionally expressive" works of the period, and one imagines any resemblance to exploding bombs and air-raid sirens was not purely coincidental. Similarly, Credo's incorporation of cowboy tunes, boogie-woogie piano, not to mention the furious assault on (phonograph recordings of) much-loved classical chestnuts, was meant as a biting satire of bourgeois society. It's still a blast to listen to – and the CD contains two versions for your delectation and delight, one gleefully butchering Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, the other taking on Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Suppé - but it does come across as a little heavy-handed.
By the end of the 40s Cage had, wisely one feels, decided to stand back from his music a little, and turned to the trusty I-Ching to organise the details of Imaginary Landscape No.4 (1951 –  watch out: the CD booklet erroneously marks the date of the first version as 1942), which is scored for 12 radios, each played by two performers – one to change channels, the other to twiddle the volume knob. The Pop Art-y collages of everything from baseball to Beatles, Herbie to hiphop are fun, but seem a little slight. More impressive are Michael Barnhart's two tape realisations of Imaginary Landscape No.5, the first following Cage's own inclination to use jazz records (ha, let's see how many of the 42 you can spot), the second using Cage's own music. As usual for Mode, the performances, by the Percussion Group Cincinnati, are solid, the recordings are superb and the liner notes by Paul Cox well-written and well-informed. I do wish I could track down that EMI set again though, if only for the hilarious and truly vicious buzzer on Credo.–DW

Morton Feldman
Sub Rosa
At some point, all but completists have bemoaned the reissue. And for good reason: six times out of ten, it’s just not necessary. How far down the line do we have to go to get to the definitive thing? With jazz and pop, there’s a seemingly infinite number of titles to re-purpose. Classical music, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as resourceful. It simply lacks the catalog. Double that, then, for contemporary classical music.
Apropos, we have the present re-recording of Triadic Memories. Belgian pianist Jean-Luc Fafchamps’ 1990 rendering of Feldman’s late solo saga has long been a favorite. There are others - a too tentative disc from dedicatee Roger Woodward, a too protracted stance from Marilyn Nonken - but Fafchamps’ was the first made widely available. And as he notes in the liners, that first committing of the piece stands as is: there is nothing qualitatively “wrong” with it. Nevertheless, as he goes to Feldman-like lengths himself to explain, back then, he was working from an imprecise score. Long story short, Universal Edition had published major sections of Triadic Memories sans repeats, some of which Feldman wanted reheard up to 11 times. And for those familiar with Feldman’s idiosyncratic forest of numbers and signs, the repeat less travelled by can make all the difference in the wood.
Thus, as Fafchamps saw it, Triadic Memories had to be “reissued.” (Upon seeing the corrected score only a year after his initial recording, he admitted, “I was mortified.”) And kudos to him here for recreating the original setting, laboratory-style, as best as possible. Using the same instrument and the same engineer, Jean-Luc Fafchamps has done something very few musicians get to do: re-record a substantial work in the canon, years down the line, and end with something and more faithful than the first time round. Comparisons to Glenn Gould’s reprise of the Goldberg Variations will inevitably abound, but just as Feldman is certainly not Bach, likewise, Fafchamps is no Gould. Here, it’s not a matter of markedly different style or approach, but instead one of intent. If pressed, however, I’d venture that his Feldman 2.0 is a smidge slower -- though, once again, not nearly as funereal as Gould’s mulligan.
With Feldman, traditional notions of tempi and duration cease to matter anyway. Triadic Memories is an intentionally disorienting piece for performer and listener alike, composed only to scatter the structures of what was still considered art music in post-Cage New York. Ultimately, what Fafchamps improves upon with this recording is furthering Feldman’s unique notion that repetition - be it 3, 4, 5, 7 or even 11 times - needn’t be a tool of stasis and clarification. Unlike downtown New York’s first-wave minimalists who bludgeoned you into submission, at its finest hour - and in its finer hands - repetition has the power to unshackle the pure from the pure merely signified. And in my book, that kind of wisdom is cause enough for any reissue, at any price.–LGY

Morton Feldman
Never judge a book – or an album – by its cover, runs the old adage. Well, yes and no –  there’s plenty of fine new music lurking behind atrocious artwork (my vote goes to the George Crumb discs on Bridge) and, conversely, a lot of beautifully packaged dross – but I have to say that this shot of five Morton Feldmans sitting around a pentagonal table (what the hell is this, a séance?) certainly raised my eyebrows. That and the album title, like, uh, sit up and pay attention kids because this is going to be PROFOUND. Last time I looked the piece was called Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, and whether Feldman knew he was going to shuffle off this mortal coil as he put the finishing touches to his 34-page score is, frankly, beside the point. This kind of cheap marketing stunt is guaranteed to get up my nose. It hardly matters what I think of the world premiere performance – a creditable enough reading by Aki Takahashi, Mifune Tsuji, Matthijs Bunschoten and Tadashi Tanaka, which suffers nonetheless from a rather dull recording and a few conspicuous coughs (I can take bronchial wheezes in live recordings of Cage, but not in Feldman) – it won’t be the disc I reach for next time I want to listen to the piece, sorry.–DW

Michael Gardiner
Visceral Media
It’s odd that Michael Gardiner, currently it seems doing postdoctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh, should mention Milton Babbitt in a YouTube interview piece (intriguingly recorded in a supermarket) discussing this, as one of the first things I scrawled in the notebook as I gave this its first spin was “Who Cares If You Listen?”, a reference not, as it turns out, to Babbitt’s famous (notorious?) 1958 article of the same name, but to the Walter Marchetti-like whatthfuckness that pervades this fascinating nine-movement electronic reworking of a set of variations for solo piano originally written as a composition assignment. “God knows I wouldn’t want to listen to it all the way through,” Gardiner says with a smile when referring to the piano piece, but Course Of The Symptom has been eating its way into my life for the past two months now, with its vicious blasts of distorted noise (coming from a synthesizer, though you’d probably never guess) and abrupt on-the-fly editing (imagine Otomo in DJ mode having fun with an old LP of Boulez piano music). Make no mistake, this stuff is by no means pretty, let alone accessible, and Gardiner seems to have no intention of making it so, allowing his original recording to be “infected” by the computer treatment it undergoes, aided and abetted by a malfunctioning sound card. It’s music that takes enormous risks and makes considerable demands on the listener, but one of the most rewarding examples of failing better I’ve come across in a while.–DW

Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson
Icelandic composer Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson was born in 1982 and has studied with Alvin Curran, Fred Frith and John Bischoff at Mills College as well as taking part in masterclasses with, amongst others, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tristan Murail, Helmut Lachenmann and Clarence Barlow. On these two pieces, lasting respectively 31'36” and 12'42”, six musicians (including occasional PT scribe Charity Chan) play 27 plucked and hammered stringed instruments from all over the world – harps, harpsichords, fortepianos, kotos and all manner of guitars and ukuleles – tuned in just intonation with, not surprisingly, “an emphasis on narrow – or smaller than normal – intervals.” Most of the action seems to take place within the limits of various minor thirds (I'm reminded of Beckett's line about living “the space of a door that opens and shuts”), and I'd be curious to see how the composer has notated it rhythmically, being totally unable to understand the mention in the promo blurb to “epistemic tools to work with rhythm that reflect traditional Icelandic prosody.” At its busiest it plinks merrily away like a cross between Harry Partch and 70s Ligeti (though not as rhythmically regular as either), but when the texture thins out – and “Horpma I” gets really sparse about halfway through – Cage comes to mind. As for the just intonation, well, I've never really quite got into it, myself, though my good buddies Guy Livingston and Bob Gilmore have been extolling its virtues for years. I do agree though with Frank Denyer's remark in his PT interview, that it imparts a very specific colour – “I started thinking that when you have a very fine pitch difference of a few cents, you don't hear it as pitch – you hear it as a timbre modification” – and there's certainly no shortage of colour in these two pieces, even if they do, after a while, try the patience somewhat.–DW

Jason Kahn
Balloon & Needle
Jason Kahn's graphic scores have become a cornerstone of his work, providing a framework for musicians to explore collective interaction across a carefully defined stretch of time (several of the pieces are aptly titled "Timeline"). Kahn prepared Dotolim for a group of Seoul-based musicians he had originally met when touring South Korea in 2006. Ryu Hankil (speaker and piezo vibration), Jin Sangtae (hard disk drives), Hong Chulki (turntables), Choi Joonyong (opened CD players) and Park Seungjun (amp with spring reverb) have been documenting their work in small runs on labels like Balloon & Needle and Manual, and have developed a distinctive approach, harnessing cracked, hacked, and deconstructed electronics to create a music bristling with rambunctious energy, hair-trigger pacing and a keen ear for the accrual of sound. The title comes from a tiny space that Jin Sangtae uses as an office, studio, and venue; pictures of the session show the six musicians crammed in with barely any space to move. Kahn's graphic score sets the pendulum in motion, juxtaposing abstract symbols with precisely clocked overlapping entrances and exits, and the performance slowly builds to a full-on squall about three-quarters of the way through, dropping off to sputtering whines and spattered flutters for the final section. Kahn states that he "wanted the score to emphasize the density of this group of musicians… and of the space itself, which seemed at times barely able to contain the mounting blocks of sound." This recording captures that with entrancing detail.–MRo

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Thomas Ankersmit / Valerio Tricoli
Even after a good dozen listens, there’s still something inscrutable, almost monolithic, to this debut release by the duo of the Dutch saxophonist/synthesist Ankersmit and the Italian producer/tape wizard Tricoli. It twists you up with contradictions and confuses with its density of detail. From one perspective, the music is nearly palpable, seemingly sitting in front, behind and in between your speakers—anywhere, that is, except coming from them. There’s plenty of activity, but much of it slippery, nearly hidden. High, glistening synth tones hover just at the edge of audibility, thrumming beats emerge from modulated pulse waves and clash with microrhythms that get crunched out from chattering tape and field captures of odd acoustic phenomena.
From another perspective, the provenance of sounds here is mysterious and ethereal, as if the two have given up ownership in order to reach some kind of acousmatic psychological state (and, more importantly, to invoke it in you). They achieve this not by layering individual contributions but by intertwining them to the point where who is doing what becomes impossible to tell. Except for the final 15-minute hall-of-mirrors-style reed-drone in overdrive, “Takht-e Tâvus”, Ankersmit’s sax is only intermittently identifiable as such. Tricoli, as on his previous solo outings, has an immaculate way of capturing and assembling intuitive, arrhythmic sound events (tape-manipulation, feedback, acoustic phenomena) into cogent, if asymmetrical, shapes.
On the five pieces that make up Forma II, where does the raw material stop and the editing begin? What was planned out and what reassembled in hindsight?  What was merely a happy accident? (They’re all in there.) Were Ankersmit and Tricoli in the same room when they made these pieces or was their creative space virtual? (Probably both). The release raises more questions about its creation than it gives answers, which is just as just should be. Because at some point you stop trying to pick it apart and just let it have its way with you. It’s electronic music with an extremely broad reach, one that cares more about its mind-altering properties than any analog this or digital that or whatever purist approach to process you might want to take. This is highly synthetic music with the structure of an organic system, made by humans but otherworldly in its effect.–MW

William Basinski
Digital reissue of a 1979 work already cut on a Die Stadt vinyl a while back, A Red Score In Tile affirms William Basinski's place among contemporary minimalists. The unfortunate concurrent circumstances affecting his celebrated Disintegration Loops - released some 22 years after this piece's creation, in case you didn't do the maths - were as unique as the music itself, and in a way it's everybody's fault (including mine) if grief and sadness are invariably mentioned when commenting on the Texan's subsequent opuses. A sound artist's greatness is born from chance and intuition, but a technical grounding must always subsist, and it's worth remembering that, beyond the loops, Basinski is also an excellent clarinettist and an egoless promoter, who actively contributed to Antony Hegarty's rise to fame (can't wait to hear their soundtrack to Robert Wilson's The Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic, premiering in Manchester in July). Start thinking of him as a modern exponent of profound minimalism: the entrancing blur of the repetitive piano fragment upon which this piece is based symbolizes a chosen path, while confirming the man's skill in finding snippets of otherwise less essential material and making them his own. Basinski's sonic frailties turn moods into psychological dyes; as dejection-scented as they may be, these perpetual orchestral scraps remain, above everything else, paradigms of pregnant synthesis.–MR

Eric Cordier / Seijiro Murayama
Listing the sound sources, which include buffalo frogs, forest birds and a temple ceremony besides other glimpses of reality, gives you the wrong impression regarding Nuit. This is acousmatic music with added elements of improvisation. Murayama's disconcerting vocal expressions are complemented by his evenhanded percussiveness (except in the concluding movement, which sounds like a fragmentation of Nick Mason's interminable rolls in A Saucerful Of Secrets), while Cordier's processing attempts to dislocate our expectations, and at times succeeds. The album's significance resides in its refusal to adopt the "let-the-nightingale-do-the-work" strategy; acoustic designs are deprived of emblematic façades, and there's poetry –  and irony – in the curled grunts of those frogs, not to mention the instant cessation of activity when a bird starts singing at one point. And the human constituent is never invasive. Considering that the performance plan includes games of light, shadow theatre and fire painting – visual elements that might better justify the few segments that don't excite in a strictly musical sense – this is a solid enough release, questionable finale notwithstanding.–MR

Johannes Frisch / Ralf Wehowsky
You should know by now that Ralf Wehowsky doesn't like making things easy for the listener, and it looks like he's found the perfect packaging partner in the Waystyx label (check out the cool label website with Brume soundtrack): Herzblutanteil, the last release of his on the Moscow-based imprint (under his RLW moniker) came with track titles on separate little bits of card which fell conveniently through the slots cut out for them, and this one's even funkier, with the upper level of the cardboard cover folded into three triangular compartments of different sizes, just to make sure the album won't slip out of sight – and hence out of mind – when you slot it alongside the other Wehowskys in your collection. You could also use it to store three different sizes of Toblerone, daddy bear, mummy bear and baby bear size (though I don't think they make 'em that small). Similarly, there are three pieces on the album, lasting respectively 24'46”, 15'05” and 3'11”, the first of which, “Moskenstraumen”, is a largely unedited lugubrious duo for Johannes Frisch's double bass and Wehowsky's electronics whose title refers to the famous tidal whirlpools in the Lofoten archipelago off the coast of Northern Norway – the music is, thankfully, not as deadly as the maelström of the 1841 Edgar Allan Poe short story it inspired, but it will certainly suck you in if you let it. Track two, “Rosenschutt”, features two superimposed alternate takes of the piece, and the brief “Set III” overlays three snippets of one of the recordings played at different speeds. As on the pair's previous release five years ago, Tränende Würger (Korm Plastics),Wehowsky's transformations serve not to obfuscate but to clarify: this is no specious little sub-Wandelweiser twiddle, but a composition of magnitude and maturity.–DW

Francisco Meirino / Brent Gutzeit
Trust Lost
The self-explanatory title indicates the lengthy data-swapping process at the basis of this work, showcasing the combined skills of two sound artists whose past achievements (notably Meirino's excellent works as Phroq and Gutzeit's fantastic Drugmoney) guarantee good taste. Painstakingly constructed, fragmented and reassembled, the innumerable frequencies generated by this perfect pair spread across the whole spectrum of audibility, and beyond (careful with your pets). Earthquake-like vibrations are perceived as subliminal messages of wondrous threat, as hordes of squirrels are spindried at impossible speed by a nuclear washing machine and sandblasted by ferocious discharges of filthy electricity. Shifting panning, penetrating munchkin squeals, distant drones and crumbling edifices transposed six octaves down are but a few of the treats on offer. Occasionally disturbed by snippets of humanoid voices, and replete with moments of exhilarating tension scientifically alternated with nearly absurdist abstract intermissions, this one deserves an awful lot of replays.–MR

With a title like that, and coming on a label that brought us the reissue of RJF’s Greater Success in Apprehension & Convictions complete with its notorious gruesome severed head cover photo, I’ll admit had a few doubts when I gave this one its first spin. The opening of the first track with its buzzing fly (Beelzebub!) did little to reassure, but I needn’t have worried: Stephen Meixner’s affectionate homage to the world of the spaghetti western (hence the album title, which was the name of Alex Cox’s thesis on the subject) is eminently listenable. I say world rather than music, because Meixner’s interest in the genre goes beyond its soundtracks, which is just as well, because there’s nothing worse than a pale imitation of Ennio Morricone (even Zorn’s witty homages on The Big Gundown now seem as tired and dry as Clint crossing the desert in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). In fact, if you didn’t read the track titles (“Too much gold is bad for your teeth”, “Boot Hill” etc.) you might not spot a spaghetti western connection at first, though the harmonicas in “I am your pallbearer” would eventually probably put you on the scent. Meixner, though probably not a household name, is an experienced gunslinger who’s been riding the range since 1987, when he and Jonathan Grieve founded dark ambient outfit Contrastate. Like fellow surfer on the post-Industrial wave Christian “Brume” Renou, these days he’s a lone bounty killer. Let’s hope this one brings him a fistful of dollars, because it’s tasty.–DW

Rock ‘n’ Roll Jackie / Pain Jerk
Second Layer
Portland-based LAFMS vet Jackie “Oblivia” Stewart teams up with Tokyo noisenik Kohei Gomi on two extended earwax melters tastefully packaged in a classy gatefold decorated with Stewart’s typically gaudy collage artwork. There’s everything from Oriental rugs to orange slices, via lipstick, cherries and chocolates, and the music is similarly colourful, managing to find room alongside Gomi’s snarling synth for snippets of radio (TV?) broadcasts (alien spacecraft meet Shakespeare), sound effects samples and bands that were probably already on the way out when Stewart first hit the scene. “Over a year in the making”, the Second Layer website trumpets proudly, as if that made any difference (though the good folks at the label do seem to want to sell this as some sort of musique concrète). Maybe it did take more than a year to bounce these awesome aural brickbats back and forth across the Pacific, but it’s hard to imagine that something as downright boisterous as this actually took months and months of patient sequencing – I mean, we’re not talking Ralf Wehowsky here. Or maybe I’m wrong and Gomi did spend a year distilling this sweaty smegma, but it doesn’t sound like RLW anyway. Anyway, I like it just as much. To steal a line from former PT scribe David Cotner, it’s like being rear-ended on the freeway. Way-hay!–DW

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