SUMMER 2012 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, John Eyles, John Gill, Marc Medwin, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton:

In Print: Tacet No.1: Who Is John Cage?
On Monotype: Dörner, Dafeldecker & Johansson / Toshimaru Nakamura & John Butcher / eRikm & Michel Doneda / If, Bwana & Dan Warburton / LZH+H
On Clean Feed:
Boris Hauf / Steve Lacy / Rafael Toral & Davu Seru / Elliott Sharp / Joe McPhee and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten
On Bo-Weavil:
Hession / Wilkinson / Fell
On ESP : Frank Wright / Frank Lowe
On Edition Modern: Iancu Dumitrescu & Ana-Maria Avram

Concern / Failing Lights / FvRTvR / Margarida Garcia / Carlos Giffoni / Ryu Hankil, Hong Chulki, Nick Hoffman / Metamono / Nicholas Szczepanik / Tomutonttu
JAZZ & IMPROV: John Butcher & Mark Sanders / Lucio Capece / Stephen Cornford / Coppice / Cremaster / Freestyle Band / Charles Gayle / Glacial / Anna Homler & Sylvia Hallett / Andrea Neumann & Bonnie Jones / Alan Silva & Burton Greene / Fukushima! / Marzette Watts / Veryan Weston, Ingrid Laubrock & Hannah Marshall
Rodolphe Alexis / Thanos Chrysakis & Wade Matthews / Yannick Dauby / Robert Hampson / Michael Pisaro & Toshiya Tsunoda
Lighting Out For The Territories
Last issue

In Print

Matthieu Saladin (editor)
Financed by the City of Mulhouse, DRAC and SACEM, TACET is, to quote its seemingly indefatigable editor Matthieu Saladin, "a new research publication dedicated to experimental music. Published annually and bilingually (in French and English), its ambition is to create an interdisciplinary and international space of reflection for this music, in all its aesthetic diversity." It's fitting then that the inaugural issue concentrates on John Cage, whose definition of experimental music in Silence prefaces the collection of essays: "The word 'experimental' is apt, providing it is understood not as descriptive of an act to be later judged in terms of success and failure, but simply as an act the outcome of which is unknown."
Saladin, never one to let a snazzy concept go begging, notes that "the publication will be developed according to four principles of discursive movement", namely Flux, Influx, Reflux and Afflux. The meat of the book is in Flux, which consists of eight essays on Cage, along with his own "A Composer's Confessions", the text of a 1948 lecture that previously appeared in Musicworks #52, 1992, and a rather useful inventory of all the books and authors Cage cites in his writings and interviews – hats off to Saladin and Xavier Hug for heroic work.
The four pieces in Influx are intended to "put in tension" the first flux – but I don't know what Jéröme Noetinger's comments on his old Harmonia Mundi LP of Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen are doing in there, or why Radu Malfatti's aphoristic musings on the difference between composition and improvisation aren't included in the Flux section. They're certainly as relevant to the subject as Mattin's ramblings. Toshiya Tsunoda's Field Recording and Experimental Music Scene (Seth Kim-Cohen – see below – could go to town on the absence of a definite article there) is a fine introduction to his work and thought, but I imagine many of you will remember reading it a couple of years ago on the Erstwords blog. The most substantial and thought-provoking essay in Influx, despite a rather wooden English translation, is Saladin's own, The Fetish Character in Experimental Music. As it casts its net wider than Cage alone, I can see why it didn't make the Flux cut – but I wonder if it wouldn't be better off in the second projected volume of TACET, which will apparently be entitled Experimentation in Question.
Reflux is the review section of the publication, and consists of four relatively brief appraisals of recent books (two on Cage, one on Wolff and one on Fluxus), and Afflux is a handful of brief extracts from other authors – Erik Satie, Karl Popper, Pierre-Camille Revel, Meyer Schapiro, Luke Rhinehart and Cage himself – "deploying themselves throughout the pages by association and resonating with the different texts", as Saladin puts it.
I have to admit I feel like a tree sloth in comparison with these admirable writers who pepper their contributions with weighty quotations from Adorno, Barthes, Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, Meillassoux and the like, but, having evidently spent too much time merely listening to music over the past three decades instead of reading or thinking about it, I feel unable to comment with any meaningful depth on them, other than expressing simple agreement or disagreement. We're invited to assume that such maître-penseurs are always right – or at least that the essayist quoting them thinks they are – but personally I've never had much time for Adorno (you may take that both ways), so I'll shut up and go with the flow, or rather, the Flux.
While it's nice – no, that's not the word – to be reminded of the monstrous homophobia that permeated the US in the early 1950s, I'm not sure to what extent Queer Studies, as represented by Philip Gentry's The Cultural Politics of 4'33": Identity and Sexuality, illuminate Cage Studies. Talking of monsters, Sarah Troche's Cage and Frankenstein: Monstrosity and Indeterminacy picks up on an observation Cage probably made without thinking twice about its implications – "the work gives the alarming aspect of a Frankenstein monster" - and draws some intriguing parallels between Music of Changes and Mary Shelley's famous creation.
Unlike the vast majority of us, who've only read (ad nauseam) Cage's anecdote about his visit to the anechoic chamber, Xabier Erkizia's Listening To Our Own Deafness tells how he went and found one himself. Both he and Seth Kim-Cohen, whose I Have Something To Say, But I'm Not Saying It is my favourite essay here, refer us back to Roland Barthes' distinction, in his 1978 Collège de France lectures, published in 2005 as The Neutral, between two kinds of silence: one (to quote Kim-Cohen) "designated by the Latin silere, indicates stillness, an empty space of pure contemplation; the other, designated by the Latin tacere (and from which the word "tacet" is derived), indicates a verbal silence, to keep quiet."
Cage is, thankfully, not above criticism – Troche astutely points out some of the wooliness in his Indetermicacy lecture, and Kim-Cohen clearly isn't much of a fan of the negative theology of the "numbingly repetitious" Lecture on Nothing, preferring performance lectures by Robert Morris (21.3) and Carey Young (Everything You've Heard Is Wrong) instead.
Elsewhere, Jean-Yves Bosseur muses on The Question of Cage's Legacy (with particular reference to how the composer and his works have been received in France) and ends up by saying he's not sure there is one, and Sophie Stévance's John Cage Tunes Into the Redefinition of the Musical Field by Marcel Duchamp and the Emergence of a Conceptual Music (phew) makes a good case for the latter's Erratum Musical as the first example of conceptual music. Of course, it's totally unperformable in its entirety, but a rather fetching snapshot was released a few years back.
I've mentioned my own reservations about conceptual music here before: I don't care how smart the concept is if its musical realisation sounds awful, and care even less if it can't be realised at all. And if conceptual composition wasn't problematic enough, Mattin uses Cage as yet another trampoline to bounce (us) into his favourite subject, conceptual improvisation. I honestly don't know what he means by that, and I'm not all that sure he does either, choosing Miguel Prado's canned laughter "Wandelweiser détournement" Comedy Apories (which I'd call a composition myself) as an example of what he's getting at.
In any case, Matthieu Saladin certainly came up with a good title in Who Is John Cage? There are plenty of Cages and cages to explore in this fine book, but I'll leave the last word to the man himself: "[w]hat the critics write is not a musical matter but rather a literary matter, [and] that it makes little difference if one of us likes one piece and another another; it is rather the age-old process of making and using music and our becoming more integrated as personalities through this making and using that is of real value."-DW

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

On Monotype

Axel Dörner / Werner Dafeldecker / Sven-Åke Johansson
The unsettlingly severe cover photograph, with its combination of pollution and forlornness, is perfect to illustrate the stern type of interaction generated by this trio. Axel Dörner has remained one of the few trumpeters around warranting a degree of audibility – and recognisability – during theoretically "reductionist" actions, his proper (if uneven) pitches relieving the hissing pressure to which many of his exhaling fellows have definitively given the keys of their creative catacomb. Listening to those trembling held tones and petulant cries is cause for hope: not everything has been inundated by warm dribbles – there's still room for substance. But it's the overall texture that is to be lauded as an example of stringent creativity, a result achieved without recurring to tricks of any kind. Dafeldecker's virtuosity is inversely proportional to the number of gestures he performs: from the intimidating repetition of a single cavernous pluck to the mix of bounce and friction, whatever he does reflects a prominent individuality. Johansson uses his drum set like a master painter, conjuring up ghosts of asymmetrical rhythms – the paucity of events reveals awareness of inherent dynamic design rather than lack of imagination. A collective success coming out of an egoless summit.

Toshimaru Nakamura / John Butcher
About seven years ago Nakamura and Butcher released Cavern With Nightlife (Weight Of Wax), demonstrating how wide reverberating spaces were able to impact their combined actions. In contrast, Dusted Machinery explores an antithetic and occasionally claustrophobic perspective. The diminished spacing of the individual emissions produces tones and noises whose hardly governable temperament is apparent, still placing large chunks of the work in the realm of non-figurative instrumental physics. The no-input mixing board is challenged by a soprano (twice) and a tenor sax in the first three tracks; Butcher employs saxophone feedback in the concluding "Nobasu", possibly the record's peak in terms of trenchancy of quivering matter. An intriguing point is the divergence between the molecular granulation detected via headphones, and the slight tendency to aural globalization brought by a room-influenced diffusion. As a mere example among the many, the initial minutes of "Maku" allow short peeps inside the processes of modification and subsequent recombination of the sonic particles before the membrane-pricking traits of shrilling frequencies enforce certain rules. Congenital patterns evidenced by the parallelisms ultimately disintegrate into hundreds of small discordant cells. On the other hand, in a seriously agitated piece like "Knead" one tends to appraise the music's overall sweep rather than concentrate on microscopic detail. However one chooses to listen to it, this is an inhospitably stimulating record, destined to improve the brain's ability to handle extreme acoustic contrasts.

eRikm / Michel Doneda
These amusingly irascible improvisations – recorded by eRikm (turntable, electronics, live sampling) and Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino sax, radio) at 2009's Journées Electriques in Albi – risk being taken as something too ironic and quirky to be seriously considered as "important". But this stuff is not superficial at all. Each burst fully belongs to the exact moment in which it's born, the musicians gifted with an amazing inner clock that allows them to somehow figure out in advance what the best next move is. Listen carefully and, apart from raucous reed pitches, crackling vinyl, and hysterical drum'n'bass, moments of tense waiting recur, as Doneda layers long oscillating tones over distant rumbles and eRikm responds with looped accordions and fragments of obscure transmissions that recall late evenings spent in front of the old radio trying to decode signals from remote AM galaxies, the only audible links to different countries besides those beloved LPs. As an all-inclusive, hyper-dynamic jumble of physical and immaterial suggestions, Razine is a triumph, so pulsating, so alive when compared to the current fad for knee-deep quietness. When it's all over and the applause has faded, you feel like a young brat suddenly left alone by his playfellow after destroying mum's sofa, all the padding and the springs lying on the floor.

If, Bwana / Dan Warburton
The title is an evident reference to Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room and also to Dan Warburton's rather obscure Absurd release I Am Not Sitting In A Room With Reynols. This is the studio version of a piece conceived in 2008 for a concert in Ghent; Phill Niblock has a house there, and Al Margolis (aka If, Bwana) mixed the record in his kitchen. The main constituent is a "dense sludge" of all the Bwana records owned by Warburton, who subjected them to a thorough stretching to make them last exactly 45 minutes. Margolis in turn superimposed an alteration of pianist Guy Livingston playing Warburton's Speed Study I. Local noises, both domestic and external, were also included. Despite this long explanation, you still won't be able to guess how it all sounds, and indeed it's quite difficult to compare it to anything else. The general feel is one of charged oppressiveness, as if someone had just told you that there would be no reason to smile for a week. Appreciating the quietly rumbling mass of permuted frequencies is not a prohibitive task, but it's the way in which they engage with the numerous vocal ghosts appearing throughout the set that gives the music its character, which remains sinister to the end. A cultivated jumble of disfigured talking heads engulfed by a subsonic nimbus blemished by the kind of acoustic grime often found in Asher's work. Not a concession to redolence of any kind, not an opening for the faintest light, a lot of indecipherable clandestine happenings. An example of introvert audio art that does not warrant immediate communication, leaving the listener with very few certainties about the whats and the whys.

Those initials stand for (Thomas) Lehn, (Carl Ludwig) Hübsch, (Philip) Zoubek and (Franz) Hautzinger, who joined the already existing trio in this recording from 2008. The instruments they play are, respectively, analogue synthesizer, tuba, piano and quarter-tone trumpet with delay. The opening "Zoom" is characterized by hovering images and sparse definition, shadows prevailing upon light throughout. The title track opens with a sudden increase in contrast and dynamic interaction, with Zoubek acting as a semi-tuned percussionist of sorts while Hübsch and Hautzinger launch abstract imprecations and Lehn furnishes the room with his classic mix of biotic pulses and persistently mutating shapes. Rare moments of calm betray a lingering sense of mild acrimony between the physical components of the sounds, ultimately flowing into clamorous pandemonium followed by inauspicious echoing arcs and subaqueous gases. "Lens" begins with adjacent pitches producing Lucier-like beating effects, which are immediately scarred by bizarre synth noises and bouncing thuds before we enter a low-frequency zone, all muffled grunts and moans enriched by bowed metals and howling self-doubt. "Hal" adds enigmas and disagreements, concluding this brilliant(ly undefinable) record with off-kilter plinks and plonks, spikes, bumps and tiny farts. This is improvisation as it always should be: intelligent and unpredictable.–MR

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page


Spoon / Mute
As Irmin Schmidt confesses in the sleevenotes to this three-CD box set, "the tapes weren't really lost, but were left in the cupboards of the studio archives for so long everybody just forgot about them". It was the "nagging" of manager Hildegard Schmidt that eventually forced Can, or more accurately their remastering genius Jono Podmore [see Metamono review elsewhere this issue], to wade through over 50 hours of tapes which, with the help of Daniel Miller of Mute, they then whittled down to this remarkable document.
Beyond the appeal of three CDs of unreleased Can, this offers a fascinating glimpse into their work processes. As well as some fine live versions of well-known tracks ("Mushroom", "One More Saturday Night", "Spoon"), the studio recordings here, dating from 1968 to 1975, capture ghostly snapshots of ideas and themes that would morph or evolve into later studio works. Some, interestingly often "suites" developed from film soundtracks, are radically different, in both form and title, from the versions that appeared on vinyl. "When Darkness Comes'", from 1969, is clearly a relative of that year's "Connection" (heard on Unlimited Edition), while "Dead Pigeon Suite" is, as Schmidt's notes confirm, a suite developed from "Vitamin C" (Ege Bamyasi), and edited by Podmore from the found tapes. "Abra Cada Braxas", from 1973, shares parentage with "Soup" (Ege Bamyasi), while "Midnight Men" might find itself the target of paternity suits from, in its opening, "Vernal Equinox" (Landed) and, later, "Quantum Physics" (Soon Over Babaluma) but, oddly, in that asynchronous order (Landed post-dates Soon Over Babaluma). Beyond such trainspotting, these also give us a revealing insight into the improvisational practices of a band I've long thought more deserved comparison to the Art Ensemble of Chicago than to Amon Düül II.
There are some less successful pieces: "Midnight Sky" could be them channelling Jimi Hendrix, while both "Desert" (seemingly related to "Soul Desert", from Soundtracks) and "On the Way to Mother Sky" (preparatory to "Mother Sky", off the same album) say less than the pieces they evolved into, although the latter in fact resembles the demented locomotive rhythm of "Mother Upduff". There's plenty of vintage Can with Michael Mooney and Damo Suzuki at the mic, and some typical Can jokes ("The Agreement" is the sound of Schmidt and Suzuki flushing something – drugs? – down a toilet bowl; the ethnological forgery of "E.F.S. 108" seems to be a sonic conceit built around Burundi drumming, thumb pianos and fraudulent Beefheartian growls; "Godzilla" might be them satirizing Mahavishnu Orchestra warming up) but there is also some startlingly atypical material: 1974's "The Loop" could be Steve Reich's "Typewriter Music" transcribed for a whirring old-fashioned PBX telephone switchboard, while both "Private Nocturnal" and "Alice" (a section of the written-overnight soundtrack to Wenders's Alice in the Cities) are poignantly lyrical pieces that might not sound amiss on recordings by John Adams, or even John Luther Adams.
Nearly a month into navigating around what is probably just the iceberg-tip of the Can archive, I'm still discovering wonders in this collection – as well as certain lacunae; the Future Days era is barely touched on here. Admirers will revel in it; the curious will find it a perhaps unintentionally intimate glimpse into the private world of one of the most misunderstood bands of the past half century; me, I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps we might stumble across the Higgs Boson somewhere in there.–JG

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

On Clean Feed

Boris Hauf Sextet
The bewildering pace and high batting average of Clean Feed continues, and this latest batch brings together a range of improvisational approaches, scenes, and meetings. Boris Hauf is probably still best known as a participant in the Vienna improvising scene of the turn of the millennium, a saxophonist as comfortable in electronically rich environments (like Efzeg) as in micro-improvising. This new sextet music – with Hauf on tenor and soprano, Keefe Jackson on tenor and contrabass clarinet, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, and Frank Rosaly, Steven Hess, and Michael Hartman on drums (Hess also adds electronics) – is a rich amalgam of the two approaches. Next Delusion often sounds as if something of the woody intensity of Gebhard Ullman's clarinet trio (at least their methodology if not their instrumentation) meets with a percussion sound midway between the spare beats of Martin Brandlmayr and a kind of Paul Lovens bustle. The opening "Gregory Grant Machine" is terrific, moving between sections of Polwechsel's flinty sparseness and solemn moving chords from low woodwinds, continually dipping in and out of silence. It's an approach that Hauf favors for this instrumentation, and he uses it even more effectively on "Eighteen Ghost Roads," whose slow sectional chords rise patiently and deliberately to a stately, ROVA-esque feel before erupting in a threeway percussive rumble that sets up a different context for the same horn movement. There's plenty of variation on the record, lest you think there are simply different settings for this general approach. Each tune features great attention to tonal / timbral contrast, often pitting high whining feedback against eructations from the lower horns. A burble of reed popping sets the course on "Fame & Riches," which morphs via woven tones and the gentlest, deftest cymbal work into a sustained hum of an atmosphere. And the closing "Wayward Lanes" races along with a skirling series of bass clarinet patterns wending through a thicket of rimshots. It's a compelling record, a consistent study of contain tension and contrasts.

Steve Lacy Quintet
Not only is it always a wonderful thing to hear a new recording or reissue unearthed from the still sorely-missed Lacy, but to have a document from an under-represented period and a slightly different lineup is a special treat. From a 1972 Lisbon recording, Lacy's quintet on Estilhacos (Irene Aebi on cello, harmonica, and radio, altoist Steve Potts, bassist Kent Carter, and drummer Noel McGhie) was a raw, at times militant art-improv band (and indeed, the band's knowing decision to dial into Radio Renescenca tapped into the revolutionary mood brewing in Portugal in the early 1970s). With noisy radio signals and a martial sound, the quintet barrels its way through the opening "Stations," with muted melismatic cello from Aebi and gruff staccato horn polyphony. The band follows this up with a blistering, churning medley of (again) lesser known tunes: "Chips" (where Aebi honks away on harmonica), "Moon," and "Dreams." On the latter piece, Potts is positively incendiary atop a groaning bed of sound. A transformed, raucous "No Baby" is miles away from most available versions of this tune. And the closing "The High Way," finds Lacy revisiting territory similar to "Stations," a rumbling, droning bed and repeating staccato phrases for the saxophones (almost conjuring the opening of "Wickets"). Top notch.

Rafael Toral / Davu Seru
Live in Minneapolis, from a March 2011 summit at Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis, finds the talented drummer Seru (best known for his long association with Milo Fine) proving a challenging, provocative accompanist to the increasingly enigmatic Toral, who has given up his guitar for an assortment of electronic sound generators including short-circuiting amplifier, oscillator, and feedback modifier). The incisive percussion moves Toral away from the looped tones and high resonance that has sometimes preoccupied him in recent years, inviting him into a more active, lively, not to say conversational approach to improvising, and to my ears it's quite fresh. For all that, it's spacious and the fine recording focuses on the tone-blending of Seru's low toms (membranes adjusted just so) and the deftly controlled flatulence of Toral's overdriven effects. On the second part of this three-part improvisation, there's a ton of fine timbral and registral contrast from the drums and Toral responds by toying around with vocal effects, sometimes a bit desultory but mostly quite effective. And in the closing segment, there's even a phase where the pair find themselves in a glorious space midway between morning birdsong and evening crickets.

Elliott Sharp Trio
Aggregat is an hour from the latest iteration of E#'s trio, this time featuring the leader / guitarist bringing his tenor and soprano (but no clarinet) along for the ride, in the company of bassist Brad Jones and the increasingly ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Ches Smith on drums. It's an inconsistent set to my ears. The loping, slightly sour "Nucular" opens the album, its slow clattery groove a nice platform for Sharp's little bursts and curlicues. We hear a similarly rangy mid-tempo stroll on "Hard Landing," but it starts out with spindly guitar that revs up into crazed distorted shred, almost as if Sharp has been cross-breeding No Wave with Orthrealm. Back and forth the pieces go between flinty guitar trio tracks and often uncertain horn pieces like the stuttering soprano piece "Mal Du Droit" or the uninvolving "Estuary." I've never been able to warm to Sharp's horn work, though I know he's got technique. Even on his main axe, he often seems to want to do too many different things too much of the time. Even on skronky tunes like "The Grip" I don't feel it unless I concentrate heavily on the rhythm section. There are moments on the guitar to be sure, and it sounds as if Sharp has slightly reconfigured his guitar style so that it juts midway between early Sharrock and 1990s Cline. But aside from some lusty tenor shrieks on "Allelia," a pleasing bounce knit throughout "Gegenschein," and some fractal guitar madness on "Refractory," I find this disc largely unmemorable.

Joe McPhee / Ingebrigt Haker Flaten
The superb multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee – who is this year receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Vision Festival – teams up on Brooklyn DNA with ace contrabassist Haker Flaten for a terse, tart series of duets that exude energy but are grounded in a undeniably engaging melodic sensibility. The riff-based "Crossing the Bridge" gets things started off in exuberant fashion, with hot, ragged, tone-bending alto teasing out an Ornette-ish refrain. "Spirit Cry" finds McPhee on soprano, exploring another simple, cell-like phraseology while Haker Flaten works out some chromatic shapes to create the effect of a staggered counter-phrase here, a pinwheeling harmonic center there. The focus and abecedarian structure of some of these tunes certainly recall Lacy, but in some sense I'm also reminded – perhaps especially with the restless lyricism of "Putnam Central," with brassy sputter from pocket trumpet – of Julius Hemphill's duets with Abdul Wadud. There's more information in this brief album than in a dozen meandering duets, and the music is with each moment committed, emotional, and imaginative. Just listen to "Blue Coronet's" groaning, gravity-sucked double-stops and that intensely forlorn McPhee melodic sense as the sound becomes aroused, with the bassist moaning and pizzing so vigorously that the tune ascends into buzzing joint pointillism. After a blast of heat and density on "214 Martense," the squeaking circular breathing of pocket trumpet and bowed metal sounds of "Enoragt Maeckt Haght" make for a nice changeup. And for the concluding "Here and Now," McPhee patiently blows soprano to create beautiful layered rhythms and contrasting articulations between the pair. This is the real shit.–JB

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

On Bo-Weavil

Hession / Wilkinson / Fell
Alan Wilkinson
Simon H. Fell
Keeping a band together for decades is a rare feat these days, and in this music seemingly the province of a scant few. Even storied and semi-recent units like the David S. Ware Quartet or the Vandermark Five often endured lineup changes despite keeping the same moniker. Originally based in Leeds, the English trio of drummer Paul Hession, saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, and bassist Simon H. Fell has been part of the European free improvisation landscape since 1989. Though the last several years have seen the three often working in other settings, they came together for a UK tour in 2010 (even granted special programming on BBC Jazz on 3) that, from all reports, brought it. While most of their output has appeared on Fell's Bruce's Fingers imprint, outsider label Bo'Weavil has stepped in this time for a set of releases documenting their recent work as a group and as individuals.
Two Falls & A Submission, recorded in Monmouth, is the first proper Hession / Wilkinson / Fell disc since 2000's St. Johns on Ecstatic Peace!, but the trio hit like they hadn't missed a beat. On "First Fall" they jump in feet first: Wilkinson's baritone is searing and ecstatic, while Fell's painterly blend of arco and pizzicato triangulates the saxophonist's shakedowns and Hession's massive, angular swing. Once the saxophonist moves to alto, they work through soft and sinewy interplay, Fell and Hession breaking up time with intricate patterns, though they quickly return to characteristic peppery shouts. "The Submission" begins with a mêlée, furious arco and floor-shaking rumble a diabolical assist to Wilkinson's lung-busting, ruddy-faced salvos. Following a passage of guttural sparseness, his alto is front and center and the trio moves towards freebop in a manner recalling Brötzmann, Parker and Drake – harrowingly intense, but kind of groovy. I'm tired of hearing English improvisers described as coolly detached (you still hear people say that), especially since a group like HWF is so full of red meat and fire.
Practice is a set of Wilkinson solo saxophone improvisations, including versions of "Lonely Woman" and "You Don't Know What Love Is," along with "Pixieland," co-written with the late saxophonist Matthew Coe. "Line" abstracts pared-down boppish tone rows and sideways burrs à la Roscoe Mitchell, teasing out songs and driving skull-reshaping spikes through them. Nevertheless, there's a whimsical shimmy at its base that ensures this isn't just research. "Flush. Dalston No. 2" is one of two pieces dedicated to Wilkinson's old practice space, and is rooted in exploring physical confines with spittle-flecked harmonics and muscularity. Some of the bar-walking riffs that emerge are reminiscent of Joe McPhee's "Knox," albeit with the physicality of a band saw on metal sheeting. A litmus test for "Lonely Woman" might be Brötzmann's baritone recording on 14 Love Poems. Wilkinson tackles it on alto, Ornette's chosen horn, rendering the theme in tense, long tones or harping chunks, the latter with absurdly mechanized intervals. Didactic and weird, Wilkinson takes the Texan cry and finds within it tones like a VCS3 synthesizer or classically-aligned swoops and scalar progressions. Meanwhile, the steely mouthfuls and pathos-laden cries of "You Don't Know What Love Is" finds him testing both lungpower and grace as he overwrites the melody. Practice is fairly over-the-top as far as solo saxophone records go, but it's a testament to rawness and dexterity.
For the most part, Simon H. Fell has focused on ensemble work, whether in chamber ensembles, orchestras, or "free music", but Frank & Max is a disc of solo bass performances recorded over a ten-year period and dedicated to other bassists (as well as to his wife Jo). Like Barry Guy, Fell employs a five-string instrument as well as a standard contrabass. I'm reminded of Guy, as well as the late French bassist Béb Guerin and William Parker's channeled motivic development. What's sometimes lost in discussion of free music and players of "extended technique" is the mastery of making the instrument sing – which Fell surely does, especially on his wonderful version of Bill Evans' "Turn out the Stars" here, full of introspection and delicacy. But if the instrument can sing, then it can yell, too, and do all manner of unruly, damaged things. The closing "For Charles Mingus" is just that, moans and thwacks emerging from upper-register bowing and what sounds like a variety of rugged mutes and mean-ass preparations. This is the behemoth, pissed-off Mingus, but not without his sweaty sense of humor. It's unfortunate Fell wasn't more up front on Two Falls & A Submission, but there's enough wood-and-horsehair to make up for it on Frank & Max, a truly gorgeous solo bass recording.–CA

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page


Frank Wright
Frank Lowe
As well as essential reissues and new releases by the likes of Joe Morris, Eli Keszler, and Paul Dunmall, the revived ESP label is beginning to deliver some new finds of prime, loft-era free jazz from the vaults. With so little currently in print, anything by Frank Wright is worth searching out, but Blues for Albert Ayler is especially noteworthy. Recorded live at Ali's Alley in the summer of 1974, this incendiary session finds the Reverend in the company of guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer, bassist Benny Wilson, and drummer Rashied Ali. Wright had just returned from an extended stay in Europe where he'd been tearing things up with Noah Howard, Bobby Few, Alan Silva and Rashied's brother Mohammad. From the start, Wright rips into it, his throaty cry referencing Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler but unmistakable in its pugilistic phrasing and yawping tone. Ulmer is an inspired partner, having transitioned from his funk / gospel roots to harmolodic skronk via studies with Ornette Coleman and gigging in the burgeoning loft scene. Here, his playing stutters and bristles with barely contained intensity, scrabbling forcefully through the mix. Ali's drumming sizzles and churns throughout, a reminder of just how influential a drummer he was. If there is a weak link, it's Wilson, who's fine in support but tends to meander as a soloist. The 75-minute performance has its dead spots, such as Wright's flute feature, but the four recover in a potent section where sparring tenor and guitar bob and weave across Ali's tumbling polyrhythms. Wright and Ulmer push each other into circling heights, then wind down with Ayleresque cadences: a fitting homage to the piece's dedicatee.
Frank Lowe's Black Beings, one of the later releases from the original run of ESP, was Lowe's debut as a leader and also the recording debut of William Parker. It's a wild and woolly affair, augmented on its latest CD reissue with a further 20 minutes of previously unreleased music. The Loweski provides 37 more minutes of unfettered blast from the same concert. It starts out with a skirling unaccompanied solo by Joseph Jarman before the full band enters with blasting fury as Jarman's strident alto slams against Lowe's howling tenor, with Raymond Lee Cheng (aka The Wizard)'s violin shredding away with abandon. Parker's bass is buried in the mix but his headlong energy still makes itself felt, and drummer Rashid Sinan's thundering salvos and clanging cymbals provide plenty of drive. It's a fascinating mix of players and approaches: the potent bellow of musicians finding their own paths in the wake of Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler, steeped in the self-determination of the experiments of the AACM and the Loft movement. 40 years on, this kind of music has become nearly as codified as the hard-bop it subverted. But here any sense of form or structure is virtually overwhelmed (especially since the recording fades out before the conclusion), and what comes through instead is the freshness and conviction of five musicians reveling in the raw act of discovery.–MRo

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

Iancu Dumitrescu / Ana-Maria Avram

Edition Modern

Edition Modern
Edition Modern
I was recently afforded the opportunity to explore Sergiu Celibidache's Munich recordings in depth, thanks to EMI's centenary reissues. Rumanian composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram consider the conductor and philosopher a guru, and his conducting is quite similar to the music on these three new Edition Modern releases. When Celibidache conducts, no matter how diverse his repertoire, the music moves through a very personal series of states, or moments, rather than being goal-oriented in any traditional sense. It isn't simply that each phrase is treated as an entity; whole sections of music move past as if each is contained in a galaxy, each moment or detail separate while the whole section is also somehow coherent in itself rather than coming from the last or leading directly to the next. Dumitrescu and Avram's music is a logical yet hugely varied outgrowth of this aesthetic. Fragments abound, dynamic levels can be earsplitting, and yet, inexplicably, there is a sense in which action is avoided in favor of something contemplative, or meditative. That said, the timbral diversity on offer is staggering, especially in the way acoustic and electroacoustic sounds merge. Just for clarification's sake, Live in London II is the second disc of performances from London's Conway Hall in 2008. The first (Ed.Mn.1025) involved the IO String Quartet, while this one features Dumitrescu's Hyperion ensemble, well-known to anyone following the Edition Modern series. As with all other volumes thus far save the first, the discs are split between compositions by the two composers.
Dumitrescu and Avram's pieces for large ensemble are like no others I've heard, with the possible and surprising exception of those by John Coltrane, whose 1965-67 works (Ascension and Meditations in particular) share a penchant for relatively static structures that nevertheless teem with inner life. Avram's Noumina almost resembles a series of connected tableaux, beginning with what sound like tympani glissandi dotted with small gongs and trombone interjections. Even as the dynamic level changes, there is no sense of dramatic becoming, as might be expected in what I'll sweepingly label the Western canon. The volume rises and falls, trombones rasp and clarinets emits expertly placed multiphonics, but there is a certain calm at the heart of it all, even at moments of high density. The piece ultimately fades to the silence that seems to pervade it at key moments. A similar stasis imbues Dumitrescu's Roots and Rizoms, this time in the pitch domain. Dynamics are much more fluid here, the oceanic construct centering itself around a pitch complex that slowly fragments and dissipates over 15 minutes of wave upon wave, again ultimately leading nowhere save back to the material that spawned it. Dumitrescu's "Extreme Point of Gravity," from the St. Luke's disc, recorded in 2009, adds an extra ingredient: when the boiling ensemble passages fade, a kind of ghostly spatialization occurs, so that the clarinets seem to disappear gradually into the distance rather than simply approaching silence. The effect is extraordinary.
We are given the chance to compare two versions of the same work in Le Silence D'Or, presented in London and Israel versions and performed by the Hyperion Ensemble and the Israel Contemporary Music Ensemble. The ingredients are the same, a dialogue between group and what seems to be electroacoustic timbres, but the execution is radically different. The London version is heavier, steeped in brass and percussion, while the Israel version integrates acoustic and electroacoustic sounds more completely, due largely to Assaf Talmudi's accordion. It's a stunning instrument in his hands, taking on the soundscapes' sudden dynamic shifts, even sounding like a backwards piano at strategic moments.
What Dumitrescu and Avram call "computer sounds" may be the most unique texture of all. I remember thinking, on first hearing Xenakis' La Légende d'Eer, how incredibly human his timbres sounded. The Rumanian composers evoke a similar gestalt: Cologne bleeps and bloops are nowhere to be found, but neither are the cinematic concerns of the French composers. Listen, for example, to the birds on Silence D'Or. It's as if they're slightly enlarged, something like Merzbow's frogs, but not nearly as threatening, and they constitute one of the only immediately recognizable timbres on offer. These sonic projections do not tell a story, nor do they exist in abstraction. Many verge on recognizability and then vanish again. At certain points, I can hear instruments from the ensembles being manipulated, though the effect in the hall must be a hundred times more pronounced.
After living with these discs, the music strikes me as exploring, even transforming, the space in which it exists rather than invoking any external narrative. In this regard, it is helped by a few guest soloists, such as the always exciting and virtuosic Tim Hodgkinson, whose bass clarinet artistry, along with that of Rane More, graces Avram's Textures 3/Penumbra, from the St. Luke's concert. Both players can place and shape a tone with such initial subtlety that I was unaware of it until it began to oscillate, filling the soundstage against a backdrop of computer generated drone and delicate high-frequency webbing. The same is true of Stephen O'Malley, who joins the ensemble in Israel. As with the more recent Sunn 0))) material, his playing flavors what goes on around it, especially on the hits, smears and near-silences of Liminal Involvement for Ensemble. The recordings are all superb, and the captured pitch spectrum is jaw-dropping, from the deepest bass to highs that leap from the speakers and fill the room. Such spectacular engineering brings this uncompromising music to life, and any of these three discs would make an excellent introduction to Dumitrescu and Avram's musical vision.–MM

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

Among the top five albums he was invited to pick during an interview with Benjamin Nelson a couple of years ago (a good read – go to, Portland-based Gordon "Oscillating Innards" Ashworth chose "everything by Robbie Basho" and Malian kora virtuoso Djibril Diabaté's Hawa (Terp, 2005). Odd, you might think, for one of the foremost exponents of Harsh Noise, but those familiar with Ashworth's parallel Concern project won't be in the least surprised. Using a 15-string box or lap harp, combined with field recordings and subject to tape manipulations and the use of what the Isounderscore site rather wonderfully describes as "crude, guerrilla echo chambers" such as underground parking garages, he takes the traditional kora and Madagascan valiha marovany repertoire into a wonderfully rich, charred, scarred droneworld as sunlit and dusty as a Vilmos Zsigmond interior in Heaven's Gate.
The only misfortune is, perhaps, that Misfortune has been announced as Ashworth's final album under the Concern moniker. I hope that's not due to the fact that, back in 2008, he was, as he told Nelson, diagnosed with "a rare and likely permanent ear disorder which has resulted in a lot of difficulty and frustration with my hearing and chronic tinnitus. Since then, recording, listening to, and performing harsh noise/feedback works/etc have been very damaging and depressing experiences with consequences that will probably last my entire life." Fingers crossed he finds another outlet for his considerable talent – there's a fine ear in there, but if he keeps on touring with The Rita one wonders what will be left of it a couple of years down the road.–DW

Failing Lights
I can't decide whether this follow-up to Failing Lights' eponymous debut CD on Intransitive a couple of years ago is inspired or inept. Maybe both. But whether or not you like (not the right verb, I think) what Mike Connelly does with his guitar and electronics, you'll have to admit that it certainly gets under your skin, like a splinter. Because of Connelly's track record as a member of Wolf Eyes, Hair Police and literally dozens of other side projects, you'll probably find Dawn Undefeated in the "Noise" bin in your local record shop, but, apart from a few disturbing moments when he ups the signal and allows his material to loop, feedback and distort, it doesn't really belong there. There's a forlorn, almost Feldman-like (really – check out those adjacent semitones everywhere) quality to this music; spare, bare and making use of the strict minimum of special effects, delay being the most prominent. It doesn't overstay its welcome, either, the entire album clocking in at just over 27 minutes, it seems. If, that is, you play it at the recommended 45rpm (to get the best of Rashad Becker's Dubplates&Mastering artistry) – but the Dekorder website informs us that it's playable at any speed. Don't know if I could face it at 33, to be honest.–DW

Never Come Ashore
Why bother writing reviews when you've got purple prose like this in the Press Release? "FvRTvR is a two-body locus for demolecularized disco realized through meat shredding, science fiction improvisation. There are no beats here, however, just a relentless pyroclastic flow of robot voices gurgling indecipherable quips of the 'baby, that volcano looks so good on you' variety. Guido Henneböhl plays an archaic electronic instrument of his own design that appears to be trapped in the ancient mysteries of circuit bending but it is in fact a dynamic oxygen filtration system. There are no longer any animal bones contained in the device but DNA is still present in its circuits. Fritz Welch manipulates vibrating surfaces such as drums, cymbals, moral certainties and puddles using sticks and objects while his syllabic utterances are offset with percussive concussion." Brendan Dougherty, who also plays with Henneböhl and Kim Cascone in KGB, did a fine job recording this dense, almost overbearing collection of magic moments (39 minutes worth of them, even at 45rpm – and they don't sound half bad at 33 either), and the final vinyl is an impressively heavy object you wouldn't want to drop on your foot. Not sure how often you can listen to it either without giving yourself some sort of brain damage. If you think what Henneböhl is doing is hard to figure out, check out Welch's tales of ordinary madness (dig if you will the picture of Phil Minton not merely performing with Roger Turner but actually surgically grafted onto him). Never has the word "entropy" seemed more appropriate.–DW

Margarida Garcia
As the name of the label implies, the releases on Manuel Mota's imprint are beams of light emerging from the surrounding darkness. But at times only just. Bassist Margarida Garcia recently teamed up with another gaunt, spectral figure of new music, guitarist Loren Connors (Red Mars, Family Vineyard), and it was a perfect match. Here though she's all alone, ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death's worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay. Arco on the title track, pizz on "Haunts", with Barry Weisblat's recording, which manages to sound muffled and reverberant at the same time, perfect for this discreet, at times painfully introspective music. What a shame it's just a single sided LP – perhaps there's another one (The Golden Echo?) on the way. Live in hope.–DW

Carlos Giffoni
What happens when noise musicians (maybe that should be "noisicians", though the word never sounds quite right somehow) grow old? Of course, some of them don't – there's something rather pathetic about seeing some hoary granddad rolling around the floor draped in animal entrails and effects pedals – but after a while most practitioners shuffle off gently into the shadows of leftfield electronica, or make the surprising discovery that what they were doing in the first place had already been done, back in the early 80s when most of them were in short pants or even further back in time, when their daddies were in short pants (check out the Pauline Oliveros box on Important, or anything by David Tudor). Venezuelan-born New Yorker Carlos Giffoni is, as The Wire's Chris Bohn recently described Keith Fullerton Whitman, "one of the good guys", and his No Fun Fest is (was?) one of the more exciting projects of the century so far, building bridges – sometimes rickety, but always noisy – between all forms of electronic music and the wilder outlying islands of free jazz / free rock. But, like Daniel Lopatin (whose Software label has released this 12") and Emeralds, it looks like he's allowed himself to be dragged back into pop's murky past.
"Stylistically reintegrates lessons learned with a newfound and brazen songcraft that few would expect from the tenured noise artist," trumpets the PR blurb. Well, if grafting a few morose vocals over a squelchy 303 loop and thudding bassline prettily doodled over by Laurel Halo's synths (I don't know why she doesn't get equal billing) counts as songcraft, there's hope for me yet. Makes you wonder if the folks raving about this out there in cyberspace have ever heard Model 500 or early Aphex Twin. Here's hoping that Carlos soon gets back to building those Harsh Noise Walls with Sam McKinlay.–DW

Ryu Hankil / Hong Chulki / Nick Hoffman
Pilgrim Talk
I'm the first to admit I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the men behind the "motherfuckin' noise from Seoul", as Jesse Goin so charmingly put it recently, namely Ryu Hankil and Hong Chulki (and Choi Joonyong, though he's not on this particular album), at Les Instants Chavirés in January last year, and thoroughly enjoyed watching them make their music with disembodied turntables, clocks, CD players and the like. No doubt this set recorded a couple of years earlier at Art Space Mullae back in Seoul with visiting pilgrim Nick Hoffman was just as much fun live, but listening to it, either on vinyl or as a download (I think the current trend for providing free DL codes to accompany LP releases is a splendid idea, I should say), the mind tends to wander. Well, mine does anyway. That's not to say there aren't a few splendid moments – the last five minutes of side A should be particularly exciting for any nocturnal mammals out hunting in the vicinity of your hi-fi (talking of which, there seems to have been a cat in the audience: check out some rather anguished meouwing at 14'26"!) – but they're relatively few and far between, and seem to have been arrived at more by accident than by design.–DW

This second installment in the back-to-analog campaign from the fun-loving Luddites formed by lo-fi electronica whizz Jono Podmore, aka Kumo (and sometime collaborator with Irmin Schmidt), Paul Conboy and the artist Mark Hill sees them refining their sound while in no way softening the no samples / remixes / digital tech / stereo manifesto, which you can still read at their website (http:// www. ).
I'm not sure how the "no microphones" part of the manifesto explains "Matressphere", the opening track on this 20-minute three-track vinyl EP, unless the sung / spoken vocals were taken off the radio receiver credited in their tech specs, or perhaps Podmore sang / read the lyrics into a tin can attached to the tape machine by string. Regardless, this is a zippy, burbling electronica sprint, reminiscent of a funkier early Kraftwerk, or perhaps a brighter Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft.
The following "Jabjab" opens with a syncopated sequencer race that to these ears bears an uncanny resemblance to parts of Can's "Soup", but Podmore denies any, ah, intertextual resonances there, let alone anything as heretical as sampling (the sequencer is, the specs insist, both analogue and handmade…). The similarity vanishes after a minute, anyway, giving way to a dubby passage that sounds like happy machines dancing. It in turn makes way for the final "Glue Shoes", a meditative piece that brings to mind Eno's work with Cluster and Harmonia.
The vinyl EP format is probably in keeping with the manifesto, but their growing number of admirers should demand they make good on the promise on both this and the previous Tape EP and deliver what we used to call an "album". And it has to have a groovy authentic cardboard gatefold sleeve, naturally.–JG

Nicholas Szczepanik
I do my best to avoid them each year, but the good people at The Wire still come around asking for contributors' top ten lists (annoyingly, in November – which means anything released between Guy Fawkes Night and New Year's Eve is automatically excluded from this year's selection and conveniently overlooked for next year's). Remind me to include this one for 2012. Nicholas Szczepanik's long overdue LP debut (the Chicago-based composer has made much of his music available online in recent years, but this is one he insists you hear on vinyl, so don't go looking for a digital version) is a magnificent piece of work, combining a remarkable ear for moment-to-moment detail with an assured grasp of large-scale form.
I hope I might live to see the day when somebody finds a word to replace "drone" in album reviews – it seems that any sound that more or less stays put for ten seconds or so is automatically referred to as a drone, but there are as many different kinds of sustained tones in music as there are tuning systems. OK, so Szczepanik dedicated "Not Knowing", the first piece of his recent Ante Algo Azul subscription series, to Eliane Radigue, but that doesn't prove much (he also mentions Charles Chaplin and John Fahey as inspirations, but I don't see reviewers falling over themselves to spot references to their work). They might be painting similar landscapes, but Szczepanik's brush is thicker and there's more grit in his paint. And William Hutson's sharp mastering and the gentle rustle of needle on vinyl add to experience immeasurably.
Now that challenging new works for the symphony orchestra are as rare as rocking horse shit – can you believe that there are only two places here in the French capital that actually sell manuscript paper with more than 18 staves? – and opera houses have become little more than museums (or maybe mausoleums), the future of composition is the hands of chaps like Szczepanik and fellow labelmates Thomas Dimuzio and Joseph Hammer (you'll have to go to The Wire for my review of the new Dimmer CD, can't publish it here, sorry). And it's in good hands. What’s more, in its "deluxe green foil-stamped neon yellow matte jacket with artwork and design by Brandon Nickell", The Truth of Transience looks as good as it sounds.–DW

Tampere-based fairy-pee swiggin' Jan Anderzen describes this intriguing grab-bag of reworked aborted compilation outtakes as his "diploma work for the University of Bananafish", a reference I suppose to the late, great new music magazine of the same name. Whether any of the contributing writers to that esteemed publication are dishing out honorary degrees these days or not I can't say, but on the strength of what I hear in these two extended tracks I'd say Anderzen graduates with flying colours. And flying colours is what Hylyt is all about: a skittery, jittery assemblage of lo-fi electronics, extraterrestrial gamelan music and all manner of noises animal vegetable and mineral that intrigues and entertains as much as it defies any attempt at rational analysis. I've come to the end of my pen (metaphorically speaking) with this one: merely describing the welter of sonic information on offer would take far longer to write than the album does to play (39 minutes), and I'd much rather sit back and listen to the record instead. I suggest you do the same, too. It's a fuckin' trip.–DW

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

John Butcher / Mark Sanders
Daylight is the latest in a now substantial pile of Butcher-plus-percussion – as always, paying a certain homage to blustery free jazz tradition while still concentrating on the saxophonist's preferred mode of steady, persistent inquiry into sound, place and occasion. The half-hour-long "Ropelight", recorded at the 2010 Freedom of the City festival, would be imposingly monolithic if it weren't for the air and light in the music itself, which effortlessly moves from passages where dialogue is under erasure – ideas here and gone, disappearing under the pressure of opposing trains of thought – and passages where time seems to expand as the textures thin out, either to cloudy quiet or a relentlessly pressed-home idea. Sanders' drumming is clear and resonant, often having the pattering tactile flavour of hand drumming even when he's using sticks or brushes, and Butcher's ability to do something you've never quite heard before is very much in evidence – there are some stunningly intense passages here where dentist-drill fluttering or a long teakettle wail sets Conway Hall alight. Two other tracks come from a 2011 Southampton concert: the brief "Flicker" is an exercise in suggestive disquiet, as Butcher's hollowed-out saxophone folds into Sanders' snowdrift percussion. The longer "Glowstick" starts with the players grabbing at each other's ideas greedily in an energy-music vein, then cooling off until you momentarily wonder if they're going to go bossa nova… but then out comes the bowed percussion, clearing a meditative space for a new beginning (and Sanders' sparse, purposeful use of gentle pitched percussion on this track is beautifully judged). Butcher's soprano playing in the second part of the track is wonderfully various, concentrating on streams of notes that shift constantly in mood and hue (light and dark) rather than his trademark exploded-view multiphonic explorations of held notes. Fine music from a pairing that hasn't worked together too often – their only previous recording was one track on Treader Duos (2008) – but certainly ought to.–ND

Lucio Capece
Lucio Capece has proven himself a fine collaborator on many occasions, but this is his first solo CD. Its six pieces are micro-explorations of pitched sound sources, Capece noting that "after several years of relating with pitched sounds as residual material they called my interest in a new way. I began to find interest in the hidden pitches in the noises and the noises hidden in the combination of pitched sounds." The quavering sound of sruti box that kicks things off could be written off as just an atmospheric drone, but as the piece unfolds, tones and microtones collide and melodic threads leak into the mix. The title track, for prepared soprano sax, orchestrates layers of breathy overtones, buzzes, mechanical clatter, and metallic ringing. "Inside the outside I" uses sruti box, equalizer, ring modulator, bass clarinet neck, and cassette and Minidisc walkmans in a disciplined rumbling and shuddering, pitched cries floating across the sonic background. In the second part of the piece, Capece mixes field recordings captured through cardboard tubes (which he refers to as "tuned backyard") with "double plugged equalizer": dark, pulsating textures build and recede in a piece brimming over with detail. In "Spectrum of One" (which ruminates on a quote by Gherman Titov, the first person to photograph Earth from orbit back in 1961), a single sinewave enters at subtly modulated frequencies and volume levels, in a study contrasting pitch and inky silence. The final, 20-minute track is credited to "bass clarinet with and without cardboard tubes", its pulsing cadences sectored off with periods of engulfing silence. An invaluable introduction to the work of a highly focused musician with a keen ear for sound placement.–MRo

Stephen Cornford
Senufo Editions
Consumer Waste
Consumer Waste
In 1936, Charlie Chaplin got stuck in the gears of a factory in Modern Times. 46 years later, Jeff Bridges got trapped inside the mainframe of a giant computer in Tron. Those two films have little in common, of course, but both provide a sceptical view of how each of us copes with (or doesn't cope with) the technology we're surrounded by.
Stephen Cornford, and much of the music he puts out on his Consumer Waste label, seems to share a similar concern with technology and its possibilities. But there's a twist: these releases feature devices that could more or less exist as if the whole digital age never happened. Rather than be trapped by technology, Cornford, Coppice and Cremaster propose empowerment in the form of a new mechanical music, on a smaller scale - no more heavy pump organs, calliopes and player pianos - but electrified and wilder. On Biatone Galaxy, Cornford uses massed choruses of tape recorders, a piece of technology most people binned long ago. Cremaster (the duo of Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ferran Fages) abuses, among other equipment, a miked up turntable, open circuits and a mixing board. Coppice (the Chicago-based duo of Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer) goes even further back with their mix of shruti box (Indian drone bellows), analog filters and tape loops.
But these records are about more than a fascination with outmoded equipment. Unlike with some of the analog synth revival, nostalgia plays no role. The present, and our immediate future, are the main concern. These musicians are sceptical, maybe even fearful, of what our present digital age may bring. I wouldn't call them Luddites, but one can't help but read at least some rejection, or at least an underlying criticism, of the way we all seem so enamored with our various digital gadgets. We're in danger, they say, of melting into the glowing touchscreen of our iPhones, of getting eaten up by our technology the same way Chaplin and Bridges did.
By way of response, they all embrace physical, kinetic action, using the most un-digital of means: friction, the slightly unstable but reliable repetition of gears, the unpredictable behavior of magnetic fields and ferric tape. Cremaster's take is the most immediate and feral. Fages and Monteiro grind their way through a 25 minute live performance, their mix of raw, live wire sounds feeling dangerous, teetering on the brink of control. Short bursts are punctuated by silences and the whining complaint of constant high frequencies. It's unnerving stuff but strikes a balance between concise and powerful.
Cornford even puts the listener, that most unreliable of machines, in the equation. The final track of Biatone Galaxy is an in situ recording of the installation the ecord is based on. The 28 tape recorders hung on the walls are set into clattering motion by the movement of people through the listening space. The permutations are endless but there's also the possibility of failure. What if no one moves, or worse, no one comes? The point is the importance of interaction, of creating action.
But for all the modesty of the sound sources and the limited potential for creating sounds, these records offer vibrant, teeming sonic worlds. Biatone Galaxy is especially dense with activity, as multiple cells of rhythmic pulses appear, along with crosshatches of subtle feedback, overtones and incidental mechanical noise. The third "Quartet" (meaning Cornford selected four of his recorders for a studio iteration) could pass in places for some field recording of a hypnotic pointillist percussion piece from Africa.
On Holes/Tract, the music is almost subliminal, more suggested than stated. The four pieces hum and wheeze quietly along, rich with activity, but somehow peripheral. I started to think more of liquid trickling through pipes and over rocks, of lonely hydraulic pumps at unmanned water stations, the rustle of wind over microphones. Of the three records, this one offers the most potential for getting lost in.–MW

The Freestyle Band
No Business
The fourth in a series of No Business discs of loft jazz rarities, The Freestyle Band documents one of the most distinctive ensembles to emerge from New York's DIY scene. A cooperative trio of clarinettist Henry Warner, percussionist Philip Spigner (Adeyeme) and bassist Earl Freeman, they self-released a single LP in 1984 before disbanding. All three musicians also appeared on Sound Craft '75 (Anima), credited to the Universal Jazz Symphonette and featuring Freeman's compositions. The Freestyle Band, released by Spigner's Adeyeme Productions with Freeman's cover art, an intricate psychedelic drawing of a capital letter "E", was once not too hard to find in the "cheap/weird" bins in New York record stores (where I bought mine). No Business has augmented the original three tracks with two extra pieces (sourced from Warner's archive – the original masters were lost), presented in session order with exhaustive liner notes by Ed Hazell.
To call the Freestyle Band a standard reed-and-rhythm trio wouldn't do it justice: Freeman plays fretless electric bass, and also provides occasional piano flourishes, and Spigner is a conguero of highly individual power. Their mode of communication is what one might call "parallel" – not moving in ways that other free jazz units might. There's a constant hum of low-level activity, on complementary planes. The 20-minute "Pelican" is a fascinating series of unaccompanied performances, beginning with solo electric bass, plasticized and making use of plucked harmonics along with strange intervals and gooey movements. It's unlike any bass playing I've ever heard, introspective and delayed while retaining a pure sense of intonation and phrase construction. Warner follows on Bb clarinet, taking some of the bassist's spare, isolated note groups and giving them a shrill, laughing quality and particulate swagger. Spigner's solo is detailed and varied, shifting from loose Afro-Cuban beats to concentrated rim shots and skipping, stammering flashes. The three musicians merge at the ten-minute mark, Warner's upper-register trills and jaunty chortles spiraling outward, shored up by relaxed warble and stripped-down cyclical rhythms. Almost imperceptibly, the trio ramps up the intensity, with banshee cries and staccato beats at sonic odds, but they just as quickly rein things in to a dusky, vibrato-laden slink.
"Dr. Nuñez" begins in medias res, Warner's alto clarinet choppy and sputtering with leaky thickness, creating bright flickers against Freeman's funky wander and the doubled and tripled patter of Spigner's congas. In the last 30 seconds of this short piece, the bassist moves to the piano, painting dark washes behind reeds and percussion until the music fades out. "The Roach Approach" is a longer work, with bass and Warner's sultry, low wood in a syrupy creep as Spigner maintains a dry, shimmering constancy. Warner's cries are Aylerian and his depth recalls Dolphy's "God Bless the Child" (albeit more harried), while his partners draw lines and circles that result in a collage effect. Indeed, the three could be seen as working in different media that just happen to merge on the same canvas.
Of the two additional tracks, "Bird Knows!" is especially notable for featuring Freeman's rarely-heard piano for most of its length. Rhapsodic and rugged, he works in broad areas of sound that crystallize in surprisingly gorgeous ways. His resonant surges shape the clarinet and conga improvisations, pushing them into a biting fragility not evident elsewhere. When Freeman shifts back to the bass in the closing three minutes, Warner seems more secure, and his phrase shapes take on a robust, wheeling energy. It's as if the introduction of another instrument shook up the dynamic, which speaks in itself to how cohesive and special the Freestyle Band's language was. This reissue is a testament to how much differentiation existed within loft jazz, and it's great to have the opportunity to spread the Freestyle Band's gospel once again.–CA

Charles Gayle Trio
Northern Spy
I've only seen Charles Gayle live once, and it was just last year during his brief tour with Han Bennink. Certainly one of my favourite drummers but hardly the perfect sparring partner for the 72-year-old saxophonist. And pianist (in fact, I rather prefer Gayle's piano playing to his tenor work, not that it makes much sense to compare them) – but it was on the Instants Chavirés' Bösendorfer that he suffered most, well and truly bludgeoned by the Dutchman's binary bash. Shame, because on paper it looked like a good match: two seasoned practitioners of fire music, big hitter meets big blower, but then again, I've always thought that pushing Gayle into the circus ring with other famous firebreathers – Peter Brötzmann, Franks Lowe and Wright, Arthur Doyle (in the good old days when he still had lungpower) and, more recently, Mats Gustafsson and Alan Wilkinson – was a mistake. True, Gayle first came to our attention just over a couple of decades ago, at a time when blowing your brain through the horn had a certain hardcore cachet with alt.rockers, amongst them Henry Rollins, who released Gayle's Delivered on his 2.13.61 imprint in 1997. But he's always struck me as a more fragile, wounded figure, that scream not of rage but of pain. Maybe it's the clown make-up (those oversize shoes and red noses have always scared me), maybe it's the knowledge that he spent many years living on the street, but I've always felt there was more depth to Gayle's playing, a bruised, gospel-inflected lyricism more subtle and moving than many of his peers. Slamming him down to the ground with a Bennink boogie is missing the point: there's plenty of circus in Han's playing, sure, but it's not the same circus where Gayle plays – or rather, doesn't play – the clown.
None of the above, I admit, has much to do with this album, which I reckon is Gayle's finest trio outing since Touchin' On Trane, his acclaimed FMP date with William Parker and Rashied Ali, twenty years ago. That this is Charles Gayle is as plain as the red nose on his face, from the rubbery exuberance of the opening "Compassion I" to the wide, wavering Ayler vibrato on the title track, and in bassist Larry Roland and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson he's found the ideal rhythm section, one that neither skulks in the background nor bullies the saxophonist into a groove or pushes him any harder than he needs to be pushed.–DW

Three Lobed Recordings
Glacial's sonorities are mainly shaped by Lee Ranaldo's scorching guitar, David Watson's beloved bagpipes and Tony Buck's ritual potions on the drums. Although the band – with minor variations in the lineup – has existed for over 13 years now, On Jones Beach represents their first official recording, a 750-copy (or so) limited vinyl edition enriched by Ursula Scherrer's cover photography and complemented by a download coupon for the whole enchilada – the 48-minute title track (recorded in 2005) and three shorter takes from live sessions at 2003's MIMI Festival and at New York's Tonic in 2006. Even if not exactly new, the music doesn't sound dated. Its primary constituent is an evident monotonality with loads of chordal grunge, layers of mantric distortion and percussive trance gradually added as the volume increases dramatically, bagpipes emitting penetrating war cries until the whole droning carnage ends in mayhem. There's a pause of sorts halfway through the longer set, with Buck left alone for a while before his ominous thumping resurrects the beast for another trilateral blitz. The brief live segments add further salt to a recipe that might gain the immediate interest of educated headbangers: if a psychedelically amorphous combination of Popol Vuh, Z'EV and Birchville Cat Motel is your idea of fun, this is right up your alley.–MR

Anna Homler / Sylvia Hallett
The Orchestra Pit
Anna Homler and Sylvia Hallett have so much in common that there's a certain inevitability to their coming together as a duo. Originally a vocalist, albeit a startlingly alien and surreal one, Homler has expanded her palette by deploying an extraordinary selection of toys, gadgets and gizmos to complement and alter her voice. Similarly, although Hallett still plays plenty of violin, her original instrument, she also continues to expand her repertoire, and the list of instruments featured on this album is as long as it is remarkable, including wood-devil, plumber's pipe, doll hearts, saw (used to particularly haunting effect on "Vishnu's Pond") and, that old Hallett favourite, bowed bicycle wheel. But despite the number of instruments available, there's never any danger of the sound space becoming cluttered; equal partners throughout, Homler and Hallett display taste and restraint in their choices, and complement one another admirably. They also make regular use of electronics to treat their instruments and voices, creating a broad spectrum of moods and atmospheres across the ten tracks, from ethnic to other-worldly ("Plutonian Lullaby" is fittingly titled). It's a kaleidoscopic soundscape, constantly shifting in ways that are unpredictable but highly distinctive and endlessly fascinating. More soon, please.–JE

Andrea Neumann/Bonnie Jones
Bonnie Jones and Andrea Neumann have been working together on and off for a number of years now. Both have created their own instruments, which are integral to their individual approaches. Neumann has taken the soundboard of a piano and modified, prepared, and close-miked it; while Jones works with modified open-circuit electronics, cell-phone motors, microphones, radio grabs, and recordings. The four pieces here are highly active improvisations with a rich sonic palette: the static, sputter, and crackles of Jones' electronics play off Neumann's hanging string sounds, scraped textures, and jangles. The two avoid conversational interplay, instead looking for organic ways to create a unified voice out of intermingled streams. They're canny and careful listeners, and the music moves naturally from muted detail to sprightly dynamism, even finding room on the second track for a waft of sonorous, folksy vocals. This is an unmissable encounter between two very distinctive musicians, and Erstwhile's usual impeccable recording reveals every nuance of it.–MRo

Alan Silva / Burton Greene
Long Song
Knowing that these six almost unremittingly gabby synth improvisations are the work of two trailblazers of free jazz who first met in 1962 only serves to heighten the frustration. Alan Silva's imagination has always been multicoloured and multitimbral, and his adoption of the synthesizer as one-man orchestra twenty years ago was a natural continuation of his work with the Celestrial Communication Orchestra in the glory days of BYG Actuel. But technology has moved on apace since, and these squeaky-clean digital recordings made in his front room only serve to remind us how dreadfully dull those preset patches are. The ear, when not sucked into a swamp of claggy "strings", is bombarded with volleys of toots, pings and squelches, and one longs for the inspired squiggles of Silva's violin, or the insanity of Burton Greene's inside piano explorations on those old ESP-Disk' albums. But they're are as far away in space and time as the ancient Indian civilisations this music purports to depict.–DW

Various Artists
To mark the passing of the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, Presqu'île has released a two-disc compilation to benefit the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. The compilation was inspired by Otomo Yoshihide's lecture at Tokyo University of the Arts on April 28, 2011, "The Role of Culture: After the Earthquake and Man-made Disasters in Fukushima," available at (check there for a number of multi-media contributions as well). Yoshihide ruminates on his ties to the area and how the event affected him, but also talks about the role of artists in response to world events. It's a meditation on art and community, and fittingly this compilation's ten tracks come from a global community of musicians from Europe, the US, and South Korea: a cultural act of support.
John Tilbury's half-hour performance of Dave Smith's "Al contrario," dedicated to Christopher Hobbs, treads the line between darkly shifting harmonies and overt romanticism, falling too often into the later camp. Magda Mayas's prepared-piano piece is one third its length but far more engaging; it's one of the strongest recordings I've heard by her, pairing bell-like tones with hanging reverberations and building to a dense crescendo and stuttering resolution. The contribution from Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki and Jin Sangtae, from a performance at Dotolim, features their patented cracked mechanical sounds, abraded gestures, and fissured electronics. It's a solid but less than essential performance, though it is well worth checking out the video piece that Richard Kammerman contributed (which is posted on the site).
The second disc kicks off with a short solo piece by Burkhard Beins which interlaces burred hisses, pulsing electronics, and hints of percussion: it's chock-full of ideas but a little truncated. Mark Wastell and Jonathan McHugh suffer the same fate with a dark drone piece, built out of Wastell's tam tam and the low growl of McHugh's electronics, that sounds like an excerpt. Annette Krebs appears twice: a duo with Chris Abrahams cross-cuts electronic textures, scraped guitar strings, and snippets of spoken word into an intimate collage, while the other creates a muted soundscape from string drones, soft puffs of trumpet, and field recordings of an anti-Wall Street demonstration in front of the Reichstag. "Fukushima for the Time Being" by Mural (Ingar Zach, Kim Myhr, and Jim Denley), an atmospheric blend of billowy flute, metallic percussion, and chafed strings, is full of careful listening and solid technique but comes off as a bit facile.
The other extended piece of the set is Greg Stuart's performance of Michael Pisaro's "The Bell-Maker." Pisaro instructs the performer to record 40 or more bells, struck multiple times according to a random process, though left to resonate until the sound decays between each strike. The various tracks are then overlaid and panned, in a soundscape intended (according to the composer) to evoke an evening full of stars. Quiet and delicate, Stuart's performance is an immersive experience for the listener. The set is completed by a solo trumpet improvisation by Greg Kelley, as thoughtful, diverse and imaginative in its sonic contrasts as ever. Kelley doesn't perform solo often these days, so it is a particular treat to hear him in this context.
At the end of his talk Yoshihide says, "our future depends on whether the name FUKUSHIMA remains saddled with negative connotations or if it's remembered as being the honorable name of a place that took the initiative in creating a new future. How do we interpret this current cruel reality, and how do we create the future? The role of culture lies there." Despite its unevenness, this compilation is an admirable attempt to fulfill this vision; it's well worth picking up both for the music it contains and the cause it supports.–MRo

Marzette Watts
Reedman Marzette Watts (1938-1998) only recorded two LPs as a leader, and while they are impressive, they're just one part of his life. An art student at Alabama State College, he was a member of the SNCC and was expelled for trying to register black students to vote (he later finished at NYU). Watts studied painting at the Sorbonne, and from what little is known (most of his paintings were destroyed), these works were large, abstract, thickly-impastoed canvases, owing something to Joan Mitchell and Willem De Kooning. An obscured image of one graces the back cover of the original vinyl of Marzette & Company. There's definitely a lifelong-student aspect to Watts' music, too – following informal lessons with Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp, he studied film and electronic music at Wesleyan University, an experience which fed into his own (unreleased) music as well as his engineering work for ESP, Ak-Ba, and Survival.
Marzette & Company was recorded in December 1966 for ESP, though it wasn't released until 1968. The session was assembled with the assistance of cornetist/trombonist Clifford Thornton, who also arranged the music. The band is a Who's Who of the loft underground of the period; in addition to Watts and Thornton it features reedman Byard Lancaster, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, vibraphonist Karl Berger, drummer J.C. Moses, and bassists Henry Grimes and Juni Booth (who was just 18 at the time). The CD era hasn't been kind to Watts' music – previous ZYX and Abraxas reissues had track titles mixed up and the sidelong "Backdrop" randomly indexed into separate pieces. Things are better with this pressing, though "Backdrop" is relegated to a closing spot, rather than the Side-A prominence it initially held. The cover art transfer is also skewed, which is unfortunate, as an elegantly title-free and color-blocked image graced the original jacket. But this is all somewhat tangential – the music hasn't lost any of its weight over 45 years.
"Ia" has a throaty lilt to it, voiced for tenor, flute and trombone, with a descending atonal figure tacked on. Watts is fast out of the gate, scumbled gobs of tenor supported by Moses' Philly Joe surge and the thrum of Grimes and Booth. The proceedings get pretty hairy four minutes in, as Lancaster switches to alto with a blood-curdling wail, buoyed by a near maelstrom before Sharrock's chords stretch out and hurtle forward. There's a tension between the ensemble caterwaul and its precursor, a hushed trombone line met with Booth's whispering ponticello, and this dirge-like unease closes out the piece. The funereal mood continues through "Geno," in a wailing, sighing conversation between alto, soprano and trombone, though the rhythm section provides lift with punchy movement, darting accents and meaty swing.
And then there's the morose but colourful "Backdrop." After a slow beginning – low bass clarinet curls, strummed accents and chattering, dry, almost rockish fills – the orchestra quickly becomes an agitated stew of overblown ululations and thick collective brushstrokes. Thornton is primarily on cornet here and his steely whine melds beautifully with the drummer's loose time and Berger's concentrated droplets. Moses keeps the hi-hat going and drops occasional fills while the horns and guitar enter into passages of rackety interplay, lending a crackling tension to the heavy blowing. On a particularly absurd and tinny Sharrock explosion, he's in furious, bashing hardbop mode, his tight, schooled Pittsburgh earthiness – a distinctive mixture of martial rhythms, funky breaks and layered fills – centering the music beautifully. No wonder that Max Roach dedicated a solo percussion piece to him in 1979 (on The Long March with Archie Shepp).
Watts made only one more record as a leader, Marzette Watts Ensemble on Savoy (1969), which, contrary to the liner notes for this ESP CD, was actually issued in small numbers. Less of a blowing session than Marzette & Company, it's a record equally deserving of reissue. It's a shame he didn't record more – three years after the debut, his chops seemed to be coming together and his tone on tenor was quite velvety – but these mysterious snapshots are enough to get at the essence of this Renaissance man well respected by his peers. More than an avant-garde footnote, Marzette Watts' recordings are worth seeking out.–CA

Veryan Weston / Ingrid Laubrock / Hannah Marshall
When pianist Veryan Weston formed this trio with two younger players, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and cellist Hannah Marshall, the idea was to play Steve Lacy tunes, but this hour-long set from a 2011 concert in Barcelona is entirely improvised. Despite the title this is a slow-burning album: the hushed prelude to "Sleeping Down Hill" sets the mood beautifully, Weston's spaced-out chords brushing softly against the ear and only gradually admitting more colour, Marshall and Laubrock seemingly one entity until they split apart five minutes into the piece. The Weston/Laubrock dialogue is especially to the fore once the textures thicken, and their accelerated eloquence touches on great tenor sax/piano pairings of the past – there's a fine moment where Weston splays out chords in the manner of Monk's "Evidence". Much of the pleasure here though is the way roles are constantly in flux: the cello melting into Weston's left hand figures or unexpectedly launching an airy phrase across the ensemble, Laubrock seizing the cellist's role with a series of thin peals. "Leaning Up", on which she switches to soprano for the first half, is lighter and more transparent in texture, passages of close-quarters interplay taking place on the borders of soft-edged dreamspace. Even in busy passages Weston likes to keep things shapely – with locomotive chording and parallel-hands games that are suggestive and multidirectional, not pushy – and there's only a very brief moment, at the track's climax, where he lets loose a piano-shaking barrage. It's superb music, capped by a lovely miniature encore, "Courtesy of None", which encapsulates the trio's ability to maintain focus and clarity even while being extremely understated, Laubrock and Marshall fluttering like moths around Weston's delicate, shivery piano.–ND

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page


Rodolphe Alexis
Listening to field recordings is like looking at someone else's holiday photographs; they may be very pretty but they'll never mean as much to you as they do to the person who took them. If acoustic ecology is your thing, though, you'll probably like these dispatches from the dry, wet and evergreen forests of Costa Rica. Personally, while in the past I've enjoyed hydrophone recordings of beasties lurking under Antarctic icebergs and bugs bubbling in Irish bogs, I wonder what grunting, farting mantled howler monkeys (alouatta palliata, in case you're interested – I'm not) and a tree full of peeping frogs are doing here in the middle of Paris. I can find other tropical rainforests here too if I scout about. I've still got a copy of La Selva somewhere, and I don't listen to that very much either.
"A stereo edit of a series of 'sequence-shots' where the quadrophonic microphone setup records all that passes by. Some are straight, untouched raw recordings, and others are slightly reworked," is how French sound artist Rodolphe Alexis describes his work, but there are more interesting things on offer over at his website, my favourite being an installation called Growl's Growlth, in which he records what happens when a handful of maggots are locked inside a perspex box with 300g of meat and allowed get on with it, buzzing their life away. Mercifully, the excerpt lasts just under two minutes, which is about the right duration for stuff like this. Ask Chris Watson.–DW

Thanos Chrysakis
Monochrome Vision
Thanos Chrysakis / Wade Matthews
Aural Terrains
Magma was, I'm ashamed to admit, sitting in the in-tray for several months before I finally got round to playing it. Not that I was actively avoiding it, suspecting it to be another awful slab of zeuhl by Christian Vander – though I dare say the mad dwarf of Kobaïa might find something to enjoy here if he ever managed to climb out of his own navel and listen to it. It's a mighty half-hour slab of musique concrète, and if that makes you think of Revoxes and scissors and splicing tape, don't: this is computer music through and through, with soundfiles swirling, squirming and churning in a maelstrom of activity. Greek acousmatic music? Xenakis comes to mind, inevitably, but he never did anything as pretty as this. The four-minute slow movement (yes, I think you could make a case for calling this a symphony) between 17' and 21' is one of the most gorgeous things I've heard all year.
Numen is the fourth Wade Matthews release on Chrysakis's Aural Terrains imprint, after Enantio-Apomia, Parállaxis and Punto Cero Aragón. For those familiar with his work over the past few years (and if you're not, you ought to be), the modus operandi is nothing new: the Madrid-based American expat takes field recordings and subjects them to serious digital reworking. The source material – fragments of popular music, dogs barking, cocks crowing, church bells, what have you (play spot the sample if you like) – is discernible from time to time, but, like the gamelan and gagaku Stockhausen brazenly pillaged for his Telemusik, it's subsumed into a structure beyond its original context. Combined with Chrysakis's squelchy, glistening supercolliding soundfiles, the information level climbs dangerously close to the Max(/MSP), but the musicians never topple over the cliff into sludgy confusion: every detail – and there are literally millions – is there for a reason, and if you're prepared to take the time you'll find out what it is. Splendid stuff.–DW

Yannick Dauby
Kalerne Editions
A resident of Taipei for several years, Yannick Dauby has gathered in this disc the fruits of three commissions aimed at emphasizing the sonic constituents of his current home. "Nous, Le Défunts" is defined by recurring echoes of folk-scented rituality, hypothetically salvaging intimate needs jeopardized by a problematic cohabitation in an overcrowded conurbation. Ardent ritual music gets mixed with all sorts of alarms and car horns, with cicadas and birds offering rural respite every once in a while. The beginning of "Taipei 2030" is informed by urban noise and (especially) by an underlying hum produced by "huge cooling machineries", an indispensable component of Taiwan's capital. Then we hear the local accents in a market scenario, the mechanical musicality of the transportation system and a magnificent remote drone that I couldn't identify, but which sounded very much like Mirror. The compositional precision is of a uniformly high level, this listener turned into a rapt bystander as the track ends with nocturnal reverberations, complete with crickets. "Ketagalan" is a homage to an almost vanished local ethnicity, yet the material used by Dauby, in spite of its environmental origin, often approaches contemporary electronica, with well-designed vocal loops and strategically placed quietness alternating with peculiar radio snippets and wraithlike voices. A moment of enhanced solitude: time for the mind to focus and appraise the space around us.–MR

Robert Hampson
Editions Mego
That Robert Hampson is more prolific these days is great news. A new record (this one), with another pair due in the autumn, also on Peter Rehberg's label, and the "reactivation" of Main, whose termination several years ago was principally due to an overwhelming sense of limitation felt by the project's instigator, fed up with reading guitars mentioned in any review even when there was no trace of them in the music. At any rate, the old axe is being rescued from the closet.
Répercussions comes in a CD/DVD edition (the latter containing the 5.1 surround version), whose three tracks depict different trajectories in Hampson's work, while continuing to reflect the "galactic wisdom" of his early experiments and their transformation of everyday sound sources into special radiations. The title track employs all sorts of mutated percussive materials – not exclusively instrumental – but the vastness of its acoustic scope pushes it into "Empreintes DIGITALes vs Roland Kayn" territory, high definition and total blur both underscored by a scent of inexorability. "De la Terre à la Lune" might induce visions of celestial geometry having been conceived for a performance at Poitiers' planetarium, but its menacing sonorities include affecting subsonic activity and sinister fluttering (marvellous looping shapes abound) and throw the listener into the long arms of uncertainty. In the last and shorter "Antarctica Ends Here" – originally released on a split 10" with Cindytalk, and dedicated to John Cale (remember "Antarctica Starts Here" in Paris 1919?) – resonant piano and marine life represent the essential ingredients in yet another demonstration of Hampson's ability to portray the kind of insecurity one harbours within when decisive choices are required and doubts linger on.–MR

Michael Pisaro / Toshiya Tsunoda
I believe the album title, like those of several notable Erstwhile releases recently, should be in lowercase, but make no apology for using capital letters above, because they've always been a traditional part of PT's oft-criticised layout and typeface (too late to change now), and, more importantly, because using caps is the only way a text can really be made to SHOUT OUT, and albums as good as this really do deserve to be shouted about, long and loud.
The Free Dictionary defines the verb "crosshatch" as "to mark or shade with two or more sets of intersecting parallel lines", and the noun as "the pattern made by such lines" (also, interestingly, it's the # symbol – the French for hatching is hachure, which might explain why the key came to be known as "hash" – goodness knows why the Americans ending up calling it "pound"). Michael Pisaro and Toshiya Tsunoda do indeed work along the same lines – the former's fondness for aurally rich field recordings in recent times has more in common with the latter's work than it does with the lengthy silences of his earlier compositions, or those of his Wandelweiser colleagues – and the intersection comes both horizontally, in the form of Pisaro's delicate added sinetones (and in places, guitar and piano), and vertically, in the occasional sudden shifts of texture.
Tsunoda used to provide exhaustive documentation on how, where and with what his exquisite location recordings were made, but here he leaves us to guess. Just as well, too – I'm fed up of getting albums that come with booklets of photos showing where the sounds were recorded: no better way to kill the imagination. Similarly, one suspects that there's some underlying durational scheme (is it a coincidence that the the first CD's four tracks last 44'44"?); Pisaro admits that he and Tsunoda started out with one, but that it became progressively written over during the lengthy process of collaboration. Yes, you can tell that this one took time to put together, and for once the old cliché really means something: richly repays repeated listening (I'm happy to announce, by the way, that this will be the last time I ever trot that tired little phrase out..).
Talk of cross-hatching reminds me of Jasper Johns' 1970s work, and a cursory surf dredged up a few quotations that might be of relevance here. The artist apparently noticed the pattern on a passing car one day: "I only saw it for a second, but knew immediately that I was going to use it. It had all the qualities that interest me – literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of a complete lack of meaning."
Pisaro and Tsunoda's work isn't exactly repetitive – we're not talking Steve Reich – and I certainly don't think it's dumb (not in the sense that I think Johns is using the word, meaning "stupid".. but "mute" might be possible), but it is literal, and certainly obsessive in its meticulous analysis of naturally resonant pitch and timbre. It doesn't push you around and dictate how you listen, either, or reveal the composers' intentions, not that I suspect they had (m)any. Here's Jasper again: "Intention involves such a small fragment of our consciousness and of our mind and of our life. I think a painting should include more experience than simply intended statement. I personally would like to keep the painting in a state of shunning statement, so that one is left with the fact that one can experience individually as one pleases; that is, not to focus the attention in one way, but to leave the situation as a kind of actual thing, so that the experience of it is variable."
And, while strongly encouraging you to get hold of this superb double album at your earliest convenience, I can do no better than leave the last word to David Sylvester, from whose About Modern Art the above quotation is also swiped. Substitute "Pisaro and Tsunoda's" for "Johns's". "Johns's marks articulate matter on a surface so that it becomes an objective correlative of sensations such as, say, looking without focusing, looking fixedly, looking out of windows, looking into darkness, seeing things grow, seeing them sicken, seeing the passing of a day, feeling threatened, feeling nothing, feeling elated, feeling tears prick the back of one's eyes."–DW

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

Lighting Out For The Territories
As you've probably realised by now, if you've already read the featured interview, this is the final issue of Paris Transatlantic – and if you haven't read the interview and are wondering why, well, read the interview. My sincere and affectionate thanks go out to all who have contributed to this publication over the years (especially since I officially took over in 2003), namely Marcelo Aguirre, Clifford Allen, Alicia Austin, James Baiye, Paul Baran, Steve Beresford, Derek Bermel, Jason Bivins, Andrew Carvin, Charity Chan, Joshua Cody, David Cotner, Jon Dale, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, John Eyles, Jean-Claude Gevrey, John Gill, Jesse Goin, Rachel Grace, Stephen Griffith, Théo Jarrier, Vid Jeraj, Sean Hickey, Walter Horn, Richard Hutchinson, Al Jones, Larry Kart, Tomas Korber, Guy Livingston, Marc Medwin, Lara Melin Siggel, Roy Morris, Joe Musgrove, T.J. Norris, Brian Olewnick, Natasha Pickowicz, Richard Pinnell, Massimo Ricci, Nicholas Rice, Graham Rogers, Michael Rosenstein, Frank Sani, Philippe Simon, Wayne Spencer, Jamie Stephenson, Louis Sterrett, Derek Taylor, Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, Julia Werntz, Kristoffer Westin, Alastair Wilson, Matt Wuethrich and Logan K. Young (think that's all – if I've forgotten anyone please let me know). Shots out to the three MVPs, Clifford Allen (108 reviews), Nate Dorward (163) and Massimo Ricci (249), and I'm especially grateful to Nate, and more recently Matt Wuethrich, for invaluable assistance with proofreading, which I'm just not good at. But thanks most of all go the people out there who have sent so much great music my (our) way over the years – here's hoping you've found something useful, informative and enjoyable in what we've written about it.–DW

>>back to top of SUMMER 2012 page

Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic