JULY News 2006 Reviews by Marcelo Aguirre, David Cotner, Nate Dorward, Massimo Ricci, Nick Rice, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:

From the Archives: The Sound Of Silence: The Music and Aesthetics of the Wandelweiser Group
Going Fragile:
Mattin / Malfatti
Scott Walker
In Concert:
MaerzMusik 2006
In Concert: David Robertson at Carnegie Hall
Trio 3 / Thomas Chapin / Bruise w/ Derek Bailey / Tetuzi Akiyama / Nels Cline & Jeremy Drake / Howard Riley / Brand, Perkis, Robair, Shiurba & Sperry
Joe McPhee / Eddie Prévost / Henry Kaiser / Sextessence / Lacey, Vogel & Wastell
Warren Burt / Arditti Quartet / Musica Futurista / Icebreaker
Kiyoshi Mizutani / Afflux / John Duncan & CM von Hausswolf / Crawling With Tarts / Function / Loscil / Nightmares on Wax / Vetiver / Sleeping Moustache / Arastoo
Last month


If you scroll down the old PT homepage you'll see, in the right-hand column under the photo of Alan Licht, a thing called "Quote of the Day", which changes, logically enough, every day. Don't ask me how it works; I didn't put it there. I just selected some favourite quotes from early PT interviews and webmeister Guy Livingston did the rest. (One day I might learn how to do that myself. Maybe. In any case it's about time we had some new quotes up there.) A few days ago I happened to notice that one of these quotations was from the French composer Brice Pauset, complete with a link to the interview from which it was extracted. Except that the link didn't work because the interview, which dates from 1997, that happy time before Paris Transatlantic went online, had never been formatted in html and posted on the site! But it's up there now – so do go and have a look. It hasn't aged all that badly, and, since it appeared, some of Monsieur Pauset's music has finally appeared on disc (there's a very good disc on Aeon called Préludes).
Continuing the "blast from the past" theme, to accompany the Radu Malfatti review below, I've dug up and reposted an article on the Wandelweiser Group that originally appeared in Signal To Noise magazine. It's reprinted here with kind permission of STN editor Pete Gershon, who also asks me to tell you that he has a pile of back issues of that particular issue cluttering up his garage, just in case you're interested. Thanks as always to our contributors: new man in Berlin Marcelo Aguirre burning the midnight oil in pursuit of music theatre, Nick Rice concluding his sojourn in NYC with yet another trip to Carnegie Hall – watch out for an interview coming next month with celebrated critic John Rockwell – and regular prose warriors Dorward, Cotner, Ricci and Taylor doing the business. Bonne lecture.-DW

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The Sound of Silence

The music and aesthetics of the Wandelweiser Group
This article originally appeared in Signal To Noise, and is reprinted with the kind permission of Pete Gershon
Composers on both sides of the Atlantic are usually independent, even solitary, characters and rarely meet, let alone discuss with, other composers outside of board meetings at university faculties and research facilities like Paris' IRCAM or Amsterdam's STEIM. The famous "school" that formed at the Darmstadt summer courses in the years immediately following the trauma of World War II fell apart at the end of the 50s as its principal figures – Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono, Maderna et al.– went their separate ways, often refusing to speak to each other for years on end. The so-called New York School that formed around John Cage at about the same time (including Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff and David Tudor) was more successful from a personal relations point of view (there were no bust ups and ego trips), but was more a loose coalition of like-minded spirits than a structured organisation committed to the publication and performance of its members' work. Back then, of course, putting out albums was no easy business – only a maverick like Sun Ra went the whole distance and threw himself into the creation of a truly independent record label with its attendant problems of logistics and distribution – half a century on, with the advent of desktop publishing, powerful and effective digital recording technology and distribution systems geared to internet and email, composers are no longer at the mercy of the traditional publishing houses and profit-driven major labels. In 1992, Dutch-born composer/flutist Antoine Beuger and German Burkhard Schlothauer (composer/violinist) created the Wandelweiser Group, a collective of composer/performers dedicated to the performance, recording and publication of their own music. In 1993 Swiss clarinettist and composer Jürg Frey was invited to join, followed by Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti the following year, then American guitarist Michael Pisaro, Swiss pianist Manfred Werder, and more recently American trombonist Craig Shepard (Korean-born Kunsu Shim was an early member but later left the group; other Wandelweisers include Germans Carlo Inderhees, Markus Kaiser and Thomas Stiegler, Brazilian guitarist Chico Mello and Japanese pianist Makiko Nishikaze). The group runs its own publishing operation, Wandelweiser Edition, and its own record label Timescraper. Schlothauer also runs the sister Zeitkratzer label and ensemble with Rheinhold Friedl.
If you haven't heard of the Wandelweiser Group, don't be surprised: even if, without realising it, you had the good fortune to be in a room with one of the group's albums playing in the background, you might not even notice it – for, to quote Radu Malfatti, Wandelweiser music is about "the evaluation and integration of silence[s] rather than an ongoing carpet of never-ending sounds. Even though each individual approaches the problem from a different angle, we seem to have an overall consensus of how "real avant-garde music" should or could sound." It's quiet. Very.

What is silence, anyway? Opinions can differ on the subject (even within the Wandelweiser Group). For Burkhard Schlothauer (photo, left), "it's necessary to hear the beginning, the being and the end of a sound. It's necessary to have time to forget the sound and create a space in the mind for a new one with its coming, being and going. It's a way of showing them respect." Jürg Frey speaks of "many different silences: silence between sounds, before you hear a sound and after you've heard a sound. Silence which never comes into contact with the sounds, but which is omnipresent and exists only because sound exits. Silence is a material. And material is useful to make pieces with." Michael Pisaro turns the traditional notions of sound and silence around: "We become aware that each moment is completely filled with sensations and thoughts. Silence is (for me anyway) far more packed with experience, far more complex than anything we can produce with sound. Paradoxically, it is sound which is (or at least can be) empty. For example, a sustained sound, just barely audible, can be forgotten. It hangs around so long that we get used to it and stop paying attention. At the same time there is just enough to cover much of what would be revealed by a silence. So the sound is there acoustically, but not always mentally. Its presence is finally noticed again only when it disappears. And it leaves a trace – not really a specific memory, just an awareness that something was once there." For Antoine Beuger, silence "has nothing to do with calmness or quietness. It cannot be found in nature. It occurs as an event, as a rupture into the situation one is in. It's not necessarily nice or beautiful, it may well be quite horrifying. In any case it evokes a strong awareness of what is taking place at all, a direct – not symbolic or imaginative – encounter with reality, which means with contingency, singularity, emptiness. Silence in my music always is encounter with reality, enforced by the event of a situation being disrupted without any reason."

John Cage is still a figure of central importance to the Wandelweiser composers. Beuger traces the roots of his music to Cage: "his decision to consider silence in a non-functional way, implying a radically different way of dealing with intention, structure, time and (musical) experience. Contrary to most current thinking, I consider 4'33" as the beginning – not an end – of a serious involvement with silence as an autonomous musical phenomenon." Cage's notational innovations also remain influential. Michael Pisaro notes that "the heritage of Cage (and the other American experimentalists) is that each idea (each piece) requires an independent notational solution. I think this comes from a sense that notation is not a form of communication, but an incitement to action (or at times, non-action). The character of that action comes in response to the score. There are many beginnings in Cage, many unfinished ideas, many ideas with implications far beyond what he had time to explore." Burkhard Schlothauer puts it more bluntly: "The only composer I'm really interested in is Cage."
We all know now, half a century on from Cage's infamous 4'33", that real silence doesn't exist. Or so the oft-repeated tale goes of JC sitting in Harvard's anechoic chamber and being able to hear his nervous system ringing and his blood circulating, thereby coming to the conclusion that he was involuntarily making music all the time without hitherto realising it. If by "silence" one means "a total absence of sound", then Cage's observations are (undoubtedly, one assumes) acoustically correct. Most people visiting, say, the Grand Canyon or Death Valley for the first time come away with a very clear idea of what "silence" sounds like: it is the sound of the acoustical space we find ourselves in once all other sounds – man-made or otherwise – have ceased, or become inaudible to the human perceptual apparatus (a clear night out in the desert may seem pretty silent to us ordinary mortals, but it could be mighty noisy for the local bat population).
In 1960, LaMonte Young wrote a piece entitled Poem for Tables, Chairs, Benches, etc. which required these heavy objects to be dragged across the floor according to timings determined by his piece Vision, which "described with insistent precision" (Cardew) eleven sounds to be made over a duration of thirteen minutes. How is silence perceived in these works? Given that Young's sounds are so harsh, so noisy, they impress themselves into the aural memory in a manner analogous to the retinal afterburn experienced after looking at an intensely bright light for a brief moment – they may not be physically audible anymore but they continue to exist in memory. They colour the silence that follows them – Young's silence then is not the same as Cage's. In Radu Malfatti's string quartet, das profil des schweigens ("the profile of silence", Timescraper EWR 9801), the sounds, when they appear, are rich in noise – the timbres of bowed wood – but devoid of pitch and rhythmic identity. They do not impose upon the silence that surrounds them – if anything, like tiny pencil lines on a large sheet of white paper, they serve to articulate the perception of silence as an integral element of the work's form.

"I don't need the silent piece anymore," Cage wrote later in life, presumably meaning that both he himself and attentive listeners to his (and other composers') work had assumed the desired listening practice, a kind of actively contemplative openness-of-ear to all sounding events, be they written in the score or occurring simultaneously within (or outside) the performance space. Before studying Cage, the scratches, hisses and plonks that peppered my old vinyls of his music were extremely annoying – now I can enjoy my battered CRI copy of Maro Ajemian playing the Sonatas and Interludes just as much as a pristine new CD version. Curiously though, I've systematically replaced my lp copies of Stockhausen, Ligeti, Boulez and Nono with compact discs, presumably assuming that they wouldn't consider surface noise and static crackles as being as "important" as the music they've written.
Listening to the music of the Wandelweiser group, I'm led to wonder if any of the members of the collective would agree to bring out their music on vinyl, especially since each release on their own Timescraper label also includes some text (sometimes longer than that accompanying the music itself) describing in detail the technical difficulties encountered during the recording (choice of acoustic, microphones and their placing, and so forth). "In the first concerts we did, I was very dissatisfied that there was no "silence" in the places where we played," recalls Burkhard Schlothauer. If the music places extreme demands on your concentration, it also calls into question traditional conventions of performance space and duration. The daswirdas collective chose to record John Cage's Branches (EWR 9901), a rarely-heard 1976 piece calling for Mexican poinciana seed pods and amplified cacti, inside an enormous concrete dam in Switzerland. For a Timescraper album it's quite action-packed, filled with myriad rustlings and crackles (perhaps the performers had to keep themselves busy to combat hypothermia: the temperature inside the dam was a constant 6°!). In contrast, Antoine Beuger's calme étendue (spinoza) begins with no less than nine minutes of silence (be aware, before you run back to the store to exchange it). For this work, the most monumental spoken-text composition since Cage's Empty Words, Antoine Beuger (photo, above) extracted all the single-syllable words from Spinoza's Ethics and read them slowly one by one, interspersed, of course, with silence. A complete performance of the piece – yes, there has been one – lasts 180 hours (the CD version lasts a mere 70 minutes..). At the opposite extreme, Kunsu Shim's Chamber Piece No. 1 (EWR 0104) is all over in four seconds! Manfred Werder's 1998 stück ("piece") lasts anything from twelve seconds to four hundred hours; his bassflöte bassklarinette viola violoncello 1998 is more modest, its maximum duration being a mere 72 minutes (the version just released, also on EWR 0104, clocks in at under nineteen minutes).

The necessarily contemplative listening that this music demands has led to the group being branded as quasi-mystics, to which Beuger responds: "We do our thing with utmost integrity and seriousness, with confidence and trust. We take it totally seriously, even if we can joke about it. There is this German word heiterkeit (in English something like: cheerfulness, serenity) which implies: clarity, calmness, joy, brightness, ease, fulfilment. This is exactly the word, which comes to my mind all the time, thinking about what we are doing." Burkhard Schlothauer adds: "For me it's fantastic to be a composer, but also a father, friend, man, not a stupid specialist. I enjoy the freedom of singing kitsch melodies and playing electric violin in pop music." Such an attitude is close to the down-to-earth common sense notions of Zen that Cage so admired. Nevertheless, attentive listening to this music instils in the listener a state of concentration not dissimilar to what is normally associated with the practice of meditation: the body is still, but the mind is fantastically alive and alert. Hence the title of the guitar piece by Michael Pisaro (photo, above left): Mind is Moving (EWR 0106), a performance of which changed Craig Shepard's life and ultimately led him to join the Wandelweiser group: "At the time I was reading about the way the native American Hopi Indians approached time in their language. I was excited about how I perceived time while listening to Michael's performance. It warped and stretched. It was like waking up after a good sleep and being unable to tell what time it is. That's disorienting and refreshing."
The mind is alert not only to the music, but to the myriad sounds that surround us in everyday life, sounds that would otherwise be filtered out by the brain as either uninteresting or irrelevant. As I write this, with Antoine Beuger's Die Geschichte des Sandkorns ("the sand grain's story", EWR 9602) in my headphones at 11.30pm, the low hum of a restaurant kitchen ventilator is present as an aural backdrop to the sustained tones and delicate rustlings of Edwin Buchholz's accordion. A car goes by, a dog barks somewhere. Cars, dogs and fans have no doubt been at it all evening, but my perceptual apparatus didn't consider them as worthy of attention until I put the Beuger CD on.
If the listening experience is utterly engrossing – it is – what of the after-listening experience? You know the old cliché, the public spilling out onto the Broadway sidewalks humming the last show-stopping tune (not only Broadway either: remember Anton Webern once confidently asserted that the milkmen of the future would one day be whistling his music!).. Because the sound material of Wandelweiser music is so modest, so self-effacing, what remains after the piece has finished is not a precise musical memory (sound, pitch, melody..), but rather a feeling of intense satisfaction, a sense of having spent an hour or so of your life fully engaged in something, the pleasure of having experienced the world afresh.

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Mattin / Malfatti

I'm as big a Radu Malfatti fan as anybody, having had the pleasure of playing with the Vienna-based trombonist and composer myself and premiering one of his pieces, but I have to admit to feeling a bit uneasy about an album that comes adorned with quotations from the man himself (not to mention his playing partner here, Mattin, and the annoyingly quotable Walter Benjamin), as if the music it contains is to be heard as a kind of illustration of the accompanying manifesto. Radu does indeed have some very important things to say – and I'm delighted to report he says many of them in the interview he gave Paris Transatlantic a few years ago – but if I'm given the choice between reading about music and listening to it you know damn well I'll opt for the listening every time. Going Fragile contains two tracks, one (41'43" long) recorded in Amann Studios in Vienna (where else?) on October 16th last year, the other, just under 21 minutes in duration, from five days later in concert in Tarcento, Italy (what seems to be another brief extract of this event has been available for a while as a free download at Mattin's website). The live track has the added interest of audience noise, or at least a backdrop of warm ambient hiss for M&M's ultra reductionist puffs and wisps of sound to drift across. If you like hardcore lowercase improv you'll find it an agreeable, if somewhat arid, listen. But when you get into reading the blurb you begin to wonder if you're missing out on something of monumental importance.
"People are innovative when they are outside of their warm shit, outside of the familiar and comfortable... I don't know exactly what I want, but I do know exactly what I do not want," writes Malfatti. But open up the gatefold and Mattin's own text seems to be hinting at something slightly different: "To be open, receptive and exposed to the dangers of making of improvised music means exposing yourself to unwanted situations that could break the foundations of your own security." (Italics mine.) This would seem to imply that while Mattin is ready for anything (and his own sprawling discography would seem to bear that out, including as it does teeth-grating harsh noise outings with Tim Goldie and Junko, fucked-up punk with Billy Bao and decidedly tacky if not downright awful lo-fi faux-pop songs in the Song Book), Malfatti isn't. My own fond memories of playing with Radu, while I've scribbled on elsewhere, notably in the chapter I recently contributed to Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum, include a rehearsal prior to our concert with pianist Frédéric Blondy which Radu prefaced with a little talk explaining exactly what he didn't want to hear (he'd heard about some of Fred's more exuberant piano bashing exploits from Axel Dörner and wanted to make sure that our forthcoming improvised set would not suddenly catapult him back through time to the gnarly high energy of his early FMP albums). To my admittedly down-to-earth dumb way of thinking then, it seems that the two aesthetic positions described above are at least partially unreconcilable: either you are open to unwanted situations – and that could mean your playing partner suddenly throwing a C major arpeggio at you, or a snippet of some dreadful TV theme tune (I'm thinking of Steve Beresford here) – or you aren't. I could be way off the mark (it wouldn't be the first time), but I seriously doubt Radu would have chosen to work with Mattin so often if he hadn't managed to persuade him to leave the loud and fast stuff well alone. In the same way that it was made crystal clear to Fred Blondy that any attempt to sound like that other Fred, Van Hove, would not have been welcome, I'm prepared to wager a small sum that Mattin was politely requested to steer well clear of Pinknoise.
So sentences like "what I would like to explore here are the moments in which players leave behind a safe zone and expose themselves in the face of the internalized structures of judgment that govern our appreciation of music" might lead you expect something a tad more dramatic than the music on the disc. If you are already familiar with Malfatti and Mattin's earlier wmo/r release Whitenoise, or their collaboration with Klaus Filip and Dean Roberts on the Grob album Building Excess, or with any of Malfatti's post-1993 work and Mattin's quieter outings with the likes of Taku Unami, Taku Sugimoto and Mark Wastell, what you'll hear on Going Fragile will hardly come as a surprise. To return to Malfatti's quotation above, it might not be all that comfortable (for some), but it's certainly not unfamiliar.

One of the central tenets of Malfatti's PT interview was the distinction he made between progression, stagnation and regression: "Some people think they own the field and never want to leave it: maybe they'll even fight for it. (Stagnation: Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and many others.) Some people get bored and do the worst thing they can do, which is go back to the initial field or even beyond. (Regression: Gavin Bryars, Ligeti, Barry Guy and many others.) Some people leave the old 'new' field and go further, keeping the momentum of the initial searching and exploring. (Progression: Nono, Coltrane and not many others!)." And, presumably, Radu Malfatti. But one of the dictionary definitions I've found of "stagnant" is "showing little or no sign of activity or advancement; not developing or progressing; inactive", which, as descriptions go, is quite appropriate for Going Fragile. With the exception of the last eight minutes of track one, where things get remarkably busy (by Malfatti standards five or six notes a minute is positively verbose), sonic events appear reasonably regularly – after four or five listens I found I was able to anticipate to within four or five seconds more or less when the next sound would appear, not to mention more or less what it would be: Malfatti has pared what was once a truly prodigious technique on the trombone down to a few slow intakes of brassy breath and some lovely, velvety low register pouffes of sound, while Mattin's computer feedback is clearly recognisable to those familiar with his earlier outings, even if here it's rather grandiosely billed as "gnu/linux computer feedback".
"When we talk about stagnation and progression there is just one instrument to help us explain what we mean, and that is time, history," writes Malfatti here, in what again I interpret as a veiled claim to membership of that small and exclusive club of progressives. (And who can blame him? I can't think of many improvising musicians out there who don't believe that what they're doing is in some way progressive – and I know of nobody who would stand up and be counted as a "regressive" or a "stagnant", with all its attendant associations of fetid water..) But this is the old "standing the test of time" argument, the artist so far ahead of his time that he's misunderstood and reviled by all but a handful of his contemporaries, before – miraculo! – his creations are dug up and hailed as works of genius by enlightened souls at some stage in the (hopefully not too distant) future.
Don't get me wrong here, folks: I'm not saying I don't like Going Fragile – in fact I find it a very attractive and remarkably musical piece of work by two musicians I have great respect for – but I think that the deadly serious steel grey manifesto plastered all over the album makes claims for it that it are not borne out by my listening experience. To be blunt, I think it's rather a good example of the stagnation Malfatti is so critical of – but as I can still get just as much pleasure from listening to Derek Bailey, Barry Guy and Ligeti as I can from Nono and Coltrane, I don't mind that at all.

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Scott Walker

How should pop music grow old? And how should we who have grown up listening to it grow old with it? When Lou Reed released Magic and Loss back in 1992 it was described, rather well I thought, as "pop music for grown-ups" by one French journalist (can't remember who exactly, maybe Philippe Manoeuvre but on second thoughts it sounds too serious to be him). As we all get older, go grey, lose teeth and have to spend all night long trying to do what we used to do all night long, it's only natural, I guess, that pop's timeless obsession with getting laid and getting high should be replaced by disease, decay and death. After all, as I've said before somewhere, there's nothing so patently ridiculous as watching Mick and Keef (sorry, Sir Mick – and that knighthood's patently ridiculous for starters) prancing round the stage as if they were still in their late teens. But, as most of my English students here will confirm, it's hard to tell the difference between "sixteen" and "sixty" on a bad phone line. Actually, I can think of something as patently ridiculous as a Rolling Stones concert: British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown pretending to like the fucking Arctic Monkeys. Gimme a break. Almost as cynical as the leader of the Tory party choosing Benny Hill's "Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West" on Desert Island Discs. I just wish that smarmy bastard could be sent off to a real desert island and forced to listen to Benny Hill until the end of his days. Why can't people act their age, and not their shoe size, to quote the Purple One?
Scott Walker is 63 now, but don't let that bother you. Even if he didn't look older than his twenty something years back in the 60s when he went AWOL from the Walker Brothers and nipped off to study Gregorian chant in a monastery, he certainly sounded older. And songs like "Rosemary" on Scott 3 and "Rhymes of Goodbye" on Scott 4 were definitely miles away from the prevailing zeitgeist of "Good Vibrations". But it is tempting to make comparisons with that other 60s wunderkind-turned-recluse, Brian Wilson, who had half a ton of sand dumped in his studio so he could play the piano barefoot and pretend he was at the beach. Nearly half a century on, on The Drift, Scott Walker's first real album since the eminently disturbing Tilt (the Pola-X soundtrack pales in comparison), the imagery is altogether darker, not surprisingly, but having his long suffering percussionist Alasdair Malloy thwack the shit out of a side of meat to get just the right dull thud for "Clara" (the morbid if oddly touching tale of Mussolini's lover Claretta Petacci, who chose to die with him and whose body was also strung up by the heels in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan – "The breasts are still heavy / The legs long and straight / The teeth are too small / The eyeside is green / The hair long and black") is the kind of literalism Wilson would surely understand.
If Reed's Magic and Loss tells of a personal tragedy, The Drift seems to address nothing less than global catastrophe, a nightmare world of dictators and torturers. And it's a world whose dark alleyways Walker has been exploring for three decades. "Buzzers" ("Polish the fork and stick the fork in him") looks back to "The Electrician" on Nite Flights, and there are plenty of cross connections to 1984's Climate of Hunter and 1995's Tilt. Of course, the recording by Walker's long time associate Peter Walsh is superb, and the booklet of lyrics as chillingly beautiful as a Hafler Trio album. Unlike Tilt, which came out on Fontana (and I'd love to know what the folks in charge of the label really thought of it), The Drift is on 4AD. The downside of releasing your shit on that particular label is that some idiot is going to start comparing you to The Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, but the upside is you get Vaughan Oliver to do your album cover – and this one's a real beauty.
Jonathan Dean begins his review of the album over at Brainwashed (there's a whole helluva lot of reviews of The Drift out there for your perusal, go Google..) as follows: "I would like to claim that the central rift of opinion on the solo career of Scott Walker falls between those who think that the aging crooner's music has become ridiculously pretentious, and those who think he's a genius. Actually, though, this would be inaccurate, as even those who love Scott Walker and think him a genius are also likely to find him pretentious. The only difference between admirers and detractors is that admirers can look past Walker's many pretensions, and the detractors either refuse to or can't." Good point. So I went to my online dictionaries for a definition of the P-word and came up with "making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing)" and "expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature." Whether Walker's opaque musings on subjects as diverse as the atrocities of Abou Ghraib and Elvis Presley's stillborn twin brother Jesse are "justified" or not I leave for you to decide, but "excessive" and "exaggerated" are certainly adjectives that spring to mind when that bombastic late 60s-style string glissando cluster angst à la Gorecki / Penderecki comes screaming in. It's about as subtle as bashing a five foot cubed wooden box with a breeze block (you get to hear what that sounds like too on "Cue"). And if something's worth doing, it's worth doing twice, so most of the album's "special effects" come round again. This is pop music anyway – that old verse / chorus structure isn't far away – or at least it started out as pop music. Actually, I don't know what the hell it is.
If, as one wag once wrote, the ECM label releases jazz for people who don't like jazz, there's a case for saying perhaps that Scott Walker produces opera for people who don't like opera. Firstly, there are those lyrics, whose modernist multiple allusions have more in common with The Waste Land than they do with Wasted. Like Eliot in his famous notes accompanying his 1922 poem, which always struck me as being more about the writer wanting to impress the reader with his knowledge, it would seem that Walker isn't exactly backward about coming forward with explanations. If lines like "Neath the bougie a thimble rigger slyly rolls the pea" and "jigger raps pits" will have you scratching your head, Walker has, this time round, been unusually forthcoming about the origins of some of his material, both textual and musical. The whispered "Pow! Pow!"s that pan left to right throughout "Jesse", apparently symbolize 9/11's World Trade Center double whammy (and are neatly mirrored in the two chord riff of "Jailhouse Rock", here transposed and slowed down to become a spaghetti western dirge). Elsewhere, "The Escape" juxtaposes the pedal steel octave glissando that opens a Warner Brothers cartoon with a chord Walker thought was penned by Hungarian composer György Kurtág (the Mr K of the dedication) until he discovered he had lifted it himself from, appropriately enough, Charles Ives' Unanswered Question. (I think I'm right on the Warner Brothers twang thing – what other explanation could there be for the crazy Donald Duck impersonation later in the song? Pure madness? Evidence of a sense of humour? Who knows?). And by now everyone's read about how the lyrics of opening "Cossacks Are" were culled, Burroughs-like, from newspaper cuttings; "medieval savagery and a calculated cruelty" is Carla Del Ponte on Slobodan Milosevic (who also gets a namecheck later at the opening of "Buzzers"); "I'm looking for a good cowboy" is George W. Bush's "real backhanded compliment" (as Walker described it to The Wire's Rob Young) to Jacques Chirac; and "You could easily picture this in the current top ten" could be from anywhere but certainly doesn't apply to The Drift.
Such snippets of knowledge shared with the listener serve several purposes – firstly they might help explain why it's taken over a decade for The Drift to see the light of day ("Scott hasn't been writing a hell of a lot, but he's sure been reading"), and secondly, the fact that Walker feels the need to inform us, on the outer protective cardboard box no less, that "during the Middle Ages people afflicted with the skin disease psoriasis were known as the silver people," as well as "Srebrenica had been the richest inland city in the Balkans, a cosmopolitan mining town – its very name meant silver" establishes a link between what would otherwise be considered as separate, if adjacent, songs ("Buzzers" and "Psoriatic"), inviting us to listen to the album as a whole – an opera rather than a collection of arias.
And then of course there's the voice – which in true operatic style sings every line with the same precision and concern for detail, be it "BAM BAM BAM BAM" or "I'm the only one left alive". While I'm not sure I agree with Dean when he writes "Walker's painfully affected vocals invite derision, especially the older and more wilfully obscure he gets", I do think he has a point when he says "you've got to admit that no one else's voice would work nearly as well on a Scott Walker album." (Well, yeah, though David Bowie did do a fucking ace cover of "Nite Flights", you will recall). In a tantalising little video interview over at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpwhMiFNPcI Walker describes The Drift as even more "shaved down" than the album that preceded it, and indeed the sparsity of the arrangements – the bare ocarina and drums accompaniment during the verse on "Clara", the almost comical honking of a shawm later in the piece – is as impressive as the wailing wall of dense snarling strings. Shaved down it might be, but there's enough extraordinary music and poetry on The Drift to keep us all busy until the next Scott Walker outing. Let's hope we don't have to wait another eleven years – by that time Scott will be 74, and not even Sir Mick will be taking to the stage when he's 74. At least I bloody well hope not.

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In Concert: MaerzMusik
MaerzMusik Festival
Berlin, Various Venues
March 16th - 26th 2006
Celebrating its fifth anniversary, Berlin’s annual leading contemporary music festival focused its latest edition on the complex undercurrents between Japan and the West and the ubiquitous concept of intercultural expression among music and arts, with a typically multifarious program. Ten days of Dionysian excess, 33 concerts to submerge both mind and body in myriad situations of critical awareness, reflection, analysis and ultimately, educational value. This being my fourth time, I was also prepared for ten days of less sleep, fast food, beer and smoke, running against the clock from one place to another, and plenty of after hours discussion and socializing. As Jens Brand amusingly described the not yet surpassed highlight of MaerzMusik 2004 (covered in these pages by Philippe Simon), "a wellness with drinks and music". This year’s edition, presenting as usual a roster of the most renowned composers and interpreters in today's music, perhaps tipped the balance too far towards contemporary (academic, written) music, and less towards experimental new music. The emphasis was on music theatre, with four such productions, two of them commissioned works.
Chinese composer Cong Su was educated in Beijing after China’s Cultural Revolution at the end of the 70s and then in Munich during the 1980s, and has been based in Germany for a while. His "computer opera" Welt im Quecksilberlicht, with libretto based on the poetry of exile Gu Cheng, offered a multitude of elements that merged in a fragmentary architecture of complex events. Moments of disturbed beauty resurfaced in the mix of video footage of Maoist China, projections of the translated texts, Chinese actor-singers and multi-channel computer-assisted composition. The Berlin-based multimedia ensemble Die Maulwerker, created around the teachings of eminent Fluxus composer Dieter Schnebel (certainly one of music theatre’s most disparate forerunners) contributed theatrical antics and vocalizing. However, the dialogue between the plasticity of movement and the sophisticated declamations of both Yanan Li and bass Dong-Jian Gong and the less expressive, somewhat formalist contributions of Die Maulwerker proved incongruent, and the music, despite its effective sampling of field recordings and traditional Asian folk music, seemed irresistibly fond of preset-like sounds. As a critical observation of interculturalism, this first encounter was less than satisfying.
Former Stockhausen and Boulez associate, Hungarian born Peter Eötvös' "sound-theatre" As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams was originally premiered in the prestigious, establishment new music festival Donaueschingen. Based on the 11th century Japanese diaries of Lady Sarashina, it created a dreamlike atmosphere indeed, with its texts delivered in a David Tibet-like recitative, sparse lighting and minimal scenery. Its illusory, shifting transparent squares and quiet vocalising were mildly soporific, but the music managed to subliminally entice, with its sparse cello intro, live ensemble of actor / musicians gracing the libretto with trombones, sousaphone and piano, submerging the audience in a lethargic tone poem.
The collaborative work between pianist Aki Takahashi (photo, left) and German sound artist Rolf Julius, turned composer for this occasion, seemed an intriguing proposition. A visual score hanging on the wall, large enough to be seen by the audience, consisted of 164 imperfect black painted circles, with another six red ones placed randomly between. It translated into a desolate language of clusters and isolated notes, separated by abysses of dead air and fierce keyboard attacks, in a realization by Takahashi that was musically as disconcerting as the score’s enigmatic language. In sharp contrast, and without warning, the stony clatter of Akio Suzuki hidden in the crowd caught the public's attention as he inaugurated his new installation tsu ra na ri No. 2, which focuses on the sound of stones collected by the seaside in his home town, Tango. It was a short intermission that was effective in its concise palpability. Since Takahashi was the laureate “pianist in residence” (sic), there would be two other subsequent attempts at deciphering Julius’ enigma, but meanwhile there was the delight of enjoying her very precise playing in her own specialised field, namely the mid-20th century repertory. Her reading of Cage’s The Perilous Night for prepared piano was remarkable in its rhythmic, nuanced playfulness, while Feldman’s abstract isolated repetitions and relentless overlap in Extensions 3 were followed by Scelsi’s magnificent Suite No. 10 KA, whose dramatic ebbs and flows rarefied the air – and our perception of time with it. The second part of the concert featured works by Japanese composers including Tôru Takemitsu, Akari Nishimura and Somei Satoh, in a programme that seemed to be more about the similarities between musical hemispheres than their differences.
Meanwhile Rolf Julius went back to his trademark insect music in a pairing with younger Tokyo-born sound artist Miki Yui. Both artists work in a similar aesthetic field, redirecting our perception towards small sounds, the grain of electronic circuitry, and piezo speakers in visual sound environments. Their duo was an hour of buzzing static drones extracted from their usual installation ecosystem and diffused through six speakers encircling the audience. It worked quite well in concert, though about halfway through one had the feeling that everything had already been said, which imparted a sense of redundancy to the rest of the proceedings.
Getting to the matinee concert on the first Sunday morning after having been up late the previous night was difficult, but we were rewarded by Berlin-based Walter Zimmermann's trance-like Das Irakische Alphabet, interpreted by the Russian flautist and vocalist Natalia Pschenitschnikova, who played and dramatically recited words of Joachim Santorius to each letter of the Iraqi alphabet, projected on a screen and controlled by a foot pedal, to astonishing effect. The matinee was further enlivened by events by George Brecht, Cage and an absurdist tap dancing piece by Dieter Schnebel called Stimm-Füße.
In the so-called Sonic Arts Lounge, Otomo Yoshihide (photo, left) was backed by his New Jazz Orchestra (ONJO) in a program spread over two nights, the first dedicated to 60s-70s TV theme composer Takeo Yamashita, who passed away last year at the age of 75. (His soundworld had already been visited by Otomo on a record released on the P-Vine label in 1999.) Despite the charismatic presence of singer Kayoko Ishu, Yamashita’s original diva, it was difficult to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, but Otomo played MC and entertained the audience with childhood anecdotes ("Yamashita used free jazz music to the scene of a fighting robot, but we didn’t know anything about the free jazz scene") and the group did their best to sound intense. One was left waiting for more substance from the next night, the homage to Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch, the album that had fed the young Otomo’s dreams of revolution in the jazz kissa. The ONJO, joined by Germans Axel Dörner and Alfred Harth, delivered a confrontational yet respectful reading of Dolphy’s classics, which, in absence of a commanding soloist, were revitalized instead by the inclusion of Sachiko M's sinewaves and the shô (Japanese bamboo mouth organ) played by musician extraordinaire Kô Ishikawa.
Ishikawa was also involved in the program played by ensemble on_line vienna, highlighting the overlay in composed (Western) music that deliberately trades elements of Japanese culture (and vice-versa). Ishikawa’s simplicity and engagement in performing – sublimely – traditional shô music, Cage’s Two3 (for shô and shell horns) and ensemble pieces by Gerhard Stäbler, Christian Utz and Yûji Takahashi, were a real delight, his whole being aligned with the ancient, crystalline psychoacoustic tones of his instrument. Meanwhile, composers Peter Gahn and Steffen Schleiermacher favoured Gagaku-inspired pieces transcribed for Western forces, incorporating the shakuhachi into an ensemble of strings, percussion, piano and clarinet with varying results that seemed rather to highlight irreconcilable aspects of both cultures.

Italian dhrupad singer Amelia Cuni, who trained her voice during more than 10 years living in India, presented the premiere realization of her long-standing engagement with John Cage’s Solo 58 from Song Books (1970): 18 Microtonal Ragas, with the assistance of Cage specialist Ulrich Krieger. Staged in the rustic surroundings of the Sophiensæle, it also included dance and small theatrical actions. She was flanked by two percussionists who filled most of the 70 minutes with frantic tabla rhythms or spacious and assorted percussion, while drone composer Werner Durand, Amelia Cuni's regular accompanist, spun subliminal spider webs of diffuse charm, strangely present and distant at once. Like an open game, the 18 Microtonal Ragas followed one another in controlled, elegant improvisation (not a common feature of Cage’s music), reaching a balance between chance events and gradual evolution.
Some of the best concerts happened to be somewhat peripheral and poorly attended, as was the case with the brilliant Ictus Ensemble from Brussels, who performed in the octagonal, immaculate sounding chamber music hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. Starting with Misato Michizuki’s cycle Etheric Blueprint Trilogy, the ensemble revealed how capable it was at adapting to divergent and demanding material. Having worked with both spectralists and minimalists (Georges Aperghis, Tristan Murail, Jonathan Harvey, Steve Reich, Thierry De Mey…) they superbly translated the scientific metaphors in Michizuki’s piece into statements of visible expressionism, making use of extended techniques and unconventional instruments mixed with flute, clarinet, violin, viola, piano, trombone, percussion, double bass and live electronics. Works by Oliver Schneller (Clair-obscur), and Murail protégé / IRCAM alumnus Yan Maresz (Entrelacs for flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violoncello, double bass) counterbalanced a symmetrical, inspired program.
Moving further into the chamber music domain, it was now the turn of the postmodern Italian ensemble Alter Ego, who defiantly strode out to meet Finnish electronics wizards Pan Sonic (photo, left) . Microwaves was a joint venture in which four composers – Yan Maresz, Atli Ingólfsson, Giovanni Verrando and Riccardo Nova – wrote pieces (frankly undistinguishable from each other) based on Pan Sonic material, which were then interpreted by both groups live. Many if not all the compositional elements remained submerged in Pan Sonic's amorphous miasma of static and vibrating, physical sub-bass, reminding us how devastating Xenakis's Persepolis would have been if he'd had today's resources available. More disparate – and fastidious – was the soundalikes project: the return of 80s Neue Deutsche Welle plagiarists and pop parodists Der Plan, backed by the Brandenburg Orchestra and a children's choir claiming Copyright is Slavery, mocking everything from pop classics to popular children’s TV theme tunes and even the fact they'd managed to get a (not so good) orchestra to perpetrate such an action. Composers Peter Ablinger, Christian von Borries and Michael Iber also worked around the idea of appropriation, the former inviting his students to write parodies of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Nono, while Iber/von Borries concocted a mélange of Ennio Morricone, Afrika Bambaataa and Bernd Alois Zimmerman, transcribed for orchestra.
The closing evening was sumptuous: Morton Feldman’s Trio in the National Gallery Hamburger Bahnhof, with a stellar line-up consisting of pianist Aki Takahashi, violinist Marc Sabat and cellist Roham de Saram in a brilliant but very slow rendition (the programme announced a duration of 75 minutes – in fact it lasted more than 100). Despite my devotion and enjoyment to Feldman's work, I realised I'd started to reach saturation. It didn't however stop me enjoying the German Symphony Orchestra Berlin in the Berliner Festspiele performing Tôru Takemitsu's magnificent soundtracks to Kurosawa and Teshigahara. Takemitsu's music was a particularly fine example of the studied and critical confrontation of the Japanese with the Occident, the amassing of foreign culture reaching a critical mass all of its own. Japanese contemporary music has long embraced non-Oriental elements with radical fervour, appropriating forms to be blended and regurgitated with more passion than premeditation, an idea that has reached its paroxysm in Japanese noise culture (conspicuous in its absence in the programme’s attempts at approximation). In the 2006 edition of MaerzMusik, however, this was perceived instead as an updated version of the exotic and innovative, the aim of grasping the essential of a distant culture and its values transformed into a commodity of the new century.–MA

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In Concert: David Robertson at Carnegie Hall

Although folk music has long been associated with the unadorned beauty of the natural world, the musicians who play it have often found themselves in the teeming environment of a big city, either enjoying success in bars, clubs and concert halls, or roaming with their instruments on the subways and sidewalks on the lookout for a little money or a passing agent. Speakers of the world's popular musical languages have been drawn to New York City, and it has from time to time opened its doors in return, as was eloquently demonstrated on May 18th in conductor David Robertson's contemporary hymn to world folk music, "Naturale". This was the last in a series of six Perspectives concerts that Robertson (photo, above left) curated for Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall annex. The Perspectives events allow individual artists present their own personal vision anywhere within the Carnegie Hall complex, but Robertson’s state-of-the-art take on folk music was especially suited to Zankel’s intimate wood-paneled interior, and he also took full advantage of The Zankel Band, the hall’s resident contemporary music ensemble, whose line-up includes Dov Scheindlin, the former violist for the Arditti String Quartet.
The band’s star viola player that evening, however, turned out to be the French master Christophe Desjardins, who joined percussionist Daniel Ciampolini to open "Naturale" with a piece of the same name by Luciano Berio. Robertson explained in an amusing introduction (complete with mock Italian accent) how the late composer was keen on developing the untapped sounds of unusual instruments, most famously in his solo Sequenzas, one of which Robertson said he forced out of Berio by sending him a virtuoso on the bassoon, an instrument the Italian had previously dismissed. He had no such problems with the viola, though, writing not just a Sequenza, but also three concerti, the last of which provided him in 1985 with the Sicilian folk material for Naturale. This resembles a soundtrack for a 20-minute short about the mafia, with the viola strumming like a guitar in a provincial village, spreading short, sharp chords across its strings like the whooping of hunting horns. Cowbells and chimes echo through sun-baked streets, the silence of the bare, drought-stricken soundscape occasionally broken by a wailing folk singer or the rattle of gunfire. Desjardins and Ciampolini were cinematic but appropriately artless, making Naturale into a scene an Italian New Wave director would set to blank, existential stares from root-chewing farm labourers. By way of a bonus, the singing was declaimed in a pre-recorded cameo by master folk puppeteer Peppino Celano.
Once the applause had subsided, Robertson returned to introduce and conduct György Ligeti’s five-movement Piano Concerto. The Zankel Band, with pianist Eric Huebner, started out slightly stiff, like a toy army trying to march to an impossible beat, but soon relaxed enough to deliver more than the mere mechanics of the maniacal rhythms. Completed just three years after the Berio, Ligeti's concerto, which the 83-year-old Hungarian has described as his most complex score to date, dates from a period when melody, much like figurative painting, was coming back into vogue, and it borrows as much from Central European folk song as it does from the virtuoso drumming of sub-Saharan Africa. It sounds like a Transylvanian road-trip through the jungle, with potholes in the first movement, noisy owls in the second, swarming flies in the third, sputtering engines in the fourth and sad farewells on the way back home in the finale. As the work progressed, the ensemble discovered more and more lyricism, particularly in the shy, sensuous hoots of the second movement, and Robertson’s gestures became a little less tense.
Equally beautiful, and even more folksy-yet-modern, was British composer George Benjamin’s Antara, which constituted the 20-minute second half of the program. This was written between 1985 and 1987, at the same time as the two pieces that preceded it, but unlike them was one of the first flagship products of Paris’s electro-acoustic research center, IRCAM. In a pitch-perfect summary, Robertson, who was director of IRCAM’s Ensemble InterContemporain from 1992 to 2000, recalled the centre as a forbidding underground vault in which musical scientists dressed in white would delight at the results of hours of labour which often amounted to no more than a noise roughly transcribable as "gloop!" As he toiled away at an IRCAM summer course in 1984, Benjamin, then a wunderkind in his mid-twenties, would emerged every day to the sound of South American buskers playing panpipes, known in the Inca language as antara, in the shadow of the Pompidou Centre (co-designed incidentally by Luciano Berio’s close friend Renzo Piano). As the sound of the Javanese gamelan refreshed Claude Debussy after the grand theatrical meanderings of Wagner’s "music of the future" at Bayreuth and helped kickstart modern music in the elusive irony of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, so Benjamin achieved a postmodern cultural parity, composing a dialogue between the "sophisticated" Western flute that opens the Prélude and the "primitive" South American panpipes he heard outside IRCAM, whose sound is replicated in Antara by even more "sophisticated" synthesizers. These synthesized panpipes turn out to be much more agile than the two flutes, which resort chiefly to a catchy four-note pop motif. The synthesizers also "genetically modify" the panpipes they are simulating, varying their size from a few millimetres to 20 metres in height. With its backing of trombonists, percussion and strings resembling a cosmopolis under construction, Antara is a tribute to the power of cultural levelling, and Robertson conducted it like a man converted.–NR

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Trio 3
We're all living to ever riper old ages these days, at least in this part of the world, which I suppose is good news for architects like my wife whose employers have got an order book full of prospective projects for specialist daycare centres and old people's homes in provincial France. In fact, if I ever get as far as retirement age and have the misfortune to be diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer's – the wife already has her doubts – there's an outside chance I'll end my days in glorious oblivion in a room she's designed. But hopefully it won't come to that. Now, umm, what was I saying? Erm.. oh yes – even jazz musicians, who in the past were rather more prone to early death, thanks to that deadly combination of drugs, alcohol and general wear and tear, are producing great work at an age when most folk are shuffling around in carpet slippers. (And it's hard to imagine today's bright young things succumbing so readily to the same temptations that wiped out many of their predecessors. Despite her glossy album cover photos and meaningful, sideways trying-hard-to-be-sexy gazes at the camera, I bet the most dangerous thing Diana Krall has ever put in her mouth is a piece of sushi.) Andrew Cyrille, Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman, with a combined age of 200, are still kicking out the jams (I caught Lake in concert last year with Meshell Ndegeocello and he even blew Steve Coleman off – quite a feat), and the ten tracks on this excellent outing, all originals, superbly recorded by Peter Karl in Brooklyn in March last year, are thrilling and vibrant proof that jazz musicians, unlike pop stars (with very few exceptions: see the Scott Walker piece above) can go on well into "middle age" creating strong and impressive music that cuts through arbitrary boundaries of style and genre. Though these three men cut their teeth in 60s / 70s jazz, this is no dreary exercise in nostalgia for bygone days; there are no painfully inadequate covers of Coltrane and Ayler (very few covers of Coltrane and Ayler aren't painfully inadequate), no bleary homages to Malcolm, Martin and the Panthers, just three superb experienced musicians doing what they do best, making music that I like to think I might still be enjoying as I trundle round the Maison de Retraite on my Zimmer frame.–DW

Thomas Chapin Trio
Has it really been eight years since Thomas Chapin died? Yes, I guess it has. And can it be true that I've never reviewed a disc of his here? Yes, I'm afraid it is. But many of the discs that move me the most are the ones I don't feel like writing about. There are enough vapid clichés and glib platitudes here as it is without my adding more, but as Chapin's work has slipped off the radar somewhat since his untimely death, the appearance of this live recording from the North Sea Jazz Festival on July 15th 1995 by the great Chapin trio with Mario Pavone on bass and Michael Sarin on drums serves as a timely reminder to those of us who might have forgotten what a monstrously good saxophonist and flautist Chapin was. Whether negotiating the tight, funky curves of "Anima" or out-Rahsaaning Roland Kirk on flute on "Aeolus", or just blowing wild and free, Chapin was an exceptional musician who combined razor-sharp musical intelligence with outstanding technique, and it's quite simply thrilling to hear him again in full flight with such a superb rhythm section behind him all the way. That's all I have to say, really. This isn't the moment to go into some weepy eulogy for the many artists who died too soon, bemoaning what might have happened if they'd lived longer. Ride is not about that – it's 100% action, energy, life. In fact it's what I'd describe as a truly life-affirming experience. How's that for a vapid cliché? You can see why I don't review albums I like as much as this all the time.–DW

Tony Bevan, John Edwards, Ashley Wales, Mark Sanders, Orphy Robinson, Derek Bailey
Sonically this is maybe not the best document – a straight-to-DAT recording from a gig at London’s 291 Gallery, acoustically somewhat muddled though quite acceptable – but it’s essential listening for Derek Bailey fans. As usual, the guitarist sought out the company of younger players – in this case, the acoustic/electronic (not “electroacoustic”) quintet responsible for Bruised, one of last year’s best and most overlooked improv records. The new disc is, among other things, the final chapter in the longstanding relationship between Bailey and bass saxophonist Tony Bevan. It’s hard not to hear real poignancy in Bevan’s playing here, which is stripped down so far it’s as if he’s trying to make an entire musical language out of achingly isolated notes. There’s also the tickle of hearing Bailey with the blue-chip UK free-improv rhythm section of John Edwards and Mark Sanders. The off-balance recording makes it harder to parse the electronic input from Orphy Robinson and (especially) Ashley Wales, but they’re certainly responsible for the haunting, elusive soundscaping (I was also surprised at the closeness in timbre between Robinson’s steel drums and Bailey’s distorted guitar).
Derek Bailey was the kind of player an Oulipian would love, someone for whom obstacles were occasions for necessary creativity. By the time this disc was recorded in August 2004 he was already suffering from what was initially diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome but later turned out to be degenerative motor neurone disease. In response, he simply went calmly about refashioning his entire approach to the instrument. I’ve always loved the spacious, floaty interludes that occur on his discs, when isolated sound-events – a slow-swelling discord, a quiet scrape over the length of a string – are dropped into silence like pebbles cast in a well. His playing throughout this album is like an album-length exploration of that particular corner of his music. His tone on the instrument is much softer than before – by this point he was playing without a pick – and his improvisations are constructed out of quiet, separately twisted fragments. There’s nothing overtly valedictory about the music – the three tracks are called “Search”, “Locate” and “Destroy”, after all – but it is nonetheless hard not to be moved by a few moments here. Bevan’s soft-spoken duet with Bailey near the end of the album, in particular, serves as an achingly beautiful farewell to his mentor, so much so that it’s almost a relief when the full band regroups for a final pummelling blowout.

Tetuzi Akiyama
These Esquilo releases from Portugal are as wonderful as they are hard to find, and this is no exception. The single CDR containing the 32-minute title track comes in an edition of 110 copies, and the special edition twofer is even rarer – just 70 (and by the time you read this they'll probably have all gone, but we'll press on regardless). Terrifying Street Trees is part of an "official bootleg" series of Akiyama albums (it's often paired in reviews with Striking Another Match on Utech – haven't tracked a copy of that one down yet) and the 32-minute title track itself is one of the guitarist's more dirty, dangerous outings, whose musical thrills and spills more than make up for its rather duff sound quality. Meanwhile, after 2003's snazzy vinyl Don't Forget To Boogie on Idea and last year's Headz CD Route 13 To The Gates Of Hell, the bonus disc Pineapple Stomp is another bottleneck bending, hard hitting riff-fest. For those unfamiliar with Captain Akiyama's boogie outings, the basic recipe is as follows: take one electric guitar, set up deliberately scuzzy lo-fi recording conditions, choose favourite hard rock / blues riff and repeat ad infinitum at ferocious volume. Extraneous noise from ecstatic audience, buzzing amps and tuning the guitar is all part of the fun, so leave it in. If you are the proud owner of the above mentioned albums, you probably don't really need this unless you're a hardcore Akiyama completist (in which case you'd better have a chat with your bank manager, because the Captain is nothing if not prolific), but if you haven't heard him rock out in style, do yourself a favour and get down and boogie.–DW

Nels Cline / Jeremy Drake
Recorded January 10, 2005 (on a bill that also featured the Ahimsa Orchestra, featuring Vinny Golia, Sara Schoenbeck, Alex Cline and Harris Eisenstadt) at the dearly departed linespaceline salon – this time at its downtown Los Angeles location at the Café Selah rather than the claustrophobic fount of inspiration that was the Salvation Theater, ultimately turned into a boutique for couture both chic and chichi), what theoretically is a duet between two guitarists in different stages of artistic development proved to be a study in astral projection and the conquest of Fear the Mindkiller. Fearlessness has turned the Inner Eye, the Fear has passed and only Cline and Drake remain, as shortwave radio mixes with less precise blasts of static and ephemeral ghost-tones in a deft and telling exposé of how the dark matter of sonic space is as much something to be wielded in music as harmony and dissonance. Not so much the guitar itself but rather the dream of a guitar, thirty minutes of elemental triumph that feel like ten. Hey, you know what I'd do if I were Nels Cline at a Wilco rehearsal? I'd so totally start counting numbers in German into my amped-up guitar pickups and Jeff Tweedy would get so mad! Mo-ho-ho-lded!!!–DC

Howard Riley
Howard Riley remains a bit under-feted among the first wave of free-improvising pianists, maybe because he is, as Duke Ellington (a Riley touchstone) put it, “beyond category”: comfortable with total abstraction (cf. the classic 1960s/1970s Riley/Guy/Oxley trio and, later on, his crucial role in Guy’s LJCO) but also a thoroughly individual jazz pianist. He has frequently performed solo, and also is one of the few players to favour the piano duo format (records with Keith Tippett and Jaki Byard, even a trio with Tippett and John Tilbury). Two is One is a logical extension of these concerns: an album-length set of overdubbed conversations with himself. Where some players approach overdubbing projects schematically, Riley kept the procedure simple and spontaneous: “I recorded the first piano as if it were a solo recording, then immediately added the second piano while reacting to the playback of the first.”
The music leans towards the pianist’s jazz side, a set of ingeniously offcentre variations on barrelhouse piano, Monk, Cecil Taylor and the many shades of the blues that sometimes suggests a cutting-contest between James P. Johnson and Borah Bergman. The music’s constructedness is central to the listening experience – playback and response are panned hard left and right, so there’s no simulation of a live piano duet (this is one disc where headphones offer an utterly different experience). Riley’s ear for witty polytonal side-trips à la Paul Bley is strongly in evidence, but the central issue here is repetition – its flavours, moods and possibilities for expression and structure. For Riley repetition is the medium for a kind of cubist fracture or archeological dig; an idea is presented in multiple versions, left and right, often overlapping awkwardly though sometimes separated by long pauses (which are often more jolting than the notes). It’s the kind of effect that would be hard to achieve in a live two-man format: Riley places a phrase just a little “off”, rhythmically and/or dynamically – particularly striking on the inverted Monk blues “Osoiretsim” – or closely mimics and fractures phrases from the other track in a way that would prompt a live interlocutor to square up the rhythms or get out of the way.
More than most albums, this is one where the music happens inside the listener’s head as much as in the actual notes played, and that can be an uncomfortable and (even for veteran fans of “difficult” music) novel experience. It’s also one of the freshest rethinkings of the common ground between free improv and the blues I’ve heard for a while – aside from the Monk track, sample the remarkable (and aptly named) “Unique”, an apocalyptic octopus-handed blues with enough tremolos and pianistic bravura to raise the ghost of Earl Hines.

Gail Brand / Tim Perkis / Gino Robair / John Shiurba / Matthew Sperry
Gino Robair invited British trombonist Gail Brand to San Francisco in 2002 after hearing her work on the first Lunge album. Supermodel Supermodel is the second Emanem release from her West Coast sojourn, following Ballgames & Crazy with vocalist Morgan Guberman. In addition to Robair in his varied role as percussionist, daxophonist and Styrofoam manipulator, the ensemble includes several familiar faces from the Limited Sedition/Barely Auditable circle: electronics specialist Tim Perkis, guitarist John Shiurba, and, poignantly, bassist Matthew Sperry, who was killed in a road accident just months before the final recording session. The CD cover shows a woman's face cropped down to a slit from which frightened-deer eyes peek out, suggesting a hijab or mask (oddly enough I listened to this the same day I watched Georges Franju’s elegantly macabre Yeux sans Visage), and though I’m not sure what it all has to do with the decidedly unglamorous world of free improvisation, the doubled-up titles of the disc and its thirteen tracks (“Twiggy Twiggy”, “Kate Kate”, “Naomi Naomi” and so on) seem somehow appropriate, turning high fashion into the jingling of a children’s rhyme. This is improv where the musicians seem to delight in the sheer quiddity of sounds, surfaces and textures, producing a kind of overall democratic scribbliness that’s too good-humoured to get really abrasive. In some sense all the instruments here are “percussion”, and even when played relatively conventionally often sound like toy instruments, or odds and ends picked up in a rummage sale. Supermodel Supermodel is an album of small but constant pleasures, albeit a little short on the hair-raising moments of sheer rightness that really lift a free-improv album – though the eerie trio “Cindy Cindy” is certainly one of them. Excellent work from both Brand and Sperry, though the most striking contributions are probably Robair’s funhouse percussion and the nasty electrified tandem of Perkis and Shiurba.–ND

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Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II with Clifford Thornton
One of my favorite Joe McPhee anecdotes concerns his first recording date as leader. Rather than enlist sidemen sure to be sympathetic, he sought out a clique of musicians who had previously rebuffed his overtures to play. This counter-intuitive strategy is indicative of McPhee’s determined, lateral-thinking personality and his abiding belief that those who don’t comprehend where he’s coming from will eventually catch up. His distinctive personality is well in evidence on this nearly eighty-minute airshot taped at a Manhattan radio station in the fall of 1971. Aside from McPhee himself, the other big draw is the presence of brass doyen Clifford Thornton, McPhee’s mentor and a woefully scarce presence on record. The rest of the Unit consists of little-known players: saxophonist Byron Morris, pianist Mike Kull (who holds his own with his rhapsodic Tyner-influenced piano) and drummer Harold E. Smith. Chris Albertson’s politically charged liners take pains to set the sociocultural stage by delivering a census of U.S.-sanctioned atrocities. The opening rundown of “Black Magic Man”, a duet for tenor and Smith’s ballistic drumming, roars with righteous indignation and release, and McPhee’s politicized aesthetic is also evident on “Nation Time”, though this version leavens the fist-pumping free funk of an earlier live reading with greater structure and nuance. The ballads “Song For Lauren” and “Harriett” give plenty of scope for the leader’s signature pathos. Touted as the concert’s centerpiece, “The Looking Glass I” is a circuitous sound-on-sound composition for pre-recorded tape and ensemble that occasionally loses focus but does point towards McPhee’s future explorations with electronics. Peter Pfister’s 2005 mastering improves on the cavernous sound of the previous Hat edition, but I miss the earlier cover art featuring a youthful bearded McPhee staring defiantly into the distance. This set has its flaws, but fans of classic free jazz will definitely want a copy.–DT

Eddie Prévost
"The supposed vital principle that guides the development and functioning of an organism or other system of organisation". That's the Oxford Dictionary definition of "entelechy", referring to which Eddie Prévost writes that "...in composed music, a score is that guiding principle, but to me, whether this principle exists as a notated score or as an idea in the improviser's mind is irrelevant". Indeed, improvised or not, I think of Entelechy as a 70-minute composition in five movements. We've recently been on the receiving end of a stunning one-two combination by Mark Wastell, Vibra #1 (w.m.o/r) and Vibra #2 (Longbox), both exploring the resonant features of the tam-tam, and essential listening for getting lost in the sea of metal stasis. With Entelechy, Prévost adds his own contribution to the instrument's literature, but largely by erasing the "strictly human" factor; the entire title track and a part of the opening "Mixt" derive from a rotation of wire threads – set in motion by a battery-driven electric motor – which raise overtones that vary with the progressive gentle oscillation of the gong. Needless to say, these are the moments in which minimalist aficionados will prick up their ears: irregular dynamics and counter-sentimental harmonics create a tangible aura whose staying power shines until the battery runs out. This cryptic castle of timbral glimpses is almost consonant when compared to the self-explanatory "Scraped" and "Bowed", which bring us back to Prévost's harsher side, conjuring up ghosts of rusty wheelchairs and strangled seagulls, all the while maintaining a total coherence with his artistic forma mentis. You realize how powerful a message made of a few well-placed statements can be. Far from any kind of sophistication, Eddie Prévost is able to make us think – hard – with a slap in the face both rational and disturbing.–MR

Henry Kaiser
Balance Point Acoustics
At least Henry Kaiser's honest: if it hadn't been for Derek Bailey he probably wouldn't have picked up a guitar in the first place. ("Would you have become a scuba diver instead?" wonders Damon Smith.) So there are few people better placed to curate a Bailey tribute album than Kaiser, especially since, just glancing at the photos in the digipak interior, it looks as if he's got every record the man ever made, including of course his (Kaiser's) own duet outing with Bailey, the splendid Wireforks (1993, Shanachie). In addition to three fine solo tracks, Domo Arigato consists of duets and trios featuring Kaiser and a host of guests: Kiku Day (shakuhachi), Sang-Won Park (changgo), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Greg Goodman (piano), percussionists Andrea Centazzo and Charles K. Noyes, bassists Smith and Motoharu Yoshizawa, saxophonists Henry Kuntz, Larry Ochs, John Oswald and Mototeru Takagi, and guitarists Davey Williams.. and Bailey himself. Wait a sec, how come Derek Bailey gets to play on his own tribute album? Easy – because his track was recorded in 1993. In fact, as you've probably guessed while casting your eye through the list of featured musicians, many of whose names come as something of a blast from the past (Centazzo, Noyes..), the pieces on offer span Kaiser's entire recording career, from 1978 – the duos with Kondo and Centazzo – to this year's duo with Smith and "Metalanguage Trio" with Goodman and Ochs. As well as doing a pretty nifty Bailey imitation when he wants to, Kaiser has also adopted the late guitarist's habit of telling a story while he plays, so that the album is as much a spoken tribute to Bailey as a musical one. For the most part the spoken bits are of the order of fan mail ("So what does Derek Bailey mean to you? What do you get from him?" he asks Smith), and Kaiser can't resist having a go at the Ben Watson biography (though he recommends people read it nonetheless), but the music is what matters most. There's some fabulous playing here, most notably of course by Kaiser, who despite being a self-professed Baileyphile has always cultivated his own idiosyncratic approach to the instrument. A fresh and touching act of homage to a great musician.–DW

Bennet / Bryerton / Butcher / De Gruttola / Kaiser / Smith
Balance Point Acoustics
Seems tribute albums are in the air over at Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics. Sextessense is "a tribute to John Stevens and the SME" (the title refers of course to the two albums Stevens recorded with the Derek Bailey, Kent Carter, Evan Parker and Trevor Watts line-up of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1973, Quintessence 1 and 2). Stevens was one of the prime movers and arguably the most important catalyst in improvised music as it emerged in late 1960s London, and his SME remains one of free music's mythic acronyms, along with AMM, ICP, FMP, LAFMS and LMC. It's fitting then that Smith's tribute should notch up a few points of authentic Stevens street cred by recruiting former SME saxophonist John Butcher, who joins a stellar cast of West Coast improvisers – Aaron Bennet (sax), Jerome Bryerton (drums), Danielle DeGruttola (cello), Henry Kaiser (guitar) and Smith himself on bass – on these nine, lean, mean workouts. It's rare to hear Butcher in the company of another saxophonist, so it's a special treat to hear him trade licks with Bennet. If the music seems pretty agile and spiky, altogether in a different ballpark from the more pared down stuff Butcher's been getting into in recent years, it's not surprising – it was recorded way back in 1999. You might wonder why it's taken so long to see the light of day, but you should certainly rejoice that it has.–DW

David Lacey/Paul Vogel/Mark Wastell
Confront Performance Series
This is the first release in a new series presenting "quasi instant" recordings of concerts played by artists associated with Confront's aesthetics, a 30-minute artefact in a plain metal box with no artwork and credits in small print on a business card-sized insert. Recorded at Dublin's Unitarian Church – you can clearly hear the distant voices of the visitors at the beginning and end of the performance – this offering, in its responsiveness to non-existent silence, should put the term "reductionism" out to pasture once and for all. Everything derives from a few sources, yet the subtle intersections between Lacey's eBowed monochord and the computer/mixer feedback activated by Vogel and Wastell soon become nodal points at which the music raises its head like a traveller awakening from sleep by a dusty roadside. The constitution of this three-way dialogue is further reinforced by enthralling halos of ride cymbal by Wastell (courtesy of what Pete Townshend would call "his supple wrists"), while Vogel adds sparse clarinet shapes to a unique architecture that sounds both delicate and perfectly synchronous with everyone's intentions. It's a "respectfully profane" invocation – in a sacred place, no less – which culminates in a concluding section where the slowly tolling cymbal becomes the natural substitute of the church bell that would never dare interrupt such intense communion. If this is just the beginning, we're in for a lot of great new things from this exemplary label.–MR

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Warren Burt
Experimental Intermedia
There's something of a contrast between the diverse career moves of Warren Burt and the extreme purity of the music he creates for self-built just intonation tuning forks. After university, Burt moved from the United States to Australia to pursue an interest in interactive electronics and microtonality, exploring connections between other disciplines along the way. He has contributed greatly to the development of microtonality both through his writings on the subject and, more concretely, by helping to reconstruct Percy Grainger's Electric Eye Tone Tool, a light-controlled synthesizer originally developed in 1961. Burt's previous outing, Harmonic Colour Fields (Pogus) was a fine example of his research in such areas.
This double album is a perfect introduction to Burt's world of chance-determined resonance. Commissioned by Phill Niblock in 2002, The Animation of Lists and the Archytan Transmissions was played in its entirety by the composer and Catherine Schieve on hand-held or mounted sets of aluminium forks whose bass and treble range varies depending on their size. They're hit with different beaters, and peculiar resonators (plastic sewer pipes of varying length) are used for the bass ones. The "limpid clouds" Burt generates by superimposing pitches (with the aid of a computer and multitracking) represent a shift from "wrong" listening habits and saccharine-drenched temperamental boredom to a sudden repulisti of the ears. These strangely familiar flows of beating frequencies are seemingly unobtrusive, yet impose their presence with gentle yet firm authority. It's like removing a cardboard box from the head to finally enjoy a true spatialization of sound. Rhythm, the movement of the forks through the space and phrasing are essential for the correct functioning of what William Duckworth defines as "sonic colors that momentarily hover here and there". Random sequences can sound fully notated, microtonal rainbows can be conjured forth from a mere handful of notes. Such infinitesimal differences in pitch are the key to unlock the brain from its tacit acceptance of (equal temperament's) rules, rules that do not necessarily fit its predisposition – are you ready to unlock yours?–MR

Arditti Quartet
If I say "Mexico" what images spring to mind? (If you're Mexican, you can skip this paragraph.) The 68 Olympics, if you're old enough to remember them (I'm not)? Moustachioed peasants in spaghetti westerns tilling the fields and managing to keep those shirts and pants impossibly white? The bleary-eyed consul staggering up the Calle Nicaragua in Under The Volcano? Bloodthirsty Aztecs sacrificing young virgins on a pyramid in a sweaty jungle? A bowl of chili? (Or is that Tex Mex?) Forget it. If the music on this CD is anything to go by, Mexico might just be the most exciting country in the world of contemporary composition. A stupid claim, that, and not one I'm likely to able to back up, so put it down to unbridled enthusiasm on my part for this magnificent disc by the (insert the superlative of your choice HERE) Arditti Quartet.
The six works featured are by (in order of age, oldest first) Hilda Paredes, Hebert Vásquez, Germán Romero, Juan Felipe Waller, Iván Naranjo and Rogelio Sosa. Three of them are for string quartet – Paredes' Uy u'tan, Naranjo's Uno and Vásquez's Quartet No.1 – and three for Irvine Arditti's solo violin, with amplification (Romero's Ramas), added electronics (Sosa's Espasmo fulgor) or nothing at all (Waller's De jaque, sal, gala y luna). The twenty-year difference in age between the oldest and youngest featured composer is reflected in the music; the terse motivic workouts of Uy u'tan and the Vásquez Quartet look north to the thorny dramaturgy of Elliott Carter, while the vicious scratches and scrapes, raw microtones and brutal cut'n'splice of Uno and Ramas seem to be gazing across the Atlantic to where the ghost of Iannis Xenakis (Romero and Sosa studied at UPIC) is partying with Walter Zimmermann and Mathias Spahlinger, both of whose music is specifically referenced in Ramas (another link perhaps being the elder statesman of Mexican new music, Julio Estrada, who studied himself with Xenakis before going on to teach Romero and Sosa.) This is a truly magnificent selection of strong, well-written, uncompromising new music – get yourself a copy and you'll never listen to El Salon Mexico again.

Various Artists
LTM / Salon
“A 74-minute audio anthology combining original period recordings by (Filippo Tommaso) Marinetti, (Luigi) Russolo and others with contemporary performances of works by key Futurist composers and theorists.” Swiftly catching up with Sub Rosa and Alga Marghen as a venerable treasure trove of past masters, LTM presents this beautiful and serene re-examination of explosive thinkers and the bombs they loved. It’s strange how these things ultimately affect the world: had it not been for Marinetti, we would not currently be able to enjoy Tom Jones’ version of “Kiss”, or Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Seal or 808 State (courtesy ZTT Records, founded in 1983 by NME scribbler Paul Morley, producer Trevor Horn and wife Jill Sinclair and named after Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tumb, a book describing war whose title describes the sound of a machine gun). Even if you don’t understand Italian, these old recordings of Futurists ranting about their brilliant illuminations are still amazing for their passion and energy. Featured here but often ignored elsewhere are Francesco Balilla Pratella, Aldo Giuntini, Luigi Grandi, Silvio Mix, Franco Casavola, Alfredo Casella, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli. Also included is Marinetti’s “Definition of Futurism” and his story of “The Battle of Adrianopolis” (complete with multiple zang tuum tuums), Luigi Russolo and his brother Antonio with their intonarumori noisemaking devices (the loss of which is nearly on par with the thoughtlessly discarded Duchamp “Fountain”), Luigi’s theory of the “six families of noise” and plenty of photos of the Futurists themselves, people you often read about but whose faces, eyes and expressions you never see. The piano passages of the recent recordings recall Aldo Ciccolini’s landmark recordings of Satie, and – this should be a longer review, but…fuck it, I can’t even write about this record anymore. You just have to go out and get it. One of the most important records released this year. No further comment.–DC

With its Hoketus-inspired instrumentation of double flute / picc / panpipes, three saxes, two keyboards, percussion, guitar and bass guitar (plus violin, cello and accordion), Roy Lichtenstein-style cover art and production courtesy Bang On A Can heavies Michael Gordon and David Lang, you know damn well you're in for another helping of loud, fucked-up postminimalism (and I can't believe I just wrote that). So if your bag is New Complexity, spectralism or Wandelweiser-style next-to-nothingness, I should tell you now that you're not going to like this, because it's not exactly subtle. Nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned, but Cranial Pavement is the most uneven Icebreaker album so far. Artistic Director James Poke's arrangement of Conlon Nancarrow's Study #2B is fine as far as it goes, but at 2'09" that's not very far. John Godfrey's Gallows Hill is about eight times as long, eight times as dramatic and eight times as uninteresting, but it's still more convincing than Yannis Kyriakides' Blindspot, which comes across as a classic example of a composer hamstrung by the forces he's been asked to write for. Poke's vision of Icebreaker is as clear as it is uncompromising: it's about creating an ensemble that's instantly recognisable even if the music it's playing isn't. That's fine, but no matter how sharp the recording and snazzy the packaging, nondescript music will always sound nondescript. The novelty of Richard Craig's cluck-cluck-clucking Chook soon wears off, his Mrs B's Love Triangle sounds like it's OD'ed on Gavin Bryars, and the electric strings on Tango To The Death are about as vulgar as the title. As titles go, In Memoriam Brutus (The Thai Curry) wins hands down, but the music doesn't. Nice video, shame about the song, as they used to say.–DW

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Kiyoshi Mizutani
Once a member of Merzbow, in recent times Kiyoshi Mizutani has shifted the focus of his work towards field recording, capturing the reality of almost forgotten, obscure signs of life. I became aware of his recent output through the fantastic collaborations with Daniel Menche, Garden on Auscultare Research and Song of Jike on Niko, on which the Japanese soundscaper weaves a timestretching mantle of environmental recordings around the shoulders of his American partner. So Scenery of the Border is not only a safe bet – it's a spiritual initiation. Tanzawa is a Japanese mountain region whose desolate beauty is finely documented by the author's photos in the exquisite cover artwork (more pictures are available on the enhanced second disc). He applies the same basic principles to his recordings: between November 2002 and February 2004 he took 24 aural snapshots of these territories, translating broken silences, sacred ceremonies, background energies and his own self-imposed solitude into a wholeness we can observe respectfully while remaining in awe of acoustic phenomena that ignorance might define as "normal" but which are essential for the organic life of our being, even when taken out of their original context. Birdsong, for example (one of Mizutani's best albums, Bird Songs on Ground Fault, consists of little else): chirps and whistles are captured with such mastery you can almost see the morning light through the branches and feel the dampness around you. Other impressive segments feature the rustling noise of feet on fallen leaves, the poignant mumble of passing airplanes (another favourite sound in this writer's emotional archive), the humming of power plants and substations and the ominous severity of the wind brushing on the microphone. But what really seems to be omnipresent is water: a continuous flow of rain, waterfalls, streams and rivers, a moisture you can almost smell. The path to awareness starts here.–MR

And/OAR - Alluvial
The ability of a CD to satisfactorily recreate the experience of walking through a sound installation is limited, to say the least, yet labels like Dale Lloyd's And/OAR and Alluvial keep going against the odds, releasing important documents that more often than not approach "masterpiece" status in this particular area. In this instance, Eric Cordier, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Eric La Casa recorded a live performance at La Manufacture des Chaussures in Bordeaux, six hours of sounds specifically conceived to be used in the inner zones of Bordeaux's TNT Cultural Centre. The artists decided to mix prerecorded sounds together with those of the urban surroundings, extending cables throughout the Centre, installing condenser and contact microphones and channelling everything to a mixing desk manned in real time by La Casa, who modified and filtered the incoming results. The mix was played in TNT's concert hall by eight speakers, the three men working on the first floor of the building while people walked and listened on the ground floor. But none of this theoretical babble will prepare you for the uncertain weather of Bordeaux TNT, a 51-minute piece where the manipulation is almost undetectable, all sounds maintaining their basic attributes even in the most unpredictable moments. Screaming children and barking dogs are engulfed in a nocturnal dimness amalgamating the noise of traffic and the scary silence of a blind alley. The pulsing complex structure of vibrations (Guionnet is credited with "long string recording devices") had me thinking of Paul Panhuysen flying a miniature plane sitting on a café terrasse. Every once in a while a passing car roars louder, yet everything is organically linked in an obscure but perfectly functional mechanism of sonic circulation, a perfect example of how such projects should be realised. Above all, Afflux succeed in reminding us of the beauty of long-distance urban/industrial murmur, inviting us to leave our mental windows open, to change the air a little bit.–MR

John Duncan / Carl Michael von Hausswolf
This exquisitely produced offering on the ever classy 23five label consists of a CD containing three extended tracks, "...Like a Lizard", "Entry (Enhanced)" and "Yet another (very) abridged and linear interpretation of the history of our planet as we know it" and a 40-page booklet containing a transcription of an extended conversation between Messrs Duncan and Hausswolf, with occasional prompts from Jim Haynes. In the domain of sound art, a description of the concepts behind the works is often more interesting to read than the works themselves are to listen to – perhaps the fact that one can admire something without necessarily enjoying it is what the artists are setting out to explore – but that doesn't apply here: this is some of the most satisfying and, dare I say it, musical work the two men have produced for some time. That said, the book doesn't provide any information about the works on the disc, not even the origins of the Burroughs-like story Hausswolf tells on track one of a man who travelled to Egypt to acquire sacred knowledge of cobra venom (plus a trip to Thailand to learn how to speak the language of the gecko..). Instead there's a wealth of detailed discussion of the pair's more celebrated projects, including Duncan's legendary Scare, TVC 1 and Radio Code, and von Hausswolf's experiments with NATO-monitored pirate radio in Iceland and his The Will of Tupi-Tupi, the Rooster, and GK, the Dove (if you're a paid-up member of the RSPB, you'd better give this last one a wide berth). All in all, a fascinating and thought-provoking read and a damn good listen to boot.–DW

Crawling With Tarts
These two suites, running slightly longer than 30 minutes apiece, were created by “small motors and turntable mechanisms, mostly performing with one-off transcription discs cast by others in the middle of the last century, or cut in (Michael) Gendreau’s studio using a decrepit lathe.” Those one-sided, unlabeled records you find in antique stores with the strange holes at the centre of each one? Those are the discs of which the Tart speaks. Crawling With Tarts are a turntablist duo in the strictest sense – that they operate in a parallel universe working with the ins-and-outs of record players in Oakland and the Bay Area the same time as Invisibl Skratch Piklz and DJ Shadow is far too tempting a hernia-inducing stretch to pass up. Additionally, Gendreau and wife Suzanne Dycus-Gendreau performed radio improvisations on KZSC 88.1 in Santa Cruz throughout the mid-80s (around the same time Negativland pursued similar greenish pastures on KPFA 94.1 slightly to the north in Berkeley). Michael’s work has also encompassed collaborations with hallowed NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu, the Spanish Indiana Jones known as Francisco López, and turntablist David Kwan in 1995 in a re-enactment of John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape Nr. 1” for record players, cutting the vinyl to replace one of the lost discs of that composition quite possibly on the same lathe that you hear now. As for the sounds on this disc: yes. No. Yes. I heard that one. Yeah, that one, too. I think I hear that one. I think…nope. Was that one? Hearing tests blossom alongside the metallic rustling of flora growing in that ochre land.. there’s rain on the outstretched steel leaves of each plant.. possibly some glitter on the C-beams near the Tannhauser Gate.. It’s reminiscent of something gorgeously organic despite the creaking and languorous clanging – a field of beer can wind chimes or perhaps just a robot’s imagination? Announced as a release on the ASP label as far back as 2001 and begun in September 1994, the noise opera of the second track presents glassy high tones and toy piano, barely audible fuzzed-out snippets of broadcasts, language lessons with samples like “the ‘oi’ in ‘noise’”, and the overwhelmingly comforting sound of vinyl scratches, crackling and dirt. This ultimately segues into the surface cultural noise of 70s strings, fashion commentary and psychedelia, heading onward towards organ music, various voices and an overwhelming sense of civilization’s sprawl unmatched in even the most catholic of all possible Breaks N Beats 12”s. It all ends with that toy piano, pushing the limits of what opera can be, like Superman pushing the Earth backwards so he can travel back in time and save it: significantly.–DC

London! Brooklyn! Kyoto! Venice! Australian Matt Nicholson has traveled the globe to bring together such disparate figures as Deep Listening Band trombonist Stuart Dempster and venerable Indian vocalist Lakshmi Shankar for a deceptively gentle aesthetic gang-bang of sheer talent. Good move: including the lyrics to the songs; best couplet of the past six months: “Look at all the poor creatures suffering the me, me, me / Despite their fervent involvement in the New Age catastrophe” on “The Red Hook Overview”. ZOW! BING! Nicholson even reworks a Rilke poem in the opening song and there's no shortage of serene and float-y instrumentals descending from on high to round out the record. Like the Crawling With Tarts disc above this album took multiple years to complete – and it shows. There’s an overarching sense of quality and investment emanating from it. If it were playing on the radio, you’d tune in. If you had the CD booklet, you’d look more closely at those liner notes. If it were given to you for your birthday, you might not immediately trade it in for credit on that Earth, Wind & Fire Greatest Hits compilation (awesome). Not to put it too terribly groovily but yeah – surprisingly good. A little hippie-dippie, though.–DC

A sequel of sorts to the previous Loscil effort First Narrows (Kranky, 2004), British Columbia native Scott Morgan proves that the ‘Couv’s a groove with this latest electronic shot over the bow of dreamless sleep. Vaguely New-Agey, smoke moving across the sleeve like a William Carlos Williams poem and titles like “Rorschach”, “Zephyr”, “Steam” and “Halcyon”, Morgan asserts, “they started with a harmonic root from which sounds were processed into a loose structure over which the live players could improvise.” The players being Josh August Lindstrom on vibes and xylophone, Krista Michelle Marshall and Stephen Michael Wood on EBow guitars, and Jason Anthony Zumpano (also on First Narrows) on Rhodes. If you were a cooler parent, you might consider replacing the classical music regimen you’ve put your fetus on with Plume – fool your kid into thinking s/he’s entering a better world than that of the amniotic sac! It's reminiscent at times of a softer version of mid-80s soundtrack cues for psychological thrillers and dystopian urban film commentary, but whereas other music might help make plants grow, this record at times sounds like plants growing themselves. Except that orchid – you need to stop watering it so much. Oh, all right, you want something to use for a good press quote? “Multisubjectival tranquility par sexcellence.”–DC

Nightmares On Wax
Mission statement: “This fifth album continues as part of globetrotting producer / DJ George Evelyn’s personal legacy to bring forth his successful formula of positivity, sunshine and medicinal soul in music.” Yeah, I just got diabetes, too. Regardless! Leeds is an interesting city if it’s given us everything from George Evelyn to The Wedding Present to Cosmonauts Hail Satan and the Termite Club. This latest disc from Evelyn, aka DJ EASE (Experimental Sample Expert), offers an immutable slab of comfy chill-out grooves, cool, not cold. (How cold is Cool? Anyone ever figure that out?) There's reggae, funk, soul, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and muted Soul-Singin’ Diva™, in varying degrees with strings, bells and synths besides. Unchallenging – and not in a pejorative way – and uncomplicated music to escape the rat race with by standing to one side in the maze, romance young women and / or men with a modicum of taste and flair, or otherwise spruce up the drab and ordinary, if only for a little while. More Animal House than That House on the Outskirts, these Nightmares are in name only except when it comes to Dissonance, Disharmony and just plain Disses in general.–DC

DiCristina Stairbuilders
“Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) is a clump-forming grass up to 2 meters in height with roots that can penetrate to 3 meters deep. Vetiver is closely related to other fragrant grasses such as lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii). Vetiver is most easily propagated vegetatively due to the fact that most cultivars produce limited amounts of viable seed while others do not flower at all. Vetiver is a long-lived perennial and can survive up to 50 years or more. For the folk band, see Vetiver (band).” Okay, what do we get? A follow-up to 2004’s Vetiver, which featured Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star and chirpy Joanna Newsom as guests. This time out, you get extortionately well-produced folk-rock with fantastic dynamics – and by dynamics I mean that the guitar is as interesting to listen to as the percussion and I can hear each instrument well and listen to both or either if I want to – but now that the New York Times is paying attention to this substrata of alternative culture, are we going to have a Manson moment coming up here? Not hoping, just asking. There are already rumblings in the press about the terrors of communal living – a situation implicit in the N.W.O.S.F.H. (New Wave of Shaggy Folkie Hippies) currently spurring record labels' rush to sign any group with an acoustic guitar or harmonium and a subscription to Arthur Magazine. They come up with screaming headlines like “Hippie Dippie Bang Bang” when someone at the commune goes crazy-8 bonkers with his drill and sex and blows someone away. I don’t want to come off like Al Capp here but you 'heads should be circumspect about the sacrosanct. You never know when another Altamont or Woodstock ‘99 is going to rear its perfunctorily ugly head. And I know you’re going to say “aw, lighten up – it’s all about the music!” but this is music attempting a levitation of boring old postmodern Western culture, so questions have to be asked. Not that Vetiver, Devendra Banhart and Ben Chasny are likely to spur psychick violence because, coming back to the original many-moons-ago point of this trope, my eyes may be blinded with the astigmatism of skepticism but my ears hear a very fine pop record with an irretrievable sense of exploration and voyaging behind it. Not, as the press called 2001: A Space Odyssey, “the ultimate trip”, but nice one, eh.–DC

Waldron / Stapleton / Sigmarsson / Haynes / Faulhaber
Helen Scarsdale
With a line-up consisting of Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound), Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson (Stilluppsteypa), Jim Haynes (Coelacanth), Matt Waldron (irr. app. (ext.)) and R.K. Faulhaber (about whom I've been able to find very little apart from a link to a rather wonderful watercolour), this could be the leftfield electronica equivalent of the Traveling Wilburys, except that with Messrs Dylan, Harrison, Lynne and Petty (not forgetting old Lefty Wilbury, aka Roy Orbison) it was pretty clear who was doing what, whereas on these ten tracks it's just about anybody's guess. That said, I'll hazard a guess that Stapleton is, if not the éminence grise behind much of it, at least the village elder, as both the graphics – five letterpress prints, one per artist – and the music (not to mention track titles like "A Bottomless Black Eye" and "Woolen Pubic Hair") are right at home in NWW's surrealistic world, in which field recordings and voices sit cheek by jowl with all manner of squeaks, rumbles and growls. Or, as my fellow Wire writer Haynes puts it admirably, "an epiphany of controlled disorder, a convulsion of beauty, a cascade of thought from delirious minds". Talking of The Wire, it's no surprise that The Sleeping Moustache ended up in their "Outer Limits" bag, as it's well-nigh impossible to pin it down to any particular genre, which is exactly what you'd expect from the artists involved.–DW

Trawling around Google for info on Arastoo – there isn't much on the disc, once more black on black (seems to be an Isounderscore speciality) – I came across the information that 25-year-old Oakland-based Arastoo Darakhshan was (is?) one of the Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars, whose [!] was definitely one of the coolest outings of 2004. But as the name didn't ring a bell I went back to have a look who's playing on that one and came up with Jason Levis, the ubiquitous Loren Chasse and someone called Die Elektrischen. Unless Arastoo joined the DMAS after [!] I guess he might be Die Elektrischen himself. Maybe someone can enlighten me. [Stop Press 12/7/06: Massimo Ricci has enlightened me: Die Elektrischen is in fact Dielectric label boss Drew Webster..] In any case, these three chiaroscuro, resonant atmospheric dronescapes are as well worth seeking out as [!] was (is?). On the strength of this I'd also be curious to hear Arastoo's earlier CDR outing on Dielectric, Warmth In Digital, but as that appeared in an edition of 50 with the kind of fetishistic packaging I just love (petal-shaped wax-sealed vellum..) I suppose it disappeared quickly. All the more reason for investing in this one, the best Three since Archer Prewitt's.–DW

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