OCTOBER News 2006 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jon Dale, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, John Gill, Stephen Griffith, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:

In Concert: Guelph Jazz Festival
On Room40:
Friedl & Vorfeld / Davis & Jerman / Lloyd Barrett / DJ Olive / Samartzis & English / Samartzis & Inada
Luciano Berio
Misha Mengelberg
VINYL SOLUTION: Chen Yi / Verfassung / Noxagt & Ultralyd / Park Attack / Trockeneis / Gendreau & Lopez
Rose, Abrahams & Thomas / Robin Hayward / Carchesio & Craig / Sun Ra / PdConception / Spin Marvel / Kaufmann, Moore, van der Schyff
Bullock & Rawlings / Doug Theriault / Filip & Nakamura / Chang & Howard / Will Guthrie / Charles Mingus
Matt Rogalsky / Nico Muhly / Dan Joseph / Tim Hodgkinson / Morton Feldman / Hervé Boghossian
Daniel Menche / Hampton & Hess / Biffplex / Ethan Rose / Surface10 / Forest Jackson / Coincident
Last month


September has become a month of anniversaries, it seems. Firstly, and unavoidably, 9/11 (now apparently a Hollywood film.. remind me NOT to go and see that one, thank you very much), which, albeit indirectly, prompted this month's featured interviewee, violinist and composer Malcolm Goldstein, to head north of the border from his beloved Vermont and take an apartment in Montréal. Read the full story here. And it's been a year since the levee broke in New Orleans (there's a film out about that too, signed Spike Lee, but it lasts four hours and I don't know if I have the stamina..). On the subject of which - the hurricane, not the movie - I received this email a couple of weeks ago: "Hi music friends, I have a special request about Mr. Edward "Kid" [sic] Jordan. After hurricane Katrina hit Mr. Jordan's house in New Orleans, the Arabi Wrecking Krewe helped him September 2, 2006 cleaning up his house. Mr. Jordan asked them for help and they did. After a whole day of wrecking a lot of precious possessions were saved, but a lot of personal things were gone forever. Well now through our relation with the AWK I heard about this all. Our band the Hurricane Brassband set up a fundraise and the AWK was one of the donated projects. Mr. Jordan lost a lot of his original music, he composed. How can you or your readers help? 1) Do you have sheet music of pieces composed by Mr. Jordan? Could you please scan them and mail them to me? Mr. Armand "Sheik" Richardson will take care of the pieces and give them to Mr. Jordan. 2) Do you have any other information or pictures? If possible please scan them too, so we can give him back probably precious memories. I hope you can help us. Greetings, Hugo Kuijpers Hurricane Brassband http://www.everyoneweb.com/kidjordan/ www.hurricanebrassband.nl"
So there you are. If you can help out, Hugo would love to hear from you. Meanwhile, bonne lecture. Big thanks this month to Nate Dorward for his review of proceedings at Guelph, and to all our other contributors, wherever they are

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

In Concert: Guelph Jazz Festival
Guelph, Canada
Various Venues
Sept 6-10, 2006
Photos by Angel Stone
The Victoriaville festival was skimpy on jazz and improv this year, alienating many festival regulars; fortunately Guelph took up the slack, offering one of its most impressive programs in recent years. Guelph has always avoided the mainstream jazz acts that are the bread and butter of most such festivals: it’s an uncompromisingly non-mainstream event placing equal emphasis on jazz’s outer limits and the European free improv tradition. This year’s program included some left-field choices but concentrated on established names, including festival faves Joëlle Léandre and Hamid Drake and a first-time appearance by New Thing veteran Bill Dixon. During weekdays, the festival ran concurrently with an academic colloquium – this year’s theme was “Sounds of Hope, Sounds of Change: Improvisation, Pedagogy, Imagination” – and concerts took place largely at a performance/gallery space at the university. Weekend events shifted downtown to two arts centres and a church. I contrived to miss virtually all the colloquium in the interests of sleep, sanity and schmoozing; the one session I caught was an eye-glazer but I’m genuinely sorry to have missed a few things, including talks by Steve Coleman and Greg Tate and Steve Lehman’s paper on Jackie McLean.
I arrived Wednesday evening, in time to catch a multimedia performance by Bob Ostertag and Pierre Hébert. The primary focus was eyepopping, stomach-churning visuals that were collaged together from multiple sources: shots of horrifically mangled children in Lebanon, Israeli flags, video games, and animated images of exploding babies and crosshairs (which at one point rested pointedly on George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice). The visuals were dazzling, the audio predictable – Casiotone burbles yielding to explosions and thin screams – and I would have welcomed a little more political analysis in place of the emotional button-pushing.

At a now-notorious press conference at the 2002 Victoriaville festival (preceding a damp-squib concert with Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley), Bill Dixon (photo, left) was notably bitter about the infrequency with which he’d been invited to play in Canada. As if Guelph’s organizers had set out to prove him wrong, he was one of this year’s headliners. He led a Thursday-morning workshop featuring three other trumpeters – his protégé Gordon Allen, Alex Glenfield, and surprise guest Rob Mazurek – and Jesse Stewart on drums. Dixon, an inveterate talker and lecturer, at times got himself stuck in a one-track monologue. The proceedings, however (unlike at Victo), remained relaxed and cordial; the healthy ego (he remarked that his music was “a body of work that is second to no-one”) didn’t slip into obsessive bitterness about lack of recognition; and the event offered useful insights into his workshop methods, though he often bowed out when the music started to heat up.
Robert Marcel Lepage’s Pee Wee et Moi paid tribute to the one of jazz’s most beloved mavericks, the oddball clarinettist Pee Wee Russell. The four-clarinet front-line included Lepage, François Houle, Lori Freedman and Paul Cram (a rather different set of faces than played on the group’s Ambiances Magnétiques CD). Lepage’s compositions offered a droll “what if?” take on music history: one piece, for instance, memorably answered the question, “What if jazz’s origins were Chinese rather than African?” Cram and Freedman were perhaps a little too disruptively outward-bound for this setting (the different line-up on the CD was better balanced); the real hero, in any case, was guitarist René Lussier, a multifaceted player whose contributions suited the music to a tee.
A few years back, drummer Jerry Granelli was working on Sketches of Ondaatje, which was intended as a followup to A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing, a suite of music written in response to Coming through Slaughter. The second project seems to have experienced a few vicissitudes, though, and has emerged under the name Sandhills Reunion. The texts are the work of vocalist/narrator Rinde Eckert, though they still have a distinctly Ondaatjesque ring. In concert, Eckert’s contributions took up much of the available space – a game of Twenty Questions with Billy the Kid was positively arduous. The musicians concentrated on providing evocative soundscapes for Eckert’s sepia-toned mythology and eroticism. But this was too good a band to keep bottled up for long, and once they got to an R’n’B episode things really took off, with excellent work from baritone saxophonist David Mott and guitarist Christian Kögel in particular.
At the church, Russian accordionist Evelyn Petrova gave a solo performance that was taken from her calendrical songbook, Year’s Cycle (Leo). Her singing was an acquired taste, playacting village quarrels and gossip with charming but disconcerting gusto, but her accordion-playing was superb, offering a dazzling combination of folk-dance rhythms and tingly dissonances.
Her performance was followed by a concert in the church auditorium by the thirteen-piece ensemble Bik Bent Braam, one of the most exciting post-ICP, post-Breuker bands on the Dutch scene. Pianist Michiel Braam (photo, right) doesn’t “lead” the band in the usual sense of the word: in Bik Bent Braam it’s left to the musicians to decide when to trigger musical cues, and they’re also encouraged to rework his compositions as they see fit. The current program is called Thirteen Concertos. During the concert the players literally force their way to the front of the stage to direct their own “concerto”, becoming soloist and conductor at the same time. As in any type of game, the performers in this particular musical game are simultaneously competitive and playful. The results are something like a Time Bandits tour of music history, jumping comfortably from Jelly Roll Morton to Sun Ra, Bach to rock’n’roll, not to mention making Ra-like forays into 1950s exotica (they do a great cha-cha-cha). This was one of this year’s knockout concerts, and I’ll only single out a few felicities: bassist Wilbert de Joode’s showstopping downwards spiral; Franz Vermeerssen’s raucous tenor solo (another “what if?” take on jazz history: what if Lester Young had played Ellington jungle music?); and Frank Gratkowski’s alarming 180-degree turn from Konitzian cool to howling lunacy.

Friday began with a “Percussion Discussion” workshop involving Jesse Stewart, Lê Quan Ninh, and two Brazilian drummers from the São Paulo Underground (Richard Ribeiro and Guilherme Granado), as well as pianist Paul Plimley. This was an uncomfortably diverse group of musicians, but it prompted some of the more ponderable workshop discussion that I heard, even if the music wasn’t by most standards “successful”. After an opening free improv, one audience member asked the musicians to do something explicitly pulsed. Lê Quan (an entirely abstract, classically trained percussionist) attempted to bow out, saying he didn’t think he could, but ended up participating anyway and took the bull by the horns, smashing a gong repeatedly into the drumhead.
The afternoon concert was a washout, marked by some strong work by violinist Oliver Schroer and tabla-player Ravi Naimpally but scuppered by Inuit throatsinger Tanya Tagaq Gillis, who came off as a cross between a beatboxer and a mic-hugging pop diva.
Lê Quan Ninh began his solo set with long strips of reed in his hands, whipping them about and making parts of them break off, until they were short enough to use as brushes. As is his usual practice, he had only a single bass drum to work with, turned face-up on a supporting frame. It was like watching a soothsayer perform some tricky rite of divination, as pinecones and stones were rubbed and whisked around the circle of the drum-head. At times it was as if the air itself were his instrument, crushed and stretched beneath his raised and lowered cymbal. Despite a few dead spots, it was a remarkable performance, which ended spectacularly when Lê Quan set a fleet of prayer bowls jiggling across the drum-head, each of them containing a whirling ball.
The evening featured a first-time duet between Bill Dixon and Joëlle Léandre (photo, left). Dixon’s music is a Rorschach test – amorphous, possibly random, and primarily interesting for the wide range of reactions it elicits from observers. The basic materials are minimalist: a sleepwalking procession of pitchless gasps, raspberries, coughs, and sighs, plus the occasional slo-mo series of actual notes. These sonic materials are augmented with heavy reverb and echo effects, though Dixon isn’t interested in using electronics flexibly to sculpt sounds: the FX settings were left unchanged throughout the entire concert, in fact. Léandre’s ability to come up with all kinds of lyrical counterweights and intensities in response to Dixon’s wet blanket was little short of amazing, but the concert was sorely lacking in meaningful, two-way dialogue.
The following concert by Vancouver’s Hard Rubber Orchestra was vigorous but sounded dated: despite their professed openness to a wide range of influences and styles they rarely strayed far from an updated 1970s jazz-rock sound. It had its moments (notably a blues by Jean Derome), but when an electric violin cadenza on “O Canada” segued into “Manic Depression” I felt the only proper response was to make a fast exit in search of a beer.
Suitably fortified, I returned for a storming set by Rob Mazurek’s newest band, the São Paulo Underground. Like the Chicago Underground, this is a flexible group that’s assembled around a stable core of musicians. In this case, the core is Mazurek and Mauricio Takara (on percussion, keyboards and electronics), who were joined on this tour by Richard Ribeiro (drums) and Guilherme Granado (drums, percussion and laptop). Together, they created an unmistakably urban music, reflecting the city’s heated palimpsest of cultures and musical traditions: rock, electronica, free jazz, and Brazilian music both old and new. Mazurek’s delicate lines expertly threaded this particular avant/pop labyrinth.

Saturday began with a trio performance by Paul Plimley (photo, right), bassist Tommy Babin and drummer Hamid Drake. This was a dizzy stacking-up of moves, countermoves and counter-countermoves, as intricate as grandmaster chess but as speedy as basketball. In many styles of free improv, the unwritten rule is that interaction should be oblique, emphasizing independence as much as interdependence, but this was a reminder of how exciting and musically satisfying it can be when players work together as closely as possible. The busy network of visual cues and unvoiced dialogues was fascinating to watch: you could clearly see how Plimley’s kinetic dance at the keys elicited Drake’s commentaries, and how in turn his deep grooves made Plimley shatter and recombine familiar jazz idioms (there was even a trip through “Third Stone from the Sun” at one point) while Drake and Babin slyly assembled new grooves behind his back. The performance continually surprised musicians and audience alike with its fresh discoveries and eventful swerves. I didn’t come across a single person afterwards who was unmoved: by common agreement this was the festival’s best concert.
A performance by Larry Ochs, koto-player Miya Masaoka and cellist Peggy Lee (stepping into Joan Jeanrenaud’s shoes) offered understated power and severe beauty, in a program culled from their earlier album Fly Fly Fly. A pity, though, that there were no new compositions in the setlist. The FAB Trio (Joe Fonda, Barry Altschul, Billy Bang) was in smoking form: Bang’s fiddling was enjoyably over-the-top, and Altschul cracked away at his kit with extra-long sticks, like a rock’n’roll version of a swing drummer. Fonda’s joyous shuffle-dance with his bass pinned the whole thing together. The highlight was a killer version of “Chan Chan” from Buena Vista Social Club.
The evening concert was a rather oddly balanced double-bill that took place in the swish environs of the Riverrun Centre. The opening act was a duet of pianist György Szabados and drummer Vladimir Tarasov, a continuous performance that unfolded like one of the Ganelin Trio’s enigmatic multisection suites. Their interaction was perversely not-quite-together, not-quite-apart, even during the fixed-meter episodes – it was as if both were playing to the same unheard backing track rather than responding directly to each other (not a criticism, just an observation). The crappy rock-arena amplification was a nuisance – Tarasov’s not a delicate player, but he still didn’t deserve this level of gut-punching unsubtlety – but enough of Szabados’s playing came through to suggest a genuine original: his clarity and precision in the quietest passages was breathtaking. The following set by Steve Coleman and the Five Elements, aside from the odd moment of handsome polyphony, was grinding, interminable stuff. Coleman seems to be writing out virtually everything these days – even hotshot drummer Marcus Gilmore was hamstrung by all the darn charts – and the music felt oppressively regimented. It was doled out in supersized chunks, the first lasting over an hour, including detours through “Klactoveesedstene” and a soured-milk “Body and Soul”. It looked like the concert was finished, but when it became clear Coleman was in fact just getting started the audience began fleeing in droves. I eventually exited myself to clear my head and hang out with dismayed fans and critics in the lobby. When I left the building at 11:30, the band was still going.

A series of duets on a sunny Sunday morning and afternoon ended this year’s festival on a quieter note. Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier (photo) began their set with a piece of their own, “Lonelyville”, then turned to Zorn’s latest cycle of Masada compositions, The Book of Angels. Zorn’s stock-in-trade jump-cuts and quotations were much in evidence, but the pieces were also marked by a vivid, colouristic approach to harmony. While Zorn doesn’t head unequivocally into mystical/religious territory à la Messiaen, the music nonetheless had plenty of moments of unfeigned wonder and sublimity. For marriages of the unearthly and the secular, Mark Feldman’s your man – what he does with a violin is enough to make your neckhairs prickle – and Courvoisier was similarly impressive, not least in two solo spots where she whipped up a maelstrom at the bottom end of the piano.
They were followed by a duet between Joe Fonda and the guzheng player Xu Fengxia. (The guzheng is a zither-like Chinese instrument, quite similar in appearance to the koto Miya Masaoka played the day before.) I wasn’t sure what to expect from this unlikely pairing – feathery exoticism? austere improv? – but their music turned out to be hard-hitting, grooving stuff. Xu Fengxia rocked hard, and sang with soulful authority. Along with the São Paulo Underground this was the festival’s most successful example of cross-cultural dialogue, a concert that was entertaining but also at times deeply moving.
An afternoon workshop session by Léandre and Drake ended the festival for me (there was one more concert in the evening by Autorickshaw with Trichy Sankaran and Kevin Breit but I was on the bus home). These two fervent spirits locked in together beautifully: Léandre doesn’t need to play swinging lines to show that she’s one of the grooviest free bassists, and the players’ shared penchant for vocalizing led to some spirit-lifting vocal duets. The Q&A session in the middle of the performance meandered a bit, but it was great to hear Léandre reminisce about her discovery of free jazz in the 1960s, and Drake talk about Fred Anderson, the AACM, and his own beginnings as a free jazz drummer. It was a fine way to end the festival, and an appropriate one. One of the main themes of The Other Side of Nowhere (ed. Daniel Fischlin and Ajay Heble), a volume of essays emerging from the Guelph colloquia, is that jazz and improvisation are necessary acts of community-building. I have mixed feelings about that proposition, but I do admire the way the Guelph festival, with its workshops and colloquia (not to mention the ubiquitous catering that encourages musicians and fans to mingle freely), emphasizes the links between music and musician, learning and creativity, rather than simply presenting packaged entertainment. Utopian? Certainly. But if the calibre of the music is as high as it was this year, I’m not complaining.

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

On Room40
Reinhold Friedl / Michael Vorfeld
Greg Davis / Jeph Jerman
Lloyd Barrett
DJ Olive
Philip Samartzis / Lawrence English
Philip Samartzis / Kozo Inada
h[ ]
Sound artist and occasional PT contributor Lawrence English has certainly been busy of late, and these six releases on his Room40 label are just part of the story. Taken together they reflect the extraordinary diversity of so-called "electronica" – once more, a term woefully inadequate to describe the variety of today's electronic music, but it looks like we're stuck with it – from spacious drones (frankly, another dumb word, but we're stuck with that, too) to processed field recordings to experimental turntablism. Not that a spacious drone necessarily excludes the use of processed field recordings and experimental turntablism, either, as these albums testify all too well.

But it's not all electronica on Room40. Pech is the latest outing from Berlin-based Reinhold Friedl (inside piano and prepared piano) and Michael Vorfeld (percussion and, here, stringed instruments). The last release that came my way featuring these two also included Bernhard Günter (Message Urgent, on Günter's trente oiseaux label), but here, without Günter's cellotar to thicken up the mid registers, the paint is spread a little thinner, and the subtle interplay between the glistening frost of Friedl's bowed piano and Vorfeld's percussion is easier to follow. This is music of enormous subtlety, generally slowmoving and studious to avoid extremes of dynamics, but far from introvert and definitely not lowercase. Nor is it lacking in surface incident: "Keks" fairly bristles with activity, a whole ecosystem of tiny inside piano scrabblings, shakes and quivers (one wonders what Günter would make of it, recalling his description of much improvised music as "mice running around in a cheese box"). Vorfeld, like Burkhard Beins, Christian Wolfarth and Steven Hess (to name but three) is a fine example of the post-EAI percussionist: it's no longer about percussion as much as friction. More bows than sticks. Meanwhile Friedl's ear for sonority is as meticulous as his piano preparations. Magnificent stuff.
I've often wondered if bugs and other small creatures that live on or under the ground can actually hear. (I'm guessing they can, but as I dropped science in school as quickly as I could, having had recurring nightmares about the foetus pickled in a dingy jar at the back of the Biology lab, you'll just have to laugh at my ignorance on the subject..) Assuming they are able to hear the world around them, I like to think that it sounds something like Ku. Greg Davis and Jeph Jerman have been exploring the world of tiny sounds, culled from both field recordings and close-miked natural objects – twigs, stones, shells, pools of water, etc – for some while now, and to quote Davis from a thread over at Bagatellen, Ku is "put together from acoustic improvisations recorded on Jeph's ranch in Cottonwood Arizona over the course of three years. Each piece has layers or collage of several recording sessions on top of each other. As for post-processing, there is a little. It is very minimal. In the first piece, I used a little EQ to bring up the white noise hiss on the recording and emphasize that blanket of sound. On the second piece, I just distorted the final mix [with] some overdrive, and on the third piece, there's a very subtle room reverb on it to add some space and depth." Sounds simple, eh? Well, it is simple, but at the same time remarkably rich and complex. I may think twice before stepping on a centipede in future. I wouldn't want to spoil its listening experience.
It's probably significant that Lloyd Barrett has chosen a French title for his debut release on Room40, as his work, to quote the label website, "draws on the concepts of filmic sound and exploring the possibilities of philosophies suggested by authors and theorists such as Michel Chion." It's a shame that Jérôme Noetinger has now wrapped up operations with the Cinéma Pour L'Oreille series on Metamkine, as Mise en Scène would have made a fine addition to the catalogue (except that it's a full length album, not a three incher): Barrett's theatre of operations is huge, and each of these eight tracks is a real adventure, using a compendium of techniques drawn from across the board in contemporary electronica (there are even a few discreet beats in there, too). Not that his music is in any way some kind of imaginary soundtrack – a frequent misunderstanding of what "cinema for the ear" is all about – but it's poetic and opulent, at times recalling the work of another Chion-inspired sound artist, Lionel Marchetti. My only reservation about this disc is that it's well nigh impossible for me to read the names of the tracks and the other participants (though I can see Joel Stern is among the guests, providing "bee guitar" – is that what it says? – on "Canopy"), as the miniscule white-on-mustard yellow printing is so hard to make out. But this is not an album to listen to with eyes open anyway.
DJ Olive's Sleep was originally recorded towards the end of 2001 as a CDR "calling card" during an Australian tour. Very much along the lines of his earlier (maybe later in fact but it appeared earlier) Room40 outing, Buoy, this is a splendid 48-minute brown burnished dronescape whose release to a wider audience is certainly cause for celebration, though I wouldn't go as far as the Room40 website does and describe it as "seminal" (as in "highly influential in an original way / constituting or providing a basis for further development" – for, as our own resident drone connoisseur Massimo Ricci will tell you, there's plenty of good stuff out and about in the genre, and, he would add, a lot of shite too). If you listen carefully you'll find plenty of subtle details in the mix – tiny snatches of piano arpeggios, ticking clocks – but you might not get that far: the album title is more of an imperative than a noun. Which means you could well fall asleep before the end – and that's not in any way a criticism of the disc as boring: far from it. Someone somewhere described Buoy as a "sleeping pill" when it came out. If that's the case, this is a potion, a thick warm syrup. Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.
Back at the end of the 80s, Philip Samartzis and Andrew Curtis broke new ground in Australian electronic music with their pioneering duo Gum (whose back catalogue was reissued last year by 23five, as diligent PT readers will no doubt recall). One Plus One, the first document of Samartzis's work in his turntable duo with Room40 main man Lawrence English (which began back in 2002 with an impromptu half-hour duo performance in Brisbane) marks a slight return to Gum's rough, raw soundworld, where mangled snatches of all kinds of music – Samartzis's two albums with Rasmus B. Lunding also come to mind – hack their way through the crunch and grit of vinyl surface noise. Not that English isn't responsible for some of the rough stuff either, as he's equally adept at using and abusing the venerable tourne-disque himself: you ask DJ Olive and Janek Schaefer (next up on Room40, btw). Wonder whose idea it was to include the snippet of vintage ragtime at the end of the disc, though. Special prize for anyone who writes in with a positive ID.
Those more familiar with Samartzis's recent offerings (not that that's an excuse for not checking out the Gum anthology, mind) might feel more at home with h[], his second collaborative venture with Kozo Inada, which makes a splendid follow-up to 2001's f[] on Digital Narcis. The texture is sparer, the heartbeat slower, and the crackle of (ab)used vinyl replaced by field recordings – including tolling bells, distant voices, and cawing birds – in another excellent reel of cinema for the ear. And at 20'33" this would have been about the right length for a Metamkine mini-CD. Shame, but Metamkine's loss is Room40's gain.
If, after all this, you still can't decide which one(s) of these to invest in, you could plump for a compilation instead. Wire subscribers already got one with the April 2006 issue, but there's another available too, entitled Incidental Amplifications, featuring contributions from, amongst others, Chris Watson, Domenico Sciajno, Terre Thaemlitz, Brandon Labelle and Thembi Soddell. Go to http://www.room40.org/news.shtml for more information.–DW

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Luciano Berio

Let me start with a childhood memory. Once upon a time in the 1970s, when there were only two RAI TV channels to watch and "culture" hadn't yet become a word from a foreign language, Italians could, if they so desired, enjoy a late night new music series hosted by Luciano Berio, something unimaginable today. Fast forward to 2005 and I find myself horrified reading an article in an English "progressive" magazine that puts the Maestro from Omegna in the same bag as lightweights like Roberto Cacciapaglia and Franco Battiato (the latter much hyped these days, but essentially a fraud, having invented a whole "experimental" career by travelling paths that had already been well trodden years before by illustrious forerunners, before returning to his squalid Italian pop-song origins when he ran out of ideas to "borrow"), so that non-experts might conclude that Berio is a sort of father figure to the musical genres the rag in question calls "the strangest type of spaghetti." This gorgeous 4-CD box should once and for all open the eyes of anybody who still associates Berio with fourth-rate copycats, or those who have probably heard about his music only in a peripheral way ("Cathy Berberian's husband", "Steve Reich's teacher"), and help them understand why this man is an authentic and rare Italian treasure as far as modern art is concerned.
Berio chose the name "Sequenza" because these pieces, composed from 1958 through 2002, were "built from a sequence of harmonic fields from which the other, strongly characterized musical functions were derived". To quote Sabine Feisst's liners, "the Sequenze became seeds for a variety of new works", but the process of transformation and cross-pollination was two-way (as it was in the work of Ives and Mahler too, not to mention Frank Zappa's "conceptual continuity"). A case in point is Sequenza IXa for clarinet (here masterfully rendered by Carol Robinson) which derives from Chemins V, a work Berio withdrew shortly after its premiere. This Mode set represents the very first time in which all the Sequenze (even the "posthumous" ones, notably Stefano Scodanibbio's excellent transcription for double bass of the cello Sequenza XIV) and the works for solo instruments have been gathered together in a single release. Listening to the whole thing in one go is difficult but not impossible, as Berio's articulately bright writing highlights both the strengths and the less explored nuances of every instrument while maintaining an evident intelligibility, a consequence of the composer's interest in popular traditions and themes he often loved to mix with more experimental and serial techniques. Virtuosity is a necessity, never mere technical showing off; according to Berio's instructions some of these scores should be played sempre molto flessibile, quasi improvvisando ("always very flexible, almost improvising"), a good example being the majestic Fa-Si (tackled by Gary Verkade on the pipe organ). The performers, a veritable Who's Who of great soloists including Irvine Arditti, Stuart Dempster, Rohan De Saram, Isabelle Ganz, Ulrich Krieger, Seth Josel and Aki Takahashi (to name but a few), contribute with heartfelt passion to the success of the project. Each Sequenza is introduced by actor Enzo Salomone reciting verses by Edoardo Sanguineti, one of Berio's closest friends and collaborators.
Let's try to sketch a path through this huge compendium. Sequenza VI for viola features a scintillating performance by Garth Knox, who executes the "formal study on repetition" with muscular brilliance, in a fabulous cross between Paganini and Jon Rose. A cycle of ten chords progressively expands until the twelve-tone chromatic field is reached, with outrageous tremolos leading to a more tranquil melodic exploration (which must come as enormous physical relief for the player). Sequenza VII for oboe was written with the help of its dedicatee Heinz Holliger, who presented Berio with a lot of alternative and extended techniques used in the "virtual polyphony" which was one of the composer's stated objectives when working with monophonic instruments. Jacqueline Leclair applies her own touch of magic, sustained by a female vocal drone whispered in the background in another high-intensity moment of truth. Sequenza X for trumpet in C (played by William Forman) is a poignantly lyrical exploration of natural reverberation elicited by the trumpet's waves from an amplified piano (the soloist is asked to play directly into the instrument), with seriously dramatic results. Sequenza XII for bassoon (another wonderful reading by Noriko Shimada) is, on a purely emotional level, one of the most exquisite listenings on offer here, its fantastic slow glissandi an impressive example of the virtuoso circular breathing needed to play this score. Gesti, which Feisst rightly describes as "a classic in contemporary recorder literature", is indeed a fantastic concoction of instrument and voice interpreted with furious enthusiasm by Lucia Mense, while Chanson pour Pierre Boulez for cello, composed for its dedicatee's 75th birthday, starts with Rohan De Saram playing a slow line that after a while mutates into a Tony Conrad-like beneficial electrocution, a short yet engrossing pleasure, not to mention a great birthday present.
Sequenza XI for guitar is a showcase for Seth Josel’s extraordinary digital dexterity, as every conceivable form of guitar-related fingering and technique derived from both flamenco and classical traditions is applied with as much vigour as surgical precision. Although it's one of the longest tracks on offer, listening to its wood, flesh and metal is a pure joy, and not only for guitarists. The "folk" element that characterized many phases of Luciano Berio’s career is to the fore again in Stefan Hussong's accordion playing on Sequenza XIII, which is one of the most accessible tracks, along with Sequenza IV for piano (Aki Takahashi). The spectacular theatre of voices performed by Isabelle Ganz in Sequenza III is typical Berio / Berberian matter, but noteworthy for its avoidance of the insufferable (at least for this writer) technical gadgetry usually associated with the female voice in contemporary music (much of which, ironically enough, was instigated by Berberian herself). Ganz’s rendition is just superb – and surprisingly sober, giving the work a real touch of class.
Listening to veritable masterpieces such as these one gets a true sense of fulfillment. It remains a mystery to me how presumably experienced listeners can still be seduced by and give credence to marginal phenomena like those mentioned at the beginning of this review. After many rewarding hours spent with The Complete Sequenzas, my rage at how things work in the music world grows more and more. At least I can console myself with the thought that Luciano Berio never read that particular article, and that he's probably smiling with irony in the hereafter.–MR

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Misha Mengelberg
Afijn, I'm told, translates roughly as "whatever.." (as in "what the hell.."), and it's a perfect title for a profile of the gently anarchic Amsterdam-based pianist and composer Misha Mengelberg, who recently turned 71 but whose ICP Orchestra is still for my money the most exciting (and certainly the most entertaining) big band in contemporary jazz / improv. Mengelberg's work needs little introduction to regular readers of these pages, and I'm delighted to report that the interview he was kind enough to give me back in 1996 is still getting plenty of hits. (Wish I'd had a video camera with me that day, I can tell you.. Misha arrived at the Bodega Keyzer, just next to the venerable Concertgebouw – scene of the Mengelberg-inspired succès de scandale in November 1969 when, along with Reinbert de Leeuw, Peter Schat and Louis Andriessen, he noisily disrupted a concert conducted by Bernard Haitink – and ordered a huge glass of milk, an espresso and an open ham sandwich with a very runny poached egg floating on top like a giant gob of phlegm. He attacked the food with gusto – I still have dried egg yolk on the microcassette recorder to prove it – but let the coffee go stone cold before pouring it unceremoniously into the glass of milk. He also got through the best part of a pack of Marlboro 100's. It was an unforgettable lunch.)

Afijn is a 78-minute documentary by Jellie Dekker featuring plenty of great footage old and new of Misha in action, ranging from a vintage snippet of a 1964 trio recorded in Utrecht's Persepolis with Ruud Jacobs on bass and trusty sparring partner Han Bennink on drums to shots of the ICP Orchestra during their recent North American tour. There's also a smattering of the original ICP triumvirate of Misha, Han and saxophonist Willem Breuker (before the latter jumped ship to concentrate on his own Kollektief), and an all-too-brief snatch of a 1980 incarnation of the Orchestra featuring Ernst Reijseger, George Lewis and Steve Lacy. Not that the current line-up is at all shabby, as Misha is the first to acknowledge. Fans of Mary Oliver (violin, viola), Tristan Honsinger (cello), Ernst Glerum (bass), Ab Baars, Michael Moore and Toby Delius (horns), Thomas Heberer (trumpet) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone) will find much to enjoy, not only in the documentary, but in the three bonus cuts featuring the Orchestra, "Met welbeleefde groet van de kammel" ("With Sincerest Regards From The Camel"), filmed live at the BIMhuis as part of Misha's 70th birthday celebrations last year, "Kachel" and "Baltimore Oriole", the old Hoagy Carmichael chestnut gloriously arranged by Moore and recorded, it says here, in the Mahogany Hall, Edam in November 2006..(!) There's a fine example of the kind of wonderful cock-up Misha loves. The documentary is an affectionate portrait of Mengelberg, both the pianist and the composer – there's a sensational extract of his near-unplayable piano piece Left Right, originally written for Frederic Rzewski but never played on the grounds it was too difficult (for him?!), performed by Tomoko Mukayama (dare we hope for a CD release one day?), and some revealing asides from former avant-garde revolutionaries Louis Andriessen and Wim Schippers, complete with footage of some of the wacky post-Fluxus revolutionary mixed-media shenanigans that the Netherlands was (still is) famous for. There's also some splendid archive film of two of Misha's great heroes – Ellington and Monk – in full flight, and some revealing comments on how Mengelberg's teacher at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Kees van Baaren, showed him to revoice traditional bop harmony into the kind of crunchy Monkish sonorities that have characterised Misha's work throughout his career.

Also among the bonuses there are also two super duo cuts with trumpeter Dave Douglas, who proves once more he knows Mengelberg's songbook at least as well as the ICP footsoldiers do, a brief 1967 home movie of the Mengelberg family cat Pief playing the piano (it ends suddenly when another puss sabotages the performance in typical Misha style), and – it's worth buying the DVD just for this – the legendary "Instant Composition 5/VI/'72", on which he accompanies his pet parrot Eeko. This originally appeared on the ICP 015 LP, something of a holy grail for Eric Dolphy fans, as it contains a rare bootleg of him playing Monk's "Epistrophy" with Mengelberg, Bennink and Jacques Schols (the same quartet recorded Dolphy's Last Date the following day), but here it's the soundtrack to an old home movie shot chez Mengelberg. Pief and Eeko are not the only featured animals on parade, either. The live version of "Camel" features a rare guest appearance by Anthony Braxton, accompanied, for reasons best known to Mengelberg (but which will probably have Braxton purists climbing the wall in frustration), by footage of a particularly lethargic Bactrian camel and a rather nasty looking hyena in the local zoo.
The bonus section of the DVD is easy to navigate, but it's a shame the documentary part isn't subdivided into separate indexed chapters for easy reference. One can also regret there isn't more of the terrific archive film on offer, but we shouldn't complain, especially since the entire ICP vinyl back catalogue remains frustratingly out of print. On his last visit to Paris a couple of years ago I asked Misha when he might get round to reissuing some of those long deleted titles. He didn't seem at all interested. "Anyway, I think I've lost the master tapes," he said, shuffling off to the bar. Han Bennink, who indulges in the kind of antics on stage that would get most ordinary mortals a one-way ticket to a secure institution, is, in conversation, wonderfully normal, and delightfully blunt: "[ICP] wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Misha. Aside from that, he does fuck all." Not so sure about that, Han: one thing that emerges most clearly from this disc is how essential Misha Mengelberg is not only to the ICP Orchestra but to Dutch new music in general. Without the benign madness of the baseball-cap sporting, cognac slurping Mengelberg, the world just wouldn't be as much fun. Well, my world wouldn't, at least. You make up your own mind. As Misha says: "There are only two kind of music: nice music and boring music." This is nice.–DW

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Vinyl Solution
Chen Yi Commune
THE 1978 – 83
90% Wasser
"The Chen Yi Commune was founded in 1978 by about 20 women and men from London and the surrounding area. The building of the commune, an old school in Chelmsford, was located on vast premises and was encircled by a wall. The aim of the commune was to create a closed subsystem, a kind of subsociety and to narrow down its contact to the outside world only on very few specific actions. Life in the commune was lead [sic] hermetically closed. All circuits, the food, culture and communication circuits had to be self-contained." Sounds like fun, eh? Well, it was one way of coming to terms with living in Chelmsford in Thatcher's Britain (pronounced Bwwwitain, like Rick in The Young Ones, another legendary though admittedly better known commune). Though Chen Yi (named presumably after the Chinese communist leader) eventually dissolved and their house was demolished in 1984, the six musicians who perform on these 14 tracks remain true to their self-imposed anonymity by not revealing their real names (they're all called Chen, if you hadn't guessed.. they do have numbers though). But if CBS hadn't pulled out of a projected recording contract – which came about thanks to John Peel's enthusiastic championship of the group – maybe you'd all be cuddling copies of the Chen Yi debut album The Rape now (One wonders if that title had anything to do with their decision..). Instead, all we got was a self-produced cassette, Hanging, in 1981. But it's great to see this stuff out and about now: fans of Crass, Swell Maps and similar groups at the wild fringes of English post-punk will love the raw thudding drum machines, primitive keyboards (dig the squarewaves), tape cut-ups and general DIY ya-don't-like-this-?-well-fuck-you aesthetic. God knows what they're doing on "Rounder", but there certainly seems to be a telephone ringing in there, so maybe they weren't totally cut off from the outside world. And anyone who produces music as good as this doesn't deserve to be. Check it out.

Various Artists
Hörbar (which translates as "Listening Bar" – sounds rather like The Scope in Pynchon's Crying Of Lot 49) is a forum for experimental music performers, producers and consumers who get together every Wednesday evening in Hamburg's B-Movie cinema /artspace. Verfassung ("Constitution") is the collective's third release, after the double CDR Prosit zur letzten Tide, based on underwater recordings of the Hamburg harbour and recordings of the empty B-Movie cinema itself, and Pero La Música Continuará, a homage to former Hörbar member Jörn Petersen. It contains 14 tracks by 14 different artists, including Hamburg's best known explorer of alt.electronicmusic, Asmus Tietchens, whose typically dour, impressive "GUU 69" is based on another cheery quotation from his beloved E.M. Cioran. Elsewhere there are the usual greyscale processed drizzly field recordings and mangled, spazzed-out treated improvisations, accompanied by salient quotations from, amongst others, Deleuze (sur-prise!), Nietzsche and.. Louis Armstrong ("All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse sing a song.."). Dunno what Pops would have made of Audible Pain's "Staphylokkoen und Streptokokken", which consists of "mostly self experienced pain waves being transformed into audible sound waves" – and it sounds like it – or incite/ (Christ, these Hamburgers certainly love those gratuitous punctuation marks) 's "bone-dry minimal electronics, fragmented slomo grooves and broken rhythmic arrangements", but if he's still checking out new music in the hereafter, he's probably got his time cut out with What A Wonderful World.. The most impressive offerings are [-hyph-] (aka Nicolas Wiese) 's hypercomplex "fragmentation.itself" (and that's not the full title), tbc's "disordering 6" (forget the Deleuze blather and burn off your hangover with this) and the wild Maso Yamazaki-meets-Sun Ra squiggles of Renoise's "Japanese Robot", but there's plenty of interesting stuff throughout the album. Remind me stop off in the Listening Bar for a pint next time if I ever get to Hamburg.

Noxagt / Ultralyd
Textile Vynile Serie
The cover of this album is – no disrespect to Marie Caillou, thanks to whose quirky artwork the Textile Vynile Serie is instantly identifiable – not quite as much fun to look at as their outing on Load (that should prompt a deluge of correspondence, heh heh) but their half of this split LP is certainly fun to listen to, from the fucked up Resonance FM session track where someone knocks the drumkit over to the totally fucked up slamfest "BFTP", recorded at Oslo's Kill Yr Ego, after which the only way to go is slow, as in dead slow: "Drittstilk", a live recording for WFMU New Jersey that no self-respecting Swans fan should be without. Further proof that Norway might not be the heaven on earth Wire editorials often make it out to be comes from Ultralyd on side B. Track titles like "The Smell of Incest" and "Darkening of the Stool" – and I don't suppose that's got anything to do with furniture repair either – probably give you some idea of what's in store, but these four grizzly outings recorded in a (disused?) canning factory in Stavanger will still have you reaching for the akevitt. If you can afford a bottle.. right now Norway's the second richest country in the world, after Luxembourg. Thought you might like to know that.

Park Attack
Textile Records' head honcho Benoît Sonnette came up with the bright idea of starting a label while he was living and working in Glasgow a few years ago (which explains why the label's first release was Bill Wells Octet date with Lol Coxhill, and good luck trying to find a copy of that now, by the way), and the good people of Park Attack – Rob Churm (vocals/guitar), Lorna Gilfedder (drums) and Tom Straughan (synthesizers), here augmented by Jamie Grier on electronics (Straughan has since left the group, it seems) – are friends of long standing. Half Past Human is their first full-length outing, following on from last year's Last Drop At Hideout EP (OSCARR). It's a gloriously energetic, rough'n'ready blast of early 21st century No Wave (bet these cats were first in the queue to pick up their copies of No New York when it re-emerged on CD) – Churm's vocals sound like the anguished yelp of Lydia Lunch and David Thomas' bastard love child, and are well-served by the dry, tight synth-heavy mix – but unlike the vicious fuck-everything broadsides of DNA and Teenage Jesus, Park Attack's songs are more.. well, structured. Sort of. Hell, there are even some drum breaks in there. But be warned: conventional, user-friendly indie pop this is not.

5025 AD
"Trockeneis" is German for "dry ice", and that's exactly what Baltimore-based Catherine Pancake plays. How you play dry ice isn't all that clear to me, but if you're interested there's a photo by Michael Anton Parker of her doing it at http://www.bagatellen.com/archives/frontpage/001118.html. In Trockeneis, she's joined by fellow "New Frictionalists" – nice term, that.. think I'll start using it myself from now on – Paul Neidhardt (percussion), Dan Breen and Andy Hayleck (bowed metal), and Audrey Chen (voice). If you've been following developments on John Berndt's Recorded label, you'll know by now that there's a whole helluva lot more happening in Baltimore than John Waters might have you believe. It's one of those tightly organised, dynamic local improv scenes that have sprung up in major cities worldwide over the past decade. Trockeneis is to Baltimore what BSC is to Boston or Phosphor is to Berlin, if you like, and this album deserves to be filed away next to Phosphor on Potlatch and BSC's Good on Grob as one of contemporary improv's more exciting debut albums. It's uncompromising stuff, especially at high volume (the only way to play it – no point trying to listen to this as background music), even if the LP pressing leaves a lot to be desired (but hell what's a little bit of surface noise, for Chrissakes?). The strange metallic squeaks and squeals complement Chen's ghostly / ghastly vocalisms to perfection, painting a dark, forbidding landscape in thrilling chiaroscuro. Maybe this is what Baltimore will look like in 5025 AD. I won't be sticking round to find out, but if these cats ever play a gig here in Paris, I'll be there with my scarf and gloves on.

Michel Gendreau / Francisco López
Crippled Intellect
With its all black label and all black information-free cover – what a shame CIP couldn't have used black paper for the inner sleeve too – you know you're in for a pretty austere experience before you even hear the disc. "Drowning" is a typically overcast and inscrutable offering from Michel Gendreau (ex-Crawling With Tarts), all gloomy drive-belt hums and indistinct Eraserhead-like factory rumbles. Can't help laughing at the blurb on the CIP website, especially that bit about "Gendreau, a trained acoustician, used extremely refined microphones.." Anyone familiar with CWT's work – not that you're likely ever to be able to acquire the entire back catalogue – knows how good Gendreau's ears are, but whether he used "extremely refined microphones" or not (I'll take his word for it), a lot of this sounds like a DJ trying to spin a record made of mud. More or less the same could be said of López's "Untitled #185", which, in addition to his trademark hi-fi lo-fi hiss and hum, is full of pops and cracks, but that may just be my copy of the album, which looks as if it's been deliberately scuffed. I still like to think that people buy records because they actually like listening to what's on them, but how you're supposed to do that with this one is beyond me.-DW

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Jon Rose / Chris Abrahams / Clayton Thomas
the NOW now
There's a great bit in one of those old Richmal Crompton Just William books which describes how the lovable little rascal gave his father and sister a jar of boiled sweets and a book about pirates for their respective birthdays, knowing full well they wouldn't want them and give him them back. If you feel like trying the same trick yourself, send a copy of Artery to Radu Malfatti. You'll get it back by return of post. This is exactly the sort of improv Malfatti slammed the door on back in the early 90s, dismissing it out of hand as "gabby". It's hard to get more gabby than Artery's opening 19 minute cut, "The Superior Mesenteric" (though I can offhand think of a couple of Olaf Rupp albums). It's as if keyboard whizkid Chris Abrahams is out to cast off the cobwebs that have accumulated on all those rambles with The Necks. He seems to fallen very much under the spell of hyperactive violinist extraordinaire Jon Rose's magnificent Temperament, both in his choice of instruments – harpsichord, positive organ and fortepiano – and in his fondness for alternative tuning systems. The fortepiano is tuned in Kirnberger 3 – misspelt in the liners btw – which, in case you're interested, is described by tuning expert Pierre Lewis as follows: "One starts with a pure major third from C to E, with the four fifths within it tempered as in Aaron's meantone. With this pure major third, we have already accumulated -22 cents, nearly all that we need to close the circle (-24 cents – the two commas being conveniently nearly equal). If we tune the remaining fifths pure, the last fifth that will close the circle will be 2 cents flat (as in equal temperament). From E, one conventionally tunes two pure fifths up to F# and, from C, five pure fifths down to Db. The major thirds vary gradually from pure (C-E) to Pythagorean (e.g. Db-F). A similar effect is observed for the minor thirds which vary from nearly pure (e.g. A-C about 5 cents flat) to Pythagorean (e.g. Bb-Db). The major triad on C is a meantone triad, and the one on Db is Pythagorean." Right, now that's out of the way, back to the music. As Keith Rowe once said, it's impossible to imagine that free improvisation didn't exist back in medieval and baroque times. It's not hard to imagine cats like Corelli getting totally wasted on the local vino after yet another concerto grosso and getting down and dirty in the music room for a free form freakout. I'll bet it would have sounded something like this. If that's hard to imagine, maybe Conlon Nancarrow comes close. Of course, not everything on Artery is as frenetic as the opener – there's some delicious harp work from Clare Cooper on "The Ascending Aorta" – but by the time you've got past "The Great Gonadal" and "The Elastic Lamina" you're heading for cardiac arrest.–DW

Robin Hayward
Releases by Berlin-based tuba player / composer Robin Hayward are few and far between – I'm still sorry he never recorded anything with the trio rar (lowercase please), with Axel Dörner and Radu Malfatti – and as a result worth watching out for. He's just as good at explaining what he does as he is at doing it, too – check out his interview with Chiyoko Szlavnics, originally published in Musicworks but also available for consultation on his website at http://www.robinhayward.de – but ultimately, to adapt the old proverb, beauty is in "the ear of the behearer" (RIP Dewey Redman). The two shorter tracks on this latest CD on the ever-wonderful Fringes imprint, "Dial" and "Coil", find Hayward exploring the outer reaches of extended technique; the tuba spits, hisses, barks, twitters and sounds like everything from a malfunctioning outboard motor to a large and not particularly friendly aquatic mammal. Hayward's concise and articulate liners describe his current work as "abstract-narrative", meaning that "certain narrative elements have been introduced, particularly involving the consideration of expectation and surprise." (Maybe it's just me but that seems to imply that he considers his previous work with the likes of Dörner, Annette Krebs and Andrea Neumann to have been somehow lacking in surprise, which I don't particularly find to be the case, but never mind.) This seems to apply more to "Dial" and "Coil" than to the title track, though Hayward disagrees, stating that "Valve Division" also "shares an abstract-narrative aesthetic in that the objective fact of the tuba’s unconventional tuning is gradually unfolded over the course of the piece." It's a 24-minute study in pure minimalist linear additive process, patiently and painstakingly exploring intervallically expanding / contracting ascending / descending melodic cells across the entire range of the instrument with a rigour Tom Johnson would be proud of. And once you've figured out how the incremental pitch shifts work – if you ever want to hear pure microtonal logic in action, this is the one to go for – surprise doesn't really enter into it. At least not in the bang crash wallop sense of the word: what is surprising, astounding even, is Hayward's technical mastery and musicality.–DW

Eugene Carchesio / Leighton Craig
It's the 11th of September. A date, as the saying goes, which will live in infamy, though it's already five years since the images of Lucifer's greatest artwork, as Karlheinz Stockhausen memorably and controversially described it (to his cost) first filled our TV screens, and I'm walking along a leafy alley in a quiet suburb of Paris in the early morning sun listening to Leaves. On this latest offering from the wonderfully-named Naturestrip label, which was originally released two years ago as a limited edition of 30 on Craig's Kindling CDR label, Carchesio and Craig follow in the footsteps of Brötzmann / Bennink, Kuwayama / Kijima and Forge / Epinat, dispensing with the recording studio altogether and making their music in the great outdoors – in this case Craig's backyard in Brisbane – with leaves, bamboo flute, parladote (that's a bird btw), keyboards, sticks, guitar, crows, ektara (single-stringed instrument from the Indian subcontinent), wind, chime balls, cicadas, violin, aeroplanes, finger cymbals, hammer, toy xylophone, windchimes, bottles, clarinet and lorikeets (and other feathered friends). There's none of the tree-whacking boy-scout festivity of Schwarzwaldfahrt here, just a quiet, delicate communion of man and nature, modest in its scope and touching in its directness and simplicity. Quite simply the only thing to listen to on a day like this.–DW

Sun Ra
This December 1973 recording, culled from a Town Hall performance, captures the Arkestra at an extraordinarily fertile time, their free excursions somewhat reined in and their career as a swing-era repertory big band still some years away. Joining Ra are usual suspects John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, trumpeter Kwame Hadi, drummer Bugs Hunter, reedman Eloe Omoe, vocalist June Tyson and probably a late-stage Ronnie Boykins. Planned for issue in part as ESP 3033 (this reissue includes a back cover mock-up), Kohoutek remained unissued until the 1993 ZYX CD. This current incarnation, though it neglects to list the personnel (go to http://www.dpo.uab.edu/~moudry/discintr.htm), does correct the titles from the original and markedly cleans up the sound.
After a lengthy introduction by an unidentified "astronomer" (who gets a rough ride from the rowdy audience), the band launches into dense Bells-esque trills before June Tyson sings a soulful "Astro Black," accompanied by lightly-swinging percussion. "Discipline 27 (I)" is a fifteen-minute workout that includes an extended Hadi solo (urged on by drummers Hunter and Alzo Wright). Ra's feedback- and glitch-fueled Moog galvanizes the band into vicious flight, and Gilmore takes a tenor solo full of feral multiphonics; it seems as though he's joined by smeared brass, but more likely the tones have split along their cosmic seam. There are also the expected communal forays, like the vocal revue of "Enlightenment," and the heavy African vamp and auxiliary percussion on "Love in Outer Space" would have made Bilal Abdurahman proud, as Ra's distorted space-organ sallies forth across the rhythm-field in perverse astral chunks. "Kohoutek" initially offers wistful romance, beginning as an unaccompanied fuzzed-out lament before eventually turning monstrous. A Love Supreme is recalled in the second movement of "Discipline 27," as Ra and Tyson ask a question as pertinent now as it was more than thirty years ago: "If this is a planet of Life, why are people dying here?" Time, perhaps, for another Kohoutek go-round.–CA

Pd Conception
Martin France
Spin Marvel
Two CDs, linked by just one percussionist, Norwegian Terje Evensen, living up to one of this writer's yardsticks of greatness, side one of Weather Report's I Sing the Body Electric (remember when albums had sides?), and proof that literate and innovative new European jazz actually exists outside the egregious Stuart Nicholson's sandbox.
The second release by Norwegian/German electroacoustic trio Pd Conception tones down the electronic "recomposition" element that made disc two of their debut, Phrased Silence, so striking after the first disc's acoustic set by pianist Ingvo Clauder, percussionist Evensen and electronics guerrilla Anders Tveit. The band name comes from their theory of music existing between pure improvisation and treatment. This is a step on from the occasional nods to electronic Cage on that first CD, and way beyond the fashionable noodlings of people such as Leafcutter John. On the gorgeous "Mishka"s Letter", Clauder's acoustic piano could even be an unusually terse Keith Jarrett, with Evensen rustling around the extremities of his kit. The electronics are subdued, the trio improv spacious and assured, and the overall effect mesmerising.
In comparison, Spin Marvel could almost be Electric Ladyland, but, hey, Weather Report followed Body Electric with the sweaty funk groove of Sweetnighter, so…Drummer and founder Martin France was one of Evensen's teachers during time spent studying in London and Evensen has also acquired something of a mentor in the form of Audun Kleive, one third of the divine Jøkleba (more WR first sides) and his own demented techno alter-ego BITT. Here, France and Evensen are joined by bassist Tim Harries and guitarist John Parricelli, all four also credited with electronics. In their more contemplative minutes they might be comparable to ECM stalwarts such as Terje Rypdal (especially with Parricelli in lyrical mode), or the tone poems of Barre Phillips – but, crucially, without the dead hand of Manfred Eicher's signature novocaine production. At others, on the furious "Gwig9", which flirts with heavy metal and sampled mayhem, it could be the legendary This Heat risen from the grave. Brainy stuff, best played loud.–JG

Achim Kaufmann/Michael Moore/Dylan van der Schyff
Red Toucan 9329
These thirteen musical vignettes were recorded on the trio's tour last fall through the US Pacific Northwest, Chicago and Toronto. The group previously appeared as an interesting subset of players on drummer van der Schyff's Songlines release, The Definition of a Toy, in which two tantalizingly brief trio episodes were placed amidst more lushly conceived compositions. The songs here are mostly by pianist Achim Kaufmann, who's a hard player to hard to pin down, though he has Misha Mengelberg's ability to seamlessly shift between styles and knack for "where have I heard that before" melodies. There are a few collective improvs, including two with trombonist Wolter Wierbos, whose presence initially seems to disturb the band's equilibrium until all parties eventually converge for a spirited blowout. Other pieces are more brooding; "Roadside", for instance, begins quietly with Kaufmann's insistently repeated motif, Moore's counter-figure on melodica and van der Schyff's cymbal slashes; the tension keeps building, until finally Moore switches to alto for a moment of relief. It's an admirable display of the trio's ability to smoothly go from a barely perceptible tempo to frenzy and back in a short space of time. Kaufmann and van der Schyff are in excellent form, and Moore in particular is outstanding: his playing has never received the plaudits it deserves (an occupational Clusone hazard of being the relative calm between hurricanes Han and Ernst), but his work here is absolutely stunning: listen to how, at the end of "Corybant", he takes the melody apart in a Lacy-like manner, or to his Jimmy Giuffre-like clarinet on tracks like "Ghosts at the Foot" and "Cuk".–SG

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Mike Bullock / Vic Rawlings
These Bostonians certainly do like long titles. Maybe they all grew up reading Henry James. After nmperign's In Which The Silent Partner Director Can No Longer Make His Point With The Industrial Dreamer, here's On That Which Is Best And The Best That Can Be Done Under The Circumstances, the latest offering from Mike Bullock, on double bass and tone generators (what's a tone generator, I wonder? doesn't a double bass qualify as such?) and Vic Rawlings on cello, open electronics and speakers (and if the album title wasn't enough check out some of the track titles: "Duration, which is endless, could not be but for the moment, which is too finite to be fixed" and "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers", to name but two). It's their best so far too, five tracks of unremittingly extreme crunches, crackles, buzzes, whines and low register growls – drone's too nice a word for them. This is uncompromising, almost bleak stuff, experimental in the best sense of the word, as Bullock and Rawlings explore the inherently unstable qualities of their open circuit electronics in pursuit of a music whose tension is palpable, ever threatening to topple over the cliff into the void of unbridled and deadly feedback. Difficult listening? You bet! Get with it.–DW

Doug Theriault
On Orange Doug Theriault plays "sensor guitar controlling live electronics." Quite what that is isn't all that clear, but this isn't the time or place to get bogged down in a nerdy list of electrical gizmos (not that I've asked him to provide one) – suffice it to say that there's a certain fragility, a sense of danger, the thought that at any moment the whole thing could explode into vicious noise. There are some distinctly aquatic gurgles in there too about the 16-minute mark, so death by electrocution is also a distinct possibility. This on-the-edgeness is a characteristic of much US-based EAI (Theriault, Bryan Eubanks, Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings and Mike Bullock..). If there is a historical precedent for it, perhaps it would be Voice Crack. Early Voice Crack that is – Norbert Möslang's recent work is a little smoother (though not as smooth as, say, recent outings by Günter Müller or Jason Kahn). But also semi-erased Voice Crack, as if someone had got hold of the original masters and wiped off large chunks; the music often plunges into mysterious near-silence. At 52 minutes it's a long haul, but has much to commend it.–DW

Klaus Filip / Toshimaru Nakamura
Viennese laptopper Klaus Filip is credited here as playing "lloopp", which, as I found out when I asked Christof Kurzmann who also used it on his excellent new Potlatch duo with John Butcher, is a Max/MSP patch of Filip's own invention. Toshi Nakamura is, as always, on his no-input mixing board. You probably knew that already. This is another one of those albums that doesn't really surprise – Nakamura tends to keep his surprises for the concert hall – but that joins an ever-growing list of albums to be filed away under "EAI" (I'm still not at all sure I know how to define EAI, to be honest, but I'm doing my best to make the term stick). Allow me to quote from a recent Wire review (saves me having to paraphrase it): "one defining characteristic of so-called EAI (electroacoustic improv) has been its conscious desire to shift the emphasis away from traditional musical parameters such as pitch, rhythm and dynamics towards timbre and event density. But if sudden, extreme changes of volume and any semblance of regular pulse (Eddie Prévost's "imperialist backbeat") are effectively verboten, pitch still has a role to play. Pitch not as a question of notes functioning within an established tonal system, but rather as reference frequencies to articulate structure and provide aural coherence." That last bit applies as much to this album as it does the one I was actually reviewing (buy this month's Wire and find out which, haw haw), especially the opening "Pace". Not so sure whether that's Nakamura's doing or Filip's – the same acute ear for pitch is equally evident on his excellent Creative Sources release with Kai Fagaschinski, Los Glissandinos' Stand Clear - but it sounds good. The two remaining tracks, "Stroll" and "Aluk", don't add much new, but if you like the toothache you get after listening to albums like Nakamura's Do with Sachiko M, this will do nicely.–DW

Ed Chang / Ed Howard
Quodlibet / Fargone
Agents at Midnight, eh? Sounds like the kind of film noir title Barry Adamson might like. But the music doesn't: it's a collection of raw, powerful improvisations for saxophone (Chang) and electronics (and harmonica) (Howard), a fine example of how the fences that used to separate Noise and Improv have been bulldozed into the dirt by the younguns across the pond (and a few of them here in Europe too). Chang's playing – alto sax, is it? not always easy to tell for sure – is rough and gritty, recalling at times early Zorn. But there are none of the Kartoon Komedy Kapers that characterized old chestnuts like In Memory of Nikki Arane. This is more Sun City Girls than Sin City, a kind of field recording from another planet, and despite Howard's noble attempts to hurl him bellfirst into a septic tank of noisy sludge it's clear Chang can actually play the horn, and isn't averse to a spot of melody from time to time (though not the kind of melody your granny could dig sitting in her retirement home with the stuffed pussycat). Imagine John Klemmer ca. 1973 jamming with Wolf Eyes. You can't? Well you need to hear this then.–DW

Will Guthrie
If distortion and overload are the grit that leads to the pearl in the oyster, Will Guthrie's incisive editing hand offers a resolute knife-hold to separate the gem from its clammy casing. Anyone who's seen Guthrie live in recent times would be aware of how brutal his performances can be, maxing the volume while unleashing rough, unruly swarms of detourned electronics and manhandled percussion that move the air in the room. More interested in grain than drone, privileging volume and physicality over undemonstrative reductionism, Guthrie edits and arranges for maximum impact. He's interested in dirtied sound, dropping chunks of asphalt-texture feedback through Body and Limbs' opening tracks "Taken" and "Peak", the latter of which opens with the pedalling of the dial of a radio, the broadcasts swathed with static. Towards the end of the disc's final piece "Withdrawal", Guthrie scours away layers of sediment, allowing a recording of raspy breathing to briefly assume centre stage. This gesture personalises the tension in proceedings: though it sounds meticulously planned and obsessively edited, Guthrie hasn't sucked the lifeblood out of these three compositions, which lends them an exploratory, sometimes anxious air. Indeed, as has been noted elsewhere, its searching nature initially comes as a surprise after the brutish swagger of 2005's musique concrete masterpiece Spear, released as a limited CD-R on Guthrie's own Antboy Music label. I can't help but think of Body and Limbs as content to Spear's form - the latter as the decisive formal shift that allowed for the exploration and elaboration of the former.–JD

Charles Mingus
AT UCLA 1965
Sue Mingus Music/Sunnyside
A decade has passed since Sue Mingus launched Revenge Records to redress the wrongs perpetrated by bootleggers on her late husband’s discography. These grand plans sadly did not pan out, and Revenge eventually sank from view after a single release. Page forward to 2006 and Mrs. Mingus is back, this time teamed with the Sunnyside imprint to reissue of one of Mingus’s rarest albums. Taped at UCLA by a student sound crew one week after a disappointing Monterey engagement, the concert presents nearly 90 minutes of vintage Mingus, warts and all. It comes with a nifty booklet that includes several essays and even a reproduction of a Mingus-drawn comic strip promoting his mail-order record club.
Like the Town Hall concert three years earlier, this set is has its share of flaws and quirks, at least compared to the polish and preparation one usually expects for a concert-hall jazz date. Edits, false starts and speeches abound. Their inclusion makes for a fascinating listen the first time through, but palls on subsequent spins. As in other Workshop recordings of the era, Mingus regularly halts the action to admonish or laud his musicians; at one point he even expels most of the ensemble for “mental tardiness.” Only Dannie Richmond, Lonnie Hillyer and Charles McPherson survive the cut, and on “Ode to Bird and Dizzy” the resulting quartet ricochets through an obstacle course of bop evergreens. Other pieces find Mingus trying out various permutations of instruments in real-time. Critics denounced the practice as a way of charging the public for rehearsals, but Mingus believed it offered a necessary window on the creative process. The octet is one of his most unusual ensembles, with McPherson’s alto the only saxophone among all the brass. Mingus scuttles back and forth between bass and piano – one of the album’s attractions, in fact, is that it offers a generous sampling of his work on the latter. Trumpeter Hobart Dotson, making a rare appearance on record, is the album’s MVP: his clarion solos on “The Arts of Tatum and Freddy Webster” and “Don’t be Afraid, the Clown’s Afraid Too” prompt even the perfectionist Mingus to sing hosannas. The set-closing “Don’t Let It Happen Here” finds Mingus riffing on Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poignant poem about complicity, indicting both the audience and himself on charges of genocide. It’s a disconcerting but oddly inspired way to end the concert, offering yet another instance of how Mingus liked to challenge audiences rather than just entertain them.

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Matt Rogalsky
Matt Rogalsky's work "focuses on the exploration of abject, invisible/inaudible, or ignored streams of information", i.e. he takes fragments of "space between the notes" – noise, sound or just silence – and modifies them with different software programs (including Kash and Sprawl, hence the track titles here) through which he interacts with his playing partners. He's performed throughout Europe and United States, presenting his own sound installations and collaborating with instrumentalists such as Anne La Berge, Anne Wellmer and Jane Henry, and he's a frequent associate of Phill Niblock. Memory Like Water contains material dating from 1996, and it's a fine selection of the variegated aspects of Rogalsky's music, both live and in studio. The first disc contains "Resonate (noise)" and "Resonate (tones)", the latter starting with an infinite wash of something between water and metal, quite static and relaxing, before flowing into a long section where granular synthesis and sampled sources create a dramatic, if pretty consonant, wall of chordal waves in constantly changing harmonic shifts. "Kash (violin)" features Jane Henry playing with multiple bows made of different abrasive materials, loops and particles arising from the duo interplay taking on a life of their own. "Kash (guitars)" is played by a trio of Rogalskys (Matt plus his brothers Benjamin and Luke on acoustic guitars) improvising on a "few suggestions as to overall structure", the outcome sounding not unlike Taku Sugimoto and Burkhard Stangl played at 45rpm with a few background disturbances. "Kash (radios)" appears on the second – and better – disc of the set; starting from material sourced from two radio talk shows, Rogalsky generates a long, progressive convulsion of micro-utterances, accents and syllables that recall an expanded version of Eno and Byrne's "Mea Culpa" on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Vocals – by Luke Rogalsky – are again featured in "Sprawl (western magnetics)", an intriguing piece sounding like a supplication disturbed by the whispered words of a dying man confessing a long-kept secret. The record ends with the 31-minute "Transform", a harsh mix of Rogalsky's own sounds and radios treated by a "series of tunable delays which create strong harmonic resonances," a flock of scary but lovable dwarf Glenn Brancas perched on Alan Lamb's resonating wires.–MR

Nico Muhly
Bedroom Community
I have no idea whether or not Kyle Gann would describe the music of Nico Muhly as "postminimalist", but, as Daniel Johnson's liners to Speaks Volumes point out, the fact that Muhly was "born well after the premieres of Reich's Music for 18 Musicians and Glass's Music in Twelve Parts" means he certainly is, at least chronologically speaking. It's also fair to assume that during his studies at Juilliard (with Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano) he devoured the back catalogue not only of Reich and Glass but also the second generation of softcore minimalists like Paul Dresher, Daniel Lentz, Wim Mertens and Michael Torke. Muhly has no qualms about acknowledging his influences – Reich is especially recognisable in the marimba flurries of Pillaging Music (a refreshingly frank title, if ever there was one – there's also Clear Music, Honest Music and Quiet Music) – but he's still very much his own man. Clear, honest and (mostly) quiet this music might be, but it never goes quite where you expect it to. The plot is thickened by Valgeir Sigurdsson, who breaks all the rules of contemporary classical album production, miking instruments dangerously close, adding "percussion" tracks of his own assembled from miscellaneous bits of instrumental noise, and making full use of multitracking to turn simple solos and duos into whole chamber ensembles. His production on the final mutant passacaglia Keep In Touch is strangely haunting and original, thanks in no small part to the mellifluous cooing of guest vocalist Antony Hegarty (without the Johnsons). It makes a change to come across an album of contemporary music that's not merely a document of a "performance" but a piece of creative recording in its own right.–DW

Dan Joseph
Ever heard of Paul Smith? No, not the guy who designs the trendy suits, I'm talking about Paul Smith the violinist and banjo player. No? Doesn't surprise me. Back at the dawn of time – i.e. 1984 – California-based Smith had a three-man outfit called Ellipsis, with guitarist William Pint and mandolinist (does that word exist? it does now) Robert Kotta. They released one album on Flying Fish, which sank without trace (not sure if flying fishes can actually sink, but you see what I mean). Smith thought he was onto a winner by writing music that was strictly minimal and yet strongly inflected by country and bluegrass. I sent a copy of Ellipsis to John Peel and of course heard nothing back. In retrospect that was a pretty dumb move, as anything remotely resembling Art Music was, I imagine, quickly frisbeed into the bin in Peel Acres. Reason I'm mentioning this now is that Dan Joseph's music, though not at all country or bluegrass, sounds not unlike Smith's, thanks to its jangly instrumentation – the band includes harpsichord and Joseph's hammer dulcimer – and its reliance on old school minimalist linear and block additive process techniques. It's odd to think that people are still writing music like this nearly 40 years after Phil, Steve and Terry first hit the airwaves, but you can probably put that down to the fact that a) Dan Joseph actually studied for a while with Terry (Riley) and b) he's a freelance composer based in New York City. Which means he's probably better off keeping on the right side of cats like Kyle Gann. Mr. Gann would probably describe this as "postminimalism", btw, but from where I'm sitting there's no "post" about it. It's well written, well played (Joseph's band also includes violin, clarinet, cello and percussion), well recorded and trots along pleasantly enough. But I'm not sure how it fits in in 2006. Then again, what does "modern" mean these days? I haven't got a clue. Time somebody reissued Ellipsis, methinks.–DW

Tim Hodgkinson
I once got into trouble with Fred Frith by comparing one of his recent pieces (not all that favourably, as I recall) to his old stuff with Henry Cow. He had a point. So if you pick this up expecting it to be another one of those colourful knitted socks, forget it. Clarinettist / composer Tim Hodgkinson has come a long way since "Nirvana for Mice" – or rather, gone a long way, as he's spent a lot of time out in the wilderness of Siberia researching shamanic music and ritual. More recently he's been dusting off his improv chops in the trio Konk Pack, with Thomas Lehn and Roger Turner (what happened to Konk Pack, by the way?), and, as this splendid debut on Mode reveals, concentrating on his composition. Three of the six pieces on Sketch Of Now were recorded in Romania, with Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram's Hyperion Ensemble. Hence the Romanian translation of the title track Aici Schiteaza pe Acum, a scary nine minutes of "accumulation and discharge" of sonic energy for ensemble and tape. Hodgkinson plays the solo clarinet (and bass clarinet) parts himself in Vers Kongsu II and Fighting / Breathing, the former an energetic tussle with the Romanians (plus Vinny Golia, making a guest appearance on bass clarinet), the latter a sparring match with pre-recorded percussion. The split-second timing and fresh unpredictability of Hodgkinson's music owe much to his skill as an improviser, but he's got a sharp ear for orchestral timbre too, and puts it to impressive use. It's not easy listening though; Fragor, for computer-modified cello and electric guitar (both performed by the composer, it seems – there's no mention of personnel in the booklet) is what my mother would call "nasty modern music". In fact she calls just about everything written after 1950 "nasty modern music", with the exception of a few Benjamin Britten things, but in this case she's got a point – De Yoknapatawpha is a thorny affair, brilliantly executed (I use the word deliberately) by Jacques di Donato and Isabelle Duthoit on clarinets and pianist Pascale Berthelot, but hard to love. But they used to say that about Henry Cow, too.–DW

Various Artists
Just about any new Feldman disc is a welcome addition to the already sagging shelves here at PTHQ, and since most OgreOgress releases come in lightweight cardboard cases they don't present any great risk. But this one comes in a slimline plastic case, because it's a DVD. Not, sadly, a film about Morton Feldman (though surely there must be some tasty footage around of the great, lumbering chain-smoking bear in action) but an audio disc containing 95 minutes of music. A double CD would have done me just fine, but I guess I should just move with the times and hook the DVD player up to the hifi so I don't have to listen through headphones. That said, listening with cans on is never a bad idea when it comes to Feldman, and there are many beautiful details in his 1956 Three Pieces for String Quartet that are worth exploring without distraction. And more than once, too, which is probably why they appear twice on the disc. The reason for this seemingly odd double-take is simple: the first two of the Three Pieces originally appeared (order inversed) as Two Pieces For String Quartet (1954), and Feldman added a separate later work, For String Quartet (1956) to form the third. But the Feldman pieces are just thin – if delicious – slices of pastrami sandwiched between doorsteps of claggy bread in a quadruple decker sandwich. The opening mouthful is David Toub's MF (the letters obviously refer to Feldman's initials but the composer admits that mezzo forte works just as well, since the piece doesn't seem all that interested in exploring dynamics), 13'30" of featureless grey chugging originally written for brass instruments and arranged for the Rangzen Quartet at the behest of violinist Christina Fong. The sustained sonorities and chromatic harmony of David Kotlowy's of Shade to Light are more recognisably Feldmanesque (Kotlowy used Schoenberg's Klavierstück Op 33b as a reservoir of basic pitch material, a move one imagines Feldman might have understood, if not necessarily approved of), but there's a hell of a difference between Feldmanesque and Feldman. John Prokop's New England, Late Summer is similarly innocuous. Oddly enough, apart from the Feldman pieces, David Beardsley's As Beautiful As A Crescent Of A New Moon On A Cloudless Spring Evening is the most original piece on offer, despite its use of Just Intonation (something MF had little time for) and its half-hour duration. But one has to wonder what it's doing next to Feldman's fragile sonorities.–DW

Hervé Boghossian
If you're wondering why the inaugural album on a new improv label – Richard Pinnell's Cathnor – featuring notable improvisers John Tilbury, Mark Wastell and guitarist / laptopper Hervé Boghossian is reviewed here in the "Contemporary" section as opposed to "Jazz / Improv", it's because Boghossian, in his liner notes, specifically refers to himself as "the composer", and the three tracks as "composed by" H.B. He also provides them with rather dry New York School-y generic titles – "For Piano and Computer", "For Cello and Computer" and "For Piano, Cello and Computer" (en français dans le texte) – which, along with the rather drab punning album title and the added information that this is just the first of three projected volumes, certainly sets a serious, even ascetic tone. Tilbury fans expecting some of those exquisite Feldmanesque droplets might be somewhat disappointed to find the pianist confined to the bottom octave of his piano in the opening track (much as Maurizio Pollini's prodigious talents were for the most part restricted to low end thuds in Luigi Nono's Como una ola di fuerza y luz), but if that's what you're after you can always slip one of his AMM CDs into your machine instead. Boghossian's interest lies elsewhere (in point of fact Tilbury's contributions could have been recorded by just about any other pianist of modest technical ability with a sense of touch), namely in an exceedingly careful and subtle recrafting of timbre. Improv aficionados, EAI connoisseurs included, might find the music somewhat lacking in relief, but that's about as daft as complaining that Mark Rothko can't draw as well as Arshile Gorky or comparing Eliane Radigue (a Boghossian hero, and it shows) to Pierre Henry. Apples and oranges. Boghossian's exploration of the upper partials of Mark Wastell's looped cello drone is meticulous and exquisite. And if that's not good enough for you, "the composer invites the listener to use tracks 1 & 2 to create his own composition" (or her own composition, he might have added).–DW

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Daniel Menche
For an artist whose output is reaching Merzbow-like proportions the risk of running out of ideas and repeating yourself is ever lurking – not that Daniel Menche's extremely physical music needs too much to achieve its goal, administering a powerful shock to anyone who tries to come to terms with its overcharged ritual – but Creatures Of Cadence, released to accompany Menche's first concerts in the US Midwest, is a special treat. It's a 500-copy limited edition (with a gorgeous artwork by Erik Stotik portraying multicoloured birds) containing four long tracks in which Oregon's half-shaman half-metalhead master of "vehement beauty" sets about a "systematic deconstruction of drone and pulse" via percussion, cello, horns and zither (this latter a new timbre for Menche, appearing in a hit-and-strum raging raptus in one of the album's most virulent sections). Intersecting concentric drum cycles in progressive augmentation create a backdrop of tribal rhythmic patterns, so that involuntary beat substitution (à la Reich's Drumming) soon destabilises the listener. Upon this rough canvas Menche lays long, ill-sounding instrumental moans, the harsher the better, which, once our brains have adapted to their uneasy resonance, guide us through the urgent scorching cello drones and blasts of delirious horns. It's like trying to swim in rapids with a hard hat on: you're aware of the danger, but, secure in the knowledge that your head is protected, gulp down water and bash bones against the rocks as necessary acts of bodily purification. What remains graven upon the memory is the inherent force of it all; it's another fine example of glorious sonic workout from a composer who (as his blog relates) finds inspiration by running himself to exhaustion in the forest and feeling the blood flow while he pumps iron. And he means it.–MR

Robert Hampson and Steven Hess
Robert Hampson's music is best when negotiating the space between song and non-song: his Main albums Motion Pool and Dry Stone Feed exist in a liminal zone, buffering song structures with sheet-lightning guitar, hypnotic bass and sandy, fossilised sound incident. The further he moves from that area into the curiously faceless spaces of the Firmament series or discs like Tau, the closer he gets to an unengaging blankness, an electro-acoustician pottering away on the margins. On this collaboration with percussionist Steven Hess, Hampson's edits and rearrangements are gridlocked by their digital sheen, each flicker of texture glossed with an overly familiar laptop glint. When he brushes the digital against the considered, paced patter of Hess's percussion, it's all "by rote", drones or cauterised glitches predictably spiked by "real playing." But if that partly spoils the opening sections, things resolve by the fourth, lengthiest segment, where tensile percussive clatter gives way so Hampson can zoom in on the hiss and spray of Hess's cymbals, stretching their bruised metallics into clouds of gun-metal grey. While it's unsurprising both in terms of mood and structure, and it doesn't mark out new space for Hampson, this collaboration offers some pleasant moments.–JD

Half Theory
Biffplex is Andrew Thomson and Joe Musgrove, two of Australia's more interesting fringe musicians, who share a fascination with tonal grain and emotive dronescapes. On this latest duo, which has been in the can since 2004, they charge into the realm of piano and electronics. It's a field overshadowed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Carsten Nicolai's recent and explosively popular Insen (Raster-Noton), but Music For Piano And Electronics couldn't be more different. There's no sense of chordal interplay here, no falling back on well-travelled melodic pathways. Musgrove and Thompson tap away, with an innate sense of the "non-skilled", playing what they can, and doing it well, but it's their glossy processing that transforms such moderately executed passages into truly engaging and vital sound mats, as the piano emerges through long drawn-out breaths of delay and granular stretching, the origin of the sounds often lost in a myriad of processed layers. The broken melody and eventual pulsing noise of ‘III' recalls their ‘Noun' a few years back, which like this, possesses a depth of layering and interweaving that's both refreshing and invigorating.–LE

Ethan Rose
Portland Oregon-based artist Ethan Rose has commented on his love of "wonderful accidents", and has already produced several small-run multiples for the Locust label, with "automated musical sculptures" listed amongst his source material. But his compositional hand tends toward order, and there are no Tinguely moments of collapse or dysfunction here: rather, Rose grabs drones and glitches and smears them across a fibreglass canvas, the resultant pieces sounding oddly translucent, and rather lovely. His favourite tactic involves piloting tiny melodies and hesitant phrases through a fogbank of fuzzy, humming harmonics. Not exactly new, but Rose is an eloquent composer, and while his work occasionally catches in the throat, sounding like ambient Eno gone Rugrats, it gingerly negotiates the space between childlike and childish, and happily lands closer to the former. It must be those music-box sonorities: too often a cheap signifier of nostalgia for long-lost innocence, a romanticisation of the pre-linguistic world of the infant by artists hopelessly stuck in denial-of-reality, they're deployed here with intelligence beyond their usual trite application.–JD

It has been some time since a record like this has crossed my ears. California based Dean De Benedictis manages to capture the classic post-Ambient and trance qualities of 90s electronic music, but with some well-placed edits refocuses the listener to hear them as unsullied sonic tools rather than well-worn sound markers overloaded with memory and ill-fated overuse. The tensions suggested by title resonate upon repeated listening. While the mixture of Ambient cut-ups, vibrating rhythms and heavily reverbed percussive hits has appeared on many a Basic Channel release, the use of such elements in today's electronica requires a certain ability to avoid production cliché, while remaining sufficiently well-versed in the language of timbre to connect with audiences coming across music like this for the first time. Even though the album's central technical concern seems to be the use of reverb in varying depths, its musical core is a little harder to pin down, and therein lies its charm; there are themes that echo a familiar memory, rhythmic passages you might think you recall from some 12" in your collection, maybe even a hint of Aphex Twin there (specifically in "Phantom Jack To Station MT"), but nothing heavy-handed in its delivery or execution. What remains instead is a familiar record that is welcoming without being overly generic, or, rather, one that borrows from so many genres that it reinvents itself through what it is not as much as through what it is.–LE

Forest Jackson
Forest Jackson, aka Hanno Leichtmann, as his biography confirms, has a background in jazz, but on listening to Cymbalism it seems a long way off, obscured by a variety of production techniques from various delayed dub grooves to straight ahead electronica beat arrangements. But there seems to be a gaping hole in the heart of this release, a lack of muscle to push the creative blood round the system, as revealed in the title track, whose lengthy hi-hat sequences tap away for no apparent reason, and "Fiona Farley", which starts out with a pleasant enough field recording before slipping into a somewhat underwhelming percussion progression set against a series of rising string samples. There are some strong rhythmic moments here, but heard alongside some of the Friedman/Liebezeit exchanges or Warp’s more post-instrumental outfits, the material simply doesn’t have the production detail or compositional innovation required to take us to that place where acoustic and digital threads are so finely entwined that we lose ourselves completely in an audio-inspired suspension of disbelief.–LE

Marc Behrens / Dave Phillips / Cheapmachines / Keith Berry
Here's something for you to try out with three friends of your choice (no musical ability required): give them each a MiniDisc or DAT recorder and tell them to hit Record at 7pm one evening, switching the machine off four minutes later (four minutes and thirty-three seconds might have been a more symbolic duration, but never mind). Take the machines, bounce the tracks over to your hard disk and stick them on top of each other in ProTools or SoundForge or whatever basic music software you have to hand. If you release each track separately and end up with all four played simultaneously, you'll have a cute little five-track CD, and the chances are it'll be a damn sight more interesting than Coincident. Apart from the rather pleasant drone of Keith Berry's contact-miked hot water tank, which he himself says "sounds like the beginning to Eraserhead", this is a perfect waste of talent. Phil Julian, aka Cheapmachines, whose bright idea this was, recorded his TV (if your idea of fun is listening to a French trade union leader rabbiting on – in French – about plans for a forthcoming street protest, well, this is for you, but where I live I can hear this stuff on the radio every day and find it neither exotic nor interesting), Dave Phillips submitted a muffled conversation (there's no point turning up the volume or listening on headphones either, because there's nothing interesting being said, but at least we're spared the sound of him vomiting into a bucket or stapling his head to a breeze block with a nail gun, or whatever he usually does for a living) and Marc Behrens – who, like Berry, should really know better than to get involved in a dull conceptual wank like this – sent in a recording of a creaky chair. Hearing all four "pieces" played simultaneously doesn't add much either. Save your money and buy a real Behrens or Berry album instead.–DW

>>back to top of OCTOBER 2006 page

Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic