SUMMER News 2007 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Lawrence English, Richard Pinnell, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:

The End of an Ear
On Creative Sources: Grosse Abfahrt / MacDonald, Nakatani, Davidson, Nicholson, Fells / Rodrigues, Rodrigues, Davies, Bosetti, Ezaki / Kimmig & Schiller / Herman Muntzig / Nusch Werchowska / Wassermann & Barrett / Forsyth & Wooley
Raymond Dijkstra / Susan Alcorn / Uton / Vertonen / Demons
Axel Dörner / Lucio Capece / Robin Hayward
Reissue this..
Marion Brown in Europe
and this!
Joëlle Léandre / Irène Schweizer
POST ROCK?!: Stars Of The Lid / Area C / Valgeir Sigurdsson
Shoup, Burns, Radding & Campbell / Keith Tippett / Sun Ra
Korber, Weber & Yamauchi / Jim Denley / Dörner & Nakamura / phono_phono / Ellen Fullman & Sean Meehan
Post-Minimalism / Klaus Lang / Annea Lockwood / Andrew Violette / Artefacts of Australian Experimental Music
Otherness / Astro / Optrum / Wi77!n6
Last month

End Of An Ear

A few years ago – ten to be precise, as part of my preparations for my own impending nuptials – I had an idea for a piece about marriage, and sat down with both my parents and my wife Marie's to conduct what were in effect a couple of interviews with them on the subject. The original concept, which I may one day end up returning to, was to create a kind of hörspiel mixing field recordings, speech, original compositions and extracts of their favourite pieces of music. The interviews were, like most of the interviews I do, essentially just conversations, gently lubricrated by a glass or two, but they became unusually profound. At one point my father, speaking openly and candidly about an end he then thought was not far away (though a decade on I'm happy to report he's still in pretty good shape for an 88-year-old), described how he used to look around his cellar crammed full of books – as an art historian he has at least as many books as I do records and CDs – and reel in horror at the knowledge that he would one day have to say goodbye to them all, maybe without ever opening them again. Tears filled his eyes, and the room fell silent; the only noise apart from the hiss of the old metal cassette I was recording the interview on was the clink of ice in a glass waiting to be refilled.

I haven't done a complete inventory here for a very long time, but I'd hazard a bet that I now have upwards of 4000 CDs, some 2500 vinyls and, gathering dust under the bed, half as many C90 cassettes. I'm not counting 30-odd gigabytes of mp3s cluttering up the hard disks either. I know what you're thinking: not a lot (not compared to heroes like Thurston Moore or Edwin Pouncey, that is). But assuming the average duration of a CD to be one hour, and an LP 45 minutes, that makes roughly 7750 hours of sound. And assuming I can find three hours a day just to listen to music, I've worked out I could probably listen to everything I own in 85 months (starting tomorrow I'd be through in August 2014). But three hours a day is wildly optimistic (you may recall my desperate musings on the subject in an earlier editorial called "Time Gentleman Please".. sorry to repeat myself, but the anguish still hasn't subsided); I also like watching films (the DVD collection is getting way out of hand, I'm delighted to report), going out in the evening and at weekends and spending quality time with my wife and son without forcing them to endure a barrage of old free jazz or musique concrète albums just because I happen to feel guilty about not listening to them. So maybe an hour and a half a day is more realistic. In which case if I start in tomorrow – in alphabetical order that means either we kick off with John Adams' Grand Pianola Music or Peter Ablinger's Weiss / Weisslich or A Certain Ratio's I'd Like To See You Again or AC/DC's 74 Jailbreak or Muhal Richard Abrams' Levels And Degrees Of Light or Kaoru Abe's Mort A Credit (depending on whether I start in the Contemporary LP, Contemporary CD, Rock LP, Rock CD, Jazz LP or Jazz CD section of the collection) – I should have got through them all by mid September 2021. I'll then be 58 years old. And remember, to complete the mission I can only listen to each disc once. The very idea that I might only ever thrill to Muhal's "The Bird Song" just one more time before I die is truly terrifying. Of course, it won't happen. I can and often do listen to my favourite Steely Dan and Parliament / Funkadelic tracks (by the way, the omission of Parliament / Funkadelic from the Dan Top 40 four years ago was totally fucking inexcusable) several times in a row. So we'd better be more realistic here and allow ourselves the luxury of listening to favourite albums several times. But how many "favourite albums" do I have? Sure, some of the albums cluttering up the shelves here aren't things I feel much need to return to very often – unlike Neil Campbell I can get through each year perfectly well without listening to Metal Machine Music – but I'd say there are at least 500 discs that I consider about as essential to my existence as English Breakfast Tea. I'll allow myself the luxury then, if you agree, to spin these babies, say, ten times each. I'll leave you to do the maths this time, but let's say I should have worked through the collection by the time I'm 65. That's retirement age.

And that's basically what this rant is all about, dear reader. Over the past 12 years or so I've managed to write just over a million words about other people's music, most of which have appeared here at Paris Transatlantic (and all of which are, embarrassingly, still available on the site if you trawl around a bit), but also for AMG, Signal To Noise and The Wire. What started out as an occasional scribble for the then Paris New Music Review soon became an annoying habit and ended up about four years ago as a serious addiction. Every morning I'd open the mailbox, heart pumping, and thrill as the latest wonderful offerings from Mode, New World, Emanem, Erstwhile, Absurd, Crouton (the list goes on and on and on) toppled out into my sweaty palms. But with the passage of time the blessing has become something of a curse. I've been fortunate enough to make many friends over the years in the community of new music nuts – either performers or label managers – and with those friendships has come a nagging sense of obligation to review their work, if only out of respect for their enormous talent and enthusiasm, and their courage in putting out records of difficult new music in a climate that I find increasingly hostile. Monthly issues of PT have ballooned in recent years – I've aimed to run reviews of about 40 albums a month, maybe 500 a year if I'm lucky – but nearly half the reviews I feature are penned by my fellow journalists (time here for affectionate shots out to Massimo Ricci, Nate Dorward, Clifford Allen, Marcelo Aguirre, Derek Taylor, Jon Dale, Lawrence English, Richard Pinnell, John Gill, Stephen Griffith and others who seem to have drifted away from the Paris Transatlantic orbit, including Nick Rice, David Cotner, TJ Norris and Walter Horn). And yet the discs keep on coming! I might write proportionately fewer reviews myself each month than I did about five years ago, having spread the load a little (thanks to Nate for helping out with the editing), but the decision as to what (not) to write about each month is all the more agonising.

So what's the solution? Well, I'm faced with a stark choice. EITHER carry on as I have been doing for the best part of the last decade, hauling my butt out of bed at 6am to answer emails (and, until recently, chip in to chatrooms like Bagatellen and IHM, but I've now come to the conclusion that's a thankless waste of time) and staying up late at night to listen to music which is either too quiet and delicate to compete with the sounds of the waking city around me or too goddamn extreme to inflict on anyone other than myself through headphones – OR draw a line in the sand, to quote the mighty Walter Sobchak. Not give up writing about music altogether – after all, it's a habit that's about as hard to kick as smoking, which I still haven't managed to quit – but scale down the journalism in order to allow me to devote some more time to.. music. My own, that is. Several large scale projects await – a further collaboration with my mad poet buddy in Boston, Fred Goodwin, an ambitious double album-length work based on recordings made in Morocco last year and incorporating contributions from many musician friends (I won't namedrop, but it's a pretty list), the next two Walks (field recordings from Haute Savoie and the Lisbon underground languish in an obscure corner of the hard disk), not to mention long overdue collaboration / remix projects with Alan Courtis and Al Margolis, and, who knows, maybe even that marriage hörspiel – and it's high time I got back to them.

The upshot of all this is.. well, what is the upshot of all this? Right now, I can't say for sure when or even if there will be another "normal" issue of Paris Transatlantic. Needless to say, the CDs keep on coming, and divine madmen like Massimo keep on writing, so I daresay there will be enough raw material for another issue before too long. I'll let you know, I guess. But to all those out there who've been logging on faithfully on the first of every month for their PT fix (thank you!), you might just want to be on the lookout for another place to score. I have no plans at all, by the way, of giving up writing for The Wire – firstly because it's a great honour to be part of the team and secondly because it pays a little, which is more than you can say for PT (unless discs can be converted into hard currency "at a secret government installation known only to me") – and may well end up writing some kind of book, though right now I have no concrete plans to do so (but feel free to make me an offer I can't refuse). We'll have to see what transpires after the summer holidays. Meanwhile, rest assured that Paris Transatlantic will remain online. Publisher Guy Livingston stubbornly refuses to delete any of the archives, so the interviews, which remain our most visited pages, will all still be there tomorrow, fear not, along with the latest offering, a conversation with Gino Robair (thanks for those edits, Gino). Damn, just remembered there's another one in the can with Philip Samartzis too, so there'll have to be another issue of PT at some stage to get that out. So much for early retirement. Warburton's talking through his hat again. Well, it wouldn't be the first time.
Anyway, average life expectancy in Europe is now about 79, so if you'll excuse me I've got some listening to do. And while I'm doing that, you have yourselves a good read. In the words of Governor Schwarzenegger, I'll be back. But I'm not quite sure when.-DW

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On Creative Sources
Grosse Abfahrt
Several fine bridges have been built in recent years between the improv worlds of California and Germany. Wolfgang Fuchs has been a frequent visitor to the West Coast, and has popped up on a number of fine outings (Mount Washington on Reify and Six Fuchs on Rastascan), and the electronics duo of Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun had already cut a fine disc with Fuchs, Jacob Lindsay and Damon Smith (The Happy Makers on Balance Point Acoustics) before teaming up in October 2004 with a host of Bay Area notables – Chris Brown (piano and electronics), Tom Djll (trumpet), Matt Ingalls (clarinet), Tim Perkis (electronics), Gino Robair (analog synth) and John Shiurba (guitar) – to record these five spare but remarkably tense collective improvisations, intriguingly titled erstes Luftschiff zu Kalifornien, a reference to the ill-fated maiden voyage of John A. Morrell's hydrogen-filled airship on May 23rd 1908. Quite what this music has to do with that fateful story isn't exactly made clear, but unlike Morrell's doomed craft, which plummeted to ground seriously injuring all its passengers, it stays aloft beautifully. Eight improvisers, even without electronics, can make a hell of an unseemly racket, but there's a sense of restraint and purpose to these five pieces that's rarely achieved in ensemble improv, either live or on disc. The only other medium-sized improv ensembles capable of such magic are the Boston-based BSC and the Berlin-based Phosphor collective, but even the latter's eponymous debut album on Potlatch wasn't as good as this. The Germans, if left to their own devices, are quite at home wandering in the drizzle under the leaden skies of EAI, but here they're evidently enjoying the California sunshine. Perkis, Brown and Robair have always been colourful performers, and the additional timbral richness of trumpet, clarinet and guitar is a joy. The immensely talented (and criminally under-recorded) Ingalls is on magnificent form, sketching delicate melodic lines between the luminous clusters and buzzing clouds, and guitarist Shiurba proves he's as good at the gentle stuff as he is at tearing up those Ghost Trance charts with Braxton. They're all having so much fun that Djll can't resist letting rip a good blast or two in "interkontinentale luftschiffahrt", the album's longest and most impressive track. It's a shame that Creative Sources releases have tended to go largely ignored in recent times – proof perhaps that you can have too much of a good thing? – because this is one of the best discs you're likely to hear all year. Überwältigend, as they say in Berkeley.–DW

Raymond MacDonald / Tatsuya Nakatani / Peter Nicholson / Neil Davidson / Nick Fells
Aporias, recorded in Glasgow's University Concert Hall in 2004, consists of five tracks whose long titles all contain the adjective "incipient", plus a sixth uncredited one that ends the performance in style with the most mantric piece, sounding like a homage of sorts to LaMonte Young. The quintet's armaments include drums and percussion, laptop, sampling, cello, soprano and alto saxes, electric guitar. A striking feature of the disc is the chiaroscuro-like alternance of restraint and semi-blowouts, the latter never trespassing the limits of comprehensibility, making me think about a miniature reproduction of Emanem's Strings With Evan Parker in a few interesting moments with MacDonald giving his all in obvious, if coherent struggles with predictability. In the more spartan segments, tapestries of manipulated guitar and laptop contraptions welcome Nicholson's intuitive cello figures, while Nakatani only rarely allows himself to lower his tight percussive defence in favour of a disjointed beat. I much prefer those moments of concentrated standstill, as it's there that the music mostly succeeds in leaving stereotypes behind. At almost 70 minutes, avoiding the traps of boredom is a serious task that these musicians try hard to perform, with only partially satisfactory results.–MR

Ernesto Rodrigues / Angharad Davies / Guilherme Rodrigues / Alessandro Bosetti / Masafumi Ezaki
Recorded at Atlantic Waves 2005, London is a 33-minute improvisation for viola, violin, cello, soprano sax and trumpet. Ezaki's short intro initiates a subdued collective crawl towards timbral oblivion, the raggedy quality of this poor man's invocation defining a division of the whole into a series of comfortless substructures and paint-stripping stretchings symbolized by continuous shifts in the introversion/extroversion ratio. As so often happens when the Rodrigueses are involved, scrape'n'squeal becomes a fundamental ingredient, in this case counterpointed by [violinist] Davies' approach – here ecstatic, there nervous. Bosetti adds an ambiguous kind of pulse, airy spurts and barely audible wheezes at the basis of a radiant indetermination. String drones appear at times, pulling the music towards a dirty staticity. About 17 minutes in, Ezaki is heard again via tranquil, if dissonant lamentations, yet the dominance of rattle and pluck remains established throughout. The final section is coloured by sounds ranging from ritualistic to nerve-stinging: prominent, predictable in a way, always welcome. These artists strain many ropes without snapping one.–MR

Harald Kimmig / Christoph Schiller
Harald Kimmig plays violin and Christoph Schiller plays spinet (go to for enlightenment). Funnily enough, this arrived in my mailbox on the same day as Hidden Fresco (Nemu) which features the medieval flutes of Norbert Rodenkirchen and the gothic fiddle of Albrecht Maurer. But while their playing is solidly rooted in the idioms of Baroque music, Schiller's concept of the spinet is aggressively 21st century; the venerable instrument is prepared with a variety of objects and ends up sounding like a cross between an acoustic guitar (imagine one played by Keith Rowe) and a toy piano. The music is, for the most part, nervy, twitchy stuff, trading twangs, snaps and scratches, but on "streifen" Schiller combats his instrument's natural lack of sustain by using what sounds like an Ebow to produce some eerie theremin-like wailing, whose sustained pitches Kimmig skilfully picks out with artificial harmonics. It's serious and careful, but often feels like it doesn't quite know where it's going. Which is fine if you subscribe to the in-the-moment aesthetic of improvised music (as elegantly expounded by Malcolm Goldstein, whose playing Kimmig's often recalls), but the tracks that work best are those – "code", "regen" – which explore the micro-world of delicate shudders and tiny pizzicati interspersed with silence.–DW

Herman Müntzing
The flexichord, Herman Müntzing's instrument of choice, as portrayed in the CD leaflet, is a horizontal stringed hybrid (somehow reminiscent of the self-mades that characterized Elliott Sharp's early records) played with various objects and utensils. In "First Construction" and "Second Construction", slow glissandos spotted by scintillating plucked droplets, we enjoy its more pleasing aspects; "Out Of Sand" features Frith-like volume swells and morphing figures, the contact with the strings harsher or less depending on the object used. Occasionally, a sampler freezes and alters a few frames, reshaping the architecture of the improvisations. "Door" sounds like a ping-pong game played on a table full of metal wires, while in "New Times, New Tools" the pickups concentrate the music's energy in selected focal points, the whole becoming more percussive and unstable. "Other Materials" throws out boings and ga-zoings enhanced by short jazzy samples. Although Müntzing is certainly able to conjure up interesting images, the Frith/Sharp connection is apparent throughout the disc, thus limiting the flexichord's potential. A slight degree of tiredness and repetition towards the end doesn't help matters, either. Not a bad album, in spurts.–MR

Nusch Werchowska
Scored (if we can say that) for piano and electronics, Surgo is an important statement by Werchowska, who works in a territory bordering on Joachim Kühn's solo properties under the surveillance of a Conlon Nancarrow/Keith Tippett siamese couple. "Passing-Shot" also nods to Cecil Taylor in pretty disordered fashion. Electric crackle and dramatic chords punctuate "Selim Tenamor", a great track that had me recollecting about those vintage silent movies (thinking particularly of Eisenstein) that many artists love to revisit and score anew. The resonant tollings and preparations of "Welche" seal the sentence: this is serious stuff. Werchowska's versatility is indeed what sustains the weight of a record full of different ideas and solutions from piece to piece and never attempting shortcuts to thoughtlessness. Obscurity and gloom, alternated with sapient choice of harmonic (a/di)ssociations, are the basis of a music that furnishes us with glimpses and reflections, the recipe for over 41 minutes of uncontaminated beauty in an album that almost deserves to be rated up there with the Crispells and the Schweizers. Mixing technical dexterity and EAI scents, it is, to my mind, probably the first release on Creative Sources that could be defined a "classic".–MR

Ute Wassermann / Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett first came to my attention as a composer loosely affiliated to the so-called New Complexity movement (Brian Ferneyhough, James Dillon, Michael Finnissy et al.) – an early album of instrumental music by the Australian Elision Ensemble on Etcetera is still well worth seeking out – but realising that spending the best part of a year writing a piece that would require about as much rehearsal time and be over and done with in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea is a noble if somewhat thankless endeavour, he did what most sane mortals would do and took up improvisation. But the music he creates with electronics is the perfect illustration of Radu Malfatti was on about when he rather provocatively compared Evan Parker to Ferneyhough in his 2001 PT interview ("[Evan's] work also is 'unplayable' – at least for others – and he seems to be as interested in virtuosity as good old Brian is"). Unlike his previous albums with Paul Obermayer in Furt, Barrett is teamed up here with Ute Wassermann, whose voice also appears to be at the origin of many of the sounds he conjures up from his boxes of tricks. Once more it's thorny stuff, splats, fizzes and gurgles hurled around the stereo space with glorious (seeming) abandon, but it's somehow more human and touching than Furt. Put that down no doubt to Wassermann, who manages to explore a whole range of whistles, gargles and yodels without ever sounding as if she's dying / giving birth to triplets / trying to stifle an orgasm (delete where appropriate according to the improvising vocalist of your choice). All in all, it's a thrilling ride. As for the cover photography, if that's pollen magnified several thousand times, no wonder I suffer from hay fever. So get your allergy tablets, hankies and inhalers at the ready and get a noseful of this.–DW

Chris Forsyth / Nate Wooley
Guitarist Forsyth and trumpeter Wooley have collaborated since 2001, yet this CD is their first official duo release. It was recorded in 2005 in about three hours, two takes of a previously sketched improvisation that, once completed, Forsyth suggested to superimpose in order to create what he defines a "double exposure" with the resulting materials, warts and all. At less than 25 minutes, it's a short, compact and highly effective demonstration of less-is-more bravura. The first section is dominated by Wooley's subterranean vapours and prolonged hisses, Forsyth adding controlled feedback and inscrutable details in surge of charged pressure after which everything calms down. The remaining two thirds are mainly coloured by the spectral resonances elicited by the combination of Gibson Les Paul (with a couple of metallic tuning forks on the loose strings) and Fender tube amp, whose compressed noise is at the basis of the whole scheme. Jangling shapes of open-stringed chords define a plumbeous environment, which Forsyth renders even more oppressive with restrained twiddling and selected pluckings that made you feel like you're in jail, a guard locking the heavy gate behind your loneliness with a massive key. Wooley's almost inaudible pops constitute the skeletal pulse of a set that is as sober as it is full of information, a trademark Creative Sources highlight.–MR

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Raymond Dijkstra
Elsewhere in this issue I noted that musicians, more than visual artists, feel the need to evolve from one work to the next. It's rare indeed to find one whose latest album sounds so similar to the ones that preceded it that you have to go scurrying back to the shelves to make sure somebody hasn't been pulling some kind of elaborate hoax. It's perhaps significant then that Raymond Dijkstra is a sculptor as well as sound artist, releasing his music in austere, beautifully produced limited edition on his Le Souffleur label. This latest offering, however, is on Crouton, whose head honcho Jon Mueller is just as dedicated to producing discs that are beautiful art objects in their own right. In the spirit of the Le Souffleur releases though, Maskenstilleben comes dressed entirely in black, this time in a 34x34x2 cm wooden box whose lid slides off to reveal the 200g virgin vinyl lying inside. Anyone already familiar with the companion albums Die Wille and Die Sonne (and here I should say a big thankyou to the artist himself for sending me copies, as they're as rare as hen's teeth and probably cost a fortune, assuming they haven't already sold out) won't be in the least surprised by the music. Maskenstilleben is just under half an hour – a standard duration for Dijkstra it seems – of strange watery harmonium (?) clusters forming a backdrop to sporadic, mildly disturbing and sometimes downright vicious squeaks and scrapes, metal on glass for the most part, all fed through the kind of echo unit that fans of 60s Sun Ra know and love. If you're one of those sensitive souls who faints at the sound of fingernails on a blackboard or knives cutting through polystyrene, you'd be well advised to save yourself $100 (yes, you read that right) and leave this one in its coffin. It's hard to say to what extent Dijkstra has laboured over his sounds or where to place them in the finished work, because there's a rawness to his work that aligns it more with today's soft noise improv than with the more ahem refined esoteric electronica of the post-Nurse With Wound crowd, specifically Organum, with whom Dijkstra is, for some strange reason, often compared. Whatever bag you choose to put it in though, this is pretty tough stuff. The listener's attention is sustained neither out of a desire to follow the development of the sound material (there isn't any), nor to immerse themselves in its static beauty (the music is neither static nor beautiful), but more out of a kind of morbid curiosity as to whether anything significantly different is going happen before the needle slides inexorably into the runout grooves. It doesn't. But that's not a problem; the weight of the box, the smell of the inner sleeve, the whole uncompromising blackness / bleakness of the package is as much part and parcel of the experience as the music itself.–DW

Susan Alcorn
Olde English Spelling Bee
The album title is a homage to Olivier Messiaen's Et Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum, which pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn first heard while driving to a Country & Western gig in her home town Houston, Texas. The impact of the experience was such she had to pull off the road, which is just as well – hard to imagine persuading a Texas traffic cop to waive charges of dangerous driving by trying to pin the blame on the nefarious influence of late 20th century European contemporary music, isn't it? Of course, there's no way a humble pedal steel guitar can hope to compete with the crashing apocalyptic ending of the Frenchman's piece, but harmonically and timbrally the title track does indeed manage to evoke something of the foreboding of the original. Even the opening "Heart Sutra", with its delicate play on upper harmonics of a single repeated pitch, is a sober affair. Susan Alcorn might be best known to improv fans for her guest appearances in some of Eugene Chadbourne's Country-inspired projects, but we're some considerable way away from the good Doctor's high jinx here; as Alcorn's declared mission is to extricate the mighty instrument from the C&W universe with which it's invariably associated (a bit like Jozef van Wissem has done for the lute and Matthew Welch has for bagpipes, I guess), you can bet your bottom dollar there ain't no country licks on offer. Instead, a remarkably sensitive investigation of microtonal inflections and timbre easily on a par with vintage Loren Connors or the more introspective solo offerings of Tetuzi Akiyama. And it's beautifully – and I mean beautifully – packaged in an ornately decorated black gatefold. A real treasure, go dig it up.–DW

After a slew of CDRs and cassettes, Alitaju Ylimina is the first vinyl release by Jani Hirvonen, one of the most active members of what seems to be an insanely active Finnish underground including kindred spirits Lau Nau, Kuupuu, Islaja, and Kemialliset Ystävät, to name but a few. Not surprisingly Hirvonen has already hooked up with similar adventurers in the free psychedelic / trance / experimental scene elsewhere, collaborating with the likes of Anla Courtis, Peter Wright and Phil Todd. Musically, it's hard to pinpoint; "glorious lo-fi", says the Dekorder website, and that's a rather good description – we're not talking scuzzy lo-fi Arthur Doyle-at-home-with-his-Walkman or some of the vintage Saturns that sound as if they were recorded inside a shoebox – lo-fi this might be but it's not at all lacking in definition and depth. There's a freshness to it all, a commendably unpretentious love of sound in all its forms, a willingness to explore the worlds of drone, soft noise and free folk as a tourist rather than a paid-up subscriber just following the house rules. For when those rules come to be written – and it will eventually happen in this scene just as it has with free jazz, improv and field recording-based sound art – the muscles will atrophy, the music will become formulaic and clean, and people like Hirvonen will probably end up playing at ATP or something equally terrifying. Until that day comes, enjoy your freedom. If anybody in particular springs to mind on listening to this, it's Angus MacLise (maybe those strange snaking flute improvisations and percussion freakouts towards the end of the "Atopia" side), one of the few who chose to quit the corporate game rather than play along. So maybe it's no surprise to learn that Hirvonen, like MacLise before him, has gone off to the Indian subcontinent. I look forward to hearing what he brings back.–DW

Vertonen / Demons
More fun and games from Crippled Intellect, in a cool split LP featuring CIP bossman Blake Edwards – aka Vertonen – and Nate Young and Steve Kenney – aka Demons. Described by BE in the ever colourful CIP press blurb as "an out of control fire scorching the chapparal", the Vertonen side is fun stuff indeed, but that fire seems to die down a little towards the middle of the track to allow some puddles of delicious reverberant squelch to form before the temperature rises again and they evaporate in a cloud of ferocious upper partials, which eventually settle on a sustained mid register drone. Is it my twisted imagination or is there somewhat vaguely pornographic about the cover photo? Maybe we'll find out one day. The photograph illustrating the Demons side (whose title refers to where it was recorded, Enemy in Chicago) appears to show waterlilies, which might explain why the music is described as an "underwater space journey". It certainly doesn't seem to have much to do with the late paintings of Claude Monet, just in case those waterlilies gave you any ideas, but the weird wailing glissandos and blasts of white noise certainly recall some of Sun Ra's more adventurous Moog solos, so I guess that's where the outer space thing comes from. As you'll no doubt be aware, Nate Young is the guy behind Wolf Eyes, who, their Myspace page informs me, have no fewer than 7617 friends – so needless to say the mere 500 copies of this LP will disappear pronto. Get your skates on.–DW

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Axel Dörner / Lucio Capece / Robin Hayward
Axel Dörner / Lucio Capece
Lucio Capece / Axel Dörner / Robin Hayward
Azul Discografica
Jack Wright might say reductionism is "past its prime", and Mark Wastell and Mattin might go one step further and proclaim it as being dead altogether (is it my imagination or wasn't there supposed to be an album called Reductionism Is Dead by those two? maybe it's appeared as one of the several zillion free downloads Mattin has put out), but it's alive and well in Berlin, or at least in trumpeter Axel Dörner's house, where these albums were recorded (the duo with Capece in July 2004, the trio adding Robin Hayward in January and May of the following year). By now seasoned improv hacks like me and improv heads like you reading this are familiar with Dörner's extended techniques, ranging from grainy multiphonics to all manner of valve clicks and pops, pitchless hisses and draughty glissandi from his slide trumpet. You may also know his duo outing with tuba maestro Hayward on Absinth, recorded back in 2001, when the shockwaves caused by turn of the century next-to-nothingism in improvised music were already beginning to subside. So what, three or four years down the line, do these new outings add to the picture? The answer, to quote that tacky magician, is "not a lot" – but lest that be interpreted as a snidy put-down on my part, the remark warrants further explanation.

Someone once said (and I can't remember who and it probably doesn't matter) that developments in music tend to lag behind those in the visual arts. It's a dangerous business, comparing works of art that exist in space with those that exist in time, but Keith Rowe is fond of doing it, so I don't see why I shouldn't have a go. Painters, once they've found something distinctive, tend to stick with it for quite some time before moving on to explore pastures new (think Jasper Johns' flags and targets, Warhol's soupcans, Bacon's screaming popes..), but in music, particularly jazz and improvised music, the idea that you can basically stay in more or less the same place is considered as somehow suspect, even reactionary. Ask Wynton. Most improvisers are, or apparently should be, always on the move, refining existing techniques and developing new ones. Listening in chronological order to the complete discographies of, say, John Butcher, Jack Wright or Michel Doneda would be most illuminating. I wish I had time to do it. Others evolve more slowly, more subtly, depending as much on the people they perform with as on their own investigations into their own personal playing techniques (compare Evan Parker's work in Electro-Acoustic Ensemble to what he does with the Schlippenbach Trio, or try to imagine how Rowe might have evolved if he hadn't hooked up with Toshi Nakamura when he did..). But what do you do when you get to the end of the road, when you've apparently exhausted all the possibilities of the instrument? Short of pulling it to pieces and playing it with a bow or attacking it with a pair of drumsticks (he already likes to swirl the edge of a harmon mute around the end of the bell to produce a Burkhard Beins-like unpitched metallic drone), there's not much Axel Dörner can do on or to a trumpet now that he hasn't done already. So another acoustic Dörner album (more on his work with Toshimaru Nakamura elsewhere) is like another Rothko painting: unmistakably his, impressive and beautiful as ever, but not really breaking new ground, nor (I suspect) intending to.

As you might recall, Axel Dörner once told me his favourite trumpeters were Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Miles Davis, and Tony Fruscella ("who I like a lot"). It's not hard to hear their influence in Dörner's more mainstream jazz projects – The Electrics (with Sture Ericson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Raymond Strid) and Die Enttäuschung (with Rudi Mahall, Uli Jennessen and Jan Roder) – but he's gone out of his way to eradicate any trace of hard bop from his more experimental offerings. Or so it would seem; I'm prepared to argue that today's lowercase / EAI has more in common with bop than it realises. Of course, you can't tap your feet to it and there's no question of following the changes, but in the same way that bop, in the space of barely a decade and a half, willingly embraced a carefully codified system of rules, today's lowercase improvisers have likewise carefully drawn out the boundary lines that demarcate their particular territory, and woe betide you if you step across them.
There are quite simply things that one just does not do in this music. The odd recognisable pitch is OK (and, after all, pretty hard to avoid), but stringing more than two of them together seems to be out of the question: two notes make an interval, three make a melody. Melody verboten. Dynamics are to stay in the Feldman range between quiet and nearly inaudible, but the volume level is allowed briefly to rise above this a) if you're playing with Mattin or b) the music seems to be heading towards a climax of sorts. But by and large climaxes are studiously avoided – too "old school", that time-honoured start-quiet-build-up-shoot-yr-wad-and-go-back-to-sleep model – lowercase isn't sexy. Leave all that testosterone for Mats Gustafsson. And to make sure you don't get carried away and end up with an erection, insert plenty of silence. There's nothing like strategic inactivity to kill the concupiscence. Similarly, apart from a few carefully positioned Geiger counter key click pops once in a while, any semblance of regular rhythm is ruled out. Remember Eddie Prévost's line about the imperialist backbeat. Slammin' beats are for getting down to, getting busy to. Too lascivious. Remember above all that your playing partners are roommates rather than lovers; just because you're living under the same roof doesn't mean you have to engage them in conversation or, heaven forbid, anything more intimate, all the time. Occasional polite social intercourse is permitted, of the "would-you-care-for-a-cup-of-tea" or "please pass the salt" kind, and slight bodily contact is almost unavoidable (when passing the salt, for instance), but keep those emotions in check, please. The reason a lot of this music hisses like a pressure cooker ready to blow is that it's precisely that. Ready to blow. All that nasty anger, violence and lust has been driven underground. When Lucio Capece yelps and nearly loses control about 20 minutes into the first track on the Innomable duo, it's certainly striking, but like that famous sudden fortissimo drum roll in Feldman's For Frank O'Hara, we're talking un grain de folie rather than an omen of impending breakdown and madness. Back to the draughty gurgles. Let's leave all that vulgar screaming to wild men like Paul Flaherty.
This music's sexlessness also explains why it never seems to know when to finish. When you get to the end of a Mats Gustafsson solo you know it's time to roll over, reach for the packet of cigs and coo "was it good for you babe" in the ear of the beloved. With Dörner, Capece and Hayward it's not so much coitus interruptus as never-ending foreplay. That's fine, I guess. After all, folks grow up. You don't see too many 60-year-olds grabbing at their crotches in public like Eugene Robinson. Maybe finally improvised music has finally hung its wild years on a peg driven through Radu Malfatti's forehead, settled down, started wearing suits and ties, worrying about mortgage repayments and going grey. But while we wait for some bright young thing to formalise a coherent psychoanalysis-based solfège for extended techniques in improvised music, here's a little poem I thought you might enjoy by Howard Nemerov entitled Reading Pornography in Old Age.–DW
Unbridled licentiousness with no holds barred,
Immediate and mutual lust, satisfiable
In the heat, upon demand, aroused again
And satisfied again, lechery unlimited,
Till space runs out at the bottom of the page
And another pair of lovers, forever young,
Prepotent, endlessly receptive, renews
The daylong, nightlong, interminable grind.
How decent it is, and how unlike our lives
Where "fuck you" is a term of vengeful scorn
And the murmur of "sorry, partner" as often heard
As ever in mixed doubles or at bridge.
Though I suspect the stuff is written by
Elderly homosexuals manacled to their
Machines, it’s mildly touching all the same,
A reminiscence of the life that was in Eden
Before the Fall, when we were beautiful
And shameless, and untouched by memory:
Before we were driven out to the laboring world
Of the money and the garbage and the kids
In which we read this nonsense and are moved
At all that was always lost for good, in which
We think about sex obsessively except
During the act, when our minds tend to wander.

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Marion Brown
LE TEMPS FOU (Polydor 658.142, 1968)
GESPRÄCHSFETZEN (Calig 30601, 1968)
IN SOMMERHAUSEN (Calig 30605, 1969)
Alto saxophonist Marion Brown has always stood apart from his Fire Music peers, even while participating in some of the cornerstone recordings of the tumultuous New York scene of the 1960s. Born in Atlanta in 1931 and raised in Washington DC, Brown surfaced in New York around 1963-64. His music exhibits a rural pastoralism, a bubbly excitement, and an earthy funkiness, and the results are unlike anyone else's music, though Brown has mentioned Sonny Rollins and Johnny Hodges as his greatest influences, and Jackie McLean seems a close third; he also studied for a time with Ornette Coleman, but the link is far from obvious. Brown's early recordings as a sideman on Coltrane's Ascension and Archie Shepp's Fire Music (both on Impulse!, 1965) were characterized by a scorching tone and knotty melodic sense, though slower numbers had a dusty backwater blues feeling (see "Los Olvidados" on Fire Music).
Marion Brown's own band, with trumpeter Alan Shorter, tenorman Bennie Maupin, drummer Rashied Ali and bassists Reggie Johnson and Ronnie Boykins, cut four tunes for ESP-Disk' in late 1965, bright free-bop with aggressive undertones issued under the misleading title Marion Brown Quartet. Sideman gigs in pianist Burton Greene's excellent band followed, with bassist Henry Grimes and a revolving chair of drummers, as well as recording and occasional work with his own units and Shepp's bands. In 1966, Brown cut dates as a leader for Fontana, Impulse! (Juba-Lee and Three For Shepp, respectively, both featuring trombonist Grachan Moncur III, pianist Dave Burrell and drummer Beaver Harris), and a final quartet date for ESP-Disk', the under-recognized Why Not?, with Ali, bassist Sirone and pianist Stanley Cowell. But New York didn't provide enough work in order to live as an improvising musician, and by the time Three For Shepp and Why Not? were released in the US, Brown had left the Lower East Side for an itinerant existence in Paris, Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. He didn't even have a horn upon arrival in Paris until Steve Lacy encouraged him to visit the Selmer factory. "I told [Lacy] I needed a horn, and he gave me the name of the son of the owner of Selmer, so I went over there and told him what was happening. He took me to a room and brought out about ten altos, and he said 'try one of these, and the one you like, we'll give it to you.' I said ‘but I can't buy it,' and he said 'we're giving it to you.'" (from an interview with the author, May 2005)
The chronology of the bands Brown put together while in Europe is difficult to pin down. Early on he came into contact with German vibraphonist and reedman Gunter Hampel, drummer Steve McCall and trumpeter Ambrose Jackson, and these three became the nexus of a cooperative band active primarily in 1968-69. Yet the first commercial recording Brown made in Europe was with the Dutch rhythm section of drummer Han Bennink and bassist Maarten Altena, the jagged and extreme 1967 Polydor LP Porto Novo (reissued on CD by Black Lion). In December 1967, Brown and Hampel journeyed to Baden-Baden to attend the yearly Free Jazz Meeting put together by Sudwestfunk (southwest German radio). Regular Hampel drummer Pierre Courbois was there, along with vocalist Jeanne Lee. Also in attendance were the dream-action unit of Albert Mangelsdorff, Don Cherry, Evan Parker, and Peter Brötzmann's ensemble (with Sven-Åke Johansson, drums, bassists Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall, and Fred Van Hove, piano). In addition to recording two wild vocal pieces with Lee and Hampel, setting the poetry of Robert Lax to driving group improvisations, Brown returned to "Qbic" from Porto Novo, with Kowald and Johansson providing a loose, ethereal tone-field with occasional bass thrums (remember For Adolphe Sax?).
It was in Paris in 1968 that Brown and Hampel made their first proper record together, Le Temps Fou, a soundtrack for filmmaker Marcel Camus' Un Été Sauvage, with McCall, Jackson, expatriate American bassist Barre Phillips and percussionist Alain Corneau. Both the film and the recording are scarce, so much so that Brown was unaware the LP had even come out. The French arm of Polydor did release the date briefly, and it's in demand among soundtrack and funk aficionados for the tune "Boat Rock," which, despite freewheeling collective horn improvisations, does have a relentless vibes-bass-drums backbeat. Yet the fragmentary, event-oriented freedom posed by Porto Novo is one precedent for this music, as is the loose, open framework of Hampel's own group at the time. The title track has a catchy, singsong melody, slinky in a film-program manner, but quickly opens into a collective improvisation that breaks down into occasional solo and trio areas. Terse trumpet bleats and alto squeals are met with curt melodic snaps and clanks from vibes, McCall's sea-swells, Phillips' dusky sonata snippets, and Corneau's rattle of castanets and slide-whistle. Phillips' composition "Cascatelles" follows, initially a duo for bass and bass clarinet before it's ensnared by the seismic counterpoint of Brown and Jackson. McCall is simply huge, a force of nature even when his cymbal taps and tom rolls are at their lightest and most fleet. The alto-trumpet dialogue that closes the piece moves from slashes to aching contrapuntal beauty, a bluesy weight that takes Phillips' woody ignition to another level. "Ye-Ye" revels in collective textures similar to the title track, though without the tuneful opening – here, Brown skitters and bounces off Hampel and Jackson (at times even playing a second mouthpiece), building fierce, jagged glossolalia off tonal jabs and rhythmic tides. What's especially interesting about Le Temps Fou is how vastly it differs from Brown's work of the mid-60s, how much more openly it investigates tonal colors and lets dynamics create themselves. Brown's tone and phrasing are more mature, surefooted, and measured, but the main difference is in the rhythmic choices offered by Hampel and McCall (a very loose drummer schooled in bebop fundamentals), which have an openness that never becomes (as with brief Dutch association) antagonistic.
Hampel and Brown co-led the next date, the first entry in the catalog of Munich-based Calig Records, aptly titled Gesprächfetzen ("conversation-scraps"). The band is essentially the same as on Le Temps Fou, but minus the auxiliary percussionist and with Buschi Niebergall instead of Phillips. The title piece grows from upwardly-cascading melodic fragments, first in a delicate vibes-alto duo by Hampel and Brown, and then slowly adding density as trumpet, bass and drums enter. There's a brief yawp of unity before Jackson opens up with a strong solo segment, unaccompanied save for delicate shading from Niebergall. Brown's solo is searing, throwing out what would otherwise be plaintive melodies at breakneck speed, ideas and feelings spilling out alongside the massive tug and yank of bass and percussion. Niebergall, as always, has a resoundingly physical tone and attack: his solo on the title track is full of flying horsehair, clacking bow and stretched strings. Over the course of the piece, intensity increases even though it is mostly made up of solo and duo performances – it's a matter of being able to feel the whole behind the individual, and sense why these are truly fragments of a larger unity. The rest of the selections on Gesprächfetzen are intriguing, too – Brown is in fine form on the evocatively tuneful skronk of the solo feature "Exhibit A," and McCall's "Babudah" is a hell of a swinger (supposedly, this piece was also recorded at the 1969 Baden-Baden Free Jazz Meeting with John Surman and Joseph Jarman, but for now we'll just have to make do with the version contained here). After a brief bass flourish, alto, trumpet and vibes enter over a suspended, Murray-like percussion field, cascading but countable behind a lilting line. McCall enters a loose holding pattern behind each soloist, almost as if time momentarily stops whilst they make their statements.
May 1969 brought the Brown-Hampel unit together for one last session, a live recording from Sommerhausen, Germany also released on Calig. Brown, Hampel, McCall and Jackson are joined here by Jeanne Lee and Daniel Laloux on voices and percussion; oddly, there is no bassist. "Dance No. 1" opens the set, McCall setting up a loose swing fleshed out by bongos and woodblocks as Brown enters with a behind-the-beat blues phrase. He's got a massive, Jackie McLean-like tone here, powerful and assertive and hanging in the air. Hampel's droplets of rhythm-sound expand into a full field of refraction and reflection, standing apart from the funky web. After Jackson's curious brass extrapolation of the vibraphonist's phrase-colors into bebop trumpet licks, Brown plays with snatches of melody, spinning them around, building them up and turning them into cries, squeals and child-songs while relinquishing none of their overall weight. His unaccompanied "Exhibit B" follows, the saxophonist growling and humming into the instrument in an evocation of Dewey Redman vis-à-vis Jeanne Lee's guttural vocal experiments. Lee's primary contributions here are on "The Sound of a Song" and "Malipieros Midnight Theatre," the first a spare processional on which her charcoaled exhortations clearly owe a debt to the Brown's balladeering – it's interesting to hear how he complements her as his solo brings the piece home. The latter tune fits in well with Hampel's own work of the period, cacophonous and a bit mad as Lee spouts out non-sequiturs. Her alteration of recognizable words and phrases into stutters, bent tones and unsettling cries has precedents in both Patty Waters and sound poetry, and her unaccompanied foray here is a superb example of her art. Laloux gets an opportunity to declaim as well on "Il ne chant pas," a series of duets and trios with McCall, Jackson and Hampel's bass clarinet. Of the three sessions discussed, In Sommerhausen is the most unusual, suggesting that the band might have gone in some very interesting directions if it had continued.
Marion Brown remained in Europe until early 1970, working and recording with Leo Smith as a duo in Paris, before returning to the States to raise his son. Europe did change Brown's life approach – he remained away from New York as much as possible on his return, choosing instead to bounce around New England, working with Smith and composer Elliott Schwartz and teaching at Bowdoin College and Wesleyan University. His recordings were sparser and more exploratory, their emphasis on democratic collectivity inspired by the poetry of Jean Toomer as well as Smith, Hampel, and Lee. Brown continued to record with Hampel – notably in sets of duets for the vibraphonist's Birth label as well as Paul Bley's Improvising Artists imprint – and they also appeared together in all-star configurations like Jubilation (Birth), but the newness of their collaboration in Paris and Germany gives Le Temps Fou, Gesprächfetzen and In Sommerhausen a special weight. The New Thing is often remembered for blowtorch-heat improvising, but Marion Brown's approach beginning as far back as 1965 points to another end of the spectrum, one that is vibrant, lively, and makes room for openness and reflection. Brown and Hampel's multi-faceted musical tales remain crucial documents, and it's high time they were back in print.–CA [photo of Brown courtesy Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith]

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Joëlle Léandre / Irène Schweizer
There are certain records that – even though they feature highly respected artists – just slip through general awareness, becoming practically forgotten in a minute. Hard as I tried, I couldn't locate a single web review or commentary about Cordial Gratin, a double bass/piano duo by Joëlle Léandre and Irène Schweizer that was released over 21 years ago by the German label FMP. Suffice it to say that, although I'm pretty familiar with the work of both musicians, I couldn't secure a copy of this LP until a few months ago (...yes, I won an online auction, so what?). Back in the mid-1980s free improvisation was still exotic stuff, its audience a restricted number of zealots; such music was probably too demanding for consumers who, on the one hand, were bombarded with the likes of U2 and, on the extreme fringes, were mostly fed with dark/Industrial bloody meat. Crossing paths with an outing like this one in a shop – no Internet, remember – was not easy (especially in underdeveloped areas like the one this writer comes from) unless you were schooled by someone more experienced. I didn't have such luck and, in my lonely excursions through countless mail order catalogues, I sadly missed this one. What's even worse is that, besides all the complicated stuff I was interested in, I also bought a copy of The Joshua Tree in 1987 – talk about elasticity of taste. As Bono put it, I still hadn't found what I was looking for....

Cordial Gratin is a short album, chock full of ideas that mix loads of influences, with irony and intelligence to spare. Side one begins with "Pierrot Le Fou": after an ostinato introduction by Schweizer, the musicians juxtapose rhythms and figurations without flinching, the results quite diverse but always coherent. In the central section, Léandre’s noisy arco is joined by Schweizer's delicate attacks, the bassist chatting almost inaudibly in the background. "Diamonds For Fun" is a fabulous parody of a multigenre singer underlined by Schweizer's psychotic minimalism, soon becoming a study in how to accompany a growling soprano with sparse dissonant lines. "Calling For Gaia" is perhaps the most beautiful and complex track, especially when the pair pause momentarily to establish a whirlwind-like vortex of energy and movement that gorgeously ends in chamber music-like rarefaction. "Cordial Gratin" is the most theatrical piece: Léandre gossips and chuckles in parallel with noisy fragments and bumps, rasps and clunks, a cross between an irrational conservatory class and a carpentry workshop. In "Chinoiseries A Deux", Schweizer's shapes tentatively approach Léandre’s unpredictable ideas, then a fusion happens: their deep reciprocal knowledge – both as musicians and beings – translates into a stunning cohesiveness.
The second side starts with "Memories Of View", in which we find huge dynamic contrasts, percussive call-and-response and inquisitive "inner" delicacies. During "It's Too Low", a short Schweizer solo, the pianist shifts gear from romanticism to atonality in 30 seconds; it’s a definitive display of her characteristic compact eruptions and square-but-anarchic metres. "Fresh Expressions" finds the players exchanging their roles as rhythm generators and textural explorers; a magnificent pairing of bass harmonics and two-handed keyboard repetitions offers a five-minute essay in the history of contemporary music. "Musique Femmeuse" starts with Léandre vocalizing over harsh staccatos and sudden runs, soon becoming an astonishing demonstration of musicianship that sometimes walks Stravinskian alleys and post-bop streets while settling at other times into some touching melancholic chords. "Why Not" is a slow pizzicato melody for bass, interspersed with Schweizer’s gentle picking and plucking of the piano innards, then morphing into a run along parallel tunnels, both artists in search of a feeble ray of light.
I waited for a very long time before finally winning that auction, and won't be selling off my copy of Cordial Gratin anytime soon, but for all the other interested parties out there, how about a CD reissue, Herr Gebers?–MR

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Stars Of The Lid
I've been waiting for the rendezvous with Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride's latest creature for a long time. Stars Of The Lid are not prolific – their last album was 2001's excellent The Tired Sounds Of (Kranky) – and the pre-release hype about this new double CD was that it represents "the best music they've ever made". The day has finally come, and the creature has materialized in a rather faded guise; it's as if you had a date with the girl of your dreams and she turns up with her best friend to sabotage all your erotic plans. On this occasion, SOTL are aided by a small group of chamber musicians: three cellos, two trumpets, flugelhorn, clarinet, harp, plus a children's choir whose contribution is barely detectable. The music is as ever somnolent and elegantly hypnotic, but this time it lacks the main feature of the duo's earlier glories: suspension. Too many tracks are predictably tonal, at times almost in tea-and-cookies fashion. There is virtually no mystery or poignancy, though a few deeper moments are to be found in segments that recall Eno's treatment of Pachelbel's Canon in Discreet Music and in the tracks at the end of the second disc ("Tippy's Demise" and "December Hunting For Vegetarian Fuckface"). Overall, it would be a nice enough record if it were reduced to a single CD containing the best pieces – and if I didn't know it came from SOTL. As soon as the last notes had faded away, I felt the urge to go to the archives and retrieve The Ballasted Orchestra, a masterpiece of sorrowful oneiric disembodiment recorded on a 4-track cassette, and it sounded as wonderful as ever. This new album, on the other hand, is all too appropriately named: too refined by half, and, as far as the decline is concerned, I can only hope that this isn't the beginning.–MR

Area C
Last Visible Dog
LVD top dog Chris Moon finds a slot in his ever-growing catalogue (how does the guy do it? hasn't he heard of The Global Record Industry In Crisis?) for two of his neighbours in Providence Rhode Island, Erik "Death Vessel" Carlson and Jeff "Eyes Like Saucers" Knoch, both apparently "Farfisa aficionados" and, I'll hazard a bet, major league Terry Riley fans as a result. The extended organ noodlings on the title track wouldn't be out of place on one of Riley's early 70s outings if they didn't keep dropping out of sight into the undergrowth of heavy drone. Raid the Carlson / Knoch family homes and you'll probably find a stack of old Glass LPs too: on paper the VI-VII-I ostinato that underpins "Star Names" wouldn't be at all out of place in the score of Einstein On The Beach, though the way it's presented on the disc as a rhythmically and dynamically irregular pulsing ostinato owes more to Krautrock than to slick Downtown minimalism. Popul Vuh and pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk also come to mind with the off-kilter percussion of "Names Of Places" (not exactly a thrilling track title but never mind) and the multilayered cuckoos of "Circle Attractor", but the strongest track on the disc is the opener, "Outside The Flaming* Body", which heads into the minor mode for a change with dark rich Arvo Pärt-like sonorities on Carlson's harmonium.–DW

Valgeir Sigurdsson
Bedroom Community
I'm looking around in vain in the "special characters" menu for the strange tadpole-shaped "d" with a diagonal slash through the incurving tail in Valgeir Sigurdsson's surname, but I guess the hawks of Microsoft haven't flown as far as Iceland yet. But I'll bet they – and you – will have heard Sigurdsson's productions over the past few years (Bonnie "Prince" Billy's The Letting Go, CocoRosie's Adventures of Ghost and Stillborn, Björk's Selmasongs and Vespertine). Needless to say there's plenty of VS's trademark luscious 19th century chamber orchestra meets squeaky clean 21st century glitch on offer in these ten tracks, the third release on the Bedroom Community label, and I'm prepared to wager a small sum that The Wire's Rob Young, who chose Pluramon's Dreams Top Rock as his Album Of The Year a while back is preparing an equally enthusiastic reception for Ekvilibrium. Well, I love great arrangements as much as the next man: Chaka Khan and Prince could probably have managed just fine without Clare Fischer, but what keeps me coming back to Street Player and Parade is that extra touch of genius in the string section. The difference though is that Fischer had great songs to start with, whereas I'm left wondering what Sigurdsson's compositions would sound like if stripped of the outstanding production. The songs on offer, written and performed by the Bonnie Prince Will Oldham ("Evolution Of Waters", "Kin"), J. Walker ("Baby Architect") and Dawn McCarthy ("Winter Sleep"), all sound curiously languid, as if global warming had somehow miraculously transformed Iceland into some sun-drenched Caribbean paradise and they were lounging about on a beach with strange fluorescent cocktails in frosted glasses with paper umbrellas. Sigurdsson's instrumentals are similarly juicy, sweet and colourful, but it all needs to be washed down with a glass of cold water, and serves to remind us there's a huge difference between prettiness and beauty.–DW

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Shoup / Burns / Radding / Campbell
Clean Feed
I thought it had finally disappeared, but apparently it's still there, the old misconception that Free Jazz = Orgiastic Blowout, a roar of barely controlled righteous anger. But Fire Music – we have David Keenan to thank for that, I think, and of course Archie Shepp for the album he took the name from – is only part of the free jazz story. It's hard to imagine the kind of No Fun-lovin' dudes who sit at home breeding furiously with themselves listening to the latest Flaherty / Corsano on full blast can get the same kind of sweaty thrill from Marion Brown's Afternoon of a Georgia Faun or Braxton's Silence. Or The Levitation Shuffle. For, despite often being lumped together with Paul Flaherty and the Fire Music brigade (and I'll admit I'm as much responsible for that as the next man), altoist Wally Shoup is a remarkably sensitive player (so is Flaherty, in point of fact, but don't tell that to the bloke from Wolf Eyes who penned the liners to A Rock In The Snow). There are as many tears [pron: teers] as tears [pron: tairs] on offer here, and though Shoup is still just as good at blowing himself silly as he was on 2005's splendid Immolation Immersion (with Nels Cline and Chris Corsano), his playing partners here – pianist Gust Burns, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Greg Campbell – ensure that the widest possible range of emotions are explored. It's tempting to compare the line-up with those classic Cecil Taylor quartets with Jimmy Lyons – Radding is just as impressive with the bow as Alan Silva was on Student Studies (aka The Great Paris Concert), and pianist Burns has, like CT, a feel for pitch and contour that owes as much to contemporary classical music as it does to jazz – but there's a lightness of touch here, even in the high-octane passages (check out the terrific build up on "Stacatto Flue") that Taylor rarely achieves (not that he sets out to do so). Burns is supremely lyrical on "Arching the Energy Puzzle", weaving delicate arabesques behind Shoup's slinky, fluffy alto, while Campbell flicks around his kit with the agility of Barry Altschul (perhaps a comparison with Circle would be more appropriate). Of course, it doesn't take long for things to hot up, but the rise in intensity is exuberant rather than exorcistic. It's a joy to listen to, again and again.–DW

Keith Tippett Tapestry Orchestra
Red Eye
"First Weaving" is a long composition by Keith Tippett commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Bath International Music Festival and recorded at Le Mans Jazz Festival in 1998. It was originally intended as a studio production, but this never came about due to lack of funding, causing the piece to become what the liners call an "underground classic". The Tapestry Orchestra is a stellar gathering of illustrious names in the vein of Tippett's previous big bands like Centipede and Ark, including long-standing companions like Mark Charig, Paul Rutherford, Larry Stabbins, Elton Dean, Maggie Nicols, Louis Moholo – and of course Julie Tippetts – and more recent artistic partners such as Pino Minafra, Paul Dunmall, Vivien Ellis and Paul Rogers. Together, they achieve an impressive unity of intent. The version of "First Weaving" here is divided into seven "Threads" spread across two CDs, and it features all the characteristic elements of Tippett's music, first and foremost the evident liberties that each performer is granted within the leader's arrangements. "Third Thread", for instance, is an unusual example of "free jazz with a modicum of rules", a fiery, yet well regulated chaos in which the three tenors – no, not those three tenors.. Dunmall, Stabbins and Simon Picard – exchange burning darts and raging lines while the vocalists struggle to be heard. When the dust settles, the centre of gravity has shifted towards a mixture of enlightened sorrow and severe lyricism familiar from certain past episodes of English jazz (comparisons with Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath and Dedication Orchestra are inevitable). On the other hand, the duet between Charig's cornet and Rutherford's trombone in "Fourth Thread" is a spectacularly exclamatory appetizer for a fabulous moment of orchestral romanticism, a slow swing that would melt anyone's heart, with a sensitive solo by Gianluigi Trovesi on alto sax punctuated by Tippett's sparse accompaniment. Nicols, Tippetts and Ellis are the main actors in "Fifth Thread", first in an intense chorale then with dissonant lullabies over a basis of musical boxes, until, in "Sixth Thread", the music develops into a cross between Scottish marching band and Archie Shepp-like eruption with a furious solo by Minafra on trumpet and megaphone that sounds like Sugarcane Harris on Hot Rats, before monumental riffs and unison hymns emerge to give structure to the whole maelstrom. Those who love Keith Tippett's work have just found another reason to be proud; Live At Le Mans is exactly what we expected from a man whose motto is "may music never just become another way of making money". Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett would surely approve.. wouldn't they?–MR

Sun Ra
Atavistic UMS
A willingness to play exotic percussion was a prerequisite for Arkestra members, but even seasoned mainstays like John Gilmore, Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick probably took pause at the directive Ra gave for this storied 1966 session. Ra had accumulated a cache of stringed instruments of widely varying provenance. Like a cosmic cousin of Captain Walter Dyett, he instructed the band regulars to set their standard instruments aside for a stringed surrogate of their choosing. Ra's strategy yielded strikingly original sounds that virtually defy description. This Unheard Music Series CD does an earlier vinyl reissue better by including a bonus track from the following year as well as detailed liners by Milwaukee improviser and instrument-maker Hal Rammel. He comments astutely on the hows and whys, but it's the whats of the actual music that transfix.
The opener, "Worlds Approaching", is a violently churning space-cloud of horns, percussion and electric piano; it's striking enough, but sounds positively straightforward compared to the two-part title piece. One of Ra's goals was a music where individual egos were subsumed in the band's collective consciousness – a goal that the anonymity that results from having musicians play instruments they are unfamiliar with certainly fulfills. Boykins, the band's lone trained stringsmith, possesses a natural advantage, but the others turn in convincing, if elemental performances. The Arkestra members' percussion skills also come in handy for carving out protean rhythms on the strings. Waves of banshee harmonics emerge from a penumbra of clattering metal percussion on the primitive-sounding "Strings Strange". "Strange Strange", the suite's second part, evinces greater structure, with Boykins returning to his regular bass and Ra adopting a more discernable conductor's stance amidst another roiling tempest of hammering, plucking and scraping. The bonus cut "Door Squeak" is named after the sound-source featured on the track – yes, a squeaky door. As Sixties Arkestra artifacts go, this set even trumps the reverb-suffused proto-psychedelia of Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy in terms of its ability to rewire the your synapses.

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Tomas Korber / Christian Weber / Katsura Yamauchi
What is it about these Swiss guys and their cover art? After hatOLOGY's dismal cooling towers, silos and run-down apartment blocks, it seems For4Ears' Günter Müller has also fallen in love with the kind of "faceless modern architecture" our beloved future King Charles III loves to hate. We're not talking classy stuff like Mario Botta, Peter Zumthor, Herzog & de Meuron either, but the kind of anonymous office buildings you probably all pass by and think nothing of on your way to work every day. Or maybe even work in yourself, God help you. [Since this went to press Günter assures me that the buildings are in fact state-of-the-art Japanese architecture, so what do I know? Anyway, back to the review..-DW] There must be some good reason for Müller choosing these images over and above some kind of strange Swiss improv corporate branding, but I'll be damned if I can figure it out what it is. What I do know is that I'd be inclined to leave any disc that looked like this sitting forlornly in its bin in the record shop – and that would be a mistake, because Signal To Noise Vol.2 (not exactly a thriller of a title either, is it?) is magnificent. Recorded at YCAM Yamaguchi last March during a tour of Japan by Switzerland's Signal Quintet, Müller, Norbert Möslang, Jason Kahn, Tomas Korber and Christian Weber (and documented openly and honestly by Jason Kahn in these pages ), it finds Korber (guitar, electronics) and Weber (bass) joined by Katsura Yamauchi on sax (alto I think, though it's sometimes hard to tell). His low register moans and breathy hisses compliment Korber's darkly glowing drones and crackles and Weber's lugubrious bass to perfection in a typically introspective, austere pair of (untitled) tracks, on which Korber's impeccable textures draw the horizon line that holds the landscape together, Weber's gloomy thuds (track one) stand like solitary telegraph poles in a flat, brown field and Yamauchi's puffs and wheezes drift overhead like grey clouds from which recognisable pitches occasionally emerge like pale shafts of light. Yamauchi, a self-taught saxophonist who took up music full time only as recently as 2003 at the age of 50, is even more impressive here than he was on his fine IMJ duo Drache with Michel Doneda. The second track is more (in)tense, with Korber beaming blasts of white noise across the stereo space and Weber opting for sullen tremolos behind the saxophonist's imperturbable rustles and flutters. Korber's static splatters the surface of the music like raindrops smeared across the window of a train moving steadily forward into a vast, empty landscape under a stormy sky. For once, I find myself nostalgic for ECM cover art. Don't judge this one by its cover – use your ears.–DW

Jim Denley
"Recorded on a lone 15 day walk in the Budawang Mountains, Morton National Park, May 06", it says. So we're not talking Schwarzwaldfahrt here, where Han [Bennink] and Peter [Brötzmann] smashed hell out of the trees and plants in the Black Forest and then repaired to a local hostelry for a well-deserved libation (actually I have no idea at all it that's what they did but that album is so damn good they certainly deserved a few pints). There wasn't a bierstube anywhere in sight on the wild east coast of Australia, and Jim Denley was apparently chowing down on chocolate, nuts and vegemite. Chocolate and nuts I can deal with, but that vegemite is serious shit, and just swallowing it down an inevitable reminder of the harshness of human existence. So Through Fire, Crevice + The Hidden Valley is an intense affair, as the (for the most part) sustained tones of Denley's alto (whatever happened to that flute?) coexist – as opposed to interact – with the sounds of the forest. The distinction is crucial: environmental improv (i.e. recording away from the studio or concert hall, in nature or in another public space), of which Schwarzwaldfahrt is arguably the earliest example, either tends to treat the soundworld around it as a backdrop – the distant roar of traffic on the motorway behind Kuwayama and Kijima on 01.06.16 (trente oiseaux) and the birds and bees buzzing and chirping merrily away behind Carchesio and Craig's Leaves (Naturestrip) don't get in the way of what the musicians are doing – or consciously set out to engage it in dialogue. Martine Altenburger is really playing with those frogs on Grésigne (Ouie Dire); Jean-Luc Guionnet and myself happily tune in to the doors closing signal on Métro Pré Saint Gervais (Chloë). Naturally, there's an element of both involved whatever you do. It's hard to imagine anything other than stately contemplative tone painting coming out of an environment such as the one Denley chose to seek solitude in, "mountains full of dramatic and rugged rock formations, caves, crevices and a hidden valley – a wonderland of natural acoustics," he writes. "It's almost certain sax hasn't been heard there before." Indeed, but even in a wilderness area it's hard to avoid the hand of man. One of the album's most memorable moments is the drone of a Hercules troop carrier flying above. Gorgeous stuff – I hope Jim treated himself to a sixpack of Thirsty Dog when the vegemite ran out and he returned to civilisation.–DW

Axel Dörner, Toshimaru Nakamura
With the small corner of improvised music we have come to know as EAI being a somewhat insular world, It is perhaps surprising to learn that Vorhernach documents the first recording of Dörner and Nakamura together, two of the nascent genre's most respected musicians. Vorhernach translates vaguely as "before / after", with the individual track titles "Nachervor" and "Vornacher" playful variations on this theme. The choice of titles is interesting; do they refer to some kind of post-recording editing procedure (both tracks were mixed by each musician after the initial recording session took place in Berlin in Autumn 2005), or to the process of improvisation itself, with one musician following after the other? This second option seems unlikely as the music itself has an oddly disconnected feel to it. Dörner's trumpet is positioned at the front of the mix for much of the time, making sounds that feel like they have their own direction, separate from yet somehow complementary to his collaborator's contributions. Nakamura's no-input mixing board feedback collides with the trumpeter's trademark dry rasps and elongated hisses to great effect, yet also seems to live a life of its own, fluttering away in the shadows and waiting its chances rather than duelling upfront in the more traditional manner. The music unfolds in a manner that seems to ignore the listener; it exists outside of improvised music's traditional internal language, trading in tense, angular juxtaposition rather than flowing conversation. Its laminal construction – rather like two sheets of drawings on tracing paper lain over one another – recalls late period AMM: focused individuals separated from outside forces working in a very personal manner towards a shared goal. The result is two beautifully formed, beguiling pieces of music and a really great album.–RP

phono_phono is the single name adorning the sleeve of this intriguing release by the Berlin trio of Magda Mayas (piano, synth), Sabine Vogel (flutes, electronics) and Michael Renkel (guitar, electronics). The intrigue stems from the structure of the presented work; whilst it's clearly improvised to a large extent, and apparently recorded live, the music continually suggests some form of compositional arrangement is involved. The album consists of four lengthy pieces interspersed with three numbered "Interludes", the longest of which lasts just under three minutes. A sense I have of the music within each piece being divided into rough sections of activity, when combined with my reading of the somewhat confusing and unattributed notes at the Absinth website, suggests some kind of compositional direction at work, but this isn’t clear. It could just as well be result of three well-matched musicians very aware of each other’s playing. Irrespective of how it was created, the music more than adequately rewards any time and consideration devoted to it. Each piece works quite differently, using refreshingly different sounds throughout but always staying with a sense of calm, chamber-like intimacy. Across the seven tracks the considered, capacious music progresses slowly and carefully, remaining at the lower end of the volume scale throughout. The three "Interludes" act like starters before each main course, refreshing the aural palette with finely constructed little miniatures, each quite delightful, while taking their place in the overall construction. All three musicians are credited as playing both acoustic and electronic instrumentation, but the division between the two dissolves naturally throughout the disc. Both the sounds made and their placement alongside each other are exceptional, with a sense of delicate precision throughout.–RP

Ellen Fullman / Sean Meehan
Watching Sean Meehan play live is quite stunning. His drumkit is stripped down to the bare essentials, as he gently caresses dowel rods held vertically against cymbals resting on a single snare drum, the resulting vibrations forming clouds of droning sonorities whose pitch and intensity he controls with remarkable dexterity. Reports of Ellen Fullman's live performances suggest they are equally powerful occasions, as she walks between the stretched wires of her Long String Instrument, running her rosined hands along them to generate a flood of sound from the vibrating strings. The similarity of the sounds made by the two musicians and their austerity of presentation makes for an ideal combination, at least on paper. However, for the first two tracks of this release, their first CD together, the two musicians seem to overload one sonic area too much rather than complement each other. Rising and falling passages of mainly high register drones come and go quickly, merging into a continually changing stream of saturated sound. The musicians match each other's pitches skilfully, and one senses that the clashing overtones must be far more interesting live than they are on CD. Unfortunately, the end result is a cloying mass of sound that drifts in and out pleasantly but not all that interestingly, except for the last piece, on which Fullman steps back from the stormy seas of her playing on the earlier tracks to add gentle, distant colourings as Meehan coaxes a lower and somewhat darker hum into the room. It's much quieter, more restrained and a very beautiful indication of the deeper level of subtlety and fragility that this duo is obviously capable of.–RP

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Various Artists
I've already moaned about this term before, and I'm going to do so again. Kyle Gann coined it a while back to refer to the music he's so effectively championed in his fine writings for the Village Voice over the years (Lang, Gordon, Torke et al.) and I see it's been defined by someone over at Wikipedia as being "characterized by 1. a steady pulse, usually continuing throughout a work or movement; 2. a diatonic pitch language, tonal in effect but avoiding traditional functional tonality; 3. general evenness of dynamics, without strong climaxes or nuanced emotionalism; and 4. unlike minimalism, an avoidance of obvious or linear formal design." Well, that's pretty wide as definitions go, and by way of proof that nobody seems to understand what post-minimalism actually is, here are 17 pieces from four different countries – USA, China, France and Belgium – to confuse the issue even further. It's abundantly clear that all 19 composers (two of the pieces are collaborative efforts) have all grown up listening to the right stuff – Reich, Riley, Adams, Niblock, Branca, and probably Lang, Gordon and Torke too – but on the strength of the music they've dished up it seems none of them has figured out how to go very far beyond it. It's a sorry collection, ranging from the vapid and vacuous to the frankly hideous. I don't normally like reviewing compilations because there's never enough time or space to mention everyone who's taken part, and as a result I get irate emails from folks whose work I neglected to mention. That's hardly likely to be the case here, as I'll probably get irate emails from everybody.

We're talking second division here. Most things sound like pale imitations of something else you've already heard: Eric Schwartz's Thunk...A ghost story (the compilation couldn't have got off to a worse start) is sub-Bernard Herrmann, Steve Peters' Ancestral Memory sub-Pauline Oliveros, Nick Didkovsky and Kevin Gallagher's I kick my hand is sub-Doctor Nerve (yeah, yeah, I know it's Didkovsky's group to start with), Marco Oppedisano's Steel Sky is sub-Alan Licht (I'll take Rabbi Sky instead), Istvan Peter B'rack's Decantur is sub-David Darling and John King's Rubai.13 sub-Christian Wolff, frozen pitches with a bit of mucking about. Come back Walter Marchetti, all is forgiven. The more conventionally scored pieces – Ryan Brown's Banksy, Belinda Reynolds' Over and Out, and Dan Becker's Gridlock – are probably closer to what Gann would define as post-minimalism. But no matter how slick their orchestration is (you can thank John Adams for that, but he only copped his licks from Stravinsky and Prokofiev), there's no disguising the fact that none of them have any clear idea where they're going. These cats should sell off their Bang On A Can CDs and invest in some Stravinsky. At least Pierre-Yves Macé has an ear, but his elegant and mildly Feldmanesque Trio is over before it has a chance to properly reveal itself. The same could be said of Olivier Pé and Yannick Frank's Piragua and the attractive but slight Mercredi 19 janvier, 8h30 by Hervé Zénouda (whose idea this compilation is in the first place). Elsewhere, the two offerings from China, Yan Jun's Kitchen performance 2 and Fathmount's Rendering Harmonics are as forgettable as their titles, Dean Rosenthal's Underpinnings is more interesting to read about than it is to listen to – if you want to listen to maths try Tom Johnson – and the dreary feedback fuzz of Josh Millrod's Dracula Dreams is the perfect way to round off the whole sorry business. A real horror story.
If post-minimalism means anything at all, it simply refers to works written after minimalism, rather than pieces that attempt to go beyond minimalism. The only authentically post-minimalist music I know of is that being made by those brave souls who dare venture out into the great void of silence: the Wandelweiser Group, Taku Sugimoto, and precious few others. In a memorable intellectual sleight of hand, Jean-François Lyotard once came to the conclusion that postmodernism actually preceded modernism ("a work can only become modern if it is first postmodern", he wrote in The Postmodern Condition). But the pieces on this compilation will not, with time, become modern. They'll just simply be forgotten.

Klaus Lang
Editions RZ
Not much has been written about the music of the German composer Klaus Lang. His output, despite appearing on several established labels, seems somehow to fall outside of the radar of classical music journalism. It’s possible that this situation suits Lang, who ditches lengthy liner notes on his releases in favour of short questioning texts directed at the listener. In his notes to Einfalt.Stille, a beautifully crafted work for female voice, flute, percussion and viola, Lang poses questions about deep, almost transcendent listening, demanding a visceral rather than intellectual response from the listener through concentrated listening. Fortunately this is not a difficult task to undertake. The music is fantastically serene, formed in the main from loosely rhythmic cycles of calm, elongated notes and soft, carefully placed percussive strikes. The different instrumental and wordless vocal elements take turns coming to the fore as the piece progresses. One of the strengths of this music is its inability to be easily categorized: the gradually evolving patterns inevitably suggest Feldman pieces such as Rothko Chapel and For Samuel Beckett, yet the dry earthy nature of the playing and the repeated percussive interjections equally reference Lachenmann and Nono. Eastern philosophy is also a big influence on Lang, as are various forms of Early Music. His work on Missa beati pauperes spiritu, a reworking of the traditional mass that was released earlier this year (and criminally ignored by just about everyone) also seems to inform Einfalt.Stille. Forged from the simplest of materials yet avoiding the trappings of minimalism, showing restraint without denying emotion, Einfalt.Stille is a gentle, restful work designed to draw the listener into its rich melancholy and (to quote Lang’s notes) "achieve inner silence". Whether or not it is successful at this will depend on the individual listener, but it is certainly a stunningly beautiful piece of music either way.–RP

Annea Lockwood
"For me, the didjeridu is the sound of the earth's core pulsing serenely, and expression of life force." Lines like that and track titles like "the Chi stirs" might tempt the cynical old birds amongst you to reach for the bourbon and packet of smokes, but the breathtaking beauty of what Annea Lockwood does with the venerable instruments, along with conch shells, trombones, oboe, English horn, clarinets and percussion will have you putting them back on the shelf again and getting down in a Lotus position. Evolving organically from a partially improvised piece entitled Nautilus which the composer realised in 1989 with Art Baron and N. Scott Robinson, Thousand Year Dreaming is a 43-minute exploration of the virtuosity of the top-notch performers involved. In addition to Lockwood, Baron and Robinson, there's Libby Van Cleve (oboe and English horn, absolutely exquisite), Jon Gibson (didjeridu here), J.D. Parran (clarinets), Peter Zummo (trombone and didjeridu) and percussionists Michael Pugliese and Charles Wood. Quite how the piece was notated (though it is apparently fully scored apart from two improvised sections), or how Lockwood transmitted her ideas to the musicians isn't made clear in the notes, but it hardly matters: the timing is extraordinary, the sense of space masterly. The acoustic beats of the conch shells' microtonal inflections might recall Alvin Lucier, but the work's openness to melody – check out those trombones soaring through the harmonic series on "floating in mid-air"! – takes it out of the domain of Lucier's poetic experimentalism and situates it further to the East. Originally released on What Next back in 1993, and long out of print, its return to circulation is cause for celebration indeed. So maybe I'll reach for that bottle after all.
Filling up the CD is floating world, a three-part assemblage of field recordings from all over the world, from the wilds of Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand to the New York Public Library Reading Room, made by Maggi Payne, David Dunn, Larry Austin, Chris Mann, Sorrel Hays, Steve Peters, Ruth Anderson, John Cousins, Philip Dadson, Warren Burt and Brenda Hutchinson and on permanent loan to Lockwood, who has edited them together with consummate skill and terrific attention to detail.

Andrew Violette
"A seamless collage of obsessive virtuosity running no less than 75 minutes without a pause" is how the Innova press release describes Rave (rather well), before comparing Andrew Violette (b.1953 in NYC) to Buxtehude, Scarlatti (which one, I wonder?), Chopin, Liszt, Skryabin, Cecil Taylor and Fred Rzewski (you might add Charles Valentin Alkan too, since he's also apparently penned seven of the longest piano sonatas in history). It's unashamedly diatonic, full of crashing octaves and daring trills but it's hard to figure out where it's heading to, if anywhere at all. Violette thickens the plot by covering his late Romantic Hamburg Steinway CD147 with several layers of humid electronic moss, courtesy a Yamaha S90ES – played, as is the piano, by the composer himself – and electric and acoustic violin. Track titles like "Intro, Messiaen and the Sitar", "The Lost Puccini Aria", and "Dueling Chopin Etudes" give you some idea of what to expect. The end result is like your favourite albums by Rachmaninov, Liszt, John Adams (thinking Grand Pianola Music), Conlon Nancarrow, Liberace, early Vangelis and maybe even Astor Piazzolla, all played at the same time. That title is perhaps significant: raves are secret pilgrimages to obscure locations best appreciated when you are, in the words of the bard, "sorted for E's and wizz". Is this the way they say the future's meant to feel? / Or just 20,000 people standing in a field. / And I don't quite understand just what this feeling is. / But that's okay 'cause we're all sorted out for E's and wizz. / And tell me when the spaceship lands / 'cause all this has just got to mean something. / In the middle of the night, it feels alright, but then tomorrow morning. / Oh then you come down.–DW

Various Artists
Shame File
Apart from being the most significant release from Australian label Shame File, Artefacts Of Australian Experimental Music 1930-1973 represents one of the first serious investigations into the sparse recorded history of experimental sound practice in Australia. The opening Journey #1 by Len Lye collaborator Jack Ellitt is a perfect point of departure; it's a remarkable piece, at times reminiscent of Walter Ruttman but already addressing some of the major issues faced in Australian experimental sound composition, namely cultural and geographical isolation. As we move into the 50s and 60s, it's clear that international movements and significant contributions from European and American composers were resonating down under, in Bruce Clarke's Of Spiralling Why, Barry McKimm's Monotony for Eight Trumpets and Arthur Cantrill's soundtrack for Eikon. Concluding with a series of recordings from the early 1970s, including a wonderful edit from Keith Humble's opera And Tomorrow, Artefacts Of Australian Experimental Music 1930-1973 confirms that Australia has been home to a fertile, albeit disconnected sonic arts and experimental compositional community for decades. Accompanied by some fairly well-edited notes, this edition is a valuable resource for anyone with even a passing interest in the historical development of experimental sound work in Australia (or anywhere else for that matter), and opens the way for others to dig deeper and uncover more about the subject.–LE


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Various Artists
Sonic Arts Network
I wish I could afford to pay people to write for this rag, because I'd happily make out monthly cheques to David Cotner without a moment's hesitation; anyone who compares the experience of listening to an album to being rearended on a Los Angeles freeway is all right by me. But it's been a while since he sent anything my way (sniff), and in any case it looks like he's got his work cut out running HertzLion – one of the best online new music info bulletins I know of – and writing his regular columns for the L.A. Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Signal To Noise. PT's loss is Pete G's gain, you might say. And curating albums like this one for the London-based Sonic Arts Network. Cotner's problem though (and I sympathise) is that he just knows too much goddamn music: by trying to put as many people as possible on his disc he's ended up spreading himself too thin. 25 tracks on one CD means an average duration of just over three minutes per piece – hence the title of Cotner's own offering – and also means he's often had to settle for excerpts instead of complete pieces. But cats like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Eddie Prévost are long distance runners, and soundbites just don't cut it. Especially when the Prévost piece is "Entelechy", the whole idea of which is about pushing it to the limit, playing the tam tam with a battery-powered electric beater which runs out of juice after an amazing (or agonising, depending on your point of view) half hour. And a mere 2'52" of Kraig Grady's Beyond The Windows, Perhaps Among The Podcorn is frustrating to say the least – thankfully the entire work has just been released on Transparency and is well worth checking out. There's a healthy dose of Krautrock (well, sort of) on offer, from a snippet from Cluster & Eno's "One" (1977) to Conrad Schnitzler's "Solo Electrics 00/356 No.9", which comes along with an explanatory text that takes about as long to read as the piece itself lasts, and offerings from two different line-ups of Faust, both equally forgettable, one with Hans Joachim Irmler, the other with Jean-Hervé Péron extracted from a 2006 studio session produced by Nurse With Wound's Colin Potter and Steven Stapleton, whose mythic Nurse List still remains a benchmark of Otherness for record collectors the world over (if anyone still collects records anymore).
And that's apparently what it's all about. Otherness, which Cotner describes as an "in-betweenness [..], the touch of fog at the seaside that's almost substantial enough to be felt and held in one's hand [..], the errant page of pornography found on a tree branch in the wilderness." When the first Nurse album was released, and Master Cotner was still running around in short pants, Otherness meant Weird. Fucking weird. Weirder the better. Nowadays there's so much weird shit around it's not even weird anymore. Recording yourself throwing up in a metal bucket, sticking a contact mic on the hard drive of your laptop, sitting in front of an audience with your guitar and doing practically bugger all and then releasing it as a double live album seems to be par for the course. So maybe Otherness nowadays means sounding like something you've already heard. One imagines the track by Dissonant Elephant was chosen for the otherness of its haiku lyric, instead of its music (very 70s) but as my Japanese is non-existent I can't say for sure, and David-san doesn't provide a translation, even though there is room for a huge essay by Michael Prime on his work recording bioelectrical signals from mushrooms (a good read but wholly out of proportion considering we only get to hear 2'47" of the things in action – get yourself a copy of L-Fields instead). It's all very agreeable stuff, from the gentle gurgles of Kallabris to the pretty cold blue (make that Cold Blue) drones of Lovely Midget and the pleasant tinkle of Robert Haigh, but maybe you need to ingest some of Prime's psychotropic fungi to find the Otherness in it all. Oddly enough, the track that sounds freshest to these tired ears, Stockhausen's 3x Refrain 2000, seems to be a version of a piece written back in 1958, when even David Cotner's dad was probably still running around in short pants. Still, one of the nice things about a compilation album is that it allows you to discover new work by people you've never heard of, and on the strength of this I'm curious to hear more from Indian Jewelry, Ramleh and Sedayne – and from David Cotner himself. Drop me a line, bubba.

Blossoming Noise
Since I've ditched the usual "Electronica" rubric for this issue to accommodate the above-reviewed Cotner bash, I've had to look round for other recent arrivals that might quality as "other", in some way. Depending on how wide you're prepared to open the doors of perception through the use of various substances, these three slabs of "psychedelic space music" courtesy Hiroshi Hasegawa might just qualify. Hasegawa, who, the Blossoming Noise website reminds us, is (was?) a member of "the legendary Japanese noise outfit C.C.C.C." (why are all Japanese noise outfits "legendary"?), seems to have beamed back thirty years to the glory days of the analog synthesizer, the machine in question being an EMS Synthi-A, hooked up to various effects boxes and ring modulators. There are three extended tracks, the most convincing being the closing "Shine On You Crazy Crystal Machine" (about the title, the less said the better, perhaps). It's all pretty, trippy, eminently listenable swoops and gurgles, reverbed to death (Jac Berrocal would love it), and, if you're blitzed out of your mind on hallucinogenic drugs, maybe even profound, but from where I'm sitting in sober (this morning) middle age there's more otherness in two minutes of a Sun Ra Moog solo than an hour of Astral Orange Sunshine.–DW

Unknown Mix/Headz
Ito Atsuhiro's Optrum project began as a solo venture involving an inexplicable assault of light and sound flung from his Optron instrument. Utilising an oscillating fluorescent tube, Ito fluctuates voltage creating a flickering that is matched only by Japan's numerous strobing mangas for its ability to bring on epileptic seizures. Combining this visual disorientation with a blaring amplified feed from the instrument, an Optrum concert is a kind of twisted yet overtly pleasurable torture session, senses pushed to the very limit. With Shin Yoichiro on drums, Optrum assumes a brutal hardcore quality, a sound owing as much to punk rock as it does to noise. Ito's Optron has developed also, taking on a far more bruising acoustic aesthetic which, in combination with live drums, creates a formidable and elastic sound palette. "TOMAHAWKWINDOW" with its double kick loaded drum patterns is a wonderful exercise in acoustic erasure: the drums, though they're clearly being given a solid beating, are consumed by Ito's emissions which sponge up any free spaces in the mix. As visual as Optrum might be – see the lovely insert card – sonically they also convey genuine presence and state of intent, as revealed by the diversity of texture on offer here.–LE

Evolving Ear
Well, if this isn't otherness, I dunno what is. For quite some time now Fritz Welch, usually in the company of his fellow peeesseye pals Chris Forsyth and Jaime Fennelly, has been producing the musical equivalent of his own found object sculptures, a hilarious and confusing blend of sounds, acoustic / electronic, live / sampled (stolen might be more accurate), idiomatic / non-idiomatic and even plain idiotic. Here he's teamed up with Ian Christe to provide "foregrounds and backgrounds, drums, unnatural ringing, whistles, chants and unprepared guitars" on a dozen tracks of divine madness, full of deliciously cretinous post rock thrash, wailing feedback and Welch's distinctive eternally falling-apart drumming. Not quite sure if the cover art is supposed to be a portrait of The Artistes Themselves (actually that's a damn lie – unless Fritz has sprouted a beard since I last tried to drink myself under the table with him after the opening of his one-man show here in Paris) but the colour coordination between the dirty pink skirt and the headless penis is, well, delightful. This is one of those records whose cover yells out BEWARE (would you trust a group whose name you can't even pronounce? – as the French say, à consommer sans aucune modération.–DW

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Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic