Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mike Olson: Incidental

Another release from Henceforth, further undermining my characterisation of them as a jazz label: let's call it modern eclectic.

For this album by
Mike Olson, I want to do something unusual in a music review - put in a spoiler alert. When I finally got round to listening to this, I hadn't read the liner notes or PR material. It struck me as a complex ensemble work - horns, woodwind, drums, guitars, vocals, keyboards, strings - which slithered and moved around. Then I read how it had been made, and it revealed a whole new perspective - what had already impressed now amazed. Because the whole work (45 minutes) is an assemblage. Each musician was recorded separately, playing a score (verbal and graphic gestures), and Olson cut, selected, manipulated, layered and combined these pieces to form the 6 Incidental tracks. The method reminded me of John Wall, but the outcome is quite different. rather than the minimal pieces Wall works with, Olson has taken full units and combined them. It is a seamless construction and the knowledge was a little like the reformatting of the your understanding the whole that comes at the end of a movie like Sixth Sense or The Others.

And while sometimes method trumps outcome, in this case the outcome is well ahead. Olson called the music as Incidental as it reminds him of that form - 'written to reinforce visual activity ... the music sounds like action to me'. You could also say it is composed from incidents which have been brought together.

The feel is of experimental freeform jazz - there are fluttering woodwinds and some squonking brass. But there are also lovely strings - creating a foreceful opening, or orchestrated beautifully in Incidental 3 - driving drum percussion, guitar. And voices - soft, processed, laughing. Some periods remind me of Zappa, others are tonal ambience, while the fragmented origin is also heard in some passages of super-human playing. The shift between active and at times aggressive playing (4 has some NINish elements) and ambient passages is handled dexterously, and the narrative of each track reinforces the filmic element that Notes in the liner (6, for example, starts quietly, builds a rocky fusion middle before easing into an ambient final section). And like a good filmscore separated from its visual home, this is music that makes you take notice and listen - to the skill of both players and composer.

An exciting release.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Little Fyodor - Peace is boring

The resurrected &etc has, for the last few months, eschewed images. This has mainly been laziness, compendium reviews where there would be too many images, and a desire for a cleaner line. Little Fyodor demands a picture - he is a persona of Dave Lichtenberg, who has been making music for a while (thanks wikipedia), and the look is indicative of the music. This is the cover of Peace is Boring - on the website there are also many photos, and the the impression is of someone doing their best to look wacky/zany/nerdish. Anyway, this album from Public Eyesore (PE111) fits with their history of being a broad church which offers an outlet for 'outsider' art (not sure if Fyodor is, or is role playing, the outsider status)
Anyway, the music's the thing...
The album opens with a rewriting of Both sides now - Death sides now which is taken into dark places with subtle orchestration. The voice is strange - a strangled, twisted things that jumps around: perhaps Weird Al taken to another level? From here the voice is matched by the music, a hooky driving punkish rock drive, over which Fyodor's singing runs amok. The titles of songs suggests the lyrical direction: All my clothes are uncomfortable, Everybody's sick (which lists all the people/things that are sick), Cruising (bummer scene) (again with a darker tone to the music, but without obvious lyrical relationship to the title), Death wish (antiwar).

On a number of songs he is joined by Babushka (who also plays keyboards) - a cover of Open up your heart (and let the sunshine in), The god gripe song (which segues from Wonderful world to a list of things god's got wrong, such as why did you make the mosquito) and the canonical Boots. First time I listened I thought that the strangled female vocals was another Fyodor personality - but there are pictures of the Babushka on the web site and on the inner cover: but it still sounds like him to me.

The musicianship on the album is excellent - there are touches of synth and processing (in the closing sing-a-long, for example), and the band rocks out some very nice pop/rock. The songs have great hooks and it is quite a catchy album - all you have to do is accept the extreme melodramatic, strained vocals. Which can be worth it as it is really a fun album.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Scuff Mud: Eckhard Gerdes & Shelf Life

OK - the last of the current Shelf Life/Bryan Day related releases. This one is out through JEF (the Journal of Experimental Fiction, edition 36) which is curated by Gerdes, a writer of a number of novels. On the album Gerdes reads 15 pieces to a Shelf Life background (who are Bryan Day, Joseph Jaros, Alex Boardman, Andrew Perdue, Jay Schleidt on this outing).

I haven't read any of Gerdes writing, but the selection here is excellent for this medium. There is variety between pieces which depend on rhythms and rhymes, extended stories and dislocating word play through substitution. For example, z. buzz is full of word mastications, woodwork uses construction terms in a salacious double entendre, uh hunh uses a blues tick at the line ends, blues for osiris is a rhymed retelling of the Egyptian myth. Lists and repetition occur, rhymes can be almost McGonagallian (a compliment). His voice is mellow and rounded, carrying the material with gravitas, particularly when at its most amusing silliest. Even if you don't listen to the words the timbre and cadences are musical. And the material is memorable - when I replayed it after some time when I got to the story new president I was sure I had read it somewhere. This is also the longest track (7 minutes) of a short (45 minute) 15 tracker. There is even a seeming structure to the set, from the opening description of a desert image in a couple of starts to the closing surreal dream in adam among the elephants in the Sonoran desert.

As to the music, this is my favourite Shelf Life to date - on a number of scores. The instrument range is the broadest - including flute, voice, guitar, twanging things, electronics, percussion, samples, trombone and probably more. And the constraint of short pieces (I am not sure if these were specifically recorded or are excerpts from longer works) provides a perfect platform for appreciating the SL-sound. The setting on new president is relatively restrained allowing the story to flow, while snark is noisy which suits the l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e abstraction of the poem. At times the music develops with the words: wouldn't you know builds from shimmering electronics into jittery guitar as what was a seeming narrative goes into abstraction and then a sequence of past tense extrapolations (band is the past tense of bane); or the growth of industrial tones around the nonsense of the title track. A few times (most obviously in woodwork, but also wouldn't you know) there are voice samples which, through their restraint, enhance the mood.

I am not a great one for spoken-word albums, but the words and music are equals here - and that indeed the music provides a way into the words which would be less accessible on the page - providing a very satisfying audio experience.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roden iTunes

Idly typed Roden into the iTunes search box the other week, and was surprised to find that some items came up: for some reason I hadn't put the two together in my mind. (Maybe he'll start ping!ing soon :))

A coupleof full albums:
Airforms: a 56 minute drifting piece with layers of ringing tones, soft crackles and vinylish jumps, humming that drift in and around the soundspace. Designed for an installation, it is like the accompaniment for a satellite as it slides off into space, for Major Tom after the song ends, playing into the eternity of darkness between the stars. This is one of the recordings where Roden asks us to listen at a low volume level to underscore that these were works designed to accompany an environment, and that your current environment would do just fine (I have just listened again on a walk with my dog through some of our country roads); and that the lack of narrative structure is part of the aesthetic aims of the piece. Play it loud, soft; dip in, out - understated beauty. (This is out of print so good to see here).

With Kahn, Roden took up one of the Brombron residences at Extrapool to create a collaborative disk (shimmer/flicker/waver/quiver). A recycled review - This is an album of contrasts: the first track has a hissy drone, bubbling, washes over which high sines and soft echoes ply, gradually increasing density before dropping to modulating white noise and tones with deep sounds within. Then the second has an intense rising/falling ringing sweeping from ear to ear, percussive bass taps and morse signals & ringling in, but it is the tone which dominates before dropping out for some percussion in the last minute. Track three reminded me of Harold Budd's broody desert pieces, low rumbling, clicks, hollow bells, soft whispering dust extended over some time. Then followed by another more intrusive piece, hissing and resonant gongs, chopped, phased and echoed, bleeps and scapes in, burring. Next, very minimal white vent noise, pulsing, squeaky tones in, developing a beat, swirling. Then finally a soft burring ring, high tone -a forest at night - distant tones, static. A collaboration that explores new and interesting (intense) ground.

And the Mem1 compilation from a few blogs ago, and then some other bits and pieces:

Cosmic Debris Vol2 is part of a series of split disks between My Cat Is An Alien and whoever. Roden offers 2 tracks: E-bows and Rainbows pairs skittery swirling radio signals with e-bow drone tones that pulse and grow, with a vibrato that develops over time. The guitar is also plucked, and the slow sequence of notes is like a frozen melody. Thirteen minutes of evolving Roden. My dog is a yufo reveals another new side - a gentle, picked melodic guitar over a sample of 'It's working' in a scratchy distant voice. The voice disintegrates away to a new solo, combining strums and picking, with white noise hisses of a sample. The guitar simplifies and the sample returns. The track ends, then returns with hissy quiet tune which could be thumb piano or guitar.

Sleppet is a fairly expensive compilation of soundworks which is best described in Mrac Behrens album of the same name Sleppet originated from a sound art project in 2007, when six renowned artists — Natasha Barrett, Bjarne Kvinnsland, Steve Roden, Chris Watson, Jana Winderen and Marc Behrens — recorded sounds on a 10-day trip through the Norwegian Westlandet region and used the nature experience for a couple of sound installations and music pieces. 9 of the tracks are available individually, so I bought Three Landscapes, Pt. II (A Waterfall for Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson), a nine minute work. The natural origin is foregrounded with a distant buzzing (the waterfall?), clattering and scrapes, some quite watery. Into this an organ drone/tone intrudes, filling the middle section, then fading in the last minute leaving the nature samples. Some of the most upfront natural sounds in one of his works.

From what I can tell, Mika Sasaki creates short melodies using a mobile phone's 'musical' possibilities and Memories of Sasaki San contains some of these and remixes by a range of names. My Sea / Mice See is Roden's offering - a 3 minute gem. White noise cycles from ear to ear, chimes ring over it (the phone tones), a deep throb vibrates through, then halfway though his voice in chopped up phonemes singing and whispering (mice might be in there). A strange menacing air here.

These tracks see Roden stretching out, trying new developments and are fascinating addition to the oeuvre.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

jeffrey roden: bridge to the other place

I have reviewed some of Jeffrey Roden's previous works - here on the blog. He plays bass guitar, solo.

In the backlog pile is (was, now) his Bridge to the other place, a set of 25 tracks averaging just over 2 minutes each. In the liner text he says he wanted to reduce (his) own work to the elemental and essential text. The result is a simply beautiful work - with both meanings of simple. The work is meditative, ambient inducing a contemplative mood in the auditor, suggested by track titles such as vigil, steps in deliberation, the voice that carries, oh god, acquiesence and more.

The slow travel of the notes recorded live, are like musical steps taken by a pilgrim, which occasionally break into a short dance, or move in unexpected directions, not detracting from the objective but rather adding depth and light to the journey. The album is recorded to allow the resonance of the notes and guitar to glow, and suggests that the decay was one aspect feeding into the composition.

You can sample a couple of tracks at Big Tree Music, and purchase the album. I recommend having a listen because this is a gorgeous album: and like the trend in slow food and living, we should find time for slow music that grows and develops carefully and thought(provoking)ful(ly).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Preslav Literary School - 4 releases

A couple of years ago I looked at 3 of Preslav Literary School's (Adam Thomas) releases (here) and now 4 more. A mix of downloads and a vinyl release.

Aura (amp046): Originally recorded for a dance performance it includes "a piano piece..., the words of Carlos Fuentes, odd environmental recordings, elements taken from decaying magnetic tape, and various other forgotten and untitled audio materials". The results is a delightful 3 act piece with an epilogue. The first (and third) partfeature the piano piece, possibly slowed and manipulated, loops from Fuentes (who has a high, almost feminine voice) and bursts of crackles which could be applause. The central section has metallic drones and minimal drones, with a developing percussive loop. The voice part returns with the piano before the scraping and twangclatter, tone fade out. Slightly melancholic, but more gentle relaxed, a lovely composition.

Beautiful was the time: is a layering of fragments from over 100 cassette tapes. John the Exarch starts with a noisy crackle then settles down to backward instruments and voices, a soft talking in the background, and seems to slowly wind down, becoming a drifting pulse. Crackling again, and a fast pulse, opens Ohrid must die - building with birds whistles, voices and breakfast crackling, shifting to pulsing layers of varying speeds, a dog barks, music loops within and clattering pans and voices intrude towards the end. Funereal music opens Cyrillic, singing voices and other music drifts around, and a more gentle mood, reminiscent of Aura, envelops. Voices chattering at the end dispel the mood and close the album, with a satisfying reflection of the sampled origin. These pieces contain a strong narrative and subtle use of the original material, rather than being simple cutandpastes.

In Fractals: is a more straightforward composition. There are three minimalist drone pieces: as the name suggests, there are subtle changes throughout which you don't notice until you realise the balance or beat has changed - plus there are some strategic changes. The title track has a drone, a pulsing white noise and a subtle minimal melody; Sierpinski Triangle starts with a distantsounding hurdygurdy tone (or orchestral sample or ...), phasing in and out, but becoming clearer, a tuvan-drone, all rising as a martial beat seems to develop, but sounding like an underwater masterpiece. And finally Last One Standing is a mellow ceremonial layering of drones and pulses that weave in and out, some backwards shimmery and ringing parts, and like the others slowly build/changes/develops. Classical minimal drone works.

Echolalia: this is the concert result of a tapeloop workshop held late last year on how to make and play cassette tape loops. 11 people were involved and the result reflects this diverse 'band' - each side consists of a series of moments where different loops take a solo, supported by background work, running for about 3 minutes before segueing into the next piece. The tapes range from snatches/slices of voices, songs, instruments, percussions, tones, backwards versions of all the previous; and while there may be 11 players, there seem to be about 4 or 5 layers maximum. A surprising and satisfying aspect is that it was mixed and mastered as it was played live, with no extra overdubs, by the cult Berlin dubstep producer Lord Cry Cry (Blunt Force Trauma): the two sides work so well, flowing seamlessly while maintaining a mood, which is very impressive - you might have expected a mess! And there is a difference between the two sides - Side B seems to have more vocal and musical elements to me - and they each end on a single sample: A on some ethnic-inflected rock and B on a worrying how-to-hunt-elk tape.

This is a fascinating body of work - the thought of tapeloops can sometimes be daunting, but PLS whether solo or with his collaborators on Echolalia, manage the layering editing and selection to produce sounds which are intriguing, seductive and musical. In addition, you don't have to buy before you try - all can be previewed/streamed as linked or on soundcloud, and all but Echolalia are available as free/paywhatyouthink downloads. A very generous gesture - I must admit to having reviewers soft-versions, but the real life releases look like they would be well worth getting.

(now, I have to get preslav sprout out of my mind)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paul Kelly A-Z and more apps

OK - a short geeky iPhone post while the music matures - there's a few reviews on the boil - promise.

Some years ago &etc readers were alerted to the fact that Paul Kelly, Australian singer/songwriter, was giving away an alphabet of live songs monthly (ie the first month's songs all had titles beginning with A, then B etc) from a stripped-down concert series. Not a fan, but I collected them to get to know the music - slightly older than him, his music has been around the airwaves (jj to jjj) and on Countdown etc. Well now the set has been released as a box of CDs The A to Z recordings (somewhat different to the downloads, there are variations between the 2 sets, and the management company tell me that songs are different versions or remastered). Also there is a book How To Make Gravy - for each song a short piece, which might be about the song, could be a memoir or just about music, or all of the above. And there is also an App: you get the text of the book, which is as expected, but also the program can survey your iTunes library and select versions of the song you are reading about and you can play them at the same time (there are also some chapters available as readings by Kelly, and you get the first six songs free). A nice integration of the formats. The music is great, the writing is engrossing and the flexibility is nice (the iPhone is a hell of a lot easier to carry round than the book!) As I said, I wasn't a Kelly fan, but the downloads have brought me to the book & I'll be adding some full group albums to my collection too as he is a fabulous wordsmith as well as being a great Aussie singer/musician.

Other Apps I use regularly
The three from Brian Eno's Opal group: Bloom, Air and Trope - great as either ambient background or 'instruments' to play with, and they have a pleasant generative vision as well. Each has a different sound palette.
FutureAcoustic: I am not sure about the noise-cancelling impact of these, but FutureSound and SoundCurtain are more nice ambient aleatoric pieces. The first uses soundworks created by various artists (including Scanner) to create soundworlds, the second is more related to natural ambient sounds. (Scanner's Whisper is available as a free 'single')

I don't make music but sometimes amuse myself by making noises or playing musical instruments
Balls and Soundrop- two programs that use gravity to knock balls against walls to make sounds, Balls is more complex
Bebot - a touch pad synth that takes up to four fingers and has some great presets - theremin, powerPWM, looper, the eponymous Bebot (sounds like a robot) and more and programable
Ellatron - there are cut down versions of this but go for the full one. Has mellotron samples so you can do King Crimson and more
Beatwave - one of many versions of the sweeping-across-a-field-of-dots synths, this one has four layers plus a randomiser so can become another aleatoric ambient maker

MyFry - Stephen Fry's latest memoir, bought for the iPhone mainly because of the cool interface (plus I wanted to read it anyway)
Instapaper - fantastic for getting those interesting on-line articles which you don't have time to read onto a format where yo can read them at your leisure. Have a website with suggested articles, and also try for more (you don't need the app to use the sites to find articles of course)
McSweeney's - a diversion. Everyday you get a selection of short pieces of humourous writing, but also some more serious columns (this is free). And then each week a longer piece such as an interview, short story, novel extract, longer piece. These can have related images (such as the article on Kristina in Copenhagen) or be songs, short films or spoken text. You could say aleatoric downloads.

I won't bore you with my few games or news apps (though I suggest getting the Guardian before they go subscription)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

2 by shelf life

Shelf Life, reviewed at various times by ampersand, is a protean improv group with Bryan Day and Joseph Jaros as something of a core (on one of the discs here) but expanding to 4: Luke Polipnick and Anderson Reinkordt (on t'other): Bryan is the constant who has been providing the material to me. Both discs were recorded in Lincoln, Nebraska: presumably live, though at times the density suggests production. Instruments are not named but feature guitars and percussion, and from the photos on Ember's blog it is obvious that Bryan is constructing instruments (like Boe's laptops) of things to strike, pluck and tap.

Courtesy is released by psychedelic oscillator - and there are three tracks: morning, afternoon and evening parlance. The first scrapes and clatters, an occasional plucked note and some feedback; a bit of drums, patters and squirls, becoming more dense before the end. The afternoon track has more space and is more spacey - with echoing processed guitar, voices in there, clattering and percussive, electronic swirls and tones: guitary guitar, throbs and a more gentle release. These two tracks are over 20 minutes each, while the final one is about 8 minutes. It skitters and clatters with woody percussion, quite a percussive track as it bangs and clatters, gongs and drums, cycling through before a gong announces the end.

There are two tracks on Protection (released by the counter submarine: Pink A and B which are divided into sections. You can hear subtle changes at the index points. This is an ambient noise work: when you turn it back on after a break you realise the volume and density. It is in a constant flux between chaos and control, noise and focussed sound. Tones and thrums appear throughout, clattering and percussion, bells and hissing, guitars plucked and scraped. In Pink A there is a hint of a suggestion of voices that comes and goes - is it the brain picking out voices from uncertainty? It is deep in the mix and appears fading up and down. With Pink B it is more obvious that the samples or radio playing are part of the work as they are much closer to the surface and more consistent (there is some Conet in there too). Both parts move nicely between the densest attack into periods of quieter delivery, becoming ambient at times (both quieter ambient but also the dense ringing shimmering tonality that approaches that state from the other end).

Ok, both albums are undescribable in their details, but are intense working within the structure of the two group forms. I like the more open space of Courtesy, but then the dense attack of Protection is exciting. And then, to confirm my listening, i played them again today and it was the other way round and the electronics of Protection grabbed me!

Probably both are too intense to necessarily sit and listen all though, but they are well worth listening to, or as a busy ambience. I have formed the construction not(un)es to characterise them, for what it's worth!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We can be heroes - from the sublime to the ridiculous

Releases from three of my musical heroes bring to my comments on the commodification of music.

For someone born in 1955 in the UK, the Beatles were a formative musical force. I preferred them to the Stones, my first single was Love me do/ps I love you; early albums were christmas presents. I remember other music from the time (yeah yeah) but they were indeed the titans. I didn't have a favourite but John was just there in the seventies and I can remember where I was when I heard he was dead. I didn't have all the albums - a tape of sometime in NYC was as much of that as I wanted! Ono's strategy of birthday remasters/rereleases seem somewhat mercenary to me, but meet the fans needs I suppose (though the citroen episode was out of order to my mind). Anyway, I was trolling bigpond music and found the box set of 11 disks for $16. Snapped it up: a week later it was properly priced at $180. I love the music (even NYC) but would never pay that much. Power to the people!

Then I heard that Brian Eno has a new album coming out (previews all over the web, such as here). A true musical hero, who together with Fripp and Bowie re/shaped my adult musical landscape. And tempting me is a $100 box which has the album (plus 4 additional tracks) on cd and vinyl plus a print in a lovely box (there is a 250 super-collectors edition). And what surprises and disturbs me is that I am thinking about it.

It's not that I am against music-objects: on my wall are the prints that came with Before and After Science (free with the LP) and some posters for Fripp-soundscapes signed. Among my prized possesions are a Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues original edition (once again, many thanks Terry). But I think even more special are the truly limited editions - my collection of Taming Power cassettes and vinyl; Steve Roden limited edition cds sent to me by him; disks that people have burned for me (IDX1274 for example); everything from Dorobo because I knew Darrin; my copies of The Humument (OK, books - include my complete set of Scripsi here too, or some art catalogues); and yes, those Eno prints. Then there are the albums that have personal connections - where i got them, who gave them to me (including free through reviewing such as eM, Soundician, Kucharz, Accretions etc), others 'cause I like the look of them (box sets, or special releases). And then, heavens to betsy, ones where I like the music!

And when it comes down to the line, the music is the thing.

So it is where I have some personal investment that the value is there - rather than buying something which has been produced primarily to create an objet which is a draw for investors. I'd get the print framed, but would never play the vinyl, and OK 4 extra tracks - no I don't think so. I understand the $$ imperative as the download culture grows, but it disturbs me. And if I did have money, actual objet d'art would be my desire: I would love to own a Roden or a page of the Humument or something by an artist I love.

I think this has been my way of talking myself out of thinking of buying it! Confused and confusing - my mind processes, writing out loud.

To end, Bowie has released the anniversary Station to Station - remastered and with a double live album from the time that has apparently been widely bootlegged. Only a small price premium, but an addition which is good for the music lover and collector.
(UPDATE: found out the price is about twice normal, plus there is a deluxe version with vinyl, surround sound mix, badges etc etc for $166..ah well
update 2: from the Pitchfork review my first thought was whether the relentless fetishization of the physical product does the content within any favors. )

(ps - if there is anyone from Warp reading this, I can send you my address for a review copy....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mem1 +1

Mem1 is Mark Cetilia on electronics and Laura Cetilia on cello and electronics (home site here with free downloads). They have an album on Interval which came to me by way of Steve Roden - it is a series of collaborations, one of which is with him.

Overall the album plays with variations of scritchy electronics/processing and cello (plucked, bowed, scratched) and also some dronetones from the instrument, which is also evident from the material on the website. The Cetilia's create delicate and intriguing soundscapes that are attractive and engaging in their own right. Each of the tracks on the album develops from this general mood into distinct pieces but it is the ones which moved in unexpected directions which really caught my attention: but I'll mention each to give you some idea of the collaborators.

Jan Jelinek has some deep long tones which form the bed for shimmering cello: the piece with Ido Govrin is beautiful as delicate long tones are introduced over more processing and microloops. The addition of some field recordings by AreaC is subtly moving.

There is a dark intensity to the brooding track with RS-232, with deep throbbing electronics. Frank Bretschneider adds beats and percussive effects to a ringing exciting piece. Edgy and then bubbly, Kadet Kuhne; long tones under clattery, scraping with Jen Boyd: neither of these two display a distinct personality.

Jeremy Drake has bird like calls in a mysterious work that is threatening and builds quite noisily. And finally a work by Roden which adds a tentative tone to the crackling scrape, a buzz which is quite moanlike and some percussive plucking: and then about half way through a pounding chanting sample which is looped and the whole thing is speeding before easing to a crackling and then a voice-loop that is like a vinyl run off: despite my bias, this struck me as the most interesting track.

When I first got this album I didn't really pay it much attention - but listening through it a few times now I am impressed and attracted to its subtlety and beauty. It is not a disk that throws itself in your face but one which offers a lot of pleasure and depth with repeat listening.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dither: Dither

"Dither is an electric guitar quartet based in New York City" says the cover of their selftitled album from Henceforth. Basically jazz label (well - to my mind jazz, which includes lots of improv stuff) so you expect a jazzy improv quartety stuff.

Tongue of thorns opens with some ambient drones then bursts into a noise-rock drone with layering of bowed guitar, string play and drumming which I assume is knocking on the body, then in the last 2 minutes one guitar screams then shifts into sliding. This is not what you expected. Have a look at the cover - these are pieces written for quartet, only one by one of the members. So we are looking at a 'classical' quartet, modern and varied. Which the rest of the album demonstrates.

Vectors shifts between twangy loose picking, where different guitars (based on the sound placement in the auditory field - this is a lovely produced album) create a melody alternate with strumming, the volume increases and decreases and there is a shift between stasis and excited variation. The in-house composition Pantagruel is closer to my expectations and reminded me of Guitar Craft albums in the picking/tuning, but there a interruptions of feedback swizzing, some frippery sounds, atonal but melodic.

There are four parts to Cross-sections: Entropion has picking moving melodies, rapid soft cycles that emphasise the players skills and provide solo opportunities; a more effects playing with crackling, pops, feedback, bending tones and drones in Aphonia; some gorgeous playing, frippertronic inserts and shifting density in Prolix and a simple buzzing and picked playing in Venial.

A rocking, noisey wall of sound eases to dense but identifiable notes before rebuilding in the exciting closer exPAT.

A stunning album - literally and figuratively. It completely avoided my expectations and offers a stunning insight into what can be done in a 'classical' quartet format with modern instruments. Another adjective - thrilling.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ember Schrag

Among the backlog I am clearing are a fair few releases from Brian Day (Public Eyesore, Eh?, shelf life). Ember Schrag is a singer songwriter from Nebraska and the Day connection is that: he designed her first 'official album' A Cruel Cruel Woman (on Lone Prarie Records); she now has an EP on Eh?; he has curated some shows at her Clawfoot House in Lincoln; and he is on a tour with her (nice blog with lots of pics here).

In common with most of the stuff I get from him, this is unpredictable - in this case a beautiful, intense, enjoyable album of songs.

Ember (vocals, guitar, glockenspiel) is supported by Gunter Voelker throughout on lead guitar, bass, drums and background vocals, and there is piano and cello on a couple of other tracks.

The sound is what I will call a type of country - acoustic guitar driven with the voice given primacy. Upbeat, opener Cupid's Bloom is a catchy toetapper, followed by a slower Two Suns. As you listen the poetry and word play of the lyrics shines, and the guitar solos are unobtrusively skillful. The cello on Nobody Can Tell adds its warm tone to sweet sad song (I feel like there's an ocean between us/ You're like a homeland for me, I'm like a refugee).

More cello and melancholy on Dark Lion Lover includes some variation in the vocal work (sort of yodeling but not) and quiet effects at the end - an interesting twist. There is a biblical theme to the strong narrative of The Philistine, and here I first noticed the subtle background vocals which add depth to the chorus - nicely understated. And again in the aptly named Sad, Sad Song with cello and piano and a sweet vocal solo.

In this short album (29 minutes - but see previous post) full of highlights, my favourite track is Iowa. It has minimal, concrete and abstracted lyrics that have a powerful mystery (I could sing about addiction/ I could sing about destructive love/ or I could sing about a red-winged blackbird in Iowa), it is the longest track (4'38"), has a rocking instrumental workout, and reminded me of Neil Young. The Course of Love has a good swing to it before another highlight - the spiritual inflected Carry Me Away driven by strong instrumentation and a hypnotic repetition of the carry-me link (Carry me away on the long soft, river/ carry me far, carry me safe).

The album closes with the title track, and moves away from the listed instrumentation with a skiffleboard and fiddle to end on a fittingly joyous climax

My touchstones for this is people such as Sarah Blasco, Missy Higgins, Dido and Norah Jones even - women who sing personal songs in a distinct voice. Ember reminds me of them but also has her own sound and approach. The 10 songs pass too quickly but hook into the mind. I can hear no reason here why this album or a successor shouldn't be a 'hit' in the mainstream (if that's what they want) and I wish them the best of luck.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Taming Power

Over the last few years I have trumpeted the focussed talent and output of Askild Haugland, who is Taming Power, and whose recordings have been released in cassette and now vinyl through Early Morning Records. Facing the realities of economics and his commitment to a less common medium, Askild has settled on an annual release cycle.

His most recent offering Twenty-One Pieces (Early Morning Records 2x12 018) is that behemoth from the vinyl age, a double album. I remember when the 80minutes of a double album were used mainly for live releases, best ofs or the occasional (often reviewed as bloated) studio album. The reality of the now is evidenced by the rerelease of the excess of the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street - seen as sprawling then but now fitting onto a single cd, offering a length that recording artist now can, and often are expected to, fill (Robert Palmer's Clues was about 36 minutes and would probably be denounced as mean - there's 80 minutes available, fill it up). Someone said 'more is less' (it is disputed but Mies Van de Rohe gets the main credit).

So what is Askild offering? In some ways it is like a best of/sampler collection and is a great overview of his methods and musics. He has balanced the four sides nicely in terms of their content (a guitar side, gong side,) and balance between dense and simple pieces.

But first the aesthetics. The overall look of the EMR is maintained - like most of the albums the cover is primarily black with a framed photo on the front (this release is mountains) while the back has a smaller photo and the frame includes the detailed details of the instruments used and the recording dates of the tracks (the reduced production rate has allowed Askild to get the covers printed rather than hand assembling). Those familiar with Taming Power from the recordings or these reviews will know he uses tapes and cassettes to delay/overdub in simple recordings, but also to layer and manipulate previous solos. So some tracks have a single date and take number, while others have multiple and nested dates and takes as material is re-produced. The most dense one is the third track on side C which has 21 dates associated with it! On these albums we have recordings from 98 to 09. I also noticed under the copyright statement it says 'the voices of time' - looking back at past recording the apothegm started with 16 (light passes undetected through the darkness) and continued into 17 (silence reigns unnoticed within turmoil).

Side A is the most varied instrumentally, and also the simplest. The first piece is casiotone notes, looped and layered to form chords. The second is a long guitar work, moving between note bending, percussion, tonal melodies and long plucked notes - a shifting and engrossing solo. Then a field recording that is a stuttering cloud (wind?)with sounds within, before another short simple guitar piece ends the side. In the guitar and casiotone pieces notes are generally clear and simple, sometimes bent, sometimes melodic and others combining more atonally, and the pace is stately, relaxed.

That track is reflected in the guitar opener to side B - the drone side - which this time includes some tape work to create backwards sounds. Three multilayered pieces using drilbu, dingsha and singing bowl produce exciting rumbling layered almost-electro, some dense others simpler, but all rolling and building in a manner seen in the last few albums that introduced these instruments (and there is some choral voice work though I am not sure about the handsaw). A guitar and casio piece is echoed looping and pulsey, before a short percussive stutter guitar piece which gradually increases in speed before a short solo at the end to fade out the side.

Side C is the guitar side: opening with 2 shorter pieces, simple and the second more atonal, before a long slow building complex work which drones and builds, ringing and hissing, transmuting under your ears, dragging them in. Two more shorter works close the side - the first a looped echoey voice and guitar and then a sitar like piece.

The final side mixes it up again. Short works for guitar and then casiotone open the side, then two more dense pieces for the singing bowls: the first seems voicelike while the second more an organ. And again, balance and placement throughout the album to give variation and narrative: a simple guitar solo with some freeform strings and then a simple casiotone closer.

If you haven't heard any Taming Power, this would be a good place to start as it covers the moods and methods of the man. It isn't a new direction but more of a contemplation of EMR17 celebrated as 10 years of EMR and 20 years of Taming Power - and the fan will know what they are getting and will enjoy this varied edition to the oeuvre.

Contact Askild at earlymrecords@yahoo. No he doesn't have a website, myspace page or any of that stuff - this is old school self release vinyl.
(and so to my confession - I have ripped my Taming Power cassettes and vinyl so that I can play the pieces in all manner of venues, not limited by having a record or cassette player. sorry Askild: but I love the artifacts and the music)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kannenberg's 4'33" variations

Audio Tour: The 4'33" Museum

I have never seen/heard a performance of John Cage's 4'33" but have read about it. My understanding is that it involves a performance - the artist/s entering and undertaking the normal activities, sitting, lifting the piano lid etc - but that not creating music in the three parts of the piece, it is getting the audience to focus on the natural and unnatural sounds that fill a concert venue which is where the work is most likely to be performed.

The latest release from Stasisfield is by John Kannenberg (the label boss) and consists of 11 versions of the piece he has been 'performing' (his inverted commas) since 2005. His interpretation is to record the eponymous time in a museum or art gallery, but without the element of performance or having those present as the audience (as far as I can tell). We are the auditors hearing the variations of the different spaces - the Rock and Roll hall of Fame is a much louder place than the Rijksmuseum, the servers in Alexandria hum softly accompanied by soft voices, most are not surprisingly subdued.

A surprise is how quickly the time passes and how the venues drift into each other - not many have the Hall of Fames defining rock soundtrack, though voices and discussions vary from place to place. The selected site within the site for the performance would have a significant impact: a recording in the foyer, giftshop or cafe would be different to one in a gallery space. The piece becomes layered as you listen in your own environment - whether natural or with human additions.

And as Kannenberg suggests, the piece also comments on the relationship between gallery/museum and performance spaces.

But in the end what remains is a series of unedited audio snapshots that offer a glimpse of place and the pleasure that listening in provides.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Steve Roden Recent

Yes, I am still around! Energy rising I am going to post - will it continue?

And where better to re-start that with Steve Roden. I am an unashamed, unabashed fan whose main regret in life is living too far away to see his shows or installations or installation-shows or concerts. I follow on his official site and the airform archives. At the moment he is treating us to some introspective retrospection on airform as we lead up to two spectacular shows (a retrospective and a new installation, hanging). Go there when you've finished here - I won't be long.

Last year - yes, sorry Steve - he sent me a host of cds and vinyl to complete my adored collection of Roden-works (many reviewed here). Some are out of print or sold out, so I won't go into details of them all. Though I would suggest you seek out the In Be Tween Noise cds (they are probably hideously expensive on eBay) as they are proto-types of his later works and also alleys he hasn't gone further down.

But to mention/describe some recent ones that I hope are available still relatively painlessly

ecstasy showered its petals with the full peal of its bells: label: ferns recordings: 3" cd
A 21 minute piece of manipulation of a single hand bell that rings in a non-bell way, scrapes and drones, layered and manipulated to create a typically engrossing soundworld. While the bell is a musical instrument, the way it is handled refers back to Roden's chair/lamp/splint trilogy where wonderful music emerged from beautifully designed non-musical instruments. Initially you are entranced by what the sounds were extracted from, but then the music itself takes over and keeps drawing you in.

a slow moving boat. label: new plastic music: 3" cd
As is often with a Roden work, the genesis is oblique. Here a recording of a ferry in Norway was used by Roden as a guide to his humming/singing. Remove the ferry, leave the voice, layered and add some bowed banjo. And you have a lilting 15 minutes of his ethereal voice combined with some subtle supporting metallic drones. It is hard to imagine it broadcast on the Staten Island Ferry - it would be lost in the environment - but we are lucky to have this beautiful piece.

stars of ice:CD, new plastic music, usa
This one might not be available (only 250), but is a longer form piece using an old 7" record of a Chinese carol, a song from a reader set and 'various other objects and instruments'. Over its 33 minutes it shifts more ground than the two 3" pieces. The first section is based around a drone, with birds singing (they carry on throughout, on the edge - I had to pause to check they weren't here). Slowly developing layers that start to include the voice (I was reminded of Gavin Bryars here - Sinking of the Titanic) sounds captured at the edge of the earspace. The vinyl clicks.In the final section Roden sings accompanied by the recorded music which becomes more guitar like - leading into a long slow dissolving fade, voices whispering to us. A finely balanced trajectory.

transmissions (voices of objects and skies): label: fresno metropolitan museum of art
Full length cd to accompany an exhibition - described on site and on disk. This work is unusual in the oeuvre in that Roden hasn't created the sounds - they are based on recordings of satellites made in the 60s-80s by amateur astronomers. Manipulated and transformed they are a distant fluttering, dolphin-like electronic fallings, sussuri and hints of sounds from elsewhere, an immersive environment from a forbidden place (they are currently baffling one of my dogs). Usually there is an organic/human component to Roden's work - either how the piece was developed, where it came from (source), or voice/instrumentation added. Here we are purely electronic, at one remove - and yet the ear extracts voices, animal calls, instruments, squeaking doors as we drift through a literal aether. This stereo workup from the multispeaker original shifts and slides around the room fabulously.

As I listen to these pieces - I have had a Roden afternoon after reading his latest blog post and once again ruing the distance to California - and look at the visual art work, the sculptures and installations I am amazed by the beauty in all the works and hope that the Armory retrospective raises his profile to the level it deserves.

Ach, enough of this gushing, you might say, but when I think about the artists I enjoy across these field there aren't really any I can think of who have achieved in such diverse areas.