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.