Uncategorized

Monday 31st May

May 31, 2010

No real post tonight, sorry, just a little too tired to listen to music properly. I actually got home from work quite early as today is a Bank Holiday, but as I was up at five this morning I fell asleep as soon as I got in, and since cooking a pretty big meal I am now more drowsy than ever. I did try and find some music to play tonight. I reached to the end of the “to listen to” shelf/pile by my side here to find something of which I had no expectations at all to play, and actually listened in part to three different CDs, but just couldn’t find the level of concentration required to really be able to process the music, and in the case of one of the CDs I really found in completely unlistenable. I doubt I’ll ever get around to reviewing that one… When I am tired (and yes I know I always am…) I really struggle to be able to listen, and often have to go and get a strong pot of coffee brewing to help me stay alert enough to listen and think. I have never found anything to gain from listening to music while taking drugs, but caffeine is an exception.

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CD Reviews

Sunday 30th May

May 30, 2010

Yes he’s a friend, and an occasional contributor to these pages and I’m sure my words here will be seen by some as just patting a mate on the back, but before writing a little about the CD I have been listening to today a few nice words about Simon Reynell. The Another Timbre label has been running for three years now, and during this time Simon has become one of the most respected people in the UK improvised music scene. Not simply because he runs a label that releases a lot of CDs, but for his unwavering support of musicians and their work, often traveling long distances to record them, often without any CD release in mind. Simon is well known for centering his label around a model that generously supports musicians. Recently when one of his CDs sold particularly well and made significantly more profit than others he has released he distributed the excess profits between the musicians involved. To celebrate the third anniversary of the label Simon has issued a limited edition CDr of music by the quintet that recorded last year’s gorgeous Midhopestones album. There are just 150 copies of this disc, and when I saw Simon earlier in the week I caught him handing out significant piles of them to two of the musicians involved. More to the point though, (and I hope I have not got this wrong) he has also sent (or is about to send) copies of the disc as a thank you to people that have supported his label by buying most of the catalogue directly from him. The disc can still be bought at a reduced price from the AT website, but I just though that this was a great thing to do and it needed applauding, even though he will doubtlessly not speak to me again for a long time as a result. Cheers Simon.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 29th May

May 29, 2010

Now, I have long had problems with sound installations, primarily because I don’t experience them often enough to really have developed a personal relationship with the medium, a way of reacting / responding to the idea of standing in a room with others while something other than a human being makes a sound. On each occasion that I have visited an installation piece my responses have been markedly different, ranging from feeling a bit stupid standing alongside others watching not very much happen through to sitting for hours on end completely enthralled. So when I am presented with a CD of sounds captured within an installation scenario this uncertainty about how to respond is just amplified further. The tendency is just to treat it as music, as any other CD, but then no musician has sat down and “played” these recordings as such, and much of the intrigue and wonder held in them is based on this. Many of the tracks on the two discs here are reliant on the wind to give them life, so are these recordings any less musical as a result of the decreased human involvement?

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CD Reviews

Friday 28th May

May 28, 2010

Tonight then I have been listening to the second album by Ap’strophe, the duo of Greek zither player Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga and Spanish acoustic guitarist (on this occasion) Ferran Fages. I reviewed the first album by the duo less than a year ago here. This new disc, entitled Corgroc is part of the spring series on Another Timbre, a set of discs that are tentatively linked to the guitar. There are two tracks on this one, the first lasting a fraction under eight minutes and the second five times as long at just under forty. The music in general does not stray too far from that on the first album, but perhaps there is a slightly more fragile feel to this release, a more simple structure. The first track, titled Spring begins with a stream of “finger nails scraped down a blackboard” sounds that I quite like but would annoy the hell out of most people. These are accompanied by a series of soft constant tones, presumably the result of an eBow placed against the strings of one or the other instrument. Gradually over a period of several minutes the grating sounds dissipate, and while the sinetones remain a series of more muted scrabbling and knocking remains until everything dies away and Fages’ forlorn sounding fingerpicked guitar appears for a few moments, closing the track with little fragments of half-forgotten melodies.

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Uncategorized

Thursday 27th May

May 28, 2010

Something slightly different tonight. I was recently asked to contribute my answers to a couple of questions for use as part of a roundtable discussion about “the problems of criticism, assuming such a thing exists- of sound art” The discussion will take place sometime in early June in Madrid. I thought it might be interesting to share my responses here, particularly as a few readers might have been asked to contribute their own answers. I’ll write a CD review tomorrow, but for now here are the questions and my replies:

Do you think that discographic criticism in sound art is necessary?, Why?

“Necessary” is a difficult word to use in this context. Is “sound art” even necessary? Is music necessary? It could be argued that none of these things are necessary and that all are just nice things to have. For the sake of my answer then, I shall instead ask is criticism important in relation to “sound art”?

Before answering, I should say that I do not really consider the vast majority of what I write to be structured criticism. What I write on a daily basis at The Watchful Ear is merely a description of my own personal listening experience. It is often just a written journal of my involvement with whatever music I have been playing that day, and often will include other information about how I might personally be feeling, the conditions under which I listened to the music etc… Although many of the daily posts do take the form of reviews they are perhaps more informal than we normally would expect from such writing. The only rules I have for myself is that I will try and spend enough time with each CD to be able to feel comfortable that what I am writing is an accurate record of my response to the music, and that I am always honest. Quite often my reviews end up just as lists of questions that the music might lead me to ask. I just write about my experience with the music and how it made me feel. Is this criticism? Maybe, but then maybe not.

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Concert Reviews

Wednesday 26th May

May 26, 2010

The concert yesterday evening was a bit of an unusual one, held as it was in a small art gallery bang in the middle of London, just a few moments walk from Oxford Circus. Its rare for me to go to concerts in galleries like this (though I must say there didn’t seem to be much art actually in the gallery and what there was didn’t impress much) and its even more unusual to go to something so centrally located and therefore for me very easy to get to. On top of this, the gallery provided a barrel of iced beer bottles for free as well. All a bit different then, but it made a refreshing change.

The night consisted of two sets, the first being the trio of Ross Lambert (a little bit of unplugged electric guitar and a lot of assorted objects) Ute Kanngiesser (cello) and Seijiro Murayama (snare drum). This set worked very nicely for me without ever really being anything exceptionally strong. These three musicians are all very very good listeners and are very adaptable on the spot, and this performance really brought that home, sounding like a really good display of solid, substantial improvisation. The set began with Kanngiesser plucking at strings in a steadily repeating four note motif with the timing all gone to pot, and Lambery fiddling around with something small that might have been a microphone of some kind but certainly lead to a series of cracks and pops. Murayama sat motionless, upright, eyes closed, body frozen. It was a good few minutes before his first contribution to the music, a sudden swipe at the rim of his snare with a wooden stick of some kind. He then tended towards semi-rhythmic, very simple blocks of acoustic sound scraped and rubbed from his drum, but also moaned and gurgled vocally at the back of his throat. Lambert contributed bits of warped, hissing tape noises, struck and thrummed guitar, a ticking metronome and more besides. Kanngiesser, cello resting against the bulge of her unborn child was as richly expressive and passionate in her playing as ever, folding her flowing twists and turns of bowed sound between the input of the others. Music like this might not be likely to come out on CD in a few weeks, maybe will be forgotten or replaced by a similar set of equally adept musicians the next time I get to a concert, but on the night, when relaxed and able to concentrate on nothing but the music unfolding before my ears its a great pleasure to once again spend time in the company of such musicians.

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Uncategorized

Tuesday 25th May

May 25, 2010

Well my back improved throughout the day, but then coming tonight it was agony again, a combination of walking a bit after a long shift at work and sitting on a hard metal floor at the venue of tonight’s concert for an hour or so, an uncomfortable experience I would imagine at the best of times but with shooting pains p the base of your spine it doesn’t help much with the enjoyment of live music. Anyway, stop moaning Richard…

A brief post then, as is the norm for me following a trip into London, and as usual I will write some kind of a review of the concert tomorrow. I did enjoy this evening though, a solid enough trio improvisation from Ute Kanngiesser, Seijiro Murayama and Ross Lambert was followed by a performance by Soldercup, the duo of Louisa Martin and Rhodri Davies that was anything but what I had been expecting. Suffice to say a score was involved, and as Davies worked through a number of small sound events so Martin scrabbled about the floor of the gallery space with a pair of scissors and several reels of white tape, responding to Davies’ sounds by sticking bits of tape to the floor in certain shapes and patterns. Intriguing stuff then, more tomorrow.

If you are a London resident then there remains one more concert involving Murayama on this trip to the UK tomorrow night. Here are the details:

Wednesday 26th – Seijiro Muryama/Guillaume Viltard/Lawrence Williams trio, Matt Hammond, Gabriel Humberstone duo.
Jamie Coleman solo.
at: Kings College London Chapel, 7 30pm. £5
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/about/structure/dean/chaplaincy/strand/chapel/
King’s College London
Strand
London
WC2R 2LS
Go through security, left into the main building and up the stairs….

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CD Reviews

Monday 24th May

May 24, 2010

Tonight I have been listening to EgRETS the new “solo” album by Toshimaru Nakamura, I put the word solo into inverted commas there because of the eight tracks on this album only four of them are actually solo tracks, the other half of the album is made up of duo pieces, one with Tetuzi Akiyama, the other three with Arve Henriksen. before mentioning the music, a couple of asides- first of all this CD is released on David Sylvian’s Samadhi Sound label. I was somewhat critical of Sylvian’s recent Manafon album in these pages, also wondered if his interest and support of “our” area of music would continue. Well, releasing this album is a very positive step forwards, for which Mr Sylvian deserves much credit. Whether it will prove to be any kind of commercial success remains to be seen, but if a hundred or so new listeners end up purchasing this album then that can’t be a bad thing at all. Secondly, EgRETS comes wrapped in a sleeve design by Chris Bigg, who as one half of the v23 design partnership alongside Vaughan Oliver was a huge influence on me as a teenager. I really thought that the days when I would be enjoying a CD with his name in the credits were long gone. So although this isn’t the best example of his work you will ever see it brought back a nice set of memories for me.

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Classical Sundays

Sunday 23rd May

May 23, 2010

Actually over the past couple of weeks, since I have been driving to and from work again after a year of public transport and iPod listening I have been playing a lot of classical music in the car. The general routine has been to get in, turn on the radio and see what is playing on BBC Radio 3, and if there is something playing that catches my ear I will let it play, but if not I will flip a CD into the player. Over the last couple of weeks the only CDs in the car have belonged to The Lindsays’ box set of Beethoven quartets, but since yesterday I have been playing a disc containing a few Beethy pieces performed by the piano/cello duo of Angela Hewitt and Daniel Müller-Schott respectively. Some of the material on the disc, which is a recent release on the Hyperion label does little for me, in particular some variations on works by Handel and Mozart, but the CD also includes the two cello sonatas that formed Op.102, written in the latter part of Beethoven’s career between 1812 and 1817 whilst suffering from the ailments that would leave him deaf. These pieces are amongst those that are generally considered to signal the beginning of the late period of his work that lead to, amongst other items the late string quartets, that I have come to adore so much.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 22nd May

May 22, 2010

The disc I have been playing this evening is another that catalogues the recent close relationship between the Japanese musicians Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura and assorted Scandinavian musicians. Following their work with the Swedish Bombax Bombax contingent, Nakamura’s ongoing duo with HÃ¥rvard Volden and his newly released collaboration with Arve Henriksen comes a couple of albums with the Norewgian trio of Martin Taxt (tuba) Eivind Lønning (trumpet) and Espen Reinertsen (tenor sax and flute). The second of these releases, just out on the Sofa label is credited to a group involving all five musicians named Koboku Senju, and I will write about that one soon (its not even out of the shrinkwrap yet!) but first of all there was a release from late last year that Akiyama recorded with the three Norwegians called Varianter av døde trær. Its this disc I have been listening to this evening. Try as I may, no online translation site seems to be of any help with the title. Anyone?

Irrespective of what the title might mean, the music speaks for itself here, in a kind of rich, sumptuous language. There are fifteen tracks here, but there are only eight track titles, as many of the pieces are split into several parts, so for instance, tracks one, nine and fifteen are the three parts of a piece called Tverrsnitt av fuge, and tracks three, eleven and eight are all sections of something called Tekno. Three other pieces are split across two tracks. There are stylistic similarities between the pieces that are linked in name, and the way they are split up and spread throughout the disc works very well. It just makes explaining all of this in a review quite difficult!

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CD Reviews

Friday 21st May

May 22, 2010

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of CD labels I know that do not have some kind of web presence, but if I think about it again, most of them are all great little labels, all of them existing just for the music, with little to no interest in the marketing side of things. Conundrom and Homefront spring to mind, but the one that has been going longest and most successfully without a website must be Taku Sugimoto’s Slub imprint, a label that has consistently released “proper” replicated CDs, usually only the output of those labels eager for attention. The seventeenth disc in Slub’s main series of releases (there have been a couple of offshoot sublabels) was released either late last year or early this year, but while the Slub name is usually enough to ensure at least a small murmur of discussion is held around each release, this one, a solo alto saxophone disc by Masahide Tokunaga seemed to go completely under the radar. This CD has been out quite a while now, and I was going to pass over reviewing it as I had left it so late, and as I had paid for the disc I was under no obligation to write anything, but yesterday morning, while tidying up the desk and organising the piles of unlistened to music I came across it, remembering it left a good impression on the only other occasion I had played it, and decided to listen again. I’m glad I did, as it is very lovely indeed, and despite it having been out for quite a while I thought I’d write a little about it, although there actually isn’t much I can write.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 20th May

May 20, 2010

A nice evening all round then, and a day that has been mostly soundtracked by Beethoven quartets here, but tonight since getting home I have been listening to a set of two 3″ discs on the 1000Füssler label named Grey Mass/Grey Matter by Roel Meelkop.

The two little discs contain three short tracks each, and come attached to either side of an oversized, subtly printed card. Its a nicely put together package, but I wonder if it would have been much cheaper for the label to have just put all of the music onto one full sized disc. I love the 3″ format, but I do wonder about the financial sense behind this one. That said, there are differences between the two pieces. Grey Mass is generally a little louder than its companion disc. Both contain a kind of modern, slightly less frantic musique concrete mad up in equal parts computer generated sounds and field recordings, but Mass , while not really ever becoming particularly boisterous contains less of the quiet, mid period Bernhard Günter textures. Quite a lot of ground is covered across the forty or so minutes of music presented on these discs. Although there is always a certain tone to the sounds, a kind of yes, greyness to the music that is given further strength through the generally slow pace of the music, the actual sounds bounce from cheesy synthesised squiggles to gritty white noise to a series of carefully placed field recordings that range from the obvious and familiar (trains, murmuring crowds in large enclosed spaces, helicopters) to the unexpected ( a strange, chopped up rendition of The Girl from Ipanema) Everything is very nicely put together, with some good use of silence. Nothing feels rushed, and the overall structure of the music suggests a nice sense of symmetry and careful order. Grey Matter uses perhaps less field recordings, or maybe just drops the volume on them and breaks them down more so as to disguise their presence, but there is more of a sense of rumbling, distant sound here rather than old school cut ‘n splice concrete.

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 19th May

May 20, 2010

The CD in question then is one I’ve listened to on and off since being given it in Ireland a few weeks back, the second release on Ivan Palacky’s Uceroz label, this one a disc named Looking for a looking for by the duo of Palacky (playing his amplified knitting machine) alongside Peter Graham, of whom I was not previously familiar, who plays Piano on the first thirty four minute track and harmonium on the second, which lasts a fraction over twenty. Together, the group play under the name Palagrachio. Before mentioning the music, I should add that this release comes in similar “interactive” packaging to the first Uceroz disc I wrote about here a little while back. I’ll say no more so as not to spoil the surprise too much, but suffice to say the image shown above portrays my own personal copy this time around.

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Uncategorized

Tuesday 18th May

May 18, 2010

I think the exertions of the past few days really caught up with me today. After a series of sleep deprived, hectic days spent either traveling long distances or simply trying to do too much and then write long, considered pieces about music, my head and body tired hard to tell me enough today. Almost since getting out of bed I have had a headache, my body has been weary and my brain a bit frazzled. I got through work today in a bit of a daze, and on arriving home I just fell asleep, waking an hour or so back, when I replied to a few emails, put a few CDs into envelopes and then plonked myself down here to write one of my apologetic posts. I think I have written quite a bit over recent days, so I shouldn’t feel guilty for not posting properly this evening, but yet I always do…

Anyway, as is the custom now, here are the plugs for things by friends that I always place in the absence of my usual drivel. First up, the Hear and Now programme on BBC Radio 3 broadcast an interview of sorts with Rhodri Davies, in which he takes the presenter around an installation piece of his, “Room Harp”. The show can be heard here for the next four days as part of the Listen Again feature of the BBC iPlayer. I am never completely sure about this, but I think BBC Radio programmes can be listened to in this way anywhere in the world, and its just the TV broadcasts that are restricted, but apologies in advance if I am wrong and this show can only be heard int he UK.

Somethign that can be heard, and seen anywhere in the world is a series of four YouTube clips made by Tim Parkinson. Tim visited four contemporary British composers at their work places, and filmed the results. I really enjoyed watching the bits of these that I have been able to view so far a lot. The four composers are Chris Newman, Michael Parsons, Richard Emsley and John White. Each of the films has been edited down to 20 minutes.

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CD Reviews

Monday 17th May

May 17, 2010

As with every release on the Erstwhile Records label, Motubachii, the new CD by Taku Unami and Annette Krebs has garnered a degree of discussion, mostly discussing the nature of its construction; what are the instruments involved, how many different recordings are we hearing and how were they all put together? It occurred to me when first listening to this music that maybe for the first time in Erstwhile’s substantial history the conversations have not been so much about what a great piece of finished music this is, but rather about the process and thinking that went into what the music should contain. This struck me as a bit of a welcome leap for the label, as owner Jon Abbey has long been a staunch defender of the CD album as a solid statement, maybe a piece of music that can and should be returned to over the years that can stand up for itself separated from other external criteria. For me, Motubachii isn’t great, listenable music as such, but it is a curious set of puzzles that follow quite closely the recent highly conceptual approaches to music making by Taku Unami, and therefore is an exceptionally interesting, thoughtful album that forms a part of his genuinely groundbreaking work of late. This is not to undermine Annette Krebs part in the music, which is substantial, from recording through to mixing, but I sense (and of course I may well be very wrong here) that the driving force behind this album’s form is the inquisitive, musically fearless mind of Unami.

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Concert Reviews

Sunday 16th May – Uninstal 2010, Glasgow

May 16, 2010

Repeatedly, the excellent festivals and events curated by Barry Esson, Bryony McIntyre and their Arika team up in Scotland follow a path very close to my own musical interests, and the Uninstal mini-festival, a week of exploratory events held at the Tramway arts space in Glasgow was no exception to that rule, so it was a shame that I was only able to make it along to one day of the proceedings this time. Such is the degree of planning and thought that goes into Arika’s events that Uninstal was conceived as a kind of audience/musicians/organisers workshop designed to try out different ways of running a festival, before the Instal Festival proper this coming November. Esson and McIntyre sought feedback on the proceedings after each presentation through informal discussion groups. There was certainly plenty to talk about here.

I made it along to Saturday’s events, which consisted of two performances, the first, in the afternoon by Loic Blairon, a French musician / artist whose music I have written about in these pages before, and the second, in the evening by Taku Unami, Each of the performances was preceded by the showing of an experimental film, and got underway following carefully prepared introductions by Esson. The day’s events, following the themes of the week, were designed to confound any expectations the attendant audience may have had of the festival, not only musically, but also from a social and organisational perspective.

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Uncategorized

Saturday 15th May

May 15, 2010

So I’m am back in my hotel room in Scotland, quite early but I have to be back on a train home in the morning and the conclusion of this evening’s performance by Taku Unami involved copious amounts of ten year old Laphroig handed out to the audience so I feel pretty warm and cosy […]

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CD Reviews

Friday 14th May

May 14, 2010

Back to the Creative Sources pile again this evening, and a CD of four tracks formed from field recordings made around the Irish city of Cork, a place I hope to visit soon. The CD, named 4 Urban Landscapes is by the Cork based sound artist Mark O’Leary. In the sleevenotes, O’Leary states that “what I am trying to portray has been animated by audio processing to give an ambient dimension to the sound images” Hmm…

Let’s be upfront and honest, I really found this album hard to sit and listen to. While the source material here is on paper right up my street, the sounds of the city in the evening, cars running over rainswept streets, footsteps, distant voices, that featureless gentle “hum” that pervades every otherwise quiet city if you stop and really listen carefully, the treatment of the recordings isn’t to my taste at all. The problem here then, is not so much the original sounds themselves (though an overlaid spoken poem on The Stone Cutter, the last track here doesn’t sit well with me) but the methods used in the composition, the primary annoyances to me being a persistent use of slow echoey reverb, particularly on spoken voices, recurring, obvious sounds that keep being dropped into the pieces so as to make them feel even more unnatural than the reverb makes them feel already, and a general sense of everything being filtered and blended into one big aural smoothie.

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Concert Reviews

Guest review of day-long concert at Sol LeWitt exhibition, Sheffield, 8th May 2010 by Simon Reynell

May 14, 2010

Until 29th May the Site Gallery in Sheffield is hosting an exhibition of books by Sol LeWitt, who for those don’t know (and I didn’t until quite recently) was a US-based visual/conceptual artist who died in 2007. The gallery, which describes itself as Sheffield’s International Centre for Contemporary Art, is the only UK venue for this traveling exhibition, though this may have something to do with the fact that even in the digital age books are quite hard to exhibit successfully. The gallery has bolted on to the exhibition a number of other events: a conference on Sol LeWitt, and a series of music concerts. They asked Philip Thomas to curate the music side and with a small budget Philip has put together a programme of 4/5 events featuring music that relates specifically or loosely to Sol LeWitt’s work. So over the next three weeks Sheffield is the rather unlikely venue for several free concerts featuring music by – amongst others Michael Pisaro, Tom Johnson, James Saunders, Gerhard Stäbler, Manfred Werder, Kunsu Shim, John Lely, Alvin Lucier and so on. (You can find details of the programme here.

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Uncategorized

Thursday 13th May

May 14, 2010

The more astute regular readers might have noticed that its been hard for me to write here every day over the past couple of weeks. I have managed it, and will continue to do so, but as I have been really busy with the dayjob, personal stuff and numerous other music related projects writing here daily has been tougher just lately than it has been before. This situation should start to ease very soon anyway. Still, there is so much I have planned for this place that just hasn’t come to fruition yet but will soon. Alongside the backlog of reviews I need to write there is the Listen Series, of which I have to thank the musicians involved for their patience, the interview(s) that are either just about ready to be published or in the pipeline, a week of writing about as many Jeph Jerman CDs as I can as a little reprise of something I did five years ago and a series of classical reviews with a theme, to try and make up for the lack of writing in that direction of late. I will get to all of these projects eventually when time and energies allow…

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 12th May

May 12, 2010

Now here is an interesting, and in no small amount embarrassing little situation. A couple of weeks back a CD arrived here that I have played a few times over the last couple of days and quite enjoyed. Nothing unusual there. The problem was, as I initially wrote this post, I had no idea what it is called, or what label it is on… The thing is, it is a disc that has no type on the actual face of the CD, and comes wrapped up in a very elegant oversized heavy grey die cut card sleeve held together with a rubber band enclosing only a very large poster sized sheet of text written in French but not containing any details about the music. Until I had played the disc a few times I had not noticed that there is indeed identifying text on the card sleeve, but it is not printed, rather embossed (or what ever the opposite of embossing is?) into the rear of the sleeve, so it took some noticing. Most embarrassing of all was once I read the text I realised that I had actually bought this CD online, having been attracted by the sleeve design as well as the potential of the music. I had just forgotten doing so… the CD in question then is a collaboration between Gilles Aubry, who provides the music here, and Stephane Montavon who wrote the text printed on the accompanying poster. The CD was released recently as part of a field recordings series on the German Gruenrekorder label. More photos of the project can be seen here.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 11th May

May 12, 2010

I’ve been listening to an awful lot of what might be described as “conceptually” arranged improvised music this week, having spent quite a lot of time with Taku Unami and Annette Krebs’ excellent, if slightly confounding CD Moutubachii release. I will write about that one soon, maybe Friday when I will have a little more time in the evening before hopefully heading to see Unami play (perform?) in Scotland the following day. I also received today a copy of a CD that comes folded into a neat little twenty page book of text, all put together by musicians Mattin, Seijiro Murayama and Jean-Luc Guionnet alongside the philosopher Ray Brassier. I’m not sure if conceptual is the right word to describe that project but it looks extremely interesting. The same group minus Mattin actually perform at Uninstal in Glasgow on Friday, the day before I might arrive there, which is a shame, but if you are closer than I am to the venue I thoroughly recommend you catch that one.

I mention this project becuase the CD I have been listening to today is actually another project sent to me by Mattin, this time a release on his Free Software Series label, a fifty one minute single track album called “hé, vous, là-bas !” by Olaf Hoccherz. As with all of the releases in this series the music has been created using only free, open source software and can be downloaded for nothing from the linked website.

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Uncategorized

Monday 10th May

May 10, 2010

No post of worth tonight, primarily because I’m not feeling so great this evening, suffering from a heavy headache that began just as I was leaving work after a trying day earlier. I’m pretty tired in general right now, something to do with attempting to do more than I really have time to do recently, but then I guess I could be a British political leader right now and spend twenty hours a day in a perpetual state of constant bickering. I did try writing this evening, but the glaring computer screen was too much to stare at for long and I settled for finishing the final edit of the first TWE interview with a red pen and a printed copy of the text. Hopefully the final draft will see the light of day here some time this week. Its taken me long enough, I know…

The required plug then has to be for Uninstal, the baby brother festival of the highly successful and somewhat excellent Instal Festival in Glasgow. Uninstal has already begun, but events continue all week, culminating on Sunday. I have a plan to travel up for Saturday’s shows alone leaving by train late on Friday, but the blasted volcano, which made getting to Ireland such a night mare is getting in the way again, this time causing people to all book the overnight sleeper trains to Scotland rather than risk flying, so its not proving easy to get transport up there. I will persevere however. Taku Unami leads Saturday evening’s events, and masses of cardboard boxes are promised, alongside copious amounts of Laphroig single malt whisky. I will find a way to get there, I will!

The photo above was taken from the train window at around 4AM a couple of weeks back as I set out for my weekend in Ireland. No relation to this post, I just quite like the pic… Back to reviewing tomorrow then.

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CD Reviews

Sunday 9th May

May 10, 2010

The CDr in question is the sixth release on Julien Skrobek’s Appel Music label, a live recording of a Paris based quintet, four of whose members have either already appeared on separate Appel Music releases or run the label. So the group is made up of Alexandre Bellanger’s turntables, Jean Bordé’s double bass, Julien Skrobeks’ balloons, whistles and computer and Dan Warburton’s violin, alongside the computer of Gaudenz Badrutt, the one musician here whose music I had not heard before. Appel Music @ Tampon Ramier 12132009 is the catch title of the release then, which includes two pieces recorded at the same live event, the first lasting half an hour, the second seven minutes less.

Listening to the Haydn earlier I had taken quite a bit of pleasure from delving deep into the layers of carefully intertwined strings, so beautifully constructed. Everything fitted perfectly, perhaps to make melodies I didn’t always like, but there was no doubting the incredible craftsmanship involved. Listening to this CDr right afterwards is a bit of a shock to the system. If the Haydn quartets are examples of stunning precision then the Appel Music release is an utter mess. The thing is, its meant to be a mess, or rather it is meant to not conform to any ideas we may have about what constitutes a well formed improv release. It is willfully awkward, uses often markedly ugly sounds and is some distance away from being an example of top craftsmanship, although it should be added that more than one of the group are capable of playing in a highly skilled manner should they choose to do so.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 8th May

May 8, 2010

The disc in question is not really something I would normally put on when I wanted to relax however. Actually, its not really the sort of thing I would put on full stop, given as it is a recording of a group that described in their press release (somewhat tongue in cheek I imagine) as a minimalist terror jazz trio, but the musicians appearing here under the group name The Ames Room; Will Guthrie on drumset, Jean-Luc Guionnet on sax and Clayton Thomas on double bass are all musicians whose other forms of music I have previously enjoyed a lot, so perhaps like the SUM project of Prevost, Lambert and Wright I find myself considerably more interested in the release.

Recently issued on the Monotype label, the album, named In is actually not a CD at all, as it is a vinyl only release, though confusingly (but rather helpfully given my lack of a turntable) my promo copy is a CD. Anyway, this is a free jazz recording. Hmm.. In case you have failed to miss the hundred other times I have mentioned it in these pages, I have very little history with jazz music. I own maybe a couple of dozen jazz CDs, the bulk of them by Miles Davis or Sun Ra. Unlike many listeners of my age I did not come to improvised music via jazz, and so really and truthfully I know little about the genre, and what I do know has come from the guidance of others pointing me to things I should really hear, with varying degrees of success.

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CD Reviews

Friday 7th May

May 8, 2010

This evening I listened to a CD that it feels like I have owned for absolutely ages- Crepsucular Rays, the duo by Toshimaru Nakamura and HÃ¥rvard Volden on the Another Timbre label. I guess actually that I have had this one for a while, having bought a copy back at the concerts the duo played in London in February. Volden is a young Norwegian improviser that plays an acoustic guitar laid flat upon a table that he then bows, scrapes and applies electroacoustic devices to to create quite a wide variety of sounds, from everyday plucked strings to alien sounding drones. The inevitable similarity to Keith Rowe’s techniques, or at least his techniques from a few years back are unavoidable, but while some of Volden’s approach may well have been influenced at a distance by Rowe his sound is actually quite different, the main contrast being the acoustic nature of much of it. Toshi Nakamura’s no input mixing board will be familiar to most readers of these pages, and throughout the two tracks on Cresucular Rays he mixes up his approach from extended clean sinetones through to some of his more aggressively violent work.

In many ways Crepsucular Rays is just a good solid improv album. Having played it through three times tonight after a break of a couple of weeks when it didn’t get played at all, I am actually struggling to find things to say about it that are not really obvious comments. Its a CD that veers wildly between beautiful and ugly sounds, but arranges them in constantly shifting patterns that highlight a conversation that works in both linear and laminal ways at the same time. The twists and turns of the music, the little dark corners hiding unexpected moments of sound all curl and unfold together as the tracks progress, with Nakamura’s washes of colour and scorching rasps of heat seeping around the generally smaller, incidental sounds of Volden. The combination of electronic and acoustic sounds overlaid also gives a depth and richness to the music. It seems obvious to state it here, but it is the combination of the rough and the smooth, the dark and the light, short and long that give this music its energy. There are lengthy passages during which one or the other musician might let extended sounds run, or might repeat a single phrase several times. So the other will react with the opposite approach, adding disruption to any kind of comfort, throwing a handful of grit into the well-oiled machine.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 6th May (not a good day for this country)

May 7, 2010

So the CD in question tonight is Lalienation, the relatively recent duo release by Berlin musicians Sabine Ercklentz (trumpet and electronics) and Andrea Neumann (inside piano and electronics) on the Concrete offshoot of the Herbal International label. Before writing anything about the music mention must be made of the sleeve design for this one, which really stands out as something very different for an improv release. The two musicians stand, weirdly made up so as to look like wooden figures straight out of a Gerry Anderson animation, in front of the Hollywood sign, though the letters have been altered to read LALIENATION. What all of this means I really have very little idea, but it is certainly a striking and very original sleeve design, not what we might expect, which in places is also what we may think about the music on the CD.

I think I first heard these recordings in a demo state a couple of years ago. When I first put this CD into the player a week or so back I had forgotten about this, but the music on the CD is very distinct, primarily because of the use of rhythm, mainly on the album’s title track, which is the second piece here. Before this, the disc opens with a very nice study of short textures and juxtaposed electronic and acoustic sounds called Bialetti. the lengthy sleeve notes (another break from the norm here) reveal some of the sounds we hear to be a recording of a coffee machine (perhaps the track title refers tot he machine’s brand name) burbling away, something I did not notice two years ago, and would probably not have realised without the sleeve note pointer now, though once you know the sounds do become clear. This opening piece is maybe my favourite on the album, sounding very “present” and vibrant in some way. Lalienation then, the second piece begins in a similar area but then breaks up into a kind of disjointed, angular rhythm made up from very short bursts of sound, presumably processed and sequenced in some way, though as the music seems to be entirely improvised it could be that much of this is done manually.

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Concert Reviews

Wednesday 5th May

May 6, 2010

The first thing to note about my trip to Monday’s Freedom of the City was that I was really tired following a night of driving and very little sleep. During some of the sets of the day, especially those that were less interesting to me musically I really struggled to retain focus, and at one point even found myself swaying in my seat fighting to stay awake. When I am really tired I’m not great company either, so apologies if anyone found me a little tetchy. Fortunately a good portion of the music put me in a good mood.

The day started with a bang, the duo of John Butcher’s sax and Mark Sanders’ drums. Their performance was a powerful, seething experience, often exploding outwards into thoroughly active, busy sections but always with a strong feeling of sensitivity in place that would continue into quieter, slower paced sections. The difference I personally felt between this set and some of the other more “traditional” improv performances of the weekend was the feeling that every sound really mattered, each contribution was considered carefully, even in the busier sections. There didn’t seem to be any kind of need to fill space. John Butcher is one of the best “listeners” I know in music. His ability to pick up on the subtleties in a set and respond to them instantly is as good as anyone’s and I think this really showed through here. Sanders experience and no small amount of skill provided an excellent companion. One of the real highlights of the festival.

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Concert Reviews

Tuesday 4th May

May 5, 2010

It didn’t really occur to me beforehand for some reason, but it turned out that on consecutive weekends I attended two festivals that in many ways seem quite different but actually ended up being really quite similar in many ways. The two events, first the i and e over in Dublin and then the Freedom of the City festival in London were both multi-day events that spanned afternoon and evening performances, were organised by some of the musicians performing, had a really nice, friendly, welcoming feel to them and were both events that received just a small amount of funding and relied on the goodwill and commitment of the performers to be able to go ahead. Although musically there were quite a few differences between the events, the sense of community at each was very similar. Although different ends of the improvised music spectrum(s) may attract different types of audience the sense of mutual support and general camaraderie surrounding this kind of get-together underlines to me that this music has the ability to pull socially, culturally and politically like-minded people together no matter which blend of improvised music dominates the bill, no matter which generation of listeners make up the audience.

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Monday 3rd May

May 3, 2010

OK, so I am utterly exhausted tonight / this morning. I got home last night a little after midnight, was home long enough to grab a coffee before driving off to take my parents to Gatwick Airport, a round trip that took a little less than five hours, without sleep, after a fifty hour working week and in the pouring rain… Then this morning I grabbed three and a half hours kip before getting up again and catching the train back into London for eight more sets of improvised music. I took in fifteen in all over the weekend. So it has been hard going, and I am back at work again in the morning so have little choice but have to get to bed now and try and get myself into some kind of shape for another week of work. There actually is a lot I have been thinking about this weekend’s festival, on top of many thoughts about last weekend’s trip to Ireland as well, and it is somewhat frustrating that these thoughts are not getting written here, but I just don’t have the physically capability of getting them typed up right now. Hopefully soon, alongside the assorted other items I have to get posted here, interviews, Listen Series music etc… Yesterday someone I met asked me how I found the time to do all of the things I do as well as do a full time dayjob. The simple answer is that I don’t do them, or at least not very well. Still, I get to hear some great music though, and here and there there was some to be heard this weekend.

I really will try hard to write as much as I can over the forthcoming days!

(By the way, the spontaneity shop was closed…It seems you have to plan your visit there around their opening times!;) )

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Sunday 2nd May

May 2, 2010

Six and a half hours of the more jazz-infused end of free improvisation today. There was a time not so long ago I would have jumped off the nearest high building rather than put myself through such an experience, but I rather enjoyed today, the first day of the Freedom of the City Festival. Don’t get me wrong, this remains the end of free improv that interests me the least, and I am certain that I will enjoy tomorrow’s performances far more, but there was much to be taken from today’s sets, that ranged from the annual gathering of the London Improvisers Orchestra to SUM to John Russell’s QuaQua to a trio of Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, Steve Noble and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Some of it I really enjoyed, some of it really did my head in, but the experience was a valuable one. I will write in a little more detail tomorrow at some point, but my favourite set was a charming little performance by the curious trio of Lol Coxhill, Tania Chen and Dominic Lash. An interesting combination of musicians that actually worked very nicely indeed.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 1st May

May 1, 2010

o finally after a bit of a break, a CD review of sorts. The CD in questions is imaginatively named Duet, a recording by Martine Altenberger (cello) and John Russell (guitar) it is one of a handful of new releases on the ever prolific Another Timbre label. Now, this CD will have its critics, mostly from those adverse to what seems these days to be called EFI, or European Free Improvisation, for reasons I have never quite understood, but the term seems to work well as shorthand for those that choose to divide improvised music up into convenient chunks. Duet will probably fall under the EFI heading because it is made by musicians that have been improvising for quite a while, involves acoustic instrumentation and in places can sound quite fast and busy. Still just sounds like an improvised music CD to me 😉 So yes it is true that this CD could have been released twenty years ago without anyone blinking an eye. It isn’t as full-on and frantic as you might expect however, quite the opposite in many places, but certainly it is acoustic, doesn’t involve much in the way of extended technique and portrays a direct dialogue between the two musicians. In fact, its beauty all lies in that dialogue.

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Friday 30th April

May 1, 2010

I have been out of the house from early this morning through to 1AM tonight, firstly at work and then heading into Oxford to eat with my wonderful girlfriend before going to see Cemetery Junction, the Gervais/Merchant film, which was OK, nicely made but somewhat predictable. It made for a nice evening out anyway. So I haven’t listened to any music at all today other than the seventies soundtrack in the film (there is actually one very nice moment when what I think was a Led Zeppellin track segues into the gritty roar of a metalworking factory) and the music that played in the cinema before the film started. (I got told off for singing along to a Sinatra song… I think I’m getting old) So I have nothing to write of worth this evening, but then after three nights of lengthy concert reviews a breather is good.

So as is the custom, here are a couple of plugs to replace any post of value… First of all Daniel Jones has a couple of solo pieces recorded late last year available as free downloads here. Some nice music, well worth a listen. Then there should also be a mention here of the Freedom of the City Festival at the Conway Hall in London on Sunday and Monday, always a good event, organised and run by musicians, as all the best festivals usually are.. Say hi if you make it along at any point. I’ll definitely be there Monday, maybe Sunday as well. CD reviews tomorrow!!

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