CD Reviews

Saturday 31st July

July 31, 2010

First of all, is that, or is that not, the best CD sleeve image we’ve seen anywhere for a while? Even the new Chamy/Dorner album cover, which is rather brilliant, isn’t as great as this one. The sleeve, which is roughly the size and shape of a 7″ single’s wraps around a normal size CD, the third solo album by the Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen, titled The Lie & the Orphanage and released on the Polish Mathka label. Now I really like Martin Küchen, both as a person and as a musician, and this new disc, released two or three years after his last excellent solo Homo Sacer is just more confirmation of that fact. So given I really enjoy this CD, as I suspected I would, what more is there for me to say about it?

I find myself trying to dissect the album, work out how it has been made, fathom out whether there is overdubbing at work here or not, second guess how each sound is created, spot where the pocket radio (which is the only listed form of instrumentation other than baritone and alto sax) appears… While this is my natural reaction, I can’t help but feel it is the wrong way to listen, or subsequently write about this music. Küchen creates eight short-ish little soundworlds on this album that each serve as little systems in themselves, often quite circular and repetitive in form, a frequent reminder that we are (mostly) listening to a human being’s breath cycling through a series of metal tubes here. Küchen is amazing to watch live, a mass of tensed muscles thrown into dramatic shapes, his sax, huge in size essentially untreated bar an assortment of whiskey bottle tubes thrust intermittently into the bell, and the pocket radio, often way out of site inside the instrument, switched on and off often with the help of a foot pedal. The techniques tend to get in the way of something like this. As I have written before its better to shut my eyes and not watch at concerts. Listening now I find myself picturing Martin playing when I should be just listening. The music lives and breathes and evolves and grows enough on its own without the visual links.

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CD Reviews

Friday 30th July

July 30, 2010

Tonight I have tried to listen to a couple of CDs featuring trios involving the Australian saxophonist (and a lot of other stuff-ist) Massimo Magee that I have had here for ages and just haven’t got around to. I say tried, because my focus has been a little disrupted by constant interruptions and my state of tiredness, but I think I have listened enough to bring my thoughts to bear. Massimo Magee is a young saxophonist with a mature outlook on improvisation, his approach being a particularly pure one. Both of these two discs, Of an Evening alongside Tim Green and John Porter, and One Small Step with Matthew Horsley and David Wallis are straight up recordings of improvisations by the respective trios, no edits, just the music sought out live and heard in the room put straight onto a CD. The style and form of the improvisations, although quite different from one disc to the other does have a vaguely jazz related, active and talkative feel throughout.

Of an Evening came out earlier in the year on Magee’s own tiny [Array] label. His list of instrumentation for the meet is typically long, his sopranino sax joined by a clarinet, piano, signal generator, laptop feedback, tape recorder with blank tape, walkie talkies, field recordings, amplifier feedback and a recording of an earlier improvisation by the trio’s drummer Tim Green. If this sounds like quite a collection of potential sounds, well it does strike me that we don’t hear enough of the more potentially abstract sounds, as for the most part this recording sounds like a straight-up sax/sax/drums set, albeit one with frequent dips into near silence and brooding little sounds in the distance, during which I found myself reaching for the volume control, trying to work out if music could still be heard or if the gaps between tracks were unusually long.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 29th July

July 30, 2010

The disc in question is Teem, the recent duo disc by Olivia Block and Kyle Bruckmann on the either/OAR off shoot of the excellent and/OAR label. I like the word Teem, its one of those that just sounds nice when you say it… Strange that this disc should appear at almost the same time as Teeming, a different CD that I reviewed here. Teem is also Meet spelt backwards, which seems a fitting title for a disc of this type.

Before describing the music, some thoughts about how it was made. It appears that the four pieces here were put together over a period of five years, beginning back in 2003, soon after Bruckmann had contributed to Block’s Pure Gaze album. The two musicians live on opposite sides of the USA now, so with the exception of a recording session together in 2008 that produced material for two of the tracks, the majority of the music here was put together gradually by exchange of sound files. Both musicians are credited with mixing and editing, plus a long list of other instruments and processes, with both contributing field recordings, Block including piano and reed organ, and Bruckmann working with oboe, English horn, accordion and suona (whatever one of those might be). The truth is then, that given the mix of instrumentation and the method of production, its impossible to tell who is responsible for what, which adds a kind of mysterious quality to the music.

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 28th July

July 28, 2010

When I last wrote about the music of Seth Nehil, he kindly left a comment beautifully describing his working methods as “the back and forth between intention and chaos”. Seth wrote this as I had mentioned how fully formed his music sounded on his excellent Flock and Tumble album- for me, the music there had real character. Somehow, despite me being completely unable to find any description of the music to set it apart from many other electroacoustic compositions, it had felt like a thoroughly well defined and original set of recordings. This lead me to assume it had been the result of careful planning towards a specific end, but Seth’s words pointed out that this was not really the case.

Well the follow up to Flock and Tumble, a new release on the Sonoris label named Furl sounds just as original and just as individual to me, and again sounds like it has been planned carefully. Doubtless this is not the case again, but its how it sounds to me. Furl is just as infuriatingly hard to describe as F&T was as well. There are certainly a number of reference points in here, early tape music, a lot of mid-eighties musique concrete, but once again I struggle to think of anyone making music that sounds quite like this right now. Certainly Nehil takes an assortment of small sounds, percussive samples, bells, a piano, all kinds of human voices and who knows what else and collages it all together on a computer, but somehow the end result doesn’t like we might expect it to.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 27th July

July 27, 2010

One of the most formative people in my creative life was Roy East, or Uncle Roy as he was known to me twenty-two years ago my sixth form art teacher. I’m not sure whether Roy would still be with us today or not, though I certainly hope he is. He was touching retirement age when he taught me, and one of my biggest regrets in life has always been losing touch with him when I left the school. One particular thing sticks in my mind from my time under his tuition. Often our art classes would end, but myself and one or two others would stay behind after school, or during lunch breaks and just carry on with whatever we had been doing. Roy always gave the impression that he hated teaching kids to draw and paint, but put a pencil or brush in his own hand and he was as happy as a man could be. Sometimes during these out of hours sessions he would sit down before a still life set-up we might have been working on and starting with a blank canvas draw on his own.

I used to love watching him. Whenever I did so, he would always begin by warning me to pay no attention to how he worked; “don’t copy me, I didn’t pay attention when I was at school”. He would then begin by studying whatever was in front of him for ages, and then suddenly, swiftly, he would make a single mark, with a flourish in exactly the right place. There would be another lengthy pause for concentration, before another mark would be added, away from the first mark. This would continue for a while, as Roy would plot out key points in the drawing/painting, each carefully chosen for its importance. In my mind I would try and make the same connections that Roy was making in his head between these marks. I learnt most of what I now value greatly about the use of negative space in art from Roy East, and much of this came from trying to follow the processes he worked with. Gradually the spaces would be filled, and the speed at which he worked would continually quicken, until, given that Roy was infatuated with the work of Alberto Giacometti, he would be grinding whatever medium he was using into the page at a rapid pace. Strangely, I never much liked the latter stages of this process. Stylistically my preferences in this kind of art were some way away from Roy’s, but the process of getting there, the movement from that first confident mark, through a period of intense study and small structural gestures into the meat piled onto the bones always enthralled me. These days I rarely sit down and draw something in front of me. I just don’t seem to have the time. If and when I do though, I know that my approach will remain very similar.

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CD Reviews

Monday 26th July

July 26, 2010

So as promised I wanted to do a bit of a first for these pages tonight and review an album that has already been reviewed here. Last week for his guest post Simon Reynell wrote about Neptretrganost, a CDr jointly released by Zavod Sploh in conjunction with the L’innomable label by the Slovenian/Japanese, Double bass/percussion duo of Tomaz Grom and Seijiro Murayama. Grom was one half of the TILT group that released a disc on L’innomable a couple of years back, while Murayama currently seems to be appearing on a new CD every other week.

Simon’s review of the CD intrigued me in that it raised the age old questions about the importance of instrumental craftsmanship, but also because he compared the CD to Bestiaries, the recent Cathnor release by Patrick Farmer and Dom Lash, another all acoustic bass/percussion disc. He made the point that while technological advances have changed improvised music in recent years, and while these developments are crucial for the continued growth of the music, they aren’t always necessary. Acoustic instrumentation can still produce inventive, forward thinking music. At the risk of being accused of “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” tactics I would suggest that the new batch of releases on Simon’s own label point us to this (seemingly obvious to me) conclusion.

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Sunday 25th July

July 25, 2010

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig. A big thank you is due to all of the guest posters here over the past week, some thoughtful writing that puts mine to shame. We had a great time in Wales, thoroughly relaxing once the five hour drive there was out of the way. I was able to wind down in a manner I don’t think I have achieved for several years, and most interestingly I almost avoided listening to “serious” music entirely. One evening, as it was raining out, we cooked and ate dinner with a disc of Beethoven quartets playing quietly in the background, and on Friday night I stumbled across BBC Four’s TV broadcast of Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony and I watched the last two thirds of that, but otherwise, beyond the pop music we heard on the radio each morning I escaped music, certainly of the more experimental kind.

This was a weird feeling. I spent some time trying to remember when I last went this long without listening to music and I just can’t remember. There have been periods of a day or two when away with Julie, but for an entire week without music I think I have to go back to a week spent unexpectedly in hospital aged seventeen, when an exploded appendix saw me listening only to hospital radio for five days. It really has been that long.

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Saturday 24th July – Guest post by Dominic Lash

July 24, 2010

On tour with the Alexander Hawkins Ensemble last week, I took the opportunity of a gig in Newcastle to visit the exhibition of John Cage’s visual art that is currently on at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, entitled Every Day is a Good Day, and which has already cropped up in these electronic pages, thanks to Simon Reynell. Just outside the exhibition is a monitor showing a wonderful series of films, including footage of Variations VII, of various Merce Cunningham dance pieces, and Cage’s performance of Water Walk on I’ve Got a Secret. Anybody who hasn’t seen the last of these should watch it right now.

The main room of the exhibition is extraordinarily beautiful. Paintings, watercolours, prints and other artworks by Cage are arranged across the walls of the large room according to chance determined arrangements. Thus there are areas of white space; some pieces too high up to see clearly; others right next to the floor so that one has to crouch to examine them. It all beautifully subverts the historicism often inherent in the gallery format: one can only trace the chronological sequence of the works by comparing their numbers to a key. The works themselves are often astonishing, and the curatorial style enables us to perceive visual rhymes and dissonances between the works in a way which would have been impossible with a less “Cageian” style of presentation. The exhibition is touring later in the year to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and I’m very excited about seeing it again there, where the utterly different exhibition space (largely open plan interconnected but rather small spaces) should give a very different character to the exhibition. (Following this the exhibition will visit Huddersfield, Glasgow and Bexhill on Sea).

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Friday 23rd July – Guest post by Patrick Farmer

July 23, 2010

the illegitimacy of expectation

remembrance, sudden shifts in perception based in and around enfolding memories, heightened (as they are always there) by the cohesion of seemingly disparate events, sequences, played according to choices made throughout the day, and on and on it goes.

to come down to a level, watching the film ‘the untouchables’, drawn back to Uchel Dre, a bungalow once owned by my Nain in the vale of Kerry, a building, i have memories of, certainly, but not of any form in relation to the content contained therein. I think i remember the film playing on the old black and white tv set, it was placed in the large entrance hall, on top of the white circular rug that dominated the room, but this doesnt seem right. Nain would not have allowed that. It is much more likely that the TV had been taken out of the kitchen and placed in one of the spare rooms in the hope of entertaining me, it was probably in the room before the large wicker chair, as my grandads room was further on down the hall, and in all the years i visited that house, i not once went in there. but which memory, origins of fused recollection, am i to lean towards, as i am now, as i was then, standing on one spot.

it was, and is, as if patterns are drawn between the rooms, the outside, everything i can hear and cannot hear. the wind heard through the bushes and coming in through the open window as something else entirely, although it would be something else entirely if the bushes were somewhere else entirely. i have always opened windows, a trait, i think, inherited from my Nain. such sound altering my habits, stopping starting in time with tacit preconceptions, most of what i hear i do not comprehend, 6 years old and preternaturally incredulous, discovering for the first time. the many ears and memories of the encompassing tangle of repetitive motion. to go back to that bungalow, to share in those sounds as if i had been listening there ever since, had not stopped listening there ever since. realising that no sound, indeed no thing, is of no less significance than anything else.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 22nd July – Guest post by Simon Reynell

July 22, 2010

Recently I came across my old copies of Musics – the magazine published by the London Musicians Collective in the mid- to late 1970’s. One issue has an extended discussion between, amongst others, Steve Beresford, David Toop and Evan Parker about whether instrumental expertise is an essential ingredient in good improvisation. The discussion still has resonances today, eg a discussion of Beresford’s tendency at the time to play piano in a faux naif clowning style prefigures some of the arguments underlying the recent ‘Idiots and Idioms’ release by Mattin, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Raymond Brassier and Seijiro Murayama which Richard reviewed here.  For me the argument about instrumental excellence has been fundamentally transformed in the intervening 35 years by the increasingly widespread use of electronics in contemporary improvisation. These days it’s a no-brainer that it’s possible to produce excellent improvised music without touching a conventional instrument, let alone being a virtuoso on one. The accessibility and versatility of digital technology means that virtually anyone can make intriguing sounds without having to first practise scales and/or extended techniques over a period of years. Of course turning those intriguing sounds into something that holds together musically is still a challenge, and it would be interesting to see how much contemporary electronic improvisation seems as substantial in another 35 years time as it seems exciting now. (I’ll be dead by then, so I’ll never know…)

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Wednesday 21st July – Guest post by Jacques Oger

July 21, 2010

First, I would like to apologise in advance. English not being my native language, writing about something which seems familiar becomes suddenly quite difficult. But anyway, I wanted to take this opportunity kindly offered by Richard to give readers of this blog some information about something I consider very important in the areas of music often discussed here. It’s not about a new or underrated release, neither a gig. It’s about a text, of theoretical significance (I am not an expert on that, another barrier for me). Improvisers often like to comment about their practices through interviews, articles, and liner notes. Some of them (I mean people like Derek Bailey and Eddie Prevost to name but a few) have written important essays that have been published and sometimes translated into different languages. We could add other books to the list such as Mark Wastell and Brian Marley’s Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum, Lê Quan Ninh’s Abécédaire (printed very soon), Jean-Luc Guionnet and Bertrand Denzler’s collection of interviews (in preparation). But the one I want to talk about is of different nature. It’s a thesis written by a musician with a strong academic background. Not so common !

Matthieu Saladin’s name is pretty well known among improv and experimental music aficionados. As a musician (laptop and bass clarinet), he appears on several releases. He has recorded Intervalles, an excellent solo album on the L’innomable label and several other interesting solo projects closer to a more experimental music: Stock Exchange Piece (W.M.O./r) and two others 4’33’’ and Experimental Music (Editions Provisoires). He is a member (with Hervé Boghossian and Stéphane Rives) of the trio Plateformes, whose last appearance in Paris a few months ago was quite interesting. A CD of this group has been released on the Canadian label (1.8)sec.records. But he is also a lecturer and researcher working at a French university: he is teaching in the aesthetics department at Lille University. Last June, he defended his Ph.D in Aesthetics, at Paris – La Sorbonne. The exact title of his thesis is: “The Aesthetics of Free Improvisation – Study of a practice within experimental music at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s in Europe”.

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Tuesday 20th July – Guest post by Alastair Wilson

July 20, 2010

The end of another 32-hour day at work and I’m so tired I can barely find the energy to tell you about how important my day job is. On the way home on the train (late again, and full of football hooligans and single mothers screaming at their children – can’t the rail company put on a “quiet listening” coach for those of us with refined tastes in music?) I was barely able to stay awake but was still able to fully appreciate the limpid majesty of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The John Tilbury recording, naturally. Have you heard of it? I hadn’t until a very dear friend who I shouldn’t name recommended I listen to it. I’m in awe of the breadth and depth of his knowledge. John Wall is brilliant too, and I really hope his improvising gets better soon so I don’t have to keep apologising for it.

Anyway, I’ve bought 27 different versions of the Beethoven piece in the last week but the best version is indisputably the one I was recommended by that very dear friend. Julie was less than impressed when I stopped off at her house, took off her Robbie Williams CD and talked her through the finer points of Tilbury’s technique but she’ll thank me for it one day.

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Monday 19th July – Guest post by Mattin – Noise vs Conceptual Art

July 19, 2010

NOISE VS CONCEPTUAL ART

1. If conceptual Art is clean, Noise is dirty. If conceptual art is subjective noise is asubjective. Of course, it is the artist who produces his or her conceptual artwork. Instead, Noise is everywhere.

2. Anybody can make noise. One does not need to be an artist, or go to art school, or understand the specifics ways of art making such as Conceptual Art, Institutional Critique or Relational Aesthetics. The everyday qualities of noise have with us for a long time.

3. “Capital does not like noise”
Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, Governor of the bank of Spain.
Countability, separability, measurability are intrinsic qualities of capital.
For a commodity to achieve its value and therefore become a commodity, It needs to be counted as one. Rumour as elusive and unstable, as impossible to count, can be defined as noise. Noise exceeds the logic of calculability.

4. If we take Adorno’s claim that there is a strong connection between the forces of production and Art, we can see how Conceptual Art and the dematerialisation of the art object coincides with the end of gold as the standard equivalent form of value. Lack of control, pollution and intelligibility, attributes of noise, connect today to a level of abstraction that capitalism has reached with its credit booms, toxic assets and speed banking. Inevitably, fictitious capital brought us into a state of crisis. Noise is permanent crisis.

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Sunday 18th July – Guest Post by Jeph Jerman

July 18, 2010

I have tinnitus. I’ve had it for quite a while now, so long in fact that I can’t remember exactly when it started. It’s not painful, and not really a ‘ringing’ in my ears, so much as a fairly constant whine. I’m not even sure I could say it’s a sound, more like a presence that I mostly notice when things are quiet, like now. The only other things I can hear are the computer’s CPU humming and occasional vehicles passing the house. Now and then a hammer hitting wood from the home construction project next door, and just now one of the neighborhood dogs announcing something or other.

Bird song.

At times I am anxious about it, but I’m also finding it very interesting. If I really pay attention to it, I notice that the sound (or presence) changes, sort of cycling in a weird way, almost tumbling over itself. I pay attention to it at night, in bed, and it helps me to fall asleep. Listening to music can be a challenge, as the whine exists alongside of, or in front of (so to speak) the music, and I find that I can move my attention back and forth between the music and the whine. Loud sound will overpower it completely.
Reading about the condition, I’ve learned that it’s very common, especially with older folks, and…

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Saturday 17th July

July 17, 2010

So this evening I saw a really lovely little concert over at Dominic Lash’s house, two pieces by Antoine Beuger played by himself and David Stent. I just don’t have time to write about the concert this evening unfortunately as I am still packing like crazy before heading off to Wales in the early hours. I was up at 4AM this morning as well so my energies right now are on the wane…

Tonight is kind of the first night of the guest posts as well, although rather than offer a full post tonight there is just a couple of links to offer… When I asked a few people if they would like to write a post, one person, who shall remain nameless for now declined as they were going away and did not have the time, but did instead offer me a couple of links to share with you- These links were chosen because they might be “ethical, intelligent, surprising and rich in imagination as should all good improvised music be” Beyond that, I can’t add any more….

Link One, Link Two

First guest Post proper tomorrow then, courtesy of Jeph Jerman. if I get a chance while away I’ll write up the concert tonight, but don’t be surprised if I don’t get to it until I return. Be good while I’m gone.

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Friday 16th July

July 16, 2010

Aaarrgh! So much to do… so little time. Work was hell today, and since getting home I’ve been working on formatting and editing the next seven days’ worth of blog posts so that hopefully Julie and I can go away and only have to pop into these pages once a day to set the new post running. (Just before anyone kindly points me towards Word Press’ Automatic Posting tools, I’m afraid they won’t work with the particular design I have written for this blog)
The posts are all in bar one, and vary from a single link to lengthy essays with a lot of other ground covered in between. I hope you enjoy them. I want right now to just say a thank you to the eight writers involved for their efforts. I am very grateful for this, and I am sure so also will be the blog’s readership, who will get a week off without me moaning and groaning all the time. My plan is to return refreshed and raring to go here again, with my first tasks to relaunch the Listen Series, overhaul the currently malfunctioning Concert Calendar in a way that you will be able to advertise gigs directly yourselves, and get the Reviews Index back up to date. Then I hope to get back into a decent groove with reviews here and get the wheels moving properly on the next interview. There are a couple of other new ideas in the pipeline as well, but more on those when I find out how I can make them work.

In the meantime, beside a possible brief post tomorrow about Dom Lash’s house concert that I hope to attend tomorrow I will leave you in the capable hands of others. I’m off to record a couple of road trip discs for Julie and I to listen to on the journey up. The intention is to alternate tracks between music I like and music Julie likes. Could be interesting…

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Thursday 15th July

July 16, 2010

I’m a little snowed under with stuff right now. Although I had a day off of work my feet didn’t touch the ground today. This morning I cut down a massive pampas grass in the front garden here that was threatening to take over Oxfordshire. Doing this wasn’t a big problem, but I then found myself turning a deep shade of purple as I seemed to have an allergic reaction to whatever secretions make their way out of a pampas grass as it is being cut down. A healthy overdose of antihistimines sorted the problem out anyway, and I was able to go and spend the evening with Julie, wherein we made a list of who is responsible for forgetting to take assorted essential items away with us next week.

Anyway, before leaving on Sunday morning my intention is to prepare all seven of the stand-in blog posts, write a couple of reviews for The Wire, finish at least one CD sleeve design and attend a house concert at Dominic Lash’s place on Saturday evening. All this and work both days in my dayjob. As I hope you might understand, this may well mean I don’t get much writing done for this blog over the next couple of days, though I will certainly attempt to get at least a rough write-up of Dom’s concert done if I possibly can.

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Wednesday 14th July

July 14, 2010

No post tonight I’m afraid. Today was a tough day at work, from which I got home about 10PM with a splitting headache, so I going to take a bath with a cup of camomile tea and then get straight to bed. Yeah I know this sounds like every other day I complain about, but that’s the way it is I guess. I bet Shakespeare didn’t write something every single day 😉

To be honest, work has been somewhat stressful for a few weeks and so next week when Julie and I get to escape to a remote corner of Wales for a few days separated from everything but sheep cannot come quickly enough. I am glad to report that I now have completed guest blog posts ready to go to replace me on my week off by Jeph Jerman, Patrick Farmer, Alastair Wilson and Jacques Oger, with three others still to come. Some really interesting, thoughtful, quite beautiful and also somewhat amusing posts amongst these, it should be fun to see how they are received.

When I get to Wales, the plan is to leave music behind for the week as best I can. I don’t intend to take any CDs, will only use my iPod for spoken word listening and if I do any writing it won’t be about music. Its not that I particularly feel the need to take a break for myself, my interest in music, and the sheer pleasure I take from it is as strong as ever, but I also realise I can be a thoroughly boring old fart about it at times, and its not just me that is going on this holiday… It is going to be interesting though; I don’t think I have had a break away from listening to music like this before, or at least not since my teenage years. While maybe it has only been the last few years that I have listened as intensely as I do at the moment, I have always bought CDs (or vinyl before them) and always spent a lot of time pouring over one new discovery or another. I’m not sure how its going to feel being normal for a week. I suspect I’m really going to hate it and will hit some kind of wall of withdrawal symptoms by Wednesday. I’m taking a camera as my creative fall-back option anyway, I hope the sheep know how to say cheese.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 13th July

July 13, 2010

The CD in question is a new release on the fully revived and full of life L’innomable label by a group named, perhaps slightly clumsily Berlin-Buenos Aries Quintet. The group’s members, perhaps not surprisingly come from these two cities, with at least one of them Argentinian born but now living in the German capital. the quintet is made up of Andrea Neumann, (inside piano) Lucio Capece, (soprano sax and bass clarinet) Sergio Merce, (tenor sax and electronics) Robin Hayward, (tuba) and Gabriel Paiuk (piano). A tasty line-up indeed. The single forty-three minute track here though was recorded in Buenos Aries as long ago as 2004, presumably as part of a live concert situation.

After the first listen to this CD, the initial thing that hit me was how hard it was to separate the different musicians from each other in the mix. In some places its obvious- its not that hard to spot the piano for instance, but elsewhere the music becomes very quiet and spacious, and when all there is to go by is little grey puffs of air and small vaguely metallic scrapes it can be hard to figure out if what we are hearing is a clarinet, a sax or a tuba. There is in fact quite a bit of silence on this disc, or rather, if there isn’t silence we hear then its a lot of general restraint and very quiet playing. I am very tempted to call the CD dated in this aspect, as it could be said to sound of its time, but then there is also a certain sense of disconnectedness to it that makes it sound thoroughly contemporary, a tendency for musicians to follow each other with short abrupt sounds rather than layer textures on top of each other.

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CD Reviews

Monday 12th July

July 12, 2010

Anyway the CDr that I have settled upon is the sixth in the Instamatic series released on riley French’s Engraved Glass label, a recent release that blends together field recordings he made while visiting Prague last year. The Instamatic series is based around this kind of travel recording, little snapshots of a place and time, a bit like leafing through a few pages of someone’s photo album. The sounds we hear vary between the very beautiful and the thoroughly clichéd, (traffic, trains, footsteps, birdsong, children at play all appear here) but the construction of the music, the way the piece flows through periods of bustling activity to virtual calm, while all very simple and unoriginal is exceptionally well done.

There is something that I always enjoy about this kind of site-specific field recording. I think if a musician sets out to make an album of field recording related composition that uses sounds gathered from anywhere and everywhere then the onus is placed completely upon the music to be a work of great refinement, some kind of statement by the musician having shaped and sculpted sounds into place. When a limited set of recordings are used however, as in the material used here, gathered in a few days in one place then the focus of the album seems to shift away from being a great artistic statement and instead works like an audio scrapbook, indeed that snapshot of a place and time.

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Classical Sundays

Sunday 11th July

July 12, 2010

Far, far too hot today, the kind of weather that makes you want to do nothing but sit around consuming cold drinks and do as little as possible. I spent much of the day in the garden, finishing an article I have been writing for another website, but I also took my favourite walk this afternoon, out along the disused railway at the end of my road into the countryside. I took my iPod, as I usually do, but as I began the walk I span the wheel looking for something suitable to listen to, something I might be able to write about tonight. My general apathy towards doing anything at all meant that I went through most of the playlists unsatisfied with anything I found, but being a Sunday, and being aware that I haven’t written a classical music post in months I settled on one of the many recordings of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony that resides on my iPod, on this occasion the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s recording under the direction of Bruno Maderna. It is only this evening as I lazily look at the sleevenotes to find the recording date I noticed that it was in fact recorded the day after my date of birth, back in 1971.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 10th July

July 10, 2010

This evening, since getting home I have been trying to find a cool spot in the house where I could still hear the stereo and listen to tonight’s CD, which has been a live disc by the new York based Delicate Sen trio. The group consist of Anne Guthrie, (french horn) Billy Gomberg (laptop) and Richard Kamerman (motors, objects, electronics). The group released their debut album last year on Kamerman’s Copy For Your Records label, which I wrote about here.

I’m not all that sure how readily available this CDr is actually. titled Betalevel, Los Angeles, CA, its a live recording wrapped up in a handmade card sleeve, but it doesn’t appear at the CFYR website. It may be that Richard K is just circulating the disc around friends and acquaintances, but as Brian wrote, albeit briefly about it (back in June, but as Brian doesn’t add titles to his posts it makes them hard to link to directly) I figured it would be OK to review it. Richard can be contacted via the CFYR site, but I am sure he can chime in in the comments here and let us know if its not available to order!

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CD Reviews

Friday 9th July

July 10, 2010

I’ve also spent a couple of hours playing a CD that has been in and out of my CD player for a few weeks now, the //2009// compilation CD put together by the q.O2 organisation in Belgium for the Compost and Height label. The idea behind this compilation is really very simple, but if I think about it I can’t come up with another CD release that has adopted the same idea down the years. The disc works as a kind of game of musical Chinese whispers.

The q.O2 organisation in Brussells is a wonderful operation. They bring experimental musicians and artists into their city centre workspace throughout the year to take up week-long residencies, sometimes also playing concerts, but generally just making use of the creative space offered to them. During 2009, one of q.O2’s driving forces, Julia Eckhardt asked ten musicians (nine plus herself) to create a seven minute long piece of music, one a time, as the year progressed. However each was given the CD of the musician before them’s music and asked to respond to it. They did not know who had made the piece of music before them, or have any information other than the recording itself. The project began when Eckhardt herself made a piece of music, so starting the chain that is documented on this CD. Each musician was also asked to provide two diary pages about their contribution, which are collected in the handsome book that wraps around the CD here. Some of the contributions are written texts, some hand-drawn, some just consist of photographs. The whole project then takes on a new dimension beyond what we might expect from a various artists compilation. Rather than just listen to each track we ponder over its links to the preceding piece of music. Interesting stuff.

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Thursday 8th July

July 9, 2010

No post tonight, due to going straight from work to Julie’s place where we had a fish ‘n chips supper and did little else but lounge about and complain about the day we had each had… I got home very late, and though I had tried to listen to the //2009// various artists compilation on the Compost and Height label in conjunction with q.O2 in the car on the way home I didn’t hear any of it, not one little bit, so I put on the radio and laughed a lot to a phone in show during which various silly people recounted occasions in which they had ‘seen’ ghosts.

So a bit of a plug to make the lack of any post seem less noticeable… first of all, many readers here will already have seen Clare Cooper’s voluntary appeal to help her raise the money for a harp. Clare is a rather good harpist that has been without an instrument of her own for a couple of years now. A bit of personal background on this from me- I met Clare for the first and only time a couple of years back in Huddersfield, where she had played as part of John Butcher’s group. She had told me how she had played with a borrowed harp for many years, but sadly knew she would soon have to send it home to Australia, back to its owner. I remember feeling really bad about this, the fact that Clare was to be separated from her instrument left a feeling of great loss with me. This was a musician who knew that she wouldn’t be able to get easy access to the instrument she knew and loved. With a replacement harp costing around £10,000 (why so expensive I’ve no idea) it seemed unlikely she would be able to pick one up very easily. Clare was all smiles but I felt a sense of great loss in our brief chat that I was reminded of again this week when an appeal site was set up to try and raise money for Clare to buy a new harp. There has been a degree of condemnation of Clare’s appeal for contributions. She has started this page, offering a copy of her new solo disc to anyone that contributes something towards her purchasing a new instrument. This is a musician without an instrument asking the musical community in which she moves to support her in return for a disc of her music. This doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me. This isn’t a case of Clare just fancying a new harp, she doesn’t have one at all right now, and without one she can’t make harp music without having one hired for individual gigs. Helping a musician, a colleague in this music, a like mind, find a way to play her chosen instrument is the kind of support this music’s communities is great at providing. In return we get the music. If you would like to support Clare, go to her website and give something. If you don’t wish to, or are unable to, then that doesn’t make you any less of a person. I gave something, just because it felt like a nice thing to be able to do.

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 7th July

July 7, 2010

This evening since getting home I have been listening to a CD I was asked to review by a young Swiss duo named Diatribes. The CD in question, a recent release named Multitude on the Cave12 label sees the duo of Cyril Bondi (drums and percussion) and D’Incise (laptop and objects) meet up with the veteran double bassist Barry Guy for this album, with Benoit Moreau, a clarinetist also appearing on one of the seven tracks.

I was previously not familiar with Diatribes, though the list of collaborators they have worked with at their website makes impressive reading. I must say that its maybe as long as a decade since I last heard Barry Guy’s music, either live or on disc, so in some ways this music comes to me entirely fresh. It is an interesting affair anyway. The easy, lazy option here would be for me to dismiss the music on this CD  as busy, scratchy old school improv and either pass over this CD without review or give it short shrift. Trying not to be lazy or take the easy option then I have listened to this CD four times tonight, with one of those listens completely focussed, doing nothing else at the same time. While this is relatively frenetic, energetic improvisation that doesn’t leave a lot of room to breathe, there is a really nice balance of textures going on here that makes listening vertically down into the music, as opposed to listening horizontally along to it is a rewarding experience.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 6th July

July 6, 2010

The disc in question is a full length release by the Dublin based improviser and composer Fergus Kelly. Titled Fugitive Pitch (Fergus’ titles are always great- remember Leaching the Pith?) this is the tenth release on his own Room temperature label. The music on this release then is formed by processing, constructing and layering samples taken from recordings made of Kelly improvising with assorted metals, plastics and drums alongside David Lacey in a disused cellar underneath Henrietta Street in Dublin. The music here then is split into nine tracks.

While I am a big fan of his improvised work I have mixed feelings about Kelly’s more composed works. While I generally speaking really like the actual sounds, the pacing and the overall atmosphere of the work there is one element that often puts me off, and that, perhaps predictably is the use of looping sounds and rhythmic pulses that he forms by taking small sections of the recording and turning them over and over on themselves. Having messed about with music sequencing software myself from time to time (haven’t we all by now?) it always struck me that the easiest thing to do was loop something so that it took on a new form. While easy to do though it never seemed to result in anything that interesting. Kelly uses loops quite a bit on Fugitive Pitch, and while I must certainly state that these elements give the music a sense of drive and momentum I can’t help but wonder that I would be far more engaged if they weren’t there and the narrative of the music was formed more from placing different sections of the recordings together to see what developed. It isn’t of course though, my place to state how anyone’s music should or should not sound, I just struggle to get my head past the loops here.

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CD Reviews

Monday 5th July

July 6, 2010

Tonight I listened to a CDr that may or may not be still available, seeing as it was recently issued in an edition of just 50 copies, of which only “a small handful” were made available for sale. The disc is the latest release on Jez riley French’s lovingly crafted Engraved Glass label and is a full length CDr that contains eleven realisations by various artists of a series of four photographic scores by Mr French himself. A photographic score, in this case, consists of one or more photographs coupled with a few words, nothing more. An example, Isolde Score No.2 is shown below, the others can be viewed here. Before going on to discuss the music here I should mention that while I consider Jez riley French to be a very good musician, I often wonder if he might actually be an even better photographer, as his ability to find images of great beauty in the every day detail around us is extremely acute. These photographic scores in particular then are dedicated, and I think influenced by a friend of Jez’ named Isolde. he then sent the scores to a number of musicians to respond to them intuitively. The results are all quite different, and often very beautiful.

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CD Reviews

Sunday 4th July

July 4, 2010

Throughout today I have listened a few times through to a two CD set of music that was released near the end of last year, but I only got around to purchasing a few weeks back. Richard Garet’s Four Malleable came out on the and/OAR label, and when I ordered some new bits and pieces from them recently I picked up this one as well. The two discs each contain two tracks, all lasting roughly half an hour in length have a certain austere, grainy drone feel to them, generally consisting of layered, extended sounds rich in small detail but having an essentially linear character. So there are a lot of sounds that resemble vacuum cleaners, distant air conditioning, whirring hard drives, crackling embers, whistling kettles etc, all very slowly shifting over each other so that the overall sensation is one of very slow pace and only gradual change. The exact identity of the samples and recordings used by Garet isn’t ever completely clear, but there are field recordings in there, processed to one degree or another. Garet describes the chosen sounds as malleable, material he could form into the structures presented on the CDs.

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Saturday 3rd July

July 3, 2010

Absolutely no better today guys, if anything somewhat worse. So sorry about this. Laying in a fever a little while ago I had a wild, very vivid dream that included the ghost of Ligeti fighting a Sumo bout against the ghost of Feldman. Someone go analyse that. Right now my hands are shaking too much to type and the pillow is drawing my head back down. Another pic taken right now then, nothing if not topical. I’m off of work tomorrow (I went in today) so hopefully by this time tomorrow evening I’ll be well enough to share a less horrific photo with you and maybe write about some music for a change as well.

Sorry folks.

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Friday 2nd July

July 2, 2010

Sorry I have not been well this afternoon, so I am not able to post tonight. I got up feeling a bit queasy, intending to go out for lunch with Julie and then head into London to attend the Stewart Lee / Steve Beresford / Tania Chen John Cage event. I did the first bit, had a lunch that was perfectly nice, before heading home to get ready to go to the big smoke. I was home about five minutes before finding myself, well, shall we say in the toilet a lot.

This evening then I’m somewhat washed out and off to bed again in the hope I an get fit enough to not be a mess at work tomorrow. My new laptop lets me take these quick photos. Sorry to frighten you all with this one of how I look right now…. Apologies for the lack of a post.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 1st July

July 1, 2010

This evening I have been listening to a CD of field recordings made by Yannick Dauby and recently released on the Sonoris label. The disc is named Overflows and appears to be a work formed by layering untreated field recordings over each other, fading in and out in a typical manner, The recordings were mostly, but not all recorded in Taiwan, and feature thunderstorms, crowds of people, bird and insect sounds, quite a lot of running water and other, vaguely mechanical or industrial sounds that can’t easily be identified. Now, this is a recipe for completely generic, thoroughly uninteresting field recording work. All of the clichés are there, and if I was just to describe the sounds here simply it wouldn’t be easy to distinguish this CD from any of the other really quite similar discs out there these days.

So is this just another water/wildlife/wind/waves blend that sounds exactly as you might expect? Well in a way, yes it is- Overflows does follow a familiar pattern, blending sounds into each other, having one recording rise up under another, focussing on texture etc… but for some reason, and its hard to pin down what it is, this CD, especially when played loud and (unusually for field recordings) not over headphones has a sense of real energy to it. The sounds we hear are of course all immaculately captured, but the actual choices are all full of some kind of urgency. So we don’t just hear a storm and driving rain, we hear crashes of thunder that seem to burst out of the stereo field and rain that almost becomes scary, such is the power with which it seems to drive. The introduction of blasts of air that sound like some kind of piston being fired top one point of forceful droning energy off with a power that makes the music jump out. The sheer experience of listening here, despite all of my preconceptions about the music is enthralling, a bit like getting onto a rollercoaster when you know what is coming, but still the adrenalin leaves you gasping for air.

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