Concert Reviews

Sunday 27th February

February 27, 2011

So a few thoughts on last night’s improv concert in Shoreditch before heading back into London today to attend Dom Lash’s leaving do. The concert was held in St leonard’s Church in a busy part of Shoreditch, the same site that I saw the dame septet as performed last night play on Hallowe’en night last year. On that occasion, as I wrote here, the group played some really nice music, but were partly overshadowed by events outside of the room, a strange disconnected saxophone wandering in from a party in the adjoining room, various other celebratory sounds, and the screaming and shouting of Central London on such a night. Last night however, none of that was present, and while the external intrusions had added much to think about, it was great last night to really hear the group develop the music they had performed into a really lovely performance.

Before the septet, we heard a solo performance from Hervé Perez, a Sheffield based field recordings/laptop musician who presented a piece sculpted from field recordings of water, crowd scenes etc, merged and layered live alongside some synthesised computer sounds created in the moment. Now, these ingredients, as I have written elsewhere lately often leave me a bit cold, simply because they seem to appear all of the time with little originality to be found these days. In many ways Perez’ performance was far from original. The way he merged soft ambient synths and crackling rustles amongst the slowly emerging and disappearing field recordings followed the textbook on how to do this kind of thing perfectly. I really enjoyed sitting and listening last night though, so something worked in this music for me that is hard to explain.

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Saturday 26th February

February 27, 2011

1AM, and I’ve been into London tonight after having been up at 4AM this morning to start a full day at work, so I am pretty tired this evening. I have now finished work for a week, so I have a few days rest, though I aim to get along to a fair number of concerts over these next seven days, maybe five or six in all including the As alike as trees Festival which takes place next weekend. Tonight I went to Shoreditch, and to St Leonard’s Church to attend a performance by the same sextet I saw play there late last year, in a concert that was upset, if not actually spoilt by some interruptions from the room next door. It is far too late and having been awake twenty-one hours now I am far to tired to write anything coherent tonight, but I will hopefully get a report written and posted tomorrow lunchtime before I go back into London again, this time to attend Dominic Lash’s ‘leaving gig’ at Café Oto. A big turnout is highly likely for tomorrow’s concert, but as the night has a second purpose of raising money for Medical Aid for Palestinians I am more than happy to plug it again here and urge anyone even remotely close by to attend. I suspect this might be a concert people in London talk about for a while, so one not to be missed… More tomorrow then.

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CD Reviews

Friday 25th February

February 25, 2011

A very interesting CD indeed tonight, one that I suspect will annoy more than it inspires and become talked about quite a bit. I kind of hope so anyway. The disc in question is the second release on Miguel Prado’s aptly named CDr label Heresy, a solo work by Miguel named Comedy Apories.

Now, this disc is structurally no different to many Radu Malfatti compositions in that it contains a great deal of digital silence, amongst which, and at presumably carefully chosen points, sounds are distributed, or rather, one sound, used repeatedly, though occasionally slightly pitchshifted. So I must like it yes? I must be able to enjoy it in the same way I do when I sit back and enjoy the tension between sound and silence in a Malfatti work?

Well, maybe… but this CD differs in that the chosen sound is that of canned laughter, a small grab of it, maybe a second and a half in length, placed in spaces around a digital silence lasting thirty-sebven minutes. Now, Prado’s disc came accompanied by a press release that quotes from Zizek and Ray Brassier, but also points out that Prado has chosen this sample so as to

“work with these sounds apart from any other artifice or affectation. I tried to objectify the experience of generating noise, forget any eglomaniac gloating very typical of the artists” (sic)”

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Thursday 24th February

February 24, 2011

A brief post much earlier than usual then, because I am off out shortly to spend the afternoon and evening with my exceptionally patient better half, and I don’t think she would appreciate it if our time together included stopping to listen and write about some obscure CD of field recordings or whatever…

A quick mention though of some of my listening over the past few days- My CD shelves seem to have recently been in a perpetual state of reorganisation as I continually fight to get every disc I am sent filed away and still retain some sense of order, so that I might be able to find things again one day. As ever, and as I am sure we have all experienced, going through old CDs leads to finding items we had maybe not forgotten, but suddenly feel the urge to listen to again. A little pile has built up on the end of my desk of recordings I wanted to play again, and this week, after writing late in the evenings I have taken to putting some of these discs on just before bed, not with any intention of writing about them, as I have enough problems keeping up with reviews of new material, but just to turn back a few pages and listen to see if these discs are still as good/bad as I remember them being.

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 23rd February

February 24, 2011

To coin a phrase that Dan Warburton will certainly understand, tonight’s CD is a downright barmy concoction. It actually isn’t a CD, given that it is released on vinyl only, but given that I was sent a promo on CD I’m probably best off continuing to describe it as such, otherwise I’m going to get even more confused than this CD has already made me…

The release in question came out around the turn of the year on the Monotype label, a disc by the quartet Hot Club, who are made up of the aforementioned Warburton, (violin) Jac Berrocal, (vocals and trumpet) Francois Fuchs (double bass) and Alexandre Bellenger (turntables). The disc is named, hilariously, Straight Outta Bagnolet. Daft group name and album title aside though, what makes this album so unclassifiable and somehow really quite enjoyable? Well I should probably summarise Warburton’s press notes on the disc first. The idea was to take this group into a studio in the Bagnolet suburb of Paris and record some cover versions of some of Jac Berrocal’s favourite songs. Doubtlessly, given the mix of instrumentation, these were always likely to be somewhat quirky revisions of those songs, but it seems that on the day of the recording, Berrocal, and to a lesser degree, also Warburton might have had a few drinks, and so the recordings ended up being a bit of a mess. At a later date however, Warburton took the recordings and set about reconstructing them into a kind of multi-layered collage of vaguely drunken vocals, free improvisation, some charmed trumpet playing and an awful lot of the original records that the group had set out to cover.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 22nd February

February 22, 2011

Tonight’s CD is one that I’ve been mulling over for a couple of weeks now, a disc named Table and Stairs by the trio of Robin Hayward, Ferran Fages and Nikos Veliotis. As so often happens, as I sat down to write I spotted that Brian had also written about this one in the last twenty-four hours, and touched upon the subject of drones in improvisation, something I also mentioned a couple of days back after listening to another release involving Veliotis. So perhaps, despite the vaguely droney nature of this disc I’ll try and find something else to say about it.

The question then, is what is there else to say? On this release, the incredibly versatile Fages performed using laptop generated sine waves alongside Veliotis’ trademark cello and Hayward’s microtonally tuned tuba. The music isn’t just one long heavy drone at all, but here and there it does slip into a more linear construction. There is something else about this recording that I really enjoy however. Reading the notes at theOrganised Music from Thessalonikiwebsite, the music was recorded in a somewhat informal atmosphere at an Athens apartment after an evening meal amongst friends. Fages and Veliotis had performed on the same bill at a local festival, but they had later found that Hayward was also in town and they played together at short notice. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if I hadn’t read this, but there is a really intimate feeling about the music, a sense of closeness, though it is hard to say why feel this. The music is nicely recorded, so its not as if there is any evidence of it being recorded in someone’ apartment to give anything away, but somehow, the sounds here feel really warm and knitted together. The CD is only thirty-one minutes long, and has a beautifully poignant ending, so this helps make it feel like a nice, well rounded little piece of music, but still this doesn’t really explain the warmth I feel in the music.

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CD Reviews

Monday 21st February

February 21, 2011

So, before writing about the music I’ve been listening to tonight, a few words that have occurred to me about the Creative Sources label. There probably isn’t a much more maligned label than Ernesto Rodrigues’ CS imprint. For those unaware, he operates a policy in which musicians pay a portion of the cost of producing a CD on the label, in return for a large number of the discs and the opportunity to have an album issued in a professional manner on a distributed label. I’m not sure of the criteria used by Ernesto to decide what gets released and what doesn’t, but the system has certainly resulted in a highly prolific label with approaching two hundred releases over the decade it has existed, with the release rate probably higher now than it ever has been.

The criticism of the label then has mostly surrounded the quality of the music, suggesting that the label consists mainly of music that nobody else wanted to release by names nobody has heard of. As I doubt that very many people at all have heard a significant portion of the catalogue I don’t attribute much value to that kind of statement. Personally, having listened to quite a number of CS releases over the past couple of years, and having written about a number of them here, I’d say the success rate is well up over 50%, and while there have been some discs I have disliked so much I haven’t been able to write about them, others have been really very good indeed. The problem then, in my opinion, isn’t the quality, its the sheer volume of releases by often unrecogniseable names that appear on the CS list. When there are already far more CDs being released than anyone can conceivably keep up with, how is anyone meant to pick apart such a catalogue and take risks on things they know little about? This then, is where reviews make some difference, and so I hope to try and write about all of the recent stack of a dozen new CS discs over the coming weeks.

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CD Reviews

Sunday 20th February

February 21, 2011

I seem to be hearing a lot of drone-based improvisation right now. A few of the newer releases I have been playing in recent days could be described as such. This is a difficult area of the music to create interesting work in. I have never been a huge fan of drones for the sake of drones. When they work well, as in say, the music of Eliane Radigue, it is because so much is there inside the music to listen to, so perhaps although the music forms one long continuum it is made up of many small events. Whether I enjoy drone-based improv then will naturally depend on how much there is going on in there, and in the case of collaborative improvisation, the interplay between the musicians in this kind of music, although aesthetically different is still vitally important.

So for the last couple of days I have been listening a lot to Slugabed, the duo of Nikos Veliotis and Klaus Filip released on the Hibari label. In many ways this duo is a great match-up. Both musicians utilise extended sounds in subtle, beautifully balanced ways in other groupings, so their collaboration here perhaps seemed a meeting of minds, though also maybe the similar approaches of either musician could be just too similar to work? No need to worry on that score, as the music on Slugabed fits with my ideal form of droning improv perfectly, a constantly shifting, evolving blend of acoustically quite different sounds, the smoothed, honey-thick sinetones from Klaus Filip’s laptop and the richly textured grain of Veliotis’ cello.

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Saturday 19th February

February 20, 2011

No post again tonight, primarily because I only got home from work at midnight, having started at 9AM- a fifteen hour shift all in all. This evening then I’m pretty dog tired and have very little to say. Tomorrow should allow me to write much more though. Also, after a few weeks of very few new releases arriving here, which has given me the chance to clear the decks a little, about twenty-five new CDs turned up over the past few days, so I have plenty of new listening to crack on with and the reviews will hopefully now come thick and fast over the next week. I’ll try and write one a night for the next six or seven days to make up for the recent shortage. Next week I am at work, but the following week I am off work again for seven days as I have a lot of holiday to take before the end of the year. If all goes to plan I hope to get to five concerts across those seven days. We shall see if I succeed with that or not. Now, I really must get off to bed before I fall asleep on the keyboard and this post won’t get written until… I’ll do better tomorrow!

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Concert Reviews

Friday 18th February

February 19, 2011

The Holywell Music Room in Oxford is said to be the oldest purpose-built music space in Europe. the sound in there is amazing, the half circle-shaped high walls behind the musicians naturally amplifying even the smallest sounds. Attending a concert of very quiet music in this space then, was in theory a great idea, but it turned out that the resonant qualities of the hall only succeeded in bring a whole lot of other unwanted noise into the equation.

I was there last night for the second of the three nights that make up the Audiograft Festival, with this particular evening curated by the SET Ensemble, a loose collective of musicians formed to realise contemporary music scores. The theme of the evening was Wandelweiser and Fluxus, and so the night was split between realisations of works from these two somewhat amorphous composer collectives. The SET Ensemble last night were Patrick Farmer, (percussion and acoustic guitar, yes guitar!) Bruno Guastalla, (cello) Sarah Hughes, (autoharp) Dominic Lash, (double bass) David Stent (guitar) and Paul Whitty (accordion). They were then augmented by the visiting trio of Rhodri and Angharad Davies (electronic harp and violin respectively) and Tim Parkinson (piano).

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Thursday 17th February

February 18, 2011

Its 2Am and I have only just settled after getting in late from a rather nice concert in Oxford. The show was part of the Audiograft Festival, and was curated by the SET Ensemble, a loose group of Oxford based musicians who tonight were augmented by Angharad and Rhodri Davies alongside Tim Parkinson. The group performed a mixture of Wandelweiser-esque scores and Fluxus pieces, and a great time was had, despite noisy, disrespectful Oxfordians both inside and outside of the venue. Despite the inability of the locals to grasp the importance of staying quiet during this kind of music it was still great to witness something like this in my back yard. I will write a review of the concert tomorrow as I am a little too tired tonight to write much given that I attended the concert this evening straight after leaving work. The photo above then is a picture of Patrick Farmer mistaking a feather pillow for his drumkit, with predictably messy results.

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 16th February

February 17, 2011

The disc in question is a newish release on the Live Actions imprint, an offshoot of the Herbal International label. The disc is named Poverb and is by the trio of Mathias Pontevia, (horizontal drums) Nusch Werchowska, (piano and objects) and Heddy Boubaker (alto and bass saxophones), who perform under the (pretty bad) group name of Trio WPB3. As I guess may be the case with all of the Live Actions releases, this disc captures a live performance held in a Hamburg church back in 2008.

Now, on one hand, I could probably describe the music here in vaguely floral, descriptive terms with no problem. On the other though, its actually quite hard to sun up this music with any quick and easy pigeon-hole terminology, which is clearly a good thing. The music is all played acoustically, and for the most part in a quite traditional manner (the piano is ‘played’ via the keys, the sax blown through, the drums hit etc…) and in places there are hints at free jazz (certainly some of the musicians have experience in this area) but they remain only hints. If you asked me to pin this one down to some micro-genre I just couldn’t do it. It isn’t full of silence, but then it also isn’t overtly busy. It contains plenty of expressive playing, but then there are textures and ringing tones in there as well. It is then, a fifty-four minute long CD of improvised music that cannot be easily pinned down. That’s a good start in my opinion.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 15th February

February 15, 2011

One quick caveat before I write about tonight’s CD- after listening to it through three times, I had a read through the liner notes that adorn the rather lovely packaging, only to spot a thank you to myself that I had no idea was there. For the life of me I can’t fathom what I did to deserve it either, but it was a nice thing to spot. I’m bloody glad I like the CD though 😉

The thank-you came from Paul Khimasia-Morgan, whose duo release this is alongside Simon Whetham. The disc is a recent-ish release on the Con-V label named The Grey Area, the title coming from the gallery in Brighton in which it the music was recorded. regular readers here will know a little about Whetham’s music, as I seem to write about it quite often. Most often though his music is of the composed, sequenced field recording variety. Here, he utilises field recordings alongside a laptop and a shortwave radio, but his use of them is in a live, improvised context alongside Khimasia-Morgan’s portable sampler, amplified surfaces, polystyrene, foam rubber, tuning forks etc, etc…

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CD Reviews

Monday 14th February

February 15, 2011

Over the last week or so I have listened through a few times to a CD I was sent by a group that can probably be easily described as belonging to the older, busier, perhaps more jazz-infused end of free improvisation. The disc is a new release by a group named Mathilde 253 released on the Slam label, a long established imprint based about five miles up the road from me here. This is probably the first release I have listened to on the label for about fifteen years. Mathilde 253 then are the core group of Charles Hayward, (drums, percussion, melodica) Han-Earl Park (guitar) and Ian Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn). On the last two of the seven tracks here the trio are augmented by the familiar saxophone of Lol Coxhill.

To begin with, I should make clear that I was, and am, really pleased to have been sent this CD. While this far end of the improv scene isn’t an area I usually find myself frequenting, the connections between this music and what I listen to most nights is clear, and my CD shelves do still contain a fair number of similarly sounding CDs that date back to my early experiences with improv. I may have moved my listening away from this busier, itchy, occasionally slightly melodic area of music in recent years but its great to delve back into it from time to time, and the challenge of finding enjoyment in this CD was one I approached with much relish.

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Concert Reviews

Sunday 13th February

February 14, 2011

The concert was performed by a specially convened sextet made up of Jamie Coleman, (trumpet) Henry Vaxby, (acoustic guitar and a bit of whistling) Jennifer Allum, (violin) Rebecca Dixon, (cello) Tim Parkinson (spoken words) and Dominic Lash (double bass). The group performed all eight of Pisaro’s 1996 compositions titled Mind is Moving, but played them in a new formation specially written for this occasion by Pisaro that saw all of the pieces played in one long stream, many of them overlapping, and it would appear, some of them adapted for different instruments than they were originally composed for. The works themselves are each very sparse and quiet, written by Pisaro with an ancient Japanese koan in mind. Combined together the music remained spacious and calm, though the silences that dominate the individual pieces were fewer as the assorted realisations came together and crossed over one another.

As with all of this kind of occasion that involves such music spread over a long duration, the environment shared in the room, as well as the mental and physical state of the listener are very important. When I first entered The Nunnery gallery space yesterday, I was already very tired indeed. A combination of elements kept me fully attentive and able to focus on this music, the restful elements of which might have easily had me drifting into slumber otherwise. First of all the gallery space was filled with truly hideous, fluorescently coloured pop art, amongst which the musicians sat and performed. Someone pointed out to me, perhaps out of desperation that given Pisaro’s home lies in California that maybe some of this work was actually quite fitting, but really there couldn’t have been a less fitting scenario for the performance. Then the room was really very very cold, a factor strangely present at many of the long-form Wandelweiseresque concerts I have attended, making the room less easy to fall asleep in. Then there were the creaking chairs placed upon a hard wooden floor, so transforming just about any movement into a major sonic event. All of these elements then merely added to the overall experience of being in the room as the music was performed. Being conscious of your slightest movements, just how much you are shivering, and bright pink painting hung behind a musician’s head just bring all of the other senses into play as well as that of listening.

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Saturday 12th February

February 13, 2011

Wow, I am exhausted tonight. I was up at 4.30AM, at work before 6AM, put in a ten hour shift, then went straight into London to attend the three hour long performance of Michael Pisaro’s Mind is Moving compositions by a sextet of fine musicians. I enjoyed the concert a great deal, but it required quite a bit of concentration and focus over a long period of time, which really sapped the last dregs of energy from me. So staying awake on the train home tonight was only achieved with the help of blasting music very loud into my ears via my iPod as I mainlined a double espresso. Tonight’s train journey home was actually more relaxing than usual as well, because as the concert had begun and ended a little earlier than usual I wasn’t on one of the last trains home, and so the drunken moron quota was lower than usual. If the train home is peaceful, which every now and again it is, then there is nothing better than travelling home from a good concert like this. If I have a book to hand, and a coffee, and the relaxed, focussed mood of the concert remains with me, then I enjoy these journeys home a lot, far more than the journey into London, which is always fraught with the worry of getting to the venue on time, something I invariably overcompensate for and end up arriving far too early.

Anyway this is a load of tired uninteresting drivel, so I will write about the concert tomorrow as I am off of work and am off to bed just as soon as I have finished writing this excuse for a daily post. Until then… here’s a great little film of a London concert I didn’t manage to get along to.

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CD Reviews

Friday 11th February

February 11, 2011

Tonight, someone down the road seems to be having a party with an annoyingly big PA, that means that listening to anything quiet, as I originally set out to do this evening, is impossible. So I flicked through the stacks to try and find something noisier to write about that might even benefit from having the thud thud thud of a badly reproduced synthetic bass drum running incessantly through it. I came up with a brief CDr by Spruit, whose work I have written about before. The disc in question is one that I am ashamed to say was sent to me many weeks, if not months back and I have only just got around to playing it, for which, apologies.

Spruit is Marc Spruit, a Dutch electronics improviser/composer, and this release, a sixteen minute long full-sized CDr is the third solo I have heard from him, though I have also written about his duo with Michiel de Haan. This new release, named Bits’n Blocks (which is a very apt title) follows much in the same vein as his previous work, consisting of fast moving, tumbling and careering fragments of digital sound that swallow up the external party sounds with no problem. There are two tracks, labelled I and II, the first of which is just four minutes in length, the other a little more than twelve. Unusually though, the first of the two pieces is the more interesting of the two, a fraction less busy and aggressive, opening nicely with a moment of silence before a little stream of choked pops and splutters floods out. The rest of the track is a slightly more subdued version of the second piece, which, for all its energy and abrupt kung-fu electronics actually utilises quite a narrow range of sounds, all very digital, nothing referential or instrumental.

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Thursday 10th February

February 11, 2011

No post tonight, because I’ve been at work most of the day, and recovering from it, alongside my better half, all evening. I have to be up very early again, this time to drive to Milton Keynes to try and stay awake for the day in a thoroughly boring meeting. Milton Keynes on any occasion, for any purpose, is bad enough, but couple it to a tedious work event after just a few hours sleep and you have a recipe for disaster.

So, as you might have guessed, I’m struggling to think of anything much to write tonight. As I type, and only for the time I am typing as it will be turned off when I finish and turn in for bed, is an album of busy, boisterous free improv with a jazzy tinge that I am actually quite enjoying, and may (I say may, as I could feel different tomorrow…) write about over the next few days. One concert coming up this weekend that I will be at though, and I thoroughly recommend to anyone close by- a three hour performance of Michael Pisaro’s eight Mind Moving pieces, performed by a very nice-looking, specially convened septet. Although the music of Pisaro and his Wandelweiser colleagues is suddenly becoming more widely performed all over the place, it remains quite rare to be able to witness his music played in such a manner in London. One not to miss out on, yet another quality production from the Small but Perfectly Formed Corporation, details here.

Another exciting piece of news creeping out is that the Sound and Music organisation are organising a big Eliane Radigue festival this summer, with ten (yes ten!) different live events planned for London. Nothing announced officially from SaM yet, but a bit of cute googling came up with this and this as a couple of nice tasters… The UK has been notably bereft of Radigue performances for a long while. This should more than make up for it. Tonight’s photo is one I took, initially by accident, of my hand, transformed into something oddly sinister and revealing via photoshop…

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 9th February

February 10, 2011

Now this is a really good CD. The second new release I was sent recently from Mark Wastell’s Confront label is another in the Collector’s Series of burn-to-order CDrs, a piece of music composed by Zachary James Watkins named Suite for String Quartet. This composition has apparently been in a continual state of revision since 2004, with this recording presenting a live performance of the piece made in Berlin in 2009. The music is performed by a traditionally structured string quartet made up of Johnny Chang and Gerhard Uebele’s violins, Miriam Götting’s viola and Martin Smith’s cello, with Watkins then adding electronics into the mix. Its a lovely recording, beautifully captured, mixed and mastered as well as superbly played, and I must admit that until hearing the audience applause at the end of the half-hour long piece, I was leaning towards the music having been assembled at least to some degree in post production.

This detail interests me less than it will others, but apparently as part of the composition Watkins had all sixteen strings in the quartet tuned to “an odd number partial of 60hz”. This means little to me but is I am sure what leads to the music’s slightly harsh edge and particular character. What really grabs me about this music is its original and exciting structure, which when executed by talented musicians, as it seems to be here leads to a thoroughly enjoyable and listenable piece of music.

So the CD begins with the sound of trickling water, under which a rather beautiful field recording of what sounds like distant traffic passing slowly through rain-sodden streets. It may be that the recording is all one, perhaps rainwater pouring from a gutter after a storm. However, this passage only lasts for about a minute or so before the strings begin to emerge from within the field recording, rising out of it gradually in a semi-drone form. As the strings begin to dominate so the field recording disappears, having been there for next to no time at all, never to appear again in the piece, which to my ears consists only of acoustic strings and buzzing, tonal electronics that mimmic the strings very well. The placement of this little passage at the start of the piece is intriguing and really quite beautiful in its brevity, a little like a line from a poem placed at the start of a work of prose to set the mood.

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Tuesday 8th February

February 8, 2011

OK, a brief post tonight. Sorry, but I went out this evening, and then remembered that I have to be up for work at 4AM, so my plans to listen to and write about music until late tonight have had to be scratched at the last minute. My apologies for the poor planning! The good side of the coin is that I will be home early enough tomorrow to write properly. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

So this evening I attended an event in Oxford run by the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub mini-organisation. This was the third event I had attended of theirs but the first that I was actually able to see or hear what was going on, given that for this show they brought along a (somewhat decrepit) PA system. Now I don’t normally discuss this kind of event here, as my thoughts in this area often annoy people and while I am quite happy to wind people up on these subjects this isn’t the place to do it, as I prefer to talk about music and listening here (yeah OK, and about chutney, delayed trains and how tired I am, but you know what I mean…) One element of tonight’s talk has a relevance to my current thinking about listening however. The speaker was a guy called Matt Parker, who describes himself as a Stand-Up Mathematician, and who indeed is one of the few people I’ve ever met who could discuss prime numbers and calculus and remain really funny. His talk tonight was mostly about debunking the myths we have in life that have been backed up by dodgy mathematics. He is most famous for his routine that shows that if you apply the same forced “logic” that attempts to show that “ley lines” run around the world you can also find similar patterns that prove that all of the branches of Woolworths in the English West Country have been lined up along some ancient spiritual grid system.

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CD Reviews

Monday 7th February

February 8, 2011

Hmm, right, so tonight’s CD is another fifty-four minute of field recordings, made outside, in the countryside, primarily around water in the Tourion region of France. The disc is a release on the Gruenrekorder label by Cedric Peyronnet that carries the somewhat unwieldy title kdi dctb 146[e]. Now, regular readers will know what I am going to say here. Yes, more hydrophones… It is probably unfair for me to single out Peyronnet’s disc here as one example of what seems to me to be an absolute deluge of similar albums over the last two or three years, but there is so much about this fifty-four minute recording, as pleasant a recording as it is, that I have heard so many times before of late. The disc contains a lot of nicely detailed recordings of rushing, trickling and torrential water, masses of birdsong, passing aircraft, the odd boat engine revving up, all nice sounds yes, but all sounds I seem to hear almost weekly on one CD or another.

I wrote a review of Eric LaCasa’s excellent W2 album for last month’s edition of The Wire. It wouldn’t be good practice for me to republish the text here, but the Herbal label have posted it up here. I mention this because LaCasa’s release is an example, and a very good one, of how field recordings can be used, layered, as with Peyronnet’s disc here, and generally thought through and composed to create music that holds a sense of narrative and drama, rather than merely presenting an audio picture of a place that sounds very beautiful, but quite frankly also sounds like a lot of other beautiful places that have appeared on CDs of late. It is unfair of me to try and suggest that Peyronnet should have attempted something different with his music, that the straight audio picture he paints, albeit one that uses layering techniques to shift from one image to another, isn’t really enough any more. I can fully understand why, if you live within, or visit a beautiful place that you would wish to capture its sounds and present them as an audio snapshot for others, far away, to enjoy. The process is in many ways no different to photography. However as we can all only look at some many photos of rivers and trees before needing something new in them to keep us from getting bored, this kind of CD of field recordings (and its not just me is it? there really is a lot of music out there like this right now?) needs something more to transcend “something pleasant to listen to” status and really begin to inspire as a piece of music that can stand repeated plays.

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Sunday 6th February

February 7, 2011

On Friday evening I had spent some time making room on my CD shelves for yet more new arrivals. This ended up being quite a big logistical exercise, and along the way I took all of my AMM discs from the shelves, intending to move them to somewhere else, but ended up looking through them again, having realised that while every so often I return to some of my favourites (Newfoundland, Fine, The Nameless Uncarved Block…) I probably haven’t listened to half a dozen or so of them for more than a decade. One of the (nice) problems that results from writing for this blog and elsewhere is that a lot of new music passes my way, and I spend the vast majority of my time listening to new releases, as well as demos etc… in short, I don’t listen to old CDs anywhere near as much as I would like to.

So, I thought that this afternoon I would take a break from the new music and play some older AMM… I have been thinking a lot about this group in recent weeks, having enjoyed the recent duo discs a lot, and having seen the reunion concert of Keith Rowe and John Tilbury back in December. Reading the piece I wrote for the Wolf Notes publication today, which I wrote some months back, made me think again about my early experiences listening to AMM. The first CD by the group that I bought was Generative Themes, which I think (I may be wrong but don’t feel like checking) was the first CD released featuring the trio version of the group. I bought the CD after I had seen the group live for the first time at one of the early LMC Festivals some time in the mid nineties. I didn’t really click with it, struggling as I was at the time to really understand uncompromising free improvisation, but a year or two later I then saw the trio perform again, supporting Faust at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. this time I really clicked with the music, something of an epiphany for me, and I went back to Generative Themes and played it over and over until I could get back into London to buy more from the group’s back catalogue.

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Download Reviews

Saturday 5th February

February 6, 2011

So I have chosen to write about two separate free downloads this evening, both available from the really rather wonderful Compost and Height netlabel. More about those in a moment, but first a mention for something that I will immediately admit to having a vested interest in- the first issue of Compost and Height’s pdf publication Wolf Notes. This freely downloadable journal has been in the works for several months now, and attempts to fill a gap in music writing away from CD reviews. I have a piece of writing in this first issue, a fact I am very proud of, though once placed beside the other exceptionally well written articles in there my writing pales in comparison. So maybe download the publication, skim through my words as a kind of light warm-up for the better stuff that follows and enjoy this lovely, freely shared project. Grab it here.

So the first of the two pieces I have listened to from the C&H site is also the first of a possible series of live recordings recorded in Slovenia as part of the Radio Student series of live broadcasts that are linked to the veritable good egg that is Luka Zagoricnik. Its a twenty-six minute long, nicely recorded live set from the trio of French ‘rotating surfaces’ player Pascal Battus, Japanese percussionist Seijiro Murayama and Slovenia’s own double bassist Tomaž Grom. This is a really well balanced trio that make quiet, airy music that feels like tightly wound clockwork slowly unravelling itself in a release of tension. While each of the musicians does have a distinctive voice to be heard in different places, its actually often hard at other times to tell who is making what sound here. Murayama sounds the most obvious, as his very simple and yet highly affecting snare drum patterns are familiar to my ears, Often though, Battus’ sounds, which are made using small rotating parts that I think used to be motors for portable tape players are mistaken for Grom’s as such is the restrained nature of the Slovenian’s playing.

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CD Reviews

Friday 4th February

February 5, 2011

I found this release on the 1000Füssler label from late last year that I never managed to get out of the shrinkwrap before this week (sorry!). Its a disc named Abraum by the German sound artist Asmus Tietchens.

The first time I came across Tietchens’ music was actually about twenty five years ago, when as an impressionable youngster in my mid teens I used to go to the indie record shop in Oxford and buy the strangest, artiest looking albums I could find, desperate to find a connection to these odd, seemingly unreachable areas of music, but also to try and look cool back at school listening to something nobody else had heard of. (In truth I probably looked a complete idiot, but we all go through these things…. Don’t we?) I bought a cassette of Tietchens’ music that I cannot remember the name of, but I do remember enjoying the black and red tape inlay design a lot more than the music. About five years later, for reasons I cannot remember I bought another of his releases, this time on CD at an early LMC Festival. I still have that one. Its been at least a decade since I played it, but I remember really being taken by the kind of part musique concrete, part dirty industrial sound that the disc consisted of. Since then, I haven’t heard any of his many CDs, so it was nice to belatedly add the third corner of the triangle by catching up with what he was doing in 2010.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 3rd February

February 4, 2011

Tonight I want to try and write relatively briefly about an album. I should say from the outset that this quartet recording of John Cage’s Four4 was released on Another Timbre, and I heard an early version of this piece, or maybe this version, some months back while lending Simon Reynell, the label owner a second pair of ears. I should add though that in the case of this release I can be as objective as I ever can be, being that I had forgotten how the disc sounded before playing it again this week.

This version of the very late Cage piece for four percussionists (it was composed in 1991, a year before his death) was realised by a quartet of improvisers, at least two of whom perhaps wouldn’t immediately strike you as percussionists. The group consist of Simon Allen, a straight percussionist I believe, whose music I have not come across before, Mark Wastell, who plays the tam tam on this disc, percussion with a minimal slant, Chris Burn, who plays the inside piano, albeit it in an often percussive manner, and Lee Patterson, whose sound sources are not detailed but I hear things fizzing in glasses of water and other things burning here, so a percussionist only in a fairly wide sense of the term. This matters not though. Cage’s score essentially allows the musicians a fair amount of scope. They get to pick the sounds they use, and with a few chance elements thrown in, they play a small selection of sounds that they chose before hand in time brackets randomly chosen by Cage using a computer programme. So throughout the seventy-two minute long work extended sounds of one kind or another slip and slide across each other, sometimes two or three sounding at once, quite often none sounding at all, and so we get to follow Cage’s instruction to just sit and listen until the next sounds arrive.

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Uncategorized

Wednesday 2nd February

February 2, 2011

Sorry, but tonight I am just too run down with a heavy cold to be able to listen to, or write about any music. I’m actually not sure that my sinuses, and therefore also my ears aren’t so blocked up that I wouldn’t be able to hear anything even if I felt fit enough to try.. This virus came right out of nowhere. I went to bed last night not feeling that bad, and woke this morning with a nose like Rudolph’s and a head like, well some other reindeer that has a lot of headaches. Enough time tonight to mention a couple of Wandelweiser related concerts then- first of all, as part of the Audiograft festival, on Thursday 17th February in Oxford (yes, you read that correctly, Oxford!) there will be a concert of Wandelweiser and Fluxus compositions performed by a number of fine musicians including Rhodri and Angahrad Davies, Dom Lash, Patrick Farmer, Sarah Hughes, David Stent and a number of others I am less familiar with under the banner of the Set Ensemble. It would be great to see a significant number of people attend this one, so if you are close please come along. Come to think of it, if I can get from Oxfordshire to London regularly for concerts it should be just as easy, if not easier for Londoners to make the trip in reverse!

However, if you live in London and (ahem) don’t feel like making that effort, then there’s a Wandelweiser-related concert taking place at The Nunnery on the 12th February- a three hour long setting of all eight of Michael Pisaro’s Mind is Moving pieces by a specially convened octet. Details are here. No one to be missed methinks.

Now, I am off to mix honey, lemon and Irish whiskey together in unequal parts and then crash into bed. The image above is a close-up of my nose.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 1st February

February 2, 2011

Tonight I have actually been listening to a CD that came out way back in may of last year, but I only got around to buying a copy a few weeks back and have only managed to listen to it the last few days. Being somewhat short though (twenty minutes of sound recorded on a 5″ CDr) ‘3’, the third collective release from the Encadre label was one that I could listen to from start to finish a number of times tonight. Though I do find myself wondering if actually I needed to… The CD is the work of Takahiro Hirama, Mitsuteru Takeuchi, Kanichiro Oda and Takefumi Naoshima, the four musicians who, as a quartet realised the Manfred Werder score I wrote about here a little while back, though here they have contributed four (ahem) pieces as solo works.

Although it may be short, this disc had me reaching out for the volume dial several times during each play through. Along the lines of the first two Encadre releases in this series, the music here isn’t easy listening, and takes you on a bit of a conceptual journey. The disc opens with a twenty-nine second long track by Kanchiro Oda named i go out – dog of house opposite mine – i’m barked at. Perhaps its not so hard to guess what happens in this piece…! From the outset, we hear a scratchy recording of a door being opened and closed, a few footsteps and then a dog barking loudly. Then the track ends. Well at least the track can’t be accused of promising any more than it delivered… I have absolutely no idea what to make of this piece. I admit when I first heard it I laughed out loud, but after six or seven further listens I am lost as to what it is designed ot communicate, if indeed it is meant to communicate anything at all.

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CD Reviews

Monday 31st January

February 1, 2011

Tonight, another release on Jez riley French’s prolific Engraved Glass CDr label, the ninth in his .point engraved series of releases by musicians other than himself. Now, if you played me this one blind, and asked me to name the label it was released on, I think I would have guessed correctly, such is the fit between this release, Stefan Thut’s an ort, 1-9 and riley French’s personal musical aesthetic. The written score for this piece, which was both composed and recorded by Thut, reads as follows:

nine sound recordings
spread over a year
always at the same place and at the same time of the day
eight minutes of each recording, uncut
to be aligned (almost) seamlessly: seventytwo minutes altogether

So Thut, who is best known probably as a cellist (and a very good one too) puts his instrument to one side for this project to just record these nine field recordings of the same place and time. The CD consists of just what the score prescribes, nine eight minute long pieces placed one after the other with no space in between. So obviously then, what is important for any particular realisation of this score is the choice of place and time of day. I imagine that if you chose to record a deserted forest at midnight nine times the results may not be so great. Or maybe they would be fantastic? perhaps the point of this composition is to draw attention to one place, wherever it may be, and through close listening notice how different one place may sound, even at the same time of day if recorded on separate days.

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