CD Reviews

Saturday 30th April

April 30, 2011

This evening, which has remained quite sticky and humid, has been spent listening to Triptyque de l’oeil another release by hamaYôko on the continually surprising Entr’acte label. (The fifth it seems! I wrote about some of her previous work here and here) hamaYôko is Yôko Higashi’s musique concrete meets electro pop project. These aren’t my words to describe her music here, but quite frankly I’m glad I found the description as I don’t think I’d have been able to come up with one by myself.

So there are six track markers on the CD, but two of them are silent, lasting about fifteen seconds. Three of the remaining four form part of a triptych of pipe organ improvisations made in Lyon, France, with the fourth (though it falls between the first and second organ pieces on the album) sounding like something different altogether. The three organ pieces are all different, though take on similar characteristics. Piercing, screaming, sustained organ notes are built up and  layered, into which vocal wailing and murmuring appears, presumably all recorded live rather than overdubbed, though I am guessing at this.

The first of the organ pieces gradually builds from initial searing whistles until some kind of clattering, clanking sound, I suspect added later or maybe pre-recorded beforehand arrives along with male and female wordless wails and moans. Its a really strange, quite affecting mixture. There’s a cinematic feel to it all, but exactly what kind of film needs a soundtrack like this I haven’t a clue. There’s a (probably not accidental) element of new agey chanting drone in there but not so much as to overdo the kitsch factor, though in places it certainly swings in that direction. The organs swirl around and seem to spiral within their held tones, and after a while they really seem to get into your head, so much so that the short silent track that follows is a welcome arrival.

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Friday 29th April

April 30, 2011

As warned, every other post right now is likely to be, like this one, bereft of any review content as I battle with various hassles at work, other writing assignments and a general lack of time and energy. Its late here as I finally get to write tonight’s post and I’m really tired and somewhat ground down by the whole royal wedding fiasco that has taken over absolutely everything that has crossed my path today. The only good part of today was that the bank holiday meant I only had to work five hours, so its not without its silver linings, but otherwise it has been impossible to get through today without the constant urge to fill the pictured royal wedding sick bag I have kept on me at all times.

So, I’ve not listened to that much today, but one little musical moment did really strike me late this afternoon as I drove home from work. Flipping around the radio bands searching for anything that didn’t mention posh kids’ publicly funded weddings I landed on Radio3 who played a movement from William Walton’s second string quartet, which within seconds really hit me as something very beautiful and intricate. I have never listened to Walton (and I later discovered that some of his choral music had been used at the wedding ceremony, thus prompting his work to be played on the radio today!) and it seems he did not write many quartets, but I do know that when I pop into Oxford tomorrow afternoon I will go and see if I can find a copy of this recording, which was played by the Doric Quartet. Its been ages since I listened seriously to, and then wrote about any ‘classical’ music here, so maybe this little moment might inspire me to do so.

Anyway I now have three days off of work, which is time badly needed to try and recover my sanity. I also then should be able to get a CD review done for each of the next two days, and then hopefully a concert review of the last day of the Freedom of the City Festival that I will attend on Monday.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 28th April

April 29, 2011

I have been listening today, and on and off for a few weeks now to a new box set of three vinyl discs by the Greek group Mohammad, who consist of Nikos Veliotis, (cello) Coti.K (double bass) and Ilios (oscillators). This new set, named Spiriti comes a year after their fine debut Roto Vildblomma, which I wrote about here. As I wrote this evening though, despite having been sent digital files of the music quite some time ago I notice from the Antifrost label’s website that the release won’t be out for another ten days or so. I guess then that for once my slow approach to writing about things has actually seen me time this one about right.

The music here then is really interesting, thoroughly riveting stuff, but it isn’t quite what I had been expecting, which is always a good sign. The three discs each have individual titles, which are then split down into further tracks. There are eleven tracks in total, with five of the six ‘sides’ containing two tracks each of roughly seven minutes in length per track, and the one remaining side, the second half of the first disc containing just the one eleven minute long piece.

So disc one is named Malad Van, and the first side opens with a really striking, and surprising piece that I can only really describe as somewhere between death metal played on classical instruments and a traditional string quartet slowed down so far that only heaving bass groans remain. The music is entirely composed, and actually thoroughly melodic, essentially a series of riffs that you find yourself humming along to, but all working with extremely deep, bassy notes, churning, grinding strings wrapped around a simple three or four note tune. Yes, a tune! albeit it a very simple one that doesn’t really develop beyond this simple coda and regularly slips into the more familiar constant drone we are used to from these guys. Its actually really addictive, to some extent fun music. The use of the minimal repeated forms reminds me a little of a group like Tortoise, but slowed right down, with rhythm replaced with a study of bass-heavy overtones and an overall sense of claustrophobic maybe even oppressive drone. The theme follows into the second piece, with some variation, but the third track, which takes up the whole of the reverse side is a very different affair. Here we are presented with a dark, murky, field of straining grey abstraction, sprinkled with bits of clatter and with Ilios’ oscillators cranked up (or down) to such a degree that the throbbing pulses seem to crack up into an almost mechanical sounding rattle. It all remains low key but with so much happening at almost subsonic levels. At low volume it feels like the calm after the verve of the opening pieces, but turn the dial a little and the room begins to shake.

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Wednesday 27th April

April 27, 2011

No review again tonight, primarily because I spent the day working on my Wire piece, but also because I spent the evening at Julie’s and have to be up at 5AM for work so can’t stay up late tonight listening. Until I get this big writing assignment finished, and for a little while as work is remaining a bit of a pressure, I imagine that reviews will appear here about every other day, but fingers crossed this should only last a week or so. I have been listening to some music today, quite a lot of it in fact, and oddly quite a few multi-disc releases, The new Mohammad three vinyl set, the Rowe/Malfatti, the four disc collection of Cardew’s The Great Learning on the Polish Bolt label, and still I’m trying to spend enough time with Richard Kamerman’s three disc release from a little while back. All of these items take time as I do genuinely listen hard and absorb music as much as I can before trying to write, even if I don’t always absorb how to spell musicians names!

Anyway, a couple of bits of good news to end this post- Firstly it would appear that, final preparations aside, on May 27th there will be a concert by the Norwegian/Japanese group Koboku Senju in Oxford, supported by the trio of Patrick farmer, Sarah Hughes and Stephen Cornford. This is very exciting for those of us that have lived around here a long time as concerts of this kind haven’t happened all that often. More details soon.

Also, its great to be able to report that Rhodri Davies and his wife Angharad (to be clear this isn’t the same Angharad as the violinist, who is Rhodri’s sister) had their first child yesterday, a little girl named Elliw. Big congratulations are due, I can think of anyone better suited to being a Dad.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 26th April

April 27, 2011

So this release, named Vers l’île paresseuse (Towards lazy island?) is a brand new edition from the Creative Sources label by the all French trio of Martine Altenburger, (cello) Frédéric Blondy, (piano) and Bertrand Gauguet (alto and soprano sax). Essentially, its a recording of the trio improvising acoustically at a Paris venue in January 2009. The actual recording is very nicely done, very resonant, suggesting to me that it might have been made in a church or similarly sounding place, though the exact site isn’t mentioned. The focus across the five tracks is very much the combination of textures and colours as much as it is anything kinetically energetic, but the disc is yet another that floats nicely somewhere in the stylistic middle ground of improvised music, which isn’t a criticism at all, rather that its a hard one to pigeonhole in any given direction. Although only the only shared instrumentation is the piano, the nearest comparison I can make is AMM, the fourth track Hypnotisé sur une arete in particular, as Blondy’s gamelaneque prepared piano reminds me a lot of Tilbury, with Altenburger’s cello vaguely reminiscent of Prevost’s bowed metals. The music here does inhabit that kind of area though, a softly spoken sound that can suddenly cut loose without much warning, but with a refined sense of elegant beauty to it.

Blondy indeed is thoroughly impressive throughout this CD, shifting through techniques, mostly on the inside of his instrument at will, often driving the music rather than taking up the accompaniest’s role. Altunberger and Gauguet are no slouches here either though, the sax mostly tonal, but far from jazzy, used mostly to apply soft colours over the other two, with only occasional shifts into more breathy extended technique. The cello is understated as well, but all together the group combine into some gloriously rich sounds that compliment each other very well.

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Monday 25th April

April 25, 2011

I’m in quite a bit of pain this evening, and so sadly I have to duck out of writing a review again. Despite today being a bank holiday I was at work at six this morning, and then worked a very difficult, physically demanding thirteen hour shift, during which I hurt my back, irritating an old recurring problem I suffer from. So when I drove home tonight, although the journey only takes half an hour, my back seized up completely while tensed with feet on the pedals, and so on arriving home it took me fifteen minutes just to get out of the car, such was the pain I was in. Tonight I have dosed myself up to the eyeballs with anti-inflammatories and so the pain isn’t quite as bad, but any kind of sudden move, or even just the simplest, seemingly harmless of manouvres sends a jolt of pain through my lower back. Its at times like this that I am reminded that I turned forty this year, and I can’t run around like an idiot at work like I used to. Keep going like this I’ll end up like Brian before you know it.

Anyway, I have nothing to write about music tonight, but will persevere to do better tomorrow. Here is the line-up for the i-and-e festival over in Dublin in a little over two weeks time. I know I plug the activities of the i-and-e guys often, but they deserve all the support they can get, working tirelessly against the odds to produce a festival every year (this will I think be the seventh annual festival, not too many events of this type keep going that long) They need your support too if you are anywhere close, hope to see one or two of you there?

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CD Reviews

Sunday 24th April

April 24, 2011

I’ve been listening to Michael Pisaro’s Close constellations and a drum on the ground for several weeks now, enjoying every spin of the disc and yet avoiding writing about it. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the CD, its as beautiful a piece of music as I’ve heard in a while, but… I just don’t know what, or how to write about it. The obvious approach is that I just try and describe the composition’s shape and form, guess at the precise arrangement of sounds and then say how beautiful it all is. That is ultimately probably all I can do, but this album really requires more. It needs something to be said about why it gets under the skin, why such simple structures seem to be so beautiful, what lies at the heart of this music that makes it so perfect to my ears? My problem then, is I don’t know the answers to these questions.

I’ve written before about the link to Pisaro’s music and the poetic, and by this I mean not just poetry, though there are many links to be found with written verse, but that sense of carefully arranged beauty, arranged rather than chanced upon, that is found in art works across many media, from the repeated subtle lines of an Agnes Martin painting to a Wallace Stevens poem. There is something in these works, something distilled within their structure and simplicity that I find in Michael Pisaro’s music, and as his compositions have recently begun to evolve into more richly layered, more gestural territory it feels more present than ever. My apologies if this doesn’t make a lot of sense. As I have said, I can’t really find the words to describe what I am talking about here, but there is something in the overall shape and feel of Michael Pisaro’s recent music that also seems present in some of my favourite artistic works of all time.

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Saturday 23rd April

April 23, 2011

Very hot here today. I was at work by 6AM, home again by 3PM and fell asleep in the garden for a bit, fortunately under a tree or I might have emerged a little fried. As it is though I’ve had a very pleasant afternoon and evening tying up a number of loose ends and catching up on some downloaded music rather than CDs, something I haven’t done in a while. I tend to download music when I see things that interest me, and they sit in a folder on a hard drive until I have the time (ha!) to spend with them, when I will burn them to CDs and play them through my hi-fi. Although I do have the capability to link a computer up to my stereo system it always sounds terrible to my ears, and listening to this area of music through computer speakers, even the external add-on ones I have is an awful experience. The two pieces of music I burned to CDs and payed today are perfect examples of why I listen this way…

The first then was the twenty minute long piece by Samuel Rodgers and Jack Harris that I plugged a few days back. As I wrote then, I had heard some promising demos from this young UK duo a little while back and so was very interested to hear this new recording. Named  March 6th 2011 I think its a reasonable guess to assume the piece of music is a very recent recording. Harris seems to work with a laptop (in other work I have heard him use field recordings) and Rodgers, whilst best known perhaps for his piano duo with Stephen Cornford uses unspecified instrumentation here that could be made up of any number of items, but seems to be electronically focused, with a slant towards electroacoustic sounds rather than digital.

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Friday 22nd April

April 22, 2011

I gained a bit of breathing space on the writing front today after learning that because of space difficulties with the next issue of The Wire my piece on John Wall will not run until the following issue. this is good news for me as it will result in a much better written work. It also meant that I was able to relax a little more today and enjoy the bank holiday sat mostly in the garden as the weather was again very nice. I also took my iPod out there with me as I dozed a little under a tree, and my soundtrack for the experience was the recent Mode recording of Morton Feldman’s Trio.

Now I don’t think I have ever seriously tried to review a Feldman disc of this kind. I have compared and contrasted different versions of things before, but if you ask me to sit and write an appraisal of a particular recording, particularly on of his late works, I’m not sure I could manage it. I’m not certain why this is. Perhaps the fact that I have read a review of this release in The Guardian and doubtlessly other newspapers and mainstream magazines have written about it leads me to think that a review from me is far from necessary. You can read the thoughts of so many other, far better qualified writers elsewhere. Or perhaps its because the work of Feldman, and the basic notions that flow through his late works are so widely known that I can’t think of anything new to add. This last factor is certainly relevant, and flicking through some of the reviews of the two disc set online it appears that few people could find much to say beyond the usual (perfectly valid) lines about extended durations, crippled symmetries and decaying notes. I really am not sure what more I could write about this release that didn’t just wheel out the same set of platitudes.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 21st April

April 21, 2011

Another new CDr from Jez riley French’s prolific Engraved Glass label, this one the tenth disc in
the .point engraved series which I think focuses on the work on other musicians. The disc is named One Hour North, and is the work of a French bassist/composer Bruno Duplant. The album contains three pieces, two of which clock in at between ten and fifteen minutes, either side of a lengthy forty minute central track. All of the pieces though are quite different.

The opening piece is named arras, une heur trente d’arrêt, and is a work that combines a single continuous field recording of what sounds like overheard conversations between children and an adult woman. (Maybe Duplant’s wife and children that are credited on the CD’s accompanying card? Just a guess) This recording is a little blurred, distant, the kind of thing you might imagine hearing on a summer’s day in the park. The voices speak in French, and they sound happy, but beyond this little can be ascertained. Over this field recording are layered tiny little buzzes and clicks and taps, originating from ‘small objects’ and a radio. Occasionally the radio bursts into little patches of conversation, but it doesn’t stay with these for more than a fleeting moment. Then alongside all of this is layered a further recording, of a man whistling, somewhat aimlessly, vaguely melodically (I thought I could identify the tune in several places but never quite managed it). The overall effect of all of this is pleasing, a kind of murmuring drift of sound that feels like it does all belong together, even though clearly it doesn’t. I’m reminded, for some very bizarre reason of early hip hop production, where disparate samples would be overlaid to create a massed overall effect, only here the samples are twelve minutes long and aren’t looped. The effect is the same though, with a good compositional ear spotting how well the three elements would work together.

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Wednesday 20th April

April 20, 2011

Today hasn’t been good. Work was spent trying to escape the symptoms of a light migraine, so I worked through a continual headache and the inability to look at a computer screen for much of the day. Tonight I have come to Julie’s place, and am using her computer to type this. Its been a tough week all round and today its taken its toll a little. The only music I’ve listened to today was in the car, a trio disc by Betrand Gauguet, Frederic Blondy and Martine Altenburger, which is highly listenable, but I’ll get to that one when I can, only a couple of car listens so far. From here I don’t have access to any of the links to stuff I usually point your way, so I don’t even have anything to plug. The photo above came off of the internet too… Tomorrow I am finishing work much earlier and hope to get some work done, headache allowing, so expect a better post here tomorrow. Right now my lovely girlfriend has presented me with a hazelnut yoghurt, which invariably makes me feel better, so I will leave it at that for now. Tomorrow then…

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 19th April

April 20, 2011

Actually I’m not sure it is a 3″ CD, it is actually something called a ‘fan’ CD, which appears to be a three inch disc surrounded by clear plastic that effectively makes it the same size as a 5″ disc. The last time I saw one of these was about 1990, when they seemed to be being proposed as the CD medium’s answer to the seven inch EP. Its a nice little thing though, with hand drawn decoration around the clear plastic bit. The disc is named Raw Data Studies and is a release by the (I think) New York based young American musician Corey Larkin in a run of a hundred copies on the frequently interesting Copy for your Records label.

From what I can tell, to create the music here, Larkin seems to have taken raw computer data and in some way transformed this into sound, which is then presented here as music. What isn’t clear to me is either how you actually go about doing this, and to what degree the resulting sounds have been altered, edited or composed into the two works we have here on this little disc. In his brief notes at the CFYR website Larkin states that his intention with the music was to “exploring possible tensions between methodology and perception, determinacy and indeterminacy.”, so suggesting that to at least some degree the sounds heard here were generated, or maybe positioned using processes not under Larkin’s control.

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Monday 18th April

April 18, 2011

Hard at work here then, partly wondering how I ended up spending so much time writing when that had never been the way I ever intended to expend my creative juices, but hey ho…As I warned yesterday there won’t be that many CD reviews this week. I have a disc playing as I write tonight, so all being well I should get something done for the blog tomorrow, but other writing is taking precedence at the moment. Here are a couple of plugs for things that look good instead for now then- First of all here is a link to a piece of music available to hear for free by the young British duo of Jack Harris and Samuel Rodgers. I heard a very strong demo from this pair late last year, and while I have not yet had the time to listen through to this new free piece yet I suspect it will be worth hearing if its anything like as good as what I have heard before.

Also, for those close to London, a heads up for a gig that I heard about today, arranged for May 10th- a bit out of the way up in Stoke Newington, London, but with a bill good enough to make the trip worthwhile- Angharad Davies will play in a trio with Swedish percussionist Henrik Olson and Mark Wastell (in tam tam mode), plus there will be a visual performance by Louisa Martin and a solo set by Adam Bohman. The concert will be at St Mary’s Old Church, Church St, N16 9ES, kick of at 8. I’ll be on holiday in time for this, a good warm up gig for my trip to the i and e festival in dublin a few days later. Tonight’s photo by the way is another taken while wandering around John Wall’s house yesterday waiting for him and Alex Rodgers to stop tormenting the professional photographer…

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Sunday 18th April

April 17, 2011

Very late tonight, and thoroughly busy all day, so no review I’m afraid. I still managed five this last week, though expect that to slow a bit over the next seven days as I begin to pick apart the hours of recordings I made today of the excellent John Wall and Alex Rodgers to pull together the Wire piece. Today was both a lot of fun and also thoroughly inspiring, as being around musicians often is, but somehow the intensity of these two, particularly when placed in the slightly pressured situation of having to talk as a microphone captures their words had quite an impact.

It was weird working with a professional photographer as well, who the magazine sent to photograph the duo, as they are actually not often in the same place together (Rodgers lives in Cornwall) The most amusing elements of the day certainly came when these two curmudgeonly, thoroughly un-photogenic old gits (their description!) had to pose for Wire-esque photos. Perhaps only the puffer fish hanging in John’s kitchen, who is the star of today’s photo above looked more like a fish out of water than these two did.

Anyway, today was fun, but from here a lot of hard work is required, so please be patient if I duck out of writing here more than usual over the coming days. In the meantime, some info about the forthcoming album by the duo can be read at this site.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 16th April

April 16, 2011

The disc is another very cutely packaged release by Saladin through the Editions Provisoires label/publishing house. The disc actually contains a recording made with a microphone that had been set on fire, so producing a record of its own destruction. That’s it. What we hear then is initially a struck match, then a series of little clicks and faint roars as presumably the outer casing of the mic burnt, but about halfway into the event sudden blasts of noise, similar to what is achieved if you have failed to plug a lead fully into an amp appear. There is a strange sense of composition to the piece, and if I didn’t know what it was I was listening to I would have guessed at a brief improvisation by someone working with raw, perhaps open circuit electronics. There is definitely a sense of composed progression to be heard, even though clearly this is just the result of my brain processing these sounds through the prism of ‘music’ and trying to apply human intention to the ‘music’ when clearly human involvement ended when someone struck the match.

There are no notes with the CD, so the intention, or thought-processes of the composer are unknown to us, but when we remember that Saladin presented the Instal festival audience last year with recordings of a CD player’s moving part mechanisms, I wonder if again this idea of placing a frame around the usually non-lauded parts of producing music, or a listening experience of some kind, are being highlighted again here. I guess that most music, at least most traditional music, could not have been captured on a CD without the use of a microphone at some point in the proceedings, and maybe here allowing that part of the vents to take centre-stage could again be designed to highlight the non-human aspects of music making.

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Friday 15th April

April 15, 2011

Tonight’s CD is a new release on the Rastascan label named Apophenia by the duo of Gino Robair (Energised surfaces) and John Butcher (saxophones). Robair and Butcher have a long working partnership together. They first produced a trio alongside the late Matthew Sperry in the late eighties, and various other collaborations, including duo releases and Robair’s involvement in the recent ten-piece John Butcher Group followed. Sadly, and slightly embarrassingly, I’ve only ever heard the large group recording, so I can’t really comment on how the pair’s musical relationship has developed over the last decade or more. I do know that I rather like this new release however.

Apophenia was recorded at a US radio station back in 2009. There are four tracks, all quite gritty, earthy stuff with Butcher using motors on his saxophones on the first and last of them. I’ve unfortunately never managed to see Robair play live, so what he is exactly doing to excite precisely which surfaces I’m not certain, but his contribution here is a series of vibrating, drilling sounds that Butcher adds uncharacteristically deep, growling textures and drilling metallic abrasions to. On the first track, the excellently titled Knabble, he shifts from his usual style of swarming and sliding in and around his collaborator’s sound and instead builds blocks of abstract noise on top of Robair’s quite similar sounds. The end result is actually quite un-Butcher-like but a great listen, a quite dense, almost aggressive set of sounds that shift about, stopping, starting and changing gears but resist any sense of melody or tone.

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Thursday 14th April

April 14, 2011

So then to the double CD / photographs release on Gruenrekorder by Stéphane Garin (phonography) and Sylvestre Gobart (photography). This is a fascinating release. It is titled Gurs. Drancy. Gare de Bobigny. Auschwitz. Birkenau. Chelmo-Kulmhof. Majdaneck. Sobibor. Treblinka, which might at first seem a somewhat clumsy title listing some of the sites of Nazi atrocities in World War II, but once you spend time with this work, and read the essay explaining the intentions behind it, which are about rethinking our memories and relationship to these horrible events without the iconography that has become attached to them through the media over time, then just listing the places rather than thinking up a catchy title makes a lot of sense.

The release consists then of two discs of field recordings made at sites of Nazi atrocities, and a set of fourteen prints of photographs by Gobart, originally made as light sensitive emulsion images printed onto zinc sheets. The images are thoroughly affecting, partly because the process used to form them is aesthetically very beautiful, but should we find images of such places attractive? How about when all that remains of the history of a place is buried under a snowbound forest? If I didn’t know about the historical importance of the photograph’s subject matter then I would doubtlessly have found these images very appealing. Is it right that I should question my thoughts about them now I know more about them?

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Wednesday 13th April

April 13, 2011

OK, so my usual midweek break from reviewing then. I am averaging five reviews a week at present, which I don’t think is such a bad rate. It is possible that this level of writing could drop a little over the next seven days though as I have today received my first commission from The Wire for a multi-page article, which is obviously something I wish to do well, but notice has been a bit short so reviews here might have to be put on hold a little. I’ll do what I can, but I hope you can understand the importance of this for me and I thank you for your patience in advance.

I have been listening today, to the first of a two disc set by Stephane Garin and Sylvestre Gobart on the Gruenrekorder label, but I just haven’t had the time tonight to listen thoroughly enough to both discs, so the writing will have to wait. I’ve been working hard on some website design this week also, as well as three full days of work that each began at 4AM, so all a bit busy.

One bit of news with just a tentative link to music- the second series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle begins on BBC2 on Wednesday 4th May. Not to be missed by anyone with taste! Lee will also be performing his rendition of Cage’s Indeterminacy alongside regular collaborators Steve Beresford and Tania Chen on the South Bank in May as part of a weekend of performances curated by Lee. This time I’m definitely going to try and catch that one. The photo above is of me, taken when I heard about the Wire commission today.

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CD Reviews

Tuesday 12th April

April 12, 2011

I know I’m not doing it at anything like a fast enough rate to get the decks cleared before the next set arrive, but I am still determined to keep reviewing Creative Sources releases from the stack here, as so often they are recordings of musicians I don’t know well. So tonight I grabbed another at random, this one a release named Cellos by the duo of Ulrich Mitzlaff and Miguel Mira. Mitzlaff is a completely new name to me, but it seems I listened to Mira’s playing on a CD I reviewed a couple of years back, that, I must be honest, I don’t remember anything about at all!

Cellos then is a set of duo recordings, with each musician, unsurprisingly playing cello. There are no electronics or any post production added, so we just hear eight pieces of (presumably) improvised cello. I say presumably because three of the pieces are named Tripartition parts 1 to 3, and such nomenclature suggests composition of some kind, but listening closely I think I am correct to guess that improvisation drives each of these pieces, even if maybe some kind of advance framework was applied to them.

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Monday 11th April

April 11, 2011

Its strange how listening at a different time, while it is still light outside makes the experience of listening a different one in itself. I suspect the disc I have been playing today, another solo album from Jez riley French on his Engraved Glass label, this one named Four Objects might have sounded quite different to me in the late evening, with less external sound creeping in, as it is I found it quite difficult to focus on.

Jez releases a lot of CDs, many by other musicians, but also a good few by himself. I still haven’t had the time to catch up with his album released by the Compost and Height netlabel yet. Its here if you would like to sample some of his music in lossless format for free. I have come to think of Jez as something of a hunter/gatherer of field recordings, (though I’m not entirely sure that the description field recording these days really describes suitably what he and other like him actually do). Jez then releases albums of material that seem a bit like documentation of his explorations, audio photo albums maybe, an apt metaphor given Jez’ considerable skills as a photographer. What I haven’t always been so convinced about, is how well these collections of recordings stand up as albums of music to sit down and listen to at home. Often, as is the case with Four Objects, they seem to work as little catalogues of recordings that can present some fascinating sounds, discovered in places we might not expect, but beyond their worth as little moments of aural revelation there is little to come back to.

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Sunday 10th April

April 10, 2011

The release then is yet another on the Entr’acte label, this time a joint release with Giuseppe Ialasi’s Senufo Editions imprint, a full, 5″ CD, but containing only the same amount of music as a 3″ The disc is by Renato Rinaldi and is named Dyed in the Grain, a piece of music originally composed back in 2005, but then reworked a couple of years ago in 2009. According to the labels’ websites, the music was constructed from recordings made of the process of manufacturing ceramic tiles, taking sounds “from prime material collection to the hammering of the final test tile”. I wonder if it is a coincidence that the only other experimental musician I know to work with ceramic tiles is also Italian, the improviser Alessandra Rombolá.

On the first few plays through though, before I had read the notes on the CD, I would never have guessed the source of the sounds used, and for certain if I had not read the liners I would never even have suspected that there was a theme linking the sounds as they just appear to be a group of random (but very nice) sounds processed quite heavily. Listening after I knew of the origins of the source material its easy to hear the link, but the piece stands up as a piece of quite curious electronic composition without this knowledge.

What really stands this track apart from just about everything else I ever write about here is its use of rhythm. For the first half of the track there is actually a straight-up dub echo chamber sound running through the piece, with other subtle pulses and throbs running alongside and right through the piece so as to retain a sense of minimal rhythm throughout. Now, as regular readers will know, this would normally turn me right off of the music, but oddly here this really works. Renaldi’s use of other, abstract sounds, elements that later revealed themselves to me to being tiles being drilled, hammered, scraped, is excellent, creating sharp, jagged shapes as well as soft billowing textures that fold in and out of the rhythmic elements to fit the music just right. It is beautifully balanced and very nicely crafted, with a really strong sense of the whole composition rather than just a load of little collaged parts sewn digitally together as is so often the case with this area of music.

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Saturday 9th April

April 9, 2011

Urgh. Not feeling good tonight at all. Eagle eyed readers may have noticed I’ve been a little under the weather all week, snowed under with work and generally somewhat run down, and tonight it does feel like its caught up with me a bit. My head is throbbing and tired eyes streaming staring at this screen. I feel old! The good news is that I have the day off tomorrow, and as Julie is away for a few days I will be able to spend the day alone, resting and recovering.

Anyway I have quite a stack of CDs to get through here, and so I will certainly be back tomorrow with a review, and will try and get a good few done next week. Listening time has been tight this week as well, and while it doesn’t take me that long to get my thoughts down in review form these days, it takes a while for the thoughts to form. I hope next week will be a little easier.

For now, in the absence of much else for me to plug, here is a link to a piece of music by Luca Nasciuti I was pointed to today that, after listening for about ten seconds sounds like it might warrant further exploration. I haven’t listened to all of it yet, and probably won’t for a while, (I have the new Malfatti/Rowe release here as yet unlistened to- if I can’t get time for that one what chance does anything else have?) but take a listen, its free music after all. I get sent a lot of this kind of link, one or two a day usually, and maybe I should share them a little more here, even if I personally don’t get the time to listen. Anyway now I think I’m going to have a hot bath and then get to bed early. I’ve no idea where the picture above comes from. I found it on my hard drive a minute ago, a recently taken pic, though I just don’t remember where it came from. I really am getting old…

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CD Reviews

Friday 8th April

April 8, 2011

The CD in question is a new release by X_BRANE, the French trio of Bertrand Gauguet, (alto and soprano sax) Jean-Sébastien Mariage, (electric guitar) and Mathias Pontevia (batterie horizontale apparently, though I think basically percussion).

I’ve no idea where the group named X_BRANE comes from, but this release, on the  fine Amor Fati label is titled Penche un peu vers l’angle (Lean at little at an angle??) and contains a lot of music, with the three tracks here totalling up more than seventy minutes of improvisation. The recordings were made in a studio of some kind rather than in front of an audience, so the quality of the sound is great. What is difficult for me is trying to describe this music in any simple or lazy way. It is at once thoroughly familiar and yet also impossible to define with a few catchwords, which has to be a good thing.

Ultimately the music here is instrumental improvisation, three pieces of music performed spontaneously with relatively traditional tools. However, trying to pin this one down to any one corner of the improvised music spectrum is completely impossible. It is far from overly busy stuff, maintaining a slow pace throughout, but then it also falls into complete silence only very rarely, and when it wants to it can push the tension levels hard. Of the three musicians, the only one that doesn’t really play his instrument at any point in a completely traditional manner is Mariage, whose playing impressed me a lot when I saw Hubbub in London recently. His guitar playing is highly restrained, centred mostly around extended sounds, many of them tonal, often the result of eBow work or bowed strings. What he contributes seems very simple, but is in fact very carefully and delicately chosen and placed around the more traditionally familiar sounds of Gauguet’s breathy sax and the vibrating metals and booming strikes of Pontevia’s percussion.

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CD Reviews

Thursday 7th April

April 7, 2011

As I have written once or twice lately, I have taken to listening to CDs recently without (at first) paying any attention at all to liner notes or press releases.Tonight’s CD is one that, after an initial ‘blind’ play-through I thought I had the album figured out, but then once I had read the liners I suddenly felt quite confused…

The CD is a new release on the either/OAR offshoot of the and/OAR label by an American composer named Kraig Grady. The disc consists of two compositions, one named Our Rainy Season, and the other Nuilagi. I wasn’t previously aware of Grady, and a bit of googling around suggests he is linked in some way to Harry Partch’s work, which makes sense having listened to the album. So before reading the liner notes, I had this album down as entirely composed, with a focus on tuning systems in that way that only American academic composers seem to be able to do. I thought of Arnold Dreyblatt for the first of the two pieces (Our Rainy Season) and yes Partch for the second, Nuilagi which has a strong gamelanesque feel. The first piece has a feeling of tuned drone as it works with single notes played in different ways over longish periods of time, the second has a more scattered, fluid feel, with a strong sense of rainfall, which I picked up on the first time around, though maybe the title of the first composition here may have pushed me in that direction.

On reading the liners I discovered a strange story about “the people of Anaphoria” and the first composition here is apparently an “internal reflection based on memories”. It uses, according to the notes “tuning from Anaphoria” though this also “resembles a scale once found amongst the Chopri people in the village of Mavila in Mozambique”. Hmm. Have you ever heard of Anaphoria? Me neither, and a bit of googling only really brings up references to other works by Grady. The second composition, Nuilagi, is apparently “a realisation of the very music played by the people of Anaphoria to give thanks to the rain”. You know, I’m not going to worry about whether the place exists or if it is some bizarre construct created by the composer for whatever reason. I think I’ll just focus on the music.

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CD Reviews

Wednesday 6th April

April 7, 2011

poetry |ˈpōətrÄ“; ˈpōitrÄ“| – noun
literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm

Much has either been written, or will be written soon about the two new Michael Pisaro compositions released on his Gravity Wave label. Brian wrote superbly on both recently, and focussed on his understanding of the scores, which he had obtained to support his listening. It is usual for me in the case of releases like this to follow suit and go in search of the scores so as to enhance my understanding of how the particular piece of music works, but this time round, after listening through to both discs once, I chose not to do this, and instead I opted to listen a great deal to the music and then allow my reviews to be emotionally driven, rather than technically accurate responses. I have listened to one of the two releases, Asleep, street, pipes, tones more than a dozen times over the past few weeks, although as I wrote last night I have taken to falling asleep with it on many of those occasions, but I think I have heard enough to understand the essence, if not the structural formation of the music. I began this post with a dictionary definition of poetry, a definition that could equally be applied to this music. This is wonderfully poetic music, in several senses of the word.

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Tuesday 5th April

April 5, 2011

I don’t have a review tonight, partly because I have been working on other writing tonight, and partly because I’m just a little too tired to sit and focus carefully enough to write a further review this evening. Today at work was exhausting and demoralising, as quite a few days have been over recent weeks, and so this evening I’m taking a break with a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers.

There is music playing though, Michael Pisaro’s beautiful Asleep, street, pipes, tones, one of the two new releases on his Gravity Wave label. What is interesting is that I might actually get to listen to it right to the end this evening. I say this because this CD has recently become the latest in a select line of CDs that I have found myself putting on as I go to bed, and subsequently falling asleep to. The disc is in good company. About six or seven years ago, when even more overworked and stressed than I am today, and suffering from nervous insomnia, I found that listening to Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel composition would ease me off to sleep very quickly. Since then there have been a number of other discs that I have found myself reverting to when I want to get to sleep quickly, Antoine Beuger’s Calm Etendue recordings is one that springs to mind, though there hasn’t been one for a year or so now. I’m not sure why I decided to start playing Asleep, street… in this manner every night. I think I put it on one day a couple of weeks back and (as I was probably very tired) fell asleep to its lulling tones quite quickly, so did the same again the next day. I think then that I have since done just this about ten more times. I now know the first half of the album far better than the second!

Anyway, I may try and write a review of either this Pisaro piece or the other new Gravity Wave release tomorrow. I have the day off of work so will certainly get something more worthwhile than tonight’s post done! Until then…

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CD Reviews

Monday 4th April

April 4, 2011

So a new solo album from Mattin. On vinyl. What’s more, this one took an awful lot of effort to penetrate, and if the sleevenotes are to be believed (and I think they should be) Mattin put a lot of effort into its creation. Object of Thought is released on the Presto label, a handsome piece of vinyl housed in a sleeve that is literally smothered in some of the most dense, hard to read (in more ways than one) text I have ever witnessed on an album cover. In recent years, while Mattin’s public profile has been written for him as just some kind of playful, troublemaking provocateur, he has actually been entrenching himself deeply in modern philosophy, and the texts on the sleeve (which I won’t pretend to fully understand, but it won’t be a surprise that there is a strong anti-capitalist, and materialist slant to them) reflect these interests, to the point that it becomes difficult to know whether this album carries more value as a piece of writing with an attached sound recording, or vice versa. The texts are also printed in faint text at strange angles, which makes the writing physically hard to read as well as mentally. To completely understand what Mattin has to say here then, takes a great deal of effort and a knowledge of philosophy above and beyond my own.

So, allowing for the fact that I struggle to pick up on all of the details, Object of Thought would appear to be, literally, an exercise that utilises the methods and systems that objectify the thoughts of the artist. The systems that capitalism uses to create a marketable product from a creative human being. To begin with, he spent a week in a studio, obeying strict 9-5 office hours. In this time he recorded his thoughts as speech, which he then set about shaping and sculpting into the piece of music found on the album. He spoke in English, which isn’t his first language, but is the language most commonly associated with capitalism. The final product has then been released on vinyl rather than CD or free download, perhaps the most objectified of all recording formats.

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CD Reviews

Sunday 3rd April

April 3, 2011

The disc tonight anyway is a new release on the Con-V label by the Italian/French duo of Alessandra Rombolá and Michel Doneda called (rather brilliantly) Overdeveloped Pigeons. The disc is a set of five improvisations recorded some three years ago in a live concert situation in France. Rombolá plays flute primarily, but also utilises “tiles and other cheramic (sic?) objects” while Doneda works with soprano and sopranino saxophones, objects and a radio (though trying to spot where this last item appears isn’t easy). The music then is a great example of a thoroughly joyful, and enjoyable set of music performed by two experienced musicians that know each other’s music well and clearly enjoy playing together.

The mix of two wind instruments is an unusual one, with flute and sax being a particularly rare mix for a duo, but one of the strengths of this CD, of the duo’s playing, is that they manage to compliment each other’s sounds rather than mirror it. Both musicians mix fluttery, breathy sounds with tonal parts and percussive sections, but rarely do they do the same things at the same time, such is the apparent understanding between the two. The music fits somewhere around the middle ground of modern improvised music, all acoustic, expressive and certainly not full of silence, but its also slowly performed, without the sensation of adrenalin driving things along and with a lot of attention paid to textures and how they combine. Its just a nice CD to listen to and allow to roll past you, but if you spend the time picking apart the two musicians and listening closely to the interplay between the duo it becomes a fascinating set of music to follow closely. Sure, there is nothing groundbreaking here, nothing to rewrite the rules of improv, but its just a great pleasure to listen to. The final, fifth section of the disc, which sees Rombolá work mostly with her tiles is the fieriest here, the sounds of these and whatever the other ceramic objects are really working well with the sax, part percussive, part grainy textures, providing a nice alternative to the flute and somehow sounding reminiscent of laptop processed sounds, though exactly why I say that is hard to explain.

Good stuff anyway, one for the fans of improvisation at its purest for sure, but also a recording of two thoroughly talented and skilled musicians really enjoying playing together that should appeal to a much wider audience than is likely to track this CD down.

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CD Reviews

Saturday 2nd April

April 2, 2011

Hmm, now this one has been a bit of a surprise… While certainly not uniformly the case, recent solo material by Jason Kahn has been mostly linear in form, often softly drone-like and layered. The title of this new release on the Herbal label, Beautiful Ghost Wave certainly pointed me in that direction as well, but on playing the CD I was surprised to find it a far harsher, seemingly wilder affair. In the liner notes that accompany the disc, Kahn mentions that this single thirty-seven minute track “deals more with dramaturgy than other work of mine”. Certainly while an element of the drone is still there, plenty more in the way of sudden events are present here than on Kahn’s other solo work.

The music here was constructed by Kahn on a computer using a number of soundfiles pulled together throughout 2010. While the final composition has been digitally collaged together, a range of analogue based electroacoustic elements were used to forge the source material- Kahn’s familiar analogue synth, contact mics, shortwave radio and electromagnetic coils. The sounds then are mostly not that beautiful, ghostly or wave-like and are often more ugly, direct and abrasive. Recently Kahn has been working from time to time with various members of the South Korean improv scene, and the edgy, harshly scoured textures of that small scene’s music definitely seems to inform the music here. It is indeed often quite dramatic, not only through the forceful nature of some of the more full-on, noisy sections that we are presented with but also through the sudden jump cuts that occur here and there as Kahn’s composition leaves viciously abrasive sounds hanging in mid air.

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Concert Reviews

Friday 1st April

April 1, 2011

So last night’s Entr’acte showcase then. A packed night of music at Café Oto that went on so late I frustratingly couldn’t stay for the last set of the evening, one I very much wanted to hear, but overall a well put together set of performances, some of which I enjoyed more than others.

The evening began without warning when Adam Sonderberg sat down at a mixing board and began to perform a couple of pre-composed works that he mixed live through the P.A. Throughout the evening this idea of the musician beginning without warning was repeated for each set, and while I quite like this approach it did get a bit annoying after a while as the first four or five minutes of each performance was buried under the noise of audience chatter and the clatter of glasses at the bar. Sonderberg only took a few moments to bring hush to the room however with a gaseous field of hissing static over and into which he laid additional layers of tone, buzz and hum, the origin of which I couldn’t quite ascertain. The sound built to a frequently shifting and changing drone of a quite majestic nature before cutting dead after around ten minutes. If this opener was in the rich, glowing style of his groups Haptic and the Dropp Ensemble, the second piece he performed, which began so soon after the first that only Sonderberg’s post set explanation identified it as a completely separate composition, was a quite different affair all together. Here he built up a dense, churning wall of computer generated creaks and groans and percussive slams that was very much in tune with other acts on the evening’s bill but not much like anything I had heard from Sonderberg before. This piece had a kind of insistent, searching quality to it, with the density of the music and maybe also the volume rising slowly as it progressed. I enjoyed the two pieces a lot, with plenty to listen to if not really much to see.

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The Toothbrush Linguistics Project

April 1, 2011

Fear not, this is not the only post here today, I will write a review of last night’s concert later on this evening, but here is a quick plug/call for responses to a project designed to produce a musical score in a day using a mixture of chance mechanisms and the collection of arbitrary data. This weekend, Patrick Farmer and Adam Sonderberg will perform together, in private, at Oxford Brookes University as part of Farmer’s masters studies and to link up with Sonderberg’s visit to the UK. As well as some improvised recording, the duo hope to perform a small number of scores, one of which is a piece that is generated through the collection of data from “an arbitrarily chosen, but knowledgeable audience”

The process requires that data is collected on a random subject in text form, but that the text is written in a style true to the linguistic style/ regional accent of the writer/contributor. So, this is where you come in- Over the course of today (and today only please, the data needs some work applied before the score can be finalised so a cut of time of 8PM GMT is necessary) please can you email, or leave in the comments section below a description of your toothbrush, in no more than twenty-one words, with the description written in a manner true to your normal spoken word style (i.e please do not make your text overly polite simply because it is written publicly). The simple toothbrush has been chosen because it is an item that the vast majority of us have, but do not think too much about. The score calls for information to be used that is ‘rich in variety and yet ultimately useless’. Please note the colour of it (and the more detail the better- ‘dark red with a stripe’ will result in a richer score than merely ‘red’) and also the firmness of the bristles and anything else you feel may be worth noting about your toothbrush. It is also crucial that you also tell us roughly where in the world you live, as this data will contribute to the core, though this information does not have to be part of the 21 words.

Please email your twenty-one word contribution to Patrick if you know his email (not Adam please as he is currently travelling and unable to pick up his emails) or to myself at Richard (at) Cathnor (dot) com, (I will then immediately forward the mail to Patrick) or (and perhaps most conveniently) leave a comment underneath this post. Messages can also be sent to Patrick via facebook.

The final work will be performed this weekend, and the score will be published in a booklet released by the Federation of Oxford Linguisticians, who have also kindly provided some funding for this project. Unless you ask otherwise, the text and details you supply will be included in this booklet. Many thanks for your support, please be quick!

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Thursday 31st March

April 1, 2011

OK, so the briefest post ever then…. Its 2AM, I am just home from London after attending the Entr’acte night at Café Oto, I was up at 4AM this morning to go to work, and apart from an hour’s powernap mid afternoon I’ve not stopped all day. So… as you might guess, just for a change, I’m pretty tired now and need to get to sleep. Tonight was fun. It was good to meet some nice people, some for the first time (Adam Sonderberg, Allon Kaye, Olivia Block) and also catch up with one or two I haven’t seen in a while (Phil J, John Wall) I will write a review of the music tomorrow, which was something of a mixed bag, but tonight I just don’t have the energy. It was great to see another UK label put something like this together though, professionally done, with a real sense of the label identity spread throughout the evening.

That’s it for now, I promise I will work hard over the forthcoming days to get the backlog of reviews moving and some real content into these pages!

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