Monday 11th JuneJune 12, 2012
Compilation releases don’t really work all that well with the way I usually write this blog. I either cut down my waffle considerably (yeah, I know…) or write so much nobody could ever get to the end of the post conscious. I have actually opted out of writing about compilations all together run the past simply because I couldn’t approach them the way I prefer to. This one though, a various artist, two disc set named Fukishima!, put together by the fine people at Presqu’ile Records as a fundraiser for Japanese non-profit organisations working to recover the area in the aftermath of last year’s terrible events, I just couldn’t ignore, for obvious reasons.
The list of names on the set is very impressive, amongst them being John Tilbury, whose realisation of Dave Smith’s score Al contrario takes up half of the first CD. Now I have never been a huge fan of Smith’s composition, most probably because I don’t really understand what he is doing in his music. The playing is predictably lovely, and the music is fine, but somehow it has an awkward simplicity, a kind of clockwork take on earlier Skempton that I struggle with. For reasons that make little sense to anyone but me I relate this piece to Tom Johnson’s piano work, which again is highly regarded and yet I find leaves me cold, something about the semi-rhythmic repetition of phrases I don’t like. Exactly why I am not sure, as this is precisely what Feldman’s music also does, but the speed is a little faster than I would prefer and, well I don’t know…
There follows a great nine minute vignette for prepared piano by Magda Mayas. Foreign Grey contains multiple layers of rich chiming and vibrating strings, a piece of real grandeur, bold gestures built on others below, suggesting multi tracking at work but in fact I don’t think this is the case at all. Everything holds together in a well defined manner so that the short work has a feeling of a miniature symphony about it. Really good stuff, an entire album of similar material would go down very well with me. There then follows another nice little nugget, albeit a quite different one entirely from the Korean based quartet of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki and Jin Sangtae. In quieter mode than we might thane come to expect, the live recording from Seoul’s tiny Dotolim venue has a lovely, awkward structure of faltering fragments of what feel like larger sounds cut off in their prime, things tumbling and crashing about (quite literally I would imagine knowing these musicians) and a fair amount of nervous silence between the jarring interruptions. Half the fun here is trying to work out, or at least imagine what could be going on to make this music. The first disc then is a fine, if mixed up bag.
Disc two opens with a six minute composed work by Burkhard Beins that follows in the vein of other compositions he has produced recently in taking sounds improvised and recorded and compiling them together to create a kind of instrumentally textural musique concrete. Counter is a nice little listen, with Beins’ percussive playing re corded and then spliced together to create jolting sudden shifts from quite earthy whispers to loud white noise to the spiky pointillism of Beins ‘playing’ his trademark automatic firelighters close to the microphone. I’d have liked longer, with the music allowed to breathe and develop its shape more fully, but this is a compilation and time is always tight so we have to move on. A good work though. I am less taken with Mark Wastell and Jonathan McHugh’s tam tam and synth duo piece Eventide. While Wastell’s rolling tam tam glow still sounds nice I am also somewhat bored of it, and hearing it combined with glitching, flickering synth pulses isn’t something we haven’t heard before either. Well made, nicely recorded work, but a little done dimensional, and once you have heard how the resonances of the two instruments interact the next six minutes offer little else new.
There then follows two short pieces involving Annette Krebs. Her Duo with pianist Chris Abrahams clocks in at under three minutes of her usual shattered voices and buzzing, glitchy electronics, with Abrahams seemingly keeping his contributions to very soft gradually decaying chimes created one way or another. It works well as a little confusing diversion slotted tightly, if inexplicably between everything else. The second piece by Krebs is a field recording, apparently of an anti-Wall Street demonstration in Berlin, but made as musicians perform quiet music somewhere near and indoors. We hear soft trumpet lines from Sabine Ercklentz, violin (I think) from Johnny Chang and others, less easy to distinguish in there as well. This piece is really great- like stumbling across a Wandelweiser practice session when walking through busy city streets and trying to listen past the distractions that sit right in your face. Charming, if also slightly decentering work.
The fifth of the seven tracks on disc two comes front he Mural trio of Ingar Zach, Kim Myhr and Jim Denley, The ten minute long piece Fukishima for the time being has a distinctly Eastern feel to it, all warbling soft flutes, koto-esque strings and softly pattering, gamelan-eque percussion. Its an OK piece, not the best thing I have heard from the group at all, and the only track on the compilation that gives the impression that it is an excerpt sliced out of a longer work so as to fit on the disc. A little too busily meandering for my tastes but some nice sounds to be heard in there. Then we have a curious little piece composed by Michael Pisaro and realised by Greg Stuart called The Bell-Maker. I was a little taken aback by the simplicity and sense of naivety that this piece presents us with following the densely layered multi tracks of this pair’s recent work. Here there is multi-channel sequencing at work again, but the sounds we hear are all the finest little pin-prick chimes of very small bells, or at least percussion that sounds like them. The track begins with little, seemingly random clusters of these tiny pings and rings that resembles the sound of a wooden wind chime caught by a light breeze try closely. As the piece develops, a whispery shimmer of more earthy qualities emerges beneath it all, and there is a very gradual thickening of the music. The tracks very gradually coalesces into something subtly more viscous near the middle of its twenty one minute length before slowly taking itself apart again in reverse. The Bell-Maker lacks the drama and theatre of recent Pisaro releases, but then that isn’t such a bad thing to my ears and while my initial thoughts on this one were skeptical I have grown to like it a lot. The album then ends with a seven minute long, sometimes burbling, sometimes sharp little trumpet improvisation by Greg Kelley called Cylindrical Mirror. Again this piece would have benefitted through more time and space to develop, but there is still a nice range of sounds separated nicely by excellent use of negative space here that makes for a well considered little instant composition.
As is often the case with this kind of a release then, there are some great tracks here and some that sound like offcuts from other projects that ended up too short to be able to do much with, but in many ways none of this particularly matters as this CD should be purchased anyway so that our community of musicians and listeners might be able to contribute its little part towards helping Japan come back together again. All of the proceeds of Fukishima! will go to worthwhile causes, so whether to purchase a copy or not has to be an already answered question- if you can afford to, you should do. As it is there is more than enough good music here as well to make the act of buying this CD a worthwhile thing to do from every side of the equation. Get it here.