CD Reviews

Saturday 11th April

April 11, 2009

Well today was a nice day. I took a slow trip into London, for mainly uninteresting reasons, but also to drop by Café Oto and have a browse around the new 323 shop. Mr Wastell was away attending executive matters elsewhere, so I had a cup of tea and a long chat with Paul Abbott, during which we set the world of improvised music to rights. It was nice to visit Oto at this time of the day when no music was taking place. I’m not sure why, but I feel very comfortable there, similar to how I always felt on my Saturday afternoon visits to the old Sound323 shop, only with better tea. Oto really is the effective home of improvised music in London right now, and it fits nicely that the 323 shop is also now there. I’m sure this won’t be my last Saturday afternoon visit. Anyone else out there want to share a pot of tea one Saturday drop me a line!

My journey to and from London was spent listening to (and painstakingly slowly transcribing) the recordings I made of the interview with John Wall far too long ago that I am now at last working into shape for publication at ParisTransatlantic. I did also find the time today to listen again to the new EKG release on Another Timbre entitled Electricals. I like this release quite a bit. If there ever was such a thing as electroacoustic improvisation this disc would probably typify such a categorisation in that it consists of two musicians (Ernst Karel, trumpet and analogue electronics and Kyle Bruckmann, oboe, english horn and analogue electronics) that combine acoustic and electric instrumentation in such a way that it often becomes difficult to tell them apart.

On the whole the music is relatively understated, consisting more of layered tones and warbling textures than anything too energetic and eventful, but the switches in sound when they do come tend towards sudden handbrake turns rather than gentle blending into the flow. There are five pieces altogether, each a little vignette in itself. The second track, titled Drift is the most calmly poignant to my ears, though ironically given the title the track also slowly grows into a troubled cauldron of electronic bubbles and groans. Maybe it drifts there but it is not always a relaxing journey. Resistance may be my favourite track,  a fretful exchange of simple yet disturbingly charged lines of muted sounds with a dark, grainy undertone to them, threatening aggression in several places.

Electricals is a deceptive release. If you only half-listen to the album while trying to do other things at the same time its easy to miss the subtleties of the music. I first listened last night while writing my daily post and although the music was pleasing I missed a good deal. Listening on headphones in bed early this morning revealed a lot more, the tension simmering between the two layers of sound became clear, and the overall sense of composition to the recording shone through, with each track obviously improvised and yet involving a placement of sound that betrayed the experience and skill of the musicians. A really nice release, yet another strong one from Another Timbre and the best AT sleeve design yet too if you ask me.

I picked up another release that includes Ernst Karel’s music today when at Sound323 as well, the Chicago Sound Map release that includes a composition written by Karel alongside another by Olivia Block, each performed by a ten piece group that does not include the composers. Looking forward to hearing that one soon as well.

If you live in or close to London a mention should be made here of a great looking gig at Café Oto on Tuesday night that I hope to be able to attend if I can just sort a few things to free me from work. Three groups will be playing, each showcasing some of the young improv talent working together in London right now;- a quartet of Sebastian Lexer, Jamie Coleman, Grundik Kasyansky and Seymour Wright heads up the evening, with very able support from the duos of Paul Abbott and Daichi Yoshikawa and Ute Kanngiesser with Guillaume Viltard. More details in the calendar.

Comments (5)

  • simon reynell

    April 12, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Thanks, Richard, for giving ‘Electricals’ such a positive write-up.

    You won’t be surprised to hear that I also think it’s a really strong release, but its production did bring up an interesting aesthetic / ethical dilemma that relates to the discussion here a few days back about label aesthetics.

    When Kyle first sent the disc to ‘another timbre’ I immediately liked it all except for one track on which there were some pronounced bass pulses. The musicians had obviously chosen to include these as carefully as they’d chosen everything else, but I couldn’t get past them. I generally can’t stand music that’s heavily rhythmic, and although they only featured on part of the track the bass pulses were enough to really put me off. If the rest of the music hadn’t been so good, I’d have simply said ‘no thanks’, but after some thought I emailed Kyle to say that I wanted to release the disc, but I really didn’t want the track with the bass pulses. Kyle and Ernst were great about it and re-worked the track completely, omitting the pulses and producing something that I like as much as the rest of the disc (it became the third track ‘current’).

    But it left me with a feeling of unease. Why should musicians have to change their music just because I don’t like an element of it? I’m very aware that – as Richard said about running Cathnor – my taste is totally subjective and just because I’m lucky enough to have the time & (just about) the money to run a label, that doesn’t mean that I somehow have access to some objective criteria about whether music is good enough to merit release. Obviously I’m entitled to lay out general guidelines as to the kind of music I’m interested in (somewhere between improv and contemporary classical music in my case). But beyond that can I as a label-owner assume any rights to affect or determine specific decisions about the detail of the music?

    When I initiate a project by inviting a couple of musicians to collaborate, is it then my role as label-owner/producer to get involved in detailed assessment of the music recorded? Or should I just do the organisational stuff and trust the musicians with the detail of the music? My general policy is to say clearly what I feel, but to leave the ultimate decisions to the musicians. But what if they end up producing something that I really don’t like? Am I morally obliged to follow through and subsidise the production of a disc that I don’t enjoy? (And of course the fact that I don’t like it doesn’t mean that other people won’t…) And is it ethically any different when – as was the case with ‘Electricals’ – I’ve not been involved from the beginning and the disc is sent to me in a (more or less) finished form?

    There are obviously many different ways of producing improv discs. Jon at Erstwhile seems to be far more actively involved in musical decisions than I would be comfortable with – and runs a bloody good label. On the other hand Richard – whose label I also very much like – is at the other end of the spectrum, taking finished material if he likes it, but not (as far as I know) seeing it as his role to suggest any changes to the music. I’m somewhere in the middle, in a messy kind of way.

    When I started ‘another timbre’ John Butcher told me that it would only work if I was 100% happy with every release. Well, I certainly am 100% happy with ‘Electricals’ as it is now, but it was a tricky one and I’m still not sure if I did the right thing.

  • jon abbey

    April 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    really nice post, Simon, thanks for that!

    “When I started ‘another timbre’ John Butcher told me that it would only work if I was 100% happy with every release. ”

    I disagree with this, pretty strongly even. my own rule of thumb is that if I’m 100% happy with at least half of my releases, then I’m doing well. sometimes it’s better to defer to the musicians (or designer, or mastering engineer) rather than force everything to be precisely to your liking (and sometimes it’s worth taking a strong stance against something, or for something, even if it’s a major headache to do so. it’s a case by case basis.) also to be fair, being 100% happy with a release is an extremely high bar for me, but I think the point remains valid. the ideal thing is to work with musicians who are not just great at making music, but also great at making records, but that seems to be a rarely overlapping skill unfortunately.

    anyway, not being so rigid is healthier for the label in the long term, I’d say. I do a bunch of things to try to keep Erst at least slightly broader than my own taste, and that’s one of them.

  • Richard Pinnell

    April 12, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Yes, thanks Simon, nicely put.

    I think that it is important to try and remember what you are attempting to do in the first place. I personally am not trying to have any artistic impact on the music being created by anyone, ever. I see my role with Cathnor as being purely a documentary one, selecting music I really like (and yes am 100% happy with, at least at the time of its selection) and then making it available for others to hear. I see what I do as just a cog in the whole community that creates this music and allows it to be heard. As an observer I often make suggestions to musicians about other people they might fit well with (I did it about five minutes ago in an email as it happens!) but this is never done with the intention of recording / releasing the end result. I wouldn’t rule out releasing the recording, but it would go through the same process as everything else.

    The way Jon works (Or at least most people’s perception of it, his words above suggest otherwise) is to put together people he thinks will make a good record, and then manage that process right the way through, maybe making editing and mastering suggestions along the way. If you work this way, and make it clear right from the start that is how things will be then I think the whole process is more of a collaboration than a documentation and so suggesting changes would be far more acceptable.

    In the case of the Electricals album, I personally would have just said no to releasing it, but I would have underlined what I did not like in the hope that one of the musicians would have come back to me and made the suggestion to change/remove the passages that didn’t work for me, but that would have to have been their decision.

  • E.L. Karel

    April 29, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for the careful listening, Richard. I thought I’d add a comment about the evolution of track three. As it happened, the particular element of that piece in question was something that had already been the topic of a certain amount of controversy even within the ranks of EKG, and had gone through a few different iterations by the time it was sent to Simon. The other tracks we felt were quite clearly finished, but track three we had some uncertainties about amongst ourselves. So when Simon indicated that he liked the album except for that particular element of that particular track, we were happy to revisit it and try out some other ideas for it that we had already, in fact, discussed and/or tried. Not only that, we were both even a bit relieved to emerge from our collective solipsism (is it still solipsism if there are two of us in there?) and think a bit more collaboratively about a few other aspects of the album through discussion with Simon, and so a few other subtle changes, which we both thought were changes for the better (i.e., more disturbing or unsettling) emerged as well. So none of this seemed on our end like an ethical problem, or as if our art were being compromised by someone else’s taste/demands, or anything of the sort, but rather as a productive collaboration that we enjoyed being part of, and that resulted in a stronger album.

  • Richard Pinnell

    April 29, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Thanks Ernst. Indeed that sounds like an ideal situation. My problem would always be with the initial suggestion from me that something needed changing. I would just struggle to ever tell a musician something like that, or at least to say it in a manner in which it would seem I was pushing for something to be changed. Probably just my failing though.

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