Sunday, December 31, 2017

Even sillier than normal (which is silly enough), given the increasingly circumscribed nature of what new releases I got around to hearing this year, but here's a list of those recordings which I especially loved in 2017. As ever, huge thanks to the musicians and label owners involved. Your work is enormously appreciated.

(alpha order)

Ryoko Akama - Inscriptions  (Suppedaneum)
Ryoko Akama - Places and Pages  (Another Timbre)
Cristián Alvear/Seijiro Murayama - Karoujite (Potlatch)
Antoine Beuger - Ockeghem Octets  (Another Timbre)
Olivia Block - Olivia Block (Another Timbre)
Andrea Borghi  - Sostrato  (Marginal Frequency)
Christopher Butterfield/Quatuor Bozzini - Trip  (qb)
John Cage/Christian Wolff  - CC  (Huddersfield Contemporary)
Isaiah Ceccarelli - Bow  (Another Timbre)
Joda Clément/Mathieu Ruhlmann - Kindred  (Marginal Frequency)
Seth Cooke  - Triangular Trade   (Suppedaneum)
Alfredo Costa Monteiro/Miguel A. Garcia - Aq’Ab’Al  (Mikroton)
Pascal Criton - Infra  (Potlatch)
d’Incise - Ukigusa  (Suppedaneum)
Charles Duvelle/Hisham Meyet  - Photographs of Charles Duvelle  (Sublime Frequencies)
Morton Feldman - Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello  (Another Timbre)
Fraufraulein - Heavy Objects  (Marginal Frequency)
Jürg Frey  - l’âme est sans retenue  (ErstClass)
Jürg Frey  - Collection Gustave Roud  (Another Timbre)
Jürg Frey  - Ephemeral Constructions  (Edition Wandelweiser)
Miguel A. Garcia  - Argiope  (Insub)
Will Guthrie  - People Pleaser  (Black Truffle)
Haptic  - Ten Years Under the Earth (Unfathomless)
Eva-Marie Houben - Organ Sonantinas and Drones (Edition Wandelweiser)
A.F. Jones - Four Dot Three to One  (Kendra Steiner Editions)
Alan F. Jones/Derek Rodgers  - CEDARS  (Sedimental)
Irene Kurka  - Chants  (Edition Wandelweiser)
Eric La Casa  - Paris Quotidien  (Swarming)
Graham Lambkin/Taku Unami  - The Whistler  (Erstwhile)
Mike Majkowski  - Days and Other Days  (Monofonus)
Catriel Nieves/Joe Wheeler  - Balance  (Marginal Frequency)
Jérôme Noetinger/Anthony Pateras  - Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be at All (Immediata)
Michael Parsons/Apartment House   - Patterns of Connection  (Huddersfield Contemporary)
Anthony Pateras/Erkki Veltheim  - The Slow Creep of Convenience (Immediata)
Michael Pisaro - Resting in a Fold of the Fog (Potlatch)
Éliane Radigue - Occam Ocean 1 (Shiiin)
Keith Rowe/Michael Pisaro  - 13 (Erstwhile)
Burkhard Schlothauer - More Chamber Events (Edition Wandelweiser)
Grisha Shakhnes  -  choice ambience  (Disappearing Records)
Grisha Shakhnes  - Ghosts  (Disappearing Records)
Linda Catlin Smith - Drifter  (Another Timbre)
(Various) - The Seen, Volumes I-V  (Confront)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Grisha Shakhnes - Ghosts (Disappearing Records)

Grisha Shakhnes - choice ambience (Disappearing Records)

I've been listening to and greatly enjoying Shakhnes' music for close to ten years now I think, both recordings issued under his own name as well as under that of his alter-ego, Mites. One thing that's always struck me is a certain underlying consistency in his general sound-world: continuous sound, highly grainy, sooty and dark, oil mixed with sand late at night reflecting glints of blue and yellow incandescent lighting. But within that world there's also an ongoing expansion as heard on these cassette releases.

'Ghosts' begins with a siren in the near distance and funnels into the kind of low, dirty rumble I've come to expect from Shakhnes, several layers thick, streaming but always varying within its flow. He introduces cyclic elements here though: what sounds like a marble or small plastic ball rotating around the rim of, say, an oil barrel and then some deep groans and thuds as from an ancient, grimy turbine. It's intensely atmospheric, easily transporting the listener to a different place, uncomfortable, possibly dangerous, but endlessly absorbing. Somewhat surprisingly, birds are heard on the second track, 'resilience', over muffled motoric sounds that impart a vague water ambience, as though near a dock, soon overtaken by a more insistent, slightly acidic electric drone. I also pick up a hint of the battered, mangled tapes that Jason Lescalleet used to deal in and, on 'a little fine tuning', the wonderful ghost piano images of Asher's, but in each case a push further on those ideas, again totally beguiling. Conversation heard through many plies of distortion (again, sounding as though from tapes left on the street for several years), obscure ambient rustles and rumbles, birds again, music from next door, a wonderful "musical" loop buried deep and, overall, a fine feeling of simply letting things play out, patiently letting tapes unspool to reveal what's there. Ending back in the street. A fine release.

The two tracks on 'choice ambience' occupy much the same territory, perhaps even derive from some of the same sources. But there's a greater sense of Shakhnes' immediate space, as though recorded from a room that looks out on trees (there are birds) but also overlooks, say, a construction zone with generators humming. At the same time, someone is moving about in the room, creating a small squall of noise therein. A great deal of air and resonance, though fluctuating into more claustrophobic and dreamier areas. Side B, 'let it perish', retains something of that buried melodic loop from 'Ghosts', this time dimly perceived under a wash of sound--I get a feeling of windblown snow though, considering that Shakhnes operates out of Israel, that's probably not very likely. A pulsing, ringing tone dominates for a while as the previously existing environment continues apace, slowly morphing, never calm. As said, I hear something dreamy going on and, again, this wonderful willingness to take one's time, to allow matters to unfurl, accepting what happens to "intrude". Both cassettes are full of excellent, thoughtful and tough-minded music.

You can hear for your self at the Disappearing Records bandcamp site

Monday, December 18, 2017

Seth Cooke - Triangular Trade (Suppedaneum)

If it hasn't been done already, someone should write an article on Joseph Clayton Mills' label, Suppedaneum. There are seventeen releases now, all of them at the least very interesting, a number of them--like the current item--pretty great. The focus of the label has been on scores and other accompanying material, often given at least equal weight to the audio portion of the release and Cooke's 'Triangular Trade' is no exception.

It arrives with a "title page", more or less, and eight 8 1/2" x 11" laminated pages containing words and images referring to the trade of its title, a system which transported slaves and goods between Europe, the Caribbean and West Africa from the 16th through 19th centuries with repercussions (not to mention extensions) felt and experienced to this day. Bristol, where Cooke resides, was the focal port of the English slave trade and the first page of the release centers the image of a plaque recording the fact, surrounded by related statuary and inscriptions, excerpts of text from London Posse's  'Gangster Chronicle' and apparent news items concerning lack of public funds for Hartcliffe, a very poor section of Bristol. Subsequent pages--they're not numbered and presumably the order doesn't matter--include historical documents revolving around the slave trade, news clippings concerning the legacy of slave trader Edward Colston who seems to still be regarded as an honored father of the city (Colston Hall being, I take it, the main music hall in Bristol), a portion of an article on the effects of climate change in the Fertile Crescent and much more. These are presented in an often fragmentary manner, roughly scissored from printed documents, rarely entire, offering a kind of dizzying picture, perhaps reflecting the confusion and lack of clarity in the thinking of the local citizens about their city's role in their history and, more importantly, the benefits the white citizens have reaped and continue to reap as a result of the slaving practices of their ancestors.

Cooke's sound sources on the disc include field recordings from three points near Pero's Bridge in Bristol (as well as from London and Liverpool docks), Ghanaian shells, djembe-feedback and more including (not that I could pick it up) a bit of Mahavishnu Orchestra's 'Planetary Citizen' "convoluted 184 times". It's one long piece, about 46 minutes, but very wide-ranging. It begins with overlaid harsh, scraping/ringing tones, sometimes buttressed by (apparent) dockside recordings and distorted speech--desolate, sorrowful and keening. This section continues until about 15 minutes in, when the heavens open up in storm and we hear the words of John Newton from his 'Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade', published in 1788 (not sure of the source here, possibly a television program titled, 'The Fight Against Slavery'). The sounds subside, once again nautical in nature: clanking, echoey metals, churned water. These soon cohere into a relatively pure tone, those echoes still in the background, that subtly pulsates, until an explosion knocks everything apart, a wave overturning a boat, perhaps. The feeling of depth, of largeness is quite strong, Cooke, developing a convincing, if abstract, panorama of not merely a scene, but an expanse of time and history. That complex, sine-like tone returns, more insistent and darker, spiraling and drilling holes in one's eardrums. Very gradually and in harrowing fashion, this tone mutates into a human-sounding cry, a kind of ghostly wail from the bowels of some cavernous depths, a piercing, accusatory call from Bristol's past to the unlistening, willfully ignorant present.

A powerful, grippingly realized work that should be widely considered.


Monday, December 04, 2017

Michael Parsons/Apartment House - Patterns of Connection: Instrumental Music 1962 - 2017 (Huddersfield Contemporary Records)

I'd always wanted to hear more of Parsons' music. With Cardew and Skempton, one of the founding members of The Scratch Orchestra, his own pieces were minimally represented on recordings, with only three previously listed at Discogs (I had the split disc--with Cardew--of Tania Chen's readings of his work and recently found the Tilbury; have yet to hear 'Piano Music 1977 - 1996' on Experimental Music Catalogue). This release, two CDs worth, not only spans virtually his entire career (he was born in 1938) but also covers a fascinatingly wide range of approaches as well as instrumentation.

The CDs encompass thirty-nine tracks (including three alternate takes) and aren't assembled in chronological order or, apart from certain groupings, any discernible system, so for a listener like myself who comes in with few prior conceptions of what the music is apt to sound like, it can be a somewhat disorienting experience initially. The very first piece, 'Dispersal' (1999) is a pointillistic work for small ensemble, something of a Webern extension, very soft and digestible, a lovely version of the sort of post-serial construction that's not all too uncommon. However, the next track, 'Rhythmic Canons', composed only a year prior, harkens more to the irregular, interlocking processes explored by composers like Louis Andriessen, though again with great delicacy and beguiling smoothness. 'Percussion and Glissandi' (1999) enters still another territory, softly sliding strings bending around pinpoint wooden block taps. A trio of short piano works performed by the always superb Philip Thomas and dating from 1962 - 1968, return to that post-serial area, though with an elusively lyrical aspect that reminds me somewhat of Christian Wolff. Around this point, we think that perhaps we have Parsons' approach more or less corralled and then 'Highland Variations' (1972) is sprung upon us. The longest track here at almost twelve minutes, it's an astonishing and captivating set of for strings (which do a fair imitation of pipes). Presumably written for reasons similar to those stated at the time by composers like Cardew, Rzewski and others, to shift from more abstruse forms to those derived from folk and worker's music with the intention of making it more accessible to the non-highbrow audience, it's a brilliant set combing drones with repeated melody fragments, unabashedly Romantic and utterly absorbing.

The music continues to expand from there, into the delightful 'Fourths & Fifths' (1990) for solo flute (Nancy Ruffer) consisting of "simple" patterns reminiscent of Tom Johnson, a set of wonderful Bagatelles (as fine as Thomas plays them, I'd love to hear Tilbury's rendition) and much, much more. I'll just mention a few others: the mysterious 'Concertante 1' (2014), a brooding work featuring heavy piano chords over shifting strings and reeds plus occasional surprising explosions of electronics (Kerry Yong), a rare appearance of such here; several more piano pieces from the early oughts, cool and crystalline; a rich, intense and moving work for solo cello, 'Talea 3' (1999), performed by Anton Lukoszevieze; a Skempton-ish solo piano work, 'Variations' (1971); and the final selection, 'Three Tallis Transcriptions' (2003), yet another engaging surprise.

It's just a fantastic collection overall, not only providing a seriously needed compendium of Parsons' music but doing so extraordinarily well by virtue of the talents of Apartment House. Highly recommended.

John Cage/Christian Wolff/Apartment House/Philip Thomas - CC (Huddersfield Contemporary Records)

Cage's work, composed in 1957-58 and combining both graphic and conventional notation, has been recorded often enough although, reading the excellent accompanying pair of essays by Martin Iddon and Philip Thomas, one quickly comes to understand the virtually infinite range of realization possibilities the piece affords. Between the decoding and arrangement of parts for the piano, the ensemble and the conductor (who is, apparently, quite capable of foiling any advanced preparations of his musicians), the entire proposition seems as daunting as it is freeing. Perhaps unduly influenced by the graphics included here on the cover and well known as a classic example of the territory, it's very enticing to hear the work as the wandering of the pianist along a series of pathways, through woods, fields and cities; delicate, even whimsical for the most part but rubbing up against enough sharp branches and burs to keep him on his toes. Describing it otherwise might be something of a fool's errand. On the one hand, it "sounds like" any number of post-1950, quasi-aleatory works: sparse for the most part--though there is a section about a half-hour in where the playing, especially the piano, is very dense and convoluted--fragmented, consisting of superficially unrelated sounds, extended technique expositions, etc. On the other, though, as difficult as it is (for me) to quantify, there's a specificity about it, a "Cageness" (or Apartment House-ness) that seems quite unique and immediate. Chalk it up to excellent choices being made, I suppose, to scarce few missteps, to maintaining a thin but pervasive tissue of sound, even in the silences, that allows the music to attain an organic aspect that feels alive, even pulsating. Fine work.

Wolff's 'Resistance' is brand new, commissioned by Apartment House and, among other things, displays the political awareness that has been part and parcel of his work for 50 years; apart from its title, the work incorporates a snatch of one of Cardew's workers' songs ('Revolution Is the Main Trend') and a transcription of Pete Seeger's 'Hold the Line'. The initial impression, after the Cage, is how much more traditionally composed the Wolff piece is. As I find with his music generally, there's a surface comprehensibility that dissolves the closer I listen, becomes watery in its difficulty of being fully grasped. This, I find, is endlessly enchanting. Written for a minimum of eleven instruments 'including at least 1 wind, 1 brass, 1 string, and solo piano', it's fairly lush in color, the contrasting tonalities conveying something of a garden imagery. Brass is more prominent than in the Cage, brief flourishes, burbles and even semi-fanfares emerging here and there. The piece is full of surprising moments; sometimes, it's almost like walking down a hallway and opening doors, hearing what sounds are emanating from within. The general cast of the music becomes more diffuse as it progresses through the middle section, wafting tendril-like, disappearing around corners. Unison lines pop up occasionally, like a short song or march, but quickly give way to less figurative motifs including, some 35 minutes in, a wonderful, slightly sardonic whistling section underlaid by tuba. Nothing lasts very long, however. As we arrive at the Seeger transcription, one has the feeling, perhaps, of disparate troops, citizens, having been organized, brought together from a multitude of locations and trades, cajoled and impelled to form the resistance of the title. A marvelous work and performance and a very strong addition to Wolff's oeuvre.

Huddersfield Contemporary Records