Thursday, September 28, 2006

QuintetAvant – En Concert à la Salle des Fêtes

This compelling French group of improvisers has managed to uncover a new wrinkle in the traditional vs. modern approach to spontaneous composition. Three members of the quintet, Lionel Marchetti, Jerôme Noetinger and Jean Pallandre, use analog tape machines (REVOX only s.v.p.) as their sole sound sources. Marc Pichelin and Laurent Sassi pitch in on analog synth and digital recording, but it’s the magnetic media’s show. It seems peculiar that this idea isn’t more widespread given the diverse techniques for stretching, accelerating, looping, bending and breaking available as borne out by the animated interplay during this performance. Marchetti and Noetinger have a long history, together and parallel, of electroacoustic invention, while Pallandre and Pichelin have worked in the Ouïe Dire Production ensemble in the making of audio postcards through their phonography. Their interplay is stellar, pitching from whisper-light warbles to crystalline feedback screams, letting no moment go unmanaged. Sassi’s live mix is pinpoint sharp, filling all 360 degrees with sound. Could it be that tape will make digital audio obsolete??


Meissner/Slavin/Sachs – Into the Void

Begun as an investigation into the presence/absence of Jewish culture in one of the oldest European Jewish neighbourhoods; Sebastian Meissner and Eran Sachs did field recordings in the nearly empty winter streets of Kazimierz, Poland. Meissner then worked on the sounds to unravel a tale of coldness and disappearance, representing the populace only in the traces of footsteps, car sounds and briefly overhead conversations. Eventually a spare musical element creeps into “Kazimierz: Empty and Ghostly Place;” a spectral piano phrase that is a near mirrored opposite of Jurgen Kneiper’s score for Wings of Desire. Appropriate for the portrait of a city not watched over by guardian angels. The fast-forwarding of “…198819901992199419951996…” takes amassed samples and blends them into a blurred acceleration that has an erasing effect. Ran Slavin, who also shot video for a 2003 exhibition of a version of the piece in Krakow, and Sachs also both contributes more abbreviated suites using the same sources. Slavin's “Segments from the Snow” and Sachs’ “Memory Gaps” are both more sculptural in their approach, reducing the mass but sharpening details until both are left with intricate snow globe representations of the frigid city.

(Sub Rosa)

Ryan Teague - Coins & Crosses

In the world of synthesized sound a composer with a well appointed hard drive can deliver a multi-instrument soundtrack without ever crossing paths with another musician. That can tend to be a little antiseptic, though. Ryan Teague is getting his hands dirty with the Cambridge Philharmonic and Cinematic Orchestra harpist Rhodri Davies to find the convergent paths of acoustic and electronic music. After a brief fanfare the title track unfurls, a little queasily close to new age with wind chimes and Davies' harp tinkling and singing like pixies. The preciousness is never completely excised from the album, with animated pomp explosion of "Tableau I" knocking against the inflated acoustic grandeur of "Fantasia for Strings." Finally on "Accidia" things settle into a good chocolate/peanut-butter groove, with the windswept strings weeping over a grinding pulse and Morse code electronics. "Seven Keys" is a Hitchcock-ready dirge for encroaching darkness and double-dealings. At its best, Teague's work touches upon the minimalism of Reich, Bryars and even Aphex Twin. Those not unseated by the romantic swelling will find a rich sound world to sit through.

(Type Recordings)

Mountaineer - When the Air is Bright They Shine

If you're scripting a film that opens with strong serif credits over high p.o.v. shots of a wispy blonde on a Vespa winding along a polluted-but-pretty Middle European river, then Hamburg songwriter Henning Wandhoff is the man to write the music. As Mountaineer his third album is a sunshine smile that doesn't quite touch the sadness around the eyes. Over samba shuffles and light wah-pedaled guitar, Wandhoff's warm speak-singing smoothes the wrinkles in the boy/girl trysts gone not quite right. The tear-in-my-Pernod songs are rendered with the same light on dark style as Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel" or VU's "Femme Fatale." The sound hooks up the 60s and 70s poptastic jazziness with hints of modern microprocessing... like watching La Dolce Vita on your video iPod. It's an easy album to get into if you like doing crosswords in cafés while smoking American cigarettes, watching the clouds cover the sun then move on. It's a hard album to dislike otherwise.

(Type Recordings)

Benoit Pioulard – Précis

Listening to samples of earlier self-released work on Thomas Meluch’s website it’s obvious that Précis is a quantum leap forward… if 20-year olds can safely make quantum leaps. It’s also obviously an album perfectly suited for the Kranky label canon: mass accumulator guitar (KF Whitman), quirky and hushed folk rock (Boduf Songs, Dean Roberts) and quietly affecting sound experiments (everyone else). The whole is a completed puzzle one is tempted to pick apart and admire the craftsmanship of each piece. “La Guerre de Sept Ans” is smooth and shimmering wash of guitar loops that seems nearly weightless but picks up mass with each subsequent cycle of sound. “Together & Down” is a four-cornered acoustic waltz that releases dust and stately chimes when shaken. “Trigging Back” is a hologram that sounds like the intro to an early Cure song but from the next angle becomes Eric Matthews, then a combination of the two. “Sous La Plage” is a looking glass that imagines a seaside song that Elliott Smith never wrote. Each of the pieces can be put back in any order and still magically lock together into a new, unexpected whole.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kangding Ray – Stabil

Another elegantly packaged release in Raster-Noton’s “Limited” series; an auspicious introduction for Berliner David Letellier under the Kangding Ray moniker. The sound is a snug fit with founder/bosses Frank Bretschneider and Carsten Nicolai’s chilled and pixelated electronic minimalism. Letellier’s work is more subtly open to emotion, as on “Sub.Res” with its thinly sliced guitar and keyboard lines that retain an elusive melancholy. While the sound spectrum skews to grayscale, tracks like “Dadaist” reveal spare tableaux that are actually dense and intricately shaded. In fact there is seldom “nothing” going on in terms of the blank space usually associated with this field. “Status + Light” verges on jaunty with its revealed and repeated piano chords over digital glitches that border on rolling drum fills. The partially unmasked source instruments also go along way towards melting the iciness of the digital palate. While it’s not exactly Moby, it still is an interesting step towards melody within the microbe.


Bardo Pond – Ticket Crystals

Philadelphia’s proud psychedelic sons and daughter continue their long sunward trek via riff and drone express. Like most ensembles that last more than a decade Bardo Pond are frequently warmly acknowledged for their longevity and decreasingly celebrated for their work. Instead of merely padding their discography the band has come back with their best work since 1997s Lapsed. Instead of embracing current trends of noise rock or freak folk, neither of which would stretch them far out of shape, they’ve stripped and stepped back to feature the song as central, albeit pushing its limits through time and space. Opener “Destroying Angel” is a head-on collision of Rust-era Crazy Horse and early Black Sabbath but with a haunted, vulnerable heart. Isobel Sollenberger’s vocals and flute ring clear on “Isle,” a track that imagines the improbable joining of Nico and Kate Bush atop a lazily churning sea of guitars. A cover of the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry” seems out of place, but the after a reverent opening the band pulls the original into their own smoky orbit. It also serves as a momentary rest stop before embarking on the nearly twenty minute space walk that is “FC II.” A balanced consideration of acoustic instruments, voice and quiet space opens room for breath at key points over the album’s 77 minutes. It is a voyage that makes us glad we bought our tickets so far in advance.


Arnold Dreyblatt and the Orchestra of Excited Strings – Live at the Federal Hall 1981

Dreyblatt is an American minimalist whose work and reputation is seemingly assigned close-runner-up status to more, ahem, household names like Cage, Glass, Riley and Reich. History aside, this document affirms a level of play that is no less conceptually rich that his peers and predecessors, but with a human warmth sometimes absent in the science of their sound. The very basic component in most of Dreyblatt’s work is the nodal excitation of single long open strings. At this 1981 concert, instead of a naked investigation of this simple idea he is joined by a quartet of players who support and surround it. Dreyblatt and Ruth Charloff both play open tuned and extended double bass violas, while the other three musicians combine on seldom-seen (and specially chosen/constructed) instruments: the hurdy gurdy, portable pipe organ and midget upright princess pianoforte. Presented as one 50 minute track, the play is actually split into several movements with pauses to refresh and reset. The central feature of each is also one of its investigative propositions, as quoted in the booklet: “To explain why an open string when strung [sic] makes many sounds at once.” Dreyblatt’s lone percussive attack on the viola’s string does indeed unlock an undulating drone that is eventually picked up and filled out by the other players. The result is reminiscent of, though less aggressive than Tony Conrad’s “Dream Syndicate” works and the early Conrad/Cale/MacLise/Zazeela etc. “jams” that were the roots of many such drone excursions.

(Table of the Elements)

Warren Burt – The Animation of Lists and the Archytan Transpositions

With a title that warns of an ass-numbing academic exercise, the sound of this Australian minimalist’s two disc exploration is surprisingly easy to digest. Burt is known for uncommonly eccentric approach to musical sound sourcing, and this work is the culmination of a two decade investigation into just intonation tuning forks. Having himself crafted or commissioned their construction in a wide note range from bass to upper register, Burt and Catherine Schieve then joined forces to “play” the forks as percussion instruments. The artist’s statement about the composition references such theory points as 2nd century Ptlolemaic harmonics, inverted Dorian modes and so on; but for all of that the more casual ear finds the approximate sound of particularly well-bred wind chimes. Closer attention unlocks the richly textured harmonic interplay full of sympathetic pulses and low throbs. One somewhat unexpected element of the composition is level of improvisation in its unfolding. The post play editing involves a certain subtle amount of recombination and, on the second disc, digital pitch alteration to extend the scale. At 2 1/2 hours a full run through the composition may stretch some attention spans, but like most well-crafted ambient music it pays back out the listener’s level of investment.

(XI Records)

Daniel Menche – Jugularis

The polarized concepts of restraint and extremity become all too relative when describing shifty-sand artists like Menche. Definitely more nuanced and temperate than earlier works like The Face of Vehemence or Beautiful Blood, this new work still demands attention and asks with full force. Essentially one long piece divided into three movements; a phased percussive thrust that begins with a eerily calm menace of sparse resonant instruments and objects. The hour-long evolution of the work conjures a narrative reminiscent of 1966 shlocky sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage. You’re an explorer shrunk to near-microscopic proportions and injected into the bloodstream of a human being. The trip you take brings you ever closer to the beating heart, suddenly a violent force given your relative size. But, unlike the movie’s plot, Menche’s fantastic voyage takes a new twist: turns out this person you’re inside is also outfitted with gears, microprocessors and dot matrix printers! Yes (gasp) an android!! Or a robot, or synthetic person, or whatever. Like any good potboiler the story grabs and holds you with the anticipation or new revelations around every next corner, and unlike the pulpy formula the outcome is never a letdown. Even without Raquel Welch as co-pilot.


The North Sea & Rameses III – Night of the Ankou

With hands across the ocean, free folk CD-R label guru Brad Rose (The North Sea) reaches out from Tulsa, OK to London based trio Rameses III for the formation of this transatlantic ambient quartet. The album is essentially two longish pieces each with its own particular flow. “Death of the Ankou” has a spiral stillness that hovers at slowly shifting altitudes, carried on bowed strings and bamboo woodwinds. The motion is more a product of iridescence and timbral nuance than progress along a measure. Like watching a ship in a bay through late afternoon heat haze, distances difficult to judge. “Night Blossoms Written in Sanskrit” is more directed in its drift, with a shimmer of acoustic guitar carrying the first half of the piece, then the massed tones gain their own momentum, eventually evolving into a large chorus of voices, human and musical together. A slight oriental tint colours both pieces but never dominates the sound. The album is rounded out with a remix done by Type label boss Xela. This is approached in a Cole’s Notes manner, with the individual elements given plainer exposure then reintegrated and bound with minimal third party evidence. A well-mixed nightcap.

(Type Recordings)

Eluvium – When I Live By the Garden and the Sea

For a quiet album Eluvium’s Talk Amongst the Trees made a lot of noise on a variety of 2005 top ten lists. And rightfully so, Matthew Cooper having honed in on the delicate balance that holds ambient/minimalist music aloft. This four-track follow-up is an effective primer for the uninitiated, with a small-but-stately piano opening that recalls earlier albums as well as the excised-attack guitar swells that propel many of the pieces. The shouted intro sample to “as I drift off” sets in motion an abrasive tone the envelopes the short track, with a dense fog of compressed distortion pushing down the procession. The density carries through to “all the sails” with the sense of animals pulling a heavy load up an incline, the drone a sound of muscles locking up and relaxing. The final, title track is the gem here, with a broader sound scope than previously. Reverberating glassy vibes break the surface like the cresting of wavelets while the other swelling sounds take on a cathedral organ tone. It is processional music for an austere event, simultaneously happy and mournful, but ultimately neither. Eluvium at its best.

(Temporary Residence)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Surgery 29

Special show featuring songs from two of my favourite labels.

Lullabye Arkestra – Ampgrave (Constellation)
Labradford – A Stable Reference (Kranky)
Frankie Sparo – Welcome Crummy Mystics (Constellation)
Austistic Daughters – Jealousy and Diamond (Kranky)
Black Ox Orkestar – Nisht Azoy (Constellation)
Benoit Pilouard – Précis (Kranky)
Sando Perri – Plays Polmo Polpo (Constellation)
Jessica Bailiff – Feels Like Home (Kranky)
A Silver Mt. Zion – Plays “Pretty Lightning Paw” (Constellation)
Christina Carter – Electrice (Kranky)
Eric Chenaux – Dull Lights (Constellation)
Jessamine – S/T (Kranky)
Fly Pan Am – N’Ecoutez Pas (Constellation)

Track Listing

Lullabye Arkestra – Come Out Come Out
Labradford - Streamline
Frankie Sparo – Akzidenz Grotesk
Austistic Daughters – Boxful of Birds
Black Ox Orkestar – Ikh Kentsvey Zayn
Benoit Pilouard – Ext. Leslie Park
Sando Perri - Circles
Jessica Bailiff - Evidence
A Silver Mt. Zion – There’s a River in the Valley…
Christina Carter – Yellow Pine
Eric Chenaux – Memories Are No Treasure
Jessamine - Lisboa
Fly Pan Am – Vos Reves Rever

Listen to Surgery 29 click here

Point of Interest: I did the show in a kind of roundabout way, starting on a laptop I made an audio version of it and burned a disc with the mixed tracks. When I popped it into iTunes to convert it over to .mp3 the internet music database recognized the CD as: HIROKI - The Graduation Parted You From Me. Does anyone have this masterpiece?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Surgery 28

Sybarite - Cut Out Shape (Temporary Residence)
Matmos - The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast (Matador)
Fm3 竇唯 - Hou Guan Yin 后觀音 (Lona Records)
Team LG - The Way We Do It (Twisted Nerve)
Psapp - The Only Thing I Ever Wanted (Domino)
Various - You Can Never Go Fast Enough (Plain)
Mountaineer - When The Air Is Bright They Shine (Type)
Our Brother The Native - Tooth And Claw (FatCat)
Encre - Common Chord (Clapping Music)
Inca Ore With Lemon Bear's Orchestra - The Birds In The Bushes (5RC)
Animal Collective - Hollinndagain (Paw Tracks)
Sawako - Hum (12k)
Grizzly Bear - Yellow House (Warp)

Track List:

Sybarite - Runaway (Featuring Psapp)
Matmos - Public Sex For Boyd McDonald
Fm3 竇唯 -
Team LG - Little Anne
Psapp - New Rubbers
The Suntanama - Parallels
Mountaineer - You Pay No Mind
Our Brother The Native - Apodiformes
Encre - Nocturnes
Inca Ore With Lemon Bear's Orchestra - Blue Train
Animal Collective - Tell It To The Mountain
Sawako - White Sky Winter Chicada
Grizzly Bear - Colorado

Listen to Surgery 28 click here

**please note: I discovered too late that there were a few annoying drop outs during the track by FM3 (third track in). This occured after the final mixing process was complete and was impossible to reverse, barring restarting the tracking from square one. I apologize to the artists and label for representing their project in this flawed form.