Archive for June, 2008

Toshimaru Nakamura Dance Music (Bottrop-boy)

I initially listened to this disc at work on headphones and I could immediately tell there was some serious subsonics I was missing. Having had the chance now to hear it on my stereo at home that suspicion was fully justified. Open air listening on a system that can reproduce a pretty serious frequency range is vital for this release. For example at one point in the second track there are these room shakingly low frequencies that coincide really strikingly with a persistent very high thin tone and this twittery mid-volume feedback. So without the low end rumbles it’s both more static and kind of like not being able to hear part of a chord. The albums two pieces both play with stasis as a mechanic but there are things happening at various levels throughout.

The first piece, For Shizu Araki is half the length of the epic forty minute second track and it remains more firmly in this static territory with it’s variety all happening below the surface. It begins with this hollow whistling sound with a very high pitched pure tone very quietly above. In the same way that Nakamura uses contrasting near sub-sonic tones, this part is using nearly ultra-sonic frequencies that you can feel along your jawbone more then hear. The more midrange whistling sound seems to move in a very slow sweeping pattern and at certain ranges beats against the nearly inaudible tone. A slight hiss of static adds a kind of haze to things. About half way through this track a low tone is added to the above providing contrast and depth. This low tone builds in volume very slowly becoming increasingly dominant and felt more in the body the heard.

The second track, For Namiko Kawamura and Kubikukuri Takuzo, in contrast has fairly distinct movements with more aggressive transitions between them. They themselves each work again with stasis but usually with enough elements to avoid boring drones. With ones ears still affected from the concluding ending tones of the previous track Nakamura begins this one with white noise and an irregular crackling sound. This doesn’t last though and after a bit of silence some tearing feedback heralds a new sequence. A sound field is made with similar materials to the previous track but used in a different way. The use of low end begins as an element brought in and out in the first few parts but makes up the ground in the final. While it is dominate there are these unpredictable, almost mechanical sounds running beneath that again saves us from nodding off. Even this doesn’t last and in the final eight minutes there is just a whine and rustling sounds with super low end rumbles brought in now and again. The effect of these long sections of low tones is really dramatic when they go away: the room itself seems to reverberate with their absence and play against the resulting sounds.

dance music coverI’ve never been a huge fan of Nakamura’s solo work but at it’s best it can really shine. The deservedly well regarded Side Guitar remains his most definitive statement to date. Two tracks on AVVA I think are his next strongest work as a solo artist and these bear a relationship to this music in that they are silent collaborations. Silent to the listener that is with video project in the case of AVVA and dance in this case. Being dance music we are only getting part of the story with just the audio but I think that it’s pretty interesting even so. Nothing here is going to blow your socks off but I think it’s pretty good overall and worth some time with. It reminds me the most of AMM’s Fine which was also a dance music and also had the surface appearance of stasis. So while not really sonically similar it has similar relationship to the respective artists more typical work. In a way I think these “silent collaborations” can bring out some really interesting aspects in a solo performance. You don’t have the ability to hang in the background and let your musical partner(s) take the lead, but at the same time you are supporting another artists work. So restraint is still called for but also presence.

Available from ErstDist or Bottrop-boy.

(review originally published on ihatemuisc)

Supeersession album coverThe history of AMM in the period between the duo of Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost and trio of Keith Rowe, John Tilbury, Eddie Prévost is an interesting and little understood period. One that I think I’m not going to be able to shed much light upon beyond supposition. AMM fragmented into the duos of Rowe/Cardew and Prévost/Gare over ideological differences in the early 70s.  Rowe and Cardew went on to their revolutionary songs while Gare and Prévost became a free jazz duo under the AMM name. That much is fairly clear. Also it is pretty well know that there was an attempt to revive the Rowe/Cardew/Prévost/Gare quartet in the late 70s. Gare of course made his oft quoted statement about not being able to return to AMMMusic after the freedom of the duo. Cardew was then tragically killed (murdered?) bringing to a close that era of AMM.

What happened next was the duo of Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost of which we discussed in the previous post. However it seems that pretty much all during that period there was various attempts to put together a larger group. Rowe has always stated that for him AMM was meant to be a larger group:

“If it’s two elements, it’s not AMM. There have been versions of AMM with only two people, but I don’t consider that as AMM. […] About that time we did do duo gigs, yes. But we always thought there should be three elements. In AMM philosophy three is four: the three players plus the group itself makes four. It’s like the Chinese story of the man drinking a glass of wine in moonlight whose shadow becomes the third member of the company. AMM’s a quartet with an invisible member. ” -Keith Rowe(1)

In the late 70s/early 80s there seemed to be be an almost “auditioning” process of various people for AMM, there is a known recording out there that I have yet to be able to find of  Keith Rowe/Evan Parker/Eddie Prévost in 1979 and then there is this quartet of Evan Parker/Keith Rowe/Barry Guy/Eddie Prévost in 1980. It seems they especially flirted with Evan Parker as he was involved in a number of shows from the aforementioned 1979 one up to at least late 1984.  This group, the quartet of Rowe, Parker, Prévost and Guy would release an album recorded in London in September 1984 under the name of Supersession.

Keith Rowe/Eddie Prévost/Barry Guy/Evan Parker
1980, BBC Studio, London

Begins very tentative, insect music territory. Scrabbly guitar sounds, short bass arpeggios, mild bleats and skronks from the sax and fits and starts of drumming. This picks up pretty fast and within a couple of minutes the sound is fairly continuous even if each individual contribution is not.  He seems to use this fast, staccato strumming to create a kind of blur of popping sounds. A real different sound for this type of free improv and interesting how he kind of sticks with it throughout.  He varies this with shorter, spacious, quieter segments but with the same high thin tone.  In this piece after things build up to pretty dense playing from the bass and drums as Rowe does the fast scrabbling sound he then begins this more spacious playing and suddenly everyone backs off. Good long section without Parkers horn and when he brings it in it is with these short constipated releases of air. Prévost picks up the drumming heading into a quite free jazz vibe as if he was in a duo with late 60s Coltrane. Rowe pauses for a bit at this point and Parker heads toward pretty much continuous playing in familiar Parker territory.  Guy’s bass work is quite straight ahead most of the time at at this dense interval he is pretty much just in the pocket. Keith comes back in with serious vamping adding in a real dense rather fuzzed guitar wash. At this point 8 minutes or so into this piece this could be any free 70s improv ensemble.

They back down from this energy (even the ebb and flow of this is akin to the free jazz roller coaster style) with some rather nice gritty bowing from Guy. Parker plays very short, tonal phrases along with this for a bit of a bass and sax duo. A bit of metallic guitar from Rowe as if stroking muted strings above the pickup. This again inspires an increase in energy and his strumming becomes faster and faster to which Parker responds in kind. It breaks down pretty fast and becomes a bit more open but then Prévost begins wailing on the skins in an all out drum freakout. This of course inspires those melodic runs from Parker, bass fills from Guy and Rowe adds in a a heavily fuzzed almost hard rock guitar. Rowe is almost always at a lower volume then the others and while his playing is fairly straight it is sometimes at odds with the other three. In many ways this is kind of a collision of rock and free improv with elements of both used as materials for this improv.

Again things are quickly brought to a much lower level of energy with Prévost still working the skins, but gently and Rowe down to his slower scrabble instead of the frantic one and Parker laying out.  But just as quickly the energy is built right back up, with dense bass work and what sounds like soprano sax from Parker, played a frantic speed.  To which Rowe responds with a rocking guitar line. It is this constant high to low to high energy transitions that is the most EFI like in this, with the sounds often coming from the rock work. This time when the level is brought down, Guy returns to bowing his bass and Rowe goes on a total analog delay freakout. Layers of thin guitar work ping-pong across the stereo field as he works his delay and Parker plays short little squeals on the (probably) soprano sax. Staccato drumming on the floor tom from Prévost as Rowe moves into odd little cascades of sounds almost like bottles being rolled upon each other. Things open up pretty well even as Guy lays in a guttural drone via his bow. Rowe and Parker stick with fragmented squeals and Prévost lays out. Mirroring the beginning of the piece things get a bit insect music like in the last minutes and slowly coalesce into a denser structure but rather surprisingly concluding before really achieving liftoff.

The playing of Rowe and Prévost on this track is very much in the vein of the playing on RadioActivity and the AMM III album. The use of rock textures from Rowe and free jazz drumming from Prévost run all through this.  While Parker and Guy at times slip sounds in that wouldn’t be out of place in an AMM date from the late 60s for the most part they don’t stray from what they would be doing in their trio with Lytton. Its interesting that the trio of Rowe, Prévost and Guy could be almost a rock power trio (like Cream say), while the trio of Prévost, Parker and Guy sound could just be Prévost filling in for Lytton the Evan Parker trio.  They oscillate between these two poles which perhaps aren’t all that far apart.

“The group that AMM most closely resembles, though they sound utterly unalike and their musics seem to take shape on different principles, is the trio of Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton, whose playing relationship is almost as long as AMM’s and who share the same devotion to collective improvisation. When AMM was a tenor/drums duo in the 70s, Gare and Prévost frequently co-promoted concerts with the duo of Parker and Lytton, and there’s an extraordinary quartet recording from 1984, called Supersession (Matchless MRCD17), with a quartet of Guy, Parker, Prévost and Rowe.” -Stuart Broomer(3)

The above quote from Broomer I think gives us the clue as to just what this recording is. AMM and the Evan Parker trio played at various shows together, and knowing how those went probably had to do some combined playing together. It was from an unknown date in 1980 at the BBC at a
time when AMM III was playing shows by itself and with various people.  And supposedly at this point Tilbury had already been asked to join the group, though the first official trio AMM set was not until 1982. If AMM III and the Evan Parker Trio were doing intermingled shows at this time perhaps when the opportunity to do a BBC date came up it was suggested that they all play. Perhaps it was the Evan Parker trio that was asked to do the the BBC session and Lytton was unavailable that day so Parker asked Rowe and Prévost to play with them. Impossible to say without of course asking one of the principles. So I think this best way to think of this would be as a one off with the AMM duo, Parker and Guy. In 1984 when they played the show that was  released as Supersession they had already been performing as the trio AMM for several years and had released the studio album Generative Themes. So when releasing the album you could see the need to create a new identity for the group.

It is worth noting that on the actual Supersession disc the rock elements are nowhere near as dominant. Overall it feels more AMM like, especially what you hear on Generative Themes. This of course makes sense as the trio AMM had been playing enough for them to have settled more into playing AMMMusic. At the time of this recording, Rowe and Prévost had primarily been playing in rock and free improv styles for quite a few years. It is not surprising that those influences would filter into AMM III and just be reinforced when added straight up free improv players like Parker and Guy. So really this recording is another fleeting moment in time another short lived era in the history of AMM.


1) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
Supersession liner notes by Eddie Prévost,1988 (Matchless Recordings)
3)  Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995

Gust Burns performing solo at Gallery1412

June 7th 2008
Gust Burns
Gallery1412 Seattle WA

I’ve seen Gust Burns in a number of ensembles over the last few years but last night was the first time I’ve seen him play solo.  He was again playing his constructed ‘inside piano’ that I first saw him use at few weeks back in trio with Jeffery Allport and Nate Wooley. At that show he was not amplified but tonight he was running through the Galleries PA.  He had two contact mics on the soundboard and an overhead mic all fed into a little mixer. I was definitely excited to hear this development as I have myself worked a lot with contact mics over the last few years and particularly like their use on acoustic instruments. My interest in using them is to reveal the little sounds I could make with my prepared harp and I assumed that Gust would be doing similar things.

The show started around 8:15 and Gust played for around 20 minutes in a continuous improvisation.  The sounds that he generated were as I have described before: high keening tones from the upward stroked dowels and dry scraping sounds from the downward stroked dowels along with various overtones and resonances from the instrument as a whole. T the use of amplification brought these sounds to the fore but as I suspected, reveal so much more. The sound of the hands themselves on the dowels making little squeaks and rustles, tension on the strings making tiny pings and soft gonging sounds, more dramatic metallic ringing sounds and hollow thuds as the dowels were slid along the strings to various positions. This plus the reverbation of using a room mic, some overdriving of the contact mics and the occaisonal whine of feedback.

The structure of the piece was created through switching between the dowels. He’d stop the sounds he was making, let the dowel rest on the surface and switch to another one. This provided a natural gap between the more continuous sounds that he’d generate in each of these sections. It gave the piece a feel of having movements and the varied tones he’d use for each of these enforced that feeling.  He began with mid-range dry scrapping tone that rang out with room reverb and the sounds of his hands. The middle bit used the purer tones with a shorter dowel in the upper strings with layer of overtones and incidental squeaks. The end had a much lower section at first and then by sliding the dowel in the strings concluded with a more mid range segment to bring it full circle.  A short improv but one I really enjoyed and got a lot out of.

English/Toshimaru Nakamura One Day (Erstwhile Records)

While Joe Foster and Bonnie Jones have been active in various music making circles for a number of years it has been with their English project that they have come to be most widely known. Prior to this album they had self-released two CD-R s, both untitled. The earliest of these was from 2004 and was released as two 20 minute pieces each on their own 3″ CD-R. A seething stew of glitches, feedback, super liminal trumpet sounds, pure tones and feedback generated rhythms. Never lingering too long on any sound or technique these two pieces are a rich mélange of sounds, relentlessly lo-fi and always engaging.. No chance of falling into drone with this strategy it also miraculously never feels impatient, undeveloped or scattered. The next year they again self-released their own recordings this time as five tracks on a conventional CD-R with times ranging from 5 to 21 minutes. The pieces on this release followed the formula of their previous work yet seem more mature, more able to delve into a sound world and escape intact. The short pieces don’t come across as under developed but as a tight focus on a few sounds. The long pieces in contrast feel like extended meditations on a structure derived from this sonic detritus, a structure that arises from the gestalt of the sounds and loses focus on close inspection.

Toshimaru Nakamura at this point has appeared on over fifty recordings in combinations from solo to large groups in any number of contexts. His work over the last decade has been amongst the most interesting and challenging of anyone and yet there has been a distinct something lacking in his recordings of late. His sound is really a gestalt sound that can range from pointillistic additions to the sound field or provide a wash that emphasizes and focuses other sounds. It is this nature of his performance that has clearly made him prized as a collaborator and as his reputation has grown so has those desiring him as a collaborator. This has led to a number of releases in the last year or so that have not resulted in that gestalt, releases that are less then the sum of their parts. While for whatever reason he has been willing to take on these collaborations it is clear that these need to be chosen with more care and perhaps after experimentation without expectations of a release. In his releases for the last year his role has been of extreme background, a mere wash to the canvas of sound. Perhaps in deference to this collaborators, perhaps as an easy way to work with incompatible aesthetics the results have uniformly been uninteresting and bland. It is with this backdrop of a hungry, fresh, risk taking duo and the old master in stasis, treading water that one must approach One Day with.

There is with English an element of being on the edge of and sometimes slipping out of control. When that control is lost it is reigned and those sounds are allowed in and worked with. There is a sense of boundary pushing, of not always choosing to take the easy route that can lead to failures and strange judgments. With this collaboration one can’t help but to think of their trio with Sachiko M, a collaborator with whom Nakamua so often does transcendent work, at the ErstQuake 2 festival in New York City. This was a risky set always on the edge, fraught with failure. It reached a very natural end point and Sachiko and Jones faded away. But Foster kept playing solo trumpet mouthpiece at first and various other objects in this increasingly sad display as it became clear he was on his own. As a recording with this ending edited out it could be a great track and one does wonder how much of their process that is indicative of: Play till it falls apart and take the section that works. At the same festival the duo of English were superb so of course it simply could have just been a risk too far in this situation. The trio of English and Toshimaru Nakamura performed for the first time in Japan in 2007 and then went to the studio to record the next day. The results of this session makes up the three tracks that form this release.

Ong Time (20’39″)
The initial track on the album kicks in right away as if taken mid improvisation. There is a steady state hum that dominates the sound field and this is augmented by hisses and electronic crackles. Thus we are introduced to the trio right away with Nakamura providing that hum of feedback, Foster the hisses via the trumpet or parts thereof and Jones the electronic crackles of her open circuits. This state last for a bit of time before the dominating steady state is slowly brought down. In the space that is opened up we get cascades of sounds from Jones’s circuits, a slippery and wonderful sound. A low tone comes in, glitched in and out amid rips of feedback, stuttering electronics and ping-ponging digital manipulations to create a rich assortment of sounds. A ticking sound is brought in and out as Foster creates the most organic sound yet tonguing his mouthpiece (or something similar) as Nakamura lets loose these tearing washes of feedback. This section goes from spacious to dense at a lightning pace, building up a structure whose foundations are laid bare but whose plans never seem finalized. In the later quarter of the piece, a static wash runs at a low volume along with an equally quiet rising rumbling tone as sparks and crackles and even the occasional digital beep comes in. There is little peace in this space, it creates a tension that seems to arise out of nearly nothing. It is not the tension of waiting for the next sound, or for a blast of energy or an abrupt ending; it comes from the sounds themselves. This tension resolves itself into nothingness as the track fades away with an organic crepitation, a sine wave and some orphaned crackles.

This track is the longest of the album (beating out the next by 38 seconds) and it sets the tone for the album with its sections made up of longer tones, overlaid with fissures of chopped up sounds that shift and trade prominence. The track develops in its own time with denser sections and near silences but never falling into predictability or routine.

Plant Signs (20’01″)
As if the scattered remains of the previous piece were swept into a pile, stirred around and picked through for novel bits and pieces this track opens with small little sounds of an indelicate nature. It stays very open feeling even as a rhythmic gasping sound comes in and a low rumble begins that continues for some time. All of this is eventually cut through by one of those rhythmic tearing events that a mixer fed back upon itself is prone to. This is brilliantly matched by a pulsing high pitched tone, probably from Ms. Jones’s damaged electronics. The feedback is cut off leaving this pulse which is gently brought down amid static tears, digital thuds and buzzes and then a rising whine. This track is akin to a canvas left its natural color that three artists approach, maybe crowding up to those already there, to dab, or splash, or even do a sustained stroke before backing off and leaving it to the others, or to itself. Toward the middle of the piece some more sustained sounds come in an almost mechanical twitter as of a rotating fragment of metal squeaking as it turns upon an off kilter axis. Even with a continuous sine wave layered against this and then later some more rhythmic feedback this never feels overly opaque. A much louder wash of static, built upon with feedback threatens this state, but never overwhelms it, it comes in and dominates like a splash of red paint on that canvas but it doesn’t become the whole world. The natural space always comes back, always setting the tone. The piece has a rising degree of intensity that is so subtle you don’t really notice until by the final six minutes or so the piece allows loud siren like sounds, jarring open circuit pops and metal on metal feedback to be layered upon the spaciousness and not corrupt its nature. As the piece concludes this intensity is backed away from which simply serves to underscore the degree to which it had ascended. The sounds retain a highly fragmented nature and a higher dynamics than what the track began with but the feel of space is more akin to how it all began. At the very end a number of sounds are allowed to play out, coloring the canvas before simply being cut off.

Like the first track this one again takes bits and pieces that are almost cliché, overused, trite even but through never letting them overstay their welcome and creative juxtapositions it becomes fresh, deep and endlessly engaging.

The Color Of (15’56″)
This, the shortest piece on the disc, begins much more restlessly. Chunks of mid-range muted sounds are chopped by static fuzz and digital skronks. It is the aural equivalent of kneading dough as someone drops additional ingredients into it. The kneading complete a sputtering fizz quietly plays out as wet stammers, most likely from Fosters mouthpiece, grind away amongst washes of static, gentle feedback and other sonic detritus. From this a roiling sound as of very distant thunder arises, greeted with a near raspberry from Foster as Jones keeps up a constant thin patter of electrics. The soft schizophrenia of this track continues as these sounds fade into space and new structures are unspun. Twittery sines, interspersed static, a ringing tone, squeaks and squishy sounds all swirl upon the listener. Unlike the previous tracks the conclusion of this comes from increasing danger. A hollow feedback is brought up slowly in volume as burst of almost synth like tones, pure tones and circuit noise flashes in and out. A rain like dirty static replaces the feedback and various components of this piece squeal through till two sounds as of devices being unplugged end it.

This final piece of the album is much more fragmented then the other two, but again fails to fall into familiar territory. Working with bursts of sound there is a risk of falling into the played out patterns of so called “insect music”, a risk that never fully transpires in this piece. The way that it is built of the constituent parts of the previous pieces and yet differs from them shows the range of this trio, their skill at using the tools of the last couple decades of improvisation and to transcend their routines and limitations.

In this album they flirt constantly with the conventions of drone, using long sustained tones frequently, but never allowing themselves to fall into that trap. At the same time even with the quick cuts and transitions it never falls into the ADD, schizophrenia that mars so much free improv. Likewise they use a number of the elements of modern noise, an area fraught with clichés that seem to be treated as goals. Again they only use it as tools, never falling into its trap of excess and ego. It is a knife edge balancing act that is pulled off through impeccable restraint. Nakamura may lay in a long near drone to which Jones’ chaotic, fizzing electronics undercut its potential soporific nature as Foster adds an overtone, or a contrasting stutter that just further subverts the proceedings. The degree at which these three work together is intense, constantly challenging and pushing the sounds to the fore. Consistently the results exceed the inputs, there are layer upon layer to reward a close degree of attention.

The playing from Jones and Foster is definitely the most mature I’ve heard from them. Apart from their collaborations and the concerts of theirs I’ve had the pleasure to witness, I’ve also followed their solo and collaborative work and there has been a continual refinement and increasing virtuosity with their instruments. Every new piece seems to push something further and this album is definitely a breakthrough for them. Nakamura is quite interesting on this release, sprung from the malaise he seems to have been trapped in for the last year or so. He is more dominate here in that he doesn’t relay on the static background style he’s used in many of his recent collaborations, yet at the same time working to actively augment the sounds of his collaborators. In many ways he has fallen back on his style and techniques of previous years, but mixing it up through bringing different things to the fore and using a much wider palette. You can tell they pushed each other, the music is always on the verge of falling into total noise and strays at the edge between stasis and chaos that where the truly interesting, challenging and deep sounds come from.

Relevant Links:
Joe Foster
Bonnie Jones
Toshimaru Nakamura
One Day
Erstwhile Records

(review originally published at ihatemusic)