Entries tagged with “2008”.

There was enough great music in 2008, that I could probably go on for twelve more days.  But all these things are arbitrary in one way or another, and the “12 days” motif seemed amusing enough. Plus I slipped that extra one in there anyway :)  I almost had a couple of days with multiple entries, but I pared it down once I decided to write more; it was enough to do as it was.  As I was visiting relatives while I was doing most of this it was hard enough to devote the time and energy as it was.  The lack of my books and recordings was also annoying, though I managed to find enough information online for my purposes.

So a few other great things that I didn’t get to: first and foremost Frédéric Blondy / Thomas Lehn obdo (Another Timbre). This great piano/synth disc was on and off the list the whole time and was until nearly the end a second entry on one of the days. The second great prepared piano work on Another Timbre (after Endspace which made last years list) and before this years Blasen by Sebastian Lexer/Seymour Wright. I love the use of the piano in abstract music and Another Timbre is putting out some the best. Only John Tilbury (on the next Another Timbre release!) is bringing more interesting work to the ivories.  Toshimaru Nakamura Dance Music (Bottrop Boy) is Nakamura’s best solo outing since Side Guitar and probably my favorite solo of his to date. If you can reproduce the extreme low end on this one, watch out! Stéphane Rives Much Remains to be Heard (Al Maslak) is a genuine evolution of his style from his brilliant Fibre and is well worth exploring. My second favorite solo sax record this year.  Finally right on the cusp is David Lacey and Paul Vogel’s The British Isles (Homefront), a mixed release with several incredibly strong pieces but whose centerpiece falls flat to these ears.  David and Paul are outstanding musicians (not to mention great guys with whom I’ve had good times in both Dublin and NYC) and I while I think this album captures some of their greatest music to date I’m certain their best is yet to come.

If I really wanted to go into all of the great composed works I heard
this year (and have yet to hear) another column would be in order, it
really is ridiculous to mix them. Christian Wolff Early Piano Music brilliantly performed by Steffen Schleiermacher (hatART) probably should have been given one of the days, but Wolff’s music, which I absolutely love, is hard to write intelligently about. There is a lot going on under the hood and there is no quicker way to expose
one’s ignorance than a superficial examination of it. I definitely needed my library for this (especially the collection of essays by
Wolff, Cues, that goes into nearly all of his compositions and methods). I’m going to try to write this one up later in the year though.  The Arditti’s disc of John Cage and Jakob Ullmann String Quartets (HR-Musik) would certainly be on that list. While I preferred L’Effaçage the long layered tones of Radu Malfatti’s Düsseldorf Vielfaches (B-Boim Records) was also a record I enjoyed a lot this year and makes for a solid one-two punch from B-Boim. I’ve been listening to a lot more Lachenmann this year after seeing him live and while I’d have to hit the stacks to see which discs were from this year there certainly were one or two that I feel deserved some discussion. This doesn’t even begin to dip into the pre-20th century classical music, of which I’ve bought my fair share of releases this year.

Of course there were the things I didn’t hear that I’ve meant to, the case for everyone for every year. Of things I know I missed there were a couple of new Morton Feldman recordings I must check out (Viola In my Life on ECM, Turfan Fragments and reissue of For Philip Guston on Dog W / A Bone), two new Matchless Recordings (“AMM”+ John Butcher and Eddie Prévost & Seymour Wright) and a solo John Butcher (Resonant Spaces on Confront). It’s possible this could be the year of three (or more!) great sax releases. A slew of intriguing looking releases on Cathnor were released right at the tail end of December that I’m looking forward to checking out. Lastly (from the top of my head list that is) that new hard to get Eliane Radigue disc is one I can’t wait to finally audition.

In closing I don’t think that any backward glance over 2008 would be complete without mentioning John Tilbury’s massive and long awaited magnum opus: Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished (Copula).  While I’m still in the midst of reading it (heavy into Maoism now) there is no doubt in my mind that this is an amazing and thorough work. Tilbury was right there and part of this, which gives him incredible perspective. He doesn’t flinch from pointing out his biases and peccadilloes and clearly delineates when he is editorializing. Assembling twenty-five years of research, interviews, Cardew’s journals, notes and music into this weighty tome was clearly a labor of love done with great skill and taste.  Essential reading for anyone interested in composed or improvised music in the twentieth century.

The Twelve Days of Interesting 2008 Recordings Index:

Day 1
Ami Yoshida/Minoru Sato Composition for voice performer (1997 and 2007)
Day 2John Cage Two2
Day 3Annette Krebs Berlin Electronics
Day 4Toshimaru Nakamura/English One Day
Day 5:  Masahiko Okura/Taku Sugimoto/Taku Unami Chamber Music Concerts Vol. 1
Day 6Annette Krebs/Toshimaru Nakamura SIYU
Day 7Radu Malfatti  L’Effaçage
Day 8Seymour Wright Seymour Wright of Derby
Day 9:   Ryu Hankil/Hong Chulki/Choi Joonyong 5 Modules V
Day 10Choi Joonyong/Hong Chulki/Sachiko M/Otomo Yoshihide Sweet Cuts, Distant Curves
Day 11Mitsuhiro Yoshimura/Masahiko Okura Trio
Day 12Keith Rowe/Taku Unami ErstLive 006 & Keith Rowe ErstLive 007

Annette Krebs Berlin Electronics (Absinth)

There isn’t a lot of information out there about Annette Krebs nor is she over-documented in recordings. But in the last couple of years her music has catapulted from being rather mixed to being rather outstanding. With the scant evidence that we have available to us it is interesting to attempt to understand this development.  The only interview I have been able to find of Annette is from Suzuki-san of Improvised Music from Japan in 2001 (IMJ has also done an interview in 2006 but it is alas only in Japanese).  This is from before the period in which I think that she has become much more interesting but I do think that it it provides the basis for why this is the case.

Krebs learned guitar quite young (age 11) and continued to study it academically up to the point she moved to Berlin in 1992.  She studied both Jazz and Classical guitar (focusing on Baroque) and supplemented this playing in pubs (more folk like stuff it sounds like) and also trying her own hand at more abstract forms of expression.

“I lived in Frankfurt, and I started studying classical guitar at that time. At the same time I was making abstract paintings, and I tried to play the abstract paintings, but only a bit. Perhaps it didn’t sound very good, like with melodies only, and abstract lines–it was not yet noises. It was always pitches.”(1)

When she moved to Berlin she was able to see contemporary music performances and was exposed to Berlin’s vibrant improvised music community. She began playing in pubs here to “…get out of the classical–you know, it’s very serious, and I wanted to put this music in another place–this was nice. And then, to forget the scales–it’s in the hands, you have so many scales–at one time I preferred to hold the guitar like a cello, and to take strings off and have only a few strings.” From this she moved on to playing the guitar with preparations and playing it flat on the table. When speaking of table top guitar it is impossible not to mention Keith Rowe, and AMM did play in Germany during this period. In fact Krebs went on to adopt a lot of the material of Rowe: radio, brillo pads and the like. It is hard to imagine that there wasn’t some influence there, though this interview really does make her seem pretty disconnected. However it was five years after she had moved to Berlin before she moved to prepared table top guitar and being involved in the music scene there was sure to have involved absorbing influences.

Another interesting connection to Rowe is that both of paint and both of them have thought of their music in the terms of abstract art “I tried to play the abstract paintings,” she says and later in the interview:

“And at that time I wanted to find a kind of music very much like a statue–like something which stands here, like an object. Not like being a musician who is moving and making music, but making objects with two amplifiers. That means not being a musician, in fact, only being someone who makes objects. “(1)

While abstract painting and sculpture being touchstones for her music, she never seemed to find a way to really adapt that into her music making, she continues from the above quote: “But then I discovered that perhaps the music is music and I cannot make objects, really, with music–something that’s not there–so I took the guitar here on my knees again. I can do more with movements; it’s easier. ” This I think really gives us all the information that we really need on the development of Kreb’s music making; essentially as of this interview (2001) she had not really found her voice.  She had a lot of interesting ideas and had absorbed a lot of techniques but had not worked out how to translate them into her own music. 

Her early collaborations with Taku Sugimoto and Andrea Neumann are hit and miss, with good moments in them but usually driven by her collaborators with her sounds often coming as intrusive interjections. A solo disc, Guitar Solo, released in 2002 on the Fringes label was like a catalog of these techniques. Without a collaborator to step on this disc is easily the most successful of her early work.  Its interjections of radio, prepared guitar and other sounds had a near random feel to it as if it was all slightly out of her control – she knew she was turning on the radio but not what it was going to do or how it was going to fit in. Perhaps there was an attempt to utilize some of Cage’s ideas of indeterminacy but instead of achieving his program of removing the composer from the music it seems to almost do the opposite: bring the performer to the forefront.

After a release in 2003 (a not very successful duo with Alessandro Bosetti) there were several years of near inactivity from Krebs. In 2006 though she reemerged with a track on the IMJ Magazine EXTRA 2006 comp and far more importantly in a self-released CD-R: Various Projects 2003-2005.   This CD-R documents what was going on in these “lost years” and contains the seeds of her next several years of musical making activity. The first of these projects to be developed was a duo with Robin Heyward, sgraffito, which was one of my favorite albums from last year.  The next release would be from early this year, an excerpt from a solo performance released as part of Absinth’s Berlin Electronics comp.

Absinth has so far released four collections of four three-inch cd-rs each focusing on Berlin musicians playing a particular category of instrument: Berlin Reeds, Berlin Drums and Berlin Strings.  Each collection allows a each artist to have an entire disc to themselves, albeit only 20 minutes, without the issues of flow and disconnection that often surround comps. However I have found the series to be uniformly better in concept then in execution, almost none of the music released on these sets have been of much interest.  Berlin Electronics follows this trend, with the exception of the Annette Krebs track which is remarkable.

I saw Annette Krebs perform at the Vancouver New Music Guitars! Guitars! festival last October and that set was remarkably similar to what this recording has to offer. This disc is an excerpt from a live concert in Berlin in 2007 the same year as the Vancouver set.  It seems to me that she has whittled her tools down to a current set that she is exploring and thus these two sets from the same year have a similar feel to them.  Her sounds are mostly the same as they have been in the past: still using brillo pads, still using radio still working with feedback and electronics. However she has also added a laptop to mix and uses it to add in pre-set samples, and a soft-synth.  One use of this that she applies on this disc that I witnessed live is the playing and manipulation of spoken word samples. “… the samples being of spoken word pieces in French and maybe German that should would manipulate in various ways – speed up, slow down and so on.”. Reading again my review of that concert it really could be a review of this disc with some events changed in their order. Like that set this has loud washes of noise, the simple synth work, the aforementioned vocal samples and the occasional radio grab. It also has that semi-random, somewhat arbitrary feel of the live set and that I felt was somewhat of a detriment in her earlier work.  But here I think that it works to the benefit of the album, in a way it sounds like someone wandering the radio dial. It’s use of space is very effective, with a more Cagean feel to them then the more forced examples we hear a lot these days. Her control of the sounds used seems to be at such a higher degree then in years past.

It has been fascinating to watch Krebs grow from a musician with solid foundations and sloppy execution evolve into a much more focused and genuinely exciting performer.  The reports of her recent concerts in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe sounds like she is continuing to keep it interesting and fresh even as she works with this more limited set of tools.  I for one certainly am anticipating future releases from her.

1) 2001 Interview with Yoshiyuki Suzuki at Japan Improv.
2) Home Page
3) Japan Improv Annete Krebs Page
4) Absinths Berlin Electronics Page

Ami Yoshida/Minoru Sato Composition for voice performer (1997 and 2007) (ao to ao)

This album first came to my attention via a post in the what are you listening to now thread on ihatemusic. It was subsequently posted as an mp3 file to that thread and then six months later on my trip to Japan for the Amplify festival I was able to secure a physical copy of the disc. The disc itself is a 3″ compact disc with a cute green cover with little  flowers drawn by Saiko Kimura. This little sixteen minute disc had already become a favorite but as is so often the case with this kind of music the uncompressed audio revealed far more.

Ami Yoshida is one of the most original voices in contemporary improvisation and pretty much the only vocalist whose work I regularly enjoy.  I have been fortunate enough to see her perform live twice with Sachiko M (as Cosmos) as well as with Christof Kurzmann and most recently with Toshimaru Nakamura. Her releases on Erstwhile Records (especially the two recordings with Cosmos) are recordings I go back to time and time again. These were difficult albums to access; uncompromising and unrelentingly abstract but once I found my way in was rewarded with nearly endless depth.

Minoru Sato I had only heard on one track on the companion cd to the Improvised Music from Japan 2005 Magizine. This short track is a layered drone of digital buzzing and ringing with a roiling bass drum rumbling throughout.  Not a bad little slice of music but not something that had compelled me to seek out more of his work until this collaboration.  Having looked through his website he seems to be quite active in a number of areas that blur distinctions between art and music, composition and improvisation. This is the territory that his collaboration with Ami Yoshida explores.

The mini-cd is comprised of two tracks both composed by Minoru Sato:

  1. 1997 (6′ 11″)
  2. 2007 (9′ 24″)

How these operate as compositions is quite interesting and is I think the essence to why this music has proven so fascinating.

The piece “˜COMPOSITION for voice performer’ is a composition with regards to vocal performance which is improvisational. Here I use the theme of “composition” based on the assumption that the “composition” can reproduce the essence and nature of vocal performance where the performer intends.
First of all, I request that the performer is conscious of the specific configuration of her/his improvisational piece in performance.
Recording each performance separately several times, the performances may be the same piece of music, as the performer aims for such consistency. However, this can not be entirely possible as the voice changes in accordance with physical and mental conditions and structural vagueness in the music and so on. The more abstract the music, the larger the difference will be.
I compiled the recordings as layers, thus having a collective “composition” reproduced in this piece. (1)

In essence the voice performer engages in a series of improvisations attempting for consistency in performance.  Sato then layers the varying takes together creating the “composition”.  There are two notions of composition at play here: the vocal performances and Sato’s mixing therein.  The vocalist theoretically could work with a through composed piece of music, “Recording each performance separately several times, the performances may be the same piece of music, as the performer aims for such consistency.” and this variance in performance would be revealed in the layering.  He does however generally refer to this performance as an improvisational piece which of course lends itself to an even greater degree in diversity of performance: “The more abstract the music, the larger the difference will be.“

The notions of the vocalist improvising a piece of music and then subsequently trying to replicate it is interesting. The piece that is replicated can at that point be thought of as a composition and like any composed piece it varies in realization. Sato then adds another layer of composition by mixing the takes to tape.  So we have an improvised piece of music that is attempted to become a fixed piece whose variations are then revealed through the additional step of mixing the takes together.  This is a fairly subversive notion of composition, a meta-composition, where is true structure lies in the fact that a performer cannot replicate something they improvised without introducing variance.

The two pieces on the disc are this same composition but with a different improvisation as its starting point. This are quite markedly different due to the length of time between the two pieces and the development of Ami’s sound and technique in the duration.  The first piece, from 1997, has a looping lyrical quality to it that seems both more playful and naive. Higher pitched, almost melodic the variance in the performance almost works as harmony to the simple abstract vocal lines.  The second piece in contrast evokes Ami’s trademark “howling voice” with horse, plaintive cries that, warp and twist as the timings between the performances vary. She keeps the sounds under a much tighter control – they stay in the same range consistently, but durations slip and you hear almost echos of her cries buried behind the more powerful synchronized vocalizations.

Both pieces are fantastic and they show how this simple, yet subversive compositional technique can produce endless variety when pared with a performer so ideally suited to this material. Ami’s extreme abstractions and her uncanny control over such powerful vocalizations fits the demands of this piece in such a way few other vocalists could. This type of composition, where a few rules are used to generate widely varied results is of great interest to me and something I’ve been exploring over the last year.  The way that Sato couples his simple score, with a vocalist in particular is particularly compelling. His composition takes into account, in fact depends on aspects of the vocalization as its fundamental nature.  I think that is a gray area of composition one that is ripe for exploration.  In the case the results certainly speak for themselves.


1) Composition for Voice Performer liner notes
2) Minoru Sato’s (M/S) website
3) Ami Yoshida homepage


There’s something depressing about the way we mark time in these days.  The yearly rituals become such a focus, such a dominate part of our lives. I’m sure this is all tied into our consumer society in some way; we are expected to work extraordinary amounts and we are given specific times, dates and events where we are allowed to engage in activities that should be a regular part of our existence. As the significance of these events ever increased the yearly assessment evolved  from a few minutes of reflection coupled with a resolve to do better to an epic examination of the prior year, what is ultimately a short amount of time even by the standards of the human life span. For those involved in music this of course culminates in the top ten list.  The hubris of this, as if anyone could hear a representative sample of anything, much less actually listen to something enough to know it well enough to critically compare and rank it, is galling.  For something as subjective and as prevalent as music this notion is pretty much laughable on its face. Hence you get breakdowns by genre and sub-genre and sub-sub-genre, or people who just give you fifty or a hundred releases, acknowledging that there is simply too much (or more likely that they are afraid to offend the people who send them free music) to narrow it down.

I’ve struggled with the “best-of” list for a long time, something that I’ve always acknowledged as just a list of favorites from the last twelve months. But really what is the point of that? So I tried to supplement them with useful information: artwork, links and short little descriptions. For it is probably the case that the most useful thing that an end of the year review can attain is to assist someone in finding some new music.  The list gives a decent amount of samples for the reader to determine with some degree of accuracy matches in taste and thus may find that something that you’ve liked that they have yet to hear might appeal to them. Adding reviews and descriptions help, as any astute follower of a reviewer will also soon work out where tastes don’t overlap.  But apart from altruism on the part of those willing to put in this amount of work can there be something of greater value from an end of year list?

This year I’m going to do my end of year assessment different, to concern myself even less with ridiculous notions of “bests” or “essentials” than I have in the last couple of years.  I’m going to do a post a day for the remainder of the year, on a dozen albums I lived with extensively and that I feel are important in one way or another. The concerns here are primarily of interest to those that perambulate around the narrow confines of various abstract musics and thus important is extremely limited in scope. But an attempt will be made to look at these releases a bit more critically, a bit more in context and with a bit more depth. In the end, sure you can just take this as my top ten (or twelve as the case may be) but that isn’t really what I’m attempting to do. There are plenty more great releases where these came from and my list of things that I’ve been meaning to pick up is still plenty long.  Given our penchant for mandated reflection and that fact that I have enough time off from my plenty demanding job to devote to this task, now is the time to delve a bit deeper, to re-listen to things that have moved me all year and to see what can be seen.

The Twelve Days of Interesting 2008 Recordings, will begin tomorrow, December 21st, the winter solstice and conclude on January 1st, the first day of 2009.  The releases will be reviewed chronologically, there is no ranking mean or implied by the order they come out. This system allows for the maximum amount of time to be spent with each release, those that came out late in the year allowed a couple more days of listening and reflection.