Entries tagged with “Annette Krebs”.


In March 2010 I went to Boston for a series of Christian Wolff residency concerts at NEC and to see a number of concerts involving Keith Rowe. This was the third month of the Eleven Clouds project and the distribution method for that months release (Vertical Landscapes I-V/aeolian electrics) was via in-person trade. Jon Abbey of Erstwhile Records made the best trade: a cd-r of the the forthcoming collaboration betwixt Annette Krebs and Taku Unami. Only having my iPhone for music listening that cd-r was going to sit unplayed for over a week and that immediately began to grate. So I bought a super cheap portable cd player and gave it a listen. My initial impression was threefold:  pretty good, not really groundbreaking and damn these headphones that came with my portable cd player sucked and thus rendered both of the previous assessments pretty much invalid.  I did listen to it maybe three more times in the next few days though and then on my last day in Boston during a free afternoon I stumbled upon Newbury Comics, which included a pretty decent record store where I was able to pick up a reasonable set of Sennheisers.  Well these better headphones really opening up the music for me as did subsequent plays on my home stereo, upon which a month hasn’t passed this year where it didn’t get multiple spins. Since that time I’ve been trying to write about it nearly every month as well but it has always confounded my attempts.  I felt this was okay, that an album like this resisted easy analysis, or a superficial explanation and that more listens would reveal an approach.  But this never happened; I kept listening and becoming if anything increasingly intrigued and beguiled but never really knew what to say. Thus it never appeared in one of my monthly music posts which, while they only covered an aspect of my listening this year, did end up in the end containing a number of my favorites for the year. And it should have because it is by far the best bit of improvisation I’ve heard this year and along with Lost Daylight my favorite album of the year.

Annette Krebs/Taku Unami Motubachii (Erstwhile Records)

Probably not since Keith Rowe’s The Room has there been an album that I think so defies a quick analysis. Like The Room, I enjoyed this immediately, but my snap judgement, as I related above, would have been superficial. Now with Keith I know how much thought is involved with each release, especially a solo album where it isn’t a documentation of a collaboration but is solely his own concerns. The Room perhaps especially so as he spent at least a coupe of years honing his ideas, his structure and performing the piece in his various solo concerts (one of which I saw in 2005). I never really did delve into that album that year; it resisted the easy analysis and I only ended up writing a paragraph about it in my 2007 wrap up. One I revisit frequently and which maybe someday I can find the words to delve into.  Motubachii is in my mind a similar case, but even more difficult.  With The Room one can at least find interviews with Keith, articles on his process, a long history of recording and of course I’ve had the great pleasure of quite a few conversation with him.  This allows one to place it in context, to examine what he and others have said on it and so on.  There are few interviews (in English anyway) with Unami or Krebs and they rarely seem to speak on their own music.  But that of course doesn’t mean that all we have to go on is the sounds on this disc.

Annette Krebs

Annette Krebs at the Goethe-Institut Boston (photo by Danny Gromfin)

I’ve had the opportunity to meet Annette Krebs in Vancouver in 2007 and Taku Unami in Tokyo in 2008 and while I wasn’t afforded the opportunity for long chats I did get to see them perform.  The performances and of course the recordings from these two do allow us to place this album in an historical context.  Krebs in 2007 had come back from a seeming hiatus to begin a series of great releases both solo and in collaboration (Berlin Electronics, sgraffito, SIYU and so on) however by the time of this collaboration with Unami I’d began to feel that she had tapped out her newfound ideas.  She plays tabletop (or laptop at least the times I’ve seen her) guitar with a variety of common objects and preparations: brillo pad, files etc as well as radio and laptop.  She uses the laptop to play samples or simple synth like sounds and seems able to manipulate speed and length of the playback of these samples.  Her approach has always seemed partly random, that is to say while her command of her materials is high she seems as surprised as anyone by what a particular gesture will invoke.  The use of the software sampler was what made it seem like she had reworked her bag of tricks but hadn’t really tapped into an endless flow of ideas; the same sample, manipulated in similar ways began to appear on a number of releases. By the end of 2008 the freshness had seem to have evaporated and at least my interest began to wane. However if there was one collaboration that would mix things up, it would be with Taku Unami.

Taku Unami

Taku Unami in the Book Cafe

Reportedly after I saw the Keith Rowe/Taku Unami duo in Tokyo in the fall of 2008 Unami claimed that was the end of his performance on the computer driven motors and manipulators and as far as I can tell that has been the case.  In the years after that he began using handclaps, cardboard boxes, movement, and guitar. Unami has always defied expectations and has as far as I know never really explained himself.  He seemed in a way to follow on from the ultra-minimal work of Taku Sugimoto but with a wicked sense of humor about it all.  Perhaps more then anything else he is constantly challenging what performance is, what a recording is, fundamentally what music is.  While he will play with people like Mattin and his disciples and follow them where they lead, he never really seems quite the agent provocateur that they are.  Mattin et al always come across as ideologues, pushing their notions first and foremost as dogmatically as any Maoist.  Unami reminds me the most of Bansky really – he’ll cleverly challenge just about anything but he pretty much leaves it up to the listener to figure it all out. And he’s really good at what he does, even when it ultimately isn’t compelling.  Unami by early 2010 had really pushed well beyond what he’d been doing up to that point and a collaboration with Annette Krebs, who was beginning to repeat herself quite a bit was fraught with uncertainty – fruitful ground for Unami.

Etant donnes

Marcel Duchamp Étant donnés at the Philiaphia Museum of Art

Motubachii front cover

The cover artwork for Motubachii is among my very favorites from the Erstwhile catalog and it always makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, the piece he worked on in secret for decades after he “quit art” for chess. A scenic tableau with a meticulously modeled female nude holding a gas lamp, the viewer looks through peepholes at this scene and the splayed out figure therein.  Replacing Duchamp’s carefully rendered idyllic scene with the very real German (I assume) countryside and removing any trace of a figure it may just seem to be a nod, or perhaps even just the long reverberations of the piece in the zeitgeist. But to me it displays the humor that was the hallmark of Duchamp and that I think one can also find in Unami. Self referential in a similar fashion as Ã‰tant donnés is (the mannequin is a cast of a longtime lover, the waterfall and gaslamp reference a note on The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and so on; see this comprehensive book for more on this piece) one can read a lot into that empty countryside and it is I think almost uniquely fitting for the music contained within.

I tend to avoid others reviews when I intend to write on something myself but since I spent the bulk of 2010 attempting to write on this album I did stumble across various impressions and takes on the album. The overriding impressions seemed to be one of confusion (though a joyful confusion for the most part) as though the music was a riddle that the listeners had to work out.  The question in collaborations of who has made what sound, or what the source of a given sound is, or if a sound is a sample a natural occurrence or somehow created in situ is an oft raised one. Is this the result of our minds that are constantly seeing patterns, constantly trying to categorize things to reductively break things down to their constituent parts? It is not an unfamiliar exercise to myself , in fact I’d say its a definite trope amongst those who write about music myself included.  You see someone like Krebs rub the strings on her guitar with a brillo pad and then later you can say on listening to an unrelated album “and a skritchy sound of a brillo pad rubbed on strings”. If one is attempting to describe the music – always a challenge! – then in many ways this is the easiest path, as it relies on the experiences of the listener to fill in the gaps. With this album we only have the prior performances of Krebs and Unami, and not even of them playing together, to utilize and thus it seems natural to try to puzzle out what is making the sounds, who is doing what and how the album was put together.

annette krebs / taku unami
Talu Unami/Annette Krebs at Kid Ailack Hall. Photo by Yuko Zama

It is the sounds that tend to bring people into the current vein of experimental musics.  Turn the focus away from melody, harmony, rhythm and sound becomes the natural element to focus on.  The early experimentalists (Cage, Feldman et al) constantly talked of letting the sounds be themselves, of focusing on sound and so on. But the sounds have been left to themselves for quite some time now, even if most people aren’t paying attention.  The experiements with contact mics in particular in 50s, 60s and beyond (Cartridge Music most famously but 60s AMM and many others as well) were all about bringing sounds to the forefront and using virtually every means to produce them. Sounds have remained the focus of recent endeavors, but what I’d really say has been the innovation has been the structure. This I think is particularly the case with Unami who I think began (at least on record) radically de-emphasizing sound with Malignitat where he allowed the samples to be played at specific times to be pulled randomly from a banal sound effects cd.  The structure is what was important there and I think that it is the structure that has seen the most innovation in the last decade. Unami continued to downplay sound, with his handclaps, table pounding and cardboard boxes.

Robert Rauschenberg Nabisco Shredded Wheat Cardboard

I can’t help but think of Robert Rauschenberg’s cardboard box art when I hear of Unami’s usage of them as a sound source.  It seems to me almost the exact same reason in that they are ubiquitous, cheap, disposable and as far from art as you can get. Rauschenberg transformed the detritus of our consumer culture into art and Unami utilized the same detritus to devalue the notion sound from his pieces. He also reportedly did performances where he used light to cast shadows with the boxes which he then moved around, removing sound completely from its pedestal. Interestingly enough after reading about the shows where he did this I found a Fluxus text score that is in essence “use a cardboard box to cast shadows on the wall. Move it around.” (I alas don’t have a copy of this score and will have to look around to get the full score and citation).  I can’t help but think that there isn’t quite a bit of Fluxus in what Unami does: the subversion of accepted notions of performance and music making, the humor, the stripping down to essentials, the working with very simple scores and the theatricality of his works.

Taku Unami instal09

Taku Unami at instal 2009

I’ve listened to motubachii four times through as I’ve  written this and even with all the other times I’ve listened to it this year it still intrigues. It is the combination of all that I’ve been going on about here: Krebs’ startled jabs on her instruments and Unami’s subversion of, well, everything.  Unami on this recording sounds like he just wandered around the room doing various things as Krebs’ engages in a quite spare performance. There are handclaps, table slaps, dropped boxes, the sound of moving around the room, the rare note on a guitar, brillo pads and files on guitar strings, Krebs’ use of vocal samples distorted, slowed down and sped up, a few plucks of a resonant instrument like a banjo or steel guitar and so on.  It could have been them playing a piece in a room, or it could be individual recordings put together or it could be parts from various recordings randomly selected ala Malignitat to either a defined or random structure. One thing that is known is that it is five recorded in five different locations and track one and five are the same. More playfulness from Unami and Krebs. It also lends some creedence to the notion that it is an assembled piece, in whole or in part, but really as I said earlier that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it all works; it has a flow, a beguiling structure to itself that could be the result of any number of processes.  The sounds, a mix of Krebs who I’d say is still focused on sound and Unami’s seemingly devil-may-care though clearly thought out everyday sounds, create this structure, nurture it and give the listener plenty to hang on to.

the title stems from two original words from Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries, and the process is amusingly analogous to how the record was put together (which I’m not explaining, before anyone asks).

originally this was Unami’s idea, he suggested the word ‘pinckenbahii’, which he defined as a “gravity vortex which causes strange time phenomena, several times within a time at the same time” and he thought that was a good fit for the record. Annette was also a fan of Lem and The Star Diaries in particular, but didn’t like the way this word sounded in German, so she found a second word (‘uabamotu’) from the book and combined the two into ‘motubahii’. I then researched these and found that Unami had made a mistake with the initial word, which should have been ‘pinckenbachii’, hence ‘motubachii’. – Jon Abbey in the Motubachii post on ihm

I also love Stanislaw Lem and while I never would have worked out the reference (having read the The Star Diaries quite some time ago to begin with) that explanation from how this combined word came together does seem to encapsulate the record well. Perhaps Jon is hinting that the album is an assemblage; it certainly does have that feel.  But Unami’s original word defined as “gravity vortex which causes strange time phenomena, several times within a time at the same time” now that captures the essence of the record.  I doubt that the strange phenomena in this one will ever become overly familiar, or tiresome or that I’ll ever make it out of the vortex.

Annette Krebs/Toshimaru Nakamura SIYU (SoSEDITIONS)

I have spoken at length about the transformation of Annette Krebs in my discussion of Berlin Electronics and of the recent work of Toshimaru Nakamura in my review of One Day, so it is interesting to hear these two in collaboration.  The question of timing is of course important; Krebs has really come into her own in the last few years and Nakamura has been in a certain state of flux for the same.  So it isn’t overly surprising that SIYU was recorded in 2005. At this period of time I’d say that Nakamura was at the height of his game, in the midst of a series of amazing and innovative collaborations: Erstlive 005, Erstlive 002, 4G, a duo with Sean Meehan, the next year would bring between(1). At the same time this was the end of Kreb’s period of isolation and her process of reinvention from which her current stream of great collaborations have come from.  From the artist page for this release on the SoS Editions site:

since 2003, she has worked to combine composed musical sounds with layers of concrete meanings, including word and visual materials. in her pieces, all materials are composed in a very equal and abstract way; the possible decorative function of sound is averted.

similar to an acoustic collage, fragments of language, words and field recordings are integrated as musical materials together with tonal and rhythmical abstract composed sounds, noises and silences. concrete meanings, fragments of memory are sometimes softly suggested, and then reintegrated immediately, as reminders of short fragments of thought in the abstract soundlanguage.

musical hierarchical structures, foreground and background, exist in her pieces in a mostly fluid form; they can appear for a short moment, however, immediately disappear again into each other, framed together like images in a kaleidoscope. seconds later, they reveal themselves in other combinations, in new, surprising ways. (2)

This description (which oddly I hadn’t seen before writing this) pretty much puts into words exactly what I’ve been hearing in her music. It also confirms that this strategy and system has come from that post 2003 period. The “samples” I’ve mentioned before are these composed elements and clearly the use of pre-composed vocal elements is a major component of this ‘abstract soundlanguage‘ she is working with. The “…possible decorative function of sound is averted.” shows an adherence to the Cagean notion of letting the sounds speak for themselves (or perhaps reflecting Feldmans intention that you can’t push the sounds around).  Her techniques and subsequent sound are a direct reflection of this statement: her sounds come and go, rarely lingering, you can definitely sense an equal weight to all sounds and there is always surprise there, even to the performer it appears when you witness a Krebs performance.

The disc contains two tracks, both created in 2005, the first, longer track having been previously released on Kreb’s self-released CD-R Various Projects 2003-2005(3).  While so much of that CD-R presaged Krebs work to come (the solo material invoking Berlin Electronics, the duo with Heyward) this track was the real standout.  The CD-R was never easy to get a hold of and in that alone this disc was incredibly welcome, but the addition of the second, short track from the same session really promoted this into a fantastic release.  While half the length of the previous track the second track acts as both a second movement and coda to it and makes for a whole that transcends its two parts.  They are both great as solo pieces but together I think that make for a complete piece.

Wrr finds Nakamura deep in background territory which in this case compliments Krebs’ style of interjections and bursts of activity.  The track begins in stasis with a background hiss from Nakamura and within the first couple of minutes you hear brillo pad on Krebs’ guitar, a shot of her tweaked vocal samples, some radio and other bits of sonic clutter.  Nakamura simply responds with a mid-range pure tone, backed with a lower drone that this activity rises out of.  They aren’t wildly off in dynamic range which keeps this from seeming two aggressive and as Krebs always puts these bursts of activity into wide spaces it never gets overly dense and busy. But as she drops out Nakamura subtly changes his sounds – for instance that mid-range tone just discussed was slowly rising in volume until the point where Krebs drops out, to which he responds by backing it off. This is brilliant interplay in that he didn’t just drop out in kind but he changed the texture in response to her dropping out.  This track all works like that, with Nakamura taking the lead in a real subtle way. That is to say that Krebs more or less does what she would do solo and it is the collaborative aspect that is driven by Nakamura’s playing. He works a lot with continuous sound in this piece, but he mixes it up enough that his sounds are quite textured.  The near static parts are always my favorite in this where there seems to be almost nothing going on but maybe a subdued hiss, or a low background hum and then little burbling radio grabs, higher pitched tones, bleats of static or short cut off bit of vocals.  But in the more intense parts there is a lot to hear as well: washes of static, swarms of bees, ringing tones, cutting feedback.  In interplay with Krebs diversity of sounds, both in character as well as in dynamics this is a varied and intricate collaboration that pulls me in every time I listen.

Brr, begins with a low rumble from Nakamura to which shortly a vacillating tone is brought in contrast against. An oddly hollow scraping sound flutters across the stereo field as the oscillating tone comes up only to be replaced by a brief moment of feedback. Burst of radio static and then a return to stasis. Like the previous track this quick series of events comes in and out quickly, never shockingly, but again restlessness pitted above stasis. But unlike the first track this stasis from Nakamura doesn’t last; he works with longer events but is constantly shifting in this piece. Although it is shorter than the previous piece this one is a constant miasma of sound, layers of washes, sudden bursts of feedback, and moments of silence with only a faint trace of hiss probably from inactive electronics.  This activity from Nakamura, though at a dramatically lower level, than Krebs gives this whole piece a feel of sands shifting under ones feet: there is no solid ground on which to rest. In the end though this piece transforms into a shift decrease in activity; still never falling into stasis but the events from both partners are more drawn out and low energy as if they were fading out through self-editing.

1) Toshimaru Nakamura Discography
2) SOS Editions Artist Pages
3) Annette Krebs’ CD-R Various Projects 2003-2005

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

These were my favorite recordings of 2007. The usual caveats apply: didn’t hear everything, personal opinion yadda yadda yadda. My goals are a bit different in this list as in years past – I am making even a lesser claim then normal on any sort of “best of” status. No, what these recordings represent to me was the music that I found interesting this year. This is different then good or bad as something can be both. A lot of things are interesting in their potential, direction or development. So why this focus for this year? Primarily because it is what I look for in music, why the merely beautiful, well done or true to form music rarely transcends from those descriptions to truly great music. Of course this is again subjective, these are interesting to me, others may (and hell probably are) be diametrically opposed in what they find interesting. The reasons I give for their interest to me are simply meant as an insight into my perspective. Again these are my opinion and while you may disagree with them, they are what informs my interest in a given album. Also worthy of note I make no effort to separate by genre, reissue, format or any of that, it just had to come out in some form this year. A further note on ordering; I don’t weigh all of these equally for sure but it definitely wasn’t the guiding principle as to how things are presented here (though the first few listed are definitely my favorites).

Twenty interesting recordings from 2007

David Tudor – Music for Piano (Edition RZ)

Music for PianoThis year I really got into the music of The New York School, especially John Cage and David Tudor.  Oh I’d been listening to them all for some time (especially Feldman) but the Cage festival I attended in Canada in October 2006 demonstrated to me once and for all that there was a lot more to Cage then his ideas; he made amazing music across his entire career. The man who was responsible for realizing so much of the music of the New York School was David Tudor. Considering how open ended and up to the performer much of this music was, the performer can often be thought of as co-composer of any given interpretation. In David Tudor’s case he was an exemplary composer in his own right and these pieces brought that out in him. Conveniently as my interest (or obsession even) in this area was growing the ever excellent Edition RZ label issued one of their fantastic retrospective releases on David Tudor. These CDs are an odd duck in that they are usually entirely archival material, but assembled into a new and unique release.  Usually it is out of print material and obviously stuff they can get the rights to, but they usually present a very thorough overview of an artists career.  This set focuses on Tudors piano music, in particular that which requires a large degree of input by the performer. Thus a lot of his earlier work interpreting the likes of Wolpe, Stockhausen and so on is not part of this set, nor is his later pure electronics work, where his role as composer really flourished. It is of limited scope and considering how much he recorded that is a wise choice. But for that scope this set does an impeccable job.

The highlight of this set is Tudor’s realization of John Cage’s Variations II a twenty-six minute piece that opens disc two. This recording, which requires the performer to assemble a score beforehand from a set of material, is justly considered a co-composition between Cage and Tudor. Tudor took an extreme tact in his assembling of the score, reducing it to a binary system of control and chaos that left most of the sonic decisions to the performance itself. Additionally he extensively prepared the piano, especially in terms of amplification with a variety of microphones, pickups, transducers and the like. This unstable instrument, constantly on the edge of feeding back was then masterfully directed into this amazing realization whose performance in 1961 must have seemed to have been from another planet (read more about Tudors realization of this piece in this essay).  But this piece isn’t all that is in this set and it is the wealth of amazing music in this set that makes this the most essential release of the year. Absolutely fantastic versions of several of Cages difficult Music for Piano pieces, the earlier and while less radical still amazing Variations I and the always stunning Winter Music. Three takes on Christian Wolff’s Duo for Pianists I and Feldman’s Piece for Four Pianos give us a taste of works by two other crucial member of the New York school . Finally a piece by Busotti dedicated to Tudor rounds out the collection with a composer outside of the New York School that just underscores his flexibility and skill. Good music all here and the whole set does very well to document Tudors pre-electronics pianism.

Keith Rowe projects:
Keith Rowe
The Room (Erstwhile Records)
MIMEOsight (Cathnor Recordings)

The RoomConstant reassessment can keep one’s ideas relevant and music fresh and Keith Rowe exemplifies this perhaps more then any other musician I’m aware of. For decades he has questioned his principles and practices and has remained on the forefront of engaging music this whole time.  The Room, a solo that comes direct from this personal reassessment and Sight, a large ensemble acting on an idea that is the product of this engagement. I think that it is these two aspects that demonstrate how vital Keith has remained after all of these years. Introspection and documentation of ones reevaluations and group projects based on ideas that are absolutely au courant demonstrate the fully engaged artistic mind and that the results of these are so high caliber shows the creativity and commitment.  Another aspect is that these two projects were inspired in part by the modern painters Rothko and Twombly and Keith’s reactions to them. Keith’s connections to the visual arts is a major component of his music and clearly a constant source of inspiration. The difference between music which operates in time versus a painting which can be apprehended (if not fully understood) in a flash is I think vital. Keith often speaks of being in the moment with music as a goal of the performer which in way you could read as apprehending the music as a painting. Perhaps it is an attempt to reconcile music and painting that motivates these projects and keeps them so lively. Finally if one considers the constraints that Keith place upon himself and others for these projects: the constant addition and reduction of his personal setup and trying to make music explicitly to the natural constraint of the room itself. For sight it was five minutes of sound over an hour under the proviso that you take in account the input of your collaborators – virtual listening as it were. It is these aspects, plus a continual willingness to experiment that has kept Keith’s work constantly interesting and music I will avidly follow for as long as he produces it.

Allan MacDonald – Dastirum (Siubhal)

DastirumThere are ways in which this release is the most innovative and creative on this list. While piobreached, that most aged of Scottish piping traditions would not seem to amenable to such conceits, especially if you make no attempt to modernize it, what Allan has done here is amazing. It is too long a history to go into much detail here (if interested William Donaldson’s, The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950, is the definitive recounting) but suffice it to say that hundreds of years of militarization, zealous foundations, ill founded competition and incompetent notation has led to a loss of the original character, variation and musicality that was so widely reported of the art in early manuscripts. There has in the last few decades been an attempt to rectify this by turning to the earliest manuscripts (which demonstrate the variety), historically informed instruments, the historical accountings and other arts that did not undergo such rigorous standardization. Allan MacDonald has been at the forefront of that and along with the research and the use of historical mss he has used his own Gaelic upbringing and most importantly Gaelic song to try to recapture some of that musicality. We’ll never really know how true to the past this really is but the music speaks for itself: it is beautiful and powerful in measure and sparkling with life. A triumph by any standard and shows that while probably still far removed from how these pieces were originally performed this amazing music is still fascinating.

Mitsuhiro Yoshimura projects on ((h)ear rings):
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura
and so on
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura/Taku Sugimotonot BGM and so on

not BGM and so onThe big discovery this year, of actual new music, was the music of Mitsuhiro Yoshimura. It started off as a rumor in a chat room, of a new artist working in a pared down style, but not in the post-Sugimoto disappearing up ones own navel or in the post-Fluxus hijinks that seem to have captivate much of the Japanese scene. No the story was that Yoshimura performed with just a room mic and a pair of headphones, creating a tight feedback loop modulated by the room itself. This pretty much turned out to be the case and early this year we got the first of two albums he would put out this year: and so on.  The feedback from this method is very shrill and yet rich from the room resonance. On a powerful stereo this would fill the room with a sound that you could feel throughout your body. Its high and piercing but there are currents of low end that are more felt then anything else. And it is relentless music, turned on and allowed to simply run its course. Toward the end of the year we got a second dose of Yoshimura, this time in collaboration with Taku Sugimoto. Taku limits himself to playing a short segment of prerecorded jazz, some sound effects and moving about the room. These simple actions disrupt the room feedback and add incredibly subtle but very rich details to Yoshimuras relentless sound. With Yoshimura’s tones playing through the entire recording, even as the audience walks in, applauds at the end and shuffles out it never stops. Really an interesting documentation of an event. Reports of more and varied collaborations with Yoshimura are tantalizing and documentation of these one of the more anticipated events of 2008.

Sachiko MSalon de Sachiko (Hitorri)

Salon de SachikoSachiko has always worked in two basic styles: continuous long tones from one or more oscillator and a more cut-up, twittery style that incorporates the sounds of turning the devices on and off along with the sharp busts of pure tones. In live shows, especially in collaborations, she tends to work with both methods as the situation demands. On her solo CDs, she tends to take a single tact and work with it for the duration and both of these methods have made their appearance. Salon de Sachiko is her second full length solo CD put out under the IMJ umbrella and it continues to follow this trend. Her previous outing, Bar Sachiko, was a long continuous tones for the duration of the CD and Salon de Sachiko is a CD length piece of the twittery style. It is interesting these two discs, both titled as a location (a bar and a salon) that the music is meant to be thought of as background for. The long continuous tones of Bar could be thought of as the continual roar of a bar with its intermingled conversation and noise. The twittering, cut up sounds, with gaps, pauses, false starts and overlaps can be thought of like the interweaving pattern of the chatter of a salon. Or perhaps these sounds would simply be the ones that would fit into those situations, accompany them as opposed to dominating or replacing them. That Sachiko’s music, built from such simple elements, continues to inspire these questions, continues to reward the listener is why I continue to keep a high interest in her work.  After a bit of a lull in releases it is good to see her back and in top form.

Nate WooleyThe Boxer (EMR)

The BoxerPrior to this year I hadn’t heard anything from Nate Wooley. At this years Seattle Improvised Music Festival that all changed and I heard a number of fantastic sets from him and was compelled to pick up several recordings. In a short time he went from unheard of to a favorite trumpet player. He works in the extended vein as do many other interesting trumpeters, but these techniques are applied in a fascinating way. He works often with simple sounds repeated for long durations, overlaying of multiple sounds, silences and some pretty unique uses of simple mutes. On this recording, my favorite of those I’ve been able to hear, he uses these materials and possibly more. It sounds like the use of some electronics or studio editing as well but whatever it is this is an incredibly well crafted twenty minute piece. Ringing tones, pops, strange oscillations (looped beating tones maybe) set in spaces that are long enough to emphasize the sounds and create a structure with their placement but not so long as to be the dominate feature. There are no end of solo trumpet albums but this one has held my attention by not so much focusing on sound but on structure.

Annette Krebs/Robin Haywardsgraffito (no label)

sgraffitoThe first thing that strikes me about this disc is that the typical roles are reversed here. In these wind/electronics collaborations it is so often the case that the electronicist provides longer events that the the winds then accent, work against, compliment or solo above. In this case Annette, playing table top guitar, radio, laptop and electronics mostly works with short ephemeral events and Robin on tuba responds with longer tones, rattly sequences and grinding sputters. The other thing, that one often notes in the playing of Annette Krebs, is the near arbitrariness of her sounds. Its not that she has ceded control to some sort of stochastic process, on the contrary she seems to be in complete control of the generated sounds. Its more that they surprise her in how they come out a much as they do the listener. Her use of radio seems to be much more in the Cagean vein of setting it and taking what one is given and this combined with the short bursts that she uses gives even more of this feel of arbitrariness.  The overall effect of this, combined with Robin’s very extended tuba playing is one of a scattering of sounds across a field almost like marbles tossed onto a table to roll, collide, fall off or stop where they will. Fascinating and continually engaging, this is music that you can lose yourself into at a decent volume or put on as the background to a walk and let it disappear into the surroundings.

Eliane Radigue archival releases:
Eliane RadigueJetsun Mila (Lovely)
Eliane RadigueCHRY-PTUS (Schoolmap)

CHRY-PTUSI came rather late to Eliane Radigue’s music which is odd as I’ve long been a fan of both minimalism and analog synthesizers but I eventually found my way there with a very reasonably priced copy of her masterwork Adnos I-III. Since then I have followed her career with much enthusiasm picking up new things as they come out and picking up her back catalog.  These two historical documents, both double CD sets were released this year and filled in some crucial gaps. Jetsun Mila, originally put out on cassette by Lovely was in much need of a reissue. This one is not unfamiliar sounding to those who have heard Adnos I-III or Trilogie de Morte – overlapped tones from the Arp 2600 creates a sustained, but always shifting musical soundscape that is easy to lose oneself in.  A beautiful piece of music but of even more interest to me was the release of the double cd CHRY-PTUS. Some of her earliest material it has a rougher, rawer edge to while still clearly pointing the way to the soundscapes that we have come to expect. The music here is generated on Buchla  synthesizers instead of her usual ARPs and point to the generality of her principles beyond the features of the instrumentations (while all analog synthesizers share the same basic components they vary in many aspects, including control, tone, modulation features and so on). The set contains four versions of the piece two historical and two more recent (and in one case performed by ) each of the two sets which can (but do not have to be) played simultaneously. I have to admit not trying the overlapping playthrough yet, but I’m intrigued to do so. These releases continue to unfold the ever intriguing story of this oft overlooked contemporary composer.

Morton Feldman String Quartet performed by the Ives Ensemble (hatART)

String QuartetI have the Naxos release of Feldman’s first String Quartet as performed by the Group for Contemporary Music, but on word of a new recording by the always excellent Ives Ensemble I couldn’t resist.  I have to say that while I had no particular complaints with the Naxos recording (barring it being a somewhat hissy recording) this one is far more to my liking. The instruments are so present in this recording it is as if the quartet is in the corner of your bedroom. The Ives Ensemble manages to capture that dry scraping sound that Feldman often required and their interpretation of the dynamics just seems so much more alive to me. There is a section toward the middle where it becomes quite vigorous, loud and aggressive that is almost disturbing in the Ives performance, a far more dramatic and powerful effect to me. While a much shorter work (still lasting well over an hour in duration) then Feldman’s forthcoming epic pieces this first string quartet is a fantastic piece in Feldman’s catalog. In many ways it almost feels like his epic String Quartet (II) compressed into a mere 80 minutes. I have been listening to a lot of Feldman over the last half dozen years and my interest has not yet begun to wane. I tend to avoid re-purchasing pieces that I already own in order to get something I have yet to hear. But sometimes it is justified and the search for a favored recording of a piece can itself lead to additional revelations.

Christopher DeLaurenti Favorite Intermissions (GD Stereo)

Favorite IntermissionsThis album is easiest understood as a concept album: serupticously record the sounds before and after the performances in various concert halls. The problem with most concept albums is that the concept is often more interesting then the results. With Favorite Intermissions that is not only not that case, the results are actually far more interesting the the concept. With a classical music concert when the doors open you get several interesting elements. First of all the audience moving in, the light conversation as they wait for the lights to dim, the usual background noise. Additionally members of the orchestra come out to tune up, warm up, do a bit of practicing or simply to get ready to perform. You’ll hear snippets of scales, parts of pieces that will be played on that night or totally disconnected pieces. Sometimes even riffing off others activities, improvisations, or impromptu chamber recitals. All of this with the sound of the audience movement and conversation layered in. This makes for a fascinating juxtaposition that brings to mind forms of musique concrete, layered field recordings and even cut up styles of composition. There is so much going on in this and yes there is an inherent musicality to each “intermission” that I have come back to this again and again over the year, always fascinated, bemused and delighted. Another delicious feature of this album is its cover art parody of the classic Deutsche Grammophon style. Alas DG was not as amused and the label was forced to remove those distinguishing features in remaining stock.

5 Modules series (Manual)
5 modules I:    Ryu Hankil/Jin Sangtae/Choi Joonyong
5 modules II:   Hong Chulki Surface and Feedback
5 modules III:  Ryu Hankil/Taku Unami/Jin Sangtae/Mattin
5 modules IV: Jin Sangtae/Park Seungjun

I say with no hyperbole that the small Korean scene is the most exciting and interesting scene that I at least am aware of. The stalwarts of Vienna and Japan have for the most part regressed into pop and retreated into inward facing post-fluxusism respectively. The post-AMM axis continues to make strong music that is always forward looking, connected and evolving, but evolution is not revolution and thus surprises are few. Korea though, sprung up from seemingly nowhere with a post-noise, post-free improv, internet culture its music influenced by Japan, American ex-pats and the global dissemination of all sounds. There has been a lot of releases from this axis from Manual, Balloon & Needle and they are all filled with a similar energy and an all encompassing scope. The 5 modules series on Manual, five cd-rs all told (one left to go) I think captures the sound and the range of this group of musicians the best. Noisy at times, unexpected, chaotic even willfully banal these four discs show a scene that is jumping ahead by leaps and bounds even as it throws off its roots and absorbs its influences.

Angharad Davies/Tisha Mukarji Endspace (Another Timbre)

endspaceThis was one of the last recordings I heard this year and Iwas immediately was taken by it. Three listens on the day I got it and several more over the next couple days and it made it’s way onto this list.  A duo of violin and inside/prepared piano this recording demonstrates that there is plenty of life left in these most traditional of traditional instruments. The sound scape reminds me a lot of the experimental composers that I have listened so much to of late, Cage and Feldman especially. The beginning of the single 38 minute piece Tisha’s piano has that percussive prepared piano sound of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes and Angharad’s violin often has that flat, dry sound that Feldman often used. In fact at times the piece feels like an improvised Feldman piece, with the dry scraping violin and delicate plucked piano strings gently floating above. The piece has that feel of suspended time that I so love in Feldmans work. A nice variety of sounds, great pacing and overall completely fascinating recording. I’m definitely excited to hear more from these two.

Dave Barnes/Graham Stephensons/t (no label)

untitled, self-released, hand-packaged cdr $8I spend a lot of time on various music related blogs, BBS’s and chat rooms and there are plenty of music makers amongst the audients. In fact in the world of experimental music I’d say that it is more common that the listeners are involved in some way in the music whether it be as producer, label runner, writer or music maker. While many make music few actually manage to create something that rises above the nearly endless amount of music out there. But the young listener /creators Dave Barnes and Graham Stephenson managed to do just that. In a year in which a lot of electronics and wind duos came this is one of only a few that I think was actually interesting. Youthful vigor perhaps or, this being their debut, there was something to prove but even more so I think a lack of the routine, the familiarity even ennui that seasoned musicians can so easily succumb to. The sounds here are interesting, but not unfamiliarity but the alacrity with which they are applied and the skirting with control add a vigor and freshness to this that was not found amongst the establishment.

Taku UnamiMalignitat (skiti)

malignitatThe fact that Unami uses samples of helicopters and other recorded events as the building blocks of this music isn’t really what is interesting in this release, it is what that signifies. Like the compositions of Radu Malfatti, which Unami has long been involved with, this works with sounds separated in space. As a composition one could see this being just like a Malfatti time bracket piece: play a sound at this time for this long. What Unami does is demonstrate the complete arbitrariness of what the sound is. This could be seen as a simple extension of Cages principle that all sounds are music applied to Cage’s own late time bracket system. Also it could be seen as a critique of the theoretical justifications that Malfatti and his circle has constructed; that they question issues surrounding memory, time and structure. As always these explanations are left up to the reader as Unami maintains his stone faced approach of putting this stuff out there and letting the listener try to cobble together what they mean. It is this I think why Unami remains interesting year after year, why so many others doing similar things do not.