Having let go of my obsessive following of music I still found myself with more than enough great music to listen to this year. Being able to judiciously select what discs (or increasingly preferable, digital files) to buy I found that I liked almost all that I bought. Curiosity and what seems to be a decrease in criticism (R.I.P. Paris Transatlantic, Dusted (though semi-revived) &c) and perhaps the move to more gated preserves from the commentariat did lead to my purchasing a few duds, but I’m sure I missed more good stuff than bought bad. Having lost touch with those dusty corners of the nets where all music finds itself eventually (or even before it hits the virtual shelves) I can only express endless gratitude to Alastair Wilson’s excellent radio programme Admirable Restraint for providing lengthy tastes of music new and old. Alastair has put out a fine collection of new pieces from artists old and new for a good cause for which I can only recommend you dig deep: by gum it’s a compilation. The loss of my record player last year and the refusal to acquire a tape deck (I was buying music during the heyday of cassette and we pretty much despised it then as every playback degraded the tape) has led to a few things missed so let me just add a word of praise for those labels who put their boutique format releases up for digital downloads as well. I think I’ve listened to more solo piano this year than anything everything from Beethoven to Feldman to Jurg Frey to Cage &c &c. I’m happy to report it was a great year for the kind piano musics I like. You’ll see plenty of it represented in the selections below. Finally a hearty thanks to all the musicians, producers, labels, writers and listeners out there (also to all those who compiled their year-end lists early: got a lot of great stuff in just the last few weeks). There is plenty of great vital music being made and if I only listed here what touched me the most deeply out of the small fraction I heard it doesn’t really mean all that much.
David Tudor The Art of David Tudor (New World Records)
When this set was announced there was no doubt in my mind that this would be the release of the year, if not the decade. New World Records epic Music for Merce box set contains excerpts of the bulk of the pieces contained in this set and serves in a way as a sampler and impetus for this set. Throughout my lengthy five part review of Music for Merce I was continuously thrilled to hear these pieces but just as constantly lamented their excerpted nature. More than once I urged New World to release a box set of Tudor’s uncut performances. I doubt that I had any influence on this subsequent release but I can’t say how pleased I am it came about. New World really did yeoman’s work on this set with seven discs spanning the entirety of Tudor’s career from his electro-acoustic interpretation of Cage’s Variations II to Neural Network Plus with it’s complex combination of computer and live electronics.
This set deserves an equally lengthy discussion as Music for Merce but really delving into Tudor’s music demands an amount of research and work that basically hasn’t been undertaken. In my Music for Merce reviews I discuss each of the pieces that were excerpted, all of which are included on this set. Since I don’t do a minute by minute discussion of them they serve quite well regarding these pieces. Of course there are a few things on this set not included there: Tudor’s first major piece Bandonean !, two versions of Rainforest IV, another performance of Variations II that is a welcome edition to the other two available, the epic Cage/Tudor overlaid pieces Mesostics re: Merce Cunningham/Untitled and most notably the Anima Pepsi pieces from the 1970 Osaka World Fair. My preview post of this set upon it’s initial announcement discusses the significance of all of these pieces. Regarding the material shared between the two sets you can find my write up on the these pieces in the following links: Virtual Focus, Neural Network Plus, Phonemes Weatherings, Webwork and Christian Wolff’s For 1, 2 or 3 People.
In trying to analyze Tudor’s live electronic work James Pritchett found himself constructing his own circuits and began to work out how the music works from the ground up (I think this is from this interview: RWM SON[i]A #166). This is the equivalent of doing score analysis for conventionally notated pieces (though a far greater undertaking) and I think a necessary first step in understanding his process and methodology. From there a theory could be worked out (something like my (incomplete) Network Instrument Theory which starts from my electronic music making and builds up). Pritchett eventually gave up on this task which is a shame as it appears no-one else has undertaken it. A book covering the entirety of Tudor’s compositions, similar to Pritchett’s Music of John Cage is I think a needed resource. But for now the music itself will have to serve and this set, while alas still only a portion of Tudor’s work (though the major pieces I think it’s fair to say) does so admirably.
Dennis Johnson November [R. Andrew Lee, piano] (Irritable Hedgehog)
As a reader of Kyle Gann’s always informative and frequently amusing blog, Post Classic, I have been able to follow along with the rediscovery of Dennis Johnson’s November. Remembering November which Gann posted in later 2007 was the beginning of this odyssey and there are quite a few posts documenting his transcription of the piece from a hissy tape and a few notes, to the locating of Dennis Johnson himself (who had “given up on the 21st century in 2007” and thus disappeared from internet communication), to posting an mp3 of himself and Sarah Cahill performing the piece (currently unavailable AFAIK) to finally the release of R. Andrew Lee’s recording on the increasingly indispensable Irritable Hedgehog label. All this posts and many more can be found by searching for November on Gann’s blog.
I downloaded a lossless version of November from Irritable Hedgehog’s Bandcamp page which allows for one to do seamless playback of the nearly five hour piece. It has been played over and over again since that time. It’s meandering spare piano lines becoming increasingly varied with moments of more density, or intensity or lyricism I find endlessly captivating. I’ve listened to it straight through but also have just put on one of the “discs” as I’ve gone to bed. Some nights I hear less than others but there have been those nights where I heard the whole thing. Beautiful music, but more than that as it weathers any degree of scrutiny.
Eliane Radigue Ψ 847 (Oral)
Along with November this album has probably had the most spins in my abode this year. Admittedly this again due to it being amenable to being put on as I attempt to sleep but as with all albums that meet that criteria that simply means that I’ve listened to it in the dark primarily focused on it as sleep remained at bay. This one has been a long time coming as it was recording in 1973 and it initially planned to be released by Halana Magazine years ago in an edited form which of course never materialized. Various reports of concerts featuring the piece mixed live from the original master tapes certainly wetted the appetites of those of us who love her electronic work. So when this was finally announced in a double CD form with a live and studio mix by Lionel Marchetti it was beyond welcome. The piece is another masterful Arp 2500 introspection utilizing spare tones carefully drifting and a bit of tape echo and some really stunning resonant filter ringing. Both versions are fascinating with the live one somehow even more stripped down than the studio. The applause at the end always comes as a shock. Things like this often don’t (or can’t) hold up to the legend and it is doubly rewarding when they do.
Jakob Ullmann fremde zeit addendum 4 · solo III für Orgel (Edition RZ)
The release from last year was Edition RZ’s three CD Jakob Ullmann box Fremde Zeiot Addendum which oddly enough contained a piece of cardboard inside it to prevent the contents from rattling about. It turned out that 2013 brought us a fourth disc that replaces that piece of cardboard and makes this vital set even more tremendous. A piece for solo organ that is heads and shoulders above any contemporary composition I’ve heard for the instrument since Messian. There have been a number of attempts to do highly minimal music on the church organ that to my ears have really fallen flat. This instrument, which I love so much, has really proven an insurmountable challenge to apply to this domain. Until now that is. Ulmann’s piece and the masterful playing of Hans-Peter Schulz beautifully recorded by Edition RZ finally reveals this unrealized potential of the instrument.
Michael Pisaro Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds [Greg Stuart, perc] (Gravity Wave)
This one was one of those I got late in the year but I am sure glad I did. As a long time fan of pure tone music from the clinical precision of Alvin Lucier to the all encompassing intensity of Sachiko M, to the piercing interiority of Mitsuhiro Yoshimura (not to mention my own explorations) this has long been a domain I’m fascinated with. Hewing closer to the Lucier mode of operation (and indeed the piece is dedicated to him) with a very precise composition utilizing electronic sine tones of specific duration in concert with the inherent variability of bowed metal. Michael Pisaro put it this way on his blog:
The physics of the crotale are very interesting, since like all metal instruments, its actual motion is relatively chaotic. It is not the absolutely stable and regular sound that it appears to be, but has fluctuating character, perhaps a bit like the reflected glare of any shiny object.
The piece was composed at percussionist, and frequent Pisaro collaborator, Greg Stuart’s request and his performance here is nothing short of inspired. The combination of the bowed crotals and the uncompromising electronic tones is just a shear physicality. Those of us who already appreciate Sachiko or Lucier already know that sine tones of sufficient cycles beat in your ear and undermine your sense of balance as well as subtly varying and shifting as you move around and this album delivers these effects in spades. But it isn’t nearly as clinical as Lucier often comes across as though it is as precisely defined as his pieces. The crotales I think are the special sauce here and Stuarts virtuosity.
Antoine Beuger Sixteen Stanzas on Stillness And Music Unheard [Greg Stuart, perc] (l’innomable)
At the same time I received Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds I also received this disc. Which like the aforementioned Pisaro composition this one also involved Greg Stuart bowing metal, this time the chimes on a vibraphone. The recording is very quiet and slowly increases in volume across it’s duration. Like the crotales of the previous entry the bowed vibraphone has a very pure almost electronic sound but with a bit of warmth of instability. The music here is far less physical – the lack of high register, relentless electronics means there is only the acoustic sounds – but it is achingly beautiful. Less demanding and intense it is an excellent companion piece and probably my favorite composition yet from Antoine Beuger.
Keith Rowe/Graham Lambkin Making A (Erstwhile Records)
2013 has seen the fewest releases from Keith Rowe in years with this collaboration with Graham Lambkin being one of the few. This duo was put together by Jon Abbey of Erstwhile records and interestingly the two musicians independently decided to primarily utilize contact microphones and drawing supplies. Keith has been placing contact mic’s on his table and drawing with charcoal on it for some time now (I think I first witnessed this in 2008 at the Amplify fest in Kid Ailack Hall) and the whispery scratches have become a feature of his sound world. With Lambkin utilizing similar technique as well as the brittle, mid-range nature of contact mics this is truly an album of layers. Another layer is that the second track, the titular Making A, is a Scratch era composition by Cornelius Cardew erstwhile Rowe comrade. I can’t say that much of Lambkin’s work has appealed to me and I was a bit skeptical by this collaboration (though always curious). But once again Abbey’s ear for duo’s has born fruit and this really is a remarkable recording, one that I’ve returned to again and again throughout the year.
John Cage Variations V (Mode Records)
It’s sort of surprising how much Cage is still unavailable especially from his electronic period. Only in the last couple of years was Variations VII made available and it took until this year for Variations V to be available outside of special order from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. A truly collaborative piece, it involved sound sources monitored by Cage, Tudor and Mumma trigged by the MCDC. The piece is the dance, is the live electronics is the composition. It of course inherently indeterminacy due to the live electronics, thee variability in the spaces performed and in the dancers not to mention the fragility of the electronics. This excellent DVD from Mode presents a German Television shows broadcast of an in studio performance those allow us to experience this truly multimedia piece with the dance and video by Nam June Paik and Stan VanDerBekk as well as (occasionally) see the musicians working their electronics. It also includes an audio only recording from a live performance earlier in the tour which I think helps to understand this continually variable piece. Two interviews with dancers Carolyn Brown and Sandra Neel with Gus Baker provide some context, add details and more than a few amusing anecdotes.
Haco/Toshiya Tsunoda TramVibration (skiti)
I am in agreement with many that Toshiya Tsunoda is one of very (very) few field recordists doing vital work but even he has as many duds as successes. It seems to be his more conceptual pieces that turn out to be more interesting in concept than in execution so I was naturally skeptical about this recording he made along with Haco of a moving tram (I also was confusing Haco with a vocalist and I couldn’t imagine how that would work). However I was willing to watch this video, The Tram Vibration Project, to get a sense of how this turned out. I pretty much immediately ordered this disc after watching it. Of all the releases I heard from 2013 this one seems the most sound focused. It is about finding the sounds of this tram as it moves along. It’s structured by the trams passage and the choices of where to place one’s microphones (and apparently massive editing by Tsunoda). And what a rich world of crackles, hums, shakes, rumblings and other indescribable and downright fascinating sounds are revealed here. Watch the video, it is much better than anything I (or anyone) could write on this one.
John Tilbury/Oren Ambarchi The Just Reproach (Black Truffle)
John Tilbury’s magnificent touch on the piano and his effortless shifting from the abstractions of the body and insides of the piano, to pure romantic lyricism are fully present and are indeed the core of this album. Oren Ambarchi though gives this music it’s spine with a deft touch and breathtaking subtlety. One can’t help but think of Tilbury’s collaborations with Keith Rowe but the only similarity here is perhaps those moments before Keith has really begun to play and the buzzing and hums of his setup provide a tapestry upon which the piano rests. Ambarchi barely adds more than that grounding but mines that background radiation for all that it’s worth. The few times he surfaces are in delicate counterpoint to Tilbury’s playing and it almost comes across as the piano resonating into alien space.
This alas was a vinyl only release but happily the kind folks at Beatport have made it available for lossless download which you can find here: The Just Reproach.
and the rest
Graham Stephenson/Aaron Zarzutzki Touching (Erstwhile Records)
John Cage Solo for Piano [Sabine Liebner, piano] (Wergo)
Eva Maria Houben Piano Music [R. Andrew Lee, piano] (Irritable Hedgehog)
Bryn Harrison Vessels [Philip Thomas., piano] (Another Timbre)
Stephen Cornford & Samuel Rodgers Boring Embroidery (Cathnor Recordings)
John Cage The Ten Thousand Things [I Ching Edition] (Microfest Records)
Toshiya Tsunoda O Kokos Tis Anixis (edition.t)
Meridian Hoquet (Accidie Records)
Eduard Artemiev Solaris Original Soundtrack (Superior Viaduct)
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)
This 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)
MIMEO – sight (Cathnor Recordings)
Constant 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)
There 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 Sugimoto – not BGM and so on
The 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 M – Salon de Sachiko (Hitorri)
Sachiko 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 Wooley – The Boxer (EMR)
Prior 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 Hayward – sgraffito (no label)
The 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 Radigue – Jetsun Mila (Lovely)
Eliane Radigue – CHRY-PTUS (Schoolmap)
I 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)
I 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)
This 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)
This 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 Stephenson – s/t (no label)
I 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 Unami – Malignitat (skiti)
The 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.