Entries tagged with “Taku Sugimoto”.


This year the Seattle Improvised Music Festival brought in Taku Sugimoto from Japan. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been a long time follower of Sugimoto’s work though certainly have not followed him everywhere he’s gone. Regardless of the end product, the journey has always been fascinating and it’s always been worthwhile to keep up with his current activities.  I’ve managed to see nearly all of the musicians in the small modern improv scene that has dominated my interests over the last decade but Taku Sugimoto has always managed to slip out of my grasp. So I was particularly pleased that SIMF brought him by this year.


Empty Bass

Taku Sugimoto wasn’t the only non-Pacific Northwester that SIMF brought in this year, and they did do sixteen sets over four days all told.  I’ve really moved into a space where I try to not over consume music, both in buying of physical objects but also in how much I hear. I’ve come to find it a lot more valuable to let music that I find really compelling to sink in, to not immediately overwhelm it with another piece. So I only saw nine of those sixteen sets and even that was too much in my mind.  Each night that I went I’d come home and put up a short report onto Google+ of the Sugimoto set from that night. I’m going to collect those here, perhaps slightly expanded and with a couple more photos. I should not that the lighting was low and overall my photos were fairly bad.


Mark Collins, Mara Sedlins, Taku Sugimoto, John Teske

Thursday February 9th, apart from being my birthday, was also the second night of SIMF 2012 and the first of three nights with sets featuring Taku Sugimoto.  On this night we had a world premier Taku Sugimoto composition: Two Contrabasses, Viola and Guitar. The performers were  Mark Collins and John Teske handling the contrabasses, Mara Sedlins playing the viola and Taku Sugimoto handling the guitar. I really enjoyed the piece, it was mostly long bowed tones from the strings and Sugimoto cycling through eBow, muted plucked strings, chords and then open plucked single notes. Dynamics were low throughout and stayed in a single register giving it a kind of Feldman-ish feel. The string players almost always seemed to bow in one direction which I assume was for a particular timing or sound. The slow, soft bowing the the occasionally dry percussive elements of Sugimoto’s playing also made me think of Jacob Ullman’s A Catalog of Sounds. Good piece, afterwards I had to leave without seeing the next two sets as I wanted to let this one settle through me.

Taku Sugimoto and John Teske

Friday February 10th featured a solo performance by Taku Sugimoto. This was of course going to be interesting as Sugimoto solo has gone anywhere from him continuously playing scales, to playing only a handful of notes over the duration.  Tonight though he stuck with his recent practice of sticking to composition and  performed Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence. This was a nice piece like most of Pisaro’s compositions. It was made up of single plucked tones that were sometimes allowed to fully decay, other times strung into simple near melodies. These different modes of operation cycled and between then they were interspersed with short segments on the eBow. There wasn’t a ton of silence, the longest sections when he’d pick up the eBow. In that regard it reminded me more of how John Cage would use silences in the number pieces which were mainly short (though still longer than you’d normally find in a “classical” piece) and seem more about allowing each sound to be allowed to breathe. Taku’s touch on the guitar is really quite good, he’d gently pluck the strings giving a rich, full tone that was really compelling in and of itself.  The hollow body guitar he uses has a particularly nice sound for what he does. The piece wasn’t too long, I’d say maybe twenty minutes and it definitely kept me captivated throughout.

Taku Sugimoto performs Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence

Saturday February 12th was the final night of the festival and the only night that Taku Sugimoto engaged in improvisation playing in a quartet with Gust Burns, Jeph Jerman and Tyler Wilcox. As they were setting up Taku put stools on either side of the rear stage with (at least on my side) a wine bottle on it. He poured out a glass of this wine into a styrofoam cup. On stage Jeph scatted about his collection of items: a small zither, some mallets, a radio, small speakers, rocks and twigs. Gust opened the lid of the grand piano but had none of his usual dowels (perhaps he is post-dowel now). Tyler simply had a chair and his sopranino sax. Wilson Shook came on stage to announce the group and that the lights would be turned off.

Jeph Jerman, Gust Burns and Tyler Wilcox

The group played in the near darkness with only the exit signs and the light through the chapel stained glass windows coming in. Playing in the darkness seems to always lead to even more hushed music than normal and it was very low dynamics throughout. Jeph rattled things and tapped on the floor, Tyler emitted very quiet mostly short tones and Gust held back for quite a while. Taku wandered around and shined lights on things. At first seemingly just on the crowd but then on a mic stand with his hat on it. Later he had a shoe on the mic stand. Jeph placed an eBow on his zither and let it run for some time, first high, then low then high again. Tyler would match this for brief intervals creating sections of beating tones that was quite nice. Gust began playing single notes, fairly high and usually damped fairly quickly. Taku walked to my side of the stage and place a blinking green light that was shaped like a glow stick into the bottle of wine. At this point a regular beeping sound began, but if this was something of Taku’s or one of Jeph’s little toys I don’t know. It beeped for a while as Taku was behind the rear stage curtain playing with a white light.

Wine bottle, stool

Taku also had a red light in his belt and eventually he made his way to the opposite side of the stage and set it up (presumably also in a bottle). So on either side of the stage a red and green light was blinking away. Jeph finally removed the ebow and seem to focus more on rustling sounds and wobbling rocks. Gust was still just playing the occasional single note, now more mid-range. Tyler was doing a bit more hissing sounds at this point. Taku shined his light on the back of the heads of the audience a bit but then made his way to the back where he returned to the show on the mic stand. He placed his flashlight in another mic stand and proceeded to manipulate the shoe for a bit, slow lowering it and then rotating it. This was cast as a huge shadow on the screen that is behind the stage curtain. This was the climax so to speak and after he cut that light I think he only projected lights once more for a short time. The musicians were slowly winding down as well, though of course it had never gotten more intense then the eBowed zither. At the end they just sat in the dark for a bit making no sounds. Eventually Tyler said thanks and it was done.

Great performance, I really enjoyed it. While the theatrical stuff was really engaging what I think made it completely compelling was that there was great music throughout.

Taku Sugimoto/Taku Unami Tengu et Kitsune 2 (slub)

I was a pretty big fan of the original Tengu et Kitsune so of course I had to pick up the follow up. This release features two tracks of 22′ and 26′ respectively. The first track is made up of rattles from Unami’s computer driven motors and devices and Sugimoto operating metronomes that gives the proceedings a rather interlocking mechanical feel. It somewhat evokes the clockwork’s of Ryu Hankil but not nearly as as interesting to these ears. It also evokes some the process pieces from the sixties especially György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique For 100 Metronomes. I’m not sure if its based on a score but it doesn’t really seem so to me. Perhaps a very loose one, with instructions to just play at certain times. Anyway all things considered its not bad, if nothing earth shattering. I do rather like mechanical type sounds like this but I feel that the density at times mars the piece, if anything it could have used a bit more of the trademark Sugimoto space,

The second track is from six months later and seems to reflect a slight shift in direction as at least the reports of Unami in performance over the last six months seem to be in line with this performance. It is again focused on rhythmic structures but instead of the mechanical processes used in the first track it is mandolin and sounds that can be generated with the body. The mandolin playing is mostly broken chords, repeated rhythmic strumming and here and there, fragments of melodies. The other sounds are mainly handclaps though tapping the bodies of their instruments and tongue clicks feature as well. It seems to be an attempt to replicate the mechanical rythems of the first track naturally, perhaps even following the same loose structure. However these methods work a lot less convincingly then the first track mainly in the lack of precision. It could be deliberate or an element that they wished to incorporate but I was pretty unimpressed by the inconsistencies of their rhythms and the sounds themselves. I should note that it is definitely the rhythmic failures that make this less interesting, as failure in technique has long been a fasciation for me. That is to say the accidental events that occur that lead to different sounds are something I’ve exploited a lot. In fact I’ve even worked with failure in rhythmic structures with my Book of Musical Patterns and this is perhaps an insight into what would happen if someone chose to play those patterns very fast. Perhaps in the end I’m just not that interested in hearing handclaps and half assed mandolin melodies?

One of Sugimoto’s smartest moves is that he only really hints at what his point is in all of this. He is not like Mattin, who is right out there saying what exactly it is he is challenging. This almost always proves to be to the detriment of his activities as his challenges are almost always strawmen: he is railing against a situation that doesn’t really exist (see this post for a perfect example of this). Sugimoto for all we know could be just doing that but he doesn’t make dramatic public statements or issue manifestos, he simply does his show and puts out the occasional recorded documentation of it. Almost all of the assessments of what he is doing (and Unami as well, but I think he is mostly following Sugimoto’s lead in this) are pretty much conjecture, I don’t think we’ve had much of a statement from him since the beginning of his extreme silence phase. I tend to think these two (again Unami following Sugimoto) as trickster figures involved in a continuing commentary on improvised music and its audience.

Masahiko Okura/Taku Sugimoto/Taku Unami Chamber Music Concerts Vol. 1 (HibariSlubloadfactor)

“It is assumed that there is a certain type of environmental sound which doesn’t matter to the recording of music or which even sometimes adds some fragrance to the music.” – Taku Sugimoto(1)

I’ve been quite mixed about the compositions coming from the Tokyo scene for the last half decade or so. There have been the occasional interesting pieces, but in the main those have often been almost incidental to composition, the interest arising from the incidental sounds in the recording or the juxtaposition of the performance with these sounds. Taku Sugimoto’s career as an improviser followed a path of reduction that led to fewer and fewer sounds from his performance being played and an increase in the predominance of the incidental sounds.  His acceptance of these puts his sympathies in alignment with Cage’s use of silence and perhaps it was an acknowledgment of this that led him increasingly toward composition. When he was at the stage where he’d play a dozen or so notes over an hour, it probably was approaching composition.  Mentally when you perform with silences seem to last for a long time, so strategies I’m sure where developed for him. For instance you play a sound and then wait ’til it seems like it’s been a while then you do another and you see that it really hasn’t been that long. If you’ve decided on a finite number of sounds you then realize you must wait a decent interval so you tell yourself “I’ll wait fifteen minutes and then sound another” and so on.  You reduce the sounds to few enough you almost have to pick times they will sound. So you’d naturally develop something like a variant on Cage’s Time Bracket(2) notation. You tell your self you need to play a sound in a give time block but you allow yourself to do it whenever during that block, so it doesn’t sound like all the sounds are equally spaced out. It probably just became easier to notate this out and then this becomes an interest in and of itself.

The problem though, for listeners of his music, was these early compositions just weren’t really that good. It seemed in the case of the few notes over a long period of time the primary interest was in tension and the composition process seemed to kill that.   This perhaps was part of the agenda, there was a constant winnowing down of techniques and systems and concepts to just a couple: single sounded notes and silence. The elimination of tone, which while note going as far as his colleague Radu Malfatti (whose interests in these matters I think are quite different from Sugimoto’s) was never as much of a primary concern for Sugimoto. There were times, especially when he composed for other instruments where he would demand a dry, affectless tone, but he tended to let his guitar ring out with a full sound allowed to decay and resonate. Eventually Sugimoto began to mix it up adding in additional eliminates and these usually demonstrated even further a lack of proficiency as a composer. You did have to try to figure out what he was doing, with only the occasional bit of guidance translated into English but what one could determine rarely seemed interesting or at least his take on it. One of the most recent trends has been introducing the major scale into his pieces. Additionally long tones begin to appear, often in conduction with the scales. His pieces were becoming more dense but once again he wasn’t really making interesting music.  Additionally as he increased the amount of complexity he added into his music, even if he was exploring simple elements the more he was heading into territory that had been more fruitfully mined. Think of Tenney’s work with scales or Lucier’s with long tones.

In the course of this process Sugimoto did pick up some acolytes, or at least those interested in composition in a similar restricted fashion. Many of the group of musicians he had been improvising with continued on to play his composition as well as a younger generation of performers. Over time a number of these individuals turned to composition as well, greatly influenced by Sugimotos work. Of course nobody is going to completely share agendas and these post-Sugimoto composers used a wider variety of sounds, methods and strategies that would hear from Sugimoto. Many of them I think found the musical ideas challenging and wanted to work them and did not have some of the additional agendas that Sugimoto may (or may not) have.  Either way I think that in some instances while Sugimoto relentless worried over a single concept whether it “worked” or not his acolytes had different concerns: working these concepts into music. Whatever the case may be clearly there isn’t any sort of hegemony really, you always see the same set of players, including Sugimoto  playing each others compositions, no matter how far off they may be from the others concerns.

Chamber Music Concerts vol 1 is a collection of compositions composed by Masahiko Okura, Taku Sugimoto and Taku Unami that were performed by a wide variety of musicians at Loop-Line in Tokyo. Apparently this was a monthly series that focused on the fact that their would be different instrumentation each time.  This was released as a three CD set published by the labels that each of these musicians run.  The CD’s plus accompanying material (only in Japanese) all awkwardly fit into a little cardboard box with a whimsical drawing on the cover. I tend to feel that the way the material doesn’t fit well into the box was deliberate, a subversion of the whole notion of packaging and product.  As the music is always somewhat awkward and confrontational that would go along with that but it is just a supposition. Anyway these three disc contain 16 compositions by the three composers: six from Unami and Okura and four from Sugimoto. Of these sixteen pieces I think that six of them are really good and that there are interesting elements in another six or so. There are some downright stinkers on this and the pieces that have interesting elements are almost always undermined by a compositional element.  But, and this is why this set is so intriguing to me, the pieces that work are a real breakthrough I think for these composers and are the first real great music made from this compositional scene.

What is particularly telling though is that of the pieces that I think have made this breakthrough there is only one by Sugimoto. He relentlessly is working his current (as of these recordings anyway) obsession with scales and each of his pieces work them in in some way.  Tellingly, the one piece that is composed by Sugimoto that really works is ‘D’ where if the scale is worked into it at all it is completely non-obvious. As the whole point of his use of the scale is to put such banalities front and center, to force you to try to reconcile something that comes across as cheesy I don’t think it is actually used in that piece. But if it is, and by its very slow and fracture nature it could be, that would be a brilliant application of it. But changing the point dramatically. The other pieces though, composed by Okura and Unami only tangentially share Sugimoto’s concerns. There are a couple of pieces from Unami that use scales but Unami seems to work them in more effectively.  Unami in general is a more cryptic character and I think is always working his off kilter sense of humor into his music. Not so much as humor as music, but as a sly subversion. Sometimes one gets the impression that he is even subverting Sugimoto’s ideas, taking them and abandoning whatever agenda Sugimoto may have and just screwing with them. His quirkiness though and willingness to use and try anything mixed with a genuine sense of musicality I think has him far outstripping his master. His humor I think makes his stuff never seem forced upon you, he is like a brilliant rhetorician compared to a haranguer.  Okura is more of Sugimoto’s generation and his stuff is far more varied. He uses ideas of Sugimoto’s as tools and applies them, at times, to great effect: His pieces are the most varied in the swinging from the sublime to the banal.

Listening to this entire set in a row with no break as I wrote this has been an interesting experience that reaffirms to me my thoughts on this set. Yes it has just over a single CD’s worth of good music and yes there is striking missteps on it that seem to subvert my very notion that these guys are developing as composers. And yet there are sophisticated, engaging and most importantly musical things going on here, driven by ideas and a sense of how to put them into practice with these disparate players. I am definitely interested to see where they go next especially the waves that have come after Sugimoto. There is an even younger, newer groups of composers working in these areas in Japan, a third post-Sugimoto wave if you will. While they have yet to really achieve much success this transmission of ideas and adherence to this aesthetic is an interesting development in and of it self. As for Unami, Okura and Sugimoto I do hope that the promise of ‘vol 1’ is fulfilled with a vol 2, though I wouldn’t mind if they were a bit more selective.

For those interested this is my selection of the essential tracks(3) from the set:
1-2 one,two,three,and many (okura)
1-3,4,5,6: 4 pieces for violin (unami)
2-4: D (sugimoto)
3-3: kinoshita-kun (unami)
3-7: red scarf, red curtain (okura)
3-9: california guitar trio (unami)

References
1) Taku Sugimoto Live in Australia Liner Notes
2) Number Pieces article at Wikipeia
3) Chamber Music Concerts Vol. 1 track listing at Hibari

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.