Search Results for “jason kahn”.


Gallery 1412 before Jason Kahn and Gust Burns duo set

Gallery 1412 before Jason Kahn and Gust Burns duo set

Wednesday April 8th
Jason Kahn , Gust Burns, Christopher DeLaurenti, Mara Sedlins and Wilson Shook
Gallery 1412, Seattle  WA

Jason Kahn, an American expat living in Zurich Switzerland was in Seattle this week for a couple of shows.  On Wednesday he played in Gallery1412 in duo with Gust Burns and in a quartet with Gust Burns, Mara Sedlins and Wilson Shook. In between Christopher DeLaurenti did a solo set of electro-acoustic music utilizing a homemade cardboard turntable.  The following night Jason Kahn and Gust Burns did a duo set at Dissonant Plane which alas I was not able to attend.  Mid-week shows are always tough to make but happily I was able to leave work at nearly a normal time last Wednesday and make it into the city in time for this show. In fact I even had enough time to walk down to Madison Market at pick up a cup of green tea before the show.  When I had first reached the gallery there was only one audient there and setup was still in place. On returning from the store it had filled up and in fact the music started only five or ten minutes upon my return.

I’d seen Jason Kahn perform a few  times before as part of 2008’s SIMF, one of the highlights which was his duo with Gust Burns. So I was eagerly anticipating seeing this reunion but also the quartet with Sedlins and Shook whose music I have really been enjoying for the last couple of years.  A turntable set from Christopher DeLaurenti in between these sets I felt would nicely break things up and I was also curious how his cardboard turntable would transform the otherwise banal Bolero.  I’m happy to say that despite being pretty beat down from what was already a stressful week that this turned out to be probably the single most successful night of improvisation I’ve seen this year.

The first set, the duo of Jason Kahn and Gust Burns, had Burns playing his home made electro-acoustic piano guts instrument. On the previous occasion that I’d seen this duo he was using the Chapels grand piano to great effect so this was inherently going to be a bit different.  Kahn was playing the same setup I’d seen before: miced bass drum and analog synthesizer. Over the course of 20 maybe 25 minutes he used these tools in a similar manner as I had seen him do previously generating  prickly static, washes of sound from rubbing the drums head and sides, tapped and rubbed cymbals on the drumhead and feedback manipulated by using cymbals in-between the mic and drums surface . Burns at first added long extended tones from doweling his instrument, these much more extended then I’m used to seeing him do. He moved them around a bit sometimes not on strings created rough prickly sounds from interaction with the wood at other times he’d mute the  strings with other dowells and then evoke much more dry and guttural tones from the strings. The most interesting technique that used this evening, that I hadn’t seen before was running  pure tones (from an iPod – a trick I’ve done myself!) through contact mics which he both let play as overlapping tones and generated metallic buzzes and zings by exciting the strings with then. This section got pretty loud and dense and Kahn worked washes of feedback during this building up a thick, rich and prickly wash. They brought things down and continued on with swarms of sound in varying densities until after slowly bringing it down for a bit they simultaneously ceased.  A really great set with lots of challenging and engaging sounds with an evolving structure that never felt totally familiar.

Almost directly following the duo set Chris DeLaurenti got up and moved to a set of three chairs in the center of the Gallery floor. He had a mixer on one, taking the output of a tie clip mic that was on a wedge of cardboard taped onto an old laptop.  The wedge of cardboard had (for this piece) a cactus needle on the bottom which was used to read the records.  The first piece he played was Ravel’s Bolero from old 78s which took up four album sides. He’d manually spin the records via an offset hole in the center part of the record utilizing a bic pen. The tune was nor at all recognizable on side 1 during the part where it is low volume and density. As the  piece picked up a rhythmic section here or a fragment of melody there would occasionally reveal itself buried under static, pops and variable speed basic warps.  Overall this was by far the best version I’ve heard of this  piece, which in general I’m not a fan of. He followed this up with Stravinsky’s’ Piano-rag which was clearly more up tempo and created an almost buzzing, warble as he spun through the record.  A fun, and challenging break between the two sets of improvised music.

While I’d expected the Burns/Kahn set to be great this set was the one I was the most curious about.  I’ve seen Burns, Shook and Sedlins in quite a few combination’s over the last few years and adding in Kahn (or say replacing Collins in the Gust Burns Quartet with Kahn) seemed like it’d work well.  In fact as much as I love the GBQ I occasionally feel that they all work in a similar sound world which when they really align their sounds seems a bit less rich then it should.  Adding in someone who works with percussion and electronics could be just the contrast that’d kick a really solid group into even great things. So it was with a sinking feeling that they  started off with all of them playing dry whispery sounds all about in the same sonic range.  This went on for a couple of minutes: Burns created dry rustling sounds from his dowels, Sedlins slow affectless bowing generating low scraps, Shook a thin background whisper from breaking through his sax and Kahn just rubbing the side of his base drum basically creating about the same sounds.  This went on for a couple of minutes and then most of them broke away from these sounds and everything opened up: Sedlins doing more Lachenmann-esque scrunchy sounds, plucked strings, tapping the back of the bow against the strings and body of her viola and later in the set actual tonal bowing, sometimes with a warble slow vibrato.  Kahn switched his focus more toward his synth generating an array of sounds from synthy bleeps and bloops but also pure tones, crackly electronic sounds and static washes. This was a good choice as they really played against the dominant aesthetic even as they others mixed it up.  Additionally he used the harder sounds of his percussion, the cymbals, microphone feedback and the like further contrasting with the others. Shook continued with the breathy sounds at first but then mixed it up with rattly, static and spittly sounds at one point leaning back and emitting soft buzzing sounds that complemented and contrasted excellently with the group sound. Burns doweled a lot, again utilizing much longer tones then he often does, but additionally had a  short section of the pure tone stuff in the middle which gelled well with Kahns low rumbles at the time.  The piece was never silent but densities constantly shifted and while there were many moments when they all played there were many times when several of them would lay out. The ending was really pretty amazing with the density getting lower and lower over a decently long interval and then first Shook and the then Sedlins dropped out shortly followed by Kahn and Burns in a nicely synced conclusion.

This was a great evening of music, varied, intense, engaging and filled with many interesting sounds and collisions of sounds. It was a restless music, often built from sustained parts and avoiding many of the clichés of this music.  It was often soft enough that sounds from outside would interact in complementary ways but it never fell into total silence (which itself is perhaps becoming a cliché in contemporary improvisation. Perhaps more on that later).  I’ve come to quite enjoy Jason Kahn live even if I only really like a couple of his recordings. There is a rumor he was doing some recording while he was up here, I would be very interested to hear recordings of any of the combinations that performed tonight.


Jason Kahn’s Wires
at Jack Straw New Media Gallery

Yesterday I went into Seattle to the Jack Straw New Media Gallery to see Jason Kahn’s Wires installation. I was able to spend a bit of time with it before attending a talk that Jason gave about his sound works. The installation is in a fairly small room with a high ceiling and a pair of narrow windows facing the street outside. The installation itself was four wires on each end of the room, each with a small piezo speaker at the end and running through a tin coffee can. Through the wires was run 2400hz sine tone, that would vibrate the wires which sound was amplified by the cans. The wires, due to different tensions, would oscillate at different rates producing slightly different sounds and they also would seem to reach a peak oscillation and then back away from it. The sound was a rather rough buzz, none of the purity of a pure sine tone. As you moved through the room you’d get pretty different sounds, most likely due to reflections on the walls. Near one of the corners I got the best effect of this to the degree that by just barely shifting my head I’d get completely altered sounds. I went into the space several times, once with a couple other people to see if that impacted the sound (not noticeably) and spent a number of minutes there each time. The more time I was there the more rich the overtones and variety of the sound seemed to be. Pretty interesting experience all around.


One side of the Wires installation.

After about fifteen minutes I headed to a room in the gallery that had been set up for a talk. Jason focused on his installation work in this talk and it was mostly driven by questions from the audience. He also showed us some images from his website of other installations he did and described how each of these worked. His concept behind all of his Sound Works (as he called them) was to explore the notion of space. He likened the sound to a sculpture which exists as a thing in itself but also impacts the space into which it has been placed. Most of his sound works involve very simple sounds (usually pure tones, white noise, simple electronic sounds) place around a space so that as you move through the space the quality of the sound changes. So it gives you this sensation of movement through the space revealing aspects of the space through sound. I found all of this pretty interesting and one could see why this type of installation, that uses sound as its primary component is not exactly music. There was a big discussion over at i hate music about so called “sound art” which was generally accused of trying to elevate its status above music as a priori art. While I for one am incredibly open about what music is it does seem that things like Kahn’s installations are pretty different. Primarily in that the structural and “performance” elements are inherently different. Sound Work I think is a better name, it doesn’t make any sort of claims, but just describes it as a piece composed of sound.

Another of other interesting things that Jason brought up was that he found documentation of these works to be pointless. This I think further underscores the separation from music, which while there are also issues with recordings, they are completely different then in this case.  All of his sound works would be pretty much meaningless as a recording you really could capture the feel of the space in them at all. Another point of interest in this work for Kahn was how people perceive sound itself. He explained that the reactions to his pieces are often wildly divergent, sometime people can’t hear anything at all while other people are so affected by the sound that the can’t stand them. And of course some people find it  perfectly fine and then apply their own determination of quality to them. For this reason his ideal locations are public spaces where the artifice and expectations of going to a gallery to “see” some art is removed. He cited the famous Max Neuhaus piece in Times Square as an ideal example of this and described a piece of his own that was four pure tones playing in display boxes in a pedestrian underpass.

I found this talk quite informative and was quite interested to see the range of these projects that Kahn has worked on. I’ve been fairly ambivalent toward his improvisation music and I have to say that I think his installation work is more interesting. Wires itself actually seemed like one of his less interesting installations, but I appreciate his concerns and the different ways he approaches exploring them. I’ll probably go see Wires again at a time where I can spend more time with it. He said that the longer you spend with it the more you hear and just in the time that I did spend with it I found that to be the case. So I am curious as to what else it would reveal.

I barely listened to any music for a good half of this year and I also, in the interest in not having huge amount of unlistened to plastic objects littering my abode, tried to only buy things I knew I’d listen to a lot. I have to say that I did quite well in that regard thanks to various music blogs and Alastair Wilson’s top drawer Admirable Restraint radio programme. Thanks Alastair! Thus any sort of “best of” music list, even in the micro-domains that hold my interest, is even more useless than normal.  But I found there to be quite a bit of captivating music – nearly everything I bought – this year and there is certainly some value in writing a bit about it. There won’t be many (maybe any) shockers here for those that trade in these realms – the usual suspects are all here – but I’ll try to make up for that with a few words on each. Not really reviews –  you should buy them already! – and not really critical commentary either; perhaps it’s just rambling.  Whatever it is, this is what I’ve got for you this year.

Music I liked in 2012

 

Keith Rowe SeptemberKeith Rowe September (Erstwhile Records, EL011)

Whenever Keith releases a solo album on Erstwhile Records it tends to supplant the last one as the definitive statement in improvised music. The Room, ErstLive 007 and now September seem like a teleological continuum rendering the previous statement mute.  But on revisiting these piece The Room retains it’s power, its place as the definitive declaration (at least until The Room Extended) of Rowe’s philosophy and music, even as it’s language feels increasingly arcane.  The two Erstlives are more of piece utilizing the framing device of composed pieces from the classical tradition to which Rowe’s improvisation, radio grabs aids, abets and deconstructs.  The previous of these two pieces is well explained by Keith him self in a post on the Erstwords blog as is the nature of this framing device:

The concept for my solo performance was only formed the night previous to the performance itself. Thinking about the forthcoming solo, I felt the need to somehow make clear “who I was”: what my background is, what are my concerns? Something about my interest, the music I love, the sounds that have influenced me, during the performance I came to realise these could be regarded as “Cultural Templates”. – Keith Rowe, EL007

In September of 2011 Jon Abbey (Erstwhile Records) put on the most ambitious to date of his Amplify festivals: AMPLIFY 2011: Stones – two weeks at The Stone in New York City followed up by several days at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. On September 11th, 2011, the  ten year anniversary of al-Qaeda attacks on US power structures (more here if you are somehow unaware of this), the nights activities included this solo performance. Keith Rowe certainly had a burden of expectations placed upon him by his audience. A burden that he could choose to ignore as a British expat living in France, but one that he rose to embrace as a citizen of a world that has been transformed by the American lashing out in the aftermath of these attacks.

Of course we don’t have the benefit of a minute examination from Keith of September like we do for EL007 and certainly speculation on this piece likely reveals more of the speculator then of the musicians intentions – just compare the reception of EL007 that came out before Keith’s exegesis (for instance read my thoughts here: Amplify 2008: light – day 2 [though of course I had the benefit of being able to talk extensively with Keith at this concert]).  I didn’t have the luxury of discussing this performance with Keith, but Brian Olewnick did and from his excellent review of this piece this note is particularly helpful:

For Rowe, the Dvorak Piano Quintet had come to embody certain ideas about memory, including nostalgia, loss and false memories. Knowing that he was scheduled to perform in New York, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it seemed an appropriate piece to utilize. – Brian Olewnick on September

Unlike EL007September utilizes just the Dvorak piece as it’s framing device, but he works much more with extended radio grabs. These being from NYC on September 11th, 2011 create a similar aural zeitgeist as you would have found in 2001 but shifted by ten years of a pop and media media landscape that had been irrevocably transformed not just by the passage of time but by the events of that day and the aftermath. The pop music, much of which is even older than the ten year shift, can perhaps evoke in the listener the phrase “the banality of evil”, but is that not too a projection on the part of the listener? In many ways the whole enterprise is — memory, nostalgia, loss and false memories.  I noted in my review of the concert eventually released as EL007 that Keith was playing with, complementing, even reinforcing the classical pieces he used as his framing device. With September the Dvorak is likewise not directly abused or deconstructed; the piece isn’t about the Dvorak. Instead it is held up in contrast, wistfully, as an exemplar of a world that never was, that can not be except in our imaginations and channeled into our art. And perhaps even there that world is lost to us. False memories of a world that never was, a world for which we feel such an intense loss and are nearly immobilized by our nostalgia.

CrosshatchesMichael Pisaro/Toshiya Tsunoda crosshatches (Erstwhile Records)

My listening has been highly backloaded this year; I spent much of year on a cross country bicycle tour and when I returned to Washington State there was a lot to listen to.  This set came out while I was on tour and was one of the first things I acquired upon my return.  I never listen to headphones when I’m bicycling because apart from being patently unsafe it puts you at a remove from the environment and denies one a a true pleasure in my mind: listening to the sounds that you are immersed in.  One who’s ears are open hears a lot and if there is one thing I’ve learned over my years of listening to experimental music is how to piece together disconnected sounds into an immersive experience. This ability has meant that my relationship with field recordings is somewhat complicated.  I’ve worked with them myself for a decade now as detailed in this post on World Listening Day and I of course love many recordings that.  I tend to feel that field recordings can make great material and in certain cases can stand on their own, but are often used lazily or as a type of cultural tourism.

Toshiyua Tsunoda has long been a favorite musician, one of the few who is able to release “pure” field recordings that are absolutely captivating. This skill is akin to photography in that a skillful photog can make a piece of art out of the same scene that your average shooter can not merely with camera placement, framing and working with the available light.  A field recordist  can control mic placement, when to start and when to stop the recording and some bare settings on their recorder.  Both a photographer and a field recordist can apply effects, edits, overlays and the like upon a finished piece but it is then no longer “pure”.  I for one don’t have much of a problem of this impure results, but it is a different thing, use the recordings as “material” as opposed to as a thing in and of itself.  Michael Pisaro in his compositions often uses field recordings as material and also as an ‘environment’ in which his compositions take place (akin to the notion behind my “out of doors” series). The combination of these two musicians was something I was highly anticipating and I have to say I was not let down.

This set has been hard for me to write about, it has a presence and immediacy that just seems to exist.  It is hard to talk in the same way that field recordings can be hard to talk about, but this is much more a piece of music. I haven’t seen much written about it, essays or statements from the artists and the reviews I’ve seen have seemed to share the difficulties that I have. Simply describing the sounds used, or guessing at them, talking about Pisaro’s contributions versus Tsunoda’s and all of that just seems of little merit. I was immediately captivated by this set and it immediately became my favorite thing I heard this year.  As I began to catch up on other releases and acquired some new ones, nothing ever did displace this though the previous and the following releases joined it as my favorite music from this year. So really all I feel I can say about this, is that you need to hear it. It is absolutely engaging and interesting and challenging and musical. Perhaps my favorite thing from two artists of whom I like many, many things. I’ll have to think about that some – I do like so much from these two. But this is certainly the collaboratively project I’ve like the best from these two.

 

Music for Piano and Strings by Morton Feldman vol. 2

Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings volume 2 (Matchless Recordings) performed by John Tilbury and the Smith Quartet

The first volume of the this three volume set from Matchless Recordings was a favorite release from last year and I fully expect volume three to make next years list.  But volume two is certainly going to be my favorite of the three.  I wrote at length in this post, For Morton Feldman, about my love of Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello and this particular recording of it. Simply having a recording of this piece, given at the pace it requires, from John Tilbury, my favorite interpreter of Feldman is enough to put this right at the top of this years favorites.  I won’t write more of this particular piece – see the linked post if you want my thoughts and history with the piece.

Patterns in a Chromatic Field is the other piece on this DVD which is also given the best performance of this piece I’ve heard.  Now my relationship with this piece is complicated. I’ve listened to it many times in two other versions. The first of these was performed by Charles Curtis (cello) and  Aleck Karis (piano) released on Tzadik. Curtis is an excellent cello player and I think his work here is top drawer. This piece launches right into it with a frantic, sickly cello line as the piano plays big bass clusters. Shorter realizations of this piece find this initial cello part too frantic the piano part rushed.  Now it is not supposed to be languid but even just a few extra minutes can let this breath and let that opening not dominate the piece.

I soon moved on the version of the piece released much earlier on hat[now]ART as performed by Rohan de Saram (cello) and Marianne Schroeder (piano) which at around 1’45” is the longest version I’ve heard of this piece. No one can accuse this performance of rushing the piece.  I dearly love Rohan de Saram’s playing and if I had a dream version of this piece it was with him sawing the cello and John Tilbury tinkling the ivories. While this is a very cello forward piece the piano, as always is the case with Feldman, is vital and the performance demands that ineffable touch. As has been said by myself along with many others, Tilbury has that touch.  While I think many are good at performing Feldman, and I’d place the pianists of both of these other performances in that category, few are are great at it. Tilbury is and his magnificent touch is on display here. Even those opening clusters you can hear him pressing down on the keys with a velocity that hovers at some point. There is somehow still a softness to it amidst the big sounds.

Feldman’s string pieces with piano always have an interesting relationship to the piano. From Piano and String Quartet which the piano only place arpeggios to Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello where the strings are like the effects on a prepared piano there is never the attempts at a merged soundworld. The Smith Quartet do an excellent job at all of the string parts and while one may think of Irwin Arditti or Rohan de Saram as string players you’d love to hear in conjunction with John Tilbury I can find no fault in the musicianship here. These three DVD-A sets, which allows these pieces to unfold uninterrupted at around an hour and half each are sure to be considered among the very best realizations of these pieces and absolutely essential for an understanding and appreciation of these great compositions.

Jacob Ullman - Fremde Zeit AddendumJakob Ullmann fremde zeit addendum (Edition RZ)

I’ve long been a huge fan of Ullmann’s A Catalogue of Sounds (also on Edition RZ) and furthermore enjoyed  a string quartet of his recorded by the Arditti’s.  But another piece of his, voice, books and FIRE 3 (again on Edition RZ) I consider one of my biggest disappointments of all time. It was because of how much I loved A Catalogue of Sounds – a piece I’d place somewhere on my favorite pieces of all time list – and how much I didn’t care for it. So I really hesitated on picking up this set. This is  set of three CDs and Edition RZ stuff is always expensive, so what with the disappointment of the last piece of his they put out it was hard to take the risk. But good notices came in from people whose opinions I respect, people who also love  A Catalogue of Sounds, and ErstDist was selling it for a quite reasonable sum so I decided to take the chance.

“Loud music forgoes the subtleties of perceptible sound.” -Bernd Leukert, from the liner notes

Of course it turned out to be fantastic, probably another set tied for the top of the list. But I just haven’t had enough time to come to terms with all of the music herein to honestly make that clam.  The music is much closer in to A Catalogue of Sounds, especially on discs 2 and 3 – low dynamics, tentative brittle scrapes and percussive bits even some beautiful voice tones on disc three – the first use of voice I’ve liked from Ullmann. Disc one is pretty different with two shorter pieces instead of the disc length pieces of the other two discs. It is (of course) still pretty low dynamics, but much more varied, with a few louder interjections. The three discs are chronological with disc 1 featuring pieces from 1989 to 1993, disc 2’s single piece written between 1997-99 and disc 3’s piece the most recent composed between 2004-2007.

“We hear better because we make an effort to hear better.” -Bernd Leukert, from the liner notes

I should say that this is a very handsome set. The black on white on black of the box with it’s (seemingly) cryptic lines and dashes is really a stunner. Inside it continues to impress with the best individual disc sleeves I’ve seen. Each disc is housed in a little booklet with a pocket for the disc, the ever inscribed with disc number the same fragmented letterset of the box cover (and the Edition RZ composer series in general) and the interior featuring an image from the score.  The back contains the textural information – title, year, performers et al – each disc like an individual Edition RZ release. Really well done and by far the nicest traditional release I purchased these year.

“I can’t imagine any music upon which the shadow of a thousand years does not fall and which does not, in turn, itself cast shadows.” -Jacob Ullmann, from the liner notes

The set comes with very nice liner notes by Bernd Leukert which discuses much of the notions and material of each of these pieces as well as notions on Ullmanns goals and ideas. With the little amount of time I’ve had with the set I’m going to beg off on any further writing on it. Read these liner notes for better information than that I can provide at this moment. I’ll end by simply saying that I love the music on this set; I have listened to it a lot since getting it and it will need a lot more listens. Maybe I’ll try to write more about it at a latter date, but just thinking about trying to write something for A Catalogue of Sounds, which I’ve been listening to for half a decade I suspect I’ll never really know what to say. Perhaps that says enough.

 

Keith Rowe/Christian WolffChristian Wolff/Keith Rowe (Erstwhile Records, ErstLive 010)

In the spring of 2010 I had the good fortune to be able spend four days in Boston attending the Christian Wolff at NEC events. Keith Rowe was there to perform several pieces and among these was a duo improvisation with Christian Wolff. This was a pretty short (though wonderful, read about it here) performance, 10-15 minutes and thus at the AMPLIFY 2001 their duo was able to be billed as their “first full length” performance.  This CD of course is the document of that performance; perhaps the performance I was most unhappy to have missed in 2012. At the 2010 meeting I had truly wished for the performance to go on at length but it seemed that Wolff tends to prefer a shorter statement. In the performance of Edges, along with Rowe and NEC students, which is a graphic piece where you move through the material at your own discretion he was among the first, if not the first, to do so. So it is interesting to hear him improvising, in a situation with very little cover, for around 40 minutes.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 2: Keith Rowe & Christian Wolff 1
Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff at NEC

Christian of course played with AMM during their most innovative and unruly period, concerts that could go on for two or more hours, so I really never doubted that he would rise to the challenge.  He operates here similarly to his performance of Edges (which was indeed written with AMM in mind) moving through various gestures and simply allowing more space, more deliberation in them. Keith is operating in his recent, more more pared down mode – which I feel is the the only time in his long career that he has bent toward the prevailing aesthetic as opposed to pioneering it. Of course one could argue that he’d pioneered it with AMM back in the 60s and it is simply a return to the form for him. And yet it is the prevailing aesthetic in the circles in which he is best known and he had not moved to embrace it until pressed to.  However once Keith moved in this direction I think he really showed how it should be done. That is he lets the silences be silences whereas I think most ‘silencers’ push the silence around (to paraphrase old Morty). The spaciousness and deliberation of both of the performers here works quite well, as does Christian seemingly moving through his gestures Edges style. Keith very slowly, at a pretty low volume, works with a few textures with again much space between them. The more upfront gestures seem to mostly come from Christian, again evoking Edges (one of the symbols is to make a loud noise). In fact considering Keith’s excellent and very subdued version of Edges on the excellent Christian Wolff double CD on Edition RZ from last year, this really could just be an unannounced duo performance of the piece. Thus you end up with a piece similar to the late Cage Number Pieces in which the events elide due to individual variations of choosing spaces.  A wonderfully taught piece, with sounds from the Stone and the City nearly on equal footing with the performers own. Without a doubt the most engaging bit of duo improv (a diminishing genre in these circles) I heard this year.

John Cage Shock 1John Cage ?John Cage Shock  (EM RecordsEdition Omega Point)

This year was the John Cage Centenary and there was many great Cage releases and re-issues put out this year.  Too many for me to keep track of or acquire all of (I really regret not hearing the four CD set of Etudes Australes performed by Sabine Liebner for instance) but good to see both in recordings and concerts Cage’s legacy seriously tackled.  Among the most interesting of all the releases is this historical document of John Cage and David Tudor in Japan. The impact of their tour was described as John Cage Shock which was used as the title for this three CD set.

In this tour Cage championed new music beyond his own with pieces from Christian Wolff and Karlheinz Stockhausen being performed along with pieces from Japanese composers Toru Takemitsu and Toshi Ichiyangai.  What is most interesting to me about this set is that it documents further use of David Tudor’s Amplified Piano that was so stunning on his realization of Variations II.  Volume 1 of this set includes another version of that piece, shorter and not quite as powerful but more crunchy and even more noisy at times –  A nice addition to the version available on Edition RZ.. This colume also includes a great version of Takemitsu’s Corona for Pianists and a Wolff’s Duo for Pianist & Violinst. All three of this pieces are excellent and this is I think easily the most essential disc in the set.

The amplified piano can also be heard on volume 2 in the  realization of Cage’s 26’55.988″ for 2 Pianists & a String Player.  Alas this performance is marred in my opinion by the interjections of Yoko Ono (whom I can like just fine in other contexts). As the other piece on volume 2 is Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X which is a piece I for one don’t care much for, I find volume 2 to only be of historical interest.  The goods return with volume 3 which opens with a great, noisy realization from Cage of his 0’00”. Music for Piano #7 from Ichiyangi, a graphic score that Tudor interpreted with sudden and spaced out interjections on the piano while various electronic and concrete sounds are projected. Interesting to hear with some great sounds but not a piece I’m going to play a lot.  The disc also includes the rather indifferent and unmemorable Composition II for 2 Pianos composed by Micheal von Biel.

Musically the whole set is pretty mixed. I would have been satisfied with Variations II, 0’00”, the Takemitsu and the Wolff which could have fit on a single disc. But the set is quite nice with folde out liner notes in English and Japanese each with a nice sized picture or two on them. The set I bought also came with three postcard size photographs of Cage and Tudor from the tour. The document of the performances that created Cage Shock in Japan is certainly of a lot of interest for Cage enthusiasts along with those interested in 20th Century composition and the development of Live Electronics. While I may not connect with every piece I certainly value this entire set.

Morton Feldman Crippled SymmetryMorton Feldman Crippled Symmetry: at June in Buffalo (Frozen Reeds) performed by the Feldman Soloists: Eberhard Blum, Nils Vigeland, and Jan Williams

While this may have been John Cage’s centenary year, his fellow NY School composer Morton Feldman received a number of fantastic releases this year as well.  Few were better than this historical document of the Feldman Soloists – a group of musicians who performed Feldman’s work during his lifetime – performing Crippled Symmetry in Buffalo NY in June of 1983.

This turned out to be one of the best performances that we had ever given together. The rare and indescribable “magic moment” of occasion and ambience seems to have inspired us.” -Eberhard Blum writing on this performance.

I often turn to Morton Feldman to listen to as I fall asleep. I’ve long been burdened by insomnia and putting on music as I go to bed  often leads to me listening to the entire thing before eventually falling into slumber. Some nights though I fall asleep relatively quickly and thus I like music that is both soft and gentle but that is worth one’s attention. Feldman has long been in that category for me and thus he is often on my night stereo.  This set has gotten a huge amount of play in that regard and thus I’ve listened to this as much as anything this year. Of course it has also been played numerous times  without the hope for sleep being involved and it is just an absolute stunner. I have two other versions of this piece including one by this very same ensemble released on Hat. I’ve played these other versions many times over the years, but the energy and vitality of this live performance is just unmatched.

 

V/A Dotolim USBVarious Artists Dotolim USB (Dotolim)

Compilations are almost always mixed affairs and this is no exception. A USB memory stick with ten uncompressed recordings from people and groups who performed at or otherwise involved with the Dotolim venue in Seoul South Korea. The memory stick itself is quite cute: a little plastic square with plain text of the title and different colored rubber covers on the USB jack.  Definitely my favorite bit of packaging from this year.  Once you plug it into your computer you can run in your web browser and html page that serves as index and allows you to play the individual audio and the one video file. Of course one can just as easily copy the files over to your computer and play them with the device of your choice which was the method I chose.

The set features five solos from Joe Foster, Kevin Parks, Jason Kahn, Tetuzi Akiyama and Ryu Hankil’s solos. I really dug those from Foster, Parks, Kahn and Hankil but found the Akiyama rather short and slight.  There are noisier pieces from Astronoise and Transistorhead that didn’t do much for me at all, but of course your mileage may vary there. But to me the highlight of the set was the quartet of  Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster & Jin Santa and the duo of Olaf Hochherz & Jamie Drouin of whom I was previously only minimally familiar  The quartet with its fluttery metallic sounds, rotated metal, crumpled amplifications and spaciousness feels like a lot of familiar ideas pushed one step beyond flirting with a structureless structure and is just completely riveting.  The Drouin and Hochherz almost sounds like a duo of Sachiko M & Sachiko M with the pure tone and the fluttery side of her work playing together along with a sprinkling of the contact mic she sometimes deploys. Yet the context and the structure of this piece is all it’s own and there are sounds that Sachiko doesn’t try for. Thus it is a rare exploration into that soundworld and one I found completely captivating.

 

Dotolim USB

My personal copy of the set

 

In a period where composition seems to be leading the way, at least capturing the bulk of the attention, improvisation is alive and strong in Korea. There is a lot of risk in the work coming from there and it often doesn’t entirely succeed. But the risk is necessary and the payoff is high. If one’s attention isn’t solely on composed work at this juncture you can do no better than to tune your ears to the small but thriving scene in Korea.

 

Michael Pisaro feilds have ears (6)Michael Pisaro fields have ears (6) (Gravity Wave)

Fields have ears has a long history of it’s development, iteration and performance which Pisaro details in this fascinating post on the Gravity Wave blog: Some Some thoughts on the “fields have ears” series.

The series of pieces named fields have ears represent my attempts to come to compositional terms with different notions of “fields”: how we hear them, how they might hear themselves, and what there is to hear.
 – Michael Pisaro, from the aforementioned blog post.

I happened to be at the August 2011 performance of the the piece for guitar and sine waves in Seattle,  (and met Michael in person for the first time as well) which I quite enjoyed and is interesting to contemplate in relation to this later version of the piece, in which the Seattle performance is incorporated. After that performance I picked up the realizations of the related pieces released on Another Timbre, which records several different iterations of the piece from several different ensembles.  This I have to say is also a quite enjoyable disc and that I really liked the different realizations herein.  These pieces have a lot more in common with the live performance I witnessed in their spare structure and delicacy which makes this disc an ideal companion for this new recording and along with the textual material allows the listener to really engage with this piece and it’s history.

One thing I’ve found is that is a lot of the Wandelweiser and related musics work far better in live performance than recorded. That is the music seems to be activated by their surroundings and since they often use space and silence these surroundings are oft given quite a prominence of place. I think that Pisaro has been the most successful of these related groups of musicians at translating his pieces to the recorded medium primarily because, I suspect, he takes the medium in account. That is the pieces released are often more layered, incorporate field recordings or specially take the limitations and differences of playing back a piece into account. Whereas a live recording of a performance such as the one I experienced in Seattle might seem slight or overly thin this really is a limitation of open air recording versus the listening experience.  The way that we shift our focus from all the sounds that surround us and the effects of the space from two ears separated by the skull is quite different from what can be recorded. The listener constructs the piece as much as the muscian and the environment. It is this that I think is the difference between the versions of fields have ears: in the realization of (6) for the Gravity Wave disc Pisaro layered together different performances and recordings of various versions of the piece and added some site specific field recordings. This takes advantage of that effect, that John Cage understood so well with all of his simultaneous performances, happenings and “musicircuses”, of the layered event. The brain automatically fits sounds (and images too – watch any video the sound off and the music of your choice playing and note out it “syncs” up) together and creates it’s own context.  For is this not how we experience sound all the time in nature?

So what began as something like a well-regulated garden became a space filled with all kinds of material, now resembling a rather unruly city park.” -Michael Pisaro, from the fields have ears (6) liner notes.

John Cage Sonatas interludes for Prepared Piano

 

John Cage Sonatas & Interludes, James Tenney,Piano (hat[now]ART)

The John Cage piece that even those who don’t like John Cage enjoy. This relatively early (1946-48) piece, one of the last before Cage had fully embraced chance operations, is one of the pinnacle of Cage’s prepared piano works. This piece listened to in it’s entirety, develops as it goes along with a gentle tension and release and a wonderful percussive aspect that more fully explores the prepared piano than any other of Cage’s pieces to utilize the instrument. This is the most recorded of Cage’s pieces and is widely available from the original performance by Maro Ajemian to my personal favorite by John Tilbury. With so many versions out there one may wonder why it is this one is essential to add to one’s collection.  The answer is that James Tenney, a fellow composer in the experimentalist tradition, adds much to one’s appreciation and understanding of this piece with his realization. Tenney heard Cage himself performing this piece at the age of 16 and that turned his head enough that he pursued music along with science and engineering. These dual interests informed Tenney’s experimentalism – his scores often worked with acoustical properties and explored mathematical functions. Furthermore he performed the Sonatas & Interludes throughout his life and this familiarity, expertise and love of the piece combined with his engineers precision in the preparations lead to a faithful yet unique realization. The preparations, which Cage detailed in his typically precise yet idiosyncratic way (for instance he uses measurements for the placement of the preparations that are based on a specific piano instead of being scale independent), were hand selected by Tenney based on he thought it should sound. So while he followed Cage’s instructions his primary driver was the sound. His performance was informed by his compositional interests in sound and relationships of sound and thus he performed the pieces a bit more brusquely than is typical. Listening to this with an ear toward the interactions of the sounds as opposed to the melodic and rhythmic is truly rewarding.  While I may turn to the Tilbury two out of three times this version will be that other play.  Beyond the historical interest of the Maro Aiemian recording these two recordings of the piece will suffice.

Other Favorites

Other 2012 FavoritesSeijiro Murayama/Kazushige Kinoshita 59:01.68 (Ftarri/IMJ)
Antoine Beuger  s’approcher s’éloigner s’absenter  (Erstwhile Records)
Andrea Neumann/Bonnie Jones green just as I could see  (Erstwhile Records)
Andrew Lafkas Making Words  (Sacred Realism)
Codeine When I see the Sun (Numero Group)
Earle Brown Abstract Sound Objects (Wergo)

These six records are all as different as can be and are all ones I enjoyed quite a bit. The Kinoshita/Murayama (which I especially love the cover) I perhaps received too recently to really fully absorb. While I think that Kinoshita’s work is marvelous here I found that Murayama, while in the main adding very interesting and compatible sounds sometimes lets loose with sounds from his drums that pull me out. Too on the nose as it were. Overall solid and worth hearing, but just shy of greatness I feel.

Beuger has often left me cold and while I have enjoyed several of his compositions, it is this one that I feel I have truly connected with.  There is a lot more diversity to the sound and dynamics here and a playfulness – perhaps brought by the performers – that I’ve found lacking in his work. This disc is definitely recommended for those that may have shared my skepticism, but also for those who feel like I do that Wandelweiser stuff is best live and in recordings that capture that aspect.

Neumann and Jones put out the only other outstanding duo improv I heard this year. Admittedly I didn’t seek out everything and thus you can take that for what it’s worth, but I heard enough clips and read enough reviews that I only bought things that I felt would appeal. And this one surely did.  I’ve enjoyed both  of these musicians work for years and I was really excited to hear this recording. I was a little disconcerted by reports of singing and text recitation which is often overly affected and earnest in experimental contexts but this small bit of that here works effectively.  Lafkas’ large ensemble piece is a sprawling work that drones and chatters but always seems well considered. Another disc I got too late to absorb fully but one I’ll definitely return to many times.

At the end of my cross country bicycle tour my thoughts increasingly turned to the music of Codiene, the “slow core” band from the early 90s that were a mainstay of my later college years. On arriving in Bar Harbor I found out that they put out a set including their three albums along with three CDs of unreleased material (and also toured briefly). Quelle Coincidence! Owning the originally albums I didn’t feel much need to buy the whole set (plus I no longer have a turntable) but I was delighted to find I could purchase the unreleased material from iTunes. And so I did. These tracks, plus the original albums once I was back home, got many, many plays.

It’s been a great year for the New York School with absolutely vital discs  featuring John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff released. Happily Earle Brown wasn’t neglected either with Wergo putting out this top notch set performed by my second favorite pianist Sabine Liebner. This set has piano versions of all of the expected “hits” plus many more, much more obscure pieces. All of these absolutely beautifully and creatively rendered by Lieber. Brown’s graphic and open works demand this creativity and likewise require many versions to get any sort of handle upon. Thus this is a most welcome addition to my collection of Brown realizations.

It was a strong enough year that there was pretty easily twenty things that I felt were well worth hearing, and I could probaly find another ten without too much trouble. Things do start to become uneven though, even toward the bottom of this list there are things that are worth hearing part of, or that may not fully sustain multiple listens but are still worth hearing.  So yeah, this is the bottom half of my top twenty which is still ordered, though beyond the first 5 or so, it gets a little meaningless. Several of these I simply didn’t have enough time to fully absorb due to getting them late, a couple others are mostly great with perhaps one dud track but all are strong in their own way and I’d wholeheartedly recommend them  all .

Releases of Note 2009 (part 1/2)


Keith Rowe/Toshumaru Nakamura Erstlive 008 (Erstwhile Records)
With this release the quartet of shows that Keith Rowe played at the AMPLIFY 2008: Light festival in Tokyo is complete. As an attendee of said festival, who was blown away by all of Keith’s performances it is a real treat to have high quality recordings of all of these shows as a memento. This is the fourth recording of this duo (Weather Sky, Amplify 2002 and Between all on Erstwhile) and that was the second time I’d seen them perform live. They are one of the strongest and constantly engaging duos in improvised music; always pushing each other to new places and ever greater heights. The performance as captured on this disc was the stronger of the two I’ve experienced and right up there with much of the material on Between. The piece begins aggressively and while it contains many periods of relative calm, the piece is mostly dense and rich with sound.  If Keith’s duos with Sachiko and Unami were exploratory, both in the sense of working with new partners and in pushing away from his previous works, this duo is sure in it’s footing but no less exploratory in its desire to bring these two into a new place.  Toshi, always at his best in this type of situation, fully responded in kind and stood toe to toe with Keith the entire time, pushing him in turn. In the context of Keith’s four Tokyo performances it was an incredible finally, encapsulating the festival, the city and his relationship with Toshi all in a dramatic and gripping performance. Get all four of the Tokyo Rowes and experience the highlights of AMPLIFY 2008: Light.

BuoyPhil Durrant/Lee Patterson/Paul Vogel Buoy (Cathnor Recordings)
This album was my first favorite album for the year – it was released right at the start of the year and has sustained my interest through countless listens right to the end. In a way this was a pretty surprising release to me as I can’t say I really expected this trio to actually work. It’s seems like it had been so long since we had heard much from Durrant that I didn’t really know what to expect from his laptoppery at this point, though he has done so much good work I did have high hopes. I’ve been loving Vogel’s collaborations mainly within the Irish scene and of the ones I’d heard that I didn’t think worked so well his playing was always rock solid. Patterson though, well honestly, his music to date has done little for me; while it is always impeccably recorded and contains interesting sounds there just seems to be something missing. There is a certain knack for field recording, I think, that recognizes a certain narrative arc without imposing too much of the recordist that I just don’t find in his work. Furthermore in collaboration, especially when one is interjecting pre-recorded material, it is the rare hand that possesses a sensitive enough touch to not undermine the proceedings. Thus I was surprised, even blown away by how well everything works here and how well it holds up over multiple listens. For this is usually the failing that arises from most improv that uses prerecorded material: it can seem great at first, but over time it loses its charm (as an aside I think in many ways it is the fact that placement  is the only parameter that Rowe fully controls in his radio grabs that makes them work so well, but that is another post). There are a couple of moments in this disc where elements from all of the participants teeters right on the edge of losing this listener – a cheesy bit of laptop, a buried vocal sample, an overly in your face clarinet line – but it always ends up resolved by what follows as if it was a dissonance made good by a later consonance. This album to me seems like the fledgling Cathnor label really finding its footing, putting out music that fully works and reflects Richard’s taste and passions so well (disregarding Sight, which remains the labels strongest release but which Richard was more a participant in then a curator).  It also contains my favorite of his, err Olaf’s, sleeve designs to date.

ï¿¢ + : *Noid, Taku Unami ï¿¢ + : * (The Manual)
There was quite a few releases this year featuring rhythmic tocking sounds (numerous Ryu Hankil related releases in particular) with this one I think being the best. Made with Taku Unami’s laptop driven motors, beaters and effectors on Noid’s cello with interventions by Noid it is a particularly resonant and complicated extension of Unami’s more typical soundworld.  Possibly the final statement from Unami in this general area as well, as performance art and extra-musical activities have come to dominate his performances throughout this year. Noid’s contributions are harder to place though you can definitely hear string manipulations in a dry, scraping vein as well as what sounds like moving Unami’s devices around. Rich and endlessly fascinating this album is well worth hearing, though it does become a bit tiring over the duration.

Filament with Musikelectronic Geithain 4 Speakers (2-:+/Studio Parabolica)
Apparently Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide set up sound installations at Parabolica Bis in Tokyo this summer, both of which were recorded and released as little 3″ discs by the 2-:+ label (which appears to be associated with Parabolica in some, not immediately transparent, way). Musikelectronic Geithain seems to be a speaker company and the installation seems to be a four channel setup of their speakers playing Filament.  The disc sounds like Filament, which is something that Sachiko and Otomo seem to be able to just turn on and off as neither of them are making music exactly like this these days. Sachiko does spend more of her time here in the twittery mode and working with the noise that comes from the switches on her oscillators as she turns them on and off then in the very high pitched continuous sounds that she favored in Filaments heyday, though they do make an appearance here.  Otomo, taking a break from jazz and his more droney/noise focused pieces of late falls right back into the microsounds and whispers with occasional outbursts. And frankly I love it and am glad to hear more of it.  This would certainly be one of those releases that I would say fall into the “mature” category, though there is I think a slight incremental development (which lets face it, fits Filament perfectly: it would seem against the whole project to make sudden radical leaps) especially from Sachiko though I think Otomo drops in hints of his more recent work.  Interestingly enough it is Sachiko’s solo I’m Here ..Departures.. that really feels regressive and while it is a nice slab of music and well worth listening to, didn’t grab me enough.

Sculptures Musicales, Fifty-Five, Eighty-Three, EightyJohn Cage Sculptures Musicales, Fifty-Five, Eighty-Three, Eighty (OgreOgress) dvd
Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I love John Cage’s music, from the early percussion works to the etherial Number Pieces. I do indeed love it all and were I to compile a list of my favorite Cage pieces it would certainly span that entire arc. That being said I do have a particular fondness for the anarchic, noisy electronic pieces from the 60’s where Cage, Tudor, Mumma et al would abuse contact mic, primitive electronics and the like to seemingly tap right into the broiling quantum foam that makes up our unseen universe. Thus it was with a lot of pleasure that on getting this dvd of unrecorded large scale pieces from the Cage discography to hear that OgreOgress brought the noise.  The later Number Pieces create their primal roar from the large ensembles involved (the numbers that form the titles of these pieces are the size of the ensemble) but Sculptures Musicales is its own unique beast. Composed in the late eighties, the height of his composition of the Number Pieces, it is for four performers using electronics originally performed to Merce Cunningham’s Inventions. They are to work with blocks of sound seperated by silences of a random length (up to three minutes) the sounds themselves to be heavy dense to form the structure of the sculpture.  In this performance there are blistering walls of sound, recorded sounds of trains and train yards, what sounds like vacuums, percussion both standard and bespoke and many more. There are numerious long gaps of silence which give the sculpture its form (and incidentally display that Cage also worked with longer silences then many people seem to think).  The number pieces on this disc are equally great, dense drones separated by spaces with Eighty never having been performed before (perhaps due to its conductorless nature and the size of the ensemble).  The DVD format allows for these pieces to be stretched out at length and nicely collected together as a unit. They are more of a pain to play, forcing one to listen at home, but I think the format serves the material well.

Oscillation VacillationJoe Foster/Hong Chulki/Takahiro Kawaguchi/Ryu Hankil Oscillation Vacillation (Balloon & Needle)
This isn’t the rawest of the releases from the consistently fascinating South Korea scene to make it to CD this year, but it is one of the most perfectly balanced, always flirting with chaos. It never settles down too much in the oppressive rythmics that Ryu Hankil’s clockworks can sometimes fall into, nor does it become dominated by the blistering electronics that Hong Chulki cartridgeles turnable can generate.  Joe Foster is almost always a moderating element in his collaboration with his sometimes noisier compatriots. His sensitive and always angular contributions can bring it just as intensily but he rarely (and I can’t really think of a recorded example) allows to fall into excess. I’m not as familiar with Takahiro Kawaguchi but here he is credited with “remodeled counters, selfmade objects, tuning fork” which I think adds some of the subtle pure tones (tuning forks), percussive elements (self-made objects) as well as contributing to some of the wild electronics (remodeled counters). This is one of those releases that I’ve gotten late and really haven’t spent enough time but it has immediately captured my attention and I’ve listened to it more over the last couple of weeks then I would have thought (its one of those that compliments airplane roar quite well). This has been a strong year from those involved in the South Korea scene, which I think is unquestionably the most exciting region for this type of music today. They are constantly pushing, on the edge, raw and melding in material from other contemporary musics.  Much of it at this point doesn’t work, but that’s experimental music for you: it can, in fact must have the potential to fail.  It is the lack of failure as an option that has brought on some of that stagnation that I’ve spoken of before and that I think marks much of the other scenes right now (along with moves toward performance art, nostalgia, fusion with past forms and empty conceptualism). The music on this disc constantly flirts with failure, keeping it tense and and consistently engaging working at times with an extreme low end that disappears on headphones and lesser stereos as well as with almost empty flutterings that some to be mixed with people just moving around. I’m just getting started with this one, but it already has excited more then most of what I’ve heard this year. It has the elements to remain engaging over many listens, which I for one will be testing in the months to come.

TrypichEliane Radigue Triptych (Important)
Important Records may have the most pretentious name of any label in existence but from time to time they really do put out releases that can be considered of at least historical importance. This year they put out two cds of early material from the fantastic and under recognized minimalist composer Eliane Radigue. Utilizing analog synthesizers and drifting drones as a kind of meditation she has created music that in a way is the inverse of the equally great and under-appreciated Phill Niblock (whose imposing two disc set Touch Strings I have alas not managed to hear this year). While his vast walls of finely pitched drones obliterate your consciousness, Radigue’s drifting tones work their way right into your very being and as they slowly drift apart so does your sense of self. There is no doubt that Radigue definitely got better at what she does and that in these early days she was still experimenting. Of these two discs that Important put out this year, one (Vice Versa, etc…) is clearly just experimentations released as multiple discs that you are supposed to simultaneously play. Tryptch on the other hand completely works as a piece of music on its own and while it is certainly much more slight then her later pieces is satisfying and well worth hearing.

Vanishing PointJason Kahn Vanishing Point (23five)
I had the pleasure of seeing Jason Kahn live multiple times in 2008 & 2009, several time solo and several times in various collaborations. I’ve always found his recorded output to be mostly hit or miss (mostly miss if I’m honest) but I really was taken by his live presence. The way he fills a room, the details that hide beneath his sonic washes, the texture that make up his drones, none of these have seemed to have made the transition to record in an even remotely quite as powerful a way. This release, which I got pretty late and have really only just begun to explore, is easily the best recording of this live presence that I’ve heard to date. Played on a stereo that can capture its full dynamic range and at a volume that he would use live (which gets loud but never oppressively so) it almost feels as if his snare drum and synth are in in my living room with Jason crouched behind it. I like the uncomfortableness of his drones, the way that they don’t really allow themselves to fall into the background, that the elements that make them up keep slipping and ultimately don’t really drone. The arc of the disc is great, beginning with an uncomfortable static washes, working through various levels of density and then slowly evaporating.

This album has been quite well reviewed, but for all the wrong reasons as far as I can tell. There seems to be a focus on externalities, a personal tragedy that people try to read into the music. I knew this long before I bought it (perhaps why I held off so long) and it is because of this that I wanted to stress how normal this sounds to the live solo performances of Kahn’s that I’ve seen. Those they think they hear loss, or despair or whatever are projecting onto the music, this is as I’ve said how Kahn sounds live and this cd is noteworthy for capturing it so powerfully.  People seem to be such suckers for any sort of personal connection that they can attach to this music, a tendency that has definitely led to several quite overrated discs. I don’t doubt for a moment that emotional events have pushed performers of abstract music to new heights but I am always skeptical of those that put albums on such a pedestalal once the cause has been made public. How many albums have been generated by similarly powerful emotions that this aspect has gone unremarked due to the artists not revealing this information? Frankly I’m a bit surprised that some of the more agent provocateur types have yet to capitalize on this fetish with a faux bit of emotional porn. Buy this album for the great solo performance captured brilliantly; don’t worry about the externalities.

Pocket Size IsolationismTomas Korber/Utah Kawasaki Pocket Size Isolationism (Esquilo)
This is another album that captured my attention early in the year and managed to hold it until the end. Like Buoy, it also was a bit of a surprise given that I’ve always had rather mixed reactions to Korber and Kawaski’s previous work and hadn’t really heard much from either of them in a while. Both of them have produced albums I’ve quite liked though so while I didn’t really have any expectations w/r/t this album I found the collaboration interesting and certainly hoped for great music to result. The music herein seems uncertain, not so much in a feeling each other out sort of way, but perhaps in some sort of overarching away. This seeming lack of surety which you’d expect to lead to lackluster music instead creates a tension and keeps one guessing the whole way through. Bursts of noise come in and out, soft sustained tones, low-volume white noise, and domestic sounding percussive elements combine with restrained feedback and mangled synthesizers and even a very natural bit of the neighborhood sounds work their way in. Recorded in Kawasaki’s apartment it also has that sort of hothouse feel that living room music often has – sheared of the pressure of an audience, it can have a looseness, but at the same time your fellow musician provides a much more demanding audience, the only one there, with no escape. Of course there’s also the neighbors… Ultimately I think this album is a nice document of two musicians working together. This was their first collaboration and it was successful but, perhaps because of that isolation, it doesn’t quite have the deep structure that I find makes things hold up in the long term. I’m still enjoying it, but its definitely a more slight affair then those that have preceded it on this page.

Semi-ImpressionismTetuzi Akiyama + Toshimaru Nakamura Semi-Impressionism (Spekk)
This would easily be the most deeply flawed release on this list, but one whose charms keep bringing me back. The first two tracks on this disc could have been recorded in 2002 and are one of the most obvious examples of nostalgia I’ve heard in this area. I would have loved those tracks in 2002 and I enjoy hearing them now. Bluesy plucked acoustic guitar and broken chords from Akiyama and Nakamura firmly in textural accompaniment mode make for a highly enjoyable, if completely comfortable listening experience. Nothing new here, no pushing just nicely colliding sounds from perfectly restrained feedback and unhurried guitar. The third track on the other hand is a disaster.  Toshi is in the forefront here and frankly that utterly fails. Akiyama seems more in the accompaniment role on this track and that never seems to work for Toshi. Compare it to his duo with Rowe at the top of this list and you can see what I mean. When pushed hard by his collaborator he can be just as far out front, co-leading the production and absolutely spectacular. Given free reign like this and perhaps also trying to escape from the easy nostalgia of their other performances, his worsts tendencies come to the fore.  Feedback in this style has some really recognizable tropes and Toshi is among the best at slipping away from them. But sometimes, most obviously in the NIMB series, he lets those aspect reign and they have always marred the music. Overtly rhythmical at times coming across as incompetent techno, or cheesily melodic (this aspect is particularly egregious on this track) this element of the NIMB is best fought against. Akiyama likewise works some of his worst excesses into this track with banal strumming and ineffective random outbursts.  But those first two tracks, they bring me right back to what got me into this music (well at least in part) and they are beautiful and tasteful and well worth hearing. Plus this is definitely the packaging of the year.

Tomorrow is the final entry in my End of Year wrap up. Stay tuned!