Archive for April, 2010

The sound of everyday…

Posted in music with tags , , , , on April 27, 2010 by Tanner

David Lacey and Paul Vogel The British Isles Homefront

This one came out a while ago, maybe the beginning of 2009, but it’s a good one and deserves another shout out, especially as my last post wasn’t as positive as it could have been. And hey, I’m all about the positivity.

Lacey and Vogel create some potent and rough atmospheres on this album, rough is often a strange adjective for a lot of electro-acoustic releases, as so often the sound can lean to the more clinical and austere over the organic and gritty, (some similar gritty EAI that come to mind are Cremaster and many of the musicians out of South Korea). But this isn’t a noise release either, as there’s more of an underlying form at play here than some wall-of-noise blowout or screaming pedal abuse marathon. It may be a form hard to fully explain, admittedly, but it’s one none the less. The sounds themselves used are an amalgam of scraped percussion, clarinet burrs, found sounds and field recordings, spitting electronics and a huge collection of pings, whirs and drones. You’d be hard placed to find many recognizable sound source in this thing – the odd clarinet howl, the occasional field recording of distant voices, automobiles. It would be a fascinating collection of sound by itself, but there’s a close attention to space and structure that transcends a catalog in extended technique. This is, I assume, an improvisation but like some of the best improv out there it sounds nearly composed before hand. And while I use the word atmospherics to describe what Vogel and Lacey create on The British Isles, it’s not some kind of background ambient recording either – my girlfriend likened one expanse of shrieking cymbal scrapes to listening to “horrible rusting hinges” just before she shut the door to the other room. Of course, in a way, isn’t it nice that this has bite? It’s not a empty, soul-less drone, but a living thing, a dervish of rust and specked out electronic scrum. Ah, but that’s too simple and probably obscurantist, there’s a method to the work, each part leading into the next, deftly crafted out of a coursing sonic detritus.

I find something fascinating and visceral about music such as this, music constructed out of all the unwanted sounds of traditionally-minded music. Most people would have a hard time even considering the sounds on The British Isles musical if heard in bits and pieces. I sometimes wonder how sounds such as these become “musical,” certainly by themselves they don’t often resemble somethings that would be considered musical sounds. Where one can hear a plucked string or a single horn note and automatically attach some significant music lineage to it, one can’t do that with a buzz or rumble or scrape. At least it’s harder to imagine it used successfully in music, as in some ways many of the sounds could be compared, like my girlfriend mentioned earlier, to a incidental sound of our surroundings. So what in this instance makes it music? An attention to form? The successful placement of each sound in juxtaposition to other sounds and space? Definitely The British Isles is successful in those terms, and what is created is this fluctuating, often caustic but vibrant sound form– and, yes, a deeply invigorating music. But let’s not concentrate too fully on the harsh nature of some of the music here, because it has more than enough moments of profound beauty, for instance as found on the 3rd track where a wavering tone mixes with more textural and percussive scrapes or when slight electronic pops melt perfectly with an obscure textural grit.

But moreover the sounds here can create images of every day moments: of, yes, hinges at sleepy dusk, or coffee spilled on trousers while walking in the rain, steam on your glasses. And often it’s when field recordings of everyday sounds are used in combination with acoustic sounds – trickling water, car tires sloshing through rain coupled with scrapes and sine tones– that this album truly resembles a music of the everyday, as though Lacey and Vogel had called not just upon a traditional musical history to inform their music but a heightened attention to the sounds and experiences of every day life. Now this isn’t a new concept obviously, but rarely is it so wonderfully alive in a music, both the ugliness and exquisite beauty of mundane things and sounds. After each listen I find more to appreciate, more to remind me of something in my life, which is very rare indeed in this music. Sometimes with abstract music (excusing free jazz for the moment), there’s a hesitation to admit to an emphatic nature, as though any kind of emotional aspect to the music would be considered maudlin or trite. That is not to say I’m moved to tears or laughter while listening to The British Isles, but that it conjures up subtler, more instransigent feelings and remembrances, as only great music can.

But let’s not loose sight of what it is, right? You don’t need a commentary about the nature of music or sound to enjoy this. Any way you cut it, you’d be a fool for not hearing the simply excellent music on The British Isles. It doesn’t have to be aural exegesis on the Revolution of Everyday Life: it’s a great fucking album. You just have to listen.

Buy it from: Erstwhile records in the US and

“I want to fight, cuz I want to die…”

Posted in music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2010 by Tanner

Those tortured wails, those blistered soaring roars. I remember the first time I heard Peter Brotzmann – FMP’s Machine Gun procured in a frothy excitement at a Chicago emporium now sadly gone like so many other shops of shiny discs and black Frisbees. Shit. There’s few areas of my music listening life that I can honestly say changed me — for the better? Fuck knows – Machine Gun was one more of them in a honorable line that included Minor Threat’s Out of Step, Moderat Likvidation’s Kuknacke, and Iggy and The Stooges Raw Power, for better or worse. I suppose I felt free jazz had been a rather inscrutable area of music before that time I sat down with ol’ Brotzy’s salvo of post modern fuck music, having heard and enjoyed to an extent Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and some of the Art Ensemble stuff (all of which if not fully understood then, more so now). I could appreciate the off kilter, circuitous lines of Coleman, the feral animal talk of Dolphy’s horn, but I couldn’t fully incorporate the aesthetics they created into my life yet, unlike the manic, brutal intensity of the punk I grew up on. But Machine gun, Jesus Christ man, it exploded out of my speakers, crushing all life in that first majestic pulverizing unified front of horn blasts. It still reverberates in my skull. And while I don’t want to drift too far into hyperbole, Machine gun is one of those albums that once you hear it it cannot be forgotten, you’ve changed manggg, you ain’t the same. Cuz here was all the power, intensity, nihilism and atavistic power of hardcore spit out 20 years earlier with no amplification, just spit, breath and reed; just string, snare and splintered cymbal. I was still firmly in the hold of punk, still am I suppose (hell, I’m listening to Void right now), even as my tastes filter to more rarefied, artsy-effluent realms. Here was a vision of a world I could understand at 18, could relate to as viscerally as my beaten Black Flag or Econochrist records. It was hip. They were angry or so it seemed. They had beards. They were artists. They created an insane, improbable and most importantly authentic music that frightened the squares. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Obviously with age comes a more nuanced and probably boring interpretation. I didn’t care what it meant to jazz or European jazz/imrov/whatever, or how it stood with in the cannon of jazz/improv/avant garde. It opened my ears, it changed how I heard other music. Instead of judging all heavy/crazy/intense music by the yardstick of thrash or crust or hadcore I measured it by a bunch of post-war German, English and Dutch cats that didn’t care about it any of it, this whole stinking mess. And frankly, dude, there’s more to life than just mohawks and bullet belts. Brotzmann was more than just a part of that record. He was that record, the mover and shaker, the arch provocateur, setting each consecutive solo into a further exploration of extremity. Of rage and choking meaningless.

I got to see Brotzmann play with Hamid Drake the other night in my new home of Madison at a place called the Project Lodge, a tiny gallery shoe-horned between a bakery and a key smith. I stood drinking warming beer that I jimmied open like a poor man’s McGuyver with a key ring from my pocket and tried not to break any of the art that hung on the walls. I was packed into the sweating space with 70 or so others, the people you know but don’t, the people you feel you share kinship with despite any outward appearance, simply for the fact that you and they are there, sipping on each other’s scent… If there’s one thing I find as a commonality of all improv/free jazz shows is the old fogy pretentious types who get there early, hog all the seats and dig the grooves with their ear horns while the young hipsters file in late and strain to see over their bald heads. It doesn’t matter if it’s London or Chicago or New York, it’s always been the same strange combination of demographic, whether one group out numbers the other depends on who’s playing; for some reason Brotzmann is hip with the kids, maybe it’s the beard (I can’t say the same with E. Parker though). There were women there though this time. They had to muscle their way up past the tall record clerks to see, but they were there.

Over the years I’ve seen Brotzmann play a few times, in various permutations, some good and some bad. I bought more of his records, none having the same intensity as Machine Gun. How could they? Is it even fair to compare someone to their earlier work, some 30 years old at this point? And in general it was more of the same. There are no real revelations here. Drake was a powerhouse. I’m not sure I really even was paying attention to what Brotzmann was doing for the first ten minutes. Unlike many of the fee drummers around, Drake is firmly rooted in time when he plays, it may not be readily apparent at all times, but he’s grounded, elongating time, speeding it up, inventive and powerful. It’s a truly wonderful thing to see him play, to watch as the sweat pours down his face while massaging a brimming, shimmering crash from his cymbals or pounding out forceful, blurring visions on the snare. I’m not sure his groove based drumming is particularly apt accompaniment for Brotz’s dadaist over blowing, but they seemed to enjoy each other, as ever it’s hard to hear Brotz really ever letting Drake lead, but that’s not a surprise. We all know what to expect from Brotz at this point; a gruff, fractured lyricism has entered his playing since the early days to go along with his bouts of over blowing and split tones. He’s always channeled a faux-Ayler attention to splintered melodies, but I prefer it placed incongruently alongside the fire breathing maelstrom for short times; when he gets into the long spates of world weary samurai blues it often seems unsure to me, as though he doesn’t fully know where he’s going, but knows it’s a part of the persona. He stumbles, he breaks when playing, it can be both seen as some profound existential rumination on playing all the wrong notes at the right times, or simply just fucking up. I can take either approach depending on my mood. This time I enjoyed it, but throughout the set I kept questioning the music. I kept questioning why he chose the notes he did, the over blowing, the slip back into mild European blues man tooting. It’s as though with Brotzmann’s age he has become sort of elder statesman of free jazz, some kind of sage figure for the free jazz elite to elevate on message boards or in music shops about his primal “outness” or the elemental power of the “master.”

Sure, no doubt he’s played countless concerts, collaborated with countless amazing musicians, traveled to countless cities like some world weary avant-Johnny Cash. And no doubt, I would sit at his feet like some starry-eyed nose-picker to hear him wax poetic about playing with Buschi Niebergal or drinking dark Bavarian beer all night with Han Bennink. But I don’t buy it so much anymore. A lot of the choices he made playing with Drake were anything but free in my mind, just endless repetitions of the same. There were moments of true clarity where I did feel emotion similar to that I got from his early material, that ferocious intensity that spurned me on so much when I was younger. I remember thinking that the last time I saw him in Chicago at the Hideout, a good performance with Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark, that it was probably the last time I needed to see him, that it was a law of diminishing returns for me at that point. And I was reminded of that watching him play with Drake. The crowd was rapturous which was expected. So often I find with free jazz now, there’s a feeling that as long as the expectations are met — reed bite screaming at the expected moment, check; half bluesy, atonal melody, check; endlessly wide-vibrato coos, check – the crowd acts like Jesus just tapped them on the fucking shoulder. God, is this kicking below the belt? I’m not a victim to the idea that art should be some teleological expansion of the new at all times. And I don’t expect all things to meet the criteria of what I consider “authenticity,” but there was something missing, some spark. But some things I think are meant for a time in your life. I’m glad I went. If for nothing else to see Drake for first time.

Brotzmann’s playing is entertaining when you decide not to critically analyze it too much, to just let him play over any thought in your head, to blast out the cobwebs as you sip a beer. In that way it’s a lot like all the shitty punk shows I used to go to, but in an art gallery. Zing. But it is a cathartic music after all. I don’t know why I feel differently about say, Albert Ayler, who’s music could be accused of the same thing, endless catharsis embroiled in endless repetition of form… but it sounds more tangible, as though the stakes are higher, that it’s not simply art for art’s sake. But I never got to see Ayler, so it may be a spurious comparison. Is a better comparison Charles Gayle? Alan Wilkinson?

Machine Gun still stands. It still breathes and creates an authentic palpable feeling and simply for that I will always respect Brotzmann. And I’ll probably see him again some time, because despite the fact of the underwhelming nature of most of the performances I’ve seen from him, there are moments of that clarity, that authenticity, that burns away all the bullshit in your life. Just for a minute. And you can’t really judge a thing like that.

How much art can you take?

Posted in music with tags , , , , on April 23, 2010 by Tanner

Klaus Filip / Radu Malfati imaoto Erstwhile Records.

It’s a difficult thing to put into words this album, Imaoto. It wouldn’t be the stark minimalism of it really, as I’ve found some of the previous work by Malfatti to be far starker and more austere, plunging into the depths of an almost nothingness, as though he was so revolted by the prospect of gabbiness in his music he seemed to almost reject making any sounds at all. But of course this reaction to the improv hyperactivity, to the insect music and free jazz blather has also created an impressive body of work in the last 10 – 15 years (probably the majority his releases have been on his self published imprint, b-boim, and mostly unheard by me) that stretch the boundaries of mostly compositional forms. His work with his Dach group, Taku Sugimoto, Mattin and now Filip are some of the only examples of his approach to improvisation we have from the last ten years, and all are a far cry from his earlier years in various free jazz associations like Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and his duo with Harry Miller among others. I’ve really enjoyed his work with Mattin, and to a lesser extent Sugimoto, but I find this release with Filip to be his best yet within improv, something that may have to do with his playing partner. I’ve enjoyed the few albums I’ve heard with Filip, incidentally all duos with Toshimaru Nakamura and Kai Fagaschinksi (Los Glissandinos) except for one group on Grob with the aforementioned Mattin. In essence his style doesn’t necessarily change here, the same sinuous sine tones and elongated shuddering waves remain intact, but unlike his work with Fagaschinski and Nakamura, he seems to throw up some road blocks from time to time, his playing a little more inscrutable. Filip’s work in Los Glissandinos seemed almost a lesson in tone combination, a breathless swirling mass of clarinet and sine tone as sharp and slippery as cut glass. The first thing apparent is that Imaoto is not interested in this exactly. Malfatti’s trombone sounds engulfed in fluid, cthonic at times, but also breathy and sibilant at others. The two musicians sounds do react to one another, but they’re not as much entwined like Los Glissandinos, more like a layering of sound colors. More often Malfatti’s fluttering low elongated tones skip gently over Filip’s sine waves, Malfatti leaving behind the circular breathing, never trying to disguise the humanness of his instrument, the tones elongated but ending naturally when his breath runs out. And as if in response, Filip’s tones shift, fade out and back in again. The urge to attach some sort of visual analogy to this music is overwhelming at times, a painter like Rothko is often brought to mind with this kind of music, the blocks of tones and minimal layers creating an almost palpable feeling. But really it’s too easy of an analogy and ultimately meaningless. The music is itself, detached and remote from any other point of reference.

What I love about the paring, especially in the first track is how Filip threads a tight-walker thin line of sound, a context for Malfatti’s expulsions or repetitive clacks (his thumbnail against the bell of the horn?). It reminds me of Sachiko M’s use of sine waves, and the contextual element it creates for other musicians. The first track is a profound meditative experience, a gradual and eased exploration. The second, shorter track is riskier, more improvisational in a traditional sense, as they interact relatively more dramatically. Filip seems to spin out more tones than before, sharp and slightly discordant, as Malfatti in general sticks to the same instrumental vocabulary, breath and metal clacks, rumbles in the dark. It’s as if the first track was only a gentle womb-like stasis, while the second is growing anxious, more immediate. And like all good improvisation there’s a few moments in the beginning of stretching the legs and finding the right footing. But starting at around the twelve minute mark or so there is a stretch where there sounds seem to coalesce and breath in a layered unison leading into a gradual almost melodic line of tones from Filip that Malfatti compliments with his subtle trombone harmonics. It’s a moment of subtle, leisurely beauty and again it’s a truly human feeling aspect to what can be considered at times hermetic and alien music. And as your mind is still moving within the vastness of this music it ends, like a pin prick, stinging, as though you never realized that it had to finish.

Imaoto is a compelling release, impecably recorded and played. It’s an album I’m still grappling with, but fell compelled to write about, especially as I seem to be questioning the need of so many albums from this area of music. It’s human and moving, completely vast while being closed off within itself. It’s such a rare listening experience at this point, to hear something that doesn’t seem to be some rote construction to further some idea of newness, but an expression of authentic modes– art, I guess.

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It’s been a while…

Posted in music with tags , , , , on April 20, 2010 by Tanner

One of my favorite recordings I was able to hear last year was “Kravis Rhonn Project” by Annette Krebs and Rhodri Davies on the Another Timbre label in the UK. Annette Krebs is credited with guitar, objects, mixing board, and tape manipulations, while Davies plays electric harp and unspecified electronics. There’s always a certain trouble one enters when writing about music such as this. Invariably one falls back on the standard genre specifiers when attempting to write about it, as though saying an album such as this is electro-acoustic-improv or European-free-improv or experimental sound art or fuck knows what right off the bat really helps explain what it sounds like. Sure, it’s improvised, it uses extended playing techniques, it’s abstract and to certain extent intractable — and in many ways writing that an album like this is EAI does conjure up a sort of playing field for the imagination – you know there’s going to be a lot of unidentified rumbles, pings and scrapes and nothing much resembling such “standard” classical instrumentation as the guitar and harp. But this album transcends in what my mind has become a sort of staid and hermetic qualification, that of the term EAI, popularized in various (better informed no doubt) circles, because the now easily recognizable traits of EAI are pushed further, the expectations of the post AMM group stumped. SO…what is this album like then? Yes, there’s the rumbles, scrapes and pings as written earlier but what comes somewhat startling to life here is how they are used, sounding to me almost as if it were cleanly composed, constructed painstakingly in some studio– each sound is so provocatively but intuitively placed, with what feels like an almost pre-ordained order, but often sounding sculpted in time. This has little to no recognizable quality with improvisational efforts from the free improvisation tradition, no frantic scrabbling at the locks here, or show boating flights of fancy found in the random free jazz/improv record, and again only a slight recognizable whiff of EAI, unavoidable as these two musicians are/were part of the scene(s) that helped invent that new language of the bearded and bespectacled. But the use of tapes and the human voice are remarkable here, something I believe Krebs is responsible for– often layered with the odd sonic detritus: radio rambling, clicking whirs, a slow and pungent ebowed harp. Sometimes Krebs’s found voices are slowed and distorted, almost always they appear meditated on, obscurely pertinent in their cut short or elongated placements. If I could understand these German speaking voices I wonder if it would affect how I perceive the music… invariably it would, although it’s hard to tell how much. For all I know they could be talking about the moons of Jupiter or the American military industrial complex. Who knows? But the fact that unlike a Gauze or Moderat Likvidation record (where my lack of Japanese or Swedish didn’t effect my understanding of the kick assitude raging in the grooves) I find that the content of these words must have an importance I’m missing. Of course, this only allows the music to achieve a fascinating stasis when combined with the the sour lilts of resonating string and crumpled bag electronics. In many ways this music reminds me of a dream, of listening to a story in a muffled and only half identified language, the actual meaning achingly within reach but so far off. But when the music itself is so mesmerizing and indeed beautiful (a moment on the second track brings to mind langourous bamboo windchimes with subtle, dry machinations) it’s hard to care if you “understand” the meaning or not. It’s an endless fascinating document of a duo I hope continues to push these boundaries. And putting a label of EAI on such music would just be a shame, a disservice really to the associations it conjures. Just let it alone, let it breathe.

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