Archive for December, 2010

Bricolage

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

Muta Bricolage Al Maslakh

Last week I packed my bag full of mostly clean clothes, plied myself with day-old coffee and drove down to Chicago to see my sister and catch Dans Les Arbres play at the Chicago Cultural Center. It was a free show, part of their series with some delightfully pretentious name that plagues this kind of stuff, like New Noise or Hidden Voices. It was probably a bad life decision to slam a beer and pop a bar of Xanax before the show, but sitting among the grey hair improv freaks already practicing their best to appear studious and appraising, hands firmly tucked under chins (thinking about the piles of kult merch they’re going to buy after the show no doubt), I realized it might have been one of the few right life decisions I’ve made lately. Certainly it made the show feel more lilting and introspective, less heavily indebted to the art school society slum. But let’s just say the my recollections of the music played by Ingar Zach, Ivar Greidland, Xavier Charles and Christian Wallumrød are probably a little hazy. I do remember distinctly the opening five minutes when Zach lightly tapped a few gongs that were hanging over his massive bass drum in a ritualistic manner and Wallumrød sat motionless at the piano, staring at the keys. It was languid and stunning, reminding me of a kind of Gamelan on Quaaludes; the only thing missing was the haze of clove cigarettes. The others played nicely I’m sure; but, really, Zach was the only thing I could concentrate on for more than a couple of minutes as I drifted in an out of consciousness, jerking suddenly awake just before my forehead could crash into the seat in front of me, probably ruining the bliss out for the poor dude in front of me. The whole concert had an aqueous feeling (which couldn‘t of been just the Xanax but…), as though I was drifting in hazy water filled with slowly waving weeds and schools of fish. At one point Zach rubbed a dowel against the bass drum, and a subterranean rumble issued forth — Cthulu, if only for a moment, awoke. Ultimately, it was Zach’s show for me, as his playing was so perceptive, so arresting in its slow, thoughtful momentum.

One would be remiss to assume Muta’s album, Bricolage, on the Lebanese label Al Maslakh, is purely a showcase for Zach, however; even if his percussion becomes a sort of guiding presence. I’m relatively new to Muta, as I missed the release on Sofa, but along with Zach, it includes Rhodri Davies on electronic harp and electronics, and Alessandra Rombolá on flutes, tiles and preparations. According to Muta’s website, they search “…for changes and variation in musical structures and slow/minimal developments of specific sounds and/or pitches,” while trying to achieve a unified group sound. And this is readily apparent, as each track seems to explore a certain set of sounds, momentums and strategies.

The first track on Bricolage, “driphlith” is a shuddering, percussive excursion that, when played loudly, can shake the walls. It’s a variety of elements overlaid, and that slide up over one another. Zach’s deeply sonorous bass drum appears first, but what appears to be ebowed harp from Davies, and percussive pops from Rombola, soon follow and start to converse. “Bricolage” is an excellent word for the sounds here, because it is as if these three resourceful musicians were using whatever they had at hand to produce this music. There’s a searching pragmatism here, a metis-like quality to everything they play.

Rombolá’s a new musician for me, and her playing really comes out on “encilion;” blasts of still flute-like sound punctuates a slow moving back drop of ebows and cymbal scrapes. Rombolá ’s playing here is aggressive, vital, and bruising. You feel the back contract, the lungs burn, the physical exertion of the playing. It‘s a nice change of pace from the usual extended technique dry-heave. This style of extended playing– the air circulating, spurting out, burbling inside the instrument– is obviously not new, but she plays with such vigor and aggression here… almost as though something is at stake; and it’s not just some look-at-me trick or cynical flaunt, it means something– just what is up to you. Her flute disappears for a moment about four minutes in and what I think must be her tiles and preparations slips into focus — knives unsheathed, sharpened, flattened against the table, bent, clattering to the floor. All the while, Davies’ playing is as apt and perceptive as usual: an unchanging tone from his electric harp rings at first seemingly in the background, but, as one listens more closely, it overtakes the field, inchoate, stubborn. It’s a wonderful track, especially off set against the more droning “driphilith.”

Drone can be a dirty word in this area of music. It implies a certain kind of laziness, an easiness to the music. You can layer up a couple of guitars and a pump organ and there you go — a one way trip to nirvana, to outer space, to limited run screen printed tapes. Play a drone and you provoke the listener– you tell them just what you want them the feel; you mask their own feelings under an emotional weight not earned. I don’t hate the drone necessarily, it has its uses. And while some of Bricolage could be considered drone, it’s far too rough for that. Elements change, noises fluctuate, the musicians are too concerned with trying out something new, reaching that new destination. Wherever, whatever that is.

“Goriwaered” is more electronic in a sense, or at least the electronic edges fray more in the distorted pits and pops, under fried scrapes and a patina of electronic scum. It’s highly percussive, with very little forward movement. A bass drum sounds, a knuckle against the hull of a schooner. And at 4:00 or so there is the first moment of respite, where sounds are let to breathe a little, and bells are like nautical soundings in a darkened bay and the buzz of electric dragonflies are next to your ear. It ends suddenly; while “Hafflau” emerges into dark drone and small bubbling percussion like tiny bells or maybe a steel brush rubbing against metal surfaces . It’s not as interesting as the others. It appears slightly dull in respect to the glow of the other tracks. One hopes for it to be edited down more, as though maybe it was just a little to flabby. I’m not sure.

“llinyn” is more clatter and junk, hail swept metal sheeting, detritus thrown into the wind. And again, the juxtaposition of it in regards with “Hafflau” works really well. At one point, Rombolá (?) creates an amazing snuffling pig sound, a throat clearing rumble that is at once out of character for the group but also seems to encapsulate it so well. Sometimes it’s nice, nah, needed to just revel in sound: to sit back and bask in the odor, the feel, the grit and dirt of it. The last track, “osgo,” is fascinating, starting with a familiar percussive rocking clack, and a buzzing tone from Davies. Rombolá ’s flute approaches a more traditional tonal language, sounding nearly like a Shakuhachi. The percussion reaches a more traditional momentum, as well. Davies’ electronics hover and skim. It’s a beautiful track..

I’m interested in hearing more MUTA, and possibly seeing them live if they ever get over here. I’ll promise not to drift in and out of sleep at their show, though. From the sounds of Bricolage, it would seem almost an impossibility.

Although who knows. I do stupid things.

Excellent sleeve design by Al Maslakh (check them out)

Placeholder 2 anarcho edition!

Posted in music with tags , , , on December 19, 2010 by Tanner

Pedantic and self-righteous Anarchist that I was at 18 (at 28 now only inertial and self-righteous), I loved the Scottish anarcho punk band, Oi Polloi. They put on by far the best show at the 1999 Old Barn Punk Fest, a titular who’s who of anarchist crust phenoms from From Ashes Rise to Misery to Fleas and Lice (yeah, well…). Seriously, their melodicism, enthusiam and lyric placards, for those of us who didn’t know their chant harmonies, stood out among the dirty, patched, mohawked throng. That festival was a great time, even if I didn’t drink or indulge in throwing batteries into camp fires. But there’s nothing like setting stolen cars aflame in the mud and piss while packs of semi-feral dogs ran rampant through the makeshift camp grounds that sprung up like mushrooms around the stage to make you feel alive.

Oi Polloi were always a bit more idealistic than the doom and gloom group; they appeared to walk the walk, and actually gave a shit about the things so many bands wrote lyrics about. They were active in the Scottish anarchist movement, organizing, doing squat shit work, cooking cheap vegan meals for working folk, wearing ripped up sweaters like nobody’s business, etc. It seemed when you watched them that they had slightly more nuanced ideas about neo-colonialsim, gentrification and predatory capitalism than that dude you met named Fishstick that just needed to crash for five minutes in the back of your car: don’t worry, it’s cool. Oi Polloi’s enthusiasm and anger were refreshing and invigorating, if only a little bit of the pat your shoulder on the back, you’re with the good guys bullshit. But that’s life. They’re one of the good, good guys, right?

I recently stumbled upon a shortish youtube documentary about one of Oi Poloi’s late 90s European tour . A lot of the sound bites are pat, self congratulatory anarchist hem and haw, but a lot of it is also funny,self deprecating, righteous and frankly fascinating for this American, whose only dealing with squats have come through seeing some obnoxious capital A art band play a pirated loft. Anyway, here’s a link to the fourth and last part of the doc, which might be the most endearing. The film doesn’t really need to be followed linearly, so if you’re interested just follow the links on the youtube page for the other three (it’s far more about direct action and anarchist movement building than the band, which is refreshing; just ignore the narration):

TEEM

Posted in music with tags , , , , on December 16, 2010 by Tanner

Olivia Block/Kyle Bruckmann TEEM either/OAR

This shit is composed, friend. They make that apparent from the beginning. Although there are sections one could be fooled, I s’pose. Not to say that’s a bad thing, in fact one may agree that it leaves an element of suspense to TEEM, which is “co-composed” by Olivia Block (field recordings, piano, organ and editing/mixing) and Kyle Bruckman (oboe, English, horn, suona, accordion, field recordings, editing/mixing) from 2003-2008. And this is one of the best explorations of this juncture I‘ve heard in a while. It works purely as sound, as music; it has nothing to do with the conceptual art piece, of the ruse and compositional overcompensation that the kids are flinging. Hell, that shit’s burning in a paper bag on your porch right now, but just don‘t stomp it out. It’s what they want.

No, no, this is music that makes sense in all it’s improbable cohesion and it bristles from the opening moments in “I.” This initial movement reminds me of an orchestra finding it’s footing in a tomb full of cockroaches, flying ants and centipedes, Temple of Doom style; once in a while an oboist just has to brush that shit out of his hair, but the walls are still moving and that door just won‘t open. And while there is that feeling of the improvised here, the results never sound like two people fumbling with sweaty palms behind the coat racks, but indeed more like an ensemble, an orchestra that knows exactly what it wants, even if you don’t — sepulchral banging in the dark, cracking-thorax field recordings, lilting Scarriano-like oboe and French horn lines twinning and pulling apart. And that’s just the first track; it’s probably hard for “I” not to seem simply like a warm up, albeit a beautiful one, before the opening salvos of “II.” What appears to be Bruckmann’s oboe and French horn are overlaid into a pure, bludgeoning blast of frontline horns, like an antiseptic version of Brotzmann’s Machine Gun’s opening battery, but elongated into a distinct and shifting smear. It’s a disorienting effect and a powerful follow up after the first section. It eventually sinks away to something less defined, plosive breath noises, an reed organ plaintively sounding. Then gone. Here things emerge and disappear like so much of this kind of music but the sounds themselves are beautiful, interesting, ugly, depressing — fuel for fleeting visions, imaginative gambles… And what becomes apparent is the obvious skill of the editing and mixing, the attention to delicate detail and that momentum that keeps it going, moving on, positing the new and unexpected in welcome, fascinating ways. This thing moves and breathes. It never appears to be the herky-jerky mud fling which I can find in some musique concrete, even though it’s nearly always shifting gears– just never slipping them.

But if there is a fault with TEEM, it could be the clinical nature, it’s nearly perfectly edged and smoothed make-up, that reflects the obvious time and care put into it’s 5 year gestation. Nah, not really a problem when the results are so joyful in their strain. And gestation seems an adequate analogy to some of the music here; the first part of “III” conjures a maggot nestling into rotten flesh that is veined with tin foil. It’s all feasting and gorging in dark and sticky places until emerging with protoplasm hanging from it’s wings. “III” of course moves on (how can it not) to fun house mirror accordions, and white noise slag; again this merging of the planned with the unplanned, the ugly with the beautiful, the mundane with the fantastic — this teeming. Ah, yes.

“IV” seems like a fitting coda. Less hyperactive and more minimal, what sounds like Bruckmann’s oboe courses through the jet trails of overlaid French horn(?). While an accordion asserts itself again, but with none of the baggage associated with it– none of the greasy table Italian joints, the balls of dough sticking to the ceiling, your ma and pa yelling for you to get out of the ferns. You little creep… No, it’s more of an ethereal meander from the scene, but a superbly placed one after what’s come before. I’m not a huge fan of the ethereal most days, but here it works just fine, more than fine– it’s like a surface tension so frail that it could burst and collapse back into itself. Back into the muck, the mud, the myriad. Jeez, it’s a beautiful world sometimes, isn‘t it?

I’m glad the excellent either/OAR put this out (and for such an affordable price), as it’s a personal favorite for the year. And as long as you’re checking this one out, Bruckmann’s work in EKG should be looked into, as well as Block’s solo’s on Sedimental and Cut which are essential if you’re into this sort of thing. And I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this far. So get to it.

Oscillation.Vacillation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by Tanner

Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Takahiro Kawaguchi and Ryu Hankil Oscillation.Vacillation
Balloon and Needle

It’s too fucking cold today.

When I go running, the hair in my nose freezes, and icicles collect in my beard that has grown, grown past most polite company’s standards. My knees have begun to hurt in mysterious places, between joints I didn‘t know I had. Maybe I shouldn’t over do it. But there’s something… A needling in my head that sets me out. Out there. I move across the room. And music plays.

Something about Oscillation.Vacillation by musicians Joe Foster, Hong Chulki, Takahiro Kawaguchi and Ryu Hankil creates a movement in my environment, makes something shift and switch gears. The album seems rooted but full of motion: it begins with dry room fuzz than gives way ringing sounds, oily clicks, clock machinations; a gentle sine wave or low tone emerges periodically and weaves itself into the shifting layers. There’s a stasis to this recording, almost approaching a monotony, but the sounds are too varied, too uncomfortable with their own space to sit too long and fester. On the first track around the 6:20 mark a sour screech of malfunctioning electronics asserts itself, and punctures a hole in the mass and slate. At unwary moments I can find myself pulled almost directly out my skin by that sound. But after a minute it sinks back into the vaguely percussive sounds, of varying scrapes and rubs. Many of these sounds approach a percussive quality; there’s a fascination with repeated gesture rather than an element of time keeping, which creates an odd momentum. It’s as though you find yourself in a workshop full of mechanical birds, fluttering on skeletal metal wings covered in vellum; and leaning back, gently spinning in a squeaking chair, you push a hand through your hair.

You could attach an element of pure chance to this recording. As though it were all simply incidental, but as you sit, immerse yourself in it, you realize there’s a constant shifting, a playing to the scrapes and clatter. It’s varied, embroiled in a clear movement and change. To hear sounds repeat themselves in this manner, not in a drone exactly, but in a repetitive mechanical fashion it can appear to be music without human input–that one simply sets up a machine and lets it roll along on it‘s own. But I don’t find that here exactly, even if there is an element of simply letting devices out of their cages, to flutter their wings for a bit, there’s still a direction given, a definite interaction and communication here between all sounds. Even if this communication results in collision and wreckage; it‘s there, intelligent, slightly coercive. It would be easy to stop listening actively, as I did when I first heard it, and to fixate on only one element like the clockwork sounds, as they are most easily integrated and held onto to. These sounds remind me of Sachiko M’s sine waves, and how they set down a field or space that seems to define other sounds, placing them into a structure. It’s really fascinating how one hears, what one latches onto… the clockwork does work as an element of structure and the familiar. And this textured music requires some handhold at times, a limb to grasp once in while lest one tumbles from the tree. There’s a whole world that is possibly missed if that‘s all that‘s heard, and in a way this clockwork disguises a multitude of interactions. Sounds emerge and disappear suddenly, clattering is replaced by staccato thwacks, smacks and chaotic tumbles. It breathes naturally, although not without elements of disparity, of wrong turns, voids that open under feet. Near the end of the second track noisy feedback breaks free–vital, but ugly.

With albums such as these, I find it a bit silly to concentrate on where these sounds come from, or who creates them– Hong Chulki is credited with, “turntable without cartridge;” Takahiro Kawaguchi with, “remodeled counters, selfmade objects, tuning fork;” Ryu Hankil with, “Speaker and piezo vibration;” while Joe Foster is not credited with anything at all, but I assume it could range from electronics to trumpet. With instrumentation of such novelty, of such seemingly secretive means it doesn’t really lend itself towards explication of the music. Knowing Ryu Hankil plays a speaker doesn’t help me grasp this like an album made up of sax/trumpet/bass/drums might. And knowing there are “self made objects” being played, massaged, prodded, or turned on in Oscillation.Vacillation doesn’t create any enjoyment in itself, In fact, it’s a little distracting, although that’s more my problem than anything. But I do sometimes wonder if some of us are more interested in what is used to make albums than the actual sounds themselves, that in the rush to disassociate from some lineage, the most obscure and novel are valued over the actual results, of the music itself. But what is remarkable about these musicians is not what they used to make these sounds but how they used them. As much as one wants to give credit where it’s due, I really don’t know if one musician could take more credit for this evocative music than any other. It defies expectations of the requisite strangeness of instrumentation, of the bullshit sound art more concerned with means than ends it could so easily become. No, it’s an album of great interaction, not without seams or fraying, but one that repays repeated engagement and investigation, in its slow fused energy; its pocket of movement.

I get up and cross the room and listen. I’m urged to, into, from… My shoes are wearing down on the sides. I contemplate running; darkness; the windowpane.

Nah, it’s too fucking cold.

balloon and needle