Archive for January, 2011

Cafe Oto I

Posted in music with tags , , , , on January 17, 2011 by Tanner

Not Cafe Oto I, but close enough.

Cafe Oto I Radu Malfatti and Dominic Lash b-boim

It’s not as though I’m an expert on Radu Malfatti’s work. Let’s get that out of the way first. But I have heard a fair amount. I’ve heard the earlier free jazz, the blurt fart blurt of the duos with Harry Miller, Louis Moholo and Gunter Christmann, and the various orchestras. It’s great stuff if you dig that kind of thing, as there was an energy he could so easily manifest and spurt out into the air, conjuring phrases that spun and connected in fierce connections. He was, is obviously an enormous technician on his trombone, which, admittedly, means fuck all to me at this point. And frankly, I heard all that busy, “gabby” stuff, as Malfatti would call it, after exploring his more recent improv work, like his excellent duo with Klaus Filip, his group with Thomas Lehn and Phil Durrant, Dach or his duos with Mattin. So it stands as sort of stark relief in comparison to the hyper minimal put-put of the stuff from the early 90s onward. The Dach album on Erstwhile is still one of my favorite albums from this area of music, for reasons hard to explain, but easily felt. It was a perfect example of the outside seeping in, as much about the room as the instruments that only occasionally, softly emerged. It was minimalist, but a lush kind of minimalist, as though produced in a laden air, in a room you could feel. As Malfatti gradually seemed to leave improv (although thankfully not entirely) behind to concentrate on composition I generally lost touch with his work. His minimalist conception, like Taku Sugimoto’s work in the last 10 years, at first seemed like a one trick pony, an escape hatch from his previous free jazz work that led only to another corner, at first interesting, but ultimately reactionary, one note, and self-satisfied. It all has been assiduously documented by Malfatti’s own label b-boim and the Austrian Wandelweiser label. I’ve heard a few, and they mostly haven’t connected with me. The gulf between the art and the conception yawned too great. There was also this fear, partly gathered from interviews or articles, of being talked down to by his music, that in essence, this rejection of some of the things I enjoyed in music–the give and take, the split second decision making, the gabbiness–was some sort of bullshit philistinism on my part. Of course, like anything where one takes an artist’s choice as some sort of commentary on one’s proclivities, it says more about me than about Malfatti. And to judge something as large and impressive in scope that as Malfatti’s body of work in this area the last few years is silly, ignorant… folly.

So with all that said, I picked up Café Oto I on b-boim, performed by the UK contrabassist, Dominic Lash, with sine waves by Malfatti, with interest as well as trepidation. Of his large catalogue, mostly unheard by me, it seemed immediately the most interesting in instrumentation. I‘ve always had a visceral reaction to the contrabass. Something in the low groan appeals to me, the resonance. Composed for Lash, who was also on the excellent Bestiaries on Cathnor, Cafe Oto I was originally premiered at, you guessed it, Cafe Oto in London (see Richard Pinnell’s write up at the Watchful Ear), so it seemed like an place to approach this area of Malfatti’s work again . And nearly from the first emergence of the sine waves coupled with a low bowed bass note from Lash I was drawn in.

There is just something so right about the congruencies that emerge from the dry silence of that room in Oxford where it was recorded (although it makes you wish for a more resonant recording). There’s a twinning and pulling apart of sounds that emerge, either one tone ending before the other or one repeating over a sustained tone that feels like slow movements of large swathes of shade. A surprising element is that despite it’s limited timbre palette — the contrabass only sounds four deep notes throughout, the sine waves barely change pitch– it’s really not that minimal, at least as far as silence to sound. The bass repeats itself in varying rhythms and sustains, the sine waves pick up or sink away at intervals, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. And while Lash’s disciplined playing nearly always stays at the same beautiful, sustained rumble and volume threshold, the sine waves can either be immediately present or barely there, allowing you to forget or mistake them as background hum only the suddenly realize their presence when they drop away.

And at first blush it seems so simple– maybe it is. I, probably more than anyone, have the tendency to look too deeply into things, trying to find connections that may or may not be there. And refreshingly, I’m not really moved so much to ask the questions as to why this rather than that here… I’m not compelled to contemplate how the repetition of sounds creates a sort of timelessness or how it could foster varying degrees, tints of memory. And while one could level these thoughts on this recording, I’m simply not terribly concerned about any of it when I’m actually listening to Café Oto I. I find it instead to be more moving on a visceral level. Café Oto I, like a lot of good albums in this area, seems to sift and bend your environment when you‘re unwary. It can easily function as a sort of room noise, something to simply moves nearly shapelessly in the corner of your ear. It only comes alive when you let it actively engage with you; although, there’s something to be said about simply wandering around, going about your day, drinking coffee, leafing through a magazine when it’s playing. It lends an interesting resonance and import to mundane things. And I could use that more than ever now, drinking beer for lunch, crumbs in my beard.

It ends as soon as it starts. Its brevity, clocking in at little more than a half hour, is both refreshing and confounding. I could easily listen to so much more, but it’s always nice to be left wanting when it comes to music like this. It’s evocative while remaining subtle. And it’s a subtlety that doesn’t need to be explained as such. I feel slightly silly trying to explain it, as it needs no explanation, and instead sits as itself. Always itself.

I’m glad I took the chance on this one.

Available from (I think): erstwhile distro


Acts Have Consequences

Posted in music with tags , , , , on January 11, 2011 by Tanner

Kevin Parks and Joe Foster Acts Have Consequences Self Released

It’s hard to stop gawking at the cover initially. A friend of mine, unfamiliar with the music, commented, “it looks like a Pynchon novel or something.” The multitudes crashing, burning, drowning, escaping, leaping, falling. I don’t know where they found it, but it’s goddamn great. And frankly, the physical production on Acts Have Consequences by Kevin Parks and Joe Foster is a reminder that a cd can still be desirable on a purely aesthetic level. Even if it makes you dream of a gatefold vinyl release.

And dreaming is something I’m reminded of here. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Parks and Foster aren’t credited with specific instruments, but I assume it’s generally the same as on Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt, Parks on guitar/electronics and Foster on electronics/trumpet (maybe more, maybe less). The more I listen to releases in this area of improvisation the more I realize it’s less important who does what or how. One becomes more fascinated with the means rather than ends, the how rather than the why. I’m as guilty as anyone — sign me up to hear that dude who plays electrified diaphragms as soon as possible, or, better yet, the guy who plays a his sax through his asshole (wait, that‘s not that new), or that… Never mind. But it does seem like a smoke screen sometimes. Isn’t failure what we should be worrying about? Or possibly success? Or that more interesting area where those two things happen nearly simultaneously?

Acts Have Consequences seems interested in this question, as well. And the album is like an investigation of boredom, excitement, sloth, invigoration, punctuation, reflection, provocation, delirium… peace. The easy answers and the hard.

It can be difficult for me to see a double album in this area to be a unified statement sometimes. And I’m not sure why. I can accept it in other areas of music, in rock, jazz, classical, etc.. But in this area it’s harder to see the connective tissue, the tendons between the muscle and bone. It’s hard enough for me to see single albums as unified statements, where songs/pieces/tracks have some relation to one another, or that there is a path leading somewhere, anywhere into the next 70 minutes. But Acts Have Consequences succeeds in as an entire album, and a large one. It’s an album where the music, while sometimes moving differently on one disc compared to the other, always seems to be going in the same direction. It’s as though while Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt appeared to have more varieties of approach, Acts Have Consequences seems to explore a similar group of sounds and moods, albeit with diversions and speed bumps along the way (it also has a title that’s easier for me to remember which is a plus…) This could be seen as detriment in a scene sometimes addicted to the constantly new, but I appreciate the connective vision, and it seems to be a more complete statement, perhaps.

“A” starts unassumingly enough. A singe: breath or fuzz or both. A long tone. And then the grit becomes more surging, like a tide coming from somewhere far, away. A repeated pattern of electronic tones are like light patterns behind the eyelids. It’s a strange track, and stops exactly where it should even if you don‘t know why, as though establishing setting or place. The second track, “Somehow or other, order …,” leads to an elbow scuffed in the garden. Knees that ache. To a trowel that hits stones, pink, grey, threaded with ochre. An upward progression of notes, roots snapping under a trowel onetwothree. There’s an odd resonance to these notes, even though they are played as dryly as possible, unamplified, a one off in a practice space or a provocation or a distant thought …maybe it’s just that it’s the first clear guitar notes on the album. But they ring out almost shockingly. They remind me of a sudden realization. A sudden realization that maybe you‘re actually dreaming you’re in a garden and you shouldn‘t be naked, more forgetful than usual, but still managing to call your ex who somehow now lives in Cairo. Flashes of trumpet or breath noise or something, something interrupting. The guitar ringing out delicate dry pings and twangs in an almost complete dislocation to the electronic bursts. It’s as though you are trying to wake, but are unable to, and flashes of the outside world are seeping in. And you’re alone, cut off. A beep repeats, like the end of a message on an answering machine, messages you can’t understand but are on the verge — another beep — cut off again. A new message emerges, no less opaque. You repeat. You repeat.

This music creates dislocation and tension… while at the same time coveting a sort of listlessness. It’s jerks, heaves, splits, but is never loud, or too acidic. Like a feverish state or that urge to keep asleep when you know you can‘t and your cat keeps mewing in your ear. Throughout, the control of Parks and Foster is apparent. The sounds all seem studied and thought out, not shot off at the hip, or blurted out, even if so many of them are abrupt and truncated. And if the first couple tracks are being asleep, the third is like emerging to the day. Tones bleed across the carpet like the morning sunlight. The guitar sounds, while once truncated and cut short, are now allowed to breathe, to twang, to shudder. The bursts of static or electronics are allowed more space, a little more time to stretch. And while you may not be welcoming the world, at least you’re awake now, a little bored, peeling the linoleum back on the counter. A crow outside the window pane, only for a moment; coffee stains on your sleeve, caffeine playing chopsticks on your nerves. Stretches of spearing feedback fray and fall apart. A clanging guitar swordfights with disembodied tones, there’s a fumbling in a dank Billings, Montana bathroom stall. There’s dirt on the tiles.

When things get a little rowdier towards the end of “Enisl‘d” it’s surprising. Welcomed disparate crowds of noise, wrong, but well placed. It runs a little long here, there. But this letting loose is wonderful– Parks’ guitar fuzzes out at one point, becomes slipperier, harder to attach some Experimentaloso guitar lineage to, the ol’ talking guitar bit perverted in a couple seconds, filtered through grimy backwoods AM channels — proselytizing womanizers, children yapping in tongues, UFO sightings reports (well, not really). Even so, there’s nothing overly dramatic here, no showy gestures really — no overt virtuosity, Events happen. They engage momentarily. They expire.

On disc “B” I feel as though there is a calming, that the original elements from the previous tracks are allowed even more room. It’s where it seems where a more conventional intimacy between the playing of Foster and Parks seems to really emerge. Not to say I know when these tracks were recorded or how they were sequenced but… something is leading us on from the more fragmentary early tracks to this day that has emerged. And maybe this day is when you’re hung over… or just tired. Parks’ guitar pokes and dallies over elongated resonances. The music is exploratory but fragile, like frost creeping across glass:

Let’s speak forever. No? The let’s keep going just for a little while then. We’re so close. So close.

Disc B seems reminiscent of other things but never beholden to it. It’s drier, spikier than a similar but lesser album by Gunter Muller and Taku Sugimoto’s, I am happy if you are happy, or Tetuzi Akiyama and Jason Kahn’s duo on for4ears — I hate to compare these things, as it’s so rarely cogent, and it spills over into a packaged easiness. There’s too many road blocks thrown up compared to those albums; bits of clatter, racket, hum and crackle all spike the sound field. These sounds rise up or degrade in quick interceptions in an otherwise clear field on the first two tracks on B. It’s as though Foster and Parker decided to never let any of it get too easy. Over a nearly placid and quite beautiful guitar rumination, a burst of static, a bit of clatter, a sine tone strangled off. This approach is alluded to throughout, but becomes more apparent somehow. As one listens on “The light they give… “ (no way am I writing this one all the way out) and “Change by Means of Blood…” these moments become more expected and questions can arise. Why these sounds rather than others? Why here rather than there? Do they have meaning beyond the compositional one — that is, does the bursts of static, sine wave, clatter and rustle in this context only serve as a noisy spot to throw you off, the patch of dirt on your lp, the salt grit on the otherwise smooth table, etc.. Do they have meaning on their own, or are only tools of dislocation. Their entire notion of these sounds ephemeral and not to be thought on. It’s a curious thing. It’s a small, maybe entirely personal, issue for me in this context. Maybe it’s harder to make the sounds sound like anything more than themselves, their meaning only apparent when placed next to something else in this context. And if there’s a slight, I hesitate to say, formula on Acts have consequences that would be it. But that said, as soon as you think you may have a handle on these now expected sharp turns, they throw something in totally unfamiliar, like the groaning feed back at the end of “Change by means of Blood” that leads into trumpet wheeze of the third track, “Much can be hidden…”

There’s a slight Old West melancholy to Parks’ more tonal guitar playing throughout disc B. I get flashes of dust storms and arches of crimson sand stone more than Japanese Lilly ponds or floating marbled coy. And while it sounds like Sugimoto and Rowe are influences (and in this area how can they not be), it doesn’t really seem to make any more sense than saying his playing is like Morricone filtered through a prism, which I had written in some early notes. Either way, his playing is striking throughout, and with Foster’s electronics and trumpet it can be both entirely beautiful and baffling.

“A Shelter from Sadder things” on B is stretch and hum, Parks plucks spare, delicate notes, while sine waves flit in the rafters. Not to come back to an overused analogy, but it’s like a return to sleep. It’s a fitting bookend, not in itself satisfying, but entirely fitting at the end of such a reaching and vibrant… thing. And this one plays often around here. It transforms itself in small ways every time I hear it. Moments I didn’t notice emerge, and while the sharp turns become worn down, other aspects become more defined. And more importantly, it sounds as much like a music that was thought long and hard on, but not without sacrificing a vibrancy, a dirt under the fingernails. That’s rare. Acts have consequences, will be one I live with for a while. I’m glad for that, because it’s hard to find albums that repay your attention, that allow you into another place, a time. And if that place and time is somehow relateable, however oblique, then even better. So, here’s to that.

Check this out through:

Erstwhile’s distro

The future is now.

Posted in music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by Tanner

Ah, christ, another year done, over and out, a fart in the wind. This next year is shaping up to be less money and more debt, less Eagle Rare and more Benchmark No. 8… Drowning in a deluge of Miller Highlife. But things are looking up, really. I certainly can’t complain. Winter is here, and I’m hunkering down. My bicycle got a flat tire two days ago, and now I have an excuse to be a lazy asshole for a few more months, because there‘s no goddamn way I‘m getting my shit together enough to patch that thing up anytime soon. Ah well… So 2010? I have a mass of unread books sitting across the room, just waiting to come crashing down on me in an unwary moment, suffocated under Gass, Barth, Moravia and Faulkner. I could go worse, I guess. Either way, I have cause for hope when it comes to music, at least when it comes to the nebulous regions I usually cover on Aphidhair. Maybe not the best year for the improv side of things, but there seems to be lights turning on rather than out. A twinkle in the upstairs attic, perhaps. One thing is for sure I hope to cover more material here, and take a little more time with it all. I do let things percolate…

I don’t really enjoy writing lists, but I‘m compiling a loose appraisal of some of the albums I dug this year. With that said, at least half of what I found really compelling last year is from the heavier realms and has little or nothing to do with improv or the experimental shit I usually cover here, and this is obviously far from comprehensive. But my 2010 was far from comprehensive in a variety of areas.

Hellfire, damnation, prohibitive screaming. Probably the best album I heard last year, or at least the one continuing to pay off the most, was Unearthly Trance’s fifth album, V, on Relapse. From the opening neutron star dirge of “unveiled,” V comes slogging into this mess; it’s heavy, battering stuff, as much indebted to heavy late 90’s hardcore like Rorschach (to these ears at least) as it is something more EEEVILLL. I wouldn’t call it black metal or sludge or blackened-sludge, or whatever else lazy reviewers slap it with for easy foot holds and filing options. It’s something a bit more inconclusive, something itchier and less easily defined than all that jargon. I hear elements of Black Sabbath (of course), black metal, hardcore, Amebix and that gutter comedy and absolute conviction of Harvey Milk. Suffice it to say, it’s a monstrous album, with a production that is tight and pulverizing, but not overly-compressed, suiting the material rather than blowing it out into a dynamic-less haze. The artwork by Glyn Smyth is suitably esoteric, symbolic and fascinating… just try to unravel it all. The lyrics part travelogue, part plunge into introspection, always speaking of discovery or apocalypse or dissolution. They’re sung or rather bellowed with absolute conviction by main man and guitarist Ryan Lipinsky (also of The Howling Wind and Pollution). Lipinsky leaves an indelible mark on nearly everything he‘s involved with, as much at home in a searing guitar hero solo as in riff bludgeoning molasses. But you can’t forget Darren Verni and Jay Newman, who hold down the low-end impressively, a firm layer of density, of degenerate matter. No doubt, it’s a large thing, V, complicated, rife, teeming with blunt detail, but unlike another interesting, epic (and possibly great) metal album that came out this year by France’s Deathspell Omega, Unearthly Trance is not interested in showing off an intricate but masturbatory brutalism. There are songs carved out of stone, hewn into a tremendous, terrible shapes. They don’t really move as much as you part around them. There’s a few anthems here as well, like “sleeping while the feast,” probably one of the best songs I’ve heard last year. V is a classic grower; with each listen more is heard, digested, added upon, creating a true album of interconnected events rather than a piecemeal downloadable compilation of hits, tracks and other easily forgotten ephemera. You don’t shuffle this one, or partake of it in parts. You sit, and let it unfold.

Profound Lore released an amazing amount of quality metal in 2010. Standouts for me were the great horror movie death hymns from Hooded Menace and their Never Cross the Dead Lp; the total Incantation worship of Vasaeleth’s Crypt Born and Tethered to ruin, which is by far the best “old school” death metal I’ve heard this last year and absolutely crushing; and the anthem soaked, fist in the air, Slough Feg s/t album, which was a much needed assuagement tO ears that found themselves often stuck in the fetid grotesqueries of kids in corpse paint. I haven’t head much of the Agalloch album that everyone’s on about, but frankly it sounds pretty fucking fey to me. We’ll see. Diabolic, as far from fey as possible, also released one of the superlative examples of Floridian death metal in a while with Excisions of Exorcisms, on the aptly named Deathgasm records — it’s all Morbid Angel-esque swamp gas death, as manic as a meth-head mosquito. Not to be outdone, Sweden’s Nominon also fashioned a pretty damn fine example of a classic Euro DM album with Monumentomb. The title says it all, I guess. And of course, there was, as previously mentioned, Deathspell Omega’s Paracletus, which is easily one of the most confusing and inchoate of their releases, which is saying a lot for a band as mysterious and convoluted as this one. I am letting Paracletus breathe for at least a year before I throw any judgment its way — undoubtedly a good thing.

The reissue of Inquisition’s Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult on Hell‘s Headbangers is something I have apparently slept on since 1997. They have a new one out now, as well, which I still haven‘t heard. But Into the Infernal… is quite possibly some of the best outsider art black metal I’ve heard since Beherit. It’s all magnificently weird– fucked up croak-sore vocals tunneling through a miasma of churning guitars, black as Beelzebub’s asshole — the stuff that makes things go bump in the night. Or something like that.

Shifting gears slightly, Kevin Drumm’s Necro Acoustic on Lasse Marhaug’s Pica Disc, is probably one of the most impressive and diverse things I’ve listened to all year. It’s a staggering document of new and previously released work, including reissues of the entire organ track from the Comedy album; the limited issue tape, Malaise, and a compilation of split tracks called Decrepit; if that wasn’t enough there’s the stunning new(ish) material, Lights Out and No Edit. It’s a lovingly crafted, dense and slightly suffocating document, and an amazing showcase of Drumm’s absolute mastery of granulated puncturing noise, layered drones, and pin prick minimalism. It really looks nice on the shelf, as well.

Michael Pisaro seemed to have an amazing year. Of what I had the pleasure of hearing, a Wave and Waves on Cathnor was my favorite; at this point it’s still hard for me to put into words what makes it so compelling to me. Maybe it’s the fascinating choices Greg Stuart applied to the score, which calls for one hundred percussion instruments. It could also be the seemingly simple concept and the resulting deliriously beautiful undulating sound forms, the waves of these overlaid multitudes. Or it’s all or none of those things. But like the best of things I heard in 2010, it’s a moving experience, and pays off more and more as you spend time with it. It does make me realize that there’s some amazing composition coming about right now… It doesn’t all have to be less than the sum of its parts, but in fact can completely exceed them.

As far as the improv side of things, Erstwhile Records released the beguiling and excellent Motubachii by Annette Krebs and Taku Unami, which I wrote about previously on Aphidhair. There was also the criminally underrated Bestiaries by Dominic Lash and Patrick Farmer, again on Cathnor and written about earlier, as well. Olivia Block and Kyle Bruckmann’s Teem was another good one on And/oar. Like many others John Tilbury’s interpretations of Terry Jennings and John Cage, Lost Daylight, on Another Timbre was a highlight. Cariol by John Butcher and Rhodri Davies seemed to defy some of the standard issue work out that can come from two guys so obviously good at their instruments– they seem to be working hard, pressing themselves somewhere else, breaking a sweat. Seijiro Murayama and Eric La Casa’s Supersedure on Hibari was a nice discovery, difficult, bruising and pretty goddamn invigorating for this side of things, reveling in the ugly as much as the quaint. Actually nope, never fucking quaint. More car horns already, jesus.

On the more rock and/or roll spectrum, I really loved Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Rush To Relax on Goner Records. A perfect example of a great punk band that is both simultaneously bratty and achingly sincere, reminding of you a time when you weren‘t just some cynical prick. In those days of complete failure, just slap this one down on the turntable and bask in a few Aussies just as messed up as you are. Ty Segall‘s Melt was also up there, with endearing, simple songs about god knows what, but get a load of that conviction. Really, great garage rock played loud and undoubtedly written about better elsewhere. Woven Bones on Goner was also another high class affair full of grungy, dog eared tunes that all sound like the same one, but if that one song is pretty fucking great, who cares? And hey, I did really enjoy the new Beach House album, Teen Dream. Too bad John Hughes never got a chance to film a movie where Beach House could be the band at the prom. Where’s the spiked punch? Nostalgia for experiences I never had pretty much sums it all up for me.

Ultimately, I probably listened to more music made before 2010 then during, but hopefully that’ll change this next year. As far as older bands go, by far the best discovery of 2010 was The Chameleons UK. How the hell had I never heard them before? Yikes.

There were a lot of things I missed or have just recently acquired that I think I would probably add here later if I could. I’ve been listening a lot to Kevin Parks and Joe Foster’s Acts have Consequences, which I’ll probably end up writing about next. It’s definitely a lot to get one’s head around, but thank christ for that… I haven’t gotten to hear the Sugimoto/Pisaro on Erstwhile yet, nor any of the Wandelweiser work that seems to be making a couple small waves in the area of the electro acoustic improv and what have you. Hopefully, hopefully…

Thanks for reading and have a good ‘11. Wherever you may be.