Archive for February, 2011

Tables and Stairs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 25, 2011 by Tanner

Nikos Veliotis, Ferran Fages, Robin Hayward Tables and Stairs Organized Music from Thessaloniki

That isn’t to say you think improvisation is a pack of lies… No, you don’t mean that exactly. But you do wonder if the best musicians are the ones that lie… and lie well, so well that the truth comes out cold and lifeless and the lies end up warming you while are alone in bed, staring at the water marks on the ceiling. Could the most perceptive, most delicate and subtle be the best liars, the ones that play down their true feelings in order to further the conversation? Those who restrict their egos when their psyches are all screaming “play louder, play more, play now…” You press play, all too aware that you must leave the house soon.

In day to day life first meetings can be filled with awkwardness and unknowing, as though in each word you could be stepping into the perilous. You can offend others so easily, you realize — that secret you let out of its cage… Was it so goddamn important for you to mention your interest in diaphragms to her?

Nikos Veliotis on cello, Robin Hayward on micro-tonal tuba and Ferran Fages on sine tones… Table and Stairs. You’ve been listening to this one for a couple of weeks. It spins and you sit back; you wonder how they all first met… over beer perhaps? Does Fages enjoy beer? What kind? Maybe he likes something bitter, something that goes well with those sine tones? If that’s the case, you think, then Hayward has got to be a Guinness man — all those subterranean depths he conjures. Veliotis, a lager, an ale… yeah, an ale, a barley wine in fact, something rich, powerful, nearly sweet, a tang of alcohol but ultimately soothing. You don‘t know if they‘re lying when you hear this album, Table and Stairs… recorded at a concert in an apartment in Athens, and released on organized Music from Thessaloniki… Organized music? you wonder, is it music that marches in unison on the factory owners, chasing down scabs in the dark of night, lighting fires in a rich man’s house? You think of the stairs they climbed up to that apartment in Athens, shoes scuffed against stairs, tuba hefted, cello cradled, laptop in a pack… Fages got off easy. You imagine the apartment they played in is tight with a few casual but suddenly close friends. The album seems frustratingly brief, you think, but realize that in its briefness there is an allowance of breath, and you don‘t worry so much, because it will all be over soon, whether you like it or not. And there’s something about being left wanting more that is so much better than wanting less.

There’s a mustiness, a laden air to the thing, you think. Clean lines erupt from Fages’ computer and are quickly subsumed by cello groan, tuba sputter… but sometimes, once and a while, they are left alone, unanswered in the air: a question asked, or a statement of intent? But the beginning, the beginning is unclear, unformed. Hayward’s sounds travel slowly, as though through a viscous liquid, light straining through amber where grit hangs in wisps, and you think of the ice that is melting off into your whiskey, hazy as heat distortion rising off pavement. Fages’ punctures, swipes broadly, uses his sine tones like blunt rapiers, down out across the sound, and not subtle but in away refreshing; Veliotis’ cello courses gently in the background, rosin on horsehair, pulled coarsely, sleeping. Drones erupt and subside, never cloying in your hair, pushing you into outer space to contemplate the space Buddha or some shit. You think to yourself, this is searching. But for what? Where does truth enter in? Somewhere along the line, 20 minutes in or so, it all makes sense, in the beautiful entwined movement there is communication. Is it all lies you wonder? You turn off the stereo, after it shambles to a halt, and a few moments pass; you almost think it will start over, again. You almost wish it, because you know you have to leave. And there are people to meet.

It’s cool outside, but not so cool that you need a jacket. You wear a sweater; even though the sweater is not one you would wear normally, it’s the only one that was clean. But that’s beside the point: you are on your way to meet some people at the bus station, people you know, but not so well that you would characterize them as friends. But you told them that you would pick them up when they called you and said they knew Thomas, and anyway Thomas vouched for them. Your sister called earlier and was upset. Her boyfriend left her and she was feeling bad, bad enough to take her own life, to throw herself out. Out into where you had asked? The train tracks that run behind her house? God no, please, that’s morbid. No, she said, out there, out the goddamn window, you pussy. Jeez, Maria, no, no. You talk her out of it, or at least you talk her out of the idea that she may want to think about killing herself. Because you know her, and you know that she doesn’t have that in her. She’s weak. And this concerns you only insofar as that it could be a bad page in your journal, something you might not want to read later. So you may not write an entry today, or at least you might write about the movie you saw last night instead, even if it wasn‘t very good. You didn’t understand the ending. But you rarely understand endings. If all things could just last forever, you think, then in some ways you could live forever with them, because you were there too, if only for a moment. But that’s besides the point, because you’re on your way to meet some people, and you’re late.

No, no, that’s not right. You’re right on time. But there’s something off initially. Your feet don’t seem to follow one another in that concise movement you‘re known for. Your breath seems caught in your throat. And there’s no time for that. They come off the bus, the man has a grey mustache and she has a birthmark on her cheek that looks like a silhouette of a small bird mid flight. They smile and you shake their hands, but your hands are sweaty. They don’t seem to notice, or if the do they ignore it. You get the pleasantries out there so you can chart how far the ‘how was your trips’ go before there’s silence and you know when something’s gone wrong or right… You ask them if they are hungry, and they say that they had already eaten at a rest stop on the way– it was vegetarian, but a kind of vegetarian that simply means a dull yellow cheese, white bread, wilted lettuce, and a narrow slice of tired red tomato that spits out the end on a conchoidal sheet of mayonnaise. You all pinch your eyes and laugh at that sudden shared unspoken comment. You hear wind through the trees. But there is no wind at the bus station, just exhaust, the patter of rain that has started to fall against windshield. And as you start off you realize that you’re talking more than you had in a long, long time

Your parents never trusted you with the car so they made you work in the back yard until you raised enough money to pay for insurance. Your cheeks got red in school when a girl kissed your best friend and you were so worried that they all would see that redness and misinterpret it… somehow. You notice that good comedy is structured in such a way that the protagonist of a joke is almost always simultaneously relatable but also heroic, something you were beginning to understand acutely, but could never master. You stopped smoking cigarettes because you were afraid.

Veliotis’ cello streams through the window. The window pane shudders.

And what was so strange was that these two strangers respond and start telling you their stories like they are friends. And these stories are not asked for exactly, but seemed to make perfect sense in the telling. There are moments of silence after some time, but never oddly over drawn or uncomfortable, really, but seem more like short respites, where the communication has to stop, to breathe. Then abruptly it starts again. And they talk to you, and the joke you had heard from your brother last spring before he had gone to basic training makes them laugh, laugh so hard there are tears in their eyes and the man with the mustache grabs your shoulder when you were taking a left turn onto Johnson. You try to remember something else to say, something that is funny, but you can’t because his hand is warm and it feels so differently to you just then. How strange you think, as you pull up to their hotel, and the rain is falling — how strange to think that they were only strangers a minute ago… It was a short ride you realize suddenly. And as they get out of the car they shake your hand through the open window, but you don’t say proper goodbyes because it’s raining and they were getting wet, holding newspapers above their heads, eyes squinting as the rain is streaming down their faces. You are aware of your handshake. You never felt your handshake was ever strong enough. You had practiced on your other hand, but it always felt awkward — people stared at you as you sat at your desk at work, squeezing your other hand and shaking it one, two– no more than two times. They wave you good bye from the door way. You wave back. Where is your applause you wonder? Where is the audience? . Hayward blasts a deep resonating note. Let’s face it you think, as you twist the car radio dial, maybe it was just lies, but they were good ones. A high pitched tone, doubles, pins the leaves against the wind shield. You rub your head with your hand. When you get home your girlfriend comes up to you and tells you to listen, to quiet because this line from one of Mikhail Lermontov‘s poems is so beautiful,

I am bored and sad
and there is no one to whom I can stretch out my hand
when the soul is afflicted.

Isn’t that sad? She asks you.

You take her head in your hand. You hug her.

Organized Music From Thessaloniki


Been busy…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 by Tanner

Sorry for a lack of posts, more to come soon, but I’ve been pretty busy lately with among other things this:

As some of you may know, Wisconsin’s (I live in Madison) governor, Scott Walker, has been trying to shoehorn a bill through that would effectively destroy all State workers collective bargaining rights, and basically eviscerate the state worker’s unions. Suffice it to say, this shit won’t stand. This has enormous implications for the rest of the US right now, and if it passes would allow many other Republican majority state governments an opportunity to make similar bills under the auspices of “budgetary tightening”– Ohio I’m looking at you. If you’re at all inclined, check out more information and maybe lend us here some support with an email to Scott Walker and his cronies. Anything helps, because it’s sleeting outside and people have been camping out there since last Monday, keeping it real. All 70,000 of us.

Insert bad pun or allusion here.

Posted in music with tags , , , , on February 6, 2011 by Tanner

Annette Krebs/Ernst Karel Falter 1-5 Cathnor

I was going to start this thing off saying how much I liked being proven wrong. And how in in being proven wrong I came to realize that ideas/world views should be malleable, and that I should always reevaluate, or at least be able to change my mind, while at the same time procreating with the Other in the joyful unknowing. But I realized that was total bullshit. I hate being wrong. I’ll defend the most inane arguments, the most sophomoric crap as long as I can say I was right at the end. I’ve had my nose broken because of the feelings of my eternal rightness in the face of that eternal wrongness. But I guess being wrong is character building, as well as face altering. While I won’t be as boldfaced as to say that Falter has added to my character or my Roman nose, I will say it’s given me pause, and made me reevaluate a few things.

I didn’t like Falter at first. I wrote it off after a few listens, thinking it was yet another album made up of arbitrary sound choices, fused together in novel, if listless ways. It didn’t scream. It just stood in the corner, bugging my friends when they were trying to throw knives into my walls. I’m not sure when it happened, when I realized that there was more going on then I originally noticed. But by virtue that I still played it, still plugged away at what once seemed the dull, monochromatic shifting fields of the first track, “1,” it was different, more worthwhile than most of the electronic acoustic improvisational hullabaloo that I find out there. There was something that cohered, prickled up, like that arm you rolled over on while asleep, only for it to rouse you from slumber at 4am: and in your arm‘s bloodless obduracy, you realize that it seems to have a life of its own and, yikes, it doesn’t give a shit about you anymore.

Krebs’ work has always been interesting, from that first solo on Fringes, to the duos with Sugimoto to the last few years’ canonical (have we come so far where we relegate things that are so vibrant to these dustbins?) solo on Absinthe and the duos with Nakamura, Davies, Unami. There’s something that’s distinctly, wholly her own. And it’s not as though some of the sounds she creates– the steel wool against string, the field recordings, the sonic detritus — is entirely new, because it isn’t; but how she uses these sounds, the subtle force of sonic placement, and her intuition and confidence is singular. And that isn’t to say Karel sits out here, as his work with EKG will testify, he’s got his own tenacious musicality. But here, unlike EKG there’s none of his trumpet that easily distinguishes him, and instead works in washes and burrs of a warm analogue electronics, which creates depth and contours to Krebs deconstructed guitar and recordings. It’s a collaboration, sometimes difficult to distinguish who does what. I suppose that can be frustrating. That is unless you just let it occur.

And like most of these things in this area, where the music is at first so aggressively obscure, it’s a joy when these things begin to make their own sense and adhere to your own intuition. When the sense that there is more than just a squalor of buzz, but a general thought out, contemplated thrust to the sound, you realize that something is broached, an impasse reached. And while all of this could just sound like words, so many words, don’t hold that against Falter. Because while the sounds are not easy, and could be as old hat to many of as up on our Rowe and Nakamura as the writing majors are on their Chekov and Carver (don’t even get me started), they are beautifully delineated. The feeling on Falter, created by deft use of space, sub woofer sonics, gentle washes of detuned guitar strum and indiscernible electronic skree are foundational for something greater. There’s a feeling that is held and brought about throughout it all, a story arc, that holds even while being obscure. So often I get the feeling that sounds are played on improv records simply for immediate effect and then forgotten on the rush to the next novelty. Not so here. This holds mood. And becomes more than just a fascinating mystery, but actually satisfying in its own musicality, in the gentle streams of high pitched teeming in areas of “2” that slip over low grade crumble, movements in dark and light. Or the fleeting subterranean drips that are smothered in static, inaudible speech, sine tones that abut walls of bass tones like hanging vines in “3.”

Whereas so much music I find myself lulled to asleep by inaction, by the lack of work, this makes you struggle and form the connections that are not readily within reach. That’s why I assume some of us, however few, find interest, enthusiasm, joy in some of this. And while one can say that life is hard enough as is, that we don’t need challenges heaped upon us by our music, by our art– there is the unfortunate few that desire just that, and still find some form of drive, excitment in the difficult, the obtuse, the challenging. To be wrong once and a while. But I risk (when have I haven’t) climbing too far up my own ass here. The last thing I want anyone coming away from this is thinking we should all be amazed by our own taste. Fuck taste, just give me some honesty. And as far as I can tell Krebs and Karel are doing that. Don’t hold my plumbing of the shallow depths against them. It’s all I know.

Beautiful sleeve design from the always reliable Cathnor Records

Smelling the smoke.

Posted in music with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2011 by Tanner

Michael Pisaro/Taku Sugimoto 2 seconds / b minor / wave Erstwhile

In my apartment I can hear my neighbors walk across the floor, stub their feet on chairs, sing obscurely in the shower. I can hear the streaks of their hands against their walls. Against the ceiling. Against.

I’m tired, exhausted to the point of sinking, sinking through the floor, communing with basement cockroaches. I don’t sing their praises enough do I? Antennae conducting darkened symphonies for cobwebs, for shadows, for ice skates forgotten in boxes. I wonder how it is so easy for this album by Sugimoto and Pisaro to slip through the cracks of my exhaustion, as though some assuagement, perhaps — or a confidant. Maybe it’s better to describe the thing? It seems a fool’s game.

I suppose I could wax on about how the album was made — how these two compatible musicians recorded their parts individually, thousands of miles away — and how each track, 2 seconds, b minor, and wave were developed around the ideas of pulse, key, and wave respectively. And I could put some precedence to this form of recording, mentioning Yoshida and Nakamura’s Soba to Bara and Mimeo’s Sight. But it doesn’t really make any more sense of the music. It doesn’t make any sense to the feeling of it as I lay down in the middle of my floor and close my eyes, and make patterns in the carpet with my fingers. And I suppose I should explain the pleasing congruency of the potentials realized here. And then on to praise, congratulating the pair on 2 seconds, whose handclaps, sine tones, block thwacks create a ceaseless slow energy, a mixture of mundane and the unreal. But that seems too easy.

Because really, I’m tired enough to be slothful. And I do apologize for that, for the feelings b minor conjures as Sugimoto’s ambivalent, beautiful chords meander with but never over Pisaro‘s wilting, plaintive guitar. Because who cares about any of these platitudes ? Who cares that I can weave in and out of things here, and let the sound settle inside this place, where my neighbors seem to live, a floor up, a wall across. Coffee grounds between floorboards. And how these guitars sound like lost correspondence, of two voices entwined across one ocean, speaking alone in their living rooms, in their own heads, reading the same letter in different languages.

Questions one could ask about why, what, how, seem useless, knee jerk, assumptive. Is it always so important to ask questions? Wouldn’t be okay to simply sun on the beach of “Wave,” to bask in the recorded crash and tumult of ocean breaking on shore, to tan in Sugimoto’s amp hum? Here, allowing myself a chance to listen seems more important than the how and why right now. To doze. Could it be that they are as exhausted as I am? Hums floating through the room. Swelled tones bruising up under silent skin. It seems like a moment stretched, and caught for a time. Then let go.

And if I’m just mistaken in all this, braising in morbid self-reflection, I’d still like to be here right now. As it’s a quite a beautiful place to be. If just for a time.

My neighbor lights a cigarrette. And I smell the smoke.

For more information, background and ordering: erstwhile