Monday, 31 October 2016

György Ligeti - Requiem / Aventures / Nouvelles Aventures (1985 compi, rec '66/'68)

Could probably have come up with a much more apt halloween post if I put my mind to it, but this'll do the job.  Nicely chosen Bosch detail as the CD cover for starters; a good fit for one of the eeriest requiems ever conceived, as if sung from beyond the grave.  When I first bought this, I got all the expected flashbacks to 2001: Space Odyssey, but once immersed in the full work I soon discovered what a devastatingly effective 'mass for the dead' it really was.

Ligeti completed his Requiem for two choirs, orchestra and soprano soloists in 1965, and its dense, shimmering clustered chromaticism shot into the public consciousness a few years later thanks to Kubrick.  I'd forgotten until writing this that there's also a little of Ligeti's Aventures (1962) at the end of 2001, making it a good companion piece on this CD, as is Nouvelles Aventures (1965), both fascinating pieces of avant-garde vocalisation.

Excuse me, gentlemen, if you'd all line up on this side of the walkway we'd like to take a few photographs. Dr. Floyd, would you stand in the middle...

Friday, 28 October 2016

Growing - The Sky's Run Into The Sea (2003)

Much like Labradford’s Fixed::Context, this album from the Kranky stable interested me on its release.  Think I might have still been reading Mojo at the time, who weren’t/aren’t exactly an authority on droning post-rock like this, but must’ve been a good enough description to make me go out and buy it.

At the time of this album, their debut, Growing were an Olympia, WA trio of two guitarists and a drummer.  Much subtler than say, Earth or sunn o))), they began The Sky's Run…. with a few minutes of gentle echo-delay scraping across the guitars, gradually overpowered by a fog of cymbals, before everything settles down into a drone.  Suddenly, the track reaches its closing section on a burst of delayed lead guitar and very briefly the kind of more familiar crunchy, distorted drone that will become more in evidence in the rest of the album.  Don’t miss the nifty little steal from Norwegian Wood in the closing Pavement Rich In Gold, which also features some vocals, albeit largely buried in the fuzz.

Cutting, Opening, Swimming

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Underworld - Everything, Everything (2000)

‘Imagine Bowie working with Kraftwerk – not in the past, but round about now’ was how Underworld was pitched to me in the late 90s by a fan who was trying to get me to see beyond ‘Born Slippy’s breakthrough on the Trainspotting soundtrack.  So imagine I did – sleek, precise electronica that still feels organic, still gets played live by human beings; and a cut-up surrealist, darkly poetic stream of consciousness over the top – pretty much on the nose for summing up Underworld in this purple patch of their career, which regrettably didn’t entirely survive the departure of DJ/producer/programmer Darren Emerson shortly afterwards.

But this phase of Underworld definitely ended in style – witness this brilliant live document of a May 1999 performance in Brussels.  Karl Hyde’s electrifying presence as frontman is very much in evidence, and all the songs sound great, with an extra freshness from being performed live; the only minor tradeoff being a slight loss of some of the subtleties of the studio albums.  Jumbo, from 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, is my favourite here, possibly as it’s the most understated track, and thus gets more room to breathe.  The concert movie that was released shortly afterwards adds a few more tracks, and shows even more plainly what a great live band Underworld are.  In a note from the CD sleeve that just dates it perfectly, the concert was to be ‘available on DVD and VHS in October 2000’.

Walking in the wind at the waters edge comes close to covering my rubber feet

Monday, 24 October 2016

Steve Reich - Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards / John Adams - Shaker Loops (rel. 1984)

Steve Reich seems to be everywhere at the moment – I’m certainly not complaining! – so as my own tribute during this, his 80th birthday month, here’s his earliest commissioned orchestral work, Variations For Winds, Strings And Keyboards (1979) in its premiere recording from 1983.

Very much a natural progression from Octet and Music for a Large Ensemble, which were composed around the same time, Variations takes a long, winding melody played on the winds and organ, and periodically anchors it with impressive harmonies in the brass.  Reich’s most ambitious piece of writing yet, it was composed for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra but was first trialled in a scaled-down chamber orchestra setting.  The February 1980 premiere of that version, by Reich’s ensemble was broadcast along with an interview on Charles Amirkhanian’s KPFA Radio programme Other Minds – the whole broadcast recording is available at ubuweb , or if you’d just like to hear the recording of the piece in its original incarnation, dl here.

The accompanying work on this 1984 CD was the orchestral version of John Adams’ Shaker Loops (1978), another key work in the US minimalist canon alongside much of Reich and Glass.  The name comes partly from the inspiration of  the repetitive tape loop music of early Reich, partly from the tremulous, trilling sounds in the strings, and partly from imagining a Shaker church dancing in pursuit of spiritual ecstasy.  The four movements go through a variety of moods and speeds, and the whole work is essential listening in its genre.

A final thought  about this CD itself – that’s got to be one of my favourite classical album covers ever; the modern symmetry of that building suits the musical contents perfectly.  Anyone know where the picture was taken? If the building’s still there?

Variations & Shaker Loops

Friday, 21 October 2016

Hans-Joachim Roedelius - Jardin Au Fou (1979)

Like Conrad Schnitzler's Con, Roedelius' sophomore solo effort was produced by Peter Baumann in his Paragon Studio, but that's where the similarities end.  If Schnitzler took us on a gritty, urban train ride through industrial Germany, here Roedelius takes us on a gentle autumnal stroll through Paris or Vienna.  Almost all in waltz-time, Jardin Au Fou is possibly Roedelius' most unabashedly romantic record, full of simple, sun-dappled melodies and perfect arrangements - loads of piano, becoming more fully electronic when necessary, and adding in well-placed cello shadings at key points in its second half.

The bouncy, multi-layered Fou Fou is about as uptempo as Roedelius gets here, other than the odd little trip to the fairground that is Rue Fortune.  Otherwise, this album is a wonderfully mellow Sunday afternoon in the park watching (and smelling) the falling leaves, none more perfectly expressed than the birdsong-like ambience in Le Jardin - although Cafe Central is my absolute favourite here.

Schöne Welt

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Christopher Franke - Klemania (1993)

Picked this up in a charity shop the other week for 50p.  Saw the name, and quickly googled the album to check it was definitely the guy from Tangerine Dream; then realised I could've probably guessed anyway from the track titles.  Even if it's terrible, I couldn't turn it down at that price - it's bound to at least have mild amusement value, surely?

Oh yes, it does. In spades.  If you've always wondered - and I'm sure you have - what a former member of TD would sound like inadvertently playing the main riff from Therapy?'s Meat Abstract (safe to say just a coincidence, unless Franke was somehow aware of Northern Ireland's finest indie metallers) whilst hitting a couple of random sampler buttons marked 'crowd noise' and 'erotic panting', then you've come to the right place.  By the 90s, Franke had turned his attention almost exclusively to soundtrack work, and it certainly shows in the 22 minutes of Scattered Thoughts Of A Canyon Flight (thanks, Tangerine Dream song title generator app!).  There's a lot of fragments here that might've been more than adequate for some 90s thriller or action movie, but ran together they don't make for a coherent piece.

Inside The Morphing Space (thanks again, Tangerine Dream song title generator app!) is more successful in creating the kind of sustained moods that TD themselves might've churned out around the time.  There's at least some decent Berlin School sequencer work going on here, and a more ambient drift towards the end, but as you'd expect the whole thing is completely sunk by the dated, sterile synth gear.  Nonetheless, TD diehards and soundtrack-electronica nerds will find sufficient enjoyment here to give Klemania a whirl - everyone else, do give it a once-over even just for the chuckles.

Silent Waves

Monday, 17 October 2016

Iancu Dumitrescu - Medium III, Cogito etc (1991 compi of works '73-'85)

Couldn't resist more Dumitrescu for today's post - definitely my favourite music at the moment.  In the early 90s, Dumitrescu and fellow composer/wife Ana-Maria Avram started the Edition Modern label to release their music, with much of the early releases concentrating on giving digital re-release to Dumitrescu material that had appeared on LP during the 80s (or even pre-dated those records).

All of this first CD was devoted to such a mopping-up exercise - but one of such mind-bending sonics that it hangs together well as a double-album experience.  Not least because the first three tracks centre on the talents of avant-garde double-bassist Fernando Grillo, heard for the first 23 minutes of this disc with no other accompaniment.  Think that much solo bass could be a bit of a bore?  Let Medium III convince you otherwise, in a scraping, screeching masterclass that sounds like Xenakis' solo cello piece Nomos Alpha being reinterpreted by sunn o))) (Stephen O'Malley has in fact worked with Dumitrescu in recent years).

In the following Cogito (Trompe l'Oeil), Grillo is paired up with another bassist, Ion Ghita, and Dumitrescu's Hyperion Ensemble playing prepard piano, Javanese gong, crystals and metal objects.  Cogito makes full use of the frequency range, sounding almost electronic at times with a needling, feedback-like whine.  The third vehicle for Grillo (who died in 2013 at 67, in an apparent suicide) is Aulodie Mioritică, which fills out the sonic landscape even more with a percussive thunderstorm and slow-motion sheet lightning in the strings.  The CD is then rounded out by two older Dumitrescu works: Perspectives au Movemur, a nice scratchy, spectral string quartet from 1979, and an orchestral work, Apogeum.  This closing piece from 1973 (and the recording appears to be vintage too, sounding a little ropey in places) is worth waiting for, creating a wonderfully unsettling Scelsi/Ligeti-esque atmosphere.

Optical Illusion

SGTG exclusive bonus track:

The 1987 German vinyl release of Medium/Cogito quoted Dumitrescu describing the solo piece as "the hidden, mysterious reverse of Cogito", and suggested that the two works could even be heard simultaneously, in those days presumably with two copies of the LP or with tape recordings.  Want to hear?  Of course you do.  (First two tracks on the CD, mixed together by yours truly. Thanks to a discogs commenter for the info.)

Friday, 14 October 2016

Iancu Dumitrescu - Pierres Sacrées, Harryphonies, Grand Ourse (1991, rec. '85-'91)

Speaking of 'can't believe I haven't posted this yet'...  If Stravinsky was my gateway drug to Pendercki, and Pendercki to Xenakis; then Xenakis was my gateway drug to Iancu Dumitrescu.  If there's a more unhinged composer still out there, I've still to hear them - hope I won't be waiting too long.  But for now, here's my first post of the grand vizier of Romanian spectralism.

If you think you've heard some of the most violent classical music ever written - Black Angels? Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima? Terretektorh? - then sit tight for Pierres Sacrées.  Inspired by a dream of exploding glass plates whilst dozing off on night-shift military service, this piece for prepared piano and 'metallic plates and objects' barely sounds like classical music in any sense.  The close-miked production and deliberate use of feedback and distortion pushes the 1991 work closer in sound to some of the electronic experiments you'd find on an early 80s United Dairies or Come Organisation compilation.

Elsewhere on this CD, there's two versions of Dumitrescu's Harryphonies (named after a percussion instrument of his invention); one more spare and menacing, featuring the late great avant-garde double bass player Fernando Grillo, and one more fleshed out with recognisable orchestral instruments, and ocean-submerged bells.  If you've got a handful of Xenakis or Scelsi works under your belt, this final track on the CD might be your logical starting point, especially in the writing for brass.  And don't miss Grande Ourse (also known by its Romanian title Ursa Mare), as sinister buzzings and rattlings give way to a mournful drone and clicking string bows; had Dumitrescu been heard on record prior to the early 80s, he might easily have made the Nurse With Wound list.

More to come from Mr (and Mrs) Dumitrescu in due course!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Iannis Xenakis - Electronic Music (1997 compi of works 1957-1992)

Can't believe I haven't posted this yet.  The title of this compilation says 'Electronic'; the first major LP release of this material (pic below) called it 'Electro-Acoustic'; but rather than get bogged down in the distinctions, just enjoy some of the most forward-looking composed & manipulated sounds of the mid-20th century.
In 1955, Xenakis connected with Pierre Schaeffer's Groupe des Recherches Musicales, based around the latter's Radio France studio, and started work on the first three tracks here.  Like Schaeffer's material of the era, also expertly manipulated from mechnical sounds, the sense I get from listening to Diamorphoses, Orient-Occident and Concret PH is similar to what it must be like for a Clapton or Hendrix fan listening to Robert Johnson on a crackly 78: the sound is lo-fi but the elemental inspiration is otherworldly.

By 1962, when the 20-minute Bohor was completed, Xenakis' tightly-wound, creaking and clattering percussive electronic stew was reaching new heights of sophistication and well on the way to the sound of Persepolis.  Bohor is the definite highlight here for me; fellow audio nerds might enjoy this little ancedote about the challenges of squeezing this kind of music into vinyl. 

That's not all we get on the CD here, though: Hibiki-Hana-Ma (reverberation flower interval), composed for the Osaka Expo in 1970 and broadcast there on 800 loudspeakers, is a fascinating start-stop melange designed as cross-cultural celebration.  Lastly, Xenakis' constant progress in mathematical compostion and computer programming threw up the utterly bizarre S.709 (1992-1994), sounding like Aphex Twin somehow managing to capture the sound of a released helium balloon flying around the studio.


Monday, 10 October 2016

AM 4 ‎- ... and she answered: (1989)

AM 4 (A Monastic Quartet) were a short-lived trio (yes, the oddness starts right there) featuring US-born (transplanted to Vienna since the late 70s) avant-jazz singer Linda Sharrock and two Austrians, pianist Uli Scherer and reedsman Wolfgang Puschnig.  Their only album was released in 1989 by ECM, and remains a fascinating outlier even by the standards of the label's more curious backwaters.

Right from the start, ...and she answered sounds like the soundtrack to a lost David Lynch concept centred around a mid-European 80s jazz club.  The eerily nocturnal Streets And Rivers features semi spoken/whispered vocals over a bed of keyboards and keening sax, with Sharrock wordlessly echoing the sax melody every so often.  But don't be lulled into a false sense of relaxation - the title track, of sorts (see dl link for the full track title) is an ear-splitting reed blast shadowed again by Sharrock's vocal, and underscored by doomy piano notes.  Towards the end this all becomes somewhat reminiscent of Side 2 of Bowie's Heroes, like Sense Of Doubt colliding with Neukoln.

Among otherwise original material are a couple of covers - Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman features the lyrics written by singer/songwriter Margo Guryan (and originally recorded by jazz singer Chris Connor in 1962), and Over The Rainbow gets the AM4 treatment with shards of piano and ghostly flute all over the place.  Sharrock sings the latter freely but respectfully, mostly faithful to the original melody, which just makes the finished piece sound even more bizarre.

And don't miss Far Horizon - written solely by Sharrock, it's arguably the most conventional track here, not least in its opening sung lines, and it's possibly the highlight of the album.  Also the longest track, Far Horizon features Puschnig and Scherer first filling in the background and then starring in a great middle section, where Sharrock freely vocalises over them in gorgeous whoops.  Give this album a try - there's nothing quite like it.

And she answered: "When you return to me, I will open the cage door, I will let the red bird flee."

Friday, 7 October 2016

Miles Davis - Agharta (1975)

Miles Davis, 1975 - in constant pain from multiple health problems, about to bow out for the rest of the decade - and piloting jazz funk/fusion into its most scorching solar orbit, with flares of avant-garde electronica spitting everywhere. Miles and afro-futurist crew landed in Japan early in the year, and taped two concerts for future release in one day at Osaka Festival Hall.  The evening show was called Pangaea on release, and is pretty good; the afternoon show became the mindblowing Agharta.

Like 'Tatu' from the previous year's Dark Magus concert, Agharta thunders in with a breakneck funk vamp that continually gets derailed by Miles crashing down on the electric organ, so that everyone can regroup and charge ahead again.  He's on organ at least as much as trumpet in this era, colouring the music with massive discordant smears, whilst Pete Cosey on lead guitar shares the limelight by coaxing unearthly guitar sounds through an EMS Synthi serving as an effects unit.  After over half an hour of this (the Japanese CD used here corrects the botched track division from the 90s US release) we get to mellow out a bit with the queasy lounge groove of Mayisha from Get Up With It, but even this is soon taken over by a cracking Hendrix-esque solo from Cosey before calming down again.

The second disc here is one continuous track, starting out by jamming on the Theme From Jack Johnson, before a lengthier respite in an eerie, swampy mid-section based on Ife from the album Big Fun.  There's even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it throwback to So What from Kind Of Blue, before the final section cranks up the volume again if not quite at as frenetic a tempo as earlier in the show.  Percussionist James Mtume is the star of this final stretch, but basically every one of the 97 minutes of Agharta is exhilirating, essential groove.

アガルタの凱歌 [Disc 1]

アガルタの凱歌 [Disc 2]

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Arvo Pärt - Spiegel im Spiegel (Jürgen Kruse, et al - 2007 release)

After all that racket last time, some more pure, serene beauty and quietitude.  This collection, released in 2007 on the Naxos-esque Dutch label Brilliant Classics, is based around one of Arvo Pärt's best known instrumental works, Spiegel im Spiegel (1978).  Used in dozens of films and TV docus as superior soundtrack music, the title of this piece for piano plus [instrument of choice] means 'mirrors in mirrors', or infinity mirror effect, which has a bearing on the structure of the musical phrases.

This album is structured around three versions of Spiegel; first with violin, then viola, then (my favourite) cello.  As with the more famous ECM release Alina, we also get Für Alina for solo piano (1976), a model of pure tonal economy and zen-like stillness.  Unlike the ECM disc, we get a bit more variety here, with the addition of a less well known piano piece in the same tintinnabuli style that Pärt was then developing.  Variationen Zur Gesundung Von Arinuschka (Variations for the Healing of Arinushka) (1977) is a little more lively, moving from a sad to joyful tonality, but is very much cut from the same cloth as Alina, and complements it well.

Between the second and third Spiegels, this disc also adds Pärt's Mozart-Adagio for violin, cello and piano (1992/1997, from Mozart's Piano Sonata in F major (K 280)).  It's a bit out of character from the rest of the programme, and I’m no big fan of Wolfgang Amadeus, but I suppose it’s a breather from the relentless mellowness, and you can always program it out if you find that the sudden change in style breaks the extended meditative mood.

Ruhig, erhaben, in sich hineinhorchend

Monday, 3 October 2016

Max Neuhaus ‎– Fontana Mix-Feed (Six Realizations Of John Cage) (2003 compi of '65-'68 recordings)

Regular visitors here will know by now that I like sharp contrasts - and every warm ambient masterpiece deserves a teeth-grating, bracing, cold shower like this as a follow-up.  Fontana Mix-Feed, originally released as a four-track LP in 1966, gave avant-garde percussionist Max Neuhaus the prime credit as 'Fontana Mix' wasn't a set score composed by Cage, but merely an abstract set of patterns that could be subject to any desired alignment and then followed as a unique set of directions for any instrument(s) the performer wished.

In this case, Neuhaus used contact microphones set atop various percussion instruments, placed in front of loudspeakers to create something much more than simple screeching feedback - shimmering, oscillating waves of tightly controlled noise.  As captured on the CD cover photograph above, Neuhaus sat on stage orchestrating this racket on a mixing desk, like Stockhausen jumping forward a decade in a time machine, listening to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and then trying to recreate it on his return.
 original LP cover, 1966
So yep, this album is very noisy indeed, and wonderfully overpowering at high volume; but the joy is in noticing the subtle differences between each of the four live recordings (and on CD, a studio recording and a WDR radio recording) as the performance was affected each time by the physical space of the venue, the exact instruments used, their proximity to each other and to the mikes/speakers, and so on ad infinitum.  I'd love to have been present at one of these performances in the mid-60s, to be overwhelmed by the sheer sonic assault and see the audience's reactions.  A New York Times review from the performance at which track 4 was taped gives a tantalising indication - "This piece was not the kind of electronic music that emanates distantly from the speakers. It felt as though one's own head were part of the feedback circuit."

Fontana Mix-Feed