Friday, 31 March 2017

Iancu Dumitrescu / Ana-Maria Avram - In Tokyo (2003)

Let's have another Avram/Dumitrescu, shall we?  This one, as the title suggests, is centred around two live recordings from an October 2002 concert in Hamarikyu Asahi Hall in Tokyo, the first of which is Iancu's Abysses Latents.  Dark percussive clouds, mostly ominous gongs a la early NWW combine with rock-boring sax and a wordless, free vocal from Japanese avant-garde singer Keiko Hatanaka.  Yoko Ono is a lazy comparison to make, but hey, I'm on a holiday week and engaging my brain as little as possible.

On either side of this piece, Dumitrescu offers some of his trademark "computer-assisted" studio work, in the opener Implosive Eternity and the multi-part Bolids & Contemplations.  Sounding a bit like 90s Whitehouse played underwater in the latter piece and a bit like a less-clinical Autechre on the former, this stuff is the most engaging on the disc for me.

Avram contributes the most substantive work, certainly in numbers of players, with La Légende D'icaire for the full Hyperion Ensemble.  Tim Hodgkinson takes the lead with a nice honking, skronking bass clarinet solo, up against various string and percussion clatter - some of it electronically treated, increasingly so as the track goes on.  And how better to close out this fascinating release than with 11 minutes of solo saxophone?  Dedicated to its player, Turkey-based musicologist Robert Reigle, Penumbra is another great rumble 'n' screech through registers of its instrument that only composers with this strength of vision can go to.

alt. link (zippy)

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

NorthSound Audio - Frog Talk (1990)

From the Canadian NorthSound Audio label that also brought you Loon Talk, here's the self-explanatory Frog Talk.  From the sleevenotes: "As the frogs begin their gentle night chanting, you may find yourself mesmerized by one of the most elemental of sounds."  I suppose in some ways, some of this might be relaxing, but it frequently sounds to my ears at least more like pretty abrasive electronic music gone haywire.  Which is not a bad thing, of course.  See what you think - whether the spring peepers, wood frogs, green frogs and pickerel frogs of this hour-long release enchant you or rile you, hopefully you may find this as inexplicably addictive as I do.

Pseudacris crucifer
alt. link (zippy)

Monday, 27 March 2017

Komitas - Divine Liturgy (1988 recording, Choir Of St. Gayané Cathedral)

Been listening to Komitas again, so here's the other recording of his most substantive choral opus.  Review here, along with download of the 1989 Melodiya recording that I previously posted, to compare & contrast.  Will post other Komitas works in due course, as soon as I get around to getting hold of them!

Divine Liturgy (New Albion release)
alt. link (zippy)

Friday, 24 March 2017

Tamia / Pierre Favre - De la nuit... le jour (1988)

Second collaboration, and first for ECM, between French avant-garde vocalist Tamia Valmont and Pierre Favre, a Swiss percussionist who already had a history with the label.  This gorgeous little record doesn't need too much of a description; simply six tracks of Favre's subtle wood and metal percussion, overlaid with Tamia's wordless, ululating voice.  Occasionally, as in the opening minutes of Maroua, her unique vocal tones are featured unaccompanied and overdubbed in layers, as they were in her first two (very hard-to-find) solo records. 

The overall effect I get from this is similar to some early Popol Vuh, in that it's like getting to eavesdrop on some lost ancient civilisation making ritual music of otherworldly beauty - not least in the long, shimmering tones (from both participants) in the stunning title track.

Wood Song
alt. link (zippy)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Dumitrescu / Avram / Cutler / Hodgkinson - Musique Action 98 (1999)

Still making my way gradually through the Avram/Dumitrescu Edition Modern catalogue - up to No. 19 now, with some gaps of unavailability.  Here's an interesting one in that two of their key musical collaborators are also featured as composers.  The fact that almost everyone involved plays on each others works gives a nice album-length homogeneity and listenability to this release.

Rock In Opposition stalwart Chris Cutler contributes Life On Earth for ensemble with the focus on strings, alongside his own percussion featuring sparingly, and English avant-garde reedsman Tim Hodgkinson (who had been in RiO agitators Henry Cow with Cutler) gives us Black Death And Errors In Construction.  The shortest piece of the four, it packs in plenty of thunder and some great piano work from Avram before a midway solo for Hodgkinson's bass clarinet.

Avram's piece Nouvelle Axe is characteristically scratchy-spectral, fusing her string-torturing talents into a striking ensemble work, and Dumitrescu's New Meteors And Pulsars is arguably the highlight, a stunning account of (according to his endearingly pretentious sleevenote) of witnessing a meteor.  Assisted by Cutler on percussion, the underwater-sounding sonic manipulation characteristic to much late-90s Dumitrescu is very much in evidence.

Recorded at Nancy - Vandoeuvre Festival 'Musique Action' May 17, 1998
alt. link (zippy)

Previously posted at SGTG:

Monday, 20 March 2017

Dieter Moebius / Asmus Tietchens - Moebius + Tietchens (2012)

 According to Liliental lore, Dieter Moebius suggested a future duo collaboration to Asmus Tietchens as that six-day supergroup went their separate ways.  Only took them 35 years to get round to doing it.

Recorded in 2011 and released the following year, Moebius + Tietchens is the wonderful combination of two unique pioneers in electronica simply plugging in and coming up with something fresh and bang up to date.  Sounding like it's emenating from the laptop of a circuit-bending envelope pusher half their age, the warped electronics of Moebius + Tietchens sometimes result in the formless, industrial ambience of Vincent, Fontenay, Windkanal, sometimes in the grinding rhythms of Thorax, Yes Yes and Grimm, and are always engaging without any filler.

Highlights for me are the two longest tracks, Kattrepel and Lange Reihe, each subjecting a seemingly static idea to around ten minutes of infinite tweaks to ensure the track never gets boring.  Essential stuff from two masters in their field.

Mach Auf!
alt. link (zippy)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Yoshihiro Kanno - The Four Seasons In Resonance (1983)

Picked this up for cheap recently when reading about the Japanese audiophile label Denon (who also made hi-fi equipment, and blank tapes that I remember owning).  By 1983 when this release came out on vinyl and CD, they were already old hands at digital recording - so needless to say it sounds great, and the music itself is charming, impressionistic and highly listenable in its variety of sounds.

Yoshihiro Kanno was born in Tokyo in 1953, and has composed film soundtracks as well as a neat body of standalone work.  Out of the latter, this suite for percussion is conspicuous in its absence from the lists of works/releases on Kanno's official website, but it definitely deserves attention. 

Starting with a softly twinkling track for December, followed by the even more entrancing gossamer shimmer of January: Silver Storm Illusion, these Four Seasons (nothing to do with Vivaldi) go through several different percussive shadings courtesy of the Tomoyuki Okada Percussion Ensemble.  Arrangements are mostly subtle but cook up a storm when necessary, most notably in September: Typhoon Sphere.  And don't miss the imitation frog noises on May: Dream of the Frog in the Well!

The Four Seasons In Resonance
alt. link (zippy)

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Qluster - Fragen (2011)

A year after Qua, Roedelius and Moebius announced that Cluster had come to an end; that same year, Qluster was announced as the next Roedelius project, described as "the extraordinary shedding of skin of one of the most important German electronic groups".  This album, the first of six and counting, was the first under the new name.

Joining Roedelius was sound artist, producer and musician Onnen Bock, who had barely been born back when Cluster made Zuckerzeit, and first met the living legend in 1991.  Fragen wasn't their first recording together, but as the first Qluster release it was the ideal introduction to this great project.  On this initial evidence at least (I've only heard half of the Qluster catalogue so far and it's quite diverse - they later become a trio), Bock brought out the more free-form, kosmiche ambient side of Roedelius that stretched all the way back to the Cluster II album and beyond, whilst updating the sonic palate perfectly.

Only one of the seven tracks on Fragen stretches out quite as much as Cluster of old, though - the 13-minute Wurzelwelt even brings to mind latter-day Coil in its extended dark ambience.  The rest average about four minutes, and pulse away in gentle, exploratory space, occasionally bursting into a more melodic light (the end of Auf der Alm), and more often stark and austere with a subtle rhythmic pulse when needed.  All in all a fantastic album that bode well for this latest chapter in the Roedelius story.

alt. link (zippy)

Monday, 13 March 2017

Philip Glass - Glassworks (composed 1981; new live recording 2017)

I am terrible at Photoshop - feel free to substitute your own artwork, or use original below.
A bit remiss of me to overlook the legendary 'music with repetitive structures' composer on this blog when his 80th birthday celebrations came around in January, but better late than never.  Here's a highlight from the 'Glass at 80: Total Immersion Weekend' that the BBC put on; a fresh performance of one of Glass' most deliberately accessible works that he composed in 1981 to reach a wider audience, even releasing a special 'Walkman mix' for the cassette edition.

Glassworks, performed live at Milton Court, London on 28th January 2017 by the Guildhall New Music Ensemble, remains an ideal entry point to the composer's vast catalogue, and just sounds absolutely gorgeous - much of it mellow and evocative, turning away from the more harsh minimalism of his early works towards something lush and romantic.  The two odd ones out, of course, are the frenetic second and fourth movements, Floe and Rubric, ensuring that Glassworks doesn't get too laid back.  You can hear exactly where Glass was about to go with his next major project (and first big soundtrack), especially in Rubric, which was actually slated for Koyaanisqatsi but didn't make the cut.
original album cover, 1982
Glassworks (Live 2017)
alt. link (zippy)

Previously posted at SGTG: 
Music In Twelve Parts
Early works performed by Steffen Schleiermacher

Friday, 10 March 2017

Norma Winstone - Somewhere Called Home (rec. 1986, rel. 1987)

One of ECM's finest releases of the 80s, and a jewel in the crown among its entire vocal jazz canon, this album was justifiably included in the label's 'Touchstone' series of essentials that were reissued about ten years ago.  English vocalist Norma Winstone had previously appeared on ECM from the late 70s onwards as part of Azimuth; for her first solo venture on the label Winstone retained fellow Azimuth traveller John Taylor (1942-2015) on piano, and brought in Tony Coe on clarinet and tenor sax to perfectly colour the sound.

From Winstone's own English-language arrangement of Egberto Gismonti's Café onwards, the repertoire is perfectly chosen, creating an extended meditation on nostalgia, love and belonging.  A further two ECM legends feature among the writers - the late Kenny Wheeler on the beautifully impressionistic Sea Lady, and Ralph Towner on Celeste, both given a new dimension by Winstone's lyrics.  Her words for Bill Evans' Prologue are another memorable high point on an album full of them; perfect mellow vocal jazz for a spring weekend. Enjoy.

Curtains floating through an open window, in a café's warmth that draws us closer
alt. link (zippy)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Kaija Saariaho - Du Cristal...À la Fumée, Nymphéa (1993)

Two sumptuous orchestral works by Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952, Helsinki) here for your delectation, from her most textural and spectral era in the late 80's.  Du Cristal and ...À la Fumée (1989-90) are regarded as sequential to each other, and usually performed together, making the full title 'From crystal... into smoke', inspired by the writings of French philosophere Henri Atlan, and a teasing description of how this brilliant diptych sounds.  Ligeti is often cited as an obvious influence, but the huge banks of subtly shifting orchestral sound and underlying percussive thunder of Du Cristal very much has Saariaho's own stamp on it, as does ...À la Fumée where flute and cello take the lead.

The supporting work on this 1993 release is Nymphéa (1987), performed by the legendary Kronos Quartet.  The scratchy, scraping aural landscape is further transformed by electronic manipulation and by the musicians whispering words from Tarkovsky's poem 'Now Summer Is Gone'.  A gorgeous, fascinating release all round, and an ideal entry-point into Saariaho's sound world at this period in her career.

Du Cristal...À la Fumée / Nymphéa
alt. link (zippy)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Maggi Payne - Crystal (expanded edition 1991)

We've previously heard Maggi Payne (b.1945 in Texas) on this blog purely as a flautist, contributing to David Behrman's sublime On The Other Ocean.  Her own work, at least from the 80s as evidenced by this 1991 compilation (the last four tracks were released as a 1986 LP), could go on much more dark ambient journeys of treated flute sounds and pure electronics - and was never less than fascinating, essential listening.

A good case in point are the two opening tracks here.  Ahh-Ahh (ver. 2.1) (1987) was the musical part of a video-art collaboration, and alternates shimmering melodic sections with austere, rhythmic sections of treated flute noise, breathing and pure white-noise hiss.  By contrast, Subterranean Network (1985) ends with a gossamer ambient requiem after varying dynamic sections of pure, unsettling electronics, evoking its inspiration of US soldiers being forced to work as reconnaissance 'tunnel rats' in Vietnam.

On all of these seven tracks, averaging 10 minutes in length, it's clear how adept Maggi Payne is at manipulating different sound sources to come up with something truly memorable.  Phase Transitions (1989) is next up, and takes one of the most ubiquitously 'commercial' synthesisers of the era, the Roland D-50, and teases out its hidden un-commercial potential to great effect.  White Night (1984) consists of a voice speaking names that are digitally manipulated into a paranoid invocation of the restless sleeplessness intended by the title.  Like Subterranean Network, this one ends at full blast after a few deceptive sections in near silence.

I wasn't going to mention every track individually, but hey ho, only three to go.  Solar Wind (1983) manipulates a tape supplied by NASA of bow shock electromagnetic waves created by Saturn and Venus, as observed by Voyager 2.  The second half of this one in particular is stunning, sounding like a digital-era version of kosmiche Tangerine Dream.  From the same year, Scirocco is purely a flute and tape piece, but still sounds virtually all electronic, and lastly Crystal (1982) is another contribution to a video work, composed on Moog III synth.  All in all, these 71 minutes of sound-shiftings get the highest possible recommendation for late-night headphone immersion.  All the above info was taken from this great article.

alt. link (zippy)

Friday, 3 March 2017

Surman / Krog / Rypdal / Storaas - Nordic Quartet (rec. 1994, rel. 1995)

Another of ECM's more daring and slightly strange get-togethers - in other words, a perfect fit for this blog.  In August 1994, legendary Norwegian jazz singer Karin Krog got together with on-and-off collaborator John Surman and Norse colleagues Terje Rypdal and Vigleik Storaas.  I haven't heard pianist Storaas anywhere else as yet, and he's a fine understated presence on this reed and guitar dominated set.

Rypdal's billowing guitar is in fact all over the album like malignant, brooding Scandi-noir oppressive weather.  This led some reviewers to criticise how much he dominates - obviously not a problem if, like me, you can't enough of Rypdal's playing.  You'd never guess this album was a summer recording, as Surman too is in bleak, chilly mode; even without that perfect cover photograph this is a full-on zero-degrees experience.  Over the top of all of this, Krog coos and whispers ominously like the cool-headed Nordic detective who's just about to uncover something atrocious on those snowy docks.

Watching Shadows
alt. link (zippy)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Harry Partch - The World of Harry Partch (1969)

Something truly unique today.  Californian composer, theorist and musician Harry Partch (1901-1974) not only rejected Western tonal music, but inspired by just intonation (which he considered to be the true and suppressed form in which music was organised since antiquity) he devised a 43-tone scale and an arsenal of bespoke instruments to perform his works.  This was his first major-label release - the original liner notes are worth reading in full to gain more of an insight into Partch's musical worldview, and can be found here.

Three wonderful, life-affirming examples of Partch's music are featured here.  The 17-minute Daphne Of The Dunes, originally the soundtrack to a short film called Windsong (1958), moves through multiple short segments.  Some are highly percussive and gamelan-esque, and others focus on the shimmering, resonating multiple strings of his bespoke zithers, or 'kitharas'.

Partch also believed that music, dance and theatre shouldn't be distinct specialties, and the second track here creates a Beat-era dramatic narrative in 9 minutes.  This piece, its full title Barstow: Eight Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California, introduces each scene with a little marimba melody before each fascinating slice of life is recited and then sung.  Finally, Castor & Pollux is an absorbing 16 minutes of bell-chime melodies and various kithara and marimba workouts, and more of a rhythmic drive overall reflecting its purpose as a theatre/dance piece.  Highly recommended.

I'm going home to Boston, Massachusetts - it's 4pm and I'm hungry and broke, I wish I was dead, but today I am a man.
alt. link (zippy)