Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Rune Lindblad - Death Of The Moon: Electronic & Concrete Music 1953-1960 (1997 compi)

Pioneering electronic/electroacoustic/concrete works from a composer who refused to see any boundaries between these kind of tags - Gothenburg-born Rune Lindblad (1923-1991).  His first concert in 1957 saw audience members demanding refunds and critics panning the event as 'pure torture' - just the sort of thing that gets people like me mashing the 'Buy It Now' button six decades later to get hold of this compilation CD (despite its atrocious cover art - couldn't Pogus Productions have used another of Lindblad's nice woodcuts, or even the same one they had access to for the 1989 LP shown below?).

Far from sounding tortuous though, the recorded evidence on this collection is engaging stuff throughout, starting with the tape cut-ups of a social gathering mashed together with radio broadcasts, short wave noise and tape squelches of Party (1953).  Månens Död (Death Of The Moon) (1954-55) is subtler still, consisting of restrained, mournful-sounding electronics and ritualistic percussion.

Given the vintage of this material, vast cloudbanks of tape hiss are par for the course, but this just enhances the charm and un-academic accessibility.  The 'Fragment' pieces are particularly lo-fi, providing yet another uncanny missing link between '68 AMM, '71 Kluster and '75 Throbbing Gristle - apart from the almost prettily melodic mid-section of Fragment 1, and of course the fact that all three Fragments date back to 1955-56.  Lindblad's style was beginning to mature sonically and texturally by the time of Nocturne (1958), the highlight of this collection for me; and don't miss the closing Optica (1959-1960), created using damaged 16mm film and sounding like computer music way ahead of its time.  Coming soon - the other Lindblad compilation that I have, spanning the years 1962-1988.
Cover art for 'Death Of The Moon and Other Early Works' LP, 1989
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Monday, 28 August 2017

John Abercrombie & Ralph Towner - Sargasso Sea/Five Years Later (1976/1982)

In memoriam John Abercrombie, 16 Dec 1944 - 22 Aug 2017

Oh well, I did say on Friday that normal service would be resumed on Monday for this blog... and if normal service now means bidding sad farewells to artists whose music has meant so much to me, then so be it.  John Laird Abercrombie was born in Port Chester, NY to Scottish immigrants, and after a lifetime crafting an instantly identifiable guitar signature, has passed at age 72.  Having neglected to pick up his latest album at the beginning of this year due to other musical obsessions, I'm definitely going to do so now, but for today here's my two favourites of Abercrombie's career, both in the company of ECM labelmate Ralph Towner.  Previously posted at SGTG: the completely solo Characters, and Jack DeJohnette's Pictures.

Sargasso Sea was recorded in May 1976, and proved a genius pairing of two of ECM's rising stars right from the start.  Ralph Towner's silky 12-string overlaid with Abercrombie's liquid electric lead makes for a stunning album opener, with the eight minutes of Fable scoping out the breadth of their melodic talents and virtuoso skill, as would the title track and the explosive Elbow Room.  Elsewhere, we get the sublime sound of both guitarists going acoustic in a melding of their individual styles, and even some occasional piano from Towner, most notably in the gorgeous closer Parasol.
Deciding to repeat this memorable duo pairing five years later, Abercrombie and Towner already had their album title right there, and produced an even more ambitious effort, with a couple of tracks here hovering around the ten-minute mark.  One of these is the atmospheric, improvisatory opener Late Night Passenger, with Abercrombie's volume swells and percussive echoes contrasting with Towner's prepared-guitar buzzing.  The liquid lead versus shimmering 12-string magic formula returns in Isla and the cavernous reverberations of Microtheme.  The following track, the solemn Caminata, gives further proof that Abercrombie, Towner and Manfred Eicher were turning up the focus on ambience this time around, letting the acoustic fill the space, always in support - never dominating - of these two massive talents.  The other lengthy improv, the exciting race for transcendence that is Bumabia, underlines this too.

RIP John, and thanks for all the wonderful music.

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Friday, 25 August 2017

Ana-Maria Avram / Iancu Dumitrescu - Remote Pulsar, Movemur, Incantatio etc (2003)

One more post for now highlighting the music of Ana-Maria Avram, who passed away on 1 August aged 55.  Incantatio (2003) is 20 minutes of thrilling orchestral chaos, led by viola and percussion.  Influences of Xenakis and Ligeti are detectable, but Ana-Maria's compositional signature was very much her own - having grown up under the Ceaușescu regime, her approach to her art was always that as many rules should be broken as possible.

The other Avram work on this release, Quinconce (2003) continues the viola theme (as does a re-recording of a 1977 Dumitrescu piece for solo viola earlier in the disc), making this album very much a spotlight on Hyperion Ensemble member Cornelia Petroiu.  In Quinconce, Petroiu's performance is set against Avram's computer manipulations of the sounds, with results that took the Avram/Dumitrescu explorations into the boundaries of spectralist music to yet another new level.

Iancu Dumitrescu is represented on this release mainly by the latest progress in his own computer-music, refining this otherworldy avenue of his soundworld with Remote Pulsar and one of my favourite of his works in this vein, Numerologie Secrète.  Sandwiched in between these is the aforementioned solo viola piece Movemur III.

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Ana-Maria Avram / Iancu Dumitrescu - Orbit Of Eternal Grace (1999)

In tribute to the late Ana-Maria Avram, here's a couple of her great orchestral works.  Will probably post another Edition Modern disc on Friday that also highlights her unique style, then resume normal service next week - posting these two composers' unique music as-and-when.  The ones I've already posted are all listed in yesterday's post.

Orbit Of Eternal Grace (1998) is a stunning evocation of the cosmos, with dizzying swirls from the string orchestra and rumbling percussion from Chris Cutler providing the backdrop for Tim Hodgkinson's unearthly solo part on bass clarinet.  Ascent (1999) for chamber orchestra occupies similar terrain on a smaller scale.

Afterwards, there's three pieces by Iancu - two versions of Eon - Dans Un Desordre Absolu, one computer composed, and the other filled out by ensemble and live electronics - and Temps Condenses, again with the mutant, granular electronic sounds being punctuated by percussive thunder and the ensemble soloists.

So grateful to both of these composers right now for all their unique music that I've heard so far, and for the dozen or so albums that I've still to pick up.  So sad that we won't hear any more from Ana-Maria, now that she's gone while still just in her fifties, and gutted for Iancu.  Just wanted to state that I'm sharing these albums so that as many people as possible can discover them, and then hopefully go out and get hold of few of them - this is music that I believe deserves a much bigger audience than it has.  For anyone looking to purchase Edition Modern CDs, I'd recommend buying from ReR Megacorp.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Ana-Maria Avram, 1961-2017 - R.I.P.

Only just found out that Romanian composer Ana-Maria Avram passed away at the beginning of this month, aged 55. :(  Information about the cause of her death doesn't seem to have been published as yet.

Piece from The Wire on Ana-Maria's passing here.  Another here.

conducting in 2011
I've only been listening to her music for a couple of years, along with that of her husband Iancu Dumitrescu (both pictured below), but it's been life-changing - new extremes in modern classical music that have really broadened my listening horizons.  RIP Ana-Maria, and condolences to Iancu - I believe they'd been together since the late 80s/early 90s.

More to come soon from Ana-Maria and Iancu on this blog - for now, already posted are:

ED.MN.1001 - Medium/Cogito (just Iancu's music)
ED.MN.1002 - Au Dela De Movemur
ED.MN.1003 - Pierres Sacreés (just Iancu's music)
ED.MN.1004 - Musique de Paroles
ED.MN.1008 - Five Pieces
ED.MN.1011 - Musique Action '98
ED.MN.1019 - In Tokyo

Monday, 21 August 2017

Simeon ten Holt - Canto Ostinato (2005 recording, rel. 2012)

Minimalist piano epic Canto Ostinato is the signature work by Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt (1923-2012), and since its 1979 premiere has become a familiar staple of not just concert halls in the Netherlands, but a variety of public spaces including parks, shopping centres and railway stations.  There's also been several recordings released, of which this was the first one I've picked up as it was touted as a good all-rounder (it's also dirt cheap, as with everything on the Brilliant Classics label, and sounds great - a real rival to Naxos worth exploring. Previously on SGTG - Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel.)

This 2005 recording for four pianos (the most common arrangement; there's also various combinations of pianos, organs, marimbas, harps and synthesizers available) is certainly a good starting point due to its duration - only, yes, only, two and half hours long (although there's even single-CD reductions available) when some recordings can top three or four hours, and live performances can far outstrip that.

So why the variety in length?  Ten Holt wrote the piece in 106 small sections, and intended the players to have as much freedom as they liked to play around with each one before a 'lead player' would indicate an advance to the next.  Most importantly, of course, is how this sounds when you sit down (or indeed, walk, jog, or drive, all of which would also work well) and listen to it.  Philip Glass aficionados will already be familiar with the feeling of when subtly-changing repetitive structures work their hypnotic magic over an extended period, so Canto Ostinato will be right up your street.  Even more than Glass, though, I'd argue that this piece is just so thoroughly accessible and enjoyable that it's likely to become an indispensable part of the musical life of anyone who gives it a go.

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Download notes:  Links as per the two CDs of this release, for ease of uploading.  What I've done to try and streamline the listening experience is removed the 'Disc 1' and 'Disc 2' from the album names, and renumbered all the tracks from 1-28, so it should all run sequentially (to be extra sure, just chuck everything into one folder before playing).  There was a fade-out and fade-in at the disc break which I've tried to snip out - not entirely successfully, but was as good as I could get it.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Stars Of The Lid - The Tired Sounds Of (2001)

Two hours of modern-classical infused ambient drift at its most magnificent.  Brian McBride & Adam Wiltzie's mature masterwork came out 16 years ago, and had an almost-as-good followup 6 years later; whether they'll record another album together is anyone's guess, but at least they've both been keeping busy since.  Anyway, here's Tired Sounds, arguably the high watermark of both their' careers to date.

With the long, weightless guitar treatments that had become SOTL's stock in trade now fleshed out by judicious strings, Tired Sounds opened up a new and sophisticated landscape straight away with Requiem For Dying Mothers.  Movingly funereal in its first part, defiantly elegiac in its second, this opening piece sets the tone for the rest of the melancholy, sometimes unsettling first hour.  This reaches its darkest depths in the 12-minute middle section of Austin Texas Mental Hospital, with the strings remorselessly sawing away at the patient's psyche, although some respite does seem to come with the gentle organ-like swells of the final part.

The second disc of Tired Sounds is a slightly more relaxing, Eno-esque drift as a whole, but only once you've come through the colder-than-death Mulholland, sounding like its been recorded from within a body chiller in a morgue.  The mellower highlights of this second hour-long trip into inner space definitely include Piano Aquieu, with its Harold Budd-esque piano intro, but the melancholy still persists in huge, endless waves.  For an album that I've previously described to bemused acquaintances as "suffused with death", on digging it out today Tired Sounds does at least still live and breathe (audibly, in its final minutes) with some hopefulness towards its end.  Beyond essential.

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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Luiz Bonfá - Introspection/The New Face Of Bonfa (1970/72)

Handy twofer of most of Bonfa's early 70s output for RCA - the album between these two, Sanctuary, is harder to come by but I'm keeping a lookout.  The New Face Of Bonfa, from 1970, was an attempt to cross over to a US audience with some success; the string arrangements are occasionally laid on a bit too thick, but Bonfa's phenomenal guitar talent is always front and centre (not least in Africana, my favourite track from this album).  In contrast to Braziliana, Maria Toledo only makes two appearances here as one of the backing vocalists on Macumba and Peixe Bom; all the other tracks are instrumental.
Original Introspection cover art. CD cover at top uses same pic as New Face LP.
And speaking of Bonfa's phenomenal guitar talent - that's the sole focus of the 1972 album Introspection, presented first on this CD reissue.  It's small but perfectly formed - eight tracks in under 27 minutes, and not a second wasted in showcasing Bonfa's sheer melodic and harmonic talent and staggering technique (check out the hovering-UFO evocations of Adventure In Space).  The sole concession here to production effects is the phasing on the opener, which kind of works, but other than that, Introspection is an utterly timeless masterpiece.

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Monday, 14 August 2017

Daniel Teruggi - Syrcus/Sphœra (1993)

Couple of ear-tingling sound voyages for you from Argentine-born Teruggi, who has been based in France since the 70s working and teaching at INA-GRM.  In other words, prepare for some top-flight French avant-garde, courtesy of the SYTER digital processor developed by Jean-François Allouis and heavily utilised by Teruggi.

We start off with 20 minutes of subtly-mutated percussion in the five-part Syrcus, before getting to the 42-minute main event.  Sphoera's four elemental movements, corresponding to air, water, fire then earth, also subdividing into smaller unnamed parts, were written throughout the 1980s and drawn together into this '1993 version' of the full suite.  Right from the hissing, shimmering atmospheres of the 'air' pieces (Eterea), you get what Teruggi's trying to do, and the rest of the work is similarly descriptive.  Interesting that there's some heavily manipulated voice sounds in the 'water' section Aquatica - not sure why, but it seems to work.

Imagine, to just use the first vaguely appropriate name that popped into my head, Jean-Michel Jarre embarking some sort of great 'primordial earth' concept epic - then stripping away virtually all the music, as it simply isn't necessary; the pure sound that remains is more than adequate to carry the narrative by itself.  Astonishing headphone-immersion stuff from start to finish.

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Friday, 11 August 2017

Keith Jarrett - Concerts: Bregenz/München (rec. '81, rel. '82; full CD reiss 2013)

Having concentrated on trio concerts up until now, it's high time I posted some solo Keith Jarrett - winging it by the seat of his pants, grunting and groaning aplenty (to a tolerable level in these '81 shows) on his way to absolute transcendence.  Two concerts, a few days apart - one from Bregenz where Jarrett hits his groove early on, then mellows out before an exploratory section, and a twice-as-long one from Munich that takes us on a more epic journey.

In both cases, Jarrett seems determined to extract every possible drop of sound from the piano, getting in some serious percussive thumps and string plucks towards the end, before restoring calm with the gorgeous encores.  Originally released as a 3LP box in 1982, ECM also provided the option to just buy the single-disc Bregenz concert on its own, which ended up being the only CD version until the whole set was finally reissued four years ago.
original box set cover, 1982 (2013 reissue at top)
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Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Ry Cooder & Vishwa Mohan Bhatt - A Meeting By The River (1993)

And an inspired and fruitful meeting it was.  Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the Rajasthani master of the Mohan Vina - a modified slide guitar of his own creation, with eight sympathetic drone strings added; and Ry Cooder, the eternal journeyman, on regular slide, recorded these four tracks in a Santa Barbara church - shame they didn't record more.  My only minus point for this record is always that I wish it was twice as long, but what was captured, backed up by Bhatt's regular tabla player Sukhvinder Singh, and Cooder's son Joachim, is superb.  A pair of lengthy, exploratory tracks are followed up by a catchy, upbeat jam and then a gorgeous closing ballad, the only non-original, a Fijian folk song.  One for al fresco listening with a long cool drink.

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Monday, 7 August 2017

Yoko Ono - Fly (1971; new reissue 2017)

Ideal time to do a post of this classic double-album - there's a new reissue doing the rounds, and label Secretly Canadian seem to have done a great job.  Sounds good, has a couple of bonus tracks I hadn't heard before so have kept them in the download (the eerie electronics of The Path are definitely worth hearing) and the CDs come in a hard-card vinyl gatefold replica.  Worth buying, for sure, along with the others that have been reissued.

If this is your first encounter with (arguably) Yoko Ono's greatest album, though, you're in for a real treat.  One album's worth of raw, propulsive avant-rock which at its greatest (the 17 minutes of Mind Train) sounds like a feminine version of Can's Halleluwah, then a side's worth of clattering, echoing collaborations with another Fluxus artist Joe Jones and his 'percussion machines', then rounding off with the 22-minute title track.  The latter might be the most spartan and difficult to love - it's mostly solo voice, until some reversed slide guitar towards the end makes things a bit more interesting, but it's still an utterly unique voice that I could listen to all day.

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Friday, 4 August 2017

Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall 1971

Had I started this blog about twelve years ago, it would've been bursting at the seams with Neil Young albums (if I'd been able to have enough patience with the trickle of dialup available to me at the time to even run a blog!).  So what happened over the last decade, that I virtually stopped listening to an artist who'd been such an all-consuming obsession for me since the mid-90s?  A few things, I suppose - tastes change over the years; and perhaps mainly that Young hasn't produced an album that's excited me for over 20 years (with the honourable exception of Le Noise).

But that's quite enough of a preamble - found this in a pile of dust-gathering CDs last week, and decided it was still wonderful, and needed to be posted here.  Recorded at a homecoming gig in Toronto in January 1971, just as Neil Young was becoming a solo superstar, and mooted for release soon after as a double-live album, Massey Hall in  the end wouldn't see an official release until 2007, but became a justifiably popular bootleg in between.

Just imagine how an official live album, hot on the heels of After The Goldrush, could've altered the dynamic of Young's discography - a handful of these songs would've become well-known favourites, rather than clandestine rarities, and Harvest might've suffered by comparison.  All of the latter album's songs sound great here, IMO better than the overblown orchestrated versions - but personal preferences aside, as a whole this is a phenomenal live set, performed solely by a hugely talented 26 year old with the audience in the palm of his hand.

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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Fausto Romitelli (played by Ictus ensemble) - Professor Bad Trip (2004)

Italian composer Fausto Romitelli managed to stake out a truly unique and disorienting soundworld in his unfortunately short life (he lost a battle with cancer in 2004 at the age of 41).  This has been my entry point to his ouevre, and it's a good overview.

Set into three movements (or 'Lessons', as introduced by a suitably professor-like narrator), Professor Bad Trip was Romitelli's breatkthrough opus in creating a surreal, constantly-shifting blend of modern classical music and psychedelia.  Performed here by the Belgian ensemble Ictus, it's a stunning 40-minute aural hall of mirrors that takes a few listens to get a proper hold on.  Shorter pieces flesh out this release - another ensemble one, Green Yellow & Blue, and two solo works - Seascape for contrabass recorder, and Trash TV Trance for electric guitar and guitar-jack interference.  Recommended.

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