Monday, 30 October 2017

Les Percussions De Strasbourg (2CD compi 1993, rec. 1967-71 + 1992)

Founded in 1962 as the first ensemble dedicated to contemporary percussion music, Les Percussions De Strasbourg's modern-day lineup is still going strong.  This 2-CD set was released to mark the ensemble's 30th anniversary, with the first disc being freshly recorded and the second featuring recordings by the original lineup from 1967, 1970 and 1971.  The common thread between almost the works on these discs is that LPDS regularly sought commissions for new material from contemporary composers, and these are just a small sample of the unique results of material written specifically with the ensemble in mind.
Disc 1, recorded in December 1992 by the lineup pictured above, starts with Hiérophonie V by Yoshihisa Taïra, a Japanese composer who settled in France.  Punctuated with martial shouts from the performers, it's a striking and powerful piece interspersed with some quiet passages.  Next up is a half-hour suite, Le Livre des Claviers, by Philippe Manoury, with mostly mellower tones from the vibes and marimbas.  François-Bernard Mâche's Khnoum is fairly interesting, but the disc ends on a high note with Sombre journée by a composer posted here not long ago, Hugues Dufourt.  The introductory rolls gather steam into a piece of great momentum, before an eerie atmospheric end.
Disc 2, as noted above, collects vintage recordings, and starts with the oldest piece, which actually predates the formation of LPDS by some three decades, but which was startling in its day and still sounded fresh - Edgard Varese's legendary Ionisation.  Hailed by Frank Zappa as the spark that inspired him to pursue a career in music, this siren-pierced cityscape owed as much to the noisemaking Futurists as it did to its structural inspiration of molecular ionization.

LPDS included Ionisation on their 1970 album 'Americana', one of several they recorded for the Prospective 21e Siècle series released by the Philips label, with their striking reflective covers created on engraved aluminium foil.  The remainder of the CD here gives us two of these albums in full, the first of which paired Maurice Ohana's Quatre études chorégraphiques with Miloslav Kabeláč's 8 Inventions.  Both suites are highly listenable and almost deceptively straightforward - just as well, as you need to brace yourself for what's to come next.  Yep, it's SGTG favourite Iannis Xenakis. 

Xenakis' 1969 work Persephassa, like Persepolis, was written for the Iranian Shiraz Arts Festival, and was performed there by LPDS in scorching desert heat.  As with many Xenakis works where the performers were scattered throughout the audience, you can only get a tiny approximation of Persephassa's spatial majesty on a stereo recording, but the insane intensity of the work is still enough to require a bit of a lie down afterwards to recover.  Unmissable stuff to cap off a great and wide-ranging compilation.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

See also: Pléiades/Psappha by Xenakis (not performed by LPDS) 

Friday, 27 October 2017

Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert (1975)

How can I possibly resist a request to post one of my absolute favourite albums of all time?  It's difficult to think what I can even write about Köln, but here goes.  Let's just keep it simple, rather than a 'saved my life more than once' emotional gush.  29 year old pianist arrives at the Cologne Opera House tired and sore, only to find that the house staff have wheeled out a crappy old rehearsal piano by mistake.  Has to be just about coaxed into even playing by 17 year old concert promoter.  Goes on stage at 11:30pm (following the evening opera) and makes the most of the piano that he can; captures lightning in a bottle for an hour.

The irony continues to this day that two lengthy improvisations (the encore [Part IIc] was a Jarrett composition, Memories Of Tomorrow) that were born out of making the best of the circumstances above have become so indelibly etched, note-for-note, in the minds of millions of listeners, me included.  That could largely be said of any recorded improvisation, but the 'millions of listeners' bit is down to Köln's enduring magic.

From the smallest germ of an introduction (the melody played by the opera house bell to summon the audience for a performance, hence their just-audible recognition at the beginning), Jarrett goes on to create 25 minutes of sheer melancholy transcendence, ending in a triumphant, life-affirming finale.  Suitably energised, he starts the next half hour on a rollicking bluesy note, before settling for largely calmer waters for the rest of the second improvisation, then, as mentioned, delving into his written repertoire for the crystalline gorgeousness of the finale.  Jarrett might have started out this concert being not entirely pleased that the tape was running, but the world should be grateful that it was.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Popol Vuh - Coeur De Verre ("Singet, Denn Der Gesang Vertreibt Die Wölfe") (1977)

Or indeed, 'Herz aus Glas', or any of the other permutations of the title over the years...  The original name for this 1977 album, which translates as 'Sing, for the song drives out the wolves', was put aside when Werner Herzog once again tapped Florian Fricke for some new Vuh music for his latest beautifully bizarre movie, and it was decided to market the album as a soundtrack.

As my memories of the Heart Of Glass film are a bit hazy (and to be honest, still would be if I'd just finished watching it five minutes ago - it's a bit hard-going even by Herzog's standards), let's just focus on the music.  As the follow-up to Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte, Popol Vuh were still in rock mode, with Daniel Fichelscher's guitars up front and centre.  And top, bottom, sides and background too.  This album has often begged the question - is Florian Fricke even on it?  He's credited with piano as usual, but is so far back in the mix as to be virtually inaudible.

If Coeur/Herz/Wölfe is very much the Fichelscher show then, that's no bad thing, as he's on fine form, letting his chiming layers of guitar and ringing lead lines create another minor masterpiece in the Popol Vuh canon over the drums and percussion (also played by Fichelshcer).  Al Gromer Khan drops by on sitar for Das Lied von den hohen Bergen to round out the album's majestic first half on a nice mellow note, before things get even more amped up.  Hüter der Schwelle and Der Ruf in particular are the rockiest this band ever got, but the closing Gemeinschaft with its guest flute part points towards their progressively mellower future.

mega / zippy

Monday, 23 October 2017

Țăranu / Bentoiu / Nicolescu - Romanian Contemporary Music (1991 compi)


Last week's foray into the Romanian avant-garde seemed to go down well, so here's another from the same series of UK-produced CDs that gave wider exposure to some essential Electrecord (and Melodiya) recordings.  No Daniel Kientzy this time I'm afraid, but definitely more of the same gloriously weird, hallucinogenic-sounding writing for orchestra.

Three symphonies make up this collection, averaging about 20 minutes each.  Cornel Țăranu's enjoyably strange 'Aulodica' is up first, and shares with the Niculescu work from last week an electric guitar part, albeit briefly.  Pascal Bentoiu's 5th Symphony follows, and is the most mellow, lush and romantic of the three until some swelling organ chords knock it up a few notches in its last few minutes.  Lastly, Stefan Niculescu is represented by his 'Opus Dacicum'.  There's some choppy staccato writing reminiscent of early Xenakis, and a great droning middle section in the very low registers with the ominous melody line being taken by a bass clarinet or possibly saxophone.

mega / zippy

Friday, 20 October 2017

Meredith Monk - Turtle Dreams (1983)

Meredith Monk's second release for ECM again selected pieces from theatrical and film works to produce a great album experience.  The sonic palate is more varied than on Dolmen Music, so even though this album is ten minutes shorter than its predecessor, you actually get a broader snapshot of Monk's sound-world of the period.

The first half of Turtle Dreams is taken up by its title track.  In its original conception, the four performers shown on the album cover above provided the focal points of sound and movement, while the backdrop was intermittently superimposed with images of a turtle crawling across cityscape footage.  A made-for-video reduction has survived, and remains one of the most wonderfully weird YouTube experiences I've ever had.  Musically, Glass/Reich-esque organs provide a sedate backing to Monk's voice, just on the edge of comprehensibility, before the rest of voices join in and the singing switches to the much more primal vocalese that Monk excelled at.

The four pieces on the album's second half are ran together in a varied and fascinating patchwork.  View 1 is first and longest, and starts with rippling piano arpeggios before settling down.  This isn't just a straightforward voice-and-piano ballad like on the first side of Dolmen Music though - the voice parts are more treated, mostly with echo, and little bits overdubbed.  Sped-up overdubs of the opening piano riff are also dropped in at times, along with a low growl of didgeridoo in the background.  After a loud synth fanfare closes this amazing piece, we're next offered two minutes of mechanical, industrial sound in Engine Steps, then Ester's Song, a minute of keyboard and voice.  The closing track on the album, View 2, was also taken from the original Turtle Dreams production, and winds this album up in style as Monk's amazing voice coos and soars over a flutey synth backing.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Régis Renouard Larivière - Futaie / Tchernoziom (2000 compi of works from '96 and '98)

Nice little EP by electroacoustic composer Régis Renouard Larivière (b. 1959, Paris), which appears to be the only release under his name.  One track, Futaie, won an Ars Electronica prize for computer music in 1996, and the other, Tchernoziom, takes one aspect of Futaie and plays around with it, totaling 32 minutes of sound manipulation that are well worth getting immersed in.

The short liner note is a bit on the academic side in a pretentious kind of way - or perhaps its just come out like that in the English translation - but the opening sentence about Futaie is nicely evocative, saying that it "unfolds like a long, slow sentence of which only the punctuation remains".  This describes pretty well the spare, stop-start sound of the first few minutes, which are based around chunky percussion and wind instrument sounds.  These slowly reverberate around in space as the track starts to mutate over its 14 minutes.

Tchernoziom, apparently named after the fertile black soil of the Ukraine, is even more interesting.  It's more rhythmical, in the computer pulses that run through it, and creates a sustained, eerie atmosphere.  If it weren't for the occasional presence of (albeit still heavily treated) acoustic instruments, presumably the source material taken from Futaie, I might think I was listening to latter-day Autechre or something.  A really striking and engrossing alien soundworld that makes me wish there were more releases available by Larivière.

mega / zippy

Monday, 16 October 2017

Daniel Kientzy / various orchestras - The Romanian Saxophone (1990 compi, rec '84/'86)

French avant-garde saxophone player Daniel Kientzy has been featured on these pages once before - and here's another phenomenal disc highlighting his close ties to some of Romania's most out-there composers of the 20th century.

Ștefan Niculescu, who was featured last on the Kluj disc, comes first this time, with his enjoyably mind-bending Cantos symphony, which also has variants for clarinet and orchestra, and for oboe, horn and clarinets.  Naturally, this is the sax one, giving Kientzy plenty of room to drone and skronk over the hallucinatory backdrop.  In the opening moments, which brought Vangelis to mind, I genuinely wondered if there were synthesisers involved, but nope, it's all orchestral.  A highly memorable and wonderfully weird trip through Byzantine-inspired melodies and musical forms.

We've also heard from Myriam Marbe before on SGTG, and her half-hour Concerto For Daniel Kientzy And Saxophones here is a good counterpoint to the brilliantly oddball works on that collection.  Kientzy starts solo, giving a great display of the range of his genius, before the ominous, fractured orchestral writing starts to fill out.  Plenty of long sax drones here too, intended to imitate bagpipes at one point and featuring Kientzy on two saxes simultaneously (eat your heart out, Beefheart/VDGG!).
 
The disc is rounded off by Anatol Vieru's Narration II, another nicely bonkers piece of orchestral surrealism that subjects "Frère Jacques", of all things, to a series of chromatic mutations.  Meanwhile, what sounds like a sozzled surf guitarist starts to stagger through the orchestra.  The remainder of the work is nicely trippy and off-beam - Vieru sounds like he's mildly spiked the whole ensemble.  Unique stuff, even in 20th century classical music, and really enjoyable.

mega / zippy

Friday, 13 October 2017

League Unlimited Orchestra - Love And Dancing (1982)

I've had a genuine affection for The Human League most of my life, from taping their singles off the radio as soon as I was old enough to operate a tape recorder, to discovering the much darker wonders of their first album in my teens.  Later on, Reproduction lost my interest a bit on discovering that Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle et al were what I was really looking for in that direction, but getting into Dare as a complete album made me realise what a true classic it was from start to finish.

Love And Dancing, though, is in a different league altogether (pun very much intended) and has become my absolute favourite thing associated with the band.  Taking on a different guise - one whose name was apparently in homage to Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra - Oakey and crew pulled together nearly-instrumental versions of seven Dare tracks and one B-side into two continuously mixed sides that made their electronic pop genius shine all the brighter, burnished by Martin Rushent's immaculate mixing & production.

The result on the perfect first side sounded like Kraftwerk circa Man Machine taking time out of a UK tour to stumble into a Northern Soul club and feeding the sheer euphoria into three new songs.  The Human League had of course been influenced by Kraftwerk from day one, but this is almost like a full-on homage (is that a cheeky little Europe Endless tribute at the start of Love Action?).  I've almost no words to describe the 7-minute version of Don't You Want Me - just sheer perfection in every second, turning a nowadays over-exposed pop evergreen into peerlesss dancefloor magnificence.

On Love And Dancing's second half, the darker tones of Dare mostly hold sway - the tracks that were most obviously a progression from their first two albums.  The JFK-assassination inspired Seconds and The Things That Dreams Are Made Of sound particularly ominous here, although the latter does drop in some of Oakey's most humourous lyrics ("Norman Wisdom, Norman Wisdom" dub-style almost makes me crack a smile).  Following up Seconds with the bright, chirpy melody of Open Your Heart was yet another stroke of genius.  I haven't used the 'favourite albums of all time' tag for a while now, but Love And Dancing sure as hell deserves it.

mega / zippy

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Missing Post

If you've been following the events of this blog over the last day or so, you'll be aware that I deleted a whole post in a bit of a late-night panic when some Mega takedown notices hit my inbox.  After trying to work the [artist redacted] Zippy links back into the NWW post, not only did they all get zapped by Zippy but the NWW link went down too.

This is all getting slightly worrying, so I've decided to delete all references to [artist redacted] from the NWW post.  Unfortunately (and perhaps I'm just being overly paranoid) I've also deleted a really nice comment from that post, as it mentioned [artist redacted] by name.  Apologies for that, futurepyramid - I really appreciated your comment.

Oh well... to cheer myself up, I've worked up a post of one of my favourite 80s electronic records for Friday.  Won't be using Mega for the foreseeable future - apologies to anyone who preferred downloading from the Mega links.  If the Zippy link gets zapped from Friday's post, I don't really know where to go from there - maybe just take a break for a bit.

Thanks again for all your downloads, comments & follows - makes it all worthwhile.

AB

Nurse With Wound - Merzbild Schwet (1980)


Back into NWW formative history today, to June 1980.  With the friendships of the inaugural trio of Steven Stapleton, John Fothergill and Heman Pathak starting to drift apart, Merzbild Schwet was the first occasion on which Stapleton went into the studio alone.  With a growing confidence in finding his way around a mixing desk, and a singular vision that would establish NWW as Staplteton's project (plus whoever else he wanted to work with), Merzbild Schwet is really the start of the Nurse With Wound story proper (even if Stapleton prefers to start it with Homotopy To Marie, as the first one he was fully satisfied with).

Released later that year, Merzbild Schwet offered two 24-minute tracks, their titles (Futurismo and Dadaˣ) reflecting Stapleton's artistic interests, and one of his most wonderfully macabre album covers.  My CD, from a reissue box set, has this as the back cover - apparently a printer error.  The track titles seem to switch order between various editions too, confusing many a listener - to this day there's stuff on rateyourmusic.com about liking 'the post-apocalyptic story on Futurismo' - nope, that's Dadaˣ, but easy mistake to make... you start to wonder if Mr S did these sorts of things deliberately...

Futurismo, then, is the one that starts with the inspired gag of recording a record scratch into the piece, making buyers of the original vinyl think they had a defective copy - until it speeds up and becomes obvious it's part of the track.  The background for most of Futurismo is a mangled tape of a jazz band slowed down and slurred into a sort of tipsy queasiness, whilst various sounds gradually pile on.  Electronic noises, spoken voices, unraveling sticky tape, a smear of organ that eventually becomes quite pleasant when it radiates a full major chord... etc etc.  The last four minutes change tack entirely to choppy piano and humming static.

All great stuff, but Dadaˣ is arguably NWW's first dark drifting masterwork.  Eerie echoes of backwards percussion and assorted honks and creaks provide the backdrop for the main spoken monologue, performed by Eve Libertine of Crass.  This short, surreal piece about non-communication gets further reduced into fragments in between another voice speaking in French, stabs of piano, more skronking and howling, and periods of ominous silence before Libertine's full monologue repeats near the end.  A kind of ghostly accordion shanty finishes off a track of absolutely essential dark-room weirdness to be creeped out by.

megazippy

Monday, 9 October 2017

Morton Feldman - Durations I-V / Coptic Light (1992/4 recordings, rel. '97)

More Morton, for those who enjoyed Rothko Chapel the other week.  This collection pairs Ensemble Avantgarde's 1994 rendition of Feldman's 1960/1 chamber suite Durations I-V with one of his most striking late works for orchestra, Coptic Light (1986), performed here by the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin.  It was actually the latter that I originally got this CD for, after listening to a different version online and being captivated by the mysterious, flowing sounds of this 24-minute piece of music that sounded like it was emanating from the depths of an ocean, with distant glimmers of light piercing the murky depths.  Feldman's inspiration for Coptic Light was actually the pattern of an ancient carpet, but its subaquatic qualities often get mentioned.

The Durations suite was completely new to me, and took a while to get in to, but I love it now.  The performers (on various combinations of piano, harp, violin, cello, horn, tuba, vibraphone, celesta and flute) follow a score with no duration indications on the notes, leaving this up to the performers and always resulting in a unique performance.  Durations sounds to me like music from another world with an alien conception of time - much like that other late Feldman work that I love, for piano and string quartet (link below) - and perhaps a heavier gravitational pull, especially on the four sections of Durations III, which do have overall tempo indications, mostly 'slow' and 'very slow'.  Take time out of time to enjoy this album - it's a perfect wind-down.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Rothko Chapel | Piano & String Quartet

Friday, 6 October 2017

Meredith Monk - Dolmen Music (1981)

Been enjoying this album a lot on these past few autumnal weekends - gorgeous, unique music, much of it just piano and (one hell of a!) voice, and just enough magnificent weirdness, from a singular musician and composer.  Meredith Monk (b. 1942 in NYC) stands alongside Yoko Ono for me as one of the most fearless and boundary-pushing explorers of the potential of the human voice in music, and Monk's singular craft as a composer and performer continues to this day.

Dolmen Music marked the beginning of her ongoing relationship with ECM, and presented five examples of her work from the 70s.  After the beautiful opener Gotham Lullaby, which was composed for a 1975 theatre piece by frequent early collaborator Ping Chong, the next three pieces were taken from Monk's 'solo opera' Education Of The Girlchild (1972-3).  Performed as the stages of a woman's life in reverse, the selections here are by turns joyously euphoric (Travelling), comical (The Tale) and melancholic (Biography).

The second half of the album is taken up by its title track, a six-section choral suite from 1979.  After a ghostly cello introduction, Monk's lone voice is soon joined by the male voices, giving the impression of a sombre ritual from some long-lost culture.  The full vocal ensemble broadens this out, its full flight interspersed with smaller pairings and solos, and the return of the cello.  Eventually that instrument gets a dramatic, rattling solo, before the voices gradually gather again for the stunning finale.  A brilliant work of breathtaking dynamics, topping off an essential album.  More Meredith Monk to come in due course.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Tod Dockstader - Quatermass / Water Music (1992 compi of works from 1963-64)

Great introduction to Minnesota-born Tod Dockstader (1932-2015), who called his early electronic music 'organised sound' in homage to Edgard Varèse and his inspirational Poème Électronique.  No synthesisers here (or available!) in Dockstader's early-mid 1960s works - everything the erstwhile sound engineer put on to hours and hours of tape to distill down to his finished pieces came from sine wave generators, plus mutated recordings of gongs, children's toys, radio static, running water, air escaping from balloons, and so on.

Shunned by the avant-garde establishment of the day, Dockstader was completely self-taught, and recognised that at its most basic, all music, whatever the source, was just tension and release - and these works certainly have that in spades.  The 18-minute Water Music (1963) is up first on this compilation, with Dockstader using water ('in a metal garbage can', according to the wonderfully detailed liner notes) to create music that he felt reflected the various qualities of water.  It's a great work, and highly listenable, but by the following year his craft had taken a noticeable leap in complexity (helped in part by now using three-track recording and more sophisticated mixing) to produce the epic 46-minute Quatermass suite.

Quatermass, its name chosen just because Dockstader thought it suitably evocative (he hadn't seen the famously creepy British TV serials/movies from the 50s) is simply a masterpiece of early electronics.  Dockstader had intended Quatermass from its inception to be a complete contrast to Water Music, that it would be 'a very dense, massive, even threatening, work of high levels and high energy'.  This certainly comes through in the work's semi-classical five movements, with recurring themes and primitive sine-wave rhythms leading the way through the many electronic sounds, creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere throughout.  The disc is rounded out by two out-takes from the Quatermass sessions (which precede the main work in the tracklist).  Don't miss this one - simply stunning, pioneering and accessible tape 'n' scissors mastercrafting.
Original LP cover for 'Quatermass', 1966
mega / zippy

Monday, 2 October 2017

Hirsche Nichts Aufs Sofa - Melchior (Aufmarsch Der Schlampen) (1986)

Zipping backwards again to the 80s Nurse With Wound universe, with an album that Steven Stapleton participated in, helped to produce, and released on United Dairies.  Having discovered kindred spirits in the moose-banning-from-sofas German surrealists who were releasing dada-esque, next-generation-Faust sounding cassettes and recording records in sewers, Stapleton invited the duo of Christoph Heeman and Achim Flaam and their entourage over to London to record an album for his label.

With a subtitle that now feels oddly prescient of 2010s sexual politics - but who knows what it meant to HNAS in 1986, if anything - Melchior was the result.  The first side of the album featured four tracks that mostly ran into each other, so can effectively be taken as one suite (albeit one of mind-boggling variety) much the same way as the 22-minute piece that filled side two.  The English translations of the track titles, respectively Roast me on an open fire, In summer there's no food, Without hesitation the goose won the cigarette, Cattle without socks and Heavyweight in evening dress, give an indication of the HNAS bizarre humour, and their music.

Starting with a jerky, echoey campfire singalong (Brate Mich auf offenem Feuer), a stomping, single-chord rock groove with a nice little keyboard figure is up next (Im Sommer gibt's nix zu Essen), and irresistible chaos ensues.  Whenever something resembling an actual song gets going, HNAS can be relied on to pull it apart at the first opportunity, descending into jokey hollerings of the track title, tape-manipulated electronic smears and out-of-focus clanks, rattles and piano plinking.  Even a drum-machine track complete with 'handclap' function gets chucked in, before being derailed with more gleeful taunting, brass-instrument samples and synth buzzes.

The aforementioned side-long Tonnenschwer im Abendkleid saves the best for last, IMO.  A queasy, echoing loop (perhaps a bell or suchlike) establishes itself, filled out by foggy smears of brass a la Cosey Fanni Tutti circa 1980.  Eventually this is blown away by a chaotic, very NWW-like middle section, until the entry of the distorted bass note and drums that take us towards the end.  A phenomenal epic track to cap off a fascinating, memorable record.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Im Schatten Der Möhre