Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jürg Frey - l'âme est sans retenue I (ErstClass)

Jürg Frey - Collection Gustave Roud (Another Timbre)

A fine convergence of all things Frey occurred recently--the release of the above two major recordings was remarkable enough but, on a personal level, I had just listened through the virtual entirety of his recorded work, and was therefore more than primed to experience these new additions. (Small caveat: Betsy and I were asked to translate into English the Gustave Roud journal extract used in the piece, 'Farblose Wolken, Glück, Wind', on the Another Timbre recording, which we did with assistance from Jürg.)

The two recordings are from widely separated points in Frey's career and the innocent listener might be hard-pressed to think they were hearing work from the same composer. Frey's electronic/field recording music has been less thoroughly documented over the years, though one of the pieces more or less contemporaneous to the ErstClass release, 'Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit, Räume 1 - 8' was issued on eight discs by Radu Malfatti's b-boim label in 2010 and, indeed, is one of my very favorite releases of the past decade. More directly connected to this recording, b-boim also issued, in 2008, 'l'âme est sans retenue III' which, at 66 minutes, is like a mini-version of the ErstClass (though with notable differences) but if my copy is accurately inscribed, there were only 76 copies printed so it hasn't been widely heard. The original source recordings for these pieces were made from 1997 to 2000 and consist of, at least as far as I can tell, "simple" recordings outside, in public spaces in Berlin, which are then worked on to a greater or lesser degree (I hear more of that in the b-boim than the ErstClass recording, but it might just be a matter of the sources), never enough to cause severe distortion or to render them at all unrecognizable. There's a certain woolliness about them, a haze of atmosphere about which more below.

Though the general sound world is similar between these pieces, the structure is not. In 'Weites Land...', each "room" is presented in a single, uninterrupted 40-minute section. For the listener at home, there's a certain convenience in this arrangement: hearing one room, changing the disc to get to the next. On the new recording, a single work is spread over five discs, totaling six hours. There are no "end points" for each disc but since the piece contains ample sections of silence, that's not much of an issue. The audible portions, as in the b-boim version, are presented in relatively short segments, often lasting 15-20 seconds, alternating with silences the length of which varies quite a bit, from a couple of seconds to, guessing (I haven't measured), over five minutes. One of the things this listener needed to get past was the temptation, difficult to resist, of mentally timing the segments, to see if there was any regularity or pattern in place. A fool's errand. I do wish that somehow it could have been documented in a single-episode format, as the periodic disc changing somewhat interferes with the experience of such an overwhelmingly massive and, in a certain aspect, undifferentiated work. That's one of the points of fascination, in fact, the counterbalancing of general similarity (in the audible portions) with specific, though subtle, differences. I take for granted that there are no actual repetitions of material, though I couldn't swear by it. There are also clear instances of difference, including the sounds of church bells, automotive vehicles and obscure, very vague suggestions of music. [Before the concert in Cambridge of Frey's music, I was able to ask him a few questions about the work and 1) was able to determine, unsurprisingly, that none of the audible material is repeated and 2) that while certain "systems" may have been present in Frey's mind, the application was fairly loose. So, if he had, as an example he used (I may not be remembering exactly) an idea of time spans ranging in the pattern, 2-3-4-3-2, he might do it but not while counting exactly so he'd end up with imprecise sequences. As well, he mentioned that indeed there was music being played in the distances during some of the recordings.]

But enough about the elements, what about the experience of hearing? Well, it's unlike most anything else you're apt to encounter. I often make visual analogies (as does Frey, incidentally, often with regard to some association with landscapes) and here, a have the recurring image of street scenes shot with an old movie camera, maybe circa 1910, scenes where there may or may not be any particular activity occurring. Periodically, the camera's aperture closes, quickly but not so abruptly, remains closed for some seconds or minutes, then reopens on another scene, having moved only slightly or traveled a significant distance. Alternatively, sometimes the visuals are not cities, but clouds, the silences blue sky. Though if clouds, more likely contrails than naturally occurring ones; there's something manmade about the sounds, an urban hum pervades. The air vibrates with echoes of generators, automobiles, electric lights; there's a certain sizzle. Then can shift focus and hear, for instance, ocean water advancing and receding between beach rocks (enhanced when a distant gull call can be discerned). Many ways to hear and all of them, for me, oddly active. One might have guessed that work like this would be somehow relaxing, meditative but I don't find it so at all. I remain hyper-alert, trying to hear as deeply into the sounds, establish relationships with the silences and then, of course, listening to the silences (my environment; the heat coming on this cold day offers a weak approximation of Frey's sounds). No placid dozing off here. It's difficult music, sometimes reminding me of a quasi-similarly hard piece by Frey which I'd just heard performed in Cambridge, '60 Pieces of Sound' which, in turn, reminds me of Gerhard Richter's Color Chart paintings. That Frey piece, though, as well as the Richters, are oriented in regular fashion; in '60 Pieces of Sound' you have sustained tones of about eight seconds followed by silences of about sixteen. In 'l'âme est sans retenue I', it's as though far relatives of those sounds have been released from those strictures, allowed to float up and, while still separate and distinct, enabled the spaces between to expand or contract, buffeted randomly by the wind.

How one listens to a work of this length and seemingly tenuous construction is left up to the listener to determine. I've listened with concentration, distractedly, from two rooms away while reading and, despite my assertion above, dozing off. The music works in different ways, depending, and I've by no means exhausted the possibilities.

Frey's composition, 'Ferne Farben' appeared on an earlier Another Timbre release, 'Grizzana', and was also performed in Cambridge on November 8 by the ensemble Ordinary Affects (Morgan Evans-Weiler, Luke Martin, Laura Cetilia and J.P.A. Falzone) along with Frey. It's an extremely quiet work and the acoustic sounds are supplemented by taped ones, also at extreme low volume, more than enough so that it was next to impossible to determine whether what one heard emanated from the speakers or outside the venue. A fantastic work, I was thinking while listening that it could serve as a kind of bridge between the music heard on 'l'âme est sans retenue I' and that which appears on 'Collection Gustave Roud'.

Along with the general notion of "landscape", the words of Gustave Roud (1897 - 1976), a Swiss/French writer/poet, have served as a longstanding source of inspiration for Frey. This is a superbly curated selection of such works, maybe the finest single grouping of later Frey pieces I've heard. Three are somewhat short in length (about 8 - 15 minutes) and are written for similar trios: clarinet/cello/piano, violin/clarinet/piano and violin/cello/piano. These bracket to much longer pieces, 'La présence, les silences' for solo piano and 'Farblose Wolken, Glück, Wind' for soprano, trumpet, cello and percussion.

A favorite aspect of Frey's music, for me, is his total lack of fear to deal with material that might be called conventionally beautiful, short melodies and sequences that "pull at the heartstrings". 'Paysage pour Gustave Roud' (Frey, clarinet; Stefan Thut, cello; Dante Boon, piano) is a particularly moving example of this, the two, three and four note passages just breathing with both melancholy and serene acceptance. As in a landscape, and in common with much of Frey's music in this area, there's a perfect balance of the expected--the way you expect a meadow to continue over a hillside--and the unexpected, as when a path disappears or a rock formation looms into view after an innocent turn. He often sets up small patterns of rhythm or melody, lasting just long enough for the listener to get comfortable, think, "Ah, I know where this is going" then, always gently, he shifts things, extends the duration of a beat, inserts the slightest bit of sourness into a sweet series of notes. This always strikes me as so true to life, always causes shivers of delight and recognition. The set of descending two-note patterns near the conclusion is just devastating. Such a fine work, hard to stop listening.

'Haut-Jorat' (Andrew Mcintosh, violin; Frey, clarinet; Boon, piano) is a suite of five brief passages. It's a bit more somber, more astringent than the previous work, the five sections interrupting any sense of languidness though each is slow, quiet and doesn't feel rushed. More like a set of glimpses through a window out into a cold and lovely landscape, a fleeting thought captured. In a way it reminds me of a tiny re-orchestrated, sliver of 'l'âme est sans retenue I', a similar feeling of the opening and closing of an aperture. Very lovely. 'Ombre si fragile' (Mcintosh, Thut and Boon' closes the two-disc set but echoes the first two pieces in general demeanor. Though sparer and more episodic, the sense of melodicism remains, the strings often playing together in grainy harmonics, the piano offsetting with darker commentary. There's a dusk-like feeling imparted and the piece ends with a lovely lack of resolution, simply evanescing.

These three works surround two of substantially greater length, both profound. I'll say outright that 'La présence, les silences', played here by Dante Boon, is one of the finest pieces for solo piano I've heard in years. For my money, it should be part of the contemporary repertoire. Boon, of course, is an amazingly sensitive pianist and, according to Frey, plays the 41-minute work entirely from memory. Describing it is difficult without falling back into landscape tropes. It's not quite "slow" but is exceedingly patient, shifting from lengthily repeated single notes to bright chords and back, again beginning to give a hint of recurring patterns but never quite getting there. (As has happened in other recent, quiet piano pieces, the action of the pedals--or key levers?--is quite audible. This may be a distraction for some but I find it to be like a ghostly echo, a soft response to the notes and don't mind it at all). It's almost like one, slowly unfurling melody, with few signposts (perhaps only those repeated notes) as reference, more like a path leisurely walked upon but closely observed. Musically, I hear some vestiges of Satie's Rosicrucian period, the 'Ogives' and others, but that's very tangential. The music absorbs utterly.

Frey uses extracts from Gustave Roud's journals that cover a long period from 1916 - 1971 as the text for 'Farblose Wolken, Glück, Wind' (Colourless Clouds, Happiness, Wind), as well as a text of his own, in German, performed by Regula Konrad (soprano), Stephen Altoft (trumpet), Stefan Thut (cello) and Lee Ferguson (percussion). The Roud text is an interesting combination of the everyday, very plain spoken/written and the subtly unworldly. In doing the translation, Frey didn't want any poetic license taken, instead asking us to (possibly) unearth the poetry contained in those basic terms. It was an odd venture, sometimes disorienting as when one could in no way get around the phrase, "J'entends une fanfare" ("I hear a flourish of trumpets"). And, at least to some extent, Frey deals with this literalness in the music, as becomes startlingly clear with the above example. It's not an easy . piece, lasting over 48 minutes and having a slightly more sour tonality than the other works on the album, but it's just as rich. Konrad's soprano has a hornlike quality and meshes wonderfully with both cello and (at first) subdued trumpet. I find the music less "pathlike", more stationary, as if the listener is sitting observing the landscape, and the weather, instead of walking through it. The tones are ghostly, foglike, at least for much of the piece. When that flourish of trumpets arrives, with accompanying snares, it has the shock of a thunderclap in blue sky (easily twenty times louder than anything heard previously in Frey's recorded catalog) but serves as a fine tonic, an understanding about the variation in things, even when one has learned, as I feel Frey has, to view matters with more serenity and acceptance. It's a complex, marvelous work, one that has unfolded in many different ways each time I've listened.

Both recordings are inherently outstanding and, too, serve as indicators of the range and vision of this remarkable composer.


Another Timbre

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A few thoughts, nothing so earthshaking, on the performance of Éliane Radigue's music at Issue Project Room on October 20, with Laetitia Sonami, Carol Robinson and Rhodri Davies.

In the liner notes for 'occam ocean' (Shiiin eer1, also picked up at the concert), Radigue writes:

"I do not renounce my electronic work, though I never accomplished anything that completely satisfied me. The end result was always a compromise between what I really wanted to do and what I was technically able to do using the means available. Conversely, with these musicians, I was finally able to hear, for the first time, the music I call my 'sound fantasies'."

The three works presented ranged from electronic (with voice), to live electronic to acoustic and to some extent, not wanting to extrapolate too much from a single evening, bore witness to the accuracy of those remarks.

The first piece was 'Mila's Song in the Rain', an extract from 'Songs of Milarepa', which was originally released in 1983. It's scored for electronics (Radigue) and voices: Tibetan reading and singing by Lama Kunga Rinpoche and Robert Ashley reading an English translation of the text (at the concert, this was simply played over the sound system, not performed live; I assume the same recording as on Side A of the Lovely Music release). Radigue's sounds, as is generally the case, were confined to a relatively narrow area but varied subtly and imaginatively within that band. Still, I found myself wondering if, over the course of its 19 minutes, it would have gripped my attention for the duration were it not for the spoken words. The Tibetan was, to my ears, inherently interesting  both for its strangeness (to me) and the way it was half-spoken, half-sung, very beautifully. Ashley's text, on the other hand, delivered with his typical, wry, midwestern drawl, was amusing and, as Mimi Johnson mentioned in her opening remarks, satisfyingly grounded in the day-to-day. But the electronics, if listened to "separately" (not how the piece was designed, of course) seemed slightly limited, however attractive and well-deployed. Nothing major, but the thought arose.

Next, Laetitia Sonami performed 'OCCAM IX', a 30-minute work, on her self-designed Spring Spyre, pictured below:

This was the first time I've seen Sonami play. I don't know the details of her instrument but clearly, her strokes, plucks and taps on the seemingly rather elastic strings, all but inaudible "acoustically", were greatly amplified by the connected devices, generating a gentle humming that fluctuated and lightly throbbed. Again, great subtlety and touch were in force and for a while, about 15 minutes, I was reasonably captivated. But...eventually it felt as though I had gleaned what there was to be gleaned, that I had heard the instrument's limitations (at least as used on this evening), that there were only so many plies to be penetrated. I don't think this impression had anything to do with Sonami's abilities, more a limitation of the instrument. Obviously, even if this is the case, other instruments might offer far greater depth but again, the thought nagged at me. I've no idea how Radigue determines the approximate length of her work; this piece was about 30 minutes. Always an issue with music like this, here I thought it could stand some reduction.

The second half of the concert  was 'OCCAM RIVER XVI", performed by Robinson and Davies. The latter played a standard concert harp, bowed, using both one and two bows. Robinson wielded a birbyné, an open-holed, Lithuanian reed instrument with a wooden body and cow horn bell from which she had removed the reed. [note: Carol informs me that although the reed is detachable, she does indeed utilize it in performance]

In the notes to 'occam ocean', Robinson states that its sound is "unstable" and it's delightfully so. I've no idea of its loudness potential, but played softly as was the case here, it has a wonderful, breathy, ghostly tone--think of, perhaps, a woodier sounding clarinet. While the piece was, as with most (if not all) of Radigue's in the OCCAM series, centered around one pitch, the vagaries of the acoustic practice, intentionally or otherwise, allowed for an enormous amount of variation. Perhaps it has to do with how much one's ears (my ears, in any case) can differentiate between pitches, timbres, etc., and it could also have to do with the specific instruments involved but whereas in the Sonami-played work, I thought the range exhausted after a certain point, with the harp and birbyné, I felt as though I could have listened for twice its 50-minute length and still not have begun to plumb its depths and complexities. The grain, the was like looking at a stone or piece of wood and always seeing more no matter how deeply you penetrated. While in Paris, I was fortunate to witness a performance of Radigue's 'Naldjorlak I, II and III', with Charles Curtis, Robinson and Bruno Martinez, one of the most powerful concerts I've ever experienced. Some of the effect was surely enhanced by virtue of sitting about six feet directly in front of the trio, especially Curtis. During the first section, in which he performed solo for about an hour, I was utterly absorbed into his instrument, thrown into an apparently infinite whirlpool of sound, with structures emerging and disappearing in seconds, an astonishing range of colors and more--all in the context of more or less a single, wooly pitch, a wolf tone as I was to learn, something I'm told cellists are trained early on to avoid. Here at Issue Project, if not to quite as strong a degree, something similar took hold, especially with regard to the variations each musician injected. Davies, "simply" drawing the bow(s) back and forth over one or two strings, between micro-alterations in pitch and fluctuations in dynamics, elicited a vast and clear soundscape within this ostensibly narrow constriction. Robinson, either due to the birbyné's inherent instability or her own intuition (both, I imagine), shifted the base pitch ever so slightly, but in context significantly and sometimes let a given series of phrases trail off in ghostly vapors, small, light filagrees of tone, immensely moving. She would also vary the sound even more subtly by raising or lowering the instrument. Between the two sound sources, each remarkably complex in themselves, the listener has a virtual abundance of sonic riches in which to delve. To these ears, the rewards of Rdigue's music are substantially greater with the acoustic instruments than with the electronic ones, at least in my experience. I don't know that this would necessarily be the case, that sufficiently complex programming shouldn't allow for degrees of detail well beyond what human ears can distinguish, but something comes through Curtis' cello, Robinson's birbyné and Davies' harp, some level of aesthesia, that I haven't experienced in other forms.

I should add that on first listen to the Shiiin release (which in addition to Robinson and Davies, features violist Julia Eckhardt), the above still holds true for me, even though when filtered via CD, an essential physicality is necessarily lost.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Favorite releases of 2016, allowing that I've heard far fewer this year than in years past. Thanks, as ever, to all the musicians and labels involved.

Keith Rowe – The Room Extended (Erstwhile)

75 Dollar Bill – Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (Thin Wrist Recordings)
Ryoko Akama – Acceptance (Suppedaneum)
AMM – Spanish Fighters (Matchless)
Casey Anderson - Radios (A Wave Press)
Marc Baron – Un Salon Au Fond d’Un Lac (Potlatch)
Pascal Battus – Dafne Vicente-Sandoval – s/t (Potlatch)
Olivia Block – Dissolution (Glistening Examples)
Dante Boon – For Clarinet and Piano (Another Timbre)
Anthony Burr/Anthony Pateras – The Long Exhale (Immediata)
Lucio Capece – Awareness About (Another Timbre)
Scott Cazan – Ingress (A Wave Press)
D’Incise/Cristían Alvear – Appalachian Anatolia (Another Timbre)
Angharad Davies/Rhodri Davies/Michael Duch/Lina Lapelyte/John Lely/John Tilbury – Goldsmiths (Another Timbre)
Angharad Davies/Tisha Mukarji – Ffansïon (Another Timbre)
Costis Drygianakis - Wings of Wind (Granny)
Bryan Eubanks/Hong Chulki – Proper Motions (Celadon)
Morgan Evans-Weiler – Endless Overtones in Relational Space (Suppedaneum)
Morton Feldman/The Smith Quartet/John Tilbury – Music for Piano and Strings, Volume 3 (Matchless)
Jürg Frey/Quotuor Bozzini – String Quartet No. 3/Unhöbare Zeit (Edition Wandelweiser)
Jürg Frey/Cristían Alvear – Guitarist, Alone (Another Timbre/Cathnor)
Jean-Luc Guionnet /Dedalus – Distances Ouïes Dites (Potlatch)
Sarah Hennies - Gather & Release (category of manifestation)
Sarah Hennies/Cristían Alvear – Orienting Response (mappa)
Illogical Harmonies – Volume (Another Timbre)
A.F. Jones – Languor Yields (Rhizome.s)
Beat Keller/Tom Johnson/Joseph Kudirka – String Trios (Edition Wandelweiser)
Graham Lambkin – Community (ErstSolo)
Lance Austin Olsen – Maps, Battle Hymns: The Vast Field of Liberation (Suppedaneum)
Michael Pisaro/Cristían Alvear/d’Incise/Lo Wie/Angharad Davies/Manfred Werder – 3+3=3 (Melange Edition)
Michael Pisaro/Radu Malfatti – Invisible Landscapes (Willow St. Recordings)
Michael Pisaro/Reinier Van Houdt – The Earth and the Sky (ErstClass)
Michael Pisaro/Christian Wolff - Looking around (Erstwhile)
Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto – Earnest Rubbish (Erstwhile)
Keith Rowe/Martin Küchen – The Bakery (Mikroton)
Marcus Schmickler/John Tilbury – Timekeepers (A-Musik)
Linda Caitlin Smith – Dirt Road (Another Timbre)
Linda Caitlin Smith/Eve Ehoyan – Thought and Desire (Maria de Alvear World Edition)
Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble – s/t (Meenna)
Marvin Tate/Joseph Clayton Mills – The Process (Every Contact Leaves a Trace)
Toshiya Tsunoda – Somashikiba (edition.t)
Taku Unami/Devin DiSanto – s/t (ErstLive)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Keith Rowe - The Room Extended (Erstwhile)

I first noticed the tremor in Keith's right hand on a visit to his home in Vallet in the summer of 2014. Presumably it had existed for some time although while I was in Paris (from February 2013) we saw Keith several times a year and I hadn't picked up anything before. When I returned to Vallet in November for two concerts in honor of Christian Wolff's 80th birthday, Wolff at one point asked him directly about the shaking and Keith replied that they were having examinations but it might well be Parkinson's which, in fact, it turned out to be. 'The Room Extended' was begun in 2013 and completed in 2016. Death had always been on his mind, often talked about very matter-of-factly, but, as clearly indicated by the cover image of his brain (a pre-Parkinson's diagnosis scan for a possible tumor), one assumes a permeation of this concern over most of the course of the construction of the present work.

As in 2007's 'The Room' (ErstSolo 001), this was put together at home, composed if you will, though the multitude of components themselves are largely improvised. One of the first things that hits you is the immense depth of much of the work; there always seems to be at least four or five layers of sound occurring, enough that on each subsequent listen (I've been through its four-plus hours five times so far), you pick up not only sounds you've not heard/noticed before but, more rewardingly, new relationships between them, both simultaneous ones and ones spanning the course of the piece. For a while, Rowe has been interested in revisiting sound areas he's investigated over the years, seeing if there might be aspects he'd previously missed or investigating new ways of deploying them and at several moments here, listeners familiar with his history may well recognize some signature sounds. There are plenty of new, even startling ones as well, such as the artificial sounding bird call that's looped for an almost unconscionable length at one point. More tellingly, the habit he first (as far as I know) used in his solo performance in Tokyo in 2008, that of the intentional inclusion of extracts from Western classical music, is a thread that winds through the entirety of 'The Room Extended'. In at least one sense, it's simply an honest evocation of his room, the main room of his home in Vallet, in which any visitor will hear over his stereo, not the latest release from the contemporary improvising world, but rather Wagner, Haydn, Brahms, Purcell, Mondonville and others. This is, in a circumscribed sense, his room. So certain themes that have preoccupied him in recent years--Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' or the death scene from Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas', for instance--make their presence known quite strongly. It's an odd mix, I think, for those of us who know his work, on his own, with AMM or in collaboration with countless others. There's a difference between a random radio grab and an explicit implanting of material, one that I've struggled with but am coming around to. For Rowe, in addition to simply having a great appreciation for their beauty and probity, it's an overt acknowledgement of the tradition from which he arises.

Of course, Rowe's notion of The Room encompasses much more than the Western classical tradition and here one gradually encounters more from the East, including what seems to be Indian and Egyptian musics via the radio (the latter sounding like Mohamed Abdel Wahab, though that's a guess). But more than id'ing this or that source, the power in 'The Room Extended' derives from the way these and the far more prevalent electronic and guitar sounds (there are surprisingly many very recognizable instances of the latter) are filtered, layered and paced over its 246 minutes, the fact that, to these ears, intense interest is consistently maintained. Apart from 'The Room', Rowe's historic involvement with anything remotely compositional has been very limited, essentially confined to graphic scores (Cardew, Wolff, Brown, his own work like 'Pollock'), so you wonder how things might have evolved differently had he been working more often in this milieu, where things are carefully considered over a long period of time. Once when we visited, he played us a portion of music that he was considering using for 'The Room Extended', a thick sandwich of string sections from six or seven sources, layered atop one another. Sounded amazing and I think you hear a snatch of it (or something like it) at a couple of points, including toward the end of the present work. But more, the overall feeling I get from the piece is one man, sitting at his work space in his small loft in the converted cellier in Vallet, letting all the sounds, remembered and ongoing, filter in, mixing with his knowledge of what's occurring in the world (one is tempted to read an uncritical demographic observation in the increasing presence of Islamic music as the piece develops) and, always, with the acknowledgement of the certainty of death. His upcoming recording with Michael Pisaro deals with the Venerable Bede's analogy of life: a sparrow flying into a mead hall where a raucous feast is taking place and quickly flying out a window on the opposite side. Here, amidst a whirlpool of sound, from radios, news commentaries, orchestras, guitars and electronics, at the very last, an alarmed voice speaking in Spanish is abruptly cut off. Then nothing.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sanatorium of Sound Festival, Sokołowsko, Poland, August 12-15, 2016

Last year, I was surprised to be invited to give a talk at this affair but it was just after our return to the US and too hectic a time to incorporate such a trip into our schedule so I was very pleased that the invitation was extended again. Not only for the chance to attend and participate in a fine looking festival but also to visit, for the first time in my life, each of my ancestral homelands, Poland and Germany.

Sokołowsko is a small village nestled near the Silesian and Sudetenland regions, which these days span areas of southwestern Poland, southeastern Germany and eastern Czech Republic. Getting there isn't so easy. For reasons known only to airline magnates, it's about twice as expensive to fly to the much nearer Wrocław (known as Breslau in German and Vratislava in Czech) as to Berlin, some 350 kilometers distant so we were asked to do the latter. Thanks to the extreme good graces of Lucio Capece, we were able to use his studio in Berlin after the festival and spend a few days there. It was a small comedy of errors actually making it from Berlin to Sokołowsko involving our lack of cellphones, a shared car (via BlaBlaCar) with a delightful young Polish couple who were under the impression that they were picking up attendees of an apparently adjacent festival centered around sado-masochism and other sexual expressions, the extraordinarily bumpy Polish highways, well-intentioned but clueless direction givers in small towns and more. But we arrived, a bit later than I hoped (unfortunately missing sets by Jonas Kocher/Gaudenz Badrutt and Illogical Harmonies (Johnny Chang/Mike Majkowski)). It's a lovely little town, nestled in among steep hills, very lush. Fatigue may have played a part, but the concert just starting at that point by Ensemble Phoenix, a ten-member chamber ensemble playing works by Antoine Chessex, Kasper Toeplitz and Robert Piotrowicz didn't do so much for me, though one of the two by the latter, "Grund" had its moments.

The main site of the festival was a sanatorium that was established in 1854. Per Wiki (in German, Sokołowsko is referred to as Görbersdorf):

Görbersdorf didn’t differentiate from neighbouring villages until it was visited in 1849 by Countess Maria von Colomb, a niece of Prussian General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The countess, delighted by the scenery, persuaded her brother-in-law Hermann Brehmer to establish a health resort for consumptive patients. In 1854 she and Brehmer opened the world's first sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis at Görbersdorf. The care included the Priessnitz method of hydrotherapy and also a precursory method of climatic-dietetic treatment was applied. The treatment of consumption practised by Alexander Spengler at Davos, perpetuated by Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain, was modelled after Görbersdorf, which at times was called the "Silesian Davos", although it should be called Davos "Swiss Görbersdorf". The resort was relatively expensive, but well organised, and before 1888 it had both a post office and phone lines. At the same time the quantity of 730 curates well exceeded the number of inhabitants. Several further sanatoriums were established in the following years and until World War I, Görbersdorf had become popular with guests from all over Europe, who had numerous mansions and even a Russian Orthodox chapel erected. At the beginning of the 20th century Scandinavian guests introduced snow skiing and a ski jumping hill was opened in 1930.

The central building, an impressive one, has been only partially restored as an arts center and a few events took place in a room that retained very much an abandoned feel:

Others took place in the local movie theater, a modern "multimedia" room in the main campus and outside in the surrounding park.

Saturday's events began with an intriguing talk by Michał Libera and Daniel Muzyczuk titled "The Fall of Recording", positing that recorded music may eventually be understood as a temporary phenomenon, from the very first recorded sounds in 1860 (which, ironically, weren't intended to be heard, rather to be a visual representation of sound patterns) to sometime in the near future when it may "devolve" back into live performance only. We shall see. Next came a long-term project of Keith Rowe's called "Dry Mountain", one which I was unwittingly roped into. Last year at the same festival, Rowe and festival organizer Gerard Lebik created a five-minute piece of electronic music. It was given to four visual artists who "back-composed" graphic scores based on what they heard; I don't recall the artists' names (I wasn't taking notes for any of this) but from the program booklet, I'm guessing three of them might have been Alicja Bielawska, Bożenna Biskupska and Daniel Koniusz (Rowe was the fourth). The scores were a graphic one by Rowe, a large painting of black streaks on a white background, a set of perhaps two dozen "color sample" pieces (not unlike Richter's, in a way), each about 5 x 8 inches, arrayed high on a wall and a tabletop array of leaves, branches and various detritus. (The event took place in the room pictured above.) The original five-minute piece was played first. Then, eight musicians (Gaudenz Badrutt, electronics; Johnny Chang, violin; Bryan Eubanks, electronics; Emilio Gordoa, vibraphone, percussion; Jonas Kocher, accordion; Kurt Liedwart, electronics; Xavier Lopez, electronics; Mike Majkowski, double bass) in four configurations from solo to quintet, played sequential five minute readings of these scores. As they were doing so, four "artists" (myself, Michael Pisaro and two women whose names, I'm afraid, I didn't get) drew new scores based on what they were hearing from their assigned group (mine was Gordoa, Liedwart and Lopez, working from Rowe's score). These were passed to the musicians involved and the octet immediately performed them tutti. It was a strange event, not a little intimidating for myself (I wasn't aware of my participation until that morning) but oddly enchanting. Interestingly, I purposefully declined to look at Keith's score but my own, somehow based on what I was hearing, bore some fairly decided similarities to his. Pisaro, working with Chang and Majkowski, attempted to instantaneously score exactly what they were playing only to return it to them to play. In any case, the audience appeared to enjoy it.

General fatigue caused me to miss both Anna Zaradny's performance earlier in the day (by the time I arrived to the venue, I couldn't get in, but as it was rather loud, could get more than an inkling from outside) and very unfortunately, that of Alessandro Bosetti immediately after the "Dry Mountain" set. His was to be based on a fragment of notation from Leoš Janáček referenced in the earlier talk; I hope I can hear that one of these days. Along with the Bosetti work, Valerio Tricoli's concert that evening was part of the Fall of Recording idea, using excerpts from a diary of Pierre Schaeffer to construct a vast and dense wall of concrête-style electronics but with far more air and naturalness than I've normally encountered in this type of milieu--very impressive.

The evening ended with an outdoor performance by Lucio Capece using speakers suspended from three balloons (originally four, but one escaped) which were propelled to and fro while receiving and broadcasting sine wave signals from Capece's electronics. At one point, he played very soft and extremely beautiful tones on his slide saxophone, enhancing the ambient tones wonderfully. The setting was fine, the weather excellent and the sounds compelling.

Early Sunday afternoon, I gave my little talk outside in the park, happily bolstered by Keith Rowe and writer Daniel Brożek. The gist of it was the proposition that we're coming to the end of the "era", as it were, of truly free improvisation in the AMM-sense of the term, that younger musicians are (have been for a while) moving on to other grounds, conceptual, compositional and more and that this is neither good nor bad, simply the way it is, a function of history. I thought I performed rather feebly but the crowd seemed to enjoy it and, as said, it was fortunate to have Keith and Daniel on hand to rescue me from excessive plunging down various rabbit holes. (photo below by Artur Sawicki)

There followed one of the true highlights of the festival, realizations of two works by Michael Pisaro, "festhalten, loslassen" (Pisaro, electric guitar; Lucio Capece, bass clarinet; Johnny Chang, violin; Mike Majkowski, double bass) and "A single charm is doubtful (Harmony Series #14)" with the above quartet supplemented by Bryan Eubanks on soprano saxophone and Jonas Kocher on accordion. Performed in the same semi-ruined room as "Dry Mountain", both pieces were stunning in their combination of purity and fluctuation, individuation and overlapping, all played with superb control and sensitivity. The addition of two voices in the second work seemed almost impossibly sumptuous, really a gorgeous arrangement of timbres.

Early that evening, there were solid solo electronics sets from Kurt Leidwart and Olivia Block, the latter incorporating some of those dark knocking sounds I love throughout and ending it with a fantastically drawn out "coda" of similar dull percussive elements that was quite moving. Block also had an installation up through the weekend, situated in another of those abandoned rooms, this one with no exterior wall. She hung gossamer, parachute-like fabric around the space which contained several speakers that recorded outside sounds, including voices of passers-by, augmented them somehow and rebroadcast them at low volume in the space. Very effective, especially when passing breezes fluttered the temporary curtains, very ghostly. Stephen Cornford also had an installation in a gallery on the main street, an odd electronic aviary of sorts consisting of dozens of microchip boards hung in clusters on two walls, bearing metronome-like tails that twitched back and forth, the mechanisms emitting tweets and cackles in just-off semi-unisons. I would have liked to have seen them arrayed in the forest but so it goes...

Later on came the much anticipated duo of Pisaro and Rowe. The work, conceived by Rowe, was called, "Venerable Bede" and was based on a parable by the same which goes:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.

Both independently composed scores that lasted two hours and twenty minutes; Rowe's was of a graphic nature, Pisaro's traditionally notated. They were in the main multimedia room which had forward and rear exits along the near side. Rowe had police tape installed, creating a space about eight feet wide along the wall farthest from the performers and had the festival print a page of, well, not instructions but recommendations to the effect that listeners enter at one end, stay for however long they liked, but not too long, exit the other end, go out, have a beer, talk with friends etc., and circle back in when they felt the urge to, repeating the cycle as many or few times as the liked. Well, almost needless to say, that didn't work so hot with very few choosing to do other than ensconce themselves in the space and listen. After scoping out the set-up, I chose to remain outside for much of it though as the doors were kept open, enough sound bled from within to get an idea of what was going on. Each night previously, at around 11PM, the venue played disco music of a sort from external loudspeakers for the dancing pleasure of the attendees (why people going to a festival featuring music like that heard here would want to dance to disco is a question I've been unable to resolve, but such is apparently the case). Earlier in the afternoon, Rowe had noticed that the Bede performance would overlap by a good 20-30 minutes with the disco but asked Gerard Lebik to please let it go on as normal. :-) A superb decision. I was outside at the point it came on and had momentarily forgotten that it would. As it happened, the first music was less like disco and more like an especially soupy version of Return to Forever circa 1975 and I thought, "What the hell are they playing?" having visions of Keith suddenly picking up a guitar and wailing away á la Bill Connors. I went inside then for the last half hour of the work and it was glorious, Pisaro playing guitar both cleanly as I've heard before and with severe distortion, Rowe engaging the almost overwhelming disco with, toward the conclusion, the overture from "Tristan und Isolde", an incredibly poignant apposition. Great stuff, hope it was recorded.

On Monday, I attended only two events, a kind of rough solo set by Emilio Gordoa who never quite got into the kind of cohesive groove I think he wanted (though producing some seriously intriguing sounds) and a distinctive and refreshing one from Bryan Eubanks (on soprano sax and claves) and Xavier Lopez (electronics). It was quite the palate cleanser from everything that had occurred prior, both in terms of its transparency and the insistent use of rhythms and patterns. Lopez' sounds were almost banal--basic synth tones--but arrayed in great phased patterns that expanded and contracted much like early Reich but with a nice looseness, shifting unexpectedly. Eubanks used claves extensively, tapping out simple, clear sequences, staying with them much longer than you though he would, achieving a mesmerizing, trancelike feeling. Hard to describe otherwise, but really bracing, a fine doorway "out" from the weekend's music, toward some other clime.

Just a fabulous few days overall--great people (so nice to meet so many folk I'd known electronically for years as well as many I encountered for the first time), some wonderful music, a super-beautiful place and excellent pierogis to boot! Huge thanks to Gerard Lebik for the invitation.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Just a few thoughts on Muhal Richard Abrams as I wend my way through my recordings.

I think the first time I heard him was as a guest artist on the wonderful Art Ensemble recording, "Fanfare for the Warriors" (recorded in 1973, released in 1974), though I'd seen references to him before. At that point only his first two records, "Levels and Degrees of Light" and "Young at Heart, Wise in Time" had been released and Delmark records were a bit tough to come by in Poughkeepsie. He stood out a good bit on that Art Ensemble session and perhaps even more on Marion Brown's beautiful "Sweet Earth Flying", which may still contain my favorite recorded example of his playing, his solo feature on "Part 5".

I saw him once prior to moving to NYC, as part of the incredible Braxton quintet I had the great fortune to see at the Tin Palace in the summer of 1976, with George Lewis, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall (still my single favorite Braxton group, possibly a one-time only performance?) and may have heard "Sightsong", his wonderful duo with Malachi Favors, by then but I certainly saw him often once I was ensconced in New York. I can only recall one occasion when he played Environ (a solo concert), though I may well be forgetting something. He did often come around to concerts though and once in a while would simply hang out in the space. In a few such instances, I had the enormous good fortune to engage in several conversations with Muhal, events I cherish. He was always gracious but also very forthright in his opinions, including subjects such as white musicians playing jazz. "I could go to Ireland," he once said, "and study the Irish jig. I could stay there for twenty years and, eventually, become a really good Irish jig dancer. But I'd never be as good as an Irishman." I saw him perform elsewhere quite often in various other capacities as leader and sideman, including some AACM-organized events at the Center for Ethical Culture. It was always a joy to encounter him at such shows, whether he was on stage or in the audience. The respect accorded him by any musician in the house was always evident. You also got the strong impression of a real family guy, his wife and daughter often accompanying him and/or involved in the concert organization.

As with the great majority of musicians in this music, my taste runs strongly to his earlier work. Those first two Delmark recordings are wonderful as is much of the music on the rather grab bag "Things to Come from Those Now Gone", especially "March of the Transients", one of my favorite AACM-involved pieces ever ( "Afrisong", a solo recording originally issued on India Navigation (also on Why Not?, I think) is lush and beguiling and the aforementioned "Sightsong" is a long-time favorite, not the least for the incredible Favors solo, "Way Way Way Down Yonder". A few other duo releases have their merits as well, including the Arista session with Braxton (Duets 1976), "Duet" with Amina Claudine Myers (Black Saint, 1981) and the lesser known "Roots of Blue" with Cecil McBee (I believe the only record ever issued under Abrams' own label, RPR, in 1986). On the other hand, "Lifelong Ambitions", where he's paired with Leroy Jenkins, rarely gels. I'd also mention another great participatory work, issued under Roscoe Mitchell's name, "The Roscoe Mitchell Quartet" (Sackville, 1975).

Abrams seemed to have a kind of split personality with regard to musical "camps". On the one hand there was work like most of the above mentioned, steeped in jazz and blues, extended outward; for me, this is decidedly his strength. On the other, there was a tendency toward drier, more academic music, more "European" if you will, ironic in light of that statement on Irish culture. It's an interest shared with Mitchell, Braxton and Lewis among others and, I've no doubt, would be defended by them on various grounds among which would be the contention that any charge of academicism would be an over-simplification of the reality and I'm sure that's true to one extent or the other. Nonetheless, at day's end, that's the impression I'm left with. Beginning in the late 70s, Abrams released a number of albums (first on Arita Novus, then predominantly on Black Saint), often involving large ensembles, which fell into an oddly predictable pattern: several abstract pieces, "third stream", if you will and one bluesy/jazzy composition. Inevitably, I'd find the latter quite enjoyable, the former less so. I doggedly followed along for a good while, however, I think up until "One Line, Two Views" (New World, 1995) at which point I gave up. So I may well have missed some fine music subsequently.

Muhal is 85 years old now and I hope he sticks around for a good long time. It will be a sad, sad day when he passes. Via his music and his fundamental involvement in the formation of the AACM, he is, to my mind, one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, really still too little recognized. Thanks for all the beautiful music, Mr. Abrams.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Thinking about it over the last couple of days, I'm guessing that the last death of someone associated with rock, allowing as broad a definition as you wish, that will have had a great effect on me will turn out to be that of Don Van Vliet in 2010. Richie Havens in 2013 was also very sad but his music, as much as I enjoyed it, made a less lasting impression.

The recent run of passings, beginning with Lemmy and concluding (thus far) with David Bowie, which included the non-rockish figures of Paul Bley and Pierre Boulez, left me largely unmoved or, I should say, no more or less moved than my feelings for the 40 Iranians killed as a result of a suicide bombing mission on the same day as Bowie's death, the reporting of which on BBC America news had to wait until 15 minutes of Bowie coverage and commentary had ended. Because, you know, they're just Iranians. Of course, this is all a matter of personal taste and history but it was interesting to me that those rock musicians who had a very strong effect on me as a youngster seem to have pretty much disappeared. I could be missing someone, but thinking on it, the list of persons aged, say, 60 or more that I care about at all was pretty thinly populated. Eno? Sure, for his early work (including especially the pop albums) but if he's released anything since about 1980 that I go back to at all, I can't think of it. Robert Wyatt? Again, I appreciate and admire him enough, though not nearly as much as many. Actually, thinking of him and his tenure in Soft Machine (a very influential band on yours truly while in high school) caused me to look up Mike Ratledge a) to see if he was still alive and b) to learn what, if anything, he'd been up to recently; he is and the results weren't so encouraging. The Roche sisters? Sure, for the first album--that remains meaningful enough that I'd be a bit sad were one or more of them to pass. John Cale? Ginger Baker? Dylan and Joni Mitchell have been brought up recently and while the former's "Highway 61 Revisited" and the latter's "Blue" were each important recordings for my teenage self, it's been so long since I cared at all about their music that I think I'd just tip my cap and move on.

Even though I've also only listened to portions of their work over the past 15-20 years, I'll be far, far more greatly moved by the deaths of Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Joseph Jarman and others. They mattered so much more to me than any rock musician, no comparison. Again, just personal history and I don't mean to be snippish, but part of me was a bit ticked when (hardly unexpectedly) Bowie's death received massively greater coverage than, say, that of Ornette Coleman last year. To be expected in the major media, of course, a bit more disappointing to see similar proportions in my fb feed.

Old fart gripe over.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

I've told this story before but what the hell.

Some five years ago I went to see the Golden Palominos at Poisson Rouge in NYC (the only time I've been to the place, in fact). I hadn't listened to them in quite a while--I don't think they'd had any releases out since Dead Inside from 1996, a very underrated disc, imho, btw--and wasn't really expecting much but I'd been something of a fan since their first self-titled record from 1983 which I imagine I picked up because of the presence of Laswell, Zorn and, to be sure, an acquaintance of mine from Vassar, Roger Trilling (who went on to do some work with the Enemy label and also Herbie Hancock). Anyway, I enjoyed it quite a bit at the time (still do) but more surprising was how much I liked the follow-up, "Visions of Excess", given its explicitly rock-like atmosphere, which I had little time for then, more so with regard to Fier's drumming, the kind of pounding I'm normally not very fond of (I think the record was dedicated to John Bonham) but, you know, exception proves the rule and I really had no problem with his work. More, the record was really solid, ranging from fairly approachable pieces to more severe ones like 'Only One Party' and 'The Animal Speaks', the latter penned by one Robert Kidney about whom I knew nothing and, indeed, assumed to be a pseudonym.

Despite the horribleness of the next record, "Blast of Silence", I stuck with the Goldens. There'd occasionally be a semi-decent release (as said, I think there's a lot of good material on "Dead Inside", almost entirely courtesy Nicole Blackman) but by and large, I wasn't all that interested. Still, though the idea of a reunion concert piqued my interest somewhat, I likely wouldn't have attended were it not for the presence of the wonderful Wingdale Community Singers also on the bill, who were fantastic (thanks, Nina, David, Rick!)

So, my friend and I went to the venue, not my favorite kind of place to hear music and, luckily, poached two of the very few chairs at a tiny table to the right of the stage. At a point during one of the early sets, we noticed a stout, elderly gentleman standing, propped by a cane, near the side of the stage. He looked a bit shaky and my friend was about to offer him her seat when someone closer to him did so and we thought nothing further of it. The Palominos came on, the first five or six songs (iirc) featuring Syd Straw and the music was rather pedestrian, kinda what I expected, chugging along well enough but having no real reason for being there. Then, much to our surprise, we saw that stocky gentleman making his way, hesitantly, up the stairs to the stage where, once ensconced behind the mic, he strapped on a guitar. I think they broke into "The Animal Speaks". Well, it was Kidney, jowls flapping furiously, bellowing and roaring. "Force of nature" is an overused term, but he came pretty close. He did three or four pieces, I think, tearing through them all though, I have to say, the one available on You Tube doesn't quite capture the moment. Maybe my memory is faulty...

So I went home, did some research and soon picked up this recording, recorded live in 1975. And liked it bigly. Listening to it now, it still sounds pretty excellent. For me, they managed to retain the improvisatory nature of the better rock bands of the 60s (one key: Dave Robinson's non-clunky, supple drumming) while adding blunt, dark post-Velvets words (more about the nature of the delivery, perhaps, than the lyrical content). "Animal Speaks" here also incorporates some juicy soul-based horn lines; it's not as savage as the Palominos version, where John Lydon was the vocalist/burper, but chugs along sublimely. And, wonderfully considering this is a live gig, there's no let-up whatsoever as they transition into "About the Eye Game". Indeed, it sounds like an extension of the previous piece, amped up a notch or two. "Narrow Road" is almost as intense, with more of a shuffle feel, also introducing congas and harmonica to great effect. Not so punk in the sense of not eschewing solos; I sometimes think of a bluesier Velvets. The liner notes are by David Thomas and there *is* some adjacency to Pere Ubu but, maybe, a block or two over in the same grimy area of Cleveland. He cites Beefheart and Sun Ra, fair enough. I weirdly pick up vagrant Art Ensemble vibes don't ask me where, maybe the conga and saxophones, something vaguely Bap-Tizum-y going on. The centerpiece is still "Jimmy Bell", a slightly more relaxed, expansive lope with that simple, inevitable descending, five note theme, and the unspooling guitar work it allows. The constant repetition and intensification..."look at the sisters in the corner, look at the sisters in the corner..." all spat out by Kidney, the saxophones allowed free reign, not confined to rockish bursts, the rhythm unrelenting, the warped harmonics of the guitar. It's probably one of my favorite rock performances ever, if you can call it that.

I'm always surprised I don't hear 15 60 75 (often referred to as The Numbers Band) name-checked more often. Weird. On the other hand, I've never gone out and picked up any of their subsequent recordings figuring, perhaps wrongly, that they'd fail to live up to this one. Live videos I've seen from recent years are ok but not terribly inspiring. Recommendations are welcome.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Listing....get it? *ahem*

So, as previously mentioned on facebook, among the many, many fine releases I heard this past year, even though that amount was undoubtably shortened by my decision to cease regular publication mid-year, two stood out for me. Unsurprisingly, one was the magnificent 4-disc duo recording from Keith Rowe and John Tilbury (done to integrate with video work by Kjell Bjørgeengen) on Sofa. It seems to have engendered, as near as I can tell, less discussion and appreciation than I would have thought. Perhaps it has to do with the size/cost of the set but I also think it's actually a really difficult work as well, though hugely rewarding. There's a darkness in play that I think is profound. Keith has referred to in as "late work" which, grim as that title may be, is accurate.

The other release that really bowled me over (reviewed earlier) was Jürg Frey's "string quartet no. 3/unhörbare zeit (Edition Wandelweiser). Frey's music has been astonishing me for a number of years now and I was very pleased, in 2015, to meet him on a couple of occasions and to hear his music performed live for the first time (I think? Though perhaps I'm forgetting an earlier instance).

Following, in no particular order, are most of the other releases I managed to hear last year that I really, deeply enjoyed. Thanks to all the musicians and labels who steered things my way:

Marianne Schuppe - Slow Songs (Edition Wandelweiser)
Common Objects - Whitewashed with Lines (Another Timbre)
Michal Libera/Martin Küchen/Ralf Meinz - Tyto Alba (Bôłt)
Christopher DeLaurenti - To the Cooling Tower (GD Stereo)
Devin DiSanto/Nick Hoffman - Three Exercises (ErstAEU)
Justin Meyers/Jason Lescalleet - The White Page (Glistening Examples)
R. Schwarz - The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)
Eric La Casa - Soundtracks (Herbal International)
Rutger Zuydervelt - Sneeuwstorm (Glistening Examples)
Radu Malfatti - Shizuka Ni Furu Ame (B-Boim, with Cristián Alvear)
Kevin Parks/Vanessa Rossetto - Severe Liberties (ErstAEU)
Ryoko Akama - Senu Hima (Melange)
Graham Lambkin/Michael Pisaro - Schwarze Riesenfalter (Erstwhile)
Eric La Casa/Taku Unami - Parazoan Mapping (Erstwhile)
Radu Malfatti - One Man and a Fly (Cathnor)
Klaus Lang - Organ Works, vol. 2 (God)
Michael Pisaro/Cristián Alvear - melody, silence (Potlatch)
Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes - Matterings (Erstwhile)
Greg Stuart/Ryoko Akama - Kotoba Koukan (Lengua de Lava)
André O. Müller - In Memory of James Tenney (Edition Wandelweiser)
Jürg Frey - Grizzana (Another Timbre)
Diatribes - Great Stone/Blood Dunza (Aussemraum)
Bryan Eubanks/Stéphane Rives - fq (Potlatch)
Rie Nakajima - Four Forms (Consumer Waste)
Cem Güney - Five Compositions (Edition Wandelweiser)
Fraufraulein - Extinguishment (Another Timbre)
Lucio Capece - Epoché (Hideous Replica)
Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) - Deining
Alvin Lucier - Dark Matter (God)
Jürg Frey - Circles and Landscapes (Another Timbre)
Chaz Underriner/Anastassis Philippakopoulos - ...reinterprets (Edition Wandelweiser)
Mike Majk(owski) - Bright Astonishment of the Night (Bocian)
Irene Kurka - Beten. Prayer (Edition Wandelweiser)
James Saunders/Apartment House - Assigned #15 (Another Timbre)
Jack Harris - And Neither of us.... (Cathnor)
Takahiro Kawaguchi/Utah Kawasaki - Amorphous Spores (Erstwhile)
Grisha Shakhnes - All This Trouble for Nothing (Glistening Examples)
Eva-Maria Houben - Air - Works for Flutes and Organ (Edition Wandelweiser)
Michael Pisaro - A Mist is a Collection of Points (New World)
Jürg Frey - 24 Wörter (Edition Wandelwesier)
John Cage - 108, 109, 110 (OgreOgress)
John Wall/Alex Rodgers - Work 2011-2014 (Entr'acte)
Marc Baron - Carnets (Glistening Examples)
Joseph Kudirka - Beauty and Industry (Another Timbre)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Toward the end of the 80s, I was becoming increasingly disgruntled with what I perceived as the lack of new ideas and energy in jazz. Having cut my teeth, since 1972 or so, on the AACM, JCOA and offshoots and other amazing individuals and organizations, I was hearing a kind of stultification setting in, a complacency of sorts. Sure there were still the occasional bursts of excitement and creativity--I still think of Anthony Braxton's notion to have his quartet interpolate entirely other compositions at will to be the last "great" idea in jazz--but more and more it seemed that musicians were treading water. The raw creativity heard in, say, Roscoe Mitchell in 1968, seemed to be a thing of the past. I cast around, of course, finding temporary solace in the burgeoning downtown New York City scene, whose sizzle pretty much evaporated within a decade (and scarce little of which I can return to these days without grimacing) but was always on the lookout for solution to the dilemma I perceived. For a while one such might have been the combination of solid, Mingusian themes and arrangements with free soloing and more expansive structures. I'd been a big fan of the Willem Breuker Kollektief since seeing them several times at Environ in 1977 or '78 but by 1985, their shtick had begun to wear very thin. Bands led by Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara and, to a lesser extent, David Murray made things click for a few years but those too eventually succumbed to a kind of laurel-resting torpor (though, of course, many would disagree).

I'm guessing it was in the review section of Cadence or possibly Coda that I first came across the mention of Simon H. Fell and, if I'm remembering correctly, those write-ups cited Fell's use of robust structures (Mingus' name was certainly invoked) integrated with aspects of free playing from the European school, another area I'd begun reinvestigating since more or less abandoning it in the mid-70s in favor of AACM and other American jazz avant approaches. It seemed to me a possible source of new and exciting work so, around 1986, I ordered Fell's Compilation I on the Bruce's Fingers label (I'd get Compilation II a few years later). I've long since given away almost all of my vinyl and no one's seen fit to upload music from either of these recordings as near as I can tell, so I can't say with any exactitude but recollect that I was hot and cold on the recordings, enjoying some portions the more robust and bluesier it got, finding other parts too cleanly abstract (in the "standard" British free-improvising sense), a bit oil and water, though overall my response was positive (see All Music reviews here and here). His band, Persuasion A and their release, "Two Steps to Easier Breathing" (1988) struck me as much more successful, ably drawing on South African musical traditions. Things were quiet on the Fell front until the late 90s when my friend and Cadence critic Walter Horn wouldn't stop proselytizing about "Composition no. 30" (1998, also on Bruce's Fingers), a 2-CD set for a big band of some thirty musicians (including several whose work I would devour in upcoming years, like Mark Wastell, Rhodri Davies and John Butcher). Once again, my reaction was mixed, enjoying some parts while finding others overly arid, though I began to get the sense that this was precisely what Fell was after and that, simply put, his aesthetic interests were somewhat different than my own, especially as I grew more and more disenchanted with new jazz, and so it went.

My next encounters with Fell came from a very different direction, however. I forget which arrived first but in any case, they were in the forms of IST (with Davies and Wastell, also the sole context in which I've seen Fell perform live, at Tonic in the early oughts; more on that below) and VHF (with Graham Halliwell and Simon Vincent) on the very first recording issued by Erstwhile in 1999. Along with groups like Polwechsel and Sugimoto's "Opposite", VHF was very significant for me, gradually laying open the world of "quiet improv"; I recall spending many an hour listening to it, listening in a different way than I had before, unpeeling translucent layers on each go-round. IST was slightly different, still having half a foot in the efi tradition; I'd love to hear that Tonic show again, curious if there was a divide between the harp and cello and Fell's bass. I was sitting directly in front of Fell and he put on a mighty performance--I found myself worrying several times that he might injure himself, including when he stuck the fingers of one hand under the bass strings and bowed atop both and when, his hands otherwise occupied, he used his left ear, rather forcefully, to depress strings on the fingerboard.

In the intervening years, I've only come across Fell's work sporadically, most recently in a pure improv context on Confront releases of older material with Derek Bailey and IST. Receiving the disc in question today brought back all of the above memories and having shortly thereafter serendipitously met Fell in Huddersfield and engaged in an all too brief conversation, I was intrigued to hear the latest in his compositional series, No. 79, "The Ragging of Time". And, dammit, I find myself having the same issues...

Some context. The work was presented as part of the Marsden Jazz Festival of 2014 and some thought was apparently given to commemorating the onset of World War I. I take it that John Quall, the festival's producer, more or less commissioned the piece, understanding that the date was roughly contemporaneous with the first jazz recordings and that Fell would incorporate thematic material from the time with contemporary sounds, restoring "the birthright of early jazz to make those traditional sounds new, to make them shocking, to make them the 'Devil's music' as it was once before." A tall order, indeed, but one that could, as far as I could glean from those 80s-90s recording of Fell's, fit comfortably into the structures established back then. Fell assembled a very strong sextet whose instrumentation referred to common ensembles of the era (Percy Pursglove, trumpet; Alex Ward, clarinet; Shabaka Hutchings, bass clarinet; Richard Comte, guitar; Fell, double bass; Paul Hession, drum set) and had at it.

The work is in three sections and the band immediately launches into a Morton-esque theme, bouncy and reasonably convincing, before quickly veering into a free improvisation featuring some blistering clarinet work from Ward. In microcosm, this is the model in use throughout: areas of thematic material interlaced or overlaid with a fairly aggressive but not atypical (within efi) improvised section, sometimes with written lines traced in the background, recalling (for me) a strategy used by Braxton among others. Different attacks and groupings are apparently scored with exactitude as the shifts within a given section are crisp and finely contrasting. All of the playing is first rate, especially Ward and Hutchings (the latter a name new to me) and I guess if you listen to the music from a post-Bailey, etc. point of view, you'll be well satisfied. I find it impossible to ignore the framing, however, and wonder about the reasons (aside from its seeming commissioned origins) to construct things this way. I mentioned the Breuker Kollektief above and there's something similar in structure here (albeit without the goofy humor and typically isolated solo turns, though the latter appears once or twice). As said, I have an affinity for much of that work up to a point, but that point was reached in the mid-80s and is difficult for me to regenerate enthusiasm thirty years on even if allowing for the fact--and I think this is decidedly the case--that Fell's group is more serious and committed. I think I would have far preferred it had no overt references to early jazz been made, instead touching on the matter more obliquely as occurs in the lovely three horn section toward the end of part one. On the other hand, the themes themselves, especially that from the second "movement", are extremely attractive and tastily arranged, as is a lovely secondary theme introduced about halfway through. It's simply something about the juxtaposition that bothers me, that oil and water thing. Shocking? No, not at all, just not integrated in a way I found engaging.

But much as this general language isn't something I'm too keen on nowadays and as much as I have issues with the (to me) forced confluence of styles, there's a decent portion of music that's simply exciting, even thrilling (for example a section beginning some five minutes into the third track). It is reminiscent of past musics, though these connections are likely more on my part than Fell's. I pick up a bit of John Carter now and then, for example, not a bad point of reference at all. And to be sure, those listeners with less of a bone to pick with this school of free improv will (and should) ignore my quibbles entirely and dig in; they'll have a great time and experience work at a very high level.

(While writing this piece, I found a wonderful video of Fell playing solo. There's an enormous amount of subtlety and beauty going on here. It's more in accord with where my focus is these days and has me hoping that, at least, he one day creates a bridge of sorts between this approach and his ensemble work. Perhaps he has and I'm simply ignorant of it.)

Bruce's Fingers

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jürg Frey - string quartet no. 3/unhörbare zeit (Edition Wandelweiser)

What to say? Two works, Frey's third string quartet (2010-2014) and a piece for string quartet and two percussionists (2004-2006), with Quatuor Bozzini on each, assisted by Lee Ferguson and Christian Smith on the latter.

I get the impression that if you half-listened to the string quartet, you might get the impression of stasis and self-similarity though nothing could be further from the truth. In his notes, Frey compares it to "the silence of a square, a room, a wall or a landscape" and that gets to the heart of the matter--one merely has to listen the way one can simply and deeply observe a wall to perceive not just the variations but the progressions, the story even. Recent releases from Frey have varied between the surprising melodic lushness heard on the Musiques Suisses recording and the grayer, more austere approach heard on "Grizzana" (Another Timbre), both of which I love deeply. The two works here strike me as somewhere between; more accurately, ranging from one boundary to another, and much else besides.

The string quartet is deceptive. On my first listen to the disc, it was "unhörbare zeit" that grabbed me but upon repeated listenings, it was clear how much I was missing in this piece. It begins with single whole note chords, grainy and exquisite, separated by a brief rest, in a calm sequence that has a little bit of a back and forth quality. After three minutes, the single notes separate into pairs, retaining the initial serenity. Back to single notes for a short time, then back to pairs, the tones acquiring a more worried and tense quality though the pacing remains the same. It subtly shifts into groups of four chords some 6 1/2 minutes in, sadder now. The emotional tinges throughout are always changing. Frey may object, but I hear a kind of narrative thread, finding myself in the mind of someone taking a long, quiet walk, perhaps remembering a friend recently lost, the highs and lows. This is encouraged by the fact that one hears (especially when listening on headphones) the breathing of some of the musicians as well as other non-instrumental sounds. Whether intentional or not, it acts to personalize the setting quite beautifully. The chords are attenuated, thinned to whispery lines, almost weeping, their sequencing becoming sparser, the spaces between lines lengthening a bit, before richer tonalities emerge. About halfway in, the mood becomes languorous and, dare I say, hopeful. The comparison may not be apposite, but I found myself thinking that this is the kind of music that, a few decades back, I hoped Gavin Bryars would write. But this is more profound, lush while retaining the requisite trace of bitterness. In the meantime, the pacing, while never disappearing, has become more blurred--there are many things happening throughout and I hear different aspects each time I listen. The music becomes more hushed, still richer and deeply grained, but barely stirring, longish lines wafting one by one through the air in the room like breath in the cold. In the end, the "walk" resumes, with more a sense of the inevitableness of loss combined with moving onward. A stunning, truly moving work, my favorite piece of composed music in quite a while.

Which is not to slight "unhörbare zeit", which is sumptuous as well and, indeed, in some ways is not so dissimilar. The added percussion provides a fertile layer of sound, hear dark and rumbling there softly jangling. Again, the pacing is calm and steady, individual "blocks" of sound looming into audibility, evanescing. If I can extend or at least refer to the imagery the first piece conjured in my head, understanding that I may be imputing too much, one difference might be that this work is more purely sound-concerned and less emotionally suffused. Still, the somberness of, say, the heavy but hollow, low percussion blows, sounding singly against string bowing that as become less regular, more fragmented, carries a dark intensity of its own. The world is bleaker, more concerned with the immediate environment than memories. There's some amazing music herein, though, including a set of chords late in the piece that sound for all the world like accordions, baffling me and lending a slightly queasy air to the conclusion of the work, very unsettling and effective.

Fantastic music, in any case. For anyone at all partial to Frey's work, it's an automatic. Personally, it's my favorite recording of composed music heard in 2015, possibly for longer than that.

Edition Wandelweiser

Also available from Erst Dist

Friday, December 04, 2015

Devin DiSanto/Nick Hoffman - Three Exercises (ErstAEU)

In a previous post, I mentioned the group of sets heard at AMPLIFY:exploratory that, as a whole, I found more interesting in approach, all of which involved Graham Lambkin and Taku Unami. Unami, here and in his 2011 visit, seems to come prepared with one basic idea which he iterates during all or most of the sets in which he's involved. This time it was fans, floor level and standing, employed both for the movement and noises they created on their own (sometimes interacting with each other) and their effect on garbage bags and the occasional small cardboard box. He also engaged in a little bit of surprising but very apt piano playing as well as wielding an electronic device or two. The festival opened with Unami and Sean Meehan, the latter playing (I think--he was seated on the floor and my view was entirely blocked) a set of bells. It was lovely and very quiet, the fans whirring softly, sometimes, by virtue of their rotational abilities, jangling against each other, blowing the green/black bags in a hushed rustle. There was plenty of silence and, several times, this was broken by an unexpectedly brilliant bell cascade. Really nice, made me want to hear a festival in which Meehan played in every set. But it also signaled that "other" path, the one more oriented on actions than musicality. In some ways, this dichotomy was expressed at its most extreme within the confines of a single set later that evening with Lambkin and Michael Pisaro, who more or less reproduced the ambience from their prior release on Erstwhile, "Schwarze Riesenfalter", Pisaro possibly playing some of the same piano chords heard therein, I'm not certain. Lambkin, however, apparently under the influence of sundry substances, delivered a performance that was in some ways truly dangerous; he seemed to walk a thin line between control and recklessness (but always, as ever, deeply and oddly musical!), breaking a glass candle here, toppling a mic stand there, threatening to lift a massive speaker and do who knows what. Pisaro, calm as ever, negotiated these events wonderfully, incorporating them into the overall structure even while being wrestled bodily. It was a thrilling set, at least partially because of the utter lack of predictability involved.

I confess, writing more than a month later, that I've forgotten most of the details of the Lambkin/Unami collaboration. There were fans and bags, of course, as well as more piano from Unami. Lambkin was in greater control. I have an odd sense of enjoyment though, for the life of me, I can't recall specifics! Ah well....

Unami played three sets during the festival, his final with Devin DiSanto. The bulk of the idea seems to me to have been DiSanto's (implicitly borne out by his activity on the "Three Exercises" recording) with Unami adding "commentary", but I could be wrong. In any case, it resulted in perhaps my favorite set of the weekend. DiSanto was seated at a table with a monitor and other equipment, the image from the monitor's screen projected on the wall behind him. Unami sat crouched in a corner delivering electronic sounds that conveyed a vaguely Japanese science fiction film feeling, an interesting tinge but not distracting from the action center stage. There, DiSanto, his chiseled face, slicked back hair and white shirt buttoned to the collar inevitably evoking Kyle McLachlan and thereby imbuing the affair with Lynchian overtones, engaged in a Personal Assessment test. I'm guessing from his demeanor that despite knowing the general parameters of the test, he wasn't aware of the specific questions. In any event, he pretty much maintained a straightforward, non-overtly ironic approach, patiently answering questions to the extent he could (there was an "Uncertain" button which was pushed once in a while, rather amusingly). It was funny, sure, but I had the impression that DiSanto has a deep fascination with these kind of tests, with their tenuous association with reality, etc. I found it absorbing to experience as well as a bit uncomfortable in the invasion-of-privacy sense. Granted that there are many precedents for this kind of performance activity, from Fluxus and beyond, but still it's rare enough in my experience to remain stimulating and thought-provoking.

While I assume that the contributions of DiSanto and Hoffman to the recording in question were more or less equal, the cover photos indicate a situation that has the former's name written all over it. In fact, it cries out for a video so one can get an idea of what's occurring. Nonetheless, my favorite aspect of it is the sheer immediacy one feels, of being palpably inside this room, this school gymnasium (?) while all the baffling activity is taking place. It seems to be presented quite matter-of-factly, from beginning to end though I wouldn't be surprised if there was a decent amount of post-production collaging (as with the Parks/Rossetto release, all credit due to Joe Panzner's mastering). It begins ("preparation/introduction") with several minutes of the sounds of the room, various clicks and bangs as things are placed on tables or floors, the people involved are shuffling around, talking, tape is being pulled, etc. Very transparent and mysterious at the same time. The piece is indeed introduced and commences with a short roar. Throughout, there are interjections like this, sequences of a more "musical" nature but the bulk of the recording isn't so far from it's first section, except that instead of preparing the field, certain designated activities are taking place within it. One senses a kind of system, opaque as it is. DiSanto saying, "...paper. Two: deer. Three: pier. Four: read." (or "dear", "peer", "reed"?), talk of placing numbers near ping pong balls and what sounds like an excerpt from a Bingo game all speak to processes ranging from arcane to banal. Descriptions of activity are heard, subdued and grainy, by male and female voices. Whatever the process is, it's always apparent, a strong sense of steps being taken. Sonically, it's like a hyper-concentrated Ferrari piece, relaxed and seemingly "true" but suffused with purpose. It sounds pretty spectacular, which at the end of the day, is enough. On second thought, I'd probably rather not see a video, preferring to conjure up my own images and explanations.

Fine work and exemplary of the kind of approach I found so invigorating at the festival.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Some thoughts on this past weekend at the 2015 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, seven concerts and two talks from memory, no notes taken).

Arriving in Manchester early Friday morning we were quickly and almost efficiently whisked Huddesfield-ward by the indomitable Richard Pinnell, admiring the Pennines on our way. We made it in plenty of time for the noon concert: Ensemble Grizzana playing four pieces by Jürg Frey, from his album, "Grizzana" on Another Timbre. The performers were Frey (clarinet), Mira Benjamin (violin), Richard Craig (flute), Emma Richards (viola), Philip Thomas (piano) and Anton Lukoszevieze (cello). I can't locate any etymological information on the name, but when I hear "Grizzana" I think of "grisaille", helped along by the sublimely beautiful grayness of Frey's music. The first two, "Fragile Balance" and "Grizzana" were with the complete sextet, very quiet and delicate, grainy. This was the first time I'd actually seen Frey perform (or, I think, heard any live music of his?) and, apart from the airy beauty of his conceptions, his clarinet playing was extraordinary; such control combined with calm emotion. As lovely as those pieces were, when only the piano, cello and clarinet remained for "Area of Three", a 30-minute work, something immediately clarified and the atmosphere became more crisp as the instruments entered in that order, creating great tension and concentrated precision. Even so, my favorite was "Ferne Farben", the full sextet augmented by a super-subtle tape of field recordings, the instrumentalists adding "simple" tones within certain time parameters but leaving much to their discretion (I think). In any case, a stunning work.

I'd had less than two hours of sleep in the previous 48, so I reluctantly begged off attending a set of three films by Huw Whal revolving around AMM performances and one done by Philippe Regniez in 1986 about Cardew which subsequently received good word of mouth. I did rouse myself, however, to see an interview of Eddie Prévost by Philip Clark. As an interview, it was rather disappointing, either dwelling on anecdotes that most AMM aficionados are likely to have already known or beginning to delve into interesting questions but never quite getting there. However, I was pleased to see Prévost in apparent good humor, an impression solidified over coffee and dinner prior to the next show. He was nothing but warm, funny and generous all weekend, quelling any fears I may have had about the upcoming "reunion" set. Dinner also precluded the possibility of hearing George Lewis' collaboration with the Berlin Splitter Orchestra though reports were middling, sounding like something along conduction lines.

That night, the wonderfully sensitive Philip Thomas presented three more compositions by Frey (all of which appear on the new Another Timbre release, "Circles and Landscapes"), his final showing of the festival, where he'd been composer-in-residence all week. The relatively brief (about five minutes long) "Extended Circular Music No. 2" (2014) was up first, a darkish work with troubling chords that makes me think of a slow-motion, downward stumble--absolutely fantastic. This was followed by two longer, far more "difficult" pieces, "Pianist, Alone (2)" (2010/2012) and "Extended Circular Music No. 9" (2014/2015). My immediate frame of reference was Satie's music from the Rosicrucian period, things like the "Ogives" with their impressive steady sparseness. Speaking with Frey afterward, he said that while many of his compositions tended to "stay in one place", he had become interested in works that progressed, went from here to there and there's certainly a kind of processional feeling at play, exceedingly serene in forward motion if delightfully unsteady in tonal content. Their length (about 30 and 22 minutes respectively) makes it difficult, for me at least, to really grasp as a whole, but I found them quite mesmerizing and listening right now to the above-mentioned CD--well, it's pretty incredible music. A special joy over the course of the festival was hearing Thomas for the first time--quite a wonderful and sensitive player.

Saturday brought three events. First up was the string quartet, Quatuor Diotima. My memory for specifics isn't good enough to give any real assessment, but each of the four works had at least a few charms: Thomas Simaku's "String Quartet No. 5" (2015) and Dieter Ammann's "String Quartet No. 2 'Distanzequartett'" (2009) I recall as being enjoyable enough (sleep deprivation beginning to assert itself once again). Heinz Holliger's "String Quartet No 2" (2007) was also fascinating, resolutely "old school" in some respects but entirely solid and imaginative, ending with an extremely effective last seven or eight minutes worth of the players humming along with their strings, really strong. Here's a version by the Zehetmair Quartet.

In the early evening, Apartment House (Gordon Mackay, violin; Hilary Stuart, violin; Bridget Carey, viola; Lukoszevieze, cello; Thomas, electric keyboard; Simon Limbrick, percussion) put together an imaginative program of seven pieces, beginning with a wry one from George Brecht, "String Quartet", which consisted of the four string players shaking hands politely. :-) This led to an enjoyable string quartet by Toshi Ichiyanagi followed by a hazy sextet work form Jon Gibson, "Melody IV Part I" (1977). More to my interest was Peter Garland's "Where Beautiful Feathers Abound", a delightful collage of seeming (Native) Americana, very much an outlier and a fine one. An ok Christopher Fox work, "BLANK" was followed by an intriguing one credited to Louise Bourgeois, "Insomnia Drawing". Now I know that drawings within that category exist but I have no source listing her as a composer, so my guess is one of her drawings served as the score, but I'm not certain. In any event, it was a nicely shaky set of lines, indeterminate and blurry, something I'd like to hear again. Finally, the sextet performed Cage's "Hymnkus" (1986), a piece I don't believe I've heard before and a very fascinating one. Having since read a description, I get more of an idea about its structure, but its odd, blocky sense of repetition, never quite regular at all but having some overall sense of semi-transparent self-similarity, remains enticingly obscure.

The one set during the weekend that I didn't think worked well at all was the Berlin Splitter Orchestra later that evening. It was broadcast live on BBC and a pre-concert interview with Robin Hayward and Anthea Caddy indicated much discussion and planning for the event. It was inside a large older structure still in use as a mill, the seats and musicians (some 24 of the latter) spread throughout the capacious room. But apart from a staggered entrance of various groupings and perhaps some "rules" regarding iteration of sounds, I couldn't really discern much to distinguish the resultant music from what often happens when large bunches of improvisers get together, which is to say, not much. Granted, I stayed put at one end of the festivities, in close proximity to Andrea Neumann, a young trombonist and a drummer, within easy hearing distance of an electronicist, bassist Clayton Thomas and Hayward, but I could still make out much of what else was occurring in the room, notably contributions from Burkhard Beins and (I couldn't see them) either/both trumpeters Axel Dörner and Liz Albee. There were many fine musicians present--apart from the above, Kai Fagaschinski, Sabine Vogel, Ignaz Schick, Boris Baltschun and others--but for me, things never gelled. I could easily have been missing something.

Noontime Sunday allowed me to experience the Arditti Quartet for the first time, though I've little real idea how the ensemble has changed over the years, violinist and founder Irvine Arditti being its only original member. Two of the four pieces I found entirely competent but more or less forgettable, John Zorn's "The Remedy of Fortune" and festival stalwart Harrison Birtwhistle's "String Quartet No. 3: The Silk House Sequences"--more technical flash than substance to these ears, though bearing craftsmanlike elegance. A nice surprise, though, was Iris ter Schiphorst's "Aus Liebe", especially its first half which featured some astonishingly moving writing for viola. I don't think I've heard her work before and need to fix that post haste. But the real stunner was Klaus Lang's "Seven Views of White" a 40-minute study of restrained tension, minutely variable lines relayed from instrument to instrument, needing to be handled with supreme delicacy while also imparting tensile strength, like stretching filaments of grainy gauze. Outstanding work, breathtakingly performed.

In the late afternoon, I attended a talk by David Toop. Speaking with him the day before, he hadn't quite decided on his approach to the subject, AMM. I understand that, in recent years, he;s tended toward not doing "lectures", instead presenting small environments of a personal nature. Here, armed with computer and turntable, original vinyl copies of "AMMMusic" and "The Crypt" leaned against the front table legs, he recounted his early experience with AMM, whom he first heard in 1966, often doing so over portions of music from those recordings. He was visibly moved at a few points, acknowledging how important this music had been to his development (and not just of a musical nature). Some attendees expressed skepticism about the personal nature of his recollections, preferring a more distanced approach but I found it to be a very welcome and warm way of explaining to the audience, a decent portion of whom were students, the context of the times and how AMM's stance could so deeply inspire the 17-year old Toop. I enjoyed it enormously and learned a fair bit in the bargain.

Finally, the first performance of trio AMM in about twelve years. I know there was some tense going early on in the circumstances revolving around the arrangement of this event but, as said above, any fears as regards untoward tensions had evaporated in the previous two days, so I went into the concert hall quite relaxed. As an AMM set goes, it was perfectly satisfactory if hardly transcendent. FOr the vast majority of its duration, the music remained very quiet, the most notable disturbances being a violently upthrust keyboard cover on the part of Tilbury (very effective when it occurred) and a world record Longest Sustained Cough by an Audience Member (although there were a few pretenders to the throne as well over the course of the concert). As a whole, it was fairly steady-state, none of that "AMM arc". Prévost was predominantly doing bowed cymbals and metals, with great sensitivity, enough that some members who don't normally care for that avenue weren't too upset. Me, I thought fared very well, gradually honing his attack until a sublime moment when, holding a cymbal by its stand (a small sock cymbal, maybe?) over the snare, he bowed it and very lightly allowed it to touch the top of the drum, resulting in an exquisite buzz. Rowe intentionally limited his palette to three or four sounds, most of which resembled what's been heard in his recent Twombly-esque period (sans any classical samples) but also, in a historical reference to AMM, brought out his radio which had been MIA for a while. His most striking contribution occurred toward the end when he picked up a pop song, allowed it to linger around longer than usual and then let a second one appear, this bearing lyrics that referred to "yesterdays" and suchlike (I wish I could recall more specifics). Perhaps due to that, he let it remain for four or five minutes, really pushing things, drawing a quizzical glance or two from Prévost. But if I had to pick a highlight, it was Tilbury, particularly his kneading, even caressing of the piano. Kjell told me later he's been doing this lately (though he hadn't when I saw him in Paris). It takes several forms. One involves laying his hands flat on the keys, exerting extreme tension between upward and downward movement, eventually, just barely depressing a key or two, sometimes resulting in a sound, sometimes not. It was so gripping. More, we would caress the body of the instrument, rubbing his hands along the keyboard cover, underneath the keys, on the sideboards, very much as a lover. One couldn't help but think of his age (79), his relationship with the piano, his corporeal love for the instrument. So intimate, so moving.

A great three days, not only the fine music but all the warm and deep talk and camaraderie. Thanks to everyone involved.