AMN Reviews: Triple Point – Phase/Transitions [pogus 21078-2]

Electroacoustic improvisation has the potential to be a music of timbral complexity, of rapid shifts of sound colors within a multi-layered environment. Throughout this bountiful 3-CD set Triple Point lives up to that potential, as would be expected from such a fine assembly of improvisers.

Triple Point is made up of Pauline Oliveros, Jonas Braasch, and Doug Van Nort. Each has a distinctive voice, but the group’s sound is a genuinely collective, emergent object in its own right.

Oliveros plays the V-accordion, a virtual instrument that digitally models the sound of an acoustic accordion while preserving the acoustic instrument’s physical playability. As might be expected, Oliveros pushes the instrument beyond its repertoire of standard voices to extend its timbral range into more distant sonic territories. Braasch’s soprano saxophone is the one acoustic instrument, a powerfully serpentine presence darting throughout each piece. Braasch’s use of extended techniques expands the sound palette of the instrument in ways appropriate to this color-based music.

But the key to the group’s sound is Van Nort’s real-time granular modification and electronic playback of the other two musicians’ lines. He can alter the timbres, pitches and tempos of the V-accordion and saxophone, inserting microtones into the flow of a line, or gradually morphing Braasch’s real, and Oliveros’ simulated, reed instruments into a virtual brass section. Pitches emerge from their encounter with the electronics the way light emerges from its encounter with a prism—bent and broken into constituent colors that previously lay hidden. The extraction and multiplication of tones and timbres makes for a complex polyphony in which acoustic and electronic lines often coalesce into thick planes of sound rubbing past, over and through each other.

Several tracks on each disc add Chris Chafe collaborating via internet on celletto, a MIDI-based electronic cello. Chafe enriches the mix with electronically enhanced pizzicato and arco tones.

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AMN Reviews: Ovro – Id | entities (Some Place Else)

“A summoned demon is yours to command” and it in turn has summoned legions, both inner and social. Id | entities is the audio collage version of a midnight movie, a cross between lurid horror and an old gumshoe serial like The Shadow (who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men). It´s really scary, especially the female voices narrating intent for their helpless victims. Bodies, objectified and (de)sexualized, torture of both a physical and psychological nature, whispered threats, palpable fear – the flesh as medium.

Who is Ovro and why is she so giallo? Ovro is “Herself” according to the liner notes, an “experimental musician from Finland who began making minimal and dark ambient soundscapes in 2003,” and who has been working on Id | entities for the past four years. All sampling (“from good movies, from bad movies, famous movies, obscure movies”, field recording, instruments and vocals (aside from some male recitation, synthesizer and horns) were “composed, revised, turned, twisted, multiplied and subtracted” by Herself. She slices and grafts sampled scores onto her own music (including some previously unused work) with the deftness of a surgeon rather than a chainsaw wielding maniac, and does so with a great feel for drama, creating an industrial noir that builds tension again and again.

By slicing the plural of the title, she is also turning words into objects, harmed ones, “I.D.s” determined by examining “entities”, the sum of the parts that have been severed and scattered. Alternatively, as isolated ids, we are nothing but living, breathing Freudian instinct, aggression and appetite. On “Know Thyself,” a desperate man mumbles, “I know who I am,” trying to convince himself as the last shred of hope slips away.

The way Ovro sews the pieces back together, while Frankensteinian, is impressive. She enters Rashomon territory by asking whether the stories being told are those of one storyteller or an entire host, and if they are telling the same story or many.

Unfortunately, it would seem the label Some Place Else is in the process of shutting down all new production. But it still has this gruesome gem, wrapped in a huge, pretty disturbing fold-out poster, in stock.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Robert Erickson – Complete String Quartets [New World Records 80753-2]

81M0oKnSAsL._SL1500_This two-CD set collects all four string quartets by American composer Robert Erickson (1917-1997). A significant composer in his own right, Erickson’s influence is probably mostly felt indirectly, through the work of the composers and performers he taught in his long academic career.

Although born in the Midwest, Erickson was associated with the West Coast and particularly with the San Francisco Bay area, where before moving to the University of California at San Diego he spent a significant part of his professional life teaching. While there he taught at UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Conservatory, where he mentored such rising avant garde figures as Pauline Oliveros, Loren Rush, Terry Riley and Stuart Dempster. Erickson encouraged their interest in improvisation, which he integrated into his teaching, worked with them and others in the pioneering experiments undertaken at the San Francisco Tape Music Center and more generally through his role as music director of Berkeley’s Pacifica radio station KPFA, helped foster the renaissance of sound art in the Bay Area in the 1960s.

Erickson’s early composition studies were with Ernst Krenek, and it is possible to hear some of Krenek’s influence in the first two string quartets. The first, from 1950, is a relatively brief, atonal work with a more or less conventional three-movement structure. The first movement carries an underlying motif marked by a rhythmic continuity that holds through a variety of melodic transformations, while the second, slow movement features legato lines of a flowing expressiveness. The final movement is brisk and fugue-like, with lines made of complementary rhythms. String Quartet No. 2 (1956) is a considerably longer, one-movement work that, while freer in structure than the first, is also rooted in twelve-tone counterpoint. Unlike much of the serial composition of the time, the second quartet manages its dynamic variations through gradations rather than through abrupt shifts, and intersperses expressive soliloquies throughout.

Three decades separate String Quartet No. 2 from the final two quartets—Solstice (1984-85) and Corfu (1986). Just as the first two quartets resemble each other in their general features, so too do the final two have common overall characteristics. Both are single movement works centered on C in which the atonal countrapuntal writing of the first two quartets has given way to an emphasis on harmonic centers and expressive, largely consonant melodies. Solstice announces its tonal underpinnings right off with notes doubled in unison or at the octave, an arrangement that recurs intermittently throughout the work. The predominant flavor of the quartet is pentatonic, but with notes altered and supplemented often enough to give a polymodal feel. The sparser, more reflective Corfu is a serenely paced work drawing on a tonal vocabulary similar to that of Solstice, but relying on single voices spinning introspective melodies to create a nuanced yet powerful expressive impact. Both pieces exploit the subtle timbral effects of doubling notes across octaves to brighten the ensemble texture, with Corfu pushing this effect even farther with frequent use of harmonics.

This is a highly welcome set of music from a too-little known composer, with excellent performances by the Del Sol Quartet.

AMN Reviews: Anglagard – Prog på Svenska – Live in Japan (2014)

anglagard-prog_pa_svenskaProgressive rock juggernaut Anglagard reformed to acclaim in 2012, releasing the quite excellent Viljans Öga (AMN review here). They are back again with this 2CD live album featuring tracks from their fractured 20-year history. Recorded in Japan in mid-March of last year, the group consisted of only five members rather than the usual six. While my initial concern was that this one-guitar lineup would be unable to reproduce the nuanced layers than make up the Anglagard guitar-guitar-flute-keyboard-bass-drums sound, they manage to meticulously cover material from all three of their studio albums. In some places, guitar replaces keyboards or sax replaces guitar, but the renditions here rarely diverge from the originals.

The album begins with the only new piece, the seven-minute, atmospheric Introvertus Fugu. Following that is Hostejd from their second album, Epilog. While Hostejd was never one of my favorites due to it being stiffly composed, the group pulls off a compelling and workmanlike rendition. The last two tracks are Langtans Klocka from Viljans Öga, and the powerful Jordrok from their debut Hybris, both stellar examples of symphonic progressive rock.

The second disc features only three tracks. It begins with the majestic Sorgmantel, probably Anglagard’s most involved track to date, and finishes with Kung Bore and Sista Somrar, the former the only track on this set with vocals.  Handling vocal chores are original member Tord Lindman, as well as Linus Kase.  While vocals were never Anglagard’s strong suit (as they were never featured after Hybris) , they are carried out quite well here.  As for Sista Somrar, this rendition contains an atmosphere that evokes the change to darkness that the track represents.

As noted above, the material on Prog på Svenska is an accurate reproduction of the music on Anglagard’s studio releases. Unlike types of rock and jazz that involve improvisation, this live recording does not offer much in the way of a new reading on the Anglagard oeuvre. However, it is still a winner for fans of the band, especially since the group’s recorded output is rather minimal.

AMN Reviews: The Group – The Feed-Back (1970; RCA / 2014; Schema)

R-150-2806310-1366730184-2395The Group was actually an incarnation of Franco Evangelisti’s Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza, an avant-garde Italian collective influenced by experimental rock, modern classical and free jazz. The Feed-Back was a one-off release from Evangelisti and seven collaborators, including movie score guru Ennio Morricone on trumpet. Consisting of three tracks running a total of less than thirty minutes, The Feed-Back is a short burst of scratchy, dissonant energy. Comparisons to electric Miles Davis, Luigi Nono, AMM, and The Beatles are not out of order. The horns layer drones, textures, and squeals, and are interlaced with jangly guitar over a busy rock drumbeat, not unlike the rhythms of their German Krautrock contemporaries. The Feed-Back could even be viewed as a proto-prog offering, as mid-70’s Italian group Area evokes similar sounds on their more outside releases (such as Event ’76). A welcome reissue.

AMN Reviews: Mary Halvorson – Reverse Blue (2014; Relative Pitch Records)

coverWhile Mary Halvorson has been active in the creative jazz scene for over a decade, she has truly come into her own in the last three or so years. It is not just that she has appeared on eleven recordings in 2013 alone. Her recent releases Imaginary Sea (AMN review here) and Thumbscrew (AMN review here), for example, both exhibit a new level of compositional maturity for the guitarist. Reverse Blue, officially releasing in October, continues that trend.

Her group on this quartet recording includes Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Halvorson’s deliberate, prickly guitar-wielding is on display, with characteristic bent notes and unexpected directions. For instance, her heavy riffing and soloing on the opening track, Torturer’s Reverse Delight, is offset by a more introspective and jazzy approach on Hako, as well ominous falling tones on Rebel’s Revue.  All four musicians contribute equally to these efforts, often collaborating in contrapunctal lines and dissonance.  Another keeper from Ms. Halvorson.

AMN Reviews: Steve Lehman Octet – Mise en Abime (2014; Pi Recordings)

pi54_270The title of this album refers to the phenomenon of standing between two mirrors and seeing an infinite reproductions of one’s image. And the way that Lehman brings intellectualism to creative music, comparisons to M. C. Escher and recursion are perhaps appropriate. Joined by Chris Dingman, Jonathan Finlayson, Drew Gress, and Tyshawn Sorey, among others, Lehman’s octet features five horns, vibes, bass, and drums. The result is a busy, almost frantic, feel stretching across eight tracks.

While Mise en Abime resembles free jazz at times, it is too pre-planned to fall squarely into that category. Particularly, this album continues Lehman’s foray into spectral music, though it does not seem as much at first listen. Instead his hard bop, Braxton, and Ellington influences are at the fore throughout most of this recording. But on some tracks, such as Beyond All Limits, shimmering spectralism creeps in to good effect.  Lehman instructs his group to create sweeping background sound effects. Whether Lehman composed some of these pieces in the spectral domain is unclear, but ultimately it does not matter.  Hearing Mise en Abime is like listening to two different albums played on top of one another.  This combination works, but it leaves you with a sense of wonderment over the composer’s ability to synthesize all of the sounds and keep them straight.

A very compelling release that is cerebral, but never too academic in nature. Highly recommended.