AMN Reviews: Francisco Lopez Live in Chicago, April 18, 2015

By Michael Eisenberg

srv346-lopezFrancisco Lopez is a sound artist I’ve heard about for years, and I knew he has a ridiculously large body of work…but I’ve never actually heard anything by him. When I learned that he was coming to Chicago, I jumped on tickets. The scenario was a medium sized cinder block room that was very dead (good for a show like this I think). Lots of mixers and other electro detritus piled up in the center of the room, initially covered in a black silk blanket. Circles of concentric chairs blossoming out from the center, getting progressively larger the further out they went. All chairs were facing outward, AWAY from the center…so no one was actually looking at Lopez who was doing his thing in the center. There was a black silk blindfold draped over each chair.

After a short intro from the curator of the particular series that was presenting this performance, Lopez made a little speech about “why the blindfolds?” The gist of it was, while he would never force anyone to wear it, it’s purpose was to block out any extraneous light that may compromise your sensory system, preventing you from giving your full attention to the sounds…in effect, forcing you to listen. He ensured everyone that “he knew what he was doing”, “everyone was perfectly safe” and “he highly recommends you wear the blindfold if you can.” I guess I can understand how some people would be hesitant about this, but in the interest of full immersion, and knowing exactly who I was sitting next to…I donned the thing.

First of all, this performance was short…way to short, only about 40 minutes at most. That being said, it was 40 minutes of very unique sounds, all recorded naturally and environmentally and then sliced and diced the Lopez way, creating something really unusual. I’ve been to lots of acousmatic shows but this one stood out as more unique than others. I thought I heard recognizable sounds but, after the few seconds it took my mind to process, it came to the conclusion that…nah, I don’t know what that was. Horses walking down cobblestone paths? Cascades of sparks falling all around? Human heartbeats? Animal heartbeats? All possibilities I guess, but it was organized into something that was, not exactly linear, but almost. I wasn’t sure if the blindfold accomplished what Lopez intended, but I guess, at least in this case I will never know since I did not take it off till the performance was over.

Great show, one of the better acousmatic / soundscape / musique concrete outings I’ve been to in a while. So, to all of you that this may appeal to…if he’s in your town…go!

AMN Reviews: Dariusz Mazurowski – Non Acoustic Symphony [Neuma 450-111]; Back in Time [Mathka]

Seventy or so years ago, Pierre Schaeffer and others experimented with composition based directly on sound rather than on notated pre-compositional structures. Using the then-new technology of magnetic tape, they laid the foundation for a tradition of concrete, acousmatic music. Polish composer Dariusz Mazurowski continues that tradition with neo-acousmatic music that carries some of the outward marks of classic postwar experiments with sound composition.

Mazurowski (1966) was born in Gdansk, Poland. He began composing in the 1980s and after moving to Prague in the 1990s he returned to Gdansk, where he currently lives and works. What makes his acousmatic work “neo” isn’t the sound so much as the methods behind the sounds. Rather than relying on the manipulation of tape or other mechanical means of sound registration and reproduction, his work takes advantage of more recent analogue and digital technologies to sculpt works combining electronically-generated sounds with sampled sounds of acoustic and electronic origin.

3042292--mazurowski-back-in-time-mathka-2013--1-300x269p0Back in Time, a set of ten electroacoustic pieces released last year, surveys Mazurowski’s work for the period 1992-2012. Much of it is sound montage in which the sources are more or less transparent, even when chopped up and mixed together. Mazurowski juxtaposes fragments of speech, shards of recorded music, vintage recordings, electronic tones and stuttering turntables into a kind of mosaic or quick-cutting non-linear narrative. Individual sound elements appear as discrete entities—the audio equivalent of the hard-edged, geometric shapes in a Suprematist painting that collide and occasionally overlap but never lose their distinctive profiles.

Mazurowski’s Non Acoustic Symphony, recorded between 2011 and 2013, is a seven part work for electronics and electronically-altered sounds. In contrast to Back in Time, the Non Acoustic Symphony tends to obscure its sound sources, leaving a residue of sonic qualities that in many cases can’t be traced to their origins. Most may be purely electronic, but some clearly are sampled. From time to time hints of acoustic instruments can be detected, if speculatively: Here could be a note struck on a piano, there possibly a gut string instrument being plucked. Through it all Mazurowski makes generous use of sound manipulation by way of analogue, digital and granular processing.

What both Back in Time and the Non Acoustic Symphony share is a strong sense of linear continuity. Sound objects give way to one another in sequence and with a minimum of vertical organization. Mazurowski’s emphasis on a predominantly horizontal layout makes for a clarity of “orchestration” as individual sounds, functioning as the equivalent of instrumental choirs, come through as distinct, sharply defined objects. This orientation helps to maintain forward motion in the absence of pitch relationships or harmonic implication.

As with any successful acousmatic music, neo or otherwise, this is music of character—a character directly derived from the qualities of the raw materials it contains.

AMN Reviews: John Scott (Stereocilia) – Slow Motion (2015; Echoic Memory)

a2170211459_10Bristol, UK based John Scott, recording as Stereocilia, recently released this EP that focuses on processed guitar sounds. Consisting of four tracks, the first three were composed, while the fourth was a live studio improvisation. Scott’s approach involve picked electric guitar chords, along with understated synth lines and loops. As such, there are usually at least one or two distinct voices, aside from the guitar, that comprise the foreground and background. The result invokes a post-apocalyptic landscape of decaying structures and haunted fields.

On the second track, Shadows, Scott lifts the mood a bit, with a subtle electric solo. Thus, Slow Motion cannot quite be described as ambient. However, it does resemble a soundtrack for an imaginary movie, perhaps in the horror category or a dark drama. A high point of the album is the third track, Refractions, where looped guitar overlaps itself in an intricate and evolving fashion.  The album is rounded out by the 14-minute Undertow, which has a heavier focus on the synths, and the guitar lines work around drones in a shoegaze manner.

AMN Reviews: Philip Corner – Satie Slowly (Unseen Worlds)

medium_UW12Philip Corner could write a book on Erik Satie. And he has, moderately thick and CD sized, slipcovered together with his double set of interpretations of a broad swathe of the Frenchman´s fin-de-siècle. In it, he delves into the minutiae of how he confronts Satie. Remarkably for the lay but enthusiastic, long-time listener, Corner feels that pianists insist on playing him too fast. He insists that Satie is “right…revolutionary [while pretending] to be traditional.” On Satie Slowly, Corner holds each note up like a rare gem to be admired in the light before moving on to the next.

This certainly doesn´t mean he is going to handle him with kid gloves. The ivories get a right bashing on the first piece, “Ogive I”. And he plays “Gnossienne No. 1″ over ten minutes and with fervour. Part of the excellence of this collection is its amplitude. Too many of us have been stuck in the same Satie rut for years, I´ll wager. A piece like “The Feast Given by the Norman Knights to Honor a Young Girl,” daunting title notwithstanding, is courtly and polite and in Corner´s hands has something Medieval to its rhythm. And he is sweetness itself on the “Second Prelude of the Nazarene”. The album even introduced me to the first piece by Satie I´ve actively disliked: “The Gothic Dances” has too many flying buttresses and tall, pointy windows for my taste.

The famous “Gymnopédie” are exquisite, more sensual than they´ve ever been. Three fanfares for the Rosicrucians (Satie joined the secret society in the 1890s) are like plainchant transcribed for modern ears. These are followed by his twelve tiny “Chorales,” each about a half a haiku long, before a jaunty, kick-in-the-pants closer called “Empire´s Diva,” full of Laurel & Hardy pratfalls and come-hither Mary Pickford eyelash flutters that could have leapt right off the silent screen.

A full evening´s entertainment and enlightenment.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Ingar Zach / Miguel Angel Tolosa – Loner [SOFA545]

sofa545Collected over a period of ten years, the tracks making up Ingar Zach and Miguel Angel Tolosa’s debut duo release Loner combine percussion with electronics, electric guitar and field recordings. Zach, a native of Oslo now living in Madrid, played free improvisation in different configurations in Norway before moving to Spain, where his developing interests brought him to folk music as well as to more structure forms of experimental music. Composer/sound engineer Tolosa, also based in Madrid, has written spare works for a wide of instruments. Conceptually, he’s interested in the way the listener experiences music as the manifestation of time, and it is this concept that would seem to underlie Loner, the music of which seems designed to embody the drift of time as an unbroken field.

The four tracks share an overall atmosphere that could be described as a kind timbral impressionism conveyed by an enveloping, low key drone. Other sounds emerge and wash into each other; their boundaries are for the most part porous and their shapes soft-edged. At times the more assertive, sharper-edged profiles of metallic percussion or high-frequency electronics push through, but in general this is a textural music the colors of which are drawn from a muted palette.

AMN Reviews: Choi / Sacks Duo – First Set, First Poem, First Response

Choi/Sacks Duo

March 25, 2015 Carnegie Hall
First Set, First Poem, First Response
                                                              by Monique Avakian

Foreward ~ Clouds Parting

photo-42On March 25, 2015, in the Weill Room of Carnegie Hall, the avant-garde jazz musical duo known as Choi/Sacks, offered to us in the first set of the evening, their unique, improvisatory zeitgeist. The set list ranged from composers such as Hank Williams (I’m So Lonesome) to Thelonious Monk (In Walked Bud) to Randy Newman (In Germany Before the War) to Duke Ellington (In a Mellow Tone). Expressions of poems by Ogden Nash and Emily Dickinson as well as various arrangements and rearrangements of folk and children’s songs (by Ives, Copland and the duo themselves) were also offered generously to us in that magical hour.

In Dickinson’s short, four-line poem, the nature of the moon’s wax and wane becomes a metaphor to explore deeply. The reality of perception, the healing nature of natural wisdom, magical facts obscured, yet revealed…even the poets among us are challenged to rise to the call, as many of us are out of practice with the life-affirming dance of ambiguity, having created a culture so mired in the literal.

Talented and bold musicians such as Jacob Sacks and Yoon Sun Choi enjoy taking chances in order to go beyond. This is lucky for the rest of us, as their openness in so doing extends to the listener a path and a way IN.

And such is the singular path that this writer has chosen to take. Keeping in mind that the micro houses the nature of the macro, I am encouraged by forces unseen and familiar to hone in on one selection for this entire write up — namely, the duo’s interpretation of the Dickinson poem, “Each That We Lose Takes a Part of Us.”




Cupped hands bellow subtle acoustics. Intuitive dials spin. A mysterious and intangible radio warms to distilled frequencies sparked by paradox. The human transistor buried inside, opens, and floods with the crimson tide of emotion…

As encouraged by the artistic processes of a poet (Emily Dickinson) and two musicians (Jacob Sacks and Yoon Sun Choi), it strikes me that enlightenment hinges upon a kind of cultivated intuition. Philosophically, I am referring to the evolved faculty of being able to hold the unity inherent in duality. Musically, this translates into the purity of artistic process held within collective jazz improvisation. Poetically, metaphor telescopes into Zen Koan into haiku into an ancient understanding of WiseChildReallyElder.

For the listener in the Weill Room at Carnegie Hall on March 25th, it was easy to inhabit the soundworld of the Choi/Sacks version of Dickinson’s poem. Jacob Sacks’ fluid up-ended gestures on piano allowed the ear to engage with the sound of wind and, thereby, mesh deeply with the very nature of changeability.

 Not really arpeggiated, not really random, not really unstructured, not really un-free, the pitches somehow became almost irrelevant. Even the rhythm slyly hid beneath the soundfield he created. In telegraphing the essence of change in this elongated, soft and sustained manner, Sacks eventually transformed himself into the grounding anchor of the piece (!). This poetic housing of pairs of opposites allowed not only the music, but even the musician himself, to become a living metaphor, mirroring the layers of meaning held in this short and powerful poem.

Within, upon, around and through this contextual sonic field, Choi’s ever-pliable voice became a lyrical and conceptual conduit, moving between worlds held still at top speed in an ever-shifting stable universe. Her unique and spontaneous phrasing of the poem’s four lines embodied a sort of uber~rhythmic understanding that provided a sharp and pleasing contrast held within Sacks’ streaming feel. Choi’s percussive command of impromptu syncopated phrasing served as a powerful magnet, driving the ear into a deeper understanding of the many secrets held inside complex musical concepts such as rhythmic consonance and dissonance. And mirroring her partner’s illuminatory stance, even the words themselves became subsumed to the primal nature of vocal utterance. Twining further, this abstraction then became it’s opposite, returning us to that familiar, tangible~yet~intangible place of early childhood, where we expressed to others clearly our thoughts and desires, without the need of any kind of formal language.

But, then again, any description of Yoon Sun Choi’s interpretive command is, perhaps, best left to the discerning powers of benevolent ghosts. Every time I hear her, I think about ancestors and Shamans. Reading up, I learn that the ancient Korean shamanistic lineage travels through the female power line. And unlike in many other cultures, the Korean shaman is not going on a soul journey on behalf of the patient, but is holding the healing space of the trance.


The onus is, therefore, on the listener to become an active agent in the moment. Given the level of passivity encouraged by our machine-driven culture, this call to be completely present is as terrifying as it is transformative.

Choi/Sacks Here:

Dickinson Poem Here:

Monique Avakian Here:

Shaman Studies Here:

 PS Here:

Of course, the entire evening, both sets, was equally deep, engaging and meaningful. However, I am out of time (for now, anyway).

AMN Reviews: Bad Suburban Nightmare – Highway 2 (Must Die Records)

a2118199017_2Daniel Hreckow plays his guitar as if his ego has been dragged along a dirt road behind a ´60s Ford pickup. However beaten and bruised, his hands, his guitar and his mind are in perfect shape. On this, his second Highway album under the name Bad Suburban Nightmare, he thinks out each note so meticulously that you the listener have plenty of time to digest the one before. Far from conventional melodies, each ten to fifteen minute piece is a tale with many subplots that never wanders off topic. His first album sounded much rougher, much more raw (I wrote, “clawing harshly at his electric guitar”), although the title track (which he begins by picking out the notes like they were a national anthem; if not the national anthem, then Bad Suburban Nightmare´s) does ruffle a few feathers. He sang a bit, too, mumbling repetitive mantras. Highway 2 features no vocals except a few, wrenching syllables at the very end. It doesn´t need them, his playing is articulate enough, directly communicative and very honest. Good music to read Charles Bukowski´s poetry to, the kind with lines like, “there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him”.

Stephen Fruitman