Archive for the ‘AMN Reviews’ Category

a3943003108_2Sound Awakener is Nhung Nguyen from Hanoi, Vietnam. Ms. Nguyen has been studying classical piano for some time, but more recently has focused on developing her own compositional techniques. This effort is a 28-minute EP released in a series of recordings on her Bandcamp page.

Ms. Nguyen’s background in piano is not apparent at all in hidden, as the album falls squarely into an electroacoustic vein, reminiscent what one would expect from a Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) member, with a hint of dark ambient. She blends unnatural scrapes and rustlings, clicks, alien soundscapes, and moving walls of noise into a dense, structured dystopia.

The first track, around, evokes a post-industrial wasteland, with motorized drones and rolling waves of mechanical distortion. The title track follows, featuring a more subtle, layered approach, with multiple “voices” combining processed instrument noises with generated sounds.  The 11-minute diary is the final track, and contains a sharp complexity, wandering percussion, and a more acoustic feel.

hidden is a notable early-career effort in musique concrete – structurally tight and quite engaging. Since the release of this EP, Ms. Nguyen has made several other recordings available, each of which I am looking forward to hearing.

A city of cardboard is a squat made of discarded materials, an expedient settlement for living during economic hard times. Analogously, in this recording the duo Music for Hard Times (Tom Nunn on sketchboxes, resonance plates, music boxes, harmonic rods and other objects, and Paul Winstanley on electric bass guitar with extensions and electronics) build structures in sound out of homemade, jerry-rigged instruments. These structures are textural rather than melodic, consisting of drifting, atmospheric soundscapes in place of motifs stated and varied. As reflected in the seven tracks’ titles, the atmospheres are for the most part bracing—an icy wind modeled in scrapes and echoes, scratches and hums—but not without a certain austere beauty.

Björk_-_Vulnicura_(Official_Album_Cover)Biophilia was the conceptual heaven of Björk, a sound world about nature through multimedia art.  But Vulnicura has a musical maturity that I was waiting for in her music, far more important than the decorative multimedia that too many musicians insist on today.

It is also a huge break emotionally from her usual optimism and desire to scream out life for most listeners. She delivers her most boundless music. The best part is the way she arranges her album like an hour-long composition, nothing I would be able to say about any of her previous albums. Even the conceptually tight Medùlla (that was still my favourite before this one) felt like a collection of individual experiments, not without nostalgic come backs to her dance years and lyrically varied into different subjects.

The music always follows her emotional state, the ending of her 15-year-long relationship with New York artist Matthew Barney. First serene and beautiful, the perfect opening Stone Milket only needs a few chords to get you straight into her world.  She is obviously aiming at the emotional landscapes of Homogenic, but with far more variations and opened melodic lines, like Vivaldi mixed Aphex Twin‘s melodic irregularities of his best years.  Björk has a precious ear for a tender melodism of her own kind with the strings instruments in particular, I always thought.  But nothing like this came our way since 2001`s Vespertine and even there, it was in part done by an arranger that she probably did not need.

Lion song is the most obvious pop song on Vulnicura, taking from Indian music and making it the best fit for an elegant electronic percussion programming, without pushing this aspect all of the times. I am one to believe that Björk can manage as great without the electronic elements, allowing herself the time space to build her arrangements more, but anything electronic on Vulnicura feels way more natural than on Biophilia (studio album at least) and active, much less in loop.

Black Lake already feels different, a lot more like Arvo Pärt that she is resembling musically with horn arrangements on Volta (Pneumonia as something of Vulnicura, like a preparation for it). 10 minutes and never any moment does the song feels like it is already over. Björk never was this melancholic before, but instead of crushing her best strengths, the dark feelings are allowing her to push herself further into unique expression, like for any other great artist.

There are not a lot of invented instruments on Vulnicura, but the music is far more alien and surprising on repeated listening than on Biophilia, which like Volta, felt to me a bit like something made for a limited attention span audience, in a vulgarizer fashion. I always loved vulgarizers, still do, but for me, artistically, there is something important that got stuck since Medùlla. Vulnicura is what I wanted to hear from her, a musical strengh that does not need any other concept than a personal one.

Starting from Family to the end of the album, there is the most original and organic electronic-acoustic music Björk ever created. Melodies are still there, easy to grab, but appear often like sound textures just as well and the structures are free-for-all, linear and non-linear, traditional (Indian and Chinese at the same time on Not Get) and musique concrete flow into sound painting, vocal duet of the atom with Anthony, far more daring than her previous work with him. On Atom Dance, his voice comes out of nowhere like an harmonic arrangement made out of his several inner voices while the strings change direction their own independent way, and Björk slowly makes this an evolved child from Medùlla‘s vocal schizophrenia, and the organic-vocader twin started out on the most abstract songs from Biophilia.

Mouth Mantra strongly evocates Arvo Pärt’s Orient & Occident, one of my favourite works in the classical realm. The electronic mixture is just as exciting, splendid and natural, always in touch with the strings and totally out of touch as well. Perhaps because Björk worked with an electronic producer first (Arca who knows her music well), like she did by instinct in her initial years, the electronic realm appears more in shape here than ever before. The complexities of the drums and sounds are left in place, not added over after the most creative energy is exhausted.

Her singing here, more subtle, less volcano-like, often evolves slowly through her new progressive structures.  These are, during the confusing second half, in the focus on vocals as sound textures as well as melodic instruments. The closer Quicksand is a good example of this weird vocal singing that comments on itself until a new self is formed (“When she is broken, she is whole and when she is whole, she is broken”). It is surrounded by strings instruments that have lost most of their original sound, but remain rich, every part of this still simple song brings more perspective instead of pondering in obligation a few basic chords on the other parts like on Biophilia and Volta.

Her masterpiece so far.
Vincent Bergeron (2015.01.20)

AMN Reviews: Lindsay Cooper, Rarities Volumes 1 & 2

Posted: January 24, 2015 by dpcoffey in AMN Reviews

By Dan Coffey

LindsayCooperLindsay Cooper, like contemporaries Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson, and John Greaves, cut their avant-garde teeth in the uncompromising leftist band Henry Cow. Cooper had been playing with the progressive rock band Comus when she was invited to join Henry Cow. The rest really is history, but not a well-known one. After Henry Cow’s demise, Cooper started a band called News from Babel. Both the Henry Cow and News from Babel material are fairly well-documented, but there is so much more to Cooper’s musical legacy that remains largely unknown to any but the most diehard fans. Rarities, Volumes I & II attempts to redress the various oversights in Cooper’s eclectic career as composer and improviser on some of the toughest instruments to bring to any kind of combo – jazz, rock, or improvisatory – mainly the oboe, bassoon and sopranino saxophone.

Cooper suffered for many years from Multiple Sclerosis and had to retire from playing before her time. After succumbing to the disease in September, 2013, plans were made to hold a concert in her honor, with various combinations of musicians performing Cooper’s compositions. Thankfully, there’s a recorded legacy to go with that concert. This 2 disc set is full of treasures. Not all of the tracks are previously unreleased, but the ones that aren’t are extremely rare. Throughout the span of this set we get to hear songs that were originally released on limited edition cassettes or as bonus LPs that came with a subscription.

The set starts out with a suite of 26 short songs written for films and television shows. Other highlights feature a “piano roulette” that was previously unreleased. Also seeing the light of day for the first time is a performance by the band Trio Trabant, formed by Alfred Harth, who invited Cooper and Phil Minton to join. Trio Trabant have only ever released one CD; the music here is from a live performance made available for the first time.

This is an essential album that fills in the cracks between the Lindsay Cooper that most people are aware of, and at the same time is not esoteric enough to be a “collector’s only” item; although labeled as “rarities,” it is an excellent introduction to the varied career of the sadly missed Cooper.

Daniel+Rosenboom+-+Astral+Transference+-+Album+ArtThis live double CD is Daniel Rosenboom’s follow up to last year’s Fire Keeper, and was recorded live at Los Angeles’ Blue Whale on May 7, 2014. The first disc consists of the 31-minute Astral Transference, while the second features the longer, multi-part Seven Dreams.

The group includes Rosenboom on trumpet, Artyom Manukyan on cello and effects, Joshua White on piano, Richard Giddens on bass, and Gene Coye on drums. But Astral Transference uses a jazz octet arrangement, augmenting the sound with Gavin Templeton on alto sax, Jon Armstrong on tenor sax, and Alexander Noice on guitar and effects.

Astral Transference is the tightest composition, with as much of a Steve Reich influence as that of Wadada Leo Smith. The octet presents a contrapunctal wall of spiky noise, with the horns and guitar dancing around one another, while the piano and cello stake out strong positions. Somehow, the tracks covers both minimalist and “maximalist” styles, with interlocked melodies but a pounding and dense structure.

Daniel+Rosenboom+-+Seven+Dreams+-+Album+ArtSeven Dreams is a more customary suite, giving each musician room to stretch out, improvise and solo. For instance, The Tears of Venus features a lengthy bass solo, and piano dominates a good portion of Chatting with the Moon. Dancing on the Rings of Saturn provides a catchy melody accompanied by some inspired noodling, while Throwing Fire at the Sky is a rousing piece where Rosenboom and Manukyan play on top of tense rhythms from other three.

Astral Transference and Seven Dreams are two sides of a coin. The former a demanding chunk of avant-jazz, while the latter is more conventional (if one can even use that word to describe the group), yet still featuring free-form blow-outs. Rosenboom has hit a high point in this release, and with any luck, this is an example of much more to come.

Read our interview with Daniel, and check out the live performance of Astral Transference:

Electronics artist Don Campau and percussionist Russell Leach have released several albums as the duo Inside/Outside. For their two most recent releases they have constructed suites featuring the two of them alone (Territories), and a collaboration with seven kindred experimentalists (Rooms).

a0033418682_10For Rooms, Campau and Leach recorded individual tracks for each collaborator, who would then overdub a part. From the first track, a country & western inflected improvisation for Baltimore pedal steel player Susan Alcorn, through to the last, a haunting setting for vocalist Robin O’Brien, the finished pieces succeed in reflecting the individual voices of Campau and Leach’s collaborators, thus capturing the particular sounds of very different artists. Highlights include violinist Mike Khoury’s raga-like contribution; oboist Kyle Bruckmann’s extended techniques overlaid with analogue electronics; Bryan Day’s sparse plucked strings and objects; and Al Margolis’s collage of manipulated found sounds.

a2134722938_10The double release Territory is a kind of follow-up to Rooms. Begun when Campau and Leach were completing Rooms, the first seven tracks were recorded for No Pigeonholes EXP, Campau’s essential radio show of experimental music. A second group of tracks was then recorded as a suite in seven parts. Here one gets Inside/Outside by itself, crafting its own unique sound. And that sound is richly atmospheric, consisting in the fecund crossing of pre-modern, sometimes exotic rhythms with modern instruments and production, all in the service of reverberant, often shimmering textures.

a3453866555_2Based on the lineup of Steve Swell on trombone, Jonathan Moritz on sax, and Sean Ali on bass, along with Carlo Costa on percussion, I was expecting a jazz album. An “outside” jazz album that was perhaps on the unconventional side, but jazz nonetheless. But what I heard upon first listen to Sediment was more along the lines of the textural experiments of Luigi Nono, early AMM, and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza.

Instead of laying down a groove, this quartet establishes an atmosphere. Almost ambient in its approach, the group juxtaposes minimalism and a busy scratching and droning of their respective instruments. The result is a quiet, but tense, set of six improvisations that are deceptively complex. Reflective of the title, the music is a solid material and moves about through natural processes.

As leader, Costa never dominates this recording, focusing on using the drums and cymbals to set a tone rather than drive a rhythm. The other members take similarly spacious approaches, bowing or blowing out discreet, angular motifs, or resting between notes. There are no leads or solos – Sediment is a true group effort.

Costa and group have hit a high water mark with this unconventional release. It takes courage to release an album such as this one, as well as skill to make such disjointed music so engaging and listenable.