AMN Reviews: Natasha Barrett – Bouteilles de Klein (2010; empreintes DIGITALes)

This double disc set which is in DVD audio and various surround formats will give you a huge helping (over 3 hours) of Natasha Barrett’s sound world.  Here we have large scale fixed medium pieces, shorter works of her “micro climates” installations, and, as far as I’m concerned, the reason to own this set, two larger scale installation pieces.  This write-up is based on stereo listening through earbuds but I have experienced these works in surround and it’s truly mind-blowing.

Natasha Barrett is very adept at presenting “the whole” sound.  You may know and recognize the various sources, whether natural, or man-made, but she takes them to the limits of imagination.  For example, a simple, very benign sound of water dripping, raindrops falling, a gently moving stream, or a breeze are transformed into larger than life, macro events.  Sometimes she’ll leave these sounds relatively unprocessed but recorded in such an isolated way that what you are hearing is not just a rain drop or a stream…but the very essence of that rain drop or stream.  Other times she may start off by telling us what we are hearing by leaving the sound naked but then proceed to deconstruct and, basically tweak the hell out of it, resulting in something altogether different and very alien.  Either technique succeeds greatly in transforming these pieces into a rich, drama-filled soundscape.

Once again, the concept of sound spatialization (sounds occupying a physical space in time) is on full display here.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record (if you’ve read any of my other write-ups), active, attentive listening through headphones is the best way to listen to her and other composers working in this niche.  When the sound is identified in the physical space, it may stay there for a while or possibly dissipate into nothingness, or Barrett might move it around the (3D) soundstage.  Whatever her artistic choices are, once your mind comes to grips with the sound location in space, the appreciation level of her music escalates skywards.

Her non-installation, fixed medium pieces on Bouteilles de Klein are excellent.  Avoid Being Eaten by Mimicking Other Less Palatable Species is a fascinating riot of animal sounds (and possibly some unfortunate human cretins engaging in mimicry that the title warns against) that torpedos your head into breathless submission.  It’s all fun and games till someone ends up in a cone…right?  Mobilis in Mobili originally appeared on her album Trade Winds as part of a much larger scale Acousmatic concept work, but here it’s truncated down to about 6 minutes and seems to be remastered with less subsonics and clearer, crisper sound.  This is one of my favorite pieces in her entire catalog and since the sea shanty seems to be a thing on social media lately, then this is timely.  Violent seas, crashing waves, splintered wood, wrecked ships, massive church organ chords, the futile chants of sailors battling the elements as Father Neptune impales their helpless souls on his barnacled encrusted trident as they give up their ghosts…yeah, here are your sea shanties you poor unsuspecting Tik Tokker’s (smirk). Here is the longer Trade Winds version:

Ok, moving on to a (relatively) kinder and gentler Barrett, we get to her four shorter installation pieces which she calls Micro Climates. These are short studies of various natural habitats in Norway with the composer distilling down to the very base elemental qualities of the region. Even though I found the liner notes for these very interesting, unfortunately they acted like a “spoiler” that led my mind’s eye to visualize the area as described.  That’s fine, but if you are inclined to make your own movies, leave the notes behind, it might make the excursion that much more trippy.

Next, there is the Sub Terra Cycle.  This consists of three short installation pieces plus one longer (16 minutes) concert piece.  The Sub Terra Cycle, as the name suggests depicts the sound of the Earth.  As the composer states, “Under earth, the roar, the grate and the prickling delicacy of sound resounding beneath us”.  As in her Micro Climates, the three short works transports and transforms the listener to something much more personal than a spectator.  What you hear is presented in such a visceral manner that, for example, you are part of the elevator shaft that takes you down to the Kongsberg silver mines.  You become a cog in the heavy machinery that is drilling down 32 meters in the Oslo fjord, and finally, you become a grain of sand sized conscience observer on a Norwegian holiday beach.  The 16-minute concert piece simply titled Sub Terra explodes with mechanical energy and geological chaos, all beautifully manipulated to achieve maximum dramatic effect.  It’s a stunning piece that needs to be heard loud!  Here is a short 4-minute live extract that is provided to give you the feel of the piece, but out of context is not an optimal representation.

Finally, there is the Barely project.  Per the composer, these are meant to be listened to at “barely” perceptual volume levels in which they can trigger different physical and/or emotional reactions in different listeners.  Depending on the individual, each listener at this level will pick up and/or react differently to the very highly detailed nature of these recordings.  I have personally listened to these recordings numerous times at a “normal” volume and only recently listened at the “barely perceptual” volume the composer recommends.  Each experience was very different and moving forward, I’ll most likely compromise somewhere between the two.  

Gentle Sediment (Barely: Part-3) is indeed a highly detailed Acousmatic piece.  Over the course of its nine minutes, it slowly morphs in mood and texture but retains a basic drone-like character.  Sounds get introduced, manipulated, and disappear, only to be reanimated later in the piece.  It’s a wonderful slow-moving meander through parts unknown. Rhizaria (Barely: Part-4) explores the sound world of a very close mic’ed cello which is processed in real time by Barrett. Typically, sounds like this are not noticed in a live setting, but because of the recording technique they are brought out into stark light.  Last, (but definitely not least) there is the 40 minute Barely: (Part-1). This is an installation work set up in Oslo Norway, housed in a WWII German artillery factory. Without getting too far into the technical weeds of the how and why this piece was realized, (if interested, there are detailed notes on Barrett’s blog) I can say that for me, this is the high point of the entire package. The piece starts out with extrinsic noises (visitors chatting in the installation, outside noises, etc.) which eventually fade out and are eclipsed by a “barely” ambient drone-like sound that also fades out only to make itself known again at various points throughout.  Overlaid on top of this is a constant march of “barely” audible sonic minutiae, origin unknown.  In the last month, I’ve listened to this piece about 4 or 5 times and each time is like hearing it anew.  Imagine taking a slow boat ride down a still black river on a moonless, windless, arid night…around every curve lurks menace and invisible perils.  Unable to avoid what’s coming, you capitulate to whatever force is guiding your small craft and brave the unknowable.  Barely: (Part-1) is certainly one of the most interesting Acousmatic works in my collection, at times uneasy, if not downright disturbing but ultimately fascinating.

Bouteilles de Klein is a dense and demanding listen.  This may not be for the casual/curious fan of Acousmatic music but if you are up for the challenge, it will reward you many times over.  This release comes highly recommended!

Mike Eisenberg

Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber’s That Depends @20 

Source: burning ambulance.

Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber are one of the most amazing musical ensembles America has ever produced. Their catalog is a synthesis of virtually every strain of African-American music, plus modern composition, electronica, heavy metal and anything else that strikes their collective fantasy. Their extended jams, conducted onstage and in the studio by Greg Tate, are like dippings from a dark and swirling river that runs through all of American history and all the way back to Africa, but with a powerful current drawing the listener into the future, even as influences from Thelonious Monk and Erroll Garner to Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie, and of course, of course, of course electric Miles Davis are lovingly acknowledged. They embody both what the Art Ensemble of Chicago called “Great Black Music…Ancient to the Future” and what Amiri Baraka referred to as “the changing same.”

Cuneiform Records Upcoming Releases

Source: Cuneiform Records.

DAVID BORDEN – Heaven-Kept Soul

One of America’s greatest classical minimalist composers, David Borden (b. 1938) has written some of minimalism’s most significant works despite being less widely known than contemporaries Terry Riley, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. The composer and keyboardist is also an electronic music pioneer; as leader of Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co., the world’s first synth ensemble, Borden was intimately familiar with Bob Moog’s Trumansburg warehouse and wrote works to be played on the inventor’s early instruments. Over the years, Borden has written numerous works for both solo performance and ensembles of various size (including Mother Mallard), and for acoustic, electric and electronic instrumentation, in addition to also writing for dance. The 21st century classical fugues for piano released here by Cuneiform Records are among his recent works.

GABRIEL BORDEN – Borden on Borden : Gabriel Borden Plays David Borden

A solo tour-de-force of post-classical guitar (acoustic and multi-tracked electric guitar) and classical minimalism. Guitarist Gabriel Borden plays music by composer David Borden, including works from his father’s The Continuing Story of Counterpoint (Cuneiform Records, 3 CDs), the classical minimalist masterpiece that critics have called “‘the Goldberg Variations of Minimalism’ of minimalism, a canon of work that defines a style and an era.” Jaw dropping in complexity, elegance, precision and force, Borden on Borden: Gabriel Borden Plays David Borden is a masterwork in which performance, composition and recording/production are intimately entwined.

ALAN GOWEN & HUGH HOPPER with Nigel Morris – Bracknell-Bresse Improvisations

Melodic improvisations by two greatly missed British jazz-rock giants and Canterbury icons, keyboardist Alan Gowen and bassist Hugh Hopper

Second Harmonic Series Newsletter is Out

Source: Harmonic Series.

I interview Sergio Merce, born and based in Buenos Aires, Argentina and probably best known for playing the microtonal saxophone he created about a decade ago. Over email exchanges, we talk about the foundations of his practice, from instruments to concepts to influences. Significant insights include experiencing music as an alternate reality and striving not to be, but to do.

John McCowen – Mundana I & Mundana IV

Stephanie Aston & Davið Brynjar Franzson – voice fragments (Carrier Records, 2021)
Daniel Barbiero – In/Completion (EndTitles, 2020)
Jeremiah Cymerman / Charlie Looker – A Horizon Made of Canvas (Astral Spirits, 2021)
EKG – 200 Years of Electricals (self-released, 2021)
Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward – arb (Carrier Records, 2021)
George Lewis – The Recombinant Trilogy (New Focus Recordings, 2021)
LOTE – Radu Malfatti: hensou (2017) (self-released, 2021)
Roy Montgomery – Island of Lost Souls (Grapefruit, 2021)
Anthony Pateras – Pseudacusis (Bocian, 2021)
Quatuor Bozzini – Alvin Lucier: Navigations (Collection QB, 2021)
Mariel Roberts – Armament (self-released, 2021)
Ingrid Schmoliner / Adam Pultz Melbye / Emilio Gordoa – GRIFF (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020)
USA/Mexico – Del Rio (12XU/Riot Season, 2021)

AMN Picks of the Week: Goldberger, Jermyn, Maneri & Cleaver / Flow Trio with Joe McPhee / Harnik & Kurzmann / Bailey & Takagi

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Goldberger / Jermyn / Maneri / Cleaver – Live at Scholes (2021)
Flow Trio with Joe McPhee – Winter Garden (2021)
Elisabeth Harnik / Christof Kurzmann – Prozession (2021)
Derek Bailey / Mototeru Takagi – Live at FarOut, Atsugi 1987 (2020)

AMN Reviews: Robert Honstein – Middle Ground [Other Minds OM2030]

As its title declares, composer Robert Honstein’s Middle Ground (2016) for amplified violin and electronics seeks to find the mean between the string instrument’s extremes of pitch and tonality. Honstein chooses a tripartite scheme of three movements that lays out his program with an unmistakable clarity: starting with the violin’s upper register, the piece jumps to the low end of its compass before settling into the range in between. The overall result is a deft, composite portrait of a string instrument.

The first movement, titled Too Far, is made up of softly played upper register long tones and harmonics drifting upward and downward, as if carried along on warm air currents. The second movement is Too Close, and exchanges the ethereality of the first for grinding, predominantly lower-register sixteenth notes played over changing time signatures as they race toward an electronically-distorted finish. The final movement is Bridging the Gap, which returns to low dynamics and long tones, now alternating between high and low registers and growing gradually less distant from each other until they converge on a terminal two-note chord.

The composition’s structural clarity is brought out not only in its division into three movements logically determined by its programmatic character, but by the simple melodic material Honstein uses for each. Rather than spinning out linear melodies, Honstein in the first two movements arranges notes into fields; in the third movement he breaks up the fields into points moving against each other. Although the piece is fairly sparse its textures are smoothed over by the electronics’ augmentation of the sound with delay and reverb, bolstering its presence and frequently giving the impression of multiple violins playing a closely-spaced canon. Violinist Kate Stenberg’s performance is by turns serene and urgent, giving the composition the emotionally controlled performance it demands.

Daniel Barbiero

Wayward in Limbo Recordings

Source: Wayward Music Series.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve been considering how we can most directly assist the artists who inhabit our particular niche of the Seattle music community.

With the Chapel closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wayward Music Series now moves from the concert hall to the living room. In place of our usual ten monthly concerts, Nonsequitur is curating and commissioning ten Seattle artists each month to create a series of streaming audio sessions of exclusive material. Many of these will be essentially “live” performances recorded at home for this occasion. Others may create a mix of pre-recorded material that has not been previously released elsewhere.

These tracks are available to stream at no charge on SoundCloud via the links below, and will be promoted like our concerts via our weekly e-newsletter, our Facebook group, and our Twitter feed. The artists retain all rights to their recordings. We strongly encourage you to visit their web sites and purchase their recordings or contribute to their personal crowdfunding campaigns.

This series will continue for as long as we are unable to use the Chapel for performances.

#92: Amelia Coulter
An intense noise/drone piece for unrecognizable trombone and no-input mixer feedback. LISTEN

#93: Alex Guy
Lyrical improvisations for solo viola and looper, recorded in the Chapel. LISTEN

#94: Rea / Shoup / Seman / Ostrowski
An exploratory out jazz expedition traversing a large and varied terrain.

All About Jazz Reviews

Source: All About Jazz.

Kevin Sun
(Un)seaworthy (Endectomorph Music)

Benoit Delbecq
The Weight of Light (Pyroclastic Records)

Aki Takase
Auge (Intakt Records)

Logan Richardson
AfroFuturism (WAX Industry / Whirlwind Recordings)

Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi
Garden of Expression (ECM Records)

Futari (Satoko Fujii / Taiko Saito)
Beyond (Libra Records)

See Through 4
Permanent Moving Parts (All-Set! Editions)