Weighing the home-listening merits of a soundtrack is tough, since it came into being for the express purpose of complementing visual imagery. William Ryan Fritch boasts an as yet small but beautiful and muscular discography as Vieo Abiungo, and The Waiting Room is far from his first film score. The documentary, filmed in the emergency room of an Oakland, CA, hospital by first-time director Peter Nicks, is intended to shed some light on the less-than uplifting state of the American health care system, and judging from the accolades it has accumulated, has done so very effectively indeed.
On its own, the score however seems bereft of the movie´s self-proclaimed “character-driven cinema verité”. If I hadn´t read the backstory, I never would have guessed what the music was “about”. There are several absorbing passages, such as “Light in a Dark Hour”, which would have been so much more so had they had been extended beyond the two-and-a-half minute teaser on the album. Conversely, the music is too splendid on its own to convey the mind-numbing frustration vulnerable individuals and well-meaning caregivers must endure in the clutches of a dysfunctional system. Each track bears Fritch’s trademark handicraft, a kind of modern folk music for the urban ritual mustering an impressive arsenal of acoustic and electronic instruments, but The Waiting Room is ultimately hobbled by its origins as an enhancement rather than a freestanding work.
Helmut Lachenmann’s three string quartets, realized here in exemplary form by the JACK Quartet, are challenging investigations into the architecture of sound and sound production. In these three works, as in Lachenmann’s work generally, timbre is an independent musical value that interacts with or—more often—supplants pitch, harmony and rhythm as the central element of composition. As a result the focus of these quartets is on how sound is produced, modified and organized.
Listening to the string quartets is analogous to reading Finnegans Wake—both works are extremely dense in content and shades of meaning. In Lachenmann’s case the material is sound color in the various guises it can take as it is wrung from the conventional instrumentation of two violins, a viola and a cello. Although produced from standard orchestral instruments, individual sounds can be difficult to place. As with acousmatic music, their sources—meaning here the gestures used to produce them—can sometimes only be guessed at.
Gran Torso (1971), the first quartet, is the sound of acoustic instruments in extremis, its prominent clusters of pizzicato notes emerging creaks, rattles and the sounds of distressed wood, horsehair and strings. A long pause about ten minutes into the piece adds an element of structural enigma to match the sonic enigmas on either side of it. Reigen seliger Geister (1989) draws heavily on flautando playing and wind-like, pitchless sounds, as well as percussive and strumming gestures broken up by silences. Throughout the quartet tones are bowed in a way that reverses the usual attack-decay profile of the rapid or immediate attack and gradual decay, making for passages that sound as if they were run through a volume pedal. The final and most recent quartet, 2001’s Grido, embodies a brittle, often microtonally-flavored lyricism embedded in skittishly modernist phrasing.
In calling for unusual ways to produce sound from acoustic instruments, Lachenmann’s string quartets ultimately seem to be about the resistance of material to the energy applied to it. This resistance is implicit in all music—think of the tautness of the string pushing against the pressure of the bow as an ordinary tone is sounded—but Lachenmann takes this play of forces and pushes it to the point of crisis, amplifying it and thus bringing it to the center of the composition. Resistance reaches a crisis when instruments produce the kinds of sounds they weren’t designed or perfected to produce–one might say that the nature of the instrument itself resists the use to which it is being put. And it is from this that the drama of these quartets arises.
VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – The masters came to this charming town and captivated a crowd of connaisseurs with new musical creations.
Electric guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist Evan Parker – pioneers in the free and improvised jazz movement – delivered a model of how experts tell stories without a script.
Their concert was easily a highlight on the third day of this four-day Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville that shifted from Noise and Sludge Rock on Day 2 to Free Jazz and more Noise on Day 3.
Frith and Parker have known each other for 40 years. Although it was only the third time as a duo, they demonstrated how there are no limits to how far open-minded players can go.
Parker played more of a straight-man with a seemingly endless variety of runs on tenor and soprano sax while Frith used his guitar as a rhythmic device with the instrument sitting on his knees. He slapped the strings with paintbrushes, scraped them with metal, drummed on the fret board with sticks, then covered it with cloth and played it like a piano.
What emerged was a series of pieces conveying moods, patterns, soundscapes and textures that stood as complete musical statements.
“How are we doing?” Frith asked the rapt audience. “Great!” shouted one fan, a sentiment many shared after hearing 14 of 20 scheduled concerts that wrap up Sunday.
Earlier Saturday, Ken Vandermark, the Chicago-based saxophonist/composer, led his Audio One tentet through a thrilling program of originals, featuring a hard-blowing and inventive front line of fellow reedists Mars Williams, Dave Rempis, Nick Mazzarella, and trombonist Jeb Bishop, propelled by the dynamic drumming of Tim Daisy.
The songs were well crafted with space for lessening intensity, written in for violist Jen Paulson, often in tandem with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, who in his own solos injected an edgy and percussive approach not often used with the vibraphone. It was a big, brash, brassy blow out.
The midnight show was another body-blasting Noise outing featuring Japan’s Prince of Darkness, guitarist/vocalist Kaiji Haino, with Australian drummer Oren Ambarchi and American electric bassist Stephen O’Malley
Dressed in black with his silver head of hair hanging to his elbows and dark glasses, Haino shouted Noise in his look, intense drone sounds, and vocals. Ambarchi, well known as a guitarist, displayed incredible energy and skill in establishing a percussive wall as bassist O’Malley deepened the drone effect. The energy level subsided after an hour, ending 15 minutes later with a final Haino howl.
Earlier, the 11-member Haram (Arabic for forbidden) ensemble delivered a bright and melodic concert combining traditional Arabic-style music with a juxtaposition of free improv. Vancouver-based Oud player Gordon Grdina led the way with three traditional instrumentalists, while such accomplished improvisers as clarinetist François Houle, saxophonist Chris Kelly and violinists Josh and Jesse Zubot took the music Out with their interpretive excursions.
Day 2 featured a first concert by Keiji Haino, with Masami Akita,, known as Merzbow, (electronics), the propulsive drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, and the French electric guitarist Richard Pinhas. Against a subversive and threatening wall of sound, we heard shades of darkness and glimmers of light, incremental shifts in tone and texture. Haino danced around his mike, soaring and diving bird-like. Suddenly a melody emerged. The operative adjectives: spacey yet accessible.
A crowd of head-bangers showed up for the midnight concert Friday featuring Italian sludge rockers Ufomammut – electric guitarist Giuliano Poggi, electric bassist Giovanni Rossi, and drummer Gianni Vitarelli.
Strong, repetitive, slower paced rock laced with effects created a mesmerizing vibe, and the bangers flashed devil signs to the musicians in appreciation. We got the message.
Logistics precluded my attendance at the first day of Denovali’s second spring takeover of London’s east end, but for me the smaller-scale second day over the Easter weekend promised the festival’s highlights anyway. Set in the welcoming intimacy of Café Oto, it offered four acts and an extensive selection of the label’s back catalogue on CD or vinyl – too tempting an opportunity to pass up.