AMN Reviews: Peter Hammill – …all that might have been… (Fie! 2014)

by Dan Coffey

large4835Reviewing a new Peter Hammill album is never easy, but it’s always fun. Never more so than now.  Hammill’s had something of a late-career renaissance, producing some of the most intellectually dense (Incoherence) and emotionally moving (Thin Air) albums in the mid to late 2000s, plus the outstanding Otherworld with Gary Lucas, released earlier this year.

But here’s the fun part: none of those albums, or indeed anything in Hammill’s expansive oeuvre, could prepare one for the sprawling …all that might have been… Welcome to a musical film, where, as Hammill says, the music is both film and soundtrack. Welcome to the world of Alien Clocks and Piper Smiles, to vocals as wild as anything since Hammill’s guest stint on Robert Fripp’s Exposure. And while you’re walking around this sonic wonderland, you won’t be able to ignore guitar riffs lifted straight out of Hammill’s pre-punk Nadir’s Big Chance album, and overall the most sonically dense and widest palette of sounds Hammill’s thrown together to date.

…all that might have been… comes in two formats. The main presentation of the work is meant to be a 70-odd minute audio version of a film. To that end, snippets of songs are woven together to form a kind of anti-narrative that nonetheless gives clues as to situations and predicaments. The film that Hammill’s making, of course, isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster. It isn’t even new. Instead, it plays out like an homage to the French New Wave films, film noir, and perhaps a certain Japanese film called Audition. Hammill’s character comes off as an amalgam of all the tough-guy romantic gangster types with, if not hearts of gold, a sense of existential dread – think Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless or Pierrot le Fou.  The unsettling time jumps in Hammill’s work are also a nod to Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

The Japanese theme of the last film mentioned isn’t an accident. A good portion of the action in this album takes place in a metropolitan area of Japan. (Perhaps Hammill was doing research during his extended residencies in Japan over the past several years.) What happens in Japan stays between the 0s and 1s of the disc, but we get enough of a sense to know that our character has brought a heap of trouble on himself.

And then there’s the Piper Smile. In a sense, this story, such as it is, draws heavily from several of the faerie myths of the Piper, who gave a gift to a poor soul with instructions to never disrespect the gift. As these tales go, the gift’s recipient inevitably messes up, and is left bereft once more. The woman Hammill’s character is romantically involved with is the Piper. Her gift was narrative.

Peter Hammill of van der Graaf Generator at th...
Peter Hammill

An unsettling but wholly satisfying piece of work for sure, but there’s more. Hammill is releasing this cine-album as a single disc, but he’s also releasing It as one of a three-disc set. Disc two of this set comprises the full songs from which the snippets that weave in and out of disc one are taken. A curious move, for sure, to release the album of actual songs as an “extra.” But Hammill’s confidence in the cine-album as having enough strength to be the leading card is well-placed. The songs, probably because in some sense Hammill knew that they were going to be spliced up, are themselves full of changes. Almost all the songs go through several dramatic changes and rarely end up where they started. It’s as if one of the epic and lengthy songs by his band, Van der Graaf Generator, was compressed into a five-minute frame, with all the abrupt changes left intact. Disc two, consists of ten excellent new songs by Hammill, which provide a hell of a musical ride of another kind. The third disc is simply four long tracks with improvisations on the main themes presented in the first two discs. A nice listen, but without the punch of the “cine” disc or the “songs” disc.

Hyperbole is its own worst enemy in the genre of music reviewing, so believe me when I say I’m taking the leap anyway and putting my money on this one being the most ambitious and successful album of Hammill’s career.

Related reviews:
Van der Graaf Generator – ALT
Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas – Otherworld

AMN Reviews: Silvia Tarozzi – Virgin Violin [i dischi di angelica IDA 028]

cd-silvia-tarozzi-virgin-violin-mediumAs an accomplished improviser accustomed to shaping performances in real time, Italian violinist Silvia Tarozzi often works with composers to develop pieces reflecting her interest in exploring sounds and the physical aspects of her instrument. All three performances on this new release are the result to varying extents of Tarozzi’s collaboration with their composers, and all bear the marks of the violinist’s own approach to the creation and elaboration of sounds.

The first track is Circle Process (2010), a 27-minute investigation into microtonal relationships and pure sound by French composer Pascale Criton, who worked with Tarozzi to craft a piece that would draw on the violinist’s experience as an improviser. Accordingly, the work calls for a series of extended techniques centered around gestures performed over various parts of the violin, whose strings are tuned 1/16th of a tone apart. This scordatura comes to the foreground in several passages in which two or more strings are sounded at once, setting up beats and mutual sonic interference patterns that give the sound a palpitating, fluttering quality. The title of the work seems to refer to the circular bowing—sometimes rapid, sometimes slow and often on muted strings—that recurs throughout.

On Thirteen Changes: for Malcom Goldstein, a 1986 composition in thirteen parts by Pauline Oliveros, Tarozzi supplements the austere solo violin with voice, objects, stones, radio, and recordings as well as Massimo Simonini’s electronics. The score consists of thirteen verbal phrases describing scenes, impressions or situations that are meant to serve as starting points for the performers’ improvisations. Tarozzi responds with economical and atmospheric collages in which identifiable sound sources combine with pure timbre. On the thirteenth piece Oliveros’ voice, reading the thirteen phrases, emerges from the sound of the violin being tapped, scraped and prodded over a field recording of rain.

The final track is a performance of French composer Eliane Radigue’s Occam II (2012), one of a series of solo instrumental pieces inspired by 14th century English philosopher William of Ockham’s dictum that that explanation is best that requires the fewest possible causes or assumptions. As Occam’s Razor reduces explanation to its simplest elements, Radigue’s Occam reduces music to its simplest constituent: A single tone. Using long bowstrokes—and what may be two bows at once–Tarozzi draws out the latent harmonic complexity of the fundamental tone by revealing its upper structure of overtones. The piece ends with the solidity of the drone dissolving into ghostly harmonics.

AMN (Retro) Picks of the Week: Las Orejas y la Lengua / Guy Reibel / Jonty Harrison / Robert Normandeau

Recently I had the opportunity to purchase almost 50 used CDs at a very good price. I’m slowly going through these and will be posting some of the better ones in a few special “retro” Picks of the Week articles. Enjoy.

Las Orejas y la Lengua – La Eminencia Inobjetable (1996)
Guy Reibel – Granulations-Sillages (1979)
Jonty Harrison – Évidence matérielle (2000)
Jonty Harrison – Articles indéfinis (1996)
Robert Normandeau – Figures (2009)

Sam Bailey, Luke Nickel, Kevin Sanders in Bristol UK

From Bang the Bore:

Sam Bailey, Kevin Sanders, Luke Nickel
Nov 19th Bristol, Cafe Kino, £5
Prepared Piano, Petals, and a Pflutist

Sam Bailey
Cantebury’s woodland piano experimentalist and philosopher – creatively abusing the Kino upright, coaxing drones, clanks and wonder. Sam Bailey is an improvising pianist, composer, teacher and serial collaborator. In the past two years he has worked on projects with composers, improvising musicians, an 80’s rock star, dancers, poets, filmmakers, a 3D light sculptor, photographers, a mathematician and several chefs. Sam has recently finished a practice-based PhD in improvising music and he runs the Free Range series of music, film and poetry events in Canterbury, Kent. Sam’s current projects include the site specific Piano in the Woods and the synaesthesia-inducing Eating Sound.

Kev Sanders
Petals/Haidryer Excommunication head droning us into a gritty bliss. One of our favourite operators on noise’s progressive fringe.
“[T]he professorial neighbour of a rockabilly band attempting to school ‘em in modernism by by playing the tough bits from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack through the band’s own slashed practice amps.” – Rob Hayler

Luke Nickel
Luke Nickel (b. 1988) is a Canadian composer, artist, curator, and flutist currently completing a PhD at Bath Spa University under the direction of James Saunders. Luke’s flute playing is an attempt to rehabilitate his earlier classical training by taking inspiration from (among other things) Wandelweiser, imaginary dinosaur noises, drone music, singing in the shower, and minimalist sculpture. This will be Luke’s first public performance in Bristol.

All About Jazz Reviews

From All About Jazz:

Black Milk Impulses
Manifesto (Meta Records)

UDU CALLS/Tiziano Tononi & Daniele Cavallanti With William Parker
The Vancouver Tapes (Long Song)

Ken Thomson And Slow/Fast
Settle (NCM East)

Imber, Wiltshire (Va Fongool)

Read “Graham Collier: Luminosity” reviewed by Duncan Heining
Graham Collier Extended Analysis
Graham Collier: Luminosity (Jazzcontinuum)

Albert Beger Trio
The Way To Go (Jazzis Records)

Mary Halvorson
Reverse Blue (Relative Pitch Records)

Andrew Raffo Dewar
Interactions Quartet (Rastascan Records)

Michael Mantler
The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update (ECM Records)

Kali. Z. Fasteau
Piano Rapture (Flying Note Records)

Live At Chilli Jazz Festival 2013 (Leo Records)