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AMN Reviews: Joseba Agirrezabalaga & Mikel Vega – Lepok [Urpa I Musell]

Lepok brings together the two Basque electric guitarists Joseba Agirrezabalaga and Mikel Vega, who recorded these improvisation in June 2021 in Arrasate. It’s a very live-sounding recording that puts the listener right in the middle of the two musicians—so close, in fact, that one can hear the buzz of the amplifiers in the background.

The two guitars are evenly matched in terms of their overall sound—clearly etched tones shimmeringly overlaid with reverb– which gives the music a textural depth derived from accumulating mass rather than from sharply contrasting timbres. The opening track, the clangorous Birjaiotza, pushes this principle to its limit with its harsh, metallic blocks of sound. The title track, which drifts into territory outlined in hum and sparse notes, explores the other, more open possibility presented by textural construction. The playing overall is mostly abstract and somewhat tentative, a reflection perhaps of the fact that the session represents the first time Agirrezabalaga and Vega played together. Nevertheless, the closing track, Mamu kitarjolea, is sure-footed in its deployment of a chord-progression-and-solo structure that coalesces into broad, hammered gestures and squealing distortion.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Ken Moore – Vital Xanthic Panoply [Bandcamp]

Sound artist Ken Moore’s Vital Xanthic Panoply is an unapologetic head trip—a 29 minute-long single track EP offering a phantasmagoria of sounds from a variety of sources, some identifiable and some not. There are, at minimum, vintage synthesizer sweeps and rumbles; gongs, chimes, and tuned percussion; randomized piano and organ lines—a polyphony of distantly related timbres and tones whether synthetic or real, or real and processed, that somehow catalyze each other in an alchemy of pure sonic shapeshifting. But what matters isn’t so much where the sounds come from or what is done to them as where they go. Which is forward, along a meandering path. The entire piece is integrated with a freely pulsed perpetual motion that carries it along on undulating waves of sound, some running forward, some running backward, but all constantly changing through a combinatory logic all their own. This is music that carries no message beyond the sensual pleasure it provides. But sometimes, that’s enough.

(Full disclosure: Moore is a friend and occasional collaborator.)

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Brown-Davis-Ingalls-Trammell – Tremble Trove [Artifact Recordings ART 3017, 2023]

Tremble Trove is a generous, two-CD set of improvisations in trio and quartet format featuring the Oakland musicians Chris Brown (piano and electronics); Ben Davis (cello); Marshall Trammell (drums); and Matt Ingalls (clarinet and bass clarinet).

The first disc, a set of eight performances, is by the trio of Brown, Davis, and Trammell. The group’s core sound is of a kind of abstract piano trio building its interactions on the basis of dynamics-and-dissonance-laden tension points rather than harmonic progressions or melodic counterpoint. There are occasional, creatively ambiguous hints of expanded tonality salted throughout, but the center of gravity falls on the contrastive interplay between extended and conventional techniques, as well as on the opposition of Trammell’s jittery drum work on one side and Davis and Brown’s pitch-based constructions on the other.

For the second disc Brown, Davis, and Trammell are joined by Ingalls for a sequence of solos, duos, trios, and a culminating quartet. These performances move along a spectrum running from a sparse, sound-based austerity to lush, filled-out textures floating on an undulating cushion of piano harmonies.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Andrew Raffo Dewar, John Hughes, Chad Popple – Reflejos IV-VII [Waveform Alphabet WA002]

Reflejos IV-VII is the second release from the transatlantic trio of soprano saxophonist Andrew Raffo Dewar, double bassist John Hughes, and percussionist Chad Popple. Like 2018’s Reflejo, the work on which this release continues and extends, Reflejos IV-VII was recorded in Hamburg, Germany, where Hughes and Popple are currently based.

The four Reflejos are compositions by Dewar. They are members of a series of thematically organized pieces that employ forms based on inversions (mirror images or “reflections,” as Dewar’s titles have it) and related structures, as well as looped motifs. At one extreme is Reflejos V, the motif to which is a single note played by all three (with Popple on vibes, as he is on all of the Reflejos and Trizas) across staggered rhythms that produce variations in color and density. The piece eventually settles into a seven-beat pulse carried on a bass ostinato. Reflejos VII features slightly off-kilter, contrapuntally played motifs, while Reflejos VI moves from an opening featuring a reflective line on vibes floating over a gently undulating, bowed bass, to a gritty bass solo that highlights the sound of the instrument as brute material fact. In contrast to the longer and more developed Reflejos, the brief Trizas strip the music down to isolate and reveal the brief, repeated phrases that make up its conceptual core.

The melodically-organized Reflejos and Trizas are accompanied by two improvisations that explore more abstract territory notable for the salience of textures produced by extended techniques and unpitched percussion.

https://reflejoswa.bandcamp.com/

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Nicola Hein & Nicolas Souchal: Fier tel tonne [NUNC 034]

If I’ve read the liner note correctly, Fier tel tonne documents the first musical meeting of Nicola Hein and Nicolas Souchal in this improvised session recorded in a studio in Berlin in August 2021. Hein, a guitarist and sound artist with a particular interest in cybernetics and the human-technology interface, here plays the Buchla synthesizer as well as the guitar; Souchal, whose background is in contemporary jazz and improvised music, plays trumpet. The combination of these two fairly different voices makes for an interesting collective sound that moves between the abstract and the lyrical. Souchal’s sparsely melodic, muted trumpet lines and pitchless-yet-somatically-indicative extended techniques complement the electronically thick contributions from Hein’s guitar and Buchla. Fier tel tonne is an auspicious start to a collaboration that points to promising future developments.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Bad Groupy – The Last Piece of Graphite [Zeromoon zero210]; Guro Skumsnes Moe & Philippe Petit – s/t [Public Eyesore PE151]

Twenty twenty-three begins with the releases of two transnational collaborations of textural sound art featuring electronics and basses of diverse sorts.

Bad Groupy, a new transatlantic duo, appears to be the fruit of Washington, DC experimental musician Jeff Surak’s residence in Berlin this past summer. (Another product of that stay, a duet recording with the superb violinist Biliana Voutchkova, was reviewed recently in these pages.) The other half of Bad Groupy is Hamburg-based Estonian Kris Kuldkepp, who plays electric bass, double bass, and electronics. This is their second release; their first, the EP Check-in Ko, came out this past September. The Last Piece of Graphite was recorded in autumn, 2022 in different locations indoors and out in Hamburg and Washington with analogue electronics, double bass, electric bass, guitar, objects, and tapes. The four tracks on the album highlight the duo’s predilection for a timbrally-based sound art of layered electronic or quasi-electronic abstraction. Elevator Talk superimposes undulating sounds over danceable beats; Archive of Generic Legs stacks high-frequency beeps—like morse code from another planet—atop an undertow of rough-surfaced, arco double bass; History Does Not Repeat Its Stuck is a drone piece of variable density running through a wide range of frequencies. Surak and Kuldkepp bring their multilayered texturality to its acme in the concluding twenty-minute-long Black Magic of Audio Seduction.

Guro Skumsnes Moe and Philippe Petit’s self-titled release features the French analogue synthesizer master with Norwegian Moe, who in addition to electric bass and vocals is represented here on the Octobass, a rare, enormous, three-string double bass that sounds in a rumblingly low register. The instrument is a strong presence on the release’s two long tracks—its strings vibrate at such a low frequency one can almost see them as they underscore the sonic kaleidoscope thrown out by Petit’s EMI synth and turntables. The third track, a two-minute interlude between the two longer pieces, offers an economical distillation of the duo’s collective sound.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Eren Gümrükçüoglu – Pareidolia [New Focus Recordings fcr343]

“Pareidolia” describes the condition of seeing meaningful patterns—in, e.g., the grain of a wood panel or the shape of a cloud formation—where none have been put there. It’s a well-chosen title for a collection of music by the Turkish-born, Florida-based composer Eren Gümrükçüoglu, whose music tends toward the assembly of rapidly changing yet cohesive patterns from seemingly random sounds and gestures. Fittingly, the album’s twenty-three minute long title track epitomizes the approach. The piece is scored for string quartet, fixed media, and performers doubling on clarinet and tenor saxophone, piano and synthesizer, and percussion and drumkit. The basic material is made up of fragmentary surges and abrupt bursts of sound coalescing and dispersing in an unpredictable series of instrumental combinations. A low-density middle section for piano, electronics, and vibraphone falls on the pointillistic side of Gümrükçüoglu’s pattern creation, while the concluding passages embrace denser textures and more assertive dynamics. The two string quartets Bozkir and Xanthos, both performed by the Mivos Quartet, bring two variations to the basic schema. Bozkir is organized around a focal tone and rhythmically-charged shards of melody that are passed around the four strings, while Xanthos features a textural and startling timbral diversity balancing on the fulcrum of a long, purely pizzicato passage.

Pareidolia also includes Lattice Scattering for piano, flute, and fixed media; Ordinary Things for fixed media and small chamber ensemble, and opening and closing tracks for fixed media generated by a computer program improvising sound structures from an input of recordings made of an elevator.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Biliana Voutchkova & Jeff Surak – The Truth About the Key [Relative Pitch Records]

The Truth About the Key is the sixth installation in violinist Biliana Voutchkova’s DUOS2022 series of duets with musicians of various backgrounds. Voutchkova, who resides half the year in Berlin and the other half on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, recorded these duets with American experimental musician Jeff Surak in Berlin, where Surak spent much of this past summer. It was a two-day session, the first day of which was spent recording musical and other activities at different places—location-based “guerilla” interventions, something of a specialty for Surak–followed by a studio session the next day. Surak, who’s credited with playing tape recorder and amplified objects, subsequently took the recordings and composed them into the three sound collages appearing on the album.

Safely Uncivilized captures an outdoor ambience pervaded by the sound of a police siren, the thrum of traffic, and snatches of conversation, which provide background for jangling metal in a four-beat rhythm and tremolo bowing on the violin. Unraveled Over Time combines the hiss and scuff of an imaginary untuned radio with Voutchkova’s pizzicato violin, followed by a charming personal travelogue/reminiscence narrated by Voutchkova. At twenty-six minutes long the title track is an abstract sound mass of variable densities bringing together sounds recalling a gamelan, crisply recorded pizzicato and lo-fi arco violin, colliding objects awash in echo, and a phone conversation—culminating in an abrupt halt.

Voutchkova’s repertoire of extended techniques complements the unpredictable and sometimes messy ambient sounds surrounding her as well as Surak’s noise-based sensibilities. They are an unconventional, and yet dissonantly harmonious, match.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Lars Bröndum & Per Gärdin: Fractal Symmetry, Hum and Toot [Bandcamp]

Fractal Symmetry, Hum and Toot is a set of three long improvisations combining the organic and the synthetic, recorded live in the studio from the duo of Swedes Lars Bröndum & Per Gärdin. Although made by only two musicians, Bröndum and Gärdin’s sound contains multitudes, largely thanks to Bröndum’s array of modular synthesizers, Theremin, Buchla Music Easel, Sidrax organ, and miscellaneous electronics, over which Gärdin contributes contrasting, convoluted lines on soprano and alto saxophone.

Fractal Symmetry, the opening performance, begins with an electronic hum and saxophone harmonics before developing into a fluttering of soprano saxophone over a rhythmic synth pulse whose regularity is kept just beyond the reach of easy counting. The overall architecture of the piece, and of the duo’s collaboration generally, is of slowly shifting synthesized soundscapes overlaid with flurries of notes from the saxophone. Hum and Honk is notable for setting Gärdin’s extended technique on alto sax over a burbling synth background that evolves into an encroaching drone. The final track, Toot and Crackle, moves from an understated beginning of twittering synth into a more thickly textured yet still laconic electronic background over which the soprano saxophone conducts a rapidly voiced soliloquy, the conclusion to which is a harsh, synthetic mass of sound culminating in a scaled-down, dirge-like drone.

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Gussoni Northover Magliocchi – A Castle of Ghosts [Plus Timbre PT135]

Recorded just this past March in Genoa’s Castello d’Albertis, A Castle of Ghosts is a performance featuring two improvisations from the trio of Bruno Gussoni (C flute and shakuhachi); Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone) and Marcello Magliocchi (percussion). It’s easy to imagine the ghosts of the title in the ethereal sounds of the flutes and the sharper-edged, yet still wind-borne, sound of the soprano saxophone. Holding a musically proper balance between these two unevenly matched winds is crucial; given its timbre and volume, the saxophone is capable of washing away either of the flutes. Fortunately, Northover and Gussoni are able to work out a relationship of symmetry based on an intuitive sense of their instruments’ complementarity of range and tone. All of that would be for naught if not for Magliocchi’s sensitivity as a percussionist; his well-judged selection of sounds from a palette of metal, wood, and membrane is a vital part of this music, which particularly on the first improvisation pivots on the delicate interplay of the two wind instruments. The second improvisation finds the trio prone to explore less conventional, unpitched sounds

Daniel Barbiero