AMN Reviews: Scott Wollschleger – Soft Aberration [New Focus FCR 182]

Composer Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980) seems most interested in creating musical effects through a deliberately-chosen economy of means. He writes largely for chamber ensembles or soloist performers, and in fact Soft Aberration, the first album dedicated to his work alone, contains compositions for solo, duo, trio and quartet.

A couple of the titles of these works—Soft Aberration, Brontal Symmetry—are likely to call up associations with New York School composers, especially Morton Feldman. Wollschleger has acknowledged the New York School and Feldman as influences and exemplary figures; like Feldman, Wollschleger favors constructing pieces out of repeating fragments of pitches, timbres, or rhythmic figures. His method for building a full-scale work out of these basic elements generally consists of creating chains of semi-independent events or moments defined by a relatively simple pattern of pitch, color, or rhythmic relationships. One moment doesn’t necessarily implicate the next; Wollschleger’s stated aim in making continuous works from discontinuous, repeating events is to encourage the listener to reflect on the sounds’ different facets–as if they had been presented from different angles.

The long piece that opens the album, 2015’s Brontal Symmetry, was commissioned by the unorthodox piano trio Longleash, who perform it here; the work is an astutely-chosen opener, as it epitomizes some of the key aspects of Wollschleger’s aesthetic. The piece lays out its fundamental musical material from the start, as it begins with a staccato, deliberately square-rhythmed three-note motif on the piano. The motif is picked up on the strings, which reproduce its phrase profile more than its exact melody; the playing then dissolves into a simulacrum of chaos—of acoustic white noise carried on the frenzied bowing of the strings. This contrast of moods sets a larger, symmetrical pattern in which the piece alternates passages defined by the simple motif with chaotic or quiet passages.

The white noise of the strings’ unpitched moments in Brontal Symmetry is developed further in —and alluded to in the title of–White Wall (2013) for string quartet.  Played with the requisite subtlety by the Mivos Quartet, White Wall’s softly bowed, muted strings and whistling harmonics—broken on occasion by plucked or bowed stabs–largely exist in an audio environment notable for its low dynamics and dispersed texture. White Wall is a piece of extraordinary sonic delicacy that serves as the understated focus of the album.

The album’s other compositions—the title track, for piano and viola; America, for solo cello; and Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World, for the unusual duo of soprano and trumpet—give more evidence of a composer who can extract the expressive maximum from minimal musical means.

Daniel Barbiero


AMN Reviews: A Sphere of Simple Green – With an Oblique Glance [Azoth Recordings rebis005]

Some creative partnerships are the product of steady work: regular rehearsals, residencies or running engagements at clubs or other performance spaces. The Sardinian trio A Sphere of Simple Green are something else. This electroacoustic ensemble of double bassist Adriano Orrù, pianist/toy pianist Silvia Corda, and electronics sound artist Simon Balestrazzi released one album shortly after forming in 2010, 2011’s Untitled Soundscapes; With an Oblique Glance, their second release, follows after a six-year lapse.

One of the advantages—at least in theory—of a freely-improvising ensemble’s playing together relatively infrequently is that it keeps the participants at the edge of alertness and the music consequently fresh and, when desired, unpredictable. At the same time, the internal dynamic will be driven by at least some prior experience of the sensibilities in play: as an analogy, imagine a field open to exploration that contains a handful of familiar landmarks, rather than a completely new situation that solicits a sometimes serendipitous but still essentially blind groping. With this new recording, A Sphere of Simple Green put that theory into practice.

The group’s ability to strike a fine balance among their voices is apparent from the very first track. Stabs of piano and toy piano complement a bass whose strings are struck with the bow and scraped as well; the acoustic instruments’ abstract sounds fold naturally into a discreet wash of electronics. Over the course of the set, Orrù and Corda display an adeptness at combining extended techniques on their respective instruments to create hybrid timbres whose quasi-artificiality blends well with the more natural artificiality of Balestrazzi’s palette of sounds. And yet the more conventionally produced sounds—the long tones bowed on the bass or sparse piano chords—feel just as appropriately placed. The trio’s particular gift is their sensitivity to audio space as an almost three-dimensional container of sound: something to be filled but never over-filled, a room in which objects are defined as much by what they leave open around them as by how far they extend.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Collision Stories – Those Missing Will Complete Us [Public Eyesore 137]

Collision Stories are a quartet of San Francisco sound artists concocting an unorthodox mélange of sounds from an appropriately unorthodox set of instruments. Individually, the four—Jorge Bachmann, Bryan Day, Michael Gendreau and Mason Jones—bring highly varied backgrounds to their collective work. Jones, for example, is a guitarist; at the other end of the instrumental spectrum, Day coaxes sounds from handcrafted intonarumori made of metal measuring tapes, radio transceivers, springs and a miscellany of contact mic’d wood, wire and metal. Put together, the group’s sound, as captured on this CD of ten tracks recorded live and in the studio, is an aggregate of elements that are as unclassifiable as they are unidentifiable. Common to all the pieces is a sonic plasticity made of carefully juxtaposed and spaced timbres—sounds of obscure generation impacting each other and then dispersing in a heavily reverberant environment. This is sound that comes very close to the condition of abstract painting: irregular shapes of pure color held together with a finely-tuned dynamism.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Kyle Motl Trio w/ Kjell Nordeson & Tobin Chodos – Panjandrums [metatrope-006]

The piano trio has evolved in many different ways since the classic Bill Evans Trio, with bassist Scott LaFaro, introduced the format to a looser, more polyphonic sound. The Kyle Motl Trio, which in addition to the bassist includes pianist Tobin Chodos and percussionist Kjell Nordeson, pushes the piano trio further into territory notable for the independence of its voices and its harmonic complexity.

The music on Panjandrums isn’t made out of conventional melodies and harmonies—far from it—but nevertheless it artfully conveys a range of moods and states of mind: restlessness, exuberance, introspection, capriciousness. Architecturally, each of the group’s three constituent parts is an interlocked piece in a tightly integrated whole. Bass and piano are distinctive but complementary voices carrying convoluted, often dense and rapid lines with, through and against each other. The drums set out a free pulse subdividing time and parceling it out into sequences of irregular but balanced and compact quanta. The closes the trio come to a conventional jazz trio piece is xOr, where the piano clearly takes the lead over a regular meter and a bass laying down a discernible harmonic foundation, complete with the simulacrum of a walking line. This is meticulously constructed music well-served by a crisp and finely balanced recording.

Daniel Barbiero

The Baltimore SDIY Group 2017 Fallfest Concert Two

The Baltimore SDIY Group announces its 2017 Fallfest Concert Two, to be held Saturday, October 21, at the Electric Maid, 268 Carroll Street NW, Washington DC 20012. The concert is all-ages with a $10 admission.

The concert features Dave Vosh; Audio Mace; Geoff Wilt; Novparolo (Arthur Loves Plastic’s Bev Stanton & Winston Psmith/John Saint John); and Chaka Benson.

Saturday, October 21, 7:30 PM. Doors at 7:00.

For more information, visit the Baltimore SDIY webpages.

AMN Reviews: Hélène Breschand & Elliott Sharp – Chansons du Crépuscule [Public Eyesore PE139]

Chansons du Crépuscule—“songs of dusk”—is a collection of original songs and interpretations recorded in Paris by New York guitarist/composer Elliott Sharp and French harpist and vocalist Hélène Breschand. The music on the disc was inspired by the music of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg—presumably including their classic 1969 recording Je t’aime…moi non plus, whose title, if not its period pop sound, finds an oblique echo in Sharp and Breschand’s Je t’aime Tant. Chansons du Crépuscule tends more toward an angular, hard-edged expressionism carrying the strong imprint of Sharp’s sonic alchemy and Breschand’s Dadaesque vocals. But they can switch registers at will, as the softly melancholy Le Dernier Mot shows; diverseness is the other side of their virtuosity.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Invenciones – La otra Vanguardia Musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 [Munster MR CD 369]

Musically, the fifteen years from 1976 to 1990 were a time of aesthetic and technological change with far-reaching ramifications. In art music, tonality and simplified forms were beginning to assert themselves against the complexities and chromaticism of twelve-tone music; similarly, jazz saw neotraditionalism come to dominate the music’s public face. In pop the elaborate structures and virtuoso performances of progressive rock were coming under attack from the more elementary directness of punk.  At the same time, advances in electronics made synthesizers and sound recording and reproduction technologies unprecedentedly affordable and accessible. This led, among other things, to an upsurge in home recording activity and the formation of underground cassette distribution networks that helped facilitate a revival and democratization of music experimentation, much of it undertaken by dedicated non-professionals. Far from being limited to the United States, this was an international phenomenon.

Invenciones, a 2 CD set surveying musical experimentation in Latin America from 1976-1988, shows how some of these changes played out in the lower Western Hemisphere. What is most immediately striking about much of this music—besides its generally high quality—is the way it is regionally rooted and yet transcends limitations of region; many of these artists are notable for their engagement with indigenous or local musical forms as filtered through the refigurative influences of cosmopolitan avant-garde musical culture.

For example, the Chilean group Amauta’s 1980 Variaciones de Amauta takes folk song form and a standard instrumentation of nylon guitars and flute and gradually disassembles them into a free-associative sound mass before putting them back together again. Similarly, Miguel Flores, a Peruvian guitarist with a background in hard rock and free jazz as well as folk, is represented by 1983’s Pachacuti, a piece that reworks guitar arpeggios and melodies into what Luis Alvarado’s liner note aptly describes as “avant-garde neofolk.”

Music rooted in international styles, such as progressive rock, jazz fusion, and electronic impressionism, are here as well. Quilleihue by Chile’s Malalche is an instrumental, rock-based piece built around a regular beat and chord progression; Grupo Um’s Mobile/Stabile of 1976 is a high-energy fusion of free jazz and electronics that remains subtly but unmistakably Brazilian in the flavorings of its timbres. A robust Latin counterpart to Berlin school electronic music—call it música cósmica—comes out on a number of tracks. The Venezuelan trio Musikautomatika was known for experimenting with the unconventional sounds of amplified and processed objects, but here their Lluvias is a magisterial soundscape enhanced with a synthetic choir echoing in an abyss. Miguel Noyes, also from Venezuela, contributes Gran Sabana, a sequencer-driven work from 1984. Vía Láctea (Mexican synthesis Carlos Alvarado) pushes this kind of music into the harsher end of the spectrum, while the Costa Rican duo Autoperro go further by summoning noise from in between radio stations. Jorge Reyes of Mexico delves deeper into noise with the field recordings and musique concrete of Michoacán: Un Paisaje Sonoro.

The above is just a sampling of the music contained on Invenciones—a fine collection of work by artists deserving of greater renown.

Daniel Barbiero