Composer/instrumentalist Dan Joseph has had a highly varied career since his start in Washington, DC’s 1980s punk scene. As a sixteen year old in 1983 he became the drummer for 9353, an art-punk band notorious as much for its volatility as for its visually arresting flyers, which I remember somehow seemed to be on every lamppost, telephone pole and buildingside in the city in the early 1980s; later in the decade he participated in the experimental tape underground. After a move to California in the 1990s he studied with Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, Mel Powell and Terry Riley; the influence of these performer/composers can be heard in the immersive, drone-based form of structured solo improvisation that Joseph eventually developed for electronically enhanced hammered dulcimer.
The seven pieces composing this two-CD set of recent works represent long-form excursions into incremental harmonic and timbral movement, as realized through electronically altered or supplemented hammered dulcimer performances. The first disc is largely taken up by two live versions of Dulcimer Flight, one recorded in 2011 at Corvallis, Oregon and the other recorded in 2013 at Experimental Intermedia in New York. Both pieces demonstrate how Joseph blends structure and technique to texture an evolving soundscape. On both pieces he first sets up a central tone and basic harmonic kernel, looping a tremolo opening statement that gradually gives way to bowing with conventional bow and ebow. Through subsequent processing Joseph brings out or obscures selected overtones to achieve a sound best described as a constant chord whose colors are constantly changing. The second disc is given over to a 66-minute version of Periodicity Piece #6 (2005) for dulcimer, sampled instruments, sine tone, A440 tuning fork and miscellaneous sounds. As its title implies, Joseph works here with harmonic cycles of varying lengths, which are spun across changing tonal centers. Although predominantly meditative, the piece registers the occasional shock of abruptly intruding sounds and suddenly coarsened timbres.
Originally a saxophonist and later a bass clarinetist, versatile Montreal musician Philippe Lauzier works as well with the less conventional instrumentation of sound art. On two recent releases, he delves into both sides of his creative work.
In A Pond in My Living Room, Lauzier offers four substantive pieces for solo bass clarinet. Composed and recorded in winter, 2016, each piece features the acoustic instrument multitracked and with no electronic treatments added. The four tracks fit together like a suite of drone pieces, each moving slowly to reveal changing patterns of overtones and emergent harmonies. The timbres are such as to give the impression of an acoustic simulation of electronic music—so much so that when the sound of breath makes a sudden appearance, it feels almost like an intrusion.
DÔME, a release on cassette, finds Lauzier on an alternative path. Here he works with a sound installation consisting of bells, zithers, motors and a Korg synthesizer. The installation was created for Montréal’s La Passe, where these two seventeen-minute-long tracks were recorded on 31 July 2015. Although conceived as drone-based works, both pieces draw attention to their variegated textures rather than to an underlying constant of tone or texture. Far Side is a shimmering, iridescent metallic jangle shot through with the semi-pitched chirps of small motors and scraped zither strings that ends with a call-and-response for small bells. Far Out, which rides an undertow of ringing alarm clock bells and a sustained electronic tone, is closer to a more conventional drone piece. But it too centers around subtle changes in texture driven by a series of discrete, layered events for scraped or brushed zither and whirring motors.
A sound collage of understated drama and almost tangible atmosphere, Mauro Sambo’s Quel mutamento era il primo di una serie infinita (“what change was the first in an infinite series”) is a perfectly symmetrical suite made up of twenty parts of two minutes and twenty-three seconds each. Sambo deftly combines and recombines a set of recurring sounds—tolling bells, bits of operatic recordings heard from a distance, hammered metallic sounds reminiscent of a foundry or factory, the low buzz of a bass clarinet—in layers suggesting extension in physical space. The recapitulation of sounds within the suite gives it the feel of an uncannily familiar dream made up of repeating and evolving soft-edged images.
The trio of reeds, double bass and piano has a long and distinguished history in advanced jazz and other improvisational musics. From Jimmy Guiffre’s innovative trios to the more recent trios of Paul Bley, Evan Parker and Barre Phillips, or Ken Vandemark, Havard Wiik and Haker Flaton, the drummerless trio has the dynamic range and palette of timbres to produce a kind of improvised chamber music of introspection and expression. Istinti Ragionati, a trio recording featuring Roman reed player Marco Colonna on clarinet and bass clarinet, and the Sardinians Silvia Corda and Adriano Orrù on piano/prepared piano and double bass, respectively, is an outstanding demonstration of the range, subtlety and power this type of ensemble is capable of.
Although fully improvised, the music shows the kind of balance and organization ordinarily associated with small-ensemble, composed chamber music. This is most immediately apparent in the trio’s supple control of texture, which arranges sounds in order to allow space for individual and ensemble passages to develop in an uncluttered environment. While often abstract, these passages retain a grounding in melody even when the vocabulary turns atonal and the dynamics veer into the heated expressionism of free jazz. Colonna often favors a long line that moves easily between pantonality and a lyrical modalism; when not providing harmonic support for tonal episodes, Orrù takes the bass into the rich territory defined by free counterpoint and pure timbre. As the hinge between wind and strings, Corda deserves special mention. She’s capable of binding the two other voices with suggestive harmonic fragments, or braiding them by serving as a third line within the polyphonic whole. In addition, her harmonic clusters and phrasing do much to flavor the group sound with the cerebral astringency of the classical avant-garde.
This is superbly thought out improvised music whose spontaneous formal sense makes the title—loosely meaning “rational instincts”—seem particularly well-chosen.
On Saturday, February 25, the Nancy Havlik Dance Performance Group presents new work for dance and music at Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, MD.
Start Ups includes three new pieces and works in progress for dancers interacting with improvising musicians, and Ken Manheimer’s 2015 Duet for dancer and double bass.
Choreography: Nancy Havlik & Ken Manheimer
Dancers: Margarita Castro, Jonathan DeVilbiss, Seth Dellinger, Juliana Ponguta Forero, Ken Manheimer, Sandra Roachford, Shay Turner
Musicians: Daniel Barbiero (double bass), Gary Rouzer (cello), Nate Scheible (percussion)
||Saturday, February 25 at 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST
Dance Exchange, 7117 Maple Ave, Takoma Park, Maryland 20912
Tickets: $10 General Admission, Reservations & Info: 240.802.2480
The Baltimore SDIY Group announces its 2017 Winterfest concerts, to be held Friday, February 24 and Saturday, February 25 at the Electric Maid, 268 Carroll Street NW, Washington DC 20012. Both concerts are all-ages with a $10 admission.
Concert One features Stefan Prosky; Arthur Loves Plastic (Bev Stanton) & John Saint John as Novparolo; Logan Mitchell, Sr.’s Synth Tech Project with Stuart Rosenzweig; Rick Kowalski’s Spooky Action; and Engel Caceres.
Friday, February 24, 7:30 PM. Doors at 7:00 PM.
Concert Two features Dave Vosh & Chris Videll; Arthur Loves Plastic (Bev Stanton); Ezekiel’s Wheel; John Saint John’s Winston Psmith Project; and Travis Johns’ Vaux Flores.
Saturday, February 25, 7:30 PM. Doors at 7:00.
For more information, visit the Baltimore SDIY webpages.
Much of composer Michael Pisaro’s work is driven by the desire to explore the often complex ramifications of an ostensibly simple, fundamental idea. It isn’t unusual for him to take as his starting point the act of listening, whether to environmental sounds or to the properties of the material resources—sometimes deceptively basic—that his compositions call for. And focused listening does seem to be the key to the reception of the two long pieces collected on Resting in a Fold of the Fog.
Grounded Cloud (2015-2016) is a work for electric guitar, electronics and amplified bass drum. The latter instrument, played by the Dedalus Ensemble’s Stéphane Garin, gives the performance a distinctive, rain-like sound by having been prepared with grains of rice arranged to vibrate on its surface. Over its twenty-minute length the piece traces a long-period, undulating dynamic of accumulation and dispersal helped along by noise from Pisaro’s electronics and the electric guitar of Didier Aschour, also of the Dedalus Ensemble. (Although Pisaro played electric guitar on the piece’s premiere performance in November 2015, here he is on laptop.)
Hearing Metal 4 (2010-2011) for bowed glockenspiel, electric guitar and laptop, is the fourth in a series of compositions centered on the sonic properties of a specified metal percussion instrument. Originating with a piece for sixty-inch tam-tam, with this installment the series moves to a much smaller and higher-pitched instrument. As with many of Pisaro’s compositions, the focus of Hearing Metal 4 is on making explicit the multiplicity of sounds implicit in a single material or sonic gesture. The pitch material is accordingly simple: An ascending A major scale. The scale is arranged as a series of events separated by silences; with each succeeding tone the glockenspiel’s thin, almost transparent sound shimmers when intersected by the guitar and electronics. When listened to closely this piece, like the previous one, yields a sometimes surprising, albeit restrained, sensuality.