AMN Reviews: Philippe Lauzier: DÔME [Small Scale Music SSM-017]; A Pond in My Living Room [SOFA556]

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.

Daniel Barbiero


AMN Reviews: Corsano / Courvoisier / Wooley – Salt Task (2016; Relative Pitch Records)

This supergroup comes together for the first time on Salt Task, a free improv offering. Spanning four tracks of varying length, drummer Chris Corsano, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and the trumpet-wielding Nate Wooley combine for a tasty set of creative music.

Courvoisier plays in her signature percussive style, with thick chords, disjointed rhythms, and undulating soundscapes.  Wooley utilizes a host of unusual mouth and extended breathing techniques to obtain distorted textures. A good portion of the time it is hard to tell that a trumpet is being played, as he makes it squeal and generate noise walls. Corsano offers rolls and staggered, yet delicate, rattling and pounding. Nothing close to a steady beat emerges – he plays the drums as a lead instrument.

Rather than staying together for the entirety of the album, the trio also trades off solo and duet sections. This allows each to make their own unique contributions to the mix. For instance, the 20-minute title track provides numerous breaks involving just one or two group members expressing themselves. Still, Corsano, Courvoisier, and Wooley are at their best when playing as a collective – there is no shortage of textures and themes, as all three take idiosyncratic directions and make liberal use of musical left turns.

But if the title track is about aggressive exploration, group and otherwise, Stalled Talks, the final offering, is a more densely atmospheric piece. With Courvoisier strumming strings (piano strings?), Wooley sustaining wavering notes, and Corsano playing in a completely free fashion, the trio sums up their contributions in a compelling manner.

This isn’t jazz, free or otherwise. It is another animal entirely. Despite its near complete lack of traditional structure, Corsano, Courvoisier, and Wooley provide a harsh yet appealing 45-minute journey of creativity. One can’t help but think that if these intrepid explorers record another album together, it would be very different but just as good. Strong recommendation.

Relative Pitch Records

AMN Reviews: Sam Newsome – Sopranoville: New Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Saxophone (2017)

Not being terribly familiar with the works of Sam Newsome, I had (for some reason) assumed that he was focused on straight jazz. To my distinct pleasure, I was proven wrong by Sopranoville, his new experimental saxophone release.

Subtitled “New Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Saxophone,” the album consists of 22 short tracks all produced, in one way or another, by soprano sax. This involves not only overdubbing, but manipulating the sounds coming out of the instrument with tape, aluminum foil, reed straw, and so on. Through use of extended techniques, Newsome offers drones, squeaks, and percussive elements. Clearly, the focus is on experimentation – seeing how far the sonic envelope of the soprano can be pushed. To that end, Newsome not only elicits unconventional output from his instrument, but also crafts clever multi-track compositions in the studio – in some cases, up to fifteen sopranos are layered upon one another with an avant-orchestral flavor. That’s not to say that all of these pieces are abstract. On some, Newsome sets forth catchy, yet discordant, themes. But the focus here is new music.

As solo sax recordings go, I remain a big fan of the Anthony Braxton / John Butcher styles and approaches. However, in view of Sopranoville, I’ll be adding Newsome to the list of individuals whose future output is of interest.

AMN Reviews: Northumbria – Markland (2017; Cyro Chamber)

Northumbria sounds as if it is a place from Game of Thrones, but it is actually an ancient English / Scottish Kingdom that was eventually incorporated into England proper. Northumbria the band consists of Canadian duo Jim Field and Dorian Williamson. Markland, their third full album, is thematically based on the Norse discovery of Canada. Geography and history aside, the music herein is a compelling slice of deep-space ambient spanning ten tracks of varied length.

The album is a live-in-the-studio improvised recording involving only guitars and bass. While the overall feel of the Markland would not be outside of the Lustmord / Steve Roach vein, the lack of keyboards and synthesizers sets this effort apart. Field and Williamson lay down long chords and drones, combining into shifting landscapes with rumbling undertones. Sustained notes evoke primordial forests, rocky hills, and unpopulated lands. Despite a familiar sound, the unusual instrumentation adds unexpected color to the mix.

AMN Reviews : Nate Wooley – “The Complete Syllables Music” [Pleasure of the Text Records]

a2155272499_16 “The Complete Syllables Music” is a deluxe four CD box set by composer, improviser, and trumpet player Nate Wooley. It is beautifully packaged and contains detailed liner notes plus the scores for each piece. The box set contains two out of print works – “[8] Syllables” and “[9] Syllables” and the complete version of a new work in this series “For Kenneth Gaburo”.

For the “Syllables Music” Nate Wooley constructed a sound language from experiments with using the shape and articulation of the mouth in making a particular phoneme as a primary physical parameter for his trumpet embouchure. This technique greatly alters the sounds that are produced from the trumpet. He then worked with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as a replacement for the traditional building blocks of music resulting in a unique sound for each entry in the IPA.

Wooley acknowledges that the work, which led to the development of the Syllables series, was inspired by the work of Kenneth Gaburo. Gaburo was an important American iconoclastic composer whom among his many outstanding compositional achievements developed his own theory of compositional linguistics, which explored the components of language as musical elements. As always with the work of Nate Wooley, inspiration or influence does not mean imitation.

Each of the “Syllables” pieces explores the grouping of phonemes into a syllable, which then becomes a musical gesture. The gesture is then repeated for some number of breaths to give it duration and to build a segment or section within the overall composition. The repeating of the gesture is not a simple repetition, as no two breaths will be of the same length plus each gesture is physically demanding so it’s unlikely that it can be exactly repeated. This uncertainty gives each segment a kind of drama. Then there is the use of amplification and creative microphone techniques. Wooley is known for amplifying the trumpet in a manner similar to the electric guitar including distortion and feedback. This amplification allows the smallest of gestures to be magnified. Things like breath, the touching of the mouthpiece or the valve keys or the tubing all become very audible sounds. One of the most interesting techniques is the use of the sound of the room. Several of the pieces have been recorded in beautifully reverberant rooms. Wooley manipulates the room sound by using microphones placed around the room. The multiple microphones capture the room’s response. With this technique you hear his gestures articulating the room.

The first disc, “[8] Syllables” is in eight sections and runs about fifty minutes. The syllables used do not represent a word or words. Many of the sections begin with a blast or an impulse that “announces” the section, but it also serves as an articulation that aurally defines the space in which this music is being made. Each sections gesture repeats and as the repetitions build, it becomes a kind of drone. When ending a section, the gesture will often just stop and dissolve, as it decays in the room’s reverb, while other sections will stop short and leave you to hear the “silence”. Each section is separated by a long pause.

The second disc “[9] Syllables” is in nine sections running about forty-eight minutes. The syllables used in this composition form a word – Wooley’s hometown of Clatskanie. There is no programmatic significance of using Clatskanie. The word is used as a structural device. “[9] Syllables” makes greater use of the amplification of the trumpet, feedback and creative microphone techniques. Its compositional mannerisms are very different from “[8] Syllables” in that it feels more electronic or manipulated by the microphone mix and the use of feedback. Each gesture is played once with the natural sound of the trumpet, then repeated moderately amplified and then repeated again highly amplified. The gestures are really enhanced and varied by the changing microphone mix resulting in shifts of color and texture within a single gesture. Repeating and overlaying a gesture with a completely different microphone mix and varying its duration and pitch results in a sonic illusion similar to tape based feedback looping.

“For Kenneth Gaburo” is in two parts, each with its own CD. The third disc “For Kenneth Gaburo Part One” runs about seventy-six minutes and continues the exploration of the techniques developed in “[8] Syllables” and “[9] Syllables”. The phonemes in both parts are drawn from a quote from Gaburo’s book “Publishing as an Eco-System”. The quote is used as a structural device and is not programmatic. Despite this piece using many more syllables than in the first two pieces, it feels more stretched and stripped down than its predecessors. The activity seems to alternate between shorter gestures often of higher pitched breathy sounds and longer more mid range sustained sounds that transition into thick rough multi-phonics. The sound seems to be all “acoustic” trumpet; in that I don’t hear the closely miked or amplified trumpet sounds. However, there are some very subtle stereo and room microphone techniques in use. In this piece the drama of producing the sounds has also increased. The physicality of the gestures are deliberately designed to put Wooley in the awkward position of having his embouchure fall apart over time, to the point of losing control, leaving him to accept the sounds as they are.

The fourth disc, “For Kenneth Gaburo Part Two” runs about sixty-six minutes. This part is for trumpet and electro-acoustic tape. Like its predecessors this piece builds from sounds, colors, and repetitions that span durations, that sum up into longer spans of time as its builds into its form. Wooley uses his phonetic system as a kind of template to build out this electro-acoustic work. The phonemes are used in a more of an intuitive way than in a literal or conceptual manner and many of the mannerisms of the earlier pieces find their way into this piece. The electronic part tends to use three types of sounds – colored noise, percussive sounds, and sustained sounds that blend well with the trumpet. The trumpet plays in a very traditional way and is used an element of the sound that is in play. So the trumpet is not really separate from the tape. The performance beautifully blends the two parts so that they fuse, integrate and separate as the composition unfolds. It is a remarkable piece with a somewhat solemn but determined feel throughout.

The compositions in “The Complete Syllables Music” has some of the traits found in other works by Nate Wooley; extended techniques – circular breathing, mutli-phonics, flutter tonguing, amplification, droning, etc. and despite all of that I believe these pieces push Wooley into new territory. The compositions are unusual sounding process pieces that slowly unfold over time. The pieces build from sounds, colors, and repetitions that span breath durations, that sum up into longer spans of time as it builds into its form. This means that the pieces are of significant length and like much experimental music, requires some listening effort. For example, you wouldn’t listen to Coltrane in his hard bop period with the same mode of listening as you would when listening to Feldman’s “Second String Quartet”.  Plus you wouldn’t expect to really get yours ears around these examples in just one listen. The way in which pitch, duration, color, and change is presented and realized in each of these examples is radically different. “The Complete Syllables Music” requires a different kind or mode of listening. Once your ears get over the novelty of how the sounds are being produced, the listening focus needs to shift its attention to the sound that is in play and its micro detail. In my opinion, “The Complete Syllables Music” is worth this effort!

“The Complete Syllables Music” is highly recommended.

For more information:

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Mauro Sambo – Quel mutamento era il primo di una serie infinita [Plus Timbre PT 043]

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.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Reid Karris – Divinatio Exitium (2017; Lurker Bias)

Chicago’s Reid Karris has put out a series of recordings over the last several years that have largely flown under the radar, which is a shame considering how much he has grown as a composer and experimentalist with each one. A guitarist, Karris’s focus is on taking samples of recordings, then processing and layering them until the nature of the source material is almost obscured. The result here is a boiling mixture of jagged sounds that stop just short of being a wall or a drone.

Split over two 15-minute tracks, Divinatio Exitium features rattling, bell-like sounds, squeaks, and percussive elements over a bed of sculpted white noise. Scraping metal is coupled with shifting melanges that evoke a swarm of locusts. This morphs into industrial pulsing, hammering, junkyard noise. Rarely does the pace slow down, as Karris offers an active, yet tectonic, slab of musique concrete.

According to Karris, the album’s title roughly translates as “inspired destruction,” an apt moniker indeed.