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

AMN Reviews: Chantal Michelle – Pulse, Puls​-​ar, Procession (2022; Dinzu Artefacts)

Pulse, Puls​-​ar, Procession is a single 24-minute track of field recordings, violin, sax, and electronics. It is centered around quiet, wafting atmospherics generated from manipulation of the field recordings. This is apparent at its outset, with a sax drone merging into recordings of running and sloshing water accompanied by hazy static. Michelle employs loops and feedback to carefully guide these noises into musical adjuncts of the violin and sax, as those instruments produce long-held notes. As the piece progresses, sparse found object percussion is introduced along with fluttering and oscillating sculpted sounds. The latter evolve into rapid shimmering, while the instrumental droning takes on a softly grinding character.

The feel of this composition is on the darker side, though it stops far short of horror movie material. Nonetheless, what stands out is Michelle’s dedication to craftmanship and her art. Pulse, Puls​-​ar, Procession comes across as a carefully arranged statement that is gritty and yet full of distinct textures. Well done, indeed.

AMN Reviews: Milton Babbitt – Works for Treble Voice & Piano [New Focus Recordings fcr349]

The vocal compositions of Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) probably are not as well-known as his instrumental work, particularly classic early serial pieces like All Set or Composition for Twelve Instruments. But they reflect Babbitt’s deep engagement with the systemic possibilities and expressive potential of dodecaphonic music, as well as his interest in language as a medium of expression made up of sounds. On Works for Treble Voice and Piano soprano Nina Berman and pianist Steve Beck show the range of Babbitt’s writing for voice by presenting a chronologically arranged survey of his published work for piano and soprano or contralto, spanning the years 1950-2002.

The set begins on a somber note, with Babbitt’s 1950 setting of William Carlos Williams’ poem The Widow’s Lament. The music follows the flow of Williams’ words and creates a mood appropriate to the words, the setting for which, like Williams’ poetry, is plain and direct even while maintaining its atonality. The following year Babbitt set German Expressionist poet August Stramm’s text Du to seven short movements. The music is exuberantly atonal; Babbitt’s setting of the text brings out the consonant-driven musicality of the German text. Sounds and Words (1960) and 1969’s Phonemena—the title of the latter reflecting Babbitt’s love of wordplay–take the musicality of language to its logical conclusion by breaking it into phonemes and setting those as texts. The music features extreme leaps, as if it had been liberated by the text’s freedom from conventional meaning. In an exception to the voice-and-piano program, Phonemena appears here as well in its second iteration for soprano and tape (1975). The six-movement A Solo Requiem (1977), which like Phonemena is from Babbitt’s second compositional period, is a setting of texts from several different poets for soprano and two pianos, Beck here being joined by pianist Eric Huebner. This composition, a memorial to Babbitt’s student Godfrey Winham, again shows how Babbitt’s sensitivity to language allowed him to elicit affecting moods from the ostensibly cerebral angularity of atonal music. From Babbitt’s third and final period are In His Own Words, a spoken word tribute to composer and jazz pianist Mel Powell with texts taken from Powell’s writings on music, and Virginal Book, a setting of a John Hollander poem for contralto, both from 1988; Pantun (2000), featuring Hollander’s translations of Malay poetry; and 2002’s Now Evening after Evening, an atonal pastoral setting for an eclogue by Derek Walcott.

This is a fine recording of an aspect of Babbitt’s work that deserves to be better known.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Skrika – Soludenia (2022; Cryo Chamber)

Monty Adkins returns as his alter ego, Skrika, for another foray into electroacoustic ambient (a review of one of his efforts under his own name is here). The dark and cinematic soundscapes on Soludenia follow the path forged on last year’s Fifth Nature. Nonetheless, Adkins’s approach just sounds different than most examples of this loose and evolving genre. In addition to synth chords and drones, he manipulates massive swathes of sound that shimmer and move through auditory space. Some of these structures resemble drones, while others are more similar to tone clusters. He eschews going full-on acousmatic, but these tracks exhibit more than a little of those techniques.

On top of all that (which is a lot), Peyee Chen contributes wordless vocals on several of the pieces. Case in point, Pantropic Adaptation includes a two-note chant over bell-like sounds and sculpted distortions. Machine-like rhythms pop in and out of the mix. Toward the midpoint, her chants evolve slightly as the music takes on a disorienting biomechanical character, with sweeping electroacoustics dominating the still-present synths. It is as if a chimeric cyborg is about to leap out of your speakers.

In contrast, Ice Fields of the Eidola begins with quietly intensifying waves accompanied by rumbling and crackling. The latter resembles the skittering of small creatures but more likely represents melting of the titular ice fields. The ecological doom loop signaled by these noises continues with long-held notes guiding distortion across the frequency spectrum, particularly in the low end.

Chen returns for Cerria’s Lament, with an approach more reminiscent of slow-moving song (the words, if any, are still hard to make out). This is the most conventional and emotional piece on the album, with lamentations of yearning and loss. Unlike the other tracks, the backing music is mostly drone and bassy pulses with minimal distortion.

All in the 8-10 minute range, these six tracks are a heady and gripping descent into existential dread. Adkins has established once again that he is not only one of the leading purveyors of this cluster of styles, but also is expanding it into new territory. In doing so, he has created colossal and abstract sounds that are best appreciated at high volume. Very well done.

AMN Reviews: Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant – Sèances (2022; Pyroclastic Records)

Trevor Dunn’s new Trio-Convulsant release is not just the work of a trio. In addition to Dunn on bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums, this “trio” also includes Carla Kihlstedt on viola and violin, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Mariel Roberts on cello, and Anna Webber on flutes. Thus, S​è​ances is perhaps better thought of as a trio plus chamber quartet.

The last time we heard from Trio-Convulsant was on 2004’s Sister Phantom Owl Fish. At that time, Dunn was mostly known as the bassist of avant-rock group Mr. Bungle, while Halvorson and Smith were new on the scene. Fast forward to today, Dunn has deviated afar from the deviances of Mr. Bungle, while Halvorson and Smith have established themselves as leaders in the New York creative music scene through dozens of albums and countless live performances. Indeed, perhaps the most notable aspect of this reunion is that Dunn was able to convince the other two to find time in their busy schedules.

In short, this album is wonderful. It contains Dunn’s deft compositions for this extended trio, fully-packed with ideas. S​è​ances rarely slows down and often involves simultaneous contributions from all seven players. As just one example, Restore All Things begins with a rather involved bass / drum line from Dunn and Smith, accompanied by subdued picking from Halvorson. Slowly the wind and string instruments join with quiet washes and flourishes. As the piece evolves, the playing gets louder and more frantic. Halvorson hits a few angular chords then rips through an effects-laden solo. Beyond the halfway point the structure changes to a jagged rhythm supporting drones and a brilliantly disjointed solo from Webber before returning to the general approach that opened the track. As Dunn puts it, “[y]ou can’t get more apocalyptic than a single-note drone, glissandi strings, and micro-tonal flute.”

And as a final note, S​è​ances is based on the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard. Dunn describes how each piece came about, and in doing so pulls away the curtain of his process in a fashion that is rarely shared, adding further degrees of color to this release.

Album of the year candidate? Yeah, I can see that.

AMN Reviews: Rainer Bürck – Without Fear (1999; earsay)

Without Fear, released in 1999, may or may not offer a glimpse into Rainer Bürck’s baby steps that eventually led to the Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten collection.  I use the word “may” here because I “MAY” be completely off base since Without Fear, on its own stands tall enough to make this a valued addition to my electroacoustic world.

Like Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten, Without Fear has both mixed medium pieces and strictly acousmatic works.  I found the general “feel” of this album more subdued, less frenetic and heart-pounding with darker, blurrier, and more mysterious moments.  The album opens with a short, 3-minute tape piece, “Hommage à S…pour S”. This is a deconstruction of a work by Domenico Scarlatti played by one of Bürck’s students.  It has everything I love about acousmatic music… the creative processing of an acoustic piano and various other interesting, and very alien sound structures makes this the perfect foil for what comes next.

The 14-minute “Des Ombres de la Nuit” is where the shadows leading to complete darkness make their grand appearance (as the title suggests).  I think the story about how this piece came to be is too good not to share, as Bürck tells it…

In a very cold winter night in December 1992 I went to the Frauenkirche in Esslingen together with organist Christoph Bossert to record sounds from the organ of the church. Since the church borders on a major street, the recording session had to take place in the middle of the night. We treated the organ in many ways, the results mostly sounding dark and uncanny, just like the atmosphere of the environment. There was the clatter of the action and the pedals, the howling and whistling of the organ-pipes, the hissing and moaning of the wind in the tubes and pipes… The piece wants to re-create some of the eerie atmosphere in the dark, lonely and cold church. Shades of the night…

… and indeed, it does!  I think a headphone listen to this track is in order.  There are parts that are extremely quiet, but within its shaded volume there is a roiling intensity that threatens to crack open the sonic landscape.  This planet-breaking threat is acoustically presented by the low rumble of continent-sized, subterranean rock plates moving against each other in their pitch-black purgatory.  Meanwhile, on the surface, a midnight confluence of soulless, mindless puppets has decided (if they can actually do things like, “decide”) to wander their Ligottian landscape hoping that crack does open… if only to rid the last microscopic vestige of human consciousness of its miserable existence.  Yep… dark!

There are two mixed medium works on Without Fear, “STRINGendo” (Günter Marx on violin) and “Flautando” (Miriam Arnold on flute).  These pieces are noticeably less frenetic than their mixed medium contemporaries on Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten although no less compelling.  The same technique of transforming live performances by feeding back inputs to be treated in real time is used on these works.  Likewise, the same optimal results happen, just a bit more reserved and subtle.

“Improvisation PCV” is a tape composition built from improvisations of piano, cello, and voice.  I haven’t heard Bürck utilize voice till this work and the results are quite stunning.  Like the opening piece on this album, this work pushes all my acousmatic buttons as sound events are pulled apart and re-assembled in ultra-creative ways.

A final tape composition, “…ohne Schrecken” closes the album on a more joyful note.  The piece is dedicated to his son and was composed on his birth.  Leaving the dark and menacing vibe behind, we get a much brighter feel.  The inclusion of a choral section is a great touch to end an excellent electroacoustic experience.

I wasn’t familiar with Rainer Bürck till very recently, so I consider myself fortunate to discover him.  Enthusiasts of acousmatic music that may also be unaware of him may want to (and hopefully will) hop on both Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten andWithout Fear.  These albums are top notch, and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on his “electroacoustic trio”, Trionys in a near future write up.  In the interim, check these two out!

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews: Rainer Bürck – Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten (2022; earsay)

This is some high rez music right here!  Anytime I get the opportunity to drop Natasha Barrett’s name…well, I’m gonna seize it!  Take the “hyper-reality” of Barrett’s microclimate pieces and port it over to Rainer Bürck’s real time live performer processing and you got something that is SO in your face that you may want to offer it a breath mint!  (That’s a compliment, OK?)

And it’s not just in the mixed medium works.  He also works in a straight acousmatic style; these pieces similarly deliver a high level of detail.  As an analog, think pushing the sharpness and contrast sliders in Photoshop to the right, the soundstage becomes a panoramic, high (acoustic) pixel environment.  Listening to Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten is like overdosing on sound and vision, and it’s one of the most pleasantly dizzying experiences that is still legal.

Rainer Bürck is a German composer and pianist whose recent focus has been in the electroacoustic space.  He also performs in a trio of keyboards, violin, and percussion that creates music (at first) by way of improvisation which then eventually becomes cast in stone. This trio, Trionys, works extensively with electronics and has two albums out, also on earsay.  They will most likely be the subject of another one of my installments.  While sounding nothing like The Necks, the exploratory, sympathetic nature of their sound shares the same qualities.  

I’m not a fanatic when it comes to process, but sometimes knowing how music is created aids in my appreciation.  In Bürck’s case… since his sound is so crystal sharp and well rendered, I found it interesting to learn a little about the “how” that quality is attained.  Please be warned that the following few sentences are going to be steeped in extremely high-level technical jargon (which I’ll highlight with bolding and caps) and if that is going to be a problem… well, sorry.

Ok, so for the last couple decades, Bürck has been developing a technique, and the software to go with it that captures the “inputs” of a live performer.  He runs said “inputs” through his MAGIC BLACK BOX which then SPITS the “outputs” back in a manner that is highly composable in a LEGO BLOCK manner.  This composability provides a limitless number of options for Bürck (as well as the performers themselves) to maneuver this spectral content in a PLAY-DOH like fashion, thus creating new and exciting textures out of previously undiscovered combinations of sound events.

Exhibit A:  Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten has two lengthy mixed pieces where his acousmatic sounds mingle and cavort with a live performance… a very modified live performance via the technique described above.  Bürck is an experimenter at heart and his primary tool is the studio, his laboratory.  Like any good scientist, one must have a desire to search, to explore, make mistakes along the way, and recognize what works and what doesn’t.  This may all sound very cold and clinical but let me suggest the opposite as Bürck displays some very well-developed musical talents within this context.  The sound structures created and the way they are organized flow in a logical manner (in retrospect) but contain unexpected twists and turns providing refreshing surprises.  Bürck’s lab is NOT an unemotional, sterile clean room, rather a place to explore rich interactions and experiences. This album shows the fruits of his efforts! 

On “Locust Wind, rattle and hum” he collaborates with 10 string guitar player Stefan Östersjö, the results are rather brain re-wiring.  (For Natasha Barret fan’s, Östersjö should be no stranger as he was featured on her Black Bile Extempore album back in 2009.) Östersjö explodes all over the sound field and whether he is laying down straight speed-demon runs or surprising with various extended techniques, the result left me numb, and indeed… rattled.  The frenetic energy on display would have, and certainly should have been enough to leave my jaw permanently dragging on the floor but no… Bürck, in his white lab coat strategically “treats” Östersjö’s “inputs” resulting in “outputs” of pure bliss.  The acousmatic work that lurks over, under, and around this madness should be overkill but, remember… a good scientist recognizes what works, and in this case, Bürck’s razor sharp textures elevates the whole experience to exospheric levels.

But wait, there’s more!  On the 13 minute “In Zungen” he is paired with accordion player Marko Kassl.  I don’t know how… but the unhinged energy unleashed on this piece may overtake the previous one.  Kassl plays like a man possessed while Bürck molds it into a kaleidoscopic sunburst of light and dark with a healthy dollop of menacing and alarm.  I occasionally caught glimpses of the early avant chamber-prog sound of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd in his darker hued moments

Both “In Zungen” and “Locust Wind, rattle and hum” are not so much pieces to listen to (no matter how attentively) but rather, to let them impose their will (on body, mind, and soul). 

Submission > pick up the pieces > rinse and repeat (many times).

Electroacoustic to get the blood pumping for the cardio set… who would ever think!

Exhibit B:  The three acousmatic pieces on this album sent me into Francis Dhomont land.  The way sounds were built into longer phrases, and then airbrushed into the next idea in a very seamless manner reminded me of Dhomont’s excellent Frankenstein Symphony (1997).  This is especially apparent on the last piece, “Capriccio con fuoco e riflessi”.  I effortlessly fell into this work and immediately found myself world building, which of course is a situation I hope to attain whenever I listen to acousmatic music.  Like Dhomont, Bürck is another one of those great facilitators of perceptual enlightenment.  (Consider myself enlightened!)  This piece has some very well-placed violin textures contributed by Günter Marx mixed into the overall acousmatic framework of which, sources of sound remain a mystery (as they should).

“Alleluja” opens the album with Bürck offering the listener a safe, welcoming passage through this adventure.  (Little do they know what they are in for.)  As he explains:

These materials are mainly based on two sources: sounds I had recorded from the bells of the St Amandus Church of Bad Urach and a Gregorian Alleluja. Using this chant from the origins of Occidental music and transforming it into contemporary music, I wanted to mark the time span of Occidental music – a period of incredible musical creativity and output.

An alchemy of the archaic and the modern (perhaps even the future), “Alleluja” situates the listener in his (Bürck’s) space and hints at what is to come.  On its own, the piece served to ignite an air of anticipatory enthusiasm for whatever comes next, and in that respect, a perfect choice as the album opener.

“Lamento industrial” was composed in conjunction with an open-air festival that featured various sculpture works made from industrial materials.  Subsequently, the piece was made from sounds of industrial spaces like quarries, scrap yards and metal fabricating plants.  Like its other two acousmatic brothers, “Lamento industrial” flows smoothly, although perhaps murkier… evoking shades of dark grey’s, muddy browns and smeared blacks.

Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten offers pieces dating as far back as 2000 up to the present.  It’s a collection that needs to be heard from an artist you may not (but should be) familiar with.  Big thanks to earsay for pushing it out into the wild, it may very well be my favorite electroacoustic record of the year.  No hesitation on giving this a high recommendation if that hasn’t been obvious by now.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews: John Zorn – Multiplicities: A Repository Of Non-Existent Objects (2022; Tzadik)

It is hard to keep track of how many John Zorn releases are drawn to particular themes or that feature particular bands or lineups. But if the math is correct, this is the third release from Chaos Magick, an ensemble consisting of Brian Marsella on Fender Rhodes, John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums, and Matt Hollenberg on guitar. Chaos Magick is essentially the addition of Marsella to Simulacrum, a longstanding Zorn trio that has recorded ten more albums.

Multiplicities is just the first ten tracks of twenty that Zorn has composed based on the writings of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Thus, there may be a follow on release in the coming months or years, though it is not clear whether the lineup of recording musicians will be the same.

In any event, you can expect the usual heavy riffing, blistering solos, and on-a-dime tempo changes from Chaos Magick on this release. The resulting amalgams of metal, jazz, and blues are punctuated by bursts of sheer noise and energy. Zorn sets forth tuneful melodies and themes that the band expands upon with its collectively staggering technical proficiency. In between the more structured passages, there are a few interludes that seem largely improvised. In short, Multiplicities is similar to other Chaos Magick and Simulacrum releases in its brain-feeding information density as well as its general approach. And to that point, the album is also full of echoes of earlier pieces. Zorn quotes himself quite liberally, incorporating familiar bits and pieces from the Simulacrum discography.

Even though this release is somewhat cumulative when viewed in that light, Multiplicities is another enjoyable and worthwhile offering. Solid recommendation.

AMN Reviews:  Patrick Shiroishi – Evergreen (2022; Touch); Colin Stetson – Chimæra I (2022; Room40)

Layers upon layers.

Previously hidden details emerging everywhere you choose to focus your attention.

Sound objects materializing against the negative space they were spawned from, establishing shape, form. Single acoustic tones making dramatic entrances and displaying their pure spectral content like Peacocks on parade.

Continually shifting and rearranging combinations of acoustic colors connecting and disconnecting.

Fluctuating waves of dynamics building, engulfing, fading.

Deep melancholic sadness giving way to jubilantly uplifting earth spirits.

All these fragmented micro-thoughts can easily apply to the excellent new albums from Patrick Shiroishi and Colin Stetson.  Take the above as disjointed, stream-of-consciousness impressions that I feel are common to both recordings.

On Evergreen, Patrick Shiroishi delivers an emotionally charged sonic movie based on recent trips to the Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles where family members are buried.  There are four long tracks on the album with the genesis of the first two built around field recordings in the morning, and the second two, in the evening.

The field recordings…natural sounds, thunder, a gentle summer rainstorm is also augmented by some soft radio transmissions and a narrative voice reminiscing about earlier generations of Japanese immigrants during WWII.  The terrible, no-win situation was either becoming stateless by being drafted into the U.S. Army and pledging allegiance to America while they are still Japanese citizens or, put into something very close to concentration camps if they chose not to.

These quiet sounds provide a memory trigger, a foundational base to build a rich sound world teeming with detail on top of them.  A beautifully rendered ecosphere of drones and melodies come alive as various synths and reed instruments collect en masse to fully flesh out these memories.  Evergreen is shot through with raw honesty as these structures…maybe even shrines of remembrance are built.

As the multi-faceted drones grow larger, louder…they gather force like a snowball in an avalanche.  Tension, intensity, and volume build as the sound space fills up, as the very nature of the combined sound structure morphs and changes in real-time.  Sometimes uplifting and joyful as the positive memories are grasped and held on to, other times more plaintive and longing for thoughts and recollections on the verge of fading.

On the alluring second piece, “there is no moment in which they are not with me”, the breathy sound of a single tenor saxophone separates itself with an assertiveness of a Grand Marshal leading the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It enters the sound space from a backdrop of quiet sustained textures and, from the very first notes…its majesty is revealed in absolute pureness.  A second sax eventually enters in similar fashion embellishing and dancing around the first with busier movement.  The emotional effect that is revealed is exquisitely magnified because of these contrasting spaces and, may be the highlight of this wonderful album (although that would short shrift the many other moments that reach these heights). A similar uplift occurs on the final piece, “here comes a candle to light you to bed”.  This time, a clarinet takes the lead with a simple and very rustic melody…a melody that evokes simpler, happier times perhaps.  Again, the reeds are vividly highlighted against a quieter sonic background for maximum contrast.  This whole aural photograph eventually fades into a gentle evening storm providing a finality that is perfectly satisfying.

The emotional realms visited on Colin Stetson’s Chimæra I are much less earthbound, instead choosing to reach out into deep voids.  But, like Shiroishi’s Evergreen, Stetson’s efforts are no less evocative and compelling…especially for the attentive listener.

Chimæra I has two 20+ minute detailed and very elaborate saxophone drones along with two 8+ minute “reductions” of the longer pieces.  To be honest, I’m not sure what these reductions are but I think they may be stitched together edits of the longer pieces.  I will say that they work very well as stand-alone tracks if you are inclined (or pressed for time) to experience the album in shorter doses.

As stated on the album notes regarding what mental path Chimæra I suggests, i.e., “imagined caverns”, “hidden hollows” and surging magma flows” …I had a different cinéma pour l’oreille (although I do find it very interesting to hear the composers own personal thoughts on such things).  My own personal ear flick did not have a basis in geologic structure or terra firma groundings, instead opting for a cold, dark, airless, and lifeless non-being, a canvas marching toward times end.  A nothingness that echoes…but from what?

But listen again.  Those loops and layers of long sustained bass sax tones, occasionally interrupted to form a series of short, swirling bursts…they remind me of giant buzz saws.  The extended bass sax layers themselves…I can’t help but think of the rumble of a giant generator.  A power source rejuvenating from the wreckage and remnants it was created to level.  A humongous battery driving a massive tank-like mech that ponderously crawls over the surface of a landscape, disintegrating everything in its path with an outer skin of jagged, spinning circular blades.  A berserker with no purpose other than subsuming everything in its path… but why?

But listen again.  A walk down and through a tunnel…a long one.  One that becomes harder and harder to breath the deeper you go.  Nothing but smooth, stone-gray walls…leading to what?  (I’ll pause here and admit that maybe Colin’s geologic references above do have legs to them.)

But listen again…

Ok, point made.  Chimæra I strongly beckons and compels the willing deep listener to come back, again and again.  Different cinematics, different experience.  Sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes both…but always gripping and mesmerizing.

I decided to do both of these albums in a single write-up, initially because of the common saxophone theme.  As it turns out, there is a much more relevant theme than just a shared instrument.  Patrick Shiroishi’s Evergreen and Colin Stetson’s Chimæra I have a more important superpower in common, the ability to transport.  They accomplish this in two very different and distinct styles, but the endgame is the same.  Touching on different emotions, different thought centers… both artists are vividly molding their own distinct narratives, creating a sense of place in their own very personal way. These sounds allow us to interact with a world of ultimately, our own making, but one we would never have found without the artists as guides.

It’s this sense of potential that is so appealing about these recordings.  Shiroishi and Stetson are not only acting as world builders but, they are also offering the listener a golden ticket… a ringside seat to share and interact right alongside them. Ultimately, the freedom and power of experience.  Both come very highly recommended.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews: Christina Ruf – STR​Ø​M (2022; iapetus)

STR​Ø​M begins its journey with pastoral chamber ambience, almost a dreamlike state. From there it heads toward the edges of modern experimentation, while never losing its poise or listenability. The album is cellist and composer Christina Ruf’s first full-length effort. A solo recording with generous use of overdubs, on it Ruf employs electric and acoustic cellos, synths, bass, piano, mandolin, and voice. To these, she adds effects and processing.

Most tracks employ several instruments, such as one or more cellos, piano, and synth. Their sounds are layered upon one another in subtly shifting patterns of short and long-held notes. The use of drone terminology would not be out of place here, though Ruf’s offerings move too much and too often to fit squarely in that camp. Instead, her music is cinematic and melancholy, exhibiting both smooth and rough textures.

Case in point, Train combines the aforementioned instruments with notable swells from a lightly distorted electric cello and low-key electronic pops and crackles. In contrast, Intertwined is more of a vehicle for the acoustic cello, with an initially brighter theme that slowly darkens through use of lower registers and effects. Issues of Time, Space and Dreams is the most overtly experimental piece on the album. While less than two minutes in length, Ruf evokes harsh noises through processing and looping. Emmets is another short track, pushing the boundaries with electroacoustics atop a percussing pattern before ending in birdsong. Tal is largely focused on processed cello, and gently wafts along for eleven minutes with high-pitched accentuations as well as short echoing motifs. This return to pastoralism continues on Lie, with the addition of wordless vocals.

​STR​Ø​M is a powerful and meditative exploration of emotions – sadness and loss can be felt, along with hints of peace and joy. Let’s add Christina Ruf to the growing list of solo cellists (e.g., Jo Quail, Raphael Weinroth-Browne) who are extending the range of that instrument through both technical proficiency and compositional sophistication. Very well done.