AMN Reviews: James Caldwell – Pocket Music (2021; Neuma 135)

“Pocket Music” is collection of suites of electroacoustic miniatures from composer James Caldwell.  Caldwell is Professor Emeritus at Western Illinois University (WIU). In addition to his teaching, Caldwell co-directed the annual New Music Festival at WIU where he programmed hundreds of new pieces by living composers. “Pocket Music” is his first portrait release and represents just one facet of his wide-ranging interests as a composer.

For this CD Caldwell’s compositions explore his sonic imagination with everyday items that are often found in his pockets. As he writes, “For more than twenty years I have pursued a sporadic project of making small musique concrète pieces. The original set used sounds I made with things I found in my pockets while working in the studio—coins, keys, plastic pill bottle, comb, paperback book, rubber band, and a screwdriver struck against a wrench. … As I returned to the project, I continued working with small found sounds, but not necessarily things from my pockets: ping-pong balls, a stapler, M&M’s,  binder clips, finger cymbals, a pencil run over the rungs on the back of a chair, dresser handles, the bag from a bunch of apples from the grocery store, a wine glass, and then — moving outside into my yard — cicadas, lawn furniture, garden stones in a wheelbarrow, birds, the distant rumble of the Macomb Speedway, and some odds and ends sitting around on my hard drive. Even as the objects became larger or farther from me, the pieces remained pocket size.”

Armed with his imagination and his computer Caldwell explores the various relationships between representation and abstraction with the object(s) he has chosen; sometimes imposing his compositional ideas on the object and other times led by his discovery of hidden sonic properties in the object itself. There is a great deal of variety amongst each of these miniatures. Some are very rhythmic, a few are very harmonic, others are more acousmatic. There is always a sense of both an idea and of playfulness in each of these pieces and that is what makes “Pocket Music” a really interesting listen. Recommended.

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Fred Frith, Sudhu Tewari, Cenk Ergün – Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down (CARRIER054)

LMULMD_digital_cover

Fred Frith is a pioneer of the extended electric guitar. Take a glance at his discography of over four hundred titles and it becomes clear that Frith has successfully inserted himself into an incredibly diverse number of contemporary sound worlds. From bands like Henry Cow, Skeleton Crew and Massacre to improvising with the likes of John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and Evan Parker to his compositions for electric guitar quartet, the Ensemble Modern, the Arditti Quartet and so much more! 

One of Frith’s many collaborations has been with Sudhu Tewari in the duo Normal. Tewari is a sound artist focused on audio electronics, interactive installations, invented musical instruments and sound sculptures that utilize whatever materials are on hand. They recently presented and discussed a number of their invented instruments at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

“Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is a new release from Fred Frith, Sudhu Tewari and Cenk Ergün. The material for this album was recorded about ten years ago as an improvisation with Frith on guitar, Tewari playing recuperated junk and electronics and Ergün on electronics.  However, this is not an album of a group improvisation. “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is a long form work that uses the original improvised studio material as building blocks for an entirely new piece.

Cenk Ergün is a Turkish American composer/improviser currently based in Berlin. Ergün has written a wide range of acoustic and electronic works. A wonderful album of two of Ergün’s compositions for string quartet performed by the JACK Quartet was released earlier this year. During the lock down Ergün revisited the ten year old session and then went to work. He created a sound library of various samples from the original trio session. The samples range from a second to several minutes. Samples from the library may be heard in their raw form or heavily processed. Ergün used this library to very carefully assemble “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down”, which combines elements of rock, noise, improvisation, electronic processing and digital studio composition.

Street Piano_photo by Carly McLane

While “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” has been divided into seven tracks it really is a continuous forty-four-minute piece. I think it is best to listen to it as a single listening experience. The piece has a mesmerizing almost dream like quality to it.  It’s sounds move from the chaotic and noisy to the lyrical and harmonic, often drifting between multiple textures. There are sections that focus on developing very specific elements from the original session.  For example, the title track is all Frith reassembled by Ergün layering different moments from the original studio session. “Stay Tuned“ features Tewari’s mallet work on his “street piano” accompanied by birds and the occasional passing car interrupted by bursts from the studio session.  The piece ends with “Dem” which focus’s on the final sounds Frith made in the original session. The gentle de-tuned arpeggios from Frith’s guitar unfold at a glacial pace into long sustained chords that slowly transform back into their original form.

“Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is a wonderful listen! It successfully combines so many different sonic elements that it is likely to appeal to a very broad range of creative music listeners. Treat your ears and give it a listen.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: exclusiveOr / Architeuthis Walks on Land / International Contemporary Ensemble – “modules” [Carrier 044]

Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta have been working together since 2006 as the duo exclusiveOR.  With Snyder performing on analog synthesizer and Pluta on live electronics. Their work explores the intersection of composition and improvisation with live electronics. For “modules” the duo is joined by some of today’s leading creative musicians: Architeuthis Walks on Land (AWOL) which is Amy Cimini – viola and Katherine Young – bassoon, and members of ICEPeter Evans, Nate Wooley – trumpets, Ryan Muncy – saxophones, Weston Olencki – trombone and Ross Karre – percussion.

“modules” was commissioned in 2014 by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as part of their ICELab Series. It is a concert length work that utilizes both improvisation and strictly notated material. The piece covers a lot of ground as it flows through its fifteen modules in which seemingly opposing materials (pitch, sound and noise) and methodologies (composition, improvisation and live electronics) seamlessly interact with one another to create a unified whole. 

 

The fifteen “modules” are comprised of five composed by Pluta, five by Snyder and five improvisations from various small groupings of the ensemble. Each of these tracks or modules has its own distinct character, color and instrumentation. Pluta’s modules tend to be more aggressive and noisier, while Snyder’s are often more harmonically focused. The improvised sections are all sonically oriented and very original. Despite the contrasts within each module they really seem connected and many segments flow into one another in a conversational like manner.

Here is an earlier performance with brass quartet, analog synthesizer, live electronics, and percussion.  It’s interesting to hear both of these versions because it makes clear the significant contributions that improvisers can bring to pieces like “modules”.

For those that need some kind of categorization I would put “modules” under the banner of “creative music”; in that the sound worlds that the composers and improvisers create, freely explore many different contemporary and historical musical ideas without any allegiance or deference to any of the “school’s” associated with these ideas. This is a trend that has been growing for quite some time and I think the composers and improvisers on “modules” are among the best of a new generation of musicians continuing this exploration.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

 

AMN Reviews: Elliott Sharp – Plastový Hrad (2019; Infrequent Seams)

Sharp_Plastovy_Hrad_COVER_1400x1400_James_IlgenfritzComposer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp has been a major voice within the downtown New York music scene for decades. Timbre, dynamics, motion, shape and rhythm are always in play in Sharp’s compositional and improvisational practice. His music is a kind of avant-garde “groove” that combines algorithmic thinking with interpretive and improvisatory intuition. His latest album “PLASTOVY HRAD” presents three very different compositions that feature the bass clarinet.

 

“Plastovy Hrad” is for chamber orchestra with bass clarinet soloist. The composition was commissioned by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra as part of the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Czech Republic. In this piece Sharp builds a kind of labyrinth that is somewhat dark and relentless. The bass clarinet soloist is a lone voice that wanders the labyrinth commenting and questioning as it moves through its ever changing surroundings. The cimbalom is prominently used to provide a counter voice to the bass clarinet.  The use of the cimbalom also gives the piece bits of Czech folk sounds that pierce the dark textures often revealing bits of light.  It’s a really interesting piece that is well recorded.  Both the soloist Lukasz Danhel and the ensemble perform with a great deal of power, conviction and subtly.

“Turing Test” premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2012. It is performed by the voices of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the bass clarinet of Gareth Davis. It is a kind of mini-opera where disembodied voices try to understand who they are and where they are. While many of the techniques in Elliott Sharp’s musical language such as cells and looping appear to be at work here, they are used very differently than in other works by Sharp. In this piece Sharp uses these techniques not to construct actively evolving dense textures but clear melodic segments of counterpoint and chords for the voices. Gareth Davis’s wonderful bass clarinet is used to comment and question the voices as they continue their test. It’s a wonderful piece that is beautifully performed. I look forward to hearing more work in this vein from Elliott Sharp.

“Oumuamua” is a graphic score for bass clarinet and electronics. In this piece the bass clarinet is processed by the electronics in real time. In many ways this piece resembles Sharp’s solo electric guitar work, in that there are repeated fragments overlaid in a constant forward motion that occasionally collapses into a sustained sound mass.  The use of electronics here is really interesting in that they are both transformative and interactive. The bass clarinet transforms into clusters of floating sounds that dissolve into duets between the bass clarinet with sounds that resemble berimbau, saxophone and organ. It’s an interesting and wild romp that features Elliott Sharp’s excellent bass clarinet playing.

All in all, “PLASTOVY HRAD” is a really interesting and diverse album that presents three different faces of Elliott Sharp, one of America’s most interesting contemporary composers.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Chvad SB – Phenomenalism Cartesian Doubt and Bomb #20 [Silber Media]

a1207993938_16Some of the systems art of the late 1960s and early 1970s—for example, Sol LeWitt’s modular lattice sculptures or Mel Bochner’s number grids—embodied a certain regularity of form. A systematic regularity, one might say. A basic element might be repeated at constant intervals or an input sequence subjected to a defined operation. By contrast, some other systemic artworks—integral serialist compositions, for example–produced surfaces of unpredictable, irregularly occurring events from an underlying set of rules. In either case the systems generating the artworks featured a certain autonomy requiring little or no ongoing oversight from the artist. Chvad SB’s Phenomenalism Cartesian Doubt and Bomb #20, a long piece for modular synthesizer, leverages carefully crafted feedback loops into a soundwork that essentially plays itself.

With its collection of fragmentary musical gestures, Phenomenalism sounds something like the pointillist serial works of the mid-20th century—it’s possible to hear in it a refigured echo of Milton Babbitt’s compositions for the RCA Mark II synthesizer of the early 1960s, for example. Like those compositions, Phenomenalism aggregates individual pitch sequences and timbres into a kaleidoscopic sound of playful unpredictability. Also like those compositions, the pleasure of the surface sounds requires no knowledge of the systems underlying them.

https://silbermedia.bandcamp.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Llarks – 5 x 5 [silber179]; Parties – Tea Time [silber182]; X-Bax – Aokigahara [silber183] Kirchenkampf – The Body Electric [silber184]

Whether or not it’s the soul of wit, brevity does often compel an artist to pare down to essentials. Thus it is with these four new releases from Silber Records’ 5 in 5 series of EPs, each of which contains five tracks totaling five minutes. As it happens, the twenty tracks collectively represent twenty different ways to set one minute in sound.

The five pieces on The Body Electric by Kirchenkampf (electronic musician John Gore) manage to cover a rolling terrain in five short strides. From the foreboding electronic wash of the opening EEG through the closing Galvani, which brings to mind a shortwave receiver tuned between stations, Gore develops a musical rhetoric of metallic timbres rooted in pulse and periodicity that undulates at variable speeds. Llarks’ 5 x 5 is Chris Jeely’s treated guitar framed by abstract sounds. Each track is built around a kind of skeleton chord progression sketched out as an arpeggio, cadence or elliptical cycle. Parties—P D Wilder, Joe Morgan and Andrew Weathers—likewise create effects-laden, guitar-centered music layered over pedal points or percolating synths. The Japanese cinema-inspired Aokigahara by X-Bax (Phil Dole) is, despite the grim implications of its underlying concept, composed of mostly melodic miniatures for guitar with a dose of heavy rock and gritty drone on the final two cuts.

http://www.silbermedia.com

AMN Reviews: Clara de Asís – Nununu [PyR 141] & Caroline Park – Less than Human [PyR 142]

Two new offerings from the Pan y Rosas netlabel present different perspectives on making electronic music. One involves intuitive, moment-to-moment decision making, while the other draws inspiration from a systems-based aesthetic of autonomous processes.

NUNUNU_artwork_ANununu is Marseille-based experimental guitarist Clara de Asís’s twenty-four minute, unedited single-take improvisation for prepared electric guitar. A continuously evolving soundscape, the piece begins with a low-key electronic hum or murmur that at times sounds like the rush of wind through telephone wires or the throbbing of airplane propellers high overhead. From there de Asís builds reverberant sound blocks into a thickness of layered echoes which eventually converge into a buzz and an unsettling, suspended chord punctuated by the metallic chiming of struck strings.

CP_LTH_cover-artCaroline Park, whose 2013 release Rim explored the sonic products of generative compositional processes, here presents five pieces that begin with minimal musical materials which accumulate into larger structures through repetition, superimposition and variation. In Being States Park creates changing harmonic patterns by layering a handful of brief motifs of a few notes each; the larger melodic aggregates that result take on unpredictable shapes by virtue of the differing lengths and cycles of the constituent motifs. Plantlife and A Moth Is Born are made up of somewhat harsher sounds, the former sending its elongated tones riding out on a wave of static and the latter consisting of siren-like, dissonant glissandi. Fractured Barnacles is constructed around a pulsing sequence of changeable speed, while Gldufgsld closes the collection with a floating, consonant chord.

http://www.panyrosasdiscos.net/

AMN Reviews: Spectrical – Emergent Forms [cnv79]

cnv79The air is full of electromagnetic signals undetectable to the naked ear. With the proper equipment this ordinarily unheard soundworld can be made audible, recorded and cultivated into musical objects. For Emergent Forms, Australian sound experimentalist Timothy Allen used a JrF induction coil pickup to record signals from a variety of everyday sources—household appliances and fixtures, computers, and the like. The recordings were then arranged and processed in order to allow their latent pitches and harmonics to emerge. And in this hour-long single track of mutating textures and timbres one can hear a kind of elemental musicality asserting itself out of the raw sonic material of buzzes, crackles and humming drones. The piece is heavily textured–almost tangibly so, as much of the pitch aspect of the sound is fused into its timbres. These latter make for a thick weave of rough and burred and—somehow visual imagery comes to mind—shimmering, iridescent layers of sound. When pitches do emerge they tend to move slowly, singly or in vertical stacks; the harmonies are often static and suspended, though occasionally resolving. Allen’s extracted sounds can be heard mimicking the voices of a pipe organ, tubular bells, or other pitched percussion. The signals’ periodicity is brought out in the variable rhythms of clicks, chirps and beat-frequencies that run throughout like a kind of subterranean sound stream. Evocative stuff from the ostensible silence that surrounds us.

http://www.con-v.org

AMN Reviews: Caroline Park – RIM

Caroline Park: RIM [vuzh 047]

Caroline Park’s RIM, a new EP released on the Vuzh netlabel, presents two works exemplifying a generative or systems approach to sound art. Both pieces take minimal initial input material and subject it to controlled or semi-controlled processes, the result of which is a complex output.

The first track, we can be what they are doing, feeds in a brief sample of a viola to a layered system of delays. The output is an overlap of sounds varying in length and tonal complexity, which in turn are fed back into the system for further processing and reprocessing. The reiteration of these more or less fixed processes gives way to semi-chaotic results. The second track, Live at Studio Soto, takes several pitch sets generated by sine wave oscillators and runs them through structured combinatorial operations. In both tracks the layering of transformative processes creates a rich, shimmering weave of converging and diverging harmonies, pitch shifts and variable dynamics, the cumulative aural pattern of which is highly convoluted. Yet there are moments of transparency when the source material is laid bare.

Although both pieces’ compositional focus is on process this isn’t to the detriment of the end results, which are pleasing in their own right. Park’s iterative structures are designed to generate relationships between specifically audible elements, and in the end it is precisely the sound that remains with us. Thus RIM shows that a systems aesthetic can be sensually appealing as well as conceptually compelling.

http://www.vuzhmusic.com/

Musique Machine Reviews

From Musique Machine:

Drevne Bolesti – Self Titled
Drevne Bolesti is a HNW project that brings together Norwegian Andreas Brandal (Flesh Coffin, Hour of the Wolf, etc) & Sarajevo based Sebastian Crnich (Smrznik, Ïîòåðÿííàÿ Ãîðëà ). This self titled is the projects first release & it offers up one long 40 minute track entitled ’Ancient Diseases’ which is a thick & weather beaten wall of crunch & batter.

Mortuor – I’m Waiting For You…
´I´m Waiting For you…´ is a psychotic ranted slice of nasty sounding death industrial & slowed murderous Power electronics rants that very much bring to mind a more focus, less wondering & song biased take on Atrax Morgue.

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