AMN Reviews: Harry Partch – The Bewitched (2021; Neuma 126) and U.S. Highball (2021; Neuma)

Many contemporary composers have been described as iconoclasts but few really are the rugged individualists they are often portrayed as being. Harry Partch(1901 – 1974) may be one of the rare exceptions. Influenced by his study and interpretation of ancient musical models, Partch decided to firmly break with the European musical tradition. He devised his own tuning system with a microtonal division of the octave into forty three notes and then designed and built a whole series of instruments to utilize his tuning. His music was influenced by ancient music, folk traditions from around the world and the dramatic inflections and gesturing of the human voice. His music does not have that “out of tune” quality that many often experience with microtonal music. This is largely due to Partch’s music being primarily based on rhythmic and melodic gestures rather than chord progressions surrounding a melody. Partch’s work was not just about his tuning system and his instruments, it was about his re-imagining of music itself.

Harry Partch commented that his work was like ancient ritual but in modern terms. He often used the word corporeal to describe his work and I have to admit that even after several decades of listening to his music that I didn’t really appreciate what that meant. It wasn’t until I watched a DVD of a performance of his piece “Delusion of Fury” that my appreciation of his work really started to click. For Partch, like many non-European cultures every aspect of the physical performance of his music was as important as the sonic result. I would recommend that readers take advantage of things like Vimeo and YouTube to see, as well as hear live staged performances of his work.

Partch wrote “The Bewitched”in the early 1950’s. He described it as a ballet satire. The piece has only been produced a few times. It is ten scenes based on everyday American life plus a prologue and epilogue. The story revolves around the idea that the world needs a serious dose of reality and that a witch goes around and appears in each of the scenes using her ancient magic to deliver a much needed bit of self-awareness to each of these everyday situations.

This recording of “The Bewitched” is a binaural recording from 1980 at the Berlin Festival. For full effect use your headphones or ear buds to get a sense of what it must have been like to be sitting in the audience for this performance.  As you can see from the video clip from this performance, the ensemble, the soloists and the dancers are all together on the same stage, all completely engaged in Partch’s ritual. And as you can hear the ensemble gave quite a spirited performance!

In addition to releasing “The Bewitched” Nuema has re-released a very rare recording of Partch’s “U.S. Highball”.  It is a work from 1943 and is the story of a transcontinental hobo trip set in Partch’s unique speech music style. It’s a story Partch knew well, as he lived the hobo lifestyle for many years. This recording of “U.S. Highball” is from 1946 and was originally released by Partch on his own label in an edition of 100 records on red vinyl. It’s a really interesting performance and a rare glimpse into one of Partch’s earliest works.  Both recordings are highly recommended !

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Quatuor Bozzini – Alvin Lucier: Navigations[2021; CQB 2128_NUM]

There have been many technical and technological innovations in music since 1945 but one of the most important aesthetic innovations has been in new ideas that focus on listening. Innovators like Pierre Schaeffer proposed the idea of reduced listening – an attitude in which sound is listened to for its own sake as a sound object, removed from its source. John Cage invited listeners to hear any sound as music. Pauline Oliveros encouraged listeners to actively experience all sounds through a practice she described as “deep listening”. These ideas all contributed to contemporary music’s focus on the experience of sound itself.

Alvin Lucier’s compositions and installations make use of sounds that are often the results of acoustic phenomena. His work focuses our attention and perception on the physical presence of sound interacting within a particular space. Performing Lucier’s compositions requires performers to learn to recognize, activate, play and interact with acoustic phenomena. The Quatuor Bozzini were clearly up for the challenge when they recorded “Alvin Lucier: Navigations”. The album opens with “Disappearances”, a piece that is a single note. That description may sound like it is minimalist to the extreme but to my ears it is a piece rich with development. You hear changes in weight and timbre as each string joins together in unison. The controlled motions of the string’s bows cause phasing and filtering of the sound. The tiny subtle changes in pitch causes beating which reveals pulsating difference tones. Each of these phenomena disappear into one another creating a feeling of movement and making the listener aware of the tiniest changes in pitch and timbre.

The album contains two realizations of “Group Tapper”, a piece that explores room acoustics by having the instrumentalists treat their instruments as percussion. The performers tap on their instruments in various places and reflect the sound coming from their instruments around the room. The recording engineer does a great job of making the room present on this album so that you can really hear how the group’s performance interacts with the room. Placed in between the two realizations of “Group Tapper” is for me the most striking piece on this recording, “Unamuno”.  The piece was inspired by early twentieth century Spanish writer  Miguel de Unamuno and it was originally written for voices. “Unamuno” is based around four pitches that are continuously arranged into different patterns. It has a probing and questioning kind of vibe to it. The Bozzini’s perform the piece with both strings and their voices. The result is absolutely stunning. 

The album finishes with “Navigations for Strings”. At a high level “Navigations for Strings” and “Unamuno” share some of the same types of ingredients. Both pieces are based on four pitches and both make use of slowly changing combinations and difference tones. However, despite these high level similarities the two pieces sound very different.  “Navigations for Strings” is a somewhat dark piece in which continuous changes in microtonality, dynamics and tempo create a sound mass that feels like it is becoming a stasis, but it’s continuous changes never allow it to rest. It is a very haunting piece.

With “Alvin Lucier: Naviagtions” the Quatuor Bozzini have gone well beyond the surface of Lucier’s scores and have totally embraced his challenge to performers to be sonic explorers. “Alvin Lucier: Naviagtions” is a wonderful album with captivating performances of one of the most original and innovative experimental composers of our time.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

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

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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: Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl – Artlessly Falling [ Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-034 ]

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“Artlessly Falling” is the latest album from guitarist, composer Mary Halvorson’s group Code Girl. Halvorson has received a great deal of recognition for her unique guitar style and her unpredictable improvisational skills but it is her writing that really shines on this album. For the eight songs on “Artlessly Falling” Halvorson first wrote the lyrics, with each lyric written in a pre-existing poetic form and then set them to music. Halvorson’s songs balance poetic lyrics rich with imagery set to elaborate melodies over challenging but supportive accompaniment. “Artlessly Falling” is an evocative set of songs that will really grow on you with each listen.

For this edition of Code Girl Mary Halvorson is joined by longtime creative associates Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, plus new collaborators Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and María Grand on tenor saxophone and vocals. They are joined by guest vocalist Robert Wyatt, who appears on three songs that Mary Halvorson wrote especially for him. It is really great to hear Wyatt’s voice on something new! Halvorson considers Wyatt to be a major influence on her and on this particular recording.  The influence is clear on the tracks Wyatt sings on but it is felt throughout the album.  The production of “Artlessly Falling” has a warm, very even, and somewhat dry sound reminiscent of albums recorded at Carla Bley’s Grog Kill Studio by Bley, Michael Mantler, and John Greaves / Peter Blegvad that featured Robert Wyatt.  It’s a great sound and Code Girl really extends that sound with their incredible imagination and musicianship.

The opening track “The Lemon Trees” begins with a nod to Wyatt’s “Sea Song”. However, this quickly becomes a very original piece. As Wyatt sings the lyric, each verse alternates with a probing trumpet commentary. That becomes a trumpet solo accompanied by the rhythm section that slowly develops into a trumpet and drum duo that transforms into a drum solo and then suddenly the ensemble is right back to the lyric. The tag ending features a bass solo beautifully accompanied by just the two female voices.

The album continues with “Last-Minute Smears” which is most likely the only song to ever use the congressional testimony of a candidate for the US Supreme Court as a found lyric.  It opens with a very “downtown” improvised intro that slowly develops into a striking ballad beautifully sung by Amirtha Kidambi. It has colorful ensemble writing plus a soulful tenor solo from María Grand. 

On “Walls and Roses” Wyatt and Kidambi sing the same introspective verses back to one another. Halvorson frames the verses with a contrasting section that allows her to wink at Jimi Hendrix as she sails off past the straits of Sonny Sharrock and Shockabilly era Eugene Chadbourne only to return with a winding melodic counterpoint between her and Kidambi.  I hope these brief descriptions of the first three tracks leave you with a sense that on “Artlessly Falling” each track is filled with surprises.

As a group Code Girl’s playing is solid and adventurous. They very easily move back and forth from the written to the improvised. This allows Code Girl to continually shift and transform their sound. It is this combination of Halvorson’s writing and the group’s interaction with both her music and one another that makes “Artlessly Falling” such an interesting listen.

Highly Recommended!

https://firehouse12records.com/

Chris De Chiara

San Francisco Tape Music Collective

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A selection of fixed media works presented by the collective in recent San Francisco Tape Music Festivals.

Works by Maggi Payne, Kent Jolly, Cliff Caruthers, Matt Ingalls, Thom Blum, Kristin Miltner, and Joseph Anderson.

 

Freely available for streaming and download from http://sound.bandcamp.com.

The San Francisco Tape Music Collective is dedicated to presenting performances of audio art. For over 20 years they have presented The San Francisco Tape Music Festival, diffusing works from composers throughout the world in addition to their own works through a pristine immersive 24-speaker surround-sound environment, in complete darkness.   SFTMC and SFTMF are projects of sfSound.

Donations are welcome. All proceeds go to the San Francisco Tape Music Festival. (post COVID-19).  If you donate this Friday, Juneteenth, bandcamp will donate 100% of their shares to NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

http://sfSound.org/tape

http://sfsound.bandcamp.com/album/san-francisco-tape-music-collective

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XXIII

0011822341_21Welcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

Today is Anthony Braxton’s 75th birthday and this is the final post in this series.

We begin with a wonderful performance of Composition 304 from Winsor Music.

We continue with an entire performance of Anthony Braxton with Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum  as the Diamond Curtain Wall Trio from 2015 in Copenhagen.

This trailer from 2012 on Roulette TV intersperses interview with performance to provide a nice overview of Braxton’s career and his ideas.  Braxton’s forever hopeful outlook is a very timely positive message to us all.

Finally, since it is Anthony Braxton’s birthday why not wish him a happy birthday with a visit to the New Braxton House at Bandcamp and check out all of the recordings that are available and maybe pick up a few.

Hope you enjoyed the series and happy birthday Anthony Braxton.

Previous Segments

Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XXII

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We begin this week with a set from the Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet in Budapest from 2015. The group features Braxton’s computer music patch with Braxton on reeds, Ingrid Laubrock – tenor and soprano saxophones, Taylor Ho Bynum – brass and Mary Halvarson on guitar.  I really like this video not just for the great performance but also for how it was filmed. I sure wish I could turn on my TV set and see this on one of the channels.

As we are getting near the end of this series I realized I hadn’t posted any of Braxton’s writing so here is a short essay titled  “ALLEGORY AND FORM”

We end this week with a stunning audio only set from Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams from Chicago in 1977.

Join us again next week for the final post of AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XXI

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews, and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We begin this week with a short clip from 2007 at the Blue Note in Milan, with Anthony Braxton, William Parker, and Hamid Drake. The quality of the video is low but the music is great.

We continue with Anthony Braxton’s  Composition Numbers 136+56+254 performed at a workshop in Tokyo conducted by Kyoko Kitamura and Masayasu Tzboguchi in 2019. The ensemble is Nonoko Yoshida – alto saxophone, Shinpei Ruike – trumpet, Masayasu Tzboguchi – piano, Hiroki Chiba – bass, Manami Kakudo – percussion and Kyoko Kitamura – vocals and conducting.

We conclude this week’s post with an article by Paul Steinbeck, from 2018 that originally appeared in the Journal of Music Theory. Steinbeck is an accomplished musician, scholar, and author. Unlike much academic writing, Steinbeck’s writing is always clear, insightful, and readable. I would highly recommend his recent book on the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In “Improvisation and Collaboration in Anthony Braxton’s Composition 76”   Steinbeck provides an insightful analysis of the work that will be of interest to both listeners and musicians.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

Previous Segments

Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XX

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews, and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We begin this week with a full concert from 2019 in France of Anthony Braxton with Ingrid Laubrock – saxophone, Miriam Overlach and Jacqueline Kerrod – harp, Carl-Ludwig Hübsch – tuba, and Jean Cook – violin.

A Conversation with Anthony Braxton is a transcript from 1995 during a visit to Istanbul. In this conversation, Braxton dives into a variety of topics often in a very conversational and informal way, more so than in many of his interviews.

Here is a nicely filmed and recorded concert segment from 2019 of Anthony Braxton Solo – Live @ Sons d’hiver.

We end this week’s installment with a talk that Anthony Braxton gave in Amsterdam for the 2015 DOEK FESTIVAL. He is joined for this talk by Kevin Whitehead, Taylor Ho Bynum, and James Fei.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XIX

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews, and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

This week’s post begins with a  2015 performance of Anthony Braxton’s Composition No. 131 by Ben Leeds Carson – piano, Jason Hoopes – bass, Robert Lopez – drums and Rhonda Taylor – alto saxophone at the 2015 Santa Cruz Festival of New Music.

Anthony Braxton live in Italy at the Pomigliano Jazz festival in 2009 with William Parker – bass and Don Moye – drums.

We end this week’s post with an interview from 2008 from the “under your skin channel”.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

Previous Segments

Chris De Chiara