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: “Gran Sasso”, Matteo Liberatore (2020; BandCamp)

a2037926004_2“Gran Sasso” is Matteo Liberatore’s second solo guitar album.  It is the follow up to his excellent 2018 debut “Solos”.   Unlike “Solos” which focused on extended techniques on the acoustic guitar, “Gran Sasso” is a single extended piece for solo electric guitar using somewhat more conventional techniques. Having said that “Gran Sasso” is less of a departure from “Solos” as it is more of a glimpse into Liberatore’s musical imagination.

“Gran Sasso” is without any overdubs and other than some reverb and extensive use of the volume pedal, it is void of electronic effects. It is a very imaginative piece that has an open atmospheric quality in which Liberatore explores shape, texture, space and color. His dropped guitar tuning gives him a big open sound. Liberatore’s tone is bright and clear and has just a little bit of chime. “Gran Sasso” unfolds in unusual ways; the piece seems to continually shift from moment to moment.  But all the while Liberatore’s playing sounds both intentional and reflective giving this piece its own character.

“Gran Sasso” is a wonderful modern electric guitar record and is something I have found myself replaying over and over again. It was recorded and mixed by Matteo at his home studio and was mastered by Elliot Sharp. “Gran Sasso” appears to be a digital only release so head on over to Bandcamp and check it out.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

The Eleven Project

MV5BZThlYzM4MWItMGYwNi00YTAzLWE1NjItNDMxZWIxZDhjYWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_SY1000_CR0010371000_AL_Avant Garde / Experimental Guitarist Scott Fields is inviting guitarists to participate in The Eleven Project.  A project dedicated to Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel.  Scott is asking guitarists to contribute an 11 second recording of solo guitar with the amp turned up to 11. The compilation will be released in November on 11/11. For more details including how to submit your recording visit – The Eleven Project.

 

AMN Reviews: “The Happiness Handbook” – The Instruments of Happiness, Tim Brady [Starkland ST-232]

ST-232 Instruments of Happiness_The Happiness Handbook_Cover_HiRes

In the 20th century the electric guitar was invented and then proceeded to globally dominate popular music for decades. But the electric guitar is still somewhat of an outsider in the world of contemporary composition. Many conservatories and university music schools still do not allow students to select the electric guitar as their principal instrument of study. But despite this situation we now have several generations of highly trained electric guitarists possessing both the skills and the interest in playing something other than popular music.

In the last forty years or so a new chamber format has appeared all over the planet – the electric guitar quartet. The electric guitar quartet offers contemporary composers a chamber ensemble with an enormous sonic palette, an instrument familiar to all kinds of listeners, a globally increasing number of skilled instrumentalists and no defined “style” or accepted common practice. All of this has led to an increase in new works for the electric guitar. The Sheer Pluck Database of Contemporary Guitar Music  currently contains more than six thousand entries of works specifically for or that include the electric guitar.

Still much of the interest from composers in writing for the electric guitar has largely stemmed from the efforts of a small group of proponents. A leader among these proponents is composer/guitarist Tim Brady. Brady has spent more than thirty years composing and commissioning new works, organizing concerts and performing new works for the electric guitar.  Whether it be for the opera, the orchestra or the electric guitar quartet, Tim Brady is a composer whose compositional eclecticism synthesizes the sounds of classical, folk, rock, jazz, noise, improvisation, and electronics into his own personal sound world.

“The Happiness Handbook” is the second album on Starkland from the electric guitar quartet configuration of Tim Brady’s ensemble known as “The Instruments of Happiness”. The album features premiere recordings of compositions from Scott Godin, Jordan Nobles, Maxime McKinley, Gordon Fitzell, Emily Hall and Tim Brady. Each of the composers explore many of the unique sonic abilities of the electric guitar and often reference popular electric guitar styles and techniques. Style wise the compositions generally fall into the new tonality and post minimalist aesthetics; making the album ideal for a wide range of audiences.

“The Instruments of Happiness” quartet members Marc-Oliver Lamontagne, Jonathan Barriault, Simon Duchesne and Tim Brady have playing skills that are deep and wide.  The quartet is extremely well versed in everything from classical chamber music to popular music to extended techniques and experimental music including electronic effects and pedals. As an ensemble they are tight, lyrical and energetic.  They play with a wide range of dynamics and control and are able to move effortlessly from an ensemble of highly independent voices to performing as one large instrument.

“The Happiness Handbook” opens with Scott Godin’s “Martlandia” which explores swelling chords and intricately articulated themes with shades of progressive rock. Tim Brady’s “Equal But Opposite Reaction” combines standard and extended techniques with electronics into a wonderful contrapuntal kaleidoscope that covers a lot of ground.

Jordon Nobles “Deep Field” would make a great sci fi soundtrack with its swells of sounds that roll by as it moves slowly through deep space. It’s as if a flamenco and blues gesture were combined and intertwined; then slowed down a few hundred times while slowly twisting and turning to reveal itself.  A wonderful piece!  Maxime McKinley’s “Reflects de Francesca Woodman” begins with harmonics bouncing and refracting off of one another that eventually builds up into jagged variations on a bluesy theme only to finds its way back into a refractive meditative state. Gordon Fitzell’s “Bomb Crater Garden” is an aggressive mix of clear harmonics and scattered noisy sounds. It beautifully utilizes extended techniques and electronics to slowly build up and then melt away into a kind of noisy slide guitar bird song.  The album ends with Emily Hall’s “The Happiness Handbook”. A suite of five short movements that covers a lot of ground as it celebrates the sheer joy of playing the electric guitar.

“The Happiness Handbook” is a wonderful album. Many AMN readers will enjoy this album, especially guitarists. I think the album should have appeal not just with the minimalist/post minimalist, new music and experimental guitar crowds. “The Happiness Handbook” may be an ideal gateway recording to introduce progressive rock and fusion listeners to contemporary electric chamber music.  So, give it a listen!

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Giuseppe Pascucci & Vito Pesce – Nikola Was Right! & Humasaurs [Plus Timbre PT083 & PT084]

Guiseppe Pascucci and Vito Pesce, both of whom play guitar and electronics, are collaborators on these two simultaneously released and complementary albums, both of which were recorded live September 2016-February 2017. Pascucci and Pesce’s individual bios on the label’s site are vague almost to the vanishing point—which in a way is consistent with their music: on both albums they craft a collective sound in which each individual voice blends into an encompassing and satisfying whole.

On Nikola Was Right!—the Nikola in question being Tesla—the group sound is rich: resonant, full-ranged and sensuous. The album’s concise, intelligent soundscapes feature surging and cresting tones, complex harmonies wrapped in washes of sound folding back on itself, and crystalline, echoing chords and single-line runs splayed against electronic chaff and the occasional synthetic choir. Humasaurs, by contrast, is a spikier affair. Where Nikola Was Right! tends to efface the guitarishness of the guitars’ sound, Humasaurs pulls it into the foreground and revels in it. Pascucci and Pesce make each part of the instrument audible with aggressively staccato attacks, insistent rhythms, pointillistic textures and sharper-edged timbres. It’s a different proposition from what we hear on Nikola Was Right! and the perfect counterpart to that album. A fine matched pair.

http://plustimbre.com/

Daniel Barbiero

 

AMN Reviews: Santi Costanzo – Autocracy of Deception Vol. 1 [Setola di Maiale SM3780]; Alan Courtis – Buchla Gtr [Firework Editions FER1122]

Two albums by guitarists Santi Costanzo and Alan Courtis show some of the many facets of sound obtainable from this versatile instrument, either alone or augmented by objects and/or electronics.

Autocracy of Deception Vol. 1 is the first solo release from Santi Costanzo, a guitarist from Catania, Sicily. In group environments as well as solo settings, Costanzo has pursued a personal path of experimentation that has encompassed the heterogeneous musical languages of jazz, rock, free improvisation, and even serial composition. He’s been able to assimilate and transfigure these influences by projecting his own musical ideas forward, all the while maintaining an understanding and appreciation of these different forms of music, but without having any of them unduly limit his own field of possibilities. This sense of independence within assimilation comes out over the course of his album, which shows a fluency in tonal and atonal music within a fundamental, improvisational openness to following a line wherever it leads, as well as a broad-based technical mastery. The recording’s collection of four improvisation and seven “abstractions” find him pivoting between clearly articulated, complex chords in a classical fingerpicking style; heavily distorted rock freakouts; and looped, reversed, and other processed sounds. On some pieces, Costanzo further extends the guitar’s range of timbres by preparing it with foreign objects. But once all these modifications and transformations are stripped away, Costanzo’s default sound reveals itself to be an especially rich, crystalline, reverb-inflected tone.

In contrast to the natural guitar sounds that undergird Autocracy of Deception, Buchla Gtr by the prolific Buenos Aires guitarist Alan Courtis takes the guitar’s native voice and transposes it almost entirely into the electronic dialects of the Buchla 200 synthesizer. For these recordings, which were made on the Buchla in EMS Stockholm’s studio, Courtis ran the guitar directly through the synthesizer and supplemented it with some pedals. The result is a double LP each side of which contains one long, sonically-textured piece. The guitar is for the most part unrecognizable as a guitar; rather, it serves as the engine driving an evolution of sounds that take on the guises of a shortwave radio tuned in between stations; a power drill emitting a high-frequency whine; a reverb unit being bumped and jostled; and intermittent drones of various timbres.

https://setoladimaiale.net

http://web.comhem.se/elggren/fer/fer.html

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Donald McPherson and Tetuzi Akiyama – The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 (2018; God in the Music)

If one could synthesize the murmurations of the common starling into sonic form, the resulting product would invariably sound similar to the twin guitar duo of late-Aotearoa / New Zealand artist Donald McPherson and Japanese improviser Tetuzi Akiyama. Consisting of three parts culled from a 2010 live performance in Christchuch, The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 features some enjoyable Akiyama and McPherson riffing, with the duo crafting sonic landscapes that evoke a gamut of emotions, from splendor to pathos.

The opening segment, Part One is the longest piece on the tape, clocking in at just over 19 minutes. The side features much of what you’d expect from the pair: the playing is both prodding and prodigious, yet the listener is spared the cloying blows of virtuosity and one-upsmanship. Instead, McPherson and Akiyama weave in and out of each other’s playing and remain content in their explorations of bucolic motifs that taper off as soon as a new thematic turn reveals itself. At times the guitars are cinematic and even orchestral (5:04); at other points, the pair’s playing is evocative of flamenco (11:58). In all, Part One possesses enough whimsy and a number of (very) high points that assuage any moments in the performance that may feel awkward or too tentative for some listeners. 

Part Two opens the second side and is most likely to elicit the John Fahey comparisons. While understandable to a degree, they ultimately miss the point and serve only as inchoate shorthand for those unwilling to settle in and listen to the unique artistic voices, nuance, and timbres that belong to Akiyama and McPherson, both individually and as combined as a unit. At times, a bit tedious; however, the duo never sound lost and retain their ability to engross the listener throughout. The closer, Part Three, is both the shortest cut on the album and its strongest piece by a mile. Reminiscent of Indian raga, Nick Drake, and even Neu!, the piece is vibrant and captivating and like the best of dreams, ends far too soon…

While the sparsity and relatively restrained dynamics on The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 may make it a bit more demanding than the pair’s 2006 Vinegar & Rum, this listener would argue the peaks surpass and outweigh any troughs from the moment you hit play on the deck. What’s more, not only does this release help mark the arrival of new End of the Alphabet / Astral Spirits collaborative spin off-imprint, God in the Music, it marks almost one year since McPherson’s death. What better way to remember the guitarist than to enjoy his collaborative work with his friend and kindred spirit Tetuzi Akiyama. 

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb

AMN Reviews: Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon – Soft Berm (2018; Magnetic South Recordings)

Hear ye, aesthete! Hear ye, free music(s) fan! Hear ye, improvisers! The brash, virulent duo of Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon hold the keys to the kingdom and are ready to storm the palace of non-idiomatic form. Shimmy Soft Berm, the latest from guitarist Dorji and drummer Damon’s ever-proliferating corpus, into the deck. Comprised of a single live performance from Fall 2017, this one has all the hallmarks and hits the high points.

Soft Berm is a fine specimen of contemporary audio verité: the wow, flutter, and hiss of the original source recording, the sounds of shuffling feet and crowd noise, and even a few unsteady moments during the duo’s sonic explorations remain preserved and presented. Whilst their studio releases afford the pair a degree of forgiveness and/or rumination on the productive process, make no mistake, Berm’s fleeting moments of disorientation are as fascinating as the eons of pure exhilaration captured on this performance. From Damon’s crystalline drum paradiddles to Dorji’s prepared guitar hypno-raga, the duo spends just over 40 minutes trekking through three distinct sonic movements, in which they sanguinely explore space, syncopation, timbre, tension, and release. Damon is easily one of the most exciting percussionists to appear on the scene since Chris Corsano and having recently witnessed Kuzu, Damon and Dorji’s trio with Dave Rempis, I can assert that his technical proficiency and stamina behind, around, and in front of the drum kit are top-notch. Meanwhile, Dorji remains one of the few contemporary guitarist possessive of a Bailey-esque sensitivity, which is manifestly apparent in his tasteful engagement with his looping pedal.

Barring any wanton self-indulgence or dives off the proverbial deep end, this duo is walloping towards canonization. You heard it here first. Don’t be surprised when you hear someone half your age name-checking Damon and Dorji alongside Rashied Ali and John Coltrane as a force to be reckoned with in the realm(s) of free/improvised/art rock.

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb

AMN Reviews: Anders Berg & Tellef Øgrim – Kölen [Simlas]; Circadia – Advances and Delays [SOFA 551]

As a polytonal, chording instrument, the guitar—whether electric or acoustic—is incisively capable of creating textures and harmonies of all densities and degrees of dissonance or consonance. Two new releases of guitar-based, improvised music from Scandinavia reveal something of the instrument’s versatility in creating rough or refined sonic atmospheres.

a2594638243_16Kölen, the third release from the duo of Sweden’s Anders Berg (double bass, electric bass and electronics) and Norwegian guitarist Tellef Øgrim consists of eight tracks inspired by the geology and topography of Scandinavia’s severe, far northern landscape. And it’s possible to hear in these largely hard-edged pieces an aural image of craggy stone thrust up into thin, twilit air. Both instruments’ sounds are altered, often aggressively so, into an overdriven, elementally gritty distortion. This may not be metal, but it certainly is the ore from which metal originates.

12806160_1052804438076012_6377583687397800828_nUnlike Kölen’s electronics-heavy ambience, Advances and Delays, a CD featuring the Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr along with Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs, Canadian-born bassist Joe Williamson and Australian percussionist Tony Buck, is an acoustic affair made up of two long improvisations. The first piece is framed by the dense, choric clang and jangle of the two guitars; within the apparently static outer shell of sound the music moves restlessly in shimmering increments. The texture of the second piece initially is as rarefied as the first is thick. Harmonics and stopped strings are plucked and left to linger and decay in their own time; spaciously-placed bass notes hit at a chord progression that gradually is realized in strummed guitar chords. Following a percussion interlude, chromatic patterns on one guitar overlay arpeggios on the other, creating a rich, resonant tapestry of sound.

https://simlas.bandcamp.com/album/k-len

http://www.sofamusic.no

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: David Starobin – New Music with Guitar, Volume 9 [Bridge 9444]

9444_cover_largeThree substantial new works for nylon string guitar make up this the ninth installment of Bridge Records’ series of releases dedicated to new music for guitar, featuring the distinguished guitarist David Starobin. The settings vary from a guitar and violin duo on Poul Ruder’s Schroedinger’s Cat (2012) to a guitar concerto with full orchestra for Paul Lansky’s 2009 With the Grain, with a chamber work for guitar and eleven piece orchestra–Richard Wernick’s 2002 The Name of the Game–lying in between. Both the Wernick and Ruder compositions take long established forms and either update them or permute them to their limits. In the tradition of Bach’s building compositions around the German note names B-A-C-H (Bb, A, C and B natural), The Name of the Game takes as its basic material a pitch class set spelling out the guitarist’s name and arranges it into a fragmentary modernist polyphony. Starobin and the International Chamber Ensemble give a clear, engaging reading of this angular yet accessible work, with Starobin’s chords and single note lines providing the harmonic and melodic fulcrum. Also alluding to Baroque form is Ruder’s composition, a set of twelve canons seemingly in every conceivable form and notable for its subtly nuanced play of string timbres. The austere instrumentation of the piece contrasts dramatically with the lushly orchestrated With the Grain. On all three works Starobin’s performances are as pristine and compelling as they are beautiful.

http://www.bridgerecords.com/