AMN Reviews: Nicolas Tourney & Phil Canals – American Composers [Bandcamp]

Although they’re several decades old at this point, the innovative graphic and other open-form scores of the postwar New York School composers continue to provide inspiration and stimulation for fresh interpretations from contemporary performers. Part of the reason for this could be the very openness and indeterminacy of the works; given so much latitude within their suggestive constraints, a performer is free to bring to bear his or her own musical background in choosing specific musical values for the variables the scores leave open. American Composers, a new recording from French musicians Nicolas Tourney and Phil Canals, which contains thoughtfully creative arrangements of a number of classic works by Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and James Tenney, shows just how alive these works remain.

Tourney, a guitarist and electronic musician, is credited here with electric guitar and objects; Canals is a multi-instrumentalist represented here on saxophone and stones. The two collaborated on 2019’s Looking North, an album that combined elements of electronic drone and freely melodic saxophone improvisations. On American Composers, they eschew the denser textures and more aggressive timbres of the Looking North in favor of a sound that respects the open musical spaces implicit in the scores they’ve chosen to realize.

The opening track, Wolff’s Looking North, is a verbal score from the collection Prose Pieces. Tourney begins with an elastic but discernible pulse laid out in harmonics and semi-muted tones; Canals contributes evenly-weighted lines on the saxophone. Both explicitly through sound and implicitly through silences Tourney and Canals’ interpretation maintains the rhythmic continuity the score calls for. Brown’s December 1952, arranged for solo guitar, is an unusual realization of the classic graphic composition. Tourney’s way of grouping individual notes and chords gives his version more linear continuity and less pointillistic intermittency than many other versions of this always provocative piece. Also unusual is the duo’s setting of Feldman’s grid-like graphic score Projection 1, originally composed for solo cello. The piece here is realized for both guitar and saxophone. Canals plays most of the score’s events; his largely staccato reading is punctuated on occasion by Tourney’s sparse interventions. Canals gives a solo performance on Cage’s early Sonata for Clarinet, a semi-serial piece Cage wrote in 1933 while studying composition with Richard Buhlig and which was composed before Cage really found his own voice. The other Cage piece Canals and Tourney interpret is 1950’s A Flower for voice and closed piano. Canals plays the part for voice, which is mostly confined to four notes, with a contrasting mixture of vibratoless and vibrato tones; Tourney supplies the piano part by drumming with his hands on an opaque surface.

The album also includes the roaring rush of Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion; Brown’s 4 Systems, a graphic score of variably-lengthed rectangles similar to December 1952 which Tourney and Canals realize with a predominance of overlapping long tones; and Wolff’s Stones, another verbal composition from Prose Pieces, which instructs its performers to make a variety of sounds using…stones.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: James Tenney / Scordatura Ensemble – Harmonium [New World Records 80803-2]

Our perceptual responses to the world around us are sensual in two meanings of the word—both sensory and evoking aesthetic enjoyment. Through their focus on the processes and artifacts of aural perception, much of the work of composer James Tenney (1934-2006) pivoted between both kinds of sensuality. Tenney liked to say that he handled form not as a vehicle for a quasi-narrative arc, but instead as an object of perception—something of interest in its own right. And the pieces on this recording are indeed consistent with that description.

One of Tenney’s interests was in the range of consonances and dissonances contained within the spectrum of the harmonic series. Tenney’s work with the harmonic series, which represented a kind of North American spectralism independent of the spectralism developed in Europe, was aimed toward focusing attention on, and deriving independent pleasure from, these basic sound materials underlying more complex musical forms. This is apparent in For Twelve Strings (rising) of 1971, which is based on the tension between the consonant relationships among the lower harmonics and the more dissonant relationships that arise the higher up the series one reaches. The piece, scored for four violins, four violas, two cellos and two double basses, consists of simultaneous and constantly rising glissandi across registers, sounding like a looped siren or a Moebius strip of sliding tones.

Tenney’s interest in pitch combinations producing acoustic beating phenomena is represented by Two Koans and a Canon (1982), a three-movement work for solo viola, played by Elizabeth Smalt, and tape delay. The first movement, essentially an adaptation of Tenney’s 1971 solo double bass piece The Beast (a title some of us may prefer to read as an anagram on “beats” rather than a commentary on the nature of the instrument), plays out as a gradual, microtonal divergence and convergence of pitches relative to a constant pitch. This produces a beating effect that changes with changes in the distances between pitches. The tape delay comes in at the third movement, a canon that begins with the viola’s open C string and develops through a process of stacking harmonics along ascending and descending paths. (The koan for this canon might well be, “What is the sound of one pitch unraveling?”)

A tape delay system is also deployed in 1984’s Voice(s), realized here by a small ensemble of voice, recorder, clarinet, viola, keyboard, trombone and cello. The piece is largely concerned with textural organization as it thickens and thins and plays off of the perception of different pitches appearing to fuse and separate.

Harmonium, which also includes the compositions Harmonium (1976) and Blues for Annie (1975), is an excellent point of entry into the world of this important composer.

http://www.newworldrecords.org

Daniel Barbiero

Edgar Varèse and the Jazzmen

A rare set of recordings has been discovered, including Edgard Varese conducting Charles Mingus. They are now available for free download.

Edgard Varèse conducts a workshop with jazzmen Art Farmer (trumpet), Hal McKusik (clarinet, alto sax), Teo Macero (tenor sax), Eddie Bert (trombone), Frank Rehak (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba), Hall Overton (piano), Charlie Mingus (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums), probably John La Porta (alto sax)… We don’t know who is on vibes…

It might be the first free jazz recording (totally unissued) of History of Music. Varèse might have influenced jazzmen or was he only aware of what was happening on the jazz scene? No matter of the answer, it’s a bomb, as this music is 3 years earlier than Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman! We also know Charlie Parker wanted to study with Varèse in autumn 1954 but the composer flew to Europe to conduct Déserts. When he came back to New York in May 1955, Parker had already died. We also know that Varèse used to listen to John Coltrane at the Village.

Between March and August 1957, these Sunday jam-sessions were followed by arranger George Handy, journalist Robert Reisner, composers James Tenney, Earle Brown and John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham. The organizers were Earle Brown and Teo Macero who will become Miles Davis‘ producer among others. Varèse used certain extracts of the workshop for his Poème électronique.

The original of this tape is at Fondation Paul Sacher.

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New From Ambiances Magnétiques

Jean Derome performing with Jandek, Loren Robe...
Image via Wikipedia

A few new releases from Ambiances Magnétiques, a French-Canadian label.

Sébastien Cirotteau/Brigitte Lacasse/Catherine S Massicotte/Éric Normand-Face à la Dérive
“During a ten days residence in Rimouski (Québec), the artists made documentary sounds recordings: interviews and soundscapes. They listen to the sounds heard along the St Lawrence River, underwater, and to the voices of peoples living around. Based on a dinamyc use of these recordings, “Face à la dérive” is a cycle of improvised performances using both musical intruments and acousmatic sounds.”

Michel F. Cote/Isaiah Ceccarelli-Vulgarities
“Bored of the future, two drummers meet and ask each other: what can we do when we’re just two drummers? “We can be vulgar” was the answer. They put together a few vague ideas and obsessions. For the sake of amateurism, they added their respective failures. This meeting is the audible result of being overworked. What comes out of it is a sullen form of grace, an elegy for the destruction of things. In short, this CD features the sound of a plethora of objects being struck and stroked.”

Ensemble Super Musique-Y’a du Bruit dans ma Cabane
“Y’a du Bruit dans ma Cabane, Ensemble SuperMusique’s second CD, marks a serious side step from its debut Canevas +, which culled excerpts from concerts presented in Montréal between 1998 and 2004, and featured various facets and line-ups of the group. This brand-new release is the product of a single line-up and features some tasty homogeneity. One really hears a group sound from beginning to end. One can feel the unity of breath, the deep and intense cohesion existing between Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse, Danielle Palardy Roger, Pierre Tanguay, and Martin Tétreault. Built from concepts suggested by Derome, Hétu, Labrosse, and Roger, this lively shack full of adventurous sonic outbursts is inhabited by a true family, a team of improvisation champs. A fun shack where sonic brilliance has been enhanced by Paul Dolden’s magic ears.”

Philippe Lauzier/Pierre-Yves Martel/Kim Myhr/Martin Tétreault-Disparition de l’usine éphémère
“Disparition de l’usine éphémère is the first release of a quartet consisting of prominent improvisers from Québec and Norway. The peculiar combination of old and new instruments renders a poetic image of a faded, bygone industrial plant. The quartet works within both narrow and broad acoustic areas: sometimes focusing on a tiny vibration, other times a polyphonic orchestra of pipes, pumps, wheels, objects, bells and motors ring together: a multiplicity of cogwheels spinning in different tempos, all working together to create a large machine of acoustic and electronic sounds.”

Joelle Leandre/Quentin Sirjacq-Out of Nowhere
“If a book is not to be judged by its cover, as the saying goes, here is one recording whose title should not be mistaken as a collection of jazz standards. But all of the music contained in these eleven tracks literally comes from out of nowhere, the result of an impromptu encounter of two like-minded players. By now it may well be unnecessary to introduce Joëlle Léandre, but it’s worth noting here that “Madame Contrebasse” has always thrived in these intimate duo settings, a fact borne out in her considerable discography. Almost 25 years her junior, pianist (and fellow countryman) Quentin Sirjacq heralds from a different generation; yet, improvisation enables the keyboardist to bridge the gap with his former Mills College teacher-mentor and carve out a very personal musical space à deux. Don’t expect them to fall into any of those soloist and accompanist routines, or contests of wits and chops; instead, these collaborations are full of nuance and detail, like chiaroscuro effects floating gracefully over their soundscapes. Primarily introspective, with a couple of more jaunty escapades along the way, the music is warm and inviting, but never does it lapse into a kind of facile easy listening ambiance. Beyond all labels and descriptions, this offering will reach both heart and mind alike.”

Quatuor Bozzini-Arbor Vitae
“The sixth volume of the collection, Arbor Vitæ, pays homage to the Canadian-American composer James Tenney with performances of the complete quartets and quintets. These works were composed over a period of more than 50 years, from the first string quartet, written at 21, to the last, posthumous quartet. Through various acoustic and musical phenomena, Tenney creates broad, open musical spaces, making music that is both rigorous and sensual. We feel privileged and honoured to be associated with these works by one of the most important North American composers of the 20th century.”

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AMN Picks of the Week

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Mary Halvorson – Dragon’s Head (2008, complex free jazz)
Sun Ra – Horizon (1971, free jazz)
Bill Brovold and Larval – Surviving Death / Alive Why? (2007, progressive rock / composed jazz)
Byron Metcalf / Mark Seelig / Steve Roach – Nada Terma (2008, ambient electronic)
Stephen Haynes / Taylor Ho Bynum – Double Trio (2008, dense free jazz)
Mathias Grassow – Inner Light (2008, ambient electronic)
James Tenney – Selected Works: 1961-1969 (2003, experimental / electroacoustic)
The Legendary Pink Dots – Alchemical Playschool (2004, experimental rock / collage)

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New World Records Releases

Telharmonium, Thaddeus Cahill, 1897.Image via Wikipedia New material from New World Records:

September 2008

Michael Byron: Dreamers of Pearl
Composer(s): Michael Byron

Michael Byron (b. 1953) was a pupil of James Tenney, and later, of Richard Teitelbaum. The body of music he has composed over the past thirty years has been harmonically rich, rhythmically detailed, and increasingly virtuosic. Dreamers of Pearl (2004–05) evinces a sensitivity for the sound of the piano, a sensibility of extended playing/listening, and an interest in repetition and change through gradual and seemingly clandestine processes that transform and extend what we hear.

Gordon Mumma: Music for Solo Piano (1960-2001)
Composer(s): Gordon Mumma

Gordon Mumma (b. 1935) is best known for his pioneering role in the development and evolution of electronic and live-electronic music. The piano has played a significant if underestimated role in his career. With a few notable exceptions, this collection by pianist Daan Vandewalle marks the first commercial recordings of Mumma’s music for solo piano composed over more than forty years. It provides an important new perspective on his work as a composer.

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