AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Michael Larocca – Connecticut [Guardrail Recordings GRR001]

If the well-known Zen koan asked, What is the sound of one hand clapping?, with his album Connecticut Michael Larocca seems to ask, What is the sound of one state? Unlike the koan, Larocca provides an answer.

Larocca is a drummer, percussionist and electronics artist based in Connecticut. As an acoustic improviser he is a subtle colorist; here he creates musique concrete that mostly seems to be rooted in field recordings of various types—presumably taken in Connecticut–and some recordings of his drum work. In the Basement has the feel of a documentary recording full of room noise, footsteps and the sounds of various things being picked up, rattled and rubbed at random. A piece dedicated to James Ferraro features a looped and processed seagull-like sound along with the sounds of congas and/or bongos. The waterfall behind Waterfall Interrogation’s processed sounds of flowing water could be a waterfall, a local brook, or just water falling from a kitchen faucet. (In an interesting bit of synchronicity, an early musique concrete work by Gerry Hemingway, a Connecticut native, was created around a field recording of a New Haven-area brook.) The most conventionally musical work among the album’s five tracks is the piece dedicated to the technologist and electronic composer Laurie Spiegel. There, Larocca layers a rich electronic wash over the sounds of water bubbling and crickets chirping.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews General Releases Reviews

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

Neuma Records · James Caldwell: Deep Pocket Music

“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

AMN Reviews: Sonologyst – Phantoms [Unexplained Sounds Group]; Kyle Motl & Zach Rowden – Gristle [Confront Recordings ccs97]

When Pierre Schaeffer asserted that musique concrète would provoke musicians to discard old habits vis-à-vis sound and return to actual experience, he helped point the way toward a paradoxical sound art where the concrete becomes abstract and seemingly simple sounds instead reveal themselves to be complex objects. Although very different from each other, two recordings, one electronic and one acoustic, meet on the common ground of Schaeffer’s paradox.

The concrete element in Phantoms, the album by Italian sound artist Sonologyst, is the pre-recorded material that serves as the foundation for Sonologyst’s explorations of sound structure and timbre. The album’s evocative soundscapes are made up of apparently old and more recent recordings of voice, non-Western music, and other, less identifiable sources, which are looped and broken up into cyclical and/or textural objects seasoned with Sonologyst’s own electronic tones. Phantoms clearly is descended from classic musique concrete, but it is tweaked and shaped by contemporary technologies and sensibility.

By contrast Gristle, by the American double bassists Kyle Motl and Zach Rowden, is grounded in the concrete reality of the raw sounds issuing from acoustic instruments. Both Motl and Rowden have long demonstrated a facility for coaxing new and startling sounds from their instruments through the application of foreign objects and unconventional techniques; put together here, the effect is exponential rather than simply additive. Not surprisingly, Gristle documents a vortex of sound in an idiolect far removed from the double bass’s ordinary voice, as Motl and Rowden forcibly extract overtones from plucked and bowed tones, exposing them as the sometimes knotty complexes that they secretly are. Although purely acoustic, Gristle does what Schaeffer declared that musique concrète would do: nothing less than bring to awareness the appearance and development of sound forms and colors.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Dariusz Mazurowski – Non Acoustic Symphony [Neuma 450-111]; Back in Time [Mathka]

Seventy or so years ago, Pierre Schaeffer and others experimented with composition based directly on sound rather than on notated pre-compositional structures. Using the then-new technology of magnetic tape, they laid the foundation for a tradition of concrete, acousmatic music. Polish composer Dariusz Mazurowski continues that tradition with neo-acousmatic music that carries some of the outward marks of classic postwar experiments with sound composition.

Mazurowski (1966) was born in Gdansk, Poland. He began composing in the 1980s and after moving to Prague in the 1990s he returned to Gdansk, where he currently lives and works. What makes his acousmatic work “neo” isn’t the sound so much as the methods behind the sounds. Rather than relying on the manipulation of tape or other mechanical means of sound registration and reproduction, his work takes advantage of more recent analogue and digital technologies to sculpt works combining electronically-generated sounds with sampled sounds of acoustic and electronic origin.

3042292--mazurowski-back-in-time-mathka-2013--1-300x269p0Back in Time, a set of ten electroacoustic pieces released last year, surveys Mazurowski’s work for the period 1992-2012. Much of it is sound montage in which the sources are more or less transparent, even when chopped up and mixed together. Mazurowski juxtaposes fragments of speech, shards of recorded music, vintage recordings, electronic tones and stuttering turntables into a kind of mosaic or quick-cutting non-linear narrative. Individual sound elements appear as discrete entities—the audio equivalent of the hard-edged, geometric shapes in a Suprematist painting that collide and occasionally overlap but never lose their distinctive profiles.

Mazurowski’s Non Acoustic Symphony, recorded between 2011 and 2013, is a seven part work for electronics and electronically-altered sounds. In contrast to Back in Time, the Non Acoustic Symphony tends to obscure its sound sources, leaving a residue of sonic qualities that in many cases can’t be traced to their origins. Most may be purely electronic, but some clearly are sampled. From time to time hints of acoustic instruments can be detected, if speculatively: Here could be a note struck on a piano, there possibly a gut string instrument being plucked. Through it all Mazurowski makes generous use of sound manipulation by way of analogue, digital and granular processing.

What both Back in Time and the Non Acoustic Symphony share is a strong sense of linear continuity. Sound objects give way to one another in sequence and with a minimum of vertical organization. Mazurowski’s emphasis on a predominantly horizontal layout makes for a clarity of “orchestration” as individual sounds, functioning as the equivalent of instrumental choirs, come through as distinct, sharply defined objects. This orientation helps to maintain forward motion in the absence of pitch relationships or harmonic implication.

As with any successful acousmatic music, neo or otherwise, this is music of character—a character directly derived from the qualities of the raw materials it contains.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: If, Bwana – The Joy of Photography [2014; Bandcamp]

a2962225004_2If, Bwana’s The Joy of Photography isn’t about literal photographic images, but it’s liable to provoke vivid mental images in the receptive listener. Originally issued as a three-cassette box set on Barcelona’s 8eminis label in 2014, it’s now been reissued as a download from Bandcamp.

If, Bwana’s brand of musique concrète is quickly recognizable in that it reveals its sources by keeping instruments identifiable, if enhanced or otherwise modified. As in much If, Bwana work, many of the source recordings selected for manipulation on The Joy of Photography feature acoustic instruments, the better to bring out their natural sonic qualities through unnatural means.

The tracks find Margolis manipulating time, drawing impossibly elongated lines out of wind instruments and voice. With musical movement thus rendered glacially slow, ordinarily overlooked nuances of pitch and timbre move to the foreground. The buzz of Steve Norton’s reeds becomes the focus in The Norton Variations, sounding at times like mechanical saws or a swarm of insects. In Brent Bari Sax Margolis’s sound stretching brings out microtonal variations in pitch as it extends over the course of saxophonist John Korchak’s breath, as it does with Alfrun Schmidt’s voice on Alf Runs and Runs. Solo Duet 3 for Violin and Viola—an overdubbed recording of Margolis on both instruments—is all about timbre, its scrapes and squeals an accurate report of changes of pressure on bow and strings. The same is true of Solo Duet 1 for Alto & Tenor Recorders, once again played by Margolis using extended techniques that seem to depict air and wood as sonic raw elements.

The Bandcamp release includes two bonus tracks originally issued in 2007’s Ghost of Reality 3” CDr. A bonus track of sorts is an extended version of It Is Bassoon, featuring Leslie Ross on the title instrument, proving that more of a good thing is, well, better.



AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Maurizio Bianchi – Untitled 1980 / Untitled 2013 [imprec414]

414-bianchi.webjpgMilanese-born sound artist Maurizio Bianchi has been making challenging, noise-inflected work since the late 1970s. Describing himself as a non-musician, he created proto-industrial musique concrète collages and sound manipulations in a series of cassette releases issued between 1979 and 1983, when he suddenly stopped making music in the wake of a religious conversion. After a fourteen year hiatus he began again in 1998 and is once again creating sound art, sometimes by revisiting and reworking early material as he does on this recording.

The first two tracks, two untitled works of approximately seventeen and eighteen minutes each, are reissued from a cassette originally released in Japan in 1980. Both were created on a KORG MS20, a semi-modular monophonic synthesizer. Untitled A 1980 is a pulsing, industrially-tincted work containing apparently randomly placed pitches and glissandi whose tones sound as if received through radio static. Untitled B 1980 is built around an oscillating buzz that seems something like the product of the chance encounter of a jaw harp and a ring modulator on a mixing table. The remaining four tracks are reworkings of the 1980 recordings, done in 2013.

The juxtaposition of the originals with these recastings is a revealing testament to Bianchi’s ongoing commitment to working with sound, his periodic withdrawals from music notwithstanding. To the extent that he takes his own work as source material, the new pieces represent a kind of self-commentary embedded in a peculiarly reflexive form of musique concrète. As such, these new works manage to retain the salient features of the originals while rephrasing them in a more contemporary electronic vocabulary deriving primarily from drone. The anti-melodies of Untitled A 1980, for example, are recognizable under the manipulations Bianchi subjects them to in two of the new compositions. But even when the source recordings are obscured, something of a family resemblance between old and new can be perceived through the noise.


Musique Machine Reviews

From Musique Machine:

Stirborg – Perceiving The World with Hate
Perceiving The World with Hate is the next grim yet creative sonic chapter in Stirborg’s distinctive take on the black metal genre, it shows Stirborg repeating old tricks effectively but adding in a few new ones to the blacked pot too.

Various Artists – Adventures in sound
Adventures in sound is a rather splendid compilation that focus in on early electronic & Electro-Acoustic composition, musique concrete, and avant- grade composition. Collecting together tracks from: Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry and Edgard Varese. Making this an highly enjoyable, varied primer and introduction to these old avant-garde masters

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The night France tuned in to clank and clatter

Acousmonium at Sonic Acts XII
Image by pablosanz via Flickr

Sixty years of electroacoustic music are profiled.

This concert de bruits was a red-letter day in the annals of modern music. It was the moment when musique concrète – made from sounds recorded out in the world, rather than musical notes – came out from the laboratory and into public view. The man behind it was a quiet, intense telecommunications engineer turned composer named Pierre Schaeffer. For months he had been working in the radio station‘s studio, shaping the sounds he had recorded into a musical form.

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