AMN Reviews: David Dunn – Verdant (2021; Neuma 129)

David Dunn’s works reflect his interests and research in acoustic ecology, bioacoustics, interspecies communication and scientific sonification.  These interests has enabled him to truly be an interdisciplinary artist. Dunn has produced a very unique body of work that blurs the line between art and science.

David Dunn’s latest piece is “Verdant” which he describes as a kind of pastoral motivated by his desire to speak to a more optimistic future. The material of “Verdant” is an intersection of ambient music, new tonality, minimalism, algorithmic composition, software synthesis, field recording, sound art, and drone music. It is a binaural piece in a single movement of about eighty minutes in length. “Verdant” was composed and recorded during the pandemic. The quietness caused by the pandemic allowed Dunn who is an expert wildlife recordist to capture some of the extremely low volume sounds of the desert. This microscopic desert audio soundscape is intertwined with slowly changing drones of sinewaves that float along with the ambient sounds of windchimes, sustained violin sounds, backyard birds and distant traffic to create a deep and wide imaginary soundscape.

 

“Verdant” is a wonderful active ambient pastoral. Since it is a binaural recording, it is best experienced with headphones or ear buds. My first listen was at a very moderate volume level and while I found the piece really interesting on the next several passes, I listened to it at a soft to very soft volume and then found it to be really captivating. So, I would highly recommend listening to this at a softer volume and really give it a deep listen. I think most if not all regular AMN readers will find this a very engaging and relaxing listen.

For those who want to explore more of Dunn’s work I would recommend starting with an excellent article by Madison Heying and David Kant from the Sound American issue dedicated to Dunn’s work. Dunn’s website also provides a detailed retrospective of the last thirty years of his work with a collection of his scores, writings, sounds and images.

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: The Return of Neuma Records

One of the more positive things that happened in 2020 was the relaunch of Neuma Records.  In 1988 Shirish Korde and Jerry Tabor launched the label. They built a catalog that included recordings of well known twentieth century composers such as Xenakis, Cage, Boulez, Messiaen, Nono, Scelsi  and Varese. But the catalog caught my attention in the early 90’s because it was releasing recordings of works by contemporary electroacoustic composers and recordings by performers who focused on the work of lesser known contemporary composers . The catalog includes works by Dashow, DeLio, Dodge, Gaburo, Johnston, Karpen, Lansky, Laske, Lippe, Martirano, Oliveros, Reynolds, Risset, Saariaho, Subotnick, Yuasa and many many more.

By the end of the 90’s Neuma’s release schedule had really become sparse. In 2020 the label relaunched with Philip Blackburn taking over. Blackburn is a composer who spent almost 30 years working at Innova Recordings. Innova focuses on assisting composers and performers through the recording, publication, marketing and distribution process. As a result, Innova has curated a diverse body of contemporary music spanning more than 650 albums. Blackburn has brought this assistive and curatorial approach to Neuma.

In December of 2020 Neuma released three new recordings. The first was from composer Wesley Fuller (1930-2020).  It is a nice collection of seven electroacoustic pieces for instruments and computer.

Fuller ‘s works skillfully blends acoustic instruments and computer generated sounds with a focus on gesture, shape and color.

The second release is from composer Robert Moran. It is a nice collection of eight diverse works for orchestra. On this album Moran’s work is primarily neoromantic with occasional minimalist tendencies.

The third release is a concert recording from 1967 of composer Kenneth Gaburo conducting the New Music Choral Ensemble in a diverse program of twentieth century choral music. This is a really interesting release. If you don’t have any contemporary choral music in your collection then this would be the disc to have. It is not hard to imagine that in 1967 very few people in the US had heard live performances of choral music by Luigi Nono, Anton Webern and Olivier Messiaen. But practically no one had heard any music, never the less choral music from Pauline Oliveros, Ben Johnston, Leslie Bassett, Charles Hamm and Robert Shallenberg. Under the direction of Kenneth Gaburo the New Music Choral Ensemble took on the extreme technical challenges of performing such a diverse and difficult program. The program’s compositions included everything from 12 tone serial music to 31 tone just intonation to graphic and descriptive notation to works with live and or prerecorded electronics! The spirited performances on this disc are extremely well done. Also included are two interesting electronic pieces by Gaburo that were used to allow the singers a short break in between some of the pieces on the program. I highly recommend that you give this album a listen!

As I was getting ready to post this, Neuma released several additional titles – Robert Moran’s opera “Buddha goes to Bayreuth”, Gina Biver’s “Nimbus” which is seven miniatures for electroacoustic chamber ensemble, spoken word and soprano voice, James Caldwell’s “Pocket music” a set of concreté miniatures made with “small” sounds usually of things found in his pockets, and Spanish composer Juan J.G. Escuerdo’s “Shapes of Inner Timespaces” a collection of eight acousmatic compositions. Perusing their online catalog today it looks like several more titles are being released in February including a recording of Harry Partch’s “The Bewitched” ! I am glad to see that Neuma is back and that Blackburn has established an aggressive release schedule of diverse contemporary music. You can hear more samples of current and upcoming releases as well as selected back catalog on the Nuema Soundcloud Page. So check it out!

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: Susan Alcorn Quintet – Pedernal [Relative Pitch Records 1111]

alcorn quintetWhen most people think about the pedal steel guitar they expect to hear Country or Hawaiian music.  For the last twenty-five years Susan Alcorn has been forging her own way of playing the pedal steel guitar. Alcorn’s unique sound, while steeped in the pedal steel tradition, is largely shaped by the deep influences of Olivier Messiaen and Ornette Coleman. Her playing spans the gamut from the very melodic and soulful to rich harmonic sounds to sparse swells and otherworldly textures.

Alcorn has recorded several solo albums and has played on many recordings including Nate Wooley’s “Columbia Icefield” and Mary Halvorson’s Octet. An unexpected grant provided Alcorn with the resources to write and record “Pedernal”, her first album as a band leader.  She is joined by guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, violinist Mark Feldman and drummer Ryan Sawyer.  Alcorn wrote the albums five compositions with these specific players in mind. 

The album opens with the title track “Pedernal”. Its stark and somber steel guitar and bass intro slowly builds into a bluesy minor theme. The piece really develops over several iterations as it shifts mood and texture, eventually working itself into a frenzy that unwinds into a more reflective segment that eventually returns to the primary theme. The title track just opens the door to what you will hear on the rest of the album. Alcorn makes great use of contrast and counter lines in developing her compositional material. This often gives her work a cinematic feel as it can suddenly shift from something very melodic and or rhythmic into oblique or sparse textures. Susan Alcorn’s compositions for this quintet range from the harmelodic hoedown of “Northeast Rising Sun” to the textural expanses of the chamber sounds found in both “Night in Gdansk and “Circular Ruins” to the angular and bop like melodies of “R.U.R”.

“Pedernal” is a wonderful album. Listeners of creative music and the outer fringes of jazz will find quite a lot to like on this album. The quintet is spectacular and I hope this won’t be the last ensemble record that Susan Alcorn leads. I think that “Pedernal” will show up on a lot of the best of 2020 lists and it absolutely deserves to be included.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

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.

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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.

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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