9 Haiku Mobile

SFMoMA - Alexander Calder Lone Yellow, 1961

As discussed in my previous post, Haiku, Mobiles and Earle Brown, the individual recordings that constitute Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku) can be performed as a mobile. So just for fun I encoded mp3 versions of the eleven haiku I recorded and set up players from there here. So you can create your own mobile version of this piece.

Update:
(I’ve moved the players under the fold since they load every time the front page is visited. So open the post to make your own realization of Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku).

 

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Haiku, Mobiles and Earle Brown

Alexander Calder's Spinner (1966)

As described in these pages the core concerns of the Eleven Clouds project was Post-Tudor Live Electronics, Conceptual Music and Music as Object. Typically most pieces realized two or all three of these notions in one way or another in a way that directly informed what the piece was.  Beyond each of these primary themes there could be numerous subthemes which shaped how the primary concepts was approached or realized. Of the eleven ‘Clouds’ three of them reversed this general form in that a subtheme was the primary driver for the piece and primary concept was somewhat tangential to this in that the expression of the subtheme resulted in an Object and (sometimes) the Conceptual aspect was a component of the interactions with the recipients.

 Calder PieceEarle Brown's Calder Piece

One thing that I share with Earle Brown is a love of the American sculptor Alexander Calder and like him I was inspired by his mobiles as a structure for composition. Earle Brown’s Open Forms directly implement the shifting nature of mobiles and of course his Calder Piece couldn’t be more explicit.

Spontaneous decisions in the performance of a work and the possibility of the composed elements being “mobile” have been of primary interest to me for some time; the former to an extreme degree in Folio (1952), and the latter, most explicitly, in Twenty Five Pages (1953). For me, the concept of the elements being mobile was inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, in which, similar to this work, there are basic units subject to innumerable different relationships or forms. the concept of the work being conducted and formed spontaneously in performance was originally inspired by the “action-painting” techniques and works of Jackson Pollock in the late 1940s, in which the immediacy and directness of “contact” with the material is of great importance and produces such an intensity in the working and in the result. the performance conditions of these works are similar to a painter working spontaneously with a given palette. – Earle Brown from his Instruction on conducting Open Forms

The primary element of Calder’s mobiles that Earle Brown utilized in his open form scores is the shifting and unfixed nature of mobiles. Most of the open form pieces are traditionally or partially-traditionally notated piece with a mutable structural element that reflects this “innumerably different relationships of forms”. The Calder Piece itself involves an actual mobile which is performed upon (as can be seen in this charming gallery from a performance of the piece) and engages with other aspects of the mobile such as color, construction, material and so on. The Open Form is in my mind an ideal kind of implementation of one’s influences: it captures a genuine aspect of said influence and yet is not so dominated by it that it is of limited utility. That is to say that Open Forms was something that Earle Brown was able to utilize and develop throughout his career as a composer. In that way it is akin to John Cage’s use of the I-Ching to implement his notions of indeterminacy – a deep well that one could mine endlessly.

Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku)

Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku)

 

Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku) is a complex web of influences, intentions and methodology.  At the core though is the haiku and the poets to whom this project paid tribute. For the Eleven Clouds project, where a new piece was created each month, I delved into years worth of unrealized ideas, compositions and concepts.  I’d long wanted to do a project where I turned haiku into scores and for this project I finally realized that goal. I created a simple meta-score, that is to say a score for generating scores, that is used in concert with the generated score to create the realization.

Performing Haiku

1) Select a haiku
2) draw lines for each word whose length is determined by syllable count
3) Perform outdoors or bring the outdoors inside
4) Play an event whose duration is determined by length of the line.
5) Pause for a set amount of time between each “word”
6) Between each line pause for 3-6 times the length of (5)
7) Begin and end with a pause the duration of (6) or 2x(6)

I followed this direction using brushed ink on rice paper. For each individual recording I chose to use the prepared wire-strung harp as the instrument. The concept was that each piece was recorded open air, ideally out of doors, utilizing a single preparation. I chose eleven haiku from among my favorite Japanese and American poets and on a long scroll of rice paper brushed out the graphical element of the scores.

9 Haiku score fragment 1

A fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.

There was always meant to be Nine Haiku in this release but I recorded eleven for good measure.  For the object that was the result of this process was to be unique; nine individual objects for each of the 9 haiku.  For the construction of each object, I then copied the score onto rice paper which I hand stitched into an envelope utilizing a book binding stitching I had learned in elementary school.  The music was burnt onto square “business card” CD-R’s which were painted white which fit into these envelopes.  The final package was tied off with a red ribbon. The original description of the project:

Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku), the October entry in the Eleven Clouds project, are nine (9) individually handcrafted artifacts each one containing a singular piece of music. The culmination of several months of effort that began with a process that turns a haiku into a performable score, the selection of nine haiku (plus two), the creation of each score using brush and ink on rice paper, the recording of the score over a month (specific weather conditions were required), the editing and selection from among the takes of the most representative of each score, the development of the envelopes from rice paper which necessitated that they be bound by hand, the re-painting of the score onto the packaging, the creation of the labels, the preparing and burning of the cd-rs and finally the tying of the ribbon. Each one of this bespoke edition are unique from the score, to the music, to the packaging and each reflects this individuality. The music is a record of the artists explorations of the prepared wire strung with each recording utilizing a single technique, preparation or gesture. The score calls for the pieces to be performed out of doors (or the outdoors brought indoors) which makes for a varied accompaniment that is of course different session to session.

 

9 haiku No.2

This world of dew,
is but a world of dew,
and yet…
— Kobayashi Issa

As with all of the other Eleven Clouds releases the way the release was to be acquired varied. As I’ve explained in previous posts on this project this was part of the exploration of Music as Object and as well as often exploring various conceptual notions. When the conceptual was considered in this aspect of the project it was almost always to make the recipient a collaborator in the process. This was always to a greater or lesser extent and in this case while it was not a major factor (as compared to say 100 Black Kites or aleph) it was certain an important aspect. Again to quote the original press release:

Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku) is released in an addition of nine (9), each one a unique recording, in handmade packaging featuring the score performed within. In acknowledging the handcrafted aspect of this project these releases will be offered in trade for an item of your own making. Said item could be anything of your own creation that you are willing to mail out in trade: a handwritten poem, short story, a sketch, a piece of music, a fifty-ton cor-ten steel sculpture, a score of your own devising, a DVD, a 17 foot hand knitted scarf, a watercolor, or anything else that you have made yourself. Simply send electronic mail to the address below before November 12th stating your desire to trade for one of these and if one of the first nine to respond, you will be contacted with mailing information. All copies will be mailed out Saturday, November 13th; copies not claimed in trade will be mailed out randomly to previous Eleven Cloud recipients.

Five people engaged in this process sending me such objects as CD-Rs of their own music to little water color paintings. Three more were sent out randomly to those who had previously been sent releases. One release was kept as part of the archive which itself was considered the twelfth and final “release” in the project, titled aleph (there is more to aleph which perhaps I’ll write about at another time). There was at this point in this project a very small amount of people interested, but this group was pretty engaged with the project. As I’ve written elsewhere the degree of engagement in the project was somewhat discouraging, but (as also previously mentioned) I do tend to blame my own inadequacies in various aspects for this.

9 Haiku score 3

Another fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.

While I kept extensive notes throughout the project of recipients, communication, objects traded and so, by this point in the project other information was not being so rigorously maintained. For instance the oft cited essay No Ideas But In Things documented each release through August (47° 32′ 25.80″ N / 121° 54′ 32.0″ W) at which time I ceased writing it. Thus I do not have my specific motivations, thoughts, feelings and notions on record. Nor did I keep (at least that I can find now) a comprehensive list of the haiku that correspond to each of  the scores. I have to admit I find that rather unfathomable and I do have vague memories of writing them down to use for reference to create the graphical elements. These pages were never completely digitized (I have a document with a couple of them) and has been lost in the course of several moves. I do recall that the poems were by Issa, Bash?, Sant?ka, Snyder, Kerouac and Whalen but I can’t say with any confidence which poem goes to which score (beyond No. 2).

Beyond the lack of keeping more rigorous notes I also did not end up really exploring the secondary more ‘conceptual’ aspect of 9 Haiku which was that each individual recording could be thought of as a ‘leaf’ in a Calder Mobile. The idea here is that one can take each piece and play it in concert, starting each one independently, repeating each one as often or as infrequently as required and so on. The structure for this was only ever mentally sketched out and due to my lack of writing on this entry it is actually hard to say what I really intended at the time for this aspect. The individual pieces could all be played live as described, or the files could be arranged in a DAW, or one could take the individual rice paper scores and make them into a physical mobile and perform them as it lazily moves around. This last notion is definitely something I’ve long had in mind and this piece was certainly part of that.  The recordings released as part of this project, as their covers are the score, could certainly be tied onto a framework with their red ribbons and created into such a mobile. The bit of weight that is the CD-R in each one would help steady against light breezes. The far flung nature of the recipients who resided in Scotland, Maine, New Zealand, California, Spain, Texas, Australia  and Illinois makes assembling such a mobile seem very unlikely but to me just add to the notion.

9 Haiku score 2

Another fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.

 

I do hope that someday such a mobile will be constructed. But until then sharing files digitally is easy and as each portion becomes available then one mobile becomes more filled out.  Not monitoring online sharing sites I have no idea how much of it appeared online but now that I’m putting each of the releases out there myself and have described these intentions these forms can be experimented with. The two additional recordings I made, Haiku  No’s. 10 and 11 are also part of the archive being release allowing for one to create 9 Haiku from these eleven sources (though only 9 should be used in any one realization). Archives in lossless formats containing these 11 recordings, plus supplementary documents and images can be found here:
Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku)

For David Tudor

David Tudor

David Tudor performing John Cage's Water Music

Today, January 20th 2013, would have been David Tudors 87th Birthday. This occasion provides sufficient impetus for me to write a bit about the major theme of the Eleven Clouds project. This is the notion of what I’ve often referred to as Post-Tudor Live Electronics.  Before delving into that subject let me relate the origin and early history of the Eleven Clouds project.  I’ve written many times about the Network Instrument and how I began thinking about the live electronics work I’d been doing in those terms.  While I want to explicitly state that I didn’t really independently develop any of this I was quite ignorant of this history when I began my own music making. I was aware of what might be thought of as third or fourth generation live electronics and perhaps that could be thought of as my starting point. In a way I was working backwards but it wouldn’t be for several years until I really realized that.  Network Instrument theory on the other hand is my own development in that it is a way of thinking about these existing practices, practices that were often treated as mysterious, purely intuitive and esoteric.


Around the end of 2009 I began working exclusively with various networks in order to further develop my understanding of this theory I was developing. This would generally take the form of setting up a network and working with it, changing it, pushing specific parameters and the like. If I hit a configuration (a cloud in Network Instrument parlance) that was particularly interesting I’d document it in various ways, typically a recording, photographs and any patching data. In late December 2009 this process led to a piece I found so strange and yet compelling that I felt I should do something with it. But I was pretty attuned to the tastes of my fellow travelers at the time and I knew this was a particularly odd piece not particularly attuned to those tastes. But I still felt that the music demanded that I do something with it. So I made a few 3″ CD-Rs of the piece and I gave one to a fellow live electronicist. This gave me the germ of the idea – I would continue my exploration of network instruments, documenting it as I went and releasing a series of recordings of these efforts. I decided right off that if I was going to do this it had to be done right and that this exploration of network instrument theory had to be just the base of the project. That is that it had to have multiple components to it; it had to be an exploration of several ideas both overarching and in each individual release.

 Winter Clouds Setup

 Winter Clouds Setup - used for I'm not completing any thoughts and Skipping Stones

The overarching themes of the project were three: Post-Tudor Live Electronics, Music as Object and Conceptual Music.  Not every release would encompass all three themes though they often did. Music as Object, clearly pointed at by the projects slogan ‘No ideas but in things‘ (William Carlos Williams,  A Sort of a Song1), was the fulcrum around which each release was built.  Additionally each release was also done in tribute to one or more musician, composer, artist or poet. It is this additional layer that would generally determine how an individual release would engage the overarching themes.  Three of the releases were explicitly engaged with ideas of live electronics particularly the notion of a configuration as score. These three releases were dedicated to David Tudor.

In the unpublished companion document to the Eleven Clouds project there is a short section on each of the overarching themes as well as an entry for each individual release. Below I’m including the section on Post-Tudor Live Electronics as well as the entries for the three releases dedicated to David Tudor. The generally short entries for individual releases describe the format, dedications and additional ideas. Also there is some discussion of how it was released and how this was received. This aspect is part of the Music as Object thread of the project which as I noted above is the axis upon which each release revolved. This document was unfinished and there was meant to be additional writing on each release exploring the individual idea(s) that may be explored herein. These entries are primarily included for completeness sake. Additionally the music and photos from each of these releases has been uploaded to their corresponding sub-pages in the Eleven Clouds webpages. Thus for the first time complete versions of these pieces can be heard by anyone. The three releases dedicated to David Tudor in the Eleven Clouds project are:

I’m not completing any thoughts
Skipping Stones, and
A Closed Letter

 Network Instrument

Network Instrument utilized for A Closed Letter


Post-Tudor Live Electronics

The first overarching idea is purely musical: what should follow on after David Tudor in the area of live electronics. Tudors legacy in live electronics is huge but barring a few people who were working with him at the time as well as some tangential artists it did not seem that many followed in his path during his lifetime.  After his death in 1996 there were many tributes and retrospectives and the like there wasn’t much in the way of attempting to follow on with his work. Those who had been engaged in live electronics already did of course continue on, but they were following their own trajectories that could be seen as concurrent to Tudor’s as opposed to starting from it.

Over the next decade though there would be a renaissance in analog synthesis, followed by a DIY resurgence and suddenly more and more people are citing Tudor as an influence, working in the same general areas and, finally, trying to use his techniques to explore the ideas that have captured the current zeitgeist. I think of artists such as Matt Rogalsky and Micheal Johnsen that can be seen as having started where Tudor left off as well as those such as Brian Eubanks and James Fei who started within the current milieu and found their way toward Tudor.  However I think that it can be said that even with an increased awareness and interest in his work it is still an open question of how to iterate from where Tudor left off. He was such a virtuoso and so idiosyncratic plus there is a dearth of information on the subject that this is hardly surprising.

The very first release in the Eleven Clouds project, I’m not completing any thoughts2, was part of an initial stab at this notion. The electronics in this piece are, unlike David Tudors custom and modified electronics, commercial products interconnected in such a way asto increase unpredictability. The Network Instrument3 was a theory devised to attempt to create an understanding of the instruments that Tudor created and to attempt to develop a language to facilitate to further developments in this area.  I’m not completing any thoughts was an interesting step in this direction but in isolation didn’t seem sufficient.  It was at this time that the notion of Clouds (a configuration of a given network instrument) was codified and the notion arose of a series of statements exploring this instrument.

i'm not completing any thoughts

(01) I’m not completing any thoughts.

Released January 2010 on 3” CD-R in an edition of 4.

This release could only be acquired by being given it. Of the three copies that were given away none of the recipients were from the same country. The ideas explored in this piece were Post-Tudor Live Electronics and network instrument theory. It is the network that was developed for this piece utilizing an interconnected Clavia Nord Micromodular and a Chimera BC-16 that would form the basis for many of the following pieces.

The webpage with downloads for this release can be found here: I’m not completing any thoughts

Skipping Stones

(02) Skipping Stones

Released toward the end of February 2010, offered to anyone who would send a Self Addressed Stamped Envelop to an addressed supplied by an auto-responder.

This was perhaps too great of a jump for the initial release – actually asking someone to go to the post office is perhaps too much. It also is of course difficult for those outside of the US though it was stated from the beginning that there would be allowances for that.  Ultimately eleven (11) copies of this piece were sent out, though only a few of these to people who jumped through the hoops.

Musically this piece expressed the most successful attempt at a Post-Tudor live electronics. The network was iterated from the I’m not completing any thoughts and I think displayed a way to work out complex sounds from minimum structure. Ideas of the last decade of improvisation mixed with Live Electronics in a way that was different and engaging.

The webpage with downloads for this release can be found here: Skipping Stones

 

a closed letter

(07) A Closed Letter

Released in July 2010 on a single 3” CD-R.

This piece used an expanded network to create a denser more spiky piece than previously generated. As part of the promotion of this piece a short excerpt was put up onto Sound Cloud to allow people to check it out.  According to Sound Cloud statistics it was played around 40 times. The method of acquisition was not stated; only a question mark. Again this garnered no posts in response, no inquires publically or privately.  Interest does not seem to have bee acquired.

The webpage with downloads for this release can be found here: A Closed Letter

In retrospect I am of the opinion that I’m not completing any thoughts and A Closed Letter are closer to examples of historical live electronics. It is only with Skipping Stones that I think that the ideas of live electronic are iterated upon with respect to the work that occurred since Tudors time. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t aspects or portions of those two pieces which I do think work in that way and it is the case that I was coming from that mindset.  That I think is a critical aspect to these abstract notions of instrumentality. A live electronics configuration truly is the score – that is it directs and limits what you are going to do. But it is the performers mindset that influences how that score is performed and what it becomes. In this way it is like a graphic score – a noise musician playing Christian Wolff’s Edges is going to end up with a different soundworld then a classically trained cellist.  But unlike a graphic score the sound world is set and it has definite boundaries with a live electronics configuration. So it is the networks of those pieces and not just the mindset of the performer (myself in these cases) that keep these at least one foot in the past. It is interesting to note that Skipping Stones – the most successful I think of all of the Eleven Clouds pieces is an iterated version of the I’m not completing any thoughts network4. While A Closed Letter is as well I added many more components to the network and is best thought of as more evolved (punctuated equilibrium even) than iterated upon. What all of this goes to show is that the network, in effect one’s score, has to be as reflective of your mindset as anything else.

Footnotes

1)    William Carlos Williams, A Sort of a Song

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
sleepless.
— through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

2) Robert j Kirkpatrick, Eleven Clouds Hollow Earth Recordings 011: http://spiralcage.com/hollowearthrecordings/discography/ElevenClouds.html

(01) I’m not completing any thoughts. (January 2010, 3″ cd-r. Edition of 4)
(02) Skipping Stones (February 2010, 5″ cd-r. Available throughout February)
(03) Vertical Landscapes 1-5/aeolian electrics (March 2010, 5 Paintings w. 2×80′ cd-rs.)
(04) Mid-Spring (rock, breath, 12kHz) (April 2010, 3″ cd-r.)
(05) An delay (May 2010, 2×3″ cd-r. Edition of 16)
(06) 100 Black Kites (June 2010, box of assorted items. Edition of 1)
(07) A Closed Letter (July 2010, 3″ cd-r.)
(08) 47° 32′ 25.80″ N / 121° 54′ 32.0″ W (August 2010, micro-c60. Edition of 1)
(09) Fugue State (September 2010, 5″cd-r. Edition of 12)
(10) Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku) (October 2010, mini-cd-r edition of 9)
(11) …and yet (November 2010, Edition of 11)
(12) Aleph (December 2010) [never released]

3) Robert j Kirkpatrick,  The Network Instrument (a work in progress), A Spiral Cage, March 2010, and The Network Instrument (WIP): Subnetworks, A Spiral Cage,  April  2011

4) It is worth noting that the majority of the other pieces in the Eleven Clouds project also worked with the Network Instrument and are examples of Post-Tudor Live Electronics with varying degrees of success. They aren’t considered in this post due to not being specifically dedicated to David Tudor.

2012 Retrospecticus

I barely listened to any music for a good half of this year and I also, in the interest in not having huge amount of unlistened to plastic objects littering my abode, tried to only buy things I knew I’d listen to a lot. I have to say that I did quite well in that regard thanks to various music blogs and Alastair Wilson’s top drawer Admirable Restraint radio programme. Thanks Alastair! Thus any sort of “best of” music list, even in the micro-domains that hold my interest, is even more useless than normal.  But I found there to be quite a bit of captivating music – nearly everything I bought – this year and there is certainly some value in writing a bit about it. There won’t be many (maybe any) shockers here for those that trade in these realms – the usual suspects are all here – but I’ll try to make up for that with a few words on each. Not really reviews –  you should buy them already! – and not really critical commentary either; perhaps it’s just rambling.  Whatever it is, this is what I’ve got for you this year.

Music I liked in 2012

 

Keith Rowe SeptemberKeith Rowe September (Erstwhile Records, EL011)

Whenever Keith releases a solo album on Erstwhile Records it tends to supplant the last one as the definitive statement in improvised music. The Room, ErstLive 007 and now September seem like a teleological continuum rendering the previous statement mute.  But on revisiting these piece The Room retains it’s power, its place as the definitive declaration (at least until The Room Extended) of Rowe’s philosophy and music, even as it’s language feels increasingly arcane.  The two Erstlives are more of piece utilizing the framing device of composed pieces from the classical tradition to which Rowe’s improvisation, radio grabs aids, abets and deconstructs.  The previous of these two pieces is well explained by Keith him self in a post on the Erstwords blog as is the nature of this framing device:

The concept for my solo performance was only formed the night previous to the performance itself. Thinking about the forthcoming solo, I felt the need to somehow make clear “who I was”: what my background is, what are my concerns? Something about my interest, the music I love, the sounds that have influenced me, during the performance I came to realise these could be regarded as “Cultural Templates”. – Keith Rowe, EL007

In September of 2011 Jon Abbey (Erstwhile Records) put on the most ambitious to date of his Amplify festivals: AMPLIFY 2011: Stones – two weeks at The Stone in New York City followed up by several days at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. On September 11th, 2011, the  ten year anniversary of al-Qaeda attacks on US power structures (more here if you are somehow unaware of this), the nights activities included this solo performance. Keith Rowe certainly had a burden of expectations placed upon him by his audience. A burden that he could choose to ignore as a British expat living in France, but one that he rose to embrace as a citizen of a world that has been transformed by the American lashing out in the aftermath of these attacks.

Of course we don’t have the benefit of a minute examination from Keith of September like we do for EL007 and certainly speculation on this piece likely reveals more of the speculator then of the musicians intentions – just compare the reception of EL007 that came out before Keith’s exegesis (for instance read my thoughts here: Amplify 2008: light – day 2 [though of course I had the benefit of being able to talk extensively with Keith at this concert]).  I didn’t have the luxury of discussing this performance with Keith, but Brian Olewnick did and from his excellent review of this piece this note is particularly helpful:

For Rowe, the Dvorak Piano Quintet had come to embody certain ideas about memory, including nostalgia, loss and false memories. Knowing that he was scheduled to perform in New York, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it seemed an appropriate piece to utilize. – Brian Olewnick on September

Unlike EL007September utilizes just the Dvorak piece as it’s framing device, but he works much more with extended radio grabs. These being from NYC on September 11th, 2011 create a similar aural zeitgeist as you would have found in 2001 but shifted by ten years of a pop and media media landscape that had been irrevocably transformed not just by the passage of time but by the events of that day and the aftermath. The pop music, much of which is even older than the ten year shift, can perhaps evoke in the listener the phrase “the banality of evil”, but is that not too a projection on the part of the listener? In many ways the whole enterprise is — memory, nostalgia, loss and false memories.  I noted in my review of the concert eventually released as EL007 that Keith was playing with, complementing, even reinforcing the classical pieces he used as his framing device. With September the Dvorak is likewise not directly abused or deconstructed; the piece isn’t about the Dvorak. Instead it is held up in contrast, wistfully, as an exemplar of a world that never was, that can not be except in our imaginations and channeled into our art. And perhaps even there that world is lost to us. False memories of a world that never was, a world for which we feel such an intense loss and are nearly immobilized by our nostalgia.

CrosshatchesMichael Pisaro/Toshiya Tsunoda crosshatches (Erstwhile Records)

My listening has been highly backloaded this year; I spent much of year on a cross country bicycle tour and when I returned to Washington State there was a lot to listen to.  This set came out while I was on tour and was one of the first things I acquired upon my return.  I never listen to headphones when I’m bicycling because apart from being patently unsafe it puts you at a remove from the environment and denies one a a true pleasure in my mind: listening to the sounds that you are immersed in.  One who’s ears are open hears a lot and if there is one thing I’ve learned over my years of listening to experimental music is how to piece together disconnected sounds into an immersive experience. This ability has meant that my relationship with field recordings is somewhat complicated.  I’ve worked with them myself for a decade now as detailed in this post on World Listening Day and I of course love many recordings that.  I tend to feel that field recordings can make great material and in certain cases can stand on their own, but are often used lazily or as a type of cultural tourism.

Toshiyua Tsunoda has long been a favorite musician, one of the few who is able to release “pure” field recordings that are absolutely captivating. This skill is akin to photography in that a skillful photog can make a piece of art out of the same scene that your average shooter can not merely with camera placement, framing and working with the available light.  A field recordist  can control mic placement, when to start and when to stop the recording and some bare settings on their recorder.  Both a photographer and a field recordist can apply effects, edits, overlays and the like upon a finished piece but it is then no longer “pure”.  I for one don’t have much of a problem of this impure results, but it is a different thing, use the recordings as “material” as opposed to as a thing in and of itself.  Michael Pisaro in his compositions often uses field recordings as material and also as an ‘environment’ in which his compositions take place (akin to the notion behind my “out of doors” series). The combination of these two musicians was something I was highly anticipating and I have to say I was not let down.

This set has been hard for me to write about, it has a presence and immediacy that just seems to exist.  It is hard to talk in the same way that field recordings can be hard to talk about, but this is much more a piece of music. I haven’t seen much written about it, essays or statements from the artists and the reviews I’ve seen have seemed to share the difficulties that I have. Simply describing the sounds used, or guessing at them, talking about Pisaro’s contributions versus Tsunoda’s and all of that just seems of little merit. I was immediately captivated by this set and it immediately became my favorite thing I heard this year.  As I began to catch up on other releases and acquired some new ones, nothing ever did displace this though the previous and the following releases joined it as my favorite music from this year. So really all I feel I can say about this, is that you need to hear it. It is absolutely engaging and interesting and challenging and musical. Perhaps my favorite thing from two artists of whom I like many, many things. I’ll have to think about that some – I do like so much from these two. But this is certainly the collaboratively project I’ve like the best from these two.

 

Music for Piano and Strings by Morton Feldman vol. 2

Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings volume 2 (Matchless Recordings) performed by John Tilbury and the Smith Quartet

The first volume of the this three volume set from Matchless Recordings was a favorite release from last year and I fully expect volume three to make next years list.  But volume two is certainly going to be my favorite of the three.  I wrote at length in this post, For Morton Feldman, about my love of Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello and this particular recording of it. Simply having a recording of this piece, given at the pace it requires, from John Tilbury, my favorite interpreter of Feldman is enough to put this right at the top of this years favorites.  I won’t write more of this particular piece – see the linked post if you want my thoughts and history with the piece.

Patterns in a Chromatic Field is the other piece on this DVD which is also given the best performance of this piece I’ve heard.  Now my relationship with this piece is complicated. I’ve listened to it many times in two other versions. The first of these was performed by Charles Curtis (cello) and  Aleck Karis (piano) released on Tzadik. Curtis is an excellent cello player and I think his work here is top drawer. This piece launches right into it with a frantic, sickly cello line as the piano plays big bass clusters. Shorter realizations of this piece find this initial cello part too frantic the piano part rushed.  Now it is not supposed to be languid but even just a few extra minutes can let this breath and let that opening not dominate the piece.

I soon moved on the version of the piece released much earlier on hat[now]ART as performed by Rohan de Saram (cello) and Marianne Schroeder (piano) which at around 1’45” is the longest version I’ve heard of this piece. No one can accuse this performance of rushing the piece.  I dearly love Rohan de Saram’s playing and if I had a dream version of this piece it was with him sawing the cello and John Tilbury tinkling the ivories. While this is a very cello forward piece the piano, as always is the case with Feldman, is vital and the performance demands that ineffable touch. As has been said by myself along with many others, Tilbury has that touch.  While I think many are good at performing Feldman, and I’d place the pianists of both of these other performances in that category, few are are great at it. Tilbury is and his magnificent touch is on display here. Even those opening clusters you can hear him pressing down on the keys with a velocity that hovers at some point. There is somehow still a softness to it amidst the big sounds.

Feldman’s string pieces with piano always have an interesting relationship to the piano. From Piano and String Quartet which the piano only place arpeggios to Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello where the strings are like the effects on a prepared piano there is never the attempts at a merged soundworld. The Smith Quartet do an excellent job at all of the string parts and while one may think of Irwin Arditti or Rohan de Saram as string players you’d love to hear in conjunction with John Tilbury I can find no fault in the musicianship here. These three DVD-A sets, which allows these pieces to unfold uninterrupted at around an hour and half each are sure to be considered among the very best realizations of these pieces and absolutely essential for an understanding and appreciation of these great compositions.

Jacob Ullman - Fremde Zeit AddendumJakob Ullmann fremde zeit addendum (Edition RZ)

I’ve long been a huge fan of Ullmann’s A Catalogue of Sounds (also on Edition RZ) and furthermore enjoyed  a string quartet of his recorded by the Arditti’s.  But another piece of his, voice, books and FIRE 3 (again on Edition RZ) I consider one of my biggest disappointments of all time. It was because of how much I loved A Catalogue of Sounds – a piece I’d place somewhere on my favorite pieces of all time list – and how much I didn’t care for it. So I really hesitated on picking up this set. This is  set of three CDs and Edition RZ stuff is always expensive, so what with the disappointment of the last piece of his they put out it was hard to take the risk. But good notices came in from people whose opinions I respect, people who also love  A Catalogue of Sounds, and ErstDist was selling it for a quite reasonable sum so I decided to take the chance.

“Loud music forgoes the subtleties of perceptible sound.” -Bernd Leukert, from the liner notes

Of course it turned out to be fantastic, probably another set tied for the top of the list. But I just haven’t had enough time to come to terms with all of the music herein to honestly make that clam.  The music is much closer in to A Catalogue of Sounds, especially on discs 2 and 3 – low dynamics, tentative brittle scrapes and percussive bits even some beautiful voice tones on disc three – the first use of voice I’ve liked from Ullmann. Disc one is pretty different with two shorter pieces instead of the disc length pieces of the other two discs. It is (of course) still pretty low dynamics, but much more varied, with a few louder interjections. The three discs are chronological with disc 1 featuring pieces from 1989 to 1993, disc 2’s single piece written between 1997-99 and disc 3’s piece the most recent composed between 2004-2007.

“We hear better because we make an effort to hear better.” -Bernd Leukert, from the liner notes

I should say that this is a very handsome set. The black on white on black of the box with it’s (seemingly) cryptic lines and dashes is really a stunner. Inside it continues to impress with the best individual disc sleeves I’ve seen. Each disc is housed in a little booklet with a pocket for the disc, the ever inscribed with disc number the same fragmented letterset of the box cover (and the Edition RZ composer series in general) and the interior featuring an image from the score.  The back contains the textural information – title, year, performers et al – each disc like an individual Edition RZ release. Really well done and by far the nicest traditional release I purchased these year.

“I can’t imagine any music upon which the shadow of a thousand years does not fall and which does not, in turn, itself cast shadows.” -Jacob Ullmann, from the liner notes

The set comes with very nice liner notes by Bernd Leukert which discuses much of the notions and material of each of these pieces as well as notions on Ullmanns goals and ideas. With the little amount of time I’ve had with the set I’m going to beg off on any further writing on it. Read these liner notes for better information than that I can provide at this moment. I’ll end by simply saying that I love the music on this set; I have listened to it a lot since getting it and it will need a lot more listens. Maybe I’ll try to write more about it at a latter date, but just thinking about trying to write something for A Catalogue of Sounds, which I’ve been listening to for half a decade I suspect I’ll never really know what to say. Perhaps that says enough.

 

Keith Rowe/Christian WolffChristian Wolff/Keith Rowe (Erstwhile Records, ErstLive 010)

In the spring of 2010 I had the good fortune to be able spend four days in Boston attending the Christian Wolff at NEC events. Keith Rowe was there to perform several pieces and among these was a duo improvisation with Christian Wolff. This was a pretty short (though wonderful, read about it here) performance, 10-15 minutes and thus at the AMPLIFY 2001 their duo was able to be billed as their “first full length” performance.  This CD of course is the document of that performance; perhaps the performance I was most unhappy to have missed in 2012. At the 2010 meeting I had truly wished for the performance to go on at length but it seemed that Wolff tends to prefer a shorter statement. In the performance of Edges, along with Rowe and NEC students, which is a graphic piece where you move through the material at your own discretion he was among the first, if not the first, to do so. So it is interesting to hear him improvising, in a situation with very little cover, for around 40 minutes.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 2: Keith Rowe & Christian Wolff 1
Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff at NEC

Christian of course played with AMM during their most innovative and unruly period, concerts that could go on for two or more hours, so I really never doubted that he would rise to the challenge.  He operates here similarly to his performance of Edges (which was indeed written with AMM in mind) moving through various gestures and simply allowing more space, more deliberation in them. Keith is operating in his recent, more more pared down mode – which I feel is the the only time in his long career that he has bent toward the prevailing aesthetic as opposed to pioneering it. Of course one could argue that he’d pioneered it with AMM back in the 60s and it is simply a return to the form for him. And yet it is the prevailing aesthetic in the circles in which he is best known and he had not moved to embrace it until pressed to.  However once Keith moved in this direction I think he really showed how it should be done. That is he lets the silences be silences whereas I think most ‘silencers’ push the silence around (to paraphrase old Morty). The spaciousness and deliberation of both of the performers here works quite well, as does Christian seemingly moving through his gestures Edges style. Keith very slowly, at a pretty low volume, works with a few textures with again much space between them. The more upfront gestures seem to mostly come from Christian, again evoking Edges (one of the symbols is to make a loud noise). In fact considering Keith’s excellent and very subdued version of Edges on the excellent Christian Wolff double CD on Edition RZ from last year, this really could just be an unannounced duo performance of the piece. Thus you end up with a piece similar to the late Cage Number Pieces in which the events elide due to individual variations of choosing spaces.  A wonderfully taught piece, with sounds from the Stone and the City nearly on equal footing with the performers own. Without a doubt the most engaging bit of duo improv (a diminishing genre in these circles) I heard this year.

John Cage Shock 1John Cage ?John Cage Shock  (EM RecordsEdition Omega Point)

This year was the John Cage Centenary and there was many great Cage releases and re-issues put out this year.  Too many for me to keep track of or acquire all of (I really regret not hearing the four CD set of Etudes Australes performed by Sabine Liebner for instance) but good to see both in recordings and concerts Cage’s legacy seriously tackled.  Among the most interesting of all the releases is this historical document of John Cage and David Tudor in Japan. The impact of their tour was described as John Cage Shock which was used as the title for this three CD set.

In this tour Cage championed new music beyond his own with pieces from Christian Wolff and Karlheinz Stockhausen being performed along with pieces from Japanese composers Toru Takemitsu and Toshi Ichiyangai.  What is most interesting to me about this set is that it documents further use of David Tudor’s Amplified Piano that was so stunning on his realization of Variations II.  Volume 1 of this set includes another version of that piece, shorter and not quite as powerful but more crunchy and even more noisy at times –  A nice addition to the version available on Edition RZ.. This colume also includes a great version of Takemitsu’s Corona for Pianists and a Wolff’s Duo for Pianist & Violinst. All three of this pieces are excellent and this is I think easily the most essential disc in the set.

The amplified piano can also be heard on volume 2 in the  realization of Cage’s 26’55.988″ for 2 Pianists & a String Player.  Alas this performance is marred in my opinion by the interjections of Yoko Ono (whom I can like just fine in other contexts). As the other piece on volume 2 is Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X which is a piece I for one don’t care much for, I find volume 2 to only be of historical interest.  The goods return with volume 3 which opens with a great, noisy realization from Cage of his 0’00”. Music for Piano #7 from Ichiyangi, a graphic score that Tudor interpreted with sudden and spaced out interjections on the piano while various electronic and concrete sounds are projected. Interesting to hear with some great sounds but not a piece I’m going to play a lot.  The disc also includes the rather indifferent and unmemorable Composition II for 2 Pianos composed by Micheal von Biel.

Musically the whole set is pretty mixed. I would have been satisfied with Variations II, 0’00”, the Takemitsu and the Wolff which could have fit on a single disc. But the set is quite nice with folde out liner notes in English and Japanese each with a nice sized picture or two on them. The set I bought also came with three postcard size photographs of Cage and Tudor from the tour. The document of the performances that created Cage Shock in Japan is certainly of a lot of interest for Cage enthusiasts along with those interested in 20th Century composition and the development of Live Electronics. While I may not connect with every piece I certainly value this entire set.

Morton Feldman Crippled SymmetryMorton Feldman Crippled Symmetry: at June in Buffalo (Frozen Reeds) performed by the Feldman Soloists: Eberhard Blum, Nils Vigeland, and Jan Williams

While this may have been John Cage’s centenary year, his fellow NY School composer Morton Feldman received a number of fantastic releases this year as well.  Few were better than this historical document of the Feldman Soloists – a group of musicians who performed Feldman’s work during his lifetime – performing Crippled Symmetry in Buffalo NY in June of 1983.

This turned out to be one of the best performances that we had ever given together. The rare and indescribable “magic moment” of occasion and ambience seems to have inspired us.” -Eberhard Blum writing on this performance.

I often turn to Morton Feldman to listen to as I fall asleep. I’ve long been burdened by insomnia and putting on music as I go to bed  often leads to me listening to the entire thing before eventually falling into slumber. Some nights though I fall asleep relatively quickly and thus I like music that is both soft and gentle but that is worth one’s attention. Feldman has long been in that category for me and thus he is often on my night stereo.  This set has gotten a huge amount of play in that regard and thus I’ve listened to this as much as anything this year. Of course it has also been played numerous times  without the hope for sleep being involved and it is just an absolute stunner. I have two other versions of this piece including one by this very same ensemble released on Hat. I’ve played these other versions many times over the years, but the energy and vitality of this live performance is just unmatched.

 

V/A Dotolim USBVarious Artists Dotolim USB (Dotolim)

Compilations are almost always mixed affairs and this is no exception. A USB memory stick with ten uncompressed recordings from people and groups who performed at or otherwise involved with the Dotolim venue in Seoul South Korea. The memory stick itself is quite cute: a little plastic square with plain text of the title and different colored rubber covers on the USB jack.  Definitely my favorite bit of packaging from this year.  Once you plug it into your computer you can run in your web browser and html page that serves as index and allows you to play the individual audio and the one video file. Of course one can just as easily copy the files over to your computer and play them with the device of your choice which was the method I chose.

The set features five solos from Joe Foster, Kevin Parks, Jason Kahn, Tetuzi Akiyama and Ryu Hankil’s solos. I really dug those from Foster, Parks, Kahn and Hankil but found the Akiyama rather short and slight.  There are noisier pieces from Astronoise and Transistorhead that didn’t do much for me at all, but of course your mileage may vary there. But to me the highlight of the set was the quartet of  Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster & Jin Santa and the duo of Olaf Hochherz & Jamie Drouin of whom I was previously only minimally familiar  The quartet with its fluttery metallic sounds, rotated metal, crumpled amplifications and spaciousness feels like a lot of familiar ideas pushed one step beyond flirting with a structureless structure and is just completely riveting.  The Drouin and Hochherz almost sounds like a duo of Sachiko M & Sachiko M with the pure tone and the fluttery side of her work playing together along with a sprinkling of the contact mic she sometimes deploys. Yet the context and the structure of this piece is all it’s own and there are sounds that Sachiko doesn’t try for. Thus it is a rare exploration into that soundworld and one I found completely captivating.

 

Dotolim USB

My personal copy of the set

 

In a period where composition seems to be leading the way, at least capturing the bulk of the attention, improvisation is alive and strong in Korea. There is a lot of risk in the work coming from there and it often doesn’t entirely succeed. But the risk is necessary and the payoff is high. If one’s attention isn’t solely on composed work at this juncture you can do no better than to tune your ears to the small but thriving scene in Korea.

 

Michael Pisaro feilds have ears (6)Michael Pisaro fields have ears (6) (Gravity Wave)

Fields have ears has a long history of it’s development, iteration and performance which Pisaro details in this fascinating post on the Gravity Wave blog: Some Some thoughts on the “fields have ears” series.

The series of pieces named fields have ears represent my attempts to come to compositional terms with different notions of “fields”: how we hear them, how they might hear themselves, and what there is to hear.
 – Michael Pisaro, from the aforementioned blog post.

I happened to be at the August 2011 performance of the the piece for guitar and sine waves in Seattle,  (and met Michael in person for the first time as well) which I quite enjoyed and is interesting to contemplate in relation to this later version of the piece, in which the Seattle performance is incorporated. After that performance I picked up the realizations of the related pieces released on Another Timbre, which records several different iterations of the piece from several different ensembles.  This I have to say is also a quite enjoyable disc and that I really liked the different realizations herein.  These pieces have a lot more in common with the live performance I witnessed in their spare structure and delicacy which makes this disc an ideal companion for this new recording and along with the textual material allows the listener to really engage with this piece and it’s history.

One thing I’ve found is that is a lot of the Wandelweiser and related musics work far better in live performance than recorded. That is the music seems to be activated by their surroundings and since they often use space and silence these surroundings are oft given quite a prominence of place. I think that Pisaro has been the most successful of these related groups of musicians at translating his pieces to the recorded medium primarily because, I suspect, he takes the medium in account. That is the pieces released are often more layered, incorporate field recordings or specially take the limitations and differences of playing back a piece into account. Whereas a live recording of a performance such as the one I experienced in Seattle might seem slight or overly thin this really is a limitation of open air recording versus the listening experience.  The way that we shift our focus from all the sounds that surround us and the effects of the space from two ears separated by the skull is quite different from what can be recorded. The listener constructs the piece as much as the muscian and the environment. It is this that I think is the difference between the versions of fields have ears: in the realization of (6) for the Gravity Wave disc Pisaro layered together different performances and recordings of various versions of the piece and added some site specific field recordings. This takes advantage of that effect, that John Cage understood so well with all of his simultaneous performances, happenings and “musicircuses”, of the layered event. The brain automatically fits sounds (and images too – watch any video the sound off and the music of your choice playing and note out it “syncs” up) together and creates it’s own context.  For is this not how we experience sound all the time in nature?

So what began as something like a well-regulated garden became a space filled with all kinds of material, now resembling a rather unruly city park.” -Michael Pisaro, from the fields have ears (6) liner notes.

John Cage Sonatas interludes for Prepared Piano

 

John Cage Sonatas & Interludes, James Tenney,Piano (hat[now]ART)

The John Cage piece that even those who don’t like John Cage enjoy. This relatively early (1946-48) piece, one of the last before Cage had fully embraced chance operations, is one of the pinnacle of Cage’s prepared piano works. This piece listened to in it’s entirety, develops as it goes along with a gentle tension and release and a wonderful percussive aspect that more fully explores the prepared piano than any other of Cage’s pieces to utilize the instrument. This is the most recorded of Cage’s pieces and is widely available from the original performance by Maro Ajemian to my personal favorite by John Tilbury. With so many versions out there one may wonder why it is this one is essential to add to one’s collection.  The answer is that James Tenney, a fellow composer in the experimentalist tradition, adds much to one’s appreciation and understanding of this piece with his realization. Tenney heard Cage himself performing this piece at the age of 16 and that turned his head enough that he pursued music along with science and engineering. These dual interests informed Tenney’s experimentalism – his scores often worked with acoustical properties and explored mathematical functions. Furthermore he performed the Sonatas & Interludes throughout his life and this familiarity, expertise and love of the piece combined with his engineers precision in the preparations lead to a faithful yet unique realization. The preparations, which Cage detailed in his typically precise yet idiosyncratic way (for instance he uses measurements for the placement of the preparations that are based on a specific piano instead of being scale independent), were hand selected by Tenney based on he thought it should sound. So while he followed Cage’s instructions his primary driver was the sound. His performance was informed by his compositional interests in sound and relationships of sound and thus he performed the pieces a bit more brusquely than is typical. Listening to this with an ear toward the interactions of the sounds as opposed to the melodic and rhythmic is truly rewarding.  While I may turn to the Tilbury two out of three times this version will be that other play.  Beyond the historical interest of the Maro Aiemian recording these two recordings of the piece will suffice.

Other Favorites

Other 2012 FavoritesSeijiro Murayama/Kazushige Kinoshita 59:01.68 (Ftarri/IMJ)
Antoine Beuger  s’approcher s’éloigner s’absenter  (Erstwhile Records)
Andrea Neumann/Bonnie Jones green just as I could see  (Erstwhile Records)
Andrew Lafkas Making Words  (Sacred Realism)
Codeine When I see the Sun (Numero Group)
Earle Brown Abstract Sound Objects (Wergo)

These six records are all as different as can be and are all ones I enjoyed quite a bit. The Kinoshita/Murayama (which I especially love the cover) I perhaps received too recently to really fully absorb. While I think that Kinoshita’s work is marvelous here I found that Murayama, while in the main adding very interesting and compatible sounds sometimes lets loose with sounds from his drums that pull me out. Too on the nose as it were. Overall solid and worth hearing, but just shy of greatness I feel.

Beuger has often left me cold and while I have enjoyed several of his compositions, it is this one that I feel I have truly connected with.  There is a lot more diversity to the sound and dynamics here and a playfulness – perhaps brought by the performers – that I’ve found lacking in his work. This disc is definitely recommended for those that may have shared my skepticism, but also for those who feel like I do that Wandelweiser stuff is best live and in recordings that capture that aspect.

Neumann and Jones put out the only other outstanding duo improv I heard this year. Admittedly I didn’t seek out everything and thus you can take that for what it’s worth, but I heard enough clips and read enough reviews that I only bought things that I felt would appeal. And this one surely did.  I’ve enjoyed both  of these musicians work for years and I was really excited to hear this recording. I was a little disconcerted by reports of singing and text recitation which is often overly affected and earnest in experimental contexts but this small bit of that here works effectively.  Lafkas’ large ensemble piece is a sprawling work that drones and chatters but always seems well considered. Another disc I got too late to absorb fully but one I’ll definitely return to many times.

At the end of my cross country bicycle tour my thoughts increasingly turned to the music of Codiene, the “slow core” band from the early 90s that were a mainstay of my later college years. On arriving in Bar Harbor I found out that they put out a set including their three albums along with three CDs of unreleased material (and also toured briefly). Quelle Coincidence! Owning the originally albums I didn’t feel much need to buy the whole set (plus I no longer have a turntable) but I was delighted to find I could purchase the unreleased material from iTunes. And so I did. These tracks, plus the original albums once I was back home, got many, many plays.

It’s been a great year for the New York School with absolutely vital discs  featuring John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff released. Happily Earle Brown wasn’t neglected either with Wergo putting out this top notch set performed by my second favorite pianist Sabine Liebner. This set has piano versions of all of the expected “hits” plus many more, much more obscure pieces. All of these absolutely beautifully and creatively rendered by Lieber. Brown’s graphic and open works demand this creativity and likewise require many versions to get any sort of handle upon. Thus this is a most welcome addition to my collection of Brown realizations.

without chemicals he points

without chemicals he points

 
One last piece of music for 2012. An instance of minimal live electronics, this piece  simmers constantly with the occasional interjection above the surface. Take the time to let it develop and it’s inexplicable form and seemingly inward facing aspect will unfold and reveal it’s depths.
 

 

For Morton Feldman

...and yet

 this world of dew,
is but a world of dew
and yet…

-Kobayashi Issa

November 2010 the final release of Eleven Clouds, …and yet, was made available. As previously noted each of these releases was dedicated to various artists, musicians, composers &c. Each of these was a complex web suspended between several overarching themes and ideas, trying to be true to them all while staying true to itself. Let me once again quote from the unpublished essay that was written to accompany Eleven Clouds:

The Eleven Clouds project is a number of disparate ideas wrapped around the idea of creating a physical object, that contains data in the form of music, every month for year. There are ideas being explored that encompasses the entire project but also ideas that drive each individual release. The overarching ideas may be the primary idea in a given release or may not be instrumental to it at all. Additionally there are references, homages and nods toward a number of artists in plastic as well as musical arts. Finally considering that one of the overarching ideas has to do with interpretation there are some aspects that inherently must be left up to observers.

 

By November there had been ten releases encompassing over 8 hours of music and there was a certain level of exhaustion. Making a complete CD with often quite elaborate packaging month in and month out had taken its toll. For me the music of Morton Feldman is the music of exhaustion. It is the music I put on when I’m too tired to sleep and let its slowly iterating stasis fully envelope me. The principle members of the New York School have all been a major influence on me and they were all paid tribute, in greater or lesser form, throughout the series. By November there had yet to be one for Morton Feldman, though of course I’d always intended there to be and now at this point of weariness seemed like the time to do it.

 

Music for Piano and Strings by Morton Feldman vol. 2

John Tilbury and the Smith Quartet
Music for Piano and Strings by Morton Feldman vol. 2 (Matchless)

This year has seen a number of excellent recordings of Morton Feldman’s music. The incredible recording of Crippled Symmetry by the Feldman Soloists (Eberhard Blum, Nils Vigeland, and Jan Williams) on the Finnish Frozen Reeds label. A compendium of the the early, mostly indeterminate pieces, Early Works for Piano performed by the always stunning Sabine Liebner on the Wergo Label. The second volume of  Music for Piano and Strings from my favorite pianist John Tilbury accompanied by the excellent Smith Quartet on the Matchless label. Re-Releases of some of the classic recordings by the Ives Ensemble on hatHut. And of course plenty of releases that I have yet to hear.

Piano, Viola,Violin and CelloIn 2010 I was living in a small house in Kirkland WA that was right in front of an abandoned railway. On Sunday afternoons I would often walk for an hour or two one way or another along these tracks. Generally I’d listen to some recordings as I walked along usually softer stuff that I could play low enough so that ambient sounds would mix in. I found myself playing the Ives Ensemble recording of Morton Feldman’s Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello over and over again in these walks.  For me, while I love Feldman’s music across pretty much all times and all instrumentation, it is his pieces for piano that particularly move me. Especially the longer more etherial later pieces both solo and in the various chamber ensembles. Of these chamber pieces I’ve come to love Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello the most. Unlike say Piano and String Quartet, the piano here leads and the the string section, deemphasized without the second violin, seems to comment on the piano pieces. The piano begins more discordant sound, especially with the inputs of the strings, almost prepared. After some time it settles down into this pattern, in typical late Feldman style, that is fully explored, mutated, iterated upon. This pattern, melody, tinged with melancholy, even a sense of weariness eventually becomes broken by time before hesitantly completing itself as the strings prickle and poke at it. On these long introspective walks and many times as I was wearily trying to sleep this piece has been my companion. The new recording by John Tilbury and the Smith Quartet which is a little more leisurely at around 90 minutes is particularly effective in my mind. Tilbury’s unparalleled touch for Feldman’s music and the Smith Quartets meticulous attention to Feldman’s require (slow and low) has created the best recording of the three that I’ve heard of this piece.

 

...and yet

Another of the overarching themes of the Eleven Clouds project was what I refer to as Post-Tudor Live Electronics. Much of what I talk about w/r/t The Network Instrument is a way to codify these thoughts. A full discussion of the topic is beyond the scope of this post but there is one aspect that is apropos. David Tudor’s live electronics was typically wild, flirting on the edge of chaos. The early indeterminate, graph pieces of Morton Feldman would seem to be the closest his pieces hued to what Tudor was doing with his electronics (no surprise then that Tudor remains the most impressive interpreter of those early Feldman pieces). But could one’s live elections, in the Post-Tudor era, be more like Late Feldman – soft, slow, floating and enveloping. For the final piece in the Eleven Clouds sequence, I wanted to explore that, to express the weariness, the melancholy of the end of this near year long project.

...and yet booklet interior scan

QR Code for ..and yetOf course there was always more then one (or two, or many) thing going on with an Eleven Clouds release and this one was no exception. The physical release itself was a roughly DVD size cardstock booklet inside a vinyl pocket. The front of this can be seen two pictures up and the interior directly above this ‘graph (I should note the above scan doesn’t capture the color well at all which is more of a light, blue-grey). The “disc” that came with this was a clear plastic CD sized disc that comes with a stack of blank CD-Rs. Along with this was a postcard that had the Hollow Earth Recordings logo on one side and a QR Code on the other (see image to the left). These “cds”, of which eleven were made, were sent out to anyone who asked. The promotional posts on i hate music and on this blog showed pictures of the recording session as an additional hint.

QR Codes hadn’t quite hit the level of ubiquitousness (saturation even) that they have now in which probably everyone would know to scan it and see what it encoded. What it encoded (if you haven’t already reflexively scanned it) was an URL to this page: …and yet. This page contains lossless downloads of the music recorded for this project. Watching my web statistics I only saw one person download it during the time of the project. I posted the QR code to this blog and I’ve sent that link to a couple of other people but this is the first public release of these recordings.

 ...and yet recording session

...and yet recording session

This piece is an ~95 minute piece on a Network Instrument where I attempt to create something like PPiano, Violin, Viola and Cello. This was the single longest piece in the Eleven Clouds project (though Aeolian Electrics wasn’t far off at nearly 80 minutes). The length of course was essential to capturing that Feldman feel; allowing it to slowly evolving over time. It is meant to be played softly as Feldman would insist for his pieces and it was indeed performed at a low volume. The setup and the patch are the “score” for this piece and it was performed and recorded in one continuous session. Overall I think it works and captures what I was trying to go for. Like a lot of the longer Feldman pieces there are moments that seem jarring and discordant but they are resolved (as it were) long minutes later. Give it a listen for yourself and see how you think it works out.  Whatever the verdict, this one’s for you Morty.

Download  …and yet in either Apple Lossless format or FLAC:  …and yet

DIY Electronics

Matrix Mixer Top
 DIY 4x4 Matrix Mixer

 

To facilitate my on going experimentation with Network Instrument theory I’ve been moving more toward DIY and boutique equipment. Routing of signals is the most basic building block for developing your network and the Matrix Mixer is a super useful tool for this. Matrix Mixers were at the heart of many of David Tudors Live Electronics configurations due to its ability to allow you route and mix all any or all of your input channels to any or all of your output channels.  Looping signals back into the matrix post processing allows for one to really work on the edge of chaos where so much interesting and unexpected behavior lies.  I have recently completed building a small 4×4 matrix mixer as pictured above. So far I’ve only done limited experiments with it but it has already opened a vast world of possibilities.

Matrix Mixer edge One of my ongoing projects has been to create an “idealized” or “reference” network instrument which as I envision it would consist of toolkit of simple components that allow for the interconnectivity the theory requires. These simplified components do not really require much in the way of innovation but should allow for this increased interconnectivity.  Things like a matrix mixer which allows you to route many signals into multiple devices are essential for this. But as I work on the other components I intend to alter them in such a way that there can be more input, output and control signals.  I’m going to document the assembling of this tookkit here as well as the results of experimentation with this toolkit as it comes together.

Radiating Lines

 

Radiating Lines Performance Score
Radiating Lines performance score

For your consideration a new score and the first piece of music I’ve recorded since February. Radiating Lines is an example of a  Meta-Score in that it is a score that generates a unique score every time you use it. I made during the John Cage Centenary week though it is not specifically dedicated to him. It certainly owes plenty to Cage as I think he was he first to use transparencies and in the construction of the score one is completely free to use chance operations but it is not required. But certainly a Post-Cage and one’s whose debts are I hope are clear.  Anyway on to the score (PDF download).

Radiating Lines

For any instrumentation and any number of performers

Components

• A circular background mounted on a square backing matte
• A square overlay the same size as the square matte
• Mounting hardware of some sort
• These Instructions
Constructing the score

The included background and overlay materials can be simply printed out and put together as described in section 3 below. However if one wishes to create a unique version of the score the following instructions will guide you through the process.

1) The background

Take a circular piece of paper and numerous circular objects. With a pencil trace around these objects. The placement of the objects should be roughly centered. Tracings should be done quickly and mostly partially. This process should be done as unintentionally as possible. Chance procedures can be used as a guidance but are not required.

Mount this circular on a square backing matte that is 25 to 30% larger than the circular background. This matte should facilitate the mounting of the transparent over ally so that it can spin. E.G. allow a push pin or other mounting device.

2) The Overlay

The overlay is a series of lines of different weights originating from a common center. The lines should extend to both directions of the centering at varying lengths. Again these can be created “by eye” without intention or via chance procedures. There should be 4 to 8 lines that extend both directions from the center (8 to 16 lines radiating from the center). At least one line should extend beyond the total size of the transparency (which is the same size as the backing matte). If more then one line is of this length they must be of different weights

The overlay should be printed onto a transparency which should be cut to the same dimensions as the backing matte.

3) Assembling the score

The circular score should be mounted to the backing matte perfectly centered. The transparent overlay should be also centered and mounted with a push pin or some other device that allows it to be rotated.

 

Performing the score

General

Radiating Lines can be performed with any instrumentation over the length of time required to get through all of the material. It can be simultaneously performed by any number of players each of which should have their own score and which should independently follow these instructions.

Setup

Each performer should take their copy of the score and rotate the overlay to an individually set position. This position can be set at the performers discretion or via some form of chance procedure.

Performance instructions

The longest, thickest line should be placed topmost and is the starting line for performance. The score can be read clockwise or anti-clockwise.  On beginning the material in between this starting line and the next line – referred to as a “wedge” – should be played. Only the material that is in-between both lines should be played.  That is if there is material above the length of one of the lines it should not be interpreted. All aspects of the material should be considered including spaces between material, overlapping sections, differences in densities, imperfections and so on.

After playing all the material in a give wedge the next wedge should be moved to in the direction chosen by the performer. This  wedge should be gone through silently in a manner corresponding to the length of time that a given wedge would take to perform the material. That is to say that every other wedge should be silent for the length time it’d take to perform it. The circle should be gone around twice in order that all of the material be either interpreted or considered silently.

All material must be played – the performance should continue for as long as this takes. When played with multiple performers the material should be played independently with no attempt to coordinate beyond the initial start. The piece concludes when all performers have performed all of the material.

 First Recording

For the first realization of this piece I played through the score several times with three different instruments: a pentatonic lyre, a Steim Cracklebox and a Prepared Piano iPad app. The latter uses samples made from John Cage’s preparations and is a great app available on several platforms (a perfect tablet app – worth the US$1). These three separate recordings were multi-tracked together as per the instructions – that is to say as if they were recorded live by three people. Each track is a different length, so they start together initially but end at different times generating an effect of a gradual thinning out of the ensemble.  The lyre is recorded open air so there is a bit of a field recording aspect in that layer. Anyway give it a listen for yourself and as always I reccomend downloading the uncompressed version from Soundcloud.