Having let go of my obsessive following of music I still found myself with more than enough great music to listen to this year. Being able to judiciously select what discs (or increasingly preferable, digital files) to buy I found that I liked almost all that I bought. Curiosity and what seems to be a decrease in criticism (R.I.P. Paris Transatlantic, Dusted (though semi-revived) &c) and perhaps the move to more gated preserves from the commentariat did lead to my purchasing a few duds, but I’m sure I missed more good stuff than bought bad. Having lost touch with those dusty corners of the nets where all music finds itself eventually (or even before it hits the virtual shelves) I can only express endless gratitude to Alastair Wilson’s excellent radio programme Admirable Restraint for providing lengthy tastes of music new and old. Alastair has put out a fine collection of new pieces from artists old and new for a good cause for which I can only recommend you dig deep: by gum it’s a compilation. The loss of my record player last year and the refusal to acquire a tape deck (I was buying music during the heyday of cassette and we pretty much despised it then as every playback degraded the tape) has led to a few things missed so let me just add a word of praise for those labels who put their boutique format releases up for digital downloads as well. I think I’ve listened to more solo piano this year than anything everything from Beethoven to Feldman to Jurg Frey to Cage &c &c. I’m happy to report it was a great year for the kind piano musics I like. You’ll see plenty of it represented in the selections below. Finally a hearty thanks to all the musicians, producers, labels, writers and listeners out there (also to all those who compiled their year-end lists early: got a lot of great stuff in just the last few weeks). There is plenty of great vital music being made and if I only listed here what touched me the most deeply out of the small fraction I heard it doesn’t really mean all that much.
When this set was announced there was no doubt in my mind that this would be the release of the year, if not the decade. New World Records epic Music for Merce box set contains excerpts of the bulk of the pieces contained in this set and serves in a way as a sampler and impetus for this set. Throughout my lengthy five part review of Music for Merce I was continuously thrilled to hear these pieces but just as constantly lamented their excerpted nature. More than once I urged New World to release a box set of Tudor’s uncut performances. I doubt that I had any influence on this subsequent release but I can’t say how pleased I am it came about. New World really did yeoman’s work on this set with seven discs spanning the entirety of Tudor’s career from his electro-acoustic interpretation of Cage’s Variations II to Neural Network Plus with it’s complex combination of computer and live electronics.
This set deserves an equally lengthy discussion as Music for Merce but really delving into Tudor’s music demands an amount of research and work that basically hasn’t been undertaken. In my Music for Merce reviews I discuss each of the pieces that were excerpted, all of which are included on this set. Since I don’t do a minute by minute discussion of them they serve quite well regarding these pieces. Of course there are a few things on this set not included there: Tudor’s first major piece Bandonean !, two versions of Rainforest IV, another performance of Variations II that is a welcome edition to the other two available, the epic Cage/Tudor overlaid pieces Mesostics re: Merce Cunningham/Untitled and most notably the Anima Pepsi pieces from the 1970 Osaka World Fair. My preview post of this set upon it’s initial announcement discusses the significance of all of these pieces. Regarding the material shared between the two sets you can find my write up on the these pieces in the following links: Virtual Focus, Neural Network Plus,PhonemesWeatherings, Webwork and Christian Wolff’s For 1, 2 or 3 People.
In trying to analyze Tudor’s live electronic work James Pritchett found himself constructing his own circuits and began to work out how the music works from the ground up (I think this is from this interview: RWM SON[i]A #166). This is the equivalent of doing score analysis for conventionally notated pieces (though a far greater undertaking) and I think a necessary first step in understanding his process and methodology. From there a theory could be worked out (something like my (incomplete) Network Instrument Theory which starts from my electronic music making and builds up). Pritchett eventually gave up on this task which is a shame as it appears no-one else has undertaken it. A book covering the entirety of Tudor’s compositions, similar to Pritchett’s Music of John Cage is I think a needed resource. But for now the music itself will have to serve and this set, while alas still only a portion of Tudor’s work (though the major pieces I think it’s fair to say) does so admirably.
As a reader of Kyle Gann’s always informative and frequently amusing blog, Post Classic, I have been able to follow along with the rediscovery of Dennis Johnson’s November. Remembering November which Gann posted in later 2007 was the beginning of this odyssey and there are quite a few posts documenting his transcription of the piece from a hissy tape and a few notes, to the locating of Dennis Johnson himself (who had “given up on the 21st century in 2007” and thus disappeared from internet communication), to posting an mp3 of himself and Sarah Cahill performing the piece (currently unavailable AFAIK) to finally the release of R. Andrew Lee’s recording on the increasingly indispensable Irritable Hedgehog label. All this posts and many more can be found by searching for November on Gann’s blog.
I downloaded a lossless version of November from Irritable Hedgehog’s Bandcamp page which allows for one to do seamless playback of the nearly five hour piece. It has been played over and over again since that time. It’s meandering spare piano lines becoming increasingly varied with moments of more density, or intensity or lyricism I find endlessly captivating. I’ve listened to it straight through but also have just put on one of the “discs” as I’ve gone to bed. Some nights I hear less than others but there have been those nights where I heard the whole thing. Beautiful music, but more than that as it weathers any degree of scrutiny.
Along with November this album has probably had the most spins in my abode this year. Admittedly this again due to it being amenable to being put on as I attempt to sleep but as with all albums that meet that criteria that simply means that I’ve listened to it in the dark primarily focused on it as sleep remained at bay. This one has been a long time coming as it was recording in 1973 and it initially planned to be released by Halana Magazine years ago in an edited form which of course never materialized. Various reports of concerts featuring the piece mixed live from the original master tapes certainly wetted the appetites of those of us who love her electronic work. So when this was finally announced in a double CD form with a live and studio mix by Lionel Marchetti it was beyond welcome. The piece is another masterful Arp 2500 introspection utilizing spare tones carefully drifting and a bit of tape echo and some really stunning resonant filter ringing. Both versions are fascinating with the live one somehow even more stripped down than the studio. The applause at the end always comes as a shock. Things like this often don’t (or can’t) hold up to the legend and it is doubly rewarding when they do.
Jakob Ullmann fremde zeit addendum 4 · solo III für Orgel (Edition RZ)
The release from last year was Edition RZ’s three CD Jakob Ullmann box Fremde Zeiot Addendum which oddly enough contained a piece of cardboard inside it to prevent the contents from rattling about. It turned out that 2013 brought us a fourth disc that replaces that piece of cardboard and makes this vital set even more tremendous. A piece for solo organ that is heads and shoulders above any contemporary composition I’ve heard for the instrument since Messian. There have been a number of attempts to do highly minimal music on the church organ that to my ears have really fallen flat. This instrument, which I love so much, has really proven an insurmountable challenge to apply to this domain. Until now that is. Ulmann’s piece and the masterful playing of Hans-Peter Schulz beautifully recorded by Edition RZ finally reveals this unrealized potential of the instrument.
Michael PisaroClosed Categories in Cartesian Worlds [Greg Stuart, perc] (Gravity Wave)
This one was one of those I got late in the year but I am sure glad I did. As a long time fan of pure tone music from the clinical precision of Alvin Lucier to the all encompassing intensity of Sachiko M, to the piercing interiority of Mitsuhiro Yoshimura (not to mention my own explorations) this has long been a domain I’m fascinated with. Hewing closer to the Lucier mode of operation (and indeed the piece is dedicated to him) with a very precise composition utilizing electronic sine tones of specific duration in concert with the inherent variability of bowed metal. Michael Pisaro put it this way on his blog:
The physics of the crotale are very interesting, since like all metal instruments, its actual motion is relatively chaotic. It is not the absolutely stable and regular sound that it appears to be, but has fluctuating character, perhaps a bit like the reflected glare of any shiny object.
The piece was composed at percussionist, and frequent Pisaro collaborator, Greg Stuart’s request and his performance here is nothing short of inspired. The combination of the bowed crotals and the uncompromising electronic tones is just a shear physicality. Those of us who already appreciate Sachiko or Lucier already know that sine tones of sufficient cycles beat in your ear and undermine your sense of balance as well as subtly varying and shifting as you move around and this album delivers these effects in spades. But it isn’t nearly as clinical as Lucier often comes across as though it is as precisely defined as his pieces. The crotales I think are the special sauce here and Stuarts virtuosity.
Antoine BeugerSixteen Stanzas on Stillness And Music Unheard [Greg Stuart, perc] (l’innomable)
At the same time I received Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds I also received this disc. Which like the aforementioned Pisaro composition this one also involved Greg Stuart bowing metal, this time the chimes on a vibraphone. The recording is very quiet and slowly increases in volume across it’s duration. Like the crotales of the previous entry the bowed vibraphone has a very pure almost electronic sound but with a bit of warmth of instability. The music here is far less physical – the lack of high register, relentless electronics means there is only the acoustic sounds – but it is achingly beautiful. Less demanding and intense it is an excellent companion piece and probably my favorite composition yet from Antoine Beuger.
2013 has seen the fewest releases from Keith Rowe in years with this collaboration with Graham Lambkin being one of the few. This duo was put together by Jon Abbey of Erstwhile records and interestingly the two musicians independently decided to primarily utilize contact microphones and drawing supplies. Keith has been placing contact mic’s on his table and drawing with charcoal on it for some time now (I think I first witnessed this in 2008 at the Amplify fest in Kid Ailack Hall) and the whispery scratches have become a feature of his sound world. With Lambkin utilizing similar technique as well as the brittle, mid-range nature of contact mics this is truly an album of layers. Another layer is that the second track, the titular Making A, is a Scratch era composition by Cornelius Cardew erstwhile Rowe comrade. I can’t say that much of Lambkin’s work has appealed to me and I was a bit skeptical by this collaboration (though always curious). But once again Abbey’s ear for duo’s has born fruit and this really is a remarkable recording, one that I’ve returned to again and again throughout the year.
It’s sort of surprising how much Cage is still unavailable especially from his electronic period. Only in the last couple of years was Variations VII made available and it took until this year for Variations V to be available outside of special order from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. A truly collaborative piece, it involved sound sources monitored by Cage, Tudor and Mumma trigged by the MCDC. The piece is the dance, is the live electronics is the composition. It of course inherently indeterminacy due to the live electronics, thee variability in the spaces performed and in the dancers not to mention the fragility of the electronics. This excellent DVD from Mode presents a German Television shows broadcast of an in studio performance those allow us to experience this truly multimedia piece with the dance and video by Nam June Paik and Stan VanDerBekk as well as (occasionally) see the musicians working their electronics. It also includes an audio only recording from a live performance earlier in the tour which I think helps to understand this continually variable piece. Two interviews with dancers Carolyn Brown and Sandra Neel with Gus Baker provide some context, add details and more than a few amusing anecdotes.
I am in agreement with many that Toshiya Tsunoda is one of very (very) few field recordists doing vital work but even he has as many duds as successes. It seems to be his more conceptual pieces that turn out to be more interesting in concept than in execution so I was naturally skeptical about this recording he made along with Haco of a moving tram (I also was confusing Haco with a vocalist and I couldn’t imagine how that would work). However I was willing to watch this video, The Tram Vibration Project, to get a sense of how this turned out. I pretty much immediately ordered this disc after watching it. Of all the releases I heard from 2013 this one seems the most sound focused. It is about finding the sounds of this tram as it moves along. It’s structured by the trams passage and the choices of where to place one’s microphones (and apparently massive editing by Tsunoda). And what a rich world of crackles, hums, shakes, rumblings and other indescribable and downright fascinating sounds are revealed here. Watch the video, it is much better than anything I (or anyone) could write on this one.
John Tilbury’s magnificent touch on the piano and his effortless shifting from the abstractions of the body and insides of the piano, to pure romantic lyricism are fully present and are indeed the core of this album. Oren Ambarchi though gives this music it’s spine with a deft touch and breathtaking subtlety. One can’t help but think of Tilbury’s collaborations with Keith Rowe but the only similarity here is perhaps those moments before Keith has really begun to play and the buzzing and hums of his setup provide a tapestry upon which the piano rests. Ambarchi barely adds more than that grounding but mines that background radiation for all that it’s worth. The few times he surfaces are in delicate counterpoint to Tilbury’s playing and it almost comes across as the piano resonating into alien space.
This alas was a vinyl only release but happily the kind folks at Beatport have made it available for lossless download which you can find here: The Just Reproach.
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.
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 EL007, September 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.
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.
Morton FeldmanMusic 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 FeldmanCrippled 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.
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.
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.
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 CageSonatas & 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.
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.
Going through my archive of concert ephemera (see previous post) I found the booklet they handed out at the sole AMM show I was able to attend. I scanned this and put it online (click on the pics to see the original scans) and I have to say it’s a nice addition to my memories of this show. I sent this short review of the show to the Zorn-List the day after the show:
I saw AMM at the Old Church in Portland OR, Wednesday April 11th.
This was my first time seeing AMM, and I really only have just begun
listening to them (thanks to this list for this introduction!). The
Old Church was a great place, with beautiful stained glass and a
stunning painted pipe organ (alas that never got played with) Only a
few reference lights were on in the church, otherwise it was quite
dark. The acoustics were great and the audience was very respectful.
I found the show to unbelievably hypnotic and entrancing. They played
with layers of sound, and moments of absolute silence. The ability
these guys have to entice these sounds of their instruments was
really unparalleled. I loved how Keith Rowes’s guitar just seems on
the edge of chaos at all times, and he bows and taps and gently
evokes waves of sound out of it. The way he could bow the whammy bar,
while just touching the strings or gently brushing the eBow over
them–incredible Then the radio…often just added white noise, then
the random bits of dialog or music. I thought there was a decent
amount of radio used during the show, more than on most of the
recordings I have heard.
Prevost’s percussion work was really unlike any other I have heard.
He really is adding a lot more sounds and tonalities, and is
completely unconcerned with rhythmic grounding. His gear included a
snare, a huge bass drum laying flat on the floor, a couple of other
drums and a good dozen cymbals and a gong. He also had lots of loose
cymbals or cymbals with handles. He bowed symbols, he played with the
squawks of his chair, he did this fantastic thing where he would
balance a medium sized cymbal on the snare and would bow the
cymbal….incredible. He would take the loose cymbals and he would
set them on the huge bass drum and then play the drum or bow the
cymbals. The bass drum would add extra amplification and
reverberation. This also worked to great effect when he would place
a bunch of his sticks on the bass drum and then play it with mallets.
John Tilbury played a normal (baby? ) grand piano and had a metal bar
that he used to damp the strings. At times he would use it like a
slide while he plucked the strings, or leave it laying one the
strings while he played. He also bowed the strings. He played a lot
of sparse notes and chords. At one point he go up and walked off.
During a quieter moment you realized that he was playing a piano in a
choir room or something next door. This sparse John Cage-esque piano
just coming out of nowhere, that would disappear as the others got
louder was fantastic. The relatively “normal” sounds of the piano had
a wonderful grounding or contrasting effect to the other players.
Which is a stunning occurrence considering how sparse, non-melodic
and nearly aleatoric his playing was.
The show ended with Rowe fading out static/white noise over a period
of about 5min. They played about 1’15” total. The audience managed to
wait out the full fadeout at the end, until he had switched off his
stuff before applauding.
This was one of the best shows I have seen. The music was utterly
captivating, and was entirely engrossing to watch these guys play. If
you closed your eyes though, it was like being in a dream world. I
had driven a long ways to get to this show and was plenty tired, but
listening with my eyes closed, I really had that just before sleep
feel. Sounds were hard to spatially place, and would often drive my
eyes open to try to see just what was making that sound. The way the
three of them played together, totally synched, no solos is so far
beyond most avant shows I have seen.
In March 2010 I went to Boston for a series of Christian Wolff residency concerts at NEC and to see a number of concerts involving Keith Rowe. This was the third month of the Eleven Clouds project and the distribution method for that months release (Vertical Landscapes I-V/aeolian electrics) was via in-person trade. Jon Abbey of Erstwhile Records made the best trade: a cd-r of the the forthcoming collaboration betwixt Annette Krebs and Taku Unami. Only having my iPhone for music listening that cd-r was going to sit unplayed for over a week and that immediately began to grate. So I bought a super cheap portable cd player and gave it a listen. My initial impression was threefold: pretty good, not really groundbreaking and damn these headphones that came with my portable cd player sucked and thus rendered both of the previous assessments pretty much invalid. I did listen to it maybe three more times in the next few days though and then on my last day in Boston during a free afternoon I stumbled upon Newbury Comics, which included a pretty decent record store where I was able to pick up a reasonable set of Sennheisers. Well these better headphones really opening up the music for me as did subsequent plays on my home stereo, upon which a month hasn’t passed this year where it didn’t get multiple spins. Since that time I’ve been trying to write about it nearly every month as well but it has always confounded my attempts. I felt this was okay, that an album like this resisted easy analysis, or a superficial explanation and that more listens would reveal an approach. But this never happened; I kept listening and becoming if anything increasingly intrigued and beguiled but never really knew what to say. Thus it never appeared in one of my monthly music posts which, while they only covered an aspect of my listening this year, did end up in the end containing a number of my favorites for the year. And it should have because it is by far the best bit of improvisation I’ve heard this year and along with Lost Daylight my favorite album of the year.
Probably not since Keith Rowe’s The Room has there been an album that I think so defies a quick analysis. Like The Room, I enjoyed this immediately, but my snap judgement, as I related above, would have been superficial. Now with Keith I know how much thought is involved with each release, especially a solo album where it isn’t a documentation of a collaboration but is solely his own concerns. The Room perhaps especially so as he spent at least a coupe of years honing his ideas, his structure and performing the piece in his various solo concerts (one of which I saw in 2005). I never really did delve into that album that year; it resisted the easy analysis and I only ended up writing a paragraph about it in my 2007 wrap up. One I revisit frequently and which maybe someday I can find the words to delve into. Motubachii is in my mind a similar case, but even more difficult. With The Room one can at least find interviews with Keith, articles on his process, a long history of recording and of course I’ve had the great pleasure of quite a few conversation with him. This allows one to place it in context, to examine what he and others have said on it and so on. There are few interviews (in English anyway) with Unami or Krebs and they rarely seem to speak on their own music. But that of course doesn’t mean that all we have to go on is the sounds on this disc.
Annette Krebs at the Goethe-Institut Boston (photo by Danny Gromfin)
I’ve had the opportunity to meet Annette Krebs in Vancouver in 2007 and Taku Unami in Tokyo in 2008 and while I wasn’t afforded the opportunity for long chats I did get to see them perform. The performances and of course the recordings from these two do allow us to place this album in an historical context. Krebs in 2007 had come back from a seeming hiatus to begin a series of great releases both solo and in collaboration (Berlin Electronics, sgraffito, SIYU and so on) however by the time of this collaboration with Unami I’d began to feel that she had tapped out her newfound ideas. She plays tabletop (or laptop at least the times I’ve seen her) guitar with a variety of common objects and preparations: brillo pad, files etc as well as radio and laptop. She uses the laptop to play samples or simple synth like sounds and seems able to manipulate speed and length of the playback of these samples. Her approach has always seemed partly random, that is to say while her command of her materials is high she seems as surprised as anyone by what a particular gesture will invoke. The use of the software sampler was what made it seem like she had reworked her bag of tricks but hadn’t really tapped into an endless flow of ideas; the same sample, manipulated in similar ways began to appear on a number of releases. By the end of 2008 the freshness had seem to have evaporated and at least my interest began to wane. However if there was one collaboration that would mix things up, it would be with Taku Unami.
Taku Unami in the Book Cafe
Reportedly after I saw the Keith Rowe/Taku Unami duo in Tokyo in the fall of 2008 Unami claimed that was the end of his performance on the computer driven motors and manipulators and as far as I can tell that has been the case. In the years after that he began using handclaps, cardboard boxes, movement, and guitar. Unami has always defied expectations and has as far as I know never really explained himself. He seemed in a way to follow on from the ultra-minimal work of Taku Sugimoto but with a wicked sense of humor about it all. Perhaps more then anything else he is constantly challenging what performance is, what a recording is, fundamentally what music is. While he will play with people like Mattin and his disciples and follow them where they lead, he never really seems quite the agent provocateur that they are. Mattin et al always come across as ideologues, pushing their notions first and foremost as dogmatically as any Maoist. Unami reminds me the most of Bansky really – he’ll cleverly challenge just about anything but he pretty much leaves it up to the listener to figure it all out. And he’s really good at what he does, even when it ultimately isn’t compelling. Unami by early 2010 had really pushed well beyond what he’d been doing up to that point and a collaboration with Annette Krebs, who was beginning to repeat herself quite a bit was fraught with uncertainty – fruitful ground for Unami.
The cover artwork for Motubachii is among my very favorites from the Erstwhile catalog and it always makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s Ã‰tant donnés, the piece he worked on in secret for decades after he “quit art” for chess. A scenic tableau with a meticulously modeled female nude holding a gas lamp, the viewer looks through peepholes at this scene and the splayed out figure therein. Replacing Duchamp’s carefully rendered idyllic scene with the very real German (I assume) countryside and removing any trace of a figure it may just seem to be a nod, or perhaps even just the long reverberations of the piece in the zeitgeist. But to me it displays the humor that was the hallmark of Duchamp and that I think one can also find in Unami. Self referential in a similar fashion as Ã‰tant donnés is (the mannequin is a cast of a longtime lover, the waterfall and gaslamp reference a note on The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and so on; see this comprehensive book for more on this piece) one can read a lot into that empty countryside and it is I think almost uniquely fitting for the music contained within.
I tend to avoid others reviews when I intend to write on something myself but since I spent the bulk of 2010 attempting to write on this album I did stumble across various impressions and takes on the album. The overriding impressions seemed to be one of confusion (though a joyful confusion for the most part) as though the music was a riddle that the listeners had to work out. The question in collaborations of who has made what sound, or what the source of a given sound is, or if a sound is a sample a natural occurrence or somehow created in situ is an oft raised one. Is this the result of our minds that are constantly seeing patterns, constantly trying to categorize things to reductively break things down to their constituent parts? It is not an unfamiliar exercise to myself , in fact I’d say its a definite trope amongst those who write about music myself included. You see someone like Krebs rub the strings on her guitar with a brillo pad and then later you can say on listening to an unrelated album “and a skritchy sound of a brillo pad rubbed on strings”. If one is attempting to describe the music – always a challenge! – then in many ways this is the easiest path, as it relies on the experiences of the listener to fill in the gaps. With this album we only have the prior performances of Krebs and Unami, and not even of them playing together, to utilize and thus it seems natural to try to puzzle out what is making the sounds, who is doing what and how the album was put together.
Talu Unami/Annette Krebs at Kid Ailack Hall. Photo by Yuko Zama
It is the sounds that tend to bring people into the current vein of experimental musics. Turn the focus away from melody, harmony, rhythm and sound becomes the natural element to focus on. The early experimentalists (Cage, Feldman et al) constantly talked of letting the sounds be themselves, of focusing on sound and so on. But the sounds have been left to themselves for quite some time now, even if most people aren’t paying attention. The experiements with contact mics in particular in 50s, 60s and beyond (Cartridge Music most famously but 60s AMM and many others as well) were all about bringing sounds to the forefront and using virtually every means to produce them. Sounds have remained the focus of recent endeavors, but what I’d really say has been the innovation has been the structure. This I think is particularly the case with Unami who I think began (at least on record) radically de-emphasizing sound with Malignitat where he allowed the samples to be played at specific times to be pulled randomly from a banal sound effects cd. The structure is what was important there and I think that it is the structure that has seen the most innovation in the last decade. Unami continued to downplay sound, with his handclaps, table pounding and cardboard boxes.
Robert RauschenbergNabisco Shredded Wheat Cardboard
I can’t help but think of Robert Rauschenberg’s cardboard box art when I hear of Unami’s usage of them as a sound source. It seems to me almost the exact same reason in that they are ubiquitous, cheap, disposable and as far from art as you can get. Rauschenberg transformed the detritus of our consumer culture into art and Unami utilized the same detritus to devalue the notion sound from his pieces. He also reportedly did performances where he used light to cast shadows with the boxes which he then moved around, removing sound completely from its pedestal. Interestingly enough after reading about the shows where he did this I found a Fluxus text score that is in essence “use a cardboard box to cast shadows on the wall. Move it around.” (I alas don’t have a copy of this score and will have to look around to get the full score and citation). I can’t help but think that there isn’t quite a bit of Fluxus in what Unami does: the subversion of accepted notions of performance and music making, the humor, the stripping down to essentials, the working with very simple scores and the theatricality of his works.
Taku Unami at instal 2009
I’ve listened to motubachii four times through as I’ve written this and even with all the other times I’ve listened to it this year it still intrigues. It is the combination of all that I’ve been going on about here: Krebs’ startled jabs on her instruments and Unami’s subversion of, well, everything. Unami on this recording sounds like he just wandered around the room doing various things as Krebs’ engages in a quite spare performance. There are handclaps, table slaps, dropped boxes, the sound of moving around the room, the rare note on a guitar, brillo pads and files on guitar strings, Krebs’ use of vocal samples distorted, slowed down and sped up, a few plucks of a resonant instrument like a banjo or steel guitar and so on. It could have been them playing a piece in a room, or it could be individual recordings put together or it could be parts from various recordings randomly selected ala Malignitat to either a defined or random structure. One thing that is known is that it is five recorded in five different locations and track one and five are the same. More playfulness from Unami and Krebs. It also lends some creedence to the notion that it is an assembled piece, in whole or in part, but really as I said earlier that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it all works; it has a flow, a beguiling structure to itself that could be the result of any number of processes. The sounds, a mix of Krebs who I’d say is still focused on sound and Unami’s seemingly devil-may-care though clearly thought out everyday sounds, create this structure, nurture it and give the listener plenty to hang on to.
the title stems from two original words from Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries, and the process is amusingly analogous to how the record was put together (which I’m not explaining, before anyone asks).
originally this was Unami’s idea, he suggested the word ‘pinckenbahii’, which he defined as a “gravity vortex which causes strange time phenomena, several times within a time at the same time” and he thought that was a good fit for the record. Annette was also a fan of Lem and The Star Diaries in particular, but didn’t like the way this word sounded in German, so she found a second word (‘uabamotu’) from the book and combined the two into ‘motubahii’. I then researched these and found that Unami had made a mistake with the initial word, which should have been ‘pinckenbachii’, hence ‘motubachii’. – Jon Abbey in the Motubachii post on ihm
I also love Stanislaw Lem and while I never would have worked out the reference (having read the The Star Diaries quite some time ago to begin with) that explanation from how this combined word came together does seem to encapsulate the record well. Perhaps Jon is hinting that the album is an assemblage; it certainly does have that feel. But Unami’s original word defined as “gravity vortex which causes strange time phenomena, several times within a time at the same time” now that captures the essence of the record. I doubt that the strange phenomena in this one will ever become overly familiar, or tiresome or that I’ll ever make it out of the vortex.
Amplify 2008: Keith & Toshi @ Kid Ailack Hall, Tokyo Sept. 2008
I was in the mood for something a bit more harsh today so I put on Erstlive 008: Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura and played it loud. If you have a system capable of serious bass reproduction, which I do, and you play it a sufficient volume to properly propel the bass, which I did, this album throbs with sub-sonics. There are sections of it that are like the sea: an unstoppable, unimaginably powerful force rolling over you again and again. And floating in that sea are cutting blades that slice into you from the completely opposite end of the dynamic range. While there are moments of near stasis it is a restless piece, using continuity of sound like a killing floor that bounces the detritus of the machine age upon it. It feels like the end of something, something more than end of Amplify 2008 which it was. Particularly interesting to me is that for such a roiling, harsh piece it ends with a whimper, not faded out, nor utilizing long stretches of silence, but simply increasingly delicate sounds, punctuated with bursts of tearing feedback for a time, and then tones, whispers, shrill whines of tortured electronics. In this piece the world ends with a bang — and a whimper.
I was in Tokyo for Amplify 2008: Light and was of course in the audience for this show. This was the second time I’d seen Keith and Toshi perform as a duo and this cd is the fourth of theirs released on Erstwhile Records. Their two studio albums on Erstwhile Records, Weather Sky and Between, were each landmarks in the Erstwhile catalog and in my personal musical listening. Weather Sky seems to take ideas that Keith had worked through in AMM and look at them from another another angle. The laminal aspect is there but its much fuzzier, not so intentional with none of the exhaustion of the final AMM performances. Weather Sky gives you much less to settle into and its restlessness, which is a hallmark in my mind of the Keith/Toshi collaborations, undermines any surface stasis. Between is a completely different beast that over its two discs runs the gamut of concerns of this music. While the decision to make this album was a deliberate move it is immediately clear that retreading old ground would not be acceptable. This is not the recording of musicians who are spinning their wheels; their restlessness, pervasive questioning and unwillingness to compromise cut through any notions of a rehash. The improvised music that they participated in hadn’t sat still since the release of Weather Sky, in large part due to their work, but it was already becoming difficult to express what was becoming familiar notions with what was becoming codified gestures. It is a testament to these two musicians that they found so much to explore.
ErstQuake 2: Keith & Toshi @ Collective Unconscious Sept. 2005
Keith Rowe played four shows at Amplify ’08 and rose to this heroic task with aplomb (you can read my reviews of these shows here). His duo’s with Sachiko M and Taku Unami (released as Contact and Erstlive 006) seemed like breakthroughs and a new direction in contemporary improv while his solo show was a tour de force exploration of his concerns, influences and the ideas that motivate him (all thoroughly explained here) . This duo was of course well established with the two aforementioned studio albums plus a live document from the last time Keith was in Japan contained in the Amplify 2002: Balance box set. I’d seen them the first time at the ErstQuake 2 festival in New York City, a festival prior to which I’d seen very few shows in the burgeoning “eai” subgenre. That aspect of course colors things but at the time I felt that this show was similar to that contained in the Amplify 2002 set: an engaging and solid piece of music if not ground breaking. Keith had recently constructed his Cubist Guitar and was still working through it, perhaps explaining the greater relience on radio during this festival. Back in 2005 I wrote this about this set:
No set at this festival was more anticipated by me and it did not disappoint. Nakamura seemed more active and upfront while Rowe explored a wider space and allowed a dominating role for the radio.
As I write this I’m listening to the Keith and Toshi track on disc 5 of the Amplify 2002 box set and it does reaffirm these recollections, though there is a long section of rhythmic feedback from Toshi that so often cropped up in his solo albums from this time, a feature of his playing that rarely cropped up in the studio recordings. [As an aside it has been quite a while since I’ve pulled the Amplify 2002: Balance box set off the shelf and I have to say that among a catalog of handsome releases this box set is simply stunning.] There also is a bootleg of Keith and Toshi floating around from around this time of them playing in Texas that is in a similar vein, what I’d call typically great: the communication between these two is solid enough that whenever they play it is a great set. But what is I think is really quite impressive is that on occasion they transcend that familiar greatness and produce something transformative. Established groups rarely do this as part of the familiarity of frequently playing together is a toning down of risk: you anticipate too much and perhaps you settle into a subset of your own behavior, settling for what you know works. With this duo though it seems much more like they are working through something and it might take a while, so they have these clear “periods” but then they begin to struggle through something else. It is a working relationship akin to AMM come to think of it.
Two years ago in Tokyo after seeing three impressive sets from Keith, and two very solid sets with Toshi one settled into ones seat for this duo with some expectations. After the twin breakthroughs of Weather Sky and Between and a series of always engaging concerts one would be not be remiss to expect another typically great set. Which was certainly delivered and at the time it seemed like a rousing end to an amazing festival. Even at the show I was impressed with how they had seemed to have picked up where Between left off and by perhaps by channeling the energy of the festival, or the sprawling urbanism of Tokyo or perhaps a looming sense of endings everywhere. But since then this set has come to seem increasingly powerful, that sense of uneasy doom increasing; a breakthrough of synthesis. It seems to take the pieces of Between, orient them orthogonally and reassemble them against the overwhelming sense of spareness of Kid Ailack Hall into a singular musical document. It is irrevocably colored by the experience of having been there for me, of course, but this is music whose relevance grows, music that doesn’t have that flush of fresh novelty to it but the deepness of intimacy which, from musicians who are always struggling with those ideas that are never tapped out, results in music that constantly unfolds and reveals more.
The final day of the the Christian Wolff festival at NEC was one of the days I was anticipating the most. The afternoon concert was entirely dedicated to Burdocks (1970-71) which is a fantastic score that I’ve heard a number of quality realizations of. The score calls for one or more groupings of players and for this concert they had organized many groups, virtually everyone we had seen perform to date and more. They tended to be in groups of about four and they had a whole program of how they’d come in and play, how they’d move around various “stations” in the hall and so on. As you’d imagine the sounds were highly varied with virtually every instrumentation you’d imagine (though only a bit of electronics). There was some bad actors (a particularly terrible bit from a professor on the piano springs to mind) but in general there was so much going on that’d they couldn’t act as a spoiler. I can’t deny that there was a couple of times where I had to resist the temptation to stand up and shout “This isn’t Christian Wolff” ala Morton Feldman at a Scratch Orchestra performance of this piece. Toward the end of the piece there is a melodic section that is repeated a number of times. Given the amount of performers here and the length of the event this went on and on, coming first from one part of the room and later another part of the room. In the end there was just one group left, with a pianist, guitar and violin (IIRC) and they’d just play this melodic bit in various ways. Very charming.
Listen to the Scratch Orchestra perform Burdocks
After the show I checked out some of the pages of the score that’d had been scattered around and also found the set of directions for which group was supposed to be where at what time. I commented to Keith Rowe that the chaos had clearly been pretty well orchestrated. He quipped that back in the Scratch Orchestra days they never needed to coordinate their chaos.
Festival Director Stephen Drury playing Sticks
Continuing in the list of great pieces performed on this day the selection from the Prose Collection performed in the Christian Wolff Performance Space, was one of my all time favorites, Sticks. This is another one which I’ve played with the Seattle Improv Meeting, which you can enjoy a recording of while you read along:
Make sounds with sticks of various kinds, one stick alone, several together, on other instruments, sustained as well as short. Don’t mutilate trees or shrubbery; don’t break anything other than the sticks; avoid outright fires unless they serve a practical purpose.
You can begin when you have not heard a sound from a stick for a while; two or three can begin together. You may end when your sticks or one of them are broken small enough that a handful of the pieces in your hands cupped over each other are not, if shaken and unamplified, audible beyond your immediate vicinity. Or hum continuously on a low note; having started proceed with other sounds simultaneously (but not necessarily continuously); when you can hum no longer, continue with other sounds, then stop. With several players either only one should do this or two or two pairs together (on different notes) and any number individually. (6)
You can also do without sticks but play the sounds and feelings you imagine a performance with sticks would have.
There were little stashes of sticks all over the place and the students, as well as festival director Stephen Drury, moved around between the stairwell and the upper area playing these sticks. The sticks were pretty often tapped or rubbed against each other and hitting other things, instruments or objects was quite common as well. While pretty good theater musically I felt this was the least successful of the Prose Pieces that was played as part of the festival. Too dispersed and not enough focus on the actual sticks in my opinion. I think they would have been better off sitting in a circle like they did for Fits & Starts around a pile of sticks and really tried to work with the materials. This is basically how I’ve done it when I’ve performed it and I really loved the results (check out the above recording for a sample of this. In this performance it was much more percussive due to the focus on playing other objects and did not bring out the sounds of sticks nearly as well as one can. Still it was fun to watch and good to see it performed and as with all performances of experimental music, lessons were learned.
Following the dinner break it was back to the concert hall where, as with every night, there was a tape piece playing as I walked into the hall. Tonight’s was For Magnetic Tape (1952) which was the piece that Wolff did while Cage created Williams Mix and Earle Brown his Octet for 8 Speakers as part of the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape. I wasn’t able to concentrate too much on the piece but it was a fairly typical 50s tape piece with sounds rushing in and out, short little tones and squeaks. You can however give this a listen yourself as an mp3 is hosted on the Dartmouth site:
Christian Wolff’sFor Magnetic Tape
The program began with Duo for Violins (1950). This was the first Christian Wolff composition, at least the first one he lists on his websites list of works. It features that highly restricted material of his earliest pieces, constructed out of longer lines, overlapping, intersecting and contrasting. A really nice piece and I enjoyed this performance of it a lot. This was followed by Violinist and Percussionist (1996) another nice little piece that began with plucked strings on the violin while the percussionist mostly tapped his drum head, than proceeded into somewhat languorous bowing as the percussion became more active.
I’ve seen Keith Rowe solo on numerous occasions and while this one was of a piece with those others it was also rather unique. First off it was a bit shorter than normal at a bit less then fifteen minutes (he tends toward twenty-five or forty-five minute solos depending on the circumstance) but also there was the uniqueness of the room to consider. The room is a very important concept for Keith and it extends beyond the physical aspects of the room to contain the atmosphere, the audience and the general ambiance. All of these in this case are the conservatory and its most formal and impressive hall. Keith’s performance began quite spiky with objects on the strings, short little attacks and quick events. Shortly thereafter he brought in the radio and other electronics: the telephone pickup on his netbook and bluetooth interference from a mouse. The performance was compressed, but it had the contours of a Keith solo and it was a bit more harsh than I anticipated, which I think was a little bit of disruption to the formal atmosphere, bringing a bit of the experimentalist tradition to the concert hall. It was a hit among the (mostly) students in the audience and I can’t help but thinking that some few there would throw of the rigidity of the conservatory after this week.
After an intermission was the a large ensemble piece, The Exception and the Rule (2010) performed by the Callithumpian Consort under the direction of Stephen Drury. The piece they played was the musical portions of a a Bertolt Brecht play, that had been composed by Christian Wolff for the ensemble. This was for a fairly large ensemble with male and female vocalists singing the Brecht songs. This piece was performed more completely the next night so I’ll simply say that it was great musically and it really sounded good in this hall. Rounding out the night was a performance of Edges, which is probably my favorite Wolff score (and one of the most challenging I’ve played) with Keith and Christian along with half a dozen students.
One of the great treats of the year that I spent in London was to play with AMM. I still play whenever I can with them. That free improvisation just blew me away. I just loved that. It’s not something I can imagine doing exclusively by any means, but the experience is like no other. I made one piece called Edges which was basically for that kind of a situation. That’s the nearest I’ve come to making a really improvisational piece, where you can’t do it unless you know how to improvise. There is a score, there’s visual material, but the score is just these bits of information scattered over a page which might just indicate very loud or play dirty or play in the middle, that kind of rather generic indication. But the instructions are that you don’t necessarily play the notations but you play around them or in relationship to them. In other words”””very loud”””that’s the image. There you have your Platonic idea, but you circle it, and you have a conversation with “very loud” which might include playing it very softly or thinking about dynamics but in relation to that. It’s okay occasionally to play very loud, but that’s not the primary point of realizing that notation. (7)
They ensemble was widely spaced out on the stage with Christian (on piano) and Keith roughly centered. They played in the darkness with only the lights on their music stands casting any light. The student ensemble included trumpet, violin, clarinet, double bass and baritone horn. There was a lot of space and the sounds were mostly short events coming from the students. They were for the most part a bit tentative but Keith brought in a bit more grit, growl and dynamics though his actions were quite spaced out. Christian also worked in a wider dynamic range playing inside and out of the piano with more compact but still fairly spaced out events. A number of times he responded to the score with big crashes on the piano, after which some of the students seemed to loosen up. I thought they all seemed to play to the score except for the baritone player who played a bit too much but thankfully never grandstanding and or overly dramatic. Pretty good overall especially considering that they didn’t have a lot of time to practice. In my experience with this piece it took several attempts to begin to really find a way into it and I think much more practice to really become proficient at it.
Listen to Gentle Fire perform Christian Wolff’s Edges
March 18th 2010 Christian Wolff festival day 4
Gardner Gallery Boston MA
So the final night of the week of Christian Wolff in Boston was quite a different affair. It was the aforementioned Callithumpian Consort and they were performing four pieces from a variety of twentieth century composers. The starkest difference though was that it wasn’t at NEC but was at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Gallery a few blocks away from the school. This museum was the mansion of a Boston socialite and art collector and has a fixed collection hung salon style. The art, primarily Italian Renaissance art, is uniformly uninteresting to myself and the museum is incredibly uptight. But in order to expand their patronage they do a number of events trying to appeak to a younger crowd. So on the night of this performance there was in the first floor courtyard a Gardner After Hours event which featured a DJ, a bar and younger yuppie types engaged in socializing and an art based scavenger hunt. At the same time as they’d try to appeal to this crowd the uptight museum staff would constantly ostracize them in various ways, constantly subverting the “fun”. In parallel with the After Hours program was the musical performance that I’d come to see, which was part of their Avant Gardner series in an upper tapestry room, so occasionally the sounds of the “party” would drift up during the quieter parts of the show.
The Callithumpian Consort was founded by Stephen Drury in the mid-90s and, as they put it on their website, “is dedicated to the proposition that music is an experience.” They seem to play quite often as part of the Avant Gardner series and bringing more mainstream modern composition into the public sphere seems to be their thing. For tonight’s program they played four pieces including the “world premier” of Christian Wolff’s The Exception and the Rule (2010).
The first was 26 Simultaneous Mosaics by Henry Cowell. I’d seen this piece performed in Seattle as part of the Drums Along the Pacific concert series which had also featured Stephen Drury on piano. This is what I wrote about it for that performance:
The next piece, 26 Simultaneous Mosaics, from 1963 is indeterminate in form, making one wonder if the bi-directional influence between Cage and Cowell continued beyond percussion (Cowell also composed for Cage style prepared piano) though an earlier Cowell piece also allowed for a changeable structure at the group level instead of this pieces more variable indeterminacy at the individual level. This piece for piano, percussion, violin, “˜cello and clarinet made up of the aforementioned 26 parts which the instrumentalists can play in the order of their choosing thus causing each performance to be unique. In this realization the piece was spacious and meandering with the various mosaics taking on many different characteristics. A nice piece with hints of romanticism here and there.
This pretty much held for this performance though it opened with a big wild run from the piano which had also occurred in Seattle though I hadn’t noted it. I thought this performance wasn’t quite as strong in the other parts, not as wild. Not bad though, but this would prove to be par for the course with the Callithumpian Consort – almost always a bit staid (except for Drury). This piece was followed by Trio for Violin, Violoncello and Piano by Charles Ives. I’ve stated earlier in these reports that I am not much of a fan of Ives and am far from knowledgeable enough to intelligently comment on his music. So in brief I felt that the first movement was pretty great, easily the most appealing Ives I’ve heard and I was really hoping this would finally be a composition of his I liked. But then came the second movement which spoiled it all. It was typical Ives Americana but particularly bombastic even for him. It was a “scherzo” that was a medley of popular songs of the day and it was like a bad string trio performance of Souza marches. Soul crushing.
The centerpiece of the evening was Christian Wolff piece which, while still an edited down version of the whole piece, featured actors and narration between the songs. This filled in the story which was pretty typical Brecht (i.e. it rather belabored it’s point) which was about a capitalist trying to cross a desert for a business opportunity during which he abuses and eventually kills his porter. The piece culminates in a trial in which the judge rules for the merchant as he had the right to self defense even if the threat was imaginary. The music of course is the most interesting part, from the program notes:
The music for The Exception and the Rule is cored for a mixed ensemble of low, dark-sounding instruments (clarinet, trombone, viola, bass), and percussion, and includes both specifically notated music as well as aleatoric sections. The singers are asked to prioritize clarity of diction and to sing straight ahead, and to think of folk or early music singing styles. There are no dynamics in the score, suggesting a mezzo, flat sound. (9)
I enjoyed the music for this quite a bit and while I tend to not be too much into Lieder type singing pieces I thought this all worked well. The lack of inflection on the singing helped a lot for me. Ultimately I think I preferred the previous nights version as musically it sounded better in the hall and the play parts seem a bit superfluous.
The story of a journey
You have heard and you have seen.
You saw what is usual, what happens time and again.
But we ask of you:
What is not strange
Find it disturbing,
Strange making what is customary,
Find it inexplicable,
Find it inexplicable.
What is usual should astonish you
What is the rule recognize it as an abuse
And where you have recognized abuse
Create a remedy
Do something about it!
Create a remedy
Do something about it!(10)
The final piece was Page 45 from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise performed by the Consort along with Keith Rowe. This was easily the biggest disappointment of the entire week of music; they only played for about 8 minutes which is pretty short even for just one page. They didn’t have Keith run a workshop on performing the piece, the Callithumpian Consort apparently has been working on the piece for some time, supposedly they have even recorded the whole score at length. But their interpretation, at least of this page, was terrible bringing to mind all that Cardew had complained about classical performers attempts at this piece. They played the whole thing at a very quiet dynamic with near continuous playing. This really didn’t fit the material which was a page with several isolated events. Additionally they were far too inclined toward unison playing, too worried about playing together, which really isn’t an option with a group playing the score. Keith of course kept to the score and provided some dynamic contrast but he played to the room and thus didn’t dramatically jump out. It seems strange to me to have Keith there and not really use him, he is by far the most expert person playing Treatise today and you’d think they’d want to take advantage of it.
After the concert we all headed down to the gallery bar, which the uptight staff of course shut down before the concert goers could get a drink (including the musicians whom they gave drink tickets to). This didn’t go over too well, but we all went to this restaurant closer to NEC and had a final beer. While this last night was a bit of an outlier, in the main this was a fantastic week and it was an incredible opportunity to get to see so much of Wolff’s music performed. I had a great time and it was an honor and a pleasure to be able to meet Christian Wolff and Stephen Drury. As always I had many great conversations with Keith whom it was great to see again. My thanks to all involved for the terrific program.
The second day of the Christian Wolff festival continued in the same fashion as the first day, with shows at five and eight with a selection from the Prose Collection in between. There was also earlier in the afternoon a short lecture from Christian Wolff and a masterclass from Keith Rowe. I tried to make it to Christian’s lecture which was to be on how looking back at ancient history can be of value to contemporary music making but I couldn’t find the building that it was in. Across the street from the rest of the NEC campus is a building that is mostly storefront on the ground level. Well it turns out that there is a door there, marked only with the building number that if you go in there there is another bit of NEC. Well I didn’t find this until well past the start time of the lecture, at which point I thought it’d be rude to enter. So I went to Symphony Sushi instead and had a very nice lunch. I also didn’t attend Keith’s masterclass since I have been to a similar type of workshop with him and I figured this was more for the students. Keith later told me it was packed with around 50 people and it wasn’t really possible for the whole group to all play. A very thorough report of the masterclass was posted by Joe Morris on his blog and is well worth reading. I instead went to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts this afternoon, which while not having too much to offer the aficionado of modern and contemporary art did have a number of pieces worth seeing and of course plenty of early works of note. The Miró, pictured to the right there was among the most interesting to me, in that the cloud portion is unlike any Miró I’ve seen and very striking I thought. The other thing of real interest to me at the MFA is that they have the only historical clÃ¡irseach in the United States, the Bunworth harp.
The 5pm concert began with I am a Dangerous Woman (1983) a solo piano piece that was inspired by Joan Cavanagh’s feminist anti-war poem of the same name. The piece reminded me somewhat of last years Long Piano (Peace March 11) released on New World (which I wrote a bit about earlier) in that it began with a more formally structured section that was not strictly a march but in that vein. As the piece progressed this initial structure changed character several times, overridden by shorter segments that seem disconnected but eventually create a new kind of form. The piece concludes on much less strident note with a much sweeter, melodic nature. A nice piece, well performed. This was followed by Charles Ives String Quartet No.1 “From the Salvation Army” which was pretty much Ives, beginning with a round and the music sounding (as per its source) like classified Salvation Army Band times. I’m not a huge Ives fan and am far from expert so I’ll say no more. There was no information regarding a connection, real or perceived, between Ives and Wolff. I think you could place Wolff in an American tradition that includes Ives and certainly the use of existing folk material is a shared aspect. The group that performed this piece, the Borromeo String Quartet, has been the Quartet-in-Residence at NEC for seventeen years and are clearly a Boston institution. They played in that very animated style as if they were “rocking out” that I blame the Kronos Quartet for. The final piece of the afternoon was Peace March (Exercise #26) (1988) which was written for solo snare and published in Stuart Smith’s The Noble Snare collection. Here it was played as a duo with Christian Wolff on melodica and a Trent Leasure on the snare. This was a short, charming piece with the snare mostly in a muted mode and gently played with the hands. Wolff’s melodica was as far as I can recall just tones that came in and out amongst the sounds of the snare. A nice way to end the afternoon.
The afternoons piece from the Prose Collection was Play, which I have performed myself in several different groups some of which are archived here (scroll down to the Christian Wolff section) and one of which you can listen to as you read along:
Play, make sounds, in short bursts, clear in outline for the most part; quiet; two or three times move towards as loud as possible, but as soon as you cannot hear yourself or another player stop directly. Allow various spaces between playing (2, 5 seconds, indefinite); sometimes overlap events. One, two, three, four or five times play a long sound or complex or sequence of sounds. Sometimes play independently, sometimes by coordinating; with other players (when they start or stop or while they play or when they move) or a player should play (start or, with long sounds, start and stop or just stop) at a signal (or within 2 or 5 seconds of a signal) over which he has no control (does not know when it will come). At some point or throughout use electricity. (6, p. 8)
This performance was down in the stairwell below the statue of Beethoven and was a pretty diverse group of players including some electronics, a baritone sax, percussion, guitar, violin, bassoon and so on. I thought this performance was pretty good, lots of bursts of activity, pretty playful and evocative of the score. Of the three pieces performed from the Prose Collection during this festival I think this one was the most successful: it was engaging music and it really captures the essence of the score. When I looked at my notes that made I had noted several things that directly corresponded to the score (the bursts of activity for instance) and that says a lot to me. This is one of my favorite of the Prose Collection, one of those pieces where the instructions are simple but the ideas are profound. There is also a variant of this piece, the “Color Version” which pushes the complexity and interaction between the players and interestingly for a score includes a number of questions:
Are musical sounds to other sounds as black and white is to color? (6, p. 9)
As per usual the evening began with an electronic piece, this evenings was Snowdrop (electronic version) (1970). I’m quite familiar with the solo piano version of this piece, and this electronic realization was made up of intriguingly layered tones; quite different from the piano version. I’d like to hear this again to directly compare the two and figure out how exactly they relate. The program began with Vanessa Wheeler playing acoustic guitar and singing Dark as a Dungeon (Merle Travis) which is a miners song. This folk tune was used as a source for a piece of the same name by Christian Wolff for solo clarinet of which, though pretty far removed from the source, some elements came through. This I think is another good example of social concerns working their way into Wolff’s music but without pushing it in your face. Having a trad performance of the folk tune beforehand was a nice touch and a little more direct than whatever was implied with the earlier (and forthcoming) Ives piece. Three Pieces: Rock About, Instrument, Starving to Death on the Government Dime (1979-80) for violin and viola followed and I have to say that these really sounded great in the hall. All three were in that uncertain melodic vein so prevalent in Wolff’s compositions and the reverberation of the hall seemed to both reinforce that aspect and yet sustain them. The three pieces all kind of blend together in my mind but my favorite moment was a solo viola section in one of the pieces that really brought out the best of the room, sounding as if it was enveloping you in its rich yet hesitant sound. Another Possibility (2004), a recent solo electric guitar piece, was which was spare, angular and oddly jazzy at times. Overall it had this effect of almost making the player seem like he was hesitantly picking out the piece, like ones first read of a score, but he clearly was really solid and experienced with the piece. He’d pause at times and turn on distortion and continue playing, giving the piece some nice pauses and placing these sections in time.
More guitar followed this, a duo improvisation from Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff. There was some setup, a table was brought out with two guitars, Keith’s electronics and in between the two guitars Keith’s collection of manipulators. In front of Christian’s guitar was his melodica and on either side of the performers, matching Fender amps. They sat side by side at this table sharing the tools, but as only Keith had his electrics there was a nice divergence in sound. Wolff’s playing reminded me at times of the 60s AMM recordings where Keith used less and more primitive electronics, but even then had his own unique texture. He played Stones at one point, working with a pair of them that Keith had on the table, bringing out the sounds of stones as directed in that Prose Piece. Toward the end of their all too short performance he played a bit of melodica while Keith worked the fan and various electronics creating digital roar that the thin, sustained lines of the melodica snaked in and out of. Keith’s playing was of course compressed into the shorter time allotted for this piece but remained unhurried and rich all the same. He matched Christian in the beginning using various manipulators and tools on the guitar but began to add more abstract sounds from the electronics as the set progressed. As Christian played Stones, Keith’s sounds became more raw, using contact mics perhaps and bringing up the radio. By the time of the aforementioned melodica section he had the blurry wash of radio, effects, the roar of the fan all providing this striking contrast to Christian’s playing. Only about 12 minutes all told, but really engaging and a nice contrast to the other pieces we’d seen tonight.
After an intermission the largest group we’d seen yet, including a conductor, came out and performed the US premier of Quodlibet (2007). This piece was for a chamber group of rather diverse instrumentation including a percussionist placed a little ways away from the group. It began with just a few people playing and it tended to shift around the ensemble with lots of moving events mostly in little subsets. At times though quite a few members would be playing but while active it was never overly dense. I don’t really recall too much more beyond this about this piece, but there was something about it I found a bit unsatisfying, perhaps the larger group lost some of that fragility that I find so endearing in Wolff’s music. The following piece, Tuba Song (1992), though, was among my favorites of the entire festival. The piece was for two tubas, one slightly larger than the other (though I don’t know whether these are distinct instruments or not), widely spaced on the stage. A massive duet of rumbles, rattles and overlapping low tones. It brought to mind a ritual mating song of two alien whale-like creatures. The piece was in three movements, of which I found the first the most interesting in it’s use of the really low and abstract sounds. The other movements were also great, with a bit of that elusive Wolff melody working their way in. A truly great piece, it made me think of those Alvin Lucier pieces made up of duo sine waves but at the opposite end of the tonal spectrum. A beautiful way to end another really great day of music.
“And a more general thought, the movement of the music (and, I think, just about all the music I have worked on) is towards melody in its largest sense (as well as, sometimes, its familiar sense of the singable line). This may not be always obvious, but then the times are not conducive to easy optimism.” (1, p. 492)
Christian Wolff spent March 2010 as the composer in residence at the New England Conservatory in Boston and they concluded this with a week of concerts. I personally love all of the New York School of composers and while they have certainly received more recognition in recent times, it is still a rarity to see a lot of their pieces performed. I got wind of the residency performances as they were bringing Keith Rowe over to participate in the concert series and he was setting up a few other performance opportunities. Wolff’s music has appeared on an increasing number of recordings in recent years but so much of his compositions are basically unavailable, I thought back to how revelatory seeing so many Cage piece performed at the Vancouver New MusicSilence: John Cage festival a few years back and decided I’d make the trip to Boston to experience these pieces performed.
“Your first encounter with the music of Christian Wolff leaves you with the impression [that] you’ve just heard (or played, or read) something totally strange, unlike anything else you know. [“¦] Weird little tunes, sounding as if they had been beamed at some remote point in the universe and then bounced back again as a kind of intergalactic mutant music; recognizable melodic and rhythmic patterns, somehow sewn together in monstrous pairings, sometimes reminiscent of the demons of Hieronymus Bosch, composites of animals, fish, flowers, and common household objects: there is order, but also constant interruption, intrusions of disorderly reality upon regularity and lawfulness, combing to create an effect of both familiarity and strangeness: Shklovsky’s ostranenie. […] You can’t really say what it’s like (although John Cage came close when he said, after a performance of the Exercises in New York, that it was like the classical music of an unknown civilization).” -Frederic Rzewski (1, p. 10)
I’ve written before that I’ve found Christian Wolff’s music difficult to write about, that there is a level of expertise required to really do the pieces justice. Even with my level of understanding of modern composition, the large amount I’ve read on the New York School and Wolff’s own writings, I still don’t feel adequate to the challenge. Additionally in the case of this festival, these were students at a variety of levels playing these pieces and in my mind it wouldn’t necessarily be fair to “review” the performances as the primary purpose behind these were educational. I don’t want to give the wrong impression here, all of these students are, of course, already highly trained musicians and many of them will be playing professionally in a few months or years. Overall I found the performances nearly always top notch and even the rockier performances were still interesting in considering the challenges of these piece. There are a few cases though where the performance lends some insight into pieces that I do know well and it is inescapable to ignore that aspect. But I want to emphasize the difference there is in a poor performance at a professional concert versus in a student context: it is in the later case part of the education process. It is also worth noting that it’s not just my relative lack of expertise that renders these pieces difficult to write about; time and time again over the week I’d hear students, faculty and professional performers discussing how difficult this music is. It is not difficult in terms of high complexity, but in their fragility, the way they are constructed can make it easy for them to sound bad even if decently performed. It is this aspect, where a certain touch, or willingness to commit oneself completely to the ideas in the piece makes all the difference in the piece working or not.
I arrived in Boston on March 14th after a red eye flight from Seattle and saw that night an improv set featuring Keith Rowe and Jason Lescalleet outside of the Christian Wolff festival (Brian Olewnick wrote a good review of this show). Weather in Boston these first few days was crazy with 50-70mph winds, driving rain and a chill, that while above freezing, was not deterred by the heavy winter clothing I had brought with me. This weather continued into the next day and for the beginning of the festival I’d be damp at all the concerts. There were concerts at 5 and 8 pm Monday through Wednesday at NEC with a final night at the Gardner Museum near the conservatory. Additionally each day at NEC also included a performance from the Prose Collection at the halls entrance in between the concert halls. This of course was a large amount of music much of it unfamiliar, or even unperformed. Thus any sort of writeup beyond a piece by piece analysis is going to be a bit of a gloss I’m afraid. This post will be in that later category but as I have performed several of his pieces myself (I wrote about my experience of performing a number of his pieces in this post), and I’d have a chance to see several of those very pieces performed here, I’ll also try to examine those pieces in that context.
The next day was the first day of the Christian Wolff concerts, the 5pm show being the only show in Williams Hall. The pieces that were played were: Duo for 2 Flutes, Tilbury, Tilbury 2, and Tilbury 4, Exercise #7, For One, Two or Three People andBerlin Exercises. I arrived a bit before 5pm and spent some time reading the very nice prepared materials they had made for the series. This was a book outlining the performances for each night (minus of course the inevitable last minute changes ) a printed handout that included descriptions of a number of pieces (mostly from Christian’s collected writings Cues: Writings & Conversations) and a document that included the text of some songs that were performed. The first piece, Duo for 2 Flutes is one of Wolff’s earliest pieces, which I had not heard before. Wolff in his earliest pieces restricted himself to using just a few tones and this piece was in that vein. The two flutes would play these few tones in short or longer durations, with overlappings between the two instrument adding layers of interaction beyond the limits of the material. A short, charming, engaging work and a nice way to begin the festival. The next few pieces are these beautiful piano works that Wolff wrote with John Tilbury in mind (though not specifically for John Tilbury) of which I have several recordings (Sabine Liebner’s on Neos being my favorite). The early Tilbury Pieces are quite spare with notes coming in and lingering and well seperated in time. The later pieces include several other instruments along with the piano. These are pieces that I’m quite familiar with and I didn’t recognize them at all when performed here, not quite spacious enough and the notes seemed to lack that floating feel. The following piece, Exercise #7 was somewhat stiff, but I felt the afternoon’s concert really snapped into focus with a performance of For One, Two or Three People.
“This music is drawn from the interaction of the people playing it. It requires for its performance independent self-discipline (unpoliced by a score defining fixed relationships and timings) and a capacity and special alertness for responding to what one’s fellow performers are doing, the sounds they are making or changing and their silences.” (1, p. 492)
In the sixties Wolff became quite interested in the social aspects of music making and the relationship of the composer to the performer. While he had since the fifties ceded control over of a number of aspects of the music to the performer (indeterminacy of performance) quite a bit of his music from this period places trust in the performers over the very structure of the piece. While I haven’t had a chance to examine this score I have heard several versions of this piece including this incredible solo version by David Tudor on a baroque pipe organ.
Christian Wolff For 1, 2 or 3 Players, performed by David Tudor
In this performance three players set up on the floor in front of the stage with percussion, double bass and bass clarinet. This performance was lively, sounds coming in and out with clear interaction between the players. This trio seemed comfortable with performing and with tackling this piece. The sounds were engaging the percussionist expelling bursts of explosive percussion along with rattly, clattering sounds, the scrapes, plucks and dry sounds of extended techniques on the bass and whistles, breaths and low rumbles from the clarinet. The percussionist had a string in a drum that when bowed made this alien roar that was in stark contrast to the much more uptight sounds we’d been hearing earlier. The piece that followed this performance seemed to relax into it as well, with Berlin Exercises , which featured spoken and sung texts in German (Vergnuegungen by Bertold Brecht). This was enjoyable I thought with the various sounds of the ensemble (which included recorders, vibraphone, piano, cello, etc) coming in and out as per the other exercises, contrasted against the spoken and sung text.
In between the afternoon and evening concerts there was to be a performance from the Prose Collection in what they were calling the “Christian Wolff Performance Space” which was the hallway in between concert halls featuring a statue of Beethoven. The Prose pieces are as the name implies scores that are written as a text instructions and that were created for musicians and non-musicians alike. Fits and Starts score is more of a list of instructions than some:
Fits and Starts
Four or five of the following sequences represented to start with.
Any number of players; any one player playing one or more of the sequences; any number of players playing the same sequence.
Each player follows her own pulse, generally within the limits of one beat per 5/6 of a second to one beat per 1 1/3. Generally, though without straining to, avoid another’s pulse.
The duration of a sound, unless some further articulation of it (which may include its stopping) is used to mark a rhythm, should not exceed about 2 1/2 seconds (and may be any shorter length).
1. 1 sound or articulation of a sound underway: every 21 beats, omitted every 6th time the 21st beat comes round.
2. 1 sound or articulation: at the 11th beat, then at the 12th, then 13th,, etc., always adding one.
3. 1 sound or articulation: at the 10th beat, the 29th, 60th, then 10th, 29th, 60th, etc., always repeating.
4. 1 sound or articulation: at the 120th beat; 2 sounds or articulations at the next 100th; 1 at next 90th; 2 at next 80th; 1 at next 70th; 2 at next 60th; 1 at next 50th; 1 at next 40th; 2 at next 30th; 1 at next 20th; 2 at next 10th; then 1 at next 20th; 2 at next 10th; then 1 at next 20th; 2 at next 30th; 1 at next 40th; 1 at next 50th; 2 at next 60th, etc., back to 1 at next 120th, then forward again, and back, etc.
5. 1 sound or articulation: 15 beats after 4 sounds or articulations heard; then 4 beats after 4 sounds or articulations heard; then 15 beats after 4 sounds, etc., heard, then 4 beats after 4, etc., always alternating; or (freely changing back and forth): 2 sounds or articulations: 21 beats, then 3 beats, then 50, then 21, 3, 50 always repeating, after 3 sounds or articulations.
6. 1 sound or articulation every 42 beats; or (alternating freely) 2 sounds or articulations every 29th or 58th beat.
Players may shift from one sequence to another at any point within a sequence.
When a player has a sense of the music of his rhythm(s) he may proceed simply on the basis of that sense, and hence to her own rhythms. (6, p. 12)
The Prose Pieces which included performers that I’d not see in the other pieces (perhaps some improvisation students?) were uniformly enjoyable. A wide variety of sounds, as there is no restriction on instrumentation, that come and go as per the above instructions with lots of silences and interesting interactions. Being in the middle of the hall there was a wide variety of ambient sounds, from the driving rain out the nearby door, to repeated fragments of music from students in practice rooms, to the suddenly hushed conversations as students rounded the corner to find a performance in progress. This piece is timed by ones pulse which one tended to figure out as you’d watch the students make a sound and then test their pulse at their neck or wrist for a time before making another. Really an enjoyable event and in accordance with my performances from the prose pieces (though I haven’t played this particular one). These pieces I find highly musical and really love how that people who want to make music can take this simple instructions and produce highly engaging music.
There was a bit of a break for dinner after this, which I took with Keith and ended up also being with Christian and festival director Stephen Drury. This was unexpected and really nice, a chance to meet Christian as well as Stephen whom I’ve seen perform on a number of occasions. Of course those involved in the festival had a limited amount of time so soon enough it was back to the concert hall for the evenings program. Before each nights performance there would be some pre-recorded music: tape pieces, electronic realizations and the like. On this night it was Mayday Materials (1989) which Wolff had written for a dance and was his first tape piece since 1952. He sampled various instruments and produced a number of pieces out of the samples and these would be selected from based on the needs at hand. It had that sound of digitally constructed college of these instruments, with sounds fading in and out and rushing about. Additionally there seemed to be samples of street sounds, groups of people and so on.
The main feature of this evenings concert was that it was all pieces for, or realized on, multiple pianos (the order of these pieces changed from the program, and I’m no longer certain if I have this entirely correct. Please leave a comment if you know that I’m wrong here). Five pianos surrounded the audience with one at each of rooms four corners and the fifth in the center of the stage. They played pieces by all four members of the New York School beginning with Christian Wolff’s, Sonata (1957). This was a piano trio and was played on the three front facing pianos. It is a piece for four pianists at three pianos and also involves some preparation. I didn’t go look at the preparations but Wolff’s always seem to be fairly lightly prepared, so closer to earlier Cage pieces. This piece wasn’t too long and I don’t recall too much about it beyond the what seemed to be interlocking phrases across the multiple pianos and the occasional sound of the preparations. Said preparations were then removed and were followed by Earle Brown’s Twenty-Five Pages (1953) of which they played a subset (each pianist with five pages perhaps?). This was an active piece with the five piano’s material overlapping and forming connections by chance. Alas the next couple of pieces really drove the first two from my memory and I don’t recall too much about this piece beyond that it was fairly active and I enjoyed it at the time. The five piano version of John Cage’s Winter Music that followed was quite memorable and I thought really worked well in this configuration.
The work consists of twenty pages of music that can be used by anywhere from one to twenty pianists. Varying numbers of events are scattered on the twenty pages, but all the events have an identical profile: single chords. The number of notes per chord and their specific locations on the staff were determined by chance procedures. The notation can be ambiguous with regards to pitch, and Cage provides precise rules on how to interpret these situations. But he is absolutely clear that each event should be played as a single attack. There is to be no breaking up of the chord in any way. If the notes are too widely-spaced for the pianist’s hands to reach, then a technique involving sympathetic vibrations is used to compensate.
The method of Winter music explains its severe quality. Other pieces of this same period in Cage’s work may incorporate a wide range of possibilities, but Winter music limits itself to one. The same simple event — the single attack — occurs over and over again with no contrast, no development, no change. And because every event in the piece is an ictus — a downbeat — there is no sense of motion here at all. Events do not lead to one another. Events do not have the inner motion of a phrase or even an arpeggiation. […]
Considered in this way, the title of Winter music begins to make sense. This is a music in which time no longer exists, or in which it is frozen. The sparse and isolated chords of Winter music have more in common with points in space than with events in time. They stand out in the silence, totally separated from one another, the way that twigs, stones, and trees appear against the blank whiteness of the snow. – James Pritchett (8)
I’ve mostly heard Winter Music played along with Atlas Eclipticalis until the release of David Tudor Music for Piano on Edition RZ includes a solo performance of the piece by Tudor. As Pritchett describes above the piece is these isolated chords, coming out of silence at varying dynamics. With the pianos in the round as at this performance the sense of stasis is even greater. It is as if you are on a frozen in a lake, surrounded completely by the chill of winter. Really great to hear this piece performed and with five pianos – something you could only hear in a music school. In contrast to the sudden attacks and occasional loud chords was the final five piano piece, Morton Feldman’s Five Pianos (1972)
Pianos and Voices began by finding myself humming tones while improvising on the piano. The vocal or humming sounds were quite short, and as the piano sounds lingered, I began to hear other pianos, other humming. Two, three, four pianos were too transparent – the fifth piano became like the pedal blur needed to complete the overall sound I was after. – Morton Feldman (9)
This piece was just fantastic, definitely my favorite of the evening (though so much was so good on this night). The piece is made up of arpeggios, which in this setup just surround you, almost seeming like thye began in one part of the room, and continued in another part of the room. The front center piano played sustained single chords which the surrounding arpeggios seemed to just ripple off of. Lovely.
A break followed after this piece and then the final performance of the night, Christian Wolff’s Changing the System (1973/4).This piece was performed by four groups of four students in the round, mostly brass players but a variety of instruments. They played short melodic fragments, with hand signals and such to pass them along interspersed with chordal playing. Half way though the piece the system is changed (so to speak): two groups switch to percussion, the others to a fragmented text reading. The text they read from was from a speech by Tom Hayden five during the 1968-69 student upheavals in the US about the need for systemic social change(1, p.500). The text reading was like the melodic playing in that the performers would pass a sentence along, sometimes one performer starting a word and another finishing it. At other times they’d all say a word together, akin to the earlier chords. This piece was really great, easily my favorite one that contained textual material. The way the text was broken up and repeated reminded me of Cage’s Living Room Music in a way and the performance in the round really worked well to the pieces advantage.
Thus ended the first night of the Christian Wolff festival at NEC. As this has gotten pretty long I think I’ll break this up into several posts. Stay tuned for the rest of the report. In the meantime you can check out all of my pictures from this festival in my Christian Wolff at NEC flickr group.
March 2010 I acquired a bootleg of an AMM performance from March 31st, 1990, from the Taktlos Festival in Zurich Switzerland. AMM at this show was Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare and John Tilbury which of course is the same lineup on the Matchless release The Nameless Uncarved Block. Looking at the linked page for this album we see that it was “Recorded at concerts given in Zurich and Basel organised by the Taklos[sic] Festival, Switzerland, April 1990.” A cursory listen to the two recordings reveal that the Matchless release contains the entirety of this bootleg (the Zurich show) plus additional material presumably from the Basel show. The purpose of this series is to examine the unreleased AMM material and while this exists as a bootleg it is beyond the pervue of this project. It is worth considering boots of released material where there are significant variance in sound or editing or those with additional material. For instance the final AMM show (May 1st, 2004) which I had a bootleg of prior to its official release is about five minutes longer then the official release and it is worth considering the complete performance. So there isn’t too much to say about this one, beyond go pick up the album! While I’m not really a fan of Gare’s work on this one, it does have my favorite title of any AMM release. Anyway a brief analysis of the recording quality and comparing the two releases follows.
A recording of the performance seemingly offers the possibility of “documentary” recovery, allowing a consciously analytical response to the sounds and the developing structure. Even as it refigures the past, however, the recording indicates its remoteness. -Ed Baxter(2)
The bootleg begins with odd stuttered chords from the piano, over which Gare, in quite a tonal mode, layers lower register lines, which become increasingly melodic. Tilbury’s piano then shifts to a jazzier mode and as Prévost begins to tap out a fragmented tattoo on the toms it almost sounds like a jazzy ballad. Only after some time does Rowe come in offering a counterpoint, that shears away from what was previously quite uninteresting. Gare mostly sticks in this more tonal vein, though more fragmented at times as the rest of AMM explore their own language. It weaves between these extremes, neither really giving ground. And yet its not quite as interesting as that contrast makes it sound, it is not as if Rowe tuned in a free jazz sax solo on the radio and let it run in opposition. Gare is too reactive to the group in that sort of call and response style of jazz and not the laminal nature of AMMMusic. The Nameless Uncarved Block on the other hand begins with a skittery laminal sound of tinkled ivories, bowed metal and real subtle un-sax like squeaks from Gare. The first track, Sedimentary, is not contained within this bootleg and most likely is from the Basel shows. The second track, Igneous, seems to begin at around 6’15” minutes into the bootleg, cutting away that ballad-like section. The mix is quite different as well, the drums a lot more buried in the official release and this low, almost bass-like, playing from Rowe a little more present. In fact the mix and the audio quality is so different that it is worth hearing this bootleg as a demonstration of how different this can be. A good example is around 8’30” in the boot 3’15” in Igneous there is a louder more “freak-out” type section that clearly from the boot is a lot more intense than in the recording, whether that was done in post or just a different microphone placement or what have you is hard to say. Igneous runs for 37 minutes and then there is a final track, Metamorphic, which is 7’21” long. This is track is contained in the final track on the Zurich bootleg from approximately 3′ in until the end. Interestingly on the boot there seems to be about 15″ cut from the end but then there is applause. All told the bootleg has maybe 8-9 minutes that aren’t part of The Nameless Uncarved Block. The differences in the recording are the most interesting to me, it sounds as if the boot is an audience recording, though a very nice one, with audience conversation clearly audible during several quiet sections (and possibly why that little bit was edited out at the end). But clearly the person recording this was closer to Gare as he is a lot more up front in the mix and interestingly this recording seems to capture a slight different aspect of Rowe’s playing — less of the subtitles but more of the rumble if that makes any sense.
This recording is interesting in that it makes explicit how different a recording can be based on how it is done, where it is done, not to mention editing and any other post processing work. Even at a live show ones position in the audience makes a huge difference. Of course this aspect is only of limited interest and won’t bring me back to it after this initial period of listening. Personally though if I was interested in hearing this concert I’d stick to the official release, it has better balance between the members. This being the complete performance certainly gives it a documentary interest, but personally I’m not much of a fan of Gare’s more tonal playing with AMM and The Nameless Uncarved Block never gets much play to begin with.
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