The end is nigh

May 15, 2011

No, the blog hasn’t been overtaken by 2012 spammers, this really is the end.

When this blog started a few years back, it was a place for me to reach out and share my experimentation, and discovery with other (hopefully) like-minded people. At the time I felt I was possibly the only person making music in this way, and in a lot of ways, I was looking for peers and collaborators. Well, I have found those things, and they have pushed my music and my listening into further areas still, and in some ways away from what this blog initially was about. It has gotten to the point where this old blog is of little use to me now, and so I am leaving it for (again hopefully) greener pastures. I will leave it up for anyone still interested in the topics covered here, but I won’t be posting here anymore.

Thanks to all of the people who stopped by for a read, dropped a link, or a comment, or recommended this blog to a friend. It’s been a good ride.

Now that the goodbye’s are done, here’s some hello’s for you…

My more nascent activities will be developing over at my new blog No Sound Unturned and on my Soundcloud. Look out for new sonic material, reviews, and links.

cheers,
howsthatsound

Get the new BSC album for a Tweet!

May 6, 2010

You read that right. The Boston Sound Collective’s new work “23% Bicycle and/or Ribbons of the Natural Order” is available now, for a Tweet. Just go here and submit your Tweet to be taken to the download page, where you will have a variety of formats available to you, and an option to donate.

Here’s more on the album from Bhob Rainey’s blog:

Bhob Rainey – Soprano Saxophone, Director
Greg Kelley – Trumpet
James Coleman – Theremin
Liz Tonne – Voice
Chris Cooper – Guitar and Electronics
Vic Rawlings – Cello and Electronics
Howard Stelzer – Tapes
Mike Bullock – Bass
Get this release for a Tweet!

23% Bicycle… captures the BSC shortly after an intense series of performances at the Phoneme Festival, a three-night event in Philadelphia featuring members of the band in a series of small groups followed by full BSC sets each evening. In one sense, the music is tight and controlled, maintaining a sustained tension as events peel from one to the next, not so much moving forward as revealing increasingly buried layers. But, from the very first sound, it is clear that everything teeters on chaos. The familiarity between the musicians is apparent, as is their willingness to undermine that familiarity, to send each other to unlit corners and map whatever sublime beauty or horror is found there. To say that the resulting music is dark is to miss its jubilance. It is complex and visceral, the work of an ensemble committed to both its refinement and unraveling.”

On the first couple of spins, this sounds like it’s going to be pretty rewarding to dig into. The surface is pretty moody overall, the sonic palette hearkening back to the golden era of European avant garde music, while deftly avoiding parody. Once your ears adjust to the sea of undulating sounds, you are drawn into an unfolding drama full of shifting colors and textures, with new combination’s and approaches continually emerging. Looking forward to getting closer to this one.

Okay, enough blabbing, go get it!

Great article on extended technique

May 5, 2010

This past week Bhob Rainey posted an excellent article from Dusted Magazine, that I had somehow overlooked. The article tackles the sometimes thorny subject of extended technique and it’s relative takeover of new improvisation. A slightly dated (or just tired) subject for some, but Charlie Wilmoth’s take still sounds fresh and insightful. A pretty great read for any fan of improvised music.

I’d also say that if you’re one of us that has the odd relative or friend who can’t get why you want to listen to music consisting of scrapes, squeals, static, etc, this article may be able to shed some light. Wilmoth does a great job of linking this movement to touchpoints in jazz, modern classical, etc, in a very approachable way.

Enjoy!

Dustedand Magazine – Scrapes and Hisses: Extended Techniques in Improvised Music

Cathnor Vignettes series, review 5, Burkhard Beins, Michael Thieke, & Luca Venitucci – “Roman Tics″

January 30, 2010

The role of titles in improvised music is an odd thing. It’s strange to use a form of titling better suited to song-craft, for something as ephemeral as free improvisation, but sometimes (like in the case of Ryu Hankil’s “Becoming Typewriter”) it can be brilliant and evocative. In the case of this record though, it’s cringe-worthy. While I understand the “connection to Rome” has something to do with the title, I really wish it was just called Romantics. That would have actually been evocative of what is contained here, and quite clever, where the bifurcation is tedious attempt to be clever at best.

Unfortunately, tedious is also a good description of the music presented here. It’s very difficult to be specific about why however, but I’ll try to make sense of it.

The personell for the recording is: Burkhard Beins: percussion, objects, zither, Michael Thieke: clarinet, zither, and Luca Venitucci: accordion, preparations. The music in general has the sheen of avant-garde music, which is why I think the word Romantic is apt. This may be because the of the entirely acoustic instrumentation, and overall, very traditional (for the avant-garde anyway) technique. Now, I happen to like a lot of avant-garde, but it is mysterious to me why someone would play like this now. Maybe I’m wrong to expect records made in this area to address the psychographic environment that surrounds them, and have fresh comment on it, but I do, and this record does not. At least not effectively in my opinion. There is just something old-fashioned about many of the sounds here.

My other major issue is that the playing here tends to be very episodic. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and it’s a big part of the reason, I moved away from more “Musical” areas of improvisation in the first place. A constant battle in playing this kind of music, is maintaining the balance between playing with someone, and against them. If you only play with someone, the result can have a follow the leader effect. If you only play against them, things can sound disjointed, unexamined, and opportunities to coalesce effectively can be lost.

Here, the issue from me, is the creation of musical miniatures that become little structural traps along the way. When the players lock into one of these “grooves”, all I can think is, “how are they going to find their way out of this cul de sac?” Mostly, they don’t. Not satisfactorily anyway. More often than not the technique chosen is the “dead-stop” followed quickly by that’s i’ll refer to as the “foundational re-entry”, a technique, where a texture that can be played over is laid down to begin a new section.

So, what’s so wrong about all this?

If I find myself, so overly aware that this “miniature” is wearing thin and needs to go somewhere, or that that transition is being placed because of a dire need to keep propulsion in the music, then any spell the music can have over me is broken. I’m left feeling I’ve witnessed a group of people try and figure out a very difficult problem, and this is just not a desirable feeling.

There are glimmers on this record though. Areas where the music does take hold, and begin to stake out a new landscape for itself. Areas where one does not know what will come next, and doesn’t care, because now feels so nice. Perhaps this is what’s so frustrating to me about this piece. Great moments like the one above dissolve into nothing, for seemingly no reason, and are then too quickly on to the next miniature.

Cathnor Vignettes series, review 4, Paul Abbott & Grundik Kasyansky – “green ribbon residue, in this case″

January 9, 2010

[Edit: Sorry, the original version of this sounded too flip, so I tweaked it a bit.]

Every sound, once unacceptable, is now acceptable in this current music. At least it seems that way. So how can we, standing at the edge of the aesthetic earth, possibly move forward?

I’m sure there is a way forward, or more specifically, a way to avoid stagnation, to continue to make fresh, exciting music. I think, in this area of music it is very important to constantly be challenging the status quo, the common gestures, the obvious movements, to say something about who, and where, and what we are. I think the most exciting records for me show signs of this, and the ones where I cannot see it never really get to the point of interest for me.

Listening to “green ribbon residue…” about 30 times over the past few months, has lead me ultimately to places it more in the latter camp than the former. It has some tasty ingredients, sure… copious stillness, pregnant silence, threads of keening feedback, crashes of percussion, electronics bursts and pulses, all deployed with an almost processional calmness, solemnity and poise. Sounds like it could be pretty good right? Well, in a lot of ways, I suppose it is. There are moments (few of them unfortunately) where the two players begin to build something together that points to more exciting territory. Had I seen this live I probably would have been riveted. On record however, there seems to be something achingly absent.

The familiar feedback is there, but for some reason it’s not enticing, or frightening, or even difficult, the hair-pin turns appear, but they just go back to that reservoir of silence that can be so readily dipped into. There are painterly gestures here and there, but they come off somehow awkward. It begins to feel like we are sort of playing “EAI” here. It seems like all of the hallmarks are here, but I just don’t feel like it’s getting to a place that will make it more than a reading in a style.

It could be tempting to say that the issue with this disc is that it is not really pushing things, that it’s not exactly groundbreaking, just ok. But, maybe the issue is different. Maybe this disc is merely too affirming of our current taste as a collective to truly move me.

Of course, maybe I’m just looking for something here that there was never intended to be. I don’t know, all I can really do is give you my impression. In this case, this disc is pleasant, and intriguing enough that it will get occasional revisitings, but as for how I feel about it now, it’s just ok.

Submitting some music to the Dictaphonia microcassette comp series

January 9, 2010
Dicataphonia 5

Image, courtesy: Hal McGee

This isn’t something I’d normally do. These kinds of open request comps tend to be largely comprised of acts whose music no one else is willing to release. While I certainly fit snugly into this category, I by no means want to end up one of those people who submits to every open comp for this sort of thing that happens by. (one of the reasons I’ve never contributed to the IHM comps)

So why this and why now? Well, one, I love working under restrictions. There is something about limited formats that appeals to me. I also love gritty lo-fi sounds, and of course, tape. I also noticed in a quick glance-over that there is really not much like what I do on these comps, and in general I’m not seeing my approach to this kind of thing taken by anyone. So why not try and present something different?

Over vacation, I’ve been recording a bit with my microcassette recorder, trying to come up with a track that is the right combination of length, and musical interest. So far the length thing has been the most difficult. The approach I decided to take here is similar to what I’ve been doing recently in general; using only the object of focus produce sounds, usually by means of some form of preparation, with as little “gesture” as possible. The object of this approach is to (hopefully) produce music that is not only interesting, but that unfolds as if it is happening by some natural process outside of human intervention. This is of course very difficult, and my success rate is spotty, but that’s the goal.

In my attempts to produce something for the comp, I have generated a bunch of tracks that are just too long (I’m trying to play within the bounds without editing), though I find them all to be quite interesting in their own way. So I’ve decided to post them here for your enjoyment. Enjoy!

MP3:
12345

FLAC:
12345

Cathnor Vignettes series, review 3, Mark Wastell – “After Hours″

December 14, 2009

I’ve been meaning to post about Mark Wastell’s contribution to the Cathnor Vignettes series for a week or so now, and it’s really not gotten easier. If anything this post only exists because it has gotten easier to talk about how it has not gotten easier.

First, let’s talk about what we have here. A roughly 15 minute long composition of pre recorded tubular bells that consists of 15 or so odd strikes* at the bell, and their resultant (relatively) uninterrupted decay. Sometimes they are on one side of the stereo field or another, sometimes they overlap, but really that is all the variation beyond the lengths between the strikes that there is to hear here. So you can probably guess why this is a difficult review.

On one hand, I may have told you enough already so that you will know what side of the fence you are on in terms of you desire to hear this release. In some ways you could, if you’ve heard such material before, imagine what this may sound like with a fair degree of accuracy. On the other hand however, things may not be so simple. I am, as the tentativeness of this review may suggest, planted firmly on the fence.

The music on “After Hours” is so elemental that discussing it critically would be like discussing a photograph of rain on a windshield. The subject matter is beautiful, melancholy, and sublime by it’s very nature, and also in this case, exquisitely captured. At the same time though it is so elemental that it is almost mundane. I can certainly say that it did not provide more for me beyond a familiar (if sublime) beauty. Certainly I have comparable recordings of Tibetan singing bowls purchased from incense shops that bear the same beautiful, elemental quality. Which leads me to ask, why Mark Wastell, and why now? The music contained herein is undeniably beautiful, and that may be my only problem (if you could call it that).

Maybe it is merely ambient music to chill out to, or maybe Wastell is up to something more which I cannot yet detect. Maybe I should stop thinking about it so much and focus on Mr. Wastell’s simple words:

“After Hours; the work completed, time to contemplate.
After Hours; down time, relaxation after so much effort.
After Hours; pour the wine in celebration.”

* I’m not sure how exactly what actions are producing these sounds. It appears that the sounds are the results of strinking with a mallet, but it seems their envelopes have been altered via computer processing of some kind.

Jack Rose

December 7, 2009

I tried to write something about the sad passing of this amazing musician, but it’s useless.
I’ll just say it’s really sad to know he’s gone.
Condolences to those who knew him.
Rest in peace, Jack.

Cathnor Vignettes series, review 2, Lee Patterson – “Egg Fry #2″

December 2, 2009

Just realized that’s a lot of commas in the title. Oh well.

This is the second installment of my review of the Cathnor vignettes series, and also, my second real review for this site (cue boos and general dismay). For those not worried about this prospect, my plan for reviews in general is to review whatever I feel like talking about whether new or old. I don’t have a huge philosophy behind that or anything, I am just occasionally struck by a record or label, and when I am, I hope to write about it here. In the case of this series, I just really like what Richard is doing with the label. It’s pretty cool to see someone step it up and take their passion for this music to the next level, and it’s great to be able to hear the recorded results.

Now to the review… Egg Fry #2, is a real treat, but for a few reasons, somewhat difficult to write about. Firstly, the sounds produced by the egg frying in the pan, sound almost like they are being made by an ensemble. There are many different sonic approaches, and different locations in the stereo field from which the sounds emerge. But there is no ensemble, and no instruments to pinpoint, thus it’s difficult to say, “i like when the _____ goes _____.” Not that that is the soul of a review, but you know…

The recording in general is really well done. Background noise never becomes intrusive, and the sounds by and large sound defined and transparent. (the nerd in me would love to know what setup Patterson used for this recording) Compositionally, this piece reminds me in certain ways of Jason Kahn’s recent (and wonderful) “Vanishing Point”, in that the overall shape of the piece is an accent from silence to fullness, and then a descent back to silence that is equally as carefully paced and just as long if not longer. I really like the psychological effect this produces, as it helps to focus my attention to detail throughout the end of the piece, until i am peeking through the silence at the end for the last few pops and sputters, like scraping a plate after a good meal.

The sounds presented here are a mix of (a very nice version of) what you’d expect, with a handful of surprises. There are a lot of images of musicians evoked for me here, and sometimes I can’t help my mind from imagining Axel Döerner somewhere in the mix. Or, Robin Hayward, or to a lesser extent Otomo Yoshihide and Martin Tetrault on turntables. The overall effect reminds me of older more laminal improv where players would find a space and remain in it for a while almost as if the were staking their claim to a space within an instantly emerging composition. Certain sounds are nearly ever present, which is quite alright by me, as in general due to (I imagine) the physics of what is taking place they are always changing slightly in what can almost sound like an investigatory manner. The pops, shuffles, splutters and whirs, dance around one in such a way however, as to never become too staid or boring. And occasionally we are treated to a blast or plonk that seems to come out of nowhere and upset the works at just the right moment.

An added bonus bonus to this disc is that it can benefit from being listened to both quite soft, and quite loud. Soft, it can blend so nicely with background sounds as to sort of enliven the ambience of your surroundings, yet still manages to draw you in. Loud, it can be an exciting noise-fest, and an engrossing and intense experience.

While always being open to hearing sound recordings of all kinds, I expected to find this disc interesting on the surface. After listening several times now though I am quite impressed by the level of complexity to explore below.

Great packaging too! :)

Cathnor Vignettes series, review 1, Hankil / Eubanks, 777

November 21, 2009

I recently purchased all six of the vignettes series from Cathnor, due to a really great deal Richard was running on the Cathnor site. Cathnor has been a really great addition to the group of small labels covering this area of music, and I think a fairly distinctive taste is starting to show through, which I look forward to seeing develop more in time.

The vignettes series is currently comprised of 6 3″ CDRs, in very nice oversized packaging. Giving them the feel of some kind of audio postcard. They really (especially if you have all six) feel great to hold in your hands, and the larger format is successful in getting you to the place of absorbing the artwork as part of the experience. I’d be psyched if at the end of the series, Richard released a box for them or something, as it would seem fitting (at least to me).

Though I do have all six vignettes, I thus far have only really begun to internalize 2, due to being without a way to rip the CDs onto (or play them on) my computer.

The first is Bryan Eubanks, Ryu Hankil – 777
I have been a strong proponent of the nascent Korean improvised music scene since I first laid ears on them. There is so much experimentation going on there, and it is so well documented thanks to Balloon n Needle, the Manual, and Dotolim, that it is impossible to ignore. One of my favorite things about this scene, is the predilection towards the use of raw untreated mechanical sounds. In my mind it’s a necessary confrontation to a music which can still at times have a bit too much reverence for virtuosic technique.

One of my favorite purveyors of such sounds is Mr. Ryu Hankil. The seemingly gestureless, abstract clicks, whirs and metallic sputters of his clockworks create a world of music architecture, where micro compositions of small sounds become unique structures in a landscape. Tiny villages of sounds that one can live in for days, and still find mystery.

I was excited to hear that this outing paired Hankil and Brian Eubanks, as Eubanks back catalog bears some of my favorite releases in this area, his album “Anti-sex anti-wiretapping”, as half of GOD, is the favorite of what I’ve heard thus far.

So this was a big pairing for me, and I was really excited when my package from Richard, finally arrived. This was one of the first I listened to. The first and only piece on this disc starts out with some gentle small rattles from Hankil, and some nice textured static from Eubanks soon finds it’s way in and so the first two or so minutes of the piece are going along nicely. Hankil then switches up to a slightly different metallic texture, and Eubanks heads into a distant nineties ambient techno kind of bleeping, blooping thing. The quality of this sound is akin to something one may find on a “Techno Sound Effects of the Late Nineties” sample disc. I have to say this unfortunately sets the tone for much of the rest of the disc.

Now, I really was positive I was going to love this pairing, and I’m sure many others still will, but I have to say that Eubanks’ playing on this just does not go down well for me. If there are two things that I have no interest in hearing, one is the very transparent use of effects to create “ambience” or some sense of emotional/spiritual density, and two is thematic repetition. And Eubanks’ performance seems to be all about these things.

It’s not that he doesn’t do a good job, he does in many ways, but all I can hear are echos of Raster-Noton (and some less tasteful references) from 5-10 years ago. The question for me is, why rehash these specific sounds? Especially knowing what Eubanks is capable of. One of the things that makes the aforementioned GOD record a joy is the way in which effects are deployed in a somehow non-schlocky way, a very difficult feat seemingly pulled off with ease. But here, largely we hear what sound to these ears like the classic trappings of digital technology.

That all said, there is a lot about this record that still holds my interest. The brief moments where Eubanks eschews the ambient bloops for grainier, more tumultuous territory are really worth hearing. And Hankil, even in the midst of somewhat hostile environs, manages to pretty much play exactly what will add the right edge to stop things going into “Ambient Chillout volume 258″ territory. It gives a clue as to the potential of this pairing which is imo, is just hinted at here.

It sucks to have to give this one a so-so review, as I really do want people to support Cathnor, but all in all, this one is not my cup of tea, though Hankil’s contributions I’m sure will keep me coming back, and perhaps I will at some point see through Eubanks’ playing, and find some hidden joy. If I do, I’ll be sure to report back here.

Stay tuned, I plan to review this whole series, and by far this is the one I’m most uncertain of.

Next up, Lee Patterson’s “Egg fry #2″.


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