Archive for January, 2010

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:
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FLAC:
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