Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Catch them while you can

Knowing I was getting some iTunes vouchers for christmas I did some bargain hunting. And found a set of mozart symphonies (the lot) for $16.99. checked on amazon and it was a well reviewed set. fired up itunes this afternoon to buy it and it had gone up to $160.99. The Bruckner symphonies had also gone from $16.99 to $50. In the interim a new $16.99 Bruckner set has arrived but when you try to buy it a response that 'the item is being modified and can't be bought' pops up - hmm how do you modify a virtual good other than put up the price.

Ah well - but take my advice, when you see a bargain grab it (the steve reich is still 16.99 down here though)

Stasisfield Redux

Resurrection is related to a different feast, but we have a Christmas present from Stasisfield - after a long period of silence I noticed a new release this morning - which had been there since December 17.

SF6001 The sonics of art spaces is a compilation that was originally curated by John Kannenberg at the end of 2006 for a London radio program. These tracks and some additional ones are now available for download. As the name implies, this is recording of various art spaces (SFMOMA, Tate modern, Tesla and more) some of which have been processed and others are quite raw. For example, Kannenberg's
Sketching Notre Dame facade includes the sound of pencil on paper as well as the surrounding crowd, while For Mark Rothko is subtle throbs, pulses and quietness.

Some well known names appear - a lovely performance of 4'33" by Steve Roden in the Schindler house, and Glenn Bach provides a number of small snapshots. Others create or compose excellent works: My Fun do indeed seem to have fun at the Tate, or Anne Guthrie at Beacon NY.

A welcome return from a respected web label.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Taming Power, Askild Haugland, Early Morning Records: 12 pieces

Taming Power first came to my attention in 2003 when Askild sent me a letter with some vinyl. Since then the relationship has blossomed: and can be followed in the old reviews. Through Early Morning Records Askild has released a wealth of music by himself as Taming Power. Starting in 1997 there is a series of 40 cassettes, and then 17 vinyl releases (mainly 10" but also 7" and 12" - some of which are re-issues of the tapes) of his amazing sounds: ambient music based around tape decks used as delay, feedback and looping of sounds from guitar, other instruments and radio sounds (not usually simultaneously - most tracks focus on specific sounds/sources). Askild is also a visual artist and the covers include photos or painting by him (or occasionally archival images). So when I got an email saying the latest release was on the way I was excited.

Twelve Pieces (EMR 10"-017) is like many other releases in that it has tracks from an extended period of time, December 2000 to May 2007. It also reflects two sides of Taming Power - side one is solo guitar, casiotone or zither, while the second combines percussion, voice, harmonica with tape recorder developing from the style seen in the previous release Six Pieces. There are seven pieces on side one - opening with three guitar solos - precise ringing tones, some effects due to the tape work but typical TP solos. There are then 2 on casiotone where the layering is more obvious and the sound warmer; a short zither percussive work before another guitar piece, but here the tones are longer, arching and shimmering in a dense new direction.

Side 2 starts with rising tones and ringing in a hypnotic piece. The combination of metal sound instruments, voice and harmonica continue the dense drone ambience in fabulous layerings, a torrent of tones weaving a huge bed. The third piece flutters like a bird, with strange high song within the eastern-droning, voice absorbed within the metallic world. Then a more meditative drone, based around deeper harmonics, with almost harp-like sounds emerging within the stream. These works have complexities which take some extracting while also flowing through you wonderfully. The album ends with a final guitar work that provides a circle of sound by returning to the mood of the opening sequence. Another great release.

What is it that excites me about Taming Power? There is the medium - Askild's adherence to cassettes and now vinyl, in the face of cd-r and MP3; the consistency in covers, both format and images, provide a strong unity, an oeuvre. However, it's the music, of course. It is intense, focused ambient, edging towards noise-ambient when working with things like tape-feedback. But it always satisfying, and until recently the limits he placed on his instrumentation fostered a dense and fascinating exploration of those sounds. And now he has added other components that add to the depth of his music.
The current release is his largest to date - 525 copies. The company that presses his records cannot handle small orders, and the economics are not much different. However, the increase means that 'there will be no new releases in 2008. Perhaps I will release another record in 2009, but this is not something I will decide now'. It would be great if people ordered this album (and from the back catalogue) so that Taming Power will continue to be released: the music is well worth it. All the releases are highly recommended.
email: earlymrecords@yahoo.no
This link is one of the few articles on Taming Power (
Ingvar Loco Nordin)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fessenden v1.1

Bass, guitar, percussion and electronics are
Fessendens tools and V1.1 is their first album (OE10, other electricities). Not sleeping, just resting opens the album with a pulsing drone and gradually adds a tapping, then a waving swirl that becomes more extensive and almost continuous and an occasional wah (that sounds like a cat). This rolls along and then gradually fades out. The layering and building of sounds occurs in each of the tracks, as does the combination (and difficulty in differentiating) electronica and the instruments.

Mid-swing combines a buzzing zimmer-zimmer with rapid tings and tangents percussive and beaty, then guitar notes and tones, chittering with a hint of feedback. Again, this enters an almost static minimalist exposition before fading away. As a change, Diode starts full on rather than building - percussion, electropulses, squelches, organ and guitar tones: with a hint of distortion. After looping for some time it metamorphoses into a more analog percussive hypnotic state less electronica although there are some crackles and deep tones. Perhaps in an unplanned homage to Pink Floyd A walk in the park opens with a frying like sound (Alan's breakfast) and a ticking, which is then echoed and develops tapping shimmers and whooshes after which it transforms into cymbals, scratcthing and humms that run to the end.

Two minutes of silence lead into the not very hidden final track Peak V/Z*sin where a watery sounds competes with a metallic echoing hollow rumble buzz, into which (or out of) high tones emerge. The slowly shifting stasis that you realise is now pulsing, and finally crackles into oblivion is typical of this album - minimal ambient electronic with a hint of industrial - not easy listening but a satisfying angularity. The music is mysterious and raises questions like what is making it, where it is going, and when did that change sneak in. With tracks between 5 and 10 minutes long Fessenden don't overstretch their pieces and leave you wondering where it could have gone next. An interesting album which is their studio debut.

The band is known as a live improv group - such as Preview on Stasisfield which was recorded direct to disk. There the acoustic instruments are more obvious and the looping/layering is more subdued, as is the sound in many places - in fact they reminded me a bit of The Necks. An interesting comparison, but you can see the linkages and the areas the studio has accentuated.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eh? part 1 - DBH and Shelf Life

Eh? appeared in an earlier post with a release from Nagaoag in the Blog - 2 Days (oct 31). The label is another string in the Public Eyesore stable, and returns to the earlier days of PE with simple cd-rs (though with titles screenprinted on which is a blessing) of raw releases by a smaller close roster of associates, while PE moves to more permanent releases. 4 disks came my way, and I'll do two paired reviews.

(D)ynamic (B)rown (H)ips - "wave the old wave" (Eh?31) presents a few issues for the reviewer. Those annoying parentheses in the group name; all the quotation marks (around the album title and the track names); two pieces("all the money is gone"parts 1 and 2) are presented as 3 cd-tracks (see epiphany below); a lineup which is three people for one track and 7 for the other, and there are 5 people on the cover photo (which probably isn't them). Reviewers whinge over.

DBH is at core Rhody/Hubbard/Wright on trumpet, sax and percussion - and recorded the second part in the studio. Part 1 is a live recording which adds 4 more members on bass, percussion, violin/recorder and trombone.[Looking at the cover I suddenly realised the title track is the live piece and the 2 studio ones are the 2 parts of "all the money is gone"]. They present harsh aggressive improv. I sometimes draw diagrams of the music while I review it - crescendi, cycling etc - and the live title track was a square wave. Periods of almost silence, some gentle percussion or puttering suddenly changes to manic noise as the ensemble all make as much high pitched atonal noise as possible, pummeling away before dropping again. The trio is less based on extremes - the music (sound?) barrels along with few quiet spots or full-on assaults and more variety in terms of tempo and combinations (ie there are some slightly slower parts and a few solos etc), but it nevertheless has the impact that forcefully played trumpet/sax/percussion would have when the plan with the brass is not to look for sweet or mellow notes. The density of the music is accentuated by the recording to one-track tape. After playing this you are likely to answer 'eh?' to any questions as it demands loud volume and your ears may very well be bleeding. Played at the right time to the right people this works, but it is definitely not background music!

A couple of days earlier (29/10) I also reviewed Shelf life's PE release Ductwork - and now they have a new one on Eh? - Rheuma (27) - still a four piece on a range of instruments but AndrewP replaces j.schleidt. The album continues with the ambient improv of Ductwork (and quite a different experience to that of DBH). Playing electronics, keyboards, stringed instruments and probably some processing the 4 build dense ambient spacey soundworks. A dense electronic bed underpins each track over which other sound skitter and pass - it may be some plucked short guitar strings, scrapes, actual guitar solos, and unidentified buzzes and squeals. The mix is somewhat murky, but that adds to the democracy of the sounds, and as with the earlier album the tracks have different feels or moods - the second is more whooshy, the third has squeaky warbles (track titles are 13 or 14 letter codes). In most of the tracks a radio is tuned into the mix, crackling distorted voices adding another mysterious layer. It was probably the guitar in the 4th track, but I was reminded of Fripp&Eno, the density of the ambience also perhaps. In my view ambient music needn't be easy-listening but can, like this album, provide dark edgy soundscapes that can be listened to, absorbing the details, or be allowed to create a distracting backdrop, as they slowly develop and change or throw up nuances. I like what these guys are doing with their instruments and their direction - as Rheuma means flow, just go with it and let the music take you. A fine companion to Ductwork

Friday, December 7, 2007

Webbed Hands

I mentioned this label in the Krebs post - Oneirmancy which I reviewed as a CD-R and his Mystery Sea release had both been re-released here. At 80+ releases it is a big ask to look at, but a couple of things caught my eye.

Some history, the label was created by C P McGill and his brother, in the first instance for CP to release material under about 6 pseudonyms, but has since expanded to include a range of other artists. Release 73 is a McGill anthology which (along with his Rain albums) gives you an opportunity to taste his various personae, which are quite divergent: some ethnic ambience, a bit of more industrial.

On other things, a single release compilation -
Far Afield - number 55 should be pointed to. A double album of sonography/phonography based pieces. Other than Quiet American I hadn't heard of any of the artists, but there is 32 tracks of subtle and diverse envronmental ambience here, with differeing levels of processing on the pieces but retaining the original sense - whether it be city, country or specific sound that has been captured. A lovely release curated by Fred Yarm

I mentioned in the Krebs post the
Rain series. This is an expanding sequence of meditative/relaxing pieces each about an hour long, and with a theme of rain (surprisingly) initially. To quote the site:
"Each Rain is a CD-length ambient recording ideal for listening to while relaxing, working, or socializing. Typically the recordings in this series are minimalistic soundscapes, with motifs played out cyclically and repetitively, rather than progressively, in order to induce a relaxed state of mind."
Again, McGill kicked of the sequence but now a range of artists have had an in put and there are over 20 releases. People have approached it quite differently
  • Saluki Regicide kick off with three similarly structured works - a soft industrial rumbling and elements that drift over - bird calls, snatches of music (an old instrumental, Middle Eastern), environmental sounds, voices and occasional synth crackles that defined the series, and from which it has developed
  • Akashic Crow's Nest appeared early and again more recently - first with gently drifting and then bubbling swirls of electronica and synths.
  • Mystified has produced 3 very minimal pieces that could be brushed percussion or manipulated rain sounds, an electronics sussurus, while in Rain 3 (his first) it was guitars;
  • Djinnistan plays with ambient recordings of water, insects and deep ambient thrums (Rain 1), gentle tones and simple percussive tinkles (Rain 3) and more electronics and rhythms in Rain 2;
  • Ghostheory layers ambient-industrial tones;
  • Krebs' two are shimmering electronics;
  • Tree Helicopter wash a radio signal, simple drums, skitters, gtr/synth chords into a mesmeric atmosphere;
  • Tribe of Astronauts are minmalists - electronic crackling in 1 and deep washing throbs in 2;
  • SpoonPhase drift with drips, burbling background winds and delightful highlights;
  • Rolling Calf Sinfonette go with water, simple percussion and glistening wind tones warbling in 1, harp-samples, grumbling, high-hats over water in 2 and suggestively ethnic percussion, some rocky scrapes, high tones and subtle electronica in 3 (no water)
  • subtle manipulated image-sounds form the basis of the shimmering and subtle pulse crackles and chirrups over a melodic bed of Akashic Crow's Nest soft rain
The fact that most people have moved away from the water/rain theme and stayed with the cyclical soundscape side of the project has kept this set of releases fresh and interesting - together they form a very satisfying ambience

The label has also pointed me in the direction of Mystified's Treetrunk label: more later

Monday, December 3, 2007

Jeffrey Roden - Seeds of Happiness

They say that the iPod and e-music has killed the album. I think it was the cd. A vinyl album was about 20 minutes a side (30 if you pushed it like Elvis Costello on Get Happy!). But the standard was 30-50 minutes of considered music over 2 sides. Artists decided what opened and closed a side, how it flowed. Listeners consciously chose to play one side or the other or both in sequence. A double album was an extravagance, a triple bloated (usually live [I exempt Sandinista! from both charges!]). The cd introduced an expectation of 70-80 minutes, so people filled them out, and have thought less about the total flow. Let alone the physical beauty of the 12" album. Even then people bought an album for a track or two - but the whole seemed more focused. What I think it means is that people don't listen through a whole cd. You put it in - listen for 30-40 minutes and then have moved on - although with random-shuffle later numbered tracks get a chance.

What has this to do with Jeffrey Roden's new album Seeds of Happiness? (New Albion, NA133) Well, it is composed of two parts which would fall nicely on the two sides of a vinyl album, where the listener would get to decide whether to listen to Part 1 or 2 or both. But it isn't, so people will have to make sure they listen to it all (though I note on the website that Part 1 was released separately). Years ago I reviewed his earlier album The floor of the forest (and yes he is related to Steve Roden) and this one continues his use of the bass guitar as a solo instrument - in fact the tracks are recorded live in a single take with some background parts overdubbed.

The result is a sublime simplicity. Each track is only a few minutes long, in which time Roden explores minimal themes, that are melodic and warm - the quality of the closely recorded resonance of the instruments is a feature of his work. The overdubs are generally simple though in Rift there is a fast repeat motif
, that sounds like a loop, and a slower one under Forgiveness or Devotion and dance, that adds a complexity which is perhaps not seen (heard) enough in the album. You sometimes feel that more colour would be an advantage - but that isn't the artistic paradigm. This is an intense album, not specifically in relation to the mood or even the method, but rather because it is focused on such a restrained palette for both instrument and composition. However, Episode[s] of beauty, to commandeer a tracktitle, describes this music perfectly, because that is what this is, each one delicately formed.

The tone of the instrument, together with the deliberate (and I mean that in both senses) pace of pieces, create a solemn contemplative mood. Even the closing track of Part 2 - Fulfilment - maintains the atmosphere, rather than a celebratory conclusion (there is a passage of joyful complexity in the penultimate Invocation).
Which brings me back to my opening - the intensity of the music makes it difficult to listen to the whole cd in one go - while the length of each part seems about the right time to be able to focus. And the music is well worth giving it the attention.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

In the olden days

Found this, via iTunes, from the All Music Guide to the Incredible String Band's U album
Incidentally, sides one and four are combined on one disc, sides two and three on the other [on the vinyl release]. It seems unlikely that many listeners would have taken the time to play them in sequence (assuming they even noticed), but the problem was rectified with the CD release.
This threw me back to many of my vinyl double and triple albums and the days of auto phonoograms. The reviewer has got it wrong - sides 1and 4 were on one disk for a purpose (and with ELP's WBMFTTSTNELAGELP, it was 1/6,2/5,3/4.)
Because you put TWO (or more) disks at a time on the player so that the first to drop down was side 1, when that finished the next disk dropped down playing side 2. When that had stopped playing you took both albums off the changer and then turned over the pair so that 3 then 4 dropped down - this is an attempt at a graphic explanation

The view on the left shows the disks as you put them  on the spindle - the bottom disk drops and its upper surface is read (1) then the next drops and its upper surface (2) is played. Lift thme off and invert the disk stack and you get the right image - and play 3 then four (* mark played side)

2*         4*
3           1

1*          3*
4           2

With an additional disk in between for sets like Welcome back etc or other triple live albums. I for one, and many others, made sure they were played in the right order, autochanger or not!