Sunday, June 29, 2008

Shelf Life - Concerning the absence of floors

Another communication from improv ensemble Shelf Life made up of some combinations of Brian Day, Joseph Jaros, Alex Boardman, Luke Polipninck, Jay Kreimer and reviewed a few times here (october & december 2007). Playing guitar, percussion, electronics and more (no thing is listed on this album, but the sound suggests the sources from the past are continuing) they create dense pieces that, to my mind/ear, aspire to be considered as ambient music. They seem to decide on a mood or method for each piece and work within these constraints - which leads to a manageable consistency within tracks while allowing expansion across the album. This leads you to focus on the developing sounds and developments rather than the constant change and surprise that often drives improv albums.

Concerning the Absence of Floors is released by a label called Friends and relatives Records (po box 23, Bloomington, IN, 47402) but looks and sounds like an Eh? release, so could try from there also. The individual tracks are titled obsolescence.<4lettercode>. 5flb is the first and 5flc the second - which is pretty meaningless, which is the general rule with Shelf Life (one albums tracks were anagrams) s I won't repeat them all.

This is an album that straddles ambience and noise - at high volume as you listen to extract the sounds, the noise is to the front, but when you lower the volume for more relaxed consideration it becomes gentler and more persuasive. Again, there seems to be a decided mood/method to each track which provides a unity and held mood. The first is perhaps more scrapey, clickey, some deep tones and percussiveness that loosens in the second half, while the second is more shooshing ambientish scrapes and tones. The fourth track has only 3 players on and has more space in it - fewer people to fill the void - and after a noise-laden first half a strange organ introduces a softer side which develops into an amorphous sound.

The final track is again gentle - a venting, tapping, soft squiggles: the vent erupts but falls away, a slow pulse, shimmering and then a building feedback of noise before backing down to the end. The third track is scrapes and drones, electro and twanging pick, sound pulses buzzing, a gate closing, high squeaking voice sounds, beeps and mumbles building.

Yeah - hard to describe! But as an improvised noise/ambient/wall-of-dense-sound adventure another satisfying release from Shelf Life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Preslav Literary School - 3 releases

Working under the arcane name of Preslav Literary School is Adam Thomas, and he has some releases available through Glosses fur die Masses - available as CD-R or download if you contact him via the MySpace page. So what do we we have here before us (in an MP3 sort of way)?

Autumn Bricolage (GFDM002) was the first release of his on the Glosses label. It is a beautiful 32 minute minimalist soundscape, broken into 5 parts. In the first a crowd scene fades into a synth landscape of deep throbs, drifting keyboard shimmers, long notes and a high beeping. This flows straight into the second part, which, after a couple of minutes, reveals its focus: rolling long tones and a flittering sound like a flock of birds flying. Again there is a continuation carrying into the third part during which, after some clicking and woobling, note sequences (which could be described as musical fragments!) develop. In the next section bird song becomes obvious as an adjunct to these tunes, creating a lovely mood that slowly dissolves in the final section as components drop out ending with a repeated high note and some of the birds. The throbbing parts of this work wonderfully through the speaker system, but there is also an intimacy that emerges through earphones. A relatively simple work that is quite captivating.

It was followed by Live At Tripswitches (GFMD003), which Adam described to me as
'not particularly interesting or representative and not the greatest quality'. However I badgered him for a copy of this, which was one of his early gigs! It is a brief 16 minutes characterised by samples over which rapid electro pulses dance, layered , with some slower deeper ones occasionally passing through (Good advice); slow stately synth passages, simple but very effective, morphing into some Middle Eastern orchestra (The third function of dialogue); and finally percussive tapes with more slow deep organ-synths plus some higher warbly ones (Daylight never seemed to appear) where the sample is looped and crackles fascinatingly. I find it interesting, simple and effective, and doesn't need to be 'buried' - and actually reminded me of the earlier Oblique-Graph Muslimgauze in terms of its electronics.

And then the current release Pretext/Context (GFMD010) recorded live for Resonance FM. And the medium and message interact here - PLS have created 2 extended parts, broken into 4 subsections on the basis of changes, which at times sound like a random search through a poor radio-reception area where things emerge from some white-noise pulsing electro to slide into periods of stability; voice recordings have extended periods (rather like tripswitches). Pretext is perhaps more abstract, opening with piano-notes that are distorted and joined by noises, a casiotone slide in, there is a voice-tape deep, a drone that moves into the second part which has piano in it, wavy drones, guitary thrugs and bird songs which will extend throughout now. In the third part there are water samples, birds moving from fore to back ground, indistinct samples and then pulses of birds and white noise. The final section takes an extended sample about bird songs and adds the other elements - casiotone, pulses noises, weaving in and out, ending with an ice-cream van casiotone tune. Context is more grounded in long samples and perhaps more distorted and sqwirlly. White noise and hum, a sample of Treaty Now fading in and out, whistling. A big band jazzy sample comes ion with the second part, with Fur Elise from a phone and the a cool definition of hip and a discussion of the hip Columbus - while string-drenched Satie wavers. The third part has some writing tips amid soft tones, casiotone, pulsing, and birdsong that drift into the final section and an extended period of 'radio search' as pulses, white noises, noise and birds dueting, snatches of music and an extended tone signals the end. Hopefully the description makes this sound interesting! Because it manages a fine balance between deconstructing itself and creating an audio-environmental soundscape that is fascinating and diverting. The ongoing clash between bird song, voices, electronica and simple melody makes these three releases cohere as individual works and demonstrating the development of PLS.

The label is run by Adam and two others who are all members of Kodiak, obviously have releases, and features various combinations solo or in groups. Haven't heard any of the other releases - but look out for these three, and they suggest that other releases would be worth considering.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Tomato A Day - The moon is green

Fresh from Public Eyesore comes Brian Poloncic recording as A Tomato A Day (helps keeps the tornado away) with The moon is green (PE106). Poloncic is an Omaha musician who falls into the outsider artist/musician category (Daniel Johnson is a close parallel) - as defined in Wikipedia it is 'music performed either by social outsiders, who have no or few associates in the mainstream music business, or by musicians who choose to live and work in seclusion, often due to compromising behavioral or psychological conditions'. Outsiders are not always outside - Syd Barrett is also cited - and their art (often visual) can be highly sought and collected. Poloncic has been in and out of hospitalis, diagnosed with schizophrenia, andwrote lo-fi music distributed by cassette in the 90s. He moved into more experimental music but has recently moved back to song writing, and this short album (possibly originally intended to be 10" vinyl based on some comments on the web) has emerged.

But the music should not be sought because of its source but should stand on its own as music. And here Tomato succeed admirably as it is a gentle, lo-fi, folkish gem. Poloncic plays guitar and percussion, in addition to singing; and is joined by David Downing on cello, Allen Hug synth and Dave Norodin bass to create a smooth engaging sound. The acoustic guitar is to the fore, supported by percussion and Poloncic's voice which is soft, mostly low in the mix and somewhat indistinct, but with an edge that at times reminded me of Neil Young or Roger McGuinn - it is fragile and vulnerable, but not weak or broken. The synth and bass add generally subtle hints, but it is the cello that draws this album to its heights: the warmth and depth of its note are a wonderful addition. Without the cello this would be just another folky guitar album, but the instrument is allowed to stretch through the songs and the timbre suits the softness of Poloncic's approach.

In terms of the seven songs, they are lyrical musically with well placed and mixed components - the percussion entering at the right time, finely balanced cello solos. Moonshine is a gentle opener, the pace builds into Silver fox, with more yearning to the voice and some nice little picks that sound almost electronic. Winter wind is bright; Halo has clearer lyrics sung more strongly and a captivating guitar melody. The highest kite is another strong clear vocal, while electric guitar features in In a book with a dense rhythm - and here is the first really clear reference in the lyrics to sanity. Finally, Build a town, that recalled early Cat Stevens, and the voice/guitar/cello play beautifully in parallel.

This is not a curio, but a very strong lofi/folk release that is just too short - but well worth spending some time with. Lets hope for a longer one next time.

Friday, June 13, 2008


In the tradition of Webbed Hand's Rain series (see blog here) comes the Constant drone exploration. Originally a release on Webbed Hands by Mystified (back reference) it was taken up by Zen Potato Drone company (internet archive here) where a number of people, including mystified put together releases along the same trajectory: in short 'one extended drone sound, though full of interesting artifacts and harmonics'. After 6 releases on that net-label Thomas Park has taken the ball back and released 8 more pieces on his own TreeTrunk label (see link in sidebar) by himself and others including K.M.Krebs. As well he has created Constant Mix - a compilation of the first 10, which gradually dissolve into each other; and C Reider offers Inconstant - which removes the drones and leaves a minimal wonder.

And as a Mystified/Park by the way, there are two 'disks' of early techno from Park's Auto-Cad project available. Quite different but you can see some influences and suggestions of his current directions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Marcelo Radulovich: Mercurio

Marcelo Radulovich - part of Trummerflora, a phonographer, heard on Accretions and producer of solo material via Titicacamanbox: reviewed at &etc often - has produced another solo-distributed album of songs - Mercurio. The title suggests mercurial, mercury, a curio, a sub-anagram of his whole name. And the music meets that varied constellation of ideas, such that a track by track run through may be the best approach. But a note on his voice first - it is a gruff heartbreaking and emotive instrument, instantly recognisable in the same way that Tom Waits is - though not like or unlike him. His lyrics are poetic and intriguing, and are sung or recited often at the same time in multitracking, sometimes for harmony and others layering slightly out-of-phase in different styles

  • Turn on the phone - guitars, percussion, keyboards coalesce into the song and the album, then the voice enters, softer and perhaps sweeter (less husky) than earlier albums (more obviously sung), quieter layers behind, cluttering spoon percussion, a brief breakdown as a vocal-note jumps, then returning to the gentle song.
  • Purge it from the world - impressively the most hooky songs on the album are some of the most political - this jolly loungey number with hum-along doodoodoos has the chorus 'If we don't like it, we purge it from the world'
  • Paris ampheta - crackling electronica winds for about a minute continues as a slow melody of drums and keys as Radulovich chews out an echoed poem, allusive and intriguing.
  • For real - a more centralist song (for Radulovich) that deserves the radio tag - hooks, a more abstract echoed percussive opening, bass, twangy acoustic guitar then Marcelo's vocals, multitracked, yearning. A guitar solo over violin/guitar scrape-bowing ends a 'radio' song.
  • How it goes - relaxed, bucolic - electronic soundscape of watery crackles and birdsong builds throughout, simple acoustic guitar, harmonised vocals.
  • Evolution - tuned percussion, vocal as from a radio, then the lyrics sung, spoken and singing alternate/overlay, strangely a Prince-like scream/squeak pops up a few times
  • Trying to convince me - a lovely crystal ringing - almost a separate track - then a rocking heavy number reminiscent of the last album title track.
  • Swastikas - totally weird, possibly my favourite track, a cracked poem about banners with swastikas, blood spatter patterns, spoken/sung in different voices overlapping and repeating over a minimal atonal backing.
  • Keep the watch - hissing sample, layered miltitracked recitation of a short poem over an electronic soundscape
  • Tartamudo - longest on the album, vinyl crackles with bubbling bloops for a minute, then a distant ambient/frippy guitar slides under a Spanish sung/spoken lyric, percussion eruptions, shifting emotions in vocalisation and music - I wish I understood the language - what is that slurping near the end?
  • A territorial invasion - distant music as a squeaky voice asks 'let me out of here', the song is a bright and jolly musical number, underscored by the voice recurring,
  • Sate sane - a melodica, flowing Spanish, loose strung guitar, intimate and felt
  • Combra siembra - a cracking cracked soundscape, Spanish again, bass enters to stabilise and progress the music.
  • In case I forgot to mention - another overtly political piece to end the album - including samples of George Bush (some used before in the EP - The Evil One). The first part is a song of regret 'In case I forgot to mention, we voted for you, keep thinking about interventions, and how to get rid of you' -again a refrain whose music burns into your brain; it then morphs into a soundscape where the repeated phrase 'he's a torturer, he's a deceiver ...' seems to lose its initial target and turn back on George Bush. Drifting crackles, guitar and percussive shimmers overly distant speech snatches. A fine, unusual and fitting conclusion.
It is personal, political, melodic, abstract at each turn, often in the same song as he has musical ideas that he doesn't want to throw out: the opening of Trying to convince me, for instance, doesn't have much to do with the 'song' part, but is a lovely piece that adds to the contrasts of the album. Whether radio would actually play the tracks labelled (Radio) I am not sure. What I do know is that I will play it, that like his previous album there are songs that have hooked themselves into my brain and are still banging about in there, and that Marcelo is a talented and unique guy, with a unique voice (both literally, but also in terms of his lyrics and music). Seek this from him cause music like this needs to be heard.

Transvalue: Book III - The '58 retractable hardtop

Another out of the blue - Transvalue are Chuck Britt (vocals) Michael Vlatkovich (trombone, composition) and David Crigger (drums, electronics) with an extensive cast of supporters on instruments and vocals. As the title implies, this is the third release, out on thank you records (disk site here).

And if you get this it is worth going to the site - because one centre of this album is the words: Britt is beat-influenced flamboyant wordsmith and reciter. These are complex dramatic amusing and evocative poems put to music, and delivered musically (not a spoken-word album). There are choruses and hooks to his lyrics, they are rich in detail metaphor and humanity, and drive the album forward. In many pieces, as a good performance poet, there are repeated elements of words (such as know in Not knowing, or Yes in For Alec from Pappy or structural elements such as the ten-year steps of The father or the memory returns of The new day) that offer pace and focus. Themes include relationships, politics, remembrance that are specific and universal.

But there is also the music created by Vlatkovich. This varies from relatively straightforward big-band jazz in Of dancers or The new day, a tango of Not knowing, or the nostalgic piano and alto of Frances' cheeks, in all of which there are extensive solos like the piano and then trumpet that plays while they dance to the flute and drum in The new day. In The father the music follows the lines of the song, while in Wars for the numb (02-21-91) there is a dense bed of percussive processing that suits the song and For Alec from Pappy has a similar but less dark soundscape. The music combines careful and sympathetic writing with the freedom to improvise.

There are two extended tracks - the ostensible title track is a lovely development of a father/son theme that traverses 50s doowop, faster group work, choruses and a final reflective coda: a wild ride in the hardtop indeed, Wedding song - which opens
'The horror/Only survivors made us/Eons of fear and voiceless estrangement/Eons of coercion, violation and destruction/No one knew' is the most complex lyrically - the poem appears to be an epithalmion which balances the despair and fear with the hope which is represented by love and family. The music reflects this complexity, a pastoral opening is undone by the lyrics and then includes operatic/chorale elements with additional voices and slipping through a variety of styles. I am not sure that it is 100% effective but it is absorbing.

And then, to end the album, comes a further surprise - pianist Hartman wrote the music for The kissing song, a gentle piece with a yearning cello line through that offers a final reflective passage, underscored by Britt's vocals - and I mean vocals. To this point he has been gruff spoken/recitative but here he sings with a mellow croonerish 50s tone that swings the album in a different direction, ending on a subtle note.

The three (old) geezers on the cover of this album, the cheesy colours and layout of it and the site, e lie an album of breadth, musicality and sophistication which is a surprise and delight.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Courtis, Yamamoto and Yoshimi: Live at Kanadian

Live in Kanadian: Anla Courtis is known from the Reynols and solo albums while the two Japanese members are apparently from the Boredoms - and this release from Public Eyesore (#110) is a record of a live show in Osaka.

Unstructured and improvised, as always hard to describe, this album sucked me in and entertained me. I don't know anything about the instrumentation except Courtis plays guitar, there is electronics, processing and percussion. The first track is something of the noisiest and is centred around the guitar with some electronics, feedback and manipulation. We then move to a track that features the hook for this album - Yoshimi's voice - it ranges from screaming to singing, is looped echoed and stretched and adds that extra dimension an album like this needs to stand out.Here it slips in and out of some electronics guitar percussion, bubbling and sliding, screaming and appealing.

Then a piece that is more about electronics and guitar - there are some singing and some dirty solos in this one - the other elements are there also, vocal hisses and squeaks, organ, keyboards and it moves along into its various excursions. Something that is obvious is that these are accomplished musicians - they are playing their instruments, not playing with them, and their skill allows them to take them in exciting new places.

The first three tracks, shorter at 10 minutes each, seem like an opportunity for each member to shine, while the final piece - 26 - is where they all come together. It shifts in structure, instrumentation, speed and density, my page of notes impossible to reproduce (and boring to read). Enough to say it carries you along with its shifts and turns, while less focused than the earlier pieces. Improv albums are hard to listen to, hard to review: you have to pick the right time for both. This one impressed me greatly over a number of plays - hard work but the effort is repaid. You know what to expect and it delivers and more. I enjoyed it.