Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Scuff Mud: Eckhard Gerdes & Shelf Life

OK - the last of the current Shelf Life/Bryan Day related releases. This one is out through JEF (the Journal of Experimental Fiction, edition 36) which is curated by Gerdes, a writer of a number of novels. On the album Gerdes reads 15 pieces to a Shelf Life background (who are Bryan Day, Joseph Jaros, Alex Boardman, Andrew Perdue, Jay Schleidt on this outing).

I haven't read any of Gerdes writing, but the selection here is excellent for this medium. There is variety between pieces which depend on rhythms and rhymes, extended stories and dislocating word play through substitution. For example, z. buzz is full of word mastications, woodwork uses construction terms in a salacious double entendre, uh hunh uses a blues tick at the line ends, blues for osiris is a rhymed retelling of the Egyptian myth. Lists and repetition occur, rhymes can be almost McGonagallian (a compliment). His voice is mellow and rounded, carrying the material with gravitas, particularly when at its most amusing silliest. Even if you don't listen to the words the timbre and cadences are musical. And the material is memorable - when I replayed it after some time when I got to the story new president I was sure I had read it somewhere. This is also the longest track (7 minutes) of a short (45 minute) 15 tracker. There is even a seeming structure to the set, from the opening description of a desert image in a couple of starts to the closing surreal dream in adam among the elephants in the Sonoran desert.

As to the music, this is my favourite Shelf Life to date - on a number of scores. The instrument range is the broadest - including flute, voice, guitar, twanging things, electronics, percussion, samples, trombone and probably more. And the constraint of short pieces (I am not sure if these were specifically recorded or are excerpts from longer works) provides a perfect platform for appreciating the SL-sound. The setting on new president is relatively restrained allowing the story to flow, while snark is noisy which suits the l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e abstraction of the poem. At times the music develops with the words: wouldn't you know builds from shimmering electronics into jittery guitar as what was a seeming narrative goes into abstraction and then a sequence of past tense extrapolations (band is the past tense of bane); or the growth of industrial tones around the nonsense of the title track. A few times (most obviously in woodwork, but also wouldn't you know) there are voice samples which, through their restraint, enhance the mood.

I am not a great one for spoken-word albums, but the words and music are equals here - and that indeed the music provides a way into the words which would be less accessible on the page - providing a very satisfying audio experience.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roden iTunes

Idly typed Roden into the iTunes search box the other week, and was surprised to find that some items came up: for some reason I hadn't put the two together in my mind. (Maybe he'll start ping!ing soon :))

A coupleof full albums:
Airforms: a 56 minute drifting piece with layers of ringing tones, soft crackles and vinylish jumps, humming that drift in and around the soundspace. Designed for an installation, it is like the accompaniment for a satellite as it slides off into space, for Major Tom after the song ends, playing into the eternity of darkness between the stars. This is one of the recordings where Roden asks us to listen at a low volume level to underscore that these were works designed to accompany an environment, and that your current environment would do just fine (I have just listened again on a walk with my dog through some of our country roads); and that the lack of narrative structure is part of the aesthetic aims of the piece. Play it loud, soft; dip in, out - understated beauty. (This is out of print so good to see here).

With Kahn, Roden took up one of the Brombron residences at Extrapool to create a collaborative disk (shimmer/flicker/waver/quiver). A recycled review - This is an album of contrasts: the first track has a hissy drone, bubbling, washes over which high sines and soft echoes ply, gradually increasing density before dropping to modulating white noise and tones with deep sounds within. Then the second has an intense rising/falling ringing sweeping from ear to ear, percussive bass taps and morse signals & ringling in, but it is the tone which dominates before dropping out for some percussion in the last minute. Track three reminded me of Harold Budd's broody desert pieces, low rumbling, clicks, hollow bells, soft whispering dust extended over some time. Then followed by another more intrusive piece, hissing and resonant gongs, chopped, phased and echoed, bleeps and scapes in, burring. Next, very minimal white vent noise, pulsing, squeaky tones in, developing a beat, swirling. Then finally a soft burring ring, high tone -a forest at night - distant tones, static. A collaboration that explores new and interesting (intense) ground.

And the Mem1 compilation from a few blogs ago, and then some other bits and pieces:

Cosmic Debris Vol2 is part of a series of split disks between My Cat Is An Alien and whoever. Roden offers 2 tracks: E-bows and Rainbows pairs skittery swirling radio signals with e-bow drone tones that pulse and grow, with a vibrato that develops over time. The guitar is also plucked, and the slow sequence of notes is like a frozen melody. Thirteen minutes of evolving Roden. My dog is a yufo reveals another new side - a gentle, picked melodic guitar over a sample of 'It's working' in a scratchy distant voice. The voice disintegrates away to a new solo, combining strums and picking, with white noise hisses of a sample. The guitar simplifies and the sample returns. The track ends, then returns with hissy quiet tune which could be thumb piano or guitar.

Sleppet is a fairly expensive compilation of soundworks which is best described in Mrac Behrens album of the same name Sleppet originated from a sound art project in 2007, when six renowned artists — Natasha Barrett, Bjarne Kvinnsland, Steve Roden, Chris Watson, Jana Winderen and Marc Behrens — recorded sounds on a 10-day trip through the Norwegian Westlandet region and used the nature experience for a couple of sound installations and music pieces. 9 of the tracks are available individually, so I bought Three Landscapes, Pt. II (A Waterfall for Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson), a nine minute work. The natural origin is foregrounded with a distant buzzing (the waterfall?), clattering and scrapes, some quite watery. Into this an organ drone/tone intrudes, filling the middle section, then fading in the last minute leaving the nature samples. Some of the most upfront natural sounds in one of his works.

From what I can tell, Mika Sasaki creates short melodies using a mobile phone's 'musical' possibilities and Memories of Sasaki San contains some of these and remixes by a range of names. My Sea / Mice See is Roden's offering - a 3 minute gem. White noise cycles from ear to ear, chimes ring over it (the phone tones), a deep throb vibrates through, then halfway though his voice in chopped up phonemes singing and whispering (mice might be in there). A strange menacing air here.

These tracks see Roden stretching out, trying new developments and are fascinating addition to the oeuvre.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

jeffrey roden: bridge to the other place

I have reviewed some of Jeffrey Roden's previous works - here on the blog. He plays bass guitar, solo.

In the backlog pile is (was, now) his Bridge to the other place, a set of 25 tracks averaging just over 2 minutes each. In the liner text he says he wanted to reduce (his) own work to the elemental and essential text. The result is a simply beautiful work - with both meanings of simple. The work is meditative, ambient inducing a contemplative mood in the auditor, suggested by track titles such as vigil, steps in deliberation, the voice that carries, oh god, acquiesence and more.

The slow travel of the notes recorded live, are like musical steps taken by a pilgrim, which occasionally break into a short dance, or move in unexpected directions, not detracting from the objective but rather adding depth and light to the journey. The album is recorded to allow the resonance of the notes and guitar to glow, and suggests that the decay was one aspect feeding into the composition.

You can sample a couple of tracks at Big Tree Music, and purchase the album. I recommend having a listen because this is a gorgeous album: and like the trend in slow food and living, we should find time for slow music that grows and develops carefully and thought(provoking)ful(ly).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Preslav Literary School - 4 releases

A couple of years ago I looked at 3 of Preslav Literary School's (Adam Thomas) releases (here) and now 4 more. A mix of downloads and a vinyl release.

Aura (amp046): Originally recorded for a dance performance it includes "a piano piece..., the words of Carlos Fuentes, odd environmental recordings, elements taken from decaying magnetic tape, and various other forgotten and untitled audio materials". The results is a delightful 3 act piece with an epilogue. The first (and third) partfeature the piano piece, possibly slowed and manipulated, loops from Fuentes (who has a high, almost feminine voice) and bursts of crackles which could be applause. The central section has metallic drones and minimal drones, with a developing percussive loop. The voice part returns with the piano before the scraping and twangclatter, tone fade out. Slightly melancholic, but more gentle relaxed, a lovely composition.

Beautiful was the time: is a layering of fragments from over 100 cassette tapes. John the Exarch starts with a noisy crackle then settles down to backward instruments and voices, a soft talking in the background, and seems to slowly wind down, becoming a drifting pulse. Crackling again, and a fast pulse, opens Ohrid must die - building with birds whistles, voices and breakfast crackling, shifting to pulsing layers of varying speeds, a dog barks, music loops within and clattering pans and voices intrude towards the end. Funereal music opens Cyrillic, singing voices and other music drifts around, and a more gentle mood, reminiscent of Aura, envelops. Voices chattering at the end dispel the mood and close the album, with a satisfying reflection of the sampled origin. These pieces contain a strong narrative and subtle use of the original material, rather than being simple cutandpastes.

In Fractals: is a more straightforward composition. There are three minimalist drone pieces: as the name suggests, there are subtle changes throughout which you don't notice until you realise the balance or beat has changed - plus there are some strategic changes. The title track has a drone, a pulsing white noise and a subtle minimal melody; Sierpinski Triangle starts with a distantsounding hurdygurdy tone (or orchestral sample or ...), phasing in and out, but becoming clearer, a tuvan-drone, all rising as a martial beat seems to develop, but sounding like an underwater masterpiece. And finally Last One Standing is a mellow ceremonial layering of drones and pulses that weave in and out, some backwards shimmery and ringing parts, and like the others slowly build/changes/develops. Classical minimal drone works.

Echolalia: this is the concert result of a tapeloop workshop held late last year on how to make and play cassette tape loops. 11 people were involved and the result reflects this diverse 'band' - each side consists of a series of moments where different loops take a solo, supported by background work, running for about 3 minutes before segueing into the next piece. The tapes range from snatches/slices of voices, songs, instruments, percussions, tones, backwards versions of all the previous; and while there may be 11 players, there seem to be about 4 or 5 layers maximum. A surprising and satisfying aspect is that it was mixed and mastered as it was played live, with no extra overdubs, by the cult Berlin dubstep producer Lord Cry Cry (Blunt Force Trauma): the two sides work so well, flowing seamlessly while maintaining a mood, which is very impressive - you might have expected a mess! And there is a difference between the two sides - Side B seems to have more vocal and musical elements to me - and they each end on a single sample: A on some ethnic-inflected rock and B on a worrying how-to-hunt-elk tape.

This is a fascinating body of work - the thought of tapeloops can sometimes be daunting, but PLS whether solo or with his collaborators on Echolalia, manage the layering editing and selection to produce sounds which are intriguing, seductive and musical. In addition, you don't have to buy before you try - all can be previewed/streamed as linked or on soundcloud, and all but Echolalia are available as free/paywhatyouthink downloads. A very generous gesture - I must admit to having reviewers soft-versions, but the real life releases look like they would be well worth getting.

(now, I have to get preslav sprout out of my mind)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paul Kelly A-Z and more apps

OK - a short geeky iPhone post while the music matures - there's a few reviews on the boil - promise.

Some years ago &etc readers were alerted to the fact that Paul Kelly, Australian singer/songwriter, was giving away an alphabet of live songs monthly (ie the first month's songs all had titles beginning with A, then B etc) from a stripped-down concert series. Not a fan, but I collected them to get to know the music - slightly older than him, his music has been around the airwaves (jj to jjj) and on Countdown etc. Well now the set has been released as a box of CDs The A to Z recordings (somewhat different to the downloads, there are variations between the 2 sets, and the management company tell me that songs are different versions or remastered). Also there is a book How To Make Gravy - for each song a short piece, which might be about the song, could be a memoir or just about music, or all of the above. And there is also an App: you get the text of the book, which is as expected, but also the program can survey your iTunes library and select versions of the song you are reading about and you can play them at the same time (there are also some chapters available as readings by Kelly, and you get the first six songs free). A nice integration of the formats. The music is great, the writing is engrossing and the flexibility is nice (the iPhone is a hell of a lot easier to carry round than the book!) As I said, I wasn't a Kelly fan, but the downloads have brought me to the book & I'll be adding some full group albums to my collection too as he is a fabulous wordsmith as well as being a great Aussie singer/musician.

Other Apps I use regularly
The three from Brian Eno's Opal group: Bloom, Air and Trope - great as either ambient background or 'instruments' to play with, and they have a pleasant generative vision as well. Each has a different sound palette.
FutureAcoustic: I am not sure about the noise-cancelling impact of these, but FutureSound and SoundCurtain are more nice ambient aleatoric pieces. The first uses soundworks created by various artists (including Scanner) to create soundworlds, the second is more related to natural ambient sounds. (Scanner's Whisper is available as a free 'single')

I don't make music but sometimes amuse myself by making noises or playing musical instruments
Balls and Soundrop- two programs that use gravity to knock balls against walls to make sounds, Balls is more complex
Bebot - a touch pad synth that takes up to four fingers and has some great presets - theremin, powerPWM, looper, the eponymous Bebot (sounds like a robot) and more and programable
Ellatron - there are cut down versions of this but go for the full one. Has mellotron samples so you can do King Crimson and more
Beatwave - one of many versions of the sweeping-across-a-field-of-dots synths, this one has four layers plus a randomiser so can become another aleatoric ambient maker

MyFry - Stephen Fry's latest memoir, bought for the iPhone mainly because of the cool interface (plus I wanted to read it anyway)
Instapaper - fantastic for getting those interesting on-line articles which you don't have time to read onto a format where yo can read them at your leisure. Have a website with suggested articles, and also try longform.org for more (you don't need the app to use the sites to find articles of course)
McSweeney's - a diversion. Everyday you get a selection of short pieces of humourous writing, but also some more serious columns (this is free). And then each week a longer piece such as an interview, short story, novel extract, longer piece. These can have related images (such as the article on Kristina in Copenhagen) or be songs, short films or spoken text. You could say aleatoric downloads.

I won't bore you with my few games or news apps (though I suggest getting the Guardian before they go subscription)