Thursday, March 6, 2008

A roden christmas

It is not usually my practice to review out-of-print or specially made disks. However, Steve Roden sent me two disks which made me bend this practice. Both are christmas specials, and one will become an MP3 and the other was produced in enough quantities that you could persuade Steve to let you have one in a fair exchange.

Volume Projects curates multimedia events and for its first anniversary asked him to put together a soundpiece, which has been released as Edition 1Vester Fields. The celebratory card is now out of print, but a free download is promised (and I'll let you know when). The instrumentation was suggested by a postcard, but from there it moves onwards. A 7" 78 christmas recording from the 1940s provides an opening before the starts playing cycling melodies, quite percussive almost like a hammer dulcimer joined by some slithering metallic (bowing) elements - quite dense. Something like a bird call loops in and a pulsing accordion - all surprisingly loud and upfront for SR! Strings fade a a deep flowing string bass, something like a thumb piano and a strange distant squiggling of an overheard conversation. Fading again for the voice to enter, strange harmonies and overtones, under which a venting drone develops organ flutters. A complex sound, which resembles water but with more elements in comes to the fore, laughing voices weave through and soft taps. The strings return briefly for short concluding coda. This is one of SR's more episodic pieces, like the Soundwalk live work or Resonant Cities, and is captivating as it takes you on a journey through these soundspaces (there are field recordings and plants in there too). It will be worth waiting for.

The other disk is A christmas play for joseph cornell which is based on a text-score by G Brecht. This was produced by SR as a christmas gift, but there are some copies left. The play opens with crunchy crackling snow noises, possible footsteps, into which rising/falling percussion loops drift (a bathtub tapped with mallets). A cycling clicking, cluttering develop and will run through to the end. Single notes on a vietnamese string instrument join developing into some rapid strums and flat notes, before SR's sings the lines for the first child in his hauntingly distinctive voice - a breathy semi-whispered falsetto. Some processing, including a buzzing marks the centre of the piece: to here it has echoed the image on the front, gradually enlarging as elements are added. Now a process of decretion occurs - the percussion becomes more prominent as the voice fades, then the strings change - short echoed strings and bowing/scraping, resonant but slowly fading to leave a soft buzz to fade. Then a brief coda, a hum and crackles from a 78 grooves. There is a strong narrative flow to the 30 minutes of this piece - a visual shape to its development which enhances the atmosphere of the music. SR's work continues to develop, as does one's appreciation of individual works, and he never fails to enchant.

Both feature images from the RPPC and snapshots that are the visual heart of the invaluable airform archives (follow the links on the right)

And if you are interested in SR's collection of 78s, which regularly feature on the archives, for a short while streaming and as a podcast is his set for the framework radio show.

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