Friday, April 25, 2008

Lisle Ellis - Sucker Punch Requiem

One of the advantages of the &etc slowdown is spending more time getting to know albums - less need for a quick turn around. Especially if the album suffers from first-track selection issues. It must be hard to pick the opener, and can be an issue - the Breketc album took a while to get past the two long improvs, and I remember when I went to hear PiL's Second Edition at the local record store they started with the second track as Albatross was thought to be not representative (Poptones on that album still gives me shivers, as does The Jam's Down in the tube station at midnight). Anyway, on to this release.

Created by Lesle Ellis, Sucker Punch Requiem (Henceforth 104) is 'An homage to Jean-Michael Basquiat' based around a group on voice/electronics, flutes, sax, trombone, piano, bass/electronics and drums/percussion. Planned by Lisle over an extended period, 2 days of recording, then editing/constructing finalising. Which brings us to the getting into. The first track is Summonings: this is a 3:40 minute musique concrete construction that reminded me of Wall or Doyle: voice, percussion and some of the instruments in a cut&paste collage calling on SAMO (a Basquiat tag). This continues in the opening of Incantation and ascent - bubbling electronica and manipulation. I listened a few times but wasn't in the mood for abstract expressionist music and so it sort of laid around, occasionally sampled when some other sides seemed to be striving for a hearing.

And then, during a full listening, I realised that there were two aspects to the album. A smaller part is the constructed stream, from the opening it appears in a number of 'interludes' - shorter pieces which are titled Perishable fig. 1a to 3. These create interesting contrasts to the longer parts, and carry the themes of the opening.
Most of the album, however, is more straightforward jazz from the group. In Incantation... a gentle piano comes in, modern romantic, sax and brush percussion and some electronica as background - all quite stately. Some of the shorter tracks feature sub-groups - X-ray gray has piano over a bed of bowed bass, Bas Relief bright piano/sax/percussion. When the whole group gets together for most of the other tracks there is a nice swing and groove to their playing, solos scattered throughout, shifting between subtle understatement, playfullness and some edgy improvs. The three tracks Colour bind (oracle)/Suicide study/colour bind (oracle) has the wind playing chordal progressions (which reminds me of Zappa I think) then the piano enters with bass and sax as the flute trills sliding into a flute/piano duet on the second track until a piano/bass/percussion trio takes the running and then returning to the chords for a running jumping group tilt at the oracle.

To conclude the album, Perishable Fig.3 invokes madness before Untitled (life stilled) is a gentle reflective group-based finale with haunting vocals. This album eventually unfolded its strengths to me - the balance between strong group pieces and the concrete elements eventually works once you get into the album. For some people there may be too much dissonance between the two components as the bulk of the album is accessible and fresh from an obviously talented ensemble. However, that accessibility should allow people to enjoy all aspects of this satisfying and complex work.

Electronic music podcast

Thanks to K M Krebs for this pointer - to a 10 part series of podcasts described thus:

The 10 part series called ‘The Tone Generation’ is presented by electronic musician and film-maker Ian Helliwell. Starting in Europe and finishing in the Southern Hemisphere Ian will be playing vintage tracks - some celebrated, many obscure and overlooked, to give an overview of electronic music.

The first two, England and France, are available and fascinating - mainly musical excerpts with some voice explanations and connections. Based on his album collection these are little heard works. Well worth checking out

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bob and Ellen Weller

This recent Circumvention disk is a Weller family affair - Bob plays (prepared) piano, Ellen a variety of wind (flute, but also sax, clarinet, fife, recorders, ocarina, jaw harp), Charlie mastered it and Danny gave constructive appraisal. Point of Contact (052) is by Bob and Ellen Weller with Mark Dresser (who plays bass on 4 tracks, but in a lennon/mccartney-ish gesture it states 'all tracks are composed by Weller/Weller/Dresser).

The overall feel of the album is decidedly modern classical/experimental/avant-gardish (yes - hard to describe: modern classicalperhaps) in terms of the harmonies and rhythms, and less freeform 'jazz'. The prepared piano provides percussive aspects, at times solo but usually in conjunction with the winds - in an equal not supportive role. Ellen's playing traverses the flute possibilities without overuse of voicing, and is expressive and fluid - and nicely balanced/broadened by the other instrumentation. There are 15 tracks across the album, and I won't try and describe them all. The first 9 are a loose collection which include Coalescence - a lovely trio with a Middle Eastern line to it; Cassini-Huygens which is a contemplative bass/flute duo, flute solo (Mandelbrot), clarinet and some inside the piano playing in Concatenation and the extended exploration of Spiral galaxy whose ten minutes are used to great effect to explore the relationship in the duo. There is some lightness too, in the jaw harp and ocarina of Strange attractor. In the tracks with Dresser the bass adds a distinctive tone that underpins some of the more extravagant flights such as Collusion which gets quite frightening at times!

Point of contact is a suite of 4 short tracks (Point of ... contact, departure, no return, impact) which is where the modernist side emerges strongly as the balance between piano and wind changes. In the first the piano is more stable while the flute trills, things then become more punchy as sax replaces flute. In the third the wind is smooth, the piano more jagged while finally the sax is playful and the piano running with a big chord to close.

Finally there are Two marches: Fog of war and Aftermath. These are imagistic pieces - the first seems lighter with both flute and sax providing colour but becoming more edgy towards the end: the first flush of optimism in a war. In the aftermath the reality sets in -flute and clarinet play a military piece (whose name escapes me) which becomes mournful, while the piano is fractured behind it - a powerful metaphor, and a strong conclusion to a similarly strong and inventive album that asks a lot of the listener but which repays the investment.

Monday, April 14, 2008

miscellaneous news

final post on the itunes/bruckner issue. the collection finally became active and able to be bought at $90 plus (from the advertised $17). To complete the album it was also that price. I emailed them again, they explained that DG had revised the pricing and that was it - but they sent me another 5 free track credits, so I ain't too unhappy (not sure i actually wanted the bruckner, but have been interested in hearing some and $17 was worth it!)

and today i had a brain scan. during the procedure the only music they had was some andreas botticeli (or however it is spelt) which was ok - but what was great was the industrial remix: great 4/5 5/5 thumps, a period of repetitve sirenlike wails, whirring and so forth. made the time pass very quickly - and wish i could have recorded it somehow!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

eh? tu: diamondhead and brekekekexkoaxkoax

A couple more from Eh?, with two more just arrived in the mail. These are quite distinct, but are (or seem) compilations.

Diamondhead, offering Dirty Realism (eh?34) provide no information on what the three members play - the grainy cover image shows guitars and drums - but the music includes keyboards. And the cover photo also indicates something about the music - it is murky and at times indistinct. The tracks here, apparently improvised, are relatively short, and the disk has the feel to me of being a compilation of some more 'experimental' bits of jams that have been taped over a while. They often come from nowhere and just end. Opening and closing are two ambient quiet pieces, keyboards providing drones as subtle guitar and drums are added, with some electronica and phonography in 12. In the second track a little piano loop and later a piano solo combines with feedbacky guitar, while drones and organ working together in 4, the piano returning for 6 and 7 (where there is a bit of continuity) which has an increasing tempo. the guitar was more forceful in 3, but still a restrained ambience, though the single repeated bass notes that open 5 leads into a more aggressive work from the guitar and drums (with some tape-jumps). Becky Lilly adds some flute to 8 which works well with the feedback and piano. 9, 10 and 11 are more straightforward drum and guitars pieces, including some nice wah-wah and a bit more of a rocking feel, but still within the more ambient side. The individual tracks here are enjoyable and offer interesting aspects of ambience, but I couldn't feel an overarching aesthetic drive, nor a resplendant diversity which could compensate. You get the feeling that Diamondhead could do more, but this album is not a failure but a definite stepping stone that provides its own pleasures.

Brekekekexkoaxkoax (Josh Rosen) have put together a definite compilation in I manage to get out by a secret door (eh?35) comprising 2 improvs withJason Pierce, 2 solo pieces and another 2 improvs (with Glen Nuckolls and Genevieve Walsh) recorded between 2002 and 2006. Taking them out of order: Shoham ( which is track 3) is a wonderful layering of electronics providing ambient vibrating feedback with ringing tones in it. The mood returns in the fifth track - Art brings a tiny gleam, swamped in garrulousness (yes, titles as long as the pseudonym!) where turntables and guitars are added - again vibrant, ringing, chimes drones a crackling and a lovely long fade. Between these two We ought to have but one single thought is the first piece with Nuckolls and Walsh (guitars, drums, flute). The two guitars work here to provide an almost rocking/bluegrass feel as they develop the piece, gathering pace, the electric guitar a tonal wahwahing base. In the last few minutes it becomes more edgy and the addition of flute provides new tones. Jacob Green (percussion, electronics, oboe: and the others are now on percussion, guitar, flute and oboe) for the closing These are mere words, powerless, useless whose first half is full percussion with guitar through, while the woodwinds offer a tonal ambient second half. These two pieces are less than 10 minutes each and work well. Where I had some difficulty with the album was the first two tracks - 35 minutes - which is just Ronsen on prepared guitar and Jason Pierce on drums. Banality may vanish and truth may appear is almost 20 minutes of plinky prepared guitar whose percussive effects are paralleled by the percussion. The full range of picking, some feedback, scraping, playing etc are worked through but for me this was an opener that didn't really go anywhere for the first 15 minutes but did find a focus near the end. I kept skipping the second track - I never saw the end of the fire - fearing 16 similar minutes. However, when I did get round to it I really enjoyed it - more active from both guitar and drums, gets almost beaty at times, but also struck through with ambient tones. This is a good album - the variety on it provides a welcome diversion. However I would program the album with this track first, then the others alternating as currently and ending with the current first track as a long farewell. And make it an even better album.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

eh?ven more: dukeman/barrios/makihara and sad sailor

Another couple of eh? releases - this may get posted before some earlier ones as I need to give breketc another listen, while these spoke out clearly, and are shorter!.

Dukeman, Barrios and Makihara are on tenor, bass and percussion for We need you - a live improv recording (eh?38). There are three tracks in 33 minutes and they work a similar vein. The sax goes through all sorts of changes across the album, squonking squarking liquid breathy popping calling tones - combined with jerky jumping bass and percussion (which varies from full kit rhough to twangy stick sounds). The die is cast early and the album follows this thread - with changes. Such as a fairly fast percussive solo that opens the third track or the bowed bass in the same one (which adds a welcome new sound). The second track is perhaps faster and fuller and faster, but all three have variations of both density and speed. So this is not a radical new departure in improv trios, and there could be some ironi responses to the title, but there is nothing wrong with album, rather nothing new. But those who enjoy this searching straining form of music will like this.

There are a host of people (7)
who make up Sad Sailor, playing guitars, cello, bass, synth, trumpet and drums. Three tracks on Link to the outside world may be live, but at a minimum they are raw studio recordings: a few times you can hear whoever the leader is counting the change. The image comes from their myspace site which describes them as shoegaze/folk/americana and the track that plays is quite folky. However this album is quite far from that. Juice the room opens with a melancholic cello with some strumming and keys behind before a couple of count in-s and the group moves in: drums, guitar, tones paralleling the cello and playing along, but then building a head of steam to develop a murky wall of sound, the drums in the foreground and instruments either emerging from the density or being able to be picked out. There is a false fade, a group rebuild and then another fade. We are straight into the wall in Radiant evil. Drum and bass provide a basic rhythm, the guitars are more to the fore (there are three) and a melody can be felt in the mix (and even hints at the groups folk-roots). Ringing guitars in Down at weirdo park are then combined with another pulsing sound assault, here the trumpet is featured, and the track ends the album with a well paced fade as instruments leave, balancing the opening. The combination of components here provides a satisfying mix of a full-bore sound(water)fall with an air of musical sensibility - and at 28 minutes it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Sometimes an album comes along that really surprises you. pfMentum is a jazz-orientated label which has regularly appeared here. MR MiNT Visions and Nightmares (pfcd49) arrived, identified as a one take, no edit recording of five people (whose initials are capitalised in the name) on drums, bass, guitar, sax and trumpet. The mind thinks groovy or edgy is the norm for this sort of ensemble. But what we get is closer to rock - in fact it was King Crimson - both the first incarnation and Larks Tongue in Aspic that came to mind while listening to this

the album is broken into two suites, which were each recorded in a single take, with further subdivisions for ease of listening based on changes in the music. A few general points before diving into this maelstrom
  • These are people who can actually play - rather than being interested in squeezing noises out of their instruments.
  • They have a great understanding of dynamics and have structured these pieces amazingly well, and have allowed the 'correct' balance of instruments take the running
  • At heart this is rock to me - the drumming is full on percussive and the guitar solos burn
  • The bedrock is the rhythm supplied by the drum and bass - I may not mention them much as we go through, but they are the driving force and a constant throughout the changes
The first piece is called Visions and Nightmares and opens with First light, a slowly emerging bass, some light guitar and bell-like percussion, with a little squonky sax. This builds through Gathering with more wind, some guitar and then a wind duo through to a long balanced group explosion in Fire flight. Here a lovely sax solo slips into a burning guitar piece and then a group, especially wind, crescendo that is let down into a soft bass solo. As this runs though into Submerge gentle trumpet and then sax provide a lacunae of quiet before a second explosion in Duel in the deep. The duel is between the wind, getting very wild before the guitar rings in again to take us into another blazing solo. The balance is restored with Breach where subtle sax and slow bass wevae around a cycling percussion and a hypnotic scrunching noise - the first obvious tape effect, which sounds like someone trudging through gravel. Some long held tones appear before Waiting which starts with fast percussion and then gives way to some brass repeated riffs before a fade. A nice surprise as with a set like this you might expect a big bang conclusion. What reminded me of Crimson? The intensity, the rhythms, the changes, the sax sound, the guitar - not fripplike but similarly powerful. This piece got my blood pumping.

And straight into Apocalyptica, and my one complaint about this album. These are two separate works that need to be absorbed individually. A short break between the 2 suites would allow a much more considered listening. OK you can turn it off, pause, whatever - but I think the experience would have been improved by a short break (see my review of Jeffrey Roden for more on this issue).

Prophecy is a short burst of group noise to kick things off before a bass solo, with a bit of guitar support and a touch of percussion (Soma) and there is perhaps more of a jazz feel. In Chasing dreams the brass joins the others, blowing long tones, building into a sax solo, segueing into a trumpet solo and then a melodically driven band excursion. The excitement eases to the rhythm unit and a percussion solo at the start of Rift - into which the guitar sidles and the hits a fiery wild solo, joined by the brass to burn some more before again dropping back to rhythm and choppy guitar. The brass come to the fore again in Dance of the fire reign, initially with some blowy noises, then squalling and puttering into a mix of solos and duets, building until the sax slithers though with the drum and bass into The horseman rides. Here sax and trumpet exchange parallel smooth lines, with some guitar trills that together with some long sax lines, emerges from a group blow into a very KC/Fripp like solo as the wind flutters around. A Wasteland shows us another of the eletronica-loops as a dislocated space of gentle sounds, subtleties provides a springboard into the final Summon of the shadow sun. Another jazzy brass period builds, sirens playing to match the trumpet, out of which another huge guitar solo leverages a group crescendo whose climax breaths into the silence.

An amazing album - each listening has emphasised it's strength to me, and provided more highlights. One hell of an ride.

(OK, enough of the KC comparison - but this makes me think what they could have been if the Red era continued with some influence from the first. And am I seeing too much in Dance for the fire reign as being a composite of Return of the fire witch and The dance of the puppets from In the court? Or Summon the shadow sun as relating to the line 'summon back the fire witch'? - probably. Let alone the fact they don't name check KC on their myspace page, and there aren't any vocals...)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Larry Kucharz: Blue Drawings and Text

A new album from Larry Kucharz is always a pleasure: an early supporter of &etc, I had not heard from him for a while so was surprised and pleased when this arrived - and to find that I had only missed one release in the interim.

To recap - Larry is a classical/minimalist musician who found the pleasure of synthsizers and the ability to layer tones, and shifted his interest to electrochoral and then also electrotechno. The albums are either beautiful ambience or a unique take on electro. Blue drawings and text is the latest of at least 15 release on his own International Audiochrome label.

The first six tracks on this one are the Blue Drawings - these are layered ambient pieces (and therefore hard to describe) that demonstrate Larry's ability to select tones that form fascinating and satisfying combinations. There are deeper underlying tones, higher ones that act as highlights or repeated elements. Each track has subtly different timbre, tonal or length qualities to them: for example the first is long steady tones, there are more wooshy elements to 2, while three contains shorter elements that have breath like qualities to their shape. In 5 sounds are more pulsingly pinging while the final drawing is like slow ringing or vibrating strings. The fourth has some of the more vocal sounds that have appeared in some of the choral pieces.

The seventh track is where a work from his pre-electronic days has been transcribed, and 1979 No 03a is another beauty - long tones set layering over each other. Some steady supports, others providing texture, some like the wind passing through this ethereal gallery. A gorgeous piece.

Finally the texts - a section where we get to hear a further side of his artistry. These emerge from another 70s experiment using words - he lists them on the cover - which are used as the units of sound and combined, accentuated. Winterfall is the simplest where the words are multi-layered over a simple ambient texture. The density of words forms a babble out of which some of them are more identifiable, but overall it is a musicality that is pronounced - especially as the words emerge from the ambience, fade back and then recur before the final fade. A computer voice is used on Soundless, and structure is gained by echoing the words - the repeated echoes at times extending into an industrial ambient rumble - and the timing as the pauses shorten or lengthen, to a steady beat at the end.

The final two pieces merge the word poems with some of Larry's joyously forceful techno. A more emotional reading in Bar scene is accompanied by some exciting and lyrical music; while a very tasty percussive work envelops the voice-radio cacophony of City street scenes II. These two provide an extrovert conclusion to the album.

This is an excellent album for the Kucharz-neophyte as it demonstrates the full range of his music, while for those familiar with his work will find much to give them enjoyment as the on-going development of this impressive artist is demonstrated. This is classical, minimal, ambient, techno with a hint of industrial strength: another great album.

contact Larry at