Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy new year

OK - I hope to get back into business

2009 was hectic with things spoken about before and I have a definite backlog of things to bring to you. Probably in the next few weeks.

Musically 09 was interesting for me - I got into Miles Davis: yes, at my age and so long after his heyday. But he was always someone who was in the musical background, a known major figure. My sister had some of his albums (enough to stop me listening) and I saw the wonderful capito sets and wondered who would buy them But curiosity was always there.

Anyway, good old big pond had some of the 'complete' recordings at single album prices so I thought - give them a go (with Coltrane, the quintet, Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew). And I got hooked - have bought downloads, actual disks in sales and at amazon, even some bootleg live shows and sessions. Most of you probably realised this already, but the range of stuff has amazed me - from the birth of the cool through the cookin'etc to almost blue and then the sixties quartet into bitches brew, agatha and beyond.

And it has made me re-conceptualise the jazz I have reviewed over the years: finally given it some degree of context. And not being monomaniacal (though close to) I have also bought some John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk.

Seems I'm back with things to say!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mystified: pulse etc - vinyl memories

As anyone who has read this will know, I have nothing against downloaded music and cds. Both are convenient and offer music which is almost indelible: it isn't impossible to lose a file or scratch a cd but it is hard to. But, there is a lot that has been lost with the move away from vinyl. The sheer pleasure of getting a 12" disk in a big cover has largely been lost. As cover design developed the pleasures increased - the gatefold, complex inserts - the book of drawings that came with Ringo's solo album, or with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; Jethro Tull's Living in the Past, Thick as a Brick and Passion Play. Intricate and exciting cover images - I still look through my book of Roger Dean covers, and the releases from Hipgnosis. And I can't go past my favourite Talking Heads/ Rauschenberg cover - or the one that got away: PiL Metal Box!

OK cds can do nice box sets (Eno's 2 boxes, David Sylvian, Sakamoto, the Jethro Tull cigar box and more) but single cds don't go anywhere near the pleasure of the cover - too small. And that shiny disk can't beat a 7 or 12" vinyl - usually black but with a special frisson if the vinyl is coloured. Which gets us to Mystified's Pulse Ringer Pieces which is a blue 12" release via Dronehaus.

3 tracks per 15 minutes side, short but focussed and with the undeniable pleasure and richness that vinyl can provide. I am not a real audiophile and sometimes listen on old equipment (I got the amp for my 21st birthday) but mainly the computer or iPod - but vinyl has to pump out the old system and it did so very nicely thank you.

Side one (check out the out-groove inscription to tell which is which) opens with what could be the title track, though it is called Phantom ringer. A ringing pulse emerges through watery bubbling shimmering tectures, combined with some vinyl splatters (one thing that is hard to tell is the difference between spatters that have been added to the music and those cause by my aging equipment!). Floaty ghost is again watery under a tapping echo which reminds me of moored yachts (and a Quiet American piece). It bubbles and simmers before a developing hiss introduces a more active, choppery section. Then prayer bells and an electronic mummbled mass prayer witha heart beat: it pasues before a faster beat comes in and the ambience of Pulse beyond drifts for a lovely 6:33.

Getting out begins side 2 with a shimmering bout of beautiful ambience, hovering slightly; theninto more beats with the pumping Cool vapor where long layered tones are enmeshed in a clicking tapping fast beat, pulses moving in and out, and some nice shifts and drifts. Ending with Round shimmer where building shimmers are accompanied by a noise which could be a dolphin burping, and island of metallic highlights, another complex but gentle beat enters, drops out and then returns us into the drift, puntuated by soft drills

Obviosly Mystified is not someone who it is hard to get music by - there is a mass at Treetrunk and various other net sites where you can download it, plus the various cd-rs etc. And this is not a departure from previous releases but a very fine example of the combination of ambience and subtle beats that is part of Thomas Park's range. But if you want to have the feel of good solid vinyl in your hand, to experience the development of your own ambient crackleadditions, and drift into the cover as you listen to the music, then I hope there are some copies left.

Back in business (I think)

Hi: If there is anyone still looking at the Blog (other than Marina Hardy's anonymous friends) you will be surprised by 2 posts in one day after a lengthy silence. The activities alluded to in an earlier post have continued (moving, work etc) but are settling down. And so I will turn to the smallish pile of releases awaiting review and over the next little while try and start whittling it down. Apologies to those awaiting a response - something will eventually come about.
Thanks for your patience

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Mysterious Marina Hardy

The review that has gathered the most responses is my one of Marina Hardy's Pink Violin last January. There was talk that the album was 'constructed' but Marina was adamant in an email to me that she had played and created it all and was offended I had asked her about it.

Since then anonymous has posted about the material being 'stolen'. The most recent points to a  continuing discussion which seems designed to attack Ms Hardy, and which includes a link to a youtube video of a ukelele player who seems to be able to play the same piece as on the Hardy cd.

I am willing to accept that the album is a complex construction - perhaps most if not all plundered from here and there - but I stand by my review that it is a fascinating and exciting album. Its full origin is just a little uncertain! Marina has reappeared on Facebook, so perhaps more will be clarified in the future.

Domenico Sciajno: Sequens

OK - it's been a while and there is a bit to cover sometime over the next weeks: things have been hectic here (new semester, selling our house, buying 20 acres, moving horses..) Last week 4 disks arrived from Bowindo (last seen in 2006) and this one blew me away - a concept plunderphonics album taht works brilliantly. I looked up the score so can explain the basics. What surprises me is that it was constructed/recorded in 1999 and has only now been released.

Here goes: Luciano Berio wrote 15 Sequenzas - solos for a variety of instruments and one vocal. Sciajno got recordings of them (14 from DG and one from BIS) and a recording of a sequenza he wrote. After digitising them he divided them into four groups - a trio, two quartets and a quintet. He then cut the pieces up and interwove them to form group works: for example Parte 1 is a trio of flute, trombone and accordion. Here Sciajno shows his mastery of how to overlap, superimpose and separate the tracks in a counterpoint. The cuts from the tracks have to be played in sequence and all have to be used. What could have been a mishmash of sound becomes a strong modern chamber work through the combination of Berio's original composition and the skill of Sciajno.

However, there is more: he then combines similar instruments (strings, brass, wind) and creates sections which are placed under the groups to create additional depth and atmosphere - 'fragments with similar characteristics have been grouped and superimposed to generate strong sections recognisable from their rhythm and harmony'. Less obvious - once you listen closely you hear them down there.

The work also develops structurally - in each part the number of tracks on the mixer increases as the groups expand and the number of sections grows (2 in Parte 1, 10 in parte 4) [the score includes window-dumps of the structures of each Parte].

To describe the music would be hard - think of modernist solo pieces exploring the dynamics of the instrument in a classical format, rather than say the outerlimits of improv, with the lines coming in and out, forming solos, duets, trios, quartets, in a complex intense but not atonal or extreme, insightful way.

I don't know if anyone else has done similar work, but this collaboration between two composers is astounding - Sciajno has remained completely faithful to Berio's compositions by 'merely' cutting/pasting them (and his own sequence fits) and created a new Berio work which was always there but never drawn out. Perhaps it is the copyright issues that have kept this hidden, but it is a masterwork worth bringing to light.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vale The Foundry

One of the first label to support Ampersand when I first went solo was The Foundry. Label boss M Bentley created much of the early music (as eM, part of Apiary, Mollusk and himself) and also printed a fine line of chapbooks. Over the years the label expanded both its roster and its reach - and for a time was releasing material in conjunction with Hypnos. Satisfying both auditory and visual systems, The Foundry was a label you could rely on to give pleasure. 

Things had been quiet at the website for a while, and on a visit today found the inevitable - a goodbye from Michael.

All I can say is that another great label has gone, and that if you can find any of the releases, including on the Archipelago sublabel, go for it.

Thanks for it all Michael - it will be fondly remembered.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Seeded Plain: Land tract

The latest (and first of a new batch) from Bryan Day, this time as Seeded Plain, with jay kreimer, released on featherspines. They are both credited with objects and time on this release Land Tract

Many years ago I reviewed an album by Anna Planeta recorded in an abandoned school, which this reminds me of (something of a gratuitous reference which few people will have heard - but it was on the lovely named label Betley welcomes careful drivers). 

It sounds like a couple of guys have gone in to a room full of various bits of pieces and have spent a jolly time twanging on metal, singing a bit, banging around - contact mikes and perhaps a bit of processing - to create 70 minutes of formless noises, with odd titles (arise-d or berel-ed - but I note their label doesn't worry with the suffices). Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I am not sure it is something you want to listen to, although it is quite diverting as a background noise as the twangs wobble, metal things are rattled and banged, rattles and squeaks, density builds and diminishes, voices/vocals appear in the mix (and some coughing), whirring sounds, humms pass. All in all a noisey experience, which makes quite a diverting sort of background soundscape  as it weaves in and out of the foreground, making you wonder what is being played with at various points. Impossible to describe in any detail, I have played it through 3 times already now and continue to be diverted by it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I am back from a break in which my classical fascination has been satisfied by The rest is noise and a welter of cheap bigpond downloads, including: multiple disk sets of Stravinsky orchestral, Webern (the complete Boulez), Dvorjak string quartets, Nielsen symphonies, Miavokvsky complete orchestral, Bernstein conducts Bernstein, Lutoslawski, single disgs of Berg and Dutilleux, and just to spice it up, a couple of Miles Davis albums (each side a single track). 

While still digesting this cornucopia I am also back in the reviewing seat, so I hope to get a few reviews up soon (though work in the new year is always busy, plus we are moving). Back soon