Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon

july_mountain_cover_small


Leave a comment

Review: Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart, “July Mountain (Three Versions)” (Gravity Wave)

Wallace Stevens wrote “July Mountain” in the last year of his life, suffering from stomach cancer. A recognition of mortality and imperfection hides in his poem’s first eight lines. They gently and beautifully remind the reader that life on earth is a fragmented thing, and that there are no conclusions, no full and final stops that shine a light on all the dark corners in the world. Instead we are all “thinkers without final thoughts in an always incipient cosmos,” forever watching the world and the stars spin themselves into new configurations. The poem explicitly uses music as an image for that interminable metamorphosis, and Michael Pisaro’s composition of the same name demonstrates just how apt an image it is. July Mountain (Three Versions) illustrates Stevens’s contention, combining field recordings with incredibly stealthy musical contributions provided by Greg Stuart. Bowed snare drums, piano, bird calls, jet engines, and numerous other sounds, from sine tones to insects, unexpectedly coalesce over its 21 minutes, forming a quivering and effervescent peak for anyone willing to make the ascent.

July Mountain first appeared as a single piece on a limited edition CDr released by Engraved Glass. To the “California Version” presented on that disc, the Gravity Wave release features two additional performances. One of them, the “Austin Version,” is a complete rendition, combining 20 field recordings unique to that city with 10 layers of percussion recorded by Greg Stuart. Instructions for how the field recordings are to be obtained are minimal (make 20 of your own, or get them from the composer, just make sure to point the microphones at mountains or valleys if possible), but their durations and their arrangements with respect to one another are very well defined. They are all ten minutes long, and there are only ever ten recordings playing simultaneously.

On the percussive side, the featured instruments include resonating surfaces teased by sine waves, vibraphones wrapped in tin foil, and “seed rain,” a steady stream of seeds, rice, or beans poured over crotales or a glockenspiel (the score gives the performer plenty of choices). Their timings and durations are specified by time markers—four bowed wooden blocks at nine and a half minutes, one projected sine tone at five and a half minutes, lasting for seven minutes and thirty seconds—and the methods suggested for playing them, including the exact qualities to be elicited from them, are described rather than strictly notated. For example, the instructions for the bowed snare drum read, in part, “Sounds may be created by bowing on any part of the instrument and by bowing on a drumstick or doweling with its tip pressed against the drum.”

(Read more… includes samples)

bradbury


Leave a comment

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them”

Lots of great anecdotes, quotes, and writing advice from Ray Bradbury, lifted from this post at Tor.com. The below video includes a whole host of books and writers to check out, and some surprising insights into Bradbury’s mind (“Writing is not a serious business!” and “I don’t write things to benefit the world”). Just make sure to ignore the bit about modern poetry.

orwell_passport_large


Leave a comment

Quote of the Day: “Why are beggars despised?”

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? – for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.

A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other business men, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

George Orwell, from Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

aaron_funk_tiara


Leave a comment

The Monthly List: April and May’s Top 21 Albums

A short and sweet “Monthly” this time around. Lots of changes on the horizon for me, including new work. Reviews will still come, probably at about the same rate, maybe slower, though this may be the last thing I put on the blog until the end of the month. My goal is always to write more, but coming home from one eight hour job and jumping right into another that requires an equal amount of hard work (or more) can be tiring.

Expect more, but smaller posts, and maybe a series of much briefer reviews to help get through all the amazing music that’s coming out this year (or that has already been out for awhile).

Links to my favorite sites for reviews and information can now be found in the sidebar. You can always find good info at Brainwashed.com, Dusted, Just Outside, and All Music Guide, and samples are available virtually everywhere. Forced Exposure and Boomkat are good places to go if you’re looking for the more obscure stuff.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Further record-buying resources can be found in the sidebar as well.

  • Carl Hultgren, Tomorrow on BLUE FLEA (CD)
  • Windy & Carl, I Walked Alone/At Night on BLUE FLEA (7″)
  • Good Area, Cubic Zirconia/Bad Karlshafen on KYE (7″)
  • Fennesz, Bécs on EDITIONS MEGO (CD)
  • COH, To Beat on EDITIONS MEGO (CD)
  • Coppice, Vantage/Cordoned on CADUC. (CD)
  • Venetian Snares, Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding on PLANET MU (CD)
  • Photek, Risc vs Reward on ASTRALWERKS (CD)
  • Marcus Schmickler & Julian Rohrhuber, Politiken der Frequenz on EDITIONS MEGO/TOCHNIT ALEPH (MP3)
  • Jason Lescalleet, Electronic Music on RRR (LP)
  • Jason Lescalleet, Much to My Demise on KYE (LP)
  • Robert Beatty, Soundtracks for Takeshi Murata on GLISTENING EXAMPLES (LP)
  • Kyle Bobby Dunn, … and the Infinite Sadness on STUDENTS OF DECAY (MP3)
  • Ambarchi/O’Malley/Dunn, Shade Themes from Kairos on DRAG CITY (MP3)
  • Wen, Signals on KEYSOUND RECORDINGS (MP3)
  • Angus MacLise, The Cloud Doctrine on SUB ROSA (2CD)
  • Kuupuu, Sous Juju on EM RECORDS (2CD)
  • Loren Connors, Night Through: Singles and Collected Works 1976-2004 on FAMILY VINEYARD (3CD)
  • Jack Rose, Kensington Blues on VHF RECORDS (LP)
  • Shirley Collins, Sweet England on FLEDG’LING RECORDS (CD)
  • The Clean, Anthology on MERGE (2CD)
ravel_1912


Leave a comment

“Gaspard de la nuit” performed by Vlado Perlemuter

Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand – composed by Maurice Ravel in 1908, premiered in 1909. Vlado Perlemuter is 87 years old in this video.

Gaspard is famous, in part, for how difficult it is. You get a glimpse of that in this video, especially in the third movement, but it’s also a gorgeous piece of music with much more than its virtuosic passages to recommend it. There’s more info about Gaspard, including English translations of the poems on which the piece is based, here.

About Vlado Perlemuter (who met Ravel and performed every one of his piano works), via Wikipedia:

Vladislas (Vlado) Perlemuter was born to a Polish Jewish family, the third of four sons, in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas in Lithuania). At the age of three, he lost the use of his left eye in an accident.

His family settled in France in 1907. In 1915, only 10 years old, he was accepted by the Paris Conservatoire, studying first with Moritz Moszkowski (1915–17) then with Alfred Cortot. At 15, he graduated from the Conservatoire, where he won the First Prize playing Gabriel Fauré’s Thème et variations before the composer, although Fauré was already deaf by that time. In 1925 he met Maurice Ravel, and in 1927 studied all of Ravel’s solo works for piano with the composer himself for a period of six months. Thereafter, he became one of the leading exponents of Ravel’s music. In 1929 in two public recitals both attended by the composer, Perlemuter played Ravel’s complete piano works, a feat he repeated in 1987 at London’s Wigmore Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of Ravel’s death.

… His art is characterized by shimmering tonal colors and a singing legato combined with an effortless ease of interpretation. Those who heard him live say that his playing was characterized by an enchantingly subtle tone that recordings fail to capture fully. He approached new pieces through the left hand, reading the piece from the bass upwards. He always practiced slowly, focusing on each hand separately.

sun_ra_favorite_small


Leave a comment

The Sun Ra Centennial

Sun Ra celebrates his 100th birthday today. NPR has a brief Morning Edition feature on the man, and The Sun Ra Music Archive has just re-issued 21 of his albums, mastered in a 24 bit format (PDF) available exclusively from iTunes (if you can stomach using it).

Robert Mugge’s 60 minute documentary, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, which was filmed between 1978 and 1980 and features numerous performance excerpts and monologues from Sun Ra himself, is available on Vimeo.

You can check out one of my favorite Sun Ra songs, from 1978’s Lanquidity, right here:

54 Years of Space Exploration

Leave a comment

50-years-of-explorationvia Cosmic Diary and the SETI Institute Facebook page:

National Geographic asked 5W Infographics to update its 50 Years of Exploration graphic, a classic that I use often in my talks to illustrate our space exploration program and its focus on the inner part of the solar system.

The updated version, renamed “Cosmic Journey“, is spectacular, better organized and easier to follow than its predecessor. It has been updated to include new missions sent over the past 4 years. The new color code includes the paths of failed, as well as successful, missions and also the nation that led them.

A high resolution version is available on the 5W Infographics website.

schmickler_rohrhuber-politiken


Leave a comment

Review: Marcus Schmickler & Julian Rohrhuber, “Politiken der Frequenz” (Editions Mego/Tochnit Alpeh)

Plenty of records get tagged with an experimental or exploratory label because they’re unconventional. Toss any combination of melody, rhythm or identifiable structure out the window, and you are bound to win a cocked eyebrow or two. Pound whatever’s left out on an old-fashioned synthesizer or slip some shred of musical theory into the mix and presto — you’ve earned yourself an investigator’s badge and maybe a bit more leeway than you might have otherwise had. Not that that is such a bad thing. Unusual instrumentation and perplexing performance strategies have led to many great and interesting places, but just as often they serve to mask fairly conventional and well-worn ideas, as loose and unfocused as they are open-ended.

Then there are records like Politiken der Frequenz, which asks numerous difficult questions and proceeds according to very particular — and potentially revolutionary — notions. Recorded by Marcus Schmickler and Julian Rohrhuber and released by Editions Mego and Tochnit Aleph, Politiken derives a good portion of its digital heat from the peculiar set of influences that burn beneath it. Philosophy, finance, politics, theoretical mathematics and history all meet in its liner notes and, at least to some extent, in the music itself, where prime integers, common denominators and set theory are all utilized as musical resources. The results run from pleasant computerized tones with ambient leanings to hard-edged noise driven by low resolution arcade sounds, number station test tones and glassy harmonies wiped clean by over-processing.

The brief essay that accompanies the record, and that serves as both the album’s artwork and its lyric book, references French philosopher Alain Badiou’s work with surreal numbers in Number and Numbers, German mathematician Julius Wilhelm Richard Dedekind’s theory concerning the nature of real numbers, and historical problems, both philosophical and musical, associated with Pythagorean ontology.

Read more (Dusted in Exile)

coppice-vantage_cordoned


Leave a comment

Review: Coppice, “Vantage/Cordoned” (Caduc.)

Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer’s windblown recordings portray the inner life of their instruments. In the case of Vantage/Cordonedm, that’s a pair of prepared pump organs and various tape players manipulated to produce a bristly, granular stream of noise thick with debris; the clamor is evocative of industrial materials and broken mechanical bits like buzzing plastic frames, frayed wires, rusted brass reeds and over-stuffed bellows emitting air from all the wrong places. Their sound is broken and weathered and pocked with imperfections, but carefully controlled and recorded too, deliberately filled with the gritty life of distorted noise and malfunctioning equipment.

Coppice’s musical approach epitomizes what its name suggests: development, reduction and reuse. Among Cuéllar and Kramer’s numerous undertakings, past endeavors have included a performance on the Baschet Brothers’ Aluminum Piano at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; a special exhibition of resonating sculptures made from galvanized steel, glass, foam and copper; and a handmade 12 CD-R redwood boxed set that doubles as a reed instrument thanks to the brass tube running through its center. As different as the works are, all three are part of the duo’sVinculum project, something they refer to as an “archive of sonic artifacts.” Those artifacts include pre-recorded sounds and compositional strategies that are as useful in one discipline as they are in another. Appropriately, the title connotes unification, though usually of the mathematical or anatomical sort. Musically, it describes how the duo goes about its work, both stylistically (how many bellows and electronics duos can you name?) and structurally.

Read more (Dusted in Exile)

donato_dozzy


Leave a comment

The Monthly List: March’s Top 15 Albums

coppice_grass2014 continues with more great new music than any one person could possibly keep up with. I managed to cover one or two things in the last month, including Robot Records’ 3CD retrospective of Jacques Lejeune’s work. It’s probably the best GRM-related release I’ve seen since the INA-GRM put out those Luc Ferrari and Bernard Parmegiani sets in 2008 and 2009. I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for a place where you can get a copy, it’s currently available at Other Music.

I also covered Nicholas Szczepanik’s Not Knowing for Dusted in Exile, which is one of the more gorgeous recordings of 2014 so far.  As long as you’re there, you should also check out Jennifer Kelly’s review of Damien Jurado’s new record. Not so much on the experimental side of things, but a great record and worth checking out.

I’ve been catching up with and writing about Coppice and Haptic and I hope to get something together for The Patient as well. Those three recordings have most of my attention at the moment.

But there’s lots of new music coming from Editions Mego that I want to hear too. Along with the Schmickler/Rohrhuber LP below, which I’m slowly digesting, there’s new music from COH, LCC, Mika Vainio, Russell Haswell and Fennesz on the way. You can preview all of that on their website.

There’s also two new releases from Erstwhile, four new records and a 7″ from Kye, a boatload of Alga Marghen reissues, a new Thomas Ankersmit CD on Touch, and several new Sub Rosa projects that are either out now or soon to be available. Nevermind that Record Store Day is just a few days away, there’s more than enough music out there now to keep you record hunting for a good long time.

Links to my favorite sites for reviews and information are found at the bottom of the page. You can always find good info at Brainwashed.comDusted, Just Outside, and All Music Guide, and samples are available virtually everywhere. Forced Exposure and Boomkat are good places to go if you’re looking for the more obscure stuff.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Further record-buying resources can be found at the bottom of this page.

  • Coppice, Vantage/Cordoned on CADUC. (CD)
  • Haptic, Abeyance on ENTR’ACTE (CD)
  • Joseph Clayton Mills, The Patient on ENTR’ACTE (CD/BOOK)
  • Donato Dozzy, Plays Bee Mask on SPECTRUM SPOOLS (CD)
  • Voices from the Lake feat. Donato Dozzy & Neel, Voices from the Lake on PROLOGUE (CD)
  • Various Artists, Enjoy the Silence Vol. 2 on MULE ELECTRONIC (CD)
  • Dead Rider, Chills on Glass on DRAG CITY (CD)
  • Marcus Schmickler & Julian Rohrhuber, Politiken der Frequenz on EDITIONS MEGO (DIGITAL)
  • Jacques Lejeune, Parages and Other Electroacoustic Works 1971 – 1985 on ROBOT (3CD)
  • Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart, Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds on GRAVITY WAVE (CD)
  • Nicholas Szczepanik, Not Knowing on DESIRE PATH/TANGENTS (DIGITAL)
  • Gas, Nah und Fern on KOMPAKT (4CD)
  • Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun on SECRETLY CANADIAN (CD)
  • Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw on PARADISE OF BACHELORS (LP)
  • David Bowie, Heroes on RYKO (CD)
windy_carl-walked_alone


Leave a comment

Review: Windy & Carl, “I Walked Alone/At Night” (Blue Flea)

A little more than 20 years ago, in the fall of 1993, Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren started the Blue Flea label together in order to release their first record. Pressed to black wax, or purple if you were very lucky, the Watersong/Dragonfly 7” was presented in a simple green sleeve with a picture of a tree on one side and, on the other, the image of three broad maple leaves. Last year, for Record Store Day 2013, Windy and Carl inaugurated their 20th anniversary celebrations with the release of a cassette documenting their 2009 performance at the Solar Culture Gallery in Tucson, Arizona, a single night on what they claim was their last ever tour. Then, in December, they reunited with Dominic Martin, who put out the Emerald 7” on Enraptured in 1995, and released the Calliope/Carnivale single. The cassette caught Windy and Carl somewhere between We Will Always Be and Songs for the Broken Hearted mode, but the 45 was a glance over their shoulders, with a surprise percussion-injected twist tucked away on the B-side. Pressed to red vinyl (the orange vinyl edition sold out in a flash) and adorned in bright, hand painted sleeves that resemble fossilized leaves, I Walked Alone/At Night concludes the celebratory trilogy with a pair of reflective beauties, cool and crystalline from a distance, but red hot at their core. It is a fiery return to that green-sleeved single from 1993, reinforced and refreshed by Windy’s new-found inspiration, Carl’s seemingly effortless playing, and 20 years of hard work.

Windy and Carl’s last two full-length albums saw them become an entirely new band. They’d never been as rock ‘n’ roll as the space-rock label suggested, but in the seven years between 2001’s Consciousness and 2008’s Songs for the Broken Hearted they had left the earthy orbit of their more song-based material behind entirely. By 2012’s We Will Always Be, they had tumbled through empty space and sailed straight into the sun, where Windy’s vocals turned to liquid heat and Carl’s weighty drones became streams of white hot light. The songs melted away, the bodies burned away, and all that was left was their sound: Windy and Carl. Think of it as one name, without the conjunction or the spaces.

Read more… (Brainwashed.com)
Samples here… (Bandcamp)

pain_jerk-live


Leave a comment

Pain Jerk + Russell Haswell on Editions Mego

Russell Haswell and Pain Jerk  are teaming up for a 2CD release due out in June on Editions Mego. You can read the press release below while you check out the preview Editions Mego posted to Soundcloud above. I’ve included a pair of Youtube videos of Pain Jerk and Russell Haswell performing live too, just in case you need to familiarize yourself a little more (in case you don’t know, much of it is very loud, so start the volume somewhere down low). Very much looking forward to this one.

From Editions Mego:

Electroacoustic Sludge Dither Transformation Smear Grind Decomposition nO!se File Exchange Mega Edit is the long awaited collaboration from two of the world finest purveyors of noise, electroacoustics and top shelf audio mayhem. Having met at the legendary Tokyo venue 20000 volts in 1997 Haswell and Pain Jerk (Kohei Gomi) stayed in touch with the intent to collaborate at some point in the future. This was eventually realized in 2012 when they were offered a gig to play together at the Rammel Club in Nottingham. Prior to the show they exchanged files of solo recordings, as a means of forming a basis for what was initially conceived as an ‘extreme duet tag mass attack’. It was here that the foundation was laid for the epic extreme end result we now encounter. The Nottingham performance was recorded and both parties took away the results in addition to their solo recordings to re-edit and re-send, back and forth, for 2 years, re-editing, re-contextualising these original sounds.

The results of this extended collaboration is a punk academic collision which utilises advanced computer music techniques and analogue/digital modular synthesizer splurge, along with the more basic and belligerent frequencies found in distortion and feedback. This can also be read as a study of editing in all forms; hyper editing, editing in pop music, editing in dance culture, electro-acoustic editing, the editing techniques used in musique concrète, editing used in film and advertising along with the notion of gaps – the audible and inaudible.

A blistering 2CD collision of transformation, technique, ideas and form which resides equally in the advanced fields of electroacoustic study and the high energy freeform noise from which both practitioners sprung.

jacques_lejeune-parages


Leave a comment

Review: Jacques Lejeune, “Parages and Other Electroacoustic Works 1971-1985″ (Robot)

Robot Records’ three-CD retrospective of Jacques Lejeune’s music from the early 1970s and 1980s contains over three hours of heady electronic noise, surreal acoustic transformations, deconstructed field recordings, and disorienting aural splutter. It is a collection that spans 14 years and six electroacoustic compositions: one composed for ballet and inspired by Snow White, another inspired by the myth of Icarus, and others by landscapes, symphonic form, and cyclical movement, among other things. They flash with theatrical flair, jump unpredictably through minute variations, and churn chaotically, tossing fabricated scree and instrumental slag into the air. A 28 page bilingual booklet filled with photographs, drawings, and program notes accompanies the set, along with a 32 page booklet of interpretive poetry. In them, Lejeune, Alain Morin, and Yak Rivais offer up remarkably precise interpretations for each of the pieces, but the writing works much better as a rough guide to the visually evocative clamor of Lejeune’s electric transmissions.

Jacques Lejeune’s musical career began auspiciously, at the famous Schola Cantorum de Paris, a private music school in the city’s Latin Quarter whose alumni include Edgard Varèse and Erik Satie. From there, he moved to the Conservatoire National Supérieur, where Adolphe Sax had once taught and where Igor Wakhévitch would eventually study, and labored under the tutelage of Pierre Schaeffer. He finished his education with François Bayle at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, then joined the GRM in 1968 and became director of the Cellue de la Musique pour L’Image, or The Department of Music for Images, responsible for the production of sound and music for both theater and television.

By 1971 he had finished his first major composition, Cri, which premiered at the Royan Festival in 1972. It was Lejuene’s introduction to France and the first indication that his stint in the Images Department at the GRM had been as formative as the rest of his education.

Early on, Cri delivers brief, sometimes confounding glimpses of particular places and circumstances. Those images are held in focus just long enough to be recognized and then swept away: a marching band stomps through a busy street in the first movement, then disappears into the sound of French horns warming up before a performance; frogs croak in concert with crickets as sheets of tape noise flutter by imitating the sound of water; people laugh and conversations crash against bursting radio signals and gusts of analog distortion. In the second movement entire sentences survive, accompanied by reverse audio and a small gaggle of test tones. Exclamations leap out of the commotion and a radio transmission about Pakistan and the United States floats smoothly by, like a small town seen from the window of a passing train.

Read more… (at Brainwashed, includes sound samples)

william_bennett-photo


Leave a comment

William Bennett, Cut Hands, and Fascism

cut_hands_album_coverFinding several music websites unwilling to publish his work, Josh Hall recently posted an essay to his blog about William Bennett, the Cut Hands project, and Bennett’s by now well-known affinity for taboo subjects and for far-right politics and imagery (meaning, in this case, fascism).

Response to the essay has been about as varied as you could expect. Some reactions are incredulous or condescending (“Of course William Bennett is making offensive art! Duh!”), others have been more glowing (“thanks for finally bringing this up!). I’m sympathetic to the questions that Hall raises, though I think he muddles his message with the accusations he levels against Blackest Ever Black and Tony Wakeford. Whether or not it sits well with you, Bennett’s already addressed his use of fascist imagery and language on his blog. He might have been an idiot, but as Hall acknowledges, it’s unlikely that he was ever pro-Nazi.

The bits in the article about colonialism, racism, misogyny, and the appropriation of foreign cultures are much stronger, and the accusation that Bennett is entirely responsible for the Extreme Music from Africa compilation is way more interesting than any of his juvenile fascist obsessions ever were.

I’ve read several negative reactions to the article that bring up artist’s rights or censorship—the idea being that Hall is putting unfair ethical expectations on Bennett’s music by criticizing his use of African art. After all, virtually everyone borrows ideas from other cultures these days. That can’t be as insidious as Hall suggests it is, right?

But the issue at hand, as best as I can tell, is the quality of Bennett’s work, not whether or not he should be allowed to produce it, or whether or not an artist can borrow ideas from another culture without somehow trivializing it.  Hall simply argues that Bennett produces poor art, and that part of what makes it so poor is its obliviousness . He then goes on to point out that shockingly few writers have written about the political and philosophical particulars of that art.

It seems to me that Hall finds the lack of discussion surrounding Bennett’s music just as troubling as the music itself (though I think the music isn’t nearly so interesting as that; it’s how Bennett dresses his records that catches my attention). How could anyone, for instance, pass up the opportunity to press an interviewee who thinks “Buchenwald is just a name?” And why is it that we are forgiving of confrontational artists who make radical statements, but so indignant toward audiences who are confrontational or skeptical in return? Is art so sacrosanct that we can’t question it, even when it offends us or stirs some doubt in the back of our minds? Is it that we think there is only one right way to read Bennett’s work?

Some of the issues Hall raises are enough to make me question what Bennett is up to, and that is all he needs to do. That’s what good journalism is supposed to be about. It’s with that in mind that I recommend reading Hall’s essay, whether you find that his analysis is accurate in the end or not.