Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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Broadcast 08: The New York School in Boston

max_neuhaus_new_york

Detail from the cover of “The New York School” by Max Neuhaus. Released by Alga Marghen.

An embarrassingly late update for the last radio show I hosted on WZBC, which was broadcast on January the 19th. Below are two links to the audio for that show. They will be replaced this Sunday (February 2nd, Groundhog Day), when I will be back on the air featuring new music from Joseph Clayton Mills, among others. Mills has several new records out, including one inspired by notes that Franz Kafka wrote to his friends while on his death bed. It sounds fantastic and I’m excited to share. The program will start at 6 PM eastern and end at 8 PM, so for those of you not interested in the Super Bowl and looking for an alternative, tune in.

One of my favorite pieces from this show was Max Neuhaus’s rendition of Feldman’s “The King of Denmark.” It comes from The New York School: Nine Realizations of Cage, Feldman, Brown, a CD first released by Alga Marghen in 2004. Alga Marghen is an Italian label that specializes in 20th century music, Fluxus composers, sound poetry, and various other sound arts, and a big chunk of their catalog has recently been made available State-side thanks to Forced Exposure. I’d encourage anyone interested in what they hear on this show to check their releases out. That Neuhaus CD is an excellent place to begin.

Any questions, comments, or requests, please send me an email or just drop a message into the comments section below.

Thanks for listening.

Laughter: January 19th, 2014 – Hour 1 and Hour 2

  1. Sonic Youth “Edges” from SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century (1999) on SYR — composed by Christian Wolff
  2. Olivia Block “Heave To (Part 2)” from Heave To (2006) on SEDIMENTAL
  3. KTL “Phill 1” from V (2012) on EDITIONS MEGO
  4. Max Neuhaus “The King Of Denmark” from The New York School (2004) on ALGA MARGHEN — composed by Morton Feldman
  5. Burkhard Stangl “Unfinished – Sailing” from Unfinished. For William Turner, Painter. (2013) on TOUCH — performed by Fennesz (first take, no edits, no cuts)
  6. Polwechsel “Hyogo” from Polwechsel 2 (1999) on HATART
  7. Gordon Mumma “Than Particle” from Live – Electronic Music (2002) on TZADIK — performed by William Winant and Gordon Mumma
  8. Noah Creshevsky “Drummer” from The Tape Music Of Noah Creshevsky 1971-1992 (2004) on EM RECORDS
  9. Francois Bayle “Eros Bleu” from Archives GRM (2004) on INA GRM
  10. Franco Evangelisti “Cinque Strutture, per piccola orchestra e nastro magnetico dalla ‘Die Schachtel’ 1962-63” from Franco Evangelisti (1998) on EDITION RZ
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Christian Wolff Live

A 45 minute performance of Christian Wolff’s music is currently available on Vimeo via Roulette TV and is linked below. It’s followed by a 15 minute interview with Christian, which touches on his training, biographical information, various influences (including Satie and Ives!), and some of the technical aspects of his work. He also discusses how he composes, how that affects the way his music is performed, and he even provides details about particular sections of the piece featured in the video. It’s a very helpful document for anyone finding their way into his music and a great interview with good information I’ve not found elsewhere.

Wolff is joined by Joey Baron, Robert Black, Larry Polansky, and Robyn Schulkowsky.


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The Monthly List: November’s Top 14

image still from Roulette TV's Christian Wolff feature

image still from Roulette TV’s Christian Wolff feature

Numerous new discs on the list for November, with Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff’s ErstLive disc being the only title held over from October. When I think of the best albums from 2012, that one is the first that comes to mind. Then there’s Rowe’s September, which sounds great and is getting a lot of positive press too, but I haven’t spent as much time with it. The Rowe/Wolff disc just clicked and stuck with me.

I listened to more new music in November than I did last month, but gave the albums I heard fewer repeat listens. Looking at the top ten lists that are already published, or that are in the midst of being published, I find it hard to believe that anyone’s prepared to rank anything. Having a favorite album or two makes sense, but I’ll be listening to a lot of this music well into January and processing it for longer. Plus there’s still new music on the way this year. I’m only now getting around to the new Scott Walker and Jakob Ullmann releases and I still want to get my hands on the Wandelwesier 6CD box set from Another Timbre. How anyone makes up their mind before 2013 is a mystery.

As always, formats listed are the ones I own, but releases may be available in other formats. This month there are 14 titles. Seven of them were released in 2012, of which two are reissues:

erstlive 010 cover


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Review: Christian Wolff/Keith Rowe, ErstLive 010

Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff have been playing together since 1968, when Wolff first performed with AMM in the UK. Their history together goes back further, a part of the turbulent musical and political eddies set in motion by the New York School and Cornelius Cardew in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. But this performance, recorded live at NYC’s The Stone as part of Jon Abbey’s AMPLIFY 2011 festival, marks their first recorded appearance as a duo. It’s an inspired pairing. Together they produce quiet, sharp, and surprisingly gorgeous music that exemplifies the still radical ideas they started exploring over 40 years ago.

The political side of Rowe and Wolff’s music isn’t always apparent, but it’s there, hidden in plain sight. Looking for it can be enlightening, but is unnecessary. The music they make together on ErstLive 010 stands all on its own. It is by turns gossamer thin and concrete, whisper quiet and abrasive, lucid and impenetrable. Keith’s contributions consist of physical noises drawn and scratched into the strings of his table-top guitar, along with live radio broadcasts and the buzz of electrical signals emanating from various electronic devices. Christian’s contributions are on the piano and guitar. He hammers on the piano’s keys, pulls and mutes the strings, and drums on its body, preferring to play around the piano rather than directly on it—the way pianos are typically played. At the guitar he makes small sounds; plucks a solitary note here, draws a bow across the strings there, and then sits quietly back waiting for the next move.

Both musicians punctuate their performances with these (near) silences. Their pauses break the performance up and keep it from coalescing, which means all the focus is on the discrete cells of sound they produce. Ideas are ventured and tweaked, and then left behind. Seconds pass and only the tiniest sounds are made. Keith sketches out an idea, and Christian climbs over it with the occasional crescendo. It all sounds very deliberate in retrospect, but as it’s happening, anything seems possible. Wolff the composer and Rowe the improviser make the line between their methods difficult to spot.

The quiet and deliberate pace of the music also calls attention to the performance space. September 4th was a hot night at The Stone, but the air conditioning and fans in the room were turned off while Keith and Christian played. With those noises out of the way, I wonder what other sounds were audible in that room. The recording itself, helped by Joe Panzner’s excellent mastering job, is clear and close to the musicians; many of the tiniest sounds they make are audible, but I’ve yet to catch a noise from the audience, or from outside.

And that strikes me as odd, because each time I have listened to ErstLive 010, some environmental sound has crept covertly into the music: the sound of clothes tumbling in the dryer downstairs, wind and rain pressing against the windows outside, the low hum of traffic in the distance. Even with headphones on, I’ve mistaken sounds coming from the neighbors upstairs for something in the mix. Without Rowe and Wolff physically present to contextualize the music, my neighbors and environment unwittingly participate in it, and I think that must have been true at The Stone that night, too.

After I noticed this the first time, the music transformed for me. It bled into the walls and out into the neighborhood. In his April 1998 interview withPerfect Sound Forever, Christian Wolff remarks that he has “a strong anti-rhetorical feeling – I don’t think that music should be manipulative. It should be there and people should be able to do with it what they can and what they want… So there’s that kind of attitude about a musical work. It should just be itself and relatively free from manipulation and calculation to the extent that it’s possible.” ErstLive 010 exemplifies this. At the right volume, in the right circumstances, it can hide in book shelves, seep into the wood floors, and camouflage itself in sounds as small as a breath. Rowe and Wolff’s receptiveness to these tiny sounds, maybe even to subconscious and unintended ones, makes this effect possible. And the more open the music is, the deeper and more remarkable I perceive it to be, and the easier it is for me to spy the political and social ideas that have, at times, influenced their writing and performing.

The album ends unexpectedly, to the tune of humming amplifiers. I failed to notice it ending the first time. And the second. And even the third. In fact, I always fail to notice when the album ends unless I pay attention to the track time. Eventually the performance stops, but the sounds continue. They just happen, the way that many environmental sounds seem to. It’s as if Rowe and Wolff are disappearing into the music as they go, using it to get past or away from themselves. By the end, it’s as if they’re not there at all.

note: Joe Panzner’s name was initially misspelled “Panzer.” Sorry about that. Jon Abbey also writes that this was Wolff and Rowe’s first full-length performance together, not just their first full-length album. They’d played together once before, during the 2010 Christian Wolff festival in Boston, but that was only a short set. 

ErstLive 010 is available on Erstwhile
Audio samples available at Brainwashed.com

shot from the ZBC studios


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The Monthly List: September’s Top 15

The Monthly List is just a list of my favorite records from the previous month, with links to audio, video, and reviews where possible. Titles may or may not be new releases and some records may or may not be repeated from month to month. This month there are 15 records on the list, next month there may be only eight or nine; the number isn’t fixed. If you’re interested in buying the music, you should check out the “Get Music” links at the bottom of the page; some of those sites also provide sound samples. Formats listed are the ones I own. Releases may be available in other formats.

So here are September’s 15, in no particular order: