Laughter

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Broadcast 06: “Opening Night”

feldman_laughBelow are two links to the WZBC Archives where you can listen to my December 8th radio show, broadcast on WZBC 90.3 FM in Boston. Those links will remain active until December 22nd, at which point the show will disappear and be replaced by a new one.

There’s a whole trio of new releases represented in this broadcast (plus a fragment of a new release at the end): one from Phill Niblock, one from Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet, and one from Olivia Block, whose latest album, Karren, is receiving all kinds of positive responses. “Opening Night” definitely blew me away; just a gorgeous recording and a great concept behind it. Be sure to give that a shot if you have time for nothing else.

Anyone interested in the opening Michael Pisaro piece should check this link out. In it, Michael explains a bit about what’s happening compositionally in Hearing Metal 2—the section I played is actually quite different from the bulk of the recording—you can always check out my review of that album here, which includes samples. There’s lots of good information on the Wandelweiser website as well. Pisaro is a great writer and always manages to speak very clearly about his work, despite the inherent difficulty in the subject matter. My interview with him links to several articles he’s written, plus I think he clarifies a lot of difficult concepts over the course of the discussion. You can read that here.

During the course of the show, I also mentioned an interview with James Tenney that I thought was particularly helpful for understanding his music and the influence he’s had on people like Michael Pisaro and Michael Byron. You can read that interview at New Music Box.

My next show will continue with more new music, including releases on PAN and 23Five.

Any questions, comments, or requests, please send me an email.

Thanks for listening.

Laughter: November 24th, 2013 – Hour 1 and Hour 2

  1. Michael Pisaro and Greg Stuart, “Hearing Metal 2 (Le table du silence) – I” from Hearing Metal 2 (Le table du silence) (2011) on GRAVITY WAVE
  2. Phill Niblock, “Two Lips (Dither Guitar Quartet)” from Touch Five (2013) on TOUCH
  3. Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, “Loss” from Photographs (2013) on ERSTWHILE
  4. Olivia Block, “Opening Night” from Karren (2013) on SEDIMENTAL
  5. Luc Ferrari, “Chicago, USA. October 2001. Rehearsal for a concert Harley Davidson. Texas.” from Les Anecdotiques (2004) on SUB ROSA
  6. Robin Rimbaud, “Experience” from The Garden is Full of Metal: Homage to Derek Jarman (1997) on SUB ROSA
  7. James Tenney, “Swell Piece (1967)” from Postal Pieces (2004) on NEW WORLD RECORDS — performed by The Barton Workshop
  8. Morton Feldman, “For Franz Kline” from Only – Works for Voices and Instruments (1996) on NEW ALBION — composed in 1962 – vocals by Joan La Barbara
  9. John Cage, “String Quartet in Four Parts (Quietly Flowing Along/Slowly Rocking)” from The Complete String Quartets Vol. 2 (1992) on MODE — composed 1949-50, performed by The Arditti Quartet – these are just the first two movements
  10. Burkhard Stangl, “Unfinished – Sailing (fragment)” from Unfinished. For William Turner, Painter. (2013) on TOUCH — performed by Fennesz
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“That’s not the way to cross the stream.”

water_walk_scoreOne of John Cage’s favorite quotes, as related by Kay Larson in Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists:

Two monks came to a stream. One was Hindu, the other Zen. The Indian began to cross the stream by walking on the surface of the water. The Japanese [monk] became excited and called to him to come back.

‘What’s the matter,’ the Indian said.

The Zen monk said, ‘That’s not the way to cross the stream. Follow me.’

He led him to a place where the water was shallow and they waded across.

I did a quick search for this parable online, but couldn’t find it replicated anywhere else. It’s possible Cage made it up up from stories he was familiar with, but if you know of another source, please leave a comment.


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Broadcast 02: September 29th, 2013

amethyst_deceivers_reverseBelow are two links to the WZBC Archives where you can listen to my September 29th radio show, broadcast on WZBC 90.3 FM in Boston. Those links will remain active until October the 13th, at which point the show will disappear and be replaced by a new one. I will not be uploading permanent MP3 links.

I thought this show sounded much better. Playing complete pieces, even when they’re 26 minutes long, makes for much better radio. And I love listening to Coil’s seasonal EPs at the start of each season, especially when I can turn it up nice and loud in the studio. Unfortunately, all of the EPs and the Moon’s Milk collection are harder to find than I thought, unless you feel like spending 90 bucks. Hopefully their scarcity is rectified soon.

I lied at the end of the program and said that I would be back in two weeks, but that’s actually not the case. I won’t be back on the air until the end of October, on the 27th. I will probably focus more on free jazz and free improv for that show. I’ve been itching to play Roscoe Mitchell and John Coltrane on the air for a long time.

Links to labels are provided in the playlist.  Any questions or requests, send me an email (see the about page). Some of this music is still in print and available from the stores, shops, and distributors listed at the bottom of this page. Be sure to check the label pages as well. Intransitive and Hanson both offer digital versions of their records directly from their sites.

Thanks for listening.

Laughter: September 29th, 2013 – Hour 1 and Hour 2

  1. Coil, “The Auto-Asphyxiating Hierophant” from Autumn Equinox: Amethyst Deceivers (1998) on ESKATON
  2. Aaron Dilloway, “Look Over Your Shoulder” from Modern Jester (2013) on HANSON RECORDS
  3. Moniek Darge, “Turkish Square” from Sounds of Sacred Places (2011) on KYE
  4. Jason Lescalleet, “Euphoric Sting/Beauty is a Bowtie (HTDW)” from Songs About Nothing (2012) on ERSTWHILE
  5. Elklink, “Tension Tec” from The Rise of Elklink (2011) on KYE
  6. Lionel Marchetti, “La Quête Des Pouvoirs/Résidu Idolâtre/Pointe Extrême Et Guérison Inverse” from Knud un Nom de Serpent (Le Cercle des Entrailles) (2008) on INTRANSITIVE
  7. David Tudor, “Variations II” from Music for Piano (2007) on EDITION RZ — score by John Cage, more info here: http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/guides_bibliographies/david_tudor/av/variations.html
  8. Iannis Xenakis, “Orient-Occident” from GRM Works 1957-1962 (2013) on RECOLLECTION GRM — learn more here: http://asymmetrymusicmagazine.com/editorials/intuition-and-order-in-xenakiss-orient-occident/
  9. Bernard Parmegiani, “L’oeil ecoute” from L’oeuvre Musicale (2008) on INA/GRM — composed in 1970, liner notes from the RE:GRM reissue can be found here: http://editionsmego.com/release/REGRM-003


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Rowe/Lambkin/Cardew: Notes on “Making A”

detail from Treatise, page 75

detail from Treatise, page 75

I’ve listened to Keith Rowe and Graham Lambkin’s Making A a lot in the past week. The first two or three times I was unable to pay close attention to the music, so I had only a general idea about what Rowe and Lambkin were doing. That Rowe did not perform on his table-top guitar stood out among a few other thoughts: that the album was recorded shortly after a live collaboration in New York City, that Rowe and Lambkin were both aware of each other’s work prior to their performance, and that the tools used to make the album point quite strongly to Rowe’s painterly background. Besides that, I was quite sure that the album was totally improvised.

After just a couple of closer listeners I’ve changed my mind; I think there must be some hidden instruction or idea moving the music along. Certain sequences on the record repeat themselves in conspicuous ways. The editing of sounds, the cross fades, the accumulation of intensity and its subsequent release all point to an invisible but sensible order, and the track titles suggest that order. A, then B, then C, but rearranged for reasons unknown. And as Brian Olewnick points out in his review, the track times are suspicious. Two improvised pieces in a row that run exactly 15 minutes and 15 seconds? Something must be up.

cardew_making_A

Then I found the image to the left, posted to the I Hate Music boards by Erstwhile founder Jon Abbey. You can click it to get a bigger image.

“Making A” happens to be the title of a piece from Cornelius Cardew’s Schooltime CompositionsThe inspiration for Rowe and Lambkin’s track titles are right there:

“Place WET B in glass bamer.”

“Draw off two full measure of hot boiling C and pour them over the dry A in the B.”

When Keith Rowe last played in Boston, he brought with him a copy of Nature Study Notes, a collection of instructions and “rites” written by members of the Scratch Orchestra and cataloged by Cardew. Along with musicians from around the area, Rowe performed a small number of these rites, illustrating how they might be interpreted and performed by a group. Someone had made enough copies of the notes to give to everyone in the audience. The performers picked an instruction to follow secretly, the audience got to guess what they were up to. Given the number of instructions available, it was nearly impossible to guess right, but the music was great, and the reveals were entertaining and funny. One of my favorite rites reads:

Take a stupid book. A reader reads aloud from it while the rest improvise. The role of reader may wander, a) through the reader presenting the stupid book to someone else, and b) by someone wresting the stupid book from the reader. A reader may attempt to terminate proceedings by ceasing to read aloud from the stupid book.

How that translates into a performance—or a recording—is completely up in the air. The same goes for “Making A.” How would I decide what “A” is supposed to be? If “A” fits in an “A-gauge glass bamer” then why do I have a “pack of A” sitting around too? Does “B” come wet, or should I prepare that? What is a bamer anyway?

More to the point, to what extent did Keith Rowe and Graham Lambkin use this score to record their own music? At first I assumed that the recording of Making A was an extension of the Boston performance—Keith seemed to have been thinking about Cardew there, so maybe he was continuing his line of thought in New York, with Lambkin.

Now I’m doubting that. Unless Ben Ratliff of the New York Times failed to mention it (which I doubt), Rowe and company didn’t distribute any of Cardew’s work before, during, or after their January performance in New York City. Without a way to line the score and the album up, the only link I have is either historical or superficial.

I figured I could start answering at least one or two of my others questions by looking a bit more closely at how and why Cardew wrote these pieces in the first place, and how other people have performed his music. To that end, I found a few great resources I’d like to share:

The indication here is already of his moving away from music as object towards music as process, and of a concern for the problems of the performers. Cardew was one of the first Europeans to grasp not just the musical but also the social implications of the new American aesthetic.

… what [Cardew] admired was Cage’s rejection of the commodity fetishism that had invaded musical composition, for which the super-objectivity of serialism and its corollary, the preoccupation with the perfection of the ideal object, was largely to blame. What also impressed him was Cage’s liberation of the performer from the constraints of oppressive notational complexities… With him ‘indeterminacy’ was not simply another compositional technique, displacing a previously discredited one, it was a logical musical expression of his humanism: humanism is the vital thread that runs through all his musical activities, making for a continuity that overrides even the most radical stylistic changes in his work. His rejection of total serialism freed him as a composer; with his espousal of indeterminacy, creative freedom was also extended to the performer.

  • A Young Person’s Guide to Treatise. A massive resource hosted by Spiral Cage. Contains both the links I provided above, plus tons of information on Cardew’s most famous piece, links to recordings, references, and other of Cardew’s writings. Not directly related to Making A, but some of the information there regards the process of interpretation, plus it links to this animated analysis of the Treatise , which among other things combines performance history with a introductory taxonomy of the printed symbols and forms.

Of course, none of this gets me any further inside Keith’s or Graham’s head. It’s possible that Cardew’s “Making A” was just an inspiration and not a manual for the album. But still those hints of structure in the music hound me: the manipulation of field recordings, the emphasis on gesture and place, the sense that some formula is being followed, if only loosely. Am I imagining it? Would an answer change the way I think about or react to the music?

It’s a mystery beyond my ability to solve alone. But the album itself is superb, whether or not I know precisely how it is shaped.


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Low Angers Crowd with “Waltz”

curtain_hits_smallLow stirred up controversy on Saturday the 15th, when they played a 28 minute version of “Do You Know How to Waltz” at the Rock the Garden festival, a concert series held every summer at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center. Andrea Swensson, writing for 89.3 FM The Current, reports that Low’s set was met with almost uniform anger and disbelief:

Scanning the crowd during Low’s set, the reactions seemed muted at best. Most people stood stock-still, staring at the stage, as if trying to discern just what was going on. A thirtysomething man next to me literally had his mouth hanging open for part of the set, while his date kept looking at me nervously and laughing, unsure how to react. And it certainly wasn’t the only surreal thing to have happened that day, with Dan Deacon’s impromptu parking ramp set still fresh in many concertgoer’s minds.

[…]

“We paid them to put on a show and they didn’t. They very do literally owe us,” wrote commenter Zetes Johnson. “The expectation is that they play a certain amount of time, and presumably, you know, a couple of songs. I’m not sure it was specifically mentioned on my ticket… but on the marquee, yes, they were listed and, no, they did not play.” A few of my followers on Twitter had similar reactions: They came to a Current-affiliated event to see Low play the singles they’ve been hearing on the Current, and they felt ripped off. One follower in particular responded to my tweet in support of Low’s set by insisting that I would have felt differently if I had paid to get into the event, rather than worked it.

Alan Sparhawk responded in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The band’s frontman insists the set wasn’t any kind of subversive act, however.

“It was a combo of things,” he explained, recounting how the heavy rain factored into their decision to play it that way, as did the fact that opener Dan Deacon had moved his performance into the garage. “It was just kind of a weird atmosphere, people coming in during the rain, not really knowing where to go. And then we found out our set had to be a little shorter than planned, to get the schedule on track. So we decided to try to do something beautiful.”

You can listen to the performance by clicking here.

I think it sounds great, and I’m jealous that I still haven’t seen them play it live, but I’m not surprised people didn’t like the music. Not surprised that someone would call it “pretentious” or “garbage” or “arrogant.” I hear it all the time about songs that don’t have a straight-forward rhythm or melody: “Anyone could do that. Hell, I could get on stage and make some noise!”

It reminds me of the concluding part of “Experimental Music: Doctrine,” one of John Cage’s essays from Silence:

Question: But, seriously, if this is what music is, I could write it as well as you.

Answer: Have I said anything that would lead you to think I thought you were stupid?

Money just gives poison to that thought. Instead of measuring the art by what we hear, we measure it by the money we’ve spent, or whatever ideas we have about the band beforehand. No one is likely to change their mind about unusual music at a rock festival, especially when what they’ve paid for is familiar entertainment.


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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:

Cage thinking about his next move


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Picture of the Day: Duchamp vs. Cage

John Cage and Marcel Duchamp playing a game of chess together—it’s a great image by itself, but it becomes more remarkable once you realize that the chess board is being used to make music.

Cage and Duchamp playing chess

You can read about this performance, about Cage’s relationship with Duchamp, and a lot more by checking out this article at Tout-Fait:

Actually, Cage hadn’t lost every single [chess] match with Duchamp. There was one that he definitely won, after a fashion. It happened in Toronto, in 1968. Cage had invited Duchamp and Teeny [Duchamp, Marcel’s wife, aka Alexina] to be with him on the stage. All they had to do was play chess as usual, but the chessboard was wired and each move activated or cut off the sound coming live from several musicians (David Tudor was one of them). They played until the room emptied. Without a word said, Cage had managed to turn the chess game (Duchamp’s ostensive refusal to work) into a working performance. […] Playing chess that night extended life into art – or vice versa. All it took was plugging in their brains to a set of instruments, converting nerve signals into sounds. Eyes became ears, moves music.Reunion was the name of the piece.

Thanks to Antoine from Presqu’île Records for posting the photo.

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: