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Review: Joseph Clayton Mills, “The Patient” (Entr’acte)

Franz Kafka died of starvation on June 3rd, 1924, his throat cinched by laryngeal tuberculosis. The intravenous delivery of food to sick patients wouldn’t be invented for another 35 years and the swelling in Kafka’s throat caused by the infection made swallowing even water difficult. Forbidden from speaking by his doctor at the sanatorium in Kierling, Austria, Kafka would often communicate with his friends and visitors by writing small notes on scraps of paper. Some such scraps were less notes and more fragments or disconnected ideas, phrases impossible to understand without context. It’s something Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and literary executor, recalls in the opening pages of the booklet that accompanies Joseph Clayton Mills’s The Patient. “Usually these notes were mere hints; his friends guessed the rest,” he writes. Mills, accompanied by Olivia Block, Noé Cuéllar (Coppice), Steven Hess (Pan•American, Haptic, Innode), and Jason Stein take a shot at interpreting those fragments on this record, using Mills’s textual score to trace a line around Kafka’s final abraded thoughts.

“The goal of this document is to suggest a vocabulary of actions,” Mills writes. “It should in no way be seen as prescriptive or comprehensive, and the sequence of elements in this document should not be construed as implying a particular linear arrangement.”

The 52-page score for The Patient bears only a passing resemblance to traditional musical scores. It contains a couple of references to particular notes in the Western 12-tone system, a few bar lines (one set displays both a treble and bass clef, but is otherwise blank), a few more very precise frequencies for sine wave generator, and even a reference to Wagner’s “Tristan chord,” but the majority of it is filled with suggested actions of the sort written by George Brecht, La Monte Young, and Pauline Oliveros. They read, “play for longer than you think you should” and “image of water/droplets/dew” and “hushed breath/for unvoiced bellows/vocalist/friction on drumhead.”

Together they are enough to constitute a composition, only the number of performers is unspecified and there are no instructions for how to string individual performances together. Participants have only Kafka’s quotes and Mills’s accompanying directions to guide them, along with a handful of photographs, drawings, medical diagrams, story excerpts, and historical summaries. None of it is prescriptive, but all of it sets a very particular tone, which is why, despite the score’s innate openness, this performance of The Patient sounds so compact, controlled, and potent.

(Read More… with samples)

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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)


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The Monthly List: Jan + Feb’s Top 26 Albums

haptic_bandBetter late than never: here we go with a combined monthly list for the first part of the year. The last two months have been filled with tons of great new music, some of which I’ve had the chance to review, some of which I’m in the middle of writing about now. There’s lots more due out in the next few months too, which means I need to pick up the pace.

That said, here’s a list of what’s been in my CD player and on my turntable in the last couple of months. 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.com, DustedJust 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. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.

  • Tarab, Strata on UNFATHOMLESS (CD)
  • Haptic, Abeyance on ENTR’ACTE (CD)
  • Morton Feldman, For Philip Guston on DOG W/A BONE (4CD)
  • Morton Feldman, Piano and String Quartet on BRIDGE (CD)
  • Philip Corner, Italian Air: Wind, Water & Metal on RICERCA SONOROA (LP)
  • The Shadow Ring, Remains Unchanged on KYE (2LP)
  • Jacques Lejeune, Parages and Other Electroacoustic Works 1971 – 1985 on ROBOT (3CD)
  • Max Neuhaus, The New York School on ALGA MARGHEN (CD)
  • Michael Byron, Awakening at the Inn of the Birds on COLD BLUE MUSIC (CD)
  • Michael Byron, Music of Nights Without Moon or Pearl on COLD BLUE MUSIC (CD)
  • Anne Guthrie, Codiaeum Variegatum on STUDENTS OF DECAY (DIGITAL)
  • Machinefabriek, Attention, the Doors are Closing! on SELF-RELEASED (DIGITAL)
  • Joseph Clayton Mills, The Patient on ENTR’ACTE (CD/BOOK)
  • Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart, Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds on GRAVITY WAVE (CD)
  • Joe Panzner/Greg Stuart, Dystonia Duos on ERST AEU (CD)
  • Jim O’Rourke & Christopher Heemann, Plastic Palace People Vol. 1 on STREAMLINE (CD)
  • Claypipe, A Daylight Blessing on MIE (DIGITAL)
  • Robbie Basho, Visions of the Country on GNOME LIFE (LP)
  • Rodd Keith, My Pipe Yellow Dream on ROARATORIO (LP)
  • Autechre, Amber on WARP/WAX TRAX!/TVT (CD)
  • Poemss, Poemss on PLANET MU (DIGITAL)
  • Venetian Snares, Doll Doll Doll on HYMEN (CD)
  • Venetian Snares, Winter in the Belly of a Snake on PLANET MU (CD)
  • The Orb, U.F.Orb on ISLAND RED LABEL (CD)
  • No Right Turn, No Right Turn on EM RECORDS (CD)
  • Ida, Will You Find Me on TIGER STYLE RECORDS (CD)


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Broadcast 09: Persists Into Winter

helm-the_hollow_organ

Below are two links to the WZBC Archives where you can listen to my Super Bowl Sunday (February 2nd) radio show, broadcast on WZBC 90.3 FM in Boston. Those links will remain active until the 16th of February 2014, at which point the show will disappear and be replaced by a new one.

Lots of new music on this program, including two new songs from one of Joseph Clayton Mills’s most recent projects, The Patient. It’s an incredible record paired with a fantastic book that serves as a loose score for the music. The book includes notes written by Franz Kafka to his friends while he was suffering from tuberculosis of the larynx. The notes include common questions and observations that you might expect from someone unable to talk, but they’re also filled with peculiar fragments that seem designed to confuse. Mills takes advantage of their intensity and ambiguity and uses them as inspiration for recommended musical (and maybe non-musical) actions. The performance of those actions in whatever combination constitutes The Patient.  I talk about it a little on the show, but you just have to see it in order to appreciate how amazingly well it’s put together. Anyone interested in Kafka should definitely pick this one up. I have a review of that in the works, but if you want some information now, go here.

I also played a new piece from Anne Guthrie’s latest, Codiaeum Variegatum, due out on Students of Decay the 18th of this month, along with a composition by Jacques Lejeune,  who has a new 3CD collection out on Robot Records. Both are excellent, but I’m particularly in love with that Guthrie record. It’s one of my favorite albums of new music so far this year.

There’s a new song from Helm tucked in there and a new one from Machinefabriek too, plus a superb, low-key piece from Philip Corner. Italian Air: Wind, Water & Metal, the album it’s from, might be a little hard to find, but is worth seeking out. If you can’t find one at a local shop, copies are still available from Forced Exposure.

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

Thanks for listening.

Laughter: February 2nd, 2014 – Hour 1 and Hour 2

  1. The Shadow Ring, “The World Phone” from Remains Unchanged (2012) on KYE
  2. Anne Guthrie, “Rough Above with Uneven Base” from Codiaeum Variegatum (2014) on STUDENTS OF DECAY
  3. Philip Corner, “Ear Wave” from Italian Air: Wind, Water & Metal (2012) on RICERCA SONORA
  4. Joseph Clayton Mills, “Part III” from The Patient (2013) on ENTR’ACTE
  5. Helm, “Analogues” from The Hollow Organ (2013) on PAN
  6. Aaron Dilloway & C Spencer Yeh, “The Hydra” from The Squid (2008) on HANSON RECORDS
  7. Jacques Lejeune, “Cri (Bursts/The Earth is Telling the Dead What the Living are Saying)” from Parages and Other Electroacoustic Works 1971-1985 (2013) on ROBOT RECORDS
  8. Baudouin Oosterlynck, “Le Point et la Ligne” from 1975-1978 (2008) on METAPHON
  9. Machinefabriek, “Manipulation” from Attention, The Doors are Closing! (2014) SELF RELEASED
  10. Joseph Clayton Mills, “Part I” from The Patient (2013) on ENTR’ACTE
  11. Zeitkratzer, “Four6” from John Cage [Old School] (2010) on ZEITKRATZER


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Joseph Clayton Mills: Music Inspired by Kafka

Lots of great records gets overlooked at the end of ever year, as everyone busies themselves with year end lists. The Patient, by Joseph Clayton Mills is definitely one of those records. It was released right at the end of 2013 as best as I can tell, and I’m not sure it’s been made available in the States since it’s released, but it looks and sounds fascinating. Here’s the info from Entr’acte:

“During his final illness (tuberculosis of the larynx) at the sanatorium in Kierling, Kafka was not supposed to speak, an injunction he obeyed most of the time. He communicated with Dora Dymant, Robert Klopstock, and others by scribbling notes on slips of paper. Usually these notes were mere hints; his friends guessed the rest.”—Max Brod

Inspired by and incorporating fragmentary notes written by Franz Kafka on his deathbed to communicate with friends and family, The Patient draws from the texts of these conversation slips for specific imagery, textures, mood, gestures, and instrumentation. The score—essentially an index of suggestions to guide structured improvisation—was initially performed at Chicago’s Experiemental Sound Studio in the fall of 2012 by Olivia Block (piano/walkie-talkies/objects), Noé Cuéllar (accordion/psalter/cassette player/objects), Steven Hess (percussion/cassette player), Joseph Clayton Mills (electronics/cassette player/objects), and Jason Stein (bass clarinet). Recordings of that performance were subsequently augmented, rearranged, and assembled by Mills into the finished album. Additional material provided by Megan Rodgers and Seonaid Valiant.

A sound sample is available via the label’s website, here. There’s also a short trailer for the album on Vimeo, posted by by Mills. I’ve embedded that below.

The music sounds excellent and everyone involved is incredibly talented, which is enough to make me want a copy. The A5 book that accompanies it and the Kafka connection put it over the top. Not a lot of info about the book on their site, but from what I can tell it includes some of the quotes from Kafka and is at least 40 pages long (check the images on the website).

Copies are currently available via the label, and should arrive at Erstwhile Distribution shortly. Don’t sleep on it. Looks like only 200 copies were made.

[vimeo 68893391 w=640&h=480]