Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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2014 Year in Review, Pt. 1 (Dusted in Exile)

Normally I’d post a lengthy year in review here, but this time around I’m just going to link to the Dusted and Brainwashed year-end lists I was a part of, then maybe cap it off with a list of last minute records I heard or ordered that I think deserve some attention.

So, here’s a snippet from my Dusted writeup. Much more after the link. And take some time to look at what the other writers had to say about their 2014 favorites. There is lots of good stuff from everyone involved:

This year was filled with great music from start to finish. There wasn’t a single month that didn’t see the release of something exciting. As winter approached, the continuous flood of exceptional recordings became increasingly hard to follow. By June, keeping up had become little more than a laughable daydream, never mind everything that came out between October and December. Lots of people probably feel this way every December, but 2014 was the year I was swept away. 

Looking back at the time line, it’s easy to see why. Tara Jane O’Neil and Damien Jurado released their records in January, Anne Guthrie’s Codiaeum Variegatum bowled me over in February, and the Toshiya Tsunoda/Manfred Werder collaboration landed in March. Politiken der Frequenz rolled out in April and Carl Hultgren’s first solo album won me over at the end of May. I married my wife in June and shortly thereafter started new work, where listening to new music every day wasn’t part of the job. Erstwhile had already put out the Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti 2CD by that time, in July. Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescalleet’s The Abyss came out with it and a month later the new FKA Twigs was on the shelves. That one was less impressive than I had hoped, but it still spent a lot of time inside my head. 

And these are just the first albums that come to mind. Coppice, Florian Hecker, LCC, Machinefabriek, Poemss, Protomartyr, Sun Kil Moon, SunnO)))/Ulver, and Nicholas Szczepanik all issued new music in that same period, all worth hearing.

(Read More)

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Michael Pisaro, “July Mountain” live at Roundchapel Auditorium, 2013

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[vimeo http://vimeo.com/83495677 w=820&h=461]

Michael Pisaro, “July Mountain” live, Roundchapel Auditorium. London, October 19th, 2013. A SARU/Cafe Oto/Compost and Height event.

Performed by Dan Bennett, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, Seth Cooke, Stephen Cornford, Angharad Davies, Jane Dickson, Lawrence Dunn, Patrick Farmer, Bruno Guastalla, Jack Harris, Sarah Hughes, Kostis Kilymis, Dominic Lash, Will Montgomery, Samuel Rodgers, David Stent, Greg Stuart, and Paul Whitty.

Filmed by Stella Kun and Kostis Kilymis.


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Three Concerts: Michael Pisaro, Kevin Drumm + Jason Lescalleet, Joe Panzner + Greg Stuart

Photos from three shows in Boston, Massachusetts: November 6th, 7th, and 11th (2014). Music by Michael Pisaro, Antoine Beuger, Eugene A. Kim, Teodora Stepančić, Assaf Gidron, Adi Snir, Kevin Drumm, Jason Lescalleet, Joe Panzner, and Greg Stuart. Photos include program details. Click for larger versions.


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Today’s Reads 003

More collected articles, posted here for sharing and easy reference.

  • The ALEC Problem Is Even Worse Than John Oliver Thinks (Media Matters)
    In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, “will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group’s state strategies.” The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group’s membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.
  • The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare (Rolling Stone)
    But the idea that Holder had cracked down on Chase was a carefully contrived fiction, one that has survived to this day. For starters, $4 billion of the settlement was largely an accounting falsehood, a chunk of bogus “consumer relief” added to make the payoff look bigger. What the public never grasped about these consumer–relief deals is that the “relief” is often not paid by the bank, which mostly just services the loans, but by the bank’s other victims, i.e., the investors in their bad mortgage securities.
  • Triumph of the Wrong (New York Times, Paul Krugman)
    In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.
  • Obstruction And How The Press Helped Punch The GOP’s Midterm Ticket (Media Matters)
    Why would the president, who’s had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more “partisan combat.” It’s not. It’s extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
  • Are you reflected in the new Congress? (The Guardian)
    Despite the record number of women and the first black senator elected in the south since Reconstruction, the new US Congress will still be largely male and largely white. A person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or age doesn’t necessarily mean they represent the views of a whole demographic, but lack of diversity could result in certain concerns not being heard – or not heard loudly enough. Click the categories below to find yourself in the new Congress. This graphic will be updated as more seats are called.
  • Michael Pisaro blurs edges of performance, perception (Boston Globe)
    “The idea of affect and of emotion, I really think that’s why we write music, or one of the main reasons why we write music, and I’m always conscious of that,” Pisaro said. He paraphrased a former teacher, Ben Johnston: “You have to be clear about what you want to hear, but that doesn’t automatically mean that everybody else will want to hear it.
  • The Best Baby Picture Ever of a Planetary System (WIRED)
    Astronomers have taken the best picture yet of a planetary system being born. The image, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the high-altitude desert in Chile, reveals a planet-forming disk of gas around a young, sun-like star, in great detail.


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Wandelweiser and Michael Pisaro in Boston

Serbian pianist and composer Teodora Stepančić, along with members of the Wandelweiser collective, will be joining Michael Pisaro at the Goethe Institut in Boston on Thursday, November 6th for a set of composed and improvised music. Details can be found here.

On Tuesday, November 11th, Michael Pisaro will be joined by Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart at the New England Conservatory. They will perform Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds and White Metal. An untitled work from John Mallia and Katarina Miljkovic is also on the bill. Further details here.

Last but not least, Michael Pisaro, Jason Brogan, and Joe Panzner will perform Pisaro’s Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation at the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall at Harvard University on Thursday, November 13th. Details here.

All performances are free and open to the public, and all of them start at 8:00 PM.


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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)


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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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On Field Recordings

photo by Jana Winderen

photo by Jana Winderen

Two great articles from Richard Pinnell and Patrick Farmer were recently published over at The Field Reporter, both concerning field recordings. They’re highly recommended for anyone interested in the Anne Guthrie album I reviewed over at Dusted, or in the Michael Pisaro records I’ve covered, or in any kind of experimental music whatsoever really. The Lambkin and Lescalleet trilogy on Erstwhile comes immediately to mind too.

Pinnell and Farmer start their discussion with the latest Tarab album on Unfathomless, which I’m in the middle of reviewing now. You can listen to a sample and read some more info about that release here, if only to get your feet wet before diving into the discussion.

Here are the links: Strata, Part I – Strata, Part II

A couple of key quotes follow, but I highly recommended taking the time to read both posts thoroughly. There are some great insights there:

Eamon [Tarab] here seems to do so much more than take a couple of nice sounding field recordings and see how they sound juxtaposed over one another. He seems to begin with a sense of structure and then applies the material to it, rather than the reverse. Certainly I wouldn’t say that this is the only way a composer can successfully work in this field, but currently, and I think increasingly, it seems to be the most likely to be successful, to my ears at least. All too often the structure of releases in this area seems to be shaped by the found material. Sometimes, such as for instance in the work of Vanessa Rossetto, or parts of your own Pictures of Men album with David Lacey this can work simply because the field recordings used are so original or striking in themselves, but then all too often we are also presented with perfectly pleasant but quickly forgotten collages of pretty textures. Harsh generalisations perhaps, but it really does begin to feel that way. It takes a strong compositional voice to stand out from what is currently an overcrowded but underdeveloped corner of the musical world, and I think to a large degree Tarab achieves that with Strata.

Material is often synonymous with structure, indeed it becomes structure, just as structure can become material, for a time. The important thing to remember, for me, is that it is indeed material, I don’t consider my recordings to be representative, I don’t consider them to say something poignant about a location, not on their own anyway. I think that unedited, whatever, field recordings, can be wonderful, just look at Marc and Olivier Namblard’s new release, and I think that, timed correctly (again, whatever that means at the time) a field recording can be utilised wonderfully during a live performance – I’m thinking of Pisaro in particular here. But this takes me back to my previous point, about so much of the responsibility lying in the camp of the one listening to the CD – which is not something the person who made the release has much, if any, say over.

There is, on some level, little difference in many ways between what Tarab does on this album and what Luc Ferrari and the GRM required a room full of equipment and the privilege required to access it to achieve.

 


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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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The Monthly List: October’s Top 13

the_shining_tommyA much delayed October listing, and an abbreviated one, which will probably be the norm from now on. I’m focusing more on writing reviews, with three finished and waiting to be published, three more in the works, and hopefully some interviews too.

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, Just Outside, and All Music Guide, and samples are available virtually everywhere. Forced Exposure and Boomkat places are good places to go looking for the more obscure stuff.

From now on I’ll only link to the labels here, and put more effort into making shorter posts about my favorite records throughout the month.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.

  • FKA Twigs, EP2 on YOUNG TURKS (LP)
  • Antoine Beuger/Michael Pisaro, This Place/Is Love on ERSTWHILE (CD)
  • Annette Krebs/Taku Unami, Motubachii on ERSTWHILE (CD)
  • Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, The Breadwinner on ERSTWHILE (CD)
  • Various Artists, Weary Engine Blues: A Tribute to Jason Molina on GRAVEFACE (2CD)
  • Joe McPhee, Nation Time on ATAVISTIC (CD)
  • Evan Parker & Joe McPhee, What/If/They Both Could Fly on RUNE GRAMMOFON (CD)
  • Albert Ayler, Nuits de la Fondation Maeght 1970 on WATER (CD)
  • The Stranger, Watching Dead Empires in Decay on MODERN LOVE (CD)
  • Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang, The Face of the Earth  on IDEOLOGIC ORGAN (LP)
  • Moniek Darge, Sounds of Sacred Places on KYE (CD)
  • Graham Lambkin, Abersayne/Attersaye on KYE (7″)
  • Kevin Drumm, Humid Weather on SELF-RELEASED (CD)


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The Monthly List: September’s Top 11

polo_grounds_imgLots of new music shows up on this month’s list. And though there’s a new Autechre EP on the way (out October 28th; some of you probably have it already), I went back to Exai all last month. Definitely one of my favorite records this year, and one of the best albums Warp has released in the last few.

I also spent a lot of time with some of the new Mystery Sea releases from Belgium. Both Philippe Lamy’s Drop Diary and (G)W(3) from the duo of Bruno Duplant and Darius Ciuta are excellent records worth seeking out. I wrote a review of the former for Brainwashed and hope to cover the latter soon. Both can be purchased on the Mystery Sea blog.

William Winant’s Poon Village debut—incredibly it’s his first solo artist record too—will be released shortly. I’ve been lucky enough to work with PV on the release of the album and have had the chance to hear it many times over the last month or two. It’s as good as the reviews make it sound and I’ve fallen in love with Michael Byron and Lou Harrison’s music because of it. Plus the presentation is pretty mind-blowing. A ton of work has gone into it and I’m excited to see how people react, so be sure to check it out. Sound samples are available online and there’s already a lot of press covering it.

Last but not least are two releases from Kevin Drumm; one from 2012 the other new this year. Keeping up with this guy is virtually impossible, but I keep trying anyway. You can read my review of Earrach here, and I’ll try to get a few words about Humid Weather together before long. With so much music to cover, I’ll probably end up writing a few brief summaries just to catch up. I desperately need more time to write.

Be on the lookout for more great music in the coming months. Erstwhile already has two more releases out that I’d love to cover as soon as possible, including one gorgeous looking double CD from Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet. Lescalleet, like Drumm, is now on Bandcamp, and releasing new music there, as is Howard Stelzer and Intransitive Records. There’s also a new 3CD reissue of Eliane Radigue’s Adnos I-III out on Important Records, which is definitely a contender for reissue of the year.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.


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The Monthly List: April’s Top 10

photograph by Kevin Baird

Solar Eclipse – “Ring of Fire” – photograph by Kevin Baird

The only new album on the list this month comes from the Phil Minton/Audrey Chen Quintet on Sub Rosa. Everything else is a reissue or a new collection of older music.

Impulse’s release of John Coltrane’s complete Sun Ship sessions snuck in right at the end of April, but didn’t make the list because I was too busy listening to MeditationsCrescent, and Interstellar Space to notice. Coltrane has been almost the only thing I’ve wanted to hear for the last two weeks and I don’t see any sign of that streak ending. Repeat plays of Crescent and Meditations were broken only by Human Ear’s reissue of Michael Pisaro’s Tombstones and Machu Picchu’s re-release of Inside the Shadow. Both are essential and I highly recommend seeking them out.

The first half of the month was also dominated by reissues. Recollection GRM’s Xenakis LP is outstanding, as is MCR’s treatment of Where’s My Towel/Industry Standard from Austin’s Big Boys.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.


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Review: Michael Pisaro, “Hearing Metal 2 (Le table du silence)”

It may be that hearing metal means something different than hearing music. Like the Constantin Brâncuși sculpture to which its subtitle refers, Michael Pisaro’s Hearing Metal 2 subsists more in the grain and shape of its materials and less in the will of its author. It is composed and performed, and has a beginning and an ending, but it doesn’t move from left to right like a song. It feels and sounds more like a space that I can walk through, my position and my frame of mind determining how—and what—I hear.

Inspired by Greg Stuart’s close recordings of the 60″ tam-tam used in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I, Michael Pisaro’sHearing Metal series began as project dedicated to hearing the inner life of apparently uniform sounds. The association with Brâncuși sculptures came when he realized that the physical material of his chosen instruments expressed particular qualities or affects on their own—as if a sense of the material were coming through the music. As he explains on his blog, “Any sound, even the simplest, is already (ontologically) multiple. But the multiplicity requires a succession of events to be heard: by extending, repeating, adding and subtracting, one begins to experience the sound more like a verb than like a noun.”

I think of that last claim every time I listen to Hearing Metal 2. On the one hand, Pisaro and Stuart’s assortment of cymbals, gongs, brake drums, and various metal objects resound together like a single instrument. Listening is like watching a metal sculpture rotate in place. If I sit in one spot and watch it spin, different aspects of its form slide into view and fall away like a slideshow. But if I get up and investigate, peer at it closely, or fix my attention on one of its sides, new qualities pop out. They were always there, but finding them depends on interacting with the piece and not just letting it slide by the way songs typically do. Thanks to the way Pisaro has arranged his sounds, this sculptural feeling is sustained throughout the piece’s long, central metallic passage. There are no crescendos or obvious dynamic markers—just the varying qualities of different textures playing against the hum of a central, pitched core. There are quieter and noisier moments, but they don’t add up to something bigger and tip the composer’s hand.

On the other hand, Hearing Metal 2 unfolds in time and needs time to make sense. The music doesn’t resound all at once, and I can’t actually walk around it the way I would a sculpture, so I have to listen to what it does. That’s when the metal instrumentation begins to express something like an inner life: little networks of rhythm spill out of the otherwise chaotic jumble of junkyard sounds and apparently fixed tones wobble back and forth like they’re walking on a tightrope; odd sounds are cast to the periphery and others are pushed to the center as the metal rolls and twists in circles, something Pisaro’s stereo mix captures extremely well. But all this happens of its own accord, seemingly without Michael or Greg’s influence. The music stops progressing from beginning to end and starts acting, stretching out in different directions, and evolving. The illusion Pisaro and Stuart create is that they had nothing to do with it. The sound was there the whole time, all they did was capture it.

Framing the 40-plus minute core of Hearing Metal 2 are two blocks of field recordings and other seemingly non-metallic sounds. The longer, first section captures oceans and rivers tossing and bubbling in undisclosed locations. Strange, almost psychedelic test tones beam in from outer space. A church organ hums. Sine waves peak out of the silence and succumb to the movement of a stream down a muddy bank. The humming metal doesn’t start until over 16 mintes in, and by then it feels as if we’ve been guided down a waterway just to see this huge edifice Pisaro’s built. When it ends, we’re brought back to the sounds of running water and chirping birds. It’s a reminder that hidden sounds are all around us, and that how we listen is as important as what we hear.

Hearing Metal 2 is available on Gravity Wave
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com


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Review: Michael Pisaro/Toshiya Tsunoda, “Crosshatches”

Performed, composed, and recorded over a period of 14 months, Crosshatches is a massive and exquisitely constructed 85 minute piece stretched across two compact discs. On it, Pisaro and Tsunoda sketch and blend non-musical sounds into musical ones, erasing the seemingly natural distinction between them as they go. The vehicle for that transformation is crosshatching, which the duo elegantly transforms into a musical mode.

Hatching is a technique used in the visual arts that consists in placing roughly discrete parallel lines next to each other at various distances. Cross-hatching is a similar technique. By varying the angle, closeness, thickness, and lengths of their lines, artists such as Albrecht Dürer used it to create the illusion of volume, texture, and contrast in his drawings, woodcuts, and engravings. I keep thinking about these qualities when listening to Michael Pisaro and Toshiya Tsunoda’s Crosshatches on Erstwhile. Beside the pleasure of hearing the album, which is subtle, sometimes delicate, and quite beautiful, I’ve enjoyed thinking about the ways Pisaro and Tsunoda translate this visual technique into a musical one.

Crosshatches is made up primarily of sine tones and field recordings. The field recordings come both raw and in a manipulated state, whether they’re chopped, looped, distorted, or otherwise. Guitars are used briefly in a few passages on the first disc, and a piano shows up near the end of the second. I assume that Michael plays both and that Toshiya provides the field recordings, but there are no credits to confirm that suspicion and no other information online. Static, interference, and possibly other sources are also used.

Initially, the music sounds one-dimensional. Michael and Toshiya’s contributions bleed into one another, forming a hard, smooth surface. It’s the musical equivalent of seeing a polished marble block or rolling a glass bead around in your hand. With time, variations and contrasts emerge. Instruments rise above the surface and draw shapes in the air, and tiny imperfections, little details previously unnoticed, come into focus. I hear people laughing in the distance, insects, and maybe the shuffling of equipment in a studio. The music branches out, diversifies, and confuses simultaneously. There’s a beautiful crescendo on the first track of the first disc that culminates in little bursts of guitar and a heavily plucked bass. Buzzing tones continue underneath, but I can no longer distinguish which of them are recorded and which are performed, and I can’t even be sure that the guitars themselves aren’t a kind of modified field recording—maybe just the sound of someone warming up.

One of my favorite sections is on the second track of the second disc. It is, as far as I can tell, a mostly untouched recording of a storm. The recording captures the sound of rain, wind, and the whipping of tree limbs; I can close my eyes and half imagine the bushes outside my window bending and dancing in the downpour. Only after listening to the album a couple of times did I notice the sine waves shimmering at the edges of the storm. They were there when the recording started, but I thought they had disappeared. Were they invisibly present the whole time? Or deftly re-inserted into the mix? It isn’t easy to tell and since the wind and waves pair so well I can’t be sure what would happen if any of the elements of the recording were taken away. I also can’t be sure there aren’t more invisible elements swimming quietly in the background.

There’s a corresponding section in “1.1” where Toshiya and Pisaro combine apparently random static with more obvious field recordings. Listening to the static closely, it sounds like a heavily modified version of the storm recording; the rhythmic character of the water is at least intact. There’s some fun in trying to guess which sounds come from which sources and I enjoy the way the music draws connections between cricket sounds and the crack of water on the ground, or between plucked guitar strings and the sound of far off voices. But that says only a little about why the album is beautiful. The way the sounds are combined and folded into each other is pleasing in its own right, as are the moments of near silence and melody that dot the album under different guises.

As with any piece that uses crosshatching, the music on Crosshatches is spun out of elements that are invisible from a distance but discernible with attention. I think of Albrecht Dürer’s engravings and notice that his lines rarely call attention to themselves. I notice the subjects in his work first: the people and the shading, the scene and the illusion of depth. Only later do the lines come to the fore and only if I choose to look. Nearly the same thing happens on Crosshatches, except Pisaro and Tsunoda also work with duration, so elements of their work pop in and out of focus over time. Translating a visual technique into an musical one forgoes the unveiling of a completed work. Unlike Dürer, Michael and Toshiya don’t build up familiar images with their lines. What we get instead are illusory scenes that converge and fall apart; the coming and going of sounds produced, recorded, rent apart, and blended together again.

Crosshatches is available on Erstwhile
Audio samples available at Brainwashed.com


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Michael Pisaro Live at Complice Gallery

GW009 art

A live performance of Michael Pisaro’s “hinwandeln (zwischen himmel und erd)” and “Transparent City (2)” has been posted on his Gravity Wave label page. I’ve posted the Soundcloud link below as well. From Michael’s description:

… performed in alternation and without breaks by Johnny Chang, violin, Koen Nutters, contrabass, Gary Schultz, sine tones and myself, classical guitar. hinwandelnis a trio – and for each of the four times it appears, we rotated amongst the musicians (i.e., a different group of three players each time). Transparent City (2) is a set of instructions for how to play live instruments with a playback of recordings from the Transparent City discs (Edition Wandelweiser).

Two new Gravity Wave discs—”The Middle of Life (Die ganze Zeit)” and “The Punishment of the Tribe by its Elders”—are scheduled for release in January 2013 and will be available via ErstDist.


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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:

cover art for Pisaro's Tombstones


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Michael Pisaro, Julia Holter, and Jason Brogan: Tombstones

Wish I would have posted this earlier. Tonight—approximately 20 minutes ago, as I post this—Michael Pisaro, Julia Holter, and Jason Brogran will be performing Tombstones at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn. Tombstones is being called Pisaro’s foray into pop music. If that sounds odd to you—Michael Pisaro? Pop music?!—then check out this interview posted at the Issue Project Room website, which explains how the project started and how Julia Holter got involved:

Lawrence Kumpf: How did the Tombstones project come about?

Michael Pisaro: As you know, I often work with a group of composers, called Wandelweiser, and for some reason I started getting asked by them to write pieces for voice—songs or something like it—for concerts they were producing in Europe. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time and was initially tempted to say no, because I didn’t like the idea of taking some traditionally poetic text and setting it to music in the way that concert composers usually do. But then the idea raised another question—a really interesting question, at least for me anyway: Can you write experimental or indeterminate music that is still a song? So that’s really where the project of writing the pieces began.  With this kind of music, what would make it hard to sing in a normal circumstance is that you might not be able to predict where melodies and harmonies and rhythms and so forth come in. This is a situation that is quite common in Christian Wolff’s music; where sometimes you have the materials, but not the order in which they occur.

LK: I know the pop songs that you’re using for the compositions are not public knowledge but can you speak  to how you work with them? Can you elaborate a little on how the pieces are put together, how much interpretation is left to the instrumentalist and how chance functions in relation to the score?

MP: Virtually all of the melodies and the texts are what I would call found sounds—maybe a less polite term would be “stolen songs”. They consist in basically every case of a tiny fragment of some kind of popular, country or blues song.   Nothing comes from classical music, but these songs could be by anyone really—Robert Johnson, UGK/DJ Screw, David Bowie, the Beatles….

There’s lots more if you follow the link. If you haven’t already, you should also check out Pisaro’s essay Hit or Miss, where he connects the dots between experimental music, The Temptations, and baseball.

Michael’s Tombstones project has also been featured in the Village Voice and will be released on vinyl by HEM Berlin in November. You can listen to samples by following that link, or you can listen to the embedded Soundcloud sample from “Silent Cloud” below. Along with the new Scott Walker, this is one of the albums I most look forward to hearing.