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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)

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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)


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Review: Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, “Photographs” (Erstwhile)

After amplifying their homes and magnifying the subconscious; after reshaping kitchenware into instruments and finding voices in the buzz of computer fans, distant traffic, and the crunch of dirt; after transforming the spaces around them and constructing a space-time of their own, Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet finally turn the microphones on themselves. And not just on the noises they make, but on the places they grew up, on the people they’ve known, on the ideas that have driven their work, the sounds they love, and ultimately on the past and their memories. Don’t come to the show expecting self-portraits though. OnPhotographs Graham and Jason make enigmas of themselves. We get to see a shadow of them in these pictures, but everything they do and every event they capture points to a subject somewhere outside the frame.

Photographs work by suggestion. Take any photo off the Internet and start asking questions about it: Who is that in the picture? What is it that they’re standing in front of? When and where was it taken, and why from that angle? Who is behind the camera? What we see in them and what they show are inevitably unequal. The image presents the viewer with an apparent set of facts, but without context or witnesses or some personal experience bringing everything into focus, the subjects fail to take definite shape. Something is missing.

So it is with Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet’s music. The apparition of familiarity presents itself to the listener by dint of the material employed: intelligible conversations, fixable locations and precise directions to them, a loop from Kiss’s “Great Expectations”—our acquaintance with sights and sounds such as these, plus the incredible artwork with family, friends, place names, and the images of Graham and Jason as children—it’s as if they’re opening a door into their personal lives, or pointing us to a keyhole through which we might spy a handful of their private thoughts. How could it be otherwise?

To answer that question it’s best to ask another one: what is it that we actually see and hear in these songs? Disc one in this two-disc set begins with “Loss,” in which a pair of anonymous voices explain what the word “loss” means to them. One of the respondents discusses the loss of their grandparents, the other describes a feeling of daily disorientation: he wakes up and is unsure of where he is despite a firm mind, familiarity with the local geography, and a copy of this year’s calendar. As he elaborates, the audio suddenly cuts out. We hear clicking, a compartment opening and shutting, as if the tape needed changing mid-sentence, and then the conversation continues.

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Review: Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, “The Breadwinner”

Imagine music resides everywhere that sound can travel. It flows from the faucet into the sink each morning, creaks out of the loose boards on the way up and down the stairs, and, incredibly, buzzes in your sweetheart’s mouth as he or she snores noisily at 3 AM on Monday morning. The difference between music and not-music then pivots on the attention and consideration different sounds receive. Record them to tape, amplify and manipulate them, or set them into new patterns and a surprising, sometimes beautiful music can emerge. That’s the music of The Breadwinner, the first album in Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet’s recently completed trilogy on Erstwhile.

Recorded in 2006 and ’07 at Graham Lambkin’s home in Poughkeepsie, New York, The Breadwinner claims to be a collection of “musical settings for common environments and domestic situations.” As it turns out, the music itself was derived almost entirely from noise captured around the house. Everything from water glasses to July 4th fireworks and squeaky hinges made the cut, so the music reflects the spaces and occasions for which it is apparently intended (tongue-in-cheek or not).

But the album isn’t just the product of two guys wondering about the kitchen, living room, and bathroom with various microphones and some magnetic tape. Besides the keyboard and piano used on “Listen, the Snow is Falling” and “Lucy Song,” the duo utilize their recordings as sound sources, deriving unearthly tones and igneous rhythms from the speeding up and slowing down of the source material. If the recording process doesn’t make itself obvious in one way or another, the quality of the various sounds still point to it. On “E5150/Body Transport,” a droning, out-of-body experience slowly resolves into a steady snore, suggesting that whole piece is actually an appropriated nightly annoyance. “Two States” compares and contrasts events that must have taken place at separate times. The mix is too solid, the balance too spot on for it to have happened without some tinkering.

Graham and Jason transform every room and make every object in those rooms new, whether by manipulation or by the arrangement of contrasting noises and complimentary sounds. Solid objects like the bedroom radiator or the fire place lose their rigid form and become malleable. That in turn gives the duo the freedom to re-contextualize everything, from mumbled voices to everyday appliances.

Mundane sources such as these typically keep emotional or communicative content well in the background. What we’re supposed to do is listen to the sounds as sounds, not look for a message from the composers. After all, how could a refrigerator possibly speak to a sane person?

Perhaps unexpectedly, Lambkin and Lescalleet have left something personal in the mix, so maybe the fridge does just that: speak. First, there’s the titles, which Graham and Jason probably understand better than the audience. But there’s a Black Sabbath reference in there, and maybe one fromThe Hobbit too, and the aforementioned “Lucy Song” sticks to the ears with its bittersweet melody. The music moves through several moods, some ominous, others calming, and the reason for either isn’t always clear. But the point is that the moods are there. So where are they coming from? “Listen, the Snow is Falling” can’t help but communicate with its stunning sense of stillness and beauty, some of which is generated by the simple presence of a flickering fire. Even if the song were called “Track One,” it would convey memories, feelings, and ideas.

And memory seems to be part of what Graham and Jason are up to with these songs. They make the lowly spoon and water glass speak to sensations usually provoked by rock ‘n’ roll songs, familiar melodies, conventional rhythms, and good books. The whole microcosm of Lambkin’s house is laid bare for those curious enough to check it out. But, what about the experience of finding those noises, or the people who were around when they were made? There are obviously human noises on the record, but the figures themselves are conspicuously missing, or at least hidden. Which brings up a good question: is the breadwinner of the title the two musicians who made the record, or is it the house itself? Could it be the world at large, or is it maybe an unnameable something else?  That blank spot there between the lines, where the music echoes out from invisibly?

The Breadwinner is available on Erstwhile Records.
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com

Eliane Radigue at her synthesizer


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Eliane Radigue Interviewed at Electronic Beats

There’s an excellent new Eliane Radigue interview up at Electronic Beats. She talks in depth about her creative process, growing up in Paris, her dislike of twelve tone music, and working with Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer. She even responds to a Youtube comment that compares her music to the sound of a refrigerator. Recommended reading.

When I was preparing for the interview I listened to a lot of pieces of yours that are accessible through YouTube. It’s funny to read what people write as commentaries because, of course, this being the Internet everyone can comment on anything. Here’s an example: “Sounds like my old refrigerator but it helps me sleep and contemplate about life.”

[laughs] That’s nice. I have a comment on the comment: There is a way of listening to every sound and making music out of it. The motor of an aeroplane, not from now because they’re too strong, but from years ago, had a very interesting sound that you could really make a symphony out of just by how you listened to it…

Adventurous listeners unfamiliar with her work can also check out the below mini-documentary produced by the Austrian Institute for Media Archaeology. It has great footage of her at her ARP synthesizer talking about how she works with and thinks about music.