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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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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: 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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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

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The Monthly List: February’s Top 8


Autechre’s Exai and a surprise reissue of Gila’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee top my favorite records for February 2013. The list is short this month as most of my attention was focused on a few releases—including the Wandelweiser set on Another Timbre and the Autechre EP box set—but a ton of new music is on the way, including four new Editions Mego LPs, a new series from Erstwhile called ErstAEU, a re-issue of Michael Pisaro’s Tombstones project, and the fourth part of Jakob Ullmann’s Fremde Zeit Addendum, which is actually available now. I just don’t have a copy yet. Ullmann also happens to be featured in the latest issue of Wire Magazine.

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: January’s Top 13

blizzard_slippery_walkThirteen records stood out for me last month. Only one is from January 2013 (Dilloway/Drumm). Reviews of the Hearing Metal discs and Nate Wooley’s The Almond are forthcoming. Along with the Pran Nath album on Just Dreams and I Drink Your Skin, those were the albums I listened to the most. I’m still sorting through the Wandelweiser set too, which is amazing but hard to sum up. Make sure to check out the reviews posted for that title. Lots of great information there.

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.


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.

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.