Tuesday, April 15, 2014

zeit lassen

Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition.
Gertrude Stein, Portraits and Repetition

I wrote about composer Eva-Maria Houben last Spring, observing that ... Houben (is) notable, however, for sustaining our attention in music exquisitely poised between a sound and its decay, a melody and its absence, and the vitality possible in repetition and iteration. Listening to Houben...I am faced with that fluid and volatile thing, my preferences, as Wallace Stevens said, between the beauty of inflections/Or the beauty of innuendoes. One night, listening through 'orgelbuch' repeatedly, I sensed preference drop away, and I heard the presence of silence, and I realized how incredibly rare a thing Houben is creating. 

Spending time with Houben's Lost In Dreams - works for piano, released in June 2013 on Edition Wandelweiser Records, reinforces my appreciation for the depth of Houben's exploration of sound and just after.  Equally, in these six piano pieces played by Houben, I am alerted to another fantastic quality of her work - the relationship between what, on one level, is mere repetition, but on another level can be heard/felt as a gentle insistence. This is an insistence perhaps best conveyed in an indication found throughout an earlier Houben piano piece, go and stop - zeit lassen. In his liner notes for Ms. Houben's excellent Piano Music (Irritable Hedgehog), William Robin suggests zeit lassen might be understood as an indication that the pianist grant silence and forget about time as conventionally understood. It is indeed the sort of insistence one can experience in dreams.

Lost In Dreams comprises six pieces - Traumverloren I Für Klavier (2010), unfurling for over 30 minutes, its duration suited to Houben's clarifying this soft insistence embedded within mere repetition; and five dedicatory pieces of much shorter duration, bearing the titles in memoriam - Mussorgsky, Enescu, Schumann, Liszt and Messiaen. These brief epitaths privilege the presence of silence as much as any of Houben's works, with a surprisingly spry turn in the Enescu piece, sounding a little reminiscent of some of Cage's toy piano naïveté. 

How is repetition - perceived by many as an irritant when present in art (Stein suffered this criticism constantly - her essay, from which the above quote is lifted, is in part  a response to her detractors, one worthy of a zen master's "slap" to the errant novice during dokusan) - also heard as the quality of granting or allowing time, and silence, to be present? 

I've no idea - I only know that when listening through Lost In Dreams, my thoughts kept returning to a line in one of Rilke's Sonnets To Orpheus I copied and recopied years ago from Poulin's translation:
 Though he works and worries, the farmer
never reaches down to where the seed turns
into summer.
The earth grants.

I have always loved the choice of grants, or in German, zugeben, a lovely turning word, conveying how nature, in her manner of operations, really works, despite the repetition of work and worry. This is why learning that Ms. Houben indicated zeit lassen in her piano work grabbed me - grant time, her work seems to insist, there is no such thing as repetition, simply making music that grants time, sound, and silence.

Anyway that is the way it is. And you hear it even if you do not say it in the way I say it as I hear it.

Lost In Time

Italicized quotes from Stein, Portraits and Repetition

The earth grants.

My thanks to Michael Pisaro for providing the word zugeben.

Friday, January 17, 2014

the angel would like to stay

I cannot be understood at all on this earth, for I live as much with the dead as with the unborn.
Somewhat closer to the heart of creation than usual, but not nearly close enough.
~ Paul Klee (words used as his epitath)

The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.
But a storm is blowing in from paradise, it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.
~ Walter Benjamin, writing upon Klee's death in 1940 about Klee's Angelus Novus.

This Star Teaches Bending is Vancouver sound artist Mathieu Ruhlmann's audio documentaton of the corporeality and spaces of his mother's final days in 2012. Valerie Joy was diagnosed with a lung disease that introduced into her life the battery of machines the dying are often tethered to at the end of days. Anyone who has been present in those rooms, and sat cumbrously amid their hoses, lines -in and -out, and medical monitor displays, knows these sounds in a visceral way. Ruhlmann chose to capture them with pickups and mics, offering them here as the music of aspirations, deep-throated rattles, amplified emptied stomach and, widening the frame,  footfalls, banal traffic noise, and the continual presence of room tones.
The sounds might be regarded as an audio death mask, their traces and resonances at once discomfiting and entirely abstract.

Ruhlmann selected as titles for his five tracks titles Paul Klee gave some of the paintings he made in his final year of life. There is, in Ruhlmann's brief note about Klee found inside Akos Garai's beautifully designed CD booklet, a sense of admiration for Klee's five year-long dedication to making art while suffering an illness without a cure - more precisely, suffering purposefully, as the last paintings and works on paper reveal. 

This Star Teaches Bending joins a growing number of releases of abstract music issued from a musician's personal losses - notably, Tilbury and Rowe's Duos For Doris, Jason Kahn's Vanishing Point, Jason Lescalleet's The Pilgrim - and may well generate fruitful conversations about the fact that a document like this exists at all. It is, of course, a terribly intimate listening experience, bringing Valerie Joy's dying out of the isolation of those rooms, with that equipment that sounds like it owns a life coterminus with her own. 

Ruhlmann's documentary of the magnified sounds of his mother's living-into- dying might well stand as a strong work of abstract music heard sans the personal narrative. I'll never know - I first heard it upon arriving home in July 2013 from Las Vegas, where I spent three days at the hospital bedside of my dying mother-in-law, Lynne. As family gathered amid a battery of blinking, ceaselessly noisy medical machines, Lynne died at age 63, the same age as Valerie Joy. Returning home from that experience, I found a package from Ruhlmann in the post; This Star Teaches Bending may well have been the first music I heard just days after Lynne's death, I can't recall. I cannot pretend to hear it unmoored from that experience.

This star has taught Mathieu Ruhlmann to bend himself to a most personal, most ordinary, experience, the loss of a beloved, which he offers here as truly extraordinary music.


Mathieu Ruhlmann 

Painting from Klee, 1940, the year of his death

Benjamin quote from Theses On The Philosophy of History 

For Mathieu Ruhlmann, with respect and admiration

Thursday, January 9, 2014


The fox knows many things...
Isaiah Berlin

Tim Olive moved recently to Kobe, Japan, driving deeper and deeper into the beastwind he roils up with various playing partners. The beastwind is, at times, grinding, plangent, massive. It is also - and in this regard he overlaps with folks like Kevin Drumm, or Will Gutrhie  - shape-shifting, labile, windshear giving way to thin sheets of electricals, solar squalls subsiding to something like soothing particle rains. The spatial and dynamic scale of Olive's sound-world is really impressive. I can be done with wind metaphors, but listen to Olive's last two releases on his own 845 Audio label, you'll hear how easy it is to slip into the nomenclature of thermals, gale-force, and the like. Olive produces this impressive scale of densities, timbres, even mimetic sounds of the natural and supra-natural world, with quite simple materials and means - pared to essentially one amplified string, some pick-ups, a mixer, and springs and stuff applied to the pick-ups. Played with great alacrity, endless ideas in fluid motion, and an unswerving patience and attunement to playing partners. Olive knows many things, and channels them through a reduced instrumentation - I love limits, he said in an interview last year.

33 Bays, Olive's 2012 duo release with Alfredo Costa Monteiro, is stellar; the pair collaborated in Barcelona and Osaka five years ago, and happily have sustained their rattle and roil in occasional meetings like this one. Monteiro has not released a weak recording in the years I've followed him, whatever the variance in their grip on me. His two working groups with Ferran Fages, Atolón and Cremaster, are as good as it gets in electro-acoustic music that moves from high-wire tensions of silence to bruising fun. Monteiro's solo organ release, Umbralia, is a work of amazing attention to the interstices and spaces between notes, Monteiro the colorist, and certain to baffle those who associate him only with the blistering Cremaster.
So 33 Bays, whose duration does not overstay its ideas nor malinger past necessity, enjoins and rips apart two simpatico improvisers who often sound as if they're making music from inside a Richard Serra sculpture. The occasional dynamic drops in density and volume are hypostatic, you'll literally reel and wobble from their effect. This is music that is at once driven (I'll skirt the meterological here), and nuanced, and should be heard and huzzahed about alongside stuff like Drumm's Humid Weather, or Daniel Menche's Field of Skin.

...but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

Olive joined forces with turntablist (and more) Katasura Mouri for Various Histories, another superbly paced release, five tracks of concise exploration of a mutual map - akin to 33 Bays, an impressive expanse of textures, fine details, and a vague sense of an unstable pulse threading through the whole affair. Katsura released at least eight CDs with the turntable group-turned-duo, Busratch, from 2000-2009; I haven't heard that project, making my discovery of Katsura here especially a blast. As relatively low-tech as Olive, Katsura, like the fantastic Hong Chulki, coaxes, cajoles and throttles the table. This is another pairing that must have been, as Keith Rowe said about his first encounters with Toshimaru Nakamura, a relief for the players - how often do musicians share this level of confidence, guts and ideas, and manage the ground between them (I think of Scenic Railroads for one, the occasional duo of Mike Shiflet and Joe Panzner) so skillfully?

I think Tim Olive knows one big thing that is multi-faceted and, to date, unexhausted - he knows how to dive deep with simple materials, and he knows how to combine with similarly gifted playing partners. I'm a hedgehog, Olive told an interviewer, I concentrate on my ground, I get down in there and root around and explore all the parameters and minute variations.
Sure - but a fox as well, in terms of Berlin's elegant, cartoonishly simple dichotomy. Olive brings to his deconstructed table, and his meetings with remarkable musicians like Monteiro and Mouri, an embarrassment of ideas and a barrage of effects. I am a hedgehog, says the fox.

Photos: Monteiro/Olive, Victor E. Perez, A Coruna, 2010 / Olive/Mouri, Minoru Ikekita, Kyoto, 2012

The Hedgehog and The Fox, Isaiah Berlin

Tim Olive interviews

Title: I like the word beastwind - it is a track title from Olive and Monterio's first duo release, a theory of possible utterance (zeromoon, 2011), and an apposite descriptor of their sound.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

a mirror of our mind: Anais Prosaic's documentary, 'Eliane Radigue - L'ecoute virtuose'

Our mind is a bright mirror, free from dust.
~ Hui-Neng (638-713)

The work is first of all a mirror of our mind.
~ Eliane Radigue

There is clearly something happening in our time, this ninth decade in composer Eliane Radigue's life, that is mirrored in the recent, sharp increase in attention to her body of work, the proliferation of archived and contemporary pieces available lately, and the on-line resources easily accessible to interested parties.
Consider this - when I published my appreciation of Radigue only four years ago this week, there were such scant articles/interviews available in the aether, it was necessary to reference the same several texts, even photos, as everyone else. Radigue assistant, archivist and tireless advocate for her work, Emmanuel Holterbach, has done much to remedy that paucity of material related to the composer, as has composer Jennie Gottschalk, whose sound expanse blog provides links to numerous articles and interviews of recent vintage.
From 1983-2003, there were seven releases more or less available of Radigue's synthesizer and tape compositions; from 2003-2013, 15 releases came in waves, five of them in 2013. These are spread across numerous labels issuing from several countries, and are of improbably consistent high quality. 

In 2006 came the 14 minute Institut Für Medienarchäologie (IMA) documentary, Portrait #4, providing just enough of a glimpse of Radigue to whet our appetites for more. One of the two camera operators and editors on Portrait #4 was Anais Prosaic, who released her lovely 61 minute documentary L'Écoute Virtuose / Virtuoso Listening in the Fall of 2012. Prosaic is a documentarian based in Paris who has made films with subjects ranging from Patti Smith to Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed.
I revisited Portrait #4 as a companion to my multiple viewings of Virtuoso Listening, struck by a couple of threads that tie these impressions of Radigue, separated by seven years, together. Filmmaker Prosaic can be credited with binding these elements visually, with clarity and a light touch.

First, the flow of two of Radigue's elemental metaphors for her compositional approach, and the concomitant listening experience: water and the mirror. 
Near the conclusion of Portrait #4, in a brief section entitled Écoute, Radigue says, in reference to listening to the Arp and tape works she composed between 1967-2000, ...it's like looking at the surface of a river...it's never completely the same, according to the way in which you look...regarding these kinds of sounds, it's that they act as a mental mirror. Forward to her 2012 interview with Max Dax - I use this river image myself to represent one of my Adnos pieces...if a stone in the river moves, the river is not changed, but after a long time it becomes something different

The eight chapters of L'Écoute Virtuose / Virtuos Listening are demarcated by images of the surface activity of water, both the water imagery and titling  foreshadowed in the 2006 film. Prosaic is content to allow her portrait of Radigue to be limned via the conventions of such documentaries: archival footage, anecdotes, interviews and performances. She trusts the subject to be sufficiently compelling without the superfluous and self-conscious filmic gestures that irritate the viewer in less confident filmmakers. 
The imagery is distilled down to water and the mirror-mind experience of hearing Radigue's music. The listening experience is filmed chiefly during the staggering Triptych concert series, an event honoring Radigue's work held June 12-26, 2011 at various venues around London. Of the eight concerts comprising that event, Prosaic focuses on performances by, and interviews with, Rhodri Davies, Bruno Martinez, Carol Robinson, Charles Curtis, Kaffe Matthews, Kaspar T. Toeplitz, Ryoko Akama, and Emmanuel Holterbach.

At the conclusion of Portrait #4, a text appears on the screen stating currently Radigue is composing only for acoustic instruments; with the exception of the laptop ensemble  The Lappetites, comprising AGF, Matthews and Akama, the concerts glimpsed in L'Écoute Virtuose / Virtuos Listening are of the growing wave of acoustic musicians realizing Radigue's work (since this event add to that list Nate Wooley, Julia Eckhardt, Robin Hayward and others this author is no doubt unaware of).


While each performer essentially reiterates their regard for the composer, the rigors of performing her works on their respective instruments, and their subjective states during and after performance, there is an interesting aspect to their reports of how they collaborate with Radigue. They talk about entering into a relational process that involves minimal explicit cues/clues from the composer and zero actual scores; instead, in a sort of lineage process  of transmission of a seed idea, with an expectation from Radigue that the musician will then realize the work by their own lights, another mirroring is seen- that of Radigue's four decade practice of Tibetan buddhism. Tibetan buddhist practice, like that of the zen lineage, involves the student initially receiving pointers from a teacher who encourages the student, verbally and tacitly, to move beyond the teacher in their own fashion. Radigue exultantly states at the conclusion of L'Écoute Virtuose / Virtuos Listening, I have musical descendants like I have biological descendants! 

I do not make a work for the instrument, but for the instrumentalist, Radigue said in her 2010 WNYU interview. Filmmaker Prosaic entered the flow of events in the composer's life at a crucial point, as the woman cellist Charles Curtis describes as persistent, critical, alert and full of self-doubt was transitioning from a self-imposed, nearly four decade musical practice of rigorous solitude, to an intensely intimate, collaborative one. Radigue would work on Naldjorlak, her first piece for acoustic instruments/instrumentalists, from 2005-2008; Prosaic's documentation intersects this vital new chapter for the composer appositely.

It is a remarkable development - a remarkably flexible, fecund and moving one. If like me you have experienced the power of Radigue's Trilogie de la Mort - a massive composition in many respects, the composer's response to the loss of her young son and cherished spiritual teacher, Pawo Rinpoche - witnessing via Proasic's film her joy in connecting with a couple of generations of musicians and composers affected deeply by her work is a profound experience. Talking about working with Radigue, Kaspr T. Toeplitz says What she is saying is that the score is now me. Anais Prosaic's film documents the mirroring of Eliane Radigue's life, in her music, her practice, and her descendents' lives. This is something to be witness to, and I encourage you to see this film.

 La Huit


Thursday, December 12, 2013

seeds dreaming beneath the snow

This link will take you to a site dedicated to news and updates about a possible 2014 crow with no mouth concert series.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

everyone is in the best seat

Notable releases of 2013

Antoine Beuger's music arrived throughout the year in waves - variegated, ingenuous,  and however much his work continues to be characterized as spare and near-silent, generous. Four labels with distinct curatorial approaches saw fit to release Beuger's music, signal, I think, of an increased awareness of the adamantine nature of his compositions. Whether sounded through the single-pointed focus of the Ensemble Dedalus and the Cantor Quartet, the appealingly patient unspooled time of guitarist Cristián Alvear, or the numinous goings-on with Michael Pisaro in their most surprising entry in the Erstwhile catalog of ongoing surprises, Beuger's combined rigor and munificence grab me like no other music today.





Olivia Block's Karren explores something deeply familiar and personal for me, while sounding at the same time entirely of the lineage that flows from her auspicious release of nearly 15 years ago, Pure Gaze. This is an ingenious aspect of Karren I'd suggest you experience yourself, so I will, for now, postpone describing that quality, except to say Block places the listener squarely in the best seat in the house.


Nearly four years ago, the first week I launched this blog, I enthused about Stephen Cornford and Samuel Rodgers' collaborative work, and have heard whatever they've released since. Boring Embroidery  is the jewel-result of their ongoing partnership, exquisitely suspended, ductile sounds that float, never over-staying their welcome. Simply gorgeous, allow yourself this.


I am , for the first time, inclined to offer a mild disclaimer about a release I recommend wholeheartedly; that is, Coppice's Compound Form was recorded in performance in my 2012 crow with no mouth concert series (on an amazing evening shared with Jeph Jerman). I received four Coppice releases in the mail this year, as fecund and fertile a year for them as it was for Nick Hennies. I can say I respect and enjoy aspects of the other releases, but return most frequently to this one. I recall the evening Coppice's bellows and sundry sound-sources lapped throughout the Studio Z space - at the completion of their set another regular attendee and I agreed it was a highlight of the crow series. I am pleased this will be heard beyond that evening.

Much has already been written about the extraordinary historiography of Dennis Johnson's November; it's an enjoyable account of compositional sleuthing, excavation and restoration, fit for a proper documentary. Composed in 1959, it's pretty well established that we have available now the wellspring of the minimalism lineage that carried La Monte Young, et al, to our ears. The fine imprint that dedicated itself to bringing us November, Irritable Hedgehog, joined forces with Andy Lee, the astonishing pianist who seems to live within the four hour piece's structure, waiting for our return visits. Much as Simon Reynell (Another Timbre) and pianist John Tilbury teamed up in 2009 to retrieve from the dust bin of forgotten works Terry Jennings' (Johnson's fellow time-bending minimalist) amazing Lost Daylight, we have, nearly 50 years following its creation, November. Seriously, do not give a thought to its duration aforehand - you will return avidly to November keen for its elegant, intuitive math, and Lee's sensitive, empathic touch.

The antipode to all of the above comes strongly recommended as sui generis noise, Jason Crumer and Joseph Hammer's Show 'Em The Door, easily among the strangest things I have enjoyed in some time (sits well alongside  Gerrit Witmer's 2013 solo release, Making Real). Crumer and Hammer are far from familiar names, even to many experimental music fans, so this one may well have eluded most. I'm not even going to try to describe it.

Its hardly a requisite for new music, as its hardly ever achieved, so count it as good fortune that Joe Panzner and the extraordinary percussionist Greg Stuart elevate their duo music from superbly detailed and nuanced noise to a thing of, in some respects, genuine confoundment. For reasons perhaps self-evident to others, but lost on this listener, numerous responses posted on the internet to the duo's sound and fury have concluded Stuart's role is somehow ancillary to Panzner's. I have given Dystonia Duos my abraded ears in numerous close listens, and have my own, contrary, conclusion - what confounds those listeners is that the pair's dissection puzzle brings with it a Greg Stuart they couldn't imagine, and a duo that fits so finely together, discerning its discrete parts is a fool's errand. A great release.

Percussionist Nick Hennies has been indefatigable in 2013, and one result of all that activity has been, along with performances across the U.S.. a clutch of fine releases. The severity and insistence of some of his work may leave many high and dry; I find it generally gripping, and at its best, thrilling. A paladin for the lonesome and lowly triangle, wood block and snare drum, among other instruments seldom privileged as worthy of consideration for solo exploration, Hennies released two strong solo works, as well as a duo with Greg Stuart that will no doubt confound listeners freighted with inapposite expectations as to what that should sound like. A remarkable overtone scientist equally capable of producing sounds of improbable delicacy and of overwhelming intensity, Hennies remains faithful to sound sources relegated to an infrequent role in music. Given what he, like Greg Stuart, has unlocked from these unlikely sources, the effect is revolutionary.

Search this site for my regard for musician Lucio Capece, if you are unfamiliar with his body of work. Less Is Less is an amazing release - you can read the programme notes provided by the Intonema imprint for the how of its finely detailed sound spectra, with Capece's typically sensitive and critical thought about making music, and making environments conducive to each specific piece of music. You can also opt to simply play the disc and enjoy how warmly and affectively Capece makes spatiality and acoustic phenomena matter. A beautiful release, among my favorites of the last several years.

Michael Pisaro's three releases on Gravity Wave in 2013 (the latest, Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds, for crotales and sine tones, only arrived last week, more on that at another time), combined with the aforementioned duo with Antoine Beuger, This Place / Is Love, confirm for me that the composer, while maintaining an affinity with the Wandelweiser ethos that has shaped him for several decades, is chiefly guided by whatever musical problems engage him at the present time. This fealty to current concerns/interests over history or legacy, is admirable. That following it produces works as gripping as The Middle of Life and The Punishment of the Tribe by its Elders, each unsettling and deeply moving in quite divergent ways, is remarkable.

Sarah Hughes was involved with numerous projects in 2012/13 that merit our attention - of particular note were her contributions to a couple of ensembles documented on the Another Timbre label (whose honcho Simon Reynell recorded the tracks heard on Accidents of Matter Or Of Space) , and her fantastic duo release with Kostis Kilymis, The Good Life.  Earlier this year a new imprint, Suppadaneum, produced the lovely Accidents..., a CD-R with a letterpress score and a fine essay by Dominic Lash. The three realizations of Hughes' 2011 piece (and can never exceed unity) are akin in personnel and execution to what you'll hear in the quintet's contributions to the stunning Wandelweiser und so eiter box set of 2012. This shouldn't suggest stasis or stagnation in the least - what Hughes is exploring via scores with fixed time brackets and sustained single-tones lies beyond the page. Hughes has happily dived fearlessly into those expanding, overlapping waters of current experimental music -composed/improvised, noise/tonal, precise/chancy, et al. Her energy and brio are evident, here and in The Good Life.

Some patterns obtain, in every sphere, large and micro-small. For my annual works that will slip away largely unheralded even in this firmament, I offer Christoph Schiller's Variations, a canon in seven parts for the seldom-heard spinet, piano and amplified stuff. Initially I heard only the rigor of the piece - at some point I heard the flow and the play on memory that seems to be a byproduct of much of the music coming from the Another Timbre label.

If I hadn't already taken the this is sui generis stuff, don't ask me to try and describe it tack with the Crumer/Hammer release, I'd sign off with it here. Suffice it to say Sinter appears here as it is indelible in at least two essential ways - first, more than most releases of even somewhat similar ilk, you cannot listen to the duo's process without an intense, slightly discomfiting sense of voyeurism; I am not sure why that is, maybe something in the way they draw you toward the mystery of the very small sounds and interactions you are hearing. As strange as it is, Sinter is immediately and intensely intimate, almost implicating the listener. Secondly, and related to the first quality, Kamerman and Guthrie create a very specific environment around these small, largely inchoate sounds. It is a well-ventilated, spacious sounding work, so the intimacy of it isn't quite a claustrophobic one.

Toshiya Tsunoda has done little wrong to my ears, seeming to have an impeccable sense of what to release that serves what is released strongly. This one is a hue and cry from the amazing vibration studies he has produced for many years. The subject is field recordings themselves, and Tsunoda treats the subject with great skill and humor. His titles for the sections are suggestive of the areas of sonics he slices, dices and loops The effect ranges from so nuanced as to confuse the matter, to so overt as to approximate similarly plangent loops heard by Choi Joonyong and Park Seungjun. Always acutely attuned to the timbres of our overwrought world, Tsunoda, like Cage, approaches much of what we defend against with a microphone and an invitation.

Everyone is in the best seat.
~ John Cage

Labels represented:
Another Timbre
Edition Wandelweiser
Triple Bath
Irritable Hedgehog
Weighter Recordings
Senufo Editions
Consumer Waste
Gravity Wave
Edition T

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Breviary is a place-holder name for shorter reviews, generally 500 words or less. Click on the breviary tab atop the page to check on those sorts of pieces. Feature-length writing will continue to be found on the main page.
Breviary is in no wise an indicator of my esteem for a release; rather, it provides an option for writing more frequently about more releases, while continuing to develop feature-length pieces.