Sunday, February 28, 2010

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:

~ Rimbaud, Voyelles

At the risk of annoying readers who might be motivated to obtain this [of course] limited edition cassette release, only to discover it's sold out, a few words.
It is stunning, and not, happily, for reasons I can easily identify for you.
Composer Pisaro is a 2008 discovery for me, guitarist Chabala an almost simultaneous one. I had heard several of Chabala's solo and duo recordings before he and Pisaro became nearly symbiotic collaborators. His early improvised work was promising to me, a little tentative and sketchy-sounding, but clearly foreshadowing the confident strokes he has achieved in his interpretations of Pisaro's structures. First with Pisaro's An Unrhymed Chord [for 25 acoustic guitars], and most recently with black, white, red, green, blue/(voyelles), Chabala has found a simpatico sensibility, remarkably so. With the former piece, Pisaro provides an outline of parameters, chiefly time constraints, for whatever sounds Chabala chooses to make, a dyad is formed, and it sounds seamless.
In black, white, red, green, blue/(voyelles), the music is stripped of whatever symbology and valences Rimbaud intended in the sonnet from which Pisaro derives his title and inspiration. What remains is a long, luminous suspension of time, with Chabala's guitar notes placed with great care and regard for subtle changes in timbre and duration.
uses the Chabala recitation as a basis track, and Pisaro adds, with a light and apposite touch, sine tones and clouds of sampled cassette tape hiss. This last description isn't going to give you the sound picture, you're going to have to hear it. I have, probably more than anything else I have listened to since I got it, and it continues to serve up surprises and sweet illusions, especially as regards the treatment of time and the possibilities in the reiterations of Chabala's spare guitar notes- how do these two collaborators, given the latitude a Pisaro piece provides, pull off this sort of meld?
ErstDist still has copies . You can also try the Winds Measure label or contact Chabala himself to see if any copies remain.
This pointer to what is, very early in a new year, one of my favorite releases thus far, was not to frustrate, but to alert you to a partnership I will watch with great interest in the coming year. And there is always the option of clamoring for a re-release, on CD; sometimes we listeners should raise hell at the growing trend of really limited releases that, like this one, merit time to be carried by word of mouth to your permanent library.

Turned Moment, weighting

A very brief note to encourage readers to hear the duo recording of Stephen Cornford and Samuel Rodgers released several months ago on the Another Timbre imprint, Turned Moment, weighting.
The title may read as obtuse, but the sound world explored on this release is anything but. The duo generate a floating field of pin-prick, crystalline feedback, piano strings prepared in media res [the recording is taken from several hours of their improvising, edited by Cornford] and, here and there, struck piano keys. I have vowed to myself to write about this area of music without using the by now codified adjective Feldmanesque; I may now have to take up that vow after this write up.
The sound sources are two pianos and a feedback system Cornford designed that allows unstable, aleatory and sometimes noisy sounds to infiltrate the sober piano tones. Suspended pitches hang in the air with small, barely-controlled feedback squalls. Overall, with Cornford's post-production work, the three sections never spin out of orbit, the center holds.
Anyone who liked the territory explored in the Tilbury/Schmickler release Variety, or Paiuk/Kahn's beautiful Breathings will want to check this out. As in those two antecedents, there is an interface of piano and lacings of nuanced electronics. Cornford has very consciously chosen the instrument arguably most history-burdened and exhaustively plumbed for radical musicans, determined to find something new to say nonetheless. The results of this duo's intimate meeting merits close, repeated listens.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

crow with no mouth [3]

raining or not
walk lifting your heavy wet sleeves.


The Society of the Spectacle

27. So what is referred to as "liberation from work", that is, increased leisure time, is a liberation neither within labor itself nor from the world labor has brought into being.

Friday, February 26, 2010

broken tree

Check out this 2 minute film [no audio] by London-based musicians Paul Abbott and Daichi Yoshikawa. It is available as a free d/l from Phil Julian aka Cheapmachines' terrific net label, Authorised Version. The film is a companion piece to a recording, also free, of Abbott and Yoshikawa's duo performance at London's Cafe Oto in April, 2009.

I discovered this tactile, kinetic little gem where all things nutty issuing from the U.K. are discovered, of course-Richard Pinnell's fresh-content-daily blog, The Watchful Ear.


In December 2008, I saw my granddaughter for the second time. She was born in Queens on February 7th, 2008. I am demonstrating with my acoustic guitar the proper placement for the best attack.

crow with no mouth zendo

We are fortunate to enjoy enough space in our 1915 house to have our second floor simply be a meditation space. This is February 2008, just moved in. A practice dedicated to bare bones buddhism, and I unpacked about 100 dharma books for shelving!

The Society of the Spectacle

22. The fact that the practical power of modern society has detached itself from itself and established itself in the spectacle as an independent realm can only be explained by the self-cleavage and self-contradictoriness already present in that powerful practice.

26. The triumph of an economic system founded on separation leads to the proletarianization of the world.

The Society of the Spectacle

9. In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.

12. The spectacle manifests itself as an enormous positivity, out of reach and beyond dispute. All it says is: "Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear." The attitude that it demands in principle is the same passive acceptance that it has already secured by means of its seeming incontrovertibility, and indeed by its monopolization of the realm of appearances.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Society of the Spectacle

Separation Perfected

1. The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.

The Society of the Spectacle

However desperate the situation and circumstances, do not despair. When there is everything to fear, be unafraid. When surrounded by dangers, fear none of them. When without resources, depend on resourcefulness.When surprised, take the enemy itself by surprise.

~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Quoted on the frontspiece to Guy Debord's Comments on The Society of the Spectacle

Note: In this series, click on the link contained in the word spectacle Each entry in this series will include one or more links. If a post is without the word spectacle, the link will be provided via another word. I have decided that from time to time, whether randomly or as my reading of a paragraph by Debord changes, I will change the image/data in the links.

Click on the header itself in this first post, and you can look at the layout of the book. It is organized in nine sections, each section consisting of about 20-30 paragraphs. My entries follow that system, chronologically. For example, the next post is section I, paragraph 1.

crow with no mouth [2]

The monk is eighty-seven. There's no fat
left on his feet to defend against stones.
He forgot his hat, larger in recent years.
By a creek he sees a woman he saw fifty summers
before, somehow still a girl to him. Once again his hands
tremble when she gives him a tin cup of water.

~ Jim Harrison
From After Ikkyu and Other Poems

Hearing a crow with no mouth
Cry in the deep
Darkness of the night,
I feel a longing for
My father before he was born.

From A Zen Harvest
Trans. by Soku Shigematsu

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unedited version of my Afternoon Tea review

Keith Rowe/Pimmon/Peter Rehberg/Oren Ambarchi/Christian Fennesz

Afternoon Tea

Black Truffle

Nearly a decade has passed between the limited edition release of Afternoon Tea on vinyl in 2000, and the CD reissue on Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle imprint. This spans, more or less, the time line of a developing area of improvisation generally referred to, when a placeholder is needed [as in reviews such as this one] as EAI. It is easy to forget, if you’ve immersed yourself in this music and been caught up by the twin streams of hyper-accelerated changes in the music itself, and the profligacy of releases, that not terribly long ago a quintet comprised of two electric guitars and three laptops was regarded by most fans of improvised music with, at best, skepticism, and, at worst, dismissal and mockery. And that’s just the resistance to what instrumentation ought to be allowed into the canon, never mind the jazz/free improv fans reeling at the intersection of digital sound and EAI’s reexamination of the basic tenets of free improvisation.

This serves to make listening to this quintet’s performance an opportunity to assess what, if anything, is seminal here, what has been developed in the ensuing years by these musicians, where have their paths diverged, dissipated, or recombined and reinvigorated the music. The interface of electronics and guitars has, as much as any configuration of electric and acoustic instrumentation, served as the foundation for EAI’s “chamber music” [as well as, on infrequent occasions, it’s orchestral manifestations, e.g., MIMEO, an ensemble formed in 1997, comprising between 10-12 players of analog synths, computers and other electronics].

There is, additionally, the historical overlap and meeting of musicians from the Mego area of laptop works [Rehberg, Fennesz, Pimmon]; the emerging, influential sonic territory of more tonal, melodic and ambient work [Ambarchi, well documented on the Touch imprint, as well as his own label of early, archived material, Black Truffle]; and Keith Rowe, who would, following this session, enjoy a remarkable decade of radical and pervasive changes in his ideas, his instrumentation and his collaborative partners [the best of this documented on Jon Abbey’s Erstwhile label, where Rowe appears on 18 releases in the Erstwhile catalog]. The music of Afternoon Tea, with or without framing it with these considerations, clearly contains elements of each musicians’ subsequent work; but, most surprisingly to this writer, given the date and the presence of three laptop musicians who can produce maximalist walls of sound at will, there is remarkable restraint, probity and acute listening throughout, improvisational approaches distilled and honed [as well as codified and stereotyped] in EAI’s ensuing decade.

In 2000, Afternoon Tea was released on the German label Ritornell, consisting of the first two studio tracks found on the reissue. The quintet met and improvised these two tracks in the same studio Ambarchi used for his early solo works on the Touch label, as well as the fantastic meeting between Ambarchi , the duo Voice Crack, and Gunter Mueller, released as Oystered. The reissue is remastered and adds three tracks: a very brief, trippy and atypical slice of psychedelia from a compilation entitled Maschinelle Strategeme; and two live sets from the What Is Music? Festival in 2000. It is valid, of course, to be skeptical of the current trend of reissuing “lost” sessions, the superfluous and flaccid frequently found among the ancillary material. The live sets Ambarchi has added here have similar strengths to the studio sections, with enough variation and further exploration to merit inclusion.

Overall, both the studio and the concert performances are marked by restraint and quiet, simmering and stewing for considerable stretches, out of which occasionally arises wisps of the chromatic, fuzzed-out, pop- glitch familiar to fans of Fennesz and Pimmon. At times the ensemble explores areas that clearly presage the music found on a couple of Erstwhile releases, 2004’s ErstLive 004 [which included Fennesz and Rehberg], and more explicitly and directly, the atmospheres of cloud [also 2004, with 2/3 of the Afternoon Tea ensemble, Ambarchi, Rowe and Fennesz, performing live]. Other times, Philip Jeck comes to mind.

As in his approach on many recordings to follow, Rowe can be heard contributing the crunch and rasp of the steel pad to his strings, grit and sand within the billows and drones provided by the laptops. He has a section of apposite radio captures as well, a soprano’s vocals fading in and out of the collective clouds of Powerbook whoops and whistles. The second track in particular evolves into a lush, melancholic precursor to Fennesz’ Endless Summer, which followed this session by a few months. To my ears, Rowe is the hidden presence, with characteristically recondite contributions that are revealed only with acute listening. He’s in there, amid the pooled chromaticism and improbably detailed, interlaced sonic detritus, a subtler but no less definitive thread in the fabric. If you look at the respective discographies of these five, it seems to me that Rehberg’s immediately subsequent work might be the most divergent from the individual contributions on Afternoon Tea. As a template, it augurs the sounds of the Mego/Touch part of the continuum much more than Rowe and Ambarchi’s work on Erstwhile.

What is great about this document is that it captures a few performances that stand on their own merits, but also, considered in retrospect, contain the seeds of so much good music to come. Disregard the distraction of this crew reading like an EAI super-group, and enjoy the results of an early meeting of superb musicians, setting out with new approaches to improvisation, replete with a new instrumentation.


1] EAI= electro-acoustic improvisation. The limitations of this place-holder have been hashed and rehashed, in taxonomy discussions/arguments about this area of music; e.g., a fair share of the music under discussion might have no acoustic elements [or no electric ones], or not be wholly improvised, including considerable post-production work, etc, etc. EAI serves, as I said, as a place-holder, not as a perfectly accurate referent.

2] Connections:

For the geeky reader/listener interested in such things; Ambarchi told me in a recent email exchange that the occasion for the Afternoon Tea session was a 2000 mini-tour of Australia by the AT line-up.

Ambarchi co-curated the 2000 What Is Music? Festival, held since 1994 in Sydney and Melbourne, with Robbie Avenaim. The week prior to the recording, the AT quintet had performed in Melbourne. Ambarchi had also played a few weeks before the AT session, in a different context, with Keith Rowe. Additionally, Ambarchi had performed several times with Pimmon. So the AT sessions are not first encounters for all the players.

The other recollection Ambarchi shared was a synaesthetic one- “The sun was streaming into the recording room, it was a beautiful day, which definitely gave the session an informal, relaxed vibe.”

Warm thanks to Oren for his prompt and informative responses about an event that occurred a decade ago.

3] Someone is going to be irked by my using “chamber music” in reference to this stuff, finding it precious or simply a misnomer. I think there is a legitimate application to some of the music on Afternoon Tea, and much of what can be heard in EAI in the ensuing decade of development. Consider a few inarguable elements of the chamber configuration- a small number of players, generally in a small room [historically, the salon, fast forward to the onkyo scene, or any venue for this music], a strong sense of intimacy, balance and gestalt, [i.e., little or no soloing], timbre often fore-grounded, etc.

Debussy said, “The age of the aeroplane needs its own music.” Clearly the age of the Powerbook and, subsequently, of cracked electronics, bent circuits and prepared/fucked up acoustic instruments, necessitates its own music. Some of the archetypes, however, prevail. Rowe has said, for instance, that he regarded the configuration found on the Four Gentlemen of the Guitar release, cloud, [electronics, no-input mixing board, and electric guitars] as a “string quartet.”

2010 reviews and articles

Here are three reviews published in 2010 in Junk Media:

1] Version published at Junk Media

2] An unedited version of this review can be found here on Crow With No Mouth.

An appreciation of composer Eliane Radigue

Birgit Ulher

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

crow with no mouth

I wish I could convey, even a little, the pith and gist of Ikkyu, the mad zen monk also called Crazy Cloud. There is a sense, in the few reliable accounts of his life, of an improbable wholeness to him. In anecdotes documented in the temple records that chronicle both his enlightened activities, and the frequent scandals he enjoyed, there is this: a consummate practitioner and instructor of ikebana, of calligraphy copied across Japan, and the four line verse form he used for his startling naked poetry; a denizen of taverns raucous with "lower companionship", and a well known guest of brothels, where he fled when the "stink of zen", a term for the orthodoxy and piety he found as the head of Daitokuji, a revered temple in Kyoto, overwhelmed him. At the age of 77, Ikkyu fell ass-over-tea-kettle for a 20 year old blind girl, with whom he spent years. His writing about that affair, like all of his published verse, is naked, unsentimental, tender and unsparing. He clearly conveys the foolishness he felt, an ancient zen goat yoked to a beautiful young girl, but also a moving fealty and gratitude for her companionship. The poems of lust are as explicit and celebratory as any produced by Henry Miller or Allen Ginsberg.

This life, embracing long retreats to a hermitage, impressive benders in bars and brothels, disgust with religion and unsullied devotion to his own master, appetites equally large for both worlds, interior and back-alley, is amazing enough. That it was lived from 1394-1482 in feudal Japan, that he was the precocious son of an Emperor who often preferred the company found in rural taverns, that he received inka [the formal seal of recognition of enlightenment from his master, qualifying him to head a temple] , only to burn it when in his forties, disgusted with his temples' catering to the privilieged, seals my regard for him.

His enlightenment, brutally tested and tried by the lineage masters above him, occurred when he was walking a country road and heard a crow call.
When temple bureaucrats were searching for the often eloped Ikkyu, he'd say "Look for me in the Red Light district!"

This site is dedicated to Ikkyu Sojun, a placeholder for me to write about music few listen to, thoughts I have no business publishing, whatever else develops.

night after night after night stay up all night
nothing but your own night.