Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pierre Schaeffer / Pierre Henry - L'Œuvre Musicale (INA-GRM/EMF, 1998)

The three discs collected here cover the bulk of Pierre Schaeffer's concrète works, beginning with his pre-tape days when he composed using multiple turntables mixing sound effects recordings direct to lathe. The earliest recordings here were created in 1948 during Schaeffer's days as radio engineer for Radiodiffusion Française and are built from sounds ranging from locomotives and whirligigs to pots, pans, piano, and percussion. Each of those collages eventually made their way onto the air. His Suite pour 14 instruments is an amalgam of orchestral sounds rendered far beyond their original context. Where these early works clearly function as experiments for Schaeffer, once Pierre Henry joins in as his assistant, the music takes on both a playfulness and a refinement of detail that eventually became landmarks of the French approach to musique concrète. The processes became increasingly laborious, and those who once flocked to Schaeffer's studio to work in this new medium became disillusioned by the demand and patience that the work required. Schaeffer and Henry worked together for eight years amassing a daunting sound library, some of which never fully materializing. Included here is an Henry work from 1988, created in homage to Schaeffer using fragments of their Orpheus 51 and 53. Though Schaeffer retired from music in 1960, he returned to sound studies in the late 1970s, eventually revisiting some early works. Those too are collected here, and the bridge in time is event as Schaeffer breathes new life into his early techniques while also incorporating a more defined sound. Included as well are the results of Schaeffer's studies of psycho-acoustics, presented here as the two part Le Trièdre Fertile.

Disc One: Les Incunables 1948-1979
Disc Two: Les Œuvres Communes 1950-1953 & 1988
Disc Three: Les Révisions 1948-1979 / Les Œuvres Postérieures 1957-1959 & 1975-1979

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Steve Roden & Brandon LaBelle - The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm (Meme, 1999)

The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm is the first of several collaborations between Roden and LaBelle that include another cd and co-editing the excellent sound art anthology Site of Sound. The album, released by the lost but not forgotten Meme label, is among the strongest either has been involved in, and very much a synergistic merging of their aesthetics. These in studio improvisations are culled from indoor sounds that Roden procured and outdoor sounds that LaBelle sought on hands and knees. LaBelle's contributions are entomologically inclined, capturing the minutiae of water bugs, spiders, and ants in macro-amplified glory. Roden coaxes waves from a variety of ways, gently scraping the insides of a bowl, steadily tapping a small gong. This merging of inside and out then is in perfect keeping with the album's title, sharing its name with the following poem by Wallace Stevens:

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom the book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

-- Wallace Stevens

The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm

Steve Lacy - Straws (Cramps, 1977; 1997)

Straws finds the magnificent late saxophonist Steve Lacy in a variety of semi-solo scenarios, each paying tribute to people and musicians dear to him. He opens with an homage to Art Tatum built around a theme from Vincent Youmans' "Get Happy" that quickly spirals as Lacy is often wont to do. There is but one more outright solo piece, loosely a ballad for his dear Irene. The remaining pieces find Lacy in interesting territory, a pair of sax-celeste duets and two pieces where Lacy plays along to prepared tape recordings. The celeste pieces are fascinating in the sonic space that the celeste leaves for Lacy's sax, this floating bed of sound that ties up the higher ranges. The first tape piece is culled from recordings of three clarinetists and two saxophonists testing reeds, the second Lacy hesitantly calls a "poème sonore", built from construction sounds and several layers of improvised saxophone. Unfortunately, these recordings come from the 1997 reissue of the album, and as such the piece "Feline" appears in a curiously truncated form that preserves the intertwined ascensions of sax and celeste but omit Lacy's solo.


Noise Maker's Fifes - Soundscapes Of The Inner Eye (NMT Productions, 1995)

The first of several cd releases, following a slew of cassettes, from the Belgian duo of Geert Feytons and Timo van Luijk finds them in what for Noise Maker's Fifes is familiar territory: eerily dense soundscapes built from collages field sounds and a mix of home made and traditional instruments that hover in the sonic area like an airborne toxic event. Though typically of fluctuating dimensions, these recordings from 1992-3 feature only the founding pair, just before the group broadened into the transmedia conglomerate that stands as their legacy. Each vignette unravels gradually into delicate drifts of environmental blur and rustles and screeches, rarely tethered to rhythm for a feel more akin to drifting in and out of consciousness. Knowing that they only got better, it's tough to shake how incredibly good they are here.

Soundscapes of the Inner Eye

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Denis Dufour - Dix Portraits / Douze Mélodies Acousmatiques (Motus, 1997)

A pair of mid 80's pieces here from INA-GRM associate Denis Dufour each finds him paying tribute in some way to fellow composers. The first (though titularly the second) is done in response to Michel Chion's Dix Études de Musique Concréte, a loose play on melodies constructed from acoustmatic elements, be they the tumbling of resonant objects, a child's song, or the head or tail end of various instruments. His Dix Portraits, each dedicated to one of his well admired peers, are drawn from a trio of synthesizers and tape and occupy a slightly more narrow sound space that the previous piece. That scaling back works to his favor, as the reduced elements bind the pieces while Dufour's sonic prowess broadens its scope.

Dix Portraits / Douze Mélodies Acousmatiques

Monday, April 20, 2009

Andrew Chalk & Brendan Walls - This Growing Clearing (Three Poplars, 2004)

While the personal tendency for Chalk collaborators will generally veer toward Christoph Heemann, there are several other pairings of his that strike a stirring note (and sometimes even a few). Here Chalk teams up with a gentleman from Australia by the name of Brendan Walls, who might be most recognized for his work with Gregg Turkington for the Golding Institute's Final Relaxation. The recordings here were presumably assembled via postal exchange and take the form of a series of rises and falls for two simultaneous sound sources. The fragility of these two pieces should come as no surprise, though it is rare for a Chalk project to veer so often into the lower registers.

This Growing Clearing

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

V/A - Sleepers (Finnadar, 1985)

Sleepers is a collection of lullabies from Ilhan Mimaroglu's Finnadar label. As such, the pieces are gentle and often hushed, with the most notable exception coming from Mimaroglu's own rhythm machine-ushered sleepsong. The other all arc is toward vocal pieces, with exceptions made for the occasional flute and clarinet. Annea Lockwood earns the award for Most Germane, with her three piece chorus providing dulcet tones of soothing, repetitive syllables of Samoan. Pauline Oliveros provides one of her always fascinating deep listening exercises with audience participation. As is often the case with these pieces, beautiful results emerge from her simple, introspective instructions: "Hum the sound of pleasure as if you were serenading your best loved with the MMM sound by adding vowels and dipthongs between the M's using any repetitions or prolongations...stay open to your own sensations and imagine gradually expanding your awareness to sensing your surroundings..." The piece is performed by the Queens College Choral Society.

A1 Doris Hays - Hush
A2 Annea Lockwood - Malolo
A3 Ilhan Mimaroglu - Sleepsong For Sleepers
A4 Daniel Goode - The Red And White Cows
B1 Tom Johnson - Lullaby
B2 Pauline Oliveros - Lullaby For Daisy Pauline
B3 Alison Knowles - Mantra For Jessie
B4 Ann Silsbee - Go Gentle


François Bayle - Camera Obscura - Espaces Inhabitables (Magison, 2000)

Camera Obscura - Espaces Inhabitables is the fourteenth entry in Magison's Cycle Bayle series, François Bayle's personal interrogation of his activities over the last four decades. The material on this disc is among his earliest works--Camera Obscura dates back to 1976 while Espaces Inhabitables from 1967 may be his first in depth work--each incorporating up-close examination of relatively fragile sounds, tinkling glass, ping pong balls, footsteps, simple instruments. Bayle performs what could be likened to sonic origami on these sounds, conscious of their fragility and intent on preserving that throughout the process of transforming them. Rarely is it discernible which sounds are synthetic or natural. His sonic processes leave a hint of realness intact, at times turning the listening of these pieces into a guessing game.

Camera Obscura - Espaces Inhabitables

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bill Fontana - Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns (KQED, 1982)

There is a certain longing for omnipresence in Bill Fontana's soundworks. His Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns expresses this perfectly. He places eight microphones at well chosen points around the San Francisco Bay, then broadcasts them at Fort Macon Center by the waterfront. As the fog horns call, there is a slight delay from any given microphone, thanks to the sonic displacement due to the speed of sound. From Pier 2's signal, a listener can experience all eight perspectives simultaneously, essentially creating an aural map of the bay.

Images are from

Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns

David Maranha - Piano Suspenso (Sonoris, 1998)

Solo outing for Osso Exótico-affiliated mastermind David Maranha, or rather it's a mechanized quintet for piano with Maranha the sole living constituent. For his contribution to a Electronic Arts Performances Series in Troy, NY, Maranha with bow in hand and his four-strong fleet of motors took to the insides of a piano for some churning drone action. His motorized system maintains a delicate balance where even the slightest shift ushers in a dramatic change in timbrel activity, residing somewhere along the lines of Remko Scha's take on Lubomyr Melnyk's continuous or Charlemagne Palestine's strumming music.

Piano Suspenso

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Terry Fox - Berlino / Rallentando (Het Apollohuis/Apollo, 1988)

Two different applications of the long strings at play here. The first is a collage featuring piles of found sounds, mostly industrial actions, strung along a three piano wire tapestry. Fox has this knack for conjuring from long strings sounds that typically belong in the electronic realm, typically by giving a hard wap to slack strings, but on this he also opts for the taut and sonorous as well. The second installment features Fox manning three wires and Jan Van Riet, Paul Panhuysen, and Mario Van Horrik on either cello or doublebass. The lineup is essentially the Maciunas Ensemble with Fox pinch-hitting for Leon van Noorden. Their soundmass here could easily be mistaken for the biggest air organ known to man.

Berlino / Rallentando

Toshiya Tsunoda - O Respirar Da Paisagem (Sirr, 2003)

When Yokohama-based Toshiya Tsunoda documents sound, he does so on a microscopic level. Recognizing that at the center of any sound is vibration, he records those vibrations which don't readily or easily emit sounds. Often imploring contact microphones, his recordings often explore the Helmholtz resonances, those vibrations created as air moves into a cavity, to some extent the effect of pressure changes as air exits and returns. Where architectural acoustics might use Helmholtz resonance to minimize standing waves, Tsunoda instead exploits them and amplifies them. His recordings are presented relatively unaltered, sequenced with sudden cuts between sonic events.

O Respirar Da Paisagem divides its material between the use of contact mics and small omni-directional microphones. The sounds originate on a boundary, often between indoors and outdoors as in "Cicada and Window", documenting a dialogue between continuous cicada drone and a steady creak of window. Although the recordings present little input from Tsunoda, they are testament to his uncanny sense for setting and its sonic potential.

O Respirar Da Paisagem

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jean-François Laporte - Mantra (Metamkine, 2000)

Another entry in the Cinéma pour l’oreille series, this one from French-Canadian Jean-François Laporte. I approached Laporte's explanation of this massively buzzing mass of sound with trepidation, but having listened nearly as many passes as he took to make the recording, I no longer question his veracity. Mantra's evolving, monolithic mass is culled from close recordings of a cooling condenser at a hockey rink. This is confirmed during the initial firing up of the compressor. As the piece progresses, Laporte travels around the compressor, documenting its components and its varied timbrel qualities. He shapes the sound in a way one might in an electronic study, using PVC tubes to sculpt the high frequencies and metal covers to add resonance for volume boost. Laporte insisted that this be done in one take, as a single breath mantra of continuous but evolving nature, and without a doubt his meticulousness and patience comes through tenfold.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

V/A - Electronic 2000 (Philips, 1971)

Philips threw this together as a highlights reel of their subsidiary Prospective 21e Siècle's forever untouchable Electronic Panorama box, a four LP look at tape music innovators from Paris, Tokyo, Utrecht, and Warsaw. In its truncated form we find François Bayle and Bernard Parmegiani as the representatives from GRM, Toshiro Mayuzumi on Radio NHK's behalf, Luctor Ponse, Milan Stibilj, and Jos Kunst for team U of U, and Krzysztof Penderecki as the sole entry from Warsaw. Personal standouts come from Kunst, Parmegiani, and Bayle, whose rock concrète is just about perfect. Mayazumi as well gives a fine showing with his cackle fest. Certainly, this is not to say the remaining pieces are clunkers. But if you're more inclined toward the high momentum wall bouncing sorts, the aforementioned four are a fine starting point. Save the other three for your cool down.

Electronic 2000

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Roger De La Frayssenet - Kitnabudja Town (Metamkine, 1997)

Never could track down the story as to why Lionel Marchetti felt compelled to release this under the name Roger De La Krayssenet. Maybe he thought this musical essay in collage form was a drastic enough break from character that he could something of a double duty, Tony Clifton-style stunt. Something just doesn't fit. Why go through the trouble of citing your references, only to sign someone else's name and give them the grade? Especially when you turn in the same essay ten years later with a new title. Whatever the case, this scrambling of classic radioplay and concrète, ethnic musics, rock and pop hits, and previous entries in the Metamkine catalog is a head scratcher for sure and something Marchetti should have taken pride in from the get go. Perhaps Marchetti simply felt that he had already taken up his fair share of Metamkine real estate. I'm not one to speculate.

Kitnabudja Town

Fabio Fabor - Aleatoric Piano Collages (Vedette, 1970)

This one's a bizarre entry for Italian library producer Fabio Fabor. Every so often he just got the jones to get out there. Mind you, not too out there. His Aleatoric Piano Collages is fairly evenly spread amongst somewhat lazily prepared piano, inner piano workouts, and electro-acoustic treatments. His piano preparations mostly amount to a thin wire over a few notes, resulting in oddly engaging buzz. His typical electronic treatment is either a swamp of reverb or echo. The soundboard action is a bit more involved, incorporating hand dampening, rakings, and some downright cathartic haphazard banging around. There's just something fascinating to how half-hatched his ideas are, like he wants to try out these ideas he just heard about but doesn't want to damage the piano. I keep listening expecting to hear a gasp and a shriek when he plucks a string too hard.

Aleatoric Piano Collages

Monday, April 6, 2009

Michel Chion - On N'Arrête Pas Le Regret (INA-GRM, 1996)

One of Chion's more whimsical works, On N'Arrête Pas Le Regret is built from three pieces all dealing in some way with childhood. Spanning thirteen years of work, the trio of works function as an ode to his formative years and to the influences of Debussy, Bartok, and Schumann, respectively. The pieces are built on easily flowing narratives and reflect Chion's prowess with short form works. The opening "Sambas Pour Un Jour De Pluie" is built on an interlocking of synth pulse with spiraling violin glissando, with a story loosely reflecting the experiences of a small child sitting at a kitchen table unraveling underneath. "La Machine À Passer Le Temps" is purported to be Chion's first concrète piece, a steady flow of plinkings from glasses, strings, and other objects. The titular piece is classic Chion, five scenes meticulously structured but deeply immersed in his playful approach to sound. The teaming of these three pieces really cater to Chion's knack for invoking a place or idea with vivid and imaginative strokes.

On N'Arrête Pas Le Regret

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nuno Canavarro - Plux Quba (Ama Romanta, 1988; Moikai, 1998)

Portuguese composer Nuno Canavarro crafted this singular sonic vision some time in the mid-80s, though it wouldn't be too far a stretch to note its imprint in the varied electronic output from the late 90s on. He begins with a repeated tone, sliced apart more or less down the center several ways, which after a few minutes reveals itself to be a single piano note. The treatment is gentle in tone, but slightly haphazard. He never seems to cut right down the center, sometimes crinkling that note at several points before its end. And this continues throughout. There are broad expanses of tones that wouldn't be out of place on top of a thump a la Gas, though rarely is there anything remotely resembling a beat. He takes simple vocal passages and turns them inside out, always with a delicate care that is meticulous despite having no interest in preserving its original identity. Elsewhere he crafts intricate harp phrases over an undercurrent of crumbling atmospheric sound. All in all, Canavarro crafted a one-time journey into a playful and lovely sound world.

Plux Quba

Philip Corner / Alison Knowles / George Brecht - Fluxus (Wergo, 2001)

Collected here are three radioplays from three Fluxus affiliates, Philip Corner, Alison Knowles, and George Brecht. Each piece is built from a simple element and features a text recited by the author and sometimes others. Corner's piece is an homage to Erik Satie, built from a sparce two chord piano figure and a recitation that teeters along the stereo field. Knowles' piece, which she delivers along with Brecht, Hanna Higgins, and Jessica Higgins, is built from a long list of bean names on top of a bed of violin glissando and actual tossed about beans. And Brecht gives a play in four languages, derived from a Zen Buddhist text by Seng Ts'an.


Rolf Julius - Small Music

Parts of the idea behind German sound artist Rolf Julius' small music borrows from John Cage's notion of small sounds, sonic artifacts subtle enough that the listener cannot distinguish between the sounds and the environment. His installations disguise the source of the sound in various ways, often in a manner where physical aspects of the sounds reveal their source. He has buried small speakers with ash inside flower pots so that sound waves disturb the level soil, thereby visualizing the sounds. Speakers have been used to displace a spread of paint on a canvas. He has even crafted eyeglasses with speakers in place of lenses.

The four volumes of his Small Music series document the sonic aspects of these installations, thin spreads of tones and environmental sounds shifting together. The idea behind each is generally simple and verging on stasis, with the focus generally on the texture or, as Julius likes to put it, the "surface" of the sound. He often incorporates miniature buzzings, pulses, and chirps, sometimes in rapid washes that amass to one solid sound rather than thousands of tiny ones.

Rolf Julius - Small Music, Vol. 1: White-Yellow-Black (Small Music, 1994)

Rolf Julius - Small Music, Vol. 2: Klangbogen (Small Music, 1995)
Vol. 2: Klangboden

Rolf Julius - Small Music, Vol. 3: Music for a Garden (Mattress Factory, 1996)
Three matrices of predominantly electronic sound, created for a permanent outdoor installation with the garden designed by Winifred Lutz. The garden installation is featured at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA.
Vol. 3: Music for a Garden

Rolf Julius - Small Music, Vol. 4: Tanz Für Zwei Blaue Rechtecke (Edition RZ, 1996)
Vol. 4: Tanz Für Zwei Blaue Rechtecke

Mika Vainio, Pita, Charlemagne Palestine - Three Compositions for Machines (Staalplaat, 1997)

Looks like we got ourselves a little transgenerational music machine throwdown on our hands. During the 1997Masterclass Festival at the Hague, Mika Vainio, Peter Rehberg, and Charlemagne Palestine each took a crack at one in an array of instruments designed by C. Schlaege. Though a picture would speak a thousand words on the instruments at use, the sounds serve only to speculate on their nature.

Pan Sonic half Mika Vainio performs on the Rustler, whose whirring and grindings suggest the instrument features some configuration of motors and pistons. Midway a glassy ascension of tones appears, the orientation of which seems baffling. We find Mego-honcho Peter Rehberg on the Schellenbaum, a part of which most certainly is the instrument on the cover. A chorus of ringing bells opens the piece, before giving way to a syncopation of taps and clicks not at all unlike a typewriter aping "It's Time for the Percolator". Elder statesman Charlemagne Palestine appears with the Siren, producing dense clusters of tones that stack higher and higher, producing a cascade of waves and harmonic beating. The album concludes with Vainio and Rehberg in a duo for sounds sourced from a typewriter under which an unidentified hum is laid.

Three Compositions for Machines

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Akio Suzuki - Stone (Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD, 1994)

These recordings, released along with a book by the same title, feature Akio Suzuki on the iwabue, a stone flute that has spanned several generations with his family. The stone is covered in naturally sculpted holes which produce a variety of tones when blown on. Evidence dating as far back as the 15th century cite the holed stone as a defender against nightmares and witchcraft. For the majority of the pieces, Suzuki crafts slowly evolving cycles built on largely continuous sound with the occasional trill as he alternates between openings. Additionally, there are some percussion pieces wherein Suzuki both slides and rapidly dances the stone against various surfaces.