Friday, November 5, 2010

Christian Zanési - Le Paradoxe de la Femme-Poisson (INA-GRM, 1998)

Christian Zanési is one of my favorites among the later generation of GRM affiliates. He's at his best when exploring the more ethereal side of tape music, particularly in his ability to travel and inhabit space along the stereo spectrum. Le Paradoxe de la Femme-Poisson is his soundtrack to a Michel Kelemenis dance piece of the same name, which he realized at the Groupe de Musique Expérimentale in Marseille, France. The piece takes heavy cues from Homer's sirens, with Marjolaine Reymond's dreamy "mermaid" voice often dominating the sonic background. However, much of Zanési's touch here seems highly influenced by human movement, his sounds very acrobatic in nature. In addition, there is a very strong, albeit surreal, sense of place to the piece. While Le Paradoxe... is not his best (For me, that honor belongs to Stop! L'Horizon), the work certainly plays to his strengths and proves that imagination is still a strong presence in tape music.

Le Paradoxe de la Femme-Poisson & in .flac 1 & 2

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pierre Schaeffer - L'Œuvre Musicale 4 x cd (INA-GRM, 1990)

The four discs collected here cover the bulk of Pierre Schaeffer's concrète works (and act as addendum to my previously posted three disc version). The set begins 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 while serving 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 materialed. 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. The newly included fourth disc gathers interviews and assorted radio material as well.

mp3s, 320 kbps
Les Incunables (1948-1950) & Les Œuvres Communes (1950-1953 Et 1988)
Les Révisions (1948-1952) Et Œuvres Postérieures (1957-1979) & Documents (1948-1990)

Les Incunables (1948-1950)
Les Œuvres Communes (1950-1953 Et 1988
Les Révisions (1948-1952) Et Œuvres Postérieures (1957-1979)
Documents (1948-1990)

Friday, October 29, 2010

James Tenney - Selected Works 1961-1969 (Frog Peak, 2001)

Tenney is different things for different people. Some know his writings, others his piano work, others his percussion pieces. He was also one of the early proponents of computer music. The first couple tracks here are tape pieces, one of them a mangling of Elvis' "Blue Suede Shoes". Often he uses computer algorithms to determine different parameters of the sound. He used those same stochastic processes to dictate a player piano scroll, also heard here. The last track is one of my favorite bits of electronic music, using Shepard tones to simulate a continuously rising note. During my college radio days, I used to play this during talk sets and it made every pause in speech extremely difficult to overcome. The magic is in how, despite the processes sometimes coming off as technical and formal, Tenney pulls each piece off in ways that are engaging and even funny. He is without question a master of all his crafts.

Selected Works
& in .flac

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Andreas Oldörp - Lotos (Nur/Nicht/Nur, 2008)

Andreas Oldörp is a German sound artist active since the mid 1980's who is fascinated, as many other sound artists are, by the interactions of sound and space. For his Lotos installation--created as part of the Klang Zeit Festival of 2008--Oldörp fitted the chapel of the Dominican Church in Münster with several glass cyllinders, into which he feeds gas burners. The ignition creates a singing flame, producing a variety of overtones as the vibrations and exhaust sound within the pipes.

This recording documents Oldörp and four other sound artists and improvisors as they interact with the Lotos installation. Notes are not made as to how the contributors crafted their sound, but a glance at each artist's past work helps decipher what is heard. Oldörp begins the disc with intermittent complimentary timbres that could easily be additional singing-flame pipes. Rolf Julius contributes fragile tinkling and gentle sonorities that most likely are from electronic sources. Instrument builder Stephan Froleyks conjures frenzied tones at first before ascending to an unidentified whistle that flitters amidst the dense hum of the installation. The disc closes with the duo of Poul Naes and violinist and Zeitkratzer member Burkhard Schlothauer as they unify quite transparently with the Lotos. Though crafted from several different dates over the installation's run, the disc is sequenced continuously.

& in .flac

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gunner Møller Pedersen - Et Lydår, A Sound Year (Danachord, 1982; Dacapo, 2001)

Gunner Møller Pedersen belongs to the second generation of Danish makers of tape music, leaning more on the spacier Else Marie Pade end of the spectrum than the sputtering Jørgen Plaetner-styled one. Though delightfully excessive in its own right, Et Lydår displays much more respect for day-to-day responsibilities than some of his other works. Et Lydår is essentially an aural calender. Pedersen created a thirty minute piece representing each month of the year, amounting to six (!!!) discs of music. It's easy to consider this completely out of hand, until you realize you've lived an entire year in just six hours. That kind of savings doesn't come cheap. Originally conceived for quadraphonic sound, here it is condensed into a measly stereo. I'm far underqualified to speak to the month-to-month changes in Denmark, but he could have easily veered into the overly literal yet did not. "February" does conjure an icy expanse, while "June" is surprisingly pastoral. On the whole, each piece maintains an impressive balance of imagery and abstraction. He's clearly well-humored enough not to overdo things by accident.

Et Lydår
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ramon Sender - Desert Ambulance (Locust, 2006)

A better-late-than-never missive from the early days of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, conjured from near nothing at the hands of co-founder Ramon Sender. Though set to tape in the early 60's, these recordings only emerged some four years past. In its infancy, the SFTMC was something of a hodgepodge affair, with much of its equipment arriving via generous nods of an interested representative from nearby Ampex. The opening piece, "Kore" (1962), embodies that kitchen sink approach; Sender crafted it in the attic studio manipulating tape speed by hand, with scraped piano strings and the improvised sounds of several Conservatory chorus members. The spacey, jump-start squeak and squiggle leave little remnant of the source intact. On the flip side is one of Sender's most recognized works, "Desert Ambulance" (1964), an audio-visual collaboration with projections by Tony Martin (a still from which serves as the album's cover). The work was written for Pauline Oliveros on accordion, its score a tape piece broadcast over headphones that propels Oliveros' imaginative playing. The playful tape work that the audience hears is built from plundered music snippets and a variety of other sounds, all triggered by a Chamberlain Music Master.

Desert Ambulance
& in .flac

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Iannis Xenakis (Perf. by William Winant) - Psappha 7'' (Dolor Del Estamago, 1995)

Psappha is one of only a few solo percussion pieces (possibly only two?) devised by Iannis Xenakis. Although specific instruments are left up to the performer's discretion, Xenakis intended the piece for groups of wood, skin, and metal instruments. In lieu of standard notation, the score is divided amongst those intended timbres.

Score via

The piece relies largely on layered patterns that span the timbral range. The density of the patterns vary greatly and some sections call for great force from the performer. Much like Conlon Nancarrow's player piano pieces and maybe more aptly Stockhausen's Zylkus, the piece places significant demand on the performer. One particularly daunting section calls for 25 hits per second. There is a certain level of problem-solving required before the piece can even begin. San Francisco-based percussionist William Winant rises to the occasion in this 1995 recording. Winant has most admirably tackled pieces across the new music spectrum from the likes of Cage, Tenney, Reich, Stockhausen, and Feldman.


As if the technical demands weren't enough, there is also a groove and finesse to the piece. The following video is of another performance of Psappha courtesy of the excellent Steven Schick, whose torso fully embraces the piece's groove. Schick too has immersed himself deeply in Xenakis's percussion works.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Christina Kubisch - Sechs Spiegel (Edition RZ, 1995)

Sechs Spiegel (Six Levels) captures forty minutes of an audio/visual installation by the always imaginative Christina Kubisch in Saarbrücken, Germany. In the organ gallery of a Baroque church, Kubisch mounted six slates on the parapet before the organ's pipes. Each slate was coated in a luminescent pigment which shimmered in response to the fall of light in the gallery.

Paired with each slate is the sound of a drinking glass finessed into vibration. It is unclear whether a photosensitive connectivity between slab and sound existed, or if the resonances played out continuously with any synchronicity between it and the light play merely imagined. There does seem to be an ebb and flow to the sound document, giving way to both harmonious and dissonant passages. The installation ran from mid December, 1994, until the end of January, 1995.

Sechs Spiegel
& in .flac

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Joe Jones - Xylophone (?, 2004)

Another glorious mechanized symphony from the maestro Joe Jones, this time scored for xylophone alone and captured in a 1976 performance. Over its thirty-one minutes, the dizzying chimes wind up and down, sometimes hanging briefly on a note but rarely settling into much of a pattern beyond that up and down. Once accustomed to the automatons, I find myself listening more to the spaces in between, honing in especially on a bumping that may be accidental or might even be an unsteady drum. Its timing against the steady ringing of the xylophone cannot help but bear similarity to the Javanese kendhang, though I'm sure I am making a bit more out of what's there. The accompanying diagram sheds some great insight into how Jones constructed his instruments and why they played the way they did.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bill Fontana - Ohrbrücke - Soundbridge Köln - San Francisco (Wergo, 1994)

If one idea prevails through much of Bill Fontana's recorded work, it's the notion of transporting sound, of taking what's heard in many places channeling them into one. His Soundbridge pieces work in a similar fashion to his Sound Maps, pooling together sounds from geographically distant locations. For Ohrbrücke, Fontana juxtaposes sound maps of Cologne and San Francisco, broadcasting them then via satellite to numerous radio stations across Europe and the US. The resulting sound mass was not entirely owed to happenstance. During the broadcast, the six Romanesque church bell towers in Cologne performed a piece of Fontana's design. For listeners in Cologne, this allowed a unique experience dependent on one's proximity to any one bell tower. Simultaneously, and beyond Fontana's control, the fog horns along the Golden Gate Bridge sound, introducing tones that interact and at times interfere with the sounding of the church bells. The bulk of the work's impact is first felt as these collisions occur--and as the overlapping of the two cities is most obvious--which in turn makes the less active moments equally engaging as the listener attempts to pry apart the cities' sounds.

Ohrbrücke - Soundbridge Köln - San Francisco

Monday, June 7, 2010

V/A - The Pioneers: Five Text-Sound Artists (Phono Suecia, 1992)

Try as I might to contextualize text-sound composition, I get caught in a domino chain of chicken-egg scenarios that begin with sound poetry and musique concrète and end around Futurism, Dada, and the Lettrists. Factor in my limited knowledge of any of the above and the result more like a dizzying walk around the peak of a mountain. Tape music genealogy aside, its key features are clear. Johannes Bergmark, in his excellent and illuminating chapter from Aural Literature Criticism (RK editions, New York 1981), identifies text-sound composition as featuring:
(1) The use of non-semantic oral language information.

(2) Time manipulation.

(3) Polyphony.

While those elements conjure a clear line to sound poetry, the execution and overall soundspace share more similarities with other tape music realms. Thumb through a backlog of Revue Ou or past Text-Sound Festival lineups and there is no doubt of rampant cross-pollination.

Text-sound in its preliminary rounds was a largely Swedish phenomenon. The Pioneers hones in on the five key practioners: Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Sten Hanson, Åke Hodell, Bengt Emil Johnson, Ilmar Laaban. Brought together their works display the full scope of text-sound; taken individually it is clear how many ways those main elements may manifest themselves. Hanson and Laaban's works here are focused most on language and its transformation into linguistic shrapnel. Their approaches are best distinguished by how they incorporate tape: for Hanson, tape unlocks the time line, phrases stretch, repeat ad infinitum, and crumble; Laaban turns tape into a pupil-dilated chorus. With Hodell, Johnson, and Bodin, voice and tape divide their interests. It's not uncommon with any of their works to briefly lose sight of any semblance of language, only to have it reemerge, having formed the backbone all along.

Pioneers disc 1 [rs]
Pioneers disc 2 [rs]
Pioneers 1&2 [mu]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jonty Harrison - Évidence Matérielle (Empreintes DIGITALes, 2000)

The second collection of works by Birmingham based composer Jonty Harrison finds him at odds with his instincts. In the liners, he confesses himself to be under the spell of a dichotomy first brought to light by Barry Truax, torn between honoring Schaefer and turning the other cheek. To some extent, the conflict is understandable: he has such a keen ear for climbing into sounds that the result is engaging whether he intertwines them in a narrative or sends them spiraling off into an abstract region completely devoid of context. The majority of the works here take the second route with the oldest, "Klang" (1982), perhaps the most successful. The piece is constructed from a catalog of recordings Harrison made of a pair of peculiarly resonant casserole dishes. He feels obligated to note that this is not a piece about casseroles, but rather the sounds of casseroles. As the piece progresses, I find myself consumed with seeking out the remnants of the casserole soundings, in effect reverse engineering the piece. To my ears, Harrison is at his best when he's playing with how far a sound can go while leaving slivers of its reality intact.

Évidence Matérielle

Monday, April 19, 2010

V/A - Histoires Invisibles (GMVL, 1991)

Coming a good fifteen years after the group's inception, Histoires Invisibles offers six snapshots of activity from the Groupe Musiques Vivantes de Lyon. Marc Favre and Bernard Fort founded the GMVL in 1975 and in the decade that followed staged hundreds of events showcasing the ongoing developments of electro-acoustic music in France. While there is a certain reverence for France's tape music history at play here, each composer succeeds in doing so in a very forward-thinking fashion. Minjard and Garcia seem most in touch with France's acousmatic roots, while Fort and Mutschler navigate furthest into unidentifiable realms. Prior to finding this collection, I had not connected the associations of several of these composers. In listening to them in succession, there's a clear sense of a community of musicians each coming from a similar place and finding their way to a location more their own.
1 Jean-François Minjard - Peur Dans L'Escalier
2 Marc Favre - Le Beau Corps D'Éther
3 Marc Lauras - Quel Carnage!
4 Bernard Fort - Le Jardin De La Reine
5 Xavier Garcia - 6 Regards Sul L
6 Xavier Garcia - 6 Regards Sul L
7 Xavier Garcia - 6 Regards Sul L
8 Xavier Garcia - 6 Regards Sul L
9 Xavier Garcia - 6 Regards Sul L
10 Xavier Garcia - 6 Regards Sul L
11 Pascal-Florian Mutschler - Haute Tension

Histoires Invisibles

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pierre-André Arcand - Eres + 21 (Avatar / Ohm Editions, 1997)

Closing five laps in the Eres series and Arcand and his Macchina Ricordi have barely broken a sweat. If anything, they've hit a confident stride and are now refining their form. Arcand gives his voice a bit of a break here, opting instead for several Ricordi-induced manglings of bowed somethings (may be violin, may just be a piece of metal), tubing, and his sounding book. In each, there is a period of development as Arcand presents the base elements-- be they the fluttering of the bow or a deep, throaty burst--then a stacking and piling occurs, until Arcand peels back the elements to their essential form in conclusion. The sole vocal piece, "Chamomix", could almost count as showboating on Arcand's part, managing in its eleven minutes to run the gamut of his chosen modes and doing so in dizzying stereo. There is something magnetic in how each piece builds (and that's not meant as a tape pun). Arcand manages over the course of this and the first and second installments to establish a process and get inside it without ever being trapped by it.

Eres + 21

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mieko Shiomi - Fluxus Suite (?, 2002)

Aside from one clever piece for marbles and piano from the Fluxus Anthology 30th Anniversary box, these recordings are the first I've heard of Mieko Shiomi on her own (She is also a founding member of Group Ongaku). And that's somewhat appropriate, as these recordings come 10 years after those and act as a 40th anniversary gift to the original Anthology. The disc is an encyclopedia of Fluxus participants and in itself a nice Fluxus exercise: Shiomi has set up rules for the overall structure (detailed below in her notes) and interjected where appropriate details that represent each subject. The piece "George Brecht", for instance, is built from sounds not unlike dripping water. "La Monte Young" is a sustained chord built from the notes A, E, and G. What else would "Ben Patterson" be built from but the sounds of a double bass?

Fluxus Suite

If that weren't enough, here is a brief read by Dick Higgins, just for some context in simple terms.

Monday, January 25, 2010

André Almuro - Dépli (Elica, 1999)

It's probably safe to call Mr. Almuro an unsung hero. And while his scantly available catalog certainly provides reason why, its contents offer ample argument to the contrary. Not long after the conclusion of his apprenticeship to Pierre Schaeffer, he began crafting in what could easily be called the Almuro aesthetic: sparce pieces built from limited sound elements, often timbrally altered percussive sounds, slowly paced and coated thick in reverb and tape echo.

While Dépli does not quite meet the mark of his earlier two releases (both of which have been recently Creel Pone'd), the fourteen years spanned in this release show how Almuro adapted to changes in technology and how he responded to a variety of sonic circumstances. For evidence of the latter, hear on "Terae Incognitae" how Almuro melts a 60 voice choir into a murky inferno. The two bookended pieces are woozy and lumbering pieces that sound almost contemporary despite a vintage of twenty years or more.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

V/A - Computer Music Currents 5 (Wergo, 1990)

Computer Music Currents is a wide spanning series of computer music composers from all over the globe. This edition compiles work from the early to mid 80's by five composers--Denis Smalley (New Zealand), Mesias Maiguashca (Ecuador), Gareth Loy (US), Kaija Saariaho (Finland), and Jonathan Dean Harvey (UK)--each exploring in their own way how timbres are transformed with tape and computers. The most recognizable here is probably Smalley, whose work with the GRM is practically a catalog of tape-transformed bells and chimes. Here he works with taped sounds inspired by ceramic chimes, with other tones noting the beginning of a new section in much the same way at the bell to turn the page in a children's storybook tape. Maiguascha I was unfamiliar with. His piece here is derived largely from instrumental sounds, transforming cello and percussion with great depth and form. Loy's "Nekyia" is a stereo mixdown of a furiously spiraling quadraphonic piece from 1980 that I'd love to hear in all of its four-channeled glory. Saariaho is another name I did not previously know, though her catalog of work is expansive. Her piece for tape begins with an undulating sine wave receiving treatment via the left and right channel, each similar in general form with careful differences in the overall shape. The collection closes with Harvey's "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco", a piece inspired by and built from the sounds of a cathedral bell juxtaposed with a rehearsing boys' choir, taking great measures to preserve the realness of his muse yet surrounding it with digital facsimiles that swarm through the space.

Computer Music Currents 5

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bow Gamelan Ensemble - Great Noises that Fill the Air (Klinker Zoundz, 1988)

Way back in 1983, percussionist Paul Burwell, artist Anne Bean, and sculptor Richard Wilson pooled their interests and abilities in a great mass they called the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, named after their residing section of London. On first introduction, I took issue with their claim of this as a gamelan, with only the slightest similarities being the tinkering of the Javanese and the bombast of Bali. Their approach incorporated an unholy din of clanging junk and various instruments of their own design, coupled with a pyrotechnic prowess that would strike fear in the heart of any fire marshall. If nothing else, their overall impact certainly rivals that of the finest from Bali. Now I see the name as more of a convenience than anything--catchy as it might be, the Bow Junkyard Orchestra Trans-Media Exhibition and Firework Display demands a few more breaths than most would allow.

Their recorded output is scant. Great Noises that Fill the Air was their second and, as I best I can tell, final full length. It unravels as a series of events dedicated to the soundings of various items: the three flail on a pair of marimbas, set off a rapid succession of snap-n-pops followed by a chorus of car horns. Saws, whistles, hubcaps, sirens all make their way into the trio's hands. With help from students from Bretton Hall, they conjure on "Massed Percussion" what could easily be mistaken for a Balinese orchestra. What I found most exciting was their use of self-designed pyrophones, instruments that sound off when fire is emitted. Without the visuals, I'm baffled as to what apparatus when combined with a flame would produce this deep swell.

Great Noises that Fill the Air

I'd be remiss not include some visual material from the group, as sound was only a portion of their aim. This video is of a reunion performance in 2002, with the three performing on Richard Wilson's tugboat portion, the Slice of Life.