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.