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.