The Squid's Ear
Recently @ Squidco:

Keith Rowe / Mark Wastell:
Live At I-And-E [VINYL RSD] (Confront)

Performing at The Printing House, in Dublin, Ireland, the duo of Keith Rowe on guitar & electronics and Mark Wastell on amplified textures & electronics are heard in their final set of the evening, louder and more gestural, taking the audience on a long musically referential journey of theme, statement and variations, seemingly traditional yet using unique strategies. ... Click to View


The Residents :
Icky Flix: The Original Soundtrack Recording [2LP Vinyl RSD] (Ralph Records)

Colored vinyl double LP Record Store Day release of the soundtrack to the eyeballed band's 2001 "Icky Flix" DVD, 20 re-worked classic Residents tracks, originally released as a 14-track soundtrack CD, here in an extended edition that includes 6 additional tracks, "reimaginings" not included on the original version of the album. ... Click to View


Daniel Carter / Matthew Shipp:
Dark Matrix (Not Two)

A meeting in the studio of long-time friends and collaborators, pianist Matthew Shipp and Daniel Carter performing on alto, tenor & soprano saxes, clarinet & trumpet, having played together in many groupings this is only their first duo recording, in a thoughtful set of free improvisations with an innate lyricism and beautiful sense of pacing; masterful and evolved. ... Click to View


Jaap Blonk's Retirement Overdue (w/ Petruccelli / Stadhouders / Rosaly):
New Start [2 CDs] (Kontrans)

The first working band for Dutch vocal improviser Jaap Blonk in 20 years, as he passes 65 years and is clearly NOT ready for retirement, assembling Miguel Petruccelli (Native Aliens Ensemble) on guitar, Jasper Stadhouders (Cactus Truck) on bass, and Chicago ex-pat Frank Rosaly on drums for a double CD of new work, collective improvisation and reworked Blonk classics. ... Click to View


Antonin Artaud (Jaap Blonk):
To Have Done With the Judgment of God (Kontrans)

Vocal performer & musician Jaap Blonk presents a rendering of French dramatist, poet and theatre director Antonin Artaud's "Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de Dieu" (To Have Done With the Judgment of God), a work shelved by the French Radio in 1948 without broadcast as 'too scatological, political, anti-religious, random, and cacophonous through xylophonic and percussive sounds'. ... Click to View


Eric Brochard / Fabrice Favriou:
Derviche (Ayler)

Improvised and heavy forms of experimental rock from the French duo of piccol bassist Eric Brochard and drummer Fabrice Favriou, their music dramatic, ritualistic and urgent as they reference Maya Deren and mythological experience, their music hypnotically mesmerizing and sonically rich, slowly whirling dervishes in five varying sequences that growl and transfix. ... Click to View


What Happens In A Year (SInton / Neufeld / Merega):
Ceremonie / Musique (FiP recordings)

The 1st release of NY baritone saxophonist & bass clarinetist Josh Sinton's FiP label (Form is Possibility) is the debut of the "What Happens in a Year" trio with Todd Neufeld on electric guitar and Giacomo Merega on electric bass, an album of free collective improvisation fueled by a patiently ethereal and authoritative ethic through subtle dialog of tone, texture and pulse. ... Click to View


Dan Clucas / Jeb Bishop / Damon Smith / Matt Crane:
Universal or Directional (Balance Point Acoustics)

Three quartet improvisations and six duo combinations between Dan Clucas on cornet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Damon Smith on double bass, and Matt Crane on drums, recording in the studio in Rhode Island, 2018, the various permutations of each player elucidating the full group interactions through focused and captivating investigations of instrumental combinations. ... Click to View


Otomo Yoshihide / Chris Pitsiokos:
Live in Florence [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

Performing live at the Tempo Reale Festival in Florence, Italy in 2018, the duo of Japanese improviser Otomo Yoshihide on turntables & guitars and NY saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos fascinate with seven free dialogs, from extreme techniques of fragmented sound to jazz-oriented reference, a well-matched pair for both splintering collision and accomplished statement. ... Click to View


Iannis Xenakis:
GRM Works 1957-1962 [VINYL] (Recollection GRM)

Back in Stock: Recollection GRM assembles Greek experimental composer Iannis Xenakis' works for Groupe de Recherches Musicales circa 1957-1962: "Concret PH" (1958); "Orient-Occident" (1960); "Diamorphoses" (1957-58); "Bohor" (1962). ... Click to View


The Thing (Gustafsson / McPhee / Haker Flaten / Nilssen-Love):
She Knows... (ezz-thetics by Hat Hut Records Ltd)

Named for a Don Cherry composition included on this album, the core trio of The Thing--Mats Gustafsson on reeds, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums--is joined by saxophonist and pocket trumpter Joe McPhee, recording classic free jazz and harmolodic pieces by Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, James Blood Ulmer, Frank Lowe, & Joe McPhee. ... Click to View


Albert Ayler Quartet With Don Cherry:
European Recordings Autumn 1964 (Revisited) [2 CDs] (ezz-thetics by Hat Hut Records Ltd)

Essential radio and live recordings from saxophonist Albert Ayler's European tour in 1964 with Don Cherry on cornet, Gary Peacock on double bass and Sunny Murray on drums, a quintessential grouping for Ayler's compositions, here in outstanding renditions of classic works including "Spirits", "Ghosts", "Vibrations", "Mothers", "Childrens", plus Don Cherry's "Infant Happiness". ... Click to View


Joel Futterman :
Intervals (Fundacja Sluchaj!)

Each of the three parts of NY pianist Joel Futterman's "Intervals" is an unedited first take, a referendum on 40 years of playing and evolving his powers at free jazz that embraces tradition and future, alway engaging his listeners through fully formed figures, phrase and motifs, a great combination of familiar jazz elements and imaginative free invention. ... Click to View


Frode Gjerstad / Fred Lonberg Holm / Steve Swell / William Parker:
Tales From (Fundacja Sluchaj!)

After on a tour through upstate New York State with Chicago cellist and electronic artist Fred Lonberg-Holm, saxophonist Frode Gjerstad headed to New York City for a planned trio recording which evolved into this informed quartet with Steve Swell on trombone and William Parker on bass, tuba, cornet & flutes, an outstanding example of Transatlanic collective improvisation. ... Click to View


Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci:
Conversations Vol. 1 [VINYL] (577)

The first of two volumes from legendary Downtown NY pianist Cooper-Moore and saxophonist Stephen Gauci, recorded after a seven-month residency at Happylucky No. 1 Gallery in Brooklyn, allowing the two players to develop a natural dialog of unique and idiosyncratic approaches to their instruments, resulting in these 6 commanding recordings freely improvised in the studio. ... Click to View


Gadt / Osborne / Zakrocki / Olak:
Spontaneous Chamber Music Vol.3 (Fundacja Sluchaj!)

The third volume in this Polish free improvising series, starting with the collaboration of violinist Patryk Zakrocki and guitarist Marcin Olak, varying the additional players as they explore chamber-oriented free improvisation, here with the impressive vocal improvisation of Anna Gadt and cellist Annemie Osborne, as they rip apart the calendar in 14 monthly machinations. ... Click to View


Przemyslaw Chmiel Quartet:
Witchcraft (Fundacja Sluchaj!)

Led by Polish multi-reedist and composer Przemyslaw Chmiel and his quartet of Mateusz Gramburg on piano, Piotr Narajowski on double bass, and Michał Szeligowski on drums, this is their debut album, presenting a sophisticated set of structured compositions that allow for great spontaneity and lyricism, a strong start for this expressive young band. ... Click to View


Sun Ra And His Solar-Myth Arkestra:
The Solar-Myth Approach (Vol. 1 & 2) [2 CDs] (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

Originally issued on the BYG label as a 2 volume set, these albums present a variety of tracks from various undocumented sessions in New York and Philadelphia in the 1960s, with similar personnel in the makeup of the Arkestra during this time, here fully remastered and presented as a 2-CD set including a bonus track correcting an original mastering problem; essential Ra! ... Click to View


David Myers Lee:
That Which Is It (pulsewidth)

Using electronic and digital tools similar to those that fuel his Arcane Device project, New York sound artist David Lee Myers presents an accessibly engaging set of compositions using modular electronics, feedback matrices, guitar textures, voices, and frogs in 11 polyrhythmic adventures; quirky yet non-chaotic, sublime experimental works of tone and texture. ... Click to View


Julius Gabriel:
Geminga (Creative Sources)

Using the natural resonance of the chapel of Oficinas do Convento, in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, saxophonist Julius Gabriel recorded these ten diverse solo improvisations, performing on soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, applying unusual and extended techniques to his playing in a mixture of technical prowess and implicit wit & melodicism. ... Click to View


Icepick (Nate Wooley / Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten / Chris Corsano):
Hellraiser [VINYL] (Astral Spirits)

The 3rd album from the improvising trio of Nate Wooley on trumpet, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, and Chris Corsano on drums, is a live recording at the 2018 Experimental Sound Studio's Option Series, a smoldering session of collective improvisation that builds tension through impressive rhythmic texture and releases it in cathartic and passionate passages. ... Click to View


Das Rad (Archer / Robinson / Dinsdale):
Adios Al Futuro (Discus)

The 2nd release from the UK instrumental rock band Das Rad of Nick Robinson on guitars, keyboards & electronics, Martin Archer on woodwind, keyboards, synth bass & electronics, and Steve Dinsdale on drums, keyboards & electronics, expand their sound and referenes as they tug on the heartstrings of prog, krautrock and other advanced rock forms with modern and mellotron-fueled orchestration. ... Click to View


Kaze (Fujii / Tamura / Pruvost / Orins) w/ Ikue Mori:
Sand Storm (Libra/ Circum-Disc)

The cooperative quartet Kaze of Satoko Fujii on piano, Peter Orins on drums, Christian Pruvost on trumpet, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, joins with elextroacoustic improviser Ikue Mori for seven exploratory pieces recorded in the studio after a one-week tour in Austria, France, and Russia, their enthusiasm for their extraordinarily unique group sound clearly evident. ... Click to View


Gato Libre (Tamura / Fjuii / Kaneko):
Koneko (Libra)

The 8th album from Gato Libre with compositions from trumpeter Natsuki Tamura in a trio with Yasuko Kaneko on trombone and pianist Satoko Fujii here on accordion, Koneko translating to "Kitten", as Tamura explores 8 new cats from strays to shop cats through deceptively simple pieces of melodic appeal of warm color, tone & texture; absolutely charming. ... Click to View


Phil Wachsmann :
Writing In Water (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

UK-based violinist Phillip Wachsmann, an essential player bringing contemporary approaches of indeterminacy, conceptualism and electroacoustics to the early community of improvisers and experimentalists, in a reissue of his 1984 Bead Records album, presenting his astute and sophisticated live solo performance for violin and electronics at the Actual Festival in July 1984, London. ... Click to View


Francesco Gregoretti :
Solid Layers, Deafening Shapes (Toxo Records)

A solo percussion album from Francesco Gregoretti, employing traditional instruments and unusual object to create unique audio environment that use predictable rhythmic elements against capricious approaches, giving his playing a personal style fueled by resonance and natural feedback; an album that balances chaotic and structured environments in riveting ways. ... Click to View


Musicworks:
#137 Fall 2020 [MAGAZINE + CD] (Musicworks)

Fall 2020 issue of Canada's finest new music magazine, focusing on guitars--hollow, heavy, bowed, cracked, pedalled, flung, trusty companions & feedback demons; Plus articles on Casey Koyczan, Susan Alcorn, Amy Brandon, Aidan Baker, Eliza Kavtion, C. Diab, Markus Lake, Catherine Debard, Cloud Chamber, &c; and an 11-track CD with music from the aforementioned. ... Click to View


Milford Graves / Don Pullen:
The Complete Yale Concert, 1966 (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

Originally issued in two volumes on their own SRP Records in 1966 & 67 as In Concert At Yale University and Nommo, the duo of drummer/percussionist Milford Graves and pianist Don Pullen are heard live in in this excitingly energetic and revelatory concert at Yale University, redefining the roles of their instruments during the most exploratory period of free jazz. ... Click to View


Schlippenbach Quartet:
Three Nails Left (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

Remastered and with the original cover, the expanded Schlippenbach Trio of pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker on soprano & tenor, drummer/percussionist Paul Lovens, and German double bassist Peter Kowald, a stellar group captured in two incredibly inventive concerts at Third New Jazz Festival Moers and at Quartier Latin in 1974 & 1975. ... Click to View


Peter Kowald Quintet:
Peter Kowald Quintet (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

First ever CD reissue of the only band under bassist Peter Kowald's own name, remastered; originally released by FMP in 1972, this is exemplary European Free Jazz from one of the orignal innovators in a quartet with Peter Kowald on tuba, bass, & alphorn, Gunter Christmann and Paul Rutherford on trombones, Peter van der Locht on alto saxophone, and Paul Lovens on drums. ... Click to View


Evan Parker / Agusti Fernandez:
Tempranillo (Fundacja Sluchaj!)

Reissuing this astonishing 1995 studio recording, capturing the first encounter between two legendary free jazz performers--UK saxophonist Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxophones and pianist Augustí Fernández--in an 8-part dialog of mercurial speed balanced with moments of passionate introspection, resissued with new mastering, restoring this essential meeting. ... Click to View


Ivo Perelman / Arcado String Trio:
Deep Resonance (Fundacja Sluchaj!)

Saxophonist Ivo Perelman declares that he "metamorphosed into a string instrument" himself while playing with the dynamic string trio drawn of NY Downtown luminaries--cellist Hank Roberts, violinist Mark Feldman and bassist Mark Dresser--blending technical mastery with profound creative impulse as the quartet weaves a tapestry of free jazz and instant composition. ... Click to View



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  2009-19: A Decade Reviewing Unusual, Experimental, Improvised, Composed, Rock, Folk, and Other Musics for Squid's Ear  


By Dave Madden 2020-01-02
2009-19: A Decade Reviewing Unusual, Experimental, Improvised, Composed, Rock, Folk, and Other Musics for Squid's Ear

2020 will be my eighteenth year working as a music journalist. Well, define "work" as a hobby that gets me free CD's and a few dollars now and then. I used to write for the free concerts, opportunities to interview bands and other famous types of people, opportunities to hang out with bands, free everything and movies at Sundance, very random stories that come from free everything and hanging out with band members and famous people. All the lingering with professional musicians made me feel like I was part of their story — I could at least be a contributor via my compliments, blog posts...I guess I was simply an asexual groupie. With Squid's Ear, however, I stick around because I continually find brave, new stuff just when I think I've heard it all. You suppose you know what Avant-Garde is, but there is a basement in that club. And a tunnel leading from there, and a fork in that tunnel, and a cave behind that wall, etc. You know of John Zorn? Great, now dig deeper. Keith Rowe? That's just the start of the anti-guitarists. Find that cave — and keep your eyes open along the way.

I put together a list similar to this in the mid-2000s. That one outlined a musical road map from my birth (Magical Mystery Tour in the womb) to grad school, so the group of artists mentioned therein is a more wide-eyed, sometimes fashion-forward, "there is a big world out there" choice of a young person mentally escaping the ick of a conformist, religion-saturated town. That is, this music was crucial, but the whole package is what cultivated my range. There is the arbitrary fifth grade field trip to a Japanese temple - punctuated with lunch at Chucky Cheese — the first time I heard Depeche Mode (age thirteen), learning about sampling from Art of Noise (also age thirteen), watching a Throbbing Gristle video (I thought it was gross), officially claiming to be goth after five minutes of Bauhaus, finding out that Jazz can be really sexy if it's Bitches Brew, being immersed in a wall of color and sound of Tibetan non-secular music, and having George Crumb's daunting Black Angels murder my thoughts of writing for string quartet. When writing that account, I had barely discovered Jason Kahn's revelatory Cut label, Japan's Onkyo collective (i.e. Otomo Yoshihide, Taku Sugimoto, Tetuzi Akiyama) and label Ambiances Magnétiques, specifically the boxset Montréal Free. And off I went.

What have I gained during my ten-year residence with Squid's Ear? I'm a few steps closer to comprehending:

1) The word "music"

2) The possibilities that sound is capable of

3) Awareness of the illusion of pitch relative to each living organism's brain (I believe our tastes can be swayed by this phenomena)

4) The ever-widening definition of "consonance"

With each epiphany, I add another pin to my philosophy sash. And I understand that music becomes my emotional support animal when someone can create an environment, or a heterotopia (a world within a world), or otherwise convince me of a new reality, universe, microcosm, wormhole, etc. On the downside, I always squint and fidget and force my mouth shut while thinking "I'll be the judge of that" every time someone says the words "experimental", "atonal", or the worst, "unlistenable"; I'm tolerant but I won't suffer loud, uninformed chumps who assign pejorative definitions to something they want to dismiss while under the influence of being cool. It physically hurts me — ask my former chiropractor.

(But I haven't increased the number of synonyms for works, music, sound, record, album, disc, sonic, pieces, performers, players, guitarist, listen, hear, strings, frequency, bow, trumpet, horn, and instrument. I can never remember the rule about apostrophes after singular and plural S's. These are my frustrations.)

While there are plenty of other albums that made a substantial impact on my relationship and approach to sound since 2009, reviewing these CD's - doing it right — forced us (me, the CD) to get in there under a blanket and be intimate. Ahem. Looking down at the list below, I remember the moments when, after sequestering myself with headphones, time and patience, I allowed this often genre-agnostic music to tell me what it's about. With each, I figuratively went cross-eyed as I felt the universe expand, and / or saw the Hand of God, and / or had a peak behind the curtain that hides all of life's answers.

So here are the records I was most intimate with. Ahem.

1) Fünf: La règle (Ambiances Magnetiques)

Who and what: Brace yourself. Magali Babin (amplified objects, tape deck, nebulophone, field recordings), Andrea-jane Cornell, (amplified objects, field recordings, accordion, loops and voice), Martine H Crispo (circuit bent toys, iDensity, electronics), Anne-F(rançoise) Jacques (rotation, objects, amplification), Émilie Mouchous, (analogue synthesizers, electronic fabric), and Erin Sexton (oscillators, electromagnetic fields, microphone) each sit back, toss a little spice, debris, paint, clay, or whatever they have to build sonic collage.

What it taught me: Lessons in space and pause. You don't have to constantly speak to convey a message, and you don't have to use everything you packed in your stick bag (the results of this sextet have the potential to be an impermeable wall of noise). Everyone in a band should have to abandon ego and adhere to these règles (they should have to pass a test). I spent a while playing in Jazz combos, and the maddening competition in that world felt like a contest of "the best soloist wins at music!" As one does with a fickle, delicate garden, I am still trying to figure out how to groom and feed when playing in an ensemble. This record is a benchmark for that.

2) Håvard Volden & Toshimaru Nakamura: Crepuscular Rays (Another Timbre)  

Who and what: Håvard Volden (prepared 12-string guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) in an articulate mix of acoustic versus electricity where both sides find a balanced middle ground. I called them "godlike contrarians" in my review. I also said that Volden "...has ingested his instrument's history — including chapters written by Keith Rowe — circumvented the potential for dominance via amplitude and rendered it to a post-language whisper." I assume most reading are familiar with Nakamura's "outputs of a mixer plugged into inputs, put some effects in the middle of that chain, wait for the brilliance that no other no-input mixer performer can measure up to."

What it taught me: More lessons in space and pause. There is an awesome, tremendous confidence that accompanies not playing a note, especially on a recorded medium where the audience can't see you holding your breath or scrunching and twitching your eyebrows (the "thinking of the next move" face). The same applies to holding a note or repeating gesture: How long should it last? Perfecting this is a life-long struggle. And I'm still trying and failing but inching forward with my no-input mixer work. I might feel comfortable showing it at some point in the distant future (after someone goes back in time and forbids Nakamura access to electronics).

3) Tim Olive & Anne-F Jacques: Dominion Mills (845 Audio)  

Who and what: Tim Olive on magnetic pickups, aka his prized ramshackle one-string guitar, and Anne-F Jacques on "rotating devices", those being anything from hacked turntables to toy motors that make brushes flick against strips of cardboard to a sardine can soldered to wire and springs.

What it taught me: Tim Olive's The Specialist is something that thoroughly expanded my idea of "sound art". His aesthetic is a grumbling, mostly-mono, inimitable affair, and it's what I imagine will be heard on the daily once technology fails and we adopt simpler, more focused means; his language increased my awareness and admiration for city noise (it might have helped me speak thousand-foot crane and jackhammer). I am forever indebted to him for what he does with his collaborative, curatorial 845 Audio label. These are the worlds within worlds I reference above. They are self-contained ecosystems, largely free of outside influence, wherein I can meditate or disappear. And did I mention "rotating devices"? I read this phrase and had to know more and more and more about Anne-F Jacques. I wish I could inherit the time, tools and talent of a welder or renaissance craftsman capable of forging immaculate noisemakers à la freaking Harry Partch; not having the ability to build these contraptions means my mental invention vault periodically dries up. But rotating devices can be anything, and they don't have to be hard to assemble and transport. In fact these devices are (I think) a reaction to our complicated tech that can play itself without human guidance. Like the individual parts of a Rube Goldberg project, the interest of Jacques's modest-looking creations sinks in only after watching and hearing them do a thing. There is an "a-ha!" moment with each when my brain's LED lights brighten, and I laugh, or double-take, or think "I would have never thought of that — well played, Anne-F", and then I usually fall into the emotions cycle every artist has when seeing something they wish they did. Check it out yourself https://vimeo.com/294155071

4) Kuwayama Kiyoharu & Urabe Masayoshi: Heteroptics (Songs From Under the Floorboards / Intransitive Recordings)   

Who and what: Kuwayama Kiyoharu on cello, viola, percussion i.e. metal junk, wood sticks, etc. and Urabe Masayoshi exploiting alto saxophone, percussion i.e. chains, metal joints and bells. Captured in one of the many of the abandoned warehouses found in Nagoya Port.

What it taught me: One can make the activity between what we think of as music as important as the music. The anticipation during the journey is equal to that of the arrival (smacking a snare drum). What we think of as tension and release might invert. Use everything around you as an instrument. These guys stomp through an abandoned building, kicking up crap, plunking out a few raw gestures on whatever happens to be in hand, and lean heavily on natural reverb as part of the ensemble. They create those sonic environments I mentioned in the introduction. As with Jeph Jerman and a bunch of other people (more on Jerman later), there are no wrong notes, there is no wrong production, experimental actually means to experiment. About Heteroptics, I said, "...the techniques and craft of the artists we review here all generally attempt to offer both a new voice and queries about 'What is music?' Kuwayama and Masayoshi further pose 'Where is music?'"

5) Evan Parker / John Wiese: C-Section (Second Layer)

Who and what: Evan Parker on soprano and tenor sax, John Wiese on electronics, tape and Max MSP, laptop as "guitar pedal", both churning out an intensity I compared to watching a real-life caesarean section. I only made it about 40 seconds without covering my eyes. It was the definition of horror.

What it taught me: I didn't learn as much as I'm in awe of what these two can do. Hearing Parker do his circular breathing mania for the first time (via a "Jazz" Last.fm channel on random in 2004) left me figuratively breathless. He works with some of the most virtuosic acoustic players (i.e. Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley), and the marriage is generally even parts without compromise. On the processing / generative side, Wiese acts as a champion bronco rider who capably takes on Parker's brunt and returns with just as much force. Don't get it twisted: This is aikido (maybe Muay Thai), not Godzilla vs. Rodan vs. every standing city structure. C-Section made me want to be a better musician. And I started treating my laptop as a guitar pedal.

6) Tatsuya Nakatani: Abiogenesis (H&H Production)  

Who and what: Percussionist (and maker of intricate bows) Tatsuya Nakatani attacking everything from standard drum kit (he has serious Free Jazz chops) to rows of enormous gongs. His solo work — especially here — is borderline supernatural in its ability to take an aggressive, idiosyncratically overpowering instrument and make it spiritual. I wrote, "Nakatani's bow meets gong to birth an elegant swirling exhale of distant thunder and polyphony of pitches and harmonics; his further elaborations on this gesture invoke everything from Siren Song to mournful wails (sic) to passing jets to static whirs..."

What it taught me: A former professor / improvising sparring partner once told me that playing live will teach you more about theory, your skill, your limitations, and your potential than reading about it-hand (I could have saved $40K in tuition had I heard that sooner). Like many other nerds across the country attending Nakatani's shows, I had the opportunity to perform with the man. I brought a bunch of drums, sticks, cymbals, bows, brushes, rubber balls, an Indian harp, and a corny effects rig that made the bad kind of feedback when turned up enough for humans to hear. Within a few minutes, I figured out that he could double anything I had to offer; for a bit, he anticipated every direction I took, mirroring it a microsecond behind me. What's that analogy about the big thing toying around with the little thing and the latter having hope? Nakatani schooled me without being a dick about it, though, and it is a highlight in my life. My damned professor was right, and I immediately went to work planning for a rematch.

7) Jeph Jerman: The Angle of Repose (No label) 

Who and what: Jeph Jerman on "shortwave receiver, pot lids, bao dijian tshon, saw blades, eggs in bowls, bowls and cup in sink, cassette recorders, digital 4-track, and laptop." He amplifies rocks, tosses things around, spins things, makes the floor creak when walking across the room, and spills things into other things. His brilliance is found in the way he can organize this mess to be...natural (I called him a deft "observer of the quality of sound"). To me, "natural" means something forged by time and the elements — sans direct human intervention - that you find under a log in the forest. The arrhythmic patterns of wind chimes is another example. Or it can be the really amazing portrait taken of someone when they weren't aware the camera was on. I'm still not great at explaining this concept. Many people call it "honest", but I don't trust that most of them have anything to back up that word.  

What it taught me: 1) Stop being so precious when recording 2) I don't have to make rocks, cutlery, and chunks of metal be something they aren't; stop sampling and transforming everything into something else when the original source can be interesting if I give it a chance. I can sum all this up with "be a better listener". And learn the dialectal difference of the language of river rock versus electric fence.

8) John Cage Cartridge Music (Another Timbre)  

Who and what: Stephen Cornford, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Robert Curgenven, Ferran Fages, Patrick Farmer, Daniel Jones, and Lee Patterson interpret Cage's "earliest attempts to produce live electronic music". The score shows minutes and seconds and some shapes, and each performer uses a turntable cartridge wherein they can insert objects of their choice. Different materials against other materials, lots of variables.

What it taught me: Another of the ninety-nine things I learned from Cage, this particular reading of Cartridge Music made me (it was a command) understand more about the illusion of sonic elements (i.e. as I said earlier, pitch is sensed uniquely per each conscious being's audio receptors and the way their brain handles it), how sound here can cease to exist when the article is pulled away from the cartridge; it's a microphone, but there is very little air, hence no echo or residue or proof it was just there, like a baby's (or dog's?) idea that leaving a room makes a person disappear into the ether. I started thinking more about séances and animation of the inanimate. It also ties in to my obsession with miniature things, like ant footsteps. When I close my eyes and listen to this Cartridge Music, I picture how much motion is happening a few feet under the surface of my backyard — and how amazing it would be to hear this almost-microscopic commotion. Kind of like A Bug's Life, but cool and without Kevin Spacey or Dennis Leary. Anyway, I started thinking of contact microphones and turntables as (magical?) conduits after this. The fact that we can process sound is a miracle, man.

9) John Cage: Four4 (Another Timbre)

Who and what: Simon Allen, Chris Burn, Lee Patterson, and Mark Wastell, all billed as "percussionist". Sure it's percussion as long as you count moans and every bubble's pop in fizzing water its own note.

What it taught me: While Cartridge Music is about the composer, this version of Four4 is definitely a showcase of the players, specifically Lee Patterson. He is just a few degrees away from one of my DIY instrument designer heroes, Hugh Davies, and the latter's essence flows through the former's approach. I read that Patterson is very much into the sound of burning nuts, which sparked an obsession with hearing all of his music — I was so fanatical that, after listening to his use of amplified discarded street sweeper tines, I dreamed that I saw Ice Cube haphazardly driving a street sweeper through my neighborhood; I chased it, but could never catch up to Cube to ask what the fuck (and I never found my own tines). Patterson is remarkable with other tiny sounds (i.e. "Nine Lucifers", built from recordings of "nine match burns") and arranging field recordings in a way that transmogrifies the source enough to be different but not too different or unidentifiable. But don't forget about the importance of Cage here. I wrote, "Ultimately, (this disc is) just an admirable, synergistic patience: 4' 33" was the catalyst but the impact of the relationships of blanks to landmarks in Four4 is the former's message in practice."

10)  Michel F. Côté and Isaiah Ceccarelli: Vulgarités (Ambiances Magnétiques)

Who and what: Michel F. Côté and Isaiah Ceccarelli took the joking phrase, "What can we do when we're just two drummers?" and made a challenge out of showing what can be done.

What it taught me: Because of David Tudor's Rainforest series, I spend a great deal of time trying to make found objects, junk percussion, contact mics, feedback, and speakers do something remarkable. However, I reached a point in the mid 2000's when doing that wasn't interesting anymore. I felt stagnant and bored, and was often crippled with feelings of "what's the point of this crap that no one will hear, anyway — you don't even like it" (depression is a motherfucker). Looking back, I wasn't thinking big enough in my investigation of cross-species breeding between electro and acoustic. This duo gave me the desire to revisit my methods and analyze where I was stunted. I needed to stop imposing so many rules on whatever I was working on. I had to stop acquiring a zillion pieces of ceramic, glass vases, bells, cymbals, and sticks made from twenty distinct materials and focus on creativity. I'm still searching, but I'm not lost. Also, I followed Côté's rabbit hole to YouTube and watched him improvise a set where he pressed microphones against drum heads. It pulled a few levers in my head. The information contained in those few minutes made me rethink how to use feedback in neat ways (though that's one more life-long struggle).

11)  Broken Consort: Done (Quakebasket)

Who and what: Mark Wastell (violin, cello, preparations, amplified textures), Rhodri Davies (harp, preparations) and Matthew Davis (trumpet, electronics, processing) coupled, solo, and playing as a trio.

What it taught me: About this record, I said, "Done is four situations where the ultimate active work is mental, Broken Consort deciding how to make the most impact with minimal means..." Slow down, Dave. Stop rushing through your set, trust yourself and take as long as you need while considering your next move — so, more lessons in space and pause. And I learned how much I love Rhodri Davies's work. Like love it so much that I would rather not describe it with words because that would rob it of its charm. I throw a few versions of this superlative around, but I mean it here: His sense of form — on the micro and macro level — and ability to bend his instruments into other characters is not-of-this-world level — playing the harp, a mythical, intimidating instrument (go try and write for it), also adds to his prowess. And he occasionally sets harps on fire and records the results, and it doesn't come off as a novelty.



continued...




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