> Archive > Music Review 73

1 November 2003

Robert Ashley: Wolfman
Peter Brandlmayr: Interaktionen
Luc Ferrari: Tautologos and Other Early Electronic Works
Erkki Kurenniemi: Äänityksiä—Recordings 1963–1973
Radu Malfatti / Ilya Monosov
Giorgio Netti: Necessità d'Interrogare il Cielo
Max Neuhaus: Fontana Mix-Feed
Max Neuhaus: Electronics and Percussion—Five Realizations
Charlemagne Palestine: In Mid-Air
Piana: Snow Bird
Polio: Concrete
Principle of Silence: Live
Asmus Tietchens: Biotop
Asmus Tietchens: FT+
Toshiya Tsunoda / Civyiu Kkliu
Various: The Complete 10-inch Series from Cold Blue


Durian | 022-2 | CD

Two years ago, Durian released their first CD by the enigmatic Peter Brandlmayr, Apparaturen zu den Grundlagen der Physik I, which was based on the manuscripts and experiments of Prof. V. Krylov. A look at Durian's web booklet for this release (as well as this new one) reveals a link to the Institut für Wissenschaft und Forschung (Institute for Science and Research), which documents the good professor's work in experimental physics, and of which Brandlmayr is a member. Where the relation between Krylov's experiments and Brandlmayr's work was documented in no uncertain terms for the first release, things are much more ambiguous here. Even before learning of these connections, it seemed to me that the compositions on Interaktionen have the feel of the scientific, the experiment, of the unknown variable. You could easily draw connections between early electronic experiments, "industrial" and atonal music over the last 20 years, and this work. Occasionally, rhythms appear, sometimes odd rhythms, a touch of jazz, even, with missteps and interruptions, made from metallic objects and samples, the filters sometimes creating a mist of uncertainty for your perceptions, making you wonder if you are in fact listening to archival recordings from a forgotten experimenter in a time now past. Voices too, appear from beyond, a distant voice, the radio signal from which it is issued now fading, and then surrounded by mysterious clusters of electroacoustic sounds and silences, arranged in ever-compelling ways. It is, in the end, a truly inspiring work, which has the rare effect of rekindling my enthusiasm for exploring sounds, arrangements, and atonal composition, and makes me even more curious about its maker, of whom very little seems to be known. [Richard di Santo]



Bremsstrahlung | 004 | 2CD

Bremsstrahlung | 003 | 2CD

Two new releases from Bremsstrahlung Recordings, the imprint label of lowercase sound, are actually four new EPs, since four CDs are packaged into these two rather nice-looking metal containers, and each CD runs about 20 minutes in length.

The first, by field recording artist and composer Toshiya Tsunoda, is concerned with spaces, distances, landscapes. "Recorded Landscape: Pier" is not a straightforward field recording by any means; its upfront, intensely deep bass tones seem to imply that anything higher than 100 Hz had been filtered out of the recordings, yet these impressions change as the piece develops. Book-ending the release are two shorter, concise tracks, "Fragments for stereophony," for sine tones and cyphered crackles, which are more active, densely layered structures. A nice work all around.

It's been a while since I've heard from Civyiu Kkliu (not since the release of 111 on Bake Records a couple of years back, an impossibly hushed, minimal "utility" that you play in your house like you turn on a lightbulb, or set the temperature for your heaters). Minimalism is still the order of the day (this is lowercase audio, after all), and this piece compliments his other work quite nicely. A simple, seemingly unchanging drone appears (low-to-mid tones), sustains itself for the duration of the piece, then disappears. What more can be said? As a utility or as a piece of music, it tickles the ears and makes you doubt that what you are listening to is in fact unchanging, and it's quite soothing to listen to, as well.

In the second set, Radu Malfatti might not best be known as one particularly associated with lowercase sound (touring through an experimental improv circuit, collaborating with the likes of Burkhard Stangl, Franz Hautzinger, Thomas Lehn and Phil Durrant). Here he presents a single, compelling piece for three trombones. Silence figures prominently here, dividing the sound events, which are richly textured yet are sustained without much variation, into distinct sections. Demanding, well-structured, and even more rewarding for the careful listener.

Lastly, Ilya Monosov's aptly titled "Music for Listening" is a trio of pieces for computer and trumpet. Silences expand and engulf your attention, only to shake you out again with each surprising event, a bleep, a gentle whistle, an unspeakable sound. It's a challenging set, and certainly one which prompts you to sit up and listen closely, even at the silence, which present here is in great abundance. [Richard di Santo]



GIORGIO NETTI: Necessità d'Interrogare il Cielo
Durian | 020-2 | CD

Italo Calvino once wrote of the opaque, the "depths of the opaque" from which he writes, "reconstructing the map of [...] the geometrical location of the ego, of a self which the self needs to know that it is itself, the ego whose only function is that the world may continually receive news of the existence of the world, a contrivance at the service of the world for knowing if it exists." It is from this same place, these same depths, where I believe the sounds of Giorgio Netti's Necessità d'Interrogare il Cielo first found their origin. Composed by Netti, but performed and interpreted by Marcus Weiss on soprano sax, the four compositions presented here are characterized by "the roar of being alone," (as Valèry once put it), of pure emotion rising from the depths; something raw, intense, immediate. Moving slowly, with rich, sustained tones, harmonies, vibrations, rising with unfettered energy, in turns harsh or gentle against its listener, these pieces are as pure expressions of something beyond the body through which they make themselves known, that unmistakable, unavoidable, infinitely exploitable body of the sax, of its player, and beyond that, of the composer lurking in the shadows, in its depths. Often, when faced with something that has inspired such a profound and moving response from within, I will resort to strange descriptors and articulations, maybe even lacking clarity and focus, strange dream-texts where my impressions seek a narrative line, a logic, on which to trace a line and make some sense of things. The performance by Weiss is unspeakably good; sensitive, measured, faultless. Netti, born in 1963, Milan, has said that his interest lies in "the instrument as an escape point towards which a reading of the world, in sound, is directed." Whether this points to a reading of the world, or a reading of the self through the world, is something to consider, to dream about, as you escape with these sounds, vibrations, suspended harmonics, to new territories and perspectives. Visit the Durian website to read a fascinating article by Netti on his own inspirations, motivations, compositions, dreams. [Richard di Santo]



PIANA: Snow Bird
Happy | hap001 | CD

Here is the inaugural release from Happy, the new imprint from Taylor Deupree's 12k label focusing on "unconventional Japanese pop." Piana is Naoko Sasaki from Morioka, Japan. She makes a sweet, tranquil sort of pop music using her voice and a laptop, with two special guests: Yuichiro Iwashita from Minamo, performing on bass and guitar on a handful of tracks, and Yasuyo, who plays clarinet on the final piece. Not understanding more than three words Japanese (I'll leave it up to you to imagine which three), I can't tell you if Piana has a lyrical sense of humour, or whether her words are rather drenched in sorrow, or bitterness, but the tone of her music is both quiet and light, playing up to ideas (or ideals) of innocence, naivitee and purity, all in the context of these sweet, simple songs. And yet, sometimes they're not so simple. The electronic elements blip and drone in sometimes wonderful, detailed arrangements, even for a work of pop-minimalism. Her voice is sometimes soft like a whisper, but sometimes it seems flat and monotonal, unable to transcend its barriers or add any flourishes to the vocal arrangements. Any failings in her voice (however slight; she certainly has her charms), though, are made up for by the instrumentation, which is subtly textured, carefully arranged, and a joy to listen to. In all, it's a nice debut from an intriguing artist and a promising side-label, and perhaps it will also bring some worthy attention to Cubic Music (from which this record was licensed), a Tokyo-based label and design company having also released music from the likes of Minamo, Samurai Jazz and No. 9. [Richard di Santo]



POLIO: Concrete
Humbug | 023 | CDR

Polio is Peter Wright, a sound artist from Christchurch, New Zealand, who also founded the Apoplexy label and released a number or projects and collaborations in recent years, through which we have witnessed him moving away from guitar-based noise and onto more diverse, subtle, and experimental ground. For his latest release as Polio (reserved, from what I can tell, for his more computer-based recordings), Peter presents three long pieces of slow, distant and subtle drones. It's a distinct sound from his other recent works (see the Apoplexy and kRkRkRk catalogues for examples), forsaking the bowed objects and instruments of choice for a more distanced approach, as if the initial sounds were recorded from a position far removed from where they originated; these sounds are muted, silenced by the resonance of the space, which consumes the sound or amplifies it in turn, all of course processed and later arranged on computer. Not much happens here, but that's one of its finer qualities, remaining content to explore a single idea over a generous period of time, allowing its listener the freedom to soak in its qualities, nuances, details, allowing us to fall asleep or sit up in silence, in the dark or in the sunshine, with these calm, cool drones filling the space like a dense, quiet fog. [Richard di Santo]




Principle of Silence is a collaboration between Vidna Obmana and Joris De Backer, two composers who met under a "controlled coincidence," and performed together in Brecht, Belgium, on a cold December night last year (on the eve of the winter solstice, actually). This disc documents that performance, recorded live without treatments or overdubs. Vidna Obmana's work probably doesn't need much of an introduction here; his ambient soundscapes have evolved from the more straightforward "ethnoambient" genre to more experimental territories and collaborations, sometimes with stunning results. Joris De Backer is a new name for me. With his training in classical and jazz music, performing on double-bass, perhaps he doesn't seem like a likely collaborator for the effects-drenched ambience of Vidna Obmana's usual approach. Yet here, the double-bass, whether plucked or bowed, is an intriguing complement to Obmana's fujara flute, atmospheres, guitar and voice. The concert is divided into five tracks, but it plays in a continuous mix, and so is probably better regarded as a whole. It starts simply, with bowed double-bass and fujara, a moving, calming, delicate movement that puts the listener at ease almost immediately. From there, new layers are added and subtracted, the atmospheres become more dense, like a wall of sound that will perhaps seem familiar (maybe all-too-familiar) for those who know Obmana's work—his signature is undoubtedly a dominant feature here. The strings haunt the canvas with their acoustic timbres, as the two performers find their way in the dark, lighting the way for their listeners, taking us on a journey that is sometimes familiar, sometimes altogether new. The CD, which is available directly from the artists, also features an enhanced portion with a Quicktime video of the concert. [Richard di Santo]



Die Stadt | DS 61 | CD

Crouton Music | CD

The name of Asmus Tietchens has been floating around a lot lately, certainly more now than, say 5, 10 or 20 years ago, and, though I couldn't tell you exactly why there seems to be a sudden flux of interest in his work (why now, for instance, and not earlier?), it's certainly refreshing to see for someone like me, who has been following Tietchens' work for some years, yet, for the most part, silently, removed from any discussion in public forums. And that's still the way I prefer it, in spite of my words here, and elsewhere on this site. Contrary to all appearances, the interest and pleasure I take in exploring a new work, whether it is from Tietchens or another, is something I largely keep to myself, a response left unspoken, internal. But words do come to the surface every so often, and projects (both new and old) come to my attention, and in these cases I find myself sitting, as I am now, at my desk, reaching out to an invisible reader, a potential listener, with a few sentences, words, suggestions. Here we have two new releases from Tietchens, the first looks back to his earlier work, while the second is much more contemporary.

Biotop is Die Stadt's second installment in their ambitious reissue series, which makes available once again all of Tietchens' earliest work that was issued on LPs from 1981-1991. Originally released on Sky Records in 1981 (this was the first of four records Tietchens made for Sky), the reissue comes with two previously unreleased tracks recorded in 1979, one year prior to the Biotop sessions, chosen for the fact that they point to a new direction in his way of working. The 16 album tracks that follow are short, concise expressions, sketches, experiments of what could not be grouped in with the genres explored by other projects on the Sky roster from those days (Kluster, Holger Czukay, et al), but they certainly do sound like they come from that period in time, from the old Moog synth and Roland drum-machine which were used extensively by Tietchens for this album. Loops, rhythms, dark moods, dramatic melodies, abrasive sounds and sparse, odd combinations point to an eerie sort of pop music and electronic experimentation in the same moments. It's both an important and interesting document in Tietchens' discography, to be sure, and a fascinating look back in time.

The Folktales series on Crouton Music took a markedly narrative approach in its emphasis, having issued three installments in the series thus far, and releasing new works from the likes of C. Roseneau, Jon Mueller, Achim Wollsheid, Dan Warburton and Kevin Shea, among others, each edition publishing with it a short "tale" which was somehow related to the sounds found within. Crouton then invited Tietchens to rework, or "recycle" each of the previous contributions to the series, and so we have FT+, a mostly playful collection of nine short pieces that transform their source materials into new, previously unimagined forms. A knowledge of the original works is certainly not essential; it's clear that Tietchens is working with his own ideas here, uncovering the inherent qualities in his sources and conjuring new ones along the way, where each track is a world unto itself, it tells its own tale too, puts a new twist on a familiar plot, or perhaps, and more to the point, it calls on its listener to invent new narrative lines, perhaps, and spin a yarn worthy of the great troubadours. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: The Complete 10-inch Series from Cold Blue
Cold Blue Music | CB0014 | 3CD

Cold Blue's second retrospective project (the first was a reissue of the Cold Blue LP from 1984, representing an important cross-section of the label's key composers) makes available once again the complete collection of 10-inch records (seven in all) from the early 80s, when the label got its start as a vehicle for showcasing innovative new music, particularly from composers meandering through the American west coast. Some 20 years later, the compositions on these three discs seem just as vital as they must have been when they first appeared, and, similarly, today's Cold Blue seems haunted by the same spirits as when it first began, compelled by the same desire to discover new musical forms, often with the most simple of gestures, but always with the most suggestive and nuanced of results.

The first of the three CDs begins with Peter Garland's Matachin Dances for two violins and gourd rattles. Six pieces, or "dances," clearly influenced by the dances of indigenous Mexico, present variations on simple yet enticing folk themes. The lure of these musical patterns is one of unspeakable charm. Next comes a set of pieces by Michael Jon Fink, who has been featured regularly on the label's past releases (his last solo LP, I Hear It In the Rain, was released two summers ago). These compositions, for piano (both solo and duo) and cello, date from the late 70s, yet his slow, careful gestures, his muted, delicate canvas, are immediately recognizable, and make these works among the most elegant and haunting of those presented here.

The second CD may not be the strongest of the three, yet it pulls the listener in still more challenging directions. Clay Music, by Barney Childs, is an exercise in discovery; the discovery of instruments (in this case, the many handmade clay wind instruments made by Susan Rawcliffe, modeled after pre-Columbian designs), of musical gestures (they seem spontaneous, improvised, playful), maybe even of channelling history through performance, through sound. Two pieces of spoken word by Read Miller (joined by Janyce Collins and Rick Cox) follow, assembled from the remnants of lost postcards discovered at rummage sales. They are a reminder that the voice too has its natural musical patterns, even as it speaks plainly, as it recites text, as it speaks in the everyday, and sometimes it can lull you into its cadence, forgetting the meaning of its words, and sometimes you become lost in the logic of those very words, narrative paths, and strange turns.

The third and final CD begins with four pieces by Chas Smith, who often creates his own instruments in order to create his unique soundscapes. These pieces are for pedal steel guitar and 12-string dobro, and are not as dark, textured or abrasive as his recent work can sometimes be (see Nikko Wolverine and Aluminum Overcast for highlights), and yet these are some alluring arrangements, often quite simple, with a slide guitar and a warm resonance that weaves in and around the chords, or in the surprisingly light, interlocking acoustic fretwork of "Scircura." His set is followed by two haunting pieces by Rick Cox, a Los Angeles-based composer with a gift for creating evocative, richly textured works (see Maria Falling Away, released back in 2001 on the same label), here for prepared electric guitar, voice, and clarinet (by Mary Walker). These are certainly the recordings I have returned most to since first listening to this collection; completely bewitching, a deep and dark mystery suspended in sound. The final set is by Daniel Lentz, composing for multiple keyboards and singers, with Lentz operating something called "cascading echo systems." These pieces are interesting for how they break up sounds, words, and gestures into component parts, and, though the keyboard elements, and often the voices, sound a little too "soft" or "new age" to my ears, like stardust, listening was certainly a pleasure. [Richard di Santo]



Alga Marghen | 048 | CD

LUC FERRARI: Tautologos and Other Early Electronic Works
EMF Media | 037 | CD

ERKKI KURENNIEMI: Äänityksiä—Recordings 1963–1973
Love Records | LXCD 637 | CD

MAX NEUHAUS: Electronics and Percussion—Five Realizations
Sony Japan | SICC 79 | CD

MAX NEUHAUS: Fontana Mix-Feed
Alga Marghen | 044 | CD

Alga Marghen | 047 | CD

Readers might be wondering, “What can primitive electronic noise do for my lifestyle?” And just like an ad in the back of a yellowed, dog-eared copy of The Hulk, there are promises of physical fortitude and increased brain capacity (sorry, no x-ray vision). The results are evident though. Compare the cover shots of percussionist Max Neuhaus from his recently unearthed performances of John Cage’s “Fontana Mix-Feed” and the Japanese reissue of his groundbreaking solo percussion release side-by-side in a classic Charles Atlas before/after shot. The before cover shows him scrunched up and buttoned-down in thick glasses, a goofy sneer across his intent face, perhaps from sand kicked in his face. Then, the "after," a few years on in 1968, reveals a bare-chested, fully-bearded, beatifically smiling Lothario, performing pieces for percussion by Cage, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It’s no doubt that the radiation emitted from the classic Cage piece catalyzes the bodily change, as the Alga Marghen reissue shows. The composition involves raw, uncaged feedback from a speaker aimed at a resonant percussive surface, the piercing acoustical screeches feeding on itself, and is responsible for this very physical mutation. There are six realizations altogether, each a different beast. The ferocious sound scrapes the sinuses and head clouds clean away, but for all of its caustic feedback, it is a most powerful and purifying torrent of alpha waves and gamma rays. That it is also the earliest electronic performance created live in front of an audience (as opposed to university-tethered room-sized components) is of no little import, too.

The lion’s share of Alga Marghen’s second Robert Ashley reissue, Wolfman, is devoted to a soundtrack for a George Manupelli film, “The Bottleman.” Similarly concerned with contact mics on a surface creating feedback circling upon itself, Ashley strangles the sound into a breathy extraction in powerful contrast to Neuhaus’ concussive breath-blaster. It’s a slow, ever-menacing, forty minutes. “The Fox” was Bob’s first electronic work, and in the ordinary space-time of hands, it would be a Burl Ives song. In the hands of Ashley though, its narrative string gets chopped up and restitched, showing the seams of time, and how seemingly simple things get sewn in such space, allowing for outside sounds such as Sunday’s church bell, shower pipe drones, and the future of disquieting sound processing to all merge within itself. “The Wolfman” takes it even further, weaving aleatoric voices into passing pianos and a growing swath of magnetic feedback and inhuman howls that rip apart the whole sound fabric like Dr. Banner’s chinos. The sound environment that alters the first Bob James recording for ESP-Disk is also here in its original form, popping tops of Old Milwaukee and watching drag race dismemberments.

In Mid-Air is the third in a series of the Alga Marghen label offshoot called Golden Sound, devoutly documenting early musings and revelations on sound by the cognac-sipping and teddy bear-worshipping minimal maestro, Charlemagne Palestine. While not the singular pieces “Strumming Music” or “Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone,” the psychoactive properties are intact in smaller segments. All five studies are from late-night sessions at NYU, from 1965-1970, on their early Buchla systems. The first and second studies are pure chirping drones that fit into the time-length of pure pop, and it’s a potent dosage that is divvied up over the longer tracks, “7 Organism Study” pops the skin of the sine waves with reverb crashes as “Negative Sound Study” cuts the purity with static. Not as crucial as the first reissue, but a drone drug nevertheless. And with Alga Marghen’s tastefully rendered digipacs, and exquisite eye towards history and rare photographs, scores, and concert invites, the package alone is aesthetically worthy of consideration.

Aside from the Americans working inside the university and outside of conventions, the past few years have seen contention arise in countries whose contributions have been completely forgotten, if never heard in the first place, by the electronic community. Thankfully, the resuscitated Love Records label is doing its part to explore Finland’s deep past, to amazing and revelatory results. Most striking so far is the work of Finnish automation engineer Erkki Kurenniemi, one of the first to build digital synthesizers back in the late 60s. Most inventions, such as the DIMI-O, a video-to-audio converter, were only ever in their prototype stages, and that any evidence of these “mere equipment tests,” as the composer so humbly puts it, bears itself out as truly modern music is a rush to the head these thirty-plus years along. The most facile, in-country comparison would be to Pan Sonic, in that the brutal, crackling of analog-warmed electronics brunts against the harsh wind-drones of the frigid Finnish landscape, and their peculiar sense of the sounds (and sense of humour) is also sympathetic across time. But there’s much more going on in Kurenniemi’s technical head than just that. “Sähkösoittimen ääniä #4” is a rough motorbike massage, as Erkki rides around and revs sine waves like he’s flashing razorblades out on the tundra. “On/Off,” recorded in real-time, is incredibly complex, all electrical feedback and crunching quackery, while “Antropoidien tanssi” (from 1968), bounces loopily about with a whacked humour and hum that Pita would have killed for on Seven Tons for Free. Prime bloop.

In my mind the most eloquent—if not the utmost idiosyncratic and randy—French tape composer, Luc Ferrari has recently had his earliest days alongside le père de la musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales brought forth for reconsideration. Wonderfully stupefied to have yet another distinct chapter of the man’s oeuvre puzzle for consideration, before Heterozygote or Presque Rien, this is Ferrari at his most analogous to contemporaries, before the anecdotal, elevated story-telling aspects separated him from the pack of abstract experimenters. The sounds have yet to venture forth from the studio and out into nature, where his greatest pieces originated, and his lascivious love of the ladies is still below the surface of his stuffy outer exterior. While not the ideal entry into the man’s curious body of work, it’s still easy to glean his touch in the early squiggles and gleeful tape splices as “Etudes aux accidents” and “Tête et queue du dragon.” Splintering up every little string sound of Gérard Frémy’s piano in “Und so weiter” finds Ferrari constructing sound into new compositional patterns that hint at what his ‘mature’ work would so rapturously entail. His sound is the touchstone for folks like Christoph Heemann and digital works by Jim O’Rourke, and it’s a pleasure to have another side of the man revealed.

Taken all together, it’s as Charlemagne Palestine’s close friend Tony Conrad once quipped, “Music is like history, completely in the present.” [Andy Beta]




The Incursion Music Review was published and edited by Richard di Santo from 2000 to 2004. All 75 issues can be accessed in the archive. Please note that we are no longer accepting submissions or promotional material for review.

Please credit and the author when quoting from any content on this site.