Scott Fraser – The Water Album – excerpts from side B (10:00) Cassette released by Fun Music ref. #32, San Francisco, CA, 1983
Based in San Francisco, Fun Music was founded by Philip Perkins and Scott Fraser in 1979 to release their own experimental music as well as cassettes by David Ocker and “Blue” Gene Tyranny. From 1975 to 1985, Perkins belonged to The Residents’ technical crew and contributed official videos, programming and background sounds for the band’s records and shows.
A film music composer and sound engineer, Scott Fraser published 3 cassettes on Fun: Natural Histories (1980), The Water Album (1983) and Architecture (1989). The Water Album is a collection of binaural water recordings made across the US – but mostly in California– between 1978 and 1983. The source (no pun intended) of each track is varied, from rain showers to sea surf, from fish ponds to water dripping.
The sound clip above contains 1mn-excerpts from each of side B’s tracks. The binaural experience is a bit lost amid the tape hiss, but the aqueous sound theme is exquisite.
Side B: 11 Rain – Miami, Florida 12 Pier – Newport, Rhode Island 13 Sprinklers – Beverly Hills, California 14 Drips – Boston, Massachusetts 15 Waves – San Francisco, California 16 Fountain – New Haven, Connecticut 17 Pool – San Diego, California 18 Shower – Eastchester, New York 19 Tidepools – Montaña de Oro, California 20 Stream – Middlebury, Vermont
Jack Smith – interview with Sylvère Lotringer, picture disc LP edited by Robert Dewhurst and Hedi El Kholti, published by Semiotext(e), USA, 2014.
Semiotext(e)'s contribution to the 2014 Whitney Biennial, from Mar 7 to May 25, consisted in the publication of a series of 28 new pamphlets, exhibited during the Biennial. In addition, Semiotext(e) also released a facsimile of the 1978’s Schizo-Cultureissue, including the likes of Félix Guattari, William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Boris Policeband, John Giorno, Philip Glass, Michel Foucault, Sylvère Lotringer, Guy Hocquenghem, Gilles Deleuze, John Rajchman, Robert Wilson, Joel Kovel, Jack Smith, Jean-François Lyotard, Ti-Grace Atkinson, François Peraldi, and John Cage. Finally, the original cassette recordings of Lotringer’s interview with Jack Smith were remastered and edited in LP form.
This fine mix collects crucial tracks from Frans de Waard’s record collection, spanning from the 1980s up to 1995. From influential labels of the early 1980s like Cherry Red or Red Rhino, to bands he eventually produced on Staalplaat, the selection is highly personal and can be considered as an intellectual biography of the man behind Vital Weekly and Beequeen, amongst many other things.
0000 Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Egyptian Reggae [Beserkley Records, 1977] 0232 Steve Reich – Clapping Music [Nonesuch, 1987] 0710 The Rondos – A Black & White Statement [King Kong Records, 1980] 0948 The Ex – Sucked Out Chucked Out 5 [VGZ Records, 1983] 1203 Mekanik Kommando – Microbes [Torso, 1981] 1515 Five Or Six – Theme [Cherry Red Records, 1982] 1912 Second Layer – Fixation [Cherry Red Records, 1981] 2313 Michael O’Shea – Kerry [Dome Records, 1982] 2534 The Legendary Pink Dots – Outsider [Bain Total, 1985] 2854 Organum – Voice Of The Angel [L.A.Y.LA.H. Records, 1985] 3230 Dome – Reading Prof. B [Dome Records, 1980] 3518 Zoviet France – Untitled (Mohnomishe) [Red Rhino Records, 1983] 4139 Asmus Tietchens – Ultima Terra [Hamster Records, 1989] 4602 Idea Fire Company – Wünderwäffen [Swill Radio 2005] 5048 Main – XXI [beggars Banquet 1998] 5421 Pan Sonic – Vaihe (Fön) [Blast First, 1995] 5907 Ilusion Of Safety – Untitled (Mort Aux Vaches 2) [Staalplaat 1999] 6454 Piero Milesi – Modi 2 (Extract) [Cherry Red 1982] 6545 The Orb – Little Fluffy Clouds [Big Life, 1990] 7007 The Associates – A Girl Named Property [Situation Two, 1981] 7457 Sparks – There’s No Such Thing As Aliens [Gut Records, 2006]
Laura Luna - Isolarios, cassette, Baba Vanga, Prague, Czech Republic, August 2014
The debut cassette by Mexican-born, Prague resident sound artist Laura Luna del Castillo, Isolarios is a collection of instrumental tracks based on synthesizer loops, basic sound effects and the occasional film dialog or found conversation. The creativity doesn’t lie in any new sonority – the synthesizer seems configured according to Zone’s 1992 Sword of the Sun–, but rather in the way effect pedals and mix create an almost hypnagogic blend of distant sounds any listener will relate to, as if dreams were generic, archetypal experiences and not the very personal, intimate reminiscences we’ve come to expect.
The opener Auroras is particularly efficient in this respect, with enchanted loop after enchanted loop morphing into the next amid effect-heavy, high-pitched droning sounds in the background and thick layers of reverb. Far from becoming an indistinct brew, the track retains a certain clarity throughout – the entire album must have been recorded with headphones on, as is obvious when playing it back on cans. Typically, tracks consist of 3 or 4 loops running in parallel – but not necessarily at the same time– with progressively added sound effects and inventive mixing strategy. The first loop create an atmosphere while the additional loops and effects only add to the mystery.
Combining deeply moving sounds that directly affect the listener’s inner feelings, Laura Luna’s music is at the antipodes of the prosaic, matter-of-factness of most of today’s synth music. Indeed, in Isolarios, sounds are selected first and foremost according to their psychoacoustic properties. This is music where nothing is done to impress, everything aims to transport the listener through mysterious atmospheres and magical synthesizer sounds.
Odeya Nini – Vougheauxyice (Voice), CD published by pfMENTUM CD083, San Diego, CA, April 2014
The fruit of a successful Kickstarter campaign, this CD by Californian-based avantgarde composer/singer Odeya Nini (b.1982) introduces her warm voice and exploration of onomatopoeia, pre-language syllables and the kind of sounds the mouth emits before the voice. Odeya’s vocal artistry includes techniques as diverse as whistling, breathing, overtone singing, accumulation, loops, and so on. Her voice can sound radical at times but never short of a certain kindness and an enveloping, all-encompassing tone.
The first 4 tracks are characterized by an intimate, close miking recording that emphasizes the unveiling of a certain privacy yet retain a sacred dimension throughout. In the opener, a lullaby called Mi See Ti, the singer reiterates the syllables of the title with a variety of accentuations, from hushed to mezzo voice, as if adding a different meaning with each iteration. The 2nd track (Dalai) is based on pre-verbal sounds, breathing, whistling and various sotto voce utterances. The following, Everyday Cantor, a simple song performed… under the shower, confronts the singer’s sense of humor with the universal symbol of water and cleansing. In tracks #1, 3 and 5, one can hear echoes of musical cantillation melodies performed while reading the Torah, where special signs near stressed syllables, known as Trop in Yiddish and Ta’amim in Hebrew, indicate pitch and accentuation (see Cantor Arianne Brown for a primary lesson). Cantillation is one of the inspirations for Odeya’s art, others being yoga breathing technique, Central Asian throat singing, travels around the world, sounds of nature and interaction with immediate sound environment.
Starting with track #5, extraneous noises and extended technique are introduced. In fact, the entire CD follows a parallel movement from: i) simple, unaltered solo voice recordings to more complex combinations of sound sources, and ii) from the inside to the outside – indeed, in many ways, this Vougheauxyice is also a… Vougheauayage. Sorry for the pun, but this title do make one feel like playing with words and also reminds the beginning of one of these portemanteau, 100-letter words of Biblical proportions found in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. This would not be the only allusion to Joyce here as the booklet also mentions a “stream of consciousness improvisation with words” about track #7. But the main trend of the 2nd half of the record is definitely sound treatment and extended vocal techniques using – or based on– reverberant space (#6), outdoor field recordings (#6), live recording and loop pedal (#7), vocal accumulation, harmonics and interference beats (#8). The most striking is definitely #6 Tapestry of Synonyms, a collage of outdoor recordings including wind, animals, voices recorded around the world, as well as everyday noises – in itself a perfectly formed Musique Concrète étude a la Pierre Schaeffer. The following track (#7) exceptionally uses recognizable words delivered in a semi-conscious state and formed of multiple puns and invented words, with the loop pedal effects deliciously adding to the confusion. The closing track returns to wordless vocals with long-held notes superimposed via loop pedal to create harmonics and beats.
The very conception of Vougheauxyice (Voice) allows a progressive immersion into Odeya Nini’s sound world, which various aspects then unfold from track to track: a warm tone, archetypal sonorities, experiments with sound treatment and extended technique, inspiration from outside of the avantgarde, hints of sound therapy, etc. Most of all, this is a singer who cares for her listeners and ensures that each song is a pleasure to listen to. Less acrobatics, more depth, to make it short.
Beth McDonald – Still – Music for tuba and electronics, CD released by Single Action Rider, Chicago, May 2014
On Still, US tuba player Beth McDonald's ability to interact with varied sonic environments and musical configurations is obvious, as is her remarkable capacity to produce unsuspected nuances with the instrument. While Beth plays in a variety of groups, orchestras and projects, this is her first solo disc proper, based on 3 premieres by young US composers, plus a series of improvisations and an interpretation of Jonathan Harvey's Still.
On the opening track, by composer Neal Markowski, the tuba inserts itself gracefully on top of the cello and accordion’s long held notes, the musicians trying to interfere as little as possible with each other’s fragile, magical offering. Later on, Markowski contributes subdued, Morse code-like electronic sounds, wary not to break the miraculous equilibrium of the piece – on a side note, Markowski and McDonald have an instrumental rock duo titled Korean Jeans. The result of several improvising sessions, Caroline Park's untitled triptych is a kind of accretive, abstract playground for instrumentists and computer sound treatment. While guitar, tuba and sound effects somewhat battle against each other in the first 2 parts, in the final section, titled One, sounds congeal into a more unified coda [on Park, see previous cassette review]. In Hindsight, Ariane Miyasaki adds inconspicuous electronic interjections and spoken word movie excerpts to the tuba’s noble, soft meanderings. As a result of the composer’s self-effacing (or Zen-related) strategy, the piece is an opportunity for the tuba player to demonstrate the instrument’s possibilities in a semi-improvised, colloquial mode.
Admittedly, I don’t fully understand the process behind Vanessa Wheeler’s piece Significant Transits. Superficially it sounds like a tuba solo, with discrete sound effects and montage, some high-pitched notes (presumably computer processed) and some ghost sounds, like in Boulez’ Dialogue de l’Ombre Double. It’s a reconstruction of some sorts, yet a beautiful, artificial tuba solo, to put it this way. The CD closes with Still by Jonathan Harvey (1939–2012), a piece for tuba and reverberation written in 1997, apparently Beth McDonald’s pièce de resistance in performance, as several online videos testify. In this piece, the super-long reverb required by the score re-deploys the tuba’s muted sounds into a floating, self-sufficient vessel accumulating energy on the go. The entire performance is based on original vs. reverbered sound duality, as well as harmonics and interference beats generated between the two and between 2 different kinds of reverb parameters. Not surprisingly considering the composer’s interest in Buddhist philosophy, there’s a spiritual substrata in Still, and the piece can be heard as a long meditation on otherworldly matters. Regardless, this sublime, elevating music won’t leave anyone untouched.
As much as Beth seems to crave collaborations of all sorts, I wish she’d let her beautiful tuba speak for itself in a solo disc recorded on her own and the use of sound effects and re-recording. I can’t claim to be that familiar with the solo tuba recorded history, but I doubt the instrument got a release as monumental as, for instance, Paul Rutherford’s two masterpieces for solo trombone, The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie (1976) and Neuph (1978). Beth McDonald has the talent to raise to this challenge.
Dirk Huelstrunk – Müüü, CD-R, 33 hand numbered and signed copies, released by Atemwerft, ref. AM#001, Augsburg, Germany, February 2014
This is an age where Sound Poetry is taught in art schools the world over and is very much in danger of commodification – in the Marxist sense of unsalable things becoming salable. Some might even question whether there’s anything left to create in sound poetry that hasn’t been done in the past 100 years. But I think what sound poetry does to language is still very much needed today – exposing the fragility of the human voice, the little failures, occasional stuttering, etc. Because the computer apparently makes all the music we need, we tend to overlook the value of human performance, whereas to really engage with the basic constituents of the human voice, to challenge the meaning of words and the pertinence of human language are as valid practices today as they were at the origins (Dada, the Futurists, etc). The fact is, several of my favorite 2014 releases are sound poetry efforts of various kinds. This one is among the best.
Limited to 33 hand numbered and signed copies, the first edition of Müüü is the inaugural release on the newly launched Atemwerft imprint, a sound poetry label run by Martyn Schmidt in Augsburg, Germany. Dirk Huelstrunk (born 1964, based in Frankfurt am Main) is a German curator, lecturer, visual poet and sound poet with several full length CDs on Gruenrekorder. Huelstrunk creates un-dogmatic, modern sound poetry not afraid of a little help from technology.
In fact, it would be easier to describe this wonderful disc as a collection of musique concrète tracks based on “disarticulated voices” (Allen S Weiss). A rhythm emerges from a mere breath sample, a loop from a mere coughing, … via the use of repetitive, remorseless loops, fragmented vocals, radical speed modification, choruses build from the accumulation of multiple utterances of the same word, etc, Huelstrunk elaborates abstract vocal explorations from carefully selected samples and loops. So much so that, when his voice appears untreated, it is a deliberate surprise. In all cases, the simplicity of the means employed ensures great immediacy and proximity with the vocalist. Also note that, as an album, Müüü is painstakingly constructed, leading you from abstraction to intelligible speech, from noise to language, from a personal to a collective dimension (cf. bonus track).