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).
Alain Daniélou – Le crépuscule du Kâlî-yuga (3:54) Read by Catherine Michel. Unidentified music. Broadcast on Radio Suisse Romande, Switzerland, 1985 [source] Painting by Paul Lafolley – Kali Yuga, 1965, from artist’s website.
As descibed in the Vishnu Purânä, one of the 18 major Hindu religious texts, the Kâlî yuga or Dark Age, lasting from 1939 CE to 2442 CE, is the time of “the dissolution of the world, the decline of all things, and deterioration of mankind.” Read in the sound file are excerpts from the Vishnu Purânä, Book VI, Chapter 1, as translated in French by Alain Daniélou in his book La Fantaisie des Dieux et l’Aventure Humaine, éditions du Rocher, 1985 ; reissued as Le Destin du Monde d’après la Tradition Shivaïte, Albin Michel, 1992 [full English text of book VI, ch.1 here]. Here is the transcript of the sound file above:
Ce sont les plus bas instincts qui stimulent les hommes du Kali Yugä. Ils choisissent de préférence les idées fausses. Ils n’hésitent pas à persécuter les sages. L’envie les tourmente. La négligence, la maladie, la faim, la peur se répandent. Il y aura de graves sécheresses. Les différentes régions des pays s’opposent les unes aux autres.
Beaucoup périront. Le nombre des princes et des agriculteurs décline graduellement. Les classes ouvrières veulent s’attribuer le pouvoir royal et partager le savoir, les repas et les lits des anciens princes. La plupart des nouveaux chefs est d’origine ouvrière.
On tuera les fœtus dans le ventre de leur mère et on assassinera les héros. Les Shudrä prétendront se comporter comme des Brahmanes et les prêtres comme des ouvriers.
La stabilité et l’équilibre des quatre classes de la société et des quatre âges de la vie disparaîtront partout. La terre produira beaucoup dans certains lieux et trop peu dans d’autres.
De la nourriture déjà cuite sera mise en vente. Les livres sacrés seront vendus aux coins des rues. Le dieu des nuages sera incohérent dans la distribution des pluies.
La dégradation des vertus et la censure des puritains hypocrites et moralisateurs caractérisent la période de la fin du Kali. Il n’y aura plus de rois. La richesse et les moissons diminueront. Des groupes de bandits s’organiseront dans les villes et les campagnes. L’eau manquera et les fruits seront peu abondants.
Beaucoup d’enfants naîtront dont l’espérance de vie ne dépasse pas seize ans. Des aventuriers prendront l’apparence de moines avec la tête rasée et des vêtements orangés, des chapelets autour du cou. On volera des stocks de blé. Les voleurs voleront les voleurs. Les gens deviendront inactifs, léthargiques et sans but. Les maladies, les rats et les substances nocives les tourmenteront.
Des gens affligés par la faim et la peur se réfugieront dans des « abris souterrains ».
Les hommes ne chercheront qu’à gagner de l’argent, les plus riches détiendront le pouvoir. Les gens sans ressources seront leurs esclaves.
Les pauvres se feront une gloire de leur pauvreté et les femmes de la beauté de leurs cheveux.
Dans le Kali Yugä les hommes sont sans vertus, sans pureté, sans pudeur, et connaîtront de grands malheurs.
Alain Daniélou – demonstration of the Semantic Daniélou keyboard (excerpts from official website and SoundCloud page)
The Sémantic is a just intonation keyboard where the octave is divided into 53 notes. Conceived by Indian classical music teacher Alain Daniélou to perform microtonal glissandos of Indian raga music, it is based on the theories detailed in his book“La Sémantique Musicale”, 1967. Daniélou first envisaged the instrument with Maurice Martenot in the 1930s, but only build the first fully electronic prototype in the 1970s. Photos above show the last version, build around 2000, by designer Michel Geiss, Christian Braut (programming) and Jean-Claude Dubois (electronics).
Reuben Son – Asleep at the Drawing Board, excerpt from side A, 7inch record on clear vinyl, released by Private Chronology, Boston, MA, June 2014
This disc is part of three new releases published in June 2014 on Private Chronology, an independent label from Boston, MA, run by guitarist and composer Reuben Son. A double time capsule this one, as, on the one hand, the music consists of vintage, analog synth sounds exclusively and, on the other hand, these sessions were recorded in 2011, pressed on vinyl in 2012, but only released in 2014. The rather abstract A-side is a succession of semi-aleatoric flurries of chunky bleep sounds in the form of three short electronic studies. Sounds are briefly altered by filters, pitch modification and reverb but stay in the same high pitched range throughout. The B-side is a different thing altogether, with its melodious, slow motion synth loops playing out of phase of each other in each speaker. In the final section, electronically-produced or sampled wordless, female vocalizations grant the music a Hauntology vibe slowly fading away till the end of the disc. The utilitarian design intentionally reinforces the impression of a document from a by-gone era, not unlike some of Bruce Licher’s letterpress designs for Independent Project Records (Savage Republic).
Caroline Park & Asha Tamirisa – SOTO, cassette released by Private Chronology, Boston, MA, June 2014
In SOTO, the duo of US electronic sound artists Caroline Park and Asha Tamirisa use their laptops to instill elusive electronic loops and washed out, long-held synthesizer notes in a remarkably transitional-state-music that never fully materialize into something as tangible as a Duo, a Composition nor an Improvisation. Rather, the music inhabits an intermediate state akin to the transition from liquid to gaseous, from semi-conscious to sleepy, from night to dawn, etc. Also the deliberate use of psychoacoustic sounds like bells, waves or water – even if buried deep into the mix – add up to the hypnagogic effect the music has on the listener, especially on side A, from which the sound clip above is taken. At 10 minutes per side, the cassette is much too short to really induce the listener into a modified state of consciousness, and it would be interesting to hear this kind of music on the longer run. These two slabs of highly elaborate ambient music were recorded live at Studio SOTO, Boston’s key venue for experimental music and multi-media art – that is, until they closed doors in 2013.
Patrick Emm – Theta States, cassette released by Private Chronology, Boston, MA, June 2014
This 25mn cassette presents five tracks of disquieting electronic music coming from a distant past by Boston musician Patrick Emm. On side A, unsettling utterings and undecipherable vocal fragments emerge amid a background of heavily treated electronic sounds, often flawed by speed instability or marred by extraneous noises. Vocals are less present on side B, but the “wow and flutter” effect of tape recorders and/or malfunctioning playback equipment are still used as compositional tools. By carefully eschewing the sheen of contemporary laptop music and using sonic memes from the early days of Musique Concrète, I suppose Emm aims at re-mythologizing electronic music, which is a welcome idea. But perhaps the effect would have been more efficient on CD or in live performance, a strategy that works well in Jan Jelinek and Andrew Pekler’s own Ursula Bogner project, for instance.
BIOME – Tactus Tempus (7:00 excerpt), composed in 1969 by Frank McCarty, live on KPFA, Berkeley, CA, 1973 [source]
BIOME: Allen Strange, EMS Synthi A Pat Strange, EMS Synthi A Frank McCarty, EMS Synthi A Boots McCarty, EMS Synthi A guests: Patrick Clancy, EMS Synthi A Steve Ruppenthal, EMS Synthi A
BIOME was a US live electronic music collective founded by Allen Strange in California in 1967. Strange studied with Harry Partch, Kenneth Gaburo, Pauline Oliveros and John Chowning. BIOME toured in the US and Europe between 1970 and 1974, occasionally accompanying screenings of Steve Whealton’s experimental films. In 1976, Strange founded another group, the Electric Weasel Ensemble in conjunction with Donald Buchla, as the band only played Buchla synthesizers.
Scarlatti Goes Electro – Third Album [三枚目のアルバムを試聴], LP published by Out One Disc, Tokyo, Japan, May 2014
There can’t be a better time than hot Summer days to indulge into a Jean-Jacques Perrey revival by the French duo of Antoine Souchav and Michel Bananes Jr, from Bordeaux, aka Scarlatti Goes Electro. Based on actual keyboard sonatas by Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757), the duo’s 3rd album collects incredible interpretations of the Maestro’s music for electronic instruments and harpsichord, helped by devilish arrangements from Japanese producer Kishino Yuichi, aka The Mustached Widow, also Out One Disc label owner. Expect highly intoxicating doses of Moog Little Phatty, Korg Mini 700, Clavinet Hohner D6 as well as clarinet and theremin – neat solo on the super-groovy track #9 Sonata K. 456, allegro.
Belgian sound collective Martiensgohome (various membership around Benoît Deuxant and Roland Wouters) emerged from an independent radio live show in Brussels and developed into a weekly experimental podcast as well as live performances and collaborations. This episode, titled In Atlanta, is based on a communication (in French) from an Atlantis representative to the humans of planet Earth and incorporates esoteric jargon, pseudo-science and Scientology brainwashing techniques on a background of ambient music. Remarkably insidious voice from unknown female speaker.