Saturday, September 29, 2007

Even busier...

Apologies again for the lack of posts around here, been another busy week. Put a tick against all of the usual excuses, new job training courses, spending time with people close to me etc, but another big event that has taken up a lot of my time has been preparation for the start of the third series of audition, the Resonance FM radio programme I present with Alastair Wilson. Much of this week I worked on completely overhauling the audition website, which you can see here.
My skills with website design are all self taught, so I am really pleased with how it came out. As a piece of graphic design its horrible, but the main thing is it works, and is easy to update and maintain. It might just be another website lost out there on the web, but I'm really proud of it, so there!

Last Monday Alastair and I interviewed a musician for a future special show (more on this at a later date) and we have been to visit the new studios at Resonance, which look amazing, some leaps and bounds ahead of the ramshackle disaster zone of the previous studios. We have been feverishly working on ideas for future shows (well I have anyway, Al has been lazing about in Paris) and as you can read in more detail at the audition site, we go back on air on Sunday evening. I hope some of you will find the time to listen, if you can't then Mp3s of our programmes will go up at the site soon after.

Another big happening in my life starts on Monday, when I begin a new job with a new company. Its very much a step backwards for me (with the hope of shortly taking a big leap forward) but I will be working for a company I feel far more comfortable with and with (I hope) far less stress than I had previously. Obviously the trade off of this is I will earn less money for now, but I think its the right move, time will tell.

I'll get back to less autobiographic posting very soon I promise!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Busy busy busy

Been a while since my last post, sorry. This has been for a few reasons, the primary one being a lot of work in getting ready to return to work, but also I've been writing a bit for elsewhere, listening to some great demos that have been sent for Cathnor consideration and starting silly arguments in music forums (that last one I'll be giving a break for a while now ;)

So not much I can write about here that wouldn't bore you to tears. The CDs that have fallen through my letterbox of late have mostly been of high quality.The new Potlatch release, Propagations by the all saxaphone quartet of Marc Baron, Bertrand Denzler, Jean-Luc Giuionnet and Stephane Rives has been playing a lot today. Defintely a CD I like an awful lot more than I thought might, though why I say that I couldn't tell you. Another disc I've enjoyed a lot is Taku Unami's 1mannengo Soundtrack, the latest installment in his seemingly relentless mission to confound the expectations of us poor listeners.

The most playing time here recently has been reserved though for the new Col Legno release of Luigi Nono's epic Prometeo, a new recording of this monumental work. One day when I move to bigger, quieter place I'll go buy a surround sound system just to hear this release in 5.1... Its quite possible I'll churn out reviews for all of these releases over the next week or so, so I won't go into detail now.

On Sunday I meet up with my audition partner in crime Alastair to go visit the new Resonance FM studios and finalise the planning for a new series of the show, looking forward to announcing details here soon. Resonance announced our time slot in their Wire ad this month though, Sundays 7PM-8.30PM, so yes an extended show this series. Lots of good stuff planned including a new website, something else thats taken up my time lately!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Uncertain Times

Ryu Hankil, Jin Sangtae, Taku Unami, Mattin - 5 Modules III


I'm a little late to this extraordinary recording, having owned it a while but only just found the time to play it. However as Mattin's partially incomprehensible sleeve notes suggest we all need to reclaim our own notion of time, this probably doesn't matter so much. Time is definitely a central theme of this CD. Ryu Hankil is credited with playing clockwork with a contact mic, and for much of the recording the listener is removed from any preconceived notions of how time is used in improvised music, left with broken parts of a strangely unfamiliar clock ticking, long silent spaces and periodic long passages of electronic drone that do not allow for any flow, yet also somehow also avoid tension. There seems to be little connection between the sound events that occur, and whilst the rhythmic turning of odd deconstructed clockwork-like sound features throughout the piece there is little symmetry to the overall construction that jumps viciously from pin pricks of sound dropped into silence to brittle blasts of digital noise.

I'll be honest I don't know what to make of this CD. It falls somewhere between the emptiness of some of Unami's past music and the raw, dirty electronic sound that is becoming synonymous with the fast emerging Korean improv scene. In places the use of mutated clock ticking and subdued laptop hum produces some interesting shapes picked out of the silence, but in other places the harshness and sheer volume of a drone and the overall ugliness of the sounds used make this a difficult listen. Here and there we are presented with long passages of repeated sounds that resemble the recordings of clockwork slowed right down, each "tick" extended into a rougher sound event. By all accounts Unami heavily edited and reworked the live recording in post production, and its possible these passages are the result of him slowing the music down, again playing with the notion of time. Its also possible that one or both of the laptops are responsible for producing these sounds in real time. There is a definite sense of uneasy imbalance thoughout however, caused in part by this feeling of slowed time.

The music is improvised but there has had to have been some considerable discussion about the shape of the music beforehand. On another sleeve note Hankil mentions that he gained a lot from the musical relationships formed between the quartet, which can be divided into two established duos (Unami/Mattin and Hankil/Sangtae) meeting for the first time. The odd, fractured feel of the entire 55 minute piece resembles more a Radu Malfatti score played with broken electronics than it does an improvisation, and it seems unlikely that this music was arrived at without either some degree of predetermined approach or massive post production treatment. If this music is indeed the result of four musicians playing together and discovering common ground then it is remarkable that they have all arrived here in this strange unorthodox place.

So a CD that has really got me thinking, the kind of challenge we are used to from Mattin and Unami. I can't help but feel I am missing something important here, something that has caused this music to take such an alien, uncomfortable form. Its miles from easy listening, an intriguing mystery at best, downright impenetrable at its worse, but a disc that has certainly got me thinking hard about its nature, and wondering what on earth I am meant to do with it. Challenging stuff, in the very best sense of the word.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Blasphemous Rumours

Recently at the I Hate Music forum there have been various discussions around the question of whether it matters or not to fully understand a musician/composer's inspiration and intention for a piece of music to be able to enjoy it. Well after a short to and fro the obvious conclusion was reached by most parties that whilst it is far from necessary, further understanding could possibly add a new dimension to some people's listening. In the debate I made a post that stated that although I could see it possible that extra information about a piece of music could enhance my listening experience, I couldn't think of anything right then that could potentially detract from my personal response to the music. If I liked something I liked it, how could anything I could read about music change such an opinion?

Well I think I might have found something that comes pretty close. My utter contempt for organised religon is no big secret. I've hinted at it here before, but because its possibly the only subject in the world that makes me truly angry I don't often go into detail. Famously a couple of years ago at a friend's wedding, when asked by a particularly earnest and equally irritating vicar what I thought about the recent redecoration of a room attached to the church I replied "nothing that a spot of arson couldn't fix" I think I've been doomed for a future in the pits of hell ever since, so I'm not going to lose much by making this post.

As I've begun to delve into the bottomless pit of classical music's history for my listening pleasure I've come across a dilemma I've not really had to worry about before. There's a lot of music out there in this genre that has religon at its heart. I don't doubt I own many CDs that may well have religious thought inspiring them somewhere, but none that are abundantly obvious enough to disturb me. Recently though I've had music recommended to me that clearly has the lunacy of organised religon as its main motivation for existing. In the summer I was told about a late Mozart mass I really should hear, yet I refused to seek it out, just unable to bring myself to do it. I have similar thoughts on other pieces I might otherwise have heard, a lot of Bach's music springs immediately to mind.

Well a week or two back a friend whose opinion on music I hold very highly indeed recommended me an album by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina entitled Seven Words. A piece for cello and bayan, a kind of Russian accordion. As the release is on Naxos it was both easy to find and very cheap, and for just £5 I picked up a copy amongst other items without paying much attention to it. It was only just after I'd put it in the CD player for the first time that I noticed the painting of the crucifiction (no typo there) on the front cover, and reading through the notes the very strong Christian influence to the music.

So what do you do in this kind of situation? My opinion of the music had become immediately discoloured. I found myself wanting to dislike the work as it began to play. I think it was George Michael that released an album titled Listen without prejudice, but I think I stood about as much chance of being able to do that with this Gubaidulina album as I would have with a disc of his crap. I did listen though, complete with prejudice. I have played the album twice now. Do I like it? Well yes, I do from an entirely musical perspective, although the bayan does tend to annoy me quite a lot throughout, making a sound that grates with me for some reason, something most accordion music tends to do. (The piece was originally scored for cello and organ, an arrangement I think I would much prefer) The intensity of the composition, and the obviously deeply felt and somewhat sorrowful emotions going into its realisation really come through in the music.

Yes I guess I do like this piece then, although it leaves me wondering why it takes this most common manifestation of human insecurity to inspire someone to make music of such power. Watching the Simon Rattle DVD set I mentioned in a post earlier today I think I have similar feelings towards Messiaen, a composer whose use of synaesthesia and recreated natural sounds interests me a lot, although the purpose he puts these methods to I find pretty revolting. I have long been annoyed that certain creative methodolgy is tied so closely to religious tradition. I wrote earlier this year about Klaus Lang's beautiful work Missa beati pauperes spiritu that takes the mass form and allows it to exist merely as beautiful music, separated from its religious history. I wish this kind of thing happened more often. I have attended many concerts in beautiful churches that were built years ago with the fear of religion driving their construction. Reclaiming a few more of these fantastic acoustic spaces for music and other arts would be nice.

I guess this question of testing my own personal morals will appear many times as I dig further into orchestral music. I imagine my response will evolve to being close to my interest in Michaelangelo. An unbelievable craftsman creating beautiful work with depressing subject matter. At least you all know what I don't want played at my funeral now anyway. ;)

Photo of the month No.6

Been so busy I nearly forgot this month's photo... the sheer number of complaints I received regarding its absence underlines just how popular this feature really is however....

This month a photo taken from the inside of the garage here at Pinnell Towers, looking out through a window, just before several days were spent cleaning it...

Rattling my brain

Been a busy old week here bouncing about the country sorting out employment. I'll be starting work again on the 1st October, though a few other options remain open, so you still have a few more weeks of me typing irrelevant drivel here on a more frequent basis...
The slow posting is partly because I've been home I've been deeply engrossed in Elizabeth Wilson's mammoth biography of Shostakovich entitled A Life Remembered, and I've been slowly working my way through the pictured box set of DVD documentaries, Leaving Home - Orchestral Music in the 20th Century. written and narrated by Sir Simon Rattle. The films originally appeared on UK TV (I think Channel 4?) a few years back, but not having any interest in that medium I never saw them. I can recommend the set though because although to the already knowledgable it will say nothing new (and I don't consider myself in that category) it features frequent films of Rattle conducting the many discussed works with the Birmingham Syphony Orchetra. His quiet, articulate yet simple discussions of the music are often illustrated by him at a piano, and this coupled with the full scale orchestral playing makes for a nice way to talk about music like this. Extended excerpts and discussions are held on everyone from Mahler to Takemitsu, via Schoenberg, (often) Shostakovich, (at length) Messiaen, Kurtag, Debussy and everyone in between, not ignoring Ives, Cage and Feldman.

I'm only four sevenths of the way through the set but its been a very useful and interesting experience for me so far that will probably offer something to longterm classical listeners as well. I picked the box up for just under £50 from Amazon UK, not too bad for seven 50 minute discs.

Monday, September 03, 2007

She wants the Young Americans...

Quite enjoyed writing reviews lately, here's another:

Dave Barnes, Graham Stephenson - S/t (Self released CDR)

It'd probably really annoy these two musicians if I described this release as youthfully energetic, so I'll avoid doing it, but there is a real spark in this music. Dave Barnes and Graham Stepehnson are two American musicians in the first half of their twenties that have spent the last few years soaking up massive amounts of music from a wide spectrum of genres, before distilling the spirit and knowledge of those explorations down into music of their own. Barnes plays electronics, or more precisely according to the sleeve credit, electricity, whilst Stephenson is credited with Air rather than trumpet. Whilst perhaps just a playful use of words these descriptions may actually be more accurate. There is a real feeling of sculpture in these recordings, an intimate moulding of basic elements into simple, rather pleasing shapes.

Barnes and Stephenson make improvised music much in the "EAI" vein, although their sound seems influenced from many angles. The raw electronics feel of the recent swell of American improvisers is evident, with the likes of English and GOD serving as close comparisons but there is a language here that belongs to this duo alone. Clearly they have played a lot together before releasing this CDR, a smart move in today's times of easy instant distribution. There is a strong sensitivity evident towards each other's playing and a subtle awareness of overall composition that belies their age.

The track titles are dreadful (Sexists Exist, A Cyst etc...) and the packaging is typically raw, a white card sleeve wrapped in two bands of heavy duty insulation tape, but the music is what matters here. As is typical of the new breed of American electronics there are a few violent shifts in volume and texture, sudden blasts leaping out of quiet passages, but not many, their impact made all the more pleasing by their infrequency. The third track 35,000 Sq Ft. of Faith actually remains very subdued throughout, with Stephenson using just soft breaths of air (he doesn't play a traditional note throughout the disc) and Barnes working with low register swirls of sound.

Its never impossible to tell the two musicians apart, there are two distinct voices here improvising in what is actually quite a traditional manner, but utilising their own carefully developed set of sounds and above all playing together as if they had been doing it for a couple of decades. A sense of humour is very evident, obviously at the end of the first track when the sound of Stephenson clearing his throat is left in after the edit, but also more obliquely as a playfulness is apparent throughout. The music here is still a little rough around the edges in more ways than one, but this disc captures two promising musicians with a lot more than just youthful energy at their disposal.

Orderable from ErstDist