Music Reviews

Artist: Philippe Lauzier
Title: A Pond In My Living Room
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
“A Pond In My Living Room” is constructed predominantly from multitracked bass clarinet recordings, layered and processed into steady beatless hypnotic ambiences. Sparing use of other noises- which may in fact be clarinet-sourced but are so processed it’s hard to tell- add a little sprinkle over what is otherwise a very pure and sincere expression of resonance.

I’m a sucker for a lovely clarinet, and while the sustains and thick reverberations here pull the tones far away from the traditional instrument’s sound, that rich timbre is still present. The hollowness of the production is a little alienating, and the resonant frequency responses are a touch metallic, making the overall feel of the album surprisingly inorganic.

The differences between the tracks are subtle and well segued. The first two track have distinct and different pitches of tone that sound not unlike tubular bells. Third track “On The Window Side” has a higher, more flute-like quality and adds a steady slow plucked light bass note, and occasional sounds like processed and distorted tap noises which increase the sense of homemade domestication compared to the other pieces. The final track has a more ebbing and fragile tone, almost like pitched wineglass playing.

Twisting bass clarinet sounds into melodious drones and super-slow looped chord patterns may not be an innovative concept in itself, but the straightforward approach and pure quality of this release make it a big success.
Artist: Miguel Angel Tolosa
Title: Ephimeral
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Miguel Angel Tolosa has contributed to and mastered several releases on the SOFA label but this is his first solo outing- a tight, moderated collection of drones, washes and passive sound, fusing and filtering electronics with sound sources detached unrecognisably from their origins. It’s mostly windy and hollow, but sometimes sub-bass. Instrumentation and process both become irrelevant.

The result is for the most part rather familiar- the echo chamber effect of distant deep oscillations, the sense of being trapped in a large bleak room with a busy city outside, this is certainly territory that has been audibly walked through before. Everything here is washes and reverb, there’s no percussive element at all- just curves and rumbles with a fairly purist sensibility. Rain and thunder on “Sol de plomo y purpura” and a couple of bell chimes on “De un pais de hierro” are exceptions that don’t jolt you.

Tonally it’s not quite as barren as the artwork may suggest. The purity of some of the metallic tones is borderline optimistic at times.

Many of the pieces are surprisingly short (10 tracks span 41 minutes) which prevents almost any of the tracks from elongating into a mesmeric familiarity; just as you’re beginning to accustom yourself to the atmospheric tone, it stops- sometimes a little abruptly- and a new tone begins to creep in. I do wonder whether some of the pieces should have been segued into one another for a more immersive listening experience, or whether some of the pieces should simply have been longer. When the tracks are allowed to live for longer- on “Sol de plomo y purpura” and “Fragmentos de ti”- it works well.

It’s a bold and rather too brief musical statement as an album, not too steeply infused with any kind of unique sonic identity but certainly both pretty and polished.
Artist: Luca Forcucci
Title: The Waste Land
Format: Tape
Label: Crónica
The title track of “The Waste Land” is an unusual example of soundwalking- strolling about gathering atmospheric found sounds and ambiences. While the process often leads to broad and relaxing soundscapes, this is a willful inversion, heavily processed, twisted and alienating. Strong gusty winds and heavy industrial noises of unknown origins lead to a scene that’s almost post-apocalyptic in its atmosphere. At times it sounds insular, almost claustrophobic, with noises akin to deep breathing noises recorded from underneath a coat. Over the fifteen minutes of the title track the sounds evolve fairly rapidly- at points there’s just a single layer, then before too long there are four or five competing noises.

“Voices From The Coal Mine” is an exploration of reverberation in a gigantic enclosed space- sporadic metal hits and scrapes fade into the distance with incredibly long echo tails which begin to layer and form their own, wall-and-material-born hum.

“My Extra Personal Space” is initially a slightly more typical and familar soundwalk- village sounds of gates, passing cars, church bells and birdsong- but as it progresses, further metallic hums and tubular resonance begins to cut through, as though something very sinister is afoot in the previously peaceful town. It all gets a bit “Village Of The Damned” in soundscape form. As it evolves further we move from Normandy to Paris, with more urban noises, metro announcements and suchlike, as though we’ve travelled more in time than in space.

“The Waste Land” is an unusual hybrid of found sounds and treatments, infused with a lot of energy. It covers a lot of ground in 37 minutes and is certainly an interesting, if not always comfortable, journey.
Artist: Frode Gjerstad & Paal Nilssen-Love
Title: Nearby Faraway
Format: CD + Download
Label: PNL Records
Gjerstad on saxophone and clarinet, and Nilssen-Love on a vintage set of Asba drums, have been playing together either as a duo or part of larger ensembles for over a quarter of a century. Such a familiarity breeds confidence and understanding, and with those, the duo can assuredly put together a 9-track, 42-minute collection of stripped-down loose jazz improvisations.

Gjerstad’s sax is often quite frantic, oscillating rapidly between two notes; when switching to clarinet that’s true to a lesser extent but there’s still a willingness to push the instrument towards the edge of screeching. On the other hand Nilssen-Love’s drumming is often more understated, preferring complexity of expression over drama. The drums are surprisingly raw in their recording and low in the mix, giving the whole release a slightly lo-fi, garage tone which does no favours to the virtuosity of the playing.

There’s not a great variety of styles between pieces. By and large it all has one single attitude. While “Flying Circus” is slightly more panicky, with the highest sustained saxophone note I can ever remember hearing, and pieces like “Funny Talks” are a bit more casual, things tend to stay within the duo’s comfort zone performance-wise. As such, forty minutes is probably just about enough. This album is an impressively accomplished performance with a raw and frustrated feel, that doesn’t perhaps stretch its wings as far as it might have.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Anthology of Lithuanian Art Music in the 21st Century
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Music Information Centre Lithuania
This is an extensive compilation of 18 modern classical pieces from the last 11 years, filling two CD’s. Released under the label of Music Information Centre Lithuania you’d be forgiven for expecting it to be somewhat dry and traditionally stuffy, and in its presentation, it is, slightly. The music itself however is anything but. It’s a diverse set, 18 different composers all bringing wildly different flavours, many of which strongly entice you to want to check out each composer’s work in more depth. Extremely extensive sleevenotes (almost 7000 words) make that easy to do.

Tomas Kutaviius’s “Triplum” is a suitably attention-grabbing opener, an abrasive stepping-note violin-led orchestral performance that commands attention, before the virtuoso violin solo of “The Wave Accompanies the Bird’s Flight”. The planned evolution between tracks is remarkably sympathetic and smooth, stepping into “Scratched Duo”, a slightly more folksy piece with some jaunty experimental interludes and many changes in tone.

It isn’t all fun and games. Vytautas Germanaviius’ “Crumbling Arches” is a macabre and disquieting piece for strings and piano. The harpsichord-heavy “Triglyph” at times doesn’t actually sound modern. Lukrecija Petkut’s “teleAgony” is borderline silly, wailing tubas, pitch-sliding breathing challenges for trombone players; Justina Repekait’s “REM” a similarly irreverent approach to the horn.

When compiling a collection such as this, it must be tempting to regard the most energetic pieces as the highlights- but as well as pieces like the playful, slightly Cinematic Orchestra-esque “Popcorn” (no, not a cover of the Hot Butter track), there are darker, more drone-like abstractions, such as the very Lygeti-like tensions of Raimonda ikait’s accordion-stretching “Chromatography”, and the scratchy, sparse “Octo 716” by Juta Pranulyt which is notable for featuring both a kankls (a Lithuanian zither) and the only credit for ‘electronics’, a sound source that’s otherwise absent. Elena Šatait’s striking piece “Eremos” also has a dark ambient drone layer under the gradual dawning swells of the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, though it’s difficult to tell where it’s coming from.

Tadas Dailyda’s “Nothing Happened Today” and Julius Aglinskas’s “The New Net In Two” herald the beginning of ‘the vocal section’, the former featuring a sweet mezzo-soprano performance of the most uninspired lyrics you’ve heard in a long time, the latter an extremely hollow-sounding slow choral setting of a Méret Oppenheim poem. “Blanche t’a vu” by Albertas Navickas sets a multi-tracked wandering choral solo voice among sporadic flutes to create something completely ethereal, a ‘response to surrealism’ which is surrealism in itself.

On paper, “Self-made String of Tiny Amber Beads Turned into Numbers” is a very simple proposition- a youth chorus counting English language numbers in the notes of (mostly) a C major scale- with a result that’s certainly very reminiscent of some Philip Glass works.

ibuokl Martinaityt’s “The Blue Of Distance” is the sound of the Volti Choir in San Francisco humming or singing just vowels, at different rates; again very simple as a proposition but powerful in its clarity. Finally “Non in commotione” by Rytis Maulis ends the collection with a note of suspense- a woodwind quintet and a string quartet all sustaining suspenseful notes for fourteen minutes to be precise.

This compilation is packed with so much material that it seems a shame to post such a cursory review. As an introduction to a wealth of modern classical music you may not already have been aware of, it’s a very well-formed and classy piece and a very strong advertisement for the vibrancy of modern classical music in Lithuania.
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