Music Reviews

Song Circus: Anatomy of Sound

 Posted by Steve Mecca   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 29 2016
Artist: Song Circus (@)
Title: Anatomy of Sound
Format: CD + DVD
Label: Lindberg Lyd /2L (@)
Rated: *****
Song Circus is a five-piece female vocal chamber ensemble from Stravanger, Norway led by Liv Runesdatter. 'Anatomy of Sound' is comprised of two works - "Landscape with Figures," composed by Reuben Sverre Gjertsen, who also supplies the electronics for the piece, and
the second work - "Persefone" by Ole Henrik Moe. I should mention that the latter work is an acoustic piece written for five female voice and wine glasses. Already from the little that I've mentioned you must be getting the impression that this is serious avant-garde modern classical music, and you'd be absolutely correct in that assumption, but what you will actually hear here subtly takes sound beyond the confines and preconceived notions of what you've ever experienced before. For your listening pleasure, you have two options - (it is a two disc set) Blue-ray surround sound (your choice of three different modes), or SACD. I found the Blu-ray to be the most rewarding experience, putting the sublime into perspective and best emulating a live performance scenario, although even the SACD will give you a wonderful sonic experience.

The collaborative "Landscape with Figures" took four years for Song Circus to work out with Reuben Sverre Gjertsen, and it's an epic 45 minute excursion into what voices and electronics can accomplish together. As the liner notes state: "The composition stretches the limits of tonal flexability and microtonal precision." Gjertsen studied Wishart and Ferneyhoug (New Complexity) for their systems of notation and composition to achieve this (yes, all the music was actually scored, not merely improvised) so you know this is pretty heady stuff.

Although not required, a familiarity with works by such composers as Morton Feldman, John Cage, George Crumb, Edgard Varese, Anton Webern, Harry Partch, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and others in this field would be helpful, but not essential in appreciating these works. While not musique concrète in the strictest sense, "Landscape with Figures" does seem to have sonic similarities - episodic and sporadic events in both vocals and electronics, radical sound characteristic variations, and impressions of extensive electronic manipulation of both voice and synthesizer. The voices however have not been electronically altered (to my knowledge) but some of the vocal techniques employed may give one that impression. The best way of describing "Landscape" is an aural dreamworld that sometimes mixes natural ambient (although no field recordings were employed) with snippets of other-worldly elements, and also whispers. Vocally, the composition ranges from onomatpoetic utterings to seductive, siren-like glissandoes. Electronically, well, much of it is what you'd expect in an avant-garde composition of this nature, and some of it is not. There is almost no concession to anything musically traditional, and the multitude of electronic variation used ranges from passages of subtle drone to bit of random sample and hold, tinkling belliish tones, something that sounds like a sink drain being unclogged, gong-like sonorities, and random orchestral elements that aren't actually orchestral. There is no rhythm; just a multitude of events that float along occasionally combining and intertwining leaving the listeners to form their own impression. The majority of this work is low-key and jarring events are in the minority. It never seems chaotic, cacophonous or claustrophobic, but rather playful and open, even though it can be a little alien at times. A portion of this piece uses combined fragments of anagrams from a passage of Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" vocally, but don't expect that to be prominent in the listening experience. The piece is also divided into 12 tracks (sections) but you'd be hard-pressed to separate one from the next. In fact, it slips so seamlessly into "Persefone" that you'd hardly know you were on to another composition.

Ole Henrik Moe's "Persefone,' the piece for five voice and wine glasses, is radically different from the preceding work, being a textural study of vocal sound, dynamics and microtonality inspired by Morton Feldman. The description in the liner notes say " the first part he stretches silence and slowness so far that any sense of a horizontal timeline dissolves into a music of state." That's pretty much on off mark. It will be difficult to discern the sustained voices from the wine glasses here. Voice and glass harmonize in a mostly smooth 12 minute moan that has little in the way of hiccups until
near the end. After listening it is easy to hear why this composition was included in the recording.

I readily admit that most of my interest in avant-garde modern music stemmed from an earlier time when I was ever so curious about music that did not conform to convention and transcended traditional form. 'Anatomy of Sound' however has rekindled a spark for this kind of thing, being some of the best "new music" I've heard in a long, long while. While the performers and composers are to be lauded for these works, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and discerning listeners are sure to be rewarded, especially with the proper playback equipment.

Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval ft.Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 28 2016
Artist: Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval ft.Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (@)
Title: In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper
Format: CD
Label: Hubro (@)
Rated: *****
While listening to this lovely release, the result of a collaboration between inventive improviser, performer and guitarist Kim Myhr and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, where Kim himself invited Jenny Hval to borrow her eerie vocals, you could guess they used they made a wrong gender agreement in the use of possessive adjective due to the significant part played by a voice that enchanted many listeners all over the world in critically acclaimed albums such as "Apocalypse, girl" (2015, Sacred Bones) and "Innocence is Kinky" (2013, Rune Grammofon) as well as in many different collaborative projects (particularly the ones with Jessica Sligter and Håvard Volden - Nude on Sand -). In reality the title "In the End His Voice Will Be The Sound of Paper", which could have no real connection to what you're going to listen and has no reference to the way of speaking/singing by Jenny, got inspired by a conversation about the aging of Bob Dylan's voice. Jenny's voice got astonishingly colour-changing over the wisely crafted atmospheres of the album: the 12 chords of Kim's guitar and other instrumental elements - Christian Wallumrod's piano, Tor Haugerud's drums and Morten Olsen's percussions above all - sound like rendering the intricate web of tree's branches of a dense woodland in tracks like the opening "Seed" or the entrancing "The Beak", where Jenny's voice sound like flying as a blind bird; she could vaguely resemble the languid and somehow sorrowful intensity by Beth Gibbons over some moments of "Something New"; she sings like an invisible nymph on songs like the gently trembling "Soft As Tongues" or the lovely final elegy of "Silence a Beat". Premiered at the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival in 2012 - it was described as a musical combination of improvisation, contemporary Feldmanian music, pop and spoken words on that occasion -, recorded at Rainbow Studio in Oslo in August 2014 and finally mixed at Amper Tone Studio together with technician Johnny Skalleberg, Jenny described the compositional approach and the whole collaborative experience as well as her own part for this release as follows: "Kim gave me a lot of sketches and music, I wrote the melody and lyrics, and we improvised. This is a collaborative effort, even if it is mostly Kim’s music. It’s his artistic vision, and it was a great honour for me to be able to take part in it, because you can learn a lot by working with fantastic people. Sometimes I feel that improvised and abstract music is trying desperately to avoid the emotional elements that can be inherent in the music. This was something I thought a lot about when we were going to work with this recording. That’s why I wanted to write romantic lyrics. There is a sense of longing in these lyrics. I wanted to combine something charming, in both the lyrics and the melody, something that wants to be loved, with this more abstract and fragmentary music. I’m interested in vulnerability; the music must have a kind of vulnerability at some level.".

Daniel Higgs: The Fools Sermon, Part 1

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 20 2016
Artist: Daniel Higgs
Title: The Fools Sermon, Part 1
Format: LP
Label: Ideological Organ (@)
Rated: *****
I've never been a great fan of Lungfish - the Baltimore-based post-hardcore band that profoundly marked the artistic path by Daniel Higgs-, as a matter of fact: even if they developed some interesting ideas from the exquisitely musical viewpoint, the lyrical content of their somehow pretentious songs never made that good of an impression on me, due to my personal mistrust for an excessively "flamboyant mystical hook" (to call it so). If you know some of the past releases by Mister Higgs, the smiling man (I do like that sort of panama hat, that looks like having been crafted and coloured by some imaginary hatmaker for gnome's market!) on the cover artwork giving that vague sense of reassurance that would inspire the desire to listen his tales nearby the fireplace, you won't be wondered by the way of storytelling he explores in this release, the first part of a sermon, which doesn't look like a proper sermon in spite of some biblical allusions (besides the matching between death, love and transformation, the listener or the addressee of the sermon got named as "Lazarus" at a certain point). Likewise Lungfish's songs, I'm not impressed by this sort of little poem: the succession of verses often get closer to the wondering of a fool, more than its supposed praying. I do appreciate the limpidity of vocal recordings, but I got mostly impressed by the way the sonic entities that run together Higgs'story-telling got interlaced to the semantic relevance of some lines, including the whooshing sound matched to the quotation of a "Warholian" banana peel amidst a set of supposedly fervid and vaguely raving mystical uttering. A follow-up got already released on a more limited edition on a cassette by Jimmy Joe Roche's imprint Ultraviolet Light, featuring Stephen Strohmeier, another skilled Baltimore-based artist on a Farfisa organ, but I've not checked it yet. In spite of my opinion on such a kind of works and shamanic-like outputs, I could recommend it as an interesting essay on story-telling and sonic inoculation; that could even resemble a sort of radiophonic nuance of some visionary spelling by William Blake or ancient bards. Copies of The Fools Sermon book (the whole poem) should be available on, if you are interested in checking them.

Large Unit: Ana

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 08 2016
Artist: Large Unit
Title: Ana
Format: CD
Label: PNL (@)
Rated: *****
Maybe the cover artwork doesn't help in guessing the content of this interesting hybridization that Norwegian drummer Paul-Nilssen-Love and his Large Unit, a super-group of fourteen musicians - including two drummers, two saxophonists, one trombonist, a trumpet player, two percussionists, two tuba players, one guitarist, two (one electric, and one acoustic) basses and, last but not least, a guy on electronics -. It could look like the cover artwork of a techno album, but what this ensemble began to plan just some hours after a superb concert at the Oslo Jazz Festival in August of 2015 is one of the most striking crossbreeds of Western contemporary jazz and Brazilian music. It coincidentally occurred something that enhanced the listening of the whole album: just some minutes before pressing play, I watched to some clips, which documented the protest against the Olympic Games by some Brazilian people, who threw objects against torch-bearers surrounded by local police and some of the "skronkest" moments of this release, particularly the ones featuring the second part of the final "Circle In The Round", which could be the perfect soundtrack of those scenes. Besides this totally casual association, this fabulous suite, where an important stylistic and tonal dosage of Brazilian music came from Paulinho Bicolor (cuica, triangle, and tamborin) and Celio de Carvalho (congas, bongos, tamborin, pandeiro, berimbau, caxixi, and drums), as well as by the way by which some wind instruments performed, combined some astonishing polyrhythmic sessions, really eruptive electronic grasps, unexpected instrumental explosions, the bizarre dynamics of free jazz and some more or less energetic and joyful phrasing of different styles of Brazilian music (particularly the sonorities of Bahia). According to Nilssen-Love, the bridge between his musical searching and Brazilian music lies in the fact that both of them could be considered as "a celebration of life – a celebration that should be loud, rhythmic and intense" and such an intensity is vividly perceivable in the whole sonic stream that this enlarged team managed to render (superlative the 28 minutes of the main suite "Riofun"). It could deserve a place on the podium as one of the fuzziest free jazz outputs in recent times.

Isabelle Duthoit, Alexander Frangenheim, Roger Turner: Kochuu

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 01 2016
Artist: Isabelle Duthoit, Alexander Frangenheim, Roger Turner (@)
Title: Kochuu
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
I follow Alexander Frangenheim's adventures in the sonic universe with an individual interest, so that after having introduced some of his stuff (and more recently his solo album "Talk For A Listener") on this webzine, here it is another awesome collaborative output. The title "Kochuu" refers to an idea belonging to Japanese architecture: it means "in the jar" - ...and there's no whiskey into it! - and relates to the tradition of creating small physical spaces to create a sort of detached universe from the surrounding environment. If you are interested in this kind of subjects, I could recommend a documentary by Jesper Wachtmeister, dating back 2003. The sound that Alexander on double bass rendered together with percussionist Roger Turner and the amazing French vocalist Isabelle Duthoit (performing on clarinet as well) manages to develop such a concept using guessed stylistic choices. Full of unpredictable twists and turns that could remind that branch of Japanese theatre, where nothing seems to happen all over the play before that dramatic moment that disrupts a supposedly stable balance, the seven tracks on this album got titled as parts of an imaginary agonizing body: since the opening "Blind Stomach", where Isabelle'0s voice seems to emulate the voice of a starving stomach, whose almost soul-breaking need for food and unuseful discharge of gastric acids match the piercing instrumental and rising dramatic instrumental parts, to the final "Dark Haunch", a visionary crescendo that seems to portray of a prisoner on its last legs, the sound on "Kochuu" evokes a scenario where an imagined confinement got easily turned into a sort of sonically acceptable madness. In many moments of the album (particularly on "Deaf Heart" and the almost disturbing "Loose Liver"), the style this trio explored (the release is a recording of an improvisational session they performed at Berlin-based Frangenheim's studioboerne45 in April 2013) sounded so subversive that even some of the boldest free-jazz improvisations could look like stuff for weenuses.
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