new music reviews authored by paul khimasia morgan

Friday, 9 February 2018

A 1000füssler quartet

Straight outta Hamburg, comes what appears to be the final four releases on 1000füssler before Gregory Büttner sadly seems to have opted for an indefinite hiatus.  The back catalogue is full of top-flight names such as Seth Cooke & Dom Lash, Adam Asnan, Birgit Uhler, Asmus Tietchens, Roel Meelkop and Büttner himself.  1000füssler is a label that concerns itself with the sound of objects, activities, ephemera, occurrences, often this is in the form of field recordings, sometimes not.

Goh Lee Kwang
Radio Station EXP
GERMANY  1000füssler  028  3” CD  (2015)

Sounds of rainfall in Kuala Lumpur “re-composed and manipulated” by Goh Lee Kwang.  The connection between rain and radio is not an obvious one perhaps, but there are connections between atmospheric conditions and signal quality so maybe that is part of what is being alluded to here.  Kwang has managed to successfully transmogrify his rainfall recordings into a bleak kind of static.  Echo or doubling effects seem to be employed here and there, generating a brutalist crescendo.  This evolves over roughly two thirds of the piece’s duration; the source material getting more and more saturated with processing until it ultimately experiences a sudden massive boost in the high frequency range which gives the effect of what it might be like to have a massive bag of rice break over your head.  After this monumental event horizon has passed, Kwang allows all manner of sonic detritus to remain; gently swirling around like the flotsam and jetsam of a shipwreck the morning after a storm.

Simon Whetham
GERMANY  1000füssler  029  3” CD  (2015)

Simon Whetham endlessly traverses the world performing, recording and teaching leaving in his wake a respectable quantity of audio documentation on multifarious imprints.  This posits the question of whether “sonic art” is a contrivance designed at the whim or as a by-product of the primary work of practitioners like Whetham?  Or perhaps “contrivance” is simply a handy term for his working method here sounding objects. Which involves a very direct, constructional input from the artist.  The last couple of times I have seen Simon perform, he made good use of objects he found in the performance space – this “accidental”, or latent, palette of sounds.  The material on Contrivance, though, could be generated from industrial machinery or field recording sources or, again, simply the result of Whetham’s actions and interactions inside a gallery space.

Yan Jun
On 3 pipes
GERMANY  1000füssler  030  3” CD  (2015)

Two pieces made up from recordings of the pipework in his home and at The Shop, Beijing.
“Both tracks were heavily modified during the mastering process.  The original materials contain strong noises from the recording equipment.”  This suggests to me that the sounds captured from the pipes themselves were very quiet, and the noisefloor of the recorder is intentionally or unintentionally present.
Nonetheless, the results are very interesting.  Track one sounds processed, by which I mean it is not drowned in a sea of digital effects, rather the accidental artefacts of the recording itself are given equal priority it seem to me.
The start of the second track sounds like my old water heater which immediately brought back memories of making recordings of that myself about six years ago but also the frustration of having to rip it out and replace the entire heating system shortly afterward.  That was a cold winter.  Yan Jun’s recording allows the periodic interruption of the heater pumping water interspersed with calm.  At one point you can hear a phantom telephone ring which gives an idea of the amount of processing during the mastering process – a lot.  It’s not obvious on the loud sections in the same way as on track one, but yes it is heavily processed.

Diatribes & Cristián Alvear
Roshambo (trio)
GERMANY  1000füssler  031  3” CD  (2015)

Cyril Bondi, Laurent d’incise Peter, (who are Diatribes), and Cristián Alvear react in many interesting ways to a score written by Bondi and Peter.  Bondi uses a range of percussion, Peter his laptop, and Alvear his customary Spanish guitar.  I’ve written elsewhere at some length about the amazing sounds Cristián Alvear coaxes out of his guitar, and having arranged a Brighton concert for Diatribes in 2015, you can probably guess I’m a big fan of their work.
The piece ebbs and flows in a fashion reminiscent of a piece from the Wandelweiser group of composers, utilising space to allow each action to fully resonate.  Crests and troughs, like waves breaking in an eternal cycle of energy sustain and release.  What Michael Pisaro’s A Wave And Waves might sound like in super-compressed form, sketched on the back of your library card.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

a Caduc trio

Christián Alvear
HERMIT – Ryoko Akama
CANADA  Caduc  CA10  CD  (2016)

Three more recent releases from Caduc, the Vancouver-based label run by Mathieu Ruhlmann.  I’ll start with HERMIT – here, immediately the listener is thrust into a world of uncertainty; it takes 22 seconds before the first note sounds.  The forty-nine minutes and forty seconds of music that follow is full of suspense, anticipation, with a clear demonstration of restraint, resulting in the spare and economical delivery typical of Christián Alvear.  This is a beautiful acoustic guitar treatment by Alvear of this Ryoko Akama piece.  The inner sleeve has very little production information, but it does feature some text which I presume is all or part of Akama’s score for HERMIT – which is as follows:
“sound. Decay. Silence / Repeat one or two times / Short, soft, / Long and almost inaudible”
Alvear is a master of extended technique and wrings as many different sounds out of his Spanish flamenco-style guitar as he possibly can.  He also manages to convincingly incorporate an electronic ingredient into the proceedings – this could be produced by an e-bow device on the strings of his guitar.  It is not clear if this realisation of HERMIT is constructed – by which I mean multi-tracked – or performed in one take.  It would come as no surprise to hear that Alvear performed all this live in one go, such is his skill and imagination as a player.  Video material on his own website provides plenty of evidence of his commitment to “…the premiere, interpretation and recording of experimental and avant-garde music”, should you care to check it out.
There is also a quote hidden on the back of a folded part of the packaging, presumably from Ryoko Akama:
“what I miss most is somewhere between quiet and solitude
What I miss most is stillness”
This is a very, very quiet record due to its nature, and it needs – I think – a quiet place to hear it, study it and contemplate it.

Santiago Astaburuaga
Grado de potencia #1
CANADA  Caduc  CA15  CD  (2016)

The translation of Grado de potencia I found is “degree of power”.  Realised by a large ensemble of fourteen players, it is one forty-nine minute piece which involves environmental recordings being played back, along with the various instrumentation.  The piece was composed by Astaburuaga who also co-mixed the material with Augusto Hernandez.  It was recorded by Hernandez, Alexander Bruck and Jordan Topiel Paul.  Bruck, a member of the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra who has recently branched out into New Music, also plays viola on this recording.  The other performers are Gudinni Cortina, Rolando Hernandez, Enrique Maraver, Axel Muňoz, Alfredo Bojórquez, Jacob Wick, Ramón del Buey, Darío Bernal, Maribel Suárez, Jorge David Garcia, Aimée Theriot, Juan J. Garcia and Eva Coronado.
Grado de potencia #1 has a rich and vibrant textural clarity.  There is a dead stop at the end of the first quarter circa 12-20 minutes where the next sound is recorded conversation in a reverberant location.  A nice juxtaposition.  Circa 25 minutes there’s the sound of a dog barking – it’s so incongruous, it made me laugh out loud.  I’ve had conversations with friends recently about large groups improvising and how it only works in the context of performing a score which calls for improvisation?  For sure, there is a fair amount of recorded evidence of improvising orchestras struggling under the sheer weight of numbers over the years, but here there’s a lightness and fluidity despite the large number of musicians participating.
Christián Alvear has also produced a realisation of another piece by Astaburuaga; Pieza de Escucha. Video on his website.  There are a group of five harvestmen photographed on the rear of the sleeve, which further endears this release to me even more.  I like harvestmen much more than spiders; so much more elegant, don’t you think? 
Mastered by Alan Jones at Laminal Audio.  Santiago Astaburuaga has previous releases in groupings including with Christian Alvear on Impulsive Habitat and Lengua de Lava which on the strength of this, I am now going to search out.
Ryoko Akama / Christian Alvear / Cyril Bondi / D’Incise
MADA – Taku Sugimoto
CANADA  Caduc  CA16  CD  (2016)
Made with the requisite care and attention by Akama and Alvear - who have previous releases on the Caduc imprint; HERMIT – and Bondi and D’Incise who are perhaps better known as the duo Diatribes.  Here are two longish pieces and a short “interlude” of silence in between.  Sugimoto is well-known as a guitarist with a singular approach to composition.  Since 1988’s Mienai Tenshi or 1996’s Myshkin Musicu, Taku Sugimoto has moved into writing scores.  This is confirmed by the Improvised Music From Japan website which states, “Currently Sugimoto's interest focuses on composition and its performance, rather than improvisation.”  I first became aware of Taku Sugimoto’s work when, while working at the Circulations multi-media event at Sussex University in the late 1990s, I witnessing a young man quietly abusing his archtop Gibson jazz guitar in a profoundly un-jazz way.  A colleague of mine then informed me that this fellow was clearly a devotee of the Japanese minimalist.

Mada I features a staccato guitar pluck as crisp as a footstep in fresh snow.  Repeated clusters of activity. Nay, flurries.  Occasionally two or more instruments settle on the same note.  Extensive use of pauses.  This piece is perhaps more animated and delicate.  Spread out. A piano note repeats.  Harp?  The interlude is around five minutes of silence and such a long duration is very effective.  When the bassy drum/bell hits that start Mada II appear it is a genuinely disturbing jolt.  All the silence of the interlude acts as a solid footing that anchors one piece to the other like concrete.  Mada II doesn’t even start straightaway.  Sugimoto specifies extremes of pitch.  It’s like the musicians are slowing down time.
One early listen-through was while killing time in a carpark in semi-rural Sussex, England.  Here’s a list of the things in the environment I heard while I was listening to MADA in the order I heard them:
The squeak of a hung metal shop sign blown softly by the wind
Light traffic
The bass rumble of a large motorcycle’s V-twin engine ticking over nearby
A tractor passing
The ever-present drone of aircraft
Church bells
A bus
Crows.  Make of that what you will.

MADA could be seen as a culmination of Sugimoto’s previous solo explorations/approach/practice.  I’m looking forward to the prospect of discovering more.

Monday, 26 June 2017

"the blue heart of the planet"

photo by George Baylis

Carnival Of Objects Theatre Of Puppetry presents
The Sea

Shelley Theatre, Boscombe, Dorset 24/25 June 2017

A “dark and atmospheric coastal tale”, The Sea is a modern re-imagining of traditional stories and
legends that surround the “Selkies”, or seal folk – “…the spiritual personifications of nature and the hidden aspects of the workings of the sea…” - that originate from The Western Isles.  Indeed, director Nicky Baylis spent considerable time researching these legends when she visited the Outer Hebrides in preparation for writing the play.  The Sea is immersive; from the very first moments, as the sea mist rolls in over the audience from the rear of the Shelley Theatre’s small raked stage to later, when the first of the beautiful hand-sculpted seal-masks bob around, I was transported to another place.  Baylis’ story pits a barbaric, drunken seal hunter against the mystical aspects of the sea itself, while a sub-plot involving a doomed relationship between a human male, (of very traditional male attitudes), and a seal woman intertwines with the unnerving influence of a kind of witchy conjuror-type character, Maggie o’ th’ Moss.  In a way, the masks and puppets are the real stars of the show; the epic two-year pre-production period being due in large part to the time it takes to fabricate these often quite large pieces.  The impressive “Seal King” mask must have been over three feet tall.
The four excellent actors/puppeteers; Emma Manley, Tony Horitz, Jonny Hoskins and Nicky Baylis, are joined onstage by two musicians; violinist Stefan Defilet and cellist Nick Squires who perform throughout.  Defilet wrote the score for the play and it is here, along with the imaginative sound design, that the tangible magic of the play is created.  Using a mixture of traditional folk-influenced elements, extended technique and otherworldly drones, Defilet and Squires ramp up the mood, tension and anxiety as the play progresses.  In the second half, the amplified pre-recorded sound design which had previously comprised simple effects such as the sound of waves or seabirds, now employs fabulously unsettling delays and reverberation on spoken passages, (reminding me of the disconcerting sound effects in the lurid Mexican 1960s Mr Majicka films), contrasting hi-fidelity and grainy analogue sections, sputtering white noise, in particular, during the scene where the Grim Reaper makes an appearance, helping give the proceedings a genuine sense of menace.

photo by Paul Viner

The puppeteering is elegant and refined throughout; referencing the bunraku technique, (in other words, the performers are visible to the audience while operating the puppets).  There is also a link back to one of the building’s previous uses – the Publicity Artist; cartoonist Mark Stafford and the photographers, Liam Daniel and George Baylis all studied art in the building.
The venue itself is in a perfect location for this play; only a few hundred yards away from the cliffs overlooking the sea at Boscombe.  The auditorium itself currently has a suitably “shabby-chic” look about it as all the remaining original features – the proscenium arch and raked stage for example – have been retained and their aged patina preserved intact.  The modern theatre bar and courtyard adjacent to the auditorium is a stylish recent addition.  The original theatre was built by Percy Florence Shelley, son of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, inside his private residence, Boscombe Manor.  The theatre itself opened in 1870.  The building’s subsequent history is interesting.  Shelley and his wife left no direct descendants, so the manor was sold and became a school around the turn of the century.  After the Second World War it then became an art college - I studied there from 1988-1990 when it was known simply as Shelley Park; part of Bournemouth & Poole College of Art & Design.  At that time, the stage area of the theatre, (complete with the original raked floor), was our canteen and the auditorium our Main Hall.  When the College stopped using the building to teach, the building sadly quickly fell rapidly into disrepair.  As is too often the case these days, where financial pressures seem to sometimes take precedent over historical value, at this point in time, there was some concern for the future of the derelict theatre.  However, developers refurbished the entire site after it was sold in 2005 and it is no small achievement of the team behind the Shelley Theatre Trust who have so elegantly brought Shelley Theatre back to life.

I attended the first of a two-night run and both nights appear to have been sold out.  Nicky Baylis plans to tour the play around coastal theatre venues in the near future.  It's a wonderful piece of work. I wish her and Carnival Of Objects the best of luck in that endeavour.

photo by George Baylis

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

From Ledge To Ledge

Noteherder & McCloud
From Ledge To Ledge
UK  Spirit Of Gravity  7” vinyl  (2017)

Great lathe-cut seven here from Brighton’s saxophone/electronics duo of Chris Parfitt and Geoff Reader respectively.  Both cuts are excerpted from live recordings from the fag-end of 2015 in Brighton and Worthing.  The A side, “From Ledge To Ledge” is the nearest I’ve heard them get to dub, but even now, you’ll have to listen hard to get that.  The prepared bass line that starts the piece off is what makes me make that reference; other listeners might assume I’ve gone mad.  The saxophone comes in from the end of a very long station platform bringing with it recordings of voices and bit-crushed kiddytronica.  This rich stew is then availed of some dub-style delay effects while cranking up the spookiness factor.
The flip; “Jammed In The Middle Shingle, It Comes Right In The End” is more minimal and less of a foot-tapper than the A side, but: if you are reading this blog, since when have you been concerned by that?  The saxophone is more prominent and in control from the start; the electronics initially chug along in the background.  Voices are heard; possibly audience members, lurking.  Chris Parfitt is sending a pulse signal out into deep space.  And then we’re on Broadway in the Birdland club back in 1959, briefly…

Both cuts stop abruptly in order to fit the meagre timeframe of 7” vinyl, but I like that.  Better than faffing about trying to find “the best” four minutes to edit; just cut it there – great!  The mastering job is handled, appropriately, by Dan Powell, he of improvising outfits The Static Memories, Nil and Brambling, who infuses more clarity out of a live recording destined for lathe-cut vinyl than is decent.  The Cover image is a roadbridge over the A27 at Shoreham, unless I’m much mistaken.  Which is a nice continuation of Noteherder & McCloud’s fascination with Sussex architecture; previous releases have been decorated with images of Brighton’s New England House and Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion.  Back cover and label images of the band by Far Rainbow’s Bobby Barry.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Three Things You Can Hear

Seamus Cater
The Three Things You Can Hear
NETHERLANDS  Nearly Not There Records / Annihaya Records NNTR01  LP/CD  (2016)

On this, his first solo album, Seamus Cater aims to combine “new song-writing and contemporary acoustic music drawing on revivalist folk music and 60s minimalism as source material”.  What sets him apart from practitioners working in similar ways like Richard Dawson or Richard Youngs or Alasdair Roberts?  There’s the minimalism of course, and the production is high quality but very spare.
As well as Fender Rhodes, the familiar junk-shop-find 1941-vintage duet concertina accompaniment abides for those who enjoyed Cater’s last studio outing; The Anecdotes with Viljam Nybacka.  Although positioned as a solo record, Cater is not always alone on The Three Things You Can Hear; there are also rather understated contributions from Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke of The International Nothing, Koen Nutters and Morten J. Olsen of The Pitch and Konzert Minimal and Johnny Chang, also of Konzert Minimal.  Han Jacobs contributes saw.  Incidentally, this album was mastered by Jeff Carey; the man who contributed “reverb” to a piece on The Anecdotes.  There’s a crossover here for those interested in quiet music: Berlin-based Johnny Chang is part of the Wandelweiser collective, in fact alongside Koen Nutters, he co-curates the Wandelweiser group-based concert series Konzert Minimal.
Despite working with what could be termed “traditional instrumentation”, Cater is not afraid to deviate from traditional songform.  His unhurried approach to his material tends to focus the listener’s attention.  His is more than simply a considered approach; he has a deep and sympathetic relationship with his material and the history and tradition within.  His family’s musical background can be seen as a way of determining Cater’s interests for sure.  His own experiences as a young man deep within the anti-authoritarian, transient, atmospheric, acid house culture of the late 1980s may possibly be important; possibly not.  Interestingly, he seems to have been a recognisable figure at the time in the acid house scene – Cater has recently survived being name-checked by The Prodigy's Keith Flint.
I have the lp version here which is housed in a great die-cut sleeve – nice, rounded corners; very unusual –a three colour silkscreened etelage card sleeve adorned with an image of a human head, deep in thought?  There is also a full-colour printed card bookmark inscribed by hand with a download code, plus a gigantic A1 fold-out silkscreened/digital print lyric sheet.  The vinyl is an edition of 300, although Annihaya Records have also released the cd version in an edition of 500.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

entropy is what the state makes of it

Entropy Is What The State Makes Of It
CANADA  Caduc  CA11  CD  (2015)

Entropy can be defined as a “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder”.  What does any State make of it?  Barry Chabala and A F Jones; aka Steerage set an interesting question for the times we live in.  This carefully chosen title may refer to the impending changes fast approaching North America, but could equally be a warning for our own near-future here in the UK?  Entropy… is a work about decay – figuratively and literally.  Caduc proprietor Mathieu Ruhlmann’s ghost ship design on the front cover and overlaid abstract mapping on the rear raise a signpost which points in all and no direction.
Like the inconvenient iceberg that did for the Titanic, electronics crash into acoustic guitar violently.  A strong hand on the tiller is essential.  The first piece, “The Predominance of Fading Decorum” features interesting split tones, wavering.  Barry Chabala’s approach to his guitar is reminiscent of Robert Fripp’s late 70’s /early 80s “frippertronics” experiments briefly.  With Jones’ input, the piece takes on the giddying scale of a tanker or modern cruiseship.
Next, “Entropy” combines drones and abstraction with glacial development and purposeful augmentation – music as if in opposition, but to what?  The soundfield becomes a siren at 8 minutes and later on colossal motors power down.  At 9:20 a tape delay caught my ear.  At least it sounded like tape delay to me.  I love the sound characteristics of analogue tape delay.  One of the players managed to hold a good long section of controlled delay feedback there.  Tricky.  I noticed a small bit more at 15:35.
“Upon Maelstroms of Unbearable Reality” predict the future for north America with its agitated, paranoid chirruping, while final track “A Faculty of Encounter” presents gutteral noises courtesy of Jones perhaps?  It’s hard to imagine even the most experimental guitar set-up sounding like that.  “Upon Maelstroms…” has a cicada-like crust with a dry joint pulse underneath.  Overdriven synth growl.  Guitar is heard in a room with passing traffic and workmen in the background.  The piece ends with some beautifully restrained minimal guitar phrasing.
Another sumptuous package like I’ve come to expect from Caduc – a bookmark, track listing insert, folded sleeve; all full colour printed on art card/paper stuffed into a heavy transparent poly sleeve.  Photography by Jennifer Atchley and design by Ruhlmann and “ship concept” by Sean Jewell.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


Alice Hui-Sheng Chang / Jason Kahn
USA  Pan y Rosas Discos  pyr172  download  (2016)

Four pieces on offer here; numbered simply 1 to 4 recorded in Melbourne, Australia in January of 2015.  A departure of sorts for Jason Kahn, who has previously been heard improvising at the controls of shortwave radios and analogue synthesisers, [see his recent cassette Thirty Seconds Over on Aural Detritus], or on percussion.  Alice Hui-Sheng Chang is a new name to me.  Alice has this to say about her work:  “…(she) challenges the boundary of a presentation site physically and imaginatively, viewing each performance as a site-specific response…”.  Her music has been released on Antifrost, Trente Oiseaux, Homophoni, New Weird Australia, Kwan Yin and Sub Rosa among others.
In terms of its basic construction, Voices runs the gamut of vocalese.  The material here reminds me somehow of the way birds communicate.  The internet tells me: "Songbirds learn their songs and perform them using a specialized voice box called a syrinx”.  For a bird, singing can be draining. It is both energetically expensive and alerts predators. So then why do birds sing? Evidence suggests that in part, it is to proclaim and defend their territories.  The chances are when you hear a bird singing it’s a male. The majority of female songbirds in temperate zones use shorter, simpler calls while the males produce the longer and more complex vocalizations we think of as song.  The story is different in the tropics where females commonly sing, and many species engage in duetting."  In Chang and Kahn’s case, their duetting is strangely comforting and their voices respective timbres complement each other well.
On 1 both Kahn and Chang creak and hum; wheeze and whisper.  Initially, Kahn seems to use an intimate close microphone technique at times, whereas it sounds as if Alice Hui-Sheng Chang’s approach is more full bodied and interacts with the recording space.  However my perception of this changes as the piece progresses.  There is a granular quality to both voices and it is impossible for me to tell who’s doing what.  By the last couple of minutes Kahn is clearly making noises which remind me of Dylan Nyoukis’ saliva-filled mouth/throat-noise explorations but without the tape manipulation typical of Nyoukis’ live vocal performances.
The second piece is more structured (academic) to my ears, although due to the brevity of information I have been given with this album, this assumption may be erroneous, or even irrelevant.  I suspect that there are incidents of double-tracking of Kahn’s vocals on this piece but again don’t take my word for it.  The duo employ space as more of a feature in 2, which results in the feeling of slower pace overall.
The third piece begins with whistling and very electronic-sounding close-up mouth noises before developing the first full-throated display of what you might traditionally recognise as “singing” on the album.  This is the shortest piece on Voices and something of a lull before the maelstrom of 4.
Track four is possibly the most confrontational featuring as it does Alice’s joyless cackle and Jason’s wet ululations from the very start.  Weird high pitched whistling like the noises coaxed from a slowly deflating balloon follow; pops, multitimbral exhalations, the distant overheard mumblings of a confused great-uncle, osculations, wavering, lip-smacking and so forth, but now with a restraint and sense of calm that you just don’t get from practitioners like Phil Minton.  Until Alice starts screaming like a hungry goat, that is.

Jason Kahn appears to be working exclusively with his voice at the time of writing, so it will be interesting to hear his development of this way of working over future recordings.  Interest in an older generation of vocalising artists like Bob Cobbing and Henri Chopin is on the increase and the aforementioned, (and previously seriously underground artist), Dylan Nyoukis was recently subjected to a sympathetic piece in The Guardian, [] so perhaps Kahn’s timing of this album is spot on.