Posts Tagged ‘John Cage’

Hallow Ground – HG1606 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Reiner Van Houdt presents an interesting proposition: a classically-trained pianist who’s worked with John Cage and Luc Ferrari, he also plays in Current 93 and has worked in collaboration with Nick Cave, John Zorn and Antony Hegarty. The fact this release is on the Hallow Ground label should perhaps give an indication that this is no soft neoclassical effort – although I’m in no way criticising neoclassical music here: I’m simply saying that this dos not sit within the field, and is harder, harsher, heavier, at least in places. There are no neat melodic structures to be found on Paths of the Errant Gaze, and no instrumentation which sits within the classical bracket: this is very much an electronic album.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to this. Paths of the Errant Gaze is an album which is extremely quiet, sparse, minimal, and the detail – and the quantity of source material involved in its creation – are not immediately apparent. Just as Burroughs and Gysin theorised on the power of ‘The Third Mind’ through the act of collaboration, so Van Houdt believes the act of recording creates a ‘third ear’. And so it is that Van Houdt built Paths of the Errant Gaze from myriad recordings gathered from a near-infinite array of locations.

‘The Fabric of Loss’ creeps ominously, scraping strings like creaking doors echo in the still air as dust motes descend silently, ‘Orphic Asylum’ introduces the first semblance of rhythms, murky, clanking, developing to extended bursts of bass-end noise and a thumping, trudging beat which plots treacherously through an unnervingly dark sonic labyrinth. Even when near-silence encroaches, there remains a dark, oppressive atmosphere in the air. Sparse piano notes and a Scott Walker-esque vocal emerge briefly from the dense sonic fog on TR 5, but neither does much to orientate or ground the listener.

There is no indication of the sounds captured by Van Houdt being your common or garden field recordings – in fact, the ‘everyday objects, situations and moments’ which Van Houdt records obsessively are all but lost amidst the process of forming a sonic melange. Nor does Van Houdt utilise these soundpieces in a conventional way: one does not get a sense of Paths of the Errant Gaze existing as a collage work. Paths of the Errant Gaze is not a work which is encumbered by a sense of pretence, and nor does its theoretical or conceptual framework impinge unduly on the end product.

The ten-minute ‘Transfinite Spectre’ is an all-out sonic assault worthy of Merzbow, as laser-guided blasts crackle and fizz, top-end treble drilling directly into the brain through the ear to create maximum discomfort.

 

Reinier Van Houdt - Paths of the Errant Gaze

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Hubro – HUBROCD2573 – 7th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Krautrock country? Opiate-sedated tribal jazz? The seven tracks which comprise Kurzsam and Fulger don’t readily slot into any stylistic field. That’s Christian Wallumrød all over. This previous releases include a solo work and a collaboration with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. This is an artist who thrives on variety, and one could probably argue with reasonable certainty, a certain sense of artistic perversity. But then, Wallumrød is interested equally in early polyphony and church music and the work of John Cage.

The pieces on Kurzsam and Fulger are sparse, minimal in their arrangements, yet fulsome in sound span. Shuffling drums, strolling, oscillating bass and lead piano that wanders all over, on and off key, along its own path. ‘Langsam’ ventures into mellow jazz territory, while insistent tom beats. The polytonal organ drone of ‘Phoniks’ offers more of an allusion to church music, but distilled to a skeletal frame, revealing the ensemble’s avant-garde orientation If the supremely brief ‘Klafferas’ is little more than a percussive interlude, the protracted meanderings of ‘Arpsam’ are an exploration of space, not least of all the space between notes, and as such, a piece which also interrogates the relationship between sound and not sound and the way the notes slowly decay while their echoes resonate in the mind. As the notes played vary slightly between each repetition of the motif which provides the key part of the track, the sense of disco-ordination increases as the track progresses.

The final track, ‘Kurzsam and Onward’ brings some levity, and its plinking keys call to mind a proliferation of 70s and 80s US sitcoms and I can’t help thinking of Taxi (despite the fact that it sounds nothing like it, and that growing up in the early 80s I never considered the show a comedy of any kind). The spaces between the playing are even longer, and push the parameters of composition and order, as well as the listener’s patience ad perception.

The less there is to hear musically, the more there is going on theoretically, and on Kurzsam and Fulger, Christian Wallumrød and his ensemble really do interrogate a broad range of theoretical positions in order to arrive at the finished work which is Kurzsam and Fulger.

 

Christian-Wallumrød-Ensemble_2400x2400-1024x1024

clang records – clang031 – 6th November 2015

Christopher Nosnibor

This isn’t how the instrument was designed to work. Just as John Cage made the piano sing in ways it really oughtn’t by the addition of various foreign objects, so Hans Tammen has made the Disklavier his choice of instrument for desecration.

The Disklavier, for those who don’t know (and I’ve had to research this) is an electronic piano produced by Yamaha, which first came on the market in 1987. The way it works is key to Tammen’s project, and I’m going to quote from that fount of all information, Wikipedia, here, and accept any harangues over ‘lazy journalism’ because surely some research is better than none: ‘The typical Disklavier is a real acoustic piano outfitted with electronic sensors for recording and electromechanical solenoids for playback. Sensors record the movements of the keys, hammers, and pedals during a performance, and the system saves the performance data as a Standard MIDI File (SMF). On playback, the solenoids move the keys and pedals and thus reproduce the original performance.’

Tammen’s project is concerned with the ‘hidden sonic qualities’ of the machine. Tammen explains his methodology thus: ‘technically the Disklavier is fed too much information, and at the lowest possible volume. At this point the hammers do not have enough power to bang the strings anymore, and ideally they only vibrate to produce low a rumbling sound. Occasionally the MIDI brain stops for a few seconds – “chokes” – on a chord due to the data overload, hence the title Choking Disklavier’.

Calling to mind Reinhold Friedl’s 2011 ‘Inside Piano’, a colossal exploration of the prepared piano, Music for Choking Disklavier finds Hans Tammen make his instrument sing in unexpected ways, and with intriguing and often very interesting results. And it’s not all unlistenable, experimental noise, either. There are clear and definite tunes present here, albeit played in the most skewed of fashions.

A clumping rhythmic trudge provides the basis of ‘Ascending and Descending Chairs’; over what sounds like slow marching feet, delicate single piano notes rise crystalline into the rarefied air, The levels of dissonance and discord grow as the notes begin to emerge stunted, jarring. ‘Looking Down Sacramento Street’ resembles the whupping hum of a helicopter’s rotas; and so many of the sounds which occupy the album are rhythmic, mechanical, and owe little resemblance to a piano, electreic or otherwise.

The compositions make full use of the Disklavier’s diverse capabilities, especially when messed with. Swing goes south and ragtime goes out of time with fuzz and crackle, the sound of drunken piano being played with wild abandon in heavy rain, and thumping the low notes with a dogged persistence: these are the sounds that tinkle and topple precariously from the speakers at the hand of Hans Tammen. It’s an innovative work, which finds Tammen exploring ways of making new sounds by previously unexplored means and confirms, pleasingly, that originality isn’t entirely dead yet.

 

Tammen

http://tammen.org/