Posts Tagged ‘John Cage’

Elli Records – EL07 – 13th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Silence has long intrigued us. Variations of the philosophical question, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ have been a subject of contemplation since the 18th Century. As much as this ponderance is concerned with perception rather than the existence of silence, it does also hint at the idea that sounds are only what we hear. Does silence actually exist? In an evermore noisy world, the possibility of silence seems to have diminished beyond the vanishing point. And the more impossible its attainment becomes, the more we seek and desire it. And yet, at the same time, some people fear silence, even if only subconsciously.

In my own experience, even a moment of peace is conspicuous by its mere existence. My attempts to escape the noise of the world invariably prove futile; the babble of the office, the endless throng and thrum of traffic and people on the journeys there and back; a wife and child and general domestic noise on either side of those. Taking refuge in my office, I spend my evenings listening to music, the whirr of my laptop’s fan and the click of the hard drive a constant even when the music stops, while dogs bark outside and neighbours clatter around in their kitchens on either side. The lived experience is one of no escape, and no respite, and one which confirms the myth of silence.

Much meditation and mindfulness is concerned with seeking silence, if only internally, and musical experiments with silence have been manifold, although perhaps most famously by John Cage. It was on visiting an anechoic chamber – a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes, and also externally sound-proofed – at Harvard University and Cage’s realisation of the impossibility of silence that prompted the composition of ‘4’33”’.

It was a similar room – this time at the Mechanical & Acoustic Research Lab LMA-CNRD in France – which not only inspired Julien Bayle to explore silence, but provided the source material for the album, captured during two hours of silence in the room. The results – as the title hints – are anything but silent.

As the text which accompanies the release explains, ‘Tiny random variations of physical electronic noises coming from the recording system itself, as uncontrolled spectres haunting the wires, have been captured and amplified, cut into tiny slices and grains, and used, both as basic sound sources feeding the Bayle’s machinery, and as modulation sources influencing pre-existing sound textures and continua performed live by the artist.’ Evoking Cage, it suggests ‘Violent Grains of Silence is the interpretation of the impossibility of silence by Julien Bayle’.

From what appears as nothing on the surface, Bayle has not only created something, but something immense. Violent Grains of Silence is not a hushed, tranquil work, but one of volume and great sonic turbulence. Violent is indeed an appropriate descriptor. Violent Grains comprises a series pieces through which whispering, grumbling, crackling, groaning, droning sounds swirl and eddy. There are crackling blasts of explosive static, grinding, electric, metal-edged abrasions – ‘Distr’ is a particularly blistering burst of coruscating noise. ‘Unpr’ buzzes and fizzes and thunders, a heavy barrage of low-end sounds creating the effect of an arrhythmic percussion.

Amplification counts for a lot, but it’s only possibly to amplify something which already exists. And so it is that Bayle has created a work which is rich in texture and tone, dynamic and at times disturbing.

This is truly the sound of silence. And the silence is at times deafening.

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Julien Bayle - Violent Grains

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Hallow Ground – 16th November 2018

Reinier Van Houdt’s 2016 solo album Paths of the Errant Gaze was a collage of quiet, dark ambience, and Igitur Carbon Copies continues in a similar vein. The inspiration for this work is the unfinished gothic tale Igitur, a collection of texts ultimately abandoned by the author, the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé in 1869.

Considering the fragmentary nature of the incomplete work, not to mention Mallarmé’s tendency to incorporate theoretical aspects within his practise, the appeal to an artist like Van Houdt isn’t hard to see: a classically-trained pianist who’s collaborated with artists ranging from John Cage to Charlemagne Palestine and has been a member of Current 93 since 2012, he’s long been fascinated with ‘all matters that defy notation: sound, timing, space, physicality, memory, nose, environment’. This is one of those works that could very easily inspire a full-blown essay instead of a review, and there’s a temptation to write it – but does anyone actually want that? Does anyone have the time to read it, even if I had the time to write it – and I mean properly?

To reduce the experience and reflection to something manageable, with Igitur Carbon Copies, Reinier Van Houdt presents a work of immense theoretical depth in an accessible form, although obviously these things are relative. That is to say, it’s a challenging album, but one’s appreciation doesn’t require a priori knowledge of the theoretical concepts around authorship and originality, around chance and destiny, around temporality, and the myriad contexts behind it. On the surface – a deep, dark, rippling surface as it may be – it’s a dark ambient work littered with muttered speech. Beneath that surface, there’s a lot going on. And so what Van Houdt presents is in no way a carbon copy, but a corrupted, adapted interpretation of Igitur. And so begins the journey through the stages of copying and alteration, a question which lies at the heart of postmodern textual interrogation, and William Burroughs’ novel Cities of the Red Night. Text mutates. Even a carbon copy is a copy: it is not an original and therefore different.

The eerie and the uncanny reverberate around every shadowy corner of the album’s ten compositions, some of which are but the briefest, most fleeting sonic experiences, starting with the 40-second opener, ‘Annunciation’, which begins with dank and distant rumblings which expand into turning ambient tones, before segueing into ‘An Empty Set’ in a blast of static that lasts but a fraction of a second but completely fractures the flow.

Drawing source material from Mallarmé – revised by Van Houdt, and read by David Tibet in his best monotone – there is a distinct sense of narrative about Igitur Carbon Copies, however disjointed. The vocals are treated, albeit subtly, to render them with a certain trembling reverb that adds a disquieting edge. And there are extended passages that rumble and undulate, a simmering sonic soup. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and nor does it need to: it creeps around on the peripheries of the senses and pokes at the psyche almost subliminally. The effect, then, is difficult to define, but it’s nevertheless something that happens. One traverses Igitur Carbon Copies in a certain state of somnambulance and bewilderment. But one definitely traverses it, and its effects are definite.

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Reinier Van Houdt – Igitur Carbon Copies

Christopher Nosnibor

Fibonacci Drone Organ: three random words spliced together, unshackled from the constraints of context to allow free association to determine interpretation? Or a descriptive indication of what Dave Procter’s second- or t(h)ird-latest (this month saw the debut of HUNDBAJS, which is Swedish for dogshit, the absolute latest) of his myriad projects which include the Wharf Street Galaxy Band and Legion of Swine? The cassette release contains precisely no information whatsoever, even down to a track listing, but a spot of digging reveals that it’s the latter – which should come as no surprise, given that the man behind FDO curated a ‘10 Hours of Drone’ event a while back. The album contains two pieces, each occupying a side of the tape, and they’re formed around droning organ notes. Long, long droning organ notes.

And my (rather limited but suitably fruitful) research uncovered that FDO ‘uses the Fibonacci Series as part of the compositional process,’ that ‘the notes are chosen via dice rolls and coin tosses,’ and that ‘the durations of the notes are chosen by the Fibonacci Series. Notes are added at the appropriate time.’

From this, I infer that in technical / theoretical terms, FDO compositions emerge from an intersection of John Cage-inspired randomness and the mathematical precision of Fibonacci. What this actually means, ‘m not entirely sure, and thankfully, the technical aspects don’t impinge too heavily on the output from a listening perspective. Ultimately, it’s all drones. And on this outing the ‘appropriate’ time for adding noes is seemingly after an eternity.

This means that across the tape’s duration, not a lot happens. Notes may be added, but at such distance that the layers build so gradually that the pieces are over before much depth, resonance or layering has occurred. This is all testament to Procter’s unswervingly uncompromising approach to music-making, and encapsulates the reasons I personally hold him in such high regard (and it’s fair to say that if there’s one person I’ve worked with who’s intuitively understood my vision for creating spoken word with the most hellishly mangled noise, it’s Dave who’s been behind the majority of my best and most exhilarating collaborative live work). With more projects, pseudonyms and releases to his credit than seems humanly possible, he’s practically a one-man underground scene in his own right. Look up ‘northern avant-garde’, and you’ll likely find a picture of Dave Procter – or a bloke in a lab coat sporting a pig’s head or something.

Procter gets art, and is an artist, but doesn’t espouse the pretentious trappings of being an ‘artist’ (or, worse still, an ‘artiste’). Which means he can not only get away with releasing a tape containing 40 minutes of theory-backed drone without appearing a tit, but delivers some of the most brilliantly self-aware electronic drone you’re likely to find.

Side two (not that the sides are marked) brings a quavering decay to the elongated drones – which hover toward the higher frequencies – by way of contrast to the strong, stable drones of side one. The effect is cumulative and ultimately soporific, and it’s definitely the music and not the beer as I listen to the spindles rotate on my tape deck and the notes drift from the speakers. Sometimes, there’s no shame in sleep.

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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

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.

 

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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/