Summer Shorts (2)

Saturday 26 August 2023

Anouck Genthon & Mathias Forge: Notice (Insub). Since my last post, I’ve been wondering about the use of external factors as a source of inspiration for music; even more so since hearing a new album which cites the musician’s collaboration with biological researchers and study of bacterial mycelia, all to produce an aspartame-laced package of anodyne, arpeggiated burbling. This is not that album. Notice purports to be a 30-minute duet by violinist Anouck Genthon and trombonist Mathias Forge drawn “from different walking experiences” and it starts out prosaically enough: the usual droney joint improvs start to veer into strange territory bordering the obsessive and the irreverent, then something crashes to the floor. Odd pauses, delays, disruptions and percussive interjections intrude on the two musicians as they doggedly persist, even as a sine tone gets stuck in the system and buzzes away while they keep playing. Genthon and Forge have hit on a self-critical aspect so often missing from works with a conceptually pure basis, letting their initial motivations curdle like the protagonists in a Godard dérive.

Ryoko Akama & d’incise: No register No declare (Insub). Shorter and slighter than Notice, this duet between Akama and d’incise “made in Huddersfield + Bruxelles” presents no specific idea, collaging together a selection of unobtrusive clicks and hums from analog synthesiser and feedback set amongst “domestic recordings”. It’s hard to present this material coherently in a way that rises above triviality, but they almost manage it with their use of a close recording of an electric kettle. It’s a sound at once immediately recognisable and familiar, yet also sounds complex and alien in a way that both confounds and reinforces the feeling of being alone in a kitchen or hotel room. It’s the standout element (no pun intended) so when I relisten to this I just end up waiting for the bits with the kettle.

Lise Morrison: No grief without joy (Sawyer Editions). Speaking of ideas, Lise Morrison’s five compositions here offer themselves up more as suggestions for possible pieces of music, only to withdraw before really making their case. Their self-effacing modesty, with the requisite soft dynamics, suggest a wish to focus on craft over attention-seeking (cf. her Study for marimba and thunder sheets), but most of the pieces stuggle to assert their presence and seem insubstantial, feeling smaller than they really are. The exception is Five Times Recycled, with Sara Constant re-recording her bass flute on cassettes until they break up into a grotty fug of kazoos.

Clinton Green/Ian Andrews: False Currency (tsss tapes), Ross Manning: Some Technical Drawings (Shame File Music), Tarab: Rooms (Ferns Recordings). I imagine the Australian sound sculpture scene is pretty close-knit, as other enthusiasts in minority activities often find themselves out of necessity. Clinton Green (Shame File Music founder) has made a collection of “automatic/aleatory systems” collaborations with Ian Andrews on False Currency, which for the most part sounds like much kinetic sculpture sonic art. There’s one track where the sounds are digitally stretched and smeared to produce a shimmering ambient haze, but otherwise it’s the usual small percussion sounds stumbling over each other that have come to characterize the genre. It combines a fascination with small sounds and processes that act as an end in themselves, which precludes any interest beyond the momentary and the trivial. Ross Manning’s Some Technical Drawings adds a welcome advance to the kinetic constructions by incorporating electronics, or at least audible electricity. It nips in the bud the Gilligan’s Island connotations to the contraptions and adds more intrigue to the sounds produced beyond the usual clunk and thunk. Only trouble is about half of the album is given over to the vagaries of an electronic buzz that squarely sets you back in the obsession with processes and small differences. Tarab’s Rooms is more different still, and all the better for it. The objects used are located in definite spaces, recorded either close up or situated in a wider ambience, then processed through the distorting filters of natural acoustics and technological reproduction. Object and space are edited together in ways which evoke documentary, narrative and mise-en-scène and the messy way they interact when ostensibly presenting a straight representation of what happened, far from the complacent belief that capturing the process on tape (or digital file or whatever) is the most honest policy.

Post-Confusion, 1: Clinton Green, Tarab, Tony Buck & Rik Rue

Monday 14 February 2022

I’ve been listening to a range of pieces by artists working with degrees of freedom in their approach to composition, from fixed but open structures to pure improvisation. The eclectic sonic materials used render questions of harmonic or other pitch-based organsiation obsolete. Perhaps it’s the ultimate expression of Ezra Pound’s theory of harmony, that any two sounds can follow one anonther in consonance as long as you get the timing right: the disposition of heterogeneous sounds to create a balanced, unified musical experience is a genre that has slowly defined itself over the last half-century or so. As with the materials, the unifying forces can be left very loose, defying our expectations of associating anarchy with chaos.

The densest, noisiest works all happen to be Australian, produced across a gap of twenty-five years. Maybe there’s a pattern that singles out these three albums, or perhaps these piece are just crowding out my mind right now. There appears to be a tradition, as represented by the reissue of Tony Buck & Rik Rue’s Come Let Us Build Ourselves A City collaboration from 1996. A double improvisation of Buck on drums and electronic percussion devices, embellished and corrupted by Rue’s electronics and samples played through minidisc recorders set to shuffle, the collection of pieces push the density of signals to the brink of noise. Technology allows each musician to be their own Sixties happening in terms of immersion in omni-attentiveness. With such abundance, pacing or restraint in exposition are irrelevant: the energy is unstinting and phrasing can be confrontingly abrupt.

The same qualities can be heard in Tarab’s 2018 recording, HOUSEKEEPING, derived from an 8-channel installation. Recordings of found objects, spaces, rehearsals are all swept up in this vast accumulation of otherwise inconsequential odds and ends. The collection may appear indiscriminate but the presentation is far from flat, using the perspectives of time and space over which the piece was shaped to present sounds in sharp relief. If there’s a shared tradition here, it’s in the use of domestically-oriented material to produce something otherworldly, transcending its innate quotidian attributes to become something more than itself, rather than seeking to relocate artistic experience within the mundane.

That transcended domesticity carries over into the most recent work here, Clinton Green’s Here​?​/​Secret, a pair of related lockdown compositions created out of frustration at being unable to access his studio and equipment. The two collages were created from, and on, cassettes, using older material left at home and processed on an old 4-track cassette mixer. The gear at work here is similar to that used by Rik Rue in the 1980s. Green mentions a compositional procedure for choice of tape, tape speed and direction and panning, which yields a combination of sounds disturbingly mismatched to eerie perfection, much in the way of a prolonged chance collision. Once again, the ordinary is repurposed into a hallucinatory melange of sounds beyond conventional comprehension. It taps into a powerful strand of late 20th Century experimental music, going back to Cage’s collages from the 1950s, that’s occasionally forgotten only to be taken up again a generation later…

Spaces: Tasting Menu and Tarab

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Sometimes you can’t help but hear things the wrong way. I first put this on by mistake, having thought I’d cued up Booker T. & The MG’s. I’ve had worse surprises and stuck out the whole thing. Stand closer when you have something to say is a new release on Mappa, that Slovakian cassette label – the description sounds agonisingly hipsterish, albeit less so the closer you get to Slovakia. The band here, however, is Tasting Menu, a trio from Los Angeles: Cassia Streb, Cody Putman and Tim Feeney. Their instrument is their studio (the room, that is; not some old Eno adage): concrete floors, fire doors. If you’ve been to live gigs of this sort of music you’re already picturing the venue in your head.

Two separate sessions are recorded here, made a couple of weeks apart, basically group improvisations for found objects and abraded percussion. Long swatches of varying grain and textures, verging on sound sculpture. They apparently worked over the room systematically and that constraint helps greatly in making this a much more compelling musical experience than simple indulgent noisemaking. Heard live, you’d want it loud and all-engulfing; as audio (or cassette) it works surprisingly well even if not fully cranked. The middle part of the first track is particularly effective as the soundworld veers away from the expected and stays for an ominously long time. Maybe it shouldn’t have moved on – instruments appear at the end of each track. The opening of the second track adds deep ambient tones and ends with a jumbled mass of distant extraneous noise from the street outside. Then there is, inevitably, a sax.

More site recordings appear in HOLES, a similarly recent recording by the Melbourne musician Tarab on his promisingly named Sonic Rubbish label. The term ‘space’ takes on multiple meanings here, with the material making up these collages comprising “sounds borrowed from various rooms, the things that happened in them, and those that come in from outside.” As soon as it starts, it stops again: abrupt silences permeate all five tracks. Spaces open up inside other spaces. Sometimes, the scene shifts without warning. Percussive room ambience is displaced by sparse electronic beeps, TV transmissions, digital interference. Longeurs of liminal acoustics isolate sonic events, rendering them inexplicable. I’ve only just played this once and what’s got me more excited than usual here is the compositional nous at work that not only gives the captured sounds a shape and a point, but also asks questions both of the listener and the materials. HOLES never takes its contents for granted and replaces the complacent trust of an “authentic” musician in their tools with a probing skepticism that renders dull questions of aural representation moot. Here, all meaning is in the mediation.