Thursday, March 31, 2005

Women's History Month 2005

Pauline Oliveros. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio has concluded. This month I celebrated and observed the creative music of the following CDs from my personal collection:

Janice Giteck: Breathing Songs from a Turning Sky
Susie Ibarra: Flower After Flower
Lori Freedman: A Un Moment Donne
Marilyn Crispell/Irene Schweizer: Overlapping Hands: Eight Segments
Julia Wolfe: Arsenal of Democracy
Myra Melford: Dance Beyond the Color
The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet: Saxhouse
Mary Lou Williams: Mary Lou's Mass
Various Artists: Lesbian American Composers
Geri Allen: The Printmakers
Ikue Mori: Hex Kitchen
Pauline Oliveros: Deep Listening
Jin Hi Kim: KomunGuitar
Laurie Anderson: Big Science
Francis-Marie Uitti: 2 Bows
Meredith Monk: Atlas
Marilyn Crispell (plays the music of Annette Peacock): Nothing ever was, anyway
Robin Holcomb: Robin Holcomb
Myra Melford: Now & Now
Ushio Torikai: Go Where?
Julia Wolfe: The String Quartets
Tenko/Ikue Mori: Death Praxis
Marilyn Crispell: Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's (1995)
Janice Giteck: Home (revisited)

This sampling is in no way complete or fully representative of the full range of music created by women composers and improvisers. Though the quality and diversity of texture and ideas within these 24 listening experiences is impressive. This sampling only hints at the wealth of music that exists within each of these artists' catalogue of recorded and composed music and there are many more artists not represented in this finite set.

This year I have been reflecting upon the philosophy of Deep Listening as expressed and practiced by Pauline Oliveros. To me this reflects an attitude toward being awake and alert to all the rich beauty and detail that exists in the sonic environment. It is the "active ear" that drinks in the experience of live and recorded music. Though it can be more expansively applied as being present and mindful of all sonic experiences both ambient and compositionally deliberate.

I have also been reflecting upon these different expressions of faith and transcendence. From the deeply felt Catholicism of Mary Lou Williams to the blend of Kabala, Buddhism and Yogic traditions that influence Janice Giteck to the spiritual outpouring found in the improvisations of Myra Melford. Even when these philosophies seem distant or unfamiliar there's an undeniable pull and beauty in this music that passionately affirms the personal value these composers feel toward their spiritual sensibilities.

Scale of the Day: C Sharp Aeolian mapped to the Square-root of 2

The C Sharp Aeolian mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Home (revisited)

Janice Giteck: Home (revisited). Posted by Hello

Women's History Month
winds down with an active ear applied to Home (revisited) by Janice Giteck from 1992. This listening experience consists of four compositions that Giteck collectively calls "my music and healing series."

"Om Shanti" (1986) dedicated to People Living with AIDS.

The first movement, I. Individual being connected to nature and to the greater motion of the universe, unfolds slowly as a drone accompanied by plucked piano strings. A soft flute line appears and a soprano voice soon joins in singing in Sanskrit. The static, modal (often pentatonic) harmony give this a meditative quality. II. Earthly human experience of the body, riding the life energy. This brief movement opens with a fast tempo line on the marimba and a pulse-centric texture full ensemble soon follows. III. Relationship between humans, intertwining, a statement of how we need each other, deeply and passionately, and how deeply we suffer at the loss of loved ones. This short movement features material for violin and cello. The melodic line is expressive and well supported harmonically. IV. Sound floats in space, in some way perhaps we draw comfort in acknowledging our own death while we are still alive. This is an attractive, moderate tempo texture with a nice layering of piano, flute, strings, percussion and voice. Melodic lines drift in and out on different instruments as gongs punctuate phrases. The cyclical patterns, pentatonic scale and layering of parts reminds me of traditional Indonesian gamelan music. V. Om Shanti. This final movement pulls this composition together and makes this into an incredible work of music. The drone returns, this time altered from the first movement. It feels slower and more deliberate as only a chime and soprano voice exist outside the soft drone material. The prayer effect of this work feels complete with this concluding texture.

"Tapasya" (1987). Scored for percussion and viola.

This is a musical expression of the heating up of one's senses as one moves toward self-realization in yogic traditions. The slow melodic phrases with plenty of breathing room between coupled with the deliberate colors of mallets, bells and gongs make for a meditative quality. The tempo picks up part way through as the marimba supplies a gentle pulse that propels this material forward and provides nice contrast to the slow opening.

"Leningrad Spring" (1991). A trio for flute, piano and percussion.

I fondly remember seeing this work performed in Telluride, Colorado in 1991. The level of detail, variation and formal development is amazing. This piece is a successful expression of movement between dark and light. This is easily one of the best chamber compositions I've ever heard.

"Home (revisited)" (1989, 1992). Scored for gamelan, sixteen voice male choir, cello and synthesizer.

This concluding work begins quietly with a soft drone colored by spare entrances from the gamelan and voice. The layers of voice and gamelan increase as this work grows organically into a large sound. This work completes the arching prayer-tone of this CD as a whole.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Scale of the Day: G Sharp Aeolian

The intervallic content of the G Sharp Aeolian Scale. Posted by Hello

Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's (1995)

Marilyn Crispell: Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's (1995). Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio is moving into its final days with a fond listen to Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's (1995) featuring the pure pleasure of hearing solo piano music by Marilyn Crispell. Yoshi's of Oakland, CA is an important jazz club with a long history of great performances like this one.

This epic piano experience opens with a medly of "Contrasts" by Marilyn Crispell and "Gesture Without Plot" by Annette Peacock. Crispell skillfully plays chord clusters that turn linear and at times melodic with frequent allusions to the original harmonic cluster material. The energy level shifts rapidly between tranquil and explosively percussive. The Peacock melody seems to emerge from this initial texture like a mist in the wake of a rain storm. Marilyn Crispell is the complete improviser. In this cohesive opening track she's convincingly proven a talent for expressive extremes.

"Dancing" is an impressive and focused track. Short, rapid lines form the molecular structure of this piece as they are balanced against an intermittent percussive accompaniment and occasional forays into the lower register of the piano. This eight minute track possibly best captures the essence of the Marilyn Crispell sound that keeps me hungry to hear more.

Another juxtaposition follows of "Ruthie's Song" by Crispell and "Turn Out the Stars" by Bill Evans. I assume that the title "Ruthie's Song" is a reference to Evans' "Waltz for Ruth" as this track takes a turn toward the lyricism associated with the late Bill Evans. There are several improvisational elements here that sound Evans-esque while the energy behind it is all Crispell. Even the harmonic voicings and rhythmic pull take on the Bill Evans sound throughout this track. Impressive. It's a difficult sound to pull off and yet sounds so effortlessly accomplished here.

"Flutter" then follows as a segue back into Crispell's own piano sound. The melodic focus melts into a sea of rhythmic exploration as the full keyboard becomes a drum of infinite harmonic potential. Streams of trickling lines scrape softly like brushes on a snare between more forceful expressions of varying density.

With "Professor of Air Science" by Mark Helias, Crispell returns to a melodically oriented sound. The quality of playing between original free improvised composition and improvised interpretation of other people's music is balanced perfectly as Crispell sounds confident in both roles.

"Cousin Judi" starts in after a brief pause as Crispell returns to her own compositional universe. The density of material seems to escalate over the course of this piece as motifs are repeated, elaborated and expanded to include harmonic clusters and increasingly independent lines spread across the range of this instrument. The reiteration of the melodic and/or rhythmic properties of a set of motifs gives this improvisation a strong overall cohesion while still allowing for a wide palette of free improvised material.

A second Bill Evans oriented medly follows with "Little Chiquita" by Crispell and "Time Remembered" (an all time favorite Bill Evans composition of mine). This is a beautiful treatment of a great melodic line.

This listening experience concludes with a medly of "Starshine" by Crispell and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" by Weisman, Garrett and Wayne that remains true to the "contrasts" of sounds and textures present in this performance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Scale of the Day: C Sharp Aeolian diminished 4

The C Sharp Aeolian diminished 4 Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Death Praxis

Tenko/Ikue Mori: Death Praxis. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio continues this evening with a listen to the 1992 release of Death Praxis by the duo of Tenko on voice and Ikue Mori on drum machines.

"Magic" kicks off this 17 track excursion with a trickle of drum machine patterns that settles in just enough to allow Tenko's half sung half chant voice delivering a Japanese text. Tenko's voice has great stylistic range. For a brief moment she launches into a meandering operatic sound as the drum machine shifts into its own restless realm.

"Hearse" is like an antidote to the cliche European "electro-acoustic" sound of female voice over a bed of concrete sound. Death Praxis adds an edgy, hard-core quality that gives this music a physicality missing from the musique concrete genre. Tenko's range keep this material sounding fresh and intense as the sonic textures frequently shift between contrasting qualities. At times she pulls back to a whisper and other times she bursts forward with an aggressive utterance. She can sing, or deliver a near tone-less inflection as the drum machine samples are mangles by all kinds of processing. Ikue Mori does an excellent job of varying the frequency saturation and even pulling all the way back from time to time.

"Death Mask" is ear catching. The melody sung is attractive and the "groove" of Mori is engaging. Built on a light texture of conga, wind chime-like bells, a short record scratch it makes for a great backdrop as additional, dense material phases in and obscures this starting point. The counter texture suggests a contrast between staccato, militant sound against a softer linear expression.

"Economic Noise" uses Tenko samples in a manner similar to the drum machine programming. It's amazing how engaging and spirited these textures are.

"Glow Worm" sustains some intriguing textures as Tenko overdubs hypnotic chants while Mori supplies percussive punctuation of varying degrees of subtle. Late in the work luxurious stretches of silence unfold with well placed interruptions of single gestalts from the drum machine. These pick up until there is no trace of the vocals that began this piece.

"When the Sun Shines I Can See Your Mind" sets off with a crackle and a groove leading into Tenko's sustained cries as a textural foil.

"I Know You" is the most overtly melodic and satisfying track in this set. It marks an excellent conclusion to a fascinating journey through a dense sonic jungle thick with ideas.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Phrygian

The A Sharp Phrygian Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Locrian 1% wide

The D Sharp Locrian 1% wide Scale. Posted by Hello

The String Quartets

Julia Wolfe: The String Quartets. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio continues this evening with an active ear applied to The String Quartets of Julia Wolfe released in 2004. There are three string quartets in this collection, and only one of them is actually new as "Four Marys" and "Early That Summer" were previously released on arsenal of Democracy, which I looked at earlier this month. ("Four Marys" is also included on the excellent Cassatt by the Cassatt String Quartet.) However, it is worth having these three pieces assembled on one disc to evaluate the great compositional voice Wolfe has applied to this medium.

"Dig Deep" is performed by Ethel. (Ethel having the odd distinction of being an ensemble of two violins, a viola and a cello that insists upon not being called a "string quartet.") This piece opens with a stabbing slab of harmony that sets up a pulse of intoxicating dissonance. Quick figures dart in between stabs, particularly when the pulse lets up for a "breath" allowing for other musical ideas wash over the top. Ethel does an excellent job of "attacking" this performance. There's a relentlessness to this piece that I admire. It's an intensely attractive sonic texture that remains static as the frequent variations in the details and harmonic development hold my interest.

"Four Marys" opens with a quiet drone texture with parts changing independently between loud and soft as the sustained pitches drift. This texture grows organically like a vine as new gestures and melodic lines spring up like blooming flowers.

"Early That Summer" opens by alternating between a soft, rapid pulse in the higher register and a loud, aggressive, rapid pulse that fills out the frequency spectrum. This material then develops by adding new material and varying it while sustaining it aggressive rhythmic thrust. The hocket patterns between the violin and cello are particularly effective. I also appreciate how individual parts will introduce pulses moving at a different rate against the group pulse (such as the cello part playing quarter-note triplets against the eighth/sixteenth note patterns) or else the entire pattern will slow down ensemble-wide with occasional bursts of the original rhythm appearing from time to time. This is sonic texture formed by fusing the group into a single sound as individual parts rarely sustain independence for long. My ears are drawn to the harmonic progression that colors this loud piece. The soft coda of sustained tones pulls this composition to a satisfying and creative conclusion.

These are three great string quartets. Julia Wolfe has developed an aggressive sonic vocabulary that "rocks" this medium. I hope that she completes a long cycle of many works for string quartet over the course of her career.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Locrian mapped to the Triative

The D Sharp Locrian mapped to the Triative Scale. Posted by Hello

Go Where?

Ushio Torikai: Go Where? Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio continues with a listen to Go Where? recorded at the IRCAM Studio in Paris in 1985 by Ushio Torikai.

"Shamama" starts off this disc with the juxtaposition of shamisen and electronic sounds. The shamisen is a Japanese string instrument with a long history. The electronics, on the other hand, have not aged well since the '80s. There is a clear interaction, a co-existence between the two timbral sides of this composition as the electronics do seem shaped by the tone and improvisatory sound of the shamisen. Which is part of the imbalance of this piece. The shamisen part could stand on its own without the electronic accompaniment (it hardly sounds responsive to the swirl of digital tones surrounding it). I love the crisp, percussive attack of the shamisen timbre. It's difficult to feel much affection for the other side as the electronic sounds would be rendered hopelessly hollow if isolated from the animating force of the shamisen sound.

"Junk" opens with an amplified breath that turns to slowly whispered and processed speech played against an amplified creaking noise. The whispered part is eventually subsumed by the creaks in the foreground as a stringed instrument enters the sonic frame. This composition then concludes with a crashing thud that finally puts an end to sound of this heavy hammock swinging in the ear. The processing of the whispered material is well done. The delivery is aggressive and slow with plenty of panning effects. Having it obscured by the creaks seems to add to its mystery.

"Sei" consists of overdubbed vocal parts that form a chant composed of sustained tones with brief bursts of heavy vibrato framed appearing in individual lines at fairly regular intervals. The layering of this many voices creates a large, hypnotic droning sound. The difference tones that appear like mirages are fascinating. I would love to hear this idea developed over a span of hours at a time. At seven and a half minutes it seems like an introduction filled with promise.

"Go Where?" opens with the ringing tones of temple bells. The long decay is allowed to layer with several different pitched bells that beat against each other as they fade away. This decay sound is then captured and isolated electronically as the harmonic qualities of these tones are then presented as a focal point. This sonic environment then expands and exposes incredible depths hidden within the timbre of ringing bells rich with jarring dissonance and sublime consonance.

"Miyori" begins with a series of gestures played on the koto that build outward both harmonically and melodically. As the koto part settles toward a linear, "walking" line a wordless vocal part consisting of long sustained tones is added. This composition then concludes with a brief, improvisatory break-up of the koto line.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Locrian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root of 2

The D Sharp Locrian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Now & Now

Myra Melford: Now & Now. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month
at HurdAudio is swinging as tonight the celebration turns to Now & Now, recorded in 1991 by Myra Melford's classic piano trio with Lindsey Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums.

"Shout" opens this listening experience with a brief piano introduction that magnetically pulls toward a flowing groove with the full trio. After a creative melodic statement (an exquisite melodic construction in and of itself) the texture gives way for an arco bass solo. The piano solo that follows is stunning in its intensity and creative bursts of startling harmonic modulations and sustained development upon the thematic material in the initial melody. This gives way to a tastefully thick drum solo heavy on the toms. The melody then returns, this time played arco on the acoustic bass as Melford provides harmonic support.

"This That Way" opens with a martial snare that melts into infectious trio interplay. The ride cymbal and strummed bass provide an inviting texture for Melford's improvisations. This piano solo veers wildly into some "free" territory that makes use of the piano's extreme registers and maintains cohesiveness through the responsive interactions between these excellent musicians. This piece rolls to a conclusion on the drums as a symmetrical reference to the beginning.

"The Turning Point" is one of those great Myra Melford compositions that has plenty of jaw-dropping development points and satisfying thematic iterations. This track alone is worth the price of the CD. Many of the pianistic gestures draw upon the vocabulary of the blues while the trio swings this one hard.

"Ancient Airs" sets up with a tasty arco bass solo. Horner draws a rich variety of tonal colors with the horse hair using a dash of portamento and some ringing open strings at the end of several of his phrases. When the piano does enter this sonic frame it arrives with another great melodic construction laid out on a solid 3/4 texture provided by the rhythm section. This is easily one of my favorite Melford melodies. Hearing these themes return and develop is deeply satisfying.

"Between Now And Then" is the highlight of this listening experience. Compositionally, this piece builds slowly and deliberately upon a few ideas until it reaches an unbelievable climax where everything comes together into a devastatingly beautiful impact at 10:02 to 11:19. This minute rewards the active ear with an inspired recapitulation.

"Now & Now" begins with a quiet drum solo that paints the backdrop for Melford's creative iteration of the melodic material. A solid groove soon settles in as it snakes through some metric changes before allowing some bassline ostinatos to take root.

This is a great piano trio CD that is sadly out of print. This trio recorded three CDs together and each one is a gem that should place this ensemble in elite company in the history of piano trios. One can already hear the roots of Melford's approach to formal construction and thematic development that would later grow into more open structures for larger ensembles.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Robin Holcomb

Robin Holcomb: Robin Holcomb. Posted by Hello

It's Women's History Month at HurdAudio and tonight I focus on a collection of songs by Robin Holcomb from 1990. I've avoided songs and songwriters this month in favor of "text music" as songs are a completely different animal and generally difficult to talk about. However, I find Holcomb has a composer's sensibility that makes for some compelling songs. And as a listening experience Robin Holcomb opens my ears to the potential of balancing words and music in a way that brings out the best of both.

Opening with "Nine Lives" a soft synth patch sets up a spare harmony for Holcomb's voice. Then Bill Frisell comes in on guitar with some soft drumming by Danny Rankel. The piano part then keeps a steady pulse as it projects the overall harmonic structure. This is a great backdrop for Holcomb's voice as these words and this soft, inflected style would wither under a heavy arrangement or mindless kick/snare approach to time keeping.

"The American Rhine" follows as the strongest track, and strongest piece of songwriting I've heard from Holcomb. Again, the creative arrangement behind this poetry is what keeps me intrigued. The percussion is light and the piano parts and the clarinet lines played by Doug Wieselman are balanced and welcome ingredients. The pulse is steady, present and outlined with a light touch.

"Troy" paints a compelling, down-home picture with the deft fiddle playing of John Caulfield and a smoking band backing things up (not to mention the always welcome sound of Wayne Horvitz on the Hammond B3 organ). Holcomb's voice dips toward earthier tones for this track as the arrangement periodically strips away to expose her voice. By the end the band takes over and jams into a satisfying coda.

"this poem is in memory of!" is a great, creative portrait that loops a piano figure before quoting "Blue Monk" by Thelonious Monk as the words make explicit reference to it as a detail in the word painting. This track breaks out of the song form and breathes. I'd love a whole disc of these short "still-life" composition/songs.

"Yr Mother Called Them Farmhouses" is a particularly intense piece of song writing. The words tell a story of a victim recounting a violent episode that borders on being too unbearable to contemplate. The arrangement is focused and allows the words to carry all the intensity and allow the dignity of the narrator's voice to come through.

Robin Holcomb delivers on several fronts. The poetry is well thought out and comes across as honest. The arrangements are imaginative and play toward the strengths and character of Holcomb's singing voice. The band is phenomenal both in a supporting and focal role (and the blend between the two is well executed).

Scale of the Day: B Whole-tone mapped to the Square-root of 2

The B Whole-tone mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Nothing ever was, anyway.

Marilyn Crispell (plays the music of Annette Peacock): Nothing ever was, anyway. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio returns to the fantastic piano improvisation of Marilyn Crispell, and her trio with Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motion on drums, as they play the music of Annette Peacock on Nothing ever was, anyway from 1997.

This double CD opens and ends with different versions of the title track. In version 1, "nothing ever was, anyway" begins as a single melodic line played slowly on the piano with the sustain pedal held down. Occasionally the monophonic line is broken up with an accompanying note here and there. More than two minutes into the piece the drums and bass enter with little more than a few notes and some soft gestures on the suspended cymbals. Given the explosive quality of Crispell's improvising that I've come to love and expect from her this is some severely restrained playing. It's intoxicating to hear so much focused improvisation to produce such a spare sound. The melodic line slowly unfolds with haunting clarity. Gary Peacock shifts into focus for a solo about two thirds of the way in. Motion plays some extremely soft semi-pulsating drum material as the bass follows up on the delicate, quiet mood of this composition. This is great improvisation territory. I could listen to this trio all day.

The remainder of this listening experience follows in this textural vein as this piano trio explores the ballad compositions of Annette Peacock. Each composition seems "barely there" and yet so rich with interpretive detail. Melodic lines move slowly and seem to breathe as subtle harmonic parts lend just the right support for a mood of solitary contemplation.

"Cartoon" offers a short contrast to these ballad textures as the tempo picks up. Crispell improvises on some whimsical lines as Motion plays some sympathetic and responsive material. This piece opens the improvisation valves just a little bit wider to allow more density while holding to the overall quiet dynamic of this listening experience. This is a breath of sonic variation that fits well with this collection.

"Dreams (If Time Weren't)" adds Annette Peacock's vocals to the group revealing for a single track the quality of the poetry lurking behind these exquisite melodies. The intonation of this voice is stunning and the sustain on the end of each phrase is an exact match for Crispell's interpretative take. The voice pans across the stereo field on some of the held tones momentarily breaking the spell of an otherwise minimally produced sound. The trio paints around the voice with light strokes as the focus drifts between each performer.

"Both" begins with light sheets of sound cascading down the piano suggesting a slightly faster tempo for this track. Then settles in for a quiet interplay between these performers that places Crispell's incredible technique and improvisational sensibilities at the center of this sound. To my ears, this is the strongest track in this collection. This texture is thick with activity even as the sound seems to whisper just beyond the reach of consciousness at times.

"You've Left Me" opens with a great unaccompanied bass solo. A strummed chord, a note, a melodic line, then another strum and an extended melodic line. Then Crispell and Motion enter into the sonic picture. The interactions between these players are richly rewarding to follow and observe as they respond to one another and spin off ideas within this spartan texture.

"Blood" is a brief, layered texture affair. Crispell presents the slow moving melody as the bass and drums churn a rapid, yet quiet, pattern that evokes a sense of standing in the midst of the life that circulates around us. The melody builds and reaches into higher registers adding a sense of tension without disrupting the sonic texture. This is a beautiful sound (and at this point Paul Motion is rapidly becoming one of my favorite drummers).

This listening experience closes on a generous second take of "nothing ever was, anyway" that sustains the somber mood of this session while offering a glimpse into the breathtaking detail and variation at work on these arrangements.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone

The intervallic content of the E Flat Whole-tone Scale. Posted by Hello

Monday, March 21, 2005

Scale of the Day: B Whole-tone (2 - 1)

The B Whole-tone (2 - 1) Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello


Meredith Monk: Atlas. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month at HurdAudio continues with an ear tilted at the ECM 1993 release of Meredith Monk's opera Atlas, which premiered in Houston in 1991.

Opening with " Overture (Out of Body 1)" Monk establishes the instrumentation and sound of this epic work where wordless vocals occupy the focal point of the sonic texture. The chamber orchestra supplies a cyclical tapestry of sound that supports the voices. Pitches are hit cleanly and there is a minimum of vibrato. Which is a refreshing sound for opera.

Much of the narrative content is lost in the absence of a live performance. The linear notes give some idea of a quest. Part one focuses on the internal environment of the future explorer who dreams of making a journey. Part two is the physical journey. Part three is the point of transcendence where the quest takes on spiritual dimension. The visual component of this piece must have been something, if for no other reason than to see these vocalists at work on stage.

"Future Quest (The Call)" features a wonderful melodic line with plenty of variation and extended technique. The texture bubbles with warmth and energy as singing lines overlap and occasionally break apart into unaccompanied parts. The harmonic modulations used here are particularly lyrical.

There's a soft, introspective quality to this work. Free from the bombast and drama associated with 19th century European opera this piece paints a mesmerizing mural where voice carries a share of abstraction by draining so much text from the experience. This sound depicts, and even conjures, a dream-like state. Atlas conveys a story-telling quality of dreaming.

The reverb is entirely too thick throughout this recording. Which seems to be a common problem with much of the ECM catalogue. It gives this performance the feeling of being in an unnatural space. Much of the cross-vocal interactions, screams, whispers and course textured extended techniques would be better served with a dry signal.

"Desert Tango" is the highlight of this listening experience for me. The voices add shades to what is essentially an instrumental work with light doses of percussion and tango accordion. It follows the startling "Forest Questions" where the spoken questions splash a dose of concrete verbage into the texture. This tango settles thing back into the comfort of abstraction before "I see darkness, I see empty rooms" crosses the lips of Meredith Monk as pseudo answers. Then layers of wordless utterances build over the propelling tango rhythm to create a shimmering wall of sonic beauty.

"Other Worlds Revealed" is a brief episode in the "transcendent" Part III: Invisible Light. The sonic texture is all voices in an aggressive, intoxicating texture. It is interesting to note that the instrumental parts seem to drop away as the narrative moves toward spiritual realms.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Scale of the Day: A Octotonic-1

The A Octotonic-1 Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

2 Bows

Francis-Marie Uitti: 2 Bows. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month
is in progress at HurdAudio as the ongoing celebration moves to an ear full of 2 Bows by cellist Francis-Marie Uitti. 2 Bows is a set of solo cello improvisations from 1985 - 1994 featuring Uitti's unique double bow technique. In her right hand she holds two bows: one underneath the strings that contacts the IV and I strings and one on top in contact with the III and II strings. Her left hand is then responsible for multiple stops on all four strings. By angling these two bows she can stroke two, three or all four strings on the instrument simultaneously.

The opening work, "Choral Spectra (to JH)" is an astonishingly beautiful piece. It is a fluid stream of rich harmonies spanning a wide spectral range. It immediately makes apparent the kind of sonic universe this extended technique opens up.

"fffff" proves that two bows don't necessarily result in a dense sonic texture. With thin, sul poniticello tones and an aggressive approach to the full dynamic range this piece reveals the contrapuntal potential of Uitti's technique combined with her musicianship.

"Double" is a pulsating, luminous cello sound. At times it's hard to believe all this sound is coming from a single resonating body.

"Double Choral (for Louis A)" is a slow, languid study of the spectral richness of four vibrating strings. The gradual building up of sound as it passes from consonance to dissonance and back again is aesthetically attractive. Uitti's dexterity with the double bow technique is on full display here as she seems to have full dynamic control of each individual part. This allows for melodic tones to move into the foreground as well as a shimmering texture of harmonic pitches fading in and out of one's aural field of view.

"Metallic Double" features a wonderfully quiet sound that can be both delicate and dissonant at times. This is one my favorite improvisation on this collection that paints within a focused range of timbres within a soft dynamic range.

"Rolf's Chorale" is a drone-texture work that bathes the ear in dynamic harmonies. At times this piece takes on the quality of breath and vocal inflection. At other times it ascends to an other worldly texture of brittle tones clustered close together that untangle over time.

The double-bow technique used here is compelling. As a composer I can imagine any number of ways to combine it with radically retuned strings or even theorize about full ensembles of double bowed string instruments (either by multi-tracked Uitti's or training a new generation of double-bow bassists, cellists, violists and violinists). By recording her own improvised music Uitti has advanced and revealed the sound of this technique with fantastic results. This sound should be more than enough incentive for other string players to adopt/adapt a similar approach.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Big Science

Laurie Anderson: Big Science. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month
at HurdAudio propels forward tonight with a visit to Big Science from 1982 by Laurie Anderson. It is made up of excerpts from a longer performance work that actually does very well as a stand alone listening experience.

This recording is something I grew up listening to often so it has become so familiar that it's hard to remember what life was like before this music seeped into my consciousness. The opening track, "From The Air" is something I can call up in its entirety from memory. It's an amazing text piece. The tranquil, almost robotic delivery of the captain speaking to the passengers of an airplane about attempting a crash landing makes for intense commentary about detachment in modern living.

The instrument combinations on this collection are fascinating. "Sweaters" builds a rough texture using only vocals, violins, bagpipes and drums. The roughness compliments the text description of total disenchantment after falling out of love. Most of the instrumental textures on Big Science are stripped down to bare essentials and serve as wire-frames surrounding this unique poetry.

"O Superman" really is a standout track in this collection. It's a spare and exquisitely crafted work that expands on the detachment theme of "From the Air" at a more personal level. Supported by a texture of pulsating voices as Laurie Anderson's delivers the focal text processed through a vocoder. The poetry is a powerful juxtaposition of answering machine messages, mindless advertising slogans and subtle commentary about the personal toll of detachment.

This is text music built upon smart poetry. I love that these pieces retain the brevity of popular song without resorting to the formal trap of verses and choruses. The spoken, and often processed, delivery matches well with the spare music textures.