Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Pythagorean Phrygian mapped to the Triative


The D Sharp Pythagorean Phrygian mapped to the Triative Scale. This is the first scale of the day to feature the Pythagorean minor second mapped to the triative, resulting in the 143-cent frequency ratio of 1.086. The math behind that is: (1901.96) * (base-2-log-of (256/243)) = 143.00. 256/243 being the Pythagorean minor second and the 1901.96 being the total cent value of the triative.

Monday, July 30, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: Get Out of La Cave, Find Some New Grass and Get Your Freak In

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [box set] - disc 3. 2004. Revenant Records: RVN 213.

Albert Ayler Quintet - April 16 & 17, 1966 @ La Cave, Cleveland, Ohio.
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Don Ayler: trumpet
Michel Samson: violin
Mutawef Shaheed (a.k.a. Clyde Shy): bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums

For all the liberties of his free improvisations and hot intensity of his tenor screams, Albert Ayler had a strong melodic sensibility that was - and is - well beyond the polite niceties of a "good tune." His melodies well up from an unflinching pursuit of artistic truth. With the steady presence and accompaniment from Michel Samson on violin (frustratingly just off-mic) and brother Don Ayler on trumpet this quintet plays some scorching sets in this Cleveland recording. With an understanding of spirituality as an uncompromising pursuit of artistic integrity - as opposed to the watered-down version of "calming" and "comforting" offered by more marketing/entertainment oriented flavors of "spiritualism" stripped clean of all intensity - Albert Ayler recorded a body of work and composed a core set of melodies and an improvisational approach worthy of study and immersion. The rawness of his music is a rare tonic and his melodic core is apparent on this disc in particular.

Albert Ayler: New Grass. 1968. Re-released in 2005. Impulse: A-9175.

Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone, whistling, vocals
Bill Folwell: electric bass
Burt Collins: trumpet
Joe Newman: trumpet
Garnett Brown: trombone
Seldon Powell: flute
Buddy Lucas: baritone saxophone
Bert DeCoteaux: conductor, arranger
Call Cobbs: electric harpsichord, piano, organ
Bernard Purdie: drums
Rose Marie McCoy: vocals
Mary Maria Parks: vocals

This one is the infamous R&B album that marked an odd departure for free jazz messiah Albert Ayler. Ayler even comes in toward the end of the opening track with a spoken plea to give this record a chance, probably recognizing just how difficult it would be for many of his supporters to accept his creative departure. I'm giving it a spin and a chance today and it's... well... um... it's less than I'd hoped for. The tenor playing is there, and it has all the intensity one looks for in Ayler. It's disconcerting to hear it up against a lock-step groove from this rhythm section. It sounds particularly mismatched against "New Ghosts," one of the great Ayler melodies that manages to soar even as it is caged within the inflexible 2 and 4 beat of a bass and drums that's a far cry from Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray. I don't hold it against any artist who takes such creative risks - particularly in light of the brilliant Love Cry that he recorded one year prior to this effort.

Dave Douglas: Freak In. 2003. RCA/Victor: 09026-64008-2.

Dave Douglas: trumpet, keyboards, voice
Jamie Saft: keyboards, loops, programming
Marc Ribot: electric guitar
Karsh Kale: tabla, additional drums
Joey Baron: drums
Romero Lubambo: acoustic guitar
Brad Jones: Ampeg baby bass, acoustic bass
Ikue Mori: electronic percussion
Seamus Blake: saxophone
Chris Speed: saxophone, clarinet
Craig Taborn: fender rhodes
Michael Sarin: drums

After having the crazy groove of "The Great Schism" running through my mind for several days now it was time to get a full Freak In and put this great Dave Douglas disc on. I've always loved this one, and now more so after another listen. There's so much running through this set of Douglas originals as he turns the creative talents of these players loose for a surprisingly coherent collision of styles and electronic textures. This one is part DJ, part studio shenanigans and yet there's plenty of focused improvisational energy. There's also multiple threads of great melodic lines and inspired arrangements buried underneath all the irresistible grooves and textures. I did manage to catch the Freak In tour and found that everything that makes it a great release carries over into live performance as well. Freak In is a reminder of how artificial the barriers between genres and styles are.

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Phrygian augmented 4 mapped to the Square-root-of-2


The D Sharp Phrygian augmented 4 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. The gap of 150-cents between the third and fourth degrees has never seemed wider than it is in this scale where 100-cent and 50-cent distances between adjacent intervals are the prevailing "normal."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: Going Postal and Other Modes

Joe Henderson: Mode for Joe. 1966. Re-released in 1988. Blue Note Records: CDP 7-84227-2.

Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone
Lee Morgan: trumpet
Curtis Fuller: trombone
Bobby Hutcherson: vibes
Cedar Walton: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Joe Chambers: drums

Here's a perfect example of what made Blue Note such a consistent label in the '60s. There's the immediacy of the sound of Mode for Joe, the compositions and the rich ideas pouring through so many of the improvisations. Joe Henderson, in particular, is in top form for this session and Cedar Walton's composition: "Mode for Joe" is tailor made to bring out the best of Henderson's blowing. This disc is a significant point of reference for so many reasons.

James Tenney: Postal Pieces. 2004. New World Records: 80612-2.

James Tenney: compositions
"Maximusic" (1965) - Tatiana Koleva, percussion
"Swell Piece" (1967) - The Barton Workshop
"A Rose Is a Rose Is a Round" (1970) - The Barton Workshop
"Beast" (1971) - Jos Tieman, contrabass
"Swell Piece #2" (1971) - The Barton Workshop
"Having Never Written a Note for Percussion" (1971) - Tobias Liebezeit, percussion
"Koan" (1971) - Elisabeth Smalt, viola
"For Percussion Perhaps, Or... (night)" (1971) - James Fulkerson, trombone and live electronics
"Swell Piece #3" (1971) - The Barton Workshop
"Cellogram" (1971) - Nina Hitz, cello
"August Harp" (1971) - Ulrike von Meier, harp

Unified by formal conceptions simple and focused enough to be conveyed by full scores no larger than postcards, Postal Pieces are austere, transcendent compositions that draw the ears into clear, physical manifestations of sound in near suspended animation. Time appears to stand still as "August Harp" unfolds spare intervals like sunlight caught in a chandelier. "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion" gently pulls one's attention into the rich detail of enharmonic partials and "Koan" buoys the listener in the wake of see-sawing intervals of ever changing proportions. Musically, and sonically, these are psycho-acoustic phenomena as focal points - stripped clean of drama or expressive intent. And in their simplicity they retain a richness in detail that stretches the ears of the attentive listener and stimulates the compositionally inclined.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Complete Quartets, Volume IV. Recorded in 1994. Performed by the Orford String Quartet. Delos International: DE 3034.

String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2 ("Razumovsky")
String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 ("Serioso")

Andrew Dawes: violin
Kenneth Perkins: violin
Terence Helmer: viola
Denis Brott: cello

Beethoven's Op. 59 could easily become an obsession in the HurdAudio rotation and a clear candidate for following a score on the next go around with that piece. Both of these quartets are "middle period" works as Beethoven was making his aesthetic transition into the early Romantic Era. And it's these middle works that I'm finding most surprising because of the stitching of familiar classical technique with an emerging personal sensibility.

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Pythagorean Phrygian diminished 4


The Pythagorean Phrygian diminished 4 Scale. The Pythagorean diminished 4, at 384.36-cents with a frequency ratio of 8192/6561, will cognitively sound similar to the 5-limit major third, at 386.31-cents with a frequency ratio of 5/4. The difference between them is just 1.95-cents and the human auditory system will probably process as the more familiar major third. Conceptually, and contextually, the 8192/6561 diminished fourth degree is a 3-limit utonal interval while the 5/4 is a 5-limit otonal interval. This implies that the Pythagorean diminished fourth should add a dark hue to the harmonic pallet that is unrelated to its 5-space doppelganger.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: From Empyrean Isles to the Country of Blinds

Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles. 1964 (Re-issued in 1999). Blue Note: 7243-4-98796-2-1.

Herbie Hancock: piano
Freddie Hubbard: trumpet
Ron Carter: bass
Tony Williams: drums

1964 was a great year for Blue Note Records and this is an all time great quartet in their prime. Ron Carter's arco solo in "The Egg" may be one of the greatest recorded bass improvisations in jazz history. It's records like this that give Herbie Hancock a significant legacy as a pianist and composer.

Michael Moore Trio: Chicoutimi. 1993. Ramboy: 06.

Michael Moore: clarinet
Fred Hersch: piano
Mark Helias: bass

The 5/8 patterns of "L'Opera" is just one example of the conceptual and lyrical beauty that ripples throughout this disc. In 16 tracks, this trio of outstanding musicians quietly unfolds an astonishing variety of ideas that makes Chicoutimi a tangible pleasure within the HurdAudio rotation. Something so rich in substance while completely without flash and dazzle often gets overlooked, and this release - now 14 years after its recording date - doesn't get nearly the praise heaped upon it that it deserves.

Skeleton Crew: Learn to Talk/The Country of Blinds. 1982/1986 - re-released in 2005. Fred Records/Anthill Music: ReR/FRO 8/9.

Tom Cora: cello, bass, accordion, drums, contraptions, singing
Fred Frith: guitar, 6-string bass, violin, home-mades, drums, singing
Zeena Parkins: organ, electric harp, accordion, drums, singing

The re-release of these two brilliant Skeleton Crew records from the '80s will give more ears a chance to revel in and puzzle over the frenetic sonic energy of Cora, Frith and Parkins. The chance to hear Tom Cora's beautiful and deeply original cello playing is a major draw to these recording. The heaping helpings of detached irony and political commentary is like an added bonus as the biting critique of the puritanical impulse that took hold during that era (and still plagues American politics in the current decade) gives the aesthetic pleasures of Learn to Talk and The Country of Blinds an added punch.

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Locrian 1% narrow


The A Sharp 1% narrow Scale. The half diminished scale within a compressed octave.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Locrian 2% wide


The A Sharp Locrian 2% wide Scale. This time we turn up the width of the stretched octave nearly into 1/8th-tone territory.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Lociran 1% wide


The intervallic content of the D Sharp Locrian 1% wide Scale. Half-diminished and slightly stretched.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: Some String Theory, Some Chicago Deep-dish Dissonance and Some Bop

Laurie Anderson: Life on a String. 2001. Nonesuch: 79539-2.
Laurie Anderson: vocals, keyboards, violins, gongs
with various (small) combinations of:
Elena Barere: concert master - Joey Baron: drums, percussion - Martin Brumback: percussion arrangement - Vinicius Cantuaria: percussion - Mino Cinelu: percussion - Timothy Cobb: bass - Greg Cohen: acoustic bass - Jill Dell'Abate: orchestra conductor - Enrico DiCecco: violin - Jonathan Dinklage: violin - Karen Dreyfus: viola - Barry Finclair: violin - Danny Frankel: percussion, hand claps, "box-o-toys" - Eric Friedlander: cello - Bill Frisell: guitar - Jean Ingram: violin - Mitchell Froom: keyboards, claviola, mellotron, wurlitzer - Liheng: baritone banhu - Vincent Lionti: viola - Eyvind Kang: violin - John Kelly: background vocals - Ann Leathers: violin - Jeanne LeBlanc: cello - Dwight Mikkelsen: copyist - Heidi Modr: violin - Jan Mullen: violin - Tom Nelis: vocals - Van Dyke Parks: string arrangements, conductor, keyboards - Ellen Payne: violin - Joel Pitchon: violin - Sue Pray: viola - Lou Reed: guitar - Ben Rubin: bells - Peter Scherer: keyboards, percussion - Jamshied Sharifi: additional keyboards, strings - Ricky Sortomme: violin - Skuli Sverrisson: bass, little organ, percussion programming, high bass, sounds, bowed guitars, keyboards - Chris Speed: saxophone - Cuong Vu: trumpet - Carol Webb: violin - Judith Willmer: viola - Hal Willner: turntables, samples - Mocean Worker: beats, keyboards - Fredrick Zlotkin: cello

I'm unusually sensitive to the brevity of the song forms upon this particular listening. Even within these tight, almost haiku structures Laurie Anderson finds plenty of room to disrupt expectation. The vernacular language of popular musics bend under all the deviations and odd twists upon the timbres as even the poetry takes some halting turns in the service of Anderson's unique story telling method. There's a lot going on in this studio set and the quality of the players makes for a rewarding listen.

Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 2. 2007. Okkadisk: OD12068.

Peter Brötzmann: composer, clarinet, tarogato, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Mats Gustafson: baritone saxophone, slide-saxophone
Ken Vandermark: clarinet, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone
Joe McPhee: trumpet
Hans Bauer: trombone
Per-Ake Holmlander: tuba

Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello
Kent Kessler: bass
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums
Michael Zerang: drums

It takes several minutes for the steady crescendo of energy, intensity and volume to build in this second landscape. After more than 12 minutes most mere mortals would have peaked. But this is a Peter Br
ötzmann composition, so there's plenty of rocket fuel to throw onto the fire as he brings a unique intensity that has become a point of fixation in the HurdAudio landscape for the past few months. When things eventually do crest this music continues to surge with a quiet dissonance that fills out this long-form composition. There's plenty of room within these thick textures for the individual qualities of the improvisers to cut through. Sometimes ugly beauty such as this possesses the greatest degree of honesty.

Kenny Dorham: Trompeta Toccata. 1964 (re-issued in 2006). Blue Note: 0946-3-62635-2-6.

Kenny Dorham: trumpet
Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone
Tommy Flanagan: piano
Richard Davis: bass
Albert Heath: drums

While on an Art Blakey listening binge last year I began to focus on the great compositions, arrangements and playing of "Messenger" Kenny Dorham. A 1964 session with Dorham as the leader and the great Joe Henderson on tenor, this one is every bit the can't miss Blue Note bop record of that era I expected and then some. The title track in particular is a knock-out. The technical re-mastering for this Rudy Van Gelder Edition is also right on target as the balance between this great rhythm section and horns draws the ear right into these inviting bop soundscapes.

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Locrian diminished 4 1% wide


The A Sharp Locrian diminished 4 1% wide Scale. The Locrian diminished 4 is sometimes called the "super diminished" scale. This scale takes all that "diminishment" and stretches it along a stretched octave.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Locrian mapped to the 3/2


The A Sharp Locrian mapped to the 3/2 Scale. The equal-tempered half-diminished scale squeezed into the 3/2-perfect fifth. I find a certain aesthetic irony in taking a scale that has a diminished fifth and mapping it within a perfect fifth.

Monday, July 23, 2007

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


The intervallic content of the D Sharp Locrian mapped to the Triative Scale. This is a straight re-mapping of the equal-tempered "half-diminished" scale stretched out across the Triative. The proportionality stays the same while the dark shade of Locrian is obscured.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Summary

24 Hours of Exotic Hypnotic.

This event was a crash-course in who's who of the Baltimore experimental music scene. There's a rich diversity of activity in Charm City and I learned a lot by sticking it out through the great, good, bad and ugly of it all. And I'd be happy to do it all again... after some sleep.

One thing I noticed is that this entire operation is practically a one-man ordeal as John Berndt produced nearly every aspect of this endeavor. He was responsible for bookings, keeping things on schedule, cleaning up ungodly amounts of ketchup, announcing every act and who knows what else. At times he seemed to have a better understanding of signal flow than any of the electronic music artists on stage as he also handled live mixing. For his long, long hours (and I have some idea of just how long they were) and his impromptu circular-breathing performance on the soprano saxophone after Old Songs' set I personally thank him for his efforts this past weekend. The Baltimore music scene would be a less vibrant affair without his efforts to bring it all together like this. He clearly has a passion for this music to endure so much work on its behalf. Thanks, John.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Shodekeh Bouma

Shodekeh Bouma @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Shodekeh is incredible, amazing, talented and extremely smart. And after hearing him speak with the audience about his approach to beat boxing I'm wondering if he realizes just how good he is. Bouma has taken beat boxing to a completely different level as his vocabulary of drum kit sounds has long since become an artistic approach to sound with all the skill of any virtuoso. His openness and willingness to attempt any sound makes him an astonishing solo artist and a great collaborator in any number of contexts. I'd be curious to hear him work with Brian Sacawa as a logical extension of his exploration of beat-based environments with the saxophone. Shodekeh was at his best when he just let go and did a free-form improvisation. I could listen to that all night.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Global Tranquility (Sam Burt & Ensemble)

Global Tranquility @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

The Sam Burt portion of this marathon concert featured music for sine tones. The first piece was an electronic work featuring restless sine tones in various frequency ranges relative to one another - creating difference tones that were particularly audible if one was close to the center of the stereo field. The "pure" frequencies of sine tones handled this way creates an interesting contour of precise smoothness and roughness that was definitely the focus of this work.

The second piece was for string quartet and sine tones and it was the string quartet that put some horse hair on these sine timbres. With long sustained tones pitted against computer generated "pure" tones this piece was an austere study of the harmonic potential of lock-step consonance combined with the beating and combinatorial tones rising from deliberate de-tunings of such consonance.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Shaun Flynn

Shaun Flynn @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

This solo set for drum kit left me with a lot of questions. Such as: how can it possibly take 40 minutes to set up a drum kit? How many times can a tom-tom fall over on one broken leg before one does something other than extend the bad leg and set it up for another fall seconds later? How can a "drummer" set up a kit as if they have no idea how it goes together? What is that gas can for? Should we have the fire department on stand by? Is there any kind of cohesive idea buried under this "solo?"

By the end of this set I was no longer interested in answering these questions.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Lizz King

Lizz King @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

This was a rough set for singer/songwriter Lizz King. Most of her material felt unpolished or in-progress. And there were times when she seemed to be over-reaching her subject matter by a wide margin. Beyond that she had a lot of charm and her voice has a fantastic quality to it once she breaks through her timid introversion.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Neil Feather

Neil Feather @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Amplification is a key part of Neil Feather's inventions. It is through this larger-than-life signal that one can be immersed in the sound of the Nondo as Feather sends vibrations coursing through the steel sheet curved upward by two music wires strung from end-to-end. Using a metal rod placed across the strings, hammering with a mallet or applying a small saw to this instrument a strange sonic universe dominated by metallic matter emerges.

Feather then shifted to another creation involving three fly wheels with motors and magnetic pick-ups attached. The rotation of these wheels creates a steady pulse, with the tempo affected by the rate of rotation (which can be fast enough to create a tone). The presence of multiple wheels spinning at different rates creates any number of polyrhythms that shift in complexity as the wheels spin decelerate.

Feather also strapped on his "guitaint2" and began improvising with all three invented instruments. The creation and design of these instruments plays a huge role in the compositional/improvisational space that this music occupies. One can imagine the beautiful din that a full ensemble of such creations could produce.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Old Songs

Old Songs @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Old Songs takes ancient Greek texts and sets their English translations to music. With mandolin, guitar, banjo and percussion the words of Sappho, Archilochos, Hipponax, Alcman and Alcaeus are sung as old-time Americana tunes. The profound wisdom and simplicity of the surviving fragments of Sappho are a natural fit for the near Shaker Hymn-like quality of Old Songs' melodic lines. This strange combination of old an ancient yields a strange and attractive beauty.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: F. Vattel Cherry

F. Vattel Cherry @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Solo acoustic bass improvisation at the hands of F. Vattel Cherry takes on a liquid quality as his sound, and the linear quality of his playing seeps into every crevice of time. Without need of formal introduction or beginnings, Cherry was well into his epic solo before most had settled into their seats for this set. And with his dark, full tone it was clear that he was pouring something real into this performance. Twenty minutes elapsed before he set aside his bow and continued seamlessly into a long pizzicato section. With gestures resonating with the quality of human cries and utterances he worked a dynamic range between pianissimo and mezzo forte. Toward the end of his performance he added some vocalizations of his own. There was barely any extended technique or silence in this set as his melodic phrasing displayed a stunning, prolonged continuity.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Jai Kishor

Jai Kishor @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 22, 2007, Baltimore, MD

The final day of the Exotic Hypnotic music marathon began with a soaking of meditative Hindustani classical music as Jai Kishur played a raga on the Surbahar for most of the first hour. Accompanied by one of his students on the tamboura, this was the Exotic Hypnotic living up to both sides of its billing. The prolonged stability of tonal gravity provided by the drone texture allowed for all kinds of rich inventiveness of melodic development and microtonal contour. Hearing this music live put Jai Kishor on my radar as I'll be watching for other opportunities to hear him play around town.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Locrian diminished 4 mapped to the Triative


The A Sharp Locrian diminished 4 mapped to the Triative Scale. The extra diminished, diminished scale spread out along the triative.

After Now Takes Flight at the Red Room

After Now: Nothing you've heard before. Inaugural concert. July 21 @ the Red Room, Baltimore, MD

An evening of composed music at a venue normally associated with improvisation made for a perfect end to a day spent viewing improvised music in a venue normally associated with college lectures.

Columns in the Air by Mark A. Lackey

Kristin Bacchiocchi-Stewart, flute
Gina Kim, flute
Mindy Heinsohn, flute
JeeYoung Rachel Choe, alto flute
Mark lackey, electronics

The flute quartet sounded great as the repeating patterns in the different flute parts made for a beautiful aural image. I found the intrusions of the electronic sounds puzzling as the abstract sheen of the flutes would become polluted with the concrete qualities of overlaid sound effects. As the electronic timbres eventually gravitated away from voices and recognizable real-world sounds and began to reflect more of the abstract beauty of the flute music it began to make more sense.

Homeward by Andrew Cole

Brian Sacawa, soprano saxophone
Cory Kasprzyk, alto saxophone
Chris Blossom, tenor saxophone
Rose Hammer, baritone saxophone

The opening movement of this work was particularly good. The final movement featured some soft multiphonic harmonies from the baritone and tenor parts as the soprano wove a melodic line over the top. I would like to hear this one again.

spastic i droNe by Mark A. Lackey

Courtney Orlando, violin

While I enjoyed the wealth of extended technique and ideas contained within this excellent work for solo violin I sometimes wished that some of the textures had been elongated a bit more to spend more time taking them in. The restless quality of this music didn't allow one to focus on any particular sound or idea for long.

Degredations IV-b by C.R. Kasprzyk

Jamie Schneider, oboe
Sally Sarles, viola
Mindy Heinsohn, flute
Bonnie Obel, cello

This was by far the most timbrally striking work of the evening. Accompanied by an electronic track, this piece dripped a steady string of sonic beads of polyphonic textures featuring the sounds of the players breathing and whispering as part of the overall sounding image.

Even Horizon by Samuel Burt

Brian Sacawa, alto saxophone

It's odd that this day was filled with so much solo alto saxophone music. After Jackie Blake's solo set just a few hours earlier this was a completely different approach and sound for this instrument and Sacawa continues to impress me with his interpretive energy.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Melissa Moore

Melissa Moore @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

This set was a disappointment despite some promising elements. The ideas in this music seemed to be overwhelmed by gimmicks. The acoustic guitar playing, particularly when spare, could have worked on its own as an interesting performance. But it was fed through a massive digital delay and accompanied by strobe lights, a pulsating electronic drone with no intonational relevance to the chords being strummed and a plastic enclosed hammock that was somehow driving the pulsating drone. The electronic timbres were not interesting and after half an hour it was clear that these elements weren't about to gel into anything cohesive. And with a more interesting concert waiting across town at the Red Room I left this one early.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Jackie Blake

Jackie Blake @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Armed with nothing more than an alto saxophone and deep reserves of soul Jackie Blake played a fantastic solo set. As he introduced each composition there was a resounding consistency between his words and his actions as a musician. A theme of spiritual searching would emerge as he would speak of a piece of music as a prayer, then proceed to pray through his alto saxophone. His reflections upon higher thought carried with deep resonance into his music. What a fantastic figure to have in the Baltimore music scene! There is much to learn from this man's experience and talent.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Lexi Mountain

Lexi Mountain @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

In a marathon of experimental music one goes into the experience ready for the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. This set was a case of performance art gone horribly wrong. It's safe to say this wasn't Lexi Mountain's best set. I sincerely hope it was her worst because it would be a stretch to imagine anything more tortured.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Ilya Monosov

Ilya Monosov @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

This set took a long time to emerge from a haze of technical issues as an unusual amount of feedback, line noise and burned amplifiers nearly derailed this performance. Eventually, some interesting textures did emerge. But they were quickly dragged down by some questionable samples and beat-karaoke. The samples of Terry Riley's Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band whet my appetite for the real deal as Monosov (and his conga playing apprentice) didn't add anything to that great sound. After several misfires with similar samples this began to feel more like a failed DJ experiment than a live performance.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Kate Porter and Russel Kotcher

Kate Porter and Russel Kotcher @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Kate Porter: cello
Russel Kotcher: violin

An exquisite set. Porter and Kotcher put on a display of intelligent interplay as they played a set of free improvisation with modern (or "post classical") technique as a common reference point. By watching one another they would time several gestures in a manner that cuts out the "middle men" of composer and conductor. These were well-formed compositions spun out in real time by a pair of virtuosos.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: John Dierker/Will Redman/Marc Miller

John Dierker/Will Redman/Marc Miller @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

The trio of John Dierker, Will Redman and Marc Miller - now billing themselves as Micro Kingdom, have come a long way since I last saw them play in February. They've developed into a tight, cohesive improvising trio that deftly navigates a range of sonic textures. Their willingness to both embrace and abandon pulse - without any outward signs of self-consciousness toward groove and anti-groove - makes for some compelling improvisation. They also have the same willingness to pursue both soft and loud textures that adds many different shades to their collective sound. This was easily the best set of today's marathon.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Prem Raja Mahat

Prem Raja Mahat @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

It's hard to imagine a more thoroughly likable personality than Prem Raja Mahat. His joy at presenting the folk musics and instruments of his native Nepal is rivaled only by his sincere enthusiasm for living in Baltimore. The bowed string instrument known as the sarangi was particularly engaging with its unique sound, intonation and the ornamented melodic lines that Mahat featured on that instrument. He also sang traditional folk songs accompanied by the harmonium and an original song of praise for his current homeland in charm city. His positive energy was a welcome addition of levity within the Exotic Hypnotic experience.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Bonnie Jones and Andrew Hayleck

Bonnie Jones and Andrew Hayleck @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 21, 2007, Baltimore, MD

As a duo between Jones on open circuitry and Hayleck on laptop this set turned out to be surprisingly pleasant given my usual reservations for improvised electronics. With quiet textures and a David Tudor-esque timbre pallet my ears were won over with gentle streams of white noise and a reserved approach toward amplification.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

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


The intervallic content of the D Sharp Locrian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. The offset of the diminished fourth - which gives it an equivalent interval size to the major third in equal temperament - is sounded out at half proportions in this quarter-tone variant of the Locrian scale.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Daniel Conrad

Daniel Conrad @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Microsaccades: a Chromaccord Performance. Daniel Conrad is an inventor and composer fascinated with the correlations between sound and light. And this piece/installation was a beautiful presentation of his conceptual creativity. The simple shapes - a circle on a square background - with rich, shifting colors accompanied (and driven) by a recorded composition for plucked strings over a drone lived up to the "hypnotic" qualities of the Exotic Hypnotic bill. The glissando of the strings gave this music a Lois V. Vierk quality (coincidentally, a CD of Lois V. Vierk's music was played between nearly all the sets of today's marathon - it was a sound that was in the air to begin with). The clear correlation between music and color made for an austere quality that focused the mind directly on the physical properties of light and sound. It was an experience that was both tranquil and pleasantly unsettling.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Peter Blasser and Carson Garhart

Peter Blasser and Carson Garhart @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Peter Blasser and Carson Garhart bring some interesting instruments onto the stage with the electro-lute, devil's tone organus, french horn and jazz guitar. And I suspect there's more potential for those instruments than what they played in this particular set. They approach improvisation like two painters who simply happen to share the same canvas as they splash colors into the air without an interaction or reaction to one another. And this led to a blandness that the unique instrumentation simply didn't overcome.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Brian Sacawa

Brian Sacawa @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

I've written about Brian Sacawa in concert and on CD in this blog. He is emerging as a great champion of new works for saxophone and he consistently engages the listener with unexpected sounds and territory for that instrument. In a marathon of experimental music his set is easily the most striking for its consistency and fine tuned musicianship.

With DJ Dubble8 manning the turntables, Sacawa featured some compositions and improvisations drawing upon electronica and beat-oriented influences. I suspect this will be a direction a lot of composers will be exploring in the years and decades ahead and the music on this program exposes some startling possibilities. I particularly liked the composition built upon spoken phrases by Billie Holiday.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Chris Pumphrey

Chris Pumphrey @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Chris Pumphrey played a short set for prepared electric piano and analog synthesizer. The bell-like percussive timbres and sharp dynamic contour of the Rhodes electric were offset by the sustained swells of the oscillators of the Roland synth. Pumphrey has a great ear for picking intervals that sound incredibly meaty while taking the electric piano into some unique territory. The pulsating, groove-heavy material had all the dance-like charm of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano and his long, lyrical passages for pentatonic scales were particularly well suited for this timbral soundscape. His set seemed to be over far too soon for my taste.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Santa Dads

Santa Dads @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Some might say that you haven't lived until you've seen a beat-boxer wearing a home-made Tigger costume accompanied by a grown man in a red dress playing electric ukulele. If such a spectacle has escaped your experiences consider yourself fortunate. The "Next World Minstrels" known as Santa Dads are an acquired taste at best. The "theatrics," such as they are, do little to gloss over the lack of musical substance. The ability to make a spit-filled kick drum and high-hat into a microphone makes for a limited beat-box vocabulary, particularly when the tempo/groove is less than convincing. And it's a little puzzling how someone with a vocal range of less than an octave can still miss every single note.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Crown of Forks

Crown of Forks @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

It took a long time for Crown of Forks to set up their equipment. And once I recognized the inherent danger of setting up a weed whacker in close proximity to an inflatable kiddie pool filled with ketchup I hastily made my way out of harm's way. This proved to be a wise move as the clean-up time would prove to be twice as long as the set-up. And the "performance" itself was completed in mere moments.

The stench of that most foul of condiments wasn't the only thing that stunk in this performance. As a listener, and as an audience member, I can tolerate a lot and have more patience than most. But this one goes into the hall of fame for worst concert experience ever. If a piece fails because of poor execution or lack of merit in the initial idea I'm okay with that. But this was not an idea or even a conceptually defensible work of art. This was a stunt hatched by juvenile idiots and a bad idea badly executed. It's crap like this that gives "experimental music" a bad reputation - and understandably so.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: Walker and Jay

Walker and Jay @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Armed with a banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle and voices, Walker and Jay play traditional Americana ballads and old time country music. And these old-time stories and melodic lines come to life with their considerable interpretive skills. Their vocal intonation was right on the money along with a steady sense of time. They played the an impressive set of the first day of Exotic Hypnotic that left me wanting to hear more.

Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic: The Electric Junk Band

The Electric Junk Band @ Artscape/Exotic Hypnotic, Langsdale Auditorium, July 20, 2007, Baltimore, MD

The Electric Junk Band is a trio of would-be one-man bands as each individual incorporates at least one drumming element. Trevor Choflet stomps with one foot on a tambourine as he plays the steel guitar and sings. Eric Franklin keeps at least one mallet in hand as he plays guitar, at times hitting a tom-tom with a cymbal on it or just drumming on the keyboard of a nasty old Realistic synthesizer. And Bob Wagner stands at a stripped down drum kit though he's just as likely to turn on a speaker with a loaded trash can lid sitting on top or play an ad-hoc bass made from a fingerboard and a kettle. Their music is the blues. And they play it with a lot of heart. The restless, "junky" quality of their sound combined with a laid back beat leaves one waiting for the wheels to come off at any moment. They're like an old, old car that leaves a trail of nuts and bolts in its wake and a small swimming pool of oil in the parking lot yet always has just enough to get where it's going.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Pythagorean Locrian mapped to the Square-root-of-2


The A Sharp Pythagorean Locrian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. An all-utonal diatonic scale with the intervals cut in half to fit within the tritone.