Sunday, June 29, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Free Improvising Trio, Duo, Solo

Michele Rabbia/Marilyn Crispell/Vincent Courtois: Shifting Grace. 2006. Cam Jazz: CAMJ 7791-2.

Michele Rabbia: percussion
Marilyn Crispell: piano
Vincent Courtois: cello

Free improvisation that "shifts" focal points between players with virtuosic ease. Rabbia's percussion takes on a light touch that matches the lyrical whisps of Crispell's piano playing and the artful phrasing of Courtois' cello. Even the foreground "shifts" with each player slipping into focus in a music built upon collective creation. The fluid encounters captured for this recording reveal a mature sense of pace and compositional form.

Derek Bailey/Cyro Baptista: Derek. 2003. Amulet Records: amt 023.

Derek Bailey: guitar
Cyro Baptista: percussion, voice

Completely "in the moment" improvisation from two figures with radically different orbits. The differences between the English guitarist and Brazilian percussionist is bridged by an open responsiveness that allows for humor and deeply individual sounds to coexist upon the same canvas. With this listening I am aware of the individualistic techniques at work in this music. Baptista's sample-and-loop approach feels at odds with Bailey's persistent (and sometimes harsh) strumming at first. The whims of Baptista's words often work against the abstract harmonies and tones of Bailey's wall of acoustic guitar textures. This tension between parts marks much of this sound and the attraction of this disc lies in how these two performers feel out a mutual space with a sense of give and take to fit these jagged pieces into an unusual sonic image.

Gunda Gottschalk: Wassermonde. 2002. Elephant: 002.

Gunda Gottschalk: violin, viola

This one accurately captures the live solo Gottschalk experience. With a wide ranging improvisatory language and a strong intuitive instinct toward long arching forms this disc feeds the lingering hunger to "hear more" of this impressive performer. The long arc holds for over an hour on this collection and even has the surprise entrance of Gottschalk's voice blending within the overall texture late in the performance - just as was the case with her live performance last year.

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Mixolydian augmented 4 2% wide

FSharpMixolydianAugmented4-2PercentWide

The F Sharp Mixolydian augmented 4 2% wide Scale. The augmented fourth gives this scale a brighter, "Lydian-esque" quality while the stretched intervals add a consistent "out of tune" sound to this particular harmony.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: From Andrew Drury to Zs

Andrew Drury: A Momentary Lapse. 2003. Innova: 581.

Andrew Drury: composer, drums
Eyvind Kang: violin
Briggan Krauss: alto saxophone, clarbone
Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Myra Melford: piano
Mark Dresser: bass

Outstanding arrangements/compositions + six great improvisers = third spin in the HurdAudio Rotation with nothing but praise to heap upon this disc. Between the variation of textures and styles of the nine compositions featured in this set and the ample room smartly extended toward each performer this one hits several sweet spots that make for an underrated 2003 release from Drury. In particular, the prominence of Myra Melford on "Geek's Revenge" was especially appreciated in this spin.

Bill Frisell/Dave Holland/Elvin Jones: Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. 2001. Nonesuch: 79624-2.

Bill Frisell: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, loops
Dave Holland: bass
Elvin Jones: drums

The already insane talents of Bill Frisell + one of the most enviable rhythm sections of all time + a beloved section of the Frisell songbook (along with a take on "Moon River" and "Hard Times") = fourth spin in the HurdAudio Rotation with ears greedily drinking up a sound even greater than the concept behind it. I hesitate to call these definitive takes on this block of compositions written to accompany a documentary about Far Side cartoonist Glen Larson, but these do make a compelling argument for these enduring and endearing Frisell originals. Hearing these pieces thrive with the support of the potentially overwhelming slice of jazz history Holland and Jones bring to this session reinforces an already high opinion of this music. This one is deserving of many more spins.

The Zs: 4 Systemz: Brown 1951. 2007. Socketscdr: 32.

4 Systems (1951) composed by Earle Brown, performed by The Zs.

Essentially a single. This is the full length version of the 4 Systems excerpt included on the Tzadik compilation Folio and Four Systems. Using Brown's graphic score the Zs navigate a quiet texture of breathtaking restraint. Each gesture is carefully added to the soundscape so that it barely leaves a ripple. The Zs demonstrate an intensity within near-silence equal to the high-decibel excursions of their late-night venue existence.

HurdAudio Rotation: Slanting Time with Open Arms

The Zs: Arms. 2007. Planaria: PR029.

Sam Hillmer: tenor saxophone, vocals
Matthew Hough: electric guitar, vocals
Charlie Looker: electric guitar, baritone guitar, vocals
Ian Antonion: drumset, percussion, vocals
Brad Wentworth: drumset, percussion

Precision with a progressive edge in the service of a relentless creativity. The Zs open up a wide territory with Arms reaching between the chanting vocal unisons of "Nobody Wants To Be Had" over a texture of razor sharp abrasion to the soft lull of "Z Is For Zone." This is a rare band capable of mining both the meditative trance-inducing state and the brutal, high-decibel jump cut without sacrificing their aggressive, almost manic, attention to detail and extreme precision. Ugly beautiful.

Birgit Ulher/Ernst Thoma: Slants. 2003. Unit Records: UTR 4142.

Birgit Ulher: trumpet
Ernst Thoma: live electronics (and the blue wheel instant composing machine)

Birgit Ulher is a sound artist with a background in the visual arts. And the sensibilities come through in the stark lines and track titles named after colors. With "Skyblue" taking up the lion's share of the total duration in this pack of sonic crayons, it's the scarcity of layering that brings out the detail of this trumpet and electronics collaboration. Each element of sound is given generous space as these pieces spell out a desolate, lonely environment of windswept hues.

Mark Dresser/Denman Maroney: Time Changes. 2005. Cryptogramophone: CG124.

Mark Dresser: bass
Denman Maroney: hyperpiano
Michael Sarin: drums, percussion
Alexandra Montano: voice

These Cryptogramophone releases over the past few years have been so impressive and consistent that it's hard not to keep coming back into the sonic worlds so beautifully recorded on these discs. Time Changes is just one of those releases that gives an aural insight into the collaboration between Mark Dresser and Denman Maroney with a set of pieces focused on creative ways to warp the dimension of time. "Apertivio" takes a C minor blues and subjects it to a modulating tempo while Maroney's charts - notably "MC" and "Kilter" - explore an independence between parts and players with its wicked polyrhythms dangling from a steady pulse. The addition of Michael Sarin's percussive wares and Alexandra Montano's wordless vocals fill out the timbral soundscape with arrangements that give equal attention to color and melodic phrasing to match the relaxed intensity of undulating time.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Mixolydian augmented 4 1% wide

EFlatMixolydianAugmented4-1PercentWide-interval-analysis

The intervallic content of the E Flat Mixolydian augmented 4 1% wide Scale.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Mixolydian mapped to the Cube-root-of-2

FSharpMixolydianMappedToTheCubeRootOf2

The F Sharp Mixolydian mapped to the Cube-root-of-2 Scale. Equal tempered Mixolydian proportionality within the confines of a 400-cent major third.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Mixolydian augmented 4 mapped to the 3/2

FSharpMixolydianAugmented4MappedToThe3-2

The F Sharp Mixolydian augmented 4 mapped to the 3/2 Scale. An equal-tempered, altered Mixolydian within the confines of the just perfect fifth.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Soundtrack for a Revolution

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [disc 4]. 2004. Revenant: 213.

Albert Ayler Quintet - April 17, 1966 @ La Cave, Cleveland, OH
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Don Ayler: trumpet
Frank Wright: tenor saxophone
Michel Samson: violin
Mutawef Shaheed: bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums

One of the best aspects of the Holy Ghost box set is its documentation of these La Cave sets from 1966. This is an Albert Ayler led ensemble at the top of its game that draws the ears to the great interactions working on all levels with this group. I remain fascinated by Michel Samson's contribution to this sound and even more impressed with Ronald Shannon Jackson's drumming sensibilities within these Ayler compositions.

Iva Bittova/Bang on a Can All-Stars: Elida. 2005. Cantaloupe: CA21027.

Iva Bittova: violin, voice
Robert Black: bass
David Cossin: drums, percussion
Lisa Moore: piano
Mark Stewart: guitars
Wendy Sutter: cello
Evan Ziporyn: clarinets

An almost absurdly pleasant listening experience. Elida ripples with playful color and an ear for arrangements that buoy the Czech poetry and striking range of extended vocal technique employed by Iva Bittova. It's hard to believe that there's some intense violin playing working in parallel with the singing by this singular performer. The earthy, folk-rich materials are woven into a tapestry of smart textures animated by a balance of feel and technical accuracy by the All-Stars.

Louis Andriessen: De Staat. 1991. Elektra Nonesuch: 9 79251-2.

The Schoenberg Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw: conductor

I'm always floored by how much I dig this piece each time I revisit it. Louis Andriessen artfully turns Plato's pessimism about the power of particular modes and scales to undermine political power into a longing for sounds that have such potency to topple the entrenched and corrupt. If there really was such a politically viral harmony it seems as if Andriessen was searching for it in this forceful, pulsating music. An anarchistic Rite of Spring directed at the tone-deaf brokers of power. If "any alteration in the modes of music is always followed by alteration in the most fundamental laws of the state," then we should all be altering our modes until the walls come tumbling down. In the meantime, De Staat continues to be a HurdAudio indulgence.

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Mixolydian diminished 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2

FSharpMixolydianDiminished5MappedToTheSquareRootOf2

The F Sharp Mixolydian diminished 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. Note the 150-cent gap (an interval often referred to as a "neutral second") between the fifth and sixth degrees opened up by diminishing the fifth.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Two Magnum Opuses and Two Quartets

Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury A Ritual of Dream and Delusion. 1970 (re-released in 1999). Innova: 406.

Danlee Mitchell: conductor

Partch's final magnum opus, and it's a major work in the HurdAudio constellation. For a musical language built upward from speech - with an intonation scheme and set of instruments designed specifically to match the contours of spoken word - there is precious little text in this particular work. In the relentless creative push to realize this corporeal experience Partch tapped into ritual and composed some outstanding instrumental preludes to these two acts in the process. The words that are part of the Delusion experience become a chorus-like commentary in the tradition of the ancient Greeks. And they are often a haunting commentary on the situations the characters find themselves in.

Hearing this music after having seen this theatrical work produced last December I am more acutely aware of what is missing. The stage filled with these visually and aurally beautiful instruments is a presence that recording can only partially represent. With ears drawn solely to the music and the mind filling in the memory of the African and Noh plays told through the Delusion the awe and joy of understanding this work continues to evolve.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Symphonies (disc 6). Recorded in 1994. The International Music Company: 305299-305.

Symphony No. 9 in D minor (op. 125)
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Raymond Leppard: conductor
The Ambrosian Singers
John McCarthy: choirmaster

It's with some trepidation that I approach the most notorious war horse of them all. One can hear the Romantic Era being birthed into existence in this work in the way it anticipates the large scale sense of development that finally breaks the classical mold into something composers would strive to equal or surpass for generations. The first four movements are a complete symphonic experience in and of itself. Then there's that choir inserted into the fifth that transforms this piece into something else entirely. Once the ears acclimate to the wide vibrato in the singing voices there is the struggle to hear "through" the now cliche "Ode to Joy." But this is the very source of that cliche. The culmination of the entire cycle of nine symphonies. Gazing directly into this sound is like taking a long look at the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. Crushingly familiar and enduring at the same time.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Complete Quartets, Volume V. 1994. Delos: DE 3035.

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

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No. 3 ("Razumovsky")

String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 ("Harfen")

The first movement of the String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 is about as definitive an answer to what makes Beethoven such a big deal that these ears have heard. Astonishing feats of thematic development that swims into a soaring moment of transcendent bliss. In many ways, these quartets have more meat than the symphonic cycle. This is partly a result of less exposure. But there is also something about the chamber medium that lends itself to a searing intensity in these polished, middle-period quartets.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Mixolydian diminished 5

EFlatMixolydianDiminished5-interval-analysis

The intervallic content of the E Flat Mixolydian diminished 5 Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Pythagorean Mixolydian diminished 4

FSharpPythagoreanMixolydianDiminished4

The F Sharp Pythagorean Mixolydian diminished 4 Scale. Note the Pythagorean Comma that separates the major third and diminished fourth degrees - producing one of those rare sequences of descending tones along the ascending scale order.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Scale of the Day: C Pythagorean Construct #1, Lydian Mode

CPythagoreanConstructNo1LydianMode

The C Pythagorean Lydian Construct #1, Lydian Mode - Scale.  Essentially an open, just perfect fifth as a harmonically impoverished scale.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Double Duos in the Red

John Berndt/Ben Wright
Bryan Rogers/Matt Engle
@ The Red Room, Baltimore, MD
June 7, 2008

John Berndt: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone
Ben Wright: bass

Bryan Rogers: tenor saxophone
Matt Engle: bass

Even within the frame of unpremeditated free improvisation the medium of saxophone and acoustic bass is limited only by the impulse and disposition of the players. In a pair of sets featuring two sets of similar instrumentation - and a single take as a quartet of duos - the range of sound left several canvases splattered from multiple angles of sound.

John Berndt and Ben Wright performed short pieces that played like abstract landscapes. The opening piece featuring sustained tones on the soprano saxophone suggesting vast horizons while Ben Wright explored a bowed texture of natural harmonics. Other pieces from this same set suggested a range of environments as the pair mined a chemistry of responsive interaction. The two joked about "unlearning" over the years of playing together even as their focus and creative responsiveness revealed a startling artistry borne of sympathetic mindfulness of one another.

Bryan Rogers and Matt Engle developed longer pieces that spun together phrases and fragments of linear materials into something suggestive of abstract portraits and imaginary still life drawings. The bubbling intensity of Rogers' playing ebbing in and out of the foreground in a dialogue with Engle.

When assembled as a quartet of two reeds and two bassists the balanced, ear-guided sensibilities opened up into a larger sonic image as each player allowed plenty of space for the energy of improvised materials to find its own course. The extended techniques and mouthpiece-free materials from Berndt providing a percussive presence while Rogers frequently echoed gestures from other parts of the ensemble before adding his own additions to the texture.

Scale of the Day: B Dorian diminished 4 1% wide

BDorianDiminished4-1PercentWide

The B Dorian diminished 4 1% wide Scale.  Diminished and stretched; a harmonic push and pull from different angles.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Scale of the Day: B Dorian mapped to the 3/2

BDorianMappedToThe3-2

The B Dorian mapped to the 3/2 Scale.  All the symmetry of an equal tempered Dorian scale packed into the span of a just perfect fifth.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Scale of the Day: B Dorian diminished 4 mapped to the Triative

BDorianDiminished4MappedToTheTriative

The B Dorian diminished 4 mapped to the Triative Scale. The alteration of the diminished fourth adds an interesting contour within the wide expanse of the triative with the relatively small interval between the third and fourth degrees set off by the larger gap between the fourth and fifth degrees.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bang! 720 New York Minutes

Bang on a Can Marathon @ Winter Garden, New York, NY
Saturday May 31, 2008 - Sunday June 1, 2008

12-hours (actually, more like 13) of new music performed by Alarm Will Sound, Pamela Z, Lisa Moore, Crash Ensemble, Karsh Kale/Raj Maddela, Ensemble Nikel, Caleb Burhans, Hartt Bass Band, Young People's Chorus of New York City, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Owen Pallet, Bora Yoon, SIGNAL, So Percussion, Marnie Stern, Dan Deacon, Contact and Toby Twining Music.

The image of the 1987 posters for the first Bang on a Can marathon are etched indelibly into my mind from my first ever venture into the Big Apple to explore the cultural center of the universe. From its first moments - when John Cage stood on stage to act as a "can opener" - to the first-ever can bangers' mosh pit this past weekend the principles of destroying perceived barriers, relentlessly exploring new music in massive all-night chunks and exposing ears to new music ensembles from all over the world has grown into an event of improbable gravity that dares to test one's aural stamina with more outstanding music than the mind can take in one sitting. The would be "iron man" of audience members comes away exposed to challenging ideas, new composers and ensembles to investigate and a few surprises that stress even the most open-minded sense of tolerance.

These ears consumed every note and every performance from the front row. The experience was nothing short of pure gluttony. By the time the Toby Twining Music's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Simmung unfolded its exquisite meditation into the early Sunday morning hour the all-night binge left the mind deeply sated and exhausted. The beast that Bang on a Can founders David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe have unleashed has grown as the huge crowd drawn to the Winter Garden Atrium barely diminished over the course of the sunset to sunrise experience.

The centerpiece of this year's marathon was the public debut of SIGNAL performing Steve Reich's Daniel Variations just after midnight. Being deeply familiar with the works of Steve Reich - but not familiar with this piece - it was odd to hear the harmonic patterns and rhythmic propulsion that practically courses through my veins bent into such a strikingly unfamiliar entity. The text juxtaposes the Daniel of the Old Testament with the Jewish reporter Daniel Pearle. Both are memorialized with a sense of reverence somewhere between Desert Music and Different Trains. SIGNAL rendered a rhythmically tight and focused performance. No small feat given the size of this ensemble. Let's hope there are many performance and recording plans for this new titan of new music ensembles.

My personal favorite performance was Stronghold, composed for eight acoustic basses by Julia Wolfe. The slabs of sonic materials and independent parts brought out the rich spectrum of sound available from so many "low" instruments. The tremolo parts were like a gathering storm and the overall variation of textures between deliriously thick and thin was in the service of exceptional string writing and taut composition.

The performance of Arnold Dreyblatt's Resonant Relations by the Dublin-based Crash Ensemble has me wondering why Dreyblatt isn't a gigantic obsession (yet) for these ears. With its strange tunings (the score da tura of the open strings of violin, viola, cello and double bass parts immediately caught my attention along with the tuning of the sampled harpsichord) and loud, propulsive inner logic through aggressive and outlandish modulations this was a music with a strong kinship to my own ideas. Dreyblatt is submerged in an intensely creative, forward-looking sensibility that begs further exploration.

Michael Gordon's Every Stop On The F Train was the most striking piece on the marathon. The short composition for the Young People's Chorus of New York City takes the name of each stop from Queens to Coney Island as its text and beautifully arranges it for voices. The human delay running from the left-to-right side of the choir provided a wonderful sense of the lurching movement of the subway train. While the video accompaniment by Bill Morrison lined up perfectly as each station came into view as it was sung.

And the distinction of most genre-defying (in the Can Banging sense) was the 4:00am inclusion of Dan Deacon. Apparently a wildly popular Baltimore-based phenomenon who had managed to escape my attention up until the flash-mob of youthful exuberance suddenly assembled and spontaneously erupted into a crowd surfing frenzy for all of 15 minutes. Just long enough for me to question the wisdom of my front seat location. The transition from pounding drums over analog arpeggios into the tranquility of Allison Cameron and Brian Eno required some deft negotiation with a party looking to rage on.

The piece that left me most hungry to learn more about the composer was Convex-Concave-Concord by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. An obsessively quiet, slow building piece that reveals itself with deliberate pacing that was given a fantastic interpretation by the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The unfolding of ideas along the span of this music combined with the integrated gestures between instruments begs for repeated listening and hints at a creative sensibility worth further exploration.

Other crazy souls who braved out the full 12-hours (or at least part of it):
Darcy James Argue's play-by-play account
Steve Smith at the New York Times
Night After Night
Bruce Hodges
Hey! Student
Stereogum
Brooklyn Vegan
Notes from a Subway Journal
Alex Ross
Guest of a Guest

Scale of the Day: E Flat Dorian mapped to the Square-root-of-2

video
Audio of the E Flat Dorian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale.

See also:
E Flat Dorian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 notated.
E Flat Dorian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 interval analysis.