Alison Blunt (violin), Anna Kaluza (alto sax), Manuel Miethe (soprano sax), Nikolai Meinhold (piano) and Horst Nonnenmache (double bass) are the five that make up the Hanam Quintet, who recorded the album in two different locations, the Lumen Church in London and the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin. The pieces are untitled as they speak to one another in a very comforting manner, as if they were people having a casual conversation at the park or at the mall. You can hear them as being oddly freaky or sensually beautiful, a bit like watching the origins of something being creative at high speed. The last part of the album is a three-part, 17 minute composition that features cellist Tristan Honsinger, who helps to bring the quintet into his world and he into theirs for a bit more conversation, although sometimes the silence shared between themselves is what makes this work nicely too. I also found the artwork by Sandrao Crisafi to be quite engaging too, allowing myself to interpret it along with the music if and when I wanted to.
Lighght (pronounced “light”) is to be released on May 12th through Joyful Noise Recordings, and the man who was called by NPR the “Best New Artist Of 2012” is quite happy about the results. His name is Kishi Bashi, and with an album with such titles as “Bittersweet Genesis For Him AND Her”, “One Upon A Lucid Dream (In Afrikaans)”, and “The Ballad of Mr. Steak”, you know there has to be some heady stuff going on. Why not try “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” to see and hear what Bashi is about. If music called “jarringly kaleidoscopic” is of interest, wait until you actually hear it.
When I had briefly made a mention of Okkyung Lee on twitter in reference to what I had heard on Ghil (Ideologic Organ), Lee herself replied back by saying that my assumptions on the sounds she created were not made with the equipment I had stated. In truth, I didn’t say the equipment/partial gear list as a small factoid of what she did or didn’t use, but that the sounds she made sounded like it was created with certain things. It was then I admitted to her that the album had become one of my favorites of the year and it wasn’t just to toot any horns or anything, it was fact. At least to me, it is.
Lee and her music has come across to me many times over the years, be it in articles/blog entries I’ve read or on albums released by Tzadik and Ecstatic Peace. It was either through music she released, or her contributions to other recordings (such as Billy Martin’s great Starlings album on Tzadik), but regardless of where I found her name popping up, one never comes fully prepared for what’s to come, but that’s a good thing. That’s when I decided to put on Ghil.
I love the sound of the cello, but I really like it when a musician plays in unconventional ways, to the point where the cello ends up something like anything but the cello. One might enter Ghil and assume it will be one thing but at the end, it either becomes something very hideous or something remarkable and beautiful. Upon hearing these pieces, I thought of a few things. There was a lo-fi feel in these recordings and as a fan and admirer or analog recording, I wondered if this was recorded to tape. It could’ve been a reel going at 30ips or maybe 15ips. There was tape hiss but it could be anything from studio/room ambience to the music itself being caught at a low volume so one has to use peak levels during mixing and mastering and raise things so her cello work can be heard consistently with the rest of the songs. During the first part of the album, her playing begins unconventional, which isn’t new but hearing these recordings were a new/refreshing experience. All of a sudden, the cello begins to turn itself inside out. Is she plucking/pulling/stretching/scraping the strings? Then there weer moments where it sounded like a blues guitarist, but wasn’t sure if she was using a bow, a bottle or something else. In some of my own early taping experiences, I loved getting the microphone build for the reel-to-reel recorder I had and scraped it across guitar strings, so that it would become a dirty pick-up. I had wondered for a brief moment if she had done the same thing.
There are other pieces on here that absolutely do not sound like a cello at all, more like an avant-garde guitarist humping the amps and to my ears, it sounded as if the microphones to her cello were hooked up to effects pedals. It sounded awesome, even if I didn’t quite understand what I was hearing or how the sounds were being made, but then again, the sounds were leading me to think about so many things. Was Lee on the ground playing these sounds? Did she remain on a chair just moving her hands all over the place? It’s an incredibly wild listen, and I loved it because this is what I enjoy listening. Then for me to tweet about it and have her say that it wasn’t created by effects pedals popped the bubble I had made and set the music here closer to Earth. One can make the wildest sounds with nothing but an old cassette recorder and a microphone, and it just so happens that it caught a cello creating the most un-cello sounding things. I have found Ghil to be a pleasure because I found beauty in chaos at times, and there’s nothing like a lot of noise to force me to realize it’s a lot more original than a good amount of music I listen to on a regular basis. I reaffirm: this is one of the best albums of 2013.
Doom metal fans may be familiar with a one-man project from Salem, Oregon named Hell. M.S.W. is the man behind Hell, but every now and then he will record simply as M.S.W. He has done so again with a 2-song EP called Cloud, but it’s very far from the doom metal he’s known for. In fact, it’s him playing an acoustic piano, creating haunting melodies with a choir of male voices in the background, to where it sounds a bit on the classical side. There are moments where the metal influence comes clear, but it is not the core of the two pieces that are on here. In fact, the guitar drones come off as more atmospheric than something that dominates.
While Andrew Poppy has never been a dance artist, his close connection with the Zang Tuum Tumb empire in the 1980’s allowed him the kind of freedom that usually doesn’t come with artists who mix minimalism and classical influences. Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling (Field Radio) is the latest effort from Poppy that is a continuation of the type of collaborations he has done over the years, showing hints of his ZTT past while creating sounds that drive him to create the music he makes today. Vocalist Claudia Brücken (Propaganda, Act) shines in her track “Dark Spell”, sounding better than she ever has before. This is the kind of track that would never be a hit in the U.S. but in the UK, it would surprise a lot of Americans if taken and embraced as a song worth celebrating in a grand manner.
The theme of the album is that we are hearing the words and sounds of “unconfirmed ghosts and pessoahs”, so is the listener to believe that these sounds are created by ghosts currently unseen, or that he has created fictitious characters as a means to give his works responsibility to someone other than himself? If so, are we also hearing the stories of these characters, and why they exist? The liberetto in the CD booklet tell the story, with various vocalists including Bernardo Devlin, Lula Pena, Guillermo Rozenthuler, Margaret Cameron, and James Gilchrist sharing their voices and “stories” into the story. Poppy himself holds things together as “The Wave”, the constant means of continuity that helps the listener realize who is saying what, but reaching the realization of who is the true voice of these compositions, the ultimate conclusion. While the general theme is serious in tone, there are hints of humor and sarcasm throughout, especially with the simple task that Poppy asks for in the final words heard on the album.
Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling may make you wonder about the room one puts themselves in upon listening, and maybe it’s less about the room, and more about why we create it in the fashion that we do. It’s an interesting concept from Poppy that brings in different influences, in a way that would make this unparalleled in a mainstream manner. Then again, what the mainstream doesn’t know of or understand will come back one day. Some day. For those who do understand or are willing to take the risk, you will be rewarded.
Escapement (Denovali) by Poppy Ackroyd is the first album of 2013 to take me away in a manner which simply means I am highly impressed by the atmosphere that she creates. For this to be her debut album is a statement in itself, for it sounds like music that was created by someone ten, twenty, or thirty years older. There’s a sense of maturity in what she creates here, with her foundation being the violin and piano and nothing more. All the sounds, including playing the piano as a percussion instrument (which it is in the first place, but still), was played by Ackroyd and it sounds like something you might expect to hear on Tzadik, ECM, or on a random link on Bandcamp that you may have come across. There are classical touches, and that loosely can turn it into progressive rock without the rock elements, if that makes any sense. Escapement is an album to get yourself lost in, because it will take you away where you want to and should be. It could be considered meditative but with some of the extra sounds going on (including creating rhythms with the piano), you may find yourself wanting to know exactly how she created it and why it sounds the way it does. There’s a lot of openness in these tracks where a producer or remixer could slap drum breaks over it and have a festival, but I think the elegance of these songs are in its assumed simplicity, but simple these compositions are not. If it is truly a means of escape, may we follow her lead.
You may know of Gregory Rogove‘s work as the drummer for Devendra Banhart and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but he continues to prove his versatility as a multi-instrumentalist in music you can hear in this short film directed by Andrew Wilding and George Augusto. It’s called “Anima”, gorgeous and haunting in all of its splendor.
You can hear more of Rogove’s work here.
The first time I heard of Andrew Poppy was in the mid-1980’s, when I was absorbing and collecting anything and everything that was Zang Tuum Tumb. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Propaganda, das psych oh rangers, Anne Pigalle, all of it. Then came The Beating Of Wings (or The Cheating Of Things or The Seating Of Kings, depending on how you looked at the album cover equation). At the same time I was becoming more familiar with Frank Zappa’s works and that was the closest thing I had to classical music stepping out of the classical norm. This was adventurous and while I had no idea at the time what to call it, I found myself loving it. “32 Frames For Orchestra” seemed to be a piece that could go on and on, the mixture of 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures in “Listening In” was incredible, and “Cadenza” was brilliant as it seemed to be focused on a musical phrase that would slowly peel itself until it placed a focus on a singular note. Over time I found myself liking certain styles of music for different music, be it jazz, progressive rock, or hip-hop, and would later discover that the drones I admired and what some would call monotonous was called minimalism. When I started exploring the music of Terry Riley, I got into his composition “In C”, which lead to me discovering that Poppy’s “Cadenza” was in honor of Riley and “In C”. It made me appreciate The Beating Of Wings and his other works even more.
Poppy will be releasing an album on the 27th of November called Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling (Field Radio), and for this he has collaborated with Claudia Brücken, James Gilchrist, Guillermo Rozenthuler, Margaret Cameron, Lula Pena and Bernardo Devlin, which means the album is a mixture of music and voices, and before the album is released, Poppy will be doing a three-night stand at the Jackson Lane Theatre in London from November 8-10th, highlighting the new release.
A review of Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling is forthcoming.
For the new album by Jeremiah Cymerman, he shows once again why he is one of the more innovative musicians and composers of our
time. What may begin as a simple concept of playing the clarinet in front of a microphone hooked up to a laptop can turn into something extraordinary, mindbending, and overwhelming, but if you have come to enjoy and put faith in Cymerman and his work, then Purification/Dissolution (5049) is an album where the reward will be as moving and powerful as the music which came before.
For this one, it seems Cymerman is committed to putting a bit of anger into his music, or at least that’s how the album begins with the title track. It comes off like a modern version of Terry Kath’s “Free Form Guitar” (from the first Chicago Transit Authority album), and for me I wondered if this is meant to be an introductory statement, a mixture of distorted clarinet amped up to sound like a feedback-ridden guitar made merely to create feedback-ridden sounds, or both? The clarinet squeals are played over a solitary drone, and it leans towards the drone metal side of things. One can concentrate on the meditative drone, but the loose distorted clarinet has something else in mind. Does the search for a solid note mean that this is the process of finding purity, or is this the dissolution of purity and solitude? It welcomes the listener into a very uncertain album, but if the first track is a sense of darkness to be explored, one must walk further into the unknown.
“Charnel Ground” now has the monotonous drone moving and vibrating into different things, adn Cymerman’s clarinet work becomes a bit more sensible and fluid, although one can interpret the sounds as uncontrolled sirens. Is this a reference to the nuclear disaster of Japan, perhaps the rapid thoughts of one realizing their fate up to the moment of an ultimate conclusion? Or dissolution? “Secret Refuse (For Adam Yauch)” is a beautiful piece, its calm feel sounds like nothing more than Cymerman on a boat (or on a mountain top, with some of the effects of what sounds like a boat on water, or wind blowing through the trees) playing a composition of warmth, acknowledgment, and perhaps a spiritual passage spoken without words, as if he is merging their shared Jewish upbringing and merging it with touches of Yauch’s Buddhist beliefs. It’s oting, it can be considered a unique means of showing props, but it’s the first moment of solitude on Purification/Dissolution.
The first half of “The Nexus Of Freedom” sounds like someone docking their boat onto shore. Up to this point, Cymerman has already utilized his multi-track recording techniques to create some amazing sounding pieces, but then it seems that he’s playing with the concept of what could be considered songs and what may be sound scapes or sound pieces. It’s more vivid as audio paintings than direct songs, although there is a sense of beginning, middle, and end to this, or at least a sense of continuity not only within each track, but throughout the album. By the time the album ends with “The Grace Of Prayer At The Moment Of Death”, I found myself waiting for the big moment of the album to happen, and it does. If “Secret Refuse” is about the passing of a friend (musical or otherwise), then “The Grace Of Prayer At The Moment Of Death” is the realization of what it might be like when it is your time to pass away. Do all of our worries and concerns go away? Do we go through a gentle mental breakdown, or are we already experiencing that process? Even for those of us who are not overly religious but may be spiritual, is there an epiphany of sorts? Do we pray silently to a being, or is it a simple unheard acknowledgment of the inevitable? There’s a part in this song around the 3:00 mark where the clarinet sounds like a flute, and reminds me of the Meredith Monk samples as used in DJ Shadow’s “Midnight In A Perfect World”. There’s no funky beats in this track, but that dreamy and ethereal vibe that both songs share seem to state something that can mean something if we want it too. It sounds like other means of prayers that musicians like John Coltrane, Paul Horn, Herbie Hancock, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Ustad Vilayat Khan have expressed in their music. The music leads to a point where it goes beyond a belief or concept, when things simply become one. Along with the moment of birth, perhaps the few moments before death is the only time we can ever experience true peace in our awake state. The crackle of surface noise from a record is mixed in at the end, as if it telling the listener that we are about to reach the end of the metaphorical record, and when it does, we can opt to experience it by playing it again. The music then sounds like a mantra, which we can repeat if we believe in it. By then, the album itself as dissolved. Fade to black.
Even if my interpretation of Purification/Dissolution is completely off the mark, Cymerman’s music moves me to think about what it could mean, and allow myself to simply hear it for the sake of hearing something creative. Without a message, the music here shows a lot of emotion, and it may seem like a good portion of it is very dark and fearful. One doesn’t have to fear the dark if they trust the sounds that are coming through, and for me I’ve put trust in Cymerman, knowing that I’ll be taken on an adventure that I had never experienced in that way before. In that sense, his music becomes the purification if one wants it to be, but the reality is that everything goes to an end, and it’s our duty to make sure the path towards it will be one that validates everything that came before, with little time to regret but time to go into the unknown without fear
In hip-hop circles, one of the most used abbreviated words is YOLO, defined as “You Only Live Once”. When one says YOLO, it’s another way of saying one should take risks, a do or die situation. If it’s going to be bad, at least you died trying but if you survive, then you have great stories to share. Seattle MC Spekulation is taking a risk of sorts by removing the elements people know him for, his lyrics and raps, and has focused on keeping things voiceless. It’s all-instrumental, there are classical elements, and it is said to be for a ballet. Hip-hop and ballet? It seems Spekulation is in a do or die situation, and hey, it’s music, he has nothing to lose by taking a risk. As the title states, Because You Never Know When and while the final part of that title is open-ended on purpose, it too is a simplification of what YOLO represents.
The music is said to be “a re-imagining of Philip Glass’ Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, and has been commissioned by the hSerendip Modern Dance Company for a live dance performance in the near future. At least in hip-hop, when one samples strings, it’s meant to be cinematic, a way of adding depth by going to a music that is all about emotion and perception. Philip Glass and hip-hop instrumentals are generally not associated with one another, but as you hear this, it’s a way to merge two types of music that pack a lot of emotion. As you hear this and perhaps imagine a ballet in movement, you also begin to hear common ground. For now it’s a ballet of the mind, taking on that vibe The RZA and Mobb Deep may have shared, but also representing West Coast hip-hop by getting into that bass-heavy nastiness.
If you’ve enjoyed Spek as an EP and had always hoped for more of his music side that was more than just hearing great instrumentals, Because You never Know When is a very satisfying listen that will go beyond your expectations. He is more than capable of creating a ballet, but he could easily be making music for video games, television, and movies. Some may go “I want to hear Spekulation rhyme over this” and if you do, create your own mixes. This stands out as a unique addition to Spek’s growing works, and it’s sure to get more in-depth in the coming years.