Let’s discuss any and all music here. You’ve got a new artist who’s rocking your boat that you want to talk about? Post a video! Found out about that unearthed Coltrane album that has the jazz freak in you losing your mind? Lay it out for us! Do you have a theory about what your favorite band might do for their next album? Let’s hear it! Anything and everything music-related goes here, but do please remember to also pay attention to the more niche threads; if your post would either fit better or equally well in one of them, please post it there as well. I absolutely do not want to steal traffic from those threads.
Prompt for this week What’s your discovery of the year so far? What album, artist, genre, &c. did you first discover this year?
Sigil’s Music Journal (2018-09-13/2018-09-20)
I’ve been seriously buying way too much music recently. I don’t know why. It’s a problem. But, in order to feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth I’m going to listen to it all this week and catalog it here:
Anthony Braxton, with Kyoko Kitamura, Erica Dicker, and Katherine Young – 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 (2014). This is an absolutely massive boxset of music that is fairly difficult to wrap your head around in terms of approach. It’s 12 CDs, and runs just shy of 11 hours long, with each disc containing one track around 50 minutes or so. A lot of Braxton’s approaches to music revolves around the number 3, and a balance thereof. It’s no surprise, then, how this is structure: 12 duos, three collaborators, four duos each. It’s interesting that Braxton chooses three younger female artists to collaborate with here, but, to me, Braxton seems to be at least somewhat interested in tutoring and mentoring talented women who are still woefully underappreciated in the jazz and modern classical scene. He’s chosen three powerful collaborators here: Kitamura provides vocalizations, Dicker is a violinist, and Young is a bassoonist. They all hold their own against the backdrop that Braxton creates. The DCWM (Diamond Curtain Wall Music) approach involves Braxton laying down electronic textures using a certain kind of software (I don’t remember what it is), and then improvising with various reed instruments over it. This can create a fairly alienating sound, or it can lead to a warm inviting sound at times.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this stuff. I bought this before listening to the whole thing, which is fairly rare for me, so now I’m going to sit down and try to get through it in little pieces, interspersing pieces between albums that I’m listening to. The first piece is a tough opener, to be honest. It’s very cold, and the drones are either clipped, or noisier than usual. Kitamura focuses on vocal pops and short bursts. The second piece, seems warmer, and Kitamura has longs stretches where she holds a single tone over the drones of the background. The third piece offers a more haunting presence. And, by the fourth, Kitamura and Braxton seem to have gotten a little punchier, as their interaction is jauntier and brighter.
Erica Dicker’s material starts on the fifth piece, and, initially it seems like she’ll be the ground for Braxton to a greater extent than Kitamura. The violin has the potential to be swallowed up by the drones in this structure, but Dicker doesn’t let that happen. She deploys inventive plucks and strikes along with the usual bowing, to create a very interesting voice. Her dialogue with Braxton is really interesting and, I have to say, I think this duo works a lot better than Kitamura and Braxton. That probably has a lot to do with the way the electronic drones interact with the violin here. Voice is a rather striking contrast, but the violin offers a more unique integration.
Something I just wanted to mention, because I didn’t really realize it until I got the actual physical boxset on Wednesday, but one of the pieces that Braxton performs with Dicker was also featured on Braxton’s Trio (New Haven) 2013 disc with Tomas Fujiwara and Tom Rainey. This occured to me because the second Dicker disc has the same cover diagram as Trio (New Haven) 2013. Since (almost) the beginning, Braxton has designated his compositions with idiosyncratic drawings; indeed it was only after several years that he decided to number them. Recently, the numbering has become more prominent, and the packaging has reproduced diagrams with little to no indication of which one is which composition. So it’s a little difficult to determine which composition is the actual composition that shares the cover diagram. The piece in question on the Dicker Duo is Composition 363f, but, like most of Braxton’s compositions for the past several decades, the piece allows the integration of other pieces. The integrated pieces here are 338 and 365k. The only piece on Trio (New Haven) 2013 that shares any of those composition numbers is the third piece, “Composition No. 366d (+338, 363f, 365g),” so it’s either 363f or 338 (why that diagram was chosen for the cover is anyone’s guess). If you’re interested in how any of this works, you’re welcome to listen to these two compositions side by side to try to figure out how these disparate compositions fit together:
You’ll notice rather obviously that the first piece with Fujiwara and Rainey is fundamentally different because both Fujiwara and Rainey are playing drums. Obviously that’s a vastly different instrument to Dicker’s violin, even if she does use her scordatura violin for percussive effects now and then. Plus, the Fujiwara and Rainey piece doesn’t have the electronic drone as it’s not created with the DCWM approach. It’s difficult to listen to it side by side to try to hear which is which and where is what, but this type of slippage is what I enjoy so much about Braxton. His compositions are more technical guides than they are traditional scores. So he puts you in a box and lets you explode it.
Islaja – Tarrantulla (2017). Released at the very end of last year, this is an odd little record. Islaja sings a lot more in English than she has in the past here, and uses autotune fairly liberally. Both decisions make this album feel alien, and cold at first, but she also integrates electropop dance beats. It’s a bit sinister, a bit ghostly, a bit fun. 7/10
Clothilde – Twitcher (2018). This is some cold desolate electronic music right here. This came to my attention thanks to a recent Bandcamp blog on Portuguese electronic music. Listening to this between one of Braxton’s 12 Duets seems appropriate. Even though this has more life than Braxton’s constant unrelenting drones, it is very much a piece: embracing the inhumanity of electronic music, in someways. 8/10
Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – Paix (1972). This is a phenomenal record by a band that I had never heard of before a few weeks ago. The first couple of songs on here are relatively short, and fairly folk rock based with a bit of nouvelle chanson. “Roc Alpin” is the best of these two pieces, as it starts the record of energetically and forcefully. But then the fifteen minute title track comes in and just wipes all of that clean. It sneaks in with a sort of low Pink Floyd type entrance. Then Ribeiro starts an almost sermon like reading, and things quickly go off into the stratosphere. This track is almost like Of Montreal’s “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” in that, not only does it signify a turning point on the record, it seems like it signifies a turning point for the band. The whole Side B is taken up with the 24 minutes “Un jour… la mort,” though that’s weirder still, as it’s clearly split up into shorter sections, sometimes stopping entirely before shifting to a completely different approach. I don’t know any French, so it’s difficult to know if the second side’s lyrics tie it together, it does sort of feel like separate pieces, but it still has that Pink Floyd like psychedelic guitar work. I keep saying Pink Floyd and what some of these guitar lines remind me of the most is Wish You Were Here but that wouldn’t be released for another three years, so it’s unfair to compare this album to Floyd, really. In any case, this is a fantastic record and you should listen to it immediately. 10/10
Audrey Chen – Runt Vigor (2018). This is some seriously fascinating stuff right here. Chen uses her mouth to create pops, whistles, growls, and all other manner of auditory oddities. She also uses a cello to add some heft and bass to the pieces, with bows and plucks creating deep textures. The first side is made up of three pieces, that may as well be indexed as one, and the second side is one long piece, “Heavy in the Hand”. “Heavy in the hand” emphasizes breath and air flow more than the pieces on the first side, and is much quieter as a result, at least initially. It builds tension while slowly unfolding it’s interests, culminating in an extended noisy release. Despite just getting this on Tuesday (despite it’s bandcamp page saying that it’s not going to be released until the 28th), this very well could be my experimental album of the year. 10/10
Okkyung Lee & Bill Orcutt – Live at Cafe Oto (2016). This is one I’ve been putting off getting for some time now, and I’m not really sure why because, on first listen, it’s really great. Indeed, it’s so great, it makes me wonder why there hasn’t been more collaborations between these two (well, this was only released two years ago, but still). I’ve really been getting into Lee’s work this past year, especially with the release of two excellent pieces, the solo improvisation Dahl-Tah-Ghi on Pica Disk, and the multipart chamber composition Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird). I generally like Orcutt, but he can be rather grating. Here, however the two strike an impressive balance between noisy improv and lovely traditional folk melodies… well… maybe not traditional. In any case, they really create a beautiful sound together. I just wish it was recorded better. 8/10
Clara de Asís – Without (performed by Erik Carlson & Greg Stuart) (2018). Elsewhere, the label that put out both this and the excellent Blurred Music triple disc set back in July, is really blowing my mind. I don’t know much about the artists involved in this, nor do I really know that much about how this piece was composed, or what the score looked like for the players, but it’s another great new electric-acoustic piece from this label. Elsewhere’s website says that Carlson is playing violin and Stuart is playing ‘percussion’ (which could be anything), but there is clearly some electronic manipulation going on here. But an even larger part of the piece is silence and space. Elsewhere also released Jürg Frey’s 120 Pieces of Sound of sound this month, and Frey seems to use silence and space in his music as a main component. At least that was true of his massive six hour L’âme Est Sans Retenue I released, last year on Elsewhere’s sister label Erstwhile. De Asís isn’t so extreme as that piece (which featured upwards of ten minute stretches of silence), but her piece here, does include long breaks, and very delicate touches. I still haven’t given this a proper listen. I feel like I need to sit in silence with this pumping through my home stereo to do so, and have only ever had a chance to listen to it on headphones. Still, it’s something quite special, and I’m really looking forward to more releases from Elsewhere. 8/10
Islaja – Ulual yyy (2007). I was so struck by Tarrantulla and Hertta Lussu Ässä I decided to delve deeper into Islaja’s catalog, and wound up buying two of her albums from discogs. The first of these, the earlier, Ulual yyy, is looser and more folk based. The Fonal artists that emerged in the early aughts all had a heterogeneous sound that belied simple labels. Because of the relative obscurity of Finland on the indie scene, or on any scene for that matter, it was difficult to really describe where this music was coming from. So, unfortunately, old European primitive labels came up. That’s the same thing that kind of happened with Björk, where she got labeled as wood elf, despite her making some of the most forward thinking electronic music of the past couple decades. Islaja is much more idiosyncratic than Björk, however, and the fact that she’s singing in Finnish on this album helps elevate it to a more alien plane. It’s certainly the height of her more ‘folk’ phase, but it also seems a bit like a holocaust to that approach. 8/10
Islaja – Keraaminen Pää (2011). This album, on the other hand, is a total departure from the earlier releases. On some level, the focus seems more squarely on electronics, but those were always there. There’s more beats, perhaps, and there’s a little more focus on pop structures, but both of those are generally exploded at the same time that they’re embraced. The liner notes to this release include an essay that points out that ‘the birds’ are gone. Ulaal yyy ends with about three minutes of birds chattering away in the forest. And I suppose, on some level, that’s the real distinction here, a coldness. The title translates to ‘Ceramic Head,’ which speaks to that coldness, but the image comes from the line “Olin keraaminen pää puisilla hartioilla,” which translates to “I was a ceramic head on wooden shoulders.” There’s still that dichotomy running through this release, the smooth and cold, and the warm and natural, but the balance has shifted to the ceramics. 9/10