CD/Digital releases

Páll Ragnar Pálsson – Atonement

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

One of the first works of contemporary music that i ever got to know was Dérive 1 by Pierre Boulez. i fell for the piece pretty hard, and one of the main reasons for that infatuation – which hasn’t really subsided in the decades since – was the way Boulez constructs pretty much the entire fabric of the work from tremulous fibres that constantly vibrate, shimmer and thrum as if an electric current were coursing through them. Paradoxically, a palpable stillness emerges despite all this surface movement (not unlike the surface of water covered in pond skaters), creating a soundworld pulsating with life while conveying an air of quiet solemnity. A similar quality permeates the five chamber compositions on Atonement, a new portrait disc of music by Icelandic composer Páll Ragnar Pálsson.

The connection is reinforced by the fact that all of these works use a similar instrumental line-up to Derive 1, performed in this recording by Iceland’s premier new music group, Caput Ensemble. All but one of them also feature a voice – soprano Tui Hirv, the composer’s wife – exploring texts that draw on folk hymns, Icelandic poetry and the screenplay of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. The nature of the active/static paradox is arguably most telling in the one instrumental work, in no small part because of the challenge thrown down by its title: Lucidity. On first contact, it’s tempting to consider that there’s something ironic about the idea of clarity or revelation coming from its tangled textures. But, it seems to me, the essence of what makes all five of these pieces tick is to be found in this piece. There’s the distinct sense that what we’re hearing, what the ensemble is doing, is less about cause than effect: an inner response to an outer stimulus, like a mind or soul being made to shake and resonate by something external. It’s rather like hearing the output of a seismograph – not an unreasonable analogy for a composer who has also written pieces titled Quake and Afterquake – with each instrument’s tremulant material the indication of some deep, profound movement. Read more

Tags: , , ,

Tõnu Kõrvits – Hymns to the Northern Lights

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

For those of you who prefer a little less avant in your garde, consider the latest portrait disc of music by Tõnu Kõrvits. Kõrvits occupies an interesting position within the Estonian contemporary scene. His music embodies a great deal of the conservatism that tends to typify new music from that country – a situation that is gradually changing – yet it’s also mischievous, quixotic and capricious, often turning out to be something more or other than first appearances might suggest. Additionally, he’s by far the most lyrical Estonian composer i’ve encountered (and that’s saying something), unafraid to allow his music to expand seemingly unchecked into vast, passionately romantic (with both a small and large ‘R’) reveries – though often these are coloured in such a way that they simultaneously convey an air or at least a trace of unease. The new disc of his work, Hymns to the Northern Lights, performed by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost, is an excellent demonstration of all these traits.

While it’s hard not to get caught up in the intensity of Kõrvits’ music, there are times when its more traditional creative outlook is frustrating. Elegies of Thule, composed in 2007 and by far the oldest work on this disc (everything else dates from the last decade) is an exercise in incidental music-like middle-of-the-road meandering. A work for strings, it has some typically effective orchestrational touches – particularly the smeary texture that occupies the first half of final movement ‘I Look Up to the Hill’ – but engaging moments like this only make the rest of the piece feel all the more light and cloyingly filmic. Leaving Capri, another string piece, seems at first to be similarly safe but the security of its harmonic language – conveying the kind of repressed billowing passions that would suit an Austen period drama – has enough flecks of melancholia to render it mildly askew. It brings to mind his 2015 work Moorland Elegies (reviewed here) which used a similar approach to explore the poetry of Emily Brontë. More melancholic, and more engrossing, is the 7-minute Tears Fantasy, an exquisite piece that throughout manages to sound soft yet weighty. Drawing on renaissance musical models (primarily Dowland) it has the tone and focus of a passacaglia, often sounding so heavy-laden that the clarity of its construction (both horizontally and vertically) is obfuscated; we only get a clearer sense of what’s happening when Kõrvits pulls things back and reduces the forces. It’s highly effective, all the more so as it never sounds anything other than emotionally direct – to the point that when the lyricism is allowed some space it’s among the most beautiful of Kõrvits’ music that i’ve ever heard. The more vague final third appears to loses focus, though if anything it clarifies the disquiet at the heart of this powerful piece, making for a fittingly uncomfortable emotive experience. Read more

Tags: , ,

Olga Neuwirth – …miramondo multiplo…

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

It’s always nice when music you’ve encountered in a previous context finds its way onto disc. That’s true of two of the three works on the latest CD of Olga Neuwirth‘s music, released by Kairos. i first heard Neuwirth’s viola concerto Remnants of Songs … an Amphigory during the 2012 Proms, when it received its UK première. In my review at the time i was particularly drawn to the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra, and that remains one of its most beguiling aspects. However, on the strength of this new recording – featuring soloist Antoine Tamestit and the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, conducted by Susanna Mälkki – i’ve found myself revising my opinion about the nature of this relationship. Previously it seemed to be less about collaboration than a kind of rough-and-tumble with mixed levels of friendliness, but here there’s a much greater sense of mutual sympathy. The multiple strains, glimpses and half-echoes of earlier music are a communal impulse, one that, while the viola acts as a figurehead for it, is nonetheless embedded in the behaviour of the orchestra. For me, the second and fourth movements still remain the work’s most compelling sections, the former featuring delicious accompanying sequences where the soloist is distantly surrounded by a network of falling gossamer threads, the latter moving from a dance-like opening into a passionate demonstration of dual interaction, the orchestra letting out emphatic accents that punctuate and reinforce the viola’s ongoing melodic train of thought. Remnants of Songs is hugely dramatic, containing vast climactic bursts of energy, yet it never loses sight of the lyrical mindset that dominates the piece. In that sense, it’s a pretty conflicted work, but that only makes it all the more engaging. Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

Franui – Ennui

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

If you’ve been finding that the current state of lockdown and isolation has been making you feel bored or world-weary, then Ennui, the latest release by Austrian ensemble Franui might just be exactly what you need – regardless whether that’s empathy or escapism. Franui are well-known for their arrangements and adaptations of classical music, and these form the foundation of the album. However, these adaptations – including Mozart, Bartók, Schubert, Schumann and Satie – are all decidedly off-kilter, exacerbated by being juxtaposed and mashed together such that they often feel as if their notes are literally sliding around (or even off) the page. That’s one part of Ennui; the other is a series of pithy spoken texts, drawing on and/or freely adapted from the likes of Georg Büchner, Kierkegaard, Matthias Claudius, Walter Benjamin and John Cage, each of which has something to say on the subjects of listlessness, weariness and boredom.

Combined together in this way, the album brings to mind the left-field absurdist wit of William Walton and Edith Sitwell’s Façade (now almost a century old). If this suggests that Ennui can be regarded as an “entertainment”, that is most definitely the case. The ensemble’s treatment of the original music – often drawn from their composers’ ‘occasional’ works, such as divertimenti – is deliberately amusing, though it’s important to stress that it’s not played for laughs. Indeed, there are times when it’s like listening to someone blind drunk trying to communicate something deadly serious, conveying a disconcerting form of black humour. And there are times when its kilter is not remotely off, such as in the central movement ‘Teure Mutter’ [dear Mother] that hypnotically melds together fragments of a funeral march with echoes of the grotesque double bass ‘Frère Jacques’ melody from Mahler’s First Symphony. Likewise, the album’s closing piece, based on Mozart, though titled ‘Ouverture ennuyeuse’ [boring overture] is nothing of the kind, being one of the prettiest things i’ve heard in a while, a kind of tired, soothing lullaby. Read more

Tags: , ,

Pierre-Luc Lecours – Paysages imaginaires

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

Another release on the Mikroclimat label that it’s taken me far too long to spend time with is Paysages imaginaires by Montréal-based composer Pierre-Luc Lecours. As the title – ‘imaginary landscapes’ – implies, the five tracks on this half-hour album create and inhabit artificial environments conjured up through the combination of real-world sounds with synthesizers, electric guitar and bass clarinet (the latter played by Charlotte Layec).

Some of these landscapes allow for a meditative engagement, in part due to a greater sense of passivity in their construction. Final track ‘Suspension’ is the best example of this, the sound of the clarinet a central (even catalytic) presence amidst gently swelling agglomerations of pitch and noise. Over time these swells seem akin to slow accents with extended resonances, embellished later with an assortment of clarinet trills. But for all its movement and detail, there’s a stillness at the heart of this piece, its notes hanging uncannily in the reverberant air. ‘Amor Fati’ is similar, comprising whoozy, vaporous chords and faint plucked string drifting through space. The environment is shaken by a number of restrained blows from its depths, triggering the appearance of numerous tolling bells; but again, the tone remains relatively calm and there’s the impression that this activity is happening at some distance – without actively seeking our interest – and we’re hearing it from afar.

More ambitious but still conveying a similar kind of passivity is ‘Passages’, where Lecours introduces sounds indicative of train travel. Around these are a collection of diaphanous floating notes and chords, as well as a low drone that only slowly emerges, while the clarinet is concerned with minimalistic gestures, primarily repeated notes and arpeggios. This palette of sounds becomes the basis for a music that continually tilts between light and shadow, speed and stasis, vagueness and clarity, intimacy and distance. Placid noodlings are answered by deep throbs; high clarinet squalls (sometimes not unlike animal calls) have their energy quickly dissipated in the atmosphere; clattering, hard-edged momentum is countered by smooth melodic shapes. The result is a curious equilibrium in which, to a greater extent than in ‘Amor Fati’ and ‘Suspension’, every action is to some degree a counterpoint to the preceding one, the total of all these actions being a kind of zero sum. Again, ‘Passages’ invites a meditative form of engagement yet its music happily fits few if any of the clichés and conventions associated with that kind of listening. Read more

Tags: , ,

Érick d’Orion & Guillaume Cliche – PUNT

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

One of the mid-length releases i’ve been revelling in most lately is PUNT by Érick d’Orion and Guillaume Cliche. It exhibits something i always treasure in music of all kinds: complexity as the product of relative simplicity (which is usually the most interesting kind of complexity). The nine electronic pieces on PUNT, which were improvised and range from around 2½ to 6 minutes’ duration, share a lot of similarities. Perhaps the most obvious, because it features so often, is the superposition of very rapid ticks or pulses with material that either seems contrastingly suspended or manifests in amorphous, nebulous forms.

What’s so exciting about these superpositions is how they’re dramatic in their own right – forming extended periods of mounting and/or maintained tension – and regularly lead to or even precipitate instances of eruption and overload. It’s a simple but highly effective melding of (ostensible) stability and free-wheeling caprice that has the most hypnotic effect (each time i listen i find myself forgetting to breathe). In opening track ‘blitz’ it forms the basis for what feels like the most prolonged build-up you’ve ever heard, yet this sequence lasts less than 90 seconds. What ensues is pure exhilaration: a deep throbbing drone and thwanging bass notes absolutely caked in the most squelching, squalling detritus. ‘yard’ behaves similarly, accumulating layers of rapid-fire ticking that continue despite being plunged into a sticky miasma through which muted traces of where we came from can be dimly heard far above. It’s one of a number of instances throughout PUNT where the re-emergence into the musical ‘light’ triggers an irrevocable corrosion, its elements quickly falling apart and dissolving before our ears. Read more

Tags: , ,

Nokuit – Live at Cafe OTO

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

While it remains impossible to experience live performances at the moment, i’ve been enjoying doing it virtually by immersing myself in Live at Cafe OTO, a recording of the half-hour debut performance given there in summer 2018 by sound artist Nokuit. i need to cut to the chase with this one: the thing i love most about it is the ambiguity of its tone. It’s an ambiguity nicely suggested in the cover artwork, where a dark, grainy image (possibly of a distant block of flats) is aggressively challenged by an explosion of impossible brightness in the foreground. A similar polarisation of black and white can be heard in the music, conveying both a Damoclesian dystopian doom alongside burning shafts of hopeful radiance. It makes for a highly dramatic, almost melodramatic, narrative, caught in a volatile space where we find ourselves pulled down, brought low, only then to be buoyed up and raised aloft, in every sense elevated.

The music emerges out of Cafe OTO’s murmuring ambiance into a mess of squeaky friction and unintelligible speech, a disorienting but engaging opening that soon finds stability in a powerful 2-note (major third) bass oscillation. Even as early as this, though, there’s an ominous tinge to this stability, and it’s hard to say whether it’s a relief or not to return to the more confusing melée of elements that eventually causes it to break down, channelled through a forceful column of noise. This intense balancing act continues through similarly sharp contrasts of clarity and (un)certainty: a beautiful, intense early climax around nine minutes in, laden with squelch and pounding impacts, breaks apart and suddenly everything is just ticking over, pulled back but poised. A new semitone oscillation starts up, its tones rippling with distortion like beams of light too bright for dark-adapted eyes to be able to register them properly. Read more

Tags: , ,

Liquid Transmitter – Meander

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

Another mid-length album i’ve recently been immersing myself within is Meander by Liquid Transmitter, nom de guerre for Canadian sound artist Jamie Drouin. Both the title and the artist’s pseudonym are well-suited to the six tracks on this album. They operate in a way that sits on the cusp of what we perceive to be active or passive decision-making, and throughout there’s the distinct impression of sound objects behaving like liquefied matter. These aspects combine to evoke Eno-esque sound environments, and this is no accident: Drouin describes the six pieces as

conceptual retreats from the failings/flailings of the world at large. They function as backdrops to basic activities of the day, elevating these actions, and tinting my living space.

It would be reasonable to think of each of these compositions as a ‘diatonic liquid’, the motes of pitch floating in each one being aligned to and for the most part limited by its respective modality. This effectively bestows on each piece a unique colour palette, so perhaps it’s not too fanciful, considering the combination of liquid, floating and colour, to say that Meander is somewhat akin to the behaviour of a lava lamp. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

Jonas Sjøvaag – Commuter Music

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

i don’t know if it’s a weird kind of defocused, more-easily-distracted side-effect of the lockdown, but lately i’ve been finding it easiest to engage with mid-length albums where i can immerse myself for half an hour or so. Happily, quite a few of these have found their way to me in recent times, among them Commuter Music by Norwegian musician Jonas Sjøvaag. Sjøvaag is a drummer, jazz musician and improviser, aspects that all audibly feed into the tone and aesthetic that permeates Commuter Music, which is most redolent of 1970s kosmische musik. The album is even structured in the same way as Tangerine Dream’s classics Atem and Phaedra, beginning with the longest track durations that get progressively shorter. Without being overtly pastiche, what the music captures nicely is the simultaneous combination of slow- and fast- moving elements that typifies that kind of music, along with an improvisational nature in which seemingly anything could materialise above these sleek surface layers and sound entirely congruous.

The titles of the three tracks indicate they’re essentially variations on this same behavioural theme. ‘First leg’ exhibits an overall sense of oscillating or tilting between adjacent underlying harmonies while filigree details play out over this foundation. Its development is signposted by gentle shifts in the behaviour: the introduction of a faster bassline; a 3-beat tapping pulse that feels in and out of sync at the same time; the introduction of guitar chords; electronic pulses striking the beat for a while. The kind of equilibrium created here is lovely, continually allowing us to drift away (or even off) in its stasis, pulling us back in at these periodic moments of evolution and change. It’s easy to hear how these kind of structures formed the basis for what would become ambient music at the end of the ’70s. Details are harder to make out in ‘Second stretch’, existing in the environs of a deep buzzy and throbbing drone. A languid deep pulse proves intriguing – are they beats or pitches? and ultimately, what’s the difference? – and other elements are similarly tentative, comprising light percussive taps and cowbell-like tremolos. The most prominent action taking place here comes with the appearance of a low analogue synth melody that causes everything to ramp up in intensity before subsiding back into the omnipresent drone. ‘Third Wave’ concludes the album with what is initially beat-based music, a kind of nervous tic itching and shuffling against which an assortment of sounds ping and collide. Around halfway through, following the most blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of mini-climax, the music dramatically shape-shifts into rapid rising plunky arpeggios delicately dusted with blips and brushes. Read more

Tags: , ,

Michel Roth – Im Bau; Decoder Ensemble – Big Data

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

Two discs from the Wergo label have lately been getting me thinking a lot about the relationship between content and meaning. Im Bau is the title of an electroacoustic monodrama by Swiss composer Michel Roth that takes its starting point from a short story by Franz Kafka (Der Bau). Quite apart from the piece itself, there’s an immediate challenge with regards to meaning stemming from the way the recording of the piece is presented. Rather than supplying a translation of the complete German libretto, Wergo has opted instead to provide a short synopsis of what’s going on in each of the work’s 15 “sound spaces” (Roth’s term). On the one hand, that’s simply not good enough, yet it nonetheless contributes something to the general tone of impenetrability permeating the piece.

The story, and Roth’s dramatisation of it, is concerned with the fearful ramblings of a creature that has constructed an elaborate underground burrow to protect itself from the outside world. Yet it’s not at all clear whether this perceived external threat is in any way real, or merely the product of an increasingly paranoid mind. The psychological state of the creature is intensified by a tinnitus-like perception that it experiences which, again, may be entirely internal in origin rather than being evidence of some kind of proximate presence. The work takes on an additional poignancy listened to at the current time, during the locked-down state of much of the world. From that perspective, it’s not difficult to imagine Kafka’s protagonist as someone hiding indoors away from society and all contact with the pandemic – and then going slowly mad. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Hafler Trio – An Answer

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Lent Series | Leave a comment

Let’s turn our attention to drones. The respective roles of time and material are perhaps nowhere more controversial – and polarising – than in drone-based music. Even if you find yourself drawn into the complexities of one form of drone, another can push you away with its relative monotony. For precisely this reason, i’ve always been fascinated by drone music, and it’s an idiom that includes some of my absolute favourite compositions. i wrote about one of them some years ago as part of my ‘Contemporary Epics’ series: The Hafler Trio‘s miraculously wonderful ‘Trilogy in Three Parts‘. As well as being a work i return to very often, at the start of this year i had the pleasure of discussing it as part of an ongoing series of conversations between Andrew McKenzie and Thaddée Caillosse, exploring the Hafler Trio legacy. The episode in question focused specifically on the Trilogy, and our lengthy conversation touched on a considerable range of topics related to and arising from it, along the way revealing fascinating insights into the thought and compositional processes behind the music, plus more than a few tangential asides taking in philosophy, listening practices and love. Anyone interested in The Hafler Trio and wanting to glean more about McKenzie’s approach to his work may well find this conversation to be of interest. It’s available via the Simply Superior Bandcamp site, along with plenty of other juicy things pertinent to the entire Hafler Trio oeuvre. Dive in, and be prepared for a long swim.

Even more recently, McKenzie has dusted off and polished up his three contributions to the first series of releases by Fovea Hex. The Explanation, The Discussion and An Answer were originally released as limited edition bonus discs accompanying the EPs Bloom (2005), Huge (2006) and Allure (2007). While many Fovea Hex releases have included accompanying remixes of their music, the three Hafler Trio pieces are rather more ambitious, best regarded as self-contained electronic works into which fragments and morsels of Fovea Hex material have been to a greater or lesser degree folded, embedded and woven. A decade and a half on from their original release, McKenzie has released a standalone edition of these pieces under a new, typically Haflerian, collective title: This is Our Problem: What Will Our Joy Be Then?. Read more

Tags: , , , , , ,

Chubby Wolf – The Last Voices

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Lent Series | Leave a comment

The next piece i’m exploring in this year’s Lent Series is The Last Voices by Danielle Baquet-Long, who released her solo work under the name Chubby Wolf. At 84 minutes long, it’s by far her longest piece, and the more i’ve spent time with it over the years, the more i’ve become convinced that it’s one of her best. It’s one of a number of works that her husband Will Long has made available since her death in 2009, each of which has testified further to the depth, scope and subtlety of Baquet-Long’s skill and talent. Her loss remains a profound one.

The way The Last Voices harnesses time is fascinating. It’s tempting to ponder whether the piece ultimately does anything or goes anywhere – but that immediately prompts a necessary follow-up consideration: how do we define ‘doing’ or ‘going’? The opening minutes of the piece act as something of a paradigm for everything that follows. It’s like listening to a half-focused or blurred ‘tonic’ chord gently oscillating on its axis. As such it sounds resolved yet not exactly final; there’s a prevailing impression that there’s more to come, though equally a sense that if the music were to stop right now it would sound completely natural and make perfect sense. As time passes, it consolidates the feeling that something fundamental – in both musical and non-musical senses – is omnipresent, yet Baquet-Long has allowed considerable scope for the music to move and roam, to explore and grow, never sounding constricted. This movement is generally, though very loosely, articulated in what could be thought of as extended exhalations, punctuated with brief gathering points to draw breath that also allow a moment or two for the preceding resonance (sonic and internal) to be savoured. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

Kenneth Kirschner – January 1, 2019

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Lent Series | 3 Comments

It’s the first day of Lent, and also therefore the start of this year’s 5:4 Lent Series. Three years ago my focus was on miniature works, and for 2020 i’m going in the opposite direction, exploring compositions that occupy larger-scale durations. However, this is not simply about pieces that are ‘epic’ (something i’ve examined before) but more about the way time is used (by the composer) and perceived (by the listener). For that reason, in general i’m not going to be looking at sectional works or cycles, which are lengthy simply because they’re made up of numerous individual component parts, or operas, which are invariably longer due to the fact that it takes a while to tell a decent narrative. That being said, there will be exceptions to both of those exclusions.

i’m beginning this year’s Lent Series with a recent work by a composer who has made me think more about time than anyone else: Kenneth Kirschner. Kirschner’s work has intrigued and fascinated me for many years. On the one hand, in many respects i feel i know it well; i’ve spent time with everything he’s made available over the last couple of decades – which, depending how you classify what counts as a ‘composition’, amounts to as many as 185 pieces – and have written about his music on numerous occasions, most extensively in the 2014 book Imperfect Forms: The Music of Kenneth Kirschner (available as a free PDF download). It was Kirschner’s work that inspired and helped shape my thinking about what i ultimately called the ‘steady state’, the structural concept in which short-term change and long-term stasis combine to create a never-/ever-changing musical tapestry that’s always the same, yet always new. That description could almost be said to apply to Kirschner’s output itself; many of his compositions evoke, allude to or at least resemble many of his other compositions: always the same, yet always new. Yet for all the knowledge and familiarity with it, Kirschner’s music keeps you on your toes, regularly coming as a surprise. Always the same, always new. Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

Jennifer Walshe – A Late Anthology of Early Music Vol. 1: Ancient to Renaissance

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

There are times, believe it or not dear reader, when i honestly wonder if i’m starting to get a little bit jaded. Listening can feel like a chore, and the endless parade of the novelty and the newfangled can blur into a torrent of ‘musica generica’ that becomes (at best) boring and (at worst) suffocating. Enter Jennifer Walshe. If there’s one artist whose work is always guaranteed to beguile, intrigue and fascinate, it’s Walshe. Above all, she is endlessly refreshing, presenting unexpected ideas in unexpected ways that are often as hilarious to experience as they are engrossing and confusing.

To say her latest release is no exception is to put it very mildly indeed. It’s essentially a collision between acoustic, in the form of Walshe’s voice, and electronic, in the form of machine learning duo Dadabots. The latter set to work training their neural network on recordings of Walshe singing through centuries’ worth of music history. The first remarkable product of this unique collaboration is A Late Anthology of Early Music Vol. 1: Ancient to Renaissance, 40 minutes of sonic disjecta membra that Douglas Adams might have described as being almost, but not quite, entirely unlike vocal music.

Anyone with a passing understanding of machine learning from the perspective of music will perhaps know what to expect here. Machine? – check; learning? – hmm, not so much. The extent to which it’s obvious in these 17 tracks that their origins lie in Jennifer Walshe’s vocal cords varies extremely widely. Not that that matters, of course; what’s more important here isn’t the fidelity of the process but the evolution of the process, the ongoing strenuous effort being made to attempt to parse, understand and reproduce – and then beholding the startlingly marvellous results in all of their discombobulating ineptitude. Read more

Tags: , ,

Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir – Vernacular; Siggi String Quartet – South of the Circle; Iceland Symphony Orchestra – Concurrence

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

In just over a week’s time Iceland’s premier new music festival, the Dark Music Days, will be up and running again, and once again i’ll be heading off to Reykjavík to immerse myself in some of the goings-on. Details about the festival can be found here, and for any UK dwellers who fancy a spontaneous jaunt over to Iceland, there are some fantastically cheap deals to be had from Gatwick and Bristol (especially, with Bristol, if you travel on a Wednesday or Sunday), and some equally great deals to be found on AirBnB. As an upbeat to the festival, it’s a good time to touch on a number of releases that came out last year on the Sono Luminus label, showcasing some of the more exciting examples of Icelandic contemporary music-making. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

London Choral Sinfonia – O Holy Night

Posted on by 5:4 in Advent & Christmas, CD/Digital releases, Thematic series | Leave a comment

The solstice and the season of winter are fast approaching, so over the next week as we transition through i’m going to explore music that taps into some of the aspects of this remarkable time of year. By that i don’t just mean ‘Christmas music’ – which, let’s face it, is rarely something to get excited about these days – but also works that speak of cold, darkness and the ever more encroaching presence of the night.

To start, though, i am turning to music celebrating Christmas, in order to flag up a new disc called O Holy Night performed by London Choral Sinfonia. From the perspective of contemporary music, Christmas is seriously troublesome in the way it so often leads composers down over-trodden paths towards tradition, banality and cliché. It’s refreshing, then, to find a sprinkling of contemporary pieces on this disc that offer a little more than that. To be clear, O Holy Night doesn’t just feature contemporary music – the album is clearly designed to emulate a conventional Anglican carol service, including a number of exceedingly well-worn hymns and carols that act as structural points of familiarity and repose in between some of the more adventurous music. There’s not a great deal to say about these except that the choir, conducted by Michael Waldron, gives them all the most lusty treatment, at times singing with such overblown heartiness you can’t help wondering if copious quaffings of mulled wine took place before rather than after the performance. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Roland Kayn – Scanning

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

There aren’t many new releases that require you to free up huge chunks of time in your schedule, but then Roland Kayn isn’t like many composers. Two years ago, 14 hours were required to explore the vast expanse of his A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound, which i ended up doing in a couple of 8-hour shifts across two days. The latest release of Kayn’s music, Scanning, lasts a mere 10 hours that, in contrast, seemed to pass with surprising briskness.

This wasn’t due simply to it being significantly shorter than its predecessor; i think it’s primarily to do with the nature of the music – particularly the kinds of materials Kayn uses and, most importantly, the way that they’re shaped, articulated and structured. It’s feasible to think of many of the 24 movements of Scanning as examples of what i’ve previously called ‘meta-ambient’, where a generalised steady state reigns over the long-term behaviour of the music, leading to in essence an equilibrium, within which a constant evolution takes place, sometimes involving abrupt shifts or alterations in its details. Long-form structural designs are of course nothing new in Kayn’s music, yet the specific way Scanning behaves sets it apart, i think, not only from A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound, but from a great deal of his previously-released output. When writing about A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound a couple of years ago, i commented on its generative, hands-off aspect, and on that occasion cited Autechre as a point of reference. Scanning also possesses this hands-off aspect, but a more fitting aesthetic reference this time might be the music of Andrew McKenzie’s The Hafler Trio project, particularly (but not exclusively) his last major releases from around 2003–2005. This is down to the way that pretty much every part of Scanning plays with and explores the relationship between pitch and noise. In some respects – and this is perhaps the only strong connection to A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound – its 24 movements are almost variations on this theme. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

Fovea Hex – The Salt Garden III

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

It all began with a trilogy. This was back in 2005 when, over the course of three successive years, Irish musical entity Fovea Hex (singer Clodagh Simonds, together with a changing roster of collaborators) put out the trio of EPs – Bloom, Huge and Allure – that would become collectively known as Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent. An album in all but name, each part of the trilogy was accompanied by an additional disc where the music had been extensively remixed by The Hafler Trio. Following this there was a four-year wait until their only actual album, Here Is Where We Used To Sing, was released in 2011, again with an accompanying disc of remixes (titled Three Beams) by Michael Begg, Colin Potter and William Basinski. After which a further five years would pass before their most recent, even more slow-to-emerge trilogy The Salt Garden, the third and final part of which has recently – finally! – been released.

It’s worth taking a moment just to reflect on two significant aspects of all this. First is the group’s disinterest (for the most part) in more conventional contemporary release practices. i described Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent as an album in all but name, yet at a risk of contradicting myself the fact is that it wasn’t, and isn’t, an album, but – to borrow a phrase from The Hafler Trio – a ‘trilogy in three parts’. There’s something rather old-school about it, not unlike like the practice during the 1990s in which, due to the popularity of the relatively new CD medium, instead of releasing bog standard singles, artists would instead put out dual maxi-singles, one disc of which typically featured three or four songs, the other disc a collection of remixes. Taken together, the two discs would often last as long (if not longer) than an album, and being able to spend time with a cluster of songs that were then reworked was always an enormously enjoyable listening experience. Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

Charles Uzor – mimicri/ pieces with tape

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

Another interesting release from the NEOS label is mimicri/ pieces with tape, a double album featuring nine works by Nigerian-born composer Charles Uzor. As the name suggests, most of the music is electroacoustic, together with a chamber piece and two works for choir, and the majority of them are relatively recent, dating from within the last five years. Uzor was an entirely new name to me, and while this album is helpful as a portrait of the composer’s outlook and aesthetic, if anything that portrait is an intriguingly multifaceted one, in which connections between the different works are far from obvious. Perhaps it would be fair to characterise Uzor’s music as ‘consistently inconsistent’.

The opening work on the album is 2016’s Nri/ mimicri, in which an ondes martenot and percussion quartet coexist – or, rather, co-behave – in a way that could be described as ‘meta-ambient‘. It’s an unhurried atmosphere combining small individual attacks from the percussion with more extended sounds from the ondes (both sustained pitches and glissandi), within a kind of ‘open’ ambiance articulated by gentle granular noise on the tape. The piece coalesces into more focused episodes where there’s an overt sense of dialogue, yet as the work’s half-hour duration progresses the broader context suggests that these kinds of action – and others, such as prominent passages from vibraphone and marimba – are all elements that can be essentially switched on and off. It leads to a beautiful form of steady state where small-scale interest is always balanced against large-scale equilibrium, though it’s important to stress the small-scale interest is not merely striking but at times surprising, such as the introduction of previously unheard birdsong into the texture just a few minutes before the end. Read more

Tags: , , ,

Gunnar Geisse – The Wannsee Recordings

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

The Wannsee Recordings is a double album by German composer and improviser Gunnar Geisse, released on the NEOS label earlier this year. In some ways, that sentence is about as certain as i can be about the album because, to be honest, i was as impressed by it as i was flummoxed by it. Usually, when an album ramps up its flummox factor it doesn’t take too long for it to become unengaging and ultimately boring, but in the case of The Wannsee Recordings, despite the fact that i regularly found myself staring at the speakers in a certain amount of disbelief, something about it kept me hooked for its complete 150-minute duration.

Let’s back up a bit: the album is essentially an anthology of 34 individual improvisations, ranging in length from 58 seconds to well over 13 minutes, performed by Geisse using a special laptop guitar rigged up to a MIDI controller and a laptop enabling the instrument to transform into a host of other instruments and sounds. Sometimes the guitar stays fairly close to its own identity, but in most cases it would be impossible to tell that what you’re hearing is emanating from a guitar. Opening track ‘VII.4 [10100111_A7_⋆167]’, for example, is described as being for “electric guitar, brass, percussion, timpani and celesta’, whereas one of the most ambitious, ‘II.4+V.4 [100100+1100111_24+67_⋆36+⋆103]’ comprises “electric guitar, saxophone, drum set, woodwinds, strings, piano, choir, noises and trombone”. It’s not stretching a point to describe these improvisations as encompassing orchestral forces and scope. Read more

Tags: , , ,
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11   Next »