petak, 29. ožujka 2013.

Surround No.1.

Suludo dobar novi muzički časopis. Teme su Kevin Drumm, Graham Lambkin, Vanessa Rossetto, Wandelweiser-ekipa... - taj tip autora.

editor’s note
By Mark Flaum

There are things in music that cannot be captured in words: things ineffable, uncountable, things that don’t fit inside words or sentences. We can chase them, encircle them, capture their outline by filling the spaces around them with language. But they will always slip away as we struggle to produce more adjectives, clearer metaphors, better examples. The essence of music is necessarily beyond words, expressing things with intent that cannot be substituted.
And yet we endeavor. Maybe nothing is more natural than trying to capture those things which entrance us while lingering just out of reach, but that isn’t what we are after here. We are entranced, it’s true, but we are also overcome by the certainty that this magic can be shared, transferred, communicated. That is what surround is about, this effort to contain just enough of that magic in words so that a reader can start to understand why this music is so essential.
And so now as I gather the writings around me I am proud to say we have taken our first steps towards that goal. We start with what we know best: electro-acoustic music, improvised music, noise and contemporary composition. Some of us have taken on our obsessions directly, such as Lutz Eitel digging deep into Amateur Doubles, Yuko Zama’s expansive journey into the heart of the heart of the Wandelweiser collective, or my own compulsive collection of Kevin Drumm’s compulsive creativity.
We’ve also followed rivers to their source, with Piotr Tkacz’s rare face-to-face interview with Ralf Wehowsky, Matthew Revert’s sweeping profile of Vanessa Rossetto, and BW Diederich’s search through music and interview to reach the currents that run through the AEU. Gil Sanson takes on the magic of music aggressively with an essay I hope will be controversial. And our final two contributions show a direction I hope to follow much more in the future: musicians speaking directly of their experiences creating music.
There is a strong thread in this issue tying together new American music. This wasn’t our plan; in fact it wasn’t even clearly the case until quite late in the process of creating this issue. I think it’s easily explained by the fact that these musicians and their music have been closely involved in inspiring this project from the beginning. But I also think it’s related to the groundswell of challenging new music in America happening now as we head to digital press. We don’t intend this journal to focus on music from the United States, nor do we plan to approach each issue with a priori themes or concepts. We will follow where the music leads us, as closely as we can.
My co-editor Jon Abbey and I have many people to thank along the path that resulted in this publication. We would like to thank our contributors, who have literally created this from nothing. Also our subjects were each and every one forthcoming, helpful, and supportive; we owe them thanks as well. We set aside special thanks to Yuko Zama, who stepped in at a late stage to bring her keen attention to detail to the appearance of the site. And of course thanks to Antoine Duluard, who volunteered early on to guide this work from words to website.
There is music that has surface.
Music with color, texture, fuzz, grit.
Music that rubs off on the ears like rust on the fingers.
Music that stains.
There is music that is delicate.
Music that is fragile, small, and hidden.
Music that slithers away in a blink.
There is music full of motion.
Music that folds and unfolds, music with gears, cogs, action.
Music with time.
There is music that leaves behind silence,
making the ear strain to distinguish
what might still be music from others sounds that fill a room.
There is music that has depth.
Music that must be searched, explored, examined.
Music with dark corners and damp undergrowth.
Music with an inside.
There is music that occupies space.
Music that crowds corners and piles up on the floor;
that scrapes across the ceiling or pushes against the walls.
Music that is contained by the room and becomes the room.
There is music that must be faced.
Music that demands love, hate, awe, jealousy.
Music that changes, intensifies, surrounds.
This is the music we need to write about.

Through Limbo on Cruise Control

Graham Lambkin’s Amateur Doubles
Lutz Eitel
Issue 1
March 2013

I’m not the person to write about this album. I don’t even have a driver’s license.
That shouldn’t of course be necessary to understand a piece of music, even if it purportedly was recorded in a driving car. “Recorded 2010–2011 in a Honda Civic,” the curt liner notes specify, which actually might describe a variety of possible production processes. Yet here is how Matthew Horne wraps up the effect of the record on him in a review on Tiny Mix Tapes: “Throughout Amateur Doubles, we feel like a passenger along for Lambkin’s ride. But for me, specifically, listening to the album brings back memories of several great, formative trips.” The car premise is central to most of the handful of reviewers of the LP on record, who might enjoy the concept though not the music (Richard Pinnell on his blog The Watchful Ear), or judge the conceit to collapse on itself (Nick Cain in the Wire). It must be mentioned that all critics to some extent doubt the veracity of the car conceit, only to still proceed from it, so let’s follow the reception history and do that, too.
Obviously the artist is inviting such reactions. The press blurb for the record is a little more elaborate on the process, and since Lambkin himself is behind the label Kye, it can be read as a declaration of intent: “Two-part improvisation recorded in a Honda Civic. Dangerous, tedious, pointless, and timeless, Amateur Doubles is a perfect snapshot of life on the open road.”
Like I said, I know next to nothing about life on the open road. (I live by a busy street, though, that must count for something.) Cluelessness is a possible first step toward objectivity… and in that spirit, let me first objectify things, make clear the relations between my amateur perspective, the LP under discussion, and the reader who might be unfamiliar with the sounds discussed: here is an aural image of how I listen to Amateur Doubles. (All sounds recorded from my desk. I swear. Haphazard, pointless, and lacking ultimate inspiration, it’s a perfect snapshot of my brain at work. Two-part improvisation using the first side of the record at play as a score.)
(By meaningful accident the car horns are actually from a host of trucks on a drive-in down the street in front of my window, demanding looser regulations for trailer parks, since it’s kind of forbidden here in Germany to live in a car.)
Framed by short collage segments of seemingly casual recordings from a supposed everyday, the main body of Amateur Doubles consists of chunks of two French prog albums field-recorded in a noisy space: the double album Pôle from 1975 by Philippe Besombes and Jean-Louis Rizet, and 3000 Miles Away from 1977 by Philippe Grancher (which has Rizet on synthesizer, was recorded by Besombes, and issued on Pôle records, so both sources come from the same musical scene. Checking the credits on jpegs of the sleeves, I note that the Besombes-Rizet on the back has a very nice shot of the duo motoring down a dusky highway, seen full frontal speeding toward the camera eye. And the Grancher on the cover has an endless keyboard stretched out as a country road meandering through the undulating hills, which is a fine visualization of his style. It seems listeners to the original LPs were already encouraged to imagine this music as something conceived within a car.)
In Lambkin’s rerecording, the original material is encroached upon by various drones like fuzzed-out motors and fluttery background noises that may indeed be sonic detritus from a road trip, though all sounds are indistinct enough so that except for the first half of the second side they do not necessarily suggest the ambience of a car. There are additional sounds like church bells and airplanes that might enter through half-opened car windows, there are kids’ voices which might come from the backseat. Still the way these sound events sit in the stereo spectrum rather independently of the noise backdrop speaks of a collage of elements more than a coherent aural space.
Over whole stretches, the source music is left standing, the treatments aren’t sufficient to deeply change its character. Compared against the original recordings, it’s more like the same person in a slightly different mood. This is where the “tedious” and “pointless” of the blurb might come in: if you have no real stomach for any kind of prog (or kraut) rock, then this might be a challenging listen. Pinnell in his review is audibly unenamored with “the core of the content here, a recording of a really bad seventies prog rock album, full of ambient synth keyboard warbling and ridiculously clichéd flute. This then is what we hear for the length of side one, apart from one or two cuts away, different sections of this bad piece of music played through the car’s stereo as the family drive about, with voices, often Lambkin’s son, here and there heard, indecipherably above the music.” (The picture of the family he paints is taken from the photograph on the inside cover, which shows Lambkin on the passenger seat with his wife at the wheel and a kid in the back, the artist staring discontentedly through sunglasses in the direction of the CD player. The two appropriated CDs are lying conspicuously and not quite believably on the dashboard in front of him.)
Cluelessness is the first step toward objectivity.
And yet listening to the music via the rerecording is a completely different affair to the original. Obviously because of the conceit one can listen to the whole thing in quote marks and sidestep all taste judgments that way. Also, the music does not follow the structure of the original, it ignores the authors’ intentions complete with their climaxes and mood swings and such. Lambkin’s version doesn’t build much, he keeps to a middle ground without big dramatic developments (though of course a middle ground will gain considerable detail during repeated listenings).
In fact the music plays more like a potentially endless interlude, and though in Lambkin the side noises move to the foreground sometimes, they do not overwhelm the proceedings with saturated walls of interesting frequencies, they just take over the wheel for a little while and then succumb to the melody again. The texture, while not rich, is curiously unstable. There is no clear outline of the set-up, no distinct sense of space, no motor up front against wind through the lowered window, just very present hums moving and shaking about, slight distortion, stereo wobble, intruding voices and half-hearted distractions kicked around the stereo field. Everything moves in the middle of the frequency spectrum, with the lower middles a little boomy in a hollow way (or is that my rig?) and what treble noises and clicks there are I often can’t tell from a scratchy groove or static in the clear vinyl. The unbalanced sound is almost restless in perpetual but slight change, every noise source having a mind of its own, and sometimes in midphrase, and without skipping a beat, the character of the background changes like the shadow of a jump-cut switching sceneries, while the foreground music stays in listening continuity. It’s all tightly held together through the same lo-fi perspective of a chance microphone left running. And of course the French prog.
One can listen in quote marks and sidestep all taste judgments that way.
Why do I enjoy that so much? Thinking about this, suddenly I am reminded of a trip myself that I made almost 30 years ago on the back seat of one of those American-built sedans with ample leg space (don’t ask the brand), back when I spent a month in Idaho on an exchange program at my school. We went over straight empty roads through Montana toward the Grand Canyon on cruise control. I seem to remember my guest father had the Beatles on, and from our discussion he overheard me hating on them, so he said: “I hear you’re into jazz? I have something for you,” holding up a Chuck Mangione tape. He put it in the player. We felt we couldn’t talk anymore and had to listen to that Chuck Mangione tape (and I had to pretend to like it), and the astonishing thing was that the car was calm enough – the motor seemed far away, the windows were closed because of the air conditioning – that you could actually listen to the music. Had to listen to the music. Or listen to how well you could listen to the music. Let me reconstruct the moment for you:
I started talking about how I’d never been in such a great car for music before, and my guest father said that while German cars maybe were more cramped and noisier, they were much safer for kids in the back seat. So I didn’t have to offer sounds of approval anymore. Though meanwhile I had started liking the music because it went with the drive.
(The choice of a car might be like the choice of an instrument? What would the sound of a Honda Civic be, what references would it carry? I do a quick search and come up with a promotion tour by Linkin Park and a video ad where a choir pretends to live-soundtrack a cinematic Honda Civic driving experience complete with howling motor, screeching wheels, windshield wipers flapping in the pattering rain, and generic beats on the car stereo, supposedly all mouthed by the choir like vintage foley… dripping with echo and other effects, though… and I quickly drop the enquiry.)
The choice of a car might be like the choice of an instrument.
The distance of the remove listening to the sound of Mangione unfold in a car, unnaturally free of distraction, does seems related to Amateur Doubles and how the French prog sits in the center of it and makes me ask myself how the original sounds, now that I listen to them as taking place within something other (the car, the LP itself), might change their meaning. The main difference between experiences (except degrees of shittiness in the source music) is the lack of an editorial authority during my own road trip, while Lambkin’s choices of material from the records is purposeful and instructive. (If indeed he makes these choices. In an interview on the WFMU blog Lambkin relates that events were “born through arbitrary happenstance. I record a lot of everyday situations that promise no obvious musical worth, but sometimes a piece of music will enter the picture quite by chance, be captured on tape and set a ball rolling.”) As befits prog rock records, both have a huge variety of mood (though the Grancher is limited in instrumentation), and quality changes from the gruesome to stuff one could safely loop and create music of the future from. Lambkin avoids both these extremes and picks rather atmospheric passages that contain a lot of genre trappings (remember the synth warblings and ridiculously clichéd flute) and, contrary to the original eclecticism, stay within the same manner, that way gaining some metaphorical potential as a picture of the sound of their times.
Pôle by Besombes-Rizet sits somewhere between the lush side of Kraut and the Canterbury scene. I haven’t a lot of reference points for this kind of music, but Popol Vuh’s jarring-in-its-lushness soundtrack to Aguirre came to mind somewhere (I look it up and it’s the same year, ha!). They build nice dramatic arcs when they allow themselves the time, but mostly they get restless far before we can get into trance, and they’re not above a jokey garage song. There are bits and pieces that make me think they would fit Berlin bedroom pop ca. 2000, and a carelessness that is as refreshing as it can be aggravating. There’s also no perceivable soul, instead Bowie sax and heavily premeditated losing of control in Zappa-style freak-outs. Lambkin for his A side plays into track two, “Evelyse,” cuts that out before it starts building too much, and after some paraphernalia drops in on track three (of the CD reissue. I sort of realize you can’t play LPs in your car anymore, but does it maybe slightly bother me I’m aware of listening to a digital translation of the source, however downgraded by analog means the sound is that finally reaches my ears?)
The original Evelyse stands on its own rather well, starting out droney (which goes great with the engine hum considerably darkening the edges in Lambkin’s treatment), and I don’t mind the flute at all. “Armature Double” is tougher on the ear from Besombes-Rizet directly, since the flatness of the synths requires that listeners bring their own atmosphere. (I am aware that these synths probably influenced a lot of pre-sets on the Korgs I grew up with a decade later, but damn they sound so much like presets themselves.) Decisive editing action is required at the six minute mark, where the original offers an overdramatic motif of real-life vs. synthetic hammering percussion, then a quick ride over the swamps near Miami in a helicopter, and finally one of those unfortunate staged freak-outs. These are scrambled, drowned out, down-tuned by Lambkin into a tasteful contradictory noise, until a carefully timed truck horn returns us to the previous mood. Lambkin finally cuts out before the most interesting part of the original piece, which has filtered synth percussion slightly out of synch shot through by ricocheting scratch noises. That would have broken the mood, a mood Besombes-Rizet felt needed breaking, while Lambkin stays with the preludic/interludic parts, flattening the impact of the music. (I would by the way not recommend listening to the original in comparison, because afterward you tend to hear Lambkin’s record as a series of very limiting editorial choices. This does not enhance listening pleasure, I found.)
Quickly he can’t bear the monotony anymore and tries to mold the naive chord loop into heroic gestures with much criminal ornament. 3000 Miles Away by Philippe Grancher, the title track of which Lambkin uses for his B side, is a harder to tolerate but at the same time more interesting record. It’s one keyboardist and his recording studio, him switching between synths and piano, often just hesitantly repeating four-chord sequences over and over. Quickly he can’t bear the monotony anymore and tries to mold the naive chord loop into heroic gestures with much criminal ornament. On piano he favors endless arpeggi and romantic embellishments (I heard quotes from Mike Garson’s playing on Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul” and toward the close, strangely, a salon version of Nick Cave’s “Mercy Seat” before the fact). Lambkin picks only the synth stuff, first choosing a passage where overdubbed arpeggi demonstrate a heavy horror vacui plastering over the lack of harmonic ideas, then Lambkin loops the most minimal of the four-chord sequences, sprinkled over with nice electronic twitterings, which serves him as accompaniment to environmental or more undecipherable noises he keeps blending in. Again, the distortion and granulation of his treatment deepen the atmosphere, and still they do not completely cover the flatness of the generic sounds in the original. Transitory passages from a highly episodic work have been robbed of an aim, and they become curiously undecided, a relatively featureless (if frilly) state which is vulnerable to the murk closing in.
Think of the record as picaresque music with the incidents cut out.
Even if you’re not a fan, there is some visceral pleasure in the source music. The exact shades of mood buried in these flawed records you can get nowhere else, and they just needed a little curating and degradation of sound to be accessible for those without the nerve to get into the whole thing nerdily just to salvage a few fleeting prize moments. In the case of 3000 Miles Away at least, something also gets lost in Lambkin’s process: Grancher the lone studio auteur without much chops and without any greatly original vision who still attempts to make opera-size music just through the grandness of the gesture. (As a sometime bedroom recorder, I find that inspiring. His sound is so direct you’d need nothing but a Casio and a delay pedal to achieve that yourself. Interestingly, Grancher overdubs little laughing voices to his keyboard deliberations in a track Lambkin didn’t use, and it does have the same sense of a privacy the listener is at a loss to make sense of that you might get from Lambkin.)
The appropriated music is no longer prog, since it doesn’t move. It is now unfiltered by large ambitions and the original context… Lambkin’s intention doesn’t seem to be making music about the older music. If it weren’t for that, probably Amateur Doubles would roughly fit within some of the recent pop discourse. Looping four-chord sequences from a Casio might seem vaguely retromanic. Making degraded old music return through a screen of audible present day activity might seem vaguely hauntological. Taking a piece of tradition to build your own culture on would parallel the hip hop sampling ethos. An art-critical approach might also be promising here: we’re offered an adapted readymade in the common misuse of the word, a found piece (of music) from the real world transferred into an art context, where it can freely live out connotations that in its original place were overlayered by the way it seemed to make sense there. But, while the music now is no longer itself, since it seems that actually more references get lost than gained in the process, it becomes in effect more like music again. As opposed to art. I guess it’s tempting to see the premise of the record as a conceptual conceit, but what would be the concept over and above the story that this music was recorded in a car?
My own first idea when I started writing was to think of the record as picaresque music with the incidents cut out, and to compare it against something like Peter Brötzmann’s Schwarzwaldfahrt, which would be picaresque music with the travel parts cut out. I still like the idea, both in what it suggests about the contexts these records come from—today’s environmentally open form of improvised music (well, the blurb said it was an improvisation) vs. action-packed European free improv—and also because of a shared sense of humor in the face of futility that underlies the ventures of the picaresque hero (most classically, Don Quixote). What I’d still like to retain from that train of thought is that the car conceit is less something conceptual, which would require the record to function as sound art, but rather a narrative conceit—and that brings us to the framing devices bookending both chunks of prog on either side of the LP.
We feel somewhat lifted, then an airplane comes in as a metaphor of that.
Side A starts with somebody trying to tune a flute after the sound of a man gurgling, or is the gurgle trying to follow the flute? Anyway it’s like a family scene in the closeness of the two voices, and then the flute goes into a folkish mode to signify a sense of rootedness. After a cut we’re suddenly in what might be the far end of a turbine hall, then a short snippet of an angry (not necessarily at each other) conversation between man and woman. “Fuck!” he says, and obviously the stress level in this new environment is high. Slowly Besombes-Rizet come in over the noise, and their flute meandering connects to the domestic flute-practicing before. Which makes the French prog stand for humanity/family, undermined by faceless sonic detritus sending unease into the soundscape and threatening to drown out all memory of home life (which it never does). If we read Lambkin’s record as following film soundtrack conventions, the few decipherable noises and disembodied voices during the drive sequences would not seem to originate from real life persons on the backseat, but fade in and out independently, like memories blended into the sounds in the car, as if the driver were replaying chunks of his life in his head. Especially when the background noise is amped up to a more threatening level and a bell tolling (undirected ominousness) firmly keeps its space in the audio spectrum instead of falling behind.
The music is suddenly cut off, which in a real car would mean dissatisfaction with the CD that plays. Then it starts again, merely the next piece of the same record, and over that and the noises there enters a devilish pitched-down voice—we’re not in hell, though, rather in limbo, a formless noise pushing into formless surroundings, while over it all Besombes-Rizet are patiently following a formless melody which patiently follows the chords.
At the end of the LP side: the same booming noise we heard before, and the same tolling bell, then distinctly the idling motor of a car, down-tuned and overdriven, constituting the first clear acoustic proof of the car conceit. And there’s a feeling we’ve returned to exactly the place we began the trip.
The flip starts with somebody hissing spittle into the mic, as if testing it. It seems to work, because the recorded surroundings are somewhat clearer throughout the B side. A distinct flutter changes the booming noise into something shaped like wind through an opened window. Then the ignition goes out, we hear a woman ask, “We’re getting out?” “Yeah,” a man says—the artist himself is at the wheel, we deduce—then the ignition starts again and voices mix with the mad arpeggi of Grancher, angry voices that prove that the stress of this arpeggiated situation tears into the complete family even more than the turbine hall before. The noise takes over for a time, and out of that develops a four-chord cycle that through mere repetition always seems to climb and yet stay on the same level, like Escher stairs of harmony. So we feel somewhat lifted, then an airplane comes in as a metaphor of that, and then we cut from the car to a drunk person trying to emulate Antony’s (of the Johnsons) angelic warble on a Tin Pan Alley song for two lines. A nice loop of basses (the threatening boom of background noise separating out into musical form), some female vocalese on “aah,” a door goes. After that, hiss and static. This time, by the end of the LP side, it seems we have arrived elsewhere. Don’t ask me where, but we went through limbo on cruise control to an unfamiliar place.
And that is the structural beauty of the record for me: Lambkin takes a transitional music and places it in a transitional situation, and then offers us one side where nothing in the end has happened (life on the road as a commuter everyday), and one side as a maybe mildly formative trip toward some place where a greater variety of moods is allowed.
It’s ok, since, as we’ve seen, the artist is the driver.
Of course what I see as the core of the record, the undecided limbo that is the drive through undecided music, might not materialize that way if you’re a huge Pôle fan, or if you have a high-end stereo rig to make the unstable sound field into a wall of noise fascinating in itself. On my set-up, the quality of the music is in its rare imbalance. Most usually the space or setting of a recording would, as soon as they become properly identifiable, take on properties of an aural object. By this I mean nothing fancy, just the way e.g. recorded wind noise will seem to condense into an acoustic form—personally I always identify that with an image of gray fluffy windbreakers (a synesthetic paradox?). It can also work the other way around: in our summer vacation we had a very narrow shower built into a wall recess, and somehow the patter of the water in that tiled-in space sounded exactly like the digital scramble of a highly compressed noise floor I’ve heard mostly in youtube videos, small gray digital particles flitting about. Try as I might, I could not hear that sound as something produced by natural causes within the same space as me as a direct result of my showering.)
I mention this because during that vacation I carried an mp3 folder of Amateur Doubles I had taken from the internet so I could listen on the train, and the compression of these files changed the story for me completely. Every sound became more definably located, so there was a distinct aural space in which to listen. The noises took on in volume and became like distinct players themselves. The clicks hardened into somebody opening and closing cassette players, or whatever they did, and suddenly what dominated was the thought of listening to the artist at work, which kept me from getting into the narrative conceit (though it’s ok, since, as we’ve seen, the artist is the driver). Also the noise became much more threatening, it is a much darker record on those mp3s, which offers a much darker reading of life in a car as not so much limbo but already an outer circle of hell, offering unsustainable stress levels and being victimized by machinery.
I’m not an audiophile, so the degree to which the reading of this record changes with the carrier medium somewhat annoys me. Also, this is the best chance I’ll ever get ever for such a reading, with known source materials, a narrative purpose on offer, and a clear and simple structural framework. As improvisations go, these are some of the most figurative sounds imaginable. Maybe if I knew anything about life on the road I’d have the experience to objectively measure the sounds against the real-life experience and come up with hard and fast deductions about the artist’s intentions. I really should give you, dear patient reader, something to take away and chew on. So, of the two versions on offer, I prefer vinyl.■


Here’s an unadulterated official excerpt of the LP on Youtube. You’ll probably also find clips of the complete record near, which I guess you might click to check my story, since the record is out of print, but obviously they’re to lo-fi to appreciate the bad sound, so they have no meaning. The official blurb can be read in full at Penultimate Press, the quoted interview with Lambkin is on WFMU’s Beware of the Blog.
Reviews, in order of appearance, by Matthew HorneRichard Pinnell, and Nick Cain in the Wire, February 2012, and since I can’t link to that, here’s the conclusion: “As [Lambkin’s] embellishments become more apparent, it also becomes clear that the album is really not much more than a mischievously obtuse remix, and as such essentially a curio. Near the end of the second side the conceit collapses when the recording cuts out altogether, to be replaced by vinyl crackle, tape mulch, and muffled female vocals.” You might also want to read Brian Olewnick’s review, which I couldn’t use since he likes the record very much. Finally, if you want to really challenge yourself, watch the fake choir ad for Honda Civic. Would it be conceptual if it didn’t sell cars?

About the Author

Lutz Eitel writes about art (and sometimes music) at To Not Fall Asleep and cuts up old movies and other sounds asspurdertoene.


Dystonia Duos, Sinter, Touching
B.W. Diederich
Issue 1
March 2013

In the last roughly five years there’s been a loose scene forming of American experimental music that sits uncomfortably / comfortably between categories. Stuff that is noisy but not noise, improvised and composed, often at the same time; academic but also fiercely raw and independent. There are other both/and pairings I could come up with but I think those three sketch a clear enough picture. The commonalities can be hard to pin down beyond those vague kinds of statements. So in some ways, what’s most interesting about ErstAEU as a label devoted to this concept of AEU, which may or may not stand for American experimental underground depending on who you ask, is that it’s a collection of people who are not really a collection. Which isn’t to say Jon Abbey’s (owner of Erstwhile, ErstAEU’s parent label and one of the founders of this very journal) curation is haphazard at all. Because it’s absolutely not. But it is to say that what he’s done is set up an imprint devoted to people who are mostly uninterested in labels, and more profoundly, uninterested in solidifying dividing lines and the rigid demarcations fans and critics so enjoy. The more responses that rolled in to my questions to the six people responsible for these first three ErstAEU records the more clear it became that in this case, the ties that bind are more subtle than geography or style, and are in fact more about overlapping rejections. The ties have more to do with what they are not interested in. Which is all to say, there are questions to be asked about the AEU itself, and what it is and where it came from, but to me the more interesting project is to work at articulating the sympathetic links/resonances between those involved. The discs are tied together, not just by the abbreviation on the spines, and figuring out what that means strikes me as worthwhile given these first three records contain some of the strongest music from all six people involved, and they could not, in many ways, be further from each other sonically.
Dystonia Duos is 001. Sinter is 002. Touching is 003. There was no way to predict how the progression from 001 to 003 would end up, but happenstance is kind at times. Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart’s record is a writhing mass, impenetrable and imposing and delicate and beautiful all at once. Sinter is a shifting world of mysterious sounds, where time and environment and fore/background are constantly shifting, warping in on themselves, stretched to the breaking point. AndTouching is a beast of an improv record, and improvisation in a pure sense. It’s raw and wild, teetering on the edge of instability. And it’s something we don’t hear as much of these days.
Listened to all in a row, the differences are most striking, but the more I listened the more I felt like I was grabbing hold of some connecting thread and it was worth whatever work it might take to try and articulate that thread.

An Uneasiness

Dystonia Duos starts with hiss. The sound fills the space immediately even while the volume is low. There is a presence, is the point, from the outset. You might be expecting things from this duo, percussion and electronics would make sense, and in a way you get exactly that. But to my ears the real triumph is that there are no clear boundaries. Listen closely. At some points you can hear hands and skin and the pressure of percussion as clear as day and at times you hear the rumble and scree of a computer destroying itself, but mostly what you hear is MASS, uneasy mass, where all parts are subsumed in the whole.
There is a shape to these tracks. Joe used the word contour. A shift and a sway throughout in volume and temperament, a development that is there but not. The details of the recording are blurred but interesting. The three tracks combine live recordings made separately, recordings from playing together in Brazil, and a constant back and forth, each tackling the material, discussing, tearing it apart and then rebuilding. There was no composition or score, but a set of overlapping interests and concerns, and discussion, lots of discussion, which was as vital as any particular recording or process.
What you hear is a beautiful struggle.
What you hear is a beautiful struggle. Something new created from the uneasy balance between a methodical approach (think of the obsessive detail needed to create each minute layer of mass in ricefall (2)) and something more intuitive and less concerned with form before the fact. I keep going back to the word contours. The shape of these three tracks is hard to pin down, but it’s clear there is a shape. Like the poetry I like most there is a shiftiness to these tracks. You might feel like you’re going to pin down some sort of structure or even some sort of division of labor but what you get is a blurred image, even after repeated listens. The division of labor here is more subtle and interesting than who made what noise.
I think a lot of people know Greg as a percussionist, catalyst and collaborator with composer Michael Pisaro. And listening back to Michael’s work with Greg I hear a lot of similarities to the three tracks on Dystonia Duos. Not sonically, but conceptually. The sense of a carefully laid out structure of sorts, a contour that you want to trace, but you will inevitably fail at delineating. The structure is there but not. You want to grasp the bones of this music, but as soon as you reach for it the whole thing shifts.
And bones seems the most accurate way to talk about this, because there is a life, a physicality to Dystonia Duos, and that, paradoxically maybe, is what I most associate with Joe. The sounds Joe Panzner is known for are wild. Clearing, Polluted (the now out of print second full length cd by Joe Panzner released on Copy For Your Records, run by Richard Kamerman of Sinter. At some point we may need some sort of map for the connections.) is a monster, the sound of implosion and destruction but always edged with a fierce sort of beauty. There is a life to Joe’s music, a sense of internal struggle.
And Dystonia Duos is clearly the product of these two men. “dissection puzzle” is king, a triumph. Raucous and wild on the surface, yet still controlled. That said, my favorite moments are actually some of the first. The leading track, “organ b/w timpani solo“ starts with fractured recordings of percussion swinging wildly from channel to channel, the digital appearing and receding, the two feeding off each other, transforming into something new over the course of the track. The track, and thus the record starts off tense and slow, but there is constant transformation. It sets the stage perfectly for what will follow, the edges bleeding into each other until you are left with something new.

Woven & Obscure

Which leads us to Sinter, the middle child of three. A duo of Anne Guthrie and Richard Kamerman.
Even more so than with Dystonia Duos, everything about Sinter feels just out of grasp, just out of reach. Throughout the five tracks there are few constants, and what may seem like a constant inevitably disappears and reappears in some altered form. Background and foreground are unfixed throughout, blurred and reversed at various times. Field recordings bleed into room tone and it’s never quite clear which is which, or where they’ve come from. Is the door to the recording space open or are these all from elsewhere? And more importantly, does it matter? There are percussive elements occasionally, an insistent pounding at one point, a constant chittering of what I assume to be broken machines, but even after repeated listens I’m never quite clear if I should trust my ears. It’s an oddly restless music in a way, even when the sounds are mostly placid.
And the humanity is always obscured, rarely are the voices unaffected, or allowed to take center stage.
And throughout, there are these moments of humanity that rear their head. At times voices speaking, announcements from a pa system, snippets of humming, a series of numbers read aloud, and each time they feel like intrusions, welcome ones, but at odds in a way with the rest of the sounds. And the humanity is always obscured, rarely are the voices unaffected, or allowed to take center stage. These are my favorite moments throughout. Every time they surprise me, even when I know they’re coming. In this shifting field of sound, the voices have more power, feeling somehow more concrete, even though they are rarely straightforward.
In reality Sinter is an endless series of moments like those voices. Focusing on the differences is to discount the whole, and focusing on the whole is perhaps to discount the differences. Because these are five different pieces, made in different ways, in different places, but they are also so alike in texture and feel. I kept coming back to this image of watching the shuttle move back and forth in a loom, the thread weaving in and out, discrete horizontal planes tied together tightly, separate but a unity.
And like some of Taku Unami’s recent work, there’s an inclination to talk about this record as a puzzle, but that doesn’t feel quite right. Records are not puzzles, even when puzzling. Because records can’t be solved. I talked with Richard for an hour or so in the process of writing this, and learned the details of each piece, at least in part. Listening to Sinter after the fact I was struck by how unaffected my reaction was even with this knowledge.
My favorite example is that image under the cd tray. What looks like an impossibly complicated series of rooms and hallways were turned into acoustic models by Anne Guthrie. For the second track, Porcellino, Richard made recordings with four microphones, a contact microphone (think of a clip on guitar tuner style mic), a PZM and two small omindirectional microphones. Walking, sitting, humming, etc. Anne then ran the four channels through the acoustic models, two channels modeling the interior of those spaces, the other two modeled as though they were filtering in through the windows. And on the one hand, this in part explains the shifting of fore and backgrounds in Porcellino,  but that explanation doesn’t really help us make sense of the piece. There’s a gap between the knowledge of the creation and what is created.
I was reminded of a strain of philosophy in vogue in some circles, object-oriented philosophy, where the talk is of objects, and relations between objects, which includes humans, animals, plants, rocks, ideas, every thing that exists. Graham Harman talks about the impossibility of complete knowledge of an object. That to know something is to know it proximally and in part, there is an ever present, impossible to bridge gap between the thing itself and what we can know of it. It’s not an exact match, but there’s something important in that sense of a gap. Sinter is a record of gaps. Knowing the details is interesting, and helps fill in the picture in a sense, but it doesn’t help you understand the record because in part I’m not sure there’s something to understand in any obvious sense.
Of the three Sinter is the most confounding. Five tracks, each beguiling in its own way, and each a necessary part of a whole that you will never fully know. But it’s also the most beautiful of the three, and the most human in a very specific way, as it’s the most prone to deception.

Fluid Dynamics

And then Touching, the last of the three, by Graham Stephenson and Aaron Zarzutzki. It’s a very different record, in nearly every way you can think of. Where Sinter and Dystonia Duos are the outcome of complicated back and forths over time and distance and multiple locations, Touching is a record of two people in one place. There is a simplicity to the approach that seems brave these days, and a simplicity to the approach that is somehow confounded and exploded because the end result doesn’t feel simple.
The danger of electricity, the wildness and unpredictability of a musician wrestling with his instrument. A music of risk and reward.
It’s a more open record than the other two, with the feel of the space present throughout; and while it starts loud, and by no means shies away from volume, it is also, throughout, shockingly delicate. Tiny sounds, intimately recorded, the result of mouth and hands, breath and bodily movement on a scale that requires magnification, amplification. But it’s an odd sort of delicate, this. Because there is a sense that at any moment it could all explode, that there is no promise that you can know what to expect, no indication of what’s coming. This is a music of risk, and a music that is both rough and fluid. The sounds are raw. The danger of electricity, the wildness and unpredictability of a musician wrestling with his instrument. A music of risk and reward.
It’s much easier to pull apart the component pieces of the whole with Touching compared to the others, yet being able to point out, in general, who is making what sound didn’t make my job here any easier. The clarity of the recording makes it no easier to define the arc of these five tracks, and it makes it no easier to understand, that word again, what is going on.
The more I listened the more I thought about Robert Ryman. Ryman’s work often plays with the framing of a work of art. Pieces attached directly to the wall via tape or screws, or the paint applied directly to a wall. There is a beautiful mix of precision and messiness inherent to his stuff that feels of a piece with Touching.
And throughout Touching the literal and figurative frame is gone. Unbounded. Where Sinter was all obfuscation and obscuring of source and sound, Stephenson and Zarzutzki hide nothing. There are these pieces left on the ends, the endings fading into beginnings, laughs and coughs and sighs throughout. That fluidity again, five tracks individual yet of a piece, with the tape rolling throughout, glimpses outside the frame we expect in this music.
Where I hear Sinter and Dystonia Duos as being in part about this blurring of performer and process into a unified whole, with Touching there’s a blurring of the line between process and result. You can hear the work that goes into the piece as the piece is happening. Touching is the sound of itself, an incredibly honest whole.


American Experimental Underground, then. What of it?
Like I said at the outset, there’s words to be written about the concept of AEU and about the label, but the more I listened to these records the more I wanted to understand why they made sense together, this trio. And more than that, wanted to articulate what those connections may be. It turns out it’s not an easy thing to articulate negations, rejections. So I turned to the musicians, asking about the recording, their approaches, why they play this music, etc. Responses ranged, obviously, but there was this underlying unity, even in the differences.
About Touching, Graham said, “As far as playing with Aaron or anyone else, it is a concern of balancing volume, texture, tone, pitch, and variability of sound — and not necessarily a 50/50 balance, but being aware of what the overall balance and dynamic develop into, allowing interactions, usually unintentional, to play out and possibly lead into something else.”
None of us are moment to moment people, really.
I was struck by the attention to the whole in that quote. There is a tendency to talk about improvisation as a series of reactions, of discrete moments requiring each player to act in response to the other. But notice that Graham is really talking about the development of the piece as a whole. Richard Kamerman said “…none of us are moment to moment people, really” and that seems right. And more importantly gets at the core of what I see as important to this music. There’s an inward focus in a way, a focus on yourself, the player, and your role in the process, yes, but your role in creating this new thing, and if there are reactions, and of course there will at times be reactions, the reactions are on a larger scale than the typical call and response.
And that shift from call and response, that moment to moment reaction was echoed in this quote from Claire Colebrook Greg Stuart sent. “The process is truly one of becoming. Vision was the outcome of a series of changes and responses that were possible only because life bears a virtual creativity that allows it to respond to life not mechanically but as a problem. This means that the outcome of these creative responses will also create new problems.” And almost immediately after, Joe wrote about the title, Dystonia Duos. From the art and the title it’d be easy to assume that it is a record about something, about focal dystonia, say. But another common thread in the answers was that these are not records about anything. Looking for meaning will inevitably lead you astray. That said, focal dystonia did play a role for both Greg and Joe, both in this record and in terms of their overall approach. “… dystonia went from being a problem in the sense of something that is impeding my will to being a problem in that Deleuzian sense that Claire Colebrook is describing: a tension or constraint that allows for a *creative,* non-reactive response.”
Whether or not any of the other musicians have read Deleuze, this way of thinking through creation, problems, constraints, etc. kept coming up. It’d be easy to read this as a simple shift in perspective, but it’s stronger than that, and more importantly it’s deeper than that. In the case of Joe and Greg, this very real physical reality led them to approach music in entirely new ways and in their case led them to explore ways of creating music that didn’t rely on virtuosity. But notice what I’m not saying. This is not the story of overcoming anything, of conquering an impedance to continue on the trajectory they started on. It’s a story of seeing a problem, a tension or constraint as something productive, as something to work with, not as an obstacle. Problem begets problem begets problem, and all of them allow for something new. And the appropriate response is creation, a creative response, as Joe  put it, not merely a reaction.
It’s that distinction, between a moment to moment reaction and the creation of a whole, that ties them together. Graham used different language, as did Richard, and Joe and Greg, but the sentiment seems the same. The process of makingDystonia DuosSinter and Touching was at least in part about seeing those ‘problems’ in that Deleuzian sense, and to then embrace them, and work with them. Whether that means you let them play out, or disrupt, you don’t just react. So more than a specific approach or technique, what’s shared is this sense of exploration and experimentation, two things I’d argue aren’t as common as one might want in this world of music. Because while I think that creative response vs reaction is key, even more importantly, there’s a fierce willingness to bend the rules and to at times just ignore them entirely. A cliche, sure, but an apt way of thinking of this music. The commonality in the AEU’s work is a willingness to explore and to allow for and at times even cultivate those ‘problems’ because there is a deep understanding that to truly create you need them. If this music is about anything, it’s about reveling in the potential. ■

Joe Panzner/Greg Stuart – Dystonia Duos2013ErstAEU
Anne Guthrie/Richard Kamerman – Sinter2013ErstAEU
Graham Stephenson/Aaron Zarzutzki – Touching2013ErstAEU

About the Author

BW Diederich lives and worries in Oakland, CA. He occasionally writes about this sort of music here and drinks a lot of Manhattans.

Silence, Environment, Performer

Beuger, Frey, Malfatti, Werder, Pisaro
Yuko Zama
Issue 1
March 2013

Wandelweiser music tends to be lumped together into one big, uniform movement: music with sparse sounds and a large component of silence, featuring extremely quiet performances with the performers’ personalities restrained as much as possible to best assimilate into the environment.
In fact, all of the Wandelweiser composers do share common interests, like recognizing silences and environmental sounds as elements within a sound world alongside the performers’ sounds. However, when focusing on many of the individual composer’s works carefully, you will notice that their ways of approaching the music and their orientations as a composer are often very different.
In this essay, I would like to focus on these points – how each composer is trying to approach the three key elements of ‘silence’, ‘environment (or environmental sounds)’ and ‘performer/s’, and how they seem to attempt to relate these elements to each other in their compositions, by discussing some of the work of five well-known Wandelweiser composers: Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey, Radu Malfatti, Manfred Werder and Michael Pisaro.
This is not a comprehensive study of each composer’s works, so I will only mention some which seem to me to be related with the theme of this essay. As for the history and the general background of the Wandelweiser movement, I recommend you to read the following extensive piece Wandelweiser at the ErstWords website, written by Michael Pisaro.

Antoine Beuger

Dissolve the borders between the outer world and the inner world with the equality of sound, silence, performer, environment and listener

In order to understand and appreciate Antoine Beuger’s compositions, I strongly recommend you to experience live concerts if possible. One memorable one for me was in 2010, when Ben Owen and Barry Chabala played Beuger’s un lieu pour être deux, and Dominic Lash played calme étendue in a small room of a church in the East Village of Manhattan. I would like to quote a part of my review I wrote afterwards, since it seems to connect with how Beuger’s compositions in general make me feel.
“At most concerts, the musicians and their performed sounds command most of the audience’s attention, but here it felt more like the performers and the environment were existing equally, sharing the same space and time, creating harmonious music as a collective entity of chance events. There was also less of a sense of boundary between the performers and the audience, as if the stillness of the audience were a part of the music, too, and the distance normally existing between the active performers and the passive audience in most live concerts felt much smaller.
The silence of the performer and his instrument seemed to be the core of the space in this piece. They were like a center which united all the environmental sounds heard in the room with transparent threads to the invisible music, so the rustle of trees, cars passing by, chirps of birds, and stomping noises of people upstairs started to feel like parts of the music which was developing silently. Despite there being no actual performed sounds at this point, there was a tight sense of unity over the whole situation – the performer and the instrument which remained still, the environmental sounds randomly coming from outside, the silent audience listening to the whole situation carefully – with all of them sharing the same time and space.
Dominic Lash’s silence did not cause a cooped-up feeling to reject the environmental sounds at all. Instead, it had an openness to accept all the other noises heard in the room, like breathing the air. The naturalness of his silence made me feel that the performer and the audience equally exist here, just like the wind and trees, rivers and oceans equally exist on earth.” (August 12, 2010)
Antoine Beuger’s compositions seem to welcome any possibility. It is not just music that is created by the sounds of the instruments performed from the score, but also music that accepts all the accidental sounds (and noises) happening in a situation equally. If it is performed in an extremely silent room where the environmental noises are hardly heard, or if it is performed in a room where various environmental noises are jumping in, or if the volumes and the natures of outside noises are different, the same composition may give the audience completely different impressions. By accepting these various elements of eventuality, Beuger seems to show that one single composition could contain infinite possibilities in the ways of experiencing the music.
The equality seems to be the key to Beuger’s music – where all the elements including the performers’ sounds, the silences, the environmental sounds, and the audience are all considered as parts of the music. The silence is as important as the sound, the environmental sounds are as important as the performers’ sounds, and the audience is as important as the performer. These elements, normally recognized as opposite subjects facing or confronting with each other (i.e. sound vs. silence, performer vs. audience) in conventional music, seem to become parallel in Beuger’s pieces to move closely together along the time. This unique signature of Beuger’s pieces can be seen in the following two CDs.

Antoine Beuger’s 2010 release keine fernen mehr is a double CD that consists solely of the sounds of whistling. In this piece, Beuger himself whistles in an extremely quiet manner to give the sounds a very fragile, fleeting, flaky texture. Between the individual whistles, there are almost inaudible faint sounds of Beuger’s breath and the room noises at a quiet white noise level. Rather than sounding like a particular pitched sound, Beuger’s whistle contains several different nuances of tones at the same time. The ambiguity of the tone of his whistles makes me feel as if I were listening to the sounds of the wind rather than human sounds. The translucency of Beuger’s whistling, that give the impression of blowing through the gray area between sound and silence, overlap with the white noise of the environmental sounds (both on the CD and in my room) and dissolve the border between the performed sounds and the environmental sounds – as well as the border between sound and silence. And at the same time, the personal nature of the whistling sounds appeals to the listener’s sense directly as if he/she was hearing the sound of his/her own mind, leading him/her to descend down to a deep, calm contemplation, and dissolves the border between the outer world (performed sounds and environmental sounds) and the listener’s inner world (contemplation).

This borderless sense (or equal sense) of the outer world and the inner world is also experienced in Beuger’s 1997 composition calme étendue (spinoza). In this piece, the performer is instructed to read the text of Spinoza’s Ethics very attentively and carefully in a very relaxed tempo (one word in every eight seconds), with a very quiet voice. The performer should not try and suggest a specific meaning to the individual words or groups of words, through emphasis or intonation. Spoken sections alternate with sections of silence. In these silent sections, the performer is instructed to sit quietly, doing nothing, with calm concentration. On the CD released from Edition Wandelweiser in 2001, Beuger himself read the text from Ethics.
With this monotonic manner of reading in between complete silences, Spinoza’s words start to be heard in a very interesting way. The genuine phonetic individuality that is inherent within each word (color, brightness, texture, darkness, softness, solidness, thickness, etc.) starts to emerge without being attached to its meaning. Each word contains a slightly different tone from others, creating a slightly different shape of ripple in the silence after, which makes each silence feel differently nuanced. Just like each person has a different individuality, each word contains a different inner world. In this piece, under these extreme sparse circumstances where each word is presented in its simplest form, the world inherent in each word feels as if it has been enlarged and projected into the following silence. Here, the sounds and the silences have an equal impact over the listener. The immanence of each word projected in the silence after, which contains a slightly different tone and impression, echoes the listener’s inner world to combine to truly compose the music. This makes the whole listening experience of this piece feel intensely personal despite the sparseness and the monotone of the sounds, letting the listener experience something similar to a deep contemplation specific to themselves.
Antoine Beuger composes his music with visible tones and invisible tones, opening a path to connect the outer world (performed sounds and the silences) with the listener’s inner world to make a more unified form of music.

Jürg Frey

Composer of micro symphony born in the gray area between sound and silence, impressionism and minimalism

Jürg Frey’s compositional approach keeps him at the keen edge of contemporary music while simultaneously maintaining a faint touch of impressionistic aesthetics. These two characteristics usually appear in his pieces, sometimes combined together, sometimes one more dominant. One noteworthy example of his impressionistic aesthetic side is in his 2002 release Klaviermusik (1978-2001), performed by John McAlpine on piano, with soft lyrical touches emphasizing the classical beauty of Frey’s piano pieces. The disc is arranged chronologically, and the pieces composed after 1995 seem to contain much less of this faint impressionism, moving more towards a minimalistic direction.

The year 1995 seems to be a turning point in Jürg Frey’s work. In Frey’s pieces from 1995 on, the emphasis seems to be more on the spaces (or silences) between sounds, or the faint transitions from sound to silence, or the moments when sound and silence overlap. In his 1995/96 piece ohne titel (two violinen) on the CD Nono / Frey, a clear-cut blankness emerges in the moment of two violin sounds vanishing, with no trail of impressionistic color. When the resonance of the note of an instrument decays and disappears into a silence, the presence of that silence is boosted with a quiet tension. This momentary blankness makes the listener feel as if he/she were gazing into mystic depths from a cliff, and causes the listener a surreal feel, like faint dizziness, in time and space. This signature way of Frey’s between sounds and silences makes his music distinctively different from conventional classical music, and is clearly and straightforwardly portrayed in the 2012 release Piano Music performed by R. Andrew Lee.

On Piano Music, Lee approaches Frey’s pieces with his minimalist aesthetics, in a very different way from McAlpine’s, to bring out Frey’s contemporary edge. In the first piece Klavierstück 2, Lee sends his piano sounds into the air as if he was artistically placing stones in a Zen garden, emphasizing the existence of the space and the time between sounds. Lee’s minimalist approach seems to crystallize the beauty of Frey’s compositions, bringing out the purity of the sound and the essence of the original composition via his clear consciousness. The most breathtaking moment starts in the middle part, when a simple same chord of two notes (E and A) is repeated for 468 times at a moderate tempo. The resonance of each stroke seems direct, as if refusing to involve a specific meaning or emotion, or refusing to be associated with anything more than the original nature of the sound itself. The constant repetition of the same chord does not feel mechanical or cold or flat at all – instead it creates a natural feel of breathing in a gentle flow of time.
What attracts my ears when listening to this CD is the way each chord sounds – each chord maintains the individuality of each sound while still standing parallel to each other (evoking in me several white rays of light of different intensity), not as if multiple sounds are melding into one. The unique characteristics of Frey’s compositions are sharply portrayed here in the transitions between sounds, the relations between sounds, and the pauses between sounds. Lee’s performance seems to accentuate these characteristics in a natural organic flow, creating a surreal feel as if time and space were wavering or stretching.
The second composition Les tréfonds inexplorés des signes pour piano (24-35) is divided into 12 pieces. Here, the thickness of the silences when piano sounds decay and disappear captures the listener’s ear. After piece no. 29, the music begins to possess a serene beauty following the restrained monochrome tones of the first half, as if some white rays of faint light were gradually shining into a room. This last section toward the end is another memorable part, evoking in me an image of ascending into the sky slowly and quietly, towards a positive harmony – where Frey’s impressionistic lyricism and Lee’s minimalism are beautifully married. McAlpine’s CD seems to emphasize the faint colors of Frey’s piano pieces, while Lee’s performance seems to emphasize the whiteness of Frey’s piano pieces. These two CDs, released ten years apart, seem to extract the two different aesthetics underlying Frey’s compositions – faint impressionism and minimalism – from completely different angles. These two approaches combine to show us the profoundness of Frey’s world and the broad possibilities within his compositions.

Frey’s focus on the overlap between sound and silence has been even more drastic in some of his recent works. One of the first signs of this direction occurs in his Streichquartett II (1998-2000), the last track on the 2006 release CD String Quartets, as performed by Quatuor Bozzini. In this piece, the string quartet plays simple phrases of continuous tones very quietly in between short silences, creating an ominous yet calm atmosphere which simultaneously contains both a serenity and a subtle fierceness. The enigmatic nature of this piece seems to be attuned to both areas of sound and silence, via its translucency of vibrations. This approach from Frey develops further with the epic and microscopic world of his 2001/02 compositions Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8, a series of eight pieces released as an 8 CDR set in 2010.

Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8 is electronic music composed of extended looped sound materials, including field recordings as well as instruments like percussion, rubbed noises of stones and metal objects. The whole piece is imbued with a solemn atmosphere throughout, developing with extremely subtle changes during the 320 minutes. While listening to this very quiet music which makes slow progress over a great span of time, I notice that the way I hear it gradually changes. On CD 1, the very quiet extended sounds move slowly like the wind blowing through a pipe, while containing a tranquil, slightly ominous tone. While focusing on listening to these wind-like sounds of the first section, the border of performed sounds and environmental sounds becomes vague. This is the moment when one begins to feel as if the sounds on the CD and the noises of the air conditioning in your room were co-performing. The subtle shadings and delicate wavers of sounds make the boundaries between sounds and silences dissolve into each other, creating a mystic feeling of floating in the music.
Once I am attuned to these quiet sounds, I notice the various small changes happening in the piece, like viewing some imperceptible phenomena under a microscope. On the second CD, the ambiguous gray layers of the formless sounds disappear, and l start to hear some faint harmonies of electronic tones that have similar textures to string instruments – now the piece starts to be heard as music with a hint of melody. The faint harmonies shift toward the dark cloud-like low-key tones, and the music is again filled with an ominous atmosphere. While following the slow and gradual changes of the music, my mind recedes from its reality and becomes deeply drawn into the microscopic phenomena in the music, stretching my sense of time in a way that feels surreal. After about 90 minutes consisting of extremely quiet continuous sounds, some stretched out long silences are inserted between sparse sounds, like the silences of tranquil ponds dotted in a deep forest (this is on the third disc). Around the middle part (on the fourth disc), I start to feel that I am hearing some subtle chords or harmonies born from the resonances in the middle of the muffled sounds – the ambiguity of the whole makes it difficult to recognize if these come from field recordings, or the sounds of instruments, or the environmental noises around me. On the seventh disc, the quiet continuous sounds gain some regular pulses that throb calmly but vigorously like a human heart, as if I am watching some formless living organism emerging from a chaotic mud (but nothing fearful, something peaceful).
What makes this piece so fascinating to me is how it differs from the normal passive listening situation, where I just follow the musical development. Throughout the piece, my way of listening to the music actively changes as I hear this seemingly motionless wave of continuous sounds. The initial vague, translucent impression of the music suddenly becomes enlarged and clarified once the listener starts to focus on the details, and the music starts to unfold its beautiful world full of various subtle changes – a micro-symphony born in the gray area between sound and silence.

Radu Malfatti

The vivid contrast between sound and silence brings out the purest form of sound, affecting the gravity in music


In Radu Malfatti’s compositions, the contrast between sound and silence is sharp. In many of his works, continuous monotonic sounds are repeatedly played, separated by various lengths of silence. The performed sounds are often very simple and blank, without any attachment of emotion or expression. In his 2007 release Hoffinger Nonett and his 2008 release Claude Lorrain 1, Malfatti’s electronic sounds alternate with silences in simple repetitions, sometimes in turn, sometimes overlapping. In these pieces, the contrast between sounds and silences portrays the different texture of each clearly – the vibration, massiveness and thickness of sounds, and the stillness, emptiness and nothingness of silences, are both accentuated.
This tension between sound and silence, evoking the contrast between light and shadow of monochrome photographs, is Malfatti’s signature. The clear-cut blankness between sound and silence, recognized in some of Jürg Frey’s works like ohne titel (two violinen), is even more highlighted and focused in Malfatti’s works. While Antoine Beuger and Jürg Frey try to blur the border between sound and silence, Malfatti tries to make the borders stand out. In Malfatti’s compositions, the various textures of sounds and silences are the major element, unlike the conventional way of composing music with musical sounds. His music often reminds me of a minimal art work – like a plain stone-shaped object placed in the middle of an empty gallery room – which has a quiet yet tremendous power to affect the whole space with its substantial presence, as if it was able to change the force of gravity in the room.

When I was listening to Malfatti’s piece nariyamu (performed by Malfatti and Keith Rowe) in a studio recording session in Vienna in 2010, a short and subtle click sound, which Malfatti made by lightly tapping his trombone with his finger tip after a long period of silence, sounded as if it was the very first sound I heard after I was born. The freshness and the vividness of this click left me with an unforgettable impact, which changed my preconceived ideas regarding sounds completely, enabling me to further open my ears to listen to sound in its purest form.
During the recording sessions in Vienna, Radu Malfatti said something very interesting: In general, people tend to acquire various small habits and tendencies in their daily lives, and in many cases, they do not realize that they are repeating the same behaviors every day. For example, there is a certain order of events when a person brushes their teeth, like which part of the teeth they begin with. Malfatti said, once he realizes that he has some habits or tendencies in his daily life like that, he intentionally tries to change the order from what he used to do normally. In this way, he tries to ‘reset’ his habits and tendencies that were piled up every day without being consciously aware. This idea has a parallel in improvisation. Improvisers choose what to play from an unlimited range of options and possibilities. But over the course of many performances, it is easy to subconsciously acquire some certain habits and tendencies. This can result from a musician’s mindset to try to create the most comfortable situation where he/she can best express his/her ‘voice’ or originality.

The pureness of sounds can be easily clouded by a musician’s individuality, which can overshadow the music with a strong statement or emotion or tendency. When this happens, the world of music is narrowed and limited to the musician’s own small sphere, which can fade as time goes by due to its narrowness. What Malfatti seems to want to achieve is to clear this cloud away. By attempting to minimize the performers’ expressions or tendencies, his goal is to create the clearest air or the environment for the sounds to be born in the purest form. This approach can be seen in his 2012 releasedarenootodesuka. The CD title darenootodesuka means ‘whose sound is it?’ In fact, the borders between all the performers’ sounds in this piece are very ambiguous. The listener is suggested to play the CD ‘very quietly’ according to the liner notes. Here, the six performers – Antoine Beuger (flute), Jürg Frey (clarinet), Marcus Kaiser (cello), Michael Pisaro (guitar), Burkhard Schlothauer (violin) and Malfatti (trombone), play sounds very quietly and very slowly, as if they were trying to dissolve their individualities into the environment. Their sounds are all unified in a simple, similar tone color – like pale gray, evoking in me a calm wind blowing through an uninhabited landscape. This simplicity, where no performer’s strong individualities are demonstrated, imparts a serene beauty to this piece.
Malfatti’s musical background is quite different from the other Wandelweiser composers who have classical music backgrounds and have been strongly influenced by John Cage. Malfatti’s initial interest was playing jazz. Then his interest shifted to free improvisation and he played in the European free improvisation scene until the early 90’s. Malfatti said in hisinterview for ErstWords that he had a strong rejection against the idiomatic tendency of improvised music at some point (in 1989 precisely), and started to compose his music to liberate himself from mannerisms. Since then, Malfatti seems to have been pursuing the purity of sound that was often lost in the excessive display of the performers’ individualities in improvised music, presenting the simplest aspect of sound on a white canvas of silence via his compositions.
Malfatti’s focus has mostly been on his composed work for the past two decades, but he still occasionally improvises with a handful of his closest collaborators. As an improviser, Malfatti has an extraordinary keen sensitivity for reading a situation, hearing silences and the environment sharply as well as sounds. A great example of this sensitivity occurred in his duo improvisation set with Taku Unami (ErstLive 012) at AMPLIFY 2011 in New York, incidentally on the same day as the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The set began in a contemplative silence. Unami lit a candle and stood it on the floor. His clicking sounds of a lighter in the silent room, a human gesture (not a machine noise), felt like an introduction to the intimate world of their duo performance. Unami barely made any sound after that, just casting some little moves of the nuanced shadows on the wall reflected from the light from the small candle. He was mostly hidden behind the cardboard box he built around the candle, so the only thing the audience could see was the shadows and lights reflected on the back wall. After a long silence (while I was fascinated with the subtle, nuanced moves of the shadows and lights Unami reflected on the wall), Malfatti made a very quiet, long, almost inaudible low-key trombone sound. It was a breathtakingly beautiful, solemn moment. Malfatti himself was invisible in the darkened room, and since his trombone sounds were so subtle, the sounds felt as if they were appearing from the darkness, and disappearing into the silence.
Even though the set consisted of extremely sparse sounds, the interaction between Malfatti and Unami stayed incredibly close throughout. The silences and the shadows and the very occasional sounds of Unami’s performance were perfectly matched with Malfatti’s silences and sounds. Malfatti’s trombone reflected the delicate movement of Unami’s visual work with its tones (I could imagine Unami’s play with shadow works just from Malfatti’s trombone), while Unami’s shadow/light reflections on the wall respectfully reflected Malfatti’s playing. The sounds Unami made were the clicking noises of his lighter (occasionally in the middle of Malfatti’s trombone sounds), cutting a cardboard box, building it up around him.
What impressed me deeply about this set was the humbleness of these two musicians who were paying close attention to the sounds and the silences that were born in front of them in this moment. The calm yet intimate interaction between the two musicians gradually filled the room with a solemn, soothing atmosphere. While being humbly meditative, it also sounded like a minimal/abstract sound collage in which small fragments of 9/11 memories (sounds of fire sirens, sounds of footsteps and coughing, crying voice of a baby – all coming from a distance) happened around them by chance. On this night when many people in New York were sharing an intense memory, Malfatti and Unami seemed to spotlight the silence and the environmental sounds from the streets by keeping their performed sounds to the minimum, allowing the audience’s mind to resonate with the vibrations of the city at a deep level – as if they knew that sharing this calm, peaceful tranquility in this moment was what could help to heal the memory of 9/11 most.

Manfred Werder

Hearing the music in the moment of experiencing the natural and immediate relation to the world

Manfred Werder shows that music exists all around us in our natural environment, and leads the listener to experience this via performers’ realizations of his scores. The music Werder presents has the least involvement of the performer’s individuality of any of the Wandelweiser composers, allowing the natural state of a place to remain as intact as possible. Werder wrote to me, “The music I love most occurs when it happens that, in a moment of confidence I sit somewhere indoors or outdoors and don’t do anything at all. The world and its music unfolds differently in such a moment, and all worries for purposeful content seem so vain, actually destroy this natural and immediate relation to the world.”

In Werder’s scores, both the immensity and the minimal nature of his concepts can be overwhelming. The immensity is illustrated in his compositions ein(e) ausführende(r) seiten 1-4000 and stück 1998, two epic projects Werder started in the late 90’s. In ein(e) ausführende(r) seiten 1-4000, the performer is instructed to play one action in each time unit of 12 seconds, over several pages from what will eventually be a 4000 page score. The whole piece will in the end result in having 160,000 actions in total, over a duration of 533 hours and 20 minutes. This activity is taken up by different performers at different times in different places – each one picking up where the previous one left off. In contrast, the minimal character of his more recent work can be seen in his composition 2005¹ and other similar subsequent projects, in which only one or a few sentences or words are noted in the score, with the duration and the number of performers indeterminate.
When looking at Werder’s scores, we may try to imagine the possibilities of the music that could be born from a score of 4000 pages performed in 533 hours and 20 minutes, or the music that could be born from a score with only a few words. When we are wondering about these possibilities, we are already peering into the depth of Werder’s infinite world, standing at the entrance of it. Here, I would like to explore his world by discussing two CDs: ein(e) ausführende(r) seiten 218 – 226 and 2005¹.

ein(e) ausführende(r) seiten 218 – 226 was released by Edition Wandelweiser in 2006, with a realization by Antoine Beuger. The 72 minute recording, which is a small part of Werder’s 533 hours and 20 minutes epic piece ein(e) ausführende(r) seiten 1-4000, consists of very quiet single electronic sounds, one at a time, punctuated by short silences. In this piece, the performer is instructed to play one action consisting of six seconds of sound, followed by six seconds of silence. The sound is instructed to be ‘to itself, clear and objective, simple’.
Antoine Beuger’s minimal electronic sound, evoking in me a chirp of a small cricket on a quiet autumn night, contains an absolute purity that seems to reject any kind of excessive noise and discord or human attachment, seemingly purifying the air to create a peaceful, harmonious world. While sustaining this absolute purity, Beuger’s sound never contains obstinacy or insistence, and instead, it contains a humility and flexibility that perfectly integrates with nature. Everything in this room – a low, almost inaudible continuous noise from my CD player, various sounds jumping outside of the window, silences between sounds, and the movement of my mind – are gradually drawn toward the humble gravity of Beuger’s quiet electronic sound that exists in the room as a core.
Even when the sound is alternated with silence, there is no feel of suspension. In the silences of this piece, the music is still moving forward. The various textures of the silences gradually unfold, with each of Beuger’s sounds acting as an agent, extracting something out of the subsequent silence – something hidden but normally not perceived. The substantial textures of these silences seem to be as important elements to this composition as the sounds. With Beuger’s electronic sound as the axis, the discretely scattered environmental sounds are now all connected as one to equally become essential parts of the world of Werder’s music. The tranquil, profound and introspective world of the piece seems to indicate some sort of enlightenment that all the phenomena in this universe are connected in some way, directing the listener’s mind toward the infinite external world. After listening to this 72 minutes, the listener may think of the hypothetical music that might make up the rest of the 533 hours and 20 minutes, experiencing the tremendous immensity of Werder’s world.
In this piece, the performer restrains his individuality as much as possible, assimilating his sounds into the naturalness of the environment as best he/she can. The minimal involvement of the performer becomes even more extreme in Werder’s later work 2005¹, in which the performer ideally becomes completely transparent.

2005¹ was realized by Swiss-based composer/performer Jason Kahn and was released from Winds Measure Recordings in 2012. This set of eight CDRs contains 31 tracks, each an 18 minute unedited recording of the ambient sounds of the Zürich central railway station, recorded by Kahn. The recordings were made every morning at 10 AM for a month from March 1-31, 2010. The score of the piece has only three lines of words: place, time, (sounds). In fact, this piece was composed by the minimal conditions of place, time and sounds.
Every place has its own unique vibration. It may not be recognized easily by our ears or other senses, but it is always there regardless of the flow of time, sending out the particular vibration to the air like a human heart. If you are standing or sitting in a place for long hours, you may be able to sense the rhythm of the vibration of the place, as if you found a slight hint of distant sounds from an underground water vein. If you do so, you are now connected to the core of the place.
In the train station where this recording was made, time passes by. And as it does, various phenomena happen there, appearing and disappearing while leaving some small traces behind. Voices and footsteps of various passengers approach and recede, trains arrive and leave, and as they do, the ambient sounds change slightly and gradually. The only thing that remains fully intact is the core (heart) of the place. When I was listening to the ambient sounds of the recordings on the 8 CDRs, I started to feel as if I myself became the Zürich central railway station – or as if I happened to get into the heart of the station. As I feel I became the core of the station, the passage of time and the sounds happening there began to feel more crisp and sharp.
Near the end of the second CDR, I found myself starting to listen to the ambient sounds of the railway station as a kind of music. This is music that was born from casual meetings of the sounds of various passengers and trains and all the phenomena occurring at the same place at the same time, transiently and incidentally creating a mixture of sounds with various pitches (heavy bass tone, bass tone, midrange tone, high-pitch tone, etc.) and various volumes, intertwining with the vibration of the core (heart) of the place. This co-performance of all the ambient sounds gains a vital energy as one entity with a certain rhythm. Each form of music from each morning of the 31 days may sound quite similar to the others, but each track is slightly different if you listen to it carefully.
What attracted me were the unexpectedness and the freshness of the development of the sounds and the subtle changes of the flow, completely free from any human guidance. This music was born from pure contingency, without any mediation from the performers. The performers of the music here were passengers’ footsteps and voices, distant machinery, noises of trains, and so on. Without them knowing, this fascinating music was made, morning after morning. Once I realized the presence of the music in the ambient sound here, I was confronted with the simple fact that the world is full of music with intact sounds.
Something else that struck me while listening to Kahn’s realization was the relation between sounds and silences. Between tracks (each of which lasts exactly 18 minutes) is a short silence cut in rather abruptly. Normally, the silence is considered to be a canvas and the sound is considered to be a subject painted on the canvas, if music is compared to painting. However, after my ears were immersed in the world of the ambient sounds on the recordings for many hours and became completely accustomed to it, this relation started to feel inverted. After listening to 3 or 4 discs, the ambient sounds of the Zürich central railway station started to feel somewhat transparent and naturally existing like the air around me, and the short silence after each track started to feel like an unexpected incident or a subject, like hearing a loud sound. The experience of the inversion of sound and silence was shocking – the ambient sounds of the station I heard initially as the ‘sound’ became the canvas, and the silence I heard initially as a pause between tracks became the subject that vibrated the air around me. In a way, Jason Kahn was performing the silences in this piece.
In field recordings, sometimes the performer’s mediation (or intention or control) gives sounds more meanings or colors than the original sounds innately possess. In this way, the presented sound often becomes the performer’s ‘voice’ or his/her tool of self-expression. However, if the recorded sound can remain free from human mediation as much as possible, it can keep its original nature close to intact and the natural musical flow of the environment can be preserved. In Manfred Werder’s 2005¹, the only part that reflects the performer (recorder)’s aesthetics or individuality is the framing: how to choose the place to record, when to record, how long the duration should be, and how to arrange the recordings on the CD, while keeping Werder’s score (consisting of particular words or poetry) in his/her mind. Meanwhile, in terms of the content or the development of the field recordings, the recorder’s intention or manipulation is not involved at all. Here, the recorder’s role is just to prepare the frame under the influence of Werder’s words on the score, and the music happening in the frame is an ensemble of the casual sounds born from the world with pure contingency. In a way, the ‘place’ plays the music itself, independent from anyone’s intention, within the frame prepared by the recorder (performer).
This recording of Manfred Werder’s piece showed me that the ambient sounds of a daily event could be heard as music – music genuinely composed with incidental elements without the performer’s intention, by being cut out from the world and put in a frame. In Werder’s music, the composer himself is silent, via the lack of explicit instructions in the scores, which are like open fields where performers can realize the work with a free spirit without precise restrictions. When I imagine that this same score could be realized by various artists in various places in the world, as various different recordings of ambient sounds, which could be heard as various forms of music, and that this ultimate minimal score with only three lines of words has a possibility of inspiring an innumerable number of works of music, I am overwhelmed with the vastness of the tremendous scale of Werder’s world.

Michael Pisaro

Personalization of nature and environment via harmonious, intimate co-performance of performer and environment

Michael Pisaro hears music in our natural environment just as Manfred Werder does. But where Werder generally attempts to leave the environmental sound as intact as possible, Pisaro is actively involved with each environment, letting the performers participate in the development of the music unfolding in nature. If Werder’s approach is for the performer’s assimilation with the environment towards a stillness, Pisaro’s approach is vitalization of the environment towards motion via active involvement of the performers.
In many of Pisaro’s works, harmonic effects and co-performance between performers and environmental sounds (field recordings) are significant focuses. These seemed to first emerge in two of his 2007 releases Harmony Series 11-16 andTransparent City (Volumes 1-4).

Harmony Series 11 – 16 (2004-2006) is a realization of nine pieces from Pisaro’s entire series of 34, performed by seven musicians including Pisaro. The scores to the pieces on this CD contain poems from six poets (Paul Celan, Robert Lax, Gertrude Stein, Robert Creeley, Wallace Stevens and George Oppen), followed by Pisaro’s short instructions for the performers. The volume of each sound, described as a “very soft, very pure tone”, and the characteristic of each pause, defined as a “peaceful and thoughtful silence”, are integral factors here.
In this series, Pisaro focuses on the structure of harmony – particularly on how the resonances of harmonic overtones create ‘fluctuation’, a mysterious subtle wave which affects the overall music. When one sound is played with other sounds simultaneously, or when one sound disappears from a harmony, how does this appearance or disappearance affect the other sounds and the overall harmony? How does the timing of adding sounds and combining sounds with different natures (like instruments vs. electronic sounds) change the influence? This series seems to aim at experimenting and presenting these wonders of harmonic overtones from both mathematical and artistic perspectives through various combinations of instruments.
When listening to the music on this CD, you will also notice that a consistent tranquility penetrates through all of the music. There is a unique impression that all of the sounds and silences are closely connected with each other in a linear manner, with none of them breaking out or making gaps. This must be deeply related to Pisaro’s two crucial instructions regarding sounds and silences in the score – ‘all tones are very soft, very pure’ and ‘pauses are silences: peaceful and thoughtful’.
On this CD, very small events are happening in every nook and cranny of the music, and these subtle changes give magical effects to the music. This is in fact not magic at all – all the events are due to the mathematical structure of the music, but the way Pisaro incorporates them into his compositions is so subtle and natural, that the whole impression of his music becomes poetic and organic. Subtle fluctuations of sounds born from resonances of harmonic overtones give gentle waves to the music, like tiny stones thrown into tranquil water, echoing with the transparent, introspective stillness and the universal beauty of each poem included in the score.


Meanwhile, in his Transparent City (Volumes 1-4), the environmental sounds (field recordings) take on the central role, and the performer (Pisaro’s sine tones) becomes a part of the soundscape, bringing translucent chords and a harmony to the entire piece at nearly imperceptible levels. The key of this series is delicately woven sine tones that interact with the field recording sounds. This carefully balanced integration of environment and sine tones makes the entire series sound like harmonic music, like breathtakingly well-matched co-performances by extremely attentive musicians. Through the composer’s entire process – standing in different places at different times, recording the sounds happening then, and carefully composing each piece by later mixing these recordings with the perfect choice of sine tones, Pisaro created a large-scale ambient music with a sense of ‘every place is somewhat connected together’, using the invisible strings of the sine tones to connect all the places together. This sense of unity ties not just all the recording locations together, but also each listener’s environment to the music as well.

These two concepts of harmony and the performer’s close interaction with environment are explored in an innovative way in the 2007 composition ricefall (2). In this piece, percussionist Greg Stuart, Pisaro’s frequent collaborator, recorded 64 tracks using the sounds of steady streams of rice falling on the surfaces of various materials at various speeds. The 72-minute piece which results, is solely comprised of the sounds of rice hitting the surfaces of various materials. This rice fall sometimes sounds like sparse raindrops gently hitting the roof, sometimes a much more intense squall. It evokes in me a pure white light that keeps changing its brightness and softness over the course of time – sometimes as a dazzlingly powerful sunlight, sometimes as soft flickers of light.
What fascinates me about this piece is the way the resonances of the rice impacts start to form subtle, almost inaudible harmonies behind the falling sounds – just like a faint rainbow can take ghostly form on the surface of a waterfall. The faint harmonies arisen from the rice impacts leave their traces in the silences following. The changes in the density and the sparseness of the falling rice are thoughtfully arranged minute by minute, which gives the whole piece a perfect balance without falling into a chaotic mess. With a skillful execution by Stuart in controlling the dropping rice, Pisaro realized a bold attempt of creating a new form of music, performed by an orchestra of rice and many different surfaces of materials via a close collaboration between the performer and gravity – a human and a powerful natural phenomenon in our environment.

These approaches utilized by Pisaro in composing Transparent CityHarmony Series 11 – 16 and ricefall (2) were later dramatically combined in his 2009 composition July Mountain, released in 2010, in a more complex, elaborate and developed way. July Mountain consists of 20 mono field recordings (each 10 minutes long) that Pisaro made mainly in the mountain area near Los Angeles from 2006 to 2009, along with percussion sounds performed and recorded by Greg Stuart. These sounds are mixed with a cross-fading method into one 21-minute piece. Wallace Stevens’ poem July Mountain is the inspiration for this score. Ten kinds of percussion sounds, including friction noises made on a drum, bowed wood blocks, a bowed snare drum, bells, recorded sine tones projected onto resonant surfaces, a stream of rice or seeds falling on the surface of a bass drum and on a high-pitched bar (glockenspiel), etc., are used here. (From the score, there are 143 sounds with different tones or frequencies in 10 groups of percussion sounds.) The timing when each percussion sound is supposed to be played and stopped, the duration of each sound, and how often the sound is played, are all precisely notated in the score. The timing, the duration and the chords of the piano have also been set by Pisaro. Over the course of the piece, ten of the twenty field recordings are always overlapping, beginning and ending at different points.
In this piece, the quiet sounds of the percussion, initially hidden under the thick layers of the complex sounds of field recordings, gradually start to emerge on the surface of the music as time passes, affecting the way the field recordings are heard little by little. What happens here is beyond just a well-balanced co-performance between environmental sounds and performed sounds – it is more like the percussion sounds have awakened the life of nature and amplified the inherent voice in it, vitalizing it, which is actually affecting the listener’s way of hearing how the field recordings sound. The fluctuations born from a myriad of resonances of harmonic overtones of sounds start to rock the music like a swelling wave rocks a giant ship, and the soundscape of field recordings seems to take on vitality as if it were a living organism.
The perspective of the world of the Wallace Stevens poem – “We live in a constellation / Of patches and of pitches, / Not in a single world” is perfectly reflected in this music. The 21 minutes feel like a very long time to me – as if different senses of time of different places as well as the long history of humans and nature are all condensed into 21 minutes. The theme of perfectly matched co-performance between performers and the environment, which Pisaro explored earlier in hisTransparent City series, here has been raised to a higher, more dynamic level, achieving a magnificent symphony of percussion and the environment.

Pisaro develops this theme in his later works, with a deeper, more inner approach. In his 2011 release asleep, street, pipes, tones, two instruments (a bass clarinet and a guitar), sine tones, fragments of field recordings, samples, silences are all equally used as components of the piece. Here, the harmonic overtones and resonances arising from instrumental sounds, the slow cross-fade of plural field recordings (sounds of the wind blowing through a pipe, sounds of cars passing by on the street, etc.), samples, and the wavers of quiet sine tones seem to overlap with the subtle mind shifts of the listener, creating a contemplative, slightly melancholic psychological effect. The boundary between the environment (field recordings and silences) and the performed sounds (instruments, sine tones, samples) becomes vague here, sharing overlapping characteristics, and all the sounds meld to create one intense, intimate world of music that can resonate the listener’s inner world at a deep level.

This theme of vitalization of a soundscape – or personalization of nature and environment – is masterfully combined with Pisaro’s earlier theme of realization of a poetry world in music, in his 2013 release The Middle of Life (Die ganze Zeit), a 47’20” long composition inspired by Austrian contemporary poet Oswald Egger’s 2010 book Die ganze Zeit. The piece consists of Egger’s readings of the passages Pisaro selected from Die ganze Zeit, Julia Holter’s vocals, Pisaro’s piano and sine tones, Antoine Beuger’s flute, and seven speakers’ readings of one short sentence of a poem in their own languages. Pisaro also inserted two other field recordings he made on the banks of a river in Neufelden, Austria. Egger’s poetry readings of the passages were recorded in the fields outside of his residence in Hombroich, Germany.
In this piece, the additions of human voices seem to make the accordance between environmental sounds and performed sounds more intimate. The fleeting, mysterious tones of Holter’s voice evokes in me the ambiguous beauty of two translucent images overlapping with each other somewhere in between the human world and the natural world, reality and unreality, or sound and silence. In Egger’s poems, there are often scenes like that where one word evokes in the reader’s mind two different images at the same time. Holter’s voices echoes the faint lyricism and humane nature underlying Pisaro’s composition, while having an unpretentious, transparent air like the wind. These two essences are also found in Egger’s poems. This lyrical beauty of Holter’s vocal, evoking the subtle gradation between two colors, seems to connect Pisaro’s music and Egger’s poetry in an ethereal way. And the delicate, warm nature of Pisaro’s sine tones connects the world of Egger’s poem, the performers’ sounds and the environmental sounds of field recordings all together in an intimate manner. In this piece, music and poetry resonate with each other deeply – the music contains the poem, the poem contains the music.
Michael Pisaro seems to pursue an harmonious accordance – not only between performers, but also between all the elements involved in his music; performed sounds, field recordings, silences, and the listener’s inner world. In order to achieve this goal, Pisaro listens to the immanent voices of environment and silences carefully as well as the performer’s sounds, intertwining them as if they are co-performing in harmony. This approach of his gives a poetic, warm temperature to the way the performer and the environment relate with each other, changing the way the listener hears silences and environmental sounds. Pisaro expands the possibilities of the closer relationship between performers and environment by going a step further from Werder’s theme – assimilation of performers into environment – toward a deeper resonance between human, poetry and the music in the natural environment.

Wandelweiser – new dimensions of experiencing music

In a quiet room, even without playing music, sometimes I hear music or harmonies in the complex layers of environmental sounds with various tones and frequencies – the low, quiet continuous noises coming from the heating system, the almost inaudible sounds of water quietly running through the pipe over the ceiling, or the muffled sounds of an airplane coming from a far distance. It was a revolutionary change (or evolution) that happened to me after I started to listen to Wandelweiser music – a new way of hearing the world was activated.
For example, a few hours after I finished listening to Jürg Frey’s 320 minute long piece Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit, I heard a quiet, low muffled sound of a car passing by somewhere far in the middle of the quiet night. It was a similar tone to the low frequencies of the Jürg Frey piece. Meanwhile, the Frey piece I had been listening to for 320 minutes had subconsciously taken deep root in my memory, too. And in the moment when my memory of the music and the wavelength of the sounds of a car overlapped, the sounds of a car began to be heard as music in my brain.
In a normal situation of listening to music, a listener is required to listen to only the performed sounds as precisely as possible, and is not supposed to listen to other sounds besides the performance. Of course there are some other factors that may affect the listener’s experience of the music in such a normal situation, like his/her memory of some other music or some sounds he/she has heard in the past may affect the way he/she listens now. But in a normal situation, those factors are rather incidental factors for a listener, which were not expected to be a part of the music from the beginning when it was composed. However, if the music is composed and performed with not only the actual performed sounds but also keeping in mind the other factors – environmental sounds, silences and the sounds in the listener’s inner world, the potential of the music that human beings can experience becomes unlimited.
Antoine Beuger shows that all the elements involved in a performance (performers, audience, silences, environmental sounds) can become equal components of the music, sharing the same time and space instead of facing each other. Jürg Frey shows that there is a mystic gray area between sound and silence, where both elements overlap to create translucent music that can be the entrance to one’s inner world. Radu Malfatti shows that performers can convey the purity of sounds to the listener by restraining his/her personal ego, and by creating a vivid contrast with silences. Manfred Werder shows that we can find the beauty of intact music in our natural environment, hearing the music genuinely composed with incidental elements without the performer’s intrusion. Michael Pisaro shows that performers, environment, silences and poetry can all resonate with each other like perfectly attuned co-performers, bringing human warmth and depth in their fusion via personalization of nature and environment. These five composers combine to show us many new dimensions of experiencing music with various groundbreaking approaches, by presenting new areas where sound and silence from the outer world and the inner world echo with each other.■

Many thanks to Jon Abbey for proofreading and encouragement, Michael Pisaro for fact checking, Mark Flaum for motivation.

Discography (records mentioned)

Antoine BeugerComposition YearRelease Year/Label
un lieu pour être deux2007CD: 2011 Copy For Your Records
calme étendue (for double bass)1997
keine fernen mehr20102CD: 2010 Edition Wandelweiser
calme étendue (spinoza)1997CD: 2001 Edition Wandelweiser
Jürg Frey
Klaviermusik (1978-2001)1978-2001CD: 2002 Edition Wandelweiser
Nono / Frey
- ohne titel (two violinen)
1995-1996CD: 2001 Edition Wandelweiser
Piano Music
- Klavierstück 2
- Les tréfonds inexplorés des signes pour piano (24-35)
CD: 2012 Irritable Hedgehog
String Quartets
- Streichquartett II
1998-2000CD: 2006 Edition Wandelweiser
Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-82001-20028CDR: 2010 b-boim
Radu Malfatti
Hoffinger Nonett2006CD: 2007 b-boim
Claude Lorrain 12007CD: 2008 b-boim
Radu Malfatti / Keith Rowe – Φ
- nariyamu
2010CD: 2011 Erstwhile Records
darenootodesuka2011CD: 2012 b-boim
Radu Malfatti / Taku Unami2011CD: 2012 ErstLive 012
Manfred Werder
stück 19981997-CD: 2010 Skiti (624-626 pages)
ein(e) ausführende(r) seiten 1-40001999-CD: 2006 Edition Wandelweiser (218–226 pages)
2005¹20058CDR: 2012 Winds Measure Recordings
Michael Pisaro
Harmony Series 11-162004-2005CD: 2007 Edition Wandelweiser
Transparent City (Volumes 1-2)2004-20062CD: 2007 Edition Wandelweiser
Transparent City (Volumes 3-4)2004-20062CD: 2007 Edition Wandelweiser
ricefall (2)2007CD: 2010 Gravity Wave
July Mountain20093-inch CD: 2010 engraved glass
CD: 2010 Gravity Wave
asleep, street, pipes, tones2009CD: 2011 Gravity Wave
The Middle of Life (Die ganze Zeit)2012CD: 2013 Gravity Wave

Photo credits

Antoine Beuger (flute), Jürg Frey (clarinet), Marcus Kaiser (cello), Radu Malfatti (trombone) at The Station in Neufelden, Austria, 2/13/2009 (Photo by Joachim Eckl)
Dominic Lash (double bass) performing Antoine Beuger’s ‘calme étendue’ at St. Mark’s Church in New York, 8/12/2010 (Photo by Yuko Zama)
Radu Malfatti and Taku Unami duo improvisation at AMPLIFY 2011: stones in New York, 9/11/2011 (Photo by Yuko Zama)
Manfred Werder’s score to ‘stück 1998’ at Artefact Festival 2010 in Leuven, Belgium (Photo by Marc Wathieu)
Radu Malfatti, Jürg Frey, Michael Pisaro at KUNSTRAUM Düsseldorf (Photo by Chiyoko Szlavnics)

About the author

Yuko Zama is a music writer, photographer, translator, designer for Erstwhile Records and Gravity Wave.

Invisible Narratives

Vanessa Rossetto
Matthew Revert
Issue 1
March 2013

The cover of Vanessa Rossetto’s 2009 CD, Dogs in English Porcelain depicts a derelict stovetop, caked in the ghosts of meals past. Turning the cover over reveals a more intimate view of the same stovetop, personalizing the experience and forcing our eyes to decipher the calamity of its history. We are compelled to understand that this stovetop possesses complexity; one immersed in the casual degradation of the quotidian journey. This simple visual progression evokes Rossetto’s approach to music as a narrative facilitator, one that finds a balance between the documentary distance of field recording and the dictum of composition. Hers is a hand the guides listeners gently toward their own conclusions, allowing for ambiguity and a personal connection. Hers is also a voice reluctant to impose meaning, understanding the importance implicit in a narrative’s myriad potential meanings. It is this tendency that makes the notion of writing about Rossetto’s body of work paradoxically antithetical and important.

It seems fitting to commence this piece discussing the imagery accompanying Dogs in English Porcelain. Until this point, her solo work (released via her own Music Appreciation label as a bundle) lacked imagery, residing in plain black sleeves with uniform labels, suggesting nothing. This triad of releases (Imperial BrickMisafridal, and Whoreson in the Wilderness) was very much the result of an artist searching for a language in which to speak.
The first ones I didn’t know if anyone would want them, did no press releases or promo mail-outs to critics etc.
It wasn’t until Dogs in English Porcelain that a language was decided upon and spoken with great fluency. I’d like to think that the emergence of accompanying imagery was no coincidence; rather an acknowledgement of her chosen language. Rossetto is unsure whether this was a calculated development: “I don’t know that it was conscious, but it seems that way now. It was mostly that I could afford to and felt it worth having them professionally done. The first ones I didn’t know if anyone would want them, did no press releases or promo mail-outs to critics etc.”
Although her first solo CD, Imperial Brick was released just a year before Dogs in English Porcelain, the evolution is profound. Imperial Brick (like the two CDs that follow) affords the bulk of its focus to exploring the aural possibilities of the viola. It’s worth mentioning that Rossetto’s use of the viola is attributable more to having stumbled across the instrument rather than having consciously chosen it as the conduit of her musical vocabulary. The serendipitous nature of her discovery of the viola is analogous to the found sounds that make up the bulk of her work. Its arrival in her work is, in a sense, random like the chatter captured by her microphone and utilized without a context prior to discovery.
Recorded in a single night, Imperial Brick consists of two layers of improvised viola. We are witnessing an artist coming to terms with her instrument and exploring its possibilities in the truest sense. There are primordial glimmers of the work that would follow, such as her ability to layer sound, but in many ways, this recording stands alone as an introduction to possibility. “At the beginning I was trying to figure out how to use my equipment and what a mixer was and those sort of details that you have to work out before you can actually achieve anything other than learning those things.”
Rossetto had no formal musical training. Her education in art centered on painting and printmaking. In her own words, “I only started making music with any commitment in about 2006; prior to that I had mostly been doing visual art.” Although formally distanced from music, these disparate art practices have helped inform her approach to music. “What seemed like random creative experiments at the time I can now recognize as me groping toward both the genesis of the sound practices I’m using today and a beginning interest in quotidiana.” This interconnection of mediums is perhaps more evident in her more recent work, but this background granted permission for the exploration on her early releases. The listener was given access to Rossetto’s introduction to music.
While considered by many to be one of the world’s music capitals, Austin, Texas forms a malapropos home base for Rossetto to proliferate her sound world. The prolific output generated by Austin’s musical community is more suited to those immured within the pre-determined aesthetics of the many established scenes and movements. In contrast to the machismo and brutality inherent in the noise scene, Rossetto’s interest in sound follows a lineage reaching back to the explorations of modern composers, which given the often improvised nature of her sound sources, can often surprise people. Luc Ferrari is perhaps the most obvious, with his integration of natural sounds into complex emotional compositions and is indeed cited by Rossetto as the single greatest influence in her own sound explorations. Other prominent influences include the narrative use of text in Robert Ashley’s work, the slow reveal of Lionel Marchetti’s nuanced compositions and Helmut Lachenmann’s subtle gradations of timbre. Many of the viola techniques explored in Rossetto’s work can be traced to artists like Polly Bradfield and Leroy Jenkins. In recent years, it is the work of Graham Lambkin, specifically his album Salmon Run, that has yielded an ongoing relationship.
Misafridal was recorded around the same time as Imperial Brick and complements the sounds explored to this point while extending Rossetto’s understanding of the language. Her viola is mined for sounds that distance themselves from their origin and the outside world is allowed greater access. The room in which the sound is created is treated as an instrument in its own right and sounds captured from beyond the room are introduced, often without the viola’s interjection. The notion of using the room as an instrument is not new, stretching back to John Cage’s Living Room Music in 1940 and appearing with regularity by various artists since. One senses however that this evolution was more personal than a desire to engage in the dialogue of a historical experimental music context. This desire to include environmental sounds is perhaps Rossetto’s first real quotidian statement. Given the work that would follow, the significance of this statement is palpable.
The development from Imperial Brick to Misafridal is striking when one considers how soon the latter was recorded after the former. We’re not yet listening to the results of a fully formed vision, but we’re drawing closer to its emergence. There are direct lines one can draw from Misafridal right up to Rossetto’s most recent work with Kye Records and beyond.
Whoreson in the Wilderness is perhaps the most notable of Rossetto’s first three releases. Sonically it is more closely aligned to Imperial Brick, but the complexity and depth has taken a considerable leap. Layers and layers of viola coalesce, creating frenetic chatter and feeding off of its own intensity. The nameless bricolage flotsam cascading across Myself with Water is particularly effective, creating an aimless sense of tension, kept in line by the funereal viola drones and scrapes. The seeming chaos is corralled by Rossetto’s growing compositional confidence. Herein lies one of the most compelling paradoxes inherent in Rossetto’s work. Improvisation and composition form a perilous marriage. While the source material is often gathered from improvised experimentation, it is made to exist within a compositional framework. Rossetto herself is the first to classify herself a composer, quick to eschew any notions that she is improvisational in technique. Whoreson in the Wilderness is the first recording that pays tribute to this in a substantial way. The placement of sound is afforded much greater emphasis than ever before and there is no effort to mask narrative drama. The layers of viola become characters in a play, performing their lines in earnest, encouraging the listener to engage in a plot of their choosing. As an album, it is Rossetto’s first real fully realised work and among her most essential releases.
Dogs in English Porcelain, as touched upon above, represents a milestone for Rossetto and signals the direction she has followed in her subsequent work. In contrast to the hasty creation of her first trio of solo releases, DiEP took ten months of daily work to painstakingly construct and consists of a single 41-minute track. Hours of field recording garnered from the minutiae of her daily experience were dissected in an effort to arrive at the essence of those experiences. Moments of life typically overlooked have been afforded profundity; or rather, Rossetto’s ear has intuited the profundity that exists within the ignored. Her role becomes that of aural photographer, focusing the ear, composing frames with her myriad stitched moments, allowing the hidden narrative to emerge.
A focused listen reveals, even in the seeming absence of sound, a universe of activity, the falsehood of ambience. These ambient patterns are, in fact, indicative of immediacy; a distant story occurring to another, who themselves are subject to the ambient narratives of those around them. Life is revealed as a tapestry of minute phenomena, never truly disposable, rather the totality of someone’s moment somewhere. In selecting the snippets of commonplace ephemera for her compositions, Rossetto is creating fictions out of real moments. This is where one must draw a distinction between formal field recording practice and Rossetto’s selective ear. Importance isn’t placed upon the integrity of capturing a moment in time. The importance rests upon how a moment in time can serve a new narrative; in what ways these realities can become fiction. In the moment, one is unable to know if what is being captured will work toward this new narrative. It is only during the act of composition that a pattern forms at all.
In DiEP, this process is only a part of the picture. Rossetto’s viola is weaved (woven?) into this narrative, communicating with these samples of past, guiding them toward the present. It is via the act of composition that these ephemeral moments are given an opportunity to transcend, becoming more than the ignorance of first glance. Periphery becomes the centre of attention revealing previously unknown importance. Even the title, Dogs in English Porcelain evolves in significance as one progresses through the unfolding sound it accompanies. The first reaction to the title might conjure images of a gimcrack collectors plate flogged on late-night television to the sleep deprived. When the listening experience is over, this plate becomes more than its mere physicality. One is left to wonder where the plate was found; how its history has led to this moment. Was it purchased on late-night television decades ago, before commencing a journey from thrift store to thrift store, knowing the touch of many owners? What dogs are depicted on this plate? Why were these dogs selected? Who painted them and why? A simple description blossoms with complexity, asking questions that can never truly be answered. Instead, the listener forms their own answers; answers subject to change. It is in this journey that the music of Vanessa Rossetto reveals its significance.

It was on the strength of Dogs in English Porcelain that Rossetto came to the attention of The Shadow Ring front man and Kye Records founder, Graham Lambkin, who offered the following insight: “Vanessa is able to coax the abnormal from the normal in a fashion few of her peers can match. The most boring shit in the world becomes intriguing, mysterious, and seductive in her hands.”
Initially the invitation was to record a 7-inch for Kye, but soon after, Lambkin decided to move away from 7-inch releases and extended the invite for Rossetto to record a full-length LP. Material initially destined for the 7-inch found its way onto what was to become Mineral Orange.
Mineral Orange distilled the themes explored on Dogs in English Porcelain while adhering to the limitations of the LP medium. On Dogs, Rossetto revealed her comfort in long-form compositions, allowing the narrative to luxuriate in the unbroken lengths the CD format is capable of. On Mineral Orange the narratives are scaled back, and more closely resemble vignettes. These four vignettes sit naturally next to one another, but can be taken individually without sacrificing the overall gravitas.
A great irony in Rossetto’s music is that by bringing the everyday into the world of musical language as it is understood, the everyday becomes alien.
Save for an interlude in the middle of the track, Make Use of the GroundMineral Orange is the first recording of Rossetto’s not to feature the prominent use of viola, focusing almost entirely on the dissected field recordings. Any viola interaction is subsumed into the larger picture, bolstering rather than leading. The unhindered piano that closes outMoire Pattern Caused by Dots is also the most openly melodic moment on any Rossetto recording to date. Allowing such intimacy to be captured and placed into the narrative suggests growing compositional courage. Sounds are given the opportunity to stand naked, vulnerable and open to scrutiny. The dense layers of earlier recordings give way to spare passages where each sound occupies a specific place on the stage. When we are given our first true moment of viola in the interlude during Make Use of the Ground, it possesses the same nudity as so many of the sounds elsewhere on the recording. It follows the melodic courage of the piano on track two, forming a motif, little moments that exist in the abstraction surrounding them. These melodic islets become vantage points from which the rest of Mineral Orange can be viewed. A great irony in Rossetto’s music is that by bringing the everyday into the world of musical language as it is understood, the everyday becomes alien. In the distortion of imposed context, these melodic islets are somehow easier to understand than the ocean of commonplace sound surrounding them.
The period following the conception of Mineral Orange was marked by a drop-off in musical activity. “After Mineral Orange I didn’t know what to work on next. I had AMPLIFY coming up and I hadn’t done a ton of solo (or really much of any) performing so I was very anxious about that. I decided to start accepting every performance opportunity I was offered to build up some rudimentary level of confidence and fluidity in performing.”
The AMPLIFY performance in question was a teaming up with Graham Lambkin for the 2011 edition of Erstwhile Records founder Jon Abbey’s festival. The material recorded for the live performances leading up to AMPLIFY would ultimately become the foundation for her next recording, Exotic Exit, released by Kye in 2012. “I ended up developing a lot of material over the course of these performances and would bring that home and tinker with it, taking parts of it out and moving other parts around and eventually had the three pieces [of Exotic Exit].”
This iterative technique reflects Rossetto’s overall approach to composition, a sculpting of captured final forms into a new final form. It is a canvas where fragments of life are assembled into fictions. The incidental nature of the source material can, at times, mask the precision afforded the assembled fiction; indeed it can mask the fictional nature entirely.
Exotic Exit continues to explore the techniques exhibited on Mineral Orange, placing its emphasis on the development of fictions. What is perhaps most striking about Exotic Exit is the use of the human voice as aural phenomena. The titular track features samples of voice sourced from a Catalan language-learning cassette, introducing the listener to the inspiration behind the Exotic Exit moniker. These monochromatically uttered words are at once banal and mysterious. The pragmatic requirement of a language-learning exercise seems subverted by the oddity of the words being taught. In the context of the composition, this disparity is immediately apparent. Existent in its own context however, it is easy to image that the choice of words would remain unquestioned. This moment reveals an overarching tendency of Rossetto’s work – the mystery and exoticism that exists in all things. We, the listener, are being taught to see what lies beyond our superficial reading of life.
The use of spoken word is explored further on side B’s sole track, de trop. Toward its middle, we are confronted with Rossetto’s layered voice repeating the phrase, I’m so tired. A little later, a reading proper, taken from Rossetto’s own writings, is given prominence. The effect is similar to the melodic islets of Mineral Orange, only more direct. The human voice is unmistakably so, and our interpretation becomes bound by these words. It calls to mind the work of a composer like Robert Ashley, by whom, as mentioned, Rossetto is strongly influenced.
For Rossetto, the use of spoken word also performs a pragmatic purpose. “I think [the spoken word] happened because of the pieces developing in live performances, sometimes in contexts with disinterested and distracted audiences. There can be a perception of a more active performative aspect when speech is brought in, whether that speech is live or not. You’re playing in a loud bar and people will ignore an awful lot, but they turn around when they hear a voice.”
I always want visible humanity in things, visible mark making, and do not want to shy away from emotional content which I believe can be very well served by the use of voices.
As pragmatic as this may be, it also reinforces the power of the voice, and what the voice means in a semiotic framework. There is very little else that acts to signify humanity in such a direct way. Even when obscured, or spoken in another language, the voice is universally understood. Within the voice, beyond the mere content of the words, myriad data is delivered. It is possible to understand the mood of a word without understanding the word itself. This semiotic importance is understood by Rossetto: “I always want visible humanity in things, visible mark making, and do not want to shy away from emotional content which I believe can be very well served by the use of voices. I think there’s been a bit of avoidance of vocalisation in some musics that I like and I think that’s unfortunate because of the loss of that expressive potential.
The critical success of Exotic Exit suggests that, in a field of music so often reluctant to engage in direct emotional intension, the emotive can have a place.
The collaborative environment brings out different tendencies in Rossetto’s work, not necessarily apparent when recording solo. On the excellent CD Hwaet, performed with long-time friend Steve Flato, there is less emphasis on composition. Each track occupies the moment without a great deal of concern for narrative importance. The focus is on dynamic immediacy and the experience of sound as sound. While not indicative of Rossetto’s overall body of work, it is invigorating and wonderfully executed. While the sounds themselves are composed to an extent, the improvisations of which it is comprised have been layered and reshuffled as to divorce the composition from a recognisable form. The musical sympathy with Flato makes Hwaet a CD well worth tracking down.
Just released in March 2013 from Another Timbre is a collaboration between Rossetto and UK-based musician, Lee Patterson, called Temperament as Waveform. This fascinating album manifests both the frustration and invention that can emerge from inter-continental collaboration. It is an album of sacrifice – one that subsumes existent tendencies into the creation of a whole beyond individual identity. For Rossetto, this means abandoning the quotidian focus of her solo works in favour of sound for its own sake. It has been used as an opportunity for the viola to make a much greater contribution.
Within the bounds of collaboration, one begins to understand key differences between Rossetto and many other musicians in the field. For many, the notion of creating narratives is antithetical to their musical identity, whereas Rossetto’s identity is predicated upon the narrative drive. Temperament as Waveform exists beyond Rossetto’s identity, occupying a new space, indebted to, but separate from her solo work.
The development of Temperament as Waveform was more a case of what could be removed rather than what could be added: “I remember sending Lee a track to work on that was field recordings and me playing. He told me to send it back with everything but the playing stripped out. It ended up being very quiet and restrained for that reason.”
In this restraint, a distinct, almost classical, musicality can be heard. There is an increased interest in the tone of the instruments used; particularly how these tones interact with one another. At points, one is reminded of chamber music via the ornate, measured dialogue occurring. Other times, the sound is so spare as to exist on the periphery of experience. It is a recording that demands Rossetto maintain total control over her sound, which leaves little room for the unpredictability of environmental recordings.
We emerge from Rossetto’s body of work with a picture of an artist who, over time, has developed an ideology often at odds with the music of her contemporaries. It is indebted to the narrative idiom without apology and draws inspiration from an emotive world beyond process. Her own role in the development of recorded works is amorphous, eschewing the desire to perform her own material. She is, first and foremost, a composer: “composition is my primary interest. I’m not much of an improviser – I have tremendous respect for good improvisers, but I’m not one. I can’t play all the instruments I want to utilize in compositions – I can hardly play the ones I supposedly can! So I can either think smaller or start writing for other people/ensembles and only one of those choices is acceptable to me. And really, I have friends who come alive onstage – it’s something to behold, someone in their element like that. I’m not a performer in that way, though; I come alive in my room with headphones on and a notepad, or as a wandering ear like Luc Ferrari talked about, in the world collecting.” ■


Whoreson In The Wilderness2008Music Appreciation
Imperial Brick2008Music Appreciation
Misafridal2008Music Appreciation
Dogs in English Porcelain2009Music Appreciation
Hwaet (with Steve Flato)2010Music Appreciation/Abrash
Mineral Orange2010Kye
Exotic Exit2012Kye
Temperament as Waveform (with Lee Patterson)2013Another Timbre

About the Author

Matthew Revert is an author from Melbourne, Australia. His books include The Tumours Made Me InterestingHow to Avoid Sex and the upcoming Basal Ganglia.


Graham Stephenson
Issue 1
March 2013

In 2008 I traveled to Guadalajara, Jalisco, for the second time. I had spent a few months there in 2005, and wanted to return to visit the friends I’d made and reacquaint myself with the city.
I brought some gifts from Chicago for my hosts, Otho and Lalo, among them a copy of my duo CD with Dave Barnes. They wanted to listen to it, and did so against my objections. Otho’s first thought was to put me in touch with a noise musician friend of his who organized concerts in Guadalajara.
It was accompanied with text asking people to bring a small gift for me in gratitude.
So a few days later we met this friend, Esteban de la Monja, to play pool and talk music. The pool hall was playing a DVD of the Cure performing on MTV Unplugged, which was the worst music I have ever heard. Esteban suggested we put a gig together with him, me, and his collaborator, a guy named Cristián whose last name I forget. When I saw the website for the show, titled Wind City Noise, it was accompanied with text asking people to bring a small gift for me in gratitude.
Another few days later, they had borrowed a trumpet for me, and we got in a car headed to a suburban area of town with a shopping mall housing an independent record store run by another friend of theirs, called Ñaque Music. The mall was closed for the night, but it being open-air everyone was able to get into the record store, which was stocked with small-label imports and local independent and experimental music. A crowd of about 50 young people had congregated, carrying six-packs of beer.
Esteban and Cristián have a duo called León Casar, with the two of them playing digital synths, effects pedals, and stuff. We played a trio set that lasted about 30 minutes. Their playing was pretty drone-heavy. I figured out what note they were droning on and began playing the melody of a song called Y Cómo Es Él, a mournful, melodramatic, romantic Spanish ballad which had been in my head for weeks, in slow-/no-time over the drone. I did some more tonal playing mixed with noise-based playing for the duration of the set. Their playing was too loud and implacable for me to feel very free playing within, but it was a good challenge. One girl told me afterward that she recognized the melody I was playing.
León Casar then played a duo set, during which I decompressed and chatted in the courtyard of the mall with a girl named Lala. Esteban came out and asked if I wanted to play a solo set. I said yes, but that he shouldn’t announce it; I didn’t want the people to have to stop talking and pay attention while I started my set.
I went back into the store where everyone was mingling after the León Casar set and told the sound guy to turn the sound on and went up to the mic and started playing. I played a type of sound that I can do continuously while breathing through my nose, a sort of gently burbling warble that’s semi-controllable. The crowd continued to talk for several minutes unabated, and one by one they realized I was performing.
The PA system was pretty good, and my sounds had been present and audible in the room the whole time, just slightly obscured by the collective chatter. As the crowd quieted down, I too quieted down while maintaining the same stream of sound I’d been playing. It wasn’t premeditated, but it felt right, and I continued to diminish in volume and constrict the airflow as the crowd became attentive.
By the time the crowd had stopped talking altogether, I had become almost fully silent. I didn’t know what I was doing, of course, but I was now on the spot. I fumbled with a few starts and stops until I found a stream of air related to the one I’d been playing before, but more assertive and dramatic. I played this out as long as I physically could, for a minute or so, and ended with an uninhibited exhale of air through the horn for the first time. I instantly stood up and stepped to the side of the stage while the people clapped. The performance lasted about seven or eight minutes.
My friend Otho was the first to speak, saying in Spanish, “Is it OK if I laugh?” Some other people came up and asked how I made the sounds. A few people I hadn’t met came up to me bearing gifts, as Esteban had asked. I received a seashell, a Chinese finger trap, a tiny plastic maraca, and one or two other things, which I still have, five years later. ■

Photo Credits

Graham Stephenson.

Ralf Wehowsky

Piotr Tkacz
Issue 1
March 2013

This interview occurred on the 8th of December 2012, before the show in Warsaw held to celebrate the release of the P16.D4 retrospective box “Passagen” on Monotype Records. It was a special event considering Ralf Wehowsky hadn’t performed live in 17 years, and this interview is one of the few in-person interviews ever done with Wehowsky.
Piotr Tkacz: Because of the context we are talking in I’d first like to ask what performing live means to you, how important it is?
Ralf Wehowsky: Playing live was important in the first years when I started making music with the group. We had about ten concerts every year for few years. At this time we still had regular instruments. Then pieces were constructed on tape and it was difficult to realize something like this on stage. There was a period when we combined pre-recorded tapes, live improvisation and visual elements, only two guys were taking care of that – there were films, photos, scenography, something like an electronic version of Theatralische Musik

So it was like a happening also?
Do you know Mauricio Kagel films? There you have musicians doing some actions, performing. Some of the pieces we did later with the group were like an electronic version of that, we developed those ideas in another direction. All those live appearances were group works, only possible because of the group of people. When the group ended its existence I only did very few concerts by playing pieces which were already recorded. So the only live element was to adjust it for room acoustics, but I wasn’t very satisfied with it, because people need this visual aspect. The other possibility is to close your eyes and just listen – like in this acousmatic model with the orchestra of loudspeakers. That was maybe one of the reasons why I stopped playing live in the early ’90s. Apart from some occasions like birthdays, when there were meetings with other members of the group and we performed some text pieces, reciting poems, Dadaistic Dada- or Fluxus- inspired kind of action.

My artistic practice runs on two levels: compositional, which I do completely on the computer and improvisational – by myself or with other people, like Johannes Frisch who lives nearby and we have met regularly for ten years to play. For this special occasion here in Warsaw we prepared a mixture of pre-fixed structures dealing a little bit with Polish-German relations. On our first ever release, in 1980, we had this old piece “Besuch im Einkaufszentrum” with the sounds from a shopping mall in Germany and now I’ve asked guys from Monotype to do some recordings in Warsaw, so both will be combined together.

I’m interested in how you approach technology or how you see the relation between technology and creating music? For example there is a quote from Edgard Varèse who was saying that he has this music in mind but he can’t create it because there are no machines which would make it possible and they need to be invented. Have you had similar thoughts maybe – that there is something lacking in technology, that it might be stopping you?
Well, of course I’m from another generation [laughs] than he was. One big difference is that for me it was normal to have music around, not to go to a concert to listen to it, but on records, radio. That was certain technology which was available and it had its positive but also negative sides. I mean, records go from start to finish and I sometimes thought listening “oh, it could stop here and those five minutes could be left out and those two seconds are so great that they could be repeated ten times” and such things.

I remember a comic book with a story about a boy who brings new record and plays it to his grandfather and he says “I’ve heard something like this”. The boy responds “No, it can’t be, it’s a brand new record, it’s completely new sound” and the grandfather says “I remember when two trains collided and both had cattle-trucks with pigs and they squeaked – that was this sound.” I thought it’d be nice to hear something like this but all my beat or rock records never sounded like this, they weren’t as good as that grandfather said [laughs]. I was wondering why they don’t have more sounds like that – and that was before I ever heard musique concrete. I felt it had to be possible to make recordings of those kinds of sounds, to make records with them and to organize those sounds. Now we come back to Varèse who once said that music is organized sound.

When I started experimenting with tapes I had something like this in mind: that you can organize sounds of instruments but also “found sounds”. So it wasn’t that I needed some machines to realize precise ideas. It was more that it could be fascinating to create records which go in certain direction and work with sounds in the way they hadn’t been organized before.

It’s not absolutely necessary to have completely new sounds but to compose them in a never heard way or to confront sounds which have their meaning. I find this interesting, like the idea of “cinema for the ear” but on the other hand I appreciate more abstract concepts of construction. Not really the idea in itself, because if it’d be so great you wouldn’t need to realize it, but to start with something abstract and then find out how it sounds like. It’s important, okay, if it’s worth listening to.

In one interview you said you regard music as a way of confronting reality – could you say more about it?
This has to do with the situation of someone who doesn’t work in a professional studio, with expensive equipment, but with technology that is widely available. I always found it more interesting to work with sounds which are around me. Sounds from the house, I don’t work in a factory so those industrial sounds don’t surround me [laughs]. Some people concentrate on those sounds which for me is a direction backwards because we live in a post-industrial age and they aren’t so important anymore. So, the idea of playing with sounds that are known and doing something new is one aspect. The other is that music should have to do with one’s own life. For me it’s not something separated like: once a month I go to the opera and the rest is normal life, I prefer to confront and combine it with the elements of daily life.

I was wondering if this confrontation would also be connected with faith or hope that music, or art in general, could change something on the social, political level? Do you feel any affinity with such ideas?
I find them sympathetic and there were periods in art when many people believed in this. The results are often quite fascinating – for example compositions by Luigi Nono. In the early days of rock and pop music many people thought it would lead to a change of social life, but I’m skeptical about it. I think music and art loses its own value when being used as a mere tool. It can be used, and that includes using it to make people buy more products but also for curing. But there is a very thin line between using it for a good reason and manipulating. I think there are obvious ways for using music for certain goals which degrade it to being just an instrument.

But there is still some hope, when music is more abstract and it can’t be easily identified with one particular direction, it makes people think about themselves and their relation to art, to life.

Maybe the problem with realizing this potential is not only in the content but also in the form of presentation. One could argue that some forms of concerts are conservative, for example.
I don’t know the perfect way, but if a presentation, be it of a fixed release or a concert, would question those forms – that would be a good thing.

You criticize what could be called functional music, but aren’t you sometimes attracted to a style or a formula of music-making which could be used to create something new?
Well, I have been doing that, solo or in a group, but not in a very obvious way. Because I feel there are bands which do more or less normal music and they change very few elements so there is, let say, an ornamental disorientation.

At the concert we’ll present a piece which uses a lot of rhythmic patterns coming from dance music. But it’s ambivalent for me, I have an interest in this music, some reflections about it, but I feel ambiguous about it, there could be also a little antipathy. I take some elements of music but to make something very different. It’s like with folk music being used by classical composers.

You have a long history of questioning the notion of the authorship in music through various collaborations. Do you think that what some DJs are doing, when creatively using someone’s other music, remixing, editing it is somehow related to your ideas?
What a DJ does, mixing someone’s records, for sure can be something of his own. But still, it wouldn’t be possible if those records weren’t created in the first place.

The other, more general, question is how much of its own identity any composition has. Because it’s almost impossible to do something completely new…

Without influences.
Yes, we all have them in our mind and we work with them in various ways. So if someone says that this piece is not new – of course, it can’t be completely new! The idea of authorship might be not so important as it was 20 years ago because nowadays there are a lot of DJs and people who deal with mixing music. But I have an impression there aren’t many people now who claim to be an absolute original, genius, the only one who could create something.

As for the influences, when you revisit your old music do you have thoughts like “oh, it was so obvious, I was under the influence of that and that and I hadn’t seen it”?
Becoming older I start to be more calm and tolerant even to myself [laughs], my earlier self. Listening to my old recordings I mostly think “it could have been than better”. There are pieces from the period when we still played instruments and listening to them I could spot some influences and say “the drummer has just listened to PIL” or “one of us have just heard the first Dome record” or such. It’s more about some elements than whole pieces.

Generally, do you often get inspiration from listening to someone else’s music?
I have to say I still listen to a lot of new music, there are packages coming every few days. Sometimes when I’m starting to work on a new composition it might happen that I draw inspiration from the music I’ve been listening to recently. For example I’ve heard a solo CD by a saxophone player Christine Sehnaoui and certain things impressed me. So I started to think how could I use a balloon to do something in that direction and recorded some sounds. The next step is not to go back to the record which impressed me to check if it sounds similar, but to listen to my own sound recordings. To know, to find out if they have the potential to develop something from them, if they are good, if they are of any use. I think permanent listening is not only consumption but also stimulation. ■

Photo Credits

Ralf Wehowsky and Johannes Frisch, Warsaw 2012 (photo: Piotr Mirski).
About the Author
Piotr Tkacz (born 1985 in Poznan, Poland) – journalist, improviser, DJ, organizer.

A Mountain of Music

Kevin Drumm in 2012
Mark Flaum
Issue 1
March 2013

The recreationalpanick blog initially appeared some time in 2009. I first took note in March when an album-length unedited version of Organ (off the 2000 album Comedy) was posted. Around the same time there was a rip of Malaise that purported to be better sounding than the tape. This should have been enough of a giveaway, but it wasn’t until January 1st 2010 that the perpetrator of the blog became evident to me: Kevin Drumm released Lights Out to the general public before even finding a label.
This all occurred after a series of releases for Hospital Records and at the same time as a major round of significant Drumm reissues: his self-titled album on vinyl and cd, Sheer Hellish Miasma on vinyl, Impish Tyrant given its first wide release… even the rareSecond was repressed by the Perdition Plastics label. Perhaps the most significant of these releases was the Necro Acoustic box, collecting not only all the material originally released digitally from recreationalpanick but also significant new and rare archival material along with some fresh recordings, released on Lasse Marhaug’s Pica Disc label.
Also around this time, documentation of Drumm’s collaborative work with Tom Smith (of To Live and Shave in LA) began to emerge. They released a duo on Savage Land (the title Reconquer Sleep or Disappear finds its way to my mind rather often) and Smith also released a Drumm solo double-album (Obstacles of Romantic Exaggeration) and 4 collaborative efforts: two duo albums, a remix album, and a 5 cd-r + DVD set documenting their short European tour.
In 2011 Drumm issued his first project on Warsaw’s Bocian Records, the 7” Wrestling with Jérôme Noetinger and Robert Piotrowicz.. More significantly, though: Drumm put out what I believe were his first self-released cdrs and tapes – Don’t AskGybberish, and the Blank tape. These were only available via recreationalpanick, and while the label name Consumer Pile was attached to two of them, by the time Gybberish emerged that label had apparently been abandoned. TheElectronic Harrassment tape was announced, but did not appear in 2011.
So that’s the back story for what I want to talk about. Just before Christmas in 2011 came an announcement on recreationalpanick that started a year-long creative outburst that spawned a massive brick of music that is varied, substantial, and mostly excellent. The vast range of styles, sounds, and media is hard to fathom. This output includes many new recordings but also some older material which Drumm has reworked and reconsidered (and even remixed). What I want to convey in this article isn’t just the volume of material, you can glean that from browsing discogs. And I can’t convey the quality of it either, I can tell you about how it makes me feel but I can’t tell you how you’ll feel without trapping you here in my living room and making you listen and tell me (not promising I won’t!). But what I want to accomplish here is to wrap some words about the breadth of this work, how wide it sounds and how far it reaches. I want to try to convince you that Kevin Drumm, in the year 2012, created a body of work that will continue to daunt listeners and other artists for decades.
So on Christmas Eve 2011, under the heading Seasons Beatings, Drumm announced the release of two 3-cdr sets. The first of these is entitled Blast of Silence, referencing a noir from 1961 but a more accurate name would be hard to propose. Played over speakers in a room that isn’t close to silent, the music disappears into a tense, uncomfortable feeling. Eventually the listener might identify the whisper-quiet, high-pitched drone that beats gently at the edge of hearing. Headphones can reveal more features but keep the volume low or it might start to hurt. The first disc, with the title Blast of Silence 1 printed on its long red sleeve, is just oven an hour of a nearly static drone. It sounds to me like two sine waves, one fixed and the other drifting across it gently to create beats, loud moments, and complete silence. I feel like they might be the same pitch out of phase but I don’t know enough about human audition, and I’m not sure the ear works like that.
The second disc, sheathed in pattern-printed yellow and named in order as Blast of Silence 2, is lower in tone and as such nearly undetectable in my noisy living room. I hear a plane pass and cars going by, but I can’t hear the low rumbling until I put the volume most of the way up. On headphones, it’s a similar story except I can feel the headphones rattling against my head. It’s a bizarre feeling, like a stealth helicopter hovering nearby that I can only detect by vibration. Again the volume of the stuttering near-silence rises and withdraws, but I feel the rhythm in what might be steady pulses. There’s a high pitch in here eventually as well, sort of an electronic hum that brings to mind the quiet hiss of an older television. Midway through, something begins to throb slightly low, internalizing the helicopter beat from the first half as the slow death of a fluorescent light bulb deep in my skull. Again the retreat to silence, though at high volume the rumbling hiss is audible once more.
The third cd has a new name and a sleeve to match: That Dull Black Again. This track does away with the near-stasis of the other two in favor of a far-away almost animal muttering or calling. These muted sounds eventually recede to silence, only to be replaced by a series of gentle single tones. By halfway through there are moments where the two exist together, providing some of the more overtly beautiful moments of the full set. In the last third, near-inaudibility is abandoned in favor of a steady dark drone colored with digital skips and sizzle. This too disappears, or perhaps drops in frequency back to the lower limits of audibility. The whole set seems related to ideas developed in the 2002 duo album with Lasse Marhaug (Frozen by Blizzard Winds), but nothing I can think of in Drumm’s catalog is so clearly focused on silence.
Announced in the same blog post, the 3-cd set I Have a Computer is far more varied and represents a very wide range of recording dates – apparently up to 15 years back. The first disc, in printed red paper (mine has a man on a gallows, but that could be unique), is 13 tracks of digital blippery, static, and noise. None of the tracks are individually titled, but particular standouts include the fourth track, a sparse and spacious clustering of small sounds, the 9th track of heavy low noise, and the domineering buzz synth drones of track 11. The bubbling landscape of track 7 is also quite compelling but disappointingly short. I suspect this disc encompasses the widest range of recording dates and generation techniques, but it’s all computer-based at the core so it’s really hard to say.
The second disc of the set, another yellow print, is called Arghh!, and it’s similarly varied – 8 tracks, most of them noisy but few of them similar to each other. The highlight for me is the final track, which repeatedly builds and collapses through harsh slabs of noise, stuttering synth buzz, piercing drone, and finally a chopping quasi-beat that gets hit by a bus of noise. I’m reminded of the Hanson cd Land of Lurches, which has similar intensity though it’s not so obviously digital.
The final piece of the computer music triad is the wonderfully titled Rotten 90’s Computer Music in black paper. This is possibly my favorite piece of either set, sustaining a cave dweller’s crawl through digital whisper and buzz for almost 70 minutes. While overtly digital, this piece has breath and movement. Sounds slither, hiss, and hide. The atmosphere grows heavier, the breathing wetter. Something continues to escape across the corner of the ear. I’m reminded of Xenakis, of science fiction nightmares, and of dirty, damp life.
Less than a month after the double triple cd set announcement came another multi-part release: the double cassette tapeDying Air. Unlike the previous two releases, this tape set is without electronics, all sounds acoustically generated. Dying Airfeels to me like a single composition divided into four parts by the nature of the cassette form. It’s atmospheric, sparse, with great distances and long, echoing clangs. There’s also something narrative about it, with a moaning low squeal playing protagonist in an atmosphere of crumbling, collapsing, dragging emptiness. Both tapes are housed in a vinyl box, with a foggy, swampy photo on the cover. I notice just now looking at it that the title font is the same as the labels on the cd sets. Like most of the cds, there’s no indication about the perpetrator of the sound and the only information about the sound sources comes from recreationalpanick.
A week and a half later came the announcement of another cdr release – The Back Room, black print on black paper with an even more gothic font. Track titles and track times are also listed, though the tracks are just Back Room A-E. Another first for this release – recording data indicating that this is probably the first 2012 release actually recorded in 2012. It starts with three short tracks, each a small electronic storm buzzing with energy and occasional menace. They end abruptly, like Drumm just flipped the off switch and stepped away. The real power of the album comes from the fourth track, however – a drifting atmospheric piece growing into serious thunder, swarming and rumbling. There is patience here, a tempering to the crush which serves to amplify its strength – a descendent of Hitting the Pavement, the showpiece track from Sheer Hellish Miasma (2002). The final track is a more familiar slow-evolving noise edifice, gradually shifting through a number of thick and heavy textures, until the last part when the noise falls away into a more ambiguous atmosphere.
Barely another week passed before the next announcement – The Kitchen, a three-track cd-r in a white paper sleeve decorated with droplets of thick red paint by the young Freyja Drumm. This cdr included titles, a date, and even instrumentation: an accordion, a big muff pedal, a microphone, and computer assistance. According to a separate announcement the original accordion recordings date back to 1996, making this perhaps the earliest material Drumm released in 2012, but the processing and mastering are presumably more recent. The first piece is a textured drone that stays low and out of the way, feeling something like a train passing at substantial distance. The second track is more obviously accordion, a buzzing and layering build-up reminiscent of Birchville Cat Motel music in the sort of optimistic rise that builds almost imperceptibly over the nearly 30 minute piece. The last track is a quiet humming, gentle and distantly melodic. There is an abstract sadness to this as much as there was hope to the previous piece, making for a strangely satisfying balance. The recordings date to the same era as Drumm’s debut self-titled solo album on Perdition Plastics, and it’s easy to hear this as a revisitation of that music with more recent drone assemblages in mind. As hinted at above, some of this material will be reissued in different form on LP on Bocian Records in 2013.
Only three weeks would pass before the next release: The Whole House, a pair of tracks built from layered field recordings from around the Drumm household. The sleeve is again hand-painted white paper, less droplet oriented and with more greens and blacks. The first track is a claustrophobic buildup of droning, buzzing layers, on the verge of oppressive at times. The second has more activity to it, rising chunks of noise with a motoring destructive energy.
The next release announced was the Electronic Harassment project, recorded in 2011, long delayed by a major slowdown at the tape manufacturer, and eventually launched by the Cardinal Records label associated with the band Fossils. Originally conceived as a one-per-month cassette series, the delays resulted in one cassette and one cd-r finally seeing release. Electronic Harassment, the cassette, features a first side of gentle electronic sizzle drone that is just high-pitched enough to be discomfiting. The second side is more aggressive, switching between an unnerving tittering and a pushy low rumble. There are no track separations listed on the tape but it feels like there are a few distinct approaches to the same theme on the second side. The final part is a tense alien drone that seems to rise slowly to fill the room. The cdr follow-up, with more art from Freyja Drumm, is entitled Electronic Harassment ii/iii. The two tracks on this disc take the harassment part of the title seriously – shrill, tense, stressful drone that seem static on a close listen but actually drift very slowly from piercing to more piercing. These might be the most difficult listen of the batch, but when I was driving drowsy I put the cd-r on in the car and there was suddenly no further risk of sleep. It’s also worth mentioning that the cdr lists some phenomenal track titles, but there are three titles for only 2 tracks. ‘Hear my stupid words and know that it is crazy talk’ is a really great title, though, so I’ll go ahead and believe that’s the second track.
Announced alongside the Electronic Harassmentreleases (this is early May by now) was another cdr, some ‘airy romantic bs’ under the title Twinkle Toes. And while this is clearly not Drumm’s first foray into the almost inaudible, this is a very different sort of quiet music. Gentle to the point of being fragile, the first track makes no attempt to force its way into the ear, disappearing easily into the room. I chose to follow the instructions from the back of the green, Freyja-painted sleeve (“play at low volume, don’t be a wuss by turning it up” in the same gothic type as most of the text and titles of the recreationalpanick releases thus far), but I did use headphones to be sure I was hearing music and not the sound of my living room. There’s a melodic character similar to the last part of The Kitchen, but its so soft and shy it’s hard to follow development. It’s easy to tell myself that the influences here are Taku Sugimoto or the Wandelweiser school of quiet music, but I think there’s as much of the soft pop-tronica of Mego or 12k in here as well. (the Drumm solo cd on Karl Schmidt Verlag included a track title entitled ‘This sounded like a bad Fennesz rip so I bagged it… until now’ so I suppose we’d been warned) The second track is less shy, with a windy undercarriage to the sound but distance, softness, and delicacy are still key.
A month later, the Moving double cassette was announced, apparently generated by 16 oscillators. It’s a set of heavily synthesized-feeling noise, buzzing and rumbling with lots of thick, rumbly textures and heavy momentum. Two hand-labeled tapes sit in a vinyl case with abstract black paint artwork that is presumably another Freyja Drumm original. This is very much the core of what cassette noise means to me – simple home-made packages, hefty sound, filled to the brim with music. I can’t help but think of Drumm’s side of I Drink Your Skin, the remix exchange with Aaron Dilloway that was recently reissued on cd.
The next release changes things up quite a bit, as the first (and very nearly only) collaborative effort, the first release clearly conceived as a release on a different label, and the first vinyl from Drumm in 2012. Venexia, released on the delightfully elaborate Pan Recordings label, presenting the quartet of electronic musician Mika Vainio (from Pan Sonic), trumpeter Axel Dörner, saxophonist Lucio Capece, and of course Drumm. This quartet played a series of concerts around Europe in 2008, including a visit to Venice that was recorded. A subsequent performance in 2011 appears to have sparked renewed interest in those recordings, and Capece prepared them for release with minimal intervention. The music is clearly within the realm of electro-acoustic improvisation, with acoustic drones and breathy sound balanced against electronics and controlled noise. The piece is largely built in layers, with each musician developing a sound or set of sounds and allowing that to permeate the full space before moving on to other sounds. It’s not always clear who is responsible for which sounds, as the instruments rarely reveal themselves and the electronics supply a wide range of textures. The interaction is quite fluid as well, leaving no sound standing alone and no thread left hanging. Unfortunately this is the only collaborative improvisation from Drumm this year, hopefully other projects such as the trio with Capece and Radu Malfatti eventually emerge.
Following the first LP, a tape release entitled Single. This tape is unique in a different way – the sounds on each copy are only to be found on that tape, every copy containing different audio.
I can’t speak for any copy but my own, but my tape contains storm recordings playing background to a wavering synthesizer, with a touch of the camp horror movie soundtrack but keeping the intensity of a noise piece. This storm isn’t showy, it’s heavy and thick. The synth wavers and rises but it’s low and tense.
There may be a horror soundtrack out of this, but it’s not campy at all. The unique audio angle isn’t new to Drumm, having released Blank in the same manner (I can’t find my copy to compare the two, I remember that one being more sparse). But as an approach to the packaging and distribution of music it’s a compelling direction – more in line with the nature of live performance than any typical model for physical release of music.
After Single comes another wild card – a Kevin Drumm remix track. Taking a chunk of digital fuzz and buzz from Russell Haswell’s aborted 5” vinyl series (now compiled on a single lp), Drumm presents the track Harshing (Kevin Drumm “GODDAMNIT!! 1,2,3” Remix) on a 12” with other mixes from REGIS and William Bennett. This mix retains the jump-cutting structure of the original piece but fills out the low-end… and then whisks away the harshness and buries it under a soft, pretty melody. The skitter and skree is still there but now it’s coated in digital sugar.
The next CD release is perhaps the best of the batch. Announced on September 2nd, recorded in July and August, and dedicated to Kevin’s least favorite thing in the world, Humid Weather is a two track cdr that demonstrates many facets of Drumm’s skills quite admirably. The first track starts with rhythms and field recordings but soon a real, well-recorded thunderstorm arrives. The thunder then inspires a counterattack of feedback and noise, but eventually the response dies off and the storm runs its course. The storm resolves into a moving tone, a feeling of searching or hoping, not static enough to be a drone. The tone does start tense, but there are rumblings beneath it that hint of depth and deepness. Two-thirds of the way through, voices begin rise up from the distance, with few clear words, some of it not in English. Phone conversations, perhaps, and by now the tone has gotten more stressful so they feel like rising tempers. In the end the rain returns but not the thunder. The second track is a cut-up noise assembly, heavy but it starts somehow relaxed, a calm crush. An unsteady engine rumble takes over a little before the halfway point, propelling the piece faster forward and leading to a series of thick and buzzy drones. The drones close the piece in a rushing, stressful rise. Overall the disc summons not only the sounds of summer, but also the oppression and discomfort of humidity. There are crucial aspects here that don’t appear in any of the other works I’m writing about. In fact nature recordings and found sounds are almost never found anywhere in Drumm’s catalog, but the way they come together is still uniquely Kevin Drumm. Humid Weather, much like his other landmark recordings such as Sheer Hellish MiasmaGuitar, or Second, stands out because it stands alone.
The conceptual follow-up to Single was announced near the end of September, but this time the ante has gone up – UGH, a 6-cassette set of unique music. The packaging is a vinyl case with hand-made art, though on my copy the art is more elaborate and the previous minimal paint splatter has become a color-field with textures and a shadowed swirling line. I guess you can get a lot of mileage from an artist paid in ice cream (assuming this is once again Freyja). The sound is somewhat in line with the Moving tape – heavy rumble, violent scree, and near constant energy. The tapes are about 5 minutes per side and the feeling I get is that each side presents a self-contained short piece, there isn’t any continuity and in fact the palette seems to change slightly from side to side. The instrumentation probably hasn’t changed (I’m no use at identifying that, I’m afraid) but the mood shifts subtly, as if each piece was recorded at an entirely different moment. All told it’s about an hour of music, which means over multiple sets there are surely multiple hours of unique recordings. This is something of a blow to an obsessive collector (like myself, can’t you tell?) but in a way the momentousness of the project provides something like relief, forces me to pay more attention to my 60 minutes and give up on however much is left that I won’t ever hear. A little bit.
The last cdr release of 2012 was in the same announcement – More Answers, with the line ‘hell is a hotel room’ by way of product description. My computer thinks it’s a trance track called Entspannt Schlank Werden, and there’s no further information on the cd, but the contents are a single, 33+ minute track. A drone layering of ancestry similar to the Kitchen, with what appears to be acoustically generated drones layered on top of a synthesizer drone. It’s gradual but far from static, with sounds sliding around, shifting and dispersing throughout. There is a synthesizer drone undercarriage that grows to prominence with its own gradual shifts, but the other tones don’t recede. In fact some take up what might even be a melodic path, though slow and somewhat wandering. Some of the tones might even be stringed instruments, though it’s hard to say with so much other activity moving through the soundspace.
The last two releases of 2012 weren’t announced through recreationalpanick, but rather through more traditional channels. Both happened in October and both were released on vinyl, and significantly both on European labels that had released Drumm material previously. The first of these, Crowded, was released on Bocian. The first side, entitled Repetitive Algae, is a scraping, whistling drone track that has a certain uncomfortable feeling of space, somewhere between the Kitchen and Dying Air. On this track, Russell Haswell apparently returns the remix favor somewhat, credited with ‘spectral editing and time domain consultation’. The second side, titled Rediki, starts as a weirdly quiet searing guitar enterprise, which is suddenly overwhelmed by a pulsing heavy oscillation. So heavy you can see the beats directly on the grooves. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself, because the groove patterns on this side are strangely compelling. New patterns emerge around a third of the way through, again visible to the naked eye, though less of a pulse and more of a surging pattern. In the last third, the patterns are less (visually!) obvious as the static drive is more or less constant, though there is still a steady pulse giving a feeling not dissimilar to a locked groove. This pattern transitions into waves of noise which building to almost wall-noise thickness before collapsing into a brief carnival of smaller sounds and then falling silent. This is one of the first Drumm releases from this year available through digital distribution, but I haven’t looked at the bits to see if they’re as cool as the grooves.
The second solo vinyl release, Relief, was nominally a 45 rpm, released on the current incarnation of the label that released what might be Drumm’s breakout album Sheer Hellish Miasma – editions Mego. On recreationalpanick, however, Drumm points out that the album is valid at 33 RPM as well. At 33 RPM, Relief starts off as a hefty broth of electronic hum, moan, whistle, and beep. A steady low rumble eventually overwhelms the first side, and the other sounds don’t disappear but pale against the heavier sound. Eventually a shifting tone provides momentum until the end of the side. The second side again picks up about where the first left off, but the momentum is now in a sputtering static. All the elements from the first side remain and each eventually fights their way to the top. In the final portion the same rumble that dominated side A reasserts itself to a rumbling conclusion. There’s a buzzing guitar coda of a second track on side B as well. At the prescribed 45 RPM, the features and details of the piece are pulled together into a static haze, with the rises and rumbles of the slower listen pitched up into more overall color rather than clear texture. The rumbles are more drone-like, the moving parts more prevalent, the eruptions of noise more jarring and abrupt. Even the coda is more intense, less buzzing and more crushing. This album reminds me a little of Impish Tyrant, with a similar use of texture and layers.

The coda of Drumm’s monstrous 2012 showed up not on recreationalpanick but in the Hospital Productions winter sale announcement flier on the 10th of December in the form of a pre-order announcement: Tannenbaum. The music in this outing is full-on synth drone, stark and buzzing and drifting ever so slowly around the room. Nominally a 2-cd set with one piece per disc, a special edition with four more tracks on two cassettes was also announced (in a painted black box and a large white envelop, with a white branch of fake Christmas tree). A solid addition to the thread that started back as far asComedy but with its nearest ancestors in Imperial Horizon or the drones assembled in the Imperial Distortion compilation. Defying the Christmassy associations attached to the title via an old carol, the translation here must refer to a snow-laden and huge in a distant, desolate winter. The textures vary from piece to piece, as does the weight and thickness. But the experience of near stasis is a constant.
That’s the only sort of stasis to be found in the Drumm catalog of 2012. Even edition sizes (occasionally announced to be as low as 15) didn’t stay fixed, as in the first few months of 2013 more copies and digital versions were made available of some cdr releases. In one year Kevin Drumm has explored near silence, wall noise, smothering drone, sparseness, collective improvisation, field recording, humor, one-off recordings, tapes, vinyl, cdrs, and child labor. He has produced a mountain of music just this year, and while there are standouts it’s practically all rewarding to hear. ■

Discography (2012 + 1)

Blast of Silence2012Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
I Have a Computer2012Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Dying Air2012Self-released
The Back Room2012Self-released
The Kitchen2012Self-released (Reissued 2013, Bocian Records)
The Whole House2012Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Electronic Harassment2012Cardinal Records
Electronic Harassment II/III2012Self-released
Twinkle Toes2012Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Venexia2012PAN Recordings
Harshing (Kevin Drumm “GODDAMNIT!! 1,2,3″ Remix) on Russell Haswell – Remixed2012Downwards
Humid Weather2012Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
More Answers2012Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Crowded2012Bocian Records
Tannenbaum2013Hospital Productions

Photo Credits

The Kitchen, Kevin Drumm.
The Back Room, Kevin Drumm.
All others by the author.

About the Author

Mark Flaum is the administrator of and an editor of surround.
He doesn’t usually do this sort of thing

People Don’t Like Music

...But Can't Do Without Noise
Gil Sansón
Issue 1
March 2013

In many ways this is a counterintuitive thesis: the proposition that people may not like music as a matter of fact, despite being addicted to the noise music makes. This is because if music is disliked, the sound it makes is noise to that person. This collection of fragments is dealing with the paradox implicit in the notion itself, and, in a non-exhaustive way, points out ways in which we end up loving what we hate and hating what we love. Take the high executive in a big recording conglomerate hating in secret the music that’s making him rich. Take the young noise artist and his complex relationship to the history of music that sticks to his productions despite his deep distrust. The relationship between mankind and music is truly paradoxical..
Also, it is quite useful to distinguish mankind’s love of musical expression from mankind’s supposed love of music.
There is a general assumption that people as a whole like music. The paradox that emerges when we question this assumption is all the more confusing due to the ubiquity of the assumption. Study of such matters is done with more attention to the methods of academia than with the effort of actually searching for answers in less explored areas of musical thinking, aesthetics or musicology. It takes a great deal of independent thinking to examine the specifics of this commonly assumed notion while being ready to accept a hard revelation in the process, for the examiner risks alienation from society as well as obscurity.
The realm of popular music is one field in which this paradox enacts itself in a most transparent way. The musical component of pop stardom is often small in relation to image, attitude etc., with the music serving as the excuse for a merchandise sales enterprise. People know this instinctively and have come to actively refuse to pay money for music while remaining just as hungry for the pop fodder (it’s hard to talk about product when no one buys it anymore, but it’s still needed as people still buy other merchandise) as ever. The music has been an excuse for quite some time, but recently this has manifested itself in new ways: the average contract from the recording industry has the artist pay for the production of the record and for the promotion of the record. This is a not so subtle recognition of the subservient (to put it mildly) role of music in the larger world of pop entertainment. Perhaps by examining the relation between music and musician we can also reach some understanding as to why musicians subject themselves to these levels of humiliation. Money can’t be the only answer to this equation. Could it well be that quite a few musicians, maybe the majority of them, have come to hate music? Or perhaps they never actually liked music in the first place?
The same could be said about the world of Western art music, so-called classical music. Much has been written about the orchestra as a symbol for vertical organization bound to bring tension between its members. The extreme level of atomization regarding the knowledge of music makes it hard for musicians to have a true understanding of the music they are playing as the final word on this aspect is left to the conductor. Quite easily an orchestra sets into routine interpretations of old warhorses (or worse, despondent interpretations of so called modern repertoire). Routine interpretations bring boredom in musicians and audience alike, thus reinforcing negative stereotypes and furthering alienation from larger audiences. Going to rehearsals eventually becomes just as meaningful and rewarding as going to the office from 9 to 5, and it shouldn’t be surprising to find that a lot of classical musicians hate music, only sticking to it as a way of making ends meet.
But music has a lot of glamour. This glamour, much more than the music that carries it, is what drives people crazy. By way of this glamour, people invest considerable amounts of emotion in a song, a record, a band or singer. It is often funny to see how people consider the members of their favorite band to be the best musicians in the world; no doubt flattering to the musicians, it shows that any criteria other than bewildered adoration to the people who make their lives so much more meaningful with their song and dance is unnecessary. Beneath such noble feelings, a much darker undercurrent shows a world of fame and glamour that often has nothing to do with the lives of actual musicians and happens mostly in the minds of musical journalists and fans, where some musicians are worth more dead than alive and where the profits invariably fall to the middleman. The few musicians that make it in this unhealthy environment often feel entitled to spread the wisdom of their ways, considering the amounts of attention commanded on the fans, always willing to pay for any product that may enhance the glamour of the artist. The notion that an audience could “grow” along with the artist, as in the case of The Beatles or Radiohead, or conversely, the audience having a long, changing relationship to a record label, as in ECM, SST or Erstwhile, is less likely today than twenty years ago. The bottom line was always the same, but before there seemed to be a notion that the music was somehow as important as the glamour, in terms of inventiveness and originality, and that is hardly to be found nowadays. This may help explain the fact that people still spend money on the glamour side of things, but not on music.
These reasons then may explain why our complex love/hate relationship with music should not be perceived as the exclusive domain of the musicologist or the sociologist. Quite the contrary, it is when a musician or community of musicians engages actively in the topic that significant change can actually happen, regarding more just and meaningful exchanges between those willing to create unhindered and those willing to benefit from this creativity at a later stage of the process in which creativity becomes culture.
So, in some cases, people don’t like music. But music is used very effectively as a positive reinforcement tool for educational purposes beginning with the early stages of childhood and going all the way through the life of a person. The ultimate purpose of this education and conditioning remains a mystery at best and a non-thought to the person whose education and conditioning has been successfully implemented. Such person will perceive these conditioned reflexes as genuine proof of individuality and personal choice, and in this way people can be made to like this and hate that, programmed to get goosebumps at the sound of his or her national anthem, romantic ballad or metal epic of their choice.
Hitler arguably didn’t like music. But he loved what he perceived as Germanic in music. Justifying his choice by way of genetics made him completely blind to the obvious line of progression from Bruckner to Mahler and from Wagner to Schoenberg, for his love of music was small and subservient to the love of politics and war. We see many examples of intolerance in the music of the XXth century, a time of drawing lines on the ground and musical factions demanding full commitment to the new dogmas and even denouncements of past practices and former alliances.
I remember being startled at the time when discovering that the origin of Variation No. 30 of the Goldbergs, my favorite variation of the set, was likely based upon a racy drinking song.
Music with a clear purpose will find more potential receivers than music with no clear purpose. Functional music, like dance music or ambient music, is useful to the point in which it would be hard to tell if a person being enthusiastic about it is drawn to the music or to the function the music fulfills. If we dig deeper, though, we will find that all music is functional. So-called abstract works like The Art of the Fugue or the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach are fully functional in the sense that they were composed with didactic purposes. This illusion of purity doesn’t stand close scrutiny in most cases: I remember being startled at the time when discovering that the origin of Variation No. 30of the Goldbergs, my favorite variation of the set, was likely based upon a racy drinking song. To examine the possibility that people may not know what they mean when they say they love music is to face the problem that people do not have a clear distinction between ethics and aesthetics when talking about music, and lack the perspective to compare to other cultures. Ethics, for instance, have a much bigger dimension in music in the Muslim world than aesthetics, while in Occidental culture the opposite is true.
Composers may think they are writing the music they want to write, but unless they tackle the sizable number of social and historical conditionings exercised on the forces that make the individual, the notion of artistic independence will be a mirage. Factors that have nothing whatsoever in common with music often have more impact upon the production of a composer than any sort of musical model or technique, in so far as these don’t happen in a vacuum. As Morton Feldman once stated, you can’t have Bach without Protestantism. Similarly, most music composed in the XXth century can’t be explained without negative dialectics. For Pierre Boulez and the composers at Darmstadt, music wasn’t something that just happened. Music was something to be constructed, by writing it down to paper according to logical ways in order to substitute the old order of tonality with a new one every bit as logical as the old. Sound can resist even the best of ideas, however. Extensive preoccupation with the logical aspect of musical development along the lines established by Webern and Stravinsky led to the total serialization of musical parameters in ways that soon crippled even its most staunch defenders, as Boulez found quite soon. Since the main justification of a piece of music is the analysis of the score, music becomes an abstract web of pitch that makes full sense on paper but can often sound like chaos and anarchy upon first listening to those unable to read music. Music becomes not something one hears, but rather something one reads on musical staff, a mental construction with some relation to the sound it makes when interpreted by actual musicians. The score, once created, is dismembered to find relationships between groups of notes, because otherwise it would remain unintelligible. You break the picture in order to assemble it back by putting the pieces back together and call it musical analysis of the score. The use of negative dialectics in this case can be formulated as composition (thesis), analysis (antithesis), and interpretation (synthesis). As logical and elegant as this sounds, it actually points out the misunderstanding that plagued most of the music made in that period, namely the assumption that the score is the music. If the score is the music then music is an intellectual exercise reserved for people with music reading skills. The music resulting from musicians engaging with the score is justified by the score, not by audition. This process may result in a composition that is more interesting to look at than to listen to, as happens with most graphic notation of the sixties. Obviously, one consequence of this is the widening of the gap between composers and audiences of music, since most people base their judgment on music upon the resulting sound. People want to somehow know a bit of the rules of the game: to recognize somehow the ways in which a motif changes along a musical work is where a lot of the fun resides for the non musician, whose relationship to the music is not one of stern adoration of a dead master.
As a tribute to a man who wrote Schoenberg is Dead, I’ll say that for a period during the fifties, Boulez didn’t like music.
The music of the serialists was, for the public, much like being witness to a game whose rules remain obscure. Of course, with repeated auditions such initial aversion can be turned into acquired taste, but this initial disdain from the composers towards the sound aspect of musical communication doomed the work of Boulez, Goyvaerts and company to obscurity, with even Boulez himself publicly distancing himself from works of that time. Sixty years are enough to take the edge off any music, but Structures for Two Pianos remains as harsh and unpleasant as ever today. Now, negative dialectics as such have undergone strong criticism (and fresh alternatives to boot) from Wittgenstein to Deleuze; historical perspective allows us to ponder both the music and the ideas that fed the minds of its creators as points in time, impossible to understand without its context: a collective neurosis brought up by war trauma and the destruction of Europe. A period music. As a tribute to a man who wrote Schoenberg is Dead, I’ll say that for a period during the fifties, Boulez didn’t like music.
Music is not free. Music is bound to sets and systems of belief, sacred or profane, religious or secular. Acknowledgement of how deeply rooted these systems are in our individual and collective experiences is a prerequisite to sorting out the contradictions between traditional beliefs and/or commonly assumed notions and our current, quite exhausted, version of Platonism and positivism that places the human experience as a tragic movement upwards, ascending the ladder of history to self improvement. Simply put, you take out Plato out of history and with him go the symphony and the cathedral. A very superstitious composer, Arnold Schoenberg used numbers related to significant events (his birthday being the most evident) in his life as an organizational device. Alban Berg practically wrote his autobiography in his music, sometimes quite evidently and sometimes hidden so well that it requires a detective with musical reading abilities. The control enforced by the composer is always in a battle with forces outside of the control of the composer. The composer may choose to ignore some of the forces affecting the creation process, but some of these forces will make themselves heard in the music in ways the composer could be fully unaware of.
Music is, among other things, a function of thought. Since people at large are prevented from fully developing their own perspective according to the full potential of their brains, their thinking process is more or less impaired when it comes to certain functions of thought. The ability to think about music is one of those functions being impaired, and this is due to many factors, education being maybe the most visible one. Other factors are perceived in subtle ways. A hard day at work may call for comfort music rather than challenging music. If we imagine the hard life of a miner or a steel worker we can also understand that such a person will more likely listen to Oasis than to Van Der Graaf Generator. Over and over, I hear friends and coworkers complaining about my choice of music, and for some reason it is always the same music: Bach’sGoldberg Variations, played by Glenn Gould (the one he did in the eighties). I’ve been told that this music is pedantic. That this music has way too many notes and too little feeling, that it gives you a headache. These are the opinions of people that most likely feel that they love music. They surely like some music, and by virtue of ubiquitous media exposure people are led to think that everything that is relevant is happening as media. A work like the Goldberg Variations requires from the listener not only time and concentration, but actual engaging in the game of identifying the ways in which the themes are stated and transformed. It can be hard work if you are already tired, and if you have a grueling schedule and a too short weekend this music, by virtue of itself, could be off limits to you. Ironically, that ring tone you fancy on your cellphone could be a tune by Bach, even from the Goldbergs.
About the poor quality of musical files on the internet, much remains to be said. On the one hand, people can get easy access to music. On the other, there’s a low standard of fidelity. One of the myths of the digital world (that of the digital copy being an exact replica of the original) here is tweaked to make people swallow much downgraded copies of music files thinking that they are listening to the real thing. Even here it is difficult to speak of generalities: if what we are looking for in the file is information (pitch, tempo, general approach), a 192 Kbps could suffice. If we are looking for a copy of the original recording, two things can happen: we assume that the original record sounds just like the downgraded copy and make a biased judgment of the music, which unfortunately is what happens most often, and we abstain passing judgment and take the contents of the file as general information, as you would take a reproduction of a painting in a newspaper. The fact that people have left the work of searching for new music to search engines and services like Spotify tips the scale towards the side of disadvantages, but there are alternatives. Not everyone intending to help disseminate music on the web is bent on short-term profits at the expense of ethics and quality. Resolution of files won’t be the problem in the future. The problem will likely be one of ethics, and how to resist current trends considered to be negative in the long run. The cultural shifts in the file sharing age often benefit the status quo of the music business. They state that the contrary is true, but the fact remains that the trends in musical consumption brought about by the file sharing revolution were actually the return of the old paradigm of the single and the downgrading of the album. Music forms that adapted to the album format have it much harder nowadays. In the land of the soundbite, the album has little chance of getting properly heard.
Music in its earliest form was most likely a combination of voice and percussion. The music had a strong ritual element and was a defining characteristic of the tribe. This tribal aspect remains essential to our relationship to music; nowadays we use the term musical genre in order to sell a manufactured product known as a record, but in essence a musical genre and a musical tribe are so closely related in function that they are the same. Examples of musical tribes and communities with high visibility, such as the metal scene, the electronic scene, the folk scene, the jazz scene and so on, show that tribal attitudes are to be expected from the members of the group. The way a fan defends a favored artist is typical of the zealots of any tribe, but it is often mistaken for love of the music. It is primarily love for the tribe. If we want to fully understand the impact of music in our lives and the social and economical realities of music making we need to look further than the tribal relation to music and music making, which doesn’t mean one has to leave the tribe in the process.
Musicology could benefit as a whole from empirical thought to balance inherited notions before they become stifling, at least while the academic system remains as it is today. If a person correctly identifies the link between the music made by cowboys in Texas, by gauchos in Argentina, or by llaneros in Venezuela, namely the way in which speech and song remind the listener of the mooing of cows, could we say that that person is doing musicology using empirical methods? This is one example of how focusing exclusively on cultural differences will fail to give you the full picture, no doubt the reader can come up with examples of their own. People react to their environment in ways that predate culture. Animals make sounds to mark their territories; so do we, but we use music. The wrong type of music in the wrong place can cause conflict, but an understanding of this aspect of musical codes, and the need for those codes, can help defuse conflict and diminish friction as much as possible; by showing with clear examples not only common roots, but the many different ways of dealing with similar problems along the globe, tribal thinking can become more aware of differences that give each tribe its character and appreciative of them, while never losing sight of that what is common to all tribes. To leave the tribe for a while is a healthy exercise, and to become a guest member of other tribes can only benefit one’s own tribe unless that tribe has fully ossified in its rules and codes. Similarly, critical (and respectful) thinking regarding the assumptions and statements from the elders of the tribe can help to prevent such ossification and can only be good for the tribe.
One of the many paradoxes of art (and music) today is that there is too much of it. This instant, free availability of recorded music has the effect of cheapening not only the monetary value, for the loss of value also happens at the reduced attention span of the average music fan. In the words of Jean Baudrillard, “In a world headed towards indifference, art can’t help but contribute to this indifference: doing rounds around the void of the image, of the object that ceased being one”.[1] Regardless of the quality of the music, once it becomes a product it is another drop in the ocean, and should we say, more dependent on extraneous content and glamour than ever if it wants to keep some visibility. Obscurity can do wonders for some artists; one of the key traits of the serious music fan is the pleasure of discovering a new artist. The journey is the destination and those obscure items that were so hard to track and obtain may hold a value that’s beyond the actual value of the music contained therein. There is a number of records that I have to keep close at all times, not too many. One of them is Opposite, by Taku Sugimoto. I haven’t played this record in more than ten years, and I seriously think that it could remain so for the remainder of my life. Do I hate the music in it while dutifully paying respect and recognition by having the object close at hand? Or do I love the music contained in it by not taking it for granted anymore, to the point in which I relate to it by way of memory? Love of music might mean that you listen to less of it as a way to try to restore value in music.
Love of music might mean that you listen to less of it as a way to try to restore value in music.
We do this with some of our favorite music, in order to keep it that way. The ubiquitous presence of music in every day life and the absence of meaningful silence have contributed to a relationship of mankind with music that could be labeled as pathological. We can listen to music all day, blasting it away so that the sound of it obliterates all relevant sonic information, or with headphones that give the illusion of control over the sonic environment. But can we give, say, ten minutes of absolute concentration to a piece of music? How many musical works highly regarded would crumble upon close scrutiny, and reversely, how many musical works, previously ignored, reveal a trove of treasures to the listener prepared to give time and effort to get them? One can listen to very little music and think about music all of the time.
The paradox of the composer of music that doesn’t need to hear the sound of music remains endlessly fascinating. As a proof of music as a function of thought, I imagine Gustav Mahler, composing on a cabin by the lake, without piano, in the quietest environment he could find. Music happens, without being heard by anyone but the composer, and his work consists in trying to translate the music into notation, in a compromise between the ideal nature of the music and the realities of music making at the time of its writing. A more recent example, and perhaps much more radical, is the recent work by Manfred Werder, whose scores often call for non-action and are realized as non-transferable mental constructions or processes. There is, in the recent work by Werder, a sense of renouncement as well as one of celebratory freedom from the history of music, and one could begin to ponder how much love must a composer have for music, for him to sacrifice the sound of it once he has found the same sound in the world around him.
[1] Taken from Duelo, Jean Baudrillard, Fractal No. 7, year 2, Volume II, pp. 91-110. Translated from Spanish to English by the author.

About the Author

Gil Sansón (1970, Valencia, Venezuela) is a composer/improviser, artist, writer and curator.
Some of his musical works has been released on record labels such as winds measurecontourcon-v and impulsive habitat.


Joe Foster
Issue 1
March 2013

I turned forty in September, so while I’ve made a point of bookmarking the barest highlights of many old shows (the time a girl’s hair caught on fire as she accidentally leaned back on a candle during a Super Unity show; the Peevish guerilla show at a sports bar—it had a piano!—when a bar patron named Yellajoined us for 45 minutes of improvised rapping; the Brooklyn loft show in late September, 2001, where JP rode a bike around the apartment while trying to play an alto clarinet and then there was vomiting later; Gonzo Murakami in Nagoya with Bryan Eubanks and Bonnie Jones; the Relay Funeral; Bonnie & me at the NorCal Noise Fest two hours after I landed from Seoul; the basement gig in Boise when, during the next act—Mirah of K Records—an actual art debate sprung up between the earnest young singer-songwriter and the audience over whether what me, Bryan, and JP had just done was music and nobody seemed to notice we were still in the room; the English & Sachiko M show at Erstquake when Sachiko reminded me I was standing, Wile E. Coyote style, over a 500-foot drop, having run full speed off the cliff; the time Peevish played in an anarchist book store with another band playing simultaneously on the other side of the room and we were pretty much barred from the venue for life—oh, andTerri Sue Webb was fronting the other band, naked as a jaybird; playing drums in Ezra’s band Uneasy without having been taught any of the songs; Super Unity’s regular Friday gigs at the traffic circle in Laurelhurst, Portland, serenading rush-hour traffic; playing an ad hoc with Lord Nightmare 666 in New Zealand; duo with dancer Linda Austin for which all I had was a single wooden chopstick; almost a year of daily playing in my Hapjeong apartment in 2002-3 in trio with the dueling construction sites outside my North and West windows; Otomo’s New Jazz Orchestra with the amateur Shinjuku Philharmonic at the Pitt Inn; that show at the Jasmine Tree Chinese restaurant when Toto had ordered food and it was delivered to him at his drum throne during our set (he stopped, paid, and ate it, pretty much); the worst trio ever: me, Alfred Harth, and Ami Yoshida on my first trip to Tokyo; You, Of All People, Should Understand; Mantonal at Ethos; The Dolphin…), due to my limited long-term memory and the damage I’ve inflicted upon it, my “most memorable show” is one of my most recent.
My plan was to do as little as possible. I didn’t even go to a single museum. I took a grand total of three photos.
In March 2012 I had a rare break from my busy schedule (I started a business with two partners a couple years ago and it’s really demanding, but doing well, thanks for asking!) and more or less picked Vienna as a random destination for a 1-week escape. I arranged to stay with Dieter Kovacic and Billy Roisz, and didn’t bring any music gear or expect to play at all. Dieter was hosting a gig at the rhiz, there was a ppool workshop I could go to if I wanted, but other than that, my plan was to do as little as possible. I didn’t even go to a single museum. I took a grand total of three photos. I probably spent too much time sitting around the apartment, making a nuisance of myself for Dieter and Billy, and one of the ways I have of annoying those around me is my habit of whistling. Like most people, Dieter was a bit surprised by my whistling and encouraged me to play a brief solo set during his rhiz night.
I was up first. The train overhead happened, I set the stopwatch on my phone, and started whistling, no mic. The audience was very quiet, pretty damn civilized, in fact, and I did my thing for a while. Actually just under 8 minutes. I turned my stopwatch off and said thanks and then on to the next act (the young computer musicians who had just learned to use ppool the day before). Went for a beer. People were nice about it, mostly the usual “how do you make those sounds?” kind of thing, but my favorite was the group of kids (probably early 20’s?) who asked me how I synchronized my lip movements and facial expressions to the sounds coming from my phone. Spent the rest of the week successfully doing nothing (not entirely true—two of my three photos were taken the day after that show), and had a hellish flight back to Seoul via Beijing on Austrian Air. Not my best show, not my biggest show, and I’m sure in a couple years (months?) it will no longer be my most memorable show. Shit, I’m not even convinced it was a good show. But I did enjoy it. Thanks again to Dieter and Billy for being such gracious and easy hosts. ■

Photo Credits

Joe Foster.

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