Golden Retriever and guitarist Chuck Johnson have joined forces on the Thrill Jockey album Rain Shadow (out May 25th). Today the trio release a teaser track, clocking in at nearly an album side of new music, titled “Empty Quarter.”
John Luther Adams
Seattle Symphony, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Ludovic Morlot, conductor
“Become Desert is both a celebration of the deserts we are given, and a lamentation of the deserts we create.” – John Luther Adams
Born in Mississippi, John Luther Adams first came to the attention of listeners as a composer and author based in Alaska, where he lived and worked for some forty years. Pieces such as Inuksuit, The Place Where You Go to Listen, and Dream in White on White are eloquent expressions of Adams’ time there and how it impacted him both as a creator and as a person. His book, Winter Music, is a required text for composers, as well as an accessible read of significant appeal to non-musicians. In a remarkable change of pace, Adams has recently moved to the desert, staying in Mexico and Chile.
In 2013, Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Become Ocean, a work for the Seattle Symphony that mourned the rising seas caused by climate change, posing a timely questions: would land-roaming creatures, humans among them, be subsumed and return to the waters from whence they came. Since then, the piece has become a trilogy, followed by Become River and now Become Desert. The latest piece deals with climate change’s impact on water supply and the effects of warming in dry climates.
Like its performance and recording of Become Ocean, the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot, creates beguiling sounds eloquently shaped in their rendition of Become Desert. Whereas the former piece had an apocalyptic cast, moving from low to high and then cascading, the latter is filled with bells and chimes and sustained chords, creating the aura of aridity and hazy lights so appropriate to its subject matter. Partway through, rolling drums give us the only hit of respite from dryness, thundering against reiterated brass chords. Harps and plenty of sixth chords recall Impressionism, while the insistent repetition of overtone chords provides a spectral cast. Its end is a deliciously long denouement leaving us with faint chimes that evoke the piece’s opening.
Become Desert is one of the best recordings of contemporary music of 2019. Recommended.
Black Marble (Chris Stewart) will release his third album, Bigger Than Life, on Sacred Bones Records this Friday, October 25th. Stewart leans on synth-pop sounds and styles heavily, but the music sounds freshly earnest and eminently tuneful rather than merely derivative. Check out standout songs “One Eye Open” and “Feels,” and then stream the rest, via the Bandcamp embed below.
Black Marble is touring in November (dates below).
BLACK MARBLE – November Tour Dates
Nov 2 Los Angeles, CA SUBSTANCE at the Los Angeles Theater
Nov 5 TUCSON, AZ Club Congress
Nov 7 Austin, TX Levitation at Empire Control Room
Nov 8 Oklahoma City, OK 89th Street
Nov 9 Memphis, TN Hi-Tone
Nov 10 Nashville, TN The Basement
Nov 12 Columbus, OH Ace of Cups
Nov 13 State College, PA Webster’s
Nov 14 Oberlin, OH Oberlin College
Nov 15 Toronto, ON Eisbaer 2019
Nov 16 Montreal, QC Bar Le Ritz
Nov 19 Hamden, CT Space Ballroom
Nov 20 Philadelphia, PA Underground Arts
Nov 21 Baltimore, MD Metro Gallery
Nov 22 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom (Record Release Show) w/ Automatic
Nov 24 Washington, DC Black Cat
On October 25th, Constellation Records will release Entanglement, the second solo release by Jessica Moss. A violinist and vocalist who is one of the central members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and co-founder of Black Ox Orchestar, Moss draws upon a prodigious range of influences: from the post-rock and avant-klezmer of the aforementioned groups, to drones and loops reminiscent of post-minimalism. Over the past year, she has honed the material of Entanglement at over eighty concerts, developing a side-long piece, “Particles,” and a suite of four “Fractals.” Impassioned, moody, and slow-burning, her compositions are some of the most compelling fare we have to anticipate this Fall.
We Who Walk Again
Since 2012, New York’s Ghost Ensemble has pursued a deep listening ethos that incorporates a range of repertoire, both pieces by ensemble members and works by composers such as David Bird, Kyle Gann, Giacinto Scelsi, and Gerard Grisey. Any ensemble in the US that references “deep listening” invariably is also interested in Deep Listening, the piece that evolved into a discipline and subsequent body of musical and theoretical work from sound artist Pauline Oliveros.
Since its inception Ghost Ensemble has been associated with Oliveros’ work, both her compositions and sound practices. It is fitting that We Who Walk Again, their debut recording, features the first studio recording of the Oliveros piece “Angels and Demons.” A text score from 1980, its primary guideline is as follows: “any sound that has been heard inwardly first may be made.” Players may take on the role of “Angels,” the meditation’s “guardian spirits,” or Demons, “individual spirits of creative genius;” they may also switch back and forth between roles. Here the piece manifests itself in an initial testing out period of slow individual tones that is gradually varied by means of timbre, density, and use of dissonance. Starting in the Feldman realm of spare pianissimo fragments, a long range crescendo shapes the piece. It is enabled by successively more penetrating held pitches, extended techniques, syncopated percussion, and an eventual blossoming of rangy melodic gestures. A belated denouement supplies a few furtive valedictions, but no dramatic close is supplied (nor does one seem necessary).
The group’s oboist Sky Macklay is also a composer on the rise, with a number of high profile performances and commissions to her credit. Macklay’s 60 Degree Mirrors revels in extended techniques available to winds. Her command of multiphonics and microtones on the oboe is prodigious and she gives flutist Martha Cargo a detailed part as well. The piece also has spectral roots, with shimmering overtones, particularly “crunchy” upper partials, demonstrating an edgier side of the “deep listening” continuum. 60 Degree Mirrors is not just technically sophisticated; it has considerable dramatic heft and proves to be a thrilling listen.
Ghost Ensemble founder, accordionist and composer Ben Richter, provides the recording’s other piece, Wind People. More than double the length of the Macklay and Oliveros performances, it affords the group the opportunity to stretch out and engage in the shaping of a larger arc. Long glissandos played by bassist James Ilgenfritz provide a particularly resonant touchstone, and similar sliding tones from violist Hannah Levinson and cellist Maria Hadge underscore its structural character. Meanwhile, the winds explore all manner of overtones, sometimes punctuating the proceedings with held pitches appearing in contrast to the yawning slides, at others engaging in pitch bends of their own. Percussionists Chris Nappi and Damon Loren Baker provide under-girding drums, subtle yet insistent. Richter and harpist Lucia Helen Stavros sometimes pepper the texture with melodic gestures, but more often are the harmonic “middle” that sustains the fabric of the piece. Over time, sustain becomes a powerful force traversing all instruments and registers, and sumptuous overtone chords saturate the work. A coda provides a long diminuendo in which overtones fade into thrumming drums, drones, and string glissandos. Wind Music is a well-crafted and eloquent work.
Of Wind Music, Richter says that he sought to “draw a sense of peace and comfort from our smallness, transience, and fragility in the face of an overwhelming immensity, the music mirroring the constant ebb and flow visible when zooming in or out to quantum or geological time.”
Amid today’s tumult, drawing peace and comfort from deep listening is a worthy goal, one that Ghost Ensemble appears poised to attain often.
Temporary Residence Ltd.
Australian instrumental quintet Tangents return with their fourth album via Temporary Residence. It is their finest work in some time, with an even broader palette of materials and stylistic reference points that are adroitly incorporated. The combination of cello, especially favoring pizzicato, and synth melodies remains, but along for the ride are prepared piano sounds, angular bass interjections, and skittering beats. Electric guitar textures and and undulating patterning are propelled by muscular acoustic drums.
Indebted to post-rock, jazz, alt-electronica, and a dose of contemporary classical sounds, it transcends these various categorizations and their carbon dating to create music that is entirely fresh and of the moment. Recommended.
On Febuary 16, 2018, RVNG Intl. digitally released Few Traces, a recording of rarities by Mark Renner. The physical release is this Friday (February 23rd).
Renner is an under-heralded icon of the Baltimore arts scene. A talented painter, printmaker, and musician, Renner’s work proved pivotal in the local community during the first early glimmers of post New Wave alternative rock.
Few Traces contains music from 1982-90. Built with a minimum of gear – a four-track recorder, guitar, and a Casio synthesizer – its songs and instrumentals are simply constructed but eloquent, tuneful, and charming in their immediacy. One can imagine college radio in an alternate universe spinning Renner’s “Saints and Sages,” “Half a Heart,” and “The Wild House” in heavy rotation. Given the resurgence of eighties synth pop, perhaps their time has come.
To garner some context for Renner’s work, Maia Stern has released a short documentary (embedded below). You can also check out streams of some of my favorites on the recording and there is a link below to purchase it via Bandcamp, as well as some information about charitable contributions that are being made from the release’s proceeds. Recommended highly.
“On behalf of Mark Renner, a portion of the proceeds from Few Traces sales will be donated to Ethiopia ACT, an organization committed to public health strategies to serve Addis Ababa’s community, under Come! Mend!, an initiative bridging RVNG’s work and interest supporting non-profit organizations and charities.”