Supersilent 14 (Recording review)

Supersilent

14

Smalltown Supersound
2018

On Friday September 28th, Supersilent – the experimental trio of Arve Henriksen (trumpet, voice and electronics), Helge Sten (Electronics), and Ståle Storløkken (keyboards and electronics) – released a fourteenth album, their second for the label Smalltown Supersound. The group is best known for performances of “slow jazz:” avant jazz that unfurls at a gradual rate. Supersilent 14 revels in slow tempos, as the track “14.7” (embedded below) demonstrates. However, this time out there are a few other components shifted t0 make for a different listening experience.

The recording’s dozen tracks – labeled with numbers and nothing more – are relatively aphoristic, ranging from the horror movie industrial cast of the one-minute long “14.9” to the comparatively spacious and spacey “14.12,” which clocks in at five minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Thus, “slow jazz” tracks and more primarily electroacoustic soundscapes are allowed limited room for development, instead presented as atmospheres that often seem to begin in progress. Some Supersilent releases have hewed towards a lusher palette than 14, which instead tends towards the edgy. Henriksen’s trumpet is frequently distressed and sometimes subsumed by electronics. Sten, who also releases electronica under the name Deathprod, produced and mixed the recording. His approach revels in noise and overtones in nearly equal measure. The result is an impressive amalgam of both ends of the “sound art spectrum.” Occasional moments of recognizable patterning, like the Middle Eastern scalar passages that supply a coda to “14.4,” sounding all the more remarkable for their relative isolation in the proceedings.

At a certain point in their respective careers, most recording artists find it difficult to come up with fresh ideas. With “14,” Supersilent not only seems to have reconsidered their music afresh; they sound like a group just getting started.

 

Best Drone Recording 2017: Lee Plays Gibson

a3080363931_16

Randy Gibson

The Four Pillars Appearing from The Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of The Eternal Process in The Midwinter Starfield 16 VIII 10 (Kansas City)

Andrew Lee, amplified piano

Irritable Hedgehog

Composer Randy Gibson is best known for his compelling experiments with intonation. R. Andrew Lee is the go-to pianist for Wandelweiser and minimalist-oriented music. On Gibson’s The Four Pillars Appearing from The Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of The Eternal Process in The Midwinter Starfield 16 VIII 10 (Kansas City), he meets Lee in the middle, creating a mammoth work out of very restricted means. The pitch material of the piece consists of just seven notes: D in all the octaves on a concert grand piano in equal temperament. Added to this are amplification and a small amount of electronic manipulation, designed to add resonance to the overtone vibrations taking place.

 

Irritable Hedgehog’s recording is a single unedited live performance from 2016 at University of Kansas City Missouri, with electronics realized alongside the piano part. Clocking in at some three-and-a-half hours, Lee deserves credit for a tour de force of stamina, focus and, perhaps above all, musicality in shaping the repeating pitches into countless varied phrases. Gibson is a master of deploying overtones. He has figured out how to exploit the various spaces between D’s to gradate the appearances of the harmonic series’ upper notes, or partials, and to maximize their potential. Shimmering conglomerations of overtones abound in The Four Pillars … it is certainly not a piece just about D! And while pitch serves as a focal point, it is worth mentioning that the piece’s overall shape, labyrinthine in scope, and its localized rhythmic gestures are equally well conceived. Four Pillars is one of the most compelling pieces yet from Gibson, and is Sequenza 21’s Best Drone Recording of 2017.

 

 

Best Pop Recording of 2017: Björk – Utopia

Utopia

Björk

One Little Indian

 

Björk’s latest album is her longest (clocking in at 72 minutes) and her most daring yet. On past recordings, cadres of female musicians with fierce chops held sway – employing French horns and strings. This time out, a dozen Icelandic flutists are the ensemble of choice. Alongside them is the electronic musician Arca, in an enhanced role as collaborator rather than appearing, as he did previously, once the songs had already been written. These performers are augmented by additional classical musicians and singers, making for a heady mix of timbres.

 

Where Vulnicura was about personal devastation – Björk’s breakup with her then-partner artist Matthew Barney, Utopia is about the returning of equilibrium, healing, happiness, and even romance. Thus, these two efforts demonstrate both sides of personal vulnerability; the musical differences are stark. Vulnicura’s “Black Lake” is a dark meditation of despair, whereas Utopia’s “Arisen My Senses” contains sensuous melodic lines and an arrangement replete with bird-calls and flutes. The songs on Utopia are intricately designed, containing beautiful variegated textures crafted with tremendous artistry. But the music displays lightness of touch too; indeed, it often floats. Björk’s voice retains a formidable range, both in terms of compass and of the myriad demeanors she flexibly coaxes from it.

 

Much has been made about Utopia’s ornate melodies and lack of rhythmic propulsion in the press; I would suggest too much. “The Gate” may be an extended track, but it has one of the most soaring, viscerally moving tunes in Björk’s catalog. Likewise, a noteworthy example where propulsive beats play a role is the fascinating “Courtship,” in which Arca puts skittering percussion alongside the flute choir and then juxtaposed against it. In the midst of this mix of sounds, Björk’s voice sits mid-register and the lyrics venture into a narrative “storytelling” mode.

 

Many stories are told in the course of Utopia. Often, they mirror the vocalist’s own experience of reentering the world of dating and relationships. That Björk at times approaches the idea of love with trepidation and at others with jubilation makes her willingness to share lyrics based on autobiography all the more touching.

 

In a year filled with revelations of abuse and betrayal, Utopia reminds us that just around the corner from desolation can be restoration and healing; one hopes many will take solace from the album’s message. I do, and In my opinion, it is the best pop recording of 2017.

 

 

 

Rebekah Heller – Metafagote (Recording review)

tun006_cover-540x0

Metafagote

Rebekah Heller, bassoon and electronics

Tundra, 2017 (digital release)

 

Bassoonist Rebekah Heller, a member of ICE, released Metafagote, her second solo album, in 2017 on Tundra. Featuring premiere recordings of four works written for Heller by Rand Steiger (Concatenation), Dai Fujikura (Following), Jason Eckardt (Wild Ginger), and the title composition by Felipe Lara, Megafagote supplies Heller with ample opportunities to demonstrate the bassoon’s entire bag of extended techniques, from multiphonics to microtonality, as well as various live electronic manipulations. That said, one never feels that the plethora of effects on display are mere showpieces; all four composers are working on extending the bounds of the instrument. There also is a significant interest demonstrated in spatiality which features in different ways in each of the pieces.

 

Steiger’s live electronics supply echoing canons and additional resonance to Heller’s bassoon. Following is a follow-up piece to the hard-driving Calling, written by Fujikura for Heller in 2011. This time around, angular melodies that span the compass of the instrument, beginning gently but picking up speed and energy over time, are hauntingly evocative. Eckhardt’s Wild Ginger employs many of the aforementioned extensions, but does so in a seamless way, using them to inflect asymmetrical groupings of melodic cells that variously congregate and concatenate i. Partway through, the interruption of rests and sustained pitches add other elements of tension, leading way to a low-register eruption that Heller unleashes with fulsome power. The closing section contrasts this with pitch bends and multiphonics in the bassoon’s upper register. It is a most persuasive piece.

 

Lara’s work is for live bassoon alongside a half-dozen pre-recorded bassoons. The chords and shrieking glissandos emitted from the tape part create an uneasy shadowing of a solo part that often departs from its prefabricated brethren on extended flights of fancy, but occasionally touches down to intone alongside them. Percussive articulation, wide pitch bends, trills, and a brusque gestural palette combine to make this a dramatic showpiece with which to end a compelling recording.

 

Heller’s advocacy for the bassoon, and her staunch commitment to expanding its repertoire, are laudable. Her playing is both detailed and thrilling throughout. Metafagote is one of my “Best-of” solo recordings of 2017.

 

 

 

Úlfur: “Arborescence” (Bandcamp)

Úlfur: homemade electronica from an Icelandic New Yorker.

Úlfur Hansson’s new record Arborescence is out this week. The composer is originally from Iceland, but after earning a degree at Mills College now calls New York home.

Arborescence is an absorbing mix of ambience electronica awash with homemade synthesizers, laconic vocals, and the talents of collaborators such as bassist Skúli Sverrisson, harpist Zeena Parkins
, string player Gyða Valtýsdóttir, and percussionist Greg Fox. The title track deploys these resources in a warm blanket of sound, but all is not weightless here. “Rhinoceros” features glitchy beats and bleeping interruptions in a welcome section of contrast.

Dirty Projectors: Little Bubble

David Longstreth
David Longstreth

Dirty Projectors’ latest single, “Little Bubble,” is accompanied by a captivating video. It finds David Longstreth navigating our imperiled ecosystem, eventually barricading himself in a bubble of flora and fauna in an attempt to stave off the elements of environmental catastrophe. Both the sentiment and the visual components could not be more timely, and the song has an attractively lush arrangement to boot (a bit of an ironic twist).

We don’t know when Dirty Projectors’ next LP is going to be out, but we do know it is likely to be awesome.

Seiho – “Collapse” (Review)

0007503339_10

Seiho

Collapse

Leaving Records LP

Japanese compose Seiho combines various sampled elements into his electronic music to make a formidable musical mélange. They consist of snippets of modern jazz, synth riffs, pizzicato string samples, electronic blurts, and tastes of musique concrète such as whistles and running water. The accumulation of sounds is kept from being too heady by an undergirding of dance hall beats, which supplies the work with an immediacy that much latter day avant-electronica eschews. Seiho navigates this middle path between accessibility and experimentation with aplomb, making music that is both serviceable and intriguing: a rare combination.