Wednesday, 28 September 2011

the workshop series @ cafe oto 09/26/2011

word + photos: gian paolo galasi

As the Vortex Jazz Club, also Cafe Oto offers a monthly residency for regular encounters. Tonight's the time for some of Eddie Prévost's weekly workshop participants, with three different sets of improvised music.

Hyelim Kim (taegum), Carole Finer (cumbus/objects) and Benedict Taylor (viola) set started with firm and controlled gestures, circularly feedbacked by the players in order to create a gentle, not utterly conducted, climax. 

Carole Finer is an historical member of the Scratch Orchestra large collective, created in 1969 by Cornelius Cardew initially to perform his The Great Learning. Actively involved as a teacher in Camberwell art school, tonight she didn't use her 5-string banjo in an idiomatic way - deeply rooted and involved in bluegrass music as she also is - but as a generator of fluttering, quivering and throbbing particles using the body and the strings of her instrument frictioning it with the help of marbles and other small objects. 

Seymour Wright (alto saxophone), Vasco Alves (AM/FM keyboards) and Tom Soloveitzik (tenor saxophone) offered an intense set made of silences, resonances, sudden breaks, spanning through granular frequencies up to squeaking and prolonged horn lines.

With the lights completely turned off, Tom Soloveitzik showed his achievements in digging the techniques he's also teaching, as a matter of control over the body, the gestures, the sound itself. While waiting for a forthcoming release with Soloveitzik, cellist Kevin Davis and Turkish improviser, sound designer and composer Korhan Erel, tonight we appreciated a trio that have developed a language in which various elements are combined together in a refined, though aptly rough, interaction.

In the end, Jennifer Allum (violin), Philip Somervell (piano) and John Lely (objects) made the most intimate set tonight, exploiting the strings of their real instruments in order to interact with the objects on a equal level. Probably the most close to Prevost statements as quoted on the flyers prepared for the event, since differently from Kim/Finer/Taylor set - that in the end, assuming that we're talking mostly about nuances, let people feel what aleatoric can be dealing with sound - seemed to be more structured, as a passage through different devices and combinations of levels and elements, creating a scanning of space, time, silence, timbres, noises, textures. More than a flux, a real environmental soundscape of 'found sounds'.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

grutronic _ evan parker @ the vortex 09/22/2011

word + photos: gian paolo galasi

"Music dispatches a molecular flow". I'm reading the liner notes written by Richard Scott for "Together in Zero Space", the last Psi output featuring Evan Parker playing with his new close collaborators the Grutronic, while I ran into this quotation from Deleuze and Guattari's Milleplateaux. Wether we are aware or not of the importance of this text written in 1987, it'a fact that it is heavily referenced in today's electronic and experimental music.

You can think about Milleplateaux the label, and you're certainly right, but yet another point is how much David Toop, in his Ocean Of Sound, was referring to the concept of 'rhizome' in order to talk about Sun Ra's music. Not to put aside Dj Spooky work as That Subliminal Kid -- sampling sound is a rhizomatic practice? for sure. You can even take as a - still not recognized? - turning point on the subject, Terre Thaemlitz (aka Dj Sprinkles) series of lectures held in Amsterdam in November 2009. 

Far from the Academic studies, referring to Grutronic (or Evan Parker)'s music as 'rhizomatic' - at this point in time, even if only for this particular project - or 'molecular' means simply that their music is averse to the idea of a starting point taken as a 'root' - 'rhizome' is a root without a primal branch - and of music as a narration coming from an unavoidable beginning going to an unavoidable end. Call it 'improvisation', and you got it.

Grutronic equipment is both analog and digital. Stephen Grew plays keyboards, Richard Scott synths, sequencers and a buchla midi controller, Nicholas Grew is in charge of processing sound, and David Ross plays droscillator. Their music as a result is a constant sense of transition, from liquid to solid, then aerial, then close, but the flux of sound is conceived in a way that involves the relationship between static and dynamic itself. 

Here and there the music is reminiscent of such a distinguished collaboration as the Anthony Braxton / Richard Teitelbaum duo on "Time Zones" (Arista/Freedom, 1977), even if concrete elements are brought together in order to give shape to a different sense of time and space dynamics.

The performance is coherently in line with what more than 30 years ago Evan Parker and John Stevens had in mind when putting together the SME collective, and this project, along with the Parker/Matthew Wright duo and contemporary improvisers like Bark! and Furt are, more than a variation on a theme, an important focus and evolution of a specific idea of music, starting also with "Karyiobin" and "Topography of the Lungs", and going through the ElectroAcoustic and the Transatlantic Ensemble up to today's experiences.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

mopomoso @ vortex, 09/18/2011

Mopomoso (a.k.a. MOdernism POst MOdernism SO what?) is a group of improvisers founded in 1991 by guitarist John Russell and pianist, trupeter, composer Chris Burn. Following a distinctive tradition in improvised music, and especially here in London, the goal of the collective is in promoting free improvisation through  collective sessions once per month at the Vortex Jazz Club; a good way of sharing experiences, networking and enjoy music with the audience. 

The opening trio tonight is composed by singer Portia WintersOren Marshall at Orenophone (his personal variation on a tuba) and Illi Adato (electronics). What comes out is apart from common improv free-blowing sessions, gifting the audience with a gentle and colourful performance, with Marshall literally deconstructing and reconstructing sound and the tuba itself in the middle of the stage while Winter's singing, a less dramatic and more fluent version of Jeanne Lee's avant-scat, even if with pop nuances interspersed and a warm and sheer timbre, draws little flurries of octaves alternating with short spoken sketches. 

Illi Adato is the perfect partner, using electronics more as a companion to the gestures of his mates than as a rhythm-injecting machine. Theatrical and minimalist, but effective, their set picked up Fluxus legacy in a personal manner, with unassessed nonchalance as the result of a spontaneous flowing, in which silence, pauses and sound are channeled together. No suprise since Marshall, born in Geneva in 1966, played in his past with the likes of Tony Allen, Mark Sanders, Steve Noble, the London Sinfonietta and the Pan-African Orchestra amongst many others.

The second set is Sylvia Hallett playing violin and a bycicle wheel plucked and arcoed. Ms Hallett was active part of the London Musician Collective since its' very beginning. Responsible of installing electricity in the first LMC headquarter - a flat in a Camden building - near 1977, as of the debut performance of the Bow Gamelan Ensemble in 1983, her music is somewhere between exotic echoes - sarangi, anklung, mbira are some of her tools on records and live performances, her viola playing - but she teaches also piano and accordeon - and an attitude and sensibility that put melody, abstract and overtones together.

At a certain point she echoes the bowed sounds while her plucking on the spokes was reminding of some bells on a distant background. While often composers or electronic musicians use field recordings in order to layering and texturizing different plans of sound putting them usually at the same level, Hallett's sensibility gives shape to spacey landscapes in which the elements resonate on different levels, with an inner and precise coherence.

Last gig is provided by the Haman Quintet, currently touring through London before coming back in Berlin. Altoist Anna Kaluza, violinist Alison Blunt, sopranist Manuel Miethe, pianist Nikolai Meinhold and bassist Horst Nonnemacher gifted the audience with a continuous flowing of particles of sound. Their set is the most dense and close-grained tonight. 

Nonnemacher, collaborator of Alex Von Schlippenbach, Sam Rivers and Jim Black, but also composer and arranger and part with Miethe of the Levitation: Trio, plunges into his bass digging out a deep and vivid groove. Miethe and Kaluza horn lines are usually lateral and atonal, so to speak. A colleague claimed for the quintet such references as Ligeti, Lachenmann, Nono and Scelsi, but what's more on the foreground is the fluid interplay and the players palettes and tools matching together with sophisticated coherence.

Meinhold - who studied piano with Aki Takase and workshopped with the likes of John Taylor, Ken Vandermark and Ray Anderson - uses a voluntarily minimal approach to piano, chalking up an upper note after the other in order to build short, chiming and jingling phrases, while his plucking on the strings enters perfectly in touch with the flurrying of the music.

While expecting to see again Evan Paker on Tuesday, 23, with the young electroacustic improvisers Grutronic, tonight's venue can be taken as the perfect introduction to London's - and beyond - improvised music scene. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

John Cage Night @ Queen Elisabeth Hall 9/13/2011

Words + photos: Gian Paolo Galasi (photos from an exhibition about Cage at O', Milan, 06/27/11)

Unluckily I had the possibility to enter the venue only after 4' 33", Cage's first piece to be performed tonight, was finished. Just the previous Saturday at the Southbank Centre I had the opportunity to see the exhibition Every Day is a Good Day, curated by Hayward Touring in collaboration with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the John Cage Trust.

Cage himself was explaining from one of the videos that the meaning of that 'silence' piece - he was showing the scores to the camera - is related to 'experiencing a change of the mind ... if you listen for four minutes to silence when you were supposed to listening to music, that means that you are experiencing the uncertainties of the future'. Far away from anguishes, the effect Cage wanted to reach is the one of self-liberation from preconceived frames.

This is also the reason of his involvement with Zen, I-Ching, chances operations. Odd as it can seem, hearing how a cactus would sound - as we did in Queen Elisabeth Hall - is, for Cage, a matter of experiencing freedom. That's probably what the Apartment House ensemble would think of. 

The ensemble, that just few days before, on Sept. 8, performed Yannis Kiryakides Atopia and Phil Niblock Five More String Quartet at the Oxford Playhouse, is a pioneering ensemble devoted to contemporary and experimental music behind the boundaries - performing regularly works by composers as diverse as George Maciunias, Cornelius Cardew, Anthony Braxton, Karlheinz Stockhausen and many others. On Tuesday 15 they performed a repertoire featuring also Radio Music for 8 performers, Child of the tree for solo percussion, Concert for piano and orchestra/Fontana mix, String Quartet in four parts, Music for nine, spanning from 1948 to 1966.

Radio Music is a work composed using chance operations. The 8 parts indicate between 26 (part E) and 64 (parts C and G) different frequencies between 55 and 156 kHz, notated using numbers (and not using conventional staves, like in Imaginary Landscape No.4). Lines indicate silences, "expressed by maximum amplitude". The number of silences varies between parts: from 9 in part D to 27 in part G. Cage mentions that every part is in 4 sections, with or without silences between them, to be programmed by the player(s). The published score consists of a title page and 10 typed leaves containing 8 parts (parts C and G 2 pages each).

Child of the tree is a composition for found instruments, using the I Ching to determine the number of instruments, order, and length of performance. Being on a tour in Arizona with the Cunningham Dance Company in 1975, one of dancers (Charles Moulton) brought a dried cactus to Cage, placed it near his ear and plucked the spines of it. This inspired Cage to use cacti as musical instruments.

The score consists solely of performance instructions on how to select 10 instruments, using I-Ching chance operations. All instruments should be made of plant materials, or be just the plant materials themselves (e.g. leaves from trees, branches etc.). One of the instruments should be a pod (rattle) from a poinciana tree, which grow in Mexico.

"Using a stopwatch, the soloist improvises clarifying the time structure by means of the instruments. This improvisation is the performance". is based off of chance and aleatoric principles.

The Concert for Piano and Orchestra has no overall score, but all parts are written in detail. A performance of the Concert may include all of the instruments, but also can be performed as a solo, duet, trio or any combination of the given instruments. The notation of all orchestral parts uses a system where space is relative to time. The amount of time is determined by the musician and later, during the performance, altered by the conductor who has his or her own part and acts like a living chronometer.

Notes are of 3 sizes. This may refer to duration or amplitude or both, the interpretation being determined by the performer. All of these solos involve as many playing techniques as possible. The part for pianist is an aggregate of 84 different kinds of notations, written on 63 pages and composed using 84 different compositional techniques. The pianist may play the material in whole or in part, choosing any notations, elements or parts and playing them in any order. The composing means involved chance operations, as well as the observation of imperfections in the paper upon which the music was written.

The String Quartet consists of four movements: Quietly flowing along - Slowly rocking - Nearly stationary - Quodlibet. Like the Sonatas and Interludes it deals with the Indian notion of the nine permanent emotions (more information on this subject can be read under Sonatas and Interludes), as well as about the Indian notion of the seasons, creation, preservation, destruction and quiescence. In the first movement the subject is Summer in France, in the second it is Fall in America. The third movement is about Winter and the fourth about Spring as a quodlibet.

The work uses gamuts of sound, as in most of his compositions from this period. The collection of sonorities in this work is relatively small and they are not transposed, fragmented or arpeggiated. The strings are played without vibrato and those to be used for the tone production are specified.

Music for (Nine) was concieved as seventeen parts for voice and instruments without overall score. The title is to be completed by adding the number of performers, eg. Music for Five. Each part consists of "pieces" and "interludes". The parts are notated on two systems and use flexible time-brackets.

Part of the "pieces" are made up of single held tones, preceded and followed by silence, can be repeated any number of times and are to be played softly. Others consist of sequences of tones with various pitches, notated proportionally. These tones are not to be repeated and have various dynamics, timbres and durations. 

The "Interludes", lasting 5, 10 or 15 seconds, are to be played freely with respect to dynamics and durations of single notes, and played normally with respect to timbre. The work uses microtonal pitches.

The piano is played by bowing the strings with fishing line or horse hair. The percussionists have fifty instruments each, to be chosen by the performer. Selected instruments must be able to produce held tones. The string parts follow the notation of Freeman Etudes.

The players may decide on the amount of pieces and interludes to be performed, resulting in a maximum duration of thirty minutes.

The description of Cage's works are taken from the John Cage database.

Monday, 12 September 2011

lean left + ab baars @ cafe oto 09/11/2011

Dutch post-punk Terrie Ex and Andy Moor have a long history of meetings on their shoulders. Tom Cora, Gétatchèw Mekuryia, The Instant Composers Pools, but the list is still longer, supposing that enumerating would be of help in that case. The risk of being ceremonial doesn't fit with a band that spent their entire career in making soul music, even if in avant-punk clothes.

During this two-days residency, The Lean Left, a side project in which the Ex guitars are colliding with Ken Vandermark reeds and Paal Nillsen-Love sticks, as on the couple of records issued by Smalltown Superjazz, are meeting with Dutch composer and bandleader Ab Baars on Sept. 11 and, the day after, with Rip Rig + Panic, Derek Bailey, Tristan Honsiger mate and drummer Steve Noble.

Reporting about the first night, the two guitars, saxophone and drums started to play at about 9.00 pm showing an excellent feeling, coherence, magnetism and dynamics grasp, joined by Baars after a small pause for a second set. The only note possible is that what you hear is exactly what you can expect from the guys, if this can be taken as a negative point. 

Multi-reedits Ken Vandermark, since his settling in Chicago in 1989 played in a huge variety of contexts: avant-garde jazz (Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, Paul Lytton, Joe Morris, Axel Doerner, Mats Gustafsson, Wolter Wierbos, Joe McPhee, Zu, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Lovens), avant rock (Flying Luttenbachers), tribute projects (Sun Ra, Parliament/Funkadelic), building a unique style in which multilayered structures and free playing find their own balance through the arrangements. 

Ab Baars, member of the ICP collective, clarinetist, tenorist and also a shakuhachi player, started playing at the age 15 in small locals bands in Eindhoven, than he studied saxophone in Rotterdam's conservatory, and finally in Los Angeles with Clarinettist-composer John Carter. Influenced by AACM multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell, his style was described by fellow pianist Misha Mengelberg as 'ab music'. He's also co-leading with Ig Henneman the WIG Foundation, whose main goal is promoting both improvised and composed music through the Netherlands.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

matthew shipp _ evan parker @ the vortex 09/07/2011

words _ gian paolo galasi

A special night at The Vortex Jazz Club [11 Gillett Square]. Pianist Matthew Shipp shared his first residency night there with veteran saxophonist Evan Parker. A concert divided into two steps: piano and soprano, then piano and tenor saxophone. 

The combination of a horn instrument and of a piano necessarily reminds of Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron. Not by chance, since as Mr Shipp himself told me, Mal Waldron seems to be as underrated as influent on the evolution of piano music, from Thelonious Monk up to contemporary piano nuances in opening the space. 

The other term of comparison, Steve Lacy, is worth in underlining how much both he and Evan Parker have been masters soprano players and the most important post-Coltrane figures in the improvised music world: working on harmonics in an ellyptical and askew way the first, while the last developed through time a style that brought him from de-construction - atomizing phrases in smaller particles - to re-construction - mostly using circular breathing so to give coherence to music through playing.

On tenor, Evan Parker seemed to be playing a kind of mutant instrument, so obliquously that in developing the shortest phrases you seem to hear an alto whose pitches loose into a listless denial to bop. Otherwise Matthew Shipp gave shape to one of his most solid renditions, trying to avoid open chords and working on emphasizing and reinforcing the flowing of music. 

This is not the first time the two musicians played together. At least another encounter occurred that year, at the NY Vision Festival, while a recor, "Abbey Road Duos", was issued in 2007 by Treader. It seems that tonight concert would become another record, thanks to the French label Rogue Art

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

lio @ oto 09/04/2011

words _ gian paolo galasi
photos _ london improvisers orchestra

LIO @ Freedom of the City festival, May 2009

Since the 1960's London was one of the most preeminent impro hubs in Europe. The Musicians Cooperative and the London Musicians Collective, labels such as Incus, Emanem and Psi, publications as Derek Bailey's "Improvisation - Its Nature and Practice" [Da Capo Press] and LMC's magazine "Musics" were all part of a general vocation to develop proper means of expressions through self-help and sharing knowledges at the purpose. 

The history of the London Improvisers Orchestra is more recent, even if many of the musicians involved are well representing the legacies of the local scene, and for a couple of capital reasons. The first is that many of the musicians involved are a constant presence since the beginning: flutist Terry Day, sopranist Lol Coxhill, violinist Phillip Wachsmann, just to name a few. 

The second reason is the orchestral size, that from Mike Westbrook's and Chris Mc Gregor's free jazz bands through the Ensembles of Barry Guy and Paul Rutherford - more focused on contemporary composition, until the Continuous Music Ensemble and the Alternative Music Orchestra, seems to be an important reference. 

The LIO is composed by about 40 musicians, but usually not all of them are present together on stage at the same concert. As violinist Alison Blunt wrote me today, "There are a large number of LIO members but it's not frequently that everyone is at an LIO gig - that's completely understood and part of the flexibility".

"There are several members who conduct occasionally and some who conduct regularly. Some of our conductors create text or graphic scores for the band to use, other times we've worked with dancers, film makers and poets etc. as co-conductors."

In fact, LIO was formed in 1997 when Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris was performing his "London Skyscraper" in Britain. It's impossible for the moment for me to tell in what Morris' conductions are different to the Beresford's or Ryan's, as an example. Morris is not always using the same musicans, so more that making statements on how Morris' and LIO's records would sound, it would be important to see conducting and talk directly to both about the topic, so I'm opting for digging next time.

"For ten months of the year, the members meet up on the first Sunday of the month (excluding December and January) at Cafe Oto in Dalston [18-22 Ashwin Street]. Meeting prior to the gig for a rehearsal, so anybody who has an idea about how to control a group of individuals who take pleasure in not being controlled, can rehearse what they would like to do. These pieces mixed in with freely improvised sections makes up the performance at 8.30." (from LIO Facebook official page).

Ivor Kallin

During this September Sunday, the LIO divided their concert in two sets. The first one presented clarinetist Dave Ryan's conduction, followed by a violin concerto composed by Sue Ferrar and conduced by Alison Blunt, a freely improvised piece and, before a small lapse, a conduction by multi-instrumentalist Steve Beresford.

LIO's conductions are divided into ensemble and small groups. In Dave Ryan's, every musician is beckoned in turn to create a hushed layering of sound, that at a certain point explode suddenly in a 'tutti' crescendo, just to switch off and reopen in a different spatial and timbric blend, with the lines varying from a single, continuous and soft puff to postbop-like lines. 

But the distinctive feature of the orchestra is well displayed by Ivor Kallin and the violins in general, widely reminiscent of Xenakis' operas for ensemble like Kraanerg: if Evan Parker was true when talking in 1980 about the different modi operandi - being the first generation of UK improvisers working on an "atomistic method", "breaking the music down into small component parts and piecing them together again in a collective way, so as to de-emphasize the soloistic nature of improvisation and replace it by a collective process", while the AMM and the younger LMC ones were "laminar", "by contributing layers which would fit together and make a new whole", the LIO can be described as a good synthesis, thanks also to the mixing of acoustic instruments, two electric guitars, one laptop and found objects.

The second half of the concert was made up of a conduction by reedist Ricardo Tejero, and a free improvisation by a small group composed by Noel Taylor (clarinets), David Ryan, Alex Eastley (bassoon, one of the night's guest musicians), Steve Beresford, Guillaume Viltard (contrabass) and Tony Marsh (percussions).

Finally, Claude Deppa's - another guest musician - improvised trumpet concerto, conducted by Dave Tucker. "Most months - as Alison wrote me again - we have 1 or 2 guest musicians, they get in touch with a band member in advance and sometimes request the conduction signals info in advance too".