Something I’ve found unexpected about growing older is my increasing contentedness with not listening to music. For most of my life, I found it natural to accompany most work or leisure with some sort of sound: pick an album, press play, listen to completion. Whatever I chose to hear could serve a slew of functions. It could, for example, act as an extension of my current mood, soundtracking any activity in the way I best saw fit. On countless occasions, music was a buffer between my mind and the impending tasks—be they tedious or terrifying, work or working out—that I would fear facing head-on. Even in discovering John Cage’s approach to music listening, music’s expanded world only meant extended periods of distraction. That is to say, in appreciating sounds that emanated from non-traditional sources, there proved to be even more opportunities for removing myself from reality. As such, stripping music of its sacrosanct status was a result of no longer wanting—or being able—to avoid life. And today, it sometimes feels good to simply sit, to not listen.
On Spaces, Jos Smolders spends over two hours immersing listeners into the sound worlds of museums. While a quotidian capturing of such institutions would be an interesting endeavor in and of itself, Smolders instead uses their curious atmospheres as a mere starting point; what often begins as a typical field recording soon evolves into a larger musical event that finds him taking on a more pronounced role in the proceedings. As such, it would be dishonest to purport that the album gives a good sense of the exact nature of these locations, and it doesn't seem to be Smolders's goal either. His active participation in these compositions finds these subjective interpretations to be a window unto his experiences: a personal but valid approximation of what these spaces are actually like.
Many artists working under the catchall ‘experimental’ label nevertheless tend toward repetition, even cliché. Olivia Block, by contrast, rarely does the same thing twice. Indeed, her recorded output often feels like a series of literal experiments, designed and executed in rigorously controlled environments. With each release, Block conceives a new setup, introduces a new instrument or source material—or a new system or method of composition—so that her oeuvre has the feel of an ever-expanding research programme. When she has selected, explored, and documented a new idea (or technique, or space), Block publishes her findings and moves on.
The UK-based Penultimate Press (run by Mark Harwood aka Astor) continues their ongoing retrospective/excavation of the neglected Danish Fluxus-aligned composer Henning Christiansen with two new archival releases sharing the distinction of being scores for films directed by his partner and collaborator Ursula Reuter Christiansen. The label’s back-catalogue—home to such luminaries as Graham Lambkin, Księżyc, Étant Donnés, and Áine O'Dwyer—points to a constellation of outré artists united, however tenuously, by an aesthetic departing from Christiansen himself: a sort of rustic, homespun, off-kilter style enmeshed within the soundscape of local folklore and ecology. It is therefore appropriate that Penultimate is taking up the task of bringing attention to this underappreciated composer and subsequently filling in a historical gap between the now-canonized Fluxus sound art of Nam June Paik et al. and the legion contemporary artists in its trajectory.
The album Music and Dance (Revenant, 1996) is attributed to two performers: Derek Bailey, who plays guitar, and Min Tanaka, who dances. It is not obvious what—if any—sounds on the record are Tanaka’s. The recordings are murky and take place half in the rain. Nevertheless, Bailey stresses in the liner notes that the album is correctly attributed. There would be no music without Tanaka’s dance, no dance without Bailey’s music. Even if his presence in the music has been largely or wholly mystified, Tanaka is decisive in what we hear.
It is impossible to begin with anything other than death. Two deaths have been placed, as it were, in advance of the piece itself: one, in the painting from Poussin’s later period, which serves as the ‘text’ of the performance. The other is the passing of Bjørgeengen’s wife—for whom the piece is named—just weeks before the date of the performance.
Writing in Japan during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Nakajima Atsushi drew from classical Chinese texts in order to tackle existential questions that he wrestled with personally. Contemplation about such matters weren't in vogue at the time, and understanding this helps to paint the potential loneliness he felt in having these thoughts. In the afterword to The Moon over the Mountain, the first collection of Nakajima's short stories translated to English, Paul McCarthy and Nobuko Ochner note that his contemporaries would approach fiction autobiographically. In attempting to do this, Nakajima found the results unsatisfactory. He was, after all, just a schoolteacher: how could his philosophical musings be wholly conveyed through such a limited lens? One senses that in his utilization of canonical texts—and his rigid faithfulness to them—Nakajima found both a large enough canvas to work with and a solace in assigning his inner turmoils to characters that were familiar to all.
Released in 2012 on Another Timbre, Chantier 1 juxtaposed two studio recordings with five from a construction site tasked with erecting the Philharmonie de Paris. The idea was that Pascal Battus and Bertrand Gauguet would try and recreate the on-site recordings in a "neutral, silent space" by memory. This served as an interesting exercise that ultimately pointed to the richness of the construction site's own sonic identity, especially since the studio tracks were unexpectedly placed at the beginning of the album. In Chantier 2, Gauguet wrote that the chantier had its own autonomy, and that his and the others' presence had little effect on its "life." As such, there was little intent to "musicalize" it; to do so would undermine the detailed sound world already present.
By: Jared Redmond
The dotolim (닻올림) series has been a mainstay of the small but active experimental improvisation scene in Seoul for a good decade. Last Friday’s excellent concert brought together three legends of that local scene, heavy hitters with years of Korea- and internationally-based work behind them: Ryu Hankil, Kevin Parks, and Joe Foster. Ryu Hankil is a household name among experimental music aesthetes in Korea. His large body of work extends from glitchy electro-pop (as early-2000s project Daytripper) to hardware- and object-based free improvisation and digital noise, and he performs perhaps more often in Europe than he does in his home country. Kevin Parks is a composer as well as an improviser, currently teaching music at the Catholic University of Daegu, and Joe Foster, who has been based in Korea for at least 15 years, is well known as a free improviser of music ranging from the very harsh to the very weird (this is meant as a profound compliment).
Their trio improvisation was performed as two sets of about 40 minutes each. Both sets stayed away from harsher ’noise’ territory: although at times the sounds leaned toward the more extreme, that extremity always occurred as the result of the improvisation’s narrative, rather than as a brutality for its own sake. Throughout it all, a studious Ryu at his laptop provided a tasteful backdrop of digital glitches and drones which infrequently even intimated definite rhythm. From within that sonic landscape emerged the processed instrument, object, and hardware sounds of Foster and Parks. At times, the keyclicks of Ryu typing commands became a subtle musical addition unto themselves, his fingers announcing shifts in the underlying digital canvas.
For the first set, Parks spent a lot of time with his electric guitar, carefully working a radically detuned low string to create e-bow drones. Foster took on a decidedly ‘motivic’ approach, using amplified tuning forks and extended techniques on his trumpet periodically, as recurring fragments which created a sense of unity within the stream-of-consciousness flow of sound. In the second set, these motivic impulses found their outlet through Foster’s intermittent striking of claves. Parks complimented the dry and ritualistic sounds with smoother, more atmospheric sounds of his own: amplified and reverberated springs and metal objects which rumbled, creaked, and groaned.
Highlights of the acoustically-generated sounds: Foster’s amplified and processed music box, which when cranked forward or backward yielded either sounds of slow, twisted bells, or foreboding mechanical rattles. And from Parks: ball bearings of various sizes dropped into amplified metal bowls, as great stones into the abyss. In general, the chamber music skills of all three musicians were apparent, although Parks was especially noticeable, his head leaning toward the other performers to carefully sense the right moment to chime in or bow out. In only one moment was the natural flow of the music rather unnaturally stopped and re-started, as if a collective sense of when the improvisation had ‘finished’ had not been equally felt by all three players. But such moments are their own risk and reward in such music: a byproduct of the mental electricity – for the musicians as well as the audience – of never knowing quite what will come next.
Caroline Park's newest album concerns itself with the "tensions that persist: physical frictions, muscles trying, and the body that continues to labor to survive." It's about the act of living, understanding that the many terrors of the everyday demand much of our time and energy. That we continue to press forward: a reminder of the systems that imprison us to such a life, a sign of our continued persistence, and the inevitable rendering of such terrors as quotidian.