New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: minimalism

Cocooning on Multiple Levels

If there’s ever been a time for soothing, enveloping sounds in New York, this is it. Two shows this week gave audiences a good idea of what’s available in an month where pretty much everybody’s women friends are afraid of losing their reproductive rights, everybody’s Mexican friends are worried about being lynched, and everybody’s up in arms about where they’re going to live after 1/19/17.

Virtuoso violist Ljova explained that he was new to loopmusic, so he cautioned the crowd at Barbes Tuesday night that they should take what they hear with a grain of salt. Then he launched into a characteristically ambitious solo soundscape that echoed the rigor of his Moscow conservatory training, his wide-ranging eclecticism as one of this era’s great film composers, as well as the wry humor and irony that pervade his work across the board. His setup was pretty simple, mirroring the directness of his melodies: his signature, custom-made six-string “famiola” running through delay, loop and volume pedals. It was interesting to watch him think on his feet: when he hit on a riff he liked, he ran with it. There were also a few times when he’d hit on one he didn’t think worth keeping, scowled a little and then moved on.

Then the great Syrian-born clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joined the festivities. While his music can be kinetic – he leads a fantastic jazz group, his City Band – it more frequently tends to be on the serious side, often extremely poignant. The early part of the duo’s calm, methodically shifting improvisation echoed the eerie washes of Azmeh’s upcoming album with the similarly brilliant Turkish guitarist and soundscaper Erdem Helvacioglu. But Ljova was in a restless mood, and began to pull away, and Azmeh stayed in sync with some judiciously spaced, bubbly phrases in contrast to his more usual brooding resonance. At the end of the set, the two joined in an enigmatically lilting, minor-key waltz by the violist. The two have played together many times, although this was their first joint improvisation. Azmeh plays his song cycle Songs for Days to Come, featuring the work of Syrian poets in exile, tomorrow night, Nov 19 at 8 PM at Symphony Space with pianist Lenore Smith, soprano Dima Orsho and cellist Kinan Abou-Afach. $25 tix are still available as of today. Ljova stays busy on the road: his next gig as a bandleader is with his vibrantly cinematic Kontraband string ensemble on Dec 3 at 7:30 PM PM at the San Fernando Cathedral, 115 W Main Plaza in San Antonio, TX, reservations to (210) 464-1534 are required.

The soundscapes played last night at Spectrum by guitarist Martin Bisi, multi-instrumentalist Thursday Fernworthy and ambient music artist Robert Pepper were more  lushly enveloping, a dense, misty, slowly swirling vortex. Seated within an audience with closed eyes and slowly bobbing heads, just about everybody reclined in a comfy armchair, it felt weird to rise up and actually watch the musicians at work rather than  drifting off in a surrealistic tequila buzz. Although the overall sound was contiguous, a single river fed by a kaleidoscope of streams, there was a lot of interplay and camaraderie among the three. There were distinct segments where each musician essentially got to lead the trio, whether that meant Pepper intoning into what looked like a mini-digeridoo, or Fernworthy sending keening violin overtones spiraling through her mixers, or Bisi doing the same with an emphatically minimalist riff or gentle chordal wash. Meanwhile, trippy projections played on a screen behind them, the best being a slow walk into the woods, Blair Witch style. Likewise, about two-thirds of the way through their roughly forty-minute improvisation, the three laced their ultraviolet backdrop with bracing close harmonies, jarring rhythmic hits and lower, more distinctly ominous drones.

Pepper books and plays the regular Ambient Chaos series at Spectrum, typically on the third Thursday of the month starting at around 9 in the welcoming, comfortable second-floor Ludlow Street space. Bisi and Fernworthy – someone whom Facebook does not believe is an actual person, notwithstanding the evidence of her performance here – have been known to do live atmospherics at Bisi’s legendary Gowanus digs, BC Studios on Sunday evenings. It’s not a public venue per se, but if you know them or care to keep in touch, you may be able to get an invite.

Distinctive Postrock Instrumentalists Tigue Return Home with a Greenpont Show

Tigue – percussionists Matt Evans, Amy Garapic and Carson Moody – play an imaginative, distinctive, hypnotic yet kinetic blend of indie classical, minimalism, postrock and drone music. On their latest album, Peaks – a suite, streaming at Bandcamp – each play various drums and other bangable/rattlable objects, along with a kitchen sink’s worth of other instruments. For example, Evans also serves as the group’s main keyboardist, but also plays shruti box and melodica, as his bandmates also do. Garapic also adds vibraphone throughout the album’s most tuneful moments. They’re just back from a midwest tour, with a homecoming show at 11 PM on December 3 at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint.

The best way to experience the album is when you’re not multitasking. Otherwise, the subtly shifting, cantering rhythms of Cranes won’t catch your attention. From there, they segue with a crash into Sitting, slowly adding bagpipe-like, droning synth chords as the sonic picture slowly brightens and the swaying beat recedes back into the mix, then rises and falls with a propeller-like insistence. Mouth is where the pace picks up even faster and the tempo gets tricky as a catchy, vamping tune slowly develops.

Then there’s a brief, static, ambient interlude followed by the pretty self-explanatory Drips. Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and James McNew add guitar and bass, respectively on Dress Well as its circles expand outward from neo Steve Reich to echoey, lingering yet propulsive psychedelia. From there they follow a methodical downward tangent into Cerulean, with its trippy sheets of white noise shifting through the sonic frame. The final cut, Ripped, brings the suite full circle, sometimes primal, sometimes icily elegant. Fans of similarly pulsing, hypnotic instrumental groups like Dawn of Midi should check them out.

Dan Trueman’s Crazy, Versatile New Keyboard Software Gets a Workout at le Poisson Rouge

Let’s say you’re a keyboardist and sick of the same old notes: as Wadada Leo Smith would say, maybe you feel hemmed in by the “tyranny of the key of C.” Maybe you want to voice the kind of in-between notes that a fretless instrument can deliver…or you want to go inside the piano a la George Crumb…or you’ve got a fondness for microtones or weird tunings in general. But as much as you’d like to bring in a real piano that you can play around with and/or torture a little, there’s no way it’s going to fit through your doorframe, or up the five rickety flights of stairs to your place…and you can’t afford a crane and a crew to pop out the window and put it back in again. Not to worry: Dan Trueman‘s new Bitklavier software, compatible with any MIDI keyboard, will empower you many times over. To illustrate its many capabilities, Trueman has a new album, Nostalgic Synchronic, played by So Percussion‘s Adam Sliwinski and streaming at Bandcamp. The album release show features Sliwinski and So Percussion, pianist Cristina Altamura playing Bach, and Trueman airing out his chops on the hardanger fiddle this Tuesday, October 6 at 7:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge. There will also be Bitklavier workstations set up for adventurous keyboardists to have fun with. Advance tix are $15.

To what degree is this album a demo reel – lookit all the wild things my gizmo can do! – and how genuinely musical is it? Obviously, Trueman is having a ball with all the echo and backward-masking and pitch-bending effects, and as much as his eight etudes here seeem obviously designed with those things in mind, the music is more listenable than you might expect – and trippy beyond belief. An apt comparison is Vijay Iyer‘s work on the actual acoustic prepared piano on Hafez Modirzadeh‘s cult classic Postchromodal Out! album from a couple of years ago. The first track is minimalist, steadily rhythmic and staccato, showcasing how subtly and intricately echo can be deployed, along with minute changes in pitch that are all the more prominent considering the tune’s static quality. The slow second piece mimics the almost glacial shifts of tidal motion, with gentle variances in rhythm – an important and useful feature of the software – and the decay of notes. The third takes a simple, folksy melody and quickly disassembles it, with dizzying, rhythmically altered echo: imagine an acid flashback experience of slapback reverb.

Track four has creepy fun with a steady raindroplet tune. The one after that, a homage to Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, wastes no time shifting from what promises to be a Beatlesque psychedelic rock stroll and then offers a look at how the software could be applied to blues or jazz riffage. Etude six is especially tuneful, a jauntily echoing, balletesque number exploring the software’s rhythmic effect on counterpoint: the point seems to be, “see, you can play Bach with this.” The seventh piece, an old Norwegian folk melody transposed from its original strange tuning to an arguably even stranger new one, relates to how neoromantic phrases can be cut, pasted and staggered. The concluding etude, slow and steady, offers a delightfully menacing hint at where David Lynch could go with this. Let’s see – there’s a new Twin Peaks series coming up, isn’t there?

ThingNY Debuts a Blackly Amusing, Sonically Rich Reflection on Hurricane Sandy

ThingNY‘s provocative, often hilarious performance piece This Takes Place Close By debuted last night, making maximum use of the spacious, sonically rich Knockdown Center in Maspeth, a former doorframe factory recast as adventurous performance venue. Through the eyes of various witnesses to Hurricane Sandy, the multimedia work explores apathy, anomie and alienation in the wake of disaster. It raises more questions than it answers – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is this limousine liberal self-flagellation, a vain attempt to demonstrate eleventh-hour empathy? A simpering, self-congratulatory meme for gentrifiers hell-bent on their fifteen minutes on Instagram? A welcome dose of perspective on where the hurricane falls, historically speaking, in terms of disastrous consequences? A caustic and often poignant critique of narcissism raising its ugly head at the least opportune moment? You can find out for yourself when the piece repeats, tonight, September 25 through Sunday the 27th at 8 PM; general admission is $20.

Ostensibly an opera, this is more of an avant garde theatre piece with music. The six-piece ensemble lead the audience from one set to another, creating a surround-sound atmosphere, voices and instruments leaping unexpectedly from the shadows. The live electroacoustic score – a pulsing, rather horizontal, minimalistic theme and variations – is gripping and often reaches a white-knuckle intensity, and the distance between the performers has no effect on how tightly they play it. The narratives vary from more-or-less straight-up theatre vignettes, to phone calls, harrowing personal recollections and surrealist spoken-word interludes. Other than Gelsey Bell – whose pure, translucent chorister’s soprano is the icing on the sonic cake – the rest of the ensemble do not appear to be trained singers. Yet they gamely hold themselves together through some challenging, distantly gospel-inspired four-part harmonies. Violinist Jeffrey Young‘s shivery cadenzas and the occasional creepy glissando enhance the suspense, while Bell’s keyboards and Dave Ruder’s clarinet supply more resonantly ominous ambience. Percusssionist Paul Pinto wryly doubles as roadie and emcee of sorts with his trusty penlight. Bassist Andrew Livingston distinguishes himself by playing creepy tritones while sprawled flat on his back in the rubble; meanwhile, Bell projects with undiminished power despite the presence of Livingston’s bass on top of her diaphragm.

Intentionally or not, the star of this show is multi-saxophonist Erin Rogers, whose vaudevillian portrayal of a 911 operator slowly losing it under pressure – in between bursts of hardbop soprano sax – is as chilling as it is funny. Happily, she later gets to return to give the poor, bedraggled, unappreciated woman some dignity. And playing alto, she teams with Livingston for a feast of brooding foghorn atmospherics during a portrait of a philosophical old bodega owner for whom the storm is “been there, done that.”

The characters run the gamut from enigmatic or gnomic to extremely vivid. Young gets to relish chewing the scenery as he channels a wet-behind-the-ears, clueless gentrifier kid who’s just self-aware enough to know that he ought to cover his ass while expunging any possible guilt for gettting away with his comfortable life intact. Livingston’s shoreline survivor, horror-stricken over the possible loss of his girlfriend, really drives the storm’s toll home. Bell’s baroque-tinged ghost is more nebulous, as is Pinto’s mashup of tummler and historian at the end – in a set piece that seems tacked on, as if the group had to scramble to tie things together just to get the show up and running in time. Yet even that part is grounded in history – which, if this group is to be believed, does not portend well for how we will react when the waters rise again. And they will.

A Dynamic New Album and a Bushwick Show from Cellist/Singer Patricia Santos

Patricia Santos calls herself a “vocellist.” As you would expect from a distinctive, terse cello player and strong, eclectic singer, she has her fingers in several projects. Most notably, she’s half of the cello-vocal duo the Whiskey Girls and a member of brilliant noir art-rock/circus-rock/latin band Kotorino as well. Santos also has an intriguingly intimate, tunefully diverse new album, Never Like You Think, streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show coming up at 9 PM on May 27 at Max Cellar (downstairs from Amancay’s Diner), 2 Knickerbocker Ave. at Johnson Ave.in Bushwick. It’s close to the Morgan Ave. stop on the L.

The albun’s first track is The One I Should Love, a starkly swaying minor-key blues with just vocals and two instruments, sawing cello contrasting with Andrew Swift’s bitingly resonant guitar. Then the two instruments essentially switch roles. In Your Arms sets Santos’ wryly sultry vocals against a strutting tune that builds to a subtly crescendoing waltz, winding out with a long, hypnotically vamping, pitchblende outro. For You is even more spare, Santos’ warm, balmy vocals paired against a minimalist four-note riff that throws off shards of overtones, especially when she hits a passionate chorus.

Santos keeps the stark ambience going through a raptly dynamic, then unexpectedly explosive take of the classic Mexican folk song La Llorona. Old Hill, another waltz, has a wistful front-porch folk feel grounded by the celllo’s ambered tones. The album winds up with an absolutely knockout, creepy, noisy cover of Kotorono’s Little Boat. The original has a deadpan ominousness: here, Santos teams with Kotorino bandleader/guitarist Jeff Morris, building to a skronk-infested, murderous peak. It’s a cool blend of grit, elegance and raw intensity that aptly capsulizes a captivatingly individualistic debut release.

Challenging and Intriguing Projects From Irrepressible Cellist Valerie Kuehne

Cellist Valerie Kuehne has made a name for herself by constantly touring and gigging at the outer fringes of improvised and experimental music. She may not be throwing wrenches into the system, but she’s always throwing something. She can spin a gorgeously lyrical phrase one second and then shatter her bow with a murderous swipe of low-register murk the next. Her music can be assaultive, even tortured, but also wickedly satirical and unselfconsciously playful, like a cat reveling in batting a breadbag twisty around the floor. Her sensibility is often inchoate and messy, fueled by anger and alienation, but also a sobering awareness that evades an awful lot of people who call themselves artists. She has a show coming up on April 4 at 7:30 PM at Dixon Place Theatre at 161 Chrystie St. north of Delancey with her uneasy neoromantic project Naked Roots Conducive with violinist Natalia Steinbach, and probably a small army of special guests, which is typical of bills Kuehne plays on. This happens to be the release show for her new “performance opera” Sacred521, which ostensibly “explores the beauty and terror of personal disclosure and visceral catharsis in individual experience.” Advance tix are $12.

Kuehne’s latest release is her Suite for Solo Cello, a starkly acerbic, multitracked five-part work available as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. Played live, it would require at least a cello trio. It’s a good capsulization of what Kuehne is all about, in introspective mode, drawing on minimalism and spectral music as much as the avant garde, with abundant use of microtones and extended technique.

It rises out of a sideswiping tone poem of sorts to several crescendos which hint, almost agonizingly, at a resolution. But that never arrives. Slithery high harmonics introduce brooding, rain-drenched atmospherics; a staggering, sawing march hits an axe-murderer stomp and quickly subsides.

From an uneasily hazy atmosphere, she returns to a march, but with a slow, aching quality. From there Kuehne lets a broodingly suspenseful ambience linger and then abruptly flips the script, taking an eerily dissociative pizzicato stroll. And then it’s over, unless you count the drolly layered spoken-word passage at the end.

Kuehne is also on the shortlist of the world’s most entertaining and insightful music writers. Her album-a-day project awhile back is inspiring, to say the least, a challenge to anybody who’s ever spent the early morning hours in the dim light of a laptop trying to make sense of what they just heard.

Another Magical, Otherworldly Night Staged by @tignortronics

Last week’s triumphant reprise of the initial show at Littlefield staged by composer/violinist/impresario Christopher Tignor, a.k.a. @tignortronics was magical. Sometimes lush and dreamy, other times stark and apprehensive or majestically enveloping, often within the span of a few minutes, Tignor and the two other acts on the bill, cellist Julia Kent and guitarist Sarah Lipstate a.k.a. Noveller put their own distinctly individualistic marks on minimalism and atmospheric postrock. There was some stadium rock, too, the best kind – the kind without lyrics. And much as the three composer-performers were coming from the same place, none of them were the least constrained by any kind of genre.

Kent and Lipstate built their sweeping vistas out of loops, artfully orchestrating them with split-second choreography and elegant riffage, both sometimes employing a drum loop or something rhythmic stashed away in a pedal or on a laptop (Lipstate had two of those, and seemed to be mixing the whole thing on her phone). Tignor didn’t rely on loops, instead fleshing out his almost imperceptibly shapeshifting variations with an octave pedal that added both cello-like orchestration and washes of low-register ambience that anchored his terse, unselfconsciously plaintive motives.

Kent opened her all-too-brief set with apprehensive, steady washes that built to an aching march before fading out quickly. Between songs, the crowd was  rapt: although there were pauses in between, the music came across as a suite. An anxious upward slash gave way to a hypnotic downward march and lush, misty ambience; a little later, she worked a moody, arpeggiated hook that would have made a good horror movie theme into more anthemic territory that approached Led Zep or Rasputina, no surprise since she was a founding member of that band (no, not Led Zep). Slithery harmonics slashed through a fog and then grew more stormy, then Kent took a sad fragment and built it into a staggered, wounded melody. She could have played for twice as long and no one would have said as much as a whisper.

Tignor flavored his judicious, sometimes cell-like themes with deft washes of white noise and his own slightly syncopated beat, which he played on kick drum for emphatic contrast with his occasionally morose, poignant violin phrases. A long triptych moved slowly upward into hypnotic, anthemic cinematics, then back and forth and finally brightened, with a surprisingly believable, unexpectedly sunny trajectory that of course Tignor had to end enigmatically. A slow, spacious canon of sorts echoed the baroque, more melodically than tempo-wise, its wary pastoral shades following a similarly slow, stately upward tangent. He played a dreamy nocturne with a tuning fork rather than a bow for extra shimmer and echoey lustre and wound up his set with another restless if judiciously paced partita.

Where Kent and Tignor kept the crowd on edge, Lipstate rocked the house. She began with a robust Scottish-tinged theme that she took unexpectedly from anthemic terrain into looming atmospherics. A rather macabre loop hinting at grand guignol became the centerpiece of the big, anthemic second number, long ambient tones shifting overhead.
She followed a broodingly circling, more minimalist piece with an increasingly ominous anthem that more than hinted at David Gilmour at his most lushly concise, then a postrock number that could have been Australian psych-rock legends the Church covering Mogwai, but with even more lustre and sheen. She lept to a peak and stayed there with a resounding, triumphant unease as the show wound out, through an ominous, cumulo-nimbus vortex and then a long, dramatically echoing drone-based vamp that brought the concert full circle. Tignor promises to stage another concert every bit as good as this one this coming spring; watch this space.

Moody, Lynchian Instrumentals from Ludovico Einaudi

Italian pianist/composer Ludovico Einaudi has a beautifully Lynchian new album, In a Time Lapse, just out and a North American tour in the works. The music is Lynchian in the sense that it builds a series of frequently apprehensive movements out of terse variations on a simple four-note theme, just as Angelo Badalamenti did with the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The shadow of Philip Glass also towers over this album; his 1995 suite In the Summer House springs to mind. And in its more brooding moments, Einaudi reminds of Erik Satie. Einaudi likes a lot of reverb on his piano, to the extent that he generously credits the recording engineer as part of the ensemble. Elegant, sometimes sweeping strings and surprisingly hard-hitting percussion are provided in places by Orchestra I Virtuosi Italiani .

After a pensive, balmy string introduction, Einaudi wastes no time going deep into the noir with the sweepingly orchestrated, creepily surreal, hypnotic central theme, setting a suspenseful tone that persist throughout the rest of the album. While the rest of the suite is seldom this dark, there’s a recurring disquiet throughout the series of hypnotic, artfully ornamented piano preludes. Einaudi plays gracefully and gently; he lets his ideas linger and build suspense, or resonate with a nocturnal, late-summer calm.

A moody hypnotically baroque-tinged waltz brings back the strings, building to a stormy insistence. Einaudi follows a pulsing, Glass-like circular piece with an increasingly haunting interlude, lush strings over a repetitive four-note piano riff. Spaciously airy piano variations give way to more Glass-like circularity and then build to a minimalistically pulsing variations over almost subsonic electronics. The unease rises as the variations move along, electronic loops and then strings carrying the recurrent underlying theme to a rather elegaic payoff at the end. Who is the audience for this? The Sequenza 21 crowd, obviously; fans of Badalamenti, Glass, film music, and the noir pantheon. It sounds best with the lights out.

Meet George Sand – The Band, That Is

Much as assembling the monthly concert calendar here can be a pain, it’s like walking on the beach with a metal detector. Once in awhile, there’s a reward amidst the debris. Case in point: strange, minimalist keyboard band George Sand. Bandleader/composer Jay Pluck has obviously had some immersion in Philip Glass: there’s a hypnotic aspect to this music, but it’s more raw and ragged and gently, methodically disquieting. Think of the creepy cinematics of In the Summer House and you’ll be on the right track. There are three intriguing tracks up at the band’s Bandcamp page (sadly, they’re not downloadable), all of them working subtle, precisely articulated variations on broken chords, with an uneasy, modal melodic sense. These songs are long: the second one is thirteen minutes. The last of the three tracks, One Light Song clocks in at just under eight and features nebulously ominous guy/girl harmonies. They’re at Cake Shop on 12/3 at 10 PM opening for smart, tuneful, pensive female-fronted Americana/powerpop rockers Glass Anchors, cover is $7.

A Brian Eno Classic Live in Concert

Recording a live album of ambient Brian Eno compositions is a potential minefield. First and foremost is the issue of audience noise – never mind how to arrange or orchestrate the music. Yet at the 2010 Brighton International Festival in the UK, James Poke’s ensemble Icebreaker bravely tackled the 1983 Brian Eno/Roger Eno/Daniel Lanois collaboration Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, and pulled it off, quietly but mightily. A lush, mesmerizing piece of music, this newly released concert album – just out on Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe Music label – doesn’t have the spontaneous vibrancy of a live recording. While it sounds like a studio effort, Icebreaker’s new arrangement enhances the hypnotic, enveloping, raptly warm ambience of the original, giving it a more organic feel. Here, the young pedal steel player on the studio recording, Lanois, is absent – in his place, the brilliant BJ Cole, who cites Eno and Apollo in particular as major influences on his own paradigm-shifting work.

To the twelve-piece ensemble’s credit, it’s impossible to keep track of who’s playing what, as the minimalist melody gently shifts from one voice, or combination of voices, to another. The group’s lineup is acoustic-electric, with Dominic Saunders and Andrew Zolinsky on keyboards, Pete Wilson on bass, and James Woodrow doing a chillingly accurate David Gilmour impersonation on guitar over the hypnotic sweep of woodwinds, strings and accordion. The piece’s slow tectonic shifts drift between instruments, practically imperceptibly as subtle shifts in the melody float in and then out of the mix, the ringing, bell-like tones of the electric piano evoking Angelo Badalementi at his dreamiest. As the variations go on, the music takes on a more ominous, Lynchian atmosphere: what becomes obvious is how many artists, from 17 Pygmies to Bill Frisell, have felt the influence of this work (and how much Eno was influenced by Pink Floyd). Woodrow’s jarring, apprehensive, Gilmour-esque riffs juxtapose against quietly anxious, shifting voices, highs slowly ceding centerstage to lows as the clouds loom in with a distant menace.

The album then takes a turn away from minimalism and horizontality. Cole’s purist country phrasing lights up what’s essentially a swaying folk anthem, stripped to the bone, followed by what could be Another Brick in the Wall, Part 4, then a soul guitar theme, and an imaginatively spiced countrypolitan steel guitar ballad. The album ends with a gorgeous, hazily bittersweet series of circular motifs, and a lullaby of sorts. Who is the audience for this? For one, the next generation of kids who’re just now discovering Floyd and the rest of the art-rock pantheon, along with anybody who was there for that stuff the first time around and who might have missed this – and for that matter, anyone looking for hypnotic, gently atmospheric music to get completely and absolutely lost in.