NOVEMBER News 2005 Reviews by David Cotner, Nate Dorward, John Gill, Bob Gilmore, Jesse Goin, Stephen Griffith, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton, Alastair Wilson:

In Concert: ErstQuake 2
John Gill on Macho Jazz
On Pogus:
DIY Canons
Lindsay Cooper
Frank Denyer
Volcano The Bear / Cline, Shoup, Corsano / Korber, dieb13, Kahn / Hotelgäste / Ambarchi & Avenaim / Shull, Flandreau & Radding / Ghaphery, Bivins & Davis / Arek Gulbenkoglu
Ulher & Robair / Mark Wastell / Dieter Scherf / Gustafsson & Stackenas / Mueller & Schoenecker / Genetti, Mueller, Wright / John Hagen / Koji Asano
Stephan Winkler / Candlesnuffer / Jonathan Kane / Jozef van Wissem
Greg Kelley / Merzbow / Jess Rowland / Kapotte Muziek / Tu m' / Aemae / Artemiy Artemiev
Last month


Here's a little something for you to try out when you have a minute: go to Google and do a search for "Nurse With Wound List". You'll be amazed. The list of bands and musicians Steve Stapleton namechecked on the first NWW album, Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table Of A Sewing Machine And An Umbrella (under his now legendary and much quoted – by me too – line: "categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden – step out of the space provided") has been fascinating musicians and non-musicians alike for over a quarter of a century, and has become a kind of blueprint for an alternative construction of music history, one that dissolves existing barriers between composition and improvisation, jazz and rock, in favour of.. something else. Maybe we should just call it New Music. But how did the Nurse List become so well-known? The first Nurse album, after all, was a self-produced limited edition on a hitherto unknown independent label, United Dairies, and appeared at a time when punk and post-punk product was being released (and, amazingly, frequently reviewed) at an alarming rate of knots. For sure, the LP's title and especially its cover, with Stapleton's distinctive S&M artwork, certainly stood out, but what also helped the first run sell out within three weeks was the review the album received in Sounds magazine, which, instead of allotting it the usual one, two or three stars appeared with the rating "?????". It was certainly enough to whet the appetite of New Music-hungry adventurers – happy are those today with an original copy of the United Dairies LP – and establish Stapleton as hero par excellence. It doesn't matter that the album itself, a ramshackle collection of totally improvised free rock, isn't all that good.. even Stapleton has distanced himself from it over recent years.

It's tempting to speculate then what impact that Sounds review has had on the subsequent history of New Music. So it's a special thrill to welcome the man who wrote it, John Gill, on board here at Paris Transatlantic. I met John at the Jazz em Agosto festival in Lisbon last year, and was amused to find out how differently we reacted to a lot of the music Rui Neves had programmed there. In particular, John, as the author of the highly acclaimed and controversial Queer Noises, took strong offence to the "butch attitude" of Mats Gustafsson's power trio The Thing (with Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten), and I subsequently invited him to extend his criticisms of "Macho Jazz" into a full-length PT feature, and here it is. "Hard hitting and provocative", the Style Guide blurb on our FAQs page used to read – you couldn't ask for more. Needless to say, the views expressed in the article are John's, not necessarily mine.. I rather enjoyed The Thing's set, as it happens, coming as it did in the midst of a rather uneven and lacklustre week of music. And, unlike John, I managed to track down Mats quite easily for a chat afterwards – at the bar in the Marriott Hotel where we were all staying. Anyway, now read on..

As if this wasn't enough, I'm also delighted to welcome another illustrious writer to our team, musicologist extraordinaire and Harry Partch biographer (watch out for a forthcoming book on Claude Vivier too) Bob Gilmore, who kicks off at PT with an exclusive interview with composer and flautist Anne La Berge. But Bob and John are not alone: a warm welcome also goes out to Alastair Wilson, who's been checking out Jon Abbey and Tim Barnes' ErstQuake fest in NYC, and Jesse Goin – yet another PT correspondent based in Minneapolis (must be something in the water). And our regular mighty penman Massimo Ricci has come up trumps with a profile of Lindsay Cooper. All in all, it might just be our finest issue yet – so bonne lecture.-DW

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ErstQuake 2
Various Artists
Collective:Unconscious, New York City
September 23rd - 25th
The second annual ErstQuake festival, an Erstwhile Records/Quakebasket/Erstwhile Distribution co-production, was held over three nights at Collective: Unconscious in New York’s TriBeCa area in late September. Each night comprised five half-hour sets, programmed by Erstwhile Records’ commander-in-chief, Jon Abbey, in collaboration with Quakebasket’s Tim Barnes and ErstDist’s Chris Wolf. There was a vein of youth and novelty running through the festival – besides old hands Keith Rowe and Toshi Nakamura, most of the musicians were at the younger end of those working in this area of music, playing in combinations that were either new or barely tested. Few present had heard all the musicians play before, let alone seen them all first hand, so the sense of anticipation was palpable. Punters had flown in from Europe, Australia, the Middle East and all parts of North America, and all three nights attracted full houses – Collective: Unconscious is a small theatre space with a capacity of 75 – but the Friday audience was even larger, with people standing and sitting in the aisle near the stage, which had been set up with seating on two sides allowing good visibility for all.
Friday’s first set was the duo of Tim Barnes (photo, left) and Mark Wastell, aka The Scotch of St James. At the AMPLIFY festival in Berlin in 2004, Barnes played snare drum/metals and Wastell amplified textures, but here Wastell played a tam-tam and Barnes a gong of slightly smaller diameter. Setting up the gongs opposite each other caused unusual vibrations as the waves from one affected the sound of the other, Barnes playing with mallet and metals and Wastell using small mallets. Both started gently, individually testing the hearing of the audience before Barnes launched into a ten-minute assault on his gong with vibrating metal mallets. Wastell sat it out, visibly enjoying the intense vibrations, but, when Barnes suddenly retreated, he let a chain of small bells cascade through his hand, the contrast working perfectly. It was one of highlights of the festival for me, and prepared the listeners well for what was to follow, while successfully incorporating sustained loudness (noise, if you will) and pre-determined elements, both of which musicians working in this field have often been loath to allow.
Guitarists Keith Rowe and Tomas Korber had played together before in larger ensembles but this was their first duo outing. Rowe’s setup didn’t include the Mac that has accompanied him at many concerts over the past year, and he made little (if any?) use of his radio. The emphasis was on the latest incarnation of his tabletop guitar, and Korber’s electronics and his own unusually-shaped instrument, played conventionally (in that he held it across his seated body in more-or-less the accepted fashion). With his characteristic drones and irruptions, Rowe started out as much the dominant partner. Korber seemed a little at sea, attacking his guitar to no great effect until Rowe relented and allowed his younger playing partner to show what he could do. Judging from the more restrained end of the set, we can expect this pair to create something exciting together in the future.
Advance reports from the soundcheck and the evidence of their Erstwhile release Misenlian had suggested that Julien Ottavi and Dion Workman’s set would be extremely loud. Not so. For the first few minutes it was unclear whether the sounds we could hear in the theatre were being generated by their laptops or were purely ambient noise, especially the short burst of muffled thumping later revealed to be an irate neighbour (maybe protesting that it was all too quiet). Low-volume drone intertwined with what sounded like escaping air before silence made a brief reappearance, after which the slight return of crackles and exhalation seemed somewhat extraneous, given the palate-cleansing nature of this set after the busy nature of the first two.
Returning to the auditorium after a visit downstairs to the well-stocked merchandise table, I found the space taken over by Jason Lescalleet’s cannibalised reel-to-reel tape recorders and loops of tape running from one to another. Joe Colley’s setup was smaller: a table with a mixer and assorted small noisemakers and microphones (photo, right). In what was the most physical set of the festival, Lescalleet ran between his mixing desk at the back of the stage and his machines, replacing and manipulating tapes, while Colley jack-knifed over his table, creating bursts and loops of noise that often overpowered his colleague’s output. The instinctiveness and air of anti-intellectual joy in making music was capped by the ending, when both musicians sent their chairs flying, Lescalleet’s nearly decapitating a transfixed member of the audience.
The final set of the first evening was the tried-and-tested combination of Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura. This time Rowe had set up his Mac, but five minutes in he was mouthing to Nakamura that he’d lost power and proceedings were halted while a new transformer was found. A solid set followed, ending with some beautiful rhythmic tones from Nakamura ebbing in and out of Rowe’s bubbling drone. How it would have been if the power hadn’t failed is hard to say, but it was certainly worth it for those last few minutes.
On Saturday afternoon a discussion session was held at the venue, giving listeners a chance to talk to the musicians about the music. Disappointingly, only three musicians took part – Rowe, Ottavi and Workman, with occasional interjections from Barry Weisblat, soundman for the festival – but the audience of twenty or so enjoyed some interesting conversations and occasional differences of opinion with the musicians. Topics covered included the links between Rowe’s paintings and his music, his opinion that AMM were at their best in the late 60s, and the difficulties involved with releasing records of historical importance that the musician(s) involved might not like (Rowe’s own Harsh was chosen as an example). The most animated discussion surrounded Ottavi and Workman’s opinions on downloading music and how to differentiate between a “good” and a “bad” recording. Without wishing to simplify their arguments, it seemed they were abrogating all responsibility for value judgments, suggesting that their opinion of what was “good” (and as such perhaps releasable in CD form) was no more valid than that of any listener. They combined this argument with the assertion that most of their concerts would end up being fileshared anyway, reasoning that they may as well put all their recordings up to share on their website and allow listeners to decide what was “good”. Some members of the public, myself included, found at least the first part of this argument hard to agree with, along with Ottavi’s assertion that “CDs are dead”, especially witnessing the feeding frenzy around the merchandising table during the festival.
Unusually for an event associated with Erstwhile, the first set of the Saturday night was a solo. Joe Colley (photo, left) came onstage with his hands in pockets, small electronic noises escaping through the fabric of his trousers. Eventually the noisemakers were decanted into small glass tubes on the floor, chirping away as Colley built a looping drone. Almost as physical as the night before, he swayed around the space, building as he went, before suddenly diving under the seats to switch on two radios (tuned to static) and play a baby monitor that produced the kind of sounds no parent would ever wish to hear coming from their offspring. The set ended with Colley pulling out the plugs from his mixer, realising some sound was still in evidence, pulling the rest out, apologising and running backstage. Solo improv sets, especially those using loops, often descend into mere technical display and an almost by-rote use of materials, but this one struck me as a genuinely instinctive use of a sound palette unique to this performance.
The next set was a trio featuring Taku Unami, Toshi Nakamura and Sean Meehan. They sat facing each other, and, sitting in the front row, I could look over Unami’s shoulder at his setup of laptop, upturned small speaker cone and vibrating metal instruments, all controlled by his laptop using a electronic tablet. It was a minimal set, with Nakamura coaxing small sounds out of his no-input mixing board and Meehan presenting virtually the only sustaining notes from his dowel/metals/snare drum kit while Unami placed objects – broken glass, stones – into the speaker cone and manipulated them using subsonics triggered by his laptop. The clatter of objects falling to the floor as he let the vibrations play out rather than intervene added an unintentional edge to the sound that contrasted well with the very controlled feel that the other musicans gave. Each noise was carefully thought through, no sound was innocent. It worked phenomenally well and was probably my favourite set of the whole festival.
The same couldn’t be said of the next set, which featured Tomas Korber and Tim Barnes, who'd swapped his gong for a snaredrum, miked up both inside and out to some very new-looking electronics. It all felt very incoherent, with Barnes opting to play loud most of the time and Korber’s contribution unclear, at least to my ears. Brief respite from the uninspired use of volume came when Barnes manipulated a spring on his snare, but it was thin gruel. I was glad to hear the end of it.
Nmperign – Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey – have, of course, played with Jason Lescalleet before, but their set at this year's ErstQuake was a new departure: an all keyboard affair (photo, right). Kelley played a Moog-alike Realistic keyboard, Rainey a Mac and sampler and Lescalleet some rather old-school sampling keyboards and a big roll of gaffa tape to hold the notes down as, after a tuneful flourish from Kelley, all three built a multilayered drone. It was pleasant enough but only came into its own when they began stripping it down to nothingness.
The third Keith Rowe set of the festival teamed him up with Julien Ottavi, fellow member of N:Q and practically Rowe's next door neighbour, living as he does down the road in Nantes, France. As it was clear from the discussion earlier in the day that both men have had long talks about the philosophy of music, I was intrigued to discover how they would approach this set – they confounded my expectations by playing almost exclusively on radios, perhaps with some minimal processing. Hefty blasts of hiphop stations, news of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and French speech and chansons reminded some listeners of Cage, but to my ears it sounded more like early Christian Marclay or Otomo Yoshihide. Ottavi's radio eventually picked up a Romantic string quartet. “Leave it – just leave it and walk away!” hissed Rowe, and the musicians duly left the stage, preventing the audience from applauding and leaving the unamplified radio fading in and out of the string quartet. When the house lights came back up the audience began clapping, hesitantly. But the radio carried on until the set was struck for the night. The following day Rowe explained to Chris Letcher that this final set had been an art piece, an expression of his disgust with America, and not meant as music at all. (His pre-set preparation presumably included finding radio stations that were talking specifically about Katrina.) During the Saturday afternoon discussions Rowe had mentioned that during a recent tour of England he prefaced his solo sets with a short spoken introduction explaining what he would be playing (“the same thing each night") as well as what he would be thinking about and trying to express during the performance. Had he done this prior to playing with Ottavi, would I have enjoyed it more or less? Would I have been looking for meaning to the exclusion of enjoying the music? I’m glad in the event I was able to enjoy it as a musical event, even if that was not what Rowe had intended.
Sunday night opened with the second trio of the festival, with Greg Kelley returning to his customary trumpet, Sean Meehan playing his dowel, snare and metals and David Daniell on laptop. It was a quiet set, Daniell's murmurs and grumbles underlaying Meehan’s considered sounds and Kelley’s extended techniques, which included scraping the trumpet with a metal sheet. There was nothing to particularly upset me, but little to connect with.
Rowe’s fourth and final set of the festival paired him with Mark Wastell in another first meeting. Throughout the festival musicians had flirted with noise, but these two showed how skilled improvisors can play extremely loud without losing subtlety. Rowe had his full arsenal of guitar, effects, Mac and radios, and Wastell his amplified textures, getting lots of mileage out of steel wool and bowed objects. The volume level increased as the set progressed, to a point where Wastell seemed hypnotised by the textures unpeeling at extreme volume. It was exactly how loud drone should be done, and proved to be a highlight of the festival acknowledged by rapturous applause.
Electric double bassist Margarida Garcia and Taku Unami, using a similar setup to the night before, took a completely different tack. Garcia played solo for some minutes, coaxing a variety of sounds from her instrument, leaving space for Unami – which he refused to fill. When eventually he chose to make a contribution it was with a series of noises unconnected to anything Garcia was playing, or even to themselves. His sound palette consisted of around four sounds, arhythmically placed in silences between Garcia’s showcase of extended techniques. Some twenty minutes must have elapsed before they stopped “trading solos” and actually overlapped, though I’m not sure even that was intentional. I rather liked this wilful ignorance of the other player approach, which worked as an excellent contrast to the preceding set.
As Julien Ottavi (photo, left) and Tomas Korber got ready to play the penultimate set of the festival, Ottavi warned the audience that they would be playing very loud, and that they wouldn't be offended if people chose to leave before or during the set. True to his word, after Korber had laid down a bed of mid-level grumble, Ottavi attacked his laptop with a karate chop, sending a burst of pure evil through the air and causing an involuntary “Oh!!” to erupt from half the audience. More slightly less extreme digital noise followed as Ottavi continued to pummel his keyboard. It was certainly more interesting than other excursions into noise during the festival, but palled after a while when it seemed Ottavi wasn’t leaving much room for Korber, who kept looking over at Ottavi, trying in vain to gain his attention. After some twenty minutes the noise abated allowing us to hear what Korber had been contributing – pretty interesting drones, as it happened – but I was left with ears ringing for about three quarters of an hour afterward.
Repairing the speaker that Ottavi and Korber had managed to blow during their set gave me time to recover my hearing somewhat, but not enough to describe with any precision how Tim Barnes, Toshi Nakamura and Mark Wastell’s final set actually sounded. I do though recall moments of sublime elegance, and a final fadeout that left the audience exhausted but sated as they made their way out into the street. Hanging over the doorway of the club is the Collective: Unconscious logo, the I Ching symbol meaning “Not Yet Fording” (a river), or “Before Completion”. According to Stephen Karcher’s How To Use The I Ching, this means that the questioner is "on the verge of an important change and must gather her energy to make the change in the future, but be able to make quick changes where necessary. It's not only about not completing, getting the steps 'wrong', but also an emphasis on avoiding closing prematurely, remaining open." An apt symbol indeed for ErstQuake.

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Macho Jazz
Earlier this year, I received an email from drummer Sebastian Rochford (photo, left), leader of the so-called punk-jazz group Polar Bear, whining about a bad review of Held on the Tips of Fingers (Babel), that I wrote for The Wire. Rochford’s fairly pathetic bleat was, essentially, why didn’t I like his music, because he and his chums (and they include a friend of mine, saxophonist Mark Lockheart, but he thinks I’m mad anyway) like playing music together. Well, there are numerous uncharitable responses to Sebastian’s complaint. Mingus and Ayler and The Pop Group and Rip Rig and Panic, for starters. Instead, I replied with a classic quote from the great Whitney Balliett, who defined jazz as “the sound of surprise”, explaining that nothing I'd heard on Polar Bear’s CD surprised me – from the post-Coltrane post-bop to Leafcutter John’s electronics. Anyone who'd been listening to jazz or electronics in the past forty years could see where Held on the Tips of Fingers was coming from. I further explained that I'd bent over backwards to be kind to an album that didn’t really deserve my kindness, but, hey, I’m just a Wire critic, not Simon Wiesenthal. Perhaps tellingly, Sebastian Rochford didn't write back. But I did receive a demo CD by a band called Fraud, led by former Royal Academy of Music student, saxophonist James Allsopp, with a similar line-up to Polar Bear's, also playing improvised jazz with electronics. And Fraud are everything that Polar Bear aren’t: brilliant, original, scary, thrilling, and they swing. When the demo turns into an official release, they’re going to get a love letter from me in The Wire.
Shortly after this I was told by a friend that Polar Bear's Held on the Tips of Fingers had been nominated for the British Mercury Award for music, and I started seeing red. The Mercury Awards are held in derision by anyone who can parse a sentence involving polysyllables. Coldplay, the poor man’s Radiohead, were up for it again, but the bookies were putting their money (or yours) on the Kaiser Chiefs. In the end, the draggy Antony and The Johnsons won it. The fact that Coldplay were nominated again just confirmed the critical vacuity of the whole affair. But the boggling inclusion of Polar Bear – sorry, but were Django Bates or Perfect Houseplants on holiday that day? Norma Winstone? John Surman? – speaks volumes about the selection process overseen by elderly (and I'd guess generously remunerated) pseud Simon Frith.
In a cheerfully sordid thirty-year career as a chancer rock hack with a taste for Can, The Residents and weird noise from around the world, I have come across many idiocies. One was a fellow hack on Sounds magazine who got sent James ‘Blood’ Ulmer’s Are You Glad to be in America? by a pal at Rough Trade (who released that LP in Britain) and, without a single Miles Davis album in his collection of Crispy Ambulance and Orange Juice, declared it “the greatest jazz album ever made”. (A spooky subtext of racism in there, never mind the ignorance.) Another was a Melody Maker writer who fell for a joke of mine at an early Courtney Pine gig that bebop was jazz’s answer to the skinhead punk phenomenon, Oi!, and went into print with it under her own byline without a wisp of irony or humour.
But Polar Bear and the Mercuries really set el gato dentro de las palomas. It wasn’t just the tired re-treads of Coltrane, and the sneaky steals from Cage et al, it was also the creeping masculinism in jazz that’s been coming down the turnpike for some time. I bored Wire readers with a reference to Santayana’s famous “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”, and readers of Jazzwise with my opinion of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (photo), his weirdly macho obsession with his own physique and his unwatchably butch stage persona, and the fact that his band The Thing dress up like black-clad skinheads. In fact, I spent a good part of 2004’s Jazz em Agosto festival in Lisboa trying to track Muscle Mary Mats down and explain my disagreements with his reactionary bop-meets-Black-Sabbath racket nose to nose. I’m queer, but these blokes will run a mile from a homo in a bad mood. And don’t get me started on Wynton Marsalis.
The post-punk Homocore/Homocult Manifesto allows us to kidnap cool heterosexuals as honorary queers, so The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, honest-to-goodness strapping heterosexuals who swing like shit while satirising masculinity are dead queer. I’m afraid though the guest list doesn't include Mats, or Sebastian, or those other nu jazz starlets, The Bad Plus (accurate description, or poor grasp of a foreign language?)...
Around a decade ago I published a book, Queer Noises, looking at lesbian and gay contributions to twentieth century music. I spent a week chasing Cecil Taylor around Manhattan before giving up. Instead, one of my interviewees was vibraphonist, composer and bandleader Gary Burton, who, depressingly, trotted out the same old line about jazz being male and macho: drink, drugs, girls, that tired stuff. Out of respect I printed his comments with only a few polite reservations of my own. Gary Burton, out as homosexual for many years now, continues to repeat the same lines, but then he also plays on jazz cruises for the blue-rinse brigade wearing strawberry-pink shorts suits. Can’t remember the colour of his espadrilles, but I fear they are colour co-ordinated.
While not wanting to pick a fight with Gary Burton, I could compile a list of jazz musicians, female, male, straight, gay, bi, transgender, confused, disinterested, whose work goes against that simple-minded cliché of jazz as macho. And we could start with Duke Ellington, now believed to have been more than just a good friend to his genius amanuensis, Billy Strayhorn. Who else can we flesh out the list with? Armstrong, Waller, Rainey, Smith? Acknowledged rough-trade fancier Bix Beiderbecke? Sun Ra? Taylor? Graham Collier? Celia Cruz? Maggie Nicols? Fred Hersch? Bob Ostertag? How far do we have to look in our record collections to find recordings that confound this stupidity? Again we can start with Ellington, and the exquisitely tender pieces that his boyfriend Strayhorn wrote for his big bands. We can track it through the lachrymose beauty of John Coltrane, Mingus’s heart-rending "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", the soulful Miles Davis, the much-missed joker Lester Bowie, the adorable rustic lyricist John Surman and anything by Keith Jarrett. Countering the Boys’ Club, we can rejoice in Carla Bley, Annie Whitehead, Alice Coltrane, Joanne Brackeen, Myra Melford, Kathy Stobart, Julie Tippett, Kate Westbrook, Amina Claudine Myers, Elisabeth Barratt and a whole swarm of young women who are stepping on boys’ toes in flat shoes, maybe even coloured Docs. We may then have to face up to those dumb clichés about gender dualism: can’t boys cry, and girls throw shade? Huw Warren, Jane Ira Bloom, Jokleba, I could whine on but won’t. Cast around your record collection and you'll find enough non-macho jazz – starting maybe with Kind of Blue – that refutes this idiocy. Gary Burton’s difficulty is perhaps a condition of age, class background, and personal considerations around sexual identity. His own albums often approach greatness and are anything but macho. Maybe the macho jazz he's referring to is the outdated mainstream festival circuit warhorses playing Montreux, the North Sea and Antibes.
But when I hear Sebastian Rochford ticking away behind that post-bop-meets-punk riffing, or The Thing playing jazzed-up versions of White Stripes tunes (gimme a break: couldn’t they at least learn some Clash?), I sniff something else at work, and it's Santayana, and also the media. Just as in the 1980s the ghastly British magazine The Face declared Charlie Parker "in" one month and "out" the next, these new jazz nerds are fashionistas with no sense of history beyond a well-stocked record collection and a near total lack of understanding of the history of jazz. They probably dated at acid-jazz clubs, bought the odd Miles Davis or Trane (these are the people who call the late John Coltrane “Trane”) record and think they know what they’re talking about. Hence those Gilles Peterson compilations and people playing jazz from half a century ago who don’t seem to know that it was done already. Heavens to Betsy, have none of these people heard of Scandinavia?
The jazz and popular music media are feeding this frenzy. But there's also a sexual subtext. We seem to have bred a whole new generation who have bought into that 40s macho jazz mythology, which might mean at least that some of them will get smack habits and die and leave the rest of us alone to listen to Anthony Braxton or Karin Krog. Meanwhile, young women with cantilever bras prepared to lie on their backs "playing" the saxophone on CD covers get record deals. Would Diana Krall have released a single goddamn minute of music if she looked like Andrea Dworkin, who by the way happens to be a heroine of mine? What happens to the young jazz musicians (lesbian and heterosexual) who won’t lie on their backs, literally or metaphorically?
It's a serious debate that isn’t happening – the situation of women in jazz and the dynamics that affect their experiences and expectations in the field. I’m a homo and count some of the women named above as friends, and I know several women musicians who have abandoned their careers because they could not negotiate the music industry. (Homos have devices to deal with the jazz scene themselves, usually disguising themselves as breeders, something women can’t always do, which puts them at a disadvantage.) The situation for women in jazz remains a struggle and still has a long way to go, but it is improving. Many women have negotiated the minefield of masculinity in jazz that the tight-trousered boys (and this is a homo that doesn’t do tight-trousered Scandinavians) are eagerly replanting with their Coltrane clichés and bald appropriations from other styles, sound and fury signifying nothing other than their own concerns about the size of their genitalia. Meanwhile we get to watch a third-rate rip-offs like Polar Bear be nominated for an award by Fred Frith’s sad old upper middle class tedious Oxbridge snob brother Simon while young musicians who deserve support like Fraud will never get anywhere near a Mercury Award or hyped by a label like Babel.
We need to start a backlash against this appalling new masculinism in jazz, an art form that in fact thrived on the sensitivity of so many players and composers. Think Bill Evans (the "Waltz for Debbie" one), think Gil Evans, think Ella Fitzgerald, think Peggy Lee (either one, actually). It is almost as though jazz was forced into this macho strut by journalists and consumers, overwhelmingly heterosexual males propping up their own shaky masculinity by association with the image of people such as Monk, Parker and Shepp. In thirty years of music journalism, the vast majority of jazz musicians I’ve met were remarkably sensitive souls. Maybe it's neurotic posturing or just semiotic confusion: those car-chase chicanes of bebop read as masculine by people uncomfortable with their own sexual persona. On the subject of bop chicane, try Kathy Stobart, and check out her predecessor, bandleader Ivy Benson.. A few more non-macho jazz names suddenly spring to mind: Jimmy Giuffre, John Abercrombie, Arild Andersen, Barre Phillips, Pierre Dorge, Lyle Mays; god, we could be here until next year…
So let's start the backlash with Mats joining Jimmy (photo above) in Bronski Beat, and The Bad Plus forced to go on stage naked except for football socks on their dicks …Oh, and, Sebastian, get a haircut

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On Pogus
Various Artists
Music lesson time, kids: you probably know what a canon is, right? At least an infinite or perpetual canon. Think "Frère Jacques": you start off singing "Frè-re Jac-ques Frè-re Jac-ques" and by the time you get to "Dor-mez vous?" the next person comes on in with "Frè-re Jac-ques", and so on, the third voice starting up when you get to "Son-nez les ma-ti-nes" the fourth at "Din din don". And round you go ad infinitum. Now imagine that the second voice starts up with "Frè-re Jacques" at a tempo a third as fast as the first voice, the third voice at a tempo twice as fast and the fourth voice at quadruple speed. There'll be no need to go round in circles until somebody dies of boredom because you'll all finish together. That's what's known as a mensuration canon. The best examples date from the 15th century (brush up on your Ockeghem and Josquin Desprez), but if you managed to stay awake during Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 you might remember Arvo Pärt's "Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten". That's one too.
This double CD brings together pieces by 14 different composers, all loosely based on the idea of the mensuration canon and apparently inspired by Larry Polansky's Four Voice Canons album (Cold Blue, 2002). The project is curated by Simon Wickham-Smith, whose own "Kullankeltaiset Päivät (Larry-Ile)", sourced in recordings of Finnish folk and wooden flute music (though you'd never guess listening to its gritty smears of feedback), is one of the strongest pieces on offer. It's also, maybe significantly, one of the few pieces in which the inner workings of the canonic process aren't waved in front of your face like a set of log tables. Throughout the accompanying booklet, the featured composers seem to delight in describing in microscopic detail the mathematical proportions, not to mention the instrumentation used, as if the compositional procedure itself was as important as the sounding result. Of course, in the tradition of American Experimental Music from Cage to Reich and beyond, the musical realisation of the process is indeed often of less interest (to the composers, at least) than the process itself – think of all those unperformed and probably unperformable Fluxus pieces – but that's no excuse for producing the kind of half-baked stuff that's on offer here. Who gives a monkey's if your tempo ratios are 16:17:19 or if the harpsichord starts 71 seconds in if the resulting music is so unremittingly flat and boring? That harpsichord, by the way, in Mike Swinchoski's "Transmissions", isn't even the real instrument, but one of set of frankly hideous General MIDI patches, which, when combined with the composer's remarkable talent for finding the blandest pitches known to man – "Canon No. 1" gets no further than A, B, C and D – makes Swinchoski's three offerings pretty indigestible, occurring as they do so early in the set.
Fortunately "Canon No. 1" doesn't open the first disc; that singular honour befalls Kyoko Kobayashi, of whose "Cat Canon" the liner notes make no mention. Not that they need to: within about ten seconds you've figured it out – a standard mensuration canon whose gimmick is it replaces notes by cat sounds. Substitute A's, B's, C's and D's for the mews, purrs and growls (sounds like a fucking big cat if you ask me, or a damn good pair of mics) and it'd probably sound as dull as the following "Canon No. 1". But the point is, presumably, that we can make mensuration canons with anything. One wonders whether anyone fifty years ago would have gone to the trouble – back then there was no ProTools, no Sound Forge, no Cakewalk and no Cubase: it was all done by hand and composers had better things to do with their time than lark around with Barbie Phones (Ross Craig's "Barbie Phone Canon"), cellphones (Stefan Tomic's "Ringtone Canon", beeping New York subway Metrocards (Bo Bell's "Metrocard Canon" – have you noticed how imaginative the titles are, by the way?) and even screams (Bruno Ruviaro's "Entrei Pelo Canon" – homage to Yoko Ono? Give me Boyd Rice any time).
What's most depressing about these pieces is not their unattractive instrumentation (though Giuliano Lombardo's "Canoni Pitagorici" – six of them – nearly snatch the World's Most Stultifyingly Boring Synth Patch Grand Prize from Swinchoski) but the desperate poverty of the composers' imagination. Many of them namecheck pioneer experimentalists as inspirational role models: Polansky (not surprisingly), James Tenney and, of course, Conlon Nancarrow, who was a real master when it came to impossibly complex mensuration canons. The crucial difference is that Nancarrow and Tenney actually had ears and their music sounds so damn good you don't give a fig what the numbers are. Even the more attractive works here are enslaved to their systems: Drew Krause's "Canon for LP" is pretty enough, but its white note world (with a few strategically acidic "wrong" notes à la Satie / Stravinsky) soon becomes a prison when you realise – it doesn't take long – that Krause hasn't the slightest intention of letting his rhythmic system do anything other than work itself relentlessly out. Not surprisingly, the pieces that work best are those where the canonic process is buried, either in sounds that are arresting in their own right – Wickham-Smith's contribution, and Mike Winter's "Filter IV – P.I.X.L. Study No. 1" (as chilly as its title and accompanying essay) – or overwhelmed by technical ingenuity, as in Steven Miller's "Twin Canon" and "Pulse Canon". The set closes with Winter's own adaptation of an older mensuration canon – in the form of a text score, "gamelan MENS" – by Fluxus grandmaster Philip Corner. It's a nice closing nod to the older generation, but only leaves you wishing Corner and Tenney had been invited to take part instead.–DW

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Lindsay Cooper
Born in 1951 in Hornsey, North London, Lindsay Cooper is one of the most distinctive voices in English music from the 70s to the mid-90s. Trained in piano since the age of 11, she was influenced by her teacher’s son – who played the bassoon in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – and switched to what would become her main instrument. After various years spent in the classical world, with studies at London’s Royal Academy of Music, she started along the progressive rock path in Comus (she plays on To Keep From Crying) while also appearing on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge. Having also learnt oboe and flute – the soprano sax came later – she replaced Geoff Leigh in Henry Cow while she was still involved with Ritual Theatre and the rest, as they say, is history: Unrest, In Praise Of Learning and Western Culture (the entirety of whose second side was penned by Cooper) have been in Intelligent Rock Music's Hall Of Fame since they were released. After Henry Cow disbanded, Cooper and Chris Cutler formed News From Babel – the name refers to George Steiner’s book “After Babel” – with Zeena Parkins and Dagmar Krause; their two albums Work Resumed On The Tower and Letters Home (the latter including Robert Wyatt, Sally Potter and Phil Minton) stand among the greatest releases in the post-Canterbury canon. Talking of which, Cooper is also present on Hatfield And The North’s The Rotters Club and Egg’s The Civil Surface, and briefly joined National Health before they went their separate ways. Together with Maggie Nicols, Sally Potter, Georgina Born and Irene Schweizer, she was also active in the Feminist Improvising Group, a very important collective that existed between 1977 and 1982 that was unfortunately never captured on record. In the early 80s, besides releasing her solo albums, she also worked with Mike Westbrook – appearing on The Cortège – David Thomas’ Pedestrians and Maarten Altena, as well as performing with her own Film Music Orchestra. It's no exaggeration then to state that Cooper has been one of the brightest lights in the whole progressive/improvisation panorama of the latest 35 years, and her role in widening the interest around these contexts absolutely fundamental. That "has been" is sad, but necessary: Lindsay Cooper is currently suffering from multiple sclerosis, which makes writing about the past even harder but all the more urgent to remind ourselves of her great talent.
Lindsay Cooper has always written music of considerable complexity, accompanied by a vivid socio-political fervour and lucid curiosity, for several important commissions in cinema, theatre and television. To this day, her solo albums maintain their charming aura of cultural inquisitiveness while sounding – for want of a better word – beautiful. Rags (Recommended) is rooted in the study of the inhuman working conditions during the English Industrial Revolution; the large part of it constitutes the soundtrack to The song of the shirt, a movie about the hardship of seamstresses in London's textile mills. Popular songs and challenging arrangements are entwined in a music that still carries a few residual echoes of Henry Cow (Fred Frith and Chris Cutler lend their services) but which is almost entirely based on the structures and forms of mid-19th century music. Sally Potter and Phil Minton sing, their presence a constant force driving Cooper's music for many years, while the excellent Georgie Born contributes bass and cello.

The Gold Diggers, maybe the best among the many projects Cooper has signed with Sally Potter, is a soundtrack to her film starring Julie Christie. Released by Sync Pulse and later reissued by Recommended on a single CD with Rags, it's imbued with a touching sadness, a dramatic eloquence rarely heard in the music of that period; the score calls for almost theatrical powers of interpretation, but Cooper throws in melodic and contrapuntal subtleties by the dozen: the melody of "Iceland" sticks in the memory for a long time, as rage subsides when it encounters the composer's elegant heart-warming calligraphy. This is just as much in evidence on another hard-to-find Sync Pulse release, Music For The Small Screen, but, above all, on Music For Other Occasions, first published by Sync Pulse and later reissued on CD by No Man's Land with additional material. Each of its many short tracks is an absolute jewel that reveals Cooper's remarkable sensitivity to her thematic material, encapsulated in her distinctive harmony with its neoclassical twist. Sally Potter is flanked by fellow vocalists Dagmar Krause, Kate Westbrook and Maggie Nicols, as well as Zeena Parkins and Georgie Born, whose guitar lines often recall the old comrade Frith. A must, like the first two albums.

The last collaboration between Cooper and Potter to appear on disc was the song cycle Oh Moscow (Victo), which was presented all around the world and recorded at the 1989 Victoriaville Festival by a stellar band featuring Potter and Minton as well as Marilyn Mazur, Elvira Plenar, Hugh Hopper and the front line of Lindsay and Alfred Harth (on tenor sax and clarinet), whose playing is truly fabulous: pure lyrical desperation, goosebumps guaranteed. Curiously enough, these songs were influenced by the division of Europe due to the Cold War, yet the Berlin Wall came down 39 days after the work's premiere – the music's beauty was auspicious. We'd need another kind of song today. Instead, though, Schrödinger's Cat (Femme/Line) is a collection of Cooper's electronic-based dance pieces for the Maclennan Dance & Company's EDGE which, while it has its moments, sounds, in its Mikel Rouse-like synthetic precision, curiously at odds with the fantastic humanity and the deep reflection of Cooper's best moments. This and the forgettable Pia Mater (Voiceprint), a synth/reed duo with Charles Gray at times recalling Paul Winter's New Ageish flights, are the only records by this fine artist you could do without.

At the beginning of the 90s, Cooper started working closely with Australian writer Robyn Archer, composing pieces for theatre and television, with some of the more recent ones, based on the bassoon's timbral nuances, appearing on the CD An Angel On The Bridge (ABC Records). It's a rather brief collection of "lighter" soundtracks whose alluring flavour bears no subversive or rebellious darts; just delicate pearls of soft-spoken propulsion, whose textural subtleties are enhanced by Louise Johnson's harp, Cathy Marsh's siren-like singing and Michael Askill's percussion. This little gem has been reissued in the 2-CD set A View From The Bridge (Impetus), which also contains Cooper's "Concerto For Sopranino Saxophone And Strings" and "Songs For Bassoon And Orchestra", the most recent works she completed before health problems intervened. But the most satisfying result of the collaboration with Archer is Sahara Dust (Intakt), where, once again, the ever-changing voice of Phil Minton carries most of the expressive weight in a series of lyrics inspired by the events of the first Gulf War. Writes Archer: "The piece looks at a contracting and increasingly chaotic world, where people can wake up to find Sahara dust [..] on their doorstep and see distant conflicts on their television". Cooper's score steps decisively towards the use of electronics coupled with reeds; her group also features Paul Jayasinha, Elvira Plenar, Robyn Schulkowsky and Dean Brodrick. It's another profound statement from a musician we should never forget.–MR

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Frank Denyer
Frank Denyer
Faint Traces, only the fifth album exclusively devoted to the music of 62 year old Frank Denyer – after Wheat (Orchid, 1984), A Monkey's Paw (Continuum, 1991), Finding Refuge In The Remains (Etcetera, 1998) and Fired City (Tzadik, 2002) – features six chamber works written between 1973 (the engaging and deceptively simple sounding Play, for bamboo flute, clarinet and violin) and 2001 (the title track, scored for flute(s), clarinet(s), violin, cello, percussion, voice and offstage trombone), performed with love and exemplary precision by the Amsterdam-based Barton Workshop, an ensemble Denyer co-directs with James Fulkerson. Unless you're a Tzadik completist – which either means your grandfather made a fortune out of Royal Dutch Oil or you're eating in soup kitchens – you're unlikely to have heard of Denyer, I'll bet. With a Doctorate from Wesleyan under his belt at the age of 35, when most "serious" composers are making a pitch for the mainstream, either in the form of career security (i.e. tenure track faculty job in nondescript redbrick university teaching row transformations in Berg's Lyric Suite to hungover spotty teenagers who'd rather be listening to Tortoise or Marilyn Manson or Dr Dre) or public glory (leaving the nasty experimental stuff in a box under the bed and accepting commissions for functional orchestral and choral music performed by battle-weary hacks who don't give a flying fuck about new music and who'd probably prefer another leisurely trot through The Messiah or better still sod off down the pub and do their best to forget they fucked up their A Levels and had to opt for a career in music in the first place), Frank Denyer took a job in of all places, Nairobi, as a Research Fellow in African Music. His in-depth study of the music of the Pokot people of Kenya, in addition to ethnomusicological fieldwork in India and Asia, koto studies with Namino Torii, not to mention founding and running the experimental music ensembles Mouth Of Hermes and Anglo-Dutch Amalgam makes Denyer about atypical as one can get when it comes to British composers, most of whom tend to follow a rather predictable trajectory from birth to school choir to public school to music college / Oxbridge (delete where appropriate) via Tanglewood / IRCAM (delete where appropriate) to BBC Proms / London Sinfonietta / Arditti Quartet / English National Opera (delete where appropriate) commissions, chamber works, symphonies, operas, requiem masses and death.
Denyer has little time for standard ensembles, and, although he's a fine pianist himself – you might like to check out his readings of Feldman on the other Barton Workshop outings on Mode – he hasn't written a note for the 88 tuned drums since 1971. Like George Crumb, he's an explorer not only of non-Western and even self-designed instruments (there are some splendid descriptions of these at, but of extending performance beyond the confines of the stage by using offstage instruments and voices to spectacular effect. Unlike Crumb, behind whose snazzy designer scores and démodé voodoo exoticism lies 100% tried and tested conservatory-friendly octatonic harmony rooted in Debussy, Bartók and Messiaen, Denyer's music actually sounds as original as it is. What's more, it's melodic. Not melody as in something your mum can hum as she glides down the dairy products aisle at Tesco – we're not talking Greensleeves or Shepherd's Hey or Yesterday – but a sustained and rigorous exploration of horizontal line, with subtle timbral and microtonal (definitely not hummable) inflections.
There's plenty of information on Denyer's website, including the liner notes Bob Gilmore prepared for the Tzadik release Fired City (and rejected by John Zorn, on account of their length). Gilmore also penned a fine article for the Musical Times in Spring 2003, "Butterfly Effect: The Music of Frank Denyer" as well as the liners for this particular release, and he produced four of the six works on the album, those recorded in the Great Hall at Dartington. The sound is a little hissy (and unless I'm mistaken, it sounds like one of the yokels down in deepest Devon was repairing his roof while Out Of The Shattered Shadows 1 was being recorded), which is hardly surprising given the extreme difficulties Denyer's music presents to a recording engineer. The problem isn't the spatial element of the music but its sheer dynamic range: Gilmore is right to warn listeners not to pump up the volume on this first piece, because Denyer has a couple of deadly surprises in store, in the form of four shrill bamboo whistles (send the family dog away to stay with friends before you spin this or you'll have Brigitte Bardot coming round to confiscate your record collection) and a specially constructed one metre cubed plywood box which when thwacked makes the "fateful" hammer blows of Mahler's Sixth sound like your granny knocking at the door to ask if you'd like a cup of tea. Denyer's scoring, which includes, in Out Of The Shattered Shadows 2, rattles made of moth cocoons, mango seeds and snail shells (you can see why Zorn loves this stuff), not to mention tuned cowbells, tenor banjos, marbles, bones, thundersheets, harmonium and microtonally retuned spinet is, needless to say, highly unorthodox, but it's the music he writes for his unusual instrumental and vocal forces that grabs the attention. Even when he uses no instruments at all – Music for Two Performers, written for and performed by the composer and James Fulkerson, apart from occasional handclaps, features just the human voice. One can dig around in the biographical information and point to Cage, Scelsi and Feldman as distant influences – Cage for the music's openness to the world around it, both acoustically and aesthetically, Scelsi for the intensity of line, Feldman for the sparse texture – but the influence of Japanese Court music, African percussion and simple folk song is just as important. In his Musical Times piece Bob Gilmore complained that Denyer hadn't yet been included in the New Grove Dictionary Of Music and Musicians. I hope that gap between Denver and Denza has now been filled. On my own shelves Denyer sits happily between Dennehy and Dockstader (though he wouldn't be out of place in the Improv section next to Denzler). Find a place for him on yours too. This is the most original and moving contemporary music release of the year, no question about it.

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Volcano The Bear
Digitalis / Broken Face
I'm beginning to get seriously fed up with these categories – Jazz / Improv, Contemporary, Electronica, Post Rock – for the simple reason that such a lot of great new music today just can't be pigeonholed so easily. A case in point is the Jonathan Kane review below (in Contemporary, of all things). And this one, the latest offering from Leicester's finest, Volcano The Bear, who are usually thrown in the Post Rock bin along with a whole shitload of groups who sound nothing like each other. Strictly speaking, Catonapotato shouldn't be in the Improv section – and it certainly ain't jazz – because Aaron Moore and Nick Mott (the group's currently functioning as a duo, Laurence Coleman and Daniel Padden having relocated to a parallel universe) do indeed include recognisable songs, complete with lyrics, in this set of eight tracks recorded during their European tour last year, but their continuing interest in taking music out hopefully justifies its inclusion. Diehard improv snobs will groan at Moore's fondness for actually playing regular repeating drum figures, but I'd argue Volcano The Bear are on exactly the right track here – freedom means also being free to play arpeggios and 4/4 time. Mott and Moore's openness to everything (musical and theatrical: they're a fun pair to watch) and inspired multi-instrumental naïvety continues the noble lineage of Misha Mengelberg, Steve Beresford and Terry Day. Catonapotato is as raw, rough and exciting as its cover art.–DW

Nels Cline / Wally Shoup / Chris Corsano
Strange Attractors Audio House
Well yet again, the title says it all. "To kill as a sacrifice, to kill by fire, to destroy." And at the same time "the act of submerging." There's also an astronomical definition of "immersion" in my online dictionary, namely "the obscuring of a celestial body by another or by the shadow of another,' which somehow seems more appropriate. Fire music fans who have already worn out several copies of Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano's duo albums will no doubt have jumped on this one double quick. As it happens, Flaherty's not on it, but his fellow fire breather Wally Shoup most certainly is. It's not the first time drummer extraordinaire Corsano and altoist Shoup have gone a few rounds – there was the Leo outing Live At Tonic a couple of years ago, for which I had the pleasure of writing the liners (though I wish someone more on the ball could have edited them.. (I use too many goddamn brackets.. (see? I'm doing it again:-))), which featured both Flaherty and Thurston Moore. But Immolation / Immersion goes one better in the guitar stakes: Nels Cline. Not that I have anything against Thurston Moore, but he's never been, shall we say, the most pitch sensitive guitarist, whereas Cline is lightning fast at picking up the splinters and shards of blues that fly out of Shoup's alto. And there's more blues to this than you might think. He's also just as good as Moore when it comes to special effects, too. The extended Shoup / Cline duet that occupies the central portion of the epic 28-minute title track is a thing of delicacy and beauty. Yes, people, and it's slow and quiet too.. but I'll bet you didn't buy this one for the slow and quiet stuff, did you? Leave that tootly fluffy stuff to the bijou improv labels, 's what I say. We want blood! And you sure as hell get it – imagine you could rewind jazz history and change a few things, like team up McLaughlin with Rashied and Frank Lowe ca. 1972. You got it: Nels Cline. You heard him nail Interstellar Space with Gregg Bendian and Electric Ascension with ROVA (what? You didn't buy that album? Get off your butt and down to the local emporium, wretch) – just wait till you hear him here. This a fucking whirlwind of a record and if it isn't on your weekend shopping list I just might have to come over there and tattoo the album title onto your forehead. Go burn, go drown in it.–DW

Tomas Korber
Effacement is best heard as a continuous piece, its six sections stitched together by the connective tissue of guitar and electronic hiss and buzz. Given its dynamic spectrum, it's also best appreciated at slightly higher than average volume level. There's sufficient flow and coherence to this solo recording to hear it as a process-driven whole, the flow slightly impeded (though not blocked) by the third track’s deliberately paced and repetitive guitar-body thumping. It's the sum of various sound elements recorded over a two-year period in several locations; guitar, field recordings, electronics and computer are assembled in a strikingly cinematic manner (not surprising, given Korber’s frequent collaborative work with the film and video artists Kaspar Kasics and Franz Dangelli), with titles that assume a suggestive, if not definitive, significance upon repeated listenings, though this may be Rorschachian (again, not surprising, since Korber is enrolled in the Psychology Department at Zürich University). “Thermo” develops like an ice storm, sparse and stinging pelts of accumulating density, before dropping off to a swirling wind-tunnel effect for its dying minutes. “Wuste” ("Desert") is all hissing cuts and slashes jumping from speaker to speaker, gusts of static decaying into the aforementioned thwacked guitar study, entitled (wince) “Fred Austere”. This gradually evinces some lovely chiming overtones and harmonics from the submissive guitar, but on repeated listening comes across as the section that seems to slow the flow of the overall piece. Fortunately, Effacement recovers, even though track 4 takes its sweet time to amass swirls of static around a sustained, piercing tone, ending with a jackhammer squall of feedback to saturate and satisfy. One of my favorite guitar drones since Zen Arcade-era Hüsker Dü, “Too Thin A Skin” comes forth from the spit and hiss,, a thick slab of a sustained and floating buzz, anchored to a simple bass pedal point. The album narrows the focus down to a single melancholic point on the closing “Que les jours s’en aillent” (“May the days pass”), snatches of snapped-off shrieking voices amid the initial sonic blast, dying to a slowing heartbeat that fades into the ether. Tomas Korber’s penchant for solo work continues to yield very gratifying results. There's something hermetic about it that sets it apart, an essential estrangement that flavors much of this album. Highly recommended.–JG

dieb13/Tomas Korber/Jason Kahn
The intense organic elemental sounds on Zirkadia emanate from two laptops and Korber’s guitar and electronics, with ingredients added and subtracted on each of the eight tracks, water predominating. Water rushing over rocks, hissing as steam, burbling and sluicing as streams, soft summer rainfall. The pieces are concisely edited, and repeated listening yields surprising details, with many recondite qualities embedded in the striations. Its resonance is also evocative of night, of distant railway yards and heavy industry. Most tracks throw a few precise bold strokes into the foreground, from trebly, sustained organ chords on track three to curling, wisps of sinewaves and bells on track 5. The three-note intervallic progression recalls birdsong, while track 8 sounds a deep tolling gong, contrasted with kettle whistle and shakers and rattles weaving in and out of focus.
Listening to Zirkadia is like moving through an installation of eight rooms, entering and exiting a work in progress. The shaping and editing recalls Kahn’s duo with Günter Müller, Blinks, and shares some textural overlap with tint, Müller's duo with Toshimaru Nakamura in the Erstwhile Amplify box. Korber and dieb13 work in territory that contrasts starkly with the rock'n'roll of Condenser, their collaboration with eRikm, released around the same time. Certain elements pierce the veil, tones that ring and momentarily grab the attention, but overall Zirkadia subscribes to the wabi-sabi aesthetic: nothing lasts / nothing is finished / nothing is perfect. The spirit is captivated by sound of decay, the fleeting, the transitory.. Zirkadia is made to fade, and it is lovely.–JG

This sensitive and well-executed set of six improvisations comes courtesy of Michael Thieke (clarinet, alto sax and zither), Dave Bennett (guitar) and Derek Shirley (bass). Though Thieke has popped up on a number of impressive post-reductionist outings in recent times, including two fine releases on Creative Sources (Schwimmer's 7x4x7 and his solo Leuchten), Flowers You Can Eat finds him in more combative company – Bennett's guitar work on "Moto" is decidedly raw and noisy. While there's very little silence on offer, the music still moves at the sedate pace associated with lowercase, which gives the impression that the shorter tracks are extracts from (or sketches for) longer works. Consequently, "Sleepy Lady", the longest track by far at 13'46", is the most convincing piece of the set, showing what the musicians are capable of when they stretch out. Especially Thieke, who has little inclination to show off his repertoire of extended techniques, preferring to concentrate on sustained tones.–DW

Oren Ambarchi /Rob Avenaim
Nice to hear again what Oren Ambarchi and Rob Avenaim were doing before they went backpacking in the reductionist desert (not that that Grob album Thumb, with Keith Rowe, Otomo and Sachiko was bad, but.. well there wasn't much of it..). On this 18-minute set recorded live back in 1999 and first released the following year as a limited edition 3" CDR on Ambarchi's Jerker label, they had plenty of opportunities to show off their considerable chops, both technical and musical. It's a kind of psychedelic free-improvised electric gamelan of a piece, full of strange, fractured sonorities, mysterious metallic drones that curve off into outer space, spectacular flurries of percussion and plenty of reverberant gongs. One of my own personal beefs against a lot of the reductionist stuff was (I'm using the past tense, as in Reductionism Is Dead, Mark Wastell's forthcoming album with Mattin – can't wait for that) not that it was too empty but too dry. Put that down, I guess, to tiny intimate performing spaces like the Sound323 basement or Tokyo's now defunct Off Site. Ambarchi and Avenaim are performing here in Sydney's Eugene Goosens hall, a vast space normally used for symphonic concerts, and make impressive use of its natural reverberation to create a music rich in depth but never lacking detail. Shame in a way there's just the one piece (that's all they played that night): a whole album's worth of this would go down just fine with me.–DW

Carrie Shull / Tara Flandreau / Reuben Radding
A splendid title for a splendid album. If saxophones are inevitably associated with jazz, the oboe and English horn (or cor anglais, as we call it in England – funny that isn't it?) belong to the world of classical music. Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and all that. And when the other instruments in the group are viola and double bass, the classical connection is further reinforced. Oboist Carrie Shull first came to my attention on Eugene Chadbourne's "The Cricket In My Life", from Insect Attracter [sic], one of the good Doctor Chad's many entomological investigations on the Leo label. And what a superb player she is. Unlike the other (the only other?) free improvising oboist on the scene, Kyle Bruckmann, Shull doesn't go to pains to make the noble instrument sound like a vintage analogue synthesizer, but her command of tricky multiphonics and microtonal inflections is just as impressive as Bruckmann's. Violist Flandreau and bassist Radding, who, you'll recall, recently popped up on Wally Shoup's Blue Purge, also on Leo, are both fabulously inventive, producing dazzling bowed and plucked work (album highlight for me: "Echolocation") with the kind of keen ear for pitch and timbre you'd normally expect from Irvine Arditti and his boys.–DW

Jimmy Ghaphery / Jason Bivins / Ian Davis
Almost. Nearly. Quite. Just. Barely. Partly. Approximately. Close. Once. A good set of synonyms and near synonyms that neatly sum up what improvised music's all about, that elusive moment where for some often inexplicable reason, it happens (what "it" is is often a subject of heated debate, too). Guitarist Jason Bivins, who many of you will know as one of the smartest journalists writing on new music in the USA (though don't hold that against him), is well-versed in all kinds of music, Metal included, but in recent times he's been poking through the ashes of reductionism with his frequent sparring partner Ian Davis on percussion, notably in the Unstable Ensemble, whose recent Family Vineyard outing Embers is also well worth checking out. The discovery here is saxophonist / flautist Jimmy Ghaphery, from up the road in Richmond, Virginia. In the quieter pieces he's absolutely at home exploring the subtlest of nuances of breath and attack (shades of Jack Wright), but from time to time reveals evidence of the monstrous technique Bivins hints at in his liners when he talks of the "big free blowout" of their first meeting. Nothing is quite what it seems here: Davis is not averse to the odd groove ("Quite") and Bivins even throws some recognisable jazz chords in the pot, with Ghaphery twittering merrily away on flute like a latterday Eric Dolphy talking to the birds. Some improv purists might be put off by the music's stubborn refusal to slot itself neatly into one of the established improv sub-genres, but that's precisely what makes Impermanence such a rewarding listen.–DW

Arek Gulbenkoglu
Points Alone is an impressive debut from 29 year old Arek Gulbenkoglu, a guitarist (formerly French horn player) active in and around Melbourne for the past eight years, notably with the ensemble Dworzec. In these five miniatures – the longest an 11-minute drone, the rest lasting between six and seven minutes – Gulbenkoglu explores the lacunae of his instrument for neglected sonic possibilities, overlooked and unheard resonances: hiss and spray, swells of gamelan overtones, the sound of air channeled through tubes (recalling Axel Dörner or Matt Davis’ close-miked trumpets) and near static sine-tones, whose subtle pitch variations reveal themselves upon repeated listenings – all impressively and carefully interpolated with extended silences. Remarkably, Points Alone is a recording of solo acoustic guitar, without electronic processing – Tetuzi Akiyama's Résophonie comes to mind, as does the work of Adam Sussman (with whom Gulbenkoglu has recorded a duo to be released later this year) and Annette Krebs – for all its invention and discovery, close listening reveals the subtle and inimitable wood and steel: eine gitarre ist eine gitarre.–JG

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Birgit Ulher / Gino Robair
Creative Sources
You know what it sounds like already just from the title. Trumpeter Birgit Ulher's rapidly catching up with Ernesto Rodrigues as The Person Who's Released The Most Albums On Creative Sources – this is her fourth for the label (and the fifth, 500g, with Lars Scherzberg and Michael Maierhof is hard on its heels) and finds her in the company of Gino Robair on "energized surfaces, voltage made audible". Of course it's not all sputter; there are plenty of crashes, squeaks, growls and gurgles too, and quite a bit of toybox sci-fi fun on the opening "Capacitance Blubber". Robair is a fabulously resourceful percussionist, and someone we should hear much more of (and see more of on this side of the pond), lightning fast and razor sharp. But Ulher matches him sputter for sputter. Like Axel Dörner, she's got an extraordinary arsenal of New Trumpet Techniques at her disposal, but can play the hell out of the instrument when she has to – check out "The Downy Monsters". If Brötzmann's Tentet is a sonic rugby scrum and Flaherty / Corsano a bare knuckle boxing match, Ulher and Robair are the aural equivalent of the World Fencing Championships. Touché!–DW

Mark Wastell
Sometimes the best description of a piece of music comes from its title, a case in point being the second Vibra by Mark Wastell (which follows the rare first installment on Mattin's w.m.o/r label – this one's limited to 200 copies too, so hurry up). The engrossing aural caress of Wastell's 24-inch tam-tam, once the property of the late Roger Sutherland, slowly swells, circles round the ears and gently rubs the nape of the neck. The healing force of these sounds is tangible, our breathing becoming ever more regular and unhurried as the natural reverberation of the gong is enhanced by a plethora of harmonics hovering in the air like majestic fleets of phantom vessels drifting lethargically to no planned destination. This is purity of the highest order, light years away from cheap esoterica and bogus religiosity. Graham Halliwell's skilful recording also contributes to another important chapter in the book of authentic trance, right up there with the leaders. After treating yourself to Vibra #2 (not to mention Vibra #1 if you can still find a copy) you'll realize how stupid those people talking about cosmic vibration often sound – Mark Wastell has shown us the way to higher paths, remaining silent all the while.–MR

Dieter Scherf Trio
The archaeological strategy behind Atavistic's Unheard Music Series continues to elude easy summary. Some titles slated for excavation have yet to emerge - for instance, when will Fred Anderson's Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 2 find its way to shop shelves? Other projects made the cut, but left listeners scratching their heads as to why (Starship Beer, anyone?). Thankfully, the music on this impossibly rare platter by the Dieter Scherf Trio well justifies its revival. Over thirty years old, the music still feels refreshingly prescient - it could have been recorded yesterday. Biographical back-story on Scherf is about as hard to come by as an original pressing of the album. Playing alto and baritone saxophones and clarinets, he brings a range of extended techniques to the party: split tones, precision altissimo whistling, circular breathing and good old-fashioned all-out blowing lend diversity to the six tracks. Joining him are Paul Lovens, officiating over a properly detritus-cluttered kit, and bassist Jacek Bednarek, a new name to me, who has a thick T-bone steak tone and Wilbur Ware-sized presence. Side A finds the three jockeying through four short abstract pieces. Lovens and Bednarek surround Scherf with a healthy amount of responsive clatter, but there's always plenty of close listening going on. "Daijededa" is a rowdy brawl, but the three are just as likely to break off into hardboiled duos and solos elsewhere. "Prozess," the only non-studio track of the set, takes up most of Side B. Bednarek embarks on a percussive string-dampened preface, and is soon joined by Lovens' snowballing drum deluge and Scherf's overblown Brötz-speak. Cranking his amp even further into the red, the bassist dives into a punishing, reverberating solo that dominates the remainder of the piece. The closer, "Klänge über Linie", finds Scherf skillfully strumming zither-style inside a piano as Lovens and Bednarek move restlessly and purposefully around him. Kudos to Atavistic for continuing to bankroll the UMS series: discs like this fully justify the series' revisiting of the near-forgotten annals of European improvisation.–DT

Mats Gustafsson / David Stackenäs
Gustafsson and Stackenäs adopt the venerable dictum "blues as a feeling, not a form" on this recent duo outing, recorded in a Stockholm studio and mixed by Guy Picciotto of Fugazi fame. Who knows what Memphis Minnie, Howlin' Wolf or Hound Dog Taylor (three of the album's dedicatees) would have made of these Swedish "mountain blues" - but I'm guessing that if supplied suitable amounts of hooch and chop suey Hound Dog would probably take a shine to them. The album cover shows two plush dinosaurs against a backdrop of picturesque alpine scenery, but oddly enough there isn't much jocularity in the music, or for that matter the blow-torch energy one expects of these players: the focus is instead on tonal and rhythmic subtleties. "Shave 'Em Wet" (the title is a sly reversal of Lucille Bogan's vintage ode to carnality) is a friction-fueled industrial drone, guitarist's sharp string scrapes echoing Gustafsson's foghorn baritone. The blend is at once teeth-grindingly dense and unexpectedly alluring. On "Bumble Bee Blues" Gustafsson's hiccuping reed pops engage Stackenäs' scritchy-scratch guitar in a ping-pong match of plinks and plonks. On "Built to Do What You Did Last Night" and "Take Your Hand Off It", the guitarist's Bailey-style swells and ice-splinters mesh with fluttering gutturalisms from the big horn. Ken Vandermark contributes a liner essay arguing for a fundamental difference between European and American improvisers, based on the indelible influence of African American blues on the Americans. I don't buy that argument, but on the surface at least it's true that Gustafsson and Stackenäs's music is very far from the blues indeed.–DT

Jon Mueller / Jim Schoenecker
If something's worth doing, it's worth doing again and again. And again. Ask Jon Mueller: his Endings, accompanying a selection of own unnervingly surrealistic fiction, is a single, slow melancholy loop that goes on for half an hour. For the first seven or so minutes of The Interview he sticks to a single cymbal sonority, while his playing partner on the date (interviewer? Interviewee?) Jim Schoenecker, on synthesizer, veeery slowly fades in a top C, soon joined by a glistening nest of rather Sachiko M-like high frequencies. Unlike Sachiko though, Schoenecker doesn't let the sinewaves sit still for long, preferring instead to tweak and poke them into new configurations and beat patterns. About halfway through the piece, which also lasts half an hour, the tessitura shifts down, with Schoenecker providing some unsettling sub-bass shudders under Mueller's draughty drum roll, but the sinewaves soon return and the music builds impressively for several minutes before it recedes once more into a haze of quivering tremolos. Enigmatic stuff, and – unless you happen to suffer from tinnitus – something you'll probably need to listen to again. And again.–DW

Carol Genetti / Jon Mueller / Jack Wright
Spring Garden Music
These two extended improvisations, recorded live in Chicago's Spareroom last September and lasting respectively 21'57" and 23'30", feature the indefatigable road warrior of American improv, saxophonist Jack Wright, with two younger playing partners, percussionist Jon Mueller and vocalist Carol Genetti. Genetti is one of the more discreet improvising vocalists: there are no full-blown hysterics and theatrics here, just a patient exploration of tiny twitters, bleats and delicate overtones – imagine a small furry animal Tuvan throat singing – and Wright accordingly spends much of the time with his sax jammed tight against his trouser leg, muffling and filtering the sound much as he did on the exquisite series of albums he released a while back in the company of Bhob Rainey. Mueller's the wild card here, deftly avoiding classic improv percussion's nervous clatter and ping to concentrate on in-depth research into his beloved snare drum. The second track is more adventurous, filling the empty spaces of long dead reductionism with a whole range of sustained sonorities; about halfway through it turns into a veritable jungle (Indian, presumably, given the album title's reference to North Indian classical music), with Genetti squawking like a demented parrot and Wright growling menacingly in the undergrowth, while Mueller ticks away like a death watch beetle, leading the others into a nocturnal hooting contest. It's fascinating, superbly paced and impressive work, well worth checking out.–DW

John Hagen
Saxophonist John Hagen’s extensive history includes playing with William Parker’s groups in the 70s, the Microscopic Septet in the 80s and gospel and R&B groups in the 90s. As part of the late 90s downtown New York scene he began developing the idea of Segments, a series of brief melodies “used as places of departure and arrival”, which leave plenty of room for the markedly different approaches of the two bands on this disc. The earlier of the sessions features the tried and trusted rhythm section of drummer Gerry Hemingway and bassist Mark Dresser, along with frequent collaborator Denman Maroney on piano, the other the less familiar Shanir Blumenkranz of the Lemon Juice Quartet on bass and drummer Todd Capp. And it’s the Hagen/Blumenkranz/Capp trio that really steals the show on Segments, beginning with the opening track, “Material Witness”: Hagen launches into a hard-edged "Segment" on tenor while Blumenkranz and Capp lay down a turbulent rhythmic foundation, as if Sunny Murray were drumming on Coltrane’s “India”. Even on a slower selection like “Open All Night”, Blumenkranz’s arco bass provides a rich ever-changing sostenuto which keeps the song moving over the shifting tempo. Hagen has a distinctive sound, whether on tenor, alto or soprano, and his full-bodied, nearly vibratoless tone cuts through the seething rhythms like a beacon through fog. True to the disc’s title, his playing is often “segmented”, each phrase a distinct entity with space around it, rather in the manner of Henry Threadgill. The selections with Dresser, Hemingway and Maroney have a lighter, more open feel, despite the added piano. Maroney dispenses with his hyper-piano adventures into the innards of the instrument and plays it straight for a change, and one of the disc's highlights is his fine duet with Hagen, “Colloquial”. Despite the session’s generally quieter feeling, this quartet cooks too: “No Waiting” is spirited and swinging enough to set the toes tapping. Recommended.–SG

Koji Asano
The follow-up volume to the Giant Squid series of early outtakes, re-edited and cleaned up due to their lonely status on cassettes and tape reels, consists of pieces dating from before Asano released his debut album Solstice at age 18. Logic tells you these sounds were made by some kind of reconstruction and deconstruction of normal instruments (guitar, synths, piano..), but you instinctively feel that the hissing static and chirping high pitches are something entirely other. “Extradimensional” humans are popular these days in the conspiracy circuit and on the contactee circus, so Final Insurance's ringing, sibilant moments of youthful pleasure will be something to look back on when the articles on depression, remoteness and removal come out in the scandal sheets someday soon. Highlights: random pebble throws and wah wah guitar on “25 Strings”, circulating tin-toy hearts of “Remedy” and delicate and abstract carnival funhouse of “Humidity”. Track titles – “Lettuce No. 1”, “Sparrow”, and “Evening Falls” – reflect Asano-san's humble, contemplative nature, doubtless formed by his travels to London, Barcelona and back to Tokyo and the recent birth of his son – presumably the reason behind the reflective retrospective.–DC

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Stephan Winkler
Even before the advent of recorded music, so-called "serious" composers always had one ear cocked towards what their cousins in "popular" music were up to, from the country bumpkin bash of Beethoven's Pastoral to the alarmingly brash intrusion of rowdy barrel organ music in Mahler (there's a subject for a Freudian dissertation if ever there was one). The flirtations of Les Six with jazz are well-known, if not as accomplished and integrated as Gershwin's Porgy and Bess or Bernstein's West Side Story, and more recently, with his 1984 composition Vanada, Michael Torke built an entire career on Rufus & Chaka Khan cunningly cross-bred with Reich and Stravinsky. Many composers today are fascinated by the laptop explorations of the likes of Ryoji Ikeda and Christian Fennesz (the latter invited this year to perform at Présences, France's showcase contemporary music festival), but can't or won't imitate them overtly; after all, as Todd Levin found out to his cost on the appallingly vulgar De Luxe, slammin' techno beats transcribed for a conventional symphony orchestra percussion section sound no better than a cheap circus band. The main problem for composers is that popular music grooves, and yet any semblance of a solid backbeat in the cloistered world of academic composition is cause for instant excommunication. A long time ago I tried to address this problem head on by writing an eight-minute ensemble piece that could be performed either with or without rock percussion ("rock" at the time meaning David Van Tieghem rather than John Bonham, I'll admit). When the piece Small Animals was premiered at the Eastman School of Music in 1986 the reaction was predictable: faculty members loved the piece without the drums and hated it as soon as they crashed in.

Vom Durst nach Dasein, Stephan Winkler's cycle of seven "character pieces" for viola, strings, percussion and sampler is a classic case of a young composer (he's 38) who's grown up with Bartók, Stravinsky and likely as not Andriessen, not to mention pop and rock, and who wants to rock out but can't quite bring himself to do so. The sampled rhythmics, when adapted to kind of complex metrics Winkler has in mind, sound finicky and half-assed; you can tap your feet for a while, but you end up feeling guilty about doing it. Judging from the way the piece collapses about halfway through, you wonder if Winkler doesn't feel the same way. On Gullinkambi, a kind of musical Game Of Life for eleven piece wind ensemble where material is allowed to interact and evolve according to its own internal logic, Winkler resists the temptation to get funky (though there's plenty of snazzy post-production as a token concession to hipness) and the music inscribes itself solidly in the post-Stravinsky tradition. The Andriessen heritage is more evident in the first movement of Zigzag, a saxophone sextet that derives much of its effect from aggressive hocketing between the stereo channels (as did Andriessen's 1977 ensemble piece Hoketus). Once more the piece is impressive but not particularly endearing. Maybe you can put that down to the uniformity of timbre rather than Winkler's rather unvarying harmonies. Another influence makes itself felt in the second and third movements of the piece, namely the plodding grey functional motorics of Eisler and Hindemith; it's very much athletic All Bran, to quote Robin Holloway, easy to admire but hard to love. A bit like going to an exhibition of architect's drawings as opposed to wandering round the building itself. Fortunately the DVD version of the work, Zigzag: pi mal r quadrat, a 20' film by Jesko Marx, works well (providing the headphones are clamped on tight), establishing a further historical link to the past, particularly earlier generations of avant-garde animators including the Whitney brothers, Harry Smith, Rudolf Pfenninger and Oskar Fischinger.

Lexicon Devil
This follow-up to Candlesnuffer's eponymous debut on Dr Jim Records is David Brown's finest work to date, a striking collection of compositions in which the Australian guitarist pays homage to the founding fathers of musique concrète (the album title is a reference to Pierre Henry's Apsome Studio). As Brown's frequent playing partner Anthony Pateras notes in the liners, the music references "everything from the GRM to Japanese folk to Bartók to devastating death rock [..] a visceral performance language that would make any supposed 'post' rocker shit their pants – and probably Boulez as well." In the bad old good old days of razor blades and Scotch tape, a piece like the opening "Were holes mended?" would have taken weeks, nay months, of painstaking work in the studio – which is not to imply that Brown threw it together in an afternoon. Far from it: even with today's state-of-the-art software there's an enormous amount of patient sequencing involved here, as samples of the music of Henry, Cage, Ligeti, Takemitsu and Bartók are reconfigured into startling and startlingly coherent compositions over which Brown layers his own distinctively spiky guitar improvisations. It's a shame in a way that he's released this under the Candlesnuffer moniker (which those unfamiliar with the name could easily assume is some sort of Death Metal or grungy hardcore outfit – Brown is, for better or worse, perhaps best known as the bloke who started out as a member of AC/DC..), as it deserves to be just as widely circulated in the contemporary classical market served by labels such as Mode. Perhaps Pateras could put a good word in with John Zorn (Pateras's own Mutant Theatre after all came out on Tzadik) – Zorn maybe more than most could appreciate the brutal jump/cut aesthetic that Brown adopts here to such deadly effect. There are plenty of twists and turns in each of the eight tracks, and Brown's soundworld, with its Samurai shrieks (courtesy Kurosawa), vicious shards of guitar and skull-shattering percussion, is thrilling enough to keep you coming back again and again.–DW

Jonathan Kane
Table of the Elements Radium
Music lesson again. Do you know the difference between simple and compound meters? Simple meters divide the beat into two: simple duple bears the time signature 2/4 (or 2/2, 2/8 or 2/16), simple triple 3/4 and simple quadruple 4/4. So Yankee Doodle is in simple duple time, while Strauss's An der schönen blauen Donau (aka the Blue Danube Waltz – remember the satellites in 2001) is in 3/4. Gee, to think this is what I end up doing with two Masters degrees and a Doctorate in Music. Compound meters subdivide the beat into three (triplets): compound duple is usually written as 6/8 (think the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann), compound triple 9/8 and compound quadruple 12/8. What, you don't know the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann? Well, you're not missing much. Let's choose some more, umm, up to date examples: the Sex Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun" is simple quadruple, and ZZ Top's "Lagrange" is compound quadruple.
For a little while, back in the 70s, the barriers came down between Rock and so-called Art music; Glenn Branca was rocking hard with Theoretical Girls and The Static before he penned the first of his massed guitar symphonies (the ranks of the early Branca orchestra included Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, and don't tell me you haven't heard of them). Rhys Chatham later went one better by writing a piece for 100 electric guitars – and one featured drummer: Jonathan Kane. Kane was also the driving force behind La Monte Young's Forever Bad Blues Band and a founding member of Swans, so he's well placed to tear down the fences that some people (mostly journalists) have been trying to rebuild between Art and Rock. But anyone listening for the first time to "Curl", the opening track on February (amazingly the first album under Kane's own name), would have little problem filing it away in the Rock section. Unlike the motorik instrumental rock of Neu!, which is in consistently hard driving binary simple time, "Curl" is in compound quadruple – it swings, and swings hard. In homage to Chatham, Kane covers his 1977 "Guitar Trio", but slows the tempo and switches from simple to compound, a quantum leap that reconfigures Chatham's sleek binary sports car into a heaving R&B juggernaut. "Sis" shifts cunningly from simple to compound about two third of the way through, by using what Elliott Carter (an Uptown figure if ever there was one) would call "metric modulation" (go Google your way round this one, I'm tired of playing teacher). The fourth track is even more of a surprise, as it's an instrumental cover of the old traditional chestnut "Motherless Child". With those lazy strumming guitars you wouldn't be at all surprised if Don Henley came cruising on down the fast lane. Does this mean if you wiped the vocal tracks off Hotel California you could call it a piece of legit contemporary music? There's a question for you ponder while you open your Bento box. Meanwhile, it doesn't matter which shelf you put February on, because it really belongs in the CAR as the soundtrack to that long awaited road trip. You can also cue up "Spaceship" from Glass's Einstein On The Beach, part four of Steve Reich's Drumming, Michael Nyman's Think Slow Act Fast and, if your head can stand it, Branca's Bad Smells. Who cares what kind of music it is? It rocks.–DW

Jozef van Wissem
BV Haast
In recent years, Amsterdam-based Jozef van Wissem has been discreetly reconfiguring the repertoire of the Renaissance lute with some remarkable solo and collaborative projects (the latter including Diplopia with Gary Lucas and Proletarian Drift with Tetuzi Akiyama). On Objects he's taken the instrument even further away from its early music cloister by interleaving his gently minimal compositions with and superimposing them on recordings of the interior of an international airport (Amsterdam's Schipol, presumably). "To me, an airport links multiple realities together, but it also concentrates and unifies them. [..] There are also a lot of different interesting sounds there, which when you single them out, make for an eerie listening experience and a great acoustic comment on contemporary society," van Wissem states in the accompanying liners. It's an original and thought-provoking juxtaposition of the personal / impersonal – and not necessarily as odd as one might think: how many times have you wandered across an airport concourse in your own musical world with a pair of tiny speakers stuck in your ears? – and serves to highlight both van Wissem's virtuosity as a performer and his skill as a composer.–DW

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Greg Kelley
Little Enjoyer / Gameboy
For his third solo album, Greg Kelley has moved even further away from his 2000 debut Trumpet (Meniscus) than he did on its successor If I Never Meet You In This Life, Let Me Feel The Lack (Rossbin). It's a 36-minute electroacoustic composition sourced from recordings made on a November 2002 tour with bassist Mike Bullock (and since tours these days apparently have to have names, this one was called The Initial/Lack Tour, Initial being the solo bass album Bullock inaugurated his Chloë label with), though if you're expecting a Wynton Marsalis and Ron Carter, you've got the wrong pair, mate. In fact, if you can spot a trumpet or a bass in the first couple of minutes of music, you're doing better than I am. Like its predecessor, I Don't Want To Live Forever is a composition that falls cleanly into sections; the first alternates brief but quickly recognisable snatches of sound – shuffling feet, creaks and twangs – with silence, the second, starting just after the ten and a half minute mark and lasting a quarter of an hour, is the kind of continuous dense drone Andrew McKenzie would be proud of, and the third returns briefly to the material of section one before settling on another sustained (trumpet?) sonority that's gradually filtered and distorted to death, splinters, shatters and stops. Despite the rather extreme nature of the material, the spectacular hi-fi lo-fi mastering of Jason Lescalleet, the rock'n'roll liners by Oliver Alden (I'd never have thought of comparing Greg to Elton John.. hey, if you're reading this and ever feel doing a column for Paris Transatlantic, just drop a line), and Kelley's shots out to some wild and wonderful "Referents / Inspirants" – Walter Marchetti, AMM, Harry Pussy and, erm, Tommy James and the Shondells – his music's sharp angles and harsh contrasts reference a more conventional lineage in 20th century music stretching back from Zorn to Stravinsky. For a while I suspected it to be a Bon Jovi cover (remember "Frank Sinatra died today / I came home and found my mama crying / The TV had so much to say"?), but am happy to report Mr Kelley has better taste than that. But there's little chance of him sitting there night and day going old and gray if he carries on making this kind of racket.–DW

Blossoming Noise
This copy came with a pamphlet for PETA and the claim that “Masami Akita serves up a cacophony of high tension frequencies and blasting rhythms in his newest evolution, Senmaida (which means 'a thousand rice paddies')", and its cover star is a Val Denham-penned illustration of a happy bunny experimenting on a hapless human. Don't know which is more unnerving: anti-vivisection imagery appearing on one of Merzbow’s most accessible albums to date, or the fact that he could be just checking e-mail while playing these recordings live at brain-melting volume. It’s head-nodding enough, and the blizzard of feedback and scree is par for the course, especially when mixed with the sound of what could easily be eagles, pigs or other noble animals. The beats are approximately those of The Prodigy's “Firestarter”, Santana's “Evil Ways” (at 78 RPM) and something slightly more distinct on “Tract 3”. Is there any chance that all the Merzbow compilation tracks are going to be gathered together? Or the many books on Japanese rope bondage he’s authored might appear in English translation? Merzbow exists in this world as a symbol of serene absurdity, and this record is no exception to this law of nature.–DC

Jess Rowland
Pax Recordings
Many of the artists involved in California's improvising collectives, much of whose recorded material is released by Pax, have adopted a dissenting political stance against the in(s)anity of American consumerism, but this CD/DVD set by Jess Rowland (whose work includes music for experimental dance, puppet shows and “alternative easy listening”) is probably the best indication yet of where many people's brains have ended up, thanks to the complete control exercised by media and corporate monsters, here represented by Mattel – producers of the Barbie doll – and McDonald's. The audio portion of this work shows a new side of Rowland, whose previous album of piano improvisations 29.Water on the same label was defined as a "stream of consciousness"; the ten tracks are fused in a single unpredictable pastiche where snippets of Beatles and Beach Boys, extracts from radio shows and Spanish soaps are battered to a bloody pulp, with Rowland lurching between drunken folk and Atom Heart Mother-era Floyd, anger grounded in irony, gluing acoustic guitars, political speeches and electronics together with a couldn't-care-less attitude that transcends the anarchy of her invention, a latterday poor man's Pierre Schaeffer – and I mean that as a compliment. But wait until you see the DVD. Our heroine found some old VHS tapes "lying in a puddle of mud with used needles and fast-food wrappers in a gutter", from which she rescued the source material for what was later transformed into a cerebral surcharge ("edited in glorious lo-fi using 2 VCRs and a remote control") of nth generation videotapes mixed with violently addictive deranged speech/music soundtracks. A collage of absurd "World of Barbie" cartoons and children shows is pasted to segments from "How to style a scarf", with Barbie, Ken, impossibly stupid dancers, kids screaming with dilated pupils like they were on cocaine and a model's fake smile all over the place meshing in a concoction of drums, looped voices and crunchy cut-ups. In another episode, Ronald McDonald and his dog entwine their idiocy with blow-job scenes from adult movies in an infernal picture/noise ecstasy; but the real masterpiece is the first video, where, amidst scenes from Japanese B-movies, 1976 American Bicentennial commemoration clips and out-of-sync sepia-tinged 8mm film, John Ashcroft sings "Let The Eagle Soar" on CNN, his crooning wonderfully layered over Rowland's spastic tempi and ill bass lines. The final moments of this mini-movie, underlined by all-American choirs, patriotic frenzy at full blast, made me cringe. This stuff is scary.–MR

Kapotte Muziek
Chondritic Sound / PACRec
On these two live recordings – one from a 1995 performance in the Czech Republic, one from a Dutch concert three years later – Kapotte Muziek, whose line-up at the time was Frans de Waard, Peter Duimelinks, and Roel Meelkop, presents the scraping of contact microphones and radio chattering in a seemingly repetitive geometric pattern, swelling in gentle orchestral reverie until it swallows itself. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to that golden record aboard the Pioneer 10 satellite sent to deep space, this first piece could be the soundtrack to its travels. Intercepted radio transmissions and wandering hum and drone are replaced at times by hissing, scraping, and the endless presence of someone or something just beyond peripheral vision. In comparison, “Rotterdam” is a thornier prospect, tentacles of static shooting out from the bottomless gut of its screech, rising in volume like operatic aria and moving from ear to ear like any good murderer. Freezing the cochlea like the December when it was recorded, it’s as if the sound is pushing one’s head physically back, feedback scree increasing and hammering pitilessly against a dike until it bursts and floods the plain, becoming beautiful.–DC

Tu m'
Those familiar with the output of Tu m' since their debut on Jason Kahn's Cut label a few years ago won't be surprised by this latest offering from Italian laptoppers Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli. Taking The Wire's Rob Young at his word – worship the glitch – the Tu m' working method consists of making a selection of tasty samples (lazy bossanova guitar, gently ambient cocktail bar piano, smoky nightclub sax, and more or less recognisable snatches of well-known minimalists) and letting their software loop, layer, squash and squeeze it into accessible but often elusive and asymmetrical song forms. Just One Night is as sumptuous as ever – "Blue Blur" is particularly gorgeous – but I'll admit a slight preference for the pair's spikier, funkier outings (Pink Shark remains a personal favourite). Romanelli and Polidoro are evidently so in love with their material that they often let it get the upper hand; a bit of training wouldn't go amiss. Just because you love the family cat to death doesn't mean you're going to let it scratch the sofa to bits, eat the goldfish and leave mutilated small rodents bleeding to death on the Axminster.–DW

The last album that came my way in a glossy black cover with gold lettering on it was Kevin Drumm's Sheer Hellish Miasma, which blew my teeth out, so it was with a little trepidation that I stuck this one in the machine. Though not as remorselessly powerful as Drumm's album (I'm trying hard to think of any other recent release that is), The Helical World packs a punch, but Brandon Nickell's huge swathes of electronics belong to another tradition, that of the 60s/70s tape epics such as Stockhausen's Hymnen, Jean-Claude Eloy's Shanti (itself a rather pale imitation of the Stockhausen), and above all the monolithic structures of Xenakis: Persepolis, La Légende d'Eer et al. But Nickell reins his material in – the longest track here lasts 12'21" – and reveals an admirable command of the condensed form. Certainly a name to look out for, even if it's supposed to be pronounced "ah mah". Ah Mah? You mean like the town in Northern Ireland, Armagh? I'd have said "I-My" myself. But you learn something every day.–DW

Artemiy Artemiev
Russian electroacoustic composer Artemiev Artemiev is the son of composer Eduard, he of the score for Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966). Apart from the faceless hordes of Russian bootleggers who add their distinctive thumbprint to the cultural landscape, Artemiy is the man in Russia who makes interesting things happen in the avant-garde. He’s a beery, jovial guy whose presence makes a refreshing change from silly Western teenagers who hate their parents, grow tramp stamps and cultivate that partied-out look before they hit 22. Artemiy genuinely loves this kind of music, a love instilled in him by his father over many decades. Throat singing collides with guitars, guitar synths, and programming across the steppes of the record as bells jangle in the wind of keyboard washes, coming from nowhere and returning there along the spring reverb that appears from time to time. As gentle acoustic guitar wanderings on “Desert” recall the sager moments of The Durutti Column, claustrophobia gradually settles in, with indeterminate scrapings and brushings entering stage left backwards, a runaway train made of marshmallows heading for a passionate embrace with a pizza oven. Imported, of course. One of these arcane, fractured and serene pieces of electronic folk music comes from a summer 2003 concert tour of Europe and Siberia. Siberia! You think you’re hardcore? Think again, Batman.–DC

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