|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Pauline Oliveros
Chris Brown/Pauline Oliveros
Music in the Air
Deep Listening DL 43-2010
Marilyn Crispell David Rothenberg
One Dark Night I Left My Silent House
John Zorn/George Lewis/Bill Frisell
More News For Lulu
Marina Rosenfeld/George Lewis
Guelph Jazz Festival Highlights
By Ken Waxman
Characteristically adventurous, the 17th annual Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) September 8 to 12 presents respected sound explorers in novel musical situations.
Probably the most notable GJF visitor this year is American trombonist/composer George Lewis. On September 11 he’s part of a trio pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell on a double bill at the River Run Centre with the Sangam ensemble. Additionally throughout the festival, the MacDonald-Stewart Arts Centre hosts Ikons, which integrates computer software, created by Lewis, with Eric Metcalfe’s sculpture that reflect visitors’ movements. Sour Mash Innova 228, with Lewis and sound designer Marina Rosenfeld on dueling laptops, is an example of Lewis’ software programming, while More News For Lulu hatOLOGY 655, exhibits his trombone skill with guitarist Bill Frisell and alto saxophonist John Zorn.
Similar to Ikons, Sour Mash’s looped textures alter each time the composition is performed. On this version there’s no separation between the two creators’ input(s). Interspaced with episodes of sampled footfalls, mumbling voices and slide-whistle-like vibrations, the piece’s focus is on the sonic contrasts produced as both programs evolve simultaneously and languidly. Simmering and shimmying, buzzing sequences, blurry crackles and speedy whooshes share space with wind-chime-like pealing, watery bubbling and abrasive rustles. Defined with flanges and granulation, the processes evolve so that linkage is apparent, but with enough unexpected pauses, drones and beeps to keep the ever-shifting texture fascinating.
Equally fascinating is More News For Lulu. Here the trio provides an explicitly POMO take on 14 Hard Bop classics. Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom for instance is reconstituted as Frissell’s gentle picking finally succumbs to the pressure from Zorn’s screeching altissimo runs and tongue slaps to introduce guitar neck-hand-tapping and amplifier buzzes. Meanwhile Lewis concentrates on a tremolo retelling of the head, which is eventually recapped by all three. Similarly Hank Mobley’s Peckin’ Time evolves in triple counterpoint with the saxophonist’s agitated lines mated with the trombonist’s moderato vibrations while the guitarist’s steady chording propels the narrative. Lewis’ strategy on other tunes such as John Patton’s Minor Swing consists of providing a huffing contrapuntal ostinato over which Zorn’s screeches thrust intensely. Braying upwards the trombonist eventually corner Frissell’s double-timed licks and the saxophonist’s split tones so that all three lines converge.
The pianism missing from this CD is present on One Dark Night I Left My Silent House ECM 2089 which matches pianist Marilyn Crispell with clarinetist David Rothenberg. Crispell plays solo in Cooperators Hall September 11. Here she tries various sonic strategies to partner Rothenberg, a philosopher/naturalist interested in bird songs. While no tone is wholeheartedly onomatopoeic, aviary allusions abound. On Still Life with Woodpeckers for example, Crispell strokes the piano’s inner strings and hits the instrument’s backboard and bottom frame with percussive taps as the clarinetist flutter tongues and chirps daintily. In contrast, on The Hawk and the Mouse, she sweeps across, plucks and strikes the strings as Rothenberg circles her cadences with growling obbligatos, snorts, honks and tongue slaps. Committed for the most part to parallel improvising, the two emphasize tonal connections. That’s why the moderato and andante Evocation references Impressionism, with the low-pitched reed line and the low-key octave patterning create what could be a neo-classical étude.
A so-called classical composer of the electro-acoustic variety, accordionist Pauline Oliveros plays twice at the GJF. On September 8, in Rozanski Hall, she and trio of Guelph musicians perform simultaneously via a telematic link with other improvisers in Bogotá, Colombia and Troy, N.Y. Then on September 11 at a yoga centre, Oliveros’ accordion timbres are transformed by using Expanded Instrument System (EIS) computer software. Examples of both her musical cooperation and programming skills show up on Music in the Air Deep Listening DL 43-2010. Here EIS and signal processing mutate the sounds from Oliveros’ conch shell, percussion and accordion plus Chris Brown’s piano. Recorded in real-time without overdubs, tracks such as Trohosphere demonstrate how granular synthesis comments on and alters the piano’s speedy glissandi plus slippery accordion smears. Spread across the audio surface, processed signals contrapuntally change the piano’s dynamics as well as adjust accordion timbres to staccato and dissonant. When auxiliary bellow pumps enter the mix alongside a flat-line conch drone, Brown almost replicates a formal composition, so intent is he on maintaining harmonic patterns without raising the volume. With the modifications sometimes depicting variants of previously sampled timbres, sharp string slaps and key pumps provide live tonal additions. Eventually the dense interface is resolved as quivering voltage ramps slide downwards, introducing octave jumps and pressure from both keyboards.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 16 #1
September 3, 2010
The San Francisco Tape Music Center
1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde
Edited by David W. Bernstein, University of California Press
Morton Subotnick’s move to New York City in 1966 coupled with Ramon Sender relocating to the Morning Star Commune in rural California marked more than a geographical shift of two of the Bay area’s most visionary electro-acoustic composers. It also reflected the end of the fabled San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC) as a stand-alone entity, and its relocation to nearby Mills College.
For the previous five years, operating from funky locations with mostly invented or cadged electronic equipment, the SFTMC was an autonomous, unaffiliated centre for tape improvisation and interdisciplinary experiments. As David Bernstein demonstrates in the series of articles and interviews that make up this book, the SFTMC’s dedication to “unlimited creative possibilities with limited resources,” had a long-lasting impact far beyond its physical existence.
The Center also offered a forum for innovative visual composers such as Tony Martin, whose projections using hand-painted slides and liquids on plates were the precursors of psychedelic light shows. In an on-going series of concerts the SFTMC not only provided West Coast showcases for contemporary composers such as David Tudor and John Cage and offered a place for non-jazz-influenced improvisation, but also hosted the first performance of such future electronic and New music landmarks as Pauline Oliveros’ “Bye Bye Butterfly”, Subotnick’s “Mandolin”, Sender’s Desert Ambulance” and Terry Riley’s “In C”. To aid composers then struggling with tape-splicing, looping, mixing and signal processing, new audio configurations were also developed there. Most notable was Don Buchla’s so-called Buchla Box, a unique, portable touch-controlled voltage source that reduced the need for splicing, and allowed electronic music to be performed in real time outside of studios.
Alternating interviews with articles by many of the SFTMC’s principals, Bernstein’s narrative is somewhat choppy. Luckily a 17-page chronology at the end put the achievements in proper historical context.
Briefly, the SFTMC was organized in 1961 by young academic-affiliated composers Subotnick and Sender, when they moved their pooled primitive electronic equipment into a downtown San Francisco location to get away from the confines and snobbishness of music conservatories. At that time, says Subotnick, “there were only 10 people in the [electronic composition] field and all 10 people hated the others.” Shortly afterwards Oliveros, who was composing tape music on her own, joined them, drawn by the camaraderie and a studio that boasted “oscillators, professional tape machines, a patch bay, ring modulators, mics, an array of tape recorders and loop machines,” she recalls.
From the beginning, Sender, who stated in 1964 that “today the composer can not ignore the experience of working with tape” insisted that every concert be a collaboration with other artists in the city. Not only did that encourage multi-disciplinary activities with groups like the San Francisco Mime Troup and Ann Haperin’s dance troupe at the facility’s regular Sonics concerts, but experimenters from elsewhere were always welcome. Among the shifting cast of characters involved were poets such as Michael McClure, film makers like Stan Brackage, experimental musicians such as trombonist Stuart Dempster and composers including two on an extended visit from Sweden, plus Riley, Tudor and Steve Reich, who at that time was sharing the use of a tape recorder with Phil Lesh, another composition student who later played in the Grateful Dead.
Michael Callahan, SFTMC’s first technical director, who initially organized the studio and even provided musical assistance to Cage at one concert, was a teenager who had just graduated from high school; Martin was a painter interested in adding a visual component to New music. Buchla, with a bachelor’s degree in physics, extended Subotnick’s and Sender’s ideas for controlling amplitude and frequency while creating electronic music, by inventing the Buchla Modular Electronic Music System, the first practical, portable variant of what became the modular synthesizer.
Ironically, the SFTMC’s success was also the reason for its disappearance as an independent facility. Needing funds to expand, the Center approached the Rockefeller Foundation which first gave it a small grant. The Foundation then offered an additional $200,000, but with the understanding that the Center unite with a fiscally responsible institution. Oakland’s Mills College was chosen and the SFTMC moved there in the summer of 1966, with Oliveros as its first director and Bill Maginnis as technical director. When she left for another academic position a year later, all of the Center’s original crew had moved on. In New York Subotnick composed “Silver Apples of the Moon”, an electro-acoustic milestone that incidentally used a duplicate of the original Buchla Box. Callahan eventually took up a position at Harvard University; Martin resumed his art and academic career in New York, as did Buchla, who while refining newer versions of the Buchla Box was also involved, along with Martin, in designing light shows for the Electric Circus clubs. Already, along with other composers a dabbler in psychedelic substances – not for nothing was a Riley composition titled “Mescalin Mix” – Sender remained on the commune for years.
Sender, Oliveros, Subotnick, Martin and Maginnis reunited in October 2004 for the Wow & Flutter Festival at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy N.Y. Aided by several other musicians and technicians they performed many of their compositions. Included with this volume, a DVD of the festival program captures some of the excitement that must have been engendered when first hearing – and seeing – these pieces. Nonetheless, the mass dissemination of many of these sounds, textures and effects – starting with 1966’s Trips Festival in San Francisco that featured the audio and visual participation of Sender, Martin and Buchla – almost makes it difficult to imagine a time when this interface didn’t exist.
That’s why this volume is particularly valuable. It’s a history of a small group that at a certain time and place discovered a new way of doing things electronically, and spread the word about it – but who weren’t in love with the technology at the expense of creation. Later experimenters have sometimes been overawed at the simplicity of electronics, substituting patches and loops for musical invention. Those associated with the SFTMC didn’t do that. As Dempster tells the author in his interview: “There was this peak period ... [and] the Tape Music Center itself was … a symbol of what things could be.”
-- Ken Waxman
-- MusicWorks Issue #103
March 23, 2009
The Beat Suite
Sunnyside/Enja SSC 3012
DEEP LISTENING BAND/JOE MCPHEE QUARTET
Deep Listening DL 19-2003
Blending music and texts -- either poetry or prose -- has never been a particularly easy task, especially when the music involved is improvised. Yet for the past 50 years at least, variations of the concept have been tried with various degrees of success.
Among his other sonic inquiries, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy has turned his hand to text-based material for many years; he has been able to utilize the voice of his partner Irene Aebi as his speaker/vocalist since the late 1960s. THE BEAT SUITE is his most recent grapple with the concept -- and one that is particularly apt. The words, which intermingle with the music here, were written by 10 of the most accomplished Beat versifiers. All had or have an affinity for improvised music and most were known personally by either Lacy or Abei.
Iconoclastic Pauline Oliveros is another all-out experimenter, but from the so-called classical aide of the divide. Justly celebrated for her early experiments with microtonalism and electroacoustics, she has in recent years concentrated on her unique theory of Deep Listening, embracing structured improvisation, and begun regularly collaborating with non-academic improvisers such as bassist Barre Phillips, percussionist Susie Ibarra, and on this CD, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee.
Basically, the three members of Oliveros Deep Listening band and the members of McPhees quartet singly and together take turns musically commenting on the images suggested by Rachel Pollacks prize-winning speculative fiction novel, Unquenchable Fire. During the course of the five tracks, Pollack herself reads excerpts from the book. These are amplified by sounds from Stuart Dempsters trombone and didjeridu, David Gampers flutes, keyboard and electronics plus Oliveros on accordion. McPhee on soprano saxophone, alto clarinet and Casio digital horn, his longtime associate Joe Giardullo on flute, bass clarinet plus cellist Monica Wilson on cello and drummer Karen Jurgens are featured as well.
Musically the results are striking; vocally a little less so. While the imagery of Pollacks utopian feminist fable is imposing, her curiously flat, sometimes stumbling delivery suggests that perhaps a trained actor or singer would better have expressed her thoughts. Luckily the suppositional notions are enough to launch nonpareil improvisations.
The 3rd Movement, for instance, purports to be a true history of the city of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., coincidentally McPhees hometown. Pollocks tale involves the towns creation by 12-foot giants who changed colors according to the seasons and, after a catastrophe, shrunk the inhabitants who were visited by travelers from a multi-tiered UFO who landed and helped the townsfolk build homes and set up a government. The fable encourage the woodwind players to introduce discordant Albert Ayler-style type multiphonics, which are soon battling for space with legit, legato cello line.
Soon the squeals fade into a one solid quivering mass as McPhee and Giardullo begin vocalizing from within their horns body tubes. Joined by plunger tones from Dempsters trombone, the Casio-inflected Bronx cheers, shorter squeaks from the other reed and irregular drum beats, begins to resemble an approximation of a conversation between mechanized dwarfs and outer space denizens. Adding to this combination of rustic Americana and otherworldliness are irregular, double-quick, Silent Movie house electronic keyboard chords, where high-frequency vibrations echo other vibrations, and what could result from slowing down a scratched LP of circus music. As McPhees Aylerian soprano moves centre stage, wildly offbeat drumming and cartoon-like mouse peeps erupt around him.
An earlier movement that references birds, ashes and childrens fingers, which turn to sticks to beat away time, is amplified with didjeridu pitches which appear to be moving through a cistern. As their textures become more craggy and distant, wiccan-like accordion key frights mix it up with growling animalistic tones and vocalized syllables being electronically swabbed through the Aboriginal horn and flute. Soon these tiny segments of chirping flute and accordion pitches reconstitute themselves into a solid, oscillating, single sound mass, midway between the experiments of Tony Conrad and AMM.
Other interconnections are less obtuse. A revolution predicting horse who tells his tale to two women from Cleveland -- Aylers hometown, by the way -- calls forth straightforward whinnying from the soprano sax, then bass clarinet curls that follow the sax lines like colts chase after one another in a field, and is amplified by woodblock clip-clops. Later, when Pollacks description of a subway ride turns to a voyage of visionary content, the emotion is amplified by a single crimped flute line that melds with bowed cello lines and expanded accordion keyboard colors. By the time a caramel-smooth clarinet line succeeds this, the sound is almost too romantically pastoral.
More manifestly the verbalization of the title in the 4th Movement brings forth an undulating massed sonic outpouring from horns and keyboards closely akin to what Sun Ra called a space chord. Supplanted by s a romantic cello interlude and a trilling soprano sax line, outlined by distant cymbal pops and board smashing crashes, tiny, nervous Balkan-sounding squeeze box tones enter the sound field along with what could be the parody of a keyboard exercise. As the tone shards accumulate into a dense, resonating line, low frequency piano glissandos and Casio-created slide whistle bird chirps flit-in-and-around the solid tone as outer space-like whooshes end the piece.
Much more down to earth, even when personalizing idiosyncratic symbolism is turned into an art song-like display, THE BEAT SUITE also has its drawbacks related to its non-instrumental portions. Lacy warns from the top that This is highfalutin material. Its not for everybody. Yet the 10 interpretations sometimes seem to further muddy characteristic prose.
Abei has the not completely enviable task of singing free verse, sometimes with phrases or entire poems repeated for emphasis, and with her voice usually in concert with Lacys improvisations. The end result frequently fails to adequately demarcate poems that are serious and those that are humorous. Too many of the tracks sound too similar, while Abeis British-accented, high-pitched readings can remove the meanings of the words.
This is especially unfortunate on In the Pocket, since Anne Waldman and Andrew Shellings words are rife with jazz references from song titles to the namechecking of saxophonist Art Pepper. Happily Abei makes no attempt at jazzy scat singing, nor do the horns start quoting jazz riffs, but the steady walking bass line from Jacques Avenel and characteristic boppish bomb dropping from drummer John Betsch cry out for a clearer verbal acknowledgement of the theme.
When it comes to personalizing Jacks Blues, a poem by Robert Creeley, who has had empathy with jazz -- and jazz musicians -- for decades, the quartet gets together to play a real blues behind Abei. This comes complete with horn riffs, a curt shuffle from the drummer and pizzicato picks from the bassist.
Lacys tart tone and trombonist George Lewis higher pitched, lustrous plunger work cant really bring enough life to Bob Kaufmans Private Sadness, the longest and slowest moving of the poems And Abeis non-American accent really does her in here.
Much more palatable are the tunes when you can ignore the lyrics and hear her voice as merely a third part of the front line. This is particularly effective on Lew Welchs A Ring of Bone, where her accented rolling rs create musical onomatopoeia. Of course the real show is the Lewis and Lacy act. Here, for instance, the trombonist first slides down to mid-tempo notes then squeezed up to soprano range to introduce Lacy.
Much more emphatic is the bonemans plunger work on William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, where his sweet tone underlines Burroughs brutal images. Soon his protological plunger tones, reminiscent of Quentin Jacksons, push Lacy to buzz his reed and Betsch to emphasize press rolls and cymbal pressure. When the wah-wah timbres appear a second time they give Abeis singing of Who are you? at the end an Alice in Wonderland fillip.
All and all though, Gregory Corsos The Mad Yak is most transparent vocally, since the New York poet was most close to everyday speech in his writing. Its also probably the only track that doesnt demand the listener read the words as lyrics are being vocalized. Here, as well, Lewis shows off some hand-muted, arching tonal effects while Lacy supplies reed snorts, spetrofluctuation and mouth noises
Although the Oliveros-McPhee experiment with prose usually come across better than the Lacy-Abei poetry recreation both discs are still notable. Both should interest
those whose ardor encompasses literature as well as improvised music.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Beat: 1. Wave Lover 2. Song 3. Naked Lunch 4. Private Sadness 5. A Ring of Bone 6. The Mad Yak 7. Jacks Blues 8. Agenda 9. In the Pocket 10. Mother Goose
Personnel: Beat: George Lewis (trombone); Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone);, Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass); John Betsch (drums); Irene Aebi (vocals)
Track Listing: Unquenchable: 1. Intro 2. 1st Movement 3. 2nd Movement 4. 3rd Movement 5. 4th Movement
Personnel: Unquenchable: Deep Listening Band: Stuart Dempster (trombone, didjeridu); David Gamper (flutes, keyboard, electronics); Pauline Oliveros (accordion); Joe McPhee Quartet: Joe McPhee (soprano saxophone, alto clarinet, Casio digital horn); Joe Giardullo (flute, bass clarinet); Monica Wilson (cello); Karen Jurgens (drums); Rachel Pollack (reading)
January 19, 2004
THE SPACE BETWEEN
With Barre Phillips
482 Music 482-1007
One of the wonderful facets of free improvisation is that, unlike more formal music, practitioners aren't limited to certain instruments.
Thus you have this unbridled session of stirring improv performed on shakuhachi or Japanese bamboo flute; accordion retuned with just intonation; minimalist piano and string bass. The background of the four musicians couldn't be more different either.
Bay area shakuhachi player Philip Gelb, who brings a unique Occidental concept to his instrument, is as likely to collaborate with multi instrumentalist Joe McPhee, or interactive electronics composer Chris Brown as with koto master, Shoko Hikage. Accordionist Pauline Oliveros has been composing so-called serious music for 50 years and has a long history of creating electronic and minimalist works.
Canadian born, Los Angeles-based Dana Reason works regularly with Oliveros and Gelb, as well as other explorers such as trombonist George Lewis, and is most interested in the byproducts of the piano that lie in between the black and white keys. American bassist Barre Phillips, who recorded a solo session as long ago as 1968, expatriated permanently to France around that time. Over the years he literally worked with everyone in avant jazz, improv and New music from saxophonist Archie Shepp to guitarist Derek Bailey.
Simultaneously backdrop and foreground, the effort makes you want to begin again when the CD finishes. Perhaps it's because the 12 tunes are all instant compositions, recorded live on the spot by the four. Louder most of the time than one might figure, considering Oliveros' commitment to deep listening and minimalism, even the quietest passages feature the sort of aggression one associates with free jazz, despite any denials towards the music these four would probably proffer.
Certainly all have been exposed to jazz, and Phillips has played it for a long time. Moreover like a bassist functioning in a jazz combo, the vigor of his long-lined pizzicato forays seems to be the fulcrum on which the compositions revolve. It's probably him, in fact, who adds the percussion-like underpinning on some of the tracks, Not that anything swings in a jazz sense, but the proceedings certainly move along at a powerful clip, lacking those awkward, prolonged silences that sometimes arrive in more self-conscious New music.
Gelb, too, is a marvel. If you didn't know his implement of choice was the shakuhachi, from the evidence here you'd think it was the metal flute, the soprano saxophone or perhaps both. Capable of high-pitched, ethereal, overblowing asides and basso tones, he still makes it a point not to stand out from the ensemble, but to blend with the others.
Banishing any thought of Lawrence Welk -- or for you veteran jazzbos Art Van Damme -- from her accordion association, Oliveros appears to have discovered the perfect musical outlet. Without abandoning its traditional resonance she can make the squeeze box sound like a very large harmonica or a sideways, elastic piano.
The only dilemma created by this style, though, is that Reason, the band's regular keyboardist, finds herself mostly confined to contributing single notes or the occasional quick run reminiscent of John Tilbury's work with AMM.
As a group effort, these 62 minutes plus of creativity pass by like five, without, it seems, a bum note on disc. Overall, this product of two young virtuosi and two veteran tonal explorers as a quartet of unconventional instruments is memorable in its audacity.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. King Kong Passes Through The Gates Of Shaolin Temple And Contemplates Life 2.Natto Breath 3.After Long Life 4.The Lonely Halibut 5.Fantastic Increments 6.Penquin 7.Do We Deserve Dubya? 8.Incandescent Gesture 9.David's Sandbox 10.Candles On The Lake Shore 11.Several Moments 12.Surely It Was
Personnel: Philip Gelb (shakuhachi); Pauline Oliveros (accordion); Dana Reason (piano); Barre Phillips (bass)
September 24, 2001