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Ragnar Grippe – Sand
Streamline 1011

First issued in 1977 as Shandar Records LP 83518, this recording features organ, recorder, harmonica, electric guitar, bells, voice, thumb organ (whatever that is) and maracas. “Recorded using consecutive overdubbing” indicate the liner notes. This technique sounds like a live tape delay system similar to the one Terry Riley used. In fact, the very rare Shandar label was at one time, also home to Terry Riley and La Monte Young. There also seems to be a lot of reverb, creating a slap-back-sort-of-echo, wet cave like environment.

Ragnar Grippe, a student of composer Luc Ferrari at the time, composed, performed and recorded Sand in Paris, France.

Inspired by the sand paintings of Viswanadhan and I guess the person on the cover is Viswanadhan. Viewed from above, the image on the cover shows a person leaning into a very large red disk with his/her arm out stretched. The green hub in the middle looks suspiciously like the hub inside my disc man.

Sections of the music ebb and flow with repetitions of the delay system like sand. Quite rhythmic with all the echo, there are moments where the harmonica reminds one of a Thai khene (mouth organ). Maybe I’m really hearing a thumb organ?

With all the current interest in minimal ambient electro-acoustic music, the obscure re-issues keep coming. Too cool.

db
10/1/1996

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

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Historically, there’s a tradition of western composers not only studying the music of Indonesia but visiting Bali or Java and keeping the influence in their works. In the late 1920’s a Canadian living in New York, Colin McPhee, was exposed to the gamelan (a tuned percussion ensemble) music of Bali by a gramophone recording. The music became a passion for McPhee, he spent five years in Bali in the 1930’s and the music became a powerful force in his music. In modern times minimalist Steve Reich studied gamelan in the early ’70s and King Crimson guitarist/original member Robert Fripp showed an obvious gamelan/minimalist influence on the 1981 album Discipline. While Fripp and Reich probably didn’t go there, they obviously heard recordings. The two cd’s reviewed here are also by western composers who have traveled east and brought the gamelan vibration home to live on in their music in the west.

The Terrain of Possibilities
(EMF)
Bill Alves

The influence of Bill Alves studies show up in the cyclic patterns in his compositions. In Redundant I, highly manipulated samples of soprano Eve Vazana’s voice rotate past the listener and return. Bending Space has a highly ritualistic meditative quality a beautiful timeless moment. The composition The Terrain of Possibilities uses just intonation tuned samples of various Indonesian metal instruments, Korean chimes, piano, various percussion instruments and voice for a rhythmically driving work full of drama. Other musical influences are present too. Spectral Motion was inspired by the polyrhythms of West African drumming ensembles while the techniques of English change ringing informed Redundant I,.

Time Auscultations as well as the other remaining tacks on the album move forward with the drive of gamelan while displaying Alves command of timbre: with the exception of The Question Mark’s Black Ink where Vicki Ray, piano and Mark Nicolay, percussion perform with tape, all of the works on the album were realized on the Synclavier II computer music system. The samples seem to be optimized for the tunings. Very much an electronic music album as well as being influenced by gamelan: a beautifully fascinating CD.

Fields Amaze
(Silent Treatment)
Patrick Grant

Patrick Grant’s time in the east manifests itself in an amazingly relentless clock-like drive. Unlike the Alves cd, the Grant album is entirely acoustic. On the first track Fields Amaze Grant’s piano, percussion and gamelan is assisted by Barbara Benary on gamelan and David Simmon’s percussion. This composition – a well as the rest of the cd – rocks – in the sense that the dynamics are relatively flat and the timing is solid. A Visible Track of Turbulence seems to draw on early 20th century Euro-American chamber music with it’s instrumentation of flute, clarinet and piano – and of course stylistically too. Relative Segments for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, piano and keyboards reinforces the impression that Steve Reich and Phillip Glass also seem to be an influence. In Everything Distinct; Everything The Same piano, percussion and gamelan show an obvious debt to the Indonesian metal instrument ensemble. This cd is also stunning.

In response to my inquiry about the tunings on this cd, Patrick Grant replied:

The pieces on this CD that were referred to in the article
are in two different tunings, nothing too fancy. The first
works in various modes of Gb natural major and the second
is in a combined pelog and slendro taken from Barbara Benary’s
gamelan. The latter results in a scale that has 10 tones per
octave of varying widths. Octaves are not perfect in that they
all have a 5 cent stretch (i.e. c to c’ = 1205 cents). On the
electronic keyboard I have tuned the two unused keys enharmonically
to their nearest neighbors so they could be used for some
quasi-bariolage effects. Thanks for asking.

db
5/3/1998

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

Bruford Levin Upper Extremities

Knitting Factory, N.Y., N.Y.
April 18, 1998

It’s the return of the acoustic Bill Bruford! Take away all those electronic toys and it’s 1973 all over again with a new improved twist. While Robert Fripp is off touring with his King Crimson/Project Two band, BLUE (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities) is tearing up the northeast United States coast after a Japanese tour. At the Knitting Factory last night, an excited crowd packed a mostly standing room venue – i.e. little or no seats to start with.

Master percussionist Bruford (King Crimson, Earthworks, founding member of Yes) started the evenings proceedings with a drum solo shortly to be joined by co-leader Tony Levin on bass and stick. While the polyrhythmic Bruford performed his amazing drum styling updated for this tour, Levin skronked a couple of notes on an electric upright bass by sawing close to the bridge and bouncing the bow on the strings. Post-Hendrix texturalist David Torn trotted on stage to add his guitar soon to be followed by trumpet player Chris Botti.

While the are similarities – Bruford, Levin & Torn recorded with trumpet player Mark Isham on 1987’s Cloud About Mercury (ECM) – this band sometimes sounds more like King Crimson. On Fin de Siecle, the band started with a chromatic unison riff that lead to a classic Crimson twister. A middle section recalled both Cloud About Mercury and Crimson’s 1974 classic Red: a trumpet and bass melody (Cloud About Mercury) with a repeating guitar part that was very Fripp (Red). Unlike the cd, most of the compositions at this concert were stretched out and improvised upon.

Cracking the Midnight’s Glass gave way to a bass riff reminiscent of Led Zepplelin’s Kashmir while Torn (solo, David Sylvian) abused his guitar – here’s a guitarist who’s not afraid to snap out those upper harmonics with a lot of distortion! Unfortunately, even when he showed off his stream-of-notes Holdsworth legato, the over abundant reverb from the board made his sound muddy. Torn spent as much time playing his guitar as generating undulating sheets of sound from his digital signal processing equipment. During the encore, he waved a tape recorder playing what sounded like a mid-eastern singer next to his guitar pickups and caught the sound in a digital loop, bringing it back many times for effect.

Shades of Miles: I always thought that Cloud About Mercury was the ultimate direction for Miles Davis – the album he never made. Chris Botti (Paul Simon, Blue Nile) suggested Miles but Botti’s trumpet also had too much reverb, but in a way, this was perfect for the ethereal melodies he was spinning. An exceptional horn player perfect for this band.

Co-leader Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) held down the music with his distinctive bass. Always solid and never a parody of his past, it is refreshing to hear an artist grow. With this concert, Bruford and Levin show that there is life outside of King Crimson by research independent research. While at the top of his form, Bruford in particular hasn’t shown any growth since 1989’s Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. Let’s hope there is more to the band Bruford Levin. Maybe more albums and tours with other soloist’s – might I suggest Bill Frisell and/or Pat Metheny?

db
4/19/1998

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

Margaret Leng Tan – Sorceress of the New Piano, The Artistry of Margaret Leng Tan
(Mode 194 DVD)

Sorceress of the New Piano (2004), 90 min., is a fascinating documentary by Evans Chan about new music specialist Margaret Leng Tan. Margaret is well known for her toy piano performances of music by John Cage and others, but also for pieces that use extended techniques such as prepared, plucked, bowed and/or strumming the piano. I always find it fascinating to see what all those mysterious and strange sounds are and how they are made. Not just an overview of Tan’s impressive work with the music of modern composers Cage, Henry Cowell, George Crumb, Jed Distler, Ge Gan-ru, Philip Glass, Guy Klucevsek, Stephen Montague, Somei Satoh, Tan Dun, Toby Twining, Lois V Vierk and others, but also a great introduction to modern “new” classical music. Cameo guest commentaries by various composers, critics and performers. Bonus film The Maverick Piano (2006), 50 min., features six full length performances of pieces by Cage (In a Landscape with Great Small Works, In the Name of the Holocaust, Music for Piano No. 2), Gan-Ru (Gu Yue “Pipa”), Erik Satie (Gymnopédie No. 3 with Great Small Works) and Toby Twining (Satie Blues with Great Small Works). I know there’s a lot of music documentary and live performance DVDs on the market, but there should be more like this one.

DVD review by David Beardsley.

Originally reviewed for the Downtown Music Gallery newsletter, November 2008.

Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America

Lincoln Center Festival 97

July 8, 1997

Any performance by Ornette Coleman should not be missed. He rarely performs his music his music in public and one never knows when he’ll blow through town. This has been temporarily corrected by a series of concerts, part of the Lincoln Center Festival 97.

As an opening act, Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was performed. Why? You’ve got me because I think Ornette’s a genius. We were then treated to selected American Poetry readings by actor Reggie Montgomery. Works included Martha Graham, N. Scott Momaday, Jonathan Edwards, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Joy Harjo and Allen Ginsberg.

After the New York Philharmonic assembled on stage, conductor Kurt Masur and genius Ornette Coleman entered stage left. Ornette the fashion statement, this time wearing a harmolodic black and white checker suit with matching harmolodic two tone shoes. For this alone (well, maybe not…), the crowd gave him a lengthy standing ovation. Amazing.

Skies of America is one of Ornette’s post-classical concert hall pieces. Originally recorded in the early ’70’s with just Ornette and London Symphony Orchestra, this version is revised. Apparently the original was to include his band but British Union regulations forbade it presumably because he wasn’t using local talent. One wonders what this sounded like with his acoustic group. This evenings concert included his Prime Time band consisting of:

Ornette Coleman – Alto Saxophone
Denardo Coleman – Drums
Dave Bryant – Keyboards
Bradley Jones – Acoustic Bass
Al MacDowell – Electric Bass
Chris Rosenberg – Guitar
Badal Roy – Tabla
Kenny Wessel – Guitar

Skies of America alternates the orchestra with the Prime Time Band. Some times, at the end of a Prime Time section, the orchestra plays a unrelated theme behind the band. The audience also applauded after every Ornette solo with Prime Time as if at a sporting event, violating sacred concert hall behavior: wait until the end of the work, do not applaud in between movements.

Avery Fisher Hall was designed for acoustic music and the muddy sound system couldn’t really handle the sound of the Prime Time band. When the whole band played, individual members contributions (except Ornette) were lost in the mud. Toward the end there was a section were the orchestra played drones and each member of the band played solos or duets with Ornette. One could hear how brilliant Badal Roy’s tabla, or each of the bassist’s were. Or even how cheesy the keyboardist’s patches were. Keeping that DX7 bell piano sound alive in a newer model. Yeech!

Nit picking aside, it was great to hear Coleman’s horn with the orchestra. Besides reinventing jazz, he has a distinct tone and phrasing to his alto playing. While I love the 25 year old Columbia version, let’s hope that he releases a current version of this piece. Presumably, this was recorded for the Caravan of Dreams label but never released.

db
7/9/1997

Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins and special guests

Lincoln Center Festival 97
July 10, 1997

I’ve been waiting years for this concert, I’ve really felt bad about all the times I had to miss opportunities to hear Ornette perform acoustic music.

The first half of the concert featured Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone, trumpet and violin) with original quartet members Charlie Haden (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). With the late Don Cherry on trumpet, they changed the post-bop, post-Charlie Parker world of jazz by taking a turn and improvising on the melody, not the chord changes. A lot of established jazz masters were hostile, others learned and incorporated the new language into their own music.

This evenings concert featured music either new or unfamiliar to me, doesn’t really matter because the compositions were obviously Ornette.

Highlights included:

  • Not just the give and play between the members of the trio, but the solos by Haden (liquid) and Higgins (stunning).
  • Ornette on trumpet!
  • Ornette on violin!!
  • It was a long set!!!

After intermission, the trio was joined by Kenny Barron (piano) and Wallace Roney (trumpet). Damm strange to hear Ornette with a piano, but I guess it worked. At one point, Barron had a solo spot and sounded way too manicured, as soon as Haden walked in, those nails grew.
Roney, on the other hand seems to have a bit of that dusty old neo-classical-bop in him that he really tried to shake off. He would bend and slide a bit, but couldn’t resist playing some runs to blow off steam. Towards the end, the different approaches to tuning between Ornette and Ronney really showed, beating like crazy.

Vocalists Lauren Kinhan and Chris Walker both sat in (stood in?) for a song a piece and also a duet. This gave Ornette an opportunity to harmolodicize to a ballad, sliding in his own melodies. Kinhan’s phrasing was particularly stunning. The band closed out the set with the blues Turnaround.

How was the sound? I’m glad you asked….the first half of the evening was pretty good , the drums could have been a wee bit louder, the horn was a a bit piercing when loud, too soft when soft and the bass was just right, said Goldielocks. During the second half, Ornette could have been a bit louder. I sat about 15th row but up on the wall, in the 1st tier.

Did I mention how much I miss Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell?

db
7/11/1997

Both reviews originally appeared on-line in Juxtaopsition Ezine.

NY Times review of the same shows over here.

American Festival of Microtonal Music
MicroMystery Tour ’98
May 7-8, 1998
St. Pauls Chapel, Columbia University, NY, NY.

day two

Gong Elegy (author unknown) was performed by Mysterious Tremendum Sacred Tone Ensemble with Don Conreaux as gong master of ceremonies. A rather beautiful mysterious affair, very much like a ritual. A pair of monks glide in playing their instruments, a veiled woman sits playing singing bowls, a man in white appears from behind the altar and shouts while Conreaux in black and sunglasses swinging the gong around.

Mysterious Tremendum Sacred Tone Ensemble
Don Conreaux – gong, conch shell and horn
Randee Ragin – Tibetan singing bowls, ting sha and voice
Johnny Reinhard – bassoon
David Smith – vocals
Linda Wetherill – flutes, microtonal rods, voice
Andrew Salcius – cello, voice
Graham Hubbel – didjeridoo, conch shell, shakuhachi flute, harmonica, voice
Doron Yomtov – didjeridoo, conch shell, ney, bells, voice

Rebecca Pechefsky struggled through four of J.S. Bach’s Preludes and Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier in Werkmeister III. The performance was so tentative at first, Pechefsky seemed to either have a case of stage fright or she was sight reading the pieces. Towards the end as she gained confidence, the harpsichord started to slip out of tune.

James Tenney’s Spectrum II for wind quintet was a gem. Full of long droning tones, pieces like this are perfect for the resonant St. Pauls Chapel. The chapel must have a decay of 10 or 15 seconds making Spectum II even more lush then it already is.

Some people remarked later that the the piece “didn’t grab them”, “wasn’t as good as his other works” or even that they flat out didn’t like the piece. Nay folks, I thought the piece was beautiful. Very much in the relm of Morton Feldman or La Monte Young. The work used an 11 tone 19 limit harmonic just intonation tuning.

ratio 1/1 17/16 9/8 19/16 5/4 21/16 11/8 3/2 25/16 13/8 7/4
cents 0 105 202 298 386 471 551 702 773 841 969
Andrew Bolotowsky – flute
Ron Kozak – English horn
Michiyo Suzuki – bass clarinet
Johnny Reinhard – bassoon
Greg Evans – French horn

After years of hearing bad 1/4 tone music, neo-classical Cozenage by Howard Rovics was quite a relief. I particularly liked the up tempo last movement.

Andrew Bolotowsky – flute
Johnny Reinhard – bassoon
Judith Hershman – marimba
Howard Rovics – synthesizer

Johnny Reinhard intoned Harry Partch’s December 1942 with John Schneider playing his adapted guitar. It’s always a joy to hear Partch performed, but I miss hearing his voice. I look forward to hearing Schneider’s forthcoming recording of the piece.

Jon Catler’s Sleeping Beauty started with him playing slide on a guitar “prepared” with a bridge in the middle of the neck. He’d play the play behind this bridge and the vibrations of strings on the other side of the bridge would be amplified by the pickups. In another section, while the rest of the ensemble droned, Catler played arpeggios while he stood on a wah wah pedal. Not the wacka-wacka of Eric Clapton on White Room but a way of focusing the chord. In other sections, melodies more closely resembled the melodic material found on the Birdhouse tape and the Catler Bros. cd “Crash Landing”. The acoustic instruments really should have been amplified: Catler and ensemble turned in a fine performance that was warped by the acoustics of the chapel.

Jon Catler – electric just intonation guitar
Johnny Reinhard – bassoon
Young-Ling Chan – bassoon
Skip LaPlante – canon/dulcimer

Picks:
Gong Elegy (author unknown)- Mysterious Tremendum Sacred Tone Ensemble
Spectrum II – James Tenny
December 1942 – Harry Partch
Sleeping Beauty – Jon Catler

db

5/25/98

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

American Festival of Microtonal Music
MicroMystery Tour ’98
May 7-8, 1998
St. Pauls Chapel, Columbia University, NY, NY.

day one

Dubbed “MicroMystery Tour ’98” by festival director and founder Johnny Reinhard, this years American Festival of Microtonal Music festival was held at New York’s Columbia University, St. Paul’s Chapel. Microtonal are the intervals smaller than a half step and every year the festival spotlights microtonal music from around the world. In contrast to recent years, most of this years pieces were in just intonation – intervals of whole number ratios.

Atom Turning In The Heart Of The Sun by Sasha Bogdanowitch was a half hour epic journey. Sasha sang in an expressive invented language, danced across and around the musicians while he illustrated his tale. In a 20 tone 7 limit tuning in various instrumental combinations the musicians provided a backdrop for his performance. Extensive studies in eastern musical traditions like gamelan and North Indian singing as well as Western composition show as influences in the work. I’m *just* a sucker for the instrumentation and this is the one piece that totally knocked me out this year.

Sasha Bogdonowitch – voice
Elizabeth Panzer – harps
John Schneider – just intonation guitar
Judith Hershman – just intonation marimba
Andrew Bolotowsky – flute
Jennifer Devore – cello
Johnny Reinhard – conductor

Virgil Moorfield’s (Slight Return) tread the same territory as his Tzadik release “The Temperature in Hell is Over Three Thousand Degrees”. Using a 48 tone equal temperament tuning in a “coloristic” way, he still attacks the keyboard like the drummer he is. The band was in attack mode too: Cellist David Eggar and violinist Tom Chiu aggressively bowed their instruments, guitarist Evans Wohlforth played lines full of large interval jumps. At one point, Eggar picked up a bass guitar and after a burst of dissonance, proceeded to bow the instrument with an ebow and tune the strings down. By the end of the work, the whole band was bending notes, unwinding strings, sliding all over the place. Before performing the piece with his ensemble, the composer informed us that although the he was going to explore a psychoacoustic phenomenon called Just Noticeable Difference, the piece was really inspired by a beetle that flew into his ear once.

Virgil Moorfield Ensemble:
Tom Chiu – violin
David Eggar – cello
Evans Wohlforth – guitar
Tim Otto – baritone saxophone
Virgil Moorfield – synthesizer

John Schneider played Lou Harrison’s Suite #2 for Guitar. Each of the five movements required a different tuning. Schneider handled this with two guitars, one with interchangeable fingerboards. Suite #2 for Guitar is related to the Suite #2 on the Just West Coast cd – Threnody and Waltz for Evelyn are the common movements. As always, Harrison’s music is a joy to hear, much of his music is lush and beautiful and stylistically is influenced by both European and Asian music. Schneider, of course, did extreme justice to the music.
Schneider also performed his arrangement of Fratres by Arvo Pärt, was rearranged for viola, guitar and cello in just intonation. With the trio spread out a bit – the cello drone was a few feet back , the musicans arranged in a diamond – the chapel bounced back a lot of the pitch creating a shimmering cloud of meditation.

Anastasia Solberg – viola
John Schneider – just intonation guitar
Jennifer Devore – cello

Rumanian composer Violeta Dinescu’s Din Cinpoiu was performed on viola by Anastasia Solberg. Spikey post-classical modern music. Quarter tones. Yipes!
Like last years Odysseus Cello Concerto by AFMM’s Johnny Reinhard, Adam and Eve is a new kind of theatre. Musicans act out the parts and improvise polymicrotonaly all over the chapel. Of note:

While Paul Savior dramatically intoned the part of God into a microphone and guitar amp, ji guitarist Jon Catler picked a couple of chords for the opening section that made the hair on my arms stand up. Combine the sum and difference tones with St. Pauls ambience – there’s more then a few seconds of reverb there, the resonance of the room probably added a few extra notes – and the result is a dense consonant chord. The effect was so stunning that some listener’s later complained that the guitar was too loud. A tiny amp with the volume set to three: Lightweights! That was God talking, what did you expect???

Michiyo Suzuki was the perfect snake: crouching down, pointing her clarinet up, then down, standing up, wearing flowing legato clothing.

Christina Coppola, who danced in last year’s Odysseus as a Siren, returned as Eve. Her performance was equally expressive this year.

Tree of Knowledge David Eggar, cello wore a mask while abusing his cello and Forbidden Fruit Ron Kosak, english horn, skronked some serious harmonics.

Joshua Pierce produced rain by playing the inside of the piano. The inside of the piano is always fun and the AFMM director sez that 12tet is microtonal!

Tom Chui and Matt Maneri, violins talked back and forth as cats. Even as a cat fight!

A double role was filled by Skip La Plante: as Giant Sloth on double bass and Anteater, using a long tube as a bass didjeridu, pointing the instrument towards the floor, the sky, even the stereo mikes recording the entire event.

Johnny Reinhard as Adam, the dancing bassoonist. I realise that there aren’t too many bassonists that dance at all. In high school, I played bassoon for a few months before the end and there was a guy trying to get me to play in marching band! JR danced his way into history with his light footed performance and new works like this should be performed more often. Pretty funny too!
Of course Reinhard’s solo was mind blowing too. Dyads and triads on the bassoon. Everybody should do that kind of stuff on their horn.

Eve – Christina Coppola: dancer, choreography
Adam – Johnny Reinhard: bassoon
God – Paul Savior: actor, Jon Catler: electric just intonation guitar
Tree of Knowledge – David Eggar: cello
Snake – Michiyo Suzuki: clarinet
Forbiden Fuit – Ron Kozak: English horn
Fate – Frank Malloy, Orlando Colon: djimbe
Antelope and Sound – Don Conreaux: shofar, gong
Wart Hog, Kudu – Tom Horgan: contrabass racket, bass sordon
Birds – Andrew Bolotowsky: flutes
Cats – Tom Chiu, Matt Maneri: violins
Whale, Deer – Steven Antonelli: slide guitar, mandolin
Giant Sloth, Anteater – Skip La Plante: double bass, bass didjeridu
Rain – Joshua Pierce: piano
Punctuation – Virgil Moorfield: percussion
Set – Carol Lopresto and Orlando Brugnola

Picks:
Atom Turning In The Heart Of The Sun – Sasha Bogdanowitch
Slight Return – Virgil Moorefield
Suite #2 for Guitar – Lou Harrison
Adam and Eve – Johnny Reinhard
Day 2 MicroMystery Tour ’98, May 8, 1998
Last years festival MicroMay ’97, May 16, 1997
Information about the American Festival of Microtonal Music: http://www.echonyc.com/~jhhl/AFMM/

db 5/21/98

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

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