Posts filed under ‘blather’

George Lewis and the Apple II in 1984

takingthestageHere’s a nice slice of history. In the 1980s, IRCAM, the French institute for music, sound, and science, hosted a series of concerts called “Écoutez Votre Siècle,” and one of the installments was an early presentation of George Lewis‘ work with computer-generated sound.

A bit of that concert survives on the web, part of a 26-minute TV documentary that IRCAM produced. While we don’t get to hear the whole concert, the real treasure might be the interviews and rehearsal footage, which offer a look at the state of computer music in 1984.

Lewis’ piece, “Rainbow Family,” was created for a combination of human and computer players interacting. He assembled quite a team for it: Douglas Ewart (saxophone), Joëlle Léandre (bass), Steve Lacy (soprano sax), and Derek Bailey (guitar).

Lewis manned the computers and coordinated the rehearsals, during which the human players got acquainted with the tendencies of Lewis’ programs, much like feeling out another musician they’ve met for the first time.

lewis computers 80It’s fun watching Lewis work with fellow musical giants. I’ve known about Ewart but haven’t heard much of his playing; getting to know the man a little bit, while also hearing bits of his music, was enjoyable. He has some keen insights — noting, for example, that one strategy would be to consider the computer “an improviser who might not have the seasoning that we do.”

I’ve never heard Steve Lacy speak, something that didn’t occur to me until watching his video. His voice has an east-coast hip-cat lilt — which shouldn’t have been such a surprise, considering he comes from exactly that era.

Lewis himself is interviewed at length, mostly in French; he seems nearly fluent in the language. (Again, maybe I shouldn’t be so blown away. “Never mind that he’s a trombone great, an AACM biographer, and a computer-music pioneer — the dude speaks French!”)

hands and apple ii 80

Early in the show, Lewis switches to English to explain that his work is the barest glimmer of what artificial intelligence should eventually be capable of. He knew that his then-exciting technology was still a limiting factor; 1984 was a long way off from Tim Perkis’ real-time laptop musicianship. Still, the sounds Lewis wrests from the Apple II aren’t as dated as I was expecting. In the end, it does sound like the players found a rapport with the machines.

Interestingly, the documentary ends with the sound of trains — found sound, another type of sonic experimentation.

You can find the half-hour mini-documentary, along with others in the “Écoutez Votre Siècle” series, here.

Hat tip: Andrew Raffo Dewar on Twitter.

October 8, 2017 at 11:15 pm Leave a comment

Feldman & Me

I’ve been listening to Morton Feldman’s second string quartet one movement at a time.

It’s similar to the strategy I undertook with Einstein on the Beach. The String Quartet (II) is nearly five hours long, and even with that kind of time on my hands, my media-saturated brain probably couldn’t take that much stillness in one dose.

feldman-2One difference, though. I listened to Einstein in order. I’m sampling the String Quartet in shuffle mode, absorbing one of the 13 movements per sitting. It’s helping me discern the “personality” of each movement. Any one of them could be described as a light, subtle pulse, but of course there are differences — the ocean-waves patience of “XII”; the slow, neon dissonance of “IX”; the irregular rhythms of “X” and its oddball ending.

Here’s a characteristic passage: the pastoral and relatively bright strokes that begin “III”.

 
You know how a line on a computer screen can be so thin that you can’t quite tell what color it is? I’m getting that effect with the string pulses. At times, they don’t sound like strings at all, but like tiny puffs of horns or woodwinds. That’s especially true during passages when the notes vanish quickly, dissolving into white space. My brain is left wondering what that sound was.

The piece certainly doesn’t sound like a traditional string quartet, but with that horn illusion at work, it doesn’t even sound like a quartet of strings

I was pleased to find that each movement does not consist of 20 minutes of the same idea. Each one is a mini-journey unto itself, going through at least two distinct phases — the surprise pizzicato section near the end of “X,” with trilly, swirly violin punctuation, is probably my favorite moment. I also didn’t expect the occasional swirls of darkness interrupting the pervasive cloudy-light mood.

What I don’t have is a feel for the large-scale narrative. Is there a trajectory here, a series of moods you’re meant to be led through? I’m suspecting not. Maybe I don’t know Feldman well enough. Or … maybe I’m doing this exactly the way I should be.

September 30, 2017 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

9 Artists and a Treasure Trove on Bandcamp

Not sure how long this has been on Bandcamp, but it’s a cool idea: Nine artists have joined forces to offer a ton of releases under the collective name of Catalytic Sound.

catalytic-small

Ab Baars, Mats Gustafsson, Ig Henneman, Terrie Hessels, Joe McPhee, Andy Moor, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley make up the Catalytic collective.

vandermark-drinkCatalytic Sound was founded in 2011, according to their Facebook page. That’s probably referring to the group’s web site,  which appears to be a vehicle for selling CDs. In fact, much of what’s on the Bandcamp site is available in physical form only — CD or vinyl.

Bandcamp, though, makes it easy for the artists to sell music digitally — which means Catalytic Sound dips deep into into the artists’ back catalogues. That’s the part I’m really excited about. Vandermark, in particular, has stacks of out-of-print 1990s CDs represented — such as Drink Don’t Drown, a live recording from the famed Empty Bottle jazz series in Chicago.

One oldie worth checking out is Caffeine, an obscure trio with Jim Baker on piano and Steve Hunt on drums. It’s one of so many “lost” CDs I remember sampling in the KZSU-FM library.

 
Combined with the Destination: Out store, which is re-releasing the old FMP catalogue of European improv classics, Catalytic Sound is turning Bandcamp into a dangerous vacuum for discretionary dollars. Not that I’m complaining.

July 14, 2017 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

Masada String Trio

masadastring3-graypink.jpg

No, I haven’t sampled all of the Book of Angels CDs in John Zorn’s Masada series. Haven’t even come close.

So, despite the players’ pedigrees, I hadn’t yet heard the Masada String Trio.

Then this popped up. Posted to YouTube just last month, it appears to be a French TV broadcast of a live String Trio performance. Greg Cohen on bass, Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Feldman on violin, and Zorn doing the conducting and grinning ear to ear. There’s some brilliant playing here.

This combination seems dear to Zorn’s heart, because Masada String Trio was granted two entries in the Book of Angels series (wherein each band in succession got to pick from Zorn’s “Masada Book Two” compositions). They also recorded the inaugural CD in Tzadik’s series celebrating Zorn’s 50th birthday in 2003. All of those discs are concerts recorded at the late, lamented Tonic.

Well, why not? Three downtown NYC veterans playing good music at a beyond-expert level — who wouldn’t be game for that? Glad I finally took the time to listen.

July 9, 2017 at 8:38 pm Leave a comment

A Glimpse of Frank Lowe

Here’s a 2003 interview with Frank Lowe, months before his death from lung cancer.

He offers some terrific insight into his early musical education, living in Memphis. Musically, Lowe grew up influenced by the jazz and R&B greats of the ’50s but also by the rising New Thing, and he describes how he doesn’t even separate the two in his mind.

For example, he cites a deep respect for Hank Crawford and for Ray Charles’ band as a whole. “It was like R&B going into progressive jazz,” he says. “They were playing hip stuff, just as hip as anybody playing with the big bands.”

He goes on to cite Crawford’s “Four Five + Six,” which appears on Lowe’s album Inappropriate Choices (ITM, 1991) with the Saxemple. Here’s James Carter blowing baritone sax over that track’s blues changes:

 
The Saxemple was a heck of a project: Four horns and a drummer, reveling in the pre-rock-‘n’-roll sounds of early R&B and dosing it with the occasional modern touch. Lowe, Carter, Michael Marcus, and Carlos Ward swung together in tight unison, aided by drummer Phillip Wilson. The joy in the music shines through.

A jazz musician’s life isn’t an easy one, and Lowe’s was cut short unfairly. But based on that interview and albums like the Saxemple’s, it sounds like he had a lot of fun playing his music. That’s a triumph.

Hat tip: Richard Scheinin on Twitter.

June 29, 2017 at 10:50 pm Leave a comment

Talk

I often forget that my kids are still developing the vocabulary to talk about music. Genres aren’t clearly defined to them; just as I can’t tell wines apart, they don’t fully grasp the differences between, say, country, folk, and Celtic.

They have to invent their own words on the fly, and it makes for some interesting insights.

“This is like piano-talk,” my 16-year-old daughter said in the car, as the opening improvisation of Marc Hannaford’s “We Talk in Jests” floated by.

 
She wasn’t far off.

That got me thinking about pieces that deliberately mimic the inflections of human speech. There are plenty of them — and I have to admit, they don’t usually “work” for me.

I’ll pick on Eric Revis here. I’ve enjoyed his albums and his composing, and I’ve been wowed by his bass playing. On his album Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed, 2016), the composition “Bontah” is based around the intonations of an infant’s words. The kid, who I’m presuming is Revis’, is trying to be quite serious, and it’s adorable. The resulting theme is intriguing as well.

 
But the voice is played back at least five times, and by the third time, I find it’s already getting on my nerves. I hesitate to say that, considering this might be Revis’ own kid, and he should be rightfully proud of his child being part of this project. But the repetition gets to me.

Actually, it’s more than that. Jason Moran once released a similar “spoken composition” track, if I’m remembering correctly from my KZSU days. I don’t believe it repeated, but I remember having a similar reaction: I liked the idea — molding the infections of speech into the closest 12-tone equivalent to see what happens — and I liked the resulting composition, but I didn’t really enjoy the sound of the two overlaid.

Most musicians, I suspect, would consider the overlapping to be vital, because the whole idea is to explore the musicality of language. In a world where so many of the “obvious” compositional tropes have been exhausted, it must be an exciting way to compose. It’s a way to make discoveries, much like Joni Mitchell using alternative guitar tunings as a way to avoid old habits.

I think it doesn’t work for me because I’m just not that “into” the sound of the human voice. I’m more interested in the piano or saxophone or violin that’s tracing this oddball melody, and less interested in hearing the spoken patterns that the composition is tracing.

What would it be like if the composer didn’t show you how the words and music match? Drummer Jeff Ballard has a track called “Western Wren (A Bird Call)” that might have used birdsong as the source for its theme. I don’t know, because the track doesn’t include a sample of a bird’s call — and I find I prefer it that way.

 
As for the Hannaford piece, it does eventually shift into a more structured flow that’s more like “jazz” than “piano talk.” By the way, the band on there is Hannaford (piano), Sam Pankhurst (bass), and James McLean (drums).

June 20, 2017 at 1:29 am Leave a comment

Bern Nix, 1947-2017

nix-lowWith my mind on guitarists, it seems fitting to reflect for a few minutes on Bern Nix, who passed away recently at the age of 69. I’m no Nix expert; I’m not even that well versed in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time years. But I appreciate the music and what Nix brought to it.

Former New York Times reporter Nate Chinen, now working at WGBO-FM, produced a fantastic obit, as usual, with the added detail that Nix was rehearsing regularly with Denardo Coleman’s band for an Ornette Coleman Festival. That festival is happening next month.

I like Chinen’s description of Nix playing a “subtle yet central” role in Prime Time, alongside the flashier Charles Ellerbee. And I like his choice of this live clip from 1987. During moments when Nix is on camera, such as the few seconds after 7:07, you can correlate his hand motions to what he’s playing. When I did that, I discovered he was creating ongoing threads of melody and calm riffs — a trail that I wouldn’t have noticed amid the whole band, but which became vital once I was aware of it. Nix fleshes out mood and color, doing his own thing but in a way that adds depth to the overall group sound.

 
Chinen also calls out Nix’s solo acoustic album Low Barometer (Tompkins Square, 2006), noting that the results “warrant comparison with analogous recordings by Derek Bailey, John Fahey and Marc Ribot.” Derek Bailey is a particularly interesting inclusion there, because Nix’s acoustic guitar shares that same curt sound, almost as if he’s taking advantage of the instrument’s lack of sustain.

But Chinen is talking about a mixture of Bailey with more melodic players. On Low Barometer, Nix traces recognizable and even pleasant routes — melodies, projected onto a tilted harmelodic plane. I’m actually reminded of Joe Pass’ self-titled solo album. Tracks like “Generic Ballad” and “Love’s Enigma” drift by, patiently, like a slow river in summer, and I realize that with this music, Nix is delivering his own fitting elegy.

June 8, 2017 at 9:54 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Calendar

October 2017
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category