Glass (Not Philip)

Alva Noto + Ryuchi SakamotoGlass (Noton, 2017)

nova-glassRecorded for 37 minutes in a glass house, Glass unfolds into the long, ambient, ghostly drone you’d hope for, split by gentle computer electronics and the occasional quick clack of what might be a wood block.

When I say “glass house,” I mean The Glass House, built by architect Philip Johnson in 1949. No one lives in The Glass House; it’s a piece of art unto itself, situated on a 49-acre complex in the woods. Glass, performed inside the house by Aldo Nova and Ryuchi Sakamoto, coincided with a 110th birthday celebration for Johnson, which included installations by Japanese “dot” artist Yayoi Kusama. (And if you wonder what I mean by “dot artist,” click here.)


Glass isn’t an all-glass soundfest like Annea Lockwood’s 1970 classic Glass World (now released on vinylclear vinyl, of course). Its foundation seems to be the looped sound of mallets rubbing against glass, built into a moebius-loop drone. But other sounds encroach, like bits of metal drizzling onto the sonic glass surface: echoey percussion, a waterfall of metallic sand, or slow, isolated glass chimes.

In the final minutes, the underlying tone changes pitch, and a soloing instrument appears — a slow woodwind sound, full of distortion and distance.

A performance like this seems special enough to warrant a souvenir artifact, and sure enough, there’s a clear vinyl LP. It’s probably available from multiple sources, but I heard about it from Boomkat in the UK.

Working With Time

Fred FrithRivers and Tides (Winter & Winter, 2003)

Technically, I haven’t listened to this album, but I’ve heard the music, after finally seeing the Thomas Riedelscheimer film, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time.

Frith’s music is the aspect that got me to know about this film in the first place. For such a gentle, quiet setting, he applies an appropriately minimal touch — small bursts of tone or sound, surrounded by blank space. Influences from Chinese and Japanese music are evident.

Like Goldsworthy’s art, the music is thought out, chosen to blend with the surface. It’s not ambient, and there’s a variety of sounds, produced mostly by Frith on guitars, violin, berimbao (Brazilian stringed instrument that he infuses with a zen Asian touch), and samples. He’s also got a band of bass, sax, and drums at his disposal, producing atmospheric sounds, not trio jazz.

The movie’s not about Frith, obviously, but his music gets its moments, particularly at one point near the end. It has to do with a large-scale installation Goldsworthy did in New York, a commission that, unlike most of the art in the film, is built to withstand time and the elements. What makes this segment so effective is that you see the work up-close, in progress, and it seems unremarkable. Then they show you what he was really doing, and — well, I won’t spoil it (and you can’t miss it). Frith’s faster-paced, chiming theme quickens the pulse of the movie at this point, rightly so.

If you don’t know Andy Goldsworthy, his art uses materials found in nature, and it’s often ephemeral, meant to be destroyed over time. The opening sequence has him breaking up icicles, melting the ends of fragments to form his trademark switchback shape, positioned as if weaving in and out of a rock. The serpentine icicle is made possible by the pieces refreezing into place, and it shines (literally) as the sun strikes it. The sunlight “makes” the piece, and eventually unmakes it.

For Goldsworthy, it’s all mostly about making a deeper contact with his materials. But there’s something being said as well about the strength and indifference of nature as it pushes forward, going around or through Goldsworthy’s pieces.

It’s not necessarily about destruction. Some pieces aren’t complete until being overwhelmed by the elements. Consider the dome of driftwood in the photo above. When the tide comes in, the edges drift away, but the structure stays intact — and gets carried off into the current, down an estuary. “You feel as if you’ve touched the heart of the place,” Goldsworthy says — one  of the many small, profound sound bites set against placid backdrops of nature.

The film also demonstrates the risk that I suspect is present in all art but doesn’t get discussed much, especially in the visual arts. There must be sculptures that crack incorrectly, paintings that go astray because of an incorrect line.

So, here, we get to see Goldsworthy painstakingly build a bowl shape out of rings and rings of flat stones, only to have the whole thing split apart, collapsing downwards like children’s blocks. The film then goes on to show what he was trying to build: an egg shape, standing on its fatter end (so this “bowl” was just the beginning). There’s one in an airport. One on the side of a mountain road. One made of ice, sitting in a river. And finally — the one Goldsworthy was trying to build, completed this time.

He puts the final pebbles on the top. Then the camera dissolves forward to the tide rising, turning the egg into a small hill. That’s juxtaposed with another egg, built of brick, in a field — where it’s the overgrowth of plants, rather than the tide, that buries the “cone,” as Goldsworthy calls it. As he points out, the shape is gone, but still there.

Domes in SF: Charming Hostess & The Bowls Project

I’m reading about wood, steel, and earthquake reinforcements.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is building an installation called The Bowls Project, which will house some musical events but will otherwise sit out in the open, just there near Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, for several weeks this summer. Charming Hostess is involved, which automatically makes this cool. Trio singing, Jewish history, and steel, together at last.

Now, The Bowls Project also happens to be the title of a new Charming Hostess album on Tzadik. But the Bowls Project at Yerba Buena is much more: an art installation and a venue for some music shows.

Here’s the explanation at the Yerba Buena Web site:

Housed within a stunning double-vaulted masonry dome created by celebrated architect Michael Ramage and featuring videography by multi-media artist Shezad Dawood, The Bowls Project creates an intimate, powerful and satisfying intersection between the ancient and modern worlds. The dome is a private place to share secrets and public forum to hear live music on Thursdays, participate in rituals on Fridays and encounter embodied text on Sundays.

Charming Hostess is Jewlia Eisenberg’s band, and while its size, shape, and sound have varied, its core has always been a core trio of female vocalists capable of stunning, intertwining harmonies.  (Past singers have included Jenny Scheinman and Carla Kihlstedt.)  In the past, the band was fleshed out by members of what’s now Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, putting an aggressive rock stance on the sound. Their live shows were parties, featuring lock-step musicianship and a dash of punk abandon.

As for the music itself, it drew from Balkan and Jewish traditions, but also from modern sources, even country music, all of it driven by Eisenberg’s propulsive musical direction. Some songs are bright and bouncy (“Ferret Said” was always a favorite of mine) but others draw from a deep emotional well. Their version of “Long Black Veil” was energetic, rocking, and also a tear-jerker.

Charming Hostess and guests will be performing at the Bowls Project on Thursday evenings from July 15 to Aug. 19, and it’s all going to kick off with Eisenberg leading a musical procession and dedication ceremony at noon on Tuesday, July 6. You can read more of the schedule, including non-musical events at the Bowls, here.

That link also includes a few songs from the new Charming Hostess album.  Two rocking tracks, two serious ones — it sounds terrific.