Mark So – And Suddenly From All This There Came Some Horrid Music (caduc., 2017)

In the book This is Your Brain on Music, author Daniel Levitin retells something Miles Davis once said of his own music: “[…] he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the “air” that he placed between one note and the next.” I was immediately brought back to this tidbit from the book upon listening to the new work by Mark So, And Suddenly From All This Came Some Horrid Music, a score, performed in this instance by Cristian Alvear (guitar) and Gudinni Cortina (turntable).

mark so cover for caduc

In this performance, the players are as important as the composer, because even though they are interpreting a score (which, by the way, is an abstract visual and text score), it is the performers’ job to make that score meaningful. To make it come alive. It’s apparent rather quickly that Alvear and Cortina have a musical chemistry, each one careful to not drown out the other with their respective instrument. Also noteworthy is how one musician will often seem to pick up where the other left off, despite how disparate the two instruments actually are. Leading us back to the Davis quote, this music is heavily reliant on space. Both artists actualize this concept well, but it is Alvear – whose guitar is featured more predominantly throughout – who best puts it into practice, with a minimal playing style that is so precise that it verges on tedious.

Cortina, on the other hand, reigns in a sound that is more lush, but also, more abrasive. The sounds are recognizably that of a turntable, only Cortina is clearly using a range of other, smaller instruments to scratch, scrape, and rub up against the machine’s moving parts. The tactility of Cortina’s turntable juxtaposes well with the very simple plucks of the guitar. There is a stretch in particular, at around the 14 minute mark, where the sound of the turntable dissipates, leaving only the solitary guitar to ring out into open space. Then, the guitar also ceases and we’re left with a duration of silence before both players suddenly come back into the mix. In the face of a limited palette, it goes to show the importance of a musical imagination (think I might be ripping off Steve Reich there, sorry).

Unfortunately, the CD does not include the score, which, would have been interesting to look at and compare to the music. This would likely shine some light on why the piece sounds the way it does, why, for example, the final minutes act like a return to the album’s opening seconds – Cortina’s turntable nowhere to be heard. Or, why it is that one of the two players will occasionally drop out of the mix entirely. Is there something about the score, visually, that prompts them to do so? If so, what is it? What does that full stop look like to the eyes of the musician interpreting it? Ultimately, the music is good enough on its own to not have to lean heavily on context for support. Another fine album from caduc.

Update: May 16, 2017
Mr. Alvear got in touch and kindly informed me that the images and text that are on the CD packaging are in fact the score, which, I initially concluded were absent from the packaging. Always best not to assume. Thanks.

Patrick Farmer & David Lacey – Pell-Mell The Prolix (caduc., 2017)

Pell-Mell the Prolix is the collaborative follow-up to Pictures of Men. (2003), where Patrick Farmer and David Lacey made an impact among that year’s releases by kicking the album off with a recording of pigs. I, myself, have only heard excerpts of the work (that unfortunately don’t include the pigs) so I cannot speak to that release’s integrity – however, reviews are favourable. The Duo are now back with an album on Mathieu Ruhlmann’s ever intriguing – and quickly growing – caduc. label; a perfect fit, I might add.

Farmer Lacey Cover

The flavour of Pell-Mell is equal parts accident and intention, where, even if the recordings used here are in themselves often chaotic, the bigger picture, it seems, is what the listener is meant to seek. Over its 38 minute duration, Pell-Mell patiently unfolds with a series of recordings – some obviously of the field variety and others likely from improvisations – that smash cut from one to the next. This technique is certainly not unheard of, Chop Shop’s Oxide from almost ten years back is an album that immediately comes to mind. Farmer and Lacey are liberal with the technique throughout the album, and although it feels abrupt and a little jarring for the first few minutes, one quickly acclimatizes. In my case, I found that after a certain point I was anticipating the next cut, and was often relieved to find an unpredictability to the whole thing.

Technique aside, the recordings alone are very interesting, more often than not overblown, resulting in less detail heard from the actual source recordings. What we do end up hearing then is largely a byproduct of the recording process, ultimately giving the work a feel closer to that of old-school noise as opposed to electroacoustic improv or your typical “clean” field recording release. However, there is nothing here abrasive enough to pin these two as noisicians. The noise that is presented does more to soothe than it does to agitate, albeit, without lulling one into a stupor.

I’ve listened to this enough times through to get a sense of its overall shape, and it hits an especially nice groove at around the twenty minute mark, the duo settling on elongated drones that counter the rougher hewn parts beautifully. Pell-Mell’s 38 minute span feels a touch short for what is a universe’s worth of sound contained within, but the duo is smart to not push their piece into inevitable stagnancy–better a work is too short than too long I’ve always thought. Despite feeling like the work could have safely been ten minutes longer, the strange world of sound that Farmer and Lacey present here is captivating to say the least. I look forward to more from these two in the future.

A Slowly Darkening Sky: Keith Berry’s Elixir

It’s fitting that 14 years after the release of The Golden Boat, Keith Berry’s debut for Trente Oiseaux, that he should find a home for his new album on the Brooklyn based Invisible Birds label. After all, it was those auspicious releases from the likes of Fransisco López, Bernhard Günter, Steve Roden, Richard Chartier, and Berry himself, that in part inspired Matthew Swiezynski to dream up Invisible Birds in the first place. The scope of Swiezynski’s label has been anything but strictly defined, birthed from the notions of transcendence, memory and nothingness, and how they might link – romantically or otherwise – to landscape and birdsong. These notions, presented cryptically on the Introduction section of the label’s website, are but a glimpse into the complicated workings of a mind that, above all, seems unflinchingly dedicated to the boundless possibilities of art.

ElixirKeith Berry – Elixir
(Invisible Birds, 2017)

Invisible Birds is in no hurry to shed it’s more romantic ideals, particularly the one that finds endless allure within the mysteries of the human psyche. In this regard, Elixir is another unearthed cave for which the listener can explore. The last I heard from Berry was his limited run picture disc from 2008, The Cartesian Plane. While that album’s finely-tuned drone work swayed toward the emotionally ambiguous, Elixir sees Berry take more risks with mood, opening his sound up to a wider spectrum of feeling. It’s not necessarily happiness that these track’s instill, more like an elevated calm, a contentedness. It’s not the feeling of watching the sunset, but the one where the sun has long set and you just can’t seem to divert your attention away from the slowly darkening sky just above the horizon.

I cannot help but draw comparisons here to the work of GAS, Wolfgang Voigt’s now legendary ambient / minimal techno project from the late 90’s. Voigt will be releasing a new GAS album this year – the first in 17 years – so his music has inevitably worked it’s way back into my listening regime. On Elixir, Berry’s drones are as airy as voigt’s, but he seems perfectly content in foregoing any musical element that one would typically associate with rhythm. I’m reminded, too, of Tim Hecker’s earlier releases for Alien8, back when his music was a lot simpler and before he became hooked on the use of compression algorithms to beef up his sound. On that note, Berry’s music is certainly about doing more with less, where even a small misstep in any given piece might’ve changed the mood to something less desired.

Attached to the release of Elixir is a paragraph by Berry regarding his process in making the album. The parts that struck me were his mention of “a heavily granular processed sound” and his explorations of the “permutations that digital editing software allows.” Perhaps these statements would be of no surprise to someone with a lot more software experience than myself, but to me, they seem in almost direct contradiction to how effortlessly this music flows, how organically the elements seem to come together. Sure, this is electronic music, and I get the difference between a computer making music and using a computer to make music, but this particular music sounds as natural as the flow of water over a creek bed.

Much like Voigt, who claimed that his intention behind GAS was to “bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa,” one gets a similar sense of amalgamated intent behind Berry’s work. However, Berry’s intentions have never felt as cut-and-dried, and unlike Voigt, he’s been lurking more or less in the shadows for 15 years, emerging every so often with an album that shines like a beacon among the year’s long list of drone releases. When 2017 eventually rolls to a close, you can bet that Elixir, too, will stand out among the lot.

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Style-
The Alcohol Seed is a site for reviews, articles, and lists about music. Have a cruise through the website to get a feel for the type of music that is reviewed. If it seems the album you are considering to submit really doesn’t fit in, you are probably right. However, we are always exploring new avenues, so it just might be exactly what we are looking for. If in doubt, send a brief email inquiry. Generally speaking, we are most interested in reviewing music that challenges the definition of music, but we also like good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

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Benjamin Finger – Ghost Figures

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-8-06-48-pmBenjamin Finger – Ghost Figures
(Oak Editions, 2017)

In the second sentence of the Discogs.com profile for [Frank] Benjamin Finger, one comes across this: “[…] he has produced a prolific output of films and music with a healthy disregard for genres.” That last bit points to Finger as a kind of musical virtuoso whose art eschews easy categorization. And it’s true, many artists fit comfortably in a respective genre and as a result equally snug next to (some, but never all) contemporaries. Mr. Finger, on the other hand, does not. He is the lone wolf treading his own path. Over the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to immerse myself in a small portion of Finger’s discography – quickly approaching ten albums strong – and I can say that no album has sounded quite like anything I’ve heard before, nor do any two of his albums sound closely alike. It’s as though with each release Finger deliberately steps out of his musical comfort zone to take on a new, unexplored sonic territory.

In considering this lone wolf mentality, the careers of Keith Fullerton Whitman and Sean McCann come to mind, who both started in sonically sparse territory and whose music eventually careened into strange and wonderful realms of abstract synthesis and intelligent noise. In a way, Finger is like the opposite, where Ghost Figures sees him stripping away his usual cacophony to little more than a piano. Perhaps he’ll bring back the noise in the future, but for now he’s given us the type of haunt that usually pops up in an artist’s career after they’ve endured a great loss or hardship (see: Skeleton Tree).

Finger spent roughly two years recording Ghost Figures, spending hours at a time perfecting deceptively simple loops and miniature movements in front of a piano. Once perfected and then recorded, some instrumentation was added along with field recordings. Various filters were also used to better amplify the desired mood of a given piece. Despite the additional rounding out of the music, Finger keeps things minimal, letting the Satie-like melodies shine through on every track. It is rare when the piano is not the focal point here, and when it does get pushed slightly into the background, it is only to momentarily share the limelight with an elegiac cello, or field recordings of obscure dark creaks, clanging bells, and chanting crowds.

Part of Finger’s intention behind Ghost Figures was to strip away conceptualism and create something open minded yet emotionally arresting. The piano melodies that emerged from this pursuit rarely follow what one might consider a cohesive narrative, existing in the ambiguous realm between neoclassical and ambient-electronic. There are moments, however, that closer resemble more traditional song structures, such as the excellent “Strings Attached,” whose cyclical piano phrase sounds so damn familiar, but I can’t quite put my finger (ha!) on who or what it reminds me of – is it Satie, Part, maybe Eno? In any regard, the piece is a standout, and offers a refreshing – though subtle – change of pace midway through the album.

There is another element at play on Ghost Figures that works to the album’s success as a modern tome for melancholy. Finger has taken risks here, integrating instrumentation and recordings that are often atypical of these types of piano works, such as noisy traffic sounds and the aforementioned recordings of chanting crowds. In doing so he risks being pinned an amateur, but any seasoned listener would be able to detect a compositional perfectionist at the helm. The bigger risk, however, in taking into account Finger’s approach to the album, is the music’s transparency. Listening to these pieces, one gets the sense that each track is like a window into the composer himself, and every sound an attempt to build something from the ground up. Ultimately, Ben Finger has built an album that will likely stand as one of the year’s most honest and quietly compelling.

Ghost Figures is out March 7 on Oak Editions as a limited run LP. Get it here.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-8-08-27-pmghost_figures_detail