Saturday, April 15, 2017

A David Watson Decade (1986 - 1996)

Co-founder of the Braille Label in 1984 and curator of the first altmusic festival in 2001, ex-Wellington improvisor David Watson has lived and worked in New York since the late 80s.

David Watson - Reference (1986)

An album of low-key beauty recorded the year before he left for NYC, Reference is what it says on the tin: a catalogue raisoneé laying out Watson's pluralistic thing. 'A Code' starts off with a lo-bit From Scratch-style sampled bamboo rhythm and a squall of squealing riffage multi-tracked with back-masked guitar drones. 'To Read A Cipher' follows, skipping between snippets of Fahey-like and Donald McPherson-esque acoustic noodling, while its counterpart 'To Write...' bellows Bailey-ish and bell-like with clockwork zithers. Side Two's ten minute epic 'The Arithmetic Symbol 0' opens with amp feedback and drastically stereo separated signal/delay, sidesteps into acoustic improv then on to microphone-on-strings, atmospheric slide and distant rhythms with rusty hinges. The urgent 'To Unravel' plays ping pong with bowed drones and volume swells, with hypnopompic bass and insistent muted-string-strumming snowballing into the reverb and squeaks of a background basketball gym. Pensive but never po-faced, there is a playfulness inherent in its experimentalism, much in the manner of Greg Malcolm. 

David Watson - Ribbons of Euphoria (1996)

This CD was produced by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1996 for inclusion in its short-lived Midwest magazine. It includes four tracks for 3x bagpipe ensembles, for which Watson was commissioned by the DPAG to celebrate their relocation to a new building in the Octagon. Having worked in the centre of Dunedin for more than a decade I've gritted my teeth through entire weekends of competing pipe bands, but there's definitely dramatic power in what Watson describes as the 'real savagery in the sound of the pipes'. Ten years on from the earnest and retrospectively tentative charms of Reference, Watson's potent multi-tracked solo electric guitar works are more fully developed and realised, all serious and exciting, academic and musical. Tracks 'Delicious' and 'Candy' pit Tony Conrad vs Robert Fripp, while the expansive 'Steak Knife' is all that's great in his earlier works advanced with all that he's learned from his Downtown collaborators like album contributors Ikue Mori and Otomo Yoshihide. Includes scans of his interview with Midwest

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Summertime Super-Fun-Pak! NZ Poetry on Vinyl -- Part One

Two records from the early 1970s -- private pressings for Waiata Recordings. All the golden voices from days of olde and yore, ever and anon are hither and yon -- Janet Frame, James K Baxter, Denis Glover, CK Stead, Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, Charles Brasch -- reading their own works.

The recording quality on some of these tracks is simply shocking. My copies of the original vinyl are NM, but probably as a consequence of packing too much onto each side combined with the limitations of the original recordings, the sound varies: prepare for level peaks and drops, pops, echoes, and distortion. 

I won't try to write about these as poetry is mystery to me. I just wanted to digitise them for myself so I thought I'd share them with you. 

New Zealand Poets Read Their Works (1974)

New Zealand Poets Read Their Work For Children (1974)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

You Were Dancing With My Mind - 24 Silicon Hits of the 1980s (c. 1989?)

This one's been a long time coming (obviously, as this blog's not been updated in 16 months or something). Very excited to post this.

While enshrining the eighties in EnZed music, many serious musos scoff at the synthesizer, though other keys are all over underground records and pop charts; countless Flying Nun bands are built around that sound of a garagey organ.

This recently rediscovered collection is a celebration of the synthetic aesthetic, from The Body Electric's use of frequency shifters to sing like cybermen, to Simon Raby aping arpeggiators on the Korg. Included are some of the biggest New Zealand synth-pop hits of that decade -- 'Computer Games' and 'Sierra Leone', The Mockers and Split Enz -- with a couple of genuine obscurities and shoulda-been contenders.

You can hate yourself for loving these tracks, but you know they're the songs you want to dance to when that cheap speed kicks in at the flat party at 3am. If, y'know, you're not actually way too old to do that sort of thing anymore.

Listen to Music Created by Machines

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wintertime Super-Fun-Pak! NZ Electroacoustic on CD -- Part Three

Seaswell: The Music of John Rimmer (1992)

A stunning compilation of works dating from 1972 - 1987, four out of the six works on this collection are electroacoustic pieces, including one from the 'Composition #' series, 'No. 4 (for flute and electronic sounds)'. On this blog we've documented Numbers 2, 4, 5, 6 & 9. Composition 3 is available on the New Zealand Electronic Music compilation (re-released by Creel Pone a while back) and Compositions 1, 7, 8 & 10 have never been released on commercial albums. You can listen to a performance of Composition 7 recorded for NZ National Radio here, and the scores (and sometimes links to recordings of the electronic sound accompaniment) can be found here

These works swish in and wash out, one to the next, on the slosh of waves; through the field recordings of 'Tides' and 'Projections at Dawn', or by the evocation of segmented legs skittering in tide pools, iodine-scented trickles dripping from overhanging weeds at low tide and breakers bruising corroded old volcanic stones where green-lipped mussels are most content. 

New Zealand Composer Edition: Hamilton/Harris/Blake/Pruden (1989)

This compilation includes only one short electroacoustic work, but it's by a Switched Out favourite: Ross Harris. The piece, 'Echo', was written by Harris on the occasion of his father's death, and is played on Trumpet and Tape Delay System. That delay snaps snippets and repeats them, panning in stereo from off in the distance (Harris stipulates that in performance the speakers for the tape delay should be placed outside the performance space). A bittersweet work, mournful and triumphant, and a companion piece and coda to the other brass and delay pieces featured on this blog, such as Brent Carlsson's 'Gaga Who?' and John Rimmer's 'Soundweb'. 

Incidentally, 'Echo' was performed by Mary Robbie both on this collection and at the festival from which the New Directions in New Zealand Music LP was produced. This recording may in fact be from that performance. Also listed in that festival's programme is a work by John Rimmer titled 'Extro-Intro', performed in that instance by David Cox on French Horn and Ross Harris on Tape Manipulation. I have included another performance of that work as a bonus track here, performed by James MacDonald from his 1978 LP Pieces for Solo Horn

Elsewhere, Christopher Blake's 'Sounds' for Wind Quintet is a historical landscape painting of Queen Charlotte Sound, David Hamilton evokes the grandeur of the eponymous Martian mountain in 'Nix Olympica', and Larry Pruden is represented by his early 'String Trio'.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Free Radicals

Polarities (1983)

I'm a sucker for anything with 'Victoria University Electronic Music Studio' listed in the credits, from Mammal's discreet use of white noise wind effects to the most academic electroacoustic music. The first of these two LPs -- from collaborators composer Jonathan Besser, former Victoria University lecturer and composer Ross Harris, and Gerry Meister -- advertises precisely that, and recorded all in one day.

The eponymous track from 1983's Polarities opens the album with synthesiser and delayed and double-tracked flute, a characteristic combination from Harris's electroacoustic whakapapa (e.g., Inner Worlds' 'Fluchtig'). Midway through the track, primitive drum machine, distorted vocals, bass and electric guitar, and a much more organ-y synth, take the improvising Free Radicals into eighties Tangerine Dream territory, though perhaps with more unfettered zeal than their cold kraut contemporaries. Elsewhere they channel Laurie Anderson's 'From the Air' (on 'Space Music'), Vangelis's soundtrack work ('Summer Rain') and David Borden's Mother Mallard ('Water Music'), though all in an unbuttoned, breezy style.

You Know, We Can See Through the Roof of Your House

(i) (1987)

1987's mini-album (i) opens with what sounds like a pitch-shifted John Cousins marrying Eraserhead's Henry with Cabaret Voltaire as the wedding band. Second track 'don't ask' feels like Seventeen Seconds-era The Cure had been listening to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, while first side closer 'my lips are moving' is a sort of lime and limpid green Fripp & Eno outtake. It's altogether a tighter and more rhythmic side than the second, upon whose black expanse the opaque, capacious 'Red Shift' sits, effing with the fabric of time.

Expect the Greatest Measure of Earthly Happiness

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Denis Smalley on Electroacoustic Compilations, Part Two

Singcircle - Mouth Music (1983)

Gregory Rose conducts the exceptionally talented 'Singcircle' avant-garde vocal group -- made famous through their performance of Stockhausen's 'Stiimmung' -- here paired with three slightly less overground electroacoustic composers.

Smalley's piece, 'Pneuma', is electroacoustic only in the sense that the voices and instruments are amplified. These are mostly tiny sounds -- scraping drums, finger taps, hisses and whispers, and resonant metal percussion, sometimes transporting the listener to an acoustically dead cave full of dripping stalactites and intimate witchcraft -- which could only translate through recording or precise amplification. 

Simon Emmerson uses stereo panning delays and other live electronic production techniques to extend the ensemble's voices to great effect.

NWW list favourite Trevor Wishart -- who also worked with Singcircle on his piece 'Anticredos' -- gets the team to make... well, frankly, a series of quite rude noises.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Denis Smalley on Electroacoustic Compilations, Part One

Fylkingen Electronic Music Competition 1975 Prizewinners (1976)

This little gem is the result of an international competition for composers of electroacoustic music, which was held in Sweden and judged by Dieter Kaufmann, Arne Nordheim, and Jan W. Morthenson. 

Denis Smalley's 'Gradual' is for clarinet, bass clarinet, trombaphone (clarinet mouthpiece in a trombone body) and tape. Smalley's electronic squirts squiggle like surgical crystal. Trombaphonist Kjell-Inge Stevensson's virtuoso oboedjeridoo-like performance combines percussive woodwind finger-tappings and animal growls with tremolo chattering background conversations, quite clearly stealing the show from Smalley's tape-speed manipulations and familiar latex-glass shatterings. 

'Siesta Blanca', from Argentina's Beatriz Ferreyra, is reminiscent of a contemplative version of 'Solitioude' by François Bayle, jump-cutting between 'live' musics and electronics. From the folky accordion opening, we slam straight into minimalist drone, creating a mood similar to the anticipatory pause during the opening monologue of the 1960s 'Star Trek', just before the NBC orchestra takes it into technicolour space. Ferreyra's orchestra, however, is caught in an underwater Terry Riley time loop, a flock of flying brass whales, filtered and ringing. Exceptionally beautiful.

Philippe Menard's 'Reel-a-Phil' is both classically electroacoustic, and the most contemporary sounding work. It is almost unbearably exciting in parts: e.g., samples of tearing paper and splitting wood fibres speed up while a simple bass line increases in pace and pitch. There is great audio depth-of-field, complex psychoacoustic spaces are created: upstairs where the wood is being split, behind you where folks are chatting in brick hallways, across the street where the neighbour is chainsawing up firewood. Deflating balloonflies orbit yr skull, while an all-over-the-place exercise in directionless beatmaking on airbrakes is interspersed with amateur-hour contestants singing and dancing to bike horns and spoons. At times, this seems much of a manic master's thesis in electroacoustic technique and composition, while the closing of drone and small percussion is simple and powerful.