Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Music Players 70 (1971)

Two percussionists, two pianists; called '70' but recorded in '71.

Bartók's 'Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion' is a later-period, three-movement composition, and one of the composer's most performed works.

New Zealand composer Edwin Carr re-scored and paraphrased his 1955 ballet, 'Elektra', for the Music Players 70 ensemble, presented here in four short parts.

John Rimmer's 'Composition 5 for Percussion and Electronic Sounds' was written for and is performed by solo percussionist Gary Brain, with electronic tape.

Contemporary Classics for Contemporary People!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Zealand Composer Edition - Chamber Works Vols. 1 & 2 (1972)

Starting off this set, the first track of Vol. 1 is my man John Rimmer, carrying the electroacoustic torch on his 'Composition 2 for Wind Quintet and Electronic Sounds'. When the first quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle barges in from the antique analogues, the cleverly clunky clash belies an eventual merging, which becomes so subtle that I'm sure even the players aren't sure who's making which sound.

David Farquhar is so restlessly inventive, and relentlessly inviting. He skims along the outer guard, never fully abandoning tunefulness. From the liner notes: "Although he does not appear to have been involved to a great extent with electronic music, ... David Farquhar [is] the most versatile of the composers represented on this record..." Here he experiments with a bit of extended technique on the 'Three Pieces' on Vol. 1, and has written new settings of traditional Scots ballads for voice and piano on Vol. 2 (see below, "Lilburn").

Jack Body's 'Turtle Time' is a dramatic, breathless, electroacoustic freak-o-delic mindblower.

'Capriccio for Four Saxophones' by Robert Burch carries a bit of the spirit of New York's Lounge Lizards in parts, and reminds us -- no matter that this is a contemporary classical work -- the history of Jazz is inseparable from the tuning, timbre and physical structure of the saxophone.

Lilburn. My enjoyment of much classical music stalls when it comes to vocal works involving the mannered, affected, clenched-throated warbling of classically trained -- usually male -- soloists. Listening head-tilted, trying hard, with a forced grin, to Lilburn's settings of three poems by JK Baxter, RAK Mason, and Ursula Bethell, my philistine ears can at least hold on to some exciting string-work. Mercifully, on Vol. 2, piano-champ Margaret Nielsen plays on both the extraordinary and deservedly recognisable Sonata for Violin and Piano, and the equally gorgeous Sonatina 2 for Piano.

And First He Played the Notes of Annoy

And Then He Played the Notes of Joy

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Springtime Super-Fun-Pak! NZ Electroacoustic on CD

It's Springtime for Electroacoustic Nerds in New Zealand! And there is no better soundtrack for that garden party, barbecue, or kegger than the classic period of NZ academic electroacoustic. These four albums are from a series of six or seven CDs released in 1993 by CD Manu. All feature gorgeous cover photography from Theo Schoon, the Java-born Nederlander who made a huge -- though often forgotten -- impact on the New Zealand visual art world upon his immigration in 1939. These CDs are out of print, but you can still pick up new and used copies on Amazon or Discogs, ranging from US$1.50 for a used Ross Harris 'Inner Worlds' CD to US$68.00 for a new copy of Jack Body's 'Suara'.

Jack Body - Suara: Environmental Music From Java (1978-1990)
Jack Body is often considered the most accomplished of living NZ composers, in terms of his national and international standing. His work has remained experimental from the beginning, though not relentlessly intimidating to the public, as shown by his most enduring composition: the theme song to the soap opera 'Close to Home.'  His work never seems to stray from celebrating the beautiful in  sound. Like John Cousins, many of his compositions involve manipulated field recordings and human voice, but rather than devising from these an unsettling alien soundtrack, Body finds lyricism and musicality in his sources.

Balloon Squeaker

John Rimmer - Fleeting Images (1979-1991)
Of the artists in this post, Rimmer was most devoted during this early time period to the integration of electronic and traditional musical instruments. His 'Compositions' series include works for wind quintet and electronic sounds, percussion and electronic sounds, piano and electronic sounds. On this CD of entirely electroacoustic compositions, Rimmer employs analog, digital, and computer synthesis, short-wave radio, percussion, guitar, field recordings and voice. This is a rich and thought-provoking set of experiments by a composer driven by the leading edge of synthesis technology.

Religion Without Science

John Cousins - Sleep Exposure (1979-1986)
John Cousins' work consistently stupefies me. His main instrument is the oldest of all -- the human voice -- but he employs it in a way which is utterly jarring. With a dictaphone, a delay, some filtering and panning, and maybe a few other toys, he creates unsettling non-linear narratives which are almost more like dance or theatre than sound art or music. Funny, frustrating, and plain old f'ed up, these tracks are as fossilic and foreign as this other f-word: fremd. Highly recommended, difficult stuff.

Don't Stop The Tape, Don't Stop The Tape!

Ross Harris - Inner Worlds (1978-1990)
Ross Harris' practice is aligned with Jack Body's in his pursuit of beauty, and through the use of non-Western instrumentation combined with electronic techniques. This CD comes closest of this group to approaching the dreaded designator, 'New Age', but it retains enough tension and complexity to completely disallow for a lazy chill-out. His 1978 track 'Syndrum', included here, deserves to be sampled by a knowing NZ electro producer.

Twilight Fleeting

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Directions in New Zealand Music by NZ Composers - A Festival of NZ Music & Sound Installations (1979)

The last of the fully electroacoustic/experimental compilations from this classic, academic period that I know of, this record was included as part of the catalogue for a 1979 festival held at the National Art Gallery, Wellington.

The festival featured sound installations, cross-discipline collaborations, computer music, live electronics, and 'cross-cultural experiences,' and the catalogue and accompanying record include contributions by Lilburn, Jack Body, John Cousins, Ross Harris, David Farquhar and Brent Carlsson.

A finely curated selection of writing and music, with each piece endeavouring to represent the breadth of the experimental community through the exquisiteness of expression from each of its representative contributions.

The Sun Told Time Without Ticking

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flame Tree - New Zealand Composer Edition (1979)

Much of the language of classical music is a mystery to me, so I approach this material perhaps backwardly, through my love of experimental, improvised, and electroacoustic music.

This LP is a sort of brother to the previous posting, Horizons. Firstly, it has the second of John Rimmer's literal companion pieces 'Where Sea Meets Sky' parts 1 & 2, but it is also a showcase for the more traditionally instrumented works by two of his fellow prime movers of New Zealand's classic period of electroacoustic music, John Cousins and Ross Harris.

The works of Cousins with which I am familiar are fascinating constructions of dictaphone-style voice recordings, carefully copy-edited and minimally filtered and delayed, sitting somewhere between Alvin Lucier's heavily self-ornamented 'I Am Sitting In A Room' and A Handful of Dust's 'Masonic Inborn (Parts I & II)'. Here he offers a completely different exploration of the human voice, with mezzo-soprano Anthea Moller's vocals set amongst spare piano direction.

Harris's work is the most richly evocative. It suggests a bush walk, with synthesizer-simulating birds themselves mimicked, koauau-like, by the flute; while harp and viola construct knobby tracks beneath deep blue-green canopies, letting in occasional tendrils of sunlight amongst irregular patterings from heavy moisture.

One of NZ's undefeated champions of the genre, Rimmer unravels his acoustic chamber ensemble, squeezing an impressive amount of electroacoustic timbres and tropes from them.

This collection is also favoured by a rare (for this time period) contribution by then-expatriate Gillian Whitehead, a sometimes turbulent but sensuous piano piece in which the listener is thrown about in parallel with the pianist's motions, while it paints traces of gesture across the open ear.

Or Between Earth & Sky

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Horizons - New Zealand Electronic Music (1977)

The arts in New Zealand's late-arriving modernism were unusually cross-disciplinary. In any minuscule regional arts scene, the best ideas came from sharing across specialties. The pairing of painting and poetry is the most visible (for instance, in the works of McCahon/Caselberg and Hotere/Manhire) but poets also worked with musicians (e.g. Sam Hunt and Mammal), and musicians with painters. 'Horizons' features the grand-daddy of all New Zealand electroacoustic music, Douglas Lilburn, whose lifelong conversation with painter Rita Angus fired his practice, and whose collaboration with poet Alistair Campbell birthed the first major electroacoustic work in New Zealand music history ('The Return', 1965). 

On this LP, John Rimmer's piece 'Where Sea Meets Sky 1' is "a musical image of... Ian Wedde's poem 'Those Others'", and Ross Harris's 'Horizons' was commissioned by synaesthete painter Michael Smither (who also provided the cover painting for Human Instinct's 'Stoned Guitar' LP). 

Jack Body takes it to the (Indonesian) street with 'Musik Dari Jalan', a transportative wedge of ethnomusique concrete. However, it is Rimmer and Harris who are probably the most comfortable with electroacoustic music as their primary medium; the sounds are complex, alien, metal-organic frameworks of crystalline compounds. Lilburn's work here is much more based in classical traditions; 'Carousel,' is lyrical and narrative even amongst its jarring timbres. As proof of his status amongst his peers, 'Musik Dari Jalan' and 'Where Sea Meets Sky 1' are both dedicated to Douglas Lilburn.

There is only a small handful of electroacoustic music available on LP from the 'classic' period of New Zealand's electroacoustic development (1965 - 1985): the 3xLP box set 'New Zealand Electronic Music', the solo LPs 'Soundscape' by Douglas Lilburn, and 'Soundweb' by John Rimmer (if anyone has this one, please let me know), and this compilation. 

So, I'm making a bit of a sharp left turn for awhile here. In future, I will be posting LPs (and the occasional out-of-print CD) of New Zealand modern classical and avant-garde music (some of these records include electroacoustic works amongst works scored for more traditional instrumentation), and possibly New Zealand poetry. This blog has always been about digitising my own collection of NZ vinyl -- if it's not already available digitally, and so that I can have more opportunity to listen to it myself -- and promoting and preserving artefacts of New Zealand's cultural history which do not deserve to remain obscure. 

The Orange - Fruit Salad Lives (1985)

Nice tight little Dunedin pop outfit, with Andrew Brough of Straitjacket Fits and Jonathan Moore of Bored Games. Loads of reverb and that chimey jangle you love to love. Much less playful than most of the better known Dunedin Sound bands, though in that regard probably more akin to the Sneaky Feelings than the Verlaines.

I've posted this mostly to make up for the terrible rip that used to be up on kiwitapes -- it's been driving me crazy for a few years, so here is a nice quality rip for yez.

And Are You Going To Fly?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Puddle - Live at the Teddy Bear Club (1991)

Overlooked for a long time and currently enjoying a well-deserved comeback, George D Henderson's The Puddle released this bootleg-ish live recording during a period when the band included two of the Look Blue Go Purples (before they, most Chills-ishly, began changing line-ups regularly). 

The Puddle probably wallowed in obscurity due to exceptionally muddy production on their studio releases ('Pop Lib' and 'Into the Moon') and the loose 'n' lo-fi vibe of this set. It didn't help that they never made it to any Flying Nun compilations, and George waited fourteen years between his last Flying Nun release and his first on Powertool, the long-thought-lost 'Songs for Emily Valentine' (recorded in '92 but not released til '06), which includes the thrice-comped anthem, 'Southern Man'.

To my ears, this is by far the best of the three early-era Puddle albums in terms of listenability. These songs are absolute classics -- so good you will swear that you already know them -- and it's a shame that there are no 'definitive' versions.  

The Puddle is touring again, and they are bloody terrific. Go see 'em.

It Was You That Was Makin' Me High [Link removed]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blerta - This Is The Life (1975)

A crucial chapter in NZ's alternative lifestyle, music, film, and visual and performing arts histories, the legend of Blerta's four years on Earth (and probably other planets) possibly outweighs their actual recorded output. Others have written plenty about the significant influence of the troupe, including Roger Booth's excellent Bruno Lawrence bio, and a Radio New Zealand audio documentary.

The cover art -- and the image of muddy hippies that the Blerta story conjures up -- has little to do with their sophisticated, finely-honed music. I expected fuzz guitar, sloppy lyrics about peace, and possibly bongos. Their debut album is jazzy, silly, bawdy, and above all well-crafted. Side one really captures the theatrical side of the touring band, with suggestive story-songs for the grown-ups (no "Dance All Around The World" here), and Beaver's joyful ballad "This Is The Life." Side two starts with the short Bruno-sung "Superman", then another ballad, then quickly moves on to nearly 20 minutes of tight pop-psych-jazz instrumentals. 


Lyin' in bed, right out of my head [link removed]

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sneaky Feelings - Send You (1983)

Look, I'll be the first to admit that it took me a long time to really get the Sneakies. As a latecomer to the Flying Nun and Dunedin Sounds, I actually read Matthew Bannister's memoir Positively George Street before I heard any of the Sneaky Feelings' music. Bannister does his band no favours in his juicy, gossipy, bitter book with his continuous sad sack whinging that all the "cool people" thought his band was "wet."

I dug their contribution to the uniformly excellent Dunedin Double EP, but always fourth out of four. A mate sent me Send You several years ago, but it always seemed just as wimpy as Bannister's perceived detractors complained. 

But it's a way homer, this one. It's excellently produced, jangles and chimes with the best of the F'Nuns as it moves between Shoes-y power pop ("Someone Else's Eyes") and growling Baroque garage ("P.I.T. Song/Won't Change"). Give it a chance. If you don't get it at first (as I sure didn't), keep trying.

Facing The Sad Sunrise [Link removed]