Tag Archives: Markus Reuter

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – a classical sweep: Britten Sinfonia tour Debussy, Donatoni, Takemitsu, Jolivet and a Daníel Bjarnason premiere; the Hermes Experiment go audio-visual with Bennett, Kate Whitley, Soosan Lolavar, Ed Scolding and Giles Swayne; Busch Piano Trio play Brahms, Schubert and Loevendie; the latest of Susanne Kessel’s ‘250 Piano Pieces For Beethoven’ project brings premieres by Mike Garson, Ivo van Emmerik, Robert HP Platz, Claudio Puntin, Markus Reuter, Klaus Runze, Mateo Soto and Knut Vaage.

11 Feb

Some news on upcoming classical-and-related gigs spanning from Southampton to London to Cambridge to Norwich, and over to Bonn in Germany…

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The Hermes Experiment - 'Sonic Visions' @ The Forge, 16th February 2016

The Hermes Experiment presents: Sonic Visions
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Tuesday 16th February 2016, 8:00 pm
more information

“Described as “barmy but brilliant” by ‘Classical Music Magazine’ (and winners of both Park Lane Group Young Artists 2015/16 and of Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands 2014), The Hermes Experiment is an ensemble of four young professional musicians who are passionate about contemporary and experimental music, and thus inspired to create something innovative and unique. Capitalising on their deliberately idiosyncratic combination of instruments, the ensemble regularly commissions new works, as well as creating their own innovative arrangements and venturing into live free improvisation.

The ensemble has established itself on the London contemporary classical scene with regular performances across the city for organisations including Nonclassical, Kammerklang, Listenpony and Bastard Assignments. Other highlights have included being selected to perform at the 2014 UK Young Artists Festival in Leicester, and giving a concert at Aubazine Abbey in France as part of the L’Aura des Arts festival. The Hermes Experiment is also dedicated to the value of contemporary music in education and community contexts, having taken part in the Wigmore Hall Learning’s ‘Chamber Tots’ and ‘For Crying Out Loud’ 2014/15 schemes.

So far, The Hermes Experiment has commissioned new work from thirty-one composers at various stages of their careers (including Giles Swayne, Stevie Wishart and Misha Mullov-Abbado). The ensemble also strives to create a platform for cross-disciplinary collaboration and has recently created a ‘musical exhibition’ with photographer Thurstan Redding.

The Sonic Visions show will explore ways in which aural experiences have been influenced by visual stimuli. The programme is led by new commissions that respond to a visual element, as interpreted by composers Kate Whitley and Soosan Lolavar; plus a new piece devised in collaboration with Giles Swayne based on a graphic score, and the premiere of an animation by Izabela Barszcz based on Ed Scolding‘s ‘Black Sea’. The Hermes Experiment will also be interpreting three other new graphic scores, devised by Deborah Pritchard, Andy Ingamells and Eloise Gynn as part of a competition linked to the event. The programme will be completed by arrangements that explore three very varied composers/songwriters that have been inspired by the world of visual art: Claude Debussy, Richard Rodney Bennett and Don McLean. This concert is supported by the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Hinrichsen Foundation.

Programme:

Kate Whitley – My Hands (setting of a poem by Nadine Tunasi – world premiere)
Soosan Lolavar – Mah Didam (world premiere)
Ed Scolding – Black Sea (with new animation by Izabela Barszcz)
Claude Debussy – Mandoline and Fantoche
Richard Rodney Bennett – Slow Foxtrot (from ‘A History of Thé Dansant’)
Don McLean – Vincent (new arrangement by The Hermes Experiment)
New semi-improvised piece by Giles Swayne & The Hermes Experiment
New graphic scores by Deborah Pritchard, Andy Ingamells and Eloise Gynn

Performers:

Oliver Pashley – clarinet
Anne Denholm – harp
Marianne Schofield – double bass
Héloïse Werner – soprano/co-director

Supported by
Hanna Grzekiewicz – co-director/marketing/development

Kate Whitley and Soosan Lolavar have both provided blog entries discussing the genesis of their Sonic Visions pieces (based on a poem setting and on an exploration of the links between Iranian music and Renaissance Counterpoint, respectively). The graphic score for Deborah Pritchard’s piece (which is apparently called ‘Kandinsky Studies’) showed up on Twitter recently, so I’ve reproduced it below:

Deborah Pritchard:  score for 'Kandinsky Studies', 2016

Deborah Pritchard: score for ‘Kandinsky Studies’, 2016

Also below are a couple of videos – one of the Hermes Experiment in the flow of free improvisation, the other of them performing William Cole’s ‘me faytz trobar’.



 
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The Britten Sinfonia return for the second of this year’s (and the third overall) ‘At Lunch’ concert series of mid-day performances across the east of England, this time managing to stretch as far as the south coast.

Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Three’

Daníel Bjarnason (photo by Samantha West)

Daníel Bjarnason (photo by Samantha West)

Programme:

Claude Debussy – Syrinx
Franco Donatoni – Small II
Daníel Bjarnason – new work (world premiere tour)
Franco Donatoni – Marches
Claude Debussy – Sonata for flute, viola and harp (L137)

amended setlist for Southampton adds:

André Jolivet – Petite Suite
Toru Takemitsu – And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind

Performers:

Emer McDonough (flute)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Lucy Wakeford (harp)

“The combination of flute, viola and harp may not be the most familiar trio ensemble, but it is one that certainly lends itself to the rich exploration of colour and harmonies that is typical of Debussy’s output. A deeply expressive curiosity in soundscapes and association with visual art also features in the compositions of Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason, whose new work features alongside that of Debussy in this programme.”

The London and Cambridge gigs include an “in conversation” event (a pre-concert discussion on Daníel Bjarnason’s new work) before the concert at 12.15pm in London, or after the concert at 2.15pm in Cambridge. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance in London, and are only available to concert ticket holders in Cambridge.

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Back in Norwich, there’s a promising trio concert…

Busch Trio, 2016

(Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music Festival presents:
The Busch Trio
John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UH, England
Saturday 20th February 2016, 7.30pm
more information

“Named after the legendary violinist Adolf Busch and inspired by trio member Mathieu van Bellen’s possession of Busch’s 1783 J.B. Guadagnini violin, the London-based Busch Trio – previously The Busch Ensemble – are emerging as one of the leading young piano trios among the new generation, receiving enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics across the UK and Europe. Recognised for their achievements and the “incredible verve” of their playing, they were winners of the 2012 Royal Overseas League Competition and went on to win several prizes including 2nd prize and the recording prize at the 2012 Salieri-Zinetti International Chamber Music Competition and the 3rd prize at the 2013 Pinerolo International Chamber Music Competition in Italy as well as the 2nd prize at the International Schumann Chamber Music Award in Frankfurt.

Since its formation in 2012 highlights of the Trio’s performances in the UK have included the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Sage Gateshead and a critically acclaimed appearance at Wigmore Hall. They have also given concerts in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Denmark. The trio enjoys the support of the Tunnell Trust, the Kirckman Concert Society, the Park Lane Group and the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust, as well as being awarded the MMSF Philharmonia Orchestra Ensemble Award. Most recently they have completed the prestigious ChamberStudio Mentorship Programme, which has offered them teaching from some of the world’s leading musicians. They are currently receiving guidance from members of the Artemis Quartet at the Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel in Brussels.”

This concert includes a pre-concert discussion with the trio members at 6.30pm. In addition to two familiar Romantic-era classics, the programme includes a performance of ‘Ackermusik’ by jazz/Eastern-cultures-inspired Dutch composer Theo Loevendie (which Loevendie notes is “written in a mosaic form of five repetitive elements” and which possibly, though not explicitly, pays tribute to the low, breathy vibrato clarinet stylings of late British trad-jazzer Acker Bilk).

Programme:

Theo Loevendie – Ackermusik
Johannes Brahms – Piano Trio No. 2 in C major Op. 87
Franz Schubert – Piano Trio No 2 in E flat D929

Performers:

Omri Epstein – piano
Mathieu van Bellen – violin
Ori Epstein – cello

Here’s a recent recording of the Busch Trio performing the third (Poc adagio) movement of Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F minor, op.65, as well as a previous performance of ‘Ackermusic’ by the Van Baerle Trio.


 

 

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Finally, news on an ongoing concert and commissioning series…

Susanne Kessel - 250 Pieces For Beethoven

Bonner Kunstverein presents:
Susanne Kessel: ‘250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven’
Klavierhaus Klavins, Auguststrasse 26–28, 53229 Bonn, Germany
Thursday 25th February, 2016, 7.30pm
more information.

“In the year 2020, the world will celebrate the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Bonn. In partnership with German radio station WDR Köln, pianist and Bonn native Susanne Kessel has begun an international composition project, inviting composers from all over the world to write a short piano piece “for Beethoven” with a duration of four minutes or under.

Since the start of the project, Susanne has been performing all the pieces at a series of concerts in Bonn (with some pieces also being presented at Speicher am Kaufhauskanal in Hamburg). All pieces will subsequently be published in a “precious paper” sheet-music edition by Editions Musica Ferrum of London.”

As of February 5th of this year, Susanne has received fifty-seven of the planned two hundred and fifty pieces. The next of the concerts in the performance series takes place on February 25th, in the Bonn instrument store Klavierhaus Klavins, and will feature premieres of work by the following composers:

  • Ivo van Emmerik – Dutch composer and onetime student of, among others, John Cage, Brian Ferneyhough and Morton Feldman (regarding whom he’s sometimes been suggested as a successor) with a strong interest in multi-media musical staging, electronic music and computer applications.
  • Mike Garson – cross-disciplinary American jazz, rock and experimental pianist and arranger (best known for his mid-‘70s work with David Bowie).
  • Robert HP Platz – German composer and founder/conductor of Ensemble Köln, generally better known for large-scale projects which can include operatic works, children’s music, literature, poetry, audio tapes and visual arts.
  • Claudio Puntin – Swiss composer, clarinettist and loop musician best known for wild, beautiful and moody electronica and post-jazz as a member of ensembles including ambiq and Sepiasonic as well as work for film, television and theatre.
  • Markus Reuter – German cross-disciplinary composer, touch guitarist, teacher and instrument designer, known for his work with centrozoon, Stick Men and others (as well as for his recent full-scale orchestral piece ‘Todmorden 513’).
  • Klaus Runze – German “intermedia” artist, composer, educator and theorist (pursuing, amongst other things, structured improvisation, composition, sonic sculpture, and painting-while-performing)
  • Mateo Soto – award-winning Spanish composer and recent winner of YouTube CODE 2016 Series Call for Scores.
  • Knut Vaage – Norwegian composer and member of the ensembles JKL and Fat Battery, whose work explores the boundaries between composition and improvisations.

Five of the composers (van Emmerik, Platz, Puntin, Reuter and Vaage) will be attending and possibly speaking, as will German percussionist/composer/music professor Dennis Kuhn and Swiss composer-pianist Lars Werdenberg (founder of New Music platform Chaotic Moebius), both of whom have previously contributed pieces to the project.

News on the ongoing project can be followed here.

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More gig news shortly, including William D. Drake in Italy and Louis Barrabas on the rampage across Scotland and northern England.

REVIEW – January 2015 singles, part 2 – Nocturne Blue, Doldrums, We Are Kin, Swim Mountain, Ardamus

3 Feb

In the sensual slo-mo video for ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’ a long-limbed, model-glossy woman rotates on a rope swing, or inside a net. Circus glamour, catwalk slink, passive heat – Nocturne Blue is clearly aiming for all of these things. The musical sideline of video artist Dutch Rail, it curves and strokes its own well-toned musical hips, a perfect solipsistic pearl. I don’t know whether to admire its sheen or to stay quiet and watch it stalk – slap-bang – straight into a doorframe.

Though it’s honed for club play, there’s a strong affinity for the more polished, aloof side of art-pop here – and despite Nocturne Blues’ Los Angeles origins, the project rapidly settles into a European home. All is textural – there’s a sultry, light-stepping beat; there’s bass rumble, silk-vapours and distant, tearing fuzz. Left to themselves, parts build and crystallise. A lone, calculated antique synth pyrographs a wheeling electronic line – a ‘70s nod to psychedelic German sequencing, or to Pink Floyd’s ‘On The Run’. There’s a little echo of centrozoon’s evasive, bumpy pop phase in here: appropriate, as Markus Reuter guests on stacked layers of touch guitar, building himself a stepped, dissolving tower of bluesy bass growls, ambient hums and looped Europop trills. There’s a pinch of Summer-and-Moroder disco trance, as well as a dash of Bowie’s Berlin.

‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’ also bears a passing, slowed-down resemblance to ‘Only Baby’, no-man‘s criminally-ignored dance-floor symphony from 1993. Yet where no-man blazed with an urgent sexual heat beneath their violins-and-cream sophistication, Dutch prefers to sit alone crushing grapes against his palate and murmuring rapturously to us about the taste. Both songs sing about breath and imply transcendence; both involve a shadowy other around which to wrap emotion (in one of his purpler patches, Dutch asserts “the sweetest flowers bloom late at night / but you and I were born to break free into the light..”). Ultimately, however, the Nocturne Blue trail is a solo journey, with Dutch dreaming of an explosive transformation while describing slow, langorous circles around his own stalled obsession. “My eyes may never see the sun / Paper-thin, don’t know where I’ve been / Sleepwalking circles into what I might become,”, he murmurs.“My darkest deeds, my secret needs / A thousand fingers feeling every possibility. / I was crawling down, digging around, / diving deep to dreams within my dreams.” But he emotes so softly, with so much of an immaculate and poised façade, that he makes any dirt and frustration feel as smooth as patent leather.

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Doldrums are equally club-bound, but far more ostentatiously fucked-up. Their sound is twentieth-century pre-millennial angst of the kind that just won’t go away and get smoothed down – a Montreal hybrid of dirty warehouse techno, KAOSS pad tangents and the spattering, visual-art-inspired synth-pop of Grimes and co. ‘Hotfoot’ is a knocking bit of electronic rabble-rousing, filled with splurging ripped-speaker synth-bass, sundry distortions and barking vocals. A couple of tussling rhythm tracks battle it out in stop-time. The main riff sounds like a plastic bottle, tuned to baritone, being kicked around in an elevator. Rather than an elevating rush, the breakdown is a numbing blurt of hooting overload. In its dull, hopeless tyranny, it could be the klaxon announcing that another reactor has just hit meltdown.

Meanwhile, tousle-topped frontman/turntablist/sound-smearer Airick Woodhead drawls on about “keeping up an unnatural pace”, “sleeping in, in the age of unrest,” and “vampires who can’t compete.” Watch your back. While ‘Hotfoot’ does send you careening around the room in a wild spurt of dance energy, flailing your elbows and heels, it’s also manic and asocial. “If I can’t pull myself back up, I’m gonna go deeper down in the mud,” warns Airick, scribbling himself notes which he immediately shreds and tosses. “Hey problem, spin around. / Don’t stop smiling ’til you hit the ground.”

It’s not just his punky sneer which gives the song its edge. It’s the death-disco sentiments: a party gone sour, nihilistic, borderline cannibalistic as Airick spits “my best friends all see me drown / my best friends all – c’mon – talk about it.” Halfway through, he’ll implore “Lady, won’t you come and swallow me?”, as if he’s courting Death for a final blowjob. Certainly he seems resigned to the fatal gravity well he’s worked himself into. “Guess I can’t pull myself back up, / I couldn’t grow deeper down any further / Fit right in, make some friends…/ fall asleep in the deep end.” He’s going to go down dancing, or nodding, or with some kind of hopeless swagger.

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After that, it’s something of a relief to change gears with some elegant Manchester progressive rock, courtesy of We Are Kin. Though it’s easier to be prog now than it used to be, those bad old off-the-peg snarkings about adolescent hang-ups on fairies and hobbits still sometimes hang around like a bad smell. I’d argue that what prog (especially British prog) actually tends to get hung up on is Victoriana. Shuddering flamboyantly on the cusp of romanticism and modernism, it often lolls back into the former, taking comfort in or shape from the trappings of an industrious imperial world in which even the mass-produced now seems to have to hearkened back to hand-craftsmanship, and in which running your hand over an antique street railing in the here-and-now triggers a kind of time-travel.

We Are Kin seem to fit into the same latterday Britprog school as Big Big Train – nostalgic for a history drawn from dips into books and museums and bits of folk history while quietly assembling its meaning on their own; building flesh around paper skeletons and guide pamphlets and tales handed down from elderly relatives. This isn’t as immediately credible as rattling history’s cage with upfront arguments about the present, but although it’s a gentler approach it’s not automatically naïve. Emblems and preoccupations of Victorian times still wash back and forth through the Western psyche in slicks of gold leaf or grime – empires of one kind or another, ideas about the deserving or unworthy poor, innovations and the turnover of new elites.

Prog musicians, like novelists, sometime lie on the wash of this wave and see where it takes them. ‘Home Sweet Home’ seems to be an overture to just this kind of journey. We Are Kin’s superstructure might be 1970s antique (a stately, tuneful Genesis sway of velvet-curtain Mellotrons, small bridges of jazz chording, the bowed and angular interplay of shifting time signatures and guitar escapements) but their intent might not be. Over three brief, lilting verses, singer Hannah Cotterill and lyricist Dan Zambas are describe three settlements – plains village, sea town, valley city – each with its own character and rhythm, its own buildings and way of life. In another sense, they might be describing the same place, or at least the same culture, swelling as history passes. Its buildings grow larger, casting greedy looming shadows. The ease of sustainable trade metastasises into a grotesque over-stimulated scrabble.

All right, the language is, ever-so-slightly, fairytale Gothic – but fairytales and fables work because they pare down the vital into simple, memorable lines. Through the fountains and courtyards (and the stone houses, with their “dwellers”) you can still see us, you can still see now, rocked by the same currents and the same shocks. If twenty-first century austerity really is 1930s repression revisited, and we’re sleepwalking back into repeating old history, prog’s retrofitted antiquarian stylings might have a place in telling the old stories and delivering the new warnings. If this is a taste of a longer tale, I’d like to hear more of it.

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London/Angeleno good-time band Swim Mountain also retrofit, but in an easier, breezier way. They cover Beyoncé’s ‘Love On Top’ like someone flirting under a blanket, musical lines and instrumental parts wriggling under the surface like coy, excited limbs. As he showed on the debut Swim Mountain EP last autumn, head Swimmer Tom Skyrme is very good at disguising fairly limited resources under a swelling, lucid-dream production style. He claims to have put this one together on a whim, belatedly falling in love with the song’s bravura modulations and ‘80s-inspired peppiness.

Personally, the Beyoncé diva-juggernaut leaves me cold. Despite her well-honed skills and precision vocals, much of what I see is branded, sub-Madonna acquisition and media powder-puffing (if she is the twenty-first century Madonna, we’ve all gone beige) so it’s interesting to hear the song outside her wind-tunnel of glamour. Tom’s lightly buttered, lysergic popcorn-soul take makes no attempt to match the ceiling-bumping, helium balloon assertiveness of the original. The pace is agreeable ‘70s midtempo; the wah-guitar plays peekaboo; the boinking bass comes sheathed in a tight reverb. The phaser button adds a gentle, sexy yawn; Tom’s warm nasal drawl (just on the likeable side of bland) dawdles amiably on the swooping paths Beyoncé cut, making no attempt to match her commanding calisthenics. A cloudy puff of keyboards fills the gaps, like a lazy pink smoke-bomb.

Previous Swim Mountain stylings have mostly recalled the stoned, sleeting Byrds guitar of ‘Five Miles High’: this one sounds like what Arnold Layne might have become if Syd Barrett had drunk deep on Memphis soul before he rolled another one, or like a more nappy-headed tie-dyed version of the Clarke/Duke Project. It’s all a little throwaway (despite the unexpected ending, which scrambles down an unexpected dip and clunks like a plastic lyre) but it’s lovingly crafted throwaway; a sugar basket which takes less time to eat than it does to admire. Plus I do like the way that Tom’s mix rolls out individual delicate moments for our attention, as if his faders were the sliding drawers in a jeweller’s desk.

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Sex raps are integral to hip hop: another part of that expressing-yourself-over-a-beat ethos, and a good way to keep a live and restless audience onside. Unless you’ve got a broad sense of humour, they can be touchy areas – too louche, or (at their worst) channels for power-posturing, misogyny and spite. Happily, Ardamus might bitch a bit – and might even settle a few minor scores on the side – but he doesn’t really hold grudges. ‘At Least I Got Laid’ could have been so damn nasty – a wheedler’s boast. Instead, it’s a shrug and a counting-of-blessings from a late-30s Washington rapper, thumbing through his temporary dating and mating memories for a piece that’s not so much bump-and-grind as bump-and-fall-off-the-couch.

Most of the endearing low-budget video (earthily-mimed rom-com looking like it’s been shot on the flickering, selective colour stock of memory) actually takes place on a couch, but what we see isn’t really love action. It’s the bits in between. The getting-to-know you exercises, the different books and the telling eye-rolls. The separate laptop and TV watching; the bumbling between what two different people want. The sulks and the missed tell-tales; the irritating or opportunistic friends. Eventually and inevitably, it’s the get-outs, fall-outs or peter-outs. (Heh. No pun intended). Yes, it’s a bloke’s record and a man’s-eye view. There’s annoyance and relief (“the divorce and the wedding would have been shotgun”; “if you want headaches then, shit, you can have her”) and Ardamus does delivers a superb low blow in the battle of the sexes when he complains about how “a tampon now becomes puppet strings.”

Still, it seems that Ardamus’ concerns aren’t about who stays on top, but how things are played out (“you can’t play games like that / and not expect to get called on it”). Rather than being coldly profane, he’s endearingly filthy – there’s some marriage-proposal wordplay which is well worth a spin or two. (Hint: it’s all about going down. And exactly where you put the ring. Veil optional.) When he’s not going for double-takes and horse-laughs, he’s also pretty good at pinpointing the sorry farce of how things go wrong (“the small talk that you want to step over: / pushed away at the table – you a leftover,”) and the mutual clinging (“getting mouldy, make-believe it / you need each other, so now trade diseases.”) He knows how two can screw up. The summery light of Soulful’s production textures – bass Rhodes figures and wobbly wipes of soul voice samples, like a cuddlier Wu-Tang sprawling back on a picnic rug – draws out any venom. Whatever had been said and done – if you’d been Ardamus’ girlfriend, I think at least he’d shake your hand at the end of it.

Nocturne Blue: ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’
Nocturne Blue (no barcode or catalogue number)
Stream-only single (released 12th January 2015)

Doldrums: ‘Hotfoot’
Sub Pop Records (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/stream single (released 13th January 2015)

We Are Kin: ‘Home Sweet Home’
Bad Elephant Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single (released 12th January 2015)

Swim Mountain: ‘Love On Top’
Swim Mountain (no barcode or catalogue number)
Stream-only single (released 7th January 2015)

Ardamus: ‘At Least I Got Laid’
Ardamus (no barcode or catalogue number)
Stream-only single (released 13th January 2015)

Get them from:

Nocturne Blue: ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’ – Bandcamp or iTunes.
Doldrums: ‘Hotfoot’ – Bandcamp; stream-only audio at Soundcloud, stream-only video at YouTube; or order from Sub Pop as part of ‘The Air Conditioned Nightmare’ album.
We Are Kin: ‘Home Sweet Home’ – Bandcamp (pay-what-you-like download).
Swim Mountain: ‘Love On Top’ – stream-only at Soundcloud.
Ardamus: ‘At Least I Got Laid’ – Bandcamp (pay-what-you-like download), or buy as part of the ‘I Can’t Replace Me Part 1 Improve’ EP.

Nocturne Blue online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp YouTube

Doldrums online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM

We Are Kin online:
Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

Swim Mountain online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud

Ardamus online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

Through the feed – Markus Reuter (soundscape & orchestral albums), Death In Texas (debut album news and promotion), Vespers (three little tastes)

1 Jun

Markus Reuter: 'Sultry Kissing Lounge'

Markus Reuter: ‘Sultry Kissing Lounge’

Fresh from his successful European spring tour with The Crimson ProjeKct (in which three veteran members of the 1990s King Crimson teamed up with three younger musicians in order to revisit and revitalise Crimson music of the ’80s and ’90s in concert mode), Markus Reuter has released an album called ‘Sultry Kissing Lounge’. This is a selection of the opening live improvisations/ instant compositions which Markus performed as curtain-raisers on the TCP tour.

Markus was filling some particularly big shoes for that particular tour. In King Crimson terms alone, he was taking on, developing, reinventing and re-personalising the live role once taken by the band’s prime mover/form-dictator Robert Fripp. In doing so, he played a key role in providing a window onto an alternative King Crimson – one minus Fripp’s key presence. By all accounts that I’ve heard, the results were no less potent than the original band was. (Sadly I had to miss the shows, so can’t bear witness myself).

Markus Reuter, 2014 (photo by Danil Golovkin)

Markus Reuter, 2014 (photo by Danil Golovkin)

Among other things, Markus was responsible for replacing those droning, skirling, semi-abstract soundscapes (sometimes celestial, sometimes nightmarish) which Fripp used to deepen Crimson textures, to uproot rigid Crimson structures and to express the band’s contradictory undercurrents of formal futurism, chance risks and frustrated romanticism. Historically, soundscapes have often been used as intros to Crimson concerts, gelling a mood and a context out of simple but deepening ingredients. Markus continued this tradition, playing his U8 Touch Guitar through extensive laptop processing and looping, and it’s this particular work that you’ll be listening to here. These pieces set the tone for each concert, and provided a launch-pad for TCP drummers Pat Mastellotto and Tobias Ralph to begin their own regular opening duet.

Markus brought his own tones and personality to the role. For those who are familiar with King Crimson, it’s interesting to contrast his soundscapes to those of Fripp. To my ears, Markus’ soundscapes tend to be more oblique: simultaneously more rational and more abstract than Fripp’s. They ask different questions, and in many respects give less away, seemingly more interested in opening up the audience’s minds rather than jogging their hearts or jogging their complacency. A Reuterscape demands a little more audience involvement, presenting a different vista in which to think rather than performing Fripp’s process of reeling in the listener by expressing wonder and those more tender, contradictory sensibilities that his more aggressive straight guitar playing didn’t allow. I may be wrong. Judge for yourselves – here are two of Markus’ soundscapes, recorded in the Czech Republic and in Switzerland respectively, and each named after a different woman (no doubt Markus can explain why.)


If these tempt you, ‘Sultry Kissing Lounge’ is available as a CD or download (featuring artwork by another TCP band-mate, bass guitarist Julie Slick) and can be ordered from here.

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Later this month, Markus releases another long-cherished project – the full orchestral recording of his generative concerto ‘Todmorden 513’. I’ve touched on this in a previous bit of crowdfunder news. Originally a electro-acoustic ensemble work based mostly around Markus’ own touch guitar tracks, the composition has already been compared to those of Messiaen, Feldman and Debussy. It was re-arranged for full orchestra by Thomas A. Blomster (who, long ago, was half of Pale Boy) and then debuted and recorded by the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Thomas.

Markus Reuter: 'Todmorden 513 (Concerto for Orchestra)'

Markus Reuter: ‘Todmorden 513 (Concerto for Orchestra)’

The documentary ‘Breaking 513‘ provides more information on how the project was conceived and developed. Here’s some interim compositional notes for those interested, taken from combined sources (including the original electro-acoustic version liner notes by Henry Warwick, plus comments by Joshua Meggitt of Cyclic Defrost):

“A continuous movement and sequence of five hundred and thirteen harmonies and triads generated by a combinatorial compositional technique of Reuter’s own design. The notes of each harmony or triad is then fed back into the same algorithm, resulting in a progression of chords and note clusters of highly varied density, ranging from simple two note harmonies to dense twelve note chords spread across several octaves. Starting on an A flat, the sequences of pitches form a kind of melodic or thematic line throughout… Each of the 50 string, woodwind, brass, and percussion musicians performing an individual solo part. These solo parts are in turn each a part of a trio or quartet, all joining together to form the orchestra… The rhythms (were) derived from the chord sequences themselves, which were looped across the whole piece, mapped to the notes of each chord, then mixed together. From there it was split into three or four independent voices respectively. The result is a shifting set of harmonic densities… Instruments mesh together, in ensembles of varying size, creating a kind of gauzy web through which development takes place.”

If you want to know what that might sound like (or if you’re just baffled by the description), there’s a video excerpt below:

The recording of the CCO performance is being released on 17 June 2014 on the 7D Media label, as a CD/DVD double pack with both stereo and surround sound mixes, plus an alternate 2.0 stereo mix by ambient music pioneer Robert Rich (see the embedded stream below). More info is here and the album can be pre-ordered from here.

* * *

Meanwhile, husband-and-wife team Ruth and Kane Powers – better known as virtuosic drama-pop duo Death In Texas – have also gotten in touch. Since the pair moved from New Zealand and started tearing up small venues in London five years ago, their self-confessed “grandiose, over the top and cinematic” music and performances – full of guts and gear-changes – has seen them compared to Lana Del Rey, The Dresden Dolls, Tori Amos and ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ (I’d suggest that they’ve also got a judicious dash of Emerson, Lake & Palmer in gleeful entertainer mode and perhaps a hint of Suzi Quatro). More recently they’ve been in flux, solidifying recent changes in tone, personnel and approach and preparing to get it all recorded. Over to them:

“Last time we wrote it was for the release of (the video for) Sonic Switchblade, so much has happened since then behind the scenes. We have been crazily writing songs, then rewriting them, arranging and recording them in our home studio and trying to make a good guide for what will eventually be our debut full-length record. We have been listening to a whole lot of new music, taking in new influences and have shaped a new sound for Death In Texas which we are excited to show you. In July we will be heading into the studio to begin recording an album we’ve spent the last seven months preparing for. This is the best music we’ve made yet; it’s ethereal, powerful and more refined. We’ll be excited to share it with you once it’s ripened.”

Death In Texas: 'Pluck' EP

Death In Texas: ‘Pluck’ EP

To fund the album, Ruth and Kane set up a crowdfunding deal a short time ago. As it happens, they’re already hit their target (and sold out of the initial run of the forthcoming DiT album) but in order to clear space and merchandise and to ensure that there’s enough in the album fund to cover eventualities, they’re currently offering an additional deal for T-shirts plus a free download of last year’s ‘Pluck‘ EP. If you’re interested, click here.

If you’re curious as to what you’d be getting, there are videos for two ‘Pluck tracks below, the music for which was recorded back when Death In Texas was a piano/ bass/drums trio. Assuming that they’ve built on their music for the forthcoming album, rather than utterly reformatting themselves, expect to hear more of Ruth’s arresting vocal and piano and of Kane’s dense-but-nimble drumming.

* * *

Finally – here’s a quick word about the London folk trio Vespers. I only really discovered them yesterday when I saw them play at Daylight Music (although they’ve been nice enough to follow the ‘Misfit City’ Twitter feed for a while). This definitely won’t be the last time I write about them – their generous blend of voices, their acoustic delicacy and their combined songwriting skills promise plenty, and their approach wells with compassion.

So far as I know, they have no album ready, and are still working to finesse a new demo which they’re happy with, but they do have three tracks up on Soundcloud in the meantime. I’ll save more comments for the live review later. Have a listen for yourselves.



Markus Reuter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

‘Todmorden 513’ project online:
Homepage

Death In Texas online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube

Vespers online:
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REVIEW – Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter: ‘Islands’ single, 2013 (“setting things right as well as respecting the source”)

9 Sep

Fletcher/Fletcher/Reuter: 'Islands'

Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter: ‘Islands’

Ironically, we often record cover versions to find out – or to show – who we are.

Markus Reuter, for instance, would prefer it if other people could stop telling him who he is. Too many of them are telling him that he’s obliged to be the twenty-first century’s Robert Fripp. They can’t get past his Frippic virtuosity on touch guitar, his past as a Fripp student, or his work with the man’s former King Crimson colleagues (in Stick Men and Tuner). They can’t even get over the fact that these days he plays all of the Fripp parts in the Crimson ProjeKCt…

Ah. Well, all right, but Markus’ vivid success in the sprawling latterday Crimson family shouldn’t have to box in a musician as stubbornly wide-ranging as he is. Yet it does, even though you don’t have to scratch him too deeply to discover that he’s not as enFrippened as he seems. When it comes to willful and wayward yet methodical 1970s virtuosi, Mike Oldfield is kernelled deeper in Markus’ heart than Fripp is. Hence this unexpected and open-armed cover of a long-forgotten Oldfield song, recorded by Markus in cahoots with long-term collaborators Lee and Lisa Fletcher, and demonstrating that Markus deals with more musical colours than just ‘Red’ ones.

A few sketchy parallels can be drawn here. When Oldfield released the original Islands single (back in 1987, towards the uglier end of his Virgin Records contract), he wasn’t entirely sure who he was. Though he’d made his name via intricate, acclaimed confections of multi-instrumental experimental rock, spatial Celtic folk and classical minimalism, by the mid-’80s Virgin had talked him into writing hit-and-miss pop songs dressed up with fat blobs of Fairlight, gated reverb and arena grease. The ‘Islands’ album floundered to cover both poles – a side of lengthy neoclassical fare (heavily spiced with chants, electric flourishes and whirring jazz flute) counterweighted a side of echoing pomp-rock (with straining guest singers and drums like torpid cannons). Even back then, this didn’t age well, despite spawning a vapid video album in which Bonnie Tyler and Kevin Ayers (in ‘Miami Vice’ regalia and power-frosted hairdos) sang and jostled their way through pastel-misted virtual realities and through corny CGI blizzards of New Age totems, ducking flying Tutankhamuns as they went.

At that point Mike Oldfield was pretty lost. Though he’d only stick the situation out for one more album (before rebelling and revitalizing himself via the inspired slice-and-dice music of ‘Amarok’) in 1987 he seemed beached. Islands – the song – ended up a little lost as well. Uniting strands of John Donne, Celtic Big Music and Dream Academy oboe, it could have triumphed over the crash of reverb: with its lyric of loneliness unclenching it could have become one of the decade’s all-join-hands power ballads. It even had Bonnie Tyler singing it, all sandpaper and yodels. What actually happened is that it floated round the middle of various European charts for a while and then sank.

In contrast to the lacquered, divided and ultimately stranded figure that Oldfield cut in the late ’80s, Lee Fletcher comes to Islands knowing himself and knowing what he’s doing. After a decade of quiet self-apprenticeship and networking, the Fletcher sound has blossomed into a rich pool of talented instrumentalists and instrumentation – digital blips to rattling jazz, frosty-fanged art-rock guitars to keening folk and glowing chamber music, choreographed with a mixture of precise delicacy and expansive flair. His auteur-producer take on Islands doesn’t just restore the song’s appeal. As a string quartet jumps from scratchy shellac recording to full live presence alongside uillean pipes and whistle – and as Markus rides happily at the centre of the song, his touch guitar chords and slithers fanning out like a nerve map – it restores the song’s lost Oldfield-ness. This could be as much rebuke as tribute. Either way, there’s the feel of setting things right as well as respecting the source.

There’s a little of the undulant Saharan patter of a Peter Gabriel song (reinforced by Tony Levin’s prowling spring of a bass part). There’s the spirit of an Irish pub session, too (Alan Burton’s pipework recalls other Oldfield moments, such as the haunted morning chills of ‘Ommadawn’ or Paddy Moloney’s warmer dip-ins on ‘Five Miles Out’ and ‘Amarok’). Finally, there’s the third side of the Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter team – Lisa Fletcher. Compared to Lee or to Markus, it’s less clear whether she knows who she is, musically. More to the point, it’s not even clear whether she thinks its important. She’s the only member of the F|F|R trio who’s got form for actual impersonation (if you don’t believe me, check out her startling Sinead O’Connor impression from an old series of ‘Stars In Their Eyes’) and for now, she’s keeping up that sensuous and welcoming vocal persona with which she helmed Lee’s ‘Faith In Worthless Things‘ last year – a flushed, de-gushed and beautifully controlled Kate Bush mezzo which slips supple invisible fingers round the lyrics, caresses them, and passes on by.

It’s a low-key take compared to Bonnie’s hearts-and-guts original. What matters, though, is that it works: a vocal and a sentiment that’s a welling rather than a sobbing, and far better at catching the quickening thaw that’s being voiced in Oldfield’s lyrics. Beyond the beautiful sound, Lisa remains something of an enigma as a singer and as an adept interpreter – still playing a game of veils in which flashes of other singers, other sentiments distract our curiosity, and behind which she’s drawing out other people’s words and launching them with the subtlest of spins. It makes me wonder what she’ll sound like when she’s singing her own songs. For now, she’s transformed Islands into a shimmering welcome rather than an emotive wrack, and has kept her own mystery as she does it. No easy trick.

Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter: ‘Islands’
Unsung Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 10th June 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp

Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter online:
Bandcamp

Lee Fletcher online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

Lisa Fletcher online:
Facebook

Markus Reuter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

Two music crowdfunding campaigns (Utter:Jazz, Markus Reuter)

8 Jun

Partly for the sake of broadening ‘Misfit City’s music coverage – and partly because it makes me feel a little more involved in music – I’ve decided to start covering music crowdfunding campaigns which interest me. As I’m generally short of ready cash, I was late to the music pledge phenomenon as it grew, although I found it potentially fascinating when I did encounter it (see my wide-eyed response to some of Kickstarter’s more cultish implications in the middle of this review). Increasingly it’s a vision of the future – or at the very least, the future of the honest hustle – as the music industry continues to crumble and narrow down to a point where more and more of the interesting music is forced to turn self-propelled and troubadour, travelling hopefully to an unknown audience whom it’ll eventually all but know by name.

Before I get too lost in the theory, though, here are two campaigns which currently interest me:

The first is the Kickstarter campaign for the ‘Look, Stranger’ project by Utter:Jazz Collective, set up by Jazzberries singer Ruthie Culver. This is a ferment of Benjamin Britten’s music, W.H. Auden’s verse, the voices of Ruthie and several of Britain’s greatest stage actors, and the transformative flood of twenty-first century jazz. Sounds risky (the options for falling into camp or cuteness are legion) but the caliber of the people involved suggests that they’ll pull it off with flair. Ruthie’s a singer whose explorations have taken her from opera to chanson, Sondheim to cabaret, poetry to swing. Between them the Utter:Jazz instrumentalists – double bassist Jonny Gee, reeds player Mick Foster, pianist/trombonist Dan Hewson and drummer Andrea Trillo – have covered jazz, baroque music, contemporary classical music, opera, tango, pop and salsa; have worked with a swathe of bandleaders and situation-starters including Herbie Hancock, Ravi Shankar, Nigel Kennedy and Jarvis Cocker, and have tried everything from classical stand-up and serious education to writing their own string quartets.

Utter:Jazz: 'Look, Stranger'

Utter:Jazz: ‘Look, Stranger’

At time of posting Utter:Jazz are four days into their five-week campaign, and are 3% of the way towards their £8,000 goal. Here’s what Ruthie has to say about the project:

“Over the past year, my band and I have been through through a mind-boggling process of musical experimentation and harmonic analysis with twelve songs by Benjamin Britten, re-interpreting them through all the technicolour grooves and vibrant influences of 21st century jazz, including swing, samba, funk and blues… We chose Britten (whose centenary is this year) because his harmonies and melodies are delicious – something to get your teeth into – modern and beautiful. The song lyrics are satirical, romantic and witty, and all written by WH Auden (who wrote ‘Stop all the Clocks’, made famous in Four Weddings and a Funeral).

“I invited a few actors we’ve met over the years to read some Auden between the songs when we tour the project – they all said yes! Simon Russell Beale, Samuel West, Roger Lloyd Pack or Sir Derek Jacobi (one per gig) will be joining me and my brilliant quartet of world-class musicians. We have 18 performances lined up (details below) between July & November 2013, at festivals and theatres up and down the country including Northumberland, Devon, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Sussex, Suffolk, Hampshire, Herefordshire and London.”

The second crowdfunder I’m going to mention is the PledgeMusic campaign for the orchestral version of Todmorden 513, a long-form piece composed by Markus Reuter. Markus is best known for his work with centrozoon and his contributions to various King Crimson spinoffs (The Crimson ProjeKCt, Stick Men) but his work ranges beyond art-rock and explores a spectrum of ambient music, pop, systems work and contemporary classical composition.

Originally a recording for treated touch guitar and small ensemble, Todmorden 513 has now been arranged for full orchestra by Thomas Blomster who, once upon a time, was half of Pale Boy (and was responsible for the superb arrangements on their only album) but now runs the Youth Orchestra of the Rockies. The piece has recently been performed and recorded by the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, with Thomas as conductor.

Here’s a little more on the piece:

“Todmorden 513 is a unique contemporary composition of an hours duration for orchestra. It is 513 measures long and is a Concerto for Orchestra, with each of the 50 string, woodwind, brass, and percussion musicians performing an individual solo part. These solo parts are in turn each a part of a trio or quartet, all joining together to form the orchestra. The Colorado Chamber Orchestra is very excited to present this enigmatic, mysterious, genre-bending music.”

And here’s some more background on the original Todmorden 513 in its small ensemble form:

“Employing violins, viola, cello, guitars, organ, glockenspiel, synthesisers and electronics, these instruments mesh together, in ensembles of varying size, creating a kind of gauzy web through which development takes place. Texturally its often like those wispy moments in the orchestral music of Debussy or Messiaen, combined with the tolling crawl of Feldman’s Coptic Light, but proceeding to its own rules. This is a truly stunning piece of music.” – Joshua Meggitt, Cyclic Defrost

“Markus Reuter’s Todmorden 513 is a complex work of algorithmic composition of an hour’s duration. Given Reuter’s linguistic background, one might think that the title is an exercise in existential dread in German as “Tod” means “death” and “morden” means “to murder” – forming a truly grim portmanteau. However, the title’s sourcing is actually of a small town in northern England, northeast of Manchester. 513 refers to its construction: it is a continuous movement and sequence of five hundred and thirteen harmonies and triads generated by a combinatorial compositional technique of Reuter’s own design. The notes of each harmony or triad is then fed back into the same algorithm, resulting in a progression of chords and note clusters of highly varied density, ranging from simple two note harmonies to dense twelve note chords spread across several octaves. Starting on an A flat, the sequences of pitches form a kind of melodic or thematic line throughout. The rhythms of the performing instrumental trios and quartets were derived from the chord sequences themselves, which were looped across the whole piece, mapped to the notes of each chord, then mixed together. From there it was split into three or four independent voices respectively. The result is a shifting set of harmonic densities — at times quite spare — ranging from a harmony of two instruments to other moments of thick and lush instrumentation.” – Henry Warwick (original liner notes for ensemble recording)

The difference between this and the Utter: Jazz campaign is that Markus’ project is technically complete – orchestrated, recorded, mastered and now moving towards release. However, that’s not the end of the story and any further pledging and involvement will help it move further into the next (and arguably more tortuous) phase of promotion and outreach to people who want to hear it (even if they don’t know it yet). Another incentive for involvement is that 5 % over goal will be donated to the Youth Orchestra of the Rockies. It’s a little late in the day, but there’s still an opportunity to get involved in this.

There’ll be more crowdfunders along as I find them…

REVIEW – centrozoon: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ album, 2001 (“miscellaneous objects picked up on a bright afternoon”)

11 Apr
centrozoon: 'Sun Lounge Debris'

centrozoon: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’

Interbreeding the subliminal and the upfront, German ambient duo centrozoon first showed up in 2000 with the self-camouflaging, superbly effective ‘Blast‘. Icy and transformative (an album of elusive, subtle yet uncompromising music for a dissolving world), it was a deliberate hollow grail; an eerily crafted emptiness masking or bypassing outright emotion. The occasional fragmentary synth-pop hiccup broke this rule and humanised the duo (like a brief giggle or fart in the meditation), but ‘Blast’ was mostly all hints and invisible statements – a ghost-impression of grandiosity, a sumptuous erasing.

The six tracks of the follow-up, ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ (put out on the quick-release art-rock label Burning Shed rather than, like ‘Blast’, on the more impassively arty DiN) turn out to be the product of a single day’s recording. With ambient groups being what they are, and the rapidly diminishing returns of minimal textures, it’d be fair to expect a series of belated out-takes. Markus Reuter and Bernhard Wöstheinrich could have exposed themselves as blanded-out or hopelessly jumbled: at best, retreading the magnificent displaced atmospherics of ‘Blast’. Fortunately, centrozoon‘s taste and inspiration are very much intact, and they’ve added some healthy lust and humour to the mix.

Admittedly, ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ doesn’t have the quiet and eerie impact of ‘Blast’. The disordered-lifestyle title makes that implicit, whether the centrozooners are suggesting a J.G. Ballard dystopia or simply admitting that they, too, sometimes like to lie around in a mess of crisps, magazines and tanning lotion. The music – disparate and different in its swatch of moods – also indicates that centrozoon aren’t prepared to plough that same impeccable furrow as they did on their debut. In certain respects, ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ resembles a collection of miscellaneous objects picked up on a bright afternoon. However, any randomness is rapidly offset by the connective, collective intelligence which centrozoon exhibit, and by their clear eagerness to develop from their previous wintry and self-absenting perfection and move towards questions and delicate musical quirks.

‘Sun Lounge Debris’ pieces come, roughly speaking, in pairs. Two of the tracks, Tales Of Children In Trees and Harvest Girls, reveal depths (or, more accurately, widths) to centrozoon which have previously gone unnoticed. More on those later. The two remaining pairs take inspiration from the texture-based constructions of ‘Blast’ but move the ideas elsewhere.

From the throwaway ironic/pedantic titles, one of these ambient pairs suggests game-playing at work; toying with expectations. This One Will Please You could’ve been a ‘Blast’ outtake, were it not for its warmth – it’s a cosmic Mistral, entirely composed of atmosphere, thoroughly sunny and swimmy. The second – the displeaser – is darker, but where ‘Blast’ suggested urban dissolution (chilliness, shapes of buildings yielding to vapour) This One Won’t Please You implies some more rural outlines. More forbidding than its brother, it possesses a similar softness: perhaps a musical impression of the darkness hollowed out beneath the forest roof. The sinister side is provided in a sense of waiting for something unknown, something as yet unshaped in the mind’s eye.

Less cohesive – but bolder – than the Please tracks, another pair of centrozoon experiments jolts the project into more radical dynamics. In Sable Orbit is the most immediately striking of the two. As mushroom clouds of pipe-organ sounds are put through the MIDI wringer, pitches are set afloat in choppy spasms so that they billow in a vast and giddy skyward swell: a scrap of Messaien nightmare trapped in a Zeppelin. Several Chilled Wives follows the same approach with a little less alarm. Beyond its lazy, inexorable and monstrous lurches a circular harmony reveals itself, like the boundary of a horizon.

In almost all of these it’s unclear as to which noises are coming off Markus’ heavily processed and looped Warr Guitar and which emanate from the voice-banks of Bernhard ‘s synthesizers. In spite of their very different musical motivations – Bernhard spontaneous and iconoclastic, Markus scholarly and studied – both centrozooners are able to morph together without an evident join, as they did for much of the frosted blend of ‘Blast’. Harvest Girls – one of the two serious centrozoon digressions on the album, and the one which gives ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ its explosive, bliss-struck opening – is very different, and shows us what happens when centrozoon let themselves fall open into those two halves.

It’s revealing. While Bernhard blots an immense, swirling, stained-glass flange noise from his keyboard onto the sky, Markus lets rip with a richly melodic overdriven buzz of solo – an ecstatic Robert Fripp whoop. This is the polar opposite to his usual textural playing, with its concealing nature – this is a lusty, ascending and liberated firework spray of rock tensions, as healthy and randy as a summer party. The nasal-toned scurries and wails are closer to the excitement of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ or to Joe Satriani’s triumphal histrionics then they are to more expected influences like Fripp or of Trey Gunn, with their devotional dissonance. The joy is unfeigned, but unashamedly synthetic in its plastic textures: you can hear centrozoon revelling in the fact. In response to Markus’ blaze of guileless prog-rock romanticism, Bernhard sends a cheesy synth-pad of concerto strings rebounding off the clouds. Apparently intent on mutilating any of the dodgy presets which he can entice out of his gear, he also offers up an undulating bass synth boom plus a taffy-stretched swathe of electronica which sounds like an evaporating glass harmonica.

Harvest Girls could be centrozoon trying on the bristly mantle of rock piggery and loving it; but Tales Of Children In Trees propels them forward into the world of dance. Those smooth swirls of ambience and the synth chuckles could have come from anywhere else in their ambient past and present, but they’re all tossed on a hustle of jazz breakbeats: a thinking pummel, assured and dominant. As an album closer, it suggests that centrozoon are already off their loungers and in fervid motion. If you came by to relax and slob out, you’re already too late. Next chapter engaging…

centrozoon: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’
Iapetus Records/Burning Shed (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R/download album
Released: 21st February 2001

  • Preceded by: Blast.
  • Followed by: ‘The Divine Beast’.

Buy it from:
Free download from Iapetus Records or Bandcamp. Originally released by Burning Shed as a CD-R album.

centrozoon online:
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REVIEW – Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’ remix mini-album, 2013 (“unstitched, re-embroidered, re-folded”)

17 Mar
Lee Fletcher: 'The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes'

Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’

‘Faith In Worthless Things’ was one of 2012’s surprise pleasures. Lee Fletcher’s debut album was the late-blossoming distillation of years of work as engineer and confidant to assorted art-rock musicians, and of even more years absorbing influences and refining them in a budding songwriter’s heart.

What emerged was a sleek, assured and finely-honed planned-patchwork of an album. It pulled in sounds from touch guitars, Uillean pipes, crunchy rhythm loops, ukeleles, powdered trumpets and silky synthesizers; it mused on betrayals, work, bewitchment and people in general; and it drew on a wide but surprising coherent blend of string-quartet chamber pop, soul and trip hop, 1970s Scott Walker, King Crimson-flavoured progressive rock, electronica and Anglo-folk.

While Lee’s firm and expansive vision gave the album both shape and finish, it was also very much a group effort, achieved hand in hand with his singer wife Lisa plus the chameleonic touch guitarist/soundscaper Markus Reuter and a small battalion of interested musicians from around the world. This short album of follow-up remixes keeps that spirit, with a couple of returning collaborators and new reinventors let loose on the tracks.

Only two songs from ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ make it to this particular phase. There’s the title track – originally a humble state-of-the-world address sung by Lisa but dispatched by Lee, people-watching at the railway station in his Devon hometown, and sampling a picture of humanity from its wandering fragments on an ordinary morning. There’s also The Inner Voice, in which Lisa soars on a rich carpet of soul-inspired smoothness; delicately and beadily picking apart matters of confidence and collaboration, while unhitching – scuffed, but quietly determined – from a dragging entanglement. The latter was the album’s obvious single, so it’s interesting to see three different remixers work three different shades of pop out of it.

Of these, Brazilian proggers-turned-clubbers Worldengine offer perhaps the most satisfying reinvention – a slink-and-roll electronica take full of whispering creep, voice fuzz and closed-eye pulse beats. The smooth soul of the original is pared back in favour of odd, gently challenging chording and textures: as if Lisa’s vocal line has been gently unwound from its original branch and wrapped carefully around a new one. Imagine what might happen if David Torn had as much pop clout as Madonna does, and you’ll have some idea of where Worldengine take this.

Two other remixers take The Inner Voice further out, but perhaps with less originality. The mix from German DJ Ingo Vogelmann battles and switches restlessly between its whispering electronic-ambient chamber intro, heavily synthesized cyberpop and a naked acoustic strum. The onetime 4hero cohort Branwen Somatik offers a similarly morphing dance switchback – initially a slightly dubby hip-hop take with an eerie twist, then a transformation to minimally-sheathed soul-pop, finally melting away in a dubby whisper of liquefying beats.

There are no fewer than six versions of Faith In Worthless Things, including a return for Ingo Vogelmann who offers a mix replete with Orb/Jean Michel Jarre-flavoured electronica (strong on the breezy minimalism, and dappled with bits of dub and techno). Adrian Benavides has honed himself an industrial pop version full of collapsing sheet metal and drill bits. Fabio Trentini provides an ambient pop take with an art-pop tweak – part Japan (if the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ era took precedence) and part Crafty Guitarist. Lee’s words and Lisa’s sweet-but-stately vocals sit, unfazed, in these new cradles.

Having said that, this particular song is less suited to being strapped into dance, and other approaches are preferable. Under his Hollowcreature alias, David Picking seems to realise this; he keeps and highlights the train-swish from the intro, brings Lee’s own warm and pleasant guide vocals to the forefront for half of the time, and comes up with a subtly dubby version of the song’s English pastoral feel. The latter quality is something which Tim Motzer appears to have picked up on too, as he moves Faith In Worthless Things into a more British progressive rock area. This he does via a number of changes – jazz vibraphone, the ghost of a hard-rock riff and eventually a build up into a Pink Floyd blaze replete with Gilmourian guitar. It seems obvious, but there’s some clever sleight-of-hand here: Lisa is metamorphosed cunningly by the new arrangement into a leathered-up rock goddess, all without a change to her vocal part.

Tobias Reber, on the other hand, manages to be both daring and successful in his own mix, taking an unexpected creative risk and pulling it off. He contributes the best of the remixes on offer, as well as the most original. His reconstructive take on the songs sees it unstitched and re-embroidered, re-folded. The song is re-imagined over an uneasy sea-roll of structure. New chording, constructed from the components of the original piece, produces a striking new perspective; a different place from which Lee, through Lisa, can watch the world and see its unsettling currents ripple past and under him.

Each remix, though, gently unbuttons ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ again and reminds us of that collaborative feeling which suffused it. The rolling and friction between Lee’s ideas and where his accomplished collaborators took them – a journey in motion.

Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’
Unsung Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only mini-album
Released: 5th February 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp

Lee Fletcher online:
Homepage Facebook TwitterBandcamp

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