Friday, December 21, 2012

Hector Zazou - Geographies (Crammed Discs, 1984)

Although the fifth title in Crammed Discs' Made To Measure series, Géographies was the first full length LP to be released by the late French Algerian compser Hector Zazou. Zazou first gained recognition as part of the minimal synth duo ZNR, whose releases date back to the mid '70s. Until his untimely death in 2008, he led a prolific career composing his own material and both collaborating with and producing other artists. Omnipresent on Géographies is Zazou's trademark use of multi-cultural motifs and electronic effects. 

I feel it's best to keep the description of this piece to a minimum and let listeners simply experience it, although it suffices to say that the last track, 'Des Cocotiers' may be one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. I also recommend you read more about this visionary composer, starting here. Download Géographies here.

BL Lacerta - Music of BL Lacerta (Irida, 1981)

BL Lacerta is an improvisation ensemble formed at North Texas State University in 1976. The group has performed with distinguished artists such as John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and David Behrman as well as a variety of dance ensembles, actors and visual artists. BL Lacerta is still active today with original member David Anderson performing with an incarnation of the group at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Anderson has his own site here, where he talks about the history and current events of the group as well as a personal musical history with beginnings at the University of North Texas Center for Electronic Music studying with Merril Ellis.

The music on this album is strictly unedited and improvised. It was recorded live at the Second National Tuba-Euphonium Symposium-Workshop and North Texas State University Art Gallery. Taken from the back cover-

        "The BL Lacerta Ensemble, named for a unique star in the constellation Lacerta (lizard), combines fundamental orchestral sounds of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion together with invented instruments, electronically generated timbres and the rich sonic capabilities of the human voice....
        The music of this album represents two different approaches to the art of improvisation. "Free improvisations" are, as the name implies, totally free and spontaneous creations in which the performers rely on their musicianship and sensitivity to provide continuity and form. The majority of pieces on this album are free improvisations. "Character improvisations" are also created spontaneously but in this case the musicians agree beforehand to attempt to suggest a certain mood or style as they play."

This is a must have for anyone with an interest in improvisation ensembles. Download it here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jere Hutcheson - Contemporary Ensemble Works (No Label, 1974)

American composer Jere Hutcheson, born 1938, has been teaching composition courses at Michigan State University for over thirty-five years. Since the early '60s, Hutcheson has composed numerous works for band/wind ensembles, orchestra, choir, solo piano and chamber ensembles. Three works comprise this promotional LP: Shadows of Floating Life, Three Things For Dr. Seuss, and Night Gallery. The first piece is a major work in four parts for two vocalists (mezzo-soprano, tenor), flute, violin, contrabass, and vibraphone. Seven poems by Iwoa Matsuhara are recited over each movement. The second piece was inspired by the work of the famous author Theodor Seuss Geisel and the strange creatures, or "Things" that are encountered in his books. It is composed for harp and six percussionists. The final piece is composed for four trombones. About this piece, Hutcheson states, 

         "I do not recall any particular impetus that caused me to write Night Gallery.  I was teaching orchestration at this time, and I was keen on getting my students to understand trombone slide positions and their relationship to glissandi.  I suspect that the piece began as an exercise in demonstrating those traits of the trombone.  No one asked me to write the piece; I just wrote it."

These three works are a great example of American, contemporary (circa 1974) ensemble composition. You can view the artist's website here and download the album here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lee Konitz/Paul Bley/Bill Conners - Pyramid (Improvising Artists Inc., 1977)

This is something of a follow up to my October post of Paul Bley's Quiet Song. Here is Bley on piano with Bill Connors on guitar, again in the trio setting, only this time with Lee Konitz on alto/soprano sax. Much like that earlier release, Pyramid features compositions that explore the space between instruments and movements, but is less grounded on the spectrum between traditional and experimental playing. Get it here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Altaba/Cervera/Perucho/Nico/Solé - Tropopausa (Zeleste Concert, 1979)

Spanish record label Zeleste released a handful of progressive jazz-infused Spanish rock albums between 1974 and 1981, but Tropopausa was the only release on the imprint label Zeleste Concert. Although it maintains Spanish influences and has an occasional rock/pop sentiment, it is very much a jazz album. It is quieter and less structured than Zeleste's other releases which is probably why it was afforded a separate label. Most of the songs are based around melodic themes over which individual players are given space to experiment and improvise. The group has two double bass players, and all five members play various percussive instruments so these elements are prominent on most of the tracks. The group is comprised as follows- Eduard Altaba: double bass, percussion, salteri; Enric Cervera: double bass, percussion; Oriol Perucho: drums, percussion; Jordi Nico: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, percussion; Ramon Solé: spanish guitar, percussion. Download it here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Garrett List - Your Own Self (Opus One, 1972)

Here's another early Opus One release. Your Own Self is trombonist, vocalist and composer Garrett List's first album. List attended Julliard in the '60s and it was there that he formed The Julliard Ensemble with Luciano Berio and Dennis Russell Davies. In the early '70s, his interest shifted to free jazz and he developed relationships with such distinguished artists as Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy. He also encountered prominent composers John Cage, Frederic Rzewski and La Monte Young and performs on Young's legendary Dream House 78' 17"Since 1971, List has been associated with Musica Elettronica Viva, an influential collective of experimental composers formed in Rome in 1966. I will be posting more about MEV in the future. On Your Own Self, List beautifully combines minimalism and free jazz by incorporating slow movements and improvisation. Download it here and enjoy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Joan La Barbara - Reluctant Gypsy (Wizard, 1980)

Joan La Barbara is an American composer whose career has been devoted to exploring the human voice as a compositional tool. She is married to legendary electronic music composer Morton Subotnick, with whom she has worked alongside since the late '70s. She has also worked with other influential composers such as Phillip Glass, Robert Ashley, John Cage and Morton Feldman.

Reluctant Gypsy features four compostions for multi-layered tape. La Barbara creates all sounds with her voice and utilizes Buchla modules for movements in one piece. Taken from the back cover-

             "This album represents an aspect of my compositional activity during the late '70s utilizing expanded and traditional vocal techniques. Ten years ago I decided to make my living as a performer and composer unattached to a specific institution and began traveling to do concerts and to make pieces. These can be categorized as: (1) multilayered tape works usually commissioned by and produced at radio stations (Shadow Song, composed in Ampleforth, England, and Klee Alee, written partly in Cologne, were commissioned for radio and completed in West Berlin); (2) sound installations (for art galleries and museums); (3) solo performances of music for voice with and without tape. All sounds on Reluctant Gypsy were produced by my voice; Buchla synthesizer modules were used to accomplish movement in the soundances and to modify verbal material in Autumn Signal."

Download it here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Karlheinz Stockhausen - Der Jahreslauf ( Deutsche Grammophon, 1981)

Karlheinz Stockhausen is considered one of the most important composers of 20th century and is well regarded for his innovations in electronic music. He accomplished 370 total works during his prolific career as a composer which spanned almost sixty years. There's plenty of literature about Stockhausen and his music, and lots of information on the web. You can read about his interesting and often controversial life here.

Der Jahreslauf was composed on a commission from The National Theater in Tokyo in 1977. Originally, the piece was composed for Gagaku orchestra and dancers, but it is heard on this album performed by an orchestra with European instruments. The orchestra is comprised of three harmoniums, an anvil, three piccolos, bongos, three soprano saxophones, a bass drum, harpsichord and guitar. Taken from the notes:

             "THE COURSE OF THE YEARS represents 4 musical time layers simultaneously: milleniums (3 harmoniums), centuries (anvil and 3 piccolos), decades (bongo and 3 soprano saxophones), and years (bass drum with harpsichord and guitar). Four temptations stop it, and each time an incitement starts it again. In concert performances, these temptations and incitements are heard as special events and words through loudspeakers."

I've included images of the notes in the download. Enjoy.

Paul Bley/Jimmy Giuffre/Bill Conners - Quiet Song (Improvising Artists Inc., 1975)

Canadian jazz pianist Paul Bley began his career in music at an early age. Before he was eighteen, he had founded The Montreal Jazz Workshop that brought such artists as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins to his hometown. Bley studied at Julliard from 1950-54 where he formed musical relationships with distinguished artists like Jackie McLean, Lester Young, and Charlie Mingus. In the late 50's, Bley moved to California and formed groups that included innovative players like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. In 1958, that trio, along with Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden, recorded a performance in Los Angeles that may be one of the earliest recordings of what came to be known as free jazz. In 1964, at the request of Bill Dixon, Bley joined the Jazz Composer's Guild. In 1973, he met video artist Carol Goss and the two formed Improvising Artists Inc. to feature collaborations between jazz musicians and visual artists.

Quiet Song was the first release on IAI. Bley performs on electric and acoustic piano in his signature style, blending classical, jazz, blues and avant-garde techniques. The trio plays well together, allowing a lot of space for each other to operate in. They each step in and out but occasionally meet at common grounds to create beautiful, melodic passages. There's a lot of space and, like the title infers, quiet on this album.

I find myself particularly drawn to Bley's work at this time of the year. Despite how outside he plays, he creates a feeling of calm that can especially be heard on this album and it feels like appropriate listening as the fall sets in.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jocy de Oliveira - Estórias para Voz, Instrumentos Acústicos e Eletrônicos (FIF, 1981)

Jocy de Oliveira is a Brazilian pianist, composer and multimedia artist. In her youth, she performed as a concert pianist for notable composers including John Cage. She studied with Marguerite Long in Paris and with Robert Wykes in St. Louis where she received her MA from Washington University. The pieces heard on Estórias showcase Oliveira's compositional eclecticism and skill by blending electronic instruments with voice and elements of concrete music to create collages of sound. This has been reiussed on disc by Creel Pone and is available here through Mimaroglu Music Sales. They have also provided translations from the back cover of the notes about each composition. Read while you listen and be sure to purchase a copy if you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jacques Diennet - Mante (hat ART, 1987)

Jacques Diennet is a French electronic music composer and is often considered France's pioneer of "live" digital music. He became acquainted with digital composition in the late 70's while visiting the US where he worked alongside Robert Ashley and Jon Appleton, the latter of whom introduced him to the Synclavier. Diennet can be heard playing a Synclavier II on the three compositions that make up Mante, with one composition exclusively for synthesizer. The other two pieces, "Mante" and "Facile Pour Cecile" are based around poems by French poet Christian Tarting, and feature readings of the poems over a backdrop of live instrumentation in a jazz-like format. Diennet currently serves as the Artistic Director of Ubris Studio, a company that supports the development of written and improvised electronic music performance. Thanks to Continuo for his scans, and for further reading, see his in-depth post on this album. Download it here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Richard Grayson & Tom Oberheim - Live Electronic Music (Orion, 1974)

Live Electronic Music showcases live performances of improvised classical music combined with electronic composition. Richard Grayson had been performing programs of this nature for five years prior to releasing this album. Tom Oberheim is credited simply as engineer, but both artists are responsible for the electronic aspects of the compositions. Oberheim is a famed audio engineer probably best known as the founder of Oberheim Electronics. Richard Grayson has led a studious and prestigious career as a musician, gaining respect for his "[devotion] to ...the long-lost art of classical improvisation." Though the influence is clear, not all the songs on this album are classically based. The first track starts with a toccatta theme, but the piano quickly gets lost in the processor's territory. The second to last song is an epic, thirteen minute piece styled after Terry Riley's "A Rainbow In Curved Air" and is performed exclusively on synthesizers. The other three songs bear the classical influence, with an hommage to J.S. Bach, another to Erik Satie, and lastly a piece that expresses techniques in modern composition. Enjoy.

Deuter - Silence Is The Answer (Kuckuck, 1981)

Georg Deuter, born in Germany in 1945, is widely acknowledged as a progenitor of New Age music. Deuter decided to dedicate himself to music and spiritual pursuits after a near-fatal car accident in the late 1960's. He traveled to Asia, eventually settling in India where he studied under Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Much of his music is self recorded to tape during his travels. His first album, D, was released in 1971 and is considered a krautrock classic. His subsequent releases feature motifs that have become mainstays of New Age music, i.e; long droning passages, acoustic and ethnic instrumentation, and use of nature sounds. 

Silence Is The Answer is a double LP. The first disc is comprised of droning, meditative pieces with thoughtful percussion and blissful instrumentation. It is probably intended for meditation accompaniment. The second disc, perhaps intended to represent stages in meditation, features short, heavily melodic and uptempo songs with almost prog-rock like synth lines and structures. Overall though, they maintain the sentiments of the first disc, but with more elation and less introspection. Though probably not Deuter's finest work, and almost formulaic by this time in his career, Silence Is The Answer did mark a chapter in a very interesting man's life and does instill a sense of tranquility.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Philip Perkins - Neighborhood With A Sky [Bird Variations] (Fun, 1982)

This is another fine example of musique concrète. Neighborhood With A Sky (Bird Variations), as the artist states, is comprised of "short, highly evocative audio pieces, similar in size and structure, that ...present an audioscape to the listener in much the same way as a neighborhood of buildings and streets presents itself to one walking through it." Unlike earlier musique concrète work, the intent of the album yields more accessible, almost conventional song structures. Continuo has a great review of this album and you can read it here. Philip Perkin's career in experimental music began in the late 1970's and he is still active today. He has also been involved in film and television sound production. Listen to Neighborhood With A Sky. For further reading about the artist, please visit his website here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Musique Concrète (Candide, 196?)

Pierre Schaeffer helped form Studio d'Essai de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française in France during World War II. Initially serving the French Resistance, Studio d'Essai became a hub for musical development centered around implementing electronic devices in compositions. It was from this group that musique concrète was developed. A type of electroacoustic music, musique concrète is characterized by its use of recorded sound, electronics, tape, animate and inanimate sound sources, and various manipulation techniques. The pieces heard on this album were composed by members of Groupe de Recherches de Musicales. I've included scans of the insert containing notes for each piece. Listen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

António Victorino d'Almeida - Catedral da Angústia (Decca, 1974)

Catedral da Angústia is an experimental album by Portuguese composer António Victorino d'Almeida. D'Almeida has had a fruitful career as an artist in various fields, gaining recognition as a composer, performer, author and actor. At the time of this release, he was mostly known for his work producing and hosting the television program Histórias da Música. He is recognized today for his extensive work in television, and his large body of contemporary classical compositions. Catedral da Angústia expresses d'Almeida's interest in avant-garde and musique concrète and differs greatly from his later compositions.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bill Fontana - Landscape Sculptures With Foghorns (KQED-FM, 1982)

The scope of this early piece from sound sculpture artist Bill Fontana is to create an audible map of the San Francisco Bay area. Listeners are able to hear various locations simultaneously, delayed by the distances the sound has to travel. Here is an explanation of the process, taken from the back cover-

           "In 1980, I began working with outdoor sculpture sites to explore the real time acoustic relationships existing between a sculpture site and it's surrounding landscape... Eight microphones were installed within the landscape. Then, through equalized telephone lines, the live sounds of the landscape were recreated at the sculpture site."

Different from accustomed field recordings, Landscape Sculptures allows listeners to place themselves inside their own imagined landscape. Natural and mechanical sounds slowly move in from all directions, some near, some distant and echoing. These compositions have the affect of translating topography to sound. I recommend reading along with the notes on the back cover as you listen.

John Surman - Westering Home (Island, 1972)

Jazz saxophonist John Surman established himself on the UK circuit in the mid 1960's. In the late sixties, he played alongside Barre Phillips and Stu Martin in a group called The Trio. In the early seventies, Surman started incorporating synthesizers into his work and began recording solo using overdubbing. Westering Home is the first album in this format and Surman plays saxophones, woodwinds, synthesizer, piano and percussion. It has a unique sound that represents Surman's signature modal playing style and interest in folk motifs with free jazz saxophone solos and experimental synthesizer textures. You can find it here.

Jan Steele/John Cage - Voices and Instruments (Obscure, 1976)

Voices and Instruments marked the fifth release for Brian Eno's Obscure Records. Side A features three pieces by Jan Steele that developed from works with an improvisational outfit known as F&W Hat. From the back cover-

         "[F&W Hat] was formed in 1972 at the University of York by Jan Steele, pianist Dave Jones and flautist Mike Dean. The group was directed towards playing a very quiet, repetitive form of improvised rock-based music, a principle which has to some extent survived in these compostions."

Side B contains five works by John Cage. These compositions, all written at various times throughout the the 1940's, are performed here by Richard Bernas on piano with Robert Wyatt or Carla Bley. If you aren't familiar and are interested, there is a wealth of information on the web about John Cage. The back cover offers extensive notes, including lyrics, for each piece. Thanks to Wolf Fifth for the high quality scans. Listen here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Soft Verdict - Vergessen (les disques du crépuscule, 1982)

Soft Verdict was established by Flemish composer Wim Mertens in the early 1980's. The band performed Mertens' compositions for ensembles often consisting of both acoustic and electronic instruments. Though hard to categorize, his work bears the influence of American minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass and resembles that of his contemporaries Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars. The pieces on Vergessen are melodic and repetitious, some playing with the cyclic theme common in Reich's work. Vergessen is the German word for forgotten, an apropos title consistent with the pensive, reminiscent feeling of the songs. Enjoy.

Malcolm Cecil - Radiance (Unity, 1981)

In the early 1970's, Malcolm Cecil developed the world's largest privately built synthesizer- TONTO, or The Original New Timbral Orchestra. His desire was to create a synthesizer with "multi-timbral polyphony", where each key pressed is capable of creating it's own unique sound. Along with Robert Margouleff, Cecil formed TONTO's Expanding Headband and in 1971 released Zero Time which featured TONTO exclusively. Throughout the 70's and 80's, the duo performed studio work for numerous acts, most famously Stevie Wonder.

Radiance is Cecil's only solo release. It is mostly comprised of short pieces, some of which are focused around melodic themes, with one track featuring jazz flautist and new age pioneer Paul Horn. It's a beautiful, meditative record that maintains the spiritual and science-fiction themes of New Age music while showcasing TONTO's diverse capabilities. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer (Folkways, 1976)

The Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer, also known as the Synclavier, was developed in the late 1970's by Jon Appleton with New England Digital co-founders Sydney Alonso and Cameron Jones. Heard on these four compositions, I believe, is the Synclavier I or a prototype thereof. The Synclavier I and its successor, the more commercial Synclavier II, used Frequency Modulation synthesis and were instrumental in further development of digital synthesizers.  FM synthesis creates rich and colorful sounds that, prior to it's advent, hadn't been heard. You can hear the dynamic qualities and how they differ from other early synthesizer pieces, yet still at times sounding experimental, but at others, meditative and leaning almost towards melodic.

Again, since this is a Folkways title, it is recommended that if you like the album, purchase it.

There will be more on Jon Appleton in the future. For now, enjoy.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Black Earth Percussion Group (Opus One, 1974)

I have an affinity for percussion records and I'm sure I'll be posting lots on this blog. This one from The Blackearth Percussion Group was released on Opus One records (Greenville, ME) and includes works by Lou Harrison, John Cage, William Albright, Edward Miller, Mario Bertoncini, and an incredible performance of "Apple Blossom" by Peter Garland. I've included scans of the booklet containing in-depth descriptions of each piece. Here's a quick bio taken from the back cover, of which unfortunately, I'm unable to provide a scan-

           The BLACKEARTH PERCUSSION GROUP was founded in 1972. The members are faculty artists-in-residence at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois. The quartet - Garry Kvistad, Richard Kvistad, Allen Otte, and Michael Udow - is the only full-time professional percussion group in this country, and has toured throughout the U.S. and Canada, appearing at universities, on concert series, and with symphony orchestras. Along with the numerous compositions written for them, BLACKEARTH includes in its repertoire works by members of the group, and cites "an advancement in the art of composition for percussion" as one of its main objectives. The group has previously recorded for Opus One and Advance records. A significant aspect of the group is cultivating and working with an awareness of the socio-political role of music and musicians in society.

Enjoy. More Opus One records soon.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble (Folkways, 1973)

I've chosen one of my favorite albums, the eponymous debut by The Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble, to commence this blog. Mutant Sounds has posted it in the past, but I think the link is dead, so I decided to rip a personal copy. I've also included high quality scans of the booklet.

The Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble were something of a collective, active between 1971 - 1983, based around the three musicians heard on this album and Wall Matthews. Their performances incorporated dance, sometimes with as many as fifteen members. The influence of ethnic folk music and jazz can be heard throughout, though overall the album defies categorization.

Toys and Techniques has a great post about this band with nice visuals including a video showcasing the dance accompaniment.  And there is more to be found on the band's website here.

Folkways' extensive catalog is available online. If you like this album, you should purchase it.