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.