Friday, January 25, 2013
(backwards) listening diary (inst.3 pt. 1)
ahhh... look deeply into the embers embedded in them thar clouds - and try to catch a faint echo of where my ears have been at, since i put the playlists together and devoured the tentet...
... 's weird... what i discovered during the weeks (and months, pretty much) when i wasn't updating the blog and rarely thought about it [ = felt guilty about it] is that people were reading it anyway; the fact that i had "abandoned" it didn't seem to matter and various posts which had been up for a while kept getting new page hits. ok, then having noticed this i had another bout of "blog drought" and that apparently caused a substantial fall in the numbers. caused it? coincided with it, at any rate. finally, i then came back here with renewed enthusiasm (for pretty much everything) and posted eleven times over the next month (18th dec- 18th jan); the previous "fallow period" - nine months comprising the second half of march up till midway through december - had realised a mere nine posts. anyway, at the end of this frantic burst of blogtivity, i had succeeded in getting the page-view count back up to where it was to begin with, i.e. the level it was at when i wasn't posting, but first started taking proper notice. this is a little strange, and i'm not sure what it tells ms, but it doesn't matter. this is because i also (re)discovered something else: that i feel so much better about myself when i am writing this.
alors on continue ... and since i've managed to cram a fair amount of music into the free space in the last thirty-six hours, and since it left me feeling subtly different from before, i thought i'd run back through it.
saturday 19th jan
1. playlist 1, trs 1-2 only: a few minutes snatched when least expected (luckily i had the ipod with me!), but attended very carefully. "birth" seems very long when listened to closely: it's fast-paced and jam-packed with narrative information. but is the narrative supplied by the saxophone, or by the drums, which change their style of attack repeatedly throughout, and end up unaccompanied? was the sax actually just providing accompaniment for the drums? - the jump or die comp. 23d (+108a) was (somewhat) detailed when i first heard it; it seems even more interesting now than it did back then. these guys really knew how to co-create edgy, fertile soundscapes from out of the textures provided in b's music; or at least if they didn't really know before, they figured out how to do it in the studio...
- with some time to myself a little later, i didn't go straight back to the list. instead i dug out a few things i had been meaning to play, starting with this one, naturally enough...
2. satoko fujii four, when we were there (2006), trs 1-7. "sandstorm" - not surprisingly with so much water under the bridge since i first heard it - is less frenetic than i remembered it, but not by much. it is definitely written and not improvised, though. and yes, it's perfect for both dresser and black, who whip and slap the music along mercilessly. other pieces don't always fully hold my attention today; the title track begins (for me, now) unpromisingly, one of those "haunting" jazzy chord-cycles which (now, always) recall EST - but ms fujii knows what to do with it to keep it listenable, displaces accents regularly and in a manner quite unpredictable, reminding me of andrew hill (who himself was not above skirting the suburbs of sentimentalism, always making sure that his intellectual treatments eschewed the descent into sentimental city full-blown). the album is clever and charming, each piece distinctly different from its predecessors; the playing is top-notch (of course) - and black and dresser do hit it off for sure.
3 - 4. frank zappa, the yellow shark, selections
- ensemble modern, greggery peccary and other persuasions, two tracks only
this was really interesting, as it shows me how far my ears have travelled in the last few years. around 2005-6, and to a lesser extent after that, i got back into zappa in a big way, having collected lots of his albums when i was younger. but i could never make much headway with the modern classical stuff, even though i suspected it was important work. moments might stand out for me, but i found the majority of it impenetrable, and it would pass and be gone before i knew it. tonight, things sounded very different.
- most of the pieces which i played on this occasion now struck me as being basically too simple (harmonically if nothing else) to be performed by an orchestra. this is a development in itself, because it's only a few years since i was listening to instrumental such as "dog breath variations" or "g-spot tornado" and marvelling at how difficult they were. and they are, if considered as pieces to be played by rock musicians (actually "...tornado" wasn't composed for musicians at all; it was put together on the synclavier for the jazz from hell album, which contains mainly music thought to be too difficult for humans to play; the ensemble modern amazed zappa during the shark rehearsals by requesting an arrangement of "...tornado", then arriving early each day to work on it *1); most of the same pieces just don't sound complex enough, or ambitious enough to be given to a modern orchestra. this is not the case with all the music, and the one piece i played twice today is an exception: "the girl in the magnesium dress", originally part of the perfect stranger (*2). this is an extremely complex piece, without doubt, so much so that the original version was not one of the compositions played by the ensemble intercontemporain, but reproduced on the synclavier alone. here, played with great care by real musicians, it's probably the only piece which fully holds my attention, and i'm therefore able to measure my own progress as a listener by the fact that i can now penetrate the music and make (some) sense of it. the rest of the tracks i play on the album seem - today at least! - to be almost facile by comparison.
the later album, made years after zappa's death, always did strike me as a bit strange. pieces which were written on the synclavier, intending to get as close as possible (not very!) to the sound of real instruments, are now played by real instruments in such a way as to sound like the synclavier. ok, so that's a generalisation; but that was always the feeling i got from it. the two tracks i played on this occasion didn't do much to dispel that memory... "put a motor in yourself", originally the opening number on civilization phaze III, was the piece i had most looked forward to hearing when the later album came out: out of all the music on phaze III, it always seemed to me to strike the best balance between complexity/ambition and (warped) melodic accessibility; and the stiffness in it, the inherent lack of rhythm was merely an inevitable by-product of the fact that it was (painstakingly!) constructed on a very expensive computer-synthesiser. - but, yep, several years on from when i last heard it, the ensemble's version sounds the way i remember it from before: as if they forgot all about restoring the missing elements and instead impetrated an orchestral arrangement which replicates exactly and precisely the synclavier version, then slavishly worked at reproducing it in the studio. ((as i seem to keep finding) listening to) it is a weird and not entirely pleasant experience.
- "mōggio", the opener on greggery peccary and originally waxed on the (maligned) man from utopia, is an old favourite of mine (from an album which i readily admit is one of fz's worst); but on this revisiting i still find it wanting, if enjoyable. part of what makes the original continue to impress is the listener's knowledge that the young (*3) steve vai is doing things on a guitar that the instrument was never designed for, executing very demanding written lines (of the type that an ambitious composer might give to a clarinetist, or to a player of mallet percussion) at maximum speed with almost complete perfection... obviously, this entire dimension (nb: not aspect) of the listening experience is lost to us in the ensemble's version. without it, again, we're back to material which is great for a (masochistic) rock band, but nowhere near ambitious enough for a serious orchestra.
thing about that, by the way, is fz actually wrote plenty of music for serious orchestras, he just didn't get the chance to hear much of it (although supposedly (*4) he did get all of it out of him, before the end). the ensemble, like zappa himself - and, more to the point, like RCA - doubtless had half an eye on making a few quid after all, by actually shifting a bit of product. a whole album full of the stuff that made kent nagano stand up straight at the thought of even looking at it would, presumably, have been expected to vanish arse-first into oblivion ;-)
5. henry threadgill's zooid, up popped the two lips, trs 1-4
aha, now... my ears weren't spoilt at all by the preceding (basic) disappointment(s), just sharpened up (*5) so that when i find myself listening to something (which i admittedly already know to be) truly intended as all-the-way intelligent art, it blows my head off. in a good way! threadgill's conception is rendered beautifully clear all at once, within a few seconds of opener "tickled pink": each voice is an organism-unto-itself within a small community, and each runs uniquely its own course through a musical territory. having such a concept so effectively realised by such dedicated and super-skilled musicians is a beautiful, beautiful thing and i am very tempted just to sign that one off right there, but
- i just can't (yet?) bring myself to do it ;-)
- but no, there's a couple of other things actually. after all, this was the first zooid album (the last make a move recording so far, everybody's mouth a book, was released around the same time), and the project went on to become the composer-arranger's (*6) main obsession for the next few years, yielding several more albums (and live performances) - all of which (studio) recordings i've heard, just not this one until now; and of course the difference is that for the first time i'm hearing this sextet, one more in the strings than the next two albums and a configuration never quite revisited even for the most recent outing. i don't know whether slimming down one was ultimately just a pragmatic "road necessity" in this day and age, but (it's inevitable that) i do notice, in the midst of moving-and-marvelling my way around the room, that the oud has the least to contribute and is ultimately logical dispensable voice.
the other thing... well, it would be fair to say that mr threadgill tends to make rather samey albums, at least as often as not. this is because he tends to take particular ideas and work through them extensively and deeply, tilting them through various vertical and horizontal permutations in the course of examining and exploring them, before moving onto something else. and, er, who the fuck doesn't? ;-)
5. parker, guy, lytton and crispell, natives and aliens tr. 6-11
again, fired up as i now am, this sounds terrific from the split-second laser hits disc... it's the one i ended up paying least attention to - partly because i expected the girls back any minute and kept thinking each track would be my last - but i still patched in and out of phase with it every 10-45 secs and it just sounded fucken ace. perhaps inevitably because of where i came in (*7), parker almost sounds superfluous to what's going on here, the interplay between marilyn crispell and barry guy being that deep and intense. still kicks bottom though :)
[within minutes of playing this, i was online reading about marilyn c. and discovered the existence of this difficult-to-find-without-getting-burned gem; few more seconds, located said item for non-larcenous price on eBay, secured purchase of same ;-) ... still haven't had a chance to play the damn thing yet mind...!] (**)
inst. 3 pt. 2 follows imminently!
(*) see first comment
* see second comment
* see third comment
* see fourth comment