Jurg Frey: l'âme est sans retenue 1

I've had the Erstwhile 5 cd/ 6 hour release of l'âme est sans retenue 1 by Jürg Frey on my cd shelf for about a month.  A few weeks ago, Erstwhile's Jon Abbey posted a message on facebook "digging both the reactions and non-reactions to 'l'âme est sans retenue 1'".....which gave me an idea.  I teach a media arts class at my alma mater, Ohio University, which requires I drive between Washington, DC and Athens, Ohio 9-10 times during the August-December semester.  It's roughly 350 miles and takes between 5 1/2-6 hours each way.  I've spent much of the driving this fall listening to podcasts and occasionally music. (An appreciative nod to Jeremiah Cymerman's 5049 podcast and Jesse Goin's "Crow With No Mouth"

For my drive last week, I decided to listen only to Frey's l'âme est sans retenue 1.  The composition's six hours is made up of a range of field recordings Frey had captured in Berlin in the '90s.  The recordings fade in and out and are interspersed with varying lengths of silence.  

Fortunately for me, most of the drive from DC to Athens is scenic. It takes you out of the DC metropolitan region, north through Frederick, MD and then due west through the
Appalachian mountains of Maryland and West Virginia which gradually dip into the foothills of southeastern Ohio as you cross the Ohio River.   I began in DC traffic in chilly gray fog listening with headphones.  After about a half-hour I found myself settling into what I was hearing with my focus on the relationship of "sound" and "silence" gradually changing.  I remembered a line from what Yuko Zama wrote in her excellent Surround article about the composition:   
"Listening....evoked in me a slow transition between seasons—watching the sunlight gradually weaken and the shadows increase as the autumn deepens—conjuring a tranquil flow of time." 
 As I drove I found my thoughts wandering back in time to my own student days at Ohio U. I thought about the first music class I went to in the fall of 1979, Music 101, an "introduction to music" type class.  Eugene Wickstrom was a raspy-voiced, rather mild-mannered looking professor and doubled as a local church organist.  He played records that day; kind of an overview of what we'd be covering in the class.  He started with some familiar classics and at the end of class pulled out a Columbia recording I'd never seen titled "The Complete Works of Anton Webern".  He played "The 6 Bagatelles".  It was a new listening experience for me.  As class concluded, I asked Prof. Wickstrom about the Webern; muttering something in college freshmanese about recently listening to John Cage string quartets and finding similarity. He shrieked loudly "someone in this class has heard of John Cage!"  It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.  Years later Gene was the best man at my wedding. 

I spent all four years of college gaining knowledge of music and film I otherwise wouldn't have experienced; thanks in part to the ability to go through the large, diverse record collection in the school of music. My recollections of that past learning experience connected with something else Yuko wrote: 

 "Each stretch of sounds has slightly different impressions of texture and a sense of distance—sometimes thin or thick, sometimes close or far. These changes of perspectives and textures create an open, three-dimensional feel of space." 

I was near the West Virginia border and several hours into l'âme est sans retenue 1  when it dawned on me my college experiences in Athens, almost 40 years ago, had been crucial in setting the stage for expanding how I "heard" and my want to listen to compositions such as l'âme est sans retenue 1  that I was at that moment experiencing on my drive leading me back to Athens and, as Yuko said,  "conjuring a tranquil flow of time".  Also, there's something within this particular listening experience that makes contemplation and reflection link together.  Maybe it's the evolving nature of such lengthy duration that allows you to settle in so deeply.  I made another connection back to my college days to a Musician magazine article from the early '80s about composer Maryanne Amacher's "City-Links" series.  Amacher described 
City-Links as a way to "involve the sounding resources of 2 or more remote locations (cities or locations within a city): through electronic links music is composed, at spaces distant from each other, together in time."  The distribution channels of several of the works of the City-Links series were radio stations, which broadcasted the sounds, recorded in public space and mixed by Amacher in a studio, back into the various ways in which people were listening to the program.   I considered the way I was listening to l'âme est sans retenue 1 at that very moment....via electronic file originally sent to me via file transfer by Jon, uploaded to iTunes which was now being received via internet on my iPhoneA bit of a technological evolution from the City-Links concept of almost 40 years ago.  another Yuko thought came back to me:

"The clarity and the whiteness of silence are consistently striking, heightening our sensitivity and emerging as the essential quality of this piece. As the music gradually evolves, the power relation between sounds and silence seems to invert. Sound sections become opaque and meditative as the silence seeps into our brains, slowly expanding their white presence in our mind. This sense of inversion between sound and silence is surreal – as if our inner worlds were gradually emerging onto the surface of reality."

After almost six hours into the trip I found myself not wanting this days journey to end.   I'd enjoyed the "three dimensional feel of space", to quote Yuko, both from the sound source as well as the effect it had on my observations of the world around me.  I took keen notice of changing cloud patterns, sun and shadow, shifting topography through the Appalachians and the passing variety of landscapes.  Everything seemed to be working together.  The composition had transitioned to a peaceful tidelike ebb and flow and away from anything resembling competition between "sound" and "silence".  Another Yuko quote:

"Even though there were almost no obvious tonal music or melodies here, in several spots during the six hours, I felt as if I were hearing a hint of distant music—like a faint echo of some distant orchestral music lingering in the wind—which must have been actually emanating from the mixture of fragments of field recordings. Each time this occurred was such a breathtaking moment—a translucent mirage of warm scenery suddenly formed in our auditory sensation – just like the images of still lives in the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi’s watercolor paintings sometimes start to seem like nostalgic landscapes of autumn villages."

Upon arriving in Athens I stopped the car and removed my headphones.   I thought about another facebook comment I saw about this piece: "It's incredible. Like learning how to hear."  Call it personal nostalgia or good timing, but I felt like this composition was a catalyst in framing almost 40 years of listening experiences for me geared towards my decades long search of learning how to hear.  The influence of this days listen returned me to this physical place in Southeastern Ohio that was instrumental in starting my lifelong listening journey and left me with a sense that maybe I'll get 40 or so more years to keep at it.  


“Nocturnes and Chorales - Chorale 2” composed by Linda Catlin Smith and performed by Eve Egoyan

Last fall I started shooting footage for a to-be-determined short film about a house in Truro, Mass on Cape Cod that was immortalized as a watercolor by Edward Hopper. I'm going to be returning in a few weeks for more shooting and hopefully some time in the near future will have the film completed.  I've been listening to Linda Catlin Smith's work recently--two excellent albums in particular: "Dirt Road" on the Another Timbre label and "Thought and Desire" which is available on Bandcamp. While revisiting the Cape Cod footage, I found a connection with the composition "Nocturnes and Chorales- Chorale 2" and decided to edit some of the footage with the music.  Here is the result. 

I like listening to music for the sake of listening rather than listening to try to define it via a review. My goal in re-kindling this blog is to mention music I've been listening to in hopes you find it worth pursuing.  I'll add in reviews that I find on the mark. So, that said, I've pasted in a review by Doina Popescu that I find does the album justice.There's other info on Eve Egoyan's Bandcamp page.  

“Composer Linda Catlin Smith and pianist Eve Egoyan, two of Canada’s most accomplished and remarkable contemporary music professionals, enjoy a rare symbiosis of musical sensitivity and depth. The three performances on this CD celebrate the poetry of sound, the musical essence of the piano and the experience of listening in fresh and moving ways. Eve and Linda have a long history of working together, and we can sense the vibrant conversation and trust that have been established between composer and pianist.
“It is easy to fall under the spell of Linda Catlin Smith’s sound world, the unusual elegance of her writing and her deep intuitive connection with the piano. Her music works exceptionally well on disc where we can share the nuances magnified as Eve Egoyan hears them from the piano’s keyboard. Egoyan’s performance, which shares the multi-dimensional ranges and resonances of the music in exhilarating ways, seems to magically travel through the under-layers of our skin, gently leaving its imprint on our souls.”
– Doina Popescu


Songs About Nothing: Jason Lescalleet

Bob Burnett:  A review of "Songs About Nothing" by Jason Lescalleet (released on Erstwhile) from Volcanic Tongue that captures the release well.

Stunning double disc collection of mind-erasing loops, avant classical drone and minimal cold wave threat from Jason Lescallett, presented as a back-handed tribute to Big Black’s notorious 1992 album Songs About Fucking: Songs About Nothing is the sound of pure entropy, moving from ear-scalding feedback sculptures through nod-out minimal synth repetition through scrambled choral works and widescreen soundtrack drones. The first disc unfolds in a series of stately movements linked by a form of oblique progressive logic with an increasing atmosphere of all-out psychosis until it feels like you’re listening in on advanced surveillance electronics or experiments in sonic/psychological warfare (a quality which often marks out the most extreme Lescalleet recordings). The second disc consists of one massively extended track which expands on the ‘narrative’ feel of the first disc with the sounds of helicopter blades, distant cries, riot tones, hallucinatory/piercing upper register violence and huge blocks of eviscerated silence, with aspects of Masayoshi Urabe’s convulsive approach to orchestrating nada. A stunning release from Lescalleet, his best to date, and a set that demands to be explored repeatedly in depth. This is hardcore. Highly recommended. 


Bicycles and a Better City

"The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context. One cannot turn a blind eye on a bicycle – they must acknowledge their community, all of it."

Read more from Kasey Klimes wonderful observations here.  


The Anonymous Zone

Simon Reynell at Another Timbre has created a listening space titled The Anonymous Zone. I'll let his description stand: 

The Anonymous Zone is a new idea; a place where music can be listened to and appreciated for what it really is, not because of who made it.  Improvisation and contemporary classical music are as riddled with star systems as any other form of music, and inevitably, in spite of our best intentions, our reaction to a piece of music is partly determined by our knowledge of who is playing or has composed it.  So we give more time and attention to pieces by our favourite musicians, and – conversely – we’re inclined to quickly pass over music by people we either don’t know or assume we don’t much like.


Doug Aitken: Song 1

Bob Burnett: Doug Aitken's' 360 degree film project Song 1 will be concluding it's showing on March 20.  The filmwork has been screened nightly from sunset to midnight via 11 HD projectors on the facade of the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, DC. There's a full write up of the piece on the Hirshhorn's website.

Much has already been said about Song 1 being a groundbreaking work merging film and technology.  As a viewer my thoughts kept drifting towards James Joyce's concept of "the language of the night" used in Finnegan's Wake; a form of articulating the unconsious yet clear moments in life that may not have tangible meaning but create deep and lasting impact. The constant of Song 1 is the soundtrack; a variety of takes of the standard "I Only Have Eyes for You" mixed in with atmospheric natural sound from the environments where the images and people were shot.  The most notable version of the song is the haunting version from 1959 by The Flamingos.

For contrast, here's the version created by Beck that's also used:

In addition to sitting still and watching one section of the wall, I walked around the perimeter and took in the mid-side doppler effect of the soundscape changing from speaker to speaker. Added visual charm was the in-proximity tree branches that picked up the flicker of the projectors--not to forget the projectors themselves: large, square HD boxes emitting strong light and movement.  The surrounding trees picked up reflections of the projections as well as added dimension to the foreground.

The experience created interesting people watching too.  There were several hundred viewers sitting around the perimeter, passersby on foot self-conciously walking by seemingly not knowing what to do with themselves or comprehending what they'd stumbled across.  Some flat-out showed their lack of intellectual curiosity by ignoring the whole environment. Oh well, that's their loss.  The final takeaway for me is Song 1 came across as a strong example of art in public places being a catalyst for making something happen.   The nightly screening created a destination for what's normally a quiet part of the city.  Additionally, it rethought the use of a structure and turned art outward instead of only within its walls.


Hillman Curtis 1961-2012

Bob Burnett: I didn’t know Hillman Curtis or know specifically of his web design work or read his books.  I read this article on Design Observer earlier in the week and was struck by it.  Hillman was approximately my age when he died earlier in April of cancer.   I admire that he produced video pieces in a quiet, unaffected yet thoughtful way.  I like their nerdy normalcy—I didn’t care that they were sometimes technically a-kilter or not lit.

His webpage features a bunch of video clips.

He seemed to be a guy that took his design experience in web and print and expanded it to video stories about people just because he wanted to.  I suggest starting with the Artists Series on his web page. I liked the David Byrne/Brian Eno film because he made me interested in an album that I didn’t like when I listened to it when it came out.   The Lawrence Weiner video was another great example for me.  Mr. Weiner was all over the place and captivating at the same time.  I love the slow dolly shot up to his striking face.

Hillman Curtis did some commissioned work too—for instance a few shorts for Adobe.  He had the  huevos to do technically messy, yet engaging segments.  I’m just starting to watch the BAM Performers series. Seems he actually got a camera crew for those and there's a higher level of production aesthetic.  

I've produced and directed videos for 25 years.  There’s something nice and re-centering for me seeing this work.  It makes me not want to get simply caught up in delivering something for a client as fast as possible but to think a little bit, let a concept develop that you actually like and then make better use of the medium.