CD review: Marianne Schuppe: slow songs (Wandelweiser)

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Marianne Schuppe: slow songs

Marianne Schuppe

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Eleven songs for voice and lute by the Swiss singer and composer Marianne Schuppe. The instrumentation taps a deep historical channel, back to Dowland and beyond. But Schuppe doesn’t pluck her lute. Instead she uses e-bows to turn a melodic accompanying instrument into an environment, an ancient combination updated to reflect a contemporary preference for objects over stories. The songs are simple melodies, sometimes folklike (ballads and laments more than dances), but with words and music full of unexpected, almost surreal twists: the images used include deer, feathers, sunhats and cameras; the music little scales and motifs, subtle modal shifts. The whole fuses traditional and modern, nature and technology, such that each is indistinguishable.

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More Innova releases reviewed

Yoav Gal and Yael Kanarek: Bit by bit, cell by cell [info]

Bit By Bit, Cell By Cell: music for soprano & Atari 800XLTaking his cue from the hyperlinked, hyperreal digital landscapes of Yael Kanarek’s WorldofAwe, Yoav Gal constructs 11 sonic typographies from an old Atari 800XL, the voice of soprano Sarah Rivkins, and some alert sounds borrowed from Apple. Repeating layers of samples are deposited on top of one another until out of the cumulative weight are forced verdant valleys and hard mountain ranges. The texture is at once enveloping water and resistant granite. Intended originally for choreography – a sample video is included on this enhanced CD – it is effective, music of physical effect demanding a physical response.

Gal’s compositional technique borrows much from medieval polyphony: vocal samples stretched inside the Atari across an inhuman tessitura create possibilities for refined mensural canons, as well as a curious human-nonhuman chorus effect that can be melody, accompaniment and sonic environment all at once.

It is in this world that the Traveller of WoA finds herself in pursuit of an elusive treasure. Her journal narrates her experiences in this mysterious world; she also uses it to set down letters to an anonymous and absent lover. WoA is set in a hinterland that is both sunset and sunrise; and this is also how she comes to sign the letters. It soon becomes apparent that dusk/dawn is not the only duality that has been obliterated, as voice becomes sound, organic becomes digital, Traveller becomes landscape. It is no longer clear in this hexadecimal hallucination who these letters are from, or who they are to. In the end, as the Traveller gives herself up, bit by bit, cell by cell, to the rapture of digital oblivion, she perhaps discovers that after all, she is also the treasure she has been searching for.

It’s fairly high-concept stuff – and you can include the low-tech approach in that equation – but perfectly accessible and often quite beautiful for it.

Download “Grid” (mp3)
from “Bit By Bit, Cell By Cell: music for soprano & Atari 800XL”
by Yoav Gal & Yael Kanarek
Innova Recordings

More On This Album


Harry Partch: Enclosure 7 [info]

This DVD, the culminating part of Philip Blackburn’s series of Partch releases for Innova, is something special. It features Stephen Pouliot’s classic 1972 documentary on Partch, The Dreamer that Remains, a remastered 1971 film of Partch’s magnum opus Delusion of the Fury (with excellent sound), a 40-minute slideshow accompanying the ‘bonus album’ of Partch describing his instruments (a recording that accompanied some of the original boxsets of Delusion of the Fury), extracts from a 1960 performance of Revelation in the Courthouse Park, and a Dreamer outtake in which Partch rants against insensitive reviewers, makes some rose petal jam, and does a strange little dance. If you have any real interest in American music, unusual music, instrument manufacture, music theatre, the hobo lifstyle or jam recipes there is no good reason why you shouldn’t buy this DVD.

CD Review: Rich Woodsons’ Ellipsis: The Nail that Stands Up Gets Pounded Down

On the back it says ‘There is no improvisation on this recording’, which sounds like a manifesto to me. And inside there’s an extract of score to back this up. The CD was sent to me by Rich Woodson, and is the second album from his band Ellipsis. It’s heavy stuff, verging on big C complexity, but here scored for an avant-jazz/rock line-up of clarinet (Anthony Burr), sax (Aaron Stewart), guitar (Woodson), bass (Mat Fieldes) and drums (John Hollenbeck).

It begins with some heavy guitar growling against a loose drum pattern that shapes into a lop-sided groove of sorts. Then the horns enter with a long unison melodic built around an ascending riff, adding a new rhythmic layer. Just over a minute in, as your ears have had time to reconcile the terraced layers, the group abruptly unfurls a dense, angular polyphony in which individual lines while, never seeming to hold together, never quite cancel one another out. It’s a challenging sound, but executed with great skill and concern for balance and a texture that is both chaotic and tightly bound, and dominates the rest of the recording. Every now and then moments of sweetness break through, like cherries in a rich fruitcake – a bar or two in unison, a settling onto a single note, the faint whiff of a groove – and it is the pacing and placement of these that organise each track, and the record as a whole.

For the most part the tracks are edited together into a continuous flow. This enhances the relentless challenge of the music, but forces one to find space and form in the details. At the end of the opening track, ‘Looking for the Right Reflection’, the guitar growl and horn riffs return in a clear nod to jazz head motives, but that’s as transparent as anything gets here.

As the album proceeds, however, the contrasts and textures begin to open up: ‘It Came from Above’ has its fusion-esque moments, and its ending on a 20-second buzz of trills and flutter-tonguing is the clearest statement of arrival yet; in ‘Cerebral Love’ the tenor takes a back seat and the musical space opens up a fraction to allow some almost naive clarinet melodies to come through; in ‘Vagueness’ everything stops at one point to allow a pointillistic drum solo, and later bass and guitar even duet in regular quavers and crotchets. Moments like these – and there are many smaller ones half-obscured throughout the record – are what the ear latches onto, and on third or fourth listening provide a way into this formidable music.

However, the question that The Nail that Stands Up leaves me with returns to that back cover declaration; I can’t help thinking that this works against, rather than for, the music’s effect. Composition like this allows for a greater organisation of form, a rehearsed deployment of material that is much harder to achieve in improvisation. The playing, and the line-up is grounded in jazz, with a flexibility of rhythm and timbre that on its own makes sense, but in context left me asking at every turn where the composition finished and the performer began. ‘There is no improvisation on this recording’ makes it clear that you are going to believe at some point that there is, and makes ‘is it or isn’t it?’ a central issue. In its lightning quick transitions from tight homophony to anywhere-but-together free stylings, the music itself asks this question with almost every passing moment. While an important, and interesting issue, I have to say it risked becoming a distraction. In the end this is a rewarding album, but much more because of what the music does, rather than what it would tell you it is.