Download of the week: Gérard Grisey: Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil

Another Grisey selection, but I’m not going to apologise for that. Regular readers will know that Quatre chants is a piece with which I am very much enamoured.

Get it at inconstant sol.

And if you like this I recommend heading to the Festival Hall this Sunday, 6pm, where the Philharmonia will be playing Quatre chants for free.

Blogariddims 38: The mouth, the feet, the sound

Find out more about the Blogariddims project here and here.

You can get the mix directly here:
Or sign up for the podcast here: (see Droid’s helpful guide to podcasts for how to this).

This mix is as much a collection of recent pre-occupations as anything else.

[00:00] La Bocca, I Piedi, Il Suono: I ­ – Salvatore Sciarrino (col legno)

I’ve become a little obsessed with this piece, for alto saxophone quartet and 100 ‘peripatetic’ saxes walking around the performance space. The music is composed not only of pitches and rhythms, but the touch of fingertips on keys, the smack of lips on mouthpieces, the sound of breath, the footsteps of all those walking performers. The whole 35-minute piece is an intense close-listening experience that doesn’t really climax until the very end (see track 16 of this mix). Anyone into lower case music, Wandelweiser, all of that, needs to know Sciarrino. Although I didn’t consciously think about it this way, almost everything else on this mix grows out of this piece: there are saxophones everywhere, from Berio, Burtner and Takemitsu; there’s also one buried in Manfred Werder’s conceptual piece.

[01:38] Dulcinée Du Toboso ­ – Jean Schwarz (Celia)
[03:40] Sequenza VIIb ­ – Luciano Berio (BIS)
[07:20] Journeys on the Winds of Time: I ­ – Alan Lamb (New Albion)
[09:47] Lux Animae (Rambler edit) ­ – Horatiu Radulescu (Sub Rosa)
[16:58] … sofferte onde serene … ­ – Luigi Nono (col legno)

With its intense focus on sound in both minute detail and enveloping ambience, La Bocca makes a real connection with … sofferte onde serene …, one of my favourite Nono works. Written for the pianist Maurizio Pollini, it combines live piano with recordings of Pollini himself rehearsing the work such that it’s impossible to tell where live ends and recording begins. Every note tolls inside an echo chamber of its own past.


[19:06] The Intermediary with a Rendition of Stardust ­ – Blue Gene Tyranny (Lovely Music)
[19:38] Triple (Remix) ­ – Mark Applebaum (Innova)
[26:18] Shur ­ – Alireza Mashayekhi (Prospectives 21e siècle)
[27:05] Distance ­ – Toru Takemitsu (BIS)
[30:00] More Things in the Air than are Visible: Section 3 ­ – Christopher Fox (Metier)
[33:00] 2006/1 – Manfred Werder (skiti)
[36:06] Isle Remix ­ – Evelyn Ficarra (Critical Voices)

Fox takes the piano–tape relationship further in More Things in the Air than are Visible. The third section of the piece combines quiet piano chords that sound like a half-distracted improvisation with a tape of the outdoor ambient sounds of an English summer day – birdsong, a dog barking, traffic noise, etc. Werder’s conceptual work is a grandchild of Cage’s 4’33”: “a place, natural light, where the performer, the performers like to be. a time. (sounds)”. Ficarra turns to the radio waves of the British Isles for her sounds.

[36:33] Split Voices ­ – Matthew Burtner (Innova)
[39:19] Unheimlich Schön ­ – Luc Ferrari (Metamkine)
[43:00] Jour, Contre-jour ­ – Gérard Grisey (Accord)

Ferrari makes an extended piece from the noises – breath, lips, tongue, heartbeat – around the repeating phrase ‘uncanny beauty’. Grisey finds whole worlds in the spaces between two notes.

François Bayle - Erosphère

[43:43] La Bocca, I Piedi, Il Suono: VIII ­ – Salvatore Sciarrino (col legno)
[50:25] un fini I ­ – Mark André (live)
[50:51] Toupie dans le ciel: I ­ – François Bayle (INA-GRM)

Having returned to Sciarrino, the mix finishes off with two tracks that are complimentary opposites: André’s harp solo empties out the space around us as it takes us into the heart of a sound; Bayle dissolves that central core, spreading us thin across the universe.

Welcome – and pull up a Schaeffer

Welcome to all those arriving here from Alex’s kind words in the New Yorker this week. This isn’t really an mp3 blog (although I have posted some avant-garde mixtapes of my own in the past), but I’ve just uploaded these for someone else, so I might as well share the links here.

If you thought the Polish avant garde of the 1960s was all about Penderecki and 101 Penderecki-clones, then say hi to Boguslaw Schaeffer. Schaeffer is one of the most interesting composers to come out of that whole period in Polish music – he’s known as a playwright and graphic artist these days, and both the visual and the theatrical feed into his music. I understand he’s known in the US mostly for his Introduction to Composition (1974).

Schaeffer notation

I don’t know nearly enough of Schaeffer’s work first hand; probably the most well-known piece of is the 1966 Symphonie, which appears on those fantastically expensive Electronic Panorama LPs that Philips put out years ago. I gave it another listen today (no, I don’t have the LP, no I wouldn’t sell it if I did); it’s not that great actually, and I have a feeling the mp3 I’ve got cuts it short anyway. But here are a couple of other Schaeffer schlices:

Little Symphony: Scultura:

Recorded at the 1969 Warsaw Autumn by the Poznań PSO and Andrzej Markowski. Composed in 1960.

Quartet 2 + 2:

I’ve previously mentioned Zygmunt Krauze’s new music ensemble Warsztat Muzyczne; this is a piece Schaeffer wrote for them (they perform it here), and is a minor classic of its type in Polish music. (You might remember this from my first Blogariddims contribution.) I love it – it sounds like mayhem, but it holds together somehow to moving effect.

There’s very little writing on Schaeffer in English – Adrian Thomas’s book on Polish music is your best bet (and contains more examples of his amazing graphic notation). If you’re OK with German, then this is the book you need. This book also looks very desirable.

Classical music mp3 blogs

hills | flickr | 20th February, 2006

Finding the classical mp3 blogs so you don’t have to.

I’ve pulled some of these names from the (surely exhaustive?) list at Hype Machine, and I can’t say I’ve checked every link there – only the ones that look plausible. So if you run a classical mp3 blog called ‘Nu Metal is Rad’ and haven’t linked you, please pardon me not spotting your ironic tone, and drop me a line. I’ll see that you get your link.

First up, you all know cacophonous and Trrill – if you don’t, you should – so they’re a good place to start. Trrill is a great source for all you opera diva needs, Cacophonous for independent new music composers. I can’t be sure there’s not any overlap. (Incidentally, Cacophonous is also a great place to start looking for individual composer mp3 blogs.)

ANABlog is the unofficial blog of the Analog Arts Ensemble, and recent posts include Webern, Tippett, Maderna, and Lutosławski’s Les espaces du sommeil, which is alright by me,

Electric Strings is a relatively new blog by cellist and composer Philip Sheppard which includes a few mp3s of his music.

Dave Seidel is a ‘droney, ambient’ composer who has a sideblog, mysterybear productions where he posts his new works.

Update, 24 May 2006:

Classical Connection. A new blog, which has kicked things off in quite astonishing style. You have to go there and see (now, before the downloads run out…). Some excellent choices here so far, and exactly the kind of contemporary classical MP3 blog I hope we can see more of. Also led me to a couple more:

Le Roi s’amuse: a classical MP3 blog whose recent postings have included Ezra Sims, Morton Subotnick, Bartók, Shostakovich and Rameau.

Masterfade: less contemporary than others listed here, but with a strong line in late 19th and early 20th century repertoire; recents posts feature Bartók, Fauré, Bruckner and Stravinsky.

Update, 1 August 2006:

A Closet of Curiosities. Another of the new wave of complete out-of-print album MP3 blogs, this time with a strong line in mostly American electro-acoustica.
No doubt there are more than this, and more will emerge. So assume that this post is a work in progress…

Update, 8 February 2007:

different waters. For some reason I thought I’d already included this one, but clearly not. DW covers a wide range (from world to minimal electronica) but frequently includes modern classical, and has been quite awesome on spectralism recently.

Update, 27 May 2007:

Because of Sequenza21‘s crazy and confusing structure, Jacob Sudol’s blog is easy to overlook, but it’s actually one of the most generous of avant-garde music blogs around. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually have a homepage (told you it was a crazy and confusing structure), but here’s the most recent page from the archives, and you can navigate around from there. In any case, well worth spending some time and some bandwidth with.

Update, 17 Dec 2007: The contributors to Querbeet post a wide range of stuff, including plenty of avant garde, contemporary classical and experimental.

Update, 30 Jan 2008: Orpheus Music: the Electronic Music Time Machine posts “early electronic music that has been commercially neglected”. Lots of top stuff here.

Also: Classical – New Age – Ambient – OST. Does exactly what it says on the tin, with a heavy lean towards classical rep.

Update, 26 September 2008: Contemporary Music. Regular album-length postings of new music. Recommended. Invited readers only.

Update, 3 February 2009: Classical in the Air. Frequent postings of recorded broadcasts posted to the dimeadozen bittorrent. Seriously good. Invited readers only.

Update, 14 May 2009: StateWork. “Great performances of classical music history that are either not available anywhere (private broadcast recordings, audience recordings) or somehow unavailable and not in plans to be released commercially OR just crazily expensive and therefore out of reach of financially challenged schlepps like me.”

Crack organist/organist on crack

This was e-mailed to me today – apologies if you’ve already seen it, but it’s too good not to post. Apparently, this is from a recording of an amateur choral society’s performance of the Messiah; but the organist was a professional hired for the occasion. I hope they got their money back. To their immense credit the choir don’t flinch for a second in the face of some of the most extraordinary chords this side of Messiaen. (For full impact, this is best heard with a bit of volume.) Current thinking is that something went wrong with a digital transpose key (did they hire Van Halen’s sound engineer?), but I guess we’ll never know.

Messiahorganistoncrack.mp3 (667K mp3)

Edit: this snippet has taken on something of a life of its own since this post – hell, it’s even been YouTubed. (This video isn’t the original organist, in case you’re confused.)


As ever, someone manages to better express what I was getting at. And yet again, they’re over at k-punk. Mark’s correspondent, Jonathan JD2, nails what I was (flailingly) trying to grasp:

“If an iPod can contain 4000 songs, and improved download times, mp3 availability etc are adding to that number exponentially, who is going to have the time to notice which of the songs are the 40 or so truly jawdropping ones? Even if the vastly accelerated and expanded access to music of which 99% is and always has been shite, hasn’t irreparably blunted their critical faculties … What is being heard is: The size of the iPod’s database; the sphincter-clenchingly rapid download time; the timbre of our relationship with the screen [Paul Virilio explains this far better than I can in what he says about horizons in ‘Open Sky’]; the conflation of music with data [and its continuous arrival], such that the listener has no more a connection to a song or its performance than they have with their recycle bin.”

That’s the thing. The very nature of MP3s mean that one’s respect for them (and the poor buggers who actually make them) disappears. I tend to listen (OK, too strong a word, I know) to my iTunes stuff in the background when I’m working, usually on more-or-less random play. At the moment I’ve just had Kid606, followed by Lutoslawski, followed by the Sea Ensemble. And I do this because it’s a way of seeing the music from every possible angle, and it’s fun, and it’s easy. Yes, I’m injuring the integrity of the original full-length CDs by dislocating tracks from one another (although interestingly these three people/groups probably wouldn’t lose too much sleep over narrative discontinuities…), but hey, they’re my tracks, on my computer, and I can manipulate them how I like…

And that’s the ‘risk’ with MP3s, as I see it. Whether it’s ‘fetishism’ in the most thorough sense of the word is by the by, I think (although plenty of interesting stuff has been written on this already). What is the real issue is that the download speeds, the contemptuous ease with which iTunes can erase the narrative/structural arch of a work by redistributing its fragments (every so often I get a 2-minute chunk of Penderecki’s St Luke Passion), damage, as I say, the respect for the original work (as excess porn damages respect for contact with actual women). Jonathan’s friend who no longer plays his records through his hi-fi has lost that moment of connection with a piece of music; that moment of deliberate selection, deliberate cueing up, deliberate play.

And as I sit here, I can only hold my hands up with him – guilty as charged.

Update, 12 Sept, 2003: Jonathan now has his own blog, quarks and charms. Pay him a visit!