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andrewcsmith on 07/16/2010 at 09:00AM

Joëlle Léandre: Solo bass

provided by Joëlle Léandre (

"It's a big beast, you know--it's better to play flute," Joëlle Léandre said as she sweated through the end of her second athletic improvisation at ISSUE in June. And then seagulls cawed, and she launched into an ostinato backed by field recordings and overdubbed bass, and punctuated by ecstatic shouts from the upper range of her instrument.

Léandre was in town for the free jazz festival Vision Fest, and stopped by ISSUE to play a solo set of improvisations, John Cage, and her own compositions (all titled—and announced in a Cagean way—as "No Comment"). Léandre exploited the way that the resonance of the bass fills the room, and the way that any upper harmonics sympathetically resonate the lower strings. In her other composed work ("No Comment") she utters French phonemes and nonsense syllables, alternately grunting and spitting out infantile sounds. In each of her works, she seems to have internalized many of the experiments conducted in the avant-garde of the late 20th century, to the point where each of the improvisations or compositions is strikingly personal.

I've added all of Léandre's own compositions and improvisations from her performance, so check them out on her Artist Page. Below, you can hear the "No Comment" involving the field recordings (mentioned above).

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andrewcsmith on 07/12/2010 at 09:00AM

MV Carbon: ISSUE Artist-in-Residence

Photo by Olivia Wyatt

Brooklyn-based artist MV Carbon starts her three-month residency with a free concert at ISSUE on Saturday, featuring a couple of new works using our 15-channel speaker system. The first piece will use pre-recorded cello and synthesizers, with the addition of Carbon's homemade sculptural stringed instrument. The second, in collaboration with Steven Litt of CrudLabs, involves a step sequencer triggering solenoids creating heavy, rhythmic, industrial sounds, along with Carbon's cello, synthesizer, and tapes. These two pieces are part of an ongoing conceptual drive to Carbon's art, dealing in particular with communication, perception, paranoia, identity, and epistemology.

Her last solo performance at ISSUE was a nod to video and communication artist Nam June Paik, using a circuit-bent TV cello as an electromagnetic instrument (video after the jump). These (mis)uses of technology result in unnerving and often volatile musical materials. Yet, for its technological bend and the conceptual impulse, Carbon's work seems intensely personal and visceral. There is the conveyance at these site-specific performances that not just the music but the instrument itself is part of the art.

Check out the four tracks below, all brand new recordings by MV Carbon. I've also added some info and poetry (provided by Carbon) on the main album page. Her performance this Saturday starts at 8 p.m. in Brooklyn.

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mv carbon
andrewcsmith on 07/09/2010 at 08:45AM

Psychedelic revisitations

Cover of Bobb Trimble's album "Iron Curtain Innocence"

In celebration of this Sunday’s courtyard concert at ISSUE Project Room, we’ve got a playlist packed with a preview of the weekend’s imminent psychedelic and freak folk grab bag. Each of these artists has tons of music up on the FMA, so be sure to check them out in full—this is just a small selection.

Bobb Trimble’s two early-1980s LPs, Iron Curtain Innocence and Harvest of Dreams, were for decades sought after by collectors, who would pay hundreds of dollars for original copies. More than retro recollections of psychedelia a decade late, this opening track on Harvest of Dreams, called “Premonitions: The Fantasy,” couples seemingly easy going folk grooves with skewed melodic turns and slightly out-of-phase vocals mixed a little too low to hear well enough. The strain involved in listening, and the slight veiling of the high falsetto behind effects and other instruments makes it feel like an exercise in vulnerability.

Jason Sigal, on WFMU’s Talk’s Cheap, has more to say about this and Bobb’s early career, including a wonderful half-hour interview with the band in which Bobb and the rest of the Flying Spiders alternately reminisce about the ‘80s and plan for the next decade. In the late ‘00s, Bobb got together with some of the members of The Prefab Messiahs in a band that is now called The Flying Spiders. Gary War, another musician extending psychedelia to its furthest reaches, is on guitar, with Nick Branigan on drums, Kris Thompson on bass, and Karina DaCosta on vocals.

Check out the rest of this mix to get an idea of the many other artists on the bill. Samara Lubelski is playing with Peter Nolan (of Spectre Folk) and Helen Rush of Metal Mountains, while Loren Connors, an undeniable ISSUE Project Room mainstay, is performing with his band Haunted House after a 10-year hiatus. In addition to one of his studio albums, I’ve also added to the mix a live performance from “Blue Octave Notebooks,” a response to a Kafka text performed at ISSUE in May of 2009.

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andrewcsmith on 06/28/2010 at 12:00PM

Preparing the Past

Video still by Christy Edwards

"I often have the experience of missing the present time as it is happening," Aaron Siegel says. Siegel and Mantra Percussion were last heard on the FMA in January with "Science is Only A Sometimes Friend," but collaborated again at the beginning of this month for "Preparing the Past," with video (above) by Christy Edwards. The piece, with two vibraphones, two glockenspiels, and piano four-hands, is less a continuous thread of events than a series of stases—like sonic tableaux—that build on one another and exist simultaneously. In these three movements, the first two of which were premiered last year at Roulette, Siegel examines stages of memory and fixing of moments: recording, scrutinizing, and re-imagining.

At the core of this is the desire to look at the same event from multiple angles—that is, in fixing the event, to move through the event and re-create it as your own. But rather than attempting to move toward the truth of a memory, all of these repetitions just make the event more enigmatic. In a certain way, the repeating glockenspiel figures are evocative of writing; the second movement, Scrutiny, repeats a rising, classically unresolved chord in many different forms that all seem to be basic variations on the same event. There is no harmonic or melodic motion, and the repeated action borders on the neurotic; the scrutinized becomes inscrutable.

This is where the final movement, Re-imagining comes in. In this, the pieces break apart—each member of the ensemble has a similar but staggered line—and float separately. When they overlap it's mostly on accident, and each voice moves on its own through a series of chords. This re-synthesis is more of a enzymatic denaturing, as each individual part is left as a shred of an original thought. Listen below to the entire performance, featuring Mantra Percussion on glockenspiels and vibraphones, and Emily Manzo and Anna Dagmar on piano.

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aaron siegel, percussion
andrewcsmith on 06/21/2010 at 09:00AM

Language is the mechanism

Kenneth Gaburo

Kenneth Gaburo looked at language and music and saw enough commonalities and crosstalk to render the distinction inadequate. The two categories of communication and expression are indistinguishable in their root—the voice—and so why bother with reinforcing the divergence?

The two artists added to the FMA this morning—Larry Polansky, a composer/programmer/performer/theorist, and Chris Mann, a composer/poet/performer/linguist—both took different (but clearly related) concepts from Gaburo. Polansky often works on the level of musical systems and probabilities; the example below, "Simple Actions/Rules of Compossibility," is for a performer and computer, but the person controlling the computer has very little involvement in specific events. It is rather the systems that are being controlled, so that the changes are not to the details but rather they are on a higher level. Of course, the changes manifest themselves on the lower level—this is language—and it is these changes that are heard in the recording below. I'm leaving out an absurd amount of information here, but luckily Larry's kind enough to just put many of his recordings up on his site. He also often works with harmonic series-derived tunings, gamelan, and rode the Amiga wave the first time around. 

"Simple Actions/Rules of Compossibility" is presented here in a recording by Larry Polansky and Chris Mann, who reads a part of his long text Tuesday called "Rules of Compossibility." In this, the Amiga is essentially a responsive instrument to the sounds that it takes as input, so Mann's text is treated by the computer as sound. Yet, rather than just sound poetry, concerned with sound as its object (and stripping away a large degree of referential meaning from the text), Mann uses language as the "mechanism whereby you understand what I'm thinking better than I do (where I is defined by those changes for which I is required)." In other words (if it is possible to say the same thing in other words) language does not communicate; language reveals. Mann's text "notes (on the user as software)" is just one of the many hours of recordings he has available on his site. I've featured the first part here, but the whole thing works out to about a half hour.

Larry Polansky and Chris Mann will both be at ISSUE on Tuesday evening to talk about the work of Kenneth Gaburo, and to give performances, along with the composer and theorist David Dunn (who played last night). Facilitating the conversation will be the trumpeter Nate Wooley, so just for fun I've added some of his music to the playlist below.

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andrewcsmith on 06/18/2010 at 09:00AM

Ensemble Pamplemousse plays Ensemble Pamplemousse

The score of BLOCKS

The phrase "too many cooks in the kitchen" usually carries the following subtext: get the hell out of my kitchen. Ensemble Pamplemousse suffers from this syndrome—their ensemble has five performer-composers, and one composer-music-box-maker—but their solution has no one leaving the kitchen.

The set below, from their March 2009 performance at ISSUE Project Room, is called BLOCKS. BLOCKS is a "rearrangeable construction of elements," akin to Buckminster Fuller and Mr. Potato Head (their allusions). Chunks of music, written by each of the composer-performers, are played either simultaneously or not, either by one instrument or any other, and sometimes backward. Interspersed throughout are interludes from Rama Gottfried's music boxes, as well as other repeating ensemble segments by Gottfried.

These short segments—anywhere from two to five minutes long—are generally played a few times each, by a few different instruments. The translation from one instrument to another makes apparent the problems of writing in music; what is idiomatic for a flute may not be for mixed percussion. And yet, the "unison" of Track 17, below, ("Natacha plays Dave alongside of Andrew also playing Dave but just the first half") show that our brains rewire themselves to think not in sounds but in symbols. The rolling fluttertongue of the flute and a soft roll on a tom don't sound all that alike, but the physical parallels between the two actions join together in our minds and it seems to make sense. This concept of theme and recurrence links the entire performance so that it seems unified, even when that unification is beyond what might commonly be realized. In other words, our brains get it long before we do.

These are the kinds of concerts that Ensemble Pamplemousse puts on (and, in the case of BLOCKS, tours throughout the Northeast and Canada with). Lucky for Brooklyn, they'll be performing again tonight at ISSUE Project Room's concert celebrating the music of early musique concrète composer Luc Ferrari in a concert presented by David Grubbs. They'll be performing the New York premieres of two pieces for "Ensemble with Memorized Sounds," (written in the 1960s and 70s) where the ensemble in question is any collection of performers. The "memorized sounds" in the title is a reference to recorded media, mostly of unaltered field recordings. Ferrari also has a very comprehensive site, containing many recordings of his tape music. The fusion of unaltered, non-"composed" sound with musical performers should not be missed.

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andrewcsmith on 06/11/2010 at 09:00AM

Banjo, plus a dozen and a half strings

Photo by Lori Baily

It seems statistically improbable that we would have two entirely unrelated artists playing modified banjos (extended banjos? prepared banjos?) in the space of a few weeks, but that's how we roll. The night before Uncle Woody Sullender broke out his electro-acoustic transducer banjo, Paul Metzger brought his own techniques to the floor. Metzger plays purely acoustic, but the spirit is so close to Sullender's that they seem like a perfect pair; instead of electro-acoustic drones and resonances, Metzger has added a dozen and a half strings to his instrument. Some of these strings are added to the neck of the banjo, which seems to be set up somewhat like a twelve-string guitar; others run from the top of the banjo's drum head to the bridge, and these resonate sympathetically with his playing. The bridge also seems to be raised, as Metzger bows the instrument at times.

It is impossible to discuss Paul Metzger's music without mentioning the seeming influence of Indian raga, from the modal harmonies and gliding inflections to the way the rhythm often clips along at a steady pulse without fitting into small accented phrases. Metzger's banjo doesn't ring quite like a sitar, though--it packs the punch of something like the Afghan rubab, that fretted plucked-string instrument where the whole set of sympathetic strings vibrates at once against the same membrane as the melody strings.

But comparisons are somewhat inconsequential to Metzger's music. He has his own well-wrought world, and the most immediately apparent aspect to his music is the clarity with which he conveys it. His long, partially improvised performance "The Uses of Infinity" (out soon on Locust Music) bears some resemblance to La Monte Young's ongoing work "The Well-Tuned Piano" in that it moves among harmonic areas, contrasting clouds of sound with moments of near-stasis. Moreover, it is an immensely physical performance, as emotionally immediate as it is structured in a larger sense.

Below is the last third of the performance, which expands to roughly 20 minutes on the album.

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paul metzger, banjo
andrewcsmith on 06/10/2010 at 09:00AM

Double the reeds, double the fun

Michael Kenney's schematic of his sculpture machine

These low growls, short ecstatic bursts of energy, distant soft whispers are all something that seem like they shouldn't be within the limits of any single instrument. Katherine Young's bassoon, in harmonic counterpoint to itself, contains the whole spectrum of timbres and sounds, from the resonant open ones to the terse, dissonant multiphonics that are unstable even as single tones. This whole gamut is deployed in the service of this unmerciful instrumentation of a rock band, plus electric violin, and the orchestra expat is left to ably muscle its way through the crowd.

Not that Young is working in a cheap pastiche of rock + classical + free jazz; the ideas are all there, and it begins with the expansion and discovery of hearing the fiendish double reed sighing, shouting, whistling or humming, and almost go bel canto for a moment or two. She's content to cede the floor sometimes to her rhythm section, but when she comes back it's as another intrument, fed through reverb and distortion pedals in the top register. It's these moments of total immersion in the sound, dissociating associations and reconstructing new ones, that make the performance stand repeated listens.

Young received one of ISSUE's Emerging Artists Commission Grant for 2010, so tonight at 8:30 she'll be performing Releasing Bound Water in Green Material involving a quartet of wind and brass (Dan Peck, tuba; Nathaniel Morgan, saxophone; Jacob Wick and Brad Henkel, trumpets), trio of percussion (TimeTable: A. Lipowski, M. Gold, M. Ward), duo of synth (Jeff Snyder) and keyboard (Emily Manzo), visuals by Michael Kenney ("a sculpture that externalizes its insides, projecting memories of the objects it contains"), and, one can only assume, a bassoon. For now, though, check out the first piece from Young's performance at the Porter Records Showcase back in March, and her well acclaimed debut on that label, Further Secret Origins.

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andrewcsmith on 05/24/2010 at 10:30AM

The twenty-first century banjo

Uncle Woody Sullender at ISSUE Project Room

This here's banjo week on the ISSUE Project Room FMA page, and we're kicking off your Monday with some Uncle Woody Sullender. Woody played a concert last Saturday night, along with peace, loving and Nat Baldwin, and his sprawling improvisations can turn on a dime from Virginia fingerpicking to electronic drones. Far from your standard historical banjo fare, Woody plays a modified instrument (developed with STEIM in Amsterdam) in which a transducer essentially uses his banjo as a speaker cone for live electronic processing.

The thing about Woody's banjo playing is that at times the picking is so furiously fast that it starts to meld with and almost overtake the electronic backdrop. Other times, he brings out sparse, angular harmonics that seem like fragments more than like melody or chord progression. These electronics, coming from a transducer that essentially uses the banjo itself as a speaker cone, alternate between drones, electronic glitch noises, and sparse harmonic variations. For an instrument so associated (in popular music, at least) with the folksy strumming of the Seegers and the Sufjans, Woody plays it like it's something else.

And, yet, he also plays it like a banjo. The set begins with a minor-key chord movement, over which Woody plays the same three-note riff, which deconstructs into fragments, turning on the self-assurance of the opening phrase. The electronics—a simple filtered, distorted tone from the banjo—constantly interrupt the picking rhythms with irregularly synchopated noise. It's not as if there are two "modes," and Woody is mashing-up Virginia banjo with some Brooklyn electronic wizardry; they are fused elements of the same substance. Most importantly, it all comes as naturally as any language and, like language, contains moments of perfect ambiguity, where the sound is in both and neither of these zones.

Listen below to the first part of his three-part set. The whole thing is up on the album page, and is well worth the listen.

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andrewcsmith on 05/21/2010 at 09:30AM

Every Heaven is the Best One...

Sam Ashley, Every Heaven is the Best One and Every Hell is the Worst One

The idea is that about halfway through, Sam Ashley is no longer really playing the drums. Instead, by balancing the two sides of his body, Ashley turns himself into what he describes as a "human VU meter," or a readout of the current state of his spirit possession. In his performance of "Every Heaven is the Best One and Every Hell is the Worst One," Ashley allows himself to become possessed by a particular spirit—one he has developed a relationship with over the years. Ashley's drumming quickly becomes involuntary; as the spirit is exorcised, his movement grows more an more violent until he is free of the spirit and the performance is over. However, this doesn't mean that the spirit possession itself is violent. After the performance, Ashley said that, while the spirit was initially a threatening presence, they are now on good terms. In other words, the spirit doesn't necessarily outright command him to play louder, but they do so together.

Sam Ashley is one of the highlights of ISSUE's Month of the Ecstatic Moment, happening through all of May. Although he is likely best-known as a member of Robert Ashley's opera ensemble (in Dust, Celestial Excursions, Improvement, and others) Sam has been working for decades as an experimental mystic. His focus is making certain mystical occurances—like spirit possession, or trance more generally—audible acts. The idea is that by making these events audible, a view will be opened to "things that occur in-between the 'real world' and something else."

Here's a video of the performance, and an audio recording is below.

Sam Ashley - Every Heaven is the Best One and Every Hell is the Worst One from issueprojectroom on Vimeo.

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