Other Music for 11-20-11

I started off this show with a bunch of solo saxophone music, inspired by listening to Travis Laplante's record a number of times in the last few weeks...

Playlist for 11-20-2011:

Scott played:
To Pianist Cecil Taylor - Anthony Braxton - For Alto
Heart Protector - Travis Laplante - Heart Protector
Fire Book Three - John Zorn - Classic Guide To Strategy, Vol. 3
cardinal-fixed-mutable - Steve Coleman - Invisible Paths First Scattering
Axieme Part 3 - Steve Lacy - Axieme
Aerobatics - Evan Parker - Saxophone Solos
Formule 2 - Daunik Lazro - Zong Book
Judges - Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges

John played:
Melvins – Blood Witch – A Senile Animal
Jesus Lizard – Whirl – Liar
Big Black – Racer-X – Hammer Party
Arab on Radar – Samurai Fight Song – The Stolen Singles
Time of Orchids – Crib Tingle to Callow – Namesake Caution
Slint – Nosferatu Man – Spiderland
Sonic Youth – Teen Age Riot – Daydream Nation
Don Caballero – Don Caballero 3 – What Burns Never Returns

Malcom played:
Tangelo – Sugarloaf – Year of Saturdays
Sonic Youth – Drunken Butterfly – Dirty
Autolux – Blanket – Future Perfect
Radiohead – 4 Minute Warning – In Rainbows (bonus)
Sigur Rós – Glósóli - Takk...
Sigur Rós – Gobbledigook - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
Sun Ra – ‘s Wonderful – At the Village Vanguard


Travis Laplante - Heart Protector

Travis Laplante - Heart Protector

Another solo tenor saxophone record review so quickly after Bertrand Denzler's "Tenor"...hey, why are you backing away from me?

Seriously, though, folks, Travis Laplante's first solo release, "Heart Protector," was just released a month ago, but it's definitely among my favorite albums of 2011, and I can easily see it hanging with the small pile of records I find myself returning to repeatedly over time. Laplante is a great player, but this music isn't about technique or combining genres or contributing to the advancement of jazz or experimental music in some clever way--this is soul and spirit racing into one another.

I've been trying to write about this record for the last two weeks, but I find myself settling into a mostly wordless meditative state within the first few phrases of the opening piece, which is also the title track. It's a multiphonics-based composition played with a warm, inviting tone, gentle articulations into each chord, and the intimacy of Laponte's breathing faithfully captured in the anticipations before each note.  It really does feel like a "heart protector." Subsequent tracks aren't as calm as the opening number, but all of them seem determined to place their listeners deep within sacred spaces.

The story of the making of this record found on Laplante's BandCamp page is a starting point for understanding the transcendent qualities of this music: ill with severe vertigo, he ultimately found his way to an acupuncturist who started him on a path toward both his own health and incorporating healing practices into his music. Since then, he has been practicing Quigong, meditating, and generally letting his energy flow as freely and widely as possible. Based on "Heart Protector" and the recent recorded efforts of his band Little Women*, his approach is working wonderfully.

"Five Points," the second composition, focuses on various trilling, tremolando, and pedal point procedures, each emphasizing a vibratory center. In a few passages that avoid the trilling action, rhythmic shifts between alternate fingerings create some phasing oscillations instead. For most of the last four sections of the album, the music deftly outlines the continuum of the electromagnetic spectrum: vibration, oscillation, frequency, pure energy.

"The Great Mother" opens side B with plaintive trumpet-like tones before hypnotizing its listeners with multiphonic chord-drones. These aren't so melodically uplifting as those of the title track, but they're very trance-inducing. The overtones shift around in ghostly fashion as the fundamental pitches move in mostly chromatic motion. In terms of vibrational energy, the relatively short physical distances between half-steps embody much more emotional potential between one another than larger leaps of fourths and fifths: the larger intervals relate to one another through simple ratios and live together most of the time as harmonic overtone companions, while half-step movements vibrate in monumental and dramatic opposition.

Repeated notes in the first half of "She Heals as She Harms" play a similar oscillatory role as the trills in "Five Points." This is probably the technical centerpiece of the album, full of dexterous runs whose flow is informed in a pointillistic fashion by the quickly-tongued pitch reiterations. Its last half is a somewhat free-form emotional release of high pitches, squeals, and trills, ending on more half-step pushing and pulling. The final composition, "The Tear Dam," is the most traditionally-played piece on the album, and as its title suggests, it seems to hold back from the instinctual emotional release so natural to the rest of the record. It builds in a dynamic swell on its primary five-note motif toward the end, hinting at another emotional flood--but this time, the Tear Dam holds.

I really love the recording quality of this album, too. At times the music is harsh, and the sound quality picks up a slight amount of high-end distortion, but that's what it sounds like standing right in front of someone playing like this. These hair-raising moments are captured while also picking up Laponte's breathing, and you can really hear the sound of the room, which I'm envisioning as a medium-sized space in an attic or garage, mostly devoid of objects. To my ears, it sounds like the kind of place where musicians tell their deepest secrets to themselves and their closest friends, and music so full of introspection and healing as this often sounds its best in these sacred spots, which themselves come alive over time with the repeated emotional and vibrational outpouring of their occupants.

Highly, highly recommended.

*Speaking of Little Women--there was a short post about their most recent album, "Throat," on KiC around a year ago. It referred to the band as "in the vein of Naked City," and as a fellow who has listened to Naked City and Little Women albums well beyond recommended daily allowances, I would make a significant distinction between Zorn's "cut-up" projects and the newer NYC bands of the 00s and 10s like Little Women and Zs. Zorn was essentially a montage composer for Naked City and the 80s "file card compositions," interested in juxtaposing styles toward the creation of cinematically evocative (or sometimes simply amusing) aural spaces. I've always gotten a much more direct emotional punch from the music of Little Women. Influences and genres may peek through, but the music operates at a much higher temperature where genre distinctions are mostly converted into pure energy. I love both approaches, but they're very different to my ears. Little Women's 2010 release "Teeth," by the way, has already enjoyed a short tenure among my shortlist of favorite records. It can be a harsh record when you first approach it, but deep within it becomes pure, sustained euphoria. If you haven't heard it, I would recommend it as a perfect companion to "Heart Protector."

--First published at Killed in Cars


Capillary Action - Capsized

Capillary Action - Capsized


Why you should probably listen to Capillary Action when you finish doing whatever it is you're doing right now

Capillary Action seems to be a relatively new project when you read recent reviews or their own biographical info: they just finished touring on their sophomore record. But there are two earlier releases that I'd hate to see disappear altogether from CapAct history. The first, 2004's "Fragments," is an electric guitar-driven instrumental record that generally settles into a style not wildly distant from 90s math rock bands like Don Caballero, though I hear some Europrog textures and South American rhythms that give it a unique voice. Looking back, there are some guitar parts whose chordal and rhythmic approach anticipate Dave Longstreth's mature synthesis of African and Latin guitar work by five years. CapAct maestro Jonathan Pfeffer was around 18 when this was released, and he started his own record label to put it out.

In 2006, CapAct went in a totally different direction with the "Cannibal Impulses" EP, a sample-based electronics/noise piece full of minute-long bursts of intensity. There were crazy videos to accompany the music, but they seem to be gone from the internet. The only sonic similarity between these "lost" CapAct records is pure charisma--Pfeffer clearly devotes himself fully to every sound he touches.

In 2007, Capillary Action was touring on Pfeffer's newest reinvention, and what seems now to be considered their official debut, "So Embarrassing." This recording found CapAct functioning as a 12-piece band with horns and strings filling out complex orchestrations that incorporate a wide range of pop, classical, and jazz influences. Pfeffer's brilliant guitar playing returned, but now in the service of his singing and lyrical prowess. Indeed, the record is very different than the two before it, and to the extent that "So Embarrassing" and "Capsized" are "songs with vocals" records, I can understand counting the pair as the beginning of a project with a specific focus.

I saw two shows on the masochistic multiyear tour for "So Embarrassing," each featuring a different 3-piece lineup of Pfeffer on vox/gtr with a drummer and keyboardist. Both were incredible shows, among my all-time favorites, though I'd have to lean slightly toward the Sam/Dan configuration I saw in Lincoln in '08. I wouldn't have thought it possible to play such a dense record convincingly as a trio, but they completely nailed it both times, opening with the punishing song "Bloody Nose" with no introduction and mostly playing without addressing the audience.

The band crashed at my house after the Lincoln '08 show. I've hosted lots of bands and had great conversations with musicians, but Pfeffer and company really impressed me with their boundless musical curiosity. I've often thought that the best musicians tend to be those who listen the most (and the most carefully), and it was clear that Pfeffer was building his own musical approach with a very clear vision while taking his participation as a listener within the larger community of music very seriously. And the talk focused on music itself rather than musical equipment or product endorsements or practice regimens, all useful things in their place but not as essential and universal. Very refreshing.

Onto "Capsized:" Capillary Action explores areas broadly related to those of "So Embarrassing," but with some important evolutionary distinctions. Compositionally, the integration of musical styles through collage and montage treatments continues, with time and tempo shifts everywhere, the energy of rock music, the harmonic richness of jazz, melodic approaches that evoke pre-WWII classical music as often as pop (think Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, Shostakovich), and a bit of lounge jazz that seems be be a natural component of Pfeffer's vocal tone and articulation style. This time around, however, significantly more tropicalia seeps into the mix, all of the instruments used are acoustic, including a switch to nylon-string guitars, and the mix sounds much cleaner. Most tracks on "Capsized" are recorded as quintet pieces, leaving more room for the music to breathe (and the arrangements also keep various instruments out of one another's primary frequency ranges more, reducing the potential for phase cancellation and stressful mixing). The percussion and drum work is also much more prominent and interesting (many kudos to Dan Sutherland for the emotional and thoughtful drumming on this record).

Lyrically, "So Embarrassing" functioned essentially as a suite, depicting uncomfortable moments in Pfeffer's life. In "Capsized," personal struggles remain part of the focus (relationship issues, rigors of heavy touring, the band's van crash), but there are also outward reflections on topics like the meaning of success, consumer culture, and our increasingly apathetic society.

"Collage and montage" doesn't give enough credit to the brilliance of these arrangements, though. Like many of my favorite bands and artists, Capillary Action is comfortable working with the resources of any discipline that the music demands. On the surface, one can discuss the myriad influences and ways they're juxtaposed, but the real work in this music happens through integration and interpretation. Most music lends itself to thorough discussion in terms of relatively circumscribed language and syntax, but this music speaks through all languages and dialects. For the philosophically inclined, this approach could be considered a sort of "metamusic" in which various musical styles impress their values and emotional content on one another in a symbolic exchange. I find myself compelled to listen this way, listening for all of the subtle relationships between the styles employed, the kinds of cultural allusions they make alone and juxtaposed, and how those ideas are advanced even further through lyrical concepts and album art choices. But on a more direct level, you can simply enjoy it as a great integration of art and pop music played with passion and respect. And be sure to catch Capillary Action live the next time they're in your town--they may be incredibly satisfying to the intellect generally, but their live show is every bit as visceral as it is cerebral.

--first published at Killed in Cars


Other Music for 11-13-11

No podcast, as mentioned below, but I'm going to continue putting playlists on here--good for my memory in planning shows, and probably a nice thing for musicians to occasionally bump into googling their projects. It's always fun to get radio plays...

Playlist for 11-13-11

Scott played:

Time Birth Spilled Blood - Dirty Projectors - Getty Address
Phanatical - Capillary Action - Capsized
Blue Suede Shoes - The Residents - The King and Eye
Balk - Zs - Arms
Winter, That’s All - Fol Chen - Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made
I Don’t Wanna Grow Up - Tom Waits - Bone Machine
Putrefiunt - Igorrr - Moisissure
We Speak in Shards - Time of Orchids - Namesake Caution
Kaine - Dominique Leone - Dominique Leone
Cataclysm - Flying Luttenbachers - Cataclysm
Undone (The Sweater Song) - Paul Bailey - Alt-Classical

John played:

Centered: tern and counting - Fromanhole - Fromanhole
criminal - arcwelder - pull
dainty jack and his amazing technicolor cloth jacket - a minor forest - flemish altruism
building taj mahal - tar - over and out
divinity of laughter - craw - map, monitor, and surge
run it - members of the press - modern day rome
so jesus was at the last supper - a minor forest - flemish altruism
lorch miller - karp - suplex
stubborn agenda - bear claw - slow speed deep owls
after the air raid - zevious - after the air raid


The short era of Other Music podcasts

Note: the following is my own opinion. My views don't necessarily reflect those of the station or the other Other Music DJs.

I received a DMCA complaint for one of the Other Music podcasts. Technically, as these things go, Google received the complaint, the contents of which have yet to be made available, which resulted in the offending post being reverted to "draft" status and the mp3 file of the show being removed as well.

Unfortunately, I had misunderstood how the DMCA applies to podcasts--as it turns out, a music show like ours would have to be posted in 5-hour blocks for no more than 10 days before removal to be compliant. It would also have to be presented in a format with only play/stop functionality. Explore this link for some of the intricacies of DMCA compliance as it relates to podcasts, if you're in the mood to get bummed.

Exceptions can be made upon agreement with copyright holders, so when we have guests on the show talking about their music or playing in the studio, I will make those broadcasts available. And I'm leaving the links available for the recent Paul Bailey interview show and the Bobbie Boob live-in-the-studio show. The other podcasts, however, are no longer linked.

I have a few observations regarding this situation, and I'd love to get a conversation going in the comments section of this thread. Please feel free to chime in:

Regardless of the letter of the law, I fail to see how 2-hour-long mp3 files, recorded at  low bit rate and transcoded from the webstream of each broadcast (and the webstream is a product paid for by the station) presented as singular long files with no track breaks, could conceivably hurt record sales for any artist. The broadcasts themselves never feature more than 2 tracks from any one artist in the course of a 2-hour show, and even if we played an album from beginning to end--which we wouldn't--the audio quality of the podcasts would be incredibly low and full of pops and crackles from transcoding.

The radio show has been on the air since the mid 90s, building an audience over time and establishing a reputation as a great "finding tool" for people who are interested in learning about creative music of the past and present. We help to expose lesser-known music to a considerably wider audience, and we spend a lot of time selecting truly exemplary music for broadcast, digging into our large personal collections and continuously researching new and old music that we want to feature. The situation is very much the opposite of trying to hurt the potential sales of creative music. I wish I had a way to compile statistics, but I can say anecdotally from the calls, letters, and Facebook comments and messages we receive that people who listen to the show do find new favorite composers and bands with our help, and they ask us for more information on music we play almost every week. And the artists featured on the show receive compensation for both the over-the-air and the live streaming audio of our broadcasts through the usual broadcast/SoundExchange channels.

Because the live broadcast of Other Music happens at a potentially inconvenient time for many of our listeners, and because people generally have busy schedules, many have requested that we offer podcasts of the show. Having fielded many of these requests myself, it's clear to me that these are people who want to find out about new and unusual musicians, and recognize the potential of our show to help them in their search. Having a podcast of the shows is not a way to get music for free for this audience--instead it is a starting point toward musical explorations which frequently result in album, digital music, and concert ticket purchases.

At minimum, the DMCA needs to be amended to take a more realistic view of podcasts and their place as promotional tools. If podcasts followed the guidelines that pertain to live-streaming audio, I can't see how they could be construed as anything but an asset to the promotion of music, especially if there were bitrate limitations applied to the products. In a deeper sense, I am frustrated with the DMCA's functionally putting podcasts of legitimate broadcasts into the same category as peer-to-peer filesharing and download blogs, and I am baffled as to why random takedown notices are still being used as a "tool" in an online environment that has for the last full decade made it possible to download virtually any record ever made. While I can't claim to have an answer for the larger problems of illicit album sharing online, it must be obvious to any observer that the law is it stands is archaic and functionally unenforcable.

--Speaking of "functionally enenforcable,"there are many free tools for recording streaming audio, including tools that can be used for "scheduled recordings" where you can set up your computer to record a streaming broadcast in your absence and listen later. I've been using Radio Recorder to make the OM podcasts, which would work well for listeners who use Apple computers. PC users can look at tools like the ones on this huge list. While not as convenient as my offering a podcast from a central location, listeners can certainly make their own recordings of the show with a minimum of trouble.

For the record, I have grand plans for this site and the radio show, and while I'm frustrated with the podcast situation, I'm not going to let it slow me down. Music has been essential to my life as long as I can remember, and I'm enjoying this opportunity to put my musical education and experience to work through reviews and interviews. In my years as a musician, composer, and performer, I spent lots of time informally reviewing and recommending albums to friends and peers--most would attest to my trapping them into extended listening sessions on multiple occasions. Now I'm excited to incorporate a more formal series of reviews and conversations into my musical activities. I'm already listening to huge volumes of music with passion and rigorous concentration, and I also love to write--it's a natural and enjoyable activity for me. So stay tuned for more reviews, interviews, and essays. A few goodies should be arriving in the next week.


Other Music, 11-6-11

OM 11-6-11: no guests this week. Actually, we had a couple of guests, but they were just visiting. It's all about the music this week.

Scott played:
  1. The brambles in starlight - Sleeps In Oysters - Lo!
  2. Dances From the Monastery Hills - Fanfare Ciocarlia vs. Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra - Balkan Brass Battle
  3. Eat Your Greens, Mr. EGG - Big Block 454 - Their coats flapped like God's chops
  4. Cognitivo - Bz Bz Ueu - Bz Bz Ueu
  5. Right Away - Pattern Is Movement - All Together
  6. Deterioration: Three - Norman Yamada - Being and Time
  7. Sore Eros - Bastien, Pierre - Mecanoid
  8. Having Smarter Babies - Xploding Plastix Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents
  9. Throat I - Little Women - Throat


Bertrand Denzler - Tenor

Solo instrumental records can be difficult to live with, but they're often worth the effort. At their best, they give us windows into the deep, lifelong relationships many performers develop with their chosen instrument over years of multi-hour practice sessions, listening, experimenting, playing with ensembles of all kinds. They can share intimacies simply impossible through performances in group settings, private experiences that many musicians have in the walls of their practice rooms and studios that even their closest musical collaborators might never hear.

And I must admit that I'm especially partial to solo sax albums. Though my "years of shedding" experiences have all been with guitars and the voice, I often feel like I was meant to play the saxophone. I love the "normal" voice of saxes, especially altos and tenors. I love the huge range in timbre that is possible, the ease of wicked vibrato, the many kinds of scale and arpeggio runs that lend themselves to nimble sheets of notes, the clarity of articulation possible, and on and on. And it's a great instrument for extended techniques: growl tones, slap tongues, multiphonics, alternate fingerings, altissimo, reed biting--I love it all. Anthony Braxton's "For Alto" is an all-time favorite album of mine, and I've been delighted to know the solo work of many others: Zorn, Abe, Lacy, Parker, Butcher, and so on. So I was delighted to receive Bertrand Denzler's "Tenor" for review. I was not familiar with Denzler's work before this disc, but I'll definitely be looking for more.

"Tenor" is made of three long tracks that were recorded on one day (and it sounds like they're probably all part of one long improvisation or composition broken into three sections for tracking convenience). Presumably this is a studio recording, with close micing in a small space. There are no effects used here, and even the tracking room gives Denzler no reverbs or delays to play with or against. It's all Tenor, all of the time.

Denzler's playing is pure patience. This is a delicate record, in effect a drone/ambient affair, and every note and extended technique is carefully executed to keep the focus on sounds produced rather than the person producing them. I don't know if this is improvisation, but it sounds very composed. There are only a few notes used on the whole record, no vibrato, no shredding Coltrane licks, and because of this I think its appeal extends beyond fans of "saxophone music." In fact, long passages of the album sound almost electronic in their careful realization.

"Filters" opens the record on a long Bb (concert Ab) that is continually teased throughout the course of its 17+ minutes. As the title implies, Denzler manipulates the pitch by adjusting his oral cavity, through alternate fingerings, and through multiphonics, creating a series of rhythmic and melodic interjections out of his fundamental note. If you're not familiar with these kinds of sounds, imagine solo Tuvan throat singing, making melodies out of overtones while the root continues to sound, and you're getting somewhere near this kind of effect. To that basic sonic approach, the alternate fingerings add quick pitch/tone adjustments that also have a rhythmic component, and some of the multiphonics evoke louder, more abrasive sounds, especially in the last third of the track. While dynamics stay within a fairly consistent range in the early part of the track, there are some louder moments in the last section as well, especially in the 12-14 minute range, where multiphonics almost sound like bowed guitar feedback at times. Many of the rhythm/filter/overtone motifs repeat and oscillate throughout the piece, creating a very composed feel. Denzler does stop to breathe, reattacking his horn again and again, but this doesn't detract from the drone music vibe for me--if anything it heightens the tension through repetition.

Earlier minutes of "Signals" continue to work with some of the same materials used in "Filters," but a few additional pitches are introduced. Occasionally tonguing effects are used to stop or flutter the pitches, sometimes while they're also being manipulated through multiphonics. A few very high pitches appear around the 10 minute mark (the "signals?") which reappear a few more times throughout the piece.

Like "Filters," "Airtube" is a fairly literal description of its music--this piece works with breathing and sucking sounds, sometimes with different keys depressed to change the size/resonance of the instrument, slaptongues that violently and percussively pop through the horn, overblows, etc. This piece moves away from the drone/ambient implications of the first two tracks toward a music steeped in almost industrial sounding rhythms. It also uses the widest dynamic range of the album, with incredibly loud moments and others that are almost inaudible. There are some particularly stunning moments that seem to be produced by following hard slaptongues with extended breathing sounds--I've never heard anything quite like it.

Obviously this kind of music isn't for everyone, but for readers of KiC who like EAI and drone music while shuddering at the potential "macho jazz" implications of a solo sax album, this album will be a pleasant surprise.

--first published at Killed In Cars