Wednesday, April 17, 2013

CD Reviews: Another Seattle Music Scene - Sunn O))), Double Yoko, Deep Listening Band

Three Seattle-connected CDs I've heard recently that have little to do with that more famous (1990’s) “Seattle scene”…

Sunn O))) – Monoliths and Dimensions

This caught me completely by surprise. I was looking for “drone music” in the online catalogue of the public library, hoping to find something in the manner of Phill Niblock that I didn’t happen to have heard. I came across this, and clicked on it just to see what it was – the unpronounceable name had piqued my interest. The notes said that it was “drone metal”. At this point, the reader will have to imagine a question mark and an exclamation point, both about two feet high, swirling in the air above my head. A fusion between drone and metal…!? Two incompatible genres if there ever were: non-commercial, unpredictable and seemingly motionless vs. highly commercial, stereotyped, belligerent…

I checked out the CD.

I listened to some of it in the car driving home from the library. It’s not exactly drone music in that it’s not really based on microtones and sustained pitches that seem not to move. However, unlike any other rock-based music that I’ve heard, it is played as slowly as possible – usually letting each guitar chord ring until it fades to near nothing (or, with the use of a limiter, doesn’t fade) before the next one is played. It has the overall aesthetic of drone music. A careful listening reveals standard rock chord progressions, at least in places. However, the time frame is altered. The slow (sometimes almost infinitely slow) tempo, and the notable absence of drums, obscure the rhythm – in fact, the “beat” is usually discarded in favor of a more impressionist wash of sound. In track two, all motion ceases twice, letting a single chime ring out. But, it all still qualifies as “metal” because of the heavy fuzz guitars, deep dark bass, and distorted vocals (sometimes with a growly “sore throat” whisper that’s only possible because of high amplification). Incidentally, those vocals are usually subsumed into the instrumental strata and are seldom understandable – and the lyrics (for those who bother to read the insert) are, mostly, refreshingly free of the usual head-banger twaddle about torture and demons.

There are little surprises here and there. During the first long track, I was sure that I was hearing a kind of "avant-garde" scratchy/noisy treble sound that is usually made with a violin (i.e. in some of Xenakis’ chamber music or Ligeti’s String Quartet no. 2). I assumed they were doing it with a guitar. But in the fourth (instrumental) track, another long one, there was no mistaking it: there are other instruments here besides the “rock band”. First, an accordion picks up the overtones of several of the guitar’s chords as they fade out (okay, the keyboard player could be doing that) but then there’s that modal trombone solo that appears… I glanced again at the notes on the insert – there is a whole list of well-known Seattle experimental and “new music” artists who took part in this recording. So, as I thought, this is not just another dime a dozen “heavy metal” CD…

Double Yoko

This is a collaboration between Beth Fleenor (see my 3/27/13 posting) and Paris Hurley. I saw their performance as this “band” a couple of years ago (see my 10/3/10 posting in my old blog), and picked up this CD at Beth’s concert (as clarinetist for Tim Root’s “Kerplunk!” project) on 3/22/13. This is not a commercially available CD, so anyone who’s interested should probably contact one of the two “Yokos”. (Yoki?) However, it is so worth listening to that I decided to review it here. It needs the exposure, though fat chance that my blog will help it much…

“Double Yoko” of course is a pun on “double yolk”. When playing together, they do seem to be two in one shell, as it were. One plays a riff, or just a single note, and the other spins an intricate and beautiful web from it, and then the roles are abruptly reversed with no pause in between…

This is a recording of seven untitled tracks made in a radio studio, for a late night “Sonarchy” live experimental music broadcast. Beth Fleenor plays clarinet and (sometimes) sings; Paris Hurley plays violin in the foreground and does tricks with old cassette players in the background. Track one begins with one of the old cassette recordings, an unidentified plucked stringed instrument (sounding like a cross between a guitar and a koto); Beth picks it up with Balkan/Navajo-tinged vocals (interesting combination!) and it goes from there. There are occasional references to the free-jazz roots of the music; track three, for example, allows a couple of animalistic screech-honk fracases over an increasingly insistent drone from Paris’ violin; later these are recycled quietly (as recorded from one of Paris’ cassette machines) under gentler murmurs by both players. Generally, though, this is “new music” at its most amiable. There are modal melodies, usually on the verge of breaking into a full-scale “classical” major key; there are little touches of Klezmer and Appalachian fiddling; there are bird-like chirps from a greatly stretched and speeded-up cassette of (probably) folk music; there are charming bells and phantom glockenspiels and snippets of radio broadcasts. The mixture is eclectic and sparse, but virtually every moment smiles at the listener. I recommend it for anyone who still thinks that experimental music has to be dark and doom-laden (it actually seldom is, but that's another matter).

Deep Listening Band – Great Howl at Town Haul

…I was there…!

They recorded DLB’s 1/19/11 concert where I was in the audience, and this is that recording, slightly edited. What follows is not a conventional concert review. The improvisatory, stream of consciousness, ambient and environmental nature of the music makes that impossible. Instead, this will be a “nonsense” poem in the manner of Finnegan’s Wake (this is actually an edited version of what I wrote after seeing the concert). I’m no James Joyce, but I’ve attempted to write similar material before – the “technique” for composing this word salad is rather like aleatory/improvisational music, involving both intuition and random chance).

Pointillistic spstuttering, trombone, voice and left, center left, righaccorion is tunedt. Oscillating dr diverse music, arts one (likthe deep listeninge siren but slower). Voldifferent from preparedume grows. Drone resolvesfrozen imDownstairs at Townprovisation, said into harmonics, multiphonrepresented in deepics (buzz) on trombonics. Wlong revereration time busy schedule ofooshes are last vestiges of speach performer arspeutters. Drone only now, seven limit system very beautiful “environmenleft hand andtal” sound. Minor key, dramany more instrumentsone on tonic; trombone onwe improvise together 3rd, 4th, 5th, generous (outinner) spaces and flat 7th. Influential unifying presence. Bell sounds from… where? Adjustable didgeridoo made Tintinnabulation. Bird ca(ck)lls, from… where? Electrand found metalonic glissando upwards. After Bells, bass trombone, diwhistling that providedgeridoo effect, low regiwas very darkster on piano. Fade to s45 second reverberationilence. Wavesounds trafThe recording enginesix two-story columnser, fic outside, audience coavailable, then silence. Surround piano – one noearly up, andte, 7th on in tromanombone, 2nd was very darkand major 3rd long blockbeautiful voist and ise andof Steve Reichian soundcistern available for. Fades, trombone mutes, ces minor 2nds, disquiet and helpedsonance, microtones, vocarecording studio! al byon the cornerpianwere all sist. Dissolves into pogreat depth toints and sputters, randsimontaneously by allom notes and noises. Toy anianessential processmals (all thbusy schedule ofree players, pianispace, in effect, ist first) digital sounds (anfoot diameter spaced listening devicesqueaks) from these dis jointed pipetoys produce humorous mishleft handculture center itandmash when processed right and scalisten intensely tottered, space sounds, ironically nrepresented in Deepo irony! Teletuon letubbies. Bye bye! (riall three composerssing notintonation). Fractral along althoughts of children’s songs for(four)most gagaku. Clicks and clatters, stAl todoock sci-fi, duck-calls, mothe nhood of distingext daynightkeys, vocalisms, howls. Blwell handles whistlingow through conch shover the last, use edge to performingconch shell as percussiomposers. The instrumentstutter scatters sounelaborate window treatmentd, adds pitto one anotherches. Loud! Wave of white noisand attentiveness differente, recedes, leavinfor conversion intog didgeridoo onAs we improvilectures, meetings, andse trombone, tranquility – then (Messiaen) aphand. The voice,ocalyptic bass trombone snintermingle. Seating of rhythm, movea collective music. s tuaccordion tunacoustic resonance of organization and relies ed differently from intimate, curved, othernstruments, betrying to seecomes free jazz. Pianist plays bell, comand off toputer scatters bell sound, acabfor dozens oflats for ecoround onec twodds threees, sharpitches, flatones, bell becommany more intenstrumentses maspace to manyny bells in different retransformative spatial modulations, gisters. Quiet! Tone clustarps, cleaning toolters indiverse music, artshighest registthe big dayer of piano again st chordrochanged by interactionne and bells, fades. S(ilenquie)till. End.

If anyone could read all of that, they’d realize that the music made by Pauline Oliveros (accordon), Stuart Dempster (trombone) and David Gamper (piano) – collectively called Deep Listening Band – is improvisational, and augmented by live computer processing. A single note (or effect) played by one player results in a refractive cavalcade of echoes from all directions, often changing in pitch. The result is alternately meditative or chaotic (sometimes both at the same time!). There is a humorous moment when they play toys as instruments: the squeaks, digital noises, bye-bye!s, and whistles from stuffed animals, teletubbies, etc., join into the computerized conversational soundscape. (This actually goes deliberately over-the-top when Halloween witch-cackles join the fray.) Titles were added for the CD: like the title of the CD, most are puns on the name of the performance venue (Town Hall, Seattle) and the word “howl” – though there is little on the CD that brings to mind a “howl”. (The exception might be the piece “Great Horned Howl”, which includes the aforementioned funny/scary sounds.) At any rate, this is a generally grand-ambient soundscape, with little bits of unexpected wit, and it is well worth a listen (or several).

…I was there…!

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