Music Review: CV & JAB — ZIN TAYLOR – Thoughts Of A Dot As It Travels A Surface

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Thoughts Of A Dot As It Travels A Surface

[Shelter Press; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Thoughts Of A Dot As It Travels A Surface is Christina Vantzou and John Also Bennett’s interpretation of wall drawings by the artist Zin Taylor, made for his show “Creative Writing” at Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster. In the hands of Vantzou and Bennett, Taylor’s splayed and flattened landscape of natural and almost-natural forms, a black-and-white desert of contorted cacti, becomes something like a landscape of sound, a spacious mixture of droning, buzzing, and beeping things.

Is there such a thing as a non-arbitrary performance of a graphic score, whether that happens in the relatively conservative, formalized space opened up by a solitary composer in the tradition of John Cage or, as is the case for Thoughts Of A Dot As It Travels A Surface, in public, together, and of a graphic work not strictly presented as a score? Yes and no, probably. I don’t personally think Vantzou and Bennett’s album sounds “like” Zin Taylor’s wall drawing, and I don’t know how it could. Still, the choices made by each in recording it reflect some encounter between their intuitions, their reactions to one another, and their reactions to a space transformed by Taylor. The album verifies that the place made by Taylor could, if only once and for about 43 minutes, sound like this.

Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface by CV & JAB — Zin Taylor

Vantzou and Bennett begin in a more ecological mode, faithfully evoking presences of moving water and trees on the first couple of tracks, before their performance veers in a more abstract direction, returning only once or twice to those representational figures. The breathy, delaying melody of “Large Suess Plant,” the dense low-end and forceful electronics of “Alfred Hitchcock Haze,” the gentlety of “Rock House with Door,” the resonant droning of “Nub with Three Wraps of Fabric,” and the obscure piano of “Fingers of Thought” all hold tones and textures that, even in their diversity, work in a way here that doesn’t feel random. It’s uncalculated, but natural. The result of their combination is, I think, an interesting and important example of music based on graphic material, and a piece of work that relates productively with traditions from New Age, indeterminate composition, and electroacoustic improvisation. At times, it becomes austere, matching Taylor’s drawing in its monochrome; at others, it becomes rich, differentiated, and full.

Music Review: Tomoko Sauvage – Musique Hydromantique

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Tomoko Sauvage

Musique Hydromantique

[Shelter Press; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

What is a musical instrument? Is it a self-contained object that produces noise solely according to its own inner constitution and logic (at least when operated by a musician)? Or is it a borderless, fluid medium between its surroundings and the ears of its receiver, simply one of many channels through which a particular environment manifests itself aurally?

Well, regardless of the “true” answer to this question, it seems that Tomoko Sauvage would be inclined to give a response leaning more toward the second possibility. The Paris-based composer and sound artist is known for the exploitation of a “sole” instrument, water, yet her music employs H20 via the help of a whole range of objects: porcelain bowls, suspended blocks of ice, plastic cups, and strategically placed hydrophones. Together, these various elements were combined into a single meta-instrument on her trance-inducing debut solo album, Ombrophilia, and now they’ve been brought together once again for the no-less absorbing follow-up, Musique Hydromantique, which proves to be not only a vivid deconstruction of the concept of the musical instrument, but also a meditation on the limits of artistic control and agency.

What’s most immediately striking about the scattered, balmy notes of Hydromantique is that they simultaneously do and do not sound like water. Opening piece “Clepsydra” is nearly 11 minutes of melted droplets of ice plunging randomly into the aforementioned watered bowls, yet what the underwater hydrophones pick up is often more akin to a metallophone than that characteristic “plop” of a leaky tap or a rain-sodden leaf. The effect is an unsettling or hypnotic one (depending on your mood), suggesting that the water isn’t so much being faithfully recorded as mutated, rendered into something unfamiliar and alien. It takes on a high-pitched, chiming resonance that reverberates portentously through the space in which it was “captured,” and it’s precisely because it’s transmogrified in this way, blended almost seamlessly with the tonalities of its ceramic receptacle and the capabilities of Sauvage’s microphones, that the listener is liable to suspect that what’s being heard is a kind of composite, system-instrument, rather than something more discrete such as a guitar or piano.

In other words, tracks such as “Clepsydra” raise the thorny question of where a musical instrument begins and ends, of what exactly is being expressed when someone uses an instrument to make sounds. This is brought up even more clearly on “Fortune Biscuit,” in which the air bubbles emitted into water are heard more as a fast succession of percussive, hard-edged “pops” or “taps,” or as mechanical chirruping, than as a gentle bubbling. That they sound so different to what might be expected underlines how it’s not simply water that’s doing the talking here, but also the properties of Sauvage’s recording equipment, as well as the flow of air, the atmospheric quality of the room involved, the shape of the bowls, the size and materials of the room involved, and the regularity with which she may be topping off these bowls with fresh glasses of water.

As a whole, these components result in a cascade of vaguely watery rattling and crackling, yet it’s difficult to pinpoint which of them is being represented “more” by the unnerving effervescence on display. In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint just what exactly is being represented, seeing as how so many subtle determinants and effects could have influenced how the water (and bubbles) ultimately behaved. Could air pressure be a factor? Could we be indirectly listening to a high or low temperature? Who knows, but because “Fortune Biscuit” makes it so difficult to isolate individual elements, the piece ends up raising doubts over the notion that when we hear any kind of musician perform, we’re hearing only what they intended us to hear.

And it’s this mention of what a musician may or may not intend that brings up Musique Hydromantique’s other central motif, that of the limits of artistic (or even human) control and agency. By filling a number of bowls with water, placing them in certain spaces, and recording the proceedings, Sauvage surely had at least a general vision in mind when she made the album. Yet in choosing to work with such natural materials as water and ice, it’s clear that she was opening her work up to chance and contingency, to factors that at best can only be channeled rather than fully orchestrated.

As such, a piece like “Calligraphy” becomes a confession of her own limitations and vulnerabilities, its oscillating feedback acting as an unknowable quantity she could never entirely predict, even if she were the one who voluntarily walked into a bona fide echo chamber in France to set up all her gear. Over the course of its 20 minutes, the droning reverb she helps set off undulates slowly and pregnantly, creating the discomfiting sense of an epiphany gradually coming into focus but waning just before it gains enough clarity and treble. Each of its numinous peaks and troughs, as well as its more mundane drips and drops, are foreseeable enough in the abstract, but calculating exactly when and where they’ll fall is impossible, to the point where it becomes obvious that Sauvage’s control of them is much less than complete. Indeed, by the end of the piece, they’ve taken on a life of their own, with Sauvage becoming less a composer and more a facilitator and documenter of their meditative unwinding.

Hence the title of the album, Musique Hydromantique, which alludes to the practice of divination via water, of harnessing water as a medium through which God — or at least all that which humanity can’t control and understand — might speak. Hydromancy is exactly what Sauvage performs on the album, insofar as she foregrounds the role of the non-manmade in the playing and recording of music, and shows how it’s often those things beyond our mastery and authorship that we give voice to in our very own art, rather than to any neat-and-tidy message we might want to transmit directly to our audience. Yet in highlighting this gulf between intention and execution, in demonstrating how more than human volition and action creeps into an artwork, Sauvage has made her own work only more profound and revelatory.

Tomoko Sauvage announces full album of water-bowl music Musique Hydromantique on Shelter Press

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Call me naive or uncultured or even hashtag-basic if you want — but, until today, I never thought that water in a bowl could be a valid musical instrument. Then, I learned about Tomoko Sauvage and her album Musique Hydromantique. Upon reading the album’s title, my silly brain immediately thought, “Oh wow, an entire album about the Spider-Man villain Hydroman.” But (thankfully) Musique Hydromantique is so, so much more than some asinine quip.

Sauvage fills porcelain bowls with water and amplifies them with underwater microphones, turning something that you would expect only to see under a ceiling leak, into her own kind of natural synthesizer. Drops, waves and bubbles are the tones upon which Sauvage has crafted the three tracks that make up Musique Hydromantique.

“Clepsydra” sounds like the dripping of a water-based grandfather clock (which makes sense, because the song’s title does in fact mean “water clock”). “Fortune Biscuit” draws insect and animal-esque sounds out of the combination of water and porous Terracotta ceramic. “Calligraphy” was recorded in an echo chamber in a former textile factory, its frequencies pitch-bended by way Sauvage, changing water quantities by hand. (Damn, I can’t even measure out a non-wasteful amount of water to give my puppy in the morning, and Tomoko Sauvage is manipulating sound waves by altering water levels on the fly!)

Musique Hydromantique is out October 26 via Shelter Press. Having been recorded live during the same times of day, it will make the ideal soundtrack to your late night/early morning staring-at-the-ceiling-pondering-existence sessions. There’s no pre-order info as of yet, but check out the cover art and full tracklisting down below. And, if you’re a clueless rube like me, you can watch a video of one of Tomoko Sauvage’s live performances down below. It’s all we’ve got to go on…for now. Stay tuned, Spider-Man fans!

Musique Hydromantique tracklisting:

01. Clepsydra
02. Fortune Biscuit
03. Calligraphy

Gabriel Saloman to conclude his epic Shelter Press trilogy with Movement Building Vol. 3 (but who will play him in the reboot?)

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“All good things must come to an end,” said Geoffrey Chaucer at the culmination of an especially delicious and deliberately elongated McDonalds dinner (I’m a little hazy on the historical details) — and, with the release of Movement Building Vol. 3 on September 15, Gabriel Saloman is simultaneously putting a period on both his Movement Building trilogy of albums (which began in 2014) and on a golden age of musical prolificity that began with his 2012 album Adhere on the Miasmah label. (Adhere came about not long after Saloman and Pete Swanson had announced the official dissolution of their band, Yellow Swans, and the album itself foreshadowed a series of solo efforts generally composed with contemporary dance in mind. Duh. I mean, have you attended a contemporary dance show recently? Some of that shit’s dark as fuck.)

Good times! Anyway! Saloman’s easy-breezy, minimal approach to conveying feelings of absolute dread and desperation continues on Movement Building Vol. 3 through the familiar use of “emotive bowed strings, militant percussion and searing guitar eruptions.” Separate from the independent vinyl/digital release, Shelter Press is also sponsoring 2-CD package that includes all three albums in the trilogy. Just to fuck with you, that package is out a day later on September 16; and don’t be fooled by the “three albums across two CDs” notion. Time is a fucking construct…and “content” is a total illusion! Besides, the duration of the albums makes everything possible! And the complete package is highly recommended, if you want a truly undisturbed disturbing experience.

Speaking of those sorts of unsettling adjectives, here’s a track from Vol. 3, “What Belongs To Love”:

Movement Building Vol. 3 tracklisting:

01. What Belongs To Time
02. What Belongs To Bass
03. What Belongs To You
04. What Belongs To Love
05. What Belongs To the Fire
06. What Belongs To the March
07. What Belongs To the Line
08. What Belongs To Sleep

Bellows (Nicola Ratti and Giuseppe Ielasi) announce new album Strand, then get back to whatever else they’ve got going on today

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Other than the obvious prerequisite bi-weekly trips for gelato cones, followed by rides on a two-person-per-car ferris wheel, what’s the key to maintaining a healthy artistic collaboration? As Bellows, Nicola Ratti and Giuseppe Ielasi have been working together since at least 2007, but even before their minds melded for the sake of minimalism and their own brand of EAI, Ratti testifies in an interview that the two Milanese tinkerers were amicable compatriots. There wasn’t (and hasn’t been) any real pressure to produce music together; and, when they do decide to go forward with a gig or a new Bellows release, it’s usually the simple consequence of somebody the duo is “cool with” requesting as-much. “We produce music when we want to or whenever someone interesting asks us for some new material,” Ratti says. Above all else, keeping things C H I L L seems to be the key.

And I think we can safely assume that Ratti and Ielasi must have kept things superlatively-so recently, because they’ve just announced Strand, their fifth LP as Bellows, out on Shelter Press THIS THURSDAY, June 8. In keeping with all-things-easy-and-casual, the new one was recorded in four days, with the only schematic being the established neural wirings of the two people in question — PLUS a table capable of supporting just a teency bit more equipment (analog and digital) than they’ve utilized in the past. If you’ve got a spare couple minutes, take an easygoing listen to the opening track below for a taste of the obscure fruit that’s been borne, and mosey on over here to purchase the full album. No pressure though. It’s totally your call.

Strand tracklisting:

01. (Untitled)
02. (Untitled)
03. (Untitled)
04. (Untitled)
05. (Untitled)
06. (Untitled)
07. (Untitled)
08. (Untitled)