Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Quirk and Charm in David Lee Myers’ Analog Electronic Soundscapes

David Lee Myers released his debut, Gravity and Its Discontents, on cassette in 1984. Since then, he has a long history of coaxing unexpected sounds out of arcane devices, which was the name he recorded under for many years. His self-styled “feedback music” is 180 degrees from the shriek or whine of an overdriven amp. It’s both lively and atmospheric, which may seem like an oxymoron until you hear it, or find out that two of his major influences are electronic pioneer Tod Dockstader – with whom Myers collaborated – and also the Beatles. 

Myers’ extensive body of work comprises analog electronic music created completely free of interference from outside frequencies – which are almost invariably the reason why an amp will howl and scream if you push it under less than ideal sonic circumstances. His aptly titled yet dynamically diverse new album Ether Music is streaming at Starkland’s Bandcamp page, and he’s making a rare live appearance this Friday night, Dec 15 at 9 PM at New York’s Experimental Intermedia, 224 Centre St. at Grand, third floor; admission is $5.

Myers ges his sounds from what he calls a Feedback Workstation, which looks like Captain Sulu’s post on the Starship Enterprise but in the shape of an upright piano. Without getting overly technical, one of Myers’ great innovations is that each of its hundreds of channels is not only linked to every other one, but also loops back on itself. Myers at the controls is the orchestrator.

The result can be surreal, or lulling and peaceful, and deliciously psychedelic. The opening track has a subtly shifting drone behind what sounds like calm, matter-of-bact footfalls around a laboratory – this particular professor is anything but mad. Rigid and Fluid Bodies starts out as a bubbly aquarium, then goes into playfully echoey, blinking R2D2 territory and morphs into deep-space whale song.

Mysers works a series of shifts in Astabilized: cold, grim post-industrial Cousin Silas-style sonics, a quasar pulse through a Martian Leslie speaker, keening drones and sputters. What’s Happening Inside Highs and Lows is a rather wry study in slow fades and echoes. shifting between lathe and harmonica timbres. Arabic Science, as Myers sees it, is a contrast between calm ambience and and lava lamp waveforms rather than anything specifically Middle Eastern.

The Dynamics of Particles is sort of a sonic counterpart to those old screensavers where the ball rises until it bounces off the top of the frame – it becomes more animated as it goes along. Echoey long-tone phrases and sputters fade out, replaced by pitchy, asymmetrical loops in Radial-Axial: imagine Terry Riley at his tranciest.

Royale Polytechnique is Myers’ On the Run, followed by Growth Cones, the only instance where the music takes on a discernible melody in the traditional western scale – but it’s more Revolution 9  than, say, A Day in the Life. Myers closes with the epic Dorsal Streaming, neatly synopsizing the album with keening lathe tones, rhythmic and ambient contrasts, a mechanical dog in heat. Turn on, tune in, you know the drill.

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December 13, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep Listening, Courtesy of Starkland

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would go to some random club just to hear a ten-year-old album playing over the PA when they could do the same thing at home without any of the stress. Last night at the delightfully laid-back new Ludlow Street new-music venue New Spectrum (lots of “news” there), Starkland Records’ Thomas Steenland and his dedicated engineering crew staged a special kind of listening party for the label’s well-loved Immersion DVD compilation – a release from 2000 that’s one of the avant garde’s alltime greatest hits – along with Phil Kline’s fascinating, landmark 2009 DVD Around the World in a Daze. The drawing card? Both recordings were played in surround sound, revealing the complete, trippy mix that most stereo systems, let alone DVD players, can’t come close to replicating. Steenland explained beforehand how he’d been intrigued by the idea of recording a high-definition surround-sound DVD, and marveled at how many composers had responded to his offer of commissions considering that when he began reaching out to them for the project, the technology to make it didn’t yet exist. Given how few times these recordings have been publicly staged – Kline’s was screened once at the old Tonic a few blocks east about ten years ago, Immersion maybe never – this was a rare opportunity to witness some deliciously clever early 21st century works exactly as their composers intended them to be heard. It was like seeing a series of black-and-white images in color for the first and maybe only time.

Hearing Pamela Z mess with the fundamental premise of the recording – via her composition Work/Live, which she said she hadn’t heard in so long that she could barely remember it – was surreal and amusing to the extreme, her tongue-in-cheek operatics not just panning between right and left but from behind, then right-center, then straight ahead. Bruce Odland’s Tank, a swaying, thinly veiled trip-hop percussion piece with washes of microtonal Ron Miles trumpet, also took on playfully unpredictable new dimensions. The effect repeated itself ad infinitum, with varying degrees of surprise, humor and intensity. Another composer in attendance, Lukas Ligeti, explained how his contribution, Propeller Island, took its title from the Jules Verne cautionary tale and its source tonalities from samples of homemade Caribbean-style steel pans. Ligeti’s signature stylistic trait is polyrhythms, which in their original context here turned out to multiply from all angles to the point where the center completely disappears, adding a welcome undercurrent of unease to this bright and attractive work. Paul Dresher’s Steel, a similarly pointillistic work, was transformed much in the same way into a bustling, cheery factory floor.

2000 White Turbulence, by Maggi Payne, was the most ominously enveloping of the bunch with its echoing cumulonimbus sonics. The most downright comedic piece, Twilight’s Dance by Paul Dolden has a punchline whose straightforwardness was made even more amusing by how un-quadrophonic it was, while Ingram Marshall’s Signs and Murmurs: A SeaSong offered more subtle revelations: that moody neoromantic piano isn’t at the seashore at all, it’s on the opposite side! The final track from the DVD was Meredith Monk’s Eclipse Variations: hearing this in its original form was something akin to being in the 21st century church where Thomas Tallis suddenly found himself teleported from his medieval sanctuary and was inspired to come up with a work to celebrate it. A Carl Stone composition was the only one that grew tiresome: its 33-RPM-at-78 conceit was fun for thirty seconds but got old quickly.

Having a primitive homemade stereo recording from the listening party for reference later on turned out to be useful, to a point, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. It would undoubtedly have been just as much fun to stick around for the entirety of the Kline DVD. Where should these works be staged next? At the Hayden Planetarium. Move over, Pink Floyd.

June 19, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Strange and Powerful Sounds on the New Keeril Makan Album

Composer Keeril Makan’s intriguing and diverse collection of works, titled Target, has been out for awhile on Starkland. Minimalist yet often absolutely massive, the pieces follow dramatically divergent trajectories. The instrumentals rise and fall, sometimes almost imperceptibly but occasionally explosively, the percussion of the Either/Or ensemble and David Shively featuring most prominently in the arrangements. There’s also a potent and politically spot-on suite of vocal pieces utilizing text which poet Jena Osman created from propaganda leaflets dropped into Afghanistan during the Bush Regime’s invasion. It’s a good bet that listeners with the sense of adventure necessary to fully enjoy this album will scatter these tracks throughout several different playlists, considering the differences between them: with its whirring overtones, the half-hour concluding piece, Resonance Alloy makes a great choice for a chillout mix, while the abrasive, keening, sometimes howling solo cello piece Zones d’Accord has the opposite effect.

The opening track, simply titled 2, is the only one of the instrumentals where the melody moves around to any great degree, and that’s only when the marimba comes in bubbling against Shively’s cymbals and Jennifer Choi’s violin atmospherics. On the other hand, the title suite of five skeletal yet sharply rhythmic songs has singer Laurie Rubin leaping in and out unpredictably, the perfectly unwavering, staccato outrage in her voice channeling the mystified shock the Afghanis must have felt as they read how Bush’s bombs falling out of the sky were just one more example of how the U.S. was there to help them. Makan and Rubin, and the ensemble California E.A.R. Unit deserve props for bringing these important works to life so evocatively.

Perhaps because it’s a scrapy, raspy piece, Zones d’Accord is recorded very quietly – so when it suddenly grows loud, it’s jarring. If that’s the effect the composer wanted to create, cellist Alex Waterman delivers that extremely successfully; however, those with headphones should be on alert. It’s definitely a wakeup call! The first track follows an elegant, mathematical architecture with the occasional allusion to jazz before finally collapsing on itself at the end in a splendid display of violence; the last is viscerally mesmerizing. How Shively managed to stay on track and maintain its perfect, pointillistic pulse without being hypnotized by the swoosh, and hum, and eerie whine of the overtones flying from his cymbals and gong is a genuine feat. Did he record this in segments? Are there overdubs? It’s impossible to tell. While the brushstrokes fall fast and precise, the swells from atmospheric to oceanic are almost unnoticeable until suddenly it’s apparent that the waves have risen and then come crashing in with a stately intensity.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amy X Neuburg & the Cello ChiXtet – The Secret Life of Subways

Bay area avant chanteuse Amy X Neuburg’s new album the Secret Life of Subways (picked up by the boundary-busting Starkland label for distribution) is disjointed, it’s rhythmically pretty much impossible to follow and for that matter pretty much impossible to follow at all unless you have headphones on. It’s also funny, and it tells a story. It’s a very ambitious, dizzying ride with a distinctly 80s feel, evocative of the first years when the avant garde was trying on a punk ethos and the line between new wave and experimental got fuzzier and fuzzier. “I’m a Vaseline lens girl,” Neuburg announces, and she’s not kidding. She may sing with a dramatic, operatic delivery but it’s never clear where she’s going – which is part of the fun.  Backed by the Cello ChiXtet – Jessica Ivry, Elaine Kreston and Elizabeth Vandervennet – she creates a loosely thematic series of surreal, theatrical, Bowie-esque vignettes and epics, some harsh and aggressive, others ambient and atmospheric to the point of wooziness.The music matches the lyrics, often in an extreme fashion, accentuating the weirdness or unease of the storyline – although just as frequently it can be comedic.

“I can’t spill this one because everybody would drown,” Neuburg states emphatically as the story begins, alternately ambient and insistently staccato. “Do not lean on the doors or you might lose your focus,” which more than telegraphs the plot, if you’re paying attention. “Too many brokers in here, too many deals on the line.” The cellos grow menacing, and Neuburg hits her octave pedal for a horror movie effect.

“Everyone knows that beautiful is the opposite of smart,” she rails cynically as the strings rise to meet her on the third track, the understatedly titled, Kate Bush-inflected Difficult. The story continues with the apprehensively scurrying, disassociative Someone Else’s Sleep and then follows a crescendo to a catchy, somewhat haunting circular theme on The Gooseneck, a series of cynical stream-of-consciousness observations on conspicuous consumption. She hits a stunning faux-Broadway vocal coda on This Loud, brings things down for the baroque-themed Be Careful and then carefully enunciates the menace and exasperation of Body Parts, a requiem that works on several levels. The somewhat self-explanatory Dada Exhibit is actually more coherent than it would seem, a study in sudden rhythmic shifts with a vividly cinematic string interlude and a funny pun at the end. The cd closes with its centerpiece, Shrapnel, a deliberately out-of-focus eulogy for a dead relationship floating on layers of vocals and an eerie choir of processed, disembodied voices at the end. There’s a sort of bonus track here, an imaginative, absolutely spot-on cover of Back in NYC by Genesis which while it resembles Rasputina far more than Peter Gabriel, maintains and even heightens the nonplussed, confrontational vibe of the original. It’s an apt choice, because fans of prime-era art-rock like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway ought to go for this album as much as the Bang on a Can crowd will. Watch this space for NYC dates.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment