Fly Pan Am – N’Écoutez Pas (Constellation, 2004)
Sun City Girls – Carnival Folklore Resurrection Vol. 11/12: Carnival Folklore Resurrection Radio (Abduction, 2004)
Gomma Workshop – Almanacco Moderno Sul Linguaggio Dei Gatti (Madcap Collective, 2004)
Hildegard Westerkamp – Into India (Earsay Productions, 2002)
Jacob ter Veldhuis - Heartbreakers (Emergo Classics, 2001)
I’ll include the reviews I want to keep, followed by my own stuff.
(re: Veldhuis, 4/9/10 by False Bread) If you’ve been wondering ‘so, besides Philip Glass & co. as well as the so-called ‘neoclassical’ bands, what’s out there that currently resists the tireless impulses of old modernism?’ here’s some music to help you answer the question. Its form: a postmodern mash-up of minimalism, melodic interventions, kitschy jazz, and voice samples in what Jacob ter Veldhuis has called ‘boombox works’. Because of them, the Dutch composer has been accused of anti-intellectualism and ‘musical terrorism’, among other charges that will certainly come to mind when facing this music. If punk had entirely come from an academy, this could’ve been its sound.
Ter Veldhuis, in this record, draws out pieces on a basis of voice loops from a wide variety of sources, from Gulf War reports or juvenile delinquency documentaries to the voice of Chet Baker. As the speech plays out and generates a certain type of timbre and rhythm, the instruments intervene with melodic passages, always fast-paced, always mirroring the form of the speech as confrontation or as pure company and adornment. The highlight of the album, “GRAB IT!” is the best example of the method, taxing the sax player enormously as the piece constantly demands him or her to keep up with the shouts of anger and the insults in the samples. The rest of the pieces mix this to varying effects, generating an interesting interplay between speech and instruments that most of the time feel like noisy exercises in pissing the ‘serious listener’ off.
And man, are they noisy! I had the fortune of experiencing the aforementioned piece live with a very skilled sax player, at a college festival that combined contemporary works with modern ones in a program that, at the very least, surprised me with its variety. So it was pretty fun and funny to have been assailed by this loud, out-of-control work almost immediately after a classical guitarist had set an initial mood with works by Ernst Krenek and Frank Martin. The rational razor of the modern had thrown the audience’s senses into deep introspection and had meticulously forged the almost mystical connection with the pre-constructed hyper present-tense when after a small break, still meditative, it was blown to pieces by high-volume sound equipment and the precise wails of alto sax.
The rest of the pieces in this album follow, more or less, a similar pattern, always giving speech a very important place among the production of sounds. They’re also inevitably loud, repetitive, and of a technical complexity that has appropriated the modernist language while having simultaneously kind of dumbed it down in an almost joking form of expression that seems to pursue no high ideal, throwing concepts and ideas around to see which ones stick (and if none do, it matters not). In this vein, I found an interesting text in the Quasar Sax Quartet webpage that I’d like to quote: “A controversial figure in certain circles, ter Veldhuis dares to stand up to what he calls the ‘washed-out avant garde’. He strives to liberate new music from its isolation by employing a direct, at times provocative idiom that spurns ‘the dissonant’, in Ter Veldhuis’ view a completely devalued means of musical expression.” Regardless of the status of our allegiance to the avant-garde, it’s at least commendable that the man expressly stands against it instead of trying to counter-follow its inheritance in some way (winking all the way to the concert hall) or altogether ignoring it.
One could argue that this enterprise could be done in a more perfected matter, but then again, if punk was the shock therapy popular music needed at the time and it was based upon non-skill, noise, killing history, and clear flaws, then the music of ter Veldhuis might not be too far off from its paradoxical purpose of bringing the avant-garde to the masses. After all, it was pretty amusing that a friend of mine, who attended that same festival and who has fairly conservative musical tastes, utterly disliked the Krenek and Martin pieces and then actually liked the ter Veldhuis one. The man could be onto something, I guess.
In the end, it’s not an album I particularly enjoy, like, or think as ‘good’ (perhaps my allegiance is still on the other side), but it might prove interesting to explore for you, our dear readers, while considering the few issues brought up in this post and the many others left out because of virtual space or sheer ignorance on my part. Listening to the first piece, at least, makes the exploration worth it. Enjoy (or not)!
(re: Gomma Workshop, 7/17/08 by FB) This may be the best music I’ll ever post, so please load it down: there are many great musicians who built a whole career upon much less ideas than the ones used in a single track of these. Here is Gomma Workshop’s first release, published in only 100 copies, and one of my all time fav. records. (I hope someone like Jim O’Rourke will download this and listen, so maybe he will decide to publish it for his fabulous Moikai label, as it happened with Nuno Canavarro).
Gomma Workhop is practically the solo project of Vittorio Demarin (collaborating with loads of bands from all over the world, but mainly working with the Madcap label), a generous and shy genius who credits all of his creatures to a Workshop comprising all of his many friends and collaborators. However here he plays almost everything, from violin to viola to guitars to piano to drums to electronics to toys to found objects to field recordings to some of the voices etc.
It’s really hard to give an idea of what you’ll find here, I could even promise to send all of his rare records and DVDs to the first one successfully describing the Genre within one word: try to imagine putting into a blender all of your favorite records, from Nick Drake to Oval, from Nino Rota to Stockhausen, and to obtain something which is still haute cuisine, and fucking amazing pop haute cuisine! This is something out of time and space, even if the title – “Modern Almanac (upon cats’ language)” – suggests the conceptual interpretation of this piece of art; if you’re interested in the music you should take a look also at the videos, a perfect counterpart dealing with all of the possible techniques (from step-one animation to digital effects) and resembling sometimes the Brothers Quay’s works, also for their multiple and complex layers of meanings. You can find them in his website and, while some sections of the site are down, you can watch the videos on youtube starting from.
Atmospheres shift from nightmares to angelic dreams, from melancholy to happiness, just like unpredictable life is (I’m pretty sure Breton and Duchamp would have gone crazy for this). Listen to it many times and with headphones, and new worlds and shades will appear each time, revealing even unexpected very-well-hidden quotes. The question is not what you look at, but what you see, and there is still so much to see and to be revealed, so much unpredictable things which will happen. So let’s keep on watching…
The remaining records are really important to me and my development as a listener. They also were chosen for this batch because of their similarity to each other on a couple levels, and their similarity to the above records. Fly Pan Am had switched to an odd combo of tape music and post-rock/krautrock type work for this record, and the tape music angle was what caught my ear. The environments, which brought up small scratches and laid them over car horns like gauze, fascinated me. Later, SCG did the same thing, albeit on a compositional level, with the record here. Moving rapidly from genre to genre, constructing imaginary narratives and environments, they created a fiction in the same way Fly Pan Am created fantastical, unrealistic sound photos. Where SCG was fictional, Westerkamp created a highly personal portrait of another place, which showed me how the same methods can create different results. It also showed me how close personal experiences of a place can be quite similar to personal imaginary places. This connection binds each of records, and I hope you’ll agree.