Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Cyril Bondi - euhesma, 2017 (Edition Wandelweiser)

Issued under Bondi's name, he's joined by his Diatribes partner D'Incise on this composition, the former playing Indian harmonium, melodica, harmonica and pitch pipes, the latter Indian harmonium, electric organ and melodica. From the instrumentation alone, you get the idea that you're going to be experiencing, among other things, some rich drone-oriented music and yes, that's one aspect of 'euhesma, 2017'. Euhesma, incidentally, is a genus of bee and one wonders whether at least part of the piece is a meditation on that species' apparent decline in the world. On the back cover of the disc,"(apocrita 3)" is appended to the title, apocrita being a suborder of Hymenoptera that includes wasps, bees and ants. The interior of the CD package bears a difficult-to-define photographic image that seems to be an overhanging eave constructed from interlocking pieces of wood.

I suppose slowed down bee buzzing could be a reference as well and it's a tempting one especially as light clattering (presumably from the pedals of the harmoniums) that occur throughout but more audibly toward the work's conclusion summon up, at least to these ears, the hyper-amplified clicking of apian legs and antennae. Bur possible programmatic allusions aside, we have a wonderful series of overlapping drones from subtly different sources. Over the course of the work, there's a (very) gradual (and happily inconsistent) densification of tones, going from relatively sparse with spaces left between sounds to the last several minutes where there's almost a fanfare-like effect achieved. The tones are always transparent, though never gauzy--I'm sorely tempted to call them honey-like--evincing a wide array of floral pollens. The tones remain within a circumscribed range, the better to appreciate their variations, and overlap in irregular, consistently fascinating ways. And there's just enough sourness applied to forestall any worries of the overly harmonious. It ends simply, with no fanfare at all.

A marvelous recording.

Hermann Meier - works for piano solo 1949 - 1987 (Edition Wandelweiser)

In 2000, Edition Wandelweiser released a recording of Meier's music, "Works for Solo Piano" performed by Dominik Blum. The current release comprises the complete solo piano work of Swiss-born Meier (1906 - 2002), once again recorded by Blum, this time in 2017.

The pieces on this 2-CD set date from 1948 to 1987 with much of it from the earlier portion of that period (just two pieces from 1968, one from 1987) and they range in duration from a minute (oddly listed here as 0' 60") to over twenty-six. They're not presented chronologically. On the surface, and perhaps beyond that, one might think that the music is somewhat out of place in the Wandelweiser catalog, though one piece is dedicated to Urs Peter Schneider, who has several releases on the label. Meier apparently developed a kind of graphic scoring system (image below) though it's not indicated whether or not this was in use for any of the compositions heard here.

I don't know nearly enough about this area of music--post-twelve tone structures, etc.--to pretend to be able to comment even semi-intelligently about it and can only offer my impressions. The works from the mid-50s, like "Klavierstück" (1956) seem rigorous, forthright, even strutting in nature, quite volcanic and jagged, very dense. The work that follows, "Klavierstück für Charles Dobler" from twelve years later, while still extremely forceful, seems to allow for a bit more breathing room--some cloudy chords midway through are wonderful--and to at least allude to more pastoral possibilities. Actually, the earliest composition, the three-part "Sonata für Klavier" (1948-49) also seems to retain vestiges of a more Romantic approach. Perhaps there was a "progression" into the severity of the 50s, maybe influence of Darmstadt, and then a mild retreat? Then again, the one piece played here twice, to close out each disc, "Zwei Klavierstück für Lilo Mathys" (1955-56) has its share of space and delicacy intermixed with harsher thrusts, so I imagine the notion of Meier's "progress" is more complicated than that.

The previously mentioned minute-long "Kleine elegie für Gaby Stebler" (1968) floats dreamily--stunning. It somehow makes me want to hear any work by Meier for chamber ensemble. The work dedicated to Schneider dates from 1987 and while still as spiky as anything else in this collection, seems to refer, if obliquely, to song forms with melodic fragments buried beneath a rough and scabby surface; reminds me, slightly, of some of Rzewski's work from around the same period. The restatement of "Zwei Klavierstücke..." is delightful, stressing a series of staccato moments, allowing them to hang in space briefly, like icicles.

Blum's playing is brilliant throughout, bright and percussive, scalpel-like. I'd love to hear him performing other work but don't see anything else currently available,

As said, the music falls outside my normal ambit but, given that, I throughly enjoyed it. Would be happy to get the opinions of those more conversant with this area.

Michael Winter - approximating omega (Edition Wandelweiser)

If you look closely at the above image, you'll see a lengthy binary string. This is a subset of a "maximally complex, incomputable number" known as Chaitin's Constant, or "omega", after the mathematician Gregory Chaitin. Michael Winter has used this string, in a manner far beyond my ability to comprehend, as a seed for his piece, "for gregory chaitin", one of two presented here.

The first piece, "approximating omega", runs over 33 minutes and is divided into two fairly equal halves. Underneath it all, there are samples from 36 musicians, many of whose names will be familiar to fans of new music (I even recognized one: a sliver of Tom Johnson's "The Chord Catalog" as played by Samuel Vriezen). Over this, in the first half of the piece, we hear the voice of Muirgen Éléonore Gourgues reading selections from a text by Chaikin, from his book, "The Limits of Mathematics". The text is a set of rules and definitions, not exactly repetitive but self-similar enough to achieve a level of overall sameness. It's spoken flatly, as if done for an audio book and also, to these ears, sounds ever so slightly enhanced or smoothed, generating something of an artificial tinge, though perhaps not. Its boundaries are also often clipped, blipping into existence from brief silences. The sounds beneath vary a good bit, maybe more electronic than otherwise, seeming to roughly correspond to the length of each text section or sentence. Also, somewhere down there, we might be hearing cellist Judith Hamann, who emerges clearly and suddenly during the work's second half. It's a welcome entry, as I was beginning to find the spoken part somewhat tedious. But suddenly, over metallic clangs and tinkles, there's a wonderfully rich bowed cello (or multiple celli, or some other sounds from somewhere) that entirely wash away the classroom and reveal a surging undercurrent, twining and coursing. It flows on with subtle variations (maybe some melodica action?) over shifting sets of metals and electronics, very beautiful, endlessly entrancing. Very much a yin/yang kind of composition.

Not having any idea of exactly how Chaitin's Constant was used in the other work, a solo piano piece with Winter at the keyboard, I can simply listen to the outcome and describe it. I say "solo piano" but there is definitely electronic involvement--the first bright, single note is struck and held, undiminished, for some five minutes, at which point it's joined by a much lower note that is allowed to decay naturally. Subsequent notes, apparently from a prepared piano and perhaps electronically modified themselves appear in a non-obvious pattern, though I suspect the binary array mentioned earlier has something to do with it. That initial note carries throughout and, after five minutes of those lower notes, once again exists as the sole component, a pure tone (although on headphones, my ears pick up subtle variations, maybe just artifacts of my system) that ends with an abrupt *plink*.

An intriguing work and an interesting album overall. I may not be 100% convinced by this particular usage of math-related material, but it's certainly worth a listen and generates curiosity on my part for hearing further work from Winter.

Edition Wandelweiser
Also available from Erst Dist

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