rare and forgotten experimental music

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pauline Oliveros - The Well and the Gentle

Pauline Oliveros is one of the earliest composers linked to the minimalist movement, having worked with Terry Riley beginning in the late 1950s. In San Francisco, she co-founded the famous San Francisco Tape Music Centre with Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, William Maginnis and Tony Martin, creating one of the first electronic music studios in North America, and one of the only ones which was not affiliated with a university.

Oliveros began composing primarily electronic music, with early Buchla synthesizers, tape, and various home-made and appropriated electronic equipment. In the 1980s she developed her theory of Deep Listening, and lately has been primarily been playing accordion with some electronic processing, which she calls the Expanded Instrument System.

The first three pieces ("The Well", "The Gentle", and "The Well/The Gentle") all feature Oliveros performing with the Relache ensemble, here also featuring fantastic accordionist Guy Klucevsek. Most of Oliveros' recorded works are her solo playing or small groups (like Deep Listening Band, Carrier Band), so it's great to hear her here in a larger group setting.

"The Well" is a slowly building, droney piece, featuring prominent wordless vocals from singer Barbara Noska. According to the notes, the piece is something of a guided improvisation, with Oliveros conducting the group, and using a pre-determined pitch group.

"The Gentle" is a rather unique piece in Oliveros' canon in that it's very rhythmic. It begins with a basic woodblock beat which continues throughout the piece, and all the players follow the rhythm throughout. It sounds very typically minimalist, in a way, with its insistent continuous pulse. Beautiful piece, and completely unlike any of her other work that I've heard.

The set goes on with "The Well/The Gentle", a shorter, combined version of the first two tracks, which segue nicely from one section to the next.

The rest of the set features some excellent solo accordion and voice pieces from Oliveros, recorded in a giant empty water reservoir in Cologne. Similar, though somewhat more melodic than her later Deep Listening Band work, much of which was recorded in a reservoir in Washington state. The extreme natural reverb washes everything out into a beautiful drone.

This here 2LP set was released in 1985 on the venerable Hat Hut label. About a year ago I saw Oliveros give a talk at my university and she mentioned that Hat Hut was going to be rereleasing is on CD soon. I have yet to see any other evidence of that, and have been checking their website frequently, but I sure do hope that's the case. If they do rerelease it though, they'll probably cut some tracks to fit the 2LP onto one CD (total time is 86 minutes) as they have done many times before. In which case, this rip still won't be totally pointless.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Updates, again

Again, sorry for the long time without updates. I'm in school finals now, but should be finished-ish soon, and should be able to get some stuff up sometime in December. Next things coming up are probably Laurie Spiegel's "Expanding Universe" & Pauline Oliveros' amazing, stupidly out of print 2LP "The Well and the Gentle". Stay tuned

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ingram Marshall - The Fragility Cycles

Ingram Marshall has been active since the mid 70s, and this here is his first album. He's one of the earlier second-generation minimalists, along with John Adams, and studied under early electronic music greats Vladimir Ussachevsky and Morton Subotnick.

This LP was recorded in 1977 (at Charlemagne Palestine's New York City loft!), and released on Marshall's own IBU records.

The Fragility Cycles was a semi-improvised piece for live performance, performed solo by Marshall. It's played on gambuh (a balinese bamboo flute), Tcherepnin synthesizer, tape, voice, a delay system, and some percussion instruments. The end result is a beautiful, droning swirl of sound. The piece is very textural and slow, with sounds meshing with one another beautifully.

Marshall has continued to explore fairly similar sounds, his relatively well-known piece "Fog Tropes" for brass sextet is a beautiful, droning classic. I've got a couple of more recent CDs of his, and it's all excellent, definitely worth checking out.

I believe some of the music from this LP has been rereleased on CD on IKON and Other Early Works on New World records, but I don't think it has the entire Fragility cycles album, which is a shame because the whole thing flows beautifully as one piece of music.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alvin Curran - Fiori Chiari Fiori Oscuri

Alvin Curran was one of the members of the Musica Elettronica Viva collective, along with Fred Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum and others.

Curran's first solo album, Songs and Views of the Magnetic Garden, was originally released in 1975, and consisted of largely improvised live electronic and acoustic drone music. Fiori Chiari Fiori Oscuri was released a short while later, and continues in a similar vein, with more soundscapey tapes, vintage synths, and acoustic instruments.

Side one starts with recordings of a cat purring, and then goes through a long series of electronic synthy drone bits, with occasional soundscape recordings underneath the synths.
Side two goes through a lot of change in its 28 minutes, starting with Alexis Rzewski speaking (I'm guessing he was Fred's young son). It goes into some toy piano, then quite a bit of super-fast minimalist piano playing, in the vein of LaMonte Young & Charlemagne Palestine's piano music. The piece ends on some nice improvised jazzy piano, which fades into electronic chimes and tapes of dogs barking.

While Songs and Views was rereleased on Catalyst, a subsidiary of BMG, in the mid-90s, Fiori Chiari has remained out of print for the past 30 + years, never released digitally. Shame. It would be really great if someone out there collected all of these 70s Curran LPs together and rereleased them.

New World records has, in fact, collected all of Curran's 70s LPs and rereleased them, in a 3CD set. Looks amazing. Took down the download link since this is now commercially available and I don't want to bite into their sales. Go check out the set HERE

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Good to see some people are actually getting to this site & downloading the music. I've been away for a few weeks but now I'm back & plan on posting some more music.. Once I get into the swing of things I'll try to be posting at least one entry per week. BTW, any suggestions on good places on the web to promote this here blog would be appreciated. I haven't quite figured this blogging thing out yet.

upcoming entries include
- Alvin Curran - Fiori Chiari (Amazing 2nd solo LP from Curran, released in the mid 70s)
- Ingram Marshall - The Fragility Cycles
- Laurie Spiegel - The Expanding Universe
- David Rosenboom & Don Buchla - Collaboration in Performance
- Fred Rzewski - Plays Rzewski, Braxton & Eisler

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dickie Landry - Fifteen Saxophones

More frequently credited as Richard Landry, for some reason he decided to go with the name Dickie for this LP. Landry would probably be best known for playing sax with Philip Glass throughout the 70's. He played on pretty much all the original recordings of Glass' seminal pieces, like "Einstein on the Beach", "Music in Twelve Parts", "Music With Changing Parts", "Music in Fifths", "North Star", etc.. He also played on the Talking Heads' "Speaking in Tongues" and Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison's solo album "Casual Gods". Despite his close working relationship with Glass, though, this album bears more of a relation to Terry Riley's early improvisational, jazzy aesthetic than Glass' additive, endlessly repetitious style. This is a great album of dreamy, droney minimalist music, which nowadays would probably pass for ambient or some such thing.

Landry has recorded a number of albums, and seems to still be somewhat active today. There's not much info about him on the web, but I was able to find this page with a short bio and some nice recordings. He released two albums in the earlyish seventies on Philip Glass' Chatham Square label, which I would LOVE to hear if anyone out there has them.

This album was released on the great German Wergo label in 1977, and has three long tracks performed entirely by Landry. The LP was produced by frequent Philip Glass producer Kurt Munkacsi.

The first piece, "Fifteen Saxophones", is about 10 minutes of overdubbed sax playing, presumably fifteen overdubbed tracks. There's some interlocking, hocketing parts, and some dronier sections. On the whole this piece is rather reminiscent of Terry Riley's "Poppy Nogood", though the fact that it's using overdubbing rather than just delay allows for a degree of complexity and interaction between the parts.

The second track, "Alto Flute Quad Delay", consists of, as you might guess, Landry playing an alto flute through a long delay. Landry plays primarily long tones here, so it doesn't end up sounding all that similar to Terry Riley's delay-based works like "A Rainbow in Curved Air" or "Poppy Nogood" which tended to have faster playing.

The last track, "Kitchen Solos", takes up all of Side B on the LP. Here Landry is playing solo saxophone with a long delay system. This track was recorded live at the Kitchen in NYC. While he plays some long tones and some repetitive phrases like a good minimalist, there's also some nice post-Coltrane free-jazzy sax squealing and multiphonics at times. This piece is probably mostly or perhaps entirely improvised, and has some really great bits, like a couple of minute of key clicks which end up sounding like some weird percussion instrument through all the delay.

Available on CD & LP from Unseen Worlds

Garrett List - Your Own Self

I don't know a whole lot about Garrett List. According to the short bio on his website he had a background in Jazz playing and then went on to be more involved in new music composition. He's got quite a resume, having worked with minimalist and new music people like LaMonte Young, Arthur Russell (on various works from the '70s, including some of his recently unearthed pop stuff released on "Love is Overtaking Me"), Yoshi Wada, Fred Rzewski and MEV, as well as free-jazz greats like Anthony Braxton, Byard Lancaster and Ronald Shannon Jackson.

He's recorded a few albums but I haven't been able to find much of his music. His 1982 LP "Fire & Ice" on Lovely Music is, as I remember (it's been a while) a rather unfortunate pop-jazz-new music hybrid sorta thing which has not aged well at all. The only other thing I've heard is a track on the Orange Mountain Music compilation "New Music, New York 1979", which is nice but unspectacular. "Your Own Self" is another story.

This piece is a beautiful example of a minimalist/jazz crossover which is exceptionally unique. It inhabits a somewhat similar world to Fred Rzewski's Coming Together and Attica (covered earlier on this here blog, recorded around the same time and released on the same label), but is much more indebted to jazz, with a heavily improvised middle section.

The piece begins with an organ drone, and some quiet singing and reciting of phrases from the text. Gradually more instruments are introduced, primarily horns playing long tones. After a couple of minutes the bass comes in, and starts playing sparse notes, which over several minutes become more frequent until it's playing a full-fledged jazzy bass-line. The horns follow a similar build-up from long tones to faster playing.

The build up in this piece is perfect. It's so slow and fluid, you barely notice anything is happening, until you compare two points in the piece. At 11:00ish on side A there's a sudden break, and a fast, hihat-based drum beat comes in, the first major change in the piece. This section has a beautiful texture with fast piano scales, sparse bass notes, long horn tones, fast vibes, and vocalists singing and reciting the text.

Side A fades out, and Side B begins where A left off, jumping quickly into a long section of freeish jazz, with a propulsive rhythm section laying the base. This goes on for about 9 minutes, and then the piece goes back into a section resembling the first part, with long tones and quiet speaking voices.

I don't recognize most of the names of the musicians on this LP. There's Fred Rzewski on piano, Jon Gibson on sax, and vocalist Joan LaBarbara (who is an excellent composer as well, and appears on the classic 70s recording of Philip Glass' "Music in Twelve Parts"). Other than that I don't know much about the other musicians. Oh well.

I imagine I'll be saying this a lot, but someone should really re-release this LP. It would be great to hear the whole piece without the side-break in the middle, for one thing.

This LP was released in 1973 on Opus One records.

Download 320 kbps MP3

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Frederic Rzewski - Coming Together

Rzewski's "Coming Together" is unquestionably one of the great Minimalist masterpieces, and this first recording of it is absolutely incredibly amazing. It's ridiculous that it's never been re-released.

"Coming Together" is an extremely simple piece. It's really nothing more than a short text read over a repetitive, fast sequence, much of which is played in unison. But the overall effect it creates is of a very slow build up of tension to an incredible climax after 19 minutes.

The text comes from a letter written by Sam Melville, who was an inmate at Attica prison, and was one of the leaders of the 1971 Attica riots, where Melville was killed.

The music starts with the piano playing fast rhythmic notes while most of the other instruments playing longer tones over this foundation. Gradually the other instruments start to play faster until they're all playing in a fast, tense unison.

The lineup on this recording is pretty amazing. Rzewski himself plays piano. Jon Gibson, who has worked with the big four minimalist composers (Young, Riley, Reich and Glass) as well as being an excellent composer himself, plays alto sax. Composer Alvin Curran, also of Rzewski's MEV group, plays synthesizer. Garrett List, whose beautiful LP Your Own Self will probably be the next thing I'll feature on this blog, plays trombone. Karl Berger play vibes, and has played on some classic ESP jazz recordings as well aso working with Don Cherry. Violist Joan Kalisch has played on recordings by Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and Richard Youngstein has worked with Paul Bley. The reading is done by stage actor Steve Ben Israel, who was a member of New York's Living Theatre.

The other pieces on the album are "Attica" and "Les Moutons de Panurge". "Attica" has the same lineup as "Coming Together", though Curran plays piccolo trumpet rather than synth, and is sort of a companion piece, with the text coming from a quote from former Attica prison inmate Richard X. Clark. It's much slower, calmer and droning than "Coming Together".

"Les Moutons de Panurge" is a classic piece of process music, whereby the performers are supposed to play a very long melodic line through a process of adding one note at a time (playing the first note, then the first and second notes, and so on). The interesting bit of the piece comes in the instruction that if the performers forget where they are in the piece (which should happen pretty easily), they are to continue playing but not try to find their way back together again. The piece is played here by the Blackearth Percussion Group.

This LP was recorded in 1973 and released on the excellent Opus One records - all the covers of LPs on the label were meant to respond to black light! Trippy.

Statement of Porpoise

The point of this blog is to post some rare and/or obscure, out-of-print recordings of 20th century experimental music, hopefully exposing some forgotten or overlooked works. Much of the stuff I will post here is taken from vinyl records from my university library, which has a quite substantial collection, along with some stuff from my own collection. My interests tend primarily towards Minimalism and Post-Minimalism, as well as free-improvisation and free jazz, so the bulk of what gets posted here will probably fit into one of those rough categories, probably with the occasional modernist atonal wankfest.