rare and forgotten experimental music

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The always fantastic New World Records has done the commendable job of compiling and releasing Alvin Curran's 70's solo albums in a 3CD set - Songs and Views from the Magnetic Garden, Fiori Chiari Fiori Oscuri, Canti Illuminati I and The Works are now available together in a very nice looking package. I have removed the MP3s of Fiori Chiari from this site, since I don't want to hurt their sales at all, but if you're one of the 400 or so people who downloaded that fantastic album from this site, please buy this set from New World.

I'll be posting a new album soonish, perhaps a different Curran LP to make up for taking down Fiori Chiari.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

David Rosenboom & Donald Buchla - Collaboration in Performance

David Rosenboom was an early proponent of minimalism and live electronic music, and a fantastic classical and free-jazz pianist. As a performer he's worked with LaMonte Young, Anthony Braxton, Jon Hassell, Robert Ashley, and others. He taught at the famous Mills College Centre for Contemporary Music in Oakland throughout the 1980s, and since the 1990s has been heading the music department at CalArts. He's got quite a lot of recordings under his belt, as a performer and composer, including CDs on Lovely, Pogus and Centaur, with recent rereleases of 1970s LPs on Mutable Music, New World and Japan's EM records.

Interestingly, this LP is co-credited to Donald Buchla, designer of the famed Buchla Electric Music Box, one of the earliest modular synthesizers, so favored by Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick and others. He performs some of the synth material on "How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims, Section V".

"And Out Come the Night Ears" takes up the first side of the LP, and is an amazing showcase for Rosenboom's improvising and pianistic skills. Rosenboom plays an unending flurry of notes throughout the piece. His playing is incredibly fast and fleet, more textural than anything else. He runs up and down the keyboard at blinding speed.

Throughout this, a nearby Buchla synthesizer is set up to respond to Rosenboom's playing. It seems like it's probably using a pitch follower, and when he strays into certain areas of the keyboard the synthesizer responds with effects or sounds. Some low pitches cause the synth to make a snare-drum type sound, while other regions respond with synthesized bell-like tones or filtering effects or the like. It's an interesting piece, and again, Rosenboom's playing is extremely impressive without being pointlessly virtuosic. Rosenboom periodically employs the sustain pedal to blur the notes, but this is no "Strumming Music" piano drone piece. It's closer at times to a free jazz improvisation, though I can't think of any particular pianists who play like this.

The last four minutes or so feature Rosenboom repeating a short clustery phrase, which causes the synth to process the sound and create a sort of detuned tremolo effect, with occasional snare synth interjections.

"How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims, Section V" is the only only instance I'm aware of of Donald Buchla himself performing on a record. He and Rosenboom together play the then new Buchla Electric Music Box 300 Series, which from my understanding had an exceptional amount of sequencing capabilities for the time as well as live control over the settings.

The piece features several extremely fast repeating synth melodies playing simple modal scales at varying speeds. It has a strongly Indian feel to it, and is quite reminiscent of some of Terry Riley's late '70s organ improvisations. It's a gorgeous piece, a fantastic example of late 1970s electronic minimalism.

"And Out Come the Night Ears" has been released on CD as a bonus track with Rosenboom's "Future Travel" album on the fantastic New World Records. Apparently, however, this LP features a different excerpt from an hour long improvisation than the CD does. I haven't heard the CD so I don't really know how similar the material is.

"How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims" has been recently released in its entirety, in nine sections, on a double CD also on New World Records. That version consists mostly of new recordings, however, though there seem to be excerpts from this version used in some capacity. Again, I don't have the CD so I don't know exactly what the similarities are.

This LP was released in 1978 by the excellent 1750 Arch records, who released a ton of excellent music from the 1970s to the 80s, including lots of 20th century american classical music and some great free jazz stuff, most of which hasn't been rereleased.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Daniel Goode - Circular Thoughts

This is the first cassette release I'm posting on this site, and it's an excellent album released on that most dead of dead formats.

Daniel Goode is best known as one of the founders of the contemporary gamelan group Gamelan Son of Lion, but has composed quite a bit of non-gamelan music. He also co-founded the excellent New York group The Downtown Ensemble, and has been one of the few composers to work consistently in a minimalist style of music as a gradual process. As Steve Reich outlined famously in the 1970s, this is music where things occur slowly, and at a rate which can be easily understood and followed by any listener, according to a predetermined, simple structure. At least, that's how I think of this type of music, I may be way off from Reich's actual definition. Goode's got some CDs out on Tzadik and XI records, which I haven't heard but definitely want to check out.

"Circular Thoughts" was composed in 1974, and was first released in a version for gamelan, played by Gamelan Son of Lion and included on their "Gamelan in the New World" album, released on Folkways in the 1970s then re-released on a double CD on the amazing Locust records along with GSOL's other Folkways LP. This here is a solo clarinet version played by Goode himself, and while it's recognizable as the same piece, it obviously sounds very very different.

"Circular Thoughts" starts on some very quick ostinati, with a nice melodic pattern. The real meat of the piece begins a couple of minutes in. After a short silence, the clacking of the clarinet keys can be heard without any notes. Goode slowly, quietly begins blowing in the clarinet, and doesn't let up much for the duration of the piece. An exploration of circular breathing techniques, the material of the piece is really just a fast ascending modal scale repeated endlessly, but Goode accents different notes at different points, pulling melodies out of the repeated figure. The accented notes then slowly recede back into the texture of the scale pattern. At times, the effect makes it sound like several instruments playing, not through any multiphonics or anything, just by having a repeated textural bed with individual notes popping out. At times it almost sounds like a solo version of Steve Reich's early phasing music, which doesn't make any sense but there you go.
Towards the end of the piece Goode starts to throw in some traditional scottish (?) melodies now and again, making a nice little contrast to the repetitive stream of scales before. Incredibly beautiful, meditative, and probably my favorite piece of music for a solo, monophonic instrument.

"Selected Chambers" is a very different piece. According to the notes, it is something of a collage of compositions and performances of Goode's pieces, as well as birdsong played at different speeds and backwards, and soundscape recordings of a stream. The piece starts out very sparse, then gradually builds in density with more and more birdsong until clarinet recordings start to come in after about 10 minutes. The birdsong and clarinet continue and are electronically manipulated and mixed together, creating an overall slowly developing, atmospheric piece. Reminds me of some of Jon Gibson's work mixing field recordings, electronics and clarinet, like his "Extensions" on "In Good Company" (the previous album posted on this blog), but Goode's work here is more abstract, atmospheric, experimental and less new-agey than Gibson's.

This cassette was released in 1987 on Frog Peak Music, a publisher and label which still exists, though this release is long out of print.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jon Gibson - In Good Company

Jon Gibson is probably one of the most important performers in Minimalist music. He primarily plays saxophone and clarinet, plus occasional flute. He played in the premieres Terry Riley's "In C," Steve Reich's "Drumming," was a founding member of Philip Glass' ensemble, and so premiered a whole lot of his early work, and has worked and recorded with LaMonte Young, Frederic Rzewski, Alvin Curran, and pretty much every major American Minimalistish composer who needed a reed player.

As a composer he's somewhat less known, though his work is really up there with all of those guys. He made two albums on Philip Glass' old Chatham Square label in the 70s, "Two Solo Pieces" and "Visitations," which have been rereleased on CD by the Italian New Tone label with bonus tracks (hard to find, but Forced Exposure has them). Both of these albums are among the top 70's minimalist recordings. "Two Solo Pieces" has an amazing piece performed on a church pipe organ, somewhat reminiscent of Charlemagne Palestine's organ music - very dense, long tones clusters, walls of sound. "Visitations" has some neat strange soundscapey stuff, and the bonus tracks on both CDs are just as worthwhile as the main albums.

He also put out a CD on John Zorn's Tzadik label in 2006, "Criss X Cross," which actually consists of recordings from 1979, solo pieces played by Gibson of continuous, meandering saxophone and flute lines, with some electronic effects.

This CD here, "In Good Company," is a showcase for Jon the performer as well as the composer, and serves as something as a sampler of classic Minimalist music, though most of it was unrecorded at the time the CD came out. It features music from Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams, the very infrequently recorded Terry Jennings, as well as Gibson himself, and features LaMonte Young on piano on one track.

The disc starts off with Gibson's "Waltz" (1982), a nice, simple little waltz performed on piano and sax. Nothing mind-blowing, but it's a pleasant enough way to start the album.

Next is John Adams' "Pat's Aria" (1987), a piece from his opera Nixon in China, with the vocal line here performed by Gibson on saxophone, with piano and synth accompaniment. It's a gorgeous piece, and I much prefer it to the vocal version, at least as a stand-alone piece of music.

Steve Reich's "Reed Phase" (1967) is next, one of Reich's early phasing pieces. This is the first recording of this piece, and if you've heard any of Reich's phasing works from the late 60's you know what to expect. Gibson plays a short repeating phrase on sax, then overdubs himself playing the same phrase several times slightly out of phase, creating shifting clouds of sound. With the reed based instrumentation here, the sound ends up almost sounding like bagpipes. Pretty interesting.

Terry Jennings' "Terry's G Dorian Blues" (1962) follows, being the earliest composed piece on the disc. Jennings was a friend and contemporary of LaMonte Young, and this is one of the very few recordings of his work available. His obscurity is probably partly due to the fact that he died in 1981, so he never got to benefit from the relative surge in interest in early Minimalist music in the 1990s. There's a recent CD on UK label Another Timbre which features 5 piano pieces of his performed by John Tilbury (which I just ordered - on sale at the label website until June 30th 2010 - sounds excellent), the release of which probably triples the amount of his music which is available. The piece on this album is interesting though somewhat hampered by the early '90s keyboard sounds (something which afflicts many of the pieces on this disc to varying degrees). It's a 12-bar blues piece with a 5-note repeating melodic pattern played over it, which creates a strange shifting melody. The electric piano is played by LaMonte Young, one of the very few commercial recordings of him as a performer.

After that is "Bed" (1976), from Philip Glass' epic "Einstein on the Beach." Originally it was performed with vocalists, but here is just keyboards and saxes. Since the vocals are all wordless, it transitions to sax very nicely, and it's nice to hear just this extract of the mammoth work which it comes from.

Terry Riley's "Tread on the Trail" (1965) is next, a piece from the same era as his classic "In C", and this is the first recording of it. It ends up sounding something like a jazzier "In C", with repeated phrases appearing at different times among the different instruments. Nice, and an important, neglected piece.

Another of Gibson's pieces is next, "Song 3" (1976). According to the liner notes it was inspired by bagpipe music, and it sounds like it, with long tones contrasted with very short, quick bursts of ornamentation, and a continuous sound created by Gibson's mastery of circular breathing. Fantastic stuff.

Next is another Philip Glass piece, "Gradus (For Jon Gibson)" (1968), a very early Glass work, obviously composed for Gibson himself. Solo saxophone, quick, repeating phrases and a shifting accent pattern make this an interesting, trancey piece.

The disc ends with Gibson's "Extensions II" (1981). It features recorded bird sounds, soundscapes, electronic drones, percussion and saxophones, and it's an interesting piece, though it might veer a little close to new-age at times.

All in all this disc is a great listen the whole way through, and is historically quite significant as it features the only recordings of very early minimalist works by a number of major composers. I think it can also be said that this is the only one album with contributions from all of the Big Four American Minimalists (Young, Reilly, Reich and Glass). Shame about the somewhat dated production and keyboard sounds but that's usually not too distracting.

This CD was released in 1992 on Point Music, a label which I think was run by Philip Glass, and also put out some great stuff from Arthur Russell, Gavin Bryars and others. Point was connected to some major labels but ceased to exist sometime in the late 1990s, and I think everything on it has since gone out of print, though some of the albums they put out are still pretty easy to find.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Loren Rush - The Contemporary Piano Project Volume 2

There's not a whole lot of info out there on the interwebs about Loren Rush. He came out of the same San Francisco scene in the early 60s as Terry Riley et al., and had a very early free-improvisation group with Riley and Pauline Oliveros in the late 1950s (by the way, if anyone out there has the recordings of this group, I would really really love to hear it). There's a fairly detailed biography, written in 1973, excerpted from Third Ear magazine, over here http://www.o-art.org/history/70%27s/Composers/L.Rush.html, and a couple of radio programs from the 1960s with his music over at archive.org


Otherwise, not much to be found about his work since the release of this here LP, "The Contemporary Piano Project Volume 2". There seems to be a Volume 1 and Volume 3 of this series in existence, featuring works from various composers, but I can't find any real info on those. This LP was released on Serenus Records in 1977.

The four pieces here are quite varied and nifty. Each one is a little over 10 minutes long. First up is "Oh, Susanna", which is built around a quotation from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro", featuring some atonal, but still rather pretty, variations on that theme. Interesting structure, the theme is quite recognizable and pops up periodically, then slowly moves to being unrecognizable.

Next is "A Little Travelling Music," a really fantastic piece for piano with some computer-synthesized tape. This piece is from 1973, and must be among the first instances of FM synthesis, an early technique which enabled fairly complex sounds to be generated through a relatively simple process. The piano plays a drone in the lower register with some more complex repeated material in the upper parts, and the tape part responds and interacts with the piano very nicely, often melding almost completely.

Side B of the LP is taken up by "soft music, HARD MUSIC," ostensibly one piece but the two movements are about as different as they could possibly be. Both are for three pianos, here all played by Dwight Peltzer and overdubbed.

True to the title, "soft music" is rather gentle, quiet, slow and textural. It's sort of ethereal and meandering as well, in a good way, with no clear themes, and a rather elastic sense of rhythm. Reminds me somewhat of some Morton Feldman stuff, but a good deal more dense than Feldman tends to be.

"HARD MUSIC," on the other hand, is a 12 minute long piano drone in the vein of contemporary works by Charlemagne Palestine and LaMonte Young. The pianist hammers continuously on the same notes throughout the duration of the piece, creating immense clouds of overtones and a really thick drone. Since "HARD MUSIC" is played on three pianos, it's even more intense and heavy than Palestine's Strumming pieces. Amazing, and my personal favorite piece on the LP though really it's all great stuff.

The only other recordings of Rush's work that I've managed to find are a piece from the 1960s, "Nexus 16," on an old Wergo LP with works by John Cage, Robert Moran and Anestis Logothetis, which I might post some time in the future, and a CD called "The Digital Domain: A Demonstration" from 1983, which has the distinction of being the first album ever released solely on CD. "The Digital Domain" has some interesting pieces from a bunch of composers, was compiled and produced by Rush, and has a short droney piece of his for computer-processed trombone and voice. Might post that CD up some time too.. We shall see.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Still alive

It's been a very long time since the last posting here, but I swear I haven't forgotten about this blogging thing.. I'm just finishing up with school, and should have lots of time on my hands within a few weeks. I'll try to get some new posts up soon.

Next will probably be "The Music of Loren Rush", some fantastic droney piano compositions from this under-recorded and under-heard composer who did some early work with Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros.

In the meantime, a link to a post on another blog:

Laurie Spiegel's "The Expanding Universe" is an excellent minimalist computer music LP from the late 70's. I was going to post it up here but then found that it was already on the internets. Anyway, great stuff, get it from Continuo's Weblog here : http://continuo.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/laurie-spiegel-the-expanding-universe/