The October 2006 Instal festival hosted three days of experimental music, and much of it has been uploaded for a broader audience than was able to make it to Glasgow. Among the many MP3s is a 45-minute set that pairs Ellen Fullman and Sean Meehan. Fullman is a master of an instrument of her own devising, a series of long (like, room-length) strings that allow her to produce music whose simplicity is so dense that, counter-intuitively, it becomes opulent: single notes resound as if from a gargantuan sitar, wave forms become almost visible, harmonies take on a macroscopic lushness.
In an inspired bit of programming, she played with Meehan, who focuses on one of the simplest instruments imaginable: a single drum. While percussion may seem antithetical to Fullman’s tone-centric agenda, that’s not the case here. Meehan can coax a wide range of textures and sounds from that drum of his. And given how prone drums and strings are to sympathetic vibrations, as heard here the instruments at times appear to play each other (MP3). More info on the festival at arika.org.uk, on Fullman at ellenfullman.com and on Meeham at earthlink.net/~overturnedbowl.
Many remixes involve little remixing at all. Often as not, a so-called remix entails someone cutting up a pre-existing track, rather than working with the individual elements (bass, drums, vocals, what have you) that were mixed to achieve the original. The laptop-enabled guitarist Christopher Willits, thus, deserves double credit for lending a song, “Colors Shifting,” to the latest remix contest at ccmixter.org (specifically ccmixter.org/ghostly). Not only has he made his music freely available to be mangled by anonymous web-based musicians; he has gone above and beyond in providing sufficient resources. Between vocal tracks, isolated sound sources, several mixes and “the original distortion tracks,” we’re talking about well over 100 gigabytes of sound (available in a variety of file formats). Just to produce one song.
And as always with open-source remix projects such as this, the individual tracks can have their own inherent listening value. One set of sounds provided as part of the contest includes five tracks: drums, French horn, guitar, strings and synth. If you’re a fan of Willits’, the guitar track will be a real eye-opener; considering how he’s usually heard funnelling his six-string through a massive feedback loop programmed in the Max/MSP language, it’s a rare opportunity to hear him unembellished. You can also get the full song, a mere seven megabytes of his characteristically intoxicating, centerless guitar layers, off his latest solo album, Surf Boundaries, on the Ghostly International label (MP3). More info at christopherwillits.com.
In the late 1990s, shortly before Bob Green, aka Grassy Knoll, moved back to Austin, I spent an afternoon in the stark San Francisco apartment where he’d been residing. I spoke with him about his final major label album, III, while he played me what he was then working on, what he called his un-commercial work. Not un-commercial because it wouldn’t be popular. Popularity wasn’t Green’s concern in the first place. The Knoll had created its own space, somewhere between prog rock and jazz fusion, in that it eked out the improvisatory opportunities in beat-driven music that wasn’t afraid of tunes. Still, he sublimated those tunes, often below the hearing range of a general audience.
No, by un-commercial, Green simply meant that what he was working on was virtually impossible to release commercially. Why? At the time, the term “mashup” wan’t yet in general circulation, but Green was taking banks of samples, drawn from radio staples, rarities and found sounds, and working them into inspired collages. Imagine a rockist DJ Z-Trip and you’ve got a sense of what he was after. The sample clearances would have been impossible to obtain, thus relegating this new Grassy Knoll stage to, in essence, performance art.
While in Austin, Green started a new record label, Sixty One Sixty Eight, which released a Grassy Knoll album, Short Stories (2002), plus work by a small number of other artists. Up on the label’s website (sixtyonesixtyeight.com) is a six-track live Grassy Knoll show recorded in 2001 at SOBs, the New York club, just a month after 9/11. Particularly recommended is a hazy confection titled “Bucky Fuller” (MP3). It’s considerably more artful, more subtle, than what he’d auditioned for me in his apartment. What Green played on October 10, 2001, included sourced material, from an Aerosmith cue to jazz snippets to spoken word, but for the most part the ingredients don’t speak more loudly than the recipe. Highly recommended.
The performance of the play In the Solitude of Cotton Fields by Bernard-Marie Koltes, earlier this year at the Battersea Arts Centre in London, sure must have been quiet. That’s judging by the score, which its composer, John Chantler, has posted at inventingzero.net. The six MP3s, ranging from a seven and a half minutes to close to eighteen, consist almost entirely of soft, held tones, rarely more than two or three appearing simultaneously. Though the tones and timbres are numerous, the individual sounds have far more in common than they have to distinguish them from each other. They’re round and the appear slowly, occasionally evidencing the rhythm of a sine wave in action, once in a while approaching something that might be taken for friction, but only because of the relative placidity of the overall surroundings. Writes Chandler in his brief description, “Its meant to be fairly quiet – so turn yr system down.”
Call it post-rap, call it i-hop (or instrumental hip-hop). At just 45 seconds, “A Stroll Down Sutter Ave” (MP3) is less a track than a teaser, but this collaboration between DJs Wally and Willie Ross, off their recent Mrs Millers House album, is tasty as can be, a groovy collage trinket of turntablist beats, found sound and fusoid touches. More info at the releasing label’s website, theagriculture.com.