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Monthly Archives: January 2007

Stars of the Lid MP3

Given the piece’s thick, nearly rumbling organ tones and its regal atmosphere, a listen to “Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)” (MP3) by Stars of the Lid may summon up images of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the monolith on the horizon is not a gargantuan slab of black granite. It’s a three-LP/two-CD album titled And Their Refinement of the Decline, the Austin, Texas-based duo’s first full-length recording since, well, 2001. Due out in April on Kranky Records.

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Tokyo 12/2006, Part 1: Loop-Line

While visiting Japan mid-December, I had a single night free for a concert. Katsura Yamauchi and Mitsuhiro Yoshimura were scheduled to play Loop-Line, a small gallery near Sendagaya Station, on December 13. Yamauchi is a saxophonist. Yoshimura was billed with “headphone, microphone.” This I was looking forward to.From afar, I’ve monitored the Loop-Line concert listings, a mix of local experimentalists and expats, on the gallery’s website, loop-line.jp. I’d never been to Loop-Line before, but you could say I’d heard it. One standout recording of 2006 was a live Loop-Line collaboration between Darren McClure and Hiroyuki Ura, who in advance of their show made field recordings of the neighborhood for use as sonic raw materials. They later posted the resulting music online (at standard-music.net).

I managed to follow the elegant blue map on the Loop-Line website with assistance from the concierge at my hotel, four stations away by rail. Judging by the quietude of that McClure-Ura recording and the input of some friends in advance of my trip, I figured Sendagaya to be sleepy. Heck, the 13th was a Wednesday. But Brazil played Japan that evening in soccer, and when I exited the station the street overflowed with people in every direction.

That blue map shows three white squares: stadium, Mos Burger franchise, Shinto shrine. Loop-Line is down a narrow one-way street and sits to the right of a little exercise space, which I took to be the fitness equivalent of urban Japan’s famed cram schools. Loop-Line is in the basement. There’s a blue neon sign at the top of the stairs, but it’s only visible from one direction.

There were three sets, one each by Yamauchi and Yoshimura, after which they played together. Yoshimura went first, using nothing but his headphones and amplification for close to half an hour. Turning the headphone into an instrument, especially an instrument of expertly controlled sounds, was ingenious; he took a tool of reception and flipped its usage. Yoshimura exuded concentration, grasping the headphones as one might a squeeze box.

Yamauchi followed with 15 minutes on sax. He employed circular breathing, emphasizing tone over melody, and as with Yamauchi’s, his performance was marked by intense control. He flirted with passion only when, during the closing minutes, he played something suggesting Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”

Then came the duet, Yamauchi’s sax inserted between Yoshimura’s soft, feedback-derived tones. Perhaps to match Yoshimura’s investigation of his unusual instrument, Yamauchi played the less standard aspects of his sax, emphasizing tactile quality, saliva and overtones. Yoshimura matched these with his electronics.

A drink was tagged onto your ticket, bringing the cost of entry to about $20. Before, between and after the sets, I sipped my Scotch and soda with a slice of lime and listened as the bartender played a CD of classic jazz. Though I’d never been to Loop-Line, I felt at home. It could have been an avant-garde space with a small but committed audience in any city, the original Knitting Factory on a weeknight back in the late 1980s, or the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco today. Loop-Line, all stark white walls and dark wood floor, benefits from being below ground. Nestled in bedrock, it’s a great place for quiet music, almost entirely devoid of outside noise. And being down that narrow one-way street doesn’t hurt.

As at any such space, the crowd knew each other. No doubt half of them, maybe a dozen or so total, have played at the Loop-Line themselves. I found myself mapping familiar faces from S.F. onto theirs, though the Loop-Line regulars were considerably better dressed. On the walls that evening hung willfully staid paintings, aesthetic comrades to the duo’s music. The paintings looked like textile designs as imagined by Agnes Martin, rough but elegant patterns of curves, cuts and lines.

More on Katsura Yamauchi at salmosax.com and on Mitsuhiro Yoshimura’s and his “(h)ear rings” concert series, of which this show was a part, at www16.ocn.ne.jp/~hearring.

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Virtual Liner Notes

Pedro Leitao, who runs the excellent Portuguese netlabel test tube, invited me to provide a brief liner note to the new album by DOPO, For the Entrance of the Sun, which was released for free download yesterday. DOPO is a remarkable outfit, having first entered my field of listening in late 2005 with its earlier test tube set, Last Blues, to Be Read Someday (which served as the final Disquiet Downstream entry of that year). What follows is my take on the excellent new album. If it sounds of interest, get all eight tracks at monocromatica.com/netlabel:

There’s a moment about a minute and a half before the close of DOPO’s track “For the Entrance of the Sun (Pt. I)” when a bit of feedback peaks out, glistening and razor sharp. That snap breaks open the group’s droney, folksy, communal music to reveal its darker operating principle.

Electric instruments are nothing new to folk music, no more so than is the psychedelic imagery DOPO embraces. But the five-person DOPO takes its electrical charge seriously, dancing with that power. The snap in question hints at the way that gentle sounds can be found, in time, to have hidden deeper impulses.

Here are eight tracks of magical, trance-inducing music, less composition than rituals, and each one of them keeps a meditative state at bay by summoning the power of that electrical charge.

Sometimes it is literal, as on “Horses Running Towards the South,” with its serrated halo of woozily strummed guitar, and “All the Mountains Are Dancing,” which has more than its share of chord shards. Those sparks bring a certain friction to the cycling percussion, slacker rhythms and junk-pile arrangements that are DOPO’s stock in trade.

The most trenchant pieces on Entrance, though, like “17 Ways to Kill a Man” and “Time Floats by the Window,” manage to separate that electrical power from its source. They jettison the objective specificity of an individual instrument and emphasize the tonal purity of amplification. In this environment, a bit of feedback isn’t a mistake; it’s a quick flash of insight.

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Michael Gendreau MP3

Caught live at the Sonic Circuits Festival in 2006, Michael Gendreau explores the world of microsonics and industrial textures, (MP3). Don’t play at too loud a volume, as the subtle crackles eventually give way to something that’ll crack your skull open. More on the recording at archive.org, on the festival at dc-soniccircuits.org and on Gendreau at michaelgendreau.net.

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Classical Seance MP3s

In late December 2005, as the holiday season was getting under way, the Other Minds organization in San Francisco hosted a New Music Seance. The concert summoned up the spirits of long gone composers by pairing their works with more contemporary material. Sarah Cahill, the respected pianist, opened with Dane Rudhyar‘s cluster-chorded “Third Pentagram” (1926, MP3), before moving into the hazy romanticism of a 1962 work by Leo Ornstein (MP3). Later, in the second half, a work by Janice Giteck (2002, MP3) led into the show’s eldest piece, “Gnonssienne no. 5” by Erik Satie (MP3), dating from 1889, with which it shares a certain melodic minimalism. Access the whole batch, ectoplasm-free, at (archive.org).

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