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VVolk * Claudio F Baroni * Olivia Block

Olivia Block 132 Ranks

Se (In) De Bos

VVOLK – BOOK OF AIR: SE (IN) DE BOS

This is the third edition in the ongoing Book of Air project curated by Stijn and Bert Cools. The first release in this series was performed by the relatively small Fieldtone ensemble, while the second and third editions are performed by VVolk – a group of 18 improvisers with roots in jazz and classical music. Vvolk may very well be ‘the only ambient orchestra in the world’: (they also perform all night ‘laying down concerts’).

It’s incredible to hear such a large group of improvisers play so restrained, each member playing his/her part but no one claiming the lead, although the instrumental setting constantly shifts and there’s a change in dynamics like ebb and flow.

Vvolk investigates performing and improvising music, in close relation to present time; what are the possibilities in playing music, when changes in this music pass by unnoticed? How do we as musicians relate to the running time of a performance? This clearly challenges the improvising musicians, and makes audience and performers discover new territories in collective improvisation.”

 

 

If you don’t listen carefully, you might get the impression the complete orchestra suffers from narcolepsy – only to be kept awake by the slow but throbbing pulse of the three interwoven bass lines that the (somewhat enigmatic) album title Se (In) De Bos seems to refer to. But that would deny the adventurous beauty of this composition.
There is actually very múch happening in this 60 minute piece , but it requires attentive listening to recognise the constant change ‘inspired by the fluctuating objectivity of our daily observations’.


Motum

CLAUDIO F.  BARONI – MOTUM

Claudio F. Baroni is a composer from Argentina, where he studied piano and sonology. In 1997 he moved to the Netherlands, studying composition at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. His website presents an extensive work listbut for those not familiar with his work this release on Unsounds is a great introduction.

Motum (meaning ‘motion’) presents three different works performed by different ensembles.

In Circles II
in four movements of 8 minutes each, is performed by Ensemble Modelo62It is a piece ‘in a constant in-between state’. Reminiscent of Morton Feldman and Louis Andriessen’s ‘De Tijd’, the stretched chords are accentuated by various kinds of percussion instruments. The piece is defying the awareness of time, ‘through subtle shifts in timbre and register, tiny variations in intonation of common pitches [that] start acting between the instruments, along with the acoustic effects of the intervals and overtones themselves’.

Solo VIII-Airis performed by Ezequiel Menalled (artistic director of Modelo62, also from Argentina) and Claudio Baroni on organ. This composition is dedicated to Phil Niblock which may give an indication of what to expect.
“Pedals and manual keys are pressed down during the piece, but it’s not quite notes we are hearing. Instead the piece consists of registration changes, the knobs for registers being manipulated very slowly, and never fully pulled out. The result is a subdued, unpredictable, fluctuating sonority, an almost-organ, the sound of a complete choir of partial voices, with sometimes hints of a tone emerging.”
The impressive and overwhelming sound of the church organ, the breathing organism and the thundering low registers, is haunting, if not downright scary – especially when played at an appropriate volume.

With its 12 minutes and 13 seconds, Perpetuo Motum(performed by Quartetto Prometeo) is the shortest composition in this collection even though it it dedicated to ‘perpetual motion’. Compared to the previous two it is also the most demanding piece of the album.
“Whenever a player plays, it is on two strings: one stable note on an open string, and one slow glissando on a neighboring string. The result is a fascinating superimposition of two incommensurate musical logics. On the one hand, drone harmonies based on open fifths; on the other hand, a Xenakis-like world of pure glissando counterpoint, not based on harmony at all.”


Olivia Block 132 Ranks

OLIVIA BLOCK – 132 RANKS  Also on Spotify

Some of the works above may be be described as ‘minimalist’ to some extent. But perhaps they are ‘maximalist’ compared to Olivia Block‘s 132 Ranks, a sound installation for six speakers playing white noise, sine tones and pre-recorded organ sounds, combined with live performance on the enormous Skinner organ at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago. (However: there is an interesting similarity with Baroni’s ‘Solo VIII-Air’ mentioned above).

“The piece included both the lowest pedal notes, felt in the body, as well as the highest bell tones, played at extreme dynamic levels. At times, sounds were isolated in discrete locations to emphasise the chapel’s shape.”

It must have been an impressive performance. A church organ is one of the very few instruments that cannot be disconnected from its environment. In fact, the entire building it is located in is a part of the ‘instrument’. An organ like this, in an environment like this,  is impressive enough in itself, but even more when combined with a multichannel surround installation where the audience can walk freely, noticing ‘how the acoustics, materials and shape of the space altered the live and recorded organ sounds as Block performed.’

The live recording of Olivia Block‘s performance inevitably includes the sound of the audience moving around through the space. In some weird way this gives extra depth to the result. You can almost hear how small and insignificant people are compared to the large setting and the massive and inescapable sound of the Skinner organ.

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[Law-Rah] Collective/Cinema Perdu; Celer; Book of Air

Celer - Two Days and One Night

Invocation

THE [LAW-RAH] COLLECTIVE / CINEMA PERDU – INVOCATION

Since 2000, The [Law-Rah] Collective has been operating in various formations on different projects. Their discography boasts 14 full albums and numerous other projects. Bauke van der Wal is the constant factor of this ever-changing group of contributors.
On this occasion, he is the single [Law-Rah] member performing. Other tracks on this split album are performed by Martijn Pieck – who has been releasing his work as Cinema Perdusince 2012. In times, he was a member of the collective too. So, in a way, this album can be seen as a ‘collective’ effort, too. Each performer delivers two solo tracks, and they perform together on ‘Invocation 4’.

According to the liner notes, this album is all about friendship. Or rather: the ways friendship can end.
It’s also about friendships that never end, ‘even when said friend has left this dimension. The feeling that we’re left with is just about the worst feeling ever…’
The tracks on Invocation are ‘personal views and interpretations of the emptiness that remains. Finding closure in a process of grief’.

The extended, minimalist drones clearly do not radiate happiness – but on the other hand you would probably have a different interpretation of these sounds when you didn’t know about the artists’ intention. Drones like this create their own vast space to let your thoughts wander to whatever occupies your mind.

With an average length of about 10 minutes each, these five tracks are the kind of sonic immersion that makes time stand still, while everything outside the space it creates seems to disappear. At the same time, the sonic space is filled with sparse details, accents that seek attention and can keep the listener focused and avoid drifting off too far. Especially on the collaboration track, Invocation 4, which has a more industrial feel and is less ‘droney’ than the other pieces.

Van der Wal and Pieck each have their own approach but they obviously share the same artistic vision too. That is why they fit together very well on this split release that feels like a single album instead of being two completely different parts.

Also on Spotify


Celer - Two Days and One Night

CELER – TWO DAYS AND ONE NIGHT

Coincidentally, Celer‘s Two Days And One Night is another album about loss and dealing with grief. On this album, Will Long retraces the steps his great-uncle travelled in 1984, from Tunis to Hammamet, ‘where he rented a hotel room, bought swimming trunks, and by the afternoon had drowned in the ocean.’ He was 80 years old.

Celer re-creates this trip using his own experience, ‘a re-imagining of what my great uncle might have heard and experienced 31 years before.’
The ambient washes of sound in the longer tracks are merged with shorter – sometimes almost inaudible – local field recordings, creating a dreamlike and slightly exotic atmosphere.

It is amazing how personal Celer‘s music feels, considering his enormous output. But, as personal as its background is, this music tells a story everyone can relate to somehow.

“It’s a shame he didn’t see the burnt orange sunset swirling over the horizon as I did… but then again, maybe he did.”


Vvolk

VVOLK – BOOK OF AIR

Think of a group of 18 improvisers ‘with roots in jazz and classical music’ performing. What sound do you expect to hear? Personally, I expected mayhem, pandemonium, ‘organised chaos’ and disruption.

So much to my surprise, this music is none of that. Or maybe it is, but in a completely unexpected way.
In these two pieces, each referring to two seasons of the year, the Book of Air collective demonstrates an almost incredibly controlled restraint.  This is especially fascinating considering they do not use electronic instruments: the ensemble features drums, bass, guitars, harmonium, euphonium, rhodes, saxophones, flute, percussion and kankles.

 

I’m not sure what the title, Vvolk, refers to exactly (*). But maybe it’s the VV is the ancient notation for W – in which case it translates to “cloud”.
The music originates from the questions Book of Air asked themselves:
“what are the possibilities in playing music, when changes in this music pass by unnoticed? How do we as musicians relate to the running time of a performance? How does our hearing and memory react to these slow changes?”

Vvolk is the follow-up to Fieldtone from november, 2015, on which Book of Air performed as a quintet created music dedicated to ‘roomtone: “the ‘silence’ recorded at a location or space where no music is played or dialogue spoken’.
Check that one out too, if you can. You’ll probably have a hard time finding any better ‘ambient jazz’ than this.

(*) [Edit august 2018]:
Only recently I found out that Book of Air is the name of the ongoing project series, and thus not the ‘band’ name.

Fieldtone and Vvolk are the two different collectives that perform the first two parts of this series. I left the text above as I wrote it in 2016. 

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