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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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The Eternal Chord * Matthias Urban

Passagen-setup

Eternal Chord

THE ETERNAL CHORD – SEMPER LIBER

The church organ, the most majestic of keyboard instruments and the instrument with ‘the greatest frequency range of any acoustic instrument’ has recently gained some extra (and deserved) attention in experimental and drone music. Detached from its usual association with classical and/or devotional music the instrument opens up a completely new sonic world.
“There is no ‘correct’ way to play the organ. Of course, there are strong and long traditions of how it should be played and by whom, but in the realm of time these strictures count for nothing.”
Unlike many other instruments/performances, the sound of a church organ opens up a unique world, too: the characteristics of the organ strongly depend on the skill of its builders ánd on the acoustic properties of its location.

Semper Liber (‘always free’) is a very special project dedicated to the sound of the church organ – ‘the Emperor of Instruments’.
The Eternal Chord is a series of live concerts that grew out of the Spire Project, based on an idea by Mike Harding who was fascinated by this instrument but also was frustrated that during church services the “the organ players clearly never pushed the instrument to its limits.”

Ever since 2009, various duo’s have performed on different locations: Hildur Gudnadottir, Claire M. Singer, Anna Von Hausswolff, Marcus Davidson, Mike Harding, Charles Matthews and Maia Ustad.
Some of the recordings of their explorations / performances can be found on the Eternal Chord Live page, or on this Bandcamp page. Semper Liber, however, is not simply a performance recording.
Mike Harding has drawn material from the different recordings and mixed them into four long tracks that are meant to be played as one continuing piece. It’s impossible to distinguish who is exactly playing when. But all performers definitely share a single goal: ‘to explore the sonics of the mighty organ in all its thundering glory.’

You may have to set aside some of your preconceptions of ‘church organ music’ if your first association with the instrument is a church service or Bach. But I know you can, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be here and read this.
The reward: an incredible journey into an almost otherworldly sonic space… provided of course you can play this on a decent sound system and on an appropriate volume (there’s a warning in the liner notes about the extremely low bass frequencies that may cause distortion, especially in the last track).
And even then, I guess that even the best sound system cannot live up to the real  ‘live’ sound of a church organ in its own reverberating environment. After listening to Semper Liber, I really hope that this series of live performances will be continued in the future.

 

 


Matthias Urban - Passagen

MATTHIAS URBAN – PASSAGEN  Also on Spotify

The Experimedia label celebrates its welcome relaunch with two releases: Pascal Savy’s Dislocations  (more on this later) and Matthias Urban‘s Passagen. Two impressive releases that immediately put the label back on track.

Matthias Urban, born 1986 in Austria, ‘primarily explores the fusion of analog and digital processing techniques’.
On first listen, the six Studies on Passagen may sound like they were electronically generated. It is a surprise to learn that they are not: they were created using resonating cymbals.

But not entirely without electronics, obviously:
“Small springs with magnets were affixed to the outside of a cymbal, while an electromagnet placed nearby induced oscillations in the metal. Urban would then introduce rhythmic frequency patterns using [self-developed] software to “play” these compositions. By manipulating frequency, amplitude, angle, and distance of the electromagnet, he found himself in control of a uniquely focused and expressive instrument. Even though he was limited to a single tonal pitch, by focusing on the generation of overtones, loudness, and silence, he was able to construct an endlessly fascinating and focused body of sound works that are refreshingly void of pretense.”

This may sound like a somewhat academic approach, but the resulting sounds are pure immersive joy: like a warm, cleansing sound-bath.

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