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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

AMPLIFY 2020: quarantine (I of III)


By Keith Prosk, Eyal Hareuveni, Nick Metzger, Nick Ostrum

Read: Part I | Part II

Erstwhile labelhead Jon Abbey has organized AMPLIFY festivals intermittently for 20 years, bringing together some of the brightest minds in improvised and new music and often curating inspired first meetings, but this particular festival might be the most significant yet. The COVID pandemic crushed improvising musicians’ already fragile livelihoods, stripping them of traditional live performance opportunities for most of the year. Myriad efforts to subsist arose. Musicians released a deluge of digital solo efforts and previously unfinished archival recordings. They streamed performances, sometimes even well-curated series of them as in Ken Vandermark’s OPTION interviews and quarantine concerts. Some musicians overcame the solitude of lockdown by sharing and overdubbing home recordings to simulate interplay and instant communication. Abbey, with help from Vanessa Rosseto and Matthew Revert, brought together over 100 musicians to record and release 240 works spanning 80 hours as part of AMPLIFY 2020.

We briefly review forty-five recordings here, over a three days. There’s so much material to enjoy, we regrettably don’t cover many musicians that are blog favorites, and many more that deserve to be. Releases range from a few minutes to hours. Unmixed and unmastered to surprisingly superb audio quality. Sketches, vignettes, and brief views of ongoing projects to what may as well be finished products. Solo to duets to overdubbed orchestrations. There’s enough variety that there’s something for everyone. Listeners familiar with these musicians will often find these pieces illuminate the essence of these musicians’ approach; as such, they also provide excellent entry points for listeners new to these musicians. We’ve ordered reviews chronologically by release date, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to recording date, to perhaps provide insight on project growth, and maybe changing perceptions of the pandemic and other (seemingly always unfortunate) events of this year. AMPLIFY 2020 has a bandcamp page at which most releases are available, all for free, and we’ve included bandcamp embeds for ease of listening, but we ask that you visit their blogspot page if you intend to download these works, to avoid bandcamp fees. All proceeds of bandcamp and blogspot donations go to the musicians, except in cases where the musicians choose to forward funds to other, often charitable, ends. Jon Abbey and every one of the musicians. involved in this project have been marvelously generous in giving us so much. It would only be neighborly of us, in a time when these musicians need it most, to give them our ears for a time and, if you can spare, some funds that might otherwise go to enjoying music anyway. We hope you enjoy the constant discovery this project encourages; we know we will for a long time to come. - Keith Prosk

Mazen Kerbaj - I Swallowed A Modular Synth

A 14-minutes solo trumpet of the Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, recorded on the night of 18 to 19 March 2020 in his home in Berlin, with no overdubbing and no use of electronics. Apparently, Kerbaj did not swallow a modular synth but he incorporates into his vocabulary the lexicon of such vintage electronic instrument. With subtle use of extended breathing techniques and what may be a gurgling of water, he creates a compelling soundscape comprised of a quiet rustle of abstract, bubbling noises that patiently intensifies and gains more nuances. - Eyal Hareuveni

Grisha Shakhnes - the lesser the water the firmer the jelly

The Tel-Aviv-based sound artist recorded the lesser the water the firmer the jelly in his home on March 18 during the COVID-19 lockdown, trying to capture what it felt like being at home during the onset of this whole thing. This 21-minutes piece is an almost silent and quite unsettling soundtrack of loneliness and anxiety, made of mundane, random home-made sounds, with no glimmer of hope in sight, and ends abruptly with a slamming of a door. - Eyal Hareuveni

Judith Hamann - days collapse days collapse night

Cellist Judith Hamann incorporates voice, field recordings, and feedback for a contemplative piece reflecting the gravity and doom associated with the pandemic and solitude of lockdown on the nine-minute days collapse days collapse night. Hamann’s hymnic ooos and aaas harmonize with glassy feedback and melancholy arco. There’s something like waves but it’s not clear if its tape whirr or a field recording of waves, wind, or drawing. Something like a motor purring that could be feedback or a pencil stumbling across a surface. Something creaking that might be the cello or a chair. A child’s voice. Things blend together. Despite its heaviness there’s a certain hopefulness to it, lullaby-like, with an atmosphere similar to Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill. A rewarding sketch certainly related to this year’s Music for Cello and Humming , her debut solo. - Keith Prosk

Vanessa Rossetto - perhaps at some time you have acted in a play, even if it was when you were a child 

This is the first of two album-length contributions by the American sound artist (and AMPLIFY 2020 co-organizer) Vanessa Rossetto. Layering domestic recordings with electronics, objects, and acoustic instruments she creates an ambience that blends the familiar day-to-day sounds of life with 'the other'. She's highly innovative and isn't afraid to take risks or go in new directions. I've followed her work since she released a trio of albums on Graham Lambkin's since retired Kye imprint and it always stands out in an increasingly crowded field. Perhaps at some time… has a sort of cottony delirium about it, as the various field recordings are sometimes muddled beneath the layered sounds. It's like hearing waking life through the veil of a dream. Towards the middle the piece opens up into a pretty melodic drone of bowed strings and electronics before the next wave of scenes and sounds. The latter half of the piece ratchets up tension in the form of an ominous, buzzing din before dissolving it into an effervescent cloud of heavy reverb. - Nick Metzger

Ivan Palacký - Sanctuary

This is a document of electromagnetic sensor recordings aimed at uncovering “all the ‘hidden’ sounds of everyday electronic devices” in Ivan Palacký’s flat in Brno. It was recorded on April 2, the first day of the quarantine. Already, the origin of this piece seems the embodiment of the AMPLIFY project. It reflects the solitariness of such confinement, but also the continued desire to engage with others, even if only to detect their electronic traces. It reflects the strange stultifying effect of the quarantine (and this is terribly strange) while attesting to the time that such solitude can give us to pursue projects of no monetary value and certainly no value to our employers, but that are for some untapped reason important to us. Then, there are the impulsive dimensions. After three weeks, Palacký recorded a performance with three sewing machines over the music and the result is the recording we have here. Theoretically, Sanctuary opens many doors. Aesthetically it is fascinating. I would not have considered this, even just the background hisses and crackles, as a field recording had I not read the description. I certainly would not have guessed that at least some of these crackles are the result of sewing machines, which, incidentally, I first heard as instruments on a century-old prison blues piece fittingly described as a “field recording.” The sounds on Sanctuary, of course, are not blues, even if one can hear the same confinement, loneliness, desire for shared experience and sheer expressiveness that characterize the blues-as-feeling behind this synthetic clatter. The result is a minimalist piece of electro-acoustic sound-art that reminds me of some of the solo production of D’incise. That is a high complement. - Nick Ostrum

Lucio Capece - Raum als Zeit

This 40-minutes minimalist drone of Argentinian, Berlin-based musician is made of a filtered cardboard tube, recorded in the outside room, ring modulator recorded in the inside room, plus analog synthesizer with filter and delay effects and bass clarinet, recorded in Berlin on April 4th. The title, Raum als Zeit, Space as Time in German, captures faithfully its essence. Capece creates a distant, atmospheric drone that suggests a sense of stasis, being out-of-time. Or if we address the COVID-19 pandemic, outside our conception of time before the pandemic and our dark, melancholic perception of the shrinking dimensions of time and space, as we are more than ever locked in our homes since the eruption of the pandemic. - Eyal Hareuveni

Burkhard Beins - Outside In

German percussionist and sound artist created a detailed, 10-minutes sound play which anticipates an imminent doomsday catastrophe, with analog synth, samples, field recordings, and treatments, recorded in his home in Berlin on April 7. The chaotic and fractured flow of industrial sounds mixed and contrasting natural sounds stresses how much we - the human race - has exploited nature without investing too much thought about the plight of future generations. It comes with rare cover art in the AMPLIFY 2020 series that actually depicts such a troubling scenario. - Eyal Hareuveni

Graham Lambkin - Snails in Clay

Lambkin’s AMPLIFY 2020 contribution, Snails in Clay (also his first new solo piece released since 2017's Two Points on the Angle), plays like an aural treatise of early quarantine. The piece opens with the heavy clip-clop of a passing horse drawn carriage on a quiet street. The track continues with languid field recordings as Lambkin's voice intrudes, reading bits of deconstructed text, stammering, slurring words. Lambkin is all of us improvising a way through with the leftover shards of a broken reality. The track then drifts into swells of warm room resonance, ending in a haze. Of course I'm probably projecting some, and I think part of the reason this piece struck me so heavily is due to its stark contrast with Lambkin's previous album, a collaboration with Joe and Charlie McPhee. Live at the Batcave was released last year on Oren Ambarchi's Black Truffle imprint and is a collage of Lambkin's archival recordings of he and his son Oliver partying and jamming with the Brothers McPhee. The overriding sentiment of the record is of friendship and good times, so perhaps you can see what I mean by stark contrast. However grim its association, Snails in Clay is an amazing piece that deserves a close listen, especially for those already inclined. Also be sure to check out his record with Bill Nace, The Dishwashers , out on Open Mouth records. And finally, RIP to Charlie McPhee who passed away in June, our thoughts go out to Joe and his family in a year that didn't require additional heartache. - Nick Metzger

Sean Meehan - Souvenirs

Percussionist Sean Meehan’s Souvenirs typifies the foci of his style: spotlighting one aspect of the kit at a time; the relationship of sound and space; beats almost imperceptibly transforming into new beats; performance bordering on performance art. The first six minutes are all zimbelstern creating twinkling, chiming polyrhythms. The next 11 are body-mounted cymbals, shaking and rattling as he moves around his apartment. There’s great control here; the play is more sustained than chance would allow. Different frequencies of rattling heard at different distances from the recording device create the movement, as do resonances and barely-there melodies that emerge from the cacophony. There’s seemingly distant, greater clangs like church bells. The sound is corporeal. And like a shifting tremolo. As always, the complexity of layers Meehan can tease out of a single, simple instrument is profound. - Keith Prosk

Peter Rehberg - Piece for AMPLIFY2020 quarantine Parts I & II

The head of Editions Mego label, author, and electroacoustic musician created this 30-minutes piece at Twisted, Berlin on April 13. This is a chilly, layered electronic drone. It sounds like its detailed and varied, high-pitched, and noisy layers always hover above a threatening and highly resonating, dark, and deep abyss. These ethereal, lighter layers sound as clinging with their last resorts to the upper layers, where air and light are still abundant. A clever reflection of this era, when we all are facing this or other, metaphoric or real abyss. - Eyal Hareuveni

Nate Wooley - Primary Material for Failure One

 On composer and trumpet player Nate Wooley's piece Primary Material for Failure One an ocean of low frequency rumble is pierced by long held trumpet tones that bring to mind LaMonte Young's The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer… More electronic tones are superimposed over the undulating backdrop setting up interferences that gave my subwoofers a workout. Wooley's solo work is some of the most exciting in all of free improvisation, he truly is an exceptional artist and this makes a great companion piece to his other 2020 solo release Three Studies for Future Uncertainties . Also, if you hadn't heard it yet check out his collaboration with Paul Lytton, Known/Unknown , which is excellent as is the exhilarating sixth chapter in his Seven Story Mountain cycle which came out in mid-October. - Nick Metzger

Joda Clément - A Sea-Minded Man

Joda Clément is a sound artist from Vancouver, who is part of a wave of musicians/composers who specializing in cutting, pasting, layering, and twisting field recordings through a variety of digital techniques and acoustic overlays. The two pieces on A Sea-Minded Man were recorded over the course of a few days in March and April. The first was “assembled” and the second, “mixed.” I am not sure the distinction Clément is drawing, but these are both thoroughly conceived and executed sound collages (field recordings of an airport, train, boat, bicycle, false creek [?]) with some limited “musical” elements (harmonium, acoustic synthesizer, electromagnetism). They offer glimpses of times past, folded and shuffled over time in a manner that reflects how remembrance functions. This is compelling sound art a la fellow Canadians Lance Austin Olsen and Jamie Drouin, even if Clément’s work is much busier. In fact, it seems Clément and Olsen collaborated with Mathieu Ruhlmann and Daniel Jones on Caduc album that I somehow missed. A curious and delightful listen that makes one ponder the new importance that fragmented and faded memories of insignificant everyday events has assumed. - Nick Ostrum

Lasse Marhaug - April 15th 2020

I am not sure whether he was inspired by the quarantine or if he just was in the right mood, but on April 15, 2020, Lasse Marhaug laid down 26 minutes of captivating woody and metallic (but, really, synthetic) textures enveloped in a swaying soundworld. Had I not known the instrumentation, I would have thought he was actually playing with bells, symbols, and other objects, lopping off and looping the sounds he produced later on when he compiled the piece. As the piece progresses, the listener is exposed alternately to angelic hums, persistent crackles, periodic metallic ruptures, and a heavy, foreboding undertone. Although this fluctuates, too, this is the one element that seems most persistent and grounds the composition in a rather heavy and foreboding situation. And then, in the last few minutes, comes the storm, followed by a slow, pulsing bass tone to drag the piece to its conclusion. Although the characteristic rumbling, metallic elements and oscillating heavy drone are there, April 15, 2020 is somewhat warmer and more restrained than some of Marhaug’s other work. For that, it is all the more intriguing. - Nick Ostrum

Aaron Dilloway - Chicken Traces

Chicken Traces was recorded at home with his two chickens, apparently just a few days before Aaron Dilloway (Wolf Eyes, Universal Eyes), Wrench, and Bloowie gave their epic performance for the Experimental Sound Studio Quarantine Concerts series. And, Chicken Traces is fittingly wild. Conceptually, I absolutely love it. Dilloway has rigged a selection of metal plates, guitars, and other clangy surfaces to some sort of sound processor. To get his bandmates to participate, he has thrown feed around the installation and, sometimes, even jostles the performers in one direction or another. (They are chickens, after all.) For his part, Dilloway lays some electronic layers and further manipulate the sounds that Wrench and Bloowie create. Despite the demystification of explanation (sorry!), hearing this recording (and watching the live version on the ESS Youtube page) is still a mysterious, exciting experience. This might be my favorite of the bunch. - Nick Ostrum


Captain Hate said...

I've interacted off and on with Jon Abbey for almost twenty years, online and face to face. His commitment to bringing unusually creative artists to the attention of adventurous listeners is indefatigable (there's no tangible evidence he ever sleeps). Although he doesn't listen to most of what is reviewed at the blog, his knowledge of the FMP catalog, for example, is encyclopedic and if you mention an artist will quickly give you an informed opinion of what the primo recordings are even though he hasn't listened to them in ages. You don't necessarily have to like everything he does so much as appreciate the passion with which he expands the limits. All vacuums will be filled but I can't imagine what creative music would be like without his presence.

Stef said...

Impressive overview! Thanks!