Music Overheard edited by Damon Krukowski

CD 1 : Curated by Bhob Rainey

[ CD 2: Curated by Kenneth Goldsmith ]

An audio response to the exhibition Super Vision at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, December 10 2006 to April 29 2007

1. Thistlalia (03:47)

Greg Kelley - trumpet
Recorded and Edited by Bhob Rainey

Greg Kelley has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Japan and Argentina at numerous festivals, in clubs, outdoors, in living rooms, in a bank, and at least once on a vibrating floor. He has collaborated with a number of musicians across the globe performing experimental music, free jazz and noise, releasing a number of recordings in the process. He constantly seeks to push the boundaries of the trumpet and of "music."

He is the Minister of Fanfares for the Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland.

Track notes: For the most part, this is an unaltered live recording of Greg Kelley playing trumpet. The trumpet is close-mic'ed, but not unreasonably so. There are two instances in which the same recording is played through a cheap DI box, which produces some surprising results. The high density of sound and activity in the first half of the piece followed by the formally static but sonically complex second half is representative of Kelley's play on interest and boredom in music, and his comic/critical approach to "personal expression."

2. Sectors (Study II) (09:03)

Sean Meehan - snare drum, cymbals
Recorded by Sean Meehan

Sean Meehan became musically active in the late 80's at the Amica Bunker series for improvised music which was then housed at ABC No Rio in New York City.

Current performances generally find Meehan playing only the snare drum in a manner that sheds conventional usage and reconstructs the conception and function of the instrument. Concert activities, both at home and away, are generally divided between playing in conventional settings for experimental music and in seeking out unique locations that are often in the unobserved and unconsidered corners of the city.

Meehan's recordings document some of his collaborations and solo work. Other contributions to the material world include the construction of performance objects that serve as "compositional things." Included in this are the pieces "Gift III" which musically activated a sink full of dishes; "Gift IV" for woodblock; and audio, a boxed set of four cassettes to be played in the mind.

Track notes: The roomy sound of this recording is an indication of Meehan's predilection towards open, city spaces. But, despite the distant sounds of traffic and deliberate low fidelity, the singing purity of Meehan's rosin-coated snare drum and friction-coaxed cymbals cuts through and transforms both the recorded and playback spaces. The striking use of silence, especially at the beginning of the track, sensitizes the listener towards the subtly emerging and declining sounds and their gentle relationship to each other.

3. Unison Offset (06:30)

Charles Curtis - cello
Recorded by Charles Curtis

Charles Curtis is a cellist. He has worked closely with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, Alvin Lucier, and Eliane Radigue, all of whom have made solo pieces expressly for him. Curtis is one of the few instrumentalists to have perfected Young's highly complex just intonation tunings, and is one of only a handful of musicians to have appeared in duo formations with Young, performing works by early minimalists Richard Maxfield and Terry Jennings.

For a number of years Curtis has maintained an interest and a presence in the downtown New York free music scene, collaborating with poetry-rock pioneers King Missile, John S. Hall, Dogbowl and Kramer. He has been a guest of artists and groups such as Alan Licht, Michael J. Schumacher. Donald Miller, Dean Roberts, Elliott Sharp, David First, Ben Neill, Bongwater, Borbetomagus, Circle X, and members of the bands Television, Pere Ubu and Public Image Limited.

He teaches contemporary music performance at the University of California, San Diego.

Track notes: This two-track recording presents two performances, layered in a loose canon, of a singularly fascinating sonic phenomenon on the cello. Combinations of bowing technique and carefully tuned harmonies excite an improbably complex timbre from the cello, rendered even more lively by the multiple tracks.

4. Fold-out (05:30)

Bhob Rainey - soprano saxophone
Recorded by Bhob Rainey

Bhob Rainey's music has become a model in the world of experimental sound. He is the founder of both nmperign (with trumpeter Greg Kelley) and the BSC, which he also directs. Collaborations with musicians such as Ralf Wehowsky, Le Quan Ninh, Gunter Mueller, and Lionel Marchetti, dancers Nicole Bindler and Yukiko Nakamura, and filmmakers Loren Boyer, Harvey Benschoter, and William Pisarri highlight Rainey's broad experience and outline a complex body of work that continues to expand and surprise. His music occupies a charged space between synthetic and organic sound, bringing forth improbable sensual and narrative experiences through virtuosic extended techniques, homemade synths and sound processors, found recordings, and a kind of living silence that is apt to wreak havoc with the perception of time.

Recordings of Rainey's music have been released on labels such as Selektion, Grob, Sedimental, Rossbin, Twisted Village, and Siwa. They number in the dozens and have garnered a wealth of international accolades. Festival appearances have included Musique Action, Instal, Amplify, Densites, Fruits d'Mhere, High Zero, and Improvised and Otherwise.

Rainey has also performed the works of Christian Wolff (with the composer), John Cage, and Cornelius Cardew and is the orchestral arranger for pop artists Damon & Naomi.

Track notes: The use of microtones, multiphonics, and multi-timbral techniques brings forth a palette of electronic-sounding elements reminiscent of feedback, modulated filters, and tape edits, but the melodic and timbral fluidity of this piece are unmistakably driven by a more traditional musician/instrument relationship. Rainey has always adamantly opposed purely technical readings of his music, and the sometimes pure, medieval qualities of this track help direct attention away from the mechanics of its production and towards the more oblique mysteries revealed in its unfolding.

5. Kitsune 5 (09:13)

Taku Unami - motors, objects, speakers
Recorded by Taku Unami

Taku Unami plays objects with the vibarations generated by various speakers and motors steered by subsonic frequencies generated electronically. This might be considered acoustic computer music. He has worked with Mattin, Taku Sugimoto, Masafumi Ezaki, Otomo Yoshihide, Burkhard Stangl, Nikos Veliotis, among others, and he manages the influential Japanese record label, Hibari Music.

Track notes: "Kitsune" is Unami's series of compositions that focus on limited materials and simple time structures. The airiness of the recording emphasizes the acoustic nature of the sounds produced, but the mechanical rhythms and apoetic structure belie the electronic source of the music. The uneasy marriage of these two elements evokes a kind of enchanted world of personified utensils that is as likely to produce a Duchampian smirk as a stargazer's awe.

6. Island of Hammers (Dumb as an) (07:12)

Chris Corsano - percussion
Recorded by Chris Corsano

Chris Corsano has quickly emerged as the go-to drummer for all musics defying definition. He brings formidable power and elegance to the kit, and has, like fellow percussionists Sean Meehan and Le Quan Ninh, developed a hitherto unheard approach to drumming and its role in ensemble and solo settings.

Track notes: The detailed list of instruments used in this piece includes alto sax mouthpiece connected to tub-to-shower attachment nozzle connected to funnel, street cleaner bristles, snare drum, finger cymbals and butter knife. All are employed to produce a piece that feels joyfully unhinged. It is no surprise, however, that close listening reveals Corsano's command of his self-inflicted chaos, a signature in all of his work.

7. Ristretto (03:53)

Liz Tonne - voice
Recorded by Liz Tonne. Edited by Bhob Rainey

Liz Tonne is a sound artist inspired by the unorthodox use of the human voice. She is both an improvisor and an interpreter of contemporary composition who reconfigues the traditional role of a singer. Her voice is simply a sound source, another intstrument among many. Her palette is an abstraction of singing styles ranging from jazz to bird songs, classical technique to the casual sounds of machinery. Tonne combines air, breath, whispers, overtones and disconnected text to evoke present and unconscious associatons; memories dredged up only by the power of the human voice.

Presently, she is a member of the BSC, a large ensemble of the Boston area's finest electroacoustic musicians led by Bhob Rainey. She is also a member of undr quartet, one of the pioneering ensembles of Boston's lowercase sound, formed with James Coleman, Greg Kelley and Vic Rawlings in 1998.

Track notes: Spectators of Liz Tonne's performances often report that, while they see her sitting before them with her mouth wide open, they have great difficulty connecting the sounds produced with that open-mouthed figure. And yet, we all recognize at some level, even on recording, that the human voice is involved. For many, this is a disquieting revelation. Tonne's use of the voice strikes at the arteries of our identity via language and can create a sonic nightmare, a kind of monstrous id that threatens sense and order. It is somewhat paradoxical that her extreme control and sensitivity to sound only serve to exacerbate the nightmare, but there is no indication that the desire to inflict horror is behind her music. The nightmare is our own, and, when confronted, offers a window to the sublime.

8. Hiss, Louder (10:00)

Ellen Fullman - long string instrument
Recorded by Ellen Fullman

In 1981, at her studio in Brooklyn Ellen Fullman began developing her life-work, the 70 foot "Long String Instrument," in which rosin-coated fingers brush across dozens of metallic strings, producing a chorus of minimal organ-like overtones which has been compared to the experience of standing inside an enormous grand piano. Fullman has recorded extensively with this unusual instrument and has collaborated with such luminary figures as composer Pauline Oliveros, the Kronos Quartet, and cellist Frances-Marie Uitti.

Fullman was awarded a prestigious DAAD Artists-in-Berlin residency (2000-2001); her music was represented in The American Century: Art and Culture, 1950-2000 at The Whitney Museum; and she has performed in numerous venues and festivals in Europe, Japan and North America. Her release Ort was selected as one of the top 50 recordings of 2004 by The Wire.

Track notes: This piece is a single pass solo recording of the Long String Instrument, no edits. The density, harmonic richness, and sheer singularity of the sound result from Fullman's rare and remarkable combination of craftsmanship and musicianship. Her role as designer, builder, and performer of the Long String Instrument has renaissance overtones: she is the architect of an entire structure of expression, intoxicating and awe-inspiring, connecting the personal with the astronomical in a way that is immediately sensually and intellectually pleasing but in no sense frivolous.

Bhob Rainey

I often hope that things go wrong: the guitar won't wail; the singer fails to croon; the cello lacks melancholy; the trumpet doesn't herald the arrival of anything. The bread in my toaster fails to become toast. Despite the frustration of things not panning out as expected, there's a gleeful satisfaction and woozy sense of hope in the unexpected failure of a hitherto trustworthy object. Witness the misbehavior in Greg Kelley's "Thistlalia." No minimally cultured, reasonably sane human being would hear it and cooly remark, "Ah, the regal sound of the trumpet." The knowledge that a trumpet is behind that prickly jet of air-sqeals would have to come from a trusted, external source, and trying to pin that particular sound to the idea of "trumpet" is a giddy, sometimes nauseating process. It is one of those processes that humor and horror have in common, which may be why it elicits such powerful and polarized reactions.

But the (dis)connection between sound and source is dangerously misleading. It is too easily noticeable, too likely to define the music as something merely novel. It hides a more troubling disconnect between music as such and the sounds here presented as music. On this compilation are artists whose strengths lie both in the novelty of their performance techniques and, more significantly, in their ability to force a broader definition of music through the compelling nature of their works. There is an internal logic in all of their music that plays a chicken and egg game with the sonic material, and this immanence of structure and sound ultimately prevents the extraction of one or the other as the music's dominant quality. Conceptual and avant-garde readings tend to fall apart in this light, and the idea of music goes haywire. It breaks and bleeds in hypnotic swirls and unimagined colors. Unlike cellos and toasters, it thrives on its own disaster, growing new limbs, adopting a rosy complexion, quitting its job at the department store. Who wouldn't want things to go wrong in this way?

The musicians on this compilation undermine prescribed ideas of music not by attacking its dominant manifestations, but by working with all that is dear to music sans the aid of conventional musical expression. As a result, their works are clearly contemporary, but contain a strong does of the atemporal. Music, as it breaks, is timely; its reinvention is timeless.

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