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For the Record: March 12, 2021

Keeping tabs on new recordings of interest to the new-music community, on CD, vinyl LP, cassette, and digital-only formats… and some thoughts about breaking up with a long-admired artist.
For the Record: March 12, 2021

For the Record is a weekly round-up of new and pending recordings of interest to the new-music community: contemporary classical music and jazz, electronic and electroacoustic music, and idioms for which no clever genre name has been coined, on CD, vinyl LP,  cassette, digital-only formats… you name it.

This list of release dates is culled from press releases, Amazon, Bandcamp, and other  internet stores and sources, social-media posts,  and online resources such as Discogs.   Dates cited typically correspond to initial U.S. release, and are subject to change. (Links to Amazon, used when all else fails, do not imply endorsement.)

After publication, new listings are incorporated into On the Record: The Master List, a continuously compiled and updated resource exclusively accessible to paying Night After Night subscribers, found here.

These listings are not comprehensive—nor could they be! To submit a forthcoming recording for consideration, email information to nightafternight@icloud.com.

Please note that all opinions expressed herein are solely my own, and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

We Need to Talk About Evan.

It would be easy, and even truthful, to begin this newsletter with my characteristic preamble about being far too busy in my present day-job engagement to carve out time for personal business. But to be honest, what’s bottled up my thinking for the last few weeks is a new sound-art piece by a senior British improviser whose work I’ve followed closely for more than half of my life.

Evan Parker, a saxophonist of supernatural technique and an utterly distinctive sound, prefaces his radio-art piece “Rockets for Kary Mullis” with an artist statement that includes the phrase “the current Covid nonsense.” Sharing the page is a brief statement from the French jazz festival Sons d’hiver, which commissioned Parker:

Sons d’hiver decided to give Evan Parker carte blanche for a radio piece, on a subject of his choice. The chosen theme falls within his artistic freedom and individual responsibility, and we do not want to censor the piece, whatever our position on the subject.

Fine. Parker is indeed free to bend the words, the thoughts, and even the voice of Kary Mullis – a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who helped to invent the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique, and known as well as a denier of man-made climate change and HIV causing AIDS – toward making some statement about the present pandemic, and the responses and restrictions that have come along with it.

In response, I now feel free to reject Parker’s product—starting with this assemblage of whorling soprano saxophone, gassy whooshes, and chopped up snatches of Mullis lecture.

Contemplating how to separate an artist from their art isn’t new: how else could we reconcile ourselves to embracing Gesualdo, Wagner, or Miles Davis? There, perhaps, we enjoy the luxury of feeling inoculated by historic distance and literal absence. Here, though, is someone living among us, whose viewpoint I can’t begin to grasp.

The composer and critic George Grella, in his newsletter Kill Yr Idols, addressed this situation nearly a month ago, characteristically pulling no punches. His publication is available solely by subscription, but I’ll quote one passage pertaining to the possibility of preserving worthwhile art at a distance from its maker:

Some of my most cherished recordings are those of Parker’s ElectroAcoustic Ensemble,  one of the few organizations that have done something entirely new in  the last generation of musicians, and his album dedicated to Steve Lacy,  Evan Parker With Birds, is one of the most beautiful records I own. But don’t have idols, please. If you do, kill them as you would the Buddha.

I respect and admire George’s position, but find myself unable to embrace it. Faced with Parker’s response in the face of incalculable loss and grief, I feel as if a switch has been flipped. I have no desire to hear him: not in his own works, and more grievously not as an instrumental voice in music by composers whose work I admire deeply.

Perhaps that will change, in time. Perhaps not. Either way, I’ll continue to share news of Parker’s forthcoming releases (as you’ll see below), strictly as a public service.

Album of the Week

Barbara Ellison (Photograph: Erin McKinney)

Barbara Ellison
(Unsounds; CD, DL)

I’ll be frank: I don’t know enough about Barbara Ellison to say anything meaningful, having discovered her work only this evening in a new-release email from Unsounds, an Amsterdam-based label run by guitarist Andy Moor of The Ex, composer-sound artist Yannis Kyriakides, and designer-visual artist Isabelle Vigier. I received the email because I’d previously bought an excellent Kyriakides CD through Bandcamp, and I clicked the link in the email because… well, I’d previously bought an excellent CD from the label, so why not check out another?

Ellison, according to the bio on her own Bandcamp page, is an Irish audiovisual artist based in the Netherlands, whose work explores “ghostly presence and substance in a plethora of sonic and visual realms.” Her work is aimed at revealing and exploring a world of “sonic phantoms,” which she describes as “auditory illusions within the musical material that convey a ‘phantasmatic’ presence.” Together with fellow artist Thomas Bey William Bailey, Ellison has written a book on the subject: Sonic Phantoms: Composition with Auditory Phantasmatic Presence, published last June by Bloomsbury.

From the publisher’s page about the book:

Structured around a large body of compositional work developed by Ellison over the past decade, sonic phantoms are revealed and illustrated as they arise through a diverse array of musical sources, materials, techniques, and compositional tools: voices (real and synthetic), field recordings, instrument manipulation, object  amplification, improvisation, and recording studio techniques. Somehow inherent in all music – and perhaps in all sound – sonic phantoms lurk and stalk with the promise of mystery and elevation. We just need to conjure them.

I won’t pretend to understand fully the theoretical underpinnings of CyberSongs—covered, it turns out, in the fifth chapter of Sonic Phantoms, “Phantasma Humana: The Realm of the Voice.” I’m eager to know more—but knowing more is only going to enhance an experience I’ve found convincing already.

Billed as a “transhuman song cycle for human-like computer voices,” CyberSongs finds Ellison musicalizing Text-to-Speech applications. Handling bits and pieces of digital vocalization, she fashions rhythms and counter-rhythms, and invents alien poetry and cybernetic song. Some songs sound like they’re made wholly from artificial elements; others seem to include musicians and ensembles, or perhaps virtual facsimiles.

However cerebral its conception, Ellison’s music is instantly appealing, gregarious, even whimsical in instances like the flickering syllables and junk-piano clangor of “Knullaleague,” or the stuck-groove konnakol of “Taku sedukuduku.” Ceaselessly mutating patterns in “Teeindrau ott” are wildly intoxicating; so, too, is the subtlety with which Ellison mingles vocal and atmospheric sounds in the oceanic swirl that starts “De auflaan de pussychat.”

Midway through, that song shifts to spotlight what sounds like a curiously melancholy android monologue, or perhaps a radio signal emanating from deep space. In some tracks, like “Periodemesh,” the vocalism is clearly abstract; in others, like “O prautay system” and “Gissmota,” something about the inflection and tone of the delivery verges on communicative, if not comprehensible. “Kglogshde” starts at the former extreme, and ends at the latter.

I presume the theoretical underpinning of CyberSongs must be fascinating. But to be honest, what sucked me from start to finish is that the music just plain slaps.

New This Week

Robert Honstein (Photograph: Other Minds)

Richard Barrett - binary systems - performances by Daryl Buckley, Ivana Grahovac, Lori Freedman, Anne La Berge, and Lê Quan Ninh (strange strings)

Distractfold - The New Unusual - compositions by Andrew Greenwald, Anna Korsun, Sivan Cohen Elias, Sam Salem, Ute Wassermann, Hanna Hartman, Lee Fraser, Santiago Diez Fischer & Linda Jankowska, Giulia Lorusso, Steven Kazuo Takasugi, and Donal Sarsfield (Distractfold)

Barbara Ellison - CyberSongs (Unsounds)

Eventless Plot - Phrases (self-released)

Steve Flato - This Is Our Last Cry Before Our Eternal Silence (self-released)

Michael Gordon - loved. - David Cossin, Al Cerulo (Cantaloupe Music)

Robert Honstein - Middle Ground - Kate Stenberg (Other Minds)

Valgeir Sigurðsson - Kvika (Bedroom Community)

David Tanenbaum - As She Sings - compositions by Sérgio Assad, Ronald Bruce Smith, Elias Tanenbaum, Dušan Bogdanović, and John Anthony Lennon (New Focus)

Third Coast Percussion with Sérgio & Clarice Assad - Archetypes (Çedille)

Various artists - Resonant Bodies - performances by Charmaine Lee, Julia Bullock, Pamela Z, Sarah Maria Sun, Tony Arnold, Arooj Aftab, Kamala Sankaram, Caroline Shaw, Gelsey Bell, Rachel Calloway, Lucy Shelton, Anaïs Maviel, and Sofia Jernberg (New Focus)

Just Announced

Vijay Iyer (center) with Tyshawn Sorey and Linda Oh (Photograph: Craig Marsden)

March 19

Álvaro Domene - Heptad (Iluso)

Duo Gelland - Resistance/Resonance: Violin Duos by 113 Composers Collective - compositions by Jeremy Wagner, Michael Duffy, Joshua Musikantow, Sam Krahn, Adam Zahller, and Tiffany M. Skidmore (New Focus)

Wendy Eisenberg - Cellini’s Halo (Garden Portal)

March 23

Douglas Kearney & Val Jeanty - Fodder (Fonograf Editions)

March 26

Eric Lyon - GigaConcerto - String Noise, Greg Saunier, International Contemporary Ensemble (New Focus)

Phicus - Liquid (Tripticks Tapes)

String Noise - Alien Stories - compositions by Jessie Cox, Lester St. Louis, Anaïs Maviel, Charles Overton, and Jonathan Finlayson (Infrequent Seams)

String Noise - A Lunch Between Order and Chaos - compositions by Caleb Burhans, Tyondai Braxton, David Lang, Greg Saunier, Paul Reller, and Philip Glass (Chaikin)

Various artists - Splices - piano-based pieces by Daigo Hanada, Julia Gjertsen, Taylor Deupree, and others (Moderna)

April 2

Giya Kancheli - Simple Music - Jenny Lin, Guy Klucevsek (Steinway & Sons)

Álvaro Pérez & Álvaro Domene - Zodos (Iluso)

April 9

Anna Heflin - The Redundancy of the Angelic: An Interluding Play (Infrequent Seams)

Vijay Iyer - Uneasy (ECM)

April 16

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite)

Evan Parker Quartet - All Knavery & Collusion (Cadillac)

April 20

Chris Pitsiokos - Carny Cant (Eleatic)

April 23

Deidre Huckabay - Words for the Dead/Words from the Dead (Parlour Tapes+)

IST - A More Attractive Way (Confront)

Jenna Lyle - TAPE TAPe TApe Tape tape (Parlour Tapes+)

Andrew Tham - Tutorial Music (Parlour Tapes+)

ZM - Galloping Through a Wormhole (Parlour Tapes+)

May 1

Chris Abrahams/Mark Wastell - A Thousand Sacred Steps (Confront)

May 14

Francisco del Pino - Decir (New Amsterdam)

May 21

Chris Cerrone - The Arching Path - performances by Chris Cerrone, Timo Andres, Lindsay Kesselman, Ian Rosenbaum, and Mingzhe Wang (In a Circle)