both forward and back in history


Michael Vincent Waller offers miniatures after La Monte Young, short duration works that hold the seed-syllables for long duration extemporisations; unlike the seeds cooked by Young, Waller’s mentor of five years, Waller allows his five pieces to expire upon tracing themselves in your memory. They hardly overstay their welcome – instead their figures recur naturally long after they are essayed by the fine pianists Megumi Shibata (#1 – 4) and Jenny Q. Chai (#5). Waller has crafted romantic trance fragments, revivifying counterpoint and drop-dead melodies, but holding those seeds of potential endless expansion. Debussy, yes – but also antecedents as divergent as Thomas De Hartmann’s Gurdjieff works (brief studies that also contain multitudinous facets within the 3-5 minute duration range), and the fine composer/pianist (disparaged by that taxonomical kiss-of-death, “New Age” music), W.A. Mathieu.

Waller’s regard for tonal color pervades throughout a fairly broad range of themes, from serpentine melancholy to stately, insistent passages that sound as if they were composed for an imaginary but no less important occasion. While quite dissimilar from Laurence Crane’s sound world, Crane came to mind several times in one regard –  listen to how Waller, as he put it in an interview just prior to releasing Five Easy Pieces, imbues his miniatures with an increasing potential for reformation of the mould, how beautiful melodies, chromaticism and the insistence of minimalism breathe anew, when presented with Waller’s sound and structure, and the pianist’s touch.

Waller has clearly used the models in his immediate lineage (mentors Young and Bunita Marcus) in his own process and practice; as he said about his own aha! experience when, as an even younger man (the composer is 29), he first encountered the shock of the new – … in terms of the first music that struck me as original, it’s hard to really say – but, maybe the Beatles’ White Album provided one of my first senses of magnitude, of something timeless and truly original. I felt this the first time I listened to Schoenberg, Bartok, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Ligeti, Feldman, Satie, Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, and many more. It is the same feeling that is continually revitalised, recontextualised, and expanded; both forward and back in history.

There is obviously nothing easy about creating pieces that revitalise and expand one’s antecedents – like Crane, Waller is patiently expanding out from their shadows, faithful to the elemental, while offering something present in time and being. As I said when writing about Crane in this regard, I have no earthly idea how they do it, only gratitude for what Waller makes, moving forward and back, forward and back.

Michael Vincent Waller
Five Easy Pieces
Self-released EP | 2014
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excite the ions


I always find it hard to make audible what I want to hear, so I’ll be playing and think, this is o.k., and this is kind of interesting. But it’s never what I had in mind. I’ve finally accepted that.
Thomas Ankersmit

I wish you could just spray it. Just get into the ions, excite the ions.
Maryanne Amacher, on projecting sound

The longer I listen to Thomas Ankersmit the clearer it becomes that he shares with the late composer Maryanne Amacher an essential creative urge, an imperative that drives his work, that clarifies for this listener a quality heard in the few documents of Ankermit’s work available to us – the corporeality possible in the most abstract music, the visceral wrangling with sounds conceived in the head, transferred to the hands, and plunged into the guts of sound characters with a life of their own. In a 2004 interview, Amacher said I just made my first work in this futurist projection, which is really just quite fun. I didn’t have anything else, so I put my blood on the CD, and of course I put some sound. That’s a pretty direct means of infusing abstract art with the visceral.

A second shared quality manifests in Ankersmit and Amacher’s ambivalence about releasing their work as CDs (Amacher with two entries in 40 years of making music, Ankersmit, active for 16 years now, with only three, Figueroa Terrace being his first solo studio release). Ankersmit seems much less interested in the idea of authorship than the practice and process of working with sounds in performance, the acoustic space, again as with Amacher, being crucial to the experience. Make the space your instrument, Amacher advised a student; Ankersmit, by all reports of his concert attendees, does just that. Privileging the interface of live sound and its environment makes sense of his appearance on Touch and its subsidiary, Ash International.

Alas, those of us outside of Ankersmit’s current concert circuit will settle with the absence of those distinct elements of the live experience, the visceral and the venue, and appreciate what is present, and occasionally bruising, in our own environment – a brilliant use of sound placement in a life-size stereo field; timbres that trigger the otoacoustic, third-ear response Amacher researched and sounded like the crazy tone-scientist she was; and Ankersmit’s wrangling with stuff like the Serge synth’s internal feedback in order to draw out, plait, and weave the noise locked within an instrument very few engage with in a similar fashion. To my point about his plunging into the viscera of sound, Ankersmit bypasses the keyboard, accessing directly, subcutaneously, the cracked, crossed-wires of his sound world. Figueroa Terrace lurches out of the gate in a fashion that reminded me of an interview in which Ankersmit said that in concert he likes to start in the middle of the sound event, establishing a tension and crackle on the sound-stage immediately – and so he does here. What is remarkable is where he travels from there, and unlike a few reviews I’ve read, I won’t spoil what that trajectory feels like – Ankersmit, whatever the limitations of the medium, excites the fucking ions.

Thomas Ankersmit
Figueroa Terrace
Touch | 2014

Previous writing on Ankersmit | 2010 | 2011

Maryanne Amacher interview

Thomas Ankersmit interview

the idea of fields


People should accustom themselves to the idea of fields, and to look upon everything, even an abstract idea, as a centre, surrounded by zones, auras or spheres of the same nature as the centre, only more attenuated and shading off into indefiniteness.
J.C. Smuts, Holism and Evolution, Gestalt Journal Press (1996)

Tomas Korber has surfaced, following a considerable hiatus. Korber had a fecund and frequently brilliant period lasting from 2003-2010, in which he appeared on about 20 recordings. It has been nearly a decade since Effacement, his last solo document, over four years since his superlative collaboration with Ralf Wehowsky, Walkurnen Am Dornenbaum, nearly four since his pairing with noise-meister Gert-Jan Prins – I can report Korber’s lacunae with such specificity because I have written about all these prior works, and several others. Such has been my regard over the last decade for Korber’s creative output; and so there was the concomitant piqued anticipation for the release earlier this year of his 2011 composition Musik für ein Feld,, realized by Korber and the Konus Quartett.

After a number of listens I thought about the title; the premiere of the work in 2011 indeed took place outdoors, in a field. That pleased me to discover nearly as much as the tangent the music and its title triggered – recalling the metaphoric language of fields I learned of 40 years ago when I elected for a major in psychology. That is, the sense of fields found in gestalt theory – how all things live and function in spatial fields, in environments of contingency and interpenetration, shaped by many other things, appearing one way but being quite another way. Of course the core principles of perceptual relationships articulated so elegantly in Gestalt theory and practice in the mid-70s seem much less radical now. Gestalt notions about figure/ground, continuity and closure were applied chiefly to visual art, and, occasionally, tonal music;  today, in many branches of experimental music, the language and practice of fields is being worked out, with interesting sonic results.

Musik für ein Feld is a long-form piece, a field of considerable expanse, teeming both with life and with powerfully felt silences; the field takes shape in the fantastic synergy between the Konus saxophone quartet and Korber’s electronics. This is a suite with wildly variegated parts – sections in which the quartet’s reed tones are splayed, granulated and refitted beyond recognition by Korber; sections of gorgeously sustained, clustered timbres reminiscent of Radigue; a lovely episode of rising and falling sine-like tones referencing, at least covertly,  Lucier; stretches of the sort of mulched audio that pelts and stings like an ice-storm, the needle-y noise that is a leitmotif heard across many Korber releases; and, heard in their masterfully placed positions in the field, those silences.

Broken down this way, as a sequence of discrete events, only adds to the illusory nature of the field; it again brings to mind the Gestalt principles I first encountered in the encounter-epoch 70s, principles that subvert and upend the seeming solidity of what we perceive. It seems to me that Korber (and of course I have no idea from his side what he intended) set out to create a field in which 1) he composes notes on a staff (more or less) for Konus to sound (a centre), 2) he processes and mutates those sounds, often beyond recognition (the saxophone pitches attenuated, shading off, Korber’s electronics surrounding the quartet with zones, auras, and spheres), resulting in 3) a new field in which the centres are unified, and the Korber/Konus gestalt, what Kurt Lewin would call their form-quality, is sounded.

Gestalt talks about trickster perceptual phenomenon like continuation (see figure above) – the intuitive sense of direction, of flow, in what is perceived/heard, despite obvious breakages, interruptions and, in Musik für ein Feld, episodes in which it seems Korber has allowed the whole to collapse into the sum of its parts ; and similarity – the intuitive sense of likeness in difference (try to maintain your grip on when the saxophone tones become sine tones, for example); and, of course, figure-ground, perhaps the most malleable element at play in much of this music.

I alternated my many listens to Musik für ein Feld with another recent release featuring the Konus Quartett, Jürg Frey / Komponisten-Portrait; I mention this in this context to simply point out that hearing the Quartett’s recitation of canons and chordal harmonies , with their beautifully focused sound enlivening Frey’s work, made me appreciate more deeply how much these musicians subsumed their playing to Korber’s vision, how they joined their sound field with his own to make one of my favorite pieces of music in a good while. I’d prefer Korber surface again before 2018 or so, but I am cheered to hear what has come from that considerable silence, a new entry in field music I encourage you to hear.

Tomas Korber / Konus Quartett
Musik für ein Feld
Cubus Records | 2014


Kurt Lewin, Defining the “Field at a Given Time” (1943)

Picture: Carlos Pedroza, Visual Perception: Gestalt Laws  (2007)