Releases of the Month February 2023

24 February, 2023 | Kristoffer Cornils

Zwei Musik-Kassetten liegen auf einem Bett.
©Kristoffer Cornils

»Strange Songs« is the title of a new album by Berlin-based vocal artist Ute Wassermann. But what does that mean? Who determines what is strange, i.e. foreign or abnormal, uncanny or eerie, and to whom does it apply anyway? The subtitle of the record released via TREADER makes the concept clearer by complicating it: Doesn’t »For Voice and Bird Calls« automatically imply that in the relationship between human performer and non-human being, both are equally »strange« through the eyes—or rather ears—of the other? That the differences between humans and their environments can only be experienced, understood and ultimately bypassed bilaterally?

At least that's what this great album invites us to do, and Wassermann herself goes one step further: with her voXsynth series, she enters into a three-part dialogue with machines in the Morphine Raum soon. On 28 February she will be joined by Liz Kosack and Andrea Parkins, on 21 March she will duet with Raed Yassin and on 18 April she will form the trio electrovoX with Richard Scott and Thomas Lehn. There is probably a reason why the X is capitalised: After all, without crossovers the wonderfully strange wouldn’t emerge so easily from the coexistence of two voices and different positions. It marks the spot for strange encounters.

It felt strange to commemorate the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory at the end of this month. In such times, art can give strength, embrace the soul, Wassermann's colleague Mariana Sadovska said only a few days later in an interview with field notes. And indeed, art was sorely needed in the year that has passed since then. But one thing is for certain: the ears of the world have opened—belatedly, finally—to Ukrainian artists and their stories. A new dialogue, guided by the act of listening, has emerged between cultures. And as in the course of »Strange Songs,« the formerly foreign seems more and more familiar these days. This indeed gives all sides strength because it creates solidarity.

And isn't that ultimately one of the main tasks of art—to create a knowledge transfer, to initiate a learning process, to enable empathy and understanding? To seek out and facilitate conversation, making it available to outsiders? Dialogues—similar, but different ones—also notably characterise this edition of our Releases of the Month series in the short month of February. 15 new music releases and three books invite you to listen and read carefully, to recognise differences and let affect you, ultimately changing who you are.

Biliana Voutchkova & Sarah Davachi – Slow poem for Stiebler (Another Timbre, CD/digital)


Biliana Voutchkova's musical dialogues were already the subject of the last issue of our Releases of the Month. Here’s another one though, or rather two. Not only does the violinist collaborate with Sarah Davachi for this new 50-minute piece, but the music also forms an artistic response to yet another artist. »Slow poem for Stiebler,« recorded by Voutchkova together with the American composer, responds to Ernstalbrecht Stiebler's »Für Biliana,« originally a composition for solo violin, and expands it not only temporally and spatially, but also instrumentally by adding Davachi's reduced organ playing. The title can be taken at face value: There is a certain poetry inherent to these tense harmonic ups and downs; the evocative suggestion is worth more than the direct expression. The understanding between the original and the homage, and not least the two musicians, draws its power from a remarkable subtlety.

ni zheng – body of immanence (Syrphe, CD/digital)


Two new releases on Credik Fermont’s Syrphe label in February: Egyptian-Canadian composer Alex Abahmed releases music under the pseudonym AHA and on his album »Thonis« follows a hybrid approach. His methods correspond to those of electro-acoustic music, the compositional elements simultaneously draw on musical traditions from Europe and the Middle East and are merged with sounds that roam freely. There is something similarly ghostly about »body of immanence,« the debut album by the Canadian-based artist ni zheng, however the five pieces are also very concrete and quite literally visceral. Horror is probably one reference for this blending of different musical approaches and styles, which most readily brings to mind the ritualistic noise of Rudolf, but at the same time uses the voice in a way reminiscent of Audrey Chen’s corporal poetry. In short, »body of immanence« is not for the faint-hearted, but in the very best sense.

Tony Conrad / Arnold Dreyblatt / Jim O'Rourke – Tonic 19-01-2001 (Black Truffle, LP/digital)


Given the sheer release frequency of Oren Ambarchi's Black Truffle label in recent times, it almost comes as a surprise that it only now celebrates its 100th catalogue number. What’s less surprising is that the Australian jack-of-all-trades has unearthed a very special, well, truffle to mark this milestone: »Tonic 19-01-2001« documents the only musical meeting of Tony Conrad, Arnold Dreyblatt and Jim O'Rourke. That the spirit of Conrad clearly hovers over this intergenerational trio is only logical, however Dreyblatt and O'Rourke amply prove that they have picked up on and indeed refined this legacy in different ways and sometimes in dialogue with each other. Together, the three of them shine as team-spirited improvisers who are also aware of their audience's presence. The first half is dominated by drones that take over the room and those within it. The second then slowly and deliberately introduces dynamics and changes of mood into this sound space, taking the audience on a journey outside of time. A great work full of small gestures.

Adela Mede – Szabads​​​á​​​g (Night School, LP/digital)


»Szabads​​​á​​​g« was already released in 2022 in a small edition on cassette, but the reissue of Adela Mede's solo debut courtesy of the label Night School now makes it available to a hopefully even wider public. Mede's approach is polyglot, and not just in linguistic terms. Across languages, she creates a polylogue of different voices with different sound qualities, layering and manipulating a diverse range of vocal phrases and voice recordings. On the musical level, this is then staged all the more disparately.

Alexander Tucker & Keith Collins – Fifth Continent & Fifth Quarter: Derek Jarman, Keith Collins & Dungeness (Subtext, LP/book/digital)


The spirits of two great, late artists make themselves heard through »Fifth Continent,« which is why the multimedia presentation in the form of an LP with accompanying book by the Berlin label Subtext is a more than reasonable choice. Derek Jarman and Keith Collins, who once introduced Alexander Tucker to the artist and whose voice recordings were used on this album, which was created after his death, provided the inspiration for the British musician. Because the headland of Dungeness in Kent, England, was the pivotal point of the personal relationship between the three, it also plays a central role in the book »Fifth Quarter: Derek Jarman, Keith Collins & Dungeness,« which has been published along with it.

Aperture – Stanze (Stray Signals, LP/digital)


The siblings Emanuele and Elisabetta Porcinai already debuted in 2018 under the name Aperture with an album on Subtext and now return with »Stanze« for Stray Signals. Once again, the duo shows itself to be musically extremely flexible, and the performance of Elisabetta Porcinai's lyricism offers the red thread around which the very colourful stylistic fibres wrap themselves. Electro-acoustic sounds, post-punk rhythms, almost jazzy atmospheres: All this blurs together in a productive way, while the words give contour to the sound.

Éliane Radigue – 11 Dec 80 (Important, 2CD/digital)


Legendary radio host John Peel gave one of the most beautiful compliments in music history to the band The Fall: »They are always different; they are always the same.« Something similar could be said about Éliane Radigue, who has been exploring the subtle differences in the seemingly ever-same for decades and has proven herself capable of opening up entire sound worlds within them. »11 Dec 80« includes a live performance of »Chry-Ptus« as well as the three parts of her »Triptych,« two of which were world premieres. Radigue herself describes these recordings of the two works—also performed as part of the large retrospective at MaerzMusik last year—as the best ever. Close listening reveals why.

Grand River – All Above (Editions Mego, LP/digital)


As co-owner of the One Instrument label, Berlin-based composer Aimée Gisetta Portioli focuses on dogmatic reduction—the hint is in the name. Her releases under the pseudonym Grand River, however, are characterised by stylistic, tonal and conceptual versatility. This is also the case with the album »All Above« for Editions Mego, which productively stages her various interests in acoustic and electronic music in ever new constellations. Most beautifully on »Kura,« where delicate piano sounds, a clattering beat and a computer voice confer with each other.

Heinali – Kyiv Eternal (Injazero, LP/digital)


»Kyiv Eternal« is released on 24 February and thus on the anniversary of an event in which things were to change forever in the city that lends this record its title. The composer and musician Oleh Shpudeiko a.k.a. Heinali has written an eleven-part ode to the Ukrainian capital. The mostly electronic music is permeated by everyday sounds from a life in which the state of emergency during Russian bomb terror has become the norm. And in which, nonetheless, irrepressible hope is communicated with incomparable calm.

John Bence – Archangels (Thrill Jockey, LP/digital)


There is a lot going on in John Bence's second full-length. »Archangels« was written two years after the British composer overcame his alcoholism and not only draws on Christian iconography, but is generally imbued with an interest in spirituality. Even more adventurous is the mixing of musical ingredients on this album, which blends synthetic-seeming choral chants, electronic drones and subtle piano tones. »Archangels« sometimes calls to mind Wojciech Rusin's latest album—which means that each record is in very good company.

Katrina Krimsky – 1980 (Unseen Worlds, CD/digital)


Katrina Krimsky can be heard on the first recording of Terry Riley's »In C« and worked together with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luc Ferrari, but has also released music on ECM during her lengthy. Originally, however, she had been trained as an interpreter of classical music. These three recordings from the titular year compiled by Unseen Worlds give expression to an inner conflict that emerged from this: At times, it seems as if Krimsky has to keep her own hands from making overly conventional decisions within the framework of these improvisations of very different lengths. This gives »1980« an underlying tension that is simply infectious.

Marla Hlady & Christof Migone – Swan Song (Crónica, 2CD/digital)


The catalogue of the Portuguese label Crónica is a veritable treasure trove for fans of unconventional sound art. Marla Hlady and Christof Migone had the discarded stills of a whiskey distillery sing the titular swan song as part of an installation, but they were joined by a choir of other performers. The album »Swan Song« was created based on recordings made for the original kinetic sound sculpture, including not only sounds of the production process but also the voices of the distillery employees. Work, life, letting go: it is a rich thematic field that the two artists create space for here.

Miharu Ogura – Ogura Plays Stockhausen (Thanatosis, 2CD/digital)


Two new interpretations of Stockhausen pieces within just one month. Or more than that, actually: As part of the CC Series of the Lithuanian label NoBusiness, Kazimieras Jušinskas, Monika Kiknadzė, Simonas Kaupinis, Deimantas Balys, Domantas Razmus, Kristupas Gikas and Kristupas Kmitas have recorded the piece »Prozession,« in the course of which they play other of his compositions. Sounds confusing? Mission accomplished! »Ogura Plays Stockhausen« by the Frankfurt-based pianist Miharu Ogura, who interprets the first ten of his »Klavierstücke,« is a lot less chaotic. Her playing is marked by a razor-sharp precision that gives her instrument an almost electronic-synthetic overtone—probably in keeping with the composer's intentions.

Nico Daleman & Dea Karina – Thirdspace: a performance (L_KW, digital)


The joint performance »Thirdspace« by The Rest Is Music host Nico Daleman and the busy artist Dea Karina, who is also active under the names tujuh kuda and d3k4, was performed at Rumah Budaya Indonesia (House of Indonesian Cultures) in Berlin and lives up to its title. With field recordings and radio samples, a lot of noise and synthesiser sounds as well as the help of the cultural institution's instrument pool, the two create a transcultural sound and possibility space over roughly 37 minutes. The result is wonderfully challenging, but always seems to follow an intuitive narrative that the two of them create together out of the moment.

Roxane Métayer – Perlée de sève (Marionette, LP/digital)


The music of Roxane Métayer is difficult to explain and easy to understand. Originally trained as a violinist, on »Perlée de sève« the Belgian artist interweaves archaic-sounding acoustic notes with advanced, electronic production methods. Her approach allows discrete sound events to flow together and form complex structures. This is sometimes reminiscent of various folkloric traditions or hybrid musics and sometimes seems abstract, but always remains intimate and engaging. Each piece forms a small world of its own, and as a whole it opens the door to a completely different universe—»Perlée de sève« is, in short, a modest masterpiece.

Aram Yardumian – Iannis Xenakis’s Persepolis (Bloomsbury, book)


The big celebrations for the 100th birthday of Iannis Xenakis may be over, but the fascination is far from it. In the compact volumes of Bloomsbury’s 33 ⅓ series, various authors usually devote themselves to the definitive masterpieces of pop music, which they place in their historical context or interpret in terms of the work itself. Aram Yardumian, however, deals with »Persepolis,« one of the greatest masterpieces from Xenakis' small but impactful body of electroacoustic compositions, which arguably takes on a very topical dimension against the backdrop of the current revolutionary movement in Iran.

Bernhard Rietbrock – Alvin Lucier’s Reflexive Experimental Aesthetics (Wolke, book)


Bernhard Rietbrock himself has already participated in the recording of pieces by Alvin Lucier and dedicated the research project »Reflexive Experimental Aesthetics after Alvin Lucier« to him at the Zurich University of the Arts—not to be confused with »Alvin Lucier's Reflexive Experimental Aesthetics,« his monograph recently published by the Wolke publishing house. In it, Rietbrock approaches the work of the late artist through a Lacanian lens. The focus lies squarely on compositions between the years 1965 and 1982, that is, works for the voice as well as instrumental compositions.

Jean-Pierre Criqui (Ed.) – Christian Marclay (JRP Editions, book)


As part of a retrospective of his work at the Centre Pompidou, this anthology explores Christian Marclay's oeuvre. One focus lies on Marclay's fascination with and his creative investigation of sound and its mediation. With contributions by Annalisa Rimaudo, David Toop, Dennis Cooper, Wayne Koestenbaum and many others, »Christian Marclay« examines the work of a conceptually iconoclastic and unflinchingly humorous multimedia artist who remains unparalleled today.

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