coming down with grace

february 23, 2006.

Conv is a Madrid based net and CDr label with a number of interesting releases, who were so kind as to send me a copy of Graceful Degradation, a CDr with work composed and produced by Asher Thal-Nir (now living and working in the city of Sommerville, Massachusetts) during the summer and autumn of last year in Brooklyn, NYC.

Some day Asher bought an old piano on the street in Brooklyn, it reads in his liner notes to this release. For seventy five dollars. "I was told it had been the piano in a local bar, and was in quite a state of disrepair," he writes. asher CD cover
The material used for Graceful Degradation are recordings Asher made of this piano, on an old cassette recorder that he found in a store room at work. "No one cared when I took it home," he writes. It always sat next to the piano with a cassette ready."
(Some of) these cassettes came from an abandoned collection of tapes Asher found while cleaning out offices in Queens ... "One of the cassettes I ended up working with had been recorded onto so many times that it became worn out and never played back my recordings the same way ..."

I was fascinated by this narrative and the music it evoked for me, which at least partly has to be due to my interest in the intricate wavering sonic textures brought about by multifold degrees of 'degradation' and 'mutilation' of the recordings on magnetic tape that I come across among the cassettes I pick up for the Found Tapes Exhibition. They are one of the main reasons for my again and again stubbornly spending long days of unknotting and remounting 'degraded' tapes.

And indeed many a composer and sound artist over the past decade or so discovered (and subsequently used) this potential of 'aleatoric intervention' by the '(graceful) degradation' so characteristic of the 'old' analog media - be it on vinyl disc, or on magnetic tape. It was through another short on-line review of this Asher CDr that, for example, I learned of the 'Disintegration loops' series, by William Basinski, that - or so it seems - use the 'real time' gradual destruction brought about by the 'now' playing back of some tape loops made in, and kept since, the early 1980s. Also that struck me as being a fine metaphor ... a wonderful image ... and a great compositional idea ...
Mission Impossible Anyone that from time to time plays back thirty year old reel-to-reel tapes will be familiar with the sprays of brownish dust that in many cases accompany what is a tape-self-destruction but ever so slightly less thorough than the 'spontaneous combustive' ones occurring at the beginning of the episodes of the 'Mission Impossible' television series ... (Maybe you remember : ..."This tape will self-destruct in five seconds ..." ...) I have not been able yet (except for a couple of 30 sec extracts) to listen to this Basinski work (and actually - though for the moment that's mere intuition - am somewhat repelled by the strong link that he seems to be invoking cq. exploiting, between his 'disintegrating loops' and the 'NY 9/11' events), but I did manage to catch (on last.fm) some of the tracks of Basinski's Melancholia release, made up of 14 short piano tape-loops - also dating from the early 1980's.

Understandable [ ... old piano, tape, degradation ... ] that in texture and atmosphere these Basinski loops come pretty close to the three Asher tracks that make up 'Graceful Degradation'. Also for Asher's work melancholia would be an appropriate 'tag'. Memory is a second one they'd have in common. ("Memories are recorded in our brains and surface whenever they are triggered; but each memory is observed in the present, altering the original version," Asher writes, linking his recordings to Richard Restak's writings on our brain's 'graceful degradation'.)

Both are foremost works of a melancholic slowness, and evasiveness.

Which, as said, may be understandable; but is far from necessary ... I myself for example, upon just reading the liner notes, had imagined a work of a quite different character. I had thought it to be something coarser, something denser, with remnants of 'base recordings' (like those of the Led Zeppelin and Police songs that apparently were originally on the cassettes that Asher found) still audibly 'leaking' through ... But they are not. At least not recognizably so.

Yeah, Asher's CDr is different from what I had expected. And I do think that the 'melancholically flowing' and 'evasive' angle is somewhat of an 'easy way out' ... Graceful Degradation is a very slow, minimal - ambient/micro - work, consisting in three longish tracks (lasting, respectively about 21, 12 and 21 minutes). Asher took parts from his ol' piano, ol' cassette, ol' recorder recordings to then compose these pieces by long-loop and layer in the studio. (The relatively short middle one, entitled "Untitled #305", is my favorite among the three, sounding, as if it were a blow-up of some rugged splinters from a Satie Gymnopédie ...) But, though staying only ever so slightly away from the 'kitschy' side of the line, it is a work of undeniable beauty ... Deeper also, and more 'honest' (that is a dangerous 'tag', I know :-) ...), imo, than is Basinski's 'superficially comparable' Melancholia (which too often does end up on the wrong - the sentimental - side, as far as I am concerned). Thanks - mainly - to a certain roughness and the many melodic and harmonic irregularities in Asher's piano parts ...

Embedded in an all-pervading sonic fog made out of tape hiss and multicolored reverberation, these longish loops of a fluttering piano, shaky like the hands of an alcoholic, do seem to insist on wanting to tell us something. They almost do. But there's too much already forgotten, there's too many holes, there's too much that got lost ... These are strange melodies. Or rather trembling fragments of what maybe once were such ... And which now - de-contextualized to the extreme, and ever-repeating - breathe but estrangement, melancholy and decay ... ; as do these here winter grey and rainy days.

vicky's very own présences

february 19, 2006.

windows On saturday february 18th, late afternoon, an ana-R antinoise brigade (commando antibruit, CAB) composed of FlexRex, E. Rébus and HarS - to my very own surprise, actually - did a pretty silent play with Vicky in the hall of the Maison de la Radio, Paris XVI, in the hour before began the closing concert of Présences 2006, the yearly french 'festival de création musical' ... FlexRex played his Game Boy plugged into a tiny battery powered amplifier hidden in one of his pockets, while queuing to enter the salle Messiaen ... he indeed eventually entered to attend the concert. Rébus and HarS remained outside, seated on the side, before the windows of the hall. Rébus there played Vicky cuts on a dictaphone, plugged into the amplification stuffed into a camera bag. rebus dictaphone HarS played a portable radio-walkman through two small speakers hanging around his neck, with a cassette filled with randomly generated Commodore-64 sounds, and a vari-speed dictaphone in the pocket of his coat, containing a cassette with the dictaphone recording he made of the (it was pretty bad, actually ... truly grotesque) opening concert of Présences 2006 - two Penderecki symphonies directed two weeks earlier by the very Penderecki, on friday february 3, 2006, in this very Maison de la Radio

[ Earlier related SB-entries: Vicky Choc Special :: toc toc toc ]

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