quinta-feira, 30 de agosto de 2018

Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

Photo: Ernesto Rodrigues, Karoline Leblanc, Luis Lopes & Paulo J Ferreira Lopes (Montreal, Canada)

Between Ernesto Rodrigues having recently created (or at least I recently noticed) a Bandcamp page for his many albums, and my own schedule being tied up waiting on materials (in this case, not so much music as some final texts in preparation for another long discussion that I'll be writing separately), this seems like a good time to make some other observations on Rodrigues's output in general, as well as to discuss some material I've neglected. Of course, with Rodrigues's massive output — & there are currently 172 albums on his Bandcamp page (and one might find more at any moment), the vast majority from Creative Sources, but only the albums on which he personally appears — some neglect seems almost inevitable, and indeed Rodrigues releases albums at such a pace that I never find myself saying that I last mentioned him around this or that, or originally there, etc.... So that's one difference from other musicians in this space, and I've also neglected his larger ensemble albums almost entirely: That's (still) not my focus, but I've mentioned such projects from some other prominent musicians at times, so allow me to interject a few remarks into that arena now as well. I first mentioned Rodrigues in this space in April 2012, with some reasonably descriptive comments regarding Le Beau Déviant & Brume — albums already evoking the sort of technologically mediated, yet naturally inspired, landscapes that run through so many Creative Sources releases. I didn't use the term "lowercase" then, but found myself using it soon after, as I picked up vocabulary from other music writers, particularly around jazz retail. Since then, I've come to question the label, and especially how broadly it's being applied: Per Wikipedia & elsewhere, the term apparently derives from US sound installation practice around the turn of the millennium, which makes it a relatively late entry into the "genre" domain. I don't know the specific history of how it was taken up as a retail category, particularly for music from Europe, but it's certainly not the only genre term that has come to expand into related outputs & impulses. In particular, "lowercase" is specifically suggestive of bringing something unnoticed, particularly an object, to attention. In other words, it's about illuminating one's sound source in some way, the illumination being the reason for selecting the source. In this it differs markedly from the older, related concept of Musique concrète, particularly in its original meaning from Pierre Schaeffer: There, it's abstract "musical" concerns that dominate, with the sound source being unimportant, or even effaced in the production process. (Sounds might be heavily edited, for instance, such that their origin becomes obscure.) In this sense, it would be difficult to suggest — at least in my opinion — that Rodrigues is attempting to illuminate unnoticed objects, at least not physically: Rather, although he often employs electronics (& a recording or even amplification already involves "electronics"), he's generally using traditional instruments in extended ways, the sonic relations produced being prioritized ahead of their "objectness." (And one could suggest that much music literally involves illuminating "objects" in the most general sense, usually musical objects, but then, why generalize the lowercase term to an ordinary musical outcome?) Musique concrète also suggests the creation — using electronics, originally tape decks, in a studio — of a finished musical product, rather than a score to be performed: At least in its early guise, it involved substantial editing, whereas Rodrigues uses minimal editing (or so I think, although selecting material does become editing), but does produce a finished musical result (a performance & then recording), rather than a score. Moreover, subsequent to (& really contemporaneous with) Schaeffer, ideas of Musique concrète were already extended in a variety of directions, including by composers such as R. Murray Schafer (who coined "soundscape" & further interrogated the separation of sound from its sources) & Luc Ferrari (who presented everyday environmental sounds, albeit heavily edited, as composition), et al. In the latter example, one does begin to perceive "canonical" lowercase emerging around both everyday-ness & intent, but that was 1970...! Further regarding the history of lowercase as a (retail) category or genre, it apparently emerged from ambient music — rather than referencing these European developments already well underway in the 1950s — and indeed I already had occasion to discuss the "ambient" concept earlier this year, around Rodrigues's quartet album Sîn: In that case, the basic ambient concept, that music should be suitable for greater or lesser attention, is coherent to me, even as "lowercase" starts to intersect so many ideas as to become meaningless... actually, I first used the latter term around Nor (recorded in 2014, discussed here in April 2015), the first release from the quartet that would later make Sîn, and my first "favorite" from Rodrigues. (The oldest current favorite is New Dynamics from 2016, an album that doesn't really suggest or confront these categories.) Now I have to question the coherence of the "lowercase" category further, especially when I see it applied to a recent album like Coluro, involving a great deal of abstraction around timbral parameters: One might say that aspects of musical instrument-objects are being illuminated, but I think that's a stretch. Rather, it's sounds combined for expression & effect (or affect). And moreover, music involving heavy doses of quiet or silence, as sometimes cited for lowercase, likewise dates back at least to the 1950s, to Cage et al.... Indeed, Cage is a cited influence for Rodrigues, as is, to a lesser degree (of acknowledgement, anyway), Xenakis: Xenakis emerged from a post-Varèse world to create musique concrète around Schaeffer at GRM, beginning with electronics & tapes, and — like Rodrigues — moves more into traditional acoustic instruments (in his case, via written music). If one intends "lowercase" to simply refer to music that uses amplification in order to focus on ordinarily quiet timbres, then I suppose that's coherent, although I'm not sure it reflects actual usage... (& doesn't that already describe e.g. hard body electric guitar?). In any case, I intend to be much more circumspect regarding my usage of the term in future, although I should add that, although it's received more & longer musical (& conceptual) interrogation, and appears to be a more direct historical inspiration for the efforts mentioned in this entry, "musique concrète" is not entirely suited either: Perhaps call it improvisational post-concrète, instead. (Rodrigues himself had adopted the label post-serial.)

That said, after the previous entry oriented on new releases from Rodrigues (& his son, Guilherme) in Berlin, let me return to Lisbon to highlight a couple of octet recordings from 2017: Urze (recorded January 2017) & Vulgaris (recorded June 2017) managed to slip through the cracks of Rodrigues's output for me, being neither small nor large ensembles. (And whereas neither recording date seems especially far in the past relative to other items discussed here, for Rodrigues, there have already been more than thirty subsequent albums released....) Both are interesting items within Rodrigues's broader output, a fact that obligation-free Bandcamp audition helped make apparent, such that Urze, by a mixed octet called Diceros, seems to bring some of the same concerns that Rodrigues articulates (in part) via his IKB ensemble down to a "half"-sized group (& more on IKB & other larger groups in a moment): In this case, Rodrigues himself is on harp & other plucked strings, not for the first time, in a remarkably coherent album that often involves a squeaky atmosphere with a variety of overtones, burbling, sheering waves... almost an underwater scene, and also relatively smooth (perhaps in an ambient sense): Sometimes vigorous internal rhythms are simply washed over by waves of shimmering overtones. (Its general sense of interaction & restraint might even be reprised in Rodrigues's most recent album on Bandcamp at the moment, Backlighting by a quartet of viola & three horns, all alto or higher. It almost seems like the top half of Urze, although the latter uses only two horns amid its watery computer, piano, guitar, etc. These are also all single track albums....) The ambivalent environment of the album seems to be reflected in its names & iconography as well, with a shadow rhinoceros ("Diceros", similar to IKB's Rhinocerus from 2014) set against (I guess, the term might also mean e.g. heather) a field of rosemary... but I sure don't hear a field or savanna. An "underwater" sense is that much more tangible on Vulgaris, by another octet called Octopus: There, Rodrigues is back on viola, and while the octets are very similar, the only other musicians actually in common are Paolo Curado (flute, also on Backlighting), Andre Hencleeday (piano, psaltery) & Carlos Godinho (percussion). (All are frequent Rodrigues collaborators, although I was not specifically aware of Godinho previously.) Vulgaris has a particularly strong ambient vibe, and generally has a calming effect, more so than e.g. Nashaz, with which it otherwise shares some characteristics — and of course the "doubled" ensemble of the former again facilitates a smoother sound overall. Particularly given the lack of environmental confusion (and I don't intend to portray such reterritorialization as a negative, regarding Urze, but rather as an intriguing crossing), Vulgaris might make for an excellent entry into Rodrigues's oeuvre for the uninitiated, but as noted around Jardin Carré, much has also developed in the past few years. (Regarding the underwater theme, one should likewise note Underwater Music — one of at least a dozen trio albums from Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues, all with a different third member — as discussed last October, i.e. while the albums of the previous entry were being recorded: That album was recorded all the way back in Spring 2016, and as noted in my prior discussion, doesn't appear to evoke water sonically at all! Nonetheless, it seems like another pivotal album....)

Regarding larger ensembles, I already made a departure by discussing Tellurium in May, and there I noted that recordings by IKB, Variable Geometry Orchestra (VGO) & Suspensão were also recorded at CreativeFest #11 last November. A few further remarks: Tellurium was the fourth "String Theory" album, and my decision (to discuss it) derived in part from the fact that the previous two albums in the series were for seven & four musicians respectively, although the first (Gravity, released in 2016) was for seventeen. (And one does see primes run through these ensemble numbers, although Tellurium & the last three IKB albums are for sixteen musicians....) Since then, it appears that Sul by "Strings & Andrew Drury" (involving eleven musicians on various string instruments, plus the drummer) might be something of a continuation: Drury had appeared on quartet album Eterno Retorno from early in the Creative Sources catalog, but not with Rodrigues since, and the "constellations" of the cover moreover suggest variants on (& crossings of) space themes (as I had discussed last month around Coluro) & geometry: It's another eerie, single track album for relatively large forces. Another "variant geometry" concept seems to be involved in the more recent Isotope Ensemble (because, after all, isotopes involve a kind of atomic geometry, albeit much smaller than solar systems), with its first album Yttrium (for thirteen musicians) having been recorded in May 2017, i.e. between Urze & Vulgaris. And in 2018, there are two more Isotope Ensemble albums, both involving seventeen musicians: Barium (as noted around Tellurium, recorded in February) & Lanthanum (recorded in April) both involve quiet rumbling, overtones, sometimes animated horns, and a mysterious sense of progress. Whereas Barium involves a traffic jam (& Rodrigues "playing" metronome, including conspicuously at the end), Lanthanum is the smoother of the two: Its various waves & timbres take on more of a finished character, making for another reasonable place for an uninitiated listener (who enjoys larger ensembles, anyway) to enter Rodrigues's sound world. That series seems to be becoming more assertive, or at least more frequent. Already massive & assertive at various points is the VGO series, though, with the first half of its sixth album (Ma'adim Vallis) emerging from CreativeFest #11 as well: The number six is somewhat deceptive, as it's a double album, and not the first such in the series. Moreover, the two parts (the second from January 2018) are labeled as Conductions #47 & #48: I didn't attempt to trace the numbering, but it appears that not all have been released, unless the output of the other large ensembles is counted as well.... Still, it gives a sense of how active Rodrigues has been with his largest groups, and the November recording from VGO is massive indeed, involving thirty-seven musicians (with a "mere" nineteen on the more mysterious January session) in a huge & varied orchestral eruption: It recalls Xenakis, and not for the first time in the series. (One might further recall that Xenakis combines geometric interest with architectural principles, and that might fit some of these Rodrigues projects as well....) Moving on, there have now been five releases in the Suspensão series, with the November recording (i.e. the most recent) being Physis, numbered as the eleventh piece in the series (counting double albums, multiple tracks, etc.): Here the eerie desire to interrogate the basic contours of reality, especially the equivocation of foreground & background, of environment/context & subject, maintains.... Although I've made only a few brief comments about the series, now including here, its basic equivocating concerns reflect & enhance important contemporary questions regarding subject-object duality (& in turn, traditional ontology) more generally (as soon to be articulated more extensively in the text that I promised at the beginning of this entry...): There is again an overall "ambient" sense & even conceptual interrogation, to retract to genre concerns. Finally, the IKB series, which generally involves crisper tones & more explicit counterpoint, is harder to summarize: I'm not sure why it started using unusual biological species for its titles & minimal covers, the most recent being Apteryx mantelli, but perhaps its ecological or territorial articulations are more specific than I imagine.... (There is a sense of geometric inspiration that I can't really localize.) In any case, IKB albums — of which there have now been seven, with three of them originating in 2014 alone — have used ensembles ranging from thirteen to eighteen musicians (and like the octets above, less often involve prime numbers). I suppose the relative crispness of the music (especially relative to e.g. Suspensão) is reflected in the crisp covers, and like all the recent albums mentioned in this entry, but perhaps most canonically, the music is articulated in a single sweep. (Many of the IKB albums do also seem rather similar to me.) Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts (http://www.medieval.org)