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David Tudor
Monobirds – From Ahmedabad to Xenon 1969 / 1979
Topos LP 09

With The Art of David Tudor, 1963 - 1992 and Music From the Tudorfest: San Francisco Tape Music Center 1964 (released in 2013 and 2014 respectively), New World Records brought a significant focus to Tudor’s expansive catalog of work, far too much of which had never been released. But since then, nothing has surfaced. That is, until the Danish label Topos in collaboration with Julie Martin, Director of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) dug into the E.A.T. archives to unearth this set of previously unreleased recordings by Tudor. The 2-LP set, accompanied by a deluxe booklet written by artist and Tudor scholar You Nakai, brings two inter-related projects from a poorly documented decade of Tudor’s career. The first LP documents a series of recordings Tudor made on a trip to Ahmedabad, India in 1969 utilizing a Moog synthesizer he had brought from the US to install there. The second is from a recording session a decade later at a New York City discotheque utilizing the India recordings as a primary source track, filtered through his expansive setup of home-made signal generators, mixers, phase shifters, modulators, and filters.

By 1969, Tudor was charting out his unique approach to DIY modular electronic music, utilizing a constantly evolving collection of oscillators, filters, phase splitters, and mixers. In these setups, the oscillators along with tape sources were used as input back into the system, creating a volatile sonic environment that Tudor clearly reveled in. Around that time, Tudor had begun collaborating with Lowell Cross who been developing video synthesis, using audio as input, to manipulate the output of television sets in order to create modulating visualizations of the audio. In 1969, Tudor began working with Cross and Carson Jeffries on an audio/laser system for a pavilion funded by Pepsi-Cola for the 1970 Osaka Expo. In October of that year, Tudor was invited to Ahmedabad, India to set up the country’s first electronic music studio funded by an Indian family whose daughter had briefly studied with John Cage in New York. While Tudor accepted the position, he certainly had trepidations since a central part of the studio would be a large Moog synthesizer that he was asked to bring and install. Tudor was particularly outspoken about early synthesizers, complaining that the instruments were too predictable, hobbled by the inherent standardization of their voltage control designs.

While there, Tudor had to quickly prepare a performance with the system, managing to come up with a way to subvert that standardization. In a workshop he gave in Boston in 1985, he explained “I decided that I better find a way to tweak it out. I had already done a little experimenting like with the early Buchla synthesizer, and a very nice technique was to load a mixer up and put it in a feedback loop. I decided to take a single oscillator and load up all its control inputs and sure enough, you would think there would be thirty oscillators but there is only one ... I had to add something outboard to it that would change the way it operates. It’s mostly because all the considerations of the voltage, you know, what voltage needs to work or what the output signal level is – that’s all coordinated. And if you manage to uncoordinate that, then you are in a completely different position.” The piece, later titled “Monobird,” was documented as a recording which Tudor further developed in the studio while also using the resulting tapes as input in live performance.

The first LP of the set presents two versions of Tudor’s studio efforts. Side one presents “Monobird (NX)” which combines the live recording with a recording which is likely another track that that Tudor had recorded at the studio in India. Side two presents “Monobird (SX)” which combines the live recording with a slowed-down version of the recording. Listening to these pieces, one immediately hears Tudor’s penchant for “uncoordinating” output signals as the pieces loop back on themselves creating changeable rhythms teeming with variability and unpredictability. Once set in motion, signals carom against each other, creating webs of swoops, chirps, hisses, formant moans, and shuddering frequency shifts. But there is clearly more at play here than simply pulling a wagon up a hill, filling it with rocks, and giving it a shove to see where it ends up. Tudor had spent time with systems like this, knowing how to patch them for inherent volatility while drawing on a deep understanding of how to set parameters for the system to avoid total chaos.

As importantly, comparing the two pieces on the LP and referencing the original recording reveals how he manipulated the source material for contrasting versions. The version of “Monobird” archived on the Getty Digital Collections, moves with a measured momentum across 48 minutes, ending with spare whistles and quaking oscillations. “Monobird (NX)” starts with a relatively open soundscape, reminiscent of birds chattering back and forth in a forest. It goes on to build with a steady trajectory, starting to build density midway through and then exploding into surging layers of panned activity that rocket back and forth across the stereo plane, ending with comic vocalized sounds and groaning splats. “Monobird (SX)” bristles with sputtering activity right away, with percussive low-end textures that blat and blurt with abandon. That momentum swells to skirling intensity which rarely flags throughout the half-hour reading. By the final section, a relentless insistence carries through to a boisterous conclusion, ending with a stark hard-stop.

Ten years later, at the end of February 1979, Tudor was invited to perform at the New York City discotheque Xenon as part of a benefit for a nonprofit artists’ organization dedicated to turning unused buildings into alternative arts spaces. The event, hosted by Leo Castelli, was to include a laser concert by Tudor, Cross and, Jeffries utilizing the space’s sixteen-channel sound system. Tudor set up an array of interconnected modular electronics including input from tapes of “Monobird” which fed into the laser system. At 8:30pm, the audio and lasers were activated and moments later, came to a crashing halt as the system meant to cool the lasers became clogged. While the performance never occurred, Tudor decided to leave his setup intact, coming back the next day to take advantage of the room and sound system in an open recording session. Astonishingly, neither of the takes recorded that day have been issued until now.

Other than the CD Live Electronic Music and some pieces on New World Tudor boxed sets, few of Tudor’s live electronics performances have been released which makes the two takes of “Laser Performance” particularly intriguing. In “Monobird,” Tudor set the patches up and let the overloaded circuits of the synthesizer shape the arc of the piece. For these later pieces, signal generators and tape input were mixed and manipulated in real time through the use of phase shifters, filters, and mixers which fed the output back on itself. While the sounds of the source tapes are integral, it is the way that Tudor teases timbral shadings and textural densities out of his setup that stand out. Weaving together the multi-channel threads of input and output, the pieces develop in complex and constantly morphing layers. At the start of “Take 1,” the chatter of Tudor and his assistants sets the stage as low rumbles and thrumming oscillations accrue, gradually shot through with high-pitched squeals and glissandos between quavering pitches. At times, waves of feedback waft through, which Tudor lets build and then breaks before it overwhelms the sound field. It’s that contemplative control and mutable outcomes that make for such exhilarating results. “Take 2,” on the second side of the LP, delivers an alternate version that works with the same components, allowing one to hear Tudor work through the sonic palette for equally distinctive results.

Mention should also be made about the deluxe booklet that accompanies the set. You Nakai provides insightful, detailed background, archival photographs, and information about Tudor’s setups which provide an invaluable reference. Aside from Monobirds, Topos has released a double LP of John Cage's Variations VII recorded at the 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering which took place in New York City in 1966. Plans are to continue to mine the extensive E.A.T. sound archives from the organization’s activities over the last 50 years with both record releases and taped interviews posted to their website. Based on this Tudor recording and the care that went into it, one looks forward to seeing what else will be forthcoming.
–Michael Rosenstein


Christian Wolff
3 String Quartets
New World Records CD 80830-2

It’s remarkable to realize that Christian Wolff has been creating music for over seven decades. Even more remarkable when one thinks about the range of his work. One could focus on graphic scores or text pieces like “Burdocks,” “Edges,” or “Stones,” his catalog of solo piano music, his music for open ensemble configurations like his “Exercises” series, or his activities as a performer of improvised music with musicians including Keith Rowe, Eddie Prévost, Michael Pisaro-Liu, and Antoine Beuger. And that just skirts the edges of his massive output of 250 compositions, starting in 1950 and still going strong. Wolff has benefited greatly from ongoing relationships with musicians who have performed his music regularly such as Eberhard Blum, Roland Dahinden, Philip Thomas, Robyn Schulkowsky, John Tilbury, Apartment House, as well as composers like Gordon Mumma and Frederic Rzewski.

Yet somehow, his string quartets have never quite gotten much attention. A few have appeared on previous releases, but it is remarkable that this recording by Montreal-based Quatour Bozzini offers premiers of pieces Wolff composed in the mid-1970s, 2008, and 2019. The quartet have performed the pieces regularly for the past two decades and, in the case of the latter two compositions, the pieces were premiered by them. In his incisive liner notes, Pisaro-Liu notes that “his quartet music stems as much from Ives and Cage as from the European art music tradition. The four characters of Ives become four people playing music. In one piece he simply calls them ‘2 violinists, violist and cellist.’ Sometimes they are asked to coordinate like a traditional quartet. But at other times (often in the same piece), they are pushed to the point of dissolution. Here we find a music that allows for the spontaneous expression of four musicians who are bound together by something more than the rule of the bar line.” The three string quartets presented on this release embody these threads, embracing lyricism, political themes, open collective strategies for ensemble interaction, and compositional abstraction.

The set starts out with the three-part “String Quartet Exercises out of Songs” written between 1974 and 1976, a time when Wolff was grappling with how to make explicit connections between his political and social activism and his music. Like Frederic Rzewski, Wolff incorporated protest and political songs into his compositions. For the first Exercise, he drew on “Workers and Peasants are One Family,” which is a Communist adaptation of a Chinese folksong. The simple theme is stated and then gets increasingly refracted as phrases are pulled apart, broken by irregular rests which the quartet navigates with an assured sense of pacing. The way that the lyrical theme is teased apart is a study in harmonic deconstruction. The second is based on the revolutionary anthem “Comintern Song” by Hanns Eisler. The piece opens with a voicing of the combative theme which is then pared into a complexly structured counterpoint threaded across the ensemble. The third uses “Which Side Are You On?,” a song for union solidarity also used by Rzewski as the basis for a stirring piece for solo piano. Rather than starting with the theme like the previous two pieces, this one opens with a stately melodic section with ideas that move seamlessly across the instruments. A third of the way through, the theme surfaces and then gets subsumed as the piece moves further and further into fragmentation. Two thirds of the way through, the theme surfaces again, setting the stage for a languid violin solo which wends toward a rousing conclusion and restatement of the theme.

“For 2 violinists, violist, and cellist,” composed a decade later began as a duo for violin and cello and became a string quartet written for Quatour Bozzini. Over the course of 34 minutes, the composition breaks down the ensemble into various configurations. The open-form structure calls on the musicians to work both independently and as a unit to navigate the piece. Wolff is quoted as saying “I prefer possible disruption and inconsequence, not so much out of affection for disorder but as a way of looking for other forms of order, fluid and flexible ones, in which the performers and the performance are what matter most, that is, what actually is done and happens can be surprising, while the players find a confidence in acting under partially indeterminate conditions.” Half-way through, a section of extended string techniques fractures into free phrases that hover with keen collective acumen. That collective triangulation across indeterminacy and structure requires both individual conviction and unwavering collective resolve. It is striking the way that all of the members of the group ride that balance throughout this knotty piece.

The nine-part “Out of Kilter (String Quartet 5)” from 2019 concludes the CD. Across these miniatures, ranging from 30 seconds to 3 minutes long, the quartet embraces Wolff’s penchant for bringing together divergent approaches from folk-like melodicism to microtonality to sustained harmonics and resultant overtones to ragged pizzicato, all coming together to create a variegated whole. Despite Wolff’s wry title for the piece there is nothing that is out of whack with either the overall structure of the composition or the realization captured here. Delivering a cogent performance of the piece requires a group comfortable in drawing on the vast tradition of string quartet writing without being hobbled by the conventions of that tradition. The four musicians move from section to section with a collective poise, digging into the textures, dissonances, and atmospherics of the piece to deliver an enthralling performance. At 87, Christian Wolff is showing few signs of slowing down. It’s great to have groups like Quatour Bozzini and labels like New World Records devoted to making his music available.
–Michael Rosenstein


Jim Yanda
A Silent Way
Corner Store Jazz CSJ-0126 0127

Miles Davis’ groundbreaking In A Silent Way was released by Columbia Records in 1969. Over half a century later, guitarist Jim Yanda issues A Silent Way, taking Davis’ exploratory spirit to an entirely different realm. Yanda explains the title, “The connection is a little oblique, but it’s definitely there in the approach, the openness, which I think gives people a reference point to draw them into its world.” Yanda’s date is similarly rich in texture and atmosphere, but beyond that, the two albums could hardly be mistaken for one another.

Yanda is joined by drummer Phil Haynes and trumpeter Herb Robertson for this venture into the unknown. Despite their longstanding relationships – Yanda and Haynes studied at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, meeting Robertson in the 1990s – Yanda and Haynes typically work together in more structured settings, such as Haynes’ string band Free Country, the organ trio The Hammond Brothers, and Yanda’s trio with bassist Drew Gress, all documented on Yanda and Haynes’ Corner Store Jazz label. Yanda and Robertson, meanwhile, share a long-running free improv duo, while Haynes and Robertson released a pair of improvised recordings on CIMP back in 2000, Ritual and Brooklyn-Berlin. A Silent Way is the first time they’ve convened as a trio.

Although Yanda has since moved to Woodstock, A Silent Way was recorded by engineer Jon Rosenberg during a series of free improv sessions at Yanda’s New Jersey home in 2019. In another parallel to Davis’ seminal effort, Haynes served as producer, extending the album’s homage to Teo Macero, Davis’ long-time producer, by sorting through hours of music, selecting enough to fill two CDs. Haynes then assembled the lengthy sessions into a unique, albeit mercurial program.

From the outset, aleatoric ruminations like “Search” and “Spirits” tend to meander; in contrast, a quarter of the way through the set, “Questions” deconstructs jazz rock, “Path” swings with abandon, and “Odyssey” telegraphs a sprawling fever dream. The second half of the session is equally eclectic, leading off with the bluesy abstraction “Jungle,” with its wobbly slide guitar and caterwauling prepared clarinet, progressing through the characteristically pointillist title track, and on to “Meta,” a riot of roiling percussion, bristling fretwork, and sputtering brass. Throughout the date, the trio’s nebulous soundscapes are occasionally joined by ethereal synth washes, frenzied woodwinds, or – as on “Stream” – bizarre choruses of sampled voices. According to Robertson, “I also play keyboard and wind instruments sometimes simultaneously, giving the illusion in the music that there are more than three players playing.”

One would be hard-pressed to find musicians more in-tune with each other than these three, who clearly share a sense of humor – just listen to Robertson’s deranged vocals on the aptly-titled “Possession.” Those familiar with Yanda’s prior Corner Store Jazz releases, such as Regional Cooking and Home Road, may find A Silent Way an ear-opening experience. “There’s a tendency in free improvisation to make sound without listening deeply, because it’s so open and there are no rules,” Yanda says. “It’s a much greater challenge to make what you’re doing cohere with the overall context, to try to give things some form and structure.” Yanda, Haynes, and Robertson are all committed to that approach, and although it may require time to fully appreciate, A Silent Way is a pertinent example, one that rewards dedicated listening.
–Troy Collins


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