January 15-16, 2013 TEMP Art Space, 57 Walker St., NYC
Keith Rowe/Michael Pisaro (premiere) Keith Rowe/Graham Lambkin (premiere)
Christian Wolff/Keith Rowe Keith Rowe solo
each night is $15 / $12 IPR members+students. these shows have been made possible, in part, by Bowerbird (Philadelphia) with funding from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, The Presser Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Dina and Jerry Wind, and John J. Medveckis.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside One of the many amazing and, if not unique, damn rare things about Keith Rowe is his way of looking at an event or series of events in a wider context, usually several wider contexts. I recall when he played at Tonic with Christian Fennesz (2004?). The set order was to be Rowe solo, Christian solo then the pair. Spending the day with Fennesz, Rowe was aware of his intense excitement about the upcoming evening and surmised that his, Fennesz', set would be loud, surging, onrushing. So, with the view of all three sets and their "exterior" structure, he fashioned his own set very much as a prologue, keeping things subdued with a gradually rising ramp, if you will, to lead into Christian's set and to provide a platform of sorts from which he could launch. Which he did.
Knowing that he was to play four sets in two nights, three in duo and finally solo, he had several areas of concern. One, expressed to some of us, was to make sure he had four different approaches, four relatively discreet areas of sound. But on the whole I had the impression of two pairs, similar but offset from each other, like stairs:
wherein the first set of each evening was the subtler, softer and more graceful of the two and the second the more visceral, confrontational one. Moreover, almost as a linkage, day two's first set culd fit between day one's two performances and the finale, the solo, extended the second set from the first evening, giving a 1-3-2-4 retrospective nesting.
But perhaps that's just me...Rowe certainly looked at the sets as four portions of a larger work.
I'm not sure if this was Michael Pisaro's first live improvised set though I imagine it's been at least since his AACM-inspired days as a guitarist from Chicago. The day before, the pair had agreed on one parameter, at Pisaro's suggestion, that the set be 49 minutes long (Michael likes that number). Both of Tuesday's sets were difficult to anticipate for different reasons. Pisaro's playing on his own pieces and, from what I've heard, on those by others had always resided in a relatively small, if nuanced pool: quiet, full of ebow induced hums, sometimes gentle taps, very rounded. And, augmented by some soft sine tones and at least one noticeable patch of field recording (birds and car engines predominant) that's pretty much the area in which he chose to dwell, Rowe also remaining fairly quiet but much rougher, utilizing his stalwart scrub pad to good effect. It was quite subtle, bearing (I'm sure) more layers and connections than could be heard at first blush; I'd very much like to hear it multiple times. As is, I found it both relaxing and moderately absorbing. If anything, Rowe was leaning a bit toward Pisaro's territory and, given that, my favorite moments were toward the end when, instead of reciprocating in kind, Pisaro chose to lean a little bit the other way, playing a handful of two, three and four note melodic phrases, implying a song form--lovely and unexpected.
As was the case with the first set, Rowe/Lambkin was also a first meeting though you might not have known it from the way they came prepared. Both, independently, had chosen to bring drawing and other art materials to the show, amplifying them quite severely. Sitting side by side at separate tables, they fashioned something of a busily active workshop scene, scribbling, rubbing, tearing, scissoring and taping their way through the construction of a visual art form (which may find its way into the recording they're working on for Erstwhile on the day this is being typed). Rowe turned on a (very good) salsa station for much of the set while Lambkin, having realized it was the birthday of the late Don Van Vliet, at one point flipped on a cassette recording of "Well" from Trout Mask Replica, lovingly swathed in layers of static. It was all very brusque, sometimes close to violent, though the pair went about their business like two craftsmen on adjacent benches, churning out creative industrial product. It was massively entertaining, sight and sound, with a great sense of depth and play, entirely absorbing and perfectly placed. Elegance where you wouldn't expect it.
[Pausing to note that on the first night, about 180 people crammed the Temp Gallery to the brim, maybe 120 the second, each a far healthier turnout than normally achieved in these parts]
Hardly a first meeting, Christian Wolff and Rowe have performed together, in AMM and elsewhere, many a time since 1968, most recently in Philadelphia the preceding Sunday. Here, no piano in the room, Wolff brought his electric guitar, placed flat on the table, with a few objects in tow, notably a small cookie tin. He had also, I think, tied a piece of thick ribbon to one of the guitar strings which he occasionally bowed, indirecting stimulating those strings. The improvisation was quiet but rougher-edged than the previous evening's opener with Pisaro, Wolff, in Rowe's mind, playing more viscerally than he'd heard him before, certainly without much of the quasi-melodic delicacy he showed on Sunday. But he retained the wonderful habit of cutting off a phrase at a very unexpected point, at some precise fraction of the length the listener expected it to dwell. The performance reached a number of brief, one or two minute planes of sublime stasis, then would move calmly on. One of those involved Wolff doing a wonderful double-tap on the aforementioned tin with his bow, string/wood, string/wood, softly, in a regular rhythm, just seven or eight times. Elegant and beautiful.
Finally, Rowe played solo. It was an amazing set, Rowe as brutal as I've ever heard, beginning by grinding his trusty scrub pad into the strings of his Lap-Stick (a kind of lap-steel practice fretboard, analogous to the violin one he'd used previously) with huge pressure, bringing radio sound (mostly a soul station with some great tracks and a Barry White-voiced announcer) in and out in thick, plastic bursts, attacking the strings with the mini-fan, stones, knives, really creating a thick, almost miasmic atmosphere, very rough, bubbling and viscous. Through it all, though, was threaded a 1935 recording of Casals playing a Bach cello partita, so lovely, offering the listener multiple connections to discover between it and the music being created 78 years later. The piece possessed huge physical volume, real three-dimensionality, felt very much like you could stick your arms into it an knead the elements. He ended with a complicated, bitterly beautiful drone, bleak but resolute. Very intense and very much a climax of sorts for the two evenings. I do think that, ideally, one would hear the four sets in sequence, as movements of a single work. If we're lucky, perhaps we will one day...
Would that all festivals could be this solid and inspirational Great stuff. (1/20/2013)
------------------------------- Ben Ratliff, The NY Times
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Guitar and Sound
Keith Rowe is 72, and the instrument he’s been associated with for nearly 50 years is an electric guitar, laid flat on a table. Near the guitar are the things he uses for manipulating the sound of the guitar or interacting with it: flat objects of various weights and hardnesses, a couple of effects pedals, a small electric fan, a wad of steel wool, a small radio, an iPod, a sound mixer.
All of that lay before him on Tuesday night at Temp, the TriBeCa gallery space used for Amplify 2013: Rotation, a festival put on by Erstwhile Records and Issue Project Room. But he wasn’t touching any of it. He moved his hands across the surface of the table, creating hissing and rubbing sounds, supermagnified through sensitive contact microphones on the table. He was drawing, with pencil and paper. Beside him was another improviser, Graham Lambkin — a musician, writer, visual artist and former band member in the Shadow Ring. He sat at his own table, also drawing.
Mr. Rowe is part of a subset of improvisers who approach improvisation in nearly absolute philosophical terms. Starting in the mid-’60s, as part of the group AMM, he extended John Cage’s ideas about chance and nonintention in his own way. A Rosetta stone for the crew around Mr. Rowe was “Treatise,” by Cornelius Cardew, written between 1963 and 1967, a 193-page graphic score with few traditional symbols and no explicit suggestions of how to interpret it or what instruments to use. Mr. Rowe has been working with “Treatise” in one way or another for most of his life — even before it was completed, and ever since — and used some of it in the first half of Tuesday’s concert.
But Cardew’s bigger idea, that an improviser can build a language out of anything without relying on an established sound or idiom, was the night’s guiding principle. At his best, and the duet with Mr. Lambkin seemed pretty near that, Mr. Rowe constantly sets up and alters dynamic relationships among different sounds in a field, like a visual artist. He’s connected with his materials and uses fluid motions to keep the elements shifting, playing with your expectation and memory.
The performance was their first together. Mr. Rowe turned on the radio: salsa from a New York station. Mr. Lambkin drew lines along a ruler and traced circles around coins; he sliced across his paper with an X-Acto knife, making a sound much louder than the pencil. A blabby Geico commercial came on the radio, and as Mr. Rowe made small marks with his pencil — skrit skrit skrit — he triggered a recording of, appropriately, Pablo Casals playing the Bach cello suites. (Single lines in Bach, single lines on paper.) Mr. Rowe put his paper under the guitar strings and used them to guide his pencil hand; then he applied the steel wool to the strings, making an edgeless crumpling sound. Mr. Lambkin turned on a ghostly, barely audible cassette recording of Captain Beefheart’s “Well” and moved the cassette player around the microphones. Mr. Rowe made scissor cuts, loud and rude in their amplification, like pig snorts. Mr. Lambkin got into acrylic tape and plastic bags, ripping and sticking and scrunching, slow and deliberative and a little perverse.
It was a performance about motion and invention and constant reaction, and it had more spark than the earlier half: another first-meeting duet involving Mr. Rowe, with his usual setup — guitar, radio, etc. — and this time with Michael Pisaro, who is much more invested in composition with explicit instructions but also improvises with guitar, radio and recorded sound.
There were some parameters. They had established a length: 49 minutes. Mr. Rowe had superimposed six pages of “Treatise” as a prompt for his improvising, and on top of that laid a panel with a small square cut in the middle — an aperture, which he moved around as he needed. He sounded as normative as he can be, at ease in his own language. Mr. Pisaro, though he introduced unfamiliar sounds (tapping stones together, playing a field recording of cars along a rural road), ended up playing a long string of guitar notes, intervals and chords that sounded dry, mellow, theoretical and, finally, a little inert.