Tag Archives: Experimental

The Unorthodox Violin Work of Darragh Morgan


Photo by Frances Marshall.

Though he first picked up the violin in the context of Irish traditional music, and undertook classical music studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Darragh Morgan has long specialized in “new music.” It’s a vague term that encompasses 20th and 21st century music for orchestral and chamber instruments, but can also incorporate virtually anything else.

Over the years, Morgan has become a well-known figure in Europe’s new music community. In addition to his work as both a solo artist and a guest with various ensembles, he’s also a member of the Fidelio Trio with pianist Mary Dullea (to whom he’s married) and cellist Adi Tal. He’s recorded works by Philip Glass, Morton Feldman, Toru Takemitsu, Arnold Schoenberg, Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Michael Nyman, and many contemporary Irish composers.

Morgan’s latest album, For Violin and Electronics, is exactly what it says on the cover: six pieces, all by living composers, on which his instrument either converses with, floats in and around, or battles with electronic soundscapes that can be quite beautiful, or abstract and harsh, sometimes shifting from one to the other at a moment’s notice. “All the tracks have a fully notated, often virtuosic, live violin part which I had to approach learning just as I would Beethoven’s Violin Concerto,” Morgan says.

But each composer has taken a different approach to the electronic element of the work. In the cases of Jonty Harrison and Ricardo Climent, the composers of “Some of Its Parts” and “Koorean Air” respectively, the use of tapes requires Morgan to coordinate perfectly or fall out of sync. “Some of Its Parts” features scraping, rumbling, and percussive sounds, like someone rolling fist-sized iron balls around inside a piano as it’s wheeled back and forth across the stereo field. “Koorean Air,” by contrast, is all high-pitched squeals, chitters, and zooms, with Morgan’s violin offering horror-movie scribbles and scrapes.

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The Experimental Electronic Netherworld of Basic House

Basic House

Whether making music as Basic House or running his label Opal Tapes, maverick producer Stephen Bishop has consistently charted his own path. A self-proclaimed fan of both dance music and pop, as well as the fringe stylings his own output favors, the U.K.-based Bishop has varied his approach over Basic House’s releases while retaining a semblance of techno and house music’s core foundation in traditional beats. Not so his latest full-length, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me, on which Bishop abandons rhythm almost entirely, in favor of creepy ambient spaces.

Fittingly enough, the album derives its title from artist Trevor Paglen’s 2007 book of the same name, a photo collection of patches from top-secret military “black ops.” But as bone-chilling as the new material gets, Bishop also sees the album as a commentary on underground music scenes and their codes. In the early days of Opal Tapes, for example, Bishop initially balked at selling digital versions of the label’s catalog, preferring instead to dub every single cassette by hand. These days, of course, he subscribes to a more pragmatic approach that offers the best of both worlds.

Case in point: The second Basic House album on Luke Younger (aka Helm)’s A L T E R imprint, I Could Tell You, is also available via Opal Tapes in an expanded NOYFB! box-set edition that features a bonus album, Puke Your Horizon, assembled from a blend of live performances and field recordings.

Bishop spoke with us about the new album and its intersection of themes.

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A Second Act for the Penguin Café

Penguin Cafe

Few bands have been as difficult to categorize as England’s Penguin Café Orchestra. Their songs traversed folk, minimalist classical, and various indigenous styles, particularly from Africa, and showcased a delicate group interplay, the loose edges of which made the music feel even more human and vital. Founded in 1972 by composer and multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebmann, PCO were marked by shifting membership and instantly ingratiating tunes.

When Jeffes died of a brain tumor in 1997, that seemed to be the last of the Orchestra—and, strictly speaking, it was. But 10 years ago, Jeffes’s son Arthur reconvened some of his father’s old compatriots for a trio of memorial shows in London, then began a new group under the name Penguin Café, minus the Orchestra, to showcase both Simon’s classics and his own new tunes. The group self-released A Matter of Life… (2011) and The Red Book (2014), but their new album, The Imperfect Sea, comes out through the sharp-eared British experimental label Erased Tapes. (The album was one of Bandcamp’s Essential Releases the week it was released.) Broader-stroked and more sonorous of tone than his father’s work, The Imperfect Sea is nevertheless a frequently gorgeous successor to the Orchestra’s poky beauty. We caught up with the 38-year-old Arthur Jeffes, who was in the midst of a house renovation in Kentish Town.

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Diamanda Galás on Criticism and Context

Diamanda Galas

Photo by Austin Young.

Avant-garde composer and performer Diamanda Galás occupies a distinct place in history; her work is aesthetically unique, situated at the nexus of contemporary classical composition and activism (her music is inextricable from her personal, passionate work with ACT UP!), its threads going back centuries to folk and pop practices from a wide variety of countries. Those whose musical knowledge is not as wide-ranging as hers tend to misunderstand her. This is something she’s understandably furious about, speaking about the critical reception to her new pair of albums, All the Waya collection of traditional and jazz standards, and At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem, a live recording of, as she describes it, “death songs,” from a 2016 New York performance.

She’s speaking specifically about her vicious performance of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” on All the Way: “People who do not know anything about music—notably, most music critics—really should equip themselves with the changes of the original song and realize that every single one of the chord changes I use are connected to the original chord changes. It is not a bunch of keys falling down the stairs, and it is not someone who uses the song to her own ends only to destroy it and desecrate it and dismember it. I’m not doing [that]. I’m using the song and paying homage to what the song is originally about. The problem we have in this society is that those musicians—who perhaps used to be musicians and are now writers—have been replaced by a lot of music writers who don’t know a goddamned thing about music.”

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Hi Bias: Notable Cassette Releases on Bandcamp, April 2017


Welcome to Hi Bias, a monthly column highlighting recent cassette releases on Bandcamp, and exploring the ideas behind them with the artists who made them. Rather than making sweeping generalizations about the “cassette comeback,” we prefer here simply to cover releases that may escape others’ radars due to limited, cassette-focused availability.

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