The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

October 31, 2014

Empyre list discussion on ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance

Please consider joining the November discussion on Empyre. All
you have to do is join empyre; more information is below. The
discussion starts this Monday, November 3rd, and runs until
December. There are amazing presenters. From the precis:

The world seems to be descending into chaos of a qualitatively
different dis/order, one characterized by terror, massacre,
absolutism. Things are increasingly out of control, and this
chaos is a kind of ground-work itself - nothing beyond a
scorched earth policy, but more of the same. What might be a
cultural or artistic response to this? How does one deal with
this psychologically, when every day brings new horrors? Even
traditional analyses seem to dissolve in the absolute terror
that seems to be daily increasing.

We are moderating a month-long investigation on Empyre into the
dilemma this dis/order poses. We will ask a variety of people to
be discussants in what, hopefully, will be a very open
conversation. The debate will invite the empyre community to a
deep and uncomfortable analysis of abject violence, pain,
performance, and ideology [taking further the October 2012
debate on Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual], looking at
the ambivalences of terror, incomprehensible emotions, and our
own complicity in the production of 'common sense' around

Co-moderators: Johannes Birringer and Alan Sondheim.

About the empyre email list:

-empyre- is a global community of new media artists, curators,
theorists, producers, and others who participate in monthly
thematic discussions via an e-mail listserv.

-empyre- facilitates online discussion encouraging critical
perspectives on contemporary cross-disciplinary issues,
practices and events in networked media. The list is currently
co-managed by Renate Ferro (USA) and Tim Murray (USA).
Melinda Rackham (AU) initiated -empyre- as part of her doctoral
research in 2002.

-empyre- welcomes guest moderators who organize discussions for
one month. After more than ten years, -empyre- soft-skinned
space continues to be a platform dedicated to the plurality of
global perspectives reaching out beyond Australia and the
Northern Hemisphere to greater Asia and Latin America.

2 bizzzzarre reviews of Cutting Board bad and good

From the November issue of The Wire (which used 2 like me):

Alan Sondheim with Christopher Diasparra and Edward Schneider
Cutting Board ESP-Disk CD

Since its reactivation in 2005, ESP-Disk has maintained a steady
trickle of reissues of epochal free jazz albums, archival finds
and even some new music by Talibam!, Joe Morris and others. But
multi-instrumentalist Alan Sondheim is the first artist from the
roster of ESP-Disks 196475 golden era to record new material for
the label. It makes perfect sense too: nearly half a century
later, his sound and aesthetic seem remarkably unchanged. Its at
least partly because he has never tried or wanted to play jazz,
positing instead a rough and prescient form of free

Sondheims first album, subsequently included on the Nurse With
Wound list, was 1967s The Songs, featuring a single, raggedly
theatrical performance by Ritual All 70 a group of young
improvisors living in a communal loft in Providence, Rhode
Island. More or less the same group, recording under Sondheims
name only, created his two ESP-Disk releases. Ritual-All-7-70,
also recorded in 1967, sounds exactly like a gang of stoned
students plonking around on bongos and tabla, but Sondheims
intuitive explorations on guitars, sax, clarinet, koto and horn
tap into the kind of no-technique, non-idiomatic improvisation
that can be heard in countless 21st century DIY dungeons on
either side of the Atlantic.

This new material finds Sondheim again approaching a wide array
of instruments, with an emphasis on the exotic including Chinese
mouth harp, saz, sarangi, ghichak, cura, tro so, sung lisu and
many more all played with the same exuberant, non-virtuoso
relish. On Xenon something is bowed with raw, savage
stridulations. On Argon something is strummed messily in a
vaguely Arabic mode. And so on. Hes accompanied by saxophonists
Diasparra (on tenor and baritone) and Schneider (on alto), who,
at best, help to guide and shape Sondheims brief bursts and, at
worst, sound a little lost and flailing around for a hook to
cling to. Theres no pretence of the communal vibe that
characterised the 60s recordings its clearly Sondheims session.
But, with so many instruments to play and such a lot of fun to
be had, who needs company? Daniel Spicer


Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Alan Sondheim with Christopher Diasparra & Edward Schneider,
Cutting Board

Alan Sondheim came to our ears years ago principally on the two
albums he did for ESP, Ritual-All-7-70 and T'Other Little Tune,
issued in 1967 and 1968, respectively. I came to him a little
later through these albums, which impressed me as
uncompromisingly home-made in their DIY experimental avant
improvisatory thrust. On them Sondheim played guitar and a
battery of other instruments, neither evoking jazz or new music
syntax but rather forging his own vocabulary that reached out to
world musics but only obliquely so.

Much time has passed and apparently also a number of releases
came out that I have not heard as yet. He returns to the ESP
fold with a new recording Cutting Board (ESP 5004). On it
Sondheim matches sonic textures with Christopher Diasparra on
tenor and baritone saxes, and Edward Schneider on the alto sax.
Sondheim plays a wealth of instruments, from chromatic
harmonica, sarangi, classical guitar and flute to electric saz
and ukulele. As always Alan's playing is about sound and
texture, not as much typical linear technique.

The totality of the album hangs together as experimental free
improv more than free jazz per se, though Schneider and
Diasparra give out phrasings more akin to post-new-thing sax
expressions than not.

As is always the case with Sondheim, the music suits your ears
best when you wipe your listening mind of expectations. This
music has little in common with JATP, standards, or even
ensemble avant jazz and new music as they come to us today. It
is Sondheim music and for that it is very good. It is musical
sound as art. So go ahead and listen.

Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 5:49 AM
Labels: alan sondheim with christopher diasparra and edward
schneider cutting board gapplegate music review, experimental
free improvisation, historic avant garde music in revival, world
music deconstructed


I think the 2nd review 'gets it'; the first I think is ignorant
and nonsensical, but of course I'd think it! So I wrote the
following on Fb -

Stoned students? we weren't. there weren't bongos. there was a
lot of technique; I remember one of us, an orchestral musician,
saying he worked harder at rehearsals with us than with the
orchestra. non-virtuoso? listen to the guitar or qin solos for
example. "something is strummed messily"? the only thing
"strummed messily" is your brain being hipster-clever. "flailing
around:? you should have been there. and jesus christ, we never
lived together in a communal loft or otherwise. and then
"countless 21st century DIY dungeons on either side of the
Atlantic." - yes but the album you're talking about is forty
years earlier! this is the second review I've had w/ The Wire
(after an interview w/ them if I remember correctly), that just
gets everything wrong. and it wasn't a "vaguely arabic mode" -
if the reviewer had any understanding of modal music he would
have recognized that the modes were deliberately constantly
changing, so much for makam.

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