Stephen Spera: 4 {H2O}

VA: [ parvo ] art

John R Carlson: Foresight

Duncan Ó Ceallaigh's Parvoart imprint returns with three diverse installments in its ongoing series of three-inch CD recordings, in this case a third contribution by pianist John Carlson, ethereal soundscaping from Stephen Spera, and a compilation representative of the label's style.

4 {H2O}, NY-based sound artist Stephen Spera's contribution to Parvoart's catalogue, intermixes themes of memory and aquatics. Spera uses a broad array of production methods and resources—old tape decks, field recordings, analogue effects, software—to produce multi-layered ambient settings that both evoke childhood afternoons by the seaside (a track title such as “Ocean, Boy, Sky” suggests as much) and the mysterious enigma that is water itself. In the CD's four pieces, instruments blur into hazy, submersive wholes of slow-moving character. Spera's no novice. He's been making music for over two decades and has established himself in the NYC art scene as a photographer, painter, and installation artist (his work is part of the MOMA's permanent collection). Certainly he shows a deft command of his tools in the four settings that compose 4 {H2O}, with a controlled handling of atmosphere and texture helping to distinguish the wistful “Even As We Spin” and the piano-based haziness of “Troubled Dreams of Beauty.”

The label's first compilation, [ parvo ] art, features tracks by “friends” who Ó Ceallaigh met via the parvoart MySpace page, each of which was asked to contribute a piece of about three minutes duration. The collection moves the label's purview beyond its Wismar, Germany base to include artists residing in the US, UK, Japan, France, Germany, Poland, and Italy. German minimalist Porzellan opens the CD with a three-minute ambient minimalism etude titled “Vopar Tar” (the anagram noted) that could easily be mistaken for a Stars Of The Lid piece. American sound artist Tomas Phillips and his Kyoto-based counterpart Marihiko Hara team up for a stark meditation, “Prosa II,” that's as delicately arranged as a Japanese garden, an impression evoked even more strongly when the piece is so largely dedicated to minimal piano and koto strokes. With its pregnant pauses and moments of silence, “Prosa II” is completely unlike Rim's softly whistling drone “Here Are Gold Mines” though the French guitarist's piece is no less beautiful. “Blind Man” by Krzysztof Orluk, an experimental musician based in Poland, perpetuates Rim's style with three additional minutes of soothing and softly glimmering ambient tones. Ó Ceallaigh's own contribution, “Re-Fit,” uses Steinbrüchel's “Pas(S)T” as a sole sound source, resulting in a time-suspending aural sculpture of the kind one might hear on a 12k or Line release. Italian lowercase artist Shinkei briefly shifts the emphasis to nature-based field recording sounds before The Boats chart the CD's final course with “George Herbert Leigh Mallory,” a beautiful miniature that merges sumptuous violin playing with the gentle pitter-patter of electronic beats. The group's homage to the climber who died just shy of reaching Mount Everest's summit in 1924 ends the CD in lovely fashion. All told, an appealing set that covers a lot of stylistic ground in a mere twenty-three minutes.

Different in character from the other two releases for being improvised (wholly spontaneous improvisations recorded in a single take, in fact), Foresight features two long pieces by US-born and Wismar, Germany-based composer and pianist John R Carlson. The three-inch CD completes a trilogy Carlson's recorded for Parvoart (In November and Recollections the others). As occurred on the preceding release, Foresight pairs Carlson with drummer Oliver Sonntag but the results this time sound just as conducive to a piano lounge bar or London pub as a formal conservatory setting. “Forthcoming” is by turns bluesy and pensive, and playful and rollicking, with Sonntag following Carlson's every twist and turn and abrupt shifts in direction. Towards the end of the thirteen-minute piece, the duo work up the kind of muscular rhythmic steam that'll get listeners moving whether they're naturally inclined to do so or not. “Perservere” [sic] carries on without a pause separating the two pieces, with Carlson sprinkling repetitive showers of raindrops over Sonntag's cymbal patterns. The pianist's elegant playing is both uptempo and unfailingly melodic, despite the emphasis on motorik pulsation. To these ears, Foresight offers a more satisfying integration of the duo's playing compared to Recollections.

June 2009