We last heard from Steve Roden after a string of very good releases in 2012, including collaborations with Steve Peters (Not a leaf…), a beautiful work with Machinefabriek (Lichtung), a split 7” with Luminance Ratio, a reworking of old cassette material for Banned Productions, a record for ini-itu, and the austere but captivating Berlin Field. Since then, no new musical material has been released, though he has been busy with his paintings and installations (including, unfortunately, having to make up for a wealth of material destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in his NY gallery). I worried that another year would come to a close without any new music, but then suddenly after two years of silence there are quite a few new releases to happily pour over.
In that same period, Dragon’s Eye Recordings also took a hiatus, so it seems fitting for them to release Flower & Water as a kind of mutual return. (Though in fact they released two other records earlier this year.) The label has new catalog numbers and an updated design aesthetic, but demonstrate the same commitment to presenting challenging and innovative work from the most interesting sound artists working today. Run by sound artist Yann Novak since 2005, the label was founded years earlier by his father Paul Novak in 1989 to release George Winston’s Medley: Bread Baker’s Stomp, a blues piano composition accompanying the senior Novak’s book of bread recipes self-release by his publishing company Only Connect… Publications.
Roden was given flexi-discs with Winston’s composition to be used as raw material for what became Flower & Water. Adopting the spirit of a bread baker, Roden took a hands-on approach to creating this work. Despite decades of experience making music and sound art, Roden is a self-confessed amateur, and the strength of his work is to be found in his creativity and execution, not in his technical abilities. (Cf. this long conversation between Steve and myself here.) Roden’s approach here is typical of his idiosyncratic modes of making, creating novel ways of engaging and recording his objects. He physically cut up and reassembled the flexi-discs, playing them back on a cheap record player with a built in speaker, often piling objects precariously on top. The stereo recordings made in his workshop, including the incidental noises and room reverb, were loaded into a sampler to be looped and pitch shifted, and like flour and water chemically altered by the oven, the result is quite distinct from its parts.
Roden writes “my hope was that the messiness of my process might offer some sound pieces that might relate to how a kitchen might look when I might have finished baking bread… with hands covered in flour, with dough stuck to the counter, etc.” Most of the resulting compositions are short and all sound radically changed by the process, with much the same messiness and sincerity one would expect from a baker. The repetitive “feeling, smelling, tasting” puts recognizable piano sounds front and center. At 10 minutes it is the center-piece of the record, which is itself 37-minutes long, and that piece alone makes Flower & Water one of my favorite records of the year. Even the shorter tracks are engaging and interesting as miniatures. Roden knows enough not to kneed to hard or too much, and each piece feels just right. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Also recently released is a documentation of a 2004 collaboration with Raster-Noton co-founder Frank Bretschneider, Suite Nuit on Line. Can you think of a more odd paring than Steve Roden and Raster -Noton? But of course, this is the draw, finding a mutual site of exchange for two very singular artists working with arguably opposing aesthetics and finding a productive meeting place. In this case, a live recording at the tower hall of the Parochial Church, in Mitte neighborhood of Berlin, mastered by Taylor Dupree. In truth, this deserves a review of its own, and I simply don’t have the time to properly devote to it, but I recommend checking it out.
When I asked Steve to contribute a reflection on the highlights of 2012, he mentioned “performing with glenn bach while watching a man with blue colored sweat…” I’m sure I wasn’t alone in greeting this odd tidbit with perplexity, but now we have an elaboration with Steve Roden & Glenn Bach’s water in the hollow eyes of the blue, finally, a free digital release comprised of variations of sounds performed by Roden and Bach to accompany “Bleu Remix, a performance-installation by Yann Marussich, where the artist reclines inside a glass box, and, over time, begins to sweat blue pigment from the pores in his skin, manifesting the act of movement by remaining perfectly still.” Glad to know, and a fine record in its own right.