ACL 2017: Sound Propositions

From Jeff Lemire’s Royal City #9

I say this every year: I hate lists, but I love reflection.  So here we are again, the first month of the year nearly over and I’m still processing all that’s come in the last year. And while there were so many records released in 2017 that I loved and which we covered on our ACL end of year lists, both that I wrote about (here, here, here, here, here, here) and otherwise, there are also many records I love that were ineligible as our end of year lists are drawn solely from records we’ve reviewed. As my #PhDlife was especially hectic in 2017 (besides which, 2017 in general) my own music writing has been diminished. While I can say I have some articles coming (on mp3 blogs and Nurse With Wound, and on Fistfuck and S&M culture in noise and industrial music) that will hopefully be published in the foreseeable future, I’ve not kept up with ACL as much as I’d have liked. I’ve got through a backlog of Sound Propositions, however, and have interviews with Nicola Ratti and Lawrence English in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled for those. I’ve also got some other news but we’ll have to wait for that announcement.

Memorable Live Music

My stay in Italy this summer was blessed by some wonderful sonic experiences. The Saturnalia festival at MACAO in Milano lived up to the hype with stunning performances by RP Boo, Evan Parker & Walter Prati, Rizan Said, Croatian Amor, and many more besides.  Valerio Tricoli has built an international audience due to this pair of acclaimed album for PAN, and his collaboration with  the Neapolitans KNN, SEC_, and Giulio Nocera will be one to look out for.  At MACAO, the four reel-to-reel tape manipulators ebbed and flowed through a languid set, but the highlight was when KNN switched to upright bass, using its resonate cavity to wrestle with feedback in a marvelously physical manner. And while the irony of a secret show at a festival dedicated to inclusivity was not lost on me (in fact Guiseppe Ielasi himself was turned away at the door), the highlight of the festival may have been the stunning and cathartic 10am set in the rooftop hangar by Fabio Perletta.

In Napoli the next week I was fortunate to experience the Independent Film Show at the Museo Nitsch, co-curated by La Digestion. Chulki Hong performed memorable live accompaniments to Hangjun Lee’s 16mm films, in the sweat drenched attic of the museum, overlooking one of Europe’s most beautiful and most maligned cities. And thanks to Leandro Pisano, I was able to enjoy a private audition of work by Philip Samartzis completed as part of the Liminaria residency.  Samartzis recorded the drones and hums of wind turbines in the Fortore river valley, and he presented some of this work along with a Q&A to enthusiastic locals. Several weeks later in Abruzzo, in the beautiful village of Loreto Aprutino, I had the great opportunity to catch with Perletta again, this time for restāre, a site-specific sound installation realized with Francesco Fonassi. The artists took advantage of the site of a traditional olive oil mill in the Palazzo Casamarte to reflect on its dual function as a dormitory for the workers, combining the near imperceptible rhythms of daily life with the sounds of Cujë la livë, a traditional song about olive harvesting. Above was the opening of English landscape photographer Michael Kenna‘s exhibition of photographs taken around Abruzzo, a stunningly beautiful and diverse region of jutting rocky mountains and trabucchi-lined coasts. Not far from Loreto was the legendary Alvin Curran‘s Pian de Pian Piano, a permanent sound installation made for No Man’s Land Foundation.

As for my own creative muscles, I was honored to produce “e ingenuo sforzo di rifare la vita,” a mix for s k y a p n e a on NTS radio (listen here). A memorable summer full of great art, and music, and friends.

Lastly I was pleased to be able to play another live radio set with my good friend Stefan Chrstoff while in Montreal at the end of the year, and hope that 2018 will finally be the year that our next record will be shared with you all.

Favorite Records of 2017

Now, like so many others I enjoyed the likes of Kendrick Lamar and SZA and Bjork, but I won’t include those below as they seem outside the scope of this little blog and besides they’re received enough attention.  We aren’t necessarily anti-pop or anti-mainstream, but you don’t really need to hear my thoughts on the subject.

Instead I always try to shine a little light on records that I would have reviewed had I the chance and that I listened to a lot and really enjoyed during 2017. There are still many more records I’d like to include, not to mention all those I haven’t yet heard but am likely to adore in the coming years.

In 2017 I became a subscriber to the Bandcamps of Kevin Drumm and Ian Hawgood, and picked up some great tapes from Dakim and Ras G, to add to the many releases of all theirs I already own. However for various reasons I’ve not included any of these on the my list. For Drumm I spent much of the year obsessed with his 2016 boxed set (as well as Recline (116 Minute EP)), and Hawgood I spent too much time listening widely and found it hard to single out a single release (while his recent 2018 collaborations should be added to  your carts immediately). Dakim’s tapes both reworked earlier material, while my favorite Ras G release was for cassette store day and wasn’t widely available.

So while some of the releases I’ve included below have already been widely praised (Barbieri, Amobi, Jlin), as they’ve not been discussed on ACL I felt I had to include them for their ability to capture something about 2017, at least for me.  Some others came relatively late in the year and thus may have flown under the radar for many. Nicola Ratti’s The Collection, for instance, is his debut for Room40, a logical extension of his past work and sure to appeal to fans of rhythmic, boundary pushing electronic music.  Gregg Kowalsky‘s L’Orange, L’Orange has been on repeat on my tape deck since it came out, a beautiful ambient album for the ages.

While I continued to look to “aggressive” music for catharsis this year (Converge never disappoint, Pharmakon, Ben Frost and many others exceeded expectations) I found myself more attracted to soothing music, music that could even be described as therapeutic, and also very often music that was not so new: Stars of the Lid, Steve Reich, Huerco S, Brian Eno, Max Richter, Laaraji.  I think that’s reflected in the new music that I was most drawn to in 2017.

My personal top 20 records of 2017 (not covered by ACL)

Ahnnu ~ Special Forces
Andrea Belfi ~ ORE
Bellows ~ Sander
Caterina Barbieri ~ Patterns of Recognition
Chino Amobi ~ Paradiso
crys cole and Oren Ambarchi – Hotel Record
Gregg Kowalsky ~ L’Orange, L’Orange
Inventing Masks ~ 2nd
Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp – The Art of Perelman/Shipp Vol.6: Saturn
Jlin ~ Black Origami
Jürg Frey ‎– L’âme Est Sans Retenue I
Kara-Lis Coverdale ~ Grafts
Kassel Jaeger ~ Aster
Marcus Fischer ~ Loss
Michael Pisaro, Håkon Stene, Kristine Tjøgersen ‎– Asleep, Street, Pipes, Tones
Nate Wooley – Battle Pieces II
Nicola Ratti ~ The Collection
Rafael Toral ~ Moon Field
Sarah Davachi ~ All My Circles Run
Wadada Leo Smith – Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk

The archive fever is starting to wear us out, I fear. There are so many amazing re-issues and archival releases to keep track of that it’s making it increasingly difficult to keep up with new releases. That said, for fans of Italian music of the seventies, 2017 will be a hard year to top.  Four of  Franco Battiato’s more experimental records from the early seventies have been released on vinyl in the US for the first time (including the musique concrete inspired masterpiece “Clic” and my personal favorite, Sulle Corde di Aries, which walks the fine line between tradition, accessibility, and psychedelic abandon).  And so many others that I’ve had to leave off.  Truly a remarkable year. And yes, I’m aware that Eastman’s Femenine was released in August 2016, but I didn’t hear it until 2017 and it’s my list.

Re-Issues and Archival Releases

Alice Coltrane ~ The Ecstatic Music of…
Battiato ~ Sulle Corde di Aries
Charles Duvelle ~ Photography of…
Claudio Rocchi ~ Suoni di Frontiera
Giusto Pio ~ Motore Immobile
Gruppo Nuova Consonanza ~ Azioni/Reazioni
Henry Flynt ~ You are my everlovin’
Johann Johannsson ~ IBM 1404: a user’s manual
Julius Eastman ~ Femenine
Lino Capra Vaccina ~ Echi Armonici Da Antico Adagio
Luciano Cilio ~ Dialoghi Del Presente
Maria Monti ~ Il Bestiario
Michele Fedrigotti / Danilo Lorenzini ‎– I Fiori Del Sole
Outro Tempo (Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992)
Spontaneous Music Ensemble ~ Karyobin
Telaio Magnetico ~ Live ’75
Tony Conrad ~ Ten years alive on the infinite plain
Zazou / Bikaye / Cy 1 ~ Noir et Blanche
Zeit ~ Il Cerchio Degli Antichi Colori


Old favorites such as Constellation, 12k, LINE, Room40, and Editions Mego have all been going for nearly two decades or longer, and yet rather than simply keeping pace have been actively getting better and better. Newer labels such as Leaving, NNA, Geographic North, and Dinzu continue to impress.  I was ecstatic when Senufo Editions announced they had returned from hiatus (seriously, I wrote over 4k words about it!) and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2018. And finally to the labels doing the good work releasing those stunning archival finds and legendary re-issues: Superior Viaduct, Black Sweat, Die Schachtel, Soave, and Frozen Reeds.

In Memoriam

I suppose this will happen more and more every year, but 2017 really had some devastating losses for the music community.  I don’t have the words to describe the significance of these artists, so let it be enough to say that their spirits will live on in their music.

Alessandro Alessandroni
Allan Holdsworth
Chuck Berry
Clyde Stubblefield
David Axelrod
Dik Mik (Hawkwind)
Erkki Kurenniemi
Folke Rabe
Giusto Pio
Halim El Dabh
Holger Czukay
Mika Vainio
Sunny Murray
Jaki Liebezeit
Misha Mendelberg
P-Nut (P-Funk)
Pam the Funkstress
Pierre Henry
Prodigy (Mobb Deep)
Sonny Knight
Walter Becker

Again, I’m very excited for all that 2018 will bring and look forward to finally sharing some essays, music, and other new projects that have been in the works for some time.  We believe in slow music, slow readings, and slow living, so sometimes that means we’re not able to produce work as quickly as our friends at other media sites that are more driven by finances.  Thank you for sticking with us. (Joseph Sannicandro)

About Joseph Sannicandro

writer | traveler | sound organizer | contrarian | concerned citizen

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