Boomkat Product Review:
Song Cycle Records smartly expand our knowledge of ‘70s NYC’s incredibly fertile experimental cosmos with this essential reissue of Michael Snow’s Musics for Piano, Whistling, Microphone and Recorder; which was originally issued by Philip Glass and Kaus Kertess’s seminal Chatham Square Productions label, ran out of the Bykert Gallery on East 77th Street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The Canadian artist and film maker Michael Snow was originally a jazz musician, and is perhaps best known for recording what’s come to be regarded as the first ever freely improvised recording, a soundtrack to his film Walking Woman a.k.a New York Eye and Ear Control (1965) starring Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Sonny Murray, John Tchicai, Gary Peacock and Roswell Rudd. Around that same era, Snow also befriended Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and this remarkably unsung record is said to be a “happy by-product of their association”.
It kicks off with Falling Starts, split over two sides on the first disc. In the economical and innovative spirit of ‘70s minimalism, Snow juices a solitary piano phrase for all it’s worth, using a tape machine to methodically scale down that melancholy sequence from playful hyperspeed to a crushing, burnt out blur by the dead wax of side B, in effect recalling the resonant frequency reinforcements of Alvin Lucier’s I Am In A Room as much as The Dead C’s most primordial drone slugs or a bludgeoned Kevin Drumm piece. There is something deeply satisfying about hearing a concept played out like this, and coupled with corresponding liner notes - which diminish in type size over the front and first inner panel - it feels conceived with a refreshing lack of illusion that allows the music to speak unimpeded.
However, Snow’s idiosyncratic sense of freeness comes across most strongly in the subsequent side of W In The D, a twenty six minute recording of solo whistling, using a handheld mic as an instrument. Here, he cycles thru near infinite variations dependent on his lung capacity, wittering away alien, avian phrases punctuated by his own breathing. It was originally intended to be heard in a darkened room and we’d recommend you do the same. The LP’s most “difficult” piece is saved for last, rendering 23 minutes of eviscerating, distorted stride piano that sounds like an old skool V/Vm and Mrs Mills tackling Charlemagne Palestine rather than Tim Hecker.
A real find.