When Stuart Dempster showed me Then & Now, Now & Then (Taiga), a double LP commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Deep Listening Band (aka DLB), I almost dropped the damn thing. I'm embarrassed to admit I had forgotten that well-made vinyl LPs are heavy.
"Deep Listening" sounds heavy, too, until you realize that the weight of the music made by DLB—the trio of Dempster, Pauline Oliveros, David Gamper, and assorted collaborators—resides not in claiming profundity, but in the act of making natural resonance and reverberation integral to their performances. By turns playful, austere, simple, hypnotic (in the old-school minimalist sense), funny, and complex, the "deep listening" happens among the musicians and inside the surrounding acoustic space.
The Taiga release documents four live performances; my favorites are Cannery Row and Deep Sound Exchange. Recorded inside a cave almost two decades ago, Cannery Row captures the DLB weaving and slithering through a maze of water drips that sputter and rat-tat-tat. Amid such exuberant splashes, a conch shell (probably Dempster) and an alien voice (maybe Oliveros) hum in the background creating an eerie though somehow welcoming soundscape. The near-orchestral roster of instruments (notably trombone, conch shell, accordion, voice, and their custom Expanded Instrument System) is part of the DLB's allure, yet no instrument is "exotic," or a one-shot special effect. When Dempster plays the didgeridoo in Deep Sound Exchange, he makes it sound like something else: a sustaining cello, a guttural-voiced cry, or an air conditioner stuck in idle.
Most of the vinyl I listen to comes from thrift stores (anyone else dig Oaxaca Field Recordings?), however Then & Now, Now & Then is my favorite slab of new vinyl since last year's Hermeneutic (Soccer Mom Ebonics) by Sparkle Girl, who perform this Thursday.
I'm also bewitched by Yoshi Wada's The Appointed Cloud (EM) and Sonnets for Unamuno (II) by Story of Rats. Released by Seattle label Debacle Records as part of a heroic 12-part survey of Seattle experimental music, Sonnets vibrates with crinkly drones, feedback, distorted bass, and falling, sirenlike tones, all gruffly laminated into a fine 38-minute piece.
Cloud drones, too, though with bagpipes, whooshing steam ducts, and computer-controlled pipe organs that slowly sway and wheeze. An overlooked part of New York's new music scene of the 1970s and '80s, Yoshi Wada fashioned Cloud as a sprawling installation inside the New York Hall of Science. Writing about Wada in The Voice of New Music, composer and critic Tom Johnson reports: "In terms of ideas, there is very little in his music either rhythmically, melodically, harmonically, or formally. Yet the sounds themselves are very special—special enough to keep audiences listening closely for quite a while."
'Tis the season for Handel's Messiah, which teems with much elegance before the thuggish moment when everyone bellows "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" Gerard Schwarz leads the orchestra and a slate of soloists—soprano Sarah Coburn, mezzo Sarah Heltzel, tenor Robert McPherson, and the sonorous bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin—in this holiday perennial. Also Fri Dec 19 at 8 pm, Sat Dec 20 at 1 and 8 pm, as well as Sun Dec 21 at 2 pm. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $20–$80.
TUNING THE AIR
I can't decide what is more impressive about Seattle Circle: their collective precision or the seating arrangement of eight guitarists surrounding the audience. It's like being inside a giant zither; strums, chords, and melodies not only sail over your head but tilt and rotate around you. The music ranges from winning covers of "Kashmir" and Brian Wilson's inconsolable lament "In My Room" to pieces influenced by the classical guitar tradition, flamenco, and progressive rock. This is the last show of Seattle Circle's season, so plan to arrive early for a plum seat in the center. Fremont Abbey Arts Center, 4272 Fremont Ave N, 789-8481, 8 pm, $10.
A self-described "garbage noise duet" and "cultural terrorist affinity group," Sparkle Girl range from sound collages and defiantly lo-fi field recordings to freeform compositions and hardcore electronics. You may have picked up one of their limited-edition releases at a noise show, in a phone booth, or during a political protest. This "decidedly non-academic, anti-hegemonic sonic circus of resentment" opens for the Blinding Light and the head-exploding, operatic noise-rock mavens Hemingway. In addition, members of Lesbian collaborate with Hemingway singer Demian Johnston to debut as Shining Ones. Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave, 441-5823, 9:30 pm, $5.
GRETA MATASSA QUINTET
One of our burg's finest jazz vocalists, Matassa sings standards, old chestnuts, and forgotten gems. With the fluid stick work and smart solos of vibraphonist Susan Pascal. Tula's, 2214 Second Ave, 443-4221, 8 pm, $15.
LADIES MUSICAL CLUB
Soprano Natalie Lerch sings two arias from André Previn's opera A Streetcar Named Desire. Also on the program: Previn's "The Giraffes Go to Hamburg" for voice, piano, and flute along with songs by Handel and Fauré sung by soprano Beth Ann Bonnecroy. Seattle Asian Art Museum, 1400 E Prospect St, 622-6882, 2 pm, free.
No, not a tribute to the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who was affectionately nicknamed Slava, but a concert of Ukrainian carols and new Christmas tunes. Pianist Michael Owcharuk enlisted seven composers including Jim Knodle and Josh Rawlings to write for an ensemble of clarinet, trumpets, French horn, and a rhythm section of piano, bass, and drums. Chapel Performance Space, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 7 pm, free.
The Tudor Choir and the period instrument–touting Seattle Baroque team up for Handel's biggest hit. Also Sun Dec 21 at 3 pm. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave, 800-838-3006, 7:30 pm, $19/$22.
Fresh from sallying through Messiah earlier this month, George Shangrow and the band present J. S. Bach's epic Christmas Oratorio, a six-part omnibus of arias, chorales, and other music rearranged by Bach for the holiday. First Free Methodist Church, 3200 Third Ave W, 800-838-3006, 7 pm, $10–$25.