Go ahead, Bill, you carry on. But is avant garde just another word for bullshit as John Lennon suggested? Bullshit is in the ear/eye of the beholder, of course. Yes, avant garde music is bullshit to most people - no tunes! No beat! But since when have Mr & Mrs People's opinion counted? Except for in general elections. And look where that gets us.
Thomas Ankersmit's Figueroa Terrace (Touch) is enough to scare the horses, but luckily for them he doesn't perform it in the street. A 36-minute piece recorded at the CalArts electronic music studios, it shifts from dense clusters of sound to extended high frequency passages, keeping your ears in suspense as the seemingly simple sound actually moves around. It's all done on a Serge analogue modular synthesizer, or to be specific, the 'Black Serge' system, a name which endears me to the machine even more. You could call it a 'black' album if disturbed by Ankersmit's determination to elicit extreme sonic subtleties from technology. But there is a satisfying wholeness to the piece, topped and tailed as the minimalism is by maxim noise from the Serge.
More modular business on Slipping Control by Ben Vida (Shelter Press), where words are snipped into rhythmic segments interspersed with purely musical pieces by Vida. Sound 'poetry', if I can call it that, may not sound appealing, unless you're an avid collector of it, in which case, I salute you. But it works very well alongside Vida's playful, imaginative synth manipulation. It's as if he's commanding the machine to echo the vocal rhythms and sometimes it stubbornly refuses. His pieces mirror the vocals, being frequently skittish, but he makes the kind of joyous, bubbly sounds that remind me of Pop Moog albums, except they're better because you don't get a Beatles hit rendered electronic or any such crap. They could also be pieces to accompany radical dance theatre of the 50s, a la Alwin Nikolais. At their best, they're that good.
We drink to forget the coming storm by Leyland Kirby (Bandcamp) is a 40-track exercise in restraint. Contradictory, yes? Perhaps even ironic in it's gargantuan nature, as if trying to elbow it's way into the packed musical arena through sheer size, only to sit there like a strange, almost silent child in class. It settles over us like a huge white cloud, despite being melancholy, it is light, painfully so, offering tranquillity, or bliss beyond the pain. We drink to forget, yes, and try to reach another place. Kirby's album takes us there. This is not 'furniture music' as described by Erik Satie, although it's reminiscent of his desired ideal to create background music. Yet this sonic furniture inhabits an always empty room. It's as if the party is over and everyone's left. That or nobody turned up. In its way, it's as challenging as Ankersmit's album. The simple use of synth and choral vocals, always accompanied by the plainest of piano, dares you to keep listening.
Lastly, returning to PAN, the latest is an EP by M.E.S.H called Scythians. The title track starts like a Monolake tune; no bad thing, but then percussion breaks, cracking open the ground beneath your feet, causing you to drop into a chasm in time and space stretched by scratching and scored with strings, all cut to a staggered rhythm. For a few seconds, Photek sprang to mind. But M.E.S.H is his own man, by way a many influences (aren't all music-makers?). Hints of classic Detroit, but always with a difference, the way Captivated, an otherwise indistinctive ambient piece, breaks down towards the end gives lends it more weight. The closer, Glassel Finisher, has a great texture to it. Without venturing in avant garde territory or towing the common club track line, these tracks find a place between that's gratifying and shouldn't scare the horses...too much.