or air (Psi) - album reviews 

****  or air Joel Ryan

Both on-stage and on record, Joel Ryan is mostly heard interacting with live musicians, feeding their input into his computer to produce distorted images of themselves. With Or Air, we can finally hear his magic without the confusion of separating the "real" sounds from the treatments. And even a single hour-long-trip with this album will enhance your future experiences involving Ryan -- be it with Evan Parker's electro-acoustic group or in various groupings with Joelle Leandre. The eight pieces on this CD are "variations on the music of Evan Parker" -- in that they use Parker's solo sax recordings as sound sources. It requires a certain leap of faith from the listener, since the sheer diversity found among these pieces make such a claim rather hard to believe. But the source is easy to identify in at least half of the tracks, and especially in the opening "Two/Cut," a nine-minute workout in which Ryan mimics the saxophonist's famous circular breathing technique to produce a continuous flow of warped monstrous sounds with an electronic body and reed limbs. That track alone is worth the price of admission, as it exposes Ryan's art more clearly than ever before. "Or Air" and "Seidelstuckel" are equally yet differently impressive: here, the computer artist retains Parker's unmistakable phrasing but rearranges it into something that is much closer to electro-acoustic composition than real-time manipulation. In "Griot Mix" and "Shaker Mix," the source material is transformed beyond recognition and the music sinks into textural/ambient depths. They bring a certain degree of variety to the album, but they sound too close to so much experimental electronica. In terms of quiet dynamics, the closer "Oran" is much more rewarding with its delicate tongue staccati peppering a quiet, glassy drone. Despite its weaker pieces, Or Air is a remarkable solo effort.

~ Franaois Couture, All Music Guide


 Elegantly packaged in a black and white graphic design , "Or air" is a series of acousmatic treatments of pieces and bits of Evan Parker's music. Though most sources are reassembled in extended tensions and quasi-minimal repetitive currents, Ryan is able to organize several examinations of a very difficult matter, creating orders upon orders of condensed microtonal realities, each one running out of the ordinary to catch the tails of a fractured narrative. In most instances totally fascinating, "Or air" speaks with eloquent authority, raising the curtain on certain aspects of Parker's sound that are astonishing in this new contextualization as much as they are when Evan plays on his own. When the shadows fall to end the record with the deep introversion of "Oran", one can't help giving Ryan his due, acknowledging his assembling mastery and his not too perverse fantasy.

-Massimo Ricci  Touching Extremes


In jazz music, tribute albums are two a penny, with such giants as Duke, Trane, and Miles having literally dozens (hundreds?) of albums paying tribute to them. By contrast, in improv, tribute recordings are almost unheard of. The reasons are all too obvious; there are no compositions or arrangements to cover, and to ape another player’s sound or style would usually not be seen as a tribute but as plagiarism: all of which makes this album a fascinating oddity. Subtitled “variations on the music of Evan Parker”, it is released on Parker’s own label. Furthermore, Joel Ryan has frequently collaborated with Parker in concert and on disc, helping dispel any notions of this being an attempt to cash in on Parker’s name.

Ryan is not a sax player; he came to music from science, and his chosen medium is electronic processing and manipulation.  Although an American, he is often described as “the wizard of STEIM studios in Amsterdam”. Here, he takes short fragments of Parker’s playing and uses them as the source material to create his own electronic compositions in the studio. The results range from pieces where that source material is quite evident to others that have no apparent link to Parker or his saxophone.

The opening track, “Two/Cut”, sounds like an abstracted version of one of Parker’s circular breathing passages, full of repetition and unexpected overtones. What has been lost is the tone of Parker’s sax; the somewhat chilly (and chilling) electronic sounds do not have the engaging warmth of Parker’s soprano, but the form will be very familiar to Parker aficionados. By contrast, “Throbdrone Solo” (great title—can’t you almost hear the music?) sounds more reminiscent of one of John Butcher’s extreme investigations of saxophone technique than of Parker’s own playing.

[Cue rant.] These tracks that still sound like saxophone bring out strong Luddite tendencies in me; one of the many reasons that Parker’s music is so impressive is his technique, his triumph over the sheer physical difficulties of producing his music in real time. When similar results are produced by machines, that technical aspect counts for nothing; the music must be judged solely on what one hears (as distinct from how that sound has been produced); the product is all, not the process. Either way—product or process—I prefer Parker’s own music to these variations. [OK, rant over.]

The tracks that succeed best are those that are furthest removed from the source material; they sound like nothing except electronic compositions. Two of them have similar (punning?) titles: “Or air” and Ůrais”. As is so often the case with electronic compositions, they are best described by analogy. “Or air” is quietly understated, shimmering and ghostly, sounding most like one of those supposedly supernatural recordings that purport to capture on tape voices from beyond. “Ůrais” (literally translated as “a tumultuous noise”) builds slowly from almost nothing, a freight train approaching from afar; it justifies its title soon enough with its gut shaking low frequencies. It bears no relation to any saxophone music I have ever heard! In several ways, this album is best summed up in two words used above: chilly and chilling.

-           -John Eyles

-           http://www.onefinalnote.com/reviews/r/ryan-joel/or-air.asp

Fervente tegenstanders van experimentele muziek komen vaak niet verder dan vergelijkingen met 'eendengekwaak' en 'piepknorgeluiden'. Toch jammer dat deze lieden niet kunnen of willen inzien hoe rijk, veelzijdig, ja zelfs troostend een groep overvliegende wilde ganzen kan klinken.

Even troostrijk als de bewerkingen die de Brit Joel Ryan maakte van Evan Parkers saxofoonmuziek. Voor één keer ben je niet 'dom' of 'oppervlakkig' als je je in een vogelrijk, maar vooral noordelijk natuurgebied waant tijdens het afspelen van een modern saxofoonalbum. Van een eenzaam improviserende blazer maakte Ryan hele kuddes, roedels en windvlagen vol vervreemdende muzikale flarden. De aan het Amsterdamse STEIM-instituut verbonden elektronica-wizard is niet geheel onbekend met Parkers muziek. Integendeel, Ryan maakt zelfs deel uit van het Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Or Air is ook elektro-akoestisch, maar dan solo, dus zonder ensemble. Erg knap: het uit duizenden herkenbare geluid van Parker is nooit ver weg.

Saxofonist Evan Parker kan gerust een 'onderzoeker' worden genoemd. In zijn uitgebreide discografie bevinden zich tientallen cd's met solovluchten in de saxofoonruimte. Muziek van Parker beluister je niet alleen voor je plezier, het zijn diepgaande oplossingen voor veelal onbekende problemen. Vaak zijn het flink doorwrochte werkstukken die minutenlang blijven rondzingen in een bepaalde frasering of een ongemakkelijk hoog timbre. Joel Ryan is het gelukt enige lichtheid aan te brengen in dit haast wetenschappelijk ingestelde oeuvre.

Parker zelf hoorde gelukkig ook de vrolijke aantrekkingskracht in Ryans elektronische bewerkingen, want Or Air is uitgebracht op Parkers eigen Psi-label. Het is een essentieel album voor liefhebbers van de saxofoon in het algemeen en Evan Parker in het bijzonder. Or Air is bovendien zeer onderhoudend voor natuurliefhebbers met een open oor en geēnteresseerden in bijzondere klanken.

-Remco Takken