Larry Ochs / ROVA Special Sextet | The Mirror World (for Stan Brakhage)

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The Mirror World (for Stan Brakhage)

by Larry Ochs / ROVA Special Sextet

Two dynamic landscapes for inspired improvisers: 1 for sextet (rocking.) and 1 for creative music orchestra (elegiac), both inspired by the hand-painted films of legendary Stan Brakhage.
Genre: Avant Garde: Structured Improvisation
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Across From Over
Larry Ochs / OrkestRova
1:34 album only
2. Abstraction Rising
Larry Ochs / OrkestRova
2:30 album only
3. Stone Shift (for Kurosawa)
Larry Ochs / OrkestRova
3:46 album only
4. Finn Veers For Venus
Larry Ochs / OrkestRova
2:39 album only


Album Notes
Larry Ochs’ The Mirror World (for Stan Brakhage)
Metalanguage (MLX 2007)

realization 1: HAND
ORKESTROVA: John Schott - el. guitar // Joan Jeanrenaud & Theresa Wong - cellos, effects // Lisle Ellis – bass + circuitry // Ben Goldberg – contra-alto + Bb clarinets // Toyoji Tomita & Jen Baker – trombones, didgeridoos // Darren Johnston & David Bithell – trumpets // Steve Adams – bass flute // Jon Raskin – baritone sax // Tim Perkis & Matt Wright - electronics // William Winant & Gino Robair - percussion // {on tracks 4 + 7 only: Bruce Ackley – Bb clarinet // Moe! Staiano – percussion} // Raskin, Adams, Robair – cues, conducting // Larry Ochs – traffic control.

realization 2: WALL
Rova Special Sextet: Bruce Ackley - soprano, tenor // Steve Adams - alto // Larry Ochs - tenor, sopranino // Jon Raskin - baritone // Gino Robair & William Winant - drums, percussion

All compositions © Larry Ochs /Trobar/ASCAP/ administered by BUG

Recorded June 10 +11, 2005 by Myles Boisen and Jefferson Wilson at Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Concert produced by Rova:Arts. Mix-down in 2006 by Monte Vallier and Larry Ochs at Function 8, San Francisco. Mastered by Myles Boisen at Headless Buddha Studios, Oakland, CA . Special thanks to all the musicians involved for their dedication to the music.
Just below = the first review of the CD. It says more than any bio could say. It's about the music after all... if you want actual bios on Rova or Ochs, just click on the links to the respective website, and you'll get more than you need. For more behind the "thinking" that created this CD, you can read Ochs' writing in "Arcana, volume 1" - in an expanded version now at

The review below by Bill Shoemaker from his excellent web magazine "Point of Departure."

The Mirror World
 Metalanguage/MLX 2007
Larry Ochs + Rova Special Sextet + Orkestrova
Back in the day, when a mainstream jazz musician would be confronted with free jazz in a Blindfold Test setting, he would often dismiss it as music that’s more fun to play than to hear. Something similar can be occasionally said of composers who design big works for large ensembles of improvisers. The employment of cue functions with cards and hand signals, the empowerment of musicians to form sub-divisions of the ensemble and generate material on their own, and the creation of notational systems that are wide open to interpretation are proliferating compositional tools that may predominate in the 21st Century; but, their use is not in and of itself a guarantee that lucid, persuasive music will ensue. Regardless of the outcome, creating such works is universally hailed by those who compose them to be among the most invigorating musical activities they’ve ever undertaken.
Arguably, the success of such works depends on self-evident qualities, which can be discerned by the listener in real time without prior indoctrination by the composer or proxies. Such success is largely predicated on the ability to hear each musician as a discrete voice that engages in an organic development with others. Subsequently, the more successful composers and conductors in this field let timbres and phrases fully saturate in the ear. Particularly when the composer and the ensemble are part of the same established community, the musicians have at least a passing familiarity with, if not a working knowledge of their cohorts. Most probably, some of them have worked in largely, if not exclusively improvised settings with the composer, which can provide interpretative insights into the open aspects of the composition. Without these qualities and assets, compositions of this ilk can come off as mere conceits.
Within just a few minutes of a first listening of Orkestrova’s “realization 1: Hand,” one of two disc-long renderings of Larry Ochs’ homage to film pioneer Stan Brakhage, “The Mirror World,” it is clear that all of the prerequisites for these compositional approaches to reach their full potential are in place. What is immediately obvious and perhaps determinative is the ability to hear each of the 15 or 17 musicians (Bruce Ackley, playing clarinet, and percussionist Moe! Staiano are brought on midway through the piece), regardless of how many musicians are playing at a given moment. Granted, credit is due to the concert engineering and post production; but, the clean definition of each instrument is also a measure of how well traffic controller Ochs, and conductors Steve Adams (who plays bass flute), baritone saxophonist Jon Raskin and percussionist Gino Robair midwifed the composition.
Ochs’ materials and methods are laid out deliberately on “Hand,” almost parsimoniously compared to the initial concussive volleys of “realization 2: Wall,” performed by Rova, Robair and percussionist William Winant (who also performs on “Hand”). Ochs begins the orchestra piece with sparse episodes featuring just a few musicians ruminating on long tones and short tentative phrases; the ample patches of silence at the outset shrink as additional musicians enter. The palette at Ochs’ disposal spans the didgeridoos played by trombonists Jen Baker and Toyoji Tomita and the electronics of Tim Perkis and Matt Wright, which Ochs and/or his conductors consistently tap, creating immediately appealing combinations of instruments. Having players like guitarist John Schott and cellists Joan Jeanrenaud and Theresa Wong, who can produce a wide band of colors, contributes significantly to the cogent build-up of intensity and mass that occurs over the course of the first half of the performance.
Structurally, “Hand” has aspects of the arch favored by composers like Bartók, the main difference being that this realization has seven parts instead of the customary five. Additionally, the keystone to the structure is off-center, occurring during the fifth movement, which opens with a suspenseful, almost menacing vamp-driven ensemble where the full-throated power of the saxophones is palpable. This passage gives way to an open section where electronics, electric guitar, trombones and percussion create bracing textures. From there, the piece slowly winds down; again, the clearly discernable interaction between musicians elevates this way above the generic endgame. The piece peters out to silence when Ackley slips to the foreground with a plaintive statement girded by the primal groans of the didgeridoos.
“realization 2: Wall” is almost the mirror image of “Hand,” structurally. It is fast and furious at the onset; for the first third of this 35-minute piece, Rova’s brusque phrases and the frenzied exclamations by each of the saxophonists hurdle headlong into the blunt force of Robair and Winant’s pummeled kits. If there is a keystone to this realization’s structure, it is after the drummer’s duet, during which Robair and Winant begin to ratchet down the intensity slightly by modulating the metal-based colors at their disposal. The reentry of the saxophones marks the low tide, intensity-wise; unison long tones unravel into a string of overlapping solo statements, with Raskin’s snarling, sputtering and ultimately singing baritone spurring on the drummers. The other saxophonists reignite the culminating fires with a succession of staccato riffs that bracket scorching improvisations. Although all four saxophonists are persuasive, Adams deserves special mention for his exceptionally large alto sound in a grueling test of the instrument’s range during the penultimate movement. “Wall” then ends with a bang.

–Bill Shoemaker in Point of Departure
More info on the CD:
The hand-painted films of legendary American film-maker Stan Brakhage have inspired these two extended landscapes in sound, composed by Larry Ochs in 2004/05. Recorded in concert at Kanbar Hall, San Francisoc on June 10 and 11, 2005 featuring an all-star cast of Bay Area improvisers. Noted percussionists William Winant and Gino Robair appear on both pieces.

New Double CD in two editions:
1. “standard” edition, limited to sales of 750 worldwide. Official release date: May 1, 2008
2. “deluxe” limited-edition CD release: 50 deluxe copies, numbered and signed by the composer, and each including four exclusive photo-cards from the 2005 premiere performance (24 left as of April 8, 2008)
BOTH CDS in recyclable CD cover featuring stills from one of the Stan Brakhage handpainted films.

Deluxe limited-edition CD on sale now only at or
Numbered copies #1 – 50, available at $65 per package including postage in USA and Canada. For international: add $10. Send check or money order to Larry Ochs, 2639 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 95705 USA or click PayPal button and pay via PayPal.

Preview of the live performances heard on this CD written by Andy Gilbert for The San Francisco Chronicle:
Thursday, June 9, 2005

The writings of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, the choreography of Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, the music of Bach and Messiaen ... it was all fair game for avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage when it came to seeking inspiration for his meticulously designed poems in light.

In much the same way, saxophonist Larry Ochs has found a rich source of ideas for organizing sound in Brakhage's spellbinding silent creations. "As an artist, you're always looking for inspiration and concepts to come up against, to push your own processes out in a different direction, or suggest ideas for form that you haven't thought of," says Ochs, a founding member of Rova Saxophone Quartet, the bracing Bay Area improvised-music ensemble founded in 1977. A longtime fan of Brakhage's work, Ochs began seeing the aural potential in the films after buying the Brakhage DVD anthology released by Criterion in 2003.

"The shorter pieces just completely blew my mind," says Ochs, sitting on a sun-drenched bench in the well-tended backyard garden of the Berkeley home he shares with his wife, poet Lyn Hejinian. "There were all kinds of ways he was organizing visuals that struck me as musical. Of course, he never wanted music attached to his films, because he thinks symphonically."

Instead of attempting to create sonic canvases mimicking Brakhage's flow of images, Ochs has created two extended works that use his films as a point of departure in "The Mirror World (For Stan Brakhage)," an evening-length program at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's Kanbar Hall on Friday and Saturday.

The latest of Rova's annual presentations in which other artists are invited to join the quartet, the event features a sextet piece for Rova and percussionists William Winant and Gino Robair, and a large ensemble work for 15 musicians, including Winant and Robair, guitarist John Schott and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, who has described Ochs as one of her primary creative inspirations since setting out on a solo career after two decades with Kronos Quartet.

Short films by Brakhage, presented by San Francisco Cinematheque, will be screened before, between and after (but not with) the musical performances.

While Rova's volatile improvisational aesthetic might seem antithetical to Brakhage's painstaking cinematic constructions, Ochs says he thinks the films "are very much like improvised music. You see them differently each time. If you go through it frame by frame, which isn't what he intended, it's amazing what's there."

Brakhage, who died in Victoria, British Columbia, in 2003 at age 70, was a leading force in American avant-garde film for almost half a century. Never able to support himself with his art, he taught at the Art Institute of Chicago for years, commuting every other week from his home in Colorado. He eventually landed a job at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he taught from 1981 to 2002. Though he initially adopted a neorealist style, Brakhage started departing from narrative in 1955, with his first silent film, "The Wonder Ring," a meditative spatial study of a Chicago El platform, commissioned by artist Joseph Cornell. By the early 1960s, he was producing films at a speedy rate.

Inspired by the natural world and guided by a deeply sensual inner logic, his films are often packed with fast-changing images soaked in vivid color, though he could create an intense visual experience through minute changes in monochromatic fields as well. Many of his films summon an entire cosmos in less than 10 minutes (though some works extend for hours).

For Ochs, Brakhage's work suggests a densely packed environment for presenting information, though he's quick to point out that the films are a fixed medium, while his compositions are essentially "adventures in sound," in which he sets out elaborate rules for musicians that create parameters for their evolving interactions. Many of the improvisational systems Ochs uses in "The Mirror World" have been part of Rova's creative toolbox for years, but Brakhage's films have suggested new ways of thinking about presenting sound.

"They are full of beautiful shapes, and all kinds of things get thrown at you fast, coming at all angles," Ochs says. "It's all blowing by in a way that it would probably take hundreds of viewings to be able to know when something's coming. But somehow, you feel that you're seeing it all. That's what I was thinking about with the Rova material. It's like, we throw a lot of sonic information out really fast, but everybody has a chance to hear all of it. So we're trying to make people really comfortable at the same time they're thinking, 'Wow. How is all this sound happening at the same time?' And yet it seems like it makes total sense. Because that's the thing about Brakhage's film, they really make total sense right away. You go, 'OK, I think I know what he's trying to do.' "
More reviews:

MONDAY, JUNE 2, 2008
Larry Ochs & Orkestrova - The Mirror World (Metalanguage, 2008) ****

Some years ago, I might have put this CD away after ten minutes, because of its weird soundscapes with instruments weaving apparently uncoordinated sounds into even more indiscernible textures. Today, I find it has a staggering beauty, an unusual aesthetic and a fragile sadness, which is rare. That Larry Ochs is capable of great music, is no longer a mystery. Here, he takes on a real project, a tribute to the film of avant-garde director-painter Stan Brakhage, who was most known for his handpainted - yes, image after image - soundless films, and for which Ochs has aligned two bands for a dual approach. The first CD is called "Realization 1 : Hand" and the second "Realization 2 : Wall". Musically both records are close, but surely far from identical, and that's not only due to the line-up. On "Hand", the music is played by Orkestrova, consisting of John Schott on electric guitar, Joan Jeanrenaud and Theresa Wong on cello, Lisle Ellis on bass, Ben Goldberg on contra-alto and Bb clarinets, Toyoji Tomita and Jen Baker on trombones and didgeridoos, Darren Johnston and David Bithell on trumpets, Steve Adams on bass flute, Jon Raskin on baritone sax, Tim Perkis & Matt Wright on electronics, William Winant and Gino Robair on percussion, Bruce Ackley on Bb clarinet, Moe! Staiano on percussion, and with Larry Ochs on "traffic control". And despite this big band line-up, the music retains its light quality, a level of openness and transparency, with musicians joining and leaving the overall soundscapes. There is lots of dissonance and unexpected sounds to be heard, yet they are as related to the colors in Brakhage movies, moving dynamically along, not always clear what the end result will be, but contributing to something utterly bizarre and attractive. The first CD starts very calmly with the trumpet playing in slow tones over a melting pot of sounds, that slowly flow even if they do not always blend into one harmonic whole. It moves on through moments of great dissonance but at the very end, the slow sadness comes again, with the trumpets playing bluesy tones, supported by the guitar and with the baritone sax taking care of the rhythm, which is changed on the last track with the didgeridoos giving the basic rhythm (and muted shouts!) and the sax taking over the plaintive and sad singing.

The second CD, "Wall", is brought by the Rova Special Sextet, consisting of Bruce Ackley on soprano and tenor, Steve Adams on alto, Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino, Jon Raskin on baritone, and with Gino Robair and William Winant on drums and percussion. It starts with a violence that is absent on the first CD, with the full horn section blowing away on the short first track, "Hit", which moves on into the equally short "Hung", with the rhythm section creating a strong forward movement for the saxes to interact, at first forcefully, yet alternating with melodic parts, culminating in absolute frenzy on the third track, with an unrelenting and uncompromising energy, which only stops halfway the CD, with the track "Pulsar", which contains slow drumming and percussion. After that, the musicians play in smaller units, one sax with drums, leaving more space, with more orchestrated and unison sounds, but that doesn't last long. With "Ruin", a steady rhythm moves the band back into the realm of sound bombardments, with the four saxes playing together, then each doing his own thing, then miraculously coming together again. This is not easy listening. It is hard, intense, raw, at times an assault to the ear, much like Brakhage's films are at times an assault to the eyes, but not always, beauty emerges, yet the real listening value lies in the total adventure that Ochs serves us here.

In that sense both CDs are indeed each other's mirror image too, with the first having a lighter texture despite the heavier line-up, and the second one being a wall of sound built by only six musicians. Structurally, they could also well be each other's mirror image, with the intense chaotic part at the center of the first CD, whereas the center piece of the second consists of light percussion in the middle part. Whatever, it's a rough journey, but one well worth taking.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

The first CD "Hand" can be downloaded from eMusic here.
The second CD "Wall" can be downloaded from iTunes and eMusic here.

Printed from the East Bay Express Web site:
Larry Ochs/ROVA
The Mirror World
By Mark Keresman
July 9, 2008

Local saxophonist and composer Larry Ochs is one the founders of ROVA, the internationally renowned saxophone quartet. (That's right: Four saxophones.) ROVA is an entity where the "lines" between improvisation and composition, between "jazz" and "classical" (i.e., notated music from the Anglo-European tradition), are blurred. While all members contribute material, composers such as minimalist icon Terry Riley and avant-rock guitarist Fred Frith have written specifically for them. The Mirror World is Ochs' baby, a sprawling, organic, and bracing double-CD tribute to underground film legend Stan Brakhage.
Disc one, subtitled "Hand," features Orkestrova, an expanded version of ROVA, supplemented by several top-shelf Bay Area performers: clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist John Schott, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, and percussionist Moe! Staiano. While one might expect a combo with such avant-garde and cutting-edge credits to produced a mighty free-for-all racket, that's not (exactly) the case here. True, "Hand" would likely compel most fans of Kenny G to jam chopsticks into their eardrums, but upon even a casual listen, structure, along with grace, turbulence, and wistfulness, is discernible. Bell-like tones, horns talking in tongues, guitar feedback, and elegiac winds wrap around each other and that part of your brain that responds to abstract imagery (sonic or visual). Musical frames of reference include the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Grateful Dead (its in-concert "space" improvs), Kraut-rockers Can and Amon Düül, NYC's uncategorizable No Neck Blues Band, and composers Christian Wolff and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Disc two is "Wall," performed by ROVA but augmented by drummer/percussionists Gino Robair and William Winant. Making the surreal "Hand" sound like chill-out music, "Wall" is a full-on, confrontational onslaught that doesn't subside till about halfway through. Then, percussion only fades in, growing to storm-level intensity as the saxes gradually reassert themselves. They talk in tongues, cry, and wail, then swing like a big band gone berserk, with hints of melody, ecstatic and brash. Easy stuff this isn't, but neither is it vague, self-indulgent meandering. "Hand" is both cerebral and heart-swelling, somewhat conceptual yet visceral. "Wall" will be sweet music for those weaned on the Dead C, the Flying Luttenbachers, and late-period John Coltrane. Mirror World makes for invigorating uneasy listening — it'll clean out your pipes. (Metalanguage)



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