Indefinite Outlines

No self-respecting Merzbow fan can afford to be without Live At The Henie Onstad Art Centre (PRISMA RECORDS CD710), assuming it’s still available – 500 copies only and seems to have been out since September 2010. This Norwegian art label invited the Titan From Japan to wield his spinning digital blades and buzzsaws for a live performance as part of their Kurt Schwitters in Norway exhibition, a tribute to that grand Dada collagist hero which they staged in 2009. Who better than Masami Akita to lend his bellowing raspers and scathing slice-devils to such a cultural event, since as the world knows he derived his name from Schwitter’s Merzbau collage and has carried the influence of that important 20th-century “mixmaster” all his life. It’s true, there’s 18 ounces of pure Dada & Surrealism pulsating at the heart of every Merzbow release. Inside this one: a fantastic photo of Masami standing in the actual Hannover Merzbau building, drinking in with his eyes all the normality-sapping perpendiculars and skewed perspectives of that famous construct. With a mix and mastering job by Lasse Marhaug, this is one essential eruption of scalding lava for your brain.

We last heard from the Isounderscore label in December 2009. Here’s a fine set of well-constructed electronic compositions by Brandon Nickell which “ring” and resonate like super-nova church bells from the eighth dimension, in a gold and black embossed package decorated by the artist with one of his Op-Art styled grids, and issued under the title And If You Set This Mind Of Mine Afire Then On My Bloodstream I Yet Will Carry You (ISO_09), to my mind one of the finest titles Keiji Haino never came up with. Come to that Nickell proves he is not unwilling to travel similar paths as those blazed by the quasi-mystical all-in-black Japanese guitarist, occasionally exhibiting a single-minded devotion to working fibrous mental growths out of his system patiently and relentlessly, using sound and foreign techniques to do it. Frottage, howling, grunting and chiming seem to form the basis for many of these unusual pieces, none of which are content to settle into a familiar or welcoming envelope. These five are also distinguished by mysterious occult titles, such as my favourite ‘Time Throne’. This is Nickell’s third record and is in fact “inspired by personal experiences and extensive research with auditory hallucinations”, the title derives from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, and the music was built out of multiple layers of synths and processed voices. A tremendous amount of conviction and gravity is evident in these unfamiliar yet stirring sounds.

The XXXII° Concorso Internationale Di Musica Elettroacustica E Rumore is a festival organised as part of La Bruit De La Neige, and on the double CD of this title (MONOCHROME VISION MV33) we can hear all the competition winners on one disk and the worthy runners-up on CD 2. The aim of this event is to showcase young electro-acoustic composers from all the emblematic telegraph posts of the international stage, and a large number of countries are represented in this great sweep of music; most of it rather clean and minimal in tone, not quite as “industrial” as we often hear on this label, but still promising much exciting experimentation. Based on this first superficial skim, I would direct you to the last track on CD1, a robust and unsettling oddity by Joan Bages Rubi from Spain; his ‘Signes Vers L’Autre’ is a tiny epic of ghastly disfigured voices and fractured stories that Bernard Donzel-Gargand would not be ashamed of. “The body and mind can facilitate communication in a human community,” observes this intense young Spaniard while eating an Estafuda, “but if they don’t work as they should, it’s like an altered state of consciousness”. That’s putting it mildly, Joan!

More dark gothic Horrid Mysteries from Ural Umbo, on the aptly named Fog Tapes (HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT10) – apt to my mind as the most perfect prose description of the diffuse and blackened sonic clouds that emanate from the team of Steven Hess and Reto Mäder. Time and again, Swiss tech-god Mäder proves he is a visionary studio adept of the highest order, and it would be everyone’s dream to have him sitting behind the faders for your album. Forget anything unkind I may have said previously about Hess’s work (I mean when he plays the drums for Locrian), as he truly shines on this concept album about poltergeists and ectoplasm, where every second just reeks of dismal dustiness and aged, green cobwebs draped thickly about the face and neck. Incredible creeping atmospheres delineated in very strong detail, each episode perched midway between vague murky shadows and the crystal clarity of an antique chandelier. As usual, Rik Garrett’s superlative images are an important part of the Ural Umbo project, and his uncanny recreation of a 19th-century spirit photograph is a particular triumph on this release.

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