A thousand angles


Hidden Bird’s Nest (3LEAVES 3L011), eh? Know what you mean…if this was an English folk song record it would be a collection of lusty songs about courtship. Instead this is actually a field recording record made by Hiroki Sasajima and Takahisa Hirao, pointing their microphones into the rich repository of wildlife that abounds in the Togakushi sanctuary. This particular verdant zone is the home to many broadleaf trees and a wide range of avian life, the sort of preserve which lovers of BBC Nature films have dreams about. Our two Japanese friends seem to have evolved a particularly sensitive and respectful method of recording their sounds, one which involved virtually no interventions whatsoever, and allowing only the most “feeble vibrations” to end up on their minidisc recorders. They also set up their basecamp so as to work from one particular vantage point. This approach has allowed them to follow the changing of the seasons as well as paying close attention to the distant chutterings and rustlings of the birds. Where other field recordings have strived hard to create an immersive experience that puts the listener right inside the midst of a rain forest or a bleak polar region, this record is much less invasive. It might be a “restructuring of soundscapes” as the creators describe it, but if any artifice has taken place at the mixing desk, it’s all but invisible on the finished product. It is a series of careful and well-focused observations, taking place from a serene centre. A breathtakingly beautiful, but incredibly quiet, release.

From the Black Note Music label in California arrived this album by Radio Free Clear Light in early October 2011. Joyful Noise Vol 1: Tamoanchan (BNM 059) is a concept album of sorts to do with a reimagining of the paradise of the Aztec gods and the underworld of Michtlan. At this point I could have done with an assist from Lawrence Burton, who used to contribute to The Sound Projector and was a self-taught scholar of the Mexica. RFCL are a large collective of musicians who play guitars, synths, percussion, woodwinds and electronics, with several side players adding vocals and noise-makers to some tracks; in their own words, they see the creation of experimental and improvised music as “a collaborative mystical practice” and admit to taking influence and inspiration from written esoteric culture. What they produce in their collective hazy trance is generally rather subdued and droney music where the aimless solos seem to take forever to finish and there is a general lack of direction all round. The group livens up a little for ‘Rise’ and ‘We Were Alive Then’, playing a sort of very laid-back modern dub-influenced beat music which they would like to the music of Bill Laswell. The accumulated sound they make is interesting and pleasing, but I don’t find enough tension in the performances to engage my interest for very long; in my view they could do with beefing up their ideas in the production and editing departments.

Got a couple of items from Chicago reporting on the current lively improv practice that’s bubbling up from the sidewalks and creeping into the brains of the populace. The Peira label is run by Brian Labycz and he also plays the modular synth as one third of Breakway with Paul Giallorenzo (moog and piano) and the drummer Marc Riordan. Hot Choice (PEIRA 07) is a snappy 30-minute CDR with seven examples of their very dynamic and enthused improvised music. They play well and have a very distinctive group sound; they suggest that it makes sense to hear them as “a kind of percussion trio” and draw attention to the range of timbres produced by the unusual instrumentation and the interactions between the threesome. This notion indeed makes a lot of sense when faced with the stuttering and near-incoherent fluttervies and spit-spat gruntamaloons that squeeze themselves out of Labycz’s synth; a simplistic noise band they are not, and it’s clearly agreed within the trio from the outset that no-one must set their electrical equipment in such ways as to produce a deafening roar or a lazy drone. Instead, shards and fragments of electronic clutter fly out, colliding with snare drums and cymbals. Cecil Taylor was another who famously insisted his piano was a percussion instrument and treated it as “88 tuned drums”, although this isn’t to suggest any similarities between Taylor and Giallorenzo’s work. He too has gagged and muffled his instrument’s natural tendencies, especially on ‘Elementionary’, where he sounds like a bondage-freak’s version of Cage’s prepared piano. Hot Choice feels rough, unfinished and uncertain in places, but that’s all good to me as it suggests Breakway are still finding their way into this exciting and experimental trio approach, and haven’t yet settled into a comfortable groove. In short I like the direction they’re heading in and look forward to hearing more.

The lovely Pimmon makes a welcome return with The Oansome Orbit (ROOM 40 RM441) which arrived here 12 October 2011. Pimmon is the Australian Paul Gough whose approach to electronica I have always found eccentric, charming, melodic, and extremely engaging; I was a tad surprised to learn he’s been doing it for 15 years now and is regarded as a “godfather” figure in his homeland. The Oansome Orbit is another rich and delirious record with many of his trademark techniques at play – loops, distortion, multiple layers, and a judicious sense of just how much to apply in the way of filters and processes. Fascinating textures and half-melodies spin around in circles, creating irregular patterns, and we keep on being pulled deeper and deeper into the quicksand of delight. Every tune seems to double back on itself and make itself new in the process, like an amoeba splitting and growing under the microscope. The word ‘oansome’ in the title is taken from the book Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, but Pimmon’s not interested in the post-nuclear end of civilisation theme of Hoban’s novel so much as the sense of “forlorn aloneness”. Pimmon can feel lonely making his music, lost in a world of “melancholic tones” and “granular debris”, and confesses he even feels isolated in a room full of people. (I know the feeling well.) The irony, according to him, is that the contemporary world is “more connected than ever before”, which is certainly a fit subject for debate if he’s referring to things like social software and the internet. But that’s not an issue he specifically intends to address on the album, which remains a genuine exploration of mixed and complex emotions, in ways that will at times draw out your empathy and compassion. I would argue we need more electronic music to act in a humane way, at a time when many releases from Editions Mego are currently emphasising the brutality and pain of everyday life.

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