Magic Circles

Arealism

Areal (23FIVE 016) by Richard Garet was found in the April 2012 bag, probably part of a box containing vinyl and other materials from the eminent label 23Five – although it was in fact published in 2011. Garet is an American multi-media artist who thinks in grand terms and aims to create memorable mind-bending experiences in his installation works, which apparently transform entire spaces into strange abstract environments of sound, light and treated photographic images pulsating together in such ways as to make us question everything we think we understand about space, time, and our own sensual apparatus. With credentials like these, Garet probably fits the profile for everything 23Five stands for. I have no idea how the 53-minute Areal was in fact created, and confess I don’t feel exactly illuminated after reading the six lines of text printed inside – which refer to “distances among material and its phenomenology”, “sonic manifestations of electromagnetic waves” and “extended techniques to activate sounds within the perimeter of the working table space”. However, even a ninny-hammer such as myself can tell you this is not average “minimal” music by any means, and while it may progress slowly, Garet’s complex sound on this record has a scale and depth that is extremely impressive and compelling. We have heard him before with the ultra-minimal and rather conceptual record L’Avenir which he made for Winds Measure Recordings in 2008, but Areal is far more substantial and exhibits the kind of burnished perfection that shows how far the creator has been able to transcend his methods, whatever they may be. So even if I can’t fully grasp what is meant by his liner notes, I do understand he is thinking about mechanisms for communication which lie far outside the normal perameters of most sound art generation. Now to mesmerise myself by staring at the blue circles artwork on the slipcase.

Muddy the Mudskipper

Last heard from Goh Lee Kwang, the Malaysian sound artist, in late 2009 with Hands which he made for his own Herbal International label. Like Garet above he also makes installations, and this dimension of his creativity shows up in his very immersive music which clearly aims to create an “all-around-you” effect. In the case of _, And Vice Versa (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1103), he does it by submerging us in a gigantic bowl of vague and muffled music as if we were goldfish, or perhaps more accurately a type of mudfish. That’s the impression given by the two longest pieces here, of which ‘wEIghtOfdUst’ is 15 minutes while ‘wEIghtOfwAx’ lasts for a generous 37 minutes, moving us spatially from one end of the art-cannister to the other, feeding us only on conceptual vapour and blanked-out clues printed on empty sheets of newspaper. Disorientation, uncertainty, and time-displacement may all be relevant keywords here. Although Garet’s installation work has been likened by other writers to mind-washing or thought-control experiments, Kwang wins the golden biscuit for his vivid realisation of a sensory deprivation tank here. It’s a laudable aim, although the benchmark of quality in this area has not been surpassed since 1999’s Music for an Isolation Tank on Rhiz Records 1. Kwang also provides variations on his theme with ‘AclOsErlOOkOnwhItE’, a 5-minute noiser which has the nerve-shredding jangliness of a thousand alarm clocks, and ‘EndlEss’, a little hymn to the power of entropy and decay. While still minimal in tone this at least has more definition than the afore-mentioned cotton wool mind-swaddlers. Come to that, ‘EndlEss’ is digital-glitch supreme; it would feel right at home on a Raster-Noton compilation, if it were a little more mechanical in its aims. It resembles the brain of a computer who wishes it were a begonia plant. There’s also the rather shrill tones of ‘jUctIOn’, which we assume was produced by the same inscrutable production methods, yet resembles the cries of a seagull flying backwards in time over the Bermuda Triangle. There is a pronounced contrast of tones across this CD, which is reflected visually in the artworks by Wong Min Lik (fluffy, soft, pastel tones) and those by Wong Eng Leong (disturbing, stark, monochrome). From 24 April 2012.

Jendon’s Tendons

Neil Jendon is a highly capabale analogue-synth musician from Chicago whose Corporate Laughter (CIP CIPCD026) represents his first proper CD release after a few years making do in the land of cassettes and CDRs. He favours long tracks of around 10-15 minutes apiece, which give him the space he needs to unfold his strategy; start out simple, and develop into something monstrously overloaded and complex. While not all of his work fits this schema, it’s a convenient way of understanding the ambitions and scope of a piece like ‘The Morbid Age’, which begins in the Emeralds-like land of drifty Tangerine Dream marshmallow pillow worlds, but ingeniously grows multiple layers, tentacles and limbs, and evolves into powerful heat-death blasts of controlled noise underpinning the whole seething mass. ‘Static After Static’ is another instance where the synth programs are gradually allowed to lose control and march off into a cyber-world of their own, as though the very printed circuits of the equipment were sizzling and popping, then mutating into a colony of enraged fire-ants. That said, ‘Always and Only’ is quite different, an exercise in clarity and stark outlines where the chilling musical patterns are like the shadows cast on a planet surface by ultra-sleek rocket ship fins. The 17-minute ‘Cataline’ which closes the album may at first be mistaken for a workaday piece of ambient drone, but on closer examination it too proves to be enriched with subtle details, insertions, and variations. For me, it paints a touching picture of some form of terminal decline. If Jendon’s “corporate laughter” is that of the business-suited bankers and excessively rich tycoons who caused the global financial disaster, then I suppose we can only hope that they are the ones in decline, and that ‘Cataline’ may be their swan song. However, that is merely wishful thinking. From 17 April 2012.

  1. By Fennesz, Zeitblom and Rantasa

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