Nine Inch Snails
Slugfield may be a pretty repulsive name, and an album title like Slime Zone (PNL RECORDS PNL008) isn’t guaranteed to attract many potential fans from the ranks of Radio Norge listeners, but any musical endeavour which involves three Norwegian underground supremos (Marhaug, Ratkje and Nilssen-Love) deserves your warmest embrace, no matter how big the slug may be, nor how wet and slimy its trail. These 2010 recordings were enacted during a jazz festival in Oslo, but the mucus which this trio of gastropods produce is more in the nature of improvised electronic noise. Lasse Marhaug does it with his turntable and electronics set-up, while the very gifted and much-in-demand Maja S.K. Ratkje uses her voice and more electronics. When this pair are zooming together in the “zone” and carving out hefty slabs of richly buzzing atmospherics, Paal Nilssen-Love is able to exercise considerable self-restraint and pull away from his percussive kit, but once he picks up his steel mallets and starts a-hammering then he’s every bit as untamed as two separate Andrew Cyrilles. Ratkje is of course capable of singing like an angel when required, but in this particular milieu she brings wordless abstract screeches and gulps to the conversation, half-swallowing and half-vomiting her near-inhuman streams of vocalese data as if possessed by the Norwegian equivalent of “Old Nick”. An exciting and varied record; the textural dynamics reach all the extremes, and it’s not simply a free-for-all bluster-bout of self-indulgent high volume. The positive qualities of this release can be garnered from the longer tracks such as ‘Bring ‘Em On’ and ‘Happy After Party Dance’, where the players sustain high energy and much complexity for lengthy tussles of unbroken blastage, without any audible signs of flagging. Note sturdy “mini-album” gatefold cover with pastedown artwork for this CD release. From May 2012.
Peter Gregson performed all the cello parts for Cello Multitracks (NONCLASSICAL NONCLSS014), an album showcasing the work of UK contemporary composer Gabriel Prokofiev. It’s a strong collection which whole-heartedly embraces modern music in two ways: (a) the use of sophisticated multi-tracking studio methods, and (b) a strong influence from dance and remix culture. The former is shown on the first four tracks, a suite for nine cellos whereon Gregson overdubs himself and produces astonishing effects. You may have expected a morass of tasteful minimal droning, but this player has remarkable attack in his bowing and plucking techniques, leaves enormous gaps in the music, and creates a diabolically clever net of exciting dynamic music. The piece ‘Jerk Driver’ alone seems to have the potential to close the gaps between dub music, post-punk and classical composition, while ‘Float Dance’ has enough dissonances to satisfy any hard-core Serialist yet still retains the snap and crackle of dance music, as if a solid rhythm pulse were encoded in its DNA. We could say the same of ‘Tuff Strum’, where the cellist seems determined to recreate an acoustic chamber form of drum’n’bass. Gregson’s skills transfer well into the live environment too; he played his live parts against a bank of eight loudspeakers playing pre-recorded material when the music was premiered in 2011. The electronic dance influence extends to the remaining nine cuts, which are remixes of the music created by various luminaries of DJ culture, with at least one of them (DJ Spooky) hailing from the more “arty” end of that spectrum. These remixes are apparently representative of musical styles that are a closed shop to me, including dubstep, hip-hop and techno, but the use of reverb, loops and drum machines is rarely used to swamp the foregrounded cello sound, which consistently emerges as sharp as shards of broken glass painted black. A thrilling and innovative record. Some classical composers have made complete ninnies of themselves through dabbling in popular music or contemporary forms, but it’s completely different with these two fellows, who are already steeped in the milieu; “Peter makes his own electronic music and has a lot of studio experience,” reports the composer, explaining why they had such an immediate rapport and achieved such productive results. Recommended. From 16 May 2012.
The Water Synth
Enchanting and delicate percussive effects on Ombrophilia (APOSIOPÈSE NO NUMBER), by the Japanese composer Tomoko Sauvage who despite her “wild” surname is about as gentle as a Buddhist baby lamb on these recordings. The process she used involves porcelain bowls, presumably being struck by wooden spoons and making use of metal wire strands in some way. The bowls are filled with water and recorded using hydrophones. There are no melodies or tunes as such, but complex arrays of percussive notes performing like a broken mechanical street-piano. Some of Tomoko’s titles, such as ‘Raindrop Exercise’ and ‘Amniotic Life’, indicate her respect and love for nature, and the entire system is sympathetically described as a “natural synthesizer”. LP format only and limited to 500 copies (mine is a CDR promo). Arrived 04 May 2012.
Petals Fell on Petaluma
No less natural in its approach to electro-acoustic music is the mini-CD Aposiopesis (LF RECORDS LF026), 20 minutes of superb “airy” drone from Petals, the performing name of Kevin Sanders. Very coincidentally, the title here matches the name of the French record label which released the above LP 1. From what I can gather, the Petals music here is a live taped recording of a set-up involving violin strings, metal bars and elastic bands, creating a feedback system with the actual resonances of the four walls where it was recorded. A delicious combination of room sound, musical drone, and ambient feedback, all colliding with the recording process in subtle ways. Sanders also runs a record label called Hairdryer Excommunication, where he is dedicated to “Pluralising Minimalism”. If that involves enriching impoverished minimal music with added passion, heart and beauty such as we hear on this little gem, then I’m all for it. His website contains images and videos which may illuminate the matter further. From 30 May 2013.
- The term is something to do with unfinished sentences. Luckily, it’s not as severe as aphasia. ↩