Depths and Heights

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Very fine item (DEPTH SOUND RECORDINGS ADSR005) by Antidröm which arrived 2nd September 2013. This is the work of UK creator Tim Bayley who produces it all using a blend of second-hand and home-made equipment, which I assume is mostly old analogue synths and drum machines; at any rate, he stresses a hands-on approach to making music, and his avowed plan is to avoid any computer-generated sound sources. Good for him, I say! Net result, a very varied album of original tunes (yes, many strong melodies here) and creepy atmospheres emerging from the swirly synth whirlpools. Brevity is a keynote, he has made a friend of the editing scissors, and none of these instrumentals ever outstay their welcome. Not every single one of his fourteen experiments here is an unqualified success; some of them feel a little sketchy and half-made-up; but he is trying to do something different on each track, and when he gets the combination of elements just right, the results pay large dividends. ‘Rashomon’ is one personal favourite, but there’s much to admire overall. For instance, the way he avoids meaningless drone in favour of syncopation and strange, quirky rhythms, inserting his twisted half-phrases into the musical continuum in ways that are slippery and unexpected. He also steers away from aural clichés, not least because of the self-imposed ban on the laptop and the digital soundfile, and while some of his sounds may appear ungainly and lumpy, they are his own original creations, and that raw primitivism is a big part of the appeal. True, the use of spoken word / voice samples (on ‘Fear’ and ‘Holy Mountain’) might seem a little over-familiar, but these are minor glitches. Although there is an avowedly dark tint to the album, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole it as “cold wave”, “dark ambient”, or any one of these stupid post-Industrial labels. There’s also the excellent artworks, which are monoprints produced by the American visual creator Grady Gordon, and generated using an advanced form of the Rorschach inkblot which is then transformed, Giger-like, into explorations of twisted heads and strange black skeletal forms. Bayley declares his music is intended to “match the aesthetic of the artwork”, so we have an uncommon case of music and sleeve art working in tandem.

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On Green Heights (BASKARU KARU:26), we have a trio of Japanese greats producing a rather strange form of synthetic art music, one that resembles healthy chunks of slimy seaweed served up in a thin vegetable stock, to be consumed by the hungry diner out of perspex octagonal bowls, while futuristic monorails pass by overhead. The lovely Ken Ikeda is here generating gorgeously musical major-key drones with his DX7 synth and his SD404 string decoder, which I assumed was a groovy piece of expensive equipment but which turns out to be a very primitive home-made instrument made from rubber bands and nails. Tomoyoshi Date’s name is new to me, though his 2008 album Human Being for Flyrec looks like an interesting investigation into the interstices between suburban and natural environments, and he brings his toy piano, organ, vibraphone and piano to the picnic, along with some field recordings. The layers of this kelp sandwich are held together by the intense but nearly-invisible jets of feedback which steam from the no-input mixing board of Toshimaru Nakamura. These five variations on the ‘Balcony’ title are all highly enjoyable, verging on the tuneful without ever breaking into a structured melody, and there’s never an unexpected or alarming sound to disrupt the tranquil mood. Maybe a little too tranquil; some of this music, especially the first three tracks, verges on the cloying for me with its saccharine combinations of pleasing tones and faux-naif, dumbed-down playing, particularly from the toy piano of Tomoyoshi Date. However, tracks four and five serve up a bit more in the way of intrigue and mesmerising sound art. ‘Balcony III [gamma]’ contains a long, puzzling stretch of noise which we could interpret as a ghostly walk through a factory, where the mechanical movements have been transformed into harmless, child-like variations. I assume it’s the added layer of field recording here which makes it sound less claustrophobic than the artificial glass bubble of tracks 1-3. ‘Balcony III [delta]’ satisfies this listener on some deeper level because Toshimaru is apparently being allowed more space to do his muscular abstractoid thang, and for a good chunk of its ten minutes this track invites us to discover the aesthetic delights of passing a hoover over the surface of the moon. Things go slightly awry in this lunar domestic scenario when the vacuum-cleaner short-circuits, and agitation lets fly. Despite some moments where we descend into rather tasteful ambient cliché, this track is the winner for me. From 5th September 2013.

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