Got a couple of items from Christoph Heemann’s Streamline label…I recall in the 1990s he was putting out some fine items on this successor label to Dom, including records by Mimir, Merzbow, John Duncan, RLW, Limpe Fuchs and Keiji Haino. Now the operation is under the wing of Drag City and the new album Macchia Forest (STREAMLINE 1037) has been released as a vinyl LP. Here, the trio of Limpe Fuchs, Heemann and Timo van Luijk – all strong multi-instrumentalists and sound-crafters – use subtle layers of amorphous and ever-shifting sound art to create compelling aural portraits of a bizarre forest. On ‘Getting Dark’, we seem to be surrounded by teeming life which might be frogs, insects or birds, but there also disconcerting rattling sounds and a constant background drone whose eerie tone betokens approaching menace. Hopefully, that’s Limpe rolling her stones about, a percussive act she’s been doing since about 1993. If you’re not acquainted with her earlier freaky work as one half of Anima, try and seek it out. van Luijk comes to us from the Belgian industrial droners Noise-Maker’s Fifes, but most of my experience of his unsettling drone work comes from his collaborations with Raymond Dijkstra. As to Heemann, he was a founder member of H.N.A.S., an amazing project who were among the most wacked-out of all the German experimenters of the 1980s, so strange that they even gave RLW and The Residents some stiff competition. The menacing mood darkens and continues on ‘Dark Animals’, ten minutes of highly atmospheric and solemn bass-filled murmurations that are guaranteed to give you permanent insomnia. It’s as though the growls of fierce jaguars and pumas have been abstracted and compressed into some pure form of fear; like the “dark animals” they are, they also contrive to remain invisible as they skulk about the camp at night, exuding animalistic scents. The last track ‘Forest’ is quite different to the rest of the album, which features far more instruments including African percussion, drumming, ethnic drones, wind effects, the ‘wood horn’, and even jazz piano chords courtesy of Limpe. It’s far more symphonic, almost a narrative radio play or movie soundtrack in 12 minutes, and it whirls the listener through a series of strange temperaments and changes. This cinematic burst is rather unlike the previous tracks, which do their utmost to sustain a single mood, even at the expense of forward movement. Macchia Forest may have its moments where it gets a little prosaic and literal in its interpretation of the forest sounds, but it also has plenty of content which is strange, compelling, and at times just plain terrifying. From March 2014.
The second Streamline item is by Hollywood Dream Trip, it’s called Would You Like To Know More? (STREAMLINE 1036), and it’s also a vinyl item presenting two side-long suites. Here Christoph Heemann teams up with Will Long, the American sound artist who also performs as Celer, and who has built up a formidable solo discography over the last ten years. From what I’ve been able to glean about Long, he’s an “ambient deep space” sort of chap, and brings much subtlety and depth to the picnic. Unlike the episodic and macabre “jungle” pieces above, this album is a like an unchanging carved block of amazing sound. ‘Excited By Light’ is one major triumph, a continual roar-drone of considerable strength, which may have been composed from layered field recordings of underground trains, crowds of people, and other sources; but there’s a nifty pulsating ambient chord threading its way through the entire duration, like a glowing snake of electrical power. Occasional glimpses of half-familiar sounds may swim to the surface, but what’s remarkable is how the accumulated effect is extremely alien. An exhilarating listen, now uplifting, now menacing in its ambiguity. The flip side ‘Summary and Concluding Remarks’ is even harder to characterise, but we seem to have multiple layers of textured drone – it’s easier to think of them as “shafts”, like architectural features or shafts of light penetrating the murky fog – pulling in different directions, and so creating a vast and impressive imaginary space in sound. Harsh sounds and smooth sounds co-exist in this ever-growing sky-scraper of aural achievement. Together, Long and Heemann produce many impressive effects, never once lapse into a clichéd or pre-programmed sound, and it becomes clear that both are intent on creating and exploring the outer limits of abstract sound-art.