Category: Recent arrivals

New promo CDs in The Sound Projector box

Three Spooling Dans from France

Nicolas Marmin sent us three split cassette tapes from his KommaNull label in France which arrived 18 October 2013. Note the uniform packaging of these Spooling Dans. Each tape resides in a corrugated card carton which when flipped open will reveal the cassette in a paper slipcase within, the pearl of tapedom sitting in the oyster of the hypermarket. It so happens our first pearl (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_3) is of pinkish hues.

Häk and his Music for Molekularsynthesizer finds German synth-mangler Häk issuing forth a pleasing variety of electronic sounds – some crazy, some outer-spacey, some just plain obnoxious. Certainly no shortage of effects, textures and surfaces on his half of the tape, but it’s a tad under-developed in the way of compositional design, apart from letting the piece continue and accrue further layers of effects, until it reaches a tipover point and collapses in a welter of noise. However there is a sense of exploratory fun in the work as knobs are twisted and crazy whoops sputter from the devices, and the sense that Häk is something of a kid in a sweetshop, restlessly trying out a shiny new toy. The fun aspect is undercut somewhat by the grim buzzy drone noise which closes out the tape, a testing episode of process-based grind, but as noted Häk has many varied approaches to offer.

Alan Courtis occupies the flip with his Untitled piece. Argentinean peripatetic loon Courtis has produced so many records now and worked in so many micro-genres that I’ve given up trying to understand one-tenth of what he does. One moment a throat-singing guitarist, the next an electro-acoustic tape boffin who does his best work with a household blender. At all times he’s been informed by a sense of absurdity which always gives his work a slant, an offbeat edge. Here we have something so indefinable passing over the tapeheads that my ears are getting bent out of shape trying to get a handle on it. Right away you notice his sound is much “dirtier” than the pure electronic beeps and tones of Häk, but that may be due to excessive processing and transformation. We’re dragged unwillingly across very unfamiliar terrain and there’s no clear end to this weird journey through tunnels of murk. I’ve often thought that Courtis underperforms as an editor or a composer, but here those deficiencies are somehow turned intro strengths, as this odd and episodic perambulation wanders through a series of unexplained vistas. This tape is probably a reliable psychic indicator of what’s happening to Courtis’s inner being on account of his frequent travels, not least the nauseating effects of air travel. I need a cup of strong tea after this one.

Next split is a blue item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_2), the sweet sweet blue of the sea.

BoneyFM’s self-titled album is 14 tracks resulting from collaborative actions between Lil’ Oof who provides the raw material in form of tapes, and Finkelstein who processes them, while Eran Sachs contributes a mixing board to two tracks. A confusing jumble of half-baked electronic sounds emerges, chopped up into short and unfinished pieces, arranged in no apparent order. Interesting sonic collisions may emerge from this wreckage, but they feel more like accidents. The creators can’t seem to decide if they’re going for all-out table noise, or a radically deconstructed recreation of avant-techno. A very broken and disjunctive listen; sorry chums, I just don’t get it.

Suboko offers a single 30-minute piece from a live recording at La Bascule in Rennes, from 2011. This is Laurent Berger, who’s also a member of Sun Plexus and the “minimal wave” four-piece band Ich Bin; plus Pascal Gully and the turntabler Nicolas Boutine. We have heard them before when they collaborated with some German brass players as the K-Horns, but this little slice of mayhem shows them at their unhinged and primitive best. I suppose one could also characterise this as a very broken and disjunctive listen, but it’s much more enjoyable than BoneyFM. The players are energised and focussed, and determined to give us an honest portrait of urban sprawl in sound, whatever the cost to themselves. It’s got the same vibe I find in APO33 and pizMO, the sense of a chaotic but juicy performance which has no defined boundaries and revels in the joys of uncontrolled electronics. Plus it just keeps going on and on forever. You may find the grim, industrial-ish caste of this music a bit wearisome, but it’s an honest and raw performance.

Of greenish tint is our tertiary item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_1)…

Ravi Shardja (also associated with GOL and Oleo Strut) is another French musician who has come our way before with the double LP Grun Ist Grau for Grautag Records. While that item might have shown his industrial landscaping skills, his half of the split tape La Ferme Vous-Meme is apparently more of a cut-up sampling item, with a baffling jumble of instruments and voices producing a nightmarish version of modern pop music, with insane beats and ugly sounds wrought from guitars and synths. No less unpalatable are the distorted voices, sometimes screaming in agony from the harsh transformations they must undergo. Shardja makes his mixing board work overtime until you could cook a three-course meal on the overheated desk, and pushes his array of sounds to their utmost limits. The album may have its melodic moments, but these too are rendered quite bizarre (almost comical) by means of edits and juxtapositions. Even so, this is so far the most “entertaining” listen of the bunch. You could play it to someone who’s an expert in obscure Burmese movie soundtracks, and just watch their brows furrow as they try and name the tune.

Enregistrement Temporaire is another name for Marc Nguyen Tan, who improvises on a modular synth to produce his Clusters Animés. All I can say here is that it’s a piece of great beauty, a very subtle melodic work, innovative and imaginative and with a lot of intriguing details to hear as it passes through its compositional stages. It may also be somewhat untypical of Tan’s other work. He’s more well known as Colder, an Electro-Beat thing under which name he has a lengthy catalogue from 2003 onwards, and has been involved in dance and remix projects besides finding time for film, TV and dance work. For me, Clusters Animés is the pick of the bunch from these tapes and shows there is a contemplative side to this young man’s work. Other listeners find parallels here with Nurse With Wound or HNAS – what may be emerging as a “surrealist” sub genre of electronic music.

Arrival By Degree

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Huntsville
Past Increasing Future Receding
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2521 (2013)

Gentle, pensive post rock circumambulations with a penchant for sharp turns into imposing territory, an inky infusion of low-register doom/gloom motifs and the odd smattering of remorseless machine drumming, which raise tension in what could so easily blend into the wallpaper as just another genre workout. The lack of scope one finds in the field of long-form gloom-rock pieces is ultimately the elephant in the room, though it’s probably as enticing a selling point as it is an epitaph. To be clear, there’s really nothing devastatingly ‘new’ about this recording – nor many of its ilk: those days are long gone my friends. Even the last Godspeed album – one I have much time for – found redemption merely in a fresh lick of paint. That said, as an exercise in collective expression, Past Increasing Future Receding holds up well. The trickling guitar lines and now-standard echo-blurred cymbal swirls are at once trite and hypnotic, while somehow suggestive (at times) of some imagined orient.

The musicians adjusted themselves to a mutual crawl over the course of three days as their presences resonated in the capacious blackness of Emanuel Vigeland’s barrel-vaulted Mausoleum in Oslo, their lack of hurry a suitable inhabiting spirit for those available dimensions. So clearly are the acoustics rendered on record that the room is said to have constituted a de-facto fourth member (I don’t suppose this has been said before, has it?). Of those hours, these thirty-four minutes are the revealed portion, and there is beauty in this brevity: one anomalous in a genre that checks its watch so infrequently. Of the three pieces, ‘The Flow of Sand’ captures the elements in their finest form: the dull, telltale throb of a buried siren and a stray banjo strumming vaguely middle-eastern modes. If you like this sort of music, then I imagine you will enjoy this recording as well!

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Niski Szum
Siedem Piesni Miejskich
POLAND MATHKA NO NUMBER (2013)

At times a spindlier, more mournful proposition than Huntsville, Niski Szum (aka Marcin Dymiter) favours long stretches of the same monologue-spliced, slowly ascending chord progressions as many post-rock heroes of our constellation, driving plangent pins into listeners’ hearts upon a tidal wave of resignation. Yet in spite of the audible familiarity it still manages to sound pleasant and virtually epic at times. Virtually, as in ‘not-quite’, that is. Still, Dymiter sustains the drama the way slow period dramas can do, and ameliorates the impatient with an ear for variety (by degree): eschewing excessive theme-and-variation laziness and escorting us through climes of differing murkiness: a Penderecki-esque purgatory of strings on one journey; elsewhere a vision of hell across an unforgiving Midwestern landscape with windblown shards of guitar clang and a brittle violin lament. Surely as worthy of a place on the Hubro label as Huntsville, but perhaps these two labels are one and the same?

Analogue Karma

Full marks to this gargantuan double CD set of remastered rare tracks from latterday industrial-mode doomoids Maeror Tri. I only ever heard them on a seven-inch split they made with Crawl Unit in 2000, which represents but the merest sliver of the back catalogue of these gloomy droning Germans who did everything with masses of diabolical guitars and effects pedals. Meditamentum (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 046-2 / NEW NIHILISM NN X) is itself a compilation of Meditamentum and Meditamentum II, released in 1994 and 1999 respectively, and it gives the listener a rich slew of material originally released on cassettes in the 1990s (mostly). Any clown who’s ever formed a “Cold Depressive Black Metal” tape in their bedroom in the last fifteen years pretty much owes everything to Maeror Tri, who prove themselves past masters of the atmospheric, oppressive and miserablist drone. More than that, they did it with real authority and the weight of conviction behind every flanged note they struck from their filthy black Telecasters, plus there’s a lot of variety and texture in their multiple approaches to music construction. I’d say there are enough “alternative sonic worlds” in this pack to keep you busily exploring for years. Only the artwork is a bit drab; it would have been nice if the band’s “monad”, composed of three sticks in a triangular form, could have been more prominent. From 03 October 2013.

Syrinx likewise have a tinge of darkness in their Landscapes (QUIET WORLD THIRTY), but it’s tempered with a respect for nature and an outdoorsness that Maeror Tri, locked in their unholy temples of Hermetic insanity, would not dream of. These three Northampton UK lads Baylis, Plenderneith and Saunders blend their instruments into a morass of pullulating frequencies until guitars and synth – if such devices were indeed involved in the making of this record – lose their voices in the collective tones, which ring like ghostly church bells of a gigantic size suspended over impossible landscapes. Solemn almost to the point of grimness, yet a terrifying beauty will emerge in time from these iron sounds.

Can’t get enough synth and drumming records…and some nice moments to savour on Astro Sonic’s Come Closer and I’ll Tell You (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2530), a Norwegian trio of young men armed with vintage keyboards, percussion instruments, drum machines and a Fender Rhodes piano. They have their lively and playful moments in the middle of this album, with brief but energised tracks where exciting rock-beats joust with some insane and far-out electronic effects, which seem to evoke a spaceship landing in the ocean or some other space-travel event ending badly. Their other main mode is more contemplative, where sweet melodies and pleasant retro sounds noodle away harmlessly in a major key, such as on ‘Orbiter’ or ‘Shoal’. At such moments they might not reach Eno heights, but they come close to Galactic Explorers or one of those other Toby Robinson studio bands from the 1970s Pyramid label. From 07 October 2013.

I’m now a firm fan of Noteherder & McCloud, the English duo of Parfitt and Reader who do such naughty things with saxophone and electronics, often blamming it out in real time without any cissy stuff like retakes, overdubs or “processing”. All of that rawness can be thine on the exceedingly impolite South Coast Lines (EXOTIC PLYLON RECORDS EP14) mini-CD, the first thing we heard since their The Bottle Loose In The Drawer earlier this year. On this occasion it seems that traffic sound – specifically that of roaring cars and maybe even trains – is contributing to the overall din on record, and the duo have to work like demons to make themselves felt above the general clamour. As such the whole record breathes a city-dwelling urgency which appeals to me enormously. This is the way saxophone and electronics should be – dirty, inchoate, noisy. From October 2013.

Astonishing guitar work from Mike Cooper on Right (H)ear Side by Side (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR043), and we should expect no less from this English veteran prodigy of guitar manipulation who has played on a large number of records from the early 1970s onwards, not all of them “free improvisation” even, yet is rarely mentioned in same breath as Derek Bailey. He’s joined by Yan-Chiu Leung on the sheng and the music was recorded at a 2013 festival in Hong Kong. On ‘Hong Kong 1’ Cooper plays a variety of styles – atonal free improvisation into blues-based riffing and out again – before settling into an eerie textured drone with throbbing pulsations as if trying to recreate a slew of Tangerine Dream LPs with a single set-up, which includes a resophonic guitar, a sampler, a delay pedal, a fuzz box and something called the Kaos Pad. Further blues mannerisms surface on ‘Hong Kong 3’ along with a distressed harmonica, in a minimalist oriental-style portrait of bleakness where the bittersweet interplay with Leung’s sheng is enough to give a grown man a shivering fit. If that doesn’t satisfy you, the sheer inscrutable bizarreness of ‘Hong Kong 4’ will have you finishing your imported beer, asking the waiter to bring you your bill…and a straitjacket. What dissonant eruptions, what measured yet devastating manipulation of the strings into the X-dimension. An unassuming CDR which contains wild music fit to rank with any of Fred Frith’s 1980s noisier works. From 21 October 2013.

Iron Vultures

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The Carrion LP by Voltigeurs (SECOND LAYER RECORDS SLR005), a Skullflower side project, is a massive, shining example of something…perhaps an example of care and craft in the genre of juicy, industrial terror-noise metal…every one of these four tracks is brilliantly constructed, like sheets of rusty metal riveted together, to deliver four crushing tromps to the ear. What may at first appear to be a wall of unpleasant feedback is revealed to contain multiple layers of seething sound, said layers equally unpleasant to the sensations if not more so…like peeling back layers of corruption and putrescence to expose yet more rotting flesh. ‘Morning Raga’ kicks in like a dose of aspirin dissolved in coffee – probably how Voltigeurs like to start the day – and the buzzing remorselessness sticks around obstinately, much like the pain I imagine a migraine sufferer must undergo. Imagine a heavy metal LP where all the guitarists are tuning up at the same time, trying to vie for to position with their squealing amps turned up to the “death” setting. Grisly.

By the time we get to ‘Iron Vulture’, we have menacing piano chords rumbling away in the lower register, added to the foul feedback miasma. Somehow it’s still possible to hear these pianos in spite of the continuous free-form guitar noise and amplifier roar. It’s at this point that the ingenuity of the structure does make itself manifest, if being struck in the temple by iron mallets is your idea of a “manifestation”, and a stepladder made out of rotting planks qualifies as a “structure”. What exciting pain…it’s not enough that my tormentor is pulling my body apart in the torture chamber, it seems he also wants me to admire the construction of his metal devices and instruments. If 20 minutes inside the iron maiden isn’t enough for you, then flip over to face further misery in the form of ‘Sirius’ and ‘Gynocide’, the latter being a particularly morbid and horror-inducing racket of sullen monotony, and realise at this point that Carrion is attempting to pass on various states of anxiety to your mind, ranging from panic-stricken terror to all-out, throat-slitting despondency.

The choice of name is highly appropriate; whether it refers to the elite skirmishers who caused mayhem to the enemy in Napoleonic battles, or to the Canadian ice hockey team, it passes on the requisite impressions of violence and pain inflicted by experts at tremendous speed. This scorching LP was created by the team of Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies and released in an edition of 350 copies. From June 2012.

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Dragon’s Kitchen

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KK Null + The Noiser (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO054) is a meeting between one of Japanese noise-rock’s heavyweights and the French electro-acoustic anarcho-poet loon Julien Ottavi, with results every bit as fractured and unpredictable as poisoned sushi wrapped in a crepe suzette. The album’s first half is seven short-ish experiments in grotesque electronic rhythms and crazy samples intercut with each other in ways that make no sense; after you’re reeling from that onslaught, they finish you off with a 25-minute monster that’s just chock full of playful edits so as to resemble an episodic, cartoon-like composition in the form of an acid trip. Free jazz piano, birdsong, unhinged electric noise and odd percussive gamelan doodling are just some of the elements you can expect from this garbled spew. While it includes some live recordings made in Vienna, this is mostly a fun-filled and semi-dangerous studio concoction – which is evident from all the half-mad control-freakery that’s going on here. From October 2013.

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On the face of it, CMKK’s Gau (MONO065) is a pretty sickening proposition – four artists producing a single 47-minute meander through some surreal sludgy ambient drones while one of them recites their strange poetry using plenty of pastoral images like black water, swans, fields, and mist. There’s Celer with laptop and samples, Machinefabriek with laptop and tapes, the guitars of Romke Kleefstra and the poetry of Jan Kleefstra. However, listen to the end of this slow dampened odyssey across joyless and sunless flatlands and you’ll feel the rewards as your brain is softened into malleable mush, fit to be sold as Sten Hanson’s Canned Porridge. Not unlike hearing Polwechsel after they’ve swallowed a dose of Mogadon, with added zombified electronics and a stoic TV announcer trying to remain calm while he watches the whole world being flooded. From October 2013.

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Here’s some French heroes of indefinable music and sound art: Eric Cordier and Jean Luc Guionnet, discreetly rubbing their organs together in a deserted temple in Metz. By “organs” I mean the hurdy-gurdy of Eric, which has been amplified and processed while he squeezes it, and the amplified organ of Jean-Luc – an instrument which he’s previously played to great effect in various church and cathedral settings. De Proche En Proche (MONO061) comprises live recordings from 2004, mostly rather uneventful and slow droning. Things liven up from the third piece onwards as vaguely menacing machine-like qualities are exhibited – it sounds like a milking machine going wrong and the cows are moaning in complaint. Or perhaps reaching a cow-like orgasm of some sort as they feel the errant mechanical clamps around their udders. From October 2013.

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Unearthly slab of live electro-acoustic music here from Charles-Eric Charrier, who is manipulating two musicians – their instruments, at any rate – on C6 GIG (february 2012) (MONO059). Martin Bauer is playing the viole de gambe and Nicolas Richard plays percussion and accordion. From this we derive 45 minutes of continual, mysterious sounds, at times approaching the shape of a nightmarish cloud of purple filth descending on the belly of the fitful listener. I’d have liked a tad more commitment to sustaining this crapulous mood, but I can understand why Charrier feels the need to layer this inexplicable composition with long silences, pauses, and other existential longeurs. Still, when the strings pluck bass throbs from the lower registers and the percussion rattles its cage like a snoring gorilla, you’ll find me there with my concrete pillow. From October 2013.

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Bartek Kalinka concocts some fairly bonkers music on Champion of the World Has No Monopoly on the Legions (BOLT RECORDS BRK003), through overdubbing meandering acoustic guitar strums, wonky synth tones, and arbitrary percussuon bashes. These ten tracks feel all of a piece and sonically they occupy the same zone of solitary, intimate conversations – except I feel like the conversation is taking place with a balmy loon who doesn’t even speak my language. By time of eighth track, called ‘King Is Approaching’, my mind is reduced to small lumps of gravel and any sense of proportion has been sapped by the tropical, heat-cooking weirdness that boils the brain slowly. By the end, I give in and am prepared to admit that the King is indeed approaching, and that creator Bartek Kalinka is in fact Napoleon.

Blowing Hot and Cold

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Hunter Complex
Heat
NETHERLANDS NARROMINDED NM063 LP (2013)

Could anything possibly sound less Dutch than this effervescent synth rumination? Granted, my immediate, top-of-the-head reference points are DJ Tiesto and Dick Raaijmakers, but this is something/where else. The preceding, self-titled debut from Hunter Complex (aka Narrowminded label founder Lars Meijer) was an altogether more obvious exercise in multifarious 80s synthphonics than this hazy, delay-drenched road trip to nowhere, for which Hunter has packed into trunk a sparse synth and drum machine set up and phased us into a Californian dreamtime, where we experience every arpeggio as a shimmering mirage: detached and tentative and hovering indifferently over merciless plains, though not without a distant whiff of romance. Corresponding to this imagining of a muzzy limbo, speed seldom exceeds third gear, while the mysterious navigator’s delivery exhales emotional ambiguity in low mumbles that suggest a thinking out loud; his final exhortation to ‘Let Go’ could as easily imply ill or amorous intentions for whomever accompanies him through those heat-struck, death valleys.

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Steve Moore
Pangaea Ultima
AUSTRIA SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP 032CD (2013)

The prolific producer Steve Moore – recently seen keyboarding for Italian prog legends Goblin – here alights in the synth-usiastic Spectrum Spools fold for a minimal, matter-of-fact and at times reminiscent effort to Hunter Complex’s heat wave pop. It’s colder though, and even more pared-down, as the deconstructed rave arpeggios of ‘Planetwalk’ bear adequate testament, and when it does resemble Moore’s sci-fi saga work in Zombi, it does so skeletally, as on ‘Deep Time’. Moore’s understated manner – which verges on the baffling in the meandering pulses of ‘Logotone’ 1 – adds genuine credibility to a ‘less is more’ credo, which to my mind has hitherto resulted in many uniform and unexciting pieces of work. I personally couldn’t count myself among the many admirers of Surface to Air or Spirit Animal, as it all seemed – like Prince’s much-loved 1999 – to go on for double a reasonable duration. Nor can I say that this properly takes its place amidst the recent surfeit of 80s-venerating soundtrack simulations, being in truth a properly individualised effort. Still, had we one Pangaea for every reissue and also-ran then we’d still have ourselves a handsome hit-count.

  1. Which is as accurate an audio account of Robert Beatty’s splendid airbrushed sleeve as I could have hoped for.

Five Uneasy Pieces

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Virgil Moorefield
No Business As Usual / Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound
SWITZERLAND HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT17 CD + DVD (2013)

Virgil Moorefield is a Zurich-based drummer, avantist composer and near polymath whose previous projects have found refuge with such highly revered institutions such as Innova, Tzadik and Cuneiform. As a ‘have drums, will travel’ freelancer, he’s collaborated with Bill Laswell, guitarist Elliott Sharp, and The Swans around the time of the Burning World l.p. He was also the sole panel-beater (and that’s no mean feat!) for John Cage’s favourite guitar slinger Glenn Branca, on his herculean “Hallucination City – 100 Guitars” tour which kicked up vast chunks of orchestrated metallic chordage over the heads of the N.Y. populace from 2006 to 2008.

Moorefield’s latest release on the Hinterzimmer imprint is the No Business as Usual c.d. which is coupled with the Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound d.v.d. No Business… is primarily a showcase for his Bicontinental Pocket Orchestra; a sixtet comprising Aleksander Gabrys on contrabass, baritone saxist Jürg Wickihalder, Taylor Levine on guitar, percussionist Martin Lorenz, pianist Vicky Chow and Ian Ding on vibes and drums. They and their bandleader can all be observed very much following a cerebral/muscular mindset on the title track; a five part commissioned by New Music Detroit and Detroit Per Se. Both of these experiments in post-minimalism edge towards a certain jazz noir in the Naked City feel, purveying in the main an appointment in unease, plotted on graph paper with slide rule, compass and protractor, where the contents, under extreme pressure, are seemingly fit to burst at any moment. Some passages resemble a debut album era Lounge Lizards under the batonship of Steve Reich, while other fragments seem to refer to a more rigid version of Magma’s ever-building dynamics circa Kohntarkosz. The most prominent figures in this unwavering/take no prisoners script are the icily cool vibraphonics of Ian Ding and the high end (and beyond) keyboard attack of Ms. Chow, which appears to be an angry, fingerpointing pianist’s curt riposte to Bernard Hermann’s shower scene nerve shredder from Psycho.

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As to the visual side of events, the Five Ideas… shows a number of different takes on how moderne technology can affect the interchange between sound and the moving image (this includes a couple of sub-two minute interludes, possibly fulfilling a latterday testcard function). “River of Color” is the opener and explores/expands on the tonalities originating from the guts of a grand piano when struck and its innards plucked. This generates a series of everchanging vertical bands of colour issuing from a huge bank of screens that almost dwarf the two instrumentalists. “Grainy Film” is based on a sequence of simple guitar shapes which build to nightmarishly kozmik proportions and eventually shake themselves free of their wire on wood connotations completely. The closing “Trio” is a processing overload involving the measured thud of a drumming threesome, which is reconfigured into real-time visuals, while, simultaneously being tweaked into an all enveloping electronic soundscape. Wow.

Within the confines of a fairly understated packaging concept employing the joys of four-panel chipboard lies an undisputed treasure trove of left field thought for ear and eye. Highly recommended.

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The Transitive Nightfall of August

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Koji Asano
August is Fall
JAPAN SOLSTICE 049 CD (2013)

I. Koji Asano presents us with a Neapolitan ice-cream of digital concretions, each part of his tricolore an insistent and near-literal manifestation of that vivid phrase ‘An Earworm’ – or, in the original German – Ein Earworm. A delightful image for all to consider and an apt analogy for the hour-long tripartite aural noogie presented here, a symphony in mildly irritating looped mini-noises.

Original sound sources are masked by process and near-focus, but could be in part derived from acoustic phenomena, perhaps breath in the tubes and on the mouthpiece of a brass instrument, traces of room sound or sounds whose scale and intimacy implies a human-scale and intimate architectural setting also remain. (Chamber? Asano’s anonymous cityscapes on the cover, glimpses through windows to rooftops and service staircases, imply empty hotel rooms or flats.) Tiny clicks and the low-key buzzing of a malevolent air-conditioning and giant energy-saving light-bulb. Pause for breath and look out of the window. Manipulate object with hands. Click. Continue buzzing.

Sustained midrange activity over the three tracks or movements utilises distortion but is never harsh, focus is intense but restrained, and Asano is the master of his material, never yielding to the inexorable and anxious logic that demands productivity and regularity of noise; buzzing ceases arbitrarily and momentarily as if half-distracted by a pigeon and an ensuing reverie involving a discarded piece of paper lying just there on the floor. Click. Continue buzzing. The organic logic of breath and the non-linearity of association intercede in the mechanical tendencies of continuous electronic sound that would otherwise threaten inevitability and happily exclude other vectors. Throwing a spanner in the works. Although I get the impression that a spanner is not an ‘Asano’ object, cast your eyes through the back issues of this publication and you may be able to corroborate, however, that Ed once received a Koji Asano-branded ballpoint pen.

II. Asano, entranced, prods and buffs up his 1:72 scale grindings into creamy Milliput sausages, extruding them as rigorously as a tantric douanier towards the pulsating beige centre of his incremental porous topography. Straining ever onwards, but naturally managing to make time to pause for a click or some rustling. I would suggest that next time you wish to imagine that you are a sheet of sandpaper the physicality of these works would be a useful aid in visualisation.

In its seeming arbitrary internal rules Asano positions this sound beyond good and irritating and stakes out a small, honey-combed territory of micro-noise. Merzbow as conceived of by a bluebottle and a pane of glass; a remarkable and oblique dedication to a reduced palette and the economic use of small variations and contrasts within an extended time-canvas of sustained sonic character ekes drama from what may have seemed unlikely sources. Within the severe limits set it utilises effective counterpoints and manages to draw the listener in to its initially unprepossessing or baffling world on its own terms.

Enervating buzz and muted looping static is overlaid with intimate clacks and scrunching punctuated with organic pauses before more long periods of enervating buzz overlaid with intimate clacks and clicks and physically scrunching scrunch as long periods of (momentary) clack and continue buzzing (ring modulated) and muted static click. Buzz. Continue:

III. Some of this review may have appeared wearing, or tortuous; you may have felt you discerned a slow and counter-intuitive progress, a narrow focus, playing haphazardly over minutiae, may also have become aware of repetitions and redundancies – however you may have enjoyed details, or words, become intrigued despite any demands on your patience. In this way I have fiendishly sought to emulate the very character of August is Fall, to further give a rounded impression of that flat and strange music. So, it’s not just an interminable review, honestly.

Also honestly, August is Fall has plenty to offer the curious listener – from deft juxtaposition of a minimal array of quirky sounds and effective counterpoints of those sounds to non-standard arrangements or arrangements that subvert more dominant and readily-disengag-eable 1 forms. Confrontational through use of duration, insistence and palette, though through the use of ‘weak’ or small sounds and clever use of pauses and silence pleasingly spry and canny about it. Also sporting an underlying and fundamental sense of human scale that insists on the concrete and present, what I would term a documentary approach to choice of sounds that I would characterise as one stimulating 21st century extrapolation of music concrète (we will investigate two other albums in a similar light in future reviews) – which in this case is also applied to the digital noise techniques used. An interesting synthesis of elements successfully crafted into an unusual, tedium-flirting, object-manipulating, bit-crushing, forehead-boring, idiosyncratically stimulating whole. Speaking of tedium, I’m finished again. (For now).

  1. An ungainly construction, I know, but by which I mean simply, as stated earlier, that Asano, although he does go on and on over the course of three long-form repetitious pieces, goes on at a incidental level which never allows the listener to relax in the knowledge that they know exactly how exactly the piece is going to progress from moment to moment.

Jazzers Frond

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Michael Vlatkovich Quartet
You’re Too Dimensional
USA PFMENTUM CD077 CD (2013)

Trombonist and pfMENTUM fixture Michael Vlatkovich maxes his track title word count credit card once more for his umpteenth recorded appearance on that productive, non-profit jazz label. Like the preceding trio recording, Pershing Woman, You’re Too Dimensional finds Michael and a new coterie of cohorts comfortably at sixes and sevens: gracefully stretching and flexing brass limbs across their play space, while avoiding collision at every turn. As stream-of-consciousness as Vlatkovich’s signature composition titles, the group’s regular decelerations to deconstruction speed allow us to examine in detail every ruddy-cheeked interaction. The resulting sky of strangely angled skywriting (and sometimes low-energy fizzle) may not always offer balm to weary souls, but by way of ballast it mostly moves in a rounded rhythmic manner to ensure finger pops remain close to hand. The pace is bouncy, for instance, where ‘Pershing’ left me out of breath. The successful blending of tempos is most successfully sustained through the ten minutes of ‘blue peepers’, which gifts each player with generous solo time, Jim Knodle’s warm trumpet-muting being the stand out element.

I’m not sure as to the extent of Vlatkovich’s role as ‘composer’ though, because notated ‘melody’ seems ever subordinated to melodic mannerism; the ever-reliable Knodle, Phil Sparks (bass) and Greg Campbell (drums, French horn) proceeding through their palette of earthy tones with apparent autonomy. It certainly works to his benefit though that Vlatkovich has kept instrumentation quite conventional, spurring as it does his seasoned players to maximise their performance potential. A violin would have jammed up the works something awful. So all seems well enough, though I’ve gotta say, the 5-minute Photoshop cover does favours for no one, even if it does seem appropriately redolent of west its coast jazz provenance. Pay that bit no mind.

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ReDiviDer
Meets I Dig Monk Tuned
IRELAND DIATRIBE DIACD016 CD (2014)

Like Vlatkovich, Dublin’s palindromic jazz combo ReDiviDer favour both the trombone and word play; the title of the present effort: meets I Dig Monk, Tuned (also from 2013) an anagram, I understand, of ‘United Kingdom’ (home to this record’s quartet of guest musicians). If this tingles my spider senses it’s because such intellectual fixations can sometimes accompany dry composition; an apprehension not entirely thwarted in this case. Indeed, as ‘blends (of) composed and free sections’ go, there’s a continuous and palpable sense of stage management that ever weighs on the group’s capacity for ‘free’ expression. As a result, for every second of polite squawking I sit through, I find myself longing for more of the tidier ‘spy jazz’ notation present in ‘Velvet Pouch’.

Such careful manoeuvring does pay off in tracks such as (the appropriately titled) ‘Bin Saved’, wherein earth and air elements cohere comfortably: Derek Whyte’s briwaxed bass playing providing notably snug berth for one and all. At such times I’m distantly reminded of the sardonic contrivances of the first Lounge Lizards LP, but with the comfort of central heating and interior decoration to soothe and smooth every jagged edge. The ‘Arto’ of this augmented quartet might be the bevy of guest musicians strewn sparingly across the six tracks – each of whom provides necessary condiment to their respective plate – but really it’s the subtle thread of (real time and post-production) electronics, which feature most prominently in the dense, slo-mo fug of ‘Animal Code’: the group mood-swinging into a mode of herd-animal brutishness during a slow phase, re-emerging in a fit of lumpy drumming, double weighted by bitumen-thick atmospherics. Interesting as they are, I’m unsure as to whether such details further date or distinguish these compositions.

Silenced

Pas Musique / Ben Link Collins / Shaun Sandor
Of Silence
ALREALON MUSIQUE / BLONDENA MUSIC / SILENT MEDIA

Peter Orins
Empty Orchestras
HELIX LX006 CD (2013)

I recently attended a conference in New York about music and film. One of the most fascinating papers given was about how film soundtrack has to approximate silence, through some use of background noise, industrial drone, ambient sounds etc. The speaker started by mentioning John Cage’s 4’33” work, although strangely – given his paper – he disputed Cage’s idea that silence doesn’t exist. I say strangely as it seemed to me that both Cage (whose 4’33” manuscript and other documentation were on display at MoMA) and many film composers agreed, and make us listen to other sounds when we think that we are listening to nothing.

Anyway, Pas Musique, Ben Link Collins and Shaun Sandor frame their CD using Cage’s ideas, but also the idea of silence as a blank canvas, something waiting to be filled, ideas of inaudibility, studio silence, and The Art of Noise. There are nine tracks on this CD, three sets of three, with the 2nd and third of each trio deriving from their predecessor.

Whilst conceptually these are interesting, it has to be said as ‘music’ or even ‘sound’ they are not. The five and a half pages discussing the work is in the end more informative and engaging than the work which is the product of it. I also have to say that in the end the compositions and process seem more about the recording process itself than silence. To amplify and endlessly re-record a original tape of silence is about the noise of technology and machinery, about decay, analogue and digital equipment rather than silence.

Full marks for the thinking, few marks for the music.

Peter Orins’ CD actually has nothing to do with this kind of work, or so says the press release, which suggests Orins uses an electronic treatment to allow himself to duet with himself pushing himself endlessly into new improvisations and dialogue. So why have I put my review here? Well, the CD will not play on any computer, stereo deck or boombox in the house, has silenced itself. I applaud the concept, and as someone who dislikes most drumming intensely can truthfully say it is the best CD by a drummer I have [n]ever heard.