Category: Recent arrivals

New promo CDs in The Sound Projector box

Long-Winded Small Talk

The Dwarfs Of East Agouza
Bes
UK / USA NAWA RECORDINGS NAWA005CD CD (2015)

A recent chapter in ex-Sun City Girl Alan Bishop’s saga of map-hopping exploits catches him in Cairo-based cahoots with like-minded lunatics Sam Shalabi and Maurice Louca for a turbulent turn in team-building. At the risk of selling it as Bishop’s thing, The Dwarfs of East Agouza sound like they might have been distant cousins of the Sun City Girls, had they grown up in post Arab-Spring Cairo instead of Phoenix. But it’s very much an egalitarian effort; blending distinctively non-western percussion, rambling microtonality and the awkward/irascible brand of echo-peddling psych-rock the Girls would lapse into now and again. And as per efforts such as Valentines From Matahari, there’s an assurance that the music’s charms will not be immediately evident.

What’s quickly clear however is that all sense of restraint has been canned: jams ring out in all directions for up to thirty minutes and ain’t about to stop for your peace of mind, nor mine. Or else they ramble on in muttered tones like Bishop’s Uncle Jim in caustic toad mode. In few other conditions could ‘Baka of the Future’ fake it as a sampler track, where itching beneath a bouncy bassline and narcotic organ riff we hear the signature scrapings of Alvarius B’s Jackson Pollock guitar. Skip through the 10-minute excursion and witness the trio almost suffocating in its own smog; the boys getting their groove on where most of us experience mental problems. Yet despite this airborne aggravation, their initial aimlessness achieves lucidity in all cases, and after repeat playbacks their sounds soak deeper into the nervous system.

For all the music’s purported lack of polish, there’s also a sense that the Dwarfs are trying hard not to sound like they’re trying hard. They want not for impish mischief nor discipline, and were it not for poly-musician Louca’s rhythmic chops and unseated tonal stylings, Shalabi and Bishop’s jagged and disgruntled string manipulations would be on much shakier ground. His horse-powered hand-drumming brings calm cohesion to the same chaos his shape-shifting keyboard modulations help to create; encompassing the whole nine yards between Arthur Russell-style organ stabs on ‘Hungry Bears Don’t Dance’ and opiate-drowned dream imagery in ‘Resinance’, both of which aim to resituate us in less defined modes of being. I will take this opportunity to remind you to buy his excellent solo album, Salute The Parrot.

The 30-minute ‘Museum of Stranglers (I-III)’ is everything you’d expect from a cosmic, side-long closer: A climatic creatio ex nihilo in dead air of echo pedal guitars; flutters of Alan Bishop’s recent post-skronk saxophony; the wooziest, most Lovecraftian electronics to manifest thus far; psych-rock tropes unleashed in full force; long stretches of little evident interest; time folding between threadbare lows and celestial highs where oblique and charged power lines soar, bestial purrs and gurgles taper to zero and an inverted, no-wave reprise (of sorts) of the opening theme marking our return to the point of origin. Even for a group with such avowedly irrational proclivities this lurching epic is a perversely gratifying patience-tester; the longer one listens, the stronger the sense of dissociation. A worthy debut to be sure!

Digging It

Thea Farhadian / Klaus Kürvers
eXcavations

USA BLACK COPPER EDITIONS blackcopper002 CD (2016)

In a week when Donald Trump and Angela Merkel got together to shoot the breeze at the White House, here’s another US-German collaborative enterprise for you to consider. Listeners will decide for themselves which they find the most edifying.

Thea Farhadian is a San Francisco Bay Area violinist, with deep roots in classical music as well as avant garde experimentalism and improvisation. A one time member of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, she’s since created an impressive catalogue of solo projects, collaborations, gallery works, acoustic, electronic and laptop experiments. Klaus Kürvers picked up the old bull fiddle in the 1960s, playing with the Essen Youth Symphony Orchestra as well as numerous jazz, free jazz and jazz rock combos. After a short 40 year break to work as an architect and cultural historian, he’s now an active member of the Berlin improvisers’ scene.

The fruits of their collaboration can be enjoyed on eXcavations, with twelve miniature improvisations for violin and double bass. The title suggests an archaeological approach, scraping away the layers to reveal more and more of what lies beneath. There’s certainly a lot of scraping going on (quite literally), and, at times, the double bass makes a noise like a stone sarcophagus being prised open. But it’s also true in a metaphorical sense, as deeper and deeper structures are revealed, hints of jazz tunes and chamber music emerging from the noise like fragments of Roman mosaic being turned up in a ploughed field. The artists themselves talk about “evoking a sense of the past” and creating a “rusty” sound, so the title is well chosen.

One question that it’s worth asking about improvised music is how well you feel the musicians are responding to each other. If it feels like they’re all just banging and scraping away without actually listening to each other, it’s not a lot of fun for anyone who wasn’t there at the time. On the other hand, if it feels like they’re really paying attention and creating something together in the moment, the results can be quite magical. I’m pleased to report that this record succeeds on that count.

eXcavations is the second release on the Black Copper label 1, a new imprint dedicated to improvised music. The website was down when I tried to check it out, but hopefully they’re still with us, preparing to launch more of these satisfying sounds into the world. Or perhaps Black Copper too has become an archaelogical artefact, awaiting excavation from the midden heap of defunct labels. Either way, it’s worthy of discovery.

  1. We noted the first one here – Ed.

Planet Echo

Rara
W//\TR
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 125-2 CD (2016)

Formerly known as Przed Państwem Rara, Poland’s now-truncated Rara are a trio who purvey (apologies in advance) a kind of ambient folktronica (sorry again) that weaves acoustic guitar, percussion and low-key electronic textures into moody dreamscapes – both oneiric and nightmarish – which are well-suited to the gothic whims of the Zoharum label. While their new album, W//\TR, is generally warmer and more emotive than the black metal ambience hinted at by the cover, the 10-minute opener ‘Echo Planety’ leaves us little the wiser. This, the longest of the otherwise intermezzo instrumentals, is a runway taxi of echo pedal-drenched shoegaze guitar with all the glory of the first yawning in millennia of dawn light across a distant moon. It’s a fine scene-setter for the epic theatrics that subsequently emerge from subterranean strata of crisp, ornate finger-picking, bubbling synths and deep, droney undercurrents that add drama to ambivalent chord progressions.

While much of this is to seemingly simple pastoral effect, Rara also know how to throw a ‘country’ shape or two, whether it’s affecting the slow southern drawl and wild west mise en scene of Angels of Light’s no country for old men (‘Gen Planety’) or the more rustic charms of a fair-voiced maiden (one Kuba Ziolek) singing to the night (‘Przynieś To Z Nocy’). All nice enough, though there are unsettling anomalies like the risible electro-goth segue halfway through ‘Pasaźerowie Wiatru’ or the moist male whispers that follow a plangent guitar into the ear canal in ‘Szepty W Głowie Elly Brand’. Mood killers both.

There is ear-balm aplenty however: ambient interludes that provide recovery time, and the more soothing female voice that dovetails with itchy guitar lines, recalling some of Stine Grytøyr’s plaintive contributions to Ulver’s Marriage of Heaven & Hell. In fact, W//\TR shares a good deal of that album’s mannered and musically omnivorous gothicism: primal undercurrents of tethered frustration beneath ornamented structures (and the odd power-chord pyramid), suggestive of a reservoir of archetypal power that gives form to all physical appearances. Some might find W//\TR‘s stylistic shifting a tough swallow, but Rara’s musical blending is an accomplished one, lending W//\TR a sense of fractured identity well-suited to their recent change of name.

Yellow Fever

Norbert Möslang / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
sale_interiora
RUSSIA MIKROTON RECORDINGS mikroton cd47 CD (2016)

The packaging for this is bright yellow; a kind of black grid graphic; it looks like it has been photocopied black on yellow. The whole thing is yellow; you open the gatefold digipak and inside its bright yellow. I once had a friend whose favourite colour was yellow. She often maintained that yellow was “the colour of madness”, but that was a long time ago and I expect she’s grown out of saying that sort of thing now. I had another friend who painted her baby daughter’s nursery lemon yellow. Not my favourite colour. I’ve got nothing against the colour yellow, although I must say I prefer the shades nearer to orange than green.

The two tracks on this disc are each just under 17 minutes in duration. The first one is called “Giallo”, presumably after the Italian horror film genre, while the other one is titled “Nero”; another Italian reference I’m guessing, this time to the infamous emperor who was more interested in practicing scales on his violin while his city was on fire. This album is the result of two sessions or performances from 2014; “Giallo” in Moscow and “Nero” in St Petersburg. Möslang is in charge of some “cracked everyday electronics”, Belorukov, alto saxophone, laptop and electronics and Liedwart on an analogue synthesiser (although as a synth nerd, I’m a little disappointed it doesn’t say which one on the sleeve), electronics and ppooll – a piece of software whose manufacturers describe as “audio and visual networking system created from Max/MSP and Jitter patches”.

“Giallo” is an uncompromising crunch-fest. Like a digital re-enactment of First World War trench warfare. Perhaps it was the result of one of those days of travelling where everything went wrong for the musicians? Someone got up late, missed connections, lost luggage, the wrong map, GPS not working, mobile phone out of charge and arrival at the venue with just enough time to set-up with minimal line check before doors open. “No-one served coffee, so no-one woke up”, as Stephen Malkmous once sang. Everyone’s playing sounds thoroughly annoyed. But in a good way. In comparison, “Nero” sounds relatively good-natured. The granular explosions and giant combustion engines producing unnatural sub bass frequencies are still there, but it seems that there is more of an accord or mood of contentment among the musicians. Liedwart’s synthesiser is more to the fore here, too and this gives the piece a perhaps more anxious feel rather than the out and out aggression of “Giallo”. At one point, a sound like wolves howling, presumably a sound sample courtesy of Belorukov’s laptop adds to the disquiet. I’ve never been disappointed by a project involving any of these three musicians that I’ve heard so far. Yeah, I like this item – looks good, sounds good, is good. This is a record I think I’ll be returning to a lot.

Webcor, Webcor

Very good and absorbing process-art piece from Stephen Cornford and Ben Gwilliam. It’s called On Taking Things Apart (WINDS MEASURE RECORDINGS wm46). Evidently the thing they took apart was an old tape recorder, a Grundig TK5, a piece of kit which my sources indicate was manufactured in the mid-1950s. The release provides a printed list of their actions, a recipe if you will, not far apart from a set of instructions that might have been used by conceptual artists or modern composers in the 1960s. The first step was to post the tape machine to another country, then dismantle it, and do things with the separate components. If you read your way through this list you’ll see the actions start out as quite productive and experimental, using the pieces to make noise, but gradually the plan becomes more destructive, and at the end of it the poor machine has its springs heated up, all its components crushed, and finally buried in the ground. Yipes! A prisoner in a medieval torture chamber would have received kinder treatment.

Cornford and Gwilliam manage to create a hefty wodge of interesting sound from their activities. It’s far from being one of the ultra-quiet releases we used to associate with this excellent experimental small label from America. In places On Taking Things Apart does become quite agitated and noisy. I like the variety of their approaches, for instance using the fixing plate of the machine as a broadcast antenna, and using the chassis to generate feedback. One’s natural inclination, possibly, might have been to fixate on the motor action of the tape recorder and thereby create 19 variations on a scrapey, grindey noise (step forward A-F Jacques). But our plucky team have been extremely imaginative in how to repurpose this Grundig. It’s also been a very exhaustive, comprehensive piece of work; the deliberation and concentration is evident on the sounds that have been published. Incidentally I note they also state “all recorded to tape”, which might mean they used old-fashioned magnetic tape for this work rather than digital recording, a decision which would be entirely in keeping with the project, giving it a satisfying conceptual wholeness.

I see Stephen Cornford is a UK sculptor and installation artist and runs the Consumer Waste label, a project which sounds worthy of attention, and may likewise involve an emphasis on recycling. We did note a single of his many years ago, Two Works For Turntables released in 2009. We also heard Ben Gwilliam on a record with Jason Zeh around 2011, which exhibited a similar concern with the behaviour of separate components of cassette tapes and their players. Paul Morgan has also referred to “Gwilliam’s mastery of frequency manipulation” in the live situation. This release is a limited edition in a letterpress cover. From 14 September 2016.

Sleep No More

The album II: Music For Film And Theatre (DEKORDER 081) is credited to Felix Kubin Und das Mineralorchester. The bulk of the record is Macbeth – or a remix of Kubin’s soundtrack for a Polish theatre piece, directed in 2010 by Robert Florczak. 11 tracks of quirky instrumentalness, darkness, and black humour result, all played by Felix’s “virtual” orchestra, which may mean he plays all the parts himself.

Far from Felix’s usual happy self, this is attempting to be alarming, grim, music, often very suggestive of the doom and chaotic fate that Macbeth leads himself into. ‘Wojna’ is highly charged, atmospheric ambient doom music. ‘Hexen’ is likewise unsettling, using backwards tapes to suggest the supernatural eeriness of the witches. I have no idea why this piece turns into a disco tune though. ‘Banquo’ is another good example of dramatic “scary music”, delivered in a more conventional manner.

Although all-electronic, the music feels old-fashioned somehow, and could almost have come from a mid-1960s experimental film or a Svankmajer animation. The terse semi-whispered voices of actresses and actors add compelling tension. However, it’s also witty and zany to use Nintendo game effects to illustrate Macbeth’s defeat on ‘Game Over’. ‘Menuett I’ is more like the Kubin we know and love, showing his Schubert prowess on what amounts to an electric harpsichord.

The next major piece included is ‘Somnambule’, for an animation film of this name made by Anke Feuchtenberger, a German illustrator from East Berlin. It includes all the sound effects as well as the music. I think I can see how her stark drawing style and idiosyncratic take on Freudian-inspired dream symbolism might appeal to Felix. I found my attention wandering through this ten-minute piece though, as there’s no sense of a story unfolding or any clear musical themes I can sink my ears into; just a series of pleasant cues and effects. That said, there’s a strong conceptual link between Macbeth and sleep-walking (“out, damned spot” and “Macbeth hath murdered sleep”) which could be said to join the two parts of the album together. From 31 August 2016.

The Sleeping Cage

From New York City, here are The Strange Walls with their album Won’t Last (ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN072); the trio of J.V.O. Worthley, Dandrogenous and singer Regina Yates are talented multi-instrumentalists and vocalists with a history of interesting collaborations. On this 11 track LP, I liked ‘The Girl On Mandragora’ which is an abrasive pounder with echoes of The Velvet Underground (and even a little Nirvana), which seemed fitting given their album cover which made me think of an attempt to restage the Exploding Plastic Inevitable at home using only bedsheets and bare lightbulbs. This song turns out to be uncharacteristic of the album though, which is mostly slow reflective songs filled with introspection, darkness, and a wistful tone. ‘Wartime Melody’, one of the best of these, is very reminiscent of Opal. This general despondency may account for why they’ve been labelled, perhaps unfairly, with terms like “goth” and “shoegaze” and even “dark wave”. I’ve no doubt the trio are sincere, but I feel they are striving a bit too hard to achieve that washed-out, strung-out effect in their sound and their singing voices. It feels mannered. I like the “foreign elements” and odd noises evidently added on to the recordings, but they also distract; too much unwarranted texture, surface. This aspect may be coming from PAS leader Robert L. Pepper (he produced it). From 31st August 2016.

Rooms For Improvement

Ingar Zach
Le Stanze
NORWAY SOFA MUSIC SOFA552 CD (2016)

A new name for me, but tucked beneath the surface of several SP reviews is Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach: an active figure on the European free music scene, though perhaps more at home among the contemplative Hubro school than vikings like Lasse Marhaug. He even racked up a couple of Derek Bailey collaborations in the early noughties, which is hardly anyone’s front page news I imagine, though it is his improvisor status that surprises most: a couple of listens into Le Stanze and I had him down as a considered, post-classical composer, not someone with a couple of Derek Bailey collaborations under their belt.

The truth lies somewhere between. The post-Gruppo d’improvvisazione(…) slither n’ scrape shenanigans that open Le Stanze maintain a haunting presence throughout, serving as a ‘spontaneous’, space-carving foil for the more ‘constructed’ sections in which percussion and electronics respectively stimulate and depress the music’s blood-flow. Perfect case in point is the galloping fit of percussion that drives halfway through ‘Il Battito Del Vichingo’: a skin-tingling, almost mechanical alignment of racing kickdrum and metallic shower that blows away the blues brought on by the dour intro, but which obligingly returns to the same after some low flying electronics have passed by. This sudden snap back to listlessness is mystifying, but we are compensated with a ‘Teo Macero moment’ beforehand, when the pounding rhythm is yanked from beneath the aviationary drone, briefly leaving us airborne.

Such dynamic extremes are representative of the varied compositional approaches brought to bear on the tools at hand, and of the potential ambivalence experienced in their alternation. For instance, while the chilling pulsations of ‘L’inno Dell’ Oscurità’ gradually acquire an arresting, almost coital momentum over the minutes, the closer – ‘È Solitudine’ – is more evidently an exploratory process; applying what sounds like an electric motor to various resonant surfaces and monitoring the resulting tonality. Neither Merzbow nor Dumitrescu, this voice of the concealed realms is by no means dull (and might even prompt a nervous jerk or two from the listener), but in isolation its purpose is less easily justified than that of certain earlier sections. Which hints at an opportunity missed: to blend the disparate and to promote cohesion between unpartitioned forces. As improvisation, this is fascinating. As composition, baffling. As hybrid, difficult to place.

Baked Goods

Keith Rowe / Martin Küchen
The Bakery
RUSSIA MIKROTON CD 46 (2016)

Actually, Messrs Rowe and Küchen have traded frequencies before. But that was within the confines of a trio and the Küchen, Rowe, Wright c.d. was handstamped in triplicate by the ‘Another Timbre’ label back in 2010. On this occasion, the founding father of tabletop guitar disciplines (and radio manipulations) was invited by the table turner and medium of the spectral sax to a residency that was granted via the deep pockets of the Swedish Arts Council some three years ago. The catch though is that the roles have been somewhat reversed, with Keith’s guitar coming as a secondary concern to his electronics prowess, while Martin’s alto and baritones are supplemented by the crackle/murmur of his radio and ipod.

Divided into two segments (at 21.32 and 14.03 mins), The Bakery comes as a perfect melding of analogue wiring/practical electronix with various prepped guitar gestures in which individual voices and ‘noises off’ are well nigh impossible to recognize as workaday instrumentation. Surely the goal of many an improviser. I can detect some scattered wheezings and splutterings of a far away sax (alternating as an anaesthetist’s nightmare) during part two’s latter stages. A culmination of unnervingly grey mid-paced free-prov all told, which, when topping/tailing certain key moments, seems to stretch time like silly putty on repeated listenings.

Press Play Stop Eject

Working in the 1980s, A. K. Klosowski produced music and noise with his largely hand-operated methods of pressing buttons and depressing keys to get playback from a bank of eight Walkman cassette tape players. He also used a drum machine and some effects. “Intuitive and spontaneous control” are the operative words for this practice.

He hooked up with Kurt Dahle, a member of the Dusseldorf synth band Der Plan, a record appeared in 1985 called Hometaping Is Killing Music (Dahle appeared under his Pyrolator name). I never heard it, but the present LP A. K. Klosowski Plays The Kassetteninstrument (GAGARIN RECORDS gr2035) predates that session, and is done solo.

Reading about it may be more interesting than hearing it; it’s certainly a great way of working, and while the album contains an entertaining and inventive set of tunes, it doesn’t go much beyond a primitive sampling set-up with added noise and beats. A.K. doesn’t push it far enough; or the set-up itself is limited. Klosowski manipulates his device, and his sounds, like modelling clay. It results in lovely imperfections, rough edges, things not matching, which I like. I never liked that school of thought that spent ages crafting a “perfect” loop or sampled beat, an approach which kills spontaneity.

Other writers have picked up on the theme that this represents an early pre-digital approach to sampling, and invoked Cabaret Voltaire and The Art Of Noise. I like this better than Cabaret Voltaire (who were too arty, and trying to tell us something) and The Art Of Noise (who were too synthetic, too layered with intellectual pretensions.) Klosowski has a directness – his noise is noise – and it may start with tapes, but doesn’t end there. His actions are imprinted instantly onto the record without studio “diddling” before and after. It may even be closer to the “art” end of early sampling, for instance Steve Reich.

Not every track here is “abrasive disco”. ‘Lamento’ is a very nice use of strange loops, mostly voices and strings, and not too far away from Canaxis (‘Boat Woman Song’). And ‘R H 2’ is as close as he comes to producing chaotic industrial noise.

Let’s not forget cassette tapes are at the heart of this inventive noise. Label owner Felix Kubin doubtless approves; his love-affair with the cassette tape was wittily and passionately expressed on his Chromodioxgedächtnis box set, which we noted in 2015.

From 31st August 2016.