Tagged: ambient

I’m Lost: losing and then finding oneself in five expansive sound dramas

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Tarab, I’m Lost, 23five Incorporated, CD 23five 019 (2014)

Well if Eamon Sprod is lost in this album, what hope is there for the rest of us as we try to follow him about on this set of field recordings all chopped up, fragmented, distorted and amped up to an extreme? – but no matter how far the soundscapes take us, we somehow find our own points of reference in recognisable sounds. The album’s seemingly modest and low-key title turns out to be deliberately layered: “I’m Lost” could be interpreted in a narrow physical sense but it could also be read in other ways. There is the loss you feel when you lose loved ones or your relationships break up either intentionally or through neglect or simply because the other people have moved on. There’s the loss you feel when your youth becomes a distant memory and familiar objects, cultural and technological items associated with your generation and knowledge are superseded by other cultural ephemera and become obsolete. There is loss on a greater scale as well: buildings are demolished to make way for new ones, industries change and certain kinds of work become redundant, valuable history and advice are forgotten, countryside is submerged under cables and concrete, and the world is soon brought to the brink of another global war by yet another lot of incompetent politicians and their unseen puppet-masters. (Well at least one thing doesn’t change!) Through this work of five meditative pieces, Tarab demonstrates that the concept of loss contains within itself an openness and potential for creativity and inventiveness as new associations, directions and goals are free to form and connect.

The album is at once quiet and noisy as scraps of unrelated field recordings of industry, the natural world, domestic life and urban environments are pashed together with no thought for how they blend (or not) together. Of course the more you listen to this recording, the more your ears and brain start to accept the unusual and random juxtapositions for what they are, and structures and links arise spontaneously in the music that are unique to it and to your ears. Other listeners will make their own associations. In this way, you’ll find your own supports in the music but they’ll be unique to you as a listener.

Listeners become aware of the environments in which they live and the detritus they unthinkingly leave behind. The lost and forgotten, the things that seem innocuous at first but which have serious consequences for us later on (things like plastic rubbish left on the ground, scooped up by the wind or washed through stormwater drains into the ocean where it might choke a sea animal that swallows it), the things we try to ignore or forget but which have a habit of annoying us and demanding our attention … Tarab scoops all these up into these five expansive and highly absorbing sound dramas.

Repeated spins of the album do eventually result in your finding yourself as a unique being, free of all past associations and structures. Isn’t that a paradox, that to know and find yourself, you have to be lost?

Contact: 23five Incorporated

Portable Crocodiles

A moody, sullen collaboration is what we’d expect when Miguel A García and Nick Hoffman play together, which is what Vile Cretin (INTONEMA INTO010) delivers across four tracks of seething desolation. In terms of what I’ve heard from either of these players, it’s one of the more three-dimensional improvised efforts, by which I mean the elements are distanced and positioned in ingenious manner, perhaps using skilled studio placement techniques, to suggest vast depths and enormous spaces. There may not be much happening in the aural department other than surly crackles and nameless echoing whimpery whispers, but they are happening in a fabulously resonant manner. Their two personalities, as far as I understand these enigmatic creators, can be discerned manifesting themselves on the album to some degree, for instance I’d like to think that Garcia brought the bad tempered sulking aspects to track 01, while Hoffman’s penchant for steely and imperceptible anti-sounds has dominated track 02. But the pair succeed in creating unusual sound art that is more than the sum of their personal characteristics, and it’s a fine slow-moving broodster of electrical gloomery. Of course, Hoffman’s surreal and violent cover drawings, this time printed in a sumptuous red, may give you a completely different impression of the work. From 29 November 2013.

Coen Oscar Polack and Herman Wilken paint two landscapes in sound on their Fathomless LP (NARROMINDED NM064); one side depicts the Barents Sea, the other side a green wilderness in the Sundarbans. And my goodness, what a very literal job they make of it; the first side is sluggish ambient drone spread thickly with sound effects that imitate the sound of the ocean tides and Arctic winds in a highly prosaic manner. The “jungly” side is peppered with bird-song effects, and hazy drones attempting to invoke shimmering heat of the baking sun. Atmospheric and pleasant, but not very imaginatively done; it’s one step away from being a BBC Sound Effects record. From November 2013.

Haven’t heard from The Magic Carpathians Project for some years, but they sent us a couple of interesting items which arrived 11 November 2013. On T.A.M. (WORLD FLAG RECORDS WFR 043), the duo of Anna Nacher and Marek Styczynski are joined by Tomasz Holuj for five extended group improvisations, which they describe as “symbiotic music”. I suppose the term “symbiotic” is another way of highlighting the dependencies that can grow between musicians who play together. The Carpsters have made a name for themselves over the years, on account of their unique way of extending the traditional musics of Eastern Europe by blending them with Indian music, free jazz, radio waves, and the unusual singing styles of Anna Nacher. At one point it seemed like they were going down quite well with your latterday psychedelica revivalist types, and they enjoyed an association with the American label Drunken Fish Records – home to many freaky wild-eyed droners in the late 1990s and early 2000s. T.A.M. seems to be more in the area of traditional music, being mainly acoustic and featuring a lot of percussion instruments, but it’s also very strong on ethereal droning effects and unusual stringed instruments, and the music they create is extremely original and hard to pin down. The trio just keep on playing, wailing, hammering and droning in a deceptively gentle mode, doing little to vary the mood, tempo or root note for long periods of time, until a species of greyed-out Nirvana is attained. Not an immediate “grabber”, but your listening perseverance will pay off. I think the recordings are all live, there’s no overdubbing and the mixing was done in real time. Released on their own label World Flag Records. My copy has a nice original artwork insert.

On Vtoroi (MIKROTON CD 25), we have the team-up of two Russian heavyweights – the most estimable Ilia Belorukov, and Kurt Liedwart, who is in fact Vlad Kudryavstev and the owner of Mikroton Records who released this sulky brooder of contemporary improvisation. On these 2012 sessions, Belorukov is playing a prepared saxophone, an iPod, contact mics and objects – in short, the sort of setup I used to associate with the “EAI” school of improvisers; at any rate I recall that Günter Müller frequently used an iPod as part of his live processing. Liedwart brings his field recordings and objects to the table, along with ppooll, a program which appears to be some sort of networking bridge that works with certain implementations of Max/MSP. The majority of this record is a bit too under-eventful for me on today’s spin, particularly the long track ‘Ikkemesh’ with its hissing, beeping, and long periods of uncertain rustling and clunking, but I’m very taken with ‘Antra’, which is a nice extended slab of grumbly white noise mixed up with other scuzzy layers, and containing just the right amount of semi-musical content to keep it interesting. It gives off a mood of existential futility. The duo sustain this taut position for over ten minutes, as if performing painful physical exercise, and probably gazing into the mirror with blank expressions the while. Kurt also did the cover art, showing some Stephen O’Malley influence in overlaying a found photograph with geometric shapes. From 6th November 2013.

Wargthron (Demo 1): channelling the spirit of primitive raw kvlt black metal

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Wargthron, Demo 1, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette SSA018 (2014)

Channelling that good ol’ primitive super-raw kvlt black metal vibe here is a mysterious horde (of maybe one guy? or a couple?) hailing from the wintry ice-scapes of … Atlanta, Georgia, in the southeastern subtropical realms of the US. We-e-ell, I guess them folks down there experience a real light dusting of overnight winter snow in mebbe a hunnerd years. Thrumming steamy BM super-hornet guitars, barely-there percussion and deeply buried rasping ghost vokills along with monotonous rhythms and the most skeletal of riffs and melodies recall the early years of the French Black Legions or Norwegian BM legend Ildjarn on this debut offering from Wargthron.

The recording divides into two parts and repeats on the B-side of the cassette (so you never have to rewind it if you prefer one part over another). “An Ancient Fortress of Blood” – how kvlt is that?! – is a slowly menacing shadow creature, grimmmer than grimm, glacial yet unrelenting in pace, the percussion counting down to that moment when ice tendrils, making their steady and stealthy way, penetrate into the deepest parts of the listener’s brain and freeze it forever. The blood runs cold, the heart stops beating, skin turns an icy-blue colour and anyone foolish enough to touch the victim might suffer severe frost-bite in the finger/s that make contact. The music becomes more hellish and unbearable as it creeps up on you: guitars slash away repeatedly, demons roar and gloat in anticipation of possessing yet another human soul, and the atmosphere is so overpowering it leaps into another dimension to continue the torture.

“Bless the Heavens with Darkness” turns up the pace and intensity early on but ends up mixing the faster parts with slower music that might almost sound like a continuation of the first track. The guitars lollop faster and at a more shrill tone but the steaming buzz texture and dark murk are still present. The malevolent monster voices growl and roar continuously.

According to the sleeve notes, the songs were recorded in “utter darkness under shadow of the dead moon” on Christmas Eve in 2013 which might explain their repetitive nature: obviously if you can’t see what you’re playing, it’s best not to stray too far from the most essential chords, rhythms and beats in case you want to return to them but have forgotten the correct fingering positions. The Wargthron man definitely was not expecting or wanting any toys, games or the latest version of Grand Theft Auto from Santa Claus; this music would frighten the reindeer so much they’d bolt right out of the solar system and the fat guy in the red suit would be lost among the galaxies forever. The atmosphere reeks of ancient and evil corruption, the black void from which Wargthron appears and then disappears into comes across as infinite and gravid with deep hostility towards humanity and intent to wipe out this upstart anthropoid species forever. The music hums with a deep and intense power and this force, hungry and brimming with deep hatred, leaves a lasting impression in the imagination.

There’s only a very limited print run of 44 copies and I already have No 43 so you have to be really fast to get the last copy!

Contact: Sylvan Screams Analog

Cold Comfort

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Various
Vernacular
JAPAN WHEREABOUTS RECORDS WHACD-13 (2013)

Cold comfort is afforded in great measure by this tasteful survey of introspective sound art: fifteen furtive, frippery-forsaking fffffenquiries that collectively resemble a handbook on obscure natural textures, from thick and oily to seabed-dredged. With a line up that features Janek Schaefer, Lawrence English and their justly esteemed ilk, it bears familial resemblance to Virgin’s Isolationism collection, though is a good deal more polished than that rough-hewn basalt milestone, which these days sounds charmingly of its time. Track titles are a similarly predictable but pleasant blend of the obvious (‘Tenebrae’), utilitarian (‘Animate Structures #2′) and oblique (‘Extra Ordinary, Extra Regular’).

The term ‘Vernacular’ suggests both a linguistic and architectural locality, which is fulfilled in spirit and deed through the sourcing of sound and context in the fifteen artists’ home countries. Why one and all chose to express these associations so dourly merits consideration, but such is their stock-in-trade I suppose. This isn’t intended as a criticism: there is a palpable richness in the range of ‘dark ambient’ methodologies herein: from earthy field recordings to a handsome turnout of aching, treated strings, most notably on Hior Chronik’s arresting opener ‘Sketches of You’.Someone who has yet to disappoint me: Yves De Mey’s cauldron of electrickery ‘Lower Fracs’ sheds the bpm and shreds the night sky into crackling tatters. Another standout, Kenneth Kirschner’s ‘July 10, 2012’ finds a frail piano improvisation (reminiscent of the playing on ‘Drukqs’) that barely manages to wrest itself from a quicksand of fading memories. Among disc two’s higher quotient of naturalistic and elemental pieces, the refreshing audio postcard of Jos Smolders’ ‘Vangsaa: Revisited’ (a remote coastal spot in Northern Denmark) virtually deafens ears with sea spray.

I could go on, but truth be told, while bleak of countenance there’s nary a dull moment on here. And though for many an adventurous collection it will not be (a tough call these days), both the pedigree and provenance of this fine round-up should inspire many a calming interior monologue; one to which I’ll certainly be retiring for time to come.

No Stars, Only Full Dark: a self-assured release of black metal fusion

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Windbruch, No Stars, Only Full Dark, Canada, Hypnotic Dirge Records, CD HDR-037 (2014)

On first hearing this album, the second by Russian one-man band Windbruch, hailing from Nizhnevartovsk in the Khanty-Mansi region in western Siberia, I get an impression of  raw and sometimes angry music, ragged and sharp in tone with a full bass backing, shaped into actual songs edged with delicate ambient sounds and tones that add touches of ice coldness.

Lone Windbruch member Iluzii Optice brings skill and imagination to craft an album of self-contained and clearly defined songs that feature as much cold space-ambient synth, field recordings of nature and what might be termed “soundtrack music” as they do raw suicidal black metal. The path “No Stars …” takes might not sound different for the most part from what other one-man or two-men BM projects have done but it’s perhaps ideal at this early stage in his career for IO to get the balance between a more commercial style of BM rock pop and his more abstract experimental tendencies right, and to gain the support of a loyal fan-base, before he starts stretching the formula to his own ends.

The album begins strongly with “No More Entry, No More Exit” (taken together, the track titles suggest an arc of being enticed by the city, ending up being trapped there, reaching one’s nadir and experiencing a crisis) which is actually the second track, the first being an extended introduction. The music is robust and hard-hitting; as the album progresses, more ambience, especially at the start and end of each track, and melodic keyboard are brought in, and the album becomes more post-BM in style. Vocals, where they appear, are upfront in the music and are deep and gravelly, almost death-metal in style. The tension builds up through each track and flows into the next; ambient passages relieve some but not all of the tension so the suspense and momentum are still present.

Later tracks like “A City on Fire” and “Only Full Dark” are ponderous and include cold, forlorn space-ambient melodies and spoken-voice recordings. There is a definite urban-blues / post-rock feel which might seem surprising for a Russian BM band, especially one so far away from Europe and North America. The latter track throws away actual music and becomes entirely experimental in most of its second half; its reliance on near-inaudible drone rumble beneath a Russian-language radio monologue is daring. “Neswa-Pawuk” has a dreamy shoegazer atmosphere, a bit like a harder version of Alcest. From this moment on, the album has a sunnier and more positive outlook even if its central protagonist is still stuck in a grim urban environment.

The album is very self-assured and demonstrates confidence in its combination of BM / ambient / post-rock. Most songs are well-defined with some allowance for experimentation. There is something to please most people here.

Contact: Hypnotic Dirge Records

Amulet: the deep and the commonplace in mystery ceremony revealed by iPhone recordings

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Oren Ambarchi, Amulet, The Tapeworm, cassette TTW 65 (2014)

Korean director Chanwook Park made a short movie not long ago using a cameraphone so it was only a matter of time before a musician made an album with an iPhone. The surprise is that of all people I can think of who might do it first, Oren Ambarchi should have been the one. (Though he may have been preceded by others and I just haven’t noticed.) This is a really intriguing effort from Ambarchi: it’s an ambient soundscape, sometimes industrial-sounding, that includes what field recordings, whirring cymbals and other percussion or intrusive background noises that he opted to leave in.

In spite of its fairly short length, the recording seems expansive and blackly cavernous. We start with sharp metallic drone and buzz rolling across a huge flat plain in pitch-dark atmosphere on Side A. A rhythm of sorts is established with a loop of mechanical dolly clicks and there are other little noise effects that tinkle and thrum. The work or parts thereof must have been done live as indicated by audience applause somewhere in the middle of Side A of the cassette.

On Side B, the fragments of delicate metallic bell, gong and chime along with a quiet background and the static nature of the music, suggestive of a soundscape snapshot, give the impression of an ongoing mysterious ritual. You end up concentrating so closely that your mind becomes completely entranced and for a brief while you become part of the scene. Whichever side is played, and depending perhaps on the frame of mind you’re in, whether you’re tired and need soothing or you are just curious, the atmosphere can be quite intense and your anticipation of what might come with the drones keeps you hooked. A motor stutter vibration helps to concentrate your mind as well.

Anyone who is familiar with Ambarchi’s activities and the musical company he’s been keeping over the years might see the two sides of the cassette as representing the polar opposites his music has often straddled - Side A is very black and sinister, and Side B is tranquil – and the cassette and vinyl 7″ formats certainly lend themselves to such an interpretation more so than if the music had been released as a mini-CD. So I’d caution TSP readers not to allow a little knowledge about Ambarchi’s history and the choice of music format to influence their listening experience too much.

I don’t know how familiar Ambarchi is with recording music on his iPhone, if this is something very novel for him and if he will continue recording in this way on occasion, so I’m prepared to give him some leeway with the loose free-form structure of the music. The editing in parts can be crude – that audience applause cuts out very sharply – and any beginnings and endings are determined by the cassette format and the length of the tape. Had the musician and the label thought of the idea at the time, this music might suit a Moebius-trip cassette format, to be played continuously according to the whim of the listener.

Savage Pencil provides the odd(eye)ball cover artwork which plays up the voyeuristic role that the listener is forced into, in listening to this music that might serve as accompaniment to a secret ritual or ceremony. Whether the ceremony is a long drawn-out process involving animal sacrifices or just one’s bed-time routine being read to by a preschooler eager to show off by making up stories about a moon-worshipping rabbit family s/he sees in the picture-book, “Amulet” will be an ideal mystery backdrop. There’s something of the profound and the commonplace in these recordings.

Contact: The Tapeworm 

Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

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Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound

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.

ION (self-titled): awe-inspiring and soaring post-black metal psychedelic transcendence

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ION, self-titled, independent release on CD (2014)

At the time of writing this review, I knew very little about ION apart from the fact that this trio is based in San Francisco and that this self-titled album is the band’s debut recording. The musicians’ days of being obscure may soon end if this album becomes better known. With each passing day, that happy state becomes all the more likely as “ION” is a soaring example of post-black metal psychedelic transcendence.

That the music is intended to be a totally immersive experience is apparent from the way the five tracks are linked together to form one over-arching work that encompasses many contradictions, dualities and polarities in musical structure, atmosphere and sound. Bursts of blast-beat aggression chaos give way to wide expanses of space interrupted only by squiggles of tone and echo background wash. Starkly sorrowful melodic riffs ebb and flow like waves upon a beach before dissolving into seas of buzzing guitar noise and frantic percussion. In short, the ION musicians range far and wide exploring their musical territory – and what a vast and varied territory that is, taking in wide plains of ambience, hills of frenzied tremolo guitar chord squiggle, chunky melody and rhythm mountain ranges and blast-beat torrents.

As the music progresses, the contrasts become ever greater: the loudest, angriest hyper-blasting black metal can calm and reduce right down to the softest acoustic-guitar twang, at times inaudible save only for reverb effects. Tones and effects may be suspended in a murky space, their connection to one another uncertain and occurring randomly, until with effort a melody may form as if from spontaneous generation from sound fragments. On occasions the music can be very pretty and shapely but this is not shoegazer post-BM: its ambitions are much grander and the path it must take tends towards high and low extremes in emotion and atmosphere.

Interstellar space ambience (“Embers”) proves to be no barrier to ION’s musical quest and aspirations; listeners may be confronted with the immense nature of the sonic universe looming in their heads and their own place within it. The music is at its most psychedelic, abstract, improvised and disorienting in later parts of the album where we are thrust into deep inner (or outer) space. As the space trip nears its destination, the guys exert themselves heroically to deliver an exhilarating and dramatic summation of all that’s gone before. The one thing that’s a little bit lacking here is a very thunderous percussion back-up as the drums at this point are a bit thin and tinny, and the guys have to rely on chunky guitar barrage and UFO lift-off and landing effects to make their way through the climax.

Fittingly for such an awe-inspiring musical landscape, there are no fewer than two lots of vocals, one typically BM-raspy and the other a deeper guttural death metal vocal. At this point in the band’s history, I am not sure what the lyrics of three tracks are intended to refer to and listeners are at liberty to interpret them as they wish: they hint at some dissolution of an individual’s material state to reveal that which is most essential about that person and whether s/he ascends to a higher plane of existence or something much lower, darker and baser.

The band that most often comes to mind for me when I hear this music is the UK-based Fen, especially in ION’s sound when the guys are at their most melodic and melancholy. Other bands that might be referenced as points of comparison include Altar of Plagues (their White Tomb phase), Wolves in the Throne Room for passion and drama, and other North American BM bands like Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Panopticon and Skagos who deliver strong BM with ambient elements and mystical, shamanistic themes or social messages. A non-BM band that springs to mind is Samsara Blues Experiment which engages in similar psychedelic space metal head trips but ION far out-strips that band for risk-taking. Fans of all these bands should listen to ION’s debut if they can get copies. At this time of writing, the album was self-released but Aquarius Records in San Francisco may still have some copies.

Contact: Aquarius Records, ION

It’s a thin line…

DEVINDISANTO

Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary
TASK RECORDS TR001 CD (2013)

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.