Tagged: ambient

Phallus Dei

Meson
5C4L3
UK DISCUS 55CD (2016)

Meson is the collective name of metaphysical bard Bo Meson and an amorphous glob of hired musical help that usually expands to double figures. Strictly speaking, 5c4l3 or Scale, let’s jettison that numbers resembling letters affectation 1, comes as Bo’s debut lasering on Discus, as the Echoic Entertainment album (from 2015) was a shared project where Discus m.d. Martin Archer’s arrangements were employed as shifting back projections to the poetic/declamatory actions of the mesonic one.

The accompanying promo sheet shoehorns in ambient, ambidelic (?), free-form and improg as suitably fitting genres for this venture. Though at certain times, it can come down to an ‘all of the above’ and possibly a little bit more. I’d expect nothing less from someone who uses a word for an unstable atomic particle as part of his pseudonym. All of Scale‘s material is of an improvised nature that slumps heavily, eyes crossed, across the deep reverb/kozmik echo generator controls, clutching a P.K. Dick-endorsed blister pack of slow release capsules in its right hand. “We Traffic in Progress” with its classic analogue squeals and talk of quantum particles and the melodica-laced “Dark Matters” come almost on a default setting.

However, it’s not all centred on Copernicus, “G.Z.D.” era Arthur Brown or 90n9 dynamics (sorry!), as certain pieces travel less frequented paths. “Kem-Na Mazda” pitches mystical Jade Warrioresque exoticism against the full-bodied, classically-trained tenor of Wolfgang Seel and “Advances in Destruction by Technology” belies its attractive and serene nature with a doomy crystal ball gaze into a future where the use of artificial intelligence has led to mass unemployment within the professional classes, Could such things really happen? Only that wildly gesticulating figure behind the lectern seems to know…

  1. The typographical angel has detected a far earlier example of this, ahem, trend from 1997 and names The Fucking Champs as the guilty parties with their “III” l.p. on Frenetic Records/U.S.A.

I Live Upon The Rack

asher-levitas

Asher Levitas is one half of Old Apparatus, an English duo who have released a number of experimental low-key electronic releases for the Sullen label since 2012. Here he is with a solo album Lit Harness (PLANET MU RECORDS ZIQ379), in which he attempts to unburden his soul of his personal affliction. For most of his life, Levitas has suffered from sleep paralysis, a condition that means that for a few moments after waking up (or falling asleep) you’re unable to move your body or even speak. This undoubtedly accounts for the extremely “anxious” tone of Lit Harness; even the title refers to a particular type of restraint that keeps the patient in a “calm place while chaos happens all around”. (I’m not clear if this refers to an actual medical procedure, or a psychological exercise.) This album starts out promisingly enough, and the opening tracks ‘Withdrawn’ and ‘In The Eyes’ are both strong pieces; the former takes a basic electronic drone and bombards it with unpleasant interruptions, inducing a sensation surely familiar to any sufferer of sleep-related disorders, and the latter takes the listener down into a deep, dark zone with an insistent, muscular pulsebeat. Unfortunately, I found the remainder of the album to be filler material, identikit dark ambient music, whose relentlessly grim tone becomes wearisome. There isn’t enough of the expected catharsis for me, and one emerges from the other end of Lit Harness with no real resolution or sense that the sleep paralysis issue has been sufficiently addressed. The cover art is very good however, and conveys a lot of the expected sensations of suffering and futility. From 15 June 2016.

Dislocation Recordings

Various
Landscapes Of Fear
GERMANY GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 153 2 x CD (2015)

One to disrupt the harmony of your CD shelf is this oversized card wallet containing an obliquely labeled, monochrome OS map of the area surrounding Cologne and 2 CDs of discomfiting sound art pertaining to the themes of 1) Landscapes and 2) Fear. A simplistic summary perhaps, but given the density of the accompanying text – which will assuredly sort the men from the boys among us – some distillation is required. We might ponder the dichotomy posed by these two situational extremes: the tangible and idyllic terra firma juxtaposed with the most chaotic and disembodying of emotions; security and exile – two extremes of human existence. Framing this juxtaposition is an image of a metal fence, on one side of which is a crowd of displaced refugees concealed from view by strategically placed bushes and palm trees. On the other, two golfers conducting their game, unmolested by the nearby tragedy.

While the reference to Europe’s current refugee crisis is explicit, the universality of the title’s constituents is such that we could extend the analogy to many situations in which the ‘radically diverging perceptions and adoptions of spaces’ occur in the present day. Take for example the legally sanctioned compartmentalisation of UK homes into multiple ‘apartments’ as a means of revenue generation for landlords and private investors, added to which is the humiliation of full council tax for each (while mansion owners pay proportionately lower rates), regardless of the size of the dwelling, purely on the grounds that there is a lock on the front door. Inhabiting these overpriced shoeboxes are the many who are locked out of the ever costly housing market and who face a future of financial disempowerment.

Needless to say, we needn’t look to the contents of this collection for comfort, but we might take heart that some are watching and addressing the flagrant injustices that visit so many walks of life today. The majority of the music is drone-based; tension-fuelled dark/power ambient minefields paired with location recordings for dislocation effect; splattered with rhythmic and vocal shrapnel in reference to political assassinations and other human rights abuses, as well as – of course – the kind of drones used by Western governments to police and terrorise the Middle East. Lawrence English has produced work similar in sound and agenda, but not with the bleakness of such events as Tim Gorinski’s ‘Amuse 2’ – a controlled explosion of ricocheting beats, sirens and shouting (William Burroughs might have approved of this), or Alex Pulgar’s ‘Lujk/Flame’ – where electroacoustic flames are funnelled through a tunnel of low-fi scum noise.

Hardly content with the alienating effects of such ‘music’, the compilers have seen fit to include Lena Ditte Nissen’s dispassionate German-language narration in ‘Imaginary Orb’ – which many a non-German speaker will instinctively skip – and the uneasy listening of a pair of North American accented sat-nav devices speaking over one another in Stephanie Glauber’s and Miriam Gossing’s ‘Mercure/Mondial’. Even English speakers will find this nauseating. Indeed, our agitation appears to be the overriding raison d’etre. Where so much in the realm of high-concept music can comfortably detach itself from conceptual baggage to exist as listening material per se, works such as this promote a sense of responsibility by insisting upon a level of listener interrogation.

More akin to an art gallery experience, Landscapes of Fear attains a kind of surrealism as a home-listening product. The simultaneous in/coherence of the selection, defined largely by the wilful austerity and disparity of the artists’ methods, would effect a collapsing of borders between internal and external phenomena; occasioning a discomfort that would remind us of the atrocities that take place daily beyond our psychological blinkers, in a world in which even the horror of events like Donald Trump’s inexplicable popularity achieve a circus sensationalism at which most of us can but shrug our shoulders in resignation. At the same time, the experience should also remind us that far from getting downhearted and downhearted at such horror, a constructive response is always possible.

Monotroniks

tienlai

The album Rhthm (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono083) by Polish combo T’ien Lai is a highly diverse set of music, where the duo of Łukasz Jędrzejczak and Kuba Ziolek attempt many styles, many modes and many methods to realise their ambitions. They certainly aren’t short of ideas for what direction to take next, and there’s a large collection of tools in their box of instruments and synthesizers. There’s the systems-y pseudo-composed ‘W D’, a half-hearted attempt to “do” Terry Riley. There’s ‘Piknik Nad Rzeka Ma’, whose beats and sampled speaking voice derived from a French girl barking out an obscure text seems to have warped over here from around 1985. ‘SMZS II’ is pure Kraftwerk-influenced sequencer malarkey. But the evil robotic-march vibes of ‘Monotronik’ (where they are joined by the percussionist Rafal Kolacki from HATI and cymbal player Mikołaj Zieliński) are effective, and may reflect the fact that at time of writing T’ien Lai now consider themselves a quartet. I also enjoyed the short but chaotic ‘FX6’ which opens the album with a beautiful and illogical firework of noise.

The rest of the set shows them veering around – beats, ambient, melodic tunes…anything they can do to “experiment” with instruments, computers, and the studio, yet there’s always this lazy back-pedalling into conventional sounds and arrangements which blunts the “alternative” edge they wish to project. No denying the instrumental skills of this pair, nor the impressive assurance with which they set about their tasks, and the textural density of these outputs is evidence of much hard labour by Kuba Ziolek at the mixing and production end. Rhthm just feels like they’re trying to say too much in a short space.

This is their second album for the label; their more intriguing and esoteric Da’at was noted by Pescott, and the pair have a declared interest in Jewish mysticism. The release is packaged in a triple-gatefold digipak with a restrained geometric device on the front, and a garish psychedelic collage visual horror on the inside. Plus there’s a Herbert Marcuse quotation printed on the inside. From 21 June 2016.

Conceptual Continuity

komora-a1

Komora A
Crystal Dwarf
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS mono088 CD (2016)

Previously noted in these pages for a ‘serious lack of force’ and a ‘melange of analogue and digital synth porridge’, Komora A can’t be said to have effected any radical stylistic changes of late, but seem to have honed such attributes into a more virtuous expression of the radiant modular ambience they call home. Their ongoing fixation with the nebulous, titular ‘Crystal Dwarf’ suggests a conceptual kind of continuity. Perhaps it’s simply a case of fine tuning: the Polish trio comfortably dis-locate themselves in a zone that is neither gloomy ‘Dark Ambient’ nor wayfaring IDM, but rather a mildly agitated compromise between the two. Offering reassuring yet fleeting signs of human life, Waking Up’ is a crystalline, drip-dripping pattering set to industrial drone and more erratic fragment congregations – a chaos / order harmony that is neither man nor machine. Subsequent tracks offer more sinister assemblies of their signature ingredients: disembodied pulses, thickening meteorology and subtle accretions of electronic scream and chatter; all amounting to something like a child-friendly form of Pan Sonic’s more ruthless mechanical holocausts.

c

@c
Three-Body Problem
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA ELECTRONICA 111-2016 CD (2016)

Now sixteen albums down the line, Portuguese duo @C continue to refine their own brand of subatomic click n’cut ambience with Three-Body Problem, which began life as Agapornis – another puppetry piece soundtrack (like Ab Ovo before it); one inspired by the writer Anaïs Nin. The title symbolises the logistical synergy of three phases of development: the first, a kind of bi-polar dialogue between two female puppets – described at least partly by the pairing of harp and trumpet – informing the initial structure. This underwent considerable post-performance revision in phase two, when musical collaborators (João Pais Filipe (cymbals and bells) and Ricardo Jacinto (cello and electronics)) added their voice, while still somehow facilitating the distillation of twenty-one tracks into just nine.

While clearly thus a collaborative effort, no effort has been spared into merging all of the participants and themes into highly schizomorphic panoramas; a near-seamless continuum of rattling, electronic textures that sprout, tremble and bifurcate in every living moment; miraculously managing to avoid the perils of overpopulation. This ever-transformative morphology also informed the 3BP’s video-based third phase, which while not part of the album itself, is nonetheless intrinsic to both the group’s visuality. Some striking abstractions and patterning offer a distinctive visual description of @C’s detailed processes – and attest to their collaborative creative process, which unfolds beyond the needs of the individual in an ever-fluctuating galaxy of pure possibility.

Tyhjyys: a technically consistent work lacking a distinctive identity

Kalmankantaja, Tyhjyys, Wolfspell Records, CD Spell 028 (2016)

Since forming in 2011, Kalmankantaja have notched up an impressive discography (nine albums, two compilations, several EPs and splits) in the short time they’ve been together. I sometimes wonder whether they’d be better off recording fewer albums and splits each year and spending more time experimenting with and deviating from their style on the recordings they do make. “Tyhjyys”, the trio’s second full-length album for 2016, is a solid depressive BM work from start to finish but promises no new surprises for their fans. The musicians are progressing steadily from their original depressive BM approach to a more melodic and atmospheric style that straddles the underground and the alternative mainstream. The music is reminiscent of Burzum around his “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” / “Filosofem” period but with a more powerful and spacey sound and less pop-oriented tunes.

All five songs are long with the shortest at least 8 minutes in length. “Iankaikkinen” sets the template for the rest of the album to follow: layered riffs with just enough distortion to project a hard, grinding texture (but not so much so that you can’t make them out), a pained synth tone-poem wash-over that sets the mood and gruff Finnish-language vocals that usually dominate the song. The drumming provides enough bang to anchor the music and occasionally stands out in parts but usually sticks to its time-keeping role. The riffs can be dramatic and sweeping, and lend an epic aspect to some tracks (as on the follow-up song “Mustat vedet”) though they’re not exactly whistle-worthy pop tunes. There’s a fair amount of repetition on most tracks which accounts for their length and probably if they’d been cut back by a minute or two each, not much would be lost in the way of the song’s integrity as instrumental passages within songs tend to go over and over the same riff.

While all the BM-oriented songs are consistent and powerful on their own, together they’re not that distinct from one another and they could interchange riffs and melodies without affecting the general downbeat mood and style much. The emotional level tends to be the same from one song to the next and the singing especially is more low-key than the songs perhaps deserve. The odd scream or demonic multi-voiced gabble-fest wouldn’t have hurt. Where songs build up to a climax, the cold mists of synthesiser tone wash tend to dampen down the intensity when maybe the guitars should just let rip once in a while with a volcanic boil-over. An opportunity to go into hypnotic psychedelic territory on “Yönpalvoja” offers itself but the band doesn’t take it up. Instead there’s too much repetition on this track and while it does have a lot of power, the song’s potential to be a stirring climax to everything that’s come before is wasted. Final track “Kaamos” is an all-ambient instrumental that does very little for its length.

Long-time Kalmankantaja fans will probably be happy that once again the band has been consistent and is continuing to produce technically good work but first-time listeners are probably better off hearing the trio’s shorter EP works or some of the split recordings the Finns have done with other bands.

History of Violence: an exploration of a serene forest as a site of unspeakable horror

Philip Sulidae, History of Violence, Belgium, Unfathomless, CD U19 (2014)

Daniel Crokaert of Unfathomless very kindly sent this CD as a bonus with the Kassel Jaeger and Andrea Borghi CDs I had ordered as Philip Sulidae is based in my home city (Sydney). As it happens, I am passing familiar with the case of the Belanglo State Forest murders of backpackers and hitch-hikers committed by the notorious Ivan Milat in the early 1990s which Sulidae’s release “History of Violence” refers to. The field recordings Sulidae made for this album were taken in the area Milat used as his hunting ground to kill his seven victims.

Despite the album’s title, the six tracks on offer are actually very quiet and the volume dial needs to be turned up fairly high (almost to the point of distortion) to catch all the sounds. Long passages of silence and an impersonal blank ambience surrounding the quiet drones and textures are highly oppressive and might be the most dreaded part of the whole recording. Surprisingly the sounds don’t attempt to approximate the soundscapes of Belanglo State Forest – there is no obvious birdsong, neither are there insect choruses, yet those are what Sulidae has recorded among other things – but seem much more machine-like, detached and remote.

You’re left feeling very uneasy and disquieted at the thought that someone could have taken advantage of naive travellers from out of state and abroad (a few of Milat’s victims were German) and left their bodies to decay and disappear in an otherwise serene and pristine forest environment. The final track “A façade” suggests that the peace and tranquillity of the forest may be masking some truly horrific secrets; or on the contrary, that what we imagine to be horrors are really our projections of our thoughts and feelings onto the forest itself, making it an unwilling accomplice, even victim, of Milat’s murders.

Disturbingly, since those original backpacker murders, other bodies of people killed since Milat’s sentencing and imprisonment have been found in the forest. For better and for worse, Belanglo State Forest has now come to occupy an unenviable place in Australian contemporary culture as a site of man-made horrors.

Also reviewed here in 2015 – Ed.

Onden: a surprisingly soothing set of interwoven soundtracks of man-made and natural sounds

Kassel Jaeger, Onden, Belgium, Unfathomless, CD U37 (2016)

If you enjoy the soothing frying sounds of electromagnetic fields captured from lights and cables, and want something of the ambience of Japanese cities as well, you’ll feel at home with this surprisingly calming urban soundscape of field recordings made by Kassel Jaeger in various locations across Tokyo over a six-month period in 2015. The material has been spliced into one continuous flowing track of layers of droning textures, all frying away and intriguing in their sonic pointillism, each dot of sound complete in itself as a tiny mini-universe and all of them joined up in long extended linear strings that are more than the sums of their minuscule atoms. Jaeger lets these sounds speak for themselves, not trying to shape them into structures with recognisable beats or rhythms and the result is a leisurely sinuous, almost organic river of metallic or sparking textures brimming with alien life and energy.

The actual sounds are very difficult to describe and yet they can remind listeners of all sorts of objects and memories: a hydrofoil coming into a bay and settling down beside a wharf to deliver its passengers; a leaf-blower in the far distance from where you’re sitting; cargo trains passing in the night; machines laying asphalt on a road; and probably lots more besides, depending on the individual listener’s own past experiences. No sound in particular evokes a mood or feeling and as a listener you tend to passively observe the sounds passing by rather than feel engaged with them. Yet these soundscapes can be very hypnotic and through their mesmerising quality keep boredom at bay. Some listeners may even find a spiritual dimension in the sounds, especially near the end of the recording where deeper tones begin to resound amid the receding textures.

There are actually two very different soundtracks here on the album: the more obvious urban-generated soundtrack of electromagnetic humming and droning, and people going about their daily business in the city; and the world of birdsong, insect ambience and other murmurs of the natural world that acts as a counterpoint and commentary on sounds generated by humans and their machines.

I do find this a very likeable recording though its length and obvious lack of musical structures won’t endear it to most people. You’d be hard put to find another recording of droning metallic noise drone that’s just as serene, majestic and impassive as it rolls by.

Through the Looking Glass

monty-adkins

Monty Adkins / Terri Hron
Lépidoptères
CANADA empreintes DIGITALes IMED 16136 CD (2016)

Last heard purveying Rothko-esque, aquatic ambience in Unfurling Lines (the waterways of which having lulled but not quite committed me to my final rest), ambient composer Monty Adkins makes a stylistic metamorphosis and takes to the air with a new collaborator Terri Hron and her ‘consort of renaissance recorders’ for a five-section survey of moths, butterflies and other winged insects, each piece deriving from an idea about a particular order. This ‘display case’ approach makes sense in the empreintes DIGITALes catalogue, where each collection receives the taxonomer’s treatment; every piece given a full exegesis – often quite scientific in tone – in the liner notes.

It also delivers straight into the action, avoiding the long narrative arc from minimal matter to maximal clatter that such singular, scientific surveys tend to take as the depth of field narrows on increasingly intricate detail. Each section constitutes its own field of activity, marked by a set of common features, such as the recorders’ sharp, electrified exhortations that weave, whistle and roll into granulated deconstructions of their own essence. Those of us with gardens might forget the butterfly’s decorativeness in this thick, processed churn of organic, primal matter, which really digs into the violence of full-blown physical change. It also reminds us of the truly alien aspect these creatures acquire when considered up close; their insect sensibilities airborne in dotted patterns, the quivering of internal cavities and the organic passage of events that finds its natural habitat when just shy of critical mass.

Moon Madness

kallee

Obscure, puzzling and near-anonymous slab of “dark ambient” chill-mode minimal drone-a-thonnery from Poland…Nusthur (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 119-2) is credited to Kallee & The Lunar Trio, an extremely low profile act which seems to comprise Karolina Kallee and Mariusz Nantur Doering, the latter appearing here as Nantur. These two have appeared on the label before, on the 2-CD comp From Earth To Sirius released in 2011; since that comp was dedicated to the works of Robert Anton Wilson, our friends were clearly compelled to call their contribution ‘Sabbah & 23 Hashisheen’, adding to the weight of musical utterances inspired directly or indirectly by William Burroughs…this “old man of the mountain” stuff has clearly not outstayed its welcome…

Nusthur may be gunning for other fish, though. There’s a quote from Omar Khayyam inside the cover, something about sending the soul through the Invisible, and the cover motif of skulls and flowers is very far from being a Grateful Dead tribute. Kallee & The Lunar Trio want to induce “trance…meditation…a soundtrack accompanying the journey into yourself”, and are happy to be associated with sleep-walking as they make this trek into the subconscious. The first track ‘Nox’ is a horrible assemblage of drab, unappealing electronic drones, utterly shapeless; you may fare better, or worse, with ‘Nox-Lunaris’, over 19 minutes of barely-audible atmospheric effects, which might be mistaken for a thunderstorm in the far distance or a supernatural throb produced when the Northern Lights cross paths with a belt of UFOs. At least this overlong stretch of abstraction does manage to convey a “nocturnal” sensation, assuming that’s the point of including a reference to the moon in its title. I kind of get the meditational point, but ‘Nox-Lunaris’ is just too insubstantial to even make an impression.

On ‘Nox-Lux’, the musicians make some concessions to making themselves heard, and while the texture and surface of this 18-minute cut are hard to grasp (terms like quagmire, mud, swamp come to mind), at least the technique of irregularly-repeated patterns and loops starts to make some sense. Kallee & The Lunar Trio refuse any conventional manner of hypnotising the audience, and seem determined to get there in a very awkward, long-winded and unfriendly manner. The cabalistic rules governing this sect are impossible to fathom, and I’m not sure I even want to join. From 14th April 2016.