Tagged: composed

Turk-men-istan

Various
An Anthology Of Turkish Experimental Music 1961-2014
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR390 2 x CD (2016)

Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom the award for longest gestation period goes to the alpine salamander. Typically lasting between 2-3 years it is – by human standards anyway – a monumentally lengthy process, during which time human offspring will have found its feet, voice and possibly got tired of constantly using the word ‘no’. Possibly.

Even this majestic feat of patience is but a drop in the ocean compared to the gestation period of electronic music in Turkey. By one recent account, some 33 years passed between conception and the first stirring of life in this seemingly sluggish scene. Said source – currently under review – is Sub Rosa’s An Anthology of Turkish Electronic Music, and sports 29 specimens of said scene, year zero of which being 1961 – when Bülent Arel issues his ‘Postlude from Music for a Sacred Service’; a standard but stimulating piece of early Musique Concrète from a collaborator on Edgard Varèse’s Deserts. The high watermark of 2012 is relatively recent, follows a period of unprecedented aridity, and sees all manner of young composers busy talking up their game.

Fig.1: distribution of Turkish music by year of composition (Source: Sub Rosa)

If the above graph serves as any indication, all life signs mysteriously dropped off between the years of 1961 and 1994, when a deep state of hibernation was briefly broken by the irruption of Mete Sezgin’s ‘Subconscious Memories’ – an Oval-esque miasma of dubby, glitched-up piano; one very much of its time, though preceding that internationally loved act’s breakthrough 94diskont by a whole year. Two further pieces would break the calm of the near-dormant ‘90s before the new millennium would usher in a flurry of artistic activity. No mention is made of what was taking place during this time, so perhaps the popularity of rock gods like Erkin Koray and Baris Manço was keeping more experimental endeavours at bay.

The anthology’s compiler’s postulate no reasons for this epochal silence, but they do single out two composers for having provided the groundwork for the ‘great wave’ of the 2000s and beyond. ‘Arel and (Ïlhan) Mimaroglu did not have immediate followers’ they explain, ‘the explosion happened later’.

Much later, as it turns out – over three decades later – and and as a result of some serious schooling: many of the featured composers are active in academic environments or else involved in coding or sound design. Little evidence of a connection between this movement and the putative forefathers is evident. Meanwhile, only three of the featured composers are women, suggesting that electronic music is a very rarefied and masculine pursuit in modern-day Turkey.

It will therefore come as little surprise that in spite of the ‘multifaceted nature’ of this ‘profusion of music related to an urgency to live and think freely’ attested to by the label, even attentive listeners will find the experience a largely homogenous and undifferentiated one; one that issues from the head much more than the heart. One that goes on like a middle aged man’s story that has neither twist or conclusion.

Granted, not all or indeed much of it is discernibly boring: indeed, one might conceivably taken with the elemental simplicity/iron lung acousmatica of Tuna Pase’s ‘Nefes’ (one of the three female-composed pieces, and a stand-out on the second disc of ‘Ambient’ pieces’) or the deep-diving droneology of Tolga Tüzün and Nilüfer Ormanli’s (also a female) respective contributions. Sub-atomic particle exchanges, machine gun blasts, echo pedal mysticism, adulterated nature recordings, isolationist string treatments with a whiff of the aboriginal: amid textures violent and subtle (and their attendant political subtexts of similar diversity (‘Democracy Lessons’, ‘The Monopoly of Victim Status’, ‘I Want To be A Suicide Bomber’…)), one may survey many a simulacra of scarred, scored and smoothed out scenery, perhaps reading in these lines stories of suffering and social trauma. On a purely aesthetic level however, a good deal of patience is required.

Returning to our graph for a moment, there is a visibly disproportionate representation of pieces from 2012 (thirteen, as it happens, nearly 50% of the total), with a modest spread of activity in surrounding years. The underlying message seems to be that Turkish Music is happening NOW, though in electronic music years 2012 is already history.

However, I do suspect the appendage of the indefinite article ‘An’ to this anthology is indicative of this collection’s status as one of many possible and that many further nuggets might yet be brought to our attention. Whether the geographical provenance itself provides a sufficient pretext for assembly is one question that needs addressing. On the strength of the statistics herein, is there any space on our shelves for An Anthology of Electronic Music from Turkish Female Composers?

Murder at the Disco

Here’s the latest sound missive from Rinus Van Alebeek. Although he regularly sends us things from his Staaltape label, we haven’t heard a solo tape by this fellow since January 2016. That item was quite obscure and I am still not sure what its title was, although it involved a collaging from his tape collection. The same observation might apply to the current cassette. The reason I think this is because of the note appended to the inside of the wrapper, stating “all sounds and words that are used can be found on the tapes that are part of my collection”, although this isn’t exactly a lucid or revealing statement in terms of what it indicates. It would be like me saying you can find the answer to the meaning of life on a page in a book in my library. It may well be true, but which page?

The A side is called Don’t Talk At The Disco, a 2014 composition which was put together in Italy. It apparently encloses six separate suites, with subtitles such as ‘Helmets and Gasmasks’ and ‘A romantic’s vision on death and the afterlife’. I’ve enjoyed this side enormously. It seems to be Rinus doing what he does best, assembling sounds that on the surface appear to be fitted together with a random logic. Yet the connections are there, and seem to make some kind of subconscious sense, even though I frankly own I have no idea what Don’t Talk At The Disco might be about. It proceeds at a leisurely pace, sometimes causing the listener to feel like one is floating about the grass on a sunlit day. A pleasant dream state ensues. Some identifiable sounds, some murmured speech, some intelligible speech, and sounds which are hard to name. Some piano music, near the start, injecting a sense of nostalgia. Tape manipulation, wrong-speeding, spooling sounds. Church bells, the sounds of the sea. A lot of silent passages. No outright loud noise; Rinus isn’t out to shock or confuse anyone with alarming juxtapositions.

This is a highly successful instance of audio collage which shows how it’s possible to bring out connections, meanings, allusions, and resonances in a very subtle manner, yet causing quite a powerful effect on the listener. Even feeling mystified, as I do, is surely a legitimate response. I’m always impressed how Van Alebeek achieves this strong result by such imperceptible means. I have an image of him lifting up delicate tape segments with tweezers, assembling them with the care of an entomologist handling dead insects.

“You might remember finding Don’t Talk At The Disco in your postbox”, remarks Rinus in his letter. “That was a release heavy with time-consuming collage artwork.” I don’t recall receiving anything like this in the mail, but he calculates that the price tag for each unique copy ought to have been 253 Euros (about £215 based on today’s rate), given the amount of effort he put into them. Realising he’d never recoup that money, he gave all the copies away instead. I mention this as another cryptical sideline on today’s item, hoping it might shed some light on this artist’s attitude to his work. I wish more creators would take a leaf from his book; so many are career-minded, have their eye on a main chance, or are simply too “grabby”.

While Rinus has alluded to pop music in previous releases – for instance The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and Buddy Holly – I can’t find any such themes on Don’t Talk At The Disco, in spite of the title promising some sort of observation on the music realised during that fascinating period that peaked around 1978. The B-side does contains flashes and fragments of disco music, however, even though it might not be part of the same theme as the A side. Entitled Elvis, Ein Volk it seems to be a very unusual meditation on the Elvis Presley phenomenon as refracted through the associative method of Van Alebeek tape assembly. It was created two years after the A side, and realised in The Netherlands, yet it has many of the same surface effects – including the sad and slow acoustic piano music, the sounds of the sea, the murmuring speech, and the squealing tape manipulation sounds. To some degree it sets up a “correspondence” with the A side, through throwing out these similar noises and themes as a kind of call-out. There are also some snippets of dialogue, spoken in drawling American accents, by pundits reflecting on the cultural importance of Elvis, though these utterances feel quite isolated in the sea of sound-art, odd field recordings, and general ambience of mystery that surrounds them.

If submitted to a conventional music radio station as a documentary collage on Elvis, this release might not be accepted by the editorial board with open arms. However, I like to imagine that (as ever) Van Alebeek has somehow gotten closer to a more profound “truth” about popular music than a million banal documentaries on the subject that begin and end with a visit to Graceland. What that truth may be, however, I’m unable to articulate for you. Can Van Alebeek’s texts help? All he will comment on this piece is that it’s “A sad tale of political power struggles, diagrams, and road accidents”, which is a highly puzzling remark. 1 From 25th August 2016.

  1. Of course, historical scholars will be quick to point out that “Ein Volk” is the start of one of Adolf Hitler’s notorious slogans – Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer. But I think this is just a small detail; there’s no substantial evidence here that Rinus is drawing parallels between pop music culture and totalitarianism, in say the rather heavy-handed manner of The Third Reich N Roll.

Attack and Decay

Some lovely organ music played on a church organ on the record Organ Safari Lituanica (INTONEMA int019). The release is credited to Arturas Bumšteinas, the excellent Lithuanian composer and conceptualist, although the actual organ improvisations are played by Gailė Griciūtė. From what I can make out, the concept is down to Arturas Bumšteinas…it’s part of a much bigger project which he calls Organ Archipelago. Five radio programmes were commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; these broadcasts make use of an archive of organ recordings which Bumšteinas has previously gathered from Lithuanian towns and villages, and then extended the music into improvisation, and radio drama. The improvisation part is supplied by five musicians from across the globe – Africa, Japan, and Russia are all represented. There’s also some fragmented story-telling going on, using voice actors, and some of it seems to be based on a book by Arthur Russell Wallace. So many layers. This is what we’ve come to expect of Arturas Bumšteinas…he’s a right one for mixing up many cultural sources of information into a dense wodge of conceptual spaghetti, and expecting the audience to keep up with him as they untangle the strands. Or perhaps he’d rather liken it to baking a layer cake, and we have to roll up and cut ourselves a slice, evincing surprise as each new stratum of jam and cream is exposed to our hungry eyes.

The above is not fully represented on Organ Safari Lituanica however, and I just added all that in to give you some context. For this record, Arturas Bumšteinas continues to claim “composition” as a credit, but as noted all the music is actually played by Gailė Griciūtė. I suppose it’s really a Gailė Griciūtė album, but maybe we’re entering into a John Cage / David Tudor area of similar tension, and I don’t wish to cause trouble. Gailė Griciūtė is a talented composer, visual artist and conceptualist in her own right. I’m not here to review her music to day, but if you visit her website the first thing you see is an old upright piano against a decaying plaster wall. Right on, girl! I think that image speaks volumes about her musical plan. To the left of that image you see a picture of the woman herself, and the poise and dignity with which she comports herself throughout life is evident. Some of her exhibits, as described on other pages, are highly intriguing multi-media installation pieces, involving sculpture, projections, live performances and pre-records…and seem to be based on interesting scientific ideas and observations. For instance: “Linger On Your Pale Blue Eyes explores the quest for freedom of a scientist through observing the rhizomatic unfolding of her inner monologue.” Not often we get a Lou Reed lyric and rhizomatic unfoldings together in the same sentence.

Judging by her performances here, evidently she’s also a great keyboard player and improviser, and I could happily listen to this strange curlicued music all day, if required. Really digging the weird mixed chords and unexpected explorations of melody lines. Invention just seems to pour out of her. Excellent stuff.

I’m still unsure where the Organ Archipelago concept comes in to all this. Neither can I interpret the odd cover image, which shows a detail of a hand whose fingers are picking at a piece of decayed wood. Perhaps this summarises (or even documents) what was found when they did the tour of the Lithuanian churches. Maybe all the organs are decaying. That would make a good observation about the state of the world today. Our organs are atrophying, like our brains and our hearts. From August 2016.

Thou shalt like an airy spirit go

Another release from the Norwegian label 2L (Lindberg Lyd) again spares no expense in bringing us the work printed on a Blu-Ray disc and an SACD in a single package. This time it’s a new work by Maja S.K. Ratkje, our favourite Norwegian genius all-rounder, who has now set herself the challenge of composing new music that showcases her own voice, as as she puts it “include my sound as a voice performer”. In case you need reminding about her skills in this area, we have noted a few examples of her astonishing work as part of the all-female group Spunk, for instance on Das Wohltemperierte Spunk, Adventura Botanica and Live In Molde, not to mention her work with Slugfield, and on Treasure Hunt…but it’s one thing to do the voice extemporising thing in a free-improvisation context. Today’s record, And Sing…(2L-124-SABD), shows the possibilities afforded by performing with the Oslo Sinfonietta and with CIKADA, an Oslo-based ten piece chamber ensemble led by Christian Eggen.

The second piece on the disc, Concerto For Voice (Moods IIIb) has its origins in an earlier piece from 2004, in fact her first composition for working with a large ensemble and pitching her voice against it. This was commissioned by Radio France; she solved one basic problem by amplifying her voice, so it could be heard over the orchestra. But it also allowed to play with the differences between acoustic and amplified music; if she could make her own whispering be heard against the sound of a loud orchestra, it might go some way to “explore the mismatch between what one saw and what one heard”. Ratkje revisits the piece for this recording; she tells us about the elements that form the composition, which include “spectral chords”, which she arrived at by analysing the sound of a tenor saxophone; and a motif based on certain common frequencies found in multiphonics. On top of this “harmonic backdrop”, we have orchestral noise and percussion doing its best to interfere with the smooth progress of the piece, and introducing rhythmic patterns.

This dry description tends to confirm that Ratkje sees composition as a way of handling forms and putting elements in the right place. What’s interesting to me here is that she would say she’s doing traditional composition, following the “orthodox form” for a voice concerto which simply pitches a soloist against an orchestra. It doesn’t quite prepare you for the wild and eerie sound of Concerto For Voice (Moods IIIb), whose dynamics are extreme and whose contents are explosive; the orchestra sways and flies around like a gigantic atonal beast, an ancient sailing ship fully-rigged with a cargo of unknown dimensions. Maja’s contributions to the controlled storm consist of strangled gibberish and throatal squawks…unbearably high-pitched squeaks and howls…and sometimes more contemplative murmurs, introverted sighs, and wordless expressions of emotion. To round it all off is the sound of a typewriter being used on stage as a percussion instrument, clacking in at certain quieter moments. But also it’s used with the express intention to say something about the human voice itself; she sees that typewriter as her “sidekick”. What does that mean? Perhaps she’s inviting us to read its mechanical chatter as a form of speech. Or a machine producing letters and words, that are on the way to being vocalised.

It really is an astonishing combination, both as a technical tour de force (her impeccable vocal skills) and as an intense musical experience, which at times borders on the terrifying. I have the impression that Stockhausen, himself no stranger to using voices and choral music, would have given his right arm to arrive at such a successful formalised expression of ideas as this. He could have got there, but it would have been a lot of hard work on his part, writing, composing, thinking. I don’t know much about Ratkje’s working methods, but this music feels natural, unforced; I’d like to think it comes to her quite easily.

The disc contains another long piece “And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep”, a detailed analysis of which defeats me at the moment. My superficial impression is that it’s no less complex and demanding than the above, and it seems bent on slowly winding up tension in the listener to boiling point. All I’ve gleaned from the notes is that the voice element is done by loudspeaker playback (Maja herself was not present) and that the title comes from Shakespeare, though that may not be important. It may seem at first glance that is music is more about form than content, but I’m not sure that’s the case; I think meaning, emotion, and depth just pour out of Maja S.K. Ratkje, whether she’s performing or composing, but (unlike some windbag male composers of the 20th century) she just doesn’t feel the need to explain it to us in words.

As with the other 2L release, the exceptional quality in the sound recording and playback is well worth your attention, and hopefully may set a new benchmark for the recording and pressing of classical music releases. From 8th August 2016.

Modern Day Jazz Stories

A sumptuous jazz-based release from Martin Archer, the UK composer, bandleader, improviser and wearer of many other hats. Story Tellers (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 57CD) contains two CDs generously laden with highly enjoyable English electric jazz, packed with melody, swing, and passion, and bound to appeal to anyone who enjoys the so-called “Electric” Miles records, Keith Tippett’s big bands of the 1970s, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, the Escalator Over The Hill record, and such like. I’m always impressed when I hear a powerful Charles Mingus record and assume that it must be an 18-piece orchestra playing, then am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be a quintet. I had the same sensations when I learned just six players were responsible for Story Tellers, and from what I can gather most of this material is heard as played in the studio, and there is very little post-production work. The band are Mick Somerset, Archer, trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan, vibes player Corey Mwamba, guitarist Anton Hunter, and percussionist Peter Fairclough. All, as it happens, are accomplished bandleaders in their own right. Some are familiar names; Fairclough and Mwamba played on Archer’s Engine Room Favourites record in 2015, for instance.

Speaking of that release, Archer continues his pursuit of the AACM aesthetic, and remains convinced of the value of that high watermark in American jazz. Speaking about it in the context of this project, he says he particularly wanted to arrive at music that was “improvised and personal to the players”, but also wanted to ensure it could be repeatable, with close attention paid to a structural form that would allow this. A certain tension between spontaneity and structure. As ever, Archer tellingly points out that “AACM musicians solved this…issue several decades ago”.

Part of that structure could be the “literary” theme, which adds a frame of sorts; it divides the music on Story Tellers into six Books, each with chapters, and each book telling the story of a particular imagined character. Well, more like an archetype perhaps; for instance, Mick Somerset plays the role of “The Wounded Healer”, Archer is “The Casuist”, and so on. Some of the ideas here may have been inspired by or provided by Mick Somerset, who – though he plays a wide array of wind instruments and percussion – is a self-confessed outsider who works “on the periphery of jazz music”, and is feels more at home with words and stories. The Books are carefully structured, so that each one follows a set pattern – always starting with a stated musical theme to introduce the character, and including a solo section, and a coda. Further, the Books refer to each other, quoting musical phrases from the other Books as appropriate, to suggest cross-pollination and collaboration between the characters. Though what they’re playing is jazz, Archer has pretty much created a classical song cycle; “you could say…[it] comprises six versions of the same piece” is his take on it.

The aim with this book structure and array of characters is not to tell a story in a conventional sense; rather I take it as a metaphor for the collaboration itself, an expression of the way that the players co-operate and interact with each other, “infecting” each other’s themes with their own. This could be further taken as a metaphor for all music (all successful music at any rate), where the joy of creation becomes a shared activity, and not merely a selfish indulgence for one person, a charge that has often been levelled at lead guitarists taking excessive solos in rock music, or any self-indulgent player who merely satisfies their own needs, ignoring the other players, and even ignoring the audience. Conversely, the good vibes of this group transfer directly onto the grooves here – “we had a ball making it”, to use Archer’s own expression – and will pass onto all who hear it. From 10th August 2016.

The Encrypted Gallbladder

Courtesy of the lovely Petter Flaten Eilertsen we received a bundle of goodies from Oslo. Included in the bag are four cassettes on the Kassettkultur label, proudly announcing their return after a “four year hiatus”. Among the releases is one oddity by Jono El Grande, a Norwegian composer who is entirely new to me. On the strength of Der Tod Der Gegenwartsmusik (KULT 016), however, we’re ready to award him the laurel wreath for madcap of the year, given his endearing zany antics on both sides of the tape. What greeted us was two short suites (circa. 11 mins apiece) of lively and demented stuff that freely mixes styles – pop, classical, jazz – with no reverence whatsoever, and a great sense of fun and discovery. In places it reminded us of Frank Zappa, back in the days when he knew how to have fun too; we say that because of Jono’s penchant for speeded-up tapes, strange voice interludes, excessively complex orchestration, and “impossible” speeds for musical performance. It’s possible perhaps that this work is mainly done by sampling and computer editing, but that matters not one whit when you’ve got such a tasty pizza with so many delectable toppings, served to you by a hilarious waiter on roller skates and dressed as a gorilla. Take a look at the cover art…also drawn by Jono El Grande…and you’ve got a strong visual equivalent of the music for your mental stomach to digest. This amiable loon seems to have spent much of his waking life forming “imaginary” bands and crazy music in his own mind, starting with The Handkerchiefs when he was aged ten, and a number of bands that only existed for one night – including The Terror Duo, Black Satan, The Pez Dispensers, and Acetaded Beat – before disappearing in the sky like so many fireworks. Be sure to seek out his earlier releases on Rune Grammofon and Rune Arkiv, if you find this polymath loopiness to your taste. From 19 July 2016.

Rendition of Source

Laurent Perrier’s 2016 album is the follow-up to Plateforme #1, noted here in 2014. On Plateforme #2 (BASKARU KARU:39) it’s more of the same method, Perrier producing lengthy sound-essays based on materials supplied to him by other famed sound artistes. It’s an ongoing plan, and a very disciplined one. Perrier elects to work only with whatever he is sent, no matter what it may be or how long it is. He’s almost signing a blank cheque for his repurposing services, but I do like the idea of setting yourself some restrictions or framework for the music to happen in, or it might become just another “remix” mail-art thing of which we had a surfeit in the 1990s.

Perrier assumes that the material that arrives on the USB stick is wholly representative of his collaborator’s personal style, or to use his own expression, their “usual soundworld”. His challenge then is to make sure that he preserves that distinctive fingerprint, so that no matter how much he processes and reprocesses, the finished results are identifiable as the work of someone else. First name to pass through the benign mill of digital mixage is Francisco López, the prolific Spanish maestro of rich field recordings, currently riding the high wind of his ecological concerns and illustrating the plight of planet Earth through the recomposed contents of his hard drive. Perrier offers us a more compressed and slightly more fast-moving vision of the López world; as if 18 hours of video were being watched by a channel-hopper with a fast-forward button. López never sounded as “processed” as this, but we do get to the essence of the original through this Perrier rendition.

Founding LAFMS member Tom Recchion will never be accused of flooding the market with too many records, and we haven’t heard him here since 2012’s Proscenium for the Elevator Bath label, a record which wasn’t a core release by any means and more a by-product of some incidental stage music for an Edgar Allen Poe production. Even so, I always associate Recchion with a palpable atmosphere of his own, and admire the effortless technique by which he achieves his unusual compositions. Laurent Perrier somehow manages to miss both the atmosphere, and the economy; I can barely recognise Tom Recchion in amongst these polished but faceless digital sweeps and drones.

Third and final name steps forward to the podium. Christian Zanési is a French composer who studied under Schaeffer and Guy Reibel and was director of Ina GRM for nearly 10 years. It’s to my discredit that I haven’t ever heard his music, and I intend to try and find a copy of Stop! L’Horizon as soon as I can 1; it compiles three of his 1980s compositions and looks like a good place to start. If it’s anything like this track as repurposed by Laurent Perrier, it looks like I’m in for a great time. Although this piece is still blighted with the rather glib use of super-fast digital edits and the use of one too many filters (a charge we could level at the whole album), these 24 minutes have a stern purpose and darkened sense of focus which is less evident on the rest of Plateforme #2. As such, this piece alone might be worth the price of admission. From 15 June 2016.

  1. Not an easy task, as it turns out.

Entropy: a dive into a world of black metal / doom fusion despair and hopelessness

Spire, Entropy, Germany, Iron Bonehead Productions, IBP 265 CD digipak / vinyl 12″ / digital (2016)

Only recently have Spire issued their debut album in spite of having existed for nearly a decade. The long gestation period (with an equally long wait for their fans!) has finally paid off: “Entropy” is not so much an album of very dark ambient ritual black metal songs as it is a full dive into a universe of deep alienation, untold pain and never-ending despair. The immersive nature of the music reminds me a great deal of French BM legends Deathspell Omega and it’s possible DSO served as an inspiration and the standard against which Spire strove to craft and refine their music. In that, Spire have certainly set themselves a high target to aim for and they have done well indeed.

Each track, no matter how long or short, is epic in itself which says a great deal about how the musicians composed and crafted the music and constructed the whole thing – not just the actual song itself but its atmosphere, the effects that flesh it out into a three-dimensional beast – so that the entire structure is a soaring monstrous creature of unlimited malevolence, magnificent in its clear and crisp sound, and utter crystalline coldness. The first track “Ends” demonstrates Spire blasting out atmospheric BM doom drama the equal of any music in that genre to be found. It’s really with “(Remake)” though that we enter territory that maybe not even DSO have dared to venture into: here we come into a stupendous Ninth-Layer-Of-Hell region of deranged crunching guitar riffing and reptilian echo-cacophony that plainly spells out “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter” in case we still harboured such child-like notions in our heads. Even then, we only get a glimpse of the depths of the abyss that beckon before we’re whisked off to the next track, an equally intense work of thunderous bass, rapid-fire percussion and pounding visions of eternal hell.

So far, so good … and then we come to “(Unmake)”, an almost all-ambient track featuring guitar trilling melody and feedback against a background of pulsing whisper noise effects. Putting this track here after mostly short though intense pieces does take the wind out of the album, especially as this is one of the longer tracks, meaning that the song coming after has a lot of work to do reclaiming the earlier intensity of the music. Fortunately this is not difficult for the title track to do, building up to behemoth proportions with nuclear-powered blast-beat percussion, martial riffing, loads of screaming vocals and deep-end guttural groans, and bass lines that travel their own off-centre rollercoaster paths into derangement.

The album could have done with slightly longer songs in its earlier half – “(Remake)” alone is such a stupendous song that cutting it to about 3 minutes should have led to six months’ community service and maybe a small fine – so as to balance the long tracks that come in the album’s second half. Apart from this, and the slight loss of momentum that comes with having a long ambient piece after the halfway point, I don’t find much to fault this album. True, a lot of the music sounds familiar if you’re a DSO-obsessive freak and Spire could have brought something more innovative to their brand of very dark and occult-sounding black / doom fusion. The band has work cut out for it to develop a more original sound and not be mistaken for someone else’s project. Even so, “Entropy” is still a very ambitious work, sounding very complete in its aims and vision, with a powerful and layered style. The best thing about the album is its immersive nature, how it sounds so much like a real hellish world where pain, despair and lack of hope reign, that it feels more real than the actual world we live in.

Crystal Cathedral

Michael Moser is the Austrian musician who plays a cello and performs in the amazing quartet Polwechsel, and has sometimes played in the equally amazing Zeitkratzer Ensemble. Here he is now with Antiphon Stein (EDITION RZ ed.RZ 9010-11), an astonishing site-specific composition of avant-garde music which he plays and performs with the help of percussionist Berndt Thurner and organist Klaus Lang. It’s also released as a double LP in a gatefold sleeve with a booklet of notes, on the lovely Edition RZ label. Robert Zank has put out a steady flow of exceptionally fine European avant music on this label since the late 1980s; in the 1990s, they tended to appear in uniform black covers with severe minimalist tyopgraphy, and high quality pressings, so the listener knew they were in for a treat of hard-hitting, no nonsense experimental music that could lacerate your brain, face, and senses.

Antiphon Stein was recorded in a church – the Minoritenkirche Krems / Stein. As is often the case in such situations, the music is intended to engage with a very specific piece of architecture and space, and the intention is that “the sound of the specific area…plays a central role in the overall acoustic image”. Did I mention the sheets of glass and metal? They are probably the central component of this whole work, and indeed they function as the principal “instruments” of Antiphon Stein. He’s got about 20 of them, either hanging in the air or lying on the floor of the building, equipped with transducers; the idea is to transform them into “membranes,” so they act as very powerful resonators to relay and amplify the sounds created in the piece, reflecting them back into the building and to the audience. It’s to do with a precise understanding of acoustical vibrations…in typically Germanic fashion, the precise dimensions of these sheets of glass and metal are included in the booklet, presumably forming an essential part of the composition, should any future composers wish to restage the work.

The record is a very rewarding listen. At one level, it might be considered an advanced form of Electro-Acoustic Improvisation, the musicians pushing out their slow but very deliberate statements on the organ, percussion, electronics, and other instruments. But they’re doing this in a very “hot” and resonant environment, the sheets of metal and glass picking up every gesture and redoubling it, pushing it back against the walls and ceiling of the church. From the start, the music is operating in another rich dimension, enabling Michael Moser and his team to “play” the church itself like another musical instrument, through the simple expedient of this very exacting sound installation set-up.

In other hands, all of this might have resulted in a worthy-but-dull process exercise. But every moment of Moser’s 80-minute epic here is tense, exciting, and even somewhat threatening in its black intensity. It’s like a more focused and directed version of early AMM Music, without any sense of a need to explore tentatively; Moser knows exactly where he is going in this unearthly territory, and each musical utterance exhibits this certainty with an almost grim, metallic precision. We’ve heard a number of cathedral or church-based recordings of art music over the years, some of them by improvisers, some by composers; from what I recall, it’s always been interesting which aspect of the church they tend to emphasise or privilege over others. In Moser’s case, he’s effectively refitted the church environment for his own ends, to turn it into a resonating space and help to form a fully integrated compositional statement. Highly recommend this strong piece of modernist genius. From 25 May 2016.

Digital Memories

American-born sound artist Pierce Warneke mostly lives and works in Europe, and has surfaced here before mainly in the context of Emitter Micro, that interesting label that has been home to a few small-run releases in bizarre packaging which contains anonymous, perplexing and alienatingly severe electronic sound art. I often associate him with Berliner Christoph Limbach, and both of them appeared on Four Corners Of The Night, a cassette tape released by Staaltape around 2012. Warneke has now made a superb album called Memory Fragments (ROOM 40 RM479), where he performs electronic music using assorted devices and methods such as the electromagnetic coil, contact microphones, feedback, and a process called “FM and additive synthesis”. And some conventional instruments, including piano and guitar. He’s joined by the bass player Yair Elzara Glotman, Kris Limbach (see above) on percussion, and the saxophonist Pierre Borel. In addition to this, there are field recordings gathered from America, Portugal, France and Germany folded into the equation.

The set is thus far from minimal or severe, and instead offers a rich set of complex and intriguing tones for the listener to explore and move around inside. With a descriptive paragraph explaining something of the origins of this work, Warnecke uses an entire thesaurus of terms which mean more or less the same thing – the message that comes across is constant change and reworking, suggesting he manipulates his sizeable gobbets of sound like so much plasticine, remoulding them into toy farms, cities, office workers and Noah’s Ark configurations like a grown-up child ought to do. A large number of contemporary sound artists are into the “reworking” thing these days; I suppose it’s much easier to tinker with sound files in the computer than ever before, and while some of them may hope to align themselves with the early geniuses of musique concrète, quite often they simply produced reams of over-cooked murk and spew, which has been baked in the innards of a laptop for far too long.

We can’t level that accusation at a single track, or a single moment, on Memory Fragments; every musical utterance has a certain weight, and there’s a solidity and crispness to the sounds that is impressive. Although events do tend to coagulate into a continuum of some sort, it’s never a mindless or boring process drone; and the strange weightless journey into space is mapped with a series of very distinct and separated sound events, acting like milestones. It’s a very exciting and inexplicable noise.

There’s also a certain solemnity to the music, as if every utterance were delivered by an undertaker wearing a large top hat and a grave countenance. This may have something to with the ponderous track titles; each one nearly a sentence, or title of a book chapter (a book one never hopes to read), and to boot they’re arranged under two headings, suggesting the book is a two-volume monster of epic sweep. The trend of these titles reads like an attempt to describe the phenomenon of memory itself, clasping at concrete images that might capture it in some way. In that context, the phrase “built on folds and braids” seems especially resonant. The puzzling cover image (uncredited) may also be an attempt to pin down the elusive idea of memory into a visual form; curlicue twisted rags of cloth or paper spin in space, or are arranged in something resembling a grid.

Warneke is attempting to say something about the human mind as a recording medium. The brain can replay memories, but it might do so in a faulty manner, so that the memory never matches the actual experience. This volatility interests him, and the record Memory Fragments expresses this idea by “taking samples (sound, images, objects) of a physical space and then placing them in an imaginary process of transformation and transience that slowly erodes these digital memories until disappearance”. From 25 May 2016.