Tagged: dance

Cold Mission: into the far reaches of experimental dark techno abstraction


Logos, Cold Mission, Keysound Recordings LDN042CD (2013)

London-based producer James Parker comes from a grime / dubstep dance-club background but this solo debut is far removed from the more rhythmic tendencies of that scene; “Cold Mission” has much in common with minimalist dark techno in its structures, moods and ambience. He lulls his listeners into a false sense of familiarity and security with the intro track and then throws them into entirely new territory with gruff lion-roar sounds, dramatic warm synth flourishes, imitations of chirping birds and skittish percussion (“Statis Jam”). The dark brooding spaces Parker creates become the background against which he plots his almost skeletal course of sound, melody and rhythm experimentation. Whatever warmth and security might exist here are very fleeting and are to be found in the sounds he splashes about on his black velvety canvas.

Parker uncovers some very gorgeous vistas here: “Swarming”, a collaboration done with a musician called Rabit, features beautiful crystal tones that trick you into thinking you’ve entered a giant hard and sparkling glass cathedral of myriad mirrors reflecting colours and sounds. “Seawolf” is a defiant number of Mexican stand-offs of duelling sets of drones, ripples and bass whoops with crackling samples of guns being cocked. Two guys Dusk and Blackdown help cut out abstract geometric shapes with stuttering bell, voice samples and crispy crackle percussion effects on “Alien Shapes”.

Later tracks seem less experimental, more rhythm-bound and of less interest. I guess there has to be the obligatory dystopian futuristic Bladerunner-esque alienation / dehumanisation / trans-humanism piece that is the title track. “E3 Night Flight” leaves me cold with its insistent rhythmic inanity. The third collaboration, “Wut It Do” featuring Mumdance, restores the album’s reputation with an aggressive attacking intensity and shifting rhythms. Outgoing track “Atlanta 96 (Limitless Mix)” is a little disappointing after “Wut It Do”, losing some of its predecessor’s energy, but it seems to be a summary of what’s gone before and at the same time it’s champing at the bit and anticipating more experimentation on future solo Logos releases.

The album has its ups and downs, and sometimes I have the feeling that Parker retreats back into familiar structured rhythm territory to please his fans and let them know he hasn’t entirely forgotten his origins. At least the first half of this album is very brave in its experimentation and shows much skill on Parker’s part in describing a new, quite alien world in which we must rely on our own resources to navigate its reaches, find a foot-hold and discover unexpected comfort and joy. Here’s hoping he can go much farther in sonic time and space on subsequent recording excursions.

Contact: Keysound Recordings / Cargo Records


Discipline: an efficient electronic pop machine lacking in soul and originality

Electric Electric, Discipline, Herzfeld H26 CD (2012)

French trio Electric Electric plays a highly rhythmic and dance-oriented electronic art-punk style of music inspired in equal parts by post-punk /new wave, techno-industrial, ritual and tribal folk genres. “Discipline” is as the band says it is: relentless and repetitive looping electro-pop tunes atop insistent and quite complex tribal polyrhythms that force you to dance, and dance for as long as the music determines you will! There are some very pleasant little melodies played on what seem at first to be folk-oriented instruments but are actually synthesised approximations of the originals. The tracks run with a regimented order all their own and the overall impression I have is an efficient machine in which everything is well co-ordinated and running smoothly, and it hums producing sounds and noises in preplanned combinations and patterns to order. Several pieces start at medium-fast pace and quickly progress to frantic hither-and-thither as though the musicians were being pursued by sinister android police or hostile warriors of a long-lost tribe. The songs give an impression of disorder yet if you listen closely enough even the apparent chaos has all been programmed in advance.

Most songs are quite enjoyable although after about two or three minutes they become soulless automatons allowed to run riot in their own little ruts. Any singing present is located back in the mix and seems drained of all life. The title track is not too bad but after four minutes of mad dashing about in a labyrinth of narrow street alleys, dead-end bazaars and passages of shut wooden doors in a distant city in the Orient, it settles in a boring groove of ever-more frantic to-ing and fro-ing. The gamelan novelty that is “Exotica Today” is briefly bewitching but the repetition is overdone.

At this point I start feeling that my occasional predilection for the traditional folk musics of faraway lands is being not so much exploited for commercial gain as continuously ground and steamrolled to death by the sheer weight of repetition and lack of subtlety and wit on the musicians’ part. I don’t want to hear constant Keystone Cops chases either; I saw enough of those in the Indiana Jones films. If indeed exotic cultures are on the mind, they’re likely to be those of clubs in tourist-oriented beach strips where Westerners hang out all night long binge-drinking, snorting strange substances and dancing to tired disco music of 30-plus years ago after all-day shopping and surfing. Also having to hear snippets of different styles of folk music from places around the world thrown into an electronic pop meat-grinder with no apparent thought given to what they have in common and completely out of their original cultural context, resulting in something that sounds false and lightweight a lot of the time, tends to bring the red mist down before my eyes and before I know it, I’ve done serious damage to an innocent disc.

Contact: Herzfeld


Stealth in the Forest

Sam Pettigrew is a pro-active musician, performer, organiser and instigator in Sydney. Earlier this month we noted an item on his new micro label It’ll Be Awesome, and now we have a copy of his solo release Domestic Smear (AVANT WHATEVER 008). Extremely minimal deep-vibro music produced using his main instrument, the double bass, propped up and distributed by means of additional vibration units, pieces of metal and plastic, and an iPod. Three tracks of intense non-musical humming across 40 minutes are the result. Pettigrew might be mistaken for one of the Toshimaru Nakamura (with whom he has performed) school of imitators, but he is not quite as purely process-driven, allowing assorted minimal interventions to vary the tones, textures and pitches of his deeply-resonating burrs and buzzes. These events may happen and unfold quite slowly, but I suppose it’s all in the name of aiding concentration. Pettigrew is also using this release as an opportunity to ask searching questions about “stereotypical roles”, including gender issues, in the relationships between performer and audience. From 3 April 2012.

Just yesterday we were listening to a dark ambient record by Lull and Beta Cloud themed on the subject of insomnia. Today we have a vaguely related item on the same label from Sleep Research Facility, who is Kevin Doherty of Glasgow, and since about 2001 has been producing ambient drone records which are indeed intended to send the listener into the arms of Morpheus. He achieves this through assembling multiple layers of quiet and unobtrusive sound, deliberately avoiding anything that might resemble a pulsebeat or a sound that could disturb the Reckless Sleeper. Stealth (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR159CD) however has a rather sinister subtext, as it’s themed around the creator’s investigations of an American stealth bomber, using field recordings fetched from an aircraft hangar at a US Air Force base in the UK. These source recordings were provided for the project by Si_COMM, who is Barry Nichols of ECM323, and was interviewed in issue #6 of TSP. So far these themes take us back to a time in the mid-1990s when Disinformation, Scanner, John Duncan, S.E.T.I. and others were researching the potential of the military-industrial complex as a sound-production source, and allowing a certain Cold War paranoia to creep into their dark ambient drones. This Stealth record may broadly fit into such a profile, and although we can occasionally hear the crackle of radio static and secret messages buried deep in its stratified layers, the aesthetic keynote is mostly one of mysterious and inexplicable beauty. Where Disinformation liked to present us with aural data in the raw form, Sleep Research Facility’s technique is one of burnishing and reworking in the studio, mixing, editing, sampling and resampling, and extending certain elements by severe time-stretching. For those of you who would like to hear the original source material, Si-COMM’s unadulterated tapes are provided as a second disc in this release. Given the current climate of apprehension about domestic surveillance drones, this release is certainly timely. From 23 April 2012.

La Vie Dans Les Bois (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1201) is a document of a musical performance recorded in the open air near a castle in France. The players were Pascal Bathus and Emmanuel Petit with their electric guitars, Lionel Marchetti credited with “electricity”, and Yôko Higashi who performed a butoh dance during their music performance. Higashi has appeared on many records with Lionel Marchetti, but I didn’t know she was also an exponent of this post-war avant-garde Japanese dance artform which involves very slow movements and is, according to many of its practitioners, very elusive when it comes to definitions and meanings. Readers who enjoy improvised music may recall that Derek Bailey released a 1996 album Music and Dance, where he performed his guitar improvisations alongside Min Tanaka, a very prominent butoh dancer. Very coincidentally, Tanaka is the developer of a form of butoh he calls “Body Weather”, of which Sam Pettigrew above is also a subscriber. This isn’t to imply any relations between this CD and Pettigrew’s music, but La Vie Dans Les Bois is a compellingly mysterious piece of delicate interplay where for 50% of the time the guitars are barely recognisable as such, and all the performers only make an utterance when the occasion demands it. The recording also blends nicely with the distant sound of birdsong in the air. As with the Derek Bailey record, you may not be able to “hear” the sound of the dancer participating on the record, but Higashi’s work is still perceptible somehow, as it were appearing in the interstices of the music, shaping its contours. The creators clearly felt moved enough to include a landscape painting by Dominique Lechec as part of the package, and a few lines from a poem. From 24 April 2012.

R.I.P: travelogue of scenes of abstract electronic dub dance in a pleasant and cheery Hell

Actress, R.I.P, Honest Jon’s Records, HJRCD60 (2012)

I’ve become very fond of this UK act, headed by one Darren Cunningham, responsible for all the little worlds of jewelled electronic beauty. Each track is a portal to an incredible universe of psychedelic sound gem tones, little science fiction melodies and unusual sinuous rhythms. The best track on this album, the third for Actress, is “Marble Plexus” – this is a delicate crystal of sharp hiss and constant rhythmic whisk with a frail, tentative synth melody over the sifting-sand texture. Yet the whole track sounds quite confident and self-contained with a distinctive swagger and personality. “Uriel’s Black Harp” which follows all too soon after, is another microworld of densely packed tones, fluttering or twisting and turning like an elongated stretch of sonic DNA untangling itself so it can reproduce.

“Shadow from Tartarus” is surprisingly heavy and subterranean with a grinding bass line that might not be out of place on a sludge doom metal album if it were slowed down. “Serpent” is another surprise: quite chirpy with a dancey little rhythm. It’s a nice piece though not one of the better tracks on the CD. “N.E.W” has a dreamy air and pleasant tones but is rather too repetitive for my liking.

Interestingly tracks have titles that suggest a dark direction being taken here, as though Actress were journeying in the underworld and encountering supernatural entities like shadows deep in Tartarus, ravens and serpents and mysterious landmarks such as the Tree of Knowledge. However several tracks are very repetitive so the mood at the beginning hardly changes or develops much; if something begins on a cheery note, the mood usually carries all the way through. The result tends to be a travelogue showing scenes from different parts of some kind of Hell – and a not unpleasant Hell at that. It’s probably not what Cunningham intended for “R.I.P” and I admit I find the earlier half of the album more interesting than the latter half. But if you like intelligently crafted electronic music with dubstep influences that dabbles its toes in abstract experimentalism and are not fussed about what Cunningham might have been trying to do here, then you will adore this recording: it’s worth getting just for “Marble Plexus”.

I think Cunningham is ready to make the kind of really abstract experimental electronic music halfway between one CD I reviewed some years ago, Mauricio Bianchi and Maor Applebaum’s “Environmental Meditations”, featuring long immersive industrial rhythms, and City Surgical’s “Gray Panic”, a dark ambient electronic / industrial recording; probably all he needs is a push into that territory of abstract experimental electronic / noise lite / industrial / ambient sonic swirl.

Contact: Honest Jon’s Records