Tagged: dark

Self X-Amining

Wolfram’s name seemed to strike a chord in the corners of my brain, but in checking I found I was confusing him with the free jazz trio of the same name from Stavanger, whose CD for Va Fongool nevertheless featured a cover of a demonic dog with mad staring eyes, an image which might have appealed to this fellow, the Polish Wolfram. Dominik Kowalczyk kicked off his dark ambient drone career in the early 2000s with a couple of small-run CDRs for Polycephal, then kind of fell off the map and went under radar, unless you count his Thinking Dust album for this label in 2005; he got involved in some side activities involving music for cinema, theatre, and sound installations, and may have surfaced on some compilations too.

Today he creeps back into the public consciousness with a highly effective album of atmospheres, rhythmical drones, warm pulsations and uncanny textures, simply called X (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono102). The record company are delighted with it and invoke the familiar terms such as “disturbing” and “hypnotises with subtle structures”, “anxious”, and “ascetic”. I’d also like to point to track titles such as ‘Introspektiv’ and ‘Secret Humans’, both of which indicate a predilection for strangeness and mystery, while insisting on one’s own mind (and all its secret maze-like pathways) as the centre of everything – a trend which began, I suggest, with his very first record, 2001’s Mind Locations. I have no doubt that Kowalczyk finds solace and expression in his very internalised, self-examining music, and that it’s a form of therapy that keeps the men with butterfly nets at bay. We’ve heard Dominik before as one third of the trio Komora A, but personally I much prefer this solo material…seems purer, more single-minded. From 12th July 2016.

Age Of Enlightenment

Image sourced from http://fangbomb.com

Imaginary Forces last came our way in March 2016 with the unsettling and implied violence of Corner Crew, a record he made for the Sleep Codes label. With the Visitation EP (FANG BOMB FB026), we’re back on the shadowy ground which we know and love him for ever since his 2013 Begotten cassette for the same label, and here are four tracks of grim and slow avant-techno laced with diabolical repetitions, mercilessly loud and heavy bass thumps, and joyless beats that are intent on propelling the listener down a slow but sure slide into oblivion.

London player Anthoney Hart projects a low profile in his music and image, a strategy which I admire heartily, and every release seems to be an attempt to undermine our collective certainties, using stealth and invisible means…each beat is a hammer blow delivered with the surgical skill of a geologist prising loose a keystone from a pyramid of power…the temples of the Establishment are sure to topple, but not before our masked hero has long made good his escape under cover of night. The A side contains ‘Preternatural’ and ‘Enlightenment’, both hugely effective pulsation and throb experiences that can sap the vitality from a hundred civil servants in just ten minutes.

The B side includes the unusual ‘(A Drift)’, a version of a Closed Circuits track which is even more skeletal and bare-bones in its arrangement (if that’s conceivable), where the beat is unprocessed and raw, arriving like the knocking of a hammer on an empty wooden crate (or coffin). Chris Page intones a dark and defiant lyric in a resigned tone of world-weariness, while around him strange minimal electronic tones dart about like small birds.

To complete the package and its tone of strange despairing symbolism, we have the excellent cover art: a troubling image of a man with a head split in two, blood trickling down his nose, yet wearing an impassive and calmly accepting expression. His striped shirt and jacket might almost mark him out as a businessman or other enemy of society. The half-tone printing employed on this monochrome image adds to the weird mood; you certainly wouldn’t welcome a “visitation” from this menacing apparition with his grey, clay-like features. From 19 May 2016.

Well, Hardly Ever

Pretty intense slab of vinyl ominous doom-noise produced by an eminent and talented duo…Kasper T. Toeplitz and Anna Zaradny get their gloom-suckling nozzles together for a feast of grim heavy-set droning on Stacja Nigdy w Życiu (AUSSENRAUM AR-LP-005), a title which is helpfully translated into French as Station Jamais De La Vie, and (less successfully) into English as Station Never In Life. Grammatical infelicities aside, the word that’s relevant here is “Never”, and to bring home the point “Never” is printed on both labels in full capitals, underlining the sheer, brooding negativity of this humming and suffocating noise that passes between the duo like waves of pure hate.

Actually it’s not that bad; the job is fairly manageable from the listener’s point of view, the sound adopting the same caste of grim forebodingness for both sides, and adhering to a simple structure of gathering intensity and evil-ness as the work progresses. Matter of the fact the vinyl seems to reach the same high point of insufferability at around the same notch, where the ghastly and unpleasant effects hit their crescendo and seal your fate. It’s rather like being read a lecture about the imminent end of the world, or at least receiving unwelcome news from the utility board about your next bill. “A perpetual reconstruction of a crushed architecture,” is how the press release would have it. Also on each side, when the pain is at its most agonising and the nettles of torture have woven into a thicket, there instantly follows moments of blessed relief where the music audibly drops its temperature and enters a more acceptable form of numbed, rhythmic droning. This may be intended as a balm; the effect for us is like inhaling a mouthful of ether.

Toeplitz continues his aural assault against mankind using his bass guitar and a computer, although the latter can probably be discounted to some degree as just about everything has a chip installed in it somewhere these days, even the doormat to the local newsagents. The main connection here is Poland, a surreal country renowned for its plumbing fixtures which release black ink instead of water, and where the clouds bring fish to all who wait under that fearful canopy of hardened sky which offers no possibility of release or escape. Toeplitz may live and work in Paris, and indeed owes his compositional credibility to some of the foremost musical institutions of France, but his origins are Polish. The same goes for Zaradny, who uses the saxophone (and computer; see previous remark) to make her music, and the record was recorded in Warsaw. I do seem to recall seeing Toeplitz perform at the famed Meltdown of Noise event in London, where he made a lasting impression with his bass, and ever since then I’ve tended to think of him as a bludgeoning man, using sound as a weapon. How handy it would be to have him next to me in a fight. He could open up his instrument case like Django opening his coffin, and bring out two heavy ball-peen hammers. With one of these babies clutched in each fist, he’d make short work of my opponents.

Stacja Nigdy w Życiu is probably much more nuanced than this fanciful account might suggest, and the subtle variations in textures, timbres, and range will make this a rewarding listen, and it manages to pull off quite a balancing act between the heavier dub-like bottom end and the more delicate surface effects, which are unusual. As to Anna Zaradny, she’s a formidable creator who runs Musica Genera (a label, a festival, a home brew) and is renowned as composer, improviser, and visual artist. And the “nihilism” I may perceive in use of the word “never” is very far from the actual intent; it’s more to do with a “cry for freedom” and an absolute position of no compromise… “you can torture me, don’t feel the pain, don’t even care” is probably meant to be heard as the resolute howl of the political prisoner or defender of belief whose defiant words are etched in blood on the handout. From 31 May 2016.

Morphic Resonance

Got a bundle of goodies from Portuguese fellow Fernando Cerqueira, sometime member of Ras.As.Ghul, who seems incredibly active and productive in the remix-noise department as well as running the Thisco label and publishing a book/magazine venture called Antibothis. He is sent sound sources by prominent noise artists around the world and remixes them under his Rasalasad alter-ego. One such item is a split cassette in his THISOBEY series, featuring Irr.App. (Ext.) on one side and Smell & Quim on the flip. Irr.App. (Ext.) – American player Matthew Waldron – has been steadily maintaining his own stream of marginal noise releases since 1997, and what snippets have crossed my personal brow I tend to recall as baffling and vague, but he did manage to insinuate himself into the good graces of Nurse With Wound, so there you go. Under the editing tongs of Rasalasad, what results from the collaboration is 16 minutes of menacing digital drone, with an undercurrent of slowly-chattering non-Techno rhythms; I get the feeling Cerqueira is making maximal use of his time-stretching tools, and creating four pounds of musical pulled pork.

Smell & Quim are an English phenomenon whose members may or may not have included members of The A Band, who have released a trail of unpleasant slime stretching back to 1988, and are masters of the Anglo-Saxon penchant for toilet humour and vile sex jokes in their titles and covers…I bet their music’s great, though I never got sent any during the glory days of the 1990s when this sort of anything-goes collective noise was still new and exciting. I was certainly hoping for something more abrasive, offensive and lively on their half of the THISOBEY tape, but it’s simply more solemn digital drone, with a clonky loop-rhythm counterpoint. In places, we might as well be hearing a slightly darker version of a Vangelis album. Not impressed.

The CD Thismorphia (THISK075) showcases Rasalasad remixing sound sources from both of the above, and a further 9 artistes, including Emil Beaulieu, Merzbow, Antonym, Wildshores, Jarboe, and French 1990s industrialists Von Magnet. This is a slightly more successful proposition than the above, and it may be that the shorter durations make it more appealing. For instance, ‘Astellar’ with Irr.App. (Ext.) is a dramatic slice of gothic drone-menace with bold electronic squoops painted on its surface, and ‘Value’ allows Jarboe to chill the listener instantly with her ghostly whispering voice. ‘Spectre’ with Emil Beaulieu contains a health dose of unpleasant abrasiveness, which contrasts nicely with Rasalasad’s more polished-sounding digital drones; this formula also works brilliantly on ‘Axx’ with Merzbow, where Rasalasad leavens the Japnoise-assault with his symphonic synth keyboards. ‘Stellar’ featuring Antonym also intrigued me, and made me want to start seeking out a copy of Native Dystopia, his 1990 cassette. Some nice moments on this CD with its drab grey cover, but I’m not feeling the collaborative aspect much; Rasalasad’s default setting is gloomy ambient digital drone, which he tends to overlay with whatever sound source he’s sent. It’s a basic cut and paste job with neither side paying enough attention to each other.

No denying though that Fernando Cerqueira has won his spurs as a significant figure in underground culture. He’s been publishing print and music since the late 1980s, through his magazine Atonal and his label SPH records, which released some primo tape / noise / industrial materials of various shade of darkness in the 1990s, including Brume, The Haters, Merzbow, Lieutenant Caramel, Crawling With Tarts, Smersh, Another Headache, and Maeror Tri. Many of these continue to be associated with Thisco, whose roster of artistes is impressive. There’s also the book and CD anthologies released under the Antibothis imprint, which continue the traditions of magazines like Headpress with their fixation on the bizarre, the extreme, and the transgressive. From 23 June 2016.

Luminiferous Aether: cosmic space black metal stretched too wormhole thin

Mare Cognitum, Luminiferous Aether, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD IVR064 (2016)

Album title “Luminiferous Aether”, meaning the sky air that transmits light, flows smoothly off the tongue which, to be frank, is far more than can be said for this album of overstretched dark-space atmospheric black metal. By now, one-man Californian band Mare Cognitum has racked up a solid discography and “Luminiferous Aether” is his fourth album so listeners might be wondering where he is taking his music and whether it has advanced very much since he founded the project.

The album is a well-crafted effort from start to finish though for its genre and aims the music is very thin and needs more substance and power. It’s possible that with this album Mare Cognitum man Jacob Buczarski wanted a more raw and harsh black metal sound to help emphasise its cosmic space themes. I don’t fault him for wanting to do that but the songs are very long and a thin sound stretched over more than 10 minutes without some solidity in parts is going to sound very one-dimensional and under-powered. As well, melodies, riffs and rhythms will have to carry the music more than they would if this lacks power and sonic texture; and again with long songs, these structural elements need to provide backbone and unity to their respective tracks. As it happens, most tracks on “Luminiferous Aether” carry so many different melodies and riffs, few of them with their own flavour or individuality, often going at different speeds within the same piece, that the very idea of having separate tracks with their own titles becomes unnecessary. The entire album could have been one single work broken up into movements or chapters.

The music rarely varies in mood, key or instrumentation from one track to the next, and the atmosphere – always cold, remote and spacious in an airy way – is always the same. The sound quality is always very sharp and clear so that all instruments can be heard distinctly – but it also means the thin sound seems even more skeletal than it is. I wonder that Buczarski doesn’t see fit to add another instrument, even if in a minor way or in the background, to songs to differentiate them from one another and perhaps give a sense of direction, of purpose to the whole album. The percussion is very whippy-thin even on some later tracks like “Occultated Temporal Dimensions” where a scathing grinding guitar demands strong percussion to challenge it. While the level of musicianship on display is always good and consistent, there is the danger that without a clear sense of direction the music ends up being a long exercise in self-indulgence. It’s one thing to let yourself be carried away by the music for short periods but for a major part of an album going for 50+ minutes, the exhilaration resulting from being inspired by the music can, if taken too far, end up looking too self-indulgent and the freshness and edge are lost.

This recording could have worked so much better if each song had been pared down to a few essential riffs and melodies, the overall sound had been thicker and the production perhaps a bit muddier. Here is a case where a clear production doesn’t always make for a better recording than a more ragged or distorted approach. This is a pity as there is some very good music on offer here. Less emphasis on technical chops and more on an original style of music with more atmosphere and punch, and this album might be going a long, long way across the universe and beyond.

To Kingdom Come

Motherland (NO LABEL) is a fine cassette of songs by the singer-songwriter duo Hanging Freud from Sao Paolo in Brazil. The team of Paula Borges and Jonathan Perez turn in six songs of a quite chilling nature, filled with dark symbolism and doom-laden accusations, bleak scenarios of conflicts and encounters where nobody is left off the hook and everyone comes out a loser. Each song appears to be pronouncing judgement on an entire country, the failure of successive generations to nurture its children, and Paula Borges intones these cold statements in a precise, matter-of-fact fashion, making her the ideal Greek chorus for these apocalyptic visions of catastrophe. “Every name will be consumed, we will never hear the truth”, she wails on ‘Lost Children’; and “I never expected these eyes to see so many horrors” she observes, like some latterday Dante, on the song ‘The South’. Clearly it’s taken years of bitter disillusionment to think herself into this particular spot.

There’s also much to recommend in the performance and arrangement of the songs; most of them may start from a simple acoustic guitar or piano framework, but there’s just the right degree of studio echo added to enhance the gloomy aspects of each ice-cold song. The production adds foreign bodies, samples, spare minimal noises thrown like lumps of grit into the wind. Each song unfolds with a relentless quality, rarely varying the chord or the rhythm, until the listener is hypnotised under the glare of a vengeful cobra. Taut, paranoid, tense; not an ounce of waste.

Motherland could be read as a successful update on the first Leonard Cohen album, itself a masterpiece of lugubrious singing, a wealth of “sad mysterious symbols” (copyright Momus) in the lyrics, and beautifully spartan musical backdrops. If you enjoy this despondent set, be sure to check out the other albums by Hanging Freud, Sunken (from 2010) and No Body Allowed (from 2015). This arrived 6th June 2016.

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.

Widt Of A Circle

widt

The record WIDT (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 124-2) by WIDT is largely the work of Antonina Nowacka, a Polish creator who is a visual artist, painter, film-maker and photographer. But she also sings, and has been using her voice and synthesizer for some years to create atmospheric, abstract music which we can only describe as “haunting” – often to the point of being overtaken by a spirit or inhabited by a ghost. She is capable of that slightly solemn and deeply ceremonial dark music which we often associate with recent Polish musical acts to have come our way, including Hati, 23 Threads, and Tundra. Antonina is also one half of A.N.R.S., a duo with Robert Skrzyński, who released their self-titled record for Requiem Records this year. Plus she has performed with trumpeter Algirdas Dokalskiego in 2014, in an improvising context.

On WIDT, get ready to hear seven examples of her craft, where her voice is treated with some reverb and looping effects to create endless patterns and repetitions, and the whirlpools of sound suck you in as expected, down into a gently spinning slow-motion maelstrom of ancient mystery. All the songs are done without words, and it’s all about Nowacka shaping sounds and vocalising into interesting textures. She’s trying to say something about particular mental states and moods. But she also seeks a connection with the “old songs” (whatever that may mean in Poland; perhaps a reference to folk music of the Carpathians), religious music, and opera; traces of all of these can be found embedded in the fabric of her works. More than once during today’s spin, I fancied I was hearing the dark, evil twin of Yma Sumac descending from a cold mountainside, armed with a sword.

The other half of the WIDT act is Bogumiła Piotrowska, a video artist; WIDT’s complete package of son et lumière has been represented before on a CD-DVD package from Circon Int. capturing their performance at Edinburgh; and Pointless Geometry in Poland even issued a VHS cassette of their work, in 2013. The DVD here will allow you to hear all seven songs again, this time accompanied by the video art of Piotrowska. It looks like it’s exploiting video feedback effects in real time to create visuals that move in time to the voice and music; something of a familiar trope, but it’s good stuff; I like the restrained colours, the limited abstract shapes, and the highly grainy quality to the surface, which at times borders on old-school television interference. The visuals have a grittiness which some modern A/V creators have forgotten about, or deliberately try to avoid. I particularly like the black and grey blocks for ‘Joleusa’, which remind me of a test card pattern, going slightly bonkers. From June 2016.

Negation Of The Negation

cura

Last heard from Sturqen in 2012 with their Praga album for Kvitnu, the label that loves all things heavy and dense…the Portuguese duo of Cesar Rodrigues and David Arantes have been active since 2008 and continue to carve their own furrow in the swirling world of dark techno-mechanical blackness. Their Cura (KVITNU 45) shows they are still preoccupied with machines and their work remains themed on the idea of industrial mayhem, described here as a “journey through grimy machines”…consequently, a black and airless world is what they create, with remorseless hammering drum beats sucking up the air and the only relief to our plight is offered by electronic devices and synths occasionally treated to resemble the howl of an electric guitar.

Cura is also a “concept album” of sorts; the title means “cure” in English and an enclosed note muses on the idea of what modern medicine can really offer us by way of effective treatment, perhaps thinking of such aggressive techniques as chemo-therapy to cure cancer. Sturqen propose a radical alternative to mainstream medicine with their music, calling it a “negation of the negation that suppressed that which is strange to a healthy system”, and offer the album to the world as “an act of healthy violence”. Presumably this is all a metaphor. I don’t think they seriously intend Cura to be played henceforth in hospitals everywhere over the PA system, thus causing ill patients to leap from their beds instantly, but their argument has not been fully thought through. It seems simply to be a rather solemn and over-elaborate way of saying “take it or leave it” when you hear their music.

This aside, there is a lot to enjoy on Cura, and I like the stern and unblinking qualities the pair are capable of unleashing, even though their sounds are not quite as dark and violent as they evidently seem to think. From 8th 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.