Tagged: dark

Transcendence Through Bonding of Psychedelic Phenomenon: an acid trip seeking light beset by darkness

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Sleep Deprived, Transcendence Through Bonding of Psychedelic Phenomenon, Acephale Winter Productions, cassette AWP013 (2014)

For the insomniacs among us, here comes a band whose name holds promise of a panacea to end those long stretches of dark, tired wakefulness – yet which might deliver far more than what we wish for. The duo Sleep Deprived purveys a soundtrack of sprawling unearthly and bewitching cosmic ambient psychedelia, murky in intent, dark in beauty, ghostly at times and frequently delirious and close to complete derangement. Though its sound is very good, the music is simply far more than its cassette format can hold and I surmise the reason it’s on cassette is that AWP cannot afford more than that at the present time. People who know the AWP label might be expecting something black metal in nature but at a strict technical level this release does not fall into that category. What must have attracted AWP’s attention though is the slightly sinister style of the music that might hint at a malevolent potential and which suggests that chaos and evil are never far away.
Innocent souls on quests to understand their purpose in life and who think to take the easy route via experimentation with hallucinogenic substances are possibly in danger of falling into eternal blackness and the madness that might exist within. Since spiritual transcendence of a kind based on hope that ends in downfall falls fairly and squarely within the ambit of black metal, it should be no surprise that a black metal label has released this work.

The whole recording covers a narrative of an acid trip from start to uncertain finish and possibly no escape. Once begun, the protagonist is at risk of being revisited by the same visions even years after the initial journey. Strange and stranger synth-drone odysseys that embrace listeners fully and draw them deep into their meanderings, taking subjects far beyond dull reality, are at every step, every bifurcating path. Each track is a wormhole into another plane of existence. As might be guessed at, the best music is often the deepest, the darkest, the most spacious or the most mysterious – and sometimes all of these. There is an impression of extreme isolation which may be another reason AWP picked up the recording. While sounds seem long and tedious, always in search of melodic or rhythmic certainty and direction, the music does have its own logic; of course it’s unfathomable to us so we must trust it as our guide. Therein lies the danger for who knows if our guide is fickle, full of whimsy and not quite sane?

Generally the A-side of the cassette is faster and more varied while the B-side is slow, more amorphous and pensive as well. The second half of the recording doesn’t hold as many surprises as the first half and seems more predictable, content to tread water.

Altogether the album clocks in at about 100 minutes but it does seem a lot longer which depending on the point of view may be good or bad. Not all of it is enthralling and as it progresses, it does become a test of listeners’ endurance to hear it all. If we’re to be serious space travellers, we must take the long monotonous stretches of sailing across the universe in our stride.

Contact: Sleep Deprived

Contact: Acephale Winter Productions

Regarde Les Hommes Tomber / self-titled: following the fall of humanity in BM doom sludge fusion

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Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, self-titled, Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions, CD AO09 (2013)

With a sonorous name like Regarde Les Hommes Tomber (the English translation “See How They Fall” not possessing quite the same epic and fatalistic resonance), this French band promises something special on its debut album. Right from the start with a pounding drum beat suggesting that the End of the World As We Know It is Nigh, these guys put everything they have into the music. The band’s music is a combination of atmospheric melodic post-BM and hard-hitting doom sludge; whether the style of music preceded the naming of the band or the name came first – it’s actually derived from a movie made in the 1990s – probably doesn’t matter as somehow it’s hard to imagine any other style of music (apart from perhaps the most apocalyptic forms of black metal) being appropriate.

The instrumental prelude, slow and majestic, placing the band’s stylistic bona fides on the table for all to hear, is done with in just over four minutes and from then on, you’re either with the band’s program or not. The album proper begins with “Wanderer of Eternity”, more typical of what RLHT offers, with roaring gravelly near-BM vocals, a sound not too distorted yet not that clean either, and air raid siren lead guitar over a solid rhythm backing. The overall ambience is often very sinister and filled with foreboding of what hellish terror may come. In most songs, the lyrics dominate the music and they tell of humanity’s hubris in presuming to be the equal of God and building the Tower of Babel which God subsequently topples, causing humans to be divided among themselves by various languages and to serve Him in abject bondage through false religion a thousand years hence.

As the recording progresses, the stark apocalyptic ambience that embraces the whole work might come to hang heavily over listeners as well, drawing them into its hellish world where humanity toils in poverty and thrall to an oppressive ideology. The music is in service to the album’s theme from the almost hypnotic tribal drumming to the doom-laden riffs, the resounding doom guitar tones when they occur, the oddly disembodied chanting in parts and the almost hysterical lead and tremolo guitars. The vocals have that warning quality of a prophet come from the wilderness, having received divine messages and now bringing them to the attention of the unbelieving masses. In later parts of the recording, the band make effective use of reverb and space in and around the instrumental passages to suggest the darkness that pervades the world in which the music plays.

Given that this is a debut album, and a concept album as well, you expect there will be flaws here and there, and especially in the danger zone after the halfway mark where filler material is most likely to proliferate. But RLHT have that problem licked with “A Thousand Years of Servitude”, one of the more melodic and emotional songs here. The momentum built up flows into the final track “The Fall” which expresses humanity’s defiance towards a false and weak God that has oppressed people for too long – until now.

Hard to believe that all of this happens in just under 40 minutes: so monumental and epic is this recording that your head feels that it’s been blasted with heavy doom music slabs for twice that length. The story is dark and overwhelming in its sadness but a glimmer of hope appears near the end. This recording is not for the faint of heart but it offers plenty to reward those who can follow it.

Contact: Les Acteurs de l”Ombre Productions

Dark Rituals: steeped in the spirit of DIY black metal and creativity under trying circumstances

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Xarkrinur, Dark Rituals, Psalm 88, cassette Psalm002 (2014)

From Psalm 88, the new sub-label established by Acephale Winter Productions, comes this curious novelty. Xarkrinur is a solo digital black metal project by a 14 or 15-year-old boy calling himself Xyklen who lives in Dhaka, in Bangladesh and “Dark Rituals’ is the debut album. Running at 18 minutes in total, with very modest and minimal artwork to boot, the tape iss certainly worth a small review if only to get a glimpse of how inventive some people in some of the more underprivileged parts of the world can be to express their love of black metal.

The music is not varied and falls into two camps. First track “Forest of Mist” and the title piece represent one side of Xarkrinur: rapid-fire, cheap-sounding tinny and brittle imitation tremolo guitar shredding and rubbery percussion accompanying gravelly mechanical vocals shat by an old IBM mainframe computer afflicted with internal fungal rot. The title piece is slightly more animated than “Forest of Mist” with slightly more organic chant and a definite hacking industrial beat. The other side of Xarkrinur is more steamy bass-heavy music. “When Angels Cry” features a mechanical looping trot and whispery voice: structurally monotonous, it does sound amateurish. The final long track, taking up the whole B-side of the tape, is a bleary depressive BM work of simple droning loop, distorted reverb wobble and slack percussion. Concentrate on the background texture and you will find it interesting and hypnotic; over the course of the track, the wobble background, distorted electro-industrial in sound and texture, is very entrancing.

If it had been billed as blackened industrial, this tape might have had a higher profile. As it is, because all the music, black metal in style and attitude though it be, was done entirely with digital electronics, it is not completely accepted in various metal and black metal circles. Apart from that issue which is certain to become a major one as more people try to recreate the black metal sound and attitude using non-metal instrumentation and techniques, this little tape definitely shows black metal and depressive doom influences on one side and industrial ambient trance on the other. By no means is this release great but it’s steeped in the spirit of lo-fi DIY punk and black metal, and our man Xyklen (well he will be once he’s old enough to get his driving licence and voter’s card) shows much ingenuity in using crappy electronics to create work that can be surprisingly atmospheric and stylistically striking.

Contact: Psalm 88

The Stolen Bacillus

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Three cassettes from Jeff Surak‘s Zeromoon label in Chevy Chase arrived 24 February 2014. Two of them have unique hand-torn collage covers and they all exist in very small editions. The one by Jeff himself, credited to J. Surak, is called Skull Cloud (ZERO 160) and features a long live recording made at The Pyramid Atlantic in 2013, which passes on a vision of Jeff on stage performing a miniature firework display – he’s surrounded by pops, bangs and whizzes all happening at once in a vaguely structured patterns, the fizzing spew occasionally punctuated by random voice samples from TV. From this chaotic sprawl, musical and sonic information gradually assembles itself into coherent shapes, like pieces of a cosmic jigsaw. The B side contains three dark-mode tracks, including the title track and ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Etude #43′, and these represent his characteristic sinister electronic droning work, the monochrome and unbroken surfaces broken up by distortion effects or diabolical pulsating tones, and underpinned with an abiding sense of inescapable terror at all times. Small wonder that many regard him as Chester Hawkins’ evil twin brother.

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Salarymen is the duo of Jeff Surak with his friend Gary Rouzer. It seems they both have day jobs in Washington DC and on their lunch breaks they set up their spontaneous “electro-acoustic events” on traffic islands, street corners, or nearby certain popular landmarks and monuments in that city. 1 They then proceed to make sound art using their small electrified objects, and the whole mess – including plenty of external traffic sound, sirens, chattering voices of the populace and made even some stray radio waves – is recorded and served up for us to enjoy on Out To Lunch (ZERO 156). The creators are proposing “a different kind of urban music”, and it’s certainly something I would like to align with the work of Zan Hoffman or Aki Onda, both wild creators who make strong use of found sounds and the sounds from the street. The title is also something that cuts both ways – they did it on their lunch breaks, but the phrase also means “crazy”, particularly in the mouth of a jazz hipster who I assume was saying it long before it became codified as the title of one of Eric Doplhy’s finest LPs. Crazy this tape most certainly is, but also highly compelling to listen to, a continuous stream of fascinating, messy, semi-ordered aural information. Recommended; if you can’t buy the cassette tape, the music is free to download at freemusicarchive and at archive.org.

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Back to J. Surak solo now for his Harmonium Bacterium (ZERO 158). This is two side-long suites called ‘Mectpyo’ and ‘Seesawa’. The A side is an alarming series of scuzzy long-form noise tones that gradually resolve themselves into harmonic forms, making their way through a whirlpool of echo effects, while the slow back-and-forth internal rhythm of the piece resembles waves breaking against the shore – except the ocean has strangely turned into treacle, so it’s all happening very slowly. I’m disappointed to learn he didn’t play this using an actual “Harmonium Bacterium”, an instrument which in my imagination would be a bellows-driven keyboard that is capable of infecting the musician with nine types of lethal bacteria, the combinations and doses he receives directly aligned with the chords he plays, allowing the deadly viruses to pass through the keys into his fingertips. Instead all the music is made with a modified autoharp and something called a Califone, which I find is simply the brandname of a particular manufacturer and could apply to anything from effects pedals to computer microphones. An impressive piece of process-based sound art, realised using a lot of intuitive methods to produce highly painterly effects in sound. The B side is strangely enough somewhat more approachable, and presents a monotone chord in a sumptuous drone, as if Surak were shooting for a one-man version of old Vibracathedral Orchestra records. It’s here that the autoharp origins of the piece become more conspicuous, where on the A side they are heavily disguised.

  1. It may be significant that it’s one of the few American cities I have visited that I found at all pedestrian-friendly; in fact it’s feasible to spend the day walking around the centre.

Temples of Boom

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Hati
Wild Temple
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO062 CD (2013)

First exposure to the sleeve photos and text and it seems clear that Hati come on like some kind of three-man Z’EV 1. What looks like a collection of at least one example of every kind of struck metal percussion fills the dank chambers of “Fort I”, wherever that is. On the cover is a photograph of the multifarious percussion objects set up inside the fort, windows open, in daylight. Inside, the mood is sombre with a shot from the same position with Slawek Ciesielski, Rafal Iwanski and Rafal Kolacki poised mid-strike over same instruments, shadows threatening to subsume everything. The sounds issuing forth from the disc contribute in no small part to the feeling of unease and foreboding. Relentless hammering, skilled and unskilled, contradicting rhythms, splashes of cymbals and gongs, tam-tam, bells chime ominously – this urgent and dangerous music (or something close to it) could have been performed centuries ago. Martial drums, spindly rattling – this is the sound of collapse, mental and physical. What have we done to deserve this treatment? Like the sound of invading Vikings in the moments before they stepped on our shores for the very first time.

The third piece, “Wild Temple”, is a more sedate affair although this quasi-Imperialist Western idea of co-opting the spirituality and perceived aura of peace and restfulness of temples (from ANY religion) is slightly misleading. How different would this music be if it was performed in a Methodist church in Merthyr? Or even the Burgess Hill Tesco’s aisle 10? Not very, I suspect.

By track six, “The Last Breath Of Ra”, it has become an out of control machine; an industrial lathe or machine vice. Not until the final track, “Limbus”, does the onslaught stop. “Limbus” is closer to what you’d expect from a Nonesuch Explorer lp of gamelan music. Its steady minimal melodic clusters – although to describe it as melodic may be pushing it slightly – bring the listener down and back up to earth. Whatever, this sure is 51 minutes of essential listening. Immerse yourself in a world devoid of file formats, processing speeds, hard disc options and the like; this is timeless pure analogue music, simultaneously advanced and primitive; only the sound of wood hitting metal sounds this evocative.

  1. Interestingly, Hati have collaborated with Z’EV on the album Collusion on the Belgian Idiosyncratics label, which came out in 2013. It was described here by Michael Holland as “death-gamelan”. Appealing.

Insertion Loss

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Héctor Rey is the owner of Nueni Records, who sent us his label’s first release After (NUENI #000) from Berlin in January 2014, though he also has a base in Bilbao. Maybe he picked up the “Anti-Copyright” approach from Bilbao’s famed dissident activist, Mattin; at any rate he encourages sharing and downloading of all of the content he’s produced to date. After is a contemporary improv team-up featuring Ilia Belorukov along with three players who I think are all Polish – the percussionist Harpakahylo, the saxophonist Patryk Lichota, and Kim Nasung (i.e. Mateusz Bakala), who is one of those genre-straddling sound artists interested in electro-acoustic, noise and field recordings but on this occasion settles for playing the guzheng. Result – 15 minutes of very good rough-edged and lively acoustic tumbles through semi-hostile terrain, where every sound stands out crisply as a stalk of crunchy celery and every detail of the topography of the landscape can be felt by your sensitive bare feet. None of your over-processed ambient drones here…in fact that’s a style of music which Héctor Rey personally deplores, to the extent that he explicitly requests that no submissions of this nature be sent to his door – an attitude which does him credit.

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Luminance Ratio are an Italian four-piece who have been releasing an intriguing series of seven-inch splits lately, doing so with Oren Ambarchi, Steve Roden and Yannis Kyriakides. These were released under the joint impress of Fratto 9 and Kinky Gabber. Their Reverie (BOCIAN RECORDS bcLR) album is a showcase for their contemplative, slightly drifty mode of working with guitars, electronics and percussion, producing a somewhat more approachable and less mannered version of Polwechsel. Their somnolent track titles – ‘Comatose’, ‘Before The Dawn’, ‘In Dreams’ – are clear indexes of their underlying preoccupation with Morpheus and all his doings, and the semi-melodic syrupy music drapes itself over your body like a fine silken sheet. All the pleasant Slumberland cuts are arranged on side one, while side two exhibits a vague darkening of the mood, realised through more distortion, vaguely disquieting background sounds, and a general uncertainty in the playing. Nuits Blanches A Suivre…from January 2014.

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Drag your carcass through a splendid set of dark ambient lo-fi experimental noise drone on the album Blacked Out Passages (VISCERAL MEDIA RECORDS vmr009), a dank and scarifying broth produced by the husband and wife team who call themselves Lost Trail. So much atmosphere on here you could cover a 20-acre farm in deep fog and still have enough left over to create a thick pea-souper in a Sherlock Holmes TV episode. Chilling use of voice samples they do make; I myself have a real soft spot for this sort of lost and forlorn music where recorded and distorted voices struggle to make their messages heard, murmuring like ghosts in a swirling mist. Zachary Corsa and Denny Wilkerson Corsa hand-craft their effects by wisely eschewing modern technology, with its digital methods, over-familiar sounds and multiple presets. Instead, they favour old analogue equipment and obsolete recording devices, working hard (hopefully in a derelict garage at midnight) to create their own personal badging of the lo-fi aesthetic. The wispy and genuinely haunting music is supplemented with pianos, organs, and guitar drones, plus stray field recordings, all layered into an intricate collage assemblage. Fans of Philip Jeck will appreciate their use of tape loops and distressed old recordings, and in some ways it might be convenient to regard Lost Trail as a more benign and humanistic version of Crawling With Tarts, another duo who were preoccupied with abandoned records and malfunctioning equipment, but who usually finished up making very sinister and obsessive statements on record. Lost Trail do not dwell exclusively in the twilight zone however, and those with a taste for the strong meat of loud guitar noise should enjoy the roaring tones of ‘Rooftops / Spires / Valleys’. For me though this record is at its strongest when it exhibits its delicate and fragile side, instantly summoning up vistas of snowy landscapes and abandoned cities, while the forgotten voices and footsteps of the past echo around in melancholic fashion. Genuinely moving and heartfelt music. Arrived 3rd February 2014.

Placebo Earplug Fire

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We’ve heard from Chester Hawkins in his Blue Sausage Infant guise, most recently with Manitou (a deranged bad acid trip of heavy drone) and Negative Space (his twisted take on dark progressive rock); both involved collaboration with other players, but Semisolids (INTANGIBLE ARTS IA016) has been released under his own name, and every sound was produced by Hawkins alone, plus he did the cover design and wrote the texts too. The album is terrific – a great slab of grisly, monotonous thumping and drones, shot throughout with semi-evil vibes and palpable atmospheres. If I can go off on a tangent, I’m reading the David Stubbs book on Krautrock 1 just now and Stubbs observes how one of the achievements of German 1970s underground music was the persistent attempts to escape the clichés and restrictions of blues-based rock music and its four beats to the bar patterns…a trait which manifests itself in exciting ways across the music of Can, Neu!, and most especially Faust. It’s a quality which Hawkins – a known and self-confessed Krautrock fan – might well be trying to emulate on his album, especially the first two tracks here ‘Iodine’ and ‘Nematode’, both of which use endless and primitive repetition which the determination of a mad sewing machine, reprogrammed to go on stitching blindly into an eternal dressmaker’s Hell. Indeed Hawkins’ propensity for pulsing out these delirious, mindlessly throbbing repetitions is stamped across most of this album, and he executes them with tremendous craft and well-honed studio skills…the stereo synth rhythms of ‘Isle of Dogs’, for example, are nothing short of hypnotic, and ‘Proximity Fuze’ wrong-foots the listener at every turn with its intricate network of sequencer patterns. A few tracks buck this trend towards utter simplicity and no-tune dirge and drone effects, such as ‘Malattia del Sonno’ which has an identifiable melody and is explicitly intended as Hawkins’s tribute to Italian horror movie soundtracks of the 1970s; and ‘Slender Loris’, which in the context of the rest of the album’s broody atmosphere emerges as a form of easy-listening electropop with its user-friendly drum machines trying to persuade you that these twisty and windy thin synth shapes that we perceive are not in reality evil serpents dropping from the ceiling to bite your ankles. In his press notes, Hawkins duly acknowledges his debts to Conrad Schnitzler and Cluster, but as ever this shrewd creator from Washington DC continues to assert his own unique identity, stamping it on every note he plays and records. One of his hallmarks is his taste for all that’s macabre and dark, but unlike some strung-out and mournful latterday industrial musician Hawkins remains fundamentally sanguine, and embraces the blackness of everyday living with good humour and gusto. The other subtext to this album is connected with drugs and/or disease, as indicated by the anti-venom serum artworks photographed in lurid film noir shades, and the Burroughs-like texts which sprawl across the folded panels of the digipak, packed with grotesque images plucked from the realm of nightmares. Indeed at times the listener will sensate the experience of a sleepy chloroform trance, as we drink deep from this heady brew. Arrived 21 January 2014.

  1. Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany, Faber.

Through the Fog: a hard plod through black doom music

Though the Fog

Longing and Silence, Through the Fog, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette (2013)

Originally released independently as a demo in 2013, this debut recording of San Francisco Bay Area one-man band Longing and Silence has been picked up by the up-and-coming Sylvan Screams Analog label and turned into an album with an extra track. Now the full glories of LaS can be enjoyed by audiences far beyond the act’s homeland. Well, admittedly these “glories” might take some time to sink in as LaS happens to be one of the more miserable depressive black doom metal bands. Songs proceed at a slow dejected foot-dragging pace, the drumming is drained of life and energy, and mournful buzzing guitars chug away while the harsh rattling vocals sigh and scrape through the lyrics. The atmosphere is a deep black fug through which living things struggle to move or swim. The odd thing about this album is that the sound seems reminiscent of some of the ambient batty acts of the French Black Legions of the mid to late 1990s but that may be an effect, accidental or deliberate, of the quality of the production on the original recording.

Most tracks are fairly long with the shortest at just five minutes if you disregard the short opening track which is called … “Opening”. (Talk about a grand entry!) After this, the album begins its doleful journey in earnest. Tracks are repetitive to the point of monotony although if you listen to each track quite closely, you’ll be surprised at how much change and variation are present in the details of the music. There can be surprisingly melodic moments though they’re hardly likely to have you whistling or tapping your fingers. One track “Wasted Days” could even be a bit rock’n’roll if it were sped up a bit as the solid-as-steel riffs and melodies have a hard edge and their texture has slight crunch. The bass is dominant throughout most tracks which tends to make the music a bit less black metal in sound if not in spirit and concept.

The B-side of the cassette starts off in a more lively manner with bonus track “Sinking Vessel” placed first instead of at the end as is the normal custom with such pieces. A cold space ambience, courtesy of some discreet background synth tones, helps shape the song and provides mystery and depth. The music still plods but not as slowly as before. During instrumental sections, guitars and synth tones share equal time and the duetting is surprisingly affecting and emotional. “Sinking Vessel” could almost pass as potential singles material as there are some very distinctive slash-guitar riffs and the track is song-like in structure. The title track is another highlight here: it’s a  completely ambient piece done with synthesiser and acoustic-music tones and effects highlighted by wistful raindrop guitar notes.

The album could have been edited for length as the repetition and monotony in half the tracks are more off-putting than immersive. I sense that the artist was striving for something to absorb the listener’s attention completely and, since repetition has (too often) been the standard way of mesmerising listeners and opening up their consciousness, used minimal and repetitive music structures to try to achieve that trance result. If it weren’t for the bonus track, the album would be a dreary affair; as it is, there’s more depth to the music and the listener is led to think that there must be much, much more to this LaS act than meets the ear. I certainly think so. It’s too soon to tell with just this one recording whether LaS is rethinking the musical direction taken with this depressive black doom style or plans to plunge ahead farther into the thick dark clouds of melancholy and repetition.

Contact: Longing and SilenceSylvan Screams Analog,

Cold Comfort

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Various
Vernacular
JAPAN WHEREABOUTS RECORDS WHACD-13 (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: The Tapeworm