Tagged: drone

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.

Moroccan Oil

Last noted Gaap Kvlt with his 2014 record Void; here he is again on the same label with Jinn (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 123-2). Gaap Kvlt affects an air of mystery, so we don’t know if it’s just one person or a group, though they display a penchant for esoteric pseudo-ceremonial drone and solemn techno beats in line with other releases on this Polish label. Jinn is vaguely trying to make some statement about the “sun-baked Moroccan deserts”, and possibly referring obliquely to the writings of American ex-pat writer Paul Bowles, who lived in Tangier for most of his life. I confess to knowing little about the work of this writer, though I appreciate there’s an aura of cultishness about him and his works that attracts some; it may be his sheer isolatedness, the fact that he couldn’t really connect to modern life and lived in solitude.

Gaap Kvlt doesn’t make much of an effort to interpret or explain Bowles’ work, but that may not be the point of the record. Its maker or makers trade in deeply mysterious ambient drones and atmospheres, occasionally propelled by implacable processed drum beats; apparently much of the fabric was derived from field recordings made in North Africa. The cover design by Mirt does its best to capture the essence of a Moorish mosaic. The “Jinn” of the title meanwhile probably refers to a demon or spirit found in Arabian and Islam mythology, and the track titles refer occasionally to prayer and to death, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Content-wise, this is something of a pan-cultural stew, with shallow and non-specific allusions to matters which have not been well understood or digested. Musically, the record has its moments, but the unremittingly self-important tone becomes wearisome. From 4th July 2016.

The Blue Capsule

Pastoral label Serein from Wales have been home to some delicate but occasionally beautiful electronica records of late, including the sumptuous countryside fantasies of Huw Roberts who plays as Hidden Rivers. The label has recently issued a compilation featuring 16 new cuts from many of the names on its roster, and packaged the results as Orbital Planes & Passenger Trains Vol. 1 (SERE010). The idea behind this release is threefold – it’s a comp you can play on your headphones during your daily commute; it can relax the mind and body; and it can stimulate the imagination. As to the first theme, a few of the track titles are vaguely associated with “places”, if not with the actual act of travel. As to the third theme, the heavily-processed ambient drone music that greets our ears for most of this album might be an appropriate soundtrack for you to conjure up imaginary worlds, some of them with an idyllic science fiction undercurrent, such as the ‘Floating City’ of Dan Abrams, the ‘87 Billion Suns’ of Strie, or the ‘Solaris’ tune by Yui Onodera & Chihei Hatakeyama. As to the second theme, the entire album does indeed have the declared effect: “will calm the mind and soothe the spirit”. It’s not all soothing electronica and processed loops though, and those with a taste for calming piano fugues can enjoy the acoustic piano work of Otto A Totland, who features on two tracks here. Nothing wrong with all this ultra-pleasant and soft-focussed music, although for me the most successful piece here for me is ‘A Lightless Volume Of Water’ by Donato Wharton, the Cardiff prodigy who grew up in Stuttgart and enjoys a successful career there in sound design and underground digital music. His cut has a little more by way of light and shade and occupies a psychologically ambiguous area, unlike the other wistful and sunlit pieces here. From 6th July 2016; available as a vinyl release, and a luxury edition with a screenprint (CD edition is sold out).

Put Me On The Pan

On Human Of Stow (TUTORE BURLATO #05), the irrepressible eccentric Dan Melchior turns in a perplexing two-parter of far-out proportions, using electronic music and voice elements. A lost Creel Pone masterpiece emerges from his gifted hands, and mouth. And the additional contributions of Emily Bobb and Glen-Rodman-Melchoir play a part too. These unsettling analogue synth puffs, combined with wayward drones and errant popping squeals of noise, create a miasma of swamp-like dimensions in short order, causing the innocent wayfarer to lose their way in among the swirls of green fog and seemingly endless roadway, unwinding against an uncertain tilted horizon. We’ve enjoyed this English performer’s highly quirky approach to songwriting, on such albums as Catbirds and Cardinals, but Human Of Stow reveals his talent for abstract art music of a highly labyrinthine nature. I’d almost forgotten he teamed up with Ezio Piermattei, who sent me all these cassettes and probably runs the label too. The results of their collaboration were released as My Dance The Skull MDTS10, noted here in 2015. Great cover painting to this cassette is also by Dan; kind of Paul Klee meets The Beano.

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Cracked Barrell

Occupying a not-dissimilar zone of turf to the previous item is the Final Seed / Dylan Nyoukis split cassette (TUTORE BURLATO #08). On the A side by Final Seed, there may be electronic music, keyboard drones, samples and tape manipulation going on in this slow-moving procession of surrealism, and it’s doubtful whether even the creator himself knows for sure. This was recorded in 2015 at Mankato in Minnesota. Strangely beautiful music leaks out, surfacing to the top of confusing swirl of strange, alienating noises and absurdist treatments. I like the way the mood veers from feeling humourous and slightly silly to something verging on the edge of an industrial nightmare, often doing so in the space of seconds. The episodic, drifting nature of this dual-layered suite is really something to savour; a compelling dreamy fugue of stitched-together notions and jottings. Final Seed may be Jameson Sweiger and has released a few obscure cassettes for Fag Tapes, Alien Passengers and Chocolate Monk since 2009.

The side by Dylan Nyoukis has been derived from earlier works, a trilogy of cassette-with-poster limited edition releases from 2014 and 2015 called Encephalon Cracks Volumes 1 to 3, which appeared on his own Chocolate Monk label. For this tape, presumably some form of distillation, cutting-up, reworking or radical reprocessing of the sources has been executed, but I never heard the originals of those highly obscure items, so who knows? While there’s some characteristically unsettling vocal chatter at the start of this tape, for the most part it comprises minimal variations on an electronic drone pattern, to create a mesmerising force-field of blocky anti-energy that draws its listeners into a trance by dint of its fascinating monotony. It’s almost brutally single-minded and machine-like, apparently executed with a blithe indifference to its audience.

The above notes about TUTORE BURLATO #08 are provisional, since my raves may be applying to the wrong sides. In my defence, it’s impossible to tell. The pink cassette is issued with no labels, or any distinguishing marks allowing us to tell Side A from Side B; this is probably the way they like it, since it adds to the general air of disorientation and confusion.

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

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.

Storm Force Ten

Regular readers will have noticed a couple of reissues of recent-ish Norman Westberg CDRs which have been coming out from Room 40 in Australia. Here is Westberg with an all-new solo album The All Most Quiet (HG1605), released on the Swiss label Hallow Ground, current home to Andrew Liles and Colin Potter, as well as the unusual experimental dub combo Driftmachine (noted here). The press notes are keen to point out how Norman Westberg can be seen as “the quiet one” in Swans, a band notable for their punishing high volume and uncompromising stance on stage (apparently they are still touring), and The All Most Quiet showcases two examples of Westberg’s ingenious and single-minded approach to the generation of rich but simple guitar drones, enriched with multiple layers and textures, but somehow retaining a calm and focused centre in the middle of a small, controlled storm of sound. The seamless production of the title track is astonishing in its near-perfection, the burnished and blended guitars creating an intense sensation of some implacable benign force, like a mist of gas slowly descending over the listener’s body, and hopefully not producing any unexpected side effects such as in The Incredible Shrinking Man. The second cut ‘Sound 2’ is somewhat more agitated and achieves its desired goals through the use of loops and repetition, the rotating soft wheels of sound making their insistent statements with a strange urgency. Both tracks go for the long duration marathon (19 mins apiece), but don’t just fill up empty space with meaningless blocks of sound; Westerberg gives you a lot of content, and a lot of variation, never short-changing the listener. A thoroughly mesmerising maximal record that saturates the brain like a sponge dipped in red ink. Vinyl and CD editions available. From 25 May 2016.

Colour Organ

Last noted American composer Celer (Will Long) with his Akagi loop piece, a highly meditational drone work made from loops…Inside The Head Of Gods (TWO ACORNS 2A10) is equally serene and beautiful minimal music, this time made with an organ, and integrated with an exhibition of paintings by the Japanese artist Taichi Kondo, whose brushwork adorns the cover to this release. Will Long was inspired by Kondo’s paintings, and found himself with a wealth of ideas for how to represent them in music – perhaps too many ideas, with a variety of lengths, timbres, structures and volumes. He wanted to represent the truth of Kondo’s work in a way that would sound appropriate in a gallery setting, so he made the decision to simplify everything and simply use only the first piece he recorded – these 20 minutes of organ music. Now segmented into ten episodes, the final result is a master-stroke of understatement, and the stricture instructing us to “listen at medium volume” means we can enjoy a gentle but insistent ambient experience which drifts in and out of consciousness, occasionally coming into focus as needed. Fitting for the “pictorial” theme, it does indeed convey a sensation of “colour” somehow, perhaps through the warm tones of the organ. Celer is convinced it’s a distillation of his earlier unused experiments from this project, and finds that “all of those elements from before were actually there, just in a similar form of each other, rather than separated.” A simple delight from 25 May 2016.

Sound In Space

Here’s a cassette tape / download release from A Guide To Saints, a new child label of Lawrence English’s Room 40 label. White On White (SNT016) is a mega-drone special by An Infinity Room, one of the projects / aliases of Julian Day. Day is not only a composer, but also a writer, artist, and broadcaster – who has appeared on BBC Radio 3 over here, but also has his own show on ABC Classic FM, called New Music Up Late. He’s interviewed a number of important and influential contemporary musicians.

On White On White, his debut recording under this project name, we have three pieces he recorded in Sydney, made using analogue synths which are yoked together to produce rich and sumptuous drones. I think the main thing is that the work is supposed to be played in a room space, and there’s a sizeable list of various art galleries and contemporary art spaces and music venues where An Infinity Room has manifested itself. “Rooms within rooms”, is how he summarises the aim of these long-form drones; it’s something to do with charging the air around the room with “highly active vibratory fields”. As with many such large-scale, real-world art pieces, it really needs to take place in a large physical space, and might not successfully translate onto CD, let alone a cassette, but the music is still pleasing to listen to even if it doesn’t manage to “power up” your room space. On the other hand, if played loud and long enough, the desired results may yet be achieved. At over 45 minutes, the first piece ‘Intercessions’, which occupies all of side one of the tape, stands a good chance of shifting your body into the zone.

Day achieves this through something to do with geometry and numbers. The drones are generated using “simple algorithmic patterns” to trigger the notes on the synthesizers, a process which is explained here in any depth, but may involve an understanding of arithmetic or number theory. Musical historians have long understood the proposals of Pythagoras in this context, and numbers have formed the basis for the entire Western system of tuning, at least until the 20th century when various conceptual mavericks (Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, Harry Partch) challenged it. Julian Day would be happy to achieve a “turbulent geometry” in the room when he plays back his long drones, a fanciful concept which to me suggests that even the rules of architecture are being undermined in some way.

These ideas are interesting, but White On White is far from an essential listen on today’s spin. Day doesn’t improve on the work of the American Minimalists, and indeed his rather tentative and twee-sounding chords with their highly synthetic sound might be seen as something of a backward step. None of the pieces develop at all during their long duration, apart from some very subtle changes in the patterns of notes, and I’m not feeling the sublimation of transcendence, still less the “deeply embodied psychoacoustic experience” promised by the press notes. From 27 June 2016.