Tagged: drone

Circle of Light: a low-key abstract soundtrack of beauty and imagination

Delia Derbyshire and Elsa Stansfield, Circle of Light, United Kingdom, Trunk Records, JBH061CD (2016)

From the deft fingers of Delia Derbyshire, the British electronic music pioneer who gave the world the original spooky version of the Doctor Who TV series theme music, comes this soundtrack to a half-hour film made in 1972 by photographer Pamela Bone. When first released, this film “Circle of Light” appeared in a number of film festivals around the world and was noted for Bone’s photographs placed on glass transparencies which were arranged in a slideshow structure to conform to a narrative detailing themes of nature favoured by Bone. These days the actual film itself is secondary to the abstract music soundtrack composed by Derbyshire and Stansfield, not least because the music is said to be the longest sound recording known to have been made by Derbyshire.

After a brief introductory description by film director / art collector Anthony Roland of Bone’s work and Bone’s artistic statement, the music launches on a journey that’s remarkably ethereal, controlled and restrained, and eerie and spacious. There are various spacey and alien effects and much is made of musique concrete recordings using nature-based sources, all of which contribute to the music’s strange and sometimes sinister qualities. Birdsong occasionally adds a cheerful mood in some parts but otherwise the soundtrack is a serene and steady work.

One definitely has the impression of being absorbed into a world of weird yet beautiful and quiet stately landscapes populated by exotic birds and animals that might have escaped from an imperial menagerie of unimagined rich strangeness. Long-lasting wind storms sigh through misty regions where life may be glimpsed through clouds of water vapour and thick bush. Insects sing their complex rhythmic songs. In the second half of the album the music drones become more threatening and the mood is sombre but tension eventually dissipates.

There are few recordings like this one where the music allows, even encourages listeners to run their own abstract art films behind their eyes and between their ears. This must be part of the genius of Derbyshire, that however strange or abstract her music is, her ego never dominates but instead allows the listener’s imagination to take her music and make something of it particular to that person.

Light in the Sky

Here’s another solo cassette by Alwanzatar, Oslo’s one-man version of Gong, whom we last heard in May 2016 and his tape Archaic Mysteries Of Ecstasy. Where that release featured a lot of ritualistic mystery chants and strange archaic vocalisms, Live Ritual Proceedings Vol. III (UNDERJORDISKOTEKET UJD 005) is more musical and showcases his skills on a range of droning synthesisers. Among these are vintage instruments such as the Arp Odyssey, the Moog Minitaur, and the Korg SQ-1, fit to make any collector of retro keyboards fall to their knees in envy. Alwanzatar however doesn’t neglect the drum machine, and his approach to cosmic space drone is enabled considerably by the mesmerising rhythm patterns which he programmes into each performance. Accordingly, both these side-long performances from 2015 are compelling and enjoyable voyages into outer galaxies; where Hawkwind would have travelled to the same places in a huge inter-galactic cruiser with 18 stories and thousands of passengers on board, Alwanzatar gets there in his personal flying flivver powered by a single motor, enjoying the views of astral splendour outside his perspex dome. Even the cover art with its simple drawing and hand-lettering attests to this creator’s modest ambitions. While this may not be essential listening, I like the simplicity and directness of Krizla’s music; the sounds are good, there’s a clarity to the performance and its intention, and he remains dedicated to completing the task, no matter how long it takes. There’s also a strong sense of optimism and positive vibes from these cosmic drones. Very good. From 19th August 2016.

Drei, He Said

At first glance, the European trio Bader Motor may appear to be offering us nothing more than a very knowing take on Krautrock records, with their obvious quotes from Kraftwerk and Neu! LPs, and probably other Germanic references too. However, I’ll forgive any project which has Fred Bigot as a member, considering my fondness for his solo records where he mixes electronic noise with rockabilly in a highly enjoyable manner. not to mention the unusual Melt Famas record with its over-amped guitars and drums. Bader Motor are Bigot with Arnaud Maguet and Vincent Epplay – the latter played with Jac Berrocal and David Fenech – and the three have appeared together before on Musique Pour Les Plantes Des Dieux in 2009. This record, Drei drei drei (VEALS & GEEKS VAGO17 / LES DISQUES EN ROTIN REUNIS LDRR #056), not only has the clever Krautrock pastiches assembled by these French wags, but also offers their slightly sardonic version of electropop, disco, and general Euro-murk – the sort of banal aural wallpaper that might blight your continental tour at any point between the airport, the shopping mall and the cafe. This may be what the threesome have in mind when they speak of “a new class of space [rock] and Riviera Krautrock”. Riviera Krautrock?! What does that even mean? I can’t think of anything worse than experimental music recast as another consumer / lifestyle option for the “Riviera set”, those rich buffoons wearing expensive sunglasses and swimsuits, if indeed such a thing even exists any more outside of 1960s travelogue movies, but I’m prepared to believe Bader Motor are up to something vaguely subversive and sarcastic. As it turns out, this LP is an enjoyable listen with its edgy mix of user-friendly beats and melodic drones combined with odd, queasy noises, rough textures, and outpourings of filtered glorp. From 12th August 2016; available as an LP or download.

Nelson’s Column

Over one hour of heavy drone-grind can be yours for price of First (PICA DISK PICA038), the debut “proper” album by the young American musician Benjamin Nelson. Nelson comes from Boston, a city known for breeding wild and woolly types who would smash your face in for the price of a cold beer, and his ferocious escapades have spread consternation throughout that city. Small wonder he moved to Oslo, where he currently operates, since the Norwegians are capable of processing insane, lawless behaviour without letting it trouble their benign, Nordic composure (many of them are secretly chaos wizards in disguise). In Oslo, Nelson’s black brooding countenance must have come to the attention of Lasse Marhaug, a known magnet for freaks.

This is my way of explaining the release of first on Lasse’s Pica Disk label. It’s an intense marathon of remorseless, slow, torture…somewhat like enduring a disc-grinder applied to your skin in slow motion. Yowch. Stylistically, Nelson professes an interest in “reductionistic” techniques for electronic music, which is a fancy way of saying he’s doing as little as possible and peeling away any extraneous effects, leaving nothing but a coarse and ragged bone behind. In terms of his compositional approach, his starting point involves all sorts of discomforting ideas, including “perception of time”, “interference patterns”, and “hearing fatigue”. He’s also preoccupied by the idea of rooms, in this case meaning a room which you can’t bear to be inside, and wish to leave as soon as you possibly can.

In fine, Nelson is out to punish the listener six ways from Sunday…using every possible perceptual sense against you, turning your hearing against you, and inducing states of claustrophobia and mentalhealthupdate.com psychological anxiety. Hard to credit he cites Eliane Radigue as an influence, since her minimal drones are usually so benign and meditative, where Nelson is clearly out to destroy the human frame with his pathological ways, and won’t leave you any room to think while he’s doing it. Matter of fact he’s proud to abandon all of that airy-fairy “pseudo spirituality” as he calls it, and won’t let the listener off the hook with “passive listening”. No curling up on the big cushion for you…you must face the harsh truth of this “objective listening”, which resolutely refuses to become transcendent art in any shape or form, insisting on its own coarsely textured materiality.

Nelson is also a trained cellist and lent his bowing skills to Cold Pin, a composition by fellow New Englander Eli Keszler. Since discovering his taste for severe electronic drone, he self-released a few items on his own behalf, with foreboding titles such as Life In Blue and Gray and Heat Field Modulation For Pathetic String And Electronics…there was also a very limited cassette called Two Rooms For Four Tones. But these weighed in at 30 minutes. If you want to experience the full hour of death by abrasive noise, then First is the one for you. When I put it like that, it’s hard to resist, isn’t it? All black CD presented in a near-black cover, where only the author name and title are barely visibly printed in varnish. A drone to destroy all drones…buy it now and never smile again. From 9th August 2016.

Benjamin Nelson’s Soundcloud page

Jemh and the Holograms

Jemh Circs
Jemh Circs
GERMANY CELLULE 75 CELL-1 LP (2016)

Jemh Circs is the latest alias of Marc Richter, the producer also known as Black to Comm. For this project, Richter has gone poking about in YouTube and Spotify with his special record-producing scissors, snipping out countless vocal samples from contemporary pop songs and stitching them all together in nine brightly-coloured, glittering patchwork quilts of pop/drone/ambience.

The overall effect is quite remarkable. Each track is like a hologram of pop music itself, a tiny part that reflects the whole. You almost feel that you could open them out and re-create entire popular music cultures. We’ll be grateful for that when the next solar storm fries all of our hard drives.

Opening track ‘Comp’ sets the pace, a blend of autotuned spirit voices, alien transmissions and sentient machine chatter that, somehow, still sounds like pop music. ‘Ordre’ takes it further, the invisible choir ascending in pitch across static bursts and bleached-out beats that nibble away at the edge of your awareness. ‘Va’ sends a kosmische synth fragment through a series of bizarre mutations, whilst ‘Arbre’ provides another synth figure that you might think you’ve heard before, somewhere. Possibly in a dream you had after a heavy night at a Cinderella Rockefella’s disco in 1984.

All of the tracks, incidentally, have these terse, one-word titles. It seems to be a bit of a thing these days, and I kind of like the no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it feel they provide. I very much like what Richter has created here. Seek it out, dive in and enjoy.

Mules Of The Sea

Last heard from Ted Lee, one of the luminaries behind the Feeding Tube Records label, in October 2016 with his bizarre solo record made as No Sod. I’m still trying to come to terms with that spontaneous explosion of free noise and art music, but while I’m trying I have this new LP Dream Away Lodge (FTR269) by Donkey No No to assuage my wounds and soothe my brow. On it, Ted Lee supplies percussion by bowing his cymbals, while joined by two mostly-acoustic players – the guitarist Omeed Goodarzi and the violinist Jen Gelineau. Omeed Goodarzi has been associated with Midi & The Modern Dance and Ivan Ooze, while Gelineau from Holyoke in MA has performed on a large number of records by Egg, Eggs, the sprawling and prolific New England free noise combo.

Dream Away Lodge is quite a different proposition to the far-out No Sod record, and indeed in places it’s quite tasteful and introspective, where No Sod is brash and outspoken. A melancholic tone permeates both sides of this continual low-key rippling drone music, recorded at a place called Dream Away Lodge in Massachusetts in 2015, and for some reason it casts the impression of being recorded in near-darkness or by candlelight. Omeed Goodarzi’s acoustic guitar work is probably the most conventional element in the trio, and for a few seconds on side A we could almost be hearing an acoustic Led Zeppelin bootleg. He provides most of the structure and form to the A side, his simple chord shapes and figures forming a prop for the other two to drape their solos and noises. I like Gelineau’s tone and her sound, and she finally has a chance to shine (Egg, Eggs sessions seem to be just a free-for-all wrestling match) with her playing; her chilling music greets you like the icy stare from the Victorian portrait of a long-dead ancestor. Her echo effect on the B side is delicious, contributing a vaguely “kosmische” vibe to the music; Tangerine Dream music played on violins instead of mellotrons.

As for Lee, his metallic shimmers are positively restrained, adding just the right degree of improvised noise to these semi-melodic fugues. The team cohere well on these two sides, and even if the music seems to go for longer than it should, this is part of the improv-only deal in this context – you have to take everything or nothing. When Donkey No No get themselves into a good space, they pretty much stay there for 15-20 mins. Since 2015, they’ve already released 11 other recordings, mostly in tiny editions on cassette or acetates. The cover, screenprinted by Neil Burke from a photo by Lauri McNamara, is quite a strong point; it’s printed in just the right shade of “mellow brown” to match the music, reminding me of the Fairfield Parlour cover (or perhaps the 1971 LP by Master’s Apprentices on Regal Zonophone). I don’t know much about the donkey in the picture, except it’s made of metal and joins them on their performances and presumably gave the band their name. From 27 June 2016, limited to 100 copies.

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).