Tagged: drone

Bells Never End

Andreas Usenbenz
Bells Breath
GERMANY KLANGGOLD KG021 LP (2017)

Though frequently indistinguishable from one another, drone and ambient recordings are often categorised in terms of tonality and resultant emotionality; ‘dark’, ‘blissful’, ‘atonal’ and so on. Notable for its indifference towards such niceties, Andreas Usenbenz’s Bells Breath explicitly positions itself within the frame of early 1960s Minimal Art and its abandonment of pre-existing frames of reference in order to provide a fresh experience of art as one of ‘self-awareness on behalf of the audience’. I have to confess to being confused by this description, as it sounds uncomfortably similar to the kind of rationale employed to promote bible-based ecclesiastical dogma in pre-literate societies. Is it a sly dig at the religious pretensions of self-appointed ‘experts’ in the art industry?

Deeper theological mysteries might be discerned in the two sides of this clear vinyl artefact, which are inhabited by a Holy Trinity of pieces of a cold, metallic aspect akin to Jacob Kirkegaard’s otological ilk: endless glacial, hypnotic whorl set out to either sedate and stupefy listeners into catatonic passivity (a mission it manages in mere minutes on this chilly, grey day at least) or to convey them into a realm of supra-linguistic contemplation. Either effect is complemented by the record’s situation between four black-and-cloudy ‘art print’ panels that telegraph the music’s sublime and mundane effects.

As the title suggests, Usenbenz fashioned the piece for an installation from recordings of bells tolling in the Minster church in Ulm, Germany, to mark the 125th anniversary of the church spire’s completion. He follows a familiar process of layering the decelerated tonal recordings to achieve a deepening effect – though to these ears one more akin to an opiate of the masses than the gesture of heaven-bound ascension that might better befit the piece’s architectural paradigm. That said, the Minster church is a Lutheran one, so a protestant might conceivably argue that Usenbenz’s pensive radiations are better suited to a more critical theology than that provided by the pomp and drama of Catholicism. Either way, it makes for a captivating listen, however many such records one has listened to.

Contusion

On Zashomon (HYBRIDA 06), we’ve got an exciting team-up between Miguel A. García and Japanese player Seijiro Murayama. Seijiro used to be the drummer in Absolut Null Punkt (or A.N.P.) in the 1980s, performing with the ferocious guitar monster K.K. Null, to produce some memorable LPs of experimental rock noise. He’s also performed with Keiji Haino, Fred Frith, and Tom Cora, and more recently teamed up with contemporary French improvisers and composers, including Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Stéphane Rives, and Eric Cordier. Zashomon plays as a continuous 40-minute piece, although the track titles indicate a four-part structure to the work, including the intriguing third episode ‘One Perjury’…both players credit themselves with “electro acoustic composition”, and in places it does feel quite pre-arranged; the work is full of carefully managed changes and shifts in tone, allowing for quieter events to contrast with the continual stretched of rich electric drone-noise.

Early on there’s a fantastic piece of interplay between drums, synths quietly pulsating and buzzing, and what may be an electric guitar plucking occasional notes; the dynamics here are astounding, real moments of tension and vast gaps of white space in the puzzling music. After the duo settle for a slightly less bold exploration of textures and drones, but there’s still a lot of air and space in the music (especially compared with García’s default position which is to try and occupy as much space as possible), and there’s a taut mystery in the air. Murayama shows his mettle; he has that iron discipline that allows a musician to create a stern, unwavering sound, and keep the emotional register carefully in check. Consequently, his minimal percussion stabs ring out like hailstones on a wintry day, and his alien voice – a bullfrog’s murmur slowed down to the rate of a creeping snail – add a terrifying dimension to the record. At times, García is almost relegated to the position of an admiring acolyte kneeling before the feet of this high priest of minimal improvisation.

The bulk of the record presents a close-up and intimate study of…something, perhaps the craggy face of a lost tribesman or the details of an ancient monument, but it ends with about ten minutes of glorious release which creates a near-epiphany; off-centred drumming, an eerie but uplifting layered noise which may be erupting from the clouds like mutated thunder, and twisted vocal whoops from the Japanese half of the act. A very strong combination and collaboration, packed with strikingly original sounds and bold playing. Limited to 99 copies. From 19th September 2016.

Driftwood Art

Real fine drone-acious richness from Californian lady Cheryl Leonard on the cassette tape Isinglass (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH?89). She’s known for her “found instruments”, that is objects found in nature which she picks up, takes home, and then presses into service for musical purposes. There’s an endearing photograph (not here) of her playing a large clump of pine cones with a violin bow, and you can imagine her releasing something quite palpable from the grain of that wood. Among the devices on this tape we have a flute made of kelp, a bowl of sand, some wobbly rocks, and instruments made of driftwood – including sculptures in the form of mobiles, and something intriguingly called the “driftwood pipeorgan”, which I would like to think is a row of selected hunks of driftwood found on the beach and arranged in order of size, to form a “tuned” instrument in some way.

Harry Partch woulda loved her. But he might have felt ambivalent about her academic roots, as it turns out she’s studied at Mills College with some of the grandees of 20th century avanterie, including Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski, and George Lewis. But her penchant for Chinese landscapes may have struck a chord with old “white-beard” Partch, and I’m sure the two of them could have shared a cup of green tea in the correct circumstances. On this release, Leonard is joined by Jeph Jerman, a man famed for his cactus-spine playing and other natural found objects being repurposed to make sound or music, so this really is a match made in the spheres. Bryan Day, label owner, adds a smidgen of electricity to the otherwise acoustic mode with his radio transceivers.

A very dense tape results, which I’m grateful for, as I have found Jerman’s previous exploits in this area a tad thin sonically, while undeniably beautiful. Isinglass murmurs and drones in a highly engaging fashion, occasionally punctuated by sounds of the seashore and domestic intrusions like a chiming clock (unless that’s part of the performance), and sits in that small patch of turf between music and sound art, transcending process with ease. Leonard has a few CDR releases on the private label Great Hoary Marmot Music, probably her own imprint, should you wish to investigate further. From 21st September 2016.

Fyodor’s Wild Years

A real one-of-a-kind record is Russian Canon (FROZEN LIGHT FZL 037), a record credited to Fake Cats Project, a trio featuring Kirill Makushin, Igor Levshin, and Alexei Borisov, which they only started in 2015 yet they’re already produced four records, of which this is one. Can’t find out much about the project or the band, although Alexei Borisov is well known and respected on these pages, and is probably my favourite avant-garde Russian musician (along with Kurt Liedwart and Ilia Belorukov).

Russian Canon is a bizarre suite of songs and instrumentals which may amount to an opera, a song cycle, a parodic comment on modern urban society, or simply a series of surreal poems set to music. All is sung (and lyrics printed) in Russian, so I’m at a bit of a loss, but at least the titles are printed in English. You might be able to piece together a scenario from titles like ‘Falcon Theme’, ‘Clouds Of My Memory’, and ‘A Kitten Looks At Soldier’s Eyes’, but it’d be a pretty wild and hairy screenplay that you’d be submitting to your editor. The music is kind of all over the place too. I can discern tunes and ditties that might be Russian folk songs (a wild guess though; the accordion backing is my one and only clue here) and likewise songs that more resemble the sort of proletariat anthems that appear in my worst nightmares when I’m inventing newsreel footage from the days of Kruschev and Sputnik and screening these imaginary movies in my brain. Particularly the opening blast, ‘Everything Is Fine’, a fractured every-which-way composition whose waywardness makes it perfectly clear that whatever else is going on, everything is not fine. But that’s just my warped imagination.

The trio also play electronic synth drone tunes; a very distorted form of easy-listening jazz with the help of guest trumpeter Konstantin Sukhan, acting as the reverse Herb Alpert in this context; broken, minimal post-punk songs; and even on one track a song built on a famous Erik Satie tune, so that’s their classical music credentials also checking in for duty. Fake Cats Project perform in all these styles effortlessly, and are not attempting a mannered pastiche…and they play with utter conviction, maintaining a serious and slightly gloomy mood throughout the whole off-beat performance. Street singers and “baggers” – hopefully that’s the local slang for bag-men – are also sampled and their voices join in the rollicking fun in places.

It’s a remarkable tour de force, packed with much drama and musical invention. Now that I think of it, the nearest Western equivalent to this might be Tom Waits, but even he would probably hand over his last bottle of brown-bagged bourbon if he could produce something as cinematic, noirish, and unhinged as Russian Canon. Wish I could decode more of this, so I may just have to send a message to the band through their Bandcamp page. Very high recommendation for this lavish, layered, musical oddity. From 7th September 2016.

Frozen Warnings

Several items from the Russian Frozen Light label to follow. All are limited editions of 300 copies and arrived here 7th September 2016.

Exit In Grey used to be a duo, now it’s just one fellow, the Russian artiste Sergey Suhovik. Exit In Grey seem to have been creating and releasing their drone music since 2004, much of it released on the Daphnia Records label. I can’t find out much about the artistic intentions of Suhovik, although album titles such as Twilight Waters, Dim Lines, Storms, Nowadays Warm, and Environment Despair might give us some clues; a certain interest in the weather and other aspects of our natural surroundings, combined with a vague sense of inevitability about an approaching disaster. One Lumen In The Past (FZL 039) offers three long tracks of very foggy ambient drone; and on today’s spin, I’m afraid I can’t find much going on here to distinguish Exit In Grey from many other practitioners in the genre. Even the methods used are commonplace: a combination of guitars, keyboards, effects, radio signals and field recordings, layered into a gently shifting sea of mistiness. I do however like the time-travel theme of this release. The titles ‘Old Letters and Visions’ and ‘Whispers Time’ do much to evoke a curious nostalgia for the past. The same goes for the cover images, which apparently repurpose old photographs of Russian landscapes and train stations, some of them maybe even going back to the 19th century; they have been tinted in those chromalith colours that appealed to our Edwardian ancestors. These images do more to stimulate and inspire our collective fading memories than the rather ordinary music on the disc.

Ion & Sophus is also Sergey Suhovik, performing here under his alias [s]. Ion & Sophus have five releases that we know of, of which Love Of One (FZL 050) is their latest. Two long ambient drone pieces on this album, which are noticeably different from those executed in the Exit In Grey style. The Ion & Sophus approach is much cleaner; simple tones, almost like a slowed-down electric piano tune, backed by calming seashore effects apparently captured by the Black Sea. Where Exit In Grey’s music is extremely layered and shifting in three or four slightly different directions, this Love Of One record heads down a single path with a gentle but firm determination. As track one progresses – and it does indeed progress, more so than the stodgy One Lumen In The Past – the sounds of the Black Sea become more prominent, and the pleasant droning music undergoes a shift which might be taken to represent an epiphany, a realisation slowly dawning in the mind of the one who contemplates their “love of one”. This highly romantic interpretation is, I like to think, not inappropriate when faced with this rather tasteful background music. Let’s just hope the lover in question is not moving towards the cliff edge depicted on the front cover with a view to throwing themselves into the ocean below.

Karmiciel Wszy’s Torre Bert (FZL 034) is a much more cold and troubling offering than the two proceeding items, which at least admit the possibility of human emotions (love) and operations of the human brain (memory) into their world view. We’ve heard this Polish dark-ambient fellow before when we received his very limited Isdalskvinnen CDR in 2015. Wszy sometimes like to give out his name as KW, and prints these initials in a gothic font on his covers, such as on the cassette Murder Of Shanda Sharer. Torre Bert has no such Black Metal-ish leanings however, and simply proposes a series of bleak, emptied-out, and non-associative lengthy drones. Where Sergey Suhovik allows field recordings into the mix, the music of Karmiciel Wszy comes across as almost entirely processed-based and untouched by human hands, each chilling tone arriving as an unchangeable statement of fact. This stern tone is something that evidently has a certain attraction to Polish musicians, a sweeping generalisation which I propose to you based on releases from Monotype Records and Zoharum. But Zoharum artistes tend to cling to a sense of ritual and ceremony, whereas Wszy is beyond any of that humanistic nonsense, and clearly resigned to his unbelieving fate; he treads the world as a weary figure, despairing at the possibility of making emotional contact with anyone or anything. If this hermetic, sealed-off view appeals, by all means bend an ear to Torre Bert.

The record Hiding Place (FZL 036) is by Emerge. This is the work of Sascha Stadlmeier, a German sound artist who also happens to run the Attenuation Circuit label, whose unusual releases of electric noise have brought us much pleasure in recent years. I enjoyed this one as it seems to offer a slightly different approach to the idea of textured drones and processed sounds than the above. It also features more human elements – the voice work in particular, provided by Eljara from Prinzip Nemesis, and as a project it is open to the idea of collaboration (the Russian act Re-Drum appears on another track). The opening track ‘Flight 1’ is especially effective, a goodly dose of coarse, crackly rumbling suggestive of a frantic scramble across a pebble beach. Thereafter the record becomes more conventionally ambient and dark in its progress, although the general mood of claustrophobia and inescapable menace is well presented and well sustained. Emerge achieves this partially through a merciless use of repetition; when he finds an effect or sound he likes, he won’t hesitate to repeat it as needed, looping and repurposing as much as the market will bear. I can’t help reading the “hiding place” theme as a dark cave, as indicated by the vague stony images on the covers, the echoing sounds, the sense of confinement, and the tentative efforts to explore an imaginary space, such as on ‘Tension’ – a very successful acoustic sounding of the walls of the cave. The epic ‘Flight II’ at the end of the album is a thrilling episode using noise dynamics to its advantage. May not be as great as I’m making it sound, but an enjoyable mystery ride.

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