Tagged: drone

Depth Of Field

Service Supreme

Cutting a similar path to Aussie drone-based groovers (and associates) like Oren Ambarchi, The Necks, Simon James Phillips and Matthew Philip Hopkins, the Australia-based trio Great Waitress (Magda Mayas, Monika Brooks and Laura Altman) are a revealing new puzzle piece in a distinctly antipodean improvised music scene: an identity-subsuming, New World tradition of tonality tinkering and free-floating, low-frequency harmonics that suffuse space with the no-nonsense savour of a long-nosed cab sauv. Possessed of the prowess that comes with conservatory training, the trio’s depersonalised apparition of piano, accordion and clarinet prises open space with a knife’s width of elbow play; pushing minimal phrases to the point of constraint, then further, into a vortex between ambient amnesia and semi-improvised composition, tweaking, teasing and even torturing pitch to a neck-hair tingle before the spectral mass solves into a tarpaulin-shrouded fog. Hue (ANOTHER DARK AGE ADA006 LP) is said to summarise the two prior albums, released since Great Waitress’ 2011 formation; a nascency that stands in relief to the group’s full-bodied harmonic cohesion, yet also a reminder of how recently this ‘scene’ has cohered.

A Field in England

Highly approachable guitar & electronics post-rock from Bristol on The Road To The Unconscious Past (ECHOIC MEMORY EM005), even if it sounds less suggestive of its polished urban provenance than of some anonymous idyll. John Scott aka Stereocilia fans out a familiar formula for tape loops and synth-based drones and takes flight on Stars Of The Lid-style Kosmiche angel wings, his effervescent efforts passing in and out of focus, exuding clear contentment in an echo-based semi-present haze. Till side B anyway, when ‘Infinite’ – the closest we have to a cosmic jam – pulses into view on an ELEH-style hypnodrone, issuing trains of serrated guitar lines in all directions and pushing up the listener’s pulse some. But this pleasing push of the envelope is quickly curbed in ‘Sustain/Release’ with the restoration of the preceding pastoralia; a regressive move after such a promising surge into new territory and a general reflection of the unfulfilled promise of the album as a whole, which could really do with moving a little farther afield from its starting point than it does.

Rocking Out

‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead…’ begins James Joyce’s Ulysses, though surely few of the novel’s well-meaning readers have made the acquaintance of ‘the superior, the very reverend John Conmee S.J’ in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ chapter, for it’s an assuredly arduous journey to reach this point, let alone the book’s final affirmation, especially for those prone to distraction and it is from this section and sentiment that François Sarhan pulls the title for his recent installation piece Wandering Rocks / Commodity Music (LA MUSE EN CIRCUIT ALM007), where visitors passing through the encircling sound field play the part of the rocks adrift and a fragment of James Joyce’s reading of said text infuses this 35-minute long, electroacoustically-enhanced improvisation for prepared piano, guitar (quartet, Zwerm) and electronics with so despondent an antidote to an otherwise ostensible attitude of passive attentiveness as can be wrought when even the painfully quotidian satire of Joyce’s post-heroic modernist masterpiece represents an Olympian ambition to the media-deadened senses, perhaps eliciting in our composer a sense of resignation that few listeners will probe the surface of this friendly flow of naturalistic timbres and textures – an emulation by means of extended technique of the elemental components (rocks, waves and synthetic turquoise breeze) of the seashore photograph on the cover – to penetrate beyond the point of attention wandering from one rock to the next, moments of cognitive dissonance in their fitful overlappings – though becoming markedly more pronounced as the piece ages its way into Commodity Music, where a gush of anti-capitalist rhetoric to heavy phasing and an almost oriental modal arpeggiation puts the proverbial fat-cat among the proletariat to yield a more strident, pointillistic energy to our hitherto soft-focus panorama, which occasion Sarhan utilises to reflect upon the ‘sad truth that music per se is disappearing from our life… because of our difficulties to focus (sic) on an exclusive and demanding concentration to listen to it…’, before going on to lay blame upon the plastic wrapped vacuum of televisual culture as the cause of popular culture’s almost anhedonic disinterest in Art, and offering this digest version of his expansive and physical sonic experience as a concession to such vicissitudes… so should one listen to it on headphones? No.

Psychedelic Train

Many years ago we received and noted two unusual records from Cream Of Turner Productions, a label based in Philadelphia. Both Heart Land and Sunlore existed in vinyl editions, but in 2011 they sent us CDR versions which had been hand-crafted to a high degree, using art materials, in order to resemble exact miniatures of their vinyl counterparts. The musicians David Marino, Ron Lent, Bill Errig and Ahmed Salvador (joined by Ford Sylvester on one of the LPs) created two dream-like records of intense, dank, psychedelic music, fit for restless sleepwalkers. In my mind I filed these records alongside those by Heart Of Palm, the Chicago unknowns who somehow fail to create much of a stir anywhere, yet create fine krautrock-inspired music on their own terms.

Well, after some six years, Cream Of Turner have finally managed to release their third LP, Union Pacific Vol. 1. (CT./458) credited to Heart Land. David Marino and Ahmed Salvador are still active and play on this one, along with Matthew Pruden, the guitarist Peter Tramo, the bass player Wilbo Wright, and the excellent vocalist Patrice Carper. The entire record is based around the recording of a model train set, which is close-miked or amplified in some way, in order to generate abstract electronic sounds. On top of this shifting mechanical drone, Patrice Carper contributes her free-form moaning vocals, and the work is supplemented by layers of guitar, bass and percussion. No keyboards or synths in sight, which might seem slightly surprising given the very droney and kosmische feel of this record. It seems to tread roughly the same inter-galactic ground as Tangerine Dream or Cluster, achieving the sensations of infinite distance and space-travel largely through use of echo, amplification, and effects. I like the idea that this sense of vastness is conveyed through such modest means, i.e. the sound of a miniature train set; it seems to say something about the possibilities of art, and how we could all be bounded in a nutshell and count ourselves the king of infinite space.

While this music may be languid and spaced-out, delivered in a slightly hippy-drippy fashion (not even the soggiest Steve Hillage records were this laid-back), it’s evidently being played in real time by real human beings playing real instruments, responding to changes in timbre and direction, and not following a programmed path nor needing to be propped up by digital processing or synthesis. What emerges on the record may feel unfinished – Heart Land haven’t yet figured out how to end their lengthy explorations in a satisfactory manner – but in this instance, it creates a convincing environment which surrounds and nurtures the listener. In this, Heart Land and the label fulfil their goal of creating their “own personal hybrid of improvised psychedelic and avant-garde music”. I’m slightly disappointed by the cover. It’s not a great design, and more to the point it weakens the mystique of the music to see these rather ordinary photos of the musicians at work, no matter how evocative the lighting and colour scheme may be. Still, a minor quibble when you have such an unusual and pleasing item in your hands. From 7th September 2016.

Any Colour You Like

Ab Intra is the Polish musician Radosław Kamiński, who’s been releasing his brand of dark ambient electronica since 2006. His previous three albums came out on Zoharum, one of them a split with 1000schoen. His alter-ego is a Latin phrase which roughly translates into English as “from the inside”, which may indicate something of the introverted nature of this self-absorbed music; like so many releases in this genre, it doesn’t have much of a life outside itself. Today’s release has a Greek title rather than a Latin one however, and Henosis I-V (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 132-2) uses the Greek word for “unity”. Kamiński’s earliest influence was the French synth big-wig populist Jean-Michel Jarre, and this does show on parts of this album; the second track ‘Henosis 2’ exhibits much of the pomposity and self-importance of the French player, as if announcing to the massed audience some mysterious post-millennial event whose significance has to be bolstered with flashing lights and laser shows. But there’s no real payoff; as with most of the music here, it seems to be all build-up without any actual event, idea or statement at the end of it. Even so, Kamiński’s music does have a well-crafted production surface, and he manages to avoid over-familiar synth settings and sounds, arriving at his own style of dark ambient brooding. A six-panel digipak is required for the artwork, allowing for slight visual variations on the arrangement of equilateral triangles on a black field; it invokes the cover of Pink Floyd’s best-selling album, and some of Ab Intra’s synth drones would have felt right at home, if not on that album then certainly on Wish You Were Here. From 27th October 2016.

Pacific Rim

Kurt Liedwart / Phil Raymond
Rim
RUSSIA MIKROTON cd45 CD (2016)

In a possibly deliberate move, label head Kurt Liedwart has arranged the two names on the sleeve of Rim so that his makes the word “LIED”. It is this kind of wordplay that allows me to theorize wildly about subliminal messaging and unconscious communications. I won’t bore you with my crackpot theories here though, rest assured. Polymath Kurt Liedwart plays lloopp, electronics and percussion on this studio session. As well as running Mikroton, Liedwart has evidence of his previous activities documented on Intonema, Theme Park, Hideous Replica and Copy For Your Records. He also designs the packaging for most if not all Mikroton releases. His counterpart on this particular outing, Phil Raymond, contributes “computer percussion” to these five pieces of full-strength machine-drone, identified only by their individual duration. Raymond is currently resident in Moscow and has released a previous download EP via Mikroton called Absence in 2008, half of which was also released on the compilation The Best Of NTNS Radio. The following year he and Liedwart joined forces, Raymond allowing Liedwart to repurpose his percussion recordings in a live setting. As the Mikroton website states: “Liedwart created inventive systems of sound matters, working with both percussion and electronics, carefully adapting [the] other musician’s materials”. Here on Rim, the evidence of their collaboration forces the limits of what we understand electronic music can be. The resulting tangle of crackling, chittering, grinding, whirring, bubbling, skittering implosions, is mastered with empathy by Ilia Belorukov.

Opening with “10:58”, a giant slab of grumbling printed circuit boards, desiccated by freezing tundra winds, Rim starts as it means to go on. Giant oil tanks rub against each other while contact mics the size of steel pans burst out of the ground at the ends of mile-long runs of armoured cable. The second piece, “3:52”, begins and I panic, thinking my ears have re-blocked after I suffered with crippling sinus pain on a flight the week before, and became temporarily deaf in one ear. All I could hear was the sound of my own head filling up with phlegm, with distant popping and crackling replacing the things my family were actually saying to me. Frustrating for me, but probably much more for them. “9:27” is the sound of my ears suddenly – and violently – unblocking. The fourth piece; “4:16” begins with what sounds like two mountainsides rubbing against each other. Clearly one or both of these two artists spend their free time contact-mic’ing geology. The long final piece, “22:45” is monumental and granite-lined. Tectonic plates quiver and bend. Time stops. You can hear the icecaps melting.

Putting the melodrama of the Noise genre aside, I consider the music on Rim as some of the most extreme electronic music I have ever encountered. Furthermore, I see this music as a protest. It is a protest against what modern life has become; about lies dressed up as truths, about manipulation, vested interests, greed, ignorance, discrimination. It’s about burying our heads in the sand; at the same time allowing ourselves to become wilfully misinformed. Last year, 2016, saw many opportunities for positive change squandered. To me, despite being recorded in 2009, Rim is like a blow-by-blow account of that year in sound and spirit.

The Masked Ball

On Before I Was Invisible (SIREN WIRE / WILD SILENCE), Welsh songstress and pianist/composer Susan Matthews teams up with the French visual artist, record collector and musician Rainier Lericolais. This multi-media fellow has hung his work in many French galleries and collaborated with a number of excellent musicians; it seems he’s released over a hundred records, with evocative titles such as Médiumnique Musique and My Song Exaggerated To Dilate Horizontally. He and Matthews have worked together before, for instance on When The Ghosts Are Within These Walls and Homothetique Ricochet, both small-run editions published in 2008 by Matthews on her own Siren Wire Records imprint. Lericolais lends his collage skills to create the cover artworks for this album. They’re a tad conventional, in thrall to Max Ernst, but that’s no bad thing – and they suit the mood of this delicate and enchanting release.

‘The Healer’s Art’ is an extended work of minimal piano trills, gently pulsating electronic tones, and a compelling mood so taut you hardly dare to breathe…occasionally interrupted by fragments of a song delivered in a hesitant voice, a plaintive whine from a woodwind instrument, and distorted found recordings that might be coming from the mouth of a mechanical doll made in the time of Benjamin Franklin. If the plan was to try and pin down the mysterious moods of a dream on tape, much as the surrealists aspired, then the collaboration can be counted a success. Some may scorn its fragile and introverted surface; not me. If you enjoy the somnambulist worlds of Joe Frawley, this eerie broadcast from the night gallery is the one for you.

‘Truth Past the Dare’ is likewise a series of long tones, presented in an unhurried and non-linear fashion…the musicians seem to bring in sounds or musical drones as needed, rather than adhere closely to a schematic plan. Intuition may be a key word here. A beautiful piece to be sure, even if at times it comes close to tipping over into romantic sentimentality.

‘Your Ghost Moves With Me’ is a piece which in title continues the preoccupation with departed souls and vanished friendships, themes alluded to on the earlier 2008 album, and is another highly beguiling work; the voice of Matthews is repeated and overlaid in short, non-logical loop patterns, producing strange overlaps and harmonies, the breathing and short phrases creating a diaphanous mosaic of sound. This translucent veil of vocal music is occasionally bolstered with percussion samples that appear like unexpected supernatural visitors, and the puzzling mood is deepened as the track develops into a quiet and meditative stretch, with very distant and muffled piano music, backwards tapes, and other foreign elements. This piece builds on the dream-like atmosphere established by track 1, and whisks us away further down the pathways of Slumberland towards an oneiric oblivion. We might never wake up again, and we feel excited by the dangerous prospect. From 17th October 2016.

Death Knell

Ilpo Väisänen
Syntetisaattori Musiikkia Kuopiosta
UKRAINE KVITNU 49 LP (2016)

Unfortunate is the timing of this new arrival from Ilpo Väisänen – former Pan Sonic partner to the recently and sadly departed Mika Vainio – which, through no fault of its own, renews the sting of that prodigiously prolific ex-cohort’s death. Compounding this exceptional timing is the rumour of its being Väisänen’s first solo work in 16 years, though such pretensions to the momentous are quickly thwarted by the facts of a) his solid cohort of contemporaneous collaborations (many, poignantly, featuring Vainio) that show his to be a similarly workhorse constitution; b) it isn’t his only solo work: the recent I-LP-O project features a solid lineup of Ilpo, Väisänen and himself; the trio but a masquerade. What’s more, Syntetisaattori Musiikkia Kuopiosta is but a mini album and not a game-changing one, but I think I’d best move on lest I talk readers out of reading on.

‘Osat’ parts 1-9 cover some ground. Though much less abrasive than many of Pan Sonic’s balls-out blitzkriegs, in a blind-test situation Väisänen’s restless yet understated rhythmic peregrinations would still draw comparisons to the ‘other’ act. ‘Osat 1-5’ pushes pattering, pulmonary palpitations that murmur like muffled machinery in an envelope of escalating hum, setting up a spell of car-sickness-inducing arrhythmia in its final lap. Flipping over, ‘Osat 6-9’ pulsates with Porter Ricks-style nautical dub and the squelchy gibberings of dolphins deftly navigating the sweeping bleeps of depth-sounding technology. Lacking both Pan Sonic’s napalm distortion and military stamina, movements are brief and sufficiently well-blended to keep ‘the rut’ at an ever-comfortable distance and ensure a taut and enduring freshness in even the dourest and most impersonal moments.

Jamka
Inter Alia
SLOVAKIA URBSOUNDS [/]031 LP (2016)

Keeping Pan Sonic firmly in mind (and in recognition that those operations were long-closed before Vainio left us) is this brief blast of dread-inducing drone techno, responsible for which is Jamka aka Slovakians Monika Subrtova and Daniel Kordik, who have issued a steady trickle of such artisan efforts in the last decade and a half. Tracks like ‘Patemp’ and ‘Anazmo’… well, this whole album… makes liberal use of panic-inducing drones and dub-flavoured attack formations of sinewed and bludgeoning beats; making a virtuous show of punishing discipline; exhibiting fewer of the excesses of distortion and over-production than those Jamka model themselves on – your Regises and Techno Animals – not becoming over-repetitive, though breaking no rules either. This is ‘clean’ techno for clubs where the only hint of danger is the smoke they pump in to make punters thirsty, but it’s ideal for those who prefer home-listening to the slap of recognition that one is at least a decade older than every other tight-assed white-boy doing the dancefloor indie-shuffle.

Casting The Runes

A true labour of love – some might call it a labour of obsession – is the album Runaljod – Ragnarok (BY NORSE MUSIC BNM002CD), by the Norwegian music group Wardruna. It’s the third part in a lengthy project which began in 2003, where the aim is to create a musical expression of old Nordic runes; previous instalments of the grand plan were released in 2009 and 2013. The work is mostly driven by the ideas of Einar Selvik, who composes the music and plays most of the instruments, but he’s joined here by Eilif Gundersen, a trio of vocalists and two additional guest singers, plus the Skarvebarna Children’s Choir on one track.

In pursuit of authenticity and historical accuracy, Selvik plays antiquated and archaic instruments, such as the taglharpe, the kraviklyra, the goat horn, the tongue horn, the bronze lure and the birchbark lure; these are combined with lots of percussion – depressing martial drumming, mostly – and electronic music. Further, all the lyrics are written in Norwegian, Norse, and proto-Norse, there’s a Nordic rune printed on the front cover, and the record label is called By Norse Music. I’m intrigued to learn that they also managed to recruit the Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for their second album Yggdrasil, and the singer Steindór Andersen who sings in the “rimur” epic poem style.

As well as the studio projects, Wardruna have managed to create a performance band out of all this effort, and it’s probably safe to say they created quite a stir when they performed before the 1100-year-old Gokstad ship which you can see at the Viking Ship Museum in Norway. It’s good to see this determined effort taking place to preserve ancient Nordic culture, but while I’m certainly no expert in the field it’s also evident that Einar Selvik has a very personal, somewhat mystical, take on the subject. “In my songs it is not necessarily a goal for me to approach the respective rune from every conceivable angle, nor to cover or unravel all of the different aspects of it,” he writes in the enclosed booklet, alluding to the many scholarly views of this area where, I gather, the meaning, context and origins of the surviving runic evidence are much disputed. “My approach is both of runologic and mystic nature and my focus is on the core of each rune and the qualities that serve the whole concept and purpose of Wardruna best”, continues Selvik, affirming that his “vision” of the band-project always comes first, side-lining most academic interpretations.

While the whole genre of neofolk / pagan music (a milieu in which it might be convenient to situate this music, though the creators might not agree) is a closed shop to me, at least it’s clear that Wardruna are not dabbling in Viking history for some ill-informed white supremacy purpose, and the depth of Einar Selvok’s conviction and commitment to his task is self-evident. I just wish it wasn’t such a wearisome listen; pompous, solemn, relentless hammering drums, unvarying grim drones a-plenty, and shrill hymns sung in an ancient unknown tongue. From 12th October 2016.

Interstellar Low Ways

The record Low (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL16008) by Gintas K is supposed to complete a trilogy, of which the earlier parts were Lovely Banalities and Slow, both of which have been noted in these pages. I have previously enjoyed what I regard as the intuitive approach of this Lithuanian solo electronicist, but today the experiments on Low simply feel unfinished and unsatisfying. Despite care and attention being given to the sounds he makes, there’s a troubling lack of ideas in each tune, such that they fail to engage the listener for very long. There’s also the samey tone and pace to Low, meaning we are never lifted out of this rather gloomy and grey zone which might be a dismal European village on a rainy Sunday morning. Still, the very introverted nature and muffled sound of this album may give it a certain appeal if you fancy a day at home as a lonely shut-in. From 3rd October 2016.

Reinier Van Houdt is a Dutch pianist who has “done” some 20th century composers such as Shostakovitch and Valentin Silvestrov as part of his classical repertoire, and also played works from the New York school including Robert Ashley and Charlemagne Palestine. Paths Of The Errant Gaze (HALLOWGROUND HG1606) however is a more unconventional and experimental record; he concocts studio assemblages of ghostly, spectral sounds, somewhat in the vein of a Nurse With Wound collage, and with similar aspirations to a “surreal” state of mind. Unsurprisingly, Van Houdt plays in recent Current 93 line-ups; I sense he has just the right balance of fragility and occluded, precious details stored in his brain to please David Tibet. The mysterious drifty sounds on Paths Of The Errant Gaze can’t help but evoke a ghostly sailing ship like the Flying Dutchman or H.P. Lovecraft’s The White Ship, and the cover art confirms this “lost at sea” theme. Van Houdt uses these unsettling, nightmarish washes of sound, textures, and found fragments as a platform for his minimal, melancholy piano fugues. I found the mannered style and solemn tone a little off-putting, but there’s a lot of variety here across two sides of the LP, and the listener can’t help but feel the sensations of being taken on a strange voyage to a lost Edgar Allen Poe island in the middle of nowhere. From 11 October 2016.

Dark Carnival (DYIN’ GHOST RECORDS) is the latest release from the team-up of French guitarist Michel Henritzi with the Japanese player Fukuoka Rinji. On this occasion Rinji bows his violin to Michel’s lapsteel guitar. They’ve made a lot of records together and while we always enjoy them, I can’t see much significant advance here on any of their previous outings, for instance the relatively recent Descent To The Sun LP. Once they get going the pair just can’t stop, and what characterises their sound is a relentless, aching rain-sodden screech that wears away the listener by sheer persistence. Full saturation is another one of their specialities; barely a space left for anything else in this teeming atmosphere of full-on droning, sawing, strumming, and howling. These recordings were made in Tokyo in 2013-2014 and feature various medieval woodcuts on the ancient theme of mortality and the Dance Of Death, while the title comes from Ray Bradbury. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…as you are now so once was I…and other such memento mori spring to mind while scoping these images and drowning in this intense music, which really rubs the heart full sore. From 13 October 2016.

The Swiss jazz trio Day & Taxi has been active since 1988 and Way (PERCASO 34) is their 8th studio release. Christoph Gallio, the saxophonist, is their driving force and he also happens to run the record label that has released most of the trio’s records. Way appears to be slightly unusual in their repertoire as it includes three very short songs, sung in German by their bass player Silvan Jeger, and their inclusion may give you a clue as to Day & Taxi’s open-minded musical aspirations – they would like to broaden out jazz forms, include composition as well as improvisation as a strong element, and are not afraid of including “sentimentalities” in their bright, rather melodic music. The flipside to all this user-friendliness is the abstruse sleeve note penned by Berni Doessegger, which attempts to deconstruct the meanings of the word “way”, through speculations on paths through a labyrinth. I found the actual music competent enough in its execution, and Gallio is an extremely fluent player with an exceptionally clean tone, but it’s just too tidy and correct to be mistaken for real jazz; the attempts at swing feeling are laboured and plodding, and even the saxophone screams feel as though they’ve been carefully studied from annotated Coltrane solos. From 2nd November 2016.

Back Beat

Richard Van Kruysdijk produces long, layered, and intricate digital drones on Lumbar Fist (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL160096), performing under his soubriquet Cut Worms. I see that Dutch player Van Kruysdijk is a member of Daisy Bell, a Netherlandish trio who made an album based on the poetry of William Blake, but he’s also been much in demand as a drummer and electronics player with some of the big mamous of the avant-noise domain – members of Coil, Legendary Pink Dots, Swans, Bauhaus, Tuxedomoon and Wire all speak highly of Van Kruysdijk’s instrumental prowess, and he’s trod the stage and studio floor as an in-demand session man for these maestros of the dark noise-drone. This isn’t to mention Richard’s other high-profile band projects which I’ve never heard, such as Strange Attractor, Phallus Dei, Music For Speakers, and Sonar Lodge; he’s evidently capable of working in many contemporary genres, be it latter-day industrial pounding or downtempo trip-hop fusion.

Lumbar Fist contains seven examples of his studio craft, and he built them up in the studio by overdubbing himself several times, using an ARP synth, bass guitars, percussion, tapes, effects pedals, and the “circuit-bent Suzuki Omnichord”, whose name alone is enough to get most instrumental and pedal collectors frothing at the knees. While this album has a rather “samey” surface, there’s much to recommend about the care and attention with which this hard-working creator has built each piece, and there’s a very burnished quality to the sound – a sort of calm inner glow illuminating and suffusing each moment. This calmness however might be quite at odds with the busy and fragmentary technique which he used to construct Lumbar Fist – the press notes refer to “sounds…reversed, mangled, chopped and regenerated”, which strikes one as a rather invasive editing studio style.

His track titles are witty too, adding a human and imagistic dimension to what would otherwise be extremely abstract – ‘Seance Drop’ suggests the trance states these sounds induce, ‘Drum Sloth’ is a very apt description of his studio method and tape-retardation approach, and ‘Halo Ginseng’ is tinged with notions of bodily health and inner spirituality which might well pass on to the listener. However, my favourite title is ‘Crabby Plasma’, a title which could be taken as the subtext for John Carpenter’s The Thing with its horrifying themes of genetic mutation and cell structures going out of control. From 3rd October 2016.

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.