Tagged: drone

The Purge

Another “horror-noise” special from Cold Spring Records, the UK label which does house a number of extreme and monstrous items in its catalogue…the album Surgical Fires (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR226CD) was created by Tunnels of Ah, and it’s his third release for the label since 2013’s Lost Corridor. Tunnels is a solo project by Stephen R. Burroughs, who was one of the main men in Head Of David – one of my favourite 1980s indie noise-combos who created an almighty obnoxious racket with their guitars and shriekery for the Blast First label, and as such endeared themselves to many disaffected types.

I had no idea Burroughs was pursuing a solo line. On the evidence of this, it involves an intense form of electronic music with plenty of weird processing, nasty effects, vocals buried in a swampy mix…it moves beyond mere dark ambient drone music somehow, perhaps through his close attention to dynamics and studied application of nuanced tones to his ever-shifting howls and murmurs. Needless to remark there’s a highly unpleasant subtext to Surgical Fires, as evidenced in titles like ‘Demonic Forms’, ‘Mind As Corpse Bearer’, ‘Black Air (Exhale)’ and ‘Release of the Burning Mouths’. These do much to trigger the unhealthy imaginative forces of a susceptible listener, and it isn’t long before we’re all sharing alarming visions of a subterranean Hell, not unlike a coal mine, laced with poisonous vapours…death is all around us, and there’s a supernatural dimension to boot, if the “Lordly Cobras” alluded to on track 7 are the demonic entities I suspect them to be.

The record, half-music and half sound effects, does nothing to dispel such tormented visions – nor does the cover art, also by Burroughs, which seems to be applying a decalcomania effect to suggest grim, grey, gruesome caverns of inescapable doom. The printed press release takes us off another tack, alluding to “psychic surgery” (whatever that may mean; in this instance, it probably involves taking slices out of a man’s soul with an invisible scalpel) and a roster of important-sounding abstractions, such as “loss, gain, conflict, resolution, decay and transformation”. I have no idea if these words belong to Burroughs or to the Cold Spring PR department, but they just make the work seem unnecessarily solemn and self-important…it reads more like the agenda of a two-day international symposium on 21st-century urban problems. Nonetheless, the record remains an assured piece of depressing gloomoid filth…from 30th November 2016.


Pinkcourtesyphone is the Los Angeles artist Richard Chartier, noted once before in these pages by Jennifer Hor who detected a certain lack of emotional engagement in his ambient music on his Room 40 release. Oddly enough the “emotions” theme is reflected in the title of today’s item, taking into account only a portion of your emotions (EDITIONS MEGO 236) which arrives in a conceptually-related pink cover (designed by Chartier himself) with suitably vague and blurred imagery. As a listener I have often felt ambient music to be a double-edged sword, except the sword is not even a sharp instrument and is more likely to be made of plastic or foam rubber, and if I may sometimes enjoy the cloying sensations afforded by ambient sound, I often find myself losing patience with what I perceive as the torpor and slowness of the genre. Today’s spin is winning me back to the other side, however, as there’s something deeply convincing about Pinkcourtesyphone’s approach; it’s certainly well-crafted, creating that artificial sense of “depth” which might be one of the genre’s purposes, and I feel myself slipping into the sens-surround atmosphere with remarkable ease. It might be a warm bath to soothe my aching muscles, or a chilling ice box for the conservation of meat.

This particular release has a very slender “narrative” undercurrent, if we can call it that, suggestive of lost telephone calls in a hotel from nowhere. This is suggested by the project name, the fleeting presence of telephone voices which appear early on, and one brief sound sample which resembles a dial tone. All the above elements could be used by someone with a fervent imagination to construct a post-modern murder-mystery story set in an update on an Edward Hopper painting, with theatrical lighting and deep crimson hues. In fact it’s so post-modern there’s no characters, no murder, and no mystery. This line of thought may be confirmed by a hint in the press release that as much as says “RIYL” to lovers of the music of Angelo Badalamenti. But I refuse to be drawn into yet another David Lynch discourse at this point.

taking into account…sustains this wispy mood of tension for about half of its duration – the first three tracks are quite compelling in this way – then it seems to tread water on track 4-5, wandering around in highly-contrived layers and loops without really advancing anywhere. It concludes with 17 minutes of much gentler and melodic music completely free of the threatening tone, which makes for a nice payoff to the whole thing; on the other hand, if the whole album was like this last track, I would have switched off a lot sooner. From 12 December 2016.

With Borrow’d Sheen

We quite liked parts of Anish Music Caravan by Band Ane, which is a solo turn by the Danish musician Ane Østergaard; her approach is to use all sorts of physical objects and musical instruments (some of them old and broken) as starting points, then merge and combine recordings into her laptop. On today’s release, Anish Music V (CLANG RECORDS clang047) I find the novelty is wearing thin already, and the music, although wistful and longing in tone, comes over as shapeless ambient driftery. I’m not expecting anything so conventional as a “root chord” in this type of music, but perhaps some central theme or consistency of thought would be nice to stop the listener’s attention from wandering. In her favour, the playing is sparse and understated, there is sensitivity in the work, and the use of natural caverns to enhance the acoustical space in this recording may be a bonus: the credit notes refer to a “17 second natural reverb from Cisternerne (Copenhagen)”, and “recordings from Thingbæk Limestone Mines”. There’s a limited press of 100 vinyl copies available. From 4th November 2016.

Le Temple Du Rock

Very impressed with Ein Geisteskranker Als Künstler 1 (RONDA rnd11), an old 2009 release from Sébastien Borgo, performing solo under his Ogrob guise. Here are 14 experiments made using guitars, electronics, motors, loops and radio waves, covering a wide range of approaches to sound manipulation – some harsh noise, some murmuring drones, some vague and abstract. It’s a compilation as such, bringing together short works made in 1994 onwards, up to 2006. What typifies all the music is an angry, slow-burning, brooding contempt, which seeps out of every passing moment and spreads across the imaginary listening space like a poisonous plague. Ogrob uses his own deconstructed, hands-on approach to electro-acoustic music, more informed by the “industrial” school than the traditional musique concrète academics, and raises himself just one notch or two above the electrified junkyard. But the music is also evidently serious in intent, and deserves to be heard with a serious pair of ears. A lot of Ogrob projects, particularly micro_penis, seem to me to have a rather satirical intent behind them, as though the musician wanted to parody the pomposity of “proper” composition. On the other hand, when I put a question like this to him in my recent interview, he purported not to understand what I was talking about. The cover art to this macabre and dark release is a photo called Destroy Noise Jetset by Ogrob, depicting a shipwrecked vessel in some vague body of grey water near a rocky landscape. For some reason, I can’t help reading it as the document of a crashed flying saucer. Either way it sends out just the right visual messages of defeat and failure. Superb hour of grimness..from 14 November 2016.

  1. The title is something to do with Adolf Wölfli, the Swiss Outsider artist.


Don’t seem to have heard a record from Berlin tuba player Robin Hayward since 2010’s States Of Rushing on Choose Records, an LP whose memorable cover image spoke volumes about the steely precision of this ultra-minimal player who has done so much to chill the bones and cool the jets of many young hot-heads who cluster like flies around the Exploratorium. Hayward’s with us today credited with playing the “microtonal tuba” and joined by Christopher Williams, another Berlin player who carries the contrabass and once made a record with Derek Bailey in 2004. Together, the duo call themselves Reidemeister Move, and on Plays Borromean Rings (CORVO RECORDS core 010) they perform one of Hayward’s compositions. It can’t have escaped your notice that the score – a graphic score, at that – for the piece is printed directly on the record as a picture disk, thus forming a neat packaging of ideas and sound into a single cohesive unit. This sort of imaginative approach is one of the hallmarks of Corvo Records, I think, each release in their small but select catalogue exhibiting a successful marriage of visuals, sound, and packaging.

The graphic score for Borromean Rings is a very precisely-rendered string of information, as severe as computer code, and its sequence or logic is not plain to the untrained eye. Yet the intention behind Borromean Rings is not to create a ring-fenced barrier of inescapable rules, rather to free up the players in some way…the concise text printed within likens the composition to a game for two players, whose rules are intended to help each player “explore continually fresh avenues within the harmonic framework”. In trying to explain this kind of thing to myself, I usually reach for the metaphor of a map, one that’s intended to help the walker find their way around a strange clump of terrain. As for rules-yet-no-rules, I always understood (perhaps wrongly) that this was the essence of Cecil Taylor’s method, when directing his typically epic collaborative works of energy jazz.

Full marks for the concept and the method, then. But Reidemeister Move Plays Borromean Rings isn’t a very exciting listen. The lower-register drones are played with care and precision, but with zero passion; the even-ness of the work starts to grind down the listener in short order, much like a house painter who is skilled at applying a perfectly smooth layer of white paint throughout the house, slowly working in his methodical way. It’s not clear to me how the players are manoeuvring for position, if that’s what the game of Borromean Rings entails; I’m unable to perceive the intended avenues of exploration in what seems to me more like a series of slowly-executed turns on the exact same spot, like two animals circling in a maze. Much as I like the picture disc format, the music suffers from being pressed in vinyl this way, and the surface noise on my copy marred my appreciation of what I suppose is meant to be pristine, blemish-free minimalism.

On the positive side, the sound of these particular instruments is something I can enjoy for long stretches, and there is an unhurried pace to the playing that is evidence of the discipline and skill of both players, able to sustain long tones and extraordinarily precise fingering for long periods of time without once disturbing the chilled atmosphere. Werner Dafeldecker, of Polwechsel fame, did the recording in a church in Brandenburg. The label owner Wendelin Bücher designed the package, and even came up with a logo design for Reidemeister Move; it’s printed quite small, and it’s not quite in the same league as a Black Metal emblem, but it’s a nice touch. Numbered and limited to 300 copies; arrived 26th April 2016.

Blue Shadows on the Trail

Marsen Jules
Shadows In Time

Dortmund-based Martin Juhls has been putting out records under this derivation of own name since 2003 on labels including 12K, City Centre Offices, Autoplate and his own imprint, Oktaf. He also uses the names Falter, Krill.Minima and Wildach Sonnerkraut. There is also a separate Marsen Jules Trio where Juhls is augmented by brothers Anwar and Jan-Phillip Alam on violin and piano respectively. He terms his solo work under the Marsen Jules heading as “instrumental/ambient”. And his weapons of choice for this single piece Shadows In Time are synthesisers.

I suppose you could describe Juhls’ approach as drone/ambient synth-scape, but the development, at least initially, is a tad faster than is traditional in this sort of venture. Nothing wrong with that per se, and soon it relaxes into a sound more reminiscent of church organ. The material repeats, which is one facet that may put off hardened connoisseurs of Drone; the organic, “random” generative development familiar with such purveyors or, at the other end of the drone spectrum: complete stasis, is absent in this particular prime cut of beefy transcendence. It has neither the roiling mid-range bombast of Nadja’s Thaumogenesis nor the single-minded brutality of Puce Mary nor the inexorability of Phill Niblock.

I’m sure Juhls will be rolling his eyes to hear these lazy comparisons, but the point I’m making is: I’m not entirely sure of his actual intent. It’s repeated material for sure, but nice to drift off to. Put the cd player on repeat and you could drift away for ever thanks to Juhls’ interest in extended duration. He makes this statement about the process of composing Shadows In Time: “…It is based on four variations of the same 20 seconds loop modulating on three different layers, which are running against each other on a basis of millisecond variations…”, before also the assertion that “…Generative music has long ceased to be unknown territory in composition…”

But like the apocalyptic trend for pop-star singer-songwriters to overuse their brand new loopstations ten years ago, is it enough to simply set some pre-recorded material loose and watch it go, however subtly and delicately manipulated? Even a two-year-old will eventually tire of a wind-up toy, but on the other hand let’s not forget that Phillip Jeck and William Basinski have made careers out of this sort of thing, in their own unique ways. Juhls is another addition to the oeuvre. Indeed, he is poised to enter the history books when “the world’s longest film”: Anders Weberg’s 720 hour colossus Ambiancé is released in 2020; it’s theatrical trailer features music by Juhls – all 7 hours and 20 minutes of it, (Got a day off? View it here.

Prayer Wheels On Fire

POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 127-2 2 x CD (2016)

From mystics such as Blavatksy, David-Neel and Roerich 1 to one time rituallists like Current 93, O Yuki Conjugate, 23 Skidoo (Culling era) and the thighbone-trumpet-wielding phase of Psychic T.V., it seems that the remote mountain kingdom of Tibet has been a source of fascination for a considerable amount of time. Phurpa, who’ve been engaged in exploring ritual sonorities since the mid-nineties, can now be added to this rather disparate list of worthies. They’re a Russian collective founded by group conductor Alexey Tegin who’s flanked by Edward Utukin, Alexey Naumkin and Dmitry Globa, dedicating themselves to interpreting the authentic ceremonial music(s) of “Bon”: Tibet’s oldest Buddhist discipline.

Aside from the usual recording/mastering/design credits, Chöd plays its cards very close to its chest. Its enigmatic/austere sleeve art opens out to reveal blocks of Tibetan script, using a stark (now possibly overused) black gloss ink on coal black cardstock. There’s no mention of what possible arcane instrumentation might form the building blocks of these two pieces, coming in at a challenging 46.00 and 44.14 mins respectively. However, ultra-primitive drum thuddery and the occasional agitated bleat of massed thighbone trumpets (a.k.a. “the Kangling”) do come and go, but a major percentage of total body weight is swallowed up by the quartet’s slowly building beast-like utterances. It’s easy to think we’re hearing the sounds of a degenerate, cave-dwelling race, grunting their disapproval after discovering that evolution has declined to pay them a courtesy call.

Using a tantric overtone technique (similar I’d guess to that used on the Melodii Tuva c.d. on Dust to Digital/2007), the collective lung power employed here is pretty formidable and overwhelming and on face value, the Phurpa concept could be thought of as an outing in avant black metal accapella; standing before you, theatrics-free and as nature intended.

  1. Nicholas Roerich played a large part in one of twentieth century Europe’s major culture shocks; namely the debut performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, for which he was the librettist and costumier.

Curtain Raiser

On Background Curtain (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 129-2), we have a collaboration between Celer and Dirk Serries. Celer, i.e. the American Will Long, is familiar for his minimal ambient music which can be quite beautiful on occasion, and his Inside The Head of Gods was judged by us as a “masterpiece of understatement”. Belgian droner Dirk Serries used to be Vidna Obmama throughout the 1980s, and also recorded as Fear Falls Burning, a project where the weapon of choice was a guitar.

I suppose both players have an interest in long tones, subtle shifts of timbre, and a creative approach which involves much processing work. Processing is certainly the hallmark of Background Curtain. In fact it seems to be the basis for the entire piece. Celer sent a tape to Dirk one fine day in 2012. The time-stretched segment of collaged work was, to its creator, “puzzling and unworkable”. Yet Dirk came through and rallied like a Hessian, and returned something to Celer. At this point the tape-trading story becomes unclear to me, but it seems that Dirk didn’t actually rework the original unworkable tapes, and instead produced something entirely new while he was listening to them. Another year goes by, and Celer (clearly not a man to rush into things) has the brilliant idea of mashing up the new Dirk Serries music with his original source recording. He got to work behind his multi-tasking processor desk. “The musical colour and frequencies were the same,” he assures us, “but the effects and enveloping were triggered by the waves of Dirk’s track”. This feels a little sketchy, but I think I get the general idea, and I can understand why creators would wish to protect their working methods by shrouding them in vagueness and ambiguity.

Two long pieces ended up being pressed on the present CD as a result of this long and drawn-out creative process – ‘Above/Below’ and ‘Below/Above’. The first one is a slow-moving blanket of swaddling ambient sounds where everything sounds processed and unrecognisable, yet not to the point of becoming saccharine goo. On the second piece, it’s just about possible to discern some guitar notes, keening their forlorn cries like slowed-down seagull effects from a Bill Nelson performance. However, there’s no real point in trying to unbake this sonic pie; the point that Celer wishes we would concentrate on is the presence of what he calls the “background curtain”, presumably referring to his original “puzzling and unworkable” source material. I think he’s right to call it a curtain; it’s certainly not rigid enough to be called a spine or backbone. “Even if you can’t hear its place, it’s definitely there,” he assures us. “Maybe you can hear it?” From 23rd November 2017.

Raccoon Eyes

The French musician Hugo Roussel came our way 16 years ago – on a record made for Pricilia Records with Norman D. Mayer. I may not have spun it recently, but I do have fond memories of that particular obscure CDR, a grisly drone made simply with guitar feedback, electronics and mixing desk. Roussel has resurfaced today as one half of Brussel, performing here with Bruno Fleurence, sometime accordian player in the “free” mode, and member of the ensemble Soixante Étages, a genre-hopping troupe who have the distinction of having made one record with Lionel Marchetti, the excellent latter-generation musique concrète composer. I see Roussel was also in this band at one point – at any rate he added guitar to their 2014 album Lumpen Orchestra. Today’s record Delta (33REVPERMI 3516) was made with Roussell on the guitar and Fleurence playing the organ, another guitar, and the “surepeti” – which may be an accordian, or an Indian shruti box. As you can guess, slow drones are the order of the day, but I like the steely deliberation with which this pair go about the day’s task, and it’s the near-opposite of that rather precious school of playing which insists on near-silence (as if making a sound would pollute the purity of the music in some way). Rather, this record is juiced up with solid emotions, mostly rather stern and contemplative, as befits an album with a raccoon on the front cover. Roussel and Fleurence seem to be brooding, frowning, and disapproving of the excesses of the modern world, as they retreat further into their private burrow or nest. Again, I refer you to the image of the raccoon. The music is all improvised and the duo describe the album as “six rugged soundscapes…a thick and crepuscular”, while claiming some affinities with Delta blues music. This is their second release as Brussel, following 2013’s Härskeri. Arrived 14 November 2016.

World Without End

Cover of promo copy

Mystical droney sound art from Ariel Guzik has been captured on the LP Cordiox (VON023), a limited edition LP from the VON label. This wasn’t really produced as an album, but it captures some episodes from a sound installation called the Cordiox which Guzik made in Venice, a 12-foot high sound sculpture which was exhibited in San Lorenz Church in Venice as part of the Biennale. The sculpture seems to be made of quartz and wires, but from pictures found online there also appears to be a wooden box with knobs, dials, and lights which looks like a Renaissance art version of a synthesizer, and may or may not have some connection with the sculpture itself. On the record are some very solemn drones and resonating purrs, with faint echoes of a chiming sound of some sort buried in these multi-layered depths. One of the accomplishments of Guzik’s sound in this case is that it defies conventional musical notation as it spontaneously generates harmonic series that are impossible to capture. “Invisible magnetic forces” propel the work and create these sounds.

Actual LP cover

Invisible forces seem to have preoccupied Guzik for 25 years; this Mexican-born creator and polymath has worked at the Nature Expression and Resonance Research Laboratory in Mexico all that time, where he concerns himself with “the phenomena of resonance, mechanics, electricity, and magnetism”, all of which can be harnessed to make music. Unlike conventional scientific research, which sometimes might appear intent on explaining everything away, it is Guzik’s mission to preserve the mysteries of creation, and imagination and fantasy play a large part in his work also. Press notes supplied here by Karla Jasso and Carlos Casas speak freely of time-travel and dreaming when they encounter this strange music; Casas, at least, has been fortunate enough to visit the installation in situ, and returned with a fanciful tale about the dream of Marconi along the lines of “sound never dies…it emanates and resonates eternally”. Casas is convinced we can gain insights into the past, present and future through contemplation of the Cordiox. The label owners are persuaded that this LP is “the most hermetic and fabulous” release in their catalogue. From 27th October 2016.