Tagged: electroacoustic

Inviolate Achromatism

We’ve long been quite keen on Josh Ronsen and his improvising music group brekekekexkoaxkoax, which has occasionally beguiled us with instances of its slow-moving and semi-acoustic approach to a very exploratory and experimental form of improvisation. On Sudden Empire of Tears (hushroom7), it’s less of a group record and more of a solo album; he’s taking a slightly different tack and by way of provender he offers us six tracks of his electro-acoustic compositions, which have at least partially been created from transformations of previous recordings made by the band. Because of this transformative approach, it’s become something of a cliché that electro-acoustic music, and musique concrète in particular, is usually labelled “alchemy” by writers and reviewers (it’s a gaffe to which I must own up myself, in TSP’s second issue), and Ronsen himself is indulging in the perfidious game too if his track titles are anything to go by; I suspect they’ve been lifted directly from some volume of Renaissance science or magic, and even the CD artwork bears a magic circle device of some ilk. And what symbolism might the the blue dolphin on the box cover purport? Since classical antiquity, it has carried the connotation Festina Lente; a most apt device, considering the slow, considered pace with which Ronsen comports himself and his music.

Inside the box however, are a large number of inserted tiny artworks that evoke surrealism, Fluxus, small-run art and poetry magazines, and symbolism; and in the manner of a latterday Edgar Allen Poe, Ronsen has included a short dream diary booklet illustrated with cryptic colour photocopy images. There’s a playful as well as a serious side to all this; there’s a note to anyone who reviews the record, insisting on the use of certain obscure words; and the edition is small, only 50 copies, indicating he might regard it as a very personal project. Musically, it’s a gem; I regard the long tracks here as triumphant examples of musical refashionings which transcend their origins exceptionally well, never calling attention to their means of productions nor the multiple layerings from which presumably they have been built. I am particularly mesmerised by ‘The Hiding of The Face’, and the first part of ‘One Should Stop at this Measure of Knowledge’, both of which fully achieve the trance-state / dream-state aspirations implied by all the packaging and titles. When the spoken-word samples start to invade the latter piece, it’s a most effective intrusion of nightmarish elements. Some copies in the edition, mine included, have a bonus album packed into the box called Anti-Jazz; it’s an unreleased item from 2004, which he’s kept under wraps just because he was disappointed by technical limitations in the mastering. In all, a lovely mystical box to induce dreaming in even the most hardened insomniac. This perfidious wodge of music shines with the luminescence of ten lamberts, providing a most excellent coruscation. From 16 June 2013.

Un, Deux, Trois

020

Un

Les Hauts De Plafond
No Ask Lévrier
FRANCE SATIE CHAPO SC01 LP (2012)

Highbrow yet accessible, this sumptuous sonic melange melds vintage musique concrète’s rigorous exploration for new realms, scattershot syllable poetry and the propulsion of a studio-savvy avant-rock outfit that’s comfortable in any gear. No Ask Lévrier, Les Hauts de Plafond’s four-wheeled fantasy, chugs through forests of mystery with sat-nav flagging up every musical detour along a 40 minute ‘scenic route’, in which sound upon intriguing sound is layered and woven into the next like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by hands adept at intuitive combination; the music suffering not in the least from absence of climax; joy lying largely in wedding one strange sonic situation with another. As a result, you can leave the room and feel certain that someone’s changed the CD while you were out.

Something of an extended radio piece, this recording also belongs in the tradition of live meets sampled sound collage, and while it never quite attains the ecstatic poles of seminal works such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, nor does it stray into the less enthralling zones. Those familiar with the hardcore collagists (and a personal favourite) Milk Cult will also have some idea what to expect, the miniatures of their Project M-13 exuding a similar penchant for playful mystery, wherein vignettes of avant-pop collage engender eclectic and serendipitous psychological spaces; a perpetual scrapbook of adventure as in ‘Dieu Est Une Voiture En Plein Phare’, which immerses a metronomic bass in a web of voices and the motor blasts of a car race.

A press shot shows the pensive pair attempting to record pieces of fruit, suggesting a quirky sense of humour and a ‘concrète’ mandate to distil drama from the quotidian. Further homage to the sound-spelunking forefathers can be found in ‘L’insoutenable Objet’, featuring clattering crockery and a deep, squeaky door that opens the portal to Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir. Les Hauts de Plafond has also been said to broadcast music from a 2CV used as a mobile amplifier, the myth enhancing their capacity to illuminate the sublimely ridiculous within the ostensibly ordinary.

Sylvain Chauveau

Deux

Sylvain Chauveau
Kogetsudai
FRANCE BROCOLI 013 CD (2013)

Sylvain Chauveau’s 10th recording Kogetsudai is the second in a trilogy based on convergence of abstract and natural forms. Where the first part, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) drew upon the mysteries of abstract painting, Kogetsudai reflects (and reflects upon) a more eastern phenomenon: Japanese rock gardens, such as Ryoanji in Kyoto, where the piece was conceived. I’m pretty sure Ryoanji was also the site of an incongruous photograph of Rudolf eb.er and Dave Philips, joined by a bevy of Japanese schoolgirls, which I can’t locate right now. Further bemusement notoriously occurs in response to the site itself: 248 square metres’ worth of pebbles raked to resemble… nothing much, leaving many a westerner wondering what they travelled all that way for.

In a similar manner, the Kogetsudai resonates with naturalistic intrigue, oscillating fragile ripples and whorls, from the centre of which issues the odd snatch of haiku-like lyric, delivered so gradually as to force you to pay attention. Emotionally adrift somewhere between Fennesz and Eleh; archetypally minimal; it’s not Francisco Lopez, but it is delicate in construction, every piece just a gossamer layer or so, consisting of location recordings, sine waves or, in ‘Lenta’, soft, suspended piano chords. While I’m not drawn to the laboured vocals – I don’t know – something like a frozen Bill Callahan’s, the tenuous musical gestures are genuinely evocative, suggesting a space outside of time the way Aphex Twin did in his second round of Selected Ambients. Evident is the attention to detail, and a seemingly genuine appreciation of the meditative mentality of Chaveau’s subject matter, which to my ears is a significant accomplishment, given that one cannot simply ‘turn Japanese’.

minizza-a-rebours

Trois

Minizza
A Rebours
FRANCE BROCOLI 014 CD (2013)

To realise a long-term ambition, French electronic trio Minizza recruited six collaborators for their third and most considered recording: a radio rendering of J.K. Huysman’s dense novella about a decadent misanthropist named Jean Des Esseintes. In the novel, Des Esseintes retires with his many worldly possessions from Paris – sick of society and its tiresome mores – to a house in the countryside, where he spends day upon day keeping strange hours, reflecting upon and rejecting orthodox literature, criticism, Catholic writings, and rewarding his senses to the gills with the finest substances he can treat them to. He also encrusts the shell of a tortoise with gems, causing its death; an indulgence analogous to the lifestyle that nearly kills Des Esseintes himself. Seemingly sedated by the knots of memories and sensory experiences past and present, the narrative proceeds quite ponderously at times, and is best reserved for times devoid of distraction.

Similar attention may be required here, for though an easier experience than the novel, it’s not a casual one. Realised for French radio, Francophones will certainly fare better than I in appreciating it in its fullness, though I begrudge it not the inaccessibility: rather the French vocals engender a sense of emotional distance analogous to the protagonist’s. Besides, I couldn’t see an English version living up to this standard, to be honest: the obsessive yet languid atmosphere is far more suggestive of a continental decadence than a conceivably more inept, British one. As if to drive the point home, in ‘De La Nature Des Choses’ a Gallic slur slinks sleazily behind a familiar bassline, through the same firelit drawing room as in Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Melody’, and offering the set one of its more seductive sections. That said, the narrator’s resonant, often breathy delivery I find difficult to correlate with as sickly a figure as Des Esseintes, unless it is a self-dramatising interior monologue, where none can taint his schizoid, scholarly reveries.

Arrangements are on the whole airy, moody and evocative of Des Esseintes’ sensory forays. Instrumentation is spare, implying precariousness and single-mindedness, and further by layers of soft, echoing electronics, seemingly bathing the voice in sickly rays of light. ‘Dominé Par Des Abstractions’ delights especially in the ebb and flow of it. These faint sonic veneers sometimes admit voices: revenants from Des Esseintes’ distant, debauched past; figments of the dimly remembered, lit by faint flickers of Badalamenti-esque jazz. As it approaches the final stages, the atmosphere becomes quite disorienting, culminating in a radio dial blitz in ‘Agonie’, but all in all it’s an enticing listen, as rich in tone and pretension; as ornate and fleeting as the world of Des Esseintes, and perhaps as appropriate to specific points in time as a reading of the novel itself.

People in the Ceiling

003

A delightful item is Tales Of The Expected (MOMENTAL RECORDS MR CD1), an assemblage concocted with joyful glee and meticulous care by the composer Thierry Vaudor. This Canadian-born composer comes to us from a musicological background, and after his studies in jazz composition at Montreal he played his bass in local jazz and rock bands before picking up the virtual editing knife under the guise of Total Normal. All the cuts on this album he classifies under the “acousmatic” term, which is what composers say when they intend the music to be used exclusively for playback over speakers. It’s all done by building layers of sampling and editing, a task over which Vaudor labours with love and dedication, and you might hear anything up to 150 separate instruments on a single track. Some of them are quite brief in duration, but the listener certainly won’t feel short-changed after digesting each intense and chunky spread of music which smears like goose liver pate over hot buttered toast. I want to emphasise that Vaudor is not one of those sampling types who wallows in irony, post-modernism, sarcasm or all the other tricks perpetrated by some dozy samplerdelic types following in the wake of John Oswald, and we are not invited to play “spot the source” nor break into a knowing smirk at each witty juxtaposition. Instead, Vaudor works entirely with his ears; he chooses the “intrinsic qualities” of a “found sound”, not for what he calls its “anecdotal or referential value”. In this way he delivers quietly impossible music: brilliant melodic poppy-jazzy rhythms sprinkled with elements of easy listening, techno-lite beats, souled-up vocals, and multiple layers of extremely odd confections of constructed sound. Lots of good humour in these seamlessly-assembled bright tunes, and intellectually satisfying too. From 1st February 2013.

a0864885839_10

Late notice for the Untitled (SMERALDINA-RIMA S-R-015) album by Spirit Of The Positive Wind, a lumpy clunkeroo of rugged performo-noise from four Americans which was released in October 2011, received here in April 2012, and is only now surfacing to the rim of the cauldron. On this vinyl item we’ve got members of Mouthus Brian Sullivan and Nate Nelson (who also did the cover painting), plus Pete Nolan of Magik Markers and Karl Bauer from Axolotl. I’ve enjoyed the crazy noise music of all of these underground Yanks, although it’s been impossible to keep up with all of their prodigious output, and to this day I still feel unable to assess the value of what they’ve achieved over the last ten years or so. Releases like this one, while extremely enjoyable, aren’t helping me make up my mind. Their combined work has been collaged together into two suites of about 20 minutes apiece, and the process has involved a fair amount of smearing and rendering-down, at times producing extremely bizarre and unfamiliar sounds, and at other times creating a rather wearisome and unnatural bubbling drone effect. I certainly admire whatever rough-hewn techniques were employed to achieve these strange-tasting effects and exotic aural moments, but somewhere the force of the original performances has been drained away. There may be about five or ten good minutes in amongst this meandery mudbath full of purple eels and gulping carps, but there doesn’t seem to be any convenient way to extract these nuggets.

006

La Géographie Sans Regret (SPECTROPOL RECORDS SpecT 15) is a fairly uncanny record, one of those wild collaborative affairs that make you wonder in amazement at the results. The young Brazilian guitarist George Christian clashes his steely howler-mode strings with the Japanese act Mehata Sentimental Legend, who is the visual artist and experimenter Mehata Hiroshi and one who describes their work as “ritual futurism”. It’s a shocking listen; within seconds you’re presented with far too much musical information to digest, as though watching a cine film with double exposures, or even triple exposures. This impression persists for the first two tracks and, apart from a lull into a slightly quieter passage on track 3, doesn’t get much easier after that point; indeed it’s these very raw and discordant qualities that make the work live and breathe for me, and keep it fresh and vital for each new spin. For just about every second of listening, you truly feel like this is a matter of life or death, that something very serious is at stake. Both musicians recorded their parts at their respective homelands, separated by significant distances, and I wonder if the totality was assembled after the fact from disparate parts, a method that is proven to work well, and if that’s what they did it adds considerably to the deliciously jarring experience of the album. Plus there’s the claustrophobic and eccentric mix, which piles all the sounds together as signs of equal value, and obliges the listener to sort it all out in the head. Both of them sing or add voice parts, but as the lyrics are printed in Portuguese I assume that’s George’s voice that dominates on such juddering haunters as ‘Abismo de Cravos’; he admits he is attempting to “test the limits of his singing voice”, and his notes also disclose the very personal exploratory nature of this work, a reconciliation of his own musical history with his interest in contemporary art. As to Mehata Hiroshi, this person is a cryptical mystic type, uttering compelling phrases such as ‘Stem and root emits life to two sides of the same coin’ and ‘Soul, such as magma deep underground that is wriggling’. Right on! The total effect of this slow-raging hailstorm of shrill and metallic sound swirling together with these plaintive howly vocals is palpable, producing a coppery taste in the mouth and inducing an apocalyptic headache of the soul. Not an easy listen and few will work their way past its forbidding surface, but once you’re deep within this tunnel / maelstrom of music you’ll find it hard to slip loose from its intestinal bonds. Besides the wild voices, you should find the guitar playing of George Christian is truly remarkable (when it occasionally climbs its way to the surface of the cluttered mix, that is) and it’s not far-fetched to predict that one day soon he’ll be held in as high esteem as Haino, Akiyama, or Li Jianhong. From 5th March 2013, and highly recommended.

026A

Eyes Without A Head

Various
Blanc Et Rouge: Polish Radio Experimental Studio
POLAND BOLT RECORDS BR ES04 3 x CD (2012)

Martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981 – an act that led to the ruthless suppression of political groups, journalists, teachers and anyone who could voice their opposition. While it was officially lifted in July 1983, legislative changes undertaken during that period ensured its effective endurance until the fall of Communism in 1989. That historical nucleus has left a gaping hole in the continuity established by the fourteen extended compositions that comprise this collection, when artistic expression in Poland was stifled. On either side though, it flourished in the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio, the activities of which (between 1962 and 1989) are presented herein. The significance of this dark period is anything but understated in the lengthy essay that accompanies this collection, to the point of tacitly characterising Polish creativity as a political protest. The French title reminds us that the Polish flag shares two of France’s national colours, while suggesting a common revolutionary impulse, and establishing a valourising note that is emphatically sustained throughout the same essay.

Even in peace time – it is related – compositions abounded in Warsaw that ‘alluded to the current events but also pointed to the broader historical and humanistic context’ all of which were made possible under the aegis of the Warsaw Polish Radio Experimental Studio; a facility, we are informed, established by Radio Committee president Wlodzimierz Sokorski to assuage his ‘undeniable guilt’, having served as Minister of Culture and Art during Poland’s stint with Stalinism. A simultaneous striving for cultural, political and even spiritual renewal informs this work, often to the extent of historical disconnection; engendered on one hand by repeated political ‘decapitation’ (witnessed as recently as 2010, when an air force plane carrying Poland’s political elite crashed in Russia) and by an apparent desire to utilise new technology to stay one step ahead of the watchful eye of authority. In many instances the music serves as a satirical protest against political groups also pursuing renewal (indeed, the same political bodies that stumped up the cash to facilitate musical such experimentation).

The resulting relationship between opposing tendencies is a subject explored most explicitly in the work of Krzystof Knittel, who likened art to ‘litmus paper rather than a propaganda brochure’. However, one revealing test of the music’s present-day political potency resides in its apparent status as a cultural artifact, and possibly even propaganda: the collection has the full support of the Polish Ministry of Culture and the Warsaw Municipal Office. I wonder then, whether this newly unveiled work – a sincere attempt to establish a historical and cohesive (if overly selective) set of names and works likely unknown to many – will have the historical appeal or impact of its Western European analogues.

Unacquainted as I am with the majority of those featured, my first port of call is Krzystof Penderecki’s ‘Death Brigade’, which offers at least a vague reminder of his well-known work, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, with swells of screeching strings that occasionally pierce the brick-thick sub-bass rumble; while snatches of biblical text offer fleeting redemption against a flat but brisk monologue that commands an air of wartime paranoia. As it happens, the narrator reads entries from the diary of Leon Weliczker, a member of the Sonderkommando 1005: a concentration camp contingent of mostly Jewish prisoners, charged with the abetting and subsequent concealment of Nazi war crimes. The moral ambiguity of the material led to Penderecki’s wide condemnation. However, while the mood is convincing enough, much of the piece’s 31 minutes are given over to the voice, where excerpt format might instead have sufficed. It is a trend that is maintained far too liberally over the first and third discs, and constitutes the major shortcoming with this collection.

To my ears anyway, Polish lacks even the linguistic footholds an English speaker might find in tongues such as French or German, and while sleeve note synopsis (for all works) is provided, it scarcely compensates for the experience of having to endure so gruelling a listening experience (and I don’t wimp-out easily). This points to an artistic own-goal: if the collection’s raison d’etre is to raise the international profile of a putatively subversive music, then greater selectivity would have paid off in speaking/sound ratio terms, for the audience’s sake. Granted, humanistic sentiments can be gleaned from titles such as ‘Elegy for the Victims of War’ and ‘Guillotine DG’, but as an Anglophone (and not an entirely monoglot one) I find myself excluded by all this chit-chat; a sense compounded by the conspiratorial tone adopted to relate the ‘concealed in plain view’ modus operandi of the composers invisibly biting the hands that fed. To my mind it casts the unwitting listener in the same, ridiculed role of the government, while revalidating the sense of political victimisation that once provided conditions for the music’s genesis.

Mercifully, speech is subdued in the second disc, and sound-wise, compositions tend towards the stark and the sparse: dark, foggy horizons peppered with theatrical suggestions of manual labour, vernacular folk forms, and – perhaps more potently – actual recordings of bombs, fights and gunfire; sprinkled and splurged with tinkling tape-edit sounds and all manner of electronic processing. The atmospheric density scarcely surprises when the collection frequently nominates (or alludes to) ‘death’, in a commemorative manner albeit. Spearheading this approach is composer Eugeniusz Rudnik – a veteran sound engineer of Polish Radio (having enlisted in 1955) – whose own work takes up a third of the total running time, and whose career cross-section illustrates a subtle yet diverse development of style, from (seemingly) narcotic radio drama (‘Lesson II’) to something uncannily approximating the minimal techno pioneered by Basic Channel (‘Guillotine DG’ (1989)), just a few years later, in one of the set’s few demonstrations of musical prescience. However, what it may be said to lack in surprise, it at least compensates for in durability.

Whereas Elzbieta Sikora’s ‘Rhapsody For The Death Of The Republic’ (1979) exhibits a more exciting mastery of Rudnik’s dynamic extremes with its juxtaposition of wartime whistling and zoetropic flicker upon a murky background. It is one of the collection’s highlights. However, while working on a commission of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, entitled ‘The Head of Orpheus II’, news of the imposition of martial law reached Sikora and the piece was conceptually decapitated. Retitled ‘Janek Wisniewski-December-Poland’ (1982-83), it builds on and offers an even more kinetic approach to ‘classic’ electro-acoustic sounds than ‘Rhapsody’: stereo-panning, electronic flourishes and ascending/descending tones, such as can be readily found in the contemporary works of composer (and Rudnik collaborator) Andrzej Dobrowolski; one who has been mysteriously omitted from this collection. And while I‘m on the topic of unfortunate omissions, I for one would have appreciated hearing Rudnik’s 1971 composition, ‘Divertimento’ (1971): apparently a Schimpfluch-esque compilation of burps, coughs and other sounds edited from official party speeches.

At times the music requires a more nostalgic ear; one comfortable with the impressive output of the Creel Pone label, perhaps. Given the now-historical provenance of this music, some sounds a little dated to my ears: harking back to a time when a composition’s interest resided more in the novelty value of its contents than on its overall structure. At times, there’s a disappointing paucity of dynamic transitions between events musical and vocal on display, which might have ameliorated the perpetual gloom. And in spite of some surrealistic happenings, later entries differ too little from those preceding: the seven parts of Krzystof Knittel’s ‘Dorikos’, for example. A suite for string quartet, tape and voice samples; in sum, the piece returns us to the more lunar environs of the first few tracks, while boasting, at least, vastly superior recording quality, sounding out nicely the acoustic dimensions of the string section’s performance space. The feat is repeated in the 36-minute epic closer, ‘Glückspavillon For Cathy’ (1978), which adds more prominent (i.e. tiresome) speaking sections and electronic sounds, but at the cost of variety. Lacking appropriate visual representation, the listener must be informed that ‘Dorikos’ features recordings of the composer wrestling (with artist Jerzy Kalina) on a piano lid, while commentary issues from a man installed in a loudspeaker. A companion DVD would have helped!

Overall, there’s plenty to be enjoyed here, but digested as a whole, it’s like sitting through a couple of Rainer Fassbinder box sets (I speak from experience): a long struggle with odd moments of engagement, a grim satisfaction upon completion, and an aversion to immediately repeating the experience. My feeling is that compilers would have done a lot better to focus on the kind of electroacoustic composition that would at least have permitted comparison to equivalent work from Western Europe (Poland’s was one of just four such studios in Europe at the time, after all), i.e. more music, less speech. That said, it’s an impressive, if well-meaning introduction to an otherwise overlooked period in recent musical history.

Psychogeographical Prosopopoeia (it’s all Greek to me)

img294

Yannis Kyriakides
Resorts & Ruins
UNSOUNDS 33u CD (2013)

Moving on from his sonic renderings of geographical contours, the Projector-approved ‘Cypriot genius’ Yanni Kyriakides treats us to a new form of psychogeographic meditation in Resorts & Ruins: one concerned with the long-term effects of erosion on locales physical and mnemonic. He relates these themes by means of juxtaposition: impersonal expanses of electroacoustic dark matter colliding with warm fragments of traditional music sampled from different vocal traditions including Turkish pop, Cypriot epic song, and opera. These add both a serendipitous ‘Sublime Frequencies’ air to the listening experience, while suggesting the irrepressibility of half-remembered events. By such means, Kyriakides provides an entrancing alternative history lesson: one poised perfectly between intellect and artistry; ambitious enough to render me regretful of doodling my way through the years of my school education.

Erosion as a consequence of neglect comprises the central concern in ‘Varosha (Disco Debris)’; pretty much the album’s sonic centrepiece, in which the above song forms erupt at inopportune moments during robotic tour-guide narration. This infuses and alternates with an expanding and unstable metallic background, which spans the half-hour duration and provides uncomfortable reminder of the indelibility of past traumas, whether personal or historical. Events centre on the eponymous Varosha – a Cypriot ‘ghost town’ – invaded by Turkish forces in July 1974 and maintained as a fenced-off ‘political bargaining chip’ ever since. The contrast between approachable samples and lunar dispassion evokes an idyllic summer rendered memorable for the wrong reasons. As it happens, the summer in question constitutes Kyriakides’ earliest memory: he holidayed at the location with his family when the Turkish invasion occurred, and spent a memorable day in a hotel basement, drawing on the floor: perhaps the floor plan for the present work?

More illustrious associations are invoked in ‘The 100 Words’: a composition of ‘synthesized voices and electronic sound’, commissioned and created at the GRM studios in Paris, performed at the Presence Electronique festival in 2012, and enjoyed by me in my living room. I must say, the reverberating sub-bass that emboldens fragmented instructions to ‘look’ and eventually ‘speak’ is shoving my eardrums dangerously close together – a suffering I heartily recommend to fellow audio masochists. It is accompanied by further samples; these taken from an obsolescent form of song traditionally sung at Cypriot weddings, which relates the sense of destiny that has drawn the betrothed couple together since birth. Simultaneously disintegrating while throbbing with greater and greater intensity, revealing greater detail in each sweep, the piece gains magnificent momentum over its 21-minute lifespan, as the components are revised and intermeshed. GRM certainly got their money’s worth!

Dividing the above, extended compositions in searing slices of sound are the three ‘Covertures’, which tweak a similar set of variables each round. Here too narrates the dispassionate voice of officialdom, commanding a process thus: ‘open [ rising drone ] ‘close’ [ silence ] ‘open’ [ drone ] ‘close’ [ silence ] ‘open’ [ drone ] ‘close’ [ silence ] and so on – in the first section at least. Said drones offer fearsome, galactic ringing that should not fail to facilitate listener concentration. Kyriakides describes these ‘walls’ as ‘frozen instants’ captured in the opening and closing sections of a performance of a Monteverdi opera. Beneath the glassy blasts one can easily discern the raucous sounds of an energetic crowd, though whether it expresses violence or appreciation constitutes and ambiguity that confers on the piece a powerful reminder of how the value of a cultural experience can easily be determined by factors outside of the performer’s intention. How many gigs have been made or marred by an audience, one might ask. It also brings to mind an account given by Genesis P. Orridge of a ploy used by William Burroughs to take revenge on a Greek-owned café in London, where he had been slighted by an insolent waiter. Slinking back and forward, past the establishment, Burroughs spent time airing tape recordings of riots so as to establish an air of disquiet. This he followed up by taking a photograph of the area and splicing together two sections of the street sans café. Apparently the café went out of business soon afterwards and the space proved poison for anyone trying to set up shop thereafter. Beats firebombing I suppose. Anyway, these pieces were developed from a series of ‘sound walls’ used in an installation for a collective exhibition entitled ‘Opera Aperta’, held at the Dutch Pavilion, Venice, in 2011. Kyriakides has evidently rather careful in his section selection, as the sound is ever captivating.

I’ve a well-developed soft spot for electroacoustic music such as this, which is perhaps why I cannot find any words of criticism for it, as it satisfies intellectually, emotionally and as a self-contained listening experience. Thus it receives a glowing thumbs-up from me. The CD is accompanied by a set of saturated colour postcards of Cypriot locations entitled “The Golden Seaside”. Based on based on images of Varosha, the cards offer a vivid, hyperrealist counterpoint to the faded photograph aesthetic of Fennesz’ ‘Endless Summer’, while remaining consistent with the concepts explored within Kyriakides’ fascinating music.

postcards

Vinyl Sevens round-up (1 of 3)

From Private Leisure Industries, we have Buffalo Bangers (PLI-4) with two nifty songs ‘Granite Grandma’ and ‘Blockader’ which it’s possible to locate in the area of minimal new-wave influenced avant-rock…by which I mean that both songs are typified by their economy, their brilliantly spartan sound – Cooper Holmes twangs a mean and moody guitar, proving once again that Hank Marvin casts a long “shadow” over the history of the Fender strat in music…1 Lindsey Elcessor is the singer whose hollow voice evokes nine shades of disaffection and alienation, and she carries this forward into her symbolically-charged lyrics, such as “The King and Queen have eaten all the flowers”. No disguising the snarl of menace and anger in her voice, even when the targets of her lyrical barbs remain somewhat obscure. Suitably angsty cover drawings too, full of spikiness and double meanings. This label also sent us the excellent seven-inch by Trophy Wife who I think are from Nashville, while Buffalo Bangers are from Atlanta. Arrived 21/11/2011.

On what might be the first seven-inch released by Monotype Records, we have a dandy split (MONOSP001) of abstract noise and electronics by Cremaster and Komora A. Cremaster from Barcelona, currently operating as the duo of Fages and Monteiro, realised ‘Haz’ using assorted electroacoustic methods, and create a glorious slow-motion wave of unstoppable force. Like witnessing a volcano fizzing over the rim of its own crater like red-hot soda pop. Or a tidal wave causing awful havoc and destruction. As ever, Cremaster retain their detached outlook and stony visage, even in the face of ultimate disaster. Komora A have a better title – ‘Crystal Dwarf Opens His Eyes’ – but this trio of Polish players don’t have quite the force behind their punches in their melange of analogue and digital synth porridge. Even so, their stop-start approach and eccentric performance method guarantees a few unsettling moments for the listener. Mirt’s cover art suggests a very clinical and scientific view of “deconstruction”, which may be appropriate for the aural contents. From 21/12/2012.

While Poland is still uppermost in the noggin, Tomasz Krakowiak is a young Polish percussionist concerned with exploring the sound of his drums using electro-acoustic methods. His A/P (BOCIAN RECORDS BC 03) is a rather process-heavy work produced using just one of his cymbals recorded using a stereo microphone; the resulting continuous sound is probably intended to be quite hypnotic, and is replete with many undulating and slightly “sparkly” layers, but even so I found my attention wandering fairly quickly. Oddly enough, things fall into place when we hear the B-side, which I regard as a ghostly counterpart to its brother, a more subdued version of the results but using the same technique. For some conceptual reason, each side has been edited to last precisely one second short of five minutes. For those who wish an entire solo album of Krakowiak’s percussive experiments, try the recent Moulins CD on this label.

‘Bitter Ballads’ (HOLLOW BUNNY RECORDS HB005) by Nine Fingered Thug is just totally excellent, from its twisted Matt Minter cover art to every second of its EP-length grooves. While Buffalo Bangers pay explicit homage to various late-1970s New Wave bands with their sound, Nine Fingered Thug are far more eccentric and artistic and while it’s possible to characterise this record as some species of punk-inflected monstrousness, it’s just got so many elements that don’t fit neatly – including the mannered snarly vocals by Samuel M.Z. Mintu and the utterly spooked-out organ work from the great Irene Moon. Come to that, what’s the madcap Irene Moon even doing in a “band”? 2 The two songs here are both hymns to a pair of subversive visual artists, Hans Bellmer and Unica Zürn 3, and the insert includes a photograph of the duo nursing one of their doll constructs. The lyrics, especially those for the ‘Hans’ side, are sympathetic to the dark side of these far-out modernists, while also spinning a nightmarish yarn out of free-form streams of surreal poetry. It’s a genuine attempt to crawl inside the heads of these strange creators. Mintu, credited with “grumbling” as well playing the bass, grunts out these unwelcome visions of ugliness from a deep part of the psyche. There’s also the guitarist Services Lobo and Dabney Scott Craddock IV on drums, and I mention all four players because I can hardly credit the bizarre sound they make together – guitars and keyboards shining dimly among a fug of rather awkward rhythms – rather like a gothic version of Butthole Surfers. Also I enjoy they way they don’t really sit comfortably together as a band; each one plays as though they were making a completely different record from the others. Nothing but praise have I for this slab of grotesque beauty. Probably received some time before June 2011 but was released in 2010.

  1. Many UK punks acknowledged their love of Marvin’s work; this coincided with EMI’s release of the compilation 20 Golden Greats (0C 062-06 297) in 1977.
  2. Of course she was a member of The Collection Of The Late Howell Bend.
  3. Others who have explicitly professed their obsessions in this area are Stephen Thrower and Alfredo Tisocco.

All Change Please!

"...a petri-dish for musical metamorphosis..."
“…a petri-dish for musical metamorphosis…”

Andrey Kiritchenko
Chrysalis
UKRAINE NEXSOUND NS 68 LP (2012)

With a healthy swathe of over 40 recordings under belt, among which roisterings with the likes of Francisco López and Kim Cascone, Nexsound label founder (and occasional visitor to Sound Projector pages) Andrey Kiritchenko now unveils Chrysalis: a petri-dish for musical metamorphosis in which ‘acoustic instruments and electronics flow into one another, dissolve in devolution, decay in a space of interactions’ and experience ‘rebirth’. Well, there’s a palpable sense of dew-dropped newness and wonder throughout: a beguiling innocence that arises from the satisfying compositional integrity of a solid set of slow and graceful jazz numbers for an augmented quartet of clarinet, double bass and violin and whatever else Kiritchenko happens to deem apt for each occasion. Tracks stroll the gamut from mechanically precise electro-jazz shapes to lusher, more laconic orchestral outings, pleasant surprises abounding from one moment to the next.

Bass-driven with warm, round tone, ‘Vortex Singular’ establishes the quirky, hobbling rhythm that runs through much of the record; a clarinet mantra bobbing overhead, with an occasional riptide of electronic screech. Forgivably brief spells of synthetic string stabs do set teeth on edge, reminders of Innerzone Orchestra’s electro-jazz or ‘90s Ninja Tune (which no-one seemed to have a harsh word for, back in the day), standing out as the one undermining element of this otherwise mellifluous melange. An arguable disadvantage of adding computers to jazz I suppose. However, guest instruments such as xylophone, thumb piano and some crisp drumming add much to the music’s resonance, its patient, layer-by-layer development and minimal mood, redolent of organic machines in a Hiyao Miyazaki animation. Each piece artfully rephrases this formula, while never quite straying into parametric extremes, and sitting side by side most successfully on side B: ‘Momentum Derive’ being a personal highlight.

My only other fault with this record is a real first-world nit-pick: its paper-thin outer sleeve really does the beautiful silver-inked artwork a disservice, along with the attractive transparent grey vinyl and the music itself, of course. If only more records suffered such slight afflictions!

021

Andrey Kiritchenko on Soundcloud

Gauzy Dreams that melt away

ROB

Robert McDougall
Unfinished Studies
AUSTRALIA ANGKLUNG EDITIONS ANG01 LP (2012)

Now an ultimately absorbing and beautifully realised slice of vinyl hailing from the antipodean quarter, 2012. This comes in the form of the Unfinished Studies l.p. by Robert McDougall, a Melbourne-based electro-acoustician and label boss, who certainly appears to have a fresh handle on investigations into the disciplines of avant-garde composition. A pleasing meld of pre-production treatments, electronics and field recordings can be found on the four long pieces within the somewhat anonymous-looking sleeve art. Starting with “Platter Study No. 2″; in which the platter in question appears to be a recording sourced from some ancient eastern ceremony, where distant gong/metallic bowl (?) tones are under threat of being consumed by a fluctuating foreground hum of unknown origin and, of course, the reassuring crackle that only distressed shellac can produce. “Untitled No. 4″ uses the same brand of disconcertingly blurred perspective as “Platter…”. The shimmer of a gently uncoiling keys/guitar figure is set against the distant hubbub of what seems to be a village market and reminds me of one of those gauzy dreams that’s remembered on the very cusp of awakening, before melting away forever. Further distant metallics are employed in “Installation Study No. 2″ in which the sound of an all pervading outboard motorboat drone is eventually punctuated by some quietly struck drawing-room piano chords, giving added dramatic import. My favourite though, is derived from a piano piece by Anne Boyd, a music professor from the University of Sydney. “Angklung Study” sounds, for all the world, like an outtake from Cluster, during their fields and streams period, circa Sowiesoso. Rather damn fine. A soft insidious assault on the senses, where…more or less, less is more.
A limited edition of 300 through Angklung Editions.

Bandcamp page

A Six-Part Syntax of Sound

img089
Manuella Blackburn
Formes Audibles
empreintes DIGITALes IMED 12117 DVD (2012)

If ever there were just cause not to judge a book (or CD) by its cover then this is it. The sleeve’s hazy smudge of tame blue and yellow is more indicative of a Rothko-esque William Basinski rip-off than an ontologically expansive, electroacoustic orgy. Look more closely though and a telling detail reveals that this is another CD on the redoubtable empreintes DIGITALes label, whose bold claim to be ‘the world leader in electroacoustic/acousmatics’ will solidly stand-up to any bench test. In fact, given the daring new vocabularies voiced on recordings such as this, the debut from the UK’s Manuella Blackburn, I’m visited by an overpowering sense that I am the one being tested.

One need only glance at Blackburn’s biography to be dazzled: barely in her thirties, she is a lecturer in Music Technology at Manchester University and has already taken home a slew of illustrious awards from international electronic music events. However, venture into the music and you will find yourself lost for words. INA GRM fiends may find themselves at home amidst this spellbinding selection of surgically sculpted, swiftly shifting sounds and tunneling tones, cosmic flourishes and vacuumed hushes; all emulsified by a convulsive cohesiveness that obviates any hint of homogeneity, while marking every tone as Blackburn’s own. However, for other listeners it may be like ‘spherical trigonometry for the inhabitants of Flatland’, as Aleister Crowley put it.

Track titles range from the open-ended (‘Switched On’, ‘Vista Points’, ‘Kitchen Alchemy’ and ‘Spectral Spaces’) to those of a more orientalist ambiguity (‘Karita Oto’ and ‘Cajon!’). More than merely cursory designations, they successfully signpost the strange realms of sonic mysteries (to be) traversed not just by the listener, but the composer as well. Blackburn has personally articulated the discovery process by which she arrived at certain source sounds, before proceeding with an exploratory process of creating cohesive (if temperamental) compositions. The latter titles – more exotic designations – depict encounters between origins foreign and familiar perhaps found during the composer’s travels, as does the use of a French title for the collection.

These six compositions were realised between 2007 and 2011. All throughout, sound sources from guitar to household appliances are rubbled to clouds of recognisable remnants that are animated into play perhaps best viewed in infrared, as they are climatologically morphed in a febrile, fluctuating maelstrom. Some of the recurring ‘audible forms’ include pointillistic flutters in particle accelerators, powdered performance samples draped over air currents, punctuated by split-second stabs of alien alloys, plunged into low-density liquids, and tucked into electro-gossamer sheets of pure tone. Fans of Bernard Parmegiani or Francis Dhomont may find themselves on familiar ground, but will equally be delighted at so fresh and authentic a manner of articulation.

In ‘Vista Points’, flurries of improvised guitar are fleshed out, strings amplified to an almost glassy pitch, and spray-painted with myriad layers of twittering designer genes. The resulting ‘causality, conflict and turbulence’ is captivating, especially so in the sudden moments, when the piece’s initial stability yields to a terrible tension between explosive pressure and release/tentative stillness and paralysing presence, and the atmosphere is engorged with crackling clouds of electrons.

The sound source in ‘Switched On’ is an aged television, from the wake-up stage of which the composer has coaxed unfamiliar flutters and frequencies – some just a split second in duration – and painstakingly corralled them into a towering cake of ‘cascades and explosive flourishes’. The realised piece – a polyphony between chimes and switches in alternating on/off states of animation – surges with the electrical life force of a seemingly dormant device, which depiction succinctly epitomises much of Blackburn’s composition: originating in a static state, suddenly seething violently but with volition and direction seemingly more evolved than the sensory apparatus of the listener.

‘Karita Oto’ (‘borrowed sound’) derives equally from a number of traditional Japanese instruments (the samples were taken during a 2008 trip to Tokyo), and ‘compositional strategies developed from Denis Smalley’s spectromorphology’. The piece follows an ‘episodic structure’ through which ‘cultural’ sounds are deconstructed to their very DNA, and reformed into glistening web ladders thumped and plucked by monstrous spider appendages. The duality that informs this composition of contrasts is, according to Blackburn, inspired by the oft-remarked upon extremes found in Japanese culture, such as one might find during a daytrip around the Zen temples of central Kyoto.

The immediate and relentless ‘Kitchen Alchemy’ careens like carnal relations between mercurial bodies as if heard from within: an amorphous, unstable globule of rippling liquid metal spitting out bulbous bursts of machine-whir with undertones of deep gong resonance. Like ‘Karita Oto’, the piece’s acousmatic exegesis of kitchen utensils is realised via Denis Smalley’s spectromorphological language and ‘structures created from a variety of onset, continuant, and termination vocabulary combinations’, which certainly bears out the eponymous alchemist’s jargon-heavy patois. And while some might regard the invocation of alchemy qua compositional paradigm as clichéd, then the composer’s application of esoteric and individualised processes to the end of elevating base matter into something precious certainly offers some justification.

‘Cajón!’, which utilises recordings of the eponymous Peruvian percussion instrument, kicks into gear with superhumanly swift, scattershot rhythms that descend and depart with bewildering frequency, mutating in form and volume with each pass, as though having gained self-awareness and attempting to escape through the speakers. And, even as the atmosphere is slowly divested of its density, a feast of flamenco handclaps, metallic clicks and scrapes are masticated with similar gusto.

‘Spectral Spaces’ surveys a radiant vista of modulating twitter with violently tugging riptides, as thought the shimmering sound of light itself had been liquefied and amplified atom by agitated atom. Consisting of four ‘passages of concentration, crossover, overlap, and interstices’ divided by slices of silence, the piece touches upon a simpler, but no less extreme audio range than the other pieces, seemingly desirous to return to the shimmering state of grace in which it opens.

Interviewed in Bananafish magazine (issue 15), Romanian composer Ana-Maria Avram articulated her compositional challenge as ‘to build the whole from almost nothing, from fewer and fewer things…’ The same could be said to apply to electroacoustic music in general, but Blackburn’s compositions provide perfect exemplification. Her exacting approach to the arrangement of elements – often microscopic in size – facilitates the formation of an alien syntax from phonemes familiar. These six pieces are as hypnotising in their brief moments of luxuriance as in their explosions of visceral morphology, and will yield their manifold mysteries for much time to come. By the same token, unless the listener is particularly masochistic, these pieces are probably best digested at the very gradual pace at which they are NOT delivered, so I would caution listeners to ‘chew slowly’. Speaking as an armchair enthusiast though, I cannot overstate just how exciting and refreshing this music is.

Rough Techno & Pianos

Sultan Hagavik are a Polish duo who malarkey around with cassette tape players and dictaphones, using found recordings as well as their own tapes in their crazy bricolage method. 9 Symphonies (BOLT RECORDS BR K001 / NIKLAS RECORDS n/008) is the highly entertaining result, where in just 9 tracks and 37 minutes they speedily exhibit a variety of inventive approaches with mucho good humour and mild surrealism: layers of juxtaposed recordings, odd music fragments, wacky sound effects, slowed-down voices, and many other unidentifiable elements in an atmosphere of carefully contrived insanity. Some pieces are like détourned ambient or easy-listening music, the saccharine melodies transformed into a diabolical blob of garbled filth by these interpolations; on other tracks, the duo arrive at a tongue-in-cheek version of modernist atonal composition, such as on ‘Piano Trio’, where the arbitrary clusters of notes resemble a parodic take on the seriousness of the highbrow conservatoire. The subtitle of this one also tips its sardonic beret in the direction of Górecki, one of the most famous Polish composers, and flippantly remarks that he is “fairly unknown”. Mikolaj Laskowski and Jacek Sotomski allow all the physical characteristics of their chosen medium to work in their favour: distortion and rough sound quality is one element, spontaneity and chance accidents is a second, and a third strong component has to be the way that tapes are manipulated (perhaps by hand) in real time, using controls and buttons to introduce random speed variations and crazed tape wobbles. There have been several composers and improvisers who make free play with these techniques and source materials (just the other night I was wondering whatever became of Stock Hausen & Walkman, those UK zanies who used random found tapes as grenades to throw into their irreverent and chaotic live improvisations), but Sultan Hagavik claim to be the first and only band in Poland “which performs music using tape decks”. Either way, there aren’t many musicians who do it in such a spirited and lively manner, and evidently have a great deal of fun while doing so. That sense of fun may not be immediately obvious from the very sober front cover, but the walrus drawing on the back cover (by Katka Niklas) is a brilliant stroke of incongruity which will connect listeners to John Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’, itself a masterstroke of tape juxtapostions, editing, and happy accidents in the studio, hence a perfect precedent for this album. From 28 November 2012, this is the first in a series of records called “Kikazaru Pleasures”.

Phonos ek Mechanes are a trio of Polish composers, all of them graduates from various music academies, experimenting with computer generated music. On C+- (BOLT RECORDS BR 1016 / NIKLAS RECORDS n/010) they play their instruments – piano, electric guitar and violin that are often themselves prepared or retuned to a microtonal tuning – and feed the signals directly into computer processors. We never hear a single second of “natural” music from the source instruments, and these performances are exercises in computer signal manipulation, using devices to mangle and transform the sounds in real time. The trio of Cezary Duchnowski, Pawel Hendrich and Slawomir Kupczak all have an interest in electro-acoustic composition and advanced computer composition, and are making manifest their faith in the power of the machine with as much fervour as the Italian Futurists – except where the Italians fell on their knees before the motor car and the airplane, our Polish friends worship the pre-determined actions of the microprocessor. Well, it’s not uncommon now for improvising groups to experiment with this methodology, and to my mind one of the best (and most radical) performers to get exciting results with real-time manipulation in a live situation was the great Kaffe Matthews, who produced some remarkable documents of her live sampling work in the late 1990s. More recently, there’s Han-Earl Park and his “machine musician” io o.o.1. beta++, a most remarkable automaton capable of adding its computerised contributions to a live collaboration. Our three Polish friends are probably interacting as gamely as any live improvising combo, but I think for the most part this record is about the sound they make – often a very strange and fluid melange of highly unusual sounds, which resemble neither the instruments they were sourced from nor any form of electronic music you or I would recognise. In short it’s more like electro-acoustic compositions produced in real time – and in spite of Duchnowski’s avowed support of improvised music and his frequent collaborations with jazz players, it lacks some of the sizzle and snap you normally get from live music, emerging as rather gloomy and turgid mixed-frequency droning. Then again, the threesome do manage to get very agitated on ‘Pianolenie’, which is like hearing Cecil Taylor and Max Roach being force-fed through a gated reverb device with a plastic dragon roaring and snorting in the background. It would also be a mistake to dismiss anything involving Slawomir Kupczak, whose Report CD for this label won resounding cheers in this house. The other odd thing, given that the group name simply means “sound of the machine” and how determined they are to turn the computer into an instrument and vice-versa, is how non-mechanical it all sounds. Most music played by sequencers has the simple repetition of a sewing machine, but there’s none of that on offer, nor the sort of over-processed thrice-filtered bilge that emerges from most contemporary laptop music. Instead, the music is quite unpredictable and has a living, breathing presence, with very “glorpy” and organic notes of great bendiness, shiny fluidity, and shapes as tactile as coloured dough. If this is a battle between the man and the machine, then the humans are winning. From 28 November 2012.

Bolt Records
Niklas Records
Distributed by Monotype Records