Tagged: electroacoustic

Arc of a Journey

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French genius eRikm is here again with another of his modernist compositions, the conceptual suite of electro-acoustic music Doubse Hysterie (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO076). I’ve usually enjoyed his turntabling and sampling actions more than his formal composed music; the latter generally strikes me as cold, stiff and laboured, compared to the fun-loving pyrotechnics of the former. This Doubse Hysterie is an interesting one, however, and offers a variety of approaches across its six movements: lengthy and highly extended digital drones, mostly produced by a form of time-stretching which is eminently possible using today’s editing tools; musical performances, from the string duo of Julia Eckhardt and Silvia Platzer on ‘Hallali’; and a solo Khen performance from eRikm on ‘Bout De Souffle’. The record takes the listener on a train journey, and speculates on the meaning of male hysteria via the works of Freud and a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.

The time-stretching method is most evident on the interminable ‘Argentique’, which performs the impossible feat of extending a church bell chime for about 16 minutes; the semi-natural drone created extends into the distance, inviting gloomy prognostications. A bell of finality, tolling for the doom of man. ‘Arcus’ and ‘Cirrus’ may be working in similar ways, but at least they’re more maximal and there’s more substance in the sound to cling onto, even though the latter is in danger of lapsing into commonplace sound-file manipulation and over-familiar digital crunch. ‘Hallali’ continues to stand out on today’s spin, maybe because of the icy precision of the string players, or simply because of the resigned melancholy of its emotional stance. ‘Pop Macalogique’ is good too, and may come the closest to realising the composer’s intent, offering a suitable sombre tone for us to enjoy its grandiose, near-orchestral sweep.

As to that intent, Doubse Hysterie appears to have evolved in eRikm’s noggin through a mixture of process and ideas, one inspiring the other. Erikm took a train journey in the Franche-Comte area and, like many passengers these days, listened to stuff on his smartphone. As he would have it, this was “immersive listening” with “audio headphones”, and the fact that the smartphone has a GPS feature is also part of the concept in some way. Not unrelated is eRikm’s practice of taking long-exposure photographs out of the window when he rides the train, resulting in images which he calls “horizontally striated periodicities” 1. One example of these may even feature on the cover here. We can see the parallel between that method of image creation and the music on the CD; at one level, it shows the possibilities of manipulation of digital data, be it for image or audio.

Originally commissioned in 2011 by the Intermèdes Géographiques association, Doubse Hysterie contains nine suites in its full form; eRikm has carefully selected six of them, to create an album length piece and something suitable for home consumption, implying that the actual concert-hall performance was of a much more ambitious order. When he looked deeper into the ecological environment of the Arc Jurassien (through which his train journey took him), his mind made a connection between this geological arc and Arc D’Hysterie, a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois; this chain of thought leads us to one possible conclusion that Doubse Hysterie is “about” the phenomenon of male hysteria. I’m not overly familiar with this psychological condition, but there’s one school of thought that suggests it’s a real thing that is often over-shadowed by its female counterpoint; even eRikm thinks it is “almost unknown and remains a taboo”. Odd; he seems to stand on the cusp of becoming an advocate for hysteria, reclaiming it as a men’s lifestyle option. Maybe he could make it into a political platform.

Decide for yourself how much of this intellectual content has passed into the music; you may not find any nerve-shredding panic-attack mode music, if that’s what you were expecting, but that might not be the point. The central image on the cover could almost be mistaken for a highly stylised human figure writhing in agony during such an attack, but in fact it’s a map of the Arc Jurassien. From 21 June 2016.

  1. Enough pretentious jargon here for you yet? It does make one a tad mistrustful. Why can’t he speak more plainly?

Not A Drone

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Emmanuel Mieville
Ethers
FRANCE BASKARU karu:36 CD (2015)

Emmanuel Mieville studied sound engineering at cinema school, and learned musique concrète techniques at the GRM. He is a guest composer for Framework’s field recordings based shows, on Resonance FM, produced by Patrick McKinley. Ethers is Mieville’s second album for Baskaru; the first being 2011’s Four Wanderings In Tropical Lands. He also has releases on TIBProd, (an album Denki Colors and a split 3” cd with Töre H. Boe), XingWu, Lona records, Obs, and Crónica. Mieville’s chosen tools here are field recordings from Hong Kong, France and Morocco, with a smidgen of saxophone on the final piece, all treated with Max/MSP and Metasynth.

On the sleeve of this release we get this piece of information: “Ethers is an attempt to give an earthy quality, a dense texture to drone music, to lower it from the ‘skies’.” It is always useful to know the artist’s intention, I feel. Now, there’s dense and there’s dense. If you think Ethers is dense, take a listen to something by John Wall. I would probably disagree with Mieville and say I don’t think this is drone music at all – not because I think the intention has failed. It just doesn’t drone. To me, the use of the term “drone” as a descriptor implies a continuous element of some kind; promoting some kind of transcendent or liberating environment in which to react in the moment. This sounds like a field recording album, albeit a very well-produced one. It has a restrained pace but is hardly glacial in scope; but a field recording album nonetheless. I certainly do not mean this as a criticism, but I do find the use of the term perplexing. Maybe something got lost in translation somewhere along the line.

Despite my initial reservations, I find the first piece is titled “Fertile Drone”. Is it rain or waves breaking I hear? There is faint evidence of processing audible; a granular effect results which I can’t say I’m a fan of – I’m not sure what it brings to the table. Why use this kind of process at all? And despite saying I don’t immediately recognise Mieville’s material as “drone music”, I become aware of A Drone around 6 minutes in. Despite this I’m still not convinced. To me it sounds like that immense grey area of field recording-derived processed sound that is prevalent in many art galleries and project spaces of major European cities and beyond. I suppose that’s what I do like about it: it is recognisably part of a continuum.

“Sur le Pont” begins with unprocessed field recordings of workmen’s voices, perhaps. Drills, building site sounds and burning. Plus, the enduring use of water as a sound source. This develops into bowed percussion and the noises made by trains. “Watt Station” features waves on the sea. And a section that sounds like jet engines heavily processed. There is also a synth floating around vaguely. At one point, I think I hear the sound of a tube train but it turns out to be a synth patch. What is the purpose of this music; who is it for? At thirteen and a half minutes, “Island Ferrysm” (sic) could be a lengthy conceptual deconstruction of modes of transport. The raw materials are there – recordings from a ferry crossing, synthesised impellers, propellors, motors and gears. This piece is certainly more intense than the previous material. Ethers as a whole is engaging, but whether it lives up to its own brief, or even whether it should, I just can’t decide.

Un Mixte

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Vicious piece of no-nonsense fucking process electronic music from Léo DupleixTwo Compositions For Mixed Sources (ALBERTINE REC) is a creaky academic title hiding some pretty severe and hard-to-take sounds in a non-descript cover. A decoy if ever there was! Well, on the first of these two discs, we have various sorts of electronic drone and grunt, including one really piercing and shrill high tone that they use for torturing prisoners in fascist regimes, and which has been outlawed in most countries. The other sound is running water, always a good standby in this area. When composers want to refer to the real world, they reach for them old running water sounds, be it a river or stream, or even the ocean in some cases, depending on what sort of dramatic mood they wish to conjure. In the case of Dupleix, he wants the pastoral babbling brook effect (and let’s hope he packed a picnic with baguettes and pate for the occasion) to contrast with these evil flying saucer tones that are gradually taking over the civilised world at his behest. Later on we get a hotel lobby full of chattering types talking about something. Or maybe it’s captured from a conference on some learned subject. Everyone seems really polite. Which do you prefer, babbling brooks or babbling classes? Along the way to this civilised point we’ve endured the awful chirping crickets of bedlam, been abraded by the abstract white noise tones of abrasive sandpaper, and faced the void of unknowing thereby. Cissy old Pierre Henry wanted to take the listener on ‘Le Voyage’ in 1967 to attain spiritual knowledge of some sort, but this is the real deal…here we’re being forcefully taken on the last mile down the corridor, where the metaphysical guillotine awaits us. 32 minutes of existential abstract hell!

So that was BRUIT(s), described by Leo as a mix of “field recordings, white noises, sine waves.” Turns out it’s the first ever release on Albertine Rec. Further turns out he founded said label himself. It’s about limited editions, so these are CDRs. 27 copies only were pressed of the thing I now clasp in my mitts. Your man has ambition with this label. Three things are in his sights: (a) composition, (b) raw live recordings of improvised music and (c) what he calls the “in-betweens”. Challenging, radical, daring. You bet!

Well, better shove in disc two I guess. Aha, five tracks this time. Might be easier to digest than the first disc, but in fact that one was more episodic anyway. It was like six or seven suites all edited together in a jammy wodge of golden filth. This time he’s “playing” his own hardware – an open hard drive and its fan, recordings of same then subjected to digital processing. This is pretty much on Gregory Büttner’s turf now. What that German guy doesn’t know about playing small objects, especially electric fans, you could write on the back of a 50 Euro postage stamp. It’s about the beauty of process, the poetry of mechanical devices blindly whirring out their noise into an uncaring world. Who’s to say the humble electric fan is not actually a butterfly in disguise? And other such banal observations I would utter, if I was writing this review for Field And Stream or a BBC Nature magazine.

Léo Dupleix calls this Process #1: Changes. Accurate description. It’s one of the features of modernism that we made a break with “poetic” titles like The Lark Ascending, and instead insisted on hard material facts, so often a composition title is just describing the means of its own making, such as the famous avant-garde ceramic which was titled I Am A Pot. Has anything been sacrificed thereby? Well, I’m finding this Process#1 quite the mesmeriser, and through sheer persistence or something else, it is sublimating the materiality of that fan in short order. To be sure, some processing has been allowed to heavily disguise and mutate the sound on track two, so that it resembles a wonky helicopter from beyond the Eighth Dimension hovering in for a visit. But the core structure is still rotating blades. And it’s still beautiful on some level. Elsewhere on this disc, you’ll get long and testing grindy drone tones which rumble and whine in a most severe manner. That word again. Maybe Léo Dupleix is a severe man. Probably someone hard to please, if he was a tutor of modern music and you were in his class. He’s not always aiming for sublimation here, and while we can’t get away from the truth of that simple hard drive and fan, it’s still reaching into a new dimension of aesthetic pleasure. Tough minded, stolid process noise…it’s hard to beat, and less subtle than Büttner’s material which seems positively altruistic by comparison.

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So your man was born in Paris. And heavens, can he really be that young? After a stint at the Conservatory in Brussels, he did the Japan thing. He’s played with some of the famous feedback and quiet tone musicians in that oriental locale, including Nakamura and Akiyama. Plus the wonderful Utah Kawasaki. And a bunch of other names I don’t recognise. But suffice to say he’s co-opted the flippin’ “Onkyo” style into his own pouch, and is reworking the fabric on his own terms, as it were cross-layering that single-minded approach to minimal improvised noise into the more classic French electro-acoustic compositional method. But even the latter has been examined, found wanting, and simplified to make sense for the brutal post-2010 years.

In all, I think this is a great set. Many thanks to Léo for sending this. It arrived 4th April 2016. Now for a full neck transplant to compensate. In the words of Plastique Bertrand, “la colle me manquera”.

The Third Brain

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strøm is the superb duo of Swiss players Gaudenz Badrutt and Christian Müller. I thought we had in the past received some of their solo releases on the Swiss Domizil label, but I must have dreamed it. At any rate Gaudenz Badrutt has surfaced a few times, as part of the group Social Insects and with Jonas Kocher on a maddening record called Strategy Of Behaviour In Unexpected Situations. Plus he played with Kocher again in the Mayakovsky Library on Rotonda, where they were joined by Ilia Belorukov. This new record may be called X (MIKROTON CD 48) and is one of a crop of new excellent improv / sound art releases we received from the Russian Mikroton label.

Where Badrutt is all electronics here, Müller does some electronics but also plays the contrabass clarinet, the forbiddingly huge instrument which is the largest member of the clarinet family. On these six tracks, strøm are capable of creating a deliciously fractured and bitty approach to electronic noise, refusing any form of lushness or pleasant surface to the sounds, and accepting only the choicest moments of compressed digital glitch and crackle into the mix. Austerity and severity are just two of the watchwords hopefully sellotaped onto their respective consoles or mixing desks. This can result in very exciting music, where the listener’s fleshy brain and listening apparatus are draped over a stainless steel structure of some sort; there’s that much power and inflexible strength to the core.

Elsewhere, there is a menacing bass drone underpinning the work which may have originated from the clarinet. Oddly enough these moments are less satisfying for some reason, and I find I derive more satisfaction from the pieces which spit out their digital juices like so much hot fat over the roasting pan. Extremely abstract music, as reflected in the plain colourfield designs of the cover artworks. But this is very far from the clean lines of Raster-Noton or other minimal-glitch work of Cologne and Vienna, and its lineage does not come from techno beats or the dancefloor. From 14 April 2016.

Embassy Suite

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Phillip Schulze
Ambassador Duos
GERMANY APPARENT EXTENT AE024 2 x LP (2015)

One improviser for whom time is but a servant is Deutsch electronics whiz Phillip Schulze, who is known for wielding oak-barreled, 15-year vintage algorithm tools in improvisations for over a decade now; his electroacoustic stylings unmoored from any compositional context. As well as providing extensive written documentation for each of the following four ‘trans-idiomatic’ duo recordings, Schulze converses via gravel-skinned and elegantly contoured sound fields that do more than simply upholster the counterpart’s performance, being quite up to the task of heavy excavation as and when necessary; the resulting open-border spaces instigating some intensive paired explorations.

The first session was a bit of a coup, starring none other than Schulze’s former college professor Anthony Braxton. The pair had played together on six occasions in 2005 (of which I believe this to be the last), during which time Braxton went through numerous instruments, settling on this occasion for soprano and contrabass saxophones. He flutters through like a tai chi butterfly, unsheathing muscle in the central section, prompting a correspondingly corrosive turn from Schulze, whose moods and movements mirror his senior’s with uncanny dexterity. The mood and detail of this ‘early’ event (just two years into Schulze’s recording career) reflect both a nascent talent for complex textures as well as the mutually assured rapport the pair had settled into after just a handful of extra-curricular encounters. One can only imagine the pedagogical savour Braxton must enjoy when working with such similarly-minded students. It must thrash the living hell out of getting through an evening of test-marking.

Recording resumes in 2009, with ‘sound and action artist’ Christian Jendreiko on pedal steel guitar; atmosphere generally more streamlined, with just the odd, caustic outburst and echoes of Bill Frisell’s lonesome, Western laments amid twinkling electronics. Schulze relishes in writing the ambience that resulted from the pair’s split-channel approach, which culminated in an unexpected accompaniment by a blackbird perched outside the window.

By the time of the duo with the second saxophonist, Andrew Raffo Dewar in 2011, the pair were well-established collaborators, having pooled their musical expertise as far back as university. No surprise then that their strident ambient tonality effectively camouflages their ’microtonally shifted octaves, oscillations and phase shifts’ and the resulting, tectonic high drama.

The last and most ‘antagonistic’ pairing is with Kreidler’s Detlef Weinrich (2014), whose characteristic quasi-motorik rhythms find playful counterpoint (or plain collision) in such off-kilter rhythms as those post-club mutations with which Schulze began his recording career, lending this set a pleasing symmetry: that of Schulze’s club music reminiscence via intensive academic studies in Indonesian and African percussion.

Stark as it appears on paper, the four sessions are gratifyingly accessible, differentiated and more than worthy of their heavy vinyl presentation. At first glance, Phillip Schulze is a composer who picks his moments as well as his partners, and the rumblings from the unfathomed depths of these deep trenches indicate further pleasures.

Long Overdue Part 13

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Relative Memory (ABSINTH RECORDS 022) is the unusual team-up between Jealousy Party and Nicolas Wiese, released on Absinth Records and which arrived here 19 July 2012. Nicolas Wiese is the Berlin based multimedia artist, whose excellent electro-acoustic compositions we noted on Living Theory Without Anecdotes, a record characterised by its ingenious approach to sampling, recycled sound, and reprocessing. Evidence of the same techniques abounds on Relative Memory, so clearly Wiese is a past master of this studio method.

Jealousy Party are three Italian loons from Florence who do a live improvised set. I call them “loons” based mainly on the unprepossessing photo of them where they’re grinning in a manic fashion, and the fact that they belong to something called the Burp Enterprise collective. I tend to mistrust art movements that liken the act of creation to bodily functions, but heaven knows it’s a trope that’s old as the hills. Their shtick is Mat Pogo doing his rather silly scat-singing and Edoardo Ricci playing a rather ordinary bunch of fluid saxophone riffs. I suppose the most interesting active ingredient is WJ Meatball, a DJ who plays back pre-recorded elements (sometimes recordings of Jealousy Party themselves) and does a form of live sampling of their utterances and woodwind toots. In fact it involves live editing, cutting, and mixing too. She thinks of this as a system, and calls it the “JP Set”.

Right there you’ve got the common ground they share with Wiese – live sampling. He did some live sampling-playback stuff in the studio too, but freely admits – tantamount to confessions of a control-freak – that most of his work on this record was done alone, after the fact, where he “takes apart and reconfigurates mostly everything played”. We’re thus hearing, I suppose, an exceptionally complex construction of noises, and it’s impossible to determine who is contributing what or by what means. The helpful sleeve notes summarise this as “the focussed relativity of self-quotation in a musical frame that is never 100% improvised and never 100% fixed”.

I don’t care much for Jealousy Party’s contributions to this, and even if they are regarded as “one of the most significant creative music units in Italy”, I find something fundamentally crass and corny about their work. The vocalist in particular comes across as a bad Elvis impersonator, and the sax player feels like he’s warming up for a third-rate Motown covers band. However, there’s much to admire and enjoy in Relative Memory, and the techniques involved are technically quite pleasing; at his strongest, Wiese does indeed add several degrees of sophistication and nuanced layering to the tracks, much like the “imaginary architecture” he is clearly capable of composing as noted on the Corvo release above. In doing so he draws out a certain subtlety which Jealousy Party alone might not be capable of. He’s also acting as a once-removed collaborator with WJ Meatball, by working in sympathy with her technique.

Long Overdue Part 9

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Two substantial compositions on Three Vertical Swells (UNSOUNDS 27u) by the American-born composer Peter Adriaansz, who studied in academies at The Hague and Rotterdam. On both he’s supported by performances from the contemporary chamber group Ensemble MAE.

Some of his work begins with an investigation into pure sound. He prefers doing this to scoring notes on paper. Three Vertical Swells has grown out of his research into the sounds made by a Hammond organ, in particular its rotating Leslie speaker, and also a “glissando-like fuzz” which came out of one of the speakers. Both of these might technically be regarded as faults, but good composers can do a lot with a glitch. He translated his findings into a sine-wave patch, which I assume is a way of generating a specific tone; Ensemble MAE, using woodwinds, strings, electric guitar, an ebowed piano and percussion, were required to emulate this tone in some way, copying its “contours”. The Hammond organ is still present in the finished work, and so are the sinewaves, but the amplified Ensemble are working in a strict mathematical harmony with these drones. If this reads like something boring and process-for-its-own-sake, I think you’ll be amazed at the sinister power and strange beauty of what resulted. I don’t pretend to understand more than a tenth of the complexity of Adriaansz’s method, but just by listening you can appreciate the solidity of the construction in this fascinating, shape-shifting, microtonal work.

The other piece is Music For Sines, Percussion, Ebows & Variable Ensemble, divided into five separate parts. Once again the parsing of a sine-wave has been the basis for the work. He refers to a phenomenon called beating-patterns; this isn’t exclusively a musical thing, and you could probably learn about it by studying the physical sciences of acoustics and human hearing. “When two sound waves of different frequency approach your ear, the alternating constructive and destructive interference causes the sound to be alternatively soft and loud – a phenomenon which is called “beating” or producing beats.” 1 From this rule of science, Adriaansz develops rules for how the composition will develop; fixed and “free” materials (meaning a certain leeway in interpretation, I suppose); combinations of players working in solos, duos, or trios as the rules dictate; and something called “specified harmonic gamuts” which determine when each player can choose to enter the piece. The same instrumentation features as on Three Vertical Swells, but here the microtonal events are much more percussive in nature, and the development of each six-minute segment (even the timing is strictly regulated) does feel compressed, disciplined, resulting in very distilled music of a tremendous purity. Enigmatic, fascinating; a miniature universe unfolding in sound. From 3rd July 2012.

  1. Source: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/sound/beat.html

Long Overdue Part 3

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Komora A’s Mercury Time (MONOTYPE RECORDS monoMC003) cassette was released in 2013, created by the team of Dominik Kowalczyk, Karol Koszniec, and Jakub Mikołajczyk, working with various equipments – computers, synths, contact mics, radio signals. We have heard them before with one half of a split single with Cremaster, called ‘Crystal Dwarf Opens His Eyes’, where we noted a serious lack of force and energy behind their “melange of analogue and digital synth porridge”. We could say the same about the vague, understated tones on Mercury Time, but today’s spin is surprisingly rewarding and may fit the bill if you’re hungering for a few slices of uncertain, ambiguous non-musical gruel in your diet. It tends to cling to the listener like a fine drizzle, or follow you around like a grey fog. The recordings are all from 2004-2005 and were recorded in various venues in Warsaw; guest Polish electronica artists Emiter and Arszyn appear on the last track.

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From Angélica Castelló is a cassette tape called Silvertone E Il Sentimento Oceanico (MONOTYPE RECORDS monoMC002), released as a cassette by Monotype Records in 2013. We have a lot of time for this Mexican genius ever since we heard her Bestiario in 2011, but we also know her through Sonic Blue (2015); her appearance on Scuba with Billy Roisz, Burkhard Stangl and Dieb13 for Mikroton; and as part of the SQID collective for the same label. If we’ve learned anything about this trained academician in this time, it’s that she often records using the Subgreatbass Paetzold Recorder (a formidable woodwind instrument from the recorder family often associated with early music consorts), and that she has a recurring interest in the creatures of the deep blue sea. This latter preoccupation can also be discerned on the present release, not just in the jellyfish on the cover of the booklet, but the whole of side one ‘Adela Aurita’ which to my hyper-active imagination presents an abstracted version of a trip to the ocean floor, a descent in a bathysphere to the watery depths. It’s long been a feature of electro-acoustic composition that one must strive to represent a metaphysical journey in sound. Radio signals, distorted announcements, angelic voices, and layers of constructed sound all create a splendid soundtrack for the “rapture of the deep”, which I think was once a quaint way of describing “The Bends”. A very nice magical-realist charmer of a composition. The B side contains ‘Tuba Piece’, another fascinating jumble of sounds and layers that amounts to a rich, complex mosaic of music, percussion and noise; and ‘Limacina (Blütenschmuck)’, a more downbeat droney episode that stresses the mysterious and ambiguous side of Castelló’s music, packed with muffled and unresolved sounds and events. Her sparring partner Billy Roisz contributed some sketches to the booklet, as did Hanna Schimeck and Urkuma. In all, an overlooked gem with many moments of dream-like, precious beauty, sumptuous images which disappear as soon as they materialise.

Long Overdue Part 2

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A nice old one from 2010, when giants walked the earth. TBC / Das Synthetische Mischgewebe split it up nice inside a DVD cover. German avant-garde sound art at its most marginal and brutally difficult. ‘Notre Besoin D’attachement Est Aussi Celui De Rupture’ declares DSM, i.e. Guido Huebner, who unfailingly produces the most mystifying sound art on the European continent. On this one, lasting for over 39 minutes, the sounds are quiet and understated, completely unrecognisable, and impossible to understand. As ever, everything appears disconnected and untidy. It’s not that DSM violates the rules of formal composition, rather he/they have posited an entire universe where such rules don’t even exist. If what Guido believes is true, then it’s likely that even the laws of physics can also be challenged, and we can all walk around defying gravity. “Entrancing electroacoustic/industrial mess”, says the cipher productions website.

TBC is Thomas Beck from Hamburg. Besides doing sound art, he also had a radio programme and a magazine. He’s been producing a lot of stuff under his own Wachsender Prozess label since 1997. Here he turns in 20 mins of ‘They Never Come To Hit The Public’. Whereas I think DSM’s stuff is largely produced by junk and physical objects (sometimes…), this one by Beck was generated with synthesisers, tapes, mixing desk, and so forth. Much more noticeable than the low-key DSM track, Beck’s work gets pretty noisy and agitated here, uses plenty of cross-cuts and timbral clashes, and overall there’s a lot more aural damage per square metre on offer. Quite “industrial” in texture, but none of your infantile pounding rhythms or sense of imminent doom. Beck is quite serious about exploring the potentialities of his sounds and his methods. The CD was released jointly by Wachsender Prozess (WP31) and Reduktive Musiken (redukt014).

Roll Up for the Ghost Train

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Last noted Swedish electro-acoustic composer Åke Parmerud of Göteborg with his Growl collection, an album which appealed to some of my darker leanings. Any curious listeners who enjoyed that item may wish to lean a lug in the direction of Nécropolis (empreintes DIGITALes IMED 16137), his new release offering four more pieces which this time around are themed mostly on sleep, dreams, and ghostly voices, including perhaps the voices of the dead. Well, actually very little of that is true, but a mind like mine is disposed to seek out dark themes wherever I can find them. At least the cover art is vaguely nightmarish, depicting a shrieking or grinning skull-faced demon of a supernatural caste. Mind you, you can see scarier images any night of the week on the Horror Channel.

His ‘Dreaming In Darkness’ from 2005 is one of those classic electro-acoustic pieces that slam together different timbres and tones to create strong aural contrasts and a sense of continual forward movement, a movement which comes to a sudden stop with each timbral shift. The piece mostly swims in an unreal fantasy zone, apart from those moments when “real-world” recordings seep in, mostly playing a sound-effect role in this radiophonic drama – footsteps on wooden floorboards, church bells, and doors slamming. The piece almost tells a story and evokes sensations of sleep-walking and delirious consciousness. It’s based on the idea of what a blind person might dream about, and the move “from representative sounds to the more abstract and musical material” in this piece is wholly planned and composed. It began life as a collaboration with Natasha Barrett 1, whose work may still leave residual traces on the finished item.

‘ReVoiced’ from 2009 isn’t really anything to do with these oneiric themes, but it certainly does create a surreal effect. Composers of this ilk love to do treatments on the human voice (it is quite a familiar trope in this field, ever since the 1960s, I make bold to claim) and take spoken words out of context. Parmerud began this piece in 1992 when he conducted a world tour and recorded as many voices as he could from all over the globe, mixing them together in an almighty wodge called ‘Grains Of Voices’. Perhaps he was looking for commonality in the scattered elements of the human race, trying to solve problems which the United Nations cannot. However, not all the recordings made it into the composition, so the left-over segments have been recycled into ‘ReVoiced’. Aboriginals, folks singers and shamans all join in this virtual choir; the entire geography of the world from North to South is represented. I don’t suppose Parmerud was looking for the same things an ethno-musicologist or folk song collector would seek, nor does he strive to represent the original context accurately, but he does weave a powerful magical-realist episode from these sources.

I was hoping for a more supernatural undercurrent to ‘Necropolis – City of the Dead’ from 2011, but it turns out to be a cut-up piece of orchestral stuff, sourced from recordings of famous classical music pieces. Parmerud bolsters his idea by writing a short blurb which casts him as a fictional tour guide or carnival barker, showing tourists around imaginary catacombs where they will see and hear the ghosts of music past, warning us that they are in a state of “decomposition”. Groan, at that pun. Yes, I’ve heard that joke about Beethoven in his grave too. Actually this can be quite thrilling if you experience it as a ghost-train ride through a selective history of classical music, but the technique is not an original one, and listeners of a less conventional leaning are bound to find more satisfaction in the layerings and juxtapositions that People Like Us does so well, with her plundering and subversion of the history of pop music. Parmerud, by contrast, is just a shade too respectful to his sources and the culture of the “great composers of the past”, thus unable to produce anything more than a polite and rather literal-minded collage of sound; like hearing 200 radio sets all tuned to Classic FM at once. From 10th March 2016.

  1. British composer based in Norway; her Peat + Polymer is reviewed here.