Tagged: electroacoustic

Tales of the Riverbank

Another very good fine art record from the German Corvo Records label. Corvo may not flood the market with dozens of releases in the style of the all-conquering Editions Mego, but everything touched by the hands of Wendelin Büchler is always immaculately presented and a well-considered and curated item, so that the listener is guaranteed a condensed slice of high-octane art (both music and visuals) in the manner of a good slice of roast beef. In the case of waterkil (CORE 004), a record concocted by the duo of Axel Dörner and Jassem Hindi, said roast beef may at first appear so transparent and wispy such that you wonder how the chef ever managed to carve the meat so thinly, but just the same it’s packed with solid nutriments. Yes, it’s another “quiet” record, the product of a situation where one of the performers Axel Dörner has spent many years refining and reducing his trumpet playing method in pursuit of an ever-more minimalist goal. It seems to me like only yesterday I was being floored by the audacity of Durch Und Durch, a single 40-minute improvisation of breathy and abstracted trumpet tones he recorded with Tony Buck – but that was ten years ago. On this record, which was recorded half at EMS at Stockholm and half in an art gallery in Berlin, we see Axel Dörner V2.0 at work – he’s now equipped his instrument with small microphones, a mixing desk, and a special interface designed according to his wishes and desires. With this very electro-acoustic mode of setup, he’s able to bring in feedback and live sampling of his own trumpet playing – which is to say nothing of his ultra-refined playing technique, which allows him to wring uncanny snake-like tones and hisses from the bell of his trumpet. With the exception of some recognisably trumpet-like parps I can remember hearing, his playing on waterkil is mostly about extremely abstracted and minimalist sound art; I can tell you’re already shocked by the rigour of his stern, unforgiving approach.

However Jassem Hindi leavens the equation somewhat, adding a requisite dose of who-knows-what to these recordings…I don’t say this lightly folks, as this Saudi-born fellow who studied at the Sorbonne has made a studied attempt on his own behalf to make sure he falls between the cracks of the pigeon-holes. He may have worked with samples of other music, he may have created installations in art galleries, and he may have worked with experimental dance troupes…all this is admitted…but he states, quite insistently, that he is not a musician, visual artist, or a dancer. On his performing table we may see contact mics, tapes, assorted broken objects, and machines that are being diverted for the purposes of sound art. He also carries non-artistic field recordings around in his pockets, by which we understand that they are not “aesthetic” field recordings inviting us to savour the joys of a waterfall or a night-scene in Africa, but are instead badly recorded and distorted views of incredibly banal domestic scenes, like families closing the kitchen door, or something. This approach I like; it’s already starting to make Chris Watson and his imitators look like old-fashioned landscape painters. Hindi steers all of these diverse sound sources through the ever-present mixing desk, and when these gobbly nubbets of his are performed together with whatever Axel Dörner is doing, the results have made it onto these two sides of clear-pressed vinyl in an unedited suite of perplexing art music. They’ve been working as a duo since 2008, even if they don’t have many published recordings to show for it. This may even end up as their definitive statement.

It’s suggested that we listen to waterkil as a series of “audible snapshots of a river course”; even a particular river, the Moldau, is proposed for such an exercise. We’re aided in this idea by the superb cover artworks, heavy pencil drawings by the artist Matthias Reinhold. The sleeve itself is triple-gatefold, beautifully printed on both sides of white card, has a die-cut hole in one panel, and given the size of the LP edition the sleeve has every right to be regarded as an art print. I like the interior side with its idiosyncratic little shapes placed judiciously on a white field (it comes close to illustrating the music we hear). But note how the front cover represents a river, possibly, lurking behind a thick growth of brambles and reeds. I like this river-course notion, but waterkil is a largely static piece of music; or to put it another way, its forward movement is very halting and constantly interrupted. No sooner has the river voyage started than Dörner and Hindi decide they’ve found a leak in the canoe, and we have to pause for ten minutes while they think what to do about it. Or they simply pause with no explanation given, and go and stand on the riverbank looking profound and lost. There are a few aural moments of real drama on the record, where the combination of sounds makes for highly effective listening, but for some reason the duo don’t care to sustain that mood, and abruptly break off into mysterious silence (a silence punctuated by odd hisses and creaks). However, we’ve got to admire the boldness of this statement, one which shows how Dörner is pushing his work away from the confines of the “improvised” and into a more thrilling zone of collaborative, electro-acoustic / experimental sound art. Hindi, meanwhile, continues to fall through the cracks. Received in 2012.

Hermit Crabs

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Here’s a teamup between Ian Holloway, the English mystic who I think resides in Swansea, with the American fellow Banks Bailey, nomad of the Arizona desert zones. Strange Pilgrims (QUIET WORLD FORTY FOUR) is a single half-hour cut, for the most part assembled and montaged by Holloway using as a starting point a field recording of a Hermit Thrush sent to him by Banks. True poets have already identified this bird as significant; according to Walt Whitman, the Hermit Thrush stands for the voice of all Americans when he wrote a threnody on the death of Honest Abe Lincoln. Said Thrush also trills a melody in part of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I say this to confirm smart choice on part of Banks. But that’s also a considerable burden to place on the beak of one poor bird. Can Holloway up the ante on these poetic predecessors? He’s man enough to try. He radically repurposed the song of that bird through extensive treatments, making cutups and varispeed interventions, until he had “what sounded something like a bamboo flute”. Holloway then proceeded to add his own field recordings to the tableau – mostly of a water-based nature – and additional wispy, ambient electronic drones of his own manufacture. This “blending” approach is nowadays a commonplace among many musicians and sound artists, so what I claim is distinctive about Holloway is his (a) his sense of atmosphere – Strange Pilgrims reverberates with a spooked-out, twilight vibe that verges on the occult – and (b) his deft, light touch in making these subtle assemblies. He didn’t just throw sounds together in ill-suited juxtapositions; rather, he worked hard to achieve a perfect equilibrium between the natural sounds and the electronic / digital interpolations, aiming for due diligence with the Thrush as much as the environmental feeling. He succeeded. This unassuming gem weaves a potent spell and casts a strong mood. Perfect listening for the midnight hour. Cover art is from “a found stained glass window”. I wish Holloway could have named which church he found it in, unless he found the window lying under a bramble bush. Clearly it’s modern. Maybe an ecclesiologist could identify the image for us. From September 2013.

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Recent missive from underground Italian electronics duo st. ride is Conquistare Il Mondo (NIENTE RECORDS VOLUME 11), a title which translates as “conquer the world” and which is underscored with a cover of two pennants at sea which may mean something to a mariner or swimmer; anyone well versed in flag signals is welcome to write in with useful information, please. Given the Marxist bent of these highly critical Italian creators, the title may well refer to the current state of monopoly Capitalism and its inexorable grind, but may also be an ironic comment on this band’s chances for financial success on the order of One Direction – not that they’re actively seeking same. As regular readers may know, we’re very keen on st. ride’s “primitivo” approach to belching forth fiery tranches of synthesized and rhythmic noise. What strikes me about Conquistare Il Mondo is that the abrasive edges I usually expect to hear (I have a special tin helmet which I wear when playing their records, with their name painted on the front) have been slightly mollified in favour of strange, detuned, continuous drone effects and remorseless pulsations, such that you’ve only got to put the CD on and the entire air is filled with invading flying saucers in a matter of moments. The pace and tempo varies from a torpid, malevolent gloom to a species of joyless dance music, where the practice of hopping about and rubbing your shirtless sweaty body against others in the press of the rave situation is reduced to a mechanical, meaningless action, where the exact inverse of good-time party vibes are what you take home on the ride in the cab at 4 AM. These clear-eyed sharp-headed Genoese bastards Edo Grandi and Maurizio Gusmerini may not be your go-to guys when you need a fun-loving DJ set for your 18th birthday party, but they sure as hell pass on a palpable sense of ugly, growling discontent with the modern world, without even muttering a single lyric to aid their case. All studio recordings on this one; arrived 20 September 2013.

Beyond Dodecaphonic

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Boguslaw Schaeffer
Assemblage
POLAND BOLT RECORDS BR ES06 / DUX 0881/0882 2 x CD (2012)

Polish composer born 1929, Schaeffer’s compositions were dedicated to mixing tapes and instruments, somewhere between graphical scores and improvisation on tape. His work developed within the context of the Polish radio experimental studio. This double CD combines works from 1966 to 2011 and includes some electronics compositions such as ‘Assemblage’, classic concrete music in the spirit of Pierre Schaeffer and instrument manipulation, deconstructed from a violin instead of a piano in the spirit of Pierre Henry. ‘Electronic Symphony’ contains a more Stockhausen-esque German electronic music aesthetic, with synthesizer and electronic instruments as frequency generators. The first CD also includes pieces for tapes, harp (‘Heraklitiana’) and tuba (‘Project’). Schaeffer’s music has an upbeat tempo, movement, dynamics and space, and if there is referential part of dodecaphonic music, he tends to develop his own approach of sound without following any given school (Austrian, German, French…).

The second CD includes pieces for tapes and instruments such as cello and French horn, mixed with electronic music pieces and other interpretations of ‘Assemblage’; as well as a very remarkable new composition from 2011, “O.T.” played by Thomas Lehn, the musician from the improv scene playing a modular synth. The recordings sound more “real-time”, but the music itself has a sense of deconstruction as if proposed by Edgar Varèse, with fast electronic sound combinations using different pitches and applied filters, an abrupt abusing of fade in and fade out. These are very interesting compositions by Boguslaw Schaeffer who is probably not as well-known as the great masters of this genre, but he has an approach to music that’s more open, and less academic. It is also important to note that the effort taken by Boleslaw Blaszczyk, Michal Libera and Michal Mendyk to publish these composers from lesser-known research studios results in complexifying the historical understanding we have of this music.

Invencions

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Various
Tensions At The Vanguard: New Music From Peru 1948-1979
USA POGUS PRODUCTIONS 21065-2 2 x CD (2012)

Pogus Productions take us back in time to discover the contemporary academic music made in Peru or by Peruvian musicians between 1948 and 1979. Reading the booklet inside reveals the intensity of the relation between the politics in Peru and the composers and musicians wanting to raise “Western” modernity in their country. The odd aspect of this record is that when you listen to the music itself, you’ll have no way to hear a difference between the music produced in Peru or produced during roughly the same period, in Paris for instance. It does have very good phonic music, orchestral works, mixed electronics, instrumentals or tape music beyond any cultural context or written western history of that epoch. It is an important reminder that the history of this music is far-reaching and does not belong only to the West. A compilation is not always the best way to show this, because it does reduce the richness of the composers/musicians works in some ways, however it does offer up a taste of those composers we may want to indulge more in. Works from Edgar Valcárcel, Enrique Pinilla, Walter Casas and Enrique Iturriaga to name a few probably deserve some CD space in themselves.

These composers were trying to be part of the musical revolution of the 1950s and beyond, they were learning the codes and proposing a music of their own. But what is their specificity? What makes them different from other music “schools” of that time (musique concrète, electronic, performance…etc.)? Why should they be different anyway? The question today for listeners in 2014 is also: what’s happening in Peru now? Who are the composers, the musicians? Jaime Oliver is quoted as translator and he is also a musician/composer living in the US. What has happened in Peru since then? Will there be a follow up to this CD?

A. Baugé

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 2 of 3

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From Norway, we have a single by Mummu which is a team-up between Skrap and Ich Bin N!ntendo. Skrap are the two women Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck who make quite a nice low-frequency and subtle drone music out of tuba and synth, while the trio of Nergaard, Winther and Heibo are capable of puking out a form of spiky high-energy noise-rock with their guitar-bass-drum setup that is appropriate to almost any musical situation, as their recording with Mats Gustafsson will testify. Both bands also have at least one CD album to their name on this label. On Mitt Ferieparadis (VA FONGOOL VAFLPS001), we have an A side ‘Feda Bru’ which is incredibly restrained, and a much more fiery B side ‘Logatunellen’. You might be more drawn to the riotous and anarchic free playing on ‘Logatunellen’, which is louder, thicker, and almost has a beat that you could frisk to, but somehow the energy feels neutered, blocked. There’s a lot more to be said for ‘Feda Bru’, even though it appears hesitant and uncertain at first spin. I would guess that Lauvdal and Mobeck are quietly dominating this session, while the three rockin’ guys are reining themselves in and acting on their best behaviour. It sometimes takes more discipline to play with this degree of restraint than it does to blast out an amplified blurt, and this does show up on the recording in the form of a seething tension that’s so sharp you could put it in a jamjar. The cover art was concocted by all five musicians with the help of Torstein L. Larsen; it looks like a primary school art mural, except it’s spiked with four-letter words, riddles, and slightly rude sexual images poking about in amongst all the incoherent dribbly visual anarchy. No idea when we got this one but it was released in 2013.

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White Star Line (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp042) – the label and artist would prefer it printed as White * Line – is a piece of sound art by the Irish electro-acoustic artist Danny McCarthy from Cork. He’s attempting to make some sort of statement about RMS Titanic and the White Star Line shipping company; since Cobh in Cork was the final port of call of the doomed ship, it has historical significance. McCarthy visited the harbour there and made some field recordings using hyrdophones (underwater microphones) from the very same pier trodden by the feet of passengers who originally made their way on board, before sailing off to meet their doom. If the cover photograph has any verisimilitude, said pier is now just a skeleton of decaying timbers. It doesn’t actually take a great deal of research to find this information out, and there’s a “historic experience” museum at Cobh which was established in January 2012 and is probably proving very popular as a school outing. McCarthy’s approach is to combine his watery field recordings with low-key electronic sounds, and I think there may be some post-processing on the finished work. What results is to my ears some rather dull process sound, a lot of static and whirr combined with little bubbles, and ultimately rather irritating sonically. However, there’s an added poignancy to the fact that he made the recordings on a date that coincides exactly with the centenary of the tragic event. And the cover images are strangely moving; the lone pigeon sitting there on the ruin of the pier in a rather forlorn stance is quite touching. And at least one listener claims to hear the voices of drowned souls in this record, or at least an imaginative suggestion of same. However, compared to Gavin Bryars’ grand-scale work The Sinking of the Titanic, this under-resourced and attenuated statement is not much more than a footnote. Arrived 3rd June 2013.

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I always enjoy the playful singles released by Jos Moers on his Belgian-Dutch Meeuw Muzak label. The one by Harry Merry, Australian Sun (MEEUW MUZAK 042), is no exception – and like others in the roster, it’s melodic, has a catchy beat, and is eccentric to the point of near-daftness. Merry was born in Rotterdam and professes his love of vinyl singles, attracted as much to the sensuous colours of the labels as he was to the music he heard when he was a child growing up in the 1970s. He’s a keyboard player and pianist, and while he usually plays a Roland synth, this particular record is instead accompanied by a Belgian barrel organ. There’s a small colour photo of this beast in the press release, and it’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture on the record sleeve. In design terms, it’s a truly ghastly piece of Mittel-European gingerbread. How was the jaunty, cornball music that emanates from its pipes put into service of this quirky piece of post-punk music, with its cryptical layered lyric about the threats to global ecology, and the stiffly mannered but irresistible singing voice of Harry Merry? The answer is, I think, that the music – originally composed by Harry Merry and Ilhem Sabih – had to be rendered into “book music”, a late Victorian storage system for mechanical organs, which comprises holes punched into thick pieces of card. The pieces of card are folded into a zig-zag book, and fed into the mechanical organ. Elbert Pluer assisted with the production of the “orgelboek”, while Adrie Vergeer provided the instrument, Tom Meijer did the arrangement, and Martin Luiten did the mix. The B side contains a delightful instrumental version, allowing you to hear the sheer craft that has gone into the production of the mechanical music. You can keep your Conlon Nancarrow…it’s about time for a revival of this near-obsolete music production method! The A side is a stroke of sheer genius. If nothing else, the fusion of the lyric’s cadences with the music is little short of incredible; the ungainly phrasing of the musical composition dovetails with the words in ways that are continually surprising, like a little miniature wooden cabinet with ingeniously hinged flaps and drawers. A meeting of the old and the new, the square and the hip. A brilliant piece of offbeat pop, and a tiny miracle enacted in just over three minutes. From 21 November 2012.

Burnt Ombra

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Sorry to bring you this news so late, but Editions Mego have been reissuing on vinyl some electro-acoustic gems from this history of the INA-GRM label as part of their “Recollection GRM” series…one of these is by Ivo Malec, called Triola Ou Symphonie pour moi-même (REGRM 006), and frankly it’s an absolute gem. I’ve not ashamed to admit I never heard of this important Yugoslavian-born composer before, even though he had two releases on the coveted “Silver Series” on the Philips label, but that’s why reissues like this are so useful / vital. He began his career as a fairly conventional classicist, until he fell under the influence of Pierre Schaeffer, a man in whose shadow many can be said to dwell, and since acknowledging him as his “one and only true master”, he embarked down the hazardous route of experimental electronic music. Like most of the greats, including Xenakis and Varèse, Malec worked with blocks of sounds and was preoccupied with timbres, textures, and all the massive sculptural qualities that “pure” sound has to offer those who are man enough to work the almighty tape-splicing machine at the GRM, a device so cumbersome it requires a team of three muscly matelots from Marseilles just to work the capstans.

This LP – pretty much an exact reissue of AM 830.11, apart from the remixed artwork – contains two pieces, the main event being the tri-partite Triola from 1978. Its name simply means “Triplet”, each of its three sections has its own subtitle, and the timbral qualities between the three are wildly distinctive – each piece makes a clear, separate statement of its own, yet the three are also linked together in a mysterious and personal philosophical scheme of the composer’s making. The opener ‘Turpituda’ is incredibly bold, one of the most powerful utterances I’ve heard in the name of electro-acoustic music; plenty of aural clashes and sweeping dynamics, producing indescribable abstractions. Yet the music is always ordered and directed, a force of nature governed by a powerful intellect, always in motion. Near-violent and quite terrifying in places, this is a truly uplifting and bracing ride through the mental storm. Loud volume is indicated for playback satisfaction; “I have had good results with a [volume] level that elicits equal parts rapture and blind panic,” reports the curator of the online avantgardeproject.org. ‘Ombra’ is calmer, a slightly more serene island of reason in the middle of this tempest, but even these sullen abrupt drones and croaks are filled with menacing intent as much as they elicit soothing, medicinal tones for your throbbing temples. Then as the triptych completes on Side B, we’re involved in the search for ‘Nuda’, a state of nakedness or nature that’s invoked by the recording of a female voice uttering this single word repeatedly, in a giddy state halfway between abject fear and Bacchanalian abandon. A gorgeous and exhilarating work for sure; all the composer will tell us is that he went into the studio after a long abstinence, and had it in mind to produce something utterly personal – hence the subtitle, a “symphony for myself” – an ambitious project, using symbolism, resolving a weighty personal matter which I can only assume is between him and his maker. Two writers, Christian Zanési and François Bonnet, praise this work’s “radicalism”, its “tense, demanding, abrasive” qualities…it’s certainly as cathartic as you could wish for, while never surrendering to the potential vagueness of the mental challenges it has taken on; unknown and unnameable forces are finding solid forms of musical expression.

The other work, ‘Bizarra’, is from 1972 and equally exciting in terms of its extreme textural treatments and fearless explorations of unusual, innovative electronic tones. The composer was inspired by Lautremont’s poetry (boy, there’s a lot of that going around lately), and was aiming to construct a wild, rather threatening, imaginary swampy landscape…the French scribes regard it as a harbinger of the main piece, a notable squall which presages the arrival of the huge tsunami that would arrive 6 years later. Originally released on vinyl in 1978, and mint originals are now fetching about 100 bones; this work did make it onto a CD reissue but even that is now out of print, so this reissue is most welcome. Nice embossed geometric cover design by Stephen O’Malley, full cover card insert with great images and notes. From December 2012.

View From the Interior

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David Berezan
Allusions Sonores
CANADA empreintes DIGITALes IMED 13122 (2013)

Always grateful to take receipt of new releases from a favourite electroacoustic label: empreintes DIGITALes, whose releases of benchmark collections by Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn have previously wowed me to annoying verbosity. David Berezan’s a new name to me, but he upholds the label’s reputation for quality product; this set of allusive sounds reflecting everything I enjoy about electroacoustic music. While they are said to inhabit different bodies, Berezan and Blackburn display a strong thematic and audible kinship in their respective works. Both have produced pieces in and about Japan for one thing, and both have an appetite for exotic instruments. Accordingly, Berezan constructs the lush but byzantine second piece, ‘Thumbs’ (2011), from a single plucked note on a Balinese thumb piano; a note he gets right inside: stretching it every which way in and around our ears and bodies.

It is a compositional discipline that informs every piece, each with its distinct identity, which digital processing never detracts from. Take ‘Nijo’ (2009), with its origins in customised Japanese ‘nightingale’ flooring. Otherwise stable and silent, certain castle floorboards were raised ever so slightly as to ‘sing’ if and when an intruder stood upon them, alerting security to their presence. Perhaps for the possibility of emergency, the piece forsakes the stealthy motion one might expect for the torrent of bouldering acoustics we actually hear. Other tracks are more subdued, but no less fascinating: ‘Buoy’ (2011) is almost ambient in its representation of swelling seawater, its patina of digital glitter endowing the soothing sounds with an almost rotoscoped, fictional veneer.

In total, these five pieces offer us a glimpse of the potential breadth of the composer’s work, and I suppose newcomers (in particular) a view of some of the more palatable possibilities afforded by electroacoustic music. Even those of us as jaded about ‘experimental’ music as much as sausage factory pop or electronic should surely find solace in such careful craft.

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@C
Ab Ovo
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA 085-2014 CD (2014)

Cool, calm & collected collection of clicks n’cuts piped in from Portugal, courtesy of Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela, aka duo @C. While not an explicitly maritime enterprise, these exploratory and oft-asymmetrical offerings seemingly probe fissures in the ocean depths to reveal a complex and hitherto concealed world of electronic miniatures; doing so amidst a palpable atmospheric pressure, which is offset by the curious movements of such delicate creatures, and illuminated by an occasional sweep of radiance.

Sometimes as long as twenty minutes, these five tracks constitute the soundtrack to ‘OVO’, a multimedia puppetry piece by the theatre group Teatro de Marionetas do Porto. A little YouTube searching produces an eye-catching array of situations for this play alone, which resembles in places a western variation on Japanese bunraku, some puppets requiring several nimble, black-garbed manipulators. While their thespian antics are not always immune from derision, the puppetry is quite novel, and the footage offers some context for the music and its high level of abstraction.

The album’s staple sound is a low-key, flickering fluorescence: as unhurried and eminently fascinating as krill viewed through a microscope. Diversion emerges in the spell of robotic alien-speak in ‘100’, while ‘101’ is hijacked by a brutish variant on the signature style, inducting listeners into a briefly heightened tension level, like a submarine hull creaking under immense pressure. All in all, it’s not all that alien from the hitherto popular ‘glitch’ sound of Mille Plateaux et al., though a good deal more streamlined, than that which I’ve heard anyway.

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Seattle Phonographers Union
Building 27 WNP-5
USA PREFECTURE MUSIC PREFECTURE 009 LP (2013)

There are only so many clichés one can wheel out to describe the dark ambient location recording, and I’ve flogged them all to death. Differentiating the one from the homogenous many and doing so persuasively is the reviewer’s lot, though there are worse jobs I’ll admit. I suppose a similar problem pesters the artist, for whom novelty is by necessity the child of invention, but for every ten of whom we might find one with something interesting going on. The others badly lack friends – or at least honest ones – to talk them out of serving up some ‘same old’ gloomy slop they recorded in a spooky, abandoned factory. Glad am I to report then that the Seattle Phonographers Union falls into the fortuitous 10%. Why badger friends when you can simply recruit them?

This is certainly the case with the duo Howlround, on whose recent recordings I have shovelled glow-in-the-dark accolades. Their haphazard reel-to-reel merging of out-of-sync sound recordings yielded us something genuinely engaging. They also know when and where to make an edit: a skill in woefully short supply in this field (pun intended). The 16-strong SPU also belongs to this illustrious fraternity of the darkness, thanks to these two side-long hunks of monolithic menace, which far better resemble electroacoustic composition than snapshots from a perfunctory site inspection. With an almost painful freighting of invisible somethings into near view across immeasurable spans, the sounds shift (in their own time) between miles of hulking reverb to pin-drop immediacy and back, in seamless fashion.

One might expect a painstaking but judicious editing process to be the key here, but far from it. What we hear arises from onstage improvisations using previously made field recordings, within selected spaces, in this case a disused aircraft hanger and an unfinished nuclear power station. And it’s unedited to boot. It must have been the treat for the audience to experience these booming acoustics so directly, but the current living room bombardment seems an adequate booby prize. Feels rather like being on the set of Terry Gilliam’s latest, The Zero Theorem, though without all the tacky futurist zeitgeist baubles that left it a weak sibling to Brazil. I’ve no idea how many of the collective were ‘performing’ on their laptops at the time of these sets, but collectively they are adept at obviating intrusiveness and present a strong case for a ‘strength in numbers’ approach to field recording.

HAL 9000

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Hal Clark
Electro-Acoustic Works 1974-75
NORWAY PRISMA RECORDS PRISMACD716 CD (2013)

A compact history lesson with regard to the potential of analogue synthesisers, primarily the Buchla Series 500 but also the EMS VCS3 “Putney” synthesiser (the keyboard-less synth Brian Eno famously used with Roxy Music), here and there combined with vocals or acoustic instruments.

The first track, “Rouge Permanent” combines a poem written by Hal Clark and read (possibly compiled from multiple takes) by his Norwegian friend’s five year-old with material generated on a Buchla 502 specifically – “In the mid 1970s, Don Buchla began experimenting with digital designs and computer controlled systems. The results were the 500 series and the 300 series, both of which paired the new technology with existing 200 series modules to create hybrid analog/digital systems”, according to Wikipedia. Interesting side note: Buchla built the mixer for Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster bus which now resides (the mixer, not the bus) at Calgary’s keyboard museum Cantos. “Rouge Permanent” has some nice chiming cadences after the recitation of the poem. Then there is discordant melodic information as the notes gradually pitch-slip to a quieter passage, leading on to “random” note clusters which reminded me of the more sinister electronic backdrops in the film Logan’s Run. Diminishes gently to end.

On “The Breath, Nerve And The Pulse Of Life”, with piano, drums and bass almost like a futuristic jazz quartet, Clark’s work falls somewhere between The BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Bud Powell, perhaps? The Finnerud Trio were Hal Clark plus Svein Finnerud on piano, Bjonar Andresen on bass and Espen Ruud on drums. These were musicians who certainly did not baulk at the idea of improvising jazz with a man wielding an analogue synth; one of these strange new machines, some the size of a wardrobe, which is surprising even in the groovy post-Bitches Brew jazz world of 1974. In fact they had been refining their integration of modern with traditional instrumentation for the five previous years since 1969. This piece is the kind of thing the modern proponents of the free-playing plus electronics styles such as Temperatures or Bolide aspire to. Although perhaps with less wild abandon than the modern clique of groups enjoy. Little does the Finnerrud Trio realise they truly are part of the vanguard of experimental jazz – something that continues to challenge and obsess the more receptive musicians now, forty years later. Tuned toms and plenty of electronic drone. Then out of nowhere something like a precursor of Ambient Techno. If I had been played this recording “blindfold” with no previous sight of the cd sleeve, I would have assumed it was a recent recording.

Track three, “Lament”, is a literal reading of its title that I found quite hard to listen to all the way through the first time. I’m not quite sure why yet. One might think that we would all be bored of the synthesiser by now but thanks to the recent resurgence of interest in in the possibilities afforded by these machines (Daniel Lopatin, Jason Kahn, Keith Fullerton Whitman) we also have access to a global reissue trend of electronic composers and can rediscover pioneers and renegades (as Ian Helliwell would have it in his pieces for The Wire last year). On “Lament”, Clark accompanies his own voice with the Buchla digital studio at NSEM. Norsk Studio for Elektronisk Musikk (NSEM) was founded in 1975 by Hal Clark and the composer Arne Nordheim at the Henie-Onstad Art Centre in Høvikodden, while it was run together with the Music Academy, Norwegian Broadcasting Bureau (NRK), and Composers Union. Interesting his use of new terms to describe his working on this technology – he triggers “composed instrument muddles” apparently, via both sequences and by using a keyboard. “Lament” is an intimate blend of voice and Buchla Series 500. Mournful. Use of discordant melody again. High pitched sine tones placed against the plaintive quality of Clark’s voice. I imagine this was a very personal piece for Hal Clark.

Originally intended for quadraphonic playback, final piece “The Monkey And The Organ Grinder” finds Clark performing with a touch sensitive keyboard and joysticks to control 360 degree panning. Quadraphonic sound never really caught on, and it is only in recent years that hardware alternatives to piano keyboards such as touch pads, ribbon and matrix controllers and so forth, have become really popular with electronic musicians. “The Monkey And The Organ Grinder” is of interest today mainly due to its method of creation by these unusual and ground-breaking, means. As such, it seems a little superfluous tacked-on as it is at the end of this compilation. I suspect to Clark, it may have been merely a short experiment.

Analogue synths have a purity of sound, in other words, one of their technical advantages in the recording studio is that they can be recorded directly and quickly without the necessity for microphones and their attendant quirks. There is a contemporary resurgence of interest in these machines, perhaps as a reaction to the ease of music production with modern software. Analogue synthesisers are not easily tamed; they are unstable, complicated, unpredictable and fragile. But perhaps these are all attributes as well as drawbacks. I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more re-releases of historic synthesiser recordings, and a lot more modern day practitioners.

The Great Outdoors

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Norbert Möslang’s music is a firm favourite in this house. He was one half of Voice Crack, the Swiss duo who delivered a good dose of abrasive non-stop noise to the passive barely-twitching corpse of free improvisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s…it was particularly poignant when they made records together with Borbetomagus. I often wish I could recapture the thrilling shock I felt when I first heard the record Fish That Sparkling Bubble. Well, here’s Norbert with his own album indoor_outdoor (IDEOLOGIC ORGAN SOMA008) on the Stephen O’Malley Mego-sponsored imprint. indoor_outdoor contains two side-long tracks, both worthy of investigation by hungry noise-snoopers in need of a good fix and showing that “Norbert The Noise” can still drive a bulldozer through the opposition with the merest flick of his wrist, swinging a wrecking ball that fells the contemporary music “scene” like the flimsy deck of cards it is. On the title track, he’s doing it in fits and starts, drip-feeding us with little chunks of the “good stuff” from his mighty funnel, until by track’s end those drips have turned into a raging torrent. Hard to believe it’s derived from field recordings of water. There’s a harbour close to where he lives where he captured the sounds, which have been processed and recomposed in the studio in a brilliantly “hands-on”, rugged approach to electro-acoustic composition. No namby-pamby over-cooked studio technique for him, nor agonising for six months over delicate nuances of tone, nossir! Part of the interest here lies in his iron control, knowing that he has so much chaotic power caged in his equipment like a jaguar. Tension arises at those moments when the chaos threatens to overwhelm him. But he reins in the jaguar and then sticks his own head in its jaws, as an index to his fearless skills. The crowd roars. Additionally, the sounds are beautifully rich and textured, and though the floor of this hotel may comprise rough-hewn surfaces and splintery timbers, they have been jointed in place by a master carpenter. Ach! I’m trying to say something here about the amazing dynamics of the sound, but I’ve been railroaded by my own mixed metaphors. That’ll teach me. How redundant it is to write about music.

Let’s flip this hot potato pancake over to investigate ‘hot_cold_shield’, where “Möslang The Magnificent” teams up with Toshimaru Nakamura. This fierce cut is a live recording from a 2012 music festival in Quebec. A pitched battle between the famous no-input mixing board and the equally famous cracked everyday-electronics ensues. Interesting that both of these performers have become associated with a particular type of equipment and usually insist that it’s always printed in the credits that way. I say a battle because this workout does in places resemble something of a war zone, although that’s only because I’m one of those listeners who can’t help running imaginary movies in my head when playing records. This one featured quite a few helicopters, probably carrying high explosives, and also collapsing buildings everywhere and much chaotic sprawl. This isn’t to say that the duo were fighting with each other, but they certainly know how to provide a good soundtrack for the end of the world when they lock their aural antlers. If the destruction is happening in a somewhat haphazard and inefficient manner, that’s down to lack of military planning on the part of my bazooka commander, ending up in a melee or a rout. This indicates I suppose the improvised dimensions to this side of the record; had some compositional programming been applied, it’s possible that the destruction of the city could have been effected much sooner, and with more spectacular explosions. As it is, ‘hot_cold_shield’ is choppy and disorganised, but it’s also much warmer and juicier this way. Noise improv made by humans. From December 2012.

Divided By Nine

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Francisco López / Luca Sigurtà
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FRATTONOVE fratto021 CD (2013)

I’m not sure what the connection is between the two works on this split release. Perhaps they are two interpretations of same source material. If so, it’s hard to tell. But frankly I don’t care, as this CD kicks some serious ass. Francisco López is a playwright of sound art, in that his pieces can be composed of a series of discrete sonic monologues, dialogues, or crowd scenes. At least for me there always seems to be a sense of drama, of events unfolding, taking the listener to unexpected plot twists, revelations and epiphanies. In his track entitled ‘untitled#294′, field recordings of natural and man-made environments, machinery, or his beloved insects are filtered, looped, and processed in that Lópezian trademark manner. Moments of near silence or total silence (listen closely or crank up the volume) are follow by intense blasts of in your face density. It’s all very exciting and an enjoyable ride. Luca Sigurtà‘s track ‘Eaves’ almost feels similar to López’s. Field recordings are the source material for the most part, but some actual instruments find their way into the mix. And while López’s piece is broken up into discrete acts with interludes of silence, Sigurtà’s is free flowing. Lyrical moments try to break through but are swallowed up. An excellent album. Crank it up.

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Alberto Boccardi / Lawrence English
Split
FRATTONOVE fratto022 LP (2013)

The concept is straight forward: Alberto Boccardi assembles a three part suite using the music of Antonio LaMotta as conducted by David Mainetti. Later Alberto sent Lawrence English the material and tells him “do what thou wilt”. Alberto’s side is a three part suite comprised of french horn, double bass, cello, autoharp, vocals, soprano saxophone and electronics. It starts off with French horns playing a repeating four note pattern upon which layers of the other instruments and electronic sounds are added. The mix gets thicker and thicker until suddenly someone trips on the power strip in the studio as it were and everything stops, sans some spinning object. Or perhaps it’s an instrument. Whatever it is, I can only describe it as the sound of rotation. Again the same pattern of layering occurs, but this time it rather sneaks up on you. Buried in this construction are some guitar-like histrionics, which after a few minutes crescendo and then once again suddenly deflate and the music goes down the drain. On the third part Boccardi takes a minimal approach. It begins with looped voices singing a four note pattern for a few bars, then switches to some repeating electronic tones, coupled with some keyboard lines awash with tremolo effects. End of side one. On side two (I imagine flipping the record over as I only have a cdr promo to work with) English utilizes a minimal approach to the material. We kick off with a short prelude of the same looping chorus. Then it’s off to a fifteen minute minimal ambient exercise. Time-stretched and down-pitched sounds, repeated, layered, processed into hazy drones. At the end the chorus returns for a short coda but at a lower pitch. It’s all pleasant enough but I keep feeling that something is lacking. Perhaps it would have benefited from some vinyl crackles and surface noise, or even the hiss of a twice-dubbed cassette copy. Mr. Boccardi’s side has a lot more going on and offers a lot more to my ears. It makes its point quickly and precisely. While Mr. English’s side is a pleasant excursion into wallpaper music, his remixing of the material lacks adventure.