Asher Levitas is one half of Old Apparatus, an English duo who have released a number of experimental low-key electronic releases for the Sullen label since 2012. Here he is with a solo album Lit Harness (PLANET MU RECORDS ZIQ379), in which he attempts to unburden his soul of his personal affliction. For most of his life, Levitas has suffered from sleep paralysis, a condition that means that for a few moments after waking up (or falling asleep) you’re unable to move your body or even speak. This undoubtedly accounts for the extremely “anxious” tone of Lit Harness; even the title refers to a particular type of restraint that keeps the patient in a “calm place while chaos happens all around”. (I’m not clear if this refers to an actual medical procedure, or a psychological exercise.) This album starts out promisingly enough, and the opening tracks ‘Withdrawn’ and ‘In The Eyes’ are both strong pieces; the former takes a basic electronic drone and bombards it with unpleasant interruptions, inducing a sensation surely familiar to any sufferer of sleep-related disorders, and the latter takes the listener down into a deep, dark zone with an insistent, muscular pulsebeat. Unfortunately, I found the remainder of the album to be filler material, identikit dark ambient music, whose relentlessly grim tone becomes wearisome. There isn’t enough of the expected catharsis for me, and one emerges from the other end of Lit Harness with no real resolution or sense that the sleep paralysis issue has been sufficiently addressed. The cover art is very good however, and conveys a lot of the expected sensations of suffering and futility. From 15 June 2016.
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR397 CD + DVD (2015)
‘These works are not at all for those whose attention is fully focused on the new worlds of sounds made accessible… by a jealous and relentless quest for technology. They target those who want to listen to instruments and not be able to recognise them… because their history has been changed.’
Thusly framed is this intriguing CD/DVD package from composer Jean-Luc Fafchamps and his hand-picked performers; the pomp of such grandstanding highlighting everything right and wrong with this release. He valorises the humbleness of the ‘simple electronic means’ used in realising these two compositions, which to my ears is a technological paucity that barely exceeds the processes of looping and amplification. In a sense it is a ’back to basics’ exercise in compositional resourcefulness where even multi-tracking is held in abeyance. This method might well be said to reinforces the ‘poetics’ of his music, but upon listening the meagreness of ingredients is clearly a virtue, as is the considered involvement of each performer with(in) their respective environment.
‘Beth/Veth’ – which features on the CD – is a single, extended ‘composition’ for piano and metallic objects, the passages of which consist mainly of semi-ornate, cascading naturalism broken by spells of incessant hammering, like a collage of Debussy, Satie, Feldman et al. Pianist Stephane Ginsburgh is a regular collaborator of Fafchamps’ and a reliable presence on the Sub Rosa label. He also has an affinity for Morton Feldman, which should surprise nary a listener. His studious examination of each and every note and phrase is that of the experienced jeweller studying a diamond for imperfections; an enquiry that deepens into jarring segues that lead to more irascible, fitful passages and finally the majestic arrival of gongs that signal the dying minutes. For me personally, it’s a listening experience particularly remarkable at the end of a tiring day.
By no small contrast the DVD is – on paper at least – something I’d not have plumped for if not prompted: footage of a ‘street’ performance for electric viola competing for attention with nearby traffic and initial public indifference; throughout the performance, the camera pans the area to record both the non-event of passing traffic and the growing interest of passers-by. The value of such an event as a recorded document is negligible, though once again Fafchamps’ words are validated by the fact that one has to ‘go to the effort’ of actually playing and watching the thing, rather than lazily clicking on a link. And by the simple means of repeating a brief, ascending phrase amplified ad infinitum, player Vincent Royer further satisfies Fafchamps’ function-over-form mandate; his ramped up layers of screech, swell and delay exhilarating and deafening his surrounding adversities into submission and finally into a round of well-deserved applause.
Stimulating as this all is, why these night-and-day pieces have been packaged as one is unclear: neither a comprehensive ’portrait’ of Jean-Luc Fafchamps, nor possessed of cohesive musicology; one is left to conclude that – self-sabotage notwithstanding – this disparity is the very point. We might also infer a qualified rejection of the many technologies that have encroached upon so much of our lives: social networking and music production for instance. How well it is served by such a manifesto as that quoted above though, I am dubious. For a statement that cries for simplicity, it certainly is wordy. But then who am I to comment?
The album Rhthm (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono083) by Polish combo T’ien Lai is a highly diverse set of music, where the duo of Łukasz Jędrzejczak and Kuba Ziolek attempt many styles, many modes and many methods to realise their ambitions. They certainly aren’t short of ideas for what direction to take next, and there’s a large collection of tools in their box of instruments and synthesizers. There’s the systems-y pseudo-composed ‘W D’, a half-hearted attempt to “do” Terry Riley. There’s ‘Piknik Nad Rzeka Ma’, whose beats and sampled speaking voice derived from a French girl barking out an obscure text seems to have warped over here from around 1985. ‘SMZS II’ is pure Kraftwerk-influenced sequencer malarkey. But the evil robotic-march vibes of ‘Monotronik’ (where they are joined by the percussionist Rafal Kolacki from HATI and cymbal player Mikołaj Zieliński) are effective, and may reflect the fact that at time of writing T’ien Lai now consider themselves a quartet. I also enjoyed the short but chaotic ‘FX6’ which opens the album with a beautiful and illogical firework of noise.
The rest of the set shows them veering around – beats, ambient, melodic tunes…anything they can do to “experiment” with instruments, computers, and the studio, yet there’s always this lazy back-pedalling into conventional sounds and arrangements which blunts the “alternative” edge they wish to project. No denying the instrumental skills of this pair, nor the impressive assurance with which they set about their tasks, and the textural density of these outputs is evidence of much hard labour by Kuba Ziolek at the mixing and production end. Rhthm just feels like they’re trying to say too much in a short space.
This is their second album for the label; their more intriguing and esoteric Da’at was noted by Pescott, and the pair have a declared interest in Jewish mysticism. The release is packaged in a triple-gatefold digipak with a restrained geometric device on the front, and a garish psychedelic collage visual horror on the inside. Plus there’s a Herbert Marcuse quotation printed on the inside. From 21 June 2016.
Polish oddity of the week comes to us from Kamil Szuskiewicz, a Polish musician who’s had his other works published on Wounded Knife, Elementworks, and Slowdown Records. The text on Robot Czarek (BÔŁT RECORDS BR K008) is all printed in Polish, and I can’t find out much about it except it’s intended as a “sound cartoon”, “audio comic”, or more simply a radio play. Polskie Radio describes it as “the story of a sensitive machine”.
Listening to this entertaining work (all the libretto is spoken in Polish too) doesn’t reveal all the story’s secrets, but the trope of the robot / human dilemma and the “ghost in the machine” has been around as long as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and probably even earlier than that; a common theme with pulp science fiction writers too I should imagine. Sonically, Szuskiewicz’s composition is fascinating, a nifty blend of very simple music and sound effects served in small bite-size snippets, where brevity and repetition are the order of the day; these are structured either side of the dialogue, which is overlaid, spoken in overlapping sentences, and delivered by a number of actor’s voices – some of which are of course treated to sound like robots. Sometimes there’s a dialogue, sometimes the authority of the speaking voice makes me think we’re hearing a narrator advancing the plotline with his voiceover.
While the music and sound is mostly used to illustrate and illuminate the tale, it’s possible to enjoy it as a species of robotic toy-techno music, with its erratic beats, metallic tones, and warped minimal electronic effects. Guest saxophone players Ray Dickaty and Dave Jackson appear on two tracks, Piotr Zabrodzki did the recording, and the grey metallic artworks are by Paulina Okninska and Janek Ufnal. A highly successful blend of talents and an endearing work. The general tone of this piece appears to be both whimsical and melancholic, a wistful blend of emotions which seems uniquely endemic to the Polish race somehow. Treat this as a Polish update on Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine, with a more elaborate story and a more ambiguous interpretation of the same themes. This was also released as a cassette by Wounded Knife; if you download it, you also get a PDF of the libretto (in Polish). From 21 June 2016.
Three items from the LF Records label in Bristol landed 6th May 2016.
Norwegian Sindre Bjerga wows crowds everywhere through his manipulation of cassette tapes. We heard him doing it for this label in 2014 with Black Paper Wings, a highly effective combination of warped speaking voices with twisted electronic spew. We also heard him as one half of Star Turbine, on the fabbo record Inner Space / Outer Space for Attenuation Circuit, and on Invisible Paths for Zoharum. Here on For The Automatic People (LF057), we’ve got 28 minutes of him mangling tapes and machines at a live set in Nijmegen. No doubt it offers a sensationally chilling experience, pushing the listener through the other side of a distorting mirror where the once-familiar world is transformed into ugly, threatening shapes. But for most of the time Bjerga is treading water, letting the tapes unspool in suitably ambiguous droney and crackly scapes but not doing much to exert himself as a performer; I prefer the brief moments when he gets his hands stuck right in, and does something to manually retard the rotation of his own capstans, to devastating effect. Even so, this growly beast fully lives up to label claim of “magnetic tape abuse, bleak drone and dungeon crawler electronics”.
When it comes to “hands-on” performances, you could do worse than turning your spotlight on major loon Yol, the English performer whose ugly and slightly confrontational work has crossed our path on two unforgettable CDRs. Is It Acceptable (LF056) contains four instances of his voice-centric noise, and will likely sear its way into your life in just 30 mins with as much assurance as a truckload of spoiled food or garden debris tipped onto your front lawn. Yol spits and vomits out primitive poetry right there on the stage, mauling and mangling his own larynx into hideous forms while doing so; unpleasant imagery abounds in his texts, many of them vivid descriptions of life on a bleak on a housing estate, and it’s like meeting an urbanised Stig of the Dump crossed with a heroin addict clutching a can of Special Brew in his hairy paw. To accompany these caustic, abrasive voice attacks, Yol uses broken debris as percussion – could be chains, metal tins, broken glass…as if using the remains of industrial society to make his point. Can’t help but concur with label assessment: “Yol infests speech and sound with a plague-like bubonic mass that explodes spores into the atmosphere”.
Both the above releases tend to confirm label owner Greg Godwin’s view of contemporary British society as broken and incoherent. The next record is slightly more “musical”, though that’s probably stretching the envelope a bit more than we should. It’s a split album (LF050) between Robin Foster and Henry Collins, with both cuts mysteriously timed at exactly 18:02. Foster turns in ‘Spill Lynch Corrosiveness’, a long and brooding episode of nasty guitar noise, which he executes with a coldness of purpose that borders on malevolence. He makes that feedback hum creep along the studio floor as though it’s a slowly-seeping pool of acid, soon to be lapping around our ankles. There’s also evidence of his skill with pedal manipulation; not a second goes by but a potentially “normal” sounding guitar lick is mutated into a hideous blob of ugliness by means of distortion or delay, pushed to wild extremes. If there’s a coherent statement to be extracted from this lengthy bout of waywardness, you’d be hard pressed to find it; Robin Foster is determined to short-circuit logic and common sense at all times, pushing back and forth between the modes of twangy free-form plucking and pure noise generation.
Henry Collins’ exploits are even more insufferable. His ‘Frostlike, Neighbourly Aversion’ makes it plain, in both title and sound, that he wishes to explore his own personal sensations of alienation. His assault on the guitar, if that is indeed the instrument in question, is violent and crude; for the first seven minutes the listener is repelled rather than engaged, forced aside by an ugly chattering of coarse metal-electric filth. Things progress from that point, into insane explorations of wayward feedback apparently taking place inside an industrial metal cannister, some 30 feet high with no possibility of escape. It’s genuinely alarming to hear; this noise perfectly evokes the maddened frustration and claustrophobia of the mentally ill, clawing helplessly at the walls of their self-made cage. One of the more impressive scabs to have been torn from the gangrenous knee of the LF Records label; for those with a thirst for more Foster and Collins, they also perform as a duo under the name of Tippex.
POLAND ZOHAR 118-2 CD (2016)
Mammoth Ulthana are on one hand an electronic music duo (Jacek Doroshenko and Rafał Kołacki) and on the other a fictitious and self-mythologising ‘ancient community that uses the phenomenon of sound as a medium to express a deep connection with nature’. ‘Ah ha’ you archly exclaim, expounding cynically upon every desktop ‘shaman’ with Pro-tools and panpipes to hand, filling the lug-holes of anyone who’ll listen with ephemeral, sub-FSOL atmospherics or Sunburned Hand-style ‘ecstatic’ daubings… ‘Thanks but no thanks’. Actually, those were my thoughts till I gave this CD half a chance, but by and by it has dutifully delivered.
Granted, this is my kneejerk response to anyone who wields the rainstick in overture to ‘shamanism’; its respective cultures and esoteric rituals, especially in the name of entertainment. Westerners talking spiritualism are like pigs discussing Shakespeare, just a good deal less entertaining. At the same time, very tried and tested is the pairing of ‘ancient’ or ‘ethnic’ instruments with computer generated music; such ‘organic’ composition frequently a mishmash of rambling ‘freak folk’ and reassuringly warm, resonant sound fields; something quite distinct from the initiatory trauma that I would imagine precedes a footstep into the spirit realm. And that’s how things begin: agreeably. Inoffensively. Interestingly. With ‘oriental gongs’, ‘ethnic drums’ and singing bowls etc. forming the basis of calming early tracks.
It’s not until about midway through (‘Sove’) that the listener might twig that they’ve been led into a trap, and that the earlier ambience has grown into a more menacing breed of drone; itself but interstitial to the black cauldron brew that subsumes and finally becomes the landscape. At some point we become aware that Doroshenko and Kołacki have capably deposited us into an internal sound world of some description, where the escalating clamour of inverted reality becomes deafening. Once maligned (by yours truly), the ’ethnic’ instrumentation – e.g. the percussion in the dense and darkening ‘Tombs’ – becomes a sinister, ritualistic language; one simultaneously counterfeit and yet quite personal to the musicians involved. Having made it this far, the listener has not choice but to continue their unwitting part in a fine act of deception.
The latest item from UK’s Hideous Replica label is a CD called Bind (HR12), a collaboration between Phil Julian and John Macedo. Arrived here 24 May 2016. The front cover looks like a degraded photograph of some rocky outcrop, overprinted with a subtle green tint, suggestive of algae or lichen growing on those rocks. In like manner, the very abstract sound art we hear on the disc could be read as a form of digital micro-growth, organisms thriving on an inhospitable surface.
The prolific and highly able Phil Julian last showed up here in 2015 on Between Landing, an understated crackly record he made with Ben Owen, but he’s rattled his circuits with some of the best names on the mountainsides of avant-noise, and in many diverse contexts. John Macedo is a London sound artist who has released a few cassettes and CDRs, some on his own Black Plume Editions label, and owns himself a devotee of analogue electronics, hand-made devices, and close-miked objects to create his sounds. The pair performed together at Cafe Oto in 2015, the results issued as a live tape by Wasted Capital Since 2013, a sub-label of Hideous Replica.
Bind contains zero information as to how it was produced, other than the vague remark “recorded at various locations in South East London 2013-16”. Although generally a quiet and unobtrusive set of crackling squiggles, it offers a “continuous” experience rather than a disjointed one, continually drawing the listener in to its small confines, as we fall further down the rabbit hole and are squeezed along many narrow passages. There’s an eerie fascination to the subdued drones, the unexpected squeals and ticks; we might be watching small unknown life-forms multiplying in ways we can’t understand.
While most of the 11 track titles are utilitarian and provide few clues, I do like the title ‘Another Burden on the National Grid’, which suggests something about the excessive power consumption of this duo (despite the minimal audible output). It also passes on a wider awareness of how they see their activities plugging into a whole network of dependencies and resources. Perhaps they see their errant alien signals as ghosts in the bloodstream, humming along the cables from pylon to pylon, until they reach their intended destination.
Here’s another new record by Raymond Dijkstra. At least I think it is. This vinyl LP is credited to Bhaavitaah Bhuutasthah, the music is credited to Le Ray, while the artworks and sleeve note are credited to RD. It’s fair to assume that these are all aliases for the same fellow; last time he descended upon our four walls, he was calling himself NIvRITTI MARGA, an act which he realised with the help of Timo van Luijk (from Noise-Maker’s Fifes) and Frédérique Bruyas, who added grisly voice effects. Unwritten rule followed by a few avant-garde acts: keep one step ahead of everyone by throwing them off the scent with exotic aliases. It worked for Fantômas, that pulp fiction anti-hero criminal mastermind so beloved of the Surrealists.
Over the years I keep finding myself in a love-hate relationship with Dijkstra’s work, forcing myself to hear it and drag myself to the writing block afterwards; even he was moved to email me with the observation, “although you don’t really seem to like my music, you’re nonetheless one of the best review writers I know.” Remembering In The Cosmic Manifestation (EDITIONS LE SOUFFLEUR LS111) is, for the first side at least, one of his more approachable records. The two parts of the title track appear on side one, and it’s a couple of moog / percussion workouts that I’d venture to say might even appeal to fans of the first Popol Vuh LP, Affenstunde. Matter of fact the very word “Cosmic” in the title is probably a nod in that very direction. But it’s far darker and colder than the sunlit worlds of Florian Fricke. It’s as though Florian had turned to diabolry and satanism instead of Tibetan Buddhism. I say this because the music is so wayward and distorted; although Le Ray comes close to playing recognisable chords or melodies, it’s as though he deliberately stops short of doing so, refusing that safe resolution into a comforting E-C-G chord shape. Likewise, his sonic treatments keep the listener off balance here; distortion, wayward interventions, and other devices to disrupt the surface calm keep on bobbing to the surface, like so many unwelcome monsters rising up from the bottom of the lake. Even those conga rhythms which could have added a transcendental effect and contributed to a meditative frame of mind are poisoned somehow; they smack of decadence, ether-infused trance states, unwholesome nightmares. So far, “approachable” does come with a caveat or two.
Side two turns out to be the hideous twin brother of the relatively benign side one. Both parts of ‘Kosmische Vernichtung’, especially the interminable part I, are the sort of indigestible and unsettling music I usually associate with Dijkstra. The title says as much. You may be cheered by the sight of the word “Kosmische” and assume we’re in for some more Popol Vuh related treats, but it translates as “cosmic destruction”, indicating at least three related aspects to Dijkstra’s fiendish plan. He aims to destroy krautrock music; he aims to completely reverse any benefit that may have been conferred by his efforts on side one; and he aims to create a soundtrack for the apocalypse. Yes, I know there’s probably not a single Industrial musician who hasn’t boasted about their apocalyptic ambitions since 1980 onwards, but Dijkstra comes pretty close to opening the Seventh Seal with this horrifying melange of sound he’s unleashed. Produced I think with mellotron added to the moog and percussion, said mellotron probably contributing the ultra-queasy string effect that sounds like a hundred classical musicians being sick at once, ‘Kosmische Vernichtung Part I’ manages to stay just on the right side of coherence long enough to pull you in to its hateful vortex of chaos and despair. Every discordant moment is probably planned and executed with a ruthless precision, the composer knowing exactly what buttons to push to induce existential terror in the listener’s head. You’ll think you can stand it at first, then after ten minutes you’ll be begging for mercy. I can’t really say I enjoyed listening to this side of swirling, monstrous noise, but it’s a work of genius. Evil genius, that is.
The cover art to this record continues the series of photo-collages we have already seen on Nivritti Marga and the Santasede 10-inch, also on this label and another Dijkstra collaborative project. Through the simple expedient of cutting up images of a lushly-furnished room, the artist strikes cold fear into the heart of the onlooker. It’s a deliberate attempt to subvert the normality of the bourgeoisie, through a direct attack on “good taste” and the traditions embodied in fabrics, wallpaper, and antiques. In the same way that the music challenges you to find a way into its illogical patterns and pathways, this impossible room looks at first sight like a place where a human being could enter, but the more you examine it the more you realise it’s an impossible, nightmare dimension, full of broken perspectives and awkward shapes. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest a connection could be found with the music on ‘Kosmische Vernichtung Part I’, those parts where classical orchestral traditions are being parodied and grotesquely mutated into a sickening noise. What these collages do for a hundred stately homes and luxury hotels across Europe, Dijkstra’s music is doing for the conventions of classical music. Once again I must liken him to that most famous of 20th century art movements, and consider him one of the most outright Surrealist artists working today. From 10th February 2016.
Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle Vol 1
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 215 CD (2015)
As part of a notably sustained stretch of experimentation that has taken in Coil-influenced ambient DJ sets, an ongoing collaboration with Lady Gaga’s warm up act and audio-visual phantasmagoria, Anthony Child’s recent, Surgeon-free collection of sprawling, modular synth improvisations – captured during a sabbatical on the Hawaiian island of Maui in 2015 – is unlikely to startle even his techno-minded followers at this stage. If anything, it offers indelible proof that whether performing for a dingy dance floor, a smoke-filled yurt or an auditorium, his sensibilities are better attuned to his surroundings than the mere techno DJ that many take him for; an affinity further attested to by this recording’s occasional interweaving of avian and insect choruses in situ. I vaguely recall The Wire Magazine labeling him as a ‘noise musician’ in the distant past, which at this point seems a rather limiting designation.
Even covering two CDs, this release also somehow seems briefer than Child’s previous LP, The Space Between People and Things, a 30-minute slice of music concrète. Foregoing drama for detail, these nine recordings examine at length whatever emerged from Child’s machines when he was in the zone; exposing and exploring vaguely haphazard rhythms and textures, introducing thickening overtones and ‘natural’ events to such a degree that Child himself seems to have been hypnotized by the results. Among these semi-predictable processes, palpably stylistic markers include the crisp, cryogenic frequency of ‘Bypass Default Mode Network’; the throbbing, lunar cycle of Coil’s Time Machines-esque ‘A New Moon’ and more eventful interludes like the bleeping ‘Down in the Gulch’, a possible refugee from Morton Subotnick’s laboratory. Yet even as we note distinctions between this work and his ruthlessly disciplined cuts as Surgeon – such as abandonment of control to the machine and, it would seem, to the environment – we hear order in the alternation between urgent arpeggio-based pieces and deep, swelling drones where one might experience the passing of tropical days and balmy nights into translucent states of mind, beyond temporality or sense of destination.
You Have Already Surrendered Your Total Will
UK FREQUENCY DOMAIN fd003 CASSETTE (2016)
Child’s latest release, while certainly no mould-breaker, follows a more fixed line of reasoning than its predecessor, the title track consisting exclusively of meaty, alien pulsations that might be issuing from some nightmare factory in a John Carpenter movie. Unlike anything on Maui though, it commands submission to authority, not a lack of it, but its rewards for your surrender are 20 minutes of dubious comfort. The remaining two pieces invert this dark immersion with mild undulations of organ drones, offering unwary listeners a measure of relief. Going by comments left on Discogs by jaded Surgeon fans, this is not likely to win over the staunch ‘fans’ at all, but at just 100 copies on cassette, this one’s for the hipsters as clearly no one’s expecting it to hit the Top 40 anytime soon.
I’ve been kinda intrigued by CoH (Ivan Pavlov) ever since hearing his IIRON album many years ago, but that’s because it was produced using guitars and to my rock-seeking ears resembled some sort of avant-garde, metaphysical take on heavy metal. In my rush to find a viable alternative to Sunn O))), I was overlooking the electronica drones and techno beats in the mix on that release, whereas it seems the latter music is broadly more characteristic of what CoH gets up to. Retro 2038 was an all-computer music record which I interpreted as a futuristic vision of how the disco-dancefloor would evolve over time (not that I really care much), while 2014’s To Beat was much more of a process exercise, composed from micro building blocks like pulses, tones, and sine waves, to create something akin to aural illusions of space and depth.
Well, now I’m facing the ultra-minimal and slow-paced throbulations and hummings of a new record called Music Vol. (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 222), and while this is far removed from my dream of intellectualised guitar rock, it’s still managing to cast a compelling spell of mesmerising wizardry using only the simplest of means, in an extremely unhurried fashion. There’s something calculating about the evil ways of this Soviet monster, a man who probably wears a grey business suit at all times to throw his unsuspecting victims off the scent, when in reality underneath that suit he’s got a torso of muscles rendered hard as steel from his years of dedicated exercise in an underground gym of brutality. The tracks here, languishing in the 7 to 8 minute realm, are almost like lullabies, soothing you into a false sense of security with their comforting, gentle rhythms and tiny, unsophisticated melodies. Yet there’s no disguising the sinister undercurrent; when you wake up, if indeed you ever do, you’ll probably find yourself with some vital organs missing, or you’ve been sold into slavery and sent back in time to serve a long term in the Gulags.
I’ve no idea how this diabolical and subversive music was created, but the press notes are blithering on about the “VOL.” part of the title, stressing this is the key to understanding all, and insisting that CoH is playing around with “volume” in some way. “Concepts of silence and sound…variations of volume…soft progressions of sound”. Good grief. As if classical composers have never used dynamics in the last few centuries. It’s true that the music seems to have been created and mastered to exist in some barely-there twilight of perception, so you have to crane your head forwards even to be sure you’re still alive, at which point the mastermind of the operation will sneak up behind you, cover you up with a black sack and slit your throat with his garotting wire.
When I was still an innocent fanzine editor, I used to enthuse about this ultra-minimalist thing in the early 2000s and even came up with my cute name for it – “Very Special Nothing Music”, used to describe the work of Francisco López, Steve Roden, RLW, and Bernhard Günter with his Trente Oiseaux record label. But somehow CoH is nothing like that. After all, these are still relatively conventional tunes and compositions on here, it’s just that they are forced into this low-key slow-moving profile through his very deliberate working methods. The punchline to this is that he’s got his own distinctive approach to using “volume”, not with pre-planned silences to create sensations of emptiness, but incorporating it into the blueprint of each piece in some way. Whereas RLW et al wanted us, I think, to “enjoy” the silences as if they were music, CoH is obliging us to pay more attention to his timbres, sounds, and atmospheres, forcing us into his cruel constrictive bubble of pain. Very good. From 14th April 2016.