Tagged: electronic

Thought of Two: a successful launch of dark minimalist techno on a long journey


Black Hat, Thought of Two, Hausu Mountain, CD HAUSMO13 (2014)

I believe this is the first full-length recording from Black Hat, a dark electronica project by Seattle resident Nelson Bean. Seattle is famous in the music world for many, many reasons but so far minimalist darkened techno with a bit of psychedelia and industrial influence hasn’t been one of them. One day that may all change and Bean is to be commended for bringing that happy day closer. “Thought of Two” is a short effort with just three tracks but these are long ones with the third clocking close to 20 minutes.

“Imaginary Friends” sounds innocuous enough until you start spinning the disc and long groaning tones crawl out of the speakers and drift through the air with echo dragging behind and sinister feathery whisper percussion shifting and shuffling along. The track transforms constantly with drone, skittery effects, a hollow metal rattle and eerie high-pitched metal whine together giving the impression of a black claustrophobic worm-hole tunnel unravelling itself as we explore deeper inside. It’s at once creepy and ominous yet some of the rhythms offer reassurance and comfort on our journey. There are no big shocks or surprises and that in itself can be heartening for listeners.

“Portrait in Fluorescent Light” is an amorphous entity of shifting metallic wash and shimmer. This is a highly hypnotic and cosmic piece with a lush beauty and radiance. However Bean saves the best for “Memory Triptych”, a tapestry of very warm shining rhythm loops, muted industrial scrapings, dreamy drone and lots more besides, all bathed in a soft radiant ambience. This is a very dreamy trancey track, reminiscent sometimes of old Vladislav Delay recordings in their seductive quality though those VD releases had a much cleaner sound and were more emotionally neutral. Flotsam and jetsam from various musical genres seem to drift in and out – at one point, we seem to have a repeating jazz horn, calling perhaps for a lost brass instrument companion, intruding apologetically on proceedings – making the track difficult to describe: it encompasses ambient trance, industrial, techno, cosmic space and musique concrete among other genres but reaches far beyond any of them. Near the end, the track adopts a contemplative mood as if brooding on its telos and what it might mean.

It’s a bewitching recording, smooth and beguiling, at times a bit melancholy and wistful. In spite of the tracks’ formless nature, the music can be very accessible and almost poppy in orientation. The sounds are very absorbing and for once I don’t mind that they can be repetitive and monotonous in parts as the soundscapes never stop evolving. For a recording lasting no longer than 35 minutes, this album really does take its listeners on very long expansive journeys.

Contact: Hausu Mountain

Three Spooling Dans from France

Nicolas Marmin sent us three split cassette tapes from his KommaNull label in France which arrived 18 October 2013. Note the uniform packaging of these Spooling Dans. Each tape resides in a corrugated card carton which when flipped open will reveal the cassette in a paper slipcase within, the pearl of tapedom sitting in the oyster of the hypermarket. It so happens our first pearl (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_3) is of pinkish hues.

Häk and his Music for Molekularsynthesizer finds German synth-mangler Häk issuing forth a pleasing variety of electronic sounds – some crazy, some outer-spacey, some just plain obnoxious. Certainly no shortage of effects, textures and surfaces on his half of the tape, but it’s a tad under-developed in the way of compositional design, apart from letting the piece continue and accrue further layers of effects, until it reaches a tipover point and collapses in a welter of noise. However there is a sense of exploratory fun in the work as knobs are twisted and crazy whoops sputter from the devices, and the sense that Häk is something of a kid in a sweetshop, restlessly trying out a shiny new toy. The fun aspect is undercut somewhat by the grim buzzy drone noise which closes out the tape, a testing episode of process-based grind, but as noted Häk has many varied approaches to offer.

Alan Courtis occupies the flip with his Untitled piece. Argentinean peripatetic loon Courtis has produced so many records now and worked in so many micro-genres that I’ve given up trying to understand one-tenth of what he does. One moment a throat-singing guitarist, the next an electro-acoustic tape boffin who does his best work with a household blender. At all times he’s been informed by a sense of absurdity which always gives his work a slant, an offbeat edge. Here we have something so indefinable passing over the tapeheads that my ears are getting bent out of shape trying to get a handle on it. Right away you notice his sound is much “dirtier” than the pure electronic beeps and tones of Häk, but that may be due to excessive processing and transformation. We’re dragged unwillingly across very unfamiliar terrain and there’s no clear end to this weird journey through tunnels of murk. I’ve often thought that Courtis underperforms as an editor or a composer, but here those deficiencies are somehow turned intro strengths, as this odd and episodic perambulation wanders through a series of unexplained vistas. This tape is probably a reliable psychic indicator of what’s happening to Courtis’s inner being on account of his frequent travels, not least the nauseating effects of air travel. I need a cup of strong tea after this one.

Next split is a blue item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_2), the sweet sweet blue of the sea.

BoneyFM’s self-titled album is 14 tracks resulting from collaborative actions between Lil’ Oof who provides the raw material in form of tapes, and Finkelstein who processes them, while Eran Sachs contributes a mixing board to two tracks. A confusing jumble of half-baked electronic sounds emerges, chopped up into short and unfinished pieces, arranged in no apparent order. Interesting sonic collisions may emerge from this wreckage, but they feel more like accidents. The creators can’t seem to decide if they’re going for all-out table noise, or a radically deconstructed recreation of avant-techno. A very broken and disjunctive listen; sorry chums, I just don’t get it.

Suboko offers a single 30-minute piece from a live recording at La Bascule in Rennes, from 2011. This is Laurent Berger, who’s also a member of Sun Plexus and the “minimal wave” four-piece band Ich Bin; plus Pascal Gully and the turntabler Nicolas Boutine. We have heard them before when they collaborated with some German brass players as the K-Horns, but this little slice of mayhem shows them at their unhinged and primitive best. I suppose one could also characterise this as a very broken and disjunctive listen, but it’s much more enjoyable than BoneyFM. The players are energised and focussed, and determined to give us an honest portrait of urban sprawl in sound, whatever the cost to themselves. It’s got the same vibe I find in APO33 and pizMO, the sense of a chaotic but juicy performance which has no defined boundaries and revels in the joys of uncontrolled electronics. Plus it just keeps going on and on forever. You may find the grim, industrial-ish caste of this music a bit wearisome, but it’s an honest and raw performance.

Of greenish tint is our tertiary item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_1)…

Ravi Shardja (also associated with GOL and Oleo Strut) is another French musician who has come our way before with the double LP Grun Ist Grau for Grautag Records. While that item might have shown his industrial landscaping skills, his half of the split tape La Ferme Vous-Meme is apparently more of a cut-up sampling item, with a baffling jumble of instruments and voices producing a nightmarish version of modern pop music, with insane beats and ugly sounds wrought from guitars and synths. No less unpalatable are the distorted voices, sometimes screaming in agony from the harsh transformations they must undergo. Shardja makes his mixing board work overtime until you could cook a three-course meal on the overheated desk, and pushes his array of sounds to their utmost limits. The album may have its melodic moments, but these too are rendered quite bizarre (almost comical) by means of edits and juxtapositions. Even so, this is so far the most “entertaining” listen of the bunch. You could play it to someone who’s an expert in obscure Burmese movie soundtracks, and just watch their brows furrow as they try and name the tune.

Enregistrement Temporaire is another name for Marc Nguyen Tan, who improvises on a modular synth to produce his Clusters Animés. All I can say here is that it’s a piece of great beauty, a very subtle melodic work, innovative and imaginative and with a lot of intriguing details to hear as it passes through its compositional stages. It may also be somewhat untypical of Tan’s other work. He’s more well known as Colder, an Electro-Beat thing under which name he has a lengthy catalogue from 2003 onwards, and has been involved in dance and remix projects besides finding time for film, TV and dance work. For me, Clusters Animés is the pick of the bunch from these tapes and shows there is a contemplative side to this young man’s work. Other listeners find parallels here with Nurse With Wound or HNAS – what may be emerging as a “surrealist” sub genre of electronic music.

Progressive? Moi?



The press release for Kongekrabbe is, it has to be said, slightly over-the-top and prone to hyperbole, although the idea of a twelve-piece democractic/anarchistic band from Norway is an exciting one. It’s difficult to deduce from the publicity sheet whether this is improvised in the studio or not: there is mention of two musicians being ‘the driving force behind the inventive material on [this] debut album’ and also mention that ‘the members of the band rehearse and arrange all the music jointly – without notes, but with wide-open ears and eyes’. Maybe I should just listen?

A noisy introductory piece leads into an almost ska-driven track, ‘Linselus/Due’ which also fleetingly recalls some dreadful 60s bands with its use of wordless vocals, a mad kind of Swingles Singers, if you know what I mean. These voices, a little more focussed this time, also appear in ‘Kongekrabbe’, the next track, weaving through some precise and careful brass arrangements. It calls to mind not only the dense arrangements of Terje Rypdal’s early works, but the jazz band Azimuth, and perhaps odd moments of Henry Cow (which is high praise indeed).

‘Partylus’ arrives like a demented ragtime song, before swiftly turning the corner into a more minimal moment which is then interrupted by the arrival of a brass band who are pushed aside by some violinists. In fact it’s hard to shake off the idea of musicians being elbowed aside by the next musician; the track is a kind of endless procession of moments that are never allowed to develop, are merely interrupted and pushed aside, although a female singer is allowed to outstay her welcome. It’s a confusingly structured and thought-out piece that to these ears lets down the album.

‘Lakselus’, which concludes the CD is a more intriguing piece which slowly develops from abstract soundscape into apocalyptic noise then unfolds into a new musical spectrum underpinned with percussive rhythms and then distant piano. The by now expected wordless vocals make an entry and spoil this otherwise standout piece.

If Skadedyr can roam their ‘broad musical landscape’ a little less, and perhaps talk to each other more about the type of music they want to play, they will produce even more original music. As it stands it’s a little bit pick’n’mix at the moment, underdeveloped and unfocussed, but exciting nonetheless.


Gushing Cloud
Beat Wings In Vain

Whilst the press release for Skadedyr mentions ‘an appreciation of psychedelic, progressive and outrageous’, that for Gushing Cloud’s new CD prefers the ‘realms of groovy electronic, thoughtful ambient, and noisy/experimental.progressive rock music’. It’s hard, however, to hear much of interest on this CD, which mostly sounds like bedroom synthesizer doodling.

Simplistic programmed grooves and beats underpin simplistic approximations of Tangerine Dream guitar and/or keyboards, which meander on towards promised aural epiphanies which never arrive; instead, each track drops away into another rhythm which gradually returns to the starting point.

The hyperbolic press release’s comparisons with Eno and Faust do nobody any favours, neither does the claim of ‘an organic earnestness’, as though some kind of honesty, truth or well-meaning intention might make the music good. This is dull, second-rate ambient noodlng that needs both disrupting and focussing to get anywhere with. When I say that I mean it has neither the chaotic freshness of Faust, nor the kind of focussed process or concept which often underpins Eno’s own work. I have no idea what Gushing Cloud is trying to do here, and I don’t think he has either.

Red Dust


Bizarre skull-laden item from Romain Perrot, here performing under his Roro Perrot alias. This diminution of the Christian name is for me one of the more endearing traits of French culture; the way Henri becomes Riri, Estragon becomes Gogo, and so on. I think it’s the way a French mother shows affection for her children. As to that, you may think that only Romain Perrot’s mother could love a ramshackle album like Musique Vaurienne (DECIMATION SOCIALE), but you should bend an ear to this far-out item of disjunctive amateurish guitar noise and unearthly caterwauling and decide for yourself. An electric guitar is mangled and shredded, producing awful tuneless noises and formless shapes, with no attempt made by the player to disguise the clumsy, lumbering manner in which his paws clutch and tug at the metal strings and leaving all “mistakes” and duff notes as part of the finished work. Occasionally the guitar-playing is either fed through a clunky antique reverb unit, or else recorded as though Roro were playing in a deserted chicken coop at four AM – there’s that strange feeling of “distance” that recording engineers try their best to eliminate, and in places this is like hearing a live bootleg of The Magic Band recorded through an old sock. Then there’s the hideous singing, which lurches wildly from nauseating groans to primitive animalistic grunts and strange obsessive repetitions of dumb phrases, much like the mutterings of a raving loon. In all, this is an endearing and very human attempt to bring “rock music” right back to its radical beginnings – assuming those beginnings are aligned, not with Elvis Presley, but with the earliest days of Neanderthal Man. I realise that most listeners will lose patience in about five seconds with these broken non-musical outbursts, but Roro doesn’t care – the insouciance is shown not just in his music here, but also in the titles, which taken together in translation amount to “So what…fuck off…who gives a shit…nothing”. How much more Punk Rock do you want? It’s not the first time that Perrot has picked up a guitar, but this is a great example of his unique craft, simultaneously reinventing and parodying rock music on his own terms.


The album Love Song for Broken Buildings (QUIET WORLD FORTY THREE) in fact contains no songs, nor even any industrial-style noise sounds you might associate with wrecked buildings or demolition sites, but instead a suite of charming electronic instrumentals concocted by Kostoglotov, the alias of Daryl Worthington from London. Label boss Ian Holloway was impressed enough by Kostoglotov’s two previous releases to find a home for this one, and he praises the painterly qualities of the music (light and colour) while also situating it stylistically in a general Kosmische / Cluster / Sky Music milieu. It might be apt to imagine Kostoglotov wheeling his camera down a boulevard of derelict houses, and drinking in the visions of solitude and urban decay. There’s a human side to it also; certain tracks suggest that broken buildings are a sanctuary of sorts for him, a place he can retreat in search of solace or meditation, even inviting like-minded friends into the shared space. Personally I like the muscular qualities of the openers ‘Nervous Things’ and ‘Broken Buildings’, whose brevity (two minutes apiece) I would also commend; and the sub-bass throbs of ‘Cement’ have a brooding minimal inscrutability which I enjoy. But I’m afraid I found the rest of the work drifts off too easily into meandering, ambient drones, whose overall sound is just too familiar and user-friendly for my tastes, tuneful and pleasant though it be. From September 2013.


Another fine piece of retro-prog played in the 1970s style on The Papermoon Sessions (SULATRON RECORDS st1303-2), where the Copenhagen trio Papir jam it up with Electric Moon, the German duo of Komet Lulu and Sula Bassana. For this 2012 session they produced just three tracks, two of which are lengthy star-struck freakouts worthy of their Hawkind and Grateful Dead antecedents, and Mogens Deenfort (from Mantric Muse, Øresund Space Collective and The Univerzals) with his synthesizers has brought additional electronic freakery to the echo-drenched party. ‘Farewell Mr. Space Echo’ is sixteen minutes’ worth of hard proof that the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma continues to hold more sway than the Book Of Kells across certain strains of unreconstructed European hippiedom. ‘The Circle’ is even longer in duration, but less effective somehow; wallowing around in vaguely jazz-tinged soloing for its first half, then sinking slowly into a miasma of one-chord pounding thereafter. The sound is just a shade too cluttered, but I suppose that’s a danger when you bring two long-hair bangle-wearing bands together in the room. Even so, all of these Sulatron releases are recommended if you already have a huge collection of 1970s prog and krautrock, and want to hear it re-expressed even more emphatically than the original creators of the genre could manage.

Hermit Crabs


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.


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.

Churches Schools and Guns: minimal electronic soundtrack to a techno-dystopia


Lucy, Churches Schools and Guns, Stroboscopic Artefacts, SACD005 (2014)

No, “Lucy” isn’t a woman in case you’re wondering: it’s a solo project by Berlin-based producer / DJ / sound designer Luca Mortellaro who also owns the label Stroboscopic Artefacts. “Churches Schools and Guns” is the quirky title of this offering of dark and slightly sinister minimal techno-dub whose central theme might be a futuristic survey of a dysfunctional society addicted to paranoid technological visions amplified and manipulated by media designed to mirror and reflect back to us our deepest phobias in order to keep us all afraid of one another and so prevent our revolt against the forces oppressing us. I confess that initially when I got this album, I thought it should have said “Churches Schools Post Offices and Guns” but that would have suggested a more particular vision peculiar to societies where “going postal” means something more than popping a letter or a parcel into the mail-box.

Though divided into 12 tracks, the music is best heard as a continuous soundtrack of deep space techno-ambient rhythms. Individual tracks, while they may contain some interesting sounds, rhythms and audio-textures, turn out to be very repetitive and (in the second half of the album) monotonous, unable to advance much further than the initial rhythm and beat loops. While early tracks set down definite atmosphere and mood of an ambiguous and slightly malevolent nature, delineating the start of a tour of the future global panopticon where consumers of manufactured experience huddle in their cells, afraid to look outside, the tracks in the later half of the album seem less confident and the early strong direction dissipates.

Some tracks are very distinctive by virtue of machine-like rhythms (“Laws and Habits” which might suggest that the regulations and conventions we have are our jailers), crisp crackly pulsation beats (“Follow the Leader” which also features a very creepy throat-singing sample loop) or a robot vocal (“Leave Us Alone”). “We Live as We Dream” seems a hopeful track though the title itself suggests a double-edge sword: our dreams are all that sustain us but they might well be more nightmare than dream.

Ultimately though this album promises a lot, it doesn’t quite reach its potential as a soundtrack to an imaginary dystopian techno-world. I’m hoping Lucy’s follow-up work will take up where this one leaves off as I think Lucy could work itself into a niche of very dark ambient minimalist techno soundscape art not reliant on dance beats and rhythms.

Contact: Stroboscopic Artefacts

Depths and Heights


Very fine item (DEPTH SOUND RECORDINGS ADSR005) by Antidröm which arrived 2nd September 2013. This is the work of UK creator Tim Bayley who produces it all using a blend of second-hand and home-made equipment, which I assume is mostly old analogue synths and drum machines; at any rate, he stresses a hands-on approach to making music, and his avowed plan is to avoid any computer-generated sound sources. Good for him, I say! Net result, a very varied album of original tunes (yes, many strong melodies here) and creepy atmospheres emerging from the swirly synth whirlpools. Brevity is a keynote, he has made a friend of the editing scissors, and none of these instrumentals ever outstay their welcome. Not every single one of his fourteen experiments here is an unqualified success; some of them feel a little sketchy and half-made-up; but he is trying to do something different on each track, and when he gets the combination of elements just right, the results pay large dividends. ‘Rashomon’ is one personal favourite, but there’s much to admire overall. For instance, the way he avoids meaningless drone in favour of syncopation and strange, quirky rhythms, inserting his twisted half-phrases into the musical continuum in ways that are slippery and unexpected. He also steers away from aural clichés, not least because of the self-imposed ban on the laptop and the digital soundfile, and while some of his sounds may appear ungainly and lumpy, they are his own original creations, and that raw primitivism is a big part of the appeal. True, the use of spoken word / voice samples (on ‘Fear’ and ‘Holy Mountain’) might seem a little over-familiar, but these are minor glitches. Although there is an avowedly dark tint to the album, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole it as “cold wave”, “dark ambient”, or any one of these stupid post-Industrial labels. There’s also the excellent artworks, which are monoprints produced by the American visual creator Grady Gordon, and generated using an advanced form of the Rorschach inkblot which is then transformed, Giger-like, into explorations of twisted heads and strange black skeletal forms. Bayley declares his music is intended to “match the aesthetic of the artwork”, so we have an uncommon case of music and sleeve art working in tandem.


On Green Heights (BASKARU KARU:26), we have a trio of Japanese greats producing a rather strange form of synthetic art music, one that resembles healthy chunks of slimy seaweed served up in a thin vegetable stock, to be consumed by the hungry diner out of perspex octagonal bowls, while futuristic monorails pass by overhead. The lovely Ken Ikeda is here generating gorgeously musical major-key drones with his DX7 synth and his SD404 string decoder, which I assumed was a groovy piece of expensive equipment but which turns out to be a very primitive home-made instrument made from rubber bands and nails. Tomoyoshi Date’s name is new to me, though his 2008 album Human Being for Flyrec looks like an interesting investigation into the interstices between suburban and natural environments, and he brings his toy piano, organ, vibraphone and piano to the picnic, along with some field recordings. The layers of this kelp sandwich are held together by the intense but nearly-invisible jets of feedback which steam from the no-input mixing board of Toshimaru Nakamura. These five variations on the ‘Balcony’ title are all highly enjoyable, verging on the tuneful without ever breaking into a structured melody, and there’s never an unexpected or alarming sound to disrupt the tranquil mood. Maybe a little too tranquil; some of this music, especially the first three tracks, verges on the cloying for me with its saccharine combinations of pleasing tones and faux-naif, dumbed-down playing, particularly from the toy piano of Tomoyoshi Date. However, tracks four and five serve up a bit more in the way of intrigue and mesmerising sound art. ‘Balcony III [gamma]’ contains a long, puzzling stretch of noise which we could interpret as a ghostly walk through a factory, where the mechanical movements have been transformed into harmless, child-like variations. I assume it’s the added layer of field recording here which makes it sound less claustrophobic than the artificial glass bubble of tracks 1-3. ‘Balcony III [delta]’ satisfies this listener on some deeper level because Toshimaru is apparently being allowed more space to do his muscular abstractoid thang, and for a good chunk of its ten minutes this track invites us to discover the aesthetic delights of passing a hoover over the surface of the moon. Things go slightly awry in this lunar domestic scenario when the vacuum-cleaner short-circuits, and agitation lets fly. Despite some moments where we descend into rather tasteful ambient cliché, this track is the winner for me. From 5th September 2013.

Nature & Organisation


Adrian Shenton & Banks Bailey
Wrapped In Clover

Between nature sounds and singing bowls, this CDr begins. Four tracks of little chirping birds mixed with synthesised sound and atmospheric ambient music. There is a pressed flower on a laminated card inside a limited edition of 50 copies. With a Spring note it has the ambiance of a lush green parc as a place to chill out. Gargling water sound throughout the CD easily gives the music a flow, made by nature and coloured by the musicians. But the pianos (synth?), played on most if not all the tracks, kill the mood – bringing you back to muzak, along with the singing bowl, which is also prevalent throughout this album. On the whole, there are some good ideas which could be developed with the field recordings or in Brian Eno’s spirit, but there is a sense of naivety taking hold, in some hippie genre, that doesn’t always fit with the intention.



Main have been active since the mid-1990s with lots of good ambient releases. Their music is full of drone and reverberation, static noises and extended percussion sections. This new release on the Mego label is somehow looking for a new direction. Tracks I and IV are very much a mix of Musique Concrète like Main’s classic ambient style. Of course this release was recorded in GRM Studios in Paris which is not entirely incompatible with these two tracks. That said, the other tracks are divided into levels of sounds, varying from the quiet and reverberating to the resonant, as if everything were fading away and lost in wave after wave of echoes. However the composition is more precise than most classical ambient music, with lots of changes in direction and sudden shifts in the organisation of the sounds and its reverberation. Main has been composing this type of music for many years now, giving the impression of new perspectives on classical music inspired by Brian Eno. It does have a bit of a 90s sound though, a special kind of research on resonances within the echoes and distant frequencies.

HAL 9000


Hal Clark
Electro-Acoustic Works 1974-75

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.

Revealed Truths


Emmanuel Allard
Nouvelle Upanishads Du Yoga

The Buchla 200e is a hybrid modular synthesiser. Part analogue, part digital, it is a contemporary descendent of those groovy contraptions that were so attractive to pioneer sound heads like Morton Subotnik and Charles Cohen back in the late 60s and early 70s. These fearless sonic architects used the first-generation Buchla synths – the original 200, the sound easel and others – to create trippy, shimmering soundscapes, which sounded like messages from the future sung by cyborg angels.

French musician and sound artist Emmanuel Allard spent three years getting to grips with the system before laying down this set of seven austere and intense instrumental pieces. It’s his sophomore record, and is quite a departure from his first release, 2003’s Imite Moi, a slab of maximalist computer music released under the name Fabriquedecouleurs.

“I wanted to make simple forms, primordial electronic music,” said Allard in an interview last year. This mood of reductionism permeates this record. Basically, if you’re hoping for the joyful polyphony of Subotnik’s Silver Apples of the Moon, or the rapturous clatter of Charles Cohen’s Dance of the Spirit Catchers, then you’re out of luck. This is ascetic stuff. Allard is happy to set one or two patches off and let them run for fairly long periods without much happening, resulting in a strange, disembodied feeling.

In ‘Élan’, for example, various glitches and crashes punctuate a steady low hum, snatches of some strange machine conversation heard through a wall. In contrast, ‘Adelphi Wave’ swoops and screeches like a robot wasp in a jam-jar.

The title, too is important. Most yoga is all about discipline, a kind of physical version of meditation where the practitioner focuses on one thing – the position – to the exclusion of everything else. These pieces can be seen in the same way. Meditative exercises in sound, with no extraneous interruptions to disturb the concentration.

Of course, this CD is a world away from your typical new age twinkling you hear playing in many yoga studios in the UK. I can’t quite imagine the call and response style howls of ‘L’Art Noir’ – which sounds like a kind of prehistoric cattle lowing – helping your typical middle class salaryman leave their worries behind in the search for transcendence.

But these pieces are engrossing, their less-is-more aesthetic making it easy to focus in on the detail of the sound, aided by the pleasingly physical feel of much of the album. It’s not something you can imagine being bashed out on an iMac in half days messing around with whatever software package is hip with the kids these days.

There’s no better example of this than on the album’s final track, the 13-minute long ‘Gold Rand’. Starting with a hypnotic bass hum that rises and falls at irregular intervals, it mutates into a series of electronic creaks and groans before settling into a series of truly strange-sounding whines and farts, It feel I’m eavesdropping on some vast, fantastic creature – some huge, furry, cat-like beast from an early Studio Ghibli film perhaps – drifting off into a dream-filled sleep.