Tagged: electronic

Zo Rel Do: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv

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Mohammad, Zo Rèl Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rèl Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rèl Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad

Collapsing

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Many aspects there be to Things Fall Apart (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1302), a record by Jason Kahn documenting his live activities at a performance space in Zurich from April 2013. The first records I heard from Kahn showcased his brittle and crisp percussion work in various performing and collaborative improvisation contexts, but he’s since widened his ambitions and become a sound artist and composer. Here, there’s plenty of percussion work for sure, and also electronic sounds (quite primitive ones, perhaps generated by his magnetic coil and speaker setup), amplified and non-amplified vocalising experiments, noisy buzzes produced by a short-wave radio set, and non-musical sounds produced by non-musical objects, such as plastic bags which rustle about in a compellingly mysterious manner.

These approaches are offered up as stand-alone episodes in the suite. But the record also documents his use of the room, which from his description appears to be the ideal space guaranteed to delight the heart of any electro-acoustic performer – the floors and ceiling of the Kunstraum Walcheturm are made of wood, it’s a large space, and “the floor creaks tremendously when one walks over it”. In short the acoustics are very warm and wet. Without doubt Kahn is “playing” the room throughout, and no more so than on track two simply called ‘Im Raum’ where he appears to be dragging tables or chairs across the floor, thereby staging a two-minute impromptu recreation of La Monte Young’s ‘Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches, etc’.

Kahn’s exasperated sleeve notes document his misadventures trying to stage the performance in the first place, where the whole evening was almost ruined by a litany of unfortunate mishaps and sonic intrusions, and to some degree the piece represents his triumph as he snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, where The Enemy are represented by wedding parties, horses and carriages, and disco music. The title refers to a personal philosophy he’s carried around with him since his studies at SOAS in 1981, inspired by reading a novel of this title by Chinua Achebe. From 15 October 2013.

Humanity Won’t Be Happy Until…

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Socialism is still alive and well and thriving in Italy, if this release from Sparkle In Grey is anything to go by – and so is Progressive Rock and (to some degree) an interest in Italian library music for TV and movies…their Thursday Evening (GREY SPARKLE GSCD007 / LIZARD LIZCD 0093/ OLD BICYCLE RECORDS OBR010 / SHOW ME YOUR WOUNDS PRODUCTIONS LESION # 0012) is a convincing set of highly melodic tunes played with conviction by the four-piece of Carozzi, Lupo, Krostopovic and Uggeri, who use a lot of guitars and old-style buzzy synths, and their work is helped by four guest musicians. They are fond of string arrangements and the warm violins and cellos add a poignant melancholic touch to many tunes, sustaining the overall mood of world-weary sadness and heartbreak. What they’re heartbroken about is most likely the state of the world today…they start off by discussing the stress of their working week, and it seems that Thursday Evening has special meaning to the band as it’s the only time they can all rehearse together. Then the discussion somehow widens into talk about ethics and resistance and change, at which point you see the cartoony coloured figures on the front cover are actually an angry mob hungry for reform.

That’s about as far as it goes for the Sparkle In Grey call for insurrection, as they emphasise they don’t like to use slogans any more, so there are no politicised lyrics on the album, and instead just a few samples of vox pops which bring home their points of view. One of them occurs at the start of track two, a heartfelt ecological plea attempting to reverse the trend of monopoly capitalism for the sake of Mother Earth. The subtler strategy has been to release the album with a free pebble (I didn’t get one, because it’s just a promo copy); the purchaser is invited to email the band with suggestions for what to do with the pebble, and you then get sent a free track in return. If you buy the “Riot Edition”, the pebble is hand-painted. I have no doubt that this latterday proggy band are familiar with ‘Take A Pebble’, the 1970 ballad by Emerson Lake & Palmer, but they probably want us to use the pebble as an instrument for effecting change in some way. By way of example, the central character on the cover holds his yellow pebble aloft in a defiant pose. Jointly released by four labels (two in Italy, two in Switzerland). Arrived 11 October 2013.

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From Saint Petersburg comes the latest instalment in Wozzeck‘s grand design, simply called Act 5 (INTONEMA int008); the idea has been that each release would be carefully numbered and planned in advance to emerge as significantly different from all the others in the series, so that where Act I was “aggressive free improvised noise”, Act 4 turned into an avant-garde doom metal project of great ferocity and power. Act 5 is a single piece and it lasts for precisely 40 minutes, although the sleeve notes indicate it’s actually in five separate parts. The five parts each last 40 minutes and have been layered together into a single concentrated composition. It reflects the band’s growing interest in “ordered and compositional music, but at the same time more conceptual and weird”…their current thinking has somehow allowed them to embrace the music of Evan Parker and Radu Malfatti and the texts of Samuel Beckett, so you know you’re in for something very extreme and very bleak. Ilia Belorukov, Mikhail Ershov and Alexey Zabelin are the composers and players, and it’s executed with synthesizers, laptops, the iPod touch, lots of percussion instruments (both real and virtual, I would expect), guitars, and multiple effects pedals. The work is built around percussion and electronics, played with an inhuman precision and near-brutal force; as the piece works through its layers, it’s like hearing large numbers of drum machines and sequencers battering us into submission. The march of the robots, all armed with hammers and industrial staple guns.

The work is through-composed to a manic degree, and the small amount of information I’ve gleaned from the thick booklet of notes, charts, staves and explanatory diagrams has been terrifying; it’s taking the idea of mathematical construction and serial composition about as far as it can go. The performance is manic, too; I started off thinking it was played by electric typewriters, and I ended up with images of shipworkers driving steel rivets into the hull of a ship, possessed by the sort of focus and intensity that only old Papa Joe could’ve inspired. I can tell you it’s music that starts out shocking, and grows gradually more berserk as it progresses, with additional layers of even more extreme and indigestible noise, sampled voices, and rhythms attempting to escape from the prison of the regimented grid, only to be dragged back into the frame again. The cover artworks restate this theme, the monochrome photos clearly showing how the tyranny of the grid operates in modern cities, through town planning, signs, railway stations, civic spaces, and even your living room; and the graphic design, cropping and framing these images with white borders, restates the grid motif yet again. In all, a most claustrophobic and overloaded listen, but like Sparkle In Grey above I expect that Belorukov and his team are urging us to take action against the lamentable condition of modern society. Will we win? When records like this exist, we stand a chance! From 7th October 2013.

Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

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Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound

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

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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?

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Skadedyr
Kongekrabbe
NORWAY HUBRO HUBROCD2536 CD (2014)

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.

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Gushing Cloud
Beat Wings In Vain
USA INTANGIBLE CAT CAT-18 CD (2013)

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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