Tagged: electronic

Long Lunch Break

Yannis Kyriakides
Lunch Music
NETHERLANDS UNSOUNDS 55u CD (2016)

Writing in 1971 about William Burroughs’ then-latest book The Wild Boys, reviewer Albert Kazin 1 could easily have been anticipating this novel collaboration – almost five decades on – between Cypriot electroacoustician Yannis Kyriakides, Dutch percussionists-for-hire Slagwerk Den Haag and ‘contemporary vocal specialists’ Silbersee, when he remarked that Burroughs ‘gets astral kicks by composing in blocks, scenes, repetitive and identical memories galvanizing themselves into violent fantasies, the wild mixing of pictures, words, the echoes of popular speech’. In fact, he might as well have written this very review.

Though based on Naked Lunch’s dense and confounding narrative fugue, in Lunch Music Kyriakides has taken stock of the many ‘straight’ accommodations of Burroughs’ work over the years and sent them packing: no samples set to trip-hop nor dour thespian recitals here: ‘Smell Down Death’ signals this fact by mulching WSB’s dry croak into a queasy quicksand in the opening minutes, from which state it never quite recovers. He follows suit with the text, filleting all ‘rational’ syntax into words, syllables and vibrations in a ‘polyphony of voices’ that’s expected to approximate a reading of the book. In a pleasing convergence of scientific method and artistic inspiration, this digital arbitration was achieved by applying a frequency analysis algorithm to the text to determine its most commonly used nouns. No prizes then for predicting that lexical items like ‘boy’, ‘ass’, ‘cock’ and ‘death’ form the book’s rhythmic foundation and thus that of what we hear.

‘Words, horrid isolate words, those symbols of our enslavement, are replaced by the a-b-c of man’s perception of simultaneous factors–the ability to drink up the “scanning pattern”.’

Silbersee, like a well-lubricated (soft) machine, regurgitates this as grammarless glossolalia with a honeyed bounce to their vascular lyricism; chewing on words with the gusto of nightmarish Beach Boys on Groundhog Day. Their repetition of solitary words annuls all connotation and supersedes much of Slagwerk Den Haag’s physical percussion, as in ‘Boy’, where the eunuch mantra-fying of said signifier magnifies the grotesque comedy of the subject. ‘But repetition, that fatally boring element in Burroughs’s “cut-ups,” turns the coupling into an obsessive primal scene that never varies in its details’.

Compounding such in(s)anity, ‘La La La Terminal State’ closes the set as the heat closes in: the moribund choir locked in a loop of unlovely ‘La’s while a world driven mad by insectoid whirring and kosmiche ascension squeals to a stop; while mumbles of WSB-as-godhead make one last attempt to corrupt corporeality. Along the way, electroacoustic processing is pitted against Kalahari work songs; radiant radio static rains from open windows onto chattering street urchins; shotgunned spraycans reform in reverse time. Any part of this corroded tableaux might have been spliced into a Moroccan marketplace in Naked Lunch – the chaos is discomfiting, but reassuringly authentic.

In the spirit of reverent desecration, Kyriakides spears the mutant barbershop crooning with snippets of ‘50s pop hits like The Brothers Four’s ‘Greenfields’, which dissolves and devolves likewise into a vomitous assemblage of fruitless plucking and digital churn. Kazin diagnosed what is ‘essentially a reverie in which different items suddenly get animated with a marvelously unexpectable profusion and disorder. Anything can get into it, lead its own life for a while, get swooshed around with everything else’. As if part of a throbbing organism with the connectivity of Interzone’s gelatinous membrane walls, the voices speak ‘through one another’ in one glutinous mass: words within words within words – a vehicular pile-up process Kyriakides terms ‘mediumship and possession’.

To outward appearances, such shamanism is a messy business, where qualitative distinctions become indistinguishable ‘…like the embroidery of a cruel dream’. Naked Lunch is an uncomfortable read at the best of times, and Kyriakides is due kudos for neither concealing this fact nor reducing his interpretation to a linear event, as did David Cronenberg’s film adaptation. Whether for legal reasons or those of reverence though, his decision not to name the project directly after its subject does suggest a lack of conviction in his methods, which are experimental at least by the standards of others who’ve burrowed into the same works. By filching the master’s methodology – ‘inserting one scene into another, turning one scene into another’ – and remixing the text as a collage of suprasegmental sound, Kyriakides cuts to the novel’s filthy heart the way others haven’t.

  1. This and all subsequent quotations are taken from the same review.

Sleep No More

The album II: Music For Film And Theatre (DEKORDER 081) is credited to Felix Kubin Und das Mineralorchester. The bulk of the record is Macbeth – or a remix of Kubin’s soundtrack for a Polish theatre piece, directed in 2010 by Robert Florczak. 11 tracks of quirky instrumentalness, darkness, and black humour result, all played by Felix’s “virtual” orchestra, which may mean he plays all the parts himself.

Far from Felix’s usual happy self, this is attempting to be alarming, grim, music, often very suggestive of the doom and chaotic fate that Macbeth leads himself into. ‘Wojna’ is highly charged, atmospheric ambient doom music. ‘Hexen’ is likewise unsettling, using backwards tapes to suggest the supernatural eeriness of the witches. I have no idea why this piece turns into a disco tune though. ‘Banquo’ is another good example of dramatic “scary music”, delivered in a more conventional manner.

Although all-electronic, the music feels old-fashioned somehow, and could almost have come from a mid-1960s experimental film or a Svankmajer animation. The terse semi-whispered voices of actresses and actors add compelling tension. However, it’s also witty and zany to use Nintendo game effects to illustrate Macbeth’s defeat on ‘Game Over’. ‘Menuett I’ is more like the Kubin we know and love, showing his Schubert prowess on what amounts to an electric harpsichord.

The next major piece included is ‘Somnambule’, for an animation film of this name made by Anke Feuchtenberger, a German illustrator from East Berlin. It includes all the sound effects as well as the music. I think I can see how her stark drawing style and idiosyncratic take on Freudian-inspired dream symbolism might appeal to Felix. I found my attention wandering through this ten-minute piece though, as there’s no sense of a story unfolding or any clear musical themes I can sink my ears into; just a series of pleasant cues and effects. That said, there’s a strong conceptual link between Macbeth and sleep-walking (“out, damned spot” and “Macbeth hath murdered sleep”) which could be said to join the two parts of the album together. From 31 August 2016.

International Geographic

Vitor Joaquim
Geography
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA 117-2016 CD (2016)

Robert Lippok / Soojin Anjou / Askat Jetigen
Gletschermusik
GERMANY FOLK WISDOM FW007CD (2016)

Tom Hamilton
City Of Vorticity
USA POGUS PRODUCTIONS P21085-2 CD (2016)

Three very different releases on a vaguely geographical theme, and that’s appropriate, because geography, as a subject, is pretty vague and diverse. What is it, exactly? New towns and capital cities? Oxbow lakes? Glaciation? Alpine cattle husbandry? All of the above?

Vitor Joaquim, Porto’s celebrated laptop geomancer, tries to nail it all down with Geography, which sounds like a statement of intent. The opening title track confirms his intentions, as it arrives with sampled speech from some sort of space mission documentary. It’s as if Joaquim is pulling back to show us the planet in its entirety, before coming right back down to ground level.

The eight tracks on this release were inspired by Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel”, which attempted to show how human history and culture has been shaped by environmental factors. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on that, or indeed, how suitable this album is as a soundtrack. You’ll have to make your own minds up about that.

What I can comment on is the music, and it’s a satisfying set of electronic experimentalism, stitched together from countless live instrumental samples and served up with just the right amount of glitch and fizz. In that sense, it reminds me of the Jemh Circs LP, with a serious laptop face instead of a sugar-rush pop-music grin. But it’s a release that is equally worthy of your attention, I feel.

Gletschermusik has a more specific geographical focus, namely the Tujuksu Mountains of Central Asia, where the glaciers are in retreat. The album is full of the sounds of rushing meltwater, cracking ice and desolate mountain winds, recorded in the field and layered into electronic ambient and Kyrgyz folk music compositions.
This project came together under the auspices of the Goethe Institute and came to life in a series of successful concerts in the region, before coming back to Germany. The overall aim, to raise awareness of the fragile nature of the glaciers, is unimpeachable, and good work has certainly been done in this sense.

As a piece of music, some listeners may find it a bit too reminiscent of those new age CDs you used to find on sale in garden centres, with titles like “Amazonian Reiki Quest” or “Celtic Dolphin Meditation”. Personally, I’m not averse to that sort of thing, and I think there’s enough going on here to stop it becoming totally soporific. It’s certainly exquisitely played and arranged, so if you’re not totally allergic to new age connotations, buy with confidence.

Superior chill-out music, then.

Which brings us back down the mountain to join Tom Hamilton in his City of Vorticity. This is described as a “collection of electronic sound events, all occurring independently, and gradually shifting through kaleidoscopic rearrangement”, which is a description I can’t possibly improve upon.

We get two versions of this piece, the first with improvising musicians Al Margolis (violin), Alan Zimmerman (percussion and “prepared hammered dulcimer”) and Peter Zummo (trombone and didgeridoo) interpreting Hamilton’s electronic sound environment. It’s richly textured, sometimes heavy, sometimes light, often surprising with weird pulses and lopsided rhythms, and all in all, a thoroughly absorbing listen.

The second track is just the electronic sound environment itself, presented in unadorned state so you can play along at home. It’s like the ground plan for the first track. If Wyndham Lewis had designed a city, this could be its A-Z. Exploration encouraged.

The Octopus Trap

Worsel Strauss
Tako Tsubo
AUSTRALIA VICMOD RECORDS VMDL24 CD (2016)

Vicmod have released albums by Cor Fuhler, Richard Scott, who I have encountered before and others such as Cray and Richard Lainhart who I have not, as yet. Strauss is based in Frankfurt, but apart from his Souncloud page, there’s seems to be very little online evidence of his activities. Which is refreshing in this day and age. Worsel Strauss has a previous album on Vicmod from 2012: Unattention Economy, and if you are someone who enjoys staring at bees – I do – I recommend you check out the superb video for “Swarm Intelligence” from that first album here.

Briefly, I’ll mention the “concept” of the stress-induced Tako Tsubo (Japanese for “octopus trap”) cardiomyopathy utilized on the sleeve of this item. According to the sleeve-notes, this condition is “represented by a sudden weakening of the heart muscle [where]…the left ventricle take son a shape like a fishing pot… triggered by emotional stress such as a break-up, the death of a loved one or by severe anxiety”. This is represented by a rather depressed-looking stickman sat on a “fishing pot” shaped object on the front cover. Overworked the concept there, a little bit I feel, as far as the packaging goes.

The music is another matter. Contained within is electronic music of the contemporary type: well produced. Lively and powerful, utilizing analogue synths and/or digital approximation software thereof. The opening track, “Ribcage and Heartbeats”, sets the tone. If not exactly dancefloor-friendly then certainly appropriate for an after-party or “chill-out area” if such things still exist. As the album progresses, the beat programming becomes progressively more sophisticated and web-like. Consistently strong throughout the course of the album with little nods here and there to music concrète and the electronic music pioneers. There’s also plenty for fans of 1980s synthesiser music to get nostalgic to. There are echoes of the Sequential Circuits Prophet synths that bands like Japan, Yellow Magic Orchestra or Duran Duran used to use. Deadmau5 is one of the current crop of star producers who apparently uses the Prophet. Strauss’ approach is brutal and unsettling occasionally and is certainly a long way away from the lush atmospheres those 80s popsters used the Prophet for. Similar in tone if not actual timbre to Skrillex or Venetian Snares (without the machine-gun drum n bass programming), if that sort of comparison makes sense to you. At the heart of everything is great sounding analogue-type drum machine sounds. Warm and powerful.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Cantos in Calgary; the amazing keyboard instrument museum, where they have an old analogue Wurlitzer Sideman drum machine on display. The Sideman was intended to be used as an accompaniment to home entertainment keyboards when it was launched in 1959. Little did the engineers at Wurlitzer know that only thirty years later, across Europe and further afield, teenagers would be spending their weekends in dark rooms dancing more or less exclusively to the drum sounds made by Japanese copies of that machine. When the Sideman was demonstrated to me at Cantos, it produced the most beautiful, warm analogue drum sounds: all those familiar electronic kicks, snares and hats we all know and love, but somehow more warm and present than any digital approximation. After all, this is a drum machine with valves, like an expensive guitar amplifier might have. Beautiful. There’s no information about the equipment Strauss uses, but for me, he’s done a wonderful job with the sounds here.

Circle of Light: a low-key abstract soundtrack of beauty and imagination

Delia Derbyshire and Elsa Stansfield, Circle of Light, United Kingdom, Trunk Records, JBH061CD (2016)

From the deft fingers of Delia Derbyshire, the British electronic music pioneer who gave the world the original spooky version of the Doctor Who TV series theme music, comes this soundtrack to a half-hour film made in 1972 by photographer Pamela Bone. When first released, this film “Circle of Light” appeared in a number of film festivals around the world and was noted for Bone’s photographs placed on glass transparencies which were arranged in a slideshow structure to conform to a narrative detailing themes of nature favoured by Bone. These days the actual film itself is secondary to the abstract music soundtrack composed by Derbyshire and Stansfield, not least because the music is said to be the longest sound recording known to have been made by Derbyshire.

After a brief introductory description by film director / art collector Anthony Roland of Bone’s work and Bone’s artistic statement, the music launches on a journey that’s remarkably ethereal, controlled and restrained, and eerie and spacious. There are various spacey and alien effects and much is made of musique concrete recordings using nature-based sources, all of which contribute to the music’s strange and sometimes sinister qualities. Birdsong occasionally adds a cheerful mood in some parts but otherwise the soundtrack is a serene and steady work.

One definitely has the impression of being absorbed into a world of weird yet beautiful and quiet stately landscapes populated by exotic birds and animals that might have escaped from an imperial menagerie of unimagined rich strangeness. Long-lasting wind storms sigh through misty regions where life may be glimpsed through clouds of water vapour and thick bush. Insects sing their complex rhythmic songs. In the second half of the album the music drones become more threatening and the mood is sombre but tension eventually dissipates.

There are few recordings like this one where the music allows, even encourages listeners to run their own abstract art films behind their eyes and between their ears. This must be part of the genius of Derbyshire, that however strange or abstract her music is, her ego never dominates but instead allows the listener’s imagination to take her music and make something of it particular to that person.

Astromusic Synthesiser: a lively work travelling far beyond the zodiac

 


Marcello Giombini, Astromusic Synthesiser, Fifth Dimension, FD5008-CD (2015)

I admit I did have an attack of the collywobbles after buying this CD, that it might turn out to be mostly twee New Age hippie synthesiser pop kitsch fit only for church yoga classes. Imagine my astonishment when the music turned out to be robust and lively, bubbling with light-hearted zest and joy. What makes this recording a stand-out from its period (it was first released in 1981) is Giombini’s skill and experience as a soundtrack composer and his imagination in working his synth – and only his synth, there being no other instrument on this release – to its full range of sounds and capabilities, and beyond. The tunes his fluttery fingers generate give rise to an astonishing spectrum of moods from surprise to wonder and pensiveness. The synthesiser’s limitations force the music into pure melodies that tumble from their source and race through the atmosphere like silver-winged sprites. There may be a slight manipulative element at work but the spirit behind it is of wonder and curiosity.

As you might expect from a recording about the twelve signs of the zodiac, there are twelve tracks each corresponding to a different sign and named after it. From then on though, any connection between the eponymous signs (and what they represent) and their respective tracks seems merely coincidental. Thus the track “Aries”, to take one example, seems less fiery and more melancholy than perhaps it ought to be. You quickly realise that the best way to listen to the music here is to forget its astrology inspiration and just hear it for what it is: a lively and playful creation rejoicing in its sudden being and existence, eager to fly out and explore its horizons to its very limits.

Marcello Giombini (1928 – 2003) is better known for scoring movies of various genres, mainly spaghetti / paella Westerns, horror, crime thriller and sword-and-sandal epics, in the 1960s onwards but his work in electronics and the use of music computers from the 1970s on is gaining more attention and new respect.

Turk-men-istan

Various
An Anthology Of Turkish Experimental Music 1961-2014
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR390 2 x CD (2016)

Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom the award for longest gestation period goes to the alpine salamander. Typically lasting between 2-3 years it is – by human standards anyway – a monumentally lengthy process, during which time human offspring will have found its feet, voice and possibly got tired of constantly using the word ‘no’. Possibly.

Even this majestic feat of patience is but a drop in the ocean compared to the gestation period of electronic music in Turkey. By one recent account, some 33 years passed between conception and the first stirring of life in this seemingly sluggish scene. Said source – currently under review – is Sub Rosa’s An Anthology of Turkish Electronic Music, and sports 29 specimens of said scene, year zero of which being 1961 – when Bülent Arel issues his ‘Postlude from Music for a Sacred Service’; a standard but stimulating piece of early Musique Concrète from a collaborator on Edgard Varèse’s Deserts. The high watermark of 2012 is relatively recent, follows a period of unprecedented aridity, and sees all manner of young composers busy talking up their game.

Fig.1: distribution of Turkish music by year of composition (Source: Sub Rosa)

If the above graph serves as any indication, all life signs mysteriously dropped off between the years of 1961 and 1994, when a deep state of hibernation was briefly broken by the irruption of Mete Sezgin’s ‘Subconscious Memories’ – an Oval-esque miasma of dubby, glitched-up piano; one very much of its time, though preceding that internationally loved act’s breakthrough 94diskont by a whole year. Two further pieces would break the calm of the near-dormant ‘90s before the new millennium would usher in a flurry of artistic activity. No mention is made of what was taking place during this time, so perhaps the popularity of rock gods like Erkin Koray and Baris Manço was keeping more experimental endeavours at bay.

The anthology’s compiler’s postulate no reasons for this epochal silence, but they do single out two composers for having provided the groundwork for the ‘great wave’ of the 2000s and beyond. ‘Arel and (Ïlhan) Mimaroglu did not have immediate followers’ they explain, ‘the explosion happened later’.

Much later, as it turns out – over three decades later – and and as a result of some serious schooling: many of the featured composers are active in academic environments or else involved in coding or sound design. Little evidence of a connection between this movement and the putative forefathers is evident. Meanwhile, only three of the featured composers are women, suggesting that electronic music is a very rarefied and masculine pursuit in modern-day Turkey.

It will therefore come as little surprise that in spite of the ‘multifaceted nature’ of this ‘profusion of music related to an urgency to live and think freely’ attested to by the label, even attentive listeners will find the experience a largely homogenous and undifferentiated one; one that issues from the head much more than the heart. One that goes on like a middle aged man’s story that has neither twist or conclusion.

Granted, not all or indeed much of it is discernibly boring: indeed, one might conceivably taken with the elemental simplicity/iron lung acousmatica of Tuna Pase’s ‘Nefes’ (one of the three female-composed pieces, and a stand-out on the second disc of ‘Ambient’ pieces’) or the deep-diving droneology of Tolga Tüzün and Nilüfer Ormanli’s (also a female) respective contributions. Sub-atomic particle exchanges, machine gun blasts, echo pedal mysticism, adulterated nature recordings, isolationist string treatments with a whiff of the aboriginal: amid textures violent and subtle (and their attendant political subtexts of similar diversity (‘Democracy Lessons’, ‘The Monopoly of Victim Status’, ‘I Want To be A Suicide Bomber’…)), one may survey many a simulacra of scarred, scored and smoothed out scenery, perhaps reading in these lines stories of suffering and social trauma. On a purely aesthetic level however, a good deal of patience is required.

Returning to our graph for a moment, there is a visibly disproportionate representation of pieces from 2012 (thirteen, as it happens, nearly 50% of the total), with a modest spread of activity in surrounding years. The underlying message seems to be that Turkish Music is happening NOW, though in electronic music years 2012 is already history.

However, I do suspect the appendage of the indefinite article ‘An’ to this anthology is indicative of this collection’s status as one of many possible and that many further nuggets might yet be brought to our attention. Whether the geographical provenance itself provides a sufficient pretext for assembly is one question that needs addressing. On the strength of the statistics herein, is there any space on our shelves for An Anthology of Electronic Music from Turkish Female Composers?

Chimie du Son / Stoeien Met Geluid: a treasure chest of obscure home recordings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Jeannin / Various Artists, Chimie du Son / Stoeien Met Geluid, Australia, Creelpone, 2 x CD CP195-196 (2016)

In his quest to cram as many riches into this limited series of double-CD releases (to expire with the 200th release), the Creelpone collector has packed this twin-barrel treasure chest with all the known recordings made by Swiss sound engineer Francis Jeannin; this set includes the entire compilation “Stoeien Met Geluid, 25 Jaar Amateur-Geluidsregistratie 1951-1976″ on Disc 2 of musique concrète recordings made by various amateur sound artists, among which can be found a piece by Jeannin which turns out to be an extended version of an original work on Disc 1.

Disc 1 itself is made up of a private-press 10” vinyl release Jeannin made in the 1950s, followed by a second 30-minute recording “Mah Jong II” by composer / choreographer Emile de Ceuninck on which Jeannin contributes electronic doodlings. The longer work was created for an ensemble featuring soprano singer Adrienne Biet, jazz piano and percussion, and is quite pleasant (if of course very long!), but Jeannin plays a minor part providing some electronics and tape manipulations. The 10″ vinyl release is much more interesting and brisk, and is essentially a lesson in which Jeannin takes his audience through his techniques and methods of speeding up or slowing down sounds and chopping and cutting them up into the raw material to create music or recreate popular ditties of the day. He lets fly tunes like “Silent Night” in the most wondrous tones, so delicate in their sound and etching yet so redolent of the memories of everyday objects and their associations, of which so many have become redundant and passed into history. The sounds of car horns, screeching tyres, aeroplanes, jazz drums and other paraphernalia from the background fabric of post-World War II European society are all rich raw material for Jeannin’s tinkering. His chatty lectures (in French) give way to his amazing little musique concrete offspring who spring into our world and flit and zip joyfully through the air from the loudspeakers.

On Disc 2, amid a mind-blowing collection of the oddest of oddball home-made “amateur” tape collages and electronic dabblings from various European sound artists (and one South African fellow), an extended version of one of the “Chimie du Son” tracks, “H2O”, appears smack bang in the middle and is quite a relaxing piece with a laid-back lounge lizard tune (which I know I’ve heard elsewhere but I can’t remember the title or the original artist). If you’re really curious about this “Stoeien Met Geluid …” compilation, the real dubious glories are elsewhere on the disc: there’s a strange number “Sink Symphony” by Britisher R S King which is devoted to the sonic marvels of British hotel plumbing; and a jolly German dance tootle called “Pipsy” by Gerd H Nieckau, whose compatriot Jurgen Sprotte has an obsession with playing another ditty several different ways on “Das Tanzende Pausenzeichen”. Much later on the disc comes Manfred Eichler’s Exercise with Soundgenerator and Coffeetin” (sic). I must advise though that there are several tracks on the compilation that will make you cringe and squirm in embarrassment for their creators. But we lovers of strange music must embrace the clunky and the kitsch, the jaw-dropping what-the-f***-were-they-thinking? creations along with the quirky, the charming and the eccentric, as context changes along with the passage of time, and what is shunned during one period may become a classic in another.

Altogether these collections provide a fascinating snapshot into those aspects of popular Western culture and technology that intrigued people like Jeannin and others of his time to want to sample, shape and reproduce the sounds of this new technology, to revel in the opportunities it offers and to share what they find and create with others. The music that results becomes a historical document of the popular culture of its time and what it says or implies reflects the hopes and desires of its society.

I haven’t been able to find out very much about Francis Jeannin himself but this link to an article dated 1999 about a clockwork phonograph player made by someone of the same name living in La Chaux-de-Fonds looks promising. The same dapper gentleman inventor is also featured at this link, and is mentioned as having passed away in 2013.

Beauty and the Beast (You Can Say No)

Pita
Get In
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 218CD (2016)

After something of a solo hiatus, Peter Rehberg’s Pita is back in town to resume his sporadic series of phrasally verbed viands with Get In. Listeners more familiar with his work as part of KTL with Stephen O’Malley had best leave expectations at the door, which is more or less where his work on that project’s sound starts and ends: with the short, dark ambient drift of ‘Fvo’ just a swift, distracting feint, followed in no short order by a sucker-punch of Russell Haswell-esque digital gibberish – ‘20150609 I’, which I suppose is a snippet of Pita’s trumpeted ‘surprise return to live’ in 2015. But if it’s meant as a sensory postcard of said event, then its brevity is its chiefest virtue: (also) clocking in at under 3 minutes, this non-sequitur’s placement is a provocative anomaly, preened into plausibility by the press people as extending ‘the perennial Pita sound into a paradox of intimidation and beauty’ (indeed) – a statement that stinks of retro-fitting.

At the same time, the impression remains of things done by design, and a devil or two in the details… the record is dedicated to Thomas Jerome Newton aka The Man Who Fell To Earth and conceivably framed by the same lens that shot that overwrought mess of a movie, where transitions between each troubled stepchild of a track mirrors the stylistic collapse of one low-energy scene into another. Get In is an unashamed mess and an occasionally sightly one, but which just as easily passes into and beyond the vanishing point of interest. Even the granulated, tectonic growl of ‘Aahn’ and the glistening vortex of ‘Line Angel’ are but token band-aids on a perplexing physical condition; while the the bi-polar, synth-wave violation of ’S200729’ is visibly a symptom. There is a plot twist though: we might anticipate a final sprawl into booze-numbed oblivion to parallel Newton’s fall from grace, but instead ‘Mfbk’ showers patient listeners in 10 minutes of redemptive bliss. Call me impatient, but what took you so long???

Till We Have Faces

The Norwegian Ensemble Song Circus are a seven-piece of vocalists, led by their artistic director Liv Runesdatter. Their Anatomy Of Sound project appears to be an ongoing thing for the years 2014-2018, and involves working with a number of modern composers…they’re trying to get into “the very microlevels of sound anatomy”, as they would say, which involves working away at microtones with their voices, exploring certain acoustic spaces, and the timbral qualities of certain objects. On the particular release we have before us (2L RECORDS 2L-117-SABD), they perform a 12-part suite called Landscape With Figures, composed by Ruben Sverre Gjertsen, a contemporary Norwegian composer. There’s a longer 70-minute version which involves and orchestra and live electronics, but this is the 44-minute version for vocalists with live electronics, a work whose full realisation involves a complicated set-up in the performance arena, where the vocalists and other musicians are positioned in the audience, and careful microphone placement is needed along with a large loudspeaker for acousmatic playback. Clearly this “Landscape” is very much about “spatial awareness” in a big way, which may be one reason why it appeals to the members of Song Circus. This may also account for why the record has been released on a Blu-Ray disc and an SACD on this package. The former probably allows 5.0 surround-sound playback for those who have the right set-up at home (I don’t, sadly), and permits a truly immersive experience. Even so, the sound on the normal CD is pristine and sharp to an extremely high degree. Gjertsen has studied the work Trevor Wishart and Brian Ferneyhough, and absorbed their ideas about “systems of notation and composition”.

Buried somewhere at the heart of these whispering voices and atonal vocal acrobatics, there may be some textual material derived from the work of James Joyce. It’s hard to make it out though, and it may also be mixed up with other texts from Demian Vitanza, the Norwegian novelist. While there’s a nice set of anagrams using the words “Finnegans Wake” printed in the booklet, I’m not sure is this is anything more than an addendum. James Joyce’s words and ideas have been used in avant-garde music for some time now, most famously perhaps by Luciano Berio for his Ommagio A Joyce, composed in the late 1950s, and there’s also John Cage’s Roaratorio from 1979. I’d like to say Landscape With Figures is a worthy addition to the canon, but it doesn’t really succeed when measured up against either of those two predecessors, or against the work of Joyce itself. However, representing Joyce may not be the central aim of Gjertsen, and the cumulative effect of these mysterious fragmented voice murmurs and splintered electronic sound is quite pleasing. However, it also feels oddly old-fashioned; this could easily have been released in the mid-1960s on the Music Of Our Time series.

The second work on the disc is Persefone, composed by Ole-Henrik Moe, another Norwegian modernist who is also a classically trained violinist. This work calls for five female voices, who also lay “an orchestra of wine glasses” – the so-called “glass harmonica” that can produce pleasing high-pitched continual sounds. The Persephone of classical mythology was, among other things, the queen of the Underworld – a notion that is most likely to have preoccupied the mind of Moe when he created this slow micro-tonal work. Landscape With Figures sounds positively bustling with activity compared with this largely static set of haunting, abstract murmurs and howls. The voice of Persephone is a many-layered beast, like that of a thousand owls and sad lonely wolves.

Throughout both pieces, Song Circus perform flawlessly. In fact their performances are almost inhuman in their clinical perfection, and if we add the super-human clarity of these recordings and the very alien, abstract nature of the music, I sometimes wonder what there is left for us to enjoy. Somehow there is a certain pleasure to be found in the coldness of this work, and the remorseless way the music is executed, which may not be anything like what Liv Runesdatter and her crew intend. I think the faceless woman on the front cover is very telling, a visual index of the near-anonymous music inside. From 8th August 2016.