Tagged: electronica

Partials

Pinkcourtesyphone is the Los Angeles artist Richard Chartier, noted once before in these pages by Jennifer Hor who detected a certain lack of emotional engagement in his ambient music on his Room 40 release. Oddly enough the “emotions” theme is reflected in the title of today’s item, taking into account only a portion of your emotions (EDITIONS MEGO 236) which arrives in a conceptually-related pink cover (designed by Chartier himself) with suitably vague and blurred imagery. As a listener I have often felt ambient music to be a double-edged sword, except the sword is not even a sharp instrument and is more likely to be made of plastic or foam rubber, and if I may sometimes enjoy the cloying sensations afforded by ambient sound, I often find myself losing patience with what I perceive as the torpor and slowness of the genre. Today’s spin is winning me back to the other side, however, as there’s something deeply convincing about Pinkcourtesyphone’s approach; it’s certainly well-crafted, creating that artificial sense of “depth” which might be one of the genre’s purposes, and I feel myself slipping into the sens-surround atmosphere with remarkable ease. It might be a warm bath to soothe my aching muscles, or a chilling ice box for the conservation of meat.

This particular release has a very slender “narrative” undercurrent, if we can call it that, suggestive of lost telephone calls in a hotel from nowhere. This is suggested by the project name, the fleeting presence of telephone voices which appear early on, and one brief sound sample which resembles a dial tone. All the above elements could be used by someone with a fervent imagination to construct a post-modern murder-mystery story set in an update on an Edward Hopper painting, with theatrical lighting and deep crimson hues. In fact it’s so post-modern there’s no characters, no murder, and no mystery. This line of thought may be confirmed by a hint in the press release that as much as says “RIYL” to lovers of the music of Angelo Badalamenti. But I refuse to be drawn into yet another David Lynch discourse at this point.

taking into account…sustains this wispy mood of tension for about half of its duration – the first three tracks are quite compelling in this way – then it seems to tread water on track 4-5, wandering around in highly-contrived layers and loops without really advancing anywhere. It concludes with 17 minutes of much gentler and melodic music completely free of the threatening tone, which makes for a nice payoff to the whole thing; on the other hand, if the whole album was like this last track, I would have switched off a lot sooner. From 12 December 2016.

20:20 Vision

Longstone
20
BANDCAMP PAGE

To commemorate two decades of under-the-radar activity, Cheltenham’s electro-champions Longstone are offering a downloadable anthology, 20. Clocking up a corresponding 20 tracks, the collection offers a sufficiently succinct stocktake of their work since 1996 – covering 10 CDs, 5 EPs and numerous compilation appearances – combining all into a plastic continuum steeped in permutations of their signature synth-piston pulsations stacked with voice samples (e.g. ‘A Living Space’), but finally streaking into the sunset with a red-raw rendition of their would-be masterpiece Risaikuru. Much of the interim has the aspect of a getaway vehicle for musical subgenres that have flickered in and out of favour since the ‘90s. Our boys osmotically adopt mannerisms at will, popping out process-based pop with an almost plunderphonic glee, or otherwise outsourcing strident remix duties to select colleagues.

20 broadly covers four theatres of operation: bleepy, post-idm electro-pop; dub and trip-hop-tinted downtempo eye-glaze; a wide spectrum of space rock abstraction from MBV to Add n to (x) (think Little Black Rocks); and into their more recent taste for ethno-fusion musique concrète. While little is designed to catch the eye, the duo’s facility for detailed electronic textures – be they distortion-based drone or gentle storms of synthy swirls – as well as the palpable deepening of sound-field and arrangement over the minutes – ensure listeners much slow-burn satisfaction. Along the way, one might discern family resemblances to the likes of To Rococo Rot (‘Mobilfunk’), Stereolab (‘Charles Atlas Remixed’) and even (tangentially) David Bowie in ‘Subdivision’, where the catchy walking bass and goa beat – doused in crackling electronics albeit – take ‘Sex & The Church’ rather roughly from behind.

Of immediate benefit are neighbourly encounters with outsiders like Sonic Boom, whose remix of the multilayered sound matrix of ‘Convex Structure pt.3’ (from a split 10” with Stylus) places the pop tendencies in a pressured, subterranean psychosphere, boring so deep that it all passed through to the other hemisphere and into beautiful, balmy release. Such harshening seems reserved for remixes: ‘Dulce’ is a gently mesmerising feat of repetitive construction that seems to have fallen off the back of a Kid606 EP, with gritty electro-dub throb and tinny beat-box timpani slowly hemmed in by a wall woven of warm wool.

It’s tempting to attribute similar causality to ‘Kabuki pt.3’, with its red herring blast of kosmische noise betokening high-octane spaghettification slowly supplanted by a plate of maudlin spaghetti western guitar and violin; part of the pan-globalist morphology defining Longstone’s recent work (Kabuki, Sakura and Risaikuru among) – some just layers removed from FSOL’s mid-’90s synthetic realism. The latter ‘trilogy’ especially arises from the concomitance of Ward’s interest in themes Japanese (his blog details many enviable excursions there) and the recent influx of a semi-regular cast of organic musicians: percussionist Stuart Wilding, clarinetist Chris Cundy and strings man Kev Fox, whose improvisatory backgrounds have opened Longstone up to a more indeterminate and organic worldview, and thus a bold new frontier for the coming decades.

Cancion Sintetica

Cristian Vogel
Classics Remastered 1993-1998
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR388 2 x CD (2016)

As the title suggests, here Cristian Vogel appears to have had a damn good clear out of his cupboards and happened upon a bunch of old DAT tapes. As anyone with even a passing interest in home recording in the 1980s and 90s will know, DAT was the industry standard mastering format, although like all tape-based formats its stability over time is questionable and in order to avoid any and all kinds of tape rot, should have been archived digitally at the earliest convenience. These tracks are crowdfunded remasters of music originally recorded in the 1990s while Vogel was resident in Brighton, UK. That’s my neck of the woods. I recall he used to have a studio space in the Levellers’ Metway complex in KempTown. I had friends who lived in that area for a while during this period and Vogel could sometimes be spotted in the boozer halfway up Sutherland Road.

In the 90s you could have said that Cristian Vogel was the Aphex Twin for people who didn’t like Aphex Twin. Their music shares attitudes of crisp production, love of techno and a feeling of general unease, but Vogel was a lot more single-minded in pursuing accessibility as opposed to notoriety and as result, his music is a lot more, well…welcoming. I do recall that aside from his and Neil Landstrumm’s own Acid Box club night (which quickly forged links in other cities in England and Scotland and further afield), Vogel was never what you might call “visible” on the local scene, unlike DJ-ing peers and men-about-town, Magnus Asberg or Darius Akashic. At the same time promoters in other parts of the world were referring to Vogel and others with the term “Brighton Techno”. Perhaps as Vogel intended, Classics Remastered sent me on a bit of a nostalgia trip. When the bass comes in on “Alien Conversation” I’m transported back to a field at night in the middle of somewhere rural in 1993. I can smell the wet spring air, someone’s car abandoned on a green verge with countless others over half a mile away, those bass bins over there are easily as big as my front room, searchlights and laser arrays strafe the clouds and there’s either a hundred people dancing in my immediate vicinity or none at all, and ever so gradually: the beautiful blue haze of dawn.

Reference is made to Vogel’s creative partnership Jamie Liddell, Super_Collider with the inclusion of the angular Don’t Take More Jamie Liddell Remix on the second disc. This demonstrates the overlap of projects; Super_Collider’s first 12”, Darn Cold Way Of Lovin’, came out in 1997. Of course, by then its three years since the Criminal Justice And Public Order Act of 1994 came into effect essentially transplanting techno from its natural habitat – the countryside – into city centre clubs. The free party scene continues to this day of course, but always under the shadow of potential prosecution under that draconian Act.

While sometimes on this compilation, Vogel’s work could court novelty – the wonkiness of “In” for example – other pieces represent the vogue for “washing-machine techno” like “Plastered Cracks”, or the dystopian murk of “General Arrepientase”. There are also steps away from the typical techno tropes; for example, “Gigantic Tautological Machinery” and the almost-ambient “You And I” are full of rhythmic tricks and contain unusual combinations of samples and synthesis demonstrating a development; a progression away from catering only for the needs of the typical weekender. As the iron fist of commerce closed around the dance music scene, resulting in the multi-million pound industry that exists today, it’s hard to imagine a time when a budding global scene was simultaneously localised and easily accessible. Classics Remastered goes some way to jog the memory.

Outrowolf

ZOHAR 128-2 on the Zoharum label is a split release showcasing the work of two contemporary Polish electronica artists. The first, Monopium, presents four tracks under the name Nightclubbing. Monopium is a great name, and his earlier releases Mesmerized and The Goat And The Dead Horse’s Circus both have promising titles, but I found little to enjoy on his four tracks of amateurish bedroom techno. We have the abiding impression of a clueless dabbler murmuring inane chants into a microphone over a weedy beat, as if trying to numb the listener into a state of defeated despair. Calling a track ‘Kraut Rock’ isn’t really a great move in 2017, and this particular track is no more than the sounds of a nightclub crowd overlaid on top of an unimaginative pulsebeat; if this is all that krautrock amounts to in musical history, than Klaus Dinger would be appalled. Only ‘The Other’ succeeds for me, five minutes of grisly textured noise that attempts to efface the world through sheer inane blankness. The label have high hopes for Monopium, and say his work “teeters on the edge of Dada cabaret”; this phrase may mean there’s a sense of fun going on here, to which I am largely impervious.

K. has a somewhat different approach. To begin with his three tracks under the heading Die Wölfe Kommen Züruck clearly are intended to tell a story of a wolfman or Steppenwolf, and he’s got much more of an idea of applied structure, and even a sense of melody. We get the whiff of a gothic piece of German silent cinema from his tracks, and he manages to sustain a plausible atmosphere and sense of drama, even when he’s not entirely sure where he’s taking his tunes. This release has a supernatural vibe, while his earlier releases refer (in title at least) refer to the work of the Devil more than once, and No Longer Trust These Eyes Of Mine is a sentence which resembles the stern utterance of an Old Testament prophet; I’d love to think there’s a part of K.’s psychological makeup which sides with old-timey religious fanatics in some way, as that would enrich his themes enormously, and confirm my suspicion that Poland harbours many hidden enclaves of Catholicism gone mad. From 23rd November 2017.

Process Code

Last noted English player Phil Maguire in late 2016 with a very limited CDR he made for Linear Obsessional. Here he is again with a cassette tape called smll hand / dctfl hnd (DRONE WARFARE TAPES DW005), containing seven tracks all identified by lower-case strings of gibberish characters which may have leaped out one day from a codebase stored somewhere on github, meaning little to human beings. Although this is an “old” release (from 2014) I’m prepared to give it the time of day, as we enjoy Maguire’s process art music very much. The 2016 album was made using a Raspberry Pi, but I have no information or insights as to how this cassette came about, and I remain content to wallow in the single-minded unvarying tones that emanate from its core, emitting patterns and regular shapes with an obsessive insistence. There’s something quite inhuman, yet strangely satisfying, about the way these eerie sounds coalesce and change, and they breed and multiply like alien life forms which have dropped down to earth from a microscopic galaxy. Virtually impossible to second-guess what directions Maguire might wish to be taking us, yet while we’re here under this steel canopy it seems the most natural place on earth. From 25th October 2016.

Something From Asia

Polish electronica composer Mirt has shown up here numerous times, most recently with his Vanishing Land record, which collaged three unfinished works into something that amounted to a whole album. A similar collage technique has been used for Random Soundtrack (KOSMODRONE DRONE 1601 CD), as is made evident in the title – a title which also owns up to Mirt’s preoccupation with movie soundtracks, which his work is often said to resemble. Random Soundtrack stitches together field recordings, ambient music, and scraps of improvised / composed music, all the music segues into a continuous whole, and the titles resemble those for imaginary film music cues. Going by selections such as ‘Night Sequence’, ‘Motorboat Chase’ or ‘Sunrise on the Beach’, it’s a movie that sounds incredibly bland – a sort of 1990s European art-house remake of Miami Vice. I wonder what Mirt thinks movies really are…in his world, they are certainly void of events, character, meaning or stories, and all that’s left are some vague traces of “atmosphere”. It’s as though he derived everything he knows about movie soundtracks from collecting old LPs. Still, the cover painting does manage to suggest an imaginary still from an intriguing celluloid tale. From 27 October 2016.

Interpretation Game

Daniel Ruane
The Interpreter
UK THE SILENT HOWL HOWL011 CD (2016)

The Interpreter is full of contemporary dance music of the leftfield kind – and of a very high quality from this young Manchester, UK-based producer. Owing to Ruane’s attention to the material’s superb low-end, this is great-feeling electronic music. Made by young people for young people – I know; it’s a competitive market, so how do you stay ahead of the game? Personally, I really have very little idea as it was possibly as long as fifteen years ago that I last stepped into a “nightclub” for the purposes of entertainment, but I suspect Daniel Ruane knows.

Tracks 1 to 6 are remixes by Ruane of other artists’ material, while tracks 7 to 10 showcase Ruane’s own recordings. There is possibly some evidence of cross-pollination with some of his labelmates of which lots of names are new to me: Martijn Comes, Trinkkets, Inverchoulin (not a type of single malt whiskey), Kumiko, Fred Thomas, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, and Shay.

“Lace” starts off like something you would have heard in a dark disused light industrial unit or in a field in the middle of Oxfordshire in the early 1990s. All those fields are gone now it seems; victim to the insane appetites of the construction industry and central government’s new housing quotas. Kumiko’s “Triple Word Score” is a bit like sub-par trip-hop meets brutal techno beats. Mogadon Gabba, my mate called it. Fred Thomas’ “Partita In C Minor” starts as a drone treated to some slow tremolo effect. Then Ruane, firmly ensconced in his studio with a nice cup of tea and a couple of garibaldis no doubt, adds some nearby heavenly synth. This is probably the stand-out piece on The Interpreter for me. Sounds that could be roadworks vaguely intimidate in the background, but when the volume is boosted, the gristle of granular synthesis and Terminator-style anvil stabs are heard. Meanwhile, a Shermann Filterbank (or digital equivalent) opens its savage maw in time-lapse like a rare Amazonian flower. Intrigued, after some time looking for some more information about Fred Thomas on the internet, I found his personal website and not much else. Here, I learnt that he has several releases on The Silent Howl imprint, as well as with Loop Records and F-IRE. His area of interest seems to be contemporary classical and/or jazz, but there are no soundfiles of any type online to audition that I could find, so I could be completely wrong there.

Moving on. “Leaf” is fairly generic but not unpleasant. Its sophisticated Euro break-core will bother your bass drivers quite nicely, while “Tranquiliser” which is remixed by Shay, is more laid-back, summery even; I would say going for a more sedate Ninja-Tune vibe, perhaps. “Switch” is a functional club edit – it does what it says on the tin, and “Tranquiliser” – as remixed by Trinkkets – is more like a massive deconstruction of the Shay version, which is what I like in a remix. This album plays more like a compilation than the work of one man, but that’s not necessarily a criticism – you could say it shows Ruane’s versatility.

Any Colour You Like

Ab Intra is the Polish musician Radosław Kamiński, who’s been releasing his brand of dark ambient electronica since 2006. His previous three albums came out on Zoharum, one of them a split with 1000schoen. His alter-ego is a Latin phrase which roughly translates into English as “from the inside”, which may indicate something of the introverted nature of this self-absorbed music; like so many releases in this genre, it doesn’t have much of a life outside itself. Today’s release has a Greek title rather than a Latin one however, and Henosis I-V (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 132-2) uses the Greek word for “unity”. Kamiński’s earliest influence was the French synth big-wig populist Jean-Michel Jarre, and this does show on parts of this album; the second track ‘Henosis 2’ exhibits much of the pomposity and self-importance of the French player, as if announcing to the massed audience some mysterious post-millennial event whose significance has to be bolstered with flashing lights and laser shows. But there’s no real payoff; as with most of the music here, it seems to be all build-up without any actual event, idea or statement at the end of it. Even so, Kamiński’s music does have a well-crafted production surface, and he manages to avoid over-familiar synth settings and sounds, arriving at his own style of dark ambient brooding. A six-panel digipak is required for the artwork, allowing for slight visual variations on the arrangement of equilateral triangles on a black field; it invokes the cover of Pink Floyd’s best-selling album, and some of Ab Intra’s synth drones would have felt right at home, if not on that album then certainly on Wish You Were Here. From 27th October 2016.

Have His Carcase

Danny Hyde is a producer and remix genius known to many as the man behind the console for numerous releases by Nine Inch Nails, and also the Spanish pop-electro combo Fangoria; he’s also been associated with Psychic TV and Depeche Mode. But true cognoscenti of this dark mistico-sex-disco genre know him for his work with Coil, particularly his production work on milestone releases such as Horse Rotorvator and Love’s Secret Domain, the latter being an item that was recommended to me many years ago if I wanted to try and get “into” Coil. It didn’t quite work, and neither their music nor their themes have ever completely clicked for this listener, but I recognise it would be churlish to ignore the depth of the cultish feelings that Coil inspire in their acolytes, pilgrims and followers.

Hyde is also known as Electric Sewer Age, a project which sometimes featured Peter Christopherson from Coil, and the album Bad White Corpuscle (HG1607) has recently been released on vinyl by Hallow Ground. It originally came out in 2014 on the Italian label Old Europa Cafe, in a limited digipak, but this new issue has a bonus track called ‘Redocine (Death Of The Corpuscle)’. Given that all the tracks have the word “Corpuscle” somewhere in the title, one is tempted to read the album as a story of some sort, a day in the life (and death) of one of these micro-organisms that are associated with red and white blood cells. However, given the overall theme and the largely sinister caste of this electronic music, clearly things are going wrong in the body politic, and it might be more realistic to view this as a grim musical interpretation of slow death by cancer, AIDS, leukaemia, or sickle cell disease.

The press notes advise us to listen out for “dark, futuristic environments” and “glacial synth suspensions” on this record. Today’s spin has been underwhelming, though. I kept waiting for something to happen, some musical event or concrete moment to pass before us, then realised I was nearly at the end of side one already. What I mostly hear is rather samey and thin electronic tones, repeated in sloppy and ill-fitting patterns; there isn’t enough backbone in this “soupy” music for me. However, it’s clear that Danny Hyde has spent a good deal of time figuring out how to arrange his various layers and elements into these subtle, shape-shifting globs of sound, and he’s a producer who pays close attention to timbral shifts and tones, working out how he can match them together, along with foreign elements such as voice samples. What he lacks is a sense of shape or structure, meaning that no track ever really develops in a meaningful way, nor reaches a satisfactory conclusion. Call it modernistic mood music for the lonely and disaffected ones…a soundtrack to a rather maudlin bout of self-pity and overwrought sentiment. From 11th October 2016.

Wings Of Fire

Loopy electronica, wild noise, insane illogical beats and coarse sounds abound on Phoenixxx (PLANET MU RECORDS ZIQ383), a sprawling experiment which comes to us from the East, concocted by three youngsters from Russia and the Ukraine calling themselves WWWings. Heck, the oldest member here is 25, so they seem largely untroubled by draggy things like fitting into categories or providing any kind of continuity with the past, and in places seem intent on applying a punk rock-inspired tabula rasa attitude to everything they do. It’s also notable that the band seems to have come together through the internet and social media networking, rather than more conventional old-school methods.

WWWings are massively disaffected and frustrated by everything they see around them, and given the state of the world today, who can gainsay them? “Struggle with real life in almost totalitarian countries affects us,” they snarl at the world, in between mouthfuls of a dead rat they’re roasting over a makeshift campfire in the middle of a bomb site. “I think that’s why most of our tracks sound disturbing and depressive.” This alienation, and it’s not too strong a word, carries over into their personalities and prompts them to work under alias names which distance themselves from the so-called “real adult world” and bring them closer to a cyber-world of tags, avatars and forum names, a world which they own and understand, and have completely colonised, hence ‘Lit Internet’, ‘Lit Eye’ and ‘Lit Daw’. To say nothing of the colourful characters who collaborate on the tracks, with names like Born in Flamez, Gronos1, Chino Amobi, Endgame, Ebbo Kraan, and DJ Heroin.

The game plan for the modern world proposed on Phoenixxx is a simple one – burn everything down and (probably) don’t bother to rebuild it. This is reflected in track titles issuing simple instructions such as ‘Pyro’, ‘Ashes’, ‘Melt’ and ‘Ignite’. I can get that, for sure. While the name Phoenixxx implies a rebirth from the flames, I don’t think WWWings have written that part of the plan yet. Until they do, grab that can of gasoline and box of matches, and get stuck in. From 3rd October 2016.