Tagged: electronica

Cold Comfort

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Various
Vernacular
JAPAN WHEREABOUTS RECORDS WHACD-13 (2013)

Cold comfort is afforded in great measure by this tasteful survey of introspective sound art: fifteen furtive, frippery-forsaking fffffenquiries that collectively resemble a handbook on obscure natural textures, from thick and oily to seabed-dredged. With a line up that features Janek Schaefer, Lawrence English and their justly esteemed ilk, it bears familial resemblance to Virgin’s Isolationism collection, though is a good deal more polished than that rough-hewn basalt milestone, which these days sounds charmingly of its time. Track titles are a similarly predictable but pleasant blend of the obvious (‘Tenebrae’), utilitarian (‘Animate Structures #2′) and oblique (‘Extra Ordinary, Extra Regular’).

The term ‘Vernacular’ suggests both a linguistic and architectural locality, which is fulfilled in spirit and deed through the sourcing of sound and context in the fifteen artists’ home countries. Why one and all chose to express these associations so dourly merits consideration, but such is their stock-in-trade I suppose. This isn’t intended as a criticism: there is a palpable richness in the range of ‘dark ambient’ methodologies herein: from earthy field recordings to a handsome turnout of aching, treated strings, most notably on Hior Chronik’s arresting opener ‘Sketches of You’.Someone who has yet to disappoint me: Yves De Mey’s cauldron of electrickery ‘Lower Fracs’ sheds the bpm and shreds the night sky into crackling tatters. Another standout, Kenneth Kirschner’s ‘July 10, 2012’ finds a frail piano improvisation (reminiscent of the playing on ‘Drukqs’ that barely manages to wrest itself from a quicksand of fading memories. Among disc two’s higher quotient of naturalistic and elemental pieces, the refreshing audio postcard of Jos Smolders’ ‘Vangsaa: Revisited’ (a remote coastal spot in Northern Denmark) virtually deafens ears with sea spray.

I could go on, but truth be told, while bleak of countenance there’s nary a dull moment on here. And though for many an adventurous collection it will not be (a tough call these days), both the pedigree and provenance of this fine round-up should inspire many a calming interior monologue; one to which I’ll certainly be retiring for time to come.

Three Shades of Black

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Kangding Ray
The Pentaki Slopes
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 145 12″ VINYL (2012)

Twilight soundscaper David Letellier steps inscrutably into play with this low, throbbing 12”. The more recent LP ‘Solens Arc’ hasn’t quite gelled for me; its fusion of skin-tingling industrial futurism and more staid excursions into tepid 90s techno leaving me hot and cold in intervals, so this small serving from 2012 – effectively a distillation of that album’s more illustrious attributes – is a welcome morsel indeed. These three tracks wade through a viscous black nightscape that shivers slowly in a cold wind that harbours troubling news. Opener ‘North’ is the dancefloor number (or best approximation of one), hopping to with an outlandish, strut and menacing, midnight mystery air. Emaciated to ‘Sine O’The Times’ slenderness (Kode9, not Prince) is the woozy growling, three-minute bridge ‘Plateau (A Single Source of Truth)’, while the closer, ‘South’ takes all the time in the world (well, ten minutes of it) in unfolding its lurching bass and flourishing synths to get as proggy as this guy’s ever going to.

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Peder Mannerfelt
Lines Describing Circles
USA DIGITALIS RECORDINGS DIGIV066 (2014)

Crushing the unworthy underfoot with a similar ruthlessness, Peder Mannerfelt’s muscular rhythmic constructions skirt between the serrated, cerebral abrasiveness of noise-techno architects such as Emptyset and Techno Animal and the anaesthetized breaths of Gas and Porter Ricks; all the while driven by a deeply satisfying current of bulldozing sub-bass. Good company would Mannerfelt find on the Raster Noton label, with whose artists he shares a similar level of mental stamina: many of his pieces developing over painful minutes in painfully minute and merciless increments. ‘Derrvish’ springs to mind (as I’m listening to it now): a piercing, metronomic swing of dissected airhorn (I think) bedded on a battery of blast beats. Highlights are hard to pick in so varied an assembly, but if ‘Africate Consonants’ offers little optimism, the serrated shreds of its lightning personality are electrifying. And one of the more ‘atmospheric’ interludes, ‘Nihilist 87’ summons a fog of enveloping tension with a combination of distant vehicular beeps and a tension inducing rattle I’d more readily associate with electroacoustic music. Mannerfelt has served time as dub techno purveyor The Subliminal Kid, but since 2012 has released a small number of 12”s (and this album) under his own name. While traces of that trajectory are discernable, apparent is it that ‘Lines Describing Circles’ is something of a bid for renewal. To my shell-shocked ears it’s a fresh sounding debut and a damn impressive one at that.

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Pixel
Mantle
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 139 CD (2013)

More ascetic still, but sparing not the rod, Pixel (aka Jon Egeskov) offers us eight stripped-down, robot dreamscapes woven from webs of static, electromagnetic rays and supra-alphabetical Morse code. To my ears there’s an evident debt to Carsten Nicolai and Mika Vainio, whose shared taste for the impenetrable and only the most necessary ingredients grants him illustrious peerage. Judging by his deadpan portrait on Discogs, the man finds absolution in defibrillating, dissecting and static-swabbing his still-breathing rhythms as they thrashing wild beneath those cool green eyes; an appetite for reduction he exercises without compunction, as on ‘Steel Tape’: a jittering, arrhythmic minimalism that seems ever on the verge of giving up the ghost. The same goes for much of this album, though impressive is the extent of Egeskov’s care in organising so few elements into pieces both sparing and fulfilling, for me in particular on ‘Nesting Screen’: a slow swell of fluctuating sine and static pulses. Interestingly, Egeskov studied saxophone at university, and it is suggested that he imports a ‘swing’ element into these electronic studies. Not something I can readily identify, but clear is it that he possesses a tremendous affinity for metallic objects and their potential for humanisation.

View From the Interior

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David Berezan
Allusions Sonores
CANADA empreintes DIGITALes IMED 13122 (2013)

Always grateful to take receipt of new releases from a favourite electroacoustic label: empreintes DIGITALes, whose releases of benchmark collections by Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn have previously wowed me to annoying verbosity. David Berezan’s a new name to me, but he upholds the label’s reputation for quality product; this set of allusive sounds reflecting everything I enjoy about electroacoustic music. While they are said to inhabit different bodies, Berezan and Blackburn display a strong thematic and audible kinship in their respective works. Both have produced pieces in and about Japan for one thing, and both have an appetite for exotic instruments. Accordingly, Berezan constructs the lush but byzantine second piece, ‘Thumbs’ (2011), from a single plucked note on a Balinese thumb piano; a note he gets right inside: stretching it every which way in and around our ears and bodies.

It is a compositional discipline that informs every piece, each with its distinct identity, which digital processing never detracts from. Take ‘Nijo’ (2009), with its origins in customised Japanese ‘nightingale’ flooring. Otherwise stable and silent, certain castle floorboards were raised ever so slightly as to ‘sing’ if and when an intruder stood upon them, alerting security to their presence. Perhaps for the possibility of emergency, the piece forsakes the stealthy motion one might expect for the torrent of bouldering acoustics we actually hear. Other tracks are more subdued, but no less fascinating: ‘Buoy’ (2011) is almost ambient in its representation of swelling seawater, its patina of digital glitter endowing the soothing sounds with an almost rotoscoped, fictional veneer.

In total, these five pieces offer us a glimpse of the potential breadth of the composer’s work, and I suppose newcomers (in particular) a view of some of the more palatable possibilities afforded by electroacoustic music. Even those of us as jaded about ‘experimental’ music as much as sausage factory pop or electronic should surely find solace in such careful craft.

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@C
Ab Ovo
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA 085-2014 CD (2014)

Cool, calm & collected collection of clicks n’cuts piped in from Portugal, courtesy of Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela, aka duo @C. While not an explicitly maritime enterprise, these exploratory and oft-asymmetrical offerings seemingly probe fissures in the ocean depths to reveal a complex and hitherto concealed world of electronic miniatures; doing so amidst a palpable atmospheric pressure, which is offset by the curious movements of such delicate creatures, and illuminated by an occasional sweep of radiance.

Sometimes as long as twenty minutes, these five tracks constitute the soundtrack to ‘OVO’, a multimedia puppetry piece by the theatre group Teatro de Marionetas do Porto. A little YouTube searching produces an eye-catching array of situations for this play alone, which resembles in places a western variation on Japanese bunraku, some puppets requiring several nimble, black-garbed manipulators. While their thespian antics are not always immune from derision, the puppetry is quite novel, and the footage offers some context for the music and its high level of abstraction.

The album’s staple sound is a low-key, flickering fluorescence: as unhurried and eminently fascinating as krill viewed through a microscope. Diversion emerges in the spell of robotic alien-speak in ‘100’, while ‘101’ is hijacked by a brutish variant on the signature style, inducting listeners into a briefly heightened tension level, like a submarine hull creaking under immense pressure. All in all, it’s not all that alien from the hitherto popular ‘glitch’ sound of Mille Plateaux et al., though a good deal more streamlined, than that which I’ve heard anyway.

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Seattle Phonographers Union
Building 27 WNP-5
USA PREFECTURE MUSIC PREFECTURE 009 LP (2013)

There are only so many clichés one can wheel out to describe the dark ambient location recording, and I’ve flogged them all to death. Differentiating the one from the homogenous many and doing so persuasively is the reviewer’s lot, though there are worse jobs I’ll admit. I suppose a similar problem pesters the artist, for whom novelty is by necessity the child of invention, but for every ten of whom we might find one with something interesting going on. The others badly lack friends – or at least honest ones – to talk them out of serving up some ‘same old’ gloomy slop they recorded in a spooky, abandoned factory. Glad am I to report then that the Seattle Phonographers Union falls into the fortuitous 10%. Why badger friends when you can simply recruit them?

This is certainly the case with the duo Howlround, on whose recent recordings I have shovelled glow-in-the-dark accolades. Their haphazard reel-to-reel merging of out-of-sync sound recordings yielded us something genuinely engaging. They also know when and where to make an edit: a skill in woefully short supply in this field (pun intended). The 16-strong SPU also belongs to this illustrious fraternity of the darkness, thanks to these two side-long hunks of monolithic menace, which far better resemble electroacoustic composition than snapshots from a perfunctory site inspection. With an almost painful freighting of invisible somethings into near view across immeasurable spans, the sounds shift (in their own time) between miles of hulking reverb to pin-drop immediacy and back, in seamless fashion.

One might expect a painstaking but judicious editing process to be the key here, but far from it. What we hear arises from onstage improvisations using previously made field recordings, within selected spaces, in this case a disused aircraft hanger and an unfinished nuclear power station. And it’s unedited to boot. It must have been the treat for the audience to experience these booming acoustics so directly, but the current living room bombardment seems an adequate booby prize. Feels rather like being on the set of Terry Gilliam’s latest, The Zero Theorem, though without all the tacky futurist zeitgeist baubles that left it a weak sibling to Brazil. I’ve no idea how many of the collective were ‘performing’ on their laptops at the time of these sets, but collectively they are adept at obviating intrusiveness and present a strong case for a ‘strength in numbers’ approach to field recording.

Ghosts in the Glitch

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Marina Rosenfeld
P.A. / Hard Love
AUSTRALIA ROOM40 rm452 LP (2013)

At first, it sounds like a standard piece of acousmatic wrangling. An airy metallic drone, crosshatched with glitches and clicks. A field recording, the sounds of urban life, fade in and are slowly subsumed in a wavy, electronic cloud. Then, around three minutes in, a woman’s voice starts singing, rapping, murmuring, and everything changes.

P.A. / Hard Love is a reworked version of a sound installation Rosenfeld developed and toured between 2009 and 2011. Originally vocal-less, the work was a kind of steampunk sound system that enabled Rosenfeld to create kind of mutant field recordings on the fly, taking ambient sounds from where she’d set up then playing them back, often manipulated and overlaid with bits of her own voice and other aural debris.

When it came to committing the work to tape, Rosenfeld enlisted London vocalist Annette Henry, aka Warrior Queen, and Korean cellist Okkyung Lee to add textures and punch to the pieces. Lee’s contributions are subtle, submerged in Rosenfeld’s electro-acoustic collages, emerging occasionally in moments of scratchy eeriness.
Henry’s vocal interventions, on the other hand, are astonishing and transform this record from what would be a worthy addition to the canon of electro acoustic experimentation to an inspired, idiosyncratic and emotionally affecting work.

As Warrior Queen, Henry has amassed an impressive CV of contributions to reggae, dubstep and post-whatever electronica for artists in the UK and Jamaica, with a delivery capable of summoning up righteous fury to lascivious cheek. Check out her interventions on The Bug’s 2008 London Zoo album for a sense of what she’s capable of in full-on attack mode. There are glimpses of that power and range here; on ‘Hard Love’ Henry’s saucy spitting is matched by clanking dancehall kick drum that gives the shifting soundscape a thunderous urgency. On ‘I Launch An Attack’, Henry’s fluid chatting seems to be coming from another room as ragged synth lines arc across the track.

Elsewhere, Henry’s contributions evoked a kind of haunted vulnerability, floating over the mostly beat less tracks like incursions from an unknown station on a badly tuned radio. Occasionally there are echoes of Space Ape’s work with Kode 9 on the ‘Memories Of The Future’ album, but with dread replaced by anxiety. ‘Seeking Solace /Why Why?’ is a despatch from a soul lost in limbo. “Wrapped up in spiral webs… blurred images cascade in my mind” cries Henry, sounding distraught, disorientated, her vocal looped and layered by Rosenfeld. “He was the love of my life… tell me why, why, why”. On ‘ New York/It’s All About…’ offers up double-dutch style chants, as if remembered from a long-ago childhood.

Listening to this album is an evocative, unsettling experience. I feel like I’m an amnesiac wandering, lost around some future metropolis. The city is full of things I can’t comprehend, yet they seem to spark resurgent memories of some other, half-remembered life.

With P.A./Hard Love, Marina Rosenfeld has crafted a wonderfully immersive and melancholic record. It has both an original approach and a faultless execution, resulting in an album in a genre, and a class, of its own.

High Speed Pursuit

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Palm /|\ Highway Chase
Escape From New York
AUSTRIA SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP028 LP (2013)

Certain music improves in a moving car: a phenomenon that’s landed me a few lemons over the years, purchase-wise. Over time I’ve learned to check my initial enthusiasm with a sober second test-drive, usually on YouTube, before taking them off the lot. A similarly auspicious first encounter was followed in just such a manner by Spectrum Spools label head, John Elliott, who was driven to release the present recording after losing it to some tunes during a winter burn through Ohio in 2009. A spin on the ipod some time later further revealed that the music could knock productivity up a few gears, and thus began the drive to put it out. But by Elliott’s account, it seems to have been a confounding process, full of wheel-spinning, detours, dead ends, poor directions and only the faintest of signals from the composer himself; all adding to a sinking, ‘road to nowhere’ feeling. But Elliott got his ‘tangible artefact’ after four-odd years of perseverance; his sense of accomplishment adding to esteem in which he evidently holds the record.

And reasonably so, for these nine, nimble, synthesized nibbles amount to more than just a happy Sunday drive. Palm /|\ Highway Chase – a vehemently vintage vehicle – inhabits the outskirts between the blood-splattered dance floors of Umberto and the long stages of fondly remembered Sega games like ‘Outrun’. Inspired by and named after John Carpenter’s ‘80s thriller, which was followed up by a less well-received LA foray, the LP too has eyes glued ahead, from the urban chaos of the Big Apple to the tainted promise of sunny stretches on the west coast, with motor vehicles as the nominal means of transition (‘Street Hawk’, ‘Desert Driver’, ‘Ghost Cars’ etc.). As MIA soundtracks go, it could well have assumed its rightful place on the Death Waltz label, were it not for the fact that its vintage is but illusory.

To these ears it’s still a well-tuned proposition, even if originality is entirely in abeyance. Much of it is high-octane synth-squealing action set to an urgent throb and filtered through the haze of decaying videotape: the sort of thing you’d likely find badly synced to badly filmed car chases and climatic moments that fizzle out before the music does. There is some tasteful build-up and development though, notably during the sparse, evening drive time of ‘Dark Movie Screens’ and the darker atmosphere of ‘Ghost Cars’. And at just 26 minutes long, it’s all green lights and no traffic: definitely worth a spin.

All Grown Up

Kid606
Happiness
TIGERBEAT6 RECORDS MEOW 200 CD (2013)

Dearie me. Eleven more tracks from the noughties’ most notorious glitch-stepper: Kid606? My earlier, hype-fuelled exploration – which didn’t leave me a fan – returns sharply to mind: from the eclectic, frenetic electric playroom antics of Kid606 and Friends through to the mutant dancehall volley of Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You (which I did rather like, truth be told); I wearied further with each release until giving up. His haphazard and hyperactive drill n’bass antics struck me as overly prolific, provocative and disposable. I imagined him laughing about gullible Wire readers with his Tigerbeat6 mates, after hours: hardly the most illustrious artist/listener relationship potential. Admittedly, there have been moments when his irreverence has hit the spot beautifully: his bastard-pop cut ups of NWA and Eminem for instance, but for the most part the electro-punk sensibility yielded more exhaustion than exhilaration. Even Mike Patton’s heroic act of pre-career cartography – sifting through 10 hours of recordings to compile the Kid’s Ipecac debut, Down With The Scene – proved for me a gruelling and often forgettable experience. Thus, apprehension weighs heavily at the arrival of this dirty-booted revenant. Thrown-together cover art? Check. Waggish track titles? Check. Hesitantly but obligingly, I slip it on, knocking back a shot for good measure.

Sixty-four minutes later my mood’s transformed – rather as (the Kid’s alter ego) Miguel de Pedro’s appears to have, allegedly effected by his migration to sunny LA – into something vaguely triumphant. There’s no mistaking the author of these light-hearted, pastel-tinted melodies, but what surprises is how successfully they’ve been integrated into the glitchy atmospherics that might once have consumed them. Sunny centrepiece ‘Party Gambas’ best exemplifies: finely diced seagull samples add an authentic air of seaside leisure to the rolls of summery synth stabs that drive it like a beach party that doesn’t end in pools of vomit and a summoned ambulance. But nor does it become too responsible. Combing the same coast from dazed sunrise to hazy twilight at a moderated pace for much of the album, the Kid shifts gears now and again but never grinds them as he so often used to. I’m reminded in my newfound admiration that manic as it was, ‘Down With The Scene’ had just as much in the way of pastoral charm as it did aural demolition, yet impressions of the latter proved most durable.

His excision of blast beats and second-rate scribbling is a breath of fresh air for listeners as jaded as myself, and while there’s nothing that’s exactly anthemic it’s still a remarkably high hit count. ‘Happiness’ is of an ilk more akin to the Kompakt stable – exhibiting confident, life-affirming warmth that builds on the delicate, melancholic atmospherics of releases such as his Mille Plateaux debut PS I Love You (2000). Though supposedly a signal of his auspicious relocation to warmer climes, to my ears the eponymous ‘Happiness’ arises from a rapprochement between the Kid’s inner child and critic. Where the former once ran rampant, crayoning walls with sometimes serendipitous abandon, the other seemed very much the ‘no hang ups’-chanting hippy/laissez faire parent. Granted I’ve a few years of missed releases to catch up on, but I’m glad to witness the timely onset of the Kid’s maturity, even if he views it askance himself, as suggested by the shadowy final title ‘Man: The Failed Child’. Others might disagree with this cynical sentiment, or perhaps it’s a further sign that the earlier sense and sensibility of irreverent humour still prevails.

Before & After Skynet

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Frank Bretschneider
Super.Trigger
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 149 CD (2013)

Returning to some of the then-groundbreaking sounds of the early ‘90s – among these, the Warp-championed ‘Artificial Intelligence’ – it’s less surprising how dated much of it sounds now than how charming such a pejorative adjective can be. Aphex Twin and Autechre fared better than most, and have gone on to fashion stimulating, retroactive works such as ‘Analord’ and ‘Oversteps’, which sort of ratifies the notion that being ‘dated’ or ‘of its time’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s possible to watch Star Wars for instance, and still be charmed by the resourceful special effects – such is not the case with the CGI on those egregious prequels though.

Hearing Raster Noton’s ‘Archiv 01’, which accompanied an issue of The Wire in 2005, was a real lightning bolt for me, emerging as it did during the first or second tidal wave of sub-par ‘bedroom’ electronic music, which effectively castrated the DIY democracy value stemming from a new glut of affordable equipment. Clinical in its administration of sound elements and events, and palming the devolutionary baton of techno minimalism from Plastikman, Mille Plateau and the like, the pared down Raster Noton sound alluded that a more ‘authentic’ form of AI had been born: a striking notion, even now.

One of the sonic architects, Frank Bretschneider – Raster Noton co-founder – has continued to refine (though not necessarily redefine) his sound over the years, and this process culminates (for the time being) in this menacing, techno-splicing platter. Full stops bolted into track titles such as ‘Over.load’ and ‘Mean.streak’ offer visual analogue to the intricately machined nuts that connect countless strata of drilled and ballistic, cross-directional rhythms, which in their entirety resemble the densely layered traffic networks envisioned in comics such as ‘2000 AD’. But he doesn’t reveal it at once: Bretschneider is calculating in his administration: each piece whirrs into life like a robotics factory that slowly gains sentience; there’s an incremental shift from cold mechanical repetition to self-assured robo-funk, which seems to mimic the very genesis of consciousness. On every side, rhythmic components vanish and reappear capriciously, as though Teo Macero were our ghost in the machine.

Is it formulaic? I suppose, but attentive listeners will perceive the ‘patterned’ connotation, as opposed to ‘repetitive’. The ruse of the mechanical opening might serve to delude credulous listeners, before the piece’s beating heart becomes apparent in one exultant flash. Subtle stylistic shifts separate one piece from the next, but the whole is peppered liberally with ground Detroit techno particles; entailing a cocktail of dread and awe as the final product – like some replicant – parades its unique, physical perfection for its short life span. Divine in proportion, these tracks display a seeming immortality, which will probably seem quite quaint a decade or two down the line. Will it have been supplanted by something even more lifelike? For that matter, will we?

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Senking
Capsize Recovery
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 152 CD (2013)

If Bretschneider brings us the birth of machine intelligence, then Senking’s soundworld is the ponderous and skull-crushing dark nightscape of the soul after the Terminators have declared war on mankind. Taking as his prima material a dread-inducing low-frequency rumble that other producers might misuse as a welcome mat into their post-techno exhibitionism, Senking claws deep into the darkness to excavate an eerie array of disconcertingly familiar motifs drawn from dubstep to dub-techno. It’s an uneasy listen: partly because it threatens to yield to one or other of these well-worn styles (though never quite does) and because it expresses all the emotion of a sociopathic cyborg.

Most tracks kick off with an uneven, shuffling meter that calls to mind the inner-city prowl of Hyperdub stalwarts King Midas Sound and Burial, or Squarepusher’s electro-jazz superlative, ‘Plaistow Flex Out’. To this solid-but-shifting foundation he adds layers of growling lazer beams, drunken snares and the odd, disconcerting allusion to a known subgenre, such as on ‘Cornered’, where the cocksure bass reverberation suggests dubstep, which does get my spider senses tingling admittedly. Elsewhere, delivery is of a colder, more ‘Blade Runner’ bent, such as on ‘Nightbeach’, which evokes the silent stalk of a seasoned serial killer on a breezy midnight.

I never bothered to decipher the contents of The Fall’s ‘Dr Buck’s Letter’, thus its meaning remains unknown to me, though its filthy bass oozes through each of the eight pieces heard here. Another mystery is how capsizing could possibly affect a vessel as bottom-heavy as Senking’s, but he is evidently a more seasoned nautical engineer than myself. Perhaps the force encountered is that of the storm itself, and the perpetual malaise that informs every melodic gesture is the true indication of peril. With that in mind, and serious flooding affecting England on an unprecedented scale of late, and much speculation about our future of inundation, Senking’s aquatic apprehensions provide me with an apposite soundtrack to the heralding of end times.

Tribute Acts

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Home Body
In Real Life
USA FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR-102 LP (2013)

Bringing to bear a deft, understated lyricism that immediately recalls Pierre Menard’s rewriting of ‘Don Quixote’ in its inspired repetitions of its hitherto inimitable phrasings amid landscapes foreign, Home Body’s Hayley Morgan uses mantra to masterfully seduce the listener with polysemous couplets such as “I hustle bustle and I hustle bustle” proving particularly enticing. Careful listeners will observe the sly injection of Home Body’s initials in this novel recasting of two collocated, rhyming nouns into an energetic new verb. Elsewhere, she outdoes the Bard himself, with indelible epithets such as “I can’t live without you. I can’t sleep without you” and “Toodle-loo, I’m sorry but this has gone too far”. It’s as though Bjork, Kate Bush and Roisin Murphy were at once reborn as the same Tesco checkout girl with a penchant for quicksilver haiku, but delivered in a withering monotone that actively interrogates the very virtue of melodicism. Brilliant!

The duo pose in white overalls on the inlay sheet, standing robotically aloof of a riot of coloured fur that represents the contrivance and gaudiness of so much ‘industry sound’. The commentary is subtle, quite sublime, and probably all-too-easily overlooked. The music is a similarly sly bag of synthesized jingles, jangles, whoops born of Eric Hnatow‘s Korg collection; and on the ‘darker, weirder songs, like “Hunt It”’ – there’s a touch of hair-metal rock-out. It all shifts effortlessly underfoot, like rug pulled from underfoot the unwary intruder in this private world of playful linguistic and musical frippery. Essentially, it’s a first class send-up of the kind of bedwetting indie pop that gets Pitchfork readers frothy on a daily basis. In the group’s own words: “outside of time or style, these pieces hew to Home Body’s own standards of canonical pop re-imagination”. Amen.
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Ignatz
Can I Go Home Now?
FINLAND FONAL RECORDS FR-91 CD (2013)

What a shame. It turns out I’ve just missed an Ignatz show, as he played a few UK dates in January. Bother. I rather wish I’d heard this a little earlier. It’s a fairly simple set of songs with a country/blues fanboy thing happening; not my usual cup of tea, but it should be a tidy enough offering by anyone’s estimation. Songs bounce along at a calm canter, notes flicked cleanly from flinty fingers, lyrics – apparently pertaining to the human condition – more or less indecipherable mumbling, and a rather contrived lo-fi sound reduction that sounds a little too clean to me to be attributable to tape corrosion. Though seemingly improvised in parts, it sounds to me like there’s a bit of overdubbing – either that or he DOES have lightning fingers; it’s perfectly plausible. Make no mistake: Ignatz offers no new twists or innovations in his designated style, nor any kind of cosmetic wizardry. However, his honest take on country blues is as devoted and unpretentious as the dog that adorns the cover. It’s a warm and inviting sound: that of a serendipitous evening in a nice venue on a dark January evening. At least, I imagine so.

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Hoofus
Several Wolves
UK EXOTIC PYLON EP21 CD (2013)

Dear Lord! What is this bent-circuit apocalypse you have seen fit to visit upon me? Hoofus is the nominated harbinger of this specific bout of frenzied audio paintballing: unleashing on environment and audience the rampaging bastard child of a bank of senile machines and sporting more colours than one finds in the visible spectrum. Supposedly inspired by the ‘restless feral yearning’ of ramshackle life in the rural wilds, one quickly discerns that this shag-haired ruffian’s governing mandate is a total aversion to structure – as evidenced by his rapid dismissal of the slightest hint of a drum beat – and the coercing of every whim to its logical limit. In live performances, he twiddles knobs with one hand, bangs a drumstick with the other and is presumably rather adept at clearing rooms with the resulting cacophony. Similar results might be expected here. Sounds range from skin-grazing blasts of guitar to more sentimental dulcimer-type dallying as favoured on occasion by Kid606, whose Tigerbeat6 label would have granted warm berth to this electronic pen pal of psychosis. Truth be told, the very same ‘enfant terrible’ of the noughties offers the best all-round audio comparison I can think of. Anyway, there’s an interesting piece that sounds like a blindfolded man stumbling around precariously inside a pinball machine, but I can’t seem to find it now. Oh well.

By the Akerselva River

Pure I believe was this electronic extremist who did stuff for Mego and attained notoriety for sampling the run-out grooves of vinyl records to create his very austere digital music. He’s still milking the “end of vinyl” concept apparently, since on No End Of Vinyl (CRÓNICA 079-2013) he’s enlisted ten prominent electronica creators to contribute tracks (some of them remixes) based on the theme. Even the sleeve itself is cleverly overprinted with concentric circles on black card, so that it looks like an idealised vision of microgrooves. Hereon, @c – slow and increasingly menacing fragments of gurgly broken sounds; Christoph de Bablon – remix of the original ‘The End Of Vinyl’ to produce a boring and pompous synth tune; JSX with his ‘Biological Agents’ and a decent piece of techno-stealth dredged from the sewers of Paris; cindytalk hurling buckets of digital water over a cliff in slow motion; Goner’s remake of a Pure track, using too many effects and gimmicks until incoherence dominates; and Opcion – an effective object lesson in “less is more”, with chilling desolate tones. We also have the very interesting Arturas Bumšteinas, whose ingenious ‘Opera Povera’ was probably constructed from classical music on vinyl, and exhibits a painstaking craft that is notably absent from the other auto-piloted submissions. But Rashad Becker is also memorable with his strangely rotating and colliding elements, spinning in layers like a wall-sculpture made of 100 bicycle wheels; and Pita, whose solo work I don’t seem to have heard for a long time now, and whose ‘This & That Edit’ has the kind of purity of form that Terry Riley would adore, plus a clarity of tone that’s like spring water on an otherwise rather sludgy-sounding comp. All of these contributions show us possibilities, ways of opening out an idea through remaking and refitting. Yet very few of them really reflect the vinyl-ness of records, apart from a few audible samples of crackles and clicks which surface in some of the contributions, and the digital “identity” is very much up front – processed, artificial, impossibly “perfect”. There’s a double-edged irony to all of this, since (as the label webpage indicates) the original release of fourteen years ago was full of millennial uncertainty about the future of media carriers, and recorded music in general; it was asking the question “will vinyl die?” and weeping a solitary tear as if every CD being pressed were another nail in the coffin. Now of course, the way the tide is turning in favour of vinyl and analogue media again, it seems the question is whether the digital has a future.

Speaking of your “millennial uncertainty”, the Norwegian quartet SPUNK just completed an extremely lengthy musical project which they started in 2001. Every year they would meet up to play a single tone and continue to hold it as a sustained drone, using mostly acoustic instruments (strings, brass, woodwinds) and voices. By the time they had finished they had completed a realisation of all 12 notes in the scale. Now the collected recorded results have been released as Das Wohltemperierte Spunk (RUNE GRAMMOFON RCD2140) as a six-disc boxed set, meaning you get two of these drones per CD at approximately 30 minutes apiece. The players involved are the lovely Maja Ratkje (constantly proving herself as a formidable all-rounder – singer, composer, improviser, noise artiste) and Hild Sofie Tafjord (see previous remark), plus the cellist Lene Grenager (guesting from +3dB Records) and Kristin Andersen who plays trumpet and flute. Although not remarked on in the press notes, that’s an all-female team making this ethereal yet wiry music, and among the first things you notice is how unlike American minimalist (masculinist) music this set is: and by unlike, I mean it’s intuitive instead of programmed to death, sensitive to the listener rather than running them over with a relentless systems-based steamroller, and almost completely lacking in the enormous ego drive that, for me, characterises the long-winded work of some composers in this area. This isn’t to say Das Wohltemperierte Spunk is a set of drifty ethereal wispiness (though some may hear that at first), since there is a very simple structure at work in realising the 12 notes in a pre-determined sequence, drawing ideas about mathematical composition from Bach, and there’s an unflagging determination to see the work through to the end over a very long period. I also like the fact that they did it in a variety of locations around Oslo, including a cabin on a fjord, and a mausoleum with a very long decay time within its walls. Usually they played to a very small audience; no wonder they regarded this as a “secret shared among…closest friends”. Clearly the four of them found it a very unifying experience, and one of the keywords (which may get up the backs of some readers) is “meditative”, but there is no pretentious pseudo-spiritual psycho-babble here, just a commitment to finding (and creating) enough space to play and to listen in a very simple way. In the interests of disclosure, I’ll admit I haven’t got much beyond D# in the set so far, but even so I can report that these drones are far from being flat, smooth or boring progressions; there’s a very ragged surface to all the performances, with unexpected angles, corners and planes fully on display, and much of the genuine spontaneity that we would hope for from good improvised music; plus much variety and dimension in the tones and timbres that are being explored. In short, listening engagement is guaranteed throughout these 12 slow but intense pieces. Methinks that the effects of hearing it all in one sitting would be considerable. (13 February 2013)

From Groningen in Holland we have the fairly bizarre combo Sexton Creeps, who for their third album Alex Hotel (HEILSKABAAL RECORDS HK023) have teamed up with the sound artist Kasper van Hoek. The Creepsters pride themselves on their international membership, their shared passion for psychedelic music, and the use of home-made instruments alongside the more traditional guitar-bass-drums-keyboard setup. The opening drama ‘Homophone / The Unicorn Dies’ is a genuinely odd escapade, mainly because it works through about three different dynamic shifts, starting off as a quasi-Nick Cave dirge which lumbers forward for some minutes before exploding in the centre with a crazed echo and guitar screech-out of acid-fried freakery, then descending into the quagmire of a dark fairytale acoustic ballad sung in a minor key. The Sextoneers may come on like indifferent, slouching stoners, but when a certain switch is flipped upwards, they instantly transform into vibrant electric eels. ‘Pissing In The Woods’ is also a rum fish, a moody spookster with a compelling organ sound that would make Tom Waits trade in his golden trilby, and mumbled lyrics which may be packed with menacing symbols. As for ‘Elderly Ladies’ Umbrellas’, it confirms the band’s penchant for formless slow slide-guitar jams underpinned by eerie wailing effects; it’s as though they’d read all about Pink Floyd (1967 period) and their lost and unrecorded performances at the UFO Club and decided to reimagine for themselves what it must have been like to be that band. Did I forget to mention the contributions of the vocalist, J.C.? He’s got a great line in lugubrious mumbling when he’s doing the creepy death-ballads, but also capable of erupting into shouty and screamy blasts of horrifying proportions when the occasion demands it. While I can see this strange record appealing to the prog and psych revivalist brigade, there is also a thoroughly weird strain that writhes at the heart of this album, and the listener will struggle to pin it down like a wriggling centipede in the core of your apple. Bert Scholten did the unsettling artwork of sleeping bodies packed into a compressed grid, like human sardines. (28 February 2013)

Slender Oriental Bea(s)ts

011

Springintgut
Where We Need No Map
GERMANY PINGIPUNG RECORDS 37 CD (2013)

It’s been a while since I did any backpacking – ensconsed as I am these days in the trappings of urban convenience – and long forgotten is the excitement I found kicking around in unknown climes. Sounds like a different story for Springintgut (aka Andi Otto) though: so romanced has he been by the heady sites and cities cited in this CD’s tracklist – among these Kyoto, Bangalore and Yakushima – that he’s pumped out an eclectic set of foreign-flavoured electro-pop numbers in tribute. It’s a light-hearted affair, of moods one encounters in the serendipitous delights and ephemeral friendships of time spent traveling on a budget, and occasionally touching on the more tender moments found in the Touch catalogue, though I offer this as both a qualifier and a caveat. Your level of enjoyment may well depend on how much you enjoy films like ‘The Beach’.

Ever hapless, tracks take one blind turn after another – giving credibility to the titular cartographical crisis and the giddy sense of adventure engendered – flying along with a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ sense of abandon, which alas delves into disposability in the less cultivated episodes. These I would name and shame as ‘Bangalore Kids’ and ‘Bangalore Crows’ – in which clumsy, cringe-inducing electronic rhythms warbling tones rub incongruously against recordings of locals singing and chanting, the resulting mass sounding like a beach party full of grinning ecstasy neophytes. Bangalore is – I gather – India’s silicon valley, so such artificiality is to be expected I suppose, but it’s a faux pas that really has no place in the music of 2013 (or ‘14), and pretty much completes the case against cultural appropriation in music. Also questionable are tracks that feature the breathy tones of Sasha Perera. Nothing wrong with her singing as such; but combined with bland, uneventful loops (and likewise lyrics) the whole melange sounds rather like trip-hoppy cocktail lounge runoff.

The music works best – to my ears anyway – when instrumentation and effects are most sparing in their application, such as those found in the first half of the album. ‘Kamogawa Cycling’ through to ‘Western Kyoto’ (all of the ‘Japan’ tracks, in fact) are, in particular, beasts very slight of frame; composed of galloping, grasshopper-taut phrases plucked from the ‘fello’ – a custom variant of the cello – and smatterings of similar strings, sounding somewhat suave, if slightly sentimental. The rest of the album – which closes on a note of ghostly longing – falls somewhere between the above extremes.

aoki-takamasa-rv8

Aoki Takamasa
RV8
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 148 CD (2013)

Also Japanese and devoid of flab, Aoki Takamasa has been on the ‘IDM’ list for over a decade now; collaborations with Tujiko Noriko and others among a respectable cache of releases, which have seen him honing his craft in a rather exclusive niche in the techno realm. RV8 is his follow up to the Rn-Rhythm Variations EP (also) on the Raster Noton label, and apposite tenement it finds there: its precision-cut beats and intricate, textured layers locating it neatly between the likes of Alva Noto and Thomas Brinkmann. As the title suggests, Takamasa works to a formula, but it’s a compelling and thoroughly explored one. Every track is propelled by complex layers of digital rhythm, which so subtly admit ballistic bursts, ball bearing clusters and split-second vocal snippets that accumulation is practically imperceptible. A standard 4/4 tempo leads for the most part, slyly suggesting dance-floor compatibility, though only for clubs that cater for androids. Still, it’s a friendlier sound than one finds elsewhere on the RN label; briefly shimmering microfibre layers obviating any hint of sterility, and placing matters on the more dynamic side of ‘clinical’, where we find the likes of Surgeon and Plastikman. Takamasa’s rhythmic mastery is impressive, and he displays incredible finesse in his allusions to a variety of electronic styles, from the host label’s stock-in-trade minimal electronic to digitised house and dub techno; hitting a confident swagger in the penultimate track (my personal favourite), but ever expressing a sense of adventurousness (and spaciousness) that can be appreciated through headphones and speakers alike. Full marks.