Strange record of electronica by Bromp Treb in the form of Concession Themes (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 243)…Bromp Treb is a solo act named Neil Young Cloaca, who has been releasing music under this name since 2002, sometimes on his own label Yeay! Cassettes; his Loop Rotator Pool from 2010 contains no fewer than 77 tracks, which may be an indicator of something. Cloaca favours home-made and broken lo-fi sounds, producing everything with tapes, synths, samplers, and mics, and passing most of the results through cheap distortion techniques. He certainly doesn’t lack for a sense of fun, as can be readily gleaned from the cartoony cover art and insert, and the jolly titles such as ‘Pennies from The Back Of Displeasure’ or ‘Pest Promenade’, the latter of which would have made an excellent theme for a 1930s Silly Symphony animation. The press notes for this release invite us to consider Bromp Treb’s work as a form of dance music, but one that subverts the norms and stereotypes of the genre; “what if…you threw all those beats and tempos at the ceiling and then just let the pieces fall wherever?” is the rhetorical question posed by Angela Sawyer. Concession Themes is presumably the answer. Quite good fun and vaguely unusual sounds, and throwing pieces in the air is always a good working method, but this LP is thin on substance and extremely wanting in production depth; each track is more like a doodle than a finished work. Many of the generated sounds, which Sawyer politely describes as “whimsical”, strike me as just plain nonsensical. From 17 May 2016.
Last noted Klara Lewis with her Ett LP for Editions Mego, a memorable black pulser of rigid electronica abstraction in an all-black cover. Her newie Too (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 210) is on the same label, and again arrives in a black cover this time adorned with a line drawing by Klara herself. A woman’s head is superimposed with another head (perhaps two heads, even) until the layers of drawing multiply the intense eyes glaring in deathly fashion at nothing much at all. Klara has been continuing to perform her audio-visual show (music and projections) for the last two years apparently, and has now formed an association with Simon Fisher Turner, who contributed to two of the tracks here.
In this work, I’m continuing to enjoy what I read as a slightly aloof stance, and there’s a vague sense of detachment that exudes itself through this immaculately-polished set of layered electronic music with processed field recordings. Klara Lewis seems to keep “meaning” at bay, through her one-word titles that refuse simple associations, and her music that somehow remains disguised and ambiguous as to its true intent, even if it risks turning into wallpaper. Occasionally, as one the title track and ‘View’, rhythmic pulsations drive the track along, or rather seem to propel it like an unseen underground river; she’s never a one to over-state anything, and disinclined to mix her “beats” to the forefront of this very abstract art music.
Then there’s the even more abstracted episodes, like the dream-like ‘Beaming’, a charming and mysterious piece with its incredibly subdued tones punctuated with a mix of radio signals, distorted voices, and mixed field recordings. On paper that sounds like an uninspiring technical exercise, but ‘Beaming’ is a charming view through the fourth-dimensional mirror into another world, surreal, occluded, amazing details barely glimpsed. From 25 May 2016.
Curious slab of eccentric dubby electronica is Sno Dub (HEYREC heyrec22) from the duo Hey Ø Hansen. Helmut Erler and Michael Wolf are self-proclaimed proponents of a genre of music they call “Austrodub”, which is something to do with their Alpine origins – they began as some sort of European rock-steady combo in the 1980s, playing their take on reggae music in Innsbruck and the Tirol area. When they moved to Berlin in the 1990s, they formed their own Heyrec label for releasing their own records and defining the “Austrodub” profile. This might be best represented on the compilation Sonn Und Mond, which appeared in 2009 on the Pingipung label, and collated their various efforts from demos, compilations, cassettes and TV commercials since 1995.
Hey Ø Hansen are clearly well aware of the ironies of being white Europeans from Austria, home of the most stiff and morally uptight people in the world, playing around with the laid-back rhythms of rock-steady, dub, and reggae – forms of music which which are unlikely to ever be associated with the inflexibility of korrektness of any given Austrian military aristrocrat, in his heavy regimental coat and waxed moustache. I doubt if we’re expected to take the notion of “Austrodub” entirely seriously. Nonetheless, parts of Sno Dub are enjoyable and inventive. The main characteristic of the music appears to be the laboriously slow pace, with ultra-retarded beats and a leaden pace, very suggestive of mountain life – for instance the image of an abominable snowman attempting to dance in a heavy snowdrift, wearing snow shoes, comes immediately to mind. Clumsy, clunky, and a million miles from the syncopated snap and bounce of even a third-rate dancehall record from Jamaica. From this unpromising starting point, Hey Ø Hansen execute daring dynamics, gaps, and echo effects using what appear to be extremely primitive methods – cheap synths and toy keyboards, very artificial echo effects, and even slowing the tapes by hand, apparently.
Erler and Wolf have a clear mission to remain minimal and basic at all costs, a purity almost; but their charming simplicity could also be mistaken for amateurishness. None of this would have cut the mustard with the ultra-polished sound of the glitch mob and the boys in Cologne in the 1990s. This naturally makes the Hey Ø Hansen proposal all the more appealing to me. More power to their pitons, I say. From 3rd May 2016.
Excellent set of minimal electronica-glitch computer music things from Phil Maguire, an English musician who has been quietly seeping out the odd cassette and Bandcamp release since 2014…this this (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL LOR 078) is one of his rare physical releases and in some ways an unusual item to find in the LOR catalogue. The album collects two “suites”, the five parts of the highly alien minimal buzz-drone of “This This”, and the even more dry, desolate and stark purrings of “th at ti me wh en”, which originally emanated in 2015 on his own This This Recordings imprint.
Maguire’s sound art is notable for originating mostly in the guts of a Raspberry Pi, which is the cheap circuit-board miniature computer that’s been creating quite a stir in the world of “digital” these days…a versatile piece of kit which even I can operate (I made mine into a media player) and features in a small range of dedicated computing magazines in the high street, full of articles suggesting DIY projects and teach-yourself-coding exercises. Maguire plays the Raspberry Pi to create wholly abstract and non-human noise, but somehow this this is not a harsh or hostile release, and it doesn’t take long at all for the listener to become acclimatised to its strange tones and start to enjoy or appreciate the textures and patterns inside this tiny world. It may feel sealed off, claustrophobic even, but it’s a good zone to visit for four or five minutes at a time.
The sleeve notes refer us back to the mid-1990s when, if you recall, “glitch” music was one of the big things in vogue. What I remember of it (and I do still enjoy the “genre”), a lot of glitch was associated with European labels and artistes, particularly in Vienna and Cologne. It may have had some lineage with Techno and dance music, and its production involved hacking into synths or (if feeling more radical) experimenting with sound files on a laptop. My verdict is that Maguire owes practically nothing to dance music, and has arrived at his extremely reduced and introverted abstractions by other means, perhaps more processed based methods. If I’m right about that, then Phil Maguire’s music might fit in on the Hideous Replica label in some ways, although I’m not sure if their aesthetic choices overlap exactly. As to the hardware and production aspects of glitch, evidently Phil Maguire has taken it further by bypassing musical instruments and keyboards altogether, and even surpassing laptop music, by working with such a compact and tiny instrument as the Raspberry Pi.
If we were going to start a cultural war of one-upmanship over this, it could be argued that Maguire’s exceptionally modest set-up makes the average laptop with its weighty OS, software bloat, and hundreds of MP3 files look like the excesses of a Rick Wakeman multi-keyboard array. Recommended…this release is a 50 copies limited press CDR with a Victorian photograph inserted, and a downloadable PDF of notes from the website. From 24 June 2016.
Last heard from Sturqen in 2012 with their Praga album for Kvitnu, the label that loves all things heavy and dense…the Portuguese duo of Cesar Rodrigues and David Arantes have been active since 2008 and continue to carve their own furrow in the swirling world of dark techno-mechanical blackness. Their Cura (KVITNU 45) shows they are still preoccupied with machines and their work remains themed on the idea of industrial mayhem, described here as a “journey through grimy machines”…consequently, a black and airless world is what they create, with remorseless hammering drum beats sucking up the air and the only relief to our plight is offered by electronic devices and synths occasionally treated to resemble the howl of an electric guitar.
Cura is also a “concept album” of sorts; the title means “cure” in English and an enclosed note muses on the idea of what modern medicine can really offer us by way of effective treatment, perhaps thinking of such aggressive techniques as chemo-therapy to cure cancer. Sturqen propose a radical alternative to mainstream medicine with their music, calling it a “negation of the negation that suppressed that which is strange to a healthy system”, and offer the album to the world as “an act of healthy violence”. Presumably this is all a metaphor. I don’t think they seriously intend Cura to be played henceforth in hospitals everywhere over the PA system, thus causing ill patients to leap from their beds instantly, but their argument has not been fully thought through. It seems simply to be a rather solemn and over-elaborate way of saying “take it or leave it” when you hear their music.
This aside, there is a lot to enjoy on Cura, and I like the stern and unblinking qualities the pair are capable of unleashing, even though their sounds are not quite as dark and violent as they evidently seem to think. From 8th June 2016.
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS mono088 CD (2016)
Previously noted in these pages for a ‘serious lack of force’ and a ‘melange of analogue and digital synth porridge’, Komora A can’t be said to have effected any radical stylistic changes of late, but seem to have honed such attributes into a more virtuous expression of the radiant modular ambience they call home. Their ongoing fixation with the nebulous, titular ‘Crystal Dwarf’ suggests a conceptual kind of continuity. Perhaps it’s simply a case of fine tuning: the Polish trio comfortably dis-locate themselves in a zone that is neither gloomy ‘Dark Ambient’ nor wayfaring IDM, but rather a mildly agitated compromise between the two. Offering reassuring yet fleeting signs of human life, Waking Up’ is a crystalline, drip-dripping pattering set to industrial drone and more erratic fragment congregations – a chaos / order harmony that is neither man nor machine. Subsequent tracks offer more sinister assemblies of their signature ingredients: disembodied pulses, thickening meteorology and subtle accretions of electronic scream and chatter; all amounting to something like a child-friendly form of Pan Sonic’s more ruthless mechanical holocausts.
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA ELECTRONICA 111-2016 CD (2016)
Now sixteen albums down the line, Portuguese duo @C continue to refine their own brand of subatomic click n’cut ambience with Three-Body Problem, which began life as Agapornis – another puppetry piece soundtrack (like Ab Ovo before it); one inspired by the writer Anaïs Nin. The title symbolises the logistical synergy of three phases of development: the first, a kind of bi-polar dialogue between two female puppets – described at least partly by the pairing of harp and trumpet – informing the initial structure. This underwent considerable post-performance revision in phase two, when musical collaborators (João Pais Filipe (cymbals and bells) and Ricardo Jacinto (cello and electronics)) added their voice, while still somehow facilitating the distillation of twenty-one tracks into just nine.
While clearly thus a collaborative effort, no effort has been spared into merging all of the participants and themes into highly schizomorphic panoramas; a near-seamless continuum of rattling, electronic textures that sprout, tremble and bifurcate in every living moment; miraculously managing to avoid the perils of overpopulation. This ever-transformative morphology also informed the 3BP’s video-based third phase, which while not part of the album itself, is nonetheless intrinsic to both the group’s visuality. Some striking abstractions and patterning offer a distinctive visual description of @C’s detailed processes – and attest to their collaborative creative process, which unfolds beyond the needs of the individual in an ever-fluctuating galaxy of pure possibility.
Recently we noted The Quietened Village from the English micro-label A Year In The Country (AYITC), a compilation which limned allusive portraits of English pastoral idylls. Here is the same label with another not-unrelated compilation called Fractures, which they dub #3 in a “series of explorations” called Audiological Transmission Artifact. Once again there’s a concept at work; the compilers propose that the year 1973 was a pivotal year for the UK, where a “schism in the fabric of things took place”. The manifestations of this change are reflected in the following list: power cuts, the three day week, the release of the film The Wicker Man, the making of the children’s sci-fi TV series The Changes, and other scattered references. I suppose the main disaster for AYITC was the departure of Delia Derbyshire from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. There are also references to faded psychedelia and corrupted ideals, but the level of engagement with 20th century history hasn’t gone much beyond reading a few headlines and rummaging in a very eclectic shopping bag of cultural effluvia, mostly derived from watching the telly.
I’m all in favour of this kind of alternative history, even if the concept feels a little undeveloped in this instance, and whatever substance it has is mostly reflected in the press release rather than in the actual music on offer. At least on The Quietened Village, some of the musicians were making an attempt to reference real English villages in their sounds, titles, and field recordings; on Fractures, the music’s relation to the central concept is less easy to discern, other than a vague feeling of disquiet and paranoia in some cases. There’s a lack of specificity which troubles me a little. However, Fractures works well as an entertaining spin on its own terms. My favourite pieces include ‘The Osmic Projectors / Vapors Of Valtorr’ credited to two separate projects, where the vaguely sinister purr and spangly electronica of Circle gives way to a deliciously haunting melody concocted by Temple. I also enjoyed Time Attendant and their ‘Elastic Reform’, which like most of the stuff here lacks a real tune, but at least uses repetition quite effectively. It goes on for a long time and insists on itself to the point of creating a nice mysterious ambiance.
Semi-supernatural suggestiveness is to be had from Keith Seatman on ‘Seeing The Invisible’; the sounds are interesting, but the construction is weak. It feels like someone is attempting to summon spirits; buried children’s voices emanate from the quasi-supernatural murk. Polypores are attempting something slightly similar on ‘The Perfect Place For An Accident’; eerie voices are mixed together with off-kiltre keyboard murk, and the technique is like an attempt to conceal a murder mystery where voices of the innocent continue to haunt the guilty. Neither of these are genuinely horrifying though, and feel more like the pale ghosts of certain Central Office of Information films. With their extremely fragile narrative elements, these might be tunes we could match up against the hoped-for associations with BBC TV of the 1970s. Slightly more explicit in making such references are Listening Center 1 with ‘Triangular Shift’, a piece which begins with outer-space suggestions of missiles and satellites at play, and then leads into a jaunty Schools & Colleges type-tune.
With all of these Radiophonic Workshop clues floating about, I’m a tad disappointed that none of the creators make much of an effort to emulate their heroes; I mean that I can find no evidence they have studied the techniques or methods of these highly original and inventive creators who worked in such a physical way with tape construction and sound mixing, and instead are content simply to imitate their surface sounds. In some cases, not even doing that very convincingly. But it’s harsh to level this charge at the creators here, as I refer to a name-checking syndrome that’s been afoot in the UK for many years now. Likewise, I don’t quite get the fixation that everyone continues to apply to The Wicker Man, often to the exclusion of any other English horror movie made in the 1970s. It’s a form of tunnel vision to single out this very unusual movie, and often so many of its adherents seem to lack the contextual understanding of film theory or cinematic history that might help us to see it in perspective.
At any rate, those who delight in the pagan elements of The Wicker Man are bound to find interest in the tracks here by Sproatly Smith and The Hare And The Moon with Michael Begg. Sproatly Smith’s ‘In The Land Of Green Ginger’ is trying very hard to be romantic, English, and pagan in a way that would attract the approval of Julian Cope and his acolytes. I do like to combination of traditional folk-song elements with the doodly electronic interventions, but the tune lacks melodic strength and is badly sung. ‘A Fracture In The Forest’ by The Hare And The Moon appeals to me even less, with its solemn recits about about lifting the veil and catching sight of the God Pan. But it plugs into a continuum of dark Industrial folk music that has its supporters, a strand which I suppose has its beginnings with David Tibet, who has appeared on at least one Human Greed record recorded by Begg. To some extent, The Rowan Amber Mill are also perhaps aiming for a folky vibe on their ‘Ratio (Sequence)’, with its vaguely pastoral melody mixed with modern electronica.
The comp ends on a very downbeat note. A Year In The Country offer us ‘A Candle For Christmas’, a very sombre construction which I enjoyed. It seems to exist in parallel with a wholly unrelated musical sub-genre, that of Cold Depressive Black Metal; but for all their pessimism A Year In The Country never succumb to that sense of complete futility we associate with the latter. Their non-specific valedictory hymn is entirely unique to the label aesthetic, and to this compilation. I’m slightly less taken with David Colohan’s ‘Eldfell’, which amounts to a generic atmospheric drone with wailing voices. It ain’t exactly Popol Vuh, but the unassuming tone and mock grandeur is unmistakeably English. Fractures exists in two editions, of which I received the Dawn Edition on 22 April 2016.
- Why is their name spelled the American way? ↩
Here be the latest dubby sound-art suite from Portugal’s finest contemporary composer Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, called Tunnel Vision (SILO003LP) and released on the Silo Rumor label. He recorded it in various caves and caverns around Porto. I had no idea there were caves in Porto, though when you Google for information abou this you mostly get guided tourist visits to wine cellars, which makes sense, or at any rate is something that’s bound to be popular. On this dramatic and dynamic music, Saldanha revisits his preoccupation with dub music, which has previously been evident on the record he made with HHY & The Macumbas, called Throat Permission Cut, in 2014. The composer boasted of his “space-age voodoo dub constructions”, and referred to the echo studio effect as “Skull Cave Echo”, a fanciful term he continues to use on Tunnel Vision.
We hear such a wide range of instrumentation and vocals on Tunnel Vision I found it hard to believe that it was indeed recorded in caves, as doing so would seem to entail assembling a small orchestra of percussion instruments and a large choir packed in a cramped narrow space, under conditions where most musicians would start charging double rates. In fact it was made by a small ensemble. It might be the mixing and editing stages which contain the processes that are most relevant. What ends up on the tape – I continue to regard him as a “sound painter” along the lines of Teo Macero – is a strange intoxicating melange of wailing choruses (vocals by Jessika Kenney, Mike Ladd, Catarina Miranda and Raz Mesinai), performing like a demented Greek chorus; trumpets and woodwinds (played by Álvaro Almeida) producing forlorn fanfare effects that are the exact opposite of triumphant music; and no end of wild percussive and drumming moments (João Filipe and others), punching home the excitement of the musical narrative. Where previous works of JUS have owed some debt (large or small) to the dancefloor, this one is all art-music through and through. It comes within an ace of being an avant-garde opera, compressed into some 40 minutes; perhaps Saldanha should attempt such a project, unless it’s in danger of being too pretentious, and assuming he can find a suitable text.
There’s a movie of the same name, an experimental science fiction film directed by Raz Mesinai, said film endorsed by John Zorn and released on his Tzadik label. The present release is a “re-edit and remastered version of the original soundtrack”, originally released in 2013. Tzadik’s blurb for this stresses the infernal nature of going into caves to make music, and relishes the thought that Mesiani and Saldanha “descend[ed] far below the earth’s surface into some of the oldest, and darkest underground tunnels in Europe.” In like manner, the label Silo Rumour cherish the “use of resonant spaces”. From 19 April 2016.
The cassette micro-label Full Of Nothing is I think run by Ivan Afanasyev from Petrozavoosk. We have noted a few marginal items over the years, including releases by gkfoes vjgoaf, Banana Pill, and Charlatan and Clathrus. In Russia (fon38) is a 2012 cassette featuring a team-up, or at any rate friendly encounter, between three bands – Woodpecker Wooliams, Golden Cup, and Love Cult. Love Cult is in fact Ivan Afanasyev (one of many aliases) with Anya Kuts, and the other two are solo acts, I think from the UK and Italy. On these 2011 recordings, the artistes find common ground cavorting in slow motion inside a limpid, dream-like pool of warm and fuzzy syrups, floating in the type of extra-terrestrial droning soap bubble that used to be so common on the Digitalis label. ‘Saransk’ is the more soothing and ethereal of the two sides, while ‘Saint Petersburg’ finds the fluffy ones engaged in the production of slightly more eventful surfaces and effects. Distortion, lo-fi, ambient twittering, numbing repetitions and patterns, and indistinct textures are among the techniques deployed in pursuit of these otherly states. The collage of photos inside the box gives the nearest visual analogue to what we’re hearing – double exposures, shaky focus, colour flashes and fogs, all amounting to a modern impressionism, even when the subject matter is quite ordinary – streets, houses, and vehicles in suburban Russia. Quite nice.
We have noted Andrew Plummer’s works briefly in the past – the bizarre songs of World Sanguine Report are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, and Plummer cultivates his status as a sort of English Tom Waits / Captain Beefheart sea-faring eccentric type. Another band he plays in is Snack Family, with drummer Tom Greenhalgh and sax player James Allsopp; their Belly EP (LIMITED NOISE LTDNSE5) may not be especially “avant”, but is an extremely visceral and eccentric take on the sort of evil swamp blues we might associate with Dr John, crossed with ingenious off-beat rhythms and deliciously spare playing from the side musicians. On the title track ‘Belly’ you’ll feel like you’re being compelled by a malevolent witch to eat your last meal of poisoned chili beans; you can feel indigestion setting in already, but you can’t stop shovelling food in your mouth. Drew Millward made the cartoony Grand Guignol cover art. Not safe for vegetarians. From 4th March 2014; they made one other EP that year (Pokie Eye).
Last noted Vladislav Delay with his 2012 Kuopio album for Raster-Noton where Jen noted his “nervy beats”…his Espoo EP (RASTER-NOTON R-N 141) experiments further with beats and loops, and intends to set-up maddening cross-rhythms that are had to follow. It’s done with filters, modifiers and echo effects, but the equipment precisely controlled; you can tell on the finished product that there’s not a single digit out of place, in the inhumanly exacting patterns that have been so ruthlessly enacted and executed. Vladislav Delay explicitly intends to create conceptual music, yet he doesn’t want to depart too far from the disco dance hall. These ingenious mesmerising pound-a-thons ought to present quite a challenge to your average hoofer. I like the way he disguises his severe conceptual ideas; the sound of this record, for instance, isn’t too alienating, and indeed ‘Kolari’ has a user-friendly ambient setting that cushions the blows from these steely and devilish beats of high complexity. By front-loading his work with semi-familiar and approachable sounds, perhaps he stands a chance of smuggling his subversive ideas into the mainstream of dance culture. From 3rd July 2012.
Beautiful and transcendent droney-violin and synth sound art thing from Marielle V. Jakobsons and her Glass Canyon (STUDENTS OF DECAY SOD097). For this project, painstakingly created over a number of years between 2009 and 2011, this Oakland artist decided to reduce the process to just violin and synthesizer, mostly to explore the sonorities of “where two timbres meet”. The simplicity of the process conceals a lot of complexity; somehow you can tell there’s a great deal of preparation, forethought and composition that has been fed into each of these gorgeous long-form stretches of sound, and she’s not simply letting her machines run on autopilot. This seems to be the first work released under her own name; the curious listener may wish to investigate her Ore record from 2009, released for Digitalis as Darwinsbitch, and she’s also led the groups Date Palms, Portraits, and Myrmyr. From listening, and from titles such as ‘Purple Sands’ or ‘Dusty Trails’, it’s clear she’s a landscape painter in sound, and her multi-media practices involving art installations would seem to conform this; her intention is to create a “visceral experience of sound and light”. I think ‘Purple Sands’ and ‘Cobalt Waters’ are among the finest pieces here, with incredibly subtle shifts in tone, mostly staying in a very pleasant and beautiful place and allowing us to contemplate it; for a few precious moments on ‘Purple Sands’, there’s one of the most mournful and affecting violin tones I’ve ever heard, like the cry of a bird. ‘Dusty Trails’ has a synth sequencer rhythm and somehow seems a tad more conventional, stylistically tipping its forehead towards Tangerine Dream, but that’s a small quibble when faced with such an original and sumptuous album. From 3rd July 2012.