Tagged: field recordings

Yaschichek, Little Box

Herewith four more cassettes from the Russian Spina!Rec label. Arrived here 20th December 2016.

Andrey Popovskiy is the St Petersburg composer whose work has been arriving here since 2014. If there’s any connection between his releases Rotonda and Kryukov, it might have something to do with the way sound behaves in an enclosed space, and the exigencies of recording devices in attempting to capture the elusive reality of acoustical behaviours. While Rotonda seemed to misfire for Jack Tatty, we liked the mysterious properties of Kryukov (his split tape with Dubcore) and the way it somehow summoned an aesthetically pleasing effect from such everyday banality. Even to call Popovskiy a “kitchen sink” composer would be to make it far too exotic; he’d be happy to occupy the cupboard under the sink, along with the cartons of bleach. Works For Voice Recorders 2011 (SR029) takes this pared-down approach to an even further extreme. On the A side, there are five short pieces documenting his experiments with voice recording devices (dictaphones, perhaps? If those things even exist any more), placed inside a room and capturing whatever external bumps and groans may come their way. There’s also something about the devices being used to record themselves – contact mics placed in their own innards, or something. All manner of recorded artefacts are generated in a refreshingly non-digital manner. I can’t account for why this unprepossessing, near-blank grind effect is so compelling, but I can’t stop listening to it.

On the flip is a long piece called Zvukovanie, and is a far more ambitious composition lasting some 34 mins. He’s created layers of sound from field recordings out in the streets, musical performances, and rehearsals, superimposing them into what is described as a “three-dimensional” piece. Percussionist Mikhail Kuleshin and improvising trumpeter Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky join him in this task. While this might seem a recipe for chaos, in Popovskiy’s hands it results in a very pleasing jumble of balmy strangeness, drifting and shifting in unexpected ways. The listener is not being “directed” to pay attention to any one element, and instead is free to wander in an open landscape of sound events, much like an exotic street bazaar, and picking up what trinkets they may. Delightful.

SR027 is a split. The side by Andrey Svibovitch did little for me; very ordinary sounds emerge from his synths (probably due to use of over-familiar filters or pre-set sounds) and he has a simplistic approach to playing chords, both of which point to under-developed techniques. He produces a stream of undemanding electronica with little structure or originality. The four parts of “What Hides The Voice” were originally presented as part of a multi-media installation with the work of visual artist Maxim Svishev. Svibovitch creates his music using voice samples, yet what ends up on the tape is so synthetic and processed it seems to have zero connection to anything as natural and human as a voice.

The side by Sergey Vandyshev is more engaging. The electronic music of this fellow is described as an experiment in “pure data”, and there are references to “digital generators” and “granular synthesis algorithms”…most of this is beyond my ken, but it seems to point to a process-based approach where machines do most of the work, but also indicates that Vandyshev is a skilled manipulator of digital data, perhaps doing it “at source” in some way. What I mean by that is he may bypass the conventional routes of feeding information through pre-sets and filters. Anyone who can run an algorithm at granular synthesis level is capable of anything. The sound of his untitled tracks is certainly quite clean, and feels uncluttered by unnecessary elaborations. I also like the loops, repetitions and insistent pulsations, which are set forth in a very porous, open-ended manner, as if he’s found a way to avoid the trap of the strict grid-systems imposed by digital sequencers. This reminds me very much of a more low-key version of Pimmon.

SR028 is a split. For this release we have a rare (for this label) instance of acoustic music played on musical instruments – as opposed to their standard electronic fare. Blank Disc Trio are a Serbian group of improvisers who have been at it since the late 1990s. It used by a duo of the core members Srdjan Muc and Robert Roža (guitar and electronics, respectively), but have since been joined by Georg Wissel, who puffs a “prepared” alto saxophone. For this tape, they were joined by the pianist Dušica Cajlan-Wissel and the electric guitarist Julien Baillod. What they play is a rather tentative version of the “electro-acoustic improv” thing, a form which in their hands takes a long time to get started and is littered with many half-baked stabs and much guesswork along the way. I like the abrasive textures they manage to summon up, and it’s good that they know when to shut up and leave gaps for each other, but overall there isn’t enough coherence or continuity in these wispy musical ideas to sustain my interest.

On the flipside we have Ex You, another three-piece of Serbian experimenters. Milan Milojković, László Lenkes and Filip Đurović blend electronics, guitar, and drums into a pleasing scrabbly mess of non-music, keeping it fairly low-key and resisting the temptation to create a hideous energy-noise blaroon-out. The addition of guest cello player Erno Zsadányi only increases our pleasure in this grumbly, meandering groan-fest. Like their Blank Disc brothers, this group sometimes finds it hard to crank up the old motor, but once they get it turning over we’re guaranteed a much more exciting drive through the old Serbian mountain tracks. I wish more drummers could act with the restraint and decency of Đurović; he doesn’t call attention to himself with fills and ornament, but his steady gentle pulsations give a surprisingly sturdy backbone to this music. Two members of the trio also play in Lenhart Tapes Orchestra, should you feel curious to investigate the Serbian “scene” further; their 2014 album Uživo Sa Karnevala Glavobolje looks like the one to go for.

The tape Povstrechal Gaute Granli (SR030) is a team-up between Mars-69 and Gaute Granli, another one of the Russian-Norway “hands across the water” affairs which this label does so well. Mars-69 are I assume Mars-96 with a slight change to the name – at any rate the core members of this Palmira trio appear to be intact. They’re about the most prolific bunch on the Spina!Rec label and we’ve enjoyed most of their disaffected noisy work. I always thought they were a guitar-bass-drums trio but here they’re spinning their craft with synths, syn-drums, and vocals. As for Gaute Granli, we’ve been enjoying the solo work and group work (in Freddy The Dyke) of this Norwegian loon for many years now, and can recommend anything he’s done for the Drid Machine and Skussmaal labels. He brought his electric guitar and voice to these Povstrechal sessions. With a line-up like that, I feel I have a right to expect some serious fireworks, which is why I felt gypped by this damp squib. With the possible exception of ‘Osa’, the opening track, the tape is a lacklustre set of pointless studio noodling, half-formed ideas trailing away, and occasional absurdist vocal dribble. One waits in vain for a single idea to catch fire or take off into the stratosphere. The band had a lot of sociable fun on the day (hint: that’s code for they all got drunk) – the press write-up seems to indicate as much – but that doesn’t justify the release of this self-indulgent nonsense.

Big Sky

Very strong set of musique concrète compositions from Michel Redolfi on the album Desert Tracks (SUB ROSA SR418); the Belgian label Sub Rosa have taken it on themselves to reissue this album which first appeared on CD in 1988, as the first half of a set that also included Pacific Tubular Waves. Redolfi is associated with the Marseille wing of the French school, and was co-founder of the Group de Musique Experimentale de Marseille since 1968; he also served as director of the Centre International De Recherche Musicale (CIRM) in Switzerland. Although he’s collaborated with Ferrari, Parmegiani and Henry, he’s also not averse to working in America, and in fact lived there for nearly a decade, forming alliances with American composers and working in Californian University music centres. It was in the Californian deserts in 1987 that he captured the basic sounds that have gone to make up Desert Tracks.

While we’re more than familiar with field recording types and phonographers who settle for capturing rather uninteresting aural snapshots of the landscapes they visit, Michel Redolfi was aiming high right from the start. He used digital recorders (one of the first ones ever manufactured), binaural mics, and mics poised on stands, in pursuit of a “3D depth of field” and “divine silences”. He speaks of “hypothetical poly-sensorial desert tones”, clearly enthused by something more profound than a mere sense of atmosphere, and responded eagerly to what he regards as the high drama of these desert environments. To capture these impressions on tape was enough of a challenge; then came the editing and processing stages, back in the studios of Cal Arts and CIRM, where he added synthetic drones and electronic music. But this addition was done with tremendous care and sensitivity; he wanted to keep the electronic elements “sparse and bright, to express the crude light”. I like that reference to the sunlight; old Sol must have presented an unforgettable presence in that airless Californian desert hell. Clearly, Redolfi had more than his retinas burned by that fiery orb, and was intent on creating an authentic landscape painting in sound, building on his documentary recordings and displaying a deep awareness of the environment, the weather, the light – to arrive at his own series of profound and imaginative meditations on the subject of the desert.

Desert Tracks follows a kind of trajectory, where there’s something approaching a musical theme at the start – the rather ominous ‘Opening’ – followed by the sparse grimness of ‘Mojave Desert’ and the near-insufferable surface of ‘Death Valley’, which contains some pretty harsh textures of broken noise. This particular segment may owe something to “the impeccable strip of asphalt” that you can walk down to cross the valley. So far the desert is emerging as a hostile, uncaring zone of bleakness and pain. After this we enter the relative calm of ‘Palm Canyon’, which was purposely composed to evoke an oasis and the wildlife (wasps and birds) that inhabit that area near the Mexican border. U2 fans would probably know it from the cover to the best-selling 1987 album. The album ends with ‘Too Much Sky’, 10 minutes of beautifully serene sound that rewards the patient traveller who has made it across this wilderness in one piece, and again indicates Redolfi’s perceptive take on the landscape, the quality of light that must seem overwhelming to Europeans. By this point even the listener is in need of a pair of good sunglasses. Incidentally ‘Too Much Sky’ predates the main suite by three years, and is only available on the CD version of this release, thus making a nonsense of my “trajectory” theory.

Redolfi’s no stranger to elemental subjects like this; his first published works for INA GRM Immersion / Pacific Tubular Waves have a “watery” theme, which recurs with Sonic Waters (1984), Crysallis, the underwater opera (1992), and his many Underwater Music releases. This aquatic jag has been obsessing him since 1977, so this shift to giving the desert sands their due clearly marks another chapter in his thematic pursuits. From 12th December 2016.

Croatian Travelogue

Lawrence English
Approaching Nothing
FRANCE BASKARU KARU:40 CD (2016)

Among aficionados of field recording documentation, Lawrence English is well known for his influential Room40 label as well as his own prodigious output. These new recordings were made on the island of Korcula in Croatia. On his website, Lawrence English explains: “…In the late 1960s, French composer Luc Ferrari and his wonderful partner in crime Brunhild Ferrari visited Vela Luka… It was a fruitful summer and from this time the legendary composition ‘Presque Rien’ was born…” This piece of information not only explains the nostalgic quote from Brunhild Ferrari on the sleeve, but also neatly places English himself within the context of a tradition that can be traced from Ferrari’s famous piece to the present day. In Presque rien No. 1 ‘Le Lever du jour au bord de la mer’, a day’s worth of Ferrari’s field recordings of environmental sounds at a beach in Croatia is edited down to a twenty-one minute piece. English continues, “Arriving in early autumn 2013, I decided to approach the ‘nothingness’ of Luc’s ideas and capture Vela Luka on the brink of the next season almost 50 years after his recordings were made.”

The first thing that strikes me is that this album is mastered good and loud. There are many releases of “quiet music”, field recording or experimental music which for multifarious reasons verge either partially or completely on the inaudible. Not this. It’s a good clear robust recording from start to finish while still achieving a rich dynamic. Approaching Nothing is an exceptional piece of work; one 30 minute piece of music constructed from pristine recordings throughout, it begins with the peal of a church bell repeated and lightly processed. A nearby bird sings along. This is followed by distant machine noise and then a crow – lots of crows – beautifully upfront in the mix. The mix of urban and rural continues taking in motor boat engines, passing conversation, scooters cut to a schoolyard hard cut to a brass band and so on, like an aural postcard of the place. Indeed, English has produced a travelogue here; for me he is pushing the definition of what an album of music really is or can be.

English teases a link between himself and the field recording utilising composer Luc Ferrari by way of the previously mentioned sleevenotes by Brunhild Meyer Ferrari, who both holidayed in Vela Luka in the 1960s. In her text she offers her reactions to hearing the piece. These days, Meyer Ferrari is a composer in her own right – I note that Sub Rosa released some of her recent work on the Programme Commun two-disc set in 2012. There is a photograph of English and Brunhild standing side by side on his website, perhaps a hint of an upcoming musical collaboration?

We Are Glass

We have a lot of time for Richard Kamerman, the New York sound artist who operates the great label Copy For Your Records to release slabs and snippets of unusual noise of great power and mysterious charm. I see it’s been a while since we received anything from that label, but it may be because postage from the USA to the rest of the world is now so ridiculously high. His last solo album heard by us was None For The Money in 2012, though since then he has duetted with Anne Guthrie and as one third of Delicate Sen with Guthrie and Billy Gomberg. Very pleased to receive this cassette tape Music For Glassblower’s Studio and Broken Toy Piano (ORGANIZED MUSIC FROM THESSALONIKI t33), which arrives with a powerful “furnace” cover and two sides elegantly titled in ways that are typical of Kamerman’s minimal sentence construction and clever use of punctuation to subvert meaning. At first you may think this is just going to be a “normal” field recording type thing with its documents of the interesting sounds of a glassblower at work, but in fact it’s layered and dotted with all manner of unusual details – weird faraway echoes of unidentifiable sounds, distorted speaking voices, creaky drones, and even small portions of tentative melodies. Apparently it’s a blend of “site-specific recordings and performance”, suggesting that it’s valid to read the whole tape as a record of a piece of performance art. Natch, the purpose and meaning of all these invisible actions is completely opaque, yet it’s a highly compelling listen, a wonderfully textured and rewarding slab of mystery noise broadcast directly from the imagination. I would compare this one to the work of Jim Haynes, only less slow and wispy, with noisier elements and not quite so overtly mystical…100 copies made, released in July 2016, arrived here 5th December 2016.

Blank Cassette

The latest enigma in the form of a cassette tape arrived from Rinus Van Alebeek on 13th October 2016. As usual the first task facing me – or anyone who purchases these hand-made works of art – is to unwrap the package and try and get to the tape. In this instance, you also have to remove strips of masking tape if you actually want to play the tape, since they’re placed so as to cover up openings that allow the machine to engage with the tape reels. Whenever I do this with one of Rinus’ releases (which are extremely limited), I always feel like I’m damaging the artwork in some way. I don’t see a way around this, however, since I do want to hear the sounds. How many owners of the first Velvet Underground LP actually have an unpeeled banana in their possession, and if they do, does it make the record any better?

Two sides…two suites which may or may not be related. With “Side White”, which is called “Done Before”, we’ve got a very episodic stream of consciousness, segments of long spoken-word affairs mixed up with the strange sound art which layers music, noise, field recordings and voices into tasty collage-pieces. There is an enclosed typewritten note inside the release, advising us “This tape has spoken word parts on it,” followed by allusions to details of the content, friends, fading memories, which leads into a slightly melancholic contemplation or reminisce of some kind. I sense that the artist is going through the attic and finding old letters, diaries, photos and other fragments of the past, and wondering what it all means. The only difference is that Rinus does his diary work using cassette tapes, rather than the notebook or the camera. “The other me that I heard on the recordings was at a long distance of the actual me”, is his puzzling conclusion. “The other me is almost a stranger”. I think we’ve all felt like this at some point in our lives…when I periodically clear out my desk at work, I look at notes I scribbled down months ago and don’t have the slightest idea what they refer to, or what I was thinking about.

“I could have faked the found tape idea,” the artist tells us. That triggered a reference in my own mental library…it’s possible that with “Done Before”, Rinus Van Alebeek has come close to realising his own take on Krapp’s Last Tape, that bleak vision of futility as penned by Samuel Beckett and featuring an old man playing back his old tape recordings, laughing at the folly and delusions of his younger self. But Beckett saw the universe as absurd and meaningless, and the whole play might be a metaphor for how we can end up alienated from our own past lives. “Done Before”, I would like to think, is far less pessimistic about the value and the meaning of memory; the creator is genuinely puzzled by it all, and would like to find out more. Perhaps the process of assembling this work is his way of addressing the issue.

Incidentally this side also includes contributions from the excellent Zan Hoffman who made Zanstones Fur Berlin on this label, and Tim Ruth, and portions of it may date back to 2001 and a visit to Louisville in Kentucky. Already the shifting time-travel aspects of this work present many interesting opaque layers for the ear and mind to traverse.

The “Side not so white” of the cassette is called “Historie d’un Pomme de Terre” (HPT). Voices on here too, I think…I’m not sure because things are somewhat more distorted here. At least on “Done Before” we can make out some snatches of spoken word (in English) which are intelligible, and indeed make us feel like we’re eavesdropping on a private conversation or a solitary reminisce, and create the effect which Van Alebeek anticipates when he speaks of “a…listener who will try to deduce a story”. On HPT however, the emphasis is more on the recording process itself, especially machines like Walkmans and their “inbuilt speakers”, and what ends up on the tape is a captured moment that’s as much a record of its own creation as it is a document of some slice of reality. The creator is evidently more interested in artefacts and faults, surface noise, tape hiss and distortion, relishing their unpredictable sonic textures, than he is interested in presenting an accurate record of the spoken word. We’ve heard this approach to the materiality of tape many times with Rinus, but what always impresses me is how nuanced and subtle the results are, the delicacy and care with which he preserves these fragile, fleeting moments of sonic beauty.

This material is great to listen to on its own terms, if you enjoy this strange decontextualised and rather abstract sound. But it also has the effect of making us try and decode the voices, and understand what is being said…we turn from being eavesdroppers and start to become more like spies, listening with our CIA headphones from the other side of the hotel wall, hoping for a clue that will break the case. It’s the aural equivalent of straining your neck to see what’s going on through an obscure window, and perhaps an even more extreme version of the “try to deduce a story” effect noted above.

HPT also features “unidentifiable French songs and Bollywood songs” apparently, reminding us that for all his apparent conceptual severity Rinus still enjoys good popular songs. Yet when these elements appear in HPT, they’re like fading memories of music, washed-out photographs, wispy and dreamy.

Ras Oumlil

We haven’t heard a great deal from Jos Smolders, the Dutch musician who began his career studying architecture, outside of his contributions to a compilation of sorts called International Musique Concrète Assembly where he appeared with fellow Netherlandish droner Frans de Waard. But that was in 2007. It would have been nice to have heard some of his 1980s releases on Midas, or his 1990s records for Korm Plastics, but I’m missing these parts in my education. More recently, he’s been conducting a series of experiments called Modular Works, some of which were released online in 2014 and 2015. I’m assuming today’s record, called simply Nowhere (CRÓNICA 123-2017), is more or less in that same area, basing my guess on the subtitle “Exercises In Modular Synthesis and Field Recording”, plus the record’s inner gatefold which shows foreboding images of modular synths with knobs, patches and cables a-plenty, a sight which presents a challenging barrier to the ignorant novice.

Smolders used to be a self-confessed control freak in terms of editing his work. For Nowhere, he’s been trying to cultivate a more spontaneous technique for the production of electronic music. He’s basing it on Zen; he tells the story of how a traditional Zen calligrapher works, describing the process as 99% preparation. The artist must spend a long time getting into a deep state of concentration, and then create the artwork in a matter of seconds. I have heard this applied to painting and poetry as well as calligraphy. I’ve also heard it applied to project management, but that’s a dull topic which has no place here today. With Smolders, this means that he thinks long and hard about which patch to connect and how to set the parameters, before he even starts the session. When the sound / music is underway, he goes with the flow and only “interferes when necessary”, a phrase which may refer to purely technical considerations. When the work is completed, overdubs and editing are not eliminated altogether, but he forces himself to forego his usual extensive re-working method.

I’m all in favour of artists lifting themselves out of the rut of familiarity and using whatever means are necessary to get their brain to that point where they short-circuit their own comfort zone. Taking all the above into account, you might expect Nowhere to present a wild and chaotic spread of crazy electric noise, but in fact it’s a strong example of restraint and understatement. There’s much to enjoy and appreciate in these quiet tones, crackles, percussive pops and ambiguous whirrs, and the music sometimes develops into pleasing nocturnal drone-scapes, as it does on the fourth track which is a tribute to Maya Deren (who made visionary sleep-walking dreamy films with the help of her husband). Some of the pieces are quite lengthy, and they take a long time before they get to the point of their long and drawn-out statements, but the journey is more interesting than the destination and I can see the value of working out all the stopping-points in longhand. For the most part, Jos Smolders succeeds in transcending the workings of his machines, creating something more than mere process music. From 21st November 2016.

The Printed Tape

English sound artist Mark Vernon is a firm fave here at TSP Mansions, required listening if you want to get on the good side of me. The last two releases noted in these pages were Sounds Of The Modern Hospital and Framework Seasonal Issue #5. The Hospital record was derived from a residency in a Scots hospital, but though based on real-world documentary recordings it ended up as a surreal, episodic mystery broadcast from the Wards of Never-Dom run by the mysterious matron Sister Nemo. The Framework release was Mark’s snapshot of English tape clubs from the 20th century, a phenomenal record that rescued these lost and unknown “trainspotters” of the magnetic tape and hand-held recorders. In one of my rare visits outdoors, I saw Vernon this year (March 2017) at Cafe Oto supporting Graham Lambkin, on a memorable evening. One thing Vernon was doing there was playing snippets from his car-boot sale finds, old and discarded tapes he has scavenged on his treasure hunts. One recording in particular, apparently that of an embittered man nursing a murderous grievance he held against his spouse or girlfriend, reminded me of the obsessive tones of Mark E. Smith on The Post-Nearly Man – I recommended that Mark try and find a copy. He also wondered what had happened to the promo copy of his Kye Records release, which he sent me in October but was unfortunately buried in my vinyl submissions queue. Using hand gestures, I tried to indicate to Mark the dimensions of this queue, which caused a wry expression to wring his otherwise friendly features.

Said LP is called Lend an Ear, Leave A Word (KYE 44), and is Vol. 1 in a projected series called Audio Archaeology. If you want continuity with the above anecdotes, Kye Records is operated by Graham Lambkin, and the label deals in unfussy, no-nonsense cover artworks, high-quality mastering and pressing, and a mostly vinyl-only format policy. What I have heard on Kye has always been amazing, and I would like to think Lambkin selects the content personally. Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is true to form and a highly impressive collection of work, based on documentary recordings. The theme here is that it’s all based in Lisbon, the recordings were made in that country and collected by Mark Vernon from trips to a flea-market in Alfarma. Right there we’ve got another indication of his scavenger-hunt methods; I have visions of Vernon’s garden shed, hopefully the size of a warehouse, packed with his precious hoards of booty.

Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is a delirious listen – almost instantly induces a trance-like state, and real life acquires a wonderful unreal caste. There’s also a strong sense of deep sadness and melancholy in these sounds, a mourning for the human condition. How did this all come about?

In his notes, Vernon describes processes of how magnetic tape acquires layers of information, often by accident when the recording devices are in the hands of amateurs making mistakes, as is the case here. He muses on the “archaeological” aspects of the work, having dredged up 40 years of content to perform his experiments. He lists the things we’re hearing (answerphone messages, TV, baby recordings), and he lists the extra field recordings (air vents, traffic noise, waves breaking). None of these prosaic descriptions even begin to account for the strange sensations induced by this record, which over two sides and ten tracks creates near-hallucinatory experiences, surreal dream-scapes, and a general sense of having entered the looking-glass world, full of unknown languages spoken by alien creatures, performing actions which can’t be understood.

In collating his “lists” of content, which are useful, Vernon modestly downplays his own role in the selection, editing and assembly of these fragments, a unique artistic process which passes through his own fingertips directly onto the surface of the record. I think what makes it all so compelling is the fact that he is so ready and willing to depart from the supposed “purity” of documentary recording, and can’t help uncovering the incredible strangeness of life through his art. And it’s more than just juxtaposing two or more unconnected recordings; there’s music here as well, there are (as ever) fractured stories and dramas unfolding, and there’s a real sympathy for and interest in the human condition. Mark Vernon is not some unfeeling voyeur of the human pageant, like Scanner used to be with his secretly-monitored mobile phone conversations set to ambient music. On this record, he deals in human truths, but he also respects boundaries and asks questions, refusing to draw simplistic conclusions. And while this LP is not filled with the same wow-factor moments we often find with Aki Onda’s tape diaries, that too is part of Vernon’s understated charm. From 11 October 2016, and very warmly recommended.

Russian Mines

The Pyramiden EP (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL LOR 088) is by Project Mycelium, a duo of electronic musicians Luke Brennan and Lorenzo Santangeli from Hackney; they describe their working method as piecing together “minimalist fragments of acoustic samples”, and have previously had a short record called Pulse released on this label. Pyramiden is derived from the sounds of water and steel, and appears to be themed on ideas about mining; at any rate, the accompanying PDF file features a series of colour photographs taken by Mary Pearson, depicting a disused mining installation. This locale turns out to be a part of Norway annexed by Russia in 1925, when they claimed mining rights; nobody lives there now though, and the installation is completely abandoned.

We have noted before how disused industrial sites (especially mines) evidently have a particular fascination for visual and sound artists, and recent instances of this trend include Franck Vigroux’s Entrailles and Ogrob’s work investigating the Staffelfelden mine shaft. I kind of like Pearson’s photos, even though they are very prosaic, because they fit into the overall pattern of her work and her concerns; among other things, she is frequently drawn to remote and hostile environments, and you can’t get much more forlorn than Pyramiden, this distant part of Isafjordur on the west coast of Spitzbergen. At least she actually visits these places to get her photos, presumably exerting some physical effort and undergoing hardships thereby, whereas I doubt if Brennan and Santangeli even strayed very far from their hip pad in Hackney to create this weedy effort. Their music as Project Mycelium is competent enough, but a very pedestrian reworking of water and steel sound samples, resulting in a plodding, literal sound-picture of what they think a mineshaft might sound like. Very ordinary piece of lite-industrial textured noise. From 25th November 2016.

San Fil

Another gem from the UK Linear Obsessional label. We’ve followed Richard Sanderson’s label pretty much from its inception and it seems there are at least three strands of sound he’s interested in publishing – free improvisation, sound art, and experiments with hardware and software. In the latter category, the recent release by Phil Maguire is a strong example with his radical experiments with the Raspberry Pi. We now add Dirch Blewn to the list, since many of the tracks on his Axis (LOR 089) CDR owe their existence to a toy called Plumbutter, which is a home-made synthesiser unit created in recent years by Peter Blasser, a device described by one enthusiast as having “a distinct philosophy behind it”. You could say the same about a Dyson vacuum cleaner, a household unit which has endeared itself to many with the way it seems to express the idiosyncrasies of its inventor 1 I can see how the latest iteration of this Plumbutter thing would appeal to a certain mindset; currently it looks like a cross between a wooden toy and a lego brick. With its coloured patch plugs spread all over the board in a semi-chaotic fashion, it seems to invite the sort of wild experimentation promised by the old VCS3, as much as saying “try me!” in a little friendly voice. Although it seems Plumbutter is mainly good at drum machine sounds, there’s nothing it can’t do when it finds its way into the hands of someone as imaginative and exploratory as Dirch Blewn.

That’s only one part of the Axis story, though. Field recordings play a big part, as do many types of percussion, mostly wooden and perhaps some metal percussion. In his elliptical notes, at one stage Dirch Blewn summarises the album as “an album of wood recordings through a metal gong”. The field recordings show a close attachment to nature, including rain fall and bird song, and these things are deployed in a highly mysterious fashion. I mean that we’re not always sure what we’re hearing (we’re never sure what we’re hearing, in fact) and even the creator himself seems to be amazed by the things he’s managed to capture on his tapes (or hard drives, or however it’s realised).

I’m trying to drop hints as to the slightly uncanny nature of this release, an intangible element to which the press notes allude by resorting to words such as “arcane” and “esoteric” and “haunting”. Dirch Blewn himself declines to explain, other than in somewhat cryptic notes which list the ingredients or recipes (with shopping lists of equipment used) for each piece, but he remains silent as to his motivations or intentions. There’s some playful definitions and redefinitions of the word “axis” (puns are permitted in this game) as he concisely describes some experience which might be a vague odyssey through the woods leading to a spiritual epiphany, or simply an outdoor camping trip. He intersperses the notes with images of rocks collected by some woman in Iceland, shown photographed in loving close-up and revealing the details all manner of unusual volcanic formations, sometimes encrusted with algae or lichens. “These things are all connected, but only in my head”, is all he will tell us. I think it behooves us to respect this somewhat gnomic uttering, and bend our ears to these unusual micro-sounds, attempting to join the dots in our own time.

Dirch Blewn is David Bloor from South London, who is also represented (under his own name) on a recent comp called Sounding D.i.Y from elektronische art and music. Very happy to receive this unusual release; I feel that Dirch Blewn is far more valuable than a simple process artist, and he’s not exploring these invisible microscopic areas just for the sake of generating unusual sonic textures. There’s a real power and depth to this work. From 25th November 2016.

  1. At least it used to; I’m not sure about the more recent models.

Discourse Markers

Paul Wirkus is a German musician based in Cologne who works with electronics and percussion. We heard him performing on Adikia with Ekkehard Ehlers, with whom he regularly works, but I’m surprised we haven’t noted any of his solo works before, as he is exceptionally good. The record Discours Amoureux (EDITION BEIDES 2) is something I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wants to hear genuinely expressive and considered experimentation in the field of digital / electronic music, an area which is over-populated with too many half-baked ideas. The clarity of Paul Wirkus’s ideas, and the conviction with which they are executed, shine forth exceptionally well on this release. Although you could easily pigeon-hole this sound into “laptop” or “ambient” music, the record transcends these labels.

Wirkus himself describes Discours Amoureux as a “psycho-acoustic essay”…he intends the music to represent imaginary walks he takes in his mind, and combines the sounds of these walks with actual field recordings captured in the city [of Cologne], while on a search for inner piece or mental calm. It seems significant that he did it in the summer; perhaps the sunlight itself contributed to the sense of well-being that permeates this music. From a technical point of view, he executed the work mostly through live playback from one computer onto another computer dedicated to recording; I get the sense that he’s not one of those obsessed with infinite tinkering of sound files, layers, and edits, a pass-time which it is possible to be drawn into when you embark on the path of laptop composition. There’s a certain warmth and spontaneity which has transferred directly into the digits; but I am assuming that this is the result of much preparation, thinking, and compositional rigour.

Other journalists and music organs have long recognised the genius of Wirkus, and he’s not ashamed of the many prizes and “CD of the month” awards that have come his way. His catalogue can be found on labels such as Staubgold, Gusstaff Records and Quecksilber, and the earliest one I can find suggests his recording career began in 1999. This is the second release on Edition Beides, and follows his Carmen Et Error also released in 2016. Recently Wirkus has been expanding his act into multi-media projects, including radio plays, music for dance, and theatre. A lot of musicians try this sort of thing, but one listen to Discours Amoureux should persuade you that Wirkus has a strong grasp of narrative and structure, and is skilled enough to express this very clearly in his work. Very good. From 14 November 2016.