Tagged: guitar

Analogue Karma

Full marks to this gargantuan double CD set of remastered rare tracks from latterday industrial-mode doomoids Maeror Tri. I only ever heard them on a seven-inch split they made with Crawl Unit in 2000, which represents but the merest sliver of the back catalogue of these gloomy droning Germans who did everything with masses of diabolical guitars and effects pedals. Meditamentum (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 046-2 / NEW NIHILISM NN X) is itself a compilation of Meditamentum and Meditamentum II, released in 1994 and 1999 respectively, and it gives the listener a rich slew of material originally released on cassettes in the 1990s (mostly). Any clown who’s ever formed a “Cold Depressive Black Metal” tape in their bedroom in the last fifteen years pretty much owes everything to Maeror Tri, who prove themselves past masters of the atmospheric, oppressive and miserablist drone. More than that, they did it with real authority and the weight of conviction behind every flanged note they struck from their filthy black Telecasters, plus there’s a lot of variety and texture in their multiple approaches to music construction. I’d say there are enough “alternative sonic worlds” in this pack to keep you busily exploring for years. Only the artwork is a bit drab; it would have been nice if the band’s “monad”, composed of three sticks in a triangular form, could have been more prominent. From 03 October 2013.

Syrinx likewise have a tinge of darkness in their Landscapes (QUIET WORLD THIRTY), but it’s tempered with a respect for nature and an outdoorsness that Maeror Tri, locked in their unholy temples of Hermetic insanity, would not dream of. These three Northampton UK lads Baylis, Plenderneith and Saunders blend their instruments into a morass of pullulating frequencies until guitars and synth – if such devices were indeed involved in the making of this record – lose their voices in the collective tones, which ring like ghostly church bells of a gigantic size suspended over impossible landscapes. Solemn almost to the point of grimness, yet a terrifying beauty will emerge in time from these iron sounds.

Can’t get enough synth and drumming records…and some nice moments to savour on Astro Sonic’s Come Closer and I’ll Tell You (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2530), a Norwegian trio of young men armed with vintage keyboards, percussion instruments, drum machines and a Fender Rhodes piano. They have their lively and playful moments in the middle of this album, with brief but energised tracks where exciting rock-beats joust with some insane and far-out electronic effects, which seem to evoke a spaceship landing in the ocean or some other space-travel event ending badly. Their other main mode is more contemplative, where sweet melodies and pleasant retro sounds noodle away harmlessly in a major key, such as on ‘Orbiter’ or ‘Shoal’. At such moments they might not reach Eno heights, but they come close to Galactic Explorers or one of those other Toby Robinson studio bands from the 1970s Pyramid label. From 07 October 2013.

I’m now a firm fan of Noteherder & McCloud, the English duo of Parfitt and Reader who do such naughty things with saxophone and electronics, often blamming it out in real time without any cissy stuff like retakes, overdubs or “processing”. All of that rawness can be thine on the exceedingly impolite South Coast Lines (EXOTIC PLYLON RECORDS EP14) mini-CD, the first thing we heard since their The Bottle Loose In The Drawer earlier this year. On this occasion it seems that traffic sound – specifically that of roaring cars and maybe even trains – is contributing to the overall din on record, and the duo have to work like demons to make themselves felt above the general clamour. As such the whole record breathes a city-dwelling urgency which appeals to me enormously. This is the way saxophone and electronics should be – dirty, inchoate, noisy. From October 2013.

Astonishing guitar work from Mike Cooper on Right (H)ear Side by Side (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR043), and we should expect no less from this English veteran prodigy of guitar manipulation who has played on a large number of records from the early 1970s onwards, not all of them “free improvisation” even, yet is rarely mentioned in same breath as Derek Bailey. He’s joined by Yan-Chiu Leung on the sheng and the music was recorded at a 2013 festival in Hong Kong. On ‘Hong Kong 1’ Cooper plays a variety of styles – atonal free improvisation into blues-based riffing and out again – before settling into an eerie textured drone with throbbing pulsations as if trying to recreate a slew of Tangerine Dream LPs with a single set-up, which includes a resophonic guitar, a sampler, a delay pedal, a fuzz box and something called the Kaos Pad. Further blues mannerisms surface on ‘Hong Kong 3’ along with a distressed harmonica, in a minimalist oriental-style portrait of bleakness where the bittersweet interplay with Leung’s sheng is enough to give a grown man a shivering fit. If that doesn’t satisfy you, the sheer inscrutable bizarreness of ‘Hong Kong 4’ will have you finishing your imported beer, asking the waiter to bring you your bill…and a straitjacket. What dissonant eruptions, what measured yet devastating manipulation of the strings into the X-dimension. An unassuming CDR which contains wild music fit to rank with any of Fred Frith’s 1980s noisier works. From 21 October 2013.

Iron Vultures

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The Carrion LP by Voltigeurs (SECOND LAYER RECORDS SLR005), a Skullflower side project, is a massive, shining example of something…perhaps an example of care and craft in the genre of juicy, industrial terror-noise metal…every one of these four tracks is brilliantly constructed, like sheets of rusty metal riveted together, to deliver four crushing tromps to the ear. What may at first appear to be a wall of unpleasant feedback is revealed to contain multiple layers of seething sound, said layers equally unpleasant to the sensations if not more so…like peeling back layers of corruption and putrescence to expose yet more rotting flesh. ‘Morning Raga’ kicks in like a dose of aspirin dissolved in coffee – probably how Voltigeurs like to start the day – and the buzzing remorselessness sticks around obstinately, much like the pain I imagine a migraine sufferer must undergo. Imagine a heavy metal LP where all the guitarists are tuning up at the same time, trying to vie for to position with their squealing amps turned up to the “death” setting. Grisly.

By the time we get to ‘Iron Vulture’, we have menacing piano chords rumbling away in the lower register, added to the foul feedback miasma. Somehow it’s still possible to hear these pianos in spite of the continuous free-form guitar noise and amplifier roar. It’s at this point that the ingenuity of the structure does make itself manifest, if being struck in the temple by iron mallets is your idea of a “manifestation”, and a stepladder made out of rotting planks qualifies as a “structure”. What exciting pain…it’s not enough that my tormentor is pulling my body apart in the torture chamber, it seems he also wants me to admire the construction of his metal devices and instruments. If 20 minutes inside the iron maiden isn’t enough for you, then flip over to face further misery in the form of ‘Sirius’ and ‘Gynocide’, the latter being a particularly morbid and horror-inducing racket of sullen monotony, and realise at this point that Carrion is attempting to pass on various states of anxiety to your mind, ranging from panic-stricken terror to all-out, throat-slitting despondency.

The choice of name is highly appropriate; whether it refers to the elite skirmishers who caused mayhem to the enemy in Napoleonic battles, or to the Canadian ice hockey team, it passes on the requisite impressions of violence and pain inflicted by experts at tremendous speed. This scorching LP was created by the team of Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies and released in an edition of 350 copies. From June 2012.

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A Letter to Krohn

Krohn Jestram Lippok
Dear Mister Singing Club
GERMANY DISTILLERY STILL 22 CD (2013)

F.S. Blumm
Up Up And Astray
GERMANY PINGIPUNG 39 CD (2013)

Dan Melchior
The Backward Path
USA NORTHERN SPY RECORDS NSCD028 (2012)

Christian Meaas Svendsen / Christian Winther
W/W
NORWAY VA FONGOOL VAFCD006 2 x CD (2013)

Dear Mister Singing Club,

I don’t know what to do with another singer-songwriter proclaiming over acoustic guitar and muffled, boomy percussion. I mean, I like John Martyn and Nick Drake when I am in the mood, but that was the 70s, and I’m not sure we need any more confession and angst, especially with echoing backing vocals and tricksy sound effects in the mix. I almost laughed when the tuba and glockenspiel – or synthesized versions of them? I don’t know – arrived. The nearest comparison I could come up with was Peter Blegvad or Slapp Happy, but only on a really bad day. Your CD doesn’t come close.

I could recommend you listen to Dan Melchior’s CD, who has the grace to put some quirky and at times moving instrumentals, each titled as a numbered ‘S.P.’, around his songs, but I’d be kidding myself and you. Whilst he thankfully stays away from tubas and glockenspiels, those jokey musical arrangements you seem to like, when he gets to the actual songs, his doom-laden intonation and heavy-handed guitar chords are dull and lifeless. “I have known the emptiness and have tried to love it” he says. I’m sorry for him, but can only hope he learns to stay away from the attempted profundity and focus on the short, intriguing instrumentals.

If I knew where you lived, I might actually send you F.S. Blumm’s CD to listen to. It reminds me of Animals That Swim (without the vocals), or perhaps Tindersticks, both bands who use arrangement and composition to exquisite effect. I mentioned Slapp Happy earlier, and there are touches of them, as well as other European Rock in Opposition bands here. This is sunny, happy contemporary chamber music, which gently subverts itself with odd dynamics, instrumental combinations and careful use of sound and dynamics. I like it a lot.

You might also like W / M, a double CD by the two Christians, one of whom plays double bass, one guitar. I take the music to be improvised pieces, and although the sometimes noisy double bass explorations on M are intriguing, it is the exquisite guitar album W that deserves your attention. Winther moves from fingerpicked etudes to finger-thrumming abstraction to ruminative introversion, occasionally with Svendsen guesting on double bass. (He returns the favour on some of Svendsen’s tracks.)

I’d like to hear you forget about emoting and expressing yourself, and paying this kind of attention to your music, but then I guess you’d have to call your CD Dear Mister Guitar Club, which isn’t quite the same.

Best wishes

Rupert Loydell

Dialogue and Discussion

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Keith Rowe / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
Tri
RUSSIA INTONEMA INT011 CD (2014)

As you might expect from Keith Rowe and anyone he plays with, tri is a carefully considered, improvised soundscape that mixes scrapes and scuffles with textural electronics, pauses and almost inaudible details.

As I listen through again this morning, my study window is open, and the birds outside, the distant sounds of the road and the window cleaner’s whistling, have changed the music again: the treated guitar sounds like distant thunder, contact-mic sounds like the wind pushing a storm away. Then something buzzcuts across, something rings like a distant phone, and the scene changes again.

Drones underpin much of this musical exploration, holding the noises together as a composition, one which ebbs and flows, regroups and splinters, time and time again. There is perhaps little unexpected going on here – musicians have been improvising this way for 40 or 50 years now, but Rowe and his colleagues on both long tracks here offer some of the best work in the field: tri is an enchanting, focussed example of abstract dialogue and discussion as composition in the moment.

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Ilia Belorukov
Tomsk, 2012 04 20 [Live]
RUSSIA INTONEMA INT005 / AKT-PRODUKT AP10 CD (2013)

Solo, Ilia Belorukov’s saxophone recorded live – the sleeve note says with ‘preparations’, whatever that means – is a noisier, looser affair. The first part sounds like wind in a tunnel, treated and amplified breathing made into endless cyclical wooshing drones, which the second’s sustained blown notes initially come as some relief from, although the slight shifts and repetition soon become tiresome. The third part is more textural to begin with, utilising more abstract sounds in the mix, before high skittering notes arrive, developing through a kind of electronic ping-pong section into a shriller solo with barking bass undertones. This lower end exploration gradually unfolds into a slower, more sonorous, Braxton-esque solo which, with its use of some kind of echo or delay, works as a stunning conclusion. The ghost of Evan Parker and other giants of improvisation can’t help but hover in the wings here, but Belorukov makes his own mark in a flurry of fragmented melodies and cascading tones.

Where Belorukov is perhaps most interesting is the way he moves from minimal, more abstract soundscape to solo saxophone improvisation within a more established field, musical genres which to some extent have diverged and separated over the years rather than engaged. As a CD, tri is more convincing, more focussed and engaged, but Tomsk… is perhaps more surprising and challenging, though I think Belorukov’s real strength is working with the saxophone rather than around it.

Intonema, a new label to me, produce exquisitely designed gatefold card CDs, with recording and artist information included on neat little card inserts housed in one half of the cover, the CD in the other. These are accessed by the neat trick of a shaped cutout across the inner card edges – perhaps in the shape of a person.

Red Dust

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Bizarre skull-laden item from Romain Perrot, here performing under his Roro Perrot alias. This diminution of the Christian name is for me one of the more endearing traits of French culture; the way Henri becomes Riri, Estragon becomes Gogo, and so on. I think it’s the way a French mother shows affection for her children. As to that, you may think that only Romain Perrot’s mother could love a ramshackle album like Musique Vaurienne (DECIMATION SOCIALE), but you should bend an ear to this far-out item of disjunctive amateurish guitar noise and unearthly caterwauling and decide for yourself. An electric guitar is mangled and shredded, producing awful tuneless noises and formless shapes, with no attempt made by the player to disguise the clumsy, lumbering manner in which his paws clutch and tug at the metal strings and leaving all “mistakes” and duff notes as part of the finished work. Occasionally the guitar-playing is either fed through a clunky antique reverb unit, or else recorded as though Roro were playing in a deserted chicken coop at four AM – there’s that strange feeling of “distance” that recording engineers try their best to eliminate, and in places this is like hearing a live bootleg of The Magic Band recorded through an old sock. Then there’s the hideous singing, which lurches wildly from nauseating groans to primitive animalistic grunts and strange obsessive repetitions of dumb phrases, much like the mutterings of a raving loon. In all, this is an endearing and very human attempt to bring “rock music” right back to its radical beginnings – assuming those beginnings are aligned, not with Elvis Presley, but with the earliest days of Neanderthal Man. I realise that most listeners will lose patience in about five seconds with these broken non-musical outbursts, but Roro doesn’t care – the insouciance is shown not just in his music here, but also in the titles, which taken together in translation amount to “So what…fuck off…who gives a shit…nothing”. How much more Punk Rock do you want? It’s not the first time that Perrot has picked up a guitar, but this is a great example of his unique craft, simultaneously reinventing and parodying rock music on his own terms.

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The album Love Song for Broken Buildings (QUIET WORLD FORTY THREE) in fact contains no songs, nor even any industrial-style noise sounds you might associate with wrecked buildings or demolition sites, but instead a suite of charming electronic instrumentals concocted by Kostoglotov, the alias of Daryl Worthington from London. Label boss Ian Holloway was impressed enough by Kostoglotov’s two previous releases to find a home for this one, and he praises the painterly qualities of the music (light and colour) while also situating it stylistically in a general Kosmische / Cluster / Sky Music milieu. It might be apt to imagine Kostoglotov wheeling his camera down a boulevard of derelict houses, and drinking in the visions of solitude and urban decay. There’s a human side to it also; certain tracks suggest that broken buildings are a sanctuary of sorts for him, a place he can retreat in search of solace or meditation, even inviting like-minded friends into the shared space. Personally I like the muscular qualities of the openers ‘Nervous Things’ and ‘Broken Buildings’, whose brevity (two minutes apiece) I would also commend; and the sub-bass throbs of ‘Cement’ have a brooding minimal inscrutability which I enjoy. But I’m afraid I found the rest of the work drifts off too easily into meandering, ambient drones, whose overall sound is just too familiar and user-friendly for my tastes, tuneful and pleasant though it be. From September 2013.

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Another fine piece of retro-prog played in the 1970s style on The Papermoon Sessions (SULATRON RECORDS st1303-2), where the Copenhagen trio Papir jam it up with Electric Moon, the German duo of Komet Lulu and Sula Bassana. For this 2012 session they produced just three tracks, two of which are lengthy star-struck freakouts worthy of their Hawkind and Grateful Dead antecedents, and Mogens Deenfort (from Mantric Muse, Øresund Space Collective and The Univerzals) with his synthesizers has brought additional electronic freakery to the echo-drenched party. ‘Farewell Mr. Space Echo’ is sixteen minutes’ worth of hard proof that the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma continues to hold more sway than the Book Of Kells across certain strains of unreconstructed European hippiedom. ‘The Circle’ is even longer in duration, but less effective somehow; wallowing around in vaguely jazz-tinged soloing for its first half, then sinking slowly into a miasma of one-chord pounding thereafter. The sound is just a shade too cluttered, but I suppose that’s a danger when you bring two long-hair bangle-wearing bands together in the room. Even so, all of these Sulatron releases are recommended if you already have a huge collection of 1970s prog and krautrock, and want to hear it re-expressed even more emphatically than the original creators of the genre could manage.

Hammer of the Gods

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Here’s another release featuring the great Jean-Marc Foussat, the Algerian synth player who I regard as one of the unsung heroes of free-noise-improv of Europe. Actually he’s here as one third of the trio Marteau Rouge, with the guitarist Jean-François Pauvros, another overlooked genius whose work I really must try and catch up on, based on his sullen and murky performances here. I see he made a couple of records in the 1970s – No Man’s Land with Gaby Bizier, and Phenix 14 with Siegfried Kessler, and in more recent years has “jammed” with some of the greats of Japanese guitar noise, including Haino and Kawabata Makoto. He may have been responsible for bringing the drummer Makoto Sato to the group, and he’s equipped with a healthy knowledge of free jazz licks. Foussat, as the world knows, wields a VCS III synth, and when his jackplugs and knobs are on the correct setting then few can match him for free-flying, unhinged sounds. Noir (GAFFER RECORDS GR035) is described the first release proper from Marteau Rouge, and was preceded by a live album they made for In Situ in 2009, where they were joined by Evan Parker. The present album, recorded in the studio, was made in 2004 but not released until 2012. (… Un Jour Se Lève, the 2002 CDR, surely preceded them both?). Sonically, this album most reminds me of Masayuki Takayanagi and his New Direction combo; Takayanagi was the guitarist held in awe by Otomo Yoshihide, and indeed by many others including a stunned Henry Kaiser. Marteau Rouge comes close to delivering the same degree of beyond-free deep underground murk, of the sort that Takayanagi wrestled with in his many recordings where he’s tackling a giant octopus beneath the sea. What I mean by this is that individual notes don’t really stand out, there isn’t much recognisable structure, and instead the layers of synth, guitar and drums just pile up and coagulate into a glorious, heaving ruin. Foussat adds plangency, melancholy, and the keening sound of Arabian horns from his synth; most of the propulsive energy is supplied by the tireless drummer, and the incredible Pauvros creates wonderfully abrasive textures, stabs, whines and painful groanings. Just great! Apparently other listeners regard Pauvros as quite a “violent” player, and I can sort of get that, but he’s also capable of sinking into a deep introspective sulk and howling like a Cyclops. I’ll admit the tunes are quite “slow to start”, and the trio generally start kicking heavy butt by the mid-section, and some listeners may lose patience with this. Not me. From August 2013.

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One of two items received from Romain Perrot in September 2013 is Les Escaliers de la Cave (DECIMATION SOCIALE / SKUM REX / NARCOLEPSIAHN), which he released under his Vomir cloak. An hour-long blast of abrasive abstract noise is preceded by a five-minute one on this CD. These two may be ‘Escalier 1’ and ‘Escalier 2’, though printed text on sleeve suggests there’s a third track ‘There’s a riot goin’ on’, which I somehow doubt is his tribute to the coked-up paranoid funk music of Sly Stone. Monstrous, unlistenable, Vomir’s work always reminds us of an avalanche, one that takes place in slow motion over a very long time, and where the rocks involved are dense, heavy, and very solid. One’s psyche emerges bruised and pummelled, assuming one even makes it out alive. Vomir sees the world as a perpetual slaughterhouse for our walking hunks of meat, and proposes that we savour the process of being transformed into viande hachée over the course of 60 insufferable minutes. Beautiful cover art by Jacques Noël; suggestive of illustrations from a 1920s fantasy novel.

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Large stack of great CDRs from the UK label Quiet World which arrived 17th September 2013. Argh…I am always too late with publishing reviews for these highly-limited pressings, which means by time you read about them, they are likely to be sold out at source. Here’s one great piece of UK experimentalism called Albion Geared (QUIET WORLD THIRTY-TWO) performed by B. Lone Engines, which are the twosome Spider and Ant Blone who come from Reading. The great thing about Spider is he really is a spider, so able to use all eight limbs to perform on musical instruments in ways that puny humans cannot achieve. Ant Blone may or may not be distantly related to one of the many colonies that thrive in the Reading area, and he’s the kind of guy who gets what he wants through formic acid attacks. They previously had a release on the Northampton CDR label Dark Meadow Recordings, and Ian Holloway picked up their “contract” after that label bit the dust in 2012. On this fine album, I was grabbed by the opening track with its spiky and discordant guitar clashes fighting a steely battle of some ilk, but apart from one other instance of it, this turns out to be somewhat uncharacteristic of the whole; their specialism is turning in long and cold tracts of bleak, formless abstraction dronery, the interminable wasteland occasionally punctuated with perfectly-judged details of mysterious brushwork and sculpture, such as a tree painted by Sidney Nolan. This pair have an occluded sense of darkness brewing inside their collective stomachs, and their brand of minimal krautrock-noir is bound to appeal to any night-dwelling creature such as the badger or owl.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 3 of 3

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Reuben Son gives us an unassuming brace of acoustic guitar pieces on Days Gone By (WAGTAIL RECORDS 003). That title is a very close match to Volume VI of the early works of John Fahey, and Reuben’s use of the plural term “guitar soli” links directly to another Takoma star, Robbie Basho, who used the exact same words on his album covers. This Boston musician also performs electronic music and does interesting sound manipulations, and anyone who’s a friend of Eli Keszler and Ashley Paul (the latter also designed the cover for this release) is welcome in this house. There’s a very honest and direct sound on these two recordings from 2010 and 2011, but I wish I could find more substance to them than the vague fuzzy-nostalgic charm that resides in the surface. The playing is slow, and feels hesitant. While there is some intimacy to the work, and even a little drama on side B, the abiding impression given by this music is sadly rather sketchy and aimless. Edition of 230 copies, from September 2012.

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The Santarcangelo (SPÈCULA 001) record is a split EP of sound art featuring Teho Teardo on one side and JG Thirlwell on the flip. I found it plays best at 33, though this is one of those releases which fails to print the necessary information anywhere on the cover or labels, a matter which is a source of continual irritation for me with seven-inches. Both works are linked by their exploration of a cavernous space in this historic Italian town, a space which Teardo describes as “a long hole under the town” and Thirlwell calls “a cavern tunnelled into the side of the mountain”. I was intrigued by this, and find that this interesting Italian city is in fact “built over a network of beautiful, mysterious caves” according to one tourist website, and “the entire Hill of Jupiter is criss-crossed by over a hundred tunnels.” To produce interesting sound-art in these resonant spaces was the challenge presented to the Italian Teardo and the Australian Thirlwell, both of which have been associated with noisy rock music, in the form of Meatball and Foetus. Teardo’s ‘Oh Hook’ ropes in the cello work of Martina Bertoni and the singing voice of Chiara Guidi; with them by his side, he strummed his baritone guitar in the grotto space to produce a testing work made of echoing strings, whose forlorn sounds will haunt you until judgement day. What’s impressive is that he spent a full three days in the grotto, and the sounds we hear are edited highlights from that self-confinement episode. Thirlwell’s ‘Ecclesiophobia’ has a lot more going on than the A side’s bleak minimalism, and in fact represents an extremely elaborate sound installation he performed there, involving water dripping on a bass drum in the caverns, a loudspeaker setup, and another external performance space where he manipulated his bell-like sounds mingled with field recordings of church bells. This piece – composed in Santarcangelo and later reprocessed at his Brooklyn studios – is extremely imaginative and immersive, conveying a sense of claustrophobia simply through the accretions of sound and remorseless loops. Both Thirlwell and Teardo get to and from the same place, more or less; it’s just that Teardo does it by bouncing exploratory string-plucked sounds off the walls to see what responses he gets in return. Conversely Thirlwell is imposing his own personal “fear of churches”, which is what the title translates to, implying that the caverns under the town were dungeons, the site of “nefarious operations”. I can’t imagine that Thirlwell has any sympathy whatsoever for the aims of the Catholic church, hence his use of church bell sounds is not just ironic – he actively turns them into threatening agents of destruction, fear, and terror. From August 2011.

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Another meeting of Japan’s finest screecher Junko and French guitarist Michel Henritzi is documented on Fear Of Music / Berlin With Love (L’ESPRIT DE L’ESCALIER LELE 01). These two studio recordings from 2012 aren’t so much prime examples of improvisation, but about combination of the sounds they make, Junko’s animalistic cries whimpering in a shrill high register, while the guitar occupies a mid-level range with semi-tuneful strums and riffs. Henritzi’s sound, to me, is always redolent of melancholy and decay; rarely more so than here, where his guitar has a terminal case of the mournful blues and makes a steady plaint against the sorrows of the world. Combined, the sound of the two players cuts directly into the heart of mankind, with an almost unbearable honesty.

Bonjour Tristesse

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Håkon Stene
Etude Begone Badum
GERMANY AHORNFELDER AH25 CD (2013)

Norwegian Percussionist Håkon Stene presents six lively yet politely unrestrained interpretations of contemporary composers’ works. Included are pieces by Americans Alvin Lucier, and Michael Pisarro, Vienna-based Marko Ciciliani, plus three much briefer vignettes by Norwegian Lars Petter Hagen. It is not stated who else performs what whereas it is made clear that Håkon Stene plays electric guitar on Ciciliani’s “Black Horizon”, amplified triangle on Lucier’s “Silver Street Car For The Orchestra”, and “rice on objects” on Pisarro’s “Ricefall (1)”.

Track one, Lars Petter Hagen’s “Study #1 In Self-Imposed Tristesse” – tristesse is a French word for “sadness” – the first of the three studies appearing on this album, is a good start to this disc. These three studies are so diaphanous as to be barely there. The second track, the Marko Ciciliani piece “Black Horizon”, utilises a recording of conversation; the questions “how did lunch go so far?” and “any good?” for example, are audible at the beginning. An interesting use of the banal. There’s more at fifteen minutes, although much quieter and possibly intended merely as a texture. Things take a shift for the crazy at 17 and a half minutes where it becomes like being trapped in a movie by Allessandro Jodorowsky – great if you’re in the mood for it but, somewhat like his movies, a bit disconcerting if you’re not. He is joined by Marko Ciciliani also on electric guitar on this piece. “Black Horizon” is one minute a chime-fest, the next scant rubbing and droning, possibly the results of manipulations with e-bows. Other techniques have been employed, certainly there are preparations aplenty and possibly non-standard tunings and extended technique. Music for the art gallery. They have achieved the feel of a late 60s synthesiser composition (reminiscent of Subotnik or Stockhausen?), only with the more restricted palette and brittle timbre of the guitar. It becomes percussive and faintly ridiculous after ten minutes; just the wrong side of the line where “freedom” becomes “messing about”? This feeling though, is shortlived – there is some nice crunchy textures after this and a pulsing of hum-fuzz that reminds me of a recurring dream I had as a child – or the sound of blood rushing in your ears – it then becomes as ghostly and ethereal as much as electronic music can and I think I can hear the influence of Haroon Mirza’s bleeping sound art here. It sounds a little like a second bridge has been inserted onto one or both of the guitars; guzheng-like, hammered delicately. An overdriven interruption of rising tone. Voices – American? – taken from a film? If these sounds are performed in real time without use of software of any kind – it is just credited as two guitar players – I must say I am very impressed with this recording and over a duration such as this (over twenty minutes), I’d be more likely to perceive this as an improvisation rather than a composition if I didn’t know differently – at least I’d expect a rigorous approach to the score to reflect the amount and type of preparation of the instruments if nothing else.

“Silver Street Car For The Orchestra”, as with a lot of Lucier’s work, is about what happens in a space when the space itself is activated, in this case by striking a triangle repeatedly. Fans of Sejiro Murayama’s sawing percussion style will be no stranger to this sort of thing. I saw Seijiro Murayama perform in Brighton a couple of years ago and he’s certainly got stamina. This piece is missing the vital visual component of actually being able to watch the piece being performed; in other words, someone actually wandering around a room banging on a triangle for just over eleven minutes. Looks easy – is not easy. The closing piece is “Rice Fall” by Michael Pisarro. I have heard a realisation of this by Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes and the Greg Stuart version on Gravity Wave. This is a more maximalist interpretation. In fact, is it possible that it is taking the score a little too literally? Stene’s version of “Rice Fall” is a veritable monsoon. If you are going to perform “Ricefall”, I suppose the fundamental characteristic is dependent on how much rice you can get your hands on. Håkon Stene must have gone to a good supplier because it sounds like he’s used enough rice to fill a dumper truck.

Austere packaging, a double-fold digipack with minimal text and no other visual information, although we are informed that the project is supported by Arts Council Norway and the Fund For Performing Artists. Would have been nice to see some evidence of the scores, but there is a nice big barcode on the sleeve to look at if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

Which Way Is Nowhere? (Part 2)

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Stephen Vitiello / Molly Berg
Between You and the Shapes You Take
USA 12K 12k1078 CD

Reflective, guitar-rooted atmospherics with an evident indifference towards definite statements, like a long stretch of fence wire singing sadly in the open country wind. The title and music suggest a threshold where form surrenders to a tentative state of being, while unnameable somethings fleet past in the hazy traces of dawn light.

Following on from the pair’s 2009 recording, The Gorilla Variations, Between You And The Shapes You Take was improvised in seemingly quiet surroundings by Vitiello (guitar and processing) and Berg (clarinet and vocals) – largely without prior discussion (the two have enough of a collaborative history to have a strong intuitive rapport) – then whittled and tweaked into these ten charming, melancholy miniatures. Along with maudlin mountain winds, twangs and picks, one catches snatches of radio noise, lilting sighs, organ, flutes and grainy oscillations, all of which elements are largely stripped of their defining features to conform with the music’s hazy wholeness. Instrumental contributions are delicate and minimal, occasionally punctuating the haze like small rocks jutting from the stream’s surface. It’s sometimes remote, sometimes warm in a Fennesz-y way, but ever shy of direct physical manifestation.

While each track offers sufficient variation from that previous, listeners who favour ‘event’ coverage are not advised to partake: your heavy hands will be thwarted by its illusiveness. Nor should it be played specifically for relaxation purposes, for Eno it ain’t. These pieces describe a dreamy netherworld lit by errant sparks from unearthed appliances and loosely defined by the stupor of forgotten selves ambling through the obtrusive undergrowth of one’s mental antipodes.

zoor

Zoor
Volumes a + b
FRANCE UMLAUT RECORDS UMFR-CD08 CD (2013)

Just shy of seventy minutes, these two hefty servings of smouldering tension from oceanic jazz trio Zoor simmer as softly as The Necks being kettled by Her Majesty’s finest, their low register guitar and sax drifting back and forth in a foamy wash of cymbals, the trio patiently developing and manipulating a mildly threatening attitude over the course of each 30-odd minute piece. Unlike The Necks however, there’s little in the way of melody or trajectory, and for all their hubble, bubble and toil, there’s not an awful lot of trouble resulting from these extended expressions, even though every second is loaded with potential energy: Bertrand Denzler’s sax broods in measured exhalations with soft, palpable power, and guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage’s soft, barbed wire shredding reminds us that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for, but its Antonin Gerbal’s tidal drumming that seem to be the magmatic driving force, tempered albeit by a modest lack of ostentation. While this album may not be the one to kick-start your party, it could well be the boon you’re after at the end of a tiring day.

Habrovink-mock-up-A

Slim Vic
Habrovink EP
SWEDEN LAMOUR LAMOURVIN001 VINYL 12″ (2013)

Two sizeable servings of slimmed-down ambient inaction: this spotless, white vinyl 12” – the extended parts one and two of an inaugural 3-track digital release for Swedish label, l’amour – consists of a freely-associative mural of woozy gestures more commonly found in the opening and closing of more expansive dance recordings. And what an appropriate opening statement it is: its propositional club space a womblike world of nascent audio experiences: slow and soft metallic grinds that fall in and out of sync; distant, muted thuds heard through a fleshy membrane in a semi-conscious haze before a 6AM stroll home in youthful sunlight. Assembled by Viktor Zeidner: one busy individual spreading himself thin as DJ, VJ, remixer, festival organiser and digital project manager, these two pieces are minimal in the extreme, and while not quite novel, do provide a genuinely soothing listening experience.

Crystal Gazing

Big French are an underground American rock band who play bizarre songs and their Downtown Runnin’ (WHARF CAT RECORDS 006) LP was sent to us from Brooklyn 23 July 2013. It’s mostly the work of Quentin Moore, who wrote the songs, sings them, and plays guitar, while the frantic tunes are filled out with some very fluid lead guitar lines perhaps played by Colin White, and some freaky synth blat from the fingers of Zach Phillips. Given the brevity of most of the songs – few last beyond two minutes – it’s much to their credit that the band members find room to express themselves at all, and mostly they do it by overplaying their lines against each other in exciting ways, and pile their colourful riffs on top of the effete and mannered vocalisings of Moore, who sings in quite a high range. A bit like hearing Russell Mael sing alongside Brian May’s guitar, yet the whole shebang is happening in the context of an album which, if released by SST in the 1980s, would now be regarded as a fine example of experimental rock-pop music. Sorry if I appear at all equivocal, because I kinda like this one; while Moore’s work is an acquired taste, it’s catchy; the more you listen, the more addictive do the songs become. It’s on vinyl, but I have a promo CD copy.

Another unusual item from Intangible Cat, an obscure Illinois label whose output I would never otherwise hear were it not for their frequent mailings and the power of the mailbox. Dog Hallucination is the duo of D. Petri and Doggy P. Lips, and when we heard their 2011 record Bob Hallucination we felt quite a buzz from its unpredictable zanery and cut-up pranks, even when this was mostly due to radical remix work and hackerment from cutting devices of said Bob, whom they specifically asked to reprocess their recorded work. Serving Two Masters (CAT-19) is completely different to that experiment, and comprises just six short tracks of unobtrusive yet exquisite guitar-based ambient music. I say “ambient”, but if that word triggers associations involving droney background synths, then check out the door right now, bubba! Dog Hallucination create gorgeous tapestries using strum and glide on guitars, processing them to the exact degree that gives them that underwater, misty-morning, gauzy distance that they’re looking for. In the process, they are extremely careful not to lose definition of the overall image, and the sounds of the chiming strings ring clear and true even at low volume. By the time we get to fourth untitled track, it’s clear that this subtle strategy is paying off, and allows them to create a passable (and highly compressed) impersonation of Popol Vuh. They tell me this EP is just the prelude to an entire album on these lines, to be called Mitzi, which was due in later Summer of 2013 and which we look forward to hearing. The enigmatic and elaborate package includes inserts and “fabric dyed with beet leaves and stems & pressed sage leaf from D. Petri’s garden”. From 09 July 2013.

Jonas Gruska is a sound artist from Czechoslovakia who studied composition in Poland and The Netherlands, and whose main work as Binmatu involves computers and electronic music. There’s a visual side to his work too, hence the multi-media release Crystylys (KVITNU 28), a pressing which includes video files alongside the audio content – what’s more the same musical content is served up in multiple formats, including WAV and MP3. My computer isn’t sure where to navigate next, and as a human being I’m not faring too well either. On one level, it seems Binmatu is all about the process – he exhibits an interest in “complex air pressure modulations” and enjoys the “brain-twisting modulations of oscillators”, effects which are matched to some degree in the computer-art abstract visuals he generates in the movie files. Yet on another level, Binmatu intends to pass on a “greater spiritual theory”, using “sound as an intimate power” and performing a “holy purpose”. He regards himself as a “priest of sound”, which is quite an ambitious statement. He wouldn’t be the first to have made claims for the spiritual dimensions to be found in minimal droney music – Terry Riley and Charlemagne Palestine spring to mind – and it’s a commonplace now among many writers to ruminate on the connections between trance states, prayer, and repetitive, monotonous sounds. Gruska’s mysterious drones are pleasant enough, but unfortunately I find he’s unable to sublimate his processes in any meaningful way. I feel he’s got a long way to go before he achieves the transcendence and depth he’s aiming at, but maybe I need to devote more time to exploring these works. From 22 July 2013.