Tagged: improvised

Tales of the Riverbank

Another very good fine art record from the German Corvo Records label. Corvo may not flood the market with dozens of releases in the style of the all-conquering Editions Mego, but everything touched by the hands of Wendelin Büchler is always immaculately presented and a well-considered and curated item, so that the listener is guaranteed a condensed slice of high-octane art (both music and visuals) in the manner of a good slice of roast beef. In the case of waterkil (CORE 004), a record concocted by the duo of Axel Dörner and Jassem Hindi, said roast beef may at first appear so transparent and wispy such that you wonder how the chef ever managed to carve the meat so thinly, but just the same it’s packed with solid nutriments. Yes, it’s another “quiet” record, the product of a situation where one of the performers Axel Dörner has spent many years refining and reducing his trumpet playing method in pursuit of an ever-more minimalist goal. It seems to me like only yesterday I was being floored by the audacity of Durch Und Durch, a single 40-minute improvisation of breathy and abstracted trumpet tones he recorded with Tony Buck – but that was ten years ago. On this record, which was recorded half at EMS at Stockholm and half in an art gallery in Berlin, we see Axel Dörner V2.0 at work – he’s now equipped his instrument with small microphones, a mixing desk, and a special interface designed according to his wishes and desires. With this very electro-acoustic mode of setup, he’s able to bring in feedback and live sampling of his own trumpet playing – which is to say nothing of his ultra-refined playing technique, which allows him to wring uncanny snake-like tones and hisses from the bell of his trumpet. With the exception of some recognisably trumpet-like parps I can remember hearing, his playing on waterkil is mostly about extremely abstracted and minimalist sound art; I can tell you’re already shocked by the rigour of his stern, unforgiving approach.

However Jassem Hindi leavens the equation somewhat, adding a requisite dose of who-knows-what to these recordings…I don’t say this lightly folks, as this Saudi-born fellow who studied at the Sorbonne has made a studied attempt on his own behalf to make sure he falls between the cracks of the pigeon-holes. He may have worked with samples of other music, he may have created installations in art galleries, and he may have worked with experimental dance troupes…all this is admitted…but he states, quite insistently, that he is not a musician, visual artist, or a dancer. On his performing table we may see contact mics, tapes, assorted broken objects, and machines that are being diverted for the purposes of sound art. He also carries non-artistic field recordings around in his pockets, by which we understand that they are not “aesthetic” field recordings inviting us to savour the joys of a waterfall or a night-scene in Africa, but are instead badly recorded and distorted views of incredibly banal domestic scenes, like families closing the kitchen door, or something. This approach I like; it’s already starting to make Chris Watson and his imitators look like old-fashioned landscape painters. Hindi steers all of these diverse sound sources through the ever-present mixing desk, and when these gobbly nubbets of his are performed together with whatever Axel Dörner is doing, the results have made it onto these two sides of clear-pressed vinyl in an unedited suite of perplexing art music. They’ve been working as a duo since 2008, even if they don’t have many published recordings to show for it. This may even end up as their definitive statement.

It’s suggested that we listen to waterkil as a series of “audible snapshots of a river course”; even a particular river, the Moldau, is proposed for such an exercise. We’re aided in this idea by the superb cover artworks, heavy pencil drawings by the artist Matthias Reinhold. The sleeve itself is triple-gatefold, beautifully printed on both sides of white card, has a die-cut hole in one panel, and given the size of the LP edition the sleeve has every right to be regarded as an art print. I like the interior side with its idiosyncratic little shapes placed judiciously on a white field (it comes close to illustrating the music we hear). But note how the front cover represents a river, possibly, lurking behind a thick growth of brambles and reeds. I like this river-course notion, but waterkil is a largely static piece of music; or to put it another way, its forward movement is very halting and constantly interrupted. No sooner has the river voyage started than Dörner and Hindi decide they’ve found a leak in the canoe, and we have to pause for ten minutes while they think what to do about it. Or they simply pause with no explanation given, and go and stand on the riverbank looking profound and lost. There are a few aural moments of real drama on the record, where the combination of sounds makes for highly effective listening, but for some reason the duo don’t care to sustain that mood, and abruptly break off into mysterious silence (a silence punctuated by odd hisses and creaks). However, we’ve got to admire the boldness of this statement, one which shows how Dörner is pushing his work away from the confines of the “improvised” and into a more thrilling zone of collaborative, electro-acoustic / experimental sound art. Hindi, meanwhile, continues to fall through the cracks. Received in 2012.

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

A Horse with No Name

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On Asto Ilunno (IDEALSTATE RECORDINGS ISR1-13) we’ve got a single piece of improvised sound art which lasts some thirty teeth-grinding minutes, delivered by the capable mitts and shovels and Miguel A García, Tomas Gris and Lee Noyes, the latter of whom released the item on his own idealstate recordings label in Goteborg. I’m always drawn to anything where my favourite abrasive Spaniard García is involved, but Noyes is a new name to me, so I looked up his dossier. This Canadian-born fellow has spent a chunk of time in New Zealand before moving his base of operations to Sweden, and he’s a firm believer in the collaborative and co-operative ideals of improvisation, priding himself on his listening and communication skills, while exploring the sound potential of percussion, feedback, and the piano, which is what he plays here. Asto Illuno is one of those exploratory improvisations that seems to take a long time to get started – there are some eight minutes of barely-audible fizz and rattle before the players feel comfortable enough to commit themselves to anything more than stalking around each other like lions in a cage – but thereafter it’s a topnotch example of hypnotic, distilled free noise operating in a carefully-controlled, almost rigid environment. García belches out polite chunks of crackle from his electronics set up, Gris performs peculiar and nameless actions on his table of objects, while Noyes punctuates the floating atmosphere with well-judged blocks of minimal chords struck from his dampened keyboard. Indeed it’s Noyes’ piano trills and stabs which stand out for me on this record, occupying their space in the ether with a clarity and starkness that’s akin to the voice of a tall Presbyterian preacher delivering a sermon from the pulpit in stern and clipped tones. I never thought I’d hear anyone defeat the mighty García in an improv standoff, but Noyes succeeds here in putting all that undisciplined scrabbling and doodling in its place with just a few seconds of his coldly ethical piano work, damping down the Spanish fire with his jets of ice water. In all, a near-ceremonial trance experience emanates from this steely and grim session, an impression which is bolstered by the bizarre shrine drawing on the front cover decorated with skulls, zombie heads, snakes, and quasi-Masonic symbols. This was provided by our good friend Nick Hoffman of Pilgrim Talk. A real grower…from 10 October 2013.

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Linear Obsessional Recordings continues to produce CDRs of improv music produced in England which are quite often very extreme and testing in terms of their sound, and exist in very small editions with hand-made packaging. The three-track EP by The Horse Trio, Pesade to the Left (LOR039H), is in an edition of just 30 copies. Here the label boss Richard Sanderson plays his melodeon (a squeezebox related to the accordion family) with Hutch Demouilpied and Sue Lynch, for three decidedly modest workouts, all of them rather quiet and unobtrusive. I think I’m getting this impression mostly from the sound of this short album, which is very flat and dry, allowing for little in the way of natural resonance. Even the tiny photo of the trio inserted in my copy makes them appear somehow cramped, their music painted into a muffled corner, as though they were trying to defend the ideals of improvised music in a tiny school gym while the rest of the world has become one gigantic amphitheatre for manufactured pop bands. I assume this is a deliberate strategy and they’re aiming to present their work in as natural and untreated a light as possible, but it may be they’ve gone one step too far down the route of all-out honesty. However, the sustained tones of brass / woodwinds / melodeon do indeed work together in a most pleasing manner, guaranteeing a pleasant 20 minutes with no wild outbursts. One of the pieces, ‘Piaffe’, is their interpretation of a graphical score composed by Carl Bergstrom-Nielson, so presumably the other two are all-improvised. Trumpeter / flautist Hutch Demouilpied is a composer, songwriter, and sound artist from London, and a lot of her work has appeared as soundtracks for small independent films. Saxophonist Sue Lynch may be familiar to some as a member of The Remote Viewers with Adrian Northover, but she’s also worked a lot with Caroline Kraabel and has a pedigree in improv / free playing that goes back to 1983, when she was a member of the agitprop big band The Happy End, the jazz-song troupe who worked hard to oppose Thatcherism. The Horse Trio probably take their name from the Horse Music Improvised Club, which at time of writing meets up every month in a pub on Kennington Road in South London. There’s certainly nothing particularly “horsey” about their music, which is more like being transported on a slow canal barge to Richmond than riding a black stallion over Hampstead Heath. From 21 October 2013.

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.

Lana For Sale

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Tune in to Lana Trio for a taste of hot and lively free jazz played in the Norwegian style by said trio on their self-titled album (VA FONGOOL VAFCD008). You recall of course that trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø was mentioned on the duty roster just recently as one third of As Deafness Increases, whose album was by coincidence released on same label – he’s playing a far less abstract mode of brassy mublement on this outing and where possible giving human / animal voice to that ungainly lump of metal with its obscene sliding component, thus joining the ranks of thousands of jazz players who transform trumpet, trombone or tuba into extension of their conversational language. Nørstebø’s parps and slobbers are pretty upfront on most cuts – so far, so engaging.

However secret weapon of this trio for me is Kjetil Jerve, the pianist, who’s clearly made such a close study of Cecil Taylor’s work that he practically breathes the DNA of that Afro-American titan through his own Nordic fingertips. You’d do the same if you took a copy of Indent between the sheets every night for your bedtime reading. Said Jerve is more knife than pianist; he weaves intricate and deft patterns in seemingly indefatigable style, his digital muscles never tiring for an instant, and while I’d be first in line at the record shop the day his solo piano album hits the racks, for time being I’ll make do with the second track here which showcases a complex thread of intelligent keyboard tickling that’s so intense that all Nørstebø can do is moan gently in appreciation. There’s also ingenious dynamics at play on track four ‘03.07’, where Jerve inserts short trills, runs and atonal fugues into a taut, wiry framework, with the skill of a vendetta-seeking Italian wielding his stiletto. I’m not enough of a musicologist to know, but I think Jerve is cunningly deconstructing chords according to his own rules, then drip-feeding the information back to us in reordered fragments.

Other standouts: track 5, ‘06:39’, which is more about atonal noise than free jazz and allows the players to get some serious improvised groaning out of their systems. Ditto Track 6, ‘04:16’, which strays into “prepared piano” territory by way of Keith Tippett’s experiments using jangly things inserted under the piano lid. Oh, and we mustn’t overlook the drummer Andreas Wildhagen, who is also well-schooled in the Andrew Cyrille / Sunny Murray mould with his free-ranging and agitated pulsations. Like their label-mates As Deafness Increases, Lana Trio have oodles of rapport and simpatico ESP as a group, enabling fruitful sessions. Extra bonus: note brevity of tracks which rein in excess of the type associated with BYG Actuel records, yet does not sacrifice on the high energy front. All round high scoring item. From September 2013.

Depths and Heights

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Very fine item (DEPTH SOUND RECORDINGS ADSR005) by Antidröm which arrived 2nd September 2013. This is the work of UK creator Tim Bayley who produces it all using a blend of second-hand and home-made equipment, which I assume is mostly old analogue synths and drum machines; at any rate, he stresses a hands-on approach to making music, and his avowed plan is to avoid any computer-generated sound sources. Good for him, I say! Net result, a very varied album of original tunes (yes, many strong melodies here) and creepy atmospheres emerging from the swirly synth whirlpools. Brevity is a keynote, he has made a friend of the editing scissors, and none of these instrumentals ever outstay their welcome. Not every single one of his fourteen experiments here is an unqualified success; some of them feel a little sketchy and half-made-up; but he is trying to do something different on each track, and when he gets the combination of elements just right, the results pay large dividends. ‘Rashomon’ is one personal favourite, but there’s much to admire overall. For instance, the way he avoids meaningless drone in favour of syncopation and strange, quirky rhythms, inserting his twisted half-phrases into the musical continuum in ways that are slippery and unexpected. He also steers away from aural clichés, not least because of the self-imposed ban on the laptop and the digital soundfile, and while some of his sounds may appear ungainly and lumpy, they are his own original creations, and that raw primitivism is a big part of the appeal. True, the use of spoken word / voice samples (on ‘Fear’ and ‘Holy Mountain’) might seem a little over-familiar, but these are minor glitches. Although there is an avowedly dark tint to the album, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole it as “cold wave”, “dark ambient”, or any one of these stupid post-Industrial labels. There’s also the excellent artworks, which are monoprints produced by the American visual creator Grady Gordon, and generated using an advanced form of the Rorschach inkblot which is then transformed, Giger-like, into explorations of twisted heads and strange black skeletal forms. Bayley declares his music is intended to “match the aesthetic of the artwork”, so we have an uncommon case of music and sleeve art working in tandem.

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On Green Heights (BASKARU KARU:26), we have a trio of Japanese greats producing a rather strange form of synthetic art music, one that resembles healthy chunks of slimy seaweed served up in a thin vegetable stock, to be consumed by the hungry diner out of perspex octagonal bowls, while futuristic monorails pass by overhead. The lovely Ken Ikeda is here generating gorgeously musical major-key drones with his DX7 synth and his SD404 string decoder, which I assumed was a groovy piece of expensive equipment but which turns out to be a very primitive home-made instrument made from rubber bands and nails. Tomoyoshi Date’s name is new to me, though his 2008 album Human Being for Flyrec looks like an interesting investigation into the interstices between suburban and natural environments, and he brings his toy piano, organ, vibraphone and piano to the picnic, along with some field recordings. The layers of this kelp sandwich are held together by the intense but nearly-invisible jets of feedback which steam from the no-input mixing board of Toshimaru Nakamura. These five variations on the ‘Balcony’ title are all highly enjoyable, verging on the tuneful without ever breaking into a structured melody, and there’s never an unexpected or alarming sound to disrupt the tranquil mood. Maybe a little too tranquil; some of this music, especially the first three tracks, verges on the cloying for me with its saccharine combinations of pleasing tones and faux-naif, dumbed-down playing, particularly from the toy piano of Tomoyoshi Date. However, tracks four and five serve up a bit more in the way of intrigue and mesmerising sound art. ‘Balcony III [gamma]’ contains a long, puzzling stretch of noise which we could interpret as a ghostly walk through a factory, where the mechanical movements have been transformed into harmless, child-like variations. I assume it’s the added layer of field recording here which makes it sound less claustrophobic than the artificial glass bubble of tracks 1-3. ‘Balcony III [delta]’ satisfies this listener on some deeper level because Toshimaru is apparently being allowed more space to do his muscular abstractoid thang, and for a good chunk of its ten minutes this track invites us to discover the aesthetic delights of passing a hoover over the surface of the moon. Things go slightly awry in this lunar domestic scenario when the vacuum-cleaner short-circuits, and agitation lets fly. Despite some moments where we descend into rather tasteful ambient cliché, this track is the winner for me. From 5th September 2013.

The Deaf That Hath Ears

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Gabriel Saloman might be better known to you as GMS, one half of the estimable Yellow Swans with Pete Swanson. Since that band’s demise and Swanson utilising his production and mastering skills to become the Trevor Horn of the underground noise world, the Vancouver musician Gabriel has been pursuing his solo career with releases like Soldier’s Requiem (MIACD026) which is released on the Norwegian label Miasmah Recordings. An assured and confident statement of abject gloom, it starts out very boldly with the lengthy and interminable ‘Mine Field’, a tune which sets the tone of deep melancholy and slow-motion despair, with its aching piano chords, layers of plangent violin tones, and carefully-placed discordant ambient murk rumbling menacingly in the background. As mine fields go, this resembles a long slow tracking motion by a 16mm movie camera passing over Passchendaele by the time the engines of war have finished carving deep ruts in the surface of the earth. This “military” theme continues with ‘Boots on the Ground’, where a long dreary march through mud is conveyed by the rainfall sound effects and the deeply miserable guitar solo murmuring its plaint into a reverb chamber. If Saloman ever played a duet with Michel Henritzi, I expect their combined efforts would have a profound effect on the world’s weather systems, and it would never stop raining. ‘Cold Haunt’, the album’s closing track, builds up to a dramatic symphonic finish of sorts, the mixed minor keys and layers of stringed instruments producing emotive sensations that are almost too painful to endure. The cover art confirms the musical anti-war themes, not least with its skull-headed violin player reminding us of the fragility of human flesh, but also with its suffused monochrome tones which exactly match the pitch of this musical statement. Superfluous to add this beautiful record sounds like no Yellow Swans record I ever heard, and perhaps Saloman’s introverted and sensitive side was being stifled in among all the abrasive and distorted guitar-rock rhythms. From 26 September 2013.

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More items from the Norwegian label Van Fongool which arrived 27 September 2013. The trio As Deafness Increases have made a very impressive piece of focused, poised, quiet improvised music for their eponymous album (VAFCD007). The bassist Inga Margrete Aas, the guitarist Rudolf Terland Bjørnerem and the trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø manage to lock together perfectly as musicians, although as an alternative to “locking” perhaps a more apposite verb might be one that describes the actions of live sponges curling around each other in a ritual undersea dance which we’ll never see, and which amazes the local seahorses and other marine life. To begin with the players are not afraid to make sounds that we can hear, which is always a good start. While I hate to use this clichéd thinking about the role of the bass in a trio, the bass of Aas does indeed create the “skeleton” around which the others can wrap their fleshy blobs, and she achieves this by leaving large, intuitive gaps in her playing, suggesting twice as much volume by the use of silent space. I’m full of sculpting metaphors today; Inga Margrete Aas creates the armature. Nørstebø is good with the abstracted breathy rasps, generating the hoped-for sensations of mysterious snakes at work on the marble floor, but when he strikes a recognisable note he blasts forth with the chilly passion of a distant ship’s horn on a cold foggy night. Lastly we have the very versatile Bjørnerem whose “electro-acoustic guitar” contributes tuneful droney strum effects as well as the spiky forlorn notes that stab the air like the tongues of spiteful insects. I suppose the 20-minute ‘Svalbard’ is the shiniest example of their subtle craft, a slow and inscrutable piece which showcases a wide range of their effects, but also one which grows and shifts in a wholly natural fashion, coming close to creating a satisfying thought-through statement in music and almost restoring our faith in the power of free improvisation. But the other cuts have much to recommend them, such as the growly low-frequency rumblings of ‘Adib’, and the poignant clashes of long tones on ‘Adic’, one which prog fans might easily mistake as a lost improvised set between Fripp, Wetton, and David Cross in 1973. I like the first half of ‘Adia’ too, which is dominated by a gorgeous episode of “riffing” from Bjørnerem until it changes tack midway through, meandering down a lonely and distant corridor into ethereal nothingness. I see the bassist is now signed to ECM Records as one half of Vilde&Inga, while Bjørnerem has one album out on Editions Wandelweiser. Very good.

Hammer of the Gods

Gaffer 33t:Mise en page 1

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.

Buried Secrets

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Peripheral
FRATTONOVE fratto023 CD (2013)

According its creators, the Italian improvising trio Airchamber3, this record was conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary film. It is a fitting description for such viscous, textured music. The group’s creative process – improvising on various acoustic and electronic instruments augmented by comprehensive processing and editing – results in a set of layered and textured pieces that are somewhere between free improvisation, post-rock and an unheimlich ambient sound.

‘Dopamine Yuppie Dub’ is a great example of this approach in action. A burst of static ushers in a stealthily paced bass line. It’s gradually enveloped in layers of guitar, resonating and dampened, plucked strings and squalling chords. Squalling tones pile sound upon sound. Each instrument, loop or noise seems to exist in its own world yet is also part of the whole. Just as we’re getting into the post-rock vibe, a dark burst of noise covers everything, like a thunderstorm appearing out of nowhere on a summer’s day.

Unease continues on ‘The Buried Secret Inside My Ventricles’, Andrea Serrapiglio’s cello sawing ominously on a bed of queasy drones as brother Luca picks out equally disconcerting phrases on the bass clarinet. It’s all unresolved tension, a creeping shadow that vanishes as soon as you turn around.

Yet that’s just a dress rehearsal compared to the sheer daemonic horror of ‘Recollecting Pieces of Treasured Memories’. It’s a piece that resembles a nightmarishly time-stretched ballad, thanks to a fantastically eldritch vocal contribution from Vincenzo Vasi. His gothick declamations are a canticle of dread, bringing to mind Jocelyn Pook’s terrifying Masked Ball, deployed to such disturbing effect in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Fortunately for my sanity, it’s not all trippy darkness. ‘Tunnel Vision’ offers up a collage of guitar mayhem and Scanner-style found sound snatches. ‘Crippling Approach Anxiety’s naggingly insistent clockwork groove is a jerky marvel, nicely complemented by wriggling electronics and tin tack guitar.

There are more vocals on ‘A Body Is A Map Of Bruises’, this time a jazzy croon from Barbara De Dominicis. Over fuzzy clouds of digital mush, reedy moans and cello exotica she casts a haunting, nostalgic presence, her voice drifting in and out of audibility as if being conjured from the digital aether. It’s ghostly, melancholic, and full of pathos.

Peripheral is enigmatic and liquid sound. Not a set for listeners keen for jazzy display of virtuosity, the playing pared down and rarely strays from minimal phrases, augmented with noise and samples, building blocks for the trio’s musical welding. Yet it is an evocative wonder, a slow-motion carousel of sounds and images, a dream in which you are only half-awake.

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.