Tagged: installations

Living with Acousmatics

Nicolas Wiese is a German all-rounder artist based in Berlin – responsible for some dense and fascinating audio-visual installations, samples of which play on his ultra-cool website in a highly seductive manner. He’s also strong on graphic design and drawing, and his work has manifested itself in the form of collages, radio art, drawings, and film. And he’s an electro-acoustic composer to boot, and some examples of his compositions are now available on the LP Living Theory Without Anecdotes (CORVO RECORDS CORE 005), a high-quality object presented in a nice window-cut cover designed by Wendelin Buchler with typography by Wiese and an unexplained image of some lilies. The album contains four acousmatic (which is the term composers use when they intend the music to be used exclusively for playback over speakers) works dated 2009-2011. One of them is a collaboration with Rom Rojo Poller, another uses samples provided by Thorsten Soltau 1. I think at least two of the others recycle older existing compositions by Wiese himself. Most of them are composed out of samples, and he uses a good deal of processing and reprocessing to arrive at the finished product. There’s a concern with layering, with structural depth, and in some cases with creating a very immersive environment, with detailed sound samples arranged in near-architectural forms, creating aural illusions of depth and space, intended to surround and envelop the listener.

Wiese certainly creates a unique and effective sound. To those listeners familiar with contemporary electronic and electro-acoustic music – especially that produced by digital means – the record may superficially appear quite familiar at first, but this impression will last about five seconds. After you let these four suites draw you in, they will wrap you up in polythene like a pupae in a cocoon and then boot you out of the whitewashed doors of the art gallery, after which you’ll be a changed person…there’s an air of abiding unreality, of unnatural sounds that have little or no direct correspondence to real life, even when they may have been derived from string samples and recording sessions where acoustic instruments (zither and cello, for instance) were involved. The very title “without anecdotes” confirms Wiese’s indifference to “narrative” forms in art, and his dedication to utter abstraction. It’s not unlike being invited to make your camp for two weeks inside a Mark Rothko painting, with no outside communication allowed. I don’t mean to make it sound unpleasant though, because this record’s slow-moving and elegant forms do exude a strange non-musical charm. Above all there’s that almost oppressive sense of enclosure, imaginary walls hemming you in. At times I have the impression of great precision combined with an equally great vagueness…these thoughts arise as I consider Wiese’s working methods…as though he were able to draw a very accurate map of a topography that is impossible to chart, has no limits, and doesn’t even exist. No wonder I feel lost after only a few moments wandering in these brittle soundscapes.

As I consider the term “precision”, I’m then drawn back to think about the work of John Wall, our favourite UK composer who for a long time has worked exclusively with samples. For years he has been riveting his sounds to our skulls using his hard-edged digital editing techniques, following a trajectory that was bound ever deeper into the minimal realms. His work is nothing like Wiese’s though. It might be instructive, for both parties, if we could begin to understand why that is. From 15 July 2013.

  1. Thorsten made one half of a picture disc for this label called Grün Wie Milch in 2011, noted here.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 3 of 3


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.


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.


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.

Ghosts in the Glitch


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Installation


Various / Curated by Francisco López
A Tasty Swarm Of Small Signals

The mathematical structure of this toothsome flock of diminutive electronic compositions is 7 (sound artists) x 13 (tracks) x 2 (minutes), amounting to 3 hours of sound art miniatures best enjoyed through ‘good speakers’ or headphones. Compiler, Francisco López answered the call of the Puertas de Castilla Cultural Centre in Barcelona, which houses the ‘Experimental Music Sound Archive’, consisting of his own vast accumulation of years’ worth of tapes, records and CDs; the goal being to promote experimental sound art more widely. It’s a noble enough cause, and ratified by a number of illustrious participants such as Lawrence English, Asmus Tietchens, Zbigniew Karkowski and notable others. Ordinarily, the nebulous designation of ‘sound art’ designates nothing to my ears so much as cold art galleries and audio wallpaper, but I’m pleased to find that the contents of this DVD – while unlikely to rank among any of the artists’ most staggering achievements – provide a solid listen from start to finish.

Expectations thrown swiftly into abeyance, work begins with the work of James Webb (hitherto unknown to me). His thirteen pieces proceed in a decidedly non-linear manner, from electro-crackling darkness to surveys of sub-oceanic pressure, and much in between. It’s like looking at a white wall, arrayed upon which one finds a cross-section of lesser-known Expressionist miniatures, which are pleasing enough to the eye, if minor in stature. Louis Dufort (also unknown to me) reprises Webb’s eclectic aural splatter approach, except with larger canvases, which are plastered with frenetic activity: sound bounces between expansive electroacoustic, organ drone and mildly abrasive noise. It’s largely stimulating, though once again, the abrupt transitions are both jarring and annoying reminder of the small servings being served.

Lawrence English delivers a baker’s dozen entitled ‘Densities in Air’, offering a more streamlined set of aural experiences, subtly penetrating: like a dentist’s drill to the eardrum. Sounds like there are a lot of natural locational recordings processed to sound more alien. Francisco López notches things up a few Hz, with near-visible aural settings that include trains grinding to a halt at space station and an filtered assortment of industrial warehouse ambiences. Nothing groundbreaking, granted (which would be out of place here), but warm, womblike throbs and gradual textural refinement should eventually bring relief to any headphone-equipped listener. Alan Courtis serves up similarly sinister scenery consisting of black sandpaper walls, skittering insectoid mechanics and hints of flickering, low (and uncomfortably high) frequency radio signals. If you lack a wide-open listening space, this might just be of help to you.

From agitated granules, Tietchens’s ‘Vektors’ snowball (or pearl) into and from earshot and distance, the resulting moments of near-silence resulting in some of the only seamless continuity on offer here; over time the atmosphere acquires the torrential texture of an underwater sandstorm: abrasive, but in a pleasantly exfoliating way. I was about to recommend close listening through headphones, but then some kind of extra-terrestrial insect invaded my ear canal. Also unconcerned with guest’s etiquette, Zbigniew Karkowski (alas, one of our more recent musical losses) zaps ostentatiously into last place with his 13 ‘Polyphases’, which range from thought-drowning lazer-fests, to trance-inducing, deep-core drilling. While Karkowski plays with a single theme, his sonic range is perhaps the greatest, and quite perceivable is his subtle frequency modulation, and near-sentient metallic shape shifting.

Track by track, there’s not a dull moment here, and while possibilities are inevitably limited (unlikely the artists sweated blood to produce this material), you get plenty for your money. With the proper sound system (which I lack), rewards will be much richer I daresay. That said, while the flaws barely require explanation, I’ll proceed anyway: the chief inconvenience with the format is evident from the outset: sound snippets too teasing at two minutes and stopping too suddenly. Ordinarily, this would mean structural development is inhibited by such a characteristic, but the brief duration is a congenital consideration, and the brief lifespan of each piece ensures that each is its own audio microenvironment. At the same time, it strikes me as odd that the effort has gone into compiling so curiously bodied a specimen as this, but perhaps Mr López (and assuming it was his say-so) fancied trying something a little more unusual (and affordable) than a more conventional multi-CD set. Perhaps it is simply intended, as stated, as ‘the beginning of a number of future projects’; the present document amounting to a sampler or a CV that will in turn lead to more substantial work. In any event, if you fancy turning your regular listening space into an installation space, then the portable (and reliable) means can now be yours for a nominal fee.


The Towering Inferno

From Eli Keszler we have the wonderful Catching Net (PAN 32), shaping up to be an exceptionally powerful set…I received the release as two unmarked CDRs in a plain white sleeve so shoved one into nearby slot in hopes of result…this is how I began by playing the second disc first and received the almighty shock of hearing ‘Catching Net’, where Keszler combines one of his installations with chamber music, viz. a string quartet and piano. We have encountered his installation work previously for example on the impressive Oxtirn LP which was reissued by ESP-Disk in 2010. For some reason I misapprehended these installations as being a little more complex than they actually are, when it seems the main component is piano wires, strung about the performance space in such wise as to cause strong and extremely resonant vibrations. Paul Panhuysen would be proud. It seems the composer was aiming for a certain timeless quality in opting to use piano strings, “sounds that won’t get dated in any way”. I also learn that while he’s had training in music, his visual art / sculptural skills are all hard-won on his own terms…in other words he’s an auto-didact in that area…which may account for his bold gestures and risk-taking. This ‘Catching Net’ piece alone ought to justify instant purchase of the release by Xenakis fans…using all-acoustic methods, a monument in sound is erected, its creaks and groans reaching up to the stars with solid staircases of iron…his compositional method does involve some form of notation, but a stopwatch is used to determine the tempo, rather than conventional marks on a stave…this may be because machinery and motors are used to scrape, judder and hammer the strings…imagine a large-scale version of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano, only stripped bare and removed from its wooden coffin, and the hammering action taking place in a form of grisly, deathly slow-motion performed by inhuman robot arms.

The triumph of ‘Catching Net’ has been to combine the mechanisms of the installation with the violins, viola, cello and piano, melding classical chamber music with abstract metallic sound art to produce astonishing, astringent effects that your body cannot ignore, in a face-to-face exemplar of raw and physical art-music. To hear the installation by itself, we click on to next track ‘Cold Pin’ which offers further monstrous scrapperings of doomulated grind for 13 minutes. It is here specifically that the motorised components come into play on a version of the installation that was attached to a large curved wall in a huge dome in Boston called the Cyclorama 1. Once again the axis of art-music-architecture is too clear to ignore and the Xenakis comparison is not far from the mark. Also on disc two we have ‘Collecting Basin’ which was executed by stringing up a large water tower and using two empty basins 2 as “amplifiers” or echo units. Astute avant-music fans may recall to mind Eric Lanzillotta’s Water Tower record 3, but also the echo experiments of Yoshi Wada when he used an empty swimming pool to act as a natural echo amphitheatre for his resonant chanting voice 4. It’s probably fair to see Keszler in the tradition of the old school of American conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s, who really thought big…transforming entire landscapes, taking over buildings, creating huge blocky steel sculptures in enormous New York lofts, pushing them out into public spaces…5 this ‘Collecting Basin’ induces dizzying vertigo as we listen to its terrifying grunts and sighs, like some gigantic breathing ogre in its cave, the very sound invoking the awesome scale of the acoustic space.

Disc One gathers three performances called ‘Cold Pin’ 1-3, and are records of Eli’s “band” performing heavily percussive and metallic noise. The three performances were recorded in significantly different acoustic spaces, which is most noticeable on the third very echoey track. In the band are Ashley Paul on alto sax and bass harp, Geoff Mullen on guitar, Greg Kelley on trumpet and Reuben Son on bassoon, with Keszler rattling his tireless arms across an array that includes drums, percussion instruments, crotales, and another guitar. Two of these cuts have already been released by the PAN label. ‘Cold Pin 1′ is intense and heavy – the improvising elements barely allowed to get a word in edgewise among the throbbing steel blasts and near-continuous resonating effects. On ‘Cold Pin 2′ the other players are more audible and the performance succeeds as a very radical form of group improvisation, where every second is packed with dense, detailed musical information. This music seems to be unfolding and generating itself, rather than played by people in real time; the collaborators are like radio receivers for these streams of information from unknown dimensions. On ‘Cold Pin 3′, it’s a little unclear whether the same five-piece is featured; the notes refer to a “mixed sextet and piano quintet”, and on early spins I’m not yet able to perceive any pianos playing here at all. But no matter, as this 25-minute piece is another essential piece of keening, melancholic, churning music, where some very unhappy brass or reed instruments make their plaint in slow and languid tones across a bedrock of spiky and restless percussive skitterments. Highly recommend this Catching Net double CD…its wild dynamics, resonating frequencies and primeval forces will alarm and amaze you…Keszler is emerging as a significant talent and one with a completely unique and personal approach to acoustic sound-generation, combining it with composition, improvisation, noise and live ensemble playing in very exciting ways.

  1. See this image to give you some idea of the scale involved.
  2. Very coincidentally, the water tower was in Shreveport, thought by many to be the original home of The Residents.
  3. Anomalous Records, SOUND 1, 2000; although Lanzillotta was probably aiming more for a naturalistic “found” installation vibe
  4. Lament For The Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile, India Navigation IN 3025, 1982
  5. Such as…erm…Tony Smith, Christo, Serra, Carl Andre…

A Floating State

A great shame that the German sound artist Rolf Julius died in January 2011, a fact which I have overlooked while waxing very lyrical about the series of his works being issued by the Western Vinyl label in Texas. We noted Music For The Ears and Music For A Distance, both of which compiled examples of this sound-artist’s installation and field recording works from what I assume must be a hefty catalogue. On Raining (WESTERN VINYL / SMALL MUSIC No. 3) , there is the title piece which is nearly one hour long, itself part of a larger installation work from 2007 called Dot. This rain piece is extremely dense and immersive, a real force of dampened nature which you can easily get lost inside…seems highly appropriate for the current weather in the UK, not that I have anything against the rain in March which cold and penetrating as it might be, somehow feels quite different and invigorating to the miserable rain of November. Julius’ Raining is also invigorating. And meditative. In amongst the continual downfall of heavy precipitation in a meadow or lea, there is the steady creaking and cracking of what I take to be branches of old oaks, soughing and sighing until they resemble the timbers of an old sea-hulk. Also the occasional murmurs of a cow-like beast making its moan through a grey veil of misty fog. Most bizarre of all, tiny notes of music like a celeste or very small piccolo somewhere in overall natural mixture…how can this be…are these notes just artefacts, by-products of the sonic assemblage, or produced by wind chimes in the landscape? If you’re a regular listener to field recordings of the weather, you may think you’ve heard all you need to hear in that genre, but I can assure you Julius’ work has a compelling attraction and a tremendous attention to detail. There is real weight and import to this sound, which may have something to do with the framing, assembly and presentation of the work. That he is able to achieve such precision of thought when working with such intangible elements is not unremarkable.

It seems that when played back on large-scale speakers this gallery art ‘Rain’ thing “engulfs the listener in a dense world…soaked pastures full of life”, according to press notes here. Being engulfed in a dense world sounds good to me, so intention at house of the Projector is to replay said soaken events on big hifi in due course. Hopefully neighbours will find me three days later soaked to my skin, if not drowned to death like character in famous Ray Bradbury story 1. But in one instance of an installation Julius instead used a much smaller speaker, flattening and compressing the sounds into “soft and cyclical patterns” such that listener had the illusion of watching the earth being soaked from a viewpoint high in the sky. This reinforces something about the very physical nature of Julius’ work; it’s not some vapid intellectual proposition, but a strong artistic statement about real, tangible things.

Also on the CD is ‘Weitflächig’, a composition from 2004. At first it might be mistook for more rain, but I think it’s possibly an assembly of short-wave radios. Lots of micro-events…tiny sounds…you could run a microscope over the surface of this one and might be amazed…teeming protozoa pushing about on the slide, stretching their limbs…it’s to do with a methodology this German sound artist had, which he called Music For A Wide Plain. According to his plan it should be possible to breed lots of small sounds in a sonic greenhouse, until they grow and become a wide plain full of life. Or an entire world, like the Project Genesis thing in Star Trek movies. A pattern beginning to appear here…Rolf Julius certainly not an “anti-life” artist…heaven knows we have enough of them and their critical, destructive ways producing art that can only end in more pessimism.

Last piece ‘Music For A Glimpse Inward’, in four and one-half minutes presenting something which is more like music than the long-form experiential type pieces above…there are dynamics and subtle changes, even musical tones…like the other works here the main point of the thing was all in the playback in the installation…very carefully positioned speakers in an very large empty room…music played at just right degree, correct volume (Julius was a stickler for details in just about everything, including weight of paper in which his work packaged), to pass on a certain perception of space to the listener. And a feeling of stillness. This stillness and serenity is another keynote to understanding the work of Rolf Julius, and is articulated clearly in the notes here by George Thomas. Rolf Julius believed that there were spaces of tranquillity all around the world, if only we had the available senses to find them…inner peace could be shared by means of art and music…this is a very encouraging message, given that modern life seems to be doing everything it can to destroy peace, quiet, privacy, and the joys of the interior life…but it’s also fair to say that these “spaces into which one can retreat” are also a private thing, a state of mind and being which the individual must work hard to attain. To assist in developing your own private Nirvana of peace, start with this release. Arrived 10 May 2012 and released 12 June 2012.

  1. ‘The Long Rain’, originally published in 1950, and compiled in The Illustrated Man.

Magic Circles


Areal (23FIVE 016) by Richard Garet was found in the April 2012 bag, probably part of a box containing vinyl and other materials from the eminent label 23Five – although it was in fact published in 2011. Garet is an American multi-media artist who thinks in grand terms and aims to create memorable mind-bending experiences in his installation works, which apparently transform entire spaces into strange abstract environments of sound, light and treated photographic images pulsating together in such ways as to make us question everything we think we understand about space, time, and our own sensual apparatus. With credentials like these, Garet probably fits the profile for everything 23Five stands for. I have no idea how the 53-minute Areal was in fact created, and confess I don’t feel exactly illuminated after reading the six lines of text printed inside – which refer to “distances among material and its phenomenology”, “sonic manifestations of electromagnetic waves” and “extended techniques to activate sounds within the perimeter of the working table space”. However, even a ninny-hammer such as myself can tell you this is not average “minimal” music by any means, and while it may progress slowly, Garet’s complex sound on this record has a scale and depth that is extremely impressive and compelling. We have heard him before with the ultra-minimal and rather conceptual record L’Avenir which he made for Winds Measure Recordings in 2008, but Areal is far more substantial and exhibits the kind of burnished perfection that shows how far the creator has been able to transcend his methods, whatever they may be. So even if I can’t fully grasp what is meant by his liner notes, I do understand he is thinking about mechanisms for communication which lie far outside the normal perameters of most sound art generation. Now to mesmerise myself by staring at the blue circles artwork on the slipcase.

Muddy the Mudskipper

Last heard from Goh Lee Kwang, the Malaysian sound artist, in late 2009 with Hands which he made for his own Herbal International label. Like Garet above he also makes installations, and this dimension of his creativity shows up in his very immersive music which clearly aims to create an “all-around-you” effect. In the case of _, And Vice Versa (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1103), he does it by submerging us in a gigantic bowl of vague and muffled music as if we were goldfish, or perhaps more accurately a type of mudfish. That’s the impression given by the two longest pieces here, of which ‘wEIghtOfdUst’ is 15 minutes while ‘wEIghtOfwAx’ lasts for a generous 37 minutes, moving us spatially from one end of the art-cannister to the other, feeding us only on conceptual vapour and blanked-out clues printed on empty sheets of newspaper. Disorientation, uncertainty, and time-displacement may all be relevant keywords here. Although Garet’s installation work has been likened by other writers to mind-washing or thought-control experiments, Kwang wins the golden biscuit for his vivid realisation of a sensory deprivation tank here. It’s a laudable aim, although the benchmark of quality in this area has not been surpassed since 1999′s Music for an Isolation Tank on Rhiz Records 1. Kwang also provides variations on his theme with ‘AclOsErlOOkOnwhItE’, a 5-minute noiser which has the nerve-shredding jangliness of a thousand alarm clocks, and ‘EndlEss’, a little hymn to the power of entropy and decay. While still minimal in tone this at least has more definition than the afore-mentioned cotton wool mind-swaddlers. Come to that, ‘EndlEss’ is digital-glitch supreme; it would feel right at home on a Raster-Noton compilation, if it were a little more mechanical in its aims. It resembles the brain of a computer who wishes it were a begonia plant. There’s also the rather shrill tones of ‘jUctIOn’, which we assume was produced by the same inscrutable production methods, yet resembles the cries of a seagull flying backwards in time over the Bermuda Triangle. There is a pronounced contrast of tones across this CD, which is reflected visually in the artworks by Wong Min Lik (fluffy, soft, pastel tones) and those by Wong Eng Leong (disturbing, stark, monochrome). From 24 April 2012.

Jendon’s Tendons

Neil Jendon is a highly capabale analogue-synth musician from Chicago whose Corporate Laughter (CIP CIPCD026) represents his first proper CD release after a few years making do in the land of cassettes and CDRs. He favours long tracks of around 10-15 minutes apiece, which give him the space he needs to unfold his strategy; start out simple, and develop into something monstrously overloaded and complex. While not all of his work fits this schema, it’s a convenient way of understanding the ambitions and scope of a piece like ‘The Morbid Age’, which begins in the Emeralds-like land of drifty Tangerine Dream marshmallow pillow worlds, but ingeniously grows multiple layers, tentacles and limbs, and evolves into powerful heat-death blasts of controlled noise underpinning the whole seething mass. ‘Static After Static’ is another instance where the synth programs are gradually allowed to lose control and march off into a cyber-world of their own, as though the very printed circuits of the equipment were sizzling and popping, then mutating into a colony of enraged fire-ants. That said, ‘Always and Only’ is quite different, an exercise in clarity and stark outlines where the chilling musical patterns are like the shadows cast on a planet surface by ultra-sleek rocket ship fins. The 17-minute ‘Cataline’ which closes the album may at first be mistaken for a workaday piece of ambient drone, but on closer examination it too proves to be enriched with subtle details, insertions, and variations. For me, it paints a touching picture of some form of terminal decline. If Jendon’s “corporate laughter” is that of the business-suited bankers and excessively rich tycoons who caused the global financial disaster, then I suppose we can only hope that they are the ones in decline, and that ‘Cataline’ may be their swan song. However, that is merely wishful thinking. From 17 April 2012.

  1. By Fennesz, Zeitblom and Rantasa

Rare Cases

From Montpellier France comes Horse Gives Birth To Fly, a name which is very reminiscent of the uncanny phenomena which J.G. Posada delighted in engraving on his Mexican woodblocks (he called each one a caso raro), but in this instance the name is connected to Amon Duul II and Deutsch Nepal in ways we cannot fathom. HGBTF are a duo of French players who perform what they would like to term “ritual noise”. They’ve been enacting these private ceremonies in sound since 2008 and have an impressive series of CDRs, splits and compilation appearances lurking in their stable, or equine cave. Langue De Fièvre (NO LABEL) contains many lengthy drone workouts, generally rather eccentric in nature and enriched by a bewitching, almost supernatural sound. Part of the eerie charm is no doubt due to their insistence on all-organic, home-grown DIY methods of sound production; the two voices are usually the key component, wailing, moaning and muttering in invented alien languages. Then comes the instrumental layering, involving not the deployment of expensive synthesisers and filters, but very basic guitar work and simple devices referred to as “space toys”. Two of the untitled tracks contain the spooky outer-regional vocal wailings, the third revolves around a primitive circular guitar riff, the fourth brings down rain gods and other deities with the use of “tribal” drumming and insane percussive metal clattering. The record gets a shade too “Tibetan” for me after that point, but there is a closing track which invokes an epic, monstrous apocalypse worthy of any given medieval draughstman. Plenty of denatured and thrilling non-specific noise on offer, but we also have to admire the restraint and simplicity of this pair. Kriss and Miccam put a lot of effort into summoning unfamiliar effects and sonic adventures, both from their instruments and from their mesmerising droney voices, which have a full range of timbres and shades within their peculiar chatterings. The cover collage artwork evokes exactly the right degree of fetid swampiness with its dank shades of green and Mocha-esque overlays of curlicue shapes going mad. Girls, their heads replaced with the heads of dogs, lounge on armchairs wearing kinky boots, inviting us to enter this peculiar world. Received 14 March 2012.

Some home-recording experiments that don’t quite gel for me from Captain Super Scranchin on his CDR release. Nine tracks veer between playful manipulations of synthesiser effects and frantic explosions of cymbal-heavy percussion, all deliberately recorded in lo-fi with one microphone and a lot of distortion. Scranchin’s efforts are further disrupted with layers of recording hiss, wonky tape speed playback, and overlaid foreign elements and found sounds. It’s a little hard to see much underlying structure here, but the release reminds me of 1980s bedroom cassette releases and has a roughness in its passion that some listeners may enjoy. No website; try email to scranchin@hotmail.co.uk. Received 19 March 2012.

A highly baroque oddity of outsider classical-pop is Last Wane Days (SQUIB-BOX NO NUMBER). Initial hearing caused my beret to fly off my head in surprise, while my noggin teemed with soundbites like “Kate Bush meets Luciano Berio during a performance of The Living Theatre”. It’s composed by the London musician Neil Luck, sung by Fiona Bevan, and played by a small avant-garde chamber ensemble called ARCO who wield acoustic instruments (strings, bass, piano). This two-part weirdie lasts only 18 minutes, but it compresses huge volumes of detail into its strange, ever-changing fabric. Broken, disjunctive passages of discordant music are punctuated with brittle percussion effects and daring gaps of silence. Holding everything together is the astonishing voice of Bevan, who slides effortlessly across genres, moving from classical operatic to easy-listening by way of Weimar cabaret. I’m not making much headway with the lyrical content so far, which is spoken, sung and chanted (sometimes mathematically so, in the manner of Einstein on the Beach), but that’s hardly surprising as most of the loopy libretto has been derived from cut-ups of the notebooks of Richard Foreman, a writer whose work I am not familiar with. That said, there are at least two songs woven into this uneven and over-decorated magic carpet, one of them with lyrics penned by Bevan herself. It’s described in the notes as a “monodrama” and a “dislocated song-cycle”. With its wild dynamics and unusual sound, Last Wane Days is an unusual record which many will find an acquired taste, but none should doubt the skill and artistry at work here. Received 21 March 2012.

On Lichtung (EAT SLEEP REPEAT ESR201201), field recordings meet up with low-key ambient music in an art gallery installation environment, assembled by the duo of Steve Roden and Machinefabriek. The original installation also had a visual component from Sabine Bürger, partially represented via the cover and booklet photographs of this CD release, which comprises edited highlights from the event. The original commission was intended to express the German idea of “heimat”, a word which roughly means “homeland” in English, but I believe it corresponds to a deep-seated cultural emotion about the environment and one’s place within it which is rooted in the Germanic bones, and which may not have a direct counterpart anywhere else in the world. The sensitive and nuanced response of the artists here has been to work with very evocative and misted-over field recordings which deepen the overall sense of ambiguity, and to incorporate local natural elements (leaves, twigs and water) in the finished installation piece. Small and intimate sounds, of which Roden is a masterful and subtle sculptor, characterise this record, but so too does the nostalgic and understated half-music of Rutger Zuydervelt (i.e. Machinefabriek). Some records in this vein can depress me with their undernourished sounds, which can appear minimal to the point of utter vacancy, but Lichtung has warmth and depth. Received 23 March 2012.

Simon Balestrazzi has come our way in the past with his hypnotic electronic drones which sometimes have an occult side, such as A Rainbow In My Mirror and his spooky Candor Chasma collaboration. On The Sky Is Full Of Kites (BORING MACHINES BM38), the work has all been generated out of his modified and home-made instruments, including the “prepared psaltery”, plus synths, oscillators, and the laptop all providing so much thickened and glutinous electronic buzz you can almost measure it by the acre. According to the press notes, the keywords we should be bearing in mind are to do with industrial landscapes and the weather, and the music here does indeed convey the sensations of unpleasant, drizzly grey skies hovering over a ruinous once-proud city of dead machines. Balestrazzi’s textures and layers are impeccably rich, and he has put in a lot of time and effort to invoke the dark forces which intrigue him, but most of the album feels like a bit of a sprawl to me, without sufficient forward movement within the tunes to lift the listener from the quagmire of desolation. The title track admittedly has a little more agitation to assist its moribund atmosphere, and a vague pattern can be discerned in its leisurely rise-and-fall shapes. Daniele Serra, who also illustrated the Candor Chasma CD, provides notably odd artworks where cityscapes, machinery, and insect-like forms are combined in unholy marriages. Received 27 March 2012.


Seeing Cassettes, Hearing Slides

Sound Waves

Here’s the final two items from the December 2011 Gill Arno package. We have Diary (UNFRAMED RECORDINGS UFCS1) by Aki Onda, the Japanese sound artist who lives in New York and is widely recognised as the Lord High Emperor of cassettes, due to his monumental collection of daily tape captures – he’s been doing it everywhere he goes with a cassette Walkman for over 20 years now, bringing in aural snapshots of his international travels to the point where he’s pretty much done for phonography what Andy Warhol did for camera-snapping. At a recent exhibition of Warhol (Headlines) I learned that he produced a phenomenal number, perhaps thousands, of documentary images with his obsessive Instamatic and Polaroid ways. The Diary item is perhaps more of note for its wonderful booklet, presented as a nifty limited artist book with its embossed cover and band around the spine. Flip the pages to scope the faboo images of labels from Onda’s tape mountain, some with colour dots applied referring to a private classification scheme, or with handwritten notes (even his calligraphy is charming), stick-on images, and remains of torn-off former labels. A mini art gallery in itself. Also there are three pages of notes by Onda about his practice, which he freely owns is “obsessive”. After a few years of building up this personal library of aural information, he began the process of inserting new recordings into his old tapes, overdubbing some sections and arriving at remarkable chance events which cause instant wig-out when played back. And for about ten years now, he’s been using the tapes in his live performances, where you imagine the devastating effects they would have on the average audience, being fed numerous batches of mixed signals and stratified, mismatched blankets of data. Aki Onda has become his own walking sampler with a databank and memory of prodigious size. Can’t say that the actual tape that comes with this release reflects any of the above delicious chaos, in case you were hoping to buy into a slice of that 1. Instead it is a C60′s worth of gentle field recordings, with side A possibly being the ocean and side B some more ambiguous nocturnal rumblings. Which isn’t to say it’s not a beautiful thing, the graininess of the recording process adding considerable enhancements.

An Amplified Process

Also from Gill we got a nice DVD of his mpld work. mpld represents an integrated performance work with a set-up of slide projectors, fans, and laptops, where the sounds of the fans and projectors are amplified and processed, and when enacted it becomes a time-based installation piece with images and sound (and even a sculptural dimension, according to the creator). Lacunae (WINDS MEASURE RECORDINGS 24) is for me at least the first chance I’ve had to get a more complete sense of what it all means (just listening to the audio from an mpld event is rather puzzling to say the least). Gill Arno had a video tape made some years ago, but it was really intended as a working document for his own purposes, so he could see what it’s like from the audience viewpoint. When asked by Ben Owen to release the videos on Winds Measure Recordings, he agreed to do it even though these blurry video tapes are not a perfect document of the real thing, But Arno decided he likes the imperfections, in much the same way that Marcel Duchamp was quite philosophical when The Large Glass 2 was accidentally shattered; after a lengthy and painstaking restoration, he grew to like the breaks and decided they added something to the image. Accordingly on Lacunae we have layers of grain, fuzziness, errant colour blotches, and a very severe flickering effect for our eyes to burrow through. The projected still images of landscapes, in themselves not especially artistic, are transformed unexpectedly into visual schemes of great richness and beauty. The projections are accompanied by a compelling and quite subdued chattering and rumbling sound, fed through gently varying filters, and the combined effect is a mysterious and haunting wonder. Evidently, even the most process-based works can still be highly productive and trigger imaginative and associative responses from an audience. Arno himself speaks of the processes of “obsolescence and decay” that are manifest on this release, and he indicates that “memory and loss” are the underlying themes to mpld; these video-based artefacts that have been introduced into the work now serve to deepen and enrich that meaning. The cover and postcard insert are the result of a collaborative printing session with Ben Owen (mixed inks, so that each individual print is colour shifted and unique) and the image shows the mpld setup as a compacted son et lumière arrangement that delivers simultaneous sound and image from a table top. The 40 minutes I spent watching this beautiful DVD will probably be the highlight of my day today!

  1. Try looking for releases in the series of Cassette Memories.
  2. i.e. The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even

Fine Art Service

Inner Voices (FIREWORK EDITION RECORDS FER 1085) is another limited-edition art-object release from Per Svensson in Sweden. As you recall he was kind enough to send us his Intergalactic Box in 2008. Whereas that work was quite a memorable example of his more outgoing performances and installations, suggestive of his enthused communion with all sorts of exciting cosmic parties taking place across the universe, this one is as title indicates a much more inturned and introspective work. He worked with Leif Elggren and the two artists sealed themselves in “The Silent Room” at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, there to make specialist recordings of the internal workings of their bodies. The assumption is that “all life forms…dead or alive” have certain common frequencies, characterised by Per and Leif as electricity flows and cell activity. We’re in a crossover realm of science, body art and sonic venture which is outwith my mental span, and it’s no wonder they needed highly sensitive microphones to detect and record these events so small, they can hardly be said to have taken place.

Resultant recordings from this intensive three-hour workout were sent off to the American researcher Michael Esposito. Chicago-based Esposito is both an artist and one of the world’s foremost researchers into EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, and he’s a singular fellow who can trace ancestral links back to the partner of Samuel Morse and to Thomas Edison. Matter of fact I seem to recall that the idea of finding dead voices recorded on tape can also be traced back to Edison. Needless to say it’s the name of another Swede, that of Friedrich Jürgenson, who has become frequently associated with this area of speculative research 1. Esposito conducts his work as part of “Phantom Airwaves” and has released not a few records and films that relate to the theme.

Esposito’s job in this case was to mine the recordings of Per and Leif’s bodies, and extract any voices he might find. What he did find ends up on B side of the 33RPM seven-inch record, while the A side is the original source material from the two miked-up Swedes. Amazingly, it seems he did succeed in locating something unexpected – but I won’t spoil the surprise, in hopes that you will seek out a copy for yourself. The A side is mostly a set of rather quiet grey drones, and as a listening experience this record may tend to be rather a minimal affair, but a different sort of minimalism to that (say) released by Winds Measure Recordings, which I have been thinking about for the last ten minutes ever since that idea about “cell activity”; it reminds me of the Cell Memory release, although it has to be said Ben Owen’s label, while extremely metaphysical in nature, has never delved explicitly into the matter of psychic research.

The release is packed in a fine box with lots of related images from art exhibits, past and present, inside a full-colour booklet which also has explanatory notes printed in English and Swedish. I found Leif’s Table Of Death, with its speakers adhering to the underside of a highly-polished and oppressive piece of antique furniture, particularly affecting. The image of the silent room itself, with its rather disquieting red chair, is to me just one step away from this famous print by Andy Warhol from his “Death and Disaster” series. An exhibition by this title took place at the Kristianstad Centre for Contemporary Art earlier this year.

  1. Personally I maintain a certain bemused scepticism about the EVP thing, which in my view has generated a lot of hysteria and pseudo-science, but I make no strenuous objection when it’s used as part of an overall speculative framework to generate conceptual art, as in this case.